Saturday, 28 March 2015

Spring has sprung

Yes it rains a lot, and gosh hasn't it been windy? But every few days we wake up to this:
And though the frost is there, the sun is singing that old song, "Morning has broken....", and I know it won't be long before the frost turns back to dancing beads of dew. If I step outside to look at that rising sun - and I often do - the birds are carolling about it at the top of their little lungs, as if they too feel like skipping.
We take a walk along the river that runs through our village, and the stream too is singing in its babbling voice, chuckling to itself with the glee of new life. The riverbanks are still largely void of growth, but look closer and you'll see that the sunshine with its warm breath has blown a message into the soil, and shoots are appearing. Trees are beginning to bud. Rabbits are scampering in the still-vacant campsite. And the birds are still singing in giddy chorus.
Walk a little further, away from the shade of the riverbank, and these glorious fellows meet you. That's my littlest, the Tiny One, in the distance there. He's exploring the farm lane, looking for new spring flowers, searching for lambs in the fields, grabbing every stick he can find with his brother.

It's such a good time of year. Everything has promise, hope and beginnings. While the winds are still often cold and the frosts plenty, the rains still flying in our faces; even on these days the nature around us is standing firm and believing in the spring days to come.

Friday, 20 February 2015

the end of winter?

I didn't think I suffered from SAD. 

I think it's the snow that bothers me most, in the way that it's so restricting up here and lasts so long, slowly turning into ice. And I'm not the biggest winter fan, but few are. I dance my way to Christmas and then idly twiddle my fingers and circle my ankles while I wait for winter to slope off, tail between its legs.

But a few days ago, before it turned chilly again, there was the littlest touch, the daintiest spring of Spring in the air. And oh my goodness. I virtually skipped everywhere rather than walking. I unbuttoned my coat. The boys took theirs off. The green tips of emergent daffodils were beginning to whisper their yellow secret. And you should have heard the birds. They weren't singing to communicate they were singing a song. Suddenly it was like the whole of our little, 200m-above-sea-level world stopped, stood up and listened. From cheery daffodils still hidden in their winter coats, to small boys throwing theirs off and whooping: we all heard the sound of Spring.

I knew that morning that the day was going to be good. I knew I was going to tick a whole raft of limpets off my to-do list. That I would be a lovely mother. That I would smile at the villagers as I walked past, that I would be airy and cheery when my husband came home at the hungry-boys-witching-hour, that everything would be so gosh-darned lovely.

And afterwards, when the next day dawned swathed in cloud and washing cold air past my ears, I thought: perhaps that SAD thing affects me after all. Or affects most of us. And actually, I'm done with treading water while the world tips over the bottom end of the year. We're 5/6th's of the way through winter. The snowdrops have already popped up to say goodbye to it. The daffodils are waiting impatiently in the wings. I expect I'll spot some crocuses soon. We're all done with winter. Let's all tell it to head off where the sun don't shine.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Bringing nature in: walking, foraging, collecting and displaying - the journey of myevergreen sprigs

Walking in the Peak District
We walk a lot with our children. If they're not in school, we're off out with them. We love the outdoors; but on a purely practical note, we have boys and they need a daily dose of fresh air and exercise to stop us all going crazy! And sometimes when we walk, when my kitchen table is a little bare and I need a little outside in my indoors, I go armed with a shoulder bag and a pair of secateurs.

Forage and collect evergreen leaves and sprigs
I have a theme in mind: wild flowers, seed heads, or in this case evergreens. There's not much about in January but the often ignored evergreens are sculptural and succulent, making a great centrepiece. Cut a sprig of holly here, some laurel there, ivy with its buds out, pine for its needles. Wear gloves: it's cold but a lot of your fodder is prickly. Cut the right sort of length for your vase and don't take more than you need - apart from anything else, detangling it all from your bag is a nightmare if you've not loosely packed!

Bringing nature in: evergreen sprigs displayed in a vase
Come home, warm up, put the kettle on. Fill your jug with water and detangle those evergreen sprigs that you've foraged. Arrange them in your vase, and suddenly your kitchen is - for free, yes, gratis people - adorned with a bit of the outside, a bit of nature, a bit of life. They'll be happy for several weeks if you're lucky. And so will you. 

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Cooking a little healthier, a little more gluten-free: Sarah's Big Comfy Sweet Potato and Simple Gourmet Granola

I'd say I eat well 80% of the time, and the other 20% is basically cakes, biscuits and chocolate. I tried giving up the latter for January and got about half-way through. At least I joined the masses with that one! But I've noticed that I'm basically a bread-and-cheese girl at lunchtimes and that my breakfast is the time of day I most crave healthy, bolstering food. And coming from a family afflicted with various gastro-malfunctions, I figure these two meals are ripe for a bit of a nutrition punch. The chocolate in the evenings, well, that'll have to wait!

My New Roots Big Comfy Sweet Potato

This is a preamble to me introducing you to the My New Roots website that I recently discovered (via an oblique reference on instagram). I don't think I could eat this way all the time but I'm up for a lot of it for breakfast and a fair amount at lunch too. I've actually been feeling really inspired on the food front recently. You may know that I cook from recipe books about 95% of the time for dinner, and for a lot of our weekend lunches too, but while it's always nutritious and homemade it can often involve less healthy fare (beef pie anyone?). We've eaten mostly wholegrain and wholewheat for years but it'll do us good to rely less on the wheat family. And I hardly ever go to the recipe books for breakfast or my weekday lunches with the Tiny One. So it's nice to have a new focus to reinvigorate my recipe love. I'll keep you updated.

My New Roots Simple Gourmet Granola

(Top picture, My New Roots Big Comfy Sweet Potato for lunch; and bottom picture, My New Roots Simple Gourmet Granola, out of the oven and waiting for the raisins to be stirred in - or whatever other dried fruit you prefer.)

Monday, 26 January 2015

A treat of a weekend: gardening, bringing nature indoors, re-upholstering an armchair, and other winter comforts

It's been a beautiful treat of a weekend. The weather has, for the first time in over a month, had a tinge of warmth to it. I got into the garden and cleared, planted and dug and it felt good. I don't know a lot about gardening but I do know that I really love it. It has the same feel as sewing for me - that when I'm engaged in the process it absorbs me and grounds me, and it's where I find my full self when I'm feeling a little off-kilter. I brought the last green fern indoors: I love their prehistoric sculptural shape, and it's best appreciated individually.

Fern and clementines on the table

I've also been slowly plugging away at a re-upholstery project our bedroom. We were donated a lovely old armchair that needed updating and I thought, 'well I'll just have a go and do it myself'. It is far from a conventional re-upholstery job! But it's working nonetheless and I'm enjoying the slow, purposeful rigor of the process. (I'm using Anna Maria Horner's Raindrops Poppies in bronze, from her Field Study collection) (My three-year-old took that picture of me without me knowing!)

Re-upholstery armchair Anna Maria Horner Field Study Raindrops Poppies in Bronze

We've also had dear friends to stay, good walks in the last remnants of iced snow, warming soups and an unheard-of afternoon of reading papers and chatting while the boys played (courtesy of one of those soulless soft play places that children always adore and parents get a little peace at!) It's been a good weekend. I hope yours was too.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Arranging by colour : a rainbow to counter Blue Monday

Today is supposedly Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Depressing? Bah humbug.
Arranging bookcase by colour color rainbow
I have a solution! Now that's a bit of an exaggeration. You can't fix your life by organising by rainbow colour order can you? But you can brighten it. And if you can bring together order and conformity on the one hand with expression and creativity on the other, so much the better. So I removed all the books in our bookcase (arranged by genre and in height order because I am a card-carrying very-slight-little-bit-obsessive-compulsive-in-a-creative-organised-not-turn-the-lightbulb-on-and-off-thirty-six-times-kind-of-way. And then I took said books, and put them back in said bookcase, in rainbow colour order. And suddenly life was better. Organised but bright and cheery.
Arrange wardrobe clothes by colour color rainbow

And because I was also in a bit of a clothing funk, I did the same with my wardrobe. Oh how I wish I could get you a picture to show the bright shiny goodness of a wardrobe arranged by rainbow colour order, but my wardrobe is next to my bedroom window, in the shadiest part of my bedroom, batting the light back even more with a wardrobe door that opens across the window. So this grainy picture will have to do. Or I could use a flash. But apparently that would be the photography equivalent of taking a vegan wholefoods food blogger into a McDonalds for dinner.

Arrange books bookcase by colour color rainbow
So here's a collage of close-up and less close-up bookshelf pictures instead. You can't see a whole other shelf at the top full of white books and another shelf at the bottom full of black. But you can maybe read a few of my books and play spot-the-book-I-have-too with it. If your life is really exciting just like mine.

I saw an actual rainbow in a snow cloud over the weekend but my phone wouldn't work in the below freezing temperatures. No matter: I get a rainbow every morning in my bedroom and every time I walk through my hallway. Yah boo sucks Blue Monday.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Jewellery organisation: re-purposing your things to store your bling!

You know what it's like. You accumulate more and more jewellery. You love it. But you just can't find those earrings you're looking for. Or you're in a rush to grab a necklace and they're all tangled up.

You want to organise your earrings and, would you believe it, organise your necklaces. I know. I'm a genius. Here's what I did:
Jewellery organisation, necklace and earring organization, repurposed
I had an old notelet box that was too good to put away. I popped my chunkier necklaces in it in concentric circles. I know, the pearly one is a bit in the way - I've moved it since. But it's so much better and, don't forget, prettier.

And my earrings? I'm so pleased with this idea. It's a cake cooling rack. I know that there are more important things in the world (peace, climate change, mental health, etc). But this has changed my earring wearing, earring choosing, earring displaying life. It saves a lot of time. It's so much better than the pots they were in before and, don't forget, prettier.

(Or there's always pinterest for more ideas. Just search jewellery organisation. And then clear your diary for a few hours while you scramble your eyesight scrolling through them all).

Monday, 12 January 2015

January so far: domestic, healthy, and full of good intentions

Ah, January. Month of cold nights, chilly days, root vegetables, diets, abstinence, wool and good intentions. 

I have such an affinity with new starts, with plans and goals, but I do also feel that January is a weird month, containing so much overlap from the year before. We are trying to be healthier after the Christmas indulgences, we are trying to get our houses in order after all the decorations and new gifts to find room for, and we are trying to learn from our past troubles and mistakes to 'do better' this year.

healthy domestic January, cleaning, sorting, date night 
Our January so far has been a mix of the domestic and the January spruce up. There's been a lot of cleaning (domestic drudge) and sorting out (January tradition). 

I've been trying to eat more healthily after the December crescendo, by which time a whole box of chocolates in an evening had moved beyond the craving category and into the standard diet one. Just look at that smug lunch above! 

We've tried to make our regular weekly date night more romantic, descending as it had in December into 'where are we with the present buying' catch-ups, punctuated by the munching of way too many crisps. 

But the usual jobs of motherhood have continued to roll on. Yes, I am referring to the picture bottom-right. Yes, those are the feet of the Tiny One, now three-and-a-half, and attempting to hide under our lounge coffee table. Yes, that is said table covered by biro scribbles - wait for it - after I had attempted to clean them off. He stayed under the table throughout the cross cleaning, sensible lad. Thank goodness it was a decade-old Ikea cheapy.

small little cute doorstop door stop
And through it all I'm still sewing. This morning, when I should've been working but I needed an easier route into the week, I quickly sewed up a doorstop for the sewing room door. The door that slowly closes while my back is turned and I'm leaning over my cutting table, until it nudges my back teasing "Stop me!" So I did. I don't use the word cute much but it truly is a cute little doorstop.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Wondering: In which I tell you how I'm rebuilding my blog

What do I want this blog to be? What do I want to build?
Manchester Art Gallery childrens building activities
I think this is what hampered my blogging in 2014. Not knowing the answer to that question. Seeing so many other blogs out there that inspired me and finding, as often happens, that the influence of others clouds the truths of yourself. I am so drawn to bloggers whose clothes and style I love, but I've never felt comfortable showing myself online. I love DIYs and tutorials but did I really want to commit to all the hard work and time involved in doing that myself? I love to write above all else but the blogs I am drawn to and hooked by are those with the beautiful pictures using fabulous cameras that I cannot achieve. Do I want to strive to become a well-known, monetised blogger in such a saturated market? Do I even want to view my blog in market terms? I'm not sure I even know the answers to these questions now.

And then I realised that my answers are in what I thought my blog would be the day I started writing it. There were six words I attached to it: making, baking, wandering, wondering, sewing, mothering. Those are the things I wanted to share and document. Combined, they are who I am, they are the touches of domesticity that feel like home to me. And so they are what this blog is and will be again. 

I am part of a community of women in the UK and further afield that feel it is not a contradiction to value intelligence and yet want to focus their lives on their homes and family. To be ambitious and yet content. To be interested in serious and important things yet also love simple and beautiful things. You can be interested in both fashion and world affairs. You can be ordered and yet free. You can be all the things our foremothers fought for in the feminist movements of the past century while being happy, fulfilled and worthwhile wearing a pinny, baking a cake, kids round your feet, crayons all over the table, haphazard twigs from your walk in a vase on your table, and muddy footprints by the back door. And so that is what you're going to get from me.

(And, slightly unrelated, but on the subject of building something, my middle boy built that fabulous tower in the even more fabulous Clore Art Studio at Manchester Art Gallery. If you're in the area, you really should go.)

Monday, 5 January 2015

Goodbye and Hello

Well, it's over.
Goodbye to Christmas, goodbye to 2014, and goodbye to the Christmas holidays.

But hello to a touch of domesticity on blogger! I haven't seen you for quite a while. But it's a new year, a new page turned, and golly if I don't just feel like writing again.

So let's start with a list shall we? A Nine Things list, in a blast from this blog's past.
  1. My eldest is now sixteen. And I feel, as a result, ancient and inconsequential in his life. I wish I knew more of him and saw more of him, but he's ploughing his own field now and I know he'll grow best out of the shadow of my tree (mixed metaphor alert).
  2. My youngest two are really growing up. There are lots of numbers and counting in our days, reading and pretending to read, and asking profound questions. I love to watch their minds and intellects grow.
  3. I have started my new business, Sparrow Stitch, making bespoke curtains, blinds and soft furnishings. I've started very small but it feels really good to be working and learning how to run a business. The website is in its infancy but you can find me over here:  http://sparrowstitch.co.uk/
  4. This has been the first year in a long, long time that I haven't been ready to say goodbye to Christmas come the start of the new year. I love new beginnings, and from 1st December I go so crazy on Christmas that I'm ready for it to end five weeks later. But I don't know, this year I've sunk into the Christmas limbo and loved having the family around with our lazy days, and I'm struggling to get back into the fast lane again.
  5. My husband and I have now been together for 11 years. And it sure feels good. We are such a partnership that I do not know how I'd ever manage without him (and hope I never have to). And I still get slightly giddy about him all these years later. That's nice, right?
  6. We went to my parents for Christmas and it was lovely. But my dad's been ill a lot in the last few months and he's getting older. I found it so strange spending six days with him, because the him that he once was wasn't fully there, and most of the time I found myself missing him.
  7. I have plans for this new year. They start with me going in for the 'one little word' and choosing (or, in reality, finding it chose me) strive. Nothing feels more apt right now. My next job is to dig my December 'to do' list out and make a new one for January. I always feel better with a direction to go in and a set of jobs to complete. Yes, you can call me Monica (overused Friends reference).
  8. I also have plans for the house and the garden. You're going to see me in paint-splattered jeans a lot over the January weekends. I may even share a bit of it here. There's only so much staring at other people's impossibly perfect rooms on pinterest before you start thinking "just start" (or other suitable pinterest quote).
  9. And I have plans for this blog. I'm starting by committing to two posts a week. Come back on Thursday to find out more. You'll be very welcome.