Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Spring


The clocks have gone forward. The blue, hazy days have arrived (apart from this morning, when it's distinctly grey and wet outside).


We had a lovely weekend outdoors. On Saturday we went to put flowers on my mum's grave for Mother's Day, and sat for a while by the pond in the cemetery. It may sound odd to say it was nice, but it was. I don't feel particularly close to my mum when I'm there; I don't feel she's present in any way at her final resting place. Strange as it may seem, I always feel closest to her when I'm out walking or when I'm bustling about in the kitchen.

But it's a beautiful cemetery with meandering paths and mature trees and wild areas around the edges. 


I went to my friend's house that night and four of us had a takeaway. She only lives by the village school, maybe a hundred yards from our house. Good job as I didn't get home until 3am. So I took full advantage of my Mother's Day lie in the following morning...


Not for too long though. I didn't drink the night before, so no hangover to contend with. And the sun was shining. So we packed a picnic lunch and went for a little wander.


Joe had a great time, climbing on the sculptures and watching the trains going by.


We soaked up the warmth and had a lovely slow Sunday.


Joe didn't complain too much about climbing the hills either. We usually take a snack out as he lives to eat, so it's the perfect incentive for him to keep going. Today's treat: a piece of chocolate birthday cake from a party he'd been to on Friday.


It felt very spring-like. We spotted the first lambs of the year in the village (but the sheep in the field behind our house are still at the heavily pregnant stage). Joe, ever the gannet, started talking about rosemary and suggested a roast lamb dinner. I'm not convinced he understands the link just yet between fluffy animals and meat on a plate.

Either that or he's completely lacking in sentiment. But he does have a conscience, so I suspect it's the former.


I think Sunday was possibly the bluest, warmest day of the year; at least it was if you kept out of the shade.


There are plenty of things growing. I love butterburs, they're so prehistoric-looking.


And our mock currant in the back garden is in full flower.


The dandelions are not in our garden. Joe enjoys weeding. I have to point out what has to stay and what needs to go. He doesn't always get it right...


Monday was a lovely day too, so after some printmaking I went out collecting ferns. They're my favourite thing to make prints from as the shapes are so graphic and they're pretty robust. 


I press them before doing any printmaking, so I've been using last year's plants and they finally crumbled away so it was time to restock. 

There are plenty of places nearby to find ferns, and many types to collect. But I wanted to stay as close to home as possible because I had a lot to do so I went up a little lane which has nice views and shady banks. 


I prefer to use the 'Deer fern' (Blechnum spicant) because I love the shape. So I plucked a handful and whilst I was collecting, I noticed all the other growth that's happening.


Things are definitely getting more green. And although I haven's photographed any, the wild garlic is appearing too so Joe and I can go picking next week during the school holidays.


The forecast is good so I'm looking forward to spending a few weeks with him. I've got lots planned - mainly little adventures nearby - with making and reading and meeting up with friends too. Perhaps even an egg hunt.


I'll hopefully post during the next couple of weeks but if not, it'll be because we're enjoying a well-earned break from the crazy school and workday routine!




Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Mid March meanderings



It's mid March already.

And I'd just like to thank everyone who commented on my previous post. Sometimes these more 'personal' stories prompt people to share, and it's a good thing. It's good because they can offer experiences and knowledge, and know there are others out there who are in the same boat. 


As I said though, I'm aware that I'm far more fortunate than many. I can walk a good distance - I do get aches and pains, particularly in my Achilles tendons, after a long trek. But I still go.

At the weekend, Joe had a few hours with his grandad. Jay stayed at home and enjoyed the rare peace and quiet. I went out for a wander. 

Wellies may not be the most supportive of footwear but they're definitely worth their weight in gold when traversing churned-up cow fields. I was ankle-deep in mud within minutes of leaving the house, but I know what a mire this particular field is and went for it anyway.


There are all kinds of things coming to life now. Wild garlic's appearing under the trees and the stone walls are green with ferns, mosses and... well, whatever this is. 


Ghosts of last summer, too - in the churchyard, amongst the graves.


After the floods of 2016 people are refurbishing and improving their houses and gardens. Some are extending, too. Nice to see that even in a conservation area with very strict planning guidelines, there's room for modernity. I'm a bit of a one for timber cladding.

I suspect that in time this will weather to a silvery grey. And the view from those windows is a lovely one, across the river to farmland and woods.


Early blossom's appearing here and there. Candyfloss pink isn't a colour I'd usually go for, but at this time of year... Well, yes.


Apparently these are woodbine. I like how the light comes through them. More pink - and I don't think new leaves and fat buds would be quite the same without those rosy tinges to them.


Naturally, it started to rain before very long. But it was only the lightest of drizzle which soon cleared. It's been very breezy this past week but we've had some beautiful blue days too. Right now, as I type, the sun's shining. 

Perfect for Joe's class today. They're having a Papua, New Guinea wedding in the woodland area. He'll be wearing a headdress and face paint when I collect him shortly. And we're heading straight to the village cafe. But he often goes in there with some kind of glue-and-glitter-smeared hat or crown on after school.


Anyway, back to my walk. I had a steep uphill climb to get home and it was a bit tiring but no more than it should have been. Apparently with CFS you have to pace yourself and schedule in rest, but it's also very important to stay active.


And getting out there, seeing spring emerge, is as good a pick-me-up as anything else I can think of. Other than a few weeks in the Maldives, of course.

But we're off to Grasmere on Friday, Jay and me, for a few nights. Again, walking and exploring mixed with rest: reading and lounging in the hotel spa. I'm looking forward to it very much!



Thursday, 2 March 2017

Ups and downs



So, we've reached March.

I always see it as a pivotal time of the year; I feel that spring's almost upon us as the long, dark days of winter are slowly retreating. The garden's gradually awakening and so are we.


Well, sort of.

I had an appointment with an endocrinologist on Tuesday. It was a Big Deal. I'll tell you why: I've waited for over four years to see someone on the NHS after literally two decades of feeling unwell. Having chased my tail by seeing lots of doctors, undergoing numerous blood tests, paying to see someone privately (I could only afford the one appointment), and desperately trying to figure out what was going on: websites, books, a herbal practitioner... Let's just say I went along well prepared.

The lovely consultant I saw told me I've got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). I cried. Not out of fear or despair or anything like that. It was a relief that after so long, I had an answer, and that it isn't normal to feel so exhausted and be plagued by many, many symptoms.


Apparently it takes 3-5 years to feel properly better. But you can feel better.

And, ever the optimist, I'm already working on that. It'll be a combination of diet, physiotherapy, CBT and - most challenging for me - pacing myself and working more balance into my life. I can do it. I will do it. For Joe as much as for myself.

And I'm grateful that I can function pretty well: getting up in the morning, getting Joe off to school, running the house, building this little business of mine. We've had some pretty severe knocks over the past few years (which have no doubt exacerbated the CFS) but the fact is, there are many people who can't do the things they'd like to.

Gratitude is important.


So, without wanting to dwell on that: March. Days of bright sunshine, sleet showers, blackening skies and everything in between, all thrown at us seemingly at once. The house is either sea bed gloomy or bathed in dazzling 'golden hour' light.

Our days seem to follow the same crazy mix of extremes: quiet moments when I can read or get work done sandwiched between the mad morning rush and Joe's return home again, when it's all about the endless questions (still), baking, planting seedlings, making bird feeders, reading school books, requests for dens and jigsaw tournaments.


Of course, this week is a celebration of books and reading. I went into school this morning to read with Joe (it was actually supposed to be for grandparents but he had to make do with me). It's lovely to be in the classroom. We got through three fairy tales and the little ones sang a song about the story they've been reading in class.


After lunch I'm planning a little walk around the village with my camera. Although it's just started lashing down again, so who knows? 

I'm so glad it's Friday tomorrow. Between car problems (too dull to go into, but it's been very annoying), seemingly endless school requests (themed costumes for tomorrow, sponsor forms, drawing competitions, toast money, homework etc), getting to the hospital and back in time for Joe and all the other stuff - well a few days off the treadmill will be most welcome. I'll have my work cut out trying to slow things down. But this time it's not really optional.

I need to find a new way of getting these things done which doesn't compromise my health and wellbeing. I can do it. Somehow.

Finally, my first article (and photo) for Creative Countryside is now in the online journal.

Wishing you a restful weekend once it arrives!




Thursday, 23 February 2017

Wild Thursday


Sadly, I'm referring to the weather and not the goings-on inside the house.

Yet again the wind's howling and the rain's hammering at the windows. At night I listen to it, battering the roof and making the trees creak. This morning we set off to school dressed in full storm regalia. There's water running down from the hills, huge splashy puddles on the pavements and muddy ponds have suddenly appeared in the hollows.

Before we proceed, just a quick explanation: the photographs in this post bear little or no relation whatsoever to the written content. Although the 'Cake' one is perhaps a bit ironic, considering I'm currently on a 30-day 'reset' plan. I'm doing OK. Cake would be good. Instead I'm improvising with the odd Medjool date. They're kind of fudgy, if you use your imagination.


The camera hasn't seen much action due to the gloominess that seems to have settled, blanket-like, in the house. Downstairs is particularly murky.

So instead I've found and used some of my old pictures - 'curated' (now there's a trendy word). And realised that I really do need to have a photo cull. There are thousands of the things sitting on my desktop and threatening to slow the computer right down. Maybe I'll even break out the external hard drive.

Most of the photos are from around this time last year. I think.


So, a catch-up post. Again.

Joe's back at school after a half term week of baking, walking, adventuring, doing jigsaws and playing with Lego. He's very much into card-making at the moment. Felt tips make me nervous, I must admit, but he seems to get most of the ink on his hands rather than the carpet.

He is enjoying school despite one or two peeves (a few kids in his class - Joe can hold a grudge for years; jacket potatoes for lunch; standing out in the windswept yard until the morning bell goes; the dinner lady promising him a sticker then forgetting to give it to him etc.)

He did spend a few nights with his grandparents during the holiday week. The house felt very tidy and very quiet.


He'll be going there again next month. We don't actually get much time with just Jay and me; it just happens that we've booked a weekend in Grasmere in a lovely hotel and I can't wait. I don't care if it rains because there's a spa with a sauna and pool. We'll do a few walks locally and I'll take a good book or two.

In other words: we plan to do very little indeed.


Speaking of books, I'm currently reading 'Jump!' by Jilly Cooper. Yes, I am. And thoroughly enjoying it too. Sometimes I just need a bit of Cotswolds-based silliness and there's nothing wrong with that.

So, sitting here on this wild Thursday, I'll be messing around with my Frond & Feather site (trying to link my new Etsy shop to it). After that I'm working my way through an online 5 Day Challenge about approaching potential stockists for my prints. And if I get it all done, that leaves a bit of time tomorrow to sort out all those photos.

If I don't find something better to do. Which I will.







Friday, 10 February 2017

A this-and-that kind of morning



I've mentioned before (maybe here, maybe over at Frond & Feather) that I've been trying to be a bit more structured in my approach to work. I'm currently working my way through the Maker's Business Toolkit and it's really helping. No, this isn't a sponsored post or anything. But it's been great to be part of an online community and to have a framework.

I plan out my working week and it's so much better than my previous scatter gun approach.

However.

Today has been a little bit... unstructured.


Maybe I'm just preparing myself for next week - half term - when any semblance of being organised will be straight out of the window. I'm looking forward to it, actually. Yesterday morning we were in such a hurry to leave the house, I locked the front door and as we walked Joe was crying. 'Mummy! You haven't put my shoes on!' Sure enough, I looked down and there he was in just his socks. I felt pretty awful about that one.

After dropping Joe at school today I went out of the side gate from the playground (you have to be quick once the bell's been rung or they lock you in and the only means of escape is via Reception and the wrath of the headteacher) and off up the hill for a little walk. Firstly, because it's been trying to snow for days and we've had just the lightest dusting and I wanted to enjoy it. Secondly, because I wanted to play with my camera.


You see: My name's Sarah and I'm an Autoholic. 

I've owned a DSLR for probably eight years now and am completely stuck in the point-and-shoot mode. In some ways it's served me well; I have some really lovely photos to show for it. And I tend to play with images later on, thanks to some nice editing software. Being a creative type I actually enjoy the whole messing around with effects process. Although it can be very time-consuming.


But I know I can get so much more from my camera. We're now a two-DSLR household, and I keep using Jay's camera with the kit lens rather than my own with a 35mm. I rely way too much on auto-focus.

A good friend of mine is a professional photographer and she couldn't believe I never move out of Auto mode. So yesterday I made lots of notes from my 'Photo' Pinterest board and had a go. 

Many, many horribly underexposed photos later I realised I was trying to run before I could walk. So instead of leaping straight into Manual, I decided that today I'd make a start with Aperture Priority instead. I know the basics - kind of - so off I went.


The photos in this post are all SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera). Other than the black and white ones. And, to be honest, I only did that to try and improve them as I wasn't too happy with them in their unadulterated state.


Still, onwards and upwards. Apparently using Manual mode becomes second nature. Just like riding a bike or driving a car. Well I can drive a car and a tractor - complete with a trailer full of hay - so I'm going to keep on persevering.


I didn't stay out too long, just half an hour or so, because today's to-do list is a long one.


So I returned home, swapped my wellies for shoes, and ran a few errands in town before heading home for a restorative mug of hot chocolate.

I'm also planning to send off my first article for Creative Countryside this afternoon (the accompanying picture will be taken later next week. Who knows, I may be an ace photographer by then). And I need to do a bit of a social media catch-up. 


Joe and I enjoy a bit of colouring. He does these huge, weird and wonderful felt tip drawings with the most surreal stories attached to them. I sit opposite him trying to ignore the marks on the table and use one of those 'colouring for grown-ups' books (this one, a T.K. Maxx bargain). Having read the reviews it would appear that some people take their grown-up colouring very seriously indeed. I'm not one of them. However, it's very absorbing and a nice way to de-stress.

This story is going somewhere, I promise... You see, I recently made some more plant monoprints. Being the most picky of perfectionists, I wasn't entirely happy with the fern (above). I'm also very resourceful and hate throwing out my artwork - especially when it's done using expensive paper - so I thought I'd colour it in with green pencil. It actually looks quite good propped up on the mantel.

I like the idea of hand-tinting my monoprints, so plan to have a go at that after lunch. Whether the watercolour paint will cause the (water-based) printing ink to run is anyone's guess.


And now the sun's gone in, it's trying to snow again and I'm heading downstairs and away from my messy work table. I didn't photograph all of it. A little section tells you all you need to know.

Perhaps a straighten-up later on then, before I collect the little tornado from school.

Have a great weekend, and stay warm.

P.S. I've been re-reading the first two 'Adrian Mole' books (it's probably twenty years since I last read them). I'd forgotten how funny they are...





Wednesday, 1 February 2017

A new (ad)venture...




New year, new month, new (ad)venture:

I'm really excited to share that I was recently appointed as Nature Editor for Creative Countryside



When I first heard they were hiring, I knew I'd love to be one of the new editors. And, as you know, I'm passionate about nature and seasonality. What better than to research and write articles, to find contributors, and to work alongside a team of great fellow writers and bloggers?


My fellow editors are:
Sarah from The Salty Sea Blog (Folklore)
Kayte from Simple and Season (Stories)
Chelsea from Loving Life in Wellies (Adventure).

Three lovely blogs well worth a visit. 


I thought I'd use a selection of old and new photographs to accompany this post. You may recognise a few - some are from around our village, others from further afield: the Lakes, Lindisfarne, Scotland... And I think they represent what I'm hoping to do with this new opportunity.


To get outdoors and explore and get inspired. To think about nature and how we can learn about and celebrate it. And, of course, to share all that with others.


Am I still an artist? Of course. I'm a writer too. And a taker of photographs. I'm not swapping any one of those things for another. Because, in terms of what I've always wanted to do, art and writing - together - well, they're it. And I think they'll complement each other perfectly.


The subject matter and the inspiration are one and the same: nature.


Funnily enough, Jay bought me a diary last week. It's a really lovely one. And I'm going to use it only for my creative notes, plans and dates. As opposed to the more mundane (but still necessary) stuff that ends up in my not-very-pretty, scrawled-in, everyday diary.

Those little seeds of ideas have already started to take root. I suspect the as yet pristine pages will soon be criss-crossed with all kinds of jottings and thoughts, just as they should be.


I really hope you'll visit Creative Countryside and that you'll enjoy what you read there.

Wish me luck!



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