Sunday, 28 September 2014

Legacy


This is, without a doubt, the hardest post I've ever had to write. But write it I must - it's time.

Almost two weeks ago, on September 15th, my mum passed away. 

I didn't want to make some announcement on the blog; that's not how I deal with things, particularly personal matters. Up until this point I've been carrying on as usual (at least in this little area of my life) but now feel as though it needs to be shared in some way.

She'd been ill for a while and initially we - and the doctors - thought she'd get well again. Sadly that wasn't the case. So for the past two months she'd been staying in a hospice where we visited her and sat and talked and looked out of the window onto the gardens. We tried to make the most of these precious last times. To not give in to the crushing sense of sadness and injustice - she was still young - that hung over everything.

Yet she never complained or asked 'Why me?' She simply told us she was happy to have met her grandchildren and to have had a life well-lived.


I'll spare you all the little details of how our lives have been over the summer. Writing this is incredibly hard. I'm heartbroken.

But. Life goes on. It has to. I have Joe to take care of; my stepdad is utterly bereft and there are all the necessary arrangements to be dealt with. I'm currently veering between moments of deep sadness and, for the most part, feeling somehow detached from everything. Dazed. Not quite believing, or wanting to believe, that she's gone.

So each morning I sit at the table with my cup of tea and cry quietly before I go and collect Joe from his room. And each day I swallow back the tears as I do all that needs to be done. Sometimes I enjoy the things I've always loved: walking, cooking, reading.


It's what my mum wanted: for us to live our lives and love our lives. She wrote us letters telling us to do just that. And she left the most wonderful gifts behind: diaries and her 'happy books'. In those books are pages of memories, wisdom, quotes and little musings on what she loved about her life. Recipes, observations, stories. She wanted us to read them once she'd gone so that we'd understand why there were no regrets or disappointment, and so we'd take some comfort during this time.

I'll treasure them for ever. Joe will read them. I've started making a book of my own so he'll get to know all about his grandma - I'm illustrating it with pictures of her favourite things. And even before we found out, on January 1st this year, that she was ill, I was already instilling her values into my own parenting: a love of nature and reading, of good home-cooked food, the importance of laughter and affection.

You're maybe wondering how I've kept the blog going during this time.

Well, the 'happy books' have, like all my mum's belongings, remained untouched since all this began. I couldn't bring myself to look at them. It was too painful.

But I had to look. I wanted to do two last things for her: choose and arrange her funeral flowers and write her eulogy. And for the latter I needed to consult the notebooks. Reading through them I found myself smiling and occasionally - dare I say it? - laughing. Amongst the stories were a few snippets which spoke to me regarding Mitenska:

'I love Sarah's Mitenska blog' and

'Sarah leaving the Uni. Mixed feelings but I believe she is doing the right thing. I so want her to use her God-given talents.'

I suspect I'll find a lot of answers in those books. 

Mitenska is, in a large part, inspired by my mum. It's about celebrating the little joys in life and the pleasures to be had from enjoying simple things. It's about memories and family and heritage, about the beauty in nature we both love. It's about capturing moments and savouring them.

It's important to me that this little space is somewhere people can visit to look at lovely photographs and to share in the good things as I see them. Sorry if this post has been sad. It's not my intention to make anyone feel that way. But it needed writing, and it has been, and I'll be carrying on as best as I can in future with my blog as it's always been.

Thank you for reading. And thank you to the few people who knew already, for their good wishes.

Sarah.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Home (in my dreams)



I haven't been spending as much time as usual in Blogland recently. I'll maybe go into that sometime. We've been busy and just dealing with what life's been throwing at us of late.

Yesterday evening we went to view a house.

I spotted it last week and we made enquiries. You see, houses in this particular village don't hang around for long. And we'd dearly love to live there.

So, we met up with the (actually very nice and not at all pushy) estate agent and took a look around. Joe was being difficult. He took it up a notch when he spotted a toybox stuffed with cars. But we managed a good nosey and liked what we saw: a nicely-sized back garden leading out onto the village green, a newly-fitted bathroom, inoffensive decor and all the rest of it. We were keen and made that crystal clear.

But then...

A little walk, some time to think and - well, common sense kicked in. We both agreed that, beautiful though the setting, and lovely the garden, and cosy the living room, the cottage was just too small. And not just that. We've been hoping to move further afield (much further). Was this just a distraction, an enticing opportunity to get ourselves some security and a foot back onto the property ladder?


We currently live in a rented house. One of the biggest problems with the house we (finally) sold back in June was the lack of space. And last night's tempting little cottage was certainly no larger. In fact, it may actually have been a smidge smaller.

We don't have any desire to own a 'big' house. In fact, the current place is too big. We live in the 'back' room, whilst the spacious front and attic rooms are pretty much redundant. Our bedroom is vast, but we're not those glamorous types who describe their sleeping space as a 'suite'. No armchairs or TVs in there. Just the basics: bed, drawers and a built-in wardrobe. Not even a dressing table. Although I would like to have one of those.


So, what would my ideal house be? What would it have? What would be the 'deal-breakers' as opposed to the 'would be nice' factors? Well, I often think about that. And I thought it might be fun to write a post on the subject.

I suspect this will end up starting as an 'I don't really want much' type of thing, and end up looking like the longest wish-list ever. But when I think of my 'dream' house, there are certain images which always appear in my head. I'm happy to share. So, let's begin.

Location: In my wildest fantasies, probably some little island off Denmark, Sweden or Norway. But perhaps a little bit more realistically I'd love to live somewhere off the beaten track. Wild, and near water - the sea, a lake, a river. Fields. Dry stone walls. Perpetual autumn's probably asking a bit much though.

Outdoors: Wouldn't we all love to live the self-sufficiency dream? A little smallholding with a bit of an orchard (yes, I'd have a washing line in it). Room for a greenhouse. A few outbuildings. Chickens. Somewhere to sit and take shelter whilst watching the rain.


Indoors: A wood-burning stove. A pantry. A snug room somewhere to line with books and retreat into. A Belfast sink (for doing the hand-washing). A porch at the front of the house and maybe another at the back, with hooks on the wall. Sash windows and wooden floors and quirky little built-in cupboards to store kitchen things and whatever else needs keeping out of view. Deep windowsills to sit on and gaze out from.

We won't get started on wall colours and furniture and all the rest of it or I'll be here all day. Maybe that's one for another time...

I know that, once we do buy our next house, it's unlikely to tick all the boxes. Probably not even most of them. But some things are non-negotiable. And for us, size does matter. Because even though we're not into accumulating 'stuff', and we don't really aspire to huge TVs and an American-style fridge, we are a family who need the space to function. And cute as that little character cottage may have been, a house with no room for a laundry basket or dining table just won't work.

Do you have any ideas of what you'd like in your 'forever' home? Maybe you're lucky enough to live in it already. I'd love to hear what, for you, makes a home (and what, given a free rein, would be put on your wishlist).

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Notes from the weekend


A Physalis, or Chinese Lantern, bought from a little greengrocer's shop in Hebden Bridge. I love these plants - they always remind me of Halloween. The stems look great dried out too, displayed in a vase. I suspect I'll have to wait for my plant to grow for a year or two first as it's only little. So it's currently residing outside on the windowsill where it can be admired both from without and within.


Speaking of drying flowers: the hydrangea heads are well on their way, along with some Eucalyptus. The faded mauve blossoms go nicely with the silvery blue-green of the foliage stems.


A very small pomegranate. I'm looking forward to buying some bigger ones to eat. Preferably with juicy, ruby-red insides. Stained fingernails here we come.


Cute little gourds seem to be on display everywhere at the moment. One day I'll have a go at growing my own.


There are plenty of damsons, greengages and English apples about as well. This really is a wonderful time of year for food.


Whilst on the subject: a little trip to Katsouris, the delicatessen where I used to go with my mum and grandma. You know, before it was fashionable to enjoy the food eaten by European immigrants (a subject I'm planning to cover in a future Food Memories post). Sadly they no longer stock the little chocolate-covered katarzynki I ate as a child. But I did bag plenty of other goodies: Polish kabanos sausage, German smoked cheese, bagels, rye bread, sweet gherkins, stuffed vine leaves and pickled green chillies. Which were very hot indeed.

I snaffled some Polish cheesecake too, with a thick layer of poppyseeds inside. And - I promise this completes the haul - a bag of Brazil nut toffee from the sweet stall on the market. I used to love chewing on it and it turns out nothing's changed on that score.

In other news, we picked up a nice old pine chest of drawers for the 'family room'. It has castors on the feet, brass handles and a few knocks and scratches a bit of character. I wanted to photograph it but at this time of day the sun's moved around to the front of the house and I didn't want fuzzy pictures.

We're going for an autumnal stroll later. Hopefully we'll find plenty of conkers and some elderberries too.

I hope you're enjoying the weekend and savouring these last few precious hours of it...

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Precious Things



Thank you for all the comments on my previous post. I love reading about what other people are up to and what their plans are (and I also love knowing I'm not the only September enthusiast out there)...

I mentioned a new little project: a collaboration between myself and some lovely fellow bloggers. It's called Precious Things. Allow me to explain the idea behind it...

I've often read interviews in magazines where that ubiquitous question pops up. You know, the one about what you'd save if the house was burning down. Well, with the exception of all living things, my camera, my new hard drive (which Royal Mail are now a week late in delivering) and perhaps a bottle of gin to calm the nerves, there are lots of little treasures which hold special meaning to me and which I'd hate to lose.

These things are not necessarily valuable in terms of financial merit but they're worth a whole lot more in terms of the memories they hold.

Mitenska is my special place where a particular blend of emotions, ideas and, I suppose, ramblings come together to form a whole. There's definitely some nostalgia in there. Bits of stories, things I remember from childhood. Inherited wisdom. Mental snapshots of people and places and experiences.

So it made sense to me to start a series looking at some of these little treasures, these precious things. And to think about what makes them so important.

Precious Things can take many forms: inherited jewellery, postcards, gifts from your children. Maybe a little something you bought with your first ever pay cheque, or a find you unearthed at a flea market - something where you have to imagine the life it had before you came along.


For my first post then, a few little treasures brought back from a long weekend in Prague.

When travelling (how cosmopolitan that sounds. The reality these days is that we don't stray far at all) I always like to find a souvenir or two. These souvenirs tend to be something for the house. And I'm a sucker for a vase, I really am.

So: these two treasures, procured from Golden Lane (which runs alongside Prague Castle). Both caught my eye for entirely different reasons; the heavy vase in splashy, monochrome Czech glass because of it's shape and size and my knowing it would look perfect on the bookcase. The little bookmark was just sweet and unusual, and that perfect mix of form and functionality. I still use it now, years later.

These souvenirs aren't just things I look at and use. They evoke memories of an icy city in March; of cold beer and horseradish dumplings and bookshops. And that's what makes them part of my collection of Precious Things.

*********************************************************************************

Please look out for my fellow blogger's posts on their Precious Things:


And as I get things a little bit more organised we should hopefully be posting simultaneously and with a guest post each month. 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Branching out




I know many of us see September as a month of new starts. I've always viewed it as my New Year. Maybe that's because I've worked in schools, colleges, universities and careers for so long - you find yourself buying diaries which follow the academic year and you plan your life accordingly. And to be honest, January isn't really the time to feel inspired and energised and resolute. I'm usually feeling a bit low after the great festive comedown. The weather's grim, the days are short and the bank account's looking worryingly depleted. And that's before I even think about all that overindulgence and the resulting sluggishness.

Back to September, then. I'm a bit of a stationery lover so that whole ritual of buying a new pencil case and notebook (or three) at this time of year is always a cause for celebration. And there's so much to look forward to: comfort food, frosts, Halloween, bonfires, anticipation of Christmas festivities.

So, to mark September, a few new projects.

Firstly: one I'm very excited about. Annie from Manneskjur asked if I'd like to be a part of a new website she's launching today. Folklings is a beautiful place to visit: lots of gorgeous photographs accompanied by quotes and links to further reading should you wish to explore a little more. I'm so pleased to be one of the curators and am currently trying to get my head around using Squarespace (I'm determined to master it). It does actually feel like I'm embarking on a new path of learning - again, perfect for this new academic year.

The next project is one of my own. A collaboration between myself and a few fellow bloggers. We'll be posting monthly and, once we've set sail, I'll be inviting a guest blogger along to join us each month.

I've been thinking about this for a while now and the idea's been floating about in my mind for ages. It's a simple concept but one which I hope you'll enjoy. So, time to stop planning and to make a start. Post #1 in the series will be here later this week. 

As well as the bloggy stuff, I'm going to attempt making sushi for the first time ever. My rolling mat arrived in the post a few days ago. And cowl number two is already on the knitting needles - it'll take longer than the last one as the wool's much finer so there'll be many an evening spent clickety-clicking on the sofa.

Are there any projects you've started this month? Do you have plans to begin something new? And is September your time of year for new endeavours?

Friday, 12 September 2014

The week that was


Some images from the past week. First up: hydrangea stems on the table. They're one of my favourite things to photograph. And they look just as good - if not better - once they've dried out.


Chicken on the barbecue. It was good. We should have done more. A lot more.


Season of mists, mellow fruitfulness... and fungi. Apparently it isn't officially autumn until September 22nd. Well it feels like it's here already. And we don't hold off celebrating Christmas until December 25th, do we? Not that I advocate the whole festive silly season which begins in October either...


We still have a week or two until these are ready for collecting. But I've found some trees with branches which almost touch the ground and they're full of fat conkers. Joe will be pleased. He seems more interested in the casings than the conkers themselves, calling them 'seashells' and holding them to his ear.


I've started planting out the window boxes with autumn/winter flowers. The plan was to go for heathers and silvery foliage but I changed my mind when I saw these little pansies. Hopefully the snails will leave them alone.


There will be more planting but I'm glad I made a start. I limited myself to the one window box because the place I bought these plants from was so expensive. Maybe we'll invest in nicer containers too instead of the plastic imitation terracotta ones, which I don't like very much at all.


Tea and a Viennese slice. Joe drove me to it earlier in the week.


A... cowl? Snood? Neck warmer? Anyway, it's knitted from some wool I've used for many items and then gone on to unravel. This one's a keeper I think.

The buttons are vintage ones, bought many moons ago, and are made of glass.

I hate having my photograph taken but in the interests of showing my new garment being worn, I decided to go for it. I generally assume 'selfies' are for the vain but it would appear they also require photography skills I don't possess. 

Take one: Oh dear.


Take two: A slight issue with the focus.


Take I-have-no-idea-as-I-lost-count: Resorting to just using the camera as I know how. Hopefully you can see the scarf/cowl/snood thing.

You can also see that my roots need some attention. It's all glamour around here.


Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

September reading


Last month my reading was pretty varied; I mentioned that my first ever e-book was Annie Proulx's The Shipping News (I was inspired whilst reading a blog post here). 

I loved it. From start to finish, it had me hooked: the descriptions of the unforgiving Newfoundland landscape, the characters, the story. In fact I'll be buying a 'real' version of it to add to my bookshelf. And I'd be interested to know if anyone's read any of Proulx's other work (she has written several collections of short stories) as I'm considering giving them a try.

A quick, but fun, read was Michael Pollan's Food Rules. It was another e-book, inexpensive and concise (I read it in an evening). Pollan is a well-known food writer and advocate of simple food and a healthy diet. I'll never be a butter-churner or ketchup-maker, but I do believe in avoiding processed foods as much as possible. And I have a keen interest not just in cookery books but in food writing in general. Again, I'd recommend it. Pollan speaks a lot of sense. Perhaps some of it is just that: plain common sense. But still. Sometimes it's good to get a reminder, a bit of a nudge in the right direction.

So for September: a 'real' - and pretty hefty - book, this time borrowed from the library. I'm back on the Cazalets again; Marking Time, the second in the series of Elizabeth Jane Howard's chronicles. I've only just started it but, like the previous one, I'm enjoying reading about the details of life in the 1930s (albeit life 'above stairs' as lived by a wealthy family), and appreciating the sharply-observed characters.

In addition to this I have a big, constantly growing pile of books waiting to be read. Hopefully I'll get around to them eventually. Maybe.

Oh, and finally, one of my regular treats: the October issue of Country Living magazine. I love the autumn and winter issues and am flicking through whenever I get a spare moment or two. Not challenging or highbrow but there are recipes, interiors and beautiful photography and that suits me just fine.

Joining in with Laura's Year in Books.
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