Monday, 20 October 2014

Precious Things #2: Amber

I have quite a few bits of jewellery. Some I wear all the time, like my engagement ring (white gold bands sprinkled with tiny diamonds) and my stainless steel, men's-style watch (does that even count as jewellery?)

I don't own much that's worth a lot in monetary terms but there are plenty of trinkets in my jewellery box which do hold a lot of meaning and memories.

As a teenager I decided gold wasn't for me - it was all about silver. Despite my birth stone being emerald, and my love of green, I always favoured turquoise. But a poke around my modest little collection reveals that I own rather a lot of amber. I suspect that's because, yet again, it's an Eastern European thing. A long weekend in Prague many moons ago revealed just how much that part of the world loves the stuff: shop after shop with necklaces, rings, earrings of all shades displayed in the windows.

The market in Krakow houses a multitude of stalls selling amber too. My 'Polish' jewellery is mainly (with the exception of a few little rubies and amethysts) comprised of it: some greenish and sparkling, some the colour of set honey, other pieces in rich golden syrup hues.

This necklace has been in our family for years. It desperately needs re-stringing as the waxed thread is frayed away to almost nothing in places so I daren't wear it. But it does remind me of childhood. It lived in a carved wooden box along with other little family treasures. The stones have an almost soapy feel to them and they glow warmly when they catch the light. Such a perfect stone for this, my favourite time of year.

I don't know how 'precious' amber actually is - in comparison to other stones at least - but it does capture my imagination: it evokes ideas of Bohemia and of autumnal trips to Krakow when the shop fronts were decorated with gourds. 


P.S. If you'd like to guest post for the next Precious Things (November) please get in touch. I'd love to hear from you.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for my fellow blogger's posts this month:

Leanne at Today's Stuff

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Midweek miscellany

I have actually started to organise myself a bit better of late and that includes some sort of blog planning - you know, where I actually schedule specific posts and jot down ideas for future ones. It helps. Particularly when you get involved in link-ups and the like.

But sometimes I like to do these tying-up of the proverbial loose ends posts. A bit of this, a bit of that. Maybe what we've been up to and what I'm hoping to do in terms of new little projects.

Firstly - for those of you who were concerned about the pony in my previous post: I did make a phone call and it was followed up. The pony is 30 years old (which is pretty ancient in equine terms) and does suffer from various health issues but is well cared-for by both his owners and the local vet.

Now, onto other things.

Joe and I have been out walking again. It's feeling decidedly cold now and the leaves are whirling when the wind blows. We still need to figure the central heating out in this house. It'll come on for a (very) short while then we're back to Shiverville. So I'm all about vests, jumpers, thick socks and scarves right now.

The hosta outside is an incredible yellow colour and I'm looking forward to dividing it into smaller plants. And whilst I'm on the subject of growing, I bought some hyacinth bulbs yesterday. They're the indoor ones which have been treated to make them think winter's been and gone and they're currently residing in a dark cupboard in bulb vases. It'll be fun for Joe to see the roots reaching down for the water.

Projects: well, we're going to a Halloween party in a few weeks so I need to think up a costume fit for a toddler. He seems quite taken with pirates at the moment so that could be the way to go. Although his red and white striped T shirt disappeared at nursery several weeks ago and has never resurfaced.

While we're on the subject of losing things, Joe apparently decided to take my big wooden spoon out with him for a walk on Sunday. His grandparents were looking after him for a few hours while Jay and I had lunch on the steam train (very lovely by the way). Joe was waving the spoon about at the ducks and accidentally dropped it. So now it's sitting lodged between the stones in the River Irwell for all to see. I was quite attached to that spoon.

Another thing I'm getting into is improving my photography. It's all very well playing around with editing programmes but I'm keen to master my camera and get better shots - particularly indoors - by doing things properly (shutter speed, ISO, aperture). Oh, and using the tripod. That's going to be vital at this time of year when the light levels are low.

This time around I won't be signing up to a course. I've found so much inspirational and easy-to-follow stuff online and it's got me feeling very motivated.

I'm excited about the weekend too. I'm meeting up with a friend in Manchester for coffee and later on we have visitors, so we're cooking for them. I bought Jay this book as one of his birthday presents and he's already curing his own bacon... I suspect he'll be butcher bothering on Saturday morning. I'll do dessert so am leafing through recipe books and I definitely feel a cake coming on...

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Off grid

Well, almost. I've been trying to get a few walks in recently - alone. Walking without glancing at my phone or talking to anyone. Just letting my mind wander and taking in the sights, sounds, smells. The light and colour.

I've written about walking alone before, and my first submission for Folklings was about the joys of solitude. It doesn't take a life-changing event to realise the importance of time spent alone to just be.

Yesterday, as the daylight was fading, I went for a wander around the village. The air smelt of woodsmoke. I peeped in a few windows whilst passing and saw farmhouse walls with plates hanging on them, and cosy rooms with bookcases and lamps lit.

Today was beautiful: bright, a bit chilly and just begging me to come and join it. So I did. Jay took Joe out to meet up with his mum and I went out for a ramble. Just a phone (silent mode), a doorkey, a few tissues and some lip balm for company.

And, of course, my camera.

There's someone I follow on Pinterest and she has a board called 'Emotional Landscapes'. Well, this particular walk is an emotional landscape to me. It holds a lot of memories and evokes a lot of good feelings.

There were lots of details to savour: flame-coloured leaves, jewel-like berries, sulphur-hued fungi...

Structural seedheads...

And general October prettiness.

I was also lucky to spot a kingfisher darting along just above the river: a flash of brilliant turquoise. No, I didn't get a photo. It was too fast.

Then I saw a bird hopping from rock to rock, bobbing up and down and singing. On my return home I looked it up: a Dipper, apparently. My first ever one.

There was the odd little robin flitting about. And a curious (and thin) pony. Looks like he needs a bit of something.

Once I found myself back in civilisation I noticed a few more things: scarlet leaves and, in the park, the ground lookIng like a retro fabric design.

I brought home a few little treasures too. A beautifully-coloured hydrangea head...

And, for Joe, another feather for the collection. Ditto conkers.

Not pictured: a bag of treacle toffee procured from the newsagent.

Then home to an empty house for a cup of tea and some short-lived, but still much appreciated, peace and quiet.

Have a wonderful weekend.

P.S. Apologies if there are any typos - we have an unexpected visitor so proof-reading's a bit difficult!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Food memories: The immigrant's kitchen

It's been a while since I wrote a Food Memories post. The intention was to make them a regular series and I still want to do that. Having written about Rose Petal Jam in my last post, it makes sense for me to think about the Polish food I grew up with. 

There's so much here that it would take a whole lot of writing. Instead of that, I want to look at snapshot memories - and some may be a little bit surprising.

My grandparents moved here after the War. They lived in Norfolk for a while then sailed to New York before finally settling in Bury. Apparently, after a short stay Stateside my grandmother wanted to return to England so return they did, and joined a sizeable Polish community over here. They initially bought a terraced house on Canning Street and then progressed to a 1930s semi a little further out of town. It had a tiny kitchen, an even smaller pantry and gardens to the front and back.

This tiny kitchen housed a fridge, a sink unit, an electric cooker and a built-in cupboard. The walls were tiled with brick tiles and there was a 1950s unit with sliding glass doors, a couple of drawers and a Formica top. Estate agents would probably describe the whole set-up as 'cosy'.

The built-in cupboard, I remember, was always furnished with a box of Ritz crackers and a tub of Saxa salt. And jars of sauerkraut (Krakus - Poles don't buy the cheaper, 'inferior' brands stocked by supermarkets. They go to delis or actual Polish skleps, as far as I know). My grandmother and grandfather were very partial to a Ritz cracker. Indeed, my - frankly rather scary - grandma has been known to send visitors packing if they don't arrive bearing a box at Christmas.

The front, or 'best' room was seldom used. It had my grandad's medals displayed on the wall, and net curtains and a fancy glass-fronted cabinet with mirrored panels on the inside. In the cabinet were dinky liqueur glasses and a variety of blow-your-socks-off spirit-based drinks. Upon arrival I'd be sent in there to get myself a little plastic bottle of lemonade, Panda Pops or similar. There was always just the one, and once I'd been it would be replaced with another lone bottle procured from the corner shop.

On the coffee table lived chocolates in a sellophane-wrapped box: dark ones filled with cherry liqueur, brought back from Poland by whoever had been over there last. Occasionally I'd be allowed one. You bit into them and there'd be the bitter taste of very dark chocolate, followed by the alcoholic sweetness of the cherry and the slight graininess of sugar. They weren't very nice. But they were chocolate. And when you're little any chocolate is better than none at all.

Yes, a lot of cooking happened in the tiny kitchen. And a lot of growing and harvesting went on in the garden, and drying and storing in the porch and garage.

But for now: little details of the store cupboard and drinks cabinet. I'll probably never eat a cherry liqueur again. But I do buy big jars of Krakus gherkins and sauerkraut. And I also love the greasy saltiness of Ritz crackers. A little too much. So they never make it into the shopping basket.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

October reading

As usual, I have a couple of books on the go this month.

I'm nearing the end of the second Cazalet book, Marking Time (by Elizabeth Jane Howard). You know the drill by now: social history, family drama, great characters - complete with that stiff upper-lipped Britishness of the era. Marking Time is set during the Second World War so there are plenty of period details and, despite it being a work of fiction, a few surprising facts along the way. Howard is adept at evoking a sense of how life really was during the Thirties and Forties. 

There's a good chance I'll be reserving Confusion (book 3), at the local library. Because although it may seem a little unadventurous to keep plodding through these novels back to back, I'm really enjoying them and that's what counts.

Well, that and the fact that I don't fancy a big gap in between (that would necessitate my familiarising myself again with all those characters and their relationships).

Moving on: my 'treat' book. Rose Petal Jam by Beata Zatorska is the story of a summer spent in Poland. It looks back at Zatorska's family history, Poland's national history and at how life is now lived both in the cities and the countryside.

The photographs are beautiful and there are plenty of recipes to try. If you have read any books by Tessa Kiros (notably Falling Cloudberries), this is a similar type of thing. I'd recommend it - in fact I've also put the follow-up book, Sugared Orange, on my wish list. It details a winter in Poland so promises to be every bit as readable (and pretty).

October's here. I'm typing in a chilly room and am wrapped up in several woolly layers. This blog is currently powered by mugs of hot tea and hazelnut biscuits. It's cold out there. In other words: it's the perfect time of year to be curled up with a good book or two...

Joining in with Laura's The Year in Books.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Little things

I'm in the mood for a simplistic post. And lately I've been writing down, in a little notebook, details from each day which give me reason to smile.

There are a surprisingly large number of them.

Of course, all the thoughtful comments posted here of late have been a great help and I'd like to say thank you to everyone who sent their best wishes this way.

And here are some of the things which have brightened up the past few days...

Offerings: A hand-tied bunch of flowers, brought over by a friend who came to visit yesterday. It contained a beautiful bronze bloom chrysanth and I do love those.

Recent kitchen activity: baking (spiced apple cake, recipe from here); stodge of the Polish variety (bigos, or hunter's stew, and pierogi: parcels filled with cheese and potato, which are boiled but leftovers are generally fried in butter); healthier eatings in the form of fresh figs and crunchy Spartan apples; and a treat of chocolate, almond and cherry granola - I'm not sure whether that comes under the category of breakfast cereal or dessert but I don't care because it tastes so good.

Joe rummaging through the kitchen cupboards. Generally quite annoying but when he unearths an old (and still sealed) bottle of sloe gin and (don't worry) hands it straight over to me, I'm very grateful.

The recent spell of beautiful sunshine. Plenty of walks to be had, treasures to be found (Joe's current favourite game involves loading conkers onto a little tipper truck) and nature's seasonal gifts to be admired. The light is wonderful right now.

The painterly flowers growing in people's gardens at the moment: asters, dahlias and rudbeckias. And the sunset colours which seem to be predominant too in the purple heather, deep pink sedums and rich orange crocosmia.

Gardening: we've been planting more containers up and have planted some bulbs already, in anticipation of spring: dwarf narcissi, muscari and snowdrops. I bought a few amber-hued miniature chrysanthemums too and they look very autumnal against a backdrop of dark purple heuchera.

Apparently the weather's set to turn after today. So one more little pleasure: a line full of washing. Which means a fresh bed. And in the interests of enjoying the little things, tonight I may watch an episode or two of Gardener's World (recorded from the past few weeks) with a glass of that sloe gin.

Recent events have made me realise even more the importance of small pleasures - a definition of which, by the way, reads: 'A source of enjoyment or delight'. They're everywhere if you look, and you don't need to look very hard.

I hope you have a great weekend full of small enjoyments and delights.

Sunday, 28 September 2014


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.

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