Friday, 18 April 2014

Happy Easter

We're getting some truly gorgeous weather at the moment... Good Friday started with pancakes for breakfast and a leisurely walk through the fields followed by a picnic in the park.

Other plans: 
Cooking lamb for Easter Sunday (and baking a lemon cheesecake for dessert)
Treating ourselves to a meal out later with Joe here
More walks and a visit to Ramsbottom for fruit and veg shopping tomorrow
Trying to get to the end of The Goldfinch - I may have to concede defeat as the library is snapping at my heels
Quite possibly indulging in some chocolate.

I hope the weather's as lovely where you are. Have a nice Easter.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Great British Sewing Fiasco

You may be interested to know that - deep breath - I'm making a dress. With a pattern and everything.

Call it the Sewing Bee effect, call it necessity... You see, I love these dresses and smocks and tunics. But I'm currently a Girl of Slender Means. I'm also one of those people who pictures something specific in their head then goes out looking (unsuccessfully, because it only exists in my imagination) for it in the shops.

The path thus far has not been a smooth one. I started out by purchasing a pattern for a very simple dress. Size Medium. I then carefully cut the pattern out. It didn't look like a Medium to me. Not by any stretch of the imagination (or the material). I decided to be cautious and not cut into my lovely new fabric (a dark indigo, lightweight denim) but instead to cut up an old sheet. Not a vintage sheet, don't worry.

Having cut and pinned the thing together it looked decidedly petite. Wide at the shoulders and bust, narrow at the waist, and no room for those things we women have called hips. It looked, hanging up, like an upside-down triangle. Like the sketches fashion designers make. I'm pretty sure the only person with a body shape like that is Barbie.

Disappointed but relieved at having saved my fabric, I measured myself. Size 12 (or thereabouts) in off-the-peg clothing bears no relation to a size 12 in Planet Dressmaking. Or Planet Butterick, anyway.

So a week or so later I went to the dressmaking department at John Lewis. It was a bit of a journey through a lot of traffic. I bought a different pattern (Simplicity this time, in a bigger size) for a tunic along with some different fabric: a 'busy' floral to hide the inevitable first-timer mistakes. The assistant talked me through the whole process. She explained the pattern, what I needed to do and how much material was required.

On Sunday afternoon I lay the pattern pieces out as per the instructions. There wasn't enough fabric. It was literally a few inches too short. I was mortified. I had plenty of spare but only in long, useless strips. I phoned John Lewis and explained. It can't have been down to me having washed it (having only used a cool cycle on 100% cotton fabric). To be fair they said they'd post me an extra half-metre free of charge so I could cut the last piece and get cracking. It looks as though the pattern's wrong and has underestimated how much material is needed. The fact that it spells 'sleeve', 'sleve' doesn't exactly fill me with confidence either.

Anyway, now I'm waiting for a parcel to arrive. 

Fortunately I'm a stubborn Taurean type who, more often than not, refuses to lose heart because of a few setbacks.

If this tunic ever does get made (I haven't even got to the hard part, i.e. sewing, yet) I'm going to put it on and go and buy myself a bottle of something fizzy and celebratory and quite possibly spill it down my front and not care.

Monday, 14 April 2014

The weekend in pictures

Farmer's market: purchases included tulips, sausage and bacon butties, lamb for Easter...

Early evening walks bluebell-spotting and enjoying the sunshine...

And lots of other small delights... baking (and eating) rhubarb cake; re-potting houseplants on the garden table; finishing one book and starting another; drinking hot chocolate; a Saturday morning library visit, and plenty of outdoor fun with the little one and his new toy tractor.

Hope you had a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014


We have been: Watching the weather (bright sun, stormy skies, sharp showers, gusty winds - all within moments of one another)...

Displaying little finds from our Tweed Valley walks...

Making - and sending - Easter cards (Joe did the painting)...

Bringing home hedgerow snippings...

Admiring these beautiful frilly daffs (they look like two flowers in one)...

Growing on a little gift: a cutting from a lemon-scented geranium (gorgeous scent when pressed between the fingers)...

Planning to re-pot a recent purchase: a deeply purple succulent which could not be resisted.

In other news, we have been:

Eating double ginger cake (I baked two: one for my mum, as ginger is helping with the nausea caused by her current treatment, and one for us - on Jay's insistence);
Drinking a new flavour of Fitzpatrick's cordial: sour cherry, red grape and hibiscus;
Spending lots of time outdoors with Joe.

April is so far proving to be a bit rainy but still lovely. There are primroses in the garden, ferns beginning to unfurl and the hosta is putting forward conical shoots from the soil. There is also much feathered activity outdoors (blackbird fights) and not-so-welcome visitors in the form of snails and caterpillars...

Oh, and lambs everywhere!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Making do and quite liking it

When we were away on our little break in Scotland, I had something on my mind: a wedding. No, we didn't run off to Gretna Green. We'd been invited to one held on the day after we returned and the stress of what to wear was getting to me. Yes, really. So during our afternoon in Edinburgh I took it upon myself to buy something new, glamorous and wonderful.

The whole process wasn't fun at all. I had an hour to myself and could almost hear the clock ticking in my ear as I darted about. First stop: Anthropologie. I'd read about this shop and had never actually been inside. It was heavenly: beautiful home accessories, jewellery, clothes, gorgeously scented candles... and all were eye-wateringly expensive. So I headed up and down Princes Street, rushing in and out of shops and seeing precisely nothing, all the while glancing at my watch and getting more and more down about the whole thing.

When I met up with Jay and Joe in the castle gardens I was in a thoroughly bad mood, tired and defeated. That didn't stop me dragging them around a few more shops before we set off back to the cottage though. Sharing the misery.

That evening, I had an epiphany. I realised that - wait for it - you don't have to buy something new for each social occasion you attend. Not even that frothy, gauzy dress (three figures) in the sweet little boutique that I'd spotted. Fact is I'd probably never wear it again. I didn't actually know anyone at the wedding anyway, it being the nuptials of an old schoolfriend of Jay's who now lives near Newcastle.

I also have some beautiful things hanging in my wardrobe, bought when I had more disposable income and fewer responsibilities. Expensive things. Things I keep 'for best' (and I started 2014 promising this wouldn't be something I did any more).

So instead of buying a new and impractical frock, I decided to wear a lovely beaded top to the wedding with cropped, cuffed trousers, dangly earrings and patent heels (all languishing in the wardrobe back at home and wondering when they'd see daylight again) and instead I picked up a few little souvenirs in Peebles. Things I'd wear again and again. Versatile things which would remind me of our holiday every time I wore them. Like the pink 'Make do and Mend' scarf with pictures of sewing machines and food stamps on it, bought from a haberdashery on the main street. And the long string of beads I spotted which look just like rowan berries (they are, in fact, real berries). 

These are things which I'll keep for ever and wear all the time with different outfits. And I spent far less on them than I would have done on a whole new get-up for one day out.

You see, despite our best intentions, sometimes the pressure to spend overrides all those sensible resolutions. I no longer buy fashion magazines. I dress how I like, often with one statement - a piece of jewellery, red lipstick - and that's all it takes. A bit of perfume. A scarf. Whatever. And the more unique, the better (probably why I'm keen on charity shopping or making things).

I felt great at the wedding and even picked up a compliment or two on my old blouse. It was a beautiful day with good food, music and company, a red double decker bus and lots of spring sunshine.

No more 'must buy something new' silliness for me...

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Year in Books: April

Joining in with Laura...

Last month's book of choice was Cranford. I really enjoyed it; there's something I love about stories set in communities where women dominate the social scene (I suppose another series of books which is similar in this respect is the Anne of Green Gables stories - those of you who have been reading Mitenska for a while will know all about my long-standing love of them).

Cranford appealed to me in all kinds of ways: the 'elegant economy' principles by which the ladies lived; the gently comic way in which Gaskell describes the social mores of the time; the episodic format (the book was initially a set of papers, later put together). Verdict: recommended!

This month's choice is a world away from the twentieth century classics I've been reading of late. I'm jumping through time and continents (in my imagination, at least) to modern day Botswana.

A friend suggested I read The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency several years ago, just as it took off in terms of popularity. I was a little dubious as I'm most keen on fiction set from around 1900 to 1960 (give or take). I'd never read anything set in Africa and the only detective novels I'd gone for were by Agatha Christie.

But read it I did, and was hooked. Alexander McCall Smith's books are wonderfully uplifting, funny and life-affirming. They transport you to Botswana and its slower pace of life; you can almost feel the warmth and dust and smell the sun-baked earth. To me, they represent total escapism and feel-good reading. High-brow? Maybe not. Pleasurable? Most definitely.

So April's choice is The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, the latest in the series. To be honest, I've already made a start so it's likely I'll have finished it within the week... Good job as I collected The Goldfinch from the library on Tuesday. It's huge! And I can only have it for a fortnight as it's an 'in demand' title. Can't see that going well somehow.

P.S. We've just returned from the Scottish Borders and I was so disappointed to learn that  Alexander McCall Smith is giving a talk at the Eastgate Theatre, Peebles in May. It's located at the end of the very street we stayed on! Oh, and the photos are from another visit to Barter Books on our way home (via Northumberland). On a chilly day the fires were lit, the aromas of cake and coffee were in the air, and 1940s music was being played. Comfy old chairs, books on top of books. A bibliophile's heaven...

Purchases were made.

Happy April reading.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Home again

We're home! Have been since Thursday evening actually. Firstly, thank you to everyone who wished up a good trip. I always like to reply to comments but on this occasion we were a bit offline (although I did manage to publish my pre-written Colour Collaborative post during a flying visit to Peebles library on Thursday morning).

We took many, many pictures. I've made collages and I think they tell the story of our little escape far better than an exhaustive account would. And who wants to read about all the details of someone else's holiday anyway?

So... in a nutshell: Peebles, Edinburgh (and the zoo), mountain walks and a drive back home via Northumberland. Oh, and the weather was lovely for the most part.

Scotland... a few little observations I made in my notebook: 

Pheasants, deer, sheep, lambs... Silver-grey, verdigris, acid green... Moss, lichen... Snow-dusted mountaintops... Blue skies, frosty nights... Pine forests, rivers, streams... Solid little stone dwellings with smoking chimneys... Open roads, misty hilltops... Red phone boxes... Coltsfoot... Sash windows and gold-lettered house names... Dry stone walls... Fresh, cold air.

Love that place!
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