Friday 31 January 2014

Keeping calm, carrying on

It's the last day of January and it's going out with a bang (well, a downpour). I know a lot of people hate January; I'm not a big fan either but I started this year in a super optimistic frame of mind.

Without wishing to be all cryptic I did mention that things are a bit stressful at the moment. Basically my mum recently found out all was not right health-wise and she starts treatment in hospital next week. It's a difficult time as information has been minimal and I absolutely refuse to start Googling or looking things up on Wikipedia.

It's also one of those situations where you need to know what's going on but at the same time you're fearful of what you may be told.

So yes, the answer is (to use that ubiquitous phrase) to Keep Calm and Carry On. I have Joe to take care of. He's possibly the best distraction anyone could ask for.

And although it may seem odd to talk about trivial little things on this blog - what we're eating, reading, where we're visiting, what I've seen - it does actually help. I don't intend to write about the bad stuff that's going on in my life right now. My blog isn't a confessional, it's where I share things I enjoy posting about. These past few weeks have been trying for all of us and I don't feel full of the joys. But life is all about ups and downs, highs and lows.

So while I'm glad to see the back of January, I'm facing the next few months with trepidation. My mum's insisted we all just get on with things and that's what I plan to do. That and hope for the best. Because her problem was spotted early and she's going to get good care, which is more than many people get.

In the meantime we're being kind to one another and doing what she says we should: getting on with our lives and taking things as they come. This weekend we have a few family bits planned, meeting up with my parents then later on visiting Jay's auntie for Sunday lunch. I'm also planning to try and fit in some creative time and to finish my book ready for February's read...

And I'll still be here, posting and Carrying On as usual.


Monday 27 January 2014

Acts of kindness (random or otherwise) - and the magical properties of marmalade

This year started full of optimism and plans. I'm still feeling optimistic but maybe not quite so much... there are a few things going on that are the source of worry and stress but which I'm not going to go into here on the blog.

But although you can't control everything that happens in life, you can decide how to react to things. And I'm trying to keep a sense of perspective and pragmatism.

Plus, there are always little things which help. Last week, a lovely reader called Cathy got in touch after reading this post. She then proceeded to send me some vintage Ladybird books for Joe. Such a nice gesture. Thank you, Cathy.

Last week was a tough one. Sometimes you just feel as though things are conspiring against you. Jay came home one evening with some roses to cheer me up. They did. Because it's not just receiving gifts that's nice, it's the knowledge that someone's been thinking about you.

Oh, and here's my marmalade. We have an awful lot of it. But it tastes wonderful. I've given some away, including a jar for the man who owns the greengrocer's shop where I bought my Seville oranges. I took it to him on Friday - it was his last day in the shop as it's been taken over by someone else.

So a jar of marmalade was just a small thank you for all his fruit and veg-related advice, and for the fact that he always had a chat with Joe when we went in.

He was quite taken aback with his gift and I got a hug.

I think that little jar made his day, and his reaction made mine.

As I made my way to the hairdresser to collect a screaming toddler (in there with his grandad to get a much-needed haircut), an old man stopped his car so I could cross the road. Little kindnesses make a lot of difference, don't they?

Baking always makes me feel relaxed and yesterday I baked a marmalade cake. It's disappearing very quickly. The photo was taken before I iced it (while there was a tiny bit of sunshine left in the kitchen).

I put the marmalade photo on Twitter. It resulted in my having a little chat with none other than Nigel Slater himself. I was beside myself with excitement - I do love Nigel, his writing and his recipes.

All these goings-on because of some orange preserve. 

The magic of marmalade, eh?

Saturday 25 January 2014

Rain, shine and in between

I'd been hoping to take some nice indoor photos today, including a few of the marmalade I made (nine jars in total). Some of those jars are big. Even after giving some away, I need to look up some marmaladey recipes. Cake, buns, glazed ham... not too sure what else just yet. But it was worth the effort and the stickiness - it tastes wonderful.

Anyway... when we woke up the sun was shining so we headed out for a walk with Joe, to a nearby nature reserve-type place with a lake. You have to make the most of the sunshine at the moment.

It wasn't even that cold. We played on the swings and met some very friendly Canada geese. They're used to being fed lots of crusts by visitors so are happy to come up close. Joe was transfixed.

Then we had a little wander...

And someone discovered the joys of puddles.

Fortunately he was dressed for it. Almost.

Should have tucked those jeans in...

We got home shortly before the sky went very, very dark and the rain started. The wind was so strong it took our For Sale sign with it.

Things were really gloomy indoors and any photos would have been not so much moodily atmospheric as blurry and grainy. Very grainy. I could have set the tripod up and messed around with the exposure but... I didn't.

We may head out tomorrow for a few things but then again we may not. It's nice to have options. 

Hope you're enjoying the weekend, rain or shine (or both).

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Scenes from a rainy day

It's been a typical January day - grey and rainy. But I'm liking my new calendar (bought last week for half the original price, I suppose because it's not officially New Year any more).

I stash old plastic pots of bulbs from the previous year under a shelf in the garden. They're all showing signs of life again so I've brought these little muscari inside - I love them. These will (if they flower) be blue. I think. Can't quite remember...

I've also been hunting down jars ready for my first ever marmalade-making session. It involved throwing away some old raspberry jam and some very old cranberry sauce, so no bad thing.

I managed to buy up the last of the Seville oranges from the grocer. 1.2 kilos. I'll have to calculate how much sugar's required as I think Nigel's marmalade recipe calls for 2 kilos. It also says I need two lemons, so maybe I'll just use one.

Baking is the only time I enjoy doing maths. Paying my credit card bill is my least favourite use of my (limited) numeracy skills.

A blurry Joe: a combination of low January light and high toddler energy.

I try and get out with him most days, but yesterday he was testing my boundaries and my patience. After an exhausting morning at playgroup I was on the point of collapse. This is him just before his afternoon nap, having one last rifle through the cupboards.

The cyclamen plant is still alive. This must be a personal record. In fact...

It's decided to produce more flower buds. It must have concluded I'm not too bad to live with after all (although a visit to my mum's house at the weekend, where I witnessed what cyclamen can do when they really like you) put my little plant to shame. 

I still love it though. We have a very fragile relationship.

A bit of light reading, in between housework and childcare.

Not really. I can just about hold my own when ordering from the lunchtime menu at Cafe Rouge. But my mum gave me this book as she thought it might come in useful for some kind of craft project. The French text is quite lovely-looking. And Valentine's Day's around the corner.

I hope you're all getting through January without feeling too deprived of sunlight. It is getting lighter (gradually) and I've spotted snowdrops growing - hopeful signs.

Sunday 19 January 2014

January survival kit

There's something about this time of year: you seem to be either full of optimism and ideas for the year ahead, or you're feeling low because of the lack of light, the cold, the greyness.

We went into town today to buy Joe another of his Grobags - he only has one thick one and I don't really like the washer and dryer on the go constantly. Whilst we were there I had a look in Waterstones. So many lovely books, so much beautiful stationery. I could have spent hours (and many pounds) in there. But what really made me smile was the 'tween' girls excitedly looking at the notebooks and craft supplies. I saw similar little groups of them in Debenhams, trying on makeup (very expensive makeup) whilst the beauty assistants looked on. It reminded me of the shopping trips my friends and I used to take into town, all hysteria and silliness. My entire spends would go on bus fares and pizza.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that, even in the gloominess of January, little things you notice really do cheer you up.

I often think about the little things. Here's a list of what's making me smile at the moment:

Joe imitating me talking with my hands
Going through my photo archives and editing pictures
Hot bubble baths
A new jumper (bought with Christmas gift vouchers): a navy Fisherman's knit
Earl Grey tea
The Casual Vacancy - can't put it down
Grilled artichoke hearts in oil
My Christmas present from Jay
Organising, organising, organising
A very warm and cosy bed
BBC 4 documentaries (Ladybird books and biscuits - separately, not together)

Hope you're not feeling too low this month - and I hope you've got your own list of little things to help you get through January...

Thursday 16 January 2014

Little things... add some cheer to January. Like cinema leftovers (we went to see this film and both enjoyed it - definitely one of those which you know works better on the big screen). The tickets were expensive but it was a nice (grown up) evening.

Joe having fun on the swings. I always carry an old tea towel in the bottom of our bag in case we need to dry off the seats first. Be Prepared and all that...

A cute little book from the charity shop. One day I fancy keeping a few hens. I put crusts out in the garden for the two fat wood pigeons who roost in the tree at the end and Joe loves watching them. I suspect chickens would live in fear of his over-enthusiastic stroking technique (cats know to avoid him like the plague).

I've been asked to put together a bit of a display with dried flowers and seed heads for a living room window. I chose this jug over glass vases and china. Now I just need to find some stems to arrange in it...

I have a little pot of miniature daffodils growing away in the kitchen, brightening up a shady corner. Although to be honest most of the house feels a bit gloomy at the moment, what with the sun (when it appears) being so low in the sky and disappearing before long.

We booked a break in the Scottish borders too. We go at the end of March and have chosen somewhere within a reasonable driving distance of Edinburgh. So we can take Joe to the zoo.

I'm already thinking of things to take with us: Scrabble, candles, a radio, extra blankets... and lots of nice things to eat. We're excited!

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Reading: The Year in Books

I love reading. I always have. When I was little we lived in a short row of Victorian terraces, at one end of which was the local post office (next door to that was a wool shop, so it must have been a long time ago!) They sold little toys and books, and every week my mum would come home with a new Enid Blyton hardback for me. In fact, she still talks about the time she took me to church with my Polish grandmother and looked down in horror to see I'd brought Mr Pinkwhistle's Party to read during Mass.

I moved through new worlds and places: the Enchanted Wood and Magic Faraway Tree to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory to 1950s England where girls rode ponies and started riding clubs; I giggled my way through Judy Blume's Forever and yawned through Shakespeare's Henry IVth at school (preferring Othello and Romeo and Juliet). My degree was in English and we read any number of tomes: the magic realism of Angela Carter; Tess of the Durbevilles; Jane Eyre (still one of my all-time favourites, and I can never resist a TV adaptation either).

There's always a stack of books by my bed and although reading took a bit of a hit once Joe came along I still manage a chapter or two at night.

Of course, I love reading blogs and sometimes the odd magazine. I tend to go for Country Living during autumn and winter as a treat (that photography and styling!) and occasionally Psychologies if I'm in the mood for a bit of self help. I steer clear of the glossies these days as they're usually full of adverts, diets and unattainable things. I suppose I've moved on from all that.

So I'm joining in with Laura's link-up. My January choice is JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. Although I'm a regular user of the library, I actually picked this one yesterday at the shop where I volunteer. We get some really great books coming in. The JK Rowling one appealed as it's quite recent and I'd read mixed reviews so fancied giving it a go.

Having visited other blogs where people are joining in it's interesting to see their choices. And Bee inspired me to send off for the Persephone Books catalogue (could be dangerous)...

It's the perfect time of year to cosy up with a good read. I'm making a start on it tonight... here's hoping it's a good one!

PS The photos are some I took when visiting Barter Books in Alnwick on our way home from Scotland a few years ago. Well worth a visit if you're ever in the North East...

Sunday 12 January 2014

Nothing, just, only

Yes, another 2013 collage. There are plenty more that I'll be adding to accompany posts (me and PicMonkey are fast becoming the best of friends), but it seems to illustrate quite well the whole philosophy behind this one.

Recently I wrote a post about us going for a walk around Dunham, and how I bumped into an old colleague of mine. After exchanging pleasantries (and a few do-you-remembers), he asked me what I was up to at the moment.

My answer: 'Nothing'. I forlornly added that I was 'just' taking care of my 16 month old. 

I was so annoyed at myself afterwards. Why do I do this? Minimise, underplay, trivialise? Because in actual fact I'm not doing 'nothing'. Far from it. I'm caring for a toddler (a full-time and demanding job in itself). I volunteer each week by working in a shop where I deal with merchandise and displays and customers. I write a blog. I write for other blogs and websites. I take care of all the domestic stuff: food budgeting and shopping, cleaning, washing, ironing, cooking.

So in actual fact I'm a mother, a partner, a sister, a friend, a daughter, granddaughter, blogger, colleague. I make stuff. And I make stuff happen.

It reminded me of when I attended a training course a couple of years ago (touch typing - not the most inspiring of things, but bear with me). We all introduced ourselves. I said I was just an administrator. The tutor pulled me up immediately. 'You're not just an administrator, dear' she said. 'You're an administrator and I'd imagine you're a very good one.' She was right. OK, so I was bad at touch typing but my heart wasn't in it and neither was my brain. And that's not putting myself down. In fact it was a smart move: a nice big chunk of time away from the office and the yearly CPD (Continuing Professional Development - how I hated that stuff) box ticked all in one go.

I've read lots of different articles, and listened to several items on the radio, about women being self-deprecating. Generally, men are good at telling people what their achievements are and what they're good at. Women do the opposite. Not each and every one, but it happens a lot. Particularly in the workplace.

It was a good lesson to learn so early in the New Year - that there's nothing arrogant or boasting about saying what you do. It's not bragging or blowing your own trumpet, it's telling the truth. Because being a mum is quite honestly the hardest - but most rewarding - job I've ever done. Multi-tasking, managing my time, keeping my cool, planning ahead. All that with bells on. And I'm proud of that.

I'd be pretty annoyed if someone, on my behalf, answered the question 'What do you do?' with, 'Oh, she does nothing'. In fact I'd be furious. So what makes it OK for me to do it?

So no more 'nothing', 'just' or 'only'. Time for a re-think: there's nothing wrong with saying what you do. It more than stands up to what everyone else does.

Just one of the changes I'm making this New Year...

Friday 10 January 2014

January blues

It's been a tough week, I'm not going to pretend. Not quite enough to cloud my enthusiasm for this new year but still - it hasn't been easy. I haven't slept much (having fallen victim to the 3am racing mind thing that periodically haunts me), my back's sore (my own fault for spending too long at the computer and slouching), the weather's been grim and Joe has been a bit of a nuisance for the past couple of days. It could be down to teething. Or maybe he's just trying it on. I suspect the latter.

Lucky for him he's so cute.

So I've moved the computer to the kitchen table for now. So much more comfortable than trying to type at the sideboard. Weekend's almost here (it felt as though it would never come) and we're off to Lancashire tomorrow for the usual fruit and veg haul and - fingers crossed - a nice family walk.

I'm going to pay the butcher a visit too as I've decided to try at least one new recipe a week. I'm one of those people who has a collection of lovely cookbooks but uses only one or two. Basically, I'm a sucker for a nice cover and pretty photographs. So last night I dusted off Piri Piri Starfish and Venezia (both Tessa Kiros) and we're having piri piri chicken and pasta e fagioli. That's two new recipes - go me!

As for the sleeplessness... well, a hot bath is in order and there'll be a nightcap as well. Most probably Krupnik, the Polish honey liqueur. Tastes like firewater but hopefully it should do the trick.

Little Mr Difficult will be up against two of us, too. Monday to Friday it's me dealing with him but Jay's home soon and sometimes it's just such a relief to know I'm not doing it all on my own. We're thinking of maybe heading out on Saturday night to see a film - the Walter Mitty one (I heard the opening credits alone are pretty impressive).

There's something about it being One of Those Weeks which makes the approaching weekend seem all the more welcome. Good food, fresh air, family... just what's needed.

Oh, and I'm knitting too. It helps :)

Tuesday 7 January 2014


A few realisations: firstly, that I've been writing this blog for just over a year now. Secondly: it really isn't that hard to make a photo collage and insert it into a post. Now I know.

So I went back through my year (and a bit) and pulled some (lots) of photos. Nice memories, things I'd completely forgotten about, several not-so-great posts. But that's what it's all about I suppose: making a start, getting over the initial 'What do I write about?' business, finding your own unique style and just... writing.

I remember setting out, perhaps trying to emulate some of my favourite blogs and realising that just wasn't me. So I thought, 'Sod it' and just started anyway. It was a form of journalling (excuse the American term) with photos, of recording what I'd been up to but also sharing my thoughts on whatever happened to be on my mind at any given time.

Nobody was reading my blog. Nobody commented. I kept going because I liked doing it. I didn't want to share it with people I knew because it felt too personal, yet I was happy to post to the entire worldwide web. Odd. Gradually people started to read and comment and it was great. And I still class myself as a complete amateur, probably will for a long time yet.

But the fact is, I love blogging and I love my blog. I also love how it's brought me into contact with some truly nice people (and their little corners of the internet), it's made me think and feel inspired and it's got me writing. I used to keep a diary but sometimes I'd leave huge gaps in between entries. This is better. And it has photos.

Not to mention the fact that it gives me the opportunity to track Joe's progress and my feelings on being a mum. His own little picture blog is really to keep friends and family up-to-date but there's nothing in there by way of prose. Just a few jokey captions to go with the images.

So I mentioned in earlier posts I was trying to focus on fewer things which I enjoyed the most and do them well. I've chosen Mitenska and drawing. The rest: knitting, sewing, printmaking - they're all still on the radar (and I have a few commissions in the pipeline) but the simple fact is, between caring for a 16-month-old and running the house, there isn't a whole lot of time (or energy) left to devote to so many pursuits. Other things: family, reading, walking, cooking, the garden are still as important too. So time really is precious and needs to be spent wisely.

I intend to keep writing and taking photographs and would even like to share some sketches throughout 2014.

Thanks to everyone who has read the blog, and to those who have commented and encouraged me during this first year. I'm looking forward to the next year and my notebook's getting full already...

Sarah x

Sunday 5 January 2014

Slowly but surely...

... things are taking shape for 2014.

Last week, I was actually letting myself get anxious about not having decluttered every aspect of my life by the first of January. Ridiculous.

Because (in my book, anyway) both January and February are the months for hibernating, planning, getting priorities straight, dreaming. Short, dark days and wintry weather mean that's what we're supposed to do: keep warm and think ahead.

We all have busy lives and I have a long list of things I'd like to prune back and simplify. And I've actually made quite a bit of headway (I'll be blogging about this through the next few weeks and months). I'm one of life's arrangers, sorters-out. So decluttering - both physically and mentally - is an ongoing process and one I really enjoy.

On Friday Joe was with his grandparents so I seized the opportunity to attack a rather large pile of ironing - interestingly, there was a discussion on Woman's Hour about loving or hating January - and once that was done I had a wardrobe clear-out. Some things for charity, some for dusters, a few 'undecideds' which were put in a moth-proof bag and stashed on a high shelf.

I also binned two pairs of shabby boots, and a pair of rather lovely shoes - which I foolishly bought knowing full well they'd cripple my feet - made their way into the charity bag. And after that I tidied my top drawer.

Can't see it staying this neat, but for now I have a real sense of accomplishment.

I try to employ the 'one thing in, one thing out' approach but this was actually more like two things in, many things out. Because we visited my parents on New Year's Day and my mum took me off upstairs to the spare room where she keeps all her clothes. She gave me her Barbour jacket - bought in 1993, worn twice at the most, and in beautiful condition - and a pair of lovely Doc Marten leather zip-up boots (again, hardly worn). Lucky me! And thanks, Mother x

As it turns out, contrary to what Victoria Hislop was saying on the radio, I do like January. The whole fresh start thing appeals to me on so many levels.

I hope you're enjoying this New Year, in whichever way you choose to celebrate it.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Things to come

The Christmas decorations are down. The remainder of the (unopened) festive food has been dispatched to the food bank. I know it's early for all that but some things remain - the fairy lights, candles, pine cones, greenery. Because even though our Christmas (wonderful as it was) is over, I still adore winter and will be celebrating it in the house for a good while yet.

To write a post on each and every hope and dream I have for 2014, all my plans and intentions, would take an age. So instead I'll give you a little idea of what I've been doing thus far.

I took out my favourite notebooks and actually wrote in them. In pen.

I have five on the go (sounds like a lot for someone who aims to make life simpler but bear with me). They are:

1. A diary of all the money I spend and on what. Boring but necessary - and the most likely to fall by the wayside if I'm not careful.

2. Ideas for this blog. Observations, things to photograph, future posts.

3. Food and meals. No, not a food diary. Just nice things to eat, so mealtimes don't get repetitive. Ideally healthy. Ideally.

4. The Book of Nice Things. I've actually been using this one for a while. I note down things (little things) which make me happy, like dipping into a poetry book or baking a cake.

5. Goals and quotes. I spent a while on Pinterest and made a secret board full of inspirational quotes. Way too many to list here but I wrote down my favourites and will continue to do so each time I hear or read something valuable.

Of course, there are the usual New Year's to-dos: a wardrobe clear-out, ditto the fridge, freezer and food cupboards, cleaning the car (HATE that job) and so on.

But here's a little sprinkling of things I'd like to do this year:

Watch less TV (been doing that for a few weeks and I honestly don't miss it)
Stop saving things 'for best' - clothes, notebooks, skincare items, perfume - just use and enjoy them
Make time to draw more
Stop wasting time on things I'm not getting anything from and which feel like more of a chore than a pleasure
Wear my glasses
Finally grow my fringe out
Choose a path and stick to it
Save up, buy quality and appreciate and look after things
Focus on the bigger picture and make small steps towards long-term goals.

And as for the quotes I've been collecting, here are a few that really spoke to me. Implementing them won't be easy but I suppose that's the whole point:

1. Learn to say 'No' without explaining yourself

2. It's not about 'having' time. It's about making time.

3. The moment you feel you have to prove your worth to someone is the moment to absolutely and utterly walk away.

I'm so excited for 2014 - adventures to plan, experiences to be had... and seeing Joe grow more each day. Can't wait to share with you all :)
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