Friday 28 February 2014

Full of the joys

I indulged my inner Housewife, 49 this morning: windows wide open and (I get so excited about this bit) washing out on the line. 

Spring really is here.

I had a few errands to run. Joe went to visit his grandparents for a while and I dropped off a prescription at the chemist. I also went for a little walk before going back to collect it.

With everything that's been going on lately, it feels almost wrong to enjoy yourself. Which is, of course, silly and pointless. I went to the Linear Park, an old railway line and now a nature reserve-type place popular with dog walkers and the occasional snap-happy mum with a free hour on her hands...

Snowdrops, snowdrops everywhere.

And daffs. And crocus and bursting buds.

And birds busying themselves: jays, fat woodpigeons, bluetits, robins, blackbirds flying low across my path. I could even hear an elusive woodpecker. There was a lot of rustling and flitting going on in the undergrowth too.

It was so lovely to breathe in deeply, clear my head and just enjoy the whole feeling that spring gives you. February's almost gone.

On my return I was given lunch and we headed out into the garden. I do love mock currant bushes. And I'm not one of those who insists they smell of cat pee.

Joe (18 months old tomorrow) was sporting a grazed nose after enthusiastically diving into one of the borders...

He's another reason to be happy. Every day he becomes more entertaining and comes out with new words and little mannerisms. And he loves a cuddle too (strictly on his terms, obviously). Gorgeous boy.

When I was at the chemist I spotted the collection box for these. I'm not dissimilar to the Queen in that I rarely carry money, being a) forgetful and b) disorganised when it comes to finances. I did have a pound in my purse though so... 

I'm itching to get out in the garden. Maybe in the morning... The rhubarb's gaining momentum and the hellebores would make Monty Don jealous - speaking of which, it must be almost time for GW to start again. Hooray!

Plans for the rest of the weekend: tomorrow someone's coming back for a second viewing of the house (I'm not holding my breath but you never know). And on Sunday we're hoping the weather holds so we can head back to the Pennines for a meet-up with my brother and a visit to the farmer's market.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Technical difficulties and virtual deadwood

I've never been much of a 'techie'. My limited skills amount to setting up new computers, a bit of photo editing, some self-taught stuff (Publisher) and the usual internet and email things. Oh, and this blog of course - which is pretty basic and easy to maintain.

Yesterday I made a horrible discovery: the external hard drive has conked. Four years' worth of photos (I dread to think how many that actually is) have, presumably, been lost. Some were used for greetings cards we sell through a local farm shop (and make pennies from) but most were memories: holidays, friends, family, walks. Joe.

I'm hoping the hard drive is repairable but that's doubtful. Luckily we do Joe's blog daily so there's a good selection of photos there. Old family pictures are, of course, pre-digital so are kept in boxes (awaiting sorting into albums one day). So it looks like we may have to start making lots of new memories and photographing them. And storing them somewhere a bit more reliable. Which was the whole idea behind the external hard drive anyway but let's not think about that too much.

That all explains the use of yet another collage, I hope... fortunately I started a little folder on my desktop with some favourites in it.

In other (un)techie news, I'm going to go though my emails and unsubscribe from all those sites which are forever clogging up my inbox. Promotional stuff which starts appearing as soon as you fill in a form or buy something online. There's a lot.

And - now I'm getting really radical - I'm seriously considering cutting Facebook out of my life.

I'm not one of those people who feels the need to give a running commentary on what I'm currently watching on TV or eating or thinking about. Which may explain why I don't want to read other's updates. I know some people who literally run their lives through Facebook as some kind of virtual organiser. On the other hand, it's also brought me back into contact with some old friends.

Maybe the way to go is to email those I actually want or need to have relationships with and just let the rest get on with it. Anyway, I do use Twitter occasionally. And my blogs. I even have actual, real-life conversations on the phone and - gasp - in person.

I can imagine the look of incomprehension from new acquaintances when, on being asked, I reply, 'No, I'm not on Facebook'. It sounds so very daring, doesn't it? But also incredibly tempting. I suspect if I do make the break the world as we know it won't collapse.

Lastly, my mum came home from the hospital yesterday and is revelling in her home comforts: the garden, good food, books, rest and peace. These are the things that really enrich our lives.

Monday 24 February 2014

In the air

It's been a busy weekend: visiting, cleaning, a trip to a museum with Joe, baking...

On Saturday I drove across to Lancashire to see my mum in hospital. I've mentioned before that it's a stressful time; things are constantly changing and we seem to receive contradictory news every other day. But I set out alone and there really is something uplifting about spring being in the air. I felt so much more relaxed without Joe in the car - less vulnerable to other traffic - and the sun was shining. The stereo was on, the fields were green, the sky was blue and the grasses growing along the verges were bleached white.

It's always comforting returning to the family home, even though it felt a bit odd and empty without her there. The next door neighbour was having a burn-up in his garden and the smell of woodsmoke was wafting around. There were snowdrops and crocus in the rockery. The air was mild. Spring.

My stepdad's coping well, bless him. The house was immaculately tidy and he's prepared the front room ready for Mum's return: cleared a space for a bed and little table, moved the furniture around. Her cyclamen are blooming merrily in bright pinks and crimson along the windowsill.

I took her a little package of nice things to eat and read, including The Snow Child which I enjoyed - but more about that next week.

I've started a new book: To Kill a Mockingbird. We didn't read it at school but I have to say, I'm devouring it. I'm a big fan of fiction written from a child's perspective, I love 20th century social history and have a soft spot for anything set in the Deep South so I suppose it was always going to be a winner. 

At the end of our bed we have an old trunk and a pile of antiquey poetry books. In amongst them was Jane Austen's Emma. I think I initially bought it because of the lovely cover (in a spring-like acid green) but have never read it or, indeed, any Jane Austen. So maybe that can be a future read too.

Outdoors the muscari are starting to flower. I'll bring them in and they can live on the kitchen windowsill. I did that a few weeks ago but I think they preferred the cold so back out they went.

And the rhubarb's brightening up a rather weed-ridden old container. There's more in a raised bed at the end of the garden. How beautiful is that bright pink?

In other news, I've baked a batch of walnut and raisin muffins for breakfast each morning this week. A daily helping of cake is no bad thing (they were made with sunflower oil and buttermilk so perhaps are a little bit healthier than if I'd used actual butter).

And we're eating lots of pulses and zingy flavours. On tonight's menu is spiced Chinese chicken and an Asian salad with mint, chilli, coriander, lime and nam pla. Should get those taste buds tingling!

Today's been another sunny one. Joe went to see his grandparents this morning and on the way there we saw squirrels and daffodils and buds bursting. He's due home shortly, but I've had the windows open for a couple of hours and layered up while the fresh air blows through the house. 

Finally, at the end of a long post: thank you so much for all your comments and support recently. It really does help enormously. I hope spring is on it's way to you too.

Thursday 20 February 2014

Buying time

Things seem to have been quite hectic lately. And what with sleeping badly and having a cold (which, thankfully, seems to be clearing), I've been feeling a bit frayed around the edges.

Despite being ill herself, my mum phoned and insisted I took a few hours out. In fact, she posted me £10 'for a coffee, a cupcake and a magazine', to be enjoyed alone and somewhere I could indulge in some people-watching. 

Looking after a toddler can take it out of you. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit that sometimes I dream about being back at work: sitting at an orderly desk, lunches spent exchanging gossip, a typed-up to-do list to be dealt with at my own pace. Even the commute suddenly takes on a rosy hue. (Note: I conveniently forget the petty politics, empire-building and endless meetings. And the hellish traffic).

Still, as a mother you do need a break. The reality is that you don't get a holiday allowance, time off sick when needed, or scheduled coffee and lunch breaks. And a break is what I've been needing.

So on Monday morning (my only Joe-free part of the week), I took time off from volunteering and spent a few leisurely hours in a big, busy cafe at a local garden centre. I had a pot of tea and a cream scone. I jotted in my notebook and watched people and just relaxed. The rain was falling on the glass roof. There were huge potted palms and ferns and I sat and felt anonymous and slightly detached from it all.

It was rejuvenating and I relished every second.

(By the way, I didn't buy a magazine; I didn't see anything which appealed so instead spent the change on a coffee and gingerbread man the next day when Joe and I met up with a friend in a children's bookshop).

I've also realised that time can be obtained for free. Each morning I get up and launch straight into a routine of dealing with Joe, rushing around, multi-tasking busyness. No easing myself into the day. It can be pretty brutal. So I tried getting up earlier. Of course, there's a trade-off: less time in bed. But the fact is that time can't be conjured up from nowhere. Each day has the same number of hours and minutes. It's simply a case of managing them to suit.

And I for one would rather go to bed earlier, get up earlier and begin the day in a more civilised, less hectic way: a cup of coffee, a bit of quiet contemplation, a quick chat with Jay before he goes to work.

It's not being self-indulgent. Because, cliched as it sounds, you need to take care of yourself in order to take care of others. And a few hours here and there are perfectly justifiable, whether they're spent out, enjoying a cream tea, or gazing into the garden and gathering your thoughts before the day begins.

But a cream tea is a truly wonderful thing. Thanks Mum :)

Monday 17 February 2014

Getting things done

I've mentioned before that 2014 is going to be My Year. As in, I'm going to try and break some bad habits (like listening to all that stupid negative chatter in my head) and adopt some good ones (like using my time more meaningfully).

So yesterday afternoon, after a walk around Dunham Massey involving much puddle-jumping, fresh air and photography, Joe went up for his nap and I unearthed my drawing board, dusted it off and set it up on the kitchen table.

A blank page can be a daunting thing. My primary concern is that I'll produce something rubbish and - shock, horror - waste time and a whole sheet of paper. Imagine! This no doubt explains why I've amassed so many (expensive and lovely quality) art supplies over the years and barely touched them.

Not today though. I just sat and did a little sketch. Something with my mum in mind. Turns out she's having to have much more aggressive treatment than initially planned but her prognosis is good. The treatment is tough though. So I wanted to do her a little something suggesting optimism and better times ahead.

She's always been supportive of my being creative. And I decided that, instead of the usual Sunday afternoon activity (watching TV) I'd do, create and make. I even got the watercolours out. And the expensive paper.

The time flew by. It seems that, once you just make a start, you feel motivated and inspired to carry on. The drawing board remains in the kitchen awaiting my next little session. It will be happening soon.

Getting Things Done doesn't just apply to chores and paperwork and errands. It has to include the good stuff too. And that's one of my goals for 2014: to make time for the good stuff. Another: to use things I have, not to save them and be frightened to utilise them. Pens, paper, paints: they can all be replaced. And a pad full of drawings and sketches is a whole lot more interesting than an empty one.

P.S. Yes, I have since rubbed the grubby pencil smudges off the feather picture!

Friday 14 February 2014


It's Valentines Day... How do you choose to celebrate it? I'm more or less of the 'It's a cynical marketing thing dreamed up by the greetings card companies to bridge the gap between Christmas and Mothering Sunday' school, but still...

You can go trashy (red underwear, cuddly toys) or classy (restaurant, Paris weekend), I suppose. We're going trashy. We're staying in and making hotdogs with fried onions, American mustard and ketchup, and French fries. Accompanied by cold beer. And once Joe goes to bed we'll be tucking into Mississippi mud pie and watching a few episodes of The Middle.

Valentines Day, our way.

Earlier this week we did the shop window display. Styling and displaying charity shop windows is both challenging and fun, as you really don't know what you'll find out in the back room. We unearthed cut glass perfume bottles, an old encyclopaedia (left open at 'passion'), books on Audrey Hepburn, sparkly costume jewellery...

I also made a garland to hang up.

Jay and I have an agreement: no presents, just cards and a cosy home-cooked meal. Although I did find some lovely tulips in the kitchen this morning.

I made his card on Wednesday, using an alphabet stamp set. A bit wonky but most definitely home made.

I do love these stamps. Sadly they don't have numbers in this set but you can get those separately. I may well do that.

Anyway, have a lovely evening and weekend whatever your plans may be.

Thursday 13 February 2014


The past few days, I've been full of a cold. So when Joe's gone down for his afternoon nap I've run around cheering tried to take things easy. And for some reason, I've been online far less than usual. Ditto watching TV.

Instead, I've been reading a few old magazines and writing in my notebooks. It's been nice.

I also made a garland for the mirror over the mantel, now that all the festive stuff is well and truly packed away for another year. It's cut from pieces from the Simone de Beauvoir book

Speaking of books, I'm still enjoying The Snow Child. I don't know about you, but I tend to have bedtime books and daytime reading (the kind you can dip in and out of whenever you get the chance). They're always non-fiction; sometimes supplements from the weekend papers, sometimes magazines... more often than not books on gardening, cooking or interiors.

This is a recent purchase from one of those discount bookshops. It's surprising just how many wild plants you can eat or which have medicinal uses. And the illustrations are quite lovely too.

Yesterday, I received a delightful parcel from Penny. I won her recent giveaway: a book (by Sarah Moore, winner of The Great Interior Design Challenge - I was hooked) and a few balls of yarn (British Bluefaced Leicester wool). I now have to learn to crochet...

She also put some cute little postcards in there for Joe. Sweet!

It really did make my day. This morning we even had some fleeting sunshine and went out for a brisk walk. Yesterday the weather was truly awful. The trees were bent sideways, the rain was lashing down and the local nature reserve is closed because it's not safe to walk under all those falling branches.

I feel for all those poor people who are flooded at the moment. Hopefully the water will subside soon. I'm counting my blessings.

Monday 10 February 2014

Somewhere in between

So many times I've heard and read how you should 'live in the moment'. I agree. I've also read that 'Anxious people live in the future; depressed people live in the past'. I get that, too. And I suppose I spend my time in all three spaces depending on how I'm feeling.

Right now we're living in the moment but have lots of plans. The house has been on the market since 2012. It's reasonably priced; it's in a so-called 'desirable' area (if commuting is your thing, at least) and the decor, heating and so on are all new. Yet still it languishes on the books of various estate agents. We've just switched agent (again) and dropped the price (again). Which meant taking more photos of the interior.

I'm as nosy as the next person and love seeing inside other people's homes. And as I often use images here at Mitenska which are close-up, I thought you might want to see where and how we live.

So how does all this tie in with the whole 'living in the moment' thing? Well, for starters we have to keep the house 'neutral' in terms of decoration. And tidy (fortunately, I'm a bit of a neat freak) - we don't have a great deal of 'stuff' anyway but the house is small and we haven't got the luxury of a third reception room which could house toddler things, an office area etc. and which we could close the door on each evening.

I'd love to be more adventurous in terms of decor. I'd love a house with 'features'. I'd love more room. I'd love to invest in wooden floors, a woodburning stove and all those other gorgeous things. But at the moment we're here and we make do.

So the photos here were taken to (hopefully) appeal to potential buyers. Which is why we hid the highchair.

In terms of looking to the future... I continue to collect things for our 'forever house'. Squirrelled away are my collection of vintage mirrors, trunks of fabrics, old books, china...

At the moment I make the house 'ours' by dotting little vignettes around - on the mantel shelf, on the sideboard, by the bed. I change them regularly. I enjoy it. And I use Pinterest an awful lot too. There are one or two 'secret' boards full of images which capture some of my hopes and dreams for the future. We don't aspire to having lots of possessions, or a huge house, or luxurious holidays. 

In fact, since having Joe and making the decision to stay home with him, and consequently having to tighten our financial belts, I love the whole process of simplifying our lives. Investing in the things which really matter: time spent with one another, experiences, being outdoors, eating good food.

So I have one foot rooted in the present and one tapping away, itching to move on. It will happen.

In the meantime, I refuse to list the frustrations of living in a too-small house. Because it does have its upsides: small mortgage, small bills, not many rooms to clean. 

And there you have it: chez Mitenska. A slightly sanitised version in these photos, but that's what the house-selling business is all about!

Friday 7 February 2014

February kitchen

I did entertain the idea of a super-healthy month food-wise (what with February being only 28 days long) but it's cold, it's wet and it's grey. So although we're not indulging ourselves on a Christmas level, we are eating things which help keep the cold out. And things which put a smile on our faces (and quite possibly a pound or two on the scales).

I am trying to stop eating supper though. It's something I never really did until meeting Jay and it's a habit I want to break. However, I do like to finish off my evening meal with a little something sweet and that's never going to change. Nor would I wish it to.

We eat veggie meals several times a week. The other night it was big flat mushrooms stuffed with breadcrumbs and stilton then baked, a green salad and garlic bread. This week we'll be making our own baked beans (so much nicer than the tinned version, and lovely with toasted sourdough). Having said that, I do love these giant Greek baked beans. They taste of dill and are less sugary than the British version.

I'm also a fan of these root vegetable crisps. Let's face it, they're probably no healthier than potato crisps but are delicious (hence the empty packet). I could try making some myself but the thought of slicing vegetables with a mandolin scares me a bit too much.

This week we're having salmon with asparagus - yes, it's out of season but I picked up a pack very cheaply so I'll see how it tastes - satay chicken drumsticks, Thai salad and a roast of some sort. The Oriental stuff really appeals to me at this time of year. A bit virtuous; fresh-tasting mint, coriander and lime with the heat of chilli.

Speaking of chilli, we finally put all our home grown and dried ones into the food processor. Then made the mistake of removing the lid and breathing in. Cue gasping and spluttering and backing away towards the sink. But now we have our own (very potent) dried chilli flakes. To be used sparingly.

I spotted this storm lantern at the charity shop last week. I do love a lantern, and this one's folksy, Eastern European design meant I couldn't resist.

It's never been used; the instruction leaflet was still inside so after a good clean and polish I hung it on a hook on the door. It was made in what was Czechoslovakia so must be at least 20 years old.

I don't think it'll ever be lit indoors. Burning paraffin appeals to me about as much as slicing parsnips with a mandolin.

Maybe one day when we have a house with a porch to sit out on...

Have a great weekend and enjoy your food and home comforts. 
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