Thursday 31 July 2014


In an attempt to avoid collage overload, a departure from my usual end-of-month photo extravaganza. Instead: just the three. I think they illustrate July around here perfectly. Hot days, roses, floral scents emanating from sun-warmed petals... and then the Weather sets in.

The Weather. In my mind it really does merit that W as it's such a big part of life here in the Valley. And right now it's made a return to what we locals know best: mizzle, brooding skies, whippy breezes. Yesterday Joe and I took a little walk and managed to avoid the rain (this morning it's here and there's no escaping it). I don't mind too much. For now. Ask me again in a few days*. 

As much as I'm savouring the coming of autumn we still have a long, potentially hot (who knows?) August to go. And it should be a good one - Joe's second birthday is right at the very end of it. We're hoping my mum's well enough to accompany us to the seaside for a celebratory picnic. It may be a windswept affair.

I also have some nice bloggy plans coming up. And as the month goes on I'm going to be compiling a list  - yes, another one - of all the things I love about autumn, and all the things I'd like to do. So not so much a to-do list in terms of chores and jobs, as one filled with things which are fun, relaxing and creative.

So this is just a quick post to bid July goodbye, wave hello to August... and now I'm off to find my wellies.

*Most playgroups and the like are closed for the summer and we may have to brave one of those indoor play centres. 

Monday 28 July 2014


So, after my last post, we kept it simple this weekend: family and home. Walks straight from the doorstep. Good food. Lie-ins still elude us but you can't have everything.

I know it's high summer but there are signs of autumn slowly creeping in. The very thought of it excites me. My favourite time of year.

I hope you had a good weekend too.

Saturday 26 July 2014

Losing yourself

It seems to be a modern-day affliction: Too Much To Do syndrome. Overwhelm. I know lots of people suffer from it; I just need to visit other blogs to read about how we're struggling under waves of to-dos, feeling as though we're just about keeping our heads above water. Nothing gets finished. If it does, it's not done to our satisfaction.

I'm starting to feel stressed by all the things demanding my time and attention. The simple fact is that there are not enough hours in the day to deal with it all. In terms of priorities, Joe comes first. He's a year old (almost two) and it goes without saying that, during his waking hours, I'm the one who takes care of all his needs. There are many. A close second to Joe: home and family. Keeping things running smoothly so Jay and I have a nice home with a clean bed to climb into at night and good food on the table.

Then there are all the other demands: friends and wider family, blogging, chores, admin - phone calls, form-filling, banking. Helping with playgroup (and the old ladies up at the church are a pretty demanding bunch, believe me). Getting involved in the Incredible Edible scheme. Commitments. Somewhere near the bottom of the list is taking time out to relax. Even lower than that: creative pursuits.

Back here I wrote about the whole needing to slow down thing. I fear I'm reaching that same breaking point again.

So I've done my best to deal with it before things get too much.

Yesterday I did some timetabling and wrote a huge to-do list. It was actually quite frightening and anxiety-inducing to look at. But look at it I did. I separated it into sections then categorised it in terms of what needs to be done daily, every few days, weekly and monthly. I felt a bit better.

My mind is as busy as I am. Busy, by the way, doesn't necessarily mean productive. But by writing things down I feel a little bit more in control. I know what I need to do, how important it is, and when it needs to be done by. I picture my mind and thoughts and ideas as being like a street on a windy day with sheets of paper blowing about all over it. I'm always running after the paper, trying to catch it but not quite getting there before it's whipped away out of my reach again.

Writing down to-dos, ideas, plans: it's like grabbing all those pieces of paper, shuffling them into a neat pile and putting a great big paperweight on top.

The day-to-day housekeeping and admin list is stuck up on the fridge. The creative to-do list (now reformatted into a timetable/schedule): blog post ideas, schedules, photography tasks and so on, lives on the drawing board in my workspace.

Yes the lists are still long and daunting. But the thoughts and ideas have been safely committed to paper. And not in my usual scrappy way of a scribble on this bit of post-it and a cryptic note in that exercise book. It's made me feel slightly more in control and a couple more steps further away from the brink of freak-out.

Finally, a list of things I find help me to slow my racing mind. They're absorbing and somehow transport me away from the worry of an ever-growing to-do list and the panic of having forgotten to do something urgent. Feel free to make any suggestions, by the way. It's always interesting to know what other people do to relax.

Cooking. The slow, several-stages type. Baking a cake or making a pie or a soup.

Walking. Being outdoors somewhere green.

Colouring. Yes, really. Grown-up colouring books from discount bookshops are better than telly. Most of the time, anyway. The simple acts of choosing colours and staying inside the lines just works for me somehow.

Reading. Fiction, not factual stuff. Comfort books are my best escape (and children's fiction works a treat).

Pinterest. Pretty pictures to gaze at. Loads of them. Enough said.

I've also cleared out my bags of the usual detritus which collects in them and sorted out my jewellery box. Little organising sessions always leave me feeling better - they're like small victories and you gain a sense of accomplishment from them. They're therapeutic. And now I can go into the weekend feeling on top of things and a bit more in control...

Hope you have a great (and relaxing) weekend too.

P.S. I know the images for this post are a bit pick-n-mix but that's no bad thing. 

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Weekend... and Monday

I've got so many things I want to post about but sometimes I just want to record events as they happen (or, in this case, shortly afterwards). This blog is a kind of journal/musings type of place but today's post falls firmly into the journal category.

Since moving back here we've been reacquainting ourselves with things we've always enjoyed, like shopping at the Saturday market and going out walking. But there are others which are on our doorstep and have been on the 'would like to do that at some point' list. 

The first half of the weekend was wet and windy, so we darted in and out of the market (I was there once and the tarpaulin, sagging with a heavy pool of rainwater, finally gave in and emptied itself. I was the poor unfortunate who got a cold shower. I now stay well away from any joins in the roof) and had a little trip to Rossendale Museum. The council recently gave it up and someone heroically stepped in to save the day - it's now a truly lovely place to visit with a great cafe and well-maintained grounds. Should've taken my camera. I never leave my camera behind.

On Sunday we took Joe on the East Lancs Railway. He's a complete locomotive obsessive enthusiast and he loved it. We (the grown-ups) loved the fact that the compartments are excellent for containing energetic and curious toddlers. Oh, to return to the days of proper trains.

This time we remembered the camera. But no, I won't subject you to the many photos of steam trains, diesel engines and the entire contents of Bury Transport Museum. Even I can't face looking at them again.

I mentioned recently we'd been out berry picking. The winberries are so small and laborious to pick that I cooked the small amount we managed to forage with some sugar and topped a cheesecake with them. The result: delicious. Who needs pie anyway? (Answer: me. Chicken pie tonight. It's ages since I made pastry and I'm - ahem - quite excited).

Anyway... the long and sun-filled evenings mean we've been out walking a lot. The temperature's just right post-six, and the sunshine's often accompanied by a little breeze.

The gradually-lowering sun means there are some great shadows to be had. We often wander down the old railway line where the branches of the trees meet overhead. The brighter bits are full of wild raspberries; catch them in the right light and they're illuminated. So much easier to spot than those pesky blue-black winberries.

On Sunday evening we picked a nice bagful so yesterday I made a jar of jam. Fifteen minutes' cooking and normal granulated sugar did the job - raspberries are quite high in pectin so it was a very quick and easy jam to make.

It's going to go in a cake of some sort (as yet undecided). Fruit picked by our own fair (well, pretty scratched now) hands and some sugar. That's it. Simple pleasures indeed.

Hope you're having a good week and that the weather's being kind.

Friday 18 July 2014

A Place Where...

...Everyone Natters. That's what the 'Welcome to Lancashire: A Place Where Everyone Matters' sign, up on the West Pennine moors, has been altered to read. Yes, I laugh each time I drive past because it's just so true.

Being a full-time mum to a toddler means I'm usually out and about at playgroups or the swimming baths or park. Other days it's just me and Joe doing our thing. And whilst that's fun and I savour those times, it would be a bit dishonest to suggest that I don't enjoy adult conversation too. Taking on the persona of a children's TV presenter during daylight hours is both exhausting and slightly crazy-inducing.

Lucky for me then that Lancashire (and Rossendale, the valley in which we dwell) is full of natterers. Jay thinks it's funny. I like that people say hello when you pass them whilst out walking. Especially in that lovely broad accent. I talk a lot. So does Jay actually. The other week a little old lady stopped me in the supermarket to say how nice it was that I was constantly chatting to Joe as we did the shopping.

I wasn't even aware I was doing it. There's a continual monologue going on in my head anyway so it's not entirely surprising that it finds its way out of my mouth too.

Yesterday we went for a walk around Helmshore, the place where I grew up. Yes we could have got there on foot but I drove. It was hot and there are hills. Lots of hills.

The woods, the footpaths, the fields... all scenes of childhood games and adventures, pony rides and picnics. Then later on teenage trysts and illicit cider drinking.

Whilst out and about we got chatting to some nice people and passed the time talking about characters around the village past and present, and the usual things: do-you-remembers, who sold what house and all the rest of it.

Joe and I continued on our merry way, stopping to pick some raspberries then heading down to the park: Snig Hole, as it's known to locals. Snigs, apparently, are eels in ye olde Lancashire. The 'Hole' bit refers to the river where said snigs lived until they were caught and eaten by the eel-loving locals.

It was ridiculously hot. We ate a packed lunch and played on the swings, and I bumped into a few of the mums from playgroup. More stories and chatter were exchanged. And then a friendly girl with two small children introduced herself so we had a lengthy conversation too.

On the way back up yet another hill to where the car was parked, an old schoolfriend (and one time suitor - I think it lasted roughly a week) pulled up in his truck for a chat. He's a farmer and he was taking his lunch break from, erm, farming so we had a catch-up too. 

I do love all this talking, passing-on of information. I love the impromptu nature of it; of seeing people you know when you're out walking, and talking to friendly strangers too. The word 'stranger' often has creepy connotations but you know what I mean. Little conversations here and there often bring things to light: you always know someone mutually or both remember something from a long time ago.

Even the odd bit of gossip isn't a bad thing. Not the malicious type - just the 'Ooh, really?' sort. Like finding out all about the big feud between the baker and the butcher in our village. My mum thinks Edenfield (where we live) is annoying because everyone knows your business. I don't mind that. It's far preferable to the strange anonymity of those places where people don't speak to, or even acknowledge, their neighbours.

I've just become aware that this post is starting to ramble. You can type too much as well as talk to much, it seems.

Anyway... later in the evening we headed out to a meeting for Incredible Edible. We're hoping to extend the scheme to Edenfield and went along to find out more. It was the best kind of meeting. A beautiful balmy evening up on the edge of the moors, sitting around a wooden table in a farm yard. It just so happens that I more or less grew up on this farm - I kept my pony there and every evening and weekend I was to be found somewhere on their forty-odd acres. Going back was lovely. It's changed a lot but in a good way.

So we sat in the sun and talked and planned and Joe looked at the chickens and stables and played on a porch swing. It was lovely. And it wasn't as much a meeting as a big, well, natter.

Welcome to Lancashire.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday 15 July 2014


Firstly, I would like to say thank you to everyone who read and commented on my previous post. I wanted it to reflect the way memories can affect us later in life. However, they are just that: memories. I'm lucky that my experiences are (like most people, I hope) mainly happy ones. But to go through life with nothing unpleasant ever happening would be virtually impossible. It would also be wrong. The occasional struggle makes us stronger and wiser.

Aaaand... normal service is resumed. 

A few things we've been up to of late:

Eating: home-baked spelt bread (it worked and I've discovered that our nice warm attic is the perfect place for dough to rise); rose and lemon Turkish delight from the Artisan market (yes, 'artisan' generally translates as 'expensive' but I treated myself to a little bit and it's delicious); big fat radishes and new season beetroot from the same market (but a whole lot cheaper than the sweeties); tacos with Quorn mince chilli (we moved in here three weeks ago and the whole 'state of chaos' excuse for eating rubbish doesn't really wash any more).

Enjoying: evening walks; sitting up in the attic under the skylight and listening to the rain - we've recently had a thunderstorm or two; showing Joe the 'choo choo train' (he looks for it every day); morning strolls through damp fields.

Spotting: vintage Penguin books (40p each at the car boot sale. They came home with me); hard-to-reach winberries (bilberries) which are tiny but I'm hoping we've got enough for a very small pie; moustachioed cats; the last of the sun's rays illuminating the buddleia.

I hope your July is full of small joys too :)

Monday 7 July 2014

Five finds...

...From the weekend. 

It's been a bit of a weekend of discoveries (if you read my last post you'll see the little library I spotted en route to the park). 

Well, on Sunday morning we headed out to Burrs Country Park on the edge of Bury. It's maybe four or five miles away from where we live and although I'd heard of it I'd never actually been. 

The park is sited on the remains of an old mill complex, built during the Industrial Revolution, and many features have been retained. The East Lancashire Railway also passes through it (much to Joe's delight). There was a Diesel Weekend going on and he's becoming quite the trainspotter locomotive enthusiast.

Although I always prefer to get right out into the wilds, Burrs was indeed a great discovery. There are lots of ponds and footpaths which were all easy to navigate with the buggy. And we had a really lovely time looking at the wild flowers, ducks and geese and insects. 

I noticed that just as the wild roses have finished the Himalayan Balsam is starting to flower. It's pretty rampant in these parts; a big stroppy non-native with pinky purply flowers. It's very invasive but one redeeming feature is that bees seem to love it.

So, as ever, I was on the lookout for little details (taking the camera has this effect) and I like to bring back a souvenir or two when we go outdoors. We picked up some big feathers dropped by the Canada geese - getting as close to the water's edge as we could without upsetting them as their young were close by.

The little feather with the blue sheen is from a mallard I think.

I also chanced on a little patch of raspberries so picked some and brought them home. Just enough for a small dessert after lunch.

On Saturdays we go to Ramsbottom for the market. There are several charity shops and a big antiques 'emporium' which is an Aladdin's cave of books, jewellery, pottery, paintings, music... I think the word 'stuff' just about covers it all.

I've been after a crystal vase for a while now but nowhere seemed to have one that was reasonably priced. These things appear to be making a bit of a comeback and I do like a crystal vase filled with spray carnations (another unfashionable flower which seems to be back in vogue). I did pick up a lace mat for Gertie's table which I liked though.

I'll nab a vase from my mum when I next see her. She used to collect bowls and vases and the like when I was little and taught me how to differentiate between crystal and cut glass. I remember one day she sighed and looked at her collection and said, Do you know what? I bloody hate crystal.'

So snaffling a bit of it shouldn't be too difficult.

Finally, a bit of glamour: parsnips. Out of season I know. But that's the fun of the market. Like Forrest Gump said, 'You never know what you're gonna get'. These were so pale and small and beautiful I just had to. No peeling; just a quick scrub and into a roasting tin.

Hidden libraries, country parks, feathers, wild raspberries, lace, root vegetables. An eclectic weekend.

Have a great week.

Saturday 5 July 2014

The Year in Books: July

I can't believe how fast this year is going by; it's only when I type 'July' into a post that it really hits me. We're halfway through 2014 already.

Still, marking a year with the books I've read each month is a good thing. 

I've always got a few books on the go, but June's big one was The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It was the first in the Cazalet series and I was hooked. Howard is such a sensitive writer - her characters are so real and beautifully observed. And the historical detail is excellent too; I was surprised to see the book was published in 1990 as it's so authentic I'd just assumed it had actually been written during the 1930s.

If you're a fan of family dramas and social history you'll enjoy it hugely. In fact I was sorely tempted to order the next book, Marking Time, and continue straight on but decided on a change (that way I can prolong the reading pleasure too). 

Having recently moved back to the Ramsbottom area I made joining the library a priority. We're lucky to have a really lovely one here. However, trying to choose a book with a toddler in tow isn't quite as enjoyable as when you're alone. I picked up a few but nothing particularly inspiring. In fact, I was contemplating looking at my own reading pile and grabbing whatever was on the top when I made a chance discovery this morning. 

We'd driven down to the big park in Ramsbottom  - well, Jay drove actually - and that's how I must have noticed the little wooden library in the picture above. When you're a passenger you get to have a good nose around and notice things you wouldn't (or shouldn't) when doing the driving yourself. Eyes on the road and all that.

It was next to a garden gate and the sign read, 'Borrow a book or leave a book. ENJOY!'

So I had a look and, despite the somewhat small selection, there were plenty that appealed. I managed to limit myself to two: What to Eat by Joanna Blythman and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Both non-fiction (bye bye, comfort zone) and both of interest. I read Shopped by Blythman some years ago and I do like her no-nonsense approach to food writing. And, having recently watched 'The Best Diet in the World', I've been on a bit of a healthy eating mission. In theory if not quite in practice. Yet.

The Happiness Project has been on my 'would like to read' list for a while, but it's one of those books I doubt I'd actually buy. 

So: a happy discovery! Of course, I'll return the books once I've read them and maybe donate a few of my own too. And if you're interested you can visit the Little Free Library. I'd never heard of it before but I love the idea.

Joining in with Laura's The Year in Books over at Circle of Pine Trees.

Happy July reading!

Thursday 3 July 2014

Gertie's table

If, like me, you like to while away a bit of free time looking at pretty pictures on Pinterest, Tumblr and the like, you'll probably have noticed the trend for photographing things from above on old wooden tables.

The 'things' usually take the form of artfully-styled food or cups of steaming espresso; books open at particularly profound passages (accidental alliteration there, I promise) or that Kinfolk magazine I've never actually read for myself.

Anyway, I'm not one to turn my nose up at trends unless they're really silly. I quite like this style of photography and Gertie's table is proving to be a great backdrop for photos of objects. So before I go on, I'll explain a bit more about the table and where it came from.

Gertie was my stepdad's mum. I only ever saw her once. I say 'saw' as we didn't really meet - she was very ill in hospital and I accompanied my parents when they visited her. Sadly she passed away a few weeks later.

She'd lived in a little terraced house and my stepdad kept some of her things, including this table and a big trunk (which I'm also custodian of). They both came with me to Bond Street and my last house, but despite being quite small - it seats four - the table wouldn't fit anywhere so has spent the past four years in Jay's mum's garage.

I'm nothing if not honest: I thought we should maybe just give it away but Jay was insistent we kept it. So we did. And a week or two before our move he collected the table and I spent a few very hot, dusty afternoons out in the back garden sanding away then polishing it with beeswax.

And the reddish-brown varnish came away to reveal a nice  - what? Damp sand? Walnut shell? - colour.

I love the fact that it's old. The little metal plate underneath proudly declares it's a radical 'Gate-less' table. I also love the little nicks and marks (I like to think, with romantic optimism, that some are ink stains). 

So now it lives in the 'family room', a big room at the back of the house. It's underneath the window and we sit and eat there* and I write there too. Although the computer lives in another room** so that kind of writing is done at a more office-y type desk.

It gets lovely soft light falling on it and is regularly polished with wax and it's now my favourite piece of furniture.

So that's the story of Gertie's table.

P.S. The lavender in the top photo was a steal: £1 a bunch from the supermarket whose name starts with 'M' and it smells gorgeous.

*I bought some PVC-covered fabric for mealtimes as Joe is a typical messy toddler. 'Character' is fine but welded-on fish finger is not.
** He also likes to grab at play with anything electrical, valuable and breakable.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Why I Write

I'm sure many of you are already aware of the 'blog hop' that's been going on lately: in a nutshell, you write a post answering four questions about your writing. You're nominated by the previous blogger; you do your post then go on to nominate others who inspire you and they 'pick up the baton' as it were.

So when the lovely N of Creative Academia asked if I'd like to join in I was only too happy (and flattered). I really liked the sound of the topic and do enjoy working to a brief on occasion as I feel it makes you think about things from a different angle and focuses your thoughts.

So without further ado...

1. What am I working on?

Currently I'm blogging for a few sites, namely This is Your Kingdom and Garlic and Sapphire. I only recently joined the team at the latter and I really love writing for them as the subject matter allows for a lot of creative freedom.

On the more personal side of things I'm (slowly) putting together some memoirs for Joe. Much of this is about giving him a sense of his family history. I also start many things which don't get finished - mainly children's stories - and my mum has actually written a children's book which I promised to edit. Another thing I need to do.

And I'm always, always working on Mitenska. Not that it ever seems like work.

2. How does my writing differ from others in my genre?

It's funny, I never really think about things in terms of 'genre'. The first time I ever heard that word was at university, in my Film Studies class. We watched films which were easily defined as 'types': melodrama, film noir, Westerns. This blog isn't really something I consider as belonging to a specific genre. It's not a parenting blog, or a lifestyle blog. I suppose the best way I can find to describe it is how I introduce myself on Twitter: I write a blog about all the things I like.

I suppose Mitenska is different because, like each of us, I'm an individual and it reflects me.

3. Why do I write what I do?

This is the hardest question! There are lots of reasons: it's a way of keeping a journal with photos I can look back on. It's a means of getting in touch with like-minded people. It allows me to be creative. It's an outlet where I can muse on things I've seen and done, or reflect on things. Very occasionally it's a bit of a confessional  - I've had the odd rant too (and when that's been the case, it's been pretty cathartic).

4. How does my writing process work?

I'm a writer. Not in a professional sense; I'm not paid to write (how wonderful that would be). But in a deep-down, 'This is who I am' sense. Whatever I do, wherever I go, that little voice in my head is providing a running commentary. It's usually quite descriptive and flowery. The fun I've had on long bus journeys, mentally describing (and inventing stories about) fellow passengers... I'm always observing.

Nature is a vital part of my writing process. I need the outdoors to remain sane. It inspires me and has a truly calming effect on my (anxiety-prone) mind. It's often where little seeds of ideas form. I'll be out walking and something suddenly just germinates and slowly begins to unfurl and branch out. And I try to jot it down. So, nature and notebooks. My two most important tools.

Sometimes ideas are stored away until a later date, but these are always written down. Always.

Oh, and lastly: the photographs. They're an important part of the process; I love photography almost as much as I do writing. With a blog the two go hand in hand so for me it's the perfect medium. I may go on the lookout for specific things to photograph for a post, or look back through my archives to find an image I'd like to use; one that 'fits'.

A lot of the time (OK, all of the time) I'm out and about my camera's with me. I take lots of pictures. And I regularly build a post around them. That's why I find the whole mosaic/collage thing so handy: it enables me to use loads of images in a single post.

I suppose that's what ultimately Mitenska is: a patchwork of all the little things that inspire me, that I love, that interest me.


Well, that's all. I hope you enjoyed reading my writing about writing... it's a subject I could probably muse on for ages but instead just went for it. Hopefully that's the most instinctive, honest way to address those questions.

Are you wondering who my nominated bloggers are? I'm so excited about this part!

First up we have Sue from The Quince Tree. Hers was one of the first blogs I started reading; I love her irreverent approach to all things domestic. She shares great recipes and has a real appreciation of the seasons and celebrations throughout the year. She was also very supportive of my blog from the early days (a whole year and a half ago) and I appreciate that hugely.

Next: Helen at I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. We have little ones of a similar age and she's one of those people I enjoy being in contact with in blog land. We're also both teachers (well, ex in my case) and we both like a bit of crafting.

Finally, Annie from Knitsofacto. Again, hers was one of the first blogs I visited regularly. She's a fellow nature-lover who dyes her own yarn and knits the most beautiful things. Her photography is incredibly evocative too. And, like Sue, she's been very supportive - I was so pleased to guest post on the Colour Collaborative earlier this year when she asked.

I'm looking forward to reading all three posts from these great ladies - hope you are too.
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