Saturday 30 August 2014


On Tuesday we had the usual mixed-bag of a day. Jay's been off work this past week so he accompanied me to playgroup with Joe for the first time. Joe was extremely pleased and I found myself sidelined; it was all 'Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!' as he pointed things out, demonstrated his prowess on the climbing frame and showed off his piano skills during the hokey cokey. Not that I minded. It was nice for Jay to get involved (despite him being the only adult male on the premises, hence a bit of self-consciousness on his part).

We then went out to Accrington. It's maybe seven miles from our house and more of a grim up North gritty working town than our nearest hipster enclave of Ramsbottom. I like it for all that; the Victorian-built indoor market boasts all those wonderful stalls selling boiled ham and black pudding, and the kind of robust-looking underwear that reminds me of Hattie Jacques. 

I found a fantastic hardware stall. They stocked all manner of things including reasonably-priced enamelware. I treated myself to a pie dish (bodes well for the diet) and a mug. 

Even though Accrington (which I blogged about here) is a bit down-at-heel - along with many smaller towns around the country - it does have some hidden gems. And finding hidden gems is like treasure-hunting in charity shops and car boot sales, albeit on a larger scale.

The strangest find of the day was the aptly named The Weird & Wonderful. We spotted it from across the street and were immediately intrigued by its half-barber's shop, half-natural history emporium set-up. One window displayed skulls and stuffed animal heads and the other looked in on a traditional American-style gent's salon.

Inside I was taken back to my museum days - cabinets of curiosity, glassy-eyed (literally) creatures stuffed and preserved for ever more. Skeletons and jars of creepy-looking things in formaldehyde. The smell of napthalene. It was wonderful.

Apparently it's owned and run by a keen collector who sells most of his finds online. But the assistants were lovely and friendly, and more than happy for me to take photographs. So I did.

One of the best parts was opening drawers and peering inside to look at the entomology specimens. I used to do that at work too; the entomology and botany collections were my favourites. It probably helps that I'm not scared of spiders. Not even these long-legged beasties.

Most of the photos came out fine, despite it being quite dark in there.

As well as trucks, trains, diggers and dirt Joe has a keen interest in animals (current obsession: seahorses). Despite a lack of those he did love everything else including a giant buffalo head sporting a top hat. 

Yes, I know that many of these items were killed in the name of sport, and preserved primarily to be displayed as trophies. It goes without saying that I don't agree with that. But they were also killed, stuffed and mounted a long time ago. Believe me, we dealt with the question of ethics on a constant basis when I worked in the heritage sector. And to be honest, I'm not sure where I stand with regards to purchasing these things now. I certainly wouldn't want to buy any of it myself. I suppose it's a bit like the question of wearing fur. Some people are fine with that if the item's classed as 'vintage' (personally, I still wouldn't).

But I do think taxidermy can be very valuable in an educational sense. And I'm aware that, in many places, modern taxidermy (and it's subsequent display) uses only animals that died of natural causes.

Sorry, just thought I'd better add all that as I know that animals and the killing of them can, and should, be a very emotive subject.

Moving on... The butterflies seem quite apt here as I'm hoping to move in a new direction, or at least evolve a little. To maybe test the waters creatively. You see, I do love writing and photography. I'd love to do more with both of these things and have felt this way for quite a while now.

So a little side-project for me: building a photography portfolio, a bit of research, exploring a few ideas. I'll keep you updated on my progress (no doubt it will be slow, considering everything that's going on around here at the moment).

For now I've started a new Tumblr account where I'm gradually posting my own photographs rather than other people's pretty ones from all around the Web. That's what Pinterest is for, after all. Feel free to have a nose and tell me what you think, and apologies for those images you've already seen here on Mitenska. There aren't too many there yet but I'm hoping it will become more substantial over the coming weeks.

Enough from me.

Thank you for reading. It wasn't supposed to be such a lengthy post.

Oh, and thank you for all Joe's birthday wishes. We're hitting the beach tomorrow. Cagoules and hot chocolate at the ready!

Friday 29 August 2014


Today our little one is two.

I can't believe he was ever this tiny (or that we somehow muddled through those early days without any major disasters).

Now he's a lot more robust - no doubt his legendarily huge appetite has something to do with that - and is such a happy little boy. 

This morning we came downstairs to new toys and cloudy, wet weather (hence the fuzzy images, sorry) so no trying out the new trike until tomorrow. But it still had that Christmas Day feeling. And this year Joe has mastered the art of wrapping-ripping.

I had to scoot over to visit my mum for a few hours but tomorrow we're hoping to get to the beach. If the weather lets us. I am talking about the Lancashire coast here...

Happy birthday to my lovely Joe.

And Happy Weekend to you.

Friday 22 August 2014

Friday: Frogs, flowers and fresh air

It's Friday! 

Apologies if my posts seem a little up and down at the moment. They're reflecting my state of mind I suppose: sometimes a bit sad and melancholy, sometimes happy to just be here and able to enjoy the little pleasures in life. And I'm celebrating the latter today.

We've been taking advantage of the cooler but still light evenings by walking and, more recently, having a bit of a seasonal clear-up in our garden. It's technically a back yard but it feels somehow like a glorified version, and we have raised beds over the low wall at the back so there's a bit of everything. Except a lawn. Oh, and a shed. And pond too - but that doesn't seem to have put off the frogs. When we moved the pots out of the way so we could sweep all the leaves up (a result of the past week's high winds) there were a few little visitors.

The one above was the bigger of the two. The other was very tiny indeed and had made itself at home behind some wooden crates planted with peas.

Our little space is pretty easy to keep on top of. We pulled up some tired-looking bedding plants and freed up pots ready for autumnal planting. I want to buy some spring bulbs too: maybe miniature daffodils, muscari and snowdrops.

I put some Alpine grit on top of the soil in some of the pots (those housing more permanent plants like the Magnolias and succulents). Joe couldn't keep away. Fat little hands scooping up my carefully-spread grit and scattering it over the just-swept ground. He wasn't interested in the little pile I put in his tipper truck. It's as though he likes being told off...

Another visitor: a Peacock butterfly. We generally seem to get Cabbage Whites and Red Admirals so I was pleased to spot this one feasting on the Buddleia flowers. The tree's starting to lose its flowers now. We've had some very cold nights lately so I'm thinking it won't be too long before the ferns and hosta start to die back. Although that's apparently a good time to divide a hosta so I'll be getting a lot of new plants.

I also like to collect seeds where I can. I bought these little envelopes from the Post Office - I think they're for wages - and stamped them. They might make good stocking fillers at Christmas (with seed names and instructions written on the reverse).

The tablecloth underneath is actually some of that PVC-backed fabric. I picked up a few metres of it today and am quite taken with it - I'm considering putting it over my desk instead of the dining table.

Seasonal flowers of the indoor variety. The Asters I bought last week are a bit limp now but I like to make the most of every bunch of flowers I buy. The little stems with buds usually get snipped off and put in a tiny vase (or in this case, a shot glass).

My office/workspace is at the front of the house and doesn't get the sun until late afternoon so feels chilly most of the time. The heavy winter quilt's on the bed and that's been topped with a woollen blanket. Yesterday I pulled a bag of cold-weather clothes down from the top of the wardrobe. Maybe we'll have an Indian summer, maybe not. But I do love the fresh feel to the air right now. 

Speaking of which, we're off to Wales tomorrow. A day trip with Joe - we're riding a steam train on the Snowdon Mountain Railway. Fingers crossed the weather holds (I daren't check the forecast). Joe will absolutely love it and so will we. I suspect fish and chips may be involved.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday 20 August 2014


The past weekend was quite fraught - lots of emotional ups and downs. It's tough on all of us right now, and even though we support one another and just get on with things as best as we can, I suddenly felt as though I'd hit a wall. Tired and drained and in need of a little boost. So on Monday I did something truly extravagant. I dropped Joe at nursery and took three hours for myself to escape into the hills.

I know I talk quite often about the benefits of getting outdoors but it really is something I feel passionately about. It's my prescription for peace of mind. So, armed with the camera, off I went. Up onto the moors where I sat in the sunshine and enjoyed some much-needed solitude. Just the sound of the sheep for company; even the wind which had been howling all weekend had suddenly disappeared overnight.

Being on the moors reminds me of my childhood. I know the paths and hills, streams and even the dry stone walls like the back of my hand. It's a comforting place to be and I love it in all weathers. It's where I've galloped along on my pony; where I've sat and picnicked. We had adventures up there in those precious after-school hours of summers long ago. Lots of memories. And nothing up there ever seems to change.

Walking alone can be a real luxury. You have the freedom to wander off on mini expeditions, peering over walls or examining nature's little details. Of course it can be an occasionally scary experience too. Like when I dropped down through the woods and had one of those horror film moments. The loud snapping of a branch. Your heart's in your mouth as you slowly turn to look behind you into the trees. Nothing. Rising panic, imagining your pursuer hiding and watching. Then the relief as you realise it was just a fat, clumsy woodpigeon sitting on a bough which couldn't take it's weight.

Yes, I swore at the pigeon.

Of course, you can't walk too far around these parts before you're engaged in conversation. This time I was advised on where to find a female pheasant and her five chicks ('I see you've got your camera').

My long walk across the hills took me down into the villages close to our own. Having enjoyed the moors and the wilderness it was good to just notice what people had been up to as I passed by and observed. Like taking a little diversion through some woodland allotments and looking at what was growing. And noticing a sweet little house I've always admired is now up for sale.

Those three hours were incredibly therapeutic. The colours: purples, mossy greens, browns, greys. The sound of water as I walked alongside streams and leaned over waterfalls. The smells of fresh air and damp earth in the depths of the woods. The sense of the seasons shifting. I was momentarily lost in myself, thoughts scudding along and shifting like the clouds.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Food notes from a gusty weekend

It's been a weekend of weather extremes (although not quite Channel 5 worthy - no hurricanes or ice storms). Lots of threatening leaden skies, high winds and bright sun interspersed with heavy rain showers. We've managed a few (hurried) walks but on Friday evening we went and picked more blackberries.

I apologise if you're getting blackberry fatigue. I've written about them and photographed them a lot during the past week or two but it's because I've never known such a good year for them. It seems that each time we go for an amble we discover patches full of the fattest, blackest fruits you could imagine. I have plans for all those currently taking over the freezer, but for Friday night's haul I opted for a crumble cake. A pretty simple recipe courtesy of Nigel Slater (of course). It's from Volume Two of his Kitchen Diaries and I just swapped the gooseberries for blackberries.

Jay's mum brought us some more seasonal eatings: onions from her garden. I love the papery leaves you don't often get when buying neatly-trimmed versions from the shops. Wonder how much they'll make my eyes water? By the way, I once read that wearing glasses whilst chopping onions prevents the whole crying thing. It doesn't work.

I picked up a few Victoria plums from the market yesterday. There weren't many left as we got there late. I may add them to some jam. Then again I think I'll just eat them as they are and enjoy them while they're available. I also noticed damsons for sale.

We're enjoying simple, keep-the-cold-out meals at the moment: soups, jacket potatoes, risotto. And cake, of course. Here it is with its crumble topping, awaiting a big spoon of clotted cream.

Hope you had a good weekend with plenty of good eating.

Thursday 14 August 2014

Rambling and brambling... and breathing

So here I am again. And again, thank you for all your lovely kind messages. I really do appreciate them - each and every one.

I said I'd be blogging when I felt like it and I feel like it right now. My days are busy but Joe is at nursery for a few weeks to allow me to visit my mum. He goes for a couple of hours each morning and has taken to it like a duck to water. Literally. Twice now I've collected him and he's been soaked through because he has a keen interest in the little trough they have outside for 'water play'. Add to that a layer of sand, chocolate (from baking) and whatever they've had for lunch and you can imagine how much action the washing machine's seeing. 

He goes to the nursery in a village just down the road from ours and we tend to go walking there most evenings. There are chickens which we have to visit when I pick him up each day. And you can hear the steam train too. He's in his element.

We'll be back to our old routine at some point but in the meantime this little adventure is turning out well for Joe. And it's been a life-saver for me too.

Dropping him off in the mornings you get a sense of autumn beckoning. Leaves dancing along the pavement and that unmistakable smell in the air. There's a tree across the lane from the nursery which is full of fat Bramley apples, some of which have been blown down during the heavy rain showers we've had of late.

I've often said that walking in the fields and woods is the best therapy for a troubled mind and last night's stroll confirmed it. There was a cool breeze and the smell of the damp earth and leaves was just so wonderful: balm for the soul I think. I inhaled it deeply and savoured every breath, wishing I could somehow bottle up that scent and bring it home, maybe infuse this post with it to share with you all. 

We found another huge patch of brambles and plan to return this evening for yet more picking. I found a simple but tempting recipe for blackberry vodka yesterday whilst leafing through my cookbooks. And the stoppered bottles I used for elderflower cordial have all been returned and are waiting in the cupboard.

The colours are changing around us. The rosehips are beginning to blush but the predominant colour I've noticed is yellow: leaves from the birches which grow along the old railway line; Solidaster (or Solidago, depending on your preference). The long grass has that bleached look I love so much. It looks spectacular when sunlit against the leaden skies.

I've bought a bunch of asters for the house. They always signal the final days of summer for me; I went for a deep red for myself and bought my mum some pink ones. She tells me you can take cuttings from them so I'll have to look that one up. My grandma used to grow them in her garden.

I'm looking forward to another jaunt this evening. It really does help when things are difficult. Last night we came home to soup made with vegetables, lentils, spilt peas and barley. More of a broth really but it was good. And there's a decent amount left over too - even better.

Indoors we have the big feather quilt back on the bed which is lovely but it makes getting up in the mornings that bit more difficult.

I've also taken to wearing a chunky knitted wrap whilst sitting here at the computer. I suspect my next purchase for myself will be a set of thermals...

Monday 11 August 2014


Firstly, thank you for all your kind comments on my previous post.

Right now I'm feeling OK and able to write here... so I'm making hay while the sun shines. 

I've thought long and hard about posting at this time. You see, I occasionally write about more personal subjects but on the whole I keep certain things private and instead discuss them with those closest to me. Essentially, I like Mitenska to be a positive place where I celebrate the little things in life which make me happy.


My mum is unwell. She's staying in a hospice and the initially positive prognosis has sadly changed. It's hard. We're taking things day by day, hour by hour if need be.

I do love writing and I know my mum has always enjoyed reading my blog and encouraged me to keep it up. I fully intend to do just that. Things are going to be rough and there will be times when I don't feel like coming here. So during the coming days, weeks, months I'll see how I feel and post according to whether I feel I can. What I won't be doing is writing about this whole sad process. That's not what I want for my blog and my readers and it's not what I want for my family.

So, expect me to just pop in and out, and to see a lot of photo-heavy* posts for a while. Please keep visiting - I really do appreciate the little community I'm so pleased to be a part of.


*If you've been with me for a while you'll notice that this is possibly the first time I've ever used a landscape image as opposed to portrait. That's progress for you!

Friday 8 August 2014


Which are making me happy right now. Like this crystal vase. My mum's been trying to offload the crystal for a while now so I needn't have worried about pestering her for it after all. No flowers as yet - I suspect it will require old-fashioned spray carnations or chrysanthemums or similar. But it does cast little rainbows on Gertie's table when the sun shines in through the window.

Oh, and she also gave me her bottle of (unopened) Chanel No. 5. I think that makes me a bit glamorous. Let's pretend it does, shall we?

I'm going to tell you about my August reading in this post instead of Laura's link-up this month. I have too many posts lined up at the moment so will include all things literary right here.

Most exciting thing: Jay (secretly) bought me a Kindle. Yes, I know e-readers stir up a lot of debate but as much as I do love 'real' books adorning my shelves, and their smell and feel, I'm quite taken with my new device. I was initially a bit stuck as to what I should choose to read first but went with The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. The verdict so far? I love it. Seriously. I'm only 34% (I know) of the way through it as yet but I'd definitely recommend it. Funny, clever, sparely written but so wise. Seriously. Read it.

I'm also reading Tender (Volume One) by Nigel Slater. It's from the local library. I'm saving up for a real - not electronic - copy of my own. Cookbooks are one genre of book which I can't imagine not buying in their hefty, tactile, straight-to-prized-possession-status format. Nigel can do no wrong as far as I'm concened. And the carrot fritters from this book were delicious (even meeting with the enthusiastic approval of my one-year-old).

I'm still reading Joanna Blythman's What to Eat, and enjoying that just as much. Enlightening, inspiring and in my opinion a must read for anyone interested in food, cooking and nutrition.

Finally: The Happiness Project. I picked it up from the little library and tried to get into it but couldn't. I just found Gretchen Rubin too irritating and spoilt with her first-world problems and (what I perceived as) whingeing. I'll be returning it for someone else to try. I hope they enjoy it more than I did.

It's been a wet few days. Foraging has been limited to what's growing in the back yard. A big marrow (OK, bloated courgette) and some sorrel, hastily harvested in between rain showers. Joe was extremely put out to see the back of the marrow (he visits it every day). And I'll be honest: it was too hard to cut up. So I chose a smaller specimen and cobbled together a pan of soup with some other bits and pieces, and that used up the forlorn-looking veggies at the bottom of the fridge most satisfactorily.

I have a new notebook. Yes, another one. It's very pretty and printed with soya ink on recycled paper. From Tesco, of all places. Not particularly cheap but the pages are illustrated and it's inspiring me no end. Notes for future blog posts are quickly filling it. I may have to buy another with the weekly shop. Food for the imagination - does that justify sneaking it into the basket?

Probably not. 

We've been testing out the theory of there being no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices. Today I discovered I need some waterproofs. Maybe a puddle suit like Joe has (joke). He made such a fuss when the heavens opened and I put the rain cover over his buggy. I'd gladly have swapped places with him.

We took cover under the church lychgate for a little while then made a run for home. Somehow we ended up in the little cafe in the village sharing a plate of chips and ketchup. Oops.

But if chips and ketchup don't make my list of happy-making things then, as they say in these parts, it's a poor do.


P.S. I wrote this post on Tuesday and sadly the following evening my mum became very poorly indeed. I'll be taking a little break from writing here and from visiting other blogs. I hope you understand and I'll be back when I feel I can.


Monday 4 August 2014

Late summer

We've been doing a lot of walking lately (we always do, of course. It's Our Thing). And I know I blog about being an autumnophile. New word? Apparently not: I just Googled it. Seems it's the autumnal equivalent of this. We've visited that topic a few times too.

So, today. After a weekend of crazily changeable weather, Joe and I went out in the August sunshine for several hours' worth of fresh air, a running commentary (me) and a lot of excited chatter (him). It was warm and balmy but when the wind blew, there was just something. The merest suggestion of the seasons changing.

Yes, there are still roses (but they go on flowering - in some cases - right through into the winter, don't they?) and the leaves aren't turning quite yet. But it was as though something was there amongst the trees. Hiding, waiting. 

Regular visitors to my little corner of the internet will also be aware of my list-making tendencies, and that I did say I'd write down what I love about autumn. The things which, as we reach late summer, I start to get excited about. Little rituals I look forward to.

So here's my list. It will no doubt be added to (in my notebook) as the weeks go on and autumn gets ever closer. My favourite things about the summer waning and the softer season creeping in*:

Parkin ~ Blackberry picking ~ Crumble making ~ Fungi spotting ~ Birds gathering to migrate ~ Pumpkins, gourds and squash ~ Woolly jumpers ~ Leaves turning ~ Warm bedding and extra blankets ~ Bonfires ~ Hot baths ~ Apple season ~ Halloween ~ Treacle toffee ~ Conkers ~ Thermals ~ Chrysanthemums ~ Scarves, hats and gloves ~ Storm watching ~ Cheese on toast ~ The smell of damp earth and leaf mould ~ September new starts ~ Mulled wine (I'm starting early) ~ Woolly tights and socks ~ Haws and rosehips ~ Rice pudding ~ Buying (and savouring) the October issue of Country Living ~ Hot chocolate ~ Misty mornings ~ Stubble in the fields ~ Soup ~ Cobwebs ~ Toffee apples  ~ Getting lost in a novel ~ Candlelight ~ Fireworks ~ Black peas ~ Potato pie ~ The smell of woodsmoke ~ Bread and butter pudding.

I've put together a Pinterest board here; I'm such an autumn enthusiast I happily add to it all year long. You see, I'm also a sensualist. Apparently that's a typical Taurean trait. Not too sure where I stand regarding astrology but I'm also stubborn and methodical so there does seem to be something in it.

Autumn is a month which appeals to my senses in so many ways.

This past week I've indulged in one or two autumnal activities already. I stewed some lovely red plums with cinnamon and star anise, and yesterday evening Jay informed me he'd made a discovery 'just around the corner'. We wandered out, the three of us, to the top of the road and down a little lane. And lo and behold: the biggest patch of blackberries I've ever seen.

These were no ordinary blackberries either. Not like the tight little red knots in the picture above. No, they were huge and blue-black and seemingly taking over the entire place. A ten minute picking session yielded over a kilo of fruit. There are lots and lots left still.

Even Jay had to admit he's starting to get into the whole foraging thing.

For me it's not about the thrill of food for free. Of course I like the idea of fresh, local and natural pickings. But to me foraging offers a means of connecting with nature and of charting time through the year; bookmarking the seasons almost. So up next: blackberry crumble cake and possibly some jam or jelly. Oh, and clafoutis. Always wanted to try making that.

I hope you're enjoying the final weeks of summer. September's generally mild and warm in these parts so it should be a gentle transition between the seasons. What do you love about autumn, and what heralds the start of it for you?

*Darker nights also mean the possibility of seeing into people's houses (if they're considerate enough to leave the curtains slightly open). Maybe nosiness is a Taurean trait too but at least I'm honest!

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