Saturday 29 November 2014

Long time coming

It's been a tough week. I've been without a car as Jay's conked out on Monday and he's using mine whilst his languishes in a garage somewhere. 

By Thursday lunchtime I could feel my sanity beginning to slip. I usually take Joe to playgroup twice a week and he has three hours in nursery on a Wednesday morning. He's a placid, good-natured little boy most of the time with a huge appetite and is as reliable as clockwork for sleeping through the night and taking afternoon naps.

But Thursday morning playgroup seems to turn him into a demon child. Disruptive, contrary, whiny. Those two hours are awful: tiring and embarrassing. Yes, I know he's only two. And I know we're extremely lucky he's usually so good. But this week I'd had enough. Having to push him uphill all the way home, fuming at his behaviour and the drizzle and the lack of buses, I dwelt on how tired I feel at the moment - balancing grieving for my mum and caring for Joe can be tough sometimes.

Of course, once he'd had a nap and I'd hit my 'reset' button all was well again. But yesterday I bought a bottle of prosecco to celebrate it being Friday. After One Of Those Weeks a celebration was in order.

Actually, Joe's grandparents came by yesterday and took care of him for a few hours while I made my escape. I had to stay local due to the car situation so went into Ramsbottom, our local town. It's only a mile or so down the road. But what with the whole Black Friday thing I had absolutely no desire to head anywhere that sells electrical goods. Who needs trampling for the sake of a cheap TV?

It was another murky day, but still festive with the lights up. I wandered around and ate a cone of (dripping-fried) chips. To keep out the cold. I also went into the library and looked at sections I've never had to opportunity to browse before, like crafts and fashion. I even sat at a table for a while and flicked through a book or two whilst a woman nearby tapped away at a laptop and muttered to herself.

Then I found some little charity shop treats: a folk-style patterned shawl and a painted glass bowl and matching jug. The glass is in lovely condition and possibly from the 1950s. It probably spent its life displayed in a cabinet. I do love a bit of painted glass, especially when there's gold on it. 

Today we went back again to buy our fruit and vegetables at the market. I stocked up on satsumas and they had those long pointy red peppers at five for a pound so I picked some up. They can be done in the oven later in the week.

Christmas trees are appearing everywhere: above each shop (and even the garage), for sale at the market - a bit soon for me but they still looked nice - and inside the signal box at the station.

It may be too early for trees and decorating (and card writing) but we did order a capon and a ham at the butcher. There's something a bit Dickensian about doing that.

Tomorrow we're off to a craft and vintage fair (this one). Maybe we'll pick up a few more gifts. I agree with Bee, who commented on my last post: a slow December is my pace of choice. Making lists, gathering things here and there... far less stressful than a last-minute panic. Although that'll probably happen too.

Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Midweek miscellany

Even though I skipped a week of miscellanies, it still seems strange that the time's gone by so quickly. Maybe it's that end-of-year feeling when everything seems to fly by. And that could be something to do with the lack of light and the days being shorter.

We've been up to all kinds of things lately. It's definitely getting cold. Very cold. As in woolly hats and padded jackets, see-your-breath, condensation on the windows cold. I have to wipe them down in the mornings, and that brought back memories of my mum doing the same thing when I was little. Towels left folded along window ledges overnight to soak up all that moisture... It got me thinking about other little details from 1980s winters. Her starting the car on cold mornings and doing battle with the manual choke, trying to avoid flooding the engine. Deep snow and being sent home from school when the boiler broke down, and gleefully heading to the hills for a day's sledging instead. Sigh.

Anyway. We've had some lovely morning skies thanks to the cloudless nights. And some catch-your-breath chilly rambles to feed the ducks and see the chickens. Many of the autumn leaves are gone, but those which remain seem to be the luminous ones in a dazzling show of pinks, yellows and oranges. They're all the more striking against the bare grey branches of empty trees.

The morning light comes into the back rooms and shines in little corners here and there. I've moved my Dala horse print to the back wall and here it is in a frame. Other makes include drying out orange slices for decorations (we've been pine cone hunting too) and a work-in-progress red knitted scarf for Joe.

I've been doing little things here and there: decanting cheap bath bubbles into vintage bottles, easing myself into Christmas preparations by jotting down gift ideas, card lists, websites and food to buy in a special notebook. It's early but I don't care - I enjoy it. There are even a few gifts bought and ready to wrap. No festive music yet though and I haven't even begun to speculate on where the decorations could be hiding. Up in that chilly room at the top of the house probably.

I unearthed yet another unopened bottle of booze the other day: Polish cherry liqueur from a trip to Krakow. It reminds me of evenings with my mum, sitting in the square in the Kazimierz enjoying a nightcap and watching the world go by. It's potent but rather lovely - cherries and almonds. A tipple of that after a hot bath and there are no problems whatsoever with dropping off...

Apologies for the lack of pretty photos in this post. I'd planned to have a bit of a snapping session indoors today but it's so incredibly overcast and dank that I'd have ended up with a lot of grainy, blurry images. Instead I'm going to hit Publish and head off into the warmth for a bit of a break while Joe naps...

Thursday 20 November 2014

Precious Things #3: Transient treasures

Not all my Precious Things are everlasting. Often, the things I treasure most - and display proudly - are those which we've discovered whilst out walking together. Occasionally I bring things in from the garden, too: seed heads or herbs. Other times I'll snip a bit of something to put in water, like rosehips, ferns or pussy willow stems.

These little offerings from the outdoors are short-lived. Some (like shells or stones) last much longer. But there's something appealing about those which are fragile, which will eventually crumble away to dust. Maybe it's because we'll go and replenish our found treasures the following year; that such gifts are by their nature designed to last for just one season.

I spotted the tiny nest a month or so ago. It was at the foot of a little hawthorn and must have been blown down by the wind. It's very delicate and intricately fashioned. The blown quail's eggs are a 'prop', added for Joe's benefit. When he understands the art of being gentle, he can touch and examine. Maybe until then I'll try and find a glass cloche to cover them. Still out of reach, of course.

Just as fragile are these leaves. They're special because Joe chose them when they were still yellow and newly-fallen. He presented me with them - three in total - and it was so sweet that I kept them. They now reside on Gertie's table, next to the clock.

We always collect feathers. I want to find some really unusual ones from a pheasant or similar, and no doubt will one day. They remind me of our walks and are little mementoes of times spent together. I keep them in a jam jar so they can be admired through the glass.

I've entertained the idea of a nature table in the house and it's something I'd like to have once Joe's a bit bigger. I'm not sure whether they have them in classrooms any more but we used to love ours, especially when the tadpoles were sprouting their legs. I may draw the line at living creatures though. Our parents all have ponds inhabited by newts, frogs and various little critters. Some things are better left in their natural habitats (and out of my house).

One thing I've been looking for - and have as yet been unsuccessful - is a skull of some kind. It would be a great thing to study and draw, and no doubt Joe would love the macabre aspect. I'll keep my eyes open, particularly when walking up on the moors. 

The wonderful thing about these kinds of Precious Things: they require finding. You have to get outdoors and notice details and explore. That in itself creates memories and promotes an appreciation of nature, which in turn gives pleasure, a sense of wonder and of wellbeing.

Maybe our passing that on to Joe is a Precious Thing in itself.


If you'd like to read more Precious Things posts, please visit my fellow bloggers:

Leanne at Today's Stuff

And if you'd like to guest post please contact me. It would be lovely to hear from you!

Sunday 16 November 2014

Postcards from the weekend

There'll be no Midweek Miscellany next week because I'll be posting my Precious Things on Thursday, and as a rule I don't generally post two days in a row.

I do, however, enjoy putting a pick 'n' mix post together. And although I don't generally blog at the weekend sometimes it's nice to have a change. That, and it's been a good few days with plenty of photo-taking and little pleasures to be had.

Yesterday we did the usual fruit and vegetable shop at the market then Jay took the little one off in the car. I got to stay and linger all alone, free to roam and drift around the shops. No pushchair to lumber up and down steps and through doorways, no complaining or little hands reaching out to grab breakables. It was bliss.

To be able to slow down and actually look at things, to wander at will with nobody making demands. I think that you appreciate these little pockets of freedom all the more when they're a bit of a rarity.

I didn't buy much: a bar of rose and geranium glycerine soap from here (I do love geranium), and a vintage bottle with a stopper (a charity shop find) which was a snip and merely in need of a good wash. It will no doubt appear here once I can get some decent lighting. I think I'll be making a list of all the things I need to photograph indoors, then pouncing as soon as the sun comes out...

There was definitely a festive feel to the proceedings. Maybe it was the cold, the slight gloom or perhaps it was the pleasure of going in and out of those little independent shops looking for small treasures. So different to the shove-it-down-your-throat approach of the supermarkets and shopping centres. It may be early but when there's just a little hint of Christmas - well, that's fine with me.

I walked home up the long, long hill and looked out across the fields and woods. There's a double-fronted stone farmhouse which you view from the back and from an elevated position I always admire the garden: a washing line and bench and flowers, then a fence with a five-barred gate leading to the greenhouse and raised beds: the kitchen garden. It's my dream place.

Today we went out walking. Cold, damp but still wonderful. Fresh air and little details to notice. Joe watched the steam train and jumped in puddles, and befriended a little black Shetland pony. We see so many friendly equines around here, I really should buy a bag of pony treats next time I'm in town.

We came home to a lovely roast dinner (Joe still won't entertain cauliflower or broccoli) and now the light's fading and weekend's almost at an end. Why does it always go by so fast?

I hope you've had a good weekend. Enjoy these last few precious hours!

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Midweek miscellany

So a whole week's flown by yet again. I think someone may have commented on here that time seems to go so much faster as we get older, and that definitely seems to be the case with me.

Thank you for all your comments on my last post - both about the photos and for the get-well wishes. Unfortunately I'm still full of a cold but to be honest I'd far prefer that to a stomach bug or similar. I don't mean to sound all Pollyanna but you have to look on the bright side, don't you?

Speaking of silver linings, it's very grey and wet here at the moment. Today's pretty awful weather-wise but we pluviophiles know there's pleasure to be had from being cosy indoors and watching the rain through the window.

Plus, Joe's weekly morning at nursery is on a Wednesday so we're not stuck indoors going slowly mad thinking of things to do.

I've had a few mini projects on the go this past week. First up: making no-sew cushion covers from old scarves (more on that here, if you're interested). They're fine for purely decorative purposes but not really any good for sitting on so they're propped prettily on the bed for now. I'd like to find a good long-term project for using my vintage scarves as they tend to be squirreled away in a cupboard.

My hyacinth bulbs are coming along nicely (they are best-suited to life in a cupboard - for now, at least). I've hidden them from Joe behind lots of jars and vases.

The wet weather held off until the past day or two and we've managed some walks. I usually take him for a wander through the village, around the churchyard and back home. There's a tiny park with swings and a little slide but (of course) he always makes a beeline for the puddles. 

We also do two or three playgroups each week. He gets to interact with other toddlers, to let off steam and to play with loads of different toys. I get to drink tea and talk to adults. 

Yesterday we observed the two-minute silence. It was fairly dignified despite Joe loudly repeating 'Climb on Mummy' and attempting to scale my legs the entire time. Luckily he wasn't the only noisy one.

Switching subjects: I've always wanted a Dala horse but have never had the luck to spot one at a car boot sale or charity shop. I did look some designs up on Pinterest and drew one. I then made a lino cut, printed it and have framed my new piece of Dala art. Here's a close-up of a slightly blotchy practice print. I'll share a photo of the framed version in situ once the light improves.

The geraniums in the kitchen are flowering again. I'm pleased. They're a rich crimson colour so look (prematurely) rather festive. Everything growing outdoors looks pretty dreadful to be honest. The whole place has been ravaged by the wind and rain and I have no intention of heading out there and sweeping up.

We're eating lots of hearty fayre: soups, sausages, potatoes galore. Jay made a potato and leek dish the other evening from the Diana Henry book I mentioned last week. It was a kind of Eastern European-Mediterranean crossover: mint, dill, olive oil. I loved it. Even better, there were leftovers for lunch the following day. Definitely one to add to our 'regulars' list.

I've been given a Sharon fruit. It tastes of very little, if I'm honest. Much nicer are the accompanying Medjool dates: plump, sticky and fudgy. You could almost tell yourself they're virtuous. As in, they're not cake or chocolate.

I hope you're having a good week despite the howling winds and driving rain...

Monday 10 November 2014


Lots of pictures mean lots of collages.

So I won't add lots of words.

 Just family, food and a walk to savour the season. And the beautiful mellow light.

I'm currently suffering with a bad throat so intend to keep warm and drink honey and lemon.

I'm glad we went out walking though - one of my favourite spots at this time of year.

Some places are somehow just suited to autumn and winter walks. Jumbles Country Park is one of them.

It's actually quite a festive place to me: we always used to walk here after Christmas dinner, and there's a farm nearby which sells Christmas trees. You get a mince pie and coffee to enjoy whilst going round and choosing your tree.

Maybe we'll be back in December...

Hope you had a good weekend. I'll have a good read of all your blogs tomorrow, wrapped in a blanket but hopefully on the mend.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Midweek miscellany

So, Wednesday already. Bonfire night tonight (although we were out driving on Saturday evening and could see fireworks going off for miles all around). There's a bonfire party at a pub up the road but I suspect it'll be packed out and I'm not sure whether being jostled around with a two-year-old in tow is the best idea. Maybe we'll feel braver later this evening...

November has well and truly arrived, bringing with it plenty of chilly weather and the faintest whiff of Christmas. For me that whiff is Eau de Panic: time to try and save a little money each week to ease the load. We don't 'do' extravagant gifts but I really like to buy some indulgent food from more a more upscale supermarket - ahem - Booths.

Christmas this year will be sad having so recently lost my mum. But it'll be exciting too - Joe will have a much firmer grasp of what's going on this time around and I'm hoping for a snowfall.

Anyway, enough talk of Christmas. Back to the week just past.

I'm trying to lose a bit of weight at the moment. My favourite jeans are way too small and even my looser ones are, well, snug. So it's out with the evening snacking and in with smaller portions, plenty of Asian-inspired food (it just feels cleaner, somehow) and willpower. All that festive eating on the horizon will give me something to keep going for.

The food thing leads me neatly into what I'm currently reading. Cookery books, always cookery books. The local library has a really good selection and I'm trying - for the first time - the Hairy Bikers. First up, their Asian Adventure. Lots of  recipes from Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand. I'm looking forward to giving some of them a go, as I love sweet and sour flavours, chilli (in moderation) and crunch.

Another of theirs, Great Curries, was borrowed with Jay in mind. He can do the cooking and I'll happily oblige by eating. In moderation.

In addition to books I've got a (secret) Pinterest board on the go with healthy recipe ideas. Thus far we've had a Chinese chicken salad which was zingy and virtuous and last night I gave courgette, feta and spinach fritters with tzatziki a go. They were almost worth all the washing up. And the Magimix is getting some serious workouts too (unlike me).

I have procured a new set of wooden cooking utensils. My old ones are very stained and must be flavoured with the ghosts of a thousand meals past. Joe can have them to play with and I'll use these, currently pristine, ones. I'm sure they'll get beautifully (and indelibly) stained the moment they hit anything tomato-based.

Here they are, styled (I know, I know) alongside another library book: Food From Plenty by Diana Henry. Jay describes it as 'my' kind of recipe book, i.e. lots of pretty photographs to gaze at. Although it's also a very sensible read, packed with good advice on buying food seasonally and using up leftovers.

One of the (few) houseplants I own has fallen prey to mealy bugs. I went and bought some spray today, and repotted it outside in the very, very fresh air. Whilst at the farm shop-cum-garden centre I picked up a few other things: beetroot, waxy potatoes, shortbread and a sweet little pink cyclamen. Another year, another attempt to try and keep one going beyond a month or so.

The weekend was lovely and relaxed and we managed plenty of walking, hence the photographs. I still need to start taking more landscape-orientated images rather than automatically going for portrait. They look better on the blog, I think. And the indoorsy ones here are SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera). You know, in the spirit of 'real' and 'honest' and all that. Truth be told though, I do love playing around with my photos so will continue to do so.

Whatever makes you happy, etc.

I succumbed to the temptation to buy yet more notebooks. They were very cheap supermarket purchases and I've personalised them with rubber stamps. You can never have too many notebooks. The ones I carry around with me are always secured with an elastic band to keep them closed. One of those little habits I have.

And finally, I'd like to say thank you for all your comments on my previous post. It's always good to get people interested and read their views. And thanks to some of those comments I've managed to get my images to a more reasonable size.

Enjoy the rest of the week (and the fireworks).

Sunday 2 November 2014

Life, styled

I mentioned blogging the other day, and how I don't view Mitenska as a 'lifestyle' blog. And then I read this post by Annie and her words resonated with me: the sentiment about life being lived, and not simply 'styled', really got me thinking.

Of course, there's a difference between me trying to create pretty photos for the blog and suggesting I live a perfect, straight-from-the-pages-of The Simple Things magazine kind of life. I love details and making little vignettes around the house but that's for my benefit as much as anyone else's. My outdoor photography reflects this: almost all the pictures I take are close-ups of things I've spotted and want to capture in detail. Colours, textures, signs of the seasons.

But Mitenska's about my life. It's not about suggesting we spend our time foraging for mushrooms and shopping for artisan bread, hanging out in hipster coffee shops or glamping with our cool friends. Because we don't. 

Joe eats waffles and beans and watches TV. No, not all the time (or even most of it). But I don't intimate for one moment that our days are filled with meaningful activities. We spend hours outdoors and we have fun and read books, but I wouldn't try to pass myself off as a perfect parent who makes organic meals and creates her own Play Doh.

We're, well, normal. 

So I decided to share something 'normal' with you. My workspace. Neither stylish nor particularly inspiring but I don't work from a beautiful garden office warmed by a woodburning stove. I sit in the front room (the coldest in the house) and yesterday dragged my whole desk and computer and all the rest of it across the room to be next to the radiator.

No styling here, or pretty photographic filters to counter-effect the lack of light on a November afternoon. Yes, it's a tidy space but that's because I'm tidy. You can see the magnolia walls (I really don't like magnolia) and the marks on them, the old curtains and the frankly quite dreadful job that's been made of a once lovely Victorian fireplace.

But we only rent the house. It's spacious and I'm lucky to have a whole room to myself where I can write in peace and close the door afterwards without having to clear everything away.

This corner has been 'styled' with a camera tripod doubling up as a coat stand. And no, that isn't a pile of horse manure on the floor. It's a string of bells. Naturally. The lampshade is awaiting some kind of 'treatment', as yet undecided.

The spray carnations are faded and on their last legs, as is the table holding my drawing board. It's worryingly wobbly and - typically - we've lost the key for tightening the legs.

This isn't 'styled' either. It's just a collection of things which are neat and tidy - for now.

And here's my ugly but comfortable chair from which I blog and edit photos and make notes. Right next to the radiator. The (slightly askew) board behind doesn't have beautiful moodboard-type things pinned to it. Just a planner for blog posts, collaborations etc. It keeps me organised and I'm so glad I found it online (the source escapes me, sorry).

So, there you have it. An important part of my life: the place where I get creative and spend my free moments. A bit (OK, a lot) cold, a little gloomy at times and it doesn't have the most inspiring view from the window. But it's a real working space filled with the stuff I use, not props and objets

Of course I love aesthetics and beautiful things. Always have. My dream job would actually be doing shop window displays or photographic styling. I sigh over Pinterest and occasionally buy a magazine or two. I find ideas and I display objects (and dream of our next house having a mantelpiece for my treasures). But Mitenska is written about the life we live, not one I want to portray. I don't want people to aspire to anything here. To try and suggest we have some kind of cool 'lifestyle' would be disingenuous, and anyway - who can be bothered trying to keep up a charade?

Not to mention that some of my nearest and dearest read the blog and know the real truth...

Anyway, normal service - complete with pretty photos - will be resumed next week. Hope you've had a good weekend and enjoyed a look behind the scenes at my little corner of the house.

Oh, and by the way - if anyone can tell me how to make my photos bigger here on Blogger I'd be most grateful as the Extra Large option really isn't very large at all. I'm thinking it may involve custom sizing (but where?) or - gulp - I may have to look into moving to my own site...
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