Tuesday 31 March 2015

March in pictures (and words)

So, March is at an end. It came in like a lion and went out like - well, an even bigger lion. We've seen snow, hail, gale-force winds and plenty of rain. As well as downpours we've had some brilliant sunshine which marked two firsts for 2015: line-dried washing and a walk without the need for a coat.

It's been a month of getting outside whenever we've had the opportunity. Meandering through the woods, hurriedly dashing around the block for a bit of fresh air between rain showers, tidying our patch of garden when the sun (fleetingly) appeared.

We've pulled out of one house purchase and now embarked on another. It feels right. Things are proceeding but I'm not getting excited just yet. Well, I'm trying not to get excited. I don't want to tempt fate, hence my not saying much on here about it. All in good time.

We've had the odd family birthday and a few trips out. I went to an exhibition opening on Thursday evening with my brother. Hebden Bridge was rather lovely at night: clear skies and not a lot of light pollution (it's in a steep valley) meant we could see the stars in all their twinkliness. 

There was more sparkle in the gallery, too. Prosecco and jewellery and the paintings: watercolours with gold thread stitched through them. I do love an evening reception.

Speaking of skies, we managed to catch the eclipse. And just as exciting (to me, at least) is the prospect of lighter evenings now the clocks have changed. 

I can't wait until the temperatures rise a little. Or the wind drops. Either would do. Much as I love winter, I'm hoping to fully emerge from hibernation very soon. 

This week Joe and I need to make an Easter bonnet. They're having a competition at nursery. I must try not to become a Competitive Parent but I do have some ideas and the paints and glue will be making an appearance over the next day or two. A perfect rainy day activity.

There's absolutely no chance he'll agree to wear a bonnet of any description. Even a haircut requires serious and lengthy negotiations.

Another trip to Yorkshire at the weekend, and lunch at a lovely vegetarian cafe. It's upstairs in a shop which sells all manner of organic, healthy foods and household products. This was timely as I've now made a major decision: to go gluten-free permanently.

I'm not coeliac (having been tested a few years ago) but I do have a sensitivity to gluten and it results in lots of health niggles. I also love bread and pastry and cakes and pizza. Which is why I've always given in to temptation. But not any more. And I have to say, instead of feeling my diet's now limited I'm enjoying finding alternatives and being more creative with my cooking and baking.

Note: banana bread works well with gluten-free flour. Carrot cake probably will too. The moistness of the ingredients seems to counteract the dry crumbliness of GF flour.

So, March has marked a few new starts. House-wise, health-wise and, of course, season-wise.

Finally, to round the month off, I'd like to say thank you to everyone who commented on my last post. It's nice to sometimes go off at a tangent as the mood takes you, and to write about whatever happens to inspire at any given moment. I'm glad you enjoyed reading.

Have a great April!

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Spring greens

Joe's nursery session last Thursday happened to be on a gloriously sunny morning. Which meant he got to play outside with a tub of water and I got to take a walk, lonely as a cloud, for a couple of hours.

My route was one which is very familiar to me, a walk I've done hundreds of times over the years. And part of it involves a section of rather muddy woodland. On one side: the River Irwell. On the other, steep banks of rock. It's soggy and richly green, a tapestry of mosses and ivy and ferns. I took all these photographs within a stretch of maybe ten yards.

One of my most prized possessions is an old, dog-eared copy of Roget's Thesaurus. I look words up just for fun. Yes I do. I love words, especially rather antiquated ones. And with this particular post in mind I decided to see what it had on 'green'. Not in the 'new', 'young', 'sour', 'ignorant', 'immature', 'pleasure-ground' or 'innocent' sense. In a green, the colour, sense.

Here's what I found:
432. Greenness - N. greenness, green, verdancy, greenery, greenwood; verdure, viridescensce; jade, emerald, malachite, beryl.

green colour, jungle green, Lincoln g., sea-g., Nile g.; bottle green, pea-g., sage g., jade g., celadon, reseda.

green pigment, terre verte, celadonite, viridian, verditer, bice, Paris green; chlorophyl, etiolin.

Adj. green, viridescent, verdant, emerald; verdurous, grassy, leafy; grass-green, porraceous; greenish, bilious; lime, chartreuse.


So much more interesting and descriptive than plain old 'green'. You see, I toyed with the notion of naming this post 'Fifty Shades of Green'. But then I changed my mind. Because despite all the purples and yellows and pinks suddenly appearing, to me spring is green. Shoots appearing. Buds bursting. Leaves unfurling. So 'Spring Greens' it is.

And when I got up close to all this life and growth I was amazed at the sheer, well, greenness of it. The layers, the variety, the depth. I wondered whether I should write this post at all. Would people find it too monochromatic? A bit of a 'nothing' post (not newsy or informative, no real story to tell)? But I was inspired. Both when taking the photographs and looking at them once I was home. 

Walking alone can be such a luxury, an opportunity to stop and explore and examine. To discover tiny details. And to wonder. 

Sunday 22 March 2015

Lots, but not much

We planned a quiet weekend. They don't happen very often. I've started with a sore throat and cough - again - and Joe's the same. I've never known anything like it. You shake one thing off and another arrives immediately to take over.

But spring is upon us and we've had some glorious sunshine. Which meant walks in the locality (no travelling allowed during a quiet weekend) and a bit of pottering outdoors.

Ambles through the village: friendly sheep who are used to passers-by. And chickens who reside behind the pub.

The whole 'slow' movement appeals to me: slow food, slow lifestyle. Things are quite literally slow for us at the moment, as Joe prefers to walk than ride in his buggy. He has no reason to hurry up and enjoys stopping and noticing anything and everything. There's a lesson to be learned in there somewhere...

I do love the way a sunny day can change your whole perspective on things. Quite the contrast from Friday's eclipse when we were plunged into eerie darkness in the middle of the morning.

We've fed the ducks, visited the chickens, chatted with cyclists and watched the steam trains. We met a greedy Shetland pony and saw an amazing sight: three kingfishers darting along the river in a line. Far more exotic than the resident mallards (but virtually impossible to photograph).

Joe's little legs have seen plenty of action over the past couple of days. I hope the fresh air helps him feel a bit better.

Blossom's appearing on bare branches. And there are signs of things to come: bluebells are putting up their leaves. Wild garlic is carpeting the woods already.

At home there was an important first for 2015: line-dried bedding. Tonight there will be hot baths and the pleasure of sleeping in sheets which smell of outdoors.

There's something about the arrival of spring which makes you want to get outside and tidy the garden and plant things. Last week I swept so vigorously I gave myself a blister on my hand. Proof of a job well done. This afternoon I lifted some snowdrops while they were still 'in the green'.

Our Alpine strawberries have gone mad so I divided some of those into little pots (and intend to give them away). Some of the herbs we assumed had perished over the winter are putting out little shoots too. Even a dead-looking geranium, shoved under a wooden crate and forgotten about, has two bright green leaves emerging.

So, a weekend with no plans has been spent doing lots of things. But little things. None of them urgent or stressful. We haven't felt obliged to visit people or to have anyone over. Instead it's been just us three. Pottering, wandering, planting, eating, reading.

A weekend well spent. I hope yours was the kind of weekend you enjoy.

Monday 16 March 2015

Spring, in detail

Despite the seemingly endless gloom - if it's not actually raining, it's threatening to - and the oppressively low clouds which keep the house in semi-darkness, there's now no escaping it: spring is here. The snowdrops are over; the crocus are flagging and daffodils are lighting up verges.

Weekend was an emotional one. Mother's day fell exactly six months after my mum passed away. We visited the grave and sank a pot of daffodils into the ground. Joe hunted for pinecones. We stayed for a little while then went away again, to Astley Park. They used to hold the Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show there but several wet summers put an end to that.

I hadn't been for years. We entered through a door into walled kitchen gardens which were so meticulously kept and beautiful I kicked myself for leaving the camera at home (although I did post a few snaps onto Instagram).

The gardener - how I envied him his job - was having a quick tea break in the oh-so-fleeting sunshine. I wandered around admiring the raised beds and perfectly-trained fruit trees.

At home, we've been trying all kinds of new recipes: meatballs from The Ginger Pig Meat Book; laksa from The Kitchen Diaries; coppa and bean salad from the same. On Friday evening we had mushrooms on toasted ciabatta which was lovely but rather insubstantial. A tub of stewed apples from the fridge and some blackberries (picked back in the autumn and frozen) made their way into an impromptu crumble. With custard, of course.

I received a sweet Mother's day card and some flowers from Joe. He'd even been coached to say 'Happy Mudder's day' when I came downstairs from my lie-in. And Jay bought me a bunch of pussy willow, which I love.

It even inspired me to do a bit of drawing.

I spotted this book the other day in the local craft shop and put it on my wish list. Drawing's one of those things where (for me, at least) you can get a bit out of practice. I plan to draw if not every day, then a few times a week. It doesn't take long and it doesn't need much equipment. A selection of pencils, a rubber, maybe a pen if you like using ink (I do).

I had a little poke about outside this afternoon once Joe had gone up for a nap. Other than the hellebores (which I've photographed to death) and lots of green shoots, there's not too much to get excited about. Although it was interesting to spot the ghosts of last year: sycamore keys, magnolia leaf skeletons, dried Chinese lanterns. The heather from the window boxes has dried out and faded. Only the ivy's doing much in those now - it's time to re-plant.

My beautiful, deep plum-coloured sedum didn't survive the winter. And we have some scratchy palm-type thing which Jay likes but it's very tatty and the points are a bit sharp for Joe to be near. As soon as the next mild morning comes along we'll be emptying pots, cleaning them up and readying them for new plants.

I may not be photographing hellebores at the moment but there was a section on them last week on Gardener's World - did you see it? Gorgeous things, particularly the dark purple-grey ones.

The skies are clearing a little now. Maybe we'll get a brief walk in before tea. There's a spectacular magnolia tree in the churchyard which I'm keeping a close eye on. It can't be too long now before those buds burst open...

Have a wonderful week.

P.S. Thank you for your comments on my last post, and all your compliments on my handwriting - it's not something that's been mentioned to me before!

Thursday 12 March 2015

The creative process: getting it down, getting it done

The blog has, of late, been mainly a lot of posts about what I've been up to in my day-to-day life. Nothing wrong with that; I always intended this to be a journal of sorts (along with photographs) and it's great to look back and remember where we've been and what we've done.

I also like to have a bit of structure to things. You know, monthly series like Food Memories, Elegant Economy and so on. And I like the odd link-up and collaboration. Structure works for me. I'm a natural worrier and start to get a bit panicky if I feel things starting to slide a little. This probably explains the notebooks and lists. They help me keep track.

So. I've decided to add another regular post to the blog. One that covers the creative process: of writing, photography, inspiration. Of staying (relatively) disciplined. You see, blogging can often be dismissed as a bit of a hobby. It doesn't pay (unless you're extremely lucky). It requires a lot of time and thought but ultimately isn't really a career option for most of us. Oh, that it were. But the fact is, we do it because we enjoy it. These friendships we make, the creative expression, the recording of life's little ups and downs.

I've been thinking about my blogging essentials. You know, like those articles you see where someone empties out their handbag and describes what they need to carry around with them. So as an opener to this series I'm sharing what I, as a seasoned blogger of two-and-a-bit years, see as my must-haves.

Firstly: my camera. It's seen a lot of action and taken a few knocks. It's travelled pretty much everywhere I have. It's quite clunky, being a DSLR, but I'm used to it being part of my person and to be honest I struggle taking photos with my phone - it just doesn't feel right, somehow. So yes. My Nikon D3000. Love it.

Second: the Great Outdoors. If inspiration strikes, it's usually when I'm out and roaming. Although it's pretty normal for me to wake ridiculously early with all kinds of ideas fluttering around in my head too.

Next: notebooks. For post ideas, all those passwords you need online, notes on photo formatting and so on. It's important to get things down on paper before they disappear for ever.

Also: actual tools. Sharp pencils. A very specific type of pen. And my blog schedules, found online and printed out. They're invaluable: they help me remember things and get them in the right order. Oh, and cups of tea are important too.

In terms of staying organised and focused I try not to do too much. You don't have to engage in every social media platform going. I pretty much ignore Twitter these days. Facebook occasionally gets a photo album stuck on my 'professional' page. Instagram: well, I'm getting there. Slowly. I do upload photos onto Tumblr and Pinterest and that's because photography is such an important part of my blog. I also love that aspect of it.

It can be easy for this blogging lark to become a bit of a chore. Sometimes you just don't feel like it, and that's OK. It's not journalism. Nobody's paying you by the word or expecting you to meet a tight deadline. But I find that a bit of organisation helps. Flicking back through my Mitenska notebook often works - I'll find the seed of a post idea and feel inspired to develop that. Other times, I just want to share what's happened during our week. And that's OK too.

Monday 9 March 2015

Weekend scrapbook

A trip to Grandad's house to deliver his birthday cards and presents.

Musical candles, bubble blowing and admiring the flowers.

My mum loved her garden. We went on her birthday in October to plant lots of bulbs. It seemed a fitting tribute.

They're now coming up everywhere. It's a good place to feel close to her. Some things never change: a sunny, breezy day meant a line full of washing and a little explore to see what was appearing in the hidden corners.

Joe was fascinated by the frogspawn. He liked the feel of it on his fingers. The frogs hid but were croaking loudly, probably warning us off...

After bacon butties and birthday cake, a walk along the canal.

Spring has sprung. I noticed it in the waterside gardens and the hedgerows. Soon there will be ducklings.

Other little things of note:

I read my first ever bit of Russian literature yesterday: a short story (Vladimir Nobokov's Christmas). It was beautiful.

The meds are working but steroids mess with your sleep. A few drops of lavender oil on the pillow don't seem to be having a massive effect but the bedroom smells wonderful, like an old country house.

I've drawn a line under the whole winter stodge thing. Saturday was all about gluttony. Sunday was all about regret. We now have lots of wholesome and healthy fruit and vegetables and lean meat and fish and pulses for this week's meals.

There was a final hurrah by way of fish and chips though.

Hope you had a lovely weekend.

P.S. The honey and caramel birthday cake was good - my first foray into caramel-making went well. But it was buttercream overload; a bit too sweet and rich for me (never thought I'd ever find myself saying that). Still, the menfolk enjoyed it...

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