Tuesday 30 June 2015

So long, June

It's gone from being unseasonably cold and wet to scorchingly hot and sunny. Suddenly the strawberries are ripening, the beans are climbing and the dahlias are bursting forth from the soil.

As well as rainy-day activities (salt dough making, button sorting - why are little ones so into buttons?) we've managed lots of trips to the park with Joe's friends and even an excursion to a farm. Cue lots of muzzle-stroking and inquisitive questions about the habits of pigs and sheep.

We've been on so many evening walks in the locality, heading out into the open country and spotting butterflies and flowers (and the occasional train).

Golden Hour - when we've been out in it - has been lovely. Soft light and warm air.

We're fortunate to have quite a diverse range of countryside in these parts: moors and sheep-grazed uplands, deciduous woodlands, rolling fields and valleys. Much of it tells a story; sometimes you see evidence of the old milling industries. Sometimes you come across the ghost of an orchard or farmhouse.

Joe loves being outdoors and the long days and warmth mean we're often walking or out the back playing, pottering or eating. 

In other news, we should be exchanging contracts on the house this week. Or early next week. I'm already doing the important stuff (choosing a colour to paint the front door). I'm currently wavering between a damson purple or a deep, inky blue with the slightest hint of teal. Decisions, decisions.

I'm still not eating sugar despite my 28 day plan being well and truly behind me. I just don't seem to want to eat it. Ditto the starchy stuff like pasta and potatoes. Maybe it's the heat. I managed to lose 8lbs though and am hoping to lose a little bit more. My clothes feel like they fit again. Hooray!

The drawing and painting venture has taken off in a slightly alarming way. Not that I'm complaining, but I didn't expect things to get so busy so quickly. More on that in my next post.

I've also been feeling sad at times. This time last year we all thought my mum's treatment would be successful and life would return to normal; we had lots of plans for when she got better. I miss her a lot.

We are coping with things as a family though. And there are plenty of events to look forward to. Two 'big' birthdays in the next couple of weeks, for starters. And I've promised to bake for the first one. I'm thinking butterfly cakes with lemon curd and buttercream. That's summery, isn't it? I fully intend to eat cake at these parties. I'm following the 80/20 rule.

June was a month of ups and downs, emotionally, practically, even weather-wise. But I'm so relieved that the house purchase is going ahead. The kitchen extension is fine despite the lack of planning permission; we've been assured (by a professional) that it's well-built and has been there for 30 years so there's no danger of it having to be taken down. No need for retrospective planning permission either. 

It'll be lovely to have our own place again and to be able to make it an actual home.

And tomorrow's July. It seems to have come around very quickly, somehow. Although I'm very much an autumn and winter lover, I'm looking forward to a few months of warmth and sunshine. Vitamin D is a wonderful thing.

Who knows, we may even get to the seaside before the school holidays are upon us. Salty air and rockpools and sand beneath our feet... I think we may need to make a plan.

Wishing you a wonderful July.

Thursday 25 June 2015

The Colour Collaborative: June: Found

When I first started thinking about this month's CC theme, 'Found', the first thing that came to mind was what I bring home from our walks. Feathers, leaves, lichen, seed heads. Or those things from further afield, like seashells and driftwood.

But I like to go treasure hunting in charity shops and at car boot fairs too. And my latest find is exactly the sort of thing which has prompted me to think about colour. You see, my usual preference is for muted shades which reflect the outdoors. Mossy greens, greys. Maybe mustard yellow or heather purple.

And yet this vase caught my eye the other week. On paper, the colour combination sounds quite strange: mint green, saffron yellow, plum, white, slate grey, powder pink. A rainbow sheen of lustre glaze.

But it spoke to me. I suspect it's probably 1930s or 1940s. The base tells me it was made in Germany. I have a bit of a thing for this era, and a lot of a thing for vases. It cost a few pounds. There are a few chips around the bottom and it leaves a ring on the table.

I like the way an unusual colour combination actually works; if I could buy a similar fabric I would. I like how it is so evocative of a certain time period. And I like how the colours will complement particular flowers: purply hellebores, yellow-orange crocosmia, shell-pink aquilegias.

The colours were what made me pick this little vase up. It interests me that they're not what usually attracts me. No eau-de-nil or sludgy teal blue. The mixture of pastels and brights shouldn't work but it does. It's one of my best finds yet.

Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below.

What is The Colour Collaborative?

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Midsummer miscellany (and a winner)

I know you'll probably be wanting me to cut to the chase. so without further ado: the winner of my little giveaway (as pulled from a hat by Joe) is Elaine, who blogs over at The Craft Shed. Congratulations to you. Please drop me an email Elaine, and we'll take it from there.

There will be other giveaways coming up as I already have some new ideas for drawing and painting projects. But for now, here's a roundup of our midsummer goings-on. Firstly: the weather. Oh dear. Monty Don was waxing lyrical about midsummer on Friday evening, telling us to just get out there and make the most of all that light. Get out there we did. It rained. It was gloomy. In fact, the first thing that came to mind on closing the garden gate was that it felt much more like the end of summer. Blustery, damp and none too warm.

Still, I harvested the gooseberries from a surprisingly prolific few stems growing out of a wall by the river. I go each June. Stewed with a couple of Bramleys then frozen, they'll make a nice filling for a crumble later in the year.

Everything's very pink and lilac and white at the moment. Dog roses, the remains of the cow parsley, red campion, and whatever these (above) are called. They're growing all along the railway line and I feel I should know what they are, but don't.

Joe's definitely hit the Terrible Twos. He alternates between being the sweetest little boy you could wish to meet (and cuddle) and a child possessed. He's three at the end of August. I hope the Jekyll and Hyde thing disappears soon.

Luckily, the storms never last very long and I always stand my ground. More often than not it's a struggle to keep a straight face. If he flies into a rage because something refuses to balance in mid air there really isn't much I can do. I can cheer him up or read to him or demand an apology but I cannot change the laws of physics. Nor can I influence the CBeebies programming schedule.

Sorry if you've seen too much of the peonies already (on Instagram). They've been spectacular; a bunch bought tightly in bud from the 'reduced' section of the supermarket has burst into huge, showy blooms. Each bud has opened at a slightly different time so they're still going strong and making the dining table a thing of beauty.

The healthy eating plan continues. I complete my four weeks on Sunday. I did fall off the wagon slightly last week though. My cravings became quite insistent - not for cake or chocolate, but for Greek yogurt of all things. So I bought some. I admire vegans completely but three weeks of dairy-free was enough for me. Other than that, I'm sticking to the plan. Although the strange combinations of food groups has left me feeling pretty irritated.

So for this final week I'm still avoiding all the stuff I'm supposed to. I'm just adjusting things to suit me a bit better. I've been eating a lot of fruit, which is perfect for this time of year as the strawberries are at their best. So are cherries. And I've been enjoying peaches, watermelon and raspberries too.

Thank you for all your lovely comments on my previous post, and apologies if I initially gave the impression that the blog wasn't going to continue. That wasn't my intention at all. I will be prioritising things a little more but that doesn't affect Mitenska.

Finally, I'm pleased to share that I'm the new Preschool Editor for Tend Magazine. I was asked whether I'd be interested in writing for them and of course, I jumped at the chance. It's slightly daunting when I look at how beautiful and well-written it is but I'm excited to become part of the team and to write for a publication which ties in so well with my own values and passions. My first articles will appear in the Spring 2016 issue and I'm already thinking up lots of ideas. Could this be an excuse to procure another new notebook?

Have a lovely week, and let's all hope the sun comes out soon!

Sunday 14 June 2015

Mitenska & Me (and a thank you)

You may or may not remember (I almost forgot) that a month or three ago, I was planning some occasional posts about blogging itself. Well I've finally found myself back at that little idea. You see, lots has been going on here behind the scenes.

I started this blog in January 2013 (or thereabouts) as a kind of online journal; a place to record what we'd been doing, what I was thinking about, somewhere to keep my favourite photographs. And that's what it is. It's not a means of income. I have no sponsors, no advertising space. I don't have a Strategy. 

But the fact is, I do need an income. We manage fine. We're not big spenders, wouldn't be even if we had the means. I'm happy to lead a simple existence with family and friends, to eat well and be outdoors and make a home.


I took time off with Joe and made financial provision for that. He starts preschool in September. I want to have a career of sorts. That's where things get complicated. You see, it's all too easy to know what I don't want any more: the commuting, the office politics, the endless meetings, the sitting behind a desk and wishing I was somewhere else. What I do want is a degree of autonomy, to do something I actually enjoy, something that doesn't necessarily feel like a job.

So I've made a start. I now have a website which details what I do (writing, blogging, photography, art). I had a meeting with a lady at the local library last week and they're going to display my framed drawings and I'm taking commissions. There are already three in my order book. I'm writing for a few different sites and there are one or two upcoming writing opportunities I've accepted.

We're not talking lots of money here. It all falls well within the 'modest' category. But if I keep plugging away and trying and knocking on doors... well, maybe I can make a go of things. An income, working from home, being creative, being around for Joe.

So where does this leave Mitenska? Exactly where it is. My little space, away from my professional projects, where I can do what I've always done: share the little things which make our life together what it is, write about memories, post pictures. Mitenska has brought me into contact with lots of lovely people. It's helped me discover some really wonderful blogs too. It's not a brand, it's just me and my life.

So I may update you with anything exciting which happens. I'll probably share some drawings. My 'work' website can be found on the blog, but only if you want to look for it. Otherwise, it's just Mitenska as it's always been.

And finally - a little giveaway. Not for self-promotion purposes. Just basically to say thank you for visiting. I'd like to offer the 'winner' a personalised painting. They're drawn in ink and then coloured with watercolour, with nature-inspired illustrations around the name of the child (or grown-up, why not?). Just let me know (in the Comments section) if you'd like to enter and I'll randomly pick a winner at 6pm on Sunday 21st June. You can then tell me the name you'd like me to paint and I'll send you the picture in a sturdy envelope.

Good luck!

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Midweek Miscellany

It's been quite a while since I wrote one of these midweek miscellany posts. There's been much to tell you about and much to photograph: the village fete (gusty but good fun - and we bumped into lots of friends); a vast improvement in the weather (so plenty of walks. Sometimes we've managed to head out twice in one day); Joe getting some kind of stomach bug again (but he's getting better now)...

Please note that, as is often the case, the photos don't necessarily correspond with the writing. It kind of adds to the miscellaneous feel. Well, that's my excuse anyway. Jumping from this to that is just how these posts go so apologies if the whole thing seems a little disjointed. Probably reflects my current state of mind.

Is it just me who finds Punch and Judy vaguely disturbing? I know Mr Punch gets his come-uppance and all that. Perhaps it's those puppets. They're the sort of thing that gives me bad dreams.

I did take some good stuff away from the fete though. Despite being unable to indulge in either prosecco or a cream tea thanks to this eating plan, I did pick up an old set of weighing scales with weights for a fiver. And the lovely old wicker basket they were sitting in was included in the deal. I squeezed a cute little Royal Doulton set (£1) into said basket. There's something nice about kitchenalia; things that have been well-used and loved.

I'm picking up bits and pieces for our new kitchen. It's an extension built onto the back of the new house. The searches came back saying it doesn't have planning permission. Perfect!

But it's been there for thirty years so we can't be asked to take it down. We do want to get the quality of the building work checked out though; it's another delay but worth taking the extra week or two over. This house-buying lark can be extremely trying.

I've been drawing a lot of late. And painting. I'm working on a new project which might just blossom into something. It requires a lot of time and planning just now but hopefully it'll pay off. I'll share more as things progress.

Seasonal fruits: lovely apricots. They're the closest thing to sugary goodness for me right now. I've taken to standing and inhaling the aroma from the biscuit jar (Cadburys Chocolate Fingers combined with ginger nuts).

This whole eating plan is tough. I'm coping. But I genuinely didn't think it involved total elimination of anything; I'm a believer in 'Everything in moderation'. Have you ever given up sugar? It's dreadful. For the first three or four days I had awful headaches, followed by a few more days of complete and utter exhaustion. And now I just crave cake.

Moving swiftly on... The countryside is truly glorious at the moment. It's such a joy to walk in the hills, through the woods, by the riverbanks... And Joe loves it too. Freedom to run in the long grass and explore.

Today was very warm and sunny (I foolishly have the sunburn to prove it). We stayed home as Joe was really sick last night and I didn't fancy a repeat of that all over the church hall floor. Instead we called at the garden centre for some pots, then put up the play tent outside and he managed an ice lolly. He made a better job of it than he did with Saturday's ice cream.

We get lovely light coming in on sunny days; in the mornings it's around the back and the sun shines onto Gertie's table. In the evenings the study becomes (fleetingly) warm and golden.

I'm hoping to go strawberry picking soon at the farm near where we used to live. And in the meantime I'm keeping an eye out for elderflowers. They're not quite there just yet but the cordial bottles are at the ready. Elderflower cordial and sparkling wine is a match made in heaven.

We had a barbecue last night. Nothing big, just a back yard job with the three of us. If you have to eat healthy food (lean meat and vegetables) you might as well stick it on a skewer and get plenty of flavour from it. I suspect the barbecue will be seeing quite a lot of action over the next few weeks...

I hope you're enjoying the weather (and that it lasts - let's just ignore the forecast, shall we?) and that your week's a good one so far.

Thursday 4 June 2015

Cautiously optimistic

The sun has arrived. The howling wind and torrential rain have (for now) gone. I'm feeling cautiously optimistic that summer's on its way.

It's been a very busy week; on Tuesday I looked after my little niece. I took her to playgroup with Joe. And I spent the whole night beforehand worrying about taking care of such a tiny baby - it seems like for ever since Joe was small. And he was never that small. Needless to say, everything was absolutely fine.

Yesterday was pretty crazy; a mad morning followed by lunch with my stepdad (who'd kindly offered to come and babysit a sleeping Joe whilst I went to another meeting with social workers). Apparently, considering my brother's circumstances, this heavy involvement of professionals and authorities is quite normal. The good news is that they're very happy with the situation and hopefully things can start to settle down soon.

I started a 'clean eating' type plan. It's 28 days long. That's 28 days too long. I baked the above pie but did not partake. Right now it's all about fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses, lean meat and fish, nuts... No dairy or sugar, no alcohol or caffeine. Wheat's not a problem as I don't eat it anyway.

I didn't do it as an elimination diet. I just wanted to re-set my metabolism, clean things up a little. So I wasn't prepared for what happens when you give up processed sugar. Headaches and serious fatigue and spots. Luckily all these are going away now, but I never thought I'd end up salivating at the pick'n'mix display at the supermarket, staring in an unhinged fashion at the white chocolate mice.

Good job I'm a stubborn so-and-so. I'll see this thing through and even though I'll ease off a bit once it's over, I do think it wouldn't do us any harm to eat a little better in future.

My energy levels were back up again today. So I went for a walk while Joe was at nursery. It was glorious: sunshine and blue skies, fields and woods. That hour alone, breathing in the hawthorn blossom scent and noticing the flowers... well, it was nourishment for the soul. 

I came home and changed the beds, hung out the washing, and did the chores with a renewed vigour. Amazing what some sun and warmth can do for you.

It feels as though lately I've been juggling a lot of things. I haven't blogged as much as I'd have liked to, or caught up with everyone else's blogs either. There's a big pile of ironing to do. I'd hoped to do some drawing and painting too. But family comes first, and that's non-negotiable really.

This weekend I'm hoping to do all of those things which I'd like (or need) to do. And it's the village fete on Saturday. It was rained off last year but the forecast isn't too bad this time around. I even considered submitting an entry for the baking competition but don't think I'll get around to that. Not to mention that whipping up buttercream and smelling cakey deliciousness wafting from the oven would probably tip me over the edge. It would end up like the scene in Chocolat where the mayor gorges uncontrollably then lies there in a sugar-induced stupor.

Sorry, there's nothing more boring than people whingeing about diets, is there? 

Thank you for all your lovely comments on the blog lately. I really do appreciate it, and will play catch-up over the next day or two. For those people who've emailed me directly: I will reply over the next few days, I promise.

Have a lovely Friday and weekend. 

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