Saturday 28 January 2017

The Week that Was

It's strange - I usually dislike January and almost dread it: New Year (I much prefer Christmas), the feeling of having overindulged and overspent, the dark, grey days... but if you actually embrace it... well, it can actually be a comforting and (whisper it) enjoyable month. Who knew?

I've been allowing things to unfold in accordance with the weather. Walks on bright, take-your-breath-away freezing cold days. Staying home and warm on wet, dark afternoons. Today (Saturday) we headed into town. Not something I usually relish at all but it was necessary - my mobile phone needed looking at - and we stopped in at Waterstones on the way back to the car. 

Of course, with Joe in tow any dreams of whiling away a couple of hours amongst the books was just that. A dream. But I still got to look at all that lovely stationery, the volumes of poetry, those piles of books with beautiful covers.

Needless to say that Joe came away the winner. A set of Gruffalo matching game cards and an Usborne Rainy Day activity book. I love Usborne books for little ones.

The matching game went well until he lost. You'd have thought the world had ended. He also insisted on trying a game of Monopoly last night. I hastily made up a very simplified version. And when he landed in jail... The tears, the tantrum! 'Chance' cards angrily scattered all over the floor (needless to say, he was made to pick them all up again, despite my struggling to keep a straight face). I suspect Monopoly will be remaining in its usual spot, gathering dust on top of the dresser, for a long time to come.

Or at least until Joe learns about being a gracious loser.

The Rainy Day book didn't provoke a meltdown. You can always rely on books. Especially books with stickers.

There have been the usual domestic pursuits this month. And organising. I sorted through a lot of old paperwork this afternoon. My calendar and diary are up to date. Other indoor activities: watching Lucan, reading an old favourite (Thornyhold by Mary Stewart), making endless bird feeders with Joe from bird seed and lard. He's going through yogurts like nobody's business so we can save the pots. The garden's a-flap with jackdaws, robins and a now quite hefty-looking blackbird.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know I've been printmaking too. I added a few new designs (Bluebell and Fritillary) to my Frond & Feather shop. One good thing about the printmaking process is that there are always those which are initially printed onto scrap paper, and some which aren't quite right for one reason or another. So I get to stick them up on the walls. And my spring designs are quite cheering.

Today's been horrible and wet and dark but we have seen some sunshine during the past week. I met up with my stepdad for a walk around the local reservoir and then lunch at the nearby antiques place. It was incredibly cold, particularly on the high spots. But when the sun came out it was lovely.

Closer to home, I've been nipping out with the camera after dropping Joe off at school in the mornings. I run across the road to the churchyard, or up the little lane next to the school to capture the frost before the sun gets to it.

Everything's still bare and quite dead-looking, but there are a few signs of spring approaching. The magnolia trees in the churchyard are covered in fat, fuzzy buds. And there are lots of green shoots poking through the earth.

The antiques place I mentioned earlier is near a cemetery. I do like cemeteries and graveyards. Nothing morbid about it: I just like walking through, reading inscriptions and enjoying the quiet. You find some wonderful old names too. There were primroses growing all over the place when I went on Wednesday and the afternoon sun was really uplifting. You can feel optimistic in the most unlikely of places sometimes.

We're trying to get the chores done today in readiness for a slow Sunday. That's how the week often pans out: Monday to Friday I do artwork, admin and anything business-related. Evenings are spent cooking, eating, doing things with Joe then once he's bathed, read to and put to bed, we tend to just collapse in front of the T.V.

Saturdays we shop, clean, do the laundry etc. (around Joe). We try and get outside too. And by the time Sunday rolls around we can take it *easy: a late breakfast, a walk, afternoon baths, a roast dinner. Sundays are for home and family. 

*As easy as it gets with a four-year-old early-riser.

So, that's my little update of my week. I hope you're enjoying your weekend. And that the rain stops tomorrow, even if it's just for a while.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

On eating my way to better health

The photos I've used in this post bear absolutely no relation to the subject. Because today I'm mostly writing about food. I tried to think of a snappy title but failed. Sorry. Hopefully the content will be more inspiring.

I'd love to share photos of my dresser, filled as it is with baking paraphernalia and jars of dry goods. Or beautifully-styled shots of my cookery book collection, artfully strewn with flour and bunches of herbs and so on. But with the light being what it is (dim) you'd have got a lot of grainy, blurry pictures. 

So instead it's the usual little visual journal of our recent wanderings. I hope the disparity between the words and images doesn't prove to be too off putting.

I'm always a bit unsure about these type of posts; I'd hate to come across as preachy or sanctimonious. It's just that once I start thinking about things, and these things start to form a bit of a thread, they can end up here on Mitenska. So, without (hopefully) coming across as a bit of a bore, here goes.

I've written before about food being medicine (and medicine being food, as Hippocrates wisely said). I truly believe this. So I'm trying to get healthier. It's not a 'New Year, New Me' type of thing - which, let's be honest, would probably fall by the wayside after a few weeks.

I'm not ditching any major food groups (I believe carbohydrates are completely necessary). And I'm not following any 'trends', despite what I read about or see on Pinterest and the like. Matcha this, chia that.

But the whole idea of healing is really important to me. I have an autoimmune condition: nothing scary, but it's there and it needs controlling. And rather than dealing with the symptoms using prescription drugs (as I have for the past almost 30 years) I've decided to try and address the actual cause, to treat the reason it's there in the first place.

Nutrition fascinates me. I love reading about it; surprising, considering my complete aversion to anything even vaguely scientific. And I've read about some really compelling, if grim-sounding, stuff like leaky gut syndrome, adrenal fatigue and food sensitivities. Much of it I can identify with. 

I know for a fact that I have a real problem with gluten. I struggle to avoid it because I love bread, cake, biscuits, dumplings... the list goes on. And on. But when I've given it up for reasonable amounts of time I've felt well again. My fingernails stop flaking. My stomach stops hurting. My 'brain fog' disappears. The aches and pains in my joints go away.

So I'm now absolutely determined to avoid it for good. And, ideally, to avoid the gluten free snacks and 'treats' you see on the supermarket shelves. Because they're full of sugar and all kinds of additives and ingredients I don't even recognise.

I now make my own bread and pancakes and sweet things using buckwheat flour, ground almonds, psyllium husks and whatever else works. I play around with recipes. Brown rice pasta tastes just like the usual stuff. As do gluten free porridge oats and oatcakes.

I've also cut right back on the dairy. No, my bones aren't about to crumble. I eat a lot of leafy greens and other good sources of calcium. And I made a truly beautiful discovery the other day: that hazelnut milk makes the most incredible-tasting cocoa.

I've ditched the booze (for now) and am going low-sugar. I avoid processed food, which isn't really a hardship as we cook from scratch anyway. Yes it pains me to hear what Joe eats for his school dinners sometimes, but he's four. I'm not going to impose any kind of regime on him. We don't have sweets in the house but chocolate is fine. He doesn't have crisps or fizzy drinks but we do bake biscuits together. He has toast with jam and the odd portion of trashy stuff if we're having something that's a bit out-there for him.

So, what do I eat?

Fresh fruit and vegetables. Juices and smoothies. Beans and pulses, brown rice, certain grains. Nuts. Eggs, avocados, fish, chicken, the odd bit of lamb or beef. Nut milks. Vegetable crisps. Hummus, nut butters, olives, artichokes in oil, coconut. Stuff I bake myself. Honey, herbal teas, (very) dark chocolate. Herbs and spices, soups and stews. Interesting recipes I find online and in books.

It's far from the old image of wholefoods, with everything looking and tasting like sawdust. Well, apart from those psyllium husks. I love a good health food shop, but most of our provisions come from the local weekly market and little supermarket. A very small proportion comes from M&S Food (we don't have a Waitrose in these Northern climes, and Booths is a bit of a way away). That's mainly organic meat - not that we eat a lot of it - and dairy, for Joe.

I'm determined to feel better than I have in a long time. So by ditching the food that bothers me, and by adding that which is nourishing, coupled with brisk walks and supplements, good sleep and the odd bit of precious downtime, maybe I'll get it right.

The mug of cocoa has become a daily thing, by the way. And you can never underestimate the healing power of a good novel...

Wednesday 11 January 2017

The Quiet Winter

I saw that as a hashtag and liked the idea of it. January here so far has been fairly quiet; a few flurries on the work front and the whole back to school whirlwind but other than that... 

Actually, no. They're resurfacing the road outside. Yesterday there were four hi-visibility clad men standing outside for over an hour. When I say outside, I mean two of them were actually sitting on my living room windowsill, backsides pressed firmly up against the glass, smoking endless fags and shouting expletives at their colleagues. Some piece of machinery was on the blink. So was I.

I'm no prude (and enjoy a bit of colourful language myself, I'll be honest). But Joe was due to be collected from school and I didn't want him to hear it. So in between getting annoyed, and the house literally shaking as they finally got back to work with their steamrollers or whatever they were using, yesterday afternoon was about as far from quiet as you can get.

Still. They've since moved further down the road and I'm calm once more. It's almost peaceful. I'd love a deep snowfall to deaden everything - there's nothing like that feeling of feeling warm indoors, looking out at a layer of white snow.

Christmas still remains in some ways. I forgot to take my string of bells down and can't be bothered dragging a chair across to climb onto and get them. And I had a mild allergic reaction to the tree again. Silly me. I just hate the thought of not having a real one, and conveniently forgetting each year about the problems they cause me.

There are still some fairy lights up. I don't see them as necessarily Christmassy. A bit of twinkle during the darker months never hurt anybody. And it's often gloomy in here in winter - which is why I've taken some 'interesting' indoor photos instead, reflected in the glass doors. Above: note the dead daffodils on the mantel shelf.

But there's a matching bunch on the opposite end at least.

I haven't seen any more to buy yet. Maybe I'll empty the dead ones out this afternoon...

The holly in the jug on the landing window has decided to flower, which is quite sweet.

Yes - this is one of those 'miscellany' posts again. I just felt like writing one, so please bear with me as I jump from one subject to the next. So: my amber necklace. I sent it down to Cornwall to be re-strung and it's now safely back. I've worn it already. I'm very happy with it.

And another change of direction: my hair. I really hope this doesn't come across as vain or in any way self-indulgent. You know I hate having my picture taken. But in the interests of Mitenska, I thought you might be interested to see how my going grey is progressing. Cue more badly-taken selfies.

I actually took the dressmaking scissors to it just before Christmas. This is something I do occasionally in a fit of - what? Boredom? I don't know. The ends were getting a bit ratty, and I thought if I could get rid of a bit more of they dyed stuff I might as well. So I did.

I told you the house was gloomy. I have to take these incredibly unglamorous shots in the bathroom because it's just about the brightest spot in the house with a mirror.

Selfies using my phone aren't an option. I'm not 15.

Anyway, hopefully you can see the grey coming through more. I clipped the sides back as it's more obvious at my temples and hairline. I quite like it too.

Even though there's a lack of light at the moment, Joe's suddenly into creating big, splashy paintings. They brighten up the kitchen no end and he does love me exhibiting his work. 

Speaking of the kitchen, I've been eating a really healthy diet and am feeling pretty good. I tried this recipe last week and it was delicious. I omitted the orange juice and yogurt, but it was so good I'll definitely be making it again. The coconut and sweet potato soup would be great with chicken added, and the lentils weren't really a necessity.

Elsewhere, my house plants seem to be waking up. I love rose and lemon-scented geraniums and they're doing very nicely so perhaps it'll be time for cuttings soon.

I'm trying to keep the next few months as slow and simple as possible: home-based pursuits, local walks, no spending. The blouse was a purchase made before Christmas but I'm really pleased with it, especially for the price (£11.99). Yes, really. H&M.

I've been working through my Maker's Toolkit, reviewing 2016 and planning 2017 for Frond & Feather. It's been really useful so far.

Sometimes you need to have a bit of a treat, don't you? I know, I know - no spending. I'm trying. I just can't resist sometimes. I've been reading a lot lately (mainly in bed) and enjoying short stories, but the lure of the magazine gets me every time.

Finally: This. Lego. Still everywhere. I'm surprised I haven't killed the hoover with it yet. I have knelt on the odd piece (and suddenly my language matches that of the road workers). I sit down in the evenings and spot little half-built vehicles positioned on shelves, under the fire or behind the TV. The best approach is to shove it out of sight or to join in and make something.

They've forecast heavy snow for tomorrow. I'm crossing my fingers. Who needs Lego when you can build a snowman?

Monday 2 January 2017


Christmas has happened. We're on the other side.

I've had a break from blogging, from Instagram and have only dabbled occasionally as far as Facebook's concerned. There's been no printmaking, drawing or painting. Just home comforts, good food and friends and family.

But we're starting to venture out again to greet the new year.

Despite still eating leftover turkey we're now back onto the healthy, non-festive fare. I think I overindulged early on and by Boxing Day was feeling pretty sluggish and tired of chocolate, crisps, mince pies, cheese, pate and all the rest of it.

I was ill so often last year, I'm determined to eat well. I truly believe that food plays a huge part in your health and wellbeing. Not just in terms of weight, but in the effect it has on our mood, our ability to resist illness and so many other aspects of our health. I'd much rather eat fresh, nourishing food and supplement it well than take antibiotics and anti-inflammatories (both of which I'm all too familiar with).

So, I'm actually enjoying herbal teas and warming broths.

This bread: well, it's filling if not particularly tasty. I may tweak the recipe and include walnuts and perhaps a few dates or something. Anything

It's now 7.28pm on the second day of 2017. And the tree's down. So are the decorations.

Much as I love ritual and tradition I'm not going to worry about bad luck. Once Christmas is over, that's it for me. I want a fresh start.

Of course, we haven't even had a real winter yet. The sun's low in the sky. There are hard frosts. But there will be snow and the temperatures will drop much further. So I like to keep the house looking pretty with seasonal things: pinecones and spruce branches are still out. My felt snowflake garlands too. But there are additions, a nod to the fact that the days are (gradually) lengthening. Earthenware pots filled with daffodils. Green vases and glass. White candles.

The glitter and sparkle has been boxed up for another year.

I have plans for 2017. Some are huge (and I'll no doubt be posting about them in due course). All are exciting. Work, home, family.

Speaking of family: Joe had a wonderful Christmas. It does look as though our whole festive season was sponsored by Lego, but he received some really lovely gifts. Books, a baking set, colouring things, a camera, an endless supply of chocolate, clothes, toys... And my favourite (which we bought him): a globe which plugs in. At night it shows the constellations.

He was so excited to find a stocking on Christmas morning, and to see the empty plate and glass by the fireplace.

I've managed to do plenty of reading. Several of the books I received were inspired by Sue's Christmas reading list. I'm currently relishing short stories and 'Little House in the Big Woods'. Looks like I've finally got around to reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the rest of the 'Little House' series is now on my wish list.

I haven't actually watched a great deal of TV. But I did like 'Murder on the Home Front'. 

On New Year's eve we went to the zoo. It's up in the South Lakes, not too far for us, but it was chilly. Joe loved the giraffe; we stood very close to him whilst he drank water and slobbered it all over the place. Naturally, this appealed to a four-year-old. As did watching the snow leopards eating chicken carcasses nailed to a post.

We've been feeding the birds at home in the garden. They're very punctual: 10.30am every day. Bluetits, goldfinches, sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, a little wren and a robin. Then the thugs arrive in the shape of magpies and jackdaws.

There are shoots appearing too. And buds. But for now I'm perfectly content to stay home and keep warm. I'm liking this gradual re-emergence. Unfortunately, Jay's back in work tomorrow and is dreading the commute.

But one of our Christmas presents was enough money to book ourselves a weekend away, along with a voucher for childcare (courtesy of the grandparents). We're thinking perhaps late February or March, somewhere not too far away. Rural rather than a city break. It's exciting to plan.

Anyway - after that rather lengthy catch-up, I'd like to wish you a happy and healthy New Year. I'll be back in a week or so...

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