Thursday, 23 February 2017

Wild Thursday

Sadly, I'm referring to the weather and not the goings-on inside the house.

Yet again the wind's howling and the rain's hammering at the windows. At night I listen to it, battering the roof and making the trees creak. This morning we set off to school dressed in full storm regalia. There's water running down from the hills, huge splashy puddles on the pavements and muddy ponds have suddenly appeared in the hollows.

Before we proceed, just a quick explanation: the photographs in this post bear little or no relation whatsoever to the written content. Although the 'Cake' one is perhaps a bit ironic, considering I'm currently on a 30-day 'reset' plan. I'm doing OK. Cake would be good. Instead I'm improvising with the odd Medjool date. They're kind of fudgy, if you use your imagination.

The camera hasn't seen much action due to the gloominess that seems to have settled, blanket-like, in the house. Downstairs is particularly murky.

So instead I've found and used some of my old pictures - 'curated' (now there's a trendy word). And realised that I really do need to have a photo cull. There are thousands of the things sitting on my desktop and threatening to slow the computer right down. Maybe I'll even break out the external hard drive.

Most of the photos are from around this time last year. I think.

So, a catch-up post. Again.

Joe's back at school after a half term week of baking, walking, adventuring, doing jigsaws and playing with Lego. He's very much into card-making at the moment. Felt tips make me nervous, I must admit, but he seems to get most of the ink on his hands rather than the carpet.

He is enjoying school despite one or two peeves (a few kids in his class - Joe can hold a grudge for years; jacket potatoes for lunch; standing out in the windswept yard until the morning bell goes; the dinner lady promising him a sticker then forgetting to give it to him etc.)

He did spend a few nights with his grandparents during the holiday week. The house felt very tidy and very quiet.

He'll be going there again next month. We don't actually get much time with just Jay and me; it just happens that we've booked a weekend in Grasmere in a lovely hotel and I can't wait. I don't care if it rains because there's a spa with a sauna and pool. We'll do a few walks locally and I'll take a good book or two.

In other words: we plan to do very little indeed.

Speaking of books, I'm currently reading 'Jump!' by Jilly Cooper. Yes, I am. And thoroughly enjoying it too. Sometimes I just need a bit of Cotswolds-based silliness and there's nothing wrong with that.

So, sitting here on this wild Thursday, I'll be messing around with my Frond & Feather site (trying to link my new Etsy shop to it). After that I'm working my way through an online 5 Day Challenge about approaching potential stockists for my prints. And if I get it all done, that leaves a bit of time tomorrow to sort out all those photos.

If I don't find something better to do. Which I will.

Friday, 10 February 2017

A this-and-that kind of morning

I've mentioned before (maybe here, maybe over at Frond & Feather) that I've been trying to be a bit more structured in my approach to work. I'm currently working my way through the Maker's Business Toolkit and it's really helping. No, this isn't a sponsored post or anything. But it's been great to be part of an online community and to have a framework.

I plan out my working week and it's so much better than my previous scatter gun approach.


Today has been a little bit... unstructured.

Maybe I'm just preparing myself for next week - half term - when any semblance of being organised will be straight out of the window. I'm looking forward to it, actually. Yesterday morning we were in such a hurry to leave the house, I locked the front door and as we walked Joe was crying. 'Mummy! You haven't put my shoes on!' Sure enough, I looked down and there he was in just his socks. I felt pretty awful about that one.

After dropping Joe at school today I went out of the side gate from the playground (you have to be quick once the bell's been rung or they lock you in and the only means of escape is via Reception and the wrath of the headteacher) and off up the hill for a little walk. Firstly, because it's been trying to snow for days and we've had just the lightest dusting and I wanted to enjoy it. Secondly, because I wanted to play with my camera.

You see: My name's Sarah and I'm an Autoholic. 

I've owned a DSLR for probably eight years now and am completely stuck in the point-and-shoot mode. In some ways it's served me well; I have some really lovely photos to show for it. And I tend to play with images later on, thanks to some nice editing software. Being a creative type I actually enjoy the whole messing around with effects process. Although it can be very time-consuming.

But I know I can get so much more from my camera. We're now a two-DSLR household, and I keep using Jay's camera with the kit lens rather than my own with a 35mm. I rely way too much on auto-focus.

A good friend of mine is a professional photographer and she couldn't believe I never move out of Auto mode. So yesterday I made lots of notes from my 'Photo' Pinterest board and had a go. 

Many, many horribly underexposed photos later I realised I was trying to run before I could walk. So instead of leaping straight into Manual, I decided that today I'd make a start with Aperture Priority instead. I know the basics - kind of - so off I went.

The photos in this post are all SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera). Other than the black and white ones. And, to be honest, I only did that to try and improve them as I wasn't too happy with them in their unadulterated state.

Still, onwards and upwards. Apparently using Manual mode becomes second nature. Just like riding a bike or driving a car. Well I can drive a car and a tractor - complete with a trailer full of hay - so I'm going to keep on persevering.

I didn't stay out too long, just half an hour or so, because today's to-do list is a long one.

So I returned home, swapped my wellies for shoes, and ran a few errands in town before heading home for a restorative mug of hot chocolate.

I'm also planning to send off my first article for Creative Countryside this afternoon (the accompanying picture will be taken later next week. Who knows, I may be an ace photographer by then). And I need to do a bit of a social media catch-up. 

Joe and I enjoy a bit of colouring. He does these huge, weird and wonderful felt tip drawings with the most surreal stories attached to them. I sit opposite him trying to ignore the marks on the table and use one of those 'colouring for grown-ups' books (this one, a T.K. Maxx bargain). Having read the reviews it would appear that some people take their grown-up colouring very seriously indeed. I'm not one of them. However, it's very absorbing and a nice way to de-stress.

This story is going somewhere, I promise... You see, I recently made some more plant monoprints. Being the most picky of perfectionists, I wasn't entirely happy with the fern (above). I'm also very resourceful and hate throwing out my artwork - especially when it's done using expensive paper - so I thought I'd colour it in with green pencil. It actually looks quite good propped up on the mantel.

I like the idea of hand-tinting my monoprints, so plan to have a go at that after lunch. Whether the watercolour paint will cause the (water-based) printing ink to run is anyone's guess.

And now the sun's gone in, it's trying to snow again and I'm heading downstairs and away from my messy work table. I didn't photograph all of it. A little section tells you all you need to know.

Perhaps a straighten-up later on then, before I collect the little tornado from school.

Have a great weekend, and stay warm.

P.S. I've been re-reading the first two 'Adrian Mole' books (it's probably twenty years since I last read them). I'd forgotten how funny they are...

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

A new (ad)venture...

New year, new month, new (ad)venture:

I'm really excited to share that I was recently appointed as Nature Editor for Creative Countryside

When I first heard they were hiring, I knew I'd love to be one of the new editors. And, as you know, I'm passionate about nature and seasonality. What better than to research and write articles, to find contributors, and to work alongside a team of great fellow writers and bloggers?

My fellow editors are:
Sarah from The Salty Sea Blog (Folklore)
Kayte from Simple and Season (Stories)
Chelsea from Loving Life in Wellies (Adventure).

Three lovely blogs well worth a visit. 

I thought I'd use a selection of old and new photographs to accompany this post. You may recognise a few - some are from around our village, others from further afield: the Lakes, Lindisfarne, Scotland... And I think they represent what I'm hoping to do with this new opportunity.

To get outdoors and explore and get inspired. To think about nature and how we can learn about and celebrate it. And, of course, to share all that with others.

Am I still an artist? Of course. I'm a writer too. And a taker of photographs. I'm not swapping any one of those things for another. Because, in terms of what I've always wanted to do, art and writing - together - well, they're it. And I think they'll complement each other perfectly.

The subject matter and the inspiration are one and the same: nature.

Funnily enough, Jay bought me a diary last week. It's a really lovely one. And I'm going to use it only for my creative notes, plans and dates. As opposed to the more mundane (but still necessary) stuff that ends up in my not-very-pretty, scrawled-in, everyday diary.

Those little seeds of ideas have already started to take root. I suspect the as yet pristine pages will soon be criss-crossed with all kinds of jottings and thoughts, just as they should be.

I really hope you'll visit Creative Countryside and that you'll enjoy what you read there.

Wish me luck!

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?

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