Monday, 28 September 2015


I know we're not quite at September's end yet, but it's been a while since I last wrote a post and it's been a month filled with all kinds of things. New discoveries, projects completed and new ones started, a house to renovate. But in between we've managed to fit in lots of family time and outdoor adventures.

I've been making some more lino cuts ready for a craft fair (which will be held on Halloween). Also, drawing and painting - fuelled by treacle toffee and cups of tea - and so many meetings at the printers. But my A-Z prints are due to arrive any day now. I'm trying not to think about putting them all into frames...

We've been on family walks. The weather's just perfect for me right now: sunshine, breezes and that slight chill in the air.

Joe's settled into his new preschool routine after an initial wobble. I drop him off in the mornings and he asks why I can't stay and play.
Me: 'Because preschool's for little boys and little girls. They go there and play.'
Joe: 'And mummies go to parties'.
I can assure you, my child-free time is not spent attending parties.

It's such a beautiful time of the year. We've gathered seed heads and displayed them in vases, and have been out picking berries.

A few weeks ago we stumbled upon a field filled with nodding sunflowers. I took a lot of photographs and brought a few dried heads home for the squirrels.

The chillier nights have been all about staying home, keeping cosy and relaxing. I love to read in bed and have finished a few Armistead Maupin books. They're the most recent from the 'Tales of the City' series and make for good reading when you're tired: not too challenging but funny. Probably a complete contrast to what I'm about to start. I picked up a dog-eared copy of 'The Bridges of Madison County' last week in a charity bookshop. The film makes me sob inconsolably so I've no idea what the book's going to do to me.

After that I'm going to read 'Housekeeping' by Marilynne Robinson. Having scanned the blurb on the back cover it looks like it could be just my kind of thing.

We've been eating lots of keep-the-cold-out food: cauliflower cheese, braised chicken, curry. And there have been seasonal bakes too. Yes, the recipes are Nigel Slater ones (chocolate and damson cake and a sticky ginger cake). Yes, I desperately want Kitchen Diaries III. It's on my list. Along with the Laura Ingalls Wilder 'Little House' books.

I've noticed that things are getting a little bit festive in the supermarkets. It doesn't bother me too much but I did feel a bit irritated when I saw Christmas cards on display in late August. Time flies too much as it is; I know it's sensible to start putting a bit of money away and maybe start making things in advance but what about savouring autumn? All Hallow's Eve, bonfires, mists and mellow fruitfulness?

There's so much to enjoy right now. The food, the weather, the little details. The days are getting shorter and the sun's getting lower in the sky. 

I want to make the most of golden autumn before winter comes along. 

Speaking of seasonal abundance, we've been on a few blackberry picking expeditions. They were - excuse the obvious pun - fruitful. But our usual spot wasn't great this year. We may well have timed it wrong, but the berries just weren't there. Instead there were plenty of elderberries ripe for the foraging so we filled our bag and felt lucky that one absent hedgerow delicacy had at least been replaced by another.

The result: bramble and elderberry jelly. Nine jars of it. Much will be given away; I'll keep a few back for ourselves. I'm thinking pancakes and perhaps a Victoria sponge.

The house renovations continue. Despite having met quite possibly the rudest plasterer ever, everything's going (more or less) to plan. We spend any Joe-free time sanding, filling and applying undercoat. It's dusty and dirty but things are taking shape. Yesterday we spent the day there and ate a picnic lunch in the back garden. It was really warm and sunny. The buddleia next door is still in flower and was smothered in butterflies, and I'm pleased that the violets poking through the grass haven't been squashed by the tradesmen.

We received compensation from the vendors because of the time and money we had to spend clearing the house. It's most welcome. Even a modest little cottage costs a lot of money to renovate. We're not talking fancy finishes or top-of-the-range fixtures and fittings, just simple and basic stuff. My, how it all adds up.

So, September's almost at an end. But not quite. Despite this constant busy-ness, the plate-spinning and multi-tasking, I'm trying to find time to stop and enjoy the little things. I hope you are too. Have a good week.

PS. I had a sleepless night last night and am kicking myself for not having got up to watch the eclipse...

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Colour Collaborative: September: Market

I'm very happy with this month's Colour Collaborative theme. At first, I started thinking about seasonality and locally-grown food. About this - autumn - being the most sensuous of months, and how markets are all about tastes, aromas, sounds, colours, textures: how things catch our eye and we have to reach out and touch, smell, feel.

But then I realised something else: that if you want to really experience the essence of a place, to discover what people eat and how they interact, to learn about the landscape and climate and culture... Go to the market.

I remember  - back in those distant footloose and fancy-free days - staying in Paris, not far from the Champs Elysees. I arrived at night time and went for dinner then to bed. The following morning I opened the curtains and to my delight there was a market in the street below: beautifully-arranged fruits and nuts and vegetables, breads and cheeses. I'd never before seen the humble market elevated to a spectacle of such beauty.

Since then I've been lucky enough to visit flower markets in Amsterdam, Quincy Market in Boston, the Ramblas in Barcelona, the Cloth Hall in Krakow... all places filled with vibrant, kaleidoscopic colour and unusual regional wares. 

But to return home again (sigh). I grew up visiting the market each week with my mum. Often my grandma was in tow too, clattering people around the ankles with her tartan trolley. I remember the plant stalls bright with potted chrysanthemums and cyclamen, the bolts of  patterned cloth, the steam-enveloped black pudding stall. You'd eat the bursting puddings with yellow mustard squirted into their crumbly, fat-studded insides.

The traditional British market is an institution in its own right. Those old halls with fancy steelwork and glass roofs, home to greasy spoon cafes and hardware stalls. The red-and-white striped bag from the butcher. The kitschy-coloured iced buns.

These days we occasionally visit the local farmer's market. There are more exotic (and expensive) things to be had than at the weekly Saturday morning affair: vivid Romanesco cauliflowers, purple carrots, cheeses encased in rainbow-hued wax.

Most of it is locally-produced and seasonal.

Some of it isn't. But that doesn't mean it should be resisted. I do love the scented, delicately-coloured Turkish delight sitting in trays of powdered sugar.

Our weekly market is very small. But the fruit and vegetable stall is big and we seldom need to go elsewhere for our healthy stuff. Aside from the usual staples I love to go and discover what the season has to offer. The fact that these things are only around and at their best for a short time makes me anticipate their arrival all the more.

Right now, we have jewel-filled pomegranates, rich purple figs (each nestled in its own orange paper case), blue-black damsons, violet-smudged baby turnips, rosy Cox apples, bright satsumas, inky blackberries, speckled golden plums...

The things we buy at the market seem to keep us in touch with the earth and the seasons. That's something we crave in these busy days where it's easy to feel ever-more removed from slow, simple living. I principally stick to my shopping list then see where my eye takes me; more often than not it's to the bright stuff. Maybe that's a subliminal thing. My body telling me to 'eat the rainbow' as we're often advised to do. Or maybe it's just my magpie instinct.

But there are few things better than coming home laden with produce and cooking a big pan of soup whilst arranging these seasonal delights in bowls around the kitchen.

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.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Right now...

It's been a busy Bank Holiday weekend and start to September. Joe's birthday was very much a celebratory affair; no party (we were naive to think the new house would be ready in time) but lots of treats and gatherings and trips out.

There have been steam train rides and a day out at the canal to go on Grandad's boat. A visit to the local farm shop with his little friends for ice cream and a run around the play area. And cake...

Or at least, the Smarties from the top of the cake.

Lovely gifts too. A gardening set, a wooden garage, a little kitchen, Gruffalo pyjamas (I want some as well). Knitted things, wellies, books, any number of toy cars and tractors, Duplo. An electric organ - which currently resides in another room to preserve our sanity. So many things. He's a very lucky little boy.

And something even came through the post for me: a parcel containing the Observer Book of Wild Flowers, some truly wonderful-tasting hot chocolate and a book for Joe. All courtesy of Bee. I never receive things like this through the letterbox so you can imagine how delighted I was. Thank you again, Bee.

So, on Saturday we had lunch on board the boat and took a walk along the tow path. I love looking at all the boats and the way they're decorated.

On Sunday we went to Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I've always fancied a daytime visit (having only previously been at night to an exhibition opening). We met up with some blogging friends and their families: Nina and Catherine.

The place is vast. I'd love to stay nearby for a weekend and explore at our leisure as there's so much to see and so many walks to be had. 

And like our visit to the boat the day before, we were blessed with good weather. Mild and sunny (here and there) but autumn's creeping in...

I do love September and October. Although it's coming up for a year since my mum died, and that's going to be a sad time. I worried that it would always blight this time of year for me but I don't want to let it. My mum stressed to us that we should continue to live and love our lives; I know she wanted us to savour each day and enjoy our happy times together.

Is it just me or does time seem to be flying by? More so than ever, it seems. I can't quite believe that Joe is now three.

Speaking of time flying... I've been feeling the pressure of late. September is a month of deadlines and now Joe's started preschool I'm managing to get stuck into some projects. My artwork is almost finished; I'm hoping to do the last few bits of painting tomorrow and then everything's off to the printers. It'll be a huge relief to have completed that.

I also have to produce some articles for TEND magazine by the end of the month. I'm looking forward to doing those.

Joe recently dropped his afternoon nap. So although his starting preschool (today, in fact) is sad in some ways, it also means I get some precious and much-needed time to work. I'm pleased that once he's done his three mornings a week we can come home and do things together in the afternoons. Today, once I collected him, we did the following:

Walked to the station to see the steam train
Went to feed the ducks
Got caught in a heavy rain shower
Dried off then did some painting
Put the paint away and did some crayoning
Played with tractors and dinosaurs
Got the Play Doh out
Cleared up the Play Doh and had a Duplo session.

Three-year-olds like to keep things moving.

So. Busy times. Deadlines, house renovations, family...

That's before all the other things that need to be done when I find time. Between household stuff and all the rest of it, I'm not managing to keep on top of emails (sorry to anyone currently waiting for replies - I'm trying to catch up). Twitter has been abandoned altogether. I'm thinking I'll do the same with Facebook. Identifying these non-essentials and taking them out of the equation helps.

For the next few weeks I'll be taking a blogging break. I need to meet those deadlines and to keep the rest of our lives on track. I'll still be taking photographs and reading other blogs, but for now it's all about priorities and necessities.

I don't see the point of churning out posts just to maintain a presence; I'd rather post something and do it justice in terms of writing something considered and meaningful. So, a brief hiatus.

Thank you for sticking around for this past month or so when my posts have been simply about recording what we've been doing: eating, watching, reading, visiting. I'm looking forward to life slowing down again at some point. And now I have a dedicated 15 hours a week when I can work. By the middle of next month I should have a little office/studio too.

I did used to work from the front room but to be honest, it's damp and absolutely freezing - even in summer. So the back room currently serves as office, playroom, living room and dining room. Not ideal. I can't wait to move house.

So, until my next post - which will be the September Colour Collaborative - I hope you have a good few weeks.

I'll still be popping up on Instagram. And I'm looking forward to updating you on the house progress and my paintings being delivered to the shop where they'll be displayed and sold.

 Back soon :)

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