Monday, 30 November 2009

Look deep into the flame

Floss at Troc Broc and Recup' has organized A Pause in Advent, which is an initiative where bloggers can publish posts offering their thoughts related to Advent, the pre-Christmas season. Floss has written a piece illustrating the pre-eminence of love and family, reminding us not to forget what is most important about celebrating together, and over on her blog is a list of all the participants, and links to their blogs.

So I thought I would join in and share with you a poem by Charles Causley, which prompts us to think about what and why people are celebrating, and to look through and beyond the tinsel and glitter and presents. I think this poem has a relevance, whatever your spirituality, and whether you celebrate Christmas as a Christian, or as part of the turning of the year, or as a chance to get together with family and friends and celebrate.

Innocent's Song*

Who's that knocking on the window,
Who's that standing at the door,
What are all those presents
Lying on the kitchen floor?

Who is the smiling stranger
With hair as white as gin,
What is he doing with the children?
And who could have let him in?

Why has he rubies on his fingers,
A cold, cold crown on his head,
Why, when he caws his carol,
Does the salty snow run red?

Why does he ferry my fireside
As a spider on a thread,
His fingers made of fuses
And his tongue of gingerbread?

Why does the world before him
Melt in a million suns,
Why do his yellow, yearning eyes
Burn like saffron buns?

Watch where he comes walking
Out of the Christmas flame,
Dancing, double-talking:

Herod is his name.

According to Nicholas Albery in Poem for the Day, Causley said of this poem that he wrote it 'at the time of the Cold War when such phrases as "the peaceful use of atomic energy" rang particularly thin.'

And the poem still resonates today with its unsettling images not only reminding us of the ubiquity of war, and the fragility of peace, but I also think it has something to say about the way that the spirituality of a religious festival can be lost amongst the tawdry consumerism that seems to characterize so much of our Yuletide celebration nowadays.

The light in the dark: is it the returning sun, a spiritual hope, or a million dazzling Christmas lights, consuming electricity as we consume the earth?

As the comedian used to say (and I can't remember which one), may your own particular god go with you, and if Causley is a little too unsettling for such a festive time of year, then read my post below, all about red, the colour of Christmas!

*[Copyright note: I have not been able to find out anything about the copyright of this poem, so I am not sure of the situation regarding this point - I am happy to acknowledge any copyright holders if they would like to make themselves known.]

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Seeing red

No, I am not angry at all - and it seems such a sad state of affairs when seeing red is being angry, when to me red is the colour of warmth and happiness. Red is one of my favourite colours for all sorts of reasons: it is so bright and cheery - and who could fail to smile at the thought of red polka dots or red gingham?

The different colours of red have such evocative names as well: vermilion, crimson, scarlet, carmine (OK, I know that involves cruelty to insects, but I don't buy coloured food or unethical cosmetics, so I am just enjoying carmine metaphorically). Flame red and auburn - and someone called Scarlett O'Hara just has to be exciting to read about.

Red is the colour of roses, and poppies, and glowing coal fires; of cherries, and strawberries, and apples; it is the colour of Christmas and rosettes saying 'First Prize'. I have never won a first prize rosette, but I had my thesis bound in scarlet leather: I am debating whether to make it a red gingham slipcover. And in my teens I just adored the Scarlet Pimpernel, although I fear if I revisited Sir Percy Blakeney I might find him disappointing, so I keep him as a figure of my dreams.

So perhaps I am a bit of a scarlet woman, but not metaphorically, of course, surrounded as I am by children, dogs and mud, all of which limit all sorts of possibilities. And why should I array myself in purple and scarlet when I have the most adorable Head Chef held captive in my ivory tower?

No, on the sartorial front, teal blue wellingtons seems to be the way to go at the moment, rather than a Venetian red toque, which surely says something very significant. Something to do with ducks, perhaps?

And it seems quite sad that women of questionable morals are painted scarlet - perhaps if they were crimson roses with a touch of pale blue, then the Cath Kidston effect would wrap their unsettling behaviour in a granny blanket of comforting morality. In her novel Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell tried to paint her fallen woman of a heroine white not scarlet: Ruth even wears modest and snowy attire during her brief week of sin, which she then rips up and stitches into baby clothes for her illegitimate child. But in spite of leading a saintly life of selflessness  and becoming quite the angel, all the whiteness in the world cannot atone for her scarlet behaviour, and she must eventually pay for her sins (I won't spoil a good book for you, by telling you any more about what happens).

And the scheming Mademoiselle Reuter in Charlotte Bronte's The Professor is a woman quite vermilion: she nets a green silk purse as she sits in a purple merino gown with a garnet on her finger and tosses her curls, the colours seem livid in their vividness, and she a siren singing an ensnaring song. Heroines such as the eponymous Jane Eyre, or Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch are distinguished by the plainness of their dress: not crimson silk for them but serious colours like grey or black, nun-like habits not beribboned gowns. How sad for me, and for them.

So, such does my mind run along lines of scarlet and rose, you can imagine my joy when the postman (he has a red van, I am sure that is deeply relevant) delivered my Lululiz Rainbow Swap parcel from Bekimarie. I, unsurprisingly, had chosen red, and Beki sent me such a box of delights that I spent the rest of the day in crimson dreams.


Beki, appropriately enough, wrapped all my goodies in purple tissue: in times past, imperial purple was more red than we would imagine, as the dye was produced from Tyrian molluscs, giving the Tyrian purple or red dye produced more of a crimson colour. And in the middle ages the word purple was used to describe varying shades of red. I think really bright purple was not possible until the invention of aniline dyes in the nineteenth century.

You can see from the pictures what a wonderful collection of redness I received from Beki: tea towels, a beautiful Greengate tin, a polka dot make up bag, red earrings, a lovely little poppy to stitch, a red gingham raggy heart to hang up in my kitchen, a red tin heart just right to hang on the Christmas tree, or festive twig, more like, and ribbons galore to play with.

Alice at The Sight of Morning has been writing about her Obsessive Bench Disorder: I think I have Compulsive Haberdashery Obsession, and am drawn to buttons and bows in a strange and subconscious way. Much as Dorothea was one of my early heroines, the allure of Rosamund's rustling silks and ribbons still entices me, and as a child I yearned for ringlets and plaits with bows.

And not only did Beki send a parcel of rubescent joy for me, she also sent a little one for Princess Bunchy, too. The Princess favours blue, and Beki sent one of her lovely bookmarks, available to you, too, via Beki's blogshop.

She also sent some chocolates, all wrapped in blue and white foil, but, alas, they are no more: the little Princess gobbled them up in indecent haste before I could allocate them more abstemiously amongst the pockets of the advent calendar (which I have just completed, just in the nick of time). And the lovely, fluffy blue socks with little polar bears on the sides have been worn non-stop, in bed and out, since the parcel was opened, and are now evidence of the grubby state of my floors. So I couldn't possibly photograph them, but had to consign them to the wash. I promise you they are very cosy, and just the thing to make a princess squeal with joy.

So thank you, Beki, so much for your generosity and inspiration in giving me my fix of rosiness: I am now going away to play with my ribbons.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

All good things: food for thought

My Tif-inspired expression of glee has gone a little awry today after hanging out a couple of loads of washing, only to find that ten minutes later the clear blue skies had turned a leaden shade of grey, and raindrops started to slap at my windows, even though the Met Office, bless their little cotton socks, had promised me sun until three. So I helter-skeltered out of doors and gathered up my dripping laundry, and carefully festooned my kitchen with socks and sheets, only to find that the rain had beat a hasty retreat and here came the sun again. I couldn't face the agony of a repeat performance so I sat and worked amongst the sheets and towels, and pondered the purpose of weather forecasts.

 But maybe Met Office I might forgive you, for just after three we are now in the midst of wild wet wind and rain, battering at our battened-down hatches, and now, in an attempt to don the mask of jocosity once more, I am trying to reimagine all those damp tea towels as a festive gleeful whatnot garland, and thinking of Ginny and her November gratitude, I will take you for a virtual stroll around our November garden. (In the interests of veracity and authenticity, I must tell you that I took the pretty pictures at the weekend when the sun was shining and the light was good, but yes, I still have marigolds and a single lonely rose in flower, along with a copious crop of weeds.)

I have posted before here about the complications of self-sufficiency, and would reiterate that for us true self-sufficiency will remain a mirage, because I am not about to grow flax, and I know not how to spin or weave, and the sheep are but a dream of the future, and a cow ... well, perhaps not, no not ever. But we are aiming to be as self-sufficient as possible in food, given the limitations of climate and time.

Carbohydrate staples are greedy of land and labour, and growing wheat on a small scale really is the stuff of dreams: we would have to give up a lot of our tinyholding to keep ourselves in flour, and really, the investment that would be required in tools and equipment for all of that harvesting, thrashing, winnowing and grinding - not to mention storage - makes wheat-growing an unrealistic proposition. We consume potatoes by the sack, but luckily my dear papa grows them commercially so we can eat local on that front. And do we want to give up rice and lentils - well, perhaps not yet.

But we have been able to produce all of our vegetables and nearly all of our fruit since the early spring, and, contrary to my expectations, we still have a good variety growing in the garden in late November. This is where we reap the benefits of our location in the former garden of England. Kent was named the garden of England not for its decorative qualities, which is what we so often associate with gardening nowadays, but because of its market gardens which supplied London and its environs with fruit and vegetables. Gardens were originally garths and yards - little enclosed spaces for growing herbs and vegetables. Subsistence didn't allow for the luxury of growing purely for the purposes of ornament, although that is not to say that beauty and vegetable growing are mutually exclusive, and gardens for leisure and ornament were the preserve of the wealthy until surprisingly late in history.

So we are in a good location for self-sufficiency in vegetables and fruit, for these have been part of the indigenous agriculture for very many years: our rich clay soil, mild climate and southern latitude make for a long and productive growing season. If ever you are looking to take on a smallholding, the agricultural history of your surroundings is a very useful guide as to what will be the easiest and most feasible way to manage your land, and the traditional local diet will be the one that is most self-sufficient.

For example, my friend Ellie from Fleece with Altitude has a smallholding in the north of England on land high up where the soil is thin; the weather is colder, wetter, and windier than down here: traditionally this would have been land purely used for grazing sheep at low densities. Ellie has a magnificent herb garden, but this has involved her in much work building shelter and creating drainage for the soil. Whereas I can plant lavender and other Mediterranean herbs all about my garden, with no soil preparation at all, and they love the summer drought and sunny south-facing area at the front of the house: wet feet will kill lavender very quickly.

And our lack of time over the last few months has worked to our advantage - many weeks ago I remember feeling guilty that I wasn't up to date with clearing the tomatoes out of the greenhouse or the runner beans from their frames. Yet this lackadaisicalness has (luckily) worked to our advantage because of the unseasonably mild autumn we have had: at the weekend we harvested the last tomatoes, and still have a few aubergines and peppers coming on. I have found before that aubergines are really worth keeping on into the autumn if they are sheltered in some way: as we have no heat in the greenhouse we cannot sow them very early, and they seem to need a long growing season. October is the time when we harvest the bulk of the crop.

After a sticky start in the spring when it seemed unwilling to germinate, we did a second sowing of celery: the first caught up with the second,  and we have in consequence been overwhelmed with celery. But it really sharpens up the flavour of squash or pumpkin soup, and although the frosts will finish it off, there is no sign of that yet. It might have been wet and windy, the temperature is creepily high as yet, having been in the mid teens in the past few weeks. And the heavy rain has had a reviving effect on our summer-parched soils.

We still have beetroot in the ground, and lettuce which we sowed outside at the end of the summer is coming into full production, with rocket and radicchio in the polytunnel.

 My Italian cabbage plants, which were a donation from a friend's surplus, have survived the determined assault  of caterpillars, which gave them the air of green lace sculpture at one point. So we are glad that we didn't have enough time to abandon hope and dig up the crop: they look ravishingly dark green and healthy now with their curled leaves festooned with pearls of rain and dew.

All our hard work in transforming the clay into a fine soil has reaped dividends in carrots and parsnips - some of which are such monsters they make exciting treats for the pigs. For root crops such as these, we have proved to ourselves that raised beds are definitely the solution to counteract the problems of a clay soil. The parsley has been the best ever: the garden is filled with luxuriant green frills around all the beds.

And there is more to come: once again our tardiness has in the long run been an advantage, in that the leeks and celeriac went in very late, because of lack of time (and space, because the garden was full of celery). So I can look ahead and feel comforted that we have vegetables to last us on into January, at least. We also have runner beans, peas and broccoli in the freezer, as well as fruit of all sorts, although I think the real key to true self-sufficiency and thrift is to manage to grow a succession of seasonal plants, which sitting in the ground don't take up freezer space and consume electricity.

Fruit is another question entirely: in this climate, fresh as opposed to preserved fruit is nigh on impossible during winter and spring.

Apples cover many of the gaps, but I do crave citrus fruits around this time of year because they are so delicious, and their bright orangeness brings light into the grey days.

And the pigs, alas, their days are numbered, and whilst my hearty family dream of bacon and sausages for Christmas day, I secretly mourn and avert my gaze.

The Head Chef's excitement at the sight of pheasants in the orchard may well have a different source from mine, but I am full of gratitude for a garden full of good and growing things, a larder where the jars of jam and jelly gleam expectantly, and we are all blessed with the assurance of plenty and more food to come: good things to be grateful for in November.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Gifts from the heart

As part of Tif's Ultimate Challenge, I will be buying handmade presents this Christmas, which I thoroughly recommend to all of you dear readers, whether you are participating in the Challenge or not.

But one of the difficulties I have found is that whilst the most delightful parcels of handmade goodies have been coming through my door, I can't share their contents with you because you never know who might be reading. However, I have made a little exception today because Princess Bunchy and I were so excited to receive a little package from Chrissie at Niminy Fingers.

Chrissie very kindly included a little present for a princess, for which we are both so very grateful - and in fact, Princess Bunchy's adorable felt bracelet is so lovely that I feel quite envious!

The other bit of handmade goodness in the picture below I will leave you to guess at, for one of you might be receiving it for Christmas - but just admire the beautiful way that Chrissie has presented it in a handcrafted muslin bag, and ponder on what it might contain. And you can go and look at her Etsy shop, Make Your Presents Felt, to find out what she makes, and guess what is in this little bag, and then wriggle with excitement at the thought of what might appear under your Christmas tree very shortly.

The blue bowl is also handmade, by a potter called Lars Gregersen - this was a present from the dear Seaside Landlady (for which I haven't yet written a thank you note, horribly remiss of me, and I hope you will forgive my omission, dear sister-in-law!) - and looks very beautiful on the much loved and used old meat plate.

So my thought for today is: why not make your Christmas shopping easy and special - don't venture from your computer, save your petrol and parking charges, and buy your presents from small-scale self-employed crafters rather than global corporations. You can be sure that you will not be exploiting anyone, you will be helping a small business, you will receive a prompt and personal service, and probably make a friend in the process. Not only that, many of these people will make custom orders in particular colours or styles so that you can give a truly original present.

I can't show you any more pictures, because I don't want to spoil any 'surprises', but I can thoroughly recommend all of the following, whose wares are as now stacked in my present cupboard, (or are on my Christmas list - are you listening, Head Chef?). I think I have put everyone down, but let me know if I have missed you out - everything is tucked away in bags and boxes, so I might have overlooked one!

And for all those men in your life, who like all things techie and practical, try The Centre for Alternative Technology shop - it might not be handmade but at least it is green and ethical: a great source of presents for boys of all ages.

My theory is that presents should be useful, beautiful or consumable, and bring joy to both giver and receiver - for me this is the way to achieve that, and I hope that you, too, will see this as a way to a stress-free and ethical Christmas, and a small way to counterbalance all those mountains of plastic tat, and overwhelming consumerist frenzy, which leave us all the poorer in more ways than one.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Hearts and flowers

This blog seems to be turning into one big show and tell, and when I started out I was hoping to be so very profound: it is all rather disappointing. I suppose the unfortunate truth is that even in my deepest moments I have never been profound, and I spend most of my life paddling in the shallows.

So here once more is a story of stuff - an incurable obsession with the material, and I fear totally lacking in depth.

The story began some months ago when I signed up for the Pay It Forward at Poppy Cottage, and I am looking forward to receiving a little handmade something from Colette in due course. But not being one to let the grass grow under my feet (and feeling that probably it would take me some time to find some takers), you may remember I advertised for some victims, sorry potential recipients, here.

And at long last I have, much to my relief, completed my first PIF and sent it off to Heidi at Snowdrop Cottage. At one point I was getting a bit panicky, having also signed up for a couple of swaps, not to mention owing a prize to Colette in recognition of her familiarity with pheasant feeders. I think my new year's resolution will involve being more moderate in my ambitions.

But as you can see from my sidebar, I am gradually ticking them all off, and here is what I sent to Heidi. She told me that she would prefer a knitted present, and has a penchant for neutral colours. So I made two lavender hearts, using a free pattern from the Skein Queen, and Sirdar Luxury Soft Cotton DK, with which yarn you know I have a love-hate relationship, so I made sure not to knit by candlelight again.

And because I have suddenly become fascinated by the concept of hand-knitted dishcloths (I have always imagined myself as a knit-your-own-dishcloth sort of person, yet this had remained theoretical rather than practical), I thought that I would knit Heidi a dishcloth. There is a free pattern for these rather nice waffle dishcloths by Deb at Homespun Living, which can be found here. And I used Lion Brand worsted weight cotton, which is available in the UK from Banyan Tree Yarns. It is a lovely easy pattern, suitable for novice knitters, but produces a rather fetching dishcloth which I think would be good for very wholesome, homespun presents. The sort of thing people expect from someone like me.

And last but not least is a little knitted brooch, using Skein Queen Duchess yarn in Dove, some crochet lace and a recycled button, and backed with some felt and a brooch pin. I made quite a few of these brooches last Christmas to match hats, scarves, etc, that I had knitted. It is a great way to use up those small amounts of yarn left over from other projects, not enough to make anything considerable, but which you can't bear to throw away.

The brooches are so simple to knit a beginner could do it: you need to cast on a multiple of 8 stitches - I would do 40 or 48 for DK yarn, with the needles you would use to get standard tension for the yarn, so 4mm for DK for me.

Then stocking stitch (knit one row, purl one row) for 8 rows.
Then in the next knit (RS) row knit the first 8 stitches then lift stitches 1-7 up and over the last stitch you have knitted (stitch 8) and drop them right off the needle. You will then have just one stitch on the RH needle and 32 or 40 on the left.
Knit a further 8 stitches, and do the same again - lift the first 7 (stitches 9-15) up and over the last stitch you have knitted and off the needle. You will now have 2 on the right needle and your original number of stitches less 16 on your LH needle.
Repeat this to the end of the row: you will then have 5 stitches left on the RH needle (if you started with 40) or 6 if you started with 48.
You don't cast off: just cut a decent length of yarn and thread it back through those 5 or 6 stitches twice over and pull it up.
This will form the knitting into a circle and you just have to stitch the join together. The edge curls up and it all forms a rosette shape.

To give a good anchor for the brooch pin, I sew a pinked circle of felt onto the back of the brooch using embroidery thread (2 strands). I sew the pin onto another slightly smaller circle of felt. I then sew the smaller circle onto the larger one - to stop the brooch flopping forward when you wear it, it is better if the pin is two-thirds of the way up the brooch back, rather than halfway.

The other two brooches are from some Manos del Uruguay Wool Clasica: I knitted the General a hat from this last winter (which was not a success), then I knitted Princess Bunchy a beanie from the leftovers (both patterns from Last Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson) and trimmed it with these brooches from the leftovers from that.

I am afraid that the photos of these have that fuzzy, taken at night, not enough light, quality. Maybe I should get one of those big umbrellas to give me the air of a real photographer.

If you want a bigger brooch, you can knit more rows of stocking stitch before decreasing, and you can use any thickness of yarn - this can also alter the size of brooch; it is quite fun to experiment. You can also use more than one colour to make stripes or edging.

Then use your imagination to embellish it - sometimes I cut a circle of felt with pinking shears and put the button on top of that, or you can gather the edge of a piece of ribbon or lace into a circle as I did for Heidi. And then top with a button - so it is also a good way of using up scraps of felt or ribbon, and odd buttons.

So have fun with that: I am sorry I didn't take photos of the manufacturing process; I will do better next time. And also try to be more profound.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Keeping pumpkins cosy

Now it seems that on Saturday there occurred what might be described as a latterday Derby Day for bloggers, in the form of the Vintage and Handmade Fair.

I seem to be a little late to the show-and-tell party (late being the story of my life, really, but I was punctual once, she says in an agonized, Aguecheek sort of voice), but I did have a jolly time there, and did part with some spendidos. Perhaps not as many as I might have done if I had not been under armed escort by the Head Chef, and supervised by the beady eye of Princess Bunchy.

I am glad to say (and I can tell this from the surreptitious rustling of brown paper and various giveaway signs and exclamations) that at least one Christmas present was bought for me. I am now going to follow dearest Tif's style of punctuation and say that this is, of course, a 'surprise' present, and I have reason to believe that might just have been purchased from Hen, but I will say no more because I never want to spoil the fun of others.

My 'surprise' presents from the Head Chef usually end up being less of a surprise than he might wish, because they usually end up being addressed to me (because the original catalogue was) and delivered to my doorstep in packaging liberally bedizened with the supplier's logo on days when the Head Chef is not at home, so I can't help noticing 'accidentally'. (Sometimes these helpful suppliers even write letters to me informing me that the item is out of stock and will follow shortly, and apparently the only remedy available for avoiding this is to ensure that we live apart, as their computers cannot cope with more than one name at one address. But then, if we lived apart, my dear heart would probably not be ordering presents for me, so I am not sure of the answer to that one, and no, I would never deliberately 'notice' carrier bags left carelessly under his desk.)

But back to the Fair. I shopped wisely and well, keeping the strictures of the Ultimate Challenge to mind, and fearful of the spectre of Tif wagging an admonishing finger. The stalls were all uniformly beautiful, but for informative pictures you will have to look to the work of others: I seem only able to photograph on the small scale, and, to be quite frank, in the bustle and press of such a wonderful bazaar, locating my camera in the disorder of what is more a portmanteau than a reticule was the last thing to mind.

Now, this was one of the themes for the day - and thanks to the lovely Sal of Sal's Snippets for providing the perfect prop. (We also bought one or two other goodies, but they are for presents, so must remain anonymous.)

And here is a charming little basket of buttons, bows, lace and fabric: I seem to have opted for a particularly patriotic colour theme here, which is rather odd and not one that I would have predicted. The lace and buttons are from the wonderfully-named International Quality Kitsch, where Princess Bunchy was overjoyed to find all sorts of exciting, jumbly, sparkly boxes of bits and bobs for 50p each. So these all qualify under the secondhand label.

I bought some craft supplies (ribbon, of course) from Michele of Cowboys and Custard, and reminisced over her retro Christmas decorations. I think she must have spent the last few years rummaging in the family attic, so much were they redolent of my childhood.

I had a lovely chat with Donna Flower and bought the fabric with blue roses from her stall, which was quite overwhelming in the desirability of its wares. The spotty fabric came from the stall just along from Henhouse - perhaps someone can enlighten me as to its name, because at that point I think I had totally lost my sense of an existence outside such a hall of enchantment.

From craft supplies, I moved on to the handmade and was rather taken with the electric blueness of this snuggly scarf from Lizzie the Washerwoman. I felt that it was just what my pet Jack Be Littles needed to keep them cosy this winter, well until I eat them, that is, and then I can wear the scarf.

And from Hen I bought these most adorable labels: not being entirely sure what my guards had bought for me, I had to restrain myself from gazing too long at the delights of her stall, not wanting to spoil the 'surprise'.

And thank you all round to the organizers and stallholders - you made it well worth the wet and windy journey, and it was quite delightful to meet so many other bloggers.  So, in conclusion, on Saturday in Chipping Sodbury a lovely time was had by all (and very thoughtfully there were comfy chairs, tea and cake for off-duty guards).

Here is where you will find lots of pictures and the names of all the participants. And I have seen lots of far more informative pictures (which will show and tell you more than I have) taken by Hen, Sal, Michele, Heidi, Victoria, Kelly, Cathy, Isabelle, ... have I missed any out? Shout and I will put you in!

And thank you all for the sweetest comments on my last post, I do appreciate such kindness.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Casting off

Today ...
words fail me.
An old friend has died;
something is lost
and found.
Old griefs revive
and I knit them together,
stitch by stitch;
make them tangible;
cast on anew.
I find some solace in words:
perhaps another will, too.


Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin,
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.

Christina Rossetti (1830-94)

Friday, 13 November 2009

November blessings

I always associate November with the first lines of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, where she writes:

'There was no possibility of a taking a walk that day ... since dinner the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was out of the question.'

Here the penetrating rain and sombre weather started last night, and I am seriously considering the prospect of not taking outdoor exercise until next March, even though I have the benefit of Gore-Tex and wellies, unknown to our nineteenth-century forebears.

But Ginny at Sweet Myrtle is encouraging us all to find things to be thankful for in this drear month of November, and so I am trying to follow her estimable example.

Like poor Jane Eyre, I am now sitting here looking out on to 'a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub', with 'raw twilight' seeming to start at about 3 o'clock at the moment, but as I arrived home from work our cheerful, if rather soggy, postman presented me with two parcels which cheered me, too. As you might remember from here, I do like presents, even if they are self-donated.

So today I have two people to be grateful to, the first one being Lisa at Lydia's Treasures. I was in luck when she held her Mystery Giveaway a little while ago, and her parcel finally beat its way through the postal delays: it was the loveliest parcel and certainly well worth the wait.

Lisa made me this delightful little bag - exactly my sort of thing, and almost too nice to use. In fact, I remember having spotted it on her blog, and commenting on how much I liked it - blue and red being a particular favourite colour combination.

And this enchanting little number, a rather glamorous version of a hussif, or housewife, which folds out to reveal the sweetest pincushion and needlecase, and little pocketed ends to the flaps - just right for me to carry the tools of my trade around with me. Once again, I love flowery things, and roses in particular. So thank you so much, Lydia.

And the other thing for which I am truly grateful is yarn. Which is what was contained in the second parcel which came from the Skein Queen. And I am also very grateful for her quite astonishingly speedy service which ensured that this yarn was in my hands less than twenty-four hours from ordering it. No need for deferred gratification there! Well, apart from the ball winding that is. I always wonder whether a swift and winder would really make any difference, but for the time being I will stick with knees and hands.

The vividness of this Little Desire yarn in Tipperary shines out in the gloom of my cottage, although I am afraid my camera seems intent on damping down the vibrancy of the colour, which ranges from deepest grass to sea green. I think it would make some great handwarmers, and perhaps I could put some scarlet buttons on them to make them look really festive.

So on this grey November day I am grateful for colour and kindness, and the joy of the handmade.

May your weekend be kind and colourful, too.


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