Saturday, 25 February 2012

Saturday afternoon bliss

The last Saturday in February, sitting on the sofa with the sun streaming in through the window, stitching a quilt for a princess . . .

. . .  listening to her dulcet tones as she rehearses a song of angels . . . and wondering (slightly tearfully) where on earth such a voice came from.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Winners at last

Now I am very conscious that you have all been sitting on the edge of your seats anxiously waiting for the big prize draw - and that I have been very tardy about conducting the event, my only excuse being the ludic interlude that is half term.

The bird training did not go well so I decided to resort to the usual suspects, the Little Stranger and Mad Dog.

As is usual the wind started whistling around the garden just as I ventured out, bowl in hand, so I am afraid that I stayed very close to the back door, hence the tasteful grey backdrop to the pictures.

You will see quite a contrast in the attitudes of the participants.

We have Little Miss Pushy, and I Am Not At All Enthusiastic About This, And Far Too Polite to Elbow My Way In.

In fact, Little Miss Pushy is so pushy that I had a problem in actually getting close enough
 to take the photo of the winners before they headed off across the garden.

But she means well, and is very willing to join in the fun.

Her only trouble, and one which I put down to her youth, is that she has difficulty in knowing when it is time for the fun to stop, and pieces of paper to remain in the bowl.

But we got there in the end, and here are the first three to land on the concrete:

The Liberty Book of Cross Stitch will be winging its way to Angela, Jan Eaton's 1000 Cross Stitch Motifs to Indigo Blue and Jane Greenoff's 100 Cross Stitch Patterns to Mix and Match to Felicity. Please could you all email me with your address for posting.

And commiserations to the rest of you - I hope the deprivations of Lent don't overcome your sense of good cheer. I have given up chocolate, cakes and sweet biscuits in the hope that the midwinter spare tyre will detach itself from my midriff, and am feeling slightly appalled at the thought of six weeks without such carbohydrate comfort, although I have great hopes for the substitute that I have found for my nibbly moments (the first one is free, and I have to say absolutely delicious) but will I be able to confine myself to one a day? I'll let you know how I get on . . .

Friday, 10 February 2012

A stitchy giveaway

I think that we are all in need in a bit of cheer on a cold weekend so here at last is my long-promised giveaway.

As I told you it is one of a stitchy nature, just the thing to keep your shivering fingers busy as you sit by the fire warming your pot of gruel.

Those lovely people at Search Press sent me these three very pretty books before Christmas, and in all the flurry and bustle of seasonal excitement (not to mention the depths of my misery at having to take a sewing break) I forgot all about them until I did my little sort-out and tidy-up the other day and found them in my embroidery drawer.

As you will see from my pet stork, I have had a bit of a penchant for cross-stitch. I stitched his ball and chain on one very foggy holiday on the isle of Lundy, all the while convinced that I was rapidly losing my sight. It wasn't until I returned home that I realized that a higher than usual stitch count, not to mention a gloomy fogbound cottage and poor lighting were the cause of all my difficulties.

The books I am giving away are all very tempting. The first is the Liberty Book of Cross Stitch, which is a feast for the eyes.

There are a series of pattern and instructions for all sorts of items from home decor to baby to accessories, with a mixture of sewing and embroidery.

Then there is Jan Eaton's 1000 Cross-Stitch Motifs:

This is a wonderful cornucopia of charted designs on every subject that you could possibly need, with a whole range of individual motifs, as well as borders and pictures.

And last but not least there is a book from one of the doyennes of the cross-stitch world, Jane Greenoff, entitled 100 Cross-Stitch Patterns to Mix and Match.

This has a clever split-page format so that you can swap about and have two different pattern pages open at the same time. I think the range of different alphabets is particularly useful.

So there you have it - to spread the blessings further, I will pick three winners, rather than sending all three books to one person.

If you already have one of the books, or are only interested in one, then say so in your comment, but those who have no preference obviously have more chance of winning.

Being a Follower gives you your first entry in the draw, and if you put me on your blog sidebar or engage in any other social media promotion then you can get further entries - please do a separate comment to tell me about each of these as it makes it easier for me when I do the draw.

[And No-Reply Bloggers - please note! If you don't have your email address listed on your Blogger Profile page (just look at my Profile here to see what I mean - my email is on the top left under Contact Me, and you can make sure yours is by using the orange Edit Profile button on the top right of your Profile page), then you can't win because I can't email you. (If I have never replied to one of your comments, chances are you are a No-Reply Blogger). If you are not on Blogger, then please make sure you put your email address in your comment.]

I'll leave the giveaway open until early next week - I am wondering whether I can persuade one of the robins and blackbirds lurking on the table outside my window to do the draw this time. They are very keen on picking bits of food out of bowls - perhaps I could rub the comment slips with bacon fat . . .

Thursday, 9 February 2012

News from nowhere

I was young once, although it seems an awfully long time ago, young and foolish too (I can feel an Andrew Aguecheek moment coming on but for the sake of all I will smother it quickly).

But I am not sure that I would ever have gone cycling in the snow and ice, wearing shorts and no coat.

Pomona on a bicycle (no, I'm only joking)
The General is obviously made of sterner stuff than his mamma (and those of you who know the General will know exactly where to find him in the picture).

The General and a few hearty friends

The snow has been slow to melt here, and as an old countrywoman I know that means more to come - snow lingering on the ground draws more along and the skies certainly have a grey enough air.

Little and large

When the light improves enough for me to take some pretty pictures I will post up my long-postponed giveaway, which is of a stitchy nature. I am sure that you are all overcome with excitement.

Overcome with excitement at the news

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The reading corner

Did you have a reading corner when you were at school?

A quiet little corner of the classroom with a shelf full of interesting books, and somewhere to sit.

And were you allowed to sit there at break time or in the lunch hour reading, away from the rough and tumble of the playground?

I always went to schools where you were turfed out into the cold and the hurly burly of the playground in the name of character building, but I have always loved the concept of the reading corner.

And since my orange house (with a permatan that can be viewed here) has turned a lovely shade of winter white, there is a little reading corner just for me, right next to my collection of old needlework and knitting books which provided the material and inspiration for my thesis.

On one shelf is a little china iron, once upon a time full of sweets, that my dear papa brought home from Germany for me oh! such a long time ago.

And on another is a handmade model of a cutter, or ship's boat, made for me by a very clever dear friend, in whose old stone church the Head Chef and I were married and my children baptised, not quite such a long time since.

In my little corner, I can sit on the very same chair from my childhood home on which I nursed the Ploughboy over twenty-one years ago, resting on the very first needlepoint cushion that I ever stitched, surrounded by pleasant memories, and I can wonder at how quickly the years have gone by.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Stash happy stocktaking, and a giveaway to come

The new year is traditionally a time to take stock of the past and make all sorts of worthy resolutions for the future, but I am never very good at worthy resolutions, so this year we plumped for something more mundane and resolved to run down our food stocks before ordering anything more, after finding an unopened kilogram bag of sesame seeds with a best before date back in early 2010 (not to mention various small bags of odd ingredients such as semolina and gram flour of very uncertain vintage, and bought for equally uncertain reasons). The hens have had a feast and we have 10kg of porridge oats to eat before we can go to the shops again.

Very neat

So that was the big resolution, stock control and stock rotation - all very good and proper, and all very successful. So how come this sort of resolution is so difficult to apply to the stocks residing so neatly in my sewing room?

Some nice tins full of bits and bobs

I decided that it was time to take stock of the fabric and yarn holed up in the store cupboard, and under the table, and other sundry hiding places, not to mention the stash which has escaped out into other hidey holes around the house, after reading a post by Cheryl, who is thriftily working her way through her own crafty stores.

A nice cupboard full of even more bits and bobs

Very bravely I thought that I would share with you some of said stocks, on the understanding that this is not necessarily a full disclosure, as there may be one or two other interesting surprises elsewhere (I am thinking that there might be something in a basket under the bed . . .).

And in a spirit of thrift and good intentions I am resolving not to buy any more inessential supplies until I have at least made a dent in the stores that I already have (although I do reserve the right to adjudicate on the definition of essential).

Some nice Christmas presents

But as any seasoned crafter will know, there is a difference between stash with future potential, and that with past history. Because one inevitably ends up with leftovers from projects, which may or may not have potential for something else.

Some leftovers and some left unfinished

There is also the speculative stash, which might well have proved to be a hopelessly unsuitable mistake, and undergone a transformation from tempting to hideous on the journey from shop to cupboard.

And the hopelessly optimistic stash, which usually involves a long trip to a festival or show, or even a holiday visit to some long dreamed of emporium, followed by the purchase of enough material to keep the most industrious crafter busy full-time until beyond retirement. (The words 'limited edition', 'today only', or Wollmeise often feature in such purchases.)

A drawer full of nice surprises

However, such stash explorations can turn up some interesting surprises, and really end up being almost as good as going to the shops (I am being positive, optimistic and thrifty here). I found a waffle dishcloth that only requires the ends darning in, and a coat hanger cover that just needs to be stitched onto a coat hanger (but where I did I put those hangers I bought for covering?) - two presents ahead for Christmas and it's only February. Not to mention a nearly finished jumper possibly slightly short on yarn, and a sock and a bit.

I like these, but some did not

And a cornucopia of quilting cottons bought to make a quilt before I went on the patchwork training day when aspersions were cast on my taste in fabric which put me off the whole thing. But time has passed, I stitched some of the cut pieces together last week, and hey presto! I rather like the effect, I remember that it was just what I was seeking for, and not only did the Head Chef say that it would look nice in our bedroom, but Princess Bunchy started making covetous comments.

A nice book

I think that these stash explorations could be quite productive - I must just sit on my hands and not let my fingers do the walking over the keyboard and add to the stores before I have dealt most firmly with the matters in hand. Trouble is, I was given a very nice book for Christmas, which has given me ideas of a most expansive kind . . .

Those little dogs keep popping up everywhere

And one last good thing - I suddenly came upon some things which I was given before Christmas for a giveaway for you - I will be posting about this very shortly!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Happy days

In her element . . .

I am somehow reminded of happy hours reading about this little character . . .

I think this Little Stranger has just as much potential for mischief . . .

Friday, 3 February 2012

Thought for the day

On Fridays Soulemama always posts a very beautiful picture from her week, under the heading 'This Moment', and encourages bloggers everywhere to join in. It is a lovely idea to encourage everyone to stop and pause and appreciate the good things in their life, and every week I mean to join in, but Friday comes, up goes the post, I admire the picture, and think is it really Friday already, and oh no, I forgot to take a picture - and promise myself to do better next time (you will note that Soulemama manages to do a post without words, which is utterly beyond me, so I hope that you are prepared for some verbiage).

This has gone on for some months now, but this morning I woke up and remembered it was Friday, which was a good start. I then started to think about what magic moment I could pick from the week to post for all the world to see (or at least a few kind readers - I am not really in the big league like Soulemama {and if you want to learn more about the subtleties of hierarchy in the world of blogging, then this is an illuminating read}), and before sitting back in a warm glow of satisfaction.

Unfortunately the only feeling I could sum up was one of faint irritation. Yes, I most definitely got out of the wrong side of bed this morning, and what is worse, I am home alone and the Head Chef is not around to take the blame (for it was surely his fault, as he was out boozing with the boys and came home late so I was forced to wait up for him, reading a very interesting book). Well, maybe not boozing, he tells me that he only drank one small glass of wine, but certainly I feel quite out of sorts because of it.

And the faint irritability is compounded out of having to fetch my own logs in (definitely down to HC), and skies turned grey (well, nobody can help that one, but if anyone was at home, they might well find themselves in the firing line), and finding the chicken water frozen, which meant plodding back to the house to look for the plastic jug which was hiding (definitely HC's fault), and taking hot water back to fill up the drinkers, and a nagging feeling that I should be doing some housework even thought the sewing cupboard's siren call is tempting me.

And then I looked at the little adverts down the side of my inbox and the little links to 'Apple Pie Receipe [sic]', Homemade Dog Biscuit, Deep Cleaning, and Public Sewer Services made me laugh in their hopelessly irrelevant  randomness (although I shivered slightly at the ones for Loose Fitting Dentures? and Dental Practice for Sale (Good Income)). So another little Handy Hint for you - just take a look at Google ads if you want to induce a fit of hysterical laughter (but take heed at a warning from One Who Knows, don't write emails with the word 'pyjamas' in them, as the effect could be most disturbing).

Logs - dwindling fast

But back to the task in hand: my impressions of the week seemed to be overwhelmed by the cold, and I certainly can't show you pictures of my charming offspring as they put their hands over their faces in unison if they see me fumbling for my camera (on Christmas Day, would you believe? How Unkind.).

So at the end of the week, what I will share with you is logs and ash buckets, which is pretty much what it has been about here. Logs coming in, fires to be coaxed alight, and wood ash bucketed out onto the garden (good for soft fruit, garlic, lightening heavy soil, and topping up raised beds).

Chopping block and ash bucket
{The other burning issue here this week has been how to get a Princess to wear a coat out of doors in freezing temperatures, which has taxed my maternal negotiating skills to the utmost. I succeeded in trading coat wearing for an off-games note this morning (genuine indisposition, of course, m'lud) as I felt that the potential withholding of such was a trump card, but if anyone has any hints and tips (apart from buying something brand new from the Barbour shop [who would have thought that Barbour would come back into fashion?]), then I would be most exceedingly obliged to you for sharing them.}

PS The Oxford commas are especially for Angela, and the superfluity of parentheses for Mrs Micawber - the joy of life is in such trifles.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Some handy hints, a little bit of thrift, and a lot of gloop

I know that really washing day should be Monday (the reason being that you can dine off the cold cuts from Sunday as the home fires will be heating up the water and all hands on the laundry, and also that it gives you the week to get things washed, rinsed, dried, ironed and aired, all ready for the weekend), but in the absence of a tumble dryer and the presence of sun and nipping  northeast wind, Thursday it has to be.

Now for some reason, most probably alliterative, Thursdays in Blogland seem quite often to be Thrifty, and to enter into the spirit of things I thought that I would take as my theme washday economy.

It all came about because I wanted to make some more of the world famous Laundry Gloop, and encountered a broken link to the place where I usually find the recipe. So in the public interest (and so that I can find it again), I thought that I would post the recipe here.

And if you don't know about Laundry Gloop, it is a most wonderful thing - a dead cheap, easy to concoct, homemade laundry, well, gloop. I think it probably went under the more dignified name of soap jelly in the past. But you use it instead of laundry liquid or washing powder.

To make Laundry Gloop you need a big saucepan - I use a preserving pan.

The essential ingredients are:

8oz/250g washing soda (also known as soda crystals)

1 bar of cheap white, unscented soap (I use a 150g bar of Boots White Windsor household soap, or supermarket plain own brand white bath soap)

Hot water

Optional ingredients:

8oz/250g borax (available on Amazon/Ebay), or borax substitute. This gives extra stain/smell removing properties.

Your favourite essential oil - I use lavender.


1. Grate the soap using a cheese grater.

2. Meanwhile heat up a couple of litres/4 pints of water, no need to boil.

3. Add grated soap, washing soda and borax (if using) into the warmed water. Stir really well until thoroughly dissolved.

4. Add further hot water to make 4 or 5 litres total - the amount is not crucial, I just fill the preserving pan, and whisk all together. You can add a few drops of essential oil at this point if you want.

5. Pour this liquid into plastic storage containers - large biscuit/cake boxes or plastic lidded buckets are best. It turns to jelly as it cools, so make sure you transfer while still warm (not hot).

To use: put half to one cup in the washing machine DRUM (not the drawer) on top of the washing - I scoop it out of the storage tub into a plastic dosing ball.

To keep whites bright, you can add some Ecover laundry bleach to the machine drawer if you wish. But if you want to be super-thrifty, to keep your whites white don't mix them with any coloureds, and hang them outside to dry where the oxygen in the air will act as a bleaching agent.

And there, with a warm glow of thrift, I will leave you (it's just about the only place in this house where there is a warm glow today, but I always find thrifty thoughts quite uplifting and fortifying).

(If you would like to know more about homemade cleaning materials, I can recommend this book, and for thrift in general, this one is the grandmother of them all!)


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