1. This morning I woke up and went to find a jumper. Pip was snuggled up in his winter Gro-bag and H appeared to be wearing wooly socks. Despite the fact that it is not actually raining right this second, where oh where is the summer of sunshine we dreamed of. Somehow whenever I imagined our summer as a five, it had long hot days spent under the trees at the park and in the splash pool, not curled up at home because it’s too wet even for us fresh air fiends to get out and about.
We’ve been contemplating a trip to Europe this summer for a while, but last week’s weather sealed our fate and we came home from the Library with a massive bag of travel books. So far our plans are, tent plus camping gear plus family in the car, drive to Portsmouth/Poole, ferry to Cherbourg to avoid the chaos at Calais, and then…. Well then we’ve thought of Paris, Normandie, Brittany, Spain and there’s an outside bid from Switzerland. Personally I’m championing anywhere that speaks French because that’s the only European language I can manage more than “I’m English, do you speak English, where is the …?” and if we could make it that far south I would love to take a selfie outside the swimming pool in La Rochelle (which will only make sense if you too learned your French from Tricolour 4).
So as I know there are lots of wonderfully well travelled people who read, where would you go on holiday in Europe for a little summer sun?
2. I’ve just finished my free trial of Mummy Workouts. As a Mama to three little ones, two of whom are breastfed, and one of whom wakes up again during the evening and scream at anyone else, I don’t really get to do much exercise. I also don’t have a huge amount of motivation to do any exercise, I like cake and blogging and knitting and sewing so much more. Actually leaving the house doesn’t work for me because I can’t guarantee that I can get out with any regularity, and while I’ve tried exercise DVDs I just found I got cross at them, firstly because they got boring, and secondly because I am spectacularly inflexible, and rather lanky so I can’t touch my toes, or anywhere near. Anything that says “just put your hands on the floor and….” has a tendency to be growled at.
(picture clearly not me! I could show you me but I just look hot and sweaty and I think you can imagine it)
Mummy Workouts is different; it’s actually a live class. It means that the instructor can see me and hear me if she wants and so when my downward dog in the yoga class was nowhere near downward or dog like, Tina could give me some tips about what sort of shape to make and how to get the right sort of movement, working with what I’ve got. I’m far from perfect but I’m a lot nearer than I was and that makes it all the more fun.
The classes also change. Even if the routine you’re doing is exactly the same, the talk through is always going to be slightly different and that makes a huge difference to my motivation/boredom levels.
It’s Body Workout and Yoga tonight and I’m signing up again, and hopefully my dog will be ever more downward!
3. As well as raiding the library for travel books I’ve also had a little influx of new cookbooks (thank you birthday bunnies), including this one, The CSA Cookbook. I found out about it while hunting for advice on when to harvest garlic, and came across the wonderful Garden Betty blog (which does include advice on garlic!). The cookbook is about making use of veggies that you find at the farmer’s market, grow yourself, or get in your veg box, especially the ones you might not recognise or be quite sure what to do with, and it takes a ‘nose to tail’ approach to veggies (borrowing from the idea that if you’re going to eat meat you should have a use for every part of the animal and not waste it). Did you know that you can slice up the pale green section of a watermelon rind and put it in stir-fry for example? It’s been eye-opening, and yummy, and there’s a very pretty trailer here:
4. Did you know Oliver + S is having a pattern sale? This only makes sense if you like making clothes for small people but if you do – run there now. They have a number of paper patterns at 60% off which makes them spectacularly good value and a small (see H, small) number may be winging their way to me just as soon as I can decide which ones! It finishes on July 31st, hence the running!
5. Kitty and I have a new project. We discovered The Bramble Patch on the way home from an adventure this week and as well as adding to my stash of books, fabric and tiny rulers, she is now the proud owner of five fat quarters of batiks with a plan to turn them into a quilt.
I’m thinking of doing a sort of subway tile pattern. Initially we thought squares but I’d like her to have a go at sewing on the machine (with me in control of the foot and going very slowly) and as I find it hard enough to match points as an adult, I think it could be frustrating to do it as a four year old, hence the change to something with a step out so we’re not trying to match things up.
But am I missing something obvious here, is there an ideal pattern than only takes five fat quarters and is perfect for small sewers? I’m not averse to adding a contrast neutral but while I have more batik in the stash that I’d happily contribute, I’d actually like it to be all Kitty’s fabric because they were her choices.
And they’re rather gorgeous choices too; just look at that lovely orange!
Living Arrows: a little moment of the week to pause, savour and treasure
My default setting when we’re having a tough day is to get out of the house. Get outside, find the sun on your skin, dance in the raindrops, sprint down winding paths under a canopy of seemingly endless pine trees, in short, do whatever you need to do to give everyone that space to breathe, to find their balance and to come back together as a whole five, hopefully minus whatever was making us tetchy in the first place. It’s a gift of space, a chance to sigh and let it all out, and generally it works, even if there are some days when it takes a little while.
On Saturday afternoon, as soon as Pip started stirring at the end of his nap I was calling to the girls to find their shoes and go to the bathroom because we were all going OUT.
“Where Mama?” they asked
OUT in this case was the little woodland nearest to our village. It’s a couple of minutes drive and if they’d build a friendlier footpath it would almost be walking distance from home. And once you’re in, the trees quickly shield you from the lane that runs around it, and if you can imagine the motorway hum to be the sea crashing against a shingle beach, far away in the distance, you could be anywhere in the world. It smells of the fresh green of bracken unfurling, and the warmth of pine needles underfoot.
And so we walked, well four of us walked and Pip snuggled up in the sling.
We jumped off tree stumps, squelched around muddy puddles, went to explore a lovely pine tree that turned out to be a prickly dead end, and when even that didn’t seem to be working and a sad and sulky little face declared that she never wanted to come here ever ever again, we ran. Races from tree to tree, and then just full pelt as fast as a little girl and a Mama with a hulking great big eleven month old in a sling can manage. And finally, a smile.
A smile that broadened as we rounded the corner and came upon a field of gold, glimmering in the late afternoon sunshine. We stopped, just drinking in that view, and then as the others caught up, sat on the edge of the field to talk about combine harvesters, straw bales, and the few heads of wheat that had escaped the combine.
As we made our way back to the car H and I knew that we were late for supper, and that we’d stayed out at least an hour longer than we intended, but it didn’t matter, OUT was where we had all needed to be.
H set off back to the car to drop off our library bag and I turned to the two small daughters stood beside me; “Park while we wait for Daddy?”
It was always going to be a rhetorical question.
There’s a lovely little green space just in front of our library. It’s where they hold mini festivals and fun fairs and farmers markets, but most of the time it’s just grass and tall trees. Trees of the perfect girth to hide behind in fact. So that’s what we did. First the girls hid and then Pip and I snuck behind a tree, peeped out one side to lure the girls over and then started circling the tree at a hasty trot, never quite catching up and never quite being caught until the giggles got too much for Kitty and she stopped to catch her breath and be scooped up in a hug.
She and Elma ran off to hide again, this time behind a skinny tree that could only cover Kitty so Elma stood facing the tree, in clear view, with her back to me, perfectly disguised as a small piece of red and white flowery bark on the trunk of the tree behind her.
We took turns again and again and again until H came back, and then he joined in too and I snuck my phone out to capture just a little bit of our fun.
And it struck me how it felt like it had been a while since we did something silly and impromptu and just played hide and seek. We’ve been on lots of adventures recently and while they’re a lot of fun, they have a slightly different vibe about them. Not better, or worse, just different. And then when we’re at home I quite often spend my time with the girls or Pip doing a project sort of a thing; baking or playing ice cream shop or Duplo or something, not to mention the cooking and washing up and laundry and hoovering and making sure that we’re all clean, eating something vaguely appropriate, and sleeping somewhere cosy.
I think the silly play is the one that for me slips through the gaps the fastest. Mainly because if you say “right kids, now we’re going to do something spontaneous and silly” it’s just not going to happen.
But I think it’s been a little nudge to be more conscious that in these summer days, with all the plans and adventures, we also need to balance it out with time to simply be, and not be batting around trying to fix the house and do a hundred and one other things at once.
And if all else fails, there’s always more hide and seek.
Linking up with Jodi with a portrait of each of my children once every week for 2015.
Kitty: I’m cheating this week and I’m utterly unapologetic about it because I just couldn’t decide between your two photos. The first was taken on your very last morning at nursery, and is a reminder that however much you are taller than your friends (and you are quite a lot taller than all of them after your last growth spurt) you are still very little, and always my little girl. And the second, just look at you. Captured mid air jumping onto the zip wire; tall strong and fearless. They’re both you; different sides of the same wonderful girl.
(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/100, f/5, ISO 200 and 1/200, 7/7.1, ISO 100)
Elma: This week you had a little sip of the end of Daddy’s glass of ginger beer (the non alcoholic variety) and you loved it. You also then talked solidly for the next half an hour and it was wonderful, you were colouring in and it was a complete stream of consciousness, “shall I have the blue one, oh no this is the black one and then I’m going to do the pink bit and uh oh where has the pink gone, oh there it is, now I’m doing the blue. Mummy! did you know I’m doing the blue?”
(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/100, f/5 , ISO 100)
Pip: Oh what can I say, except that this might be my favourite photo of you yet. It was taken while we were redoing the netting on the strawberry bed and you just kept climbing straight in. It’s the mud everywhere, the cheeky smile, and the fact that you have found a strawberry to munch, even if it’s coming with a side of soil. Oh little sweetheart we do love you!
(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/200, f/4.5, ISO 100)
Do you ever wake up in the morning just itching to try something out? No, just me then. I’ve been getting increasingly curious about foundation paper piecing for making quilt blocks, possibly because Pinterest keeps suggesting I might like it (you are wise all seeing Pinterest Cookie Monster, and just a little scary with your accuracy), and possibly because it’s cool. the idea that you sew from the back, without having to cut precisely and still end up with very beautiful pointy points was both baffling and intriguing. Which meant there was really only one thing to do; have a go.
And so this week, I made a mini quilt. Just because.
After many many happy moments pottering around Pinterest I found the free patterns for foundation piecing on Piecemeal Quilts including a gorgeous set of heart blocks, and my heart was sold. They’re all lovely blocks and one day it would be so much fun to make a row quilt that has a row of hearts all with the same fabric but in different patterns. But I’m getting ahead of myself, back to foundation piecing.
The other really great resource I found was You Tube. I watched a few tutorials but the method and video I liked the best was this one from Connecting Threads:
I don’t have any velum as far as I know so I printed out the pattern and traced it onto greaseproof paper and that worked fine. I don’t have an add a quarter ruler either so I just eyeballed it when trimming the seams down, though I can see why it would be so handy – I must remember to tell Father Christmas about them.
I did a little stash diving for some scraps and then I was off, and it turns out, foundation piecing is really really easy.
It is a little big bizarre sewing from the back and there were a couple of times when I got my right and left muddled up and sewed the wrong piece first but greaseproof paper will hold up to some very gentle seam ripping and all was well in the end.
And then with nice sharp pointy points in all directions, I gently pulled off the backing paper, and squared the block up to 6 inches. It was at that point that I realised that if I wanted to add a border I probably should have done it when the paper was still attached to ensure that I didn’t loose any of the points, but you live and learn. Next time I’ll remember.
To turn it into a mini quilt I sandwiched a bit of left over wadding with a square pinched from the corner of a fat quarter and filled the heart in with some free motion quilted hearts for the practice. Clearly I need a bit more practice but that’s just a good excuse to make more quilts.
The binding is leftover from my very first quilt, I misread the instructions on how much to make and had metres and metres more than I needed so it’s nice to put it to good use after 7 years of sitting in the scraps pile.
And I love the result. I managed not to chop the points off the heart when putting the binding off which is nothing short of miraculous and for a few scraps and an afternoon’s work it’s not bad. As might be suggested by the fact that every time I tried to put it down to take a photo, it kept mysteriously disappearing!
This week I’ve also been knitting in all sorts of odd moments and car journeys. Pip’s jumper is going to be Livingstone in a beautiful blue grey baby cashmerino appropriately called Mist and as I’ve already got nearly to the underarms and then had to pull it all back out because I’d got the pattern spacing slightly wrong, it’s probably a good job I’ve started now. In truth the mistake I made was consistent and not very obvious so I could quite easily have left it, but the more I thought about it the more it niggled and I knew I’d always look at it and think, those seagulls should be further apart.
I can’t help it, when it comes to knitting I have perfectionist tendencies.
The flock of seagulls is growing again though and we still have more than a month so I’m quite confident that I’ll be finished in time, and hopefully I’ll have a bit of time to get started on something for Kitty before September looms.
Fingers crossed, and needles.
Over the last few weeks we’ve started to spend more and more of our time in the studio. It’s partly the longer evenings and more than partly the fact that for the first time in a while we’ve got it tidy enough for both of us to use it at once. It’s been tidy enough for one at a time since our big tidy up and reshuffle but there’s been a little pile of bags and boxes of odds and ends that have mysteriously shunted back and forth until we both sat down one day and found that at least half of the contents were small odd socks. It’s not quite tidy enough for a full studio tour, there are still some bits and bobs that I want to organise, but everything is more or less in its place and it’s lovely to have all my fabric and most of my yarn downstairs so I don’t have to wait for Pip to wake up to go stash diving.
But then the storm came. We were sat in there one afternoon, Kitty still at nursery, Elma excitedly colouring in at H’s desk, Pip having a rare sleep upstairs in his cot and H working on a piece from his trip to Paris in the spring and me playing with fabric scraps to put together a mini quilt, and the sky grew dark and the raindrops began to fall.
They thudded on the roof, and streamed down the windows, and splatted on the patio. And then we realised that the watery noises were just that bit closer to hand. Rain was trickling and possibly gushing down the inside of the wall, puddling on the shelves where H keeps tubs of paint tubes and dripping onto his desk.
We mopped up the best we could, put buckets under the leaks and willed the storm to pass. I’m really really hoping that the roofing company will be able to fix it because I love having a studio. It’s so nice to have a little space where we can lay out all of the things that the children definitely shouldn’t touch, and it’s such a happy sunny room to be in.
Although disloyal as it sounds, it’s not quite my dream studio. I’s just not quite big enough, but I have a day dream of a studio of the future. In the field behind our house there’s a little barn sort of building. Our house, and the rest of the houses in our road are built on the site of what was the big house to our village. Our neighbours on one side remember the old house and the day it was knocked down and there are still traces of it in the rest of the village, the stable block and coach house have been converted into cottages but you can see the shape of the archway, and I wonder whether this little barn was also part of the house. Not a very exciting part, but maybe a toolshed or a bicycle shed or even just a woodshed.
More recently I think it was used as someone’s garage but now it’s surrounded by brambles and scrub and starting to sag a little at the corners. It’s so pretty though, made out of gorgeous red brick and it would be perfect as a studio. It’s not quite tall enough to have two floors, when we look out of our bedroom windows we’re looking down on it and it’s uphill from us, so we’d open it up to the rafters, put skylight windows in the sloping roof to flood it with a steady light, and Itzala blinds for the really sunny days to stop it getting too hot, and maybe take out some of the wall on the side nearest the house and put plate glass in instead. Then H would have room for all the enormous canvases he can dream of and his easel would never get near touching the roof.
The rest of the inside walls we’d paint a beautiful pearly white so that I could take indoor photos without having to put the ISO through the roof, and we’d have plenty of space to hang some of H’s favourite canvases and maybe even some of my embroideries could make it back onto the walls.
We’d have to lay it out with a mucky section for art, and then we can all come in and throw paint around with abandon, and I can get my long neglected screen printing set out again and give that a whirl, or do yarn dyeing even on rainy days. We’d have to put plumbing in so that we could have a big sink for washing painty stuff and a big sink for washing us because the other half would be the clean section, set up for H to draw and with all of my fabric and yarn and books and needles and hooks and patterns and magazines and the sewing machine.
I’d have a comfy sofa for curling up on to knit or crochet or do a little hand sewing, a cutting table that’s right up at my height and a sewing machine table that’s big enough for both my sewing machine and one of the two overlockers which I have in the house, which I would also have learnt how to use by that point. And there’d be a spot for my spinning wheel with a chair at just the right height and all my fibre to hand, and is it starting to seem like I have too many hobbies?
And I’d still have my desk and my birthday lights and all the postcards and badges and other bits of knick-knackery that I have at the moment that feel happy and inspired. Oh and an iron and ironing board would be out there too, or maybe an ironing table, and on the back wall I’d make a big design wall for my quilts in progress out of a big bit of foamcore covered in batting.
If we ever did try to buy it and make it our it would give us more garden at the back of the house and stop it being such a strange shape so the view from the windows would look out on a garden heaving with flowers and we’d always have enough for a little vase on the table.
What else do we need? I think a cake tin goes without saying for me and I rather like H’s idea of a small fridge for beer/cider on a balmy night. The way it’s all coming together I think we’d practically live out there.
I know I am entering into the realms of fantasy, but indulge me and come and play. If you had a barn in your garden to turn into a studio, what would you put in it?
With thanks to VELUX for sponsoring this post. If you are interested in collaborating on a post, please take a look at my Work With Me page
This week in the garden I am very much hoping that things falling off or being cut off is not fatal.
The falling off was the courgette flowers. I’ve got two courgette plants, one hasn’t flowered yet, but the other had two nice sunshine yellow flowers on, and I was starting to wonder whether this time I might actually manage to grow a courgette or two. But open recent inspection, both flowers had sort of shrivelled up a bit and when I gently touched one it fell off, shortly followed by the other one who clearly just wanted to drive the point home. There aren’t any courgettes following behind them, or even any hint of a courgette, just a nice green stem that looks as though it’s been chopped. There are still signs of flowers to come on both plants so I’m hoping that these were a sort of pre-courgette flower that are absolutely designed to fall off, and the real ones, and the veggies themselves, will come later in the year. Is that even a possibility?
The cutting off I’m slightly less worried about, because I was following instructions. My lovely friend Mandy came over this week to put the world to rights with me and cherish her goddaughter (Kitty) and gave me a beautiful Ben Tirran blackcurrant bush. I love love love blackcurrants but I’ve only got as far as strawberries in the soft fruit growing department so this was the perfect present. It smelled amazing too; just like tomatoes plants smell tomatoey before the fruit comes, so do blackcurrant bushes.
Well, did blackcurrant bushes in this case.
We followed the planting instructions to the letter, including a nice long soak in a bucket of water and lots of water afterwards, and then under pruning it said “after planting, prune all stems back to 5cm above the ground.” What! really. You want me to chop this beautiful blackcurrant bush down to the ground. I know all the experience gardeners will tell me it’s absolutely right and it’s to help the bush get well established and so it doesn’t matter if not all the roots like the transplant, but goodness me does it feel all wrong.
We read, reread and read again, and finally, I took the secateurs to it. It’s a leap of gardening faith if every I made one, more so than planting seeds, because with seeds you do at least feel like you’re doing things in the right order, Oats and Beans and Barley Grow style.
And how is the rest of it doing? Well the beans are getting used to their new home. I’m reliably informed that they will grow just a bit taller than the canes I’ve allowed, bit being the understatement of the century but we’ll cross that bridge as and when we come to it. I’m still not completely confident in my ability to not kill them somehow, though I do have my first little bean flower and the promise of more to come.
The strawberries in Patch B are turning red and being scooped off the plants by eager little fingers (and slightly larger fingers) whenever possible. We’re getting a lovely crop off them and we’ve still plenty more ripening.
And over on the other side I’ve weeded out the garlic bed with a thought to planting a quick summer crop, and we’re picking onions as and when we need them. Strawberry Patch A acquired an ants nest, or rather I lifted a strawberry circle and discovered they’d moved in a while ago so the semolina is, according to the internet, a way to discourage them from eating the last few strawberries. I may also be feeding the slugs but so far no slugs spotted and the remaining strawberries are unmolested.
And while all this goes on, the back of my mind is planning next year. I’m thinking of either moving Strawberry Patch A or replacing it; I read somewhere this week that I can’t find anymore that you shouldn’t grow strawberries in the same spot year after year because it attracts things that eat your strawberries, I don’t know how true that is, but I am thinking of at least uniting the strawberries and having one fruit bed and one veg bed. And if we get away without setting up another bed this autumn I shall be very very surprised!
The Pocket Handkerchief Garden so far:
Today is Kitty’s last day at nursery. She talks about “when it’s my last day”, usually in the context of sweeties, and we’ve taken her to buy a cake to share with her friends (a Frozen one, naturally) and we’ve made a present for her nursery teachers, but I don’t think it’s really sunk in. For her or for me.
Almost three years ago my little just two year old walked through the front door for the first time, dressed in blue flowery dungarees and with her hair up in bunches. She’d been at another nursery since she was 9 months old but for various reasons we decided to move her and it was the best decision we’d ever made. She walked in, saw the slide in the corner of the room, sat down to eat a biscuit for her morning snack and she loved it.
And that’s how it’s been for the last three years. I’m the Mama with the daughter wailing that she doesn’t want to come home, who was most decidedly told off when she arrived at the end of tea one day (about half an hour early) because it meant she’d miss hearing more about tractors, who wakes up at the weekend with “is it my nursery day today?”
Childcare is such a touchy subject sometimes, there are enough studies that seem to out and out declare to the world that even a minute being cared for by someone other than your parents with damage you for life, make you institutionalised and barely able to even recognise your parents, and if you look for them, you’ll find more than enough people happy to trot out the “why did you have children if you didn’t want to look after them” line to any working mum (why is it always to the working mum not the dad?)
Perhaps one of us could have stayed home from when Kitty arrived, had our circumstances been different it would have been lovely, but it wouldn’t have been the best overall decision for our family, both our at the time only daughter, and the brother and sister that were still to come. Instead, Kitty, and, for a while, Elma, watched me head off to work three days a week, or more accurately, didn’t usually watch me because they were too busy tucking into their toast. And the result is that we’re in the position we find ourselves today; H and I both kept a link to our careers and that meant we had options when it came to making the best choice for Kitty while she is at school.
And while of course I missed them when I was at work, and there are always days in any job where you think “no, it’s not worth it, I’m going to quit, I miss this kids and this is utter rubbish”, I have never regretted the girls being in nursery.
Because the biggest impression I have of nursery is that Kitty is loved, and so are all her friends. She draws pictures for her key workers, pictures of adventures that they’re going to go on together, and once provided the illustrations to a mathematical working out of how tall a giant would have to be to step from nursery to Kilimanjaro in one stride (the answer – head out in space, ducking the ISS!).
She has made friends among the children and friends in the staff and I think she’s really going to miss them all, as only one friend moves over to school with her in the autumn, and her graduation party was a lovely morning spent with the children she’s grown up with and the parents who have become our friends.
Through nursery both Kitty and Elma have done things that economies of scale mean I could never manage at home. They’ve both painted sheets of paper for their noticeboards by walking all over in painty wellies, been part of a Chinese New Year dragon, met Warwick the Bear (the local road safety mascot), sat in a Fire Engine and a Police Car, played lollipop lady in the back garden, watched eggs hatch each spring (all the parents love that bit too), and Kitty went on her very first school trip to the local wildlife park.
But it’s in the everyday sort of moments that you see the children at their most content; when you arrive at home time and peek a head around the door to find them all playing different games, Kitty so in her imagined world that it takes a few minutes before she notices me and leaps out of playing Mummy or Baby to come for a giant hug.
We have been so lucky with our nursery, and yes that includes luck that such a great nursery exists near where we live and that our income allows us to pay for it. Good childcare is, and should be, expensive, because if you pay peanuts you will get monkeys (though don’t get me started on the fact that I could get tax relief for having someone drive me to work but not for a nanny/childcare), but it isn’t impossible to provide. [Edited to add clarity: I think childcare requires investment, who should be paying for it is a different question]
And when it’s good, the children thrive. It isn’t the same as being at home, but it’s not necessarily better, or worse, just different, and in this case, awesome with it.
So think happy thoughts for me this afternoon when we leave for the last time, because we’re leaving behind a place that has been such a huge part of the girls’ childhood and our parenting adventure so far, and I think I’m going to miss it too, especially the baby chicks.
Space for the Butterflies is…
Subscribe to Space for the Butterflies via Email