Monday, 31 December 2012

Creativity is on the move again

So easy to open and they stack
A quick post because today I am working, endeavouring to catch up on some of the tasks that were missed whilst I was ill for so many weeks. Fully recovered now, and joy of joys, I have de-cluttered my workspace that I share with the laundry. I had planned to do this during December so as to make a fresh start come January, and have managed to do so just in time. Having described in the last post how I organise my office workspace (still tidy !!), here's a brief explanation as to my textile/paper-based 'play'; though increasingly this aspect is a part of my work. All my illustrated creative journals are in magazine racks in the lounge, as are for the moment my folders of 'inspiration'. I have numerous 'Project Boxes' (illustrated) which are perfect for the supplies/fabrics associated with each of the small-scale creations in progress - rather a lot at present - and a Project Board on which I pin luggage labels that tell me what is in each box and the nature of what I am producing.

Too many writing commissions during 2011/2012, and my husband's illness (he's fine at present), have meant that whilst I have outlined and sketched many ideas and collected components, the actual projects are awaiting my attention. I have a plan for 2013 and as I work through each box, and outline what I am doing in my journals, they will be posted in greater depth, sometimes with instructions, in my 'Journaling the Journal' blog which has languished for two months whilst creativity was not foremost in my mind; just survival.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Progress at last

Work surface in the office
Back to work today, but first a recollection of such a lovely Christmas; having seen all three children, our two daughters-in-law, our son-in-law and all nine grandchildren - not all at once but in the space of less than a week. So good to catch up on all the news, and eat and sleep. And between all the happiness and jollity, I found time to re-work my office space, the better to reflect my 2013 commissions; everything to hand, plus a chart to detail what is in the various 'seed-tray' storage compartments. The image shows just the work surface behind my desk where I sit typing this. To my left is the window that overlooks the village green, and the window cill piled with art journaling and a small bookcase with my working journals. In front of me is a built-in bookcase with some of my favourite reference books. To my right are tow storage boxes that hold folders of all my published articles over the last 12 years, and on top a tray on which I dump' bills and receipts and things needing attention. And to the left of the pic above of the worksurface is a three-sided space: a table with printer and mac mini, a work-surface with scanner on top of a bookcase with technical reference books, and a storage chest of drawers and boxes of CDs on which are stored thousands of images used in my various magazine features - that was before the time of sending everything online. (Through the gap between bookcase and chest of drawers is my husband's workspace; his computers and printers where he creates large-scale photo-collages from his beautiful images.)

My new 'Task Basket'
To keep track of all this, and of the many notebooks and scraps of paper on which I jot down phrases and word whispers, the start and ending of an article (I always write these first!), or brainwaves and ideas, is complicated. So as of today, I now have a 'Task Basket' which can be carried to any other part of the house when needed (downstairs where I catch up on work-related reading of an evening). It holds the new notebooks I was given fro Christmas, highlight pens for colour-coding, my diary, and my cross-genre sectioned 'bible' which goes everywhere with me and covers creativity as well as work - for everything in my life overlaps. All so exciting. I love the planning and research that goes into everything I do, and once that all starts to take shape for any project, words fall into place. And tomorrow - at last - will come the revamp of my creative space; paints, papers, fabrics, sewing machine and art journals and a whole lot more. 

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas joy and iPad practice

Just playing with a new app on the iPad and hoping that it will work. It's a Christmas flower cropped and enlarged from a textile booklet I made some years ago. The experiment hasn't really worked as I need to trial another app as well.. I think I need to post before I lose the lot.

But merry Christmas to one and all. Ordinarily of course, I would be working on my laptop but decided that was too much like work, and I have had such a marvellous day with our younger son and his wife and the three grandchildren. A perfect family occasion.

With  love to all my blogger and FB friends. 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Eve

Never mind that it is pouring with rain, and I still have to clear the lounge and kitchen after last night's lovely family gathering, write and deliver the local Christmas cards around the village, and wrap small gifts for others in the family. We are snug and warm and dear Raymond is making our second morning mug of hot tea as I sit in bed seeing if I can create a blog post on my iPad (had to finish it on the laptop). It's an abstemious Christmas, but I gifted spare creative supplies to the grandchildren who visited last night - paint, knit, crochet. Wish I had taken a pic of the three of them sitting in the inglenook by the log fire. 

These flowers were on special offer in our local Morrisons (Banbury) - local being ten miles away! and I bought two bunches for less than £3.00. A bit of summer on a cheerless grey day, though the view from the bedroom window is perfectly seasonal: trees all soft browns tinged with the merest hint of burned orange and shades of misty watery silk hanging from a lowering sky.

Merry Christmas everyone. xxx

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Forward planning

The cause of my present dilemma
This shambles shows part of the little area beyond our existing terrace (laid with old flagstones and with table, seats and a pot-belly barbecue, all of which you cannot see) that is presently a dilemma but scheduled to become a delight. The bank is presently covered with ivy, brambles and other weeds, plus squirrel-planted hazels, that have over-run an old stone wall - cannibalised for building elsewhere. There is a large shed we built to the right of the pic, which forms one side of the terrace, and steps up to the top level that leads to a path down the side of the barn. The area is overhung by a dead hawthorn that once shaded the terrace in summer, but the neighbour has poisoned it (hard to poison a hawthorn!) and her portable radio left on all day even when she isn't even in her garden means I can no longer bear to sit there.

And then I had this brainwave: R. needs more shed-space to store the things currently in his workshop that he says shouldn't be there at all. My idea, for his Christmas gift was that I would clear the area and provide the funds to build another small shed; though it would be quite large really as the space is larger than it looks. Which was all in hand until I 'took sick'. And after ten days in bed, I am so lacking in energy that I am not sure that I can face it. So my dilemma is, do I print the image - and two others taken from other angles - and draw the outline of a shed and give it to him on Christmas Day with funds for materials, and then hope that I can cope with at least clearing the area, or do I say nothing and get him something else? After his loving care and attention looking after me, feeding me, bringing me endless mugs of hot coffee and pounds of apples already peeled and sliced, he deserves better from me than chickening out. Even though he would never know. I've always helped with building projects. Right now, I can barely walk downstairs without nearly toppling over.

Monday, 10 December 2012

More wine sketching

Having a bit of fun
Even though it is perhaps not 'the done thing' to comment on one's own work, I have been surprised and delighted at the response I have received to my 'wine-sketching'. This is another experiment. I'm creating quite a portfolio and eventually they will go onto my journaling blog with a few notes on just how simple a method this is for a 'non-artist'. They are truly scribble sketches, done in literally a few minutes whilst suffering ads on TV which I cannot abide.

Just a quick sketch on rough-surfaced watercolour paper, dip fingers into wine (red or white according to subject), then swirl fingers over sketch to create 'atmosphere'. Whilst still wet, add watercolour paint or neocolor soluble crayon, as here. The crayon doesn't take as well as the paint, and the scan seems to eliminate the pale colours; though if you click on the image it appears as it should. The left hand sketch is a 'self-portrait' depicting my blinding head-ache; and the right hand one is my bad-tempered statement as a small child, "Why can't I have pigtails?" - because I always wanted long hair and wasn't allowed it. My hair was actually flaxen then, and is ashen-grey now; which is somehow what I feel. But these are fun to do.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Visiting my past ...

Seeing my grand-daughter - nearest camera - in her school theatre
set me on a trail recalling my past
I was sent this lovely photograph by my younger son; of my grand-daughter, Lucy with two of her friends, in the lighting gallery of their school theatre. I remember being invited to a performance there last winter, and of seeing Lucy on stage in the magnificent spacious theatre with thrust stage and raked auditorium with seating on five sides. Many a professional company would appreciate facilities as good as this school has. And now Lucy has progressed to working the lighting deck with equipment the like of which I never experienced in my long-distant past. It set me reflecting on how dreams can become reality and how important to me in all that I do and have done has been what I learned 'in theatre'.

Age 7 and I was taken to a performance of Peter Pan at the Scala Theatre in wartime London (spent countless hours afterwards leaping off the bed hoping I could fly!) Age 9 and I appeared on the concert platform in Leeds Town Hall listening to the storyteller narrating Hansel & Gretel as my father conducted the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra in Humperdinck's opera. The magic had begun! I progressed to performing (Civic Theatre, Leeds), to writing and directing my own plays, and eventually to producing for the semi-professional Leeds Youth Theatre, age 16. To college in London to further a career in speech and drama, where unlike my fellow students, my interest turned to stage management. The lighting gallery high above the stage had a series of levers attached to a lighting bar; to change settings you ran up and down the gallery twisting or untwisting the levers to activate lights, dimmers etc. Very primitive. I became immersed - Shakespeare at The Old Vic, musicals and reviews, serious plays by upcoming playwrights; wonderful young actors and actresses who are now household names.  The mid-1950s were special and it didn't matter that I could only afford to watch from 'The Gods' in iconic London theatres. I was hooked but eventually decided that more important to me was to impart to young children a similar love of theatre and words and writing.

The influence on me of those young days has been enormous. It taught me perseverance, the importance of presentation (I still write my articles based on the principles of teaching a good lesson!) - and that there always has to be some element of 'make-believe' in all that I do; some magical quality that leaves one wanting more when the curtain falls. Seeing the photo of 14-year old  Lucy in her school theatre took me back. The past has become the present, and as for the future ....

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Rediscovering where our year has gone

A few of my illustrated journals
I woke with an incipient cold, feeling wretched, but as usual with work to do. My dear husband brought me breakfast in bed, and encouraged me to stay there! I did not need much persuading. At which point, he arrived with my laptop and the suggestion that I should 'write the Christmas newsletter' ..... This is usually a four-page A4 account of our year, sent to friends and relations whom we don't see that often. It's illustrated by Raymond's beautiful photographs and printed on the large A3 printer we use for commercial work. I had been stalling this year and did so again this morning. But how fortunate I am, to be able to sit in bed, the sun streaming through the bedroom window, snow on the village green and silence, apart from the sound of the drill as R fixes a much-needed handrail to the stairs.

I open the laptop and experience a 'senior moment'; what to write? It's not been an easy year. So I spend two hours reading my daily journal from cover to cover, making notes. This is not one of my 'art' journals like those shown above, but a private diary that is never seen by anyone else. As I read, and realise that we've actually accomplished quite a lot, I find myself attaching dozens of post-it notes on the pages that reflect potential and existing art projects - which should be rights be in my sketchbooks, but aren't; for if ideas occur whilst I am drinking my morning mug of tea around 6.00am-ish, they go into the 'morning pages' kept by the bed. Message to self: "make more time for creativity" - but it's too soon for 'new year resolutions', and time to start writing the newsletter! 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Bird Berries and four images

My berried Cotoneaster tree
Luckily I took this photo a couple of days ago, before the snow - just a light dusting, that's all, but it brought in the fieldfares that up till now had been feeding on fallen apples in the orchard. And now they are devouring them as fast as they can and if the cold spell continues, the branches will be stripped and bare of berries.

Sealing-wax red against the bright blue sky; an unusual blue here for late Autumn. It reminded me to always have my camera ready, though I cannot walk around the garden with it hanging around my neck and have determined that I will always have my older pocket Sony actually in my pocket. Frequently, by the time I run (walk) indoors to fetch the bigger camera, the light has gone or the sun disappears behind a cloud.

Cropped and enlarged and I don't think it looks any different! Yet I have the facility
on my camera to see parts of the image enlarged and it looks perfect. Lots of
learning to do; my apologies for using a blog post as a sounding board.
And I'm trying some experiments. I've always cropped my photos as needed, even though I 'compose' the shot on the camera's large viewing screen. But I will shortly be trialing new ways of transferring images to fabric, and for that I need real close-ups and do not have the necessary lens. So much cheaper  - if it works - to take the image at high resolution and then select a portion. So for once on this blog, I am posting two images, just to see how the extracted portion looks on screen - I forgot to take the original at high-res so it may not work; it may indeed look awful.

Close up of a close up
And I think it does. Can't achieve what I am looking for. So further cropping and playing around i Photoshop; and what do I get - just a blurry part-close up that has camera shake!) As I knew it would, Should have used a tripod. And this top part of the tree is at roof level.

Enlargement-3 - WELL!
One more trial enlargement - another crop and resizing then Back to School. Maybe see where I started and if you've got this far ... thank you.

Sunday, 2 December 2012


A breath of Spring - and we're not even
through Autumn yet!

There comes a day, or a week, when the beat of your heart seems to falter – not literally, but in the mind. A sort of crossroads in your life, reflections of where you are and where you want to be. Strange that in 75 years this has never happened to me. Until now. Oh, plenty of times when I have said, “if only …” and “I wish …” and did nothing about it. Duty and commitments and the never-ending toil held my hands and led me on, always with a purpose. None of that has altered; I am where I want to be. 

But something is missing. I am under-achieving, cannot even ‘word-whisper’ my longing. The beat of my heart will not go on forever; yet I have much still to do … avenues and roads to explore, and a dearly-beloved to care for. So what is it that I seek? New beginnings … a step along an unknown path, down creative track-ways as yet to discover, ever searching … “and miles to go before I sleep.”

Thursday, 29 November 2012

My heart on the page ...

For reasons that I will not go into now so late at night (or rather so early in the morning, it being 00.13hrs), I will nevertheless post this experimental sketch of 'my heart on the page'.

My heart is fragile tonight, figuratively; and this experimental sketch was created by dipping my fingers in red wine, and then drawing over the page with black in whilst still wet, and flooding a little watercolour over the scribbles. I had in mind the thought of lace, and lavender as I did this. A delight to me, but I have a dilemma to deal with come morning.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Caught in the (helpful) act !

Now I know why the new bread knife is blunt! "The best tool", I was told, "for cutting the insulation that is going between the joists in the refurbished kitchen". Such a job to remove the old insulation that was a sort of fibreboard that had gone rock solid, but partially collapsed when the roof leaked and it fell on the cooker. That was but a part; the rest is in progress, with Raymond making special tools to extract it - fair bit of welding involved. But we shall be so warm and cosy once it is all done, in this the oldest room in the house; and completely watertight when the weather warms so the new roof above can be laid. May seem a bit back to front, but its been such a wet summer.

So how could I reproach the dear man for such hard work? (I can always buy another knife!) Instead, I berated the Bank on his behalf for making a mistake with his account and then writing him (us) a most discourteous and inaccurate letter. No wonder he lay awake all night worrying - not good at age 80-plus.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Hurrah - except for the floods!

The Sor Brook flooding the water meadows by Broughton Castle, Banbury
It has been such a day, after 24 hours - and two inches - of rain, an orchard so squelchy you could drown in mud, and the start of an ART REVIVAL; transforming the roof space (attic under the third floor eaves) into a 'messy' slathering paint and paste studio. This has not been touched for so many years and the clutter has accumulated - anything we did not want to throw away went up the narrow ladder-stairs into it. Too low under the beams and rafters for anyone to stand upright except me .... re-organising is ongoing; thrilling.

And then a phone call from the doctor that my blood pressure which I have been monitoring for weeks is OK; acceptable. Hurrah! I can get on with my life. Also today came the page proofs of the first in my new series in 'Grow it!' magazine; a sort of scrapbook / compendium of inspiration in and out of the garden. I am thrilled with how it is looking; just what I have been visualising all these years. It comes out in a couple of weeks, the January 2013 issue. So all in all, a good day, though the Embroiderer's Guild 'silk bowl' workshop tomorrow has had to be cancelled as the roads are impassible in places. A shame, but more time for the art revival by a body refreshed (even though more rain is forecast). I hope no-one has suffered serious flooding - I'm thinking of you all, wherever you are.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Such a relief ...

I can't think that this post will be a delight to anyone but me!
I'm smiling! Finally after two months of treatment, my damaged front tooth is repaired with a splendid new crown - better than the original tooth! I shall be able to eat again without having to cut EVERYTHING up into miniscule pieces. Thankyou to my excellent dentist (Doctor C) who managed to save me from disaster - it was costly treatment, but the alternative did not bear thinking about. It would have involved hospital treatment and a difficult extraction - I would look even more of a hag with a toothless grin - or a very expensive implant which would have taken months, and which I could never have afforded.

Now all I am awaiting is a call from the medical surgery regarding my 'uplifted' blood pressure which I have been monitoring over the last month (very boring, and I kept forgetting). Hopefully it will be considered to be OK, and I can get on with the things I love doing, and enjoy the calm which is becoming a part of my life after the turmoil of the last 18 months. Serenity.

Saturday, 17 November 2012


Cluttered? This is actually organised and tidy, though it may not look so!
(click on the image if you want to view it at a larger size)
I have spent three days sorting my office, the better to reflect my current and ongoing commissions, and the fact I will go crazy if I cannot fit more creative art into my life. Still not finished (a couple of boxes of notes to be sorted, analysed and filed - mostly word-whispers and text for commissioned article series. The 'office' (once a child's bedroom) still retains the bed made for one of the children by my husband, but now with a work-surface over it. On this are all the trays that hold material for features - gardening, travel, and creative topics, plus boxes of books for reference and review. It hasn't been properly sorted for eighteen months; just been too busy! There are two other 'areas' in this little room (not shown) my desk by the window where I am now, and where I prefer to work (on my laptop) with the windowsill on my left holding art materials and journals going back to the year 2000, a bookcase also built by my husband with more reference books, and then the 'working area' near the door - a 3-sided space with storage chest, instructional books, two printers, scanner, my old laptop and computer on which is stored my library of text and images material.

It's all squirrelled away, and as I can no longer remember where I put down my pen, let alone my camera, or files to which I refer infrequently, I have resorted to labelling all the boxes and trays and making a reference plan. Such a relief (even though this is only a part of the house that needs de-clutter treatment) but my blood-presure is down for the first time in a week - I keep forgetting to check it. Must make tea for Raymond and find the lemon drizzle cake.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Dilemma becomes Delight (almost!)

Just three of my garden journals
It seems far longer than 15 days since I began this blog. Life was meant to become easier when I gave up one of the day jobs; and indeed it has in some respects - sorting the house, and the garden; but oh the dilemma of what to discard and what might still 'come in handy' - and that's just boxes, bags, drawers and trunks full of nigh on 75 years of the written word. The dilemma is not just what to keep, or the unbearable thought of throwing away years of published work, but the fact that I seem to be losing my mind. Cannot recall what I am doing from one minute to the next. It's the brain that needs de-cluttering!

And then 10 days ago I hit on a possible solution. I work simultaneously in far too many journals and sketchbooks on so many topics. I cannot keep track of what is in where, or even where they are around the house - so many rooms. But for some reason I had acquired a new mid-year diary (July 2012 to August 2013) because the cover was so distinctive I thought it could not be lost amongst the piles balanced on chairs. With a page to each day, I thought to jot down brief notes on what I wrote and in which journal. And also list emails that need action (I must get 100 a day), and photographic images taken for specific features. I check each day, and spend one day a week 'catching up' on what hasn't been done. The brain can concentrate again on being creative - and instead of scraps of paper in each room ready for instant thoughts, I now keep pads of post-it notes handy; write what comes into my head (usually words for features upon which I am working) and then post it on the diary page for that day. This may all seem so childish - I've spent the best part of 55 years devising teaching notes, magazine publishing schedules and marketing schemes but none of that has stood me in good stead for the onset of dementia, if that is what faces me now. But this is not a sob story; my solution is not quite 'delight' yet; true progress can be assessed in another fortnight, perhaps. (And before anyone suggests it, I have apps on my phone and programs on my computer/s, but prefer the physical aspects of writing - the pen on the page has always been special to me.)

Monday, 12 November 2012

Yesterday's Delight

Ready for planting
Two days in the garden in bright sunshine, and I reclaimed three of the four potager beds in the 'courtyard' - and area of garden surrounded by wildlife friendly shrubs - and even managed to replant them. It's all part of the restructuring of my life (!) in which I am spending more time on the garden and home and less on non-stop commissions. Last year, this little mini-garden was devoted to food - a wet summer and far too much time away travelling and it looked so sorry for itself. Now the beds are being converted, but I will show you just this one - the cutting patch to provide flowers for the house. This shows all my bulb acquisitions laid out ready to plant. There are tulips and miniature daffs, pink and mauve hycinths, unusual fritillaria and heavenly blue grape-hyacinths. Bulbs run into summer if you plant alliums, and I have some white-starred clusters and blue pmo-poms. Over them (not seen) is a grid of tiny wallflower plants, and once sorted, I will scatter seed of annual flowers such as calendula, cornflower and love-in-a-mist. The seedlings will grow through the bulbs and take over as the bulb foliage dies. A delight to plant and sow, and delight in the making as the shoots emerge and flower.

For those of you who love gardening, why not follow my 'Gardener's Companion' blog which I am engaged to write weekly for seed and plant company Dobies of Devon. Or if you prefer to see articles in print, follow my new monthly series on the 'Productive Garden' which are my 2013 commissions from 'Grow it!' magazine. The January issue comes out in December, and I'm really excited about sharing my various mini-gardens and a whole lot else. I've recently written (2012 features) about turning fruit (wild and garden-grown) into drinkable beverages, reviewed the Malvern Autumn Show, and offered advice on creating garden journals and keeping records (available some time this month) - including making a simple 'seed-keeper'. Check the publisher's website here.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The pity of war .....

"Lest we forget" (Rudyard Kipling)
I could not find the many photos I have taken over the years of poppies blowing wild in the fields of France, on those dreadful battlefields; or in gardens, or even those I have grown here for making photo-transfer flower-image cushions. So I have resorted to these artificial flowers, which I collect to stitch into fabric journals. These may never be stripped apart for they remind me of today, 11th November, when I anticipated our Church bells would ring for a service of remembrance - for all those who give their lives to deliver us from evil, no matter where or when the conflict. 

But they didn't. I remember nevertheless: living in London and going to school during the second world war. My father-in-law fought on the Somme at Beaumont Hamel and was badly injured in 1916; my uncle fought on the Normandy beaches. They never talked about these times. It has been through poetry, and diaries,  that I have discovered the horror of war: the futility, and the pity of it ....

Friday, 9 November 2012

Friday evening reflections

What I love doing and am again  moving towards
I've been somewhat busy this week so my aim of a daily post just did not materialise. And even today, I do not have a photo of what I have been up to, but it is related to the image above (which some readers will have seen elsewhere.) A year ago, I participated in the village craft show in the Church, and created what I called my 'castle turret' - it was certainly cold enough. I displayed my journals and mixed-media art in the de Mohun side chapel; our local medieval knight; so I gave the tiny area a feel of the past by carting down a trailer load of our old oak furniture. I blogged about it here.

But the significance of this event was that it persuaded me to participate in Warwickshire Open Studios in June and July this year - our caravan became my studio. I won't comment on the kind comments other than they have persuaded me to take another leap forward, now that I am stepping back from some of my commercial work. Today, I made that leap: a lovely time at the NEC (National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham) at Hobbycrafts an Art Materials Live. Nothing new in that, in that I go every year. But today was different; first I took a friend with me and second - a eureka moment. Rather than forget what I bought by stashing all away in a cupboard, I will make one integrated piece out of some of the bits and pieces. That will be a challenge. The results will appear on my Journaling blog, though I may well post the 'components' here when I unpack and take a pic in the daylight. That's the dilemma with my various blogs: on which one do I post when all my topics inter-relate?

Monday, 5 November 2012

Keeping village traditions alive

Outside The Norman Knight
Taken this morning outside out village pub - the sun was shining and there was a substantial gathering of horse, people and hounds, plus followers. One of whom found it necessary to accost my husband and ask him what he was doing taking photos, when he has documented life in the village since 1969 - flower shows, children sports, my 'brownie' pack (young version of girl guides), art exhibitions, farming, Millenium festivities, forging and hanging of new church bells, even our daughter's wedding in the Church. This, today, was a  meeting of The Warwickshire Hunt. Plenty of villagers enjoy refreshments and socialising, which regrettably I rarely do, though I emerge from the laptop from time to time.

The hounds are gathering (this outside our kitchen window)
(both images taken by me, and no-one asked me what I was doing!)

I have a busy week but will still try to post everyday and look forward to your joining me in these posts.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Food glorious food!

I haven't forgotten how to cook!
It's a whole week since I began this new blog, and it leads me from thought to thought; curious what takes my fancy each day, and what I choose to blog about. I have posted daily - though yesterday's entry never reached the screen, for I was preparing for a family party, and had not done such a thing for a year at least, ever since my dear husband became ill and subsequently discovered that we had to limit not only what he ate, but the ingredients used to prepare meals. But yesterday was a little different, because he had treated me to a very special leg of lamb - and so huge, we could never have consumed it all ourselves. And so on the spur of the moment I invited our child who just a few miles away with her husband and three children, all of whom enjoy sharing what we offer. All day was spent a) trying to remember how to cook and bake! and b) doing so, and preparing the table, and 'project bags' for the grandchildren who have outgrown childish games.

We enjoyed vegetables without number - roast potatoes, broccoli, leeks, carrots, peas, baked parsnips and sweetcorn. The grandchildren helped serve and clear the table, and kept an eye on the guttering candles. Raymond prepared little starter dishes of mixed salad - two sorts, one with fishy ingredients, the other with with cold meats and cheese; K. made the gravy (she always does), D. lifted the lamb onto a serving platter, little L - not so little now - checked the cutlery. We conversed; so much to talk about; school and out-of-school activities; early morning swimming training in Oxford before the day begins; poor K. tearing off a nail in a regional swimming competition in the army pool in Aldershot because the starting block was faulty - she continued her somewhat bloody race before being taken to A&E, yet still managed a 'pb' (personal best) ... 

And then dessert: fresh fruit, followed by peach tartlets, apple pie made from our own Gascoyne Scarlet apples with raisins, apricots and peach conserve (served with forbidden cream), plus lemon drizzle cake; all of which I fortunately remembered how to make. Sparkling Cava and a rather good bottle of red Tempranillo (the children enjoyed Irish apple juice), then coffee, tea and more chatter by the fire - we never did get around to the pancakes, but the batter sits in the fridge and I will indulge myself tonight, not personally being on any diet! A shame that we awoke this morning to a deluge as rain is somehow again pouring through the hall roof, onto the piano ... R. is up on the roof now, creating a diversion against further ingress - these old, old stone houses.

A longer post this, as it covers two days. And THANKYOU to everyone who has joined my in this first week of 'dilemmas and delights, and has shared comments, both here and on Facebook. I truly appreciate and value your friendship. P.S. Many of the stories to which I refer can be found on my other blogs - please click on any link at the right if you would like to explore further events in my crazy life.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Roses are forever

A guilty treat?
I gave myself a bouquet of roses today; well, two actually as they were on special offer - two bunches for £5.00. Remarkably good value as they last for at least three weeks, and if you 'water-dry' them, the flowers become desiccated and can be cut from the stems when dry and piled into a bowl. If kept away from sunlight and moisture they will last indefinitely, though over time will inevitably gather dust. Here's how to 'water-dry': after purchase, cut the stems with scissors or a sharp knife, and strip away any leaves that would be below the level of water in your jug or vase. Arrange in luke-warm water to which you have added a sachet of cut-flower food. No need to top up, just keep away from sunlight and enjoy the bouquet whilst it is fresh, and subsequently the resulting potpourri. Shop-bought roses have no scent, though if you grow your own musky shrub roses, such as 'Othello', the delicate perfume will last for years.

Buying flowers falls into my dilemma category, for it is an expense that could be avoided; we have much that can be plucked from the garden and brought indoors, even roses still. I always hope that my dear husband will buy me flowers, but he never does. At least he does not complain when I add them to the supermarket trolley - and as he was with me and is apt to comment on some of my purchases, I don't feel too guilty! The bowl on the right of the photo shows at least three previous purchases: deep red, carmine and a glorious apricot. I restrain myself, not buying every week, but intermittently since August. 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

What I love doing ...

Part of a map trail - words, images and fabric
One of the creative activities I love doing is to produce little travel journals with a difference, from old maps. I call them map trails, and, apart from maps, they incorporate sketches, photos, paper napkins, textiles, stitching, hand-written text and embellishments. The image above (click on it to see it at a larger size) was part of an eight-page 'nature journal' I was commissioned to make  for a gardening magazine, about two years ago, I think. I don't seem to have posted this particular map trail before on any of my blogs, though you can see the whole concertina (in an unfinished stage) as the header to one of my others ('Journaling the Journal'). Details of how I set about creating a map trail are given in an earlier post on that blog.I have many map trails of different sorts on the go simultaneously, and many waiting to be finished. It's a question of making time (impossible when travelling AND working) and back home, play is rarely top of the list! I hope the idea inspires you to make you own map trails or nature diary, or whatever.

And "Hello" to my latest followers: it's a pleasure to have you follow my 'Dilemmas & Delights' journey.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Spoiled for choice!

Dilemma, but a bit of fun, nevertheless.
Sitting by the fire a couple of nights ago, I decided I needed to create a few 'personal identification logos', little cartouches that I could pick-and-mix when I want to mention a blog-post on Facebook without using one of the posted images - or in the case of this blog, the only image, for 'Dilemmas & Delights' is a one image per post blog.

So I scribbled a page of faces; I now have a choice of twelve, yet to be coloured, from my pale golden hair of childhood to what I can only describe as bleached straw, though it's never had bleach anywhere near it! So from the delights (for me) of the first three blog posts, this is dilemma day, as to which face is really 'me', in all my moods.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Oranges light the dark table

Bright fruit on the dining-room table
We have bowls of oranges, satsumas and clementines around the house! Not only does the glow of colour light a dull day, they are a necessary part of my husband's diet. Which is a very mundane reason for having them. A shame I find them tedious to peel; so I leave them all for him. But reading through a newly acquired cookbook, I come across an intriguing recipe for marmalade which, it appears, can be made at any time of year as it does not specify the usual 'Seville' sour oranges. I'll have to reduce the quantity and try it. Lovely for breakfast, but alas, dear R. will not be able to enjoy it as fresh fruit is OK, sugary preserves are not. This is a dilemma.

PS It is so lovely to see some more readers have 'joined' my new blog. Thankyou. Now for a day in the garden as the sun is shining and there is much to do.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Aceto di Vino

A cherished delight
It's a crisp sunny morning here in the north Cotswolds, and a long way from Castellina in Chianti in Italy, where we discovered this beautiful 'vinegar jar' in a dusty shop on the main street - somewhere between Florence and Sienna. Why anyone needed a 2ft high ceramic vessel and so much vinegar I could not imagine but my husband reminded me that they preserve a profusion of produce in Summer and Autumn and vinegar, along with olive oil, is a much-needed product. (We make vinegar all too easily, by mistake; our apple wine is apt to become vinegar by default!)

That was all at least fifteen or more years ago and we had rented an apartment in another little village whose name escapes me, flew into Italy from Birmingham and hired the tiniest Fiat imaginable, along with our daughter and son-in-law. But we fell in love with the 'Aceto di Vino' jar; money was exchanged and back it came with us to the apartment. Getting it home was another matter. The car was already full to bursting with ourselves and luggage, so I sat with it between my legs. Raymond then wove a string cradle to carry it onto the aircraft - customs wanted the string removed but he refused - and he sat with it between his legs for the flight home. It now sits in an alcove in the lounge alongside other, much smaller, glass and ceramic artefacts we have collected over the years. Always a delight, and a reminder of one hot summer and a country now too far for us to visit.

P.S. Thankyou to all of you who have looked at my new blog, are following it and have taken the time and trouble to leave me a comment. It is much appreciated.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

A little bit of frivolity

Memories of Italy
Welcome: how wonderful that you are visiting this page, and have found my latest blog (I've lost count, but they all serve different purposes, so here's the story behind this one). From time to time - and particularly as now when I am sitting by the fire with a streaming cold - I forget about 'work' and decide to play. My energy fades, insufficient to write my usual 500-word-plus story-posts and source and manipulate photos. But thoughts are swirling, and I visualise this as a sort of scrapbook; minuscule patchwork 'entries'. Things that catch my fancy and are quick to post; pretty and quirky and even frivolous, stitched together with a thread of seriousness. As for the title; well, it fell from my pen into my notebook, and I liked it, and as both words have always been particularly relevant to my life, that's what I am calling it!

The little 'pocket book' shown above was made to accompany a visit to Italy that never happened, so in it I slipped mementos from former times - and as with everything I do, there is a story behind what you see. The  2ft tall 'Aceto di Vino' jar is one such; I'll take a photo and post that on another occasion.

Thankyou for visting - not much to read right now, but I hope you will come back often; and if you feel able to leave a comment, that would give me so much pleasure.