Thursday, 29 November 2012

A Touch of Frost; A Little Bit of Snow

I am absolutely sick of cleaning.  I hate it.  I have been mucking out bedrooms, scrubbing damp walls and sucking up cobwebs for three days solid.  I have had enough.  I need something beautiful in my life.  As usual, mother nature came to the rescue..

This morning when I opened the blinds in the kitchen, while feeding the dogs and putting the kettle on to boil, the promise of a beautiful day met my eyes.  It was only a promise as the sun was casting a pale orange glow behind the mountains and everything was in silhouette, but there were no clouds, no wind and no rain.

As the sun climbed a tiny bit higher in the sky, she revealed a very light frost had touched the countryside in the night.  H2 was thrilled to find it crunched when he walked over grass on the way to school.  Only a bit, but it crunched!

I took the dogs into the field and enjoyed the silence as they sniffed up all the night scents; nose to the ground, tails held high, making tracks in the white grass.  It may seem a bit over the top to get so excited about such a small thing as a light frost, but we don't get frost that much here.  In fact when we arrived on the island eight years ago, local children had hardly ever seen frost or snow.  It's a bit different now!  And there was snow!  Not here, not yet, but it's on the mountains.  Look!

 This is Snowdon an hour ago.  We can certainly feel the chill coming off it!

And it's so pretty!  I love snow.  I love being wrapped up in chunky warm scarves and gloves, I love tramping through it on country walks and best of all, I love coming home to a warm house and a mug of steaming hot chocolate, marshmallows and whipped cream.  Oh, and lighting a candle or two to add to the cosy feeling.  I made these yesterday.

Lovely aren't they?  The smell of pure beeswax is so warm and natural, but Pea doesn't like it.  She is no judge of beauty in my opinion anyway.  In the summer I bought a gorgeous floral scented pot- pourri that filled the house with a subtle but delightful smell of flowers and new blossoms.  Pea came home and said 'God what's that stink?  Have you de-flead the dog?'  Charming.

I am busy stocking up on wax and chocolate at the moment, ready for my melting epic next week.  After almost four days of house work, and more to come tomorrow, I think I deserve to get back to craft.  I am a bent, wizened shadow of my former self - but I have a nice clean cottage.  Was it worth it?  Hmmm...No.  Puppy has spent his morning shredding a tennis ball on the dining room carpet, chewing Lego and digging a hole in the flower bed outside the back door.  I hope nobody comes to visit in the dark, they may take a wrong turn and fall in.

Keep cosy and thank you for reading. xxx

Monday, 26 November 2012

Hoovering the Ceiling.

The wind and rain are getting worse.  It began yesterday evening and has continued all night.  It woke us in the early hours and kept us awake until getting up time.  And there is more on its way.  Rug up, eat soup and stay in.

As I said yesterday, this is my week for cleaning the cottage in preparation for the enormous quantity of tinsel, paper and lights that will be festooned around the rooms by this time next week.  I won't stand a chance of cleaning after then, until they all come down in January.  The thoughts of all the glow and glitter sends a little thrill of joy through me.  Something to cheer these dank days of sludge grey sky and sea, and warm our damp-touched bones and chilled fingers and toes.

I didn't have time to make candles over the weekend, and I really must do, as we have none.  A candle-maker with no candles?  Hmm, need to rectify that, pronto.  I have beeswax sheets at the ready, for hand-rolled candles - lovely and relaxing to do - but need to order some more wax for the floating candles.  I simply must have lots of those around over the Christmas period! I love them.  But before any of that can happen, I do need to clean.

I hoover the ceiling.  Yes I know, it's a bit odd, but there is a reason.  Spiders.  Or more accurately, cobwebs.  Hundreds of them.  When Pea was nine, she came up with a saying; Spiders only live in Happy Homes.  Therefore our home must be incredibly happy as all the spiders on the island want to live here!  I do not advocate killing spiders at all - ever.  So I had to be really careful that I didn't accidentally suck up any little bodies; that would be tragic.  There were an awful lot of cobwebs though and rather a lot of beams to clean.

And the dogs just ignore it all and play.

Half and hour of neck strain and slight dizziness and it was done.  I now have nice clean beams.  Yippee!  We can smother them in paper-chains and all manner of tasteless items in the knowledge that at least it was clean when they went up.  It will probably look like a haunted house by the New Year.

OK, I'm starting to get a bit excited now!  I have finished my Christmas shopping, or at least ordered the last of it from Amazon, and have all the lovely, fun bits to do.  I would like to have a go at making chocolates and toffee this year.  I bought a gorgeous book in the summer; The Homemade Sweetshop by Claire Ptak.  I haven't made anything from it yet, so now is the perfect time to have a go.  I will start with the chocolate as it looks the easiest and we all love chocolate in this house.  Even if it is a total disaster, it will get eaten.  I can see the next few weeks will go by in a blur of melted chocolate and wax, as the sweet and candle making goes into overdrive.  I will emerge from the twilight zone that is the kitchen on December 24th, pale, emaciated and blinking into the sunlight. 

Told you.  It is bitterly cold outside, the rain is relentless, the fields opposite me are half under water already.  I need...something...

That will do it.  Love in a mug.

Keep warm, dry and cheerful. xxx

Sunday, 25 November 2012

My Island In The Sun

After days and days of torrential rain, howling gales and hail, the sun came out to play and all was bathed in soft light.  We went in the field without coats, scarves and hats, we were relaxed instead of fighting against the wind.  It could have been Spring.

It isn't Spring though, it is in fact almost December.  A month today will be Christmas Day.  All the presents will have been opened, the dinner eaten and a whole giant tin of Quality Street devoured - probably by me.  It is after all, just one day and it goes by very quickly, so we need to enjoy the next four weeks as much as possible.  For me this is the best bit anyway!  By the end of this week I aim to have finished my Christmas shopping and cleaned the cottage ready for putting the decorations up.

But for now I have bunting to finish.

The hand sewing went really well to be honest and confirmed my belief that hand-sewing is easier than machine.  I used yellow thread on all the flags and made a feature of the stitches, rather than trying to hide them.  If you can sew neat, even stitches in a straight line, why not?  I think if you are going to go to the effort of making something, don't try to make it look like you've bought it from a shop.  Be proud of your creations.  I'm also a fan of raw edges.  It creates a softer look and if the edges fray a little, that only adds to the charm.  I am a little frayed round the edges and so is my life.

So far, so good.  And there it ended.  The gorgeous aqua ribbon I chose for the top wasn't long enough but I found another, almost exactly the same.  But I didn't have a thread to match.  I tried different shades but they all looked wrong and my tiny stitches were not nearly tiny or neat enough.  Panic started to rise in my chest.  I needed to finish this today, now.  I had to cook dinner, wash uniforms, walk dogs, wash dishes... OK, calm down, it will be fine.  I needed inspiration and fast.  I sat staring at the little pile of flags, the winter sunlight catching the pins that secured the ribbon.  I wished I could leave the pins in, they looked so pretty and bought it all to life.

That was it!  Not to leave the pins in obviously, but to replace them with glass beads.  Yay!

Serendipity is a wonderful thing!

It took a while to sew all the beads on but I think it was time well spent and I managed to cook the dinner and hang the washing out in between.  I know this all looks very pink, and wasn't supposed to be (!) but there is a lot of yellow and aqua in there too. Honest!

Sewing and dinner over, it was walk time!  Oh joy. How my family love country walks. Not. Well Pea does and H1 is OK, providing we don't go too far (ie. more than six yards from the house), but H2 is a nightmare. For a start, he loves sticks and he loves waving sticks about, usually while I am walking behind him.  Bit dodgy, so I have to keep reminding him not to wave them about near other people, dogs, passing sheep etc.  Then he starts to lag behind, saying his legs ache.  For crying out loud, we've only been out for five minutes.  It is a very windey lane and not easy to see if tractors or cars are coming, so I spend a lot of time craning my neck to hurry him along and keep up with us.  For some reason he seems to resent this and becomes crabby and unresponsive.

I am now beginning to wish we had never bothered and long to be home with a cup of tea.  Pea compensates by being extra chirpy and H1 shouts at H2, to stop being a 'smeg head', which of course has the opposite effect to the one desired.  If anyone ever heard us (and it wouldn't be difficult) they would think I have an unruly tribe and must be a completely useless mother who has no control over her brood.  They wouldn't be far wrong.

Anyway, there comes a time when I have to admit defeat and agree to going home.  An amazing transformation comes over H2 at this point.  His leg pain miraculously clears up and he heads for home at a cracking pace.  I am then overcome with worry for his safety due to the windey lane and increase my pace in a vain attempt to keep up with him.  The dogs then decide they are going to add to the mix and refuse to get onto the verge when a car tries to pass.  I have now had as much as I can take and shove a middle-aged Labrador into the bank with my knee and hoist Puppy on top.  I don't know whether to give the driver a withering look as he drives by with a cheery wave and a laugh (at my expense), or laugh with him, as if this is all such fun.

That's that over for another week.  Now for that tea.

Have a lovely evening and thank you for reading. xxx

Friday, 23 November 2012

Cry Baby Bunting

And I have been very close to it this morning, I can tell you.  All was going beautifully.  Hail hammering down outside, the dogs and I warm and cosy in our cottage, sewing machine humming efficiently away, and then...

For some reason known only to my vintage Jones sewing machine, it began to produce loopy stitches.  Now why would it do that?  It had been sewing lovely neat, even stitches all morning, and then it didn't.  The annoying thing is that I have been working on the bunting for my sister-in-law's friend's baby girl and she and I want it to be gorgeous - with no horrible stitches.  I had already sewn five of the sixteen flags, and try as I might, I could not work out what had gone wrong.  I fiddled with the tension knob thingy, but to no avail.  Oh blow it, I would have to undo them and finish it by hand.  Long and laborious it may be, but at least I will get it finished.

So that is what I spent the next five hours doing.  OK, it was 20 minutes, but it felt like five hours. Grrrr!

Thank goodness for quick-unpicks!  I now have tiny bits of yellow thread clinging to me and the carpet.  Sigh.

Thankfully I did manage to finish the hearts this week and they are all sitting prettily in their box on a bed of red tissue paper, ready for their new owners.

It is a small miracle that I actually manage to get anything done at all with this little...person 'helping' me.

Look at that face - pure mischief.  That was nice yarn too.  But when H1 comes home he is the cutest little puppy imaginable, full of sweetness and light.  Huh.

I think I am in need of some down time.  Sounds daft I know, when I'm at home all day and I am basically my own boss.  Just a pity my 'employees' are mad dogs - no really, they are.  Hopefully over the weekend we will have some dry weather and we can get out in the countryside a bit.  I expect the boys will kick up a fuss about this, but they can stay at home if they want and Pea and I will go.

So after dinner, I will be hand sewing the bunting and then back to candle making I think.  It's the time of year when we want a little cheer and comfort and the scent of something delicious wafting through the house.  I will let you know if I get chance to do any over the weekend!

Have a lovely day and thank you for reading. xxx

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Counting My Blessings

My head is spinning!  I'm not ill, nor is it because the wind and rain are getting me down, no it is the sheer volume of noise that 2 teenagers and a 10 year old can create, whilst supposedly getting ready for school in the mornings.

And the questions!  H2 has an almost constant monologue going on about Bin Weevils, Pokemon and his school Christmas play.  He occasionally breaks it up by asking me a question disguised in a hug.

H2: 'Guess how many Bin Weevils there are?'
Me: 'Erm...Two?'
H2: 'No! Try again!'
Me (beginning to feel the pressure): 'A million?'
Sigh from H2: 'You're not really into this, are you?'
Me: 'Sorry, no.  It's a bit early for me, can we try again later?'
H2: 'OK! Will you test me on my 8 times table?'

Oh God.  Eight times tables are bad enough in English, but as the children all go to Welsh speaking schools, the tables are in Welsh too!  I can do them with a bit of brain strain, but not at 7.15 in the morning.  I am a little delicate at that time.  I like to sit quietly with a cup of tea, the lights down low, slowly coming round to the day, in a gentle manner.

I had hoped to have 10 minutes to finish my dream off.  It was about a handsome farmer in a lambing shed and was just getting to a good bit, when the alarm went off.  I wanted to know what happened next.  No chance of that now, it's full-steam ahead into the day.

At 8am, Pea and H1 left to catch the school bus.  H2 managed to keep the noise levels up all by himself, aided and abetted by two willing dogs.  Half an hour later, I dragged them all down the lane to school.  Within moments it started to spit with rain.  Never mind, we are hardy country types and a bit of rain never hurt anybody.

Thankfully I managed to deposit H2 at school before it really came down.  The wind whipped up and drove rain at us from all directions.  Once I opened our gate, the dogs shot up the path and stood shivering by the back door.  I was so wet my skirt was sticking to my legs and water ran down my face.  On the positive side, I did have a nice healthy glow!

The worst thing about this weather is the mud.  It gets everywhere and is almost impossible to keep out of the cottage.  I am a one-woman army battling against a tidal-wave of mud, dog hair, toys, chewed socks and piles of books and magazines on every surface.  I love our cottage so much and it looked so pretty and clean in the spring sunshine when we moved in.  Now it resembles a midden that only I can see.

But one day I will be a very old lady, living alone in a spotlessly clean and silent house - and I will be bored senseless.  I may be slowly drowning in a sea of mess and noise, but it is our home and I have created it.  And that is something to be proud of.

Now if I can just get rid of the smell of warm, wet dog...

Thankfully I have beautiful fabrics to look at as a diversion.

These are for the bunting I will be making for my sis-in-law's friend's baby.  She said they shouldn't be too pink.

Bit of yellow, maybe?

And what about some aqua ribbon?  Not so pink now!

I am a bit of a pink freak to be honest, especially the really fresh, happy kind of pink, so I have a bit of difficulty when people warn me against too much of it.  Hopefully the recipient will be happy with this combo and a little baby girl will smile when she sees it from her cot.

Have a lovely day and thank you for dropping by. xxx

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Bells! The Bells!

What a ghastly day!  The wind has been howling round the cottage since yesterday evening.
It hits the walls and chimney pots with a tremendous bang; it moans through the keyholes; it barges it's way under the eaves and rattles the roof slates; the rain hits the windows like a thousand sea-washed pebbles.

Outside, the world is dark and cold.  The animals huddle close to the hedgerows for shelter, the birds battle against the strength of the wind, the sea is a boiling, heaving mass of grey.  But there is no need to go out.  The children are safely at school, the dogs are doing what dogs do best on days like this - sleeping.  I am happy in my cosy nest.

What a perfect day!  I shall listen to the radio and play with bells!  Now that most of the red, gold and green have been taken out to use on Row's hearts, I have been left with a different colour palette.  They are still Wintry in their way, though.  The purple heathers on the cliffs, the pink campions that still brave the elements and peek out from the black branches of hawthorn and blackthorn, and blue.  Blue is a versatile colour, willing to please!  At this time of year it speaks to me of frost and ice and sends shivers down my spine, but it is also a sparkling sea lit by a hot summer sky.  Beautiful.

These little bells are irresistible.  They have a tiny, whispering kind of sound. I sometimes see the children with their hands in the little glass dish in which they sit, gently swirling them round to hear their sound.  I do too!

So before they all end up on the floor and the dogs choke on them, I will use them for the purpose which they were intended.

I saw this idea in 'Homemaker' magazine and really liked it, but I thought I could make something more of it.  So out comes the felt!  You simply can't beat this stuff for a quick craft fix.  I love it!

The nice thing about these garlands, is that you can do anything with them.  Hang them vertically or horizontally or drape them over things in a slightly hazy, romantic fashion!  I will probably drape this over the fireplace.  In fact the fireplace will be so well adorned at Christmas that Santa will most likely get tangled up in it all, fall flat on his face and swallow his own teeth.  Oh Nooo.  Take them down!  Take them down!  I couldn't cope with the responsibility!
Wreaths are safer.  Possibly.  I added some jingle-bell love to the wreath I started making last week.

I am very happy with this, though I say so myself, but I think I've had enough of making them for the time being. Hmm, my hot water bottle cosy is looking a bit sorry for itself, maybe I should make another...
It will have to wait for another day though, as it won't be long before the troops are home, cold and starving.  Leek and potato soup and cheese on toast are the things for hungry people, followed by the Millionaire's Shortbread H1 made yesterday.  If there's any left, that is...
Keep Warm and Carry On!  Thank you for reading. xxx

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Vintage Sewing Machine Love (or not)

I love my Jones sewing machine, but there are times when my lack of knowledge and experience leads to real frustration...

Like yesterday, I had all my gorgeous red and white fabrics at the ready, pinned and raring to go.  I almost did myself an injury lifting my machine off the floor and onto the table, it is so heavy.  I warned everyone not to ask questions or want anything while I was trying to concentrate; it's fair to say I am a bit scared of it and need every tiny little brain cell I possess, to be able to actually thread it in the first place!

Anyway, I remembered some good advice mum gave me some years ago - always practise on a bit of scrap fabric first, so as not to chew up precious creations before they even become anything.  So I did.  All was well.  Phew.  I carefully placed the first heart to be stitched under the foot and began.  Within a nano-second the top thread snapped.  Oh. I tried again, same thing.  Huh.  And again.  What? Something was most definitely not right here.  I'm fairly certain that shouldn't be happening.  I rang mum, well what is a girl to do?  She suggested the tension may be wrong, or needle size amongst other things I didn't really understand.  I gave it all a go but with no change.  In the end I had to admit defeat and walk away and leave it.  I am fortunate to have a room that I can leave everything out and shut the door.

It saved me from hurling the whole thing into the garden.

Anyway, today is another day and I decided to try a slightly smaller needle and what do you know?  It worked!  Poor machine, having an idiot like me driving it.  It is very special to me as it was a wedding present from my nan to mum and dad, over 40 years ago.  Mum made absolutely everything for us three children, herself and our home.  When Pea was about 4, I had an urge to make her a dress, so mum gave me her Jones sewing machine.  I admit I was far too scared of it, so I made Pea's dress by hand and have been sewing in this way ever since, on and off.  It has moved with us to each new home as I could never part with it, even though I didn't use it.  In our last home, it spent 4 years in a damp, cold garage.

One day I decided to get it out and try to slay my demons.  I scraped the maggot off, wiped the dust and plugged it in.  It purred along like a kitten.  I fell in love with it and kept it in the house and vowed to use it as much as possible.  It only really does straight stitch forward and backwards, but that's just fine with me.  It is warm and cosy in the cottage and oiled (fairly) regularly.

So, back to the hearts.  I whizzed through them easily and what a joy it was.  No sweat, no tears, no bad language.  I finished the first one as a trial to see how it looked.  I'm very pleased, what do you think?

In case you are wondering, 'Diolch' means 'thank you' in Welsh.  I may have said before (or maybe didn't), these hearts are for my little niece to give to her teachers and helpers at her school for Christmas.  I have left some space for her to write her own message too.  They have turned out quite large, about 6 inches tall!  When all 6 are on the tree they will probably pull it over!

The other 5 are ready to be stuffed and finished off.  Do you remember the bells?  This is their destination.  I hope they make their new owners smile.

I definitely prefer hand sewing, as I love the handmade look and the time and love that goes into it.  It's much easier to hand sew on the settee while watching a film and being kept warm by 2 snoozing dogs.  I find it more relaxing and easier to stay in control!  Maybe that's my problem!

Anyway, I am very pleased to have sorted it out and will start using it again now, after a couple of years break.  There is nothing to say you can't do both.

However you sew, create, bake, garden or just dream about it, enjoy it!

Thank you for reading, have a lovely evening. xxx

Friday, 16 November 2012

Bake Day

Today the cupboard is bare, so it's a bake day!

This morning as I walked home after taking H2 to school, the quality of light was grey-pink and ghostly, with a Christmas Past kind of feeling.  It was as though nature were holding her breath in anticipation of something to come, but at the same time there was a feeling that something wasn't quite over yet.  There was no wind, which is unusual, and the stillness was palpable.  Some would say this was all a bit creepy, but I like creepy - in this sense anyway!

This inspired me to make icing in these pinky-grey colours.  I'm not sure I got it exactly right, but the thought is there!

So once at home, the dogs settled for the time being, I set to in the kitchen with Classic FM for company.

If we don't move, she won't notice we're here.
The chocolate cake is meant to be made as a two tiered round cake, but I decided to just make it in one large, square tin instead and then put lots of chocolate icing on top.  It turned out a bit thin, but the icing would make up for that...or it would have done had I got enough icing.  Oh noo! Now what?  Did I want to lock up the house, put the dogs away, get coat and boots on and drive a 30 mile round trip for some icing sugar?  Did I heck.  I had just about a table spoon in the bottom of the box, so I sprinkled (very economically) some on the chocolate cake, from a great height, and added a little bit of edible glitter.  There was enough left to make a slightly runny Welsh Dawn coloured icing for the spice biscuits.  Phew!  Crisis over.

The Queen of Hearts jammy dodgers are a recipe I found last year on Cherry Menlove's beautiful blog.  I have made them several times and they always go down very well, and very quickly.  The spice biscuits are my simple adaptation of the fabulous and wonderful Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Lavender Shortbread recipe.  I made the original in summer, when we had just about enough lavender flowers to make it.  They were gorgeous, but we can't eat lavender all year round, so the next time, I missed out the flowers and added 2 teaspoons of mixed spice.  I used all flour rather than flour and cornflour, so they turn out more biscuit like.  Probably the affect of me rolling and re-rolling the living daylights out of the dough has more to do with the biscuit texture than anything else.

Guess what Postie just brought?  My fabrics for Row's Christmas Hearts!  Yay!  I love them, so hope she does too.  They are red and white (of course), not particularly Christmassy, but they will be when I've finished with them.  Watch this space!

Have a super day, what ever you do with it and thank you for reading. xxx

Thursday, 15 November 2012

It's Beginning to Feel a Bit Like Christmas.

Do you remember the little pic I left you with last time?  Well, I started making another Christmas wreath.  These are not for hanging up on your front door though, just for inside decoration.  And why not?  It is other people who get the pleasure of seeing our beautiful creations hanging on our doors, not us, so this is one we can enjoy too.

It isn't quite finished yet as you can probably tell, but so far I am happy with it.  The addition of some ribbons and bells will finish it off nicely.

In keeping with the Christmas mood, yesterday I went Christmas shopping with my mum.  We didn't get everything, but made a good start.  I feel a little more relaxed about it now, it's that start that matters!  I haven't got many places to hide things in the cottage and as two of my children are taller than me, they can easily see onto tops of wardrobes, where I've flung things in the hope they won't notice.  I will probably have to ask them to get them down for me too.

I have a few craft orders to work on now, so have been busy buying gorgeous fabrics with which to make them.  My lovely sis-in-law has asked me to make her friend some bunting to celebrate the birth of her baby girl.  Pink but not too much, was my brief!  I found some pretty pink and white fabrics today that also have other colours in them, so I'm hoping I've got it right!  They are very feminine and fresh, pretty without being babyish.  I think it is best to steer clear of obviously baby fabrics (beautiful though they are), as both R and I will be hoping she will want to keep it up in her room for many years to come.  Bunting is for life, not just when you're born!

The weather today is not in the least bit Christmassy.  Booo.  At the beginning of November, there was a dusting of icing-sugar snow on the mountains, but it has been so cloudy of late, we can't tell if it's still there.  This morning I was met with a deep orange sky that heralded the start of a glorious day.  It is more like April than November.  I even sat outside for a while with the dogs.  My brother took his little girl for a walk and enjoyed the sun too.

Nature is amazing.  While everything in the garden is dead or covered in mud and the cobwebs hanging from the beams could be sprayed with glitter and used as Christmas decorations, nature pulls out all the stops and gives us something to take our minds off the rest of it.  Tomorrow, I will have to muck out the bathroom, but for the time being I can lose myself in blue skies, flocks of wild birds and the promise that Postie will bring my gorgeous fabrics to enable me to get another craft project underway.

Have a lovely afternoon.  Thank you for reading. xxx