About Me

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Currently, I'm a stay-at-home mum to an inquisitive and often rambunctious three year old girl and her sunny little brother. In a former life, I was a lawyer. I know which I prefer. On the odd occasion that I get some downtime, I knit, crochet, read, sew, sing badly, dance even more so, enjoy a glass of wine and watch bad TV, sometimes in varying combinations of the foregoing and not necessarily in that order of preference.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

I finally finished something!

So, I finally sat down last night and corrected the buttonholes on the sundress that I made for Baby Bird.  I'm so glad I got this finished as this morning, the weather is perfect for sundresses... no, wait... it's throwing it down with rain again.  Oh well.  Small person was undeterred so the sundress is being worn as a pinafore.

I managed to snatch one quick snap before "Oooh, Mummy has the fun black box that makes the clicky noises and shows me pictures of me".
I see this "Oooh" face a lot.  It is normally accompanied by "Oooh" noises and a general need to run away quickly before she grabs whatever prompted it and has a tantrum when you remove said item.  Ah, the joys of the terrible twos.

Anyway, if it ever stops raining, I will take some outside shots.  In the meantime, I've played around with the great Pioneer Woman Photo Actions that I've just downloaded for Photoshop Elements and I'm pretty pleased with how the dress and Baby Bird look given the haste with which these were taken in my slightly gloomy hallway.

As for the dress, I'm pretty pleased with it.  I need to work on my buttonholes and may actually try doing the next lot by hand with embroidery silk for a thicker, more stable buttonhole and hopefully a neater finish.  However I think this set would have come out better had I not muffed up the length and had to tweak them.  Note to self: concentrate!

The pattern is "Watch the Birdie" from Making Baby's Clothes by Rob Merrett, but minus the applique.  This transforms it into the easiest sewing project in the whole world since it is just two pieces (or in my case 3 - I seamed the back so that I could squeeze this dress out of what was left of the 76 cm remnant I snaffled from DotsnStripes after I'd finished making the skirt for the dress she wore to the wedding that I keep promising to show you but failing to take pictures of), some bias binding and two buttons.  The fabric I know very little about: it was called Elisabet and I picked it up in late December along with a bunch of other remnants.  DotsnStripes have a particularly good remnants page I think and  I will be popping back over there regularly to pick up bits and bobs since I rarely need a full metre to make stuff for Baby Bird.  I'm really pleased with the fit - there's growing room but not so much that it looks ridiculous and the A-line is really flattering over her big fluffy washable nappies.  I will definitely be making more of these...

Saturday, 5 May 2012

New skills

I've talked before about how a nap time is proving to be just long enough for me to pick up some sewing, and about my friend's belief in the power of cumulative action.  So on Thursday, when it was close to but not quite close enough to the end of a week of busy Spring Fair planning, and I was in need of some light relief, I decided to pull out my sewing and see if I could finally nail a skill that had stalled two of my current projects: buttonholes.

I was a more than a little afraid of buttonholes.  The need to sew two parallel lines of closely spaced stitches and then snip a hole in your work without cutting any of them, or, most importantly, the little bars of stitches at the top and bottom.  It rather brought me out in a cold sweat.  My gran assured me that the buttonhole function on her sewing machine was fool-proof and that, once I'd tried it, I'd never be afraid of buttonholes again.

I found some scrap yarn and tried.  It started well but then the stitches began bunching and eventually the machine was just jogging on the spot.  I stopped and tried again.  Same thing.  I fiddled with the tension settings.  I fiddled with the pressure on the foot.  I fiddled with the feeddogs.  The machine seemed stiff.  I oiled it.  It helped a little but not much.  I tried doing some simple straight sewing.  The machine laboured.  It clunked.  It whirred.  Then it jammed.

Oh.  As one of the characters in my daughter's favourite TV programme say, "That is not very good".

I dismantled the bits of the machine that I could get to but nothing seemed to co-operate.  Clearly this called for someone who actually knew what they were doing.  I rootled around on the internet, hoping to unearth a sewing machine repair shop.  There were a few, but none particularly close to my corner of London and none who would collect the machine from me, and the closest one wasn't answering the phone.  Just when I was resigning myself to a drive into Battersea and to not doing any sewing for a couple of weeks while I tried to fit in driving back to collect the machine again, I spotted a link to a mobile sewing machine engineer.  The site looked presentable enough and he seemed to have lots of experience, plus a good reference (albeit a few years old now) from a local shop.  What the heck.  I gave him a call.

Which is how on Thursday evening, a little Lithuanian man was sat in my study, servicing my sewing machine (Hubby insists this sounds like the start of a porn film... I think it is the term "servicing") and how, on Thursday evening, I was finally able to do this:

and this:

You might not have noticed the buttonhole in the middle of the cow's head on the pocket flap...
and my sewing machine now runs like a dream.  Part of me feels £50 for the 20 minutes he was hear is rather expensive, but then he has a skill that I don't have, he came to me and he was with me within 4 hours of my call.  Plus I doubt any of the other shops would have been noticeably cheaper and all would have been noticeably more hassle, so really, what's not to like?  His card is now in a safe place for the next time (which he laughed and suggested would probably be in a couple of years).

Of course, I'm still a way off actually completing anything. This is probably why, rather than starting another project when I hit the buttonholes of the dress, I should have bitten the bullet then, but hey-ho.  I did try to remedy that last night by sewing the buttons on the dress.  Unfortunately, I discovered that I mis-measured and my buttonholes are slightly too short, so there will need to be a little jiggery-pokery tonight to fix that and I will need to remind myself of Tim Allen's mantra on 'Home Improvement': "measure twice, cut once".  But the important things are (a) I conquered my fear of buttonholes and (b) I think they look pretty good.  I'll finish the dress so that Baby Bird can wear it tomorrow and hopefully by next weekend, she will be skipping about in a pair of crazy cow print trousers.  The material is pretty bonkers I will concede, but I love it and firmly believe that if you can't dress in bonkers prints at 18 months, I don't know when you can.

Friday, 27 April 2012

The time just keeps on going

Another week, or rather, ten days, have passed me by in a bit of a blog-less blur.  I guess I'm a bit too busy living at the moment to talk to you about it.  My volunteering job is manic right now as we are busy organising our Spring Fair.  If you happen to be in Ealing on 19th May there will be some fun happenings to enjoy.  I'm also feeling thoroughly inspired on the sewing and knitting fronts and rather than methodically taking pictures of things so that I can share them and working carefully through one activity to completion, I'm flitting backwards and forwards amongst half a dozen different projects.

I'm so close to finishing a little sundress from Making Baby's Clothes (just need to figure out buttonholes and find some buttons - in fact, I'm only a moment of impatience away from just adding poppers and calling it good.  The only thing I need to do to show you the lovely little dress (Tutti-Frutti from the same book) I made her for our friends' wedding (which is already, unbelieveably, a month ago) is take some pics.  Maybe I can get that sorted over the weekend.  Especially if it really is drier as forecast.  I've also cut out and started sewing some cute trousers from the same book (I really love Rob Merrett's designs and instructions) in a very funky cow print that has to be seen to be believed (but as I bought a remnant and my Google-fu is failing me, I can't show you that until I take some pics either.

On a completely different sewing tack, I've planned a couple of easy baby projects thanks to the lovely Purl bee blog.  So, I have some terry cloth and gorgeous tana lawn lined up so that I can make a few of these fab Liberty bibs  and some more tana lawn and some organic bamboo & cotton fleece lined up to make a lighter version of this easy-peasy baby blanket.  Once my new walking foot arrives, these will all be winging their way across the pond to a very lovely little girl who has recently joined the world.  But this sewing mania (and the obsession with the Purl bee) was all sparked by these spring napkins which were mentioned in Mollie Makes a little while back.  I saw them, I loved them, I had to make some.  Which is why my sewing table is now piled with two bundles of fat quarters (one plain pastel, one bundle in the same colours but with white spots) and miles of white rick rack.  All I need is to find some spare hours in the day and, I discovered this evening when I sat down to do some work, some sewing machine oil.

I've also been buying patterns from Backstitch and Colette (at long last my Colette Sewing Handbook arrived from Amazon!) and generally drooling over the endless possibilities.  And I daren't even tell you about what's been going on in the yarn cupboard...

On that note, I'm off to find a glass of wine, an episode of Grey's Anatomy and to pick up that Siivet I've been working on.  Yep, no pics of that either.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Where did the last 6 weeks go?

I have absolutely no idea.  One minute I was blogging whilst cooking dinner and getting quite into everything, the next it was the middle of April.  It's all been a bit of a blur really.

Things were really starting to get on top of me the last time I wrote, and I couldn't really figure out why.  I think it is partly the fact that I have forgotten some of the techniques I used to use at work to keep myself straight.  Things like using my diary, and making lists, rather than trying to store everything in my head.  Things like prioritising, allocating time to particular tasks, breaking down the big jobs into smaller ones.  All that good stuff.  Carie reminded me with her tips on my last post.  I guess it seemed a bit over the top to approach my current life in the way I used to approach life as a solicitor, but actually, being a house-wife/stay-at-home mum is no less of a job than being a solicitor and involves just as much juggling and attempting to appease imperious foot-stamping children...  Especially when you take into account my voluntary job (which is proving way bigger than I imagined... or at least, it is that way I have been trying to do it so far - changes will be attempted on that front) and the fact that I really want to keep some sense of myself outside my role as home-maker and family caretaker.

So a fair chunk of the last few weeks has been spent trying (and largely failing, but hey-ho) to organise myself a bit better, trying to bring some discipline back into things, and trying to (a) bash through some of the backlog on my voluntary role and (b) figure out exactly how much time and energy I am prepared to devote to it and marshall my resources accordingly.

Then on the more fun side of things, there was that glorious weather in late March and the small matter of a trip to Somerset and Devon for the long overdue wedding of two good (but rarely seen) friends.  We might only have been away for three nights but boy did we cram a lot into that trip.

We broke the journey to Bampton, Devon down by stopping for pizza and then stopping for a run round Stonehenge.  I appreciate this may not be the traditional way to view this revered ancient monument but it was Baby Bird's preferred approach and all we could really do was try to keep up.

The next day involved a trip to Minehead to play on the beach, and
cream teas for all.  Clotted cream was, unsurprisingly, a big hit.

We then headed on for a nice pub lunch on Exmoor before spending the afternoon at Exmoor Zoo.  This is a fantastic little zoo and we are already planning to go back, as we didn't really have time to see everything.

We did get to watch the penguins being fed though, which was great fun.

The day was rounded off by a family trip to the Bampton Fish Bar, where Baby Bird was introduced to curry sauce and mushy peas (can you tell that one of her parents is from the further north than the other?).

It was all a bit much for some of us.

Saturday was, predictably, the only day that actually looked and felt like the end of March, so unfortunately, the wedding was somewhat chilly and overcast, a fact made all the more disappointing by the fact Saturday was flanked by two stunningly warm and sunny days.  Still, the wedding was lovely, the bride and groom looked fantastic, and Baby Bird was very well behaved for her first big occasion.

There will be more about this particular day later as I want to show you the dress that I made for her to wear, and I am very much hoping that the photographer will have got a good shot or two of her since we failed miserably.

Sunday we packed up and headed home, after running off a bit of steam in the nearest park, stopping off for the obligatory Little Chef lunch.  I don't know about you, but Little Chef features strongly in my memories of childhood trips and I wanted to get Baby Bird off on the right foot.

Spaghetti & meatballs wasn't on the menu back in the day, nor was the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toast that I had, but the pancakes that we all shared for dessert most definitely were and it was a jolly way to finish our hols.  People screw their noses up at Little Chef and places like that.  I say it's horses for courses: as a family-friendly spot for a bite to eat on a long journey up the A303, this was perfect.  We didn't want or need fine dining; we needed clean, easy and providing crayons.  Job done.

Easter was altogether quieter as all three of us managed to get sick (to varying degrees) over the course of the week either side of the holiday.  However, that did give me some time to do a spot of knitting and also some sewing.  I'm looking forward to showing you what I've been up to.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

A Little Bit Stuck

I'm in a bit of a funk right now.  After last week's flurry of blog-posts, and general feeling of creativity and action that they seemed to generate within me, I'm just kind of treading water this week.  I think it is partly that I got struck down by some lurgy or other on Saturday night and, despite feeling much better yesterday, I seem to be having a bit of a relapse today and so am feeling tired, sluggish and just generally unwell.  I think it is partly that the list of "work-like" things that I have to do has grown significantly since Thursday night's committee meeting (I can't remember if I mentioned that I have just started chairing a local children's group) and I came out of the meeting feeling pretty deflated by how much there was to do.  I think it is partly that it is month end for Hubby and so I'm spending large amounts of time on my own (never a good thing when you are sick).  I suspect the ever-growing list of things that need doing around the house doesn't help: the general feeling that we are back-sliding horribly; a sixth of the year gone and little, if anything, ticked off the long-term list of things to do as the short-term list keeps spiralling further and further out of control; and we're about to hit spring (assuming I can delude myself that it hasn't already arrived) and I still haven't quite made it out into the garden to clear up the mess from last year...

Gosh, just writing it down feels depressing.

I've spent most of the week picking stuff up, looking at it, sighing and putting it back down again.  Do you ever get days or weeks like that?  When you know you should be doing something, but everything feels a little bit too difficult and you can't quite figure out where to start.  Or where you dive in with initial gusto and work and work at something, only to look back several hours later and wonder what you've actually achieved.  Saturday was like that - Baby Bird took a two and a half hour nap, Hubby went to get a haircut (which took considerably less time than that, I hasten to add) and I headed up to the Temple of Doom, as our attic floor is currently known.  I folded laundry. I sorted piles of clothes that no longer fit.  I put things away in the loft.  I rearranged.  I made notes of things that need to be done, storage that needs to be bought, projects that need to be completed.  I sat down for lunch feeling like I had spent a really productive morning.  It felt great to be finally making a dent in some of the many, many "to-dos" that have been nagging away inside my brain for months now.  I went back upstairs after lunch to survey my work and figure out what to tackle next.  You couldn't even tell I'd done anything.  I'd barely made a dent.  I couldn't figure out what to do next or what would make the biggest impression on the general mess that lurks up there.  Feeling deflated, I trudged downstairs and made myself a cup of tea, reached for the biscuits and wondered why I bothered.

A walk in the park with my lovely little family, and watching Baby Bird chase her football around did perk me up a bit that afternoon, but all the same, I am left with the overwhelming feeling that, at best, I am treading water with stuff right now, and, looking at the chaos into which our home seems to be descending, that seems rather charitable.  Not quite sure what to do about it.  Anyone got any suggestions for some easy wins?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

One nap at a time

I have been promising myself for years now that I will start sewing more seriously and really get to grips with it. The same obstacle always seems to get in my way: time.  However, since talking to my friend Carie about how she fits in so much sewing and other crafting around a very demanding job and a (I'm sure equally if not more demanding) feisty toddler, I have decide that this is really an excuse and not something I should let get in my way any longer.  Carie introduced me to the idea of what she called cumulative sewing, i.e. you do a bit here and a bit there and trust that, if you do that regularly enough, finished items will result.

I tend to leave sewing until the weekends, on the grounds that daylight is better to work in and the evenings are still too dark, and that I can then get an extended period without childcare responsibilities so that I can really get stuck into something.  This is partly because I need to set up my sewing machine and all my other bits and bobs as I don't currently have a permanent home for them, and partly because I have always thought it wasn't worth doing just a little bit here and there and that I would spend more time figuring out what I was up to than I would doing anything.  However, our weekends are busy affairs and, while some me-time is very much on the weekend agenda, there's always a million and one things I would like to do with that me-time, and a million and one family things I would like to do to (as well as the slightly more humdrum but necessary household activities that are also more easily accomplished at the weekend).  This all-or-nothing approach to sewing hasn't really resulted in much activity and means that I am still more likely to pick up my knitting needles than my sewing needles, despite loads of ideas and a fair few pattern books and piles of fabric.

After my little splurge at the start of the year, I'm having a re-think.  Baby Bird takes a fairly consistent mid-day nap now, which usually gives me a clear hour to focus on something (with time for some household faffing either side).  So, last week and this week I have indulged myself and one nap each week has been a sewing nap.  I'm pretty pleased with the results.

It turns out that one nap-time is long enough to plan, trace/transfer and cut a garment for a little person who wont stop growing and needs a dress for a wedding at the end of the month.  It also turns out that, with a bit of careful planning, you can get two dresses for a small person out of one 76cm remnant, a fat quarter and some scraps, meaning both dresses combined will have cost around £10.  You have to love small people.

Two nap-times in, and I have two piles of neatly cut pieces awaiting sewing and I've pinned the simpler dress together ready for tacking and fitting (...well, sticking it on her quickly to make sure it isn't too small before I even start - I don't propose to be more precise than that at this age!).  I think sewing the simpler one will take two nap-times (mostly because I've never applied bias binding before and I also need to learn how to make buttonholes) and the other one will probably be two or three.  Either way, I'm pretty hopeful that there will be two new frocks in Baby Bird's wardrobe by the end of March.  That's one more than made it into her wardrobe in the whole of the previous year, so not a bad effort in my book.

Next challenge on the sewing front: unearthing the spare room and office from the huge piles of junk that currently inhabit them so that I can set up a permanent sewing corner.  Then there will be no stopping me!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Today started early.  I was loathe to complain about Baby Bird's insistence that 6 a.m. constitutes morning since she has mostly been waking at 4:30 a.m. in recent weeks and spending an hour and a half awake alternating between being quiet and happy whilst cuddled and crying inconsolably whenever she is put down until returning to her bed half an hour before Hubby and I need to start the day.  That leaves me broken (and Hubby eating breakfast alone most mornings), so 6 a.m. wake-up was a blessed relief.  However, it did leave me slightly concerned that our usual 10 a.m. playgroup might be a bit of a stretch.

Still, I pressed ahead, preparing pancake breakfast for the three of us.  7 successfully tossed pancakes later, I sat down feeling quite impressed with myself and tucked into maple syrup and lemon soaked pancakes with an enormous cup of tea and a glass of juice.  I looked across at Baby Bird's plate and confess I wondered if she could really be our child: the banana had been carefully picked out from the pancake pieces and consumed; the pancake itself was untouched.  She did grudgingly consent to try a small morsel, but mostly demanded repeated renditions of her favourite song and to be allowed to play (her latest baby sign and word).  Oh well, it happens.

I cleaned her up and then began the battle to dress her.  All clothing options were met with a furious shake of the head and she sprinted off at any opportunity.  After about an hour, during which various tactics were deployed, including abandoning dressing in favour of other more popular personal grooming activities such as hair brushing and teeth brushing, I had succeeded in wrestling her into a vest and jeans.  Socks and cardigans were flatly refused.  I showered, I got ready, I tried again.  Socks and cardigans again flatly refused.  I generally allow Baby Bird to choose her own clothes (from within a handful of options I've put together) as I find it makes her feel more involved and so she co-operates better).  Maybe she didn't like the outfits I'd chosen.  I tried different cardigans.  After offering her every cardigan she owned, I eventually chose one for her and put it on her.  She simply sat and shouted at me, whilst tugging furiously at the offending garment (buttons are, for now, elusive).  At that point I told her, in my sternest "mum voice" that, if she didn't stop messing about we would not be going to playgroup.  My happy, smiley baby returned.  She chirped "okay" and climbed on my lap, sucking her thumb.

So, by 9:30 this morning, she was falling asleep on my lap as I read Incy Wincy Spider to her (a really lovely take on the story that was a present from her American godmother), and now, two hours later, she is still asleep and I have unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher, fired up the breadmaker, tidied the kitchen and am currently stirring a pot of split pea and carrot soup that will make a tasty (and hopefully toddler tempting) lunch.  Yes, for the second day in a row, I am blogging while stirring something, only it is green and orange flecked and smells delicious today.  We will gloss over the fact that I am wearing the apron I bought for my six year old god-daughter to wear when we are baking, and we will definitely overlook the fact that, asides of it being about an inch too short, it fits rather well...

Monday, 20 February 2012

Where does the time go?

It turns out that it is rather harder to write a blog than I realised. Well, no that is not quite true. I expected it to be hard, but lulled myself into the false sense of security that comes with thinking that, since everybody else manages to fit it in, it must not be as hard as I think. This was a mistake. I have renewed respect for all the bloggers I know and/or read regularly, especially those who seem able to post several times a week. I seriously do not know how they fit it in. I have great intentions but find that between regular family life and the voluntary group that I recently began chairing, there is barely enough time to DO the crafty things that I want to write about, much less write about them.

Hence I am currently typing on my iPad with one finger, whilst rhythmically swirling a baby vest in a bowl of pink dye. It needs twenty minutes of stirring to start things off and I really want a long-sleeved vest in hot pink to go with the dress that I am currently sewing for Baby Bird to wear for a wedding at the end of March. I don't really want to spend twenty minutes just daydreaming (well, that is a complete lie, I would love to, but I also know that rambling thoughts like that will start to fel like blog-posts and I will get annoyed at not being a le to get them out there; plus I will feel like it is twenty minutes that could have been spent more productively and that will spoil my enjoyment of swirling one hand round and round in a bucket of warm water, which I am rally rather enjoying) so I thought I'd try to multitask a bit.

Why not just buy a hot pink vest you ask? Why indeed. Well, firstly I want to match the colour, which can be tricky, especially if you look online and I really don't have the time to wander round the shops looking for one. Secondly individual ones are expensive and multipacks can be hard to find in bright colours and when you did there is always at least one you hate, which is a waste. Thirdly, and for me, most importantly, we already own lots and lots of white vests that fit just fine but are suffering from several months of a toddler's enthusiastic but often ineffective self-feeding, so I'm hoping to breathe some new life into them by dying them some in colours. This should deal with the general slightly grey malaise they appear to be suffering and also mask the few pesky stains that never quite come out (carrot and banana, I'm looking at you). Oh, and it's also rather fun.

So here I am, swirling my hand in a bucket of bright pink water, but it's ok because I'm being productive and telling you, whoever you are, all about it. All I need to do now, is figure out other ways to multitask and squeeze a bit more blogging time out of my day. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Desperate Housewife

The broadband router died last Sunday.  I hadn't fully appreciated how much we used our broadband connection until we didn't have it.  Suddenly, all online life had to be conducted via my iPhone using our somewhat shaky mobile signal (I have no idea why our signal is shaky given we live in West London, but for some reason it is).  It turns out there is quite a lot of stuff that you either can't do with an iPhone or that is such a pain you don't want to do it with an iPhone.  Blogging, despite the Blogger App, is one of them.  The App is fine and, if you set aside an unfortunate incident the other week when, in an attempt to correct a typo in the header of a post, I inadvertently deleted a whole post but couldn't find a way to undo what I had done and had to ask the wonderful Blogger gurus how to retrieve it from the ether, it works pretty well.  But it is just such a pain in the rear trying to type on that microscopic keyboard with my fat little thumbs, and it is hard to read back and make sense of a post when you can barely see more than a sentence at a time.  Adding photos within text is also a bit of a pain, unless you have the foresight and patience to add them as you go through your post, saving after each photo, exiting the post and then returning (if anyone reading this knows a better way, do PLEASE tell me).

After a couple of days, even reading stuff on my iPhone was proving a pain - the text is just SO small.  It was then that I realised just how much of my social life I conduct online.  When Hubby is working late, as he did most nights last week, my main source of "human" contact actually comes in the form of words printed on a screen.  I feel tragic for saying that, but as the stay-at-home mum of a toddler, outside of playgroups, it can be difficult seeing people face to face.  Facebook, Twitter, email: these are my lifelines, and while I can access most of them on my phone, I much prefer to use the home PC, with it's lovely big screen, or, more usually, the iPad which allows me to lounge on the sofa but if significantly more eyeball friendly than my phone.

It all made me wonder how people used to cope with the isolation of early parenthood before we had the internet?  Maybe this is where the archetype of the desperate housewife comes from.  A quiet recognition that the early years cut parents (but especially the primary care-giver) off from their pre-parenthood lives and friends and that many, many hours alone with only a toddler for company will, no matter how lovely the toddler and how sane the parent may have been at the outset, send you a little bonkers.  I have always thought of myself as pretty happy to keep my own company and good at occupying myself, but I have discovered, since having Baby Bird, that I am far more of a social animal than I realised.  Much of my enjoyment of my own activities comes from telling other people about what I have been up to.  I may enjoy doing things on my own and I certainly love making things, which often takes time alone in order to concentrate, but I want to share those things with others after I have done them and I like to collaborate.  I think that is why so many of my online activities actually revolve around craft sites.  In fact, I don't know all that many crafty people in real life so most of my craft activities are focused online.  That was part of the reason for starting this blog - as a way to tell my online friends more about what I'm up to.  The internet also has the advantage that, vast though it is, it is relatively easy to locate kindred spirits, far easier than in real life I find.  Simply find a blog dealing with your interest and start commenting; check out the sites of other commenters and comment there too; find out where they hang out online - there's always some kind of chat-hub out there - and Bob's your uncle, a friendship circle just waiting for you, location no obstacle.  Obviously, you might be that lucky enough to find your town or city has a group catering to your interest but it can be tougher to find and it can be difficult getting a critical mass of people, plus if it turns out you don't like the handful of fellow enthusiasts in your area, you are back in the wilderness.  Online, you just keep searching 'til you find some kindred spirits.  I have yet to find an interest where they weren't out there somewhere.  

I'm rambling a little I know, but I've got quite a lot of thoughts running through my head all at the same time and I really just want to get some of them out there.  Suffice it to say, I was delighted when we finally managed to collect the new router from the Post Office at the weekend and even more so when Hubby came downstairs on Sunday to announce that it worked.  Of course, typically, now that my online life is capable of being resumed, I now have a week packed with visitors and evening entertainment.  Still, I'm not going to complain to loudly.  It is nice to get back to blogging.  I hadn't realised quite how much I was starting to enjoy it until it became a pain to do.  Hopefully I'll sneak in a bit more time here next weekend.  There's knitting, sewing and gardening to talk about.

In the meantime, take a look at Experimental Thursday for a little look at what has been happening in my kitchen over the last few months.  That's where you'll find out how the 52 Cookbook Challenge (referred to in my New Year's Resolutions) is going.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Sewing plans

I thought it would be nice to get into sewing a bit more in 2012.  I have dabbled for a while, but not done much serious sewing so, I would like this year to be the year I really start to get stuck in to creating my own garments.  My gran is (well, was until her eyesight started to give out) a wonderful seamstress and she taught me the little I currently know.  Even if she can't do the close work herself any more, she is still on hand to give advice and inspect my efforts so, with that, a growing sewing library (my method for dealing with any problem or challenge is to borrow, or more usually buy, books), and a little time that I am sure I can magic up from somewhere (sleep is optional, right?), I have every reason to be optimistic.

Gran gave me her old sewing machine just before Baby Bird was born (as I'd broken mine making curtains for her room) and I have a fair bit of the kit I need.  I have even successfully made  a few bits and pieces, including some stuff for the nursery (the curtains and I recovered the rocking chair) and my skirt and Baby Bird's dress for her christening last summer.  With a little application, I'm sure I can really improve my skills this year.

I thought I would start small, and so, armed with the Christmas money my gran gave me (I thought she would approve of how I was spending it), I spent a happy afternoon just before New Year pottering round the internet snapping up remnants.  One of the many great things about having a small person in my life is that while the number of clothes she requires is many, the size of them is small and so even half a metre can be turned into something useful.  So the first week of the New Year was filled with lovely parcels and now, the fun can really begin.

Up first are some winter/early spring fabrics. the hearts print is a fleece, which I think I'm going to turn into a little fleecy sweater, perfect for running round the park in, and maybe a hat if there is enough left over.  The cow print and paisley are both needlecords, soft and cosy without being too thick or heavy.  I'm thinking pinafores or maybe dungarees here.

Then, looking ahead to the summer, I have bought some lovely cotton prints.  My main challenge here is trying to work out whether the metre I have of each is enough to squeeze out a skirt for me, especially if I can find some complementary plain fabrics, or whether I should be good and turn them all into pretty little summer dresses with cute nappy-covering pants.  I'm particularly tempted to try and keep the butterfly print for myself...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The many joys of risotto

Tuesday morning was cold and bright. We wrapped up warmly and headed out to our favourite singing session. I knew it was properly cold when Baby Bird made no attempt to remove her mittens. A first, and proof that we have, thus far, been having an unusually mild winter. This time last year, we were just thawing out from six weeks of snow and ice. This year, half my early spring shrubs have gone bananas and started flowering and last summer's geraniums, which i never quite got round to taking in are still blooming here and there on the patio.

We had had an early start, Baby Bird having decided that 5:50 is the ideal time to start the day, so I was delighted when she crashed out in the buggy on the way home from playgroup. I was desperate for some time to get things sorted out, and maybe a chance for a quiet cuppa. Which is precisely why I should have left her in her buggy, done up like a Michelin man in many, many layers of sleep-inducing wool and puffa coat. But the panic-merchant in my head was bleating that she would overheat and so I attempted a buggy-bed transfer, including removal of shoes and coat. Yes, a bold parenting move that only the most virtuoso mothers can accomplish.

Which is precisely why my daughter only had a twenty minute nap (the time it took me to walk back and potter around Sainsbury's) and why, by 4:30, my head was ringing from the whinging, whining and general grumpiness that affects the overtired toddler and I was desperate to do something calming that got me a little space from the endless rounds of requests to be picked up followed immediately by tears, shouting and struggling to be put down, followed immediately by further tearful requests to be picked up. Several further fruitless attempts had been made to achieve a nap and we were now firmly in ride it out 'til bedtime or she'll be up 'til midnight territory.

This is all a very longwinded way of explaining how I came to cook risotto for dinner on Tuesday. You see, by 4:30 (the ludicrously early time that my thoughts now have to turn towards the dinner table if I want Baby Bird to still have the energy to eat a proper, home-prepared meal), we were both in need of a little quiet time. What better way than for me to retreat to the kitchen and indulge in the wonderfully restorative process of endlessly storing a risotto, while she played with some toys and "read" her books?

The initial round of banging saucepans and shouting at Mummy to join in was not exactly calming but thankfully (and I feel like an appalling mother for writing this) if you make it clear that whatever boring activity you are engaged in is the only thing you will be doing, she will get bored and start amusing herself. Lest you fear I neglect her, I should point out that she is in same room as me or the room next door, surrounded by many toys, I always check on her of she sounds in distress or if she is ominously silent and I can't see her, and I will generally chat and sing songs with her while cooking. So she is ignored but only in the loosest sense of not being actively played with and not for very long.

So, by the time I had chopped the onion and mushrooms and crushed the garlic, she was happily bobbing up and down on the back step, talking to the garden, and by the time I was ladling the first spoonful of stock into the pan of sweated onions, garlic and lightly fried rice, I was beginning to feel significantly more human. Cooking risotto never fails to restore and refresh me.

I never use a proper recipe for risotto (which is why I always manage to make too much) but the key, I have learnt, is to add good stock to good rice a spoonful at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the stock and go sticky before adding the next spoonful. Stir slowly but constantly adding stock for twenty mins or until rice is tender. All this stirring means that, for those twenty blissful minutes, I am at once completely physically engaged and completely mentally free to wander; the perfect state I find (I love swimming for a similar reason). I can literally feel my mind unspool and soften as my hand moves slowly round and round and the gentle steam and wonderful aromas rising from the pan warm my face. That, right there, is heaven to me.
I opted for a simple mushroom and pea risotto on Tuesday, using some chestnut mushrooms I had in the fridge and frozen peas. I added a small sprinkling of dried basil and lots of pepper. Then came the finishing and the real indulgence. For no other reason than because it was in the fridge and about to go out of date, I added a splash of double cream as well as a small nob of butter and a generous handful of cheddar cheese. The result was this divinely sticky bowl of comfort.

Baby Bird and I tucked in happily, and I tried to stop myself from eating the inevitable third portion that I always seem to end up with by thinking of how yummy risotto cakes would be for Wednesday's lunch.
I was semi-successful in that and only ate a third of the leftovers... Then, both happily full and half asleep, we cuddled up on the sofa, watching The Adventures of Abney and Teal, before Baby Bird went to bed.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

If Mohammed won't come to knit night, then knit night must come toMohammed

Well, something like that anyway.

In 2007, keen to make some friends in my area and wanting to share my growing knitting habit with other like minds, I joined the Westender Stitch 'n' Bitch. Thankfully the bitching part is really directed at political figures, writers, television programmes, films and whatever else is the big issue oft day, and I have met a fantastic bunch of people over the last 4 and a bit years, some of whom I count amongst my closest friends. The last Sunday of the month is permanently booked out and very little will keep me from attending (birth of daughter being a rare exception).

Somehow or other when the girl who originally set up the group couldn't continue, I ended up organising the group and, with a close friend from the group, set up a second meeting, this time a weekly pub fixture. Wednesday night knitting was a fiercely guarded diary fixture. I would work late every other night of the week if it meant I could get out on time to be there.

It probably sounds silly to non-knitters or, at least, to those who don't have hobbies that they enjoy sharing with fellow enthusiasts, but the loss of my weekly Wednesday knitting sessions with the girls has been one of the hardest parts about adjusting to life as a mum. For the 18 months before Baby Bird arrived, I had gathered up my latest work, taken it to the pub, enjoyed a glass of wine (or once pregnant, a sensible fruit juice) and shared something of myself with a disparate group of people bound together at first by nothing more than sticks and string. It is so much fun. I always learn something new about my craft, I enjoy celebrating the growing accomplishments of each member, and I have made some really good friends. It is therefore hard that Hubby's working hours often keep me away from knit night.

So when my good friend, J, suggested I combat the gloom of Hubby's Year End (for non-accountants, this is the annual misery of finalising the previous Year's accounts and involves said husband disappearing into a
black hole, also known as Aldgate East, only to be seen at weekends if I'm lucky) by bringing knit night to me, I jumped at the chance. What a fabulous evening.

Six of my favourite knitters, plus a very lovely new girl who has joined in the last couple of months, piled into my living room this Wednesday. Cake, tea and wine were consumed, jumpers, cardigans, hats, baby bonnets and booties were made and I laughed more than I had in ages. J worked on an adorable purple sweater for a baby whose name she refuses to pronounce (long story) while regaling us with the (equally long) list of famous people she can't stand (Caitlin Moran and Professor Brian Cox featuring prominently but by no means alone). M made baby clothes (the only thing I have ever seen her make in the 18 months I have known her and always impeccably worked to the same pattern!). E completed the fronts of her very first cardigan and promised us authentic Japanese cooking lessons. G debated what to make next while P patiently cranked out a baby sweater in tiny yarn on tiny needles and C worked on a pretty little bonnet for the pretty little baby one of our other members has recently produced and entertained us with tales of life in rural Ireland in the sixties.

What was I up to during all this? I was serving up this coffee and walnut cake.

It admittedly needed more walnuts, but being uncertain if everyone liked them, I had left enough space to cut walnut-less slices if necessary. Very little was left by the end and I will be covering liberally with walnuts next time. I was boring (I mean "entertaining") my friends with Baby Bird's most amusing antics. But mostly, I was working on this:

my Urban Fern. The original pattern is the lovely Fern by Ann Shayne, on half of the highly entertaining Mason-Dixon Knitters.

In Knitting Between the Lines, she explains that she was inspired by the woods near her home, choosing the colours and striping pattern to mimic and reflect the forest from floor to canopy, and embroidering it with the fiddlehead ferns that she sees throughout the area. This got me thinking. We don't have much in the way of fiddlehead ferns in Ealing and I liked the idea of creating a cardigan the was inspired by the landscape the surrounds us. So, I have chosen a series of greys to mimic the urban/suburban landscape, and will be adding in the bodice a lovely collection of pink, yellow and sky blue to represent the sunsets we so often see from our study window. The embroidery will be a jaunty cartoon skyline (assuming I can overcome my fear of screwing up the cardigan by adding my novice sewing). I have been sketching away for a few weeks and think the design is coming together. The yarn is the very lovely Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift. I hadn't used this before but I am pleased to discover it is not nearly as scratchy as I feared and is knitting up surprisingly quickly given how fine it is and how small the needles are (3.25mm). I am delighted with how the stripes as blending and how dense the yarn's halo makes the very fine fabric appear.

All in all, I am very excited about this cardigan, the first of my 12 in 2012.

Hopefully, once work calms down for Hubby, I will get out to knit night a bit more. In the meantime, I am very grateful to my yarnie friends for foregoing the pub and bringing knit night to me.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

A little quiet reflection

It is Saturday afternoon.  Hubby has taken Baby Bird, as our little one is known, out for a walk and has promised to do the shopping on his way home.  I have been promised two whole hours of peace and quiet.  The temptation to spend that time "productively", doing any of the many, many jobs that need doing around here is immense.  There's laundry, ironing, all manner of cleaning and tidying to be done.  However, I know that if I spend this time doing any of those things, I will regret it.  Hubby can, and will quite happily mind Baby Bird at home while I am doing housework and housework is fairly forgiving of interruptions (equally likely from the older as well as the younger members of my household!).  Before they left, I was made to promise that I would spend this afternoon relaxing, enjoying myself and doing something fun.  In fact, I was specifically told that "If you're going to waste the afternoon doing something productive, you can get your coat on and come and productively help me do the shopping".  I know he is right.

I don't get a huge amount of time to myself with zero responsibilities these days.  Hubby works pretty long hours, even more so at this time of year, and so during the week, I am generally Baby Bird's sole caregiver from the moment she gets up until she goes to bed, and often for much of the evening as well.  Consequently, afternoons at home alone are rare and precious things to be savoured.

So, here I am, sat in our office, drinking coffee, listening to the new CD I had for Christmas from my Grandpa, and doing the thing I probably enjoy the most: making plans.  I love planning.  I am a compulsive list maker. Everything from groceries, household chores and to do lists to more aspirational lists such as books I hope to read, craft projects I would like to make and long-term goals.  I have been making lists almost as long as I can remember.  I feel all at sea without one.  It is the first thing I do when I being a task.  I don't always make terribly good use of the lists; I often fail to look at them again after I have made them, but there is something about the very act of making the list, the process of pushing the information out of my head through my hand and on to the paper, that helps to cement the information in my brain.  Mental lists have never been as effective for me, and need to be rerun, over and over again, in order to remain in my head.  Yet, once it is written down, I can "see" the list again in my mind's eye, even if I don't look at the physical paper very much.

Asides of the lists and the wonderfully exciting stationery needs it creates (I'm certain there will be more on my love of stationery later), planning also allows me to indulge my imagination, my desire to better myself, my desire for change.  It is about possibilities, hope, opportunities, but it feels one step closer to action than mere daydreaming.  Even if the plans are never enacted (and often in my heart of hearts, I know that they wont be, even as I am making the plans), an afternoon planning always feels like time well spent.  There is a quiet, collected energy about a well-made plan.  I feel galvanised, rejuvenated, ready to go.

What am I planning today?  Well, partly this blog (and I'm coupling it with a spot of confidence-building action by writing this post), partly my favourite type of planning: craft projects.  I suspect there are not enough hours in a lifetime to make all the things I would like to, but that's no reason not to daydream, and not to plan.  I received an order of fabric remnants from the lovely Dots N Stripes the other day, so I'm planning what to make with those and I have a stash the size of a small yarnshop to be converted in my head into knitting and crochet projects, making a little Ravelry research an inevitable part of this afternoon.  By the time Hubby and Baby Bird return, cold and hungry, I shall have a crafty to do list as long as my arm and I will finish the year with most of it unmade.  It doesn't matter.  I have learnt that even if I only make a fraction of the ideas I come up with this afternoon, I shall feel the lovely warm buzz of completion, of creation, and of  physical endeavour that makes me love making things so much.  More importantly, those two hours of planning will restore me and leave me ready to rejoin my family, ready to make dinner, ready to be a wife and a mum once more.

The clock is ticking.  Only an hour left now.  There's work to be done...

Monday, 2 January 2012

So, I'm a Cliché

Here we are, the beginning of January, and I'm starting a blog. I'm starting a blog with a list of New Year's Resolutions. Could I be more of a cliché?

Well, we could add all manner of facts about my life to further cement my status but let's save that for another day, save for one, which will be the theme of this blog.  I am, sssshhh whisper it, a housewife.

Yes, that's right, I got married, worked for a while at a successful career and then gave it all up to stay at home with our baby.  I'm often asked (usually by strangers, who feel inexplicably entitled to question my life decisions in a way that my friends do not) whether I get bored and what on earth I do all day.  The one thing I never struggle with is occupying my time.  In fact, I often wish there were more hours in the day, or at least that I could figure out a way to eliminate the need for sleep (the sleep itself is often eliminated by the little one, but the need for it, sadly, remains).  So, when I'm not toddler-wrangling, I cook, knit, sew and spend more time than I ought contemplating whether I can make all manner of things that normal people would buy.  I'm also always on the look out for new learning opportunities, an impulse from my school-days that has never quite faded.

Which brings me to some more clichés.  How about beginning a new endeavour on 1st January (well, 2nd now, as I took a while to edit this post)? Obviously a cliché   How about beginning a blog at all?  No longer the preserve of the hip and trendy, blogging is now ubiquitous.  Blogging as a stay-at-home mum looking for a way to reconnect with the world outside her home, even more so (there's flipping hundreds of us!).  No doubt numerous blogs will have been started this weekend and many will have been abandoned before February. Maybe this one will have too.  However, clichéd or not, I'm going to give it a go.  I never said I was going to be original.  I just thought it might be fun: a bit like the diaries I always used to begin on 1st January as a teenager.  On second thoughts, that may not be the best omen... they were generally abandoned after a couple of weeks when I realised I wasn't all that interesting... Who knows, I'm keen to try.  I think it will be a great way to keep track of what I get up to, both with and, at times, in spite of, the little one, and, if I'm lucky, it may even turn into a proper conversation with other grown human beings...

Now for the final cliché of this dreadfully hackneyed start: I'm starting with my New Year's Resolutions.  This year, I'm trying to keep them achievable.  I'm also trying to focus on positives rather than negatives, so my resolutions don't involve not doing stuff, so much as on acquiring new skills and habits.  A good friend of mine blogged far more eloquently than I on this topic.  This year, I've taken inspiration from a number of places, including some of my favourite blogs, and I'll expand on the inspiration and the goals more later.  However, in the interests of getting something "on paper" for want of the right expression, and of getting to bed, here's a quick list:

  1. Grow something in my garden that we can eat.
  2. The 52 cookbook challenge - cook one recipe from a different one of my many, many cookbooks, each week this year.
  3. Make chutney - this one is largely driven by the husband, who seems to have decided it is something I need to do.
  4. Knit a cardigan for each month of the year for my daughter, including one that I design myself.
  5. Read a book each month - shouldn't be a challenge but I only managed to read four books last year and seem to have forgotten how to make time for reading.
  6. Think of three happy things each day - a shared challenge with my husband.
More on all of this, and hopefully much more, as the year goes on.  But for now, good night.