Thursday, 29 December 2011


The festive season snuck up on me. It sat in the shadows and watched for a while, waiting for an opportune moment to strike. I was vaguely aware of its presence. A twitch of whisker encouraged me to put up the decorations, the slight swish of a tail provoked the buying of wrapping paper, while a gentle growl reminded me to send what few cards needed to be sent. The first weeks of December passed without event, almost without notice.

The next few weeks made up for that! Bad weather, extra shifts to cover at work, sick boys to look after. All these factors conspired against me. Proposed shopping trips were cancelled, Internet orders were delayed, time was running out. The parcels under the tree were going to be very thin on the ground. Eeek!
And that's when, without warning, IT pounced! Catching me unawares it landed its full weight on top of me, forcing me to my knees. As its claws dug in I started to panic. A cold sweat of fear drenched my body. I avoided looking into its face, certain in the knowledge that I was unprepared and would have to suffer the consequences. Closing my eyes I waited for the inevitable.

A warm breath engulfed me, scented with brandied apples and cinnamon, clementines and cloves. The soft fuzziness of a hundred hugs enveloped me. I carefully opened one eye. Twinkling orbs filled with shared laughter met mine. Where was the hideous monster looking to punish me for my pitiful display of material love? Nowhere, that's where! Because although the madness of the festive season had pounced, the festive spirit had come to my rescue.

I chilled. I stopped looking at last order dates on stuff that no one wanted or needed. I confirmed arrangements to meet friends and family. I sent off my Christmas ornament swap to my swap partner Flaming Nora and received one from her.

The boys made their recovery, if not fully at least enough to enjoy themselves (with the added bonus of a few days off school). So Christmas Day dawned and while there were fewer gaily wrapped presents to pass amongst the gathered family, the gift of love was as bountiful as ever.

Hope you had a good one :o)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Christmas Card Conundrum

The festive spirit is at last sneaking it's way in to our home. Last weekend I persuaded the boys to brave the cold of the loft and help me bring down the Christmas decorations.
Dressing the house for Christmas has always been my job. I'm not sure if its because the rest of the household really isn't that interested or if they know how much pleasure it gives me and want to see me happy ( I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and go with the latter)   
Although it took me slightly longer than usual ( I lost the impetus on Sunday and didn't get it back until Tuesday! ) The tree is now trimmed......

...the wreath is at the door and the boys Santas are in their rightful place ( they made them when they were in nursery and are beginning to suffer slightly from the ravages of time).

With that job done I should be feeling the warm glow of contentment. Instead I am gripped by a clammy claw of dread. The next task I have to face is one of my least favourite of the season. The writing of Christmas cards! 

I spend almost as much time choosing them as I do Christmas presents, trying to marry up appropriate designs with the intended recipients. A lot of trouble for something that will be looked at briefly, put on display (something I've never managed to my satisfaction be they hung, strung or taped), then thrown out for recycling.

I hate to sound like a Scrooge but .... are they really necessary? I don't mean those that get sent to far flung friends and family ( you know, the ones with the accompanying letter filling everyone in on last years news), they are obviously a must. I mean the ones that get given to friends and neighbours. Surely if you see them often enough to hand deliver a card it would be just as easy to wish them a merry Christmas? It would be more sincere than some pre printed message signed underneath with what may or may not be your name, its difficult to tell by the fortieth card. And it could save a tree or two.

Ooh, I do sound a bit 'Bah, humbug' don't I? I don't mean it that way honestly. Let me explain. Due to the unsettling circumstances last year I struggled a bit to focus on the festive season, consequently I didn't get around to sending many cards. Strangely enough I didn't receive that many either. Now to me that seems to indicate card giving operates on a reciprocal basis, if you don't get you don't give! 
I made sure that everyone I met in the weeks leading up to Christmas were wished the best of the season. Later on I wrote a cheque for the amount I would have spent on cards and stamps and popped it in to one of the numerous charity envelopes I had received through the post.

So now here I am with some cards spread in front of me wondering what to do. Do I go back to my card sending ways or do I continue with a new tradition, regardless of how inauspiciously it began,  keep the cards to a minimum and send the saving to charity? Is being struck off a Christmas card list really such a bad thing?

Monday, 5 December 2011

"Aw naw, it's no snow is it?"........

These incredulous words burst forth from my number one sons mouth late yesterday afternoon, a testament to both his Scottish heritage and his advancing years. Gone was the childish delight in the dance of the frozen flakes, at times a sedate progress to the ground, at others a merry jig when the wind joined in. 
That youthful joy had been replaced by a rather adult concern " How am I going to get to school tomorrow? " 

His fears seemed unfounded as the brief flurry made hardly any impact and the light dusting had disappeared before we went to bed.

The rather strange glow in the house when I awoke at 4 this morning alerted me to the possibility that the earlier flurry had just been a teaser. I was right. This was the sight that greeted us this morning.

Number one son was not a happy boy! I could hear him grumbling all the way down the hill. 

Well, he can grumble all he likes. For my part I'm going to enjoy the rather tranquil view while it lasts ( it's melting as I type ) in the hope it will put me in a more festive mood.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

If only it were tuppence a bag!

Ten years on and school mornings have become a kind of routine chaos. Each day I count down to the dawn chorus of "Mum, where's my.......?", the blank filled in by any number of mislaid items. The fact that I have been tidying away school books and paraphernalia, unceremoniously dumped the day before on the kitchen table, into the same wooden box for the last three years, or that blazers flung over the backs of chairs have been mysteriously making their way on to the coat rack for the same length of time, seems to have escaped their attention. 
Then comes the inevitable argument over whose tie is lying beside the computer.
"It's mine, I took it off and left it there last night." 
"No, you didn't. You put yours in your pocket on the way home yesterday. That tie is mine. "  

And so it goes on until I remind them they only have 20 minutes left to cycle to school. There follows a mad rush to stuff packed lunches in to bags, grab a pair of matching gloves and depart with a hurried kiss and a door slammed closed so hard it shakes the room. Its at this point I have to dash from the back door to the front, waving the forgotten lunch/bike lock/helmet at them in the hope of attracting their attention before they get too far down the hill.

Is it any wonder I look forward to the next 10 minutes of peace and quiet with a steaming cup of coffee before starting in on the chores of the day? 

Unfortunately, for the last few weeks that peace and quiet has been in short supply. No sooner have I taken my first sip of the reviving brew than the banging and scratching on the walls starts. Before you get the wrong idea and think I'm one of those people who complain about next door neighbours doing a bit of remodelling let me put your mind at ease. Firstly, since we've been guilty of a bit of remodelling in our time, and probably will be again, we would be ill advised to comment on any noise that accompanies such work. Secondly, we live in a detached house. 

The problem is however noisy neighbours.....of the feathered variety! Our cedar shingle clad house would appear to be the perfect hibernation spot for local arachnids and as such provides a veritable smorgasbord for our feather friends. 

The house is south facing so fortunately it is only the back of the house that gets covered in webs, because while I marvel at the construction I'm not overly happy with how untidy it looks! 

The scratching sounds are made as the birds try to get at the eight legged morsels, who are no doubt cowering ( I'm imagining six legs as arms wrapped around their heads with the other two legs knocking together at the knees) deep within the gaps where the shingles meet. 

The banging comes from a slightly different source.

A rather scruffy, juvenile great tit has taken to head butting the windows. At first I thought it was perhaps reacting aggressively to its reflection, thinking it was another bird. But as the days went by I began to notice that it appeared at windows around the house, usually when we were in the room. Was it following us? It then became a regular at the kitchen window just before breakfast and roughly lunchtime. An idea began to form in my mind.

I don't generally feed the birds during the summer. I operate on the principal that there should be enough natural resources for them at that time of year. Besides which the profusion of plants provides way too much cover for any wandering cat that chooses to lie in wait under the feeders. 
The last few weeks saw a dip in temperature and a couple of frosty mornings. Time for feeding season to begin. But I wasn't prepared. I had no fat balls, seeds or peanuts. The feeders remained empty. And that's when 'Wee Mental', as he has been nicknamed, started visiting.

Perhaps he is some sort of avian activist. After he has attracted our attention by butting the window a few times he usually flies off to some vantage point close by. There he sits and I am now imagining him tweeting "What do we want? Seeds! When do we want them? Now!" He is relentless (and definitely a candidate for any Alfred Hitchcock remake).

Anyway, feeling duly chastised I got some provisions. And none too soon it would seem. I filled the feeder just after the boys left for school. I heard some banging on the kitchen window just before 3 that afternoon and went through to investigate. Yup, there he was again, head butting away, drawing my attention once more to the feeder. This is all that was left.

And that's not including the fat balls. All I can say is I'm hoping for a mild winter!

(I know this picture is out of focus but it seems 'Wee Mental' is camera shy and would disappear every time I tried to photograph him at the window. This is the best I could do. He is in the top left hand corner. He actually looks a bit like a blue tit in this shot but he does have a black strip down his middle and his cap is getting darker) 

Monday, 24 October 2011

The perils of poor posture

Perfecting my posture has never been high on my list of priorities. A book is for burying your nose in whilst curled up in front of a fire, not balancing precariously on your head.

If the book isn't enough add a glass for that little extra risk factor

During my formative years the occasional volley of "don't slouch, stand up straight" was fired off in my general direction, only to be deflected by the wall of indifference erected by youth. I'd stand how I wanted to thank you very much!

Needless to say that wall gets torn down by experience and I'm now wondering how many times in the coming years I'll catch myself thinking, 'if only I'd listened'. 

While I escaped any long lasting effects from my teenage slump, years of carrying heavy bags full of textbooks, paperwork and assorted paraphernalia have left me with one shoulder higher than the other. Not a problem in itself ( except when I want to wear a strappy dress) but in the last few years I have discovered that, combined with poor sewing posture, it has lead to all sorts of curious complications.

The do's and don'ts of sewing machines

Two years ago I was experiencing some discomfort when breathing, so I went to visit my GP ( okay , okay so I left it for six weeks before I got around to making an appointment). I'd had pleurisy the year before and was convinced it was rearing its head again. Several tests later proved that while my lung capacity was indeed impaired it wasn't due to inflammation of the pleural lining. Hmmm. The pain wasn't easing any so my next port of call was the local osteopath. Five minutes in to the session she said, "Ah yes, here's the problem........"

Now before I go any further let me explain something. While I fully accept that I may not be the sharpest knife in the block, a realisation that was crippling when I first made it but have come to terms with over time,  I was fairly sure I am of average intelligence. So imagine how dumb I felt when she ended her statement with, "'ve forgotten how to breathe!"

Wha...? How come someone forget how to breathe? That can't be possible, can it? Well, apparently it can. Sitting, incorrectly, at my sewing machine for periods of time had caused tension in my uneven shoulders. This led to pain in my ribs and in an attempt to alleviate it I had subconsciously stopped breathing from my diaphragm and was shallow breathing using muscles across my chest. Since they are usually only meant to be used as a back up when exercising (HA!) they had quite naturally become a bit irritated at being called in to do the bulk of the work.

A few retraining exercises later and I had my diaphragm back in on the act. Now all I had to do was correct my posture. I changed the height of my machine and my chair, and did what I could with the table. When hand sewing I made sure that I had a suitable support behind me. Problem solved.

Vintage advice, but still pertinent.

Or so I thought. Six weeks ago I began to get a strange sensation down my right arm. It felt as if cold water was constantly running down from my shoulder to my thumb. It later turned in to a persistent ache. I now have a tremor in my hand whenever I have to grip and exert pressure at the same time. It's made rotary cutting something of a challenge, and I don't even want to think about the amount of fabric that has suffered from the wibbly scissor syndrome.

My fine motor skills are slightly impaired and hand sewing is being kept to a minimum, mainly for the sake of my children's delicate ears ( I think I may have mentioned before that I'm not a patient patient) I'm having to type everything as my handwriting now appears to be the visual representation of a drunk spider learning to tap dance.

The cause of all of this disruption? A possible trapped nerve brought about by... you guessed it...poor posture while working. Looks like it's back to the drawing board for my machine set up.

And the moral to this rather long story? Well, fellow crafters, if there is a moral it would probably be this. Unless you want to give Charles Laughton a run for his money pay attention to how you work. Those little aches and pains are telling you to take a break and that maybe, just maybe, you need to balance a book on your head once in a while. 

Charles Laughton as the Hunchback of Notre Dame

Thursday, 20 October 2011


Halfway through the second week of the October break and I can't shake the feeling that something is missing. Although the last few days have seen feverish workroom activity , mainly in the construction of Christmas decorations, it hasn't been as fraught as it normally is. Perhaps I have finally learned to relax slightly and 'go with flow'. Ha! As if. 

No, the reason behind my relative composure is the result of yet another teenage milestone. For nearly ten years, as well as the usual craft fair preparations, the last few weeks of October saw me fabricating Halloween costumes and scribbling down poems to be learned as the 'turn' when out guising ( I don't agree with the 'trick or treat' mentality, the boys have always had to do something to earn any goodies ) Last year they told me not to bother.

I'm not quite sure what triggered their decision to stop getting dressed up and going out. There could be any number of reasons. Peer pressure, adolescent self consciousness, an aversion to frost bite! All I do know is that, strangely, I miss it.

So, I hope you will indulge me as I take this trip down memory lane.
Don't you just love muslin? Stitched on to a t-shirt and trousers for ease of use.  
What can be achieved with a football, wellies and a tin of silver spray paint.

A ten tentacled, eight eyed, four footed, two headed alien. Halfway through the night it split in to two!(you just gotta love Velcro) 
Eyes that were open even when closed.

Scary, Hairy Beastie Monster and his friend Inside-out Man. 
Hmm, that looks tasty!

Death and a zombie

Don't worry, he's 'armless *groan* 
Death obviously didn't find that joke funny either.

The Headless Horseman. Yes, that is real hair on the paper mache head. It was the only way I could get him to agree to a haircut!

A liberal splash of luminous paint helped this ghost glow in the dark. And there's that muslin again.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde I presume. Hopefully that's the last time I'll ever have to make a top hat.
Three years ago it became apparent that we didn't have ceilings high enough to make treacle scones a challenge.
Well, not so much treacle (bleargh) as strawberry and toffee sauce

I hope they have good memories of their guising years, I know I do. Although I think I can honestly say I won't miss the dooking for apples!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

C is for......crikey, is it that time of year already?

So there I was, innocently marking a dentist's appointment on the wall planner, when it hit me! We were already a third of the way through October. It would soon be Christmas *said in a hushed voice* Eeek!!! 

Having worked in retail for many years I have mixed feelings about when it's appropriate to start preparing for Christmas. I used to hate this time of year as it usually saw the arrival of the 'holiday season' music tapes. Listening to Slade for 10 weeks can seriously damage your festive spirit. And don't even get me started on Cliff!

Ideally I wouldn't think about it until the 1st of December, when the advent calendar gets put up. Unfortunately, in order to have enough stock of decorations for the glut of craft fairs leading up to Christmas, I really should have started my preparations in August. I hadn't.

I hastily placed an order for some scrap bundles from Strawberry Fayre. Most of their cotton fabrics are quite traditional, perfect for what I had in mind.         

my fabric scraps

Many of the fairs I attend are ones I take part in every year. I try to make some new items to give regular customers something fresh to look at. So this week has been spent experimenting. 

I'm not quite sure what this could become. A napkin ring perhaps?

 I thought I could make my fabric flowers look more like stars. The smaller prints work better when there are so many folds. 

I wanted to try something simple and inexpensive that would work with larger print fabrics. I've filled this pyramid with some spicily scented wadding. Hmmm, I'm not sure it works.  

And finally, mini bunting, my alternative to tinsel.I was thinking about sewing small bells on to the points for a little extra festive cheer.

What do you think? I'd love to have your feedback or suggestions.     

Monday, 10 October 2011

And so to bed

I love jigsaws ! ( the puzzles not the power tool)

Unfortunately for me my family do not share my enthusiasm. In fact I'd go so far as to say they treat it with a certain level of contempt, seeing the entire pursuit as a pointless waste of time. Why on earth would anyone cut up a picture just to put it back together again?

To avoid facing the inevitable ridicule I have learned to subdue my passion. It's lying dormant, waiting hopefully for those twilight years when I'll wear purple, rattle railings and fit oddly shaped pieces of cardboard together until my little heart's content.

However, in the meantime I have discovered a productive outlet for my obsession. One that no one can complain about since they invariably reap the benefits. The gaping hole left by my unfulfilled desire for jigsaw puzzles has been occupied by ......Flat Pack Furniture!

It's quite sad really when I think about the sheer pleasure and sense of accomplishment I get when I've put something together. When I say 'I' I mean just that . In the interests of marital harmony flat pack furniture building is a solitary pastime ( the instructions always seem pretty clear to me! )

This is my latest contribution, a single mid sleeper with under bed and overhead storage. 

It replaces a high sleeper cabin bed, one of two I built a few years ago. They had a wardrobe, drawers, desk and shelves underneath with a bookcase at the side and seemed like a good idea at the time. Space saving, practical, and they took two days each to assemble. Bliss! 

What I had failed to take in to consideration was the passage of time. Time that would see the boys undergo a growth spurt and me suffer a loss of desire or ability to climb up a ladder to change the beds. They started bumping their heads on the ceiling while getting in to bed. And me? Who knew putting a fitted sheet on a mattress while perched on a step 4 feet above the carpet could be so exhausting?

I know what you're thinking. Why didn't I just let the boys change their own beds? Or the sheets at least! I tried. Honestly I did, but have you any idea the mess two teenage boys, who would much rather be playing their X Box than scrambling about on a mattress, can make of putting on a sheet? I mean, for goodness sake, there aren't even any corners to tuck in! It was more than I could bear. They had to go - the beds, not the boys.

So far I've managed to persuade son no.1 to go for a change, hence the new addition. Son no.2 is being slightly more stubborn. A good thing I suppose, this way I can look forward to piecing together more furniture at a later date. Well a girl has to get her fix somehow!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

While the sun shines

I know it had been forecast but it was still a pleasant surprise to open the door this morning to such a glorious day. I was sure Autumn would descend with the same false promise as Summer had. 

With the sun on my face I set out with every intention of getting some work done, but on my way to the work room I was stopped in my tracks by this rather handsome devil.
WARNING: if you have a fear of spiders look away now

Sorry if you're not big on spiders but I couldn't help myself, he was just fantastic.

Not being an entomologist I have no idea what sex or type of spider it is, I just called him ( or her) 'Big'. I watched him ( or her ) for a while as he sat waiting for something tasty to drop by. The temperature began to rise, a soft breeze ruffled the turning leaves and I thought to myself it would be such a waste to be shut up in my workroom on what was probably going to be one of the last good days of the year.

Instead I went back to the house , collected some gloves and a pair of secateurs , and spent a very enjoyable morning doing some outdoor housework ( or gardening if you prefer ). When we bought the house 6 years ago I inherited a rather large herbaceous border that always needs cut back at the end of the season. The last few years I've left it too late and the rain and sudden frosts have landed me with an unappealing brown mush to deal with.It wasn't going to happen this year. During my tidy up session I came across a number of others that were busy making the most of the last minute sunshine

These bees were collecting pollen from the few flowers that escaped my flailing shears. When armed, I show no mercy! 

Evidence of more spiders could be found. Unfortunately as the day wore on and the dew evaporated the intricate webs became almost invisible, great for a spider trying to be inconspicuous, not so good for a very poor photographer.

There has been a lot going on these last few weeks, filling my head with one quandary or another. Today was more than a bonus weather wise. It was also a chance to remind myself to stop and take the time to appreciate what I have around me instead of constantly seeking the elusive 'more'.
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