Archive for September, 2013

September 30, 2013

Time for Myself.

Saturday began with an argument. My children’s ‘whimsical’ approach to getting ready to leave the house, combined with a once-an-hour train schedule left me feeling exhausted and combative. I often find myself saying ‘put your shoes on, put your shoes on, put your shoes on’ like a stuck record (ah, vinyl) and it feels as though the mere idea of wearing shoes to leave the house has never entered their mind before, such is the response I get.

Anyway, suffice to say, we caught the train (which helped me out by being delayed) and by the time we’d reached the station, the kids had completely forgotten about our argument and were giddy about the journey. I left them in town with their daddy and returned to an empty house.

Once I got home, I immediately started on my never-ending, relentless ‘to-do’ list. I put some laundry on, sorted out a cupboard of kitchen stuff, tidied all the toys away, and was in the middle of unloading the dishwasher when I realised I had an enormous headache. And so, I sat down. And exhaled, for what felt like the first time all day. I stayed sitting in that kitchen chair for twenty minutes, listening to the quiet and taking a breath.  Gradually, other noises came back. The birds in the hedge outside. The cars on the motorway in the distance. The tap dripping into the kitchen sink.

At that moment, I decided not to do one single thing more from my list. Instead I spent the whole afternoon and evening just taking some time for myself.

I started with tea and the latest issue of Kinfolk, which is a beautiful, uplifting and inspiring read.

Kinfolk magazine, Emma Bridgewater mug

Then, I filled the bath with hot water and bubbles and took a cup of tea and a frothy novel (The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp) into the bathroom for a leisurely soak. There are few things that feel quite as decadent to me as mid-afternoon bathing. After slow, almost languid ablutions and the application of a coat of Chanel ‘Dragon’ red nail polish on my toenails, I then spent a bit of time reading through my RHS study notes, with yet more tea, followed by an easy, uplifting film – Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – and noodles.  At about 9pm, I took myself off to bed with cheesecake, more tea and yet another book. It was simply a lovely afternoon.

As a gardener, I know that the first rule of all gardening is this: Look after your soil.

Gardeners, especially those of us who grow fruit and vegetables, know that we cannot keep taking, taking, taking from the soil and expecting the same results. We must put something back. The right nutrients. A bit of TLC. And, in some cases, we can give the earth a fallow year and a bit of a rest. And I do this. I make sure the soil on my allotment is well cared for. I add nutrients, change crops each year, and allow the soil to rest from producing. But, I don’t give myself the same attention. I expect myself to do all the time. To produce, create, deliver, and run about constantly. Without putting anything back into myself.

If I want to be healthy and have the energy to run around after my children and not be so exhausted, then I need to eat healthily. I need to get enough rest and sleep. I need to exercise to keep myself in decent health.

If I want to be creative, and to write better, then I need to read. If I want to become more accomplished in my chosen subjects, then I need to study and to find the space to learn and take on new ideas. Not just to produce all the time. In fallow periods, I need to slow down and make better use of that breathing space, so that when I do have inspiration, then I know what to do with it.

And, I need to take care of myself so that I can take care of those I love.  An afternoon off might not sound like much. But it’s given me a bit of peace and re-charged my batteries ready for when I need to be able to keep busy, to look after my children, do my job and, yes, to tackle that damn to-do list as well…

September 25, 2013

Happiness Every Day?

I know it’s Wednesday and that usually means it’s time for Three Good Things, but I’ve felt a need for a break as I’ve been mulling over the subject of happiness yet again…

It was my wedding anniversary recently.

Your wedding day is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life.  And yet, I don’t remember at any point during my wedding day thinking ‘this is it, the happiest day of my life, this is the happiest I’ll ever be‘. I’m sure that I was happy, certainly the photos suggest it, and I did have a wonderful day. Even though, as of this year, the marriage has not survived, the memories of the day are still positive ones. Yet I think that the sheer force of a wedding day, the speed of it, means it passes like a blur without you ever truly getting to take it all in.

The birth of your child is another day that is supposed to be The Happiest. Yet, with all the fears surrounding the birth of my daughter, ten weeks too soon, it was far from being a happy day. My mother remembers it as ‘the day you nearly died’ which means that alongside the joy of her birthday every year, a few tears are shed for what might have happened. Bringing her home from hospital was certainly a happy day but there was just as much fear and anxiety at the thought of removing this tiny person from the safety of her hospital surroundings and looking after her all by ourselves. My son’s birth was easier, though it required yet another emergency c-section and so, again, it wasn’t just happiness. The huge, overwhelming love that blooms with the arrival of children brings with it many other feelings and they’re often not easy ones.

Sometimes, it’s easier to look back on a time and remember it as a happy one, rather than recognising it when you’re actually living it. Holidays, are a good example of this. Often fraught with delayed flights, arguing kids in the back of the car, or getting lost in a place you don’t know and barely speak the language, they’re usually looked back on with great fondness. Things that at the time seem like huge disasters are converted into funny anecdotes once we’re no longer in the middle of living them.

Yet, in ‘The Happiness Project‘, Gretchin Rubin says that what you do everyday matters more than what you do once in a while.  Genuine happiness perhaps does not lie in the big, once-in-a-lifetime situations that generally rush by in the blink of an eye but more in the little things that happen on a regular basis.  I know that Three Good Things is my attempt to find happiness in my busy life, showing a bit of gratitude for small every day things. Microadventures are my chance to try something new regularly, rather than once a blue moon. Getting the chance at the time to actually reflect that, yes, I am happy, makes a big difference. Whether that’s sitting at the top of a mountain I’ve climbed, reading a great book, having the afternoon with friends or just being on the cusp of eating a giant piece of cake, a bit of self-reflection there and then is a good way to realise happiness.

At the end of the new Richard Curtis film ‘About Time’ (spoiler alert) the lead character chooses to spend every day noticing the things that make each day a great one, instead of doing what he can do but we cannot – travel back in time and re-live the day again. Perhaps choosing to see the fun, the smiles,  the small things that can make an ordinary day a happy one instead of just rushing through with blinkers on from one day to the next, is a good way of feeling happiness. As for me, I’m still trying to work out when the happiest day of my life was – and perhaps I’ll never really know. It may well be that I’m at my happiest during an ordinary day, rather than during one of those ‘big’ life moments. But for now, I’m sitting alone on the sofa, typing. I’m just about to make a cup of tea and read a great book in peace. Does that make me happy? Yes it does…

Can you remember the happiest day of your life? I’d love to hear about it…

September 20, 2013

Introduction to Letterpress.

Last weekend was one of the best experiences I’ve had for a long time. I spent two days at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop on an ‘Introduction to Letterpress’ course. I’d been waiting for it for months and by the time Saturday arrived I was a bundle of nerves. I’m not an artist of any kind and I didn’t quite know what I was letting myself in for!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Thankfully, my nerves were unfounded, as I arrived to by met by my tutor, Nick, and a couple of other students, all of whom were utterly lovely. Nick’s teaching style was laid-back, inclusive and easy to follow and he put us at ease straight away. The facilities at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop are great – we had two print rooms and plenty of space for us to work in. The enormous ‘Imperial Press’, with the wooden type provided by Nick, enabled us to make big scale prints and the table-top Adana 8X5 presses in the other room were for smaller work. Two days later, I’d amassed a giant collection of prints, all made with the Imperial Press because I absolutely fell in love with creating images on such a large scale! The Adana can print with a far smaller type but it felt a bit fiddly for me, although I’d love to go back and have a play with it too.

Imperial Press

Modern letterpress, which has had a huge upsurge in popularity in recent years, often uses photo-polymer plates, with images made on a computer used to create brand-new plates for pressing with. However, all of the type we used was old, which gave it a wonderful tactile feel and created images that were made more lovely by their imperfections.

Things that we take for granted when typing on a computer require so much thought when creating in letterpress. Everything is mirror image, for a start, and you have to think about the spaces between rows of type (leading) and between words, so that things are readable and look correctly spaced out. All the negative space surrounding the words has to be considered and the type has to be locked into a frame (known as the chase) with leading and quoins so none of the letters fall out when you pick it up to take to the press. And this is before using tricky fonts and struggling to decide if the letter you have is the letter you think you have! No wonder that the phrase ‘mind your p’s and q’s’ came from letterpress…

I absolutely adored this course and found myself really absorbed in the process to the point where hours passed without notice. It’s a long time since I’ve felt that ‘flow’ and it was a definite sign to me that I need to spend more time with this rather challenging yet fascinating subject.

Letterpress Ink

At the end of the second day, I felt a bit like I’d only just got started and now am trying to work out how I can take this further, given my lack of any of the tools or equipment needed! I’m also looking through the list of courses at the Workshop and deciding what to try next.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

‘Never stop learning’ – detail from one of my prints.  Notice that I’ve got the ‘r’ in the wrong font! Not even trying for irony there…

For a ‘scanner’ like me, learning is truly addictive and this course has reignited my passion for study. And that’s made me very, very happy indeed…

September 18, 2013

Three Good Things: Week 9

Hello, and welcome to this week’s edition of Three Good Things!

As ever, this post is about finding the small things that make me happy and grateful for my life.

Last weekend, I did a two day course at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop, and so this week’s Three Good Things is heavily influenced by that experience…

One: Hello!

Hello letterpress print

I did loads of different prints on my course, and this one, which was the fastest to create, is a bit of a favourite. It’s a brighter lime green than it appears in this photo (taken in poor light), and will be framed to go on the wall in my new home.  I love the simplicity and the way that the old, wooden type has created imperfections in the print. To me, letterpress  (with old type, rather than new photopolymer plates) is a wonderful example of the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi; the beauty in impermanence and imperfection. I’ll be blogging more about my experiences at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop on Friday!

Two: Uppercase.

Uppercase magazine

Uppercase magazine is a visual treat every issue. The special stationery issue in this photo was the final push in my decision to sign up for a letterpress course in the first place and I read every issue from cover to cover and keep them for inspiration. They describe themselves as ‘creative and curious’ to which I’d add joyful, colour-filled and uplifting.  Even, if, like me, you’re not already working in a creative industry, it’s really inspiring. It’s definitely influencing plans I’m dreaming up for the future and I’m already looking forward to the next ‘gem’ themed issue.

Uppercase is available from loads of places, but I buy mine from Colours May Vary.

Three: Just My Type.

Just My Type

This book about fonts is my current read. I’ve loved Simon Garfield since I read his beautifully edited trilogy of books based on Mass Observation diaries from before, during and after the Second World War, and I’m loving this just as much. He has a wonderful way of taking something that could be  rather a dry subject, and bringing it completely alive. I cannot pass a poster now without wondering about the font. He begins the book by discussing Comic Sans, which feels a bit like tackling the elephant in the font room straight away and now I’ve discovered that it’s really valued by dyslexic children, I’m feeling somewhat gentler towards it! It’s a great, fun and informative book that I highly recommend. Learning more about type and fonts is a great way for me to continue my education now I’ve done my introductory letterpress course. Now I just need to decide what’s next!

Now, I recommend that you hop over to  Espresso Coco  and Tonight’s Menu to see what they’ve chosen as their Three Good Things and then share what’s been making you smile this week in the comments. Or, if you’re a blogger too, I’d love you to join in with this series on your own blog!  Just let me know you’re writing it and I’ll make sure to link up with you next week…

September 13, 2013

Wood Street Market, Wakefield

This Sunday is the third Wood Street Market of the year. I went to the last one and it was lots of fun.

Wood Street is in the centre of Wakefield and the market has helped to revitalise this often-quiet Civic Quarter.  The road is closed and transformed into a hive of activity with stallholders, entertainment and live music. When we visited in the summer, there was a city ‘beach’ organised by the Council too, so the kids were thrilled to see a helter-skelter to ride on – which thankfully was free, because they went on it many, many times…

Plenty of different and freshly prepared street food was available, including pulled pork, Thai satay, coffee, cupcakes, and the local independent beer shop had a couple of beers on tap for those folk who hadn’t driven into town! I bought some lovely fresh scones to take home for a treat and the kids enjoyed ice creams, despite the occasional shower of rain!

We made paper windmills, had some great photographs taken at The Portrait Sideshow (which we loved so much that we’ve bought prints)  viewed a photography exhibition and listened to a variety of live music. One of the musicians asked for audience suggestions and my lovely three year old nephew made him play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’, which made us chuckle.  It was allegedly written by Mozart, after all!

Wood Street Market

As well as food and music was a nice variety of stalls, including my favourite which was called ‘Jam’  (nice paper goods, craft-based gifts and books) run by the people who own the shop of the same name. Pop-up shops and free family craft activities made good use of empty shops along Wood Street, and will be back on Sunday.

Wood Street Market is a community-led event, created by some enterprising local businesses who wanted to see a change in their city and took it upon themselves to make it happen.  They (and the local council, and their other partners) deserve our support, so if you’re in the area and stuck for something fun to do, then I recommend you go along.

September 11, 2013

Three Good Things: Week 8

Hello and welcome to week 8 of Three Good Things! Can’t quite believe I’ve been doing this series of posts for two months already. It’s a very enjoyable process though, and is definitely helping me to appreciate all the little things in my life that add up to happiness.

The most important good thing to happen this week was my children happily going back to school. In the case of my little boy, for the very first time. Although I had a bit of a weep because it only seems like yesterday that he was born, he was very excited to be joining his big sister and so, instead of bemoaning the fact that he’s not a baby any more, I am celebrating the next chapter in our life. After all, they’ll always be my babies really…

However, Three Good Things is about the little things in life, and so here’s this weeks edition.

One: Letter Twenty.

First in my list this week is Letter Twenty, a new blog about tea that I’m writing in collaboration with the wonderful Dave Graham. I’m starting a weekly recipe post there after this week, so please do go and have a read. Now that I’ve worked out how to incorporate this into my weekly schedule, it’s feeling like a very optimistic addition to my world and I have great hopes for it. After all, tea is one of my life-long good things!

Tea. Vital to my existence and now a new blog!

Tea. Vital to my existence and now a new blog!

Two: ‘About Time’ at the Tyneside Cinema.

I’ve been going to the cinema a lot more recently ( thanks to my film-loving boyfriend), in particular to the lovely Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle, which, in a very civilised fashion, serves beer as well as popcorn in rather more stylish surroundings than the local multiplex. This week I saw the new Richard Curtis film ‘About Time’ and I loved it. Yes, the sci-fi is wonky and won’t stand up to any real scrutiny, but then science fiction always seems able to explain away any questions you ask of it anyway, and in this case it really doesn’t matter.

What you’re looking for with a Richard Curtis film is rather posh, upper-middle-class people in a bit of a relationship tangle, some laughter and a few bitter-sweet or weepy moments. And with this film you get that in spades. Not to mention the most beautiful sprawling coastal country home I think I’ve ever seen. The characters are well created and empathetic and the central father-son relationship is very well done. I really enjoyed it, so it’s definitely a good thing for this week.

You can see the trailer on YouTube here, but be warned, it seems to contain most of the film!

Three: Being the Tooth Fairy.

This week my daughter lost her second tooth. She’s one of the last in her class to lose teeth and so is very excited about it. Last night, armed with a bit of glitter, I was the Tooth Fairy. I love her belief in the Tooth Fairy. And the Easter Bunny and Father Christmas, come to think of it. It’s just such a magical thing in a world of grey seriousness. Father Christmas doesn’t appear to have any kind of budget, being magical and all, which is a bit of a problem. I’m still working on that, and preparing the kids not to expect everything they’re mentioning. But, thankfully the Tooth Fairy just brings a pound. And some fairy dust, obviously…

Over at Leeds&Me, Isobel shares her Three Good Things for this week.  I’m trying not to be jealous of her Elton tickets…

What are your good things this week?

September 9, 2013

Leeds International Beer Festival

On Thursday, I went to the second Leeds International Beer Festival.

Now, I know nothing about beer. Other than knowing what tastes I prefer (light, hoppy, perhaps some raspberry) and what I really don’t like (heavy, ‘chewy’ and too much grapefruit) I’m a complete novice. If you want to know more about beer from people who know what they’re talking about then I recommend you visit Leigh Linley at The Good Stuff or Nick at The Beer Prole (especially as there’s a photo of me looking remarkably sober on his Beer Festival post!) I like light (or what Leigh called ‘introductory’) beer and I’m happy with that. Actually, my favourite beer of all time is ‘Matilda’ made by Goose Island, if you’re ever buying…

Despite my utter lack of knowledge about beer, this isn’t the first beer festival I’ve been to. I’ve attended, and enjoyed, many a traditional CAMRA festival, despite being female and beardless, which seemed to put me distinctly in the minority. Leeds International Beer Festival is a different thing altogether though, and because of those differences, it’s the best one I’ve ever been to.

Firstly, the location is a stunning one. Leeds Town Hall is an incredible building and a wonderful choice. Having it here makes the statement that it’s being taken very seriously as an addition to the calendar of events in Leeds and that can only be a good thing. Combining beer with some excellent street food and coffee from local companies was a brilliant idea, giving us a break from drinking to line our stomachs with tasty treats!

Leeds International Beer Festival

Lovely beer and equally lovely ceiling!

We had battered-three-ways fish and chips from Fish&, chickpea stew from Lafsaneh’s Kitchen and some freebies at the very end of the night from Bundobust who are soon to open in central Leeds. I’m really excited to see where and when this opens because it was gorgeous and I’ve yet to visit the renowned Prashad restaurant, who are collaborators in this venture. Everything we ate was really excellent quality and freshly made and I honestly could have tried something from every stall! Definitely an addition that should be made to all beer festivals in future. As well as food, there was also live music all night, which helped to create the vibrant and upbeat atmosphere.

The collection of beers was an interesting one, with many contemporary-looking craft breweries and companies from the US and Europe as well as local names. My favourite drink from the evening was ‘Wu Gang Chops the Tree‘ from a small brewery called Pressure Drop. Described by them as a foraged herb hefeweisse, to me it had a light gingery and clove aftertaste which was incredibly palatable. And who doesn’t want to try a beer with that name? I also really enjoyed Lux Borealis from Hardknott brewery and some favourites from more local Yorkshire breweries, such as Ilkey Brewery’s Mary Jane and Kirkstall Brewery’s Framboise.

Such a great event, and one I hope will return next year. If it does, I’ll be back and I recommend you visit too…

September 4, 2013

Three Good Things: Week 7

Welcome to this week’s edition of Three Good Things! 

Here we go…

One: Hugh’s loo roll creations!

My first good thing this week is a rather special one. Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis will remember that last week, I posted photos of cardboard owls that I’d made with my kids out of loo roll inners. Later in the week, I got a tweet from the lovely Rachel (@textilesteacher) saying that her young son, Hugh, was busily rootling around in the recycling bin looking for loo roll tubes to make his own owls.

Then, a bit later, she tweeted me these photos! How wonderful. It really made me smile. One of the nicest things about blogging, and indeed, about Twitter is the sharing of joyful, uplifting things and making new friends. I LOVED that Hugh had been inspired to make his own owls, and then he went one better and made Despicable Me minions. This was a genuine highlight of my week. Thank you Hugh, for your wonderful creations, and thank you Rachel for sharing them with me.

Hugh's wonderful creations! (photos credit: @textilesteacher)

Hugh’s wonderful creations! (photos credit: @textilesteacher)

Two: My sweetcorn.

The second thing to make me very happy this week is my long-awaited sweetcorn! Last year, the birds treated themselves to a feast of it, and so I didn’t get any to eat, but this year it’s amazing. Big, plump kernals, all the way round well grown cobs. And all with the minimum of help from me!  It’s been a tricky year on my allotment this year (and I’ll share more about this with you in another post) but this is a lovely success.

Sweetcorn

Three: A special birthday card.

Three Good Things is about celebrating the small things in life that make everyday worth smiling about, and yet the third thing to make my list this week isn’t small at all. For the past few years I have sponsored a small boy in India called Kishan through Plan and it’s soon to be his birthday. And so my third good thing this week is a birthday card. Written by me, and containing some drawings by my children, it will be on the way to India now. That my children know about Kishan and why we send money to help support him, his family and local community, is really important to me, and without wishing to sound like a spoilt cliche, now that my children are getting a bit older I hope that it helps them to understand a bit more about the world, the people who live in it and how important it is to share with those less fortunate than themselves. Kishan (who is only seven) goes to school now, instead of having to work in the local textiles factory. If that’s not a good thing, then I don’t know what is.

What are your good things this week?

September 2, 2013

Take your holiday back home…

This post was originally titled ‘how to steal things from your holiday’ but I thought you might worry I had criminal tendencies…

Do you ever come back from holiday determined to bring something home with you? I don’t mean literally stealing the towels from your hotel room, although I do admit to taking those little bottles of toiletries if they’re nice enough. We all do that though, right?

What I mean by ‘stealing’ is taking ideas, behaviours, attitudes, styles, away from our ‘holiday’ selves and recreating them in our ‘real’ selves and real, everyday lives. I’ve often tried to do exactly that. Sadly, though the idea of breakfast on the terrace every day is perfection in sunny Europe, it doesn’t translate terribly well to a wintery Yorkshire.  However, this year, I have a very good chance of recreating some elements of my holidays in my everyday life, from my city break in Paris, camping trips to Scotland and The Lake District and, last week, in a yurt in the Yorkshire Dales.

So – first up are some lovely Duralex glasses that you see everywhere in Paris. Although they’re incredibly chic, they’re also cheap, and so I can buy these and pretend that I’m drinking in some little Left Bank bistro. Perhaps I’ll insist on a return trip to Paris to buy them from Merci though?

Secondly, I can recreate the  lanterns that are used everywhere at Bivouac, adding wire to old jars and glasses, with some lace or jute string to decorate and a tea light dropped inside. I found this tutorial video, which makes them look easy! Cheap enough to amass a huge collection, these will be a glittering backdrop to the Bonfire Night supper that I’m planning. And bunting! I need more bunting in my life. I think I shall make some. It’s not hard, is it?

Tea lights, bunting and mismatched furniture...

Tea lights, bunting and mismatched furniture…

I can also recreate the style of Bivouac in other ways, using mis-matched furniture (which, with my budget, is going to happen anyway!) to give my home a lived-in, unique feel. Removing the distractions of TV, and allowing the evenings to be focussed on people, conversations around dinner and a bottle of beer sounds good too. That lack of wifi, 3G or even a phone signal at Bivouac was good for making me slow down a bit and read more. I’d like to bring reading back into my normal life too, I’ve not found the time for that recently.

Often, when I’m on holiday, I find myself eating differently. This is more noticeable, I think, when abroad, as I adopt a Mediterranean style diet, or eat more unusual food. I often choose to potter around a local market to shop for food. This is something that I’d like to bring back home to my everyday life. More fresh food, more cooking, more greens! Fewer scones, sadly, which seemed to be a staple of my last holiday…

I also tend to exercise more – swimming in a pool or the sea perhaps. Walking, cycling, even wandering around a city can be physically demanding. I’ve started swimming every week, although it’s not terribly glamorous at my local pool, it is doing me good. I’ve added hill walking to my weekends whenever I can fit it in, so it’s not just something I do when I’m away camping.

I’m sure there are other things I can add to that list, given enough time! But for now, those are the things I’m stealing from my holidays. I’m hoping that they will add a bit of healthiness and happiness, as well as making me feel a tiny bit more like I’m on holiday everyday…

What would you steal from your holiday?