Archive for ‘Homelife: Craft, books, films, family & leisure time.’

March 21, 2014

Book: The Ivington Diaries

Books about learning to garden can be a bit repetitive. After all, there’s only a handful of ways to sow seeds. Books on gardens, however, are wonderful. This example from Monty Don, has captured my attention and really made me want to learn more and visit more gardens to understand planting on a larger scale. It’s written as a year’s worth of diary entries, but with the years ranging over roughly a decade, so for example January 1st 1999 is followed by January 4th, 2004 and it’s utterly captivating.  Monty writes so engagingly he makes you want to walk around the acres of garden (sections have names;  spring garden, jewel garden, white garden) and take a peek into the potting sheds. He writes of practical matters, mulch being a favourite, and of the joy and artistry of creating a beautiful garden, not to mention the work that goes into creating such a garden from scratch and his words are accompanied by lush photography so you get a good overview of the different parts of the garden through the year.

The book format (even down to the paper and font choices), reminds me very much of Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diary which is an absolute favourite book of mine, so if you liked that, imagine a similar book set in a garden, and you’ve gone some way towards capturing the feel of this book.

The garden in question is at his home, Ivington, where he and his family moved following the collapse of the family business and the death of his mother. The house they bought and the creation of the garden seems to have brought their lives back together and in his own words ‘rebuilt’ him.  He writes with such love, attention and humour and, because the book is written as short diary entries, it’s really easy to dip into and read whenever you’ve got a free minute. I really recommend it, and think it would be a wonderful gift for Mothering Sunday…

The Ivington Diaries

March 10, 2014

Our urban green space.

Though it’s not officially spring yet, the area I live in has begun to change and the little green space opposite our flat has come alive.

When we moved into the flat in November, the whole area was quiet, tucked up for winter. We hardly saw anyone and the space between our houses felt huge. Since the warmer weather has started to arrive, the streets are beginning to fill up. The birds in our trees are singing, snowdrops planted on the green are in full flower and people are emerging from their winter.

Early mornings on the green often start with tai chi practitioners, working slowly and deliberately through their sequence of movements. They are followed by dog walkers and people on their way to work. Afternoons now see children back from school playing on the make-shift swing or kicking a ball around.

Yesterday, children from the local Sunday school spilled out from the Church Hall, escorted by white-robed nuns, to run around and play football with some other boys and their dad, whilst another boy was pushed on the rope swing. Next to arrive were three rainbow-haired young adults with their ferrets—this is Yorkshire, after all — who allowed their animals to enjoy a run around on the grass in the fresh spring air. Later, the football and ferrets were replaced by a family with a frisbee and a dog who was having enormous fun chasing around after the flying disc.

It’s not a perfect space, I know that. We have early morning tai chi, but we do sometimes also have late-night drinkers. But they’re quiet, and one of our community minded neighbours leaves a bin liner hooked over the edge of the bench, so they’re tidy too. The same neighbour cleared the leaves away from under the trees, so those snowdrops had space to flower. I suspect she’s the guerrilla gardener responsible for their existence in the first place. She’s someone I’d like to know better.

Yesterday we threw our windows open to let in the air and witnessing people using the green over the whole day gave me a feeling of lightness and of happiness. And of the confirmation, yet again, of the importance of green space close to where people live. It’s not a big space but it matters. The people living in this area live in a combination of whole houses, flats that are created from those houses, and social housing. No matter what we live in, we share a common lack of green space of our own. The houses are huge, but they are not blessed with large gardens; certainly they’re not big enough to kick a football. So having somewhere across the street for a run about is vital. Study after study has proven the importance of the natural environment for people’s physical and mental well-being, and although the occasional trip to a National Park is a wonderful thing, what people do in their everyday life matters more.

I’m very thankful to see our community start to come alive and to use the green. And I look forward to becoming more involved in it as the spring turns into summer…

February 21, 2014

Book: Glaciers

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After tearing through a handful of roller-coaster fantasy novels, including the Mur Lafferty one I wrote about recently and the first Terry Pratchett novel I’ve read in years I felt in need of something a touch calmer. A moment of tranquility, before another fast paced hurtle though a different world.

Enter Glaciers, written by Alexis M. Smith. I’d been bought this book as a gift a few months back, but not been in the right frame of mind to read it. This time, it was exactly what I was looking for.

Glaciers is a short, beautiful and somewhat melancholy book based on a day in the life of Isabel, a book restorer who lives in Portland, Oregon. Each chapter is brief, with wistful, memory-laden references to Isabel’s own history interwoven with that of the postcards she collects and vintage clothing she wears. Lightness and humour are provided by her friendship with Leo, and the nearly-but-not-quite love with a soldier who is called back to battle leaves a bittersweet feeling and a lingering wonder about what could have been and indeed, what still might be.

As a debut novel, I think it’s incredibly accomplished, with the beautifully drawn character of Isabel being someone you care for right from the start. It’s a quick read, but one that stays on your mind long after the last page has been read. Beautiful and highly recommended.

Have you read anything great recently? I’d love to hear your book recommendations!

February 7, 2014

Book: The Shambling Guide to New York City.

Friday is supposed to be for my ‘Home’ posts, but it seems to be drifting in the direction of ‘Books’. However, that still seems fitting and so I’m happily going with it. In fact, the whole blog has become distinctly more book, magazine and paper orientated—whether that’s a sign of Winter hibernation or that I should just give in and write a blog about paper remains to be seen…

As I mentioned last week, I seem to have accidentally become a big fan of fantasy novels and so I found myself wandering in the fantasy section of Waterstone’s earlier this week, seeking a follow up book to The Night Circus, which I loved.

Sitting amidst all the gothic-looking fantasy novels was this book. I’ll admit that the cover quote from Scott Sigler did it for me. ‘If Buffy grew up, got therapy and found a real job, it would look like this’. I was obsessed with Buffy when I was away at agricultural college. I used to get it recorded (on VHS, no less) so that I could watch back to back episodes every time I came home. I bought all the box-sets, fan-books, action figures, magazines. I even queued to meet James Marsters but wasn’t able to stay long enough to actually see him; a fact which still makes me sad…

The Shambling Guide to New York City

Anyway, I digress. I bought Mur Lafferty’s urban fantasy novel ‘The Shambling Guide to New York City’ and, after a day, I’ve finished it. It’s brilliant. Fast-paced and contemporary, with the wry humour and wit that Buffy was great at, and a mix of comedic and slightly disturbing that only a novel containing zombies can probably manage. I love that she creates characters that I care about, even if they happen to be Death Goddesses, water sprites or vampires. It’s lots of fun and hugely engaging right from the start. I think that it would be a really good introduction to fantasy novels for those of you who might be as sceptical as I was about fantasy as a genre.

A whole series of ‘Shambling Guide’ novels set in different cities are planned with the second—set in New Orleans— to be released later this year; I already know that I will be waiting impatiently for its arrival.

What I really want to know, though, is why I’ve never heard of Mur Lafferty before? She’s ace. I’ve had a quick read of her blog and noticed that she’s a pod-caster so they’re next on my list…

January 31, 2014

Comfort Viewing: what are your favourite shows?

We’ve been watching our way through the Academy Awards nominees, Golden Globe winners and lots of new TV shows recently—and seen some incredible performances. I’m really looking forward to Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, having loved him since his Dazed and Confused days—which has a brilliant soundtrack that always makes me smile.

But alongside this, I’ve been craving some comfort viewing. The relentless quest for the new can be a bit tiring, and at the end of a seemingly endless January (and never-arriving payday!) I’ve been curling up on the sofa and watching some shows that I’ve seen so often, I could probably parrot every line back to you.

As I’m trying ever-so-hard to be a minimalist, I have hardly any DVDs left. Here are those that are my required comfort viewing, and so I still own. I think there’s only one film and one TV award winner amongst them…

Television

  • The Good Life. Obviously. Because I feel like I know every word. And I understand that the show isn’t really about Tom Good’s quest for self sufficiency. Anyone who has watched it as many times as I have realises that Barbara is the person who keeps the Goods afloat, and really the whole thing is a vehicle for Penelope Keith as Margot to steal the show time and again.
  • The West Wing. Preferably the first series. Everyone is fresh and new; it’s so utterly engaging, even if sometimes the politics baffles me. So many corridors to “walk with me” down. I rarely watch an entire series from start to finish but this is a notable exception.
  • The Darling Buds of May. Absolute rose-tinted cheese fest. I make no apologies for this. Plus, it’s David Jason, who can do no wrong.
  • Poirot. Or Marple. Or any other crime drama in which the actual murdering is terribly civilised and we’re completely confident that wrong-doers will be caught. Because what we’re really looking for in a crime drama is tension, resolution and the return to status quo. That’s the comfort and why they’re so damn popular.

The Good Life. Best TV ever…

Film

  • Amélie. Beautiful, dream-like Amélie. A bit too sweet for some, but I find it charming. Plus it’s set in Paris—albeit a rather different version to the real city—which I love and return to year after year.
  • Die Hard. There’s just something about Die Hard that I find incredibly comforting. The good guy wins, despite all odds. Plus, it’s Christmassy. And Bruce. In a vest. Enough said.
  • Twister. Sorry. I know this is low-brow. But I love Helen Hunt in this.

Documentary

  • Signé Chanel. A totally fascinating French documentary series about the people working behind the scenes to create Chanel Haute Couture. Sits well with Twister and Die Hard, doesn’t it? From Karl himself through to the incredible white-coated women who painstakingly turn his drawings into fabric reality, this peek into the inner world of Chanel is the perfect way to pretend I’m learning French…

There are a few others that I’d add to the list if I wasn’t trying to be a minimalist. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for one, which I was obsessed with in college. Man on Wire is a superb documentary, and Dirty Dancing will always have a place in my heart, as I’m sure it does in many of yours.

What would your desert island viewing be? Is there something that you think is so unmissable that I should add it to the list? 

January 24, 2014

Discovering fantasy novels.

Planning a trip last year, I threw a few possessions into an overnight bag without really taking too much notice of them. Toiletries, clothes, a couple of books. One of those books was a gift that I’d had sitting on my shelf for over a year. A fantasy novel. I’d been curious of the choice when given it; I’d never expressed any real interest in fantasy. In fact, I was firmly of the opinion that fantasy novels were for Other People. People with enough time to read epic series with twelve volumes, learn about other worlds, giant family dynasties and, y’know, elves and stuff.  Clearly, I was basing my understanding of fantasy on a combination of Tolkien and Robin Hobb — only one of whom I’ve read anything by, in any case.

In a period of huge life change, I decided to get over myself and give the book —and, by association, my friend– the benefit of the doubt.  The book was Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora and it changed the way I feel about fantasy novels forever. I’ve since read Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker,  the Glass Book series by G. W Dahlquist, Ben Aaronavitch’s PC Grant novels set in London, and I’m currently enthralled by The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Whether all of these books are fantasy is one matter. I’m reliably informed that Dahlquist’s books are steampunk, and I’m not sure how all of the authors would class their own works. Certainly they’re not all found in the fantasy section of Waterstone’s. Whether they’re fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, magical, or a surreal mix of genres, it matters not. What they share is escapism from reality. One could argue that all fiction does that, and of course it does. But taking away the ‘normal’ world enhances that experience, even if the books are set on Earth, or even, in the case of Aaronovitch’s novels, in London.  It’s been something of a revelation to me. Now I’m one of the Other People, and very happy to have realised it. Whether I’ll ever get my head around Robin Hobb’s oeuvre is still in doubt, mind you…

Once I’ve finished The Night Circus, I don’t have a reading list. Now you know the kind of books I’ve been loving recently, I’d really love you to recommend a book for me!

What are you reading now? What books do you love? And what should I add to my reading list? 

January 17, 2014

Matt Sewell Print.

As we continue the journey of making our new flat feel like home, we’ve started creating and buying art and craft pieces that feel like ‘us’. My proudly made letterpress work hangs in the sitting room, together with a new print from Matt Sewell.

I had the very good fortune to meet Matt at a book launch and signing in Colours May Vary  last year, where he signed a copy of Our Garden Birds for me to give to my mum for Christmas. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have bought one for myself as it was definitely a gift I handed over begrudgingly!

Anyway, back then, I was painfully coveting one of his giclée bird prints for our home. Since we’ve moved into this flat we’ve both become avid bird watchers. I’m going to write about this a bit more in the coming weeks but suffice to say, I’m a little surprised by how important these little birds have become to us over such a short period of time.

This month, the prints were back in stock and in a rare ‘sod it’ moment, I went ahead and bought a blue tit print. We have many little blue tits dancing on the branches outside our home and so it felt like a very fitting choice. Needless to say, my collector’s mentality now wants a row of prints along the wall but for the moment this little guy will do very nicely indeed.

Matt Sewell print

Have you bought or made any new things for your home this month? I’d love to know…

December 23, 2013

Happy Christmas!

Well, 2013 has been an interesting year, to say the least. I’ve gone through huge life changes, only some of which I’ve shared here. Life today is pretty good. I’m writing this in a fairy-lit sitting room, while my children sleep peacefully next door. I know that I’ve got some wonderful relationships and lots to look forward to. But I’m tired too. In need of a little break to re-charge my batteries a bit.

And so, I’m taking the advice of Luci at ‘Mother. Wife. Me‘ and having a blogging break until the New Year. A year that I have many plans for. Cycling, yoga, gardening, micro-adventures, maybe a bit of luxury, some volunteering and a lot of learning. I’m hoping to spend some time rebuilding old friendships and creating new ones. I’d like to see a bit of the world I’ve never been to before. I shall play games with my children and go on dates with my boyfriend. It will be a good year. I feel it in my bones.

I’m hoping that this blog will grow too. I have lots to improve and I’m going to state my intentions here and now to join the Big Blogging Bootcamp hosted by Elizabeth at Rosalilium. I know that it will be the kickstart that I’ve been looking for and I’m very much looking forward to it.

So, for now I wish those of you who are celebrating, a very Happy Christmas, and a wonderful 2014 to you all! I’ll catch you in a couple of weeks.

Love from Liz

Potted Christmas Tree

December 17, 2013

Home-made Christmas decorations

We’re starting again with Christmas decorations in our flat. So everything we have this year has either been bought from the Country Living Christmas Fair, given to us by generous relatives or made at home.

We have the two decorations bought at the Country Living Christmas Fair (not shown is a Christmas Pudding fairy, a gift from my lovely mum) on the tree. Alongside those are three knitted characters – Father Christmas, an elf and a snowman. Thanks to my lovely Grandma for those. Then, there’s the decorations we made with the kids. Felted baubles, made with wet felting, are strung onto the tree individually. I also hope to do a felted bauble garland. There’s the wet felted star, made by my daughter, using the same technique as the baubles, but pressing it down flat, then cutting a shape out. I’ve strung pine cones onto fine cotton, attached ribbon bows to the top of each and put them on the tree. And lastly, we have the loo roll fairy, made by my girl without any help at all, who is now sitting on the top of the tree!

Home made christmas decorations

December 15, 2013

Photo of my Week

Brene Brown’s TED talk is one of my all time favourites, and one of the most widely watched TED talks of all time. This book is a fascinating and thought provoking read which I’m loving.

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