Week nineteen: in which I looked tidy for the first time since March

A Tuesday interlude…

I have had a whole host of new experiences this week already! Not only my first virtual job interview, but it was the first time I’d applied for a job share, for a secondment, and for a temporary maternity cover role. It was also the first time that I’d prepared for and attended an interview as part of a team.

Keen followers of the East London museum scene will know that the V&A is branching out even further eastwards than Bethnal Green, and creating a shiny new museum on the East Bank in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. There are so many parallels with our own redevelopment project, and both projects are working across the same boroughs, that we felt it would bring a new dimension to our own practice as well as a wider insight into the locality if one of us were to move a couple of stops down the Central Line for a few months.

The trouble was… none of us were keen on doing it alone, as we all have specific experiences and this role would cover all our audiences. I am formal, C is informal and H is creative. As a triumvirate (or an unholy trinity/three-headed monster depending on who you talk to!) we work very collaboratively: bouncing ideas off each other, supporting each other, representing the team and feeding back, developing ideas together (some madder than others – the Museum LARP session hasn’t come to fruition yet but there’s still time!) and bringing all our individual skills to the learning party.

That’s me on the right, by the way (Powerpuff Girls image from pngwave.com)

In a team Zoom social, someone suggested we ALL applied for it as a jobshare. “That’ll blow their minds, ha ha!” they said. We chatted about how that could work, what it might mean for each museum, and our line manager and director (I know she’s reading this!) were supportive. So…. we did.

The three of us contributed to the supporting statement and then put in our separate application forms, and crossed our fingers. We weren’t sure if we’d even get an interview, as a three-way job share might have been a step too far, but we all felt our statement was really powerful. We were fairly sure that with a combined 40+ years of experience in the culture, arts and heritage sector we could demonstrate a good understanding of what the role would require. We also proposed an outline of how the job share might work, and how the role could be managed. We are lucky, as we had a period last year in between line managers when we had to work in a similar way, sharing information and acting as one.

On Monday we were told that we’d be interviewed….on Tuesday. Cue frantic Zooming, planning our strategy and going over the job description, all the information we had to hand about the East project, trying to anticipate the questions we might be asked and challenges the panel might raise about managing the job share. We broke down the role responsibilities, decided on an order for us to answer questions so no one had more of a voice than the other two, and came up with a plan for how we’d pass the baton between us.

One of the most important things we did was to share our CVs with each other, so we could ensure the most appropriate person could answer a question. So useful – I had no idea of the breadth of experience in the team! As a team bonding and development exercise it worked really well. Going through the documentation we had access to and matching it to the role description and our skill sets – as a team and individually – was a great way to remind ourselves what a well-rounded team we are. I don’t know about C & H but my confidence in what we were trying to do was boosted immensely by this.

I usually hate internal interviews (OK, I hate all interviews) but knowing I was in this with my brilliant colleagues made it better. Three against three, and we could fill in the gaps for each other. For the first time ever I am not sitting here post-interview thinking ‘I wish I’d remembered to say that!’ The virtual format probably helped, as at no point could I see the whole panel.

Whatever the outcome, I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well! (Plus, I put make up and a dress on for the first time since March.) Can’t wait to get back to working with the team!

(Sunday update: we haven’t heard whether we were successful or not, but I still feel good that we did something that put us outside our comfort zone, helped us understand the benefits of the way we work anyway, and which put us on the wider museum radar.)

Sunday service resumes

After the interview and a debrief with the team I went for my first massage since the end of January. I hold a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders, probably from sitting in all sorts of weird positions while I crochet, cross stitch or sew; and I also suffer from migraine and tension headache. I try and have a monthly treatment with the wonderful Paula, who lives round the corner, and I have been seeing her since she was training to be a sports massage therapist.

Since qualifying as a sports therapist she has taken additional courses in cupping, facial massage and gua sha and she combines these (along with a sympathetic ear!) to create a bespoke experience for each of her clients. And it is blissful…although you do have to answer a few funny questions about cupping marks in the summer. Here in the village its like a badge of honour or membership of an exclusive club – Paula’s clients compare marks! There was a lot of interest from Bangladeshi women when I did an event at work last summer after cupping – they wanted to know where I’d had it done, and if it helped. Some said their husbands had it done regularly too.

At the moment, of course, facial massage is off the table so I had 45 minutes of work on my back and neck, including some gua sha, and I felt AMAZING afterwards. Thoroughly relaxed, and looser than I had been for several months. There’s no cupping yet, as there’s a risk of blood clots after Covid-19 (though as far as I’m aware I haven’t had it), so that’s something to look forward to.

The great outdoors

I’ve had a very active week! My swimming buddies and I have been up to Redricks Lakes three times this week – my cover image is the main lake. Sue and I went at 9am on Wednesday, and had our first independent swim in the main lake. We went back on Thursday afternoon as it was so hot and then Rachel joined us for an early dip on Saturday. There’s a nice mix of swimmers – super fast triathletes or club members who zoom about front crawling, fitness swimmers and people like us who mainly breast stroke round chatting and enjoying the process.

There’s a lot more bird life in this lake, so we encountered a mama coot with a young noisy brood of six tiny, scruffy chicks, and more coots with older chicks who are a bit more independent. There was also a grebe with her chick, who we swam quite close to. They don’t worry too much about the slow swimmers but the crawlers gave them a shock!

My walking friend Jill and I have signed up for Runkeeper’s August challenge, where we need to track 30k over the month. We are early morning walkers, except on Sunday when we have a lie-in and don’t go out until 7am. Today we knocked 8k off the 30k challenge, with a walk through the Lower Forest (aka Wintry Wood) to Epping and back via Coopersale and the Gernon Bushes nature reserve. We are not the fastest walkers but we do use it as an opportunity to clear our heads for the coming week and to put the world to rights. Both of us are subject to depression, so this is talking therapy for us.

We try and do a couple of shorter walks in the week, and then a longer one on Sundays. The summer is best as we can use the fields and woods, but in the winter they get a bit swampy – the Cripsey Brook feeder streams surround the village, though luckily we have an excellent flood alleviation scheme. This last winter we did a lot of our walks in wellies, and yes – we did jump in muddy puddles. Why should the kids have all the fun?

Muddy puddle!

The great indoors

Cooking with Kevin this week included making cinnamon sugar sourdough pretzels – we love soft pretzels in this house, and there was a lot of sourdough discard to use up. We also had pizza, which is becoming a firm family favourite.

Angry bread

This was also the week that I put the bread in the oven for a cold bake and when I took it out an hour later the casserole was empty….. and the dough was still rising on the counter behind me. It had a normal bake instead – but don’t you think the way the ‘ear’ has baked into eyebrows makes him look a bit cross?

Thing 2 and I made chocolate fudge brownies, too, using a recipe that I have had for years – I’m not even sure where it’s from but its very easy and quite delicious.

Chocolate Fudge Brownies

  • 50g self-raising flour (or plain flour and 1/2 tsp baking powder)
  • 100g plain chocolate
  • 50g butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4tbsp golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • optional: 75g walnuts, chopped

Melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup over a gentle heat and set aside to cool.

Stir in the beaten eggs, flour, vanilla and walnuts if you’re using them.

Pour into a lined 18cm square tin and bake at 180c (Gas 4, 350f) for 25mins.

Serve warm with ice cream.

See? Super easy!

The crafting table

This week has had no finishes at all! Monday and Tuesday were so busy prepping for the interview that nothing got done.

I did make a start on the Closet Core Patterns Morgan jeans – the front is done, but I’ll leave full details for a proper review next week. I will rave about two tools I’ve been using to make them this week instead though. The first is the Clover Hot Hemmer (Long) which I’d had on my Amazon crafty wishlist for ages, and which was one of my birthday voucher purchases. It’s so useful – usually when prepping pockets I’d either spend ages with a chalk pencil, the iron and pins marking out the hems, or I’d be superlazy and guess the width which meant wonky pockets. With this ruler-type gadget you simply fold over the fabric to the right depth and iron. Brilliant, and no burned fingers either.

Hot hemmer in action – image from Clover website

The other gadget is a wool pressing mat – this gadget claims to retain heat to make pressing easier, quicker and more efficient. It seems to work – though the steam leaks through so I have been using mine on the ironing board or my cutting mat. Anything that makes ironing easier is a plus!

I have almost finished the first of the custom dolls – she needs a haircut (don’t we all right now?) and a mouth but otherwise she’s pretty complete. I’d forgotten how long it takes to do the hair! The companion doll has long hair and a beard….

I’d better get back to my crochet hook….

Same time, same place for the Week twenty update?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Dead Land by Sara Paretsky (The latest VI Warshawski novel – I am all caught up!)

Tales from the Folly – Ben Aaronovitch (a Rivers of London short story collection – too short!)

Last Act in Palmyra/Time to Depart (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis on Audible

Listening to…

Hollywood Park – The Airborne Toxic Event

American III: Solitary Man – Johnny Cash

Podcast: The Socially Distant Sports Bar (Elis James, Mike Bubbins and Steff Garrero) via Spotify

Week eighteen: swimming with the fishes

It’s Sunday afternoon and here I am feeling pleasantly relaxed after a successful swim this morning, at Redricks Lakes – about 20 minutes’ drive away between Harlow and Sawbridgeworth. I say ‘successful’ as this was my second attempt at completing the induction. Two friends and I went on Wednesday evening as well, and they finished – and I didn’t. I was bitterly disappointed as I love to swim and had been really looking forward to it, but I think so many things put me out of my comfort zone that I felt quite ill. If you don’t have a wetsuit, you have to use a tow float and I found it very restrictive, creating drag behind me and preventing me from floating or swimming on my back; it was early evening so the sun was blinding me through the condensation on my goggles; and the instructor was quite firm about using front crawl which I am no good at. He also made us put our faces in the water and blow bubbles. I really, really hate getting my face wet! Other people in the induction group raced off at triathlon speed and…. I floundered. Luckily there was a lovely lady on a paddle board who talked me through, encouraged me to come back and try again when I felt better, and generally boosted my confidence. Thanks Siobhan! I emailed Phil, who books the induction, and asked if I could try again today and he was very helpful.

So today I tried again! My fabulous friend Sue came with me to be my support swimmer and she was quite determined that I was going to finish. This time we had wetsuits so I didn’t need a towfloat, and I knew what to expect when we got in the water. It was a much larger group this time, and they divided us by ability – swimming club speedy types in the first group, and family groups, slower people and juniors in the second. Bobbing about in the wetsuit was great, I felt confident enough to take the goggles off when they steamed up and swam without them. I put my face under water and blew bubbles. I LOVED IT. Now we can go whenever we like, and I suspect they’ll be seeing a lot of us. I feel really good that I didn’t give up after the first time, and overcame the panic.

Not the most flattering of photos but look how happy I am!

The only thing I’m disappointed by is that you don’t get a certificate and a badge to sew on your swimming cossie afterwards…..

British summertime?

As you can see in the photo above it was a bit cloudy – at one point we were swimming in the rain but it passed over quite quickly.

Unlike yesterday which was an exercise in soggy social distancing. For the first time since lockdown began a group of us decided to get together for a coffee in my garden, so the kids could run around and we could catch up, provide counselling and eat chocolate biscuits. And the heavens opened in truly biblical fashion. Being from Wales, Yorkshire and Ireland we are all quite used to the rain, but this was quite ridiculous. There was only so much room under the tree, so we huddled under umbrellas while the kids got absolutely drenched playing ‘back to base’ in the rain and swooping on the chocolate digestives as they ran past.

It was so lovely to see my cronies, however bad the weather was – it’s easy to forget how much support we get from our friends, and how sharing problems and issues with them can change our own perspectives. This is particularly true at the moment!

We still nattered for two hours, and – of course – the rain stopped and the sun came out minutes after they had all left.

Cooking with Kevin

Kevin the sourdough starter is still alive, and currently I am baking every other day or so – he has spawned two junior Kevins who have gone to new homes with friends, and every so often he makes a break for freedom from his Kilner jar after he’s been fed. I’m now onto my second 16kg sack of flour since April.

I have started using the cold bake method, using a cast iron casserole dish with the lid on and not pre-heating the oven – this gives a chewier crust and a lighter colour. You can take the lid off for the last five minutes to crisp it up a bit but I don’t always remember!

Cold baked sourdough loaf

The most successful thing we have made so far, however, is sourdough pizza using this recipe from King Arthur Flour. It comes out like a ‘proper’ pizza, according to the kids, and they love adding their own toppings. We had ours with ‘nduja, red onions and mushrooms last week, and it was delicious. I’d like to try sourdough pretzels next, as I do love a pretzel! Ideally fresh from the oven with cinnamon sugar, but Marmite butter is a good alternative.

Fabric frenzy

I have been positively wallowing in fabric this week, delving into the shed stash to retrieve fat quarters and playing with prints. My initial plan was to use some Totoro panels and various Japanese prints together, but couldn’t decide on a block to use. I really liked the look of a Bento Box block, but my fabric was already in squares and some of the prints wouldn’t work in a thinner strip so that plan is on hold. I did make a test block out of polycotton scraps and I really like the effect so will be going back to that at some point!

And then I found a package of fabric in the stash with a space theme – astronauts, planets, galaxies, flying saucers – and some black/marbled black solid fabrics so at some point I must have been thinking of an Attic Window quilt. That made the decision pretty easy, but I have been playing with the blocks again and can’t decide on a random scatter of prints or to make blocks of four together. I quite like the random scatter but also the idea of blocks of four smaller ‘windows’ with sashing between them.

I finished the Disappearing Nine-Patch quilt too, although I forgot to make a border and just ended up using the backing fabric to bind it. It was hard to manipulate that much fabric so I didn’t do much quilting on it – but even with that managed to get a giant tuck on the back. It’s ended up about 5 feet long and about 4 and a 1/2 feet wide, so it’s definitely the biggest thing I have ever made. Here it is in all its glory – as you can see, Lulu was not keen to move when I was trying to take photos of the quilt on the bed. As soon as I put the camera away she came to inspect my handiwork, of course. Cats. Cats are nice.

The denim for my Morgan jeans finally arrived yesterday, so I cut out the paper pattern ready to start on the jeans tomorrow. Let’s see if I can get the fly right this time!

The other thing I have tried to do this week is a bit of sketching. I am not handy with a pencil – the peak of my drawing skills came when I was 12 and Mrs Allan gave me a B- for my pencil sketch of my mum’s avocado plant. I would love to be able to draw, and one of the things I’d like to do is urban sketching. I love artists like Michael Powell, Phil aka @maltzcreative and Kate Lycett, particularly their buildings and streetscapes. I started with a photograph of Aberaeron that I took when we were on holiday in 2018, as it’s a place I know well, but I need to work a lot more on proportion and perspective! I suppose its another one of those things where practice makes perfect.

I think I need to put in guidelines with a ruler first, and then fill in the gaps. Still, I am enjoying the learning process!

I had better go and feed Kevin and think about dinner….

See you in week nineteen!

Kirsty

What I’ve been reading:

V I Warshawski series (yes, still – but I’m on the last one!) by Sara Paretsky

Last Act in Palmyra – Lindsey Davis (Falco series – Audible)

Week fifteen: sourdough and split ends

I am not a natural chef. There are things I do well: banana bread, for example, a foolproof chocolate cake, and according to the Horde I make a very passable chilli. There are things I do very badly: scones and pastry, and Anzac biscuits. I quite literally cannot produce a consistent boiled egg, let alone an edible one. It’s not that long ago that Thing 3 responded to the smoke alarm by running off to his daddy shouting, ‘Dinner’s ready’. When my beloved installed an extractor over the cooker I tried telling the children that dinner couldn’t be burned, as the alarm hadn’t gone off: Thing 2 looked at me, looked at her admittedly charcoal-toned dinner and said, ‘You cheated, mummy, you turned the thing on.’ Thing 1, memorably, peered at the grill pan once while I was making fish fingers and said, ‘Haven’t you burned them yet, mummy?’ This, at the age of about four.

I used to envy those classmates who did Home Economics at school. Note for young people: this is now called Food Technology, and comes under the DT syllabus. Back in the olden days it was a whole separate subject.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes… my classmates that did Home Ec. They got to go off down to the art block at lunchtime to do arcane things like ‘feeding their Christmas cake’. I, on the other hand, got one out of ten for fruit salad (really, don’t ask). When I took my bread and butter pudding home – quite proudly, I will admit, as it wasn’t burned – and handed it to my mother she said, ‘how lovely, let’s put it in the freezer and we’ll have it another day,’ and it was never seen again. Luckily for my parents, we only did a half term of Home Ec every year.

My London sister, on the other hand, is a talented and brilliant person in the kitchen and whips up clever things. When lockdown began, she had recently been made redundant and she decided to try making a sourdough starter. Christened George, we had daily updates on his progress and she began to turn out beautiful loaves of bread. A whole new vocabulary comes with sourdough: words like levain, and discard, and bannetton (a proving basket, I think).

For my birthday. she arrived bearing a pack of N’duja* (the good stuff, I am told) and a jar containing a little bit of George. I have christened it Kevin. An email followed with instructions on what to do with Kevin to make him earn his keep, and photos illustrating the joy of sourdough.

Now, despite the fact that she’s my little sister and tormented me for many years by doing things like telling new boyfriends that I lived next door when they came to pick me up, singing selections from Annie through the letterbox at me, or locking herself in the bathroom with the notes from a lovelorn swain (that I had torn up) and reading them out very loudly, I do trust her when it comes to cooking.

So, on Monday I broke Kevin out of the little pot and began my first sourdough loaf. Kevin Junior (the levain) didn’t bubble properly or grow to twice his size, just produced a few halfhearted holes and he didn’t grow much on the first rise. The second rise was more successful, and apart from the fact that I didn’t brave the slash before baking and the ‘dark’ crust was more charcoal than expected, the loaf tasted delicious. I made bread!

The next day she remembered to tell me that I should be using hand-hot water to make the levain and to feed Kevin, so last night (I’m writing this bit on Thursday as I was inspired!) I started my second loaf. Warm water is definitely the way to go – Kevin Junior doubled in size, and the overnight rise was very successful. I was out walking at 6am this morning and started the second rise when I got back – he’s currently shaped and supported by tea towels in the conservatory. I’m hoping not to burn this one…..

Kevin Senior is in a Kilner jar (minus the seal) in the fridge – I am now a slave to the sourdough. Kevin’s bitch. Oh dear. (*the N’duja remains unopened. One thing at a time, people.)

Update: yesterday I made sourdough pancakes from the discard (thumbs up from the Horde), and discovered that ham and Emmental sourdough toasties are the food of the gods. Next mission: pizza.

My other experiment this week was home made peshwari naan bread, British Indian Restaurant style – and it was AMAZING. The kids prefer peshwari to plain naan, and they don’t sell it in the little Co-op in the village. I used this recipe from The Curry Guy and though it took longer than I expected it was SO worth it. They tasted just like the ones from our local restaurant, and I could leave one plain for Thing 3 who doesn’t like sultanas. We’ll be making those again!

That was the week…

…that I also got completely fed up with my split ends. My hair is (or was) longer than it has been in about ten years. It’s the best part of six months since my last haircut, and my poor tresses have been treated to several home dye kits since then. I decided to take a leaf out of the kids’ book and watch a YouTube video on how to cut your own hair. My hair is pretty straightforward apart from being a bit unruly/wavy/curly: I have a heavy fringe as I’d still like to be Chrissie Hynde when I grow up (minus the veganism), and layers as that helps the curl behave. I watched this one by Liz Liz and this one by Marianellyy Diaz – much the same content, but the first one shows you how to layer round the face and the second how to take out the V-shape at the back. I think it was quite successful – I cut my fringe in carefully using the same technique. The colour is a very faded Schwarzkopf Live colour in Amethyst Chrome – supposed to be permanent but I find they fade quite quickly on my hair.

Layers! Post-straightening.

I got more practice in on the technique afterwards, as Thing 2 decided to cut her own fringe (luckily quite long, but a bit too wide) and I had to do a repair job to turn it into a layered cut for her as well. Thing 1 got an undercut, courtesy of her dad and his clippers, under her short bob (by me the other week). She now wants to have her whole head cropped, and to go to fashion school – she is equally excited by both things, and I have promised that this week I’ll start teaching her to sew (I knew she should have chosen Textiles at GCSE). She has been researching courses and summer schools already!

On the subject of sewing, I finished the green and yellow quilt that I laid out last week, as both the backing fabric and the binding arrived. I prewashed the backing fabric and I am very glad I did, as it lost lots of the lemon yellow dye. Putting it in with a light wash was a bad idea but – honestly – who doesn’t need lemon yellow pyjamas and running socks?

I had an idea that rather than quilting in the ditch between the squares, I’d use a button on every corner as I had some pretty wooden ones in the button tin, but when I tried it the effect wasn’t quite what I was hoping for so I snipped them off and went back to the machine (the Singer I wrote about last week). I was looking for a puffy effect, but because I was using 2oz wadding rather than the 4oz I used last time it didn’t work. I may try again with more wadding at some point! Fortunately I made the choice to change back after only eight buttons went on.

Buttons.

I have learned from the last two quilts, where the fabric bunched up during the quilting stage, to stitch my lines outwards from the middle and to make sure the fabric is flat as I sew. This time round I stitched outwards from the centre point to form a cross dividing the quilt into quarters, then worked through each quarter from the centre towards the edges. I did the horizontal lines first and then the vertical, and the bunching is much less in evidence. I also increased my stitch length slightly to accommodate the wadding, and that seems to have resolved the tension issue I experienced with the red quilt. The binding isn’t quite straight, but I think the sage green works well with the yellows and greens and picks up some of the florals nicely.

The next one will be blue – I have picked up a couple of charm packs from Amazon and some Kona solids in different blues from Ebay, and the plan is to make a larger one that might actually cover a bed! My bed, for preference…

No cross stitch update this week as I have been mainly crocheting. Late last year I was asked by a D&D playing friend to create a set of ‘voodoo’-style dolls of their RPG group – they were on a story arc in New Orleans, and he wanted some props. One of the group contacted me last week to ask if I could make dolls of him and his girlfriend, so they have been on the hook this week. I have been using the Weebee doll pattern by Laura Tegg on Ravelry (my user name is LadybirdK over there) as it’s super-simple, there’s some really cute outfits that can be adapted easily and – this is important! – there’s permission to sell the finished dolls. Here’s the first of the pair, awaiting hair and clothes. He liked the button eye aesthetic that the game dolls had, so we have stuck with that, and has requested that I make the doll look ‘witchy’. I love these commissions, they are such fun to make!

Doll 1

The rather dramatic header image this week was taken on my regular Sunday walk – this week we followed one of the Millennium walks through the flood meadow nature reserve to the local church and then back through the fields. The local farmers have planted a lot of borage this year, and the fields are the most heavenly blue colour that my phone camera completely fails to do justice to. A bit of Googling told us that borage is also known as starflower, is a source of Omega-6 fatty acid and is good in salads. It’s safe from pigeons and slugs, too.

The boxes in the second image are bee hives, and the field next to the flood meadow is covered in them – local honey must be on the way! There was a lot of industrious buzzing, I know that much.

So that was week 15! The pubs reopened yesterday (I didn’t go, but the noise last night suggests that some people made the most of it!). I made my monthly trip to Tesco on Tuesday and still can’t get any soy sauce but home baking goods are back on the shelves which made me happy.

See you on the other side of week 16!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

V I Warshawski novels (I’m up to #12 now – only 8 more to go!) – Sara Paretsky

The Iron Hand of Mars/Poseidon’s Gold (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)