109: wake me up for tea

You find me at the end of a week off, in which I have done very little that was useful but a lot that was good for my soul: afternoon naps, long walks with friends, family and dogs, relaxed coffees, crafting, reading and a bit of cooking. My beloved claims that there is no such thing as a day off, but that is because he takes Monty Don’s ‘Jobs for the weekend’ section to heart as well as all the other things that a garden requires. I, on the other hand, am of the opinion that if you take a day off the jobs (and the garden) will still be there afterwards and the weeds probably won’t have taken over the world. Unless it’s sticky grass or wild garlic, in which case all bets are off.

On Sunday, post-blog, I met up with a friend in the wilds of Hackney to see Damien Jurado playing at EArtH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney), a gig which had been postponed at least once and possibly twice thanks to the pandemic but which was well worth the wait. Jurado plays small, interesting venues – we have seen him previously St John on Bethnal Green church, at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster and this time the venue was a reclaimed Art Deco cinema auditorium reached via a most unprepossessing doorway on Stoke Newington High Street. After a pint at the Brewdog bar a couple of doors along and up a few flights of stairs you arrive in the auditorium, which was locked up after the last film showed there in 1984 (Scarface, apparently) and left derelict while the rest of the building went through the usual ex-cinema permutations of snooker hall and community venue – not Bingo, for a change.

It’s a lovely space, still in need of a lot of restoration but the original Art Deco features remain and with simple bench seating and a wide stage the acoustics were wonderful. Add in an atmospheric setlist and good audience engagement and the result was a great evening. We particularly liked the young man at the end who begged for his favourite song, with plaintive pleases, and got his way – I liked the proper last song, too, with snatches of the Grateful Dead’s Morning Dew scattered through.

Damien Jurado (r) and Josh Gordon

On Wednesday my beloved and I dragged the Things out for a family walk. Thing 1 sulked all the way up the hill but was won over by the tiny calves in the field and the friendly pig – I think we all were, to be fair. We’ve been very lucky with the weather this week, and on Friday the garden was full of one of the Timeshare Teenagers and friends, painting henna tattoos on each other and recovering from what seemed to have been a pretty heavy night out. Other walks have been in the early morning, finishing with coffee and croissants at M’s house in the garden while fending off the muddy paws of Dobby and Kreacher, who assume all laps are for sitting. These are two rescue dogs, who are now so used to the sight of me that they have given up barking when I walk in to the house for D&D sessions. M and I also had a mooch around North Weald Market yesterday, where we marvelled at the sheer quantity of polyester neon on display, pondered the possibility of all the blingy pictures refracting sunlight and starting fires, and were bemused at the current fashion for wearing fluffy mule sliders out in public with socks.

Family walk – the return leg

I’ve also been messing around with making some very geeky earrings from D20s and meeples, am up to date on the Temperature Galaxy and ‘Travel by Tardis’ is halfway done. There’s half a simnel cake left (it was a most welcome apres-swim treat this morning!) and Thing 2 and I tried our hand at making macarons the other day as well. I did do some gardening, weeding the wild garlic out of my little patch and planting a couple of saxifraga and a Bleeding Heart. I can see the shoots of this year’s physalis coming up, hollyhocks are poking through, and I don’t seem to have killed the hydrangea so with any luck I’ll have a nice show this summer.

On Tuesday I am back to work, so I am off to top up my nap. I blame my father. I must also do my Easter bunny impression and distribute some eggs, as the natives are getting restless.

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

In a Dry Season/Cold is the Grave/Aftermath/The Summer That Never Was/Playing With Fire/Strange Affair – Peter Robinson

Insidious Intent – Val McDermid

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 4 (Audible)

Week nine: there was this mouse…

So here we are again – week nine, the end of the half term (anyone else feeling like they’ve run a marathon at this point?) and looking forward to a bank holiday and a week off. Yes, I *know* there’s another half term to survive after this one – and it’s the long one – but we’ve just heard from the primary school that Things 2 and 3 attend that children will only be doing four day weeks from this point on.

We had the ‘Year 7 transition meeting’ this week for Thing 2, via Zoom which was in some ways good as we didn’t have to travel to Ongar; but, equally, bad as then we didn’t get to have fish and chips for tea afterwards. It was good for the children to ‘meet’ some of the staff they’ll be seeing in September (crossing EVERYTHING here) but they didn’t get the chance to see the classrooms and to meet other children. One thing that continues to reassure me throughout this lockdown is the very real care the schools – secondary and primary – have for their communities. Mr O, who heads up the secondary school, talked directly to the children, answered questions both sent in advance and those sent during the meeting, and assured us that any catch-up English and Maths would be delivered as part of the wider curriculum and not at the expense of the creative subjects which made me happy. They have also managed to spin the second half of this term into a positive for Thing 1 in Year 9, seeing it as an opportunity to prepare for the start of the GCSE courses in September.

What was that about a mouse?

Well, I was out on my usual morning walk on Wednesday, taking nice pictures of flowers in the hedgerow, doing the whole hullo clouds hullo sky hullo sun” thing and I happened to glance down and there was this tiny mouse sitting in the road near the verge. Next to him was his very very squashed mama mouse and an equally flat sibling. The teeny mouse’s eyes were still closed. He was a very small mouse. I gave myself a good talking to about nature red in tooth and claw, and food chains, and all that sort of thing, and I walked away….and then I saw the buzzard hovering over the common. Yes, dear reader, I took the mouse home with me (if his mama and sibling hadn’t been squashed I would have left him, I promise).

With much headshaking my beloved retrieved an old gerbil tank from the shed, and we googled how to look after baby wild mice – off I went to the pet shop for sawdust and kitten milk, and we made him comfortable. He wasn’t injured or worried, and took to curling up on my hand and feeding from a dropper quite well and by day 4 his eyes were beginning to open. The kids named him Noodle because of his tail, and while I was the only one daft enough to get up at 2.30am for the night feeds, Thing 2 took a lot of care of him in the daytime. Sadly, when I was feeding him this morning he had a convulsion of some sort and died, so he has been buried with much ceremony near at least one of my gerbils and several of my beloved’s childhood cats in the garden. Thing 2 is painting a headstone for him as I type. I am under strict instructions to keep my eyes peeled for any more lonely rodents… next time I’m going to pretend I didn’t see anything.

OK, back to the pretty flowers then!

The hedgerows are bursting into bloom at the moment – high level flowers rather than wildflowers in the verge. The scents of honeysuckle and elderflower in the mornings is quite heady, and the high hedges are constellations of wild roses and blackberry blooms.

The garden has also begun to flower like mad, with self-seeded foxgloves putting up spires all over the place (we’ve always had one a year, but this year there’s about 20 scattered about), last year’s lupins which didn’t do anything, more honeysuckle, strawberries, aquilegia, the gorgeous Gertrude Jekyll rose that my late mother-in-law planted and more. The bees are going mad, particularly for the lavender and the lupins. This afternoon we harvested the first bowl of strawberries, which we’ll have after dinner.

You’ve been enjoying the weather then…

Oh yes, definitely – this week has been glorious. I’ve been doing portable crafts – starting a new virus shawl in the sock yarn I retrieved from unmaking my first socks the other week, picking up my cross stitch and generally enjoying the sunshine. I love the virus shawl, it’s so relaxing – at least if you don’t completely forget an entire row on several rounds and have to unpick it. There’s many patterns and video tutorials available, including one by Bella Coco, but as a kinetic learner I found the written pattern linked above to be the most accessible for me. I’ve made several of these over the last few years and they’re a great way to showcase gradient or variegated yarn.

Virus shawl

The cross stitch is an IMMENSE undertaking – Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte – which is my favourite painting ever, and it’s very detailed, Fifty colours…it’s going to take a while. It takes several weeks to do one page, and there’s 15 pages. I started in in February 2019 and worked solidly on it for a while but then got distracted, as I tend to do. If the weather holds I’ll be able to do lots in the garden.

A mammoth undertaking…

I also used the MBJM Four Seasons pattern again to whip up a pair of shorts for me, and made up the last Centerfield top I cut out last week. I can never get the hood to cross over properly, and the neckline broke two needles on my overlocker, but it’s wearable.

On Friday we took the kids out for a bike ride again, this time along the ‘rhododendron path’ which goes through to Gernon Bushes, an Essex Wildlife Trust reserve that we can access without going along main roads. The Essex Way goes through it, and while the local landowners cleared a lot of the huge rhododendrons last year there’s still some beautiful ones left that tower over the footpath. It really is glorious at this time of year, and as an added bonus the path crosses the M11 via a footbridge so we always stop there for a break so the kids can wave to the lorries (oh, ok, so can the adults!).

The path through to Gernon Bushes

Wishing you all a peaceful week ahead!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Jilly Cooper, all week. Pure escapism.

Week five: school, sewing and sunshine

I’ve often described my working life as like a rollercoaster we get on every Monday and get flung off every Friday, exhilarated but exhausted – like Diego the sabre-tooth tiger in Ice Age after he comes down the ice slide. I’m upgrading that to the waltzers, I think – you think you’re moving fast and then someone comes and spins you in the opposite direction entirely. All you can do is hang on… that’s what Monday was like! A morning of catching up with a week’s worth of emails, followed by a frantic team meeting and then three hours of preparing to lock down for the next couple of months. Furlough means we are forbidden to do any work for the museum at all, so we had to make the most of Monday!

All this while trying to convince the Horde that it really was the start of term and it was time to get back to routine. (They all got dressed, so I counted the day as a win….) Anyway, I – along with most of the museum – am now furloughed for the next couple of months unless the situation changes rapidly (anything is possible these days) and the relief this news brought was huge. I have written before about the stress of trying to be’work me’ and ‘mum me’ at the same time, when it feels as if I am failing at both, so this means I can try and get one right at least.

Time to slow down and enjoy time at home – bluebells on a local lane

So, it’s back to SPAG and fractions (I’m sure there was more to maths than fractions!), story writing using some strange acronyms (DADWAVERS, anyone?) and Hitler’s Germany which is Thing 1’s history topic. We’ll stick to the format we were using before Easter, as that gives us time for creativity in the afternoon.

Doesn’t furlough mean more making time, too?

It does! It’s been a productive week, too, with a bit of upcycling, a bit of fixing, a bit of making and a bit of crochet.

In the mornings while I have been working with the children, I have been repairing the hexies in a lovely crochet blanket – I made it, and used the magic ring to start all the hexies but all of them have started to come undone. I used this very helpful tutorial to fix them, and will go back to the chain method to start these things in future.

Thing 1 requested a wrap skirt, as she had seen one on Instagram – rather than buy one, I knew I had a few wrap patterns. She chose New Look 6456 in style D, and I had some lovely polycotton with daisies and dots on. It was pretty straightforward to make up, and now I have a happy daughter.

Thing 2 – who usually flatly refuses to wear hand-me-downs – will NOT give up on a stripy dress which my sister bought for Thing 1 when she was about 5. She’s been wearing it as a top with shorts for the last couple of years, but it’s finally got too small. So, she asked me to make her a crop top and mini skirt out of it to get another year’s wear – we cut round the waist seam, added elastic waistbands and she’s happy again! She’s now requested pyjama shorts, which she’s going to help me make, and ‘Shaggy pants’. Apparently she means wide trousers like Shaggy in Scooby Doo – so it was back to the pattern stash where she found another New Look pattern and a quick browse on Pound Fabrics where we found some pretty cotton.

The pyjama shorts request sprang from watching me whip up a pair from the remnants of the wrap skirt fabric. I used a pattern by The Makery, which was a freebie with Simply Sewing magazine a few years ago. I used elastic rather than the drawstring, for ease, and they are perfect with a vest for this hot spell. While searching the stash I rediscovered the Lapwing Trousers pattern by Simple Sew and once madam had rejected the ditsy blue flower fabric I offered her, I decided I’d make another pair for myself. There’s nothing like a pair of floaty cotton trousers for hot days. (Other things I have rediscovered this week: my hammock, Bloom Strawberry Gin and Fevertree Elderflower Tonic, and stargazing in search of satellites and meteors).

The table tennis table is still up in the garden and it’s so useful for laying out large patterns and quilt tops, even when Thing 3 decides to open a market stall at the other end.

I sandwiched the red quilt top (the wadding was a bit of a patchwork too) and quilted it together, and its now awaiting binding. I’ve decided to use ready made bias binding on this one, and am waiting for it to arrive. The second image is the big make of the week – I volunteered to be a pattern tester for Alice and Co Patterns, who are extending their size range for the Intrepid Boiler Suit. I ran across Alice and Co when they did an updated versions of the Mary Quant Georgie and classic minidress to accompany the Quant exhibition at the V&A.

I love an all in one, and had just bought their Jump Up Suit pattern – I would probably not have tried the boiler suit if they hadn’t asked for testers. I’ve looked at boiler suits but never had the courage to buy one – this seemed like the perfect solution! I’d also just bought several metres of gorgeous lightweight pinstripe denim (Pound Fabrics again) and now I had an excuse to use it. Luckily they let me join the tester team…

The PDF pattern was really straightforward to put together (if I ever win the lottery, the first thing I am buying is an A0 printer and a garden studio to put it in), and the instructions were really clear and easy to follow – even the enclosed yoke, which I have only tried once before. It really was a case of trusting the pattern, and the resulting yoke looked great.

I’m a great one for taking sewing shortcuts, especially with zips and sleeves – I hate setting in sleeves – but as I was testing the pattern I thought I’d better do it properly! The process became quite mindful, as I had to think about what I was doing more carefully and pay attention to the finishing. The only step I skipped was finishing the raw edges before sewing, as I decided to overlock them as I went along. I even overlocked the zip tape to the seam allowance.

The back and breast pockets were cut against the grain so I could have the pinstripes at a contrasting angle, and the side pockets were perfectly (if accidentally) pattern matched. I decided to make a self-fabric tie belt to go through the waistband casing, rather than use a proper belt, and used fabric scraps to patch one together as I knew no one would see the seams!

The making process took me about six hours, plus time to stick together the PDF and cut out the fabric, and it was thoroughly enjoyable – and I LOVE the result. I made my beloved take a proper photo of me wearing it with my Lottas just so I could share it… it also shows off my new ultra-violet hair, or so it says on the box. I may make the legs a bit shorter, as here you can see I have had to fold them up four times, but I love the 80s girl group vibe. There’s also a free pattern hack on the website for a button front version, and I quite fancy a sleeveless one too, so will definitely be making this again.

You can’t have spent all week sewing, surely?

I mentioned earlier that Thing 3 had decided to open a stall on the table tennis table – there’s a touch of the Del Boy about this one! He sold bric-a-brac, and not to be outdone Thing 2 decided she also needed a stall. I had bought them some new acrylic paints, so her USP was painting rocks on request. I had some tiny pebbles that we’d sprayed white with primer, and she painted me a set of ladybirds for my shelves of frivolity in the shed. She also painted me – secretly – a puffin rock, as they are my favourite birds. Thing 3 helped his dad improve the water feature – here you can see him taking a well earned break!

Having been inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee, I painted some rocks to use as pattern weights – very useful when cutting outside! I usually use chunks of slate from the garden centre, but these pebbles have been hanging around for a while and now they’ll see more use.

Pattern weights drying in the sun

I have even managed some gardening! Hard pruning some hydrangeas transplanted from the neighbours last year, which are showing signs of life, and weeding out the wild garlic from the beds by my shed. I was really pleased to see the campanula survived the winter, and also the bleeding heart we bought at the sad plant section last year and which I snapped the stems off when planting out – it’s got flowers on and I hope it will self-seed. My hollyhocks are shooting up again, and my chinese lanterns.

Not such a sad plant!

The hammock has seen some use, too – crocheting and listening to birds in the afternoons. The BirdNET app has been so useful – I now know what the goldcrests sound like, and the chiffchaffs. The red kites seem to have stuck around, and I see them wheeling over the houses quite often. Other garden visitors have included the fox, the badger and a tiny mouse.

Let’s see what week six brings us! Have a great week.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Plan for the Worst (Chronicles of St Mary’s) – Jodi Taylor

The Language of Spells and The Secrets of Ghosts – Sarah Painter

Soundtrack for the week:

John Mellencamp, Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Prine