Monday, 24 November 2008

Love is.....having someone who will go out and plant hundreds of bulbs, various anemones, cyclamen, bluebells and small woodland plants in general, which arrived on what has been the coldest day of autumn/winter so far. The temperature struggled to about five degrees, in the cold northerly gales it was even colder, even being in the comparative shelter under the holly trees and laburnum didn't do much to stop the fingers freezing. But these days my bones are too cream-crackered to be able to cope with bending for more than a few minutes... I well remember Simon, my very sexy GP at the time, telling me on my fiftieth birthday back at the start of the millenium, that I had the bones of a woman 10 to 15 years older than me. You can go right off some people! So this is my wonderful, gorgeous husband doing the planting for me.. such a star you are ... xx

It started with a kiss... the gentlest, smallest pecks from tiny white flakes of snow. This is Ceres, otherwise known in our household as Mrs Cornflake, standing in her little arbour of Spirea 'Bridal Wreath', now bereft of foliage of course, getting kissed with the first fall of snow on Sunday.

But before too long it turned into a full-blown snog, with horizontal snow, the churchgoers crawling home along the road in their cars, each with a bemused expression on their faces as it hadn't even been the gentle kissing bit when they entered the church. Others more intent on getting their Sunday supplements than a Sunday sermon, slithered and gingerly stepped along the pavements, turning into monochrome images, their front half covered in snow, the back almost free of it. And Mrs Cornflake, though still visible, was up to her ankles in the white stuff... the buddha looked as if he were wearing a coat and hat, just his cheery cherubic face visible... plants became weighed down with snow and there was three to four inches of it. In the distance could be heard the shrieks and screams of happy children playing on the only accessible, modestly hilly bit in these parts, at the entrance to our village, and topped with a seat for those who want to look out over the Bog and nature reserve. Yesterday it was an adventure playground, sleds taken out of garages and lofts and being made full use of for the first time in ages, until the snow all but melted by teatime.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Drifting by my window, autumn leaves

I think this will be the last time I get to photograph the beautiful leaves from the cherry tree this autumn. Although it's a fine day today, the forecast is for lots of rain, even snow possibly on Saturday, but definitely a blast of real wintry weather.
Today the leaves off the silver birch are raining down like a golden shower, a pale honey colour and the other leaves lying around the garden, from hedging and shrubs and other trees and all waiting to be raked up after lunch are in shades of caramel, bitter lemon, oranges, duffle coat brown, some even a pale eau de nil green almost.
I love the leaves, the colours, the texture, scrunching them underfoot or in my hands, gathering handfuls to put on a green, leaf-shaped plate, just so I can admire the many different colours. It was looking at leaves that first got me interested in designing my own free hand tapestries, which I did when we lived in London before moving yet again and having a change of direction with my handicrafts and doing something else. Leaves and old brick and flint walls, with mosses and tiny plants growing out of them, which on first glance just seem to be made up of a few colours, red and grey and a bit of green maybe. But when looked at closer they are actually made up of many different shades of reds, and greys, and greens, with sometimes the odd pink or purple here and there, sometimes a sharp yellow to shock you. The textures too were varied, and this was easily translated on the canvas with different stitches. All very time consuming, all very satisfying though, and in the days when my eyesight was much better than it is now!

These days it's knitting that takes up most of my crafting time... the wool here is a fine four ply, handpainted wool, being used on chunky needles to create a loose knit shawl, perfect for wrapping around the shoulders as I sit and read in bed. And as you can see, I collect knitting needles, some are the ordinary plastic or steel, bamboo too, whilst others are in pale pastel colours, lemon, pink, lilac, pale blue, and made from a by-product of the dairy industry in Australia. There are some hand-painted wooden ones, some with lots of different colours dyed into the wood before it is cut and shaped into needles. There are fat sparkly ones, made of metal and too noisy to use in company or trying to listen to the radio, garish orange and yellow swirly ones in plastic, not as nice to look at but a whole lot quieter. I am also knitting hottie covers... some are for standard sized bottles, being knitted in a very soft, tweedy brown chunky wool, others in a variegated wool in shades of pinks and purples, all gathered at the top and tied with ribbon. Some are for mini hot water bottles, and knitted in blue chunky with cable patterns, or two balls of doubleknit worked together in plain stocking stitch or moss stitch. Some are properly shaped at the top and bottom, others are just a sack really, tied with pretty ribbons. All are comforting to use, and to knit, and perfect for these colder days.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Passion in November

I thought finding one of my gorgeous poppies in flower in October was quite amazing, but how about this? A passion flower plant in bloom.
Obviously, the eagle-eyed gardeners amongst you, well J A-S anyway, will notice that the leaves and foliage are not that of a passion flower. (It is in fact a thyme, in a planter under the kitchen window, easily accessible) The plant itself is growing in my neighbours garden, up a conifer, and hanging on our side of the garden divide. But, it is at the bottom of the garden, behind our shed, where it actually doesn't get that much sunlight (even less on a dark and damp day like today) but presumably enough to encourage it to bloom. There were three flowers on it and my husband has removed this last one just so I could take a quick snap of it.. in the wind and rain... but a cheery sight on such a day, nevertheless.

Books and reading

Among the many pleasures that dot my life are books, and anything to do with them really. I read for escapism, for knowledge, for my studies, for research for my articles, but mostly just for the sheer pleasure of reading. I love the thrill of receiving a parcel of books, of touching and smelling new and old books. I love browsing in bookshops old and new, buying books, choosing a new book to read or selecting an old favourite to re-read. The photos here show some of the books have read in the last month or so, not all by any means, just a sampling of them. Unfortunately, although they looked all right on screen, by the time they translated to the blog, the covers were all but indecipherable. Sorry, but I am no expert with the digital camera.
'Variable Winds at Jalna' is one of a series of sixteen books written between 1927 and 1960 which cover one hundred years of the Whiteoak family and their estate Jalna. The matriarch of the family is Adeline, a strong female character who lives to be over a hundred and a driving force in the family to the end. It is the usual saga of family rivalries, tangled relationships and secrets, and was written by Mazo de la Roche, probably not known to many who will read this blog, if any at all. My late mother had all the books in the series, which I now have, but because of my penchant for old dustjackets, I am trying to buy old hardback copies of it when I see them, for the artwork. I also like to re-read the stories from time to time.

The Margaret Forster is another of those books I bought because I knew her writing, but mainly because I loved the artwork on the dustjacket. Many people will know her for writing 'Georgy Girl' perhaps this maybe less well-known. At the beginning of the book Maudie, who is 68, from Glasgow and as outspoken and domineering as you can get, decides to make the long bus journey to London to visit her daughter, a disastrous visit, only to be outdone in its awfulness by her next trip, a visit to her other daughter... she finishes up with 'the mecca' of her travels as it's described, visiting her beloved son. But again the visit doesn't match the expectations, but you know that because of duty, these visits will be repeated the next year.
I recently bought a boxed set of classic Penguins, and have begun working my way through them, starting with 'Notes on a Scandal' by Zoe Heller, because it had been recommended by several friends. It was a good book to start my reading with, though the next one didn't appeal as much and has been put aside until I am perhaps in the mood for it. I tend to do this with books, trying them for a couple of dozen pages, then strong in the belief that life's too short and there are too many unread books to waste time on those I am not connecting with or enjoying, I will put the book aside and try it again at a later date. But three strikes and it's out, off to a friend or the charity shop!

Jodi Picoult is an old favourite, but this, 'Songs of the Humpback Whale' I found more of a struggle, it zapped about from one time to another and left me confused at times. But, it was a good read for all that, engrossing as her books are, and with a satisfying ending.

Kate Atkinson is another favourite, and I especially like the books featuring the retired policeman, Jackson Brodie, of which this is the latest. Each time I read one of them, I think it's better than the last, and this was no exception. The first book of hers I read was her first novel, 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum', which was just so brilliant, and like many debut novels I have read over the years, left me feeling a bit deflated, wondering why I bother trying to write mine.
'The Wonderful Weekend Book' by Elspeth Thompson is just such a pretty book, the photo doesn't do it justice. I often buy a book because of its cover; unless the author is known to me, it's the first thing I notice, and if like the read of the blurb, then I buy it. This delightful book gives you lots of ideas for passing the time at weekends. For those who need inspiration.

And these two may give the impression I am an idle glutton.. not so. But I am a follower of idle pleasures, and a lover of food and cooking. The Idle Pleasures includes such pursuits as sneering, paper folding, and yawning amongst its more energetic pursuits, so you can see it's not for the faint-hearted! There are useful idle pursuits such as learning the names of trees, gathering food from the hedgerows and hanging out washing, so you can see it has it's not all laying about and contemplating your navel.. though strangely enough, that's not one of the pursuits. And the 'Joy of Eating' is another of those irresistible covers, and the book itself is a hotpot of international food writing, recipes and thoughts on food and cookery. Anyone who likes food and anthologies will enjoy this book.
So there you have a brief example of some books I have been reading - there may be more another time.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Journals, notebooks and thoughts on writing

This is just a very small sample of some of the notebooks in my collection. I use them for journals mainly, and have a box full of them, A4 and A5 sized, going back to when we first moved here over twenty years ago, plus some old straightforward diaries going back further. Apart from my daily journals I use them for writing exercises/writing diary; keeping notes from various courses I have done in rune-reading, tarot, astrology; for notes on various faith systems I have read about, Native American, Buddhism and so on; and now I am using two as family history journals for my grandchildren, which they will have on their 18th birthday, some time away yet. I use spiral bound ones for this, so that I can stick in photos without too much strain on the spine. My daily journals also have pictures, from magazines as well as the occasional magazine article, recipes tried, tickets from exhibitions or a special ferry ride we took once across a beautiful lake. But mainly they are full of words, my words, some private and some I have made public elsewhere, and none of them will ever be read by anyone after my death, I've made sure of that. As they are honest, there are certain family members who would not be pleased after reading my thoughts!

Long before emails and texting became the norm for most people, when it comes to communicating with friends, there was letter-writing. Some of us still indulge in this delightful pastime, and I am one of them. I have been writing to penfriends since I was 14, when my first penfriend was Jane, who lived in Cupertino in California, and whose life at high school was as different to mine at a private school as you could get. At 16 I was writing to a Radio Caroline DJ - Caroline was a pirate radio station for those who have never heard of it. But then real life became more important, having a job (or rather a variety of them for I got bored quickly then as now!), a real boyfriend (Hello Neil! I know you read this), and penfriends were something I didn't seem to have time for. Until I was 21 when I again began writing to a penfriend, thanks to Terry Wogan. This penfriend was called Keith, and it was love at first write, for within four months of the first letter being exchanged, we married. Sadly, he died only a few years later, but never fear, dear reader, for the story has a happy ending and I remarried, my soul mate as it turned out, and we have been together for over thirty years now, through thick and thin and the raising of my two sons.

And whilst I love emailing, the immediacy of it particularly, I also love hand writing, or using the computer to write letters to many penfriends, some I have known for almost forty years now... sobering thought. The act of using a nice pen, pretty paper, coloured inks adds to the pleasure of writing to an old friend, and at least it's something you can still do when the power goes out!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Life's too short to live the same day twice.

Someone more famous than me said the above about life.. but there again, so many famous, and infamous people have probably uttered a quote about life at some time or other, but this one struck a chord.
I am not a creature of habit really, other than things I have to do every day. I prefer to wing it, go wherever the mood takes me, do whatever I feel like doing, and if that be sitting reading a book for most of the day, so be it. As long as my chores are done, I can do so with an easy conscience. But I do like variety in life, and so the above picture reflects some of my activities for the week.
One morning there will be tarot morning with some female friends. I am a reader of the cards, did a course in it, and find them fascinating though like most things, don't take them too seriously. Another morning will see me finishing off the boring bit of sewing up knitted hearts which have been stuffed with smelly stuff... love the knitting of anything but do find sewing up a chore, hence there are lots of scarves knitted from time to time, to give me a break from the sewing-up. And I shall also sort out wool for the next project, which is bedsocks, cabled or lacy, all soft, some fluffy.
I am going to have a writing day as well, with work on my novel and my writing course, answering letters to friends that are long overdue as well. No emails, just the luxury of choosing a lovely fountain pen, some coloured ink and coloured stationery to complement or contrast, stamps and a walk to the post box. The emails will be for another day.
There will be an afternoon closeted in the kitchen, and hopefully the weather will be as miserable as it is at the moment so I can listen to a story tape whilst making apple chutney and Grandma's Apple Cake.
I will spend Saturday morning shopping at small local-ish shops, with a trip into the nearby market town the day before. Hopefully an hour or two in the garden, weather permitting, to start filling the garden waste recycling bin before the next collection. We do compost a lot of things, but make full use of this scheme to save trips to the tip itself, which is quite a distance from us. Sunday will be a day of rest, apart from cooking the traditional Sunday roast dinner with pud. An afternoon of reading magazines, snoozing and generally being very lazy indeed.
And here will endeth my week, with no two days the same entirely, the time away from the necessary housewife/domestic goddess chores being passed with doing some of my favourite things.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Time for a question to gardeners

Now ignoring the gorgeous dragon, unimaginatively called George, can anyone identify the berries please?
We were clearing the garden and found a small group of tall thin green leaves, about 12-14 inches in height, similar to those you have on lilies, and two stems of these berries. Well, there must have been flowers presumably, a lily of some sort maybe?
They were quite well hidden by other foliage, so the flowers were not seen at all. Neither of us can remember planting anything in this spot, of this ilk, so haven't a clue how they got there, presumably birds or wind, or birds with wind, who knows?
The open one looked like the closed one until it dried out, and apart from wanting to know what it is, I would also like to know how to plant the seeds, and when.
A quick word on gardens in general... around here they are looking decidedly sorry for themselves, very bedraggled after a wet weekend, all the flower heads that were left for the birds to peck at are dark and grungy, not the most appetising of meals I wouldn't have thought. Soggy leaves everywhere, squidged walnut outer casings ready to catch you unawares and cause you to slip and lose your footing momentarily. Still there is some colour from marigolds and grasses, and lots of budding flowers on my wallflower plants, which line the path down to the bottom of the garden. Another month and it will be time to put the outdoor lights around the holly trees for the first time this year, and along the hedges that separate the garden into different areas, traditionally not done until the weekend after my birthday on the 7th December, by which time, a neighbour who decorates his house for charity, will have already spent a weekend or more hanging lights and goodness knows what else this year. Very colourful, a bit OTT, but in its own way, fabulous and uplifting, as well as helping worthy local causes.