Friday, 31 August 2007

La rentree, Labor Day.....

Why don't the English have a word that means time for work in September?

Yes, yes, I know, Labor Day is probably just another reason to send cards and generate income for the card companies now, but the spirit is there; time to tidy away the garden toys, sew on the labels that have lain dormant for 12 months and to collect together all the equipment of your wintertime job. As a teacher, I have never got away from that back-to-school feeling (including the last sleepness night before the first day; if there are any children reading this and panicking over the start of school, please do remember your teacher probably is, too!) and the mad rush to do just one more thing before the servitude descends. I love the smell of a new pencil case, especially if you get a filled case where the sharp plastic smell combines with the sandalwood of pencils and fills your nostrils with that sweetest smell of an unused eraser. I love the first time I write with a new pencil, the first names written on a new exercise book, the way that a newly covered text book still looks pristine and harbours a world of possibility. I was lucky enough to go to a school that insisted on us carrying briefcases so I won't even get started on the alluring scent that is new and hard leather...

And still today I see September as the start of a new year. Yes, I know that calendrically January kicks off the seasons, but mild and misty September is the soul's natural new beginning. A time when the fun of summer is laid aside and we can look at setting targets, sure that almost everyone else in the Northern Hemisphere is settling down as well. We take up our burdens of sociability, the sports activities and clubs that we deserted for the more solitary pleasures of sea or countryside and face a new challenge; I tend to make resolutions now as well as January (yes, I drop them by the second week; I am not heavily burdened with will power) and want to be active in improvements around the house. The decor begins to change, I don't sit down without a bowl of fresh apples on my side table; I try and catch the best hydrangea heads I can for my table centrepiece, pine cones and conkers will soon make their way into my fireplace. If I'm lucky/unlucky some will get planted in the garden and in two years time I'll be looking at a little tree growing in front of my window, thinking I should pull it up but loathe too because, well, it has done so well to germinate at all and I should encourage it since trees are so good.... just not there....

And I begin the path of daily living. In my darkest moments it is my hamster wheel of living, but mostly it just is the path I tred, a little repetitious, a little predictable, but very much appreciated. A steadying influence on my life, a cycle that I can follow, a well-loved path through the wood of life. Will you walk with me, this Autumn, amongst the bronzing trees and feel with me the gentle breeze of love? Keep up with me; I want to push ahead, I don't know where I'm going, but the journey is pleasant and the company's good, and at journeys end there is a warm cup of tea and a toasted teacake, well buttered. Come on, folks, let's celebrate the act of living.

It's good to be back.

Monday, 20 August 2007

A change is as good as....

There is something about visiting other peoples' houses that makes you re-examine your own, at least with me there is. Part of the reason I love blogging and reading blogs is the excuse to be nosy without being really nosy... I don't get to open your cupboards, peek under the bed or ask questions about how and why you got this or that.

Last week I had the best opportunity to rethink my house, with a week in a borrowed welsh cottage.

The house is about 100 metres from the sea, which you reach down a steep cliff path. It has a panoramic view to die for and an Aga. Once a year we borrow it and, for that week, I am the farmer's wife of my childhood dreams, using an Aga everyday, washing costumes and letting them dry on the rail and spending a week living somebody elses life. This year I took my inspiration books with me and finished another volume each morning as I woke early and drank a pot of tea before the rest of the family (this is something I never do at home.... but always on holiday. I think I see it as the only solitude I will get when we're away, and I need solitude)

We visited Criccieth, Porthmadog, Caernarfon and Beaumaris, we sat on the beach on cold days, paddled if the sun shone and ate pies from the bakery in the little town park before playing crazy golf. I shopped til I dropped... well, as much as you can in Wales. It is, and I mean it no disrespect here, not exactly a haven of fashion and modernity. I like that, actually. I love to know that I will be able to visit just one shop in Porthmadog, that there are no chain stores nearby, that the beaches have no amusement park or even a promenade but that there is.... well, a very nice speed of life. I slowed down. I didn't need to race, there was plenty to keep me busy at home, I had all I needed and mor within the Llyn penninsula. My children love the idea that it is a different country and that people talk a different language, so much so that the Princess, when asked "Where are you from?" only ever answered "England!"

And I had a chance to think. I looked at my house with the benefit of distance instead of the headless chicken run & rock mode I get into here. I know what I want to do with the kitchen, I know where the furniture should be and how the cupboards need to be arranged. I had an inspiration for my dining room which is, unfortunately, so expensive that it will never be done, but I can keep it on my wish list. I looked at the window treatments , the ornaments, the pictures and knew what I wanted to do with my house. I am waiting for September, when everyone else is back to school and work and I can get on without being interrupted (too much) and then...

Sunday, 19 August 2007

See the shirt? This is Steven Gerard!

My middley is 7. Yip, it was 7 years ago yesterday (yes, I'm late) that I gave birth to number 2 son. I'd had pains all day, just one occasionally now and then, but Ma offered to take DP overnight to 'give me a rest' and, as soon as she walked out with him, the pains settled down and I knew I was on for the next. After fish & chips with the DH we set out to the hospital at 7pm.

Our local mat unit has a midwife unit where, if you have no problems you can go and I was due to be there, but there were not enough middies, so it was onto the delivery suite for me. We walked into the waiting room to see a dozen worried eyes looking at me anxiously... no, not expectant fathers (most of them are in the rooms at the bedside) These were couples waiting to be induced who had been there since 7 that morning. This was twelve hours later and, apparently there must have been a rush on that day, because not one of them had been induced. They were none too happy to see me, I can tell you, especially when as one asked me hopefully "Are you here to be induced....?" I had a contraction, grabbed hold of the DH's hand (the least he could do for me was to suffer, too) and gasped out "No, sorry, I think I've just gone to the front of the queue!"

Are you pregnant? Do you need a positive birth story? Call for me. I loved giving birth, the whole magic and miracle of it and I always find it amazing that a female body can give birth to a male baby. It's about as sensible as giving birth to a monkey, if you think about it, which is the sort of thing that gas and air makes you say. I read my way through the contractions, having saved 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' for the occasion specially, and only gave up when I couldn't concentrate. Finally I had to tell DH to bugger off, I wanted to push (He is a proper haemophobe, so no way was he going to stay. It would have been like the old films, like in carry on, with the woman giving birth in the back ground while everybody stands around the prone husband and takes care of him. Didn't feel the need anyway, all I wanted was the Midwife, especially if they've had their own children and know what it feels like to want to poo so badly)

And, at 10.30, there he was. Lovely little Ghandi-esque baby, with the extra bits, and all cuddley. I stayed awake for most of the night while he slept. With DP, it was so I could just lie and look at the baby, with JW I wanted to finish Harry Potter. A day in the hospital and Daddy brought DP to collect his new little brother. Apparently, DP did not want to come in... until he heard JW cry. Then he rushed in, made everybody kiss his little brother and found... Joy Oh Joy!.... A model steamroller called George which he had lusted after for a while... and he was so happy that the nurse who took us out to the car thought that JW was, indeed, called George, until we explained what had happened...

But that's all years ago now. We had to tell the story again yesterday, we had to have the party and the cake (see the turtle cake? I made that) and we had to have the whole wonderful feeling that this handsome and clever little boy is ours. Do we love him? You betcha!

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Missin' You already!

Our friends from Abu Dhabi are going back and we will not see them again before the end of the holidays. We only see them once a year, for a couple of playdates and usually at least two birthday parties in the summer.

But.... when the children get together and we finish saying "Gosh! How big!" and "Wow! She talks really well now!" and finish comparing notes on the English State School vs private Abu Dhabi....

It's as if they've never been away. They all disappear and play, and the parents sink exhausted into chairs to discuss how it feels to open a Petrol Station with a pair of scissors and a crowd looking on (that's them, not us) and to have a whole six weeks holiday because supply teachers like ordinary teachers don't work during the holidays (but we don't get paid either. That's the down side.)

And the children just play.

Until next July, dear friends, when we can have a competition as to who gets to say who is tallest first!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

When It's hot outside, there's only one thing to do...

Hold a dolls' tea party. The Princess and her friend, in the garden, playing teaparties.

They had that wonderful see-through tea that comes from a bottle, clear milk from the same bottle and copious amount of chocolate cookies, broken into chunks and shared with their inanimate friends.

Well, I say inanimate. I mean they just don't move when I see them.

See poor Little Sarah with her broken arm and leg? She has to go to the beach next week with her plaster and keep it dry.

No, I don't know how either. I'm working on it.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Nice really does matter.

Courtesy of Sue at Random Blethers, I am now the proud owner of a Nice Matters award. Started by Bella Enchanted, this is a friendship award and is given by the recipient to 7 other fellow bloggers who have been nice people, good friends and support in times of need and who inspire good feelings and inspiration. What? Only seven?

I like the word nice, despite the fact that as a teacher I spend hours telling the little brats to try and think of a different word (nice and pretty, the two most overused adjectives amongst girls aged 8 to 11) because it has such a depth of meaning to it. The concise Oxford Dictionary in 1958 (I have my Mum's copy from her years as a student) has a range of meanings for nice that we may or may not recognise as still applying today.

It says that nice means;

1. fastidious, dainty, hard to please, of refined or critical tastes, precise, punctilious, scrupulous or particular eg "must not be too nice about the means"

2. Requiring precision, care tact or discrimination as in "a nice experiment"

3. Minute or subtle "a nice distinction" (which is a phrase that I'm sure Georgette Heyer used in her books)

4.Attentive or close "a nice inquiry"

5. Delicately sensitive, discriminative or deft "a nice ear or hand"

6. Agreeable, attractive, delightful, well-flavoured, satisfactory, kind, friendly, considerate, generally commendable, sometimes used ironically as in "this is a nice mess"

Funnily enough, although the last definition is the closest to what we regard as nice these days, it was labelled as colloquial in the 1958 dictionary, meaning it was a slang usage and not the nicest definition (using def number 2!)

But I like number 6. Nice is good... just look at that list of words. Who wouldn't want to be them? Agreeable, well I'm pleasant to talk to; attractive (we are talking blog terms here) and my blog is tidier than my house, I hope it's attractive; delightful etc etc. Thank you for my award, Sue. I shall treasure it always or at least until next week, when I can go back to being my own sweet vindictive and malicious self. Now I get the fun; Who do I know who is "Nice"? Taking the last definition as my cue; here are the blogs I consider to be

Agreeable; Domesticali. I always find myself nodding in agreement with her, and so much of how she lives matches with how I live.

Attractive; I have to put Sophie Honeysuckle in here. I love looking at her pictures and seeing what her house is like. It's really pretty. (Although it was a close run thing with Posy. her fireplace picture is still my iconic blogpost)

Delightful; This award goes to Cherry Menlove, one of my first cyber heroines and one of the reasons I started blogging. Go see her wedding dresses today. Despite her posting a picture of Jordan her blog usually has delightful pictures of food, house and life on.

Well-flavoured; I'm having trouble trying to choose just one of our highly talented cooking bloggers to nominate. There are so many lovely looking cakes and food out there. However, on the chance that I might possibly wangle an invitation to a cake tasting out of her, since she is another local lass, I have to plump for Mary Mary Fairly Contrary who is prepared to post gratuitous pictures of yummy looking cakes for me. Sarah has my number, Mary and I'm sure that you have to bake perfect cakes in the WI, so perhaps I could help you practise?

Satisfactory; Ha! You want to know which blogger I would blight with the mimsy label 'satisfactory'? A plague on all your houses! All my blogmates are absolutely satisfactory and that's as in be content or pleased with, with no room for complaint. So there.

Kind; Dotty Cookie who is swapping a cupcake backpack for a painted box. She has been so kind to offer this. Thanks!

Friendly; This goes to Everything Stops for Tea. Any one who can spend 4 1/2 hours having coffee with me is friendly. Let me know when your next free day is, Sarah, and we can be ladies who lunch (and elevens and afternoon tea) again.

Considerate; this award goes (backwards again!) to Sue at Random Blethers, a woman with whom I know I could waste a lot of time if we were close neighbours. It's a good job that half the country separates us, or I would never get anything done!

Hope you all enjoy your awards, girls and that you pass them on to 7 more NICE bloggers. Have a lovely day, everyone.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Tagged by another Joanna

Well, actually I'm a Joanne but I much prefer Joanna. Yip, over at Joanna Bags she put my name down for an 8 tag. I have to have 8 friends to tag as well? Does she think I'm popular ? Blinking heck I can barely manage 8 relations still talking to me sometime. Any way, here we are (no kids since they're on a sleepover so I have 5 spare minutes for a quickie. But since the hubby is at work, I'll settle for posting instead. Apologies to the easily offended) and I have to write 8 things about me.

1. The only car accident I have had so far was with the Chief Constable of Merseyside the night he came out of hospital after a month in for a bad back. He was not driving, it was one of the ultra-trained police drivers and I was only 21 and a new(ish) driver in MY DAD'S CAR. Was I popular that night, I can tell you! Apparently, the other officers in the police station didn't know whether to lock me away for good or give me a medal and use me on the driving training course. I can laugh about it now (Ha ha ha. Took me years. If I'd have been a little more neurotic I could have had therapy. I knitted my way out of it.)

2. My daughter was born at 6.10 am on my Mother's birthday. I had to ring Ma up at 4am and say Happy Birthday, please hurry. She was happy about that.

3. I was baptised a Roman Catholic and I have been confirmed as an Anglican. If I ever get ordained it will be as a Methodist. I take ecumenism very seriously and I think that the bonds that unite us should be tighter than the chinks that divide us. Are you listening, Pope Benedict? Now if you ask me what I am I just say Christian... not 'Born Again', because that's another chink and that's how the separation starts.

4. My favourite food ever ever ever is proper french Confit de Canard. I could eat it all year, but at the moment I only get a couple of tins when Ma brings it home from France. I should find a UK supplier, or at least a french travelling friend who would bring me back a couple of tins every month, but I haven't ever been so organised. And it weighs a lot so it would drive anybodys luggage over the limit.

5. The little finger on my left hand is shorter than that on my right and neither are as long as they should be. I say it's because I'm more highly evolved than other humans and am losing the vestigal fingers that we never use. My brothers say it's because I'm deformed. Either way, I don't play piano and could never do a full octave without using my nose.

6. I name all my cars. My present one is Rocky, before him I had Goofy, Bob and Arthur. My best cars are always boys, the only girl I had was Veronica and she was a cow, always breaking down. I tend to drive cars into the ground and get a new one out of necessity rather than prestige. Rocky has been with me 7 years now and (touch wood) still being a good boy.

7. I have a thing for Aaron Sorkin's work. A Few Good Men, The American President and West Wing are my favourite films & TV series. I'm watching Studio 60, but I've only seen the first episode so am reserving judgement. I think it misses the concept of absolute power that West Wing has, but I'm hoping the slick script will make up for that.

8. My favourite animals are frogs. When I was young and single (never free; I've always been expensive) I collected frogs and had them on mugs, plates, in toy form, ornament form and even a noticeboard. That was in the 80's when everyone had an animal they collected. I had a friend who collected pigs, but she was really thin which, I think, takes any insulting comparison out of the collection. Me? I was looking for my prince and when I found him I didn't need to collect frogs anymore. (OK, he told me if I brought one more stupid frog into the house he would not be impressed. I'm a good girl, I haven't got any since then, but they are still my favourite animal)

Enough already! I have to tag 8 people now? How do I know who has been tagged? I'll try Sarah, Mary, Lucy, Blair, Saraeden, Weirdbunny, Ali and Papoosue. If you have time, Ladies, please let's have 8 random facts about yourselves and another poor 8 saps tagged! (You can tag me again if you need to, it's not that bad and I can think of another 8 random things.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

I'm very proud of this.

It took me a couple of hours yesterday.
I took the children to visit my Mum.
I plugged in the machine and I got going.

Two hours of very straight line sewing later, I had my bag. It is made from four very coordinated prints, joined in stripes. I lined it with a blue cotton that was not absolutely plain, but mottled so that it also looks much like sky. There are two full width inside pockets separated out into smaller compartments for my sunglasses etc. One is much deeper than the other; in retrospect I should have made them both deep. The shallow pocket (about 4 inches deep) is too shallow to hold anything really heavy in, while a deep pocket will hold a small thing, won't it? I didn't use a pattern, per se, but I did have my other handmade bags which I looked at and thought about, and a copy of Lotta's very popular book. Her tote bag was just too small for my needs, you see.

The handle is attached with a top band of the lining material and then caught between the bag outer and lining by about 5 lines of top stitching, done in white. I ummed and arghed about putting ric rac... but that would have been too silly and I would have liked to put a big shell button at the top to fasten it with a little loop, but I am currently searching for something that tickles me.

I don't know whether to do some embroidery or applique to finish off the boats. The ones at the top of the sea are cut off and it bugs me.... yes, I know, I should have thought about it mid construction, but I didn't. I can live with it for now, but it might be altered by next year (presuming it lives that long) For now, I am happy to say I took the bag for a test drive to Borders today and it will do very nicely. Sunglasses, purse, keys and camera all safely to hand and it holds two books and a couple of magazines (Country Homes and Interiors and Period Living) in perfect safety.

And I really want some more material so that I can make a cushion cover like this. When can I go to Chester again, please?

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Chester; one for the children, one for me.

Chester is a beautiful city about 30 miles away from where I live. it is small, quaint, has a walled inner city and a history stretching back 2000 years to the ancient Romans. It also has at least 4 decent charity shops ( seek a good area, find decent picking) and a varied selection of small and chain shops, all within a small walking area.
We usually go there at least once a holiday, justification being that it's not far, the children love the freedom of browsing in a shop where Mummy actually says "Buy any thing you like!" and we usually have at least one child who is doing/has done/will be doing Romans or Medieval or Civil War or any other period of history embraced by the city. The Grosvenor Museum has rooms that are big enough to educate without being too big, a holiday programme that is good for keeping crafty children busy and enough to keep a family busy for a few hours. Add to that the charms of Chester and the other tourist attractions and it can be a full day. The photo of my three delights shows them digging for bones in the Ice Age room, where we saw model animals including a very cute woolly rhino made by some Cheshire Brownies!

Yesterday was my Chester day; pack up the kids, pick up the Grandma and scoot off to the quaintest town I know.
On a Saturday, the parking is impossible and, indeed, in the summer it can be hard to find a space which is why we use the Park & Ride service. For £1.50 per adult (2 children each under 16 free!) we can park our car (next to the Zoo, but there are other sites as well) and have a return trip into the city by bus, which nowadays is such a rareity for the children that they are happy to sit and watch the other people. First entertainment of the day.
We usually aim to arrive there for lunch, which as a family tradition is fish & chips in the Chip-o-Dee restaurant on the road where the bus stops. That means tea later on can be a much lighter affair and gives us plenty of time for sightseeing. The same street also houses the Oxfam shop & book department and a Barnardo's shop where the clothes can often be quite interesting! Ice cream, of course, and some caffeine mid afternoon are compulsory!

A short walk through the town shows a variety of shops and stores.... but my bestest discovery yesterday was the Liberty Bell on Bridge Street Row, above the main street and only attainable via a set of steep but very cute steps. The shops above all run off a raised walkway, a novelty I have seen no where else (do, please, correct me if you know of anywhere else) and which gives the experience of shopping in Chester an old worldy charm that a marble and glass shopping centre could not replicate.
Back to Liberty Bell. This small shop front has a narrow interior stretching back and sells all things quaint, homespun and charming. There are a lot of American imports, of course, but the goods are fun for presents or for home decor touches such as signs, cushions, notepads and recipe boxes and candles and scented goods. These last give the shop a wonderful fragrance, like apple pie and pecan crisp.

We couldn't resist little wax pies that were scented with allsorts of appealing fragrances, like raspberry, pecan, cinnamon and apple. The nice lady there yesterday was called Sue and I had a happy 10 minutes talking blogs with her. She hasn't got one yet, but did take a dip into blogworld prior to a trip to Norway.... somebody out there might have met her in the vapour, so I can say that in real life she is a very very nice person to talk to. If you pop by, do, please say hello to her and, Sue, if you're reading this, I say hello again and why not start a blog & come and join the fun!?!
At the back of the shop there are quilting fabrics, some pre-cut into fat quarters and available from as little as £1.99 per quarter. I put the boys down on a step, told them to play weeping angels with any passers by (You know, make like a statue and don't move if anyone is watching you) while the Princess and I began to make serious inroads into the baskets of FQ's arranged, very usefully, by colour. Pink, of course, some red for me and a look at the blues with a wistful intention of making a bedroom quilt that I know I have neither the time nor the experience for at the moment.

But that is part of the charm of a shop like this, that you can stroke the material and dream of quilts unseen, whilst only intending to buy a couple of FQ's for some lavender bags (bird shaped) for the wardrobe (Oh! and the Pay it Forward swap.. perhaps a couple for that... and there is a birthday soon, so a tissue case in that pink rose print.. then the green and peach circles needs the plain green to go with it...)
The worst is when you see something and you know that the day you had earmarked for tidying your bedroom will now be spent in making a bag. A holiday bag because of course you have been inspired by Domesticali or Dolly Daydream and you have a seaside holiday in a week. A bag big enough for the new Period Ideas that you picked up at WH Smiths. A bag big enough to carry the book that you will take on every day out although the chances of you reading more than a page on any day out with or with out another adult are about the same as a chocolate teapot actually making a decent cup of tea. A bag which can hold sunglasses, drinks bottle, camera and purse without them getting lost in the depths and a Japanese Soldier popping out asking where the war is when you dig down for them..... you get the picture. this bag will be for the beach although, of course, it will never go to the beach. So, three guesses how I spent today? To find out, come back tomorrow.