Monday, September 28, 2009

Pleated happiness

Now I do realise that a pale blue linen dress may be a little out of season as autumn gathers pace around us, but I've been meaning to sew up the Oliver & S Birthday Party Dress for quite some time and hope that by making the age 8 size there will still be a little wear left in this dress come next Spring and Summer.

And I am so glad I made the dress, even if it isn't very se

All the little details that distinguish an Oliver & S pattern. The pleats took time and careful attention but just look at them, how pleased I am to have created those perfect, even pleats.

I love the button back and hem facing, I like the careful way this pattern pieces together.

Of course, should you not have any birthday parties to attend, this dress is equally good for jumping in. In fact, you may even find that you jump a little higher than usual.

Friday, September 25, 2009

To market, to market to buy a....

Well I do occasionally buy a joint of pork but mostly I go to market to buy flowers and vegetables.

I love visiting small markets, I like to peruse the fruit and veg stalls, soaking up the colours and the patter, on a whim buying a heap of new season plums or extra ripe looking peaches. Pineapples just because they were "2ferapound" and cherries because when you see them piled high, there colours glowing how can you resist.

I was pleased to find that our new location boasted a nearby market town with a twice weekly small market. There are usually two fruit and veg stalls but of course I already have my favourite, a good butcher, habberdashery, the lovely olive man who insists you try everything (and who also sells baklava so tooth achingly good that, when accompanied by a tiny cup of strong coffee, it can almost whisk you off to warm pavement cafe in Greece for a few moments)

Then there is the bric-a-brack stall, where I always stop for a few minutes, sometimes there is absolute gold to be found amongst the trinkets on that fine lady's table. One week I managed to pick up some little framed botanical watercolours for mere pence and this framed Punch print makes me smile.

Thank you all so much for your very kind words on the last post, writing that post and reading your kind words and experiences was therapy indeed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The white and brown dog

If you have been reading here a while you may have seen our two dogs occasionally appear on these pages. Oakley is the black and white English Setter and Teal, our little white and tan English Springer Spaniel. Sadly we had to say goodbye to Teal a couple of months ago and this post, a post in memory of her, has been in my mind for such a long time. It was all too fresh and sore to begin with and then time filled up with busy things but we have not forgotten our little white and brown dog and this morning I suddenly need to write this post. I seem to have seen Teal lookalikes everywhere today, walking in the fields, outside the shops in town and in the pages of a magazine. So our gentle little dog is at the forefront of my mind.

Oakley was our first dog, our practice child if you like. We got her as a tiny puppy and spoiled her terribly of course, as a result she thinks she is a step above other dogs, indeed she has little idea that she is a dog at al
l. Teal was quite different, she came to us as a four year old and although still first and foremost a pet it was important that she be a working dog too. She came to us fully trained and spent her first few weeks constantly walking around and around the room every time we entered, eager to please, eager to work. She had been kennelled all her life and a trials competitor, her masters had been strict and she was most unused to lazy family evenings in front of the fire. In truth some of those anxieties never quite left her but she did learn to relax and once in a blue moon I would enter a room to find she had crept quietly on to the sofa, of course she jumped off fairly sharply as soon as she was spotted, unlike the Setter who believes it is her right to sit on a sofa and indeed does at all times.

Teal did work her little socks off right through her life. She loved to see The Technical Advisor don his waterproofs and pack a lunch and would eagerly accompany him in the harshest of conditions. Her energy was incredible and she would eagerly bound up mountains, then slide muddily downwards (her clumsiness was legendary). She would tear through the thickest of bramble and gorse in search of pheasants and return home at the end of the day exhausted and filthy but still so gentle and eager to please.

The clumsiness was unbelievable, we used to liken her to one of those Slinkys, it was as though her back and front were entirely un-connected and I cannot count how many times her clumsy actions would send us into fits of laughter, watching Teal descend a flight of stairs was funny beyond belief. She was affectionately known to us as "muppet".

Teal didn't ask for much. She was happy to be fed and walked and oh so pathetically grateful for any attention beyond that. Should you stroke the top of her head just once she would immediately push her head back under your hand, gazing at you with utter, vacant, devotion. She loved us so much. She roll over submissively every time a small child approached her, she put up with no end of poking and prodding from the young dog loving Tilly, she shared her bed with inquisitive toddlers on many an occasion and was glad to be dressed up in bows and hats.

Just a week after our move Teal lost control of her back end, I mean more than normal. I thought that perhaps in her usual clumsy way she had slipped on the tiled floors and pulled a muscle or something. She was uncomplaining just seemingly surprised that her back legs where not following her front. We phoned a vet that night but still felt sure she would suddenly start to walk normally again. We waited overnight, the next morning there was no change and I had to carry her to the garden, she could only drag herself awkwardly a short distance. I took her to the vet whose expression told me quickly what I had been pushing down, deep inside, unwilling to acknowledge. It was serious, she had no feeling at all in those back legs, as the vet pinched her toes she just gazed at me vacantly, devotedly. The vet said there may have been something growing on her spine for a long time, maybe even always, it could be that her characteristic clumsiness was actually medical for all those years. The vet said she had done so well to reach 12 years old, to have kept working. I took her home that day. She wasn't in any pain but I couldn't take that decision, not there and then, I needed to say goodbye, I needed all of us to say goodbye. I knew that The Technical Advisor would need especially to say goodbye, she had been his dog most of all, his first working dog, his companion on so many wet and muddy adventures.

It was a very hard 24 hours or so, we kept hoping she might suddenly recover and walk around normally, that it was all a mistake. We knew it could not be so but still, you hope. The children were so upset and as for Teal? She couldn't have been happier in those hours, she had so much attention, no one could walk past her soft head without stroking and cuddling. She gazed devotedly at all of us.

The Technical Advisor took her back to the vet on a Saturday morning and it was the hardest thing. The hardest thing. He held her head and said goodbye, she gazed at him devotedly of course.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Preservation of the soul

Preserving is undoubtedly one of those soothing kitchen activities, guaranteed to absorb, relax and satisfy. This weekend I found myself suddenly ready to admit to the presence of autumn and say goodbye to summer. This weekend saw a Saturday filled with glorious golden September sunshine which permitted lunch to be eaten comfortably outside, followed by a cloudier, sharper sort of Sunday. In fact Sunday was The Technical Advisor's birthday and we ate his chosen lunch of roast beef indoors, feeling grateful for his very suitable choice. That evening we embraced the first log fire of the year which sent me promptly to sleep of course.

So this September Monday morning I awoke knowing that it really was autumn, I reached for a jacket as I headed out the door and my mind is filling with thoughts of scarf knitting. There are very flowers left in the garden and it is taking on a definite golden, reddish haze as the leaves begin to turn. I set to work on the damson tree as soon as I returned from the school run, its branches are heavily laden with damsons, ripe and ready.

I love preservation, I first dipped my toe into world of boiling sugar and crinkle tests a few years ago and now know it to be one of those domestic activities that will leave you feeling smugly delighted with yourself. There is nothing quite like the sight of your hard work presented in a neatly labelled row of jars on the pantry shelf.

There have been plenty of errors along the way of course. This summer saw a bush of glorious red currants reduced to a solid, slightly caramelised tasting (that is, if you can actually get a spoon in to taste) wedge of something but the batch of rhubarb relish made at the same time happily made me forget all about the nasty red currant incident.

Today's damsons have been pricked and soaked in gin and sugar. The pricking of so many damsons might sound like a tedious business but in fact nothing could be further than the truth, it was a pleasing, absorbing activity, I enjoyed the repetitive rhythm whilst half listening to Woman's Hour in the background.

Once that batch of damsons was safely under cover of gin I set to work on weighing sugar and sorting out jam pots and lids. There is nothing like a bit of boiling sugar to take ones mind of whatever there might be to worry about, the watching, the freezing saucer, the frequent testing for a set; such a wonderful autumnal way to spend a morning.

Tomorrow I set to work on a another batch of damsons, this time destined for my favourite preservation activity of all, chutney. The chopping, the weighing, the long, slow cooking and the smell of those spices, oh the smell of those spices. I am almost hoping for a decent heavy downpour for to be snug in a spice filled kitchen while the rain batters against could be as good a feeling as anyone could wish for on a Tuesday morning in autumn.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

All is quiet
All is still. The children are back at school and now that my initial heartache has eased I find myself wandering around the house and embracing the still quiet that has enveloped it.

There is this strange feeling of being frozen in time, a life paused. Games lie abandoned mid play. The house and I wait quietly, poised, ready for the clock to strike 3pm and for life to being again.

The sun seeks silent spots among the shadows and rests there a while and I take a moment to notice.

I move around as gently as possible, I need to get the vacuum cleaner out but somehow it seems wrong to shatter the quiet.

We will find our feet, the house and I, we will find our school time rhythm but gently and slowly, we will ease our way in for the stillness is good, it is peace, it is time to think and plan and sharpen our pencils so to speak.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Something old, something new

I saw these vintage seed packets advertised in a magazine not so long ago and strangely found myself hurrying off to the website to order some. I was not disappointed when they arrived and instead of my usual habit of procrastinating indecision I set quickly to work. I love the bright colours and the way they have yellowed and mellowed with age.

Thankfully The Technical Advisor was around to caution me into using a ruler, for in my eagerness I really might have just mounted them by eye and I am happy to admit that may not have been a good thing.

Four rows of four spaced neatly to fill a blank frame. Deciding which ones to place where reminded me of quilting and I found myself digging o
ut this pile of fabrics from the box of indecision in which it has been resting for over a year. I think perhaps I can visualise what to do with them finally.