Saturday, 12 December 2015

What is it they say about paying peanuts....?

Except in this case, it's hardly peanuts. The cost of letters and parcels is really high these days, making people think twice about what presents they send to friends and family who live miles away, because you've got to factor in that cost haven't you? And you'd think that with the cost, you'd get a first class service. Hmm...

Two parcels sent to me last week from different parts of the UK (Scotland and Wales) were in fact delivered back to the people who had sent them! We are told to put senders name and address on the back... I tend to just put my surname and postcode as that will find me easily, but everyone I know uses the full name and address, which in these two instances meant the parcels went back to them. Then our local postmen, the man in the van and the man pushing a cart, left mail wher it got wet. One left parcels propped beside a meter cupboard on the side of the house, in the rain. It was soaked, right through, but luckily the friend who sent it used bubble wrap so not all was lost. One of the other parcels didn't have such protection and has taken ages to dry out. And today, the man with the cart left post hanging out of the letter box, again in the pouring rain. What is wrong with these people, don't they think? The carts have plastic covers over a basket at the front where they put the next batch of letters to be delivered, but ours never cover the mail  up so they sit in the wet, and if your mail is at the end of the batch, well, it doesn't take a genius to realise what state it's going to be in. Two cards today, wet through. I shall of course, be having words.

I'm famous for having words. Not someone who will take poor/bad service quietly. Like the refuse collectors who sometimes can't be bothered to put the bin at the end of the drive where they collected it from but have a tendency to leave it several doors away so my husband has to play 'hunt the wheelie bin'. Every time it happens, an email goes off to the relevant department at the local council. To be fair, it's not happened in a while.I like to think the message eventually got through.

Still, 'tis the festive season almost, or maybe you class it as having started with Advent? So best not to spend the rare time on the blog having a moan.

Something more cheery....in fact, something to make you laugh. A silly present for my recent birthday from a friend who claims not to have a sense of humour?!


I've been doing a lot of feltwork this year, and here are the cushions I made, the colours a bit garish as the flash came on, such gloomy weather we're having of late but compared to others of course, nothing at all to complain about.



and this is a Christmas decoration made for a dear friend, who every year for the past twenty years has sent me a small Advent calendar... I love opening those little doors, sad I know.


I've also ddecoupaged a papier mache stags head, some Christmas cards, and started preparing the fabric for a quilt, made from samples I bought from an online company selling gorgeous woollen throws. The sample books cost me a fiver, and once I've cut off the tops where the holes are, I shall have decent sized perfect squares of soft, cuddly fabric in various checks and colourways. I plan to add some felt work to it, flowers, birds and so on, but this is a long term plan so don't expect photos any time soon!

There's been playing of new CDs .... Elvis with the Royal Philarmonic, Aquostic with Status Quo obviously, a Chris Rea to add to my collection, and a remix of With The Beatles, which comes in a card cover like a mini version of the original vinyl which has been played to death almost since I got it fifty years ago.

And of course, there's been some reading....I decided to read Christmas-themed novels, even though some of them are a bit saccharin for me. 'The Christmas Cafe' by Amanda Prowse, 'The Chocolate Lovers Christmas' by Carole Matthews, and 'The Christmas Surprise' by Jenny Colgan. Waiting to be read is 'A Christmas Party' by Georgette Heyer, one of her early crime novels, which I'm looking forward to reading, as well as 'A Year of Good Eating' by Nigel Slater, promising lots of new recipes to try, and for a laugh, adult Ladybird books, written in the same style as the original children's books, illustrated the same way too.... 'How it Works: The Husband' of which I bought two copies, one for me and one for my best friend Joyce. Then there's a new colouring book, a new craft book and the latest interiors book by Selina Lake, 'Winter Living', all presents for a recent birthday.

That should keep me busy over Christmas. Luckily I don't have to rush hither and yon, or be polite to people I don't like because I'm expected to, or plaster a smile on my face. I don't have mountains of food to prepare and cook, I don't have hordes of family and friends descending on my house, some of whom I'd be genuinely pleased to see perhaps, others are just tolerated. I don't have duty visits to make, or anyone making duty visits to me. Instead it will be himself and myself, maybe a new cat too. Ours will be quiet, not hectic or noisy, but relaxed and peaceful, with time for walks and snoozes, books and new DVDs. A time for reflection, to be thankful for having a roof over my head, enough food to eat, for having good friends if not family who care. You can choose your friends etc.

So to those of you who bother to read this drivel, and especially to those who actually leave a comment, thank you and my very best wishes to you and yours for Christmas and the New Year.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Creative Fun


It's amazing what you can do with some crumpled up newspaper, wallpaper paste and paint...



....and how different a boring white lampshade can look when you cover it with patchwork fabric squares...



And it's that time of year to try out a few simple designs for Christmas cards. I used to make cards for everyone, and often used fabrics, cross stitch, embroidery, complicated cards that took a while to make. Then as the list of people to send to decreased, so did my patience for faffing too much, and knowing that most people just chuck the card away, I now only make cards for a handful of friends who I know keep them, year on year.... some of them must have quite a collection after all this time!
But here are a couple of easy and quick designs... the first using washi tapes, the second painted watercolour paper stars stuck to plain card with sticky pads.




They both take about the same time to make, so maybe I'll just do a few of each. Or maybe I'll do something completely different by the time December comes around!


I've also been doing some sketching using the modules from Jenny Maizel's sketchbook club. This is my interpretation of an early Coronation Street... note the grey sky and dark clouds, since everyone says it always rains in Manchester, even though that's not true! And this is a slightly lighter, different row of terraced houses...


I've managed a fair bit of reading, having been given an unexpected second lot of books to review for the RoNAs, both of which were Christmassy tales. I like to buy a couple of light, Christmas-themed novels to read over the Festive Season - I keep telling myself I should read something more 'worthy', like Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but really, that's not what I'm in the mood for at Christmas.

One of the best books read recently was 'Soul of Discretion' by Susan Hill, the latest in her detective novels featuring Simon Serrailler, and as usual, a real page turner. It wasn't a comfortable read at times, dealing with a very sensitive subject, but her writing it such that you just have to keep reading, and I managed this in four bedtime readings. Also excellent was 'The Girls' by Lisa Jewell, her novels never fail to please me I have to say.

The garden is definitely autumnal now, even though two roses, one in a large pot and one a climber, have both put out new buds, which I've bought indoors where they have opened and given off their delicate scent. A penstemon has also flowered again, and looking round, although the ground is spotted with little golden pennies, the leaves dropping from the silver birches now, there is still such a lot in flower. We've put the hedgehog igloo in place now, hoping for a resident this coming winter. There wasn't one last year, but I read an article lately by a man who said his garden had been missing hedgehogs for three years and then one came back, so there's hope.

And although I don't believe in Hallowe'en, I am looking forward to the fireworks display at Castle Rising this weekend. Fortunately we don't get bothered by trick or treaters, they tend to steer clear of where we live, just going round the estate further away in the village, where most of the younger children live.

Anyway, that's me for this time. Hope those of you who read this are enjoying the change in seasons as I am, and don't see it as a depressing time, the run down to the dark days of winter? As ever, thanks for dropping by, and especially if you left a comment.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Christmas dinner and not a decoration in sight!


Well, it's been a while since I posted and here we are in autumn, the season of mists they say, as the photo shows. I love the misty mornings .... but not the spiders webs that always seem to catch me out when I go for my morning walk around the garden.

This last weekend, me and The Mister had Christmas dinner, and there wasn't a flickering candle, twinkly fairy light, sprig of holly nor strand of tinsel to be seen. There were two reasons for this.... first it was his birthday so a special dinner was called for, and secondly, after the debacle of last year's Christmas dinner, when we decided to be brave and try goose and both hated it, we thought we'd have a trial run of something else, new to us. Poussin, spatchcocked to be precise from The Gressingham Duck Company. Oh it was good, served with little sausages and stuffing balls, smoky bacon rolls, crushed root veggies, crispy roasties and sprouts, and will definitely be our Christmas lunch this year. Only it will have the addition of fresh chestnuts with the sprouts, and a special gravy, not your instant granule stuff.

Yes, I admit to cheating with gravy, shame on me. I can hear my Yorkshire granny tutting. But some of it is really good, not as good as the 'real thing'  of course. And I probably wouldn't use it with a roast beef dinner, Yorkshires aren't the same with instant gravy, not compared to the yummy stuff you make with the meat juices.

And despite the drop in temperatures, and probably due to the fact that we had over a week of really warm sunshine nearly all day, there is still lots of colour in the garden, including these, which I grow as companion plants down under the sweet pea and bean wigwams, and which I thought I might play with next year, experimenting with dying wool.



  We have quite a few mature trees in the garden and underneath one of them we are slowly building up a collection of these little beauties....




And in the newly created white border, there is still one lone cosmos plant flowering its socks off, though the cleome and other flowers have all finished.



Again, this is something else, another area I want to expand on next  year. It was only a small area this year, most of the plants were confined to large raised beds having been grown for cutting flowers. I discovered that the Cleome weren't suitable, having sharp thorns and too many unflowering side shoots to suit them to my needs, but boy, do they ever last a long time in the ground. They flowered for months, never losing their colour, but I have to say, the white ones really lifted a rather dull area and so I will concentrate next year on white cleome and white cosmos in a small border, where they will flower long after surrounding plants have given up for the year.

As ever, I've been reading lots, the best books recently have been 'Burnt Paper Sky' by Gilly Macmillan, the story of every mother's nightmare. Rachel is out with her little boy Ben, walking their dog in local woods, when he vanishes. She lets him out of her sight for seconds and he has gone, not a trace. The pace really picked up towards the end of this powerful read, a brilliant debut novel. 'The Turning Point' by Freya North is about seizing the day, making the most of the moment, following your heart. When two strangers meet they have an instant connection, and even though one lives in Canada and the other in Norfolk, they know that somehow they have to make this work. Long distance love doesn't always work, but sometimes, as I know from experience, it does. And a final recommendation, 'Letters to the Lost' by Iona Grey. In 1942 a young woman, Stella, running away from an over-zealous USAF airman, meets another such airman, Dan. The odds are against them, he is a pilot with a one in five chance of surviving the war, but despite this they write to each other. Coming to the present day, a young woman, escaping a violent boyfriend, breaks into a house and discovers the letters and determines to find out more about these people. Along the way she will find love of her own.

I'm also doing lots of sketching having joined Jenny Maizels Sketchbook club, and having great fun with it too. (www.jenniemaizels.com/sketchbook-club) I know that won't work as a link but I don't know how to do clever stuff like that so I just give you the info in case you're interested, someone who likes to draw but isn't great at it, and looking for something different, a change from the colouring books perhaps. I still like to use them, and have quite a collection now.

Anyway, this is enough for now.  I shall be back again, sometime, and meanwhile, thanks for visiting and please feel free to leave a comment.

Friday, 7 August 2015

My reading for July


Well, here it is, my pile of reading from July, a real mix this time, and one which reflects some of my favourite collections.... books, both factual and fiction, set in bookshops and the same for books about the Land Army girls, and that period of WWII.

But to begin at the beginning....


'A Year of Marvellous Ways' by Sarah Winman. Surprisingly, Marvellous Ways is the name of an 89 year old woman who lives alone in a remote Cornish creek for most of her life. She sits by the river with a telescope waiting... for what she's not sure but she'll know when it arrives. Drake is what arrives, a young soldier shell-shocked from WWII, in need of whatever it is she has to offer him. It is his promise to fulfil a dying man's wish that brought him to this part of Cornwall, and the rest is magic. Literally at times.

Not to be recommended on an empty stomach, 'A Slice of Britain - Around the Country by Cake' is written by Caroline Taggart, who decided to take on the arduous task (such a  plucky woman!) if sampling the different cakes and biscuits that certain part of Britain are famous for.... Cornish fairings, Bakewell tarts and the like. If you didn't fancy a piece of cake before you began reading, you might well soon be tempted. You have been warned, this book could be dangerous for your waistline. 

'The Bookshop Book' by Jen Campbell is a book about bookshops, worldwide, the people who own them, the passionate readers and writers too. Very readable, and a great addition to my collection.

'The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend' by Katarina Bivald. Sara, who works in a bookshop in Sweden, becomes penfriends with Amy, an old lady living in Broken Wheel, Iowa. Their common interest is books, and when Amy suggests that Sara comes for an extended visit, she agrees. But when she arrives in Broken Wheel, a small town with not much going for it, certainly no bookshop, it is to find that Amy had died a few days beforehand. After much thought, she decides to stay, and open a bookshop in this strange little town of friendly people, all of whom seem to think her slightly mad,  but have taken to her and come up with a plan for her to stay. The plan involves Tom, handsome and single, but even then, there is a huge spanner gets thrown in the works. Great read, loved it.

And now for something completely different.... 'The Shepherd's Life' by James Rebank, a non-fiction book and the title says it all. A year in the life of a Lakeland sheep farmer, season by season, and a lovely reminder for me, of one of my favourite parts of the country. 

Still on the non-fiction shelf... 'When I Was A Nipper' by Alan Titchmarsh is a book for women my age, a year younger than Alan but memories came flooding back, of some of the traditions back in the day, ladies wearing gloves for example. You only see that when it's cold now. 'Treasured values and traditions that were once the soul of society' the blurb says, describing the contents perfectly. For those of a certain age, this is a stroll down memory lane, which can sometimes make you feel a little sad for a way of life, a way of being with each other, of living with our neighbours, that seems to have disappeared in many places. Gardens now enclosed with six foot high fencing preclude those friendly, often helpful, chats over the garden fence. Just one example of how life has changed.

'Good Harbor' by Anita Diamant. This is the third time i have read this book and it was my intention to put it in the charity shop bag, but I love the novel so much, it's gone back on the shelf! It's a story, set in New England, of female friendship, overcoming grief and loss - Kathleen, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, will spend the summer going through radiation therapy. Helping her, apart from her husband, will  be her new friend, one she met by chance, Joyce. This book is an affirmation of that special friendship that can develop between two women, showing that you don't have to have known someone for a lifetime to feel an affinity with them, for there to be that special, certain something that binds you together, through thick and thin, good times and bad. Always there for each other. 

And finally, 'The Lost Garden' by Helen Humphreys, set in the Spring of 1941 and Gwen Davies leaves wartime London to go to Devon to take charge of a long-neglected country house garden and the team of Land Girls charged with bringing it back to production. She's a 35 year old spinster who has never been loved or in love, but along with discovering the once-beautiful gardens, she also discovers how to love. But will it have a happy ending?

So there you have it once again, and where did the last month go? Here we are, just over four weeks away from autumn! And no doubt not much longer till all the Christmas 'stuff' appears in the shops. Oh Happy Days....

Thanks for visiting, please feel free to leave a nice comment!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Life's Simple Pleasures on a Sunday morning.



Are you a radio person? Do you switch on first thing in the morning, listen to it whilst having breakfast, getting your family sorted out for the day, in the car on the way to work/shops/school, back home as an accompaniment to the ironing perhaps?

I never considered myself a radio person until recent times. As a teen I listened to Radio Caroline (that dates me!), Radio Luxembourg, often under the covers in bed when I was supposed to be going to sleep. But that seems typical of many teens of that era. Do they do it now I wonder? Listen under the bedclothes? They have so many more options these days.

I'm a silent person really. I like the quiet, have no need, on a daily basis, to have the radio on and constant  background noise of music or chat. Except, it seems of late, when it comes to Sunday morning, the occasional early evening, Saturday mornings too, sometimes. I sit in my chair in my workroom, feet up, radio on beside me. Sundays it's usually The Archers omnibus, Radio Four or LBC if I'm in the mood for listening to ordinary people phoning in and discussing topics of the day. Never music, apart from the very occasional Classic FM. I like chat it seems, on the radio these days, not music.

Saturdays and the odd early evening, same venue, but instead of crochet as my pastime, it's colouring in, which I've been doing for years and years, long before it became a national obsession as I heard someone describe it. Someone who didn't realise just how relaxing it can be, since he said it in a derogatory tone. Mind, it's more a female thing isn't it, colouring in?

But I digress.

Yesterday I listed to Radio Four Extra, and heard 'Life with the Lyons', 'Hancock's Half Hour' and 'The Navy Lark', none of which will mean anything perhaps, to younger readers of this blog. But for those of a certain age....

They brought back memories. My husband recalls listening to 'The Navy Lark' on a Sunday afternoon, doing his homework, with a cat for company. Being a goody two shoes I'd done mine on the Friday, when I got home from school, wanting to get it out of the way, leaving the weekend free. Not that it was an eventful, socially full weekend. We lived miles out of town, no school friends near even if I'd wanted to spend time with them (or they with me for that matter), views from the window of horses in fields and the sea. It was a time spent with  my Mum, going on coach trips sometimes, more often than not into town for shopping, a bus ride away, so lunch out once the shopping had been done, in a cafe called The Morocco which served tea and coffee in brown, smoked glass cups and saucers, and Kunzel Cakes, little sickly chocolatey cakes that would have the Sugar Police cringeing these days. But I only had one a week, honest!

But that was Saturdays, Sundays were spent listening to the radio in the afternoon. So for me, 'The Navy Lark' recalled wintry Sunday afternoons sitting either side of a blazing coal fire, Mum with her knitting or sewing, me knitting or doing something arty with gummed paper shapes, fuzzy felts too.

Simple Pleasure on Sundays... this morning it's The Archers on the radio with my crochet, this afternoon it's The Open on television, with knitting. A simple life indeed.

What's your simple pleasure on a Sunday, if you have one?

Saturday, 27 June 2015

June's reading


Sometimes there's a book cover that catches your eye, the title intrigues, it's an author you've never heard of before, but hey... why stick to the tried and tested, why not venture forth and try someone new? So it was with 'Shotgun Love Songs' by Nickolas Butler. Four friends grew up together in Wisconsin, their lives all taking different paths and here they are, gathered together again after all these years, for a wedding of one of them, hoping to recapture the feelings of closeness that once bound them. Secrets come out which threaten a friendship, and a marriage. Can you ever go back, can things ever be as they were?

Mary Portas is not someone new by any means. I have long been an admirer of her for the way she just gets on and gets things done, so when her memoir 'Shop Girl' came out, I was eager to read it, and it didn't disappoint. A friend went to see her at the Hay Festival where she talked about her book, her life and so on, and found her very entertaining, as is the book. I am sure there is another book to follow, as this one stops when she meets her husband Graham, and if so, I shall look forward to reading that too.

'Muddy Boots and Silk Stockings' by Julia Stoneham is a novel set in WWII, around a group of land girls looked after by Alice Todd, whose husband has abandoned her and who needs to find a way of supporting herself and her young son. I have a fondness for novels about land girls.... this was a really good read, written by a writer of 'The House of Elliott'.

'The Villa' by Sarah Sands is about a woman, Jenny, who searches for the secret to a perfect family life. Good luck with that you think... she is married to Richard, was his secretary, had an affair with him which was all terribly exciting of course. But he divorced his wife and married Jenny, they have a child, and now life isn't exciting any more, the passion has gone, conversations often replaced by messages on Post-it notes. So she thinks that a holiday, a long holiday in a villa  in Provence with some old friends will be the answer to her search. She has the 'ideal set-up' she thinks, so surely the rest will follow?

Heather Reyes' 'An Everywhere - a little book about reading' is, according to the blurb - 'a gem of a book ro read and re-read, to carry round like a Bible, a guide to great literature ... part good read guide, part memoir, part travel guide'. I love books about books, about reading, about readers so this was a good choice.

'Hurry Up and Wait' by Isabel Ashdown I bought after previously reading her latest book and enjoying it very much. Sarah Ribbons is getting ready for her High School reunion, to go back to a place she hasn't seen for twenty years, and is looking back over the summer of 1986  It's a story of adolescent friendships, of dangerous relationships often formed at such times and their repercussions.

And on a lighter, but welcome note... 'The Cake Shop in the Garden' by Carole Matthews, a favourite of Mary Berry, and doesn't the title sound enticing. Fay Merryweather runs a cake shop and cafe in the garden of her house, the cakes also sold on a narrowboat belonging to her late father, moored at the end of the garden on the river. She also has to look after a very demanding mother who is convinced she is seriously ill and won't get out of bed. The chances of finding love are remote, she never has time, or so she thinks. A tragedy strikes, her life goes off-kilter and it looks like she may lose everything thanks to a selfish younger sister and her mother. Lovely read I have to say.

That's all for this time. Hope you're enjoying some summery weather at last. And thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

Monday, 15 June 2015

This and that...



 Some photos and few words for my mid-June post.

This month.... I'm growing...

Carrots


Alpine strawberries, potatoes, yellow courgette


                                              Broad beans and peas - amongst other things

Flowers too, just a few of my favourites right now....


                                   Sweet violas, several pots of different ones around the garden


    Nigellas, pinks, iris and more, but mainly took this because the smiley face makes me smile too!

                        And this is just such a lovely shade of pink with a delicate fragrance

And I'm making....



There's been a bit of watercolour practising going on ....


and enjoying picking flowers from the garden...


That's all folks!

Sunday, 31 May 2015

My Books for May



 I've enjoyed a mixed bag of reading this last month .... some new books, some old, some fiction, some not, some poetry as well. The fiction first....

'The Dandelion Years' by Erica James. This is her latest novel, and I'm a big fan having all her books. Saskia lives with her father and grandfathers in an idyllic thatched cottage in Suffolk, working as a book restorer, occasionally helping her father in his book business, and it's through this that she meets Matthew Gray. Matthew is sorting out the estate of Jacob, an elderly Jewish gentleman for whom his mother was housekeeper until her death, living with her son in the coach house. On her death, Jacob insisted Matthew move into the big house with him, a house he has called home for most of his life. He has a huge library of books to sort out, and calls in Saskia's father to help, and whilst she's helping sort out the books, she comes across a notebook hidden away in an old Bible. It tells the love story of Jacob and Kitty, both workers at the secretive Bletchley Park during WWII. They meet in 1943, are from completely different backgrounds but fall in love despite opposition from her family and are all set to wed when a tragedy occurs. Working together builds a friendship between Saskia and Matthew, but he's not been completely honest with her. When he realises that his feelings for her are growing he has to tell her the truth, but how will she take it? Will they find the second notebook because they know there is one, somewhere? A great storyteller, you really fall into the story believe in her characters. Definitely recommend this if you fancy a nice, long read of a novel.

'The Billy Palmer Chronicles' by Derek Johns follows on from 'Wintering' which I read last month and is one of the older books I've read, from 2010. This book contains that first novel about Billy Palmer, and then three others. If you are a fan of sagas, of trilogies, this is a good read. We follow Billy from his being uprooted from a comfortable lifestyle in Bath to a farm workers cottage in the middle of nowhere it seems, through childhood, adolescence, manhood. We read about his alcoholic and not-always-faithful father and his loyal mother, of his loves and likes, hopes and plans. We follow him as he gets married, works as an Editor for Random House in New York, go through his divorce and move back to London where he starts his own book business. All very readable.

Freya North's 'Secrets' is another novel from a few years ago, and another lengthy novel - I seem to have chosen lengthy novels for the most part this month. This is the story of Joe, who owns a large rambling house in Saltburn in the North East, and who advertises for a house sitter as he is away  a lot of the time, overseeing the building of bridges he designs; and of Tess, a young single mother who needs to get away from London (and the bailiffs), who answers the ad. For her part, she has the job after just the initial phone call, as far as Joe is concerned she's coming all the way from London for an interview, so when she turns up in a ramshackle old car with what looks like all her worldly goods packed in it, plus a small child he knew nothing about, it's something of a surprise/shock. For some reason he doesn't know, he lets her stay and be the house sitter, and for her, it's a new life, a safe place to be after London, but he doesn't know why she's there initially. But as they spend more time together, often rubbing each other up the wrong way it has to be said, he gradually learns more about her, she learns that there are good, nice people you can trust. Another really good read, she rarely disappoints.

'The Ruby Slippers' by Keir Alexander is set in New York. Rosa is a smelly old Jewish baglady, in possession of said ruby slippers, purportedly worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz and given to Rosa, who was her dresser, as a gift. And because of this, worth a small fortune, a million dollars it has been said. Michael owns the local deli and wants the slippers, stealing them from her dirty flat whilst she's in hospital... he later discovers something about Rosa which comes as a shock. Harrison also wants them, a young black kid who believes he's hard done by, who almost kills Michael to get the slippers but at the last moment relents and actually saves his life. We also meet James, just as his partner Paolo is dying in hospital and his estranged 14-year old daughter travels to see him and get answers. It is his father who subsequently buys the slippers at auction, so when he dies, they belong to James. Who gives them to Michael. Who gives them to his little granddaughter to play with, because by then, it's been revealed that in a lock up many, many miles away is a small stack of shoe boxes all containing ruby slippers, and all of course, having been worn by Judy Garland!


This is classed as a 'thriller' but for me, it only really began to get thrilling and to pick up pace for the last fifty pages or so. Nonetheless I enjoyed the book very much. Rachel is the girl on the train, and every morning on her commute to work she passes houses, and one house in particular takes her attention. A young couple live here, and she makes up a life for them, until one day everything changes. The cosy life she imagines is shattered when the young woman goes missing and she has seen something before this happens that could throw light on to what has happened to her. But there's another reason she is fascinated by this particular house, the street it's on, the people living there. But you'll have to read the book to find out what it is!



I've always liked poetry, but only poetry that rhymes. To my simple brain, if it doesn't rhyme, how can it be poetry? But let's not get into a debate about that..... I've also always been rather keen on Mr Essex, that's David, definitely NOT Joey, whoever he may be! So when I saw him talking about his latest book, a book of poetry, I had to get it, and wasn't disappointed. Having heard him read a couple of the poems in the book, it wasn't hard to imagine his voice reading the ones I read. Lovely book, and the cover photo isn't bad either!


And now for something different, as they say. According to the Independent in its review of this book earlier this year, 'memories are made of brands'. So a housewife in the 50s, the women in this book in fact, would have known things like Shippams fish paste, Pond's cold cream etc., they'd  have been introduced to hostess trolleys and the idea of holiday camps. And Viv Nicholson set out to reconstruct their lives, with all their hopes. It makes for a great read.... I grew up in the 50s, to think I was a child growing up when rationing was still going on makes me feel very old I have to say! But this was the life of my mother, a housewife in the 50s and it brought back bittersweet memories, all the more sad because she died when she was relatively young compared to today's standards, only just reaching her 50th by a few days before she died from a brain tumour. I'd have loved to be able to share this book with her.


And these are the two I've just finished on the last day of the month.

'The Versions of Us' by Laura Barnett .. a novel idea for a novel. A young man is walking and towards him comes a young woman on a bicycle, who swerves to avoid hitting a dog. Laura then takes this opening and gives it three different versions. I have to admit I found it confusing, you go from version one, to version two, then version three, then for the next chapter back to version one again, starting in the late 1950s and ending in the present day. So what I did, and this will no doubt seem very strange, is that I read all the version one chapters, then the version two chapters and so on until the final few pages which bring us up to date with the three versions. Great idea and very good writing.

'Flight' by Isabel Ashdown was brilliant, the story of a young woman, who unbeknown to her husband buys her own lottery ticket, wins a million and then walks away from him and their baby daughter. For twenty years he has no idea where she is, or even if she's alive. But then her best friend finds her, they all find her and her secret that she's kept to herself. I loved this book, it had me hooked from the start and was one of those books I didn't want to put down when 'life' got in the way of my reading.

So there you have my reading for the last month. I already have a lovely pile of books, old and new to get through in June, so bring it on, as they say!

Thanks for dropping by, and as ever, please leave a comment if you can. It's nice to know there's someone out there.......

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Mid-May's Meanderings

Well, can you believe we're halfway through May already? A look at the garden shows that the Spring bulbs are almost finished.....



... but there is so much colour out there.



I bought quite a few violas earlier in the year, all of them are in different sorts of pots, here around the base of a rose, and I've also used one of the original chimney pots from our house, nearly a hundred years old as well as newer ones, but all terracotta or that colour anyway. They seemed to die off a bit a month ago, but have now really come to life. I see, apart from a few weeds in the gravel, there appears to be a sunflower growing at the side of the pot, no doubt dropped by a passing bird.



Forget-me-nots and bergenia adding colour, a lavender coming back to life, and bare soil as this bed has been extended recently, lots of space for new plants. And my stone bear, can you see him, reclining beneath the bird bath. My husband bought him for me on the tenth anniversary of my kidney transplant, almost twenty years ago now.



We have lots of bluebells around the garden, both British and Spanish, and here they are mixed with pale yellow wallflowers, which you can't really see the true colour of as the sun came out just as I clicked.



And this little potentilla is a few years old now, grows each year and is just so pretty. But why do so many flowers act coy and hide their pretty faces? You have to get down to ground level to see the inside of this little flower, and I'm afraid my back isn't up to it these days!

Elsewhere in the garden, the cutting flower patch is coming on, seedlings ready to be thinned out in one of the raised beds - it's cosmos, which has germinated really well, unlike the wallflower which has been disappointing. Tomato plant coming on, as are the two yellow courgettes, carrots all germinated, new herbs thriving, potatoes bursting out of their growing bag, lots of broad bean flowers on the plants that were sown as seeds last December, and peas just germinating too, along with celery. Strawberries have been fed as there are lots of flowers, so I'm looking forward to my first home grown strawberries for many a year. The trees are at their best, lots of blossom on the wild cherry, the Bramley and the laburnum, and my 'baby' trees, nurtured from cuttings are all thriving. I have a lovely little oak tree in a large pot... heaven knows what I'm going to do with them all as they grow too big for pots, the garden may be big but it's not that big! Once the daffodils and tulips are finally over, lots of spaces for new plants, hurrah!

I'm still persisting with my art journal....



I know, could do better....



but this is my first attempt at painting flowers with watercolour paints and I'm pleased with them.

The felt has been out of the cupboard again, a little cushion cover here waiting for a backing, and thanks to Lynne at textiletreasury.blogspot.co.uk for the inspiration, as ever!



Inspiration comes from lots of places on the internet, but mainly those blogs I read regularly, such as Attic 24, the inspiration for this bag, the second one I've made ...



And as usual, there has been lots of reading, but that will appear at the end of the month as usual.

So, as ever, thanks for visiting and see you in a couple of weeks!

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Cold and dreary April equals more reading time!


            'Oh, to  be in England now that April's there'
                                                      Robert Browning


It's been a miserable month weather-wise. There was a spell of lovely warm weather, which fooled all the plants into thinking Spring was here... but for this past week we've been having cold Arctic winds, cancelling out the heat of the sun when it appeared. Sleety showers and strong winds yesterday made it feel more like winter than spring in my corner of the county. Despite that, the spring bulbs have been gorgeous this year.




But at least the bad weather means less time to spend in the garden, even if I do only potter these days. So what to do? Ho hum.... clean out a cupboard, have a sort out of my wardrobe, Spring clean? Maybe later, for now there were books to be read...



'Jonathan Livingston Seagull' by Richard Bach... is considerd a timeless classic by many and is the story of a seagull learning about life and flight. He even has his own website ... jonathanlivingstonseagull.com. The story is basically all about finding your own way to live your life and not follow the herd, to be grateful for the freedoms to live our own lives as we choose. And for being brave enough to do that perhaps too.

'Poppy Day' by Amanda Prowse... normally I have no trouble getting into her books, but for some reason, I would read a few pages of this, then put it aside in favour of something else, and this went on for several days. At this point I would normally give up, but such is her writing that it had got under my skin by then, and I had to read it. I will admit there were times I speed read a few pages when I felt it wasn't holding my attention any more, but on the whole, I'm pleased to have persisted. Poppy Day's husband Martin joins the Armed Forces to give them a better life, but he is sent to Afghanistan where he gets captured and held prisoner. The soldier with him was beheaded, and nobody knows if this is what will happen to Martin. Poppy feels the Army and the powers that  be aren't doing enough to get him out; they are doing what they always do, working quietly away, diplomatically, behind the scenes and away from the glare of publicity. But that doesn't suit Poppy, who decided to get to Afghanistan and bring him home herself. By devious means she gets there, and gets herself an interview with Martin's captors. She does get him released, but has to pay a high personal price, and when she tells Martin what that price was, it threatens their relationship.

'Wintering' by Derek Johns... is the story of Billy Palmer, a young lad who's taken away from the big house, the posh car, the nice life in Bath, and transported to a sleepy village, all thanks to his Dad's business collapsing. This is the story of Billy growing up, of his Dad's philandering, his Mother's struggle to come to terms with her change of circumstances.  I've read this book before, now it's had it's second read it's off to the charity shop... and having discovered there are two follow-up novels about Billy, I'm off to Amazon!

'The Forever Girl' by Alexander McCall Smith... a departure for Mr Smith, a romance. I like his writing, my favourites being the Isabel Dalhousie novels, and so I knew I'd enjoy this too. Clover, who was named Sally by her parents but decided at the age of four she wanted to be known as Clover, grows up on Grand Cayman Island with her parents. She falls in love with her best friend James, at the same time as her mother realises she's fallen out of love with her husband, and is interested  in someone else. Clover realises James is growing away from her when they are sent back to the UK to go to boarding school, and later university. She wants to move on in her life, but can't rid herself of thoughts and hopes, of James. A beautifully written novel of love and life.

'Beautiful Day' by Elin Hilderbrand... A summer wedding on the island of Nantucket brings together two families, the Carmichaels and the Grahams, and whilst the bride and her groom-to-be are blissfully happy, sadly those around them aren't. The Notebook, written by the bride's mother before she died of cancer, lists all the preparations for the wedding, how it should run, the music played at the reception, what the bride and her bridesmaids should wear, and whilst this should make life easier for all concerned, there are times when The Notebook causes a few problems.

'The Third Wife' by Lisa Jewell... Maya is the third, and younger, wife of Adrian. She was loved by everyone, got on with his exes and their children, in fact they all got on like one big happy family. She had a job she loved, a great circle of friends, a great life. So, the morning she seemingly walked into the path of an oncoming bus and died left unanswered questions. Did she do it deliberately and if so why? Or was it just a tragic accident? In trying to find out, Adrian discovers the flaws in his own, seemingly perfect, world.

So, there you have my latest reads - well, the best of them anyway.

I hope you are all having a marvellous Spring and thanks for visiting.




Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Playtime


As adults our time is usually taken up with 'life', leaving us little time for ourselves. Until you get older that is, until you reach the stage in your life when your children have grown and long since flown the nest, and at last you can breathe out and do the things you want to do for yourself.

Playtime is important. And the word can evoke memories of childhood can't it? I was a child in the Fifties - I am now an OAP (that's Older Aged Person) and actually, realising I grew up in times of rationing makes me feel REALLY old. I was a teen in the Sixties and contrary to the popular saying I WAS there and I DO remember them! And I also remember playtime at school, in the playground, ball games like twosie, games with balls played against a wall with accompanying rhymes, hopscotch with the squares chalked on the playground tarmac, washed away when it rained so you had to do it all over again. Playing at home during the long holidays...  for me, playing on the beach across the road from where we lived, making sandcastles... or taking my dolls in their new Tansad pram for a walk in the Marine Gardens on warm sunny days with my mum. On wintry days, sitting on the window seat - we had a huge bay window overlooking the Promenade and beach and I spent many hours sitting, watching - with colouring books and crayons.

Fast forward and here I am in my sixties, sitting in my conservatory, looking out over a beautiful garden my husband looks after, currently full of forsythia, ribes, daffodils, tulips, muscari, hyacinths and other Spring loveliness, surrounded by felt tips, watercolour pencils and crayons, watercolour paints, pencils, fine liners, brush tips, and a collection of colouring books for grown ups. 

Colouring in was one of my favourite things to do, along with reading, and still is! I have been amazed and delighted at the upsurge in colouring in for us oldies, I have always found it so relaxing and now it seems it's the 'in' thing to do. We even have a partwork called Art Therapy, which I have subscribed to, and although I may not see the subscription through to the bitter end, for now, I am enjoying it enormously.


This is a page from the first part. For someone who would love to be an artist but is rubbish at it, this is the nearest I get to being arty, well... this and my art journal as it's laughingly called. Now if you go on Pinterest you will see some wonderful examples of art journalling... mine isn't there. Some of the pages in my journals are my own work, my own idea, others are ideas taken from various sources, blogs and Pinterest and magazines. Ideas I give a twist to, so they are not exact replicas. This one though, is one of my own, a  mix of collage, watercolour painting (the hares themselves), watercolour pencils and felt tips.


In retrospect, I should have used different lettering/colour for the word 'behaving', but it is too late now. It's just a bit of fun, I enjoy doing it, and if it's not perfect or not as good as others would have done it, who cares? 

The point of playtime is to take you away from the mundane, the ironing waiting to be done, the food to prepare for a meal, and let you escape into a world of your own, maybe listening to an audio book, or music, or in my case at the moment it's either Radio 4 or LBC. For an hour I just 'chillax' as they say, and even though my life is far from stressful and hectic, I still feel the benefit of this 'me' time.

So, get yourself some felt tips, or pencils, or crayons, grab one of the many colouring-in books for grownups, and while away an hour or so.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The latest reads





I'm still working my way through the reading challenge and have ticked off a few more books since my last posting.

'The Family Man' by Elinor Lipman ticked off the book 'written by someone with the same initials as yourself'. I've read a few of her novels, but not for some time, so it was good to pick this one off the shelves and give it another read. Henry Archer is a successful lonely who feels something missing from his life. Then into his life comes Thalia, his estranged step-daughter, at a point in her life when a positive male influence is needed. The two coming together brings chaos into Henry's otherwise rather staid life, but can this be a good thing for everyone?

Anne Tyler's 'Celestial Navigation' is a book by one of my favourite authors which I thought I had read,  but hadn't, so that ticked another box. Although I love all her writing, the earlier novels aren't my favourites - this was written in 1974 and I feel her writing has improved so much over the years.  This is the story of Jeremy, a single man who's never left home, living alone with boarders in the house to help pay for the upkeep.  He doesn't work, just spends his time in his own world, making paper sculptures, and then his mother dies, his life changes, and changes even more so when Mary Tell and her daughter enter his life.

'The Restoration of Otto Laird' by Nigel Packer was one of those books reviewed on Laura's blog I think, and the idea behind the story, the cover, both appealed - another box ticked here. In his time Otto Laird was an award winning architect, but these days he is living out his life in Switzerland with his second wife. A quiet life, which suits him, until one day he learns of a campaign to demolish an iconic tower block he designed in London and he feels obliged to get involved in the campaign to save the building. This entails him going to London and staying in one of the flats in the block for a few days, where he is filmed for a documentary about the building, and where he has time to go visiting his old haunts, where not surprisingly, memories of the past and his first wife, come back to him.

As a child growing up, holidays with my parents were always spent in hotels, from Cornwall to the west coast of Scotland, with Wales in between. My father would never have considered going to a holiday camp, and I don't know anyone who has been to one. As someone who is interested in social history, and knowing nothing about holiday camps other than the versions seen on television, this next book appealed to me with it's bright cover, reminding me of growing up near Blackpool in its heyday of the Fifties through to the Seventies, the brashness of it all, the OTT-ness of it all too. 'Wish You Were Here' by Lynn Russell and Neil Hanson tells the real life stories of seven girls who worked as redcoats at the famous Billy Butlins' holiday camps in what has been called their 'Golden Age', the 1950s to the 1970s. Although they all moved on eventually, the friendships formed in those early days, when they were all very young and away from home for the first time in most cases, endure now. As do holiday camps, or holiday parks as they are often known, presumably to give them a more modern image.

Jodi Picoult's latest book, 'Leaving Time' is the story of Jenna, a young girl who was with her mother the night she disappeared, and in the ten years since that time, she has wanted to know if her mother is still alive or is dead, did she want to leave her baby behind or was she somehow forced to? She enlists the help of an ex-cop and a psychic, an unlikely pairing. But there is a tremendous twist to this story, coming right at the end, which surprised me - and I'm not going to tell you!

Debbie Macomber's 'A Mother's Wish' and 'Father's Day' are two novellas in one book, very light reading. But sometimes that's what you need, something that won't take too much concentration, that you can just read as light relief. The endings are rather predictable once you've read the beginnings.... in the first, a teenage daughter decides it's time her divorced, attractive mum begins dating again and so with a friend, she sets up a profile for her on a dating website and then vets the responses. The man she chooses may not be the ideal man after all, or so she is led to believe, but by then her mother has fallen for him, and vice versa. Can he win over the daughter? Course he can..... and in the second novella, a single mum with a ten year old boy who wants a dog but can't have one yet, move next door to a single man with a dog who doesn't much like women or children it seems. Nothing too taxing as I say, but sometimes that's good for a change.

'The Awakening of Miss Prim' by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, one of those books bought because I spotted on someone else's blog, and loved the cover, which is busy, busy, busy with small illustrations - a house, a chair, a pile of books, a pair of gloves, an old gramophone and more besides - and wasn't disappointed. Miss Prim takes up the position of assistant to the Man in the Wingchair, helping catalogue his library, in a small village. Prudencia Prim hoped to find friends in the village, but she found more than that. Is there a happy ending? Read it and see....

Thanks for dropping by and I hope your gardens are full of Spring loveliness like mine.


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Working my way through a reading challenge



I like a challenge. I like the idea of perhaps reading books I wouldn't normally read, expanding my horizons you might say, taking myself out of my reading comfort zone. So why are none of the above particularly challenging, or out of my comfort zone I wonder? Well, perhaps The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang wouldn't be my normal choice, but one of the boxed to be ticked on my reading challenge list was 'A book you can finish in a day', and this was it. A charming little story about... well, a hen who dreamed she could fly as it says. The hen is called Sprout, tired of laying eggs that get taken away from her, and just wanting to hatch a chick, be a mum. She escapes from the coop, runs off into the woods and there discovers an unhatched egg, still warm. Nobody arrives to claim it, so she sits on it.... and if you want to know what happens, you'll have to read the book!

Another book ticked off was 'A book with more than 500 pages' and for this I chose 'American Wife' by Curtis Sittenfeld, a novel about an American First Lady. I suppose if you are up on American politics, then you might be able to recognise some of the Administration characters, even the President and his First Lady. I have an idea who it is, but will keep that to myself in case I'm wrong. Alice Blackwell is the fictional First Lady, somewhat against her will and better judgement. She managed life fine as the wife of a State Governor, but when he ran for, and became President, their life changed dramatically, not least because of the security around her which meant leading a 'normal' life was out of the question for her, her husband and their daughter.

I have long been a fan of Carol Shields, so when I saw this book, 'A Celibate Season' written in collaboration with another American writer, I had to read it. Charles and Jocelyn (Chas and Jock) are separated when Jock goes away to work for a year. They continue their relationship by letter, and this is how the novel is made up, letters between them, a rather old-fashioned method of keeping in touch they both agreed on in preference to emails. Their marriage, previously strong, begins to suffer under the strain of separation, she is too far away for frequent trips home, and the few they manage to arrange turn out disastrously for one reason or another. When Jock is given the chance to extend her job, she is tempted, but the chance comes to nothing in the end, but will going back home to the usual routine of married life, help heal the rift?

A couple of other categories have been ticked off this month also with 'The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes' by Anna McPartlin about Rabbit, a woman in her forties, dying from terminal illness and spending her last days in a hospice. Sad at times of course, but also positive on other levels. And Anne Tyler's 'A Spool of Blue Thread' ticked off another. I have all her books and she is one of those writers who for me, never fails to please. This is the story of Abby and Red Whitshank, young lovers now married for several decades, getting older and with a family wondering how best to take care of them in their older age. Abby begins going walkabout, not remembering where she is going, which adds to the families concerns. A story of enduring love.

'Chances' by Freya North is the story of Vita who runs a gift shop, not a very profitable one as her ex-husband Tim, is always too quick to point out. Oliver runs his own tree surgery company, with a secret love life. When he and Vita meet, there is a chance that for both of them, this could be the start of something big, they are being given a chance to make fresh starts, but will they see this?

And Melissa Hill's 'A Gift to Remember' was a cross-over book, almost finished last month end, but not quite, and now done so it appears on two blog posts. About a girl who works in a bookshop, and as anyone who knows me will tell you, I can't resist such a setting for works of fiction and also books of non-fiction. Darcy works in a bookshop, is a keen cyclist, and one day accidentally knocks over a gentleman, who ends up in hospital, with no memory! She has taken charge of the dog that was with him, out of guilt more than concern for the dog initially, and each day visits the hospital, wondering when he will realise that she is the cause of his being there. And when he does, what will happen, because of course, by then, she's rather fallen for the handsome stranger.

Looking forward to sharing this on Laura's blog at circleofpinetrees.com.

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, 8 February 2015

Reading Challenges



2015 seems to be the year of reading challenges, and I decided to join in with one of them, following a link from a blog I read sometimes. I can't now remember the link... popsugar.com or something like that possibly? Anyway, although I was put off by some of the content of the site, celebrity gossip and fashion not being of any interest to me, the reading challenge was certainly different. There are fifty categories of books to read in the year - a favourite book from childhood, a favourite book of your mother's, a graphic novel, a trilogy..... some of which would take me out of my comfort reading zone, and that's no bad thing. I knew I could easily manage the fifty, since I read about a hundred books each year on average.
So I've made a start... of the books I've read so far, in the photograph, I've been able to tick off the following:
A non-fiction book - the Rick Stein autobiography.
A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit - 'A Good Yarn' by Debbie Macomber, set in a wool shop in Seattle, somewhere I've wanted to visit since becoming a fan of Frasier!
A book with a colour in the title - 'Tolstoy and the Purple Chair' by Nina Sankovitch, a non-fiction book about Nina and her decision to spend a year reading a book a day, how she chose the books she would read mixed in with reviews of those she read, family stories and news. Very readable and one day, one day, I'll go through her list of  books and see what I fancy reading. I have already read some of them, but only a handful.
A book by an author you've never read before - 'Stop the Clock' by Alison Mercer. A novel about three women friends; Lucy who wants life as a wife and mother to be perfect, Tina who aims for the life of a single career woman as a journalist, and Natalie who just wants to be happy with her man and her life. Ten years on, and their lives have not gone quite to plan.
A book by a female author - 'The Arsonist' by Sue Miller, one of my favourite authors whose books I collect, and who never fails to please. This was no exception, I read the last quarter of the 300 pages in one sitting as I had to find out how it ended. Set in a small town in America, the inhabitants feeling under threat by an arsonist, who they know has to be one of them, known to them. Amongst all this is a love story, between Bud whose just bought the towns newspaper, and Frankie just returned from Africa and uncertain about what to do next. Highly recommend this one.
And not shown on the photograph 'The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul' by Deborah Rodriguez which ticked 'A book set in another country', and 'The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman' by Denis Theriault which had been translated from French to English and ticked the box 'A book that was originally written in another language'. So that's seven boxes ticked already, well on the way, though some of them are a  bit off-putting - A book that scares you.... a book set in the future... neither appeal much I have to say.



Another sort of challenge, is making small throws, or lap blankets, call them what you will. A couple of Christmases ago I took a box of a dozen hand-knitted or crocheted lap blankets to a small, local old people's home and decided to do the same this year. So far, three completed as seen in the photo, though you can't see the one at the front very well - it's knitted in blanket stitch, 12 knit, 12 purl along the row, then after a dozen rows, change to 12 purl, 12 knit, inspired by a blanket made by Kristen and shown on her cozymadethings.blogspot. These are lovely things to make at this time of year, when it's cold, snowy, sleety, frosty and generally wintry, outside.


And even though it's winter, we still get amazing sunsets...




Hope this finds you all keeping warm and well, and thanks for stopping by.