Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Sunday 24 September 2017

Autumn solstice

I am sitting at our dining room table and the light is dull, a sort of warm grey as the light filters through the clouds. The greens at the bottom of the garden, the huge expanse of blue-green pine and yellow-green ash and hawthorn are not as bright as they were even a month ago; the hawthorn is well on the turn, now a sallow yellow colour, and beginning to drop its leaves, while the ornamental cherry I love so much is beginning to smoulder before it bursts into full flame.

I thought as I was walking yesterday, out in the fresh air, about time and how we perceive it as we age. How a week would seem to take a lifetime and how long weekends would take to come around. Time is such a luxury now, time to enjoy and savour, even the little moments. There is not enough of it, there’s not enough time and I feel that all the coffee spoons (or teaspoons in my case) are being lined up too quickly. I perpetually feel like I’m chasing my tail and not making the most of the time I have, even though I’m trying to be better.

There is a plate of apples and pears on the table in front of me. It’s that time of year for wonderful British varieties. The current lot are Lord Lambourne, a tad disappointing on the flavour front but pleasingly tart; the last lot were Red Windsor and were some of my favourite. They had the most wonderful, fragrant flavour (thanks to the Cox’s Orange Pippin in their heritage) and a lush red skin. The next lot are ‘Santana’, which smell so strongly of pineapple and which fizz in the mouth.  I remember this wonderful day and I am sad that we don’t have any PYO orchards in Northumberland.  It’s just not a very apple-y place up here.

I’ve been focusing on rhythms recently, trying to sort things out in my head and also in our house. It all started with me reading Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up. Whilst I’m not fully on board with all of her thoughts about tidying up and some of the more esoteric elements of it, I get that her particular method is effective, and going through my clothes I found it easier to ‘thank’ the clothes and let them go. It almost felt like I was freeing myself from this weighty burden of guilt.  I managed to get rid of 6 large bags of clothing that I’d been carrying around through multiple house moves. Old clothes, trinkets, boxes and bags of stuff that I knew I wouldn’t use again, or didn’t like or kept just because I felt obligated to. Sadly, this is just a drop in the ocean and I’ve still got the rest of the house to declutter but it does feel good seeing us lightening the load.

The autumn solstice was yesterday, though I’ve been noticing the leaves and the smell for a while now. Summer has been a bit of an odd one for us. I don’t know about you, but the weather all summer has been a splendidly mixed bag of torrential rain and mild, warm days, then wind and more rain. I don’t think we’ve had a ‘hot’ day since May/ early June. Not that I minded the cooler weather, in fact I quite liked it. There were enough long langurous sunny days to allow us to spend them on the beach. I think I’ve rockpooled more this summer than I have for many, many a year. It has been a summer of buckets and spades, jellyfish, crabs and plennys; walks in the woods and the odd weekend picnic.

The shops are now full of pumpkins and the odd Christmas display. Soon it will be Halloween and bonfire night and then the rush into Christmas. The beech leaves are beginning to turn orangey brown before they curl, some hanging on until spring, some falling almost immediately. We went for a walk, just Little VP and I, around a lake that we’ve grown to know and love. It’s a good walk, about a mile around, and we do it slooooowly but have a good laugh as we do. The smell of the leaves and the honking of the geese, the odd hiss of the swans and the wing beats of the birds flying over the water, the sound of beech mast or conkers hitting foliage as they fall to the ground and the fascinating chats we have as we make our way round.

Monday 3 July 2017

Summer meadows

I was a bit shocked to realise that it has been six (6!) years since I wrote this post. Mostly because it just doesn’t seem possible that it has been that long; or that so much has happened. But today we found ourselves in the same place, a place we now visit quite regularly, at the same time of year, when the meadows are at their absolute finest. Going back over those old posts is quite a trip down memory lane. I think that’s why I’ve loved writing a blog for so long.

The weather was overcast but just like then, the serene yet busy meadows of wildflowers were alive with all manner of flora and insect life. Red clover sat cheek-by-jowl with the cinquefoils and cocksfoot grass. Pyramidal orchids were everywhere; certainly not a rarity up here. Busy bumblebees buzzed to and fro and damsel flies alit on branches, while newly fledged swallows begged food mid-air from their never-slowing parents. The hum and busyness of doing and being in summer was all around.

It has been a bit of an odd time in these parts. I feel that life is a bit discombobulated at the moment, and not just for me. Baby VP has had a tummy bug, which isn’t super worrying in and of itself, other than it wasn’t getting better and involved trips to doctors and a lot of worry on my behalf. I worried (ha) how much I would worry when I had a child (because, you know me, I can worry for England – and most of the Northern Hemisphere too) and it’s true, the worry thing is real. But we’re carrying on in our own little way, but a bit gentler than before, trying to pace ourselves and not overstress tummies (or mummies)! Unfortunately, now I have come down with a different bug, something that wakes me up in the night by tickling the back of my throat, and which is now accompanied by a temperature. I think I need to get back onto the zinc tablets!

I was pleased to find that there is a new single from The National, which means (hopefully!) there’s a new LP coming soon. Yay! I have a feeling this is going to be played quite a bit round these parts (when we’re not listening to toddler-friendly tunes)!

Saturday 27 May 2017

Lino no-no (aka That time I decided to use oil-based printing inks for the first time)

If you have noticed a dearth of lino-related posts, it’s because I had a huge creative surge and then… nothing. I think I experienced a bit of ‘creative burn-out’ after going non-stop lino loopy for the last few weeks. I even took my lino stuff on holiday with me in the hopes that I’d get a chance to do it but on the evenings I did get some time, I chose to spend it staring at the amazing view (Scotland, I love you), drinking a lot of cups of tea and talking to Mr VP about the amazing view. Oh and trying to photograph buzzards. But yeah, not much on the lino front.

I tried the other day to draw something I’ve been trying to draw for ages, except I just couldn’t get the proportions right. Knowing I needed to get the drawing right to be able to print it, and after a lot of effing and jeffing, I gave up in frustration. It was starting to get me down, as I am not a natural artist so I have been flippin amazed quite chuffed with what I’ve been able to achieve so far. So I decided to go back to what I knew, to show myself that I *could* still draw something. So I took inspiration from nature – the root of pretty much everything I do – and doodled some flowers, leaves, a bleeding heart plant and a snail. I continued until I had filled the lino ‘page’ and then I cut it out. It was one of the fiddliest plates I’ve done but felt so good to be doing something creative again.

A while ago, I got some new inks but hadn’t had the chance to use them. They’re water-washable oil-based relief inks by Cranfield/Caligo and they’re what Professionals use (ha!). I thought as Toddler VP had gone down quite early I’d have the time to sit down and have a bit of a dabble printing before I had to go to bed, so I set off. The results were amazing. It’s totally different in feel and look to the water-based inks I’ve used before; the results are crisp, it has just the right amount of transfer and tack and I really liked using it.

So having done my first proofs (and seeing where I needed to do some revision cuts,) I realised it was approaching 10pm and time for bed. So I took the inking plate and roller upstairs to the bathroom to be washed (as the inks contain chemicals I don’t particularly want in the kitchen). According to the manufacturer, it’s a case of wash off with detergent and warm water. Well, I did that and nothing happened, except covering everything in a layer of thick black oily goop. My gloved hands were covered, the inking plate was worse than before and the roller looked like it had taken a dip at La Brea. Ack! Trying not to make any noise because there was a sleeping Toddler VP in the next room, I roused Mr VP’s attention and urged him to Google something FAST. He found the PDF explaining the cleaning procedure and mentioned using a brush. We didn’t have brushes, but we did have a sponge scourer so I gave one of those a try. Finally, after getting myself into a muck sweat, it started to come off. Enough to allow me to put it away and call it a night. Obviously Professionals have a proper sink and the right cleaners and brushes and aren’t trying to do it at 11pm next to a sleeping child’s bedroom. Ha!  I’m not sure my inking roller will ever be the same (then again after the other night I’m not sure I will be either)!

However, as for the results, I think it’s one of my favourite pieces yet. Full of the things in nature I love the most. Most of all, it might not be what I had intended to do but it gave me a bit of faith back that I could do something. And most of all I really enjoyed doing it. Except the cleaning up bit…

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Lunch ideas for toddlers

If there’s one area of food I would fail at pre-baby, it’d be lunches. I think this stems from a couple of things: not being bothered about lunches much myself, and also being pretty happy to settle with something unadventurous like a sandwich or a soup. Now that I’m a mother and I am required to produce nutritionally-balanced meals three times a day, I have taken it upon myself to get a bit more adventurous.

We baby-led-weaned with BabyVP and loved it.  I felt like I was giving BabyVP the tools to discover, through play, the joys of taste, texture and satiety without anything being imposed upon her. Feeding times became a big adventure. It all happened in a natural, organic way which meant there was no stress around meal times.  It was also easier not having to make two meals/purees, and I could control the whole process and ingredients etc.  In short, it worked really well for us. If you’re considering it yourself, read up, watch a LOT of YouTube videos explaining the pros and cons. None of my mummy-friends decided to BLW because they were either short on time, planning to use nurseries/creches or wanted to do what their parents had done, so I was a bit alone when it came to research but I found this video, this video and this website/forum amazing. Most of all, go with your guts, but also do some research however you plan to do it.

We’ve made quite a list of foods that are quick and easy yet also wholesome and healthy, but they have to be quick, as I often had to try to keep Baby VP interested in something to allow me to get it ready. I try to limit bread to one serving or less per day, which has also meant I have had to come up with some new ideas out of necessity. We’re also mostly-veggie/pescetarian (we only eat meat a couple of times a week), so we have had to factor in nutritionally-dense alternatives to meat when necessary.

  • Homemade smoked mackerel pate (whizz up mackerel and cream cheese with a bit of lemon juice in a blender – great source of omega 3s) on crackers/oatcakes/melba toast
  • Olives, tomatoes, cucumber sticks, peppers sticks, hard boiled egg etc with humous
  • Couscous ‘salad’ with tomatoes, cucumber, peas, raisins, apple, cheese cubes etc. A bit like tabbouleh but more toddlerified.
  • Bean and quinoa salad.
  • Baked beans on toast
  • Mini crustless quiches (made in a muffin tin – speedy and very healthy!). Alternatively in a cup in the microwave. Also free on Slimming World.
  • Pâte on crackers/oatcakes/melba toast
  • Cheese scones with soup
  • Big medley of roasted veg (either root or Mediterranean) with quinoa/couscous/pasta
  • Omelette with a variety of toppings (our usual is mature cheddar and mushroom)
  • Poached/scrambled/fried egg on toast
  • Savoury pancakes. I don’t have a recipe, I just eyeball it. If you need a recipe, there should be one out there if you have a look around. Make a thick pancake batter with eggs, self-raising flour and milk. Add grated cheese, defrosted peas, onions, grated carrots and sweetcorn. Fry off over a medium heat until cooked through. These freeze really well and can be microwaved to reheat. Excellent for speedy lunches.
  • Blended bean spread. Fry off some onions until soft and golden in a little butter. Add some cooked and drained/rinsed kidney beans and some seasonings of your choice to a food processor. Add the onions and blitz until smooth-ish.
  • Cheesy pasta.

Soups (all homemade and very quick, often made the night before):

  • Leek, spinach and potato
  • Lentil
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrot and coriander
  • Tomato

Sandwich options:

  • smoked salmon and cream cheese
  • cheese and tomato
  • cheese and chutney
  • egg mayo
  • banana (and if over one, with a smidgen of honey)
  • Yeast spread/Marmite (we use the reduced salt type from Sainsbury’s and very little of it. To help with portion control, mix the marmite with butter until the butter is uniform brown colour and then spread that).
  • Pate
  • Peanut butter and jam

Monday 15 May 2017

Music for Toddlers (great for dancing and car journeys – that parents will like too!)

I think one of those universal truisms is that children love music. From the earliest weeks, whenever music came on Baby VP would perk up and take notice, often waving hands and legs and then as she got older, dancing to the beat. I think it helps that we have sung to her all the time – and still do. We found quite early on that putting on some of her preferred music would instantly make her smile and so we got quite good at finding music; but gosh there is a lot of really rubbish children’s music out there! So I set to work rooting out the good stuff because there is only so many times I can bear the happy-hardcore version of If You’re Happy And You Know It (sorry Justin Fletcher – no one needs to hear that!)… It’s worth also noting that playing any sort of music (with the exception of death metal or sweary rap?) is great for children.

  • The Rainbow Collection by The Rainbow Collection/Sophie Barker.

This is the first album we bought for BabyVP when she was about 5 months old. It’s sung by Sophie Barker, one of the singers along with Sia and Zoe Johnston from Zero7 (which is probably why I like it so much). The songs are old favourites, so parents can sing along too, but unlike many which are either saccharine or very cheaply orchestrated, these are done well and are not unbearable after, say, the 700th play. Favourite songs? Dream A Little Dream, Teddybear’s Picnic and Lavender’s Blue.

  • Julia Donaldson’s Treasury of Songs.

Any parent from 2003 onwards will be extremely familiar with Ms Donaldson’s work, mostly from The Gruffalo or any other countless children’s books she has produced – as Julia has to be one of the most prolific children’s authors around. It helps that she’s really good at what she does – I mean, who doesn’t love the Gruffalo? Or Superworm (my fave)? Or The Snail and The Whale? I can recite them perfectly (!) we’ve read them so much (“Superworm is super strong/Superworm is super long…). And so when I saw a copy of her Treasury of Songs with a CD of her singing said songs in the sale, you know that we had to get it. And since then, I have had each of her songs etched into my memory! As Donaldson started off as a songwriter for CBBC, it seems fitting that most of her stories either started off as songs or became them for this book/CD. The book is illustrated by Axel Scheffler (who else?) along with the lyrics for each song. It’s lovely, it really is. I laughed as the Amazon reviews say that they love the songs except for Julia Donaldson’s singing; but I think it’s a bit like a favourite granny singing your child a song. The child doesn’t care that it’s not being done by a professional singer – and neither do I. Despite starting to twitch if it’s on its 20th rotation of the day, I still like it. Favourite songs: The Snail and The Whale, Fox and The Crow and A Squash and A Squeeze. Props to Malcom, Julia’s husband, for singing on most of the tracks and occasionally dressing as a fox…

  • Pretty much anything by Laurie Berkner.

We tend to shy away from the American singers as I am aware that linguistically there are enough differences to make me want to stay mostly-British where possible. Having said that, Laurie Berkner is a really good songstress (regardless of some of her songs sounding like other peoples’) who makes songs for children to dance along to. She has a great YouTube channel (so by the magic of Bluetooth you can attach your device to speakers and play that) and her songs are on the whole pretty original (lyrically), upbeat and fun. There are certain songs that Baby VP now requests, particularly These Are My Glasses, We Are the Dinosaurs and Bubbles. Definitely one to get moving to!

  • Renee & Jeremy

When you want something a bit folky, these two are the two to go for. Upbeat, mostly original works with minimal orchestration and a lovely message. We really like them and particularly the songs Night Mantra, It’s A Big World and Share.

  • Putumayo Lullaby by Various Artists

I got this CD years and years before BabyVP arrived because I loved the songs. If you’re a fan of the World music genre or want your child to be, these Putumayo compilations are the place to start. Great songs.

Wednesday 3 May 2017

Sunflower garden

One of my most recent lino pieces was this garden scene. It shows some development in the way I’m approaching things now – paying more attention to light and dark. I also decided to try watercolouring one of the prints to see what it’d be like. It’s interesting. I’m not sure I’ll go down that road for each print, as I’d quite like to start overprinting using multiple plates per print to build up the image. But I was surprised how much the watercolouring changed the feel of the print. There’s a lot of power in black and white too, and I still prefer that starkness I think.

Sunday 30 April 2017

Music: April’s favourites

Few people can pen a song like Cohen could. And his last LP, released just months before his death, was one of the most lucid and adroit albums I have heard in a very long time. It is, like its title, full of darkness but what it lacks in positivity/rainbows it makes up for in pure lyrical genius.

Not a new one but one I re-found and fell in love with again. Marling has a new LP, Semper Femina, which is just as 70s-folk-laced and powerfully-written as ever.

Thanks to fellow blogger Melissa for highlighting this gem. The title track is pure Elton John if Elton and Bernie Taupin had been the protest singers of 2016/17 and they’d been tasked with delivering a highly-accurate description of the ridiculousness of humanity’s current predicament. It’s sad how accurate and cutting his lyrics are; in stark contrast to the poetic Cohen’s, which are cutting and accurate in metaphor.

It seems a few of this month’s favourites are artists who sound like other artists. Laura Marling sounds like a hybrid of Carol King and Joni Mitchell and Father John Misty who seems to channel pure Elton John albeit without any of the showmanship or platform shoes. I’m not sure whether Michael Kiwanuka would agree about the parallels drawn between himself and Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, but there’s definitely a familiar sound; his voice would be just at home in the 60s as it is now. It’s lush, with a huge intro, and a familiar melody that I can’t put my finger on.

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