The Power of Love…

Well, it’s certainly been a difficult week and I hope you’ll forgive the lack of an offering for the history-junkie today. Everyone has their own ways of dealing with the stuff that happens and mine are simply to walk in the countryside and to stitch and that’s what I’ve been doing.

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Quite often when I stand to look at the oak tree each morning or when I lean on the Thinking Gate and survey the field, watching the crows and kites, I whisper a little prayer. When I have absolutely no idea what would help and am powerless to do anything else, all I can think of is to ask for love to spread to the people who need it and to enfold them.

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It’s all I can offer, but I do believe in the power of love (even if I can’t hear those words without singing along with Huey Lewis and the News)…

 


Keeping in touch…

Are you using Instagram or Twitter? If so do say hello there. I’m @dreaminginstitches on Instagram and @AnnPawley on Twitter.

I apologise for being the world’s worst blog reader in recent months, and massive thanks for sticking with me here. I’ve set up Feedly and am determined to do better. I’m still having problems with leaving comments on Blogger blog posts, so if you’re not hearing from me, I’d be very pleased to have an alternative email address or Twitter or Instagram contact details – (I’m afraid I’m not currently using Facebook).

Grateful for your patience.


 

Wishing everyone a happy and peaceful weekend.

 

Not exactly hygge…

Much talk on the interweb of something Danish called hygge – now I’m quite fond of the odd Danish export – pastries for instance, Vikings, Sandi Toksvig (in small doses), Pilsner, Hamlet, but I’m considerably less fond of Nordic Noir, marinated herring and Danish bacon.

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Hygge sounds lovely – cosy nights with friends gathered around a real fire, wearing Fair Isle jumpers and hand-knitted socks, while drinking hot chocolate and having a good old laugh. But just in case the whole hygge thing leaves you feeling a bit overwhelmed, here is my alternative ‘hygge-lite’ for the slightly more socially anxious amongst us – it’s my tried and tested introverts recipe for surviving the cold winter months…

Light a few candles: I’m with the Danes on this one, candlelight always makes me feel relaxed. I dot them about the sitting room and kitchen, pillars and tea-lights mainly, bought from the blessed IKEA (isn’t it lovely that we Brits actually burn candles these days – it wasn’t until IKEA came to the UK with their cheap candles that we stopped dusting our single pair of red dinner candles off once a year at Christmas and lit them instead).

Pile up some duvets and blankets on the sofas: Probably as a result of having no functioning central heating for several years (happily now rectified), we’ve become used to wrapping ourselves in fleecy blankets or duvets on cold winter evenings while watching the TV.

Cook stews in a slowcooker: I’m such a fan of these ’70s throwbacks. Chuck a few vegetables, scrag end, a stock cube and tin of tomatoes into the cooker in the morning and when it’s dinner time you’ll have a delicious effortless meal ready to go and a house that smells wonderful. Make enough for two nights and slap a piece of ready-rolled puff pastry over the left-over stew to make a pie. (I’m a vegetarian now, but I still crave a pastry crust and lashings of thick gravy).

Pour yourself a glass of single malt whisky: There’s nothing better for keeping out the cold and making you feel mellow than a dram or two of whisky. Try something peaty from Islay, Laphroaig or Lagavulin, or if you’re feeling very brave (or have the ‘flu) try Talisker from Skye. If peaty flavours aren’t your thing, try Dalwhinnie or Bunnahabhain instead, both pure amber gorgeousness.

Read your way through a series of crime fiction or supernatural novels: My favourites are still the Cadfael books by Ellis Peters, the Inspector Rebus novels by Ian Rankin and Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series set in the Welsh Marches. They’re easy enough to pick up in charity shops and by the time you’ve read them all it will probably be spring.

Curled up on the sofa, wrapped in a duvet with a glass of whisky and full up on stew, reading a whodunnit paperback while candles flicker in the hearth – that’ll be me…

How’s hygge for you? – any tips for embracing your inner Dane? Do tell…

 

Morning routine…

or ‘the unanticipated benefits of a photography habit’.

Hands up if you’ve never deliberately attempted to start a habit of some kind…

Me? I’ve tried loads, and I mean loads! But the fact is, I’m rubbish at it. I’m really good at reading the books that tell you why you should regularly do something, I understand the benefits they tell me I’ll see as a result of establishing these habits, I want to experience those benefits, I really do, but in the end, I just don’t seem to have what it takes to tick the habit box. A few days into trying anything habit-like and chances are I’ve already lost the plot.

But there is one thing I do which I think does qualify for habit status – not a habit I ever deliberately intended to make a habit, but which has happened anyway, and that is the habit of taking a photo (or several) of the countryside every day when I walk the dog.

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Long-service readers will know this began with photographing a particular oak tree in the lane. But although I decided to record the oak, I didn’t set off with any intention to make it a permanent thing, I didn’t anticipate any particular benefits of doing it, I simply wanted to see how that tree changed over the period of a year.

But you know, it’s now well over 3 years since I started taking those photos and I still do it every day – I think we can agree that counts as a habit.

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Now let’s be honest, this habit hasn’t done a thing for my ability to keep the house clean or tidy, it hasn’t turned me into a highly successful business person, or (sadly) prevented me from eating my own weight in cake at the slightest provocation.

But you know, there are a few benefits I think do stem from this habit.

These days I am much more in tune with the changing seasons. The whole cycle of life, the ever-changing weather moods and the ebb and flow of energy is something I feel better connected to, even anchored in, and much happier as a result.

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And this once fairly ignorant wildlife watcher has now become fascinated by the flora and fauna in one mundane English country lane. I now own and frequently consult books on wildflowers, trees, insects, mushrooms and birds – and now, just occasionally, I can actually call something by its proper name.

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Having never really been able to commit to a daily drawing practice, I do find that looking carefully at the natural world around me has improved my eye for texture, pattern and subtlety in colour, with the added benefit of having a record to go back to if I want to research something for an artwork. It may not be the creative habit of Twyla Tharp, but honestly, I think it works for me.

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But the best thing of all, is that when you’re having a dull miserable winter and your friends comment on how it seems to have been grey for so long, you can immediately jump in and bore them rigid with precise details of exactly how many days it’s been since we had any sunshine and then show them all the photos to prove it… I know, because I am that woman!

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So there you have it, an accidental habit worth having…

I post a picture from my walk most days over on my Instagram account, do come over and say hello if you’re on IG.

I don’t own a camera – all the pictures are taken with my smart phone, which is tucked -dawn to dusk – into the pocket of my jeans. I was thinking just the other day how lucky I am to live in the digital age, and giving thanks to the inventor of the camera app.

Do you have any accidental habits that make your life better? Do tell…

 

Busy month…

You really have to pity my Other Half. Less than 7 weeks after Christmas and he is hit with the triple whammy of St Valentine’s Day, Number One Daughter’s birthday and my birthday, all within the space of 6 days.

So one way or another it has been pretty busy around here, thank goodness for half term which conveniently contains all three events.

We’re not massively into celebrating St Valentine’s so that didn’t cause too much trouble, but the Daughter’s birthday was a very significant one – she can now legally have a pint of beer after bell-ringing (oh and I suppose vote, get married etc etc…)

There was cake.

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I had thought about making a sophisticated affair, but then I decided that although she might now legally be an adult,  she will always be my baby, so instead I went for the ‘add as much chocolate as possible’ option and risked death by fire with the full quota of candles.

We celebrated with what is becoming a traditional day trip to Bath.

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What a fantastic place Bath is, even on days when it rains continuously (like it did last Wednesday), it’s beautiful.

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Our family tradition, stretching back to when the new adult was not much more than a toddler, is to play a round of mini-golf while we’re in Bath. Interestingly, although by no means our coldest round, it was certainly our wettest.

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Have you ever watched a golf ball gently descend into a hole filled to over-brimming with water? And then to have to plunge your hand down into the extremely cold water to retrieve your ball? It’s different, that’s all I’m going to say…

Still, a tradition is a tradition – these things have to be done.

My own birthday was a much lower key event. Having enjoyed being 39 for some years now, I see no reason to change it. I suppose the time will come when I will have to consider being 42 or maybe even 44, but I’m in no hurry.

So Number Two Daughter and I set off for a day trip yesterday, to mark the end of half term with a little bit of culture.

We both love Packwood House in Warwickshire, so that was our first stop. It occurred to us that we’ve never been on a really warm, sunny day. Do you have places like that?

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Each elevation is so different at Packwood…
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Very fond of asymmetry me…

Our initial plan had been to go next to Baddesley Clinton, another favourite, but warned of ongoing work there, instead we thought about either Kenilworth Castle or Hanbury Hall. Neither of us could decide, so eventually we tossed a coin and Hanbury won.

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Restoring the symmetrical balance…
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For some reason, my favourite view of Hanbury…

I felt considerably older than my 39-again years as we were walking round Hanbury, as I kept telling Number Two how much it had improved since my first visits back in the 1970s. But it really has.

So, it’s back to the routine again this week. The Delinquent Dog and I walked along the lane this morning listening to the birds who are quite certain it’s now spring, even if the weather hasn’t totally decided.

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From other people’s blogs and IG feeds I’m sure our lane is not as far on as some others, but I don’t think it will be long before we have flowers and blossom.

Happy stitching x

 

 

 

 

Back again…

I really must begin by thanking you for bearing with me over the last few weeks. I know I’ve always maintained that blogging should be done as and when you feel you have something to say, not to some self-imposed schedule, but even so, I have been well and truly off-piste since November, so I do appreciate you sticking with me.

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The last couple of months of 2015 were pretty full-on for me. A mixture of dreadful lows and  gorgeous highs, set against the unrelenting onslaught of Christmas. I’ve learned now just how much energy this kind of ricocheting takes and discovered that I can now say ‘no’ fairly effectively (I recommend it!). I’ve also been humbled by the tremendous care and help my daughters have offered over this rocky time, they’re growing into extremely lovely young women and I’m proud of them.

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I want to apologise to all you wonderful bloggers who I’ve failed miserably to keep in touch with lately. My one and only resolution for the New Year is to get this back on track. Blogland is a wonderful community and I love being here with you.

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And so, 2016 – what’s happening?

I’m hoping to use 2016 as a year of exploration. The old loves, history, nature and landscape continue to fascinate me – more than that, they have me enthralled. I think I’ve always known that these threads were calling to me, this year I hope to weave them together in a way I hope will begin to express their importance to me.

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Last year was an enormous learning curve for me on the practicalities of being an artist. For this year I’m intending to protect more time for making art. I’m going to brush the rust off some of my old organisational skills to help me achieve a better balance – in fact I think I might adopt balance as my word of the year.

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When my dear friend died last year, far too young and with far too much still to give, it really brought home to me how precious life is and how important it is that we use our time for the really important things, and so that’s what I intend to do.

May you all have a wonderful, happy and productive 2016 – be you!

I continue to photograph the oak most days on my morning walk. The shots in this post are from the end of December and beginning of January – too much grey, not enough sunshine!

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Here again…

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Crumbs, it’s been so long! Every year I promise myself I’ll try to post while the girls are on holiday, and every year I fail!

Oh well, never mind, I’m back in the swing of things again now. As you can see, I went to the Caribbean for my holiday – only joking – in fact we spent three weeks in the Highlands of Scotland – camping for two of them – I know, you think we’re bonkers, but really, there’s nowhere else on earth I’d rather go – pictures may well crop up here from time to time, just to remind me how wonderful it is.

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So, now it’s definitely feeling autumnal around here. The morning walks with the Delinquent Dog are turning decidedly damp lately, but it looks like being a wonderfully abundant autumn if the hedgerow is anything to go by – ‘dripping’ is the word that best describes it – both in wetness and sheer quantity of elderberries, sloes, rose-hips, crab-apples, holly and hawthorn berries hanging off the branches…

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And what news here?

Two exhibitions coming up in November. It felt such a long way away when we first thought about them, and now I can see myself frantically working out how many days I have to get things done.

I’m very excited to be going to the Celts exhibition at the British Museum next month.

And with any luck, a new boiler for the central heating before the cold really sets in – if not, I’ll be coming round to your house to keep warm!

It’s good to be back…

The ones that got away…

I’m always telling people how meditative stitching can be, and how wonderful it feels to ‘let go’ and simply enjoy the process – which is all true, for me stitching is where I’m most myself. But perhaps it’s worth mentioning, that it isn’t always plain sailing. Sometimes, the idea in your head refuses to be captured in stitch. Sometimes, despite everything you do, the piece you’re working on, just doesn’t click. 2015-03-19 12.21.49 Anyone making faster art will also have this experience, I’m certain – let’s be honest, more of what we create goes in the bin than on the wall. But making slow art has the particular downside, that you can invest considerable time – we’re talking days, perhaps weeks – into a piece, only to find at some point, you don’t like it, it doesn’t feel right. Which is the time when you have to decide whether to press on regardless and hope it comes together later, or put it down to experience and consign it to the ‘no’ pile. It isn’t always easy to accept that the time poured into a piece isn’t going to result in the work you’d set your heart on. So just in case anyone else is going through a rough patch on the creative front at the moment and thinks they’re the only one, I thought today I’d show you my collection of might have beens from the last few months, the ones I’m calling my experiments, the ones that got away…

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Keep calm and carry on stitching.

Fun For Free – Well Almost…

Sitting around stitching tapestries all day, would make an excellent occupation for a hermit. And whilst I’m not the most gregarious person you’ll ever meet, and if I’m honest, I can happily spend long stretches content in my own company, there are times when I really just want to get out and do something a bit more exciting for a while.

Last weekend I did something I’ve never done before – something I’m very much afraid I’m going to have to do more often, something that I feel sure is going to become a guilty pleasure… I went to an auction!

Now let me be clear, we’re not talking Sotheby’s. This was a general auction at our local auctioneers. But even so, I’m hooked. There have been so many antique/junk/auction TV programmes in recent years, I suppose I may be about the only person in the country who hasn’t previously been to one, but there you go, a late adopter as usual.

So off I went to the preview day – like a car boot sale, but so much better – you get to rifle through box after box of unimaginable goodies. Amongst the things I particularly loved, were a couple of crates of old LPs, which contained all the records I once owned as a teenager, plus all the ones I could never have hoped to afford at the time. There I was, transported straight back into the 1970s – ahhh!

And another lot was a huge collection of Royal Worcester Evesham design dinner ware – OMG! Possibly hundreds of pounds worth of china, with a guide price less than £50 – my poor heart wept.

Saddest of all was the vast amount of superb Georgian brown furniture practically being given away. Fewer than twenty years ago, when the Other Half and I were setting up home, we struggled to afford a couple of odd pieces of rough Victorian pine. Now we could fill the house several times over in the most glorious, craftsmen-made furniture, for half the price we paid back then – I am soooo tempted to do it.

Anyway, the great thing about auctions, is that you have the chance to go home and think about it, rather than rush into any rash decisions. And for the time-being, I’m holding the purse-strings tight shut. But my friend who’d accompanied me to the preview was very tempted. On the day of the auction itself, she texted to say she was going to go and bid on something – and was hoping I’d go along with her to hold her hand (metaphorically speaking).

Which is where the whole exercise suddenly transformed into the biggest thrill I’ve had for ages. I can’t imagine many pursuits involving voluntarily standing around for hours in quite literally freezing sheds, that would appeal to me, but there I was – numb feet, numb hands, nose dripping and absolutely loving it.

I was amazed at the bargains to be had. It’s certainly coloured my approach to shopping for furniture and indeed for many other things too. And I guess you could call it a very sustainable activity, giving new life to otherwise unwanted items. Although I may have to be extremely cautious about taking the Other Half – I dread to think how much cr*p we might end up bringing home…

My friend won the lot she was bidding on – which added the cherry on top of an already brilliant day out.

Now I didn’t buy anything in the auction, which was fine, I was just there to watch and soak up the atmosphere, which could have made it an extremely cheap day out, however, the little in-house cafe at the auction sold the best bacon butties you can imagine – the aroma of the cooking bacon wafted through the doors in such a wicked way, and their coffee was delicious too, so, for me, it wasn’t an entirely free day out, but you could always take a flask and a sandwich if you were confident that your will-power was strong enough to withstand the bacon.

But next time, and I’m pretty sure there will be a ‘next time’ quite soon – who knows what I’ll bring home…

And, for no reason other than the joy of posting totally unrelated pictures – here’s the Delinquent Dog doing what he does best…

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So here it is, Merry Christmas…

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Just to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Today I shall be attempting not to set the turkey on fire again – yes, it’s quite a spectacular way to draw attention to yourself slaving away in the kitchen, especially when the flames from the oven almost set fire to the table…

Assuming I manage that, everything else will be a bonus.

Have a wonderful day and a happy and peaceful time.

Getting there…

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Are we having fun yet?

Christmas is just a week away, so I’m entering that stage where the things that could previously be put off, are now having to be done. And to be fair, I’m doing better than I thought I might. I’m always a late adopter with all things Christmas, I don’t like the prologue to go on too long. In my ideal world, everything you need for the day – presents, food, trees, etc, would all arrive miraculously, leaving me free over the Twelve Days of Christmas to veg out, read, sleep and effortlessly slip the occasional piece of jigsaw into just the right place…

But I am trying. This year, I’ve…

  • Converted several slabs of sausage meat and puff pastry into not entirely inadequate sausage rolls.
  • Been out with my local arty group for a Christmas Dinner.
  • Taken the family to the German Christmas Market in Birmingham (and added a new ceramic house to our expanding hamlet – another couple of years and we’ll qualify as a village).
  • Made my first mince-pies for years (my Mum made such good pastry, I don’t think I’ll ever reach her standard, but at least no one lost any teeth (actually I don’t like mince-pies, but I did nibble the pastry).
  • Survived Christmas shopping in Milton Keynes thanks to a very organised Number Two Daughter, who also foraged for emergency chocolate fudge cake when a major sense of humour failure coincided with dip in blood-sugar levels.
  • Had a lovely evening with our Arts n Tarts group – thank you so much Secret Santa – I LOVE my pressie.
  • Seen the Christmas lights on New Bond Street – seriously pretty.
  • Wrapped presents – this is a major achievement for me, generally I’m still doing it in the wee small hours of the 25th.
  • And waved enthusiastically at the Rotary Club Santa when he came down our street last night on his sleigh – even though our girls are now much too old to visit Santa’s Grotto, we all still get ridiculously excited by his annual drive-past.
  • Still to do? Well, quite a lot, but nothing I’m likely to stress about.

I think, all in all, I might actually be starting to have fun – shhh!

Can’t help feeling I should be…

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We had such a marvellous weekend exhibiting at the Discover Original Art Fair, – massive thanks to everyone who came –  I’ve not quite got my feet back in the real world.

I have so far managed to ignore the tsunami of ironing which is engulfing the downstairs shower room. The grocery shopping happened, and the Delinquent Dog has had a few decent walks, but I’m sure there’s something else I should be thinking about…

Oh yes, Christmas

Would  anyone mind if we put it back a few weeks…

Little treasures…

The other day, while I was looking for something completely different, I came across this little box which had belonged to my grandmother.

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Not very exciting is it. But then, what happens if you take off the lid and peep inside?

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Here are the sides…

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I’m sure many of you will know now exactly what it is…

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…opened out, it’s obvious – a needle-case.

Dozens of rusty (but still very sharp) needles. And what’s in the middle?

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Just more needles – still wrapped in their black tissue.

A gift to my grandmother from her brother, fighting in France during The Great War. (He survived).

Not all family heirlooms are valuable, some are priceless.