Tinder dry

We are going through a long heat wave at present - it's 1976 (the year of the famous UK drought) all over again and although we see tempting rain clouds going overhead, they pass over, rarely letting their precious droplets fall.

Everything is parched and tinder dry. So it was with some nervousness that the other evening, I heard the unmistakable crackling noise of  fire coming from our other neighbour's property. It appeared to be coming from behind the adjoining (wooden) fence and near our (also wooden) top shed. I watched the smoke billowing out over the newly harvested barley field, taking scraps of hot ash with it and tried not to feel too fearful. 

I began emailing a friend and then heard the rare sound of a siren coming quickly up our country lane. It was a fire engine. I ended my ongoing email rant about the bonfire next door and went outside to see not one, but two fire engines outside. My worst fears had been confirmed and the fire had spread out of control. We were soon visited by a nice Shropshire fireman, who inspected the shed and surrounding parts and reassured us that we should be alright as the fire had 'gone upwards'. Brian-next-door came out to see what was amiss and we all waited anxiously while the fire hoses did their work. 

After another all round check from the nice fireman, we were told that it was a small garden bonfire that had spread, due to the dry conditions but was dealt with now. I admit I did have a few choice words about *people* (not the word I used) who lit fires in this weather, but later on our neighbour - who is actually rather nice - came round to apologise and we were all very forgiving and civilised about the incident because it was a genuine act of daftness and in the end, no harm was done. 

My poor friend had sent me several frantic emails during this time, so I sent her the good news that we had not been burnt to a frazzle. 


Man baking

It's been a month since I last wrote - thank you from the bottom of my beaten up old heart for all the kind words and prayers - they really were a help and made me feel less alone. I now realise that I cannot give this blog up; it's been too much of my life for nearly thirteen years now and much like an on-off extension of my diaries. We are waiting for what we hope is good news, and In the meantime I have taken on the task of teaching Joe to bake. 

The kitchen is small and a bit higgledy piggledy and there are no chairs or a table, so I sat on the draining board and issued instructions, which started with where the utensils are kept, followed by the order of preparation and then the basics - such as how too weigh out ingredients. The first bake was my chocolate cake recipe. These turned out fantastically. As the last pair of cakes I made sank in the middle, I was a bit envious. A week later he decided he wanted to try lemon drizzle cake. I warned him it was a bit of a faff, but nonetheless he had a go. I oversaw the operation from my draining board perch and helped him out with the fiddly part of peeling the lemon rind. 

I admit, I hadn't reckoned on how difficult it would be to teach someone to do something that I have been doing for a few decades. So I did as I do in my needle felt workshops and didn't interfere too much, but made him do 90% of the work himself, so that he would learn properly. 

This time we followed a 'proper' written recipe, which wasn't entirely successful and the cakes were somewhat shallow - the taste was fantastic, but next time we will stick with the one in my head, which has never let me down. 

I think the trickiest baking lesson for both of us was the making of cheese scones, which requires the rubbing in method. I was itching to get in there and do it myself, but I gave him a brief demonstration and let him get on with it. There was a lot of flour on the kitchen floor.

Joe seems to be a natural baker, and the scones rose very nicely. He's not ready to fly solo yet, but we're both enjoying the process. Next on the list is 'my' fruit cake. And how to do the washing up afterwards.



Taking time out

Easter, with it's promise of new beginnings, seems as good as any time to resurface after a long break. I needed to take a lot of time out and have been mostly off my social media; things have been one worry after another, and just as Joe and I  thought we were in a safe harbour at last, something happened and it basically sent me over the edge. I've always been a resilient person and tried to cope with whatever life has thrown at me - and it has thrown a  lot of things. But the last few years have been a constant struggle and opened up older cracks that I thought were mended. The 'thing that happened' was simply the last straw and I retreated so deeply into myself that I could barely talk or move. Thankfully Joe was able to get me an emergency appointment with my doctor and by the time I had stumbled into his surgery, I was ready - at last - to tell him how bad things were with me, how I had tried to get through things on my own and a lot of my life story too. I was in surgery with him for some time. He was excellent and let me burble. And then  said that everyone, no matter how strong, has a breaking point and I had just reached mine. After that, I agreed to medication, to help re-balance things and for the first couple of weeks after, I simply rested. Since then, I have been gradually rebuilding myself and trying to get things done that need to be done if we are to stay in this rackety cottage. I'm feeling a lot better and although the situation hasn't changed, my anxiety has subsided greatly, so I feel better able to pick myself up again and start over for what seems like the hundredth time in my life.

I haven't been sure whether to simply end this blog, as it seemed to be going nowhere; my life is not the same as when I started writing it back in 2005 and since Andy died, I am a different person. I'm not actually sure who I am, but I think I'll keep it going; it could be a little different at times, but everything changes and that's probably a good thing.


Painting of the week - Little Unicorn

I thought I'd take progress shots for this painting of the week. It starts, of course, with a  sketch or two. Which then gets transferred onto some hot pressed water colour paper and stretched onto a mounting board. Left overnight to dry thoroughly.

Then the first very pale yellow under wash is laid down. And left overnight again to dry.

First the floor is added...

When that is completely dry, the background wall of the imaginary setting is filled in, which includes a small crescent paper moon hanging by a knotted thread.

Next comes the very pale violet blue tone of the unicorn toy - which is white -  but even white has tones.

 The final top colours are painted in.

 And finally, when it is bone dry, the pencil work to finish it off.

I left enough bleed around the edges so that it would fit nicely into the 4 inch by 4 inch mount. And popped it up for sale.


Little ruffled dogs

It's been a few years since I made this design, but what's not to like about a little dog with a bunchy ruff?


Each has my log ribbon sewn into their underneath.

And each comes with a signed name tag. They are to be found in the 'needle felt animals' section of my shop here, should anyone want to give one a loving home.

Painting of the week comes up next!


Little Post Office

It's been a bit grey and overcast here recently, so when we finally had a day of sun, I cycled over to the nearest village to post a couple of orders. The landscape was winter bare, and spring is still some way off, despite the clear skies and warmth.

The village has just two shops - the tiny butchers, with its original beams still visible...

..and the Post Office, which is no more than a  doll's house. Marjorie had a rest outside, while I did my errand. We are both out of shape and her tyres need pumping.

And then the return journey home, through the funny twisting lane out of the village.

 Stopping to take a scenic shot as I pushed Marjorie up the big hill.

I dropped in to the farmer next door, to give them a small present or two for cutting the hedge recently and visited the new calves in an old shed.

 They are cautious.

But still curious enough to wander up close, to see what's happening.


Painting of the week - Toadstool

This year, I have set myself the aim of creating a small painting per week. I've kind of cheated here, as I started this one last year, but only finished it last week. So it is unseasonably autumnal. The delicate layers of wash need overnight drying, so even a small piece can take a few days.

Whether I can stick to my resolution remains to be seen - but if anyone fancies an out of season toadstool, it's up for sale in paintings section of my shop here with details  of measurements.

Next week's painting is completely different...


Hedge trimming

Two days after Christmas, we heard a commotion coming down the lane and were delighted to see that the farmer next door had come out on this cold, bleak and dark day, to trim our very over grown hedge (and our neighbours too)


He'd offered to do it back in the summer as we chatted over the fence. It hasn't been done for five years - it wasn't something I felt able to cope with in the first couple of years of trying to survive Andy. So it got more and more out of control; way beyond a manual job with hand clippers, and hiring a contractor would have been beyond my means.


So hooray for the kind farmer, who took it all right down and removed any lethal branches sticking out into the lane. I was rather overcome and gave him two hugs and a kiss on the cheek, which I don't think he was expecting, but Joe said seemed to please him in a rather taken aback way.  I swept the road clear of all the trimmings, and I'm sure the local cyclists are happier with it.

The birds are a bit upset at having their cover reduced, but it will soon grow back again. And this photo has reminded me that this year I have to get rid of the nasty big plastic pot on the wall which I have hated since day one and is another thing I haven't dealt with yet.


Polar bears and snow

My last workshop of the year was scheduled to be Sunday 10th December at Guthrie and Ghani in Birmingham. It was one that I had to be 100% prepared for, as it was a new teaching project and needed a proper written pattern, as well as quite a few extra materials and demo models. However, despite working up until the Friday, I had a nagging feeling that the weather forecast was going to somewhat interfere with my plans. Shropshire was due for an 'awful lot' of snow on Sunday, starting in the early hours. When I learned that taxi companies in town were not running on Friday night, I made a difficult decision and after chatting to the shop owner, we decided to cancel. Which meant letting ten people down and losing this month's income. However on Sunday morning, we woke up  to this.

 Which didn't seem that bad at first, until it carried on...

and on...

 and on.

 The road outside was iced over and only the occasional tractor or SUV went slowly past. The county ground to a halt.

This amount of snow might seem laughable to countries who get it on a regular basis every year. However, over here, on this scale, it is a rare occurrence and we're not usually prepared for it. We had two feet of snow over 24 hours. 

So in the end, I felt I had made the right decision, because even if I could somehow have reached the train station and managed to arrive at Birmingham, I would not have been able to return home, and I'm a bit too old to be sleeping on a station bench overnight. With the temperatures plummeting and the upstairs of the cottage feeling like an ice box, we did the sensible thing and camped in the only warm room, by the wood burner, where we slept each night until the rain came a couple of days later and washed most of the snow away.

Toadstools and cottages

It's been a while, and life quietly ticks over. Nothing much happens and then it's winter workshop season. I held my first local standalone session last month in Shrewsbury at the Shropshire Wildlife Trust. I had booked the modest little garden room, but due to circumstances, I was upgraded to this lovely space. It was my first workshop since the summer, but the old routine kicked in as soon as I begin setting up.

The Reserve used to be part of the old Abbey and has been well restored. There is a beautiful modern stained glass window with little etched birds and animals hiding in the undergrowth. 

Everyone arrived safely and were soon at work. 

This is my favourite workshop subject to teach and a particularly enjoyable group to work with. A couple of weeks later there was an impromptu workshop held at Ferndell Bed and Breakfast again, which booked out within a few days. This time the project was a Christmas Cottage. 

As usual, there was a lovely home made lunch, with Prosecco (though sadly not for me, as I was teaching). The wood burner was kept going all day.

And later, afternoon tea with home made brownies and cream.

So two workshops down and the biggest one to follow. Which, unlike these, didn't exactly go to plan...