Little Women

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Recently I saw a film that brightened my dreary January and reminded me why a humble domestic yarn about sisterhood is still my favourite story of all time. Yes, I saw Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, and I have to say that I think it is my favourite adaptation yet.

Saoirse Ronan has played my most favourite of all female heroines, Jo March, with just enough passion and intensity for it to be said that she has done a bloody good job of it. I love Winona Ryder’s Jo but she was a little winsome and whiny for my taste in comparison to Ronan, who manages to make Jo seem a much breezier and more bestial character. Jo is wild and fiercely intelligent and this really comes across in her performance. I couldn’t help thinking how much it seemed that she was Jo, rather than just play acting at being Jo.

When I heard Timothee Chalamet was cast as Laurie my face fell. I couldn’t believe that such a lanky, bendy, boy-man had been chosen to play this most (in my mind) loftiest of male heroes. But that was before I saw him act.  I hadn’t seen his mannerisms, his quirkiness, his self-abandon. He is a fantastic actor and far more handsome in the ‘flesh’ as in stills and images. He manages to be boyish and to lark around and play the clown with Jo one minute and to be the romantic hero with Amy the next. A versatile, and though not an obvious choice for me, a jolly good Laurie.

Next onto Emma Watson, who plays the lovely Meg. I have seen it said that her performance is dull and lack lustre, but I think she brings an intelligence and a thoughtfulness to Meg that can be lacking in other portrayals. Her struggle against her acquisitive and materialistic nature whilst married to John Brooke is carefully handled by Watson who doesn’t overplay it. This is partly due to her talent and partly due to Gerwig’s skillful direction. When I first heard that Emma Watson was in the new Little Women film, I mistakenly thought she had been cast as Jo. I think this would have been ill judged. Fortunately, she works as Meg on the same level that Ronan works as Jo.

The actress who plays Beth skillfully plays the shyest and most humble of the March sisters with aplomb. It was such a wrench when Beth dies -we all know it’s coming – but that makes it no less distressing when the moment finally arrives.

Finally I can’t rate Florence Pugh’s Amy highly enough. She is an assured young actress with a certain hauteur that perfectly suits the role. I’ve seen her in The Little Drummer Boy on the BBC and was impressed then; this performance I think will send her stratospheric. I also loved the way the film almost becomes the Jo and Amy Show as the two characters rail against each other, often in mocking and jocular fashion.

The one mistake this film makes is not to have a ‘young Amy’ and an ‘adult Amy’, though perhaps that would not work with the time slip nature of the film, where the narrative skips back and forth in time as the girls mature. They just about get away with Florence Pugh as the young Amy, but there are moments when it is glaringly obvious that she is in fact not twelve but in her early twenties!

The film is utterly beautiful to look at. The styling and colour of the film is soft, pastel, pretty colours that are easy on the eye and yet embellish the narrative perfectly. I was dying to get my hands on some of the clothes worn in the film, and think that the Costume designer alone deserves a nod at the Oscars this year. I’ve recently discovered on Instagram an account called Little Women Atelier, who have an Etsy shop selling dresses in the style of the 1860s as per Louisa’s Little Women. Bliss! However, I can’t quite imagine taking myself off to work in one!

Another positive from the film is that Greta Gerwig took a chance and rearranged the chronology of the story. The younger March sisters are portrayed in flashback and so the narrative skips around a bit, bringing a freshness and a vitality to the film. The whole production seems fresh, alive and buoyant.

The overriding triumph of this film is the fact that it is, secondary to the theme of friendship and sisterhood, the subject of writing is a focal point. Jo exists to write, she lives and breathes it, and to see her attempts at writing so centrally placed in the narrative is refreshing. She doesn’t exist just to become a wife and mother. Her romantic fate at the close of the film is left hanging in the air (though we do understand that it will probably end happily for her!) and it is the publication of her novel that is brought centre stage. This made me happy. Not just as a woman who wants to see more rounded characters, but I think it would have been the ending Louisa May Alcott would have desired, had it not been for the brief from her publisher.

It’s unlikely by now, but if you haven’t seen Little Women yet, please, please go. It is a timeless story with endearingly lovable characters and storylines. This version is a visual treat and I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Happy February everyone!

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The Miracle Morning

First up, I am not a morning person. I can find it quite the challenge to haul my ass out of bed each morning and usually the first half an hour of being awake is a little bit fuzzy an experience, and I try to avoid too much stimulation. Well, I should say that I never used to be a morning person, that is until recently.
I am an avid fan of Jess Lively and through her weekly podcast, The Lively Show, I discovered the Miracle Morning, created by Hal Elrod, who appeared on her show as a guest. When I listened to the show, something twigged in my brain and I remembered someone else discussing the Miracle Morning on their blog… now who was it again??? It was another of my favourite blogs, Miranda’s Notebook. Miranda had shared how she was experiencing the Miracle Morning and the amazing benefits it had afforded her too. So, armed with two seriously strong recommendations and with a burning desire to see how my morning could be radically overhauled to change my life for the better, I ordered the book from Amazon.
I was not disappointed – I read the book in one sitting and was seriously inspired to try it out for myself. So, you get up an hour earlier than normal and spend time working on your goals and developing yourself, in a nutshell. Hal recommends that you do the following: experience silence (through prayer, meditation or whatever floats your boat), affirmations, visualisation, exercise, reading and scribing (writing, or journaling). I’ve tried sticking to Hal’s way and though I found it enjoyable, I think I’m going to tweak it a little more to my own unique way of doing things, which he strongly urges you to do in the book. I think it’s good to have a prescribed way of doing things to begin with, to provide some structure whilst you’re feeling your way around the new experience, but once you’ve found your footing it’s quite nice just to adjust things a little to what is relevant in your life.
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I thought that getting up at 6am would be complete anaethema to me, but I’m loving it. Time to be completely by myself to contemplate, to relax, to be productive and active is sheer bliss, and much more preferable to lying in bed. It’s hard, don’t get me wrong, to get up on these cold, dark autumnal mornings, but it’s definitely worth it.
I’m spending the time in prayer, which is easy for me and I find myself rabbiting on a bit too long at times. I find visualisation very difficult. Well, I find it easy to visualise the end point of my goals, but not so easy visualising what I’ll have to do to reach my goals! Much as in real llife I suppose – it’s very easy to have goals but you have to put the work in if you want to see them come to fruition. I’ve heard of many others struggling with this part of the Miracle Morning, as it can be hard work to imagine some of the difficult obstacles we might have to overcome before reaching our much loved and treasured goals! Exercise is great is it gets the bloood pumping round the body and wakes me up, reading is brilliant as it means I can make time for non-fiction books that inspire – like Big Magic from Elizabeth Gilbert which I am currently reading during my morning routine. I am also keeping a gratitude journal which is immensely satisfying and such a positive, lovely thing to read back to yourself in darker moments – no negativity here! That’s my miracle morning as it stands, but I’m keen to like I say, tweak it a little so that I feel less like I’m doing someone else’s routine. I’d like to include some craft and some creative writing too. Perhaps I’ll need to get up even earlier!
I really recommend the book to anyone, it is light, cheery reading and leaves you wiith goosebumps all over as you contemplate just how awesome it is to have an hour a day dedicated to your personal goals and achievements. Or just go to the website for a quick look around if you’re not interested in the book. The thing with the miracle morning is that it is nothing new, like anything it is an old concept reworked and repackaged for the modern age. Hal has done a really good job on it too! (No, I’m not on his payroll!)
Try it, you might just love it!

Brooklyn

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I recently went to the flicks and saw the film Brooklyn, on a recommendation from a friend. I wasn’t too sure about seeing it as I’m not overly keen on Saoirse Ronan as an actress, and the men in it didn’t appeal too much to me either, but I went along for the story of the Irish girl leaving her homeland behind to discover a world of opportunity in America in the 1950s.

I wasn’t disappointed. The story was touching and poignant, the acting brilliant and the attention to period detail and costume mesmerising. I loved it. I even thought that Saoirse Ronan was good in it!

Eilis is a young Irish girl with very little in her life. She has an older sister and a mother with whom she lives and she has a job in the local convenience store. Her life is unexciting and uneventful. So far, so normal. That is, until her sister organises for Eilis to go to America, complete with a job and a boarding house to live in, in Brooklyn.

She has an interesting and eventful Atlantic crossing and then begins to find her bearings in New York. But with her new found freedom, Eilis is set adrift on the stormy seas of a different type of sickness – homesickness. She finds this incredibly hard to bear but then hey ho in walks Tony and makes everything alright with his Italian-American brogue and his lovely baby browns. So far, so good. Until Eilis hears some awful news from home and everything changes.

I won’t say any more than this as I would hate to spoil it for anyone who has not yet made the trip to the pictures to see it, but suffice to say that it is a gentle, pleasant and interesting way to spend a couple of hours.

I haven’t read the book but am now dying to as it will of course be better than the film and the characters more fleshy and vital. I wonder, has anyone reading this had a go at the book or the film? Which do you prefer?

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A wonderful workshop

Back in April I attended a wonderful workshop at Raystitch in North London, hosted by none other than my craft and inspiration heroine, Jane Brocket. I tried not to get too excited or nervous about meeting her, but I needn’t have worried, she’s a very down to earth and friendly person with a relaxed, easy manner. All my starry eyed awe and wonder was dissipated very quickly and I simply got on with what I had come to do – play with colour and quilts.

There were about six of us in total so the workshop was quiet and relaxed and Jane was able to give lots of one on one attention. One of my favourite parts of the workshop was that Jane had brought along quite a large selection of her own quilts to show us. To see quilts like the Hydrangea (on the cover of the Gentle Art of Quilt Making) in the flesh was absolutely mind blowing – this woman sure knows how to put a quilt together and knows her onions when it comes to use of colour. In fact, I took inspiration from one of her quilts for my own – using a nine patch repeat with larger blocks with just one fabric to help the quilt grow quickly and with vibrancy. I loved looking at her quilts and will never forget the inspiration it provided me with at the time, and now.

The brief for the day was to experiment with and try out colours with which we didn’t feel too comfortable, or colours that we just didn’t like very much. So, I brought along a variety of prints in both orange and pink, two of my least favourite colours, that is, until the workshop. I went mad in Fabric Rehab and Frumble Fabrics and had a ball selecting the most garish and what I then perceived as vomit inducing oranges and pinks in florals, graphic and geometric prints. I was not disappointed when they showed up on my doorstep – I’d really gone to town! I also brought some fabrics with me to the workshop that were two of my favourite colours – red and yellow – but I didn’t get to use them, in the end I was having too much fun with the pink and orange. I found that the more I placed pieces of fabric next to each other and played around with combinations, the more I grew to like the fabrics I was working with.

One of the most important parts of the day was to spend time playing. Jane is very into playing around with colour as is evidenced in her many books, in particular the Gentle Art of Domesticity. Whether it is playing with different coloured sweets for some cupcakes, different coloured tulips for her garden or colours in quilts, Jane Brocket knows how to do colour. And this is largely because she has a playful nature and likes to mess about a bit. Which she encouraged us to do plenty of during the workshop. I think we must have spent at least an hour and a half playing with colour and fabric, before we’d even begun to cut out.

Jane got us to play around with different fabric combinations and even let me have some of her own fabric, a bright orange rose floral which is now gracing my quilt as I write. We then set to the task of cutting out, which I usually do with templates, and which is not the easiest or most efficient method of cutting out by a long way. As I was not particularly au fait with a rotary cutter at this point, I was rather timid about using one, until Jane showed me how. Jane Brocket taught me how to use a rotary cutter! A fact I am most proud of! With pieces cut out and a plan in my head about how to make the various prints and patterns work in my quilt, I set about making some nine patch blocks. By the end of the day I had constructed about six blocks and was well on the way to making my quilt. Within a week of completing the workshop my quilt was made and I was simply bursting with creativity and ideas (not to mention tons of fabric!) for future quilts. I have only completed one other quilt in my lifetime and that took me around fifteen months.

What Jane taught me, apart from rotary cutting, playing with colour and how to piece a quilt top quickly and easily, is that quilting does not have to be full of rules and tiny squares hand sewn together. It can be pleasantly simple and non-fussy, using larger squares, lots of repeats and a minimum of fancy stitching. I was so pleased with my final quilt and part of the reason for that is the (lack of) time spent making it. It’s very easy for projects to go off the boil, particularly long term ones, so it was incredibly refreshing to make such a large scale project in such a short space of time.

I’m not sure if Jane Brocket is going to be doing any more workshops in the future, but if she is, and you’re a bit of a quilting maven, (or not, as I am!) then I strongly urge you to hot foot it to London to take part in one – it was just the best day out I’ve had in a long time, with memories and inspiration aplenty! I nearly forgot to mention that Raystitch itself is a great venue for workshops and a lovely shop in itself. I even bough some fabric and a pair of scissors whilst I was there. Well, I was in a sewing shop, what was I going to do, just sit there?!

Oh, and here is my finished quilt. Sorry about the lack of good quality photography, it’s not something I do particularly well!

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Simple Abundance

simpleI have rather belatedly discovered Sarah Ban Breathnach who wrote the marvellous Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, in the 1990s. It was a runaway bestseller in her homeland and has become something of a cult classic over here.

Part self-help book, part spiritual guide, this book is a little on the syrupy side and can sound a bit too mawkish at times, but it is uplifting and inspiring in equal measure. There are three hundred and sixty-five essays, one for each day of the year. Each one starts with a quote to get the brain juices flowing and each one has something to say about being a woman and getting in touch with ones’ authentic, true self, through the path of simple abundance. The path of simple abundance is reached through cultivating gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy in our lives. Yes, it does sound woolly and vague and touchy feely and it is in some measure. But there does seem to be a truly authentic voice behind it all, which shines through in the writing and makes for a truly inspiring read.

I look forward each day to my next essay (some are quite brief, others fairly lengthy), and have even started to take some of the advice given in the book, for instance I have established a gratitude journal to list on a weekly basis all the things for which I am truly thankful. This is a truly brilliant (not to mention easy) way of cultivating gratitude and for noticing all of the important small things in life which make it worth living. This is a book which makes you think, which is what every book ought to encourage…and achieve. Simple Abundance does just that.

Hibernating

snowdrops1I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m in full hibernation mode. Following the initial optimism and hope that January always brings, I have in the past week hunkered down beneath the duvet with books, a tablet, a laptop, plenty of magazines and a hot water bottle to retreat into myself until the world is a little less dark, and a lot less cold. This will no doubt continue until February has lapsed, and will only begin to recede when those first signs of spring appear outside in early March. However, there will soon be cause for celebration when the snowdrops appear, which ought to be anytime now.  That’s what I love about nature, even in the depths of despair of winter, we are still treated to some beautiful displays of life and vitality. I love snowdrops, they offer a fresh, brisk take on beauty when everything else is so glum and dreary. There is a very small patch of snowdrops that come up in the garden each year, and I’m holding my breath for when they decide to show themselves again. Does anyone else have a favourite winter flower or plant that cheers them when the winter starts to get too much…I wonder?

 

Burns Night Supper

Scottish-Burns_NightAny excuse to have a friend round for dinner and to eat some tasty nosh is enough for me. For the past five years or so my husband and I have ‘celebrated’ Burns night. We do not have a penchant for the poetry of the great Rabbie Burns (the only poem of his that I know of is the famous …my love is like a red red rose, whose newly sprung in June…). Neither are we Scottish. But we do like haggis and we do love a dram of whisky. So with our friend Andrew we settled down to a lovely non-traditional meal of haggis, roast tatties, mashed nips, gravy and peas (yes, I know, not traditional at all). It was thoroughly delicious as was the Glenmorangie, though potent and a little more fiery than I remembered! a good night was had by all, though hibernation quickly resumed. Did anyone else celebrate Burns Night at the weekend?