teacups & buttercups

An old fashioned heart

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?

An Education

ladybirdexA while ago, I wrote about Ladybird books, and most particularly the art in Ladybird books. Well, I was delighted when my husband sent me a link to this Guardian article which tells of an exhibition that showcases the art of the Ladybird book. I’m thrilled, now I just have to work out whether I need more reason to visit Bexhill or if this is enough! Does anyone know what Bexhill has to recommend it? Are there any other cultural highlights to see whilst down that way? I’d love to hear if anyone has any ideas. If not, I’ll more than likely just go to the exhibition anyway…

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Ladybird By Design opened at the De La Warr pavilion at the weekend. Here you will find 200 pieces of original artwork from the “golden age” between 1958 and 1973. I don’t know about you, but I had several Ladybird books on my shelf as a child and it was my first concept of what it was to have my own library. My Ladybirds were deeply special to me and the illustrations burned on my brain. I can’t wait to see them and to acquire as many postcard images of them as possible in the exhibition shop afterwards…it will certainly be an education for me, just as they were when I was child.

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The Vyne

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Now that we are fully paid up members of the National Trust, we intend to make the most of our membership and so the Sunday after setting off for Basildon Park, we made our way to The Vyne, near Basingstoke.

The grounds are impressive, with a pretty tree-lined walkway leading up to the gatehouse and beyond that full sweeping drives leading to the main house. It is all very picturesque and makes for a lovely walk on any kind of day…though we had freezing cold, a bit of rain and a lot of wind! It was still enjoyable though, in spite of the weather. I personally love a bracing walk and it set us up well for our picnic, which we had pretty much on arriving at the house proper.

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As you can see from the puddle to the left of the photo, we enjoyed our picnic outside, on the picnic tables provided. Nevermind that they were covered in rain water, and that we sat on plastic bags…no, we weren’t to be deterred. We had a lovely picnic in the great outdoors whilst garnering several odd looks from people who were leaving the relative warmth and comfort of the cafe.  We went to the cafe later in the day for tea and cake so we didn’t miss out though.

IMG_0380After our picnic, we decided to explore the grounds a little more and went to the river and skimmed stones and threw twigs into the river to see which ones went the fastest. It was pretty bracing but the scenery was delightful and other people had the same idea as us so there was a sense of camaraderie involved.

IMG_0384Messing about near the river can only keep a three year old interested for a certain amount of time however so into the house we went for our tour. At Basildon Park you can go and look at the house whenever you like, but at The Vyne you are asked to take a timed tour. I prefer to look around at leisure, so found this slightly irksome, but when the time came for our tour, I forgot all about that and set about enjoying looking around a timeless mansion. However, it was a little disappointing. Whilst highly impressive from the outside, The Vyne is quite run down on the interior and could do with a little TLC. It’s still worth a look and I certainly wouldn’t deter anyone from visiting, however, many of the artefacts are covered with sheets, the wall coverings are stained and peeling, the rooms have not been restored to their former glory and there is basically a bit of a thrown together look about the place.

I suspect that if one were to visit in high season things might look different. It could well be that because we visited in the middle of January that we came right in the middle of a restoration programme. We’ll see, as we intend to revisit The Vyne in the summer, as we were so impressed with what the outside had to offer. The other let down was that they were refurbishing the children’s adventure playground which our son was really looking forward to. Hopefully that will be up and running come the summer too.

Do give The Vyne a visit if you’re ever nearby. If you like a picnic and a lot of walking and aren’t too fussed if the Big House doesn’t fulfil all of your dreams of how it should be, then it is the place for you.

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The Twelve Makes of 2015

296957_110408110912_Art_Supplies(1)I enjoy setting myself little challenges, so this year I’m challenging myself to make 12 crafty or arty makes over the course of 2015. I’ll be trying some painting by numbers….

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some botanical illustration…sashiko…more crochet…

crochet-hooks1…quilling…quilting…knitting…and much more besides. My January make is, as I have already shared, a crochet blanket for my son. It is beginning to take shape, so hopefully it’ll be finished by the end of the month ready for me to start my painting by numbers project in February. Has anybody else set themselves a crafty little challenge this year to keep their hands busy? I’ll be posting my makes at the end of every month, so look out next week for that crochet blanket!

 

Basildon Park

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One Sunday very recently, the children were bored and my husband and I restless. It was 10 o’clock in the morning and I simply could not bear the thought of being stuck inside the house for the remainder of the day, nor did I want to take yet another trip to the local park. I racked my brain for possible activities and then days of old crept into my memory of visiting National Trust properties with my parents. It’s something we had always done, and something I had not always enjoyed (mainly as a sulky teenager, wanting to be anywhere but), however, I suggested we take a trip to our local National Trust property, Basildon Park.

I’m so glad we did. It was such a great day out, I can’t recommend it highly enough. And this, a cold wintry day in January! It would be greatly enhanced by clement weather, but, nonetheless, we had a great time. We had such a good time that we even ended up joining the National Trust so that we can visit similar properties elsewhere. I’m so pleased we ended up going out that day instead of moping about at home!

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Basildon Park, near Pangbourne in Berkshire has been lovingly restored by Lord and Lady Iliffe, who made it their life’s work to bring this beautiful and atmospheric mansion back to its’ former glory. The rooms are tastefully and stunningly furnished as well as being well looked after and conserved. They are so well presented that you can imagine yourself propelled back a couple of hundred years to its’ heyday, walking the corridors and living the life of some lady or suchlike. Below stairs is just as interesting – there is a 1950s kitchen and laundry to look around, full of fascinating period detail. Outside, the informal gardens and extensive parkland (inspired by Capability Brown) provide plenty of activities and trails to explore and enjoy.

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Basildon Park is famous for being a location for films and tv. The Keira Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice was filmed here, as was Parade’s End and most notably of late, Downton Abbey. I can see why it is used as a location shoot as it’s exquisitely furnished and looked after both on the interior and exterior of the house. Go and see why it’s such a sought after location for yourself – you won’t regret it – Basildon Park makes for a great day out.

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I’m Dreaming of a Ripple Blanket

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I’m dreaming of quilts and fabric and yarn and crochet and ripple blankets at the moment. Especially rainbow ripple blankets, like the one above. I’d simply love to make one of these but haven’t got a clue how because I don’t yet know how to increase and decrease in crochet or how to crochet in lines (I currently only crochet in the round). Every time I crochet in lines I end up with very wonky looking edges that seem to narrow into a point. So, I guess I can decrease, I just don’t quite know how I’m doing it…

Anyway, I’ve found a really great blog-cum-website called Attic24. It’s run by Lucy who is clearly as mad about crochet and colour as I am. Her blog is a really good read, and she has tons of free crochet patterns and tutorials too, including a couple for ripple blankets. Time to try it out…I’ll post pictures of the results!

Coming Up Roses

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The joy of Cath Kidston! I know I’m probably a few years out of fashion but I adore her blowsy florals and kitsch. I recently read her book, Coming up Roses, about how she grew her phenomenally successful business from a small shop in Notting Hill (before Notting Hill was trendy). I devoured it in an evening, finding her story to be not only interesting but truly inspiring. No, I am not inspired to set up my own business, just inspired by a woman who took her creativity into her own hands and made something out of it.

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I love the oilcloth bags. They still look good a couple of years on because of the robustness of the material. I love the skirts. They have elasticated waists which are very forgiving after having had two children. I love the prints. They are whimsical and pretty and old fashioned. I love the shops. The way they use reclaimed furniture to display the wares, the exposed floorboards, the cheery staff. Above all, I really love the use of colour. The Cath Kidston brand is all about colour, and it pops something chronic.

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Another thing I love about Cath Kidston is the four or five craft books that have been produced. Patch! Sew! Stitch! and Make! grace my bookshelf and are such a treasure trove of inspiration for me in my crafty endeavours.

I strongly urge you to have a read of the book, it’s only a short read and an easy one at that. Also, if you’re crafty, give the above mentioned books a go.cath%20kidston

They Tried to Make Me Go to (Fabric) Rehab

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Having recently been booked on a most exciting workshop at Raystitch, I’ve been hoarding fabric like a true addict. I’ve used some websites that I’ve heard lots about, but never tried before, like Fabric Rehab (50s prints and kitsch to die for), Tikki (lots of marvellous Kaffe Fassett and Phillip Jacobs fabric), Frumble and one I’m more familiar with, The Cotton Patch. My haul is pretty impressive, with a whopping 20 fabrics amassed so far (admittedly most of them only fat quarters – fabric is damned expensive!)

You see, I’m not just buying fabric for the workshop, but also for the joy of it. I absolutely adore fabric and more than that I adore quilts. I’ve only completed one in my lifetime, which was for my sister’s wedding present. It took about a year to make, and I got the pattern from a very traditional quilting book called the Joy of Quilting… 10 years ago, I asked my mum for some fabric to celebrate my 30th birthday, which I would then turn into a ravishing quilt. I’m still working on that quilt to this day, I’m ashamed to admit. Life kind of got in the way. But that’s not a good enough excuse really. I think the reasons why it has taken me so long to complete is that a) it’s for me so there’s no great hurry to complete it, and explains why I have been able to have such enormous gaps in between activity, but also b) it is a very traditional quilt which is made up of very small pieces hence why it takes so long to grow. I’m aiming to finish it so that it’s gracing my bed on my 40th birthday!

One of the reasons why I love The Gentle Art of Quilt-making so much is because Jane Brocket has such a no-nonsense approach to patchwork in that she doesn’t agree with fussy little pieces of fabric being cut to make a quilt – in fact the bigger the better! The quilt I intend to make with the fabric shown above will most definitely be constructed using much larger pieces of whatever shape I choose to use, be it squares, rectangles, diamonds or strips. I can’t wait to explore colour and fabric and quilting with Jane Brocket. How exciting! Let’s hope this next quilting project takes less time than what will hitherto be known as the 10 years quilt…

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