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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Garden Flowers

Just as I don't like anything too shiny and bling, I like my flowers simple too. It's lovely at this time of year being able to snip a few stems from the garden. I had a real urge to paint this jar full, but again have struggled to find time. So the other night I stayed up late and went ahead. 
I used my new watercolour paper from Tiger Stores - highly recommended and very economical. I've also mixed in a few of their cheap and cheerful watercolours.

I was inspired to have a go at this after revisiting a couple of old books in my collection.

And this beauty:


Sunday, 10 May 2015

The beauty of Coton Manor Gardens

On Friday, as the country was waking up to a new political landscape, I was heading west for a day out with my oldest friend. We had arranged to meet at Coton Manor near Northampton, which is a direct mid point between our two homes. The Manor is famous for its gorgeously landscaped gardens (and quirky wildlife, of which more later).

The sun wasn't out, but it was a mild day, perfect for walking and talking.

As usual in all the most impressive gardens I've ever seen, there are plenty of different 'rooms' which lead enticingly one to another. I love this old brick path and arch combination.

Though the gardens are immaculately tended, the owners are not too precious to allow their chickens to roam freely. I don't think I've seen a happier or healthier bunch of birds!

Down by the lake, we encountered this pair. Trying to ignore the election results too :)

Another shot of colour from these tulips...

A gate takes you into a field leading to a bluebell and beech wood. Lovely how the light filters through the trees enhancing the blue.

Back to the formal borders, and now the sun was coming out. Just time to visit the excellent (and very popular) cafe for home made soup and sandwiches. You can sit outside in the courtyard to eat. There are also lots of plants for sale and a small shop. 

A lovely day out in the English countryside.

And a great spot to meet a friend.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Hello spring, hello blog

The other day my mum asked me if I had given up writing my blog. It made me think. The answer is no, I haven't, but there have been lots of extra demands on my time recently, so it's been difficult to find a space. I do post a lot on Instagram too, as it's easy to sit in a chair and pop a single photo online. But I do miss writing longer posts, and using my DSLR. So, this post is a bit of a catch up. 
I've been trying to make the most of the spring, walking when I can, and occasionally running. I've teamed up with a friend in the village and we motivate each other to exercise. We do Pilates, one or two Zumba classes a week, and also some circuit training. For me, it's much easier to stick to the routine when you know someone is relying on you for a lift, or vice versa. Much less tempting to kick off the shoes, curl up on the sofa and think, "oh, I'll go next week...." 

It's not just about losing weight, although that's very welcome. I just think exercising makes me feel better generally and appreciate where I live. On Saturday morning, my friend and I went running through some bluebell woods. Neither of us finds running very easy, but how could we not enjoy this sight! It was simply amazing.

I've turned my crafting away from sewing and towards painting. I loved Emma Bridgewater's dresser print fabric and when I read about her mother in law, the designer Pat Albeck, describing how it had been created, using collage, I decided to try the technique with my own dresser and china collection. I had great fun doing this: I was obsessed, sneaking in a quick painting session whenever I could. I like how it turned out, being able to layer things up and also move them around until I am happy with them. 
I'd love to try this in a lino print too, but I do find that lino is more time consuming, and I need to plan a whole day to work on that, which just isn't possible at the moment.

We're clearing my late father in law's house, ready for sale. So we've been decluttering at home, in preparation for some of his furniture coming to live with us. Bank Holiday Monday saw us at a car boot sale, with a boot full of items to shift. We got on well, and of course I came home with a few small finds including the Victorian bottles at the top of this post.  

Drawing and painting the china makes me appreciate it more. Here's a posy of garden flowers in a charity shop jug. 

Back soon!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Cooking up a storm

A couple of years ago, I followed a gluten free diet for about six months as a way of trying to alleviate the symptoms of colitis. One very good thing which came out of that time was discovering this amazing recipe for lemon polenta cake, which I found in a magazine. I put a photo of it on Instagram recently and a couple of people asked for the recipe, so here it is. It is a very easy cake to make, and it also looks beautiful. It is great served with fresh cream.

250 g butter, softened
250g caster sugar
3 medium eggs, beaten
250g ground almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
grated zest 2 lemons
juice 1 lemon
125g polenta, sifted
1 level teaspoon baking powder (gluten free if you are following a diet)
For the syrup:
4 tablespoons lemon juice
125g icing sugar
200g soft fruits e.g raspberries and blueberries
Icing sugar to dust

23cm/9 inch tin, lined with parchment
Set oven to Gas mark 3, or 160 degrees
Beat the butter until soft and pale. Add the sugar, beat until light and creamy. Whisk in the eggs a little at a time, making sure you beat the egg well. Fold in the almonds, vanilla extract, lemon zest and juice, polenta and baking powder. Put into the tin, smooth the top and bake for 50 mins to one hour. 
To make the syrup, place the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons water, and icing sugar into a pan and stir until the icing sugar has dissolved. Spoon over the cake while the syrup and the cake are still hot. Leave in the tin to cool. When the cake is cold, arrange berries on top and dust with icing sugar.

I'll be serving the cake to my Mum later today, along with some home made scones, clotted cream and raspberry jam. 

Have a lovely Sunday. 
PS I should clarify that I didn't paint that beautiful watercolour above. It's a photograph of mine which I changed using the Waterlogue App on my iPhone to give a painterly effect. I wish I was that good at watercolour :)

Sunday, 1 March 2015

An arty adventure

One of my Christmas presents was a day at a lino printing course in Sheffield. I've been looking forward to it hugely,and finally the day arrived. I travelled to Sheffield on Friday night, and met my brother who lives in the city for an early dinner. Up early on Saturday morning and we went to Hunters Bar, the area where the course was being held. As well as having a brother who lives in Sheffield, I feel strong links to the city. I was a student there in the 80s and have very happy memories of that time. It's just one of those places that will always have a really special significance.
As students, Hunters Bar was the place we often came on a Sunday. There is a beautiful park here, with a river running through it, and there have always been lots of interesting shops. The art school was once sited here, although that has now moved into the city centre.

Things have changed, but not too much. In those days, it was 'second hand' not vintage, and there were many little shops selling old clothes. Pre-Primark, this is how we shopped! I distinctly remember buying a pair of leopard skin hobnail boots from a second hand shop along this road, which I wore proudly with a pair of old long johns and a large pinafore dress. Anyway...the printing workshop was set in Cowlishaw Works, behind a pine shop and next door to a vintage china store.

There were eight of us on the course and the tutor was James Green, who is an amazing print maker. Most people had come along with a design in mind, and we got straight down to tracing it onto a lino tile using carbon paper.

Then it was time to start carving the lino. James provided all the tools for us. Some people had come up with really intricate designs: mine was pretty simple by comparison. I still found it quite tricky though. It was great to work alongside other people, we chatted and helped each other along, with sound advice and help from James.

Slowly it took shape. A break for lunch and chance to try some of the lovely local cafes and bakeries.

Finally, time to ink up! I chose black which I thought would suit my graphic design.

A few test prints are done first, and any adjustments made. For example, if there are any messy bits where the ink catches in the wrong place, or a chance to add some more detail. The patterned print above was by Susan, who was sitting opposite me.

And then, time to print on a piece of cartridge paper, to make the final picture. It was so satisfying! Everyone had a little moment as they revealed their design. It's a lovely thing to see. Each print was so different. Some people worked from photos, others had gone for pattern. Mine was probably the simplest style. 

A few of the other prints drying on the floor. Loved the frog and the street scene.
We finished by about 3.30pm, just time for a final cup of tea and a chance to let the ink dry. I headed off to the Millenium Gallery in Sheffield and saw a beautiful exhibition about bird illustrations, well worth seeing if you're in the area.

Then just time for a quick snack in The Crucible Theatre cafe and back on the train home. Pretty much a perfect day. 

Thursday, 5 February 2015


I've been out and about this week, researching an article about the county of Rutland, and including Rutland Water, the huge reservoir that lies within. It's been very cold, but there have been some beautiful sunny spells for me to explore walks, pubs, villages and tea shops. This is a cottage in Hambleton, on the Hambleton peninsula, the most picturesque of the villages I've visited so far. 

You can stand on the peninsula road and see water on both sides. 

Heading into Oakham, the market town, I visited the Castle Cottage tea room. It's tucked away just behind the castle ruins.

A nice welcome in the garden, which opens properly on March 25. And inside, it's very warm and inviting.

The county museum is fantastic. I spent an hour or two in there getting information and thoroughly enjoying looking around.

Some lovely old farm carts, and lots of domestic history about this rural county.

Then back out to the nature reserve: I like the heron standing guard at this site.

 Moody skies, and a keen wind whipping across here!

Quite glad to be at home in the warm working today.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Craving some colour

It's always around this time of year that I start wanting some colour in my life. The fields are brown, the garden is brown (and very messy), the skies are low and grey and the house is looking a little unloved. Colour makes it all better. Maybe that's why I'm reaching for vivid daffodils on the market, bright Seville oranges for marmalade, and these beautiful scarlet pomegranates.

I saw these in Manchester at the weekend when we took Jack back to uni. We treated him to a curry for lunch, and were enthralled by a wedding party at the restaurant, the women arrayed in sparkling saris and an amazing drumming accompaniment. We came out and I went into a vast international superstore full of fruit and vegetables. I bought these pomegranates and a big box of mangoes.
All week, I've been wanting to paint these, so yesterday I finished work a bit early and had a go. It was so nice to sit down with these paints and mix up the reds and oranges. 

Couldn't quite get the texture, it was harder than it looked. I'll try again. These little sketches all go into my journal, which I have continued since the one I completed for the local exhibition. I'm really enjoying it, but it probably accounts for the fact that I haven't been blogging as much as before. The trouble is, I like doing both....need more hours in the day.

On the kitchen top are Sevilles waiting to be turned into marmalade and the Manchester mangoes which are destined for chutney. 

The dresser gets the colour treatment too.

Back again soon, hopefully with jars and jars of preserves!

About Me

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I'm a freelance journalist living in a village in East Northamptonshire with my husband and youngest son. I love visiting car boot sales, auctions and markets and writing about my inexpensive finds, and also some small craft projects and my attempts at watercolour painting and patchworking. I'm the editor of a local magazine, so I find out about loads of interesting things that are happening in my community, some of which I share here, too.