Thursday, 10 April 2014

Get on with it, why don't you

It's been a month. It's time to face facts. Inspiration is not going to strike. It's time to throw some words at a screen.

Or some pictures. Or some bricks. Whatever comes to hand.

Pretty fabric, you say? I can manage that. I've started a new project.

It's another paper pieced Liberty quilt - bigger pieces this time, because the Liberty star quilt was had way too many bits. It's based on a pattern for a picnic blanket which appears in the Hexa-Go-Go book, modified to do something vaguely rainbow-like across the three chevrons. I keep adding new colours, however, and lengthening the chevrons as I go along. It will be shaped like a giant's table runner by the time I finish it.

I realised back in February that when it comes to quilts, I'm a hand piecer. Free time is in short supply around here, and disappearing into a room for hours to sew bits of fabric together in straight lines isn't the most pressing of pursuits. (I said *pressing*! About quilting! It's like a quilting joke! (or not. It's not like a joke at all. Moving on.))

English paper piecing, as we've established before, can be done in front of the television with a glass of wine. Or two. Because no-one is looking that closely at the stitching.

So. What else? My children bought me lovely gifts for Mothers Day. Here is some fabric and bow trimming thingies for me to make pants.

I got a knicker-making kit for Christmas, and I'm all set now to never set foot in M&S again. I'm not blogging my smalls though, however much Emma says it's fine. IT'S NOT FINE. It's not fine to put your knickers on a blog. For heaven's sake - my teenage daughter subscribes to this sh.. twaddle* by email.

(*I have to be careful. There were links with Rude Words on in a previous post, and Mr Coffee was quite finger-waggy about the whole thing.) 

Good grief. I'm running out of steam already. Um. Here's a miniature mandolin, and yet another book about polygamy. Will that do for now? This twaddle is tiring.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

A Year in Books - Mark for Everyone

Years ago - before Mr Coffee and I were married - we were sitting in the home of some friends drinking rather a lot of beer. Someone said something sarcastic and pious; our host lit a cigarette, blew out smoke and said, wryly, "It's about this time of night that we like to talk to people about Jesus". It was a joke; of course it was a joke. The awful hilarity of the idea- that you'd suddenly find yourself trapped in a previously incredibly comfortable chair, surrounded by evangelists.

And so it is that I introduce my new book for March.

It's a blow-by-blow guide to Mark's Gospel, bought for us by my mother for two reasons: because she likes Tom Wright's work, and because Mark's Gospel is really, really short.

It's Lent. It's a good time to schedule in some Bible-bashing, to think on a more daily basis about why on earth I go to church and to concentrate a little harder than I can during a sermon whilst trying to placate bored children or ensure that no-one sets themselves alight on the votive candles.

And the shortness of the task is important - because I have other things on my Lentern to-do list. I'm giving nothing up; instead I'm trying to look out. I'm writing letters I'd been forgetting to write; practising my mandolin instead of slumping in front of the television; trying to get enough sleep instead of sneaking another half glass of wine and fiddling around on the Internet. In short, I'm trying to climb out of that hole so many of us often find ourselves in, where our attempts to relax start to turn into self-sabotage. But I'm being gentle with myself too - if I slip back into the hole a little, it isn't the end of the world.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Powering down

There's a well-known parenting phrase that I've never used - though I've used worse, I'm positive - that goes, "Stop crying - or I'll give you something to cry about."

And so it was with half term. Mr Coffee was away on a residential course; the whole week kicked off with a piece of truly crappy news; and I lost all enthusiasm whatsoever for the endeavour of parenting. To illustrate this, I just looked on my phone for pictures of my week, and all I have come up with is a picture of a crate of Aldi whisky, taken as some kind of price comparison exercise. (I finally wound up with a bottle of Bushmills.)

I didn't cry. I kind of staggered on, fuelled by whisky and some tooth-loosening peppermint slice that Littlest and I created out of icing sugar, butter, dessicated coconut and evil. Mr Coffee finally came home, and whisked away the children so I could sew a skirt and breathe into a paper bag. The weekend rolled around, and there was rest, and by Tuesday all the INSET days were over and it all seemed to get getting back to normal.

All that needed to be done was to wake up the children and get everyone where they needed to be. So I pulled the duvet off of Eldest, and in her attempts to snatch it back she accidentally scratched me full in the eye.

Then I got to cry. I got to go to the doctor in dark glasses and get poked at and get sent home with drops and then I went back to bed where my entire body shut down and I slept for four-and-a-half hours. I call it sleep - it was more like powering down. I got an exciting puffy face. Mr Coffee had great fun imitating me pawing about blindly, and the children got to laugh at me without me even knowing what was going on.

Later that evening Mr Coffee came to bed to watch The Musketeers on the iPlayer. Since I was unable to see, he kindly agreed to audio describe the proceedings, which went something along these lines: "Ooh, there's some fighting. And some blowing up, and some wandering off. Now! That's Whatsherface! Oh, she's dead. Oh. Ooh yes. It's all kicking off."

Today I have only a slight headache and a slightly blurry eye. But I'm much improved. And I'm very much looking forward to watching my own TV now, though I shall miss Whatsherface, and her valuable contribution to the story.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Reading aloud

In response to Laura's Circle of Pine Trees Year in Books, I present my state-of-the-art reading equipment. It is two very cheap USB-chargeable speakers, plugged into a Playaway book from the library, using a two-way headphone splitter. The happy fact that one speaker has a longer wire than the other means that I can balance one of the speakers on the car dashboard to my left; one to my right. I drive a lot now, as I take Eldest to the Distant School, and listen to one book when she's in the car, one when I'm alone.

Our last choice was Sherlock Holmes' Hound of the Baskervilles, downloaded from Librivox, with the state-of-the-art reading equipment plugged into my phone. But when Eldest is safely in school, I unplug and get straight back into Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist, which I knew I would love as soon as I saw the author's name. Years ago I read The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, and can remember very little of it (I don't have a good memory for books at all) except that I loved it. Every word.

One of the alarming things about a Playaway book is having no clue at all, really, how far you are away from the end of the book. It's beguiling. Your whole idea of what plot point is important, depending on how many pages have passed, is lost. In addition, you don't get to skip bits. I'm a proper skim-reader, especially if I'm excited by what's coming next. Audiobooks don't let you do that: they make you concentrate on every word, enjoying the language and the seemingly unimportant detail. So far I've come across only one narrator whom I really can't stand: I can only hope that his tremendous back catalogue doesn't include anything I desperately want to read in future.

Friday, 7 February 2014

All hail the boozy quilt

I've made a couple of quilts recently, as gifts. I thought it would be lovely. Because it's so satisfying and soul-affirming and soaringly-full-of-wonderfulness to make quilts as gifts for people.

Flossie Teacakes says that "Making a quilt with a particular person in mind always feels like spending time with them". I don't know really that I subscribe to that view. Unless we're talking about feeling as if you're trapped in a small room with that special person, who isn't talking to you at all but instead throwing bits of their chosen fabric randomly about the floor.

And so it was with Eldest's quilt, which was made roughly to Amy Butler's Gypsy Caravan free quilt pattern. I find it, in retrospect, utterly unsurprising that there are so few completed versions of this quilt pattern to look at online. In its efforts to be oh-so-random, it manages to be far too simple at the same time as requiring almost every piece to be cut to a slightly different size. Eldest is happy, but I wish I'd chosen something a little more detailed for her; I wish that the need for speed hadn't taken over quite so much. Mind you, you don't want a birthday quilt six months after your birthday, either.

One thing my daughter and my mother-in-law seemed to have in common was a choice of incredibly bright fabric that made my eyes go all wobbly. Here is the second gift: based on the snowball pattern by Cluck Cluck Sew. The picture below does not do a bit of justice to the scariness of the full fabric choice - Mr Coffee described the quilt, seen as a whole, as 'fighty'.

The process made me realise - I'm not really a machine piecer. I don't really enjoy cutting up stacks of little squares and ironing loads of tiny seams. Much as I love giving something handmade, I found the process of making-to-order quite stressful and - crucially - something that could only be done whilst sober. It took me well over a year to hand sew my Liberty star quilt, and I enjoyed every minute of it. And many - really, honestly, very many - of those minutes were enjoyed with wine.

Dry January is long gone. I'm ready to get to grips with my next boozy quilt.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Honestly. I really did have Christmas.

Greetings! from my lovely new laptop. In 2013, I decided I could easily replace my laptop with a Kindle Fire. No problem at ALL. I would be able to listen to BBC IPlayer and browse for recipes in the kitchen.

Here are some lessons learned in 2013:
  1. A Kindle is not a laptop. For a start, it has a touchscreen.
  2. I cannot type more than two words on a touchscreen. It is like trying to climb Snowdon in slingback sandals. (My mum actually saw a woman who had done this. Maybe she can type on a touchscreen. Some people can do anything.)
  3. Reading blogs on a Kindle is like going to a party wearing an Invisibility Cloak.
  4. Invisibility looks fun in Harry Potter. In truth, it is about as much fun as trying to climb Snowdon in slingback sandals.
  5. It is lovely to be able to listen to BBC IPlayer and browse for recipes in the kitchen.
So! A laptop. All shiny. Let's pretend the great Kindle Blogging Experiment of 2013 never happened, and carry on regardless. 

Christmas! I did that. I even organised a few hundred Santas to run around a city centre. (My job rocks.)

I drove for nearly three hours to go Christmas shopping.  Because distant towns with picturesque artillery batteries have the best Ebay bargains.

I could fill a whole blog with pictures of Christmas scenes (firesides, Nativities, sleighs on roofs, babies in wheelbarrows) created with Littlest Pet Shop figures. Let's go for just one, with the most atmospheric lighting.

I did Dry January again. Did you know that January has only 29 days? It's true.
Thirty days have September,
April, June, and November;
February has 28 alone,
All the rest have 31;
Except leap year, that's the time,
When February's days are 29.
And when the children are too surly
January ends a few days early.
Right. So we're caught up on Christmas, I think. We'll do the other stuff later. Happy New Year.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Too much time on my hands

A couple of weeks ago, I decided not to write a blog post. Specifically, I decided not to write a blog post about how I was feeling a bit low, a bit tired, a bit worn down and overwhelmed. I'd had a busy time at work, added to a good few nights spent sleeping on a children's ward  (don't fret - everything's fine, now, and no-one was terribly at risk anyhow).

Instead, I took lots of books out of the library. These books were about Happiness, and Getting On With Things, and Sorting Out My Life. And I put them in piles on my bedside table and down the side of the sofa and renewed them a couple of times but the mere fact of their presence in the house just didn't seem to be doing me any good. 

Then, during an afternoon selling items for work at a fairly quiet Christmas market, I got my chance to read. I liked this book especially: You Can Be Happy, by Professor Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman. It's not my first book about happiness, and I was almost put off happiness altogether by Gretchen Ruben's book a couple of years ago, where she spent an awful lot of time doing what sounded like admin (tackling tasks, sending emails, ordering stuff) and then unforgiveably giving up drinking.  So this was a pleasant relief:
"We're not suggesting you adopt... a spartan lifestyle. Food and drink and two of life's great pleasures."
Okay, then. I made lots of notes. I underlined the phrase 'fairly modest change'. I wrote words like 'avocado' and 'new activities' and 'deep satisfaction' and 'delight' and 'oily fish'. I came up with a list of what seemed at the time to be achievable goals.

The next morning I woke up 15 minutes early, did yoga, and went downstairs to prepare a Gwyneth Paltrow recipe - a Kale, Apple and Ginger smoothie.  I love Gwyneth. Gywneth had a migraine once so she changed her whole diet completely and wrote a huge book about it. On reflection, she perhaps isn't the best guru for someone attempting fairly modest change.

Did Gwyneth's husband suggest that she was not all there? Did Gwyneth find herself, ten minutes after drinking her smoothie, trying to pack sandwiches whilst shouting at a grumpy teenager, with boxes of couscous falling on her head whilst she searched in cupboards to find the raisins? No. Did Gwyneth discover that getting up at 6.30am in order to make time for a new activity actually meant that she no longer had time or energy to empty the dishwasher?

In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Ruben comes up with a number of Secrets of Adulthood, ranging from the practical - 'Soap and water removes most stains' to the more obscure - 'The opposite of a great truth is also true'.

I present to you my Secret of Adulthood.
"Never make decisions about what you can achieve when you have more than the usual amount of spare time."