Small and sweet projects.

It has been another easy-going stay-at-home day. It’s still raining.

Whitecurrants were harvested.IMG_5456

They are a bit odd when you look at them close-up. Alien eyeballs come to mind.IMG_5458

I made whitecurrant jelly using the same recipe that I used for the redcurrants. You can find that recipe here. I had never tasted whitecurrant jelly before. I found it less tart and more perfumed than the redcurrant version. It tastes a lot like gooseberry jam. I’ve read that it’s good with cream cheese. Anyone out there have other suggestions?IMG_5459

I also made a bowl of sweet geranium-scented fruit jelly, as in jelly and ice-cream. When we had lunch in Ballymaloe House (pre-recession!) the very best thing on the sweet trolley was the homemade jelly. I have high hopes for this! Turns out if you mix white and blackcurrant syrup you get pink(ish). I can’t wait to try this after dinner. IMG_5461

Elizabeth and Jolina have been expanding their wardrobe. I was more than a little chuffed with this cute, reversible wrap-around skirt. IMG_5469IMG_5468IMG_5467

I think this picture best shows how it is constructed. I would really like to try making one of these for myself. I’ve made lots of curtains and a few dresses for Small Girl but I’ve never made a proper garment for myself from scratch. I’m too scared of buttons and zips. Any suggestions for easy patterns?IMG_5471

One of Small Girl’s baby shirts was cut up to make these pyjamas for Elizabeth and nightdress for Jolina. IMG_5473

I was particularly pleased with the pyjama pants which were made out of the little shirt sleeve. I managed to use the existing buttons/buttonholes to fasten the top. The crocheted bodice of Jolina’s dress saw me through Episode 3 of Star Wars. We are watching one Star Wars movie a week in preparation for the new one. Thank God we have finished 1,2 and 3. I’m ready for Hans Solo.

Teenage Daughter got a bit creative on this photo shoot.IMG_5476

That’s it though, I’ve had enough of teeny-weeny clothes-stitching. I felt like one of the shoemaker’s elves. Back to my great big cosy blanket.

How To Make A New Bathroom Look Old.

Our bathroom is in the, newly converted, attic of our early 1960s bungalow. As with the rest of the house, my aim has been to make it seem a little older than 1960s. Contrary to all TV home-decor advice, I have no desire for a bathroom that looks like it belongs in a luxury hotel. We have employed two approaches to mak-ing new things look old. The first is obvious; let four children, a dog and time take effect. The second involves buckets and buckets of white paint……….

I’ve had these door handles tucked away in a drawer for four years.IMG_4914

The print was carried home from a magical holiday in Sorrento in 1996. We stayed in a marble-floored pensione that was neatly tucked between the train tracks and a morgue. We drank our first limoncello and ate our first tiramisu and stayed up all night singing Don mcClean songs. IMG_4915

View to the left:IMG_4903

The cabinet was Husband’s childhood wardrobe. He fitted it with shelves and drilled a hole in the back so that our electric toothbrushes are hidden inside. He’s pretty nifty. Husband also made the step for Small Girl. He cut it from one of the fifty-year-old leylandii trees we had excavated, at ruinous expense, from the garden. This may be the most costly toddler step in history.

The plant is Geranium tomentosum; it smells deliciously of mint-choc. I have succeeded in growing a couple of cuttings; any takers?IMG_4924IMG_4920

The print just visible above the toilet is the front page of a mock newspaper, made for us by our Best Man, which was distributed at our wedding.IMG_4898A sultanabun original.

View to the right:IMG_4899

A friend who quilts gave me a sack of unwanted fabric scraps. I couldn’t believe my luck when I pulled out two yards of curtain material. The ‘curtain pole’ was bought last week with the intention of netting the currant bushes. The dolphin mobile was bought for Teenage Boy’s first room. He has grown out of it, I haven’t.IMG_4902The shell shadow-box came together in the end. I love it.

The Cormac Boydell ceramic was a wedding present. It had pride of place inside the door of our old house until I came home one day and found it in pieces on the floor. An unsolved mystery. I gathered up the gold-trimmed fragments and held on to them with the intention of making a wall mosaic or bird bath. On Sunday, I glued and taped and placed it here. If only I had some gold powder and some know-how I could try a Kintsugi effect. I think it would be wonderful.IMG_4931 A bit of wear and tear really can make things more beautiful.

The Shortest Night.

Mid-summer. The peak of the year. Light and then more light. I hardly put my shoes on for the whole weekend.

We had a little celebratory dinner.

Mixed greens.IMG_4826

New potatoes.IMG_4831

Steaks, seasoned and anointed with oil.IMG_4830

Perfect.IMG_4832

Gooseberry crumble. (Replace rhubarb with gooseberries in this recipe)IMG_4870

We sat out watching the sky stay bright.

10.15pmIMG_4837

10.45pmIMG_4844

11.15pm.IMG_4846

11.30pm. That’s Venus above, the moon below.IMG_4848

6.45am. Bright again and a raft of new poppies.IMG_4854

In between all the sky-gazing, work continued on the bathroom spuce-up. Two steps forward, one step back. There is a light fitting that is stubbornly refusing to function. It’s all well and good showering by the light of the Velux window at this time of year but it might get tricky finding the soap come October. I can’t always define when a project turns into a saga but we are fast approaching that point.

I did get one little project completed. I was too busy getting started on this to take any before photos. Imagine a very old, paint-speckled, rusty-legged and slightly wobbly stool. Now, take some Rico Creative Cotton, a crochet hook, a tin of spray paint, some new rubber feet and some knicker elastic. It’s still slightly wobbly but otherwise….IMG_4876..Ta-daaah:IMG_4872

…..so pretty! I’m delighted with it. I winged it on the crochet cover. I just made it as if it were a giant hat. I made a flat circle, all trebles, until it was big enough to cover the top, then stopped increasing and continued the sides, straight, until I could tuck under the seat. (Attic24 flat circle tutorial here)

I used the end of the paint tin to have a go at some graffiti. A pink message to husband on the inside of the garden shed (not telling!). What a rebel.

Painting Soothes The Savage Toddler/Teenager/Housewife.

Painting is my failsafe. When all else fails to please a marauding child, be it toddler or teenager, I shout, ‘let’s do some painting’, and a blessed silence descends. There is something soothing about splodging paint on paper. Everyone can achieve something colourful and attractive or, at worst, abstract. The quantity of artwork on the walls is testament to just how often I’ve had need to resort to the bottles of paint.IMG_4813Eight years or so ago, I went through a bumpy patch. Life was going along just fine but I got myself wound into a state of high anxiety. I spent days and weeks with my heart pounding in my chest as I foresaw, predicted and dreaded imaginary disasters. A very wise woman suggested painting. Husband, dutifully, supplied a very pretty box of paints. I sat in our utility room and I produced a few diabolical pictures of roses. I felt better. Honest to God, it works for grown-ups too!

Last night I took out that lovely box of paints, hid in the attic, and smeared greens and blues around a tiny canvas. It’s just the best feeling. It’s like making mud-pies. I have no intention of inflicting my eyesore of a painting on you. It really doesn’t even matter what the end result looks like, it’s how it feels to do it that matters. I feel the same way about gardening and, it occurs to me now, this blog.

I will give you a peek at one artistic endeavour of mine. This is an attempt to display some of the three million shells and stones that I have collected over the years. The coral is from a magnificent coral beach in Galway and the sea-glass is mostly from France. The fossils date from the very first holiday that Husband and I took together, at the Cliffs of Moher, two decades ago. Well obviously, they are much older than that but you know what I mean. Teenage Daughter was stung by a jelly fish when she dived off a pier to get that scallop shell for me. The smell of Factor 50, the taste of ham and coleslaw rolls, the salty lips kisses, cold water gasps and quiet, sleepy drives home. I’m trying to, somehow, hold all that together in a cheap shadow box frame. IMG_4728

The emergency painting routine was moved outdoors today. For about five minutes I was mentally awarding myself a Mother-Of-The-Year medal thinking I had managed to combine fresh air and creativity. It didn’t last. They were too hot and the paper blew away. IMG_4822I sighed inwardly and shouted, ‘let’s get some ice-cream’.

Cushion covers, sultanabun-style.

Favourite blogs are about as difficult to fix on as favourite books and favourite songs. My favourite blog, I think, is still the very first one I read. Teenage Daughter had asked for a crochet set for Christmas and she and I were struggling to get beyond a very long chain. A crafty friend pointed me towards the fabulous Lucy at Attic24. This lovely woman is so talented, so generous and so very honest that I was utterly charmed.

This morning I read Lucy’s crochet-cushion tutorial. Her solution to the eternal but-how-will-I-fasten-it-closed dilemma was, as usual, simple and ingenious. I was inspired to share with you my own button solution for cushions. I was, not unusually, driven by frugality and laziness. I do believe that, as far as cushion-making is concerned, this is as cheap and easy as you can go.

My Lidl sew-ing machine is banjaxed so I cannot actually give you a Lucy-style demo but, trust me, you don’t need one.

  • Basically, you take one collar-frayed shirt, iron it, button it up and turn it inside-out.
  • Now, lay it flat and place your cushion on top. With a ruler and pencil, mark an outline of the cushion on your shirt. Cut it out. Sew up all four sides.
  • Wiggle your fingers inside the buttons to open them up and turn the completed cushion cover right side out. Voila. IMG_4714

You can get imaginative with the front. IMG_4709

It’s the lovely, perfect buttons that matter. IMG_4710

Sometimes, as I’m ironing Husband’s shirts, I’m thinking I should get a picture of Paul Newman to look at while I’m working.IMG_4712

Other times, I’m pressing that crisp cotton and thinking, ‘Hello, Mr. Shirt, allow me to introduce Mr. Scissors’.kenneth-branagh-dead021

Sunshine.

Everything changes when the sun shines. The world has slowed down and come slightly more into focus.

The smells; cut grass in the morning, barbecue smoke in the late afternoon.

The sounds; bees and lawnmowers in the morning, fire-brigade in the evening (just kidding).

The feeling; not cold.

Before anyone else was awake, I brought in some flowers and quietly arranged them while sipping coffee.IMG_4684

I  put up the tent thingy that I made out of old curtains. I’m quite proud of this as it turns our rickety old swing set into a split-level villa. Yes, playing house again.IMG_4679

I washed a gazillion green-fly off my lupins. IMG_4691

The ladybirds are feasting but they just can’t eat fast enough.IMG_4692

I discovered the very first ripe berry. There was only one. I gobbled it up. The sweet tang of a stolen pleasure.IMG_4694

I pressed gooseberries between my thumb and forefinger to gauge their ripeness. I can’t tell, maybe tomorrow if this sun keeps up.IMG_4693

I brought Charlie for a walk and was rewarded with this bounty. I got nettled and thorn-pricked for my efforts. Note to self; wear long trousers when raiding hedgerows.IMG_4701

When I came in to write this, I left these ingredients on the counter.IMG_4687

I’m just going to pop my head out now and, politely, ask the teenagers to clean their rooms. Nothing motivates like pizza.

I hope life feels this sweet wherever you are.

Playing House.

The small girl inherited a lovely doll’s house from her sisters. Over the years the family of dolls has expanded and we felt that a second house was required. The little wooden dolls needed someplace to go visiting. Okay, it was all an excuse; I saw one of these shoebox houses on Pinterest and I desperately needed to have a go at making one.

IMG_4637

Playing house has been my absolute favourite entertainment for as long as I can remember. As a child, I built tree houses, blanket forts, Lego chalets, sandcastles…you name it, I built it. As a student, I put up an eight-foot-high live Christmas tree in my tiny bedsit. When Husband and I moved into our first rented apartment I spent our entire food budget in Habitat. When we bought our own house and I was given license to actually hammer nails in the walls, I was ecstatic.IMG_4638

But every house before this house was, more or less, temporary. Even while we searched for it, I called this The Forever House. The house where I would invest in hard wood floors, plant trees and put down roots. The house purchase was a year-long torture by a series of masochistic banking minions. The planned kitchen extension turned into a year-long nightmare of demolition and re-build. The only thing that kept me sane during the worst two years of my life was a packet of colouring pencils and a pad of graph paper where I planned bathrooms and bedrooms and, above all else,  my dream kitchen.

IMG_4631

Small girl was only five weeks old when we moved in. I strapped her to my chest in a sling while I lovingly caressed my hard-won, hardwood floors with a mop.

IMG_4632Since then, I’ve been having the best fun playing the most exciting game of house ever. Some days I scream that I want what I want and I want it NOW in fine Verruca Salt fashion. Other days, I feel that there is no rush. We will eventually get a patio outside our lovely patio doors and I will eventually paint the back of my bathroom door. It doesn’t need to be finished. What would be the fun in that?IMG_4639

The trees are beginning to mature now and the precious floors are getting scuffed. I tried to protect them with rugs and mats but had to give up. There’s a groove being slowly worn between the sink and the cooker and between the cooker and the fridge. It’s not pretty but it tells my story. It’s my groove.

I thought that the shoebox house would be a fun project for my three girls but it turned out that I was the one who spent hours cutting up magazines and matching perspectives. I asked Teenage Daughter why they weren’t joining in and she answered, ‘Mum, you are obsessed. We are afraid to lay a finger on that thing’.

Woops. IMG_4635

I’ve left it next door to the old dollhouse now and small girl plays with it while I’m hoovering. I might buy a new magazine one day soon and do a bit of renovation. I can’t help it.