Sunday, 13 July 2014

A floral Japanese dress

A little bit of pinning and cutting this morning #dressmaking #dress #patterns #japanese

A couple of weeks ago, I made a second Japanese dress (here is the first one, which turned out to be a tunic for reasons of public decency).  This time I added 16cm to the length and  graded the side seams so that it continued the full, swingy shape.  This one is the perfect dress length for me - it falls a couple of centimetres above the knee.

New Japanese dress - with added length and a velvet ribbon hem this time #dress #dressmaking #patterns #japanese #sewing

I particularly love the neckline on this dress - it has both pleats as darts, and fits beautifully #dress #dressmaking

I bought the fabric from Stitch in Wanstead, which is a wonderful fabric shop specialising in dressmaking fabrics.  The staff in this shop have so much knowledge, and are happy for fabric ditherers like me to prowl around the shop for hours before finally purchasing something.  It is a cotton lawn, with a fine, light crispness which I love, and only cost me £8 a metre (I bought 3m to be cautious, but totally could have got away with 2.5m).  This makes the dress incredibly good value.

I absolutely love how the dress turned out, and I wear it often (as I do the first tunic-length attempt, which looks great over jeans or leggings).  The shape is full, but there are enough details to make it look stylish and not sack-like.  The pleated bodice is particularly pleasing.  This time I added a narrow velvet ribbon hem on the bottom, which is definitely my favourite way of finishing a hem on a dress, tunic or skirt (I learnt the technique many years ago, from this free Oliver + S skirt pattern).  Both this dress, and also the first tunic version, have attracted so many flattering comments from random people on the train - and even two policewomen walking past me in the street.   I love how both the style and the fabric are such a long way from anything you'd ever find in a shop. 

6:25am - Out to dinner after work tonight, so a dress and nice shoes are required. I might fall asleep with my head on the table by the end of the first course though, as I am so, so tired. #tired #work

For my birthday, my father gave me a second dress pattern book by Yoshiko Tsukiori (this one), and I have spent a great deal of time happily immersing myself in the book, and deciding what I want to make next.  This one, pictured below, is the most likely contender simply because of the delicious neckline. 

Considering what to sew next. Possibly this dress from the wonderful 'Clothing for Everyday Wear' by Yoshiko Tsukiori? Loving the neckline. #dressmaking #dress #patterns

This stage of planning and thinking is possibly one of the most enjoyable parts of dressmaking for me.  By the time I am ready to sew I have a very definite idea in my head of how the garment is going to turn out.  Then I'm just so eager to get on with the sewing so that I can start wearing it.      

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Messy desk - a snapshot

A snapshot of my life on my messy desk

On my messy desk this morning:
  • the milk bill
  • a letter from Olivia's school about a summer picnic
  • a free cup of coffee from Waitrose - thank you Waitrose
  • three unopened magazines
  • this week's Nursing Standard
  • a leaflet about pelvic radiotherapy in men
  • unexpected Amazon parcels, which I think may contain birthday presents
  • a new cookbook
  • a textbook on acute and critical care nursing
  • my Kindle - I need to load it up with more things to read later; I've just finished this book, which was a good recommendation from my father
  • keys and glasses
  • fabric for another dress
  • a freshly baked croissant in a paper bag (my breakfast, along with the coffee)
It is my day off today.  After I've tidied my desk I plan to sit in the garden and read the backlog of magazines and my new cookbook. 

Friday, 20 June 2014

10 things

The nice thing about getting an exciting new job in ITU, is that nothing really changes:
  • I made a new top.  It was meant to be a dress, but I failed to adjust for the fact that I am much taller than most Japanese women.
  • Newly made Japanese sundress a roaring success, except.... so short, it's rude. Unable to lean over or reach up without flashing my knickers. Forgot I am about 15cm taller than the average Japanese woman - it will have to be worn over skinny jeans. #sewing #patterns #dressmaking #dress #soshortitsrude #top
  • I love it though, and have bought more fabric so I can make myself a dress version.
  • More dressmaking plans #dress #dressmaking #fabric #patterns #japanese
  • I discovered that the best place to take a full legth photo of myself without balancing on the arm of a sofa or having to tidy an entire room first, is the changing room at work. 
  • Finally a picture of the whole of my new dress/top. The only full length mirror in my life is the one in the staff changing rooms at work. Fabric shopping this weekend for the next one I think! #dressmaking #dress #top
  • Basil is back in the kitchen - I run my hands through it when I stand at the sink.
  • Summer on the windowsill #summer #sunshine #herbs
  • I like these tiles at Aldgate station.
  • 4pm - excellent tiles at Aldgate station #london #tube
  • Graham is listening to James Brown and treating us all to funk.
  • Funkilicious! Husband playing along to James Brown's Get Up #saturdayfunk #jamesbrown #funk #practicekit
  • I have been running - but not enough.  I miss it.
  • Volunteering, rather than running, at parkrun this morning. The person who got this token today ran it in 14:52 #wow #parkrun #hackneymarshes
  • I baked brioche rolls, and Graham made a tarte au citron. 
  • Brioche #baking #breadThe most sublime tarte au citron that he's ever made - oof, SO GOOD!
  • The washing machine couldn't read the label that said the pillow was washable.
  • This was meant to be a washable pillow, but the machine thought otherwise #domesticity
  • When it's sunny, and I am not at work, I cycle over to the Olympic park with a quilt and sunbathe.    
  • This little ladybird is sunbathing with me, on my quilt #sunshine #summer #ladybird #quilt #lazysunday #weekend #london

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A new identity

A few weeks ago I was offered my first nursing job - and last week, after much dithering, I accepted it.  At the end of this year I will become a registered nurse, and then I will be working on the ITU at my local hospital.  ITU stands for Intensive Therapy Unit and is what used to be known as Intensive Care - it is where the very sickest patients are cared for, and each patient gets one-to-one nursing care, 24 hours a day.  I have so many emotions whirling around my head about this new job:
  • pride - I've got a great job, in a specialism I desperately wanted to work in
  • fear - I'm going to be a qualified nurse, responsible for the care of very poorly patients
  • excitement - I'm going to be a qualified nurse, responsible for the care of very poorly patients
  • motivation - I need to revise all my knowledge of acute nursing care, and learn so much more
  • eagerness - I want to start now
  • sartorial disappointment - I will be wearing scrubs rather than a traditional nursing uniform
  • nervousness - can we put the brakes on, please? I've loved being back at University.

But mainly, with the knowledge that I have a good job waiting for me at the end of the year, I have relaxed and started to enjoy myself more.  I have always enjoyed nursing and been certain that this was what I wanted to do, but there has also been an underlying tension - could I really do this?  could I be good at this?  what effect was my change in career having on the family?  I was surprised to find that this tension disappeared when I finally sent the email to accept the job.

"Yes, I have a job in ITU," I tell people.  I'm getting used to saying it.  I have a new identity.  In my head I say to myself "I am an ITU nurse" - trying it out for size - and it feels right.

My upside-down watch tells me it's 4:55am. I am on my break, eating an apple, listening to the World Service, and knitting #nightshift #studentnurse


Friday, 30 May 2014


I have the nicest commute at the moment.  I work strange hours so I'm never travelling at peak times, which means the tubes are not too rammed; most of the time I can get a seat.  I just have to travel six stops, and I can get from home to work in about half an hour.  

The hospital is in the City - an area of London that I know very well because I worked there when I was an accountant for many years.  I find myself taking out my phone and snapping pictures every day, because this part of London is just so photogenic.

9:15pm - leaving work. St. Paul's Cathedral and a hazy moon. #london #night #moon #nofilter #stpauls

Early morning in the City #london #nofilter #sunshine

Heading home. Back in for an early shift tomorrow #london #tube #stpauls #tired

Majestic #stpauls #london #sunshine #blueskies #nofilter

7:40pm - the City is deserted at weekends. This is at St Paul's looking west towards the Old Bailey #london #weekend #nightshift

Taxis, taking people home. #work #london #spring #evening

6:45am - St Paul's and the police helicopter #London #morning

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A top in blue voile

As well as the children's exams, I am also starting a new placement and embarking on the nerve wracking process of job hunting at the moment.  

On a day off on Monday I decided the best thing I could do to create some calm and light relief in my week was to embark on some sewing.  Inspired by all the beautiful clothes appearing in my Instagram feed for Me Made May (and especially those put up by Liesl and Suse), I cut into my precious piece of Anna Maria Horner's Little Folks voile and made myself another Lisette market dress tunic.  I wear both the ones I made earlier in the year constantly; they look so good with trousers and a cardi or a scarf.

The voile is sumptuous - soft, drapey, feminine and luxurious.  It is also surprisingly non-sweary to sew with.  It feels as though it should slither all over my table, but it doesn't.  Pleasingly I also found a length of narrow velvet ribbon which my grandmother had given me, in exactly the right shade of yellow to match the centre of the flowers on the fabric, so I hemmed the top with that.

A happy few hours sewing, and a luxurious-feeling new blue top.  I just wish it was easier to find a place in my house to take full length photos of myself (and a clean mirror!).

...and it's very hard to find a decent full length mirror in our house #top #sewing #handmade

Meet my new favourite top. I finally used this beautiful fabric. #sewing #top #handmade #voile #productivedayoff

Monday, 12 May 2014

Exam food

The children both have exams this week Olivia has her Year 6 SATs - four consecutive mornings of maths and English exams - and Cam has his first two biology GCSE exams; his third exam is in a few weeks' time.  They're taking it all in their stride, but I know that they're tired and tense too.  This feels like the start of many, many years of exams-in-May as they each work their way through GCSEs, AS levels and A levels (and beyond).

Tired teenager: school and GCSE revision taking their toll. #school #gcse #tired #window
Cam, flopped on the sofa after a day at school and two hours of revision

I expanded the family rule of "When someone has a birthday, they choose what the family has for supper", to "When someone has a birthday or does an exam, they choose what the family has for supper".  Tonight we had Olivia's choice of beefburgers (nice, juicy quarterpounder steak burgers from Waitrose), oven chips, and rather specifically "carrots cut like coins, not sticks".  Very nice.  I don't often cook burgers so this felt like the treat it was meant to be.  Much ketchup was applied.

Cam's choice, which we are having on Friday, is lasagna, garlic bread and sweetcorn.  I don't often make a lasagna as it feels like too much faff at the end of a long day, so again this will be a special treat.  I love how both their choices are simple, slightly retro and not at all the sort of thing I normally cook.

My contribution has been to make them orange-scented buns for after school - I think they definitely deserve a sweet treat this week. 

Orange buns for Cam and Olivia - they have GCSEs and SATs this week, poor loves #exams #treats #baking #buns

Do you have any exam rituals in your house?  Any pre- or post-exam food favourites? Personally I don't really care what I eat after an exam as long as I have a big breakfast involving oats and bananas for breakfast beforehand.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Cycling in the Olympic Park

It's the time of year where I think about pulling my bike out from under its covers and using it again.  I am strictly a fair weather cyclist, and I would never dream of combining lycra with a bike.  I know - with some sort of spooky sixth sense - that it would not be a good look for me.

Graham and I went for a gentle, pottering sort of ride around the Olympic Park last weekend; now formally known as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and fully open to the public once again.  It's a very big place, and we wanted to have a good explore and get to know our way around this new part of our local neighbourhood.  The aquatics centre opened a couple of months ago, and now hundreds of acres of parkland and the velopark are open too.  There are only a few more bits still to open (the Hockey and Tennis Centre next month, the Canal Park towards the end of this year and finally the stadium in 2016).

The velodrome - you can see part of the road track and the BMX track in front of it - all three are open to the public now. The mountain bike tracks are still being landscaped and will be open soon. #velopark #london

The velopark is the section closest to our house; it takes me just four and a half minutes to cycle there.  The indoor race track, the outdoor 'road' track and the BMX trails are all open at the velopark, and anybody can book a session and ride.  You can even hire a bike and take lessons if you want to.  There will be a massive network of mountain biking trails opening too later this year.  For now, I just wanted to stop off (there are plenty of bike racks outside, of course!) and have a look round.  We wandered into the velodrome and sat down for ten minutes to watch a local cycling club do some time trials.  I really want to have a go at track cycling, and I am totally going to book one of their taster sessions once I have settled into my new placement.

Back at the velopark - getting new tyres put on my bike so that I can cycle to work during next week's tube strike. There is a very helpful, friendly branch of @CycleSurgery in the velodrome. #velopark #bike  

Allez, allez, allez!!

There is a very friendly branch of Cycle Surgery in the ground floor of the velodrome, and they didn't look even slightly fazed when I wheeled in my enormous sit-up-and-beg bike (with basket, obviously) to get a new tyre put on.  Admittedly my bike did look a little ordinary next to the shiny, sleek racers they had on display.

There's a cafe upstairs, where you can drink coffee and watch what's going on on the track below while the mechanics fit your new tyre.  Or you could walk round the corner to the Unity Kitchen Cafe and then sit outside under a tree for twenty minutes with a cup of coffee and a croissant, listening to the sound of birds in the trees and children enjoying one of the enormous new playgrounds, and just try and remember the polluted, industrial wasteland that was in the same place just ten years ago.  It's getting increasingly difficult to do.  Our part of East London was utterly transformed by the 2012 Olympics, and have to pinch myself sometimes when I think that all this splendour is now just four minutes away by bike.


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Road trip

We drove back home from Mum and Dad's on Sunday.  They live in South-West France, so it's one heck of a drive.  The part through France takes eleven hours, and when the ferry and the drive up through Kent and into East London are included, the whole journey takes around sixteen hours.  

I've always rather enjoyed long road-trips.  I did a few when I was at University and studying in America for a year, although I still have the classics on my to-do list: Route 66 from Chicago to LA, and the full East to West Coast trip, New York City to San Francisco.  When I was living in Australia, in my early 20s, I drove from Brisbane up to Cairns which is still my longest road trip (nearly 24 hours in driving time, although we spread it over three days).  In 2010 the children and I took a road trip from France to Switzerland, and then back along the German border to northern France and home.  That remains the longest trip I have done without someone else to share the driving.

We're used to the long drive down the length of France.  It starts with rolling off the ferry very early in the morning, and then we drive down the Calais peninsula, admiring all the wind turbines along what the French call the 'Autoroute des Anglais', because every other car (at least) is English.

Bowling down the Autoroute des Anglais just after dawn this morning.

Successful navigation around Rouen's missing Pont de Mathilde - and successful avoidance of Paris. Surprisingly tricky when every sign and slip road attempts to suck you towards Paris whether you are aiming for it or not. #france #roadtrip #navigation

All along our journey, the main role of whoever is navigating is to avoid Paris AT ALL COSTS.  I am well used to the mad, fast, often intolerant driving that goes on in a capital city, and I actually used to drive around Paris a fair bit when I was younger and working there, but I wouldn't want to do it now.  Paris traffic is either at a complete standstill, or moving eye-wateringly fast, and you need to be unhesitating and precise in your navigational skills at all times.

Much of our drive through France is on the autoroutes.  French autoroutes are owned by private companies, and most charge tolls to drivers.  However, the tolls are pretty modest - our eleven hour drive costs around £30.  I'm more than happy to pay because the autoroutes are such a pleasure to drive on - quiet, incredibly smooth and well-maintained, and well supplied with 'aires' (service stations).  Some of the aires sell petrol, food, magazines and are parked up with hundreds of trucks and cars, but others are just a selection of picnic tables and parking spots in a little forested glade, set back from the motorway.  On our way down we found a particularly nice one somwehere south of Orleans, where Olivia did some sunbathing and Graham did some yoga stretches (our journey down was the day after his marathon, so sitting in the car for 16 hours was tougher than it would otherwise have been for him).

Graham doing yoga to stretch out his marathon-weary legs, and Livvy enjoying a sun lounger #roadtrip #changeofdrivers

We have flasks of coffee and bottles of water for drinking on the go, and a plentiful supply of chewing gum (neither Graham or I like long drives without chewing gum - is this strange compulsion just us?).  The children are plugged into their iPods, and spend the whole time reading.  Whoever is driving gets to choose the music for the front, and the passenger is not allowed to argue with the driver's choice.  Graham and I take it in turns to drive/choose music for about two hours each. 

The temperatures rise steadily as we get further south, and finally we turn off the autoroute and drive down small, rural roads for the final forty minutes or so to Mum and Dad's house.  We all know these roads so well, and Graham and the children and I all look out for the landmarks that tell us we are so very nearly there.  Coming back home, there is always a strange moment of disconnect when you get off the ferry at Dover, and England now feels like a strange and foreign land - so used are we to French voices, driving on the right and the sight and smells of the French landscape.

Pollarded plane trees #france #walk

And then it's done.  The car engine is turned off, we all get out, have a stretch and start unloading bags.  If we are arriving at Mum and Dad's there are excited hugs, delicious wine and a hot meal before bed.  If we are arriving back in London there is the excitement of seeing the hens again, the comforting familiarity of being back home, and a mental calculation of how many more months it will be before we can get back in the car and do it all over again.

Empty, beautifully well-maintained and clearly signed French autoroutes. It is always a shock to return to Britain's very busy and slightly shabby motorways #france #love #roadtrip

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sunday morning running

As I write this, Graham is over half way round the 2014 Brighton Marathon.  I am obsessively checking his progress via the wonderful, free app the race organisers have provided, which gives me his split times every 5k and a little map with a moving dot which is my husband.  I am sad I can't be there to cheer him on in person, but this app means that I can at least feel some of the excitement of the occasion at home.  I love this sort of technology; it makes the whole experience so much better for everyone.  

My own running is still going pretty well.  As he was resting before his race, Graham yesterday ran parkrun alongside me, at my considerably slower pace.  Because of our wildly different running abilities, it is very rare that we run together - I think the last time was probably on holiday in France last summer.  It felt strange to run together - I missed the music that I usually listen to!  But I loved the companionship, and it made me want to speed up so that we can run together more often.

A month ago I got a new PB by running under 28 minutes for the first time ever.  The sense of achievement when something like this happens is enormous.  I really love the 5k distance - I've got no desire to join Graham in running marathons, but I am determined to knock another couple of minutes off my time over the next year or two, and inch towards the 25 minute mark.

I've done very little running during my A&E placement.  My feelings about this alternate between thinking 'fair enough - you're on your feet for twelve and a half hours at a time', and knowing that really, deep down in my heart, walking around A&E, no matter how fast I walk and how busy I am, is no substitute for proper exercise.  Most of the nurses I was working with were runners, or cyclists and managed to fit exercise into their days off.  A&E was also an emotionally draining place to work, so some running on a day off would be very good for my wellbeing.  After the Easter holidays I start a new placement on an oncology ward, and along with all the nursing skills I want to master while I am there, I also want to get the hang of fitting exercise around my work.

Well, would you look at that - while I have been writing this blog, Graham has finished his marathon.  In a very good time of 3 hours, 29 minutes and 4 seconds.  I am beaming with pride!