Wednesday 27 June 2012

A kimono for my niece

I have another new niece on the way.  It is The Year of New Nieces, because Miss A arrived in early February, and Miss M is due any day now.

I've been thinking for a while about what to make her.  A June or July baby doesn't really need a kicking bag like a winter baby does, and I also had an urge to make something I hadn't done before.  Eventually I decided that what every summer-born baby girl needs is a floral, lace-trimmed kimono.

Baby McCarthy's floral lace kimono

The pattern is from Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross - a book that is certainly the most used of my many sewing books.  I added vintage lace, which was given to me by my grandmother, as an additional trim onto the bottom.  I like the idea of passing a little bit of lace trim down to a fourth generation.

All I need now is the baby, and some greedy-Auntie cuddles with her.  I can't wait.

Thursday 21 June 2012

10 things

  • This weekend, Graham will be racing in Trail Marathon Wales - a marathon through the stunning forests of Snowdonia National Park.
  • This part of Wales is one of my absolute favourites, and I am very envious of his three-day trip.  I am staying behind in London with the children, but in a few years I'd love to go with him (not to run - but to walk the course beforehand if I'm allowed).
  • We've been eating a great deal of pasta this week.
  • Cam has been eating bigger portions than Graham - teenage boys' appetites really are extraordinary.
  • As part of his training, Graham has been running home from work semi-regularly.  This is a 22km run from West London to East London, passing all sorts of fantastic sights.  He took photos the other day and has annotated them and put them into a Flickr set which you can see here.
  • I went on a little spending spree at Abe Books last week, and picked up four cookery books for under a tenner (including postage).  Goodness, I love this website.  Most of the books were Elizabeth David ones that I somehow didn't have in my collection - she published more than I realised.
  • Each day this week I've been into the garden, very early in the morning, and picked all the snails off the clematis, the rhubarb and the tomatoes - and then given them to the hens who shriek with excitement at this bonus breakfast.
  • Breakfast for the hens
  • My clematis is looking better than it has done for years.
  • I just finished reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, which I loved.  I might have to go an rummage on Abe now for an illustrated guide to the language of flowers - there is a Kate Greenaway one out there, which would be excellent.
  • I loved this wonderfully written article about roast chicken.  I often roast chicken in a similar way to this - covering it with herbs and spices in butter, and then serving it with a heavily scented rice.

Monday 18 June 2012

Epic Epping

Epping Forest is massive.  The trees are giants and their roots curl up from the forest floor like pythons; it is London's largest public open space and I still get lost in it on a regular basis.  I love the size of Epping Forest and the feeling that I am only a small being within it.

View from the Epping Forest Field Centre

Today, though, my eyes were drawn to things far smaller than me.  I saw tiny curls of bracken unfurling.

Bracken opening

We walked over crispy carpets of empty beech nuts.

Little beech nut

And I marvelled at a strange knot hole which looked just like rising yeasty dough.

Tree trunk detail

There was even a tiny little dormouse, crawling through some brambles.  It was smaller than my thumb, and had tiny little round ears.  It ran away, looking very purposeful and busy, before I could focus my camera lens on it.

Epping Forest is both epic in its size, and in its abundance of tiny details.  And of course, this is why I love it so.

Epic Epping

Carved grafitti - stretched by growth

Sunday 17 June 2012

Walnuts, orange juice, cotton buds and baked beans

There's a lovely place I know.

  • Which is only two minutes walk from my front door.
  • Where you can turn up at 7:40am without having cleaned your teeth, wearing dirty jeans and a University sweatshirt that is over 20 years old, and nobody minds.
  • Where even dressed like this you are still greeted with a big grin and a shout of "Morning, Gorgeous!" as you walk through the door.
  • Where you can be sure of being able to buy whatever it is that you need - even if that's walnuts, orange juice, cotton buds and baked beans.
  • Where you can chat as you do your shopping and find out about how his bad back's doing and discuss the water main up by the hospital which burst again this weekend.

This magical place is my local corner shop.  A good corner shop is the nerve centre of a local community, and I think ours is one of the best.  Their friendliness and always-open-fully-stocked policy means that knocking up a quick coffee and walnut cake for Dad while he's out on his early morning training run is...well...a piece of cake.

Coffee and walnut cake for Graham

Friday 15 June 2012

From pink to purple

Olivia's pink phase has come and gone.  Pink is now Not The Thing at all.  The 9 year old girls I know are all about purple these days.

Purple, not pink
"My favourite colours - in order"

She asked me to make a purple patchwork cushion for a friend's birthday this weekend.  "My friends are all VERY into purple too," she informed me.  So I did, and while I was making one purple cushion I thought I might as well make two.

Jessica's purple cushion
A birthday cushion for J

Olivia now has a purple cushion on her bed, next to the one I made for her when she was in her pink phase.  "The purple one is closest to the top, because I like purple best," she told me.  I now want to make her cushions in every colour on her list, just so that I can see them arranged - and re-arranged - along the edge of her bed in order of colour preference.

From pink to purple
The pink has been demoted by the purple

Tuesday 12 June 2012

The perfect setting

I sat in the woods as the sun set, listening to the wind rustling the tops of the trees and marvelling at the changing light.  I had a plastic mug of very nice wine in my hand, and a campfire to toast my feet over.  I felt utterly content and took a self portrait.

Self portrait at sunset

Just two nights camping with friends was an idyllic break from everyday life.  These short trips usually seem to pan out like this, and it occured to me that over my many years of camping we - and our friends too - have acquired a great deal of experience.  It's a slick operation these days; we bring everything down from the loft, check it off our list, and stuff quilts and pillows into compression sacks.

Compressed quilts, sleeping bag and pillows

My cosy camping nest
Decompressed quilt, pillows and sleeping bag

We stayed at Forgewood Campsite, in Kent, close to the Sussex border.  It is a delightful site which manages to create the perfect blend of wild camping (no electicity, no caravans, campfires permitted and acres of ancient woodland to pitch in) with helpful facilities (plenty of clean showers and toilets, purpose built washing up areas and a farm shop).  When we are camping with friends we want a campsite that lets us pitch our tents together, build a fire to sit round and cook over, and has woods for the children to run free in.  Forgewood had all of this.

Olivia, coming back to camp for food

We all brought great quantities of food - both to feed our own family and to share.  On Friday night we shared vegetable curries, made at home the day before by my friend, Cathy, and reheated over the campfire.  We mopped them up with breads we had all brought with us. On the Saturday we ate salads, also made at home and brought with us, fruit, slabs of homemade cake and endless cups of tea made on the Trangias and gas stove (of the three families camping one favoured a Coleman gas stove, one favoured Trangia with a gas bottle adapter, and one favoured Trangia with the meths burner - they all work brilliantly).  That night we barbecued sausages over the campfire, and ate them with garlic bread that Cathy made.  The children then toasted marshmallows later in the evening. 

Camp kitchen
Camp kitchen

We feasted like kings all weekend - good food is a non-negotiable element of a camping trip for me.  The only thing that can improve sitting in the sunshine, drinking beer with good friends, is when there's a perfectly cooked, juicy, pork sausage (or two) to eat at the same time.

The weather is something you can't control when you're camping - you just have to prepare for it.  The whole point of camping is to get outside and ground yourself in nature - whether that may be sun, rain, warmth or a cold breeze - but there's no denying that warm sunshine is what we're all after, really.  We pitched on Friday as the rain clouds started to clear from the skies.  It was extremely windy, and we were glad to be in the shelter of the woods.  The ground was very damp, but not too muddy because of the leaf litter on the forest floor.

Dappled sunlight and wood smoke

Bunting and tent in the woods
My and Graham's tent, with added jubilee bunting

Over the evening the clouds moved further and further away, and by the time I crawled into my tent at about midnight, there were stars all over the sky.  It stayed dry for the whole weekend, and only started to rain as we brought the last of the bags in from the car, back in London on Sunday afternoon.

Beech leaves

Leaves through the tarp

No wonder I look happy in that photo - I had good friends, good food, plenty of wine and beer, and I was sitting beneath green beech trees listening to them whispering.  The weather was incredible and our dirty children were running around in the woods jumping into ditches and plotting adventures. 

Every minute of packing, driving, pitching, unpacking, putting away and washing is entirely worth it for weekends like these.

Camping - what's not to like?

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Olympic questions

British bunting
Red, white and blue bunting - up for the jubilee, and coming back very soon for the Olympics.

I was tagged by my dear friend Janine, who blogs at Chouxchouxbedoo, to carry on this Olympic meme. We don't have very long to go now - just 50 days until the Opening Ceremony. We live so close to the Olympic Park - just about 1 mile away - that the excitement around here is palpable.

1. If every day tasks were Olympic events what would you get a gold medal in?

Gold for coffee making, tidying up and writing lists. A silver currently for my bread-making, but I'm hopeful that will be gold too by this summer.

2. As a child (or now even) did you excel at a particular sport and if so which one? At my secondary school we were put into ability sets for PE and I was always in the bottom one. This did nothing to improve my sporting skills because it meant I was always playing with or against other girls as hopeless and unenthusiastic as me.  My exercise of choice these days is walking or cycling.

3. Michael Phelps (swimmer) or Michael Johnson (runner) – which sport appeals to you more?

Running appeals much more.  Swimming is the absolute pits - water up your nose, the stench of chlorine, the nasty wet floors of the changing rooms. Gah!  I used to run when I was at University, but I was never very good.  I still love watching running though - especially long-distance running and the very upright Kenyans.  I am constantly tempted to take it up again and do Parkrun regularly, but I am intimidated by the extraordinarily good running skills of my husband.  There's probably enough lycra in our house already.

4. How fast can you get out of bed and ready to go out the door if miss the alarm and sleep in?

I don't think I've ever missed an alarm in my life.  I'm pretty good at getting up in the morning; I can be up and out in about 10 minutes if I have to.

5. What fantasy sport would you like to see made into an Olympic event?

Cross country or trail running would be good to see in the Olympics; but they're real sports already.  My fantasty Olympic sport would be eyebombing.

6. Claim to fame time – Have you ever met an Olympian and who was it?

I interviewed Jonathan Edwards last year - he was charming and friendly, and had very long elegant legs.  I once queued behind Colin Jackson in the Vauxhall branch of Sainsbury's.  He smiled at me and I swooned.

7. What event in past Olympics can you remember most vividly?

I vaguely remember the Steve Ovett and Seb Coe rivalry in the 1980 Olympics.  I was only eight.  More recently I remember Cathy Freeman's win from the Sydney Olympics and Kelly Holmes's incredible double at the Athens Olympics.  All runners again - I really do like (watching) running.

8. Tuning in at home, not for me or tickets clamped ready in sweaty palms?

Just you try keeping me away!  We were lucky enough to get Athletics tickets in the very first round of ticket allocation, and since then we've also bough tickets for Handball and day tickets to the Olympic Park.  Cam is going to be performing in the Closing Ceremony, but we don't have tickets for that so we'll be watching him on the TV.  Along with 4 billion other people - oh my.  Must remember to get his hair cut in good time.

9. Who do you think most deserves a gold medal (any walk of life not just Olympians)?

Oh, so many people actually.  But right up there at the top for me are nurses - very under appreciated generally.

Welcome to London
Olympic rings greeting Eurostar arrivals at St Pancras Station

I'm going to tag Clair at Kids, Crafts and Chaos to keep this going, because I know how excited she is about the Olympics (and eyebombing!). But feel free to join in as well, and let me know if you do.