heart and home, life lessons

Birthday Blues

birthday cake

Birthdays are an odd sort of mix aren’t they?

Our childhood frames a structure around celebrations – it is our day to feel ‘Special’ where we are surrounded by our friends and family. Big parties, people showing us how much we are cared about, cake, cards and presents.  I remember lovely childhood Birthday parties – I once had a magician who pulled a live rabbit out of a hat – there was always cake and singing and that lovely glow of feeling special.


As an adult it is hard to maintain, life just isn’t like that, is it? Our friends have busy lives, family may not always be able to drop everything. We may have to go to work. The day does not revolve around us – our parents aren’t there to make it special.  Our loved one might not understand the complexities of the emotional baggage that surrounds that one day marking our entry into the world. As much as I hate to admit – Birthdays leave me in emotional turmoil every year.

Childhood memories are mixed, my Birthday was a bit of a burden arriving just after Christmas and the New Year. Aunts and Uncles would inform me that my Christmas present were more expensive than my siblings, because they had combined my Birthday and Christmas into one big gift, but I knew it was a lie. Early on, I envied siblings who had Birthdays in Spring or Summer without being overshadowed by Christmas and the New Year. It bothered me so much that I made sure my children were Spring babies!

Icing on the cake

It is surprising how much anxiety I have had over the years about celebrating my Birthday, I hate that it arrives at the one time of the year when, quite frankly, I am tired of feasting and rich food and I am all partied out. I am also aware that most people have stretched themselves to pay for Christmas – to burden everyone with yet more present giving makes me feel uncomfortable.

This is an awful situation – friends and colleagues knowing its your Birthday and wether they feel like giving you a present or a card. I am not very comfortable receiving, it is embarrassing. But what if they don’t? What if I plan a party and no-one comes, what if my friends choose to ignore it or forget about it, what sort of message is that?

With reflection most of the anxiety is down to trying to maintain the childhood celebration in an adult world – it no longer fits.

I am uncomfortable being the centre of attention – that might surprise some of my friends because I never come across as shy. But there is an awkwardness about Birthdays – there is still deeply buried  five year old girl who wants to feel special, but an adult knowing that to be honest, for everyone else it is just an ordinary day. There is also a woman that needs to feel she is connected and supported, loved and cherished.

In her book, The Simple Abundance, Sarah Breathnach writes:

We need to see life as it is, not hold ourselves captive to a vision of how it ought to be. Surrendering our expectations opens us up for the gifts of spontaneity, serendipity, enabling us to cast off old agendas of what is supposed to make us happy.

Birthdays don’t have to be celebrated in a particular way, I can escape the past and do something different! Claim the day as my own, forget the old worn out hallmark celebration- it is time to map out the day to my choosing, let it unfurl with opportunity, rather than a barbed measure of my popularity.

reading in bed

I am going to take responsibility for my own happiness; not give it away to whims and echoes of the past, or the expectations of others.  I am going to fill the day with things I love to do – most of which can be done on my own.

In a world where there never seems to be enough time – a whole day seems such a gift.

Of course you know the old wise saying about Birthdays – those who have the most Birthdays live longest.

How do you celebrate?

heart and home

Happy New Year

My Cactus was beautiful this year!

Its been a wonderful Christmas, lots of fun and laughter. My son came to stay and it was like being a family again! We were up dancing and singing until 3.30am – luckily we have no close neighbours! We opened stockings, had a 7 course lunch that started at 1 and finished at 7 with games and breaks between courses! Good friends visited, my daughter came with her husband – and we have enough chocolate to last a few weeks at least! Presents were wrapped and unwrapped, love and laughter filled our home. We were truly blessed.

Happy New Year


I do hope that 2016 is a great year, full of blessings of health wealth and happiness.

A New Year’s Reflection

Take nothing for granted

For whenever you do

The joy of enjoying

Is lessened for you.

For we rob our own lives

Much more than we know

When we fail to reflect

Or in any way show

Our thanks for our blessings

That daily are ours …

The warmth of the sun,

The fragrance of flowers,

The kind, little deeds,

So thoughtfully done,

The favours of friends

And the love that someone

Unselfishly gives us

In a myriad of ways,

Expecting no payment

And no words of praise –

Oh, great is our loss

When we no longer find

A thankful response

To the things of this kind.

For the joy of enjoying

And the fullness of living

Are reflections of the heart

That is filled with thanks giving.

Helen Steiner Rice



heart and home, Sunday Sevens

Sunday Sevens – November 8th 2015


The spattering of rain on the window, the crackle of a warm fire and the heavenly scent of spice and cinnamon wafting from the kitchen – warm blankets, cosy sofa and a good book! Welcome winter.

As you can see from the picture above -I have been playing with autumn leaves and crab apples, aren’t they delightful? Almost like fairy sized fruit!


We had friends visiting for the weekend and local friends popping over so I thought I would make a little sweet treat

baking eclairs

In no time the mixture was ready to pop in the oven

eclairs ready for cream

I love the swirly shapes made by the fluted tube

afternoon tea

They hold much more chocolate! All ready for a lovely girlie afternoon.

Natural aromatherapy

I love the scent of winter – rather than reaching for a synthetic candle

(migraines are not tolerant of synthetic aromas)

I have been bubbling cinnamon, mixed spice and apple on the warming plate (a crock pot is just as good)

The whole house is scented with warm spice and loveliness.

turmeric and ginger teaginger cordial

Winter is a time we need resistance to bugs, coughs and colds and a very dear friend is in need of pepping up so I thought I would make some ginger cordial. Ginger and Turmeric are great antivirals so the cordial should hopefully help the body fight off infections. You simply slice a large cupful of ginger (you don’t even need to peel it) add a teaspoon of turmeric, two cupfuls of sugar, zest and juice of two lemons and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer gently until it thickens approx 20 minutes. Strain the ginger and decant into bottles and store in the fridge. You can either drink with carbonated water, or warmed by adding hot water. It will keep for a month or you can freeze it into ice cubes.

Sarah Ban Breathnach

My friend P and I have been meeting regularly following this delightful course by Sarah Ban Breathnach, it is such a pleasure to take time out for self reflection; made more effective by discussing the chapters together with a kind friend. We are studying a chapter all about promises we make to ourselves (I love it when a lesson comes twice from different sources). Reflecting on how we allocate time and making a more conscious choice – the chapter ends with a lesson in listening to your intuition and being guided by it. I am really enjoying this journey and will be continuing throughout November.

Slouchy cloche

Which brings me nicely onto my crochet failure! LOL I challenged myself in October to make something from a pattern – for some reason I really can’t follow patterns. I think it is partly to do with fear and partly to do with wanting to simply stitch without having to concentrate. So it all started well – the flower was delightful and I was thrilled to have learned a different way to make flowers. But… I started the hat.. and to be honest it was a skullcap style that I was a little dubious about anyway.. by the second round I had too many stitches.. I re-read the instructions .. tried again.. but it didn’t work.. I needed an extra two stitches to close the circle.. by the third time I just ignored the pattern and did my own thing..(I was following my intuition!) Thus the slouchy cloche was created!

7-IMG_2474 slouchy cloche

It was much admired – hints were dropped about being a wonderful Christmas present so here is a sparkly version – for my sparkly friend B! I shall be making at least another three in order to keep up with the not so vague hints from admiring friends!

I will be posting the pattern on my other blog, if you fancy making your own.

These pictures don’t really do it justice – the head is a good three inches smaller in diameter than my own head! but it illustrates the point!

November reading

My November reading popped through the post – I adore Simple Things – there are so many wonderful ideas and inspiration that it is like a breath of fresh air. Talking of which, I have made weekends more of a computer free zone: while I adore browsing Pinterest I have discovered that I get over stimulated which shuts down my creativity completely. I am learning the joy of ‘white space’ in terms of peace and silence of just being. Or the delights of dog walking and collecting leaves.


It has been a long time since I had to queue outside a cinema – our local Picturedrome was full to bursting! What a great film, I really think they are getting better and better. Awesome performance from Daniel Craig, I hope it won’t be his last!

Mrs Miniver

Having read marvellous reviews on Good reads I thought I would read Mrs Miniver. I am a real old movie fan and watched the film a few months ago – it was complete propaganda with the intention of convincing the Americans to join the war. It was very typical Hollywood style – her home is enormous and not English at all – she has a dressing room that will be the envy of a lady saint, but even I began to sigh reproachfully as the film reached it’s conclusion. After seeing the film I would never have picked up the book – but the Goodreads reviews were so convincing – I gave it another chance. After all there have been many books spoiled by terrible films.

I have peeked a the first pages:

it was lovely, this settling down, taking up the tread of one’s life where the holidays, (irrelevant interlude) had made one drop it. Not that she didn’t enjoy the holidays, but she always felt – and it was perhaps the measure of her peculiar happiness – a little relieved when they were over. Her normal life pleased her so well that she was half afraid to step out of its frame in case one day she should find herself unable to get back.

I can relate entirely – while I love travelling but there is no place like home. I can’t wait to sit down all cosy this afternoon – hopefully the rain will continue to patter its little rhythm while I read.. there is so much joy in simple things don’t you agree?

Hope your weekend was full of colourful cosiness


heart and home, Sunday Sevens

Sunday Sevens (or Maybe Monday!) and the Jelly Mystery solved!

Corn Wreath

It’s time for a round up of my week – I am, which is usual for me, slow to get my head round great ideas! Sunday sevens, the invention of Nat at Threads and Bobbins is a blog round up of your week.  Somehow I thought it was about your weekend in particular Sunday, Which is why I have been posting on a Monday! Hopefully by next week I will have caught up and will be posting on the right day! lol. I have a great knack for seeing something completely differently to everyone else!

I made this corn wreath last year, with the trees slowly showing lovely golden tones, I thought it was the right time to put it up again.


I managed to solve the mystery of why my jelly did not set, having boiled it with additional pectin and it still not setting, I looked into various websites and books and finally decided to try again with more lemon juice.

As you can see the jelly did well and truly set, in fact I could have sliced it up for sweets!

Sweet crust pastry

Instead I thought I would make some jam tarts! They were the first thing I learnt to cook at school.

I have a foolproof method of making them so that the jam doesn’t bubble over and spoil.


With the left over pastry I thought I might make some little leaves


You simply bake the cases blind, these are sweet shortcrust pastry and I made them thin enough so that they would have the consistency of a shortbread biscuit.


I melted the jam on the simmering ring and then filled the cases adding the little holly autumn leaves while the jam was hot.

The jelly was quite solid still! But at least it made the tarts easy to eat.


We went to the local Art Deco Cinema to see the Suffragette film, it was excellent! Definitely worth seeing if you can. I have always voted – out of respect to those women, after watching the film I am so glad that I did. It is not too distant in History, and some would argue that we still don’t have equality, but what the film shows is just how terribly women, rich and poor, were treated by society. The film is incredible, the story is gripping from the off – I had to admit there was a silence at the end of the film as people left quietly, in pensive mood, keep a tissue handy, but do see it if you can.


On Sunday I decided to finish a small sewing project, when I saw this bright tea pot material I had the urge to make another frilly apron! It was also an excuse to use my rufflette foot.


I usually make the bottoms half circles – it makes doing any housework chore fun I used to love dressing up when I was little.


The nights are getting cooler, but there isn’t time to make curtains for the sewing room, so I was delighted to find these in a charity shop


They are a very pretty pattern – lovely little flowers


Of course it was a real pleasure to sit in front of our log fire for the first time, we have been watching the Sunday night Drama on BBC From Darkness – gripping stuff.


Susanna Signature

baking, heart and home, Sunday Sevens

The blackberry jelly mystery, #Sunday Sevens #3

After the straining I had just over a pint and a half of fruit juice

Strained juice to make jelly

After consulting my preserving book, blackberries were not high in pectin, – so I opted to use 1lb of jam sugar (pectin added) for every pint of juice, plus lemon juice.

Making fruit jelly

the jelly did look a beautiful ruby colour.

Blackberry and Elderberry Jelly

In no time at all it was all in jars ready too cool. However, the jelly did not set! oh!

so what do you think might be the cause? do let me have your thoughts!


So I moved on to my next project – I cut down a single  duvet to a small square and doubled it up.

Single duvets cost approximately £9 which is a very reasonable way to purchase soft filling.

06-IMG_2394 07-IMG_2395

I had this lovely dotty fleece and in no time my little project was ready for a test run.

dog bed

Barney was delighted with his new bed!


Mr D spotted a recipe in the newspaper – so I decided to make it for him


The mixture came together nicely


After a little kneading, it looked pretty smooth. It was a great workout, much more sensual than a gym, the dough has such a lovely feel around my fingers, the transformation was tactile – I felt the difference in the dough.

Kneading is quite a meditation in itself, and while I was doing it, I felt a connection to all housewives down the centuries who would have done this as part of their daily practice.


The warming plate is absolutely perfect to let the dough rest


and grow!

It took a couple of hours – waiting is the hardest thing about yeast baking.


then I mixed nuts, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon into a bowl


Turned out the dough


Rolled it into a flat rectangle


speed the nutty cinnamon mixture over the top


rolled into a sausage

cinnabuns ready for second rise

and left to grow again


And so, after a little effort and a lot of patience


our Cinnabuns were ready to eat.



  Susanna Signature

heart and home, weekend

Easy like Sunday Morning – Sunday Sevens ≠1

Southampton Art Gallery

I have been enjoying the Sunday Sevens of other bloggers and thought i would join in the fun. Its the idea of Natalie at Threads and Bobbins (What a fab site!). It gives such a lovely glimpse into peoples lives – I really enjoy catching up with Sunshine and Celadines, Making and Marking and Bekki at Dartmoor Yarns – its the blogging equivalent of peeking over the garden fence!

Wasn’t it a fantabulous weekend thankfully the Sunshine Returned! Saturday I went on my usual 6 weekly visit to see my Son in Southampton, he manages a Hairdressing Salon and we combine his hairdressing talents and a general  catch up – usually ending with a lovely meal or we head off dancing together. Southampton is my home town and it is always interesting to see it with new eyes. I arrived in good time to be able to visit the Art Gallery – this fountain is situated right at the entrance – I remember playing in it as child!

Rhinestone Rhino

This sparkling creation was in the lobby, it was full size!

Not quite a disco ball!

getting to grips with the Aga

We have been in our new home a month, I have always wanted a home with an Aga, and this little beauty is living up to my dreams. Whenever we enter the house, it feels so warm and welcoming. There are four ovens, warming, slow cooking, baking and roasting. The top has a warming plate, a boiling plate and a simmering plate.

Sunday Baking

On Sunday morning, I thought I would  try out the baking oven – I had been told that they are great for cake making, as the ovens are a very even heat. We used a thermometer to get the balance right and the baking oven stays about 180, the simmering oven is about 140 and the roasting oven is about 210.

new scales

I found these beautiful vintage scales in a charity shop – they came complete with a full set of weights. They are perfect for me as usually cook in imperial measurements – pounds and ounces -just call me an old fashioned girl.

Victoria Sandwich

We get our eggs from a wonderful local organic farm – I love seeing all the chickens roaming freely in the fields.

The large eggs are often double yolkers – all three were so I reduced the eggs in the recipe,  they are

a wonderful deep yellow.

weekend reading

Cakes in the oven – it was time for a cuppa,

Using a whistling kettle takes me back to my childhood days, long before electric kettles were the norm.

The warming hob is the perfect place for the teapot – it stays at the perfect temperature for a good second or third cuppa.

I caught up with a little weekend reading, while the cakes baked.

Country living is one of my all time favourites – the photography is blissful I often cut up the pictures and use them for vision boards or inspiration.

Victoria Sponge

 In no time the cakes were cooked – they seemed to bake evenly with no soggy bottoms!

tea and cake

A slice or two to check the cake was ok – Mr D enjoyed his slice.

The golden caster sugar gives it a caramel colour, and the flavour is more rounded, I just use a bit of raspberry jam.

unpacking the studio

We are moving in gradually – the studio shelves have arrived so I spent some time unpacking

studio shelves

In no time at all the shelves were full! might need some overflow storage!

winter flowers

There were a few empty flower containers – so i decided to pot up some winter pansies

winter pansies

They are such pretty flowers – I think violets are my favourite they vary in colour from yellows to purples.

my crop

My gardening skills won’t be risking our veg box delivery – this is the sum total of my tomato crop!

cupcake welcome

My lovely daughter and son in law popped round for lunch – she made us some welcome home cupcakes!

a relaxing swim

I am enjoying our lovely pool – ending the working day with a swim is divine we can watch the sun setting over the trees.

time for a soak

Then it is time for a good book and a good soak, just in case I am not wet enough!

Have a lovely week.

ttfn x

heart and home

Farewell my friend

Gus a very gentle loving Staffie Gus was 8 years old when he arrived at my door, he was supposed to meet a new owner but they refused to let him in when they discovered he was a Staffie. The lady from the South Coast Staffie Rescue had gone to a lot of trouble so I invited them in for a cup of tea, this dog sat up on his back legs and begged with his front paws and never left.

Staffie are gentle dogs

I hadn’t lived alone since I was 18, when he came into my life I was so lonely, but his gentle playfulness brought me out of myself. Working from home I rarely left my flat until he came along, he was so good at getting me out every day. They don’t deserve the reputation – as the vet told me this week – Staffies are very low down the list of incidents with Golden Retrievers being the highest. Gus was the gentlest dog I had ever known and if you are considering a dog please give them a chance.

He had a passion for football, and would enjoy playing with the ball unfortunately the balls would not last long. Once he heard the noise of a ball he would be off like a rocket. I once had to apologise to two very lovely rugby players when Gus took their ball and ripped it to shreds in front of them, thinking he was playing the game. He loved Christmas or Birthdays, helping people unwrap presents gave him enormous pleasure.

Gus - Staffie
Gus two weeks ago

He had a lot of strength, and would often try and pick up the longest heaviest log he could find! He really liked to play fetch – we kept our local Pet Shop in business because frisbees and balls did not have a long life.

Gus began to struggle to go to the loo recently,  I took him to the vets, they gave him some antibiotics and probotic fibre to help him. However things did not improve so he had X-rays and ultrasound under anasthetic on Thursday. Unfortunately the results showed his prostrate was misshapen and huge and the neck of the bladder was also affected – there wasn’t anything they could do to improve things. The vet said he was incredibly heathy apart from this one area.

Walking the dog,

I took him home and we spent the evening and the night together, I told him how grateful I was for him being in my life. I knew things weren’t right when he wasn’t interested in playing fetch – which was his favourite game.

As much as I wanted him around  I had to do what was right for him. The next day I took him back to the vets, it was a beautiful sunny day so we drove with the roof of the car down, he sat up straight with a big grin enjoying the sunshine on his face and the wind blowing through the car. I stayed with him to the end, cradling his head and looking into his eyes telling him how much I loved him. It was the hardest thing I have ever done.

I am beside myself with grief – I have lost a loyal, gentle soul and life won’t be the same without him.

heart and home, home made, recipe

Natural Migraine Relief Remedy – Elderflower cordial

13-Elderflower cordial -010 I am a frequent migraine sufferer – they appear suddenly sometimes lasting as long as two weeks. I have tried several different ‘cures’ and  spent a great deal of time investigating various solutions. While medication is the only thing that allows me some respite, I was delighted to read in my book, The Natural Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Plants, that the Elderflower can help with migraine. It makes sense, often during a debilitating attack the nausea is so bad that I can only tolerate small sips of lemonade, so elderflower would be a welcome alternative.

Elderflower plants

As I was wondering along the lovely hedgerows in the last few weeks I spotted a huge number of these plants in flower – they are tall bushes, the tiny flowers are in flat topped clusters and the leaves are usually in fives. If you get closer to the plant, especially this month when they are at the height of flower, you will notice their distinctive delicate scent. (It is always good to be sure about any foraged plant so make sure you know what they smell like).

elder flowers

These are the tiny elderflowers, they have pretty small blooms, each flower has five petals with pale yellow five pointed stamens around a yellow centre. Pick them when they are fully open, not green (in bud) or brown (gone over), best around mid to late afternoon when the dew has gone and their scent is at its height. Pick from waist height and above, taking care not to strip one plant bare of blooms, there should be plenty of plants to choose from.

You should not wash the elderflowers  it is good practice to gather them in a wicker basket, then lay the flowers out on a tray for a couple of hours in the sunshine if you can- it allows all the little creatures to escape and find alternative accommodation.

elderflower Recipe

You don’t need expensive ingredients:

For every pint (600ml) water add

1 large unwaxed lemon washed (zest and then simply cut into slices)

1lb 10oz (750g) of granulated sugar

2 1/2 table spoons of citric acid.

10-Elderflower cordial -007

Surprisingly citric acid is difficult to get hold of, Chemists will only sell small quantities if they sell any at all. It is used in winemaking so brewing shops might sell it. I bought mine at Lakeland – but I was emphatically informed by the staff,  I could only have three small sachets due to government restrictions. Thankfully the vintage dress and straw hat I was wearing was enough to convince staff  I was not a bomb maker nor a drug dealer, so they passed over the citric acid to me without complaint, although it did make me feel somewhat subversive!  Mr D spent his time pretending not to know me in case I needed more than my allocated 3 and he could pose as another customer, luckily one sachet was enough for my recipe, so he did not need to jump into action!

A basketfull of elderflowers

The recipe called for 7 flower heads – however I wanted to make the most of the properties of this plant so used a basket full of elderflowers and used three times the quantities mentioned to make three pints of cordial.

14-Elderflower cordial -011

The method is straightforward:

Put the sugar and water into a large preserving pan, heat slowly until the sugar has dissolved. You will notice that the liquid goes suddenly clear. Turn off the heat.

Add the lemon zest, sliced lemons, citric acid and finally the elderflowers, stir gently.

Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to stand for at least 24 hours. I started my cordial off about 9pm on a Friday evening and left it until Sunday. (giving it a little stir and poke now and then!)

05-Elderflower cordial -002

I also put my glass bottles into a cold oven and then switched it on to about a gas mark 4 for around half an hour. It is essential that the glass goes into a cold oven and is brought slowly up to temperature otherwise you might end up with shattered glass. After the oven has reached its temperature, turn it off and leave the bottles in there to go cold, until you are ready to decant your cordial.

02-Elderflower cordial -001

It is vital that you strain the liquid through a fine mesh muslin, or a jelly bag. It is not pleasant trying to drink liquid with little bits of flower (or the odd bug or two!).

I did my first strain through a colander lined with some fine net, but still had the odd debris, so ended up using a funnel and filter paper from my coffee machine. It ended up pretty clear.

elderflower Cordial label

It is a great idea to label your bottles as soon as you have bottled it up – it is surprising how one clear liquid can look exactly the same as another! I made these labels so feel free to right click and download if you want to use them. They are scaleable.

01-Elderflower cordial

I serve mine with a good quantity of sparkling water as it is very sweet.

They make lovely gifts and will last up to 3 months in the fridge or in a cupboard stored away from sunlight. The citric acid works as a preservative as does the sugar quantity.

If you wish to keep the cordial longer – simply pop it into ice cube trays and transfer to a freezer bag once frozen. (Its a good idea to label it too, as one block of ice looks very much like another! as I have often discovered. It might look like a frozen egg white but doesn’t beat up the same when making meringue!)

It is a wonderful accompaniment poured over ice cream or you can poach peaches in the syrup for its delicate floral essence.


I’ll let you know how I get along with the migraine solution when I get my next bout!

ttfn. x

17-Elderflower cordial -014

Adventures, heart and home

Weekend Adventures, Markets and Theatres

Isn’t waking up on a Sunday morning blissful? A whole day stretching ahead with no demands on my time or appointments to keep. Right now I am still tucked up in bed, laptop resting on knees, dog curled at my feet, (his peaceful snoring is somehow mediative) and a cup of herbal tea within reach.


Mr D cooked all day yesterday, while the sun shone brightly, his culinary efforts for us to wander off and picnic down by the river today. While the sun has to penetrate the grey clouds, we are resolute to  but perhaps in the shelter of the car!

Last week I spent a heavenly long weekend in the Cotswolds – the weather was glorious and Broadway was teeming with tourists! Spring is not far away! It’s good to get away from the flat and work for a while; the dog enjoys the walled garden of our little cottage and his freedom to meander in and out without being escorted at all times!

We travelled further to Birmingham to visit friends on the Saturday and I had the pleasure of wandering the rag market where I bought some fantabulous lace and trimmings – the jewelled colours suggestive of Indian origins. There was a hodgepodge of jostling stalls selling fabric, jewellery, hosiery, bags, clothing and kitchenware it was a cacophony of bustle and banter.

Mr D revelled in the food market, while I took in the sights of a busy ethnic emporium: huge calf feet, chickens that still resembled the original creature heads and and feet intact, ( I admit to a certain horrific fascination!) as well as authentic Chinese food, packchoi, noodles and odd looking crackers.  I loved the bustle and hustle of the shouts from the traders as they offered their wares. How much richer is this experience than our supermarket isles.  The fish counter was a sight to behold! Glassy eyes and open mouthed fish, their scales sparkling among the beds of ice, prepared and ready for cooking.  Mr D bought two  Tuna fish steaks, served to him quickly and efficiently – delicious the next day still tasting of the sea!

We satisfied the hunger all the food has created,  in a nearby noodle bar.  I felt as if we had travelled to a distant country; this was not familiar Chinese take away food or the elegance of a Chinese Restaurant, rather the flavour of street food,  steamy bowls of soup, floating wonton noodles and scalding green tea in plastic beakers. The place was packed – with lots of Chinese – enhancing the sense of authenticity, while the tiny waitresses weaved efficiently between the tables, balancing huge steaming bowls of food in deep reds, pale yellows and fluffy white. I ate a whole dish of pack choi – glazed in salty oyster sauce, it feels like soul food, and sublimely delicious.

Boy in the Striped Pyjamas 1

I have been to the theatre three times in 10 days! My dear friend N and I went to see the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas at Chichester Festival Theatre. The Book was so cleverly written – a perspective of the holocaust from a naive ten year old boy, has enabled school children everywhere to understand a little of this dark period in history. It is called a fable – a tale to include a warning – an apt description.

I was intrigued to see how the play would retain the strength of the boy’s narrative on the stage;  it was very well done.  The bleakness of the location was creatively accomplished – the clack of  typewritten script introducing various elements of the story together with black and white projections of trains, and ghettos.

The genius of Boyne’s writing remained in the stage play, the boy referred to an important man called ‘The Fury’ and the bleak home was in a place called ‘Out with’  The book itself never confirms what it is all about, rather allows the reader to make their own conclusions.

Boy in the Striped Pyjamas 2

The two young actors were outstanding, the main character in particular was on stage throughout the whole play, (to maintain the story form his perspective) – he never faltered. The  brilliantly played adults slow unravelling at being in such a difficult position was at the periphery of the story, as it would be in the eyes of child.

A sad, multi layered  bleak tale – one that did leave me a little tearful.  A fable indeed,   the hope that we will tear down the walls we build – to protect us from … the muslims, immigrants, you name it. (its all too easy.) The stark warning at the end of the fable “surely this would never happen again’ tolls a loud in my ears. When I taught this book in schools we only had to look at a few newspaper headlines to see how fences and walls are well and truly tall and rigid today.

A night of Dirty Dancing

I went to see A Night of Dirty Dancing at the Regent Theatre Thursday last, which was an entirely different matter! The young performers put so much energy into the story of Baby and Johnny’s romance. Comic performances and tremendous singing combined to have us laughing and tapping our feet in no time. There was quite a lot of ‘suggestive’ dancing, bare chest and six pack exposure that had my heart racing a little – until horror of horrors I realised they were the same age as my son! (at that point I did feel approximately 100 years old!)  Thankfully the upbeat music, and the dancing soon had me tapping my feet again and we both left the Theatre with beaming smiles!

As we chatted amiably about this and that in the carpark, we watched the actors loading up their van and heading off to the next town. I have to admire these young performers, it must be an arduous and lonely life.

Jeeves and wooster

Mr D and I enjoyed an evening with Bertie Wooster as he told the tale – The Code of the Woosters.

Jeeves is giving us his version of events at Totleigh Towers, when he was despatched to steal a cow-shaped silver jug. The problem is that Bertie has only two actors at his disposal. This leads to a sustained send-up of theatrical conventions with joke props, a bicycle used to propel the revolving stage and lightning costume-changes. The fun reaches its high point when Matthew Macfadyen, who starts as the imperturbable Jeeves, is asked simultaneously to impersonate an overbearing old buffer, Sir Watkyn Bassett, and the unequivocally feminine Stiffy Byng. With equal resourcefulness, Mark Hadfield is required to switch from the imposing Aunt Dahlia to the incipient dictator, Roderick Spode, who comes equipped with a Hitlerian moustache and an extendable fascist mac. (see full review here)

It was hilarious, the comic capers as the two butlers try their best to play a host of characters while at the same time producing great stage setting had me giggling at the off.

Bertie tells his tale, while the story comes to a halt now and then as the limits of the casting gives a moments hesitation and the resulting overcoming of these obstacles are achieved rapidly – I think my favourite was a scene where one actor plays two roles having an argument. It is achieved by him wearing a dress on his right and a suit on his left!

If any of these come on tour near you, they are well worth seeing.

Is that a shaft of sunlight peeping through the bedroom curtains?

Happy Sunday

…. ttfn x

Adventures, blogging, heart and home, promoting, published, writing

A little bit of honesty and hopeful encouragement about blogging

I am going out on a limb today, try to write honestly about my roller coaster relationship with blogging. Bekki (at the Creativity Cauldron) has some great advice about asking questions during creative process,  I find this is a marvellous strategy especially when I am encountering blocks.

I have been struggling with this blog recently, mostly because I feel torn in several directions:

When I first started my blog I wanted it to be an authentic space, where I can express who I am.

Over and above that was an opportunity for interaction with others –  to have a discussion about the things that matter to me.

Since I wrote stories in school, I had a passion to be a published writer – back then it would have been an incredible feat; now it is easy.

It still gives me a little thrill to click a button that says publish! I can get my writing out there for people to read: how great is that? To be noticed – to have an audience. I want it out there.

My little web within this massive world wide web that says

hello this is me

But…After a few months I realised I want a successful blog, I would read other blogs and notice that they had hundreds of followers, or comments!

(Comments were as rare as hens teeth  on my blog for well over a year!)

Isolated among the world of bloggers

It was not enough to write and be published, I wanted a response and so  I had to get my voice heard, attract followers, get noticed – get something back.

With all this connectivity, it was no longer talking within my circle of friends, or at my local ladies group or even in my community.  its like getting my voice heard globally, among the whole world of blogs, and honestly, sometimes I feel as if I am competing to be heard – while everyone in the world is singing ‘I’d like to teach the wold to sing’ (you have to be a certain age to remember that coca cola advert!).

I started to read about blogging, actually laying out funds for books like…. ‘In order to have a successful blog I should be doing…. x y z’ – or an on line course… your guide to the first 1000, followers.. after reading all these my blog felt like a job in itself and not the fun I thought it would be.

The advice suggested my blog should be different:

  • I needed to focus on one subject matter.
  • I should be mindful that people needed to be motivation to read my blog, I had to give them a reason to read.

My blog was no longer about me and my voice but pleasing everyone else..  you know the saying … you end up pleasing no-one and driving yourself crazy in the process.

sigh – back to the initial question,

Why am I writing a blog?

(I made a mind map…using colourful felt tip pens, a big piece of paper and a great deal of writing I came up with a few reasons)

One of the first thoughts was that blogging has dented my confidence at times.

While my circle of friends are encouraging about my creative endeavours enough for me to want to share it with the world, it has been daunting.

There are lots of talented people on the web, with quantifiable numbers of blog followers blinking away on screen. There are times when my efforts looks so small, especially when its followed by a deafening silence.

I realised I need a strategy to make me more resilient to maintain a balance and perspective. Nothing more than a way to re-frame thinking and curbing my competitive nature so that I still feel I have something to add to this global creative soup.

I need a strategy

Advice tells me to stick to one subject yet I resist; restricting my blog to a specific theme goes against my desire to express myself feely – yet it does make logical sense. I would not like to pick up a magazine on crafts and find articles about motor bike repairs!

I live a varied life, with many interests – narrowing my blog means choosing!  Do I start multiple blogs about different aspects of my life?.. that would require a lot more time and makes me feel exhausted just thinking about it.

The process highlights that I need to separate the business aspect of my life, to support my classes and my writing. It thrills me that students ask for details of my blog but I hesitate because it is so personal. So I shall be maintaining a blog about my sewing – and maybe a second for all that is left over.

This questioning session has been useful, I need to create a balance -decide how much of my time and effort I wish to give to this process realistically. There is only so much time you can spend recording and cataloguing your life rather than simply living it. This post itself has taken me the best part of a working day to compose.

The overwhelming conclusion of all this pondering is that I love blogging, despite its ups and downs.

I read a lot of inspirational blogs that are thankfully honest about their journey; they have written posts about how difficult it is at the beginning.  Some have generously shared their process. Some allow a peek behind the scenes to a more balanced perspective from the blog ‘shop window’ with their beautiful photography, lives of blissful creativity and blog following counter in three figures. (Numbers are so quantifiable that it is hard to resist the comparison)

As  I follow other people’s blogs I am privy to these lives, I learn about the positive pregnancy test, the trips to tea rooms and valentines meals, the creative up cycling or revamping, the adorable crochet hat for a newborn nephew.

A notification about a new post, feels like hearing from a distant acquaintance – over time a new type of friendship develops as I follow the journey they are on. Their advice or experience is often a nugget of wisdom that carries me forward on my journey. Can I really have that type of relationship with thousands of followers?

Blogging transcends borders and is a pleasant place to hop around the globe! 

I can read about women in other countries enjoying the same small joys of living every day, in a different climate or culture; they are usually upbeat. We all struggle, we all strive for greatness and we deserve to tell our story.

Reading blogs is positive, for example Jen was posting on her blog (Make do and Mend) about the little libraries set up in her village, it is such a delightful idea. Reading about these positive things creates a balance towards the wonderful things that are happening in this world – an alternative to the catastrophic dismal tirade that is ‘News’.

In this enormous crowded world wide web where it can be surprisingly lonely – I have been profoundly encouraged by my blog readers, especially when they take the time to comment.

It is with that in mind that I try to do the same, because I know how much those few words at the end of a post mean.

In writing this honest account of my struggles, I hope that it encourages others who might wrestle with their blog, or their creativity – to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Perhaps  someone else is reading this and has strategies that has helped them overcome these barriers, I hope they are willing to share here or point me in the right direction.

No matter what, it feels good to be writing and pressing that little button ‘publish’.