Archives for category: this and that

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What a pleasure to visit Florence which made a change from the dynamic but run-down southern Italy. We stayed at the same youth hostel that I stayed at 18 years ago as a student. Either it had grown shabbier or I had grown up – but it was clean and safe and we enjoyed the faded glamour of an 15th-century villa. The girls made friends with the carved elephant banisters which they named ‘Elmer and Ellie of Florence’. I was delighted to see the Duomo which appeared like a dramatic black and white ink drawing and I loved its clean, sharp lines which contrasted with the colour and excitement in Florence whether it was the carousel, the ice-creams or the exuberant albeit slightly sickly pastries. It was fantastic to climb the 463 stairs to the top of the Duomo: its dome is made of two ‘skins’ (or domes) and you climb in a narrow space between the two domes to spectacular views.

Florence was our final destination before heading home after our adventurous holiday with many memories to process.

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August holidays: and we went backpacking with the children to Italy, taking only what we could carry in our rucksacks we headed off for Rome, the Bay of Naples and Florence.

I’ve a kaleidoscope of impressions of age, grandness and decay. The English romantics went to see Rome’s glorious decay in the eighteenth century and 300 years later, it has progressed further. It was a shock to wander out of our apartment and look down our street to see mammoth pillars that are 2000 years old at The Forum and to marvel at how enormous they actually are. We rushed off to see the Sistine Chapel suitably attired as men, women and children have to cover their knees and shoulders. It was very sweet to see Isabel, aged 8, in one of my skirts. As we stood in the queue being harassed by touts, the realisation hit us that it really was a four-hour wait in the baking sun. It was a bitter pill to accept but I had to admit defeat and that I wouldn’t be able to see Michelangelo’s paintings. Water fountains are situated through the city and run with fresh water, courtesy of the Romans, so we cooled down and found a street cafe to eat delicious pizza which brought back the sense of contentment. I gloried in the colours and drama, graffiti and mess of this crazy city although Isabel took one look at the Colosseum and dismissed it, “It’s broken.”

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First day of the holidays - 'suping' in Sweden (surf upright)

First day of the holidays – ‘SUP’ in Sweden (surf upright)

Early morning swims

Early morning swims

Canoeing, exploring and picnics

Canoeing, exploring and picnics

A dream treehouse with pulley system to kitchen

A dream treehouse with a pulley system to the kitchen

Cousins

Cousins

An arty sessions

An arty session with Granny Lin

We have recently returned from a fantastic visit to Sweden to see my brother, Anna and their children after three long years. It had been such a hectic and emotional time with the end of the school year and when we got there we could stop, breathe and unwind. When my children woke up early they crept out into the dappled sunlight to find a dream treehouse built by Andy for his girls. They climbed up and explored. Elva woke up and called out, “Papa, papa there are people in my treehouse.” “They are your cousins!” Nomi who is only three then asked plaintively, “Papa, papa where are MY cousins?” The children reunited and we all relaxed in beautiful Sweden enjoying the incredible sense of clear blue skies, open horizons, outdoor living and our wonderful family.

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My brother Andrew Kerr has spent the last 8 months working on an app where children ‘choose a colour’ on an iPad or iPhone and finger paint a dinosaur. They can then pose and take a photo of themselves with their dinosaur that they have just painted.

Please download this free app and rate it and help make it happen so that the ratings and comments do well on this weekend’s BIG Launch. Just click on Let’s-paint-dinosaurs.

The first three dinosaurs are free and for this weekend  T-Rex is free as well.

To rate it – you need to download it, then go back to the link, and you can write something and give some stars. This follows his first dinosaur app Dinosaur Zoo a couple of years ago which consistently won ‘Best kid app’ awards and got five-star ratings on the Apple App store.

The photos are of my cute little nieces ‘playing’ with dad’s dinosaurs.

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There are so many free foods during spring that I want to introduce three of the most accessible and common ones. And here’s the challenge, if you have never foraged before, pick one and use it this month of May.

wild garlicWild Garlic: This is my favourite and the unmistakable garlic smell makes me think of Cornish holidays and woodland walks. Look for it in damp woods with its broad, spear-like leaves and white star-like flowers in a rounded umbel. It starts popping up in March and in April to June it is in flower. You can eat the leaves and the flowers, just chop them up and add to omelettes, risottos and salads or my favourite – wild garlic pesto. Click on this link for the wild garlic pesto recipe.

jackbyhedgeJack-by-the-hedge: This is a very unassuming little hedgeside plant which can be mistaken for a weed but it is perfect if you like garlic in moderation. It can grow up to 70cm in height and its leaves are bright green and slightly toothed. During April to June it has small white flowers. I like to eat it with cheese sandwiches or roughly chopped on a frittata. You can also throw it into a salad.

nettlesNettles: Easy to identify and very prickly! I love eating them as I can take revenge on all the times they have stung me. Wear gloves to pick them and to wash them and eat them early in the season as after June they don’t taste so good. Before cooking them, remove the rougher stems and then make nettle soup.

Nettle Soup from Hedgerow Harvest

  • 1/2 carrier bag of nettles – tops or young leaves
  • 2oz butter
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 1 crushed clove or garlic
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 pints of good stock – vegetable or chicken
  • 2 medium chopped potatoes
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons of cream or crème fraîche
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:
Wash the leaves thoroughly.
Melt the butter in a pan and sweat the chopped onion and garlic until soft but not brown (approx 10 minutes).
Add stock, potatoes and all leaves.
Bring to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are cooked.
Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and add the cream.
Put the mixture into the blender and blitz it.
Return to pan, reheat and serve.
Garnish with a swirl of cream and chopped herbs e.g. parsley or chives.

Let me know which green you tried this month. And if you are inspired, I can highly recommend the Hedgerow Harvest courses.

Please remember never to take plants from private gardens or communally owned areas and just take a few from woodlands. Never pick something you can’t identify and don’t pick wild foods from hedgerows near heavy traffic or if agricultural sprays have been applied to fields. It is sensible not to pick low-growing leaves along paths popular with dog walkers!

Easter blog

Wishing you all a very happy Easter. Click the link below to see the Easter story in Lego using stop-start animation by my son Nicholas (aged 10). It is well worth the click!

http://youtu.be/3pfksAkZMcE

We have recently returned from a glorious week in Cornwall. It is definitely one of my favourite places with rocky coasts, dramatic scenery, pebbles, sea and quirky shops. This week my mum joined us for a few days at the cottage Mill Farm and created some artworks with my two daughters Izzie (age 8) and Hattie (age 5). I am so impressed with the results and can’t wait to frame them to remember our holiday. Below is my mum’s artistic story from her blog – www.limetreesstudio.com

15-03-14- Izzy & Hattie painting72jpg15-03-14- Izzy's painting4-72 15-03-14- Hattie's painting2-7215-03-14- Hattie painting2-72 Lin Kerr: I arrived for the long weekend in Cornwall with two sheets of sturdy paper which had been rollered with gesso. 2-3 layers on the front and 2 on the back is ideal. Izzy helped gesso them and this gave her some enthusiasm for the idea of painting the cottage before we left. The sheets are masking-taped to boards and acrylics are at hand.

First we talked about all the details, counted the windows, kept running up to look behind the wall etc. Then they were each given a waterproof marker and began to draw. I left them alone for this although now and again we chatted about what we could see. Hattie asked me to draw the lock on the green door on the far right.
We used really diluted acrylic for the roof and wall. (I mixed all the colours as it wasn’t practical to let them loose with my artist quality acrylics.)

15-03-14- Izzy's painting3-72The girls cut up a gardening magazine for the grass and flowers. Izzy insisted on no flowers. We discovered that if you glue sideways with the PVA against the grain it gets wrinkled. I painted more glue over all the magazine bits to waterproof them. That evening I stuck masking tape over all the windows and doors and around the house for the next stage. I used my scalpel and the paper is so strong that you can cut and peel off the excess masking tape in situ.
15-03-14- Izzy's painting2stage 3-72We added some salt and a touch of colour to the white and painted the walls, going over the marking tape edges. We carefully peeled the masking tape off together. Then the girls helped mask the roof and edges to paint the sky. The sky was done with a cut-off bit of kitchen sponge with very watery acrylic. Dabbing it with kitchen roll created clouds. Izzy needed to add a bit of hedge on the left. We did the paintings in stages over three days.
15-03-14- Izzy's painting1-7215-03-14- Hattie's painting1-72Hattie added the yellow lichen to the roof and painted the doors green.

Some thoughts about children’s art:

  • A lot of the ‘teaching’ is talking about the subject and observing details, differences in colour etc.
  • The other major aspect is providing fabulous materials and interesting techniques as the work progresses.
  • I always start with drawing using a tool that can’t be erased. Then they just have to get on with it and can’t rub out, ending up with a sad child, and a grubby, otherwise blank sheet with a hole in it!
  • It’s important to snatch it away before it gets overworked (in the nicest possible way of course).
  • Artwork can also be made to look beautiful by taking care and being creative with the display, or by framing it at home.
  • Children really respond to having their work appreciated.
20s party2

Shutter priority, ISO 400, Aperture 4.5, Speed 1/4.

A slow shutterspeed

A slow shutter speed with a tripod capture the fun and atmosphere of the Charleston

One of my friends has just celebrated the big four oh and did so in style by arranging a 1920s Charleston Workshop with an instructor. Everyone entered into the spirit and after a number of frantic phone calls, visits to charity shops and begging, borrowing and stealing we were transformed. I was asked to be the photographer which can be a little nerve-wracking but after my recent course, I was up for capturing some motion blur as well the atmosphere of the party.

The lovely Rhoda instrusts us all

The lovely Rhoda instructs us all

Another triumph for Ali and Nicola

Another baking triumph for Ali and Nicola!

In the previous post I explained step-by-step how to create a limewashed effect on a piece of furniture. I thought you may like to see a before and after photo of the bedstead. Nick’s room has been transformed and appears much lighter and airier now.

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Before limewash effect

After limewash effect

After limewash effect

 

 

LW - introI haven’t been able to part with my childhood bedsteads but the time had come to finally stop dreaming about restoring them and do it. I wanted a limewash effect and the first stage was to remove all the old varnish. I spoke to my local stripper and he was horrified at the varnish as it had to be stripped by hand rather than by being dipped into chemicals so I daren’t tell him that it was me that applied it 20 years ago! It was a laborious job and costly but finally I was back to bare wood and delighted to discover the bedsteads were oak which is the best wood for limewashing as it has an open grain.

Step 1: I gave the boards a light wipe with a damp cloth to remove the dust from the stripping.

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Step 1: Oak bedstead with varnish removed and returned to it ‘raw’ state

Step 2: This was a scary stage because I was working on raw wood and there was no going back if I hated it or messed up. With a diluted mixture of Annie Sloan’s Chalk Paint (Old White) and water I applied the paint with a brush (an ordinary paint brush) ensuring the strokes were in all directions. I then rubbed the paint in circular movements to remove the strokes using a rag. Old bed sheets work well as rags. Using a dampened second rag, I removed any excess paint. You need to be confident in your movements and ensure you can’t see any paint strokes and also ensure that you rub the paint into the grain to get the effect of liming. Work fairly quickly so that the paint doesn’t dry. Wipe off the excess paint several times until you have achieved the look you are after. Work in small sections at a time. Allow the wood to dry overnight before sanding.

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Step 2: Apply paint with strokes going in all directions

LW - step4b layer

Step 2: Rub paint with a rag, removing all paint strokes

LW - step4c layer

Step 2: Remove excess paint with a rag

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Step 2: Central panel completed

Step 3: Using a fine sandpaper, I lightly sanded the whole surface. This removes extra paint and also softens the appearance.

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Step 3: Wood is lightly sanded after first layer of limewashing

Step 4: Paint again. Yes – go through Step 2 doing the whole surface again to add depth and to ensure you are getting the paint into the grain of the wood. Make sure you work carefully and wipe any blobs of paint before they dry as a drip running down a leg will not enhance the limewash effect. It is a good idea to check about an hour after you have finished in case any paint ran once you were finished. Allow the wood to dry overnight.

Step 5: Sand again – sore fingers and tired wrists but you are getting there.

Step 6: With a tiny amount of wax ( it is far easier to add more wax than remove it) on a clean rag start rubbing over the surface of the wood. Ensure you rub the wax into the paint completely and remove the excess wax before allow it to sit overnight. It will start to have a silky smooth surface and will feel lovely under your fingertips. I used ‘Annie Sloan Soft Wax (Clear)’

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Step 6: Waxed bedstead

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Step 6: Detail of waxed bedstead

Step 7: Give the wood another quick light sanding.

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Materials used

Step 8: Wipe the wood with a cloth impregnated with wax to buff it up and to give it the perfect finish.

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Detail of comparison of before and after limewashing

Hooray – all done. My bedsteads lived in the studio for about 2 months as I did a little at a time but I’m delighted with the results. I just daren’t tell Martin the stripper that there is a matching pair waiting to be stripped. A job for another day!

Tips
Start on an unimportant section.
A greyer appearance is part of limewashing.
Don’t rush it but rather do a bit everyday.
Have a picture of limewashing to keep referring back to.
Ensure you rub away the paint strokes properly. I didn’t the first time (see photos below) and this meant I had to sand very hard to rescue the wood.
These are two useful website links about limewashing:
www.bestfurniturepaint.com – Explains the ‘dangers’ of wax
www.anniesloan.com – Tips from Annie Sloan about limewashing. She has created a stronger effect than I wanted.

LW - step2 first layer

What can go wrong if you don’t rub away the brushstrokes

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Detail of what can go wrong!

New Year2The guests have flown home, the decorations are back in the loft, the gifts have found homes except for this one – exquisitely wrapped using a black feather and a twig dipped in gold paint. A new year has begun.

I reviewed my goals from last year and was pleased that I had mostly met them. I’ve knitted my cushion and completed the woodland information panel but the biggest goal was returning to work as a designer. I started working much earlier than I had anticipated – in February 2013 rather than in September. It has been extremely rewarding and interesting although I have less time for my own creative work which means I haven’t done as much photography as I would like and nor have I created the artwork ‘Snap – a lost village’.

Other creative highlights in 2013 have been going on a monoprint course with Lin Kerr, taking on more freelance work, creating mini calendars again and challenging myself to buy nothing new for a month.

This year my creative goals are to increase my freelance graphic design business, to use my camera more often and to do a refresher camera course. I’ll also aim to visit an art gallery or ‘creative place’ once a month.

bags bags3Forget the turkey stuffing, the Christmas cake kit (still in its box), the gifts unwrapped because it is time to meet friends. We meet up every few weeks obstensively to sew, knit and learn skills from each other but more importantly it is about supporting each other, laughing, sometimes shedding a tear or two and living life together. (And its cheaper that a psychologist!) I have used this quote before but it still stands true:  ‘I lived outside community, I lived without a tribe. I needed women to listen to my pain and honour my tears. Then I needed women to tell me it was time to dry my tears… and do something. I needed women to grab my hands and say, “Let’s pray about this”. I needed women to tell me to rent a silly film and laugh hysterically. I needed women to say “Celebrate! Go shopping!” The best thing I ever did was tiptoe out of isolation and join the circle of women.’

Normally we work on our own projects but for fun we had a Christmas project again – remember the button wreaths last year? This year it was clasp bags – they looked so professional but with a little tuition from Ali we were delighted to each make our own so they’ll be the ‘must-have school-gate accessory’. Thanks Ali for opening your home and sharing your talents.

Visit this site to buy the clasp and pattern.

Sew the 'pouch' and glue in the clasp - it really isn't too difficult!

Sew the ‘pouch’ and glue in the clasp – it really isn’t too difficult!

pub4 pub5pub1 pub2 pub3It is always a pleasure to discover a new eatery that encompasses great design and tasty food which is just what we found at Jacobs Inn. The pub has recently been rejuvenated when Damion and Johnny of Jacobs & Field delicatessen took over The Red Lion Pub. The sign has been relegated to the chicken’s coop where it looks pretty cool and definitely sets the tone. Jacobs Inn is a mixture of quirky touches such as a bowler hat on a mounted deer head, candles, bottles filled with lights and old enamel signs (my favourite). I love the retro vintage touches and the way you can buy a loaf of bread or fresh eggs as well as have a pint or a tasty meal. The napkins were tea towels and the layered dessert was served in a glass jar while chips were in enamel mugs. Details like these always delight me and inspire me. Along with the chicken coop outside are a few piggies with a carvery sign above them so food is definitely locally sourced – bacon and eggs anyone?

Have a look at their website: www.jacobs-inn.com
Jacobs Inn, 130 Godstow Road, Wolvercote, Oxford, OX2 8PG. Tel: 01865 514333

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Muddy Stilettos for the two top photos. Go and visit her blog for her review on the pub and some great ideas of things to do in the Oxfordshire area and beyond. www.muddystilettos.co.uk

haworth1 haworth2 haworth3 haworth4This time last year we went to visit our friends in Leeds. With a special request from me, we caught the steam train from Keighley to Oxenhope with a stopover at Haworth to visit the stamping ground of the Brontës. There is no better time of year than a cold November day to visit their home and the church to understand the bleakness of their surroundings. A visitor in 1850 described the churchyard as ‘a dreary, dreary place, literally paved with rain-blackened tombstones‘ and 150 years later, not much has changed. Another biographer writes that the graves ‘crowd and bristle and conceal the turf; and when it rains, the slab surfaces appal the eye with their unbroken gleam‘. I have never been to a graveyard quite like this, it was so gloomy and menacing and didn’t have any of the gentle time-worn peace of other English churchyards. The other thing that struck me from reading the gravestones was that it wasn’t out of the ordinary for the Brontë sisters to die so tragically young – life was short and harsh in that cold, grim town. For an excellent read about the sisters, try ‘Eminent Victorian Women‘ by Elizabeth Longford.

It wasn’t all hard-core though – we also visited an old apothecary shop and a sweet shop!haworth5

souvenir1 souvenir2 souvenir3 souvenir4What would a holiday be without a souvenir? You can buy a lock and leave it at the Love Bridge in Paris (Pont Des Arts) and of course you throw away the key into The Seine to symbolise your love lasting forever. You can buy a clog from Amsterdam – there were barrelfuls of these – or you can buy a Manneken Pis from Brussels in any size and any colour! We couldn’t help placing ‘Brick’ next them. Brick is a Lego man who travelled around Europe with us and has his own dedicated blog.