Tackling the beast

The garden has been, to say the least, neglected. Andy and I moved here over four years ago in November 2012 and less than three months later, he was gone. As you can imagine, the last thing on my mind was keeping the lawn down or sowing hopeful seeds, as I used to. The bitter loneliness of planning a long yearned for garden, without the person you had once intended to do it with, would have been too much to bear. And pointless.

That didn't stop well meaning people advising me to get out there and tackle it ('it will make you feel better') or from giving me kindly meant plants which never got potted out. I think the best gift you can do give to someone in deep mourning and shock is simply to be with them, should they want it. But for some people, this may be the hardest thing to do. And so you get a geranium, which eventually dies as well.

I can't say that my old love of gardening gradually returned. To be honest, for the first year or so I was on a  different planet and just getting on with whatever I had to do to keep my mind intact and to try to scrape a living. That last bit remains true and I still don't have much spare time. However, since meeting Joe and having someone to share it with, I have felt what you might call a few green shoots stirring within me. 

So during one of my recent at-home stays, Brian-next-door and I got to grips with it. It was a little like Sleeping Beauty's Castle, without the castle. There was a monster vine - or creeper - which had run rampant everywhere, despite being the one thing I have occasionally cut back. 

Not to mention the ivy, which has had free run. But last year the robins nested in it's deep green depths and  we found their old nest, so it served some purpose. Brian tackled the vine, but the behemoth ivy was mine. I went to battle. 

And Brian decimated the creeper. Or vine. Or whatever it was. And all the cuttings were carefully trimmed down to several inches, so that they would fit in the compost bags.

In a corner, we found the mother-lode. It still has to be dealt with.

Brian began dismantling the decrepit old dog kennel once it was free from the jungle of creeper, and the garden really began to open up. Hopefully one day we will be able to turn this side of the garden into a raised vegetable bed. All the spare bits have been carefully stored by Brian,  'just in case they may be useful later'.

And after many hours with the loppers and secateurs,  I cleared most of the ivy. Except for the huge trunks and roots, which also have to be dealt with soon. Look, you can see the cottage!

It has been very therapeutic, which is why, of course, people initially urged me to do it. But I had to do it in my own time, and when there was a reason to do it. Thankfully, unlike myself, Joe enjoys mowing the lawn.


A golden day

It didn't seem very golden at first. A chilly grey day with rain threatening. We went into town and went to this little shop, E & J Jewelers, in Shrewsbury, where we have made a few visits before. The owners are lovely.

Then across town to The Armoury, a long, low red brick building situated on the side of the river.  Where we bought a bottle of decent red wine.

Ate exceedingly well and enjoyed fantastic service. 

The golden day was hidden in a simple wooden box.

My engagement ring. I am not a big fan of gemstones. but I like a bit of classy understatement. So last year, when this was decided, I picked a simple ring of white Welsh gold from the Aur Cymru company. It may be plain, but it was not cheap. The gold is hand panned on private land in Wales and there is precious little of it left. Living so near the England/Wales border, it seemed appropriate.


Only a very few close friends were told. It feels right to share it here first, on this blog, as so many people have seen my ups and downs over the years that it's almost like having a distant, virtual family. 

Nobody ever wanted to marry me before and to be honest, I never felt the need. However, after the perilous and messy situation I was left in when Andy died (and without a will, which made the whole nightmare even more grievous) it has taken on a new meaning and importance.

I only intend to do it the once, mind. 


Bears and hares

At last, I've finalised the project for my Oxford workshop at Hill End Nature Centre which I visited recently. As it's an all day workshop, I decided to go for something a little larger than normal, so the project is to be stumpy bears.


It's not a difficult pattern, but it will need the whole day and there is a choice of making a brown bear or a polar bear. As with all my workshops, the price per person is all inclusive of materials and use of tools. Details can be found on my workshops page. As I'm organising this all on my own (which feels a bit scary) I'm the contact for everything.

My new running hare design from my line of 'Flights of Fancy' range went to a new home last month.

 And now I've finished another - a white hare with violet grey Siamese points.

This one is adorned with twisted silver wire, natural pearls and smoky quartz teardrop beads and is on sale in my Etsy shop.

My Manchester Spring Bunnies workshop is at the end of the month, and we are almost full - just two places left! If you'd like to come to this one, please book directly through the Make It shop site here. They may look small and simple, but each one takes me about four - five hours to make. All that smoothing.

Now I've got to crack on with my April newsletter - if you'd like to see any of my previous newsletters, without subscribing, they can be found archived here


Spring snippets

I do love  good municipal park, especially on a warm spring day.

Wide open spaces and well planted trees.

 With areas of interest and intriguing paths to explore.

And picturesque steps.

Which seem to go on for a very long time.

It's lovely to reach the top and find a flat, wide promenade. The Victorians really knew how to design public places. 

And if you look closely, you may find an iron dog or two, accentuating a bench handle, where you have gratefully plonked yourself after your step-climbing exertions.

There are grand old houses that look like wedding cakes.

And fierce, exotic creatures.

Sadly, the sweet shop was closed. 

And I could have scoffed a whole bag of lemon bonbons. 

But there was the treat of afternoon tea at Patisserie Valerie, as a reward for all those steps. 

The Cake of Doom

This is the story of the Cake of Doom. It's a reply to Lin's kind comment in my last post, 'What do you do poorly?'. Cake decorating Lin, it's cake decorating. And when I popped over to her blog, I found a gorgeous lamb cake, a delightful confection that I could only dream of creating. Here is my public shame. Because I'm not completely perfect.

Last time I stayed with Joe, there was a birthday and so there was to be a birthday cake. I don't often cook plain sponge cakes, but I found a recipe and made two acceptable square layers. They were nice and neat and tidy. I used an entire pot of Betty Crocker vanilla icing to sandwich them together, which may have been a bit too much.  Then I decided to cut the edges off, to neaten the sides up. As you can see, this didn't happen and the results were raggedy, to say the least. At this point, I poured a large glass of wine to steady my nerves. 

I then tried to rescue matters by slathering it in apricot jam...

...and trying to stick the trimmings back on. Of course, it was pretty difficult to find their points of origin, so it was all rather haphazard. But it held together, with a bit of firm squidging.  

There was no way on this planet that I was going to make my own fondant icing, so I had bought a lump of ready-made. At this point, I should have taken the cake off the crumby paper, but at the time, I was beyond reason as I had a gut feeling it was going to end badly. Did I mention that I hate cake decorating?

I managed to get the icing rolled out and onto the cake, without major mishap, apart from the inevitable crumbs sticking to it. I hadn't bargained for corner flaps and had to do some quick Googling to find a solution. Which was basically to cut them off. By now I was frazzled, so I bunged it all in a tupperware tub and came back to it the next day.

It seemed ok in the morning, as most things do. The icing was holding the lumpy trimmings in, though it wasn't the pristine snow-smooth surface I had hoped for. Clean paper underneath helped. But the worst part was yet to come. Joe had requested a 'KISS' cake, with cut-out images of every single band member. His favourite band. To be rendered in black icing, from his own artworks, with each image resized to a 10cm square. That's less than 4 inches. 

I'm afraid that's where this sorry saga ends, as I DID try thinly rolling out ready-made black icing. I DID get a sharp knife and endeavour to cut out tracings of the boys. But when I picked my first (and last) effort up, it was warm and soggy and fell apart in my hands. I dumped the mess on the kitchen side, took a deep breath and walked away. So it was a big birthday cake fail on my part, and to be honest, the cake itself was sickly beyond belief with all that fondant icing and buttercream. We have agreed that next year, we'll make alternative arrangements.


Silly bunny scribble

It's been nearly four years since I last did any watercolour painting.  Last time I looked, my trusty collection of tubes, which I'd collected over many years at some expense, were in a sorry state and many old friends had dried up. Unable to afford to replace them, I looked around for a cheap way to get going again. 

And I found these nice little sets - Koh-I-Noor palettes. They are dry blocks, which I haven't used since college. I subsequently began using good quality wet tube paints, which I found better for large washes. Like my old college paints, they are a bit chalky. But this set of 36 colours cost very little, the pigments are reasonably bright and they stack oh-so conveniently. Thankfully my brushes had not deteriorated.

I bought a cheap A6 sketchbook, so that it didn't matter what went in it. And after much anxiety and procrastination (really) I did eventually get started. I knew it was going to be a bit rubbish, but I did get my painting brain ticking again. 

Admittedly, it wasn't the best paper for washes, but it was less scary than stretching out a sheet of the HP Arches I usually use. And after all, it's just to get me going again.

So I painted one of my bunnies, miraculously remembered my old techniques and finished it off with a sense of relief. One down, many to go.

The bunnies didn't say anything. They just gazed with their little beady eyes. 

They were obviously reserving judgement. 

In revenge, I am selling them via my Etsy shop. So if you want your own silent bunny, they are £30/$43 each, with free shipping anywhere. Yes, anywhere.