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Saturday, 26 January 2013

Miracles

A few years ago I read a book called In Praise of Slowness by Canadian journalist, Carl Honore. It's about savouring the moment, quality over quantity and taking the time to do things well.You can find out more about the book and The Slow Movement at www.carlhonore.com and it is worth reading about and, in my opinion, aspiring to. I thought about this book again this week when the U.K. was blanketed in snow and everything and everyone was forced to take things more slowly. Now I know that snow is inconvenient and makes life difficult for a lot of people but I still love it. I vividly remember standing at the window just watching snow fall when I was a child and thinking that it was like a miracle. Maybe it's because it was snowing when I was born but I've never lost that sense of wonder. We've had snow at some time over the last four winters in Leicester, but not as much as this. It makes everywhere look so beautiful. This is how our back garden has looked for the last week.

 
 
My outdoor candelabra looks more like a load of giant's egg cups!
 
 
The stone bench where I sit in the summer and have a cup of tea appears to have been covered with a downy white cushion. I don't fancy sitting on it at the moment though!
 
 

For most of us, just for a few days, slowing down because of the snow, could be just what we need. Life can be so frantic. We have endless 'to do' lists and there is that feeling of there just not being enough time to devote to everything and everyone so it is good to be forced to stop for a while.

I have a friend who sat down last weekend and read a whole book, cover to cover. She never normally does that unless she is on holiday.

Another friend began her spring cleaning.

I caught up with a missed episode of Borgen on the DVD. If you haven't seen it, it's a Danish political drama and it's brilliant.

My husband, daughter and I built a snowman which actually turned out to look more like a snow bird. Here he is wearing one of my daughter's hats.



And, best of all, last Saturday evening the three of us walked around the corner to meet the newest member of our family. The sky was clear, the air was crisp and the moon shone down. The streets were covered in soft, deep snow which gave a small, blissful crunch with every step taken. I will never forget that walk or meeting my grandaughter for the first time. Here she is, another miracle, our perfect, precious baby. Welcome to our world.


Wherever you are in the world I hope that this week your life has been blessed by a miracle or two. Sometimes we just need to slow down a little in order to notice them. So when the snow goes I'm going to keep thinking of Carl Honore and try to put a few of his Slow Principles into practice. That way I hope to come across a miracle every day. What could be better than that?

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Buttons, buckles and beads

I've always loved buttons. When I was a little girl one of my favourite things was to sort through my grandmother's button tin. Below is the tin I inherited from my mother and although old, I don't think it is the tin. I remember that as being round and deep..

                          
                                                        

Buttons have been around for thousands of years. They have been made of a myriad of materials including bone, wood, amber, sandstone, coral, silver, gold, pearl, leather, coconut shell, polyester, fabric, even casein which is made from milk protein.

Over the years, buttons have waxed and waned in popularity. In Henry VIII's time everyone who could afford it, wore buttons on their clothes and they were even used as hiding places for secret messages with letters sewns into buttons made of silk thread. Queen Elizabeth I was reputedly very fond of buttons and apparently they were given to her in the shapes of fish, men, tortoises and little birds of paradise.

I am actually married to a button merchant so am never short of a button or two. When I say what my husband does for a living it always elicits two responses; the first is surprise that such a thing as a button merchant exists. People tend not to think about how the buttons get from the factory where they are made to the garment they are wearing. Secondly most people say 'Oh I love buttons!' So I thought that I'd post up a tiny taste of my treasure trove of buttons.

These first ones are made from pearl.


 
I've got quite a lot of jet buttons too. They always remind me of my great-grandmother, possibly because she had a pair of jet earrings. I've used a couple of her big jet buttons on a black and white check coat which I've had for years.
 


These enamel duck buttons were from my husband and I put them on a cardigan to make it look a bit different. When the cardigan wore out I saved the buttons. The enamel is a bit chipped now but I don't mind that. Maybe it's time to use them again.



There are beautiful vintage buckles in my collection too.


And little glass bugle beads.


And these lovely lustrous glass beads would make a pretty necklace if I ever get time to do something with them.


Almost everyone has a button tin and they bring back so many memories. One day I would like to write a story about a button tin but I am waiting for it to take shape in my head.

This week I became a grandmother for the first time so in a few years, maybe I will be able to sit down with my grandaughter and sift through my button collection with her.

Thank-you for reading and on these soft, snowy days in the U.K. when our world is forced to pause for a while, maybe you'll feel the urge to get out your own button tin and revive a few memories.
Maybe they'll even prompt a story or two.


 



















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Saturday, 12 January 2013

Reflections

It's been a reflective couple of weeks for a number of reasons. Firstly two people died. I have never met either of them but their deaths affected me in different ways.

On January 1st 2013 Christopher Martin-Jenkins died.A prodigious cricket journalist and broadcaster, he was only 67 and seemed to have so much still to give. Due to my husband and sons' passion for cricket I have spent many hours listening to CMJ''s voice on Test Match Special. I loved the precision of his delivery, making everything that was happening on the field of play seem crystal clear. Of all the many lovely things which have been written about him, the one which stuck out was the comment by David Lloyd who said that CMJ was 'always putting you at ease'. What a lovely way to be remembered and what a good thing to aspire to early in 2013, to put people at their ease. This photo isn't exactly Lords or The Oval - it's dusk falling over the cricket ground in Stratford Upon Avon last week - but with the trees silhouetted against the painterly sky it was definitely a moment to stop and savour.





Reg Dean was Britain's oldest man when he died on January 5th, aged 110 years and 63 days. What an amazing age and what an amazing man.

reg dean
 
Reg was a former United Reform church minister who lived through two World Wars and 24 prime ministers. Reg Dean was interviewed when he was 109 and he said there were three questions which are important:-

Who am I?

Why am I here?

Where am I going?
 
 
These seem to be good questions to ask ourselves from time to time, especially at the start of a new year. Here is a list of some of the things which make me who I am at the moment:-
 
A wife, mother, lover, daughter-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, niece, cousin, friend, writer, reflexologist, animal lover, cook, cleaner, driver, gardener, reader, walker, listener, thinker, sporadic churchgoer, cricket watcher, Leicester Tigers supporter, art lover, encourager, worrier, keeper of memories, procrastinator, hermetically sealed packaging hater, frustratingly inadequate photographer and of course blogger.
 
We all take on so many different roles and so many things go into making up who we are and they are constantly changing. It's good to take stock from time to time. Sometimes you find that you have changed almost without realising.
 
The next two questions don't seem quite so easy. I'm not sure why I am here, in this place, at this time, but I'm very glad that I am. I hope that it is to love and be loved, to learn and to make the most of what I have been given.
 
Where am I going? Well I think that I know where I want to go but whether I'll reach all of my destinations I don't know. All I can do is to keep putting one foot in front of the other and try to keep moving forwards, day by day.
 
 
 

The third reason I have been reflective is that the stork is about to visit our family. I am about to become a grandmother. My husband will be a grandfather, my second son and my daughter an uncle and aunt. My eldest son will be a father. It is a defining moment in all of our lives and this baby, whom we are all waiting for with such anticipation, has absolutely no idea of the impact it is about to make upon the family and our relationships with each other.

Death and Life - both causing me to pause and reflect in a busy world. So thank-you Christopher Martin-Jenkins for all of the pleasure you have given. Thank-you Reg for your wise words and hurry up Baby Gutteridge. We want to meet you!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Anglesey Abbey

I've wanted to visit Anglesey Abbey for about 2 years, ever since I saw Carol Klein on Gardeners' World standing amonst the Himalayan Birch trees. So when my daughter wanted to meet up with a friend in Cambridge on New Year's Eve it seemed like a good opportunity to put writing resolution no. 3, from the previous post, into practice.

Angelsey Abbey is actually nowhere near Angelsey. It is on the opposite side of the country, about 5 miles outside Cambridge and was formed by a community of Augustinian monks in the twelfth century. The monks were expelled in 1535 during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries and in around 1600 the Abbey was purchased and converted into a house.

 
The National Trust acquired the house in the 1960's from Lord Fairhaven and he stipulated that the interior should be maintained just as it was when he held his house parties there. We weren't expecting to see the inside of the house, thinking it would be closed for the Winter. And it is but on this particular day there was a guided tour of a small part of the house. That National Trust are experimenting with the idea of opening up some of their houses and showing people a little of the conservation work which is carried out during the closed season. We were to be guinea pigs. This was such a bonus! We learned about problems with moths and damp (particularly this year!) and dust amongst other things. The patience and attention to detail of the conservators is really awe-inspiring and every single artefact in the house is examined and cleaned over the Winter.
 
But what we had really gone to see was the garden and in particular the Winter Garden with those Himalayan Birches. So don your hats and please take a brief winter walk with me through an English garden. Meander along gravel paths amongst the fiery red stems of the cornus and the arching whitewashed brambles.
 
 
 
Admire the delicacy of the witchazel.
 

 
Run your fingers over the lustrous, coppery bark of the Prunus Serrula, the Tibetan Cherry tree.
 
 
 And breathe in the heavenly citrus sweet scent of the Mahonias.
 
 
Then, as you round the corner, let the Himalayan Birches take your breath away. My photos don't do them justice but trust me, it was like stepping into Narnia.
 
 
 
They actually wash the bark to keep it this clean and white.
 
 
 
This winter garden is as a result of the wonderful vision of Richard Ayres, a previous head gardener at Anglesey.
 
Sometimes, when you visit somewhere after wanting to go there for a long time, you can be disappointed. But I wasn't. If anything it was even better than I expected. They even had a choice of gluten,wheat and dairy free cake in the restaurant which for someone who is wheat intolerant was a rare treat. If you're close enough to visit Anglesey Abbey I would really recommend it and if you know of other lovely winter gardens please let me know.