26 November 2013

anarchy, acrylic and arrivederci

 Turns out there's a time and a place for acrylic. No really, there is.

It snowed last week so it must be Winter. And The Boss needs a warmer school jumper. If I'm going to knit one, then it's got to be acrylic. I'll tell you for why.
  1. For two quid you get a ball of yarn as big as a large baby. And if you are going to risk making your child look like the 'special' one in the playground, you really don't want to spend actual money on actual wool, in case the whole idea is rejected after day one by a small person who suddenly realises that fitting in is very VERY important.
  2. While we're talking about cost, perfectly adequate generic supermarket school cardigans cost less than a fiver. A hand-made school jumper has got to compare favourably with that. I might have my head in the clouds but I'm not a bloody idiot.
  3. It's going to have to be chucked in the machine along with everything else. Often.
  4. Wool yarn, in proper flat-textured bottle green, doesn't appear to exist.
While it's a horror to knit with, it is actually making quite a nice, tight, even fabric. My tension must be all over the place because the stitches keep sliding around on the needles, but the yarn is incredibly forgiving of that; the fibres seem to find their own squashy equilibrium.

Her favourite jumper is the fuchsia Rubble I made while waiting for the Dragon Baby to arrive. The fuchsia Rubble that has recently gone missing. (We'll discuss it later young lady, mark my words.) I think that pattern'll make quite a nice school sweater. Long-sleeved white t-shirt underneath and her grey skinny jeans... we might be stretching the uniform policy to breaking point, but there aren't many acceptable acts of mild anarchy in family life. You've got to take them when you can.

Probably get 4 sweaters out of that ball...

So listen, I think this might be my final Yarn Along post. But if there was ever a good reason to start a blog, Yarn Along has been it. A better source of inspiration, help, advice, ambition and charity I couldn't have imagined. And as for the (largely) women behind the posts? Truly I feel like we are face-to-face friends now. Though you won't be reading my waffle any more, I'll still be reading yours.

And do you know the strangest by-product of Yarn Along? I get sent all these mysterious emails from various publishers and book websites, promoting their latest Young Adult fiction. It took me the longest while to figure out that it can only be because I've typed "YA" and "book" into a whole lot of blogposts, and the bots must have tracked my keystrokes or something. I've never knowingly read Young Adult fiction in my life (and honestly, can't see it happening, no matter how many newsletters I get from Goodreads. Soz chaps.) Anyone else had this YA misunderstanding happen to them? No? Just me then.

So there we are.

I'm so delighted to have linked up with some of you over at my new portfolio site, or on Pinterest. I don't want to lose touch, so if you haven't visited yet, I'd love to see you there. I believe my new place is on Bloglovin, though I have simply no idea what that means. So please, if you do Bloglovin type things, then y'know, do whatever that is.

Sounding like a halfwit yet?

Well, let me redeem myself by trying to appear frightfully clever: you remember when I won that design competition back in July? The Art Deco design thing? Well, the silk scarves are now for sale here. Can you believe it?! I really can't.

I'm powerfully un-cool about the whole thing. I'm literally jumping up and down and pinning these images twelvety times a day. My resolution on January 1st 2013 was "to make something capable of selling this year" (notice that I didn't have to actually sell it). So it's seriously mind-bending to have sold a few hundred pounds worth of cards and tea towels this week alone (and some of them have even sold to strangers; a crucial milestone!). I have grinned dumbly at this silk scarf web page for A. Long. Time. I don't even get a profit share, so I don't know why I'm so pleased. It just looks so PROPER. I think it might be the first New Year's Resolution I've ever kept.


So, that's where we are right now. Technically inept, terminally uncool, and draping The Boss in acrylic (while I lust after silk). I can't quite decide whether it's all downhill from here on, or if things can only get better. Either way, it's been lovely Yarn Alongers, and everyone else. Thank you all, Happy Thanksgiving, and I'd love to see you over on the other side sometime soon.

Tally ho.

04 November 2013

party poopers and a few leftover macaroons

About ten years ago I lived in a wee flat with my friend and work colleague, we'll call her Bella, because that is not her name. Across the landing was the flat of another friend and work colleague, we'll call him Bazza, because that is not his name.

It was all very Friends. Except that we lived above a sandwich shop rather than a coffee shop... oh, and it was in a small, skanky armpit of a Scottish town rather than NYC. So not at all like Friends really.

Anyway, after every jolly evening down the pub, we would end up back at Bazza's flat, playing loud Indie music, getting more and more sozzled while we moaned about the state of the place we had to work in. In certain ways it was great. But the greatest thing about the whole set up? I would excuse myself for a wee bathroom break, and then without the others noticing I'd nip back across the landing to my flat and go to bed. Bella and Bazza would continue with their party, too pissed to realise that I'd been gone for hours. We'd all feel like death warmed up the following morning, but I'd have the rosy glow borne of a few hours more sleep and a few hours less beer. The very definition of smug.

So, I admit it, I'm the party slope-er-off-er. Have you ever done it? Has anyone ever done it to you? I can only imagine how annoying it is to realise that your friend left hours ago without saying goodbye, and is now fast asleep (in pyjamas, with her make up taken off) while you got so plastered waiting for her to return from the bathroom (three hours ago) that you can't even say pyjamas, let alone contemplate the whole face-wash/tooth-brush caper.

I sense that your opinion of me has fallen somewhat. What can I say. We were young, and I'm a pain in the arse.

But I am determined not to be the party slope-er-off-er from this here blog shindig. I feel it would be rude, after all this time, and after we've had so much fun, to just disappear without so much as a by your leave. And so I have some finale posts planned, this being one of them. There's a Yarn Along or two in the pipeline perhaps, certainly a final fling with a Random Recipe. I keep you (literally) posted.

So "why has the blogpost cupboard been so bare recently?" I hear you ask in your best faux-sincere, head-tilty lilt. A neurosis shared is a neurosis indulged after all, and I do ever-so like to indulge.

Well, it turns out that sometimes it's best to take the plunge and commit to something wholeheartedly, rather than to dither about. And so it is with the illustrating lark I've found myself in. I have taken the plunge, put my name behind it and a tiny wee bit of money too.

So instead of planning a lovely, theoretical, perfect creative business where everything's just "so" before I begin (and therefore will never actually exist) I realised, for once in my life, that I had better just bloody well get on with it. Full steam ahead.

And none of it is perfect, none of it matches, and I haven't found my own personal illustrative style yet, but the process is great fun. Precious few hours are left for my witterings about cake, and wool, and cake, and my apple trees (and did I mention cake?). But while I may seem to have disappeared altogether, I'm actually all over the place. Just not here.

For example:
And what I'm trying to get at is that I would love to connect with you in all these online places. Because otherwise we'll not bump into one another all that much any more, and that would be an awful shame. (But, don't worry, I still read your blogs, so I'll continue sticking my beak in where it's not required in the comments sections, thank you please very much.)

Anyway, while you're filling your glass and having a wee browse through those links, it's getting late so I must just nip to the bathroom. I may be some time...

Click through to cast your vote for my scarf design on the theme of "Cabinet of curiosities"!
Click here to buy a cushion, it's available until 11th November at ohhdeer.com!

08 August 2013

stop the presses :: there's news

It's 1pm and there's still breakfast mess all over the table. For lunch, The Boss was fed an old croissant and a box of raisins in the garden. It was easier than clearing up breakfast. The Dragon Baby looks like he's had whole body dermabrasion with a coarse cheese grater. (He hasn't, it's roaring eczema. I'm so anxious about it I can hardly talk. So let's just not okay.)

I literally cannot remember the last time any of us washed our hair.

I know. It's any wonder I don't find it more of a burden being such a astonishingly fabulous mother. Even as we limp towards the end of the Summer holidays, all this perfection just comes so easily to me. Guess I was born this way.


Anyway. I feel I need to share with you. It's a great big A* pat on the back that I got recently. Not least because some of you helped me to get it. I entered an open design contest a couple of months ago with some Art Deco silk scarf designs. People voted/scored them and I did OK. Top 20%. (Thank you to those who voted.)

The company then chose their favourites - and mine was one of them!

I can scarcely believe it, and probably won't until I'm holding a scarf in my own two (chipped and flaky) hands. I won actual money (which of course I haven't received yet, but have spent, obviously). And my design will be sold on the BetaFashion website and in Topshop's flagship store in Oxford Circus. TOPSHOP! That's the bit I have to keep repeating to myself over and over again. Squishy, neurotic, Scottish mother-of-two designs silk scarf for Topshop? It's a bit mad.

I am beyond... I can't think of a word. Just beyond. I'm working on the next one, and loads of other stuff you can see over here. Go and take a look.

Below is a work in progress for a 'Dreaming in Colour' brief. Not sure I'm quite loving it yet. More work to do.

23 July 2013

hamstrung on happy street

Usually the kind of freak who uses electronic baking scales (because precision is fun) and finds ironing bedlinen therapeutic (just call me Monica), our lives are currently a complete bourach. (Google it, it's approximately the most onomatopoeic word in the known universe. Thank you Gaelic.) It's actually quite liberating, but the panic is starting to kick in. Because nobody can find their clean knickers in the morning.

It's chaos, but it's (mostly) brilliant.

I've been trying to keep up with the illustrating, doing respectably well in recent Spoonflower contests but still just missing out on the top ten. And my silk scarf designs for BetaFashion both placed very near the top in the Art Deco competition (there are about eighty entries altogether, and as far as I can tell, one of mine placed eighth, the other about sixteenthish). The judges have yet to decide which (if any) of the scarves are to be printed, but I'm pretty pleased with my progress so far regardless. Keeping my fingers crossed. My theory is that if I keep plugging away at these open contests, I'll break into the top flight eventually, and it's all great Illustrator practice in the meantime. That's the idea anyway.

But what is not going so swimmingly is reading and knitting. I have completely stopped reading. Between the gardening and the school holidays and everything else, I'm not making the time. I have a list as long as my arm to catch up with, but I suspect it's just not going to happen until school starts again.

And knitting. Well, that is where I need some of your solid gold-plated advice.

You probably know that I fell head over heels with Veera's Happy Street pattern as soon as I saw it. It's so rare to see a knitting pattern that is youthful and modern, and Veera just seems to hit the nail on the head every time.

Image from 100% rain

So I spent weeks trying to find the Madelinetosh colours in any shop that wasn't going to bankrupt me. As soon as I mentioned my struggles here a few months ago, Sarah contacted me to say she could try dyeing the colours for me! She did, and they are AWESOME, and I have the dual self-righteous warm fuzzies of a) having supported a lovely UK-based businesswoman and b) not being bankrupt.

Win, win.

So I wound the wool, packed my needle, printed the pattern; all ready for a wee trip away. After settling down in a comfortable chair, all set to cast on, I read those fateful words: Cut yarn after each colour change.

Heart sink.

What I love about all the other Veera shawls I've made (and I've made a LOT) is that you can carry the strands all the way through the pattern, resulting in (usually) just two ends to weave in at the beginning and two at the end, and a very neat finished product. But looking at the picture of Happy Street, I guess it's going to end up with at least two dozen cut ends. And I'm a novice, so my finishing is very far from invisible. So I'm in a quandary, and would love to hear your advice.

1. Have you made Happy Street? Do you think I should just crack on regardless and hope for the best (because the pattern is so beautiful)?
2. What's the secret to finishing? There is almost certainly a "proper" way to do it that I'm not aware of (I basically make it up as I go along). Do you know of an online resource I can read/watch to teach me how to weave in neatly?
3. If the answers to the above are both "No", do you know of another pattern that would look as fantastic using about 400m each of these beautiful colours that Sarah made for me? 

I get so much great advice, tips and tricks through this blogging lark (not to mention recipes, hand-dyed wool, book recommendations, inspiration, ideas, support... I could go on). Thank you, I appreciate it, and will try not to be absent for so long again.

26 June 2013

midsummer update

Isn't this pretty? I love the crinkliness.

So, I've been busy studying and drawing and studying and drawing. And, six months in to the year, on midsummer's day, I achieved my New Year's resolution for, I'm pretty sure, the first time in my life. (My resolution was to make something to sell - deliberately vague.)

Do a little search for greeturchin on the deigners tab of Spoonflower, and you'll see my Midsummer Night's Dream design, entered in the fabric of the week contest this week, and available now as fabric, wallpaper and giftwrap. (Yay!)

In the absence of a job or any design briefs or confidence, I'm using competitions and contests as my clients. Adobe Illustrator isn't the most intuitive package, and I know from my days in publishing that if you don't use it - and use it every day - you lose it. So the weekly Spoonflower contests, as well as some others, seem like a good way to discipline myself into frequent illustrating.

And to keep a track of my nascent digital skills, I've started a little online portfolio here.

So, sorry I've been a bit absent lately. To be honest, though I love writing, I was even starting to annoy myself. So I'm guessing below par wisecracks about cake, children and knitting were probably getting a bit old for you too. Thanks for being kind enough not to say so though.

But if you'd like to follow what I'm working on, do link up with my fledgling portfolio.

There's an Etsy shop in development too (as soon as I have cards to put in it, which could be soon or could be... ummm... never at this rate). Just don't buy any Christmas cards from anywhere else yet is all I'm saying (as if you were buying Christmas cards in June anyway).

So, now that you're all in the loop-dee-loop, ta ta for now, and enjoy your Summer.

22 May 2013

summer in the comfort zone

You know the "what would I do if I won the lottery" conversation? My best friend and I have it frequently. Sometimes gin is involved. In fact, gin and the lottery game are positively correlated. Me and her bought lottery tickets together the week it was launched in the UK. We were just old enough to play (though technically not old enough to watch the inaugural draw on the pub telly. Ahem.)

So what would we do if we won? All the selfless generosity items have to be ticked off first; pay one another's mortgages (and those of all one another's brothers), buy local pet rescue, make record-breaking charity donation. You know the script.

Once that's out of the way, the selfish indulgences can be debated. And that's always more interesting.

It's taken nearly twenty years to be absolutely sure what my first selfish indulgence would be. It would be The Summer Of All Summers.

On May Day, I'd spring the kids out of school and tell the Breadwinner to quit his job. We'd fly somewhere beautiful and decrepit for a couple of weeks, probably Procida, where there's genuinely nothing to do except eat your own body weight in lingua di bue pastries. Returning to London, having got our heads around being bajillionaires, we'd start a Summer of solid gold-plated wonderment; the Chelsea Flower Show, the Hay Literary Festival, a family-friendly music festival or two, a full fortnight of fabulous seats at Wimbledon. We'd string out the gallivanting until the last night of the Proms in September, and then go to Japan to watch the trees change colour from an onsen in the mountains.

Of course we'd stay in a string of achingly beautiful guesthouses and powerfully inauthentic yurts throughout, the weather would be the colour of a peach, and we would all become gently bronzed and gorgeous. Meanwhile, the traditional Procidan fisherman's house we bought for thruppence would be under renovation by Miuccia Prada herself, and our relatives' bickering (over the value of first brother's mortgage being twice that of second brother's) would have escalated and required arbitration.

It would all be rather nomadic, incredibly indulgent and gently adventurous.

Funnily enough, we're not living that Summer.

Mr Breadwinner is working a very, very long way away for a wee while, so I am currently sole custodian of two small children, an elderly cat, a draughty old house and an overgrown garden. If you're a little bit neurotic (I think I just heard him snort at the "little bit" from nine thousand kilometres. Amazing.) this level of responsibility can make you an eensy weensy bit risk averse.

We're not doing bikes. Or scooters. Or secateurs. Or lawn mowing. Or balancing on low garden walls. Or playing the how-long-can-I-hold-my-breath-in-the-bath game. In fact, let's just not do baths. Too slippery. Did I really say we'd make rhubarb jam? We're not doing boiling sugar. Sorry.

In fact, this week is exactly the opposite of The Summer Of All Summers. As if to underline the point, it's actually just started hailstoning on my clean washing line.

But we are knitting, and reading, and watching coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show on the telly. We're ticking off the days, trading for cooperation in whatever currency seems most appropriate: Merida stickers and playdates for her, carbs and chewy silicone kitchen utensils for him, online window shopping and caffeine for me. Safe safe safe. Well inside the comfort zone. Only a few more days to go.

I want to thank everyone so much who voted for our 'Flatterned Man' competition design after reading this post. You are lovely and I appreciate it. Really, during a tough week, it's disproportionately and outrageously uplifting to know that the numbers are still creeping up. There are still a few days left to vote, and while our tally is pretty respectable, we're a good long way off the top spot.

But I've done some sums and if everyone who reads my YA posts were to vote, we'd be neck and neck. So, if you'd like to know about how I came to enter this little design contest, click here. Or if you've got a spare twenty seconds to just give me a wee boost, you can click on the 'Flatterned Man' by me & Robin here.

It's not going to be the multimillion Summer Of All Summers, I haven't bought a lottery ticket after all. But you could help me to the runner up position and it won't cost anyone a penny!

19 May 2013

guilty pleasures and conscious objections

Guilty pleasures: things that I thoroughly enjoy (but, for one reason or another, probably shouldn't). Orange-flavour Revels, pre-bagged salad, Strictly Come Dancing. You know the kind of thing.

So what's the opposite of a guilty pleasure? What do you call something that you should really like, but for whatever reason, you just don't? The closest phrase I could come up with is a conscious objection. My personal conscious objections include: anything done to me in a salon, all seafood, carnations, scented candles, cafes that serve Illy coffee (because of the cups with the handle too small for your finger, gah), Paul Hollywood (a wonderful baker but ick, the bitten fingernails! can hardly watch). I could go on and on and on.

But here's one that I'm nervous to share with you.

I consciously object to baking bread by hand.

I love homemade bread. But for various reasons, I do not bake my own bread by hand. Firstly, we live in an INCREDIBLY small house. In our kitchen there are two linear metres of usable worktop, and by 8am every single morning, those two metres look like this:

This tableau is frantically cleared and lovingly recreated at least five times every day. Add the fact that our house is as cold as a grave for nine months of the year, and any recipe that says "leave dough in a warm place to prove for two hours" becomes absurd in terms of both space and ambient temperature.

The second reason I don't make bread by hand falls into the guilty pleasure category. It's my breadmaker. Which I KNOW will make all the purists wring their floury hands, but honestly, I don't understand why. A twerp I used to know once scoffed at my regular use of a breadmaker, guffing on about "all the pleasure one derives from the kneading and the connection with the living dough blah blah blurg". I asked him how often he actually made loaves from scratch, and he proudly said he did it at least every fortnight (so let's assume the reality was once a month or so). To which I could honestly reply that, by virtue of using a breadmaking machine, we hadn't bought a single sliced loaf for well over a year.

You see, I adore homemade bread, but my intention has never been to connect with my primal whatnots via the medium of dough. My intention is simply to feed my family with bread containing no preservatives and the bare minimum salt and sugar. And using a breadmaker, I can do that in two minutes flat every other day. I can experiment with any sort of seedy, fruity, nutty, sweet, oily and floury additions, get a great loaf every single time, and even set the timer to get that amazing fresh-baked smell when I wake up in the morning. What is not to like?

The third and final reason that I think it's best I don't make handmade bread is that a friend (quite innocently) described me last week as "a lovely girl who grows her own vegetables and tie-dyes her baby's clothes". The only thing that could possibly make that description sound more insufferably worthy is if she had added "oh, and she makes all her own bread too." Smug bloody hippie...

So, while I admire the craft involved in beautiful handmade bread, it's just not something I tend to do very often. Have I defended my conscious objection/guilty Panasonic pleasure enough? Right then, let's move onto this month's random recipe.

Which had to be from a bread recipe book.

Which, of course, I don't have. (Except the one that came with the machine, and that didn't feel quite appropriate.)

So, with quite some trepidation, I asked my lovely friend Lou (who has a wonderful human breadmaker in the form of her husband) to choose me a page from one of her bread books. I texted her a random number, and the result pinged back; Soda bread from Dan Lepard's Short & Sweet. What a relief. No kneading or proving required, and the recipe is online here. Phew!

I tweaked the recipe quite a lot, almost to the point that it's not the same recipe (but I've seen way too many instances of Dan Lepard's people getting well eggy about his material being duplicated on blogs to risk claiming it as a new recipe). Instead, I'll just summarise my modifications; I used wholemeal spelt instead of the normal flour, creme fraiche instead of yoghurt, a bit more sugar, a handful each of poppy seeds and flax seeds, one tablespoon each of cinnamon and finely crushed chocolate (because I'd just read this cinnamon and chocolate nut bread post by our Random Recipe host Dom, and thought it looked rather yum!). I meant to put flaked almonds on the top but I forgot.

Lou also mentioned that she had heard Dan Lepard bake these soda breads on a radio show (you can listen to it here). And if you listen very carefully, he almost justifies the use of breadmaking machines right at the end of the interview.

And that, bread purists, is good enough for me! Check in with Dom over at Belleau Kitchen at the end of the month for all the other bread-y contributions.

Cinnamon chocolate and seed soda breads; breakfasts for the next few days sorted!

17 May 2013

on being late for school again

Squeezing in a few rows before school while she was supposed to be minding the baby? I can't imagine who she got that idea from...

I've enjoyed the glimpses of my friends' lives on Fridays when they post for {this moment}, but I've never considered joining in myself. And then this morning, when this moment happened, I thought it might make some of you chuckle.

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words [oops] - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

update :: okay, so it seems that {this moment} is not collecting submissions this week, click through on the link above to see why. I'll try and join in next week instead. In the meantime, we'll be knitting.

15 May 2013

please help :: the one where Mill calls all her favours in

Last month, my best friend moved into a new flat. She asked me to design a change-of-address card, based on a sketch by her father. Her Dad’s an uber-creative who even has an OBE. For services to serious artistry. M’ya-ha darlings, that’s arty royalty right there. So the card turned out well. Her friends loved it.     

Her Dad emailed me more sketches, beautiful little scribbles that would compete with any Quentin Blake. And we all wondered if there might be a way to harness his lifelong sketching talent to my fledgling graphic design skills and make cards that people (other than close family members) might actually want to buy.   

Of course, a major stumbling block sits squarely in our path; he’s retired and I’m a full-time Mum, therefore neither of us has a grubby fiver to spare to print cards that may or, let’s face it, may not sell. 

And that’s when a little competition was announced; to design a Thank You card for a fantastic British company, based not far from where I live, called Pedlars. Entering the competition gives me and The Prof a chance to see one of our designs alongside the work of more established surface designers which, frankly, is exciting enough to begin with. And maybe, just (breathy) maybe, with your help we could see our work in print without having to plunder my child benefit or his old-age pension.     

Click here to vote for our flatterned man design

So, I’m looking at you with my biggest shiniest eyes (you know like when Puss-in Boots turns on the soppy in the Shrek movies) and imploring you, if you have a couple of minutes please take a look at the competition page and, if you think it has any merit at all, vote for the ‘Flatterned Man’ card by Robin and Camilla.

The voting is open until 29 May 2013. So here goes: social network sustenance matrix activated.

Thank you beautiful creatures; your support means the world to this nerdy girl and that arty Grandpa. I think, with your help, there's an outside chance we might just do it...

08 May 2013

let me spin you a yarn about grass

I had this friend a few years ago. She was a trained gardener, very generous and extremely fragile, something she tried to conceal with a cheery exterior. Our babies were born on the same day in the same hospital. While I was out one day, she popped by and left a wee plant on my doorstep, dug out of her garden. We had just moved into our house and she knew the garden was an empty wasteland. I was incredibly chuffed and planted it in one of the new beds I had created in the front. It was kind of grassy and stripy, and grew that first year into a pretty swishy clump of gauzy loveliness. That was six years ago.

Since then, she emigrated to Australia and unfriended me on Facebook. Which is OK. I'm not quite sure of the reasons for the latter, but I'm certainly not going to try and read anything into it. Like I said, she's quite sensitive and I almost certainly offended at some point. It wouldn't be the first time. And it's not like I haven't unfriended people on Facebook before (or more commonly, ignored their friend requests for, like, years.)

Anyway, six years later, and I have just spent the best part of four glorious sunny May holiday days trying to eradicate the mystery grass from our front garden. It had spread across an area of about two square metres, forming a dense mat of roots so strong I've broken several garden implements, and done something moderately worrying to my back. It's killed every plant that used to live in its orbit. My fifty beautiful pink tulips, which used to grow a foot high and stopped passers-by in the street, have been reduced to eleven slightly stunted specimens.

I've ripped up border edging, shovelled gravel, cursed, sweated, gone a bit swirly behind the eyes and had to have wee sit down, and dissected some of my more precious plants to tease out the roots of this thug. It had spread under, over, through and between everything. A quick Google search and I think I've found the name of it; variegated ribbon grass. Or bastard freaking variegated effing ribbon grass (if you happened to be within earshot).

Now I'm not sure what the moral of this story is; beware gardeners bearing gifts maybe. Especially if they flee the country and sever all ties. So listen here people, do as I say and not as I do: never ever, ever plant something called variegated ribbon grass. Don't even think about it. If it's grassy and stripy, WALK AWAY.

I know I haven't got rid of it all, it'll be back. And one of the websites I read said it could live for up to twenty years. So while she may have forgotten me, I suspect our connascent babies will have long left home before I forget her.

So that's what it's all been about round here. Beautiful sunny days and gardening. But in the evenings, as I prop my naggingly niggling lumbar discs against a pile of cushions and wait for two ibuprofen and one cold Tiger beer to work their magic, I've been knitting and reading. And like all the best knitting and reading, they're colour coordinated, natch.

Every Spring I try to read The Jewel Garden by Monty and Sarah Don. It's beautiful and inspiring and makes me excited for Summer. (As an aside, it also briefly includes the most accurate description of depression I have ever read.) On my kindle I'm also reading Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver for our book group. I'm not even going to be half way finished it by the time we meet, but it's good so far. Not a keeper, but maybe it's yet to peak.

The Varjo for my MIL's friend is really taking shape - it's beautiful. That woman is a genius designer. Did you know she has a new pattern out? I want to make it more than anything I've ever made. But the trouble is I want to make it in EXACTLY her colours. I think that pink she used is Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light in "Pop Rocks". I searched for anywhere online that has it in stock, and eventually found one place in the States. The total bill to make this garment was going to come to $120 by the time the wool was shipped to the UK. So I guess Happy Street will have to wait!

26 April 2013

bucket chemistry :: rhubarb

There's a point in the year when there are only two edible plants in the garden: rhubarb and chives. We are at that point. Too bad I've misplaced all my many rhubarb + chive based recipes.

We eat a LOT of rhubarb at this time of year (fewer chives). Add the fact that I only ever make one kind of dessert on a week night (and then only if they're very lucky) and what do you get?

You get rhubarb, honey and nuts over yoghurt.

I heard once that the most inherited feature of any British house (ghosts, rising damp, vermin and poor insulation aside presumably) is a rhubarb patch. So if you have a neglected crown or two, please do this. It takes moments to prepare and tastes just as delicious as crumble without any of the hassle.

It's probably too late to start forcing your rhubarb under a bucket now, but there's another reason this is called Bucket Chemistry Rhubarb; the quantities, temperatures and timings aren't exact or important. Just chuck it in the oven and hope for the best, it's not really possible to get it wrong.

But if you can't be bothered to cook up rhubarb, that's okay. Try the other (incredibly varied) desserts in my week night repertoire: yoghurt + passion fruit/berries/mango +/- honey +/- nuts.

I know, bor-ING huh? No, I promise it really hits the sweet spot.

And when your children are in bed, never ever replace the honey with golden syrup. No, I said don't. Stop it, it'll taste frightful.

Not that I'd know, you understand...

15 April 2013

why don't you get things started?

The iTunes window tells me that we've listened to the Muppet Movie soundtrack 25 times during chicken-pock recovery week. So it comes as no surprise that, with the sun shining and the tulips blooming, I've got a Miss Piggy earworm.

"...it's time to get things started, why don't you get things started..."

At last Spring seems to have arrived (though we'll almost certainly be in for a snow flurry or two yet, and some hard frosts) and I am determined not to watch the Chelsea Flower Show coverage this year in a state of despair.

Obviously I don't anticipate having an award-winning garden by the end of May, but I want to watch the Chelsea programmes and feel genuinely inspired to enjoy the great things about our garden. I refuse to drool over the on-screen gorgeousness with the curtains guiltily drawn to blot out our own weedy, overgrown wasteland.

And so, over the next five weeks, I mean business. It's time to get things started.

I'll stick to this schedule and plant rotation for about the next week, possibly. Then I'll wing it.

Set to work as soon as the sun comes out.

Child labour.

It's not pretty and it's not subtle, but I'd like to see the effing weeds try this year.
Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough. (There will be gravel soon.)

A benefit of not having a dog = being able to use cocoa shell.
An amazing mulch that smells of chocolate (but is poisonous to mutts).

10 April 2013

out of the corner of my eye

The corner of your eye is a very deceptive place.

When we left our old cat in London in 2010, en route to the Far East, every dark cushion or discarded swimming towel in our new Singapore flat was, to the corner of my eye, a black cat. It took a long time for our minds to adjust to her absence.

Likewise, when we moved back to the UK two years later, every dark knot in the floorboards, every clump of black cat fur that blew across the floor, every dark piece of playmobile under the sofa was - to the corner of my eye - a cockroach. Any number of double takes couldn't convince my brain that they do not exist in freezing cold Scottish houses.

It's playing tricks on me again today. In a fit of optimism borne of seven whole degrees of Celsius, I hung out washing this morning for the first time this year. Now there is a perpetual intruder in the garden according to the corner of my eye. He or she is not a very stealthy intruder and appears to be wearing flappy wet pink leggings on his/her arms. Wetter since it started raining.

Is that pathetic fallacy or something? The Easter break has been a wee bit of a disaster. The Boss got the chicken pox which forced us to return from our holiday after about 36 hours. We're housebound, watching kids' movies on the computer every afternoon and subsisting on Easter chocolate. For a former dentist that eschewed telly a year ago, that's a weird old week. 

You'd think I would have got some knitting done? Lots of reading? Studying? No chance. The table is littered with bank statements and gently ageing clementines. Crumbs are amalgamating with paint flecks, puree and glitter in depraved corners of the room, and I seem to be wearing my husband's clothes. I've genuinely no idea how or why that has happened. A misguided glimpse in the mirror shows that the dry shampoo I sprayed in this morning hasn't been combed through, resulting in a weird grey patch.

It may or may not be dry shampoo actually, it may be a bit that I "missed" while dyeing in a hurry last week. Let's face it, neither of these possibilities is glamorous. But out of the corner of my eye, I'm going to go with the dry shampoo option. (Never let it be said that I project a phoney perfect life here, eh.)

Strangely, if you caught sight of us out of the corner of your eye you'd see that we're all having rather a nice time. And for once it wouldn't be deceiving you. I'm just grateful that the corner of my eye doesn't have a chicken pock on it.

a wee bit oof varjo has been started, but as you can see, it's being overwhelmed!

03 April 2013

colour lovers

Some people have just got it. The colours of their lives are tasteful, elegant, conscious decisions. I do not have it. As a family we either leave the house looking like a wet weekend or a pride of Liberace's peacocks. (Did he have peacocks? I imagine so.)

All this graphic design studying I am doing only confirms my utterly hopeless lack of colour sense. When faced with a set of electronic colour swatches (or worse, a whole spectrum wheel with sliders... run for the hills with tongue lolling and arms flapping) I get completely paralysed by choice. And then proceed to make exactly the wrong choice almost every time. Ditto in a wool shop faced with a wall of rainbow yarn.

So you can imagine what a pleasure it is to have that choice removed. I have been bought some wool to make a shawl; to be a gift from one lady to another. I guess you could call it a commission! I've never been indulgent enough to treat myself to this lovely kind of wool, and certainly wouldn't have had the good taste to choose these colours. So, without further ado; Madelinetosh I'd like to introduce you to Varjo.

Making these colour swatches of photos is quick, easy and hopefully a good way to work on my sense of colour.

A few other projects I have just finished got the colour treatment as well. Oh, and the first luridly fluorescent forced rhubarb of the season from my garden. It was crumble 30 minutes after this shot was taken (and after 45 minutes, it was history).

Where reading is concerned, I realised that as well as being a colour cretin, I am also a font fool, so I'm geeking up on this Type book. Which I adore.

If anyone has advice on choosing colours for their projects I'd certainly love to hear it. Some of you just get it right every time (looking at you Greer, Lori and Ginny!)

01 April 2013

mr & mrs macnoodle-bloggs :: win a YEAR OF CLASSES!

As I looked back over my homework assignments for the past couple of months I realised - the big day has arrived! The MacNoodle-Bloggs nuptials! Gah, I wish I was there.

copyright 2013 little macaroon

Which gives me as good an excuse as any to share a few few things with you. Firstly, Nicole's Classes are having the mother and father of all competitions; to win A WHOLE YEAR worth of classes! Just head over to their blog to enter. This is such an amazing opportunity, I would sell a body part for less...

So here are some of the assignments I've been working on lately, mostly colour palette work, and drawing practice (with a little logo for an imaginary shop there that I'm super pleased with!). I actually just did my first little piece of "work" for a friend, just a logo and a form, for which I was paid in a pretty posy of British spring blooms from here. Happy days!

So if any of you lovely friends have a little electronic or print job you need designed and think I could practice on, please leave me a message with your details. I'm a fervent novice, so I'm desperate for reasons to keep plugging away in the software to cement my skills and create some sort of recognisable style. I'm more than happy to be reimbursed in virtual tea and cake (for a limited time only!).

copyright 2013 little macaroon
copyright 2013 little macaroon
copyright 2013 little macaroon
copyright 2013 little macaroon
copyright 2013 little macaroon
copyright 2013 little macaroon
copyright 2013 little macaroon

25 March 2013

because there's always baking...

Easter holidays loom and it's STILL SNOWING. 

If you're trying to figure out how to entertain the children during the break, here's something that should resist the lure of the telly for an hour or so at least. My six year old can get on with this pretty much unassisted while I tape padding to the most accessible walls.

Because if it stays this cold she'll be bouncing off the walls and I'll be hitting my head off them. Repeatedly.

So, y'know, Happy Easter and all that. I shall be celebrating by printing off engineering vacancies in Singapore and using them as my husband's table mats.

15 March 2013

sweet potato, sour cherry and pecan brownies ::
a great random red nose day bake

Well, after questioning the omnipotent Twitter the other day, it only went and proved its worth in the comments section of the very same post, with the actual s'labrity baker answering a query I had about his recipe. I suppose that's me told.

I still don't understand Twitter, but at least I know a man who does, and that man is our Random Recipe host Dom. Who challenged us this month to pick from our bulging folders, toppling towers and sliding stacks of cuttings and clippings for this month's random recipe. This is my favourite kind of Random Recipe, because if you cut something out or jotted something down, you must have thought it sounded delicious - no risk of frog congee or sherry trifle here.

Well, I used a number generator to select page number 9/52 from my laminated book of dreams (no, not the Bill Bailey Argos catalogue, but my kikki.K baking folder).

Why the baking file rather than the recipe file? Because it was our local baking night in aid of Comic Relief of course!

And so, Dan Lepard's Sweet potato, sour cherry and pecan brownies were made. And I'm pleased to say every single one was eaten at the bake night (or tucked away in a tupperware for later).

They were everything a chocolate brownie should be. And a little bit more besides because:
a) sweet potato is a health food
b) the sour cherries symbolised red noses
c) they were gobbled in aid of Comic Relief!

Despite heavy snow and a modest turn out, we raised £70 on the night, and I understand there's more to come with a blind auction of some goodies.

So, what are you waiting for? Hashtag dosomethingyummyformoney, hashtag don'tevenknowwhathashtagmeans, hashtag don'tevenhaveahashtagsymbolonmycomputer

Hop on over to Belleau Kitchen at the end of the month to see Dom's wonderful RR roundup. Actually, it's only half way through the month - why don't you join in too? You must have a stash of clippings and cuttings kicking around somewhere, don't you...

13 March 2013

no time to say "hello, goodbye"

Did I ever mention how wonderful Nicole's Classes are?
I did? A hundred times already?

Well I'm going to tell you again, because they have monopolised ALL my spare moments so far this year.

Like the white rabbit, I'm late, late, late for everything these days, always trying to squeeze just one more tutorial into my already hectic schedule. I've listened to tutorials while changing nappies, while pasta boils, while The Boss does her homework. You name it, I've got half an ear tuned to my tutor Alma's dulcet tones.

Here's just a small sample of what she has enabled me to make this week. I'm not getting any kick back for telling you that I highly commend Nicole's online school to any and all of you who want to learn something new.

I'm hooked.

[I suspect Alma would point out that other fonts are available, and there is more than one way to set a block of text, but I'm having a fully-justified Amatic moment. It'll pass.]

* copyright little macaroon. 2013, all rights reserved.

* copyright little macaroon. 2013, all rights reserved.

* copyright little macaroon. 2013, all rights reserved.

* copyright little macaroon. 2013, all rights reserved.

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