Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Campaign Furniture

I've been wandering through page after page of drafted blogs, thinking I ought to either delete or publish them.  We'll see how that goes.

We run into campaign furniture here and their  there (what is this - sign of old age?) on our travels.  This was drafted because we saw it on our last trip to France, when we camped at Loches, in the Loire Valley. We visited the village one market day and were fascinated by a collection of campaign furniture for sale.  I'm not sure why I didn't take photos, unless the gruff people at the Nice flea market had made me shy. 

I think the first place I met campaign furniture will have been in the Old Government House in Parramatta, New South Wales. I remember a bed and a chest in a small bedroom and the story about a freed slave, a valet, George Jarvis. He had travelled with his employer during a military compaign in his native India. The bed folded up for ease in moving and I think the night stand had drawer locks and handles to carry it, effectively making it a trunk.

We saw it again in Napoleon's part of Fontainbleau (a different trip to Loches) or at least it was mentioned.   Of course, 'campaign' is as in going to war and following the battles, not as in running for political office. It was supposedly in relation to his office, but I don't see anything that looks remotely campaign-ish to me in the photos I took at Fontainbleau.  A better idea of his campaign furniture is shown here.

Napoleon's 'office'. I suppose that bed might come apart fairly easily...

Then one day this lady ran this incredible post explaining the term. I shared the link with Bill, knowing he'd appreciate the beauty and utility of these pieces.

And just now, in looking up images for this very post, I found this website, that also talks about this type of furniture.  Though the painted versions make me shudder, I thought it interesting that the butler's tray on the stand constituted campaign.  I know just where I could get one of those!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Hunger Games

Late to the party as always, I only recently read The Hunger Games.  Twice in a row even.  I take little notice of what is on at the movie theatres, the prices of tickets being to my mind fairly ridiculous.  I do splurge occasionally - once a year lately as opposed to once a decade. All that by way of saying I had become aware that this was the first of another popular series made into films.

I chose this book at the library because it is on Gretchen Rubin's recommended reading list.  Her website gives one all sorts of options for purchasing, but of course I seek these first at my library, flea markets and thrift stores.  I may put them on my Christmas or birthday wishlist. Actually buying a book is at the bottom of my list; I need to think I will want to read and re-read it.

I can't remember where now, but somewhere I read that for some members of the younger generations The Hunger Games is analogous to modern times if not yet a complete mirror.  I'm not sure how representative this statement might be but I have considered this viewpoint while reading the book (both times).

Without telling too much to spoil the story, here are some of the points I could compare:

The Hunger Games are televised throughout the country.  Reality TV anyone?

The fighters in the Games, called tributes, are selected from the age group 12-18, two from each of twelve districts.  Food is scarce, especially for the poor, but can be bought with putting one's name into the Games selection more than it would otherwise be.  I was a teen during part of the Vietnam war and remember watching my male peers approach the draft age. The only way to avoid it was to get into college. Those without the means to get to university - brains and money - were more likely to be drafted. 

Life in the Districts is basic, perhaps on a par with the 19th century, tough even for the middle classes. Everyone lives with some degree of hunger. Starvation is common, though never acknowledged by the authorities. The Districts mainly labour to produce for the benefit of the Capitol. Life in the Capitol (a separate district) has every modern convenience, advanced medicine, luxurious foods, ridiculous clothing and hair styles, affected accents, self-centered lifestyles. No one in the Capitol fights in the Games. I wouldn't pretend to ever have been truly poor, but I do remember what it was like not to be able to afford healthy food. This is an issue often debated in the media today. Unlike previous recessions during my life which went unnoticed, I saw early in this last (current?) one that the middle class was losing ground. I find that quite worrying. Surely no one with any sense of humanity would like to return to the feudal days?  

To win the games, one needs strength, speed, wit, skill...and the capacity to kill. Growing up in the U.S. I've always understood that 'success' depends on hard work and a certain amount of intelligence; that I'm responsible for pulling my own weight in society and can't expect a 'free ride'. I also know that in my youth there were always jobs with benefits, that a university degree was attainable even if you had to attend night school for years, that good workers had some job security. My 'talents' were tenacity and eventually frugality; I'm not sure those would be good enough to start over with, though better than none at all.  Of course hunting is part of the culture in the US; many people there have the capacity to kill. I have myself killed (and dissected) rodents we trapped as part of a field study.  Presumably anyone who owns a gun believes they could at least injure someone. I started to say I've never owned a gun, but I did inherit a rifle from my Dad and a .38 pistol from my Mom - I sold them both before moving to Britain, where they would be illegal. I've never fired a gun and doubt I have the ability to kill another human being, but who knows until they are tested?  

I'm not sure how many more analogies one can draw without losing sight of one's usual realities. Of course that is the pleasure of reading fiction, to lose oneself in a story. The fact that I could easily find this many parallels is the hallmark of a well-written book, one that those in the Capitol would be pleased to turn to their own financial advantage (Bill's comment, did he mean 'capitalists?'). Mature, well-grounded people no doubt return to real life when they put down the book. Some of us linger a bit longer.

Have you read The Hunger Games?

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Indoor Gardening

I finally sat down and went through the seed packets we still have from previous years. Naturally most are out of date. However, I remembered seeing in the Tightwad Gazette that one could place 10 seeds from a packet in a paper towel and keep it moist for a while (must look up the time limit again). If as many as seven of the 10 seeds germinate she says they are as good as new and can be used.  I've set a bunch of vegetable seeds to germinate.  There is a reason why our clothes dry so quickly in the kitchen; it's taken some attention to keep the seeds moist.

In the mean time I've set up a seedling tray. We've apparently thrown away all our little yogurt pots. I didn't foresee that I would give up that treat anytime soon.  So the tray has the smallest of the squillion plant pots we've collected, plus some cut down toilet paper rolls I had cleared out of the crafting cupboard and put into the recycling. Fortunately the recycling hadn't gone out yet.  

I could have used egg cartons, but I'd recycled all but the ones I need for when I buy trays of 30 eggs.  I don't like carrying open trays, so I move them to the cartons I've saved for this purpose.

Having run across this article, I thought I'd try some of the ideas.  I stuck the end of an onion into one of the pots. No idea what it will do. The article says 'green onion's; will believe it when I see it. The carrot ends really do grow green stuff, but I'm not really big on garnish. I'd rather have actual food.  

Will keep this up until it is too much hassle.  I suspect that it won't produce more than a mouthful or two. Still, it keeps us entertained.

I sprinkled some cress and some tarragon into a couple of the pots, figuring they'd either come up or not.  The cress has, so far the tarragon has not.

Have you started your seedlings yet?

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Tea and Civilisation

We're still working our way through the multitude of tea bags stashed in our cupboards.  At some point I realised that part of the fun of having tea in the various cafes and tea shoppes is because of the lovely cups and saucers.

So Bill got out some that belonged to his mother. I've long admired these ivy-covered cups. I thought we should look for a matching tea pot, but Bill said it wasn't customary that the pot matched the cups. Who knew? In any case, if I tire of ivy, there are quite a few other sets to choose from in the loft...

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Apple and Elderberry Jam

I don't have pictures of the process involved in this, so you'll have to use your imagination:

Picture a large square-ish back garden, open to the southern sun, with two large apple trees.  This is Vivien and Steve's garden and they are generous in sharing their apples.  

Picture two or three grocery bags full of apples coming home with me.

Imagine Bill and me at the kitchen table, coring and slicing apples to put into the freezer.

Imagine a lovely day in late August along some public foot paths near Gosforth race course.  Vivien and I have already invaded a swampy area near a farmer's field to get the last of the summer blackberries. She then shows me a long row of elderberry trees.  We pick a large grocery bag or two full. Passing cyclists and dog-walkers stare at us and sometimes comment.

Back at Vivien's house we scan the internet for recipes to do with elderberries.  We learn that uncooked all parts of the elderberry plant is potentially poisonous, producing a cyanide-like effect. Steve says whatever we decide to do with them, he'll not be touching it.

I sit at my kitchen table for hours, combing the elderberry branches with a fork, trying to keep the little suckers from popping all over the room, but into a couple of large ziplock bags. 

On another August day, Lucy, Vivien and I spend a couple of hours near Lucy's house (and with her two sons) picking more blackberries.  We all have loads of fruit.

All that fruit - apples, blackberries and elderberries (as well as more sloes from a few years back) - sits in the chest freezer in the garage over the winter.  Until early February when I run out of jam for my morning toast. I get the bags of fruit out to thaw.  I find this blogger's recipe, which I proceed to use.  I already have a couple of bags of preserving sugar just waiting for the day. 

Lucy gives us some lovely apple and blackberry jam she made for Christmas.  It has an unusually thick consistency that I think I'd like to replicate.  She tells me this is achieved by sieving the fruit.  She hates the pips in blackberries.

I go up in the loft (breaking the hook on a stick in the process and losing said hook, which has Bill and me crawling all over the landing and stairs for ages; we discover all the places that haven't been vacuumed in months and Bill proceeds to use the vacuum to try to discover the lost hook; it is in the ladder above our heads.  We've lost a week's worth of heat up the loft hatch my now...) and get the jam making sieve I bought twenty-some years ago and used once to can apricots from the tree in the back yard of the rent house in Salt Lake City. I'm not sure it does much good on the apples and blackberries, but perhaps it's because I'm too greedy and want more product.  I don't throw away the pulp, but return it to the freezer for possible use in making some sort of fruit-flavoured alcohol.

I use the heavy pans from the pressure cookers, two kinds of sieve, several plastic containers, the scale, a wooden spoon and about 16 other objects.  I am scrubbing the glue off of old jam jars while the oven heats and finally pull out three kinds of scrubbers to attack the stubborn stickiness; use a week's worth of dish soap in the process. I boil the kettle to pour over the jar lids, hoping the plastic ones don't actually melt. Realise later that the plastic lids won't 'set' properly anyhow.

In any case, only have enough jam for four jars at the end of it all.  Every surface of the kitchen is covered with purple sticky things.  Sit down for a cup of coffee and next I know it's time to make dinner. Shove it all aside and make something simple; I'm exhausted.  Bill spends the next day washing up all the mess, bless him.  

I realise the jam has not set...

Vivien gives me an old bottle of Certa (liquid pectin) she's not going to use and loans me a Mrs Beeton's jam recipe book. After a bit of study, I gear myself up for another sticky purple session.  However, when I open the first jar of jam I decide it is a perfectly acceptable jam texture, just not the thick paste Lucy produced.  I don't care in the least.  It tastes absolutely divine. I now have plenty of jam, particularly as Vivien has given me two jars of hers (the raspberry is heaven, thank you Vivien!).

I decide that although 24 pence mixed fruit jam from Morrison's is sufficient for me, making homemade jam is probably worth the trouble after all.

Particularly if Bill is doing the dishes.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Glass Knobs

Another aspect of 'using what I have' is to finally use what I bought years ago, as in these glass knobs in the kitchen. Several of the door pulls around the kitchen had snapped off with use. We went to B&Q - in about 2008? - and bought replacements, which I promptly misplaced.

Bill, polishing his walking boots.

Then I found them again and put them in a drawer where I would run into them about once a month...and think 'I'll do that later'.  For me, being on a frugal kick spurs me to try things I've meant to do for ages and so I finally 'got around' to doing this project.  It involved unscrewing  and pulling off the broken and some of the still functional fixtures with a screwdriver and a knife, re-arranging them so that all the glass balls would go on the dresser, and then screwing the glass fixtures to the dresser.  It took me all of about 40 minutes.  

On the odd occasion when the sun catches these glass balls and makes them sparkle, it really lifts my spirit!  Can't believe it took me so long, but I'm really glad I did this.  Little things make a huge difference to me, particularly in winter.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


One of the ladies at the craft group Lucy and I attend is a textile artist.  Gaynor Devaney does all sorts of exhibits at local museums and we all enjoy watching her working on her various projects. I've teased her that she may be a bit mental. Her designs tend to include forest creatures from children's fairy tales.  

I recently watched her make a beautifully embroidered and decorated rectangle which ended up being a 'bedspread' for a wooden cutlery couple (a man's mustached face was painted on the fork; the woman's face on the spoon), tucked into a chocolate box with this ornate bedspread.  She will have spent hours making that and she still had to put the pink striped 'wall paper' on the sides of the box...  To be fair, the box itself was amazing and no doubt it inspired her.  I can't find a photo, but Bill and I definitely need to visit Rococo Chocolates in Chester next time we visit Simon!

Anyhow, this week she had a sort of banner up on one of the partitions.  I recognized the project many of the ladies had done involving appliqueing bits of wool onto other bits of wool.  Personally, it breaks my heart to see wool used in this way.  I tend to think that wool's highest and best purpose is to keep people warm, but of course the many wool lover textile artists in this group don't agree. Gaynor's project was, as usual, quite different from the others', which tended to be wool bags or large pillows. Her's was a parterre.

But it was her fountain that really grabbed me!  

I love lace and buttons and tiny charms and she used all of these with spectacular results. I know she is an artist because though many of her pieces are whimsical to me, they do make me stop and think.  This one really made me happy! Isn't she clever? 

Wouldn't you love to have a fountain like this!?

Monday, 17 February 2014

Day Out at Powburn

Inspired by the findings of our friends at Sparkle Vintage, Vivien and I took off to spend a day at Powburn.  This village is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, well, out in the wilds of Northumberland but it's a lovely drive.  

Bill often chooses this road to get to Edinburgh instead of the A-1 motorway which is probably quicker. The weather that day was hideous: wild winds and horizontal showers.  I chose to drive to this out of the way place in order to have an excuse to be mostly indoors, well, in the car. 

We went to the first place but discovered they had no loo for customers so we had an early lunch at the cafe in order to use theirs.  There were also plenty of lovely hand made craft items to admire and vintage dishes, etc for sale.  The food was better than Bill had led me to believe it would be. 

Having taken advantage of the facilities we returned to the antiques warehouse.  

A drink's cabinet.  I'm always curious about interiors.

This one distinctly smelled of alcohol!

Pink feather hat!

Edwardian butler's tray.

Leather suitcases...don't think I've ever seen on in the flesh, as it were.

The French corner

Loved the ottoman - great storage!

A huge cheval mirror...with a huge price tag.

A long bench for in front of the fire.  V. tempting.

One sold on eBay for £5.50, but still interesting WWII memorabilia.

Rington's tea mugs.

A William IV chair, with wheels and new upholstery.  Small armchairs, I've read, are
quite cozy.  That fire gave off NO heat, else I'd have parked myself!

This enormous building had a tin roof that rattled and no heating whatsoever other than in a small office at the front.  The lady in charge kept offering me a hot water bottle to carry around, but I figured if I just kept moving I'd be OK.  I knew what I wanted to buy, I just needed to settle down and make some decisions.  And it was very fun looking around, even if my hands and feet were numb. Touching really cold fabric with really cold hands is rather surreal: you can't tell what it is any more. All the cottons felt like silk. Perhaps some of them were. I'll not say what I went to buy, but I'll show you what I got:

I'd set myself a £10 limit.

I got these three remnants for £10.20.

After we'd had our fill we drove back towards home, stopping a a pub for more tea.  I was hoping for and we found a roaring fire.  I kicked off each of my shoes in turn to hold my frozen tootsies closer to the fire before sitting down to drink tea.

I drank even more tea at Vivien's house before travelling home.  I'm getting to quite like the stuff.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Another Weird Thing

I've never been a fan of those stick-on hook things, not trusting them much, but I bought a pack of them some time ago to hang a mirror in a window so I'd have a good light for putting on make-up. As another exercise in vanity I try to keep my fingernails fairly neat.  My Mom had beautiful hands but neat is the best I'll ever manage. My nails have never been strong enough to grow very long, but as I get older they are weaker than ever, plagued with ridges, chipping and splitting.  I keep them painted with as neutral a shade as I can find, usually ones meant for 'french polish', both as a means of 'neatening' but also to provide some protection.  

In addition to nail polish (they call it 'varnish' here in Britain), I try to remember to use gloves when I'm washing dishes.  Bill and I trade off kitchen duty for periods of time and I would sometimes forget, my gloves lost at the back of the cupboard under the sink.  Until I decided to hang them inside that cupboard door, with one of those stick on hooks, a rubber band and a clothes pin.  

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Roasted Seeds

I've always read that roasted pumpkin seeds were delicious so I tried it one November when we were preparing pumpkin for Thanksgiving pies.  Can't say I cared much for them.

However, being of a particularly frugal turn of late I thought I'd try it again with butternut squash seeds. I have to say they are delicious.  I'm not sure if it is the size of the seed, but the directions I found this time emphasized using olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.  

I can't think of anything I wouldn't love made with oil and salt.  Definitely worth doing, this.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

No Snow Here (Yet)

We took the motor home up to the storage place we use. I wanted to experience a ride in it (much more comfy that the old one!) and Bill wanted to get a bit of exercise. 

The storage area is about a mile from Shiremoor Metro, down a public footpath through a farm, so I walked part way with Bill until he went off on his own route. We passed the lovely little village of Earsdon and I couldn't resist snapping a couple of photos.

Later I noticed this signpost. I love these old painted cast iron signs. I'm fairly sure they are Victorian. They remind me a lot of enameled cookware that Grandma and Grandpa used to have. I like the way they take note of fractions of miles, unlike modern road signs, something that would matter to a person if they were on foot. Also, I wondered if in fact Shiremoor used to be Shire Moor.  

It was good to get some fresh air, but I also enjoyed hopping on the Metro and getting a quick lift back home. We're lucky that the motor home storage is so convenient, though we normally trade the car for the van while we're away.

Yes, we live not far from New York!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Bill's New Hobby

Bill traveled to Manchester earlier this week to pick up the new (to us) motor home. It is a Hobby 600. It is smaller than the Tabbart (easier to drive) and also has

  • a much nicer finish on the cabinets, 
  • a more informative control panel, 

Apparently it's best to put the dining table on the bed when driving...may have
to think about alternatives.

  • more storage space inside and out,
  • a more secure locking system,
  • a front door for the passenger,

  • a passenger chair that swivels around to face the back,
  • storage cupboards around the top of the vehicle except above the back door,
  • useful trays and drawers in the kitchen cupboards,

  • a bed at the back that stays down,
  • a second bed in the 'dining area',
  • seat belts for two additional passages,
  • a folding curtain that separates the bed and loo at the back from the rest of the cabin,

  • a better (lower) bike rack,
  • a ladder up to the roof
  • a roof rack for additional storage.
I haven't got my head around all the cupboards but I suspect there is more capacity than we actually need; I shall try to resist the urge to fill it all.

No immediate plans for any trips.  Need to think about that...

It also could use some curtains to close off the cab at night and possibly to dress up the windows, though they have the usual screens and shades for privacy.  The upholstery is a bit weird with beige, caramel and cool greens on a background that I can't decide whether it's blue, grey or purple.  So I need to think about that as well...

Best of all maybe?  It comes with a 12-month warranty!