Saturday, 27 January 2018

Playing in My Jewellery Box

Well, I don't actually have a jewellery box. That is to say I have several, but nothing that comes close to holding all my swag. Like my sewing stash, my jewellery collection has come to me from several female relatives; mostly from my Aunt Rita who must have been one of Oklahoma's reigning queens of maximalism.  Lest you think I'm bragging, I hasten to add that 99% of it is costume. And probably 80% doesn't particularly suit me. But where's the fun without a challenge?

I usually play in my closet. Some of my closet games include:

- Colour of the Month (I had to wear that colour every day)
- Still My Colour? (when I returned to blonde from red hair)
- Let's Do Data Analysis!
- First Thing on the Left (make an outfit with it); I've played this game for about 30 years. Variations on it include
     - Wear All My Tops
     - Wear All My Jackets/Cardigans
     - Wear All My Dresses/Trousers
     - Wear All My Scarves

So, I thought it about time I played Wear All My Jewellery. This is no mean feat given the sheer volume of the stuff. 

I could open a Vintage Jewellery Shoppe, specialising in the 1980s over-sized earrings.

Having tons of jewellery (I paid for excess baggage weight on the trip home, in spite of filling three mens' carry on luggage) means I've needed to use some imagination to store it a way that lets me see what I have. Strangely, once I did that, I sort of lost interest. I'd forgotten about this shelf Bill put up for me. I was frightened to hang too much for fear of ripping it off the wall. Forgive the terrible photos, I took them back in 2011, not that the date is any excuse.

So, for my 2018 game I've started with brooches, many of which are pinned to a crocheted belt, another item I inherited from Rita (Jack said, take anything you want, it's all going to a charity shop, or something similar; I filled my suitcases and then some. Grief makes us do funny things). Anyhow, the game for these goes 'top to bottom' as for which comes next. 

Probably most of these are ones I've worn in the last year or so.
There are plenty of others somewhere.

I loved brooches when I wore suits, back in the Dark Ages. They were part of my 'signature'. I still like them, but they are hard on knitted garments (they weren't very nice to my closely woven jacket lapels, now I think of it). I read a tip about having a square make-up sponge on the inside  of a blouse or sweater will help take the weight off the fabric. I don't own one, but have folded up some fabric bits into a similar size and this seems to be working OK. I'm also thinking that some steel wool might help sharpen some of the pins a bit as well.

This is mostly black necklaces; there are hangers for white, silver, gold and colours...

Monday night I wore a red-eyed leopard on my red jumper to our Book Group meeting, but it was my secret as the pub was so chilly my coat never came off. 

The day before, my brooch had an oval - possibly abalone - stone of bright blues framed in a pewter coloured metal in a delicate filigree. I chose a long sleeved blue tee shirt (it happened to be the first on the left, but the rule for this game is the first thing of the right colour starting at the left). A grey vest (tank top) went underneath for warmth. Black and cream plaid trousers, a black wool cardigan and black shoes completed my outfit. I never left the house, but that is entirely beside the point. 

The main point - just to be clear - is that as long as I'm wearing each thing I own it is unlikely I will get bored with what I have. I don't guarantee never to buy any more jewellery, but at least I'll be very clear about what gap it is filling. 

Earrings on wine glasses: silver on the right, colours on the left. Two chocolate
boxes and one tea towel hold the rest of the earrings.

Today I'm wearing a green-eyed leopard with taupe jeans and long sleeved tee and a cream coloured wool cardigan. The green pieces will be the hardest as I don't have any green in my wardrobe, but one day I may rectify that if I find the right green.

Rita loved animal prints.

Three brooches have not made the cull: two because they have missing stones and one because it isn't at all 'me'. It is a hand crafted piece that is very clever, made by one of my craftiest friends. I appreciated the thought, but felt silly wearing it. It went in a charity bag (along with most of Bill's ties) and I'm hoping someone else will love it. The two with missing stones have gone into a small wooden chest, one of several my Mom had from the 1930s or 40s. I have a plan for that chest...but that is another post.

As games go, I realise this isn't particularly exciting. Then again, I have been told I'm easily pleased. I'm pretty sure it wasn't intended as such, but I took it as a big complement.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

A Clasp Purse

I still, after 20+ years, get confused about what to call things. I alternate between calling my 'handbag' (what seems a rather old-fashioned-what-the-Queen-carries term), my bag and my purse. I lean towards the latter most of the time. However, according to Bill, my purse properly refers to the thing which holds my money. Since I use an item made of wool that belonged to Bill's mother, I can't use the word I always did in the States, when I carried a 'billfold', with compartments for credit cards and a check (cheque - another term whose spelling I haven't absorbed). It's not really a big deal, though on the odd occasion when I ask Bill to fetch my purse and I get a mini-lecture. 

A-n-y-h-o-w, our craft group made one of these clasp purses (sometimes it is called a 'kissing' clasp; looks closer to a hug to me, but never mind) and I'm inordinately pleased with mine. I don't very often join in with their projects, as I prefer to make practical items rather than stuff to hang on the wall. I don't consider myself particularly artistic in the way that many of those ladies are, though several will tell you they don't have original ideas, the only copy; I can identify with this. My main area of creativity seems to be frugality, where I solve 'problems' by using materials in fairly peculiar ways. However, this project is refreshingly normal.

The clasps are available on Ebay I'm told. The lady leading this project had bought some and we purchased them from her. I used the first piece of elegant upholstery-weight fabric I came across, paired with some crepe fabric that looked suitable as a sturdy lining.

We were given a pattern based on the clasps provided, but the advice for using a differently shaped clasp was to trace the top of the clasp, draw a line at a 45 degree angle from the corner (which looks like a shoulder to me) down until it is even with the hinge. The shape below the clasp can be anything you like. One lady incorporated a gorgeous pineapple pattern in her brocade, making a long oblong shape. These clasps were rather larger than the one on Ella's wool purse, big enough for me to easily get my hand all the way through. These clasps come with two small loops for attaching a strap if you wish.

We cut two patterns for each of the outside and lining fabric (a front and a back) and stitched them right sides together leaving several inches open at what would be the bottom of the bag, on order to turn them. Some of us made boxed corners before turning our bags right side out through the gap we left. Pressing at every stage is important.

The fiddly bit is of course attaching the clasp. We were told we could use large fold back clips or baste the cloth in place. I did the latter. The metal has a u-shaped gap and with the fabric lined up with the shape of the clasp I shoved it into the gap and used sturdy thread to sew through the fabric and around the top of the clasp all the way around on both sides. 

Then we used three strands of embroidery thread to back stitch through each hole, taking care to keep stitches as hidden as possible. I had thought a curved needle would be easier but it proved rather unwieldy. That is until I came to finishing off a length of thread when I wanted to just loop the thread a couple of times under the clasp. A straight needle goes through just fine but it was hard to get it to come out of the U-shape to pull it through. Switching to the curved needle at that point did seem easier. 

It does take a bit of time to all this, but it's not terribly difficult. I can see me making several of these for gifts and it seems a great way to use some of my more luxurious fabrics.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Rose Hip Syrup

I made my first ever homemade rose hip syrup last autumn. It was dead easy. But first a bit of background.

The Robert Redford film, Jeremiah Johnson, came out in 1972, apparently. I remember seeing it with a then boyfriend. We were both fairly inspired by the film, he perhaps even more than I. A few years later we went our separate ways, but I've always been slightly astounded that said boyfriend named his only child Jeremiah, with a middle name equally as Biblical. I always felt rather bad for the kid, but perhaps he has thrived in spite of his name and ... all. 

Anyhow, at some point I found a book that purported to be the foundation for this film's screenplay: Mountain Man, by Vardis Fisher. I read it several times over several years and it eventually also went a separate way, but one thing in it always stuck with me: rose hips. In the book the main character picks rose hips and does something with them because of their vitamin C. I remember at the time, in the Dark Ages Before Internet, wondering what on earth was a rose hip?

To my knowledge, I never set eyes on one in all the 39 years I lived in the US, but then I didn't get out a lot then and we didn't have 'hedgerows' along 'public footpaths'. I was rather excited when Bill identified a rose hip for me on one of our walks. Bill told me that as a child, in post-war (WWII) Britain, he and other children were encouraged to pick rose hips and take them to school, where they would be paid for them. The rose hips were then made into rose hip syrup which was given to school children - again, because of their vitamin C content. This was just after food rationing ended, so there must still have been concern about children's nutritional needs being met. 

My friend, Vivien, heard me witter on about rose hip syrup for so long she bought me a small bottle one year, for Christmas or a birthday. It was lovely but I was sure it cost more than I was prepared to pay for something I could make at home.

So, (we're getting to the real point) this autumn Bill and I noticed that foraging was particularly good. We found a small wild tree with a few green apples, we picked quite a few blackberries, a friend from my crafting group told me where to find a vast number of damson trees, we found a few sloes and quite a few rose hips. In the midst of starting various other fruit alcohols and crisps I found a rose hip syrup recipe and had a go. This is the one I used, and it couldn't be easier.

I think I spent a few minutes cutting off the stems and ends, but I'm not even sure that was necessary before setting them to boil in a prescribed amount of water. When it came time to strain the solution (twice) I used two very stained linen tea towels, saved for use as strainers.  I remember Simon asking me if rose hips were the things with 'itchy powder' in them and Bill said yes. Their really isn't a lot of 'meat' on rosehips and the inside has what looks like a lot of very tiny needles in. You really don't want to be dealing with those, hence the double strain. So as with crab apples you just boil them, filter the liquid and add sugar, heating til the sugar dissolves. I filled almost three empty gin bottles with the syrup from one afternoon's harvest. The ladies at my craft group wanted to know where all that gin went. They seemed almost disappointed when I said it was in the loft with damsons and sugar added. We used the partial bottle right away, the other two went into the freezer until closer to Christmas when I decanted the syrup into small wine bottles (Bill and I drank the wine) for gifts. 

Bill loves this stuff and I'm pretty fond of it myself. It's fairly sweet, of course, but has a rich kind of flavour Bill says takes him back to his childhood. We've been using it on breakfast cereal instead of sugar or honey.

One of the Christmas presents I got Bill was membership in a local foraging class, Wild North Discovery, with several meetings scheduled over the year. Of course I joined myself as well, to make it an activity we could share. I'm looking forward to learning what else we can pick up around here to eat!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Looking Back

If you've never read The Time Paradox, by Philip Zimbardo and Jim Boyd, I can recommend it. Perhaps I should warn British readers it may smack of self-help. It's been a while but from what I recall, it is full of quizzes to help decide if you mainly (mentally/emotionally) live in the past, in the future or in the present (the latter being a rather hedonistic group, I think).  I'm thinking they recommended a bit of all three.  Note to self to re-read it.

Anyhow, I would suggest if you are busy planning all the things you want to do in 2018, it might be good it remember all you did in 2017. I don't think most of us give ourselves credit for all that we do. I jotted some brief notes for 2017, as I try to do at the end of each year; no doubt other things will come to mind when this is published, but here is my list:

  • I 'lost' 12 pounds. Mind I 'found' a few over the holidays but am confident they will fall off again, once all the junk food is gone (AKA eaten). The only thing I did was to stop buying or making bread, buying cheese or crackers. Well, the other thing was to make my own lunch of yogurt, fruit and nuts instead of having Bill make (delicious but sometimes fattening) lunch. We eat together at breakfast and usually dinner, but go our own ways at lunch.
  • Made two new friends that I see semi-regularly.  These are two ladies I met at the WI that I decided I want to know better. I have a list of friends I want to keep up with and I cycle through their names, making dates to get together.
  • Went to dressmaking classes and made myself three t-shirts and two button-down shirts. 
  • Re-arranged my new sewing room after redecorating (new paint & carpet). It doesn't look how I'd like, but it looks how it looks. Further transformation is likely a rest-of-my-life task, but it works well for me as it is. It isn't as good as a guest room since everything isn't hidden behind a closet door anymore, but we have overnight guests maybe 3-4 times a year, so it will have to do for now.
  • Adopted the clean house habits from Zen Habits. Bill has signed on for most of this as well and  though neither of us is perfect we have enjoyed a much tidier house this past year. I've only recently attempted the 15-minute a day un-clutter and in the run up to Christmas I was amazed at the mountains that got shifted. 
  • Attended all my WI (Women's Institute) and WI Book Group meetings when we were in town.  
  • Boycotted Amazon (other than I bought two books I couldn't get otherwise in time for my Book Group and got two books as Christmas gifts). Expect I saved at least a hundred pounds.
  • Read 57 books.
  • Published 53 blog posts.
  • Joined the YMCA gym with Bill; attended Zumba Gold classes regularly at Linskill Community Centre.
  • Posted notices in community centres about yarn for our knitting group.
  • Had holidays in Switzerland (a new place) and France (revisited familiar places). 
  • Found gardening workshops and a foraging (for free food!) club
  • Attended a lecture on the history of jewellery in Harrogate.
  • Made a coptic stitch notebook on my own (well, with a video)
  • Started Bullet Journalling
  • Made rosehip syrup (a post is forthcoming)
  • Donated an enormous pile of clothing from the attic, keeping only natural fibre / dye-able / biodegradable cloth.
  • Wrapped all our Christmas gifts in re-cycled paper from last year and with re-cycled and/or handmade bows.
None of these is earth-shaking and there are loads of other even smaller items I could possibly add. However ordinary these 'achievements', they all help shape the life I have long wanted to make for myself.

What did you do in 2017?

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

This Year's Stack

So, it's a different picture this year as I decided to boycott Amazon for 

a) selling Trump family products 
b) having a reputation as a miserable place to work
c) threatening small businesses worldwide 
d) changing the culture with 24-hour delivery 

I was torn, as the owner of Amazon also owns the Washington Post but at the end of the day, I decided

e) I don't need to help Jeff Bezos get any richer

I've been doing business with Wordery. I did use Book Depository but stopped when I learned it was owned by Amazon. Since finding that out I check before I buy.  If you know of other book sources, I'd love to hear about them.

So, I gave Bill and each of the step-kids a wishlist with links to alternative sources. I didn't include books as I'm still having a book clear out. Also, I know at least two of them have an umbilical cord attached to Prime and are assimilated into the cult of instant gratification. I hasten to add I'm still fond of them and am not aware either are struggling with debt. I just love book shops and want to see them survive.

As it happens Sarah was super organised and had her shopping completed before the first of December. It was around then that I made my Amazon wishlist private and sent the wish list around. 

Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin:
I had already read this book from the library but wanted a copy to mark up, annotate, etc. It has a lot of useful information I'm planning to use. Funny enough, our WI book group read one of her other books, Happier at Home, and pretty much all the Brits really hated it. Self-help stuff is not part of British culture, as one lady I really like said, "Why doesn't she stop saying 'Be Gretchen' and just get on with it?" I loved that remark as so essentially British and yet I still like Gretchen Ruben's books even though I'm not sure I would like her as a person. The Brits saw her as incredibly self-indulgent, even though she is combining her personal wish for growth with a very lucrative writing career. 

I sort of see what they mean, but I think she is very much a 'reader's writer' in that her books are full of quotes, research and references. I never read one of her books without finding out there are several other books she mentions that I want to get hold of. 

If you can bear the idea of improving yourself (and in this case, forming better habits that make your life easier) then I really do recommend this book.

Legendary Authors and The Clothes They Wore, Terry Newman:
I read this through quickly on Christmas Day, as Bill was in bed with a cold (we opened presents on Boxing Day). Can't say I knew of all the authors, so there may be something to learn from this. Otherwise, it was generally underwhelming. I was hoping for something more than it delivered somehow. It's reminded me to copy my Amazon wishlist and visit the library first. Still, I will probably re-read it to see if I overlooked the bits that might have provided more satisfaction. I remember reading 20th Century Characters, by Duncan Fallowell and commenting here that it was rather boring. It turned out that when I re-read it a couple of years later I found it quite fascinating, mainly because I knew more about who those characters were and how they fitted into my mental puzzle of the inter-war years. So I'm prepared to give Newman's book another go. 

Instead of books this year I got some perfume (Chanel No. 5), some bath and skin products, a couple of magazine subscriptions (No Serial Number and Reclaim), some peacock feathers, all on my list; also some surprises: chocolate, wine and sloe gin.

Did you get a stack of books for Christmas?