Dark Nights

I am a winter baby. I am more content, more creative and more myself when the nights are darker and the days fleeting. I love that darkness is creeping forwards as I'm leaving work, making a clear distinction between the working day and the evening that is all mine. I love that I can fill the flat with candlelight and that the act of lighting those candles and watching them burn will fill me with a glow that doesn't compare to simply switching on a lamp. Dark nights feed my imagination and radiate energy that feeds me in a way that summer nights don't. 

So it was on a dark, rainy night that I decided to begin cutting away at my Paperchase bunting. I can't say I had much of a plan, I just wanted to cut something that I can keep up on our expansive bare walls. When I really started out papercutting in my third year at uni, fairly late on in the year, I discovered that cutting didn't have to be prescriptive. I could use a scalpel to doodle; I never cut using a printed design, I either sketched something out and watched it change and develop as I cut, or I dove in without anything drawn out. There's nothing quite like doodling with a scalpel. In high school my art teacher was very strict about the use of erasers: they weren't to be used. I think that's one of the most important things I learnt from her, and the progression to scalpel many years later, helped to solidify that for me. Go with the mistakes. Think about each cut so that there are no mistakes. Make each "wrong" cut into a new "right" cut. 

I've learnt a lot from papercutting about expectations and flexibility. Compared to painting or drawing, I feel considerably more comfortable with a scalpel and experience much less angst when I get started. While papercutting may be my favourite way to doodle, I discovered when receiving my degree marks that others like to see the build-up (so close to a first, if only I'd sketch-booked!), which is why I've decided I better get documenting some of my ideas before cutting.

When it comes to drawing in a sketchbook I feel much less in control and much more critical of myself. Perhaps that's why I've avoided it so much? As per, "to do more sketchbooking" will be one of my (many) New Year's resolutions, and hopefully I'll get into the habit of sharing bits and bobs here. 

Have you got any New Year's resolutions that pop up every year?

Warp and Weft


Tapestry Weaving Revisited

A year or so ago I bought myself a lovely tapestry loom from Etsy to try and get myself weaving, something that I remember doing in school and loving, but never trying in my own time. My mum had a tapestry loom when I was little that I was intrigued by, so much so that I attempted to make one in DT club when I was in year 11. I say 'attempted to make' but it was more of an attempt to get the DT teacher to make it for me. Not a fan of DT at the time. I got as far as finding the wood I wanted to use and explaining I just wanted to whack some nails in. Which is why, until last year, I'd never had a loom of my own. This pink and yellow piece, or Battenberg as I like to call it, was my first ever weaving.

While exploring Saltburn-by-the-sea's shops we discovered a wool shop called Ripping Yarns and I was treated to several balls which I intend to put towards my second weaving. I've got a few pattern ideas but I think I'll sketch them out first, rather than diving in like I did with the above. It turned out pretty well though, despite being ad-hoc, and is currently hanging in my office/studio/laundry room/second bedroom/walk-in wardrobe.

I should probably get some doweling rods to hang my next project from, I could do with having that knitting needle back!

Saltburn-by-the-sea: Coastguard Cottages

In the second week of August Dan and I made ourselves comfortable in the back of my mum and dad's car and settled down for the journey to Saltburn-by-the-sea. The week we spent in Saltburn, living in Old Saltburn atop a hill in a cottage on a strip of homes making up the Coastguard Cottages, was one of the best holidays I've ever been on. I'm used to holidays abroad and the feeling of having to pack everything in because you may never be there again. Instead, our stay here made me feel more relaxed than I've felt in a long time. Away went that knot in my chest, the anxiety that I've been kneading about the many things that seem to be littering my to-do list. Away went the feeling of obligation to see everything and capture it to prove how adventurous I'd been. Instead, I reevaluated. Slowed down. And felt freed by the wide open skies, fields and sea that lay at our doorstep.

Ten days since we got back and I'm still clinging to that particular peace that I enjoyed while we were there, but it's slipping away as I chip away at my pile of essays and the inevitable return to school gets closer. I don't want to lump everything from the holiday into one post so I'm going to split it up and savour it. Holidays are always full of promise and plans, and this holiday was the same, but I'm so determined to achieve them. The problem with living in a city is that you lose those wide open spaces filled with possibility, and living surrounded  can be so claustrophobic, making wide plans seem smaller and further away.

I'm working on it though.

Jus Rol Croissants

 Call me lazy, but the range of products from Just Roll are un-be-liev-able. What's more exciting on a Sunday morning than being able to have hot-from-the-oven croissants after half an hour and only five minutes of actual preparation?! I've made their cinnamon swirls a couple of times, both times dying and going to heaven, but this Sunday I had a pang for croissants. After the fun part - popping open the tube - there's the discovery that the pastry is ready perforated (idiot proof) and in seconds you've rolled your very own crescent croissant!

Chunky ginger jam, honey and slathers of Lurpak! I couldn't fault these, except that they weren't big enough! Perhaps that's something to do with how tightly I rolled them? Nevertheless, they made my Sunday that bit more special! I love Jus-Rol's range of products and recipes on their site! It's a big step up, but I'm going to be adventurous and try their Honey and Lavender Panna Cotta Tartlets next!

A Cottage by the Sea

Picture borrowed from Owners Direct

This time next week Dan and I will be preparing to head off to Saltburn-by-the-sea with my parents to celebrate their respective birthdays. Rufio (our year old kitty) will be living at mum and dad's for the week with my brother Mike and our old and considerably noisier cat, Ross.

The prospect of being away - anywhere - is exciting and we can't wait to go running on the beach and paddle in the sea! The cottage we're staying in is right on top of a cliff with the most beautiful views. Away will go the iphone and the noise that comes with living in the centre of Stockport, and to be honest I'm looking forward to that the most. Peace. That and spending time with the 'rents; after moving out last year I haven't spent more than an overnight stay with them!
Also, look how pretty!

Where are you excited about going?

Cherry and Marzipan Loaf

I'm head over heels with these sunflowers, taking them with me from room to room, photos of them don't do them justice! Yesterday I finally got round to using up some cherries that were cluttering up the fridge; I'd planned to make a cherry and apple crumble which went down brilliantly a few weeks ago, but I wasn't in the mood to get sticky making the crumb part of the crumble. I trawled around to find a recipe that suited what I had in the cupboards, which included a slab of marzipan which I tend to have a slice of every now and again when there's nothing naughty around, and I found the perfect recipe on Fab Food 4 All. I love that they've called it Cherzipan, although it's definitely loafish, rather than cakey. 

I chopped my cherries up a little more haphazardly and I added 25g of caster sugar in addition to the soft brown sugar listed in the recipe. Rather than slicing and layering my marzipan I rolled several small balls and plonked them in randomly so that they'd melt into the loaf and add a bit of a surprise. It turned out well and the marzipan balls didn't make the surrounding loaf too gooey, but just right. There's something so satisfying about making cakey loaves. My banana and cinnamon loaf is a little bit amazing, but after watching a video where a spider digs its way out of a banana, I'm a bit reluctant to buy them. Thanks Internet. Maybe one day the horror will subside and I'll get round to posting the recipe.

Cherzipan Cake

  • 150g / 6oz Plain flour
  • 150g / 6oz Butter (softened) or buttery margarine
  • 75g / 3oz Soft brown sugar
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 2 tsp Baking powder
  • ½ tsp Almond extract (optional)
  • 75g White marzipan
  • 220g Cherries
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Sprinkling of Demerara sugar 

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C.
  2. Butter and flour a 2lb loaf tin.
  3. Beat the softened butter or buttery margarine well with the sugar with an electric whisk or cake mixer until creamy.
  4. Beat in the lemon zest and eggs, one at a time. (Don’t worry if the mix splits).
  5. Sift the flour and baking powder together and gradually fold into the mixture.
  6. Put half the mixture into the loaf tin and place half the cherries into the batter then cover with the slices ( or balls!) of marzipan.
  7. Put the rest of the batter into the tin then distribute the rest of the cherries on top and push them in.
  8. Using a spatula cover the cherries with the batter firming the mixture to the edge.
  9. Sprinkle Demerara sugar on top.
  10. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 50 minutes or until the centre springs back to the touch.

One Reason to Work in a School


Seriously though, by the time each holiday comes round you really, really need them. This is something that you'll only understand if you've spent time working in a school. You simply won't get It otherwise. Children en masse are bloody hard work. Trying to focus children on learning is bloody hard. Working with over a dozen other women (inevitable in a primary school) is painful! Sometimes the desperate need for some testosterone is positively palpable. But, apart from the holidays, you meet some incredible people who buy you the most amazing sunflowers and become the closest of friends.

These beauties will be putting a smile on my face for days and days by the looks of them.

When life gets in the way.

Things I've been doing instead of paper-cutting:
  • Work: changing roles and working with a child with much more demanding needs that have required a lot of research.
  • Training to be a ChildLine counsellor.
  • Volunteering as a trained ChildLine Counsellor - that period of training was intense and if I'm honest I'm pretty proud of myself for sticking with it! Getting used to volunteering after work and even just getting there has had a huge impact.
  • Essays for my Psychotherapeutic Counselling diploma - drowning in them.
  • After school Art Club which has been interesting, helping me get an idea of how children develop their skills at different ages. It's also made me realise how huge a disparity there is between art and 'art' taught in schools.
  • Attempting to eat 'clean' and be healthy - haa, that's been a bit all over the place! Since hurting my back and coming out with a slipped disc in August, I've really struggled with my weight this year, for so many reasons but largely because I try very hard to avoid activities that are going to cause the pain to flare up - which means that apart from being active at work, the amount I exercise has become incredibly limited.
All poor excuses. I'm halfway through my first week of the five week summer holiday and I'm starting small, attempting to make changes to my habits and routines in a way that I can maintain when the Autumn term starts in September. Apart from dreaded Case Studies for my Counselling course and everything else that comes with that, I will be starting a Teaching Assistant course in September. I don't know why I do this to myself. Luckily there'll only be an overlap of three months where I'll be doing both courses at once. 

I suppose after that, the plan for the next few months / 2016 is to focus on getting healthy: sort my back out, exercise consciously and with solid goals, and mostly, get rd of the anxiety that I've begun to feel building up as a result of all the things on my to do list(s). I'm looking forward to making use of the skills that I've learnt over the last two years and honing those, rather than spreading myself too thin.

Oh! And to get papercutting back under my skin! Here's a little one I did this morning.

Weekend Contentment

With two weeks left until the end of term the countdown has begun! The summer term has felt mind-bogglingly busy and the weekends have flown by all too quickly, so I've done my best to stretch them out. Saturday and Sunday have been languorous and perhaps a bit too indulgent, but plenty of small, simple jobs have been ticked off The Never-ending To-Do List, and although the working week has rolled round once again, I feel ready to meet it, even if I won't quite have time for such drawn-out breakfasts.

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