little books

We recently (finally) got Rose a set of bookshelves for her room. We’d previously had a good chunk of her books downstairs, and the rest in baskets in her room. But it’s great to have them all together. Rose loves books. There’s a strict limit of 4 at bedtime, or bedtime would last forever, but most days we probably read another 5/10/40 throughout the day. And she tends to want the same ones over and over until we force a swap, and then she’ll exhaust a new set. So changing things around has meant that old favourites have resurfaced, and we’ve also started reading some books we’d barely looked at before – or that she appreciates in a totally new way now that she’s older.

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Two nice second hand books have become bedtime staples, and they’re also a perfect little size for sticking in a tote bag for the train, bus, or waiting in a cafe.

The first is A Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams. Our edition of this is a “pocket penguin”, so, as I said before, it’s a smaller book than a standard picture flat. I bought it for the pictures, which are full of amazing pattern and colour, but I wasn’t crazy about the story. However as Rose has become attached to it I’ve become quite a fan of the story too – especially the repetition of “nonsense little boy” which Rose loves to read along to. There are elements of the story which are scary – a little boy tells his mother that a lion is living in the meadow outside their house, and she eventually gives him a matchbox with a tiny dragon to scare the lion away – and Rose is at a stage of constantly getting carried away and frightened of monsters be them lions, dragons, or (current obsessive fears) santa and scarecrows. But maybe the author knows that this level of fear is actually really enjoyable for kids; Rose loves getting herself into a tizz as long as mummy or daddy is there to save her. As you can see from the photos it’s more Rose lap-sized than mummy lap-sized.

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And the second book is “Acorns and Stew” by Ruth Orbach, and our edition of this is a picture lion. I love these little picture lions, we’ve also got Mog in the same format and it’s perfect for reading in the car. I like the style of the line drawings with a really small amount of colour, but I was also massively drawn to the story of a young girl who loved ducks – which I knew Rose would enjoy. The girl’s name, Lenore, has quickly entered Rose’s vocabulary as a possible name for characters in her make-believe games, and she loves empathising when the ducks are sad.

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my year in books

It feels like it’s getting a little bit late for a book round up of last year, but one of the things I’m most looking forward to this year is taking the time to read as many good books as I can – however quality over quantity because I find that when I’ve attempted to read as many as possible (I think a few years ago my highest total was 92 or so) I’ve chosen shorter books and not spent as long digesting them as I should. So I’ve decided to pick and record a nice quote or two from each book I read this year in order to remember them better in the future. I’m terrible at book reviews, pretty much every review I’ve ever written at work uses the word “lovely” or “bleak”, and on Goodreads I only really give a star rating and pointless comments like “I dropped this in the bath” and “bloody love <this person>”.

I read some cracking novels this year. From a quick Goodreads tot-up it seems that I read 42 books, less than I’d hoped but what with getting married and an extremely busy craft Christmas, not too bad. This breaks down into 7 short story collections, 3 Granta magazines, and the remaining 32 were novels. It’s interesting to see what I read in the first half of the year as it seems so long ago that I would probably have estimated that I’d read them more than a year ago. It seems to be most useful and interesting to summarise my top ten, so from star rating a vague memory here they are (although there will be a cheat of lumping together a few at number 1)

1. Carson McCullers. Carson McCullers. Carson McCullers. Oh how I love you. I love developing obsessions with authors in a totally teenage pop-star way (in previous years Raymond Carver and David Foster Wallace have been the subjects of my undying adoration). ‘A member of the wedding’, from what I can remember, was absolute perfection. She captured the raw emotions of a 12 year old girl beautifully and without unnecessary flourish or sentimental prose, and also without being at all condescending about the at times nonsense of a young person’s logic. I loved it. And I especially loved then going on to read more of her work and see how wonderfully different her narrative voice was in each. I love Americana, especially this small town, poverty stricken, southern American juicy stuff, so I guess I’m the perfect audience. ‘The Ballard of the Sad Cafe’ was brilliant, and totally totally different. ‘Reflections in a golden eye’ was again so, so different, and hugely plot based in a completely different way. And I also read and loved ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’, which I thought was much closer to Steinbeck’s style/characters than the others. I love her. I’ll be so sad when I’ve read everything she’s ever written.

2. Willy Vlautin – The Free. My favourite Vlautin novel so far. Characteristically bleak/heartbreaking. He captures ordinary, contemporary America, and the sad desperation of these masses of people. But mostly he’s just a beautiful writer. I used to think that Franzen was good at characters, Vlautin has absolutely put him to shame.

3. Ernest M. Gaines – A Lesson Before Dying. I cried a lot particularly during one particularly harrowing chapter. I loved the sparse, simple, but beautiful, style of writing, and the tragic plot. Excellent characters, excellent stuff.

4.  Ross Raisin – God’s Own Country. I loved the first half/two thirds much more than what happens as the plot unfolds, but still a brilliant book. A must read for any Yorkshire dweller (or fan), who loves Yorkshire sayings, phrases, and country ways. I read it as we’d begun to settle into small town life, and Dan and I both found some of the first chapters so funny in Raisin’s absolute nailing of the Yorkshire spirit and before Dan read it I kept reading bits aloud they were so great. The narrator’s internal dialogue is brilliant, really really funny.

5. Maria Venegas – Bulletproof vest. I read a proof of this, perks of being a bookseller, and it is probably the best proof I’ve ever read – certainly this year. It was really well written, really emotional, and I found the subject super interesting too. I suppose the most similar author I’ve read is Junot Diaz, and his family are from the Dominican Republic not Mexico, and he’s a man, so its probably vaguely offensive that I even find them similar. I hope she writes more, I can’t wait to read it.

6. Dorothy Parker – The Collected Dorothy Parker. O.k. I didn’t read every poem but wow, I love her stories. It’s a cliché but her voice captures the age perfectly, and they’re all marvellously atmospheric and evocative of the 20’s/30’s. I love the often raw desperation of her female characters, which seem, at least to me, so heartbreakingly honest. And funny too.

7.  Annie Proulx – Close Range. Insanely good cowboy stories. Some of them are shockingly bleak. You would never guess that they were written by a woman in the way that someone like Alice Munro’s stories unashamedly immediately let you know. Really good, I’m so pleased that I’ve looked back over my year and remembered to seek out more of her short stories in charity shops.

8. Denis Johnson – Jesus’ Son. Took me a while to realise that these stories follow one central character. It’s a really brilliant book, not hugely dissimilar to Willy Vlautin in tone, and manages to be centred around drugs without being hugely cringe-worthy. I hate that I can’t remember anything about specific sections of this book, apart from that some parts, at least, were so perfect that I would stop to read them again.

9. Tao Lin – Taipei. I wouldn’t have put any of his previous books in a top ten, even though I have found them enjoyable and “hit the nail on the head” perfect portrayals of “my generation” in the same, horrifically cringe-y way the series GIRLS does. But Taipei was infinitely better than anything I’d read by him before. So much cooler than anything Douglas Coupland has written, and will date as awfully (sort of in a good way) as Bret Easton Ellis’s best stuff. Privileged young people with empty lives, taking too many drugs, worrying about too many things, but sort of brilliant. And the writing is just really great.

10. Per Peterson – In Siberia. I got this out as a library book, and it was brilliant. I seem to love young protagonists, and the rawness of the emotions this brings, but not in a badly written teen fiction way. Poetically written. Really nice.

I’m also annoyed that in December of 2013 I finished ‘Nip the buds, shoot the kids’ By Kenzaburo Oe, so I can’t include it in this list. It’s BRILLIANT. Read it.

I think that’s it. I gave an uncharacteristic high proportion of books 4/5 this year. I’m usually a tough marker. So a few didn’t make top ten which maybe should have. ‘Bastard out of Carolina’ was probably better than at least half of the books on this list, but I found it so harrowing that I’d have to take a break between chapters to read other books. This was mostly due to being a parent and struggling with any child-pain story, but also due to being such a brilliant book at building a horrible feeling of dread. I can’t make it top ten because it just made me feel so uncomfortable. So maybe that’d be number 11.

Roll on 2015.

x

own less stuff

Happy New Year. I had a hectic lead up to Christmas, sewing like crazy for two big craft fairs for amypanda, and then gave myself a good long few weeks off to enjoy my family and rest up. I’ve reached the point now where I’m itching to sew again, and have even had some new ideas (which had become few and far between when I was so busy), so I look forward to putting needle to felt in the next week or two.

I always fail at new year’s resolutions, but I do find it a really useful time to reflect on my life and to try to focus on what I want, what I could change to be happier, and what my aims are for the year ahead. Last year was a fairly busy one; we got married, Rose turned two, Dan got a promotion so his work has become increasingly stressful, and I had a busy final few months of the year craft-wise too. My main aim is to plan out my time better, but realistically we’ll just have to trundle along until September when Rose’s free nursery place kick’s in and I can properly plan when to sew, and if I want to devote more or less time to that.

I have come up with one main, sort of vague, resolution. To own less stuff. I like that this encompasses two things which I’ve been hoping to do for a while; declutter old stuff, and buy less new stuff. We’re modest consumers at worst; especially since moving to a small town we really don’t “go shopping” often for anything other than groceries, but over time I’ve built up an awful lot of “stuff” which I struggle to make myself get rid of. The motivations behind wanting to consume less are mostly environmental, but also fuelled by a desire to be surrounded by less clutter in the knowledge that cupboards full of junk, even when out of sight, are stressful, and having less stuff will make us feel happier.

So, in the hope that it’ll make me think harder about every purchase, I’m going to attempt a one-in-one-out system for all purchases other than food and you know, toilet roll and stuff. Every time I buy something new I’ll have to get rid of something old either to charity, a friend, or recycle in some other way other than landfill.

I have begun to de-clutter. The first two bin bags I’ve taken to charity were ridiculously easy to part with because they’re things (almost all clothes) which I’ve tried to sell at car boot sales, so I was ready to part with them at least 6 months ago, I just hadn’t got around to actually parting with them. So they barely count. I switched on the radio this morning and women’s hour were discussing this very subject, which spurred me on to tackle Rose’s wardrobe and fill another bin bag with some of her old clothes I’d been sort of hanging on to for Ebay, but would really never get around to listing as they’d not be worth the effort. I’m starting to build some momentum and it feels great! I’m not going to count any of these things in my one-in-one-out rule though, as it was all just old stuff which needed to go and would feel like cheating.

The year has begun with a flurry of purchases as my dad gave us some money for Christmas to spend on what we needed. We needed a few practical things for the house so I went wild in the Sainsbury’s sale.

2 x towels

2 x pillows

1 x kettle

1 x shower curtain

And I’ve also bought 3 paperback books from charity shops. And this list will grow when I spend the vouchers I was kindly given for Christmas for clothes shops, so I’m going to have to get plotting things to give away.

As an initial attempt to give something away I posted a photo of some books we don’t need on facebook, and as a result I’m posting one to a friend this week.

So the score stands at 9 new items coming in, 1 old item going out.

I really hope I stick with this as I feel really good about it. I love the trend towards simple living on lots of blogs / instagram / pinterest at the moment, hopefully it’ll prove to be inspiring.

x

DIY triangle leggings

My 30 makes in September didn’t go so well. I made almost nothing during the last two weeks of the month, mostly due to being on honeymoon – surely a reasonable excuse? I did manage to customise a pair of leggings for Rose though, something I’d been meaning to do for a while.

Here’s a very very simple tutorial on what I did;

You’ll need: leggings, fabric to cut out patches for the knees – this needs to have a bit of stretch to it, double sided webbing stuff (no idea what this is called, but it’s the stuff that gets sticky on both sides when you iron it between the fabrics), iron, scissors, pins.

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I cut out a cardboard triangle to use as a stencil, but you could just cut out the shapes freehand or use paper. I chose to  cut the patches from one of Rose’s old vest tops, because it was a similar fabric to the leggings and also I love the colours together. I tried to cut out the triangles so that the patch fabric would stretch in a similar way to the leggings. I cut a fairly large, very rough, seam area around the triangle.

 

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I used my template to cut a triangle shape in my webbing material, cut this out, and then ironed it onto the patch fabric. While it was still warm, and sticky, I folded over the edges. They don’t stick down very firmly, but this step was just to get neat edges to sew around so it doesn’t matter.

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I placed my patches onto the leggings and gave them another quick iron to hold them in place while I hand sewed them into place.

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They look really cute on 🙂

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days out

We’re a family of day trippers. What could be better than enjoying the great outdoors only to return home in time for tea, bath and bed. Even before having Rose, Dan and I always loved the part of the holiday where you come home again. So the past week (an all too rare week of annual leave for Dan, for our belated honeymoon) has been filled with little trips and lots of scones, it’s been perfect. We took Rose swimming for the first time ever, and she took to it like, erm, a duck to water (sorry). We’ve enjoyed the forest five minutes walk from our house, and visited lovely Saltaire.

We also took a trip somewhere new, how exciting. We’re very proud of Yorkshire; I’ve married a Yorkshireman and produced a Wessie (sp?) – the local lingo for someone from West Yorkshire, and we rarely day trip beyond the borders. This week we decided to go to Kilnsey Park, at the promise of goats, red squirrels and bees. It was a lot smaller than we’d expected, but really fun and Rose loved it. There were loads of chickens, really friendly goats, pigs, rabbits, and wildflower butterfly gardens which would be stunning in summer. But it was mostly a fish farm, which as an attraction for a vegetarian is a bit weird! The most interesting bit was a shed with a cross section of a bee hive, which was amazing and I’ve never seen before. And as a huge fan of autumn colours it was great to see the gardens changing; I love that now we don’t live in the city I feel much more in tune with my surroundings. Plus we drove through some of my favourite places, Bolton Abbey and Burnsall, so even the car journey was a joy.

Here we are, having fun.

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And a terrible family selfie: the best we can hope for:

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Next week we’re going up to my neck of the woods, Keswick. I can’t wait.

x

September

This month I’ve decided to try to make something for each day in September, so 30 things. And it’s now the 16th, and I’m doing fairly well.

Some of the things are for my craft business amypanda, and lots of them are little projects with Rose. I hope that I’m not cheating by also counting baking even though the results are long gone.

So, so far I’ve made….

a set of circus themed animal finger puppets (counting as 4 things!)

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a bird mobile/wall hanging:

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a circus animal mobile/wall hanging:

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We planned a trip to see a screening of Fantastic Mr Fox, which was an brilliant excuse for a little bit of costume crafting. I drew and cut out some fox shaped masks with Rose, and she painted them red and helped to stick white cheeks and black noses on them. She also had a very DIY tail made out of the sock part of some old red tights with white felt stapled to the end, and a pillowcase cape, and “A” badge (for the character Ash). She loved wearing it all and wore the tail all day at the park, so it’s got me all excited for the possibilities for Halloween!

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Rose and I have also baked a lot of flapjack and scones, both of which are easy for her to mix, roll and “make circles”. I pretty much leave her to it with scones once I’ve measured it all out, and we’ve been experimenting with adding different fruits, all of which have been fairly successful so I’d really recommend both scones and flapjack as easy bakes for small children. I didn’t take photos of all of our produce, but can remember (at least) 4 things we made (and ate) so will be counting that as 4. This is some flapjack cooling on the windowsill.

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So the running total is 11 (4 puppets, 2 mobiles, a fox costume, 4 bakes)

We’re officially on honeymoon right now, albeit a honeymoon at home. Dan has two weeks annual leave (we’re 4 days in and have been doing lots of fun family stuff together, it’s so nice just to hang out!), and next Monday we’re going to a lodge near Keswick for 4 nights – so I’ll be cramming some making into this first week and taking it easy while we’re away. I have a few makes for the home I’ve been meaning to do for ages, so fingers crossed I’ll get around to having a go at them and getting closer to the 30 makes target!

 

Amy x

hello

Hello!

I’ve tried and failed to keep a blog before, but I have plans and high hopes! I’ve even read the Mollie Makes blogging special.

So hello. I hope to fill this place with an edited more interesting version of the things which I spend my days doing; reading children’s books, crafting, cooking, and generally doing mum things with my toddler Rose. 

I hope that sounds interesting to someone. 

Amy