Saturday, 2 April 2011

happy mothers day

"chicken wife," original papercut by Sarah Bell
Happy Mothers Day, everybody!
Just to wish all the mums who may read this a happy day...

I'm lucky to have a child still living at home to say this to me,
and bring me coffee and a pressie in the morning, and it's always a special time.

Mother's Day this year will be rather poignant though, as it will be the first year when I shan't be picking up the phone to ask my own mum if she has received her card and package in the post,
all those hundreds of miles away in the North of England.

At teatime on the last day of last year I received a phone call to say she had been rushed into hospital. The following hours were awful: hanging on the line waiting for each text and call from my sister who was with her. Mum died suddenly, twenty minutes into the New Year of 2011, whilst all the celebratory fireworks were popping and fizzing over the night sky.

I don't want to linger on that time here, and it's still difficult to believe that she's not in her little flat in our hometown, always ready to chat and dispense good advice and home remedies. I want to say something positive rather than disheartening on Mother's Day.

Mum: I'll always love you.

I wish , wish , wish I'd made the time to see you more often. But when I did it was wonderful.
You were wonderful.

One of my great ambitions is to be as good a mum as you were for me and my sister, but I know I can never come close to the example you gave me. But I'll keep trying.

Mum was only 68 when she died. I'd expected we might still perhaps another ten years together.... Ten years of trips up north to visit her; take her out for lunch or a night away; have a little potter around Clitheroe, or St Annes or Southport. Of sitting with her as a matching pair in the chairs by the fire after tea reading the local paper, listening to the radio, (and sharing an illicit bar of chocolate before bedtime.)

Well it turned out that those extra years weren't to be, but she has left me a lifetime of memories as priceless and rich as a tapestry.

Thank goodness for mums. Let's cherish them.

Happy Mother's Day, all....

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Walking the Dog

Eliza and Rowan enjoying a stroll by the river

Well, here's a short version of how we got our new lovely, lovable English Cocker Spaniel, Rowan (see soulful photo below)

Here at Sampsons Farm Hotel, as well as cooked English Breakfast, out in the garden we also serve teas and coffees and cakes, and scones and jam and yummy Devon Clotted Cream....well, you get the picture....and we have a group of local dog walkers who walk along the meadows of the River Teign here every day and come back to Sampsons for a coffee at elevenses time.

A couple of months ago, Ann and Alan, who have two cocker spaniels, suddenly turned up with three. Three and a half years ago their girl dog had a litter of puppies, and the new third dog had been one of them. His owner had recently returned him to Ann and Alan after three years, saying that the husband was allergic to him and they couldn't keep him any longer. They were looking for a good home for him.

Every day I would go out to say hello, and every day , Paul, one of the other dogwalkers in the group would make a joke about me meeting my future dog. "Ha ha" , I would say. "But I'm not a dog person."

This went on for several weeks, Paul insisting that this was the perfect dog for us, and that Sampsons was the perfect home for the dog.

As the days went by I did start to consider what life would be like with a dog. And begin to think that it could work. And then I would just as quickly talk myself out of it again. (We do have rather a chaotic lifestyle here.) I had several long distance telephone conversations with my mum about why we simply couldn't have a dog. But that he was lovely. If we had in the position to have a dog, he would be perfect.

Every day Alan would smile in his quiet way, and occasionally ask whether we had made a decision yet. I wasn't quite aware that I'd said I'd even think about it.
But I had been thinking about it . A lot. I had a hundred reasons not to have a dog. So why was I constantly thinking about it?

And after two weeks of telling most of the people I knew about this lovely, rejected dog who was coming to the farm every day, and why we couldn't have him, I found myself asking Ann and Alan if we could try having him for a week. (????!)

Ann came with him a couple of days later with a bag of his home from home goodies: feed bowls, cushions, dog bed, Bonio biscuits, a tooth brush and
poultry flavoured toothpaste
After a quick scout around the house, he settled down by my feet as I worked at my desk, and he hasn't been much further away from me in the two months since then.

He is totally gorgeous, and we love him to bits.

I can't say he's the most expressive dog ever: it's a bit like he's had an over the top Celebrity Botox Job and can't move his forehead. He has just one look, and it's a constant unblinking gaze. He could win a stare-you- out competition anytime. But check out that tail. All the expression is going into the tail: it never stops wagging. And when we go for a walk that little dog bottom skips along with this waggy tail and he looks
very, very happy. And so are we....

And whilst we're on the subject of dogs, here's a pic of some American Cocker Spaniel puppies who came to stay at Sampsons with their owner a few weeks ago. Have you ever seen anything like them?! They look like they've been designed by Walt Disney, they are so cute. If I hadn't seen them with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed they were real.

And here's the lady who is their proud owner. Hope she brings them to visit again soon.

And on another subject entirely, below is a photo of a very tiny portion of of a vast amount Somerset strawberries I bought to make jam with a few weeks ago.

Making vats of the stuff I was, the week before we went on holiday to France. I'd bought a whole crate of punnets of strawberries to make jam for the
cream teas at Sampsons.

I was Total Earth Mother, complete with my 50's apron, listening to Radio 4, with three collossal Kilner Jars at the ready, as well as twenty odd small mismatched jam pots that I'd saved up over the year, boiling up strawberry jam in just about every bucket sized pan I could find. I used special jam making sugar with added pectin, which you only have to boil for five minutes before bottling. It sets amazingly quickly. I used it last year and it worked a treat

Only this year it didn't bloody set.

And I didn't have time to re-boil it before I went on holiday. My lovely mother in law Hazel, got the three huge Kilners out whilst we were gone, bless her, and boiled it up again for me with a bottle of pectin to get it to the right consistency. So the Sampsons Devon Cream Teas are no longer in jeopardy in the near future, I'm pleased to say.

But my own twenty odd mismatched jars of extremely sloppy jam are still sitting on the kitchen worktop (yes, that same worktop that is not meant to be a storage area) staring at me balefully every time I enter the kitchen, and it's already a month since I made it.

I keep avoiding its eye, and hopefully some good elf will turn up in the middle of the night whilst we are all asleep and empty it all out, sterilise all the pots, boil it all to setting perfection, and repot it all without getting half a kilo of hot jam smeared over every part of the kitchen as well as over the outside of every pot. Oh, and if he could label it too, that would be even better...........

Come and pop over again soon for tea and scones and strawberry.....soup....

Friday, 23 July 2010

Back from Sunflower Land

The view from the car as we pottered along the rural roads of France last week....

Hello Darlings!
Well here I am surfing the blogwaves again after a very big gap (sorry....)
The two weeks before I went away were manic, then I was away on our family holiday to France for ten days, and now this week has whizzed past in an awful frenzy of post holiday washing activity and trying to tidy and clean the house before my mum arrives for the summer hols this Sunday..... (although why I'm even attempting to execute about six months worth of "tidynclean" in just one day I don't know. )

When we first moved into our house,which is a converted barn , a friend of mine asked if another friend of hers, who was a freelance photographer for interiors magazines, could come over because he was always looking for fresh homes to photograph and write about.
I agreed , and he duly arrived on the given day, after I had been cleaning non stop for the previous two days. |Obviously. "Hmm......," he sniffed, as he surveyed my kitchen, " I'm always telling my own wife that work tops are for working on: they are not storage areas..........."

Needless to say, he was not offered a cup of coffee, and our house was not featured in a magazine.

And I am not tidy.

And as my mum so rightly says,
"There are those who have a tidy house; and there are those who make things....."


PS I realise that I haven't even mentioned our holiday, and neither have I told you the story of our gorgeous new dog, Rowan. But I will next time I promise, and in the meantime, here's a pic of Eliza having a cuddly moment with him...

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Our New- to- You Dog

It's very odd but in the last year I've developed a bit of a thing about dogs......
During the usual scavenging expeditions to flea markets, car boot sales and charity shops, childrens books, old cigarette cards, old black and white photo's of dogs have joined my more usual purchases of fabrics, jugs, buttons and books. I've done paintings of 1920's ladies with Airedale Terriers and Greyhounds; embroidered tea cosies with pictures of Labradors, Fox Terriers and Jack Russells and have been taking photos of lovable, scatty dogs all over the place.
But I am not a dog person.
Or rather, I wasn't until last week.

But now, here we are, seven days later, the new and besotted owners of our pre-loved Cocker Spaniel. He's three and a half and very gorgeous. Here he is on the beach at Teignmouth tonight, contemplating his rubber ball. He doesn't have a huge repertoire of expressions, but he's an absolute master of the "thoughtful", "patiently wise" and "soulful" looks.......
Here's another shot of Teignmouth, which was looking particularly beautiful tonight: we took him for a walk along the promenade. You can see the Victorian pier in the background.
And here's our daughter Eliza with the new light of her life.... As I write this on the computer, our new dog is sitting quietly under the desk, tickling my toes with his lovely silky fur. Happiness is a dog.....

In the next post I'll tell you the story of how we got him.
So sorry I haven't written anything these past few weeks: chaos has reigned in our household, our home looks like someone has just burgled it, and despite complaining to my husband that we never do anything, we have had so many social occasions recently that I'm on the point of collapse ( two evenings a week is really pushing it for me, staid homebird that I am.) But within the next few days I'll check in with you again and I'll put the kettle on for us.... Come and visit soon.

Have a lovely weekend!

Sarah x

Monday, 24 May 2010

Mothers and Daughters

Last Saturday I was having a tranquil time, teaching watercolours to a group of beginners, with the sun shining in on the jug of tulips on the table, and some 1940's big band music on in the background... Couldn't have got much better, really. The postman arrived, and I opened some letters as I waited for everyone to finish an exercise in mixing colours.

And then the day got even better. This photo (above) came out of an envelope. It shows one of my students, Jen, with her daughter Sarah, and Sarah's tiny daughter, too. Here's what Jen's husband John said in his letter,
"My wife and daughter enjoyed the "Painting Chickens and Ducks Workshops" last Wednesday so much that that they decided to practise the following day.
Of course Sarah's daughter wanted to join in as well, as you can see. But she has to learn that you have to paint on paper and not cover your hands in paint!"

Although the little toddler is using a brush, her hands are covered in paint right up to the cuffs of her overall. I just love this photo. It makes me laugh, but I find it really moving, too. As a child I loved nothing better than painting with my dad, or sewing and making things on the living room table with mum. And some of my best times with my own eleven year old daughter are when our heads are bent over the table together, drawing, cutting and sticking. ....

Well, on another subject entirely, I did promise ages ago, to show you the photo of the twin orphan calves at my friend Elizabeth's farm. Here they are, below. Aren't they beautiful? And they are doing a great job of looking after them down at the farm. I'm hoping to get over to Elizabeth again in the next few weeks and I'll take another photo of the twins as an update, to show you.

" I never thought I'd see the day..."
Nope, I never did think I'd see the day when I would bake an apple pie ( and make the pastry by hand!!) like this.
Although I love the idea of baking, and have every kind of tin, biscuit cutter, piping bag and dish under the sun, the idea somehow rarely becomes a reality.

The last time I made a chocolate cake it turned out like two oversized chocolate biscuits on top of each other, and I never remember to defrost the frozenm ready made pastry in time for an apple pie, so it always ends up as an apple crumble instead. But at the prospect of Nigel's venerable uncle and aunty coming down to stay from Tonbridge Wells, and in an uncharacteristic fit of bonhomie, I offered to cook Sunday lunch for all Nigel's family so they could all meet up with the long lost uncle again. I decided I'd better do something a bit more impressive than the usual crumble.
Luckily I saw a deep dish apple pie made on a TV programme and was inspired. Ok, it took a long time (most good things do,) and the apple inside wasn't quite as cooked it could have been, but hey! It looks pretty convincing, don't you think? I had to take a photo of it to prove that I had made something like this , if only once in my life...

Today is a nice calm day: the birds are singing, the sky is gloriously blue and sunny, my admin is finished for the day (phew,) I'm sitting here writing my blog and am just about to go out and plant some Sweet Peas and Ox Eye Daisies.

Tomorrow, however, the forecast is rain and cold, and I'll be driving to the county of Somerset to take part in a "Women Do Business" Day workshop on "Exporting Abroad."
Well, it sounded a good idea at the time....
I'll take a clipboard with me. It might make me look a bit more official.

And Nickie in America: if you're reading this, I might have to prevail upon you to buy one of my postcards next week or something, so I can say that the workshop worked, and that I've already started exporting my work .....

Call again soon! The kettle will be on....
( But it's only fair to tell you that last Saturday night I met up with my friend Alice again (the one who prompted my little diatribe about elections and voting a few weeks ago) and we were putting the world to rights once more. Some Rum and Cokes were involved.)
So you might be in for another lecture on The Nature of Modern Life, on your next visit.
And you can't say you haven't been warned....

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