Saturday, 9 July 2011

Year of pleasures #15: How to make an American quilt

SO it's been a while since I blogged here, as usual. Partly it's because I've just gone back to work, and I'm working towards Chartership (see my other blog, Librarian of Tomorrow). But mainly it's because I've been quilting.

I've always wanted to make a patchwork quilt (technically not an American quilt but I liked the title!). Mum got me a Moda charm pack for Christmas and I've spent the last few months stitching away, with the help of the lovely ladies at the sadly-no-longer-with-us Sally Bourne haberdashery in Crouch End, who helped me pick out fabrics.

I'm stitching it by hand, which makes it a much slower process, but I think it's more satisfying than using a machine (and I was rubbish at machine sewing in Home Ec!).

My quilting stitch needs work, and I've still to do the border and binding, but I'm pretty damn proud of this thing I've created. I'm hoping it'll be the first of many, but even if I never stitch again I've got a wonderful quilty heirloom that will be part of our family picnics from now till forever.

Rows stitched

All the squares

Inner border

Outer border and wadding

Stitching detail

Year of pleasures #14: Haircuts

I love getting my hair cut. These days it's just nice to get an hour or two to myself, but I've always loved it - taking the time to sit down, read a trashy magazine that I'd never dare buy and have a cuppa while someone makes my hair look prettier than I ever could.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Year of pleasures #13: glamping!

Although I hate that word, it was constructed by the media to make camping somehow hip and down with the kids, when actually anyone who camps knows it's never been uncool.

Yes, the Hoxton crowd may just have discovered it and yes, you no longer have to choose between a '70s-decor static caravan or sleeping on rocks under your own poorly-erected canvas, but camping in a yurt, a gypsy caravan or an eco pod (like we did) is still camping, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, much fun was had by all! The pods at the Camping and Caravanning Club site at Bellingham in beautiful Northumberland are much recommended. I thought we'd struggle to get us and both kids in (Logan slept in mum and dad's caravan) but the family next door had two teenage daughters and two dogs, so as long as you don't mind getting cosy it's a winner!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Positive vibes

My Arizona friend Mead writes over on her blog Desert Lovelies, a creative, thoughtful place to hang out and be inspired.

One of her recent posts was about positive affirmations, a way of taking the negative energy in your life and turning it around. A little too far out for some (especially in the cynical media world I work in) but I'm going to give it a try and see if I can shake off some of the negative energy that's been fogging my brain recently.

If nothing else, it'll give me a nice creative project to be getting on with!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Year of pleasures #12: Swimming

I've been lax of late, partly lost the inspiration and partly distracted by my professional blog. Think of it as an extended holiday!

Ella and I started baby swimming lessons last week, and she's really enjoying herself! It's nice to spend half an hour in the water with her, and with all the other parents and babies. She's not quite confident enough to go underwater yet, but she's having a lot of fun, and so am I!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Wills and Kate shop windows

There's an optician in Muswell Hill that always has themed displays in papier mache. They had an impressive one for the election last year, and they've done it again for the royal wedding. Loving the corgies!

I saw the most alarming one so far today, in a Thai restaurant in Crouch End. I'm sure Kate will be thrilled...

Year of pleasure #11: Pretty socks

I've been on a bit of a downer over the past few weeks, not sure why really just lots of things getting on top of me (house moving getting nowhere, juggling finances, lack of sleep). I'm having a proper little pity party today!

It means the little things that wouldn't normally annoy me make me so irate! It took me an hour this morning just to tidy the house for today's viewings - not clean, no dusters or bathroom spray were involved, just picking up things and putting them away. It doesn't really matter but I was stomping around the house swearing profusely under my breath. Ella must have thought I'd gone mad!

Two things cheered me up - my lovely mum 'babysitting' Ella over the phone while I dashed round (thanks Mum!) and putting on these pretty cherry socks. Weird how something seemingly inconsequential can make me smile and completely change my mood. Yay socks!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Wolverine, by Leinil Yu

Leinil Yu is the smiliest, nicest man in comics. I asked if he was doing sketches or just signing, and he signed my book for me with a quick sketch, apologising profusely all the while that he wasn't doing sketches. What a sweetie! It might be just a quicky but I'd love to be able to sketch like that in five seconds.

Check out Leinil Yu on DeviantArt and at his art dealer's site.

Batman, by Michael Lee-Graham

Lovely man, lovely drawing, just generally lovely.

Hulk, by Paul Davidson

I think this represented how he was feeling at the time - if you have a raging hangover the last place you want to be is sat at a desk in a brightly lit, over-air conditioned conference hall having to engage with occasionally intense fanboys (and girls). Nice job though.

Paul Davidson's website is here.

Batman, by Simon Bisley

The man is a genius, just open and honest and sweary and lovely (and he'd probably shout me down for saying so). He drew upside down in my book, which may have been due to the amount of Stella he'd consumed but still, it has a nice batlike ring to it.

More Simon Bisley here.

Batman, by Sean Phillips

Mark went for the full painting but I like my Sean Phillips black and white sketch.

Batman, by Craig Wilson

Craig drew one of my favourite Batmen (can that be plural?). I love his take on Red Riding Hood too. Check out his work and follow his blog for more pieces.

Batman, by Kev Crossley

Lovely bloke, happy to chat, drew some amazing pieces over the weekend. Check out his artwork over on The Art of Kev Crossley.

Batman, by Dan Francis

Dan is a student training to work in 3D video gaming, but he still drew me a cool Batman.

Batman, by Philip Johnson (he apologised for the crap Bat symbol bless him)

More from Philip Johnson at DeviantArt.

Domino, by Filipe Andrade

Check out Filipe Andrade's blog for more.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Sean Phillips flick book

How to draw the White Queen in seven easy steps!

There are more photos in the seequence but I didn't want to bore you so I'll post them to my Flickr stream instead. Check out Sean's blog and website for more of his work.

The finished product.


Last weekend we drafted in both sets of grandparents and spent the weekend geeking it up at Mark Millar's Kapow! comic con, the first of its kind in London. It was lots of fun, although I severely underestimated the length of time we would spend queueing (next time I'm taking a flask of strong coffee and a copy of War and Peace). I think the organisers underestimated how long fanboys would be willing to queue, too - bigger venue next year please!

I made it to a couple of the Marvel panels, although I don't know enough to be particularly excited by any of the announcements. The most surreal sight of the weekend wasn't the people in costume (although there were a few!) but X-Men editor Nick Lowe and writer Kieron Gillen in Prince Harry (yes, Harry) and Kate Middleton masks. Very disturbing.

And I saw the debut episode of Falling Skies, Steven Spielberg's new TV series (a fairly generic take on the band-of-survivors genre, but if you think the only thing missing from The Walking Dead is aliens then it's for you).

But my favourite part of the weekend was wandering through Artists' Alley and watching the artists at work. Some of them were big names (Brian Bolland anyone?) and some of them were just starting out but it was a pleasure to watch the creative juices flowing (or not - there were a few hangovers going around on Sunday morning).

I got some Batman sketches from various artists (and a Hulk from Paul Davidson - I mentioned hangovers, right?), which I'll post separately. Mark gave me a little sketch book to carry round, so they're only small pieces.

Mark however went for the big sketches, and got two incredible pieces, by Marvel artist Filipe Andrade and Sean Phillips, who spent the entire weekend drawing and painting for fans and was by far the hardest working man there. Incredible the sort of artwork he can knock out in fifteen minutes! It really was a joy to watch.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Mama's little baby loves shortnin', shortnin'...

Ella was six months old last week. How did she get here so quickly?! With Logan the early days really seemed to drag but this time round I can't believe she's so grown up already. She's already starting to lose her baby ways, sitting up, desperate to crawl.

And we've started weaning, which is such a milestone. So far so good! Ella has inherited the Stoddard appetite and hasn't turned her nose up at anything so far (although it's spinach tomorrow so we'll see!).

There's so much conflicting information out there about weaning. As with so much else around baby-rearing, numerous experts feel the need to weigh in with advice on how our children should be raised, creating yet another stick with which to beat new mothers (and fathers) over the head.

If you wean too early (before the magical six-month mark) or too late (after the magical six-month mark) you're risking dangerous food allergies or depriving your little one of essential nutrients which, if you believe some commentators, is tantamount to child abuse.

The thing is, every baby is different. They develop at different speeds, and what is right for one won't be right for another. The six-month marker is just a guideline; what's more important is knowing your child and recognising the cues she gives you that she is ready for food. Trust in your instincts and in yourself, because only you really know what your baby needs, and when.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Year of pleasures #10: Hanging out the washing

Photo by Logan (better than my effort!)

The sun shone long enough at the weekend to put some washing on the line instead of on the clothes horse in the hall.

It was a lovely five minutes of quiet pondering, basking in the warm sun, admiring my tulips which have burst into life in the past few weeks and just enjoying the spring.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Year of pleasures #9: trips home

I had a bad blog week last week and skipped one, I promise I'll be good from now on!

I live quite a way from my folks, not in American terms I guess but it's a good five-hour drive from our home in London to theirs in Durham, south east to north east - definitely too far to pop round the corner for a cuppa! So I don't get to visit very often, especially with the price of train tickets and two kids in tow.

It means that when I do go home I try to squeeze in as many people as possible. We were up for less than 48 hours last weekend but we still managed to see my parents, my brother, my gran and uncle, two of my close friends and our closest family friends too! It might have been a fleeting visit but it was full of laughter, slightly chaotic but lots of fun.

I've lived in London for ten and a half years, and before that I was at uni for four; Hull and Arizona will always feel like home to me too. But Durham, where I grew up, where my family comes from, holds a special place for me. I love going home, back to my mum and dad, to the house I grew up in, the places I grew up in. And it's more than that: the north east is part of my identity, central to me. I've always thought that home is the place I feel loved, that it could be anywhere on earth as long as I'm with people I love. But I never feel more at home than when I'm there.

Lent: A progress report

Sorry sorry sorry, I've been poor at blogging this past few weeks. Avoiding cake clearly gives me nothing to write about! Thought I'd give you a status report to get me going again.

I've actually surprised myself by sticking to Lent so far. Not that it's been too hard! It's not like I'm actually addicted to cake so I'm not having cravings the way I would if I'd given up, say, cigarettes. And I'm not having to avoid cake-based social situations the way I would if I gave up alcohol - I even managed lunch at a cake shop yesterday without having any! Yay me. And a weekend at home for family birthdays without eating cake, if only because there wasn't one (highly unusual in the Heslop household).

There are two reasons I've managed to avoid cake so far though.

1) There are myriad alternatives to cake that still fill the cake-shaped hole in my belly - so far I've had chocolate bars, caramel shortbread (biscuit), scone (savoury), rice crispie cake (not baked) and baklava (may be called a cake in Greek but as far as I'm concerned it's a pastry). I've not even had to resort to the emergency brownie option (borderline cake).

2) You don't have to observe Lent on Sundays. This amazing nugget of information came from my brother, who heard it on Songs of Praise (clearly an authorative source), and has been verified by at least one independent source since, so it must be true. From now until Easter, Sunday will officially be known as Cakeday in this house.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Let them eat cake (but not me)

Lent. Ah, Lent. I've written before about my strange attachment to giving something up each year. Maybe it's like setting a personal challenge, seeing how long I can abstain. Or maybe my willpower is so weak I need an added pressure to force myself to be sensible!

I thought about giving up alcohol again - I think it's the only time I've actually succeeded at Lent, if you discount the first half pint a couple of days in when I forgot I wasn't meant to be drinking - but I only have a couple of glasses a week, so it wouldn't be much of a challenge.

A few years ago I gave up sweet things, but the category was a bit broad and there were far too many caveats for my liking. So this year I've narrowed the field and I will be giving up cake. Yes, cake.

I know, I know, I eat so much and blog about it so often that surely there is no hope of success! But have faith, dear reader, Lent is after all only 40 days. I'll just have to avoid birthday parties and wear dark glasses when I take Ella to cafes. Easy...

Year of pleasures #8: Pancakes!

An easy one this week - savoury (butternut squash with courgette and Chinese leaf) or sweet (lime and sugar, sharper than lemon) I love pancakes.

I love the ritual, the simplicity - weighing and measuring, mixing, pouring, spin the pan, toss, done. Simple to make but change the filling and the possibilities are endless.

And I love the greater significance, the tradition, Shrove Tuesday, emptying the pantry before Lent. More ritual.

Happy pancake day!

Monday, 7 March 2011

The Haberdashery

I found another lovely teashop last week while I was out with Ella, this time in Crouch End (branching out!). The Haberdashery, on Middle Lane, has a really retro feel, a great selection of drinks (dandelion and burdock and beers as well as tea and coffee), delicious muffins (baked in little flowerpots) and a nice selection of handmade goods and art for sale, too. They even sell Ella's Organics baby food so definitely wee one friendly!

It was a bit of a random visit - James McAvoy was in there with his little boy and the owner was being interviewed by a reviewer, so I did a good bit of eavesdropping! - but even on a normal day I'm sure it still has the same relaxed, welcoming vibe. We'll definitely be popping in again next time we go for a wander.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Year of pleasures #7: Snowdrops

Flash of green and white
Tiny harbingers of Spring
Heralding the sun

Monday, 28 February 2011

The Oscars

I've been catching up with the Oscars on the official site (I love you Michelle Williams but really, could you be any more bored during your red carpet interview?). It seems like it was a decent show, I loved the intro (a bit cheesy but you have to cut them some slack, it's the Oscars!). There were some loverly frocks too, more of which later.

So I didn't do too badly with my predictions - I should have had more faith in The King's Speech to fly the British flag though! By my reckoning I got 15 right. Not too shabby.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Oscar predictions

The Academy Awards are finally here! I'll probably spend the next 48 hours alternating between frustration at not being able to watch it (curse you Murdoch, curse you!) and desperate scrabbling on the web and TV for info on the winners and losers (of the awards and in the dress stakes).

This year there should be few surprises for the major awards, so I'm not going out on a limb here, but for form's sake these are my predictions (use the Datablog's handy guide to make yours).

Best actor: Colin Firth (but I'd rather James Franco)
Best actress: Natalie Portman (not seen it but surely deserves it for what she put herself through)

Supporting actor: Christian Bale (can he share it with John Hawkes please?)
Supporting actress: Melissa Leo (brilliant)

Best director: The Social Network (why oh why wasn't 127 Hours nominated?)
Best picture: The Social Network
Animated film: Toy Story 3
Foreign Film: In a Better World

Adapted screenplay: The Social Network
Original screenplay: The King's Speech

Original score: The Social Network (go Trent Reznor!)
Original Song: If I Rise (Randy Newman has too many Oscars already)

Documentary: Inside Job (but I think Banksy would make for better TV)
Documentary short: Strangers No More

Short animation: The Gruffalo
Short live action: God of Love

Art direction: Inception
Cinematography: Inception
Editing: The King's Speech

Costume: The King's Speech
Makeup: The Wolfman (because B-movies deserve credit too)

Sound editing: True Grit
Sound mixing: True Grit
Visual effects: Inception

Year of pleasures #6: The kindness of strangers

I had a run-in with a bus driver a few days ago. I won't go into the gory details but suffice to say he must have been off the day they had their customer service training!

With hindsight, I'm a little bit mortified that I argued back at him, and let him upset me (crying in public, the horror!). I might have started to doubt myself, think I was making a fuss over nothing (which was clearly his opinion), if it hadn't been for the other passengers on the bus.

When he refused to give me his driver number, two elderly ladies pointed out the bus registration number and joked that they'd be in trouble next. When he yelled at me to sit down or get off the bus, a woman seated just behind him called TfL to report him. Another passenger gave me her number in case I needed a witness.

I don't want to get all over-emotional, but they turned a shitty experience into less of one, and gave me the confidence to report him, so this week I salute small acts of kindness.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Pretty little teasets

I popped into Drink Shop & Do yesterday after lunch with Helen and Barry at Camino (great tapas btw). I managed to avoid the cakes for once and followed the 'shop' rule instead.

They have a lovely collection of tea towels, and some quirky little brooches made from retro crockery. But what really caught my eye was a range of cups, saucers and teapots by Ali Miller. Miller takes vintage ceramics and 'upcycles' them, incorporating her own designs to breathe new life into neglected objects.

I like the bug-painted butter dish but my favourite is the butterfly teapot. Beautiful, I wish I'd seen it last month so I could have added it to my birthday wishlist!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Year of pleasures #5: A night out down the pub with your mates

I've been out quite a bit recently, at least more than the previous four or five months! This week it was my wonderous no-longer-colleague Holly's leaving do, at the Queen's Head near Kings Cross.

The beer was good (Redemption Hopspur) and served in a proper pint pot, the pub was impressive (there's a real ale festival there next weekend, lots of whiskies if that's how you roll) and there were loads of friends there, some who I see often and some I hadn't seen for years. There was even a swing/jazz pianist.

If it hadn't been that Holly is abandoning me it would have been the perfect sort of pub night out! A random coming-together of people, ideas and slightly drunken rambling. Lovely.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Fried egg cake anyone?

My lovely bro made me a birthday cake but because it had to travel he didn't decorate it. I think his plan was to sprinkle it with icing sugar but i couldn't resist decorating it with Logan! We were aiming for spots, but I inadvertently discovered how to create icing fried eggs. Oops...

Year of pleasures #4: Birthday treats

I turned 33 this week, a bit of a non-birthday numbers wise but it has a nice ring to it so I'm excited to see what the year of 33 brings. The last four or five years have been pretty significant, what with babies and weddings and the like, so maybe this will be a bit calmer and more settled!

I've had lots of treats this week. We had a Sunday pub lunch at the Maid of Muswell with some good friends (delicious, and the veggie option still includes gravy and Yorkshire pud, result).

Mark took my birthday off and we had a fun morning at home with Logan then dropped him off at nursery and watched The Fighter at the baby club at Screen on the Green (more boxing than I expected, which sounds daft I know, but some brilliant performances and the whole cast were marvellous), followed by a yummy burger at Byron and Ottolenghi cupcakes with Anna and Lucy.

Then I hotfooted it to the SLA Winter Warmers pub quiz with Team Gav. Lots of fun, it's so long since I had a proper night down the pub! The last few rounds were tense but we triumphed in the end, hurrah! I managed to carry the bottle of cava (and the library textbook!) home on the tube without dropping it, too.

Mum and Dad are staying with us so Mark and I had a rare night out last night. We pushed the boat out and had a proper posh dinner at Oxo Tower on the South Bank. What an experience! I think I managed to hide my excitement quite well, but I'm not sure I was quite nonchalant enough to look like I was a regular! I love the atmosphere there, the service and the view of St Paul's. The food was delicious - pumpkin gnocchi with goats cheese, truffle potato blinis with wild mushrooms and watercress and orange salad, and the chocolate plate (four different desserts, all yummy but not sure about the odd caviar-like balls).

Of course we had to have cocktails to start (dark and stormys), a bottle of wine with dinner (Dog Point sauvignon blanc from New Zealand) and port to finish... It would be fair to say I felt a little rough in the taxi on the way home but luckily Ella didn't wake up until 6.30am so I had a chance to recover. It was a really special night and it's a good job because for that price we won't be going out again this year!

We did go for lunch with mum and dad, Aunty Celia and Uncle Nick today though. We don't see Ciss and Nick nearly enough, so it was lovely to catch up with all the family gossip over a long lunch at Souk, in Seven Dials. It's one of my favourite restaurants - the food is really good (couscous, tagines, baklava and sweet mint tea), but it's the atmosphere that I really love, it's so theatrical, just like being in a Moroccan souk (I'd imagine!). And it doesn't cost half a month's salary either (I hate being on maternity pay).

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Year of pleasures #3: Family

I've been thinking a lot about family recently. My Grandpa wrote a kind of memoir about his ancestors and his life many years ago, and I'm in the process of typing it up digitally (it was written in the days before PCs, before word processors too, so he wrote the entire thing using a good old-fashioned typewriter). It's absolutely fascinating - I knew certain anecdotes about my dad's family, knew where people fitted into my family tree, the bare bones of the story, but now it's all coming to life. I feel closer to my ancestors, part of an ongoing narrative.

It's been a sad few weeks as well - Mark's Nanna passed away after months of ill-health, and it's the funeral tomorrow. Everyone grieves in their own way, but for me, as well as sadness, I feel the need to celebrate life too. It's made me think about the nature of family, and want to be close to mine so I can appreciate what they give me.

So this week's pleasure is my family; the family I was born into, the one I married and the one we've made for ourselves.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Year of pleasures #2: Oscars season

I love the Oscars. I used to stay up all night to watch, when it was on the BBC, with a big bowl of popcorn and a few drinks to get me through until 6am. Now it's on Sky (grr) I have to rely on the web, 24 hour news channels and BBC Breakfast the morning after. I get a lot more sleep but it's nowhere near as exciting as watching it live, unedited and unpolished. Even though the Baftas has ramped up the glamour in recent years, no other award ceremony can quite hold a candle to the Oscars.

Nominations were released today, and while there's always a chance that the Academy could vote against the grain, so far Colin Firth (The King's Speech - the Academy likes an impediment) and Natalie Portman (Black Swan - physically demanding role) look like shoo-ins for the best acting prizes.

I may be on maternity leave but in my absence one of my colleagues is keeping an eye on the nominees and winners of all the major trophies this awards season. Before you make your Oscars predictions check out the form of all the nominees on the Datablog.

Monday, 24 January 2011

I want Karl Lagerfeld's library

I wonder if he needs a librarian?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Year of pleasures #1

My old college friend (and now baby and blog friend) Aimee pinched this idea from her friend, who pinched it from Elizabeth Berg, and now I'm pinching it from her. The idea is to blog once a week or so on something that makes you happy, or that you're grateful for, as a way of looking on the bright side. It may be a little bit 'self-help book' for your tastes but I like the idea so tough cookies.

So I'll start with an obvious one - my two babies - who are happy (most of the time) and healthy (if a little snotty at the moment) and generally adorable (puke, right?). Logan told me last week, "I love Ella so much, I want to cuddle her all day and kiss her all day." I melt.

Pretty as a picture

I had lunch in a new vegan cafe in Kings Cross today, really a lounge downstairs in the Secret Society of Vegans shop. I had a very tasty vegan Cornish pasty, and they have an impressive flavoured coffee menu (my marshmallow soya decaf latte didn't taste much of marchmallow or of coffee, but I've got a cold so maybe I'm being harsh). The staff are lovely, and even managed to manhandle Ella's buggy down the stairs. Bought a box of delicious cookies for Logan while I was there (vegan food being handily egg-free).

The space is also used for exhibitions, and the one today - Stitches, by Raquel J Alves - was excellent. I had one of those crafty, handmade "Why can't I do that?" moments. Alves creates 'needle paintings' on canvas, creating images with stitching, painting and collage that are really quite lovely to look at. Want one (or three).