Friday 29 January 2016

A Year on the Allotment: January 2016

Do you know that old song "January" by Pilot? I have it stuck in my head on a permanent loop. Mainly thanks to the fact Mr. M walks around the house singing it: "January, sick and tired you've been hanging on me". And that pretty much sums up January, it hangs on you, like a grey coat you can't wait to shake off. As far as the allotment goes, January is a grim month.
exploring nature on our allotment, child holds an empty snail shell in january, bug hunt, childhood unplugged
I'm not going to lie, we're mainly fair-weather visitors to our plot. Some hardy souls have dug over and fully prepared their plots by now. We're not in that league. This January has been mainly damp and mild, so we haven't had those crisp, sunny but cold days to get out and about. Yep, January, you've been hanging on me that's for sure.
We took a walk down the allotment last week on a grey Sunday afternoon. Sometimes you just have to get out whatever the weather is doing. The allotment is in a sorry state. The battered old shed is leaning more that the Tower of Pisa, the grass has crept in and taken hold again, our purple sprouting broccoli looks moth-eaten and it's all a bit dank to be honest.
But in the spirit of optimism and looking forward, I've tried to think of some positives:
1) January is nearly over. Spring is getting closer.
2) It's 8 weeks until the clocks go forward and we get lighter evenings again. That means some precious after-school time on the plot with Magoo.
3) February means digging and preparing the plot. It's pretty cathartic, sloughing off the Winter drabness and turning over fresh soil ready for Spring seedlings.
4) This is a good time to give the plot an overhaul. Mr. M wants to make some raised beds out of recycled wood and we probably need to pull the sorry-looking shed down.
5) Magoo found a pretty, empty snail shell. Which is exactly how I like my snail shells - vacant. Slimy things.
6) Pleasantly surprised the leeks are still growing. They looked liked chives when we put them in, so didn't really expect them to cling on.
7) It's soon time to start planting some seeds. One of my favourite gardening activities.
8) We always try to grow something new each year. So we'll have to think about the crop we'd like to try in 2016.
9) My Mum has started to chit some potatoes already. Eating new potatoes that have only been out of the ground a short while is one of Summer's best foodie treats.
10) Did I mention Spring is nearly here?

If you've got an allotment, you might want to see some of the jobs The National Allotment Society suggest you do in January. It doesn't mention sitting on the sofa, eating chocolate and looking at seed catalogues...but it should do.
And if you've never heard the Pilot song, here it is. Think of it as my gift to you!
I am linking up with the beautiful "How Does Your Garden Grow" #HDYGG over on

Mammsaurus HDYGG
"The List" over on and
"Country Kids" over on
"Happy Days Linky" over on and
"The Mad Midweek Blog Hop" over on
"Share With Me" over on
"Whatever the Weather" over on and

Tuesday 26 January 2016

The therapeutic effect of being creative

Art and creativity have an important role to play in improving the health and well-being of individuals. Therapeutic effects include relaxation, a way to express yourself and can lower blood pressure. In addition, these effects can boost the immune system and reduce stress.

sewing mends the soul, hand sewn, embroidery, quote, hoop, vintage, fabric, sewing, text, handwriting

For me, hand sewing is one of the ways I like to relax. I find concentrating on the stitches helps me to focus on the moment, like a form of mindfulness. I also like the sense of accomplishment when I reach the end of a sewing project. I run my fingers over the stitches and feel proud of my handiwork. Once one project is complete, my mind jumps to the next idea. It's definitely an outlet for my creativity.

Over the past nine years I have created many pieces using hand sewing techniques. Such as Happy Cat Waving inspired by a drawing my niece created when she was six. I love to embroider some of my favourite quotes, like this Dr Seuss nugget from "Oh the Places You'll Go". More recently I have sewn an applique version of my vintage fabric rabbits and a nostalgia inspired fortieth birthday canvas for a friend of mine.

I have enjoyed making every one of them and yet I often don't have the time to sit down and stitch. Or I don't allow myself to have the time. I think it's indulgent to sit down with fabric and threads when I could be doing something more 'important' such as housework, paperwork, food shopping. The less than thrilling tasks a busy home requires to keep ticking over take priority over sewing.

I've recently blogged about wanting to protect my mental health and embrace my creativity. So why don't I make something that makes me happy a bigger part of my life? It's probably a question many busy people ask themselves whilst trying to juggle work and family life.

I took part in a Story of Mum "Make Date" on Twitter a few days ago. These "Make Dates" are great fun and offer "a chance for mums to get together on twitter and tweet while we attempt to do something creative - like doodling, taking a photo, writing poetry, making stuff or even squidging plasticine. We give ourselves some creative me-time and connect with other lovely mums."

Whilst chatting to the other Mums I talked about wanting to get back into sewing. Many of my projects sit abandoned in a box upstairs because I 'don't have time' to complete them. My New Year blog post focussed on a popular Anne Lamott quote and the wish to "embrace a big, juicy creative life' and resolve to do less of the things that make me feel bad.

A combination of absorbing the Anne Lamott quote and the Story of Mum "Make Date" gave me the impetus to pick up my sewing again. I completed this vintage fabric "Sewing Mends the Soul" embroidery hoop last week. It's not a ground breaking piece of textile art, but it makes me smile.

This year I am going to aim to create at least one sewing project a month. I will blog about my creations and use the hashtag #craftingismytherapy over on my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

I would encourage everyone to make some space in their life to tune into creative pursuits. Whether it's painting, throwing some clay on a wheel, metalwork, music making, carving wood or doodling...whatever inspires you creatively. Just enjoy taking the time to do something that makes you happy.

Grab my badge below...

Me You and Magoo

if you'd like to sew more of my sewing projects, I have a board over on Pinterest:

Follow Pouch : blogging + craft's board Hand embroidered wall art on Pinterest.

Thursday 21 January 2016

UK Handmade Magazine: Winter Issue

handmade, uk handmade, contemporary craft, winter, issue, writing, features, interview, Elaine Bolt

The Spring Issue of UK Handmade magazine is due out shortly. However, there's still time to catch the Winter Issue. Packed with interesting reviews, business advice and the latest handmade events happening across the United Kingdom.

There are also interviews with designer-makers such as knitted textile designer Hannah Watson, ceramicist Elaine Bolt and my piece on Jennifer Collier.

If you turn to page 16 you can read more about Jennifer's innovative techniques working with upcycled paper to create beautiful 3-D pieces. Here is a snippet of the introduction I wrote for this interview:

"Jennifer Collier creates contemporary craft with a vast array of repurposed paper. Trained in textiles, she began to experiment with unusual materials at university to see how far she could push traditional sewing and weaving methods. Today, she uses a self-taught technique of bonding, waxing, trapping and stitching to produce unusual paper ‘fabrics’. She then uses these papers as if they were cloth. Jennifer’s main aim is to give a contemporary twist on traditional textiles."

UK Handmade Magazine is a quarterly digital magazine that celebrates the best designers and makers across the UK. I have been a features writer for the magazine since 2008 and have been fortunate enough to meet some amazing craftspeople, organisations and collectives. You can see a selection of my writing here.

To see all the past issues, please visit our website.

Writing Bubble

Monday 11 January 2016

Five ways an allotment makes family life better

As I write this on a cold and wet January day, the prospect of Spring and Summer seem very far off. But, if you have an allotment or garden, this is the time to start planning for the coming months. March and April are the key time for starting seeds off in order to get a bumper harvest in late-Summer and Autumn. Sitting with seed catalogues is one of life’s simple pleasures on dark Winter evenings. As well as looking forwards, it’s good to reflect on the previous growing season. In this post I want to write about the past twelve months on our allotment and the positive contribution it made to family life.
five ways an allotment has a positive effect on family life
1) Better understanding of food production
If there’s one thing having an allotment teaches you is how hard food production is. There are so many things working against you, pests, weather and poor soil. You feel really proud if you can manage to get a decent crop of anything. We’re so used to walking into any supermarket and filling our trolleys with washed and packaged food that we underestimate our global and domestic food producers. They produce field after field of fresh produce for us to consume.
Anyone who has read my wonky parsnips post will know how hard it was for us to grow a handful of this particular veg…let alone tonnes of the things. Since having our plot, I have a new found respect for farmers and the less than 'perfect' veg we waste every year. We want our daughter to feel connected to at least some of the food she eats. That’s why having an allotment is great. Last year our potatoes were hands down the best thing we grew. We were eating fresh spuds for at least three months. Yes, it’s hard work and sometimes you just want to throw in the towel and head off to the shops to buy fruit and veg. But when you can succeed in making something grow it’s amazing. Watching Magoo’s face as we dug up handfuls of golden new potatoes makes all the hard work worthwhile.
young child enjoys harvesting muddy new potatoes straight from the soil
2) Health and Wellbeing
Technically speaking the plot belongs to my Mum. But it is a lot of work for one person and she was struggling to maintain the soil and plants. One of the main reasons we started to help on the allotment was because my husband thought it would be ‘good exercise’. He started to dig over the plot in February and March of last year and it was probably the hardest workout he’d ever done.
Not only is it great for your fitness, it’s good for your mental health. Over time it became more than just a green-gym, it became a sanctuary for us as a family. We love walking off the main road and into the tranquillity of the allotment site. You can hear birds singing, admire other people’s plots and watch the seasons change. Recently I blogged about the bench we installed on our plot. The wooden seat has a strong personal connection for me and the addition of the bench has created a lovely place to sit down and unwind.
young child wearing very muddy boots after digging the soil on our allotment
3) Nurturing and patience
In a world obsessed with instant gratification, maintaining an allotment is the complete opposite of this. In a face paced world, tending a plot teaches us about the slow process behind growing our food. Plants have to be nurtured and cared for. From the very beginning Magoo loved to water the plants on our plot. Although we all watered, in her eyes she was the ‘Chief Waterer’. She took an active role in caring for our crops and it made the act of harvesting even more rewarding for her.
little girl holds up enormous sunflower that covers her whole face with allotment plot in background
4) Fresh produce with low food miles
When the allotment is in peak production phase we sometimes eat meals that have come entirely from our plot and back garden. As I said above, we didn’t buy potatoes from a shop for over three months. We’re a long way off being self-sufficient, but the allotment supplements our weekly shop. If we can reduce the amount of food that has to be transported to us, then that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. As the National Allotment Society say: “no longer will you be talking about food miles, but instead food metres”. Apart from low food miles, fresh produce tastes better. We eat strawberries and sugarsnap peas straight from the plant. Our plates are filled with potatoes and beans that were in the ground less than an hour ago. Harvesting delicious, fresh food is simply the best part of having an allotment.
enjoying eating tayberries in the summer on our allotment plot
5) Part of a community
We are all guilty of living insular lives. Sitting in the bubble of living rooms, driving in our cars or using public transport with headphones on experiencing the world through tablets and screens. In my opinion, allotments are one of last true community spaces we have. They are open to all, affordable and act as a green space in urban environments. On our allotment we see young families, retirees and adults with learning disabilities working with the Brandon Trust. Over the past twelve months, Magoo has experienced being in a community space with other people working around us. Most people say ‘hello’ as you walk by, others stop for a longer chat to pass on tips or advice and our neighbours often pass on surplus produce. Last year a newcomer to the allotment built an amazing chicken coop with upcycled materials and filled it with hens. I think one of my favourite photos from the past twelve months is this shot of Magoo holding an egg given to her by the plot holder. She was so protective of it, like it was a precious treat, rather than something that comes out of a box. Again it taught her more about where food comes from. It also shows Magoo how sharing resources is still important in our society.
young child cradles freshly laid egg from allotment chickens
These are ways I think an allotment can help to make family life better. But, there are many more I haven’t mentioned: camaraderie, biodiversity, socialisation, upcycling, thriftiness and creating havens for bees…to name just a few…
You don’t just have to take my word for it. Have a read of this piece by the National Allotment Society to see their take on the benefits of allotments.
This week I am linking up with these lovely blogs:
"How Does Your Garden Grow" over on
"Made for Kids" over on
"Magic Moments" over on
"Let Kids Be Kids" over on
"Country Kids" over on
"Whatever the Weather" over on and
"Happy Days Linky" over on and
"Share With Me" over on

Sunday 3 January 2016

2016: the year to overcome negative thoughts

The internet is awash with posts and articles about New Years Resolutions at the moment. I don't smoke, don't drink much and not particularly keen on joining a gym. All in all, I'm not one for resolutions...but I do feel that the start of a new year is a time to reflect on the past and focus on the year ahead. In 2016 I will turn 40 and it feels like a big milestone to me. My 30s have been eventful. I lost my Dad, got married and became a Mum. There were lots of ups and downs, sadness and much laughter, all part of the roller coaster of life. As I enter my fourth decade, I want to try and leave behind certain behaviours and traits. I think letting go of negative thought patterns is one of the gifts of growing older. If I can learn from past experiences and make changes, then hopefully in my 40s I'll be happier in my own skin...
inspirational Anne Lamott quote discussing perfectionism and creative life over vintage moygashel fabric
As we enter 2016, there are certain things I'd like to try & focus on. I wanted to write this post so that I would have something to look back on when 2016 draws to a close in twelve months time. On New Years Day I was scrolling through my Facebook stream when this quote from Anne Lamott jumped out on me. I saw it on the Story of Mum page, always a good source of inspirational posts. I haven't quite been able to get it out of mind my ever since.
I think I can relate to almost everything Anne Lamott mentions. In 2016 and beyond, I want to embrace my 'big, juicy creative life' and resolve to do less of the things that make me feel bad. Back in November I wrote a post titled "Practising gratitude can be good for your mental health. As I get older I want to try to become more resilient and look after my mental health. Here is how I aim to do this:
1) Less people-pleasing:
I don't want to change completely, I will always be the sort of person who cares about other people. I may always be the sort of person who puts others first. But what I do want to try and do is protect myself too. I am a worrier and the one thing I worry about most is upsetting other people. So I tend to become more introverted in social situations in order to 'fit in'. Before Christmas I also saw another quote that I love: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.”. In 2016 and beyond, I hope to speak up more, talk about my achievements and not let people put me down.
2) Worry less about making decisions:
Closely related to 'less people-pleasing' is attempting to make decisions that I feel happy with. I really need to work on making decisions and then making my peace with those decisions. I have spent far too many hours in the past worrying about the impact my decisions have on others. I often say 'yes' when my head and heart want me to say 'no'. I overthink almost every decision, it can be exhausting and time consuming. Sometimes you just have to trust yourself and go with your gut instincts.
3) Try and tap into my creativity and imagination:
I really don't do alot of staring off into space. In fact, I don't even sit down much. Mr. M often says I find it hard to relax. I need to try and stop every now and again, just so I can look around me. I want to get back into sewing and need to resolve to make space for that in my life. Making time for writing is important to me too. It may not be a novel or a memoir, but my blog acts as a space to gather my thoughts and express myself. I want to have more confidence in writing more meaningful posts that reach out to a wider audience. I've made a start on changing the focus of my blog in 2015 and my blog traffic has doubled. I love connecting with people through words, so "Me, You and Magoo" will continue in that vein into 2016...
4) Don't get strung out on perfectionism:
Striving to be a perfectionist is something I inherit from my Dad. It's good to be driven and to try and push yourself, but perfectionism can often trigger overly critical self-evaluations. I am my own worst enemy at times and need to stop comparing myself to others. Social media and the media in general are extremely clever at tapping into our insecurities. My husband deleted his Facebook account about a year ago and says he doesn't miss it one bit. Social media sites are the perfect place to create an idealised version of your life and broadcast it to everyone. If you get sucked into thinking everyone is living a better life, then you will always find it hard to have confidence in yourself. With this in mind, more creativity and less screen time is on the cards for me in 2016.
5) Learn to play the ukuele:
I know this doesn't sound like something directly related to negative thoughts, but bear with me. Mr. M bought me a ukulele for Christmas because I've always wanted to learn to play one. I think it's important to learn new skills and not write myself off as 'too old' to learn an instrument. So there's no time like the present. Music is good for your mental health and people who play instruments exercise their grey matter more. So, hopefully when looking back on this list in twelve months time, I'll be able to play 12-bar blues. Watch this space...
This week I'm linking up with these lovely blogs:
"The List" over on and
"Happy days" over on and
"What I'm Writing" over on
"Share With Me" over on
"The Prompt" over on
"Be Inspired" over on


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