Thursday, 29 March 2012

Scandinavian Kitchen

I'm cooking a meal for two friends next week and one of them gave me a lovely Scandinavian cookbook, Scandilicious, so I'm going to cook some things out of it. That gave me an excuse to order some bits and pieces from the Scandinavian Kitchen, a shop in Great Titchfield St in London that also does mail order.
I only had one or two things in my 'basket' to start with but then I got to the checkout and saw the delivery price. So I thought, I'll just see how many more things I can get before the delivery charge goes up. I added some jam, two more packets of spelt crispbreads (soooooo good), all the time checking the delivery cost, some chocolate, another box of crunchy cereal -- still the same. In the end I thought I'd better stop as that wasn't a very rational way to shop, but it meant I had quite a few nice things in the box when it came. I wonder what the rosehip soup will be like..? The 'Plopp' chocolate bars were to make the kids laugh.
Jarlsberg and fennel muffins
I'm going to do a soup with these cheesy muffins, then something with a couple of posh salads and maybe ice cream for pudding if I can get an ice-cream machine this weekend. I feel an ice-cream maker is something that will add a little happiness to all four of our lives, so why not?

Chrissie, if you're still looking for a recipe for semla buns, there's one in this book so I could send it to you...

Don't forget to leave a comment on the Giveaway post before 2nd April if you haven't already (thanks if you have!)...

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Walking with Jedward

I admit to the guilty pleasure of loving Jedward -- not so much their music as the charming goofiness of the boys themselves. I've loved them ever since they were on X Factor. They were the only reason to watch their series of Celebrity Big Brother, and they were adorable on Celebrity Wedding Planner (What? You don't think I watch reality TV all the time, do you? -- whatever gave you that idea?). Put it like this, I know where my vote's going on May 26th.
see you in Baku
But this morning I was walking with Jedward as their track 'Lipstick' came up on my 'exercise tape' playlist on my iPod. I'm trying to do half an hour's brisk walking every morning before anyone else is up. It's important that I get it in before the rest of the family stir because my 'treadmill' is the 22 steps that it takes me to stomp
in a ring round our open-plan doughnut-shaped downstairs. I do it for half an hour -- I wish I knew how many times I go round in that time. I'm worried that I'm going to develop a slant as the circle is so tight that I'm leaning in towards the centre most of the time. I tried turning round and going the other way to offset the effect but I'm only happy going clockwise, like water going down the plughole (oh no, I thought I'd just check this and found an insane exchange of mindboggling views all contradicting one another...).
It pleases me that I can do this bit of exercise, for free, in the privacy of my own home. No one has to see me lumbering past looking like a velour elephant. And, believe me, it's quite challenging -- it isn't 'just walking', you know.
I started off, a couple of weeks ago, at a smart pace -- walking to tracks like 'Fame' by Lady Gaga (has she had a 'velour elephant' look yet?) or 'Let the Sun Shine' by Labrinth. But now I find that feels a bit stately, and I have moved up a notch to tracks such as 'Flux' by Bloc Party, which means I'm virtually breaking into a run. I must look crazy. I can't keep that pace up for half an hour, so it's back to 'Firework' by Katy Perry, or even a bit of rhythmic folk (the odd Lau track) or classical (the Karelia Suite by Sibelius goes at a fair lick).
Then, while I'm marching round, I'm also trying to do a Pilates-style 'imprinting' thing where you pull all your stomach and pelvic muscles up towards your ribcage AND a sort of Alexander technique thingy where you lengthen out the back of your neck (I never have my head in the right position when I check -- my nose always creeps up towards the ceiling) AND some good in-through-the-nose-out-through-the-mouth breathing AND I also hope to think some useful or insightful thoughts -- but you can't force these to come; trying almost guarantees they won't. When an idea comes through all the breathing and marching and tilting and tightening, it feels really sweet. I'd say I've had one thought 'worth keeping' maybe every other day whilst doing my exercise.
The big breakthrough will be if I can persuade myself to leave the safety of the house and head into the open air -- I'm sure I need some Vitamin D from the sun!
Oh, don't forget to leave a comment before April 2nd on the Giveaway post to be in the running (geddit?) for a little prezzie.

Monday, 26 March 2012


Thanks so much for topping me up to 50 followers!

So, as promised, here's my giveaway to celebrate the pleasure of blogging -- I really do enjoy the sense of being connected to a web of people all over the place.

Everyone who is either already a follower or becomes a follower and leaves me a comment (no anonymouses, thanks -- anonymice??) will be sent eight cards and envelopes from my designs I've either had printed or have made myself (unless I run out in which case it'll be first come first served, but I have lots. One set per person). Just a little word of warning -- a few of them are a tiny bit risque, so let me know in your comment if you have a delicate sensitivity to such things. These are about as naughty as they get:
Then I have ten little gifts for people whose names I'll pick out of a hat.
This is a notebook that I made with my binding machine. The covers are collaged back and front and the pages are a mixture of different papers, including some pages from old colouring books, a stripy paper bag and coloured sugar paper. A bit smaller than A5 size, hardback.
A vintage copy of the Ladybird book that inspired my blog.
As a Diamond Jubilee token, a handkerchief with the Queen and Princess Margaret as children.
A little old purse with sprung coin-holders inside.
A packet of hatpins.
A box of Cactus Candy from Arizona, made from prickly pear cactus (no idea what it tastes like but the box is cool).
A very old metal needlecase.
An ancient packet of papier poudre with the sheets still inside (no longer very powdery, though).
A little tiny letter with a card inside.
A real belemnite fossil found by me as a child on Whitby beach -- will protect against being struck by lightning (if you believe the folklore). My dad drilled a hole through it so it can be worn as a talisman.

I'm going to leave the giveaway 'open' for a week, so will close it at 10.30pm next Monday evening (April 2nd 2012). If you want something to say in your comment, tell me something you've seen or done recently that you think I'd like.

Lycka till as they say in Sweden!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

This & That

I was just about to leave work on Friday evening when I got a text. It was from my friends and colleagues Karen Pine and Ben Fletcher and it said that they were at the Brooklyn Art Library (above) and had just been talking to the people there about my sketchbook. This brought about one of those rare moments of connectedness -- I'd sent off the sketchbook back in October, thinking, 'Ah well, it's gone now but it was a good thing to have done,' and now people I know were across the Atlantic talking about it. Okay, enough already, but it made me very happy.
Then I went onto the Sketchbook Project website (still only one comment on the page where you can see my sketchbook images so not exactly setting the world on fire just yet -- got to keep things in perspective!) but was stunned to see that the 2013 Project kicks off next month -- they're already counting down to it on the homepage (above). Am I going to do it again? I'm not sure -- it was soooooo much work and I've got a ton of other things I want to do in the coming months, but I'm still seriously thinking about it. I might wait until the tour comes to London and then go down and see what 'vibes' I get. Are you going to do a sketchbook this year?
Well you may have noticed that I haven't been posting very frequently lately, which I regret, but I've been really busy with things that haven't really been bloggable. However, I can post a picture of a painting I've just done for my mother-in-law's birthday which is based on a photo of her as a little girl with her parents and a beautiful dolly. We're going to give it to her today so I do hope she likes it and feels I've caught everyone's likeness.
     Something else that has been capturing my attention is my first commission. This is also thanks to Karen and Ben, who really are exceptionally encouraging and supportive. They've asked me to do their portrait and I'm currently in the early stages of something I hope they'll like. I'm not going to say too much about it here as it's their private commission, but the whole thing has gone to a new level since I went to their home to take some photos of them which I intended to use as references for a double canvas (ie one image split across two canvases -- I'm exploring the idea of their strength and unity as a couple). However, while I was there they showed me all the art they've collected and we talked about what they find exciting, with the result that I came away thinking that a conventional painting wouldn't do. I have quite a few ideas, one of which is ahead of the rest at the moment, but I'll keep it all under wraps for now.
What else can I tell you? I'd really like to grow my blog, so as soon as I get to 50 followers, I'm going to celebrate with what I hope will be a nice giveaway -- something special for the first name/s out of the hat, but also a selection of my Housham Home card designs (above) for everyone who leaves a comment, no matter where they are in the world. So I just need two lovely new followers to trigger that all off.
Amie and Ali on Get Your House in Order (C4)
Did anyone see the new reality show on Channel Four last week, Get Your House in Order? I did and found myself shouting at the telly like my granny used to at the wrestling on a Saturday afternoon. Pretty Amie did seem to have a problem with accumulating too much stuff -- she and her fiance Ali were having trouble finding their bed amidst the chaos. So the programme sent in two bruisers who stripped Amie and Ali's house bare apart from the bed, sofa and telly (it looked like). They took all their stuff (or rather just Amie's stuff -- it wasn't clear what happened to Ali's as he was not the 'guilty' party) and arrayed it in a warehouse. Then they took A & A to see the huge quantity of stuff that had been packed into their house. True, it was incredible. Then they gave Amie a modest rail and told her she could only 'save' what she could fit on the rail. She wept as she gathered as many pairs of shoes as she could carry, then festooned the rail with handbags, hair straighteners and clothes. The next stage was that everything else was sold off in what was essentially a pop-up charity shop, but the charity was money for a makeover of A & A's house -- the reward for Amie's big sort out. Poor Amie had to sit at the till of the shop and put her own possessions into carrier bags for people who had paid one or two quid for her things. As a person who feels, rightly or wrongly, 'defined' by her possessions, I found it almost impossible to watch this stripping bare of Amie's life in objects. I might not share her taste but I shared her pain, I really did. It really annoyed me that the only people there to look after Amie while she went through this trauma were the guy who was basically a house clearance man and the interior designer who would be doing the makeover (not the finest, I thought) -- oh, plus ghastly Jane Horrocks doing the voiceover and giving us contradictory tips on how to buy designer shoes and so on -- I'm sure she only got the job because of the incredibly ANNOYING way she pronounced 'hoard', which the script called for her to say every three minutes. If poor Amie had a real problem with over-accumulation of belongings (which she well might have done -- and from the sneak preview of episodes to come, it seems that future 'targets' are even more seriously afflicted), then there should have been some element of counselling and support for her, not just ripping all her things out from under her very nose. Ooh I was cross.
     But do you think I might have the same problem....?

Friday, 9 March 2012

Webcams for Insomniacs

Hello! Yes, can you see me? I can see you!
Do you like watching webcams? There was an exciting, almost Truman-Show-style moment earlier this week when, after weeks of complete inactivity (during which I was worried the people had actually moved away), human beings appeared (for the first time ever!) on the screen of the Sarasota Swimming Dogs webcam and looked into the camera and waved! I managed to grab a screen shot just after the wave. There was, momentarily, a sense of connection: me in rainy Hertfordshire, these guys in sunny Florida. The Sarasota Swimming Dogs webcam is one of my absolute favourites because it's on such a human scale -- most webcams just show matchstick-sized people coming and going indifferently. Here, if you catch them, the dogs come out to play:
The best time to see them is usually between around 3pm and 4pm UK time (more details on the webcam site).
I really love webcams -- but only ones with live streaming. It has to be a real-time picture with moving creatures on it -- preferably human but animals can be very engaging too. Or even jellyfish (really beautiful, actually):
Or how about microbes wriggling about?
 There seems to me to be a huge difference between a live feed and a still picture, however frequently it's updated. Even if you're only looking at trees and water, as soon as the wind begins to move through the leaves and the water to ripple, you're there. It is truly a window on the world.

One of my favourite webcam sites is the Mila I Beinni site in Iceland which has a number of cams trained on beautiful places in Iceland. The weather is so tumultuous that some of the cameras are often offline or clogged up with snow but I've seen some breathtaking mountain views, and the Blue Lagoon with its bobbing swimmers is always entertaining:
What would possess someone to set up webcams all over their home? Perhaps so they themselves can keep watch when not there. But there's something quite odd -- and fascinating -- about being able to see into this house:
 Here are some sweet animalcams (links in the captions):
nice aquarium

Adorable schnauzer cam (this naughty one I caught doing a wee on the carpet)
This puppy never seems to sleep. The older dog must wish it did!
Yay! Goatcam!
These Shiba Inu puppies are also very sweet but their camera was offline when I was preparing this post. There are also some sleepy chinchillas here.
 What I really wanted to find were some artists at work -- there are quite a few webcams to be sought out, but of the ones I've found, either there was no artist to be seen or I really didn't like the look of what they were doing! But some links are here.

Enjoy your watching.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Two sleeps good?

I absolutely love reading in bed, which is a good thing because I seem to spend an awful lot of time doing just that. I know that insomnia is incredibly common so I don't feel alone in suffering the trials and tribulations of trying to get a 'decent night's sleep'.
(I've just freaked myself out googling 'wide awake doll'...)
My insomnia follows the pattern of falling asleep easily, sleeping for about four hours, then waking up and having trouble going back to sleep. I often repeat this cycle all over again, waking again at around 5am and sometimes going back to sleep for a third time for what is usually a period of wild and surreal dreams (but I won't bore you with those). This has been labelled 'sleep maintenance insomnia'.
(see what I mean...?)
Last week I came upon an article online that suggests this 'bi-modal sleep pattern' may be a throwback to a time long ago when humans slept more naturally -- in two blocks of around four hours each. In the middle of the night, they awoke quite naturally and either got up and did things, or stayed in bed. Contemplation was often the order of the day -- or, rather, night. Particularly of one's dreams. Or reading, smoking, writing, all manner of entertainment. It seems that the advent of better lighting and, following on from that, more social things to do in the evenings and into the night eventually did away with this natural rhythm: if you stayed up late into the evening carousing in a coffee house, then when you eventually went to bed you would stay asleep for longer, wake later and, little by little, stop enjoying the wide-awake time in the middle of the night. The article puts it much better than this.
How about these glasses from 1936, specially designed for reading in bed?
I decided quite a long time ago not to get het up about being awake in the middle of the night. I have an array of small torches and reading lights (mostly useless, I must say), and I quite enjoy peering at a few pages through a yellowing, chrysanthemum-shaped blob of light -- I feel as though I'm stealing some time back from the hamster-wheel routine of the working day.
If I'm staring at the ceiling trying to get back to sleep, my best tactics -- which I'll share with you -- are 1) mentally reciting all the answers to the times tables, from one to twelve, rhythmically. If you make a mistake you have to start again -- "1, 2, 3, 4... 108, 120, 132, 144!" You'll be lucky if you get to "7, 14, 21..."
2) Starting from the most recent and working backwards, picture all the beds you've ever slept in. That should do the trick. 3) Trying to dream up art projects in my mind's eye...
Anyone who remembers me babbling on, a while ago, about a 'big' idea I'd had might be amused to know that, as predicted, my early efforts to make it come to life as I had imagined it failed spectacularly! It can be dangerous to imagine creative ideas in the vacuum of a darkened room. What seems like a brilliant possibility in the middle of the night turns to disappointment in the light of day. In this particular case, the materials proved impossible to wrangle into shape and it would have been necessary to work on a monumental scale -- far bigger than I can manage in my limited space. But I'm still going to keep my idea alive, somewhere inside my head or in a notebook, for a time when I have a huge studio and a team of willing young men to help me -- just like David Hockney. The pic above is as far as I got... Anyway, I've had another 'great idea' now, so I can enjoy the happy feeling of excitement and anticipation again for a little while before that too, no doubt, goes sour.

Going back to reading in bed, I love this 'book' duvet with pages you can actually read (it tells the story of Sleeping Beauty, of course).