Wednesday 17 August 2016

If all the world was paper, and all the sea was ink...

... if all the trees were bread and cheese
what should we have to drink?

Do you remember that absurd nursery rhyme? I thought of it today after a little printing foray landed me in a sea of blue ink which I managed to get on myself and almost everything else in the immediate, and not so immediate, vicinity. But never mind the mess, the print results were pleasing and what is a little blue ink among friends?!

I have found this summer a strange limbo time, for various reasons with which I won't bore you. Even without today's inky exploits reminding me of the old nursery rhyme, I have felt sometimes I am inhabiting an absurd world that no longer makes a great deal of sense and in which I am not sure where I belong.

But it is mid-August; the weather has been glorious; the blackberries are beginning to glow darkly on the bramble bushes and the wild plums are ripening far above my head in the trees that line the rides beside the cornfields and this is a good time.

The country smells of summer - the contented, rich, dusty smell of ripe barley and wheat against the greener scent of long grass, wet with dew in the early morning but quickly drying as the sun climbs higher. The atmosphere is anchoring and seems to dare me to preserve it.

That primeval urge to preserve and squirrel away at this time of year runs pretty deep in Mrs Tittlemouse's soul and this week I have given in. Not to making jam though - I have a jam-making-embargo this year because we have enough jam in my larder from previous years' preserving efforts to feed an army. A large army, at that! Researching other possibilities, I found a recipe for a Russian plum liqueur. Intriguing. Slightly different from some of my other concoctions and safely not in the adding-to-my-jam-mountain category,  I thought I'd give it a go.

As I mentioned earlier, the wild plums are are already ripening but harvesting them is not an easy matter. The plum trees are tall - twelve or even fifteen feet high.

And of course the plums sway tantalisingly, right up among the dappled leaves, at their tops.

I have no portable step-ladder  high enough to pick them nor are the trees conducive to climbing, at least by me. What to do? A little ingenuity, was called for (and a little compromise). Some of the plums have already begun to fall to the ground. Discarding any with obvious bruising but retaining those that looked intact among those already fallen was a start. And what nature starts, man or woman may encourage, so a little judicious shaking of the tree produced a heavy shower of more. Plenty to half-fill several large jars. Here are some of my first gatherings - the reds a mixture of bright cherry, through garnet and ruby to deep purple with some translucent yellow ones thrown in for good measure

The liqueur recipe, which is my own tweaking of several similar ones, is childs-play. Here it is, in case you should wish to do likewise:

Pick or gather your plums - wild ones, any type, are great, if you can find them, but cultivated ones should work fine too, I guess.
Wash the plums and dry carefully in a clean tea towel. (Discard any obviously bruised or damaged fruit.)
Prick each one with a needle, several times and add to a large glass jar with a sealable lid.
Add sugar - ordinary white granulated sugar is fine - about 300g to 500g fruit.
Add a handful of blanched almonds for every 500g fruit.
Add enough Russian vodka* to top the jar up and cover the fruit and sugar generously - about 500 ml per 500 g fruit.
Leave in a cool dark place for as long as you can manage but at least three months before straining and bottling in clean, sterilised bottles. You may want to shake the jar from time to time as it matures to encourage the sugar to dissolve properly.
Before drinking or giving your bottles of liqueur away, design and attach a suitable label.

Ah, the labels! Which brings me to my printing foray. I liked the idea of the wild plum liqueur's Russian roots and wanted to make a Russian label for my bottles using Cyrillic script to spell out its Russian name - slivyanka.

*Obviously you can use any vodka but I wanted to keep the Russian connection intact so I used Russian vodka made, (according to the label on the bottle), from wheat grown on the Russian steppes and water from Lake Ladoga near St Petersburg. I like the story of its provenance and the thought of that exotic northern distillate meeting my homely wild plums and sugar, under my nose here in rural England. A northern stranger made welcome and warmed, far from home.

Researching slivyanka threw up some images of old Soviet labels which I used for inspiration and I made my own rubber stamp using this rather good little kit and this morning while my plums quietly continued to macerate in their rosy, syrupy jars in the dark, I had a go at printing with it.

It's come out nicely, I think - handmade and rather rustic-looking but that's the effect I was after. The lettering, which had to be cut in reverse in order to print legibly, was tricky to carve out accurately and one or two letters had to have remedial plastic surgery in D's workshop to repair slightly over-enthusiastic carving. Ahem! Nothing to see here, people!

I can't wait to bottle and label up my slivyanka and then sip the sunshine that it encapsulates on a grey, cold and wet November day. And it doesn't just encapsulate the sunshine - it's the ordinary and yet extraordinary memory of walking out on this last Monday morning, early enough for the air to feel like cool water on my bare legs but warm with the promise of a hot day ahead; looking up into the fluttering, sun-dappled leaves, far above my head to search out the bright plums hiding there; the curious feeling of plums raining on my head as my friend gave the tree a strategic shake; gathering the fallen fruit from their dusty, chalky resting places on the path and in the more cushiony, tuffets of grass; it's the memory too of the simple assembly of the jars, companionably done, and the uncomplicated delight in seeing them begin their long, slow journey from raw fruit, sugar and spirit to becoming a single blended liqueur that I imagine might find itself at home in a Russian forest under birch trees laden with snow, sparkling in the winter sun. "Fanciful!", you may say. Guilty as charged! But food and drink is always about the imagination as well as taste. And this particular imaginative byway makes me feel no longer in limbo but at home in myself so I am sticking with it.

And so, ...
If all the world was paper,
and all the sea was ink,
if all the trees were bread and cheese,
what should we have to drink? 

... slivyanka, of course!

Wishing you too, happy August days, wherever you are
with memories so ordinary they become somehow extraordinary.
E x

Monday 6 June 2016

A Patchwork Story

Have you had defining moments of inspiration that set you off down a particular creative path? While much creative inspiration, I'm sure, is absorbed gradually and by a sort of process of subconscious osmosis, sometimes it strikes more like a bolt of lightning and looking back, even over many years, it stands out distinctly and identifiably.

Trying out patchwork was one of these for me, when I was around eight or nine. The source of inspiration was a book - The Milly-Molly-Mandy Omnibus to be precise. Do you know the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories, written and illustrated by Joyce Lankester Brisley? They are very innocent and unsophisticated but happy, sunny tales of a little girl and her doings. Always highly moral and very homely, but utterly charming, they narrate an English childhood idyll that even when they were written in the late 1920s probably bore scant relation to real life. They are, I am glad to see, still available here

Today, they read rather quaintly alongside contemporaneous offerings of modern children's literature and I am not sure that they would hold the attention of today's rather more sophisticated youngsters for long. But I was not a sophisticated child. In fact, quite the reverse and I loved these stories, one in particular. I still remember encountering it and the effect it instantly had on me. The story in question is "Milly-Molly-Mandy Makes a Cosy"

Milly-Molly-Mandy has been invited to tea one afternoon "with Miss Muggins and her little niece Jilly." Miss Muggins, as well as being Jilly's aunt, is the proprietor of a haberdashery shop, of the old-fashioned kind: "Miss Muggins' shop and the passage behind smelt so interesting - like calico and flanelette and brown paper, with whiffs of peppermint and raspberry-drops" - are you hooked yet?! I certainly was, when I first read that description more than forty years ago.

In my mind, I was already in that passage, sniffing the intriguing smells of fabric, paper, lint, furniture polish and sweets and I could see the bales of patterned muslin and plain calico, the glass-fronted drawers containing buttons and wooden reels of ordinary sewing thread and bright, silky skeins of embroidery floss that the shop sold even though the illustration didn't extend far enough to include them. Miss Muggins' job, of selling "cards of linen buttons and black elastic" and cutting gorgeous fabrics from different rolls with a big pair of heavy scissors, seemed, to me then, the acme of career choices. Even today, I find myself, every now and again, toying with the notion of giving up my present job and doing something similar. One day, you never know, it might become reality!

But back to the story. Afternoon tea, of course, was not taken in the shop, but in the "little sitting room at the back". This smelt differently - "of warm buttered scones and sugary cakes, for the table was all laid ready, and Miss Muggins and Jilly were waiting for her. And over the teapot in front of Miss Muggins was a most beautiful cosy, all made of odd-shaped pieces of bright-coloured silks and velvets, with loops of coloured cord on top." 

Milly-Molly-Mandy, (and her young reader all those years ago), were both transfixed by the tea-cosy and "thought how nice it would be to have such a beautiful cosy on the table at home." Informed by Jilly that her aunt had made the cosy herself, and emboldened by the consumption of "two buttered scones" and "a pink sugary cake", Milly-Molly-Mandy asks how it was made. Miss Muggins explains that it was quite straightforward and Milly-Molly-Mandy could easily make one herself. Milly-Molly-Mandy is entranced at the idea and so was I! The story continues with a most delightful account of Milly-Molly-Mandy saving scraps of fabric, ribbon and cord and secretly sewing together a cosy of her own.

Her aunt teaches her how to cut the pieces and join them with embroidered feather-stitching and finally she is proudly able to put the finished patchwork tea-cosy over the cocoa-jug on the supper table, as a surprise for her mother.

Well, it didn't take more than a second or two for the idea of copycatting this project to lodge firmly in my head and fashion my own, rather inexpert, patchwork tea-cosy from oddments of fabric in my mother's piece bag. It was a ham-fisted piece of construction, really, - it was made up of sixteen squares, sewn together by hand in wonky back-stitch. There was a lining - an off-cut of the printed wool fabric from which my mother had made my first long dress - it was the seventies, remember!  - but the bottom edges of said lining remained raw and it was attached to the outer part of the cosy with running stitch in bright green thread, that didn't match any of the fabrics, but was one of only two colours of thread I had of my own, in my sewing-basket. My mother, bless her, was every bit as delighted as Milly-Molly-Mandy's mother in the story and the cosy remains tucked in a drawer, in the kitchen of my parents' house. My mother even occasionally still uses it and despite its wonkiness, lack of skilled sewing and rough and ready design features, it does the job it was meant to. 

More importantly, the whole experience started a happy patchwork journey which has stayed with me ever since. I am not talking about proper patchwork quilting here which is a skilled art-form in its own right that is rather beyond my powers, just simple, homely patchwork - playing with scraps of different left-over fabrics, turning something discarded or otherwise useless into something useful and, ideally, attractive to boot. I don't do it all the time but every now and again I get the urge for a bit of patchwork and it is always a happy and therapeutic activity. As happy as that first Milly-Molly-Mandy-inspired foray.

Most recently, I got it in my head to make a patchwork sun-hat out of Liberty lawn fabric scraps really too small to keep but too pretty to throw away. (I think every stitcher has a bag of such scraps.) I found the idea here and I used the same pattern - you can download it for free here. It's beautifully designed - the instructions are clear and easy to follow and the shape of the hat is just right, I think.

The lining is cut from a larger piece of Liberty lawn of which there was enough to cut all the pieces. It contrasts nicely with the patchy outside, I think. If you omit the ties you could of course treat the hat as reversible.

All in all, it's been a totally delightful project. If you fancy giving a similar idea a go, yourself, here are a few tips that you might find helpful.

1 Cut out the pattern pieces that you want to apply patchwork to in a neutral, plain fabric to act as a base for the patchwork and stay-stitch around the edges before you apply any patchwork at all, so that with all the stitching, they don't stretch. (I used some unbleached calico left over from backing some cushions which was perfect. You want something with a bit of substance, especially if the patchwork fabrics you are using are on the thin side like Liberty lawn. Old sheeting or a piece of lining fabric could also work well.)

2 Make sure you allow enough fabric in each patch to ensure that all exposed raw edges can be turned in ie when you lay them out to plot your design, make sure there is plenty of overlap. Otherwise when you turn the edges in, unwelcome gaps, showing the base fabric, irritatingly pop up.

3 Once you are happy with your patchwork layout, pin the pieces more accurately in position, turning under any visible raw edges. Then tack each one in place, by hand. This is especially important if you are using crazy patchwork with odd shapes. I rather like this part of the process. If you find it tedious, you can speed things up by using a glue stick suitable for fabric but I prefer the old-fashioned tacking method with a needle and thread.

4 Now machine-stitch close to the folded over edge on each piece making sure there are no unsecured edges. I used a straight stitch, set at a slightly shorter stitch length than usual but you can also use a close-set zigzag stitch which works well too and is good if you want the stitching to stand out, as a bit of a feature. I notice the construction seam in the pic below stands out for lacking the top-stitching of the patches. I should have thought of that and stitched along the edge of the finished seam for a more uniform look but I didn't and now it's too late so, too bad!

5 Once you have finished all the patchwork seams, stitch a 1/4" seam around the outside of each patchworked piece, trimming off any overlap and then you can treat your pieces just as if they were each a single piece of fabric and proceed with the construction of the hat, (or whatever you are making), as per the pattern.

6 If you want to attach a tie so that there is some means of securing the hat and preventing it flying off in the wind, like me, this is what I did. I made a thin tube of fabric (1.25" wide, 28" long bias strip, folded lengthways, right sides together, and stitched with a 1/8" seam allowance) This I turned right side out out, using one of these turning gizmos - I used the narrowest one. Have you used these workers of magic? They are something of a revelation.

Having said that, I found that it was absolutely impossible to persuade the fabric to go down the inside of the tube as per the instructions. Worked fine with a wider fabric tube for the larger plastic tubes but not the very narrow one. Don't despair however, because all you need to do is use the narrow tube to hold the fabric tube apart, as you get it started and then discard it. Bit by bit, you can push the sealed end down inside the fabric tube alone with the metal rod provided. Fiddly, but not impossible-fiddly, and there was certainly no way I'd have got that tube turned out without the help of the plastic tube to begin with. Apologies if what I'm saying is as clear as mud. It makes sense, I think, alongside the instructions for the gizmo. I inserted the two ends of the tie in the seam that joins the crown and rim of the lining, making sure it was not twisted and that the positions were equidistant apart. 

Alternatively you can make two separate ties that can be tied in a bow or use a piece of elastic or nothing at all - depends on how you want to use the hat. I want to wear it while out walking or gardening or fruit-picking when a hat suddenly flying off in the breeze is a nuisance, especially if your hands are covered in blackberry juice or mud. The tie also means that you can hang the hat up easily which is quite convenient.

7 To adjust the fit I attached one of those spring-loaded spherical cord stoppers to the loop of the tie. You can get these spring-loaded cord stoppers very cheaply from Ebay - 99p for 2 -and they come in lots of colours. Or you might be able to cannibalise one from an old camera strap or cagoule.

 Today it is beautifully warm and sunny after a long spell of cold, grey murkiness so I have christened my little patchwork hat while sewing and drinking tea in the garden keeping H company over his history revision. I am pleased to report that it works beautifully - light and comfortable to wear and the brim is just deep enough to shade out the sun from the eyes.

As you can see, my teapot does not run to a patchwork cosy (yet!) but is wearing a bunch of cosy hooky nasturtium flowers instead.

Wishing you a happy and sunny day, wherever you are.

Apologies for my rather long absence from blogging - I haven't abandoned Mrs Tittlemouse's pages - there's just been too much to juggle in the rest of life, I am afraid, but hopefully I shall be back a bit more frequently over the summer.

E x

Thursday 11 February 2016


It all began with one of those meanders along the highways and byways of the Interwebs when you can't remember how on earth you ended up where you have done, but you feel rather pleased at your destination anyway, however random the chance that brought you there. Don't ask me what started the meander - I have absolutely no idea now - but what I stumbled on in January was this website featuring Russian felt boots. They are called "valenki" in Russian - traditional footwear for men and women that provide excellent insulation in the severe cold of a Russian winter. Apparently they are effective in temperatures as low as - 40 C. They are traditionally worn both inside the home and outside in the snow, if it's dry or compacted snow, without any ill effect. But of course, being felt, they are not waterproof so they're not suitable for wearing in wet snow, or slush, (or English rain). These days, you can get plastic galoshes, or overshoes, to wear over the top of your valenki, in wet conditions, but originally they were designed just for the intense, dry cold of the Russian winter.

While we never have that kind of cold in the UK - or that kind of snow, sadly - I find my feet often feel the cold and am always on the look-out for ways of keeping them warm in winter. These Russian felt boots seemed rather appealing. But would I wear them enough to justify buying a pair, bearing in mind that I live a long way south of the Arctic Circle, and would only be able to wear them indoors, on account of English rain and mud? I hummed and hawed and when I discovered that one of the options was plain valenki decorated with crocheted flowers, I nearly succumbed. I could buy a plain pair and add my own crochet flowers. Bingo! But then my more frugal self toyed with the idea, not just of decorating, but making a pair of valenki myself. There must be loads of felted boot patterns out there, why not have a go from scratch?

Why not, indeed?! The rest, as they say, is history. I found a wonderful pattern, not for felted boots exactly, but for crocheted "mukluks" or slipper-socks. "Mukluks" are similar to valenki. They were also originally worn by those living in the Arctic. They differ from valenki in that, traditionally, they were not made of felted wool, but sealskin and they usually have ties to adjust the fit, rather than the single-piece wellington-boot-style of the valenki. They were worn, not by Russians, but by the native peoples of the Arctic much further west, at the northernmost tip of America. As well as keeping feet warm and dry, they also made your footfall silent and mukluks were therefore traditionally worn for hunting across the arctic snows. This version however is designed for tamer environments. I shall not be ice-fishing or moose-hunting in mine! The pattern is by Erssie Major and you can get it on Ravelry here. You can get a knitted version as well if you have a mukluk fancy, but you don't crochet. 

The pattern uses tapestry crochet and a much thinner hook than you would normally use for the weight of yarn so that the fabric you make is quite dense and stiff.

Because fit was important with these and I wanted to use a different yarn from that specified, I broke with habit, or I should say, laziness(!) and made a tension square. Worth the trouble, I have to say. I don't like working with very thin hooks; 3mm is about as thin as I'll go, comfortably, so I was relieved to find that although the yarn I wanted to use was aran weight rather than DK, a 3mm hook was fine. In fact the prescribed 2.5 mm hook and DK yarn would have come out too small. OK perhaps, if you don''t want to tuck your jeans into your mukluks but I did. 

I've dabbled with tapestry crochet before. I wrote about it here - it's fun, if a bit fiddly until you get into the swing of it. Worth persevering, as it gets a lot easier and quicker, with practice.

You need to change colour ahead of needing to use it, which results in quite a lot of twists getting put into the working yarn.

I found the best way to deal with this was to push the twists down the yarn away from the work for as long as they would happily slide along and when they wouldn't slide any longer, to hold the work up by the two strands and let them spin the twists out by themselves before resuming and then repeating the process when necessary.

Here you can see the accumulated twists that I've pushed down again towards the work so you can see how many there are, before I hold up the pink and red yarn strands and let the whole lot untwizzle itself.

Initially I was going to restrict my colour palette to turquoises, purples and pinks but the mukluks had other ideas and it soon became apparent that they more or less had a mind of their own. So they are much more multi-coloured than I originally intended. I do think they would also work up very effectively in a much more restricted and/ or toned down palette. I might even consider making another pair, just to see!

The yarn I used was Cascade 220, mostly left over from other projects. It's a perfect make for using up oddments of lots of different colours.

In total, I used eleven colours. The specifics are as follows if you're interested:

Blue Hawaii 9421
Tutu 9477
Lavender 8888
Hot Pink 9469
Hollyhock 9613
Chartreuse 7814
Blue Velvet 7818
Koi 9565
Goldenrod 7827
Anis 8908
Tiger Lily 9605

The finished mukluks are longer than the pattern specified because I wanted them to be properly knee-high. That meant adding two extra bands of patterning. One band I repeated from the top, but in different colours, and the other I made up myself, using a simple heart design. I also added some extra rows to make the channel for the twisted cord at the top after I'd finished the basic mukluk. All in all, these additions gave me the extra length I was after.

And my, am I pleased with them! They are bright, cheerful and as warm and comfortable as can be. The fit is generous enough to wear over the top of my jeans (which is what I wanted) and although they have these gorgeous stripy cords and happy pompoms to tighten the tops, they hold up perfectly well without needing to use them.

The pattern suggests using moccasin-type soles which are perfect because they have a shallow "wall" along the sole making a kind of tray in which each foot sits and the "wall" is then sewn in place using pre-punched holes. These, sadly, are not available in the UK so I used a pair of suede slipper soles from Joes Toes, (a brilliant and inspirational emporium that I am sure I shall revisit.) When you are sewing on the soles, it is very helpful indeed if you can persuade a friend to insert their hand into the mukluk while you stitch. Be careful though, or a carelessly jabbed needle will render your helper both nervous and reluctant to continue! I am pleased to report that no hands were damaged in the construction of these mukluks!

These soles don't have the shallow-tray, moccasin-design but neither do they hide any of the stripiness of the heels and toes which the moccasin-style ones might have done.

Be warned, when selecting the size of sole, that you will probably need to go down several sizes - I made the mistake initially of measuring my shoes but actually, you need to go by your foot measurement because the mukluks are closer to a sock, in fit. My soles, for example, are actually size 3-4 even though my shoe size is 6.5.

Inside the mukluks there is a hidden layer of extra cosiness too, in the form of a pair of sheepskin insoles from here. Gilding the lily, perhaps, you say?! I beg to differ! Putting my feet in these at the end of a long day is proving to be one of winter's great joys! As January proved to be a particularly grim month, I am enjoying the lift my mukluks are giving February!

And if we should be lucky enough to have a spell of proper arctic weather with cold crisp skies and frost that disdains melting even though the sun is out, instead of this constant, miserable, grey rain and wind, my feet are ready. I may even wear the mukluks, out and about, inside my Hunter wellingtons with the pom-poms peeping out of the top.

H informs me that along with my green coat this get-up would amount to pushing the embarrassing-parent-meter into the red zone but I am confident I am not yet in my mother's league with her infamous "tea-cosy hat" a garment that has gone down in family annals as the most embarrassing garment to be seen out with, ever! I can best describe it as a kind of tam o'shanter that came out way too big and in an ingenious bid to take up the slack, she bunched up the centre to make a kind of bulky top-knot. It is, shall we say, slightly peculiar, but very warm! She knitted it over forty years ago, when I was about six. I regret to say that my sister and I found it pretty embarrassing then and the next generation have unanimously maintained our approach! But it lives on indefatigably and when my parents came to stay this last Christmas and we went for a walk, guess what emerged from my mother's capacious pocket?! And do you know what? I was secretly pleased it was still going strong! One day, you never know, H might be pleased to see my mukluks in the same way!

Wishing you cosy toes on a cold February day!

E x

Thursday 7 January 2016

Motto For 2016

Lots of people, these days, seem to choose a word, or a phrase, as a kind of motto, or talisman, for the New Year. It's rather an appealing idea and I've been toying with a few. Some of them more frivolous than others.

I wondered first of all about taking a leaf out of Marie Antoinette's book - something along the lines of "Let me eat cake!" but that seemed a bit greedy and, actually, I intend to eat cake a-plenty whether or not I've adopted a cake-eating motto.

Next, I considered something a little more serious and dynamic such as "flow" - a lot of change, potential and actual, lies ahead this year and I need to be able to move with the tide of life, as it ebbs and flows. Not something I shall find all that easy, I suspect.

In the same vein, I considered "open" - both as a verb and a description of a static state. Opening doors and windows to move forward and to sniff the wind and the weather outside in a figurative sense. Being open and receptive to what the year and life may bring.

Both of these possibilities had the virtue of simplicity, being single words. I'm not sure why, but, simplicity notwithstanding, neither seemed quite right. And then H and I went to see "Bridge of Spies" on Monday. I saw it for the first time before Christmas actually, but it's still showing in Oxford, so going to see it again made a nice end-of-the holidays-outing.

There is a catch-phrase that comes up in the film - "stoikiy muzhik"* or "standing man" in Russian, with  associations of endurance, patience and persistence winning through against unlikely odds. I am not sure I am a natural "stoikiy muzhik" - I am too inclined to bustle and flit and let's admit it, panic!, but in an odd sort of way, the slight unfamiliarity, even strangeness of the concept makes more sense to me, on the threshold of this year than anything else. After all, there's no point adopting a motto that doesn't remind you to do things slightly differently from how you would have done things anyway. So "stoikiy muzhik" it is. I expect, as Russian is an inflected language, there's a feminine form for "standing woman" which would be more appropriate for my purposes but I'm afraid I have no idea what that would be.

* I have no idea either whether I've transliterated this correctly from what I heard in the film. If anyone, reading this, speaks Russian and can correct me, or indeed supply the feminine version, please do so!

It's perhaps not a very glamorous motto, I grant you. Even in the film, the phrase is originally applied to someone "who never did anything remarkable". But that unremarkable someone survived when perhaps otherwise he wouldn't have done and the lawyer to whom the phrase gets transferred in the film proves that being there; being yourself; waiting out the to-ings and fro-ings of events; refusing to blow with every wayward gust of wind; those things have a worth and value that it's easy to underestimate or overlook.

It's not a pretext for remaining static or failing to move on. That would be a poor motto indeed for handling the inevitable changeability of life, in this year or any other. But it is a reminder to keep faith when the ground feels unsteady or treacherous, figuratively speaking. It's a reminder to hold a steady course, rather than give up because there is a cross-wind or it has started to rain, metaphorically. It is a reminder that as human beings we are precious primarily because we are here, not because of what we achieve or even aim to achieve. It may of course backfire on me and I may find it helps me not a jot. But it may just find me at the year's end standing, like Tom Hanks on the Glienicke Bridge outside Berlin, with a certain peace of mind and heart and with more gained than I imagined would be possible. And that seems to me worth aiming for.

I doubt that 2016 will see me continuously display the serene aspect of my Russian matryoshka doll here, but you never know! Here's hoping!

Do you adopt a motto or word at the beginning of the year? If so, what's your chosen one for 2016?

Wishing you the best of health and happiness for the year ahead, 
E x