At midnight on 31st December last year, I lit a sky candle and sent it up into the darkness, full of symbolism and hope for the future. 2012 had been a terrible year for me and I wanted to say goodbye to all the sadness and illness and tears and regret. I felt optimistic and ready for change, ready to embrace new things and new challenges. I loved seeing that sky candle filling with light and heat and pulling away from me into the night sky. I watched it rise up with a happy cheer, a silent wish and a secret prayer.
The sky candle immediately got stuck in the branches of a tree, and stayed up there for weeks, tattered and forlorn. I saw it every morning from my kitchen window, and felt haunted by its failure to fly and what this might symbolise for my year ahead. Everybody laughed and told me not to be silly and everything would be fine and it was just a sky candle stuck in a tree, nothing more. Finally the rain and wind loosened it and one morning it was gone, so I forgot about it.
And then a few days ago, I remembered it. And I saw that actually it had spoken the truth, for I have been stuck in one way or another for the whole year, and indeed still am. Our house took forever to sell: months and months of fruitless cleaning and tidying and showing people round, never feeling able to spread out or make a mess for fear of the next viewing, my life on hold. Then eventually in September moving out and putting all my things into storage and taking a few essentials and, aged nearly fifty, with a little granddaughter, becoming a lodger. I expected to rent a room for a few weeks while my house was extended and refurbished... but I'm still here. The builders have taken forever and driven me nearly crazy in the process, and a catalogue of expensive disasters has unfolded. The end is not in sight. I am still living out of a suitcase and surviving on ready meals.
But yet, I am hopeful... at least a little bit. I know that one day soon I will be able to move in, and a new chapter of my life will begin... a lot later than I expected, and it does feel like I have wasted a whole year waiting for it. But I am painting my shelves so that I can unpack my books, and that feels good.
I'm not lighting any sky candles this New Year's Eve. I'll be babysitting for my granddaughter, and I'll probably go to bed well before midnight. I don't want to look into the future or even hope or dream. I'll wake up the next morning and it will all unfold just as it would have done anyway.
This has been the scene at my new house for the past three months. A tiny, unloved, worn, tatty and unremarkable house with an overgrown, tatty garden has been knocked about, stripped bare and ripped apart. Slowly slowly the house has been put back together, added to and improved, and is nearly ready for me to move into, a brand new clean slate for me in so many ways. Tomorrow my furniture and belongings move out of storage and into their new home, and at the weekend I will follow. There is a lot to do but it will be mine to do with as I wish, a gift. It will be exactly one year since my old home went on the market and life changed shape. A very long year, a very hard year, but a neat representation of the circle of life. I hope to be creative there.
I will be making a Flickr set about the house and the changes that take place there, should you wish to have a look. It's not up yet but will be soon.
I am popping in to say hello, having spread out my red spotted handkerchief at my temporary lodgings (the photo above is not, of course, my temporary lodgings, but the very lovely Crosthwaite House in Cumbria, which I can heartily recommend).
I have only intermittent wifi here so internet activity is sporadic. It's a strange and unsettling time getting used to being a lodger for a while, trying to sort out my new house and garden under pressure of time, and of course life doesn't pause itself when times like this happen, either.
Suffice to say I am rather stressed. I am taking refuge in Pinterest and crochet and toast. I have my art materials here too but they remain untouched for now. A full night's sleep is enough of a challenge for me at the moment.
Don't go away.
In two weeks I will be leaving this beautiful, rambling old house and putting all my things in storage, and the builders will move into a tiny dull house not too far from here and make it bigger, make it lovelier, make it mine. I will rent a room until it is ready and then I will start a new life there.
While I was sorting things out in readiness for this new chapter, I found these embroideries from 1989 which I did for an exhibition (where? I can't remember anymore), shortly after I left college. They are called 'In Memory of Sally Smith Part I and Part II' and were inspired by the gravestone of a young woman I found in a tiny abandoned graveyard near to my then-home in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. I imagined Sally living in one of those tall, top-and-bottom houses, roaming the moors and then dying, perhaps of tuberculosis - the gravestone gave no clue.
Perhaps I am less romantic about life nearly twenty-five years later. Certainly my artistic style has changed. But these embroideries, like all the disparate people, places and parts of my life, make up the person that I am, still am, am still to be.
I took this photograph of winter hellebores in March, which was when I started thinking about writing a blog post. Five months later I've finally got round to it. If I'd had to take another photograph to reflect the changing seasons I'm quite sure it would have been another five months before I wrote anything, so hellebores it is.
This month I've been blogging on here for five years. I blogged for a year before that, too, about dieting and healthy eating and gluten-free stuff, but that got dull so I started Mouse Notebook. So far this year I've written five blog posts... not because of dullness... I'm not quite sure why... a variety of reasons I suppose. What I'm sure of is that I don't want to stop for good. Now that Google Reader has gone to the bottom of the sea I've stopped reading many other blogs and have been out of the loop for a good while, but I've missed it, and so I've set some of my favourite blogs up on Bloglovin' and am settling back into this lovely gentle community of artists and makers once more. I wanted to pop back myself and say hello to anyone who happens to still be out there, but never mind if you're not, because I guess like most of us I've realised that the main person who gets anything out of this experience is me.
So, enjoy the hellebores and I will be back soon.
I made this little string of birds for a friend's birthday this week. I hadn't made anything crafty for a good long while and it was fun to get the fabric and thread out for a couple of hours of snipping and threading. I'd forgotten how absorbing it is to lose yourself in something like this. I used wool embroidery thread for the details and added a bit more colour than I would usually use, as my friend is a colourful person. I was pleased with the result and luckily, so was she.
Next week it's my own birthday and I'm planning a week away in a favourite part of the country. I'm going to take my camera and sketchbook and see what happens. Back soon.
The first of March is the beginning of Spring for me, whatever the calendar or anybody else says. March is about birdsong, rabbits, primroses, the clocks going forward, more light, green buds, the beginning of the blossom, my birthday. All these things are Spring things. Therefore, it is Spring. The words 'March' and 'winter' just don't go together for me. Spring runs from March until the second week in May when it becomes Early Summer for two weeks. Then, it's summer from June until the end of August. The first two weeks of September are either Late Summer or Autumn depending on the weather and then it's Autumn until the beginning of December, and Winter until the first of March. I do not waver from this, not ever. The so-called 'first day of Spring' on 21st March? Pah. You're three weeks late, mate. The over-excited BBC presenters on Springwatch? It's already May by the time they appear and that's Summer in my house. Airline 'summer' schedules beginning on April 1st? That's got to be a joke, surely.
No, it's Spring. There's a little posy of Spring flowers from the garden to prove it, look.
The force for change in a bulb is immense and unstoppable. Only two weeks ago I posted a photograph of this little pot of hyacinths in their stubby green-shooted infancy. Ten days later they were bursting into life and beauty, and today they look like this:
What you can't see is the scent, the pure white, heady and elegant perfume that wafts around the house when it is warm, and is held close and tight to itself when the rooms cool down for the night.
When I was an art student I filled a sketchbook with drawings of tulip and hyacinth bulbs from their tiny first shoots to their final blowsy browning overblown fullness. There is something powerfully optimistic about bulbs and their wilful desire to grow towards the light and then bloom, fully themselves, knowing that this is their moment.
It's three years since I started writing a list of five happy things every day, a sort of gratitude journal, a sort of diary, a sort of storytelling. It's become the thing I do every day, the thing I refer to if I'm unsure when something happened, the thing I laugh about to myself at how many times tea-drinking is mentioned, the thing that centres me and lets me know I'm alive. Today I've reached 1001 lists, all of them telling their own story and all of them part of the whole.
I also bought some white hyacinths and potted them up with hazel twigs, ivy leaves and moss. I also had dinner with my son and watched the jackdaws flying over to their roost and started to read my new Tessa Newcomb book. It was a good day.
You can read about how I started my Five Things lists here. If you like, you can have a look at them all here.
An old leaf is just as inviting as a new leaf I can't help feeling, and an old leaf is what I feel like after the ravages of 2012, which was probably just about as bad as a year ever was.
But an old leaf is fine, and after a few weeks of lying on the ground, nestling into the soil, being blown about, and being frozen solid so that all its veins, edges and naked structure are revealed, an old leaf can become very beautiful and very much part of the cycle of things.
Lots of things changed last year, and lots of things will change this year. I'm planning to make sure that many more of this year's changes are positive ones, and I hope to begin by being present on these pages a little more.