Chelsea

Chelsea

chelsea

On Monday a kind friend texted to say she had a spare ticket for the Chelsea Flower Show and if I could make it, it was mine. I made it. And, oh, it was so wonderful! I wish I’d had longer. We got there at 8.30am and I had to leave around 3.30pm to catch my train home, but I still hadn’t seen half of what I wanted to.

I have thoughts, but mostly I have pictures. Here’s the edited version:

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A glimpse through the gates to the actual Chelsea Hospital, home of retired soldiers, several of whom were in evidence during the day in their gorgeous red coats.  As were a number of celebrities. Here’s Penelope Keith being interviewed:

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Later, watching on TV, I had no memory of seeing the Telegraph garden which was odd, because I knew we’d looked at all the show gardens. But of course when we got to this one and the filming was happening, it was absolutely packed with people and we hardly saw any of the actual garden.  It was crowded, of course, but if you were patient enough, you could always get in to see the gardens and people were generally very polite.

One of the unexpectedly wonderful things was the corner of the Great Pavilion given over to floristry displays on the theme of Alice in Wonderland to celebrate 150 years (since its publication? since Carroll’s birth? Can’t remember.) I adored the book mushrooms, wreaths and bower, as well as the clever arrangements. This one has the Cheshire cat and a blue caterpillar as well as the Mad Hatter’s hat. And I adore the way the real flowers are combined to make them look magical and fantastical:

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Others went for the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Look at the jammy dodgers! And that amazing take on the lopsided wedding cakes that are so often decorated with chocolate ‘bark’ and real flowers. I love the pretty floral tablecloth in the bottom left and the fabulously bright and barmy display on the top right.chelsea4Elsewhere in the pavilion, alliums bigger than a football! chelsea5

Outside, there were gardens. Lots of gardens. I mostly failed to take pictures, sorry. Here’s a few:chelsea6

Wildflower planting was a very big thing and I mostly loved it. This was a small artisan garden, with these overflowing cottage-garden style beds. I adored that on the plant list it included ‘dandelion’ and ‘nettle’. I could have a Chelsea garden too!

The very opposite of wildflower cottage gardening was this amazing garden from a Dubai-based designer. I am not normally a fan of minimalism but this had enough planting and enough interest in the shapes of the arches and the stars of the stream, as well as the poetry on the wall. It would be a wonderful garden to walk through in the cool of the evening.

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It was interesting to see how many of the gardens used similar plants and colour schemes. Purple was very popular, often with orange, lavender, blues and whites. chelsea9

The judging at Chelsea is somewhat baffling. There are nine criteria and gardens get marked by 7 judges. There are fixed cut off points for gold, silver-gilt, silver and bronze, so you have to score well in all areas to get the highest awards. A lot of the gardens I liked best were in the silver-gilt category. In particular, I loved:

Perfumer’s Garden

Healthy Cities Garden

The Beauty of Islam Garden

The Time In Between Garden

Trugmaker’s Garden

The Evaders’ Garden

We were agreed that the Waterloo-inspired garden did not have enough dead bodies having their teeth pulled for real authenticity. I didn’t really get enough time to look at the Fresh gardens to see which of those I liked best.

There were two other gardens that lots of people were talking about. I really liked the garden designed by the winner of the BBC challenge. He did a front garden of the sort that a lot of people have, where you park your car. I thought he did brilliantly at making the car park part of the garden and creating a space that was beautiful as well as functional. Although I could live without the rusty tin cans.

And then there was the Chatsworth garden. I have very mixed feelings about this and I am still not completely sure what I think.  There were huge chunks of rock brought down from Chatsworth, which presumably will be on their way back after tomorrow. There was a pretty woodland stream, with lots of pretty woodland plants, and woodland trees. It was very lovely. Like a small chunk of the natural landscape, carefully recreated and enhanced and fitted into a garden space. Only… well, it’s fake. And if you want a woodland stream, why not go out to an actual woodland? And if you want impressive rocky outcrops, well, that’s what the Peak District is for.

It’s certainly a garden which makes you stop and think about what a garden is. So maybe that’s why it won Best in Show. I don’t know. It left me feeling very unsettled. I don’t think I want a garden to be like the Truman Show. I don’t want a carefully produced artificial reality. I like things to be what they are. A garden isn’t a patch of woodland where the plants grow as nature allows, and the stream flows where the land guides it, and the rocks sit where they were left after the last ice age. And I don’t want a garden to pretend to be that. I want it to look like a place where people have been at work. Where hands have dug and heads have made decisions. Where man and nature have worked together.

And that’s certainly what Chelsea represents. Not the untrammelled force of nature, but the craftsmanship, skill and science of horticulturalists who coax plants and earth and water into obeying their wishes.

Spring organising

I am pretty much at the end of the Great Spring Clean and Clear Out 2015. Actually, I more or less finished a couple of weeks ago, but inevitably sorting and clearing and tidying left a few organisational gaps which I have been filling. I have finally found a suitable bin which fits in the only good, but tiny, spot for it in the kitchen area. And I have cleared a space for a recycling bin, so that I no longer have random bits of cardboard and plastic bottles lingering on the floor by the front door. I’ve put up hooks to hang my brush and mop out of the way, and done the same in a different place for my apron and carrier bag holder. This all means that entering the house is a much more pleasant experience. You still do come through the Cleaning Zone but it doesn’t all fall down on top of you.

The Cleaning Zone:
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After the cleaning zone, on the right is the kitchen. This is what the kitchen looked like after my friend Dawn came to clean it for me:
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Two weeks on, it does not look precisely like this any more, but it is not far off. Just a bit more lived in. 😉

It is the rest of the room that’s had the major makeover, though. I took 4 car-loads of stuff to the tip, plus plenty went straight in my bin, plus some was given away. This now means that I can see through my French door, rather than having piles of boxes in front of it. And if I put the heater on, I can feel the effect, because there isn’t anything piled in front of it. My 4×2 box storage is full of fabric and yarn, but it’s all organised and not spilling over. My fibre (for spinning) no longer resides precariously above my boiler, but in a nice wooden box which I use as a sidetable.

And my bureau. Ah, my bureau. Or as I now like to think of it, my Craft Centre.

bureau-004Above the bureau two shelves with boxes and tins, all labelled, and containing a range of different supplies – paper, stamps, glass paints, buttons, beads and so on. Then on top of the actual bureau, a selection of craft magazines and books (I have a whole lot more of these elsewhere), threads, other small items, dolls for dressing.

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Inside, it looks like this. There is a surfeit of sellotape, mostly inherited from the chap who used to own the bureau. Similarly, I have an excess of staplers and staple removers. There are notelets, small notebooks and index cards on the right. The pen pots have been organised into: art, craft, colouring, small things and writing. With the lid down, there is plenty of space to work. You can’t really get into my bedroom when the lid is down, which is a good incentive not to pile stuff on top of it.

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This is the top drawer with new organisational system. I am very pleased with these IKEA boxes with dividers. They have all sorts of bits in them – acrylic paints, glitter, crayons, balloons, elastic, velcro, pins, tape measures and so on. The middle section holds my glue gun and a few other bits.

Other drawers hold: sketch pads, colouring books and pens, and ‘things in rolls’ – wrapping paper, contact paper, and so on.bureau-005

To the left is my table, with a chair that can easily be used either there or at the bureau. There’s a hanging rack holding glue, paintbrushes and sets of artists’ pastels. Then there is my magnificent wall-mounted pincushion. This is where I sew, and my other pincushions always end up on the floor or hidden under fabric. This one is so handy. A magnetic strip above it holds a few postcards. The hanging rack is brilliant for keeping scissors, rotary cutters and unwieldy items like the bag handle and quilting loops in place. I like to have a tape measure there too, where I can get to it quickly.  Underneath this I am going to put my latest organisational kit:bureau2

It’s an IKEA spice rack with jars, filled with embroidery threads sorted by colour. I love this! I actually need to get another one, I think. There are some extra jars tucked in on the big shelves, but I’d like to have them all on racks. They’re so cheap – £3 for the rack and £1.50 for 4 jars – that I think it’s worth it.

I have also cleaned, tidied and sorted out the bathroom and bedroom but there isn’t much exciting to see there. The best purchase was some new anti-slip stuff for under the bedroom rug. The previous stuff had entirely stopped working and the rug regularly got caught under the door, making it tricky to get in or out. I did make some new wall art for the bedroom, out of some canvases I bought cheaply in The Works closing down sale, a couple of bags of sari scraps I picked up at WonderWool, and some gold acrylic paint:

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The office has had lots of attention too:

11196274_10152799427636048_5448383157494945929_nWith some motivational chalkboard art.

11200896_10152799425611048_1196687321611198417_nAnd a new desk tidy.

So, that’s it for the moment. Next big project: the garden…

Today will be bad…

…and tomorrow will be beyond imagining.

I have begun the Great Spring Clean of 2015. And, well, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Today’s task was the bedroom. I have made some good progress, clearing out half the wardrobe of craft and other stuff so that it can now house more clothes. I’ve also packed up several bags of books and other stuff to go to the charity shop/tip. Most pleasingly, I have been offering up various items free to a good home on FB/Twitter through the day, almost all of which have been claimed.

Before bedtime, I need to clear the bed and the bedroom floor. It shouldn’t be a huge job. There’s a pile of summer clothes I’ve taken out which need hanging up, and some winter ones to put away. Mostly the rest is rubbish which just needs taking out. The chaos has mostly moved into the sitting room, which is now home to a pile of boxes of stuff. Somehow, I need to sort through all my craft things and fit them into the available space. I’m pretty sure this is going to require the purchase of new storage boxes, yay!

The plan is bedroom today, bathroom tomorrow, main room Friday and Saturday. Then next week I can focus on the office. That is also going to require the purchase of new storage, including a filing cabinet. I want one in a pretty colour.

The main goal of the Great Spring Clean 2015 is to know what I’ve got and where it is. There’s a ton of stuff I never use because it’s hidden in boxes which are hard to get to and aren’t labelled so I can’t remember what they contain. So either I can get rid of it because I never use it, or I need to make it easier to find so I start using it.

Well, that’s the theory.

Retreating

Retreating

I spent most of the last week at Nicholaston House on the Gower peninsula, near Swansea. It is an utterly beautiful part of the world and the weather this week was glorious. The house is a Christian retreat centre but this week there was no formal programme, other than optional daily devotions. There was good food (cooked breakfasts and particularly amazing puddings at dinner) and my room had the most fabulous view over Oxwich Bay. I could have happily sat looking at the view all week.

view

I wanted to go away for a few days before I start the new job next month and I had specific goals for the time which were to give time to let God’s word sink in so that it can change me, and to rebuild better patterns of devotional life. So when I was packing, I did not take lots of knitting or novels which is what I normally do on holidays. I wanted to avoid the distractions as much as possible. I spent some time looking around online for ideas of ways to use the time productively and, to be honest, I didn’t find a whole lot that seemed relevant or useful to me.

In the end, I had a wonderful week, and so I thought I would write a bit about what I did that worked, in case it’s useful to other people.

I started by asking for recommendations of books to take on Facebook and had some great suggestions. Here’s what I took:

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Books. Three notebooks, one book about ministry, one book of Puritan prayers, one Bible. And a Kindle.

What I used: the teal Moleskine and the Magma sketchbook (yellow spine). I used the Kindle for Bible reading because I mostly ended up doing this outside and it’s easier to carry. I also read two other books on the Kindle, both by Mike Reeves. I probably read Enjoy Your Prayer Life too fast to get the most benefit from it, but I absolutely loved Christ Our Life. I read a chapter every day and I loved the way he kept the focus of all our hope and salvation and grace and the gospel on Christ. Christ isn’t just the means to salvation, he is our salvation. And so on. Highly recommended.

I also bought another Kindle book that someone recommended, Tim Keller’s book on prayer. I didn’t read this but I did skim the introduction and saw that he had begun to overhaul his prayer life by working through the psalms. I know that’s hardly revolutionary but it seemed like a good place for me to start too. So on the first night I read Psalm 1 and I was particularly struck by the need to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night. That seemed a million miles away from my normal habits of reading the Bible for a few minutes then forgetting it for the rest of the day. So I wanted to find better ways of taking time to meditate on the word, letting it really sink in throughout the day.

The first thing I did was to start journalling as I read through each day’s psalm. The way I do this islike a written form of meditation. I end up writing out the whole psalm, but also my own thoughts, prayers, other scriptures that come to mind, and so on. Sometimes I’ll work straight through from the first verse to the last, and sometimes I’ll circle around as the psalm returns to earlier themes. One thing I noticed while doing this was just how strongly it highlighted the connections between the psalms. I spent around 45 minutes to an hour doing this on each psalm.

And then the fun really started. By the end of the written journalling, I’d have a sense of what was important in my meditation on the psalm – what I wanted to remember, what I wanted to think about more and what I wanted to celebrate. And I’d also worked through the detail of the psalm so I could see what images it uses and what emotional response I had. So I did some art journalling.

Here’s what I took:
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Tissues. Small tin with sharpener and eraser. Travel watercolour set and plastic palette. Water bottle. Glue. Coloured card. Sketchbook (not watercolour paper). Very old Bible. Postcard sized sketchbook. Brushes. Scissors and craft knife. Selection of pens and pencils including a metallic gold pen and three glossy opaque pens in black, grey and white. The white was particularly useful.

This amount of kit is very easily portable. I took it to the beach, the garden, and the cliff tops. Nicholaston House actually has an art room which I used for some of the collaging, and probably would have used a lot more if the weather had been miserable. I am not a good painter, but I love playing with colour and found that this was a great way of spending a lot more time meditating on each psalm. I spent maybe 3-4 hours on each page, though I did Psalms 1-2, and Psalms 3-4 each on a single page. My way of going about it was to paint with the watercolours in the larger sketchbook. When I was satisfied, more or less, with the image, I tore it out and glued it into the Magma sketchbook, along with other collage bits, some cut out of the very old Bible – ouch.

Proof of my destroyed Bible (I couldn’t ever be one of those people who does art journalling actually in their Bible):

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Then I added words and details with the pens. The white pen is great because you can write over any colour with it. The gold pen satisfies my need for sparkle and it’s good for trying to represent God’s glory with inadequate art.

Throughout, the focus was on the process of doing it and the meditation on the psalm. These aren’t works of art destined to be displayed or admired. They’re expressions of my time with God. If you try this kind of meditation, your outcome will (and should) look different from mine. But because I love them and I want to share them with you, here are the pages I did this week:psalmspsalms12psalms34psalm5outside psalm5

 

Making

Making

After a frantically busy couple of months, it’s been nice to have a few days for making things this week.

First and best, a tiny baby dress for a tiny new baby:
babydress
My niece was born a week ago. She has some growing to do before she fits into this and the other dress I made for her a couple of months ago.

Next, a very pleasing project indeed. I saw a hat a few weeks ago and made its owner take it off for me to have a better look. This is my version:
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Brilliantly, when you wear it, ears appear! I have written up the pattern in several sizes, and I plan to make it available through p/hop.

Still in progress, crochet hexagon bag. Seven hexagons to go! I hope to finish them today and make up the bag tomorrow:
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Also in progress, warping my new rigid heddle loom:
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And waiting to go in the oven, marmalade chelsea buns. YUM:
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Springing

Springing

Spring may not have quite sprung, but it is certainly springing up round here today. The sun is shining, it’s warm enough to hang the washing outside, and I’ve opened my windows wide.

Here’s some glimpses of spring in the garden:

Crocuses under the lavender:
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My faithful hellebores, who bring the first pink of the year into the garden:
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View from the garden, with lambs gambolling:
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This might not look much, but every year it makes me happy to see the bleeding heart springing up. It grows so fast and is so pretty. In a few weeks there will be a whole bush full of bright pink heart-shaped flowers:
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What I’ve been reading on my holiday

Three Amazing Things About You by Jill Mansell
I don’t know how long I’ve been reading Jill Mansell but I do remember that it began with a free book that came with a magazine. That was Perfect Timing. I’ve read everything she’s written, and although I have my favourites, there are very few of hers that I haven’t enjoyed. Romance readers should be warned that these are (British-style) chick lit, and that although the books always end on a positive note, they do not always conform to the expectations of the romance genre. This book definitely does not.

Three Amazing Things follows three more or less separate storylines: Flo and Zander, Tasha and Rory, Hallie and Luke. Although their lives brush past each other occasionally, it’s not until almost the end of the book that the three parts come together, and although there are signals about how this might happen, it’s still worth reading for the way that Mansell executes the finale.

Hallie is the central character. She has CF and is on the waiting list for a lung transplant. I wished more than anything that Hallie did not have to wait until after her transplant for her romantic fulfilment, though I did appreciate that she had multiple men interested in her. The scene with the ex was my least favourite in the book because I think it was the one where she was treated as a Super Special Unicorn. No other single woman in Hallie’s situation would have asked for and been allowed to behave in that way.

The other thing I wished for was that the Evil Woman in the book had been a bit less one-dimensional. Deeply rounded characters aren’t really Mansell’s speciality but in Lena’s case it wouldn’t have taken much to make her a more sympathetic character. But still, I enjoyed the book and Mansell will remain on the auto-buy list.

Once Upon A Rose by Laura Florand
Florand is a much more recent addition to my auto-buy list, but no less beloved. I adore her gruff, sexy French heroes. Her new series is based in the south of France, rather than Paris, and focuses on the perfume industry, rather than chocolate. But the descriptions are as lush and lyrical as ever and the hero is just as good at putting his heart out there through his work. I love how Florand’s novels stay away from high drama and deep angst. Everything is internal – Matt’s deep love for his valley, his insecurity round his cousins, his need to fix problems; Layla’s fears for her career, her lack of roots, her instinctive desire for Matt. I love a man who gets so flustered round a woman that he forgets how a t-shirt works. Someone on twitter said they were looking forward to Tristan and Damien’s books, and so am I, but I am looking forward to Lucien’s even more.

Playing by the Greek’s Rules by Sarah Morgan
Much as I enjoy Morgan’s single title romances, I adore her categories and I’m so happy to see this new one. It has all the hallmarks of her best books – an adorable heroine who likes to talk a lot and about everything, a tough hero with a strongly protective side and a sense of humour, a complicated family background, and a good grovel at the end. I enjoyed the banter between Nik and Lily a lot, and I believed in their happy ever after. When Lily’s explaining to Nik why she wants a real relationship, she tells him that she wants to be someone’s favourite person. For me, that summed up exactly what it feels like to be a single person. You can have lots of great, close friends, and even family, but you don’t ever get to come first with someone. You’re never the top priority.

I did think that the set up was unnecessarily complex – Lily is a cleaner, and an intern at Nik’s company, and and archaeologist working on a dig. And I didn’t completely get Lily’s background. She’s British, but it seemed like she went to college in the US, in which case she’d either have had a full scholarship or had to pay up front. She wouldn’t have had college loans because she wouldn’t have been eligible for them. Maybe I misread and she went to university in the UK, in which case I’m not sure how she’d made so many US friends and spent so much time there. Hmmm.

Still, I’m not reading M&B’s for strict adherence to reality and I was perfectly able to suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy this, and I’m sure I’ll be re-reading it.

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M.C.Beaton
This was in the holiday cottage and since I failed to bring any paper books with me, I took it to read while sitting in the hot tub. It’s fine. If you’ve read any Agatha Raisin you’ll know exactly what to expect, although this particular volume has the added interest of being set in Cyprus rather than the Cotswolds.

Someone on KBoards recently suggested that cosy mysteries didn’t have murder in them. I can only assume he’d never read one. And if you’ve never read one I can see why you might think that. Murder is not cosy. And yet… cosy mysteries are an extremely popular genre. I don’t read a lot of detective fiction these days, but I still understand the appeal. It makes crime a less scary thing. It makes the world a less scary place. Even murder becomes almost domestic in this sort of world. And of course the murderer is always caught and justice is served. That doesn’t happen in real life but it’s comfortin sometimes to escape to a world where even murder can be reduced to an interesting puzzle.

Faith Seeking Understanding by Kevin Vanhoozer
I’ve enjoyed and profited from a Vanhoozer’s academic works in the past so I was pleased to see that he’d written something aimed at the popular market. Well, kind of. If you’re okay with 50 endnotes to each chapter, complex philosophical ideas and specialist language throughout, then this will be fine. I was hoping for something that I could actually recommend to people at my church, but I don’t think this is it. To be honest, I think if you can read this, you could easily read his other books. Which is a shame, because I think Vanhoozer’s ideas have a lot of value for thinking about how doctrine needs to be enacted in the life of the church.

Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale read by Nicholas Boulton
I’ve read this before but I wanted an audiobook for the long drive and I’m so ridiculously cautious about them that I didn’t want to take the risk on a title I didn’t know I’d like. Anyway, I’m very much enjoying it again and I like the narration a lot. He doesn’t over-act but it’s still very easy to follow.

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Not a book, but another holiday activity which I have thoroughly enjoyed: this jigsaw. I do use a variety of techniques when doing a jigsaw, such as sorting (edge pieces, sky pieces), and testing (trying pieces to fill a particular gap). But my very favourite is when you can take a piece, compare it with the box and find the specific place to put it straight in. This jigsaw is perfect for that. I did the yellow first and then enjoyed myself enormously with the patchwork balloon. Highly recommended.

A little spring cleaning

For a while, I’ve been aware that my website didn’t display well on mobile devices, tablets etc. So I’ve finally got round to changing the theme to a responsive one and doing a little bit of other tidying up around the place.

Please do let me know if you have any problems with the site. It’s helpful if you can specify what device you’re using (laptop, phone, tablet etc.) and what browser you’re using (Chrome, IE, Firefox, Safari etc.), but even if you’re not sure about that information, it’s still worth letting me know what the problem is. I can’t promise I can fix everything, but I’ll try!

2015

2015

I’m not much of a one for resolutions, but I do like to have some plans and goals. Here are some things that I’m thinking about for 2015:

1. Read one BFB a month.
2. Publish one new thing on my other website each month.
3. Work out a system for keeping the house generally cleaner and tidier. And then do it.
4. Write two more Regency serials.
5. Write two contemporary category length books.
6. Find a publisher for the non-fiction Christian book I want to write.
7. No knitting for other people.
8. Work out a better system for budgeting and be more financially solvent by the end of the year.
9. Start doing morning pages again.

I have printed out some of the weekly project planners from here, and I’m hoping that they will help with knowing what I want to be working on when and making better use of time. I want my time off to feel properly relaxing and that means getting my work time under better control.

Some of the best things that happened for me in 2014

Some of the best things that happened for me in 2014

In no particular order and certainly not an exhaustive list:

1. The Best Holiday in the History of Holidays Ever including…
1a. Meeting some of my twitter friends;
1b. Shopping at Mood;
1c. The Charles James exhibition at the Met;
1d. ICELAND;
1e. CRUISE including…
1f. Swimming in the outdoor pool on the ship in the middle of the Atlantic.
2. Getting my PhD.
3. Finally getting An Unsuitable Husband out.
4. Working with Karen Dale Harris on Island Fling.
5. Launching the new website.
6. Learning that a new niece is on the way.
7. Being asked to be a bridesmaid.
8. Winning a new sewing machine!
9. Going to the life drawing classes.
10. Olivia Waite’s series of blog posts in April.
11. BFB readalongs, especially the Hilary Mantel books.
12. More opportunities to do the kind of teaching I really love, at church and in other places.
13. Yarndale.

Not to mention the many excellent ongoing blessings of great friends, a great job working with great people, a beautiful place to live, generally good health.

I know 2014 was a terrible year for a lot of people, and it hasn’t been unalloyed pleasure for me. But I’m grateful to be able to look back and have so many wonderful things to remember.