I have not  blogged for ages, I was wondering why that was?

Is there nothing creative and inspiring happening in my life or have I just been spending too much time drinking tea and eating cake? these recent photos may give a clue to the answer!

I think I have become quite obsessed with teapots..

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I’ve brought in New Years on rainy Belfast streets listening to terrible tribute bands,  toasted the new day on a beach with an audience of sleepy seals and  spent several New Year eves wandering the deserted lanes of a very sleepy Belgian village waiting for something to happen.

The eve of 2012 was a  new experience of uncharted territory for me as I was  treated to a traditional Ulster Scotts New Year in the heart of the quiet Ballymena countryside (at least it was quiet until the Lambeg made it’s entrance).

For a non musician, Rhthymless person such a myself, it was a revelation to spend the evening with a small gathering of musicians,in a character full old farmhouse, jelously guarded by two very alert geese and about a dozen roosters.

The Walls of the farmhouse were papered with Caroline’s energetic paintings and  Willie’s collections of fiddles and drums hung, slung and perched on every available space.

As midnight approached we joined the geese and livestock in the farm yard for a serious Lambeg drumming session, the incredible sound of the drum cutting through the darkness was riveting, I wonder did the neighbours find it as riveting as I?

Suitably inspired we were all give a drum or percussion of some shape or form and joined in with WIllies infamous “Lambeg drum rant rap”  (click on the link at the top of this page to listen). I was given the wooden spoons which I  just about managed without disturbing the rythym!

The drumming ended up being pretty frenetic  and could have ended in a very sleepless night but  we were fortunate enough to have Cherith Boyle (www.cherithboyle.com) to wind us down with a stunning harp recital, she played some of her own compositions which were both haunting and sparkling, worth a listen on this link.

I woke up this morning to the sound of twelve roosters, two Geese and my two little boys who had happened upon a clatter of tin whistles, luckily everyone was still filled with the grace and patience of newly made resolutions of loveliness and those who could, slept on!

We breakfasted in Canadian style with caroline’s wholemeal cranberry scones, apple blackberry sauce and maple syrup yoghurt all fabricated on the spot though I did notice the blackberries came from the hedgerows via the freezer.

A bit of a wander in the country side in a rare spot of winter sun finished off a very special and unforgettable new year for me.  Stuff the champagne and canapés and bring on the Lambeg. Great celebrations are all about spending moments with friends, sharing time, ideas, inspiration and giving a bit of yourself, thanks guys!

Willie Drennan Lambeg Rant Rap on Radio Ulster

Tis the season of giving which should be a joyful experience of blessing ones friends and family with little love and generousity. Potentially gifts should say so much; I love you, I understand you, I think of you… pressure!

Whilst preparing for Christmas I recently reflected on the best gifts that I had received during 2011, they had two things in common: they were all second hand and thus, they all came with a story..so I though I would share a few of them with you, I can never resist a story!

Most Kitsch

I had taken a notion back in the earlier part of this year to find for myself a stuffed bird, preferably a canary. However, the purchase of this particulr item would have proved too costly. My wee brother  found this little pair of beauties in an antique shop in Saintfield. Aparently they had belnged to the owner who had them hung in her halway for decades. I named them Peter and Paul, somehow the filled the gap that had been waiting for the yellow canary and I halted my search!

Most Random

I was very puzzled when a good friend of mine brought this gift over out of the blue, fully wrapped in sparkly paper. Isn’t it fascinating to discover  what people think of when they think of you?! My friend Edyta  knows that I appreciate a bit of good old retro product design. Her husband was working on the renovation of a house and found this Electrolux hoover sitting all by itself (dead as a doornail) in a room that time forgot and so they thought of me!. Edyta’s father,who lived and worked through communism in Poland when times were tough and everyone did anything to fix up, re-cycle and re-use, knew exactly what this little h00ver needed to bring it back to life. He worked 0n it every evening for nearly a week and managed to breath new life into it’s beautiful little retro body. It actually works incredibly well and is as strong as an ox, makes you wonder what’s been happening in the progress of hoovers over the last 40 years!

 

Most weird

Most people who walk into my house find the sight of this deer skull slightly disconcerting. For me, it brings back  memories of the crisp February day  that I found the deer carcass tucked in behind a rotting boat on the shore of  a mountain lake. It must have sheltered there during the winter and not made it through, I felt quite attached to it immediately, the kids and I named it Smokey! We took the skull home and after bleaching it I handed it over to my husband with a request to have it mounted in some way for my birthday. The carpenter who mounted it did a beautiful job, creating an oak panel and attaching poor Smokey’s skull ever so carefully.  Smokey is mounted high up on our kitchen wall, I feel him gives the room a good old fashioned mountain lodge feel!

Most Precious

Most of my friends know of my love of tea sets, I have already blogged more than once about beautiful tea cups, cakes and sugary things. It’s fun searching for interesting tea sets in charity shops and flea markets but  it’s ten times more wonderful to be given something special. Recently my friend gave me this tea set, apart from the fact that it is more beautiful than the majority of sets that I own, I love the story that comes with it! It belonged to an elderly gentleman who passed away at the age of 92, he was the great uncle of my friend Elaine. The tea set belonged to himself and his wife and would have been their good set (probably from their wedding) which explains the perfect condition it’s in. The couple met during the war when she was sent out from the Donegal Pass as a refugee to the far flung safety of Purdysburn (about six miles away). I don’t know much else about their history  but I love to think of them sitting in their good room together sipping tea from their beautiful china and reminiscing about the circumstances in which they met.

Most cute!

I found this little parcel lying on my door mat last week, it was only the size of a matchbox!

I love anything wrapped in brown paper!  It was from a friend who spends a lot of time in France, he had found some tiny pill boxes which he thought I may be able ton use for one of my slightly eccentric pieces of artwork (as seen below!)


A Wigwam is not something you generally throw together without prior thought or preparation, so impromptu may sound a little odd, however…

When I was a child my dad undertook a project of making a shelter with us from tree poles. It was for my brothers school project but the whole family got involved, I have lovely memories of hanging around in the woods all day, and watching the structure emerge, the excitement of afterwards being able to sit inside this home with the damp mossy ground underneath and the sunlight filtering through the woven fern roof. The shelter survived for quite a number of years and each time I walked the nearby path, I would glimpse the building through the trees getting more skeletal as each year passed.

I have had a thought in the back of my mind for some time that I should do something similar for my boys, though how,I did not know as my woodsman skills are limited compared to my father’s. 

It was a lovely surprise then, to find myself in the possession of eight beautifully straight poles which I cut from a bay tree which had spread too much.

Jonah was able to get involved trimming the excess branches and leaves, we just threw the structure up by finding poles that leaned nicely against each other, might not have passed building control but it stood.

Finally I found some sheets and tablecloths and pinned them together with clothes pegs, it was really a lot simpler than expected.

The boys had the most wonderful day playing inside their tipi, they took it very seriously transforming themselves into a king and his servant, it’s not just girls who like to play houses!

 


My eye was attracted to a clamour of intriguing vintage objects as I made my way up one of the tiny narrow cobbled streets in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam. 

It was the style of the objects which made me stop in my tracks, at first it could have been mistaken for a French brocante but on closer inspection it turned out to be a much more unusual find for this part of the world, America vintage!

A glorious mishmash of signing, crockery, toys and furniture, each piece with a history and story to tell of a life on another continent.

Wonderfully battered lived in surfaces, solid wood marked with ownership of life, toys scraped and played with but still holding on to their former beauty, enamel signs in strong colours and simple type harking back to their original purpose.

 

Gathered together by a man with a dream, Mark Woodley, former resident of New York grew tired of the pressures of living a trendy life. In true filmic style he got himself a truck and hit the road, driving all over Michigan, Connecticut and Maine sniffing out his incredible collection from rural yard sales on the road.

 

 

Mark has also sought out newly created items giving his shop a more diverse range. Every item Mark chooses has a story which has won him over and is likely to ultimately win his customers over. One such example is a range of gigantic three dimensional traditionally designed stars fashioned by an Amish community from old barn roofs, the urge to stroke the galvanised metal surface is irresistible, layers of paint battered and faded by the endless drive of weather causes colour and texture no man could re-create.

 

You can find ‘Hudson River’ on Eerste Egelantiersdwarsstraat in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam. www.hudsonriver.nl

 


Amsterdam is obviously well known for its coffee houses and crazy cakes but not the type you’ll find in ‘De taart van m’n tante’ 

Translated ‘My Aunties cakes’, this tea room is not a place you could easily walk by and miss. The floor to ceiling old style windows are crammed with crazy kitsch objects, colour,  pattern and most importantly cakes which pull you in and lead down the culinary path of no return. 

The interior has evolved over twenty years into a wonderful ecclectic mix of old and new, plastic and leather, flat colour and busy pattern.  Walking into ‘De taart van m’n tante’ from the cold wet street was like falling down a rabbit hole (often happens to me) and waking up in another world, I didn’t know what direction to turn, where to focus my attention first. In every direction there were towering cakes in colours and patterns I had never imagined, collections of strange and amusing figurines, objects and furniture from every decade. The interior design plan:  as long as it passes the kitsch test, it gets in.

It shouldn’t really work because it’s all so mismatched and crazy but it does. I reckon it must be the more relaxed attitude of the Dutch towards creativity which allows them to pull it all together and get away with it. They seem to be able to go with the flow and enjoy putting interiors together without becoming too purist and serious about it all, it makes Northern Irish cafes seem so terribly staid! 

The cakes themselves which are all created in the family bakery, display a slightly unhinged but absolutely glorious attitude. They shout freedom, fun and party on! if you’re going to have a big sugary monster of a celebration cake why opt for muted colours and dainty rose petals like everyone else? 

On Sunday afternoon the tea room was buzzing, it’s obviously a popular spot with families and especially ladies! What lady does not appreciate a spot of tea and a decent chunk of attractive looking cake! I, myself could not resist the most colourful item on display in the chiller, I never could steer clear of contrasting colours! Swedish Princess cake, with a delectable surface of smooth deep green marzipan decorated with raspberry pink swirls. I didn’t expect it to taste good, having been hooked on looks only but it turned out to be equally wonderful though not as colourful on the inside. 

At the very back of the tearoom grouped around a retro ceramic coffee table sat two big studded leather armchairs, one in mossy green. The sofa was covered with wildly mismatched crochet squares, the area brimming with colour and pattern to a bursting point. The only improvement which could have been made to this area would have been to have a few kindly grannies permanently parked on the sofa to offer friendly advice and give knitting lessons (now there’s a new business idea, anyone?)


‘De taart  van ma tante’ can be found near the beginning of Ferdinand Bolstraat close to the henniken factory. They also have a bed and breakfast above the shop aptly named  ‘Cake under my pillow’ which looks equally intriguing.  www.detaart.com