Goodbye 2016!

So many ups and downs in 2016! It’s been a topsy turvy year – a year of sadness and upsets for my family and a deeply shocking year in global politics. I have travelled through the year with a pervading sense of loss.

But, in the last few days I’ve been indulging myself drawing up a #bestofnine2016 for my Instagram feed. I’ve looked through all the pictures I’ve posted online, and selected the nine pictures that most capture 2016 for me.  It has taken me quite a time to finally make a selection, but it was a good exercise because after that, I didn’t feel so bad. So many little ordinary happinesses and pleasures that I have taken for granted!  Here are my chosen nine:bestofnine2016Top left: That’s my dearest husband Stephen and our lovely cat, Poe, who passed away in her 20th year, this August. This photograph was taken on her last night of life, when we knew she was extremely ill and would have to visit the vet next day, probably to be put down. She is curled up asleep, comfy and trusting, next to Stephen, on the sofa, as she regularly did. RIP Poe, faithful friend.stephen-and-poeTop middle: Lots of little pleasures here. My knitting, my nails – and my travel knitting bag! Those of you who know me well will know I almost always have my nails painted – and doesn’t this colour match the knitting so well! The Solace bag was a generous gift from Rebecca of Needle & Spindle and symbolises to me the constant comfort of knitting, and the friendliness of the wonderful online community of knitters and makers.solace-bag-and-knittingTop right: This is our lovely local beach, just five minutes away from our home, and my very grown-up children, visiting from London, on a beautiful blustery day.  Stephen and I walk here several times a week, and watch the tides and waves and sands move, the holiday visitors with their families come and go.  To share this with my own family is the greatest of all pleasures.j-h-on-spittal-beachMiddle right: A golden GiveWrap, made with the Japanese and Indian silk scraps I was given for my birthday, and mixed up with some very treasured pieces of old clothing.  It’s been another year of GiveWrap making, sharing the ideas with my cousin Polly, and spreading the word about sustainable wraps.golden-givewrapBottom right: I wrote about the poppies that we grow here in a recent blogpost. They are the best of our gardening in this wonderful place, right up on the north Northumbrian border, exposed to all the elements.  Lots of plants won’t grow here – it’s too salty, too windy, too cold.  But poppies flourish, and best of all, they self-seed.  They grow where they will, not just where I choose.  Don’t they adorn the view so very well …poppies in laneBottom middle: In the turmoil of family events earlier this year, two little cats, Eggy and Ilsa, found themselves needing a new home – so they came to Seaview!  And look how these little smilers love it here! These little London softies have become Northumbrian toughies.  They’re good at mousing, chasing the neighbours’ cats, exploring their territory, and finding the comfiest places in the house to sleep (usually some special fabrics I have carefully laid out).eggy-and-ilsaBottom left: Nothing says Seaview to me as much as the big skies with their endlessly-changing weather stories.  Through the winter months, we are privileged to watch the sunrise as it moves over the south-eastern horizon. So often it is explosively dramatic and exciting. Perhaps best of all, the sun doesn’t rise until a decent time (8.38 as I write on 31st December), so I don’t sleep through it … You never tire of these skies.seaview-sunriseMiddle right: On the 23rd June 2016, Great Britain voted in a referendum on their European Union membership – and we all now know the result.  In the days leading up to this referendum, those of us who hoped to stay in the European Union became increasingly worried about the result – as indeed there was good cause – and I was inspired to stitch my Love letter to Europe, incorporating some lines from John Donne’s poem No man is an island.  Embroidery isn’t really my thing, so this was a textile experiment for me. It wasn’t, of course, an earth-shaking contribution – really rather feeble – but it was very comforting to stitch at the time.  Now it hangs up our stairs, and it speaks to me of our continuing membership of Europe, even if we lose the membership of the European We saw this little 18th century ladies patch box on display at Traquair House – a very happy daytrip to a most interesting place to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. So there are lots of things bound up in this picture for me: my very happy marriage to Stephen, the pleasures we have out and about exploring this beautiful part of the world, and above all else it speaks of hope.  More than anything else in these unsettled times, the message of this little box comes back to me, and I find in it great, great comfort.  At some time in its history, it must have given hope to another person.  Now again, it is holding a hand out to a dodgy future.patch-box-from-traquairGoodness knows what I will be writing at the end of 2017.  But hope isn’t a bad travelling companion.  So thank you for your company on the journey through 2016, and may you all be sustained by hope in whatever comes your way through the next year.  Happy New Year!


New kits on the block

There are two new cats at Seaview, Eggy (short for Eglantine) and Ilsa.

They have come from a London home.  There they had a cosy little two-up-two-down terraced house with a square patch of a courtyard garden in the busy, bustling world of north London.  For a variety of complicated reasons, that home had to be sold, so these little kits found themselves in need of a good home and a garden – so they’ve come north!

They travelled up by train in a sort of push-chair affair, and, looked so spaced out when they arrived. Where were they?  Who were all these new people?  Another cat?  To help them settle in, we shut them into my Woolly Room (big sacrifice on my part) and that has remained their bedroom and bolthole ever since.  In the photo below Eggy is on the right (she is darker with a light patch over one eye), and Ilsa is crouching down on the left.Two confused kitsOf course, we already have a cat.  Poe is a lovely ancient family friend who has been with us since she was a kitten. She’s just celebrated her 19th birthday, and if you haven’t met her before, you can read about her here.

Poe isn’t a well cat – not surprising considering her age.  She has serious heart trouble (for which she takes regular medication), eyesight problems, very reduced hearing, and is almost definitely on the way to some sort of dementia.  We sometimes find her sitting looking lost, facing the wall.  She is losing weight. Poe asleep on sofaSo Poe sleeps most of the day, either in the garden when it is fine (preferably the raspberry bed as below), or on her favourite sofa.  And we have recognised that we are probably supporting her in her last year of life.Poe asleep in raspberry patchWhen we invited the new kits to come and live here, we did consider Poe’s health, and the adjustment she would have to make in her very old age to having two new cats on her territory. We discussed with our very understanding vet the possibility of having Poe put to sleep.

This was a good move.  She was able to reassure us that given all of Poe’s health problems it would not be unreasonable to bring an end to Poe’s life.  With that reassurance, we somehow felt much more confident to accept the new kits.We like Katherine's sewing machine tableWe bought a new litter tray for the kits, set up their own feeding station (both in my sewing room) and invested in expensive Feliway cat pheromone diffusers.  The kits settled in to their new upstairs home, and we thought we’d take it slowly, let them live upstairs for a bit with Poe downstairs.  But the first night, the little curious kits pushed down the barricades we’d set up, and there they were on the stairs!shy kitsThen Poe happened to be passing … and, oh dear!  The look of horror on Poe’s face!  If cats could speak ….

Perhaps that’s why it took so much persuasion to get the kits to come further downstairs … Helen reassuring kitsNew friendships had to be made.  Trust had to be earned.Eggy meets StephenThey explored all of Poe’s territory.  The food bowls …New kits interested in Poe's foodHer conservatory … Poe’s expression (on the table) says it all.  I don’t plan to share this at all!Interesting encounter in conservatoryThe kits pretty quickly realised that Poe could get into a further world that they were at present barred from.  How did Poe do it?!trying to work out the cat flapWhen presented with an open door, they were very wary. Note Poe watching superciliously.Poe watchesThere were fascinating encounters – or non-encounters – as elderly Poe failed to realise the kits’ presence.  Perhaps Poe was just enjoying the fuss we all made of her too much to notice Eggy hiding under the bench.Poe unaware of EggyThe kits certainly took the outside world very cautiously that first weekend.very tentative steps outsideThey’d known outside, of course, in their London garden – but what was that compared to the huge Northumbrian spaces and skies. So both kits went very cautiously, looking for safe hiding places wherever they could.Eggy trying to trick the birdsThe real magic for the kits is, of course, the birds.  We have bird feeders on the house wall, but also put grain on the path for those birds which prefer to eat this way.  Ilsa will spend hours flattened like this, watching and hoping.  I feel uncomfortable because we love the birds, but cats are genetically programed to catch birds, and we just have to accept this is what the kits want to do.Ilsa trying to catch birdsEven though the kits have got better positions now for bird catching (they’ve moved to the raspberry bed), they still haven’t caught anything. I’m not sure they will – they aren’t exactly fast-movers. Yet.Ilsa in raspberry bedEggy is a bit better at finding a good hiding place.Eggy in raspberry bedAll sounds well and good, doesn’t it?  Well, the truth is it wasn’t.  Ten days in we were exhausted with monitoring the situation and trying to manage Poe and kit meetings. Expressive cat encounters Poe seemed to be getting thinner and thinner – whether it was just the contrast of the fat little kits that made us more aware of her loss of weight, or whether anxiety was genuinely causing her to lose weight, we couldn’t be sure.  She certainly seemed to be eating as much as ever. But she looked so thin – her sides are almost concave.Poe looking very thinSo as we approached their second weekend here, we were thinking that it would be kindest to take Poe on that fateful vet trip next week.

But something changed.  Suddenly, things jelled.

I think two things happened.  Firstly, the kits genuinely made our house their own home.  Because they are differently sized from Poe, they couldn’t get through the catflap without help, so we helped them …steps to catflapAnd a little gaffer tape came in useful.gaffer tape makes catflap manageableSecondly, I think the antagonism between Poe and the kits settled down.  It is now benign teasing of Great-Aunt Poe by her bumptious nieces. They are endlessly inquisitive, and cannot resist checking her out, but she, from her superior age and height, can just let it pass – mostly. She still hisses, and has been known to biff them if they annoy her too much. It helps that we separate the kits from Poe at night so that nobody can upset anybody else when we are not around.checking out PoeThe new kits are the very sweetest of sweet-natured cats, and they give us hours of entertainment.  For all that it is hard work having three unsettled cats, it is very funny. Look how guilty they seem after we caught them watching birdtv!guilty looks - watching birdtvOh Eggy, you know just how sweet you look in the sink, but how am I to clean my teeth?Eggy and the sinkI even laugh when Eggy plays with my knitting wool!somebody's discovered my knittingAmong our collected bits and pieces from the seaside, we have what we think is an about-to-be-born seagull chick.  It is just bones and feather (presumably the rest eaten by a predator).Seaview treasures including gull chickIlsa loves it!Ilsa with treasureSo Eggy and Ilsa have in their own ways made themselves at home. Meanwhile Poe is comfy as ever beside me on the sofa.Poe with me on the sofaThree cats, getting on with their own lives, sharing the space.all cats together