Thursday, 12 November 2015

Feeling a bit blue

I've been quiet. You could say silent. Why?

Well the honest answer is I've been feeling blue, or more honestly pretty down in the dumps. Yet oddly this is due to something wonderful. I'm a weird one.

I'm pregnant. I have wanted a baby with my husband for a long time and couldn't be more pleased to be having a baby. The baby bit anyway. The having bit, the pregnancy, I hate it. Isn't that an awful thing to say. It's a time when you are supposed to glow and relax and wonder at the marvel of new life. For lots of people this is true, but for me (and 10% of all pregnant ladies out there) it's simply not true. There is no reason for it in my case, but I fit most of the symptoms of antenatal (or prenatal or pregnant) depression.

It has taken some time to realise this. I'm writing this at 16 weeks pregnant. At first I felt shocked and then excited. Then the nausea kicked in and the tiredness and I spent most of my time either at work or laid in bed. I stepped out of family life almost entirely and cancelled most of my social life. I kept thinking it was just the nausea that was holding me back but then I started to feel like I was loosing control of who I am.

Time slowed down. I started crying a lot, and when people asked me why, I told the truth saying I don't know why. I started laying in bed awake at night and feeling even more exhausted in the day. I was sleeping all day and all night at weekends. I would get angry and not be able to calm down. I smashed a plate in the kitchen one night in frustration at what was happening to me. I couldn't concentrate on books, or reading for more than 20 minutes at a time and reading a book (for hours) has always been my escape.

I started waking up feeling horrified that there was another day to get through. I stopped smiling, although I'm not sure at which point.

I felt ill.

If someone had offered me the chance to be put to sleep and wake up when the baby was born I would have jumped at it. I didn't want the next 6 or 7 months of daily life.

I just wasn't myself. I don't know if feeling blue is the right way to describe it, but it sounds right to me.

Everyone has good days and bad. I know this and I have my own set of coping strategies for when I feel bad. Messing around in my journal, writing a gratitide list, ticking off a diy project, making something from scratch or best of all a few glasses of wine with good friends. Sadly the last one is on hold for quite a while and a cup of herbal tea with friends isn't the same. But I lost even the smallest amount of motivation to do any of the other things. I don't know why but I just felt too tired, too lacklustre, too apathetic.

I don't think I hit rock bottom but I realised I couldn't fix this on my own. So I asked for help. And got it. Almost three weeks ago I started taking anti- depressants. They have worked wonderfully.

I still wish I was smilling more but I'm on the right track. I feel like bit by bit I am regaining myself. It's not easy as there is little to grab hold of. This isn't a tangible thing.

I'm scared that these feelings will remain for the whole 24 weeks of pregnancy I have left. It's hard to think about feeling like this for a few more days let alone months. But, I realise I am lucky. I am feeling ill for a lovely reason and I know there is an end in sight. Many don't have even those small comforts. I try and focus on things like this, but honestly, they don't make me feel any better at all.

My recent experience has shocked me. I've always been happy to describe myself as a control freak, and then I lost control of who I am, my own thoughts were beyond my reach. It was frightening and confusing.

I've heard people talk about depression before and thought I had some idea of what they meant but I was wrong. I'd been thinking about feeling down and it's very different. I can understand why it seems to be a brain issue or chemistry as it is not related to your own thinking or what is happening in your life. I'm not sure I am explaining this properly but it's really tough to put into words.

I found reading about other people who felt the same helped me a lot. That's why I decided to write this post. Partly as I thought it might be cathartic to me, and partly because it might comfort someone.

One of my favourite quotes is from Alan Bennett in The History Boys:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

So if you are struggling with anything I have mentioned here for whatever reason: Imagine this is my way of holding your hand. Which also means you are holding mine.

None of us have to do this alone anymore. That's the wonder of the internet.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The saga of learning to make dovetail joints

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who woodworked. She made some prototype shelves and wanted them to be better.

She spent a lot of time researching woodworking techniques and decided that dovetail joints were the way forward.

She watched some tutorials on Youtube, all by men who were experienced woodworkers. They made it look very easy to do and the finish was beautiful and just what she wanted for her handmade shelving.

The woman who woodworked bought some secondhand and new tools and put some of her school maths into action to work out the angles needed.

Then she began to practice. She soon realised that it was quite hard to do, nowhere near as easy as it looked on the tutorials.
She soon realised that she was NOT a natural when it came to being able to saw. In fact, it took her forever and she was very bad at it.
She perservered, as she wasn't a quitter.

After many, many, many failed attempts (left hand side of above photo) she finally ended up with one dovetail joint which didn't fall apart in her hands.
She was so pleased with herself she had a drink of wine to celebrate.

Then she looked closer at the joint and thought about how long it had taken, how many were needed for each shelf and at the actual size of the gaps.
She researched some more and then bought a dovetail jig and router, which do the job perfectly for her.
The end.
And, the moral of the story is, know when you are beaten and as this is destabled, when to stop flogging a dead horse.
Although that saying is actually very mean!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

72 hours in Marrakech, Morocco, and 14 tips to get the most out of a short break there

Marrakech gets under your skin. There is a reason people rave about it. It's hot and dusty and busy and more-than-anywhere-else-I've-ever-been exhilarating!

Let's start with colour. Blue, actually.

This colour, this blue, got into my mind and wouldn't leave. It's not a colour we see much of in Northern England and that's possibly because it really comes to life in such bright sunlight. But, it's a happy colour, a hot colour, an exciting colour to me. This colour blue has me in a obsessive-grip. This trip to Marrakech has a lot to answer for too. In-a-good-way. This trip, 1 year ago today is what started me off on this journey to making handmade shelving.
This post isn't all about colours. I'd like to share some memories of my Marrakech trip, to inspire you to go or go-back or simply to day-dream or reminisce.

Marrakech was a place like no other I have visited. There was an energy there I had never experienced. It was enthralling, busy,hot, but not peaceful.
There were no cars in the centre, so people walked, rode scooters, pushed wheelbarrows or used Donkeys. It was like stepping back in time a bit.

Around every corner or through every doorway was something fantastic to see. No space was wasted.

The streets were narrow and often not very tall. I made my husband pose as a frame of reference. He had to duck many times.

Often coming out of streets you would walk into the unexpected, like a cart full of chickens.

Everything was seemingly done by hand. This guy was more than happy for me to take a picture as he carefully made these patterns by hand.
Very few machines were evident.

Those inspirational colours and patterns were everywhere. This is called 'zellige'.

The markets spilled out onto the streets in every direction. Plus some of the displays were amazing.

There was the occasional posh respite area. Here I am having a break in one with extremely comfy cushions, great views and a breeze, as most of the bars were on the roof.

The city is dominated by the Koutoubia mosque. It sounds the call to prayer over the whole city and is much taller than anything else.

Do you recognise this turquoise? It's very similar to my handmade shelving range of colours.

Oh that blue again. I love it!

One of the best bits was meeting all the master craftsman. This chap made these huge padlocks with, by the looks of it, just a metal file in a tiny shop.

This guy carved wood on the street with a few chisels and this fancy woodturning device he operated with his feet.
All the craftsmen were so happy to show you how they made things and to chat. It was an enjoyable shopping trip. And, it really worked on me, as I bought a lock from the smiley man above and a set of hand turned cedar kebab holders from the chap in the red trousers.

This was the site of one of the oldest universities in the world, the Medina Ben Youssef. The colours and zelige were amazing, and at last there was a peaceful place.
I didn't miss the lack of peace though. Living somewhere quite quiet and remote like I do, it was wonderful to get a sense of energy.

I bought some of that blue in pigment form. If only I really knew what to do with it!

More tradesmen, this one was very upset with me as I bought freshly squeezed orange juice from another stall, but he still wanted me to take his picture.

People just lived outside, they talked to their friends, they ate, they worked. That's the thing I dislike most about living in a cold place.
We don't have a proper street life.

And then I held a desert lizard. I'm sure it's not very kind, but I'm a bit of a wuss with creatures so I wanted to add this picture as it is me being brave.
Looking back I can see how I was inspired by colour and craftsmen and energy to do something different with my spare time. I also started to take myself out of my comfort zone and push myself to do new things and take the road less travelled. I realised I'd been coasting along on an easy life for too long.
If you are planning a trip to Marrakech here are my top tips to get the most out of your time there. We were only there 72 hours and yet I felt like we made the most of almost all of them.
1. Take a Tour
Book a private guide if you can afford it, we had Khalid Amor (you can read a great review about him here ) and spent our very first day with him. This was a great plan as it enabled us to ease into the hustle and bustle without getting lost and the street traders did not hassle us much as we were with a guide. He also gave us some useful advice about where to eat and not, and where to get money changed and all those useful bits you need at the beginning of a short break.
2. Have a Spa
Go for a hammam, this is a traditional Moroccan activity where you spend time in a steam room, have mud masks, and then are scrubbed with a mitt until it's almost painful - but afterwards your skin feels amazing and the whole experience is very relaxing. I went to this one, The Heritage Spa, as it was one of the few spa's offering male and female packages. It wasn't cheap but was worth every penny.
3. Pictures
Take lots of photographs, everywhere looks incredible and don't forget to peer around corners. Keep your camera out and not in a bag as lot's of weird and wonderful things will occur.
4. Weather
Maybe go at a slightly cooler time than early September as it was 40 degrees plus every day. I like the heat, and particularly like to have lots of stops for cold drinks, but if you just want to keep on the move, a slightly cooler time may suit you better.
5. Shopping
Look around the souks a lot before you buy anything as it will help you to get an idea of how much choice there is. Many stalls sell blankets, or carpets, or bags but actually there is a lot of difference, not all sell the exact same things.
6. Bartering/ Haggling
Haggle hard and I mean really hard. Start at a minimum of a quarter what they say ( or a tenth if you are braver than me) and pull wincing faces a lot. Be prepared to walk away. One blanket seller chased me for 100 metres to say I could have the last deal I offered. I did feel like I had probably been ripped off a little, even so, but then thought about how much I would have to spend to buy an imported item and got over that feeling.
7. Drinking
Go to lots of rooftop bars - the views are great and it's a respite from the busyness of the streets. Plus they tend to be breezier and more likely to sell alcohol too.
8. Small Coins
Save your little coins for beggars, it's heartbreaking to see them and you know there is no welfare state as such. Although the country is Muslim and one of the key points of Islam is around giving to charity so maybe it's not as bad as I think. Anyhow giving them little bits of money made me feel better.
Don't just read trip advisor on the restuarants - trust your gut feelings. We found some wonderful gems just by going and trying small items and then ordering more if we liked what we were given. We did try a few Trip Advisor recommended places and to me they were a little pretentious, so I preferred to judge by looking.
10. Directions
As even the main streets in the city are around 6 feet wide and the side streets even smaller with tunnels and 90 degree turns as normal, you have to expect to get lost. My ingenious system was to take pictures of the way home so we could navigate back to our place of residence. We stayed a a lovely, affordable and central Dar (Pamella) and the location was so perfect. During the day we could pop back to drop shopping off as it was so close to everywhere.
11. Be wary
Don't let male guides show you the way anywhere - they want paying and won't easily take no for an answer or often don't like how much you want to pay them which can be stressful. Most of the time we just kept going until we saw something, but the one time we got really lost, we asked women for help in the end.
12. What to wear
I was concerned about what to wear in the heat as I didn't want to offend. Most tips suggested long sleeve shirts and light weight trousers (which is the kind of clothes I wear in Winter!) but it turned out that I didn't need to worry about dressing modestly - hot pants and crop tops are inappropriate but vests and shorts below the knee were absoloutely fine.  
13. Souvenirs
Don't feel a cliché for buying Morroccan lanterns or carpets or anything. I bought both because I loved them and after living with them in my house for almost a year I still love them more than ever. If anything I want to go back and buy more.
14. Be streetwise
Don't walk in the middle of the street - I nearly got hit in the head by a guy on a scoter with 5 mattresses stacked diagonally behind him. It was quite funny how much traffic there was and how you had to be so careful. For this reason I would not recommend taking small children or any aged children who aren't great at spatial awareness.
Oh writing this makes me want to be going back tomorrow! I loved Marrakech.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

How I make my handmade shelving, Part Two.

This is Part Two of how I make my handmade shelving. You can read Part One here if you haven't already.

So safety first, I forgot to say in Part One, I do wear goggles. Here I am with photographic proof. I create an awful lot of sawdust and eyes and tiny particles of wood do not mix. Plus I really need to be able to see what I am doing clearly.

Looking good eh?

Once I have drilled the holes it's time to sand the wood. I like my shelves to feel good and look good so it's a step that I don't skimp on.

I create lots of sawdust.

Then I hoover it all up. That power hoover is very satisfying. Are you getting a feel for the sounds of my workshop too?

Then I need to create my dovetail joints. I wanted the shelves to feel smooth and I liked the idea of making them fit together just out of wood. There are no nails or screws or anything like that holding them together, it's just the dovetail joint and a little bit of glue. Just like most high end or antique furniture. If you have an old chest of drawers or cupboard with drawers - these will be the joints holding those drawers together. They last a long time.

I created a timelapse of me making the dovetails so you can see here. I spend a lot of time laying out prior to this point - using the old saying, measure twice, cut once.

This is a very speeded up timelapse by the way. I'm fast and efficient but not that fast!

This is what each joint looks like when it is first put together.

And this is a whole range of yourshelves waiting to be glued. I used to do this all at once but actually it is easier to do this as I dovetail now.

Then I leave them to dry for a night. The next day I check for sturdiness and they are always very strong indeed.

Oh I love this moment, a wall full of yourshelves. Each hole cut and sanded and each piece matched into the right other 3 pieces. Now to choose which shelves become which colour!

Here I am with a pink one.

After all this it's time to let the paint dry with a well earned feet up time.

And then I get my hooks out and crochet some circles to replace the wood knots with wool knots.

Do you like what I did there?

Then, luckily there are some magic elves who attach the crochet in the night! I wish.

Finally each shelf gets a final sand and a coat of clear wax on the outside unpainted surface.

Then voila - a finished shelf.

I'm so pleased with them, each and every one is loved. I hope you love them too.

Monday, 24 August 2015

How I make my handmade shelving, Part One.

Handmade is often a time consuming process, filled with love and pleasant moments. Let me talk you through how I make my shelves.

I start with the wood itself. I have a lovely local timber merchant and they help me to pick out the pieces with lots of knots in. At first they thought I was a bit crazy, but now they recognise me and have given me a regular discount as they like my product! Shop local folks.

I'm looking for pieces of wood which have a range of knots, but not so many that the wood is weakened and which have knots in just the right places and in a range of sizes. I'm picky.

This was a great piece of wood. One of my favourites from my last batch. It's looking at me.

Then I measure and cut each piece. I make the decisions on size based on each piece of wood, and that is why no two shelves are ever the same, as no two pieces of wood are ever the same.

Here I am in action with my trusty jigsaw.

And then I end up with a pile of pieces of wood. Here, they are laid out in fours so I can make sure I have four sides that fit together. For this reason, the way the wood itself shapes the process, I tend to make quite a lot at once, rather than one by one.

Then it is time to drill the holes. This takes time. Quite a few minutes on each hole. I use different saws and some holes are bigger than others, depending on the size of the original knots.

This is quite a large knot, for example, so I would use quite a large hole. But can you see how the grain of the wood shapes around the knot? This carries on to my finished product and makes the hole in the shelf and the grain of the wood combine for a beautiful shelf.

Essentials - coffee and a drill. Love that they match colour wise.

This is part way through the drilling. Still looking at me.

This is what is removed. They are all different sizes depending on the knots removed. Sometimes I centre them, sometimes I feel they would look better slightly of-centre.

I make a lot of decisions during the process and this is why each shelf is unique.