Thursday, 31 December 2009

Laying the Old Year to Rest and Preparing for the New Year

Day Twenty Eight.

Finally starting to feel normal again, after a week of exhaustion and being completely full of cold (alright, snot). I can't believe I've had to breathe through my mouth every night for so long, it was a relief to be able to breathe through my nose again last night! Ah, the petty detail. Isn't that was blogging is really about?! Ha ha :)

So, one of today's missions is to catch up with my blog entries... I know, I've really let it slip what with being ill and all.

The other main task was this: I spent a good part of the day creating an itinerary for Ember's upcoming tour 'Up North,' sorting out the details and logistics of each gig and making sure we have the right times and contact numbers, etc.

The tour runs from 9th - 15th January and was booked many months ago, mostly repeat gigs, so we know what to expect. We shall be visiting these places (more info on our dates page):

Sat 9th: Faldingworth
Sun 10th: Guisborough
Mon 11th: Stockton on Tees
Tues 12th: Hartlepool
Weds 13th: Otley
Thurs 14th: York
Fri 15th: Near Telford

I'll have to sort the details out for the rest of January and February in the next few days, so there's that to look forward to as well, ha ha.

Happy New Year, let's hope it's a good one :)

Cat Wee Samples

Day Twenty Six.

I spent practically the whole day in bed. Still so tired and ill.

But at 4pm we made it over to the vets with a sample of Molly (our female cat)'s wee, to see if there's a medical reason for her drinking so much water all the time. She's very fussy though, and only wants to drink from a glass, and a glass that I'm currently drinking from at that. We thought she might have cystitis. The vet tested it and said she didn't have that. They don't know what's up with her, and all they could say was we need to keep an eye on her and see if she gets any worse.

Well, that's good news in a way, and we've been feeling guilty about not doing anything about it despite our worries. So all we can do now is watch and wait. At least we've done something.

She looks OK. Maybe she's just spoilt?!

A New Knitting Project

Day Twenty Seven.

I've been salivating over my Christmas book 'Stitch and Bitch' for a few days now, and my fingers are itching to start making something. I thought I'd start with something quick and easy, so when I found the pattern for 'Hot Head' - a lovely, ribbed hat - I knew I had found my project. My stash of wool is massive - I got pretty carried away last time I ordered from Kemps Wool Shop (a very cheap, online store, which I thoroughly recommend) as their clearance wools are so very beautiful, and so very affordable... I knew I wanted to use Wendy's Chameleon (Chunky) as it's quick to knit and holds together so well. But, I must be a very slow knitter, as this is how far I got, when the book promises it will only take two hours at the most:

So you see I have indeed started, which is something. I shall share the results with you when they are worth seeing! :)

Monday, 28 December 2009

Pando Saves the Day

Day Twenty Five.

Phil and my dad left early this morning to drive to Pembrokeshire to pick up more of my dad's boxes to take to the smallholding. I'm starting to see where my hoarder's personality has come from! My father finds it really hard to part with anything, much to my mother's dismay. I've promised her that I'll help my dad to go through everything if he's not already done so by the time we move in, probably sometime in March.

It was lovely to get up so early and feel the whole day stretching ahead of me, without any distractions. Finally I had the time to sit down and convert all of the individual tracks (of the songs ready to be mixed) from Garageband files into aiff files. Sounds boring, but is essential for the tracks to be imported into ProTools - which is how Chris (our amazing sound guy) needs them. When we were at his place last, we had a bit of a breakthrough after several difficulties raised their ugly heads. Non-techies can stop reading now...

To get my Garageband songs/files onto Chris' ProTools, I needed first of all to get them onto his computer. They are very large files, and so I thought I should set up an FTP directory on our website so that I could upload to there and he could download from it. Alas, FTP will not support files with anything other than numbers and letters as names, and Garageband seems to insist upon naming each track something like 'Recording#23.' Invalid filename, unacceptable to FTP.

Then I discovered - a programme which allows you to send large files (much larger than normal) in an email. I sent the songs to Chris, and despite his disgruntled murmurings about it taking hours to download, he was surprised that it worked... But... But it became an impossible dream when we opened the files with him in his studio and discovered (to our horror) that each recording was no longer in order, nor was it cut down to size, so that would mean we would have to go through every single track and a) try to place it in the correct place in the song, and b) cut it back AGAIN to cut out unwanted parts, which means that c) we would have to re-listen to everything to determine whether or not it was a wanted or unwanted section - argh!!!

At that point we thought the whole project would have to change course, and without Chris' expertise at that. There was no way we could afford to rearrange every micro-recording of every track of every song. 'If only we could get the tracks with the silences in between...' we muttered, glumly. And then suddenly I had a brainwave - if I could mute every track but one, I could send each track to iTunes and the silences in between would happen in real time! I quickly put my idea into action and was mightily relieved that it worked. So that's what I've been doing this morning. Saving each song with all tracks but one muted, one track at a time (naming them appropriately!), and sending every version to iTunes. I'll wait until tonight to send them all to Chris, as Pando takes up all of the bandwidth when it's sending...

I can't wait for the album to be finished, I'm so excited! :)

This afternoon I'm going to drive over to the smallholding to have a look around before Phil and my dad return from Pembrokeshire. Then I'll give him a lift home. I can't believe I've only really spent about half an hour there - that was when I went to view it before we all put the offer in - yet we're planning on being there for the rest of our foreseeable future... I'll take my camera, maybe I'll have some nice pictures to share when I come back :)

EDIT Here's one:

Sunday, 27 December 2009

DVD and Youtube Killed the Video

Day Twenty Four.

Another easy one today, but it's all good. I figured it out as I lay totally devoid of energy in bed: if I get rid of something I don't want today, then it's a success. So I dragged myself over to the video shelf and did the first purge (of many, I hope - this was only a small one)...

Some of these were bought at charity shops for Phil - he loves Bottom and Steve Coogan - but he won't miss them. He hates the video player anyway, and I can't remember the last time we actually sat down and watched a video. I think I'd like to watch some of the remaining videos before giving them back to the charity shop though... Or am I just making excuses not to get rid of them?! We shall see... :)

Boxing Day: The Story of One Box

Day Twenty Three.

This is going to sound stupid.
I was so knackered, that I thought I'd do a very easy job today. Since we cleared all sorts of crap into our bedroom to get it out of the way for Christmas, I found myself tripping over this one annoying thing every time I went into the room.

It's this:

Nothing wrong with brushing up on your Welsh, that's not the issue.
This is the stupid thing about it:

There's only ONE tape in the damned box. And it's not even mine. I found it in my last house after we moved in. There was only one tape in the box THEN. I have kept it for five or six years! And I have since bought another, full set. Why am I holding onto this piece of useless, guilt-inducing rubbish?

Well, that's the last you'll hear of it. That's IT. It's going in the plastic recycling.

Christmas Day

Day Twenty Two.

Yes, today I did an awful lot of de-cluttering, but none of it was anything more than clearing up after meals and cups of tea, as you would expect at a family Christmas. :)

Me, my parents, and my brother went for a morning walk around 'the loop' while Phil stayed in and cooked the roast. He's a bloody good man, that Phil, and a damned good cook.

Turned out to be a pretty pleasant day, all in all.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve: Is it Nap-Time Yet?!

Day Twenty One.

We may have both been struck down by runny noses and bone-aching lethargy, but we have still somehow managed to complete the preparations for the family Christmas... Horray!

The bedrooms look lovely and cosy, and the downstairs kitchen/sitting room area is warm and inviting - decked with ivy and holly and fairy lights as you know - and topped off by the funny Christmas tree Phil pulled in from the garden (it turned out that a previous owner had planted their tree outside, after it had served its purpose, and over time it has grown tall enough for us to nip the top off without shocking it to death).

I have wrapped the few presents which arrived today via City Link. For some reason Amazon split my order into two and has promised that the other things will be coming by Royal Mail Special Delivery. They should have arrived by 1pm, so I've lost all hope by now. That'll teach me to think that last minute internet present shopping is a clever way to avoid the shops, the crowds, and preparation in general...!

My parents have just phoned to announce that they are on their way. I must now take a nap as I am completely drained. Merry Christmas to you; hope we all have a chance to put our feet up and open a bottle or two :)

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Food of Life

Day Twenty.

Ah! Now we are one fifth of the way through the 100 Days Project! I must admit that despite the one evil comment, I am feeling positive and somewhat changed for the better. I'm feeling a real sense of community with other 100 Days bloggers, and it's a opened up a whole new world for me. I spoke with my old friend Kellee of The Yellow Lamp today, and that was very lovely indeed. This blogging process is bringing us close again after some years of very little contact - she moved away and we've just been soooo busy, ya know? :) She reminded me that only horrible people make horrible comments on blogs. Still, I've left it there in case anyone feels like responding. I don't like to censor things too much, I like a dash of reality, so I'll leave it until its time comes.

Today worked out pretty well. It was market day in Machynlleth, so we collected our pre-ordered organic veg from the Treehouse stall, picked up the pre-ordered free-range chicken and local sausages from Will the butcher's, and bought some nice fresh sea bass from the fish man (there are two fish stalls on the market - one is right outside our house and leaves a rotten fish smell when he goes; the other is down by the Quarry cafe. We bought the fish from the one down by the cafe - partly because we have heard the nasty, racist jokes of the one outside our house). I spent the morning on Amazon, choosing self-sufficiency themed presents for my parents and surfing related gifts for my brother. Phil and I decided that after the huge expense of everything else we would not need presents ourselves. Still, I got a bit carried away and ordered a 'Stitch and Bitch' knitting book for myself and promised to get an Ikea magnetic knife holder for him (it's what he wanted, to be fair, and it might give us an excuse to get ourselves there sometime in the New Year).

Sorted out our room ready for my parents to stay in it, and got the lights and tinsel on the tree. Phil cleaned the pantry and the hall, and all we have left to do tomorrow is last minute floor-cleaning downstairs, and making beds. As soon as we realised that, Phil asked if he 'was allowed' (what?! There's a first time for everything, I suppose?!) to have a glass of wine, and so I suggested that he make up some mulled wine from scratch as he's been boasting that he'll be able to make it without touching the singular sachet in the cupboard. He rose to the challenge (a good chance to see if it'll work when my family arrives!) and I read the ingredients list from the back of the sachet, whilst pointing out cinnamon, cloves and the like in the dark and chaotic cupboard. It turned OK, though maybe he shouldn't have put the garlic (?!) in, but with a few spoons of sugar, I thought it tasted pretty good. :)

And so we relax again, job done :)

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Getting the House Ready for the Family Visit

Day Nineteen.

Bought loads of food for Christmas and a couple of presents, cleared the landing of all the boxes and general crap which has accumulated, started sorting out the bedrooms where my parents and brother will be staying, had a lovely long bath...

Now waiting for Phil to make us some tasty pizzas, whilst watching some Derren Brown.
It's good to relax! :)

Monday, 21 December 2009

Making Christmas Less Stressful

Day Eighteen.

So it looks like my parents and brother will be coming to our house again this year. It will be too stressful for my parents if we descend upon them at the smallholding - I mean, they're only getting the keys tomorrow, and moving more stuff (tractors!) up on Wednesday, so it'll be a house full of boxes and chaos... Now what will they do with the cat?! :S

So, to reduce our own stress, Phil and I sat down this evening to write a list. There are so many things to be done. It has only just been decided that we will put Christmas on here. We had expected a low-key event at the smallholding, with Phil cooking and me being his assistant, but somehow it being in our house makes us feel that it will now need to be as good as it gets, rather than a case of making do...

Tomorrow will be the big day of tidying, cleaning, preparing rooms, buying plenty of food and drink, thinking about presents, decorating upstairs, buying 'eco' logs to ensure nice, hot fires (no one seems to sell dry wood anymore, have you noticed?), and all the rest. Oh man, we might even need to get a tree! It's all there on the list. And as we know, all good actions start with a bloody good list - check out Beth's blog if you haven't already - it's a Hundred Days blog, with the first day's task being 'Write a list' and the following ninety-nine days taken up with ticking one job off every day in no particular order...

I'm finding it very inspiring, but you know me, I love lists...

Doing Nothing is Sometimes the Hardest Thing

Sunday 20th December:
Day Seventeen.

A very relaxing day - unheard of!
We spent most of the day in bed, sleeping, chatting, and watching stuff on BBC iPlayer, YouTube and the like. A success! A relaxing day, don't you see, is a huge achievement for the stressed-out, het-up workaholic.

Then, just as I thought there would be nothing to tell you (again!), I found the missing Bukowski DVD. It's been troubling me for over a week now. Can you guess where it was? Behind the bloody bed, that's where, between the mattress and the wall. I'm sure I'd looked there...

Now it's ready to go back to the library, taking all the stress and guilt with it. :)

Hey, doing nothing is GOOD: I even found this blog about it! It recommends starting small:
"Doing nothing, in the true sense of the word, can be overwhelming if you attempt to do too much nothing at once. Do small nothings at first." I like that!

Little Things: Fixing the Hoover

Saturday 19th December:
Day Sixteen.

That was funny.
A few days ago we spoke to the Dyson helpdesk about our problematic hoover, explaining that the filter gets blocked even though the clear plastic bin remains empty. They asked if we could see the part which goes inside the bin, the part with a black rubber seal. We looked and it wasn't there.
'Ah! You need to get a new one.' They informed us. 'A whole new bin assembly.'
'But as the part has separated, can we not just get the part on its own?' We asked.
'That part cannot be bought alone, you'll need to buy the whole bin with the part inside.'

Oh, OK. Right. Sure...

I looked on eBay. Bin assemblies: £20. Shit. The hoover only cost us a small donation to the local charity shop. That seemed silly. I looked some more, and found the part, for a fiver. But it was mauve, when our machine is yellow...

Well I don't know whether or not the colour signifies a whole different set up, do I?!

So I phoned the helpdesk again. Nothing's simple is it? This time they wanted the model number, the unique code on the sticker underneath the machine, my name, address, telephone number, year of purchase... I answered as best I could. Finally I was permitted to ask my question. 'Er, so a friend has a mauve model, mine is yellow, er... her's is completely broken but she'll let me have that black rubber part from inside the bin assembly... er - is it going to work?'

'Well, of course. The only difference is the colour.'

'Er, great... thanks very much for your help.' Phone in cradle, click. Onto eBay, click.

Go it today and put it straight in. Easy peasy, works a treat. Ah, the beauty of simplicity, eh?

Funeral of a Friend

Friday 18th December:
Day Fifteen.

Such a beautiful day.
So bright and icy, Martin would have loved it.

We drove through dazzling sunshine to the crematorium. Luckily, we were early, and didn't have to park on the road. There were so many people that most of us didn't see the coffin arrive - we were caught in a human bottle-neck in the waiting room. The chapel was so full that people were kneeling in the aisle, or standing at the back. The service was emotional, with speeches by the people who knew him best. A photo I'd never seen before was in a frame on the coffin, with a huge wreath of white flowers.

At the final mechanised drawing of the curtain around the coffin, I felt as I have done before - that this seemed like a cheap magic trick - the sanitised end of the factory line. The body cannot be seen to fall from the conveyor belt of life, but must be imagined, once again in an eternal state of being vividly alive.

The wake was held at the White Lion, Martin's local. It was heaving, I wished Martin could have seen it - just like it was back in the day, before the crowds dwindled, before the smoking ban, before the recession. He would have loved it - a good old fashioned piss-up.

We spent the whole afternoon and evening there, drinking and talking.
There was no time for anything else.

Try, Try and Try Again

Day Fourteen.

Yes, I disappeared for a few days. I wonder if anyone noticed?
I was not spirited away by some magical fairy sparkles, oh no.
I was entangled in the dark stress-cloud which surrounds my head like a blanket soaked in ditch-water, suffocating my breath and shattering my thoughts, making even the simplest of tasks seem like complicated, mammoth obstacles. I've been there for a while. It makes me feel very melodramatic, as you can tell... :)

I'm back now, sort of.
I've decided not to ask too much of myself for a while.
I hope to keep doing and writing, but do not plan on beating myself up over any of it!

I tried to do lots of things on Thursday, Day Fourteen...

I need to arrange a replacement SIM card for my phone, and people keep promising me their old ones, but so far none have worked, most have been forgotten... I tried out a couple, but got the same message 'SIM Activation Failed.'

We want to move all of the boxes of books from the loft down to the empty bedroom, so that they're ready to take to the smallholding when we go. But my parents need space their on their own to overcome the stresses of the last six months, so we are now uncertain as to when we might be able to start moving stuff.

I've been waiting for a hoover part to arrive which should sort it out once and for all - how did a huge piece fall out without us noticing?!

I searched high and low for the Bukowski DVD which Bec borrowed from the library and then lent to me. It has completely vanished, and so no success there... :(

I wrote out some of the addresses for the Christmas cards, and discovered I didn't have them all. Started trying to find people's addresses.

We did some more recording at Bec's house, and listened to most of the songs. I can't keep reporting that though, can I? No matter how exciting it may be for me!

A very trying day.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Christmas Cards are GO!

Day Thirteen.

I've got to admit that I've jumped into this whole "Do Specific De-cluttering Task; Blog About It" thing rather naively, without any initial concept of the amount of time and effort required on a daily basis by what is, in reality, two tasks. I can only drop my jaw and gape in wonder at the wonderful work done by two of my favourite bloggers - Beth and Tammy - each of whom has a small child to deal with, as well as all the usual household tasks, as well as the daily blog and One Hundred Day Project. Argh! Much respect to you guys.

My boyfriend has started complaining that he never gets to spend any time with me. True, I am a workaholic, but this blog thing takes the biscuit, I reckon. I'm loving it though! Apart from the anguish it causes.

So today, I killed two - no wait! - fed two birds with one grain. As the washing machine is broken, I've been going to my mum's house to do it, but only once it has amassed itself into a giant pile of offensive sights and smells. While I was waiting for each load to finish, I wrote my Christmas cards, which will assuage my Christmas-themed guilt no end. I don't normally do Christmas cards. Or at least, if I do, I don't do very many. Raised with a strong work ethic, I usually feel that I should make them all by hand, deliver them by hand, accompanied by a home-made mince pie or somesuch. Then I run out of time, and quickly write out about half a dozen shop-bought cards. It takes a long time! I am not happy to send a card which has a pre-printed message, which is preceded by 'To Bob' and followed by 'From Joe' - what's the point in that?! So I like to write a little in each card, hardly a catch up, but something personal at least.

Here is my stash of ready cards - all that is needed is Phil's signature, and the envelopes have yet to be addressed. Getting there, getting there...

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Day Twelve

Day Twelve.

The smallholding is in the bag!!!!
Contracts have been exchanged, finally, we'll have the keys next Tuesday, just in time for Christmas, oooh, I'm so excited! Phil and I went out to the pub and had a couple of special-occasion Whiskeys tonight. Then we went wild and had a lovely meal at the Taj Mahal Indian restaurant. Feels so good to celebrate after such a long time of waiting for news.

Very full now. Phil is already asleep beside me. Completely conked out. I fear I must soon hit the sack too. Will catch up tomorrow. x :)

EDIT: This news meant that I could do some appropriate de-cluttering - I deleted all of the digital smallholding brochures from my laptop, and put all of the physical brochures in the recycling. That's one less folder full of pointless information, horray!

Goodbye to all the other potential properties, none of which were quite as compelling as the one we hope to own with my parents next Tuesday! :)

There. That was easy.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Wardrobe Disaster Area

Day Eleven.

Not yet run out of things to do and areas to de-clutter. No, it'll be a long time before that happens. And way before that time comes around, the beautifully clear areas will be piled high with junk again, no doubt, so we'll be back at square one.

I've had a long and stressful day. The smallholding we're buying with my parents is still not ours, and we are starting to feel that after months (and years!) of hoping and dreaming it may yet fall through. But they're meeting with the solicitors tomorrow, so who knows, maybe everyone's finally ready to exchange contracts and set a date for completion.

Anyway, here's my project for today - the horrible open-fronted disaster that currently stores our clothes in a permanent state of chaos:

I'm so tired I can't even muster a joke about it. It makes our bedroom so untidy. One day ("When we're on the smallholding..." as we keep saying to each other, making ourselves and each other absolutely ridiculous promises) we'll have a bedroom which will serve only two purposes - to be a relaxing space to hang out together, and a calm place in which to sleep. There will be NO clutter, no tangled visions of hell in sight. The clothes stored therein will be behind doors, preferably smooth white doors, or lovely, simple doors made of lovely, simple wood. There will be no bookcases, these will all be DOWNSTAIRS. Perhaps one or two books may enter the bedroom, but only if they are currently being read. There will be a laundry basket, with a lid. The walls will be white, or cream; one wall may be deep red. There will be no overhead lights, only bedside lamps and perhaps some uplighters. Of course, as ever, there will be no television, but I'm betting we'll each have our laptops in there upon an evening. That's a given. :)

This is the tidy (or tidier) version:

Oh, I wish it had doors. Or a curtain, or a cover of some kind. Something to keep all of that random visual activity from getting into my brain! Ah well, when we're on the smallholding...

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Taking the Weight Off the Windowsill

Day Ten.

It's not easy on the eye. You walk into a room and there are piles of random stuff everywhere. There are no clear surfaces to be seen. Entering through the pinhole of the pupil, the clutter starts to penetrate the brain, and eventually the entire body is stifled. You start to feel depressed, though you can't seem to put your finger on the reason for slow, all-engulfing stagnation.

I heard an urban myth about a hoarder who filled his house from floor to ceiling with stuff. He kept old newspapers in giant heaps, books, clothes, furniture and things which no longer had a use. Each room was a carefully built fortress, with a narrow pathway from one door to the next. One day, the milkman noticed that the bottles were accruing on the doorstep, each one sourer than the last. He raised the alert, and the police broke into the house when it became clear that no one was coming to answer the door. They eventually found the hoarder dead. He wasn't easy to find, within the maze, but they had followed their noses. When they found him, they quickly realised the cause of death: he had been picking his way over one of the massive piles of random crap, had slipped and fallen into it, became stuck tight, and had died slowly, imprisoned by his own weakness for things. It sends a shiver through me every time I think of it!

So today I thought I'd attack the windowsill in our upstairs sitting room. It's been bothering me for a long time. Here's how it looked before I started (oh, the shame!):

I found a whole array of different random things:
Used batteries (Phil insists we keep them as they CAN be recharged - did you know that?! - if you use a very SLOW, old-school charger - that way they won't overhead and explode), broken headphones, out-of-date malaria pills, a small record collection (the records will go straight to the Dog Shop - I don't even have a record player!) which I got for free, some copied CDs (they've gone onto iTunes), a couple of nice blank books made with handmade paper (never used as somehow their niceness makes me afraid to mar them with words or sketches), some very old bank statements and phone bills (why am I displaying them on the windowsill?!), DVDs I have yet to watch and a few Desmond Morris hardback books which could just as well go on the book shelves in our bedroom. Oh, and shit-loads of coins from various countries and eras... from Ireland, Morocco and India... Euros which could be used next time I go to the continent... old pennies and five-pence pieces (why?!), and a whole bunch of current one- and two-pence pieces (I know who put those there - men are not capable of parting with pennies - it's too embarrassing, apparently).

Not a great pic, but you get the idea :)
Might put some plants up there soon.

The Holly and the Ivy

Day Nine.

Horray! A sunny day! Crisp and bright, just as it should be at this time of year. Phil was desperate to go for a walk, and so the idea evolved that we would go out and look for some foliage with which to decorate the house. Last year we draped ivy around the window frames, along with some pretty plain fairy lights, and filled the rooms with holly and pine branches. We loved it so much that we left the ivy up until March (which was about the time when it started to disintegrate).

Personally, I find the plastic decorations tacky - often too gaudy and glittery - not to mention expensive. I'm not a big fan of fireworks either, so I guess you can make of that what you will! :)

As we were leaving the house equipped with a sharp knife and a pair of secateurs, our neighbours happened to be coming out from next door. They promptly went back into the house and returned with a Christmas card for us and a nice bottle of wine. We told them we were going to hunt down some nice foliage and they suggested we go to the park. They were right! Just fifty yards from our front door we gathered so much, it was escaping our arms as we walked back, overladen with leaves (and about five berries in total - but that's five more than last year).

Now our front room is like a scene from Narnia, and there's plenty more leafy sprigs left over to decorate upstairs too :)

Going to the park was not enough of a walk, so we 'did the loop' and walked around by the river. The air was fresh and bracing, and the views were beautifully lit by the setting sun.

I do have some nice pics, but Blogger is being awkward...

Friday, 11 December 2009

Getting the Tunes to the Tunesmiths

Day Eight.

Argh! I'm rushing around trying to get ready to drive to Derbyshire for our gig tonight - the last Ember concert of 2009... The small task I set myself this morning was to convert three of the songs to mp3 and send them to Jamie Smith, wonderful accordionist who plays with Mabon. The idea is that he will add some magic, and 'Da Daaa!' - they will be DONE.

But do you know HOW LONG it takes to attach a single song?! I've cooked and eaten all my porridge and the first song has not yet attached!

...Thank goodness, after plugging the laptop directly into the wi-fi thingy, it seemed to get a little faster, so I've DONE IT :) And for good measure (to prove to you that I'm not slacking) I sent a track to Duncan the drummer so that he can start working on that one too. Horray! Off to my gig now, not a minute too soon!

And thanks again, everyone, for the lovely and encouraging comments :)

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Topping and Tailing Tracks

Day Seven.

Yes indeed, I have organised the tracks for the new album! I hope this will be allowed to pass as de-cluttering! I've been deleting unwanted tracks, and nipping off the beginnings and endings of every single recorded track on every single song. Which means there will be no unwanted throat-clearing, rustling, twitching or space-bar sounds on any of the songs, horray! It's all sounding very lovely now. The sound is clear and pure, apart from the occasional crackle from the fire, the odd tweeting bird outside the window, and the obvious jets roaring around the Mach Loop faster than the speed of sound. No, amazingly, we managed to avoid the latter, as well as the unexpected phone calls and slammed doors somewhere in the depth of the house. A miracle!

It took about two hours to complete this task, as well as composing a list of what each track on each song consisted of. Now it's much easier to see what has yet to be added to each song. I spent a couple of hours recording guitar and violin parts for 'I'll Be There' (working title) and I'm feeling pretty pleased with the results. I'm afraid I can't put them up here, partly because I don't know how to, but also because we want to wait until it's ready before we unveil the finished album. I can share some screen clips though! The one at the top of this post is our version of Woody Guthrie's 'Do Re Mi,' still relevant in these days of economic uncertainty.

And the one below is mine - 'I'll Be There' - the four tracks on the right are fiddle (recorded twice with two microphones each time) and I'm very excited about that addition to the song - even though the violin is an integral part of our sound, somehow it seems to be the last thing you'd expect to hear at the end of this song :)

Side note: Originally I had thought I might need to take an actual photo of my screen, but a quick search on Mac Help revealed 'Grab' to me - a tool which can be used to capture a window, or even your entire screen. Very handy indeed! That reminds me, yesterday Tall Paul came round to use our wi-fi, in orderhook up to Skype and have a logistical conversation with his web designer. He said to me "I wish there was a way I could see his screen! This would be so much quicker!" so I told him about the 'Share My Screen' button on Skype. It wasn't available on his version, but once he'd updated it and downloaded the latest version - there it was. The miracles of technology never cease to surprise and delight :)

Oh, by the way, I'd like to introduce you to John Whipple, bare-footed bluesman and songwriter extraordinaire from Salt Lake City, Utah. Here's his Myspace page and here's his blog. He's just joined The Tangled Yarn crew. I got to hang out with him in SLC this summer, where I recorded a bit of fiddle on the track 'Too Good for Me' on his latest album 'Bible Milk.'

If you'd like to check out my music, you'll find it on Ember's Myspace page, and our website.
(Can't fault a bit of harmless self-promotion!)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Day Six of One Hundred

Day Six.

Well. It's been a long day, but a good one.
I took the cassettes (this is the LAST you'll hear of them!) to the Dog Shop, and didn't stop to look about and be tempted by more crap.

I cleaned the hoover filter and hoovered our bedroom, bathroom and the stairs. This is how horrible it looked before I sorted it out:

I reckon there was enough cat fur to make another entire cat, at least. Nice. I mistook more than one mega hairball for Jekyll. OK, I didn't really. :)

The yukka plants have been looking really ropey, so I stripped off the dead leaves. Phil put them in the woodburner ready to be kindling for our next cosy fire.

I bought a two huge bags full of fresh vegetables from the market, and did something I've been meaning to do for months now - I went outside onto the garden and collected a giant bunch of kale and winter greens, and made a nice big pot of soup. :)

I was so excited I didn't think to take a photo...

At 4:30pm we went up to Bec's to do some more recording... Nearly there now, the album is taking shape, in a lovely low-fi way. It feels so good to be recording it ourselves, so much less stress!

Ooo, before I go, I would like to point you towards some of the '100 Days to Make Me a Better Person' blogs I'm really enjoying at the moment - it feels great to connect with other people who are getting into this project!

The Yellow Lamp, The Heartful Blogger, My Name is Beth.

Signing off. :)

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Discovering My Musical Influences

Day Five.

Oh, BOY.

I've been listening to the tapes I held onto yesterday.
I didn't expect to find such a huge range of sonic treasures! Well, OK, not treasures exactly, but such a variety of different worlds for my ears to dip into. I've only listened to the beginnings of each side, as my object is to find home-recordings of my own songs over the years (and I always recorded my songs at the beginning of tapes so that I had some chance of finding them. I never marked the tapes. That would have been as despicable as scribbling in books).

Bloody hell, though, doesn't it take a LONG TIME to rewind an entire 90-minute cassette?! And then the names on the recordable tapes took me back:
Memorex, Ferrick, TDK AD-X 60, Philips FE-I, CP II 90, Sony Hi-Fi, Maxwell UE, Sky FX. All "High Fidelity for Music and Voice" no doubt.

The one that made me laugh out loud was BBC Normal Bias. :S

Here are some of the things I encountered, so in some ways you could probably define them as my INFLUENCES:

Popular bands: Nirvana, Pink Floyd, REM, Jewel, Johnny Cash, UB40.
Festival bands: Kangaroo Moon, Space Goats, FOS Brothers.
Classical: Vivaldi's Four Seasons.
World music: Indian flute and drums.
Mediaeval music and Dead Can Dance.
Eighties pop: Neneh Cherry and plenty of nameless radio bands.
Loads of trance music.
Some of my old songs, YAY!

University lectures recorded on a dictaphone:
"the history of tragedy"
"it's like looking at someone looking"
"this may not surprise you, but it may interest you: very often your marks for the essays are in direct proportion to the lectures you attended" *

A song called 'Shut Up' written and recorded by my Slovenian friend Matevz, about his father.
A spine tingling musical/poetic take on Apartheid.
Elvis singing "Maybe I didn't love you quite as often as I should..."
Machine gun fire - for literally 5 minutes. I don't know how or why I ended up with that.
Ultra-slowed-down singing, only after deciphering the lyrics did I realise that it was ME, recorded on a 4-track.

Result: Many more tapes for the bin. I've discovered a brief history of my musical tastes. AND, I have found some of my earliest songs, horray!

Good night :)

PS - Kellee, thanks for your offer to turn the tapes into art, but I simply must get them out of the house before I start regretting getting rid of them! Maybe you have some of your own you can create something beautiful out of? Failing that, Imogen's got BAGS of them! :)

* This was the module on Shakespeare's Drama. I missed a few lectures but sent a mate in with a dictaphone. When the time came for me to take notes from the recording, I ended up writing out the lecture word for word. My essay was the lecture minus the anecdotes. I got a first.

Monday, 7 December 2009

My Teenage Years in Cassette Format

Day Four.

What IS my problem?! I'm 32 years old and I'm still lumbering around with this weighty, archaic albatross around my neck. I've taken this boxful of cassette tapes from house to house, where they have taken up space, gathered dust, and most importantly of all, exuded GUILT. But how can I get rid of these mini musical dinosaurs? They represent my teenage years, my musical journey, my youth itself... I can't possibly throw all that IMPORTANT history away! Just look at it - the ugly truth:

Aw, there's a kitty - only 42p... Oh, for goodness' sake, grow up!!! When was the last time I owned a functioning tape player? Too long ago to recall. You can't count the one in the car, it makes every single tape sound like the singer has a mouth full of buttons, every instrument is heavily distorted, and sometimes the player just decides to chew the whole thing up, buttons and all. OK, the last time my tape player worked properly was when I was at college. That's ten years ago. (By the way, I bought this particularly lovely ghetto blaster when I was about 12 years old, and it's still very much in use, though the radio is the only part that works now.)

Now that I have a laptop, I barely even listen to CDs - I import them, yes, but from then on in it's all about iTunes. And a couple of weeks ago I "discovered" Spotify, so now almost everything I should wish to listen to is a short search and a click away! You don't even need an invite, just click this link. So there really are no more excuses for me, I am going to be ruthless.

All of the REAL albums (actual ones, purchased from a shop) seem to be in abundance on Spotify. So they have been bagged for the local charity shop (the Dog Shop). Most of the tapes people have copied me are also available on Spotify. They can go in the bin. I'm not sure if they can be recycled or not.

There are some suspicious-looking tapes, which I would like to listen to - these might include home-recordings of some of my early songs. I'm realising that I'm really not very ruthless at all, I'm still hanging on to the unmarked ones in case they have ME on them, oh, am I that much of a narcissist?! No, I'm thinking I might be able to recycle some song ideas... Am I completely irrational? I don't know.

I'm writing a blog, aren't I? That says something, ha ha.
Day 4 mission pretty much completed.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Can a Haiku Make Housework Poetic?

Day Three.

How am I going to make this interesting for you? Perhaps I could reveal my achievements in Haiku-form?

It's been a very satisfying day for me. First off, I've been wearing my new leg warmers ALL DAY, and they feel amazingly toasty! :) Today I did a few of the annoying little jobs which build up over time and which nag at you every time you notice that they need to be done all over again. The kind of things people may not find fascinating to read about! :)

1. Washed up every dirty glass, plate, piece of cutlery and every single pan which was "soaking." The pans were not really soaking. They were waiting for someone who could be bothered to wash them up properly.

I cleansed the dishes
And these so-called soaking pans
We are now baptised

2. Took out ALL of the kitchen scraps and compost waste. The problem had built up to the point that there were several bowls and egg boxes full of decomposing matter, alongside the designated compost tub.

All that reeks and rots
Banished from the kitchen now
Destined for rebirth

3. Cleaned the kitchen surfaces like they'd never been cleaned before. In actual fact they were wiped down only yesterday, but they looked like they'd never been cleaned before.

So smooth and shiny
This crumb-free, scum-free beauty
Lasts until breakfast

4. Cleaned out the fridge and found a very suspicious-looking chicken. Christian, our tenant, has since informed me that the chicken was definitely rotting. It was his chicken, so I will not carry the burden of guilt.

That costly chicken
Died for you, and it could sue
For livelihood lost

5. Sorted through some of the boxes and bags of things that my parents brought round for the Dog Shop. Everything they get rid of is always brought to us first, in case we find a need for it. In the past we have had some lovely woolly rugs, books, clothes, even unwanted food (which I think is their way of making sure Phil and I are eating enough, but without us having to feel as though we are charity cases, ha ha.)

I cannot ask you
Not to bring boxes and bags
Sometimes we like them

That's all for now, what will tomorrow bring? I can hardly wait.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Unwanted Arms Become Wanted Legs

Day Two.

Today was another rather full day. In the morning we drove to Aberdyfi to take a walk along the chilly beach, followed by hot chocolate topped with whipped cream :) Then Bec and I went back to work in the afternoon, spending a few hours recording overdubs for the new album. It went pretty well, with another (the third of nine) song "finished," though yet to be tweaked, mixed properly and mastered.

What about the project, you cry! Well, I was about to tell you about that...

With the weather getting colder (although it still seems a little too mild for this end of the year, rather worryingly), I've started fantasizing about LEG WARMERS. I've been looking up knitting websites for some inspiration, but somehow it seems like a waste of good wool. Every time I pick up a ball of wool I get cold feet, ha ha. [Groan]

A couple of weeks ago I happened to be looking at a very ancient Peruvian jumper which no longer fits me (to be honest, I don't think it ever really did), and before I knew it I was removing the sleeves from the body. They looked just like a very beautiful and colourful pair of leg warmers! But, sadly, they felt horribly itchy against my skin, so I figured I needed a liner. That's when I put them away in the 'stuff-I-plan-to-do-something-constructive-with' drawer.

Let me tell you about another, slightly unsavoury project I've been undertaking recently. I've found that there are some T-shirts and tops which, although clean, will start to smell of sweat literally half an hour after putting them on. This can be embarrassing and undermining when you are already in the car on the way to a gig when the smell becomes apparent! So I've been working my way through the offensive individuals, to discover who is who, and now I know that certain items can no longer be worn. Throw them away, you cry! Alas, I cannot, for I know that Something Good can come of all things, no matter how smelly or unloved.

So the plan is, rather than making a whole new lining (would take a long time without a sewing machine), I'll just use another pair of sleeves to line the lovely but itchy ones.

Here's a photo of a couple of contenders:

I was hoping to attach them by very quickly hand-sewing them at the top. It took longer than I expected (as always!) but I'm really pleased with the result, they're so cosy! :)

Wodyafink?! Ignore my knobbly knees!

Friday, 4 December 2009

One Hundred Days

Day One.

I've made a start! Yes, I know it's a late start, but every journey must begin with a single step, even though it may be a faltering one...

This beginning is slightly hesitant, because I'm not even sure if it's legal. I have chosen an easy task for my first day as I want to ease myself into this project, and I don't have much time today.

Like many people, I hate waste - especially waste which can be re-used or recycled. Like many people, I love it when I can get stuff on the cheap - or even better - FREE!

So the job I've set myself today is to make useable (or re-useable) the unfranked stamps I've been carefully tearing from the corners of envelopes over the past few months. I'm going to free them from their paper fetters and stash them safely, ready to be reused. Horray!

I lay them carefully on the surface of water which I've poured onto a plate with a rim, and there they float serenely... and after only a couple of minutes I am peeling them - feeling the same simple satisfaction and the same sticky-fingered pleasure as I get when I unexpectedly come across a spray of ripe blackberries on an early Autumn walk.

I lay them face-down to dry, and later they'll go into a little box, ready to be sent back out into the world.