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Friday, 2 December 2016

Visit Romania part two.

I've had a struggle writing this blog post, my second about visiting Romania, because whilst this is the most breathtaking country for scenery, I really did get upset with seeing stray and injured dogs, sick and poorly cats, who had no chance of getting any vet's treatment or care.  I wasn't sure whether to mention it or not and I have been trying to get some perspective. 

We know in the UK and USA that we are crazy mad about our pets, and I'm no exception to this.  I am so cat mad it isn't true and as a wild animal rescuer I would say that this is my main passion. Back in the UK I go to ridiculous lengths to save animals every week.

I guess my point here is that for some people the animal welfare may spoil your visit. I could imagine that if I took my other half here, we would spend our whole time tracking down vets, finding food for the strays, trying to treat their wounds and ulcers and working out if we could bring all these dogs and cats home with us. We can't even drive past a sick or injured rabbit at home without taking it to the wildlife hospital. 

no this is not my other half, but a friendly shepherd with a motley selection of sheep and goats and a scraggy dog

The reality is that Romania is the most unspoilt and un-changed country in Europe, it still relies on farming with shepherds herding their flocks over the mountains as they have done for centuries. There has been very little in the way of development and the industry of wood still looks to be done in the same way, even transporting tree trunks on horse drawn carts. 

The history of poverty under previous leaderships, has resulted in a slow transition of attitude for the people.  So this authenticity of rural culture is a double edged sword, perhaps it is too much to expect that now they are in the EU they would abide by our standards of animal welfare, I can only hope that with education and charity it won't be too long.

The Bradshaw's guide for Romania written in 1913 described this area of the Carpathian mountains and Transylvania as ; snow clad granite peaks, mountain gorges, ranges of forests, delightful valleys with numerous beautiful small lakes, combine their charms in this romantic country.  Never has a country changed so little from a description written over a hundred years ago. 

It is so utterly beautiful that you cannot believe your eyes at times. It looks like a painted backdrop.  The history of the land bringing with it influences from Austria, Hungary and Turkey, having been battled over many times by these nations. Autumn seemed like the perfect time to visit with tree covered mountains in every hue from green to orange. 

The only deep scars on this land were those made during the period of 1947 to 1989 under communist control and the regime of Ceau┼čescu.
Evidence can be seen in the brutalist architecture of the tower blocks of flats which flank some cities. In some places they have preserved the old towns of red roofs and stunning architecture but it is common for even these to still have their ugly areas of concrete jungle.

One thing is for sure, this is a country of vast contrasts. Fairytale castles, palaces and peasants, chicken houses and shepherds huts. It may be our last chance to see how Europe was - once upon a time, with a sprinkle of oppression from the USSR. The old communist buildings stand out like a sore thumb, although they have some interest in their own right, others are just a carbuncle.  

I suppose my point here is 'can we have it both ways'; unspoilt like the land that time forgot but with modern views towards domesticated animals. I suppose not and perhaps it is the job of the traveller to keep perspective about differences in culture.

Tradition and regional customs are still completely untouched. Families are fairly self sufficient owning sheep, growing food, they use no pesticides and this makes Romania one of the cleanest countries in the whole of Europe. The old ways of managing land has preserved wild flowers long since lost to the rest of Europe. The small scale farming still genuinely in abundance with shepherds living on the mountains for the five summer months.

Here is a country with the largest population of wild bears, and wolves which still roam free.  So at times this place takes on the air of the Rocky Mountains too, it is truly unique. They have 6,000 bears and 3,000 wolves which has only happened because they have maintained their wilderness. 

Like other Eastern European countries there is a dichotomy between the past and the present. A country still farming the old ways which also has the internet, and so maybe they too are lacking perspective about the worth of some goods.   I am still reeling at some of the over-priced items we found, it's a shame because I like to shop but not to be taken for a fool. 

When Romania got it's freedom they had a lot of catching up to do, the EU now gives grants for new buildings and business enterprises and so the younger Romanians are ambitious and change is inevitable but at what speed anybody can guess.

The most impressive thing that I witnessed here was the landscape, I didn't get to investigate any towns but I heard from other travellers that it's not the best place for shopping, so go here to be impressed by mountains and not malls.  A perfect holiday for adults who are into photography and architecture, for people who like to travel rather than sun bathe.  I would recommend hiring a car as there are now many good Air bnbs and this gives you the freedom to stop and take photos as often as you like. Try to hunt down local craftsmen and women rather than buy in the tourist traps. Local weavers and wool spinners, leather and hide tanners seem abundant here but I was surprised not to come across any spoon carvers (I had the idea from research that fancy carved spoons were quite a popular thing). 

I hope my blog posts about the trip have given you a small taste of what you could expect to see here, just brace yourself if you are a pet owner ...
words pictures and opinions are all my own - Janice Issitt


Sunday, 27 November 2016

Urban Jungle Bloggers - Creative Plant Pots

I am a huge supporter for the hand made and for artisan products, most especially for ceramics as it's the one area where I am absolutely useless.

I find, like most makers, I can turn my hand to a lot of artistic things; embroidery, stained glass, silversmithing, knitting, these are all areas where I can make something passable but for some reason I can't get my head round ceramics.

Do you know what I think it is?  I don't like getting my hands mucky, particularly getting clay under my nails.  Sounds a bit OCD I guess but show me an artist that doesn't get obsessive about something. 

This year I've been drawn to a particular blue glaze and planters with this colour and little feet.  It's quite an achievement to get hold of a piece of work by Stella Baggott of Atelier Stella ( whose work I first saw in one of Igor Josif's photos for Urban Jungle Bloggers.  Stella has flash sales which sell out immediately so you have to hover on her site at the time of the sale and just be super quick in snapping up these creations.  Based in Brighton, Atelier Stella can sometimes be bought at open studios and pop up shops.  

Actually these photos have a 'Brighton' theme, as most of the other things here are from the pop up open studio at 64 Sandgate (as featured in an earlier post). Which leads me nicely onto the other planter, the gorgeous round one with a turquoise glaze. The ceramists is Father Christmas's doppleganger, Chris Murphy whose instagram account is @gitagrip and you can also find him on facebook as Chris Murphy Ceramics.

I've made a garland from a branch and on this hangs some of the other pieces bought at 64 Sandgate, the felted mushroom by Emma at Sew Recycled (Emma has an etsy shop), the turquoise stars by Holly Bell (, cute paper mistletoe by @apetalunfolds who also has an etsy shop under that name, and last but not least, the white china stars from Ceramic Magpie - Katie Robbins.  

The candles above are from my own online shop where you can order these from Oggetto as well as from other suppliers, I've put them in some old tin cups, an idea I got from Tamsyn when we worked on the Reclaim magazine photo shoot, the mag is still on the shelves or you can order it online.  The centre candle is another maker I love to support, The Botanical Candle Company - Amalia Apothecary.  

I hope you enjoyed meeting my favourite planters, and if you hop over to Urban Jungle Bloggers you will find links to other bloggers favourites. 

Coming soon is my second part of my Romanian trip... and more about my recovery from surgery (which is going so remarkably well I can't quite believe it).

Love as always Janice Issitt

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Be Home Free Christmas

The beautiful Be Home Free hashtag gallery of sumptuous photos is growing every month into a collection to be proud of.  It reflects our lives, our moments, the seasons and the every changing light. Low winter sun often burning bright but cool causing quite dramatic shadows, the shorter days pushing us inside to warm fireplaces and hot drinks.

As the blaze of autumn now lays mostly on the pavements and roadsides, the colours around us take on the brown and grey hues of winter, all the more reason to decorate our homes with greenery foraged and found. Any little pops of red are more than welcome and all of a sudden we are in the Christmas spirit.

@deborahvasspain  @jennalambdin @chloeimages

@lapinblu @atno67 @kendracastillodesigns
The winter solstice falls just one month away, on the 21st December and the combination of pagan and christian rituals become a melange of all that is good in the world.  The hoarding and sharing of food, storing up these goodies for the day of celebration, and whether your memories of this time are based on 1970's or set in the 1870's 
this is a time to be thankful for the simple things.

Decorating the home with nature get's into full swing over the next few weeks, adding to it day by day with lights, scents and sights.

@marciadefries @rebecca.kathryn @fishman1963

@hanbullivant @mandydearest   @theolivetreesandthemoon  @peonyandpraxis
Real fires crackle, hot chocolate steams, warm blankets over knees and candles lit.  Let's settle down for a few minutes of calm and look at this collection of photographers who, with a keen eye and a sensitive heart, share their moments with us at Be Home Free.


Saturday, 19 November 2016

Rest and Recuperation - Nips and Tucks

Psst, I will let you into a little secret .. don't tell anyone but I've been for a bit of cosmetic surgery.  Currently I'm resting now for a few weeks, I have kept my diary deliberately free for the rest of the year so I can do what I have been planning and wanting to do for many years now - fix the bits of my face that have dropped with age.  

It seems that so many of life's realities are deemed to be taboo. Depression, menopause, body modification, you name it, there's always something we are supposed to not be talking about. But who does it help by keeping silent? It's only the fear of being judged that keeps people silent, I just wonder who are these perfect people who do the judging. 

my Ziggy sent me 'get well soon' chocolates through Morse Toad with a photo of himself on the box 

book from The Future Kept

Modern day dilemma's often seem to revolve about what other people think, but really one should only ever worry about pleasing oneself.
It is a cliche but, we only have one chance, one life, and as I turn past the 50 marker I feel that I need to be brave enough to sort out the things that bother me.  While we all want to please and be popular, I'm sure that honesty has to be a big part of what draws me to people, and I hope likewise too.

I am not enjoying growing old, there I said it, some of my friends are fine with how they have aged, I am not.  My mind still tells me I'm in my twenties, I am very exuberant about all sorts of things and enthusiastic to keep learning new skills, but I am not at all happy with some of the realities of time taking it's toll physically.

So here's the thing, I don't want to look like anyone else, I just want to look how I did a few years ago, so I've been under the knife and I want to share my experience of that for anyone who feels the same as me, because yeah, it's another one of those taboos and not saying anything is just silly.

scented wall hanging from a kit by Sarah Notes, dreamcatcher made using porcelain feathers from Ceramic Magpie
My procedure involved two nights in hospital, it's pretty horrible shaking off the general anaesthetic and the soreness in your throat from being put to sleep.  The pain of the wounds does hurt a lot, even painkillers didn't completely make it go away.  This gets less after a few days however. Now I'm just keeping calm and relaxed while I wait for the swelling to go down, this will probably take a few weeks. Also the anaesthetic makes things taste pretty awful for the first day and I found that chocolate masked it pretty well, just sucking on small pieces was very soothing and comforting. 

chocolates from Morse Toad, Linen nightshirt by Soak and Sleep
I did my research pretty well in finding a surgeon, as with anything physical, be it tattoos or a tummy tuck, never never pick someone because of the price.

Despite feeling that I had thoroughly sussed out what I wanted, when it came to meeting my chosen surgeon, I discovered that not everything you read on the internet is necessarily as simple as some websites make out.  So it is best not to have a pre-conceived idea of the procedure you want, just be clear to the surgeon what you want to achieve in the long run and let him explain how to achieve it. Please have consultations with at least three different prospective surgeons to begin to get an opinion about the procedure and decide who makes the most sense to you.

My current regime for recovery is all about the relaxation, I've been stock pilling things to do when I'm recuperating, I've got some books and magazines to read, some knitting and crochet to do and I have set up my bedroom to be calm, comfortable and very zen.

A new set of Soak and Sleep sheets were my biggest treat, and as I had to stay in hospital I also got myself the linen night-dress and robe.  If you every experience linen sheets you will never go back.
They aren't scratchy like you may think, but soft and warm, more like brushed cotton.  I particularly like the heat regulatory aspect of this material, cool in summer and warm in winter. The robe and nightdress have a very clean feel to them, and I was pleased they were cool as the hospital was so hot, also I didn't want anything fluffy. One of the nurses actually commented on my robe, she was very impressed, right before she knocked me out!  

I couldn't sleep in the hospital, but as soon as I hit the pillows back at home I was off like a baby. After surgery you have to wear a bandage bonnet thing, it is not attractive, the cat's ran away the minute they saw me, but sending a selfie to a best mate is quite hilarious.

I've been getting my linen bedding (and towels) from Soak and Sleep for quite some time now and have sets in three of the colours that they do, a pale grey, pale aqua and pale pink.  This time I also have the dark grey to use as under pillows.  Mixed up they look really good together and the fitted sheet is lovely and deep so you can get it round the corners of the mattress, something that really bugs me with fitted sheets is that some keep pinging off the corners.

Bath products and scented candles are two things that I get a bit obsessive about.  If they don't foam up or smell just right I am disgruntled.  Earlier this year I was given the opportunity to try out products from Organic Surge and was really impressed with many of their hair products but particularly the foaming bath. 
I often alternate a foamy bath with a crystal one, and for this I use the Moroccan Rose scent from The Future Kept. 

As I have some swelling and bruising I have also got myself a range of eye masks.  I spend far too much time on the computer and this can make your eyes tired and itchy, so for a quick and effective fix try a couple of the Optrex products.  The spray can be carried with you and sprayed over make-up but for a complete de-stress and un-wind try the new warming eye mask.

I have ear-marked a few things on the t.v. to watch and bought another copy of Jitterbug Perfume to read, (I first read it in the 80's and all I could remember was that it was brilliant). I sometimes remember to join with 'A Circle Of Pine Trees' for 'A Year In Books' twitter chat.  This gets my little grey cells working and remembering about books read and those still to devour. Laura who runs the hashtag has this chat once a month, the next one is 9pm Monday 5th December.  She always asks thought provoking questions and I always come away with a list of books to buy.  

If you want to order chocolates that spell out a message I can offer you a discount of 10% with Morse Toad just use the code - JANICE

For Soak and Sleep go to where you can find all kinds of bedding and bath. They often have good discount offers so sign up to their newsletter.

The scented wall hanging made of little paper flowers and gold embroidery threads was made up from a kit that Sarah Notes put together, please check my instagram feed for a link to her.  The woven baskets which keep my vitamins tidy is from my own online shop here where you can put items from different companies into your basket and just pay in one go. 

While I'm at home resting I will be curating different looks for the online shop and watching out for new lines to be added by the suppliers.  

See you next week, but in the meantime find me on instagram. All the best Janice

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Brighton Open Studios - 64 Sandgate

My last official event of the year (as on Monday I go into hospital for a cheeky bit of cosmetic tweeking, call it a 50,000 mile MOT!) was to visit a group of artists in Brighton all exhibiting at 64 Sandgate.  This will take place for the last three weekends of November and the work there is beautiful.

The artist Philippa Stanton, better known as '5ftinf' over on instagram, has curated works of other artists and given them the opportunity to take part in a pop up shop in her home. Philippa's own work in oils is stunning and she has also reproduced her iconic instagram photos into a calendar and jigsaw.

During the open studio weeks Philippa also turns her art shed into an installation and this November it is a sensation for the olfactory sense.

Inspired by her work earlier this year with perfumiers Floris, Philippa has hidden scents in boxes and cupboards all around the shed for you to guess the smell. The overall effect to me was churches but as a lot of the scents are the kind that bring back childhood memories, the whole feeling is enormously comforting.

Of course, the whole shed is a delight of arranged objects, I love the nod to Christmas with the log cabin and snowy cards, boosted by the natural spruce branches tucked under the sofa.

I have come home with a lovely planter which I will be featuring in a future Urban Jungle Bloggers post, a stunning piece of jewellery and some cute christmas decorations which include paper mistletoe, a felted toadstool and ceramic stars, (I will be making some kind of garland from these so keep a look out on instagram).

Still time to get along and buy from the maker a gift for yourself or a loved one that is totally unique and also experience something very special in the scented shed.

You can find 5ftinf on instagram and facebook (also as 64 Sandgate).
I will be tagging some of the other artists leading up to Christmas when their items will no doubt feature in my festive faffing.

Oh yes, and me, well I will also keep you updated on my surgery over the month all being well and providing I'm not too grumpy.

Love and peace - Janice Issitt

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Reclaim Magazine Christmas Competition

Earlier this year, Tamsyn Morgans, Alice Roberton and myself had a brainstorm about how to create a reclaimed Christmas, using vintage props and a bit of up-cycling the result can be seen in this month's issue of the glossy magazine - Reclaim.

We had such fun playing with looks and ideas in my home, thinking of alternative items for Christmas trees and ways to display baubles and lights. Tamsyn had great ideas for wrapping presents and Alice had some pretty vintage wallpapers for making tags.

From today, the 10th November you have one week to win yourself a six month subscription to Reclaim magazine, starting from the next available issue.

Here's all you have to do - leave a comment here saying why you would like to win, or hop over to instagram, follow @reclaimmag and myself and tag a photo #reclaimmag_christmas (you can post your own photo or re-post one of mine).  

I will be picking five UK based winners after the 17th and pass your names and addresses onto the subscriptions department so they can post out your magazines.

Good luck with the competition, I think it's a fabulous offer, please tell all your friends.

Love and peace to you - Janice Issitt

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Romanian Retreat with Taking A Moment In Time

First things first, why a 'retreat' and not just go somewhere on holiday, well a lot of reasons actually.  Sometimes my other half asks just this question. The main and most important thing, is to find the right organiser as this will make all the difference, so don't assume that all 'retreats' are the same just because they call themselves that.

So, how did I come to choose this one? 

I first went to a day of yarn crafts locally to me organised by Natasha from the account 'Taking A Moment In Time' as it was one of the few things that I didn't have to travel too far to go to.  I soon realised that this lady gives terrific value for money and her attention to detail is incredible.

our home for the week

After trying a weekend retreat in Rye with her, I knew that this trip to Romania would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Not only that, but I wouldn't have to worry about airport transfers, food, days out, accommodation etc etc and hence this is where 'retreat' kicks in as the difference to a weekend holiday. You can switch your brain off and just ... enjoy.

In this blog post I'm going to talk mainly about the retreat and as there is so much to say and show, I will follow up with a few other posts addressing what I thought of the country too, and the crafts we learnt.

our own knitting advisor to hand

the hills are alive with the sound of me eating cheese

We flew to Cluj airport from Luton and from there our house was about a four hour drive north, up towards the Ukraine border in the mountains.  The journey was a great eye opener to seeing the different style of houses and get the feel for the lifestyle in this part of the country.  It soon occurs to you that the locals like to have chickens and a vine in the back garden, and you straight away see horses and carts on the road, little old ladies in headscarves sitting on benches.  The old ways are still in evidence here which is very pretty to look at but not so great to actually live,  so luckily for us, our home for the week was a top notch, state of the art eco-house set in a pretty valley.  

On our arrival at the house we were greeted with lovely gifts awaiting us on our beds, the rooms were spotless, we had our own private bathroom and a balcony, and everything you would expect from a five star hotel, phew, I wasn't wrong in trusting Natasha to pick something out of this world. I can rough it for the odd day but I'm a Leo, I love luxury.

our beautiful home from home

Bio Valeputna is the name of the house set in Valea Putnei, on the edge of a national park which covers mountains and scenes of tremendous beauty.  Our cook for the week was Romanian so we had a chance to sample local food, and of course, this way the vegetarians in the group could be safe in the knowledge that they wouldn't go hungry.  I can see that it could be tricky for non meat eaters if you were solo travellers here where the diet is heavily meat based with polenta accompaniment.  The house was decorated with a lovely mixture of old and new, some lovely antiques and rustic arts and some reclaimed materials too.

Our days were filled with so many projects and trips out, none of which would also have been so easy to do if I had travelled on my own.  We visited local weavers, who also spin their own yarn, tanners who treat the hides of just about every animal known to man (it was a bit overwhelming to see bear, badger, deer hides piled up).  There were trips out to antique shops, and to the tops of mountains where we ate at a shepherds hut, the food prepared on an open fire and a view that looked like a painted backdrop from the sound of music.

In the evenings and between trips we learnt to spin wool with a drop spindle, knit a project, make a delicate wall hanging and play with yarn to our hearts content. I will do a separate blog post about the crafts as I think they deserve more attention.

Every day we were treated to tasty treats at meal times with the most delicious cakes in-between.  I think we all could feel our waistbands tighten during the week! 

It was Christmas come early, with goodie bags at every meal and a picture perfect view surrounded by christmas trees and smoke from chimneys.

My fellow retreaters were a fabulous mixed bunch of travellers and craft fans, we had such fun and laughter every day, every moment was thoroughly enjoyable for me, being surrounded by like minded people and chatting about our different lives.  We also seemed to be the Canon camera appreciation society as everyone of us  loves photography and this was also something we talked about and had help with.

I expect I will be writing more about retreats with Natasha as she moves into her own farm this week and work has commenced on the building of guest rooms, social areas and craft rooms. Her UK farm is called Hill View, so keep a look out for details of events when they start here.  

On our last day we had a late flight so a few of us decided to explore the mountains north of our house before taking the main road to the airport.  The autumnal colours were set to vibrant, as we found the most breathtaking views.  Hills covered in every hue, populated by cows with bells and old shepherds with their flocks, little streams running along side the road and even the odd black squirrel.  My eyes were on stalks trying to take it all in.

In my next post I will be talking more about the country and people of Romania from my week of observations, but this post is an attempt to give some tips on what to look for when booking a retreat.

I would say that some organisers may over gloss the look of what you are likely to get, perhaps trading too highly on their name.  Make sure you are going to be fed enough, it's pretty hard to scrutinise this as people have very different ideas about portion size!  If in doubt pack lots of snack foods in your suitcase! Think about your own personal habits and make sure you compensate, if your host isn't a big coffee drinker they may not supply you with enough caffeine to get through the day, so pop some sachets or tea bags in your case just in case. Luckily for us there were more than enough variations on tea and coffee to suit, including proper english tea bags (us Brits do not like the wishy washy european stuff), and that's my thing, so don't expect your host to be a mind reader and don't be shy about telling them your special needs before you go.

Not all countries are good at feeding vegetarians and may have a funny interpretation on what this involves. Natasha is an excellent cook and so is her assistant and translator so our veggies had good negotiators in providing them with variety.  I discovered myself that sampling every single different cheese all in one day may cause nightmares !!

I have heard that on some retreats the host stays in the beautiful house and the guests stay somewhere else, I personally would not be happy about this, so check where you will actually be staying and don't assume it's the beautiful apartments that feature in the photos! Personally I like a home from home to be at least as nice as my own home, if not better. All I can say is that Natasha will always check out a place before hand so there are no worries with her and no nasty surprises.

Last tip, remember you are the person paying, don't be afraid to speak up for yourself and take some control over your experience, it is a very British thing to suffer in silence (unless you have met me, haha !!) Fortunately on this occasion it wasn't necessary, I could not fault a single aspect.  Check the group size as well, a large group may mean that you don't get the personal attention you deserve, it is a retreat after all, and not a school trip!  I found our group of a dozen to be perfect. 

don't let yourself be treated like a sheep!

I hope I have given you some things to consider if you are booking a retreat and that my recommendations here are helpful.  I can one hundred percent, with hand on heart recommend Taking A Moment In Time retreats, and hope to see you on one in the future, as I will most definitely be joining them again.

Next time let's look at travelling to this part of the world and what that entails. See you next week, Janice.


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