Thursday, 20 December 2012

Why We Painted an Apron

This year Hubby and I decided that we needed to be frugal for Christmas.  Initially it was because we thought we'd be starting a family, and then because we thought we'd be moving.  Now it's because we want to be able to do both of those things in the future... and let's be honest, money is tight.

This autumn I went a bit mad for making jam.  Hubby and I spent most weekends arms deep in brambles harvesting berries, so we thought it would be a lovely token to give our homemade conserve... but for our nearest and dearest a little pot just didn't seem "big" enough.  So we got creative, and made something extra to make the gift of jam, just a bit more "gifty."

Christmas presents this year aren't expensive.  But they are brimming with love, time, care and attension.  We're giving a little gift basket of jam and a personalized apron. 

Hand-painted apron

To make your own apron you will need:
  • Cotton Apron
  • Paintbrush
  • DYLON fabric paint or pens
  • Iron

Luckily for me Hubby is a dab hand at art (you may have gathered that fine detail isn't a strong point of mine), so whilst he set to work creating some bespoke patterns based on our relative's initials and things that are important to them, I hit the internet and found some wholesale aprons for less than £4 each.

 1.  Iron the apron to remove the wrinkles.  You'll want it to be as flat as possible for painting


 2.  Once you've settled on your pattern, carefully sketch it on with a soft pencil - you can skip this step if you're confident, but Hubby likes being precise.

 3.  Simply paint in your pattern using the fabric paints.  They work just like normal paints, but be careful not to have too much water on your brush or the paints will run down the fabric (yep, we learned the hard way...).  Don't worry about the paint going hard, or that you can still see the pencil marks, all will be alright in the end.
4.  When you're happy with your creation leave it to dry.

5.  Iron your painted apron again with a very hot iron.  Make sure you put a piece of cotton, or tea towel in between the iron and your painting otherwise you'll end up in a bit of a mess.

6.  Once ironed your masterpiece is fixed in place.  Pop in the washing machine to remove the pencil marks and to soften any hard paint, and you're done!

This is one we did for my Sister-In-Law who's a tech-whiz... and likes roses.  Hubby's a clever stick.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Recipe: Three Ingredient BBQ Pulled Pork

I love the idea of entertaining, but when it comes to it my cooking skills usually let me down. I bake, but cooking... No... Just no.

But last week the phrase "come over, and I'll cook" just tumbled out before I could stop it. What on earth could a non-chef serve up to 4 girl-friends after a ling day at work?

That's where fool proof BBQ Pulled Pork comes in. It's only got three ingredients. Even I struggled to go wrong!


Three Ingredient BBQ Pulled Pork

  • Pork shoulder/ribs
  • Coke (I used diet cherry coke, but "full fat" makes it stickier!)
  • BBQ Sauce
1) Put the pork in slow cooker. No need to brown it or anything. Just pop it in. Turn the slow cooker to low.

2) Pour over the coke until the pork is almost covered and squeeze in about 300gms of BBQ sauce.

3) Leave for at least 6 hours...

It's done! Said it was easy didn't I?!

Simply pour out the excess liquid and remove the bones (the meat should have fallen off them so they will be easy to pick out) and "pull" the meat apart with a fork.

Serve in big buns with coleslaw and more BBQ sauce and get ready to lick your fingers! Delish!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Review: Pebble Grey Cosmetic Mirror

I am permanently attached to my mobile.  It's a bit of a standing joke.  On our wedding day hubby threatened to throw my BlackBerry out of a window if he saw it.  I on the other hand, threatened to have a special mobile-holster attached to my garter.  It got worse when I upgraded to a HTC which seems deliberately designed to do everything from a diary, a post-it note, a compact-mirror...

If I ever do need to touch up my makeup I usually reach for my phone, scroll to my mirror app and hope that I am somewhere bright enough for the camera on the front of the phone to pick up anything other than just a dim blurr.  It's far from ideal.

So when the team at Pebble Grey asked me if I'd like to review their illuminated cosmetic mirror I thought it would be great to see how a "proper" mirror compared to what I'd been attempting to use.

The mirror was a lot more elegant than I was expecting.  After visiting the Pebble Grey website and seeing their range of large mirrors and bathroom cabinets, I had assumed that the mirror might be a little unwieldy, when in fact it easily fits in the palm of my hand.

The mirror itself offers subtle magnification, and is embedded with battery operated blue-white LEDs that are under the surface of the glass and switch on when the mirror is opened.  The little lights make the mirror great for those times when you wished for just a little extra light to dab on that mascara (after all, no one likes panda eyes...), and are so much better than my mobile.

The one thing I wasn't a fan of was the quality of the hinge on the compact.  It seems to be sturdy (I've used the mirror a lot in the last few weeks and it's still as strong as ever), but the whole of hinge bracket is made of the same plastic as the rest of the unit which somehow cheapens the look of the mirror.  It would have been nice if the hinge had been made of metal or something, just to round-off the quality feel.

But over all I like the mirror.  It comes in a pretty box, and is supplied with a little black bag for easy storage.  I think it would be a great little present for those relatives who are really difficult to buy for... although when they see the box the recipient might think you're giving them jewellery...!

The Pebble Grey Illuminated Cosmetic Mirror is currently available for £14.99.

Disclosure: I was sent the mirror for the purposes of this review, however all opinions expressed are my own and are honest.  Links have been included out of courtesy.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Tips for staying warm this winter

Last winter I lived in a poorly maintained flat.  Hubby and I were miserable. It was actually warmer when it snowed as the snow provided insulation.  But as a result we've got used to dealing with the cold.

The temperature hasn't nose-dived yet, but around the country boilers are being switched on. So here are my top money saving tips for keeping warm without costing a bundle.

Take care of your extremities
I remember being told as a nipper that if you got too cold your toes would fall off... although whilst hypothermia isn't too much of an issue with modern central heating, there is an interesting point to this.  If your hands and feet are cold then you feel even colder.  Slip on a pair of slippers when your padding around the house, pull on an extra pair of socks, or if it's practical wear gloves - you'll soon be feeling toastier.

Eat yourself warm
Try swapping your lunchtime sandwich or salad for something warm.  Soup can be cheap, healthy and keeps you warm from the inside!  Some people find they crave carbs in the winter and when your body burns them they are great for keeping you warm

Make the most of your soft furnishings
Snuggle up under a throw or blanket when the evenings get chilly.  Keeps you cosy and can brighten up an unloved sofa during the day.  Open the curtains when the sun is up to let the wintry sunshine do its best to heat the room, but remember to close them again when it gets dark to help keep that heat in.

Layer up
Wear several thin layers instead of one monster thick one. This means you don't have to banish all your summer clothes to the loft when the temperature changes.

Curl up
Snuggling up with someone else on the sofa is not only comforting, it's warm. Who doesn't love a cuddle?! But if you're happy putting your feet on your sofa too you might also find that you stay warmer.  Cold air is likely to be nearer the floor, so tuck those feet up higher to keep your toes toasty.

Do you have any frugal tips for staying warm?  Why not share them in the comments!

Stay warm everyone!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

How I made a Moogle Poncho

I've always been jealous of people who can craft. I can get creative in the kitchen, but give me a needle and thread or a pot of glue, and I'm completely at a loss...

So a few weeks ago I set myself the challenge to make myself a poncho (who doesn't like a warm snuggly thing)... And then my inner crafter and inner geek collided. My plan for a simple poncho morphed...
May a present: The Moogle Poncho.

Armed only with my wallet I plunged headfirst into the haberdashery.  I ferreted in corners, searched through carefully stacked bolts of cloth and even fought a little old lady for the last piece of purple felt, but finally I came out with my arms full, and my wallet empty.

I settled down that evening with my purchases scattered around me.  Part of me was chuffed, the other already defeated... the things is, I'd gone into the shop on a whim.  I hadn't prepared.  I had no pattern.  No plan.  And now I had lots of white fleece and some scraps of felt that I had to somehow transform into an item of clothing.  

I cast my mind around.  Willing it to land on something I could work with.  My eyes came to rest on our DVD and video game's cabinet... I took a deep breath and set to work.

Moogles are little benevolent characters from the Final Fantasy video game series.  They look like this:

Adorable huh?

Well, my Moogle looks like this:

I was dead chuffed.  

To make your very own Moogle poncho you will need:

  • 2 metres of white/cream fleece
  • White thread
  • Red thread
  • Purple thread
  • Red material
  • Purple material (I used felt, in two shades)
  • Needles
  • Pins
  • Scissors
  • Fabric pens
  • Wrapping paper, or dressmaking sheets

For the pom-pom
  • Red wool
  • Cardboard

1. I vaguely remembered my textiles lessons at school where we had cut our designs out of newspaper before cutting into cloth, so I pulled out an old roll of wrapping paper and used it to create a template.  With Hubby's help I drew a 1.5m diameter circle on the paper, which I then carefully cut out and then pinned to the fleece.

2. I was amazed how much space this took up as I sat in the middle of our living room kneeling under our dining room table, but I carefully laid out the pinned template and cloth on the floor to ensure that both pieces were flat before I went to the part of no return - the cutting.  Make sure when you position your template that you position it to one side of the material as this will leave larger off-cuts on the other side for making the hood.This bit will form the body of your poncho, so take care with your cutting.  The fleece doesn't need hemming, so be as neat as you can. 

3. Once cut out, remove the template from the fleece and put the material circle to one side.  I then grabbed an old hooded top and some more wrapping paper.  Place the hoodie shoulder down on paper and draw around the hood. I wanted a larger hood that on my hoodie, so I was generous in my tracing of the hood giving it an extra 2cm on each side.  Use this template to cut out two pieces of fleece.  Place together and sew up two sides to make your hood.

4.  I then settled down in front of the TV to make a pompom.  Cut two doughnuts out of cardboard, place together and wrap red wool around them until you can't fit any more through the little hole.  Depending on the size of your pompom this can take a little while.  Carefully cut around the edge of the circles, slipping another piece of wool in between the two card disks to secure the pompom together.  Make sure you leave a long tail of wool.
5. Using a needle, take the long wool tail of the pom pom and push it through the top seam of the hood.  Tie a large knot inside the hood to prevent it coming out... Your Moogle is starting to take shape!

6. Return to your large circle, and cut a slit no larger that the width of your hood for the neck in the centre of the material.  Carefully sew the hood onto the body of the poncho.

7. Pop on your hooded, pompom-ed poncho and run around squealing about how clever you are (or that may just be me).

8.  Next is the fun part when you position your Moogle's features.  It's not quite so easy to do this when the hood is attached, but by adding them at this stage it means you can adjust them depending on how the hood falls.  Cut out a Moogle nose shape from your red material and stitch this at the front of the hood with red thread so that when worn it falls in the middle of the wearer's forehead.

9. Cut out some ears from any white fleece you have left over and sew into position

10. Using a black fabric pen (I used DYLON Fine Fabric Pens) draw some Moogle eyes (very thin crescents) onto some of the fleece off-cuts and, once dry, sew into place.

11. Finally cut some wings out of the purple material and sew onto the back of the poncho where the hood meets the neck.

(Okay, so I managed to stitch mine one wonky... but I think it adds character!)

My Moogle likes nothing more than curling up in front of the TV with a cup of tea.  Good Moogle.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Bath Thermae Spa: Review

On Friday I popped my cherry.  My massage cherry.

My Mum was never one of those girly mums who would spend hours on hair and makeup.  She'd never feel dressed without her perfume, but makeup was something that just didn't really feature in our house.  It wasn't until I went to university that I ever really wore mascara, I remember one of the girls in my hall leaning over me with the brush in hand, with me clutching the duvet underneath me willing myself not to blink at the wrong time...  So certainly massages were out.

My Mum had a big birthday earlier this year, and as she's had a bit of a year, I decided that it would be nice to treat her to a day of pampering.  Not for the preening, but for the relaxation.  

So off we trundled to Bath Thermae Spa.

Part of the package that I'd bought was a treatment.  I'd had a list of three to pick from, and not knowing what any of them where I closed my eyes and stabbed my finger at one (yes, really!).  That was three months ago, and even when we'd changed into our robes and slippers I simply could not remember what I'd booked.

Luckily the lady at the treatment desk did. After half an hour bobbing around in one of the warm thermal pools, I wandered up to the desk to book in for my treatment.  "Hot Stones Vichy Hydro Massage" - even the name didn't really reveal much about what was going to happen to me.  I'd heard of a hot stone massage, and so the extra words in between just sort of passed me by.

I filled in the brief health questionnaire and was met by a very friendly therapist who led me into the treatment room, where I was left to strip, don a pair of hugely unsexy paper pants, lie on the bed and cover myself in a towel.  Laying there in the buff, I couldn't fail to notice the large metal contraption with what looked like shower heads pointed directly at my naked body.  I started to wonder whether I should have paid more those extra words...

Looking up at those shower heads I felt like I was staring down the barrel of a gun.  I certainly couldn't imagine the experience being relaxing.


I mentally prepared myself for jets of cold water, "just like an ice bath' my brain kept chanting over and over.  To aid recovery.  I was already a ball of goose pimples and the water wasn't even on....

When the therapist returned she calmly explained what I could expect.  And I was relieved to find out that the showers weren't going to blast me we cold water.

It turns out that "Hot Stones Vichy Hydro Massage" is a top-to-toe treatment using the latest techniques where you're massaged under a warm shower.  The shower heads were carefully directed to different areas of the body to stimulate blood flow.

My body was exfoliated with rock salt, cleansed with a nourishing aromatherapy bath oil and water ritual and then finally massaged with hot stones.  To be honest I was a bit sceptical, but once I found myself in a position on the bed where I wasn't inhaling the cascading water I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I left the massage room in a very Zen state, feeling deeply relaxed and strangely light.

I won't even pretend to understand the technicalities of what the massage did, or how it worked.  All I know was that I'd recommend it.

A day at the spa wasn't cheap, but for a special treat it certainly did the trick.  My Mum loved it.  However what they don't tell you is just how exhausted all that relaxing makes you... Zzzz

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A plea to grown women: Grow up.

Name calling. Teasing. Picking on.

Never nice.

At school doing any of those things would land you on the naughty step, at work it could land you in trouble with HR. In a social situation it's just embarrassing.

I've not blogged for a little while as I've been really busy with a musical. Show week was amazing, the cast, crew and band all got on really well. We were a big family. But then the mud slinging started.

I don't pretend to know the whole story. Or even part of it. All I know is that two grown women have fallen out, and they are posting bard-filled remarks on Facebook... And that they really should know better.

It's simply embarrassing.

Why it is so important for each of them to have the final word I just don't know. I'd like to think that if I was in that situation I'd let things lie... But the pair of them seem detirmined to poke the other. Let sleeping lions alone I say...

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

I'm having a bad hair day

Bunches, pigtails, pony tails, french plaits - they are all beyond me.  Okay, I lie.  I can just about do a ponytail in my own hair... the rest though, I haven't go a hope of achieving.

There's always a lot of talk about bad hair days... to be honest, it's more or a rareity for me if I have a good one.  My hair is naturally wavy, just had add a spot of humidity, or wind or rain and it becomes a mad puff ball that not even the strongest bobby pin could tame.  I've tried sparys, serums and gels to try and get it to do what I want, but I tend to end up with a greasy mess or my fingers caked in goo and sticking together.

I have a big event with work tonight.  I have a pretty dress and have dug out a pair of heels, and I really want to put my hair into some attractive up-do, but I just can't see how I'm going to achieve anything more than creating a matted nest on my head. 

This is genuinely how I might look tonight...

I've asked for advice.  I've spent evenings watching How-To videos on Youtube (yes, this really is how keen I am to make it look like I've done something with my hair), but the thing, even with all this prep, I still don't have a clue where to start.

I'm normally a 15-minute-to-get-ready girl, but the taxi is due in six hours, and I'm genuainely worried that this still won't be enough time!  I really don't know what is wrong with me.  I wasn't this concerned about my hair on my wedding day...

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Recipe: Blackberry and Apple Jam

I was lucky enough to grow up in a semi-rural village in Somerset. Not a pretty village I hasten to add, but still one surrounded by orchards.  My grandfather would pay me a one pound to pick the fallen apples off his lawn each weekend and my Nan would whip up a plethora of comforting apple filled puddings for Sunday lunch "afters."

My parents didn't have any fruit trees in their garden, but our driveway was in the shadow of a large, apparently fruitless, tree. After seeing no sign of blossoms or fruit for over a decade, the tree surprised us all one year by sprouting a bumper crop of cherry plums (clearly making up for lost time). The plums were lovely and sweet, but soon our drive was covered in their slippery skins as they slowly rotted... So to combat the tsunami of fallen fruit my mum decided to make jam.
What followed was our kitchen being full of empty sugar packets and saucepans bubbling for weeks. My mother slaved away. And yet not a single batch of jam set. All the plums simply become oversweetened slop.

This year I decided that jam-making inability couldn't possibly be inherited... So I grabbed my gardening gloves, and dragged hubby off blackberry picking.

It turns out that jam is very easy to make if you're sensible. Silly Mum.

Blackberry and Apple Jam
1kg of blackberries
750g green apples (cooking, about 6 peeled & cored)
1.5kg caster sugar
125ml water
1 to 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of nutmeg

1. Carefully wash all your blackberries to remove any dirt or bugs that might be hiding in them. We found a few tiny worms so check them carefully!
2. Chop up the apples into small chunks. The smaller the better as they'll cook-through faster, but if they are uneven in size the jam will have a more varied texture.
3. Cook the apples in the largest saucepan you have with the water until they ate sift. Add seasoning and berries.
4. Stir carefully until all fruit is combined and berries start to break down.  Gradually add sugar.
5. As the sugar heats up the mixture will start to spit - be careful. Hot sugar hurts! Do not cover but stir regularly until jam is ready. Test by dipping a tea spoon partly into the mix. Blow on the spoon to cool it. If a skin forms then the jam is ready, if not keep cooking!
6. Carefully ladle jam into sterilized jars and seal.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Fitting it all in

I love a bit of Sex and the City. It's a guilty pleasure. Carrie and her girl friends are successful women, juggling careers, men and their girly social life. 

I admit, I'm a bit jealous of their Cosmo-filled evening, their laid back breakfasts, and even their gentle coffee-sipping strolls through the city. But I simply don't understand how they have the time to do it all, and organise PR events, or get the latest column submitted.

I'm in the middle of rehearsals for a musical. Opening night is this month, so rehearsals are really heating up - two evenings a week, all day on Sunday - plus all the team-building social events that go hand-in-hand with doing a show. Add the day-job into the mix and I'm so busy that my feet hardly touch the ground. I can't even find the time to blog...

In the last week I've seen Hubby for just a handful of hours. He's out the days I'm in, and I'm out the day's he's not. We're more than ships that pass in the night, we're a strange tag-team.

A quick good morning, 15minutes wolfing down dinner, and then, if we're lucky, another 15minutes of snatched conversation before I topple into bed. We cram so much into that time. The basis of entire relationship seems to be broken down into quarter-hour intervals.

I look at Carrie and co who all seem to be able to sail through their busy lives, with time to spare to invest in relationship building.

Then I look at our current situation and I have to wonder:

Am I a good wife?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Celebrating Hobbit Day!

Happy belated birthday Frodo and Bilbo!  My excuse for the belated wishes is that I was too busy celebrating...

So this is particularly Geek-ish, but the 22nd September is International Hobbit Day - the birthday of two very famous Halflings.  And with The Hobbit movie being released this November it would have been wrong to let it pass unmarked!

Okay, I'll be honest. It was a bit of a fluke. We'd arranged a LotRs marathon before even hearing about International Hobbit Day... And I'm not just saying that to reduce my geek potential. But it worked out fo well...

Hubby and I and two friends settled down yesterday in front of the telly, to journey onto Mordor... And when you're talking the three extended edition DVDs that's quite an epic journey...
So how do you prepare for such a task?

- Stock up on sustenance before heading out.  You wouldn't want to get caught out half way through without food. Hobbits do like second and third breakfast afterall.  Ring shaped food goes down well - bagels, doughnuts, Party Rings,  doughnuts, Hoola Hoops - also potato salad ("poe-tay-toes"), and fish ("so juicy sweet!") fit well with a Lord of the Rings themed afternoon.

- Dressing gowns and slipper socks - this was the nearest thing to the cloaks and bare-hobbit feet. Get comfy!

- Assemble your fellowship - travelling to Mordor is much better in company.

Seriously, if you also attempt this epic journey you need at least 11 hours just to get through the DVDs, watching them back to back. So I'd pretty much write off the day!

Now you're prepared for next year's Hobbit Day... And I've just discovered March 25th is also celebrated by die-hard fans... Fall of Sauron Day anyone?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Meaning of Flowers

I once devised a short play at college all about personalities that we could map to the meaning behind flowers.  It was all very 'clever' (or so we thought at the time), but whilst I can't remember the exact content of the piece I remember clearly how we agreed how important flowers were...

And yet I rarely get them.  Not for my birthday, not for an anniversary.  I remained decidedly flower-less.
But finally, after all the hints, tips, clues and simple downright open asking, the Hubby has finally bought me flowers!

It's not that he doesn't buy me gifts, he does! He's wonderful! He's very thoughtful, and a big romantic. He surprises me with chocolate, buys books to entertain me and treats me to little things he thinks that would make me smile, but for some reason he's just never bought me flowers... Or at least not for a long while...

I remember when we first got together, each Valentine's Day Hubby would buy me a red rose for every year we'd been together. A wonderful thought! But it did get very expensive after we broke the half-dozen mark... And so gradually that tradition fizzled out. 

I've watched over the last 18months when my colleagues have been sent flowers by their partners to our office - for birthdays, anniversaries, and congratulations gifts - knowing that the delivery won't be for me.  And that's been absolutely fine: I completely resent how much flowers cost if you get them delivered after all... But I do really enjoy looking at a bunch of flowers, or a little plant and knowing that it's means someone was thinking about me.

Flowers are funny things.  Nothing about them quite adds up.  Culturally we look down on garage-forecourt flowers, and yet people still enjoy receiving them.  We love their colours and scents, and so we cut them and bring them indoors to watch them die...

And yet, flowers mean so much.  They so easily become symbolic; A dear friend passed away a few years ago, and I will never be able to look at yellow roses without thinking of her. They were the theme of her funeral, never something I associated with her in life, but after she was gone yellow roses seem to be everywhere - a gentle reminder of happy times and her vibrant life. I hope one day, when Hubby and I have our own home we'll dedicate a corner of our garden to a bush of yellow roses.  I love the idea of something physical taking root, and growing to represent the friend we lost, but the friendship we still hold firmly to. That way our memories can continue to mature.

In the meantime, I'll focus my energies on tending the little plant Hubby has just bought me. It's sitting pride of place in the living room and I even remembered to water it this evening!  But for however long I manage to keep my little plant growing, every time I look at it I'll smile.  For my Hubby saw it, and thought of me.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Magpie Monday: Newspaper Handbag

My name is Claire and I'm a handbag addict.

Hubby has to be quite firm on me.  I'm not one of those ladies that will spend hundreds of pounds on a handbag, but if you left me to my own devices I would fill our little flat with new bags... Hubby has to be quite firm on me.  We have a one-handbag-in-one-handbag-out policy...

I used to be a journalist (bare with me, this is related, I promise).  Writing for national newspapers and magazines was great.  I wrote real-life features, I met some amazing, inspiring people.  I loved the writing, and seeing my articles in print for thousands of people to read. I loved telling people I was a journalist - you could never predict their reactions, but it's not a life I miss.  With everything I loved about it, I really hated the part of the industry that was focused on making money from other people's experiences, taking heart-wrenching, emotional stories and shaping them into little snappy headlines.

It's not something I can see myself doing again.  I worry too much about the people who's stories are being used to sell the magazines.  However, my background as a journalist is something I am proud of - I might not like the industry, but I never did anything to be ashamed of - I learnt such a lot and it really has made me who I am.

So when I found a handbag that was not only the perfect size or all my bits and pieces, but also channelled my journalistic roots I just couldn't say no...

I first saw the handbag in the window of a charity shop. I picked it up.  I put it down.  I left the shop.  I went back.  I left again completely in turmoil, knowing that I definitely didn't need another bag.

But I couldn't leave it sitting in the window - it was just right.

It was so me.

I buckled.

Isn't it pretty?!

It needs a bit of a clean (I think it may have been lurking in an attic for a little while), but I was supporting a charity, I could use it at work, on a night out, it's big enough to fit all my bits and bobs (yes, I did run through this entire list of excuses as to why I needed the bag) - and it only cost £4!

I made the right decision didn't I?

Me and My Shadow

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The small things in life

Things have been a little quiet on the blog recently.  Not because I have nothing to say - far from it! - it's just that life has been nibbling into all the time that I have had.

We had a very big week at work last week.  I ended up working late most days, sleeping poorly most nights, and rehearsing for my play most evenings, and when you have weeks like that you really appreciate the time you have to yourself.

Hubby struggles with me liking time to myself - of course I enjoy spending time with him, and I do feel guilty when we don't really see each other, however ever since I was a little girl I've really enjoyed some time to allow for some head-space. 

I hate the feeling that life is running away from you.  Sometimes I think if I don't sink my fingers into a moment, it will slip past without me noticing it.  Like the feeling when you slip into clean bedding, or an afternoon laughing with friends, or the sense of achievement you get when you've done something great at work.

I can't help but thinking that it is the small things that can add up to big things.  Yes, there are those days where you do something extra special; a day trip, a life changing conversation, meeting someone new.  But it's the small things that cumulatively add up.  That's why I enjoy blogging.  It gives me the chance to  take the time to look at the small things.

After all, the small things are the things we don't always think about.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

I want to be a crafter

It had taken me 18 months to find it, but when I entered the cavernous expanse I knew my quest was over. From wall to ceiling the room glittered with treasure, and there was a strangely familiar musty smell.  I darted about, stroking different items, picking up little items the caught my eye before carefully replacing them.  It was oddly magical.

I really didn't know where to look next, my eyes tried to drink in all the buttons, fabrics and threads as my mind raced through all the creative possibilities.  Purple spiderweb fabric for Halloween, rolls of fleece begging to be made into ponchos, tapastries, jumpers, hats, cardigans to be crafted from the mountains of wool and thread... I wanted to try my hand at it all!

Except I can't. I don't know where to start.

My mum is the needleworker in my family, she'll put darts in dresses, take up trousers and re-line curtains without a second thought.  I can just about stitch on a button and sew over the holes in my leggings...
I don't remember her actually doing it, but I remember certain jumpers I had as a child and knowing my mum had made them. But my Mum never taught me to knit.  She says that as a child I showed no interest (I was a stubborn little thing), but yesterday my mind was itching with the creative possibilities, but it's not just my lack of skill just let's me down.  I'm worried about making something, or starting to, and giving up before I'm finished. My self confidence (or lack of it) tells me I'll fail before I even start.

My Mum has always been a perfectionist.  She'd never admit it, but at the same time she'd stay up all night crafting the perfect curtain-tops.  She puts herself under so much pressure to achieve perfection that it no longer looks fun.  Maybe that's why I never showed any interest as a youngster. I worried that just having a go wouldn't be good enough... And besides, there was always my Mum to do things for me...
But as an adult things need to change.  Hubby and I decided yesterday that we won't be returning to the West Country to start a family.  I won't have my Mum on hand to offer to take in school trousers, I need to know that I can do it myself.

So I'm setting myself a challenge. Before the end of the year I'm going to make myself a hooded poncho. It's not hard from what I gather, but it will be a big step for me.

All I need to do now is buy the fabric, and know that trying is the first step.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

By Jove...

Today Hubby and I had a conversation.  This wasn't a what-to-have-for-dinner ponder, or a does-my-bum-look-big-in-this debate, it was a proper game-changer of a conversation.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how unstable we feel and how we need to get some direction in our lives, well, today was the day we grasped at life and decided to knock it into shape rather than let it batter us along like leaves in a breeze.

It took hours. We crunched some numbers and we discussed our plans, but the thing that ultimately gave shape to our future was a simple piece of paper... A pros and cons list.

Hubby was a bit reluctant at first - understandably really, as we both have memories of love-struck teenagers using such lists to determine whether or not to break up with their latest crush... - but eventually we sat down to try to tease our way through the tangled web of our future... And, by Jove, I think we've done it. 

We have A Plan...

Friday, 7 September 2012

Recipe: Jam Tarts

When I was a student, and was feeling the pinch I would make my family biscuits for the festive season.  I'd sew little bags, and stuff them with home-made goodies, and they went down a storm.  So I thought this year I'd re-visit my homemade Christmas:  This year, I'm making jam.

Last Sunday Hubby and I hit the blackberry bushes and picked like wild things, chopped up a bag of apples, doshed in the sugar and, having never made jam before, set back to watch the magic.

Unfortunately, it was at the point that we had the mixture on the boil that we realised a some-what crucial flaw in our plan: No jam jars...

Hubby hit the shops just before they closed, managing to grab 6 jars of cheap and cheerful jam.  Back home we emptied out the jars, washed and cleaned them, re-filled them with our homemade jam and stuck them under the bed until Christmas.

But then we had another problem, we were stuck with six-jars worth of Tesco Value jam without a home...  Our solution?  More baking!

Jam Tarts

Jam tarts are delicious and so easy to make.

Makes 12-15

225g plain flour,
25g icing sugar(you don’t need much sugar as the jam is sweet)
150g unsalted butter, softened
¼ tsp salt, or use salted butter
1 egg yolk
25ml cold water
  1. Rub together flour, icing sugar, butter and salt in a bowl until combined.
  2. Add egg yolk and water, and mix/knead until you have smooth, soft dough.
  3. I always find pastry works best if you can chill it for a while, so I wrap it in cling-film and pop into the fridge for 20-30 minutes.  It makes rolling so much easier!
  4. Roll out your pastry and using a cookie cutter cut out enough cases to fill a tart-tray and blind bake at a low temperature (160C/ gas mark 3) for 15-20 minutes until the base starts to colour.
  5. Fill with your choice of jam/curd and enjoy!

If you end up with the amount of jam that I had, whilst the pastry is chillin’ in the fridge you can start making another batch of dough…  In the end we ended up with quite production line, and ultimately and awful lot of tarts!  I was popular at work the next day!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Letter To The Idiot Who Stole From My Mum


That's what you are.

I was brought up to be very mindful of my money. I started work at 16, for £2 an hour in the local fish and chip shop, I saved, and I paid my way through university.  My parents instilled the value of money in me. I remember weeks growing up were we'd eat freeze-dried Beanfeast every single day, as it was a cheap, easily bulked-out meal.  The majority of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my cousins and neighbours and I remember my Mum carefully saving each receipt so she could track exactly what was spent.

I know the value of money. Until this year I'd never asked my parents for anything, but I needed to buy a new car to get to work. Mum and Dad were more than willing to help, it would make things tight for them.  Dad is ill so can't work, and my Mum hasn't worked since I was very young, so I promised to pay them £300 each month until my debt was paid.  But this month, if things weren't hard enough with Dad's illness, things will be tighter than ever for my pension-age parents, because Scum, you've gone and spent their money.

My poor Mum, who shreds every receipt, who keeps track of her spending in a book written in code and locked in a cabinet, called me up in tears over the weekend.

It's never nice hearing someone you love so upset. She was confused. And I guess frightened. She'd received a call from a man at PayPal who wanted to flag a strange transaction, then eBay got in touch, and then a seller she'd never heard of started emailing her threatening to call the police... All because a little spineless creature wanted a new BlackBerry Bold. 

I don't know how you got my Mum's details. But I do know the chaos you've left behind. It's as if I never transferred my Mum this month's payment as you've frittered it away to treat yourself to a meaningless gadget.  You're a faceless evil to me, but I can't receive a call from my Mum sobbing, exusted, not knowing what to do without looking for someone to blame.

The idea of Mum buying a BlackBerry is farcical, she can barely use her laptop, so I have to hope that PayPal will uphold her appeal and will cover the money, but that could take up to 30 days... In the meantime my parents will just have to cope.

I hope you enjoy your new phone.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Coming to terms with miscarriage

Last night was the end of my pregnancy.  As I had a miscarriage three weeks ago I know how strange that must sound...

When my ultrasound showed that I had lost the baby, a nurse explained what to expect next and then quietly passed me a pregnancy test to use in a week or so to confirm my pregnancy-boosted hormones had returned to normal levels.  I should have used that test over a week ago.  The little packet sat on the side, but I couldn't bring myself to take the test - I knew that once I saw a singular line it would really all be over.

I finally got that confirmation last night when I took a deep breath, grabbed the foil packet and headed to the bathroom.

But the thing is, in the last three weeks I've learnt a lot about myself, about my body, and about other people's attitudes towards miscarriage.  I'm in a good place now, I've come to terms with what happened.  I know it wasn't anything that I did, but just a very tragic thing that happens quite commonly.  But I've also realised how much of a taboo it is.

When I miscarried I realised I didn't know anyone else who had been through the same experience.  I have a couple of friends who are pregnant/have had children before, but I didn't know anyone I could turn to to discuss my emotions about how my body had failed the little life Hubby and I had made.  Although I had family around me I felt completely alone.

That's why I've made the decision not to hide my miscarriage.  I'm not shouting it from the roof tops, nor am I walking around with it emblazoned on a tshirt, but now that I have made peace with it, I want to make sure that my young female friends know that should it ever happen to them (I hope it never does), that they can talk to me.   Once I started sharing my story, first with a couple of close friends, an then the situation arose where I found myself telling a couple of colleagues, I've been amazed by how many people have quietly experienced the same grief, and I can't help but think it would have helped me hugely to know that at the time.

I'm sure that this might sound strange to some people - early pregnancy is very much a private affair - but I hope that by sharing my story I might be able to help other ladies.

Remember:  You are not alone. 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

My engagement story

I remember the feeling. Surprise. Delight. Happiness. The moment when another person tells you that they want to share their life with you.

On the Tube today I sat opposite a young couple, their hands clasped, and heads bent together, taking it on turns to admire the glittering ring on the third finger of her left hand.When your newly engaged it feels as though you have a neon band strapped around your ring finger and you want to talk to everyone about it.  Or I certainly did.

Most ladies I've spoken to love talking about their wedding day, but before the big day it's the engagement stories that take the spotlight.

Hubby popped the question to me one chilly November afternoon.  We'd been visiting our parents and had spent the entire morning hunting around the town for Hubby's lost mobile phone (we'd been to all the shops we'd visited that weekend, the coffee shops, even the town dump until ultimately finding the phone down the back of the sofa...), when he suddenly announced that he wanted to go for a walk.  There's nothing particularly strange in that, although what I did think was a little odd was the fact that as soon as we left his younger brother started hanging out of a bedroom window with a pair of binoculars...

Hubby took me to a hill near his parents house, the views were stunning.  It was a crisp November day, and you could see for miles over the Somerset moorlands.  It was lovely. I've always enjoyed the peace and quiet of the country, so I was standing drinking in the views with the wind fanning my hair out behind me.
The next thing I remember was a tap on my shoulder. I don't remember exactly what was said, but I do remember him going down on one knee. Having just started his first proper job, he'd gone out and bought a ring after guessing the size.  It wasn't the ring I would have chosen for myself but I loved it.  Even though I didn't know it beforehand, it was perfectly me.

I was so delighted that I called my mum before we'd got down from the hill.

Our wedding day, almost a year-to-the-day later.

Even now, Hubby says that the hill is our place.  We know that we shared something very special there, and when we came down again as an engaged couple our families (who apparently knew all about the true nature of 'the walk') were thrilled.  Although I don't think the binoculars had been much of a success at tracking the proposal from a-far.

Every engagement is different, and every one special.  Whether a surprise, or a mutual agreement it's the first step to a lifetime of commitment.

I'd love to hear your engagement story.  Why not post your own, and tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

It's [early] Christmas time

For my 8th birthday, I was asked by my parents what present I would like, and to this day I remember my answer. Without a second thought I knew what I wanted to wake up to when my birthday dawned: Christmas.  Unfortunately my birthday is in March, however that didn't stop my parents dutifully bringing out the Christmas tree, and having a big "Christmas" dinner to celebrate my birthday.  There was even Christmas pudding in place of birthday cake.  I had an absolute ball.

When you're a child, Christmas has an undeniable quality.  It's magical.  But as you grow older, and you can't get away with buying all your gifts from one shop and the budget has to stretch thinner and thinner, the excitement of the festive season somewhat dims...

I read an article in the Metro this morning complaining that supermarket chain Asda were already setting up their Grottos.  Even I have to admit that August is a little early for little children to start planning what expensive gift Santa will bring them this year. 

I do wonder whether the more time we have to plan, the more we plan to spend, and Christmas arriving earlier and earlier is a bit if a trick by retailers to get us to cough up more...

So this year I've decided to try and bring some of the magic back. I want to be that little girl that enjoyed Christmas so much that she wanted it twice in one year.  So this year Hubby and I will make a lot of our presents, spending the minimum financially, but the maximum in time, effort and energy.

Afterall, what is Christmas without a little thoughtfulness.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Do you go down to the woods to play?

I have great memories of playing in farmers' fields as a child.  Climbing over stiles, slipping over in cow pats, even falling in nettles, to this day these childhood experiences have made me more comfortable in the countryside than out and about in a town.

I was lucky to grow up in the rural South West.  Every Sunday when I visited my grandparents I was free to let my imagination run wild in the nearby fields and orchards. Meaning that I've always felt at home in the quiet of the country.

Hubby and I took advantage of a few short hours of sunshine this long weekend to do some blackberry picking.  We're lucky as we live in a semi-rural area, and so a ten minute drive took us into the heart of a wooded area, loved by dog walkers and wild deer alike. 

We had a lovely morning, and it was wonderful to see the wood so full of families also exploring.  One little girl was, in ways only little children can be, completely enamoured by a slug, where as her brother was trying to get her to come and look at the hole he had found.  I couldn't help but smile at their wide-eyed amazement. It made me want to keep exploring around corners, and possibly even building a den out of fallen leaves.

I firmly believe that children should experience nature.  I didn't realise it as a child, but my Sunday afternoon scampering around the Somerset woodland was one of freedom.  I was allowed to follow my imagination, and I'd easily while away the hours simply thinking.

It never fails to astound me that If I ever have go attend a meeting for work I am at a complete loss without Google Maps and my mobile phone's GPS.  But drop me into a wood, I find myself confidently striding off, knowing that I'll be able to retrace my steps no matter how many corners tempt me round their bends.

It does amaze me that so many children are scared of forests.  Of course we all need to be careful, you don't want to get lost, and you don't want to always meet a stranger amongst the trees... However it is unlikely that you'll be gobbled up by the Big Bad Wolf if you're walking through the woods.

I do wish we lived in a world where patents could be more relaxed about the where their children played. 

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Recipe: No bake Ferrero Rocher

You know those evenings/mornings/afternoons/days/nights where you simply just can't focus on anything?  When your mind has latched it's thought-claws in and isn't letting go? I was crippled with that affliction a couple of days ago... The cause: chocolate.

I don't know if it's just me, or whether my chocolate cravings carefully time themselves for just after the shops have closed, just to remain taunting. But this time I decided I would fight back...

Quick and easy Ferrero Rocher

No baking required!
Makes 15 approx

5 crispbreads (Ryvita works, or if you ever did Slimming World and have a half packet if scan bran lurking in you cupboard, this is a great way if using them without that MDF texture)
3 tablespoons of Nutella
2 tablespoons of golden syrup.

This recipe is an old Slimming World favourite of mine (1-2 syns per ball if you use the crispbreads as a B box), but also fantastic for when you need that quick chocolate hit.
  1. Break up crispbreads, and blitz in a food processor until finely chopped and powdery. Put into a bowl with a splash of water.
  2. Add Nutella (or other chocolate spread) and golden syrup into the bowl and mix until all combined.
  3. Ferrero Rocher fans will know that the little mouthfuls of chocolate and hazelnut delight aren't quite complete without a little paper casing, so position some small cupcake cases on a large plate.
  4. Carefully make the mixture into rough balls (you can use teaspoons, or your fingers!), and pop each ball into a papercase.
  5. Put in fridge for an hour and enjoy almost guilt-free!

(These guys don't look like much, but they are seriously good!)

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Craving stability

Sometimes I really miss primary school. The chance to explore your own imagination, try new experiences for the first time, and push a few boundaries.

Every grazed knee told a story, until one day you stumbled in the playground and for the first time you didn't cry as the blood seeped from the cut. That was the first badge of honour, a real achievement on the road to being grown-up: learning some of life's knocks aren't worth shedding tears over.

Inside the classroom safety was taken more seriously, particularly if you started rocking backwards on your plastic chair. Grabbing hold of the deck, and balancing on the chair's two hind legs was satisfying, until your teacher caught you and would then spend the next half an hour lecturering you about the safety implications. Smacking your head on the floor, damaging your neck and risk of death (maybe it was just my teacher that took it to the fatal level), suddenly made a minute of wobbling seem a lot less desirable.

So why do I feel that I am still balancing on a couple of chair legs? I'm clinging on to the metaphorical desk in the hope that I can remain upright as we wobble around. The Hubby and I are craving stability, but it seems that we still have one chair leg up in the air. 

When we were expecting we made plans. We knew where we wanted to be after the baby was born, and how I would spend maternity leave, but now that's not happening its brought into sharp focus just how transient everything our current life is. 

We don't know where we want to put down roots: where we've lived for the past 5 years, or back nearer our parents. We rent and its frustrates us that we can't even make simple decisions like where to hang a picture. We want to get on the property ladder but can't afford the house prices where we are currently... So The Hubby's looking for a new job.

I feel that I should be grateful that I'm not being forced by time to make snap decisions, but now that we have more time I wonder whether we'll ever find a way out of our rut.
Growing up isn't quite the adventure I thought...

Monday, 20 August 2012

Review: Original Theraline Maternity and Nursing Pillows

A few weeks ago I was suffering with a terribly achy back and was feeling very sorry for myself, so when I heard about the Original Theraline Maternity and Nursing Pillows which, according the website, is designed to support tired backs and limbs by shaping around the body I couldn't help but wonder if they could provide me with some relief.  No longer being pregnant, I recognise that I'm not really Theraline's key audience, but as my bad back still hasn't shifted, the lovely PRs people at PJP PR offered to send me a pillow to see if it would help.

I have a tilted uterus, which causes my period pain to seem to emanate from my kidneys.  So every month I trawl around our flat, looking for cushions and pillows in order to create enough of stack to support my back and sides.  It's an art I've almost perfected now - carefully balancing the cushions into one corner of our dated sofa so that I can sit with my legs up and still be supported.  But it just takes a little bit of wriggling for one for the pillows to be dislodged, or slip down the sofa cushions... which means I have to build my nest again from scratch.  So I was looking forward to whether the Theraline cushion could simplify those evenings when I just want to curl up and read a book on the sofa.

 When the Theraline pillow arrived I was pleasantly surprised by the tasteful cover - knowing that it was designed for pregnancy and beyond I was a little concerned that the design might be garish, but I genuinely liked the modern flower designs and was delighted to discover that the cover was also completely removable too - and for a klutz like me that is hugely important.  I'm sure it won't be long before I drip tea on the white sections...

The pillow is shaped like on over-large boomerang, and come with a sheet of basic instructions to help a new owner work out how it can be used, which is essentially only limited by your imagination.  The lightweight microbeads shape themselves around your body so if you're laying it can be used as a pillow/prop to stop you rolling onto your back, it can be used to support your legs, or my favourite, to support your back and shoulders if you're in a seated position.

 Since the pillow arrived I've not been able to settle down to read my book without it.  I no longer have to stack cushions on the sofa, or fold over pillows to elevate my head in bed - the Theraline pillow has sorted that for me.

I'm so enamoured that the Hubby has threatened to hide the Pillow so I can't use it all the time - he's worried that I won't be able to sleep without it!

The Theraline Original Maternity and Nursing Pillow comes in a range of cover designs, with prices starting at £44.95.

Disclosure: I was sent the Pillow for the purposes of this review, however all opinions expressed are my own and are honest.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Disney Pixar's Brave: Every little girl is a princess

I was never a girly girl as a nipper.  I hated clothes shopping - it was my idea of hell.  I remember clearly being at primary school and being surrounded by my ten year old class mates discussing their outfits for the school disco and being utterly bored by the conversation.  I also remember my classmates eyes bulging when I loudly announced that "I don't like fashion."  I seem to remember that beige was the hot colour of the time... I mean, who actually likes wearing beige?!

But that didn't stop me dreaming of life as a princess.  One of my earliest memories is reenacting the plot of Little Mermaid in the playground, and although I never landed the role of Ariel (my best friend had the longest hair, so she always took the lead - I always ended up portraying a random royal mermaid sister, or more usually best-fish-friend Flounder), I always dreamt of life as a Disney Princess.

Whether it be nose-in-a-book Belle, feisty Jasmine, or graceful Aurora, there is always something accessible about Disney's female protagonists, and their newest Princess, red-headed Merida, is no exception.

Brave follows Merida as she strives to live a life independent of her royal obligations.  Like Aladdin's Jasmine, she shuns them, wanting to experience more from life, but unlike Jasmine is more than capable of handling herself outside the palace walls.  With bow in hand, and wild hair streaming off her face Merida feels ready to take on the world and certainly doesn't need a smooth-talking street-rate to come to her rescue.  Merida definitely represents a very different Disney Princess.  She strong woman, who is prepared to fight for what she wants.

I know there will be a lot of discussion about how wonderful it is for young girls to see independent female characters in film, but that's only part of the magic.  The film is beautifully put together, funny, moving, at times fantastical, but at the same time grounded in something completely understandable - the newest Disney Pixar film is all about the quest for love and understanding - in the form of a future spouse, but also from family.

Both Hubby and I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and I left the cinema feeling full of energy and wondering where I could learn archery...  It reminded me of Sunday afternoons climbing trees, making forts in hedges and coming in covered in mud after slipping up in a cowpat.  Brave is a really refreshing film, that made me remember just how magical Independence and exploration is. I really do hope we do see young girls (and boys) grabbing toy bows and letting their hair fly free.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Why I want a duvet cocoon...

Do you ever notice how time just dribbles past when you want the day to move on?

I'm normally a fan of Fridays, the weekend is just around the corner, its the one chance to get all your work finalised ready for a fresh working week come Monday.  But this Friday, the whole day has been like walking though sludge.

I don't know if the Hubby and I are still pulling ourselves together from last week, but the effort of simply getting out of the bed this morning was a challenge.  We both snoozed the alarms (we have three), we rolled over, we flipped back the covers, we even got as far as sitting up... but our energy levels remained rock bottom.   We flopped around on top of the duvet for a good 20 minutes, before I dragged myself to the bathroom.  I was even weighing up whether I could get away without any makeup, just to squeeze an extra 5 minutes from my wannabe-lie-in.

And that's just followed me throughout the day.

I'm happy to keep working - I've got lots to do, plenty to keep me busy, but I keep dreaming of building a duvet-nest under my desk, snuggling down propping my laptop on my lap and working in a fluffy cocoon.  Hardly professional though.  And I'm sure my colleagues would soon be jealous.

Maybe I'm simply craving some space, some downtime where my thoughts are my own?  Some people might interpret my desire to hide away is me putting up emotional walls, but I don't think that's the case.  I used to write poetry as a teenager (who didn't), and I was always inspired by night - even if it wasn't the topic of my writing, curled up in bed was always when my thoughts moved most freely.  For the last week or so I've read a lot about how I should be feeling, and even before that people have been offering advice on what to do, or how to be.  My body still isn't my own, it's settling back into it's own rhythms, and so I suspect I want something to be wholly mine...

How do you claim time for yourself?