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.