Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 in pictures

Is there any better feeling than a snow day?  Teachers love them just as much as kids do, let me assure you.

There was still snow on the ground when I flew to the Netherlands to visit The Boy and, although daffodils were blooming in my garden, the cold remained throughout February and seemed interminable.

The endless winter continued right through March; this was the scene on a snowy pre-Easter walk in Yorkshire.

Two days in Paris with The Boy - our first proper trip together (I don't count my visits to his place in the Netherlands) - was one of the best weekends ever.  The April sun shone as we walked, talked and kissed our way around the city.

Our hunt for cider on the continent bore fruit in Berlin, with not one but two local ciders tracked down.

Chaperoning a school trip is always hard work, and this year's camping trip to Devon was no exception.  But it was nevertheless a week full of fun and laughter and birthday celebrations.

The sun came out and never seemed to leave.  I went to Macedonia for a wedding, Brussels for a hen do, and Nijmegen for a visit with The Boy.  It was a wonderful month of travels.

What an honour to be asked to be a bridesmaid for my best friend.  After pouring with rain all morning, the sun came out as Cara arrived at the chapel.  Fellow bridesmaid Steph and I felt like princessess in our blue lace dresses (after a few drinks, we even did lots of twirling on the dancefloor, like 5 year olds).  I made a speech, because why should the men do all the talking?  And much much booze was drunk!

September was all kinds of awesome, because The Boy moved back to Leicester, which put an end to the long distance aspect of our relationship.  I spent a lot of time travelling around the UK in September to visit family.  This photograph is from a lovely day I spent with my dad in Southwell, Nottinghamshire.  The Minster there is stunning and well worth a visit if you - like me - are a bit of a church geek (weird for an athiest, I know!).

An anniversary weekend in Brighton.  So what if it rained for two solid days; all the better to stay huddled in the pub and then the hotel room.

A sunny winter's day off in Bradgate Park, Leicestershire.

Preperations for Christmas, which is always a big deal for me.  I love draping fairy lights over every available surface and collecting holly, ivy and other greenery to decorate the house.

Friday, 27 December 2013

November & December reads

1. Paper Towns was my fourth John Green read of 2013.  It's the tale of high school senior Quentin (Q) and his obsession with solving the mystery of his childhood friend Margo's disappearance. As with most Green novels, it deals with life in suburban America and how it feeds adolescent alientation, and if that all sounds a bit wanky, it really isn't. Q and his two best friends are winning and engaging characters, and their quest becomes tense and engrossing.

2. If it's Christmas, one must re-read A Christmas Carol!

3. Comfort & Joy was another seasonal re-read. India Knight's novel shows us three Christmasses in the life of Clara - the protagonist of her debut novel, My Life On A Plate and this year's Mutton. It is, like it's title, a comforting read and an utter joy.

4. & 5. Let It Snow and Dash & Lily's Book Of Dares are pure festive escapism. The former is a collection of three linked, long-short stories (around 100 pages per story, each by a different writer) set during a Christmas snowstorm in a small town in North Carolina. Cheesy YA romance, yes, but lovely to read while curled up by the fire while Monday's storm raged outside. The latter is a book I've read over and over again, but love each time. Set over the Christmas period in New York, Dash and Lily communicate via a book of dares, getting to know one another through the notes they leave and edging closer to meeting and falling... in love?

6. I'd heard of Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce novels, which are a pastiche of the Golden Age of crime books by writers such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, but never read one before. I Am Half Sick Of Shadows was set at Christmas, hence the appeal, and I absolutely loved Flavia, the 11 year-old, poison-obsessed heroine. I'll definitely be on the look out for others in the series.

7. Although this post makes it look like I read a lot over two months, in reality most of November was spent reading A Storm Of Swords: Blood & Gold, while I then raced through book after book in December (especially once school finished).  The second part of the third Game of Thrones book, it was an amazing read and well worth devoting all that time to. 

8. I was also slowly working my way through Reclaiming The F Word, a very readable treatise on the new feminist movement.  Published three years ago, the authors rightly predicted the enormous impact the then-burgeoning internet campaigns would have on feminism.

9. Girl On The Net was a cheap 99p download, based on the blog of the same name.  I'm enjoying it so far (although warning: it's utter filth!).

10. At the time of writing, I'm still reading this and number 11.  After a somewhat slow start, I've once again been entirely sucked into the world of Westeros.  What on earth will I do with my time when I finally get to the end of the series?

11. Although I've not quite finished Longbourn, it is definitely in the running for my book of 2013.  This beautiful novel is based on Pride & Prejudice, but written from the servants' perspective.  So, although Elizabeth Bennett, Darcy and the rest appear, they are merely background characters, while taking centre stage is Sarah, the Bennett's maid, whose world is turned upside down with the arrival of a new footman at Longbourn.  Wonderfully written, with the kind of prose you can luxuriate in.  I cannot recommend it enough.

Seen & heard: November & December

1. Gravity was The Boy's choice on a recent date night, and I have to admit that I wasn't overly keen on seeing it (having read one too many tweets lamenting either its length and lack of action or, conversely, the extreme tension and stress felt while viewing). But I really enjoyed it; how nice to see a woman in the leading role of an action/sci-fi flick.

2. Knocked Up was a re-watch this month.  Always funny, but the cameos by Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Martin Starr, Charlene Yi and Jason Segel are the best things about it.

4. As I do every year, I watched A Christmas Carol at school with year 6.

5. I only saw Elf for the first time last year, but I think its viewing may become a new festive tradition.  This time round, I introduced The Boy to the tale of Buddy the Elf; ever since, he has taken to calling me 'Elf' when I get too over-excited and shrieky about Christmas.

6. My mum and I watched The Family Stone on Christmas Eve and wept copiously, as always.  It's one of my favourite Christmas films.

7. Finally, I can hardly believe that I'd never seen It's A Wonderful Life before!  Luckily, our local independent cinema had a charity screening in aid of Action Homeless, so The Boy and I took ourselves down there.  It made a brilliant end to a long and gruelling term at school (even if we did go through rather a lot of tissues).


If it's November and December, then Sufjan Stevens' two Christmas collections - Songs For Christmas  and Silver & Gold - will be on constant rotation round my way.  Seriously, I've listened to almost nothing else for the past five weeks!

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Thrifty gift swap #7

One of many who managed to save their parcels until Christmas Day, here is Sharon from Sunshine & Celandines to tell us about her parcel...

Thanks very much for organising the Thrifty Christmas gift swap. I really enjoyed participating and the parcel I received from Leanne was just gorgeous. I managed to save it to open on Christmas day....with some reluctance I must say. Leanne must have done her homework as the prezzies she sent were all very me.
There were a couple of lovely decorations for my tree which are now adorning said tree of course.
A pretty wooden heart with the words Sunshine Always Follows the Rain inscribed on it.
A really useful little wooden make up mirror which will come in very useful on my summer camping trips. :)

A retro Drumstick lolly scented car air freshener which actually does smell like a real drumstick lolly.

A couple of cute coasters which say Cake Cake We Want More Cake on them. Yes my weakness is certainly cake!

A darling little Alice In Wonderland badge which I wore on Christmas Day. :)

Continuing with the Alice theme, an amazing Alice animation negative framed print. This is so thoughtful as for my birthday this year I had a Alice themed/vintage tea party. :)

Leanne also sent me a very cute handmade card which I love. 

All in all I was thoroughly spoiled and I must say Leanne's parcel was my favorite one to open on Christmas day. Thank you Leanne and thanks Janet. x :)


Monday, 23 December 2013

Glad tidings of comfort & joy

After weeks of preparation and longing, the school holidays are finally here and Christmas is upon us!

The Boy and I spent the weekend with my mum and step-mum, but now he's headed home to Glasgow and my step-mum to Gloucestershire to see her grandchildren, so I'll be spending the next few days quietly with my mum: reading books by the fire, watching seasonal films, drinking wine, mulling cider, eating lots of cheese...it will be bliss!

I hope that wherever it finds you, your Christmas is peaceful, relaxing and joyful.  And I'll leave you with this song, Sufjan Stevens' version of Oh Holy Night. 

Thrifty gift swap #6

There were over twenty people taking part in this year's gift swap and hopefully all of those parcels are now safely with their owners.  You can read about Nik's parcel on her blog, and Louisa's here.  Meanwhile, Leanne and Charlotte have both kindly sent photos of theirs...

It arrived and I love it! I received from Duck In A Dress (Louisa)...
Lots of sweets and a cracker,
Some card making items,
A Christmas tree bubble bath,
Some perfume,
Some festive bunting,
And a Christmas CD with a list of why she chose each track!
Amazing! Thank you!
And Charlotte has this to say about her gifts...
I received my gift last Friday,  when my neighbour brought it out to me as we got in the car to go away for the night, so I popped it in the house and left it for my return.  When I got back on Saturday I couldn't wait to see what treats were inside.
First I was greeted by a bunch of merry Christmas magnets, tissue paper, polystyrene and sparkly gold stars, all of which added to the excitement!  Inside there was a magazine, Oh Comely, I have only ever heard about this on Janet's blog so I am really excited to see what its all about!  
Then there was a copy of my givers favourite book, which fits perfectly with one of my new years resolutions, to read more! I was super excited about the homemade Christmas CD as I love having Christmas tunes on when you're doing those Christmassy tasks, and I was intrested in see what my giver had chosen to put on it,  but unfortunately when we came to play it,  it didn't work:-(
One of my favourite parts of my gift was the china plate. I have a massive collection of different one's and was very excited to add a new one to the collection.  I also received some other bits and bobs to make my thrifty box complete!  With thanks to my giver!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Made: Teacup candle

I wouldn't usually do a make so near to Christmas, but teacup candles are so quick and easy that you'll have time to make plenty before next Wednesday!

You will need
One small pillar candle (scented or unscented)
A pretty teacup - scour the charity shops near you, I found the ones above for 49p each on different occasions
Two pans: one for the water and one for the wax
A candle wick, preferably one of the ones with a wick sustainer attached (I got a pack from Hobbycraft or they're easily available on eBay)

1. Use a saucepan that you don't mind getting covered in wax. I bought a new 'Value' one from Tesco for about a pound, or you could use an old one that's on its last legs. Fill another pan with water and put onto the heat, then place the candle in your wax pan and put that on top of the first pan. Do not melt your wax in a pan directly on the heat: it could catch fire.

2. Melt the wax gently, supervising it so it doesn't flame. This stage takes a while.

3. When the wax is melted, hold the wick in the centre of the cup and pour in wax until it's about 3/4 of the way up. Leave to set.

4. The wax shrinks as it cools, leaving a well in the centre around the wick. Once it is totally set, melt the remaining wax and top up the candle. For a perfect finish, you can leave a small gap and repeat the process, allowing your candle to set and re-melting the last of the wax before pouring it on.

5. Once the final candle is totally set, trim the wick to about 1cm in length. Stand back and admire!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Thrifty gift swap #5

A gift swap box for Kate this morning, sent by Sharon of  Sunshine & Celandines.
I normally only bother collecting stuff from the delivery office if I am already out that way, as getting Delilah ready is rather long winded - however I was too excited to wait, so we got bundled up and made a special trip this morning.
The first thing I noticed was the amazing smell; which turned out to be a lovely little candle in a tea cup. I plan to burn it tonight to get me in the festive spirit whilst wrapping. It is my favorite item in the box!
I loved the fact that everything was individually wrapped. It made it really exciting for Delilah and kept her amused. so that I could enjoy opening my bit and bobs. There was so much in it!

I also got two lovely brooches - both of which will get plenty of use over the festive period. I recently out my rather tacky Christmas brooch through the wash, so this Christmas pud is a much classier replacement. The gold one is just gorgeous and perfect for my Bond themed party plans

I loved the dove tree decoration and it feeds my compulsion to add more and more to the tree each year. 
To my shame I have never read the book "Breakfast at Tiffany's", I have only seen the film and I now have no excuse!
Thanks Sharon for all the gifts and very pretty card - I feel spoiled. All things I would have brought for myself (and then felt guilty about buying!).  This gift swap has just been so much fun and you are a star for organizing it.
My pleasure Kate!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Thrifty gift swap #4

My thrifty gift swap parcel arrived over a week ago, but I had been hoarding it to enjoy the anticipation (I do this at birthdays too, typically keeping my gifts until the end of the day so I can enjoy the delayed gratification).  But seeing posts popping up on other blogs (you can read about Em's parcel here), and receiving the first few photographs to post on this blog, made me desperate to open the package.

Liz from Distract Me Now Please was my giver, and what a fabulous job she did!  From the moment I opened the box and saw everything wrapped up in maps, I knew she'd done her homework.  The first thing to be unwrapped was a sweet little vintage-patterned tin bird, who will be hung in my kitchen.  Secondly, a box of Roiboos tea, which I love!  Next, two beaded necklaces which, unless I'm mistaken, are African in origin.  Then out came a (handmade?) navy polka dot hairbow, which is very me.  And finally two books, which I can't wait to get reading.  It was a selection that someone who knew me very well would put together, so I was extra impressed to receive it from someone I've only ever 'met' on the internet.

Thrifty gift swap #3

The next thrifty gift swap parcels to arrive were Mikhaila's, Leanne's and Thomas's.  As yet, I don't have pictures of the latter two, but here is Mikhaila to tell us what she got in her parcel...

I received my gift from Louise - it's amazing! A handmade snood, vintage paper dolls, make your own Xmas decs, handmade cute little mouse, sweets, recipe book and sense and sensibility and sea monsters!!! Spoilt!!

Merry Christmas xxx

Sunday, 15 December 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

1. An amazing handmade card from my talented friend Leanne.
2. Christmas tree.
3. My first attempt at hand embroidery; I'm pretty pleased with it.
4. Decorating the fireplace.
5. Old Christmas decorations make great trimmings for gifts.
6. An incredible origami star, made for me from photocopied pages of the Christmas chapter of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.  I just about cried when I saw it!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Thrifty gift swap #2

And the second thrifty gift swap parcel to arrive is Ellen's.  Her giver, Kate, has excelled herself: what a fabulous box of goodies!
Oh my goodness me.

I've been sent the biggest box and it's all absolutely adorable with some crazy coincidences too! Firstly the card, look at the little robin with the feet print! (1st coincidence- I've done the same robin design .... mine are not so cute with the boy's now massive feet).  The second coincidence is the penny farthing mug... not very long (ok ages) ago when I lived at home we were in a vintage bike club. The kids saw this mug and said ' oh it's the same bike as Granddad's ' Attached to the mug is a bike hire voucher for some time in a nature reserve which I'm sure the kids are going to love! (and myself and Dave )

There is a jar full of biscuitty ingredients and my favourite flavours with a Christmas tree cutter ! I cannot wait to use these!

Some homemade bath melt powder that smells absolutely divine and I'm itching for a bath as we speak.

A pretty scarf that sparkles like the snow, which is knitted by Kate's husband's Nana. How utterly kind ?!

The most lovely green bag (I've used it straight away to put my gig words in for tonight's show)

And finally, the one that nearly had me in tears a framed print of words from my Egg Ladies band page. I adore it. And it's pink, like my hair and the band name.

Kate you have been so busy and I'm absolutely bowled over by your kindness and generosity. Thank you so much and I hope you and the family have a lovely Christmas as well as you, Janet and the rest of the Christmas gift swappers... (I just hope mine is received and liked as much as this now!)

Thrifty gift swap #1

Well, the thrifty gift swap parcels have begun to arrive and first off we have Helen, from Using My Loaf, who received this little beauty...
Today I received not one, but two parcels in the post, and had double the fun of opening my surprise packages!
I received from Thomas a music book which I can’t wait to start reading, a Orla Kiely tea towel (oh I do love me some Orla K), some very yummy looking homemade chocolate vegan cookies that I am looking forward to scoffing nibbling in front of the telly with a nice cuppa, and a print of a Daft Punk lyric which I think is homemade.
For gifts that are from someone that I have never met before, everything is spot on. I love everything, and am so pleased with everything. 
I think my favourite thing is the print - I must admit it that took me a few minutes to figure out what song the lyric was from (I would be rubbish on Nevermind the Buzzcocks!) But once I finally figured it out I just had to smile! I am a massive Daft Punk fan, be is one that needs to listen to the lyrics closer! I thought it was Take That originally!
Many thanks to Thomas for a great Thrifty Gift Swap and many thanks to Janet for organising things.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Giveaway! Vintage book art

If you pop on over to Eeep! I'm A Blogger today or tomorrow, you will find me taking part in Suzy's 12 Days Of Christmas giveaway.  Enter there to win a personalised piece of vintage book art made by my own fair hands.  But hurry up - entries close tomorrow evening.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Made: mulling sachets

These little sachets make great stocking fillers, or would be perfect tied around the neck of a wine or cider bottle as a gift for a friend.

You will need...

Two pieces of white muslin, approx. 16cm x 8cm
Ribbon to tie
Label with instructions
2 x cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice berries (if you can find them, I really struggled)
1 star anise
1 slice of dried orange (I dry mine in a very low oven for around 2 hours, turning often)

1. Sew the muslin together along three sides, leaving a 0.5cm seam allowance, to form a bag (this is much easier on a machine, as you need the sachets to be tightly sewn).  I used pinking shears to trim the seam; alternatively trim the excess down and turn right side out.
2. Put the spices into the sachet with the dried orange. 
3. Sew the top to seal, about 1/3 of the way down the bag.
4. Tie with festive ribbon and add a label with the instructions: "Remove label & ribbon.  Put the sachet in a pan with two tablespoons of brown sugar, one bottle of red wine or one litre of cider and heat gently.  Optional additions include sloe gin, rum, vanilla extract, orange juice to taste."

Monday, 9 December 2013

Thrifty gift guide

The thrifty gift swap parcels should be starting to arrive at doors up and down the country this week: I'm excited!  And if you're also needing to be thrifty when Christmas shopping for your nearest and dearest, how about some of these beautiful items, which can all be had for under £15?  Bargain!

1. I love everything designed by Bread & Jam, and this mug (via Folksy) would make a perfect gift for someone special, £8.50

2. How about picking up a poster for their favourite film? The ones designed by Claudia Varosio are stunning and simple, and only £12 to boot. I'm hard pressed to say whether I want the Ghost World or the Singin' In The Rain one more. And now she does book designs too! 

3. Oh Comely subscription, only £8 for a 6 month subscription, if you order before December 14th. I've already ordered two of these, as they make a perfect gift for those who you may not see over the festive period.
4. Rob Ryan tea towel from To Dry For, £9.95. Or if that's a little twee for your tastes, how about one emblazoned with 'A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine'. Now that's a sentiment I can get on board with.

5. For a booklover, the Pride & Prejudice brooch by House of Ismay via Folksy, £10, would be well-received.

6. Or, for the kick-ass women in your life, how about this Feminist necklace from Sugar & Vice (via Etsy), £11?

Have you spotted any bargains this Christmas?

Thursday, 5 December 2013


FEELING utterly and completely rubbish!  Every year since I began teaching, I've been ill in
November.  This year I had barely finished congratulating myself, on December 1st, for avoiding the germs, when I got sick...

EATING some yummy chocolate treats at the Leicester Vegan Fair a couple of weekends ago, and incredible veggie and vegan delights at Mildreds in Soho last Saturday.  But since then... basically anything soft and bland that won't hurt my throat or make me feel even sicker than I already do.

DRINKING the first few mulled ciders of the season, oh yes!  If you're local to Leicester, head to Manhattan 34, in the Cultural Quarter, for the very best spiced cider.

BUYING Because I have a weird aversion to chocolate, I've always wanted an old-school calendar with nothing but pictures inside, but they can be hard to find. So I leapt at the chance to buy this Bodeleian Library advent calendar from Astley Book Farm recently. And I'm totally in love with my new No7 nail polish. I'm usually the worst at femme stuff like painting my nails, but this makes it super-easy and the neutral colour means chips don't show.

VISITING friends in London for a wintery weekend of book shopping, mulled wine, warm pubs and delicious food.

MAKING a variety of Christmas gifts; putting the finishing touches to hampers, making more vintage map art (watch out for a giveaway over at Eep! I'm A Blogger later this month), and discovering that embroidery is the perfect craft for when you feel crap and can't concentrate on a book.

READING Game of Thrones, still!  After a bit of a break, I was tempted back to read A Storm Of Swords Part II by Rebecca (who rightly told me it was amazing and a surprisingly quick read) and I've just embarked on book four, A Feast For Crows.  Even better, I've got my brother hooked, so I can look forward to much GoT discussion at Christmas.