...seen through a slightly smudged, secondhand pair of rose-tinted glasses


Monday, 25 May 2015

All or nothing

Life is a little different at the moment. In a good way. My husband's home, which means I have help and company during the week for a change. Makes such a difference, a bit of sharing. I'm not nearly as tired or grumpy (so I've been told), but it does take us all a while to adjust to him being around full time. He's sort of in holiday mode: no one else is.... all the mundane everyday stuff still has to be sorted, and I'm used to things being done my way. He is not.
His expectations of the kids behaviour can also swing into the realms of unreal. I'm pretty convinced this has something to do with spending so much of his life in an army environment where he's used to people listening to him. That doesn't really happen here. Well certainly not as much as he'd like... So, it takes time for us to bumble along and meet somewhere in the middle.

The other thing is, as lovely as all this may be, it's temporary - the clock's ticking; we're getting closer and closer to the day he goes. I've got quite good at blocking out the ticking.
I've learnt not to dwell on the inevitable, not to fight this situation, because it's exhausting doing that. And depressing. It's such an old cliche, but you've got to make the most of whatever unexpected path you find yourself on - and it's so important to keep looking around as you walk; take in the view even when you don't really feel like it, and try, try to focus on the good bits, and enjoy the journey as much as you can. I might slow down a little (sanity thing again), but I'm not stopping; not putting things on hold because he's not here; not wasting 9 months.

Back to blocking out the ticking.

We haven't made an enormous amount of headway with our painting/decorating list. The hall is still a mess, though the worst chips and marks on the doors have been sanded. What is it with kids and doors? I'm half wondering why we're bothering, but I made the mistake of painting the bathroom door, which seems to have made it even more obvious how bad everything else looks.

The two of us managed a trip to Hereford, though it did end up being a predominantly admin day. We got some paint (for the hall), priced up laptops for the eldest, looked at roof racks: exciting stuff like that - and while he was in the building merchants, weighing up the benefits of concrete versus plastic garden guttering, I sneaked into charity shop and bought this rather lovely 70's J & G Meakin coffee set for three pounds. There was no way I was leaving it. Makes me think of holidays in France, with the sunflowers.

Birthdays have kept us busy this past week and been a good 'hall wall' distraction. The youngest wanted her party at home.... and I said 'yes' before I could think about it too hard. Parties at home always turn out to be more work than I remember. Usually comes flooding back by about the third batch of fairy cakes.

Thankfully on the day the sun shone; the kids ran around outside like loons; I remembered to take the sausages out of the oven, and my husband was in his element organising party games. If he was here more often I could hire him out.
We went for a seaside themed cake this time, and I think more fondant was eaten than actually went on the cake.

I'd hoped for a rainbow effect inside but was a bit heavy handed with the cochineal (it looked pale pink in the cake mix) and the sponge ended up a crazy bright fuchsia colour. Lack of cake means I can't show you.

The eldest wasn't bothered with the idea of having a party - way too cool for that stuff, now he's 13 - and he's being taken to the FA Cup final at the end of the month, which is basically all his treats for the whole year rolled into one. The kids always get to choose their Birthday tea and he asked for a prawn ring (not for sharing), pizza (ditto) and his own personal profiterole stack.
Got to love teenage boys.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Purple haze

There's a hill we drive past every day on the run to school that slowly but surely turns purple at this time of year. It is quite beautiful, and has caused the odd sudden swerve and a few yelps from the back seat...

I look forward to seeing the purple hill each morning, but it's taken me until now to stop and actually take a photo, because we're always rushing. I'd like to have got a bit closer, but we were on the way home and the kids were tired and hungry, so, not the day for that. Still, I've promised myself I'll make the time to wander up there soon, before the bluebells fade.

The Gallery this week is all about landscapes, so why not pop over and enjoy the view?

Monday, 11 May 2015

Savoury cheese muffins with wild garlic and fennel

Love the idea of heading out for a walk in the countryside and finding fresh wild food, but my foraging skills are limited to the blatantly obvious - things like blackberries, wild strawberries, elderflower, rosehips - ones where there's no speck of doubt! Going on a course would help, and I've talked about doing that for ages, but it always slips off the 'would be good to do' list.
We found a puffball mushroom the size of a football a while a go, and even though it really couldn't be mistaken for anything else, there was still this slight niggle about actually cooking and eating it. Silly really because it was delicious. And lasted for days.

Wild garlic is good foraging fodder at the moment, and luckily we have quite a few patches around the garden. The foliage isn't unlike a lot of other healthy green, shiny weeds growing like triffids at the moment, but crush a leaf between your fingers and there's no mistaking that pungent smell. The raw leaves have a strong, fiery taste, though really come into their own when cooked. Even more delicate than garlic, a bit like chives, and a lovely alternative to spinach wilted in some olive oil or butter.

Best picked April/May time, before there are too many star-like white flowers, when the leaves can get tough and bitter - you can eat the flowers too though. Probably coming toward the end of the season now, but the leaves still taste good to me. Wild garlic is usually found in woodland among the bluebells, or in marshy, damp places.
Says a lot about our garden...

It doesn't take long to pick, my daughter knows the best spots now, and you don't need much anyway. Often chop up a few leaves and add them to pasta sauce or risotto, but the thing everyone seems to like the best are these wild garlic, cheese and fennel muffins. They're a savoury-loving lot my kids.

280g of wholemeal or plain flour
3 teaspoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons of sugar
75g of grated cheddar + 25g grated parmesan (or 100g of whatever cheese you have in the fridge)
10 wild garlic leaves finely chopped
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1 egg
100ml plain yogurt and 200ml of milk (or 300ml of milk)
90 ml of vegetable oil
Makes about 10 muffins
190-200 degrees C, Gas Mark 5-6

Put the cases in the muffin tin - they tend to stick to the cases more than sweet ones, so if you prefer, do away with them and lightly oil the tin instead.

Add the flour, baking powder and sugar to a large bowl and stir in most of the grated cheese. Leave a little to sprinkle on top of the muffins.

In a measuring jug dollop in the yogurt, top up to 300ml with the milk, and then pour in 90ml of vegetable oil. Crack the egg into this liquidy concoction and beat with a fork.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, add the chopped wild garlic and the fennel seeds and mix together. Don't over-stir though. The mixture will be quite sloppy.

Spoon into the cases and sprinkle on the leftover cheese.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the tops are golden brow and spring back when pressed gently.

Best served fresh and warm - though not at all bad reheated with a little spread of butter...


Monday, 4 May 2015

Dressing up

It's been an age since I posted any secondhand buys…and there have been a few…mostly pretty run of the mill though - no heart pounders, well, not until I had a bit of success at the local auction recently, but more on that in a minute.

Seem to have gone a bit overboard on dresses! Think it's because in my head I am a person who wears dresses, but that's usually as far as it goes. When I drag myself out of bed at 6am, jeans and a top are about all I can cope with. I don't seem to be able to contemplate anything else that early in the morning. Luckily none of these dresses cost more than a fiver, so the guilt's not so bad if they end up staying in the cupboard.

I was thinking summer holidays in France when I got these two - both Fat Face. I really like the blue dress, but it's a bit on the tight side and might be heading for the ebay pile.

Long blue floral dress is by Coast and the bold green and brown shift is Hobbs. Nicer on than it looks I think.

Never in a month of Sundays thought I'd buy a full length velvet Laura Ashley dress, I mean never. Honestly the first thing that crossed my mind when I saw it on the Charity shop rail was, 'army formal do', but it's been a long time since I went to one of those, and that's not the reason I bought it. I bought it because it was £2.50. Can't resist that kind of a bargain. And if I don't ever wear it I could make some very nice velvet cushions.

This has been a whole lot more useful. Just a few pounds and a perfect size for my knitting stuff.

Could do with prettying up my bedding, and these pillowcases were still in their vintage looking packaging. Lovely embroidered flowers.

Two jackets - one denim, the other cord. Thought I could jazz them up with a bit of colourful crochet. Another project to add to the list.

Things have been so busy recently I kept missing the local auction just down the road from us. Spotted the signs up the other week though, and managed to get to the Friday viewing. I'll never tire of looking around auctions; they are endlessly fascinating - especially when there's been a big house clearance. Some of the old farms around here haven't been touched for decades, they're like museums. A glimpse back, and a reminder of the incredible amount of stuff we gather around us. It's like wandering through someone's life, laid out in lines - can't help thinking that sometimes.

Anyway, I left some commission bids, because Saturdays are no longer a day a leisure, as we're usually ferrying the kids somewhere or other. I got a phone message on the Monday saying I'd won two lots on my list - slight grip of panic, because on a bit of a whim I'd bid on two lovely old, but very large cupboards that needed a lot of work. At the time it hadn't really crossed my mind to think about how I was going to get them home. By the time I got down to the auction house I'd convinced myself I'd won the cupboards, but luckily not - the two I picked up were actually my favourite lots. Now that doesn't happen very often.

So pleased with this pretty garden table and chair for £28. Things like this often turn up at the auction, but I've almost fallen over myself a few times, trying to lift a heavy looking table that's turned out to be as light as a feather. This one's not an imitation, it's cast iron and weighty. Also quite rusty, but I like a bit of rust, as long as it's not terminal.

I also picked up this old oak school desk for my daughter who really wanted one for her room - £14 which I thought wasn't bad, and at last a home for my decoupage chair that's been floating around the house for months.

My husband is home now until he goes away on tour, so, a few months together, which is lovely and a bit of a novelty to be honest. Obviously we'll have just got used to him being around and then he'll be away again. All or nothing, that's how it seems to be.
Haven't really told him yet, but I have many plans for the weeks ahead - mainly of the painting/decorating/repairing variety, which I'm sure he's going to be thrilled about….but I'll give him a day or two...

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Fish, bash, box

Hasn't been so bad really, getting back into the school run swing; so much easier when the morning's are light and the sun's shining. Helps too that everyone's well rested after the holidays, probably because we didn't do much. Not a lot of planning went on beforehand, thanks to all the book business, so the end of term sort of snuck up on me. It wasn't until the last day, when one of the mums asked what we were doing over Easter that I felt a twist of panic - the thought of bored kids bouncing off the walls at home for a few weeks. But, it all worked out fine. Sometimes it pays to go with the flow, especially when the weather's good.

So we had the kids' friends round and packed them off on a few sleepovers, and generally made the most of being outside. I managed to pick up a lovely old Galt climbing frame on Freecycle - it's probably a bit on the small side for the not so little, littlest, but she had a merry old time shipping half her toys out and making dens. Not so good at shipping them back again.

I took the kids on a day trip to Birmingham to the Sea Life Aquarium.once I'd been through all the drawers in the kitchen and found the Tesco Clubcard tickets. I was on a mission to find them, seeing as the last ones I got for the West Midland Safari Park where put in such a safe place I forgot about them until they were out of date.

No surprises, the Aquarium was packed, but we had such a happy few hours there. The kids loved the penguins and walking through the tunnel - turtles and stingrays swimming overhead in their watery world. We watched a short version of Happy Feet in the 4D cinema, which wasn't half bad either. A bit of grizzling on the way back, but I got a 'best day ever' from the 10 year old. They're worth the wait, those moments.

I dug out our trusty old B&M fire pit - twenty quid well spent I've got to say. We lit it a few evenings and cooked some Damper bread over the embers - camping bread from Australia originally I think. If you've never tried it, it's worth a go, for the fun value alone - and the bread's okay-ish! The kids just seem to love anything they've cooked over a fire. 

So easy to make too - just mix 250g of self-raising flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of salt and 150ml of water. Work it into a dough on a floured surface, then divide into about six balls, roll them into long sausage shapes and wrap round some clean sticks, tucking the ends in to stop them falling into the flames. Remember to remove any flaky barksomething we forgot to do the first time round; and let the fire settle before you cook them over the embers - impatience meant we had a few burnt on the outside, doughy on the inside offerings. And several sticks on fire.

Managed a bit of holiday crafting - not so much kids stuff, apart from the paper flowers, because my enthusiasm has somewhat waned... but I did have a rather successful knit. I'd been trying to think what to give a great friend for her Birthday - she loves her boxers to distraction, so I searched 'knit a boxer dog' online and sure enough, up popped this fantastic book, 'Best in Show - 25 more dogs to knit'  The knit bit wasn't that bad, but I got into quite a muddle sewing it up. Took ages! But I was really pleased with how the dog turned out, and she loved it.

Got back into some napkin decoupage as well, with this box for a friend who had a baby recently. A lot quicker to do than the boxer can I just say. Love the birds and the cat - just my thing - hoping it's hers too!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Paper primrose posy

There was a steep, grassy bank near our house when I was little. It was a great thinking spot - sitting up high, looking out over the garden, and at this time of year it was covered in primroses - a soft, delicate blanket of yellow. Anytime I see them now it takes me right back. So, these paper primroses are a nod to my wildflower bank, where I got lost in big, happy dreams.

They’re based on the paper daisy folding technique - though a little different because the petals are sort of heart shaped.

You will need:
yellow and green paper or plain paper to paint
sheet of newspaper
small plastic flower pot or yogurt pot
yellow and orange paint
PVA craft glue
Two small bottles or pots, for circle templates. One a little bigger than the other (for leaves).

If you have a small plastic flower pot, then that’s perfect - we didn’t, so I rubbed some sandpaper over a yogurt pot to take the sheen off, and painted it with multi-surface primer the night before. 

Make up some terracotta coloured paint using ready-mixed poster or acrylic paints. 

Mix red and yellow together and add just a little blue - then a good amount of white until you’re happy with the colour. I find adding white helps cover shiny, awkward surfaces like this - it works a treat on the outside of cereal box card too.

To speed things up, you could always cover the writing on the yogurt pot with a piece of colourful wrapping paper cut to size. Cut this strip into smaller sections so it’s easier to glue neatly to the pot. 

While the glue or the paint is drying, draw round the smaller circle template for your primrose and cut it out.

Fold the circle in half, then half again.

Draw a straight line up from the tip to the top, and make a mark halfway along the line.
Draw another line passing through this point from side to side .

Then draw the rounded top part of a petal (like a semi-circle), from the point where the lines cross, curved up to the top and back down to the end of the line on both sides.  Make sure they look alike.

Carefully cut round the petal tips with small scissors and when you’re happy they look even, open up your primrose.

To make the flower centre, put a small dab of orange in the middle, and two short, thick strokes of yellow, touching the orange, at the base of two heart-shaped petals.
Fold the flower in half, gently pressing the sides together.

Put two tiny touches of orange at the end of the original two yellow strokes and fold again. They’ll all be just that little bit different.

To make the leaves, draw round your larger circle template and cut it out.

Fold this in half, then half again.

About a cm up from the tip, draw a line straight across and mark a halfway point.

Draw a curved half leaf shape from this point to the top corner and repeat on the other side, so both look alike.

Cut carefully around the leaf tops and open up.

Put a dab of glue on the back of a flower and stick it onto a leaf. Make about 10 or 12.

Scrunch up the sheet of newspaper and stick it into the flower or yogurt pot, making sure a decent amount of it sits proud in a good mound shape.

Glue on your primroses

overlap them, as that’s the way they like to be - bunched up close together.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Easy paper flowers

We're festooned with  flowers at the moment…mostly cheery, bright cardboard and paper ones. It all started with egg box roses, daffs and snowdrops a few weeks ago, and now there are paper daisies sprinkled around the kitchen like flower confetti! 

They are really easy to make and useful for other projects too.

You will need:
Coloured paper or plain paper to paint
General purpose scissors

For the other projects:
Small scissors (like nail scissors)
Ball of plasticine or modelling clay
Pipe cleaner
White card
Ribbon, braid, string
PVA craft glue

1.  Find things to draw around in the kitchen, like tins, jars or side plates.

2.  It's best to start with a big circle first, to get some practice. Draw around your shape and cut it out.

3  Fold the circle in half, then in quarters and then eighths.

4.  About 1cm (1/2") up from the tip, draw a line straight across and mark it in the middle.

5.  Draw a petal shape from this mark to a top corner and repeat on the other side, making sure the petals look alike.

6.  Then, cut carefully along the pencil lines, making sure the tip of both petals stays pointy - and open up your flower.

7.  When you've made a few and feel more confident, try some smaller circles, so you can build up  flowers with a few petal layers.

8.  If you'd like to make a daisy to add to a spring flower posy, put one of your cut-outs on a ball of plasticine and push the closed tip of the small scissors through the middle of the paper. Don't make the hole too big.

9.  Push a pipe cleaner up through the hole and bend the top 3cm (1") over at a right-angle - then carefully spiral the bendy wire around itself, to make the centre of you flower. Push the paper back up under the pipe cleaner centre.

Making some flower bunting or a daisy chain is another fun thing to do with your cut-out flowers.

10. Find a longish piece ribbon or something similar, and cut to the length you want for your bunting. We used quite thin sequin braid, with a bit of sparkle, but to be honest thicker is better for stable bunting that doesn't swing about too much. 

11. Chose three different sized circles - for the outer petals, inner petals and the centre. 

12. A bottle lid makes a good centre circle template - we went for yellow middles, but pick whatever colour you like. Cut out flowers from the other bigger circles, and make enough of each to space out along your ribbon (roughly 20cm (8") between our flowers). 

13. Glue the centres in the middle of the inner petals, then brush a good amount of glue all over the middle section of the biggest flower and lay the ribbon over it, a little above the halfway point, to stop it flipping over when it's hanging up.

14. Next, dab a bit more glue on the back of the inner petals and stick them down over the ribbon and position so the petals are between the ones below.

15. Repeat along your ribbon - use a ruler or tape measure to space them evenly - then leave to dry.

16. To make a daisy chain, cut out white flowers with yellow centres and glue them straight onto the ribbon. The small yellow centres can be more fiddly to cut, so, if you want just paint them on instead.

17. Smaller flowers make lovely card decorations too. My daughter made these - some with painted centres and some with buttons, which works really well. The vase is cut out from an old birthday card.

I've had a little primrose idea….

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