Friday, 30 April 2010

Under Pressure

'Would you like a beef stew?' asked Mr Lovelygrey as I walked through the door one evening. A box of tough old stewing steak was on the kitchen table. 'That would be nice', I replied, 'But how are you going to cook it before midnight?'. 'Easy,' he replied. 'I'll use the pressure cooker.' And forty five minutes late a perfect meal was served up. Just like its slow cooked counterparts it was tender and delicious.

Mama Lovelygrey had one of these contraptions that she used frequently. It was a terrifying object that, like some of the geysers at Yellowstone (Beehive springs to mind), would sometimes unpredictably let out a burst of ear shattering steam.   Thankfully, we own a more modern version that is a pussycat compared to its ancestors. It sits on the hob  puffing away benevolently.

Although we've had our pressure cooker for some time now it's recently been put to use a little more frequently. The results are scrummy enough to make a case for resurrecting this old cooking method. General instructions for use and adapting message can be found at the recipes4us website.  Reading this also gave me a bit of a laugh as I imagnined the carnage caused if the instruction 'not to deep fry under pressure' was ignored.

So on the grounds of producing food I'd wholeheartedly recommend one. And the reduced cooking times provide a thrify alternative conventional cooking methods.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Election Special: Tick the Box to Find Your Perfect Boy!

How do you decide how to vote if you don't want to be subjected to endless election broadcasts?  Easy - if  like me, you're from the generation  when teen magazines gave you  all the advice that you ever needed, you do a quiz.  Then choosing your candidate is just as easy as finding the type of boy that you'd like to go out with.

I did a Google search and  the websites of Who Should You Vote ForChannel 4 News and Vote Match are a selection of the many questionnaires on offer.  And I did all three to see if the results matched up.  It wasn't much of a shock that they didn't. So my date still could be:  (Mostly As)  the boy who'd make the best Widow Twanky (Mostly Bs)  the one with the impossibly smooth skin or (Mostly Cs) the guy that looks like he could star in a 'Just for Men' ad.  The choice is overwhelming.

Has doing this exercise influenced the way that I will vote?  Not really but it did  leave me a bit more informed about what each party stood for.  I also wanted to be a bit more impartial about the parties that I thought I'd never vote for in a million years in case they had changed fundamentally and their values were the best match for those of my own.  Surprise, surprise they hadn't!

One I Made Earlier: Cactus Kitsch

Mr Lovelygrey hates this pot but he just doesn't get kitsch.   So it sits in my study for my own personal pleasure and houses an extra large cactus.    I made this to use up a surplus of blue tiles that I had from a mixed batch and was so pleased with the end result that I get rid of  surplus black tiles to create the background for a wacky space scene on another ceramic flowerpot.  I let my imagination run riot and depicted, amongst other things, an alien, a rocket and a flying saucer and houses a large purple spiky extra-terrestrial plant.  Sadly I can't take a photo of the end result as it has pride of place in my sister's garden which is 250 miles away!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Happy Accidents

I love stories about how cock ups can sometimes lead to amazing discoveries.  Like the messy worker Alexander Fleming whose cultures of staphylococci were attacked by a fungus in his laboratory that happened to be penicillin.  And there's a new drug that's undergoing trials at the moment which came about after a scientist found that  an old anti-malarial remedy, methylene blue, that he was using to dye the tangles associated with dementia seemed to repair damaged cells!

I had a similiar Eureka! moment after Louis' swimming lesson yesterday although I will admit that it is not quite so earth shattering.  Perhaps because I was so pleased at finding swimming goggles that had been missing for an age, I forgot to take his towel.  So instead I popped my fluffy polar fleece over his head  and we got out of the swimming pool super quick as  Louis  was so pleased with my hoodie's cosiness quotient that  he decided he'd like to wear it in the car.  He was insisted on wearing it in the house until bedtime.  So now, I'm on a mission to find an old adult sized hooded fleece in a charity shop that can be used  to replace a towel after indoor pool sesssions and on the beach!

Monday, 26 April 2010

The Citalopram Fan Club

I thought that this post would be a doddle and take just a few minutes to write but it's been hard to express what I want to say.  All  I want to convey today  is how helpful it can be to speak to a GP when consistently down in the dumps or anxious. And if they think you need an anti-depressant please consider taking one even if you feel that tablets are not for you or that  'dependency' on such medication confers some stigma.. It could make a world of difference.

I lived with low mood and anxiety for many years and tried multiple self help techniques that, did not completely cut the mustard.  But then as things started to slip further and further, I reluctantly sought medical help and after just one week of taking citalopram I started to notice a difference.  When the drugs had kicked in properly I no longer felt that I had my own personal tiger who was chasing me in a perpetual state of heightened anxiety, that unbelievably I believed was normal.  I also became less traumatised by criticism, both from myself and other, and with that my risk taking increased in a very positive way. 

For the most part I remain content and fulfilled now by  maintaining relationships with friends and family,  ignoring, as far as possible, the political and bureaucratic dross at work and instead focus on making a difference to others by what I do, and pursuing mad creative projects and outdoor pursuits in my leisure time.  Certainly some cognitive behavioural therapy techniques and formal and practical mindfulness practice have been valuable in keeping my gremlins at bay. But the chemical top up that medication provide certainly puts the cherry on the top!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Needlepoint on the Run

The motorhome is so compact that things must be kept ship shape.  Otherwise all hell would break loose and the the multi-purpose nature of flat surfaces could well mean a high risk of inedible objects in food, if say, I were to bring mosaic or jewellery projects on holiday with me.  And space is so limited that there just isn't room to take the additional tools and equipment that I might need. 

But I find craft activities so relaxing that I want them to be a feature of my ultimate leisure time, a holiday. I have found needlepoint  fits the bill perfectly for a van based activity. The frame can be tucked away down the side of the seat and the wool used is easy to clear away and store too.

Here's the Ehrman design that's been work in progress on each trip away for the last year.  Not finished yet but by the end of the 2010 itinerary of trips to France, a festival and local getaways I'm hoping to produce a finished cushion which will be a lovely memento of leisure time spent profitably.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

One I Made Earlier: Map of Clay

Quick one today as we're off in the motorhome to make the most of the sunshine before service resumes and the normal wild and wet Devonian weather is back.

I've enjoyed pottery at various times of my life but have to admit I'm not particularly good at it.  It was the construction and finishing the piece before firing that was problemmatic.  Everything turned out, well, rough and wonky and trying to  put things right normally made it worse.  Decoration was more my forte which is probably why I'm  happy with ceramic painting these days.

But there are a few things that I'm happy to display despite their imperfections and this dish is one of them.  It was decorated with various coloured slips and then coated in clear glaze.  I  felt that this design which  used an Ordnance Survey map as a design source was worth sharing. The colours and stylised nature of the cartography lend themselves to being used as a the basis of many types of craft project.  And depicting an area that is familiar and loved gives the finished piece a very personalised nature.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Fretting over Ferry Carbon Offsets

Since hearing that ferries produced half as much carbon per passenger mile as the well publicised bad boys of the air  I started to consider the impact of  our quarterly cross channel trips.  It didn't occur to me that this type journey wasn't 'green'.  Duuuh! - a great big ship belching out muck and consuming loads of oil - what was I thinking!

I had little success on-line in trying to ascertain the amount of carbon that I needed to offset. There's a website called Ferrygreen  on which you're supposed to be able to do this but perhaps the recent volcanic disruption messed it up and I had little joy  when I tried to input the 183km Plymouth-Roscoff route that we usually take. So I contacted our excellent local ferry company, Brittany Ferries  who advised me that a survey by the Passenger Shipping Association concluded that the average car ferry emitted 0.10kg of carbon dioxide every kilometre that an each passenger travels.  Now the cost of carbon offset varies dependent on the type of project supported, but is currently between £7.50 and £16 per tonne.   A quick calculation suggested that carbon emissions for our ferry crossings each year were only estimated to be  0.44 tonnes so a  donation of £10 would be more than sufficient to compensate for damage done.

So, does this give me a warm and fuzzy feeling?  Not reall
y.  Although I am only one quarter Catholic from a familial point of view, the Church of Rome's guilt gene must be a pretty dominant thing.   What I have learnt is everything has a cost and although it is easy to dole out a wad this is not ideal.  Gaining an appreciation of the effect of our personal consumption and making  practical changes to reduce this is a more satisfactory and satisfying solution.  And air travel is so carbon hungry that the frequency of trips, especially long haul really do need to be minimised.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Veg Box Tales: Wild Garlic

Our veg box has transformed the way we shop and think about the seasonality of what we eat.  Most of our meals tend to revolve around what has been delivered in the last week and although there's a bit of grumbling about the relative lack of variety in late winter/early spring, even this time of the year yields a few surprises.  Anyway it's not a bad thing learning to be creative with cabbage!

Last week's box from our local supplier Riverford contained wild garlic which grows in abundance in the woodland around these parts.  We've toyed with the idea of eating it in the past but never got round to it.  However, this wild garlic risotto made from the instructions on Riverford's recipe page has given us just the kick up the bum that we needed to go out and gather some more to make good use of this lovely seasonal ingredient.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Just finished reading at last!: This Charming Man by Marian Keyes

A recent-ish trip to the library yielded Contented Dementia by Oliver James and  This Charming Man by Marian Keyes.  I've been meaning to read the Oliver James book for a while as I was repeatedly hearing it mentioned in my work as an occupational therapist working with older people with mental health problems.  However, to be honest, I wasn't relishing this because of my experience of reading Affluenza by the same author and the mixed feelings that this invoked (see my second ever  blog of 5 March) So, bearing in mind my deeply ingrained habit of procrastination it wasn't surprising that the prospect of a lighthearted, funny story drew me to start the 'chick lit' first.

Now I've enjoyed Marian Keye's stuff before and found her work to be well written and just the type of easy reading that I  need before turning in for a night of peaceful sleep.   But this was not the experience that I was expecting.  The book was over 800 pages and I felt that some judicious editing might have improved my view of the story which tackles the challenging subject matters of alcoholism amd domestic violence.   It was so..oooo long and different from the lighter subject mattter tackled by this author in her other books that I'd read.    However there were still some moments that made me chuckle inwardly and I especially liked Bid, the no nonsense character with lung cancer.

PS:  One character plays Leonard Cohen record whilst lying on bed when distraught.  As Number 1 fan I do not agree with stereotype view that the maestro's music  a) is the preferred choice for depressed people or b) makes happy people want to slit their wrists.  I can testify that I have had many life affirming moments listening to Leonard!
PPS:  On plus side, prodigious use is made of the metaphor 'rough as a badger's arse' which is a favourite expression of mine and deserves  literary recognition.  Not sure how accurate this description is as I've never touched a badger's rear end.  In two minds about whether I want to be enlightened on this in the future.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Muesli Musings

My breakfast cereal has, over the years,  metamorphisised  into something so extravagant that a post about it could not possibly come under a 'Thrifty' heading.  Every day, bar one at the weekend when I breakfast on egg on toast (and also in France when Lidl's excellent Master Crumble version suffices) I  tuck into my own home made muesli.

A big bowl of the stuff takes about ten minutes to make.  It would be quicker if  I didn't, for example, store pine nuts in a container marked 'ground almonds' and then spend an age opening loads of containers trying to find them.  Currently I use the following ingredients in variable quantities according to what looks right at the time.

  •  Jumbo Oats  that are as fat as possible
  • Malted Wheat Flakes from a healthfood shop
  • Pumpkin and Sunflower seeds, normally from Julian Graves
  • Linseeds  from a healthfood shop that apparently 'keeps me regular!'
  • Hemp seeds but not sure why I started adding these
  • Raisins
  • Lidl's Dried Fruit Slices and their Nuts Royale blizzed to a sticky pulp in the food processor
  • Banana chips - lots more than I would add if  Louis didn't nick them out of my bowl to put on his Weetabix
  • Pine Nuts
  • Dried cranberries which add a pleasing tang to the mixture
  • A handful of Julian Grave's Hawaiian mix
  • Coconut Flakes
  • Goji berries which I personally think are pretty nasty but counteract the nice but unhealthy yoghurt raisins in the Hawaiian mix.
So a super duper start to the day which seems to fill me up sufficiently so that I rarely feel the need to snack before lunchtime, although sometimes do anyway especially if someone has left a box of Thornton's chocolates in the office!

Monday, 19 April 2010

A Truly Handy Viz-Like Hint

Odd picture today, I know,  but  it  illustrates a truly genius idea for those who commute to work by car.  Mr Lovelygrey lays claim to it but so does our wonderful team secretary who won a prize from a magazine for submitting it to their letters page.

So...thousands of workers pop out to do some shopping in their lunch hour and then put their goodies in the fridge back at work.  But how do you remember to take away he stuff that you need for your dinner at the end of the day?  I can't be the only person  who's arrived home and found that they've left essential ingredients or, more importantly, a beautifully chilled bottle of Sauvignon back at the office.  Although a note stuck near your workspace sometimes does the trick  I, with my goldfish-like attention span,  can vouch for this not being completely  failsafe.

But this fantastic solution means that you don't leave without your shopping even though it sometimes takes an age to remember that the car keys are  in the fridge!

Sunday, 18 April 2010


I've never enjoyed trips to the hairdressers and can't understand why others view them as a pampering experience. Then there's the cost of upkeep. My funky short hair reverts, in a bad way, to a bouffanty groomed Italian man style after about three weeks.

Now Mr Lovelygrey has used clippers for a number of years and since, Louis has had enough hair he's been subjected to the same treatment, even though it provokes the same tortured screams as when I cut his toenails. About six years ago, after the hairdresser had used exactly the same method to trim my hair AND I'd paid twenty pounds for the privilege I thought I'd give it a go myself.

Please note  the potential for disaster that this decision could have had. In spite of my creative tendencies I have variously been described  as cack handed, accident prone and ham fisted and in most of my practical endeavours there is an element of crisis. But how terrible could it be? With a mop that grows at the rate of bamboo my resultant 'bad hair day' would only have lasted a couple of week. Surprisingly, given my history, my first home hairstyling experience was remarkably successful. Using clippers is remarkably easy and even trimming my 'lady sideburns' with scissors presents no problem (Mr Lovelygrey trims the back).

Now I've tried a set of Remington clippers which were fundamentally flawed because they didn't cut properly. This doesn't bode well for all those men who receive a gift of nose hair clippers in response to their Christmas advertising. But I digress....Our Wahl clippers which are similar to those in the photo above come highly recommended by the Lovelygrey family and cost about the same as one trip to the hair salon. They come with attachment combs which cut hair to different length which are graded 1-8. Now I found size 8, which is the longest attachment, a little too short but here's an inexpensive source of size 10 and 12 combs

Okay, so it's not a tip that everyone would want to use, especially those with long flowing locks or for that strange bunch of people who think that sitting in a salon is a treat.  But I reckon a annual saving for the three of us of at least £500-600 is worth sharing.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

One I Made Earlier: Seabird Cushion

For many years I've dabbled with needlepoint.  I've never been confident enough to come up with my own designs but like working on painted canvases that preferably come in kit form so that even the 'hard work' of buying the wool has been done for me.

I didn't make this cushion from a kit but used a gridded design from  Designer Needlepoint  which was edited by Hugh Ehrman.  This  is still available from the Amazon Marketplace and when I looked there were a lot of 99p copies for sale.  Happily though there is an easier way of replicating this design as  Ehrman Tapestry  still produce this in kit form, currently available online in their sale.

When making up a needlepoint I like to work on a canvas that has 10 holes to the inch.  Beware of more intricate 12 hole plus designs if you're the impatient type.   As I learnt from another project that I completed from the same book, having to stitch 144 half crosses to an inch compared to 100 really slows down progress. Unfortunately I don't have the finished article to show off but have scanned the relevant page to show you this beautiful design which is  inspired from a wall hanging in London's  V&A Museum. This was a 12 hole cushion I made as a wedding present for a friend which I optimistically started just two and a half weeks before the big day. Stitching day after day for hours and hours made be so  sick and tired of needlepoint  that I didn't complete another for some years  When I was finally stretching the darned thing to  make up the cushion disaster struck and the canvas tore, necessitating a midnight repair the day before the wedding.  Happily, the tortured emotions relating to this experience have now diminished and my 'nightmare' cushion has become an heirloom for my friend's kids so may have ultimately become worth the hard work.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Glazing Over

This post seems a bit boring to me.  Somehow the potential of money-saving or recycling ideas that involve, say, re-using toilet rolls grab my imagination far more than replacing windows.  But we saved £6,500 with this 'ploy' so I reckon it's worth sharing.

When we bought Lovelygrey Villas, a fine  example of the artisan  homes that Messrs. Barratt built in the 1980s, there was condensation running down the inside of the south facing windows at the front of the house.  Also the faux leading  throughout the property was firstly naff and secondly affected the light levels in the house.  It seemed that replacing double glazing was going to be on our DIY To Do list from an aesthetic and environmental point of view.

Mr Lovelygrey then heard that you could just replace the glass bits, called sealed units, and keep the frames.  He made enquiries to a local double glazing firm who poohed poohed the idea on the basis that our window frames were too old.  They suggested that the replacement cost of windows would be  an alarming £8,000.  With his eyes watering from this quote Mr Lovelygrey approached a local glazing firm for a second opinion.  They thought that his idea was a goer and a few weeks later they fitted new sealed units minus leading.  £1,500 well spent as I can now admire the lovely view and we are also insulated from the feisty winds that regularly blow down the valley.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Latest Ceramic Offerings

The 'Camper Cuppa' teapot (see my post of 18 March ) was so successful  that I was commissioned to make another for the house.  Yet another excuse to visit China Blue in Totnes and I collected our latest creations today.  Overall, I  like my design but wish that I'd use block colour for the black background rather than a sponged effect.

Louis was pleased to come too as he had a project in mind.  Every morning he needs more milk on his Weetabix but struggles with manoeuvring a six pint milk carton out of fridge and then pouring.extra into his bowl.  We decided that his own special jug would solve the spillage problem.  So he came up with his rocket design which has a nice abstract flavour.

So that I could spend some time on my teapot I let Louis make an extra piece.  He was very secretive about his painting and wouldn't let me look at the finished article while we paid.  He presented me with his present today and I'm delighted with the result.   For a child who lacks confidence in his creative abilities he's made something that I will treasure.  Now, I just need to think of where it is best to display this.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Thought for the Day: You're worth it?

I've started to feel a bit sorry for the ΓΌber-rich.  Take Posh Spice for example.  So much of what she has is luxurious.  Numerous Birkin bags, Beckingham Palace(s) and  a designer treehouse for her sons.  When I looked at this picture it came to mind that even her grey underwear resulted from a designer's fantasy rather the washing accident that created my own.  However, on second glance what I originally believed was a bra could be the top of a dress!

But how in such a 'perfect' world when you have consistent access to the finest possessions, tastes and experiences that the world can offer are you able to treat yourself.   Do you become less tolerant if things don't always match up to the ideal vision?  And surely access to constant luxury must dull the sense of excitement..  How do you pamper yourself when the extra special becomes run of the mill.?

So even though 'I'm worth it' I don't see this as an excuse for spoiling myself with lots of material purchases on a regular basis.  Rather I now limit the amount of treats that I buy so that they retain their specialness.   My experiment to limit clothes buying, as far as possible, to a twice yearly wardroble update means that seems like opening presents during childhood Christmases.  This is much more satisfying than lunchtime impulse purchases on a regular basis.   Eating out less frequently has meant that this is more of an event, even more so as we are inclined to 'splash out' and go somewhere a bit nicer. 

I'm becoming more adept at noticing the everyday things that bring moments of pleasure to my life at little or no expense.  Here's the list I've come up with so far.
  • Watching the birds in the garden whilst eating breakfast
  • Egg and chips - Runny yolk with the underside of the white like a brown lace doily!
  • Perfurmed soap from Provence
  • Sardines on toast
  • A trip to the library
  • Freshly laundered clothes that have been dried  in the garden
  • A squirt of Chanel No.19
  • Beachcombing
  • Sunshine on my face.
I  now challenge Posh to come up with her own!

    Tuesday, 13 April 2010

    Mama's Makes: White Stuff 'Knock Off' Skirt

    The Making things Gene definitely comes from Mama Lovelygrey who, throughout my childhood, was a prolific crafter. In her later years she's become a keen gardener and allotment owner, somehow managing to grow fruit and vegetables to die for from the rock hard Essex clay soil. This keeps her busy throughout the summer but in the winter she has less to do.  A couple of years ago I got fed up paying £40 and upwards for skirts and tunic from shops such as White Stuff, Boden and Joules. I loved the fabrics of the things that I'd bought but surely the designs were simple enough to make yourself?  Also, I was conjuring up designs in my head for clothing that wasn't available on the high street.  However I didn't have time to run things up myself.  So,  Mama LG readily agreed to be my seamstress and now makes clothes for me in the colder and darker months to keep boredom at bay.

    I arrive on my Easter visits, not only looking forward to seeing family but also to collecting the lovely things that have been created to supplement my wardrobe.  These cost much less than the clothes I was spending before.  Okay, I could buy cheaper at Primark or Peacocks but the quality is so much better and I value the uniqueness of my 'designs'. I buy most of the material on-line from Ebay and other on-line stores such as the examples given here.  Dressmaking patterns are expensive but, as you will see in future posts, can be used time and time again.

    This is one I've picked up this time,  reminiscent of a couple of White Stuff skirts that I own.  It's made from Butterick pattern B4461  and cost less than £20 even after taking into account the price of the pattern.  The exact permutation of ribbon trim wasn't shown in the design but it didn't take rocket science to estimate the amount needed by comparing it with other designs on the pack (about 5 metres).  I wanted a nautical design specifically to wear with the natty Breton Tops that I've picked up on my travels in France.  This fabric isn't intended for dressmaking, rather for interior design, but I've found that you can produce some interesting eye catching details if stuff intended for curtains is not ruled out (e.g. IKEA's range of cottons).

    Monday, 12 April 2010

    Stamps: Little Sources of Inspiration

    It may look like I've been a bit slack on the creative front but I swear that things are in the pipeline to share soon.  In the meantime .. still in Southend visiting my Mum and Dad (with ongoing project in progress in the garden!) and I'm picking up some of the things from my childhood to take back home.  One of these is the stamp album that I had as a child. Pretty geeky I know but I'm hope to exonerate myself by explaining that the purpose of the collection wasn't to display rare or expensive examples.  Anyway my pocket money didn't stretch to this.  What I had was a collection of tiny little works of art which now discovered again will undoubtedly be a useful source of ideas for future craft projects.

    Sunday, 11 April 2010

    Love Affair With Lidl

    Could have just showed the Lidl logo here but thought that would be boring so downloaded this cartoon instead.  Unfortunately I don't understand German so am running the risk of this being obscene or just plain unfunny. Still, sometimes in life you have to take a chance

    The whiter than white LovelyGrey would shop exclusively organic and local, recycle everything and give half of her earnings to charity. Sadly,  the real life version reveals tendencies towards the darker end of the spectrum and perhaps shopping at a discount supermarket is one of these.  After all,  the entry on Wikipedia alludes to the questionnable treatment of Lidl staff and there's always the argument too about the ethics of 'cheap food'.

    But I am drawn to the random quality of the bins full of special offers where over the years, in addition to my planned purchase of say, bread flour and olive oil I've picked up a natty pink pair of surf shoes, a TV stand, a big fluffy cream blanket, a set of pliers (more on these in a later post), a bench to put shoes on in the hall, a bike computer, a hot air gun, an electric hand mixer....the list goes on and on.

    And so, onto the foodstuff. The fruit and veg is always high quality and supplements my veg box supplies. For example, the other day I was compelled to impulse purchase a beautiful shiny aubergine and massive baking potatoes(as well as a miniature bike pump!). The aformentioned white bread flour makes a consistently good loaf and the extra virgin olive oil is good enough to dunk bread in. Also worthy of mention are the parmesan reggiano, wonderful posh chocolate, the Christmas mini stollen, tinned sardines and mackerel, Greek yoghurt, cereal bars, expresso coffee and their non biological washing powder. This last item is of special note as some eczema sufferers who have  previously found they can only tolerate clothes being washed in Persil find that his much cheaper version is  kind to sensitive skin too.  Money Saving Supermarket  gives some extra ideas of items that other people like in all the major discount supermarkets.

    For me, cheap meat is a step too far down the path of the devil and, apart from the Prosciutto and Serrano hams and the occasional bit of chorizo,  I tend to steer clear.  I've also found a few things to avoid on taste grounds, including the recent special of Scandinavian boiled sweets, but these are so few and far between nothing else is coming to mind at the moment.

    PS If you're ever in France the 'Master Crumble' muesli that is available there is even better than the one on sale in England that is rated on

    Saturday, 10 April 2010

    One I Made Earlier: Miles to Go Before I Sleep

    Eugh! - Five hours of driving last night after a day at work. But I've woken up refreshed at my Mum and Dad's house and I'm glad to see that 'Sunny Southend' ...... is going to live up to its name today.

    Looking around my childhood home for ideas for posts, I found this little pot that I gave my Mum. It was the first piece of ceramic that I decorated, in the now defunct Cardew Design studio in Bovey Tracey. I now remember that they provided black underglaze pencils that could be used for fine detail work which made the writing part easier than using a fine brush.

    I initially came across the words I used, from Robert Frost's 'Stopping my Woods on a Snowy Evening', on a unsucessful attempt to walk the entire Appalachian Trail. You may now momentarily conjure up an image of me as an asthete lugging a pile of poetry books through the mountains for the sake of art. Appealing as this is, it is sadly quite false - I read the lines on a T-Shirt! .

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
    His house is in the village, though;
    He will not see me stopping here
    To watch his woods fill up with snow.

    My little horse must think it queer
    To stop without a farmhouse near
    Between the woods and frozen lake
    The darkest evening of the year.

    He gives his harness bells a shake
    To ask if there is some mistake.
    The only other sound's the sweep
    Of easy wind and downy flake.

    The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.

    Friday, 9 April 2010

    Just finished reading: Beegu

     I could rave about a lot of chidren's books, Guess How Much I Love You, all the Julia Donaldson Books especially The Snail and the Whale and  Dr Seuss's The Lorax to mention a few rightfully popular examples.  But my favourite has to be this one:

    Beegu by Alexis Deacon is beautiful - simple prose that is sublimely illustrated with a subdued palette.  When Louis was little he was always a sucker for a 'lost and found mummy' story and loved it as much as I do. Sadly though he has refused it as bedtime reading for sometime now, preferring the inspiration for naughtiness that he gleans from Horrid Henry.  So, it's now been relegated to my bookshelf, a gift from Louis for me to read and reminisce when the mood grabs me.

    Thursday, 8 April 2010

    The Quink Debate: A Step in the Right Direction?

    I know that this might not make much of a difference but doesn't every little thing count?  It occured to me that I was binning or losing loads of quite expensive biros and fineliners each year and that didn't seem very green or economical.  So I invested in a refillable fountain pen and the only thing that I now throw away is a recyclable glass ink bottle once in a blue moon.  I've lost one fountain pen in the time since the swap and also had to change a nib after Louis unsuccessfully tried to open a walnut with it! But the expense of replacements does seem to help me focus on taking better care of my possessions.  Other people return a pen that is identifiably mine rather than squirrelilng it away in their own bags and  I've  cut down on my accidental thieving but clearly unsociable tendencies!   I'm not saying I never use a disposable pen anymore but I've certainly reduced the number I get through.  Oh... and an added bonus is that my handwriting is significantly more legible too!

    Wednesday, 7 April 2010

    Ones I Made Earlier: Zuni Bears

    Once upon a time when I was walking on the Appalachian Trail in the USA, I met a guy who was wearing a bear pendant made out of turquoise with a silver band around his tummy (the bear not the man!). I coveted this and looked in shops in America and on-line for a similar one in vain. After all this was 1997 and the Internet was a much poorer source of rich pickings in those days.

    Then I went shopping in my home town of Exeter and to my surprise found this little chappie in a jeweller's. He was the same shape as the bear I'd seen earlier and although he wasn't made of turquoise I thought he was beautiful all the same and an acceptable alternative to the object of my desire. I've found out the design for this bear originates from the Zuni Native American tribe and symbolises healing, introspection and other deeply meaningful things.

    But maybe I'm an airhead and didn't appreciate the spiritual significance. What I loved was his curvaceous shape.  Since then he's been an inspiration for a few pieces that I' ve made myself  and I'm sharing my favourites below.

    Tuesday, 6 April 2010

    Thought for the Day: On Being Grey

    I've been meaning to write about my grey hair for a couple of weeks and how positive the decision that I made a few years back now not to colour anymore has been. This is counter to the commonly held belief that even a single grey hair is such a terrible thing that it has to be blasted into oblivion by the chemical warfare of dyeing. Then Sunday's Observer published an article, "In the world of fashion grey hair is in!..." 'Aha' I thought, 'Finally people are seeing the light'.

    However the remainder of the title read '...if it isn't natural.' and my goat was well and truly 'got'. I then read the article and became incensed by the hairdresser who declared that the older you were, the less flattering grey hair became. Of course he's going to take this view as healthy profits are bolstered by his profession reinforcing this belief!

    However, overall, attitudes may be changing. A few years back I 'googled' grey hair and struggled to find an article with a positive connotation. While researching today's post I was pleasantly surprised to be able to find quite a few.  And so to add  to the plus side of the argument I've come up with my own list of  personal advantages.

    •If you go to a salon it saves you a packet load of money and time to revert to natural grey.
    •If you dye at home it saves you a little bit less money. However don't forget to factor in replacement costs for the carpet, grout and towels that you will inevitably stain indelibly (probably the reason Mr Lovelygrey was so keen that I stopped dyeing my hair).
    •You stop putting a whole host of stinky chemicals on your head on a regular basis.
    •Contrary to Mr 'Know it All' (oooh bitchy moment!!) hairdresser's argument my grey hair seems to complement my skin tone much more than an artificial colour ever did. I doubt that I am in as great a minority as he predicted.
    •You never have to worry about roots showing.
    •I get far more positive comment about my hair than I ever did when it was dyed.
    •I feel much more confident with my look which is a slightly but not excessively out of the ordinary and funky!

    I found additional positive material in this book Going Gray by Anne Kreamer  that I found in the library.  Not a 'keeper' and I suspect that Ms. Kreamer did not mean her attempts to name drop to be quite so amusing to me as  I hadn't heard of any of the supposedly important people that she mentions.  However she did quantify the truly shocking amounts of money that she had spent on colouring her hair over the years, albeit in swanky US salons. Some of her investigations into attitudes of others to greying were insightful and entertaining. I also enjoyed Mr Kreamer's laid back attitude to some of his wife's more outrageous antics pursued in the name of research for her book.

    I know that my viewpoint won't make a jot of difference to most people who dye their hair and that's fine. But if going 'au naturel' does appeal I hope that I've provided encouragement. Like me, you could be much more happy with your decision that you thought possible. If not, as you already know, grey hair like coloured hair does not have to be permanent!

    P.S. I think the young hip and trendy 'greys' ,especially Pixie Geldof, look lovely even though they're faking it.

    Monday, 5 April 2010

    Memory Cafe

    In the past I've struggled with maintaining a balance between work and home life but now achieve this by separating them mentally and practically. It's been a struggle but is finally working. So there's no more bringing home notes to complete or using my time to study for work. I've replaced fretting about particularly troublesome care plans if I wake in the night with how I might tackle a tricky craft project. As part of this I made a rule that I would not talk about work on my blog.
    But, in a grey world, aren't rules there to be broken? So continuing the holiday theme I'm going to show you the Easter crafts made by the attendees (people with memory problems, their family friends and carers and the volunteers) at the Kingsbridge Memory Cafe that I have had a part in helping to set up and maintain. My involvement here truly does not feel like work because of the enjoyment that I derive from being involved.

    Thanks to the people who attend the Kingsbridge Memory Cafe who gave me permission to show their lovely creations!