Monday, 31 May 2010

Mama Lovelygrey's Cleverest Makes

I've nearly finished displaying the Mama Lovelygrey makes that have been in my wardrobe for a while.  Only two more further posts and then I've run out of things to show off on her behalf. I'll only be posting her creations again when she's finished tending her beans, carrots, soft fruit and potatoes and she's looking for something to do when the dark winter evenings start to set in.

In my opinion, these skirts represent her cleverest make.  A few years back I bought an ankle length skirt from White Stuff which, with its wide sash had a Japanese flavour to it.  But although I liked the style it was made out of a techno fabric containing metal and it was a right royal pain in the buttock area to iron.

Mama Lovelygrey took the original skirt apart and made a pattern from it. She then made a few subtle alterations to the style that I had requested.  Side splits became a small back vent, she lengthened the sash and added pockets.  The finished products are easier to care for than the original version and are more comfy to wear.  In effect, the stripy version was nearly free as it was  made out of a huge remnant  from another one of her makes.  So although I had  viewed my originally  purchase as a complete waste of money, it redeemed itself to a degree by becoming the most expensive dressmaking pattern ever!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Radio Reminiscence

Girls, don't act the dumb blonde when it comes to doing techie things to your blog even if you are grey like me!  Google is your friend.   It's helped me find nice people who have provided software which converts an audio file into a different format (NCH software) and given me instructions on how put an audio clip on a blog  (ICT U Can).  Believe me it's almost like following a recipe.

And it's enabled me to share a way that I encouraged a reluctant small boy who doesn't really like writing too much to work on a project about what life was like at school when Mummy and Daddy were little.  I asked Louis to come up with a list of questions that he wanted to ask and we produced a 'radio
programme' using Audacity which is free to download and allows you to mix and edit your work.   We all had fun recording our piece of aural history and here's the result.

We burned the finished product to a CD which Louis took into school. It went down well with his teacher and the kids alike.  After all there's only so many project scrapbooks you can browse through.  Here's details of another piece of 'audio art' that I've heard about recently from  Soundings, an arts and health based initiative in Devon.   I had a preview of the Princetown piece of work, which makes repetitive speech of someone with memory problems into something quite beautiful.  I hope it will be generally be available  in the near future as the website promises

Saturday, 29 May 2010

France at Last!

By the power of scheduled post, you will be reading this after the Lovelygrey family have arrived in Roscoff for a well earned rest in my beloved land of the grenouille.

I'm not sure where we're heading  as it may be weather dependent but it's likely to include areas where we're enjoy the  usual activities that make these times away so refreshing. Cycling, walking, beachcombing, reading and completing my birdie needlepoint come to mind.  Oh, and of course, sampling the lovely food and drink that Brittany has to offer.

So as not to disappoint my faithful readers (thank guys! I know that there are at least two of you) ,I've left a week's worth of posts that, by the miracle of technology, will pop up automatically.  And I'm hoping that I'll come back suitably revived with my creative juices replenished so I'll be able to share some mad makes with you on my return.

Friday, 28 May 2010

A Baggy Problem

I came across this wild and whacky tip a couple of weeks ago and I'm still plucking up the courage to try it out. After reading this you may take the view that if I do I will be  abandonning my last vestige of common sense!

My beauty regime is fairly sparse as make up leaves my skin feeling dirty. So generally, I stick to a few old favourite lotions and potions.  Muck in the atmosphere in London, especially on the Tube, is almost guaranteed to result in spots if I'm not careful but the meticulous cleanse-tone-moisturise regime that I use after a visit to the metropolis isn't necessary in squeaky clean rural Devon.  I do, however,  use a day cream with sun protection and Neutrogena Ultimate has been a favourite for a long time.   Other than that, I might apply a lick of hair gel if I'm feeling in a  spiky mood, a smear  of lip balm (again the Neutrogena variety is favoured) and always, always, a squirt of Chanel Cristalle or 19.

But occasionally I'm taken in by TV advertising.  I bought the creme with the plumping balls in it that are supposed to hide lines around the lips. The only difference that I noted was to my current account.  Still, I never learn and am strangely drawn to the Mum Rolette copy-cat containing  a caffeine based 'cure' for eyebags.

I was discussing this with 'the lads' who were surprisingly well informed about the subject but then, unlike in the days of our fathers when the regular use of soap was considered a bit  emasculating,  metro-sexuality is rife these days.   Allegedly one of them said, top models who are, of course,  the fount of all wisdom, use haemorrhoid cream to get rid of their bags. The prissily named but stinky  'Germolloids', he advised was not the preferred choice.  Instead the boldly branded 'Anusol' which leaves you in no doubt where it is intended to be applied is the remedy of choice and the tightening effect that reduces piles apparently works around the eyes too. 'Nameless Nurse' was also a major contributor to the conversation and  said that his octogenarian mother, whom he insisted should remain anonymous, had picked up the tip from that oldie's oracle ' The Daily Mail'.  She now uses it herself on a regular basis. 

So my dilemma is, do I try it or stick to more convention approaches.  Wiki, for example,  advocates among other approaches teabags...

and cucumber....

But I've found that the best solution so far is forgetting to wear my glasses.  My wrinkles always disappear if I can't see properly!

PS: I wondered whether this post should go under the heading of recycling.  But then maybe if you're left with half an tube of ointment that's been used 'for purpose' you might not fancy using it on the face!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Just finished reading: Red Tent

I received The Red Tent by Anita Diamant as a present from Mr Lovelygrey. At Christmas and birthdays we sometimes buy each other a pile of surprise books and this was the last of a few titles that he had selected in December 2008. This book has languished in my bedside cabinet for nearly eighteen month but I'm not sure why.  Perhaps I was not drawn to the 'Watchtower'-esque graphics on the front cover or its Old Testament subject matter.  Anyway it's now done, dusted and  heartily recommended.

It weaves a story based on Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, the chap with many sons including Joseph (of the technicolor dreamcoat fame).  I'm not sure how much it is based on fact but it brings  together historic accounts of life at this time with clever imaginative story telling.  The result is a beautiful piece of writing which not only sustained my interest from cover to cover but has also whetted my curiousity enough for me to revisit the latter part of Genesis from where the inspiraton for this tale came.

So, not for the first time, I've realised that sometimes it's good to stray from my comfort zone and choose to do something that I might not have initially been drawn to. I've gained new insight into a time of history that I wrongly perceived to be 'as dull as dishwater' and had a thoroughably enjoyable read to boot.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The Mending Pile

I've been procrastinating on my mending for a while.  But it's threatening to topple over and can't wait any longer.

I get quite fond of a lot of my clothes and like to see them last as long as possible.  My convertible walking trousers are over five years old but the zip recently burst apart.  However after tracking down a new 5" replacement (surprisingly rare) they'll probably keep going for another half a decade if I stop eating the Kouign Amann

So a couple of hours of work and garments are returned to the wardrobe.  I've sewn up a hole in the arm of a black T-shirt so it's good for a little while longer, Ian's holey jeans have got a new lease of life by cropping them to make shorts. And after repairing the rip in the bum of  Louis' jogging bottoms which appeared after first wear I'm glad to say that they will live to fight another day thanks to Prym iron-on mending fabric!

A hole appeared in the sleeve of this cashmere cardi last week so rather than throw it away I've used the same repair material, this time in light denim effect to make elbow patches and a sweet coordinating heart motif. A few holes in the neck and underarm were sewn up too. I'm hoping that it will give me a few more months use until it falls apart completely. Then I'll have the perfect opportunity to try my hand at felt making!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Kitting Out the Camper

Behold my most treasured possession ever, the Knaus motorhome that relegated my decade old  Osprey rucksack into second place. It was brought back from Germany on an intrepid and slightly scary trip by Mr Lovelygrey who trekked across the UK and Europe with £12,000 of our hard earned savings in a big brown envelope.  However all went well, he wasn't mugged and came back with our beautiful second home.  Both sets of  parents were dubious  about our plans.'You won't get enough use out of  it' they cried in near unison.  But we average just under 50 nights a year away and two and a half years so we think that we're making good use of our purchase..

As we're approaching peak summer usage some motorhome/camper van posts will be coming your way and my thoughts on kitting out seem a natural start to the season.  So here are my ideas. 
  • If you can afford it. buy as much stuff that's exclusively for use in the van  as possible.  That way you can make a quick get away without having to load up endless stuff first and then take it all out again at the end of the trip.  Kitchen and cleaning equipment, toiletries, raingear, road atlases, folidng chairs  and chargers for electrical equipment spring to mind.  Oh!... and the corkscrew.
  • Buy colour coordinated linen that is different from that used in your non mobile home.  Then it's easier for it to make its way back after being washed.  This reduces the chance of finding yourself in a lovely wilderness spot  without towels or bits of bedding.  If you take my last tip to the extreme you could even have unusual coloured underwear for  holiday use only!
  • For the hypochondriacs amongst you  who are planning European trips, make sure you carry a stock of your favourite over the counter medication.  You may think the nanny state here has gone too far but believe me you'll find a similar example of what state control of choice means in a French pharmacy. 
  • Even if you're not usually too bothered about being green please consider eco friendly cleaning products for the van. You never know where you are going to have to dispose of grey water.
  • Think minimalist when buying kitchen equipment.  In the confined space you're probably unlikely to be knocking up complex gastronomic feasts. Think carefully about whether you need a pasta machine or a water bath.  Also a toasting rack for use over a gas ring might seem like a good idea but, in our experience, they don't 'do what they say on the tin'  .
  • Having said that don't skimp and buy cheap utensils that don't do the job properly. There's nothing worse than trying to cut an onion with a crappy knife. 
  • It's nicer to have china crockery and real glasses rather than their melamine and plastic counterparts.
  • Get away with as few (reasonably decent) pans as possible.  We have two.  A casserole style pot and a frying pan, both with lids that increase their versatility.
And finally,we'll considered wise advice from William Morris.

'Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful'

This does not seem quite true to camper van living,   The useful part still applies but let the beauty be confined to those textiles that I mentioned earlier (also choose your motorhome carefully and go easy on wild coloured upholstery and dodgy velour).  The view out of the window is the most important aesthetic consideration.  Here's an example of one of the sights that you can wake up too!   Unnecessary stuff, however lovely it is adds extra weight and therefore increases fuel consumption. It also takes up room in a place where space is at a premium!

    Monday, 24 May 2010

    I Shall Be Rich Beyond Belief!!!!

    Though it doesn't go unnoticed by my friends, I am usually the first to admit that my thinking can very quickly become grandiose.

    Within a few months of starting this blog, I will be 'discovered' and as a columnist for  renowned publications I will be earning more money than I possibly know what to do with.  I will then employ a cute young boy in a Mini Cooper to follow me around when I drive to keep my car constantly clean and tidy and ensure I never have to fill my own tank again!  One of my many homes would be in an atmospheric Breton wooded valley near the sea with own outdoor heated pool,  floatation pod and a  top of the range Hymer mobile home for my frequent trips away to explore Europe. And of course,  there will be a fully equipped workshop cum laboratory with an inspiring view to play in where I will create masterpieces that will sought after by the international art world!

    To help with this endeavour I borrowed this book from the library  with the aim of putting some of the ideas into practice.... maybe all of them if it's going to help the millions flood in.  I have to say that I haven't read it from cover to cover, just taken in the ideas....and a lot of them I've spat back out again! This is not to say that this is a bad book if making profit from a blog is a goal.  It's just that it's not what I set out to do.  I came up with posting on a daily basis to fulfil my long held daydream of writing and giving me a disciplined but fun way of sustaining the habit.

    I'm therefore rejecting the idea of making titles relevant  to achieve hits on search engines or making my blog specific to one theme.  I like my quirky and sometimes obscure introductions to my daily post and the freedom to write about anything that takes my fancy.  And I am not drawn to the idea of sticking to a single theme for each blog either.  As for plastering my pages with generated advertisement I'd already worked out that wasn't for me although I do  provide links to other sites and use the Amazon Affiliate scheme.

    My 'experiment' has been successful so far.  I've getting feedback from my friends that they like the style and content of what I've write. I now want to increase my 'blog traffic' so some of the suggestions for doing this, for example by making myself known by commenting on posts on other people's sites,  are now being put into action.  It look's like my frequent daily posts might help the cause too and I'm being super keen here and scheduling some articles in advance so my vast readership does not miss out when I am having a break from technology in the van.

    So I've come back to earth with a bump. It's probably a good thing for the planet that I haven't got an endless pot of money that I can play with.  And by  having objectives that are in sync with the things that intrinsically motivate me I may well preserve my sanity too.  But I might not stop my weird meglomaniac daydreaming altogether!

    Sunday, 23 May 2010

    Kouign Amann

    ....or Breton Butter Cake in translation.

    I've been visiting France frequently for years but until about six months ago, I'd overlooked this piece of culinary genius. Maybe it's because I've been distracted in patisseries by such delights as pretty sugar coated fruit tarts, pastel coloured macaroons and Louis' favourite, the religieuse which is what  you get if you try to make a model church out of profiteroles.

    The Kouign Amman in contrast to its more flashy counterparts is brown and uninteresting.  But its unassuming looks are deceiving.  It is a culinary gem.  A triumph of sugary, buttery niceness and I'm sure it isn't vey calorific either!

    I decided that I'd like to try my hand at making one myself and used this recipe by David Lebovitz which comes with some handy illustrations too.Worryingly, at some stages, my efforts didn't look like his corresponding pictures.  The squares of butter poked through the dough right to the end  but I persevered and got the dish in the oven.

    Then disaster struck!  Even though I'd put my pie dish onto another bigger baking plate, the butter and sugar bubbled over and the oven caught fire!  Much shouting ensued but by the time I'd located the fire extinguisher  in the motorhome (learning point:  must put in a place where I can lay my hands on it in about a second!) the flames were out.  I continued the baking process without incident in my combination microwave.

    And here's the finished product, not the most flashy looking dessert, as I have already explained.  But even after the catalogues of errors it still tastes superb and will be served for lunch with stewed rhubarb, to counteract the sweetness and  a dollop of greek yoghurt for good measure!

    Saturday, 22 May 2010

    Staying Behind The Jones

    The advertising men would have you believe that you really, really, really need the latest gadget.  But if you're at least one step behind you avoid being a Luddite but can laugh in the face of the creatives - Ha!  Just buy the secondhand goods of those who haven't worked this out and you're quids in.  Who will be happier with their new 'shiny'?  I doubt whether there's much in it.   And us 'un-fashionistas' could well be more content as our wise spending stretches our money even further.

    Take this as a case in point.  Instead of buying the latest games console, Mr Lovelygrey 'won' an old style XBox on Ebay complete with a couple of discs for the princely sum of £15.  This is about one tenth of cost of the latest XBox 360 model.  Louis is none the wiser and additional games, even popular titles, like his favourite Lego Star Wars,  can be bought for well below a tenner including postage costs. (He also bought another box for around the same price and converted it for use as a hard drive).

    If you always lag behind you will still appreciate the updated technology when you upgrade even if it is not the latest high tech model  My phone, the Omnia Samsung I900, wasn't the super duper-est on the market when I bought a reconditioned handset but is way beyond the specification of my last model purchased five years ago so it seems like a massive improvements to me. And the i-Phone that everyone else seemed to be lusting after didn't have the feature that I use most regularly anyway, a To Do list on an Office platform.   So consider stalling new purchases and falling behind the trends.  The dividends that this  reaps can be substantial.

    Friday, 21 May 2010

    Work in Progress

    I thought I'd share the technical hitches that have caused an apparent glitch in productivity.  The lesson to be learned is planning in advance.   However I'm now in my forty sixth year and I am still nowhere near perfecting this skill.  My lighthouse lamp, made from a 99p moneybox in a charity shop started swimmingly with lots of  enthusiastic mosaic-ing activity.   But I hadn't quite worked out how I was going to incorporate a light fitting to take the bulb and this thorny mental conundrum has kept me occupied on my drives around the South Hams for a number of weeks.

    Eureka! The problem is solved and work is underway again but substantial renovations are being made to the lighthouse walls because the mosaic got damaged during heavy power tool action including use of a rather lovely powerful hole cutter.  With foresight it would have been better to have got the structural work out of the way first.  It was a bit like doing the wallpapering before mending the cracks in the plaster first.

    And my lovely friend Pauline has had a long wait for some earrings that I thought were going to be a doodle.   I forgot to factor into the equation that I needed to extend my wire bending skills (now ticked on the To Do list). I still  haven't quite cracked how I produce an intricate holey design in precious metal clay but experiments are still taking place.

    I am the eternal optimist which is why I keep getting wet at the moment due to inadequate clothing choices.  Yes, all will be well and I will be able to show off the end results shortly.  In the meantime please be patient and enjoy, like I have, my trials and tribulations, along the way.

    Thursday, 20 May 2010

    Chef in the Making

    Here's Little Chef again doing his culinary best.  Except he doesn't like being called that as he insists he's not a rodent (see one of my favourite family films 'Ratatouille' if you're not 'in the know').

    Today's delicacy came from a new book that Louis got for his birthday from Mama and Grandpa Lovelygrey, Beginners Cookbook by Fiona Watt.  He's very pleased with this present and has chosen quite a few recipes that he wants to try on rainy days. They look pretty delicious so I've no objections to this plan! This weekend he decided to try his own hand at  Chocolate Web Cake.

    The instructions were easy for him to read but of course he needs a bit of guidance.  This bodes well for the book being a favourite for some years to come as he might continue to use it with less and less parental  input needed as his skills and safety conscienceness progress.  Reviews on Amazon support this theory as others have suggested that it is a suitable text for teenage children and even adults who are beginning to cook.

    The results were excellent as evidenced by the fact that I could not get a shot of the whole cake before the family started to devour it. My only quibble is that the ingredients were a little expensive.  It's heavy on the butter, chocolate and eggs. But perhaps if they can be viewed as an wise investment in a Michelin starred chef of the future!

    Wednesday, 19 May 2010


    The topic today has given me a tenuous excuse to use one of my favourite images 'Boy on Mount Fuji' by Katsushika Hokusai, a print that has pride of place in my bedroom. I am enraptured by the tranquility  that this painting instills. But enough of my arty meanderings.

    I am fortunate to have enough money to buy pretty much anything I want. Happily, though my tastes are quite simple. I am not a Louboutin shoe buying fanatic and although, after riding in colleagues' cars I currently have a quite a severe case of Audi lust, I am not tempted to blow my cash on a depreciating piece of metal. Books, clothes, tools and craft materials are my weakness and while most individual items are not experience the accumulative cost can mount up.

    For a couple of years now I have been strict about updating my wardrobe. I draw up a list of what I'd like in spring or autumn together with a budget for each piece. Then I go shopping (or send fabric to Mama Lovelygrey!). The pleasure gained from a sudden influx of new stuff to try on is far greater than the drip drip effect obtained from constant impulse buying at lunchtime. My purchasing is more considered and over time I've substantially cut what I spend on clothes because I already have what I need.

    Since Christmas I've extended this principle to other stuff I buy. I'm only allowed to buy things if they're on a pre-prepared list, even if I've run out of something on a craft project I'm doing. It has to wait. Then on pay day I can go shopping. This delayed gratification gives me time to think about whether I really needed the thing I thought I desired so much. For example, yesterday I deleted a book I thought I 'needed' from my Amazon wishlist and scanned a few of its pages from a library copy instead. Or I might improvise with what I've got already.  And sometimes a longer wait might even bring bigger dividends.  I've waited for my ski boots for a couple of months now so I might as well extend the delay and make the purchase in mid summer when they're at rock bottom prices.  Who knows the store assistants might even have more time to be attentive about the foot problem that I have that means that hiring is not really an option?

    Of course, a sneaky purchase gets through like the new jeans last week or the occasional tube of  glue.  But then, sometimes it's good to experience how nice being naughty  is!

    Tuesday, 18 May 2010

    Free Fabric!

    Melanie, one of the 'congregation' at my Mini Church of Craft  kindly gave me some fabric that she wasn't going to use. I duly passed it onto Mama Lovelygrey and these are what she made.  It's taken her longer than usual to finish the tulip skirt but that what happens when I order things at the wrong time of year and cut into her prime allotment time!

    I love the fishy top that's made from Vogue Pattern  V8649.  The only problem is that when I ordered it, I didn't realise that it was supposed to be made up  in a stretch fabric. But I asked Mama Lovelygrey to go ahead anyway and consequently, my tunic is a little snug.  Still, that's another incentive for shedding a few more pounds or breathing in hard in the interim.

    And to compensate for the astronomical price of the Vogue pattern, the skirt is made from a free design called 'Marie' on the Burdastyle website.  It means piecing together lots of downloaded A4 sheets but the end result is worth the hard work.  I think that this will become a summer favourite if and when the weather becomes warmer.

    Monday, 17 May 2010

    Slow Sloe

    In a secret place in the Devon countryside near our home there is a very prolific blackthorn bush that towards the end of summer produces great big fat sloes.  For all but one of the last four years (when some b*****r beat us to it) it has been the source of the main ingredient of our drink shelf staple.

    The procedure for making this heavenly nectar goes like this. 1. Early one morning,  go and buy embarrassingly amounts of supermarket own brand gin and try (probably unsuccessfully) to persuade the checkout staff that you are not an alcoholic.  2.  Wander out into the countryside with an artisan wicker basket if you're posh or a couple of carrier bags if you're not, and pick your sloes  Unlike blackberries do not be tempted to eat them as they are horribly bitter.  3. Put the sloes in the freezer and leave for a few days.  This will split their skins and save you the mindnumbing task of having to prick them to release their juices individually by hand.  4. Find something like a big sweet jar or kilner jar and add sloes, sugar and gin in the following quantitites.  For each 1lb of sloes add 8oz sugar and 1 litre of gin.  Save the bottles for the final product. Seal 4. For the first couple of weeks shake daily and then whenever you remember for the next six months when the mixture is ready to strain and drink.

    Our August 2009 batch is now ready to drink and the result is a fine demonstration of the maxim 'Good things come to those who wait'.  And like wine, if we can keep our filthy mitts off, it will improve over time.  Sante!

    Sunday, 16 May 2010

    Should I Brag?

    Okay here's a toughie.  Is there a point to sharing secondhand finds in a post?  One of my friends said that it just seemed like bragging and I can see her point.  'Na na nanana na - look I've got something you can't have 'cos there was just one of them in the shop.  Ha, ha, ha!'

    But, as a one off, there may be a point.  After all there's still a lot of people out there who are sniffy about the secondhand market.  But there are lovely and useful things to be had and perhaps if there's enough of us banging on about our bargains then more people will catch on to this wonderfully fun recycling habit.
    So I'm showing off just a few of my treasures with pride found in charity shops, at the recycling centre and on bric-a-brac stalls.  There's clothes that I love wearing including a much coveted top that a friend owned and that I found in my size in the Scope Shop in Kingsbridge for £3.  I've also  found lovely retro pieces of china and glass that brighten up our home.  And throughout, Louis' life secondhand toys have come into the house, only to go back to a charity shop when he's finished using him.  We've kept Mog though.  The little wooden chef bought in Oxfam for 75p has pride of place in our kitchen and was the first thing that Louis ever named.

    And then there's things that I recycle.  I've already showed how old candlesticks were incorporated in my homemade cake stand and my revamped director's chair.  But I've got interesting plans for the beaded belt, the trio of square glass plates and the pot of sea green paint that I'll share at a later date

    Saturday, 15 May 2010

    No More Tangles Jewellery Board

    Well this would have been a fifteen minute craft project but the seven year old of the house kept interrupting because he could not get the 'Lego Star Wars' game that he'd downloaded to run on his PC.  And why he's asking me?  I'm not even the technical one!

    I've been using a rather nasty pinboard  that was orignally bought for about £3 from Trago Mills. It stopped my jewellery getting knotted up in a box and with everything on display it somehow makes it easier to pick what to wear.  But I thought I'd start the day by quickly giving it a makeover into something a little more aesthetically  pleasing.

    So I got out the ironing board, my copydex and a piece of leftover fabric (see More Mama's Makes to see how the bulk of this was used to make a tunic).  I cut the fabric so that it was about an inch larger than the baize part of the board and then ironed the cloth to size using a board as a template.  I then simply glued the bits together and ended up with a pinboard to be proud of.  With all the jewellery displayed it looks like a work of art in its own right.

    At some stage in the future I might need another board or two and its occured to me, that as I'm a bit of a nightmare whenever I use glue (somehow there's a smear of copydex on the back of my pyjama trousers!)  I could use double sided interfacing instead next time.

    Friday, 14 May 2010

    Switching to the Left

    The techniques described in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards claim to help achieve competency in art by setting tasks that tune into the creative, intuitive and artistic right side of the brain. (Not sure how this works for left handed people like me but I'm running with the general principle). I want to share how I've used this book over many years for my own enjoyment and as a source of inspiration for therapy with individuals and groups. The link shows the old version of the book which I own but I see that there is a new edition and also a workbook which may be worth checking out.

    Unlike my lovely brother, Paul, I am not a naturally talented artist. (See his art at  and if you're single and think you'd make a great sister in-law for me check this link out too!)  In fact, I was put off doing anything artistic for years because I couldn't come up with anything nearly as good as the stuff that he produced.  Then my philosophy changed to a 'To Hell with It' approach and I started to try things for their own sake and found that I could have fun doing things I wasn't necessarily brilliant at.

    This drawing represents the baseline i.e. the usual standard of my art.  It's a self portrait and I'd be the first to admit that it's not great (especially that ear!).  But then the book encourages you to try and copy things upside down to allow the right brain to work.   Some line drawings are provided in the book for this exercise but I was so pleased and surprised with the results that I obtained  that I moved onto copying photographs with light and shadow thrown into the equation.

    I think you'll agree that the end result obtained from this exercise is a vast improvement on  my earlier efforts and lead me to think about how this activity could be used therapeutically in my work.  It can be 'sold' as an exercise that is non threatening to people who can't draw or who've lost confidence in their ability.  If it doesn't work out then duh!!! it's because they've tried to draw something upside down.    But normally people's expectations are exceeded, except if they're especially anxious,and like me they're pleasantly surprised with their efforts.  I've found that this generates a sense of success which can be a  greater motivator to help kickstart a creative process and helps them to explore their artistic side further.

    Thursday, 13 May 2010

    A Truly Handy Viz-Like Hint No.2

    • Minor skin grafts can be performed on pigs by covering any cuts and grazes with thin strips of bacon. 
    • Don't buy expensive 'ribbed' condoms, just buy an ordinary one and slip a handful of frozen peas inside it before you put it on. 
    • No time for a bath? Wrap yourself in masking tape and remove the dirt by simply peeling it off
    • Old telephone directories make ideal personal address books. Simply cross out the names and address of people you don't know. 
    •  People whose surname is Toblerone should always take along an empty 'Toblerone' chocolate box when attending interviews for office jobs. This would save your potential employer the expense of having to make a name plaque for your desk, and therefore increase your chances of getting the job.
     I first found out about VIZ magazine when I worked in a bar.  A teacher came in with a copy that he'd confiscated from one of his pupils! The 'Fat Slags' had to be my favourite but those useful little nuggets of wisdom came a close second.

    My handy hints seem to have a fridge related theme (see my earlier post 'A Truly Handy Viz-Like Hint'). This is another tip which, although appearing a bit mad on the surface, does have an actual use.

    'Instead of buying a wipeboard for your kitchen use the fridge door instead!' This might not work for those of you who have unconventionally coloured 'white goods' but works a treat in the Lovelygrey household. Please note, as a modern liberated woman who did not promise to obey, I totally ignore Mr Lovelygrey's plea's to avoid buying chocolates, crisps and cheddars!

    Wednesday, 12 May 2010

    Better than Shop Bought

    Writing my post the other day about bread and the superority of homemade pittas has lead me to think about other things that are better when home made. Don't get me wrong I'm not a complete 'cook it from scratch' junky, for example I'm rather partial to curly fries, fish fingers and Hellman's mayonnaise.  But cakes and puddings, pies and pizza made with real dough are nearly always better when home made.  However they do require some investment in time so again shop bought alternatives sneak through (including the Co-op's rather lovely lemon cupcakes!).

    Home made sausage rolls vs. their shop bought equivalent is a no brainer.   They're quick and easy and can be prepared in no time even by my willing seven year old helper. Just take a pack of your favourite sausages and a pack of puff pastry.  All butter is best but can be difficult to source outside the Christmas period (as can, to Tesco's shame, filo pastry in Minehead but that's another story). 

    Skin the sausages and take the meat out.  Roll out the puff pastry and then roll the sausages between you hands to make them longer! Pop on the pastry and then fold the pastry over to enclose the meat.  Brush the edge with milk to seal.    Then cut to size, pierce with a fork and use a bit more milk on top of each individual sausage roll.  Bake at Gas Mark 6 or 200 degrees until golden and crispy.

    This might not be the thriftiest of recipes when good sausages and puff pastry is used but the difference between eating real meat and pink gloop is no contest!

    Tuesday, 11 May 2010

    The Power of the Tick

    'To do' or not 'to do?' that is the question. Certainly Mr Lovelygrey baulks at the idea of my lists. And he doesn't even know about the nail cutting task that is scheduled at three weekly intervals or the more frequent weekly reminder to shave my legs!  But then I argue that normally he is only doing one thing at a time and leaves the multi-tasking to the woman of the house. Whereas I could end up as a talon wielding yeti without my 'to do' list just because of the sheer bulk of what I have to remember.

    In the olden days I produced paper to do lists but because of my erratic handwriting these got rather messy. So for about six years I've worked successfully with electronic Outlook lists
    in a PDA format which can be backed up onto my laptop. The latest version comes on a Samsung Omnia I900 which is such a versatile piece of kit that I've dispensed with camera and MP3 player too. And occasionally I use it as a phone too, spending about £20 every six months on a 'Pay as You Go' tariff.  I use a few categories which are helpful in keeping various bits of my life separate and in the beginnning I found Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity by David Allen a very useful source of pointers for getting the most out of making lists.

    Is there a downside?  Well, yes.  I am highly reliant on 'Brain 2' and things that  don't get listed somehow don't make it into the space between my ears at all.  And also I can become quite preoccupied by the things on my list to the point where they have become anxiety provoking.  So to avoid this I make sure that things that I do for pleasure are, as far as possible, not broken down into list form and are done for their own sake without the 'virtual' time constraints that my list seem to impose.

    It may be the sign of being a simple soul but I get a lot of satisfaction out of ticking things off when they're done even the tiny jobs that take a few seconds to do.  The list system also means that unpleasant or boring tasks are scheduled over a period of time so I never have to do, say, a full spring clean because I gradually keep on top of things.  And little regular jobs such as updating my mileage claim daily means that I'm not faced with a great big chore at the end of the month.

    Monday, 10 May 2010

    Mini Church of Craft

    'If you build it, they will come'!  This is the lovely Naomi to whom today's post is dedicated in hearty thanks for being my first blog follower!

    The title of today's post is inspired by the movement 'Church of Craft'.  Their objectives which value creativity and inclusiveness  appeal to my deeper spiritual side.  This sits comfortably next to the part of my psyche wherein lies my higly developed appreciation of toilet humour and all things smutty, including 'Budgie Smugglers' the term for tight Speedos  that I heard on Radio 4 today....  But I digress.

    My monthly meetings with Melanie and Naomi reflect some of the values of the Church of Craft.  We meet in turns at each others houses to make stuff, primarily jewellery, but we also go off on tangents sometimes and do something different.  Oh.....and we eat cake! These get togethers are so valuable in terms of the fun we have and what we learn from each other that I'm toying with the idea of setting up a proper Church of Craft locally if I can get over the logistics of health and safety, etc.

    As well as instilling me the confidence to play with wire again using my new pliers.  Melanie showed  us how to fuse plastic with an iron into sheets that can be used to make all sorts of things. Bags, kites,  blinds, banners and plant pots come to mind but just try sticking 'fusing plastic bags' into Google and you can explore the myriad of nifty uses for this recycled fabric.

    And my finished sheet of fabric, made using bubblewrap, abstract cut outs and sequins is at the top of this picture.   I going to use it to make a bag like the one with the fishes on it that Melanie made.  She reckons that these are not super-durable but good enough for a few trips to the shops for lightweight things,

    This is so easy-peasy and effective that Louis was inspired to make his own picture with bubble wrap, a black binliner and shiny stars.  Another great activity for kids although please observe the blindingly obvious safety precautions.

    Sunday, 9 May 2010

    Experiments Dear Boy

    I'm well aware that it looks as if I've been a bit slack on the making things front lately but this isn't quite true.  There's a couple of projects that have been causing me knotty, mind bending problems.  But I when I woke up this morning I had a flash of inspiration that may be the end to my crafter's block and  hopefully I'll be able to be show off  something new that I've made soon.

    So the family theme that has dominated this week's posts continues.  Louis loves science and was very pleased with the books about experiments that he got for his birthday.  Here's the diver in the bottle that he made yesterday following instructions from the beautifully presented Usborne book, 50 Science Things to Make and Do, which comes highly recommended. It contains instructions for a range of activities which have really inspired Louis.

    Here's one we tried earlier - a solar oven.  Sadly, our experiment didn't work out.  Perhaps our bowl was in the wrong position, was too small or the sun just wasn't hot enough.  However it wasn't a complete failure as  we ate the marshmallows that we were trying to cook anyway!  One to be repeated at a later date if and when the sun's rays are a bit hotter when who know's we might be able to generate enough power to dispense we the barbecue altogether!

    Saturday, 8 May 2010

    Optical Illusion

    Even though I first wore glasses in my thirties they were little more than an additional fashion accessory for a few years. Now, into my forties and I've started to NEED my specs.  And incidently lighting levels have also become more important to. The days of reading under the covers with a torch are sadly over.

    Before I went for my biennial eye test earlier this year I thought carefully about what I wanted from my glasses. I decided that I needed something that would be suitable for close work but allow distant objects to remain in focus and of course varifocals fitted the bill. But could they be combined with a reactolite lens so that I could use them for driving and cycling too?

    The answer from the chap in Specsavers was a resounding yes and no. Yes, these multi feature lens could be made but the light reacting properties are reduced through the glass of a windscreen. Also the field of vision for close work might not have been big enough.

    So, instead of one size fits all I now have three pairs of glasses which I had hoped would meet all my visual needs. Taking advantage of one of the regular 2 for the price of 1 offers that Specsavers promote,  I bought two pairs of varifocals, one with clear and the other with tinted lenses. I also had an old pair made up to my new prescription for close work. And this was all for the princely sum of £236  including the eye test!  I've tried to keep the frames fairly classic and not go for the trendy styles with the hope that I might just do the lens changing trick again in the future.

    Do I have eyewear more suited to my needs?  Again yes and no.  Wearing my varifocals I can now assess someone without manically flipping my glasses in and out of my hair to alternately look at the person and my paperwork.  And I can now see again when I do craftwork or read using my old glasses.  But the varifocal tinted version is a bit of a luxury - true they'll be useful when I'm reading out in the sun but there's limited times that I get a chance to do that during the year.  And I still have my wraparound shades that I prefer when I'm cycling. 

    Whilst I now have glasses that seem to meet all my needs, with so many pairs I sometimes have problems with the right ones being in the right place at the right time.  I had hoped to eliminate my odd looking habit of wearing two pairs on my head at once but found myself doing this the other day. So in just under two years there's going to have to be another rethink. My feeling is that I may have to accept that there is no perfect solution.

    Friday, 7 May 2010

    Bread Alert!

    Apologies for the terrible pun but it is a Friday and my brain is not at its creative best.

    I thought I'd share some of the extra-curricular breadmaking activities that go on at Lovelygrey Mansions.  At the risk of sounding holier than thou I have to say that we rarely buy shop bought bread (and never pizza!)

    And here's how much fun a kid can have if they get involved in the activity.  No precise kneading instructions here.  I just told Louis to attack the pizza dough in any way that he liked and ended up with something quite satisfactory.

    But Mr Lovelygrey's bakery skills are getting far more artisan.  Please, please, please try making your own pitta bread.  Just prepare a standard bread dough with your preferred type or mix of flour. Then after it has risen in the airing cupboard or breadmaker, divide it up, roll each bit  into a foot shaped piece and then cook it at about 180  for about 5-6 minutes.  The results are way beyond the chemical tasting things bought in shops.
    And this is his latest creation, home made sour dough loaves from recipes widely available on the Internet.  True the process, analagous to ginger beer making, is a bit long and drawn out it's really easy and worth the wait!
    And it's especially good toasted and topped with breakfast goodies, including here stir fried purple sprouting broccoli. Just the thing to turn a naughty breakfast into a virtuous guilt free 5 a day containing meal!

    Is home made bread thrifty? Probably no if you're used to supermarket cheap loaves but that really not the point. What is produced by the boys in our home is an affordable luxury that is enjoyed and appreciated by us all.