Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Longest Lasting Toy Ever!

 Today I may be giving Social Services yet more evidence of my bad parenting as I admit to getting rid of Louis' toys without him knowing!  I am the queen of decluttering.  If something hasn't been used it gets thrown away or is, ideally, recycled.  Once or twice I've come unstuck.  Into the bin went metal  mystery object that I found in the glove box of my car.  Six months later, when the mechanic couldn't remove my alloy wheel I found out it actually had a use after all.

So, quite frequently especially at Birthday and Christmas time I take a long hard look in the toy cupboards and bookshelves to see what can be secretly squirrelled out of the house.  Colleagues with younger kids have first dibs and then the rest goes to the charity shop.  This would not be happening if I had the discussion with Louis about whether he wanted to keep toys.  He'd undoubtedly say 'yes' which isn't the right answer!  Most of the time my actions go undetected but there are rare instances where Louis asks where a particular item has gone.  I'm then honest and upfront and he's normally quite satisfied with the fact that it's been taken for younger children to play with.  On odd occasions a bit of bartering goes on but he's happy to accept, say, Top Trump or football cards in exchange for the old items. 

But these stacking cups have stood the test of time.  Granted, they're not up there in terms of current favourites like his DS-Lite or bike but they're still regularly played with.  They were bought when he was a baby and  they are still regularly used in the bath for mixing lotions and potions and yes, sometimes, he still makes a tower or telescope.

But here's the rub.  Louis' most loved possession goes back into history.  It isn't Big Bear with the 'kind eyes' who is chief comforter and protector if he's had a nightmare.  No, it's the not so natty looking scarf that this handsome animal is wearing in this shot, a muslin from his baby days  that is still essential at bedtime.

 'Clothie is very precious to me, Mummy', says Louis.  And who am I to argue.  Thank goodness, there are three spares!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Just finished reading: Sort of Rich

Every so often I feel as if I've 'discovered' an author.  Patrick Hamilton , a writer of wonderful dark prose falls into this category as I had to retrieve one of his novels,Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, out of the Exeter Library's 'stack', a home for no longer borrowed books.  I imagine this to be a sad dark, dank place where the occasional gem nestles  unloved amongst volumes devoted to books I've found in remainder shops in the past.  Rather disturbingly  'Knitting with Dog Hair' and 'Naked Aerobics' spring to mind

The writer, James Wilcox,  is another personal find.  I fell upon his novel,  Modern Baptists, in the tea shop in Minehead's Blenheim Gardens where the family were seeking refreshment after a frenzied game of pitch and putt.  When coming out of the door with his cup of tea this caught my eye on a tale of discounted books on sale.   It is a Penguin Modern Classics edition and  the introduction by Jim Crace suggests that this author has "respect but no sales." which is so surprising given the clever characterisation and witty prose.

Sort of Rich is the second of his books that I've read and a pattern to this guy's writing is emerging.  Both novels are set in Tula Springs, a small town in Louisiana and explore the interrelationships between diverse characters who live or work in close proximity to each other.  The writing is beautifully crafted and there are 'laugh out loud' moments.

I am so perplexed as to why this author isn't better known but perhaps it reflects on the power of marketing in the book trade. So even though Devon Library Service have one copy of each of his novels, I intend to buy the others that I haven't read yet with the aim of giving Mr Wilcox the warm fuzzy feeling that receipt of royalties might induce. I can then also 'spread the word' by sharing his lovely books with my friends after I've read them myself!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Thought for the Day: I don't like Monday's

Now why is it that,  though I enjoy my rewarding and challenging job, I don't want to go back to work after the weekend?  On the face on it, I'd have to partly agree with the lyrics of the  Boomtown Rats song from my teens but maybe not I wouldn't go so far as resorting to a shooting spree.  See Wiki if you're not sure why I'm talking like this and think I may have lost the plot.

But can I really think in such definitive terms?  I certainly don't hate all Mondays especially because on alternate week  it's my much valued day off and a time to catch up or potter about.   And even when I am working, not every waking minute of the day turns out to be as bad as I  expect when I drag myself out of bed.

Today, even though I had to fend off cat fleas in an infested house there were lots of good moments: a particularly delicious just perfectly ripe peach, finding a pack of corks for my bath mat project in a charity shop, a drive along the wonderfully scenic coastal route between Kingsbridge and Dartmouth and bottling the elderflower champagne that I started to brew last week.  And  my frequently mislaid watch turned up again!
Plenty of evidence to caution  against black and white thinking  and serve to remind me that anticipatory dread is a waste of emotional energy.  Things often really don't turn out as we expect.  Oh, except  yesterday's highly predictable loss against Germany in the World Cup!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

A Corker!

Today,  I thought that I'd share something that's sadly not my own work It's  from the Craftynest website and I want to make not one but two of these lovelies to replace the bleach stained rugs in our bathroom and ensuite.

But the problem is that they will each take 175 corks.  Now I will happily rise to the challenge and drink wine for the sake of my art.  However, most bottles these days have those faux plastic corks or screw tops.  So even though I'm trying my best I've only amassed about 12 of the real article.

So here's a plea to those of you who secretly read this and know me personally.  Treat yourself to expensive French wines which are more likely to use real corks and save them for me!  I'm also bidding on used corks on Ebay and am racking my brains to come up with a source that will give me a supply of  enough of the raw materials to make my beautiful mats that I will, of course, share in a later post!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Top Tip for Hot Weather!

So, it's probably the hottest Saturday of the year so far so where does Lovelygrey take Louis?  The beach or swimming pool, maybe?  That is so stererotypical.  But for the slightly oddball Lovelygrey family skiing is just the thing!

Okay, so Plymouth dry ski slope  is not a year round glacial Alpine resort but it'll do nonetheless.  Louis is learning to ski in preparation for the biggest trip of his life to the States next January.  We brace ourselves for his first ever Trans-Atlantic flight and  join friends from Seattle on an overnight train to their ski lodge in Montana.  Then it's on to Yellowstone National Park to geyser gaze in the snow.  And today he was booked into a lesson to ready him before he gets to ski on real snow!

 In spite of the sticky artificial surface and the unconventional clobber he did well.  For the first time he skiied from the top of the slope, a formidable task even for someone who's skiied before.  But grade 5 eludes him until he gets out of the habit of manoeuvring down the hill whilst doing the splits. And whilst skiing when it's hot, hot, hot is a bit uncomfortable there is the advantage of being able to enjoy ice cream at the end of a lesson!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Little Squirts

'I've got an idea for your blog' said Mr Lovelygrey. However, funnily enough I'd already thought of this myself and taken the picture to illustrate this handy tip.  But I was wondering whether the topic was too mundane so had put this post on the back burner.  However my friend Kath, who came on our Bath trip thought it was a nifty idea too, so I'm finally convinced about sharing it.

These days, if you watch a cookery programme which involves chefs at at work somewhere in a highly regarded Michelin starred restaurant kitchen, they are often brandishing squeezy bottles filled with dressings, oils, sauces etc.  No doubt these are purchased at high cost from a specialist kitchen supplier but we've made our own free versions from own ketchup and sauce containers.  Granted, ours are only used for cooking oils but they are brilliant for easily measuring a small amount in the pan at one go.  They're also easier to carry about than full sized bottles in the limited space in the motorhome.

So,  slurp down your ketchup, wash up that container and give this a go.  It might not make you into  Heston Blumenthal but if you take gastronomic ambition a little further than we do you might have some fun making colourful swirly patterns around your puddings with the fruity sauce that you've rustled up!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Yet more Mama's Makes

Again I resort to Mama Lovelygrey's  creations as inspiration for a post.  She made these  last year  from fabric sourced on the Internet  using Simplicity pattern 2922  which is part of the Project Runway collection.  These seem to be designs with many more combinations than usually given with patterns. My hunch is that they might not be at the easy end of the dressmaking spectrum.

This tunic and dress number among my favourite clothes.  They are comfortable and stylish to wear for work and leisure and I nearly always get compliments when I wear them. One of the reasons for this is the ultra neat rows of top stitching around the yoke, which aren't clear from the photographs, but are certainly a lovely stunning detail.

And if you think the cherries are bold then take a look at this red-orange dress, just a longer version of the tunic. Both are great worn with leggings and certainly add colour to a grey day!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Bath: Posh City for Kids

In the last couple of years we've spend two weekends away in Bath with friends with kids. The first time I was hesitant. Surely this was the most grown up of sophisicated locations with very little to offer children. Happily I was wrong.

Firstly there's two good campsites within long-ish walking distance to the city centre.  However, both are on bus routes.  Our favourite is the Bath Marina Caravan Park  on the River Avon  but this only just pips Newton Mill Holiday Park situated in a quiet wooded valley which takes tents too.

Each visit we've been lucky enough to catch art installations. There was 100 decorated pigs a couple of years ago, commemorating the time that the both Bladud, King of Briton and his swine were cured of leprosy by rolling in the hot mud around Bath's springs.  This time there are lions and both Louis and his friend Ben enjoyed spotting some of them in the city centre.

The city attracts lots of street performers who kept the kids entertained.  We were slightly disappointed this time as 'Naked Skate' , two cheeky chappies who sometimes perform acrobatics and juggle in animal print G-strings outside the Pump Rooms were not there.  There was a fully clothed lone juggler and unicyclist in their place  and he was funny.  However he did not get the tears rolling down the face type of laughter that is induced by watching someone cooling their bottom on the tearoom windows after lighting a fart!

And  Royal  Victoria Park, just west of the city centre,  has the biggest children's playground I've ever seen, along with lakes, golf courses and a botanical garden.  To crown it all there's a myriad of cycle paths which we haven't even started to explore yet.  A good excuse, if ever I saw one, to start planning a return trip in September!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


I entered a competition run by the local council a while ago.  The prize for the best recycling idea was a weekend away in a plush Devon hotel.  So I  engaged the brain and sent in an entry that I thought was genius. It had made a real difference in reducing waste that we generated as a family and had saved us money too.   Imagine my surprise  and annoyance, when  the winning entry was something that I do without thinking. 'Use up leftover food'.  My runner up prize of a tea towel offered no 'consolation' and just increased my indignation!

My tip was to use a SodaStream to supply your fizzy drink needs.  Just one 500ml of concentrate makes 12 litres of soda in reusable bottles and the gas canisters are recycled by taking them back to a stockist when a refill is needed.  But the Lovelygrey family have moved on from our original fizzing device, negating the need for fizzy drink bottles altogether. The two taps on our kegerator (see my earlier post) are marked 'W and B'. Many mistake these initials for wine and beer but they're only half right. The W stands for water which is magically fizzed by a big gas bottle attached to the fridge.

By producing homemade cordials and syrups to add to the carbonated water instead,  waste packaging  is cut even further. And sometimes their production gives me an ideal opportunity to indulge in foraging, a favourite pastime.  These are the elderflowers in a secret location near my home that I picked yesterday. Right now, they're soaking in two separate containers to produce a cordial and Elderflower Champagne.  Just follow the links for the recipes I used.  Sante!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Poshing up the Shabby Chic

As my lighthouse project has come to an end my mind is turning to another mosaic adventure.  I have my eye on the rather ugly and dilapidated chest of drawers in the spare room and am thinking of poshing it up by painting it and adding tiles to the top.  Not a small project I realise but one that, when finished, will potentially produce an heirloom piece of furniture provided it doesn't fall apart under the extra weight of the mosaic tiles.

I've turned to my bookmarks on my laptop for inspiration and have been looking in the fabric section.  'Dill Blossom' is a textile  that I've fallen in love with but haven't been successful in sourcing enough  to send to Mama Lovelygrey to make the long fishtail skirt that I'd like.   But I wonder whether all those round shapes and fine lines will stretch me beyond my current mosaicing expertise level.  So,  I'm showing uncharacteristic restraint and have therefore decided against this as a design source. 

But now I've come across a design, that with some modification may be do-able.  I'm not sure about the colour scheme but that's easy enough to change,  In any case I'm determined not to buy any more mosaic tiles and only use up my existing stock. So,  I'll  be constrained by what I already have and thankfully there's not enough dark brown!  The little twigs with berries could present a challenge that's a step too far so they may need to be omitted.

So lots to consider and ideas continue to roll around in my head.  This is certainly not a quick and dirty project so it's one where I'll undoubtedly be providing progress updates over the next few months.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Just finished reading: State of the Union

There's a great new stall in the waiting area where I work that sells books for a donation of £1 to the hospital's charity.   State of the Union caught my eye as I was browsing on the way through to my office one day, maybe because of the quote on the back cover from a Daily Mirror reviewer 'Kennedy is a complete genius when it comes to understanding the minds of stylish but troubled women.  What's more, he does so entrallingly and movingly'!  I've checked out a picture of the author on Amazon where he's looking a bit like the Fonz which might be why he understands us 'lay-dees' so well . Just click on the book at the top of the post to see what I mean.

The book spans the time period between the sixties and the current day, telling how the consequences of one 'mistake' in a woman's life when she was young has countless ramifications years later.  It's a long read of nearly six hundred pages, which was started at the tail end of my holiday.  So the question 'Was it worth two weeks of my life?' must be posed.

The book is indeed a page turner and mainly gripping although I found myself skipping bits of narrative a few times.  I enjoyed the story hugely but that didn't find me thinking how implausible it was in both detail and overall plot.  For example, without giving too much away, a body is discovered (in the right place) wearing the same eye-wateringly priced designer necklace as a missing person in the book. She then turns up months later waitressing in Canada.    I'm also not sure that the book earns Mr Kennedy the title of  'Chief Lady Empathiser' as the Daily Mirror critic suggests.  Perhaps he needs a go at getting into my psyche to earn this accolade but perhaps I'm not sophisicated or screwy enough.

For a holiday read this is great and would be welcome when delayed at an airport for hours. And I'm not ruling out reading any of the author's other books, but not at a time when I want a serious read.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Lighthouse Lamp

This blog is 100 posts old today! I thought that when I got this far  I'd reflect on my progress. But I'm always a bit bored when  papers review  the year and wondered whether others feel that way too. So instead I bring you...ta da....the Lighthouse Lamp!

You may recall that this was featured in an earlier post . Its been a major source of hiccups that Mr Lovelygrey has tut-tutted his way through because of the high bodging component. The problem, as he has repeatedly told me,  is that I didn't plan properly.

Although it looks quite acceptable in this picture the lighthouse started off as a shabby money box that I found for 99p in a charity shop.  After chopping it in two and removing the small dowels and string I started to mosaic it enthusiastically before working out the logistics of modifications to take the electrical fittings and how I'd fit a low-energy bulb into something that resembled the top of the lighthouse.   So bits of tile fell off during drilling and its been very much trial and error finding the case for the bulb.  Finally I've settled on an antipasto jar!  Lastly,  I had to wire a bulb, something I haven't done since my Girl Guide days for something like my handyperson badge.

So now that's done and dusted. On another note here's the finished bangle from Sunday's Mini Church of Craft just in case that any non-believers out there who think that I never complete anything!

PS:  Thanks to Naomi, Paul and Melanie my trusty followers and to Mama Lovelygrey for all her makes. I know she reads me too.  And if there are others out there following secretly, don't be shy - come forward so I know who you are!

Friday, 18 June 2010

Yoga Nidra

I've been regularly attending a Hatha Yoga class for about two years.  It lasts one and a half hours but many participants arrive early so they can lie around the floor for a while.  We're then rudely interrupted by gentle-ish postures for about an hour before we return to the purpose of the evening, as I see it anyway,a relaxing lie again, this time for twenty minutes practice of Yoga Nidra.

According to a BBC webpage Yoga Nidra, also called yogic sleep is a point between waking and sleep, practised in a totally relaxed state. In this state contact with the subconscious and unconscious dimensions can occur spontaneously which leaves the mind very sensitive to suggestion. The aim of the practice is to release physical, emotional and emotional tension and it is said that an hour of Yoga Nidra equates to four hours of conventional sleep.

During the practice begins, a 'sankalpa' is repeated three times which is a short, positive resolution.  This is intended to reshape your personality and direction in life along positive lines, acting on auto-suggestion. Apparently once chosen the exact wording of the sankalpa should not be fiddled with each time that Yoga Nidra is practised and should only be changed when the desired outcomes have been achieved,  Mine, rather surprisingly, given my desire to sleep in class,  is 'I shall be energised in all areas of my life'.  Not working yet love, you may think!

So, blissfully we're instructed to lie on the floor and get as comfortable as possible.  With my cosy cushions, faux fur blanket and soft fleecy hoody at the ready, I'm happy to  comply completely with this request.  But then we're asked to close our eyes, stay as still as possible,  but remain alert. And this is where the problem starts.  Easy-peasy in theory but in practice at 8:30pm in the evening after a full day's work et al. it's not the piece of cake it deserves to be.  I mostly end up sleeping lightly and to be honest feel a bit aggrieved if I'm cheated of this chance to kip.  However, one memorable and embarrassing evening I had to be physically roused from undoubtedly snore addled sleep by our lovely teacher, Kathy.  On the one occasion I stayed fully aware I was so amazed that I truly felt that I must have achieved enlightenment.

But this need  and desire to sleep when I should stay awake has helped me to question whether this could be a wake up call to myself.  Perhaps  I need to set aside more time devoted to proper rest and relaxation. With the help of my  very own Yoga Nidra CD  I'm exploring the effect that this practice has when extended into everyday life.  And if my sankalpa works look out for the highly energised Lovelygrey who, in future, will be a formidable match for the Duracell Bunny.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

First Fruits....

....or veg as it happens! Last's night's supper offering from Mr Lovelygrey used the first of the produce from the deep beds that he built and and has been tending  in the garden. Nothing complex, just something that showed off the flavours of the tender young vegetables, a broad bean, pea and mint risotto. Just the thing for my poorly tum with no wheat or meat in sight.  As it's his usual source he probably used the basic recipe from Monsieur Oliver's  first book, written when Jamie was young, frisky and still very much naked.

Much to my husband's dismay I am not Rachel de Thame sharing neither her doe-eyed, willowy looks or love of gardening. But then, he's not Percy Thrower either!  When we moved into the house I believe that the former owners had liked to dabble with planting because there's some interesting stuff there.  However, much was overgrown and the lawn was in a bad state having been used as a subsize football pitch by three young sons.

Now in an ideal world, a landscape artist would come in and sort out the whole outside area in one go.  But it ain't going to happen and we don't have shedloads of time to spend on it.  So the garden has to slowly become productive and a pleasant place to sit rather than this being achieved in one 'wham bam thank you ma'am' moment.  So I will get my summer house/workshop in the top corner one day and maybe if this summer stays pleasant the fence will be painted and a more neutral backdrop will replace the screamingly nasty reddy brown wood that currently dominates.

But more often my eyes are skipping over the areas that look like disaster zones and findings things of beauty.  I've been amazed at the loveliness of the flowering legumes, particularly the broad beans.  And I'm certain that they'll be more to interest me as the year goes on as for the first year we'll get round to autumn planting in a few months.  As I get more inspired, perhaps I'll get around to working outside a little more myself and even adding an arty feature or two!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Sick Pit

Even though no body parts are falling off me (see Poorly, my post last week), I stayed at home today as Mr Lovelygrey told me to.  'You can't go to work like that.' he commented, as he watched me writhe around mid-stomach spasm and reluctantly I agreed.

It seems likely that the excesses of our French holiday, too much bread, wine and meat, have triggered a old problem, my now rare irritable bowel syndrome.  So, whilst I wait for the symptoms to subside I've turned the spare room into my sick pit with books and my laptop. Even the odd piece of crafting material has made it in here as I'm trying to perfect an even plait using leather thongs (the bits of string, not the uncomfortable pants!).

As you can see I'm perfectly prepared to ride it out. I'm near the loo and have a teamaker (Mr Lovelygrey) on hand.  So hoping I'll be my normal self soon and whilst I'm waiting, at least I can be productive between dozes.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Pockets of Filth

I hope that this post won't make everyone think that I'm due a visit from Aggie and Kim complete with petri dishes and fluffy rubber gloves.  The ultra-clean among you might view me as a slattern after reading this but hey, as a working mum I don't think I'm alone.  And at least I'm contrite.

I like my house to be clean and tidy BUT.... every so often I come across a pocket of filth where I've neglected to clean often enough.  The cupboard where I keep my oils and sauces used to be one.  I think the bottles have nightly parties  because even though they're put away apparently clean, within a short space of time there's goo all over the unit bottom.  It's as if they've been fountaining their contents with delight overnight.

Now if a pocket of filth is ignored the gloop situation can get out of control but I've devised a plan that's slowly reducing the incidences between finding them.  If I've found a particularly mucky area that I've previously overlooked I schedule it into my  electronic 'To Do' List so that cleaning is considered on a regular basis.  In the case of the 'party cupboard' this is monthly.

To prove a point I found another neglected area of the house today that needs more regular attention.  The airing cupboard, although not dirty as such, is dreadfully untidy and a far cry from the pictures of cupboard contents that are shown in aspirational catalogues.  So keeping this in order is going on as a monthly task too.

Isn't this awfully hard work?  Not really because jobs tackled regularly stay manageable.  Sometimes I approach a scheduled task and there's very little to do.  Somehow things keep themselves cleaner on their own!   I reckon a quick wipe down or tidy up on a regular basis  ultimately saves time in dealing with ingrained dirt or grossly built up clutter.  And with regular checks at the backs of cupboard I'm also more aware of their contents.  This means I regularly  get rid of things that are nver going to be used again and am less likely to buy duplicates of things we've already got!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Just finished reading: Small Island

If you asked me when I was just half listening  if I liked history I'd probably say no. But that is because, even though I dropped it before O-Level, I vividly recall lessons that were comprised of tedious monologues about wars and laws that we were ordered to transcribe.  Enough to put anyone off  I hope you'd agree. However, given time to think I would admit that I do like to know about what day to day lives were like for our ancestors, the nuts and bolts of what went on in the recent and more distant past.  It might be that some novels set in past times may give us non history buffs more lasting insight into what life was like for our forebears than if we were to read a factual historic text.

Small Island is another book that I finished on holiday following the fluffier and far more risque start that I got off to (which is now being avidly passed around my smutty workmates!).  This is an beautifully written and enjoyable read about the reception that Carribean immigrants received after they were invited to England after the war.  Now I did realise that blacks were not always welcomed with open arms when they arrived.  What I hadn't appreciated was the contribution that they had made to the war effort prior to being so mistreated in the country  which, for me, makes the behaviour of people at that time even more deplorable. In  Clare Francis' book, Homeland, a similar theme is explored from the perspective of a main character, a Pole who decides to stay on after the war  in the Somerset Levels. Funnily enough, he isn't treated like a special guest and shown into the metaphorical front rooms of the time either.  I also didn't appreciate the rich food cultures that the immigrants left behind to be replaced by the shockingly bland English food.

Okay, I can't believe that all white people were quite so evil as they are portrayed in this book but perhaps us pinko lefties weren't in great abundance then.   And I take on board the criticism that some Amazon reviewers have made that the characters are rather stereotypical.  But I'm not too pedantic so forgive these faults. The book allowed me to tick the thought provoking and educational boxes that I like to cover to make my  holiday reading have a virtuous component and therefore comes recommended.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Mini Church of Craft: Volume 2

Naomi, pictured hard at work in my kitchen this morning, kindly volunteered at our monthly crafting get together to show us how to produce a herringbone pattern around a bead. This looks terribly complicated but is much more of a doddle than the completed design suggests. Having said that, some practice is needed to perfect the technique and keep the pattern uniform.  Also we learned that when a grey haired forty something cuts a piece of wire from a reel she can inexplicably produce an impressively knotty abstract piece of macrame in the space of seconds (Sorry again Naomi!!!)

And this is our work.  In the space of an hour the 'expert' completed both the earrings and bracelet and Melanie made the pendant in superfast time too.  It may come as no surprise to my 'regulars' that  the unfinished piece is mine, but I have since turned it into a bangle.

After our own crafty efforts we went to see how the experts do things at the Contemporary Craft Fair at Bovey Tracey.  This very high quality event includes inspirational work by people whose skill levels are breathtaking.  Alas, my meagre budget didn't extend to buying any of the pieces I really coveted but I enjoyed the window shopping and gleaned some lovely ideas for future projects.  Louis came with us, and enjoyed the candle dipping, the Punch and Judy show and trying his hand at weaving.   And now here ends a very succesful craft filled day for all ages!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

One a Month

No this is not my personal target for fruit and vegetable consumption.  I love a banana as much as the next man, woman or monkey!  The title of this post refers to one of the strategies I use for keeping my own 'black dog' at bay. Google 'Churchill' and the aforementioned canine creature if you're not sure what I mean and never let it be said that this post is not highly educative!

Of course my beloved Citalopram plays a role and let me tell you that any GP that tries to take these wondereful pills away too soon will be fought on the beaches or wherever else they might fancy a ruck.  But as a responsible adult I'm firmly of the belief that I have to actively manage my own health and because I am an occupational therapist my thoughts naturally turn to activity, happily of the nice variety.

I got the idea of producing my own pleasurable events schedule from the Wellness Recovery Action Plans (WRAPs)  that are becoming more and more of a feature of mental health self management.  In fact, at work, they're in the arsenal of things that I encourage people on my caseload to use. One of the nice things I'm trying to do is to plan special at least once a month.   So in March there was my lovely mosaic course at High Heathercombe  and May's treat was a hotel stay in Bristol with friends over the first bank holiday.  And to look forward to there's the family's first ever festival visit to Chagstock in July and an autumn break in the motorhome in Brittany (again!!) in October.  The event itself and planning for it is certainly, for me, the mental Sanatogen that it's supposed to be.

Anyway, this month's event was a trip to GoApe in Haldon Forest with fellow occupational therapists, Kay and Melanie, who were my partners in crime when at college together. The experience is described as an obstacle course in the trees and combines ladders and walkways  that often demanded a certain amount of courage to tackle with wonderfully fun zip slides at the end of each challenge stage. 

This picture, dark that as it is (but all the better to hide my fat bits!) represents my greatest moment of fear; swinging Tarzan-like from a platform into a great big cargo net!  This was almost the finale of a great day out which left us tired and exhilirated.  Not something I want to repeat on a regular basis but certainly an activity that I'd like to try again in the future, maybe when Louis is ten and old enough to participate.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Baked Bean Soup and Other Camper Van Treats

In spite of Mr Lovelygrey's protestations about how fuel consumption is affected by excessive weight, I snuck two new cookbooks into the motorhome to see if they could provide inspiration for some tasty offerings. This was one of the meals, a African/Carribean Chicken and Vegetable Stirfry from Mums Know Best, the latest offering from the gorgeously rotund Hairy Bikers.  It turned out a treat with its flavourings of curry powder, soy, lemon juice and basil.  I only wavered from their instructions by stirring the rice through the other ingredients to give the dish a paella-esque feel.

 It was cooked on our new toy for the van a Cadac Safari Chef Barbecue that is lightweight and comes in its own bag. But the good thing is that the accessories for this clever device include a griddle (flat on one side, ribbed the other) and a wok which has the potential of lifting our camping cuisine repetoire to new heights and prevent lingering odours in the bedding when we cook fish. And to further increase our gastronomic options whilst away, we brought the pressure cooker from home with us and knocked up a fabulous faux-slow cooked beef stew.

In the mid 1990s I used to go into Sainsbury's for a pint of milk and come out with three 99p cookbooks as well.   Some are still in use today including The Good Soup Book by Lindsey Bareham which is a source of a favourite recipe that is a single pot job and so sits firmly in the classic camping school of cookery.  The Baked Bean Soup from the 'Storecupboard' section of the book, which is otherwise divided according to season, has a far more complex flavour than its humble ingredients would suggest.

Just fry and then crumble four rashers of streaky bacon.  Chop and fry an onion in the bacon fat left in the pan, then add a can of beans, a pint and a half of chicken stock, 4 tablespoons of breadcrumbs and a really healthy dash of Worcester sauce. Season, bring to the boil and them simmer for five minutes. Add the crumbled bacon and some croutons if you're feeling posh.

Needless to say such good home cooking means that we're not tempted to eat out while away, although we did treat ourselves to Moules-Frites at Roscoff on the last day.  Of course, to suggest how much of a saving on holiday costs that this represents, is stating the blooming obvious!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Free Flowers

Last week, after a leisurely lunch  the Lovelygrey family took a stroll along the Breton coastpath from  our motorhome  through the Grignallou woods to an old deserted watermill where Mr Lovelygrey slipped on slime and stlll sports a impressively bruised bum.

But on this otherwise idyllic trip we all enjoyed  picking wild flowers and grasses along which were then displayed on our return in one of the wonderful ceramic pots that the yoghurt on the ferry comes in.  Louis was particularly impressed with the grasses with the big fluffy heads that he nicknamed 'Mr Softies and some of these have returned to the UK with us to see if we can extract the seeds and grow our own.

It occured to me that we could create an everlasting  year round dynamic display of flowers and foliage by picking out dying specimens and adding new replacements.  However Mr Lovelygrey's hayfever put pay to the idea in the van.  In hindsight, sleeping within five feet of extremely polleny blooms isn't particularly clever.

But it may be something I'll try again now home,  where there's a bit more space to keep sensitive noses and allergens apart.  And the yoghurt pots are going to be reused to house an indoor herb garden on the kitchen windowsill.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Thought for the Day: Poorly

Today, my head has a dull ache and my tummy is complaining more than the men in my household, a considerable feat.  I'm sure this might be self inflicted because of too much meaty rich food and wine in France.   True, I am trying to get together the materials to make two lovely bath mats which require 350 real corks but that's no excuse.  And there's always that sneaking suspicion that excessive baguette consumption might play a part too seeing that Mama Lovelygrey is a coeliac and, as such, completely intolerant of wheat.

But in spite of times when I have been severely uncomfortable I've still gone to work. There seems to be two schools of thought on this one.  There's the 'if you're ill you're ill' camp who advocate taking leave for all but the most minor ailments and the 'struggle on regardless' crew who have to have limbs dropping off  and be trailing a drip before they'd contemplate a day off.

As I've got older I've increasingly steered towards the latter point of view, hence my decision to turn up today. My altruistic self stresses  things like responsibility and being dependable whilst the self seeking part of my nature thinks about the tedium of catching up and  effect of taking unplanned time off on future workload.  All seem valid concerns to me.  And I might not have been effective as when I'm feeling chipper but still achieved a fair amount, probably with no adverse consequences for my future health or length of recovery time - I'll let you know if I am wrong if I'm still able!

Interestingly I've read that our reactions to our children's illnesses when they are young affect their attitudes to how they respond to unpleasant symptoms throughout their adult life.   If we cosset them everytime they say they're feeling poorly sickness behaviour is reinforced.   The sneaky little beggars also take note of what parents do when they feel unwell and learn from that too (see this abstract for an example)!

So my musing for the day leads me to conclude that serious symptoms shouldn't be shrugged off  and need to be investigated within the appropriate time frame.  So it's worth knowing about, for example, the symptoms of meningitis or stroke, where fast action is essential.  Spreading infection around is also a consideration especilally, if like me, you work with people who are more adversely affected by bugs that our normal superhuman immune systems can shake off.   But it's also helpful to reflect on our behaviour when we've contracted minor 'lurgies' and seeing whether our reaction is overstated.  If it is, it might be a wake up call to think about why there's a need to avoid work. It's certainly a question that employers are asking more and more in these hard times.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


I've had an idea hanging around in my head ever since I heard two authors, Ros Badger and Elspeth Thompson speak about their book at Dartington Hall's 'Ways with Words' last year.  In the main, Homemade: Gorgeous Things to Make with Love wasn't for me.  A lot of the things in it were quite twee and a bit too Cath Kidston-esque.  It was also a funny mix of craft and cookery tips although I do realise that this may be a serious case of someone calling the kettle black.

However I did like their idea of making cards from photos of words picked out in stones.  So Louis and I gathered some assorted treasures on our very own Breton beach and had a few goes writing with pebbles, shells and bits of sea glass.  Some  attempts were more successful than others. As you can see from these examples  there may well be lessons to learn about the importance of contrast and choosing an unfussy background when we do this again on our next beach trip.  But our messages weren't all indecipherable and a couple of the designs had the potential to be turned into our very own greetings.

  Now back home, I've used the best part of a rainy afternoon trying to work out how to turn a piece of A4 photo paper into a landscape format card using Word. After several attempts where writing appeared upside on some of my pages this is how I finally suceeded.
  • Page 1: Pressed the return key until I had produced an entire blank page
  • Page 2: Added a greeting using the right sized text and aethestically pleasing font.  Again lots of return key abuse to centre the text
  • Page 3: Inserted my picture rotated by 180 degrees (i.e. upside down).
  • Page 4:  Added a small logo as a footer for the back of my card
 I then set my printer on duplex printing on a two sheets to a page setting in landscape format.  Halfway through printing my two sided document,  I  followed the on-screen instructions to insert  the paper print side up but against advice, turned the paper around.

Of course, your printer may be different but I urge you to play with bits of normal A4 paper until your card comes out in the desired format.  Then like me you can say 'Eat your heart out Moonpig!'