Friday, 31 December 2010

Out with the Old.....

Each year I get annoyed with the broadsheets who compile a review of the year's events instead of offering original material.  'That's so lazy', I've thought.  But today, I am going to embrace hypocrisy wholeheartedly and do the same thing!

Firstly, I'm proud to say that Mr Lovelygrey and I have knocked a whopping massive £12,700 of the balance of our mortgage. If we keep this up I reckon we'll be on target to clear it altogether by my fiftieth birthday in four and a bit years time. We've achieved this, not by skimping and saving on the things that we really enjoy, such as our regular trips to France, but by thinking carefully about our everyday spending and larger purchases.  For example, I reckon we save about £600 per annum by not having TV subscriptions or mobile phone contracts.  Cutting our own hair and using basic toiletries reduces our expenditure by £700.  Using up food leftovers means that we save at least £250, a very conservative figure for the average cost of food thrown away by a household.  All these seemingly little savings mount up.  But there's the occasional biggie. By  rejecting the flannel from a double glazing salesman we saved a whopping £6,500!

I've submitted an academic article for publication, holidayed in France for a total of five weeks and visited Bath, London, Edinburgh and Bristol.  My 'festival virginity' was plucked from me by attending Chagstock with the Lovelygrey boys and because of this  I have joined the ranks of those who like to party to open air music in the summer months.  Although I don't seem to have as much time as I'd like for making things I've finished a mosaic picture and lampbase, a ring, a sock monkey,  a cakestand,  teapots galore and various necklaces, bracelets and pendants made from silver and beads.  Sales of jewellery have started although they're not enough to worry the taxman at the current time as expenditure on lovely tools and materials  is way ahead of income.   Rearranging my household chores has freed up time to enjoy my weekends.  Oh yes..and I've started my blog and with it learnt how to play with technology, write for an audience and take the occasional decent snap to illustrate my point.

As with some of the round robin letters that come with Christmas cards,  I could stop at the good bits and fool you into believing that my life and family are more perfect than it seems.  But this is not so.  My father in law passed away at the beginning of the year and we had to educate Louis about serious illness and death.   Other family members struggle with mental health problems and my own moods rises and dips a little bit too much for my liking.  I haven't eaten as healthily as I'd wish or meditated and exercised enough.  A foray into ethical unit trust investment hasn't been as successful as I dreamed it would be.  Oh yes, those home haircuts - most of the time I'm perfectly proud of my handiwork but,   I must confess that, for a couple of months,  I had to manage with only half of a left eyebrow!

The big thing about this year is that I've started to take chances.  Fear of criticism and failure put the kybosh on my creativity and often stopped me doing seemingly simple things, like entering some shops or voicing an opinion.  Happily all that nonsense has stopped and I've been stretching myself in the direction that I want to go, which may not necessarily be the one that others expect of me.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Personal Tiger

An unwelcome visitor has reared its head for the first time in ages.  Persistent feelings of anxiety are back, and for me, it manifests itself in a very physical way.   I liken it to being endlessly stalked by my own personal tiger and he's not quite as pretty as Rousseau's magnificent beast depicted here.  Okay, an adrenaline rush might be a novel and pleasurable experience when it arises from  thrill seeking but it's no great shakes when for its around for days on end.  Perhaps it's why I'm not personally drawn to bungee jumping or a rollercoaster riding,   My fight or flight mechanism has got enough going on without participating in extreme sports!

Now I've got pretty good at analysing my own thinking and gauging whether anything specific is bothering me.  But there is nothing specific that I'm excessively fretting about at the moment.  Yes, work is a little more stressful than usual, my sleep is not great, a few family worries and a big holiday coming up but nothing dominates my thoughts.  More likely it's a bit of everything that's causing this heightened and uncomfortable state of alertness.

There are some practical things I'm doing to get back on track,  sorting out solvable problems rather than burying my head in the sand, 'fessing up to my manager that my concentration and hence productivity is less than optimum whilst I'm in this state and taking positive steps to relax and recharge the batteries.  My lovely Yoga Nidra CDs have been dusted off to facilitate this.  But, there are some things that I can't change and again acceptance has been a valuable concept to me.  Observing my anxiety for what it is at the present time and recognising that it is transients seems to facilitate the process of change and allows me to function at a level where I surprise myself.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Lost Time

My watch was only a cheap Sekonda that I bought on the ferry crossing to France about two years ago.  I'd been thinking about replacing it with a better quality and more longlasting one for some time now as its bezel had long since disappeared and its strap was tatty with fluff ridden velcro.  So when I lost it the other day, I wasn't too disappointed.  In fact, its disappearance  gave me the ideal opportunity to shop for a new one!

Mr Lovelygrey pointed me in the direction of  watches whose batteries are charged by solar power.  Ideal to assuage any guilt associated with my wanton consumerism.  However, whilst I was happily trawling Amazon, Ebay and the like  Mr Lovelygrey plonked his old watch on my desk, offering it as a loan whilst I waited for my new shiny to arrive in the post.  It's scratched and, like my other watch, has a missing bezel.  But it got me thinking and stopped my shopping in its tracks.

If there is a working watch in the house, isn't it better to use it rather than purchasing a new replacement?  I thought so, and Mr Lovelygrey has kindly converted the loan to a gift.  I'll used this one at least until its battery needs replacement.  Then I'll give those funky eco fellows a second glance!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Fat Bird

Okay, I'll admit this cheeky chappie needs to be plump to keep warm,  but this is not so for Lovelygrey.  I've a collection of warm fleecy clothing to do that job. There is no need for the layer of fat which has been slowly building up over the last few months with enhancement from festive feasting!i

Now I wrote about my plans to diet back in September  but I have to confess that I was 'all mouth and  no trousers'.  This phrase could well take on a literal meaning soon as I'm having difficulty squeezing into my jeans now and if I keep on eating they just won't fit anymore.

Drastic times call for drastic measures!  So instead of shopping in the sales for more clothes that I don't really need I've used my money to purchase six months membership of Nutracheck instead.  This sensible weight loss plan has been my friend in the past.   The simple act of using their food and exercise diary in combination with treating myself every time I lost seven pounds meant I managed to lose two stone and gain two lovely silver pendants, a new phone and a laptop in eight months!  

So it's time to dust off the yoga mat and walking boots. I'll  resist those cakes and biscuits at work and keep my thoughts of downing extra calories away by considering which craftsperson will benefit first from my newly adapted reward system which builds in incentives to keep those hard earned lost pounds at bay!

Monday, 27 December 2010

Mama Lovelygrey's Christmas Makes

As promised yesterday, here's the latest offerings from  Mama Lovelygrey.  When I was asked for suggestions of what Louis might like for Christmas, I spurned shop bought plastic and asked for home made offerings.   Here's the 'Blue Peter' sledge, knocked up years ago on this kid's programme at the time when John Noakes ruled supreme.  Mama Lovelygrey has kept the instructions safe for years but, to my surprise, they may still be gleaned from the programme's website.   You might notice that this picture was especially taken for this post, hence the unsuitable footwear, but I assure you that the vehicle has made its maiden journey on the snowy hills surrounding Lovelygrey Villa and works a treat!  Total cost for the wood, metal and handles for this wonderful toy - around eight pounds!

Papa Lovelygrey has to be thanked too for the second offering as one of his overalls was cut up to make this chef's hat and apron of Mama Lovelygrey's own design!  As you see it's already been put to good use when Louis helped make Nigella's Nutella Cake! This involved lots of chocolate testing so the outfit has already lost its pristine whiteness.

Thank you Mama Lovelygrey for these beautiful gifts made with love. They are very much appreciated and will provide years of pleasurable play!

Sunday, 26 December 2010


Well, Christmas Day is over and most of our pressies are open.  A pair of guns with one thousand plastic pellets that I picked up in a charity shop for £1.50 have gone down a storm with my son.  Proof indeed that you don't have to spend a lot of money to keep a child happy.

Although there's a geeneral present amnesty amongst the adults of the family, Mr Lovelygrey and I swap gifts and Louis buys everyone a small treat from his school's Christmas Fayre to help him appreciate that this is a time for giving as well as receiving.   Now Mr Lovelygrey gets himself into a tizz if he has to find presents himself so I sometimes end up buying my own.  I'm sure that this can't be unfamiliar to other women out there.

Anyway, I thought it was time I bit the bullet and purchased Lizzie Sander's beautiful form folded jellyfish that I've been coveting since the summer.  A contribution towards the cost of this will romantically pass from Mr Lovelygrey's bank account to my own! 

But my Christmas has not been completely surprise free.  There's a beautful pots of hyacinth bulbs from my brother in law and his wife and  my clever sister in law brought us a lovely hamper  pictured here in all its glory before it was rifled.  It's  filled with goodies that are all home made; sloe gin, cherry brandy, biscotti, Nigella's sweet and salty nut crunch bars, lemon curd and chutney.   Justification indeed to  throw aside any worries about giving hand crafted offering rather than bought gifts.  More proof of this tomorrow! 

Saturday, 25 December 2010

March of the Penguins

I'll make no apologies for the continuing foodie nature of my posts.  Both Mr Lovelygrey and I come from families of competent amateur cooks and sumptuous home cooked fare is an important part of our get togethers.

Like the wannabe posh woman, Susan Carter, on  BBC Radio 4's long running soap,  the Archers  canapes are on our Christmas Day menu replacing the need for a sit down starter and I searched my cookbooks and the Internet to provide inspiration of what could be prepared ahead of time.

After an extensive search for two different sized types of  black olives for heads and bodies, these cute beasties were assembled.  Instructions can be found here, along with a picture of a far more professional looking end product.  But then, again these were probably created by a food stylist who had less fun making them than the seven year old Louis and his clumsy mother!  I've decided to present them on a snowy landscape of cheese topped biscuits with a Christmas tree garnish,  a venerable meeting of North versus South indeed.  A photo of the finished products  will be added later if they're not wolfed down by the family before I can get my shot!

PS: They got eaten too quickly!!!!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Near Crime of Passion!

It's a really quick one today as I've got to crack on with cooking a two day feast.  I grumble and groan but really quite enjoy pottering about in the kitchen creating festive fare for family to share over the weekend.  Fifty two pigs in blankets and a dish full of Saucy Sprouts were prepared yesterday evening with the creative process helped along by a wee dram or two of a fine single malt and Radio 4.

My mission  over the last two days has been to track down passionfruit in the stores in the South Hams.  All hail to Annie's Totnes where at 8:30am this morning I reckon I secured the last available within  a fifteen mile radius, narrowly beating another customer who was enquiring about the whereabouts of this delectable fruit as I reached the till.  Luckily the residents in this alternative town are a peaceable lot and I wasn't mugged for my bounty after I emerged into Ticklemore Street!

So my pavlova will be completed to plan and I might share the finished product and, indeed, my canape penguins over the next day or two!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Coeliac's Christmas

I don't profess to understand this depiction of the tummy of a coeliac but rather liked its roundedness and subdued colour palette.  Physiology has never been my strongest subject.   Too much learning by rote for someone who likes to wing it in the academic sphere!    Anyway, this picture tenuously heralds good news.  My predictions of doom and gloom for a lonely Christmas earlier in the week have come to nothing and the Essex contingent are going to beat the weather and come for Christmas.  Yes, Mama and Papa Lovelygrey are scheduled to arrive later today!

Most of our Christmas feast is homemade but really careful inspection of packaging is required if shop bought items are relied on.  And, from personal experience, it's all too easy to forgot not to slip some flour into a previously unadulterated sauce to thicken it.  But with a bit of forethought some delicious offerings can be rustled up and here's what we've got planned.  Not a crostini, crudite, pizza bite or vol au vent in sight.

Homemade pates made from fish and vegetables whizzed together with butter and seasoning for spreading on Mum's gluten free bread and French Toast for others
Delia's Bloody Mary Tomatoes (boy, do these use a lot of vodka!)
Penguin Canapes
Galloping Horses - a lovely alternative to cheese and pineapple on sticks

Big Roastie dinners with lots of veg cooked in different ways, though avoiding flour in sauces.  Don't forget those sausages that are wrapped in bacon need to be the gluten free variety.

Passionfruit Pavlova - A big meringue topped with the said fruit and lots of whipped cream
Nigella's Nutella Cake 
Trifle made with blueberries, raspberries, cornflour based custard and amaretti biscuits.

As you can see Mama Lovelygrey is not going to feel left out of our lovely 'banquets'  which just take a bit more upfront planning than the usual festive fare!


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Women - Simple Beasties!

Sue at Piggies Heaven alerted me to the Simple Woman's Daybook, a blog that provides a template encouraging  reflection on everyday experience.  I'm not sure if I can number self amongst the simple women.  My life seems a bit too complicated sometimes!  Anyway I'm joining the band of
ladies who've contributed a snapshot of their life to the site.

  • Outside my window... It is stil dark.  The snow befits a December morning and turns my neighbours 1980s bungalow into a gingerbread house.    I hope for stars but, alas, it is cloudy.  In a  while,with the emerging light, the church in the next village along the valley will come into view.
  • I am thinking...perhaps a little too much.  Regular mindfulness practice where my brain takes a break reallly does  need to resume again shortly.
  • I am thankful much;  health, family, likeminded friends, a constructive life where work and leisure provide pleasure and fulfillment, a beautiful part of the country in which to live, access to information that I never could have conceived to be possible when I was younger.
  • From the learning rooms...I have used study days to write an opinion piece for one of my profession's journal.  It been submitted and I'm hoping to hear whether it will be published soon.
  • From the kitchen...preparations are underway for the weekend's family feast.  Sausage rolls and tiropites, small Greek cheesy pastries are done and dusted and in the freezer ready for cooking at the weekend.  Today I tackle Nigella's Chocolate Hazelnut Cake.
  • I am wearing..much loved clothes that feel a bit too tight. Must be remedied when feasting ceases!
  • I am creating.... There's lots of bits of jewellery around too that will be finished one day.
  • I am going...Transatlantic soon!  My holiday is one of those things that are occupying that cluttered mind of mine.
  • I am reading...Marian Keyes.  I'm not in the mindset to read anything too intellectual or challenging at the current time.  A bit of well written chick lit is just what I need.
  • I am hoping...there will be a break in the snow at the end of the week and my family will be able to make it for Christmas. That those I know who're under the weather get well soon.
  • I am hearing...very little at all, just the tapping of the keys and the faint rumbling of traffic on the A-road half a mile away.
  • Around the house...presents are stashed.  My study is no longer off limits to the rest of the family now my helper elves have left to go to another home where a busy mum needs help with present wrapping.
  • One of my favorite own company.
  • A few plans for the rest of the week...clearing the decks at work, finishing food preparation,  family arriving and of course, preparing all that food, glorious food. 
  • Here is a picture for thought I am sharing.....

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Thought for the Day: Of Mice and Men

Lovelygrey Villas is now well and truly snowed in.  Our £3.99 investment in a mini sled, the Bum Skid, has paid off and it's our only means of working transport at the moment apart from Shank's pony although he's complaining about snow over his wellie tops. Up on the main drag through the village, a few 4X4s are moving around but they're doing so gingerly.  I heard that the village shop ran out of milk at 10am  yesterday morning so mere mortals with ordinary cars might have to make do with black tea soon. 

What to do?  Well, when life throws you a snowball.... make snowmen!  There's nothing for it but to join the kids and the dogs around here, have lots of fun and make the most of this highly unseasonal seasonal weather!  This jolly seven year old high  fellow was knocked together in no time and I reckon's he's our best ever!  Part of our limited food store has been put to use to make this fellow's nose but might have to be retrieved if our veg box order never makes it here!

My best laid plans for a family Christmas could be well and truly scuppered.  The Essex contingent have already wisely dipped out and who knows if everyone else will be able to make it from Brighton, Somerset and yes, even the other side of Haldon Hill.  The already complex exercise of shopping in anticipation of frantic food preparation has got even knottier.   Some might view the whole scenario as disasterous but for me, I prefer to see it as an exercise in  acceptance and adaptibility.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Going Crackers

The Lovelygrey boys and I spent Christmas day on our own last year.  As I was sick of nasty plastic novelties and even the more 'classy' gifts that come in  luxury versions of crackers, I made my own from a kit which included pre-cut cardboard outers and snaps.

We've got a houseful for the festive season this year and I decided to repeat the exercise.  However I balked at the cost of the cracker kits and decided to make all twenty two on my own from scratch this year with a little help from Louis.

Firstly I bought gifts.  As family members who will be visiting this year may read this post I cannot divulge too much.  However here are some ideas and remember that items in gift sets on sale in high street stores have the potential to be separated to provide presents for several people.

  • Small accessories: phone charms or keyrings, unusual buttons,  hairgrips, brooches, rings, cufflinks, Jibbitz for Crocs shoes or their equivalent.
  • Cash for kids (think tooth fairy)
  • Lottery tickets or homespun vouchers say, for an evening's baby sitting or a special supper or an Internet subscription code.
  • Small cosmetic or toiletry items.
  • Alcohol miniatures.
  • Novelty stationery items.
  • Sufficient beads for the recipent to make their own piece of jewellery.
  • Flower or vegetable seeds.
  • Finger puppets.
  • Model cars.
  • Tiny collectable dolls, lego figures,  toy soldiers
  • Pocket kite.
  • A fossil or rock specimen.
  • Tiny pieces of ceramics/glass/craftwork if that's the recipient's bag.
Next Louis and I copied jokes from books and the Internet.    The Poke and the last year's Guardian ad a few that made me giggle but some  of these are  too risque for the more delicate taste of the Oldies and set a bad example to the young one.   Some of the jokes have been personally chosen for their recipient.

Then the constructional fun started.  Naturally, I turned to the new queen of creativity, Kirsty Young, for advice and found some in the form of her tutorial for making Christmas Crackers.  However, prototypes following the exact instructions weren't particularly successful so here's what I did instead.

1.  As Kirsty suggested I cut wrapping paper into 30 x 20cm squares and perforated each piece 10cm from each short end using a specially bought wheely device. She suggested thick paper but I used a thinner variety as I found it easier to manipulate.

2.  Instead of toilet or kitchen rolls I used A4 card for the core.  I cut two 14.75 x 14cm rectangles from each sheet and cut one of the 7cm wide remnants along its length to make the rolls used to shape each end of the cracker.

 3.  I then formed the 'backbone' of the cracker over my rolling pin, taping the cardboard with sellotape to make cylinders.  You will see that there are gaps between the tubes. This is intentional.

4.  Next, I put a line of PVA along one long edge of the wrapping paper and stuck a cracker snap to the other long edge.  I started rolling the paper around the cardboard tubes starting at the end with the snap.

5.  Kirsty got a bit vague here and talked about scrunching the end of the cracker.  This didn't work for me so instead I tied gift ribbon tightly to form one end of the cracker and then added a joke, the gift and a chocolate in lieu of the personally despised hats.  I sealed the other end in the same way.  Attempts to use ordinary dressmaking cotton to tie the crackers failed.  A man-strengthed tie is needed!

6.  All that was left now was to remove smaller cardboard tubes, reshape the cracker ends over the rolling pin and add a gift tag

I'll apologise in advance to the famly.  Some of my earliest attempts are a bit raggeddy taggeddy but take your choice.  You could have a slightly scruffy offering with a thoughtfully chosen present or the umpteenth set of nail clippers from a luxury shop bought cracker!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Just finished reading: The Everyday Activist

This is a rare beastie indeed.  Normally when I borrow a library book I might scan the few pages that could come in useful at a later date  or perhaps enter a couple of interesting websites mentioned in a text into the bookmarks on my laptop. This fits in nicely with simplifying my  lifestyle and saves cluttering up the house.   If I want to re-refer to something I can always take a book out on loan again.  But  The Everyday Activist is so full of ideas that, for the first time this year, with the exception of a couple of jewellery making books, I'm buying it!

It's about making a difference to the world, both in small and large ways and has come to my notice at a time when I'm increasing my focus on this aspect of my life, through volunteering, community involvement and projects related to my interests at work.  Many thanks to Devon Library Service for having the foresight to put this on the shelves!.  The book is absolutely stuffed full of inspirational quotes, ideas, links to other websites and practical information from how to identify what is personally motivating to putting plans into action.   I probably would have used a whole ink cartridge in photocopying all the bits and pieces that I wanted to keep.  Try it on loan for yourself and if, like me, you think that it will be useful on an ongoing basis, stump up the hard cash to rewards this deserving author!

Saturday, 18 December 2010


Depression hasn't reared its head this winter and it may be thanks to all the lovely things I've got planned including an eye wateringly expensive, but very special holiday next month that's going to provide lots of inspiration for posts. I wrote about my intention to regularly schedule in enjoyable events and I think it's working it's working the magic but there are still times, like now, when the things that I need to do to keep healthy fall by the wayside. So, I have to try my best to reinstate them,

So, how do I manage to take the  lunch break that I've recognised as important for my wellbeing without going on a wild spending spree in the beautiful independent shops around my patch.  Easy!  I just frequent the libraries, take photos and wander backstreets where I haven't been before, like this hidden away footpath in Dartmouth.

And here are my latest discoveries from the little arty shops and galleries around town.  I'm hoping that these will tempt those of you with money to support local artisans and for all of us, perhaps we can take inspiration from the work of others to produce beautiful things of our own.

Ceramics by Anthony Theakston in Simon Drew

Ceramics in Southwesterly.  Guys, you need your own website soon!

Fairy Necklace in Ethera.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Clean Knickers for a Car Crash

Not the most exciting picture to accompany a post but this shot from the BBC's website holds memories of being stuck on the A38 for four hours last December.  Foolishly, I did not connect rain falling  at below freezing temperatures with black ice until I ventured out onto what had become an elongated skating rink for cars and lorries. A local reporter, who was about two vehicles ahead of me,  took this shot once there had been a number of  crashes which closed the road  and rendered the Devon Expressway a  temporary car park.  Sadly my trusty Skoda was just out of shot when this photo was taken.

I've decided to be more prepared this year round and have readied my car with requisitions in case I have to set up temporary camp on my thirteen mile journey to work.  There's  the recommended warm clothes, snack and drink, torch and a fully charged mobile phone.  No shovel yet but I'm sure I can improvise.  After all I used to be a Girl Guide and a brave wilderness hiker BL*.
I've added items of personal importance to my own emergency stash.  I've got not one, but a  few books, writing paper and a fully loaded fountain pen to keep me entertained.   And, as a word of explanation for any international readers, everyone in England knows that it is an unforgiveable sin to have dirty underwear if involved in an accident so I've got spare knickers - just in case!

*Before Louis

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Whilst I Can Get Away With It

It's Elf Central here at Lovelygrey Villas.  The battle is on to get presents wrapped and cards written.   In the spirit of thrift, decluttering and greenery,  I'm using up leftover cards and wrapping paper from previous years and so far haven't had to buy any of these items these year.  Unfortunately, I may not have met the deadlines for posting cards and a present overseas but hope my far flung friends will understand the pressures on a working mother with only two hands.

Way back in August I posted about my tactic of buying presents for Louis throughout the year and spreading  the cost.  Well, I gathered together all the goodies I've collected since his birthday in March and it made a fine display even though over a quarter of my finds came from charity shops and seventy per cent of the presents were below a fiver.  I reckoned that I might have got away with spending less than £100 on both his stocking presents and main gifts but darn me,  the total exceeded my estimate by ten pounds!  I've listed below what I've bought in case it serves as inspiration for those of who can get their head round what a seven year old boy might like for Christmas.

  • Play and freeze ice cream maker - a proper bit of cookery kit as kids' versions of cooking gadgets seemed almost universally to have bad write ups on Amazon.  Rock salt and ice goes in one side of the ball and ingredients in the other.  Throw it around for 15 minutes and voila! dessert is made.
  • Beano Annuals - Vintage from Ebay and the latest one
  • Secondhand target game, wooden bagatelle, battleshop game and a bug barn all picked up from charity shops and fetes
  • Children's cookbooks x 2 and some silicone cupcake moulds
  • Wallace and Gromit extreme straws (almost free with 3 for 2 offer in Sainsburys)
  • A giant puzzle book and other bits and pieces of a mindbending kind
The stocking contains:

  • The much coveted Club Penguin subscription card
  • Two Michael Jackson CDs 
  • Tightly rolled pyjamas
  • Glowsticks
  • Secondhand jumping bean game and Top Trumps cards
  • Airfix Soldiers
  • Meerkat number three (it's a long story but Louis 'needs' six)
  • Different types of balloon
  • Glow putty - a post halloween find at a knockdown price
Maybe I won't get away with such brazen money saving tactics in future years but whilst I can, I'm happy to do so!   And luckily the items of his wishlist don't break the bank so it's been shared with the wider family who might satisfy some of his more specific desires!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Get Them Off Again!

I realise that, aside from the Toblerone Viking Ship  that was allegedly all Louis' own work, my crafting activities have pretty much come to a standstill at the moment.  This Christmas preparation stuff (and a long wait for cracker snaps!) is getting in the way.  The ongoing search for inspirational sources for future projects still goes on and, thanks to the lovely Ann in the office down the corridor, I now have two more pieces to oil the cogs of the creative part of my brain.

Ann took off this lovely Italian silver whale for me to photograph and brought his friend, a similiarly stylised seahorse. 

For a change, I haven't got much to say.  These pieces speak for themselves and I'll leave you in peace to admire their simplistic charm!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Night Owl

Right now I'm going through a bout of less than perfect sleep filled nights and often waking in the early hours. The received wisdom is that the bedroom should  just be maintained as a haven for sleep and sex and that if you are wake up for more than twenty minutes you should get up and do something that isn't too stimulating until you're tired again.   All very well if, like the deluded soul giving the advice, you live in a soundproofed, well heated mansion. For the rest of  us living in the real world, rooms have to be multi-functional  and crashing about in a cold house in the middle of the night without waking up the family  just isn't feasible. No wonder so many of us just lie still and worry!

Now, I'm lucky I have a spare room in my house.  So, until this bout of circadian nonsense is over I've decamped there to fidget, read or tap away on the laptop under the cosy covers  until sleepiness descends.  It's been a fruitful fretfree time.  Last night I planned my annual leave for the coming year and downloaded pictures for future posts.  At other times, I've trawled the Internet and researched topics such as activism and ethical consumption,  prepared posts in advance,   tidied my email files and unsubscribed from mailing lists.  All things I may have had difficulty getting around to in daylight hours!  And tonight, it's clear and starry.  I'm sure Orion has just winked at me through the window  and as an  added bonus that I just might see the Geminid meteor shower!

Worrrying about inability to sleep has made things worse in the past. I believe that an attitude of acceptance and seeing the extra hours of wakefulness as an unexpected gift could well mean that normal service of day being day and night being night might be resumed quicker than if I viewed my insomnia as a problem.

Monday, 13 December 2010

K.I.S.S. under the Mistletoe

As mistletoe is parasitic it could be used to construct an apt metaphor for some of those people and corporations  who want to leech us dry over Christmas.  There's been a couple of posts from me already about the festive season and, I daresay,  a few more to come but my blog is not overwhelmed with details of complex preparation because, at this time of the year,  I like to stick with the acronym Keep It Simple Stupid!

Don't get me wrong I'm not completely bah humbug.  I still have a Christmas card list, Louis is avidly tucking into chocolates from his advent calendar and some crafting action is planned.  But, wherever possible,  I want to cut corners and  avoid undue stress and pressure at a time of year that is meant to be enjoyable.

The house will be full of family for two days and we intend to have a good time with them and prepare lots of lovely homemade  food. There will be warming drinks and I reckon it will be a good time to crack open the blackberry vodka and the 2009 vintage sloe gin!  But gift giving has been pared down to the bare minimum.  Other than Louis' presents, Mr Lovelygrey and I swap gifits and then there's a few books for some of the children that we know.  I'm not a great one for decking the halls with bowers of holly, tinsel and a thousand light up reindeer either and especially abhor the idea of following a short lived decoration trend. Our tree is artificial and will serve us for many years to come.   It is decorated with tiny trinkets, many of which have been bought or made over the years.

If you're the type of person who loves excessive frippery at this time of year and love spending lots of time and effort preparing for the holiday I heartily applaud you.  But to those of you who find it all a bit of a chore, and an expensive one at that, I urge you to reevaluate what you do at this time of year in order that the joy might be brought back into your Noel.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Shock Horror!: Money Extracted from Lovelygrey by Handsome Man

My friend and colleague Mr. Metrosexual went on an organised tour to China recently.  Now, I imagine that, in major cities of the United Kingdom, changing money  from sterling to yen is a piece of cake, but not so in small town Devon where it might even be difficult to get hold of holiday Euro.  In spite of adequate notice the foreign currency was not forthcoming and Mr. Metrosexual was armed with traveller's cheques instead.

So he toddled off  to the Far East and found that his reliable alternative to wonga was a bit problemmatic.  In fact for five days he was unable to change these supposedly international recognised bits of paper for even a jiao (think pence or cents).  So instead he sponged three figure sums off the gullible elderly ladies on the trip using the highly effective line 'Girls,  I'm in a bit of a predicament'.  His delighted female tour companions, reduced to school girl giggles, were excited by the frisson of being involved with a potential gigolo and  were quite disappointed when he paid them back.

I too, have succombed to requests for money from a charismatic man but this time I don't expect to be reimbursed.  Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia has added a banner to the  top of the website requesting voluntary donations.  Who could resist a request from a gent with such cute crow's feet, who, as an aside, has also provided me with my most useful reference guide?  So, if you're passionate about the use of the Internet for the greater good rather than economic gain and haven't already lost all your money to some passing conman in a moment of lustful stupidity, please consider coughing up yourself!

Saturday, 11 December 2010


Ah! the start of the weekend and here I am having a well deserved lie in with a big cup of tea.  It's been a bit of a week at work. Too, much driving,  lots of emergencies and dealing with the stress and anxieties of people suffering from the various types of dementia and their carers.  Many that I meet don't understand  how I usually enjoy working with this group of people.  This includes a policeman who investigates fatalities at traffic accidents! But  I find what I do rewarding, intellectually challenging and surprising, often in a good way.  It never fails to amaze me what individuals who have often been written off by wider society can do if given the chance to continue living a full and active life, in spite of their illness.  Their carers are often inspirational too.

Of course there are times that I get frustrated or stressed myself.  There are occasions that I take the flak because of lack of adequate services to care for these people who do not have a 'fashionable' disorder that grabs media publicity.   It would be so easy to take this personally and think along the lines of  'I'm trying to help and this is the thanks that I receive!'

But, at the end of the day, I can go home to my lovely family who are in good health and take time to relax and enjoy life.   My visits normally last for an hour or two  and can at times be harrowing but I  recognise that for some of the people that I see,  their stress is relentless and they do not even have the luxury of even a few minutes of respite from their worries and care.  For example, how would you feel if you were suffering from a degenerative disease which can take away the essence of self or were asked the same question over and over again?  I have adequate outlets to take time out to renew my resources but recognise that many of the people that I see do not have this.  So, today I am sparing a thought for those out there who are denied the luxury of a snuggly, comfy, carefree extra hour in bed.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Buying Nothing for a Year?

Every so often an idea, mad or otherwise grips me.  This one has been occupying more than its fair share of headspace for sometime now.   Should I  follow the laudable  example of others like Judith Levine and Samantha Weinburg and set myself the challenge of buying nothing beyond everyday essentials during 2011?

The decision hasn't been arrived at lightly.  It's an idea I find romantic and  after all, there are so many benefits to taking this stance - generating extra savings to be used for paying off the mortgage and increasing giving, exercising a stand against mass consumerism, practising impulse control and  fostering personal discipline to name a few. However, I won't hold you in suspense - the answer is NO! 

Firstly I'm not happy about foisting such a major financial decision on the rest of the Lovelygrey family and without their participation the venture would have a decidedly dumbed down ring about it. I'm also thinking about the positive benefits that thoughtful spending can confer on businesses that are in need of support in these hard economic times.  Finally, I've got to admit that there are some items  that might be considered luxuries I can't, nay, don't want to do without - shoes that don't cause stabbing pain to my feet within a short space of time and my laptop and phone cum organiser cum camera cum addtional brain storage space.  If these are beyond repair I'd be really lost!

So I'm formulating an alternative plan for 2011 that falls midway between the extremes denying myself and the family completely and a Viv  Nicholson Spend Spend Spend approach.  Here it is in its draft form.

  • Vigourously explore the possibility of all major purchases being secondhand including the swivel recliner chair that, I believe, is destined to change my life!
  • Increase my charitable donations by 50%
  • Buy no craft materials for the year unless they're required to finish an existing piece,  needed for my jewellery course or bought for Mama Lovelygrey (!).
  • Buy no ready made cakes, biscuits or the sneaky Haribo fizzy sweets that I secretly munch in the car.
  • There's no need for purchasing any more shop bought clothes other than shoes and underwear for a year. 
  • Plan all purchases over and above necessities to control  impulse buying.  Consider the origins and ethics of these when buying.
  • Avoid indulging in any new hobbies/interests unless they are free.  Similarly don't add any more personal care products to my regime.
  • Avoiding excessively packaged on food items.
As I think of further things, I'll add them to the list in red.   And next year I'll be reporting on how well or poorly I'm doing Here's hoping that my new regime may bring benefits, economic and otherwise to myself, my family and the wider community.

    Thursday, 9 December 2010

    Farewell Master of Love!

     Today's post is dedicated to my friend who has prompted me, with the aid of Google Translate,  to learn the art of dodgy translation.

    Die voëls sing hulle by die breek van die dag
    "Begin weer", ek het hulle hoor sê
    Moet nie woon nie op wat verbygegaan
    Of wat is nog nie

    It is a sad day for our team as the ukelele playing, braai cooking Master of Love leaves to return to his native South Africa, to his family, warm weather and readily available steaks from animals that are bigger and fiercer than our native breeds. I, along with your frends,  Barbie Nurse, Mr Metrosexual, Snobby Friend, Scary Secretary and the others  will miss that mixture of Afrikaans and English that permeates the office which is so reminiscent of that other master of gastronomy, the Muppet's Swedish Chef.  In future we'll just have to watch this classic piece of footage if we want to recreate the sounds of his telephone conversations with his wife, the Mistress of Love.  I'll also have to find someone else who doesn't mind a bit of Leonard Cohen in the car on joint visits!

    And so, Master of Love, it's been fun working with you and we've learnt lots, including most of the catchlines from 'The Gods Must be Crazy'.  May you and your family stay well and happy and  let this picture with its dubious origins be a reminder of my personal philosophy which I urge you to consider passing onto your future trainees.  Sometimes it is good to cross ultra-tight boundaries and maybe even take a sneaky snap or cutting along your way!

    Wednesday, 8 December 2010


    The other day I was excited to receive my first fan mail!  Louise Tiplady, a friend of my brother, who avidly reads my blog, sent me the lovely Seasalt monochrome fishy bag that I  photographed on my lunchbreak in Totnes and posted in October.  She also wrote a note on one of her publicity postcards depicting a piece of her work.  This was so beautiful that I thought that, instead of sending a thank you letter in the post, I'd showcase some of her stone carving and letter cutting as a mark of my appreciation!

    The pieces shown here give a flavour of her work which combines  high quality craftmanship with humour   For me, the portrayal of wordplay on such timeless material especially appealing.  So much so, that Louise's work is being added to my list of  most coveted objects and she joins the queue after Lizzie Sanders, Tati Dennehy and Alan Ayliffe as someone who'll benefit from a sale if ever I accumulate a few spare pennies!

    Tuesday, 7 December 2010

    More Ho! Ho! Ho!

    I'm never quite sure whether I'm ahead of trend or completely behind the times but I suspect on most occasions the latter is true. After all I live in rural Devon and not a heaving metropolis.

    Following my Tracking Santa post the other day I thought that I'd pass on this recommendation for the Portable North Pole, which comes from my venerable colleague, the Master of Love. Look out for a special post dedicated to him soon! For all I know this seasonal website  might be as well known as Facebook, Amazon or even Google but hey!, I suspect that there are other cyber fogeys out there who are always  one step behind  (think wearing hand me down hot pants circa 1975!). So for all those out there who're not afraid to be seen comfortable shoes and have only just heard of the Beatles, this post is for you.

    The website allows you to create, free of charge, a personalised video message for someone from Santa complete with photos.   Follow the link here  to see the one I prepared earlier!  Now Louis is an old cynic, having logically concluded that Santa did not exist at the age of five because of the physical impossibility of worldwide toy delivery on a single evening. But he's somewhat convinced that his message sent by email is authentic and is surmising about whether he has his own personal elf who reports back to the North Pole about his behaviour!

    Monday, 6 December 2010

    One Hundred!

    The Lovelygrey study has a post burglary air about it.  But fear not, I have not been robbed.  It's just that I've trying to do 50,000 things at once and my little hideaway is a metaphor for my brain at the moment.  Something had to be done to preserve order and indeed my sanity.   My three minute tidy would have only made tiny inroads into this mess and have been barely noticeable So, I set myself a different challenge.  What would my room look like if I picked up 100 things and either threw them away or restored them to their rightful home?

    Twenty minutes later, this was the result.  If you were to look carefully you would see that a few things are still out of place.  There's still clothes awaiting mending on top of my bead box and  the thing on the edge of the desk is an empty PMC syringe! However,  it's a vast improvement on the bombsite that greeted me this morning and the final, more manageable surge of tidying  followed by dusting and hoovering took only a few minutes.

    It's an prime example of how breaking a task down into manageable chunks, albeit mentally, can take away feelings of being overwhelmed and daunted. I've used this method in the past to tackle even bigger jobs such as a six year accumulation of stuff in the loft at our former home.

    And with a clearer space around me my head is less woolly too and I am now able to surge forward with Christmas planning, now I can find the presents, cards and wrapping paper again!

    Sunday, 5 December 2010

    Triangular Birds and Triangular Bees... Oh! And Triangular Viking Ships!

    I'm sure primary school teachers set homework out of spite.  After all if they've got to work every hour God gives preparing lessons why shouldn't the parents of their class suffer too?   Hence,  Christmas preparation was halted  and  this weekend was spent finishing Louis' ship that he'd decided to make for his Viking project.

    I decided a long time in advance that we were only going to use things that I found around the home for this creation and that no additional money would be spent.  I'm listing below the materials that we used but in the spirit of thrift if you want to make your own version, see if you can find alternatives if you don't have what we used to hand.

    We used:
    • A Toblerone wrapper
    • Masking tape
    • Fimo modelling clay (could be replaced with salt dough coloured with paint)
    • Cocktail sticks
    • Old envelopes
    • String
    • A dowelling lolly stick
    • Copydex
    • A thick black marker pen
    • Staples
    1. Cut a boat shape from the Toblerone wrapper and staple it together to make a 3-D shape.  Don't worry, it won't stand up on its own at this stage.
    2. Cover with masking tape and draw on lines with the marker pen that are suggestive of a wooden construction
    3. Roll out Fimo or other clay.  Make twelve shields, a tail and dragon's head and the sail.  Use internet images to inspire.  Bake for recommended time.  We draped the sail over one of our cookie cutters to give it a wind filled shape.
    4.  Make slits at each end of the boat and insert the dragon's head and tail.
    5. Stick the shields to the side of the boat with copydex
    6. Make holes in the clay sail in the middle of the top and bottom edge and insert the dowelling, cut to size. Add a paper flag to the top of the mast  Mould plasticine into the bottom of the boat.  Glue in place and make string rigging.  Fasten in place with extra tape.
    7. Make oars out of paper and cocktail sticks.  Pierce the sides of the boat with a bradawl and insert.  They will serve to keep the boat upright.

    Saturday, 4 December 2010

    Days Out in Devon: Trago Mills

    I've been procrastinating about writing about Trago Mills,  since starting my blog.  As the biggest retailer in our village it conjures  up mixed emotions.   When I worked as a tax consultant nigh on twenty years ago I became aware of a legal case where the company were contending that its workers were self employed thus denying them benefits such as annual leave, sick pay and the like.  This was not conducive to warm and fuzzy feelings.  I continue to be  uncomfortable with the in-store promotion of the UK Independence Party.  Surely party politics and shopping don't mix?   And many of us remember  the dodgy adverts in the local press containing unappealing opinions for those who view life with a leftish slant.

    But, sticking to my mantra,  things are not black and white.   One of the mums I know who is an employee at the store speaks highly about the way that staff are treated.  There is good interaction with local community groups who are given permission to publicise events or fundraise on site.  And the place represents good value for money from a retail and entertainment perspective.  For example, the leisure park has no admission charge and the pay per go attractions are reasonably priced, particularly the annual trips to see Santa .

    For £4.50 an adult and a child can take a ride on a miniature railway to Santa's grotto. On the journey there there are Chrismas puddings to count and creatures to spot (look out for the crocodile and the dinosaur). Once at their destination, they are welcomed by elves and receive a gift from the main man of Christmas cheer himself. This is far superior to many of the presents offered at similar attractions where Santa's meeting place seems to amount to no more than a sparkly broom cupbard!    To perk things for the adults there's a hot mince pies from the snack kiosk near the railway station included in the ticket price!

    Personally, I don't understand the hordes who visit Trago Mills from afar for a special day out.  It's essentially just a big shop with bells and whistles which gets far too crowded during holidays and at weekends.  But I'm glad that  it, and the  Coop supermarket which is also on site, are within walking distance of my doorstep to supplement the excellent village shops and post office in our parish.