Monday, 28 February 2011

Not Many People Would Do That!...

...said my friend and colleague Mr Metrosexual when I told him about my latest venture into the world of thrift. The story starts about a week ago when I finally lost it with my mobile phone and oh so nearly threw it again the wall. I input my data using the transcriber function and the screen was so scratched that it was taking an age to correct the text that I was putting in.

I own a Samsung Omnia I900 that I bought unlocked as a Pay As You Go device from Ebay about eighteen months ago. It replaced a five year old Nokia mobile. Against the odds this survived multiple traumas, even resurrecting itself in the airing cupboard after my fall up to the neck one January into a local reservoir with it in my coat. when rescuing Louis' special leaf. But finally when its battery got too temperamental and I found out that my digital camera was damaged beyond repair during a tricky hot air balloon landing I decided to retire it and buy a shiny multi-functional phone which also replaced my bulky PDA and a dodgy cheap MP3 player.

Now the majority of people these days would have viewed a device dysfunctioning as an excuse to replace it with a super duper updated model. But why should I automatically think of doing that when my phone still met all my needs? I decided to embrace recycling and see if I could repair it. Hey presto!, with a little research on the net, £7.99 outlay on Ebay for a new 'digitizer' (a screen to you and me) and Mr Lovelygrey's magic touch with a screwdriver it's as good, nay better, than when I first bought it!

Sunday, 27 February 2011


Remember my plan to nab a dress for a ball later in the year for less than a tenner on Ebay, give or take a bit for postage?  I was given hope in my quest by my colleague Buxom Brenda, the working granny extraordinaire, She said that her daughter had bought a gown for 99p from the website and then sold it again after her 'do' for £1.99.  The plan has paid off for me too.  For the princely total sum of £11.00 (including postage and packaging costs of £2.50)  I've got this beauty, a  plain stretchy  burgundy velvet dress that originated from Principles.  'Very sexy - ideal for a date or clubbing' it stated in the description.  Union Street, Plymouth here I come!  On second thoughts,  Mr Lovelygrey might take umbrage.  So let's stay in with a nice cuppa and a book instead.

Now I had thought about doing the same thing as Buxom's daughter and trying to make myself a profit once I'd worn the dress, putting it back on Ebay in early December, just in time for Christmas party purchases. But I'm pleased to say that my purchase has turned out to be a little more versatile than I expected and I'm probably going to keep it.   It's a garment that can be dressed up or down, worn with a jacket for a more formal posh do, if one ever comes up, or with its strappy top covered up with a jumper or cardie in winter for less momentous occasions.  Another good thing about is that I don't have to purchase a special 'is this going to stay up?' type of uncomfortable strapless bra as the dress itself is supportive enough to cope with a bit of jigging about on the dance floor without hitting myself in the face.

I'm not doing very well with my resolution around zero clothes buying in 2011, a much loved Yellowstone T-shirt and a new swimming costume have also expanded my wardrobe.  But I'm hoping to get lots of wear out of the things I've bought.  And that beautiful pink coat, that remains resolutely at full price,  is still on my mind!

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Proper Pubs

On the family's recent visit to Nana Lovelygrey in the village of Timberscombe.  we all trooped off to the Lion Inn in the village for supper.

Now this is my kind of place.    It's  a bit scruffy around the edge but the food is good, plentiful and doesn't cost a mint, there are decent beers and ciders on tap, a lounge bar with a fire and sofas and friendly staff.   There's also a skittle alley, a juke box and a pool table.  No wonder it's frequented by people of all ages and quite a few of their canine friends too. This includes the most beautiful looking dog I've ever seen, an allsorts that lives at the pub and deserves a pedigree in her own right. She's long, slender and velvety as befits her partial whippet background but is totally black and has a less angular face than her racing ancestors.

This is certainly not a trendy gastro joint with a designer interior and pretentious grub at astronomical prices. I had a delicious rare rump steak, Louis had sausage and mash and Mr Lovelygrey had beef and ale pie. This is proper village pub fare served in a welcoming atmosphere where Louis fed dog biscuits to his new furry friends. If there's a local like this near you, cherish it as I suspect that such places might be few and far between these days.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Thought for the Day: What We Wish For

Today's post for all those parents out there who wish for the best for their children.  Don't we all?   But, really what does that mean?

Should we be encouraging  them to make full use of their potential?  The answer certainly  is a resounding yes but as the years pass by I'm coming to the conclusion that this does not necessarily entail pushing them towards the highly paid, high status jobs that traditionally denoted success.

What I want for Louis is that he finds his niche in life.  Hopefully, his future work will provide him wiith meaning and enjoyment and of course a sufficient income to be comfortable and pursue his interests with family and friends. But I don't want him to be ruled by the all pervading need to earn more and more and relentlessly work without understanding the true purpose of what he is doing.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Just Finished Reading: Checkout: A Life on the Tills title was one I picked up 'on spec' at the local library,  a quick read that I, as a superfast reader, finished in about two hours.  It was written by a French girl who got a job on the checkout of a supermarket to pay her way through college. However she didn't manage to hop onto to the graduate career ladder when her course finished and ended up staying there a few more years. This scenario that must be all too familiar to quite a number of young people in today's woeful economic climate if they are 'lucky' enough to secure employment at minimum wage level.

I admire anyone who makes the best of what could be construed as a bad situation by many others.  In spite of the trials and tribulations of her role as a 'beepeuse' as checkout girls are evocatively known in France,   Anna Sam first wrote a witty blog and then produced a bestseller that has been translated into several diffierent languages.

In this book humankind is astutely observed.  The rudeness of some customers reminded me of the time I was working in my university bar and I was amazed how some supposedly 'well-educated' people could order an entire round of drinks without a please or thank you, yet alone eye contact.   I'm sure none of my blog readers are like that!  Beepeuses  go home with the sound of the scanners ringing in their eyes long after they've finished their shift and I wondered if they too, experience the weird sensation of being next to a conveyer belt outside their work environment as I did after working on a factory production line.  

This is a witty and thought provoking read and we could benefit from more writing in this genre giving the perspective of workers in overlooked roles.  Give Checkout: A Life on the Tills a chance if you stumble across it in your local library

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

All in the Mind

Isn't this image great? If only my own mind was filled with such simple things like men, babies and uh, hats!  But it's not.  I work in a mental health team and often my thoughts are far from trivial. I'm involved in people's lives at a time of crisis and my brain can be whirring with all sorts of complexities.  If I didn't switch off I'd be in danger of my head exploding!

And that's where my craft projects come in handy.  I've got something that allows me to recharge the batteries in the serious area of the brain and divert to another area where I get engrossed in a different kind of knotty problem.

Remember Dangly Dolly?  I posted about the trials and tribulations of the completion of my metal clay version a few days ago.  Well, I've been mulling over how to finish on my drives between really rather stressful visits and yesterday I came up with an answer!

Et voila! as Raymond Blanc says. My aim of finishing a piece of craftwork in February has been achieved with nearly a week to spare. And the ability to control my thinking and direct it in the way that I choose that I've learnt from mindfulness practice is proving to be a godsend at a time when I'm feeling a bit over stretched at work.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Defence of the Internal Realm

Atchoo! A sound that is heard being emitted from Lovelygrey's nasal and vocal passages most mornings. You see I'm a bit allergy prone especially when I've forgotton to take Beconase for a few days. But amazingly I don't seem to be plagued by colds these days. It may be because Louis is growing out of his germ warfare machine stage and not bringing home all sorts of lurgies that he's caught from sticking his fingers up other small people's noses. Then again it could be that Vick's First Defence actually might  work?

This stuff is not classed as a drug but a medical device.  I think that's because it doesn't involve a chemical reaction going on in the body but rather acts a physical barrier.  It's said to work by trapping the viruses that cause colds in a micro-gel, an environment that's oh so not good for their ability to thrive. Does this sound dubious, a bit like the hocus-pocus that used to sell many skin creams? It did to me but then I read this article where the Head of the Common Cold Research Centre did not pooh pooh the  product  but felt that the developers were onto something.

I've been buying Vick's First Defence for a few years now. It's about six pounds a pop but I think I picked up a couple of bottles from Lidl once at a vastly discounted rate so it might be worth keeping an eye out there when you're picking up the parmesan, olive oil and a bit of skiing paraphenalia.   Now that I actually remember to regularly use it once I'm feeling the first signs of a cold, a vaguely sore throat, snuffly nose etc. etc., it does seem to have stopped the progress of the dreaded man flu.  Touch a gigantic piece of wood - I've been free of major snuffles all winter long this year. On the basis of this highly scientific piece of writing you might want to give it a go too!

Monday, 21 February 2011

Butlins or Bridleways?

We came back yesterday from a lovely relaxing weekend with Nana Lovelygrey who lives in a village on the edge of Exmoor just a few miles from Minehead. Whoever thought I'd be writing a post about a trip to Butlins but Saturday began wild and woolly. As Louis and I fancied a swim we thought we'd visit for the day primarily to check out Splash Waterworld at the resort. I have to say, though, I much preferred my walk on Sunday morning on the beautiful wooded paths to the north of the town and accessible by foot from Nana Lovelygrey's house. However Louis begs to differ.

Now I thought I'd hate every minute of the 'dry side' experience during my first ever visit to a holiday camp. To be fair it wasn't as bad as I expected. We saw an enjoyable magic show, I had a reasonable cup of coffee while Louis played in a massive soft play area and we both had fun on a rickety selection of fairground rides. Alton Towers it isn't!  Staff were friendly and the buildings were clean and mainly modern.  The pool, by the way, surpassed our expectations. It was huge and well supervised and we had a lot of fun playing in the long meandering lazy river, the wave machine, bubble pool and hair raising flumes.

What surprised me though was how many of the attractions cost extra. Louis wanted to play crazy golf which, in the spirit of a Hi-de-Hi type of bracing wholesome activity, I thought would be free. In fact it would have cost £4.50 were I not a tight-assed Mama who refused to fork out any more money. These extra costs could soon mount up on a family holiday at a resort where a family of three could already have forked out nearly £3,000 for a week's half board stay in the most luxurious accommodation. That's a lot more than 50% of the total cost of our recent dream holiday in the Rockies!

I didn't feel a single day ticket was particularly good value at £18 for adults and £14 for a child as frankly there wasn't shedloads of things to do that were inclusive in the admission fee. However I felt annual passes for locals and people who can visit the areas often at £50 and £25 respectively are reasonable. I've coughed up the extra so we can gain free admission on the days when day visitors are allowed on site in the 2011 season. We'll plan future visits to Nana Lovelygrey to tie in with these so that we can swim again. She was also interested to hear that the annual pass for a senior costs just £25. After all Minehead is a town that, shamefully, no longer has a municipal pool so this restricted access goes someway towards meeting a local need and represents pretty good value for regular swimmers.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Clothes that Last

In spite of not being completely 'with it' I am really interested in what I wear.  Rather than adopt a throwaway approach to my clothing I prefer to have things that I own over a long period of time and fall deeper and deeper in love with.  To do this  I need to buy things that last and don't fall apart and leave me when I'm in the first throes of passion. But, although I spend more on individual garments than in squanderous youth, this is not always the case. There are still charity shop finds gracing my wardrobe and whilst I don't usually shop in the supermarkets and pile them high shops, dirt cheap purchases aren't ruled out altogether.  For example, I've given up buying expensive white T-shirts as these seem to be a magnet to the type of dirt that ordinary stain removers refuse to tackle.

Having said this, I don't always treat my clothes with the respect that they deserve.  After all, I am a full-time working mum without a bevy of household help (although Mr Lovelygrey does pull his weight).  Nothing is hand washed or dry cleaned so must stand the test of a 40 degree wash cycle and a steamy iron on the hottest setting if it dries creased.  To survive my rough treatment things have to be tough in the first place and I have to admit to a few casualties.   Through trial and error I've learnt to recognise things to wear that will stand up to my brand of tough laundry love and fickle fancies.

  • Regretfully I've stopped buying soft, cosy woollens due to my propensity to turn them into felt. It is particularly easy to do this with cashmere. Instead I opt for pure or mixed cotton knits.  I'm hopeful that a couple of recent sweater purchases from Gap and Howies which are nonetheless soft to the touch will stand the test of time,  like my lovely Boden mercerised cotton cardie and a White Fish macaroni hoodie. They still  look as good as new and  are going into their third and seventh seasons of wear respectively.
  • I  avoid 100% cotton jersey and look for tees  with a bit of stretch so that they keep their shape. Primark is a good source but the stars of the show are a couple of long sleeved black Asda numbers bought for £4 each at least six years ago and still going strong.  Or else, I'll look for ones with a heavily, robust knit like my authentic St James Breton tops.
  •  I veer away from high fashion items that won't stand the test of time from an aesthetic viewpoint. Rather than going down the 'classics' route and growing old before my time I've developed my own personal style.  Ankle length skirts or little short numbers worn with black tights, fitted hoodies, scoop necked sweaters and bootleg jeans have been staples of my wardrobe for many years now.
  • Generally, I'm not a big charity shop spender as I've learnt from experience that these places are not a source of items that I cherish.  There are one or two exceptions, my 'French Resistance' style coat which is vintage C&A and a natty A-line French Connection skirt that is now in its sixth winter of use with its second owner and defines the word 'snip' as I bought it for £4. 
  • Storing away my clothes out of season relieves the boredom of seeing the same things in my wardrobe day in/day out  When I release them from their vacuum bags when the weather changes is like greeting old friends after a long absence.
  • When buying block coloured garments I think about their potential for being dyed once their colour is faded.   Natural fibres fare the best when treated to a salty, chemical wash but I keep this recycling habit secret from Mr Lovelygrey and it has to be done when he's out of the country
  • I buy good quality shoes that might come into the dreaded category of 'classic'.  Plain colours, sensible heels and all that!  I look for ones that don't need huge amounts of maintenance or repair.  Stiletto heeled suede jobbies from a bargain basement store would be my worse nightmare.   
  • In winter I choose things that suit being worn with leggings or thick cotton or wool tights rather than ridiculously things that those thickness is measured in deniers.
It seems that we can be much more eclectic with our clothes these days without an outpouring of riducule or scorn for wearing a  skirt that  is passe because it's an inch or two too long or short. Perhaps, I'm wrong and it's only that I'm past the age where being an out and out fashionista is de rigueur.  Maybe there is a troop of sneering teenagers following me around mocking my style faux pas.  But who cares.  My failing eyesight means that I'm less likely to see them now and I'm blissfully happy wearing my ageing, much loved clothes collected through the ages.

    Saturday, 19 February 2011

    Lego Library

    It's Lou's birthday soon and I'm struggling to come up with ideas for presents beyond the spy set complete with bugging device that I bought a friend's son for Christmas.  He likes Lego but plays with it in a different way than Mr Lovelygrey and I did as kids.  And therein lies a problem which makes me reluctant to spend any more money on extra bricks to put in the already overflowing boxes that clutter up our living space.

    In the 1970s when I was growing up,  most of us had Lego but it came in the form of rectangular bricks.  If you were really lucky a few of these had holes in them into which you could insert wheels.  Our imaginations ran riot.  We built animals, buildings and weapons, all of which had a cuboid feel about them as we owned no curvy pieces.  Now, of course the Scandanavian company have diversified their product range.  Bricks come in a multitude of shapes and sizes and most kits contain just the right type to build a specific project, a police station perhaps or a very passable copy  of one the Star Wars spacecraft.  Rarely a right angle in sight.

    Louis enjoys completing the kits but then once his model is finished the pieces go into storage boxes rarely to be used again.  It got me thinking about whether a Lego Library would be feasible where a set could be borrowed for a fee for a specific period.  Sure, there would be logistical problems with such a scheme, loss of bricks due to pet ingestion or getting stuck behind radiators being obvious ones that spring to mind.  But if there's an entrepreneur out there who's willing to think of a way to overcome the pitfalls I'd be a willing subscriber to a scheme. But until then I might have come up with one of my own.

    • Buy a Lego kit secondhand on Ebay and give to Louis for his birthday.
    • Once he's made it, do an 'audit' to check none of the pieces have gone missing.
    • Put the kit back for sale on Ebay.
    • Buy another with the proceeds!

    Friday, 18 February 2011

    Thought for the Day: Free Babysitting?

    Now, my regular readers know that I'm not usually a Moaning Minnie, at least not when I post.  At work I enjoy a good rant about the micro and macro failings of the NHS as much as any of their other one million or so employees.  But something has been getting my goat for a while now so I thought I'd get it off my ample-ish bosom.  Why is it always the same people at the school and the Scout group who are willing to lend a hand whereas others seem to treat activities run by volunteers as a free or ultra cheap babysitting services?  The maxim 'If you want something done, ask a busy person' seems to ring true. My friend, Sally, glamorous mother of three children whose just started her own business and is undergoing training for the Scout Association as a leader is a fine example

    Now, I realise that there are some people who really can't spare time maybe because of health reasons or caring responsibilities but for some there seems to be no excuse.  I'm not talking here about  making a regular commitment to a charity or voluntary organisation just lending a hand when it's needed.

    As food for thought I've done a back of the envelope calculation. According to Wiki.Answers there are 51,893,000 adults in the UK.  If each of them gave up an extra just one hour each year to support a cause, this equates to the working hours of over 30,000 full time employees!   A lot of good can be done with that amount of time and effort. Those of us who are able bodied and can spare over  two minutes per week  might like to do a little extra and compensate for those out there who really and truly are unable to make this contribution to wider society.

    Yesterday,  I spent three hours helping out at the school disco after a long day at work.   Even though I was washing up for most of the time,  a job that I detest, surprisingly I  enjoyed myself thoroughly spending time with fun people who share the same philosophy and values.   In the interest of expanding my ad-hoc giving of time I've contacted the local volunteer bureau and asked them to notify me of one-off or irregular opportunities that might light my candle.  There are so many positives that can be gained from using time in this way that I'd urge everyone to think about it too!

    Thursday, 17 February 2011

    Handy Toolbox Hint!

    I'm sure the latest additions to my toolbox will make perfect sense  to those, who like me, sometimes mistake a finger for the wood or metal that they're cutting or sanding.   In fact, as I've been doing a fair bit of jewellery making over the last few days the fabric dressing and antiseptic wipes have already been put to good use.   I cut myself on my polymer clay rollers and the plaster box now has rather macho spots of blood on it as proof.  These would previously have left a trail through the house on the carpet as I staggered to the first aid box.

    You may be puzzled though by the denture cleaning tablets and  think I'm going to disclose a way of using them on wounds or even some super duper secret silver polishing technique. But, alas,  youd be wrong. The tube was empty, a by-product from my mandibular device sterilising antics and it's just the thing to keep my saw blades  tidy.  Oh! and their nice secure container stops me nicking myself on them whilst searching for other bits and pieces thus reducing the need for the emergency medical care in the first place!

    Wednesday, 16 February 2011

    Dance Me to the End of Love

    Today,  I thought I'd make a tenuous link to the title of a track from the utterly gorgeous septuagenarian, Leonard Cohen, who accompanies me on many car journeys around the South Hams between seeing patients, service users, clients or whatever the NHS wants me to call people these days.  Inspired by my bargain life changing chair purchase on Ebay last week I've decided to bide my time a little and try my luck again, this time on an evening dress.

    I'm not the kind of person who frequents flash events on a regular basis.  Give me a pie in the pub in preference to knobbing around in a posh frock anyday.  But Mr Lovelygrey has volunteered for the PTA which Louis and I suspect must have something to do with free beer rather than genuine goodwill.  The committee are planning a  ball in June and there's an expectation that I'll go.  Not good news for a girl whose cupboard is bare in the formal clothes department.

    Now,  I reckon most occasions that require dressing up take place around Christmas or in the height of summer.  So, this time of the year when everyone is huddled up inside and not out on the razz must be one of the best to bag a bargain ballgown.  I've therefore set myself a challenge.   In the spirit of reduce, reuse and recycle, no newbies are allowed and to satisfy my thrift conscious nature the dress must cost no more than £10. Ideally that will include the postage and packaging costs too!

    I'll show off the results when my  plan comes to fruition as I'm pretty sure that it will.  Also I'll let you know when I've secured a beautiful  toasty warm duck down jacket, just like the one that  I borrowed in America, twenty years old but showing little sign of wear.  Surely an investment purchase to enjoy for many winters to come.   My hunch tells me that the best time to buy this will be when no-one else's thoughts are turning to skiing in cold climes but they're all spending mega wonga on their summer ballgowns!

    Tuesday, 15 February 2011

    Lurking in the Veg Box

    Help it's beetroot again!!!!! Enduring a glut of something that the  family doesn't particularly like is one of the big drawback of box schemes along with finding the occasional wiggy wiggler in the fridge that's snuck in via the dirt on the root vegetables. Having said this I'm a big fan of the weekly Riverford delvery as it's convenient,  guides our menu planning and ensures that the Lovelygrey family eat a great deal of seasonal local produce.  We're not great big fusspots so it's rare that we dislike anything enough for it to go to waste.  But I have to say a few beetroot have made it into the bin.  So to prevent this we're made a special effort to  quickly find recipes to use them up in a way that hides the earthy flavour that Louis and I aren't too keen on. 

    So bless those TV chefs who've come up with these beauties.  First up, this Beetroot, Apple and Horseradish Soup from those darlings of the motorcycle world, 'The Hairy Bikers'.  Have I mentioned that before that I've got an irrational crush on the big one Si in spite of all his wobbliness?  Anyway, back to business, this soup is flavoursome, tastes likes its doing you good and the sort of colour that would make you rush to look and see how many E-numbers it contained if bought in a shop. 

    Goats Cheese and Beetroot Salad with Toasted Hemp and Poppy Seeds is another recipe that passes muster.  This one's from Nigel Slater and although the beetroot isn't concealed in any way, I go beyond tolerating its presence in the dish,  probably because the mixture of ingredients works well together.    Jamie Oliver's Roasted Beetroot  is even less adulterated and is good.  Hang on!  Perhaps I do like beetroot after all and it's only the stuff in vinegar that graced childhood salads that I'm sniffy  about.

    There's a lesson to be learnt here of which Louis, Papa Lovelygrey and a few others I know should take note.  Just because you think you don't like a foodstuff  it's worth trying it  cooked or prepared in a different way.  You may surprise yourself.  However for the truly fussy who won't budge on their view of the veg we've been discussing today, the ultimate disguise is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's wonderful 'Chocolate and Beetroot Brownies'.  I defy any beetroot hater to know that they've been fed the stuff - until their wee turns pink! 

    Monday, 14 February 2011

    Dangly Dolly

    As a  follow up to yesterday's post I'd like to say that I've finally completed one of my project but I'm not quite there yet.  It really isn't for the want of trying though, so I'll try to explain myself.

    At Saturday's Mini Church of Craft Naomi restrung an old bookmark that I'd been given by a neighbour as a child.  She then drew me a diagram of how she'd reassembled this tricky piece.

    Now I'd used this teeny wooden dolly's  component parts to make Siligum moulds and then formed metal clay beads.  All I thought I needed to do was  follow Naomi's instructions and hey presto, on Sunday morning, whilst still in my jim jams and yet to finish my first cuppa of the day I would finish my  pure silver copy of a favourite old possession.

    Twelve hours later I've stopped for the day.  My neck is stiff and the air is blue!  I've  got the threading off to a tee because I've done it about twenty times.  It's mainly  the knotting that's a problem. The blighters just won't sit flush with the beads.  On the one occasion that I thought I'd got there I ended up doing an impromptu decapitation and amputation with some over zealous trimming!

    Here's where I'm at now.  So near and yet so far.  I read about something called an awl that might just do the trick but first it's a question of resting the brain to it can easily slip into a creative gear.

    Sunday, 13 February 2011

    Mini Church of Craft: Not a Plant Holder in Sight!

    The Mini Church of Craft was supposed to be meeting in Totnes yesterday and was excited about taking a class in making jewellery from tin cans.  But alas,  it was cancelled so the venue changed to my kitchen!  To perk us up I scoured my faithful old Stork Cookbook and knocked up some cheesy scones. Melanie provided a treacle tart!

    What a get together it turned out to be, providing material for not one but two blog posts.  Firstly, we pored over the book  Craftivity: 40 Projects for the Maverick Crafter. Once you've passed instructions for a truly awful knitted lampshade and a bizarre crocheted skull  this book has some inspiring ideas including a beautiful pom pom rug.  Definitely one to start a wool collection to complete in the future when I stop procrastinating, finish a few of those half completed projects and eventually allow myself to buy new craft materials again!

    After stuffing our faces with consolatory bakery goods we got down to some work of our own guided by Melanie's copy of Mod Knots, which gives ideas for making jewellery and accessories which bring macrame right up to date.  Melanie made good in-roads into making a long necklace incorporating ceramic beads between spiralled knotted areas. I revised my decorative knotting skills acquired over thirty years ago, firstly using good old parcel string.  Then, I started to play with 0.4mm scraps of wire to see if the twisted design so familiar from the 1970s plant pot holders could be translated into a metal form.  The result is not wholly unsuccessful and one to play with in some jewellery designs in the future.

    Brace yourselves for tomorrow's post. I'm actually going to finish something!

    Saturday, 12 February 2011

    Just Finished Reading: The Brightest Star in the Sky

    When a girl's brain is not working completely at one hundred percent her thoughts turn away from the cerebral to chick lit! Something reasonably uncomplicated to take away the cares of the world at the end of a hard day. Except Marian Keye's latest offering The Brightest Star in the Skyposed more of a challenge than expected. It's 612 pages long and I was unaware that I'd borrowed it on a fourteen day non renewable loan from the library and with just two days left I realised that I had about 250 pages to go.  This stretched my concept of a leisurely bedtime read but I've made it and my task didn't feel that onerous.

    The book weaves a story about the lives of the residents of a Dublin house which has been subdivided into flats.    This got me on side from the start because I prefer Marian Keye's work when it is set in her home country.  It has all the usual elements of her work: well formed characters (albeit with a high yuppie quotient),  more than a smattering of humour, a bit of sexual frisson and serious underlying themes.   Her description of early dementia  in one of her character and her family's reaction is a fine piece of writing that could only have come from personal experience.  However,  some of the plot is more than a little implausible and that's before the strange supernatural focus of this offering is taken into account.  But hey, this is fiction and I wanted escapism rather than gritty realism.

    Many authors of this genre of writing leave me cold with their terrible writing style, wooden characters, predictable plot line or, horror of horrors a combination of all three.  However, even though I do not think that Marian Keyes ranks among the greatest writers ever her work is carefully executed and sparky and during the times when I want a good read without working too hard, I've returned to her again and again

    Friday, 11 February 2011

    Ray of Sunshine

    I  was brought up in sunny Southend-on-Sea, the haunt of daytrippers from London.  Not the most picturesque spot, I'll admit, with its brash amusement arcades and views over to the oil refineries on the Isle of Sheppey.  But hey, there are worse places to grow up and early life in a coastal environment may have imbibed me with a love of  marine and nautical imagery.  I like lizards too but haven't got a clue where that came from as I didn't spot many of those during my Essex childhood.

    Although I appreciate it when someone's used a beautiful bog standard fish or cetacean to good effect to inspire a piece of work, I'm particularly thrilled when I find an artist or craftsperson scoured the annuls of relative obscurity and used a less well used creature as a design source.   Figuratively I tripped over a large bronze skate the other day, a creation by Devon based sculptor  Steve Baddeley that definitely comes into this category and I'll be thinking about how these beautiful creatures may feature in a piece of my own craftwork some time in the dim, distant future.

    Thursday, 10 February 2011

    As You're Passing.......

    Before 100 step clearance
    And After!
    I've written at least a couple of posts  about  how I sometimes breakdown cleaning and tidying  tasks in bite sized chunks.  There's my three minute eggtimer tidy and the more serious 100 step clean up.  The difference this can make to a room is demonstrated in my before and after shoots above.   Today's offering is even less hardcore. The practice won't make significant inroads into transforming a seriously messy room.  However, it undoubtedly makes my weekly housework session less challenging.

    So today's handy hint is:

    Tidy up just one thing every time you go into a different room of the house.

    It might mean a mat is straightened, something is moved to its rightful place, thrown away or taken elsewhere in the house.  It's as easy as replacing an empty toilet roll, hanging up a towel,  putting a pencil in a desk tidy or a cereal bowl in the dishwasher.  Simple eh?  Well yes, in theory but remembering to do this and making the practice a habit  takes a little bit of effort and is something that, I suspect, the male member of our species cannot master at all!

    Wednesday, 9 February 2011

    This Chair Will Definitely Change My Life!

    Yesterday, the old maxim 'good things come to those who wait' was proved correct.  Back in the autumn the Lovelygrey family went visiting  friends up country and I fell in love with their recliner chair.  Not that it was a particularly memorable version of this type of seating.  It's just its tippy comfortableness  that I  recall.  I imagined evenings reposed with my book and a cup of tea or a glass of wine or on a particularly pleasurable night, both! The thought crossed my mind that having one would definitely improve the quality of my life.

    Just the thing on which to spend the money that Mama and Papa Lovelygrey had given us for our wedding anniversary.  But  Mr Lovelygrey coveted the rather wonderful, but eyewateringly expensive Scandanavian Stressless range which seem to start at over £700 a pop when they're new. Surely we'd have to stump up a bit of money  towards our final purchase, wouldn't we?

    In true 'Reduce, Reuse,  Recycle' (and tightwad) tradition I scoured Ebay for a secondhand bargain.   It's the first time I've bought furniture  on the site and I noticed that most larger items are  sold on a buyer collects basis although you can pay a courier to do pick it up for you.   It dawned on me that biding my time and putting my purchase on hold until  a local seller turned up might limit the number of competitive bidders that I would have to fend off.  So, I waited and waited until the weekend when this one turned up.  The strategy seemed to pay off and I've got my comfy chair for the bargain price of £100.  So thanks Mama and Papa Lovelygrey, your gift was plenty! Not sure if this always works but, maybe it's a tactic to try yourself  you're hankering after something but not in any real hurry.

    Don't be daunted by how to get bulky items home.  I'm a past master at squeezing furniture into a hatchback having once travelled back from IKEA in Bristol in a yogic position as one half of the seat was taken up by the front end of a flatpack wardrobe!  There's always van hire if this doesn't work or you don't wish  to wreck your back and neck for a week.  The only problem with my recent life changing purchase is it seems to have been usurped by another family member who's also appreciative of life's little comforts.

    Tuesday, 8 February 2011

    Ring My Bell

    My job involves seeing people who often believe that they have memory problems.  Some do indeed have the start of a degenerative dementia process but others  with normally functioning brains often find that their powers of recall  fail them when they are stressed, anxious or low in mood.   If they start to fret about this it makes the problem worse.  Think about how difficult it is to focus clearly when you're in a tizz.

    I put this title on my 'Coming Soon' list a few weeks ago and then got into a pickle trying to remember what I wanted to write about.  Whilst racking my brain I thought of church belfries,  alarm clocks, bell bottomed trousers and all sorts of other ringing things but none of them were hitting the spot.  But during a period of calm the idea came back to me.  Even though I'd thought of phones before I hadn't been able to access the right information in my head in my flustered state.

    My idea was to share a money saving tip that the Lovelygrey family use when phoning from home.  We rent out line from BT but use a service called  I'll admit the website looks kind of dodgy but this thrifty idea  is bona fide and we'e made real savings on BT's standard tariffs.  Just register  free with the service and put the code 1899 in front of dialled numbers to make cheaper calls  The list stored in our phone has been amended to automatically include the code when we dial someone in our address book.   At the time of writing it costs nothing to call a UK fixed line at anytime of day, 10p a minute to UK mobile phones (6p at weekends!) and 1p a minute to make calls to the US.  That came in really handy when organising our recent holiday trip.
    The savings are particularly obvious when  we look at our BT bill and balk at the cost of calls when we've forgotten to use the code.

    So finally I got to share this tip with my blogging audience.  I admit that its not going to be useful for my overseas readers or those of you whose TV, broadband and phone packages are combined together.  But for those of you, like us, have Freeview TV, keep things separate and make a few overseas calls, there is scope here for saving at least a  pound or two!

    Monday, 7 February 2011

    Simple Pleasures

    We've had a lovely quiet weekend at home,  just the ticket after our recent adventurous escapades in the Rockie Mountains.   Here's a flavour of why I've been so content to potter around the house and village.

    • Endless big mugs of tea - not fancy pants stuff just a plain honest good old British buider's brew that's so elusive in continental Europe and Norh American
    • Wandering to the village shop to get some white sliced for making toasted sarnies and finding people to chat with on the way.
    • Dipping in and out of my newly acquired library books.
    • Catching up with the new series of Ice Road Truckers .  I'm so in love with the uber-cool super hauler Jack Jesse who puts some on the sissy worriers on the highway to shame. Who needs culture when there's  beautiful snowy scenery, overstated melodrama,  the beautiful tomboy trucker Lisa's fight against sexism and of course great big beasts of vehicles that need mending all the time!
    • Telephone calls with family and friends.  Checking Facebook and finding our friend Julie's posted a lovely family photo from our recent trip.  That strange guy who was in our hot tub seems to be back again though!
    • Sawing, filing and shaping bits of metal.  Lusting after rolling mills on Ebay and wondering whether buying one would be a good use of my birthday money.  Getting my jewellery portfolio up to date.
    • Choosing fabric bargains to send to Mama Lovelygrey to update my summer wardrobe.  Some of you may remember I said that I wasn't going to buy any  new clothers apart from shoes and underwear. Well, I made up the rules and fabric doesn't count.  Plus, I've cheated anyway already, as I bought a super-duper souvenir T-shirt in Yellowstone!
    • Letting Louis go out to play with friends on the estate and feeling so lucky  that we live in a safe, friendly neighbourhood.
    • Finally, finally making in-roads into that washing pile.
    So I hope that this goes to show that I'm not just an adrenalin fuelled bison dodging junkie.  Simple pleasures often hit the spot too!

      Sunday, 6 February 2011

      Just Finished Reading: The Velveteen Rabbit

      Isn't it funny how things sometimes stick in your head? I first remember hearing about The Velveteen Rabbit yonks ago on the US sitcom 'Friends'. A quick bit of research suggests that this may have been deeper into the dim, distant past than I'd thought.  The episode in question was first broadcast in 1997, when I was a mere nipper in my early thirties.

      The gist of the plot went thus.  Chandler is secretly in love with his flatmate, Joey's, girlfriend.  He gets her an early edition of this book as it's her childhood favourite, but instead of giving it to her himself, he lets Joey have it, to replace the crappy present he's bought her.

      Another bit of rooting around the annuls of the Internet suggests that this might have been quite a costly gift.   This Guardian article  from 2006 suggests that a first edition of this book might now be worth more than £5,000.  Why is such a high value accredited to  a book published in 1922, that certainly in the UK, doesn't have anywhere near the recognition of Winnie the Pooh, another children's book from the same era?  I think I've found the answer.

      The story of a small boy who makes his toy rabbit 'real' is an absolute corker and once read will be forever remembered.  Both Louis and I are entralled. It's a beautifully illustrated timeless tale and I was astonished when I found out how long ago it was written.  This is such a good candidate for a story that needs to be brought back to the attention of a contemporary reading audience.  Then again, think what Disney did to Pooh, throwing aside the charming drawings of E.H. Shepard and coming up with its own version of the unfortunate bear, akin to a weak entry made from a misshapen yellow pepper in a vegetable sculpture competition!  Perhaps, on reflection, it's better that the bunny and the boy are left alone in their relative obscurity.

      Saturday, 5 February 2011

      Lizzie's Sister

      The New Year's jewellery class a few weeks ago now,  got off to a good start  even though I just did lots of filing.  As a morning person, I find evening classes are tricky beasts as I'm meant to be taking in stuff and being productive at a time when my body is telling me sleep is nigh.  So this untaxing job was just the think to do, productive without too much thought involved.  Everyone came in showing off new purchases and what they'd made.  One member has a huge covetable tool box, another had experimented, very successfully I may add, making seashell moulds to use with silver clay amd I proudly displayed my new burnishing tool and  bezel pusher,  Christmas presents from Louis!  Living proof that you can get something eminently useful as a gift from a small boy of limited means if he's suitably primed beforehand.

      Lizzie Sanders,  my wonderfully patient tutor was sporting this copper and 18ct gold enamelled brooch, a Christmas present that was made my her sister, Sarah Hemmings Vourda .  Follow the link to her Etsy shop.  Now I see enamelling as magic rather than an art.  My own attempts have been pitiful but then I've only had a couple of goes so admit it may be just a case of practice makes perfect.  But I am intrigued as to how someone can achieve such subtle variations of shade, with what seems to be an unwieldy and unforgiving material!

      To make something like this is certainly outside my skills range at the current time but I'm ever hopeful!  But for now I'm taking inspiration from the idea of displaying something fishy through a silver porthole.  A pared down simple pendant on this theme may just be do-able.

      Friday, 4 February 2011

      Don't Panic Mr Mainwaring!

      Blooming heck, what a right royal pallaver!  I had  an email on Wednesday advising me that I had a course yesterday and that the car park at the venue would cost an eye watering £6, although this is refundable through expenses. Because of the unbelievable amount of traffic in Exeter I decided to catch the bus, take the stress out of the journey by reading a book and save the NHS a bit of money as fares worked out cheaper than the combined mileage claim and parking costs.  So far so good on the green, thrifty and virtuous front.

      However,  because of the Lovelygrey family's ongoing battle with jet lag we all overslept I ended up driving instead and diligently raided piggy banks for spare pound coins before I set off.  I thought forty five minutes would be plenty for the fifteen mile journey but hadn't quite appreciated how gridlocked my old home city now gets.  However, even after a wrong turn down a road that had mysteriously turned into a cul de sax I arrived with just minutes to spare... only to find my way blocked by a fire engine! Unbelievably once I could get into the car park there were many spaces free but then the fun began again.

      A hunt for a working parking meter took an inordinate amount of time and then to my dismay the cost had gone up and I was short of coins by £2.  After begging and pleading sucessfully in a canteen which displayed a prominent 'No Change Given' sign (there's more here but I'll spare the details) I arrived at the Training Department to find that they had no record of the course.  They took some time for the very helpful staff to find out it had been cancelled three weeks previously despite the fact that I had received a  reminder pointing out the financial consequences of non attendance just a day before. The superior liaison between the NHS and Social Services, who were running the course, must be applauded here!

      Anyway, whilst waiting for the Training team to do their investigative work I dipped into my rucksack and found The Little Book of Calm.  I'd squirreled this long forgotten volume away from our decrepid bookshelf at work as I thought that it might potentially provide material for a blog post.  Indeed it gave me pertinent food for thought and kept me grounded at a time when I could well have set off into orbit.  So, I thought I'd share  these favourite gleaned nuggets of wisdom.

      • The most important skill in staying calm is not to lose sleep over small issues.   The second most important skill is to be able to view all issues as small issues.
      • ..true relaxation begins at the feet.  It seems obvious but wearing comfortable shoes is nearly also as relaxing as wearing no shoes at all.
      • There is seldom any rational reason for having regrets about past deeds or events.  Because the past does not exist in any way other than in your memory.
      • Recognise that there is a time for stimulation and a time for calm.  This means never trying to fool yourself that a stimulant can help you relax.
      • One of the greatest strains in life is constantly having to live up to the standards that we set for ourselves.  Do yourself a favour and - from time to time - relax those standards a little.
      • Work on having positive thoughts, pay particular attention to speaking positive words, then let the resultant positive feelings take care of everything else.
      • If you set your own agenda and don't allow others to dictate your pace too much, you will have much more time to become calm.
      • Contrary to what you may tell yourself, you have all the time in the world to do whatever you choose.  What cannot be fitted into your day cannot be done - forget about it.
      • If you appreciate that as much good comes from change as bad, you will avoid the concerns that many people seem to have about it.  Relax and be open to change when it visits.
      • When you find yourself under pressure, do something different.  Stand, where you wouldn't normally stand, sit where you wouldn't normally sit, think the way you wouldn't normally think.
      • Whether you recognise them or not, you usually have choices.  The art is to recognise them.  Because when you can see your choices, you will feel free.
      • Tense people have tense jaw muscles.  To relieve this tension, simply press on the roof of the mouth, behind the front teeth with your tongue.  (I tried it and it works!)
      • Remain on the lookout for things that make you laugh - and, if you see nothing worth laughing at, pretend you see it.  Then laugh.

      And after that thought provoking bunch of quotes I'll add one of my own.   However organised you are sometimes **** ups occur.  Once you realise and accept this then you'll have calm!

        Thursday, 3 February 2011

        Mama's Gym

        Our esteemed colleague Mr Metrosexual started his diet way ahead the rest of the bunch at work.  He has a  deep fear of his ever expanding  waistline that's causing him to sit in a funny way due to over tight  trousers.  So  he's been meticulously staying away from the tasty treats that have been turning up in the office since the beginning of December.  In a healthcare environment where clients attribute their improvement to something that you've done there's rich pickings to be had!

        Scary Secretary and I have enjoyed the grazing, especially when the Thornton's boxes turn up.  After all we're posh birds at heart.  But as we've stuffed our faces with delightful choccy treats we've admired Mr Metrosexual's self-discipline.  Not a single tasty treat has passed his lips.  Yet, the effort he's expended has yielded very slow rewards whereas my . weight loss plan  progresses consistently except when on holiday where the excuse of imbibing extra calories to keep warm may have been overdone!    Yet, in the normal world,  I 'cheat' fairly often  and confess that more than the occasional morsel of calorific gorgeousness passes my lips whereas Mr Metrosexual shuns proffered chocolate and other delightful morsels as if they were poison.  So,  how can this be?

        Scary Secretary and I got out heads together and we think we've come up with the answer.   The activity level of a  working mum living in a two storey house far outweighs that of a single man living in a bungalow who employs a cleaner.   Chore-y Thursday  and all those other daily activities around the home not only keep the place shipshape but also equate to a visit to the gym!   Changing beds,  cleaning bathrooms  and yes, running up and down stairs several time to check on the progress of a child on a school day morning must be akin to an aerobic workout.  And isn't it reassuring that all that nagging of family members that seems so effortful could well be  burning some extra calories too?

        Wednesday, 2 February 2011

        Glug Jug

        I have a little piece of history for you, in the style of the TV favourite 'The Antiques Roadshow', prompted by the fact that I'm off to Dartmouth today.   In my travels around South Devon I see quite a lot of these strange fishy chaps gracing window sills and mantlepieces .  Nana Lovelygrey who lives in Somerset  has one in the guest room where we sleep when we visit.  Although its not my personal cup of tea, its fantastical styling holds enough of a weird fascination  to  drive me to write this post.

        What I didn't know until I did a bit of research is that  this fishy vessel is known as a glug glug or gurgle jug because of the sound that it produces when water is poured.  Louis and I will verify that next time we visit Nana Lovelygrey!  Although these jugs were originally made as far back as the late 19th century by various manufacturers they are mostly associated with Dartmouth Pottery. A special pair were commissioned by the Commanding Officer of Britannia Naval  College to present  to  the Queen and Prince Philip after a visit  in 1958 and undoubtedly  increased their  popularity.   After the pottery closed in 2002 Wade Ceramics (of Whimsies fame) bought the fish mould and I understand that there has been somewhat of a resurgence of their sales in the US.

        The source of this modern take on a gurgling jug that I spotted in the Fireworks Gallery  at Seattle Airport was a instant reminder of home turf.  For, me the simplistic nature of the newer version's lines in its funky palette of colours is more pleasing than its earlier more fussy counterparts.  Let it serve as a reminder to the arts and crafts community that we can take inspiration from older pieces of work  and produce our own funky updates in whatever medium that we choose.  Gurgling fish pendants anyone?

        Tuesday, 1 February 2011

        Busy Bee? Naah!

        So after yesterday's enthusiastically optimistic post you might think I got a lot done on my first full day back in the UK.  Perhaps in my imaginery world I'd like to have meditated for forty five minutes in the early hours, then gone for a five mile run.  After the school run to school I would have cut up the corks for my new bath mat, cleaned and tidied the house to new pin standards and completed my jewellery class homework.  Oh, I mustn't forget compiling the Yellowstone scrapbook for Louis to show his classmates and going out for the two hour walk that Mr Lovelygrey suggested!  But it didn't quite turn out that way.  You see, even though I took the advice of the airline, drank plenty of water,  did as much stretching as is possible in an economy seat and napped a little, jet lag has hit quite hard.  I feel like I've been clubbing, an activity I've avoided for many years now!

        A few months ago, I went to my yoga class, and on that evening, for no apparent reason, nothing seemed to function properly.  Normally easy moves were an incredible effort, so as my lovely teacher Kathy  always suggests I listened to my body and worked to my limits.  I got so much from that class and today I've been putting what I learnt into practice.  I've enjoyed many cups of builders strength tea that is never available in foreign climes and listened to Radio 4 as well as walking to and from school,  made in-roads in the holiday washing pile, took a bunch of toys to the charity shop, had a nap, filed some metal and played with a rolling mill at jewellery evening class. And I worked out that our trip away was over £1,000 below budget!  This bodes well for seeing our friends and the Rockie Mountains again much sooner than we'd originally planned.

        The day has reminded me, not for the first time, that sometimes goals need to be thoroughly revised, often on an ongoing basis.  Our mental and physical capacity changes and on those days when peak performance isn't possible, it's good to accept how we are and work within our limits.  After all, tomorrow is another day.