Thursday, 31 March 2011

March Makes

Phew!  March is at an end and I'm just in time! My target of completing. one craft item each month that has lain around my workshop in a half-finished sorry state is going to plan so far. Here's my latest offering, an Ehrman bird cushion that has been my motorhome project for the last two years.   However, after our last week away in October 2010, it was so near to completion that I thought I'd bring it inside for the winter.  Progress has been the pace expected from a procrastinator.  However last week the stitching was completed and all that was needed was stretching the fabric back into shape and sewing on the backing material.  Easy peasy?

Well, actually this part of the project is my least favourite and a bit of a faff.  Hence there is a pile of cushion fillers, backing material and completed canvases in my workroom that have been around for years just waiting for their finishing touches.  But this time I decided to crack on and this is the result.  A brand new piece of frippery to grace the seat in my study or the spare bedroom.  I haven't quite decided yet.

It's spurred me on to start a cushion production factory.  There's at least two more in progress and I'm hoping to show these off as they'll meet my April  quota.   My next motorhome needlepoint is a half finished project too.  A few years ago I attached it to the frame, started sewing and then the wool disappeared for what seemed like an eternity.  They reappeared in the middle of a pile of magazines.  The design doesn't inspire me as I sew.  It's not varied enough to hold my interest  but will be lovely on my dream chair once completed.  A perfect reason to crack on and get it finished by the end of the year!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Borrowers

Today's wonderful  picture has been 'borrowed' from the blog of  illustrator, Marika McCoola,  and was found when I performed a  search for today's title on Google images.  Now these little people had an unusual take on the word 'borrow'.  What they essentially did was 'nick' stuff from the homes that they inhabited.  So if you've lost a few bits and pieces that could fit through a mousehole sized gap you might be harbouring these pesky beasties.  Alternatively, if you live with an seven year old child, search  anything in their room  that might be construed to be a treasure chest.  That's where I find most of my missing beads.

But done properly borrowing stuff has lots of advantages. Preparations were underway for Louis' birthday bash and I needed a tin big enough to create 'the cake'.   Instead of flashing the cash and ending up with a rarely used piece of kit that would have unnecessarily taken up cupboard space I asked around.  My kindly work colleague, Buxom Brenda, came up with the goods. I've a pile of beading magazines on loan from Melanie and Naomi has recently  lent me a swaging block.  Look that word up  if I've stumped you.  You have my absolute solemn  promise that it's not something offensive or weird!

Give and take is needed when following this philosophy  You have to be steel yourself, get into the spirit and part with some of  your own stuff on a temporary basis too.  My favourite wire wrapping book went away on holiday recently,  tools are often out on temporary loan to fellow classmates  and  the girls used my tent at the Chagstock festival last summer.  After all, I was in the motorhome and didn't need it to sleep in myself.

There's a saying 'Never a lender or borrower be'.   You probably need to be choosy when engaging in these mutual arrangements for them to work well.  Avoiding people with nicknames like Butterfingers Bertie and Thieving Tom is a good start.  It's also best to shy away from lending stuff to anyone where there's a general consensus that 'they'd sell their own grandmother'!  And you have to play your part by take care of others people's stuff and returning  it safely and in a timely manner when you're on the other end of the deal.  This way of sharing possessions takes a bit of trust but isn't it good to build this between friends and reduce our levels of consumption in the process?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Twenty Ways to Generate a Virtual Pay Rise

This post is for my hardworking NHS colleagues and anyone else out there who, like me, have had their pay frozen for the next two years. It's a bit of a bummer at a time when inflation looks like it's on the rise too.  But fear not, holidays, hobbies and health affirming treats could be safe after all!  I've put together a list of the money saving tactics that I employ routinely. Some seem to be  'little pain, lots of gain' no-brainers.   However I'll admit that a few of the others might require expending a little  bit of  time or effort.  Adopting just one or two of these could result in healthy savings and voila!  a virtual pay rise thus preserving the right to work to live rather than its grim counterpart.

  • Ecodrive to cut down on fuel and motor maintenance costs.
  • Avoid paying for parking at all costs!  Explore places that you visit regularly for suitable alternative places to leave the car that are in walking distance of your final destination.
  • Wash your car yourself.  Failing this bribe the kids to do it as a price less than that charged at the local garage.
  • Cut right back on  buying new copies of novels.  Borrow from friends or the library, charity shops and book stalls at fetes instead! Don't fork out on 'reference' books either until you're sure that it's going to be used often.
  • Read newspapers on-line instead of buying a print copy.  Could seeking out interesting articles on the Internet reduce the need for those expensive magazine subscriptions too? 
  • Dress so that you don't have to buy loads of ladder and hole prone tights (and that includes the men out there too!).   Think long skirts, trousers and knee length boots with opaque woollens.
  • Think in advance when purchasing shoes that you are going to wear a lot and factor in whether you're going to be spending money having them re-heeled on a regular basis.
  • Don't buy clothes that need dry cleaning weekly.
  • Reduce impulse purchasing clothes by having a planned wardrobe update twice yearly and buying new stuff from a shopping list.    Go for quality rather than quantity and you'll find, with time, that you'll need less and less new stuff in the long run.
  • Don't do designer gear for children.  They grow, its a waste of money and they can look great in cheaper brands and second hand clothes.  If they insist on the latest expensive fad make them save for it themself or buy as a special Christmas or Birthday gift.
  • Cut your washing by a load a week and save time and electricty by reducing the amount of ironing needed too.  I do this  by wearing things for a day or two longer than I used to and will rely on friends and family to let me know if they think I'm taking this habit too far!  Air-dry clothes unless it's a real emergency.   
  • Fight brand snobbery especially when it comes to cleaning products. No-one cares who makes your toilet paper or kitchen cleaner.  And basic food ingredients such as flour and oil are often discernible from their fancier counterparts. On the other hand, people are wrong if they convince you that supermarket brands of yeast extract or mayonnaise are just as good as Marmite or Hellmans!
  • Think carefully about whether you can cut cleaning and save time, electricity and materials without the house going to rack and ruin?
  • Buy seasonal fruit and vegetables and buy it loose not pre-packed.  Look out for meat on special offers and freeze ahead. 
  • Agree 'present amnesties' with other grown ups or make your own gifts.
  • Be a discerning buyer of cosmetics and toiletries.  Buy only what you need and use.
  • Replace retail therapy with other activities of a restorative kind.  You'll have much more time for hobbies, exercise and socialising as a result.
  • Kick regular coffee house, sandwich bar and takeaway lunch habits and save these for treats.   Does forgetting to make something to eat at midday feature as an excuse?  Stock up on crackers etc. kept in the office and have some decent tea and coffee availabe there too.  We're pooled resources and have created 'Ryvita Corner', an impressive array of crackers for sharing,  as well as a communal pack of Lurpak in our workplace.
  • Make better use of recording programmes on TV to watch later to cut down on subscription services and DVD rental. 
  • Cut down music purchases by using a Spotify free subscription and exploring YouTube to expand your  listening repetoire.
Okay, that's twenty for starters and I hope that there's a few ideas that might provide my readers with a virtual pay rise especially if the real thing is not going to be forthcoming.  I hope that taking up some of these ideas will ensure that there's a bit more money around for paying off debts and/or retaining the finer things in life.  As all these measures are already in place in the Lovelygrey household it's going to be harder for me to generate a raise for myself but I'll think creatively and see if I can rise to the challenge. 

    Monday, 28 March 2011

    Thought for the Day: I'm Not Sure About This

    Is anyone else slightly uneasy about the latest trend in Internet advertising?  I became aware that e-commerce  was being targeted quite specifically at individuals when I wrote something on Facebook about, the furniture store,  DFS.  Even though I agreed with  a friend's post about 'cr*p sofas'  I'm now being subjected to pictures of them on a daily basis.  Not sure whether this is punishment or a vain attempt to make me change my mind.  To prevent digging myself into a big hole I  feel that I must put an addendum here.   Naomi, my friend and devoted follower, your swivelly seats are the first and only item I've quite liked from the store.  Honest sweetie!

    Someone out there knows that I might be in the market soon for ferry tickets and a new car ,  I quite like Fat Face clothing and need to lose a few pounds.  They also think I would  possibly be interested in supporting AgeUKs campaign for digital inclusion.  Where they're going wrong is thinking that I might still need to buy a party dress or an eco-watch.   A reduce, reuse, recycle re-think has sorted out those 'needs'.

    But the advertising seems to have taken a sinister turn.  I'm now receiving adverts from Bath Aqua Glass.  Well targeted you might think!  Lovelygrey has a fondness for craftsmen made items and this seems to fit the bill.  But what I'm getting is promotions for memorial glass, pieces of jewellery or paperweights where a loved one's ashes can be encased for all time.  Does the company make crystal balls too and know something that I don't?

    Sunday, 27 March 2011

    Ah! Cake. Eat I Will

    It's Louis' birthday bash today.  He's eight on Tuesday and even though the party has been nigh on organised for me at Plymouth Ski Centre there was still party bags to prepare and a cake to make   I thought that finding hometime gifts for eight children of mixed sex between eight and twelve was going to be difficult but then I found some peashooters.  Of course, old fashioned weaponry crosses age and gender gaps.  I even hanker after one myself!

    Just the cake then.  I thought I'd go for a brain cake that I'd seen on the Homemade Mamas Blog about a year ago.  It was wacky but looked fairly easy to knock up.  But Birthday Boy said no.  He wanted a Star Wars theme.  That easy' said Supermum Sally.  'There's one in Tesco.'  Indeed there is.  Nine pounds gets you their Clone Wars Star Trooper  Celebration Cake.  Not Lovelygrey's style but one to bear in mind if her own effort turned out to be a complete disaster.

    For inspiration I turned to the Star Wars page of the Coolest Cakes Website and was overawed by the 3-D masterpieces that veritable gods and goddesses of the sugarcraft world have made.  But I am not one of these so I needed something simpler.   Yoda 20 was my inspiration and I also borrowed Louis' own wise master to help the creative process.

    And as, they say around this parts, yertiz!  A chocolate beetroot brownie Yoda-ish lookalike with buttercream topping and fondant icing detail.  Okay, he's not going to win any design awards but I think he tastes a lot better than the shop bought offerings.  There's the added bonus too that he contains one of the young apprentices' five a day that will help them grow up into big strong Jedi Warriors.

    Saturday, 26 March 2011

    Days Out in Devon: Ranger Ralph Revisited

    This is Smartie, a beautiful pedigree Dartmoor pony.  Louis was introduced to her during his latest Ranger Ralph event run by the Dartmoor National Park.  If you're visiting Devon with kids, it's worth seeing if one of the monthly activities is scheduled whilst you're here and then joining up so they can take part.  The annual membership fee of four second class stamps really is a bargain.

    Some of the 'Ralphers', as the kids were, rather unfortunately, referred to by a Ranger spent the morning at the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust Visitors Centre in its new home at  Parke, the National Trust's property at Bovey Tracey.  This organisation aim to protect the indigenous moorland pony from extinction.   They're doing this by promoting the commerical value of the species, showcasing the breed's suitability for conservation grazing and educating landowners who own the ponies so they're able to produce stock that has been handled to foster a suitable temperament for pulling carts or being ridden.   The charity are trying to control the numbers of ponies on the moor by planned breeding programmes thus reducing the need for culling.  This has to be a good thing.


    So, after an informative talk for members and accompanying parents, the kids really got stuck in.  With the help of an enthusiastic team of volunteers they learnt how to groom and lead their ponies.  I haven't quite worked out what happened next and whether the Ralphers took their ponies for a walk around the estate or it was the other way around!

    Friday, 25 March 2011

    Getting them Young

    For my West Country based readers there's still just about time to pop up to the Centre for Contemporary Art in the Natural World in Haldon Forest.  Their current exhibition, the final in a series focusing on fashion, textiles and the environment ends on Sunday. I see though that, one of the previous shows,  'Fashion Footprints: Sustainable Approaches' is now on display at the Create Centre in Bristol

    This last event  is all the more remarkable because it showcases the work of designers who are still at school.  Not suprisingly the Malteser dress was Louis' favourite.  In fact, I think he'd like to volunteer to empty packet.s of sweets so that  its young designer can produce other creations on the same theme, Aero Bubbles perhaps?  And I could volunteer Mr Lovelygrey to come up with the raw materials for ra-ra skirts made out of crisp packets in superfast time.

    The show also featured less whacky items such as 'bags for life', garments made from felt and a beautitful wall of monochrome tops made out of recycled  shirts and blouses.  I felt so excited that youngsters today are being inspired to think about how materials are sourced and exploring ways of recycling early on in life.  Maybe we're emerging from the throw away culture after all.  And if I were eighteen all over again, I'd happily consider wearing 'that sweet little red dress' to my school leaver's ball!

    Thursday, 24 March 2011

    Lonely Clouds?

    I've been pondering over William Wordsworth's poem for a fair few days now and think that he got some of the detail startingly wrong. So, it's time to put him straight. Clouds do NOT wander lonely. They are sociable entities that gather together over vale and hill dumping their contents on walkers who've optimistically left home without a coat, at least in Devon anyway. I'm sure that the residents of the Lake District, where Wordsworth originated from, don't have vastly different skyscapes to our own in the West Country.

    Today's post was just planned as a simple offering about how small delights encountered during the day keep me chipper. Those roadside daffodils that are everywhere at the moment are certainly bringing moments of glee to my heart as I drive around the South Hams, prompting uncharacteristic arty-farty musings. It's a marker that, even though I'm feeling the stress of work at the moment, my mood isn't dipping out of control.

    In an attempt to retain my tip-top mental state I'm actively looking out for little 'reasons to be cheerful' during my working day. Finding the lid to my fountain pen a week after it disappeared into the abyss between the books next to my workspace, returning to the office and discovering that Snobby Friend had bought a big box of cakes from the Frogmore Bakery, a wander around Totnes market on a Friday lunchtime, driving along the coast road between Kingsbridge and Dartmouth and  ribbing Mr Metrosexual for his vanity and lack of exercise, ...all these have contributed to retaining a sense of well-being. Don't be too alarmed that Lovelygrey is seemingly takes pleasure in taunting another human being. He loves it and gives as good back as he gets!

    Whilst researching this post I came across this YouTube clip, a rather bizarre promotional video produced by the Cumbrian Tourist Board.   It stars the appropriately named MC Nuts!  Lets hope that for some readers it brings a momentary ray of sunshine to their lives as it did mine.

    Wednesday, 23 March 2011

    Glass Half Full!

    I'd always believed that sacrifice at this particular time of year paralleled Jesus' time in the wilderness.  What I didn't realise is that Lent is actually more than forty days long by a good six or seven days!  But, if my reckoning is right I'm well over halfway through my 'lenten' abstinence period.

    Apart from an episode of  'Come Dine with Me' setting off a spell of unimaginable craving  when the participants  tucked into their glasses of chilled white,  this year's spell of self denial has been far less challenging than my first ever attempt in 2010.  This may have been because  Easter came early last year and Ash Wednesday fell into the middle of a trip to France.  It's not easy embarking on being tea total in grape treading territory especially with Mr Lovelygrey as company.  He purports to be supportive of my efforts but says this clutching a glass of a glass of beer firmly in his hand! 

    Even though I'm in the midst of a hellishly stressful period at work caused by dire staffing levels, a new computer system and an increase in referrals, I haven't been reaching for the medicative jar at night.  My new motto is 'there's nowt that can't be sorted by a nice cup of tea'.  Rather, than feeling deprived, as I did before, this time round I'm having a much more positive experience.  Can't place my finger on why though   Perhaps it's just because I'm a year older and wiser(!)

    Following the Good Lord's example,  I intend  to 'break fast' around the forty day mark which will perhaps coincide with a pint in a pub with my bro' Paul when we meet up in the flatlands of Essex in April.  Then there's our pre-Easter trip away to Brittany and a few of those crisp dry Muscadets are sure to have my name on them.  But I'm hoping that this time around that the habitual pattern of alcohol consumption might be broken.  It will be much better  for my sleep, my purse and my waistline!

    Tuesday, 22 March 2011

    Hull-o!

    Oh what a terrible title but I wanted a tenuous link to yesterdays post that also refers to the name of a yet unvisited city!  My research to write today's offering has been as extensive as it's got so far. It started when my interest was sparked by an episode of the 'Antiques Roadshow', Dartmouth 1 in fact.  Although my telly viewing has diminished somewhat in the last year due to all this blogging and crafting, I purposely caught this programme as I wanted to see if anyone I knew was grinning inanely at the camera (they weren't!).  My attention was caught though by a collection of textiles and design drawings, although not enough to remember the artist's name.  I  decided to find out a bit more about him a couple of weeks after the programme was first aired.  It was then the fun started.

    Unfairly I started to lose it with the BBC.  Although the episode was due for re-scheduling on the i-Player after an episode was repeated there seemed to be a techincal glitch.  I was directed to a message board to ask the question but my conversation was terminated prematurely after an adjucator decided my question had been answered by someone telling me to watch the episode on the i-Player.  Grrrr!  In the end I managed to view it with just a days  to spare.  In the meantime the 'Antique Roadshow' research team answered my question too.   Licence fee well spent!

    Anyway back to the point at last. The name that eluded me was Robert Tierney and the design at the top of the post which is currently available as a Cole and Son wallpaper is one of his.  At least I think it is. I can't find the link where I found this valuable scrap of information anymore!  How's that for meticulous research methodology?  He also produced work for other companies, including, wait for it .......'Hull Traders!' But the  Hull referred to here is the name of the company's founder rather than the city.

    I  have always loved textiles from the mid-twentieth century and am not just jumping on the bandwagon because they're super trendy at the moment.   There seems to be very little of Robert Tierney's work in the public domain at the moment although I've had a lovely time during my research journey lusting after the work of other artist from this period.   I hope that his family who were the major benefactors of his estate will take the roadshow expert's advice and work out how to make his designs more widely known.    Please, please, please let their first move be an exhibition in the local area!

    Monday, 21 March 2011

    Just Finished Reading: To Hull and Back

    Do any of these places spring to mind as the ideal location for a weekend break? Hull? Derry? South Shields? Croydon? Port Talbot? Slough? Norwich? Salford?, Milton Keynes?, Coventry? and uh..Hell? In his book, To Hull and Back , Tom Chesshyre, a writer on The Times,  gives his account of what happened when he eschewed the likes of Bath, Edinburgh and Brighton, and visited the more unlikely choices listed above.  Attempts to persuade his girlfriend to join him were mostly fruitless although, she more than once regretted her decision to stay at home.  I have to say that I was jealous of  some of the destinations - South Shields sounds particularly beautiful and interesting and I wouldn't be disappointed if I ended up in Derry or Salford on a magical mystery tour either.

    I loved this book and heartily recommend that you dash down to your local library to unearth the secrets of the towns that it portrays.   It gave me a fresh perspective on our colourful land.  There is history and human interest to be found everywhere, not just the tourist hotspots.  The country is a veritable treasure trove.  Ask any visiting American!

    So, here's my own list of towns that are far from the tourist track.  Perhaps, if you read this, Mr Chesshyre, you might like to consider a sequel. 

    Grimsby, Derby, Bridgewater, Gravesend, Middlesbrough, Peterborough, Stevenage, Merthyr Tydfil, Grangemouth, Tilbury and Basingstoke.

    Please don't take offense if you live in any of these places and think I'm extracting the Michael.  They've only been chosen because I know so  little about them.   And perhaps one day when my child rearing work is done I can do a bit more exploring and discover our hidden land myself.  No doubt I'd uncover some incredible surprises on my journey.

    PS:  I've been to Hell...and back as well!  No, not it's fiery namesake or a metaphorical version thereof.  This one's on the island of  Bryher in the Scillies.  It one of the most beautful spots that you could imagine.

    Sunday, 20 March 2011

    Not a Fridge Magnet in Sight!

    There's more regular readers on board these days.  The times when I was growing a little disheartened as it seemed that I would forever write  just for the benefit of Mama and Nana Lovelygrey are long past.  Welcome all those who've recently found me!  I hope you enjoy my eclectic and sometimes imperfect world.

    Blogging sometimes gives me a push to do things that I might have put off in the olden days for the sake of a good story.  So having dropped Louis off at a party I was all ready to head home for a Saturday afternoon nap.  After all,  Mr Lovelygrey was out walking  and  with the house devoid of boys, it was a haven of tranquility for a restorative snooze.  But I was passing through Bovey Tracey on the way home and decided to stop off at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen headquarters in the hope that it might provide inspiration for a post.  I'm glad I did because I got enough material for a few offerings and still managed to fit in forty winks.

    The work that's displayed here is of really high quality.  Although, understandably not everything is to my taste, there's not a piece of tat in sight!  Now I'm not normally a porcelain type of gal as my taste normally veered towards more chunky offering  but I loved these pieces by Eleanor Bartleman.  You've got to be intrigued by a craftsperson whose theme of 'Reynard the Fox' links her work.  I particularly love this piece which vaguely reminds me of another covetable fish wielding piece of ceramic work by Bernard Moss that I've displayed in a previous post.

    The studio is a lovely place to spend some time. There's a light airy cafe and exhibitions that change every two months or so.  For those feeling flush, I'm sure that there's plenty here to tempt purses to be opened wide.   But, visit even if you're not made of money as you might find something inspirational that fires up your own creative instinct.  Reynard may be the star of one of my own pieces shortly!

    Saturday, 19 March 2011

    Spend, Spend, Spend!

    After my pink coat purchase I've been at it again, spending money like it's gone out of fashion.  'What's your excuse this time?' you might been thinking.  'Falling in love with another beautiful piece of clothing or furniture that will surely change your life?  Finding a tool for jewellery making that's so essential it's surprising you didn't stumble over it all those years ago when you first learnt to light a blowtorch?  A piece of art 'calling' you from a gallery in one of those glorious waterside towns in your work patch?'

    Well it's something quite different this time.  Sure, I've gone on a great big shopping spree but I'll hope you agree that it's money well spent.  For I have been diminishing the hard earned savings that I squirrel away every month in my Charities Aid Foundation account. 

    The earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific region gave me a great big prompt to distribute some of the money that I'd collected in this on-line piggy bank.  So, some of it has gone to help the victims of this terrible disaster.  But I've also made donations to organisations nearer home as there's plenty of need in this country too.

    I'm not going to divulge who has benefitted from my giving or the amounts involved.  We all have our own particular views on what constitutes a worthy cause and have different financial capacities that influence how much we are able to donate.  However some of my 'shopping' was on impulse and I found the Radio 4 appeal webpage  useful in finding suitable unusual purchases that suited me.  It was just like being in an interesting boutique!  I chose an old favourite too and also am supporting a cause that I was alerted to by reading someone else's blog.

    Recession is in the air.  There's no payrise for the next two years and I'm looking for ways to supplement my income and make savings too in line with my aim to pay off my mortgage by the time I reach fifty.  But my charitable giving is exempt from the cuts.  It will, in fact, increase in April,  the start of the next tax year.  After all, I still have disposable income whereas others do not.  So,  if you have a bit over after buying the basics, please think about whether you can divert even just a little towards some of the good causes that capture you own imagination.  The charity sectors has got to be suffering at a time when people are tightening their belts and it's probably the time when they are most at need of funds for their work.  Giving in this way can be just as satisfying as a High Street foray or winning an Ebay auction for a mouldy old wetsuit!

    Friday, 18 March 2011

    They Made Me Do It!

    On our recent roadtrip my girlie companions seemed like they were in the mood to shop until they dropped, each buying something in the 303 Gallery at Yandles.  This is Melanie's tree make from tiny fir cones and a piece of wood which looks like it's been picked up on a walk.  An idea for a homemade project if ever I saw one.  They  then dug into to the depths of their purses as soon as they got into Wells, forking out impulsively from the very first moment, buying beads and buttons in Bella Beads and Earthcraft.  My string bag wasn't completely empty at the end of the day;  I came away with three items at the 'pound a paperback' stall in the market and spent a bit more in Oxfam  on the strange combo of old two Beano annuals and a book about Buddhism.  The other charity shops yielded a hand embroidered table runner which will look lovely made into a summer skirt and Thai silver fairy earrings to convert into pendants for children.  Quite slim pickings for what could easily have turned into a spree.

    But then when we returned to Kay's house I did something that rendered me the biggest spender of the day.  I ordered THE Pink Coat and it hadn't even been reduced in price.  However I did 'Quidco' it and will eventually 8% off, a teeny tiny conscience salve!  Due to my early start to Lent no Somerset cider was involved in my decision making process.  The girls persuaded me that as I'd been fretting for so long I needed to put myself out of my misery. They suggested that I then forgot about the cost and didn't keep going back to the Ness Clothing site to see whether it had been reduced.  Sound advice indeed that I'd intended to follow.  However I forgot I'd registered for the Pricepinx, a handy thrifty spot that notifies you when a particular item is reduced.  Just three days after my purchase I was 'pinxed' to say there'd been an £11 reduction.  However when I visited Ness to torture myself it had already sold out.  Given my love for this coat I'm glad that I didn't miss out even though I didn't make a saving.

    So here it is, modelled by moi! The photo would have been better if taken by someone else but Mr Lovelygrey was making minestrone and I couldn't persuade Louis to haul himself away from whatever he was watching on CBBC. I have to admit to being really delighted with my purchase.  It fits beautifully and its quality is excellent.  As such I'm likely to wear it for years to come.  If I ever get fed up with the colour I can always dye it black.  However at the moment I'm so enjoying this perky shade.

    The coat has also gained Louis' approval.  He says that I look like a proper girl!  How do such misogenistic tendencies get fostered at such a youthful age!

    Thursday, 17 March 2011

    First Laugh of the Day

    My work involves brushing up against human tragedy on a regular basis.  Sometimes in dementia care you're presenting people with choices but none of them are pleasant.  Continuing to struggle on with  keeping a relative at home who's doubly incontinent and aggressive or deciding to put them into residential care even though there's been a promise made that it would never happen?  If I carried  that stuff around in the head at the end of a busy day I might be in a right state.   So I dump it at the door of my office ready to be sorted out the next day.  Easier said than done?  It's taken practice but I'm finally getting there.

    One of the ways I do so is by watching and reading stuff that portrays the sadder aspects of human existence.  Don't get me wrong, I keep abreast of current affairs and in a very small way, try to make the world a better place by giving and volunteering.  But I avoid hospital dramas, documentaries that have an air of despair or negativity and repeated coverage of disasterous events.

    Laughter is one of the ways that I remain strong. It's like an emotional workout.  Maybe this makes up for physical exertion being woefully thin on the ground at the current time!  At the risk of being accused of eulogising fellow bloggers for two days on the trot,  I am today turning my attention to Tracey and her Crafty Snaps .  Please visit her via my sidebar if you haven't done so before.  She posts unfeasibly early in the morning so often appears at the top of my blogs list when I get up.  As such she nearly always provides my first piece of laugh out loud humour each day.  Tracey,  you talk about the problems that you contend with  but for your ability to maintain a sense of  humour when life is chucking out lemons, I salute you.

    However, yesterday's first giggle  was provided by an Ebay post that was brought to my attention by Naomi.  Please click on this link which I hope will not disappoint.  Tracey,  I'm sure you'll like it so think of this as my gift to you.  And to all else out there,  if you're flush with cash, in the market for two wetsuits AND a towel to cover your jubblies, think of making a humongous bid!


    Wednesday, 16 March 2011

    Thought for the Day: Mean Not Nasty

    I've written about the difference between being thrifty, frugal and mean before.  In the scheme of things I love to think that I'm thrifty, spending my money with forethought and wisdom.  However,  Lovelygrey Villas stays warm in winter and I am too easily tempted by new clothes  for the frugal label to be attached to me.  I try to nuture the spirit of giving myself, money and possessions too. Hopefully the M word couldn't be used about me often either.

    But 'mean' is a term that some people find complimentary.  Take my inspirational blogging friend, Meanqueen, as an example dressed up in her finery to speak about money saving at a posh do.  She's wearing a twenty year old dress, £2  boots and secondhand pants(!).  Her jewellery, visor and bag are all homemade.  Although she admits herself that her outfit is  rather mismatched it serves as an excellent illustration of frugal living at its finest!

    Meanqueen takes penny pinching to its limits and she will be my guru if ever I have to live on a restricted income.  Lots of the moneysaving tips, listed permanently on the right hand side of her blog, are worth mulling over even if you have cash to flash.  After all, there's a lot of be said for good stewardship.  I'm seriously considering her boys undies idea when I eventually get round to revamping my underwear drawer.   A friend was also quite taken by the idea  as apparently, her husband's Sloggis are so much more robust than her own girlie knickers!

    Meanqueen is  a superstar  as she's appeared on   'The Hunt for Britain's Tightest Person',  a programme recorded in 2008. Channel 4 still allow you to view it now on their website which is an amazing act of non-mean overwhelming generosity on their part.   After seeing this, I pondered over the differences between the people taking part and came to the conclusion that, for me, meanness to me conjures up an idea of adversely affecting other people because of  tightness.  The bloke in the pub who drinks with others and never buys a round is a classic example.  There's also those that see splitting the bill in a restaurant as a profit-making opportunity!  Watch the programme yourself and spot how  the impact of one chaps behaviour  on his wife causes him to fall into this category. 

    The term also might apply to those people who pursue saving money to a level where they are sitting on stacks of  the stuff but who compromise their own wellbeing by their extreme reluctance to spend.   An recent article on the excellent Motley Fool website serves as a helpful check to see if frugality is being taken too far!

    So, Ilona, I think you're going to have to think up another pseudonym. Meanqueen is a misnomer as you don't impose your spending habits on anybody, give time to your friends, some of whom seem to be furry and look after your mind and body admirably. Just go careful on those £1 roller blades!

    Tuesday, 15 March 2011

    "You'd be Bored If You Didn't Work!"

    Yesterday, courtesy of  flexible working where a full-time job is squished so  that every other weekend is a long one, I had Monday off  Instead of leaving the house at 7:30am, attending meetings, contacting clients, driving around and trawling through endless admin here's what I did during my normal working hours.
    • Finished a blog post
    • Made sausage rolls for Louis' lunchbox.   Packed rest of lunch.  Searched his school bag, removing hidden chocolate and a mouth organ. 
    • Helped Louis write party invitations.
    • Cycled up the hill to school and back.
    • Did a piece of needlepoint which required full daylight to see colour differences on the canvas
    • Listened to a Mad Dog McCrea CD that I've bought Louis for his birthday.
    • Worked out the shape that I'd need to cut to wrap a teardrop shaped stone for a pendant by snipping away at paper.  Used this as a template to cut a piece of copper.
    • Snuck two of the sausage rolls for lunch.  Surely they're good diet food?  Ate one of the confiscated chocolate biscuits
    • Wrote another blog post to schedule ahead when I'm away.
    • Researched on the Internet and discovered that labradorite would fall apart if I heated it.  Dismantled part of the necklace I'm making as a consequence.
    • More rooting about on the Internet for instructions on how to make a Star Wars birthday cake.  Yoda, in all his glory, fashioned from buttercream and fondant icing has come out a firm favourite!
    • Made jump rings out of silver and started to reassemble necklace.  Soldered bits together.  Heated up my copper and another bit of silver to make them soft enough to work with.
    • Sorted through the loft area in the garage.  Checked my summer wardrobe in case there was things that could go to the charity shop.
    • Prepared my toolbox to take to evening class.  Tidied my workroom.
    • Cycled to and from school again.
    • Mended a cuddly cat and sewed a  Scout Association toy beaver's paw to his ear so he look like he was saluting.
    • Took Louis to his swimming class.
    I didn't get round to meditating, planned exercise, cleaning the car, starting my garden makeover, writing cheques for future course and after school club, polishing Louis' shoes, mending a necklace, adapting a scarf for a friend........ the list goes on and on.  Would I be bored not working?   I really don't think so!

      Monday, 14 March 2011

      Not Frugal, Not Thrifty but Better than a Deep Fried Mars Bar

      Now in an ideal world the Lovelygrey family would be making all our food from scratch. We don't do a bad job.   Bread is rarely shop bought,  there is homemade yoghurt in the fridge, ready meals hardly ever grace our fridge and leftovers are recycled into meals that are often more delicious the second time around.  But sometimes, as busy working parents, our best intentions go to pot and we resort to less virtuous offerings.
       
      I was caught short, as it were, without a wholesome, lovingly prepared lunch.  Several pieces of fruit had been brought from home but as the midday church bells chimed my tummy was asking for something a little more savoury and warming than an apple, two satsumas and a banaana.   So, without a lot of hope in my heart,  I popped into the local supermarket in search of something that might catch my fancy and found this beastie, an Innocent Thai Curry on special offer at £2.39. It was fresh, tasty and did not contain any ingredients that seem more at home in a chemistry lab than a kitchen.  Every so often, under similar circumstances, the pasties from the  Oggy Oggy company call. But the veg pot was lighter in calories yet filled me up.  Perfect for my current calorie counting weight loss plan!

      For someone used to bringing tasty offerings from home to heat up in the work microwave the veg pot was by no means cheap. On a good day I reckon we could rustle up a full family meal for the same price at home, and yes there might even be even over for lunchtime seconds.      Yet, it wasn't extortionately priced and didn't leave that feeling of dissatisfaction that many foods in the convenience category bring.

      Sunday, 13 March 2011

      Mini Church of Craft: The Evil Peppers!

      Yesterday, at our monthly Church of Craft meeting conversation turned to ethical issues. I've found out that Melanie's distinctive red beads that I'd previously admired are dyed coral and as such from a highly unsustainable source. They've therefore lost their appeal and I've renamed them the evil peppers. Melanie has promised not to buy anymore if I desist from shopping at Asda because of their parent company's anti-union stance.  I've given my agreement so the Barrier Reef is safe at least from one bead mad friend.

      The 'Church' was quite productive on this occasion with Melanie assembling three beaded pendants.   Now she's bought all that taboo material she might as well use it up. Naomi  made a good start 'recycling' some turquoise necklaces an here are the two bracelets that she made.  The colour of the beads has been lifted by using wooden beads and herringboned copper wire.  In the original pieces it seemed that just turquoise stones was far too much of a good thing.

      With my new desire to finish what I've started and use up materials that I already own, I resumed making a project that I'd started a couple of meeting ago, a spirally silver and labradorite chain.  Now I've progressed to the soldering stage this may just be another project that'll be complete by the end of March.  This could turn out to be a very productive month!  Thanks girls, as ever,  for all your crafty support.  xxx

      Saturday, 12 March 2011

      Ship Ahoy Bangle

      Did I tell you that at the beginning of February that I was  inspired by another blogger, whose name escapes me, to make a promise to finish one craft item from my plethora of incomplete items each month?  Well I'm going great guns. Already, I've got three things to show for my efforts.  So far they're  all jewellery projects but my bird needlepoint  migrated into the house for the winter and now it is only a few stitches away from completion.  I may well be in a position to turn it into a cushion before the month is out.

      Here's my latest creation, a completed silver, copper and brass bangle, the end product of my evening class design project.   With Lizzie's expert tuition and my own hard graft, I've produced a piece that has surpassed my own expectations.  There's a exhibition of work produced at Bovey Tracey's prestigious Contemporary Craft Fair  in June.  I've always admired the pieces on show there but  never in my wildest dreams thought that I'd produce something that would be good enough to exhibit.  Yet here I am, considering submitting an entry!
      .

      I now have the confidence to go on designing other pieces which incorporate whimsy, movement and a range of different materials other than silver.  This is a great advert for much maligned adult education classes and the quality of work that can be produced in settings that are less than ideal.  Our course held in a pre-fab outbuilding with poor lighting and  adult sized versions of the wobbly in Louis' classroom.  No fancy jeweller's benches or fume cupboards here. This type of simple environment fostered a resourceful approach which translates well to the non specialised home environment.  Can't see properly because it's too dim? - wear a headtorch.  Using noxious chemicals - work outside!

      It's a shame that these classes are so expensive these days now they've lost their subsidies. The range of courses run by the public sector seems to be shrinking too and the focus is on provision that leads to qualifications which inevitably increase costs and leads to a piece of paper that the participant neither wants or needs.  The much wider health and social benefits of encouraging people to engage in activities that  give additional meaning to their life seem to have been forgotten .  If only occupational therapists could run the world  how different things would be!

      Friday, 11 March 2011

      Happy Birthday Lovely Grey Day!

      To celebrate the first birthday of my blog here's a delicious morsel from the Oggy Oggy pasty shop in Totnes whose stock from the Devon based  Mr Bun's Bakery  makes for a pretty and tempting window display. This solitary cupcake is  displayed on one of the earliest makes that I featured, my cake stand made from recycled items.  I'd have liked to have filled each tier with delicious confectionery but my purse and waistline would have grumbled.   My expensive photographic prop did not go to waste.  It was promptly  eaten by Louis after the shoot before my own tummy even had a chance to rumble.

      So I've  fulfilled my secret aim of producing a daily post for an entire year.   At first I worried about running out of subject matter but  the discipline of regular writing has helped me to spot things to share and it has possibly nurtured my spirit of adventure too. Now,  I'll  try things that I might not have done in the past, like applying haemorrhoid cream around the eyes and swinging through the tree like a monkey.  I'm  spurred on by the thought that even if all goes pear shaped, at least there's a story to tell. Now my first anniversary milestone has passed I don't see any real reason not to continue.

      It's been a wonderful way of keeping my family and friends informed about what I'm up to and I'm especially pleased that my writing helps Mama and Nana Lovelygrey feel that they are more in touch with the antics at Lovelygrey Villas and beyond. Thanks to everyone else who's dropped by, especially my regular followers both furtive and public! 

      Thursday, 10 March 2011

      Getting in the Holiday Mood

      An exciting parcel has arrived at the Lovelygrey house. Behold the third edition of our most useful holiday guide, bought from the tiny publisher Vicarious Books. It's so hot off the press that Amazon don't stock it yet.   It describes the places, specifically reserved for motorhomes where we like to stay when we visit France. I've given more details about these stopovers in my post 'Aires Pas Chere' before.   Not sure on reflection  whether this title is grammatically correct or my own particular version of Franglais but  ho hum!

      The 'aires de camping car' where we park up have been great places for us to experience French culture a little more closely than perhaps we would if staying on a conventional sight.  They are often situated right in the heart of a community and Louis often makes friends with local children in nearby playgrounds or on the beach.  His ingenious way of facilitating this will be a subject of a future post after our next holiday at Easter.

      More than once we've been asked 'Aren't those free sites you use a bit dodgy?'.  I have to say that 99% of the time we've felt completely safe.  There have been just three exceptions in three years.  Drunken tomfoolery, although harmless, caused alarm at Pol de Leon and a more sinister inebriated shouty man breaking bottles came close to the aire at Redon in the middle of the night.  The only time we've left a site though was at  'St Malo 3' described as remote and rural but it turned out that those qualities made it  an ideal location for a gay cruising spot.  We didn't feel at all threatened but decided to move as we didn't want to be disturbed all night by the bright headlights and slamming car doors.

      But beautiful spots far outweigh the occasional pup.  Here's a few more to add to the list from my original post.

      • Le Mont St Michel:  Easily the best view of this world famous tourist spot from any holiday accommodation including the posh mainland hotels and all for 10 Euros a night.
      • Le Port de Dinan:  Our escape destination from St Malo 3!  Beautiful canalside location near lovely restaurants, a network of cycle paths and downhill from a historic city.
      • Plouvorn:  Within 20 minutes of  Roscoff ferryport by a swimming lake and green parkland with playgrounds.
      • Quiberon:  Wild, woolly spot at the end of the peninsula.  Great coastpath walking and easy cycling into town.
      •  And.....our favourite spot that's thankfully still not listed in the guide so it can remain our little secret!

      Wednesday, 9 March 2011

      Thought for the Day: Lent Started Early!

      Hope all of you who like them had their tummies filled with pancakes last night in preparation for today's  start of Lent, a period of abstinence.  Like last year, I've decided to give up alcohol so there's no sneaky trips to Mr Lovelygrey's kegerator for a jar of his gorgeous homemade beer, that sometimes knocks the spots off of pub pints, and that's even before you consider that it works at about 30p a pint.  Or indeed emergency visits to the local Co-op for self medicative wine after a particularly hard day at work.  However, unlike the rest of the world who've got their forty odd days of self denial ahead of them, I got a headstart! I'm on day eleven  and already survived a weekend away with the girls without a drop of my own particular brand of poison passing my lips.  So why the early getaway and even more fundamentally why,  if I'm not a strict follower of the Christian faith give up anything at all?

      Well, the answer to the first part of my question is that I'm copping out a wee bit.  We're off to France in the motorhome just before Easter and I know my willpower is not sustainable in the land of lovely wine.  The answer to the second bit is a little more multi-factorial.  Firstly, I found that giving up the 'evil tipple' gave my health a real boost in that I slept better, lost half a stone and felt perkier.  But I've also got a sense that it's good to deny myself as it helps me get into the practice of controlling impulsive behaviour generally. 

      My birthday falls within Lent this year and the question of how to get around this tricky  hurdle without a glass of bubbly has perplexed me.  But I think I've come up with a simple solution that guarantees that I will be safely out of temptation's way.  I'm confining myself to a barracks of sorts and am denying myself even the pleasure of moaning about the lack of a celebratory toast.  For I, the extremely talkative Lovelygrey have booked myself onto a silent meditation retreat!

      Tuesday, 8 March 2011

      Days Out in Somerset:: Well Well Wells

      Behold my favourite cathedral, an accolade that's largely down to those scissor arches.  It's been a long time since I visited Wells, twenty five years in fact. Those curves catch the eye so tantilisingly still take my breath away!

      The girls and I merely 'popped' into this sacred place on our roadtrip to Wells. We could have stayed longer as we'd have liked, but we were confused about how long we had left on the parking meter and sadly rushed away prematurely.  Still, I'll be back.  I'd love to catch evensong again as I did on my first visit.

      Browsing in shops is something that I rarely do.  It can be a dangerous activity because I fall in love unexpectedly with consumer goods that are better left undiscovered.  But Wells is chock full of beautiful independent stores, like Bella Beads where I persuaded the girls to spend, spend, spend much to the delight of the friendly owner whilst keeping my own purse firmly in my pocket! As befits an affluent country town there's lots of well stocked charity shops.  The market, held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, was a great bonus and I found a great bookstall with paperbacks at just one pound each.  How the affable stallholder makes enough to live on at that price I'll never know!

      Other than more books, some fairtrade earring that are ripe for conversion into something more fanciful and a hand embroidered tablecloth I came away relatively unscathed.  And although we all admired these soft fluffy boots in the wonderful Basil Powell Shoes  they didn't steal my heart away and cause Pink Coat Syndrome all over again!

      Monday, 7 March 2011

      Days Out in Somerset: Absent Mother in Martock!

      Sometimes I abdicate my childcare duties temporarily and let Mr Lovelygrey take over.   Louis is okay with this as long as I return with chocolate!  At the weekend  Melanie bundled me into her car and helped me escape  to Kay's child-free haven in Somerset, an idyll that guarantees that you won't hurt your feet treading on Lego.

      Our plan was to visit the small historic city of Wells, but first there was a drive through some of the villages to the north of Yeovil, a part of Somerset that was completely unfamiliar to me.  What a revelation! This is a beautiful spot, a veritable rural paradise with beautiful buildings made from local yellow-ish Ham Stone.  Just as pretty as the Cotswolds but without the hords of tourists.

      First stop the village of  Hurst. Yandles, a sawmill and timber yard  has diversified, rather successfully  to include a craft shop, the 303 gallery displaying this clever wirework barn owl and a coffee shop.  All of these additions must have been a ploy to keep the ladies happy whilst their roughie-toughie menfolks buy wood!   Although my girls were tempted to hand over cash in the craft gallery, my purse remained firmly in my pocket. I took plenty of photos though, to inspire future makes.

      The same village was also home to the studio of a stone carver Tom Clark complete with a garden and gallery full of his work.  I particularly liked the pieces where he'd coupled slate and lighter coloured stone like this leaf and the amazing doorway below.  The girls are definitely coming back here because Tom runs weekend courses where beginners can produce a piece of their own.  What could I make?  Maybe my own tiny version of the Cerne Abbas giant for my own soon to be madeover garden?

      It's amazing how much we packed into a mini-break away that lasted just over twenty four hours!  In fact I've so much to write about and show off that I think I'll save it for some future posts.

      Sunday, 6 March 2011

      One Ferrari Please!

      I'm a little bit excited because my three year NHS car lease period is nearly up and it's time to choose a new motor!  Apparently I can have anything I like, so long as 'the powers that be' agree that my choice is suitable for me to do my job.   So how about this Ferrari?  Surely it's colour denotes that it's environmentally friendly.  And on the very rare occasions I have to take disability equipment to one of the people I see I'm sure that,say, a raised toilet seat will fit nicely in the passenger seat!

      Or perhaps, I could have a campervan to complement the motorhome. So much easier to take to festivals.  And if I persuaded my fellow travelling friend, Barbie Nurse, to give up her beloved RAV4 and lease a Volkswagen California, perhaps we could replcate this promotional picture in our lunchbreak on Slapton Sands.

      But hang on a minute! We're not getting a pay increase for two years and it's necessary to do some penny pinching.  So, I'm foregoing the luxury options and setting myself a challenge of choosing a car that is a cheaper option  than my current Skoda Fabia.  I want to save sufficient money on the lease cost, fuel and tax benefits to effectively award myself a rise in lieu of Mr Cameron doing so.    I'll let you know the outcome once my options have been priced up but I'm currently  towards the Ford Focus Econetic which its impressive combined MPG of 76.3 whilst retaining sufficient poke to keep me out of trouble in the hilly landscape around here.  I'll update you with the potential savings once I've made my choice.

      Saturday, 5 March 2011

      Rise, Shine

      I was banished to the spare room last night so both Mr Lovelygrey and I could get a good nights sleep.  We have a shiny new record keeping system at work on Monday. Three days of I.T. courses to learn how to use it,  along with extended time at my computer to make sure my files are ready to transfer has played havoc with my back and neck.  If only I could work, as I am now, lying down supported by a V-shaped pillow I would be okay.  Perhaps I could arrange to have a bed moved into the office?

      But my solitary nocturnal confinement has improved matters and I woke at 5:45am feeling quite perky.  The advantage of sleeping on my own is that I can bash around on my keyboard in the early hours without disturbing a fractious Mr Lovelygrey.  So I've made use of this opportunity and spent time catching up with a couple of important emails.

      Firstly, I've beavered away at an online questionnaire for my local council.  I've joined their resident's panel so I can make my views heard.  I've given my opinions on a diverse range of topics such as planning,  leisure economic development and housing.   After all, they need to know that I think that the provision of sports facilities and play areas in outlying rural areas away from the bright lights of Newton Abbot is lacking and that they're doing a good job looking after the environment.  

      And spurred on by some really positive experiences of giving my time,  I've also completed an on-line registration form for our local volunteering bureau.  Realistically I know, that at the moment,  I can't commit myself to regular unpaid work but I do have some odd hours to spare and want  to be made aware of opportunities to get involved with one-off fun and rewarding activities.  The nice lady who emailed me said that there were quite a few of these. It'll be interesting to see what she comes up with!

      Friday, 4 March 2011

      Where Do I Start?

      Although I can turn my hand to a lot of things -writing bits and pieces, baking  and mending things with only instructions from the Internet to guide me - gardening isn't up there.  I'm not entirely incompetent.  If you were to present me with a wet tissue impregnated with mustard and cress seeds I'm sure I could bring the crop to fruition.  And, in my study, I have a cactus which has doubled in size since I bought it.  But my odd shaped, north facing, untidy garden presents me with a problem.

      If it had been in immaculate order , when we moved into our house four and a half years ago,  I'm sure I could have tended it and  managed to maintain its neatness, even adding a few plants of my own.  But the house had been previously occupied by a family with four children, including three football mad sons who'd left the lawn that's prone to getting waterlogged in a bit of a state.  Although someone has  probably had an interest  in the past what they've done has resulted in overplanting  and features such as a very dodgily built rockeries and walls.

      Now Mr Lovelygrey created two deep beds and they were quite productive but what I'd like is a place to spend time that's pleasant visually too with landscaping, proper planting and maybe some bits of 'art' too.  I'm not afraid of a bit of hard graft but the truth is I don't know where to start.  Most of the gardening books that I've looked at seem to assume that you start with a blank canvas and don't really tell you what to do if you've inherited a bit of a mess, albeit with a few plants that you'd like to keep.  I realise that just painting the fences could improve things but try finding a long enough dry spell free to complete the job.  But then what? Do I tackle the project piecemeal or bite the bullet and dig the whole lot up and start again?

      And it's not only the back of the house that's a state, there's this wild plot at the side which adjoins the road. The whole project seems just too daunting for words. But what I'm going to do in the next couple of weeks is a bit of research to see if I can come up with a plan that will help me produce a beautiful plot that's easy to maintain to boot. And if that fails, I can always issue lunch invites to keen gardening chums and swap food for their helpful advice!

      Thursday, 3 March 2011

      Bat Out of Hell: Meatloaf

      I believe that Mr Lovelygrey has broken one of his cardinal rules.  There's asparagus from Brazil in the fridge and it sure wasn't me who purchased such sinful air freighted stuff!  But now it's in the house it needs to be used up.  So, I thought it would be a great accompaniment to my own guilt ridden buy.  Some lambs liver from New Zealand that I bought blindly from the Co-op's reduced meat section that's been taking up space in the freezer for a few months now.

      As Mama Lovelygrey is aware from my childhood moaning, I'm not a bit fan of plain old fried liver, however good for you it purports to be.   But I do like it as the main ingredient in a meatloaf as it's the texture rather than its offaly taste that I object to.

      I went in search of a meatloaf recipe on the Internet and found that this Liver Loaf used up the half pack of leftover sausages that were in the fridge as well as sounding jolly tasty.   It did not disappoint the adults in the family although Louis wasn't keen.  The result was  excellent both hot with the asparagus and also cold when it took on a pate-like guise.  This type of terrine is dead simple too.  If you can press the button on the food processor you're more than halfway there!

      Wednesday, 2 March 2011

      Sunflower Ring: Look Away Now Little Sis!

      I've finally finished Sis Lovelygrey's birthday present but am running late.  She reached the ripe old age of forty one in September last year and asked if I could make her a sunflower ring. 'Sure' I said confidently and then proceeded to make a balls up of the project.  I soldered a flower that I moulded from metal clay onto a wide ring made of sheet metal.  The kindest possible thing I could say was that it had a industrial feel about it!

      However, my lovely jewellery teacher Lizzie came to the result and persuaded me to bring  my half finished projects for her to see.  Rather than rolling about on the floor with laughter at the sight of some of my less sucessful creations, as I might have done, she was touchingly kind.  She also constructively taught me the useful skill of unjoining a botched up bit of soldering.

      So, for the last few weeks I've been thinking of what I could do with the newly detached flower. All sorts of wild schemes came into my head.  After looking through a few designs for rings I realised that  a simple solution  had been eluding me.  The ring didn't need to have fancy leaves, twisted bits or a textured metal band.  Keeping it plain and simple was going to work wonders.

      I took an unadorned ring that I'd made on an earlier course,  sawed to make a simple C-shaped loop which I soldered onto the back of the sunflower.  As a finishing touch I've oxidised the middle part where the seeds would form to give it a darker finish using liver of sulphur, noxious stuff which meant I was banished outside during my jewellery class whilst I painted it on.  And there you have it, a great present made from recycling a charmless ring, a piece from a previous disaster and I'll even relinquish an old presentation box.  Nonetheless, Sis Lovelygrey, I hope you like your long awaited sunflower ring in spite of its thrity provenance!

      Tuesday, 1 March 2011

      Days Out in Devon: Dartmoor Letterboxing

      "Found one, Mummy!"  What a better thing to do on a cold, wet, windy day than head up to Dartmoor!  Actually, this was not part of the plan.  Sunday had started off crisply cold but with sunshine and blue skies. That's when the idea of taking a warmly wrapped up Louis out letterboxing had materialised.

      For those of you who're not in the know, letterboxing is a type of outdoor treasure hunting. A container such as a lunchbox or even an old metal amunition box is hidden on the moor for visitors to find.  If the contents are in order it will contain a stamp and a visitors' book.  Once found  you add your own imprint to the book together with a message for the box owner and off you go again!. dartmoorletterboxing.org  publish a post of clues but buying this is not really necessary.  As in our chosen location, Bonehill Rocks, some places have so many boxes that you are nearly tripping over them.    Ideal locations for small boys with limited patience.

      In spite of gales and hail Louis had a wonderful time, climbing over boulders and rummaging around in nooks and crannies  Once he'd found his first sandwich box containing a stamp he knew what to look for and will never view a seemingly innocuous pile of rocks inside cracks  again.  In fact the outing was so successful he's decided that he'd like to go out and find more stamps every Sunday.  Take this enthusiastic response as a five star recommendation for a totally free activity that's suitable for kids of all ages, including those childish grown ups among you!