You're Unbelievable

In the bowling alley at the weekend, I was suddenly and vividly transported back to Manchester, 1990. One minute I was watching my seven-year old having a whale of a time with his mates in Lane 1, the next, I was braving sticky floors in a poxy little downstairs bar in Mad-chester in the middle of the afternoon, nursing a Sol lager (complete with lime) and wearing flared jeans. 

The reason? EMF’s Unbelievable.

It is so freaky when a song does that to you. Whoosh, you’re right back there. Memories from university you’d long forgotten come hurtling back into sharp focus along with lyrics you never knew you knew.

God, I hope I’m a better person now than I was then…

Other songs that have the tendency to plonk me right back into another era (and yes, I do realise this is showing my age somewhat):

  • Sinead O'Connor - Nothing Compares to You
  • James - Sit Down
  • Stone Roses - Fools Gold
  • Inspiral Carpets - This is How it Feels
  • Crowded House - Better be Home Soon

Go on, tell me - which songs have you taking an involuntary trip down memory lane?

Party Planning Princess mode

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We’re in full party-planning mode at the moment with not one but TWO parties coming up. Our annual Halloween bash will be closely followed by my husband’s ‘significant’ birthday party, which we’re holding at the old Frank Cooper’s marmalade factory in Oxford.

Now I love a bit of party planning. I go a bit Martha Stewart if the truth be told. I’ve photographed enough weddings to know what makes a good bash and I’ve spent enough time on Pinterest to understand how high some people set their party bar! Ah yes, I do like a challenge…

We’re hosting a good old-fashioned Prohibition-era speakeasy for Spence’s party. There’ll be illicit cocktails, moonshine, gangsters and flapper girls aplenty. His band will play and there will be one or two surprises along the way. I need to get pinning and planning!

For now though, my focus is on Halloween - we made the cupcakes above a couple of years back so this year I’m on the look-out for even more ghoulish treats. I have my green & black witches’ tights and the boys have costumes ready, but it’s the treats and sweets that make a Halloween party go with a bang, no? That and the blood-based cocktails*…

*not actual blood, but enough cochineal to turn one’s insides pink for a week

The carefully considered wardrobe

Have you seen Boden’s autumn collection? Of course you have. We all have. The catalogues just. keep. arriving.

But I’m not complaining. Losing weight has completely changed my shape and I have had to pare back my wardrobe to only those things that fit, flatter and stand up as classic pieces. Obviously, *dons innocent face* the ‘it must fit’ criteria meant I was left with very little that actually did fit me any more. 

So I made a list, invested wisely and now have a capsule wardrobe or sorts. Yep. It’s true. And it’s marvellous.

I know exactly what I have, what I don’t have and perhaps most importantly, I know what I don’t need. Admittedly, I’ve spent a fortune on clothes (hello Boden) over the last few months, but these are clothes that will last, clothes that work with multiple pieces and clothes that I love. The flip side of that indulgence is that the charity shops in Chipping Norton are now fit to burst with all my older clothes. My indulgence-benevolence circle is intact…

These Boden flat T-bar points were one of the first things I bought. They go with everything and consistently receive comment (always good) whenever I wear them. Just wish they weren’t now sold out so I could buy the navy too.

And this Ravello top in navy painted leopard is awesome. Paired with Chelsea Turn-ups in navy or brown or alternated with the Bella top or the Paris blouse and I’m sorted with about 5 different outfits for work. 

Yes, my postman now hides my parcels in a secret spot only he and I know about if I’m not in (so my husband doesn’t stumble upon yet another order), and yes, I have a wardrobe largely dominated by Boden.

But I also have in my wardrobe a small collection of carefully considered, well-made pieced that go with more than one other thing and will last beyond a single season. I need to size down in a few layering t-shirts and a denim mini (yay!) and I’d like a black cocktail dress (just because), but other than that, I’m completely sorted. And it feels GREAT!

*scratches eyes and blinks in the sun*

It’s been several months since I updated this space of mine. A lingering case of writer’s block coupled with a new project, a busy summer and a heads-down approach to make some healthy changes to my life and whadda know, it’s nearly October.

I’ve still been alive on Instagram - I find it so much easier to communicate through photographs when I am rushed and stuck for ‘proper’ words, so thank you for all the love you’ve shown me over there these past few months.

But now I’m endeavouring to be back here, sharing some bits of our lives this autumn. We have a 'big’ birthday celebration for my husband coming up, our annual Halloween bash and a beautiful place in the world to do it all from.

Life is good. Life is even better being 4.5 stones lighter but that’s another story for another day! 

Mud. Mud and books

Last week, Louis and I and my cousin and her son made our now annual pilgrimage to the Hay Festival in Wales. A whole four days of my nine year old and I gloriously lost in authors and words with no hint of an internet connection. It was wonderful. Wonderful and muddy.

But the mud didn’t deter us one bit.

Because as well as a frankly jaw-dropping and eclectic line of up of speakers and authors - Arianna Huffington, Ian McEwan, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Hieatt and Judy Dench anyone? - Hay is also the venue for the extremely impressive Hay Fever for kids, with children’s authors, illustrators, story-tellers and cartoonists inspiring and shaping young minds at every corner.

We went to comics workshops and listened to children’s authors tell rapt audiences how they get their inspiration and why they write. We delved into the science behind Star Wars, spent a hilarious hour with Murderous Maths author Kjartan Poskitt and listened to Mitchell Symons perform his wicked but oh so funny cautionary tales.

We met War Horse, went to see Michael Morpurgo talk about war, met fantasy monsters, heard tales from New York author Kate O'Hearn, saw Rob Brydon, Cerys Matthews, Sean Locke and Dick and Dom and even appeared on Friday night’s One Show (blink and you’d miss us!). We bought tonnes of books and came away happier for the experience.

If you haven’t been to Hay and if, like me, you have a child who loves reading, it is a must. Held every year at the end of May, it runs concurrently with the HowTheLightGetsIn philosophy and music festival in the town of Hay so there’s always plenty to do and see. Plus it is set in the most beautiful Welsh countryside.

What’s not to love about Hay? Well, maybe the mud. Did I mention the mud?…. 

STILLS: A WEEKLY COLLECTION (8/52)

Oh dear, no post for a whole week but it’s been half term here so there’s not been a lot of time for blog posts.

We had a lovely half term. Drawing, playing Lego, heading to Cotswold Wildlife Park and finally getting a chance to visit our old favourite, the newly re-opened Oxford University Museum of Natural History (hoorah!), taking a run out in our beloved old campervan and recharging our batteries at home.

February half terms carry few expectations but always deliver lots of happy times.

STILLS: A WEEKLY COLLECTION (7/52)

1. Making pompoms. It’s a little bit addictive.

2. A new stack of books for the dark winter evenings. The top one is our Book Club read for February. It’s a surprisingly easy read.

3. A pretty typical morning scene in our house.

4. Louis’ science party for his 9th birthday. Enormous fun was had blowing stuff up, making sherbet and spinning candy floss.

5. Goggles, a plastic apron and a mouth full of sherbet, what more could a boy want?

6. The aftermath.

7. The piles of washing never seem to get smaller do they?

These are a bit of a mishmash of stills from the last two weeks, I’ve been a bit remiss in keeping up!

Joining in with The Beetle Shack’s Stills: A Weekly Collection linky

STILLS: A WEEKLY COLLECTION (2/52)

1. My lovely boy lost in his maple syrup pancake at the weekend.

2. Spelling practice, late-night drawings and his Foundation-year photograph - Xav’s noticeboard contents.

3. Louis made his own Golden Snitch. He loves Harry Potter and reads the books avidly. Finding this little creation (he made it overnight) in his room one morning last week was a very special moment. So proud.

4. A melamine tower in the kitchen. A little colour on a grey day.

5. Homework. With a little furry companion.

6. The sweetest black grapes. Gone in 60 seconds. Literally 60 seconds.

7. Pens and paper everywhere.

8. A dinosaur and a candle together as windowsill companions. Obviously.

Joining in with The Beetle Shack’s Stills: A Weekly Collection linky

STILLS: A WEEKLY COLLECTION (1/52)

I like the ritual of a weekly linky. Last year I photographed weekly shots for Nature in the Home and came to the end of the 52 Weeks of Happy project. This year, I’m putting my hand up as the new girl in the delightful Em’s (she of the Beetle Shack) Stills project.

A weekly collection of images, posted each Sunday. Not quite a daily documentation, more a hint of the every day, a prompt for me to watch and capture the bits of life that happen as we rub along together in our little world. These are my first shots (a little late, but who’s counting?).

1. The first hyacinths of the season for me. Plonked on the table as the perfect antidote to packing away Christmas last week.

2. The nightly ritual of lighting a candle and opening a good book.

3. Fireside reading.

4. The daily list of gear to take to school. By the back door as a last-minute check-list. Now if only I’d consult it once in a while…

5. Morning light. And yes, I did smirk that the forgotten-ball-under-the-bed tones nicely with my bedlinen.

6. Airing the spare bedroom for a grandparent visit next week.

Joining in with The Beetle Shack’s Stills: A Weekly Collection linky

Happy New Year...

Just popping in to wish you all a Happy New Year. We’re back to our routine of work and school today so it seems apt to pick up the blogging baton once more.

We had a great Christmas. It was relaxing, fun, sociable, abundant and pleasantly hectic in equal measure. We spent time with family and friends, went for long bracing walks, watched films and played together. It was fab.

I’m not sure what this year holds for us yet. We’re making no big plans, but I do want to work harder, earn more, spend more time together as a family and make more time to read.

I had a quick review of last year’s plans before writing this post. To my shame, I didn’t make it to one single exhibition or gallery last year but we did pretty much everything else to a greater or lesser extent. We didn’t go camping nearly enough though - a combination of weather, Spence’s band playing at festivals on all the big weekends and a lack of planning I’m afraid. 

I’m determined to put that right this year though. So tell me, where should we take our little old camper van this year? I’m thinking a weekend or two in Cornwall and longer breaks to Northumberland, Suffolk and a trip to Brittany to see friends - any hints and recommendations?

A spot of Christmas crafting

Last week, I made a vat of mulled wine, warmed some mince pies and welcomed six school mums round to make a ton of wreaths to sell at our school Christmas fair.

Wreaths are a great PTA fundraiser. We sell ours for £8 each and forage all of the greenery, holly and pine cones ourselves, meaning all we have to purchase are wire rings, moss, wire and ribbon. This year we sprayed some of our cones silver and added mini baubles too, but overall, our costs were under £35 and we made over £300 so a tidy little profit for a couple of nights’ work.

If you’re planning a bit of a festive fundraiser next year, this is how we make our wreaths. Note: it is essential to drink mulled wine and eat as many mince pies and/or chocolates as you work…

Step 1: mossing

We split the jobs over two nights, mossing all the wire rings on the first evening. Working around your ring, you push clumps of moss onto the circular base and secure them by looping wire around the moss as you go. You’re aiming for a good, solid and slightly bulging mossy ring onto which you’ll then wire your foliage base. Sadly I didn’t take any shots of this stage - too much time spent gassing and eating chocolates - but you will need gardening gloves (the moss is wet and cold) and a pair of scissors or secateurs to cut the wire.

Step 2: adding your base foliage

This is the fun bit. We find that proper fir sprigs are best as they bulk out nicely and make a generous base for all the other bits you add. Fir from leylandii are nice for accent bits, but tend to make a flat and rather sorry looking wreath if that’s all you use so try to forage the real thing if you can. Our haul included spruce and pine branches, sprigs of bay and laurel, variegated and green holly and some gorgeous little bits of evergreen that I don’t know the name of…

Then you simply grab a bit of foliage you like the look of, cut the sprigs into short clumps (about 8cm long) and bunch them together before wiring onto your moss base. Work in a clockwise direction so all your foliage clumps are facing in the same direction and build them up in layers for a nice plump base. Secure the first loop of wire by twisting the two ends around each other and pushing into the mossy base at the back, then you simply loop the wire in and out of the ring, securing your foliage clumps as you go.

Step 3: adding accent foliage

Once you’ve added your base foliage, it’s time to add a bit of adornment. I find adding slightly longer clumps (10cm or so) of holly or another contrasting foliage type in clusters around the base foliage works well. In the image at the top, you can see I’ve added 3 separate clumps of holly, positioned so the berries appear in a rough triangular pattern around the main foliage. Again, you secure these additional bits with wire, pushing the ends into the back of the moss ring.

Step 4: adding pine cones, baubles and bows

We use a lot of pine cones on our wreaths. They’re free, they look wonderful and they can be sprayed for a bit of variety. We wrap stubby lengths of garden twine around the base of each then simply twist them in groups of three into the foliage base of each wreath. 

As well as cones, this year we used mini silver sparkly baubles and matt baubles in all sorts of earthy colours. Matched with a wired ribbon, they looked fab.

Step 5: getting creative with other adornments

We tend to keep our adornments low cost as we want to maximise our PTA profits, but if you were so inclined, adding dried orange and apple slices look wonderful (although you’ll need to be careful to store your wreaths somewhere dry to avoid soggy fruit) and bunches of cinnamon sticks work a treat.

How about candy canes? Or tiny pom poms? The list is endless.

Joining in with Lou’s Nature in the Home series which ever so fortuitously this Wednesday, is all about Christmas wreath making!

Nature in the Home - Winter week 7

Hello! I’m back and joining in with Lou’s Nature in the Home themes for the run-up to Christmas, the first of which is a table centrepiece.

Earlier this week, I popped into the gorgeous interiors shop in town that stocks my cards to collect the November takings (yay! I made sales!!!) and rather than pocketing my profits, I made the fatal error of having an ooh and an aah over Sarah’s new stock. 

I am steadily building up a wish list and would gladly buy everything in there, but this is at the very top of my list. One day….

Anyway, in the window were three beautifully planted bay trees in whitewashed pots, overlaid with a square of sackcloth and grey velvet ribbon. Well, I thought. One of those WOULD look rather beautiful on my kitchen table. And then I remembered NITH. And I decided it was fate. 

So I handed over my profit and a bit more besides and came away with my bay. Sort of OK right?

Next week the theme is handmade wreaths, which is rather good as I am hosting a wreath-making-mulled-wine-drinking evening next week to make 40 of the things along with some other mums for our school fair. Should be plenty of photo opportunities for that one!

Nature in the Home: Autumn Week 5

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One of my favourite books is Roald Dahl’s Danny Champion of the World. I loved it when I was younger and will treasure the memories of reading it to Louis each night when we first moved to the countryside.

It’s a wonderful book made all the more magical by the fact that our cottage sits right on the edge of a wood just like the one Danny’s dad poaches and, like Danny’s wood, ours is FULL of pheasants. Louis and I have discussed just how much sleeping powder we’d need to pop into a raisin, we know what time of night we’d need to go and we have concocted all sorts of getaway plans if we were caught. Of course, we’ll never enact our plans - poaching simple isn’t our game (!), but it’s fun to imagine Danny and his Dad creeping through our little wood.

At the weekend, the boys went into the woods with their friend and came back full of wide-eyed stories about finding a pheasant’s feather and coming across a supposed poacher’s trail. They came back with their mini-poachers’ loot and handily gave me a subject for this week’s Nature in the Home.