Saturday, 9 May 2015

one photo and twenty words

It's a lovely discovery to find that someone has captured a perfect, candid, special moment. And I never even noticed.

Kisses xxx

P.S. One photo and twenty words is hosted by the lovely Abi over at Creating Paper Dreams. You can pop by her blog to see the pictures, memories and words of others.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

crafting my travels

My giant map is finished! 

This is an incredibly good feeling: I have a real sense of accomplishment as this has been a very long-term craft project.  I've documented the progress of the giant map in a few blog posts along the way, but now it's done, I've gone back and pulled out a little timeline of progress photos to document the full project.

It all began back in January.

As in January 2014. Almost 18 months ago.

I had purchased a giant canvas; as in same-as-my-armspan-and-I-struggle-to-carry-it giant. I also picked up a world map, and I got both for bargain, reduced prices at discount book and stationary shop The Works. First I traced round the map in sharpie to emphasise the borders of each country, then I taped it to the back of the canvas , propped the whole thing against the window and pencilled the world onto my canvas.

Confession: I had to trim the Atlantic ocean down a little so that Fiji and Hawaii could both fit on the edges. But I won't tell if you won't.

Then I stitched along all the pencil lines.

I will fully and freely confess that stitching was a stupid idea.  But once you've started, you've got to carry on. It was hard work reaching around the canvas due to it's size,some of the coastlines are very intricate and fiddly, and the canvas has big wooden supports in the back that were a real pain to embroider around.

Having said that it was a stupid idea, I should also say that I LOVE the result. It has texture and dimension and looks brilliant. I hope I never have to do anything like that again.  I'm incredibly glad I stuck with it!

So it took a long time, other craft projects came and went around it, but eventually I defeated the embroidery beast. The next logical step is to paint in the countries.  I liked the idea of leaving the oceans clear and white, and having the countries in a variety of matching shades. After mucking around with a few ideas, I opted for shades of blue and turquoise.  I found an art shop, and purchased some decent quality acrylic paint.

And you know what?  Those paints were rubbish.  I'm happy to accept that this could be due to user error, but they were uneven and streaky and the canvas looked like a three-year-old had tried to paint it.  Blindfolded.  With their fingers.

And of course, I had started with Russia, thinking it would be good to get the biggest country out of the way,

Convinced I had ruined my canvas, and unable to face the prospect of starting again on the embroidery, I pottered back to The Works and bought some ultra-cheap acrylic paint in blue, dark blue, green and white. And I mixed my own shades as I went.

Worked like a charm.  Hurrah for cheap paint that looks fab!  I painted over Russia and the minor set-back was soon overcome.

This also took a long time.  See points above regarding unacceptable wigglyness of country borders and size of canvas. If political leaders got their collective act together, I'm sure they could negotiate some territorial swapsies and organise straighter borders.

Although that might be awkward for the residents involved, and also then my map would be wrong and I've to start again, so maybe let's just leave everything as it is.

But it is done!  All finished!  And I'm so pleased with how it turned out.  All that remains is to work out where (and how) to hang it, and to mark on the places I have visited. I haven't decided how to do this yet, so suggestions very much appreciated!

I like that this will be a work-in-progress, like a giant, wall scrapbook showing my travels. I'm looking forward to adorning it with journeys past and journeys yet to come.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Aw shucks, now I'm going to need to think up a new giant project to take up space in my flat...

Monday, 4 May 2015

study leave shortbread

It's come to that time of year where my students are leaving the environs of school to hole themselves up in libraries, bedrooms, cafes and any other convenient nook they can find to do their revision. They will pop in and out of school, mostly to sit their exams, and sometimes because they need a little bit of help, a lot of sympathy, and a perky you-can-do-this pep talk.

I sort of miss them when they go.  The time that was previously filled with teaching, lessons and working with students becomes instantly inundated with report-writing, university references, planning and strategising… basically, it's paperwork. 

My first two classes went on study leave on Friday (I have one more group who will be starting their study leave in just over a week). I thought I'd bake them a little something to see them on their way, and to wish them luck. Caramel shortbread it is then.  I use Nigella's recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess, because it’s brilliant, it works, and you make the caramel in the microwave. What’s not to love?

Also, I'm a firm believer in layer equality. Lots of caramel shortbread has a thick layer of shortbread, a little smear of caramel and a hint of chocolate. This is obviously foolishness of the highest degree.  Caramel should have a layer of caramel equal in thickness to the shortbread, and ditto the chocolate.  The chocolate should crack, splinter and shatter when you take a bite, and the caramel should squidge out the sides.

True story.

So I needed enough caramel shortbread for two classes.  And the staff have worked pretty hard too, so probably a good idea to make some for the maths department too. And actually, Friday is Guides so if there are a few extra slices, the leaders might appreciate some.

As the clock crept round to midnight on Thursday evening, I had managed it: 59 slices of caramel shortbread, glistening and chocolatey, and a very sticky kitchen.

Why 59? I have no idea.  It sounds like I made 60 and ate one doesn't it?  But I didn't, it was pure coincidence. The chocolate wasn't properly set, so I had to play fridge Jenga to get the whole lot to cool and harden over night. But 59 it is.

And don't worry: I ate plenty.  I belong to two A-level classes (as their teacher, I think I get some too), and I’m a member of the maths department, and I’m a Guide leader. So by my reckoning, it would be rude if I hadn't joined each of these groups for a little nibble.

4 pieces for me!

Kisses xxx 

P.S. Actually there are still a couple of pieces left, casually hanging out in my fridge.  If a girl can't find a way of vanishing that on a bank holiday Monday, she's not really trying...

Thursday, 30 April 2015

tea potter on tour: brighton

The lovely Laura and I are both fans of the genial beverage, and so it was clearly time to take the Tea Potter on tour to the seaside.  For the uninitiated, a tea potter is an annual tradition I began one year for my birthday.  Think pub crawl but instead of pubs, it's tea shops, and instead of beer, it's tea and cake.

We've only explored London venues so far, but the Easter holidays seemed like a good time to head to the coast and explore the many tea shops of Brighton.  We had a lovely day pottering round, absorbing the tea and cake, wearing weather-inappropriate dresses and playing photo shoots.

Kisses xxx

P.S. The next tea potter is scheduled for May - camera at the ready!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

before I'm 30 I will...

This weekend to celebrate a friend's birthday (and because I was keen to go), the friend and I completed Go Ape.  It's a tree-top climbing course where you swing on ropes, dangle in a harness, clamber through barrels, scale cargo nets, balance across beams and zoom down zip-wires.  All while many feet up in the air. Which, let's face it, is what makes it fun!

For me, that's another mission complete from my list of things to do before I'm 30. Time for a quick update then to see how it's all going.

So far I have completed 30 of my goals, and I have 60 left to go. Of these 2 are in progress (I have sewn the front of #56 and #17 just needs a hem and some buttons placing).  In addition, #3 is booked for July, #4 is happening in June, I've got an item for #32, #52 will be complete in July, and I have a voucher for #65 - so excited to do this!

Here's the list so far, linked up where I can, highlighted item completed.

#1 Make cake pops
#2 Make a multicoloured layer cake
#3 Go on a canal boat
#4 Play Dungeons and Dragons
#5 Play hooky for a day
#6 Get a film projector and screen films in my own little cinema
#7 Go on a sleeper train
#8 Have tea at the Ritz
#9 And Claridges
#10 See 2 West End shows in a day
#11 Make a photo wall display
#12 Build a den.  A really cool one.
#13 Road trip in the USA
#14 New York, New York
#15 Go glamping in a fancy tent with fairy lights
#16 Buy an expensive set of lingerie
#17 Sew something to wear
#18 Get married
#19 Make a set of jam-jar cocktail glasses
#20 Make blueberry gin
#21 Play ultimate sandwich
#22 Learn how design this blog the way I wish it looked
#23 Make a scrapbooking video for the blog
#24 Learn to roller skate
#25 Learn to make pasta
#26 Get up early to photograph the sunrise 
#27 Swim in the Hampstead ponds
#28 Stay out all night
#29 Do an Escape Room
#30 Play the tube game
#31 Have dinner at Dans le Noir
#32 Re-vamp some second hand furniture
#33 Go to a cult Rocky Horror screening
#34 Go to a burlesque show
#35 Go ape
#36 Go to a Secret Cinema screening
#37 See a play at Cornwall's Minack Theatre
#38 Go on a helicopter
#39 Make my own ice cream (malteaser, peanut butter and caramel flavour?)
#40 Have dinner at Dishoom
#41 Take part in a Murder Mystery Treasure Hunt
#42 Buy a bikini
#43 Go to an auction
#44 Get my eyebrows shaped
#45 Inhale helium
#46 See the Northern Lights
#47 Go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
#48 See New Zealand
#49 Stay in a tree house
#50 Have a bash at karaoke
#51 Go to a roller derby
#52 Travel to South America
#53 Ride a motorbike
#54 See a film at a drive-in cinema
#55 Go to a sh*t-faced Shakespeare production
#56 Make a new giant floor cushion
#57 Have an indoor pool party
#58 Make spun sugar
#59 Have a go at spinning
#60 Go for Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea
#61 Go to the circus
#62 Learn to knit from a chart
#63 Knit a lace pattern
#64 Start a teacup collection
#65 Go on a Segway
#67 See a midnight matinee at the Globe
#69 Visit the Cutty Sark
#70 Go to a Casino
#71 Go stargazing
#72 Eat a deep-fried Mars bar
#73 Have dinner at Veeraswamy
#74 Have a day at Thorpe Park
#75 Ride a camel
#76 Have cocktails on Madison Terrace
#77 Play Dinosaur Safari Adventure Golf
#78 See a baseball match
#79 Go to Bounce Below
#80 Visit the Rough Trade Photobooth
#81 Swim in an infinity pool
#82 Ride a tandem
#83 Cook a roast
#84 Make something out of leather
#85 Get my International License with Girlguiding
#86 Go to a Christmas Market in Europe
#87 Develop a film
#88 Go on a photography course
#89 Design a Lace Shawl
#90 Visit a Guiding World Centre outside the UK

Kisses xxx

P.S. I always like to have new things to add though.  Anyone else have any goals? Anyone got any suggestions for things I should try?

Friday, 24 April 2015


When I first heard about Cutter and Squidge, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I applied myself enthusiastically to one of their creations.  This was due in the main to the creation of the biskie: a cross between a biscuit, a cookie and a cake. With a lot of delicious mixed in. And available in a large number of varieties to boot.  YUM. 

My favourite was the Marathon Runner: a lovely blend of chocolate biscuit, salty caramel and peanut and every bit as gooey and sticky as a girl could hope for in a chocolate dessert.  I sadly don't have a picture of the Marathon Runner biskie because I ate it. But only thing more satisfying than composing the perfect biskie selection box is eating the biskies in your perfectly curated selection box.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Now they are all gone, but please can I have another one?

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

catching a film at the drive-in

I'm a big fan of event cinema.  I just love it! I like going to the cinema anyway; there's something about watching a film on the big screen with an audience that feels special.  But give me a drive in, or an outdoor screening, or a cinema in the snow and I'm there. 

When we heard that the Drive In cinema was coming back for another round of screenings, we scanned the listings eagerly.  I think you've got to watch the right kind of film at a drive in.  And we scored a winner! One March evening found us heading to Ally Pally's car park to watch Back to the Future!

I love the concept of the Drive-In. Your car is your kingdom, you tube the radio into the right frequency and you can play the sound as loud as you like.  You can recline your chair, talk if you want to, but once you get out the car, you're in silence.

We arrived early to make the most of the snacks. Popdogs knocked us together a yummy hotdog each, and the man had a chilli dog so packed with delicious that they gave him a plastic glove to wear while he ate it. There just isn't a delicate way to eat hotdogs like that.  We deemed it wise to scoff them before getting back in the car.

All that remained was to settle down and enjoy the magic of cinema in our own cosy little world. We had the two mouses for company and we turned on the hazard warning lights to attract the attention of the roller skating waiters. I kid you not.  The waiter knocked on the window, and we rolled it down and ordered the necessary popcorn and nibbles, which were zoomed to the car quickly, and we had a brilliant evening.

Kisses xxx

P.S. There are so many pop-up or outdoor cinema events in London during the summer months that we're spoiled for choice! You have to be quick though: we were sadly too slow to score tickets to Jaws screened at an outdoor pool where the audience watches from floating rubber dinghies...

P.P.S. Probably a good thing: I may never have got back in the water. 

Monday, 20 April 2015

knitting and commuting

A few months ago I treated myself to a lovely skein of yarn in a beautiful soft grey colourway from the magical land of Etsy.  I was saving it for a special patter, and over Easter I cast on a the first stitches of my next project.  The yarn is from indie dyer Kristin of Voolenvine Yarns and she hand dyes skeins of yarns in the most beautiful shades I have ever had the fortune to happen across. She also produces a rather charming weekly podcast from her home in Brooklyn across the pond. This was no an inexpensive purchase, but the skein has almost 900 yards of alpaca, silk and cashmere goodness spun into 100g of fine, 2-ply lace weight. The colourway is named Poe and it is my favourite skein I have ever bought.

It was quite exciting when it arrived; the yarn was packaged beautifully and Kristin had included a little chocolate, a teabag and a lovely postcard in with the yarn.  Little touches like that make it really worth supporting independent small businesses.

I decided to knit it into a lacey, beaded shawl and I found a pattern called Fragile Heart by designer Boo Knits that I thought would be ideal.  I'd like to make it quite large so it can go around my shoulders and keep of the slight coolness that can descend on summer evenings.  I'm adding in some extra beads and some extra pattern repeats to personalise it, but I've knit patterns by Boo knits before - 3 to be precise - and they've all turned out wonderfully.

Every day I ride the London Underground for just under an hour. After a couple of weeks knitting this is where I'm up to.  It's riding to work with me each day and now the rows are quite long, so I tend to get 2 or three rows done a day. Perhaps more if I hit a row with fewer beads.  I like knitting on the tube.  It keeps my hands busy while I listen to podcasts, I enjoy the rhythm of it, and it makes the journey fly past.

And I've got to say, you simply cannot imagine how soft this yarn is.  It's like silky, sleepy, gossamer kittens,  I don't think the shawl looks like much here (lace never looks very impressive until you block it and stretch it out to see the pattern), but trust me, every time I get out this knitting, I first have to put my face in it and breathe in.

Monday morning?  I've got it covered.

Kisses xxx

P.S. One of my goals is to design my own lace shawl, and now that I've made a few can see how to put one together, I'd like to give it a try. What a shame: I'll need to get another skein of yarn...

Thursday, 9 April 2015

one photo and twenty words

Give Guide Leaders blankets, and they'll think they're on camp, no matter how fancy their dresses. (Actually it's a wedding)

Kisses xxx

P.S. One Photo and Twenty Words is hosted by the lovely Abi over at Creating Paper Dreams. You can pop by to see the full collection of pictures and words.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

handwritten, handcut: a scrapbook page

Back in January, I started a scrapbook page. It was a scrapbook page to celebrate the man and my second anniversary together.  Well, it might be 3 months later, but I have finally found the time to sit down and work on it.  My goodness, I love to scrapbook! 

The main element of this design is the hand cut title, which is a technique I really love using lately. Hand-cutting my own letters can certainly be time consuming, but I love the effect of the title being in my own handwriting, I never run out of letters in a pack of stickers, and it's a very inexpensive way to add longer titles to a page. I think it completely personalises the design.

I put together my title in two sections: one to go above the photo, and one below.  I sketched out a few possibilities in pencil until I was happy, and then went over it in thick, black marker pen.  I did all this on scrap paper, as this was just a template, and will not end up on the final page.  Using a template means that you can make as many mistakes and changes as you need, and you can see in the photo above that I even altered my 'final' version in black pen! 

It's useful at this stage to make sure that there are enough joins between words. I moved around the word "we're" several times so that it was attached to "when" and "together" securely.  Without this, the final title can become very flimsy and difficult to work with,

Once I was happy with the template, I cut it out using the edges of the black marker as a guide.  I didn't cut out every single little chink however; to save time at this stage, I left the middles of letters in place, as I can sketch those into the final design without needing a template. It also helps to make the template a little more sturdy.

I wanted my title to be in white cardstock, so I flipped the template upside down, stuck it to the back of the cardstock using washi tape, and traced round it. I always make sure I do titles in reverse, as then my pencil lines will be on the back, and I don't need to worry about getting stray marks or lines on the front of my title.  It's also good idea to tape the template in place, as that will stop it slipping around, but the washi tape is still easy to peal off when the tracing is complete.  Once I'd drawn around the template, I added in the extra lines I needed, such as drawing in where the middles of the e's and o's should go.

The final step is simply to cut out the title!  There's no denying that this is what takes the time, but in my opinion the delicate, lacy effect is more than worth it. So make a cup of tea, put something charming in the DVD player, and snip away!  I did this over a couple of evenings as I was in no hurry, and I find it quite therapeutic.

And it's done!  I trimmed off a couple of the hearts from my original title design to fit with the page better, but I'm delighted with the results. And actually, the title is such a feature of the design that it didn't take long at all to create the rest of the layout.

Finally, the journalling. I'm not normally a fan of hidden journalling.  I like to see my writing on the page, and be able to read it.  However, at the same time, this was quite personal writing, and I didn't want it completely on display.  I came up with this idea to give me the best of both worlds. My journalling is just visible behind the photo, safely sealed in a vellum envelope.  From the front, it looks like it's stuck in there permanently.  But if I turn to the back of the page, it's quite easy to slip the paper out of the envelope!

I cut a slit in the back of the envelope before I attached it to the page, and a similar slot that lined up with it on the background. You can't see the opening from the front of the page, but it means I have secret access to the writing when I want it.

I feels good to be scrapbooking again.

Kisses xxx

P.S. I love this driftwood-coloured background paper, it makes such a beautiful neutral.  Please may I have lots and use it forever?