Friday, 12 February 2016

Not All Hearts Are Pink


Today I am sharing a love-themed page at Shimelle.com which is hugely exciting as it's my first design project as part of the new Contributing Design Team!  Shimelle and the team have been busy creating a wide variety of pages, projects and designs centred around a new theme each week, and this week, as Valentine's day approaches, it's all about love.

This is just a little sneak peak, and you might notice that this page isn't in traditional pink. While we all love a bit of pink, it's sometimes nice to go in another direction.  If you want to find out more, and see the full page, you can check out Shimelle.com where I've shared ideas for creating a layered design with lots of hearts, and absolutely no fucshia.


I loved delving into the little details as I made this project, so I really hope you enjoy reading about the process, and that you find some ideas that you can use!

Kisses xxx

P.S. Wishing you all a lovely Valentine's day.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Volunteering in Ecuador with Girlguiding


In the summer, I spent the most incredible 3 weeks in Ecuador with a team of 10 women, all volunteers with Girlguiding, all 100% fantastic! We had so many adventures, that I can't begin to describe them all in one post, but you can read about our trip preparations here, and our visit to the Equator here, but today, I want to share a few stories from the main reason for our project: our volunteering work in the mountain community of Las Tolas.

We spent two weeks in Las Tolas and in that time, I think we all took the village and its community to heart.  Las Tolas relies on farming and livestock to maintain its people, and they aim to do this in a way that supports the environment.  Around 15 years ago, locals decided that there was no future in continuing to clear land and trees, and that they would instead dedicate themselves to preserving the environment.  So they established a reforestation project: the villagers themselves are out every day and they regularly host volunteers such as ourselves to contribute time, and enthusiasm.

And my goodness, we had enthusiasm to spare!


We had a whole range of duties while we stayed at Las Tolas.  We spent several mornings working in the plant nursery, trimming the little seedlings, replanting them into bigger pots and rotating them into larger nurseries.  These little leaves will one day grow into saplings that can be planted to replenish the Cloud Forest.

And we did truly epic amounts of weeding.  Entire greenhouses, swamped with vines, coffee plantations, and yes, little saplings, are safe from weeds because of us!


As a group, we took part in day-to-day life which included milking the cows (hilariously squishy), more weeding, and one terrifying morning when Charlotte and I accidentally volunteered to run around a field trying to vaccinate a herd of bulls that did not want to be vaccinated.  And when I say field, I really mean the impossibly steep side of a mountain.  And when I say running around, I mean I would initially courageously run after the bull, up until the point when it turned round and moved towards me, at which point my courage would fail and I would run away. Imagine this going on for over 2 hours, and our two endlessly patient Ecuadorian hosts falling about laughing at our miserable efforts.

I can now say that it was the most exhilarating morning, and that I have developed a very healthy respect for bulls, after one of them got so cross it kicked apart its corral. And with any luck, I will never have to do it again,

We also spent time repairing forest paths and routes so that people can ramble around easily and enjoy the stunning natural beauty of the Cloud Forest.  It's an incredible place, and tourists bring in much needed cash to support the reforestation projects, and locals make and sell handicrafts to boost income.



The village itself was a wonderful place to stay: there were always people out and about, working and catching up and running between houses, and we were often hailed with "Hola, Chicas!" has we went on our merry way.  We stayed in pairs with local families and we all came back with different stories to tell from family life. Bethan and I stayed in a family with two small boys aged 3 and 7 who were a giggle-prone handful and wanted to play every night!  Bethan was a constant source of amazement to them as she produce games and activities and packs of cards endlessly from her backpack, and we all played round after round after round of snap.

The village was also home to lots of animals: alpaca, hens, little baby chicks, tiny cats and litter of adorable puppies roamed around just asking for cuddles.  We named them cheerfully, and the puppies in particular were popular and would fall asleep in our arms.

We also got to try so many different foods, from the mammoth cooking session where we learned to make empanadas, a morning churning milk and cinnamon into cheese and dolce de leche, and various untranslatable snacks we kept optimistically purchasing at the little shop. 



If a little free time presented itself, we would head out to explore and walk around the paths and tracks that wove in and out of the little village and among the mountains.  It's not called the cloud forest for nothing: during the early afternoon each day like clockwork, the clouds descended and we would be cocooned in our own little world of trees, mist and wildlife.


I don't think it's really necessary for spiders to have horns.


The cloud forest is a really magical place, and part of makes it so is the warmth and good-hearted welcome of the locals who know it as home.  I learned a lot living there, and life adopted a lovely rhythm of tiring physical work, wonderful new experiences and time spent with new friends.  We played football with the local children (and were properly trounced), ditto volleyball, and we were invited into homes to sample food, or sing along to  guitar, or visit a workshop.


Ecuador is a truly enchanting country: everywhere we went was different and we explored so many different environments.  But this one was special, and one day I want to return to the Cloud Forest.

Kisses xxx

P.S. I went on this adventure as part of a Girlguiding Project.  If you want to more or get involved, check out the website here!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Girlguiding: Our First County International Selection


In a month, the second International Weekend for the Guiding county of Middlesex East will take place. As the County International Adviser, it's my responsibility to organise and run this event along with a team of enthusiastic fellow leaders, and it's one of my favourite events of the year.  With planning well under way, I wanted to look back at the first time we ran this event last year...

The international opportunities that come with Girlguiding are vast, and in my opinion, that's one of the things that makes Girlguiding so exciting and inspiring, as we can genuinely offer girls and women the chance to have life-changing experiences around the world.  Each year, we can select and nominate a couple of girls within our area to represent us on projects across the globe. It's always difficult to choose who to send, as we work with so many fantastic young women, and that's why we've introduced the international weekend: to give anyone who wants to chance to find out more and get involved!

The weekend is for our older girls: those who are nearing the end of their time in Guides and those aged 14-18 in the Senior Section, and they can come along and learn about international guiding, how they can use their voices to make an impact in the world, and have a lot of fun doing it, I hope!  Last year found us sneaking around in the woods after dark, gathering around our little wood stove with cake at midnight, knocking up some internationally inspired food, and battling through some increasingly competitive team games! It was amazing to be able to discuss aspects of international guiding, and share with the girls how we in the UK fit in with a global organisation of 146 counties and 10 million women and girls: that's WAGGGS, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.


And what happens afterwards?  Well, In the past, girls have taken on volunteer projects in Malawi, Uganda, Vietnam, Peru, India... the list is long, and filled with possibilities. And it's a big commitment: participants usually need to fundraise around £2500 each and plan to be immersed in a culture that's completely different from their own. Our county nominees typically spend two weeks volunteering, and then have a week to visit the wider country they visit. Volunteering has included building and working in community centres, running games and fun days for children in orphanages, taking part in conservation projects and volunteering with disabled children. When I speak to girls after their trips, they have always loved it, they have found their perspective on the world has altered hugely, they have found it tough, they have made life-long friends and they have been inspired to make a difference in the world. I heard a presentation last week from a participant who volunteered in Vietnam this year, and it was wonderful to hear her describe her project and the incredible experience she'd had.

Alongside this, I have also been planning our first ever county trip so that we could offer everyone who came on the weekend an international experience if they wanted it.  It's incredibly exciting, as in a couple of months we will be heading off together to Iceland!

Who knows what this year will bring?  But I do know I'm inspired by the enthusiasm of the Guides and Senior Section member, and exited by the possibilities that the future may bring!

Kisses xxx

P.S. If you're reading this and you're local to me, email international@ggme.co.uk for more details and to attend this year!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Him and Me


Today marks three years since I met a wonderful man in a coffee shop in London.  He bought me a cup of tea.  It's been wonderful ever since.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Here's to all the years yet to come: I'm looking forward to every laugh, every evening in and night out, every conversation and each little moment.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

I [heart] travel


I started work on the giant map a couple of years ago now, and finished the stitching and painting around May last year.  You can read about the making of the project here.  The only thing that remained to do was to start marking on the canvas the places I'd been, and I'd been pondering ways to do that for a while.  I wanted to something simple and practical, so that I would be able to add new places quickly, but I also wanted it to look pretty.


In the end, I settled for using these little wooden hearts.  I can glue them straight onto the canvas, which is very quick and easy, and I already have lots of them in my stash that I use for scrapbooking.  
Actually, I fist picked up a little packet of these at a show from a company called ArtCuts, and loved them so much I went online and ordered lots of packets.  I use them consistently on almost all the scrapbook pages I make as I still think they're lovely: pretty and delicate without being too in-your-face cutesy.  So it seemed like a good idea to use them as map markers.

Each pack has a mix of sizes which really appealed for this project.  I used tiny hearts for places I have visited only briefly, or perhaps when I only visited one city in a country, and slightly larger ones to mark countries and locations where I have spent more time, or explored further. Then I used a heart one size larger still to represent our home in London.



I wanted to create a way to mark not only the places on the map that I have visited, but also the places the man has visited, and places we've both visited. However, I didn't want to use different colours or shapes because I want the map to keep its clean, graphic, blue tonal feel with just little pops of red standing out as map markers. Using the hearts gives me a perfect way to do this.  

I picked up a deep red felt tip marker from an art shop and coloured in the little wooden hearts as I added them.  I coloured in the right hand side to mark places I've been, the left had side represents countries the man has visited, and completely red hearts are places we have both explored.  

The nice this about this system is that I can update it as I go along.  For instance, the man has already been to Iceland, but I will be leading a Girlguiding trip there in April.  Once I've visited, I don't need to pull anything off the map, or faff around changing things: I can just colour in the other half of the heart.


All that remained was to start gluing them on! I've got a few left to do, but it's lovely to get the last phase of this project complete.  In the past year, I have been hugely fortunate and visited Singapore, Indonesia, Berlin, Poland, Ecuador and Bolivia, and I very much hope there will be new countries and cultures to explore this year.


Kisses xxx

P.S. Also excited to get this up on the wall!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Secret Day of Fun


December was a busy month, and I wanted to ensure the man and I had a day to ourselves to lark about and spend some time together.  This is how Secret Christmas Day of Fun came about.  This is a long, wordy post that I'm writing more for myself than anything, as I want to scrapbook the story.  Blogging it gives me a way to write my journalling in advance, so that when I make my page, I've already got all my words prepared.  So please don't feel obliged to read this account, but if you are interested in what we did on our day around London together, here's the account.

And these are pretty much the only two photos I took all day, as being winter, it got dark almost immediately.


Secret Christmas Day of Fun (or SCDoF) was only actually secret to the man as I had given the game away to myself by organising it.  But we had a lovely time (mission of fun accomplished) and it's definitely something I would do again.  I think days out like this make excellent Christmas/Birthday/Random Tuesday presents, and so I want to dream up more secret days soon.

We had a bit of a lie-in when Saturday morning dawned, which was due in no small part to us both being out the night before, and that technically bed didn't happen until Saturday morning anyway.  But I was chirpy and up first, producing the necessary morning tea and coffee and then hit the shower.  Perhaps this is too much info, but I include it as it was in the shower that I decided how, when and how much to reveal to the man about our secret day.  For at that point, he still had no idea beyond that we were leaving at half ten-ish.

We got the tube into London straight down to Waterloo, and here I put my newly-formed shower plan into action.  I explained to the man that the day was made up of 5 elements, and I named them thusly:

Element 1: Nutritional
Element 2: Educational
Element 3: Comedic
Element 4: Spiritual
Element 5: Dramatic

And then I invited him to guess what he thought we were doing.  It was wildly entertaining, like a game of twenty questions where you know the answer is going to come true.

Element 1: Nutritional he deciphered reasonably easily, given that we hadn't eaten before we left and we were hitting the South Bank at bang on brunch o'clock.  We visit the South Bank quite a bit and so it seemed appropriate to start our day here with food at Giraffe.  We struck lucky with the timing and hit a brief no-queue lull.  The weather was very mild and the sun was out and we opted to sit outside with views over the Thames and lots of people to watch.  The terrace was thriving: we had our coats off and weren't cold at all, which seems ridiculous for December, and I took a couple of photos before the food arrived. We consumed a Mexican breakfast each, a couple of smoothies, and another tea and coffee.  Plus I had wedges, because they're always so lovely and fluffy at Giraffe. 

We continued to play the guessing game, and the man correctly guessed that Element 2: Educational was a visit to HMS Belfast moored on the Thames. In retrospect, this wasn't hard to guess, as educational easily equates to museum, and given that we were on the Thames and often talk about visiting the Belfast, it wasn't too hard to figure out, and I knew we'd both enjoy it.

We strolled along the river to the boat, boarded and spent a happy couple of hours clambering round inside.  It's amazing, and HUGE.  I'd had no idea. We could easily have spent much longer, but we ran out of time. However, I'd highly recommend it and I think we'd both like to return. You have a free audioguide as you go, which is cool because I'm an audioguide junkie, and they had so many great interviews on it with men who had served on the Belfast.  One of my favourites was with a man who had worked in one of the four Gun turrets: 27 men were squashed into this tiny space to man 3 massive guns, and it was full of smoke and shells and cordite and telephones to relay instructions, and a shouting-tube in case the phones stopped working.  Anyway, the chap in the interview explained how they would have to prepare everything for their guns and get them all ready to bang, as it were.  Then the guy in charge who was listening out for instructions etc. would call out "Report".  My favourite line was when the interview chappie then explained that "Then we would all just should out what we'd done".  We've been trying this out at home.  For instance, when the man goes to look in the fridge, I can yell "REPORT", and he'll shout back if there's enough milk for another round of tea.  It's very effective.

HMS Belfast fact of the day: They only stopped handing out the rum ration in the 1970s at which point the crew all wore black arm bands in mourning. Awesome.

Anyway, we left the insides of the ship to head towards Element 3: Comedic.  The man didn't guess this one, because we were heading out to the East End to visit Winterville, a big Christmas festival in Victoria Park that slightly wishes it's the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. Anyway, the man hadn't heard of it.  It's a bit trashy if I'm honest, but we were there for specific reasons: tickets to see a performance of Sh*t-faced Shakespeare in the Speigeltent.  It's a great pop-up venue: a big circus tent that somehow incorporates booths round the edge and a bar.  We eschewed the booths for centre aisle seats with a good view, and watched a truly confusing rendition of the Merchant of Venice with one cast member absolutely plastered to quite hilarious effect.  It's impossible to describe, so I won't, but I do recommend the company, who perform at the Edinburgh fringe and also come to London quite regularly. 

On the tube back into central London, we discussed Element 4: Spiritual.  He had initially been quite surprised by this one, wondering if we were going to climb St Paul's.  A good guess, but not an accurate one.  Anyway, on the tube journey, he explained that he thought spiritual might be a bit less religious and a bit more boozey, which he thought he'd enjoy a lot more, and he was correct. 

It didn't help that as part of Element 4: Spiritual I had been carrying around a full bottle of rum, concealed and smuggled within my capacious bag, and which had then been found and confiscated by security when we arrived at Winterville.  It was returned to me as we left, but it did give the game away a little bit regarding the meaning of Element 4.

Anyway, unbeknownst to the man, we were heading for BYOC, which stands for Bring Your Own Cocktail.  It took us a few minutes to find, and we had to ring the doorbell of a closed juice bar, at which point a woman appeared and let us into the underground venue.  The idea is a simple one: you pay a fixed fee upfront, bring a bottle (or bottles) of spirit of your choice, and the bar tender will mix you any drink you care to dream up.

It was frankly AMAZING. The place was absolutely tiny: a little underground bar with only 6 tables, a very intimate atmosphere, dimly lit and ideal for a date as you could chat easily and cosily together.  As I mentioned, I'd been carrying around a bottle of spiced rum for the day, which wasn't for swigging on a park bench in the dark, but was in fact for charming and classy cocktail production. The bartender was wonderful: he came and introduced himself and asked us what we would like.  We were probably slightly irritating in that we both said we liked pretty much anything, but nothing too bitter.  So he started us off with a long drink of rum punch.  And it was full of wonderful exotic fruits including lime, guava and mango.  And it disappeared very quickly, and was frankly delicious.

As we drank, we could hear other people ordering as the bartender worked systematically around the tables.  Every so often we would pause to eavesdrop and collect ideas.  A group of six women ordered something to taste of salted caramel.  And we heard the bartender offer another table a drink flavoured with smokey lapsang souchong tea which is one of my favourite blends.

For our second drink, we opted to go sour and short, as it turns out it's something the man and I both love in cocktails.  And the next one was wonderful: rum, lemon, ginger and smokey lapsang (didn't even have to ask for it, the bartender could clearly see into my soul). It was so good: strong but not in a crazy-alcoholic way.  And just delicious.

So delicious, that we opted for short and sour for cocktail number three.  We never went too specific in our choices, while some tables really did.  But the bartender clearly new his stuff, and every single combination was wonderful and imaginative, and it was more fun to let him bring us things he thought we'd enjoy, rather than cramping his style.

So cocktail number three: sour again, this time with cardomom, lime, guava, a little pepper, egg white, and, obviously rum.  Again, amazing.  Each cocktail was more delectable than the last.

At this point, the table of six girls got up to leave and they brought us all their leftover spirits.  One of them explained to us that some of the bottles had been passed to them by other tables, and that we should do the same and pass them on at the end of the night.  Which was quite lovely really: because the place was so cosy and tiny, you did feel a bit like part of a secret, exclusive club, and everyone gets to benefit from a rollover of different spirits and liqueurs.  

Anyway, given our plethora of new bottles, we asked if we could have gin for cocktail number 4.  Again, the bartender produced the best yet.  It tasted of cucumber, but like cucumber must taste to people who think salad is a tasty meal choice.  It was sweet and refreshing and sour all at once: still short and sharp too, but I would never think to order a cucumber-y cocktail and yet it was wonderful.  I can't remember what else was in it.  Possibly a bit (quite) drunk.

We had time for one more cocktail and when the bartender came round to us, we asked him to just surprise us with whatever he recommended.  He pondered the collection of bottles on the table, and took the rum and the vodka we'd "borrowed" and came back a couple of minutes later with our final drink.  It was red and I think he said it had hibiscus and rose... I can't remember, and I've just asked the man and he can't recall either.  I do know it was good.  So good. 

BYOC was an excellent night out: we would both go there again.  It's a perfect special occasion venue, and I need an excuse to visit again very soon. Booking in advance is highly recommended, however.

Slightly intoxicated (or in fact really quite drunk) and giggling, we passed on our rum and collection of bottles to other patrons which seemed a nice way to complete the circle, and left for Element 5: Drama.  The man had guessed it was a film, and did eventually guess that we were seeing Love Actually, as it's a Christmassy film, and we were on SCDoF. However, he was unable to figure out the venue, partly because I am the mistress of all secrets, and party because it's not actually a cinema.

I navigated us down to Waterloo in an overexcited fashion, and ran some of the way to see if I could outrun google maps. I can. I knew the way to Waterloo, but not to the venue: The Underground Film Club in the Waterloo vaults.  While we arrived on time at nine, it turned out that they don't open the screen until quarter past, and didn't start screening until half past, so we had time to wolf down some liquor-absorbing food, (ie nachos) before collecting our headphones and making our way to find seats in the vaults.  The pop-up cinema is lovely and bedecked with twinkly lights.  The seating is all raked up so you can see well, the noise is through headphones so no distractions, and it's lovely to feel sort of underground in disused railway tunnels.  I want to go again!  It was a perfect way to end the night, settling down together somewhat tipsy to laugh and have hearts warmed through Love Actually.  Lovely film.


And midnight found us back on the underground platforms headed home.  We splurged for a cab to take us the mile or so from the tube station to home, and it was nice to stumble in at around 12:45am, Christmas Day of fun no longer secret, but very much complete. 

Kisses xxx

P.S. I will be making a tradition of SCDOoF I think.  But meanwhile, if anyone wants to go on a Secret Day of Fun with me, let me know and I will take you on a journey of secret adventures.  I LOVED planning out the steps and revealing them on the go.  If only this were a career!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Learning to make Lacy Paper Cuts


I decided to set myself a few scrapbooking goals this year to encourage me to make for time for this lovely hobby.  I enjoy working on projects so much, and I think having a few specific goals will help me focus.  I'm going to make renewed effort to take my camera everywhere, which I'm not bad at, and to USE it.  And most importantly of all, I'm going to print pictures every month so that I have inspiration and stories at my fingertips. My goal is to make at least 12 pages. That perhaps doesn't sound like much, but it would be a decent increase on last year!


I made this paper cut over a few days, sketching out a template on scrap paper, tracing round it onto white cardstock and then gradually snipping it out with scissors.  I'm really pleased with how it turned out and it will make a pretty and delicate first page in an album of my 2016 pages.



I enjoy cutting out paper designs like this, partly because it's a design and style I like, but it's also quite theraputic and it's easy to do in front of the telly at the end of a busy day.  I like that I can do a few minutes here and there and end up with an embellishment that is then a big feature of a page, and that will make an impact. And all you need is paper and scissors!  My Mum gave me a new pair for Christmas as I like the little tiny scissors usually used for sewing threads, but mine were wearing themselves down a bit.



Something new I'm going to try this year is making paper cuts with a craft knife. I've done significant research (ie I googled it and watched a YouTube video) and I'm going to practise to improve my dexterity with a blade.  I will keep using scissors, but I think if I can get comfortable and confident with a knife, I'll be able to cut out even more detailed designs.




I ordered myself a craft knife and cutting mat from Amazon (thanks to my brother for the voucher her gave me for Christmas!) and I've had a quick go.  I tried for long enough to convince myself that it's harder than the people on the internet make it look.  But I'm going to stick with it and see how we go!


Here is my first, wobbly attempt. I need to work out a system: do I use a template and cut round it?  Do I cut two layers at once?  Design on tracing paper and then cut through that and my final paper? I suppose I'll have to figure out it.  But I very much hope the end results will be worth it!

Kisses xxx

P.S. Any tips from craft knife ninjas greatly appreciated; going round curves is hard!

Monday, 11 January 2016

New Year in the Mountains


This year, the man and I packed a suitcase and headed off to Poland to see in the New Year.  This is quite a break from tradition; often we're stay-in types as the season draws to a close, and we just watch the fireworks on TV.  So it was lovely and very exciting to get on a plane and head into wintry Europe.

It was doubly fun for me, as we're were going to spend the holiday with one of my closest friends. She's Polish, and she and her husband were in Poland for a new year party with her family, so when she invited use to join them, it was wonderful to be able to make that happen.


The man and I hopped on a plane on 30th December, and flew the short distance from Luton to Katowice, a city in the south of the country.  It was around six when we got out of the airport and found our hire care, and so the dark had already descended, and the temperature had dropped to -5 degrees.  As we were heading out for a party on the 31st, we thought we'd have a quieter night to ourselves following our arrival, and so we had booked into the most beautiful hotel for the night.


The man did all the driving, and we headed on our way to find the hotel, which was very much off the beaten track.  It was an old converted hunting lodge, and so set in huge grounds, surrounded by lakes and accessed along a few miles of little tracks weaving through looming corridors of forest trees.  Magical, and very atmospheric.

Inside the huge, wooden door, we found wonderful Christmas decorations everywhere: evergreen branches and twinkly lights adorning the bannister of the huge spiral staircase, Poinsettias on all the tables both in our room and in the restaurant, and hunting trophies everywhere.  I suspect they're up all year round though, and not just at Christmas.  Our room, which we unlocked with a giant iron key, featured a stuffed and mounted pheasant, obviously.

After exploring our room, we decided to try the restaurant.  Sweeping back down the huge staircase, we found that tables were spread through several small rooms on the ground floor.  We had AMAZING food, both opting to try Polish oat-fed goose pierogi with cream and mushroom sauce to start.  It was wonderful.  I mean, mushrooms are always delicious, but the little dumplings were absolutely taste-tastic.  By the way, if you've never had Pierogi, you should.  Blueberry ones are also lovely. For the main, I had salmon with pumpkin seed pesto on sundried tomato tagliatelle and I pretty much wish I was still there eating.

After dinner we slipped outside into the frost for a little walk and to see the Christmas twinkly lights around the lodge.


We had an early night, snuggled up under the lovely blankets in our room and watching a bit of Agatha Christies's 'And Then There Were None'.  I've read it before so I knew what would happen, but it really terrified me.  Yikes!

In the morning, we were able to see our home for the night in the daylight, and I took a few pictures as it was just beautiful.  We could also see the surrounding lakes: it must be a wonderful place to stay in summer too.


We left to drive the rest of the way to my friend's house and it was lovely to see her and catch up with her family.  I've visited several times before and they are always incredibly welcoming. We were served a wonderful lunch, and then we all packed up our bags into backpacks ready to scale the mountain.  Wearing lots of layers, as it was chilly weather.  

All sorts of things disappeared into those bags: champagne for midnight, board games, thermals and layers, and pretty party clothes, not to mention the huge numbers of fireworks poking out of the top. We wandered to the base of the mountain and caught the cable car to the top.  A short walk later, and we had arrived at our mountain-top location, reaching the hostel that would host the party, and admiring the stunning view as dusk descended.

The party wasn't due to begin until eight, but we had to climb the mountain early so the cable car would still be open. So we had a few hours to kill, and we spent them perfectly: snuggled inside with mulled wine and board games.  In particular, a wonderful board game called Queue which you might think sounds like a British concept, but it actually a Polish game about the difficulty of acquiring anything during communism, and the queuing that took place daily.  The instruction booklet came with a lot of historical information about Poland under communism, and we spent a merry evening putting out little characters in queues, shuffling them around and sending anyone who spoke ill of the government straight to the back of the line.


With the sun set, we returned to our room, and dressed up in our finest for the party.  Polish parties are, in my experience, invariably brilliant.  First of all, there are back-to-back meals.  And in between courses and meals, or at pretty much any moment, everyone gets up to dance.  It's wonderful and the man and I spent a joyful few hours munching through roast meats, slurping up soups and stews, and dancing our little socks off.

It was at half eleven that the partying came to a temporary halt.  Indeed, this is the only party I've ever been to where everyone goes to their rooms before the stroke of midnight to change into thermals and every layer of clothing imaginable.

Then we all clattered outside, well bundled up and clutching bottles of champagne, bunches of fireworks and sausages.  We scrambled up the mountain and crowded around the bonfire which was toasty warm and we could see thousands of stars above.  Then came the midnight countdown.  It was in Polish so I wasn't sure how close we were to the new year, but once the champagne corks started popping, it seemed a safe bet that 2016 had arrived. We toasted with our bubbles, watched the twinkle and flash of fireworks going off across the valley below us, and everyone on the mountain found a space to set off their own.  There was ooh-ing and aah-ing aplenty (a universal language of fireworks) and I declined to set one off and spilled champagne all over my mittens instead.  Twice.

Champagne Mittens would be an excellent name. It is also the reason why I shouldn't be allowed explosives on a stick.

Once the champagne had been tidied away (so, basically, once it had been drunk) we turned our attention to the sausages.  Long toasting forks appeared and everyone crowded around the bonfire, pressing towards the heat of the flames to roast our sausages, charring them slightly and getting a lovely smoky flavour.  When they were succulent and sizzling ,we used a slice of bread slathered in ketchup to yank them off the forks and feast.  It was the best hot dog I have ever had.


Eventually, with cheeks red from the flames and eyes glowing, we headed back indoors for the rest of the party. We danced the night away until around 4:00am and headed for bed, tired but ever so happy.

Happy New Year everyone, and a massive thank you to my lovely friends for hosting us, and to the man for coming along with me.

Kisses xxx

P.S. I didn't take any pictures at the party as I assumed they'd all come out dark and blurry.  But hopefully someone else has some kicking around that I can steal gleefully!

Friday, 8 January 2016

The List


A new year, and time for some new goals!  I've got a few challenges in mind for 2016, but I also want to update my List.  The List is a a series of things that I decided I'd like to accomplish.  I started writing it a couple of years ago, and it's grown steadily in length since then.  On the list, I stick anything that I think I would like to achieve or experience, plus anything that I think might be fun!  Some of the goals are quick and simple, some a more long term and serious, but I have loved keeping track of my progress, and looking at the list gives me inspiration, whether that's for a rainy Sunday afternoon, or an epic summer holiday adventure.

In 2015, I completed quite a few of the goals: I played Dungeons and Dragons (4), I visited South America (52) and I went to see two shows in one day (10). I built a den with my brother (12), milked a cow (24), and experienced a fabulous screening of Rocky Horror (33).  I dined in a Michelin Star restaurant in Berlin with the man (87), took afternoon tea Christmas-style in Mayfair (99), learned brush scrip (97) and calligraphy (30), and I went skinny dipping (23), because I'm just that classy.  All these things, along with others, meant that I completed 23 things on my list this year.  Pretty good progress!  So here's to the new year and many more new and exciting adventures!

So far I have completed 52 goals on the list leaving me with 48 still to do. Here's the current list, linked up where I can, highlighted items 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 London 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 Do the take-away double
#22 Learn how design this blog the way I wish it looked
#23 Go skinny dipping
#24 Milk a cow
#25 Learn to make pasta
#26 Get up early to photograph the sunrise 
#27 Ride a motorbike
#28 Stay out all night
#29 Do an Escape Room
#30 Learn Calligraphy

#31 Have dinner at Dans le Noir
#32 Re-purpose something second-hand
#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 Start a family
#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 Try making papercuts with a craft knife
#58 Learn to scuba dive
#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
#68 Go on a safari
#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 at BYOC
#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 Dine in a Michelin star restaurant
#88 Go on a Makelight photography course
#89 Design a Lace Shawl
#90 Visit a Guiding World Centre outside the UK
#91 Sit in a box at the theatre
#92 Go to Africa
#93 Spend a day at Lyme Park
#94 Try white water rafting
#95 Sleep in a 4-Poster bed
#96 Fly first class on a plane in lying-down beds
#97 Learn Brush Script
#98 Visit Beachy Head
#99 Have a Christmassy afternoon tea
#100 Visit Las Vegas

Happy new year to everyone!

Kisses xxx

P.S. And as always, I love finding new things to add to the list and look forward to doing one day.  Suggestions on a postcard!

Monday, 21 December 2015

21st December: Make Festive Light


I love photography.  It's part of the reason I enjoy blogging so much: it gives me a place to share the photos that I love, and it gives me an excuse to upload the photos from my camera, go through them and actually make something of them.  In winter, it's hard to get photos as the light is so infrequent and poor, especially on work days when I leave home in the dark and return in the dark.  So I've been making the most of my weekends for photography!

Over the last month or so, I have been experimenting with flatlays.  A flatlay is basically an arrangement of objects or props or items, laid out specially to produce what is hopefully an aesthetically pleasing picture. 

I first came across the concept when I discovered Emily Quinton's beautiful Instagram feed. Emily is a photographer who runs Makelight: workshops and online courses which are all about producing more beautiful images.  I would love to do one of her in-person workshops one day, but that's a bit tricky when they tend to be on weekdays when I'm working.  However, there is a free taster course on her website, and I have followed along eagerly with that and been putting a few of her suggestions into practice.





I want to keep on improving my photography, particularly if I'm sharing it here. I have approached photography for the blog reasonably functionally: if I'm sharing a craft project, have I shown the finished item, and a few details?  Have I documented the process? And that has been enough.  However, I'm now keen to think not just in terms of the function of these photos, but also the form.  Can I photograph a project in a way that shows what I've done, but in a way that means the photo itself is also attractive?



I am very much a beginner in this process, and so I recommend looking up the Makelight instagram account which you can find at @emilyquinton as it really is incredibly lovely. Anyway, I've been following Emily for a little while now, and find her work very inspiring: her pictures made me want to see if I could improve my own!



Some of the pictures in today's post are new; some you may have seen over the past month, but it has been a lot of fun experimenting with this idea of creating prettier images and styling them out. Through the month of December, you can use the hashtag #makefestivelight to see loads of other pictures which draw inspiration from this style.  I love looking at pictures and it's a nice way to while away a few minutes here and there.




Kisses xxx

P.S. This post is part of my Journal Your Christmas series: a collection of posts following along with Shimelle's online class.

P.P.S. Seriously, come back natural light, I need you!