Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Indulgent Banana Hot Chocolate Recipe

Even though we are veering into spring, there's still a bit of a nip in the air and so I have been experimenting with the warming powers of a good hot chocolate.  Hot chocolate is worth taking your time over: it's indulgent and satisfying and luxurious, and so to elevate this tasty beverage into something even more special, I want to share my recipe for hot chocolate with banana tea syrup, inspired by Bluebird Tea Co's Banana and Peanut Butter Pancake tea.

First of all, to make the syrup you need only three simple ingredients: 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar and 5 teaspoons of your favourite leaf tea.

Boil the water, and once it's reached the temperature needed, brew your tea. The Banana and Peanut Butter Pancake blend I used is a Rooibos tea which means it can be brewed at 100 degrees Celcius.  5 teaspoons is a lot for one cup of water, but to give the syrup real strength and depth of flavour, it is the right quantity.  Leave the tea to brew for around 7-8 minutes. Again, this is a longer brewing time than you'd probably want for a cuppa, but useful to let the flavour overcome the sweetness of the syrup and the flavour of the hot chocolate.

Once your tea is brewed, strain out the leaves, add your tea and the cup of sugar to a pan, and bring the mixture the boil.  Stir occasionally, and boil for just long enough to allow the sugar to dissolve.  Then remove the pan from the heat.

Allow the syrup to cool; it will be runny so don't expect it to thicken particularly. This makes it easier to add to drinks. Once the syrup is cool, keep it in an airtight jar in the fridge.  I made mine over a week ago, and it's still good!

Next: the hot chocolate.  It's always worth getting good quality hot chocolate, and fairly traded at that.  None of your sugary instant stuff thank you; remember the syrup is going to add some sweetness anyway. Make up the hot chocolate as you normally would.  I used almond milk as I like the blend with the banana (plus it's dairy free). Anyway, it was quick work to heat a couple of mugs-worth of milk in a pan and whisk in the hot chocolate. When it's ready, you can stir in 2-3 dessert spoonfuls of  syrup per person.

I added a handful of marshmallows to the bottom of two mugs and then divided the thick, creamy mixture between them.  Pouring the chocolate over the marshmallows makes them a little bit melty and fuzzy round the edges.  Finally, top with a banana chip and serve with tasty nibbles!

In my case, that's maltesers and more dried banana chips.

While I chose to make my syrup with the Banana Pancake tea, you could easily to this with any of your favourite brews, and Bluebird have a lot to choose from.  Bears Like Marmalade will give you a lovely fruity, orangey flavour, and I'm excited to try making syrup with the Chocolate Digestives tea as well.  Not to mention that classic blend of Rooibos called Nuts About You which is packed full of wonderful almondy flavour.

Kisses xxx

P.S. As a tea rep for Bluebird Tea Company, I can offer you a one-use-only 20% off discount code: just enter CURIOUSTEABIRD07 at checkout. And make sure you move quickly if you want to snaffle some of those special edition spring teas!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Red Velvet Tea from Bluebird Tea Co

Towards the end of February, I was excited to find out that I had been selected to be a Tea Rep for the truly fabulous Bluebird Tea Co. I first discovered this lovely independent company when I took part in one of their Tea Mixology workshops at their Brighton-based shop (you can read about my experience here) and since then, I have cheerfully swapped many a shiny penny for their delicious and wonderful teas. I sampled a whole range of their regular brews in their Advent Calendar (I hope they do one again this year!) and I have been merrily digging into their special edition teas whenever one takes my fancy. And if you fancy trying them too, scroll down to the end of this post for a discount code for 20% off your first order!
This particular tea is sadly no longer available (you have to jump on board pretty quickly to snap them up!) but is one of the February limited editions. It's called Red Velvet, and my goodness isn't it just! Red Velvet is a black tea but also contains cacao shells, white chocolate sprinkles, pomegranate flowers and beetroot to add flavour, and a distinctive deep red colour.  And in flavour, it really is reminiscent of the cake!  It's sweet without being sickly or overwhelming; as someone who doesn't take sugar in her tea, I definitely prefer things which aren't too saccharine.  The chocolate provides and earthiness and depth to the favour which is very appealing, and the blend really worked for me.  I would go so far as to say that it's yummy!
With an added splash of milk, the pink becomes even more pronounced; I actually really enjoyed the colour of this tea and it made me giggle! I always have a drop of milk in black teas as I like that little bit of creaminess and I think it can dull any bitterness that tea has. Not an issue with this particular blend, but I still liked it with milk anyway.
To brew a perfect cup, the guidelines are one teaspoon of tea brewed in boiling water for 4 minutes.  This gave a good strength to the cup without being overbrewed and as it's leaf tea, it won't get too strong.  Leaf tea needs longer to steep than teabags do, and by using the right amount and brewing it properly for 4 minutes, you will have a lovely rounded flavour.

Bluebird have just launched their range of spring teas, so keep an eye out for blends such as Bears Like Marmalade, Purple Rain, White Chocolate Mint and even Chocolate Digestives! Spoiler alert: the chocolate digestive tea really is amazing, and not that you ever need an excuse to have tea with biscuits, but this tea just cries out for a choccy biccy.

As a Tea Rep for Bluebird Tea Company, I can offer you a one-use-only 20% off discount code: just enter CURIOUSTEABIRD07 at checkout. And make sure you move quickly if you want to snaffle some of those special edition spring teas!
Kisses xxx
P.S. One tea that has recently come my way is a very special Sticky Chai: a wonderful blend of tea and spices in honey which is genuinely sticky. And I have exciting plans for it!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Buddhist Temples at Borobudur

It has been a completely manic couple of weeks at Curious Headquarters: I have moved to a new place, hauling my stuff across London (with the much appreciated help of friends and family), I have written school reports for 5 classes, organised and run an International-themed weekend away in my role with Girlguiding (helped along this weekend with a terrific team of leaders), held a fundraiser for our Guide unit, and also simply had to attend important gatherings with friends involving meals out, cocktails and a wonderful evening trying on and selecting my bridesmaids dress for a friend's wedding. Let's just say there have been many nights spent burning the midnight oil followed by crack-of-dawn mornings. While there's been lots to love, I'm quite glad of a little break to actually unpack, gather my thoughts and catch up on a few extra winks of sleep.

The upshot of this is that I fell of my own blog schedule for a week.  But I'd like to get it back on track this week, stealing wifi from work until I get some into the flat. Therefore I bring you a little photo story of the time I visited the temple complex of Borobudur on the Indonesian island of Java.

I visited Indonesia for a grand total of about 3 days back in 2015, but definitely managed to make the most of the time we had. In that time, it was wonderful to visit Borobudur: a Buddhist temple complex that seemed aeons old, filled with a calm and spiritual beauty that made it very easy to understand why so many people visit.

Borobudur was hidden from the world at large for much of its history. However it was brought to the attention of Sir Thomas Raffles, then British ruler of Java, in 1814.  Efforts have been made to restore and preserve the 1200 year old temple, and it retains an otherworldly atmosphere of peace and mystery. In fact, the history of Borobudur is really quite fascinating, and it was very interesting to have a Guide to share some of his knowledge.

The climb to the top is no insignificant, but it was absolutely worth the effort in the humid climate.  It was simply beautiful.

Each tier of the temple is crowned with stupa; bell-shaped stone structures containing Buddhist statues. Each Buddha is seated in the lotus position, but the hands vary slightly from area to area within the temple. The stupa give the temple an incredibly distinctive silhouette.

While we were exploring the upper levels of the temple, we were approached by a party of school girls; apparently they visit the temple looking for tourists so they can practise their English and were keen to do so on us.  We were happy to oblige, but once they had done their duty and read out the requisite English sentences on their notes of paper, they were much more interested in taking selfies with us.

It just goes to show that no matter where you are in the world, teenage girls are teenage girls.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Hopefully newly scheduled programming is now restored to Journal of Curious Things.  Although I must confess I'm definitely ready to have wifi back in my life. Only another couple of weeks to go!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Scrapbooking with Little by Little

This week I'm sharing a project over on Shimelle.com, following the release of Little By Little, her new line of scrapbooking products with American Crafts.  I have been fortunate enough to work with these lovely papers and embellishments and have had so much fun putting layouts together!
One of the things I was most struck by was the versatility of the colour palette and designs.  The collection contains whimsical icons and themes along with beautiful florals and some brilliant neutrals which make selecting supplies really easy. Little by Little can pretty much work for any topic or theme!

Once again, it was an absolute treat to work with a collection from Shimelle (can I always have puffy camera stickers for everything please?) and you can find the full project shared here on Shimelle.com. It was lovely to look back and scrapbook some pictures from a Girlguiding county trip to Iceland, especially as I have two trips planned for this year with different groups.  Can't wait!
Kisses xxx
P.S. Seriously.  I want puffy cameras with EVERYTHING.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Finding Finland, Chasing Auroras

At half term, I set out on an adventure to fulfil a life ambition. Woolly fleece-lined hat packed? Check.

Passport: check.
I hit the airport and had an enormous meal of arancini, pasta and enough garlic bread to feed a small family. Check. Because flight sustenance is important for any flight that could last almost three hours.
The plane was quite empty and I somehow ended up on the exit row with extra leg room all to myself. Cool. With an enjoyable murder mystery loaded onto my Kindle, I prepared to head into the heart of Scandi, beginning with a hop to Helsinki for a glamorous night in the airport hotel. But from there, I would be heading to the far North of Finland into the arctic circle in search of the Northern Lights. Are they out there? Would I see them?
Cloudy weather was forecast...
The next day, I was up at seven (local time, so 5:00am really, ouch) and headed for breakfast. Finnish breakfast seems to include meatballs (score!) and herby beans. Whether that's traditional in Finland or just a mish-mash of hotel airport canteen breakfast fare remains to be seen.
Full, I headed for my flight which was going from Helsinki via Kittila.
Given that this flight took place in daylight, I could see the snowy ground drop away (hello window seat!) and I'm pretty sure that Finland is Narnia. Seriously. There are snowy trees and everything. I watched the soft blankety earth drop away until we flew into clouds.
The flight was busy for the first leg, but emptied out at Kittila and only a few of us rode the final half hour up to Ivalo. It was a dinky airport, no one wanted to look at my passport and so I collected my bag and approached a chap who looked like he might be my ride.
He was; we slung my bag in the back of his truck and he let me ride up front as I was the only person he was collecting, so I could see the views. He entertained me with local facts and knowledge, and I could tell he was a good sort as he phoned the lodge to make sure they saved me some lunch. BOOM!
We drove along and I couldn't tear my eyes from the scenery: pine trees and snow as far as the eye could see. I commented that it was lovely to be in the snow and that we don't really get any at home. The driver pointed out that it's very warm at the moment (it's -2 degrees).
At one point he slowed down and said if I peered through the trees to the right, I might see reindeer. He was bang on the money: reindeer! He told me they were semi-wild, not domesticated like horses, but they all get rounded up a couple of times a year and people feed them to support the herds through the rough winters.
We went on a little detour through a winter holiday village, but driver chappie wasn't a fan. He said it was very commercial, for mass tourism, and couldn't work out why they'd built the hotels in the style of Alpine chalets, instead of in the traditional Finnish style. He had a point. It was kind of tacky.
"And look, there is an Irish pub"
"But why?"
Apparently the area is popular with tourists all over the world. Or as he put it "there are 5 million people in Singapore, and I think they have all come here". When the population of the entire area is 7000, I imagine it can seem pretty crowded. But when he described how my remote lodge was quiet and still, I felt pretty happy. Much as I love London, it's nice to escape the hustle and bustle and hear yourself think from time to time.
And it is quiet. As the driver put it: "we say the rush hour is four. But not 4 o'clock, we mean 4 cars"
On a side note, everyone I came across spoke perfect English. And I mastered the word for 'thank you' in Finnish which is pretty shameful.
In fact, according to the driver, the vast majority of people work in tourism here, as there's no industry really. Only testing winter weather tyres. But there's only so many people that can do this. Apparently it's harder on the older generation: those under 45 tend to have good English and can get tourism jobs, but it's much harder if you haven't. In general, he thought that most people appreciated the tourism as it employs locals. What he didn't appreciate was initiated tourists driving around in treacherous icy conditions, unprepared and thinking that they can just drive around like they're at home. The conditions can be challenging.
We zipped past a camera trained on the road at one point, and the driver explained that it's for checking the road. If there's a lot of snow, they dispatch people from Ivalo to clear it.
After about half an hour, we arrived at the lodge: Muotkan Maja. Or Muotka. I'm not sure what the difference is but I've seen both written down.
I tumbled inside and discovered that the lodge is truly lovely: I had emerged into a big central dining room with tables for meals and sofas around a fire. Comfy chairs were scattered in the corners and there was an air of informal comfort and warmth, with families and couples hanging out. Large windows looked onto snowy views which sparkled white, and there was a lovely feet-on-the-sofa, make yourself at home feel.
Plus tea was available all the time. Without charge.
I inhaled some lunch (meatballs!) and got checked into my room, down the hall from the main area. I sorted my things and was soon ready to see what the lodge had to offer. I rolled along back towards the main room, book in hand and spent a glorious afternoon reading and admiring the snowy vistas. I also booked myself into the sauna.
It turned out that anyone could book a bit of sauna time, and so I asked reception if I could have a turn that very afternoon. Six was free, so the receptionist booked me in for an hour (more than I thought I needed but she insisted) and explained that it would be for my private use during that time. Awesome!
When six rolled around, I ventured in, and found several showers, space to change, a little sitting room and a large sauna, all completely empty and just for me for the next hour.
Eventually however, I had to totter from my warm cocoon in search of dinner. Which I found and swallowed with haste partly due to deliciousness and partly to compensate for the immense amounts of weight I probably lost in the sauna. Obviously, I am concerned that I might accidentally waste away and so I had double helpings of chocolate mousse. With sprinkles.
There was then only an hour to go before my first expedition into the wilderness. It had been a cloudy day so I wasn't particularly hopeful that the Aurora Camp would live up to its name, but I was looking forward to riding through Narnia in the dark. In a sleigh.
I kitted myself up in full-on thermals, leggings, joggers, two T-shirts, three layers of increasingly chunky wool socks, a fleece, a scarf, a hat, thermal gloves, even-more-thermaltastic mittens and my full length overalls, which you zip down the side around your legs, and then the front zips up and belts and it's basically like wearing a sleeping bag that's human shaped.
It's very warm and comfortingly toasty.
For about 3 seconds and then it's wretchedly hot indoors so I shambled into my fleece-lined snow boots and went outside. I abandoned the outer mitts and swapped the hat for a balaclava and helmet combo and felt much better in the freezing temperatures. Winning!
Having promised Mum that while in Narnia I wouldn't drink anything the White Witch gave me, (although she did give me permission to take tea with the beavers or Mr Tumnus), it was time to enter the forest. There were two snowmobiles hooked up to two sleighs, close to the ground, transporting the group in twos, each seat covered in a reindeer skin. However, being a solo individual, and the sledges being slightly short on seats, I ended up riding on the back of the snowmobile.

This actually turned out to be fun: my first snowmobile experience, weaving through the darkened, snowy lanes, gliding between drifts, skimming trees and ducking out of the way of branches which loomed out of the gloom.
I learned to do this after the first one clobbered me on the head. Hurrah for helmets!
I had my visor down and the shodowy, snow-clad scenery flashing past made me think of the Snowman and I wanted to sing "Walking in the Air". But I didn't.
We arrived in a clearing containing a small wooden hut and a tipee and our guides set to work lighting fires in both. We all crammed into the hut, slinging reindeer furs over rough hewn benches and tilting towards the merry flames. A couple of kettles appeared and we hunkered down for the night.

After a little while, a few of the group left the fireside to head out and watch the sky, and we wondered out loud if we should all be out there. "Ah, but we have cookies and berry juice," noted our guide, pulling a kettle off the fire and handing round cups of hot, fruity juice. He was right, we did.  And so we stayed inside for a few more moments, fingers clasped around warm cups, enjoying the treat.
Braced against the cold, and full of warm berry juice, I headed out into the night air with my camera.  I had attached it to my little Gorilla Pod (a mini tripod that’s portable and has flexible legs so you can tilt your camera in any direction), and I had picked up a remote shutter release in order to take long exposures of the sky and hopefully capture the elusive aurora.

Clouds aside. Although sadly the clouds didn’t move aside, and so the aurora danced, and we missed it.

I wasn’t the only person fiddling around with a camera.  A few of us had positioned ourselves away to the side, lenses trained on the sky, gloves off and fingers bitingly cold, all the more to twiddle dials and press buttons. Our guide was quite willing to hand out photography tips to the uninitiated and I heard him explaining the infinite focus setting to one chap, pointing out that "The stars are just before infinity".  I rather like that as an idea.
Despite the fact that the aurora twinkled away while the clouds stubbornly refused to budge, I really enjoyed my evening.  I loved experimenting with my camera, never having shot in these conditions before.  I loved being cosy in my human duvet suit; it was so warm and completely waterproof and I could lie down in the snow to peer through my viewfinder and not feel the invasion of the ice.

Except in my fingers, but if you shuffle snow about with your bare hands, you should be prepared to accept that, in my opinion.
I could take long exposures that made the faint shadow of the trees stand out against the night sky, and compose pictures of our little hut aglow with warmth.  I happily slurped down hot berry juice, made all the more delicious in cold surroundings.  And the air was fresh and clean, everything was still, and it was so lovely to able to have time to sit, think, reflect and appreciate the beauty of a remote and silent night.
Eventually it was time to tumble back onto the snowmobile and return across country to the lodge. The trees zipped past, bidding us goodnight as they maintained their vigil.  With the prospect of a cup of tea by the fire, and the cheerfully methodical investigation of a good murder mysetery, I was extremely content with my lot.
Kisses xxx
P.S. The real world is somewhat disappointingly less snowy than Finland.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Scrapbooking and Cake

As a teacher, I want to motivate and inspire my students.  As a human being, I recognise that the best way to do that is often through the regular and copious application of cake.  In fact, my students quite regularly request to bring cake to our lessons, and with some classes, a cake rota has been established so that once a week, one of us bakes something delicious and brings it along to help lubricate the learning process.  I blogged about the story behind these particular ice cream cupcakes here, and while I cannot claim to have baked such impressively pretty confectionary, I really enjoyed eating them.  And taking hope a couple of spares to photograph.
And eat.
This seemed like prime scrapbook material and is a nice way to get a little something about my life as a teacher into my albums.

I kept the design pretty simple, basing the structure around three blocks of equal size: one for a photo, one for the title, and one for journaling.  I then added layers to each block to soften the design and make it less graphic.  I picked out colours that complemented the photo in a range of shades, from pinks to beige, soft browns and woodgrains to creams and touches of grey. This is the kind of layering that my scraps are just made for!

I sketched out a title box and cut it out with a craft knife, and added my journaling onto graph paper.  All the key elements of my page were in position and the next step was to add some detail.

I sketched out a pattern of interlocking clouds to be a big design feature of the page.  I cut out my sketch to use as a template, traced round it onto patterned paper and set to with a craft knife.  I enjoy making papercuts as I like that I end up with a unique embellishment to go on my pages. There's something enjoyable about taking the time to craft something that's so detailed.

I cut out the clouds in a paper that I hoped would read as a neutral in the design.  I find that busy patterns can be distracting if you're trying to cut them into intricate shapes, and so solids usually work better.  I had initially thought I would use white but decided to go with a pale beige stripe in the end, shot through with occasional tones of pink, teal and yellow.  I quite like the match, and it was interesting to move away from doing a papercut out of my usual white cardstock.

I cut out some individual clouds to scatter around the page and create a sense of flow.  As I was using my craft knife to cut out the middles, I ended up with solid, smaller cloud shapes which I thought were quite pretty and really showed the pattern on the paper.  I decided to incorporate these into the layout too, just one or two, to showcase the pattern and add another texture. I added a little details around their edges with a pen to make them pop.

There's not a lot of fancy embellishment here; mainly shapes punched from leftover bits and bobs and little icons cut from patterned paper such as tiny cameras or flowers. The finishing touch was to add wood veneer hearts scattered among the clouds; I like the way woodgrain fit so well with the colours.
I loved making this page, it flowed together quite naturally. As I was assembling the layered blocks, I tried different arrangements that I would like to try out.  I'm looking forward to making more pages like this!
Kisses xxx
P.S. Please let it be the weekend soon. Please let there be some scrapbooking time.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Funyaks in Queenstown, a New Zealand Adventure

On my Contiki trip to New Zealand in August, we spent 4 nights in Queenstown on the South Island. I wish I could have spent more time there, actually.  It's such a beautiful town with so much to do, and I really had the wrong impression.  I had anticipated it being all about partying (I'm not really a party girl) and bungee (I am 100% not a bungee girl), but instead I found incredible scenery and exhilarating adventures, wrapped up in a package of lakeside cafes and friendly locals.
On one of the days, we had booked to spend a day Funyaking: kayaking up the Dart River and exploring the area by boat, and a nice active way to take in the fabulous scenery. We had an early start and were up first thing to discover our lovely clear sky from the night before had disappeared beneath a cloudy blanket of fog. And rain. Constant rain.
This is the view we wanted.  It just wasn't what we got.
Undeterred the Funyak guys picked us up and took us along the edge of lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy, the Funyak base. Given the rain and the cold, they offered us the chance to cancel or rebook another day. A few people opted to do this but we pressed on undaunted. Or at least only a little bit daunted; we had pluck enough between us.
We were kitted up pretty thoroughly with wetsuit, 2 fleeces, waterproof, lifejacket, wetsuit socks and boots and gloves. Also 2 buffs apiece round our necks, yanked up to go over our noses and mouths, and a woolly hat. Plus they gave us an extra, long waterproof for the first leg of our adventure: jet boating.
Jet boating was chilly but still good fun. We did 360 turns and zipped up the Dart River. It's very shallow in lots of places and splits into tons of different channels as it makes its way down the flat floor of the valley. Huge mountains rise on either side. Each time it rains, the river changes course as the route is unstable and the water level seems to change regularly depending on how much snow melt there is. As we were visiting in a cold snap, there was fresh snow up on the mountains and it was freezing rather than running down the mountains. Therefore low river!
Everyone jumped off the jet boat at the kayaks. They were bright red and inflatable, with three inflatable seats spaced at intervals to perch on top of. We had a quick paddling lesson and then then the six of us from Contiki formed a group under the guidance of a kiwi by the name of Phil. Other, more sedate tourists formed sensible groups with other guides and we began our paddling adventure up the Dart River.
I shared with Matt (my brother, and travel buddy on this trip) and Amy from Canada. I was put in the back and in charge of steering. While the other two paddled on the left and were the engine of the boat, I had to sit sideways and paddle on the right, being the rudder. When we were going forwards I would paddle as normal. If we wanted to steer, I moved my oar in sweeping motions behind the boat to get us to turn.
That was hard work!
We were warned to follow our guides closely to avoid getting accidentally sucked into the wrong channels of the river.
Our first move involved both Contiki boats immediately getting sucked into the wrong channel of the river, spinning around to make our paddling totally useless and Phil jumping out of his boat into the icy water to grab hold of both our kayaks and manually haul us out of the river and back on course.
That aside we were pretty good! At least, out boat was. Ish. The others didn't suck so much as experiment with paddling the boat backwards, or sidewards or into the bank. We mocked them in an encouraging way.
Each time we set off to paddle a new section of the river, the Contiki boats started off at the front of the whole group and finished last each time. It wasn't poor technique or ineffectual paddling, it was simply that we were trying to maximise our time on the water. Clue's in the name: FUNyaks.
And the funyaking was fun - perching up on the inflatable boats and paddling in a three, avoiding slip streams and riding other currents to bowl us along, and occasionally spinning and grounding to a halt in shallow water. Until Matt clambered out and pulled us back in.

The rain continued steadily for the morning, but it leant an air of gothic mystery to the views. Mountains loomed on each side of the river, hunkered down to wait out the weather, huddled into misty cloaks. I think they were watching us, silently judging, their expressions formidable and wreathed in clouds.

Eventually, we abandoned our course upriver, hauled our funyaks out of the water and walked a little way through the surrounding forest. There we found more funyaks in a narrow gorge, climbed in and paddled out way along through much stiller, deeper waters. It was stunning, and as we slid the boat up a fissure in two rock faces, I couldn't help but peer into the water; very clear and blue, but so deep we couldn't see the bottom. It made a stark contrast to the shallows of the Dart. The chasm we explored had ferns growing out the top, and. trees and mountains were just visible way up overhead. In the moody weather, things were still and quiet, and it seemed that everything was taking shelter and holding its breath, keeping out the rain.

Floating back down the gorge, we made it back to a little hut for lunch: soup (so good, so hot, so desperately needed) and bread, tea, fruit, cake, including NZ lolly cake (condensed milk, crushed biscuits and marshmallows) and brownies and banana bread.

Yum. Actually, having used so much energy funyaking, I hoovered my way through piles of everything.

After lunch, we funyaked back down the Dart again. The rain finally trickled to a stop, the sun emerged and the brooding grey if hunched up peaks transformed into glorious mountains. Phil told us about his idea for new form of wellbeing: canoga (canoe yoga). He could genuinely do a headstand on the inflatable seat of his floating Funyak. Awesome. I attempted a tree-style pose from the one yoga class I had taken ever, and quickly found that balance is all but impossible and gave up. We recommended that Phil charge extortionate fees for retreats and have a low budget TV ad where if you sign up for the premium canoga package you get an inflatable canoe to use at home.

Eventually tootling back to base, we hauled the funyaks from the river, deflated them and drove back to Glenorchy. Phil pointed out locations from Lord of the Rings enroute and also mentioned that the mountains in these parts were used in Swiss chocolate advert. Apparently New Zealand looks more like Switzerland than Switzerland.

We peeled off our our gear. Sweet. And got a ride back to the hotel where I had a shower. Even more sweet.

In the evening, I rolled into Queenstown with Amy and hit Fat Badgers for pizza. It was delicious and I scarfed down my whole pizza very quickly and wished for more;  Amy couldn't finish hers. I'm definitely a glutton.

Swinging back to the hotel, our group  of new Contiki buddies eventually wound up in my room and we had tea and gossiped about the people on the trip, reminisced on our adventure  so far and looked forward to the next phase!

Kisses xxx

P.S. I would happily go back to Queenstown.  Maybe one day!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A Little Bit of Stitching

When I came across these tiny miniature embroidery hoops, I wanted them immediately.  Because as we all know, when stuff comes in miniature, it's usually much more adorable.  A bit of internet research revealed that these hoops are in fact made and sold by Sonia Lyne of Dandelyne, an Australia based indie business specialising in all things tiny and stitchy.

I was eager to try my hand at a little bit of embroidery on such a dinky scale, and so I ordered a few hoops in different sizes. They came in good time, the hoops wrapped up with everything I needed to assemble them, and I picked up a few threads ready to start.

I sketched out a couple of designs I liked, keeping it simple as I wasn't sure how much clarity I would be able to achieve in a small space.  I needn't have worried.  I cut up a cloth bag into little squares, traced my design onto the material and set about stitching.  

It turned out to be a lot of fun!  I don't know about you but I don't normally manage to achieve a whole embroidery project of an evening.  It's a little bit addictive actually and I made one or two for Christmas presents, mounting little hoops onto keyrings.

I stitched a larger one for myself, turning it into a necklace; it was easy as all the components to put the necklace together were included in the kit, all I had to do was pick my design.  I opted for a camera, because, y'know, cameras, and I embroidered my little heart out. Hurrah! I've worn my new necklace quite a bit; the students at school have passed comment, and I like that it's something a little bit unusual, handcrafted and unique that I can wear.

I have a couple of hoops left for other projects, and while I don't have anything in mind at the moment, whenever inspiration strikes, or I fancy a speedy round of embroidery of an evening, I know that they are there, ready and waiting.


Kisses xxx

P.S. I haven't done any embroidery in a long time and these little projects have inspired me to embark on a larger project. I LOVE to make things.