Thursday, 20 October 2016

A September Story: Brunch at Barge House

Each month, I take series of photos on my phone using the photo-strip app called Pocketbooth; you can read about the full project here.  This is the story behind September...

First a confession: September was actually taken in October. Mostly because the man travelled a lot for work in September, making it home for only about four days in the whole month. 

I was so looking forward to having him home for a little while and I booked us in for Saturday brunch at Barge House. Largely because I had read about their Breakfast in Bread: enormous sourdough bread rolls, stuffed with breakfast fillings and freshly baked. Heavenly. Barge House also had a lovely canal-side setting and a carefully designed, rustic aesthetic which didn't hurt either. I can't resist a twinkly light (or a thousand), an open cafe front and a spot by the water. And with stripped down furniture, cookie jars crowding the counter and wild flowers tumbling over the table, let's face it: it was a bit of a hipster ideal.

We dodged through the rain down to the canal, seated ourselves and sipped gingerbread hot chocolate (me) and a coffee (him) and ended up discussing politics, Brexit and the US election. It is, as has been noted, good to talk, and we set the world to rights as the Barge House bustled around us. 

Brunch was immense; my bread was oozing with spinach, chilli mushrooms and beans, spicy chorizo emerging from the crater and topped with cheese and an egg baked to such perfection the yolk cascaded down the side as I breached the sides.

His was filled with smoked salmon, tomatoes, spinach, leeks, creme fraiche and finished with a touch of dill and the same on-point egg.

It pains me slightly to say that neither of us managed to finish. I was enormously full. It was awesome. 

We extended the lazy morning into the early afternoon with a second hot chocolate and a latte.

It was a lovely morning; it felt as though the world held us in a little bubble, together after weeks apart, talking inconsequentially, enjoying a wonderful meal and even better company. It was like a twnety-something fantasy: being able to brunch out an a weekend morning without a care in the world, by the water with a partner in crime. It is the brunch Richard Curtis' London-dwelling characters would embark upon, full of quiet happiness and contentment with life.

So on our way out, we snapped our September photo by the canal. A moment worth remembering for the month.

Kisses xxx

P.S. I may go back and write a note or two about some of my previous photostrips. So look out for time-warp photostrip stories.

P.P.S. It's also worth pointing out that Barge House takes bookings.  SCORE! I'm not a fan of the fad that refuses diners the opportunity to book and never fancy spending half my day hanging about for a table. So go ahead and make a reservation my friends, party because it's your right as an eater of food, partly because it can get quite busy, but mostly because you can!

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Photobooth Project

For the past 20 months, I have taken a series of selfies of the man and me.  It started off about two years ago when I downloaded the Pocketbooth app, which I thought would be fun.  I used it once or twice, but it wasn't until January 2015 that I decided to make a little project of it.  I enlisted the man, and decided that once a month, I would use Pocketbooth to snap a black and white photostrip of something we were doing.  And I have kept it up ever since.

Pocketbooth has a built-in system where, for a few dollars, you can have your photostrip printed and posted to you.  Now, I'll be completely honest: the printing isn't the most fantastic quality in the world, but to what extent that's my phone's camera and to what extent that's the resolution of the image file I don't know. And they arrive, usually around three weeks later having been shipped from the USA, printed on quite thick card, instead of photo paper.

Having just written this, I'm now wondering if I ought to switch to a new photo booth app. However, while they aren't perfect, they do all match, and I'm not exactly aiming to win photography prizes with these.  But I digress...

I have been quietly following along with my little project for over a year and a half now, and I have each month's photos printed and sent to me, and I have amassed a lovely collection of all sorts of aspects of our lives.  Everything from silly snaps on holiday, to posed selfies at a wedding to slouchy pics on the sofa at the end of the month because I hadn't thought earlier in the month and I was running out of time.

But I like the mixture; I like that some are very every-day and some are at special occasions.  And I enjoy the progression of this little monthly silliness. I am still pondering what I would like to do with my collection; I think I'd like to have them up on the wall in some way, but I haven't settled on the way I'd like to do this yet.

Something I would like to start doing is writing a monthly little story, taking note of where I snapped the photo strip and why.  Some months this may be more profound than others, but once I again I hope the overall collection will be interesting and a written record will add a new dimension to this project. So look out for my September story shortly.  The photo strip hasn't arrived in the post yet, but my story is good to go.

Kisses xxx

P.S. If you have any good photostrip display suggestions, my crafting supplies are open for business.

Friday, 30 September 2016

A Scapbook Story in Layers

This is a page I worked on a little while ago about my experiences travelling through the rainforest in Ecuador's Amazon basin.  You can read about the full adventure here! I've shared a few sneaks of this page, but the whole layout is now live on
The full tutorial talks you through the layout, and how you can fit lots of photos and a longer story into one page, so that it's still effectively one page and fits concisely in your album.  I wanted my experiences of the rainforest to be in my album, and I wanted to include lots of photos, but I didn't fancy making page after page of jungle-green layouts.  This page was a happy medium that let me do both!
I hope you enjoy the tutorial over on; after all, now that autumn is upon us it's a lovely time to get crafting!
Kisses xxx
P.S. Even better, once it gets to November, I can legitimately start doing some Christmas scrapbooking!

Friday, 16 September 2016

Elephants on Parade

 This summer, I visited the continent of Africa for the first time. I climbed sand dunes in the desert for the first time, went in a microlight for the first time, ate oryx for the first time and yes, went on safari. Several times. Today I want to share a few pictures that I took of some of the elephants we encountered.
First of all, it's worth stating for the record that elephants are huge. Like, really huge. 
And they absolutely don't care about anything. Why would they? They're peaceful, have very little to worry about on the predator front and puny humans are simply of no concern. They supremely and regally ignored us.
The first time I saw elephants was in the Etosha National Park in Namibia. We were camping in a fenced off area, and once we'd arrived and pitched our tents, we wandered down to the watering hole. 
And my jaw dropped. Elephants. Loads of them. Drinking and showering in water and dust in the dusky twilight.
The watering hole is on the other side of a pretty sturdy-looking wall, and on our side were benches to sit and perch and watch. And so we did, mesmerised by the spectacle. The elephants bathed and splooshed and went about their business and eventually wandered off. Seeing elephants that close and in such numbers was so far beyond my expectations. I had sort of images that going on safari is long periods of nothing with the occasional dot on the horizon that may or may not be an antelope. If you're lucky.
I did not expect whole herds of elephants to be chilling in prime photography position by the campsite.
 We spent literally hours that evening, quietly spellbound, sitting and watching by the watering hole. More elephants turned up for their evening ablutions periodically. And we would joke in a whisper that the seven o'clock show might be done, but the 7:30 performers would be along soon. And they always were.
Sometimes interlopers appeared. A nervous giraffe, afraid of his own shadow put in an optimistic appearance but was never brave enough to make it to the water. There were springboks galore too, and the odd rhino. But when the elephants arrived, they cleared everyone out of the way, snorting and even charging until their demands were met. And really, who's going to argue? No wonder giraffes are nervous.
And we watched, as sunset gilded the horizon, as the elephants became grey shapes shambling through the dark. And we still watched, into the night.
We spent more time at the watering hole the next day and into the evening, enjoying the antics of a little one who was enjoying a bath, and clearly desperate to fit in with his much bigger family. I think he was my favourite, and I absolutely know he smiled at me, especially for my pictures.
Our other big elephant experience was staying at Elephant Sands in Botswana. Not far from Nata, Elephant Sands is quite literally a place in the sands with elephants, a camp around a desert watering hole frequented by these impressive giants.
Big permanent tents are arranged in a wide arc around the water, and there's a bar and terrace which completes the ring. There's nothing else for miles around because you don't need anything else: you come to see the elephants visiting the site. And my goodness, there are elephants.
They appear from nowhere, suddenly on the horizon, making a beeline for the water. These elephants are somewhat more frenzied as this is the only water for miles around. They aren't really into sharing and operated on a much more take-what-you-can-get attitude. 
I was so excited to watch that I just chucked my bag in the tent and bounced impatiently until my roommate was ready.
Armed with my elephant safety guide, I set out. Elephant safety training goes something like this: Don't annoy one because it's bigger than you.  So don't be an idiot, don't get in the way, keep a safe distance, don't get between an elephant and something it wants, such as water, or its baby and don't make a lot of noise.
If you do annoy one, you will know because it will start flapping its ears menacingly at you.  At this point, you need to leave, calmly and briskly.  Next it will mock charge.  At this point, you need to have left already, because after that comes a real charge, and after that, frankly what's left of you could be spread on toast.
There is some etiquette at Elephant Sands. It's important to remember that a) Elephant Sands is completely open, no fences to keep out the wildlife. And b) weirdly, elephants make no noise when they walk; they're strangely light of foot. So to head to the terrace for good views, you have to dodge from tent to tent, peering around corners, checking for elephants and then walking calmly around once you're sure there are none coming.
We spent the whole afternoon and evening watching the elephants, having a drink on the terrace, dinner outside and then settling down again. We were so close to the animals but again, they were so disinterested in our presence. After all, why bother with the tiny people when you can trumpet at other elephants, snort and clash tusks or run one another away? The elephants were somewhat restless and crotchety, barging into each other, huffing their displeasure, at times moving with surprising speed. As dusk fell, a fire was lit in the pit on the terrace which kept us warm in the cold African night, something we had come to expect after each hot, sun-drenched day.
We were seated in chairs lined up along the edge of the terrace, as close as we could be, scant feet away. You could feel the collective intake of breath and see the way we all involuntarily leaned back whenever an elephant barged in our direction, ears flapping a warning. My goodness, they can move, and they can really seem threatening. But even when the pachyderm prickliness came in our direction, it was never at us, always at the approach of a more interesting, and often much larger, competing elephant.

We were sent to be not long after ten, as there had been a lion alert nearby.  Lions do use the watering hole, but not while the elephants are there.  But the issue is apparently the lions will lie down beside the tents waiting for the elephants to leave, which can be awkward for humans who accidently stumble into one.
I suppose awkward is an understatement.  Anyway, we all went to bed before the lions came, stumbling through the dark, checking for elephants and curling up in our blankets, willing the onset of the new day which might bring the dawn trumpet of more elephants.
A truly magical experience; I look forward to the day I return to Africa.
Kisses xxx
P.S. Africa (the entire continent, I'm convinced) is photographers paradise.  Have you explored any of its countries?  Are there any you would recommend?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Back to School

Over the past week or so, the summer has drawn to a close and students and their teachers have returned to school. For me this happened on the 31st of August which seems intolerably early, but I cannot complain as I have had a wonderful break and equally I am enjoying being back in the school routine. Crisp new exercise books, eager students, a clean whiteboard and a brand new cake rota for those lessons that we all, pupils and teacher alike, just have to get through.
It's all about the little things that help along the way!
Summer was wonderful: a long break from school brings with it the opportunity to travel which I seized with both hands. With travel, I find the more I do, the more I go, the more I see, then the more I am inspired to go further, explore more, adventure more, experience more, try more! In July, I travelled for the first time to the continent of Africa, making my way up the west coast of South Africa into Namibia and Botswana, before popping to Zambia and Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls. In August I spent some time in New. Zealand with my brother, marvelling at the scenery and having some quite exhilarating experiences! It was a summer that dreams are made off, a summer where I achieved 6 of the ambitions on my list and have come away with more travel dreams and ambitions. 
Back to school brings new things to share here on the blog. I am gradually editing the hundreds upon hundreds of photos I returned home with. I'm looking forward to pairing them with entries from my travel journal, blogging about the amazing places I was so fortunate to experience, and of course, scrapbooking.
And speaking of scrapbooking, I am looking forward to the weather turning cooler, the approach of Autumn, the appearance of hot chocolate of an evening, and spreading out all the pretty things around the sofa so that I can sit under a blanket with a cup of tea, scrapbooking and crafting my little heart out! I have signed up to Wilna Furstenburg's new workshop called Artventure to give me scrapbooking inspiration for the next year, a class which my parents very kindly treated me to as my Christmas present.
Back school also means back to Guides and getting excited as we fundraise for a unit trip we're planning next year to Switzerland.
Back to school means Bake Off. Enough said.
Back to school means commuting and a new knitting project as I work on the shawl that will wrap around me and keep me warm when the temperature drops.
Back to school means new recipes in the crockpot, making soup and experimenting with delicious new curry recipes.
Back to school not only means reflecting on the joys of travel in the summer, but it brings cosy evenings planning the next adventure; a time to go away with the man and the excitement of spending a week in New York together, just the two of us.
So all in all I like September. It's like a new year to me; as a teacher the academic new year I think resonates more with me than the calendar year. Its time to look forward to the coming year, make plans, reflect on golden summer days and enjoy the cool approach of Autumn with a cocktail in the last few rays of sun. I'm excited and I'm looking forward to sharing more here.
I wish you well if you're returning to education this week. And a very happy new year to all!
Kisses xxx
P.S. If anyone has any New York must-sees let me know!  I've been before but the man hasn't so we will do a mixture of the usual tourist spots and taking in the sights, but also aim to try some more unusual things too!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

My Scrapbooking Style

This weekend on it's time for some inspiration!  Each of the contributing designers for will be sharing a page which both showcases their individual style and takes inspiration from something created by Shimelle or the scrapbooking community.  It's a great weekend to stop by and see the range of different projects the team have come up with!

It's such a pleasure and a privilege to be part of the team, and there's some amazing talent on display.  This is a wonderful chance to see how we all scrapbook differently; everyone has their own way of doing things and it's lovely to embrace that and see what we create.  And that applies to any scrapbooker: we can all make things that are different and beautiful and personal, even if we start from the same point of inspiration.

I went back to a sketch that Shimelle designed a few years ago for my page, and you will find the full layout and the way I used the sketch and incorporated my own signature style on Keep checking back as there are lots of lovely things heading your way!

Kisses xxx

P.S. My page tells the story of the Very Friendly Zebra, which you can read about here! 

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Sucre and the Friendly Zebras

Sucre is a town in Bolivia that was once its financial capital.  Despite its South American location, the Spanish influence is clear in its architecture an we spent a lovely morning touring the streets and getting to know this town a little better. Today, the power has moved from Sucre (which means sugar) to the capital city of La Paz which is a vast and sprawling metropolis.  But for me, Sucre has all the charm.

Exploring the market was fascinating; it was really bustling and spread across several floors.  Vendors are grouped together according to their wares, so we found all the butchers together, all the bread sellers together, all the stalls with grains and nuts together... It seemed endless and everyone was competing for the next sale or the best deal.

We explored the park which our guide told us was a popular date spot, with lots of couples meeting at one of the many benches.  The little avenues were lined with trees, unusual for some of the regions of Bolivia at higher altitude, and it did indeed have a very European feel.

So we had a lovely morning exploring this lovely little town.  However, one interesting feature we spotted wherever we went were the livelier than average zebra crossings...

Bolivia has something of a problem with road safety. Drivers are reckless, there's no two ways about it, and they tend to treat the rules of the road as casual suggestions.  One such studiously-ignored "casual suggestion" is the zebra crossing system.  These systems are controlled by lights, and when the lights are red, the cars stop, and the people go.  Except the cars don't stop, and as a pedestrian you take your life in your hands.

The Bolivian government came up with a uniquely lovely solution to this issue. Teens in Bolivia go to school for half of each day: some in the morning, the rest in the afternoon. They can use the other half way to earn some money and help support their families, but there aren't a lot of jobs going and life is difficult for many communities.  So the government employs the students to stand by the Zebra crossing, dressed as zebras, and manage the traffic.  When the lights are green for cars (and thus red for walkers), they cheerfully remind pedestrians to stay on the path.  When the lights change, they gambol out into the street, chastising any naughty vehicles trying to keep going and helping small children cross the road and appreciate the rules of the road.

What's lovely is that they do it with such enthusiasm and pizazz. They are always dancing and they frolic across the roads in gleeful style.  They seem to make everyone smile, and more than once, we children waving and laughing and talking to the zebras, who are a regular feature in two or three Bolivian cities now.  And the traffic has to listen.  You can't run down a loveable, cuddly zebra. And anyway, they are fearless, and not to be messed with.

Nailed it! We spent a happy afternoon in a coffee shop overlooking the town square watching the world go by, and chortling as they danced, managed the traffic, hugged small children, helped old ladies, and generally made the world a better place.

In fact, one of my favourite moments was seeing a little lad run beaming up the path shouting "Hola, cebra!" and leaping in for a cuddle.

Good job, guys!

Kisses xxx

P.S. One of my not-favourite memories was contracting food poisoning from a slice of cheesecake on that very afternoon, doing a large amount of vomiting and then having to catch a 12-hour overnight coach back to La Paz, get on a plane to Marid and another to London.  Safe to say, I just didn't eat anything for a while.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Ice Cream Cupcakes: Making Matrices Delicious

Heading towards the end of the school term, it's always a little bit harder to get my students to focus on Maths when their minds are already in the summer holiday.  Fortunately, I have some really fantastic classes, and one 6th form group in particular have been bribing themselves with cake. They take it in turns to bake (and yes, I take my turn too!) and then once we've learned the concept for the day, they can have cake while they do some practice.

In the final week of term, one student claimed she needed a challenge, and wanted to make something new.  She promised to bring in the results for our Friday lesson, and I in turn promised to teach them how to find the discriminant of a 3 x 3 matrix from the matrix of cofactors, and how the property of alien cofactors works.

Thursday night rolled around, and the message below rolled into my inbox:

" Dear Miss Smith, These are the goodies that I have baked for tomorrow. I am emailing you and the others a pic tonight because there is a 50/50 chance that they will not make it into school alive as they are very unstable and I wanted you to see that the inevitable squashed cupcake that I will turn up with tomorrow was once ice cream shaped :) See you tomorrow!"

She had sent all the class members a picture of a whole hoard of little ice creams lined up on the kitchen counter.  Although they weren't really ice creams at all!

Each ice cream cone contained a dense, moist sponge made with real strawberries, and was topped and swirled with butter cream. And a flake.  I was in awe!  But my student was very casual, explaining that it's easy to get the icing like that if you put food colouring in your piping bag.  I don't believe for a second that it's easy!

The students took to the matrices very well, and we all took to the cupcakes exceptionally well.  They were so sweet, but had a little tang from the strawberries, and a lovely glittery crumble from the flake.  My only complaint was that I didn't have my camera so I could blog and Instagram these little gems. So you know what?  They gave me a couple of extras to take home and photograph.

And eat.

I have the best students!

Kisses xxx

P.S. Apparently you can bake the sponge straight in the cones.  I am definitely going to be trying this at home!

Monday, 4 July 2016

Hallgrímskirkja Church, Reykjavik

This is Hallgr√≠mskirkja, a beautiful and striking Cathedral in Reykjavik.  On my recent trip to Iceland with Girlguiding, we had the opportunity to visit this wonderful, iconic building, crowning the hill and visible from lots of points around the city.

The interior was absolutely flooded with light: so calm and peaceful and it was a pleasure to sit inside, marvelling at the sweeping arches and the fresh, clean, streams of daylight.

It's possible to climb the tower for a small fee, and so we rode the lift up as far as the clock face and climbed the last few steps to reveal astonishing views. Reykjavik was spread out at our feet and we could see all the little chocolate-box houses in lovely colours, the sea in the distance, and the snowy mountains framing the horizon. 

This was a beautiful place to visit, and it's unusual design really made an impact. Yet another gem found in Iceland.
Kisses xxx
P.S. Reykjavik is a great city to explore for a day; so much of it is walkable and I would highly recommend it!