Thursday 26 December 2013

travelling a trail of stars

When the new year comes around, I can't help but think of the possibilities: the places I could go and the things I could see.  So I thought this was a timely opportunity to share a page about planning to travel.  One evening, the boyfriend and I settled down in the foyer of the National Theatre to steal their wifi (it's free so it's not really stealing) and plan our trip to Prague.  Plus, if you sit in a theatre bar, it's empty while the performances are on so you can have the place pretty much to yourself!  I used mainly project life cards and a few odds and ends to put this together, and added a hand-drawn title.

We were planning in October when the nights were starting to close in earlier, so a chalkboard background made a nice night sky. Plus these chalkboard papers have been everywhere and I'd been itching to try one (although I can't seem to find many blank ones which is what I would prefer).

I love how wonderful the white pen looks on the black background - it really leaps off the page and enabled me to make a design feature of the journalling.  The main body of the page is made up of layers of PL cards, scraps of punched dictionary paper and bits of tags and ribbon.  With a little peg to clip it all together of course.  The writing gives the appearance of another layer. Most of the layout is constructed on a sheet of 12x12 clear acetate - the photos, papers, embellishments and stars etc are not stuck to the background at all. However, the sheet of acetate simply lifts off if you want to clearly read the full story underneath.

I thought the string of stars (tutorial here) made a nice touch to a night-time page.  I simply draped the garland across my page and then added a little dot of glue behind every other star or so; I didn't need to stick them all in place.The thread in between each star completes the impression of a smooth curve of stars trailing across the page.  It's simple, but I think it looks detailed and delicate.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Yep, I will definitely be needing more chalkboard paper.

Monday 23 December 2013

a string of stars

Merry Christmas little blog!  It's been a while with all the inevitable busyness, but now the school holiday is here and I have a little festive project to share.  To make this simple string of stars, you need some patterned paper, a needle and thread, and a punch. Any shape will suffice, but I thought stars were Christmassy.  Perhaps I can pass this off as a whole new idea in February with little hearts for Valentines day!  I chose dictionary paper for my garland because it's very thin and the text pattern goes with everything, making the final project very versatile.  

With a sharp needle, put a small stitch through each star and slide the paper down along the thread.  A knot in the end will hold the first star in place, but I found once I'd slid each punched shape into position, they stayed put and didn't slip out of place or all fall to the end of the string.  Using very delicate paper was also an advantage here as the needle could stitch straight through it and I didn't need to poke holes in advance.

Once you've stitched through the desired number of stars, this little garland is ready to go! You can choose whichever spacing works for you; all together point to point, or spaced at intervals.  These strung stars could go on presents, around a tree, drape along a shelf or, my personal favourite, go on a scrapbook page!  I have a project to share using a string of stars in a day or two.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, and I hope to be around here a bit more this holiday :D

Kisses xxx

P.S. I am Journalling My Christmas, but in a very literal sense this year, in that is currently in purely written form.  I haven't really had the time to do more than that, but it has still been nice to record the Chirstmas memories, and it's been wonderful seeing so much creativity pop up in my blog reader :D

Thursday 7 November 2013

a long weekend in prague

We caught trains across Europe to the Czech Republic and spent the most wonderful few days in Prague.  It was the most amazing trip and a perfect way to end half term.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Something to scrap for November!  Happy mulled wine season :D

Friday 1 November 2013

him & me

I've been seeing my boyfriend for just over nine months now, but I haven't really scrapbooked about him at all; initially I wanted to see if our first few dates would turn into a relationship.  I hoped they would but didn't want to tempt fate!  I journalled about our early dates and then put that journalling aside for later. Over the last month or two, I started to read back over that journalling and there's a lot of good scrapbooking material there!

This page documents the transition from the awkward, clumsy explanations and phrases like 'he's-this-guy-I've-been-seeing' to the much simpler 'he's-my-boyfriend'.

Most of this page is again constructed from project life cards that I ordered from Studio Calico.  They often have a good selection from a range of designers and they're all very usable.  I particularly love this set called Taylor's Card set; I think if I had my own bespoke set designed, they couldn't be any more perfect (they even have square corners!!!!)

I'm putting little pegs on everything at the moment.  I can't get enough of little pegs.  In fact, I had a pack delivered to school (saves a trip to the post office to collect packages) and then took them to my classes that day to show my students.  Who were all resoundingly unimpressed; what on earth did I want tiny pegs for?  I told them it was to peg out my tiny washing.  It seemed simpler than trying to explain scrapbooking.

I also tried a new method of incorporating the date and a short sentence of journalling into the border by writing in one continuous line, connecting the words as I went and then just continuing into the hand-drawn border.  It was fun! Note to self: do this again.

So now all I need is an endless supply of pretty cards and mini pegs and I think I could be happy for life.  Could little pegs be the new paperclips?

Kisses xxx

P.S. I knew I was onto a winner on our first date when, for reasons that are not clear to me, I was expressing my fondness for paper trimmers.  He not only agreed, but shared his appreciation of the ones that cut crinkly edges.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

using project life cards 12x12 style

If you've read my blog posts over the last couple of months, you may have noticed that I've gone from a beng a self-confessed phone-camera hater to a raving Instagram addict.  No one is more surprised than I am.  So I wanted to make a album to put all those random Instagrams in that don't really have a place in my normal albums.  They don't tell a particular story in most cases; I just think they're pretty or interesting in some way and I want to prise them out of my phone!

With a new album in mind, I need a new album title page.  Enter the little project life cards.  Again, readers over the last month will notice that I tried the project life thing before rapidly concluding that it just aint my thing, darling.  But I do have an abiding love for scrapbooking with the little cards.  Because they're lovely, and just made for layering.  And so I put this page together like this:

All that remains is to add a touch of journalling about my recent Instagram conversion, and now I have my title page I can think about getting my little square pictures into a album. 

 I think this project will be more photo album than scrapbook, but I look forward to working on it :D

Kisses xxx

P.S. I LOVE half term - my goodness I was in need of a break!

Tuesday 22 October 2013

tutorial time at shimelle's

I'm very excited to share a tutorial over at today!  I love Shimelle's blog and jumped at the chance to guest post.  My tutorial looks at a creative way to use text paper as a background to a scrapbook layout... and that's all I'm giving away.  I know; I'm such a tease.

Kisses xxx

P.S. School trip today!  I love it when going to work feels a bit like skiving.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

layered carrot cake

One of my missions to complete before I turn 30 was to make a multi-coloured layer cake.  So I did!

I love the look of these cakes, but I wanted to make something with a bit more flavour than a standard sponge cake.  So I decided to make autumnal-coloured carrot cake with cinnamon cream cheese icing.

I used this recipe by Mary Berry but I made a couple of changes.  First, I used on and a half times the quantities given, to make 3 layers instead of two.  Then I added ginger (lots), cinnamon (lots), nutmeg and cloves to my own personal taste, instead of the recommended mixed spice. One the cake batter was mixed, I split it into three and added yellow, orange and red gel food colouring respectively.  The red was very effective, the orange and yellow less so.  So I added a bit of red into the orange layer.  The cake has a lovely golden brown colour by itself, so the colour needed to be quite strong.

Finally, I adapted the frosting by adding LOADS more icing sugar and quite a healthy dose of cinnamon.  I wish I'd made slightly more as I was running a bit short by the time I came to ice  the sides of the cake.  It looks like an apprentice plasterer did the icing.  And apprentice plasterer who is about to be told to give up because they'll never make it as a plasterer. 

But it tasted good! Really good, but as it's a Mary Berry recipe, I expect nothing less :D And the pictures don't show how monumentally HUGE it is.  One slice could feed 6, and that's from yours truly who is a firm believer in big portions when it comes to cake. I kept it in the fridge, mainly to keep the icing reasonably firm, and it lasted a good week without drying out.  YUM.

So ambition achieved!

Kisses xxx

P.S. Little news flash: I've now spent so much more time playing with project life cards on non-project life pages that I've completely abandoned m project life project plan.  It's just not for me.  So I'll share some layouts soon and stick to working with those lovely little cards that way!

Monday 14 October 2013

project life the second

This Project Life spread takes me up to the 6th October.  It covers an evening with a friend doing cake, dinner and a film (logical order), Friday post-school pub and Guides, cake making and crafting, a weekend to-do list and Sunday brunch at the Diner.

So I've almost done a week.  Hmmm... and it's virtually half way through the month...  Here are a few thoughts then on the epic amount of progress that I have made. 

 I don’t know how anyone keeps up with this on a week by week basis!  I find it hard to fit in at random moments here and there and I’m just experimenting for one month!  If you’re doing this regularly, you have earned my respect, my friend.  

As expected, I do feel I’m giving up my regular scrapping time to do this.  Right now I don’t see myself doing this for longer.  

 I LOVE the little cards.  They are AWESOME.  But I also think it’s telling that I’ve been picking out my favourites to use on 12x12 scrapping.  So I think I will continue to pick up the odd kit of 3x4 and 4x6 project life cards, but I will be putting them to splendid use on pages.

I like doing 3x4 pockets more than 6x4 ones.

 Did I mention that the little cards are SO GOOD?

I don’t feel I’m really recording much more in the way of stories. I often write down little anecdotes anyway, so all I’m doing is spending a bit more time making them pretty in an album.  But I’ve found myself doing quite a few bits and bobs on the project life spreads simply documenting “and then we went to the pub” or “and then I had a cup of tea and it was brilliant”.  I keep a record of what I do in my diary, so I’m not sure I’m getting ay more value from putting it in Project Life.     Am I glad I’m doing it?  Yes.  Because, y’know, the little cards.  But I also think doing this has made me appreciate my 12x12 more and want to make more pages about little things.  So definitely lots of positive outcomes :D

Kisses xxx

P.S. Lastly, a question.  I've got to a point with PL where there are events I want to make big pages about.  I don’t want to leave it out of PL as it’s part of the week and helps put the month into some sort of chronological perspective, but I feel weird then duplicating some of the stuff.  What do other Project Lifers do in this situation?

Sunday 13 October 2013

project life update

This is my first Project Life spread!  It documents the first few days of October from welcoming Autumn, popping out for a post-work pizza, and the conker saga.

I tend to think in terms of single pages even for Project Life.  I know it's more usual to do a double page spread for a week, but I don't want to have to fill out a quiet week or contract a fuller week, so I'm just going to go page by page.

It took longer than I thought and I think I'm still finding my way with it.  I do like working with the little Project Life cards, and Instagram prints make the perfect size photos.  Score!

Kisses xxx

P.S. More soon :D

Sunday 6 October 2013

conker season

It's Storytelling Sunday over at Sian's blog and she invites each of us to choose an object of item that's precious to us and share its story - you can head over there and read lots of wonderful contributions.  My items today are free and readily available, beautiful, shiny and they won't last.  But they evoke Autumn like nothing else and my little collection is now sitting on my kitchen table.

It’s conker season and the playground is heaving with them.  Unfortunately, snowball rules apply: no throwing, picking up or even touching of conkers is permitted on school grounds.  Punishment is swift and undiscriminating.  Detention.  So of course the day after this rule is proclaimed, I find one of my Year 7s squatting in the playground between lessons, shuffling and scuffling and grubbing around on the floor looking for prize conkers.  I waited until he straightened up which put him face to face with me. Or it would have done if he were taller.  And his face was a picture. He accompanied me to my office and I asked him if he was allowed to pick up conkers?  No.  And what happens to boys caught picking up conkers?  Detention.  So he knew the rules.  Did he understand why I was so disappointed?  Yes, because he had been breaking school rules and he had been collecting conkers when he should have been going straight to lessons.  But he liked to collect conkers and like any small boy, he couldn’t bring himself to leave such riches strewn about the ground going to waste.

Tears were streaming silently down his face and I felt like a conker Nazi kicking a baby squirrel. In the end, I didn’t have the heart to give him a full Head of Year detention (1 hour after school, parents informed by formal letter) and I gave him a scant 20 minutes at lunchtime.  Damn school policy. Conkers are lovely and autumnal and are irresistibly shiny and ripe for the taking and I’m surprised that more of my little lads haven’t succumbed. The seven pretty specimens nestled in my desk draw gathered hastily during a free period attest to the fact that none of us are immune to the allure :D

This story will form part of my Project Life experiment for October.  It's interesting to see how the change in seasons affects what we do in school.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Don't tell anyone that I'm a soft touch.

Thursday 3 October 2013

project life october

Project life has never really appealed to me, if I'm completely honest.  I LOVE making scrapbook pages, but I can't escape the idea that trying to work on a Project Life project would take away from my scrapping time and I would miss my lovely big squares.  Having said that, I'm a great believer in trying anything once, I've challenged myself to work on Project life pages throughout October.

I hope I will enjoy it and prove myself wrong, but if not, I've got nothing to lose.  And I'm still going to make big pages because they're my favourites and there's nothing I enjoy quite like pushing little bits of paper around until they look pretty and then writing about it.

So far, I have recorded a couple of observations which I've shared below.  One thing that I think I will like about doing Project Life this October is the chance to journal about little everyday moments!

It’s definitely time for snuggling up under quilts, watching the Great British Bake Off and Downton Abbey and wearing scarves.

Ah, statistics! Thou art a cruel, heartless, wretchedly time-consuming and fiddly mistress. The advantage of being the teacher and not the student though, is that they have to do all the legwork.  The PMCC and I are not destined for friendship.

I spent a lovely lunchtime in my office with two Year 7s and their Raspberry Pi machine.  We decimated my computer, chopping and changing all sorts of cables and buttons and they took turns sitting in my swivel chair and pretending to be head of year, Bond-villain style. We didn’t get it to work but in amongst all the naughty culprits I deal with, it was lovely to play engineering with those two little chaps!

Popped out for pizza after work with F to put the world to rights. Shocked to discover that they put olives on their pepperoni pizza, but the Messicana , replete with pepperoni, jalapenos and onions made up for it at the bargain price of £6

Kisses xxx

P.S. The Project Life kit I bought was from Studio Calico.  More on that another time, but suffice to say I love it and I think lots of it will find its way onto my proper scrapbook pages as it's so pretty!

Saturday 28 September 2013

it's been a crafty september

This month, school has been a bit off-the-charts crazy.  But in amongst it all, it's lovely to find little moments of calm to make pretty things and play with my scrapbook.  There's been baking, paper piecing, Polaroids, photography, Instagramming, layering, painting and journalling.  And even when it hasn't all worked, I love it.


Kisses xxx

P.S. I have a new crafty endeavour to play with for October :D

Saturday 21 September 2013

paper piecing problem

I can't finish the paper pieced cushion cover I'm working on the moment as I don't have anything to stuff it with yet.  So I did the logical thing and started a second project.  For this one, all the papers are sewn into the fabric and I have enough squares to knock together two pillow cases.  But which design do I go for?  Opinions much appreciated as I no longer have the brain space to think things like this through.

Kisses xxx

P.S. My first paper piecing project is being featured in Gathered at the moment!  Gathered is an e-magazine from the people who make Mollie Makes - it's like more of the same lovely crafty joy but weekly and on my phone :D

P.P.S. And off the the Big Stamp and ScrapBooking Show at Ally Pally today.  Yay!

Wednesday 18 September 2013

mixing in the memorabilia

On 1st September I went to see West Side Story at Sadler's Wells.  It was AMAZING!  In fact I blogged about it here and it was definitely scrapworthy :D  However, I didn't have much in the way of photos to include.  What I did have was a little stack of memorabilia and one phone picture that I snapped when I saw the poster for the show on the tube.

Tickets and leaflets and so on are not always the prettiest items to work with.  While I think the West Side Story flier is striking, it's a bold colour combination, and frankly just isn't going to work on my pages.  Ditto the tickets are stark and slightly uninviting.  But I can NEVER bring myself to throw stuff like this away because it all forms part of the memory. (Like how I booked seat K9 because I thought it was funny. In fact I still do and it's a bit of an in-joke.  In fairness, I also booked seat K10 so I could sit next to the boyfriend)  So I set out to finally get using all the little bits and bobs I save and make them work on a page so that I still feel it looks like my kinda style.

I kicked off by making a little vellum pocket to slide the tickets into.  The vellum tones down the bright while of the tickets, and sewing the pocket just round three sides means I can slide them in and out easily.  With the tickets safely tucked away, I got down to a little layering action, and topped off the design with a couple of postmarks.  I snipped these off the envelope that the tickets arrived in.  They caught my eye as they were stamped very clearly and had the location of the show.

I trimmed down my background ledger paper and adhered it to a 12x12 sheet of kraft cardstock, leaving a 1/4'' border.  However, the ledger is only stuck down on three sides.  The fourth side (the one on the left) is open to leave a big pocket which holds the flier I picked up.  It's clipped on with an orange heart-shaped paper clip so it's not going to fall out, but I can still access it when I want to.  And while it's a striking advertisement, it's nice to have it hidden away so that it doesn't overwhelm the page.

I also tried playing about with the title a bit for this page.  I thought black letters would tie in nicely with the design, but didn't have anything in my stash that worked.  So I drew my own, borrowing lyrics from West Side Story, and with all due modesty, I totally LOVE how it worked out :D

All I had to do then was fill in the gaps around the title with my journalling.  I want to do this all the time!  Until I get bored and move on and find my next new favourite idea because I'm shallow and fickle etc.  But until then? All the time!  Hand lettering is totally the new Thickers.

And then I added a few gold stars. For puposes of theatricality, obviously :D

Combining these three slices of ephemera plus the photo I snapped from my phone led to the production of the full page you can see here.  And below, you can see how easy it is access the bits and pieces if you want to.  I actually loved doing this page.  I'm so glad that these memories will be safe in my album and that it's been worth saving the tickets and other items that I've cheerfully horded over the years.  

This is something I will definitely do over and over, especially as it was surprisingly easy to keep and include memorabilia that I wanted to hold on to, but didn't want to necessarily display all the time.

So I guess the only option I have now is to see more shows. So many more...

Kisses xxx

P.S. I've started doing Project Life 365, a photo-a-day challenge that I came across.  It seems quite cool, and I think it will be good to keep up with my learn-to-love-your-phone-camera project.  And obviously, the middle of September is a nice, sensible and logical time to start.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

paper piecing progress

Very little to report except to say that English Paper Piecing makes for a beautifully portable project.  On the train, with my tea, it is so good, so good you see...

And so on.  Anyway, all that needs doing is a bit of whip stitch along edges and before long, the front of the soon-to-be cushion cover is all sewn together!  I'm going to make the back out of one piece of material and then stuff it when I find some appropriate filling.  Apparently cooked pasta isn't great because although it has good squish factor, it doesn't last very well.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Much better week continues with lovely Monday date night with boyfriend - dinner, drinks and French film noire were the order of the evening at the British Film Institute at the south bank.  I love the BFI.  They have wonderful sofas round the back in the bar that you can really curl up into.  It was strange for us to realise that while we've been there once before for dinner, and several times for drinks, we'd never seen a film there.  Anyway, Classe Tous Risques turned out to be excellent, the seats are red and plush and lovely, there are virtually no adverts, and you were allowed to take your wine in with you (as long as you had it in a plastic cup).  FIN.

P.P.S. That's how the film ended.  Completely out of the blue, loud orchestral chord and the word FIN just appeared on the screen.  Majority of audience surprised.  

P.P.P.S. I love London (have you noticed?) and as part of my goal to organise my blog a bit more, I'm thinking of including a more regular London feature.  Good idea/bad idea?  Is London interesting to non-Londoners?

Sunday 15 September 2013

adventures in english paper piecing

Well it's New Skill Sunday over at Shimelle's class Learn Something New Every Day and I thought I'd share a couple of fabric experiments.  While I've had a bash at patchwork before, I'm not particularly handy with a sewing machine.  I just haven't put in the necessary time to really develop any proficiency.  But I have really enjoyed paper piecing because the equipment you need is simple, it's very portable and it reminds me of scrapbooking, which is my comfort zone.  So with rotary cutters and cutting mats and giant ruler boards (none of which I possess) all cheerfully cast aside, I launched into my little project and decided to make a cushion cover.

I made up my own pattern, simple though it is, by cutting a 12x12 sheet of cardstock into right-angle triangles - two joined together make a 3'' square.  Then I cut out triangles of fabric round the templates leaving a generous seam allowance.  Choosing the fabric is awesome fun and a bit like shopping for patterned paper expect that it's waaaay more expensive and it doesn't come in 12x12 size. I ended up with quite an eclectic mix of prints combining squirrels, trees, anchors, polka dots and apples.  It's a design aesthetic I have decided to call "Woodland Nautical".  You wait.  It will catch on...

It might be worth mentioning now that despite knowing that proper patchworkers do things like washing material, pressing seams and measuring seams allowances - and they probably use proper fabric scissors too - as I dabbler in a new craft, I managed perfectly happily by ignoring all these things.  However, I do this on the understanding that my finished project will be not in the least bit professional :D

Anyway, I then simply sewed the fabric around each triangle, pleating the corners.  I believe those who have more than a passing acquaintance with fabric don't even need to sew through the paper - they can cunningly sew the edges of the fabric together.  But I like the structure and support that securely stitch paper gives, and as a beginner, I opted for that.

I'll share the rest of this adventure another day, but I will share this blog post from Flossie Teacakes (great name!) that I read before I started.  This meant that I had some idea what to do instead of no idea what to do...

Kisses xxx

P.S. Thanks for the comments yesterday - the weekend has indeed helped things pick up and I feel ready to take on next week!

Saturday 14 September 2013

a little light layering

Last week I blogged a story about my dislike of coconuts and the little coconut based adventure my team and I had in Cambodia.  Now I have finally finished putting together the scrapbook page!  

The main detail on the page comes from a layered block of paper, fabric, lace, photo and title, and I've Instagrammed the steps below so you can see how it came together.  When I layer, I tend to play around without sticking anything down, and then when I'm happy, I take the layers off one by one, marking where they go, ink the edges and then build the layers back up again following my markings and adhering them down.

I included details about how I made the title (#7) in this post here with the coconut story. The last two images (#8 and #9) show little clusters at the edges of the page which mirror the layers in the middle. With my layers done, my title cut, my journalling written, I now have a finished page!

As there was quite a bit more story than would fit on the stage and still look pretty (in my opinion) the rest of the story will go on journalling cards in a divided page protector.  

I have to say, this has not been the best of weeks.  While I can't say there have been any major disasters, it's just been a bit disappointing from start to finish.  Full of little irritations and annoyances and mistakes.  And sleep deprivation. You know when you have a bad day, and then you go to bed and think at least tomorrow will be better?  All week, tomorrow just hasn't been better.  So I'm very glad to have reached the weekend.  I've got some lovely plans with friends, time to catch up on sleep (VERY much needed) and I think I'm going to put myself back together and have a nice positive week next week.  Much better.

I think I've just about held it together this week, but my goodness, I have looked forward to this weekend.  It's only Saturday breakfast time, but already with an English muffin toasting as I type, a cup of tea beside me and the prospect of an afternoon of tea, biscuits and board games at a friend's housewarming, I feel MUCH better :D

Hope you all have lovely weekends too.  And if nothing else, it's good to remember that things will always perk up eventually.

Kisses xxx

P.S. In fact, on Friday morning before work, I ordered a load of scrapbooking stash from the internet to cheer myself up.  I haven't bought any new stash in quite a while, but it definitely made me feel a little bit better.  And now I can also look forward to its arrival!

Thursday 12 September 2013

Phone photos in Brighton

One of my goals for September was to learn how to embrace the camera in my phone.  At heart, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool dSLR fan and I love my camera.  But there are times when I don't have it and my phone is all of got.  Up until now, this has irritated me as I schlep through photos that are, in my opinion, of a much lower standard.

But September is a time of learning and I have made an effort to leave behind my beloved camera, and focus on my phone camera.  Pun intended.  And actually, I don't hate it.  I am learning to work with it and exploit its best features instead of being frustrated by its limitations.  So here are a few photos that I took on a day trip to Brighton.  I couldn't bring myself to leave my real camera behind, but I hardly used it and made myself work the phone.

I've also put together a list of things that I've learned.

Practice makes perfect (or at least better)
While my photos are not perfect, I do think they've improved.  Because I was using the phone camera so little before, I never really got the hang of it.  By making myself use it more, the pictures I end up with are gradually improving.

Pick your subject carefully
For me personally, I am finding that the camera works best for pictures of details.  It simply doesn't have the capacity to take very detailed scenery or wide angle shots.  Or at least, when I wield it, it doesn't!  However, for getting in close and snapping details and snippets, this baby really comes into its own.

Find the best light
I have also found that the camera really does not perform in low light.  It has a flash of sorts, but I wouldn't rely on it, and low light shots tend to emerge unfocussed, grainy and with camera shake.  Even in bright light, you have to hold it very still.  However, if you can find good light and keep yourself from waving the thing around in excitement, the camera does a decent job at automatically exposing things and hits a decent colour balance.

Make the most of technology
One thing I am really enjoying is using apps to edit the photos.  I almost never edit photos from proper camera simply because I lack the software and I don't really enjoy it.  But apps are quick, and no-nonsense and because a lot of the pictures aren't serious, it's fun to exaggerate them, or add doodles and captions.  I'm enjoying Instagram, obviously (you can find me by clicking on the little camera icon below if you want!) and my favourite app so far is the A Beautiful Mess App, which lets you add little pictures and hand-writing style fonts.


Anyway, this is what I've learned so far, and we're less than a fortnight into September.  I'll keep at it, but if you do have any hints or tips, please share!

Kisses xxx

P.S. I hope this also explains why there have been so many little square pictures here lately!

Wednesday 11 September 2013

What's so good about school?

My new, young, eager students have now been in school for a week.  I had all their parents in last night to brief them on what they and their sons could expect over the next few weeks, months and even years.  Before I put together my speech, I thought I'd conduct a little bit of research and ask the lads what it was they were enjoying about school.  The response wasn't quite what I expected...

I asked my Year 7 maths class to pop down their pens and answer a couple of questions for me.  I explained that I wanted to know what they liked so far about school so we can keep doing it, and what they don't like so that maybe we could change it.  But I thought we'd start with the good stuff.  And so I put it to them: what bits of school are making you really happy at the moment?

"Swimming, miss!"

"Technology, miss!"

Understandable: these subjects are always popular, especially as they are new to lots of the students.

"Oooh, Miss! Getting lost!"

I sauntered over to this particular student, commenting "We're talking about what we like at the moment; we'll talk about the difficult things in a moment."

His face fell.  "But miss, I like getting lost".

I was somewhat surprised.  "Why?"

"Because I keep discovering new bits of school! It's exciting!"

Apparently either our students believe they're attending a consantly-changing Hogwarts-style castle, or they just aren't familiar with the use of a map, which we've given them all a copy of.  But if they're happy that's the main thing, and it seemed mean to point out that I thought this was a bit silly.  Especially as several of his classmates agreed with him.

"OK lads, that means we're enjoying swimming, tech, and getting lost.  Anything else you think your parents should know?"

"Yes miss, the custard"


"Yep. We like the custard at lunch".

"Um...good?  Didn't you get custard at primary school?"

"Nah, we did miss, but it's not as good as here."

Slightly taken aback, I decided to pursue this line of enquiry. "So what didn't you like about the custard at your old school?"

"It was cold."

Another chimed in with his opinions. "Yeah, and it was too thick miss, you couldn't pour it"

"Right.  OK. Well..."

"But you don't want it too runny miss!  Otherwise you have to drink it.  I don't like drinking things"

I was completely overwhelmed by this point.  "Why don't you like drinking things?"

"Oh I don't mind drinking drinks, but I don't like drinking food"

I still felt like I was missing something.  "So what's so good about the custard here?"  I'll be honest, there's nothing wrong with the school custard, but I don't think it would win any awards.

"It's hot miss!  And it's sweeter.  I have a sweet tooth"

"And it's not too thick!"

"And I like the slushies!"

This was an about-turn in the conversation.  However, I was already aware of the slushy machine's popularity.  The students get to crank out their own frozen drinks in frankly garish colours, and pulling the lever to dispense your own slushy seems to be most of the fun.

"Miss, why aren't there custard slushies?"

I turned to him wisely.  "Slushies are cold".

He blinked at me blankly.  

"You just told me you like the school custard hot"

"Yes miss?"

There was no recognition from any student that this was a contradiction, so I decided to move on with a sweeping generalisation.

"Y'know Year 7, you lot are a bit weird"

A sage-looking youngster at the front nodded and put up his hand.  I indicated that he could speak.

"It's just a period we're going through."

"I'm sorry?"

"We're going through a period of liking custard and getting lost"

The whole class were nodding in agreement as though this somehow explained everything.  Am I the only one who thinks it doesn't?  I had to abandon the conversation there.

When I made my speech to the parents at the briefing evening, it was with no small amount of pride in my brand new yeargroup that I was able to say that they were settling in well, had confidently grasped the new routines, were doing their best to take on a whole new way of school life, and that they enjoyed swimming, technology and custard. I bet it didn't say in the school prospectus that our custard is top-notch, but it seems these things are important to know.

Kisses xxx

P.S. In case you were wondering, one of the main concerns the lads had when I asked them about what they didn't like was something I can do nothing about.  They're cross because the school cat won't play football with them at break.  It just stands next to the ball and doesn't do anything.  If this is their biggest concern, I think they'll do OK.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Chicken Pie: perfect food for autumn

There's no denying that the weather is shivering towards the autumnal.  I can't help thinking that it's still a little too early, but looking on the plus side, it means I can break out with the warming comfort food! I made a chicken pie that was exactly what was needed on a day when I didn't wear a scarf and really wished I had one!

500g chicken
3 cloves garlic
handful of mushrooms
4 rashers of bacon
handful of broccoli
an onion
150ml double cream
stock cube dissolved in 100ml water
olive oil for frying
puff pastry
a beaten egg
4 ramekins

Very simple to make: cube the chicken into bite-size pieces and fry in a drop of oil in a large saucepan until cooked through.  Set aside, chop the bacon into small pieces and fry until cooked through and slightly browned. Set it aside with the chicken.  Slice the mushrooms, chop the broccoli and finely chop the onion and garlic before adding them to the pan to fry and soften for about 10 minutes.  Add the cooked chicken and bacon and combine well.  Add the cream and stock and stir (I added a healthy dose of black pepper at this point too) and then simmer until any liquid has thickened and reduced.  Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180 degrees. Roll out the puff pastry (I did not make my own!) and cut strips to line the top of the ramekin, and a circle slightly bigger than the pot to go over the top.  Divide the chicken filling between 4 ramekins.  Wrap the strips of pastry around the top of the pot, brush with milk, and lay the circle of pastry over the top, pressing the edges together with a fork.  Brush the top with egg and make a little hole with a sharp knife to let steam escape.

Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the pastry has risen and turned golden.  Then devour.  Yum yum!  I served mine with sugar snap peas.  And a glass of wine :D

Kisses xxx

P.S. I looked for a recipe like this online but only found ones that were creamy chicken, or chicken and mushroom or chicken and bacon.  And the more recipes I looked at, the more I wanted chicken-and-bacon-and-mushroom-and-onion-and-garlic-and-cream pie.  Plus a way to use up the broccoli in the fridge.