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.

Sunday 8 September 2013

Hand Cut Titles and Thoughts on a Theme of Coconuts

I'm making a scrapbook page at the moment about coconuts (it's a long story) and therefore it needed a title involving the word coconuts.  With me so far?  If you're not, I really don't know how else to explain it.

I thought a hand-cut title might look quite nice, but didn't really fancy the rigmarole of making a template and sketching out bubble letters.  And I liked the idea of it being more handwriting style.  So I wrote the word 'coconuts' in my handwriting in pencil on a bit of rough paper.  Then I went over it in thick black pen, and once I was happy, I cut it out. I believe this process is quicker if you have a die-cutter, but I don't and I wanted the hand-cut look. I liked the effect of the background paper showing in a thin white border around the letters and I left the centres of the letters alone too.  That made the whole word a little more sturdy but you still get the clarity in the writing from the black pen, and I like the effect!  It also stands out more clearly against the layout.

Once I'd done my practice on scrap paper, I did the 'real' one on yellow paper for my layout.  However, I decided that while it's neater (I took more care with it) and it's on better quality paper, I actually prefer the smaller version on the scrappy bit of paper in the white.  It just worked on the page better.

Typical, isn't it?  Anyway, I just thought I'd share how I did it.  

And in case you're wondering, the coconut story goes like this...

In Cambodia, coconuts are literally growing on the trees.  Which is all fine and dandy when you want to sling a hammock between a couple of said trees.  They give the place a lovely exotic feel.  Slightly less fine when they crash out of the trees without warning, but still not problematic.

The problematic part is this: I really don't like coconut.  Y'know: because it's gross.

And there are two kinds of coconut in Cambodia: the cheap brown ones, and the expensive green ones.  When we stayed in the middle of rural Kampot, the locals were fantastic hosts.  They welcomed us with open arms and we nattered together in our own languages having conversations when no one understood the others and yet somehow we all got on.  I think they found us amusing.

One afternoon, they brought us a present.  Coconuts. And not just any coconuts; nope, it was the expensive green ones.  Now coconuts are reasonably large in size and so they had brought us one between two to share.  Except as I was the group leader, I was deemed important enough to merit my own whole coconut.

Did I mention hate coconuts?  But I smiled and we said our thank yous and in the evening, a machete was produced and they began to hack into the shells.  It looked like fun and so I suggested in a vague hand-waving sort of way that I quite fancied myself at this machete-ing lark and would they mind awfully if I had a crack at it, so to speak.  (I didn't really express myself in that awful roundabout way, but when you're telling a story in which the dialogue mainly happens with miming and vigorous actions, I reckon I can probably tell it how I like and it amuses me to image that I might talk like a Victorian lady traveller of independent means).

So they cheerfully showed me what to do and then stood around and laughed at me as I did an alarmingly accurate impression of the poor foreigner who has no relevant and transferable skills when it comes to Cambodian culture. Then of course my team all wanted a go, so there was plenty of entertainment all round. It's quite the spectator sport. The best bit is obviously when you do hit the cache of coconut water in the middle and it spurts all over you.  Charming.

Once we'd all reached the coconut water chamber (I'll be honest: I'm not familiar with technical coconut terminology) we applied a curly straw and drank.  We never went anyway without our curly straw as we were called upon to sample weird and wonderful drinks of all varieties at a moments notice and it's much easier to drink something that tastes horrible if you can mediate it with the fun of slurping through a series of orange plastic bendy loops.  And doesn't it look like we're enjoying it?

Believe it or not, this was actually taken on a separate occasion where we were obliged to consume coconut, but that is another story.  But the point illustrated is the same: eat what they give you and look like you're happy about it!

Honestly? It was the only point in the whole project where I thought I might have to politely run away and throw up.  And we ate some weird things.  At one point, I enquired if I had to drink it all? Which was met with a blunt yes.  So with a steel will I made my stomach behave and not only did I finish the wretched coconut water, I consumed all of mine alone before my team had managed to finish theirs, and they had two of them per coconut.  Feeling slightly bloated, I demonstrated that I was all finished and performed a series of thanks-for-the-lovely-coconuts-my-goodness-they're-delicious-aren't-they style mimes.  All done.

Except then we had to machete the coconut in half and scrape out the gungy stuff inside that looks like grey snot...and eat it.  Followed by a very bitter-tasting inner shell that you can snap away and munch on.  Fortunately, it was pretty dark by this time and I managed to sling a chunk of it over my shoulder into the undergrowth when no one was looking.

The whole experience was actually quite funny.  It was such a kind gesture from the locals to bring us the gift in the first place (a lovely bunch of coconuts indeed) and learning to hack into them was brilliant and the little grove echoed with shrieks of laughter.  But I did not think before I went that my downfall, the one thing that almost turned my stomach would be something as simple as a coconut.

Anyway, my plan is now two-fold.  Part one is to complete the page which will tell this story.  Part two is to avoid coconuts with a greater consistency in the future.  Wish me luck!

Kisses xxx

P.S. I've spent this weekend up in Yorkshire with my team, debriefing, evaluating and looking to our futures in Guiding.  We've also arranged a reunion which I'm delighted about and I'm going to share the delights of London with them in January.  It's been brilliant to catch up with them - I miss them so much as we became so close - and it was also fab to hear about the exploits of the teams who went to Guyana, Malawi and Armenia.  

P.P.S. The sad part is that today officially marks the end of my participation in GOLD (Guiding Overseas Linked with Development).  It's been a truly amazing 2 years, the first as a participant in Armenia and the second as a leader in Cambodia.  But here's the the future and finding more ways to travel and share how awesome it is to be a member of Girlguiding.

Saturday 7 September 2013

Bluebery Gin: progress report

When I say that this is a progress report on the blueberry gin, that's quite an optimistic use of the word 'progress'.  At this stage, my little gin experiment has been swooshelling along for exactly a day and a half.  So only three months to go then!  I've decided to crack into it at the start of December to welcome the start of Advent, the first shiverings of winter and the time when it's officially OK to start telling people that you're excited for Christmas.

I don't need the gin for that, you understand, but a little internal warmth and festive cheer is never a bad thing!

Anyway, I was very pleased with the gin as it's already turning a beautiful purple and I'm looking forward to seeing the lush, rich tones that it will take on as the weeks march on.  And if you missed it the first time round, here is the blueberry gin formula in a previous post.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Pictures taken using Instagram and embellished using the A Beautiful Mess photo app.

Friday 6 September 2013

South Bank Summer

Summer is really drawing to a close isn't it? I can tell because the light is fading fast from the sky in the evenings. There is mist across the rugby field when I arrive at school in the morning. And with the back-to-school era in full swing, everything has suddenly become very busy.

But I just wanted to record a few thoughts on the summer before it fades from memory.

I love London more with each new adventure.  Even when they're quiet ones; memories of drinks shared when perched on the wall by the Thames, good food in good pubs, sprawling in a deckchair and pilfering the National Theatre's free Wifi to do a bit of work.

In fact deck chairs have featured a lot as they've sprung up along the South Bank of the river.  And other things have popped up too; little bars serving pink gin lemonade, iced and refreshing, little vans doling out salsa and tortillas to nibble on, and friends to laze around and chat with as though the whole world will wait for us.  I can sit happily for hours reading and watching life walk by.

But the sun invariably sets and the lights start to twinkle on and we have to make a dash to catch the last tube home.  I've found myself needing to pull a cardie out of my bag.  This week I have enjoyed what I fear may have been the summer's final barbecue and so optimistically filled my burger with lettuce, coleslaw, tortilla chips, salsa and coleslaw.  Great as a combo, if you're wondering.

But while that South Bank summer has been heavenly, I can't help hoping that Autumn will also be a winner.  Snuggling into theatre seats as the stage lights go up, thinking about making soup and hot chocolate, pulling out scarves and sturdier shoes and inhaling crisp, cold air.

Kisses xxx

P.S. As I persevere with Instagram, I am enjoying it more.  There are still irritations occastionally, but as long as I don't enlarge the pictures too much, I'm pleased with them.

P.P.S. Lesson for the day: Salsa burger for the win!

Thursday 5 September 2013

Blueberry Gin

So I thought I'd make blueberry gin.  A number of thought processes went into this, the most overwhelming of which is that blueberry gin is yummy.  And it's on my 'Things to do before I'm 30' list.  Then there were the discounted blueberries at the supermarket, the fact that it's always fun to try out new things and I've never made my own booze before (the university limoncello incident notwithstanding but we don't talk about that).

I got this recipe from a friend who has gifted me with a drop or two of this at various times and most recently at her beautiful wedding when little stoppered bottles were arranged on the tables for guests as favours. Although I think this is less a recipe and more of a formula.  I feel more like a brewer of potions and elixirs than a cook.  But whatever you call it, it's simple enough and goes a bit like this.

You will need...
1 litre (cheap) gin
400g blueberries, fresh or frozen
400g sugar

Mix them all together in a container.  If you're me at this point, you will suddenly realise that your container is not big enough and had to dash to the shops to see if they will sell you a container and return slightly flustered because you've ended up buying a cookie jar that isn't labelled with any sort of capacity that you just have to hope is big enough.

It is big enough.  Just. And it is watertight. Sort of.

Then shake it every day for a week to get everything nice and combined. After the first week, you can shake it once a week for about three months.  I started mine in the last week of August so it should just about be ready by December. At which point, you can strain it into nice clean bottles and make merry!

Perhaps I'll work on a few cocktail recipes for then :D

Kisses xxx

P.S. I don't know why some of the blueberries are suspended and some aren't.  I suspect it is to do with science.  Either that or it's like with mussels where you aren't supposed to eat the closed ones. Maybe you aren't supposed to make gin with the floating blueberries?

P.P.S. I'm sure it's fine :D

P.P.P.S. Aaaaaaand I've learned how to do something new!

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Title Page: Using a 12x12 photo

This is the title page for my Cambodia Album.  And it was so simple to put together!  I ordered a handful of 12x12 photos from DS Colour Labs.  At only 85p per print (which I thought was quite reasonable for such a large size), I was impressed with the service.  And they arrived only 2 days after I ordered them!

Once I got my mittens on this picture, I used my paper trimmer to cut it into six 6x4 pieces.  It's worth thinking about where the breaks will be.  For example, I didn't want to have to slice through the middle of the people in the picture!

I kept the additions minimal as I really wanted the photo to do the talking, and the purpose of my title page was simply to state the country and the fact that it was my GOLD project.  Lots of other details will be given further on in the album.

I added my title in an assortment of Thickers by American crafts and had to knock together the odd letter out of bits and pieces as I didn't have quite enough letter Ds!  I positioned the title over the sky in the photo: it's empty space so I'm not covering anything and the words stand out well against the grey.

A few labels, a postage rub-on and a camera finished it off.  Post-related and camera-themed supplies always make me think of travel, and they are icons that I'm sure will be repeated on more and more pages as I put them together.

So there it is: my divided photo title page.  Now to work on the album...

Kisses xxx

P.S. This is my LSNED.  I've never done this before and it's something I've wanted to try for a while.  It's nice to have a Shimelle class to get you motivated!

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Cake Pop Fail: an anti-recipe

Cake pops are everywhere.  They keep appearing on Pinterest and on blogs, dancing across the internet because a) they look adorable and pretty and b) they're made of cake.  There is no downside. Plus it comes on a stick and things that come on a stick are somehow indefinably better than things that don't come on sticks.  And by indefinable, I mean in that totally definable sense that they come on a stick.  In a frenzy of Bake-Off inspired (yet misguided) self-belief I decided to make some.

It turns out that my cake pops will actually be resigned to the let's-not-do-that-again list.  Mine suck for several reasons.  First they would not stay on their sticks.  So they have no sticks.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but if a cake pop is not on a stick, is it not just, well, cake?  See figure 2 for illustrative photograph of cake not on a stick.  Or alternatively, you could see just about any other cake.  If you struggle to find imagery of cakes not on sticks, let me know.

Nonethless, sticks aside, I still had high hopes for my cake pops because they are just so pretty.  And anything that is made of cake and is prettier than cake must categorically (cakegorically? sorry) taste better than cake.  Right?

Wrong.  See figure three for yet more illustrative diagrams.

Due to the aforementioned prettiness, my expectations were high.  But sadly, they did not taste as good as cake so what you're left with is a bitter taste of crushing futility and a sense of the pointlessness of life.

Would you like to make your own?  I thought so.  So here's the recipe.

You will need:

500g Madeira cake
200g dark chocolate
pink food colouring
2 tbsp ground almonds
400g white chocolate
low expectations (MOST IMPORTANT)

Crumble the cake into crumbs mix in the almonds, melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over some hot water, and then combine the two, using your hands to mush them thoroughly together. Shape into walnut-sized balls and refrigerate for about an hour to cool the chocolate.

Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate in a bowl over some hot water and stir in the food colouring.  You can decide on the level of garishness you are prepared to tolerate. Dunk the cake balls into the white chocolate and set on a foil-covered tray to solidify.  Sprinkle them with sprinkles and pop in the fridge again.  Once solid, transfer to cake cases.

I imagine this is simplified somewhat if you can get the wretched things to stay on the sticks. You wouldn't end up covering yourself and your kitchen in white chocolate while you try and dunk them by hand, for instance.  You would be able to hold them by the stick.

Just a thought.  And yet another reason why things are better on sticks.  Perhaps that will trend on Twitter? #thingsonsticksarebetter anyone? Anyway, what's done is done.  And it was good fun to photograph them.  Swings and roundabouts.  I'd say enjoy except..

Anyway, that's quite enough.  I've recently taken up Twitter, by the way. I do not understand it!  Anyway, if you're so inclined (and I would like to follow some crafters back!) my Twitter name is @KirstyMerran.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Thinking of writing a recipe book.  Successful, yes?

Monday 2 September 2013

Before I turn 30 I will...

LSNED: Back to school
Whenever it's back to school time, I have a sleepless night.  I can't help it.  I haven't had a swing at this teaching lark for six weeks, there are a million things whirling around in my mind that need doing and I can never quite work out how it will all slot together. But actually, I did manage to finalise the induction instructions for my new tutor team, we did have a productive meeting, I did locate the merit cards and I did find the pupils who needed to be re-registered in the school system.  Plus I planned my assembly.

Did I snack on M&Ms liberated from an airport in Qatar the whole time?  Maybe...

I welcomed in the new Year 7 students today.  This is the start of my second year as Head of Year, but with a brand new group who are completely new the school, this year will bring its own challenges.  180 new names and faces to learn for one.  I'll be honest; I played bad cop today and drew my line in the sand.  Their tutors will take the role of good cop and hold their hands over the next few days.  But I do have to have an auror of scary.  They have to want to avoid landing themselves in my office for the wrong reasons.

But I think tomorrow, I shall visit their form rooms, smile and show them the side of the Head of Year who wants to praise their successes, who enjoys watching them in school concerts, who wants to cheer for them on sports day and who will sit with them at lunchtime when they're in tears and don't want anyone to know.

September is a great time for resolutions and goal setting and so on; we encourage our students to set themselves targets and I like the idea of doing the same. I love new year's resolutions too and having a look back over the list I wrote in January, I found that much of this had been accomplished.  Fab!

But I live my life to an academic year more than a calendar year.  One of the consequences of being a teacher. And therefore this back-to-school time seems like a good time to break out with a slightly more specific list.  I've been thinking about what I'd like to achieve for a while.  I'm in my mid-twenties and hitting 30 seems like quite the milestone.  Not in a bad way at all; just that it's significant. So that is my finish line: my 30th birthday.  Perhaps I'll plan a celebration. It also means I have about three and a half years to accomplish these things rather than a year.  That means I can have bigger, more long term goals.  Which is nice.  But there are little ones too that would be great for a rainy day or when I want to do something spontaneous or just something that I've never done before.

I reserve the right to add to this list as much as I like.  Sure I could remove things from it if I really decide I'm not interested in doing a particular thing any more, but I refuse to remove something because it's difficult.  This started life as a 30 before 30 list, but there are so many things I want to do before I hit 30 that I just kept writing new ideas down.  So there are a lot.  Don't feel obliged to read them all :D

I'm going to make sure I have these displayed somewhere so I can have the inspiration.  I don't want to sit around wondering what to do when I could simply spot my list and get going on a new project or challenge!  And I also need to accept that some things are beyond my control. That's fine too, but I don't want that to keep me from saying that these are things I would love to do.

I find with things like this, a good start is really helpful and motivates you to keep going, so I'm going to use Instagram to record my progress and see if I can complete a number of these things this September as part of Learn Something New Every Day.  

And it starts now.

Before I turn 30 I will...

#1 Make cake pops
#2 Make a multicoloured layer cake
#3 Go on a canal boat
#4 Play Dungeons and Dragons
#5 Play hooky for a day
#6 Get a film projector and screen films in my own little cinema
#7 Go on a sleeper train
#8 Have tea at the Ritz
#9 And Claridges
#10 See 2 West End shows in a day
#11 Make a photo wall display
#12 Build a den.  A really cool one.
#13 Road trip around the USA
#14 New York, New York
#15 Go glamping in a fancy tent with fairy lights
#16 Buy an expensive set of lingerie
#17 Make pyjama bottoms
#18 Get married
#19 Make a set of jam-jar cocktail glasses
#20 Make blueberry gin
#21 Play ultimate sandwich
#22 Learn how design this blog the way I wish it looked
#23 Make a scrapbooking video for the blog
#24 Make a stop-motion animation
#25 Learn to make pasta
#26 Get up early to photograph the sunrise over London
#27 Swim in the Hampstead ponds
#28 Stay out all night in London
#29 Do the monopoly pub crawl
#30 Play the tube game
#31 Have dinner at Dans le Noir
#32 Re-vamp some second hand furniture
#33 Go to a cult Rocky Horror screening
#34 Go to a burlesque show
#35 Go ape
#36 Go to a Secret Cinema screening
#37 See a play at Cornwall's Minack Theatre
#38 Go on a helicopter
#39 Get an ice cream maker (and make malteaser, peanut butter and caramel flavour)
#40 Have dinner at Dishoom
#41 Go to the Roadhouse Diner
#42 Buy a bikini
#43 Make my own flair
#44 Get my eyebrows shaped
#45 Inhale helium
#46 See the Northern Lights
#47 Go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
#48 See New Zealand
#49 Stay in a tree house
#50 Have a bash at karaoke
#51 Go to a roller derby
#52 Go skinny dipping
#53 Ride a motorbike
#54 See a film at a drive-in cinema
#55 Go to a sh*t-faced Shakespeare production
#56 Make 3 cushions using 3 different fabric techniques
#57 Get a piano
#58 Make spun sugar
#59 Have a go at spinning
#60 Go for Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea

Kisses xxx

P.S. I'll be sharing how I displayed these later on in another project post.

P.P.S. That was a slightly epically lengthy post, but if you're still reading, well done.  And to wrap it up, my LSNED lessons are twofold: First make the most of your time (No matter how much I love my job, I will miss the freedom of the summer!) and second, don't forget that it almost always comes good in the end :D

P.P.P.S. The highlighted ones are complete and link to the relevant blog post.  SUCCESS!

Sunday 1 September 2013

1st September

I squeezed every last drop of summery goodness out of the last day of the school holidays.  That included a little lie in, a cooked breakfast and a crafty fabric-based morning as I worked on my paper piecing.  Then I headed into London to meet the boyfriend for a drink before we went to see West Side Story at Sadler's Wells.  It was stunning.  The music, the amazing choreography, the fluid skill of the dancers and the drama and excitement made it a truly exceptional performance. The set and the lighting gave it so much atmosphere and the show managed to be both funny and moving. I LOVED it.  Sorry for gushing, but it was SO GOOD and I felt like I couldn't take it all in at once. I think it was the dancing that really made it.  It was absolutely perfect - energetic and tight and just brilliant and I have no idea how they had enough breath left to sing!  We ended a lovely day with a pub dinner - chorizo burger = yum.

Kisses xxx

P.S. This is how I'm going to do Shimelle's class Learn Something New Every Day this year.  Bear with me: it's a bit tangential.  But I'm learning to use my phone camera to its best advantage; to try to work with it instead of being frustrated by its limitations.  Anyway, each day I hope to pick 2 or three of my Instagrams for the day and write a few sentences to accompany them.  I may turn them into an album at the end of the month, I may not.  I could equally well just turn selected highlights into pages.  For now, I'm just going to see how it goes.

P.P.S. In the interest of learning new things, I have joined Twitter. I'm putting my Instagrams up there as well, and so if you want to follow me (and therefore allow me to find and follow you!) my username is @KirstyMerran


I found these teacups on a market stall in Oxford while I was a student.  And because I was a student, I had a student budget so I-really-want-this seldom translated into I-shall-buy-this.  

But seriously, look how pretty they are.  I contemplated my existence without them and realised promptly on the spot that I hadn't truly been living up until that point.  I'd just been letting life drift by.  But if I had some teacups, then clearly my life would have some meaning, it would be more profound and there would be more tea.  Plus my teapot was lonely.

With all this clearly rationalised in my mind, I asked how much they were.  Have you heard the expression 'If you need to ask the price then you can't afford it?'.  Well, the default student position is 'I can't afford it' anyway, so suffice to say I couldn't afford the pretty teacups.

But I could squeeze one out of that week's budget if I was careful.  I decided that I would be careful (that's also what I tell people who try and sell me additional insurance cover - don't worry, I'll be careful and take my chances) and so I took home the pink teacup.

But the pink teacup, whilst an excellent companion for my teapot, definitely missed his friends.  Apparently he's a male teacup, just go with it.  So the next week found me doing the same financial wizardry and ended with me back in the little stall.   Shortly after that, I was back in my room with the green teacup nestling into the pink one.  So now I had two happy teacups, reunited as friends and with a new partner-in-crime in the teapot.

But somehow, I couldn't forget that poor little yellow teacup.  Bereft and abandoned and wondering if maybe yellow wasn't his colour and that he'd have had more success in life had he been a blue teacup. 

Obviously, the next week, the budget was plundered once more for yellow teacup funds.  And so here they are.  The first three teacups in my collection.  Friends together under the wise council of teapot.  They were the only teacups I had for a long time; I tend to use mugs on a day-to-day basis as they fit more in.  With tea, I'm very much about the quantity.

They've been through a lot, these teacups.  With me they have moved 4 times as I transitioned from student to trainee teacher to teacher to teacher-with-a-flat.  They have held champagne and toasted the new year, seen me through a depressing summer job, been outside on picnics and been cradled by the best of friends.  The saucers have also had their fair share of cake and biscuit action, if you know what I mean.  But I love these teacups.  They're quite chunky, their sturdiness guarding them against the odd accident and they have a quirky quality; they are more like a small child's idea of teacup than a fine bit of frippery china. I don't quite think I'm mature enough for delicate grown-up teacups yet, although I have started a collection.  Just in case I ever get there.

But these three have been there for 6 years now, holding the tea, bringing comfort to friends and being the focal point of many a shared cup of tea.

You can read more stories from more talented bloggers over at Sian's blog 'From High in the Sky' as part of her series 'Storytelling Sunday'.  Enjoy!

Kisses xxx

P.S. It is a little bit awkward if there are 4 of us having tea.  But fortunately, I have a system where I choose my favourite friends, and they get the good teacups.

P.P.S. Obviously, you would all get one of the good ones if you were having tea with me.

P.P.P.S. Milk jug has only been with me for a couple of years, but that's another story...