Thursday 28 February 2013


At last! The hellebores are coming through in the back garden. We have a shady bed which most plants hate but some seem to thrive in, hellebores being one. I love them - especially the mauve or blackish-purple coloured ones. 

My favourite colour combinations at this time of year are white (snowdrops), mauve and acid green - euphorbia and catkins tick the boxes here. Snakeshead fritillaries, 'trendy' a few years back, are also on my list.

I've always, always wanted a Magnolia Stellata but that will have to wait until we find our forever house. At least magnolias will be in flower soon so I can go out with the pram and peer enviously into other people's gardens. I did that today actually. The sun was out again.

Crocuses have never held much appeal for me. I always see them in parks and on verges looking a bit worse for wear, as though they've been ravaged and trodden on. But today I spotted some growing under a hedge, fully opened out and looking quite sturdy and cheerful like little yellow stars. If you could get them in mauve or lime I'd actually consider buying some bulbs...

Wednesday 27 February 2013

The cheapest hairstylist I know

In the interests of thriftiness and financial necessity, I cut and colour my own hair. I've mentioned it before in an earlier post - I'm no expert at either, but to be perfectly honest, much as I like sitting in a comfy chair reading trashy magazines to the snip snip snip of the scissors and the endless chirpy offers of cups of tea, I can't really justify paying upwards of *£40. Not at the moment anyway.

My hair's naturally curly and dark. I usually wear it up. It suits me better. And it keeps a grabby baby from pulling strands out (which is painful). The bee clips, above, are lovely. I tend to stick to kirby grips but wouldn't say no to something as glamorous.

When I say I wear my hair up most of the time it's usually in a dishevelled-looking bun or something similar to the picture above. When I have the time and am feeling adventurous I go for Heidi-style plaits pinned up on top.

I tried to do something similar to this a few weeks ago using a new product I'd seen on TV. The results did not resemble either the advert or the picture on the box of dye. I looked bad. The ends of my hair went a strange shade of orange - which meant the scissors came out and yet more dye (a tried and trusted one this time) followed by lots of heavy-duty conditioner. All is well once more. And I won't be going and buying something just because it looks good on a model again - having been applied, photographed and no doubt airbrushed by experts. Silly, silly me.

Here's what I've learned about DIY haircare:

Only cut hair when it's wet
Use a decent (fine-toothed) comb and some very sharp scissors
A fringe can work but don't go too short or you'll look odd
'Dark brown' on the side of a dye box often means 'black' - so beware
Brunettes need to sort their roots out often, so...
You shouldn't ever need to buy conditioner as you'll always have tubes of the ones which come with the dye
Keep a manky old towel just for hair colouring
Rinsing the cut-off hair trimmings down the plug hole will come back to haunt you.

Of course, if you're grey(ing) and proud, good for you. 

*If you live somewhere that isn't Up North, £40 for a cut and colour may sound like a bargain. I wouldn't know.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Simple essentials #2: a good pair of wellies

I love my wellies. I bought them online probably five years ago, when I was catching the bus (well, two buses actually) to work, living here, and having to stand at an ungodly hour at a bus stop looking out across the snow-covered moors.

They're another Investment Buy. As in, you get what you pay for. And I have.

These boots have covered more miles than I can possibly recall. They're beyond comfortable (with or without extra socks) and have got me through many a puddle or worse. I'd be lost without them - in fact, I've been lost in them a few times but you know what I mean.

When I was a pony-mad youngster and spent most of my out-of-school hours at the farm mucking out and galloping around on my plump little steed, I had a pair of the ubiquitous green Hunters. I quite literally wore them to death. I can still remember the day when I pulled one on and it tore completely round the ankle. The other did the same. I was left with a pair of welly shoes. They'd worn so thin over the years that I finally killed them off.

A good pair of wellies are so important, whether you're gardening, running out to empty the recycling or heading out on a hike.

Mine show no signs of tiring yet. But when they do, I fancy a pair like these:

Time to start feeding the piggy bank.

Bottom image from Hello Lovely

Monday 25 February 2013

Frustrated creative

Yes, I'm one of those. 

I've always been creatively inclined (maths and science lessons were extremely frustrating for me) and at school and university I was quite the artist. In fact, much to my disbelief a few pieces I did were stolen from the art studios. Yes, I'm still bitter.

I excelled at writing, languages, drawing, painting... so how come I ended up working as an office drone for so long? I'd put it down to bad advice (creative jobs are too hard to land, train as a teacher instead etc.), a complete lack of careers guidance whilst a student, and a huge lack of self confidence.

I've come close a couple of times. I worked as a florist for a badly-paid year. I loved working with colours, textures, prefume. Sadly, my terrible employer put me off that choice of vocation. Not too many years ago I studied for (and achieved) a diploma in interior design. I even had business cards printed out and pricing structures sorted (despite my bad maths). But then - crisis of confidence.

I've worked in lots of unfulfilling jobs. I don't have the option of staying home with Joe. So I'm looking for work. It would be a massive achievement to earn a living doing something creative. My list of creative interests and pursuits includes cooking, baking, gardening, sewing, knitting, writing, blogging (of course), photography, drawing... and I'm starting a ceramics course in April.

The realistic view is that I could maybe supplement my income by making things, or writing about them. We sell a few cards locally but it's hardly lucrative. In fact we just about break even.

Jay's just started a carpentry course with a career change in mind. It's time to figure it all out and find a way of enjoying - even being excited about - work. A creative outlet is important to me. Making it pay is what I - and no doubt many others - dream about.

Sunday 24 February 2013


The weather's been so cold, and the sky so leaden this weekend that I decided to go looking for some cheering gold - like the label on this bottle (to be finished this evening, hooray).

The bathroom cabinet had a few splashes of gold too (and the oil smells of citrus, which is pretty uplifting in itself).

I love having daffodils in the house at this time of year.

In the bedroom these earrings are bright and sparkly.

Yet more daffodils, this time in the living room. The card's stuck on the mirror and says 'You always look so cool' - a quote from F Scott Fitzgerald, apparently. I thought it would give me a boost when I'm giving myself a glance over before going out. 'You always look so well-rested' would be more appropriate, if not entirely accurate.

I've yet to decide what to do with these. Lemon and poppy seed muffins spring to mind. If that's not a cheering prospect, what is?

I love this scarf. The rainclouds and raindrops suggest it was designed with February in mind.

Saturday 23 February 2013


I'm over the dentist thing. I'm just glad I got the fillings over and done with instead of not going to my appointment. Which seemed a very tempting option yesterday.

So, another Saturday, another food shopping expedition (I do buy a few provisions through the week too, but not many). We started off at a local emporium run by someone known as 'the Egg Man'. But he sells lots of things in addition to eggs including honey from his own bees, a few plants and firewood.

He sells from the garage next to the house. Basically, if the door's open then so is the shop. We go there quite often for our fruit and veg - he's very reasonably priced and a lot of the stuff is locally grown.

After that we headed to Kenyon Hall. It's probably best known for strawberries. In the summer you can go and pick your own, and on a warm day the smell of strawberries is lovely. They taste incredible too, not like the plastic punnets from Holland which are sometimes disappointingly hard and flavourless.

They've gone pretty upmarket these days. The shop has been transformed from a makeshift tented area to a big, purpose-built barn complete with cafe and artisan ingredients. We occasionally make the odd purchase - it's particularly good for foodie Christmas presents - but usually just buy meat. It's free range, local and no more expensive than that from a supermarket.

When spring comes we'll go back and buy pots of herbs to grow. Last year, we bought an angelica plant and it grew to tree-like proportions. 

Oh, and they happen to stock a range of greeting cards that Jay and I make using our own photos...

I like that they sell Fitzpatrick's cordials. They're from the last remaining temperance bar in the country, a few miles down the road from where I grew up. The rhubarb and rosehip must be tasty.

After that we went to the supermarket for the other stuff - nappies, cereal etc. We've discovered a little one that's just opened in the middle of a new 'village' (an executive housing estate built on what used to be an airfield). It always seems to be quiet in there. It makes supermarket shopping a bit more pleasant. And I'd have to be pretty hardcore (and wealthy) to boycott them altogether.

It was so bitterly cold and grey that we vowed to stay indoors when we got home. And we did.

Friday 22 February 2013

Reasons to be cheerful

This is one of those 'normal service to be resumed soon' posts. I had three fillings this afternoon and am still suffering from the effects of the injections.

The photo's of Paisley (our cat). His expression sums up how I'm feeling - a bit tired, a bit glum. Joe was up unusually early this morning trying to roll over in his cot, getting stuck and making a racket. So it's just been one of those days.

But I'm not wallowing. This is because:

I had a bubble bath and was in my pyjamas by 5.30
It's weekend
There's more chance of snow than rain for the next five days
We're having a takeaway this evening (as soon as the  mouth numbness wears off)
Did I mention it's weekend?

Thursday 21 February 2013


At the moment, I have to be very careful with the bits of free time I manage to get. These small windows are usually filled with the things I used to do whenever I felt like it and often at a leisurely pace (taking a shower and drinking tea come to mind).

This blog is something I try to factor in each day. And later in the evening - if we're not watching something we've recorded on the TV - I enter the strange little worlds of Pinterest and Tumblr.

I have to say that the latter is my favourite. There's something very unchallenging about scrolling through endless photographs posted by the people I follow. And it's quite good for finding inspiration. But I've also identified the kinds of things I'm attracted to, the subjects which speak to me and catch my eye.

It's interesting. I've discovered that I go for the following (in no particular order):

Blue things
Pine forests
Anything relating to the sea
Brown and tan objects - wood and leather
Books (old ones)
Scientific diagrams and charts
Mechanical things
Old cameras

I have absolutely no idea what it all points to. I'm sure there's some deep meaning in there somewhere. Maybe I was a seafaring, explorer type in a previous life. It's quite surprising actually; I'd have assumed I'd go for pretty, pastelly things like bone china and flowers and cakes.

Strange how you can gain an insight into the inner workings of your mind just by looking at a load of random photos taken by strangers. The magical wonders of the internet...

All photos taken by me

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Simple essentials #1: a flask

I'm one of those people who likes structure. Not to the point that it restricts me in any way but I see no harm in maybe doing a series of occasional (weekly?) posts on things I take pleasure in using often.

I've mentioned before that I used to work in a museum. It had a cafe. Directly below my office. So each morning, I'd tell myself that having risen at six and driven 20 frustrating miles to get to work, I deserved a coffee.

The coffee itself was - by general consensus - pretty bad. But I'd got into the whole ritual of heading downstairs, chatting to colleagues in the queue, people-watching (the service was also pretty bad so there was plenty of time to kill), then heading back up to my desk with a cardboard sippy cup in my hand.

Even with a staff discount this little habit wasn't cheap. It wasn't even tasty. But I found a childlike comfort in that sippy cup and the whole cafe routine.

You've no doubt read in many a magazine/newspaper article that these little daily purchases Add Up. It's true. These days I have an annual festive coffee with all the syrupy trimmings, and other than that - I don't bother. I use a flask. This one here:

Drinking from a flask takes me back to being little. To bank holiday picnics on freezing beaches in Wales, or sitting in the car watching the rain.

Yesterday I went for a walk in the (short-lived) sunshine, found a quiet spot with Joe and sat and drank tea. It was lovely.

Tea's my drink of choice where flasks are concerned, although coffee works too - especially with a tot of something in it. One word of advice: buy a good one. There are few things worse than a leaky flask. This one would be nice to own, and would no doubt last many years.

Images from and Lakeland Limited

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Kitchen essentials

Even though our decor is currently 'neutral' (to appeal to those potential buyers), I've always had a thing for a white kitchen. So when we replaced the original 1980s units last summer, we went for white gloss cupboard doors and pale beech effect worktops. We were also working within a tight budget and you'd be amazed what a bit of shameless haggling can achieve.

So here's a quick tour of the kitchen by way of my 'essentials'. And yes, I have been playing in Photoshop.

We don't have wall cupboards, just base units, an open shelf/rail and a large larder-style unit in a corner. There's still enough storage space.

The blackboard gets lots of use. We write the shopping list on it then photograph it with our phones to take shopping. Is that a bit too organised? Anyway, it's just a piece of MDF painted with blackboard paint. And it covers the wall we couldn't afford to have replastered.

I keep my favourite cookery books out all the time and the rest are in a cupboard. And you can see my beloved Magimix. It's what I call a major investment buy.

Hooks on doors are good for storage too. The bag houses packets of crisps (not mine).

I often decant things into jars. And have learned the hard way that labelling types of flour is very important.

Fridge magnets are handy for sticking recipes up. Currently we have spiced pork belly. The pancake one is a permanent fixture.

I also need things that make me smile. The picture at the back is a photo we took and sent out as Christmas cards a few years ago.

I like having things in containers so I can get to them easily. We have cutlery for the two of us in a San Pellegrino lemonade can, but the best packaging is to be found at Chinese supermarkets.

The radio is on a lot. And the tiling was done for free by a (very patient) friend - we bought the tiles though. We're not that cheeky.

The hanging rail is good for storing the utensils I use most often. They don't go for long enough between washings-up to get greasy.

So there you go - the busiest, sunniest room in the house.

Monday 18 February 2013

The Good Life

No, I'm not repeating this post again.

We did more outdoors work today (and I have the back ache to prove it). The sun was shining, Joe was dozing and there was nowhere else I'd rather have been. Well, maybe Central Park. But I mean, within reason.

The rhubarb was waving hello to the sun (and growing steadily).

I have seeds ready to plant. And a pot full of marigold seeds harvested from last year. Although it's a bit early yet, so I got on with more mundane tasks like digging over the raised beds and emptying out old pots.

I did take a few cuttings though - like Alpine strawberries. I'm not sure I like them that much, as I think they have a sort of bubblegum flavour, but they're still nice to look at and maybe Joe will like them.

It was while we were creating our own little piece of The Good Life that I heard on the radio Richard Briers had died. It made me feel quite sad.

Sunday 17 February 2013

A well-earned rest

I've always considered daytime bathing to be the height of decadence. After all, unless you get up extremely early (or work a late shift), many of us don't have time to have a bath in the morning. Not a relaxing one anyway. And stopping halfway through the day to get into a hot bath isn't usually practical either.

It's always been part of the Christmas day ritual, along with a luxurious breakfast, but today we definitely earned a long languish in the tub before tea.

I was up early with Joe (Jay's been doing most of the mornings with him this week). By 'early', I mean before 8am. He sleeps through every night but that may change. I sincerely hope it doesn't. Anyway, I did the usual baby routine and then cut my hair. It turned out OK - it was only a trim - if a bit jagged. Fortunately it's also quite curly and that hides a multitude of sins.

We spent most of the afternoon in the sunshine painting the shed and preparing the garden (digging, moving borders) for the fun bit - spring planting. I also made a big pan of lentil, carrot and potato soup, and steamed and pureed some vegetables for Joe. They're now in the freezer in little pots.

Today has been productive. I feel pleased. The shed is no longer a behemoth in blonde wood. It recedes a bit.

Oh, and I've lost half a stone since January.

The afternoon bath was well and truly deserved.

Saturday 16 February 2013


Today the weather was perfect for our planned trip to West Yorkshire. We packed up the baby, some lunch and some shopping bags and off we went. 

You can walk along the canal, feed the ducks and help yourself to any herbs and vegetables growing along the way (part of the Incredible Edible scheme).

There wasn't too much around so early in the year...

But there's quite a lot of public art to look at as well as the old houses and cottages with their mullioned windows and wonky walls, and sooty stone from the days of the mills.

We bought our weekly provisions from the indoor market. Hardly surprising that the butcher was doing a roaring trade, what with the recent scandal surrounding processed food.

There's also a lovely deli stall - more like a little shop - which sells all kinds of delights: panettone, squid ink pasta, olives, smoked garlic, and those cans of fizzy blood orange or grapefruit. The teas, coffees and chocolate are packaged very beautifully in tins and waxed paper.

Then we headed to my favourite shop. It's in an old Co-Op and I'm not sure how you'd describe it...

Part health food store, part eco lifestyle shop I suppose. 

Cruelty-free, organic cosmetics and toiletries...

Herbs and spices...

Locally produced food (how nice do these look?)

Herbal teas, herbal remedies, fruit, vegetables...

Bread, baking ingredients, eco friendly cleaning products (with the option to refill your own bottles), books... and there's a cafe upstairs too.

I love the interior of this place. It has the old chequerboard floor and built-in shelves. There's an antique set of weighing scales at the counter with gilt lettering. And chandeliers. I always have time for chandeliers.

Tomorrow's a 'home day'. We have no intention of going further than the garden. But it's always nice to have been out and made the most of a sunny day.

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