Monday, 19 January 2015

Arranging by colour : a rainbow to counter Blue Monday

Today is supposedly Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Depressing? Bah humbug.
Arranging bookcase by colour color rainbow
I have a solution! Now that's a bit of an exaggeration. You can't fix your life by organising by rainbow colour order can you? But you can brighten it. And if you can bring together order and conformity on the one hand with expression and creativity on the other, so much the better. So I removed all the books in our bookcase (arranged by genre and in height order because I am a card-carrying very-slight-little-bit-obsessive-compulsive-in-a-creative-organised-not-turn-the-lightbulb-on-and-off-thirty-six-times-kind-of-way. And then I took said books, and put them back in said bookcase, in rainbow colour order. And suddenly life was better. Organised but bright and cheery.
Arrange wardrobe clothes by colour color rainbow

And because I was also in a bit of a clothing funk, I did the same with my wardrobe. Oh how I wish I could get you a picture to show the bright shiny goodness of a wardrobe arranged by rainbow colour order, but my wardrobe is next to my bedroom window, in the shadiest part of my bedroom, batting the light back even more with a wardrobe door that opens across the window. So this grainy picture will have to do. Or I could use a flash. But apparently that would be the photography equivalent of taking a vegan wholefoods food blogger into a McDonalds for dinner.

Arrange books bookcase by colour color rainbow
So here's a collage of close-up and less close-up bookshelf pictures instead. You can't see a whole other shelf at the top full of white books and another shelf at the bottom full of black. But you can maybe read a few of my books and play spot-the-book-I-have-too with it. If your life is really exciting just like mine.

I saw an actual rainbow in a snow cloud over the weekend but my phone wouldn't work in the below freezing temperatures. No matter: I get a rainbow every morning in my bedroom and every time I walk through my hallway. Yah boo sucks Blue Monday.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Jewellery organisation: re-purposing your things to store your bling!

You know what it's like. You accumulate more and more jewellery. You love it. But you just can't find those earrings you're looking for. Or you're in a rush to grab a necklace and they're all tangled up.

You want to organise your earrings and, would you believe it, organise your necklaces. I know. I'm a genius. Here's what I did:
Jewellery organisation, necklace and earring organization, repurposed
I had an old notelet box that was too good to put away. I popped my chunkier necklaces in it in concentric circles. I know, the pearly one is a bit in the way - I've moved it since. But it's so much better and, don't forget, prettier.

And my earrings? I'm so pleased with this idea. It's a cake cooling rack. I know that there are more important things in the world (peace, climate change, mental health, etc). But this has changed my earring wearing, earring choosing, earring displaying life. It saves a lot of time. It's so much better than the pots they were in before and, don't forget, prettier.

(Or there's always pinterest for more ideas. Just search jewellery organisation. And then clear your diary for a few hours while you scramble your eyesight scrolling through them all).

Monday, 12 January 2015

January so far: domestic, healthy, and full of good intentions

Ah, January. Month of cold nights, chilly days, root vegetables, diets, abstinence, wool and good intentions. 

I have such an affinity with new starts, with plans and goals, but I do also feel that January is a weird month, containing so much overlap from the year before. We are trying to be healthier after the Christmas indulgences, we are trying to get our houses in order after all the decorations and new gifts to find room for, and we are trying to learn from our past troubles and mistakes to 'do better' this year.

healthy domestic January, cleaning, sorting, date night 
Our January so far has been a mix of the domestic and the January spruce up. There's been a lot of cleaning (domestic drudge) and sorting out (January tradition). 

I've been trying to eat more healthily after the December crescendo, by which time a whole box of chocolates in an evening had moved beyond the craving category and into the standard diet one. Just look at that smug lunch above! 

We've tried to make our regular weekly date night more romantic, descending as it had in December into 'where are we with the present buying' catch-ups, punctuated by the munching of way too many crisps. 

But the usual jobs of motherhood have continued to roll on. Yes, I am referring to the picture bottom-right. Yes, those are the feet of the Tiny One, now three-and-a-half, and attempting to hide under our lounge coffee table. Yes, that is said table covered by biro scribbles - wait for it - after I had attempted to clean them off. He stayed under the table throughout the cross cleaning, sensible lad. Thank goodness it was a decade-old Ikea cheapy.

small little cute doorstop door stop
And through it all I'm still sewing. This morning, when I should've been working but I needed an easier route into the week, I quickly sewed up a doorstop for the sewing room door. The door that slowly closes while my back is turned and I'm leaning over my cutting table, until it nudges my back teasing "Stop me!" So I did. I don't use the word cute much but it truly is a cute little doorstop.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Wondering: In which I tell you how I'm rebuilding my blog

What do I want this blog to be? What do I want to build?
Manchester Art Gallery childrens building activities
I think this is what hampered my blogging in 2014. Not knowing the answer to that question. Seeing so many other blogs out there that inspired me and finding, as often happens, that the influence of others clouds the truths of yourself. I am so drawn to bloggers whose clothes and style I love, but I've never felt comfortable showing myself online. I love DIYs and tutorials but did I really want to commit to all the hard work and time involved in doing that myself? I love to write above all else but the blogs I am drawn to and hooked by are those with the beautiful pictures using fabulous cameras that I cannot achieve. Do I want to strive to become a well-known, monetised blogger in such a saturated market? Do I even want to view my blog in market terms? I'm not sure I even know the answers to these questions now.

And then I realised that my answers are in what I thought my blog would be the day I started writing it. There were six words I attached to it: making, baking, wandering, wondering, sewing, mothering. Those are the things I wanted to share and document. Combined, they are who I am, they are the touches of domesticity that feel like home to me. And so they are what this blog is and will be again. 

I am part of a community of women in the UK and further afield that feel it is not a contradiction to value intelligence and yet want to focus their lives on their homes and family. To be ambitious and yet content. To be interested in serious and important things yet also love simple and beautiful things. You can be interested in both fashion and world affairs. You can be ordered and yet free. You can be all the things our foremothers fought for in the feminist movements of the past century while being happy, fulfilled and worthwhile wearing a pinny, baking a cake, kids round your feet, crayons all over the table, haphazard twigs from your walk in a vase on your table, and muddy footprints by the back door. And so that is what you're going to get from me.

(And, slightly unrelated, but on the subject of building something, my middle boy built that fabulous tower in the even more fabulous Clore Art Studio at Manchester Art Gallery. If you're in the area, you really should go.)

Monday, 5 January 2015

Goodbye and Hello

Well, it's over.
Goodbye to Christmas, goodbye to 2014, and goodbye to the Christmas holidays.

But hello to a touch of domesticity on blogger! I haven't seen you for quite a while. But it's a new year, a new page turned, and golly if I don't just feel like writing again.

So let's start with a list shall we? A Nine Things list, in a blast from this blog's past.
  1. My eldest is now sixteen. And I feel, as a result, ancient and inconsequential in his life. I wish I knew more of him and saw more of him, but he's ploughing his own field now and I know he'll grow best out of the shadow of my tree (mixed metaphor alert).
  2. My youngest two are really growing up. There are lots of numbers and counting in our days, reading and pretending to read, and asking profound questions. I love to watch their minds and intellects grow.
  3. I have started my new business, Sparrow Stitch, making bespoke curtains, blinds and soft furnishings. I've started very small but it feels really good to be working and learning how to run a business. The website is in its infancy but you can find me over here:
  4. This has been the first year in a long, long time that I haven't been ready to say goodbye to Christmas come the start of the new year. I love new beginnings, and from 1st December I go so crazy on Christmas that I'm ready for it to end five weeks later. But I don't know, this year I've sunk into the Christmas limbo and loved having the family around with our lazy days, and I'm struggling to get back into the fast lane again.
  5. My husband and I have now been together for 11 years. And it sure feels good. We are such a partnership that I do not know how I'd ever manage without him (and hope I never have to). And I still get slightly giddy about him all these years later. That's nice, right?
  6. We went to my parents for Christmas and it was lovely. But my dad's been ill a lot in the last few months and he's getting older. I found it so strange spending six days with him, because the him that he once was wasn't fully there, and most of the time I found myself missing him.
  7. I have plans for this new year. They start with me going in for the 'one little word' and choosing (or, in reality, finding it chose me) strive. Nothing feels more apt right now. My next job is to dig my December 'to do' list out and make a new one for January. I always feel better with a direction to go in and a set of jobs to complete. Yes, you can call me Monica (overused Friends reference).
  8. I also have plans for the house and the garden. You're going to see me in paint-splattered jeans a lot over the January weekends. I may even share a bit of it here. There's only so much staring at other people's impossibly perfect rooms on pinterest before you start thinking "just start" (or other suitable pinterest quote).
  9. And I have plans for this blog. I'm starting by committing to two posts a week. Come back on Thursday to find out more. You'll be very welcome.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

preserving the blackberry season... without preserving

These have been the joy and the bane of my life recently:
Why? The two little ones are obsessed

It's such a joy to see their purple-stained faces as they scour the hedgerows for more midnight-coloured jewels. To teach them the rules of picking (none too low; check for bugs; go for plumpness and colour) and watch them put those rules into action. To see them brush off the thorn scratches and nettle stings that would usually breed misery, yet are now a minor inconvenience on the way to berry heaven. To feel like I'm the mother in an Enid Blyton, rose-tinted childhood story.

But it's also been a bit of a pain to have every walk take three times as long, as every single bush needs to be stopped at and inspected before being devoured. To clean yet another stained and ingrained fingernail. Make yet another ignored plea that "you've had more than enough" and "we really do need to go."

I'm surprised these boys haven't turned into blackberries, in the style of Roald Dahl's Violet Beauregard. Despite eating ridiculous amounts, we have managed to pick just a few to keep rather than eat al fresco. They are hiding in the freezer waiting for the blackberry season to be over - and it's almost done. They're destined for a crumble, but until then we mixed a few with banana, peach, milk and a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream to make an after-school smoothie treat. There's no point in giving you a recipe: just add a bit of this and a bit of that, and don't forget your milky-mauve-mustache smile at the end.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Saturday baking: pumpkin (or butternut squash), parmesan and olive bread

It's drizzly outside, the leaves are on the turn and autumn's settling in. Shall we do some weekend baking? Do you fancy some Pumpkin/Butternut Squash Bread?
Pumpkin or Butternut Squash, Parmesan and Olive Bread
There are only so many bog standard cheese/ham/bread lunches a family can take. We reached our limit a month or two ago. I've been trying to mix it up on our weekend lunches, bringing a bit more creativity to the table to make the weekend lunch - that lovely, languid thing - a little more special.

Today I made Pumpkin, Parmesan and Olive Bread. It takes about 10-15 minutes prep, 45 minutes in the oven, and a few minutes resting - the perfect ratio of low time/effort to high impact/taste.

I ate mine plain and buttered, still steaming warm, and it was lovely. The lovely husband adorned his with cheese and chutney. I'd have thought a bit of ham would be nice too. I added the olives at the end, folding them into one end of the loaf, leaving the other end olive-free to suit the younger boys. And they asked for seconds.Would you like the recipe? It's from our Abel & Cole cookbook, page 121. 

Pre-heat your oven to 190oC/375oF/gas 5. The whole recipe uses a mug to measure - just pick out a standard-size mug from your collection and stick to the same mug all through.

Mix 1 1/3 mugs of self-raising flour in a large bowl with a pinch of sea salt, 1 mug of grated raw butternut squash or pumpkin, 1/2 mug of roughly grated parmesan (or a cheaper alternative - I used Grana Padano), a handful of chopped black olives and 1 tbsp chopped rosemary.

Once your dry ingredients are combined, whisk 2 large eggs with 1 tbsp milk in your vacated mug then add to your mixture and mix until you've got a sticky ball (I used my hands - fun, quick, but messy.)

Drop your ball of dough onto a greased baking tray, form into a patty, and sprinkle a little extra flour and grated parmesan on top. Bake on the middle shelf of your oven for 45-50 mins. When done, the bottom of the loaf will make a hollow sound when you tap it. Let it cool a little for 10 mins before serving. But, trust me, it's best served warm.

This loaf will feed four as part of a lunch spread, or two greedy people (ah-hem) with a bit of butter and cheese. Leftovers are delicious toasted, as the butternut squash caramelises slightly in the heat.

Wishing you and yours a lovely, restful weekend.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Let's make a Home Nature Table with the kids - in 10 easy steps

Well hello autumn! And this is our goodbye to the summer: a nature table in our home, made by my children.

So for those of you who have young children and have spent a good deal of your summer holidays out and about, walking, playing, in the woods, at the beach, on the hills... I bet your hallway looks like this every time you get back:
So did mine. Repeatedly. And after twice catching my husband trying to bin all our finds only a day later, I decided to act. We took what had been lovingly collected but carelessly discarded and actually made it into something beautiful and memorable: a home nature table. Want one too? Then let's get started...

1// Find yourself an under-used table, ideally a low one, made for children. Cover it with some fabric or a tablecloth that will make it feel special and present your finds nicely.
2// Group your nature finds by type and look for some nice containers to vary the height and presentation for each. We put our feathers in an old golden syrup tin. (That's the Tiny One's hand in action)

3// Pine cones look best in a bowl (if you have lots like we did) or a clear jar. That's the Little One proudly placing his big bowl at the back.
4// Use a jar or vase to arrange your leafy twigs just as you would a bunch of flowers.

5// I resisted the urge to do some artful arrangement, so this is the Little One and the Tiny One squeezing every fallen oak twig and random stick they had collected into my little jam jar. They did a fab job.
6// We then placed our beach drift wood and pine cone twigs lying down a the front, for a bit of height variation.

7// The Tiny One chose his favourite beach stones for his favourite blue bowl (there are another few dozen decorating our garden!)
8// And the Little One chose his favourites for his best yellow bowl.

9// Ta da! When we'd finished arranging everything we stood back, had a few proud photographs, then realising we were missing something. What's a nature table without a bit of naturalist labelling?! It had been a long time since the Little One had practiced his writing so we sounded out the letters together while he wrote each label. It was a great opportunity to introduce a bit of literacy without it feeling like homework.
10// We placed the labels by each of our finds and were done! The boys were so excited to show their daddy when he came home. And my hallway is remarkably tidy!

Ps thank you to those of your who took the time to leave kind comments on my last post. They worked!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Life right now

I have planned this post for a long time. Months.
This was supposed to be my goodbye post. The one where I finally admit, in print, that I am turning the last page on my blog and saying goodnight.
Weirdly, though, in recent days as I've pulled myself together to come out and say goodbye, I find the word in my heart is 'hello'. I think I'm coming back.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Wandering: visiting the National Trust's Speke Hall in Liverpool

We bought a family one-year National Trust membership and it was one of the best investments we've made for our family. This is because we use it. Every weekendwe have time for a family day out, we consult the National Trust map and off we go. Nice day? Somewhere with lots of outdoor space to explore and picnic in. Less nice? A house that will take time to look round, with activities for younger children. Meeting with friends? Yep, we National Trust it. We can't afford to be members every year so we go crazy with the National Trust properties while we can, then take a few years off until the boys are older and it's all fresh again.

A week or so ago we visited Speke Hall in Liverpool.
It's a beautiful Tudor property set in landscaped grounds, surrounded by a wood. And it has something extra that I don't think any other National Trust places have... it's right next to an airport. So you get the added extra of - wow! - aeroplanes taking off above you. It really helps to have a bit of variety to entertain little ones! So, I guess you want to hear some of the other plusses? We really did have a fabulous day out with our friends.
The architecture is beautiful. For us 'grown-ups', from every angle there's something new to look at and different buildings to appreciate. For your children, there are little carved faces where you don't expect it, a moat (now grassed) to run round or roll down, and the house itself is just the right scale for littler ones.
There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore, and woodland walks to take. Because the scale is smaller than a lot of the grand National Trust properties you may have visited, it is much more suited to little legs and it is much better for more independent exploring. As parents, you want your children to learn the thrill and the responsibility of being independent from you, but that desire clashes against a primal need to watch over them and protect them. Speke Hall just felt like the perfect place to find a harmony between those two needs.
The house itself is beautiful. Unlike more museum-like places, it was set up with signs of life (like this Singer sewing machine - you can't expect me to ignore a sewing machine!) as though the Victorian inhabitants of this Tudor manor had just downed tools and popped outside for a moment.

There was a great trail indoors for the children to do. I thought my then-two-year-old and four-year old would be too young but they weren't at all. The house was just disrobing itself from its winter hibernation, and so most rooms had a large, hidden picture of a bug in them that you had to find (huge fun at that age) and note in your little booklet. The Little One loved practicing his writing (b-e-d) and the Tiny One liked the funny bug names and their descriptions.
We all loved looking for signs of spring in the kitchen garden and on the woodland walk. They loved climbing in the playground near the entrance (blowing off those long-car-drive cobwebs) while watching planes soar overhead. They loved the second, surprise woodland playground even more - tree trunk steps, zip wires, climbing frames, houses. It was always close to rain but we managed to miss it. It was cold enough to legitimately deny the ice-cream pleas (why is a cake never enough?!) but throw the coats off while running across the grass. We managed a picnic (coats on). We were home in time for tea.

You really should go.