Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Busy Doing Nothing

You know how at the beginning of the year people make resolutions and decisions and all that jazz? Well, this year I actually did.

Seeing as I've been decluttering my personal possessions since Christmas (love a good clear out), I decided to have a bit of a life overhaul as well, which led to me handing in my notice 6 weeks ago on my day job. Now, if you know me in real life I've probably been bending your ear about exactly why I wanted to leave my job for quite some time, so I won't go into the exact reasons.

But the short version is that I'd become increasingly frustrated that I was juggling everything else (family, voluntary work, creative stuff) for a job that was making me (just a bit) miserable. So after discussing with my other half, and due to the fact that we are fortunate enough to manage on one salary for a while, I took the plunge. I felt like I wanted to leave before I became truly miserable - going into job interviews reeking of bitterness is not a good look...

My first official week out of work was last week, which was of course half term, so not much time to think about anything but entertaining the troops.  This week I'm trying to adjust of this strange new routine of time on my hands (between 9 and 3). School runs have already felt less stressful in the morning as I'm just focussing on dropping the children off, rather than seeing the school run as an irritation in the middle of my route to work.

There's been some dull housework stuff, sure, but also time to ride my bike, go for a swim and catch up on my knitting. Plus I've really been able to give some time to some voluntary projects, without guiltily having to squeeze it into my lunch break.

I finished a lovely new pair of socks (above) in time for my birthday last week, I made a pencil skirt from scratch (and without a pattern), I went to a foot-stomping Ska night on Saturday and have seen plenty of friends.

I feel like I'm still exhaling with relief, as my shoulders loosen up with the realisation that I have some time to decide what to do next.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Learning to Let it Go...

Firstly, apologies for the pun in the title, I just couldn't resist it... Even if you haven't spent any time recently  in the company of a girl under the age of eight, the Disney film Frozen has probably entered your conciousness on some level. But more of that later.

I hope you had a peaceful Christmas. Ours was very enjoyable, and although I hadn't made a Pinterest board of all the things I was going to make for Perfect Christmas, a fair amount of handmade festive things happened anyway, now I come to look back on it. I also completely relaxed about the children eating rubbish and watching telly, which has made the holiday particularly peaceful. I've warned them that it's back to gruel and strictly educational programmes for just 15 minutes a day come Monday.

Home-made stuff that I did this year included: Damson Gin (dead easy, just put damsons, gin and sugar into a big jar and leave in a cupboard for months), Christmas cake (easy to make in advance), and Gingerbread Houses (this was a bit faffy, but the children really enjoyed it). I also had a couple of lovely table decorations that were made by a very talented fellow WI member for our Christmas night out in mid-December. As the foliage was fresh it was looking a bit sad by Christmas so I headed out into the garden with a pair of scissors for new supplies. So I kind of made it myself, and will definitely be stealing this idea (and saving the pot & ribbon) for next year.

But of course I'm also desperate to be the kind of mother who just whips up a fancy dress costume with her sewing machine, so I did add a little stress to myself by promising youngest child a Frozen dress for Christmas. I used McCalls Costume pattern M7000, ended up going for the smallest size (3-4 years) as any bigger and it would have swamped my daughter, who has just turned six. Fabric came from trusty Fabricland, a slippery blue/silver slightly stretch jersey type stuff for the main dress and the net curtainy gauzy stuff (shown at the top of the page) with printed snowflakes and glitter for the top layer. There is a bit of lining on the bodice, I just used some grey cotton fabric I had in my stash. I muttered a bit about whether I really needed to do the lining at first, but it really does pull the costume together and make it more comfortable to wear.

Although I started at the beginning of December I was *of course* still sewing on Christmas Eve. All was going well until I buggered up putting in one of the sleeves and had to unpick it and re-do. But instead of stressing like I normally do (well, ok, there was a teeny bit of tension) I made a list of jobs that needed to be done and handed them over to husband. So he made mince pies while I sat and sewed, then the children decorated the cake (with Nana's help) while I sat and sewed. But by about 8pm the dress was done and I could knock back the mulled cider with abandon.

So was it worth it?

Absolutely YES! Smallest child is delighted with her dress and has been wearing it and twirling round the house in it pretty much constantly since. And I learnt a lot whilst making it (not least putting in a zip properly). Settling down on the sofa to finally watch the film on Christmas Day with her is a memory I will definitely treasure.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Spicy Ginger Chocolate Brownies

Was browsing through a book from the library last week called 'Christmas Cupcakes & Cookies', looking for inspiration for some Christmas baking. We also had an event to raise money for our local community centre, so I thought I'd grab the chance to bake something new (on the basis that chocolate always sells well). This photo represents the only one left, didn't get a good photo of the whole batch piled up in all it's gooey glory.

Is it embarrassing to admit that I mainly wanted to make these because I'd found some edible tiny gold stars and *needed* an opportunity to use them? A bit probably, but never mind... Tiny gold stars, yay! And on with the recipe:

For the brownies:
275g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
175g butter, diced
125 plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
Generous grating of nutmeg
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A pinch of salt
25g crystallised ginger, finely chopped
175g dark muscovado sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp treacle
4 eggs
50g flaked almonds

For the ganache:
125g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
125ml double cream
1 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
A pinch of salt

To decorate:
More finely chopped crystallised ginger (about 25g) and edible gold sprinkles

1. Line a 20cm square baking tin with baking parchment
2. Preheat oven to 170 degrees
3. Put chocolate and butter for the brownies in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth and thoroughly combined. Leave to cool slightly.
4. Sift together the flour, spices and salt.
5. Lightly whisk the sugar, syrup, treacle and eggs in another large bowl. Add the melted chocolate mixture and fold in until combined.
6. Stir the almonds and the chopped crystallised ginger into the bowl. Fold in the sifted dry ingredients
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tin, spread level and bake on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes or until the brownies are set (I did for 30 mins and they were still pretty squidgy in the middle, they were devoured without complaint, so I'm guessing they were ok... I'm never sure what constitutes a properly cooked brownie)
8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin. These brownies are best made the day before you decorate them, just make sure you wrap them up in clingfilm once cool.
9. Prepare the chocolate ganache - tip the chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved and the cream is just boiling. Add the salt. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and leave to melt. Stir vigorously until smooth, then leave to cool and thicken slightly before using.
10. Spread the ganache over the top of the brownies, score with a fork to make a diagonal pattern, then cut into 16 squares. Scatter chopped crystallised ginger and gold sprinkles over the top to decorate.

There you go, migraine on a plate, but verrrry tasty. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Work in Progress

Exhibit A - un-finished objects (ufo) basket
So what a weird October huh? So unseasonally warm I was almost relieved to finally dig out my woolly tights and fuck-off big boots this week. So what have I been up to? I've been offered extra hours at work during term-time, which is great in some ways, but does mean I have less time for creative stuff - boo!

Just before half term we made a magnificent family effort and created a Anglo Saxon warrior outfit for my 8 year old for a school 'wow' day. If he's not too embarrassed I will post some pics, as he did look pretty cool (although his main interest was the weaponry - he's normally a very gentle soul, honest...). Then during half term we had a big family wedding, which involved lots of travelling but was so much fun, and we now have an Official Auntie C. Managed to squeeze in a visit from my parents too, which even meant a bit of babysitting so that husband and I could go out at the weekend and watch 1930s horror films.

Eldest child (he of the Saxon warrior fame) then celebrated his exciting half term break by suddenly vomiting late on Sunday evening, just as we were all due back at school and our respective workplaces after a week off - timing could have been better. So another day off on Monday then, oh well, better use the time to tidy up the craft stuff, in between providing weak glasses of squash and dry toast of course.

Exhibit B - frog it don't slog it
I discovered quite a few unfinished projects, which I've now gathered together in one place (Exhibit A), in the hope that I might get on and finish them. There's a couple of things that are virtually finished already, so no excuse really. But one thing I've learnt about creative work, sometimes it's better to rip it up and start again, no point slogging away on putting work into something that you don't even like. Which brings me to Exhibit B, which was half a baby blanket that I just lost enthusiasm for, and then ran out of yarn, and then the baby graduated from university (sort of kidding). You know the story... So I frogged it, and now the yarn has the chance to be something lovely.

Or maybe sit in my stash for a while longer, let's not do anything hasty ;-)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Good Enough

Having been lulled into a false sense of security in the holidays, where all I had to do was drop the children at holiday club and then go to work, it was a bit of a shock to get back into the swing of everything that primary school brings with it. So now there's lunchboxes, after school activities, listening to reading, checking spellings, dressing up days, coming up with an Anglo Saxon village crafted from weetabix and string. Possibly...

It got me thinking about my life, and whether I am 'good enough' in different areas. It's something I've also spent time talking about with other women recently, and there seem to be common themes emerging. For instance, it feels like it's not enough to just hang about at home with a toddler and a baby doing the stay-at-home-parent bit. Oh no, now you have to do that (making sure that you're doing all sorts of worthwhile and enriching activities with them, *not* mainlining Cbeebies into their eyeballs) plus setting up your own business on the side, probably involving upcycling vintage milk churns.

My children are older and at school, and as I *only* work part time my tiny little brain seems to think I should have plenty of time for not just paid work but unpaid stuff sitting on committees, helping out at school, attending *all* school events (after all, I have flexible working, there's no excuse!), cooking delicious and nutritious meals from scratch every day. Preferably using ingredients either foraged from the hedgerows or shopped for daily from chi chi la la independent retailers with whom I have a deep and personal connection.

And then there's the creative side. A quick glance at Pinterest informs me that I'm probably slacking in the homemade gift department please don't mention fucking Christmas.  And I'm not drawing enough, sewing enough or or or or...

Except of course, this is ridiculous.  I'm doing this to myself, and I'm sure there are some of you out there who do it too. So I'm trying to say to myself that I really am good enough.

My children go to school every day - big tick
I go to work and get paid - big tick
We finally have new signage outside our local community centre - big tick
I'm going to WI tonight - big tick
I've just finished a pair of socks - big tick
We will eat tea tonight - big tick

And breathe...

Apologies for the rant, I have a cold and may be a little grumpy.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Harry Potter Party

It had to happen eventually, my bookworm boychild has read the full Harry Potter cannon and developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the Hogwarts world (he even shares Harry's birthday). So when asked what he would like for his birthday celebrations, the theme was an obvious choice...

There are some incredible ideas out there for Harry Potter parties, special mention goes to the My Harry Potter Party blog, which is possibly the ultimate in Harry Potter party planning. The books have a very strongly developed 'world', and while I was browsing the internet I found it heartening to see so much creativity sparked off as people made props, decorations and food.

We didn't go too overboard, as the boy just had a couple of his friends over, one of whom hasn't read the books. But it was fun making a few things, and I thought I'd share a couple of photos to show you what we did...

I made a simple set of robes for the Birthday Boy out of some super cheap black polycotton. After a bit of measuring of limbs, I cut out two large t-shapes, cutting the front piece in half down the middle. I was aiming for a sort of academic robe look. It was very quick & dirty and I finished them off just before the party this afternoon. Machine hems all the way!

My husband made these, and they really are pretty impressive! He collected likely looking sticks from the park and stripped the bark off. Then he took slightly larger diameter sticks to make handles, drilled a small hole and glued together. They were then stained and varnished.

We knew there had to be some potion making today, so I gathered up interesting looking bottles and filled them with a variety of liquids (in reality fruit juices and water with food colouring) and attached paper labels. For the record, my son would like to point out that Dragon's blood is in fact green. We also had strawberry laces standing in for worms and various sweeties.

There was a lot of giggling as they sloshed various 'ingredients' into the pan. One of my guiding principles in life is 'never drink a blue drink', one that today's party guests would concur with. When stirred up in my Maslin pan/cauldron, they ended up with this:

There is so much food in Harry Potter, another reason why it makes such a great party theme. We had normal party food (i.e. I made sandwiches, carrot sticks and hummus, and the children chose to take their calories in the form of hula hoops) with a few Harry Potter touches. So we had some Hagrid's Rock Buns, Butterbeer (Fentiman's Cola with a new label, served in glass mugs) and then chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavour beans for party bags.

The chocolate frog mould came from Ebay, and other supplies came from Rajanis, possibly Bristol's best ever supplier of party tat. Including knock-off 'gourmet' jelly beans...

And finally...
I think this is the favourite thing that we made: Golden Snitches. Basically a Ferrero Rocher with two feathers hot glue-gunned to the sides. Talk about instant craft! We used these to play Hot & Cold (we judged that this would last longer than a free for all 'Hunt the snitch')

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Pink Knitting

I actually finished this ballet cardigan about ten days ago, but the recipient herself was a bit reticent about a photoshoot wearing a woolly cardi on a hot summer's day, just so her mother could tell strangers on the internet about it. Kids, eh?

She was in a better mood yesterday morning just before we went off to her class, so I seized the opportunity for a couple of pictures. I never had ballet classes, was always much more of a toyboy and couldn't stand pink. So I tend to feel a bit overwhelmed by all the pink and princessy stuff that seems to surround young girls these days. But I can't deny that she does look rather cute, and we're looking forward to seeing her end of term 'show' next week.

This is a classic ballet cardigan, with wrap front and tie at the back. It's knitted from Wondersoft DK (only needed two 100g balls) using Stylecraft pattern 8044. I found it fairly straightforward, it's mostly stocking stitch, with garter stitch edging.

I also have to fess up and admit that this is the first knitted garment I have made and actually finished! (not including socks). I discovered that I do not enjoy making up as much as the knitting, but I pressed on and got there in the end.

And just to show an interest in ballet doesn't imply delicate flower, this cardigan also looks good accessorised with scooter and helmet (pink naturally).