Wednesday, 31 December 2014

10 reasons to do your 2015 gift shopping now






  1. Sales:  The most obvious reason is that you’ll get gifts way cheaper now than if you wait for Winter 2015 to roll around again before you start.  No explanation necessary for this one!

  1. Cunning timing:  You can wait out the sales for the sweet spot later in January when many retailers cut prices further.  Take Boots for example; I’ve been in and got the premium, quick selling gift sets that I really wanted to get, but in a couple of weeks I’ll be going back for gift sets which weren’t so well put together (cheap looking packaging, stingy contents etc) and if they’re well reduced I’ll get some to take apart and recombine to make better ones.

  1. Time to think:  Hit the shops now and you have time to drift around with a list of people you want to buy for, as well as some gift ideas (see below) and decide if something’s a good deal before buying it; no paying through the nose in a panicked spending spree for you in 2015

  1. Ideas:  Christmas is a good time to pick up killer ideas for next years gifts.  I had no idea my Mum loves the Soap and Glory range of cosmetics but this Christmas I picked up enough info to bang it right to the top of my gift list for post-Christmas shopping.  If you noticed Grandma wistfully admiring the slippers you bought for Mum  now’s a good time to get her a pair while the idea’s fresh in your mind.

  1. Value:  Every year I see gorgeous things that I’d love to treat my loved ones with but which are out of my budget...that year.  I make a mental note to check them out in the sales and if they’re marked down I snap them up with the happy feeling that I’ll be able to deliver that lovely thing after all.

  1. Children:  Kids toys and clothes are pretty insanely expensive but they’re also pretty insanely fashionable, so as soon as Christmas is out of the way the shops what to get rid of them fast to make way for the new season’s toys.  Since it would be a spoilt five year old indeed who would be upset by getting a 2014 Dr McStuffins doll in 2015, it’s great way to plan ahead.

  1. Budgeting:  I find it useful if I can get most of my gift shopping done in January because that’s almost all my gift spending accounted for from one month’s pay packet.  I’d rather divert some funds from my savings now and know where I stand for the rest of the year.

  1. Less pressure:  Next November and December, when others are wondering how they’ll cover gifts, food and social occasions you’ll have at least one of those covered.  Try to keep your smugness to yourself and look sympathetic though!

  1. Better gifts:  Instead of buying something lame at the last minute you’ll be able to take your time and give a gift that the person you’re buying for will be genuinely glad to receive.

  1. Handmade:  If you’re planning on making gifts for people in 2015 buying your materials now could save you an arm and a leg.  You’ll also be able to get nice gift boxes, bags, tissue paper etc super cheap, so you can present your handmade gift in the beautiful wrapping it deserves.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The good, the bad and the homebrewed

There's been success and failure in making things today.  Here's the summary:

1)  Quilted table mats: Bad.  Measuring and cutting took me ages and in the end I got it wrong anyway.  Then I sewed seams of varying widths, bunched up my fabric and generally made a dog's dinner of it.  I ended up snatching some usefulness from the jaws of defeat by using them to practice quilting on.  No pics as they're just too awful!

2)  Gluten free Christmas cake:  Good.  I used a free Dove's Farm recipe from Holland and Baratt.  There was a slight hiccup when I got asked for ID when trying to buy the brandy; Mr CB had to go back in and buy it for me *blush*.  It's looking good, a little flatter than a cake made with wheat flour but that's not unusual. Once it's cool I'll wrap it up and 'feed' it with brandy once a week until Christmas.


3) Covered diary:  Bad...so very bad.  I followed these instructions and made sure I got a spray glue that could be used on fabric but it soaked through the cotton and is a right mess.  Needless to say I won't be giving this as a gift after all and will just use it myself.  I might try making a sewn cover next weekend instead (once my confidence has recovered after this week's sewing fail).


4)  Homebrew:  I started a demi john of rose wine off and it all went smoothly but with homebrew only time will tell.  It came from a kit though and they're usually reliable.  It's sitting by the radiator next to the cat begs, looking like a new pet.

5)  Socks:  Good; socks are always good.  I've cast on a new pair which I'm making out of left over odds and ends from my sock yarn stash.  I've knit socks in this way before and they're fun to make because I never know what the finished socks will look like.

6)  Fish curry:  Good.  Not made by me, this was Mr CB's idea when he spotted some cheap cod in a supermarket bargain bin yesterday.  He cooked it in curry paste and yoghurt and mixed in lots of vegetables so we've got enough for lunch tomorrow.  Just as well as it was delicious.

On top of that lot me and Mr CB finally cleaned the yard up.  It's the first chance we've had to get out and clear away the old plants, sweep up the leaves and cover the bench.  I can't put too much garden waste in the bin otherwise the bin men kick off, so I'll have to wait until next week to throw away the rest of the plants and pull up the weeds.  Still, it's a vast improvement.  

All in all a busy Sunday.  Fun though, because I love to be making things and trying things out and if something goes badly all I've ever lost is time and some cheap materials.  Worth it for when things do go right and more fun than sitting around watching TV and doing some thumb twiddling.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Upcycled Patchwork: Progress

Last Winter I decided to have a go at patchwork, something I'd wanted to do for ages.  I decided to stick with the best of the tradition and only use upcycled fabric.  By December I'd made loads of hexagons and was joining them together (here) then calamity struck and my hand got too painful to do anything much so the whole project went on hold, bundled into shoe boxes under the bed.

This brings me to last weekend when I did some machine sewing and got bit by the sewing bug all over again.  I've been doing more Reiki day to day recently and also learning about crystal healing so I put it to the test by doing Reiki on my injured hand every morning and evening and using a magnesite crystal on my hand every night too.  I've been blown over by the result; my hand's gone from stiff and painful to nearly back to how it used to be, just a little soreness if I do a whole evening of hand sewing.  I'm delighted and my patchwork is back on track.  Here's how it's looking at the moment (but less blurred in real life):



I've used a sleeve from ten different second hand men's shirts so far and have three more to chop up.  There's so much fabric in a men's shirt!  As you can see I've got loads of each fabric left for future projects.  The hexagons between the 'flowers' are made of two old sheets which cost £3 altogether and I havn't spent more than £1.50 each on the shirts.  Several of then came from Mr Crafty Blueberry's side of the wardrobe when he lost a few stone and happily gave them to me to chop up.


It's good to be stitching again!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Quilted Coasters: First Attempt

If there was ever a day for a rainy day project it was yesterday:  heavy rain all day, cold and unappealing, no reason to leave the house.  I've been wanting to have a go at quilting for ages so, using this pattern as a guide, I made a set of 3 quilted coasters.

I cut out 3 5 ince x 5 inch squares of leftover Christmasy fabric, 3 of plain red and 3 of batting.



For each coaster I laid the fabric pieces with right sides together, laid them on top of the batting and sewed the sandwich together,


I then turned it right side out, sewed the open edge together and sewed all around the edge.



Then it was time for the fun bit:  Quilting!  I freehand quilted wavey lines back and forth, which gave a finished effect that looked more complex than it was (bonus!).


After securing the loose threads I had three wonky but festive coasters.  



They're all different slightly different sizes and are a definition of the word 'bodged' but I'm happy with them.  I enjoyed having a go at quilting and want to make a set as a gift next.  I'll be more careful with cutting the fabric and should be able to make them neater next time.  I'd rather have a go and make a mess than never try something new though.  It's important to put our inner critic aside and have a go, regardless of how imperfect the results may be.  There are so many people who won't try anything new, however small, because they're scared they won't get it perfect.  Worse, there are plenty of critics who are happy to mock people for making something bodged and wonky who won't have a go themselves!  Lets show them; go make something, bodge it if you have to and have a great time in the process.


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Homemade Christmas Gifts

I've been trying to come up with some creative gifts this year and here are the first two of my home made gifts for Christmas 2014.

The stocking is the first of three I'm working on for the little people in my life.  Knitting a big Christmas stocking rather than the usual humans sized ones made me feel like I'd shrunk.  It was fun to make, a good project for on the move and I enjoyed adding the pompoms.  I've just bought a set of pom pom makers (a copy of the Clover ones) and I can see myself adding pom poms to everything in sight.  Poor Mr Crafty Blueberry, he may be living in Pom Pom Hell within weeks.  Anyway, the stocking was dead straightforward:  I cast on 76 stitchess with double knitting yarn on 4mm needles, knit until the leg was long enough, turned the heel as usual then knit the foot until it was in proportion to the leg.


The next gift is a sweet hamper.  I liked the look of the retro sweetie hampers around the internet so decided to make one of my own.  I bought the sweets from Aldi, who do great versions of all the branded sweets which are at least as good as, if not better than the real thing.  I transferred the sweets into little cellophane bags I had from last Christmas and tied them with ribbon.  For the box I saved and washed one of the plastic tubs that mushrooms are sold in and wrapped it in paper.  I topped it off with some lolly pops.


I'm working on two more Christmas stockings at the moment and there are some other things I want to try making over the next couple of weeks, so I'll be posting my progress here.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Leeds Dock

Today me, Mr Crafty Blueberry and a fine fellow of a friend from the olden days in Stoke had a tourist day in Leeds.

We took a free water taxi...


...to a food and craft market in the newly re-branded Leeds Dock...


...where the chaps played with some sculpture...




...and we had a good look around the riverside.


The water taxi was fun, especially as we just found out about it as we wandered past the stop on our way to town.  The food market wasn't really my think - lots of expensive street food really - but it was good to see so many people at the former Clarence Dock; hopefully it's getting anew lease of life.  I can see it being a great place to be in Summer so I'll definitely go back.

After Leeds Dock we walked into town, had a drink in the comfortable Palace pub then had chips and a good look around Kirkgate Market.  We had a wander around town and visited favourites like Global Tribe Crystals, a friendly, welcoming shop in the centre of town that sells crystals, oracle cards, jewellery, candles and lots of other nice things (I work around the corner and have occassionally popped in on particulary bad days just because it has such a wonderful atmosphere - I actually come out feeling refreshed).  It was good being a tourist in my own time and I think it's a great thing to do from time to time, I find I discover something new every time by exploring with a an open mind.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Eating All The Things Part 2

We're now three weeks in to eating our way through our stockpiled and forgotten groceries.  We have done some shopping but it's been for essential fresh food, mainly vegetables, milk and eggs.  Have there been failures?  Oh yes:  going out to work, forgetting to turn the slowcooker on and coming home to an uncooked chicken casserole that had been sitting out all day and had to be disposed of was one such failure.  Rice pudding made with coconut milk and chopped apple was another.  We've also thrown out some things that were hanging round in the freezer for too long to be sure about and that we didn't want to take risks with.

A big victory has been saving money on work lunches.  Neither me nor Mr CB buy many work lunches but lunches made at home can get boring (soup, AGAIN) or expensive when we try to jazz them up with something different.  Cue leftovers:  I've been cooking a little bit extra of things like rice and pasta dishes and we've had the extra next day for lunch, which costs next to nothing.  I know, I know, leftovers for lunch aren't exactly revolutionary, but it's got me into good habits and made lunches more varied.  

At this point we're running out of meal ideas, although I've found two bags of Quorn pieces in the freezer and a packet of fajita chicken mix in the cupboard, so they'll be making each other's acquaintance.  Mr Crafty Blueberry will be making cottage pie some time this week and we'll be marinating some chicken legs from the freezer in curry paste and roasting them at the weekend.  Tomorrow's a cheat day though as Mr CB found 20p stir fry veg in a reduced bin so we'll be buying some spicy tofu to fry it with.  Got to have Tofu Thursday, it's one of this household's finest traditions!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Autumn

Every year I forget how beautiful Autumn is.  I get distracted by the relief of Spring bursting out green after the grey months, Summer piling on the golden beauty and by worrying about Winter.  Here's a reminder for me, just some photos of my local park wearing it's stunning Autumn outfit.






Thursday, 16 October 2014

Eating All The Things Part 1

It's about half way through our month of eating all the things.  It's been going pretty well; I've shopped but only for fresh fruit, vegetables and milk so I've already saved lots of grocery money.  (Ok, apart from some ice cream and poppadums...)  The freezer has been bountiful, with several forgotten cuts of meat emerging as well as other tasty odds and sods.  We've got to the point where we've run out of some bits like seasonings we usually cook with but have decided to try not to restock until November.

The money saving's been good but what's been better is realising how much food we buy because it's cheap but which we then don't use because we forget about it.  I think one reason for this is that when times have been hard I've squirrelled food away to see us through; do that for a few years and you've got a well ingrained habit there.  I don't need to do that any more and that's a big adjustment to make, because being well stocked up has been a comfort and a safety net.  I don't want to do without food stores completely though because it can really be a money saver.  The difference is I need to have a stock of things we actually will use so we can make less supermarket trips and impulse buys, rather that stocking up on whatever's cheap out of fear of running out.  It's funny how the 'thin' times affect you, even when they've passed.  Actions that served you well at the time can become a coping mechanism long afterwards.

I'm looking forward to making a fresh start in November with more room, more meal ideas (thank you necessity and ingenuity), less waste...and a defrosted freezer.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Sunday Soup: Parsnip and Leek

 Sundays are often soup days in the Crafty Blueberry household as I like to prepare for the work week ahead as much as possible, and a batch of soup gives me enough to have a couple fresh and some in the freezer so I can alternate between soup and leftovers.

Today's soup is parsnip and leek as that's what's on offer in Aldi at the moment.  It smells earthy, sweet and oniony and is a hearty soup indeed.



To make 6 large portions of soup you will need:

3 parsnips, chopped
3 leeks, chopped
Vegetable tock cubes - I ended up using 3 as I like the strong flavour but you could less
2 litres of boiling water
Mixed herbs
Black pepper
Olive oil

Heat the oil and gently fry the black pepper and herbs for half a minute then add the leeks, cover and sweat for 5 minutes.  Add the parsnips and stock dissolved in the water.  Simmer for 20 minutes then blend it all up in a blender. 

I hope you're enjoying the Autumn as much as I am.  I do dread Winter but I try to make as much of the cooling weather as possible, with crisp walks, hearty food and blankets on the sofa.  And soup of course!

Autumn pretending to be Summer at Rodley Nature Reserve

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Gluten free and dairy free fruit cake

Inspired by Frugalwoods among others me and Mr CB are having an 'Eat ALL The Things' month.  Throughout October we'll be eating our way through our cupboards and freezer to use up all those things that get pushed to the back of the cupboard, saving food waste and money at the same time.



It's been going well so far; I've come up with some meals which are new to us and we've been eating well and using up lots of forgotten food.  This morning I went through my baking cupboard and pulled out half packets of this and that and decided to use them up in a fruit cake.  It had to be gluten free as Mr CB is is a coelic so I found an easy recipe from Frugal Queen (here) and adjusted it using advice I found here.  I havn't converted 'normal' cake recipes before but the trick seems to be to add more moisture, an extra egg and just the right ratio of xanthan gum.  The result is a moist, sweet, easy to make cake that's gluten and dairy free.  I even managed to use up a small jar of mincemeat from last Christmas.  I made a note of the changes I made so here's the recipe.

300g Doves Farm gluten free self raising flour
300g sugar (I used light brown sugar to use up the leftovers of a bag)
1 tsp mixed cake spice
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
500g dried fruit (I mixed my jar of mincemeat with a handful of leftover dates and half a bag of sultanas to make it up to roughly 500g.
1/2 cup orange juice (or cold tea if you prefer)
2 eggs

Mix the dried fruit (and mincemeat if using) with the orange juice and microwave for 2 mins.  

Mix the dry ingredients so that they're well combined (important!) then add the fruit (complete with any orange juice that hasn't been soaked up) and eggs and mix the whole lot together well.  

Pour into a lined 7 inch cake time and let it sit for 10 mins; this allows the xanthan gum to get to work.

Bake at 180 C for about an hour.  When you insert a skewer into the middle and it comes out clean the cake's done.

Well writing out the recipe's given me a hankering for a mid afternoon slice so I'm off to go nom nom nom.




Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The slow cooker does it again

We've had a slow cooker in the Crafty Blueberry household for several years and have made good use of it, but it was so big that it had to live in the cellar as it wouldn't fit in the kitchen, and was really too large for making meals for two.  A couple of weeks ago we bought this small, basic slow cooker from Wilkinsons for £8 and it's just right for making meals for one or two people.  It's also small enough to fit in our tiny kitchen, and because it's out on the worktop all the time we use it more.

The latest slow cooker concoction was pigs cheeks braised in cider, which I made by tweaking this recipe.


It turned out a little too sweet because of the apples and the caramalised onions, s when I make it again I'll use a cooking apple as it will be a bit more tart, and dryer cider.  The pig cheeks were AMAZING and so cheap.  Rich, full of flavour and incredibly tender. My only concern is that trendy chefs will hijack them ,then the prices will bump up; go try them while they're cheap!

We're going on a self-catering holiday in Wales soon and will actually be bringing our little slow cooker away with us.  I don't make a habit of travelling with my household appliances but I reckon it will be lovely to come home after a day out knowing that all we have to do in terms of meal preparation is open a bottle of wine...that's frugal cooking at it's best.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Why I left...and why I'm back

There's a whole load of articles on the internet saying why, if you take a break from blogging, you shouldn't come back with a post drawing attention to it.  Well sod the internet; I want to write about it because it's part of my journey, which is what blogging's all about.

I last blogged here in April before shifting my whole blog to a new one (Destination Nutshell).  I blogged there for a couple of months but havn't done anything there since June.  I've always enjoyed blogging, albeit sporadically at times, but I felt a strong need for change.  Part of this was due to being able to craft a lot less than I used to because of hand pains; when your blog's mainly about making stuff this puts a spanner in the works!  This had an unexpected benefit though; when I wasn't able to distract myself with crafty stuff any more I started working on things that I'd been putting off.  Number one is career change, and since early Summer I've been working through a 'Free Range Human' course by Marianne Cantwell.  It's transformed how I think about making a living, and if it hadn't been for parking my interest in all things Crafty Blueberry I would have been too absorbed to even go looking for anything like it in the first place.  I won't go into detail here as it's a big subject for another time, but if you're the kind of person who wants to get out of your boring job and do what makes you come alive, get over to that website right now.

That's why I went away from my blog:  What brought me back here today?  Well mainly it was because I missed having somewhere to record all the little things that make me happy, like a pile of colourful granny squares, a batch of home brew bubbling away or an unexpected gorgeous view on the walk to work.  It occurred to me that more than anything else this blog has been for me; there are many posts here that will never be read by anyone else, but I love having a record of all the things that have made me happy, especially when times have been at their hardest.

Another factor was that I've started a new blog over on Wordpress called Mind Body Network as part of a project I've started during my Free Range Human course.  I've built up a Twitter account for it, set the blog up and started posting...but something's been missing.  I woke up this morning and it hit me like a big ball of obviousness:  Mind Body Network is what I need for writing about Reiki, nutrition, coaching and all the other things I hope to build into my career.  I need Crafty Blueberry for all the other stuff that makes me me but that I don't necessarily want to link in to how I make a living.  

Both blogs are important to me and of course there's no hard line between them;  the point of the career I'm working on building is to blur the line between work and play, not score it in deeper!  But when I look at my priorities I realise that it's very important for me to keep on loving the small things and recording the small but precious experiences that make life living.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Gym 'n' Spam

Here are some new things I've been doing/have tried this week.  It's been a week that got off to wobbly start (it's called 'Monday morning') but I'm proud to say that I roped it back in and made it a good one.  Onto the new things:

New Thing 1) I've started learning website design at www.codecademy.com:  Out of the blue I decided this would be interesting to learn and potentially useful.  I couldn't figure out where to start as a book didn't seem to be the answer - no opportunity for hands on learning.  So I Googled 'how to learn web design' and ended up at Codecademy.  It's free and it takes you through coding step by step with the opportunity to try out each bit as you go.  I'm in the very first lessons but I'm glad I got on and made a start.  I'm a complete novice by the way, so if I can follow it it must be good.

New Thing 2) My first full week at the gym:  Actually momentous for me as I have always loathed getting fit but I'm sticking to it, working hard, huffing, puffing and enjoying it.  I'm particularly enjoying the flexibility of building my own workout.  At the moment this is stretching-cardio-resistance-cardio-resistance-yoga.  I come out feeling all mmmmm.

New Thing 3) Finding www.Free-Range-Humans.com:  This site is amazing.  It's all about becoming self-employed but in a different way that suits you specifically and builds around the life you want to live.  There's too much to explain here so please go have a look.  I'm working through the four week course (charged for but worth every penny) and it's really having an impact on how I think.

New Thing 4) Spam fritter:  Does a new thing have to be big to be amazing?  No, not if it's a Spam fritter!  I've always thought they sound like deep-fried horror but tried it and, my word, it is crispy, juicy deep fried wonder meat.  Happy days.

What new things have you been getting excited about?  If nothing then what new thing will you do this week to get you feeling lively?

P.S. - If in doubt start with a Spam fritter.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Getting started again

I've just realised something about a story I've been writing that has totally taken me by surprise.  I havn't added to it for a couple of weeks as I got stuck on it at an early point, where the story had gone a bit lame before it had really got going and I felt bored by the storyline; not a good sign of a gripping read, right?  I've written writing prompt snippets every few days since then before coming back to it tonight and it jumped out at me:  my main character, a supernatural spirit/woman, who I thought I'd find interesting is actually shockingly dull and two dimensional.  I just can't get a handle on her, there's nothing there, she's made of fluff and air.  On the other hand I find myself thinking and wondering about the other primary character, a fairly intelligent but otherwise average,  withdrawn, middle-aged man with a washed up career.

I went back into my story tonight planning on adding bits here and there to what I already had in order to flesh it out.  Now I understand that it's all the wrong way around.  I'm going to pull out all the bits about the man and see where he goes without the other character.  Will she come into it at all?  Will it be the same story from a different point of view?  I don't know.  Maybe I'll end up abandoning it altogether.  Initially I was appalled by the prospect - oh, my efforts! - but I'm excited again now.  Here's a chance to get my story back on track/write a new one and grow.  Funny, but it seems so obvious now.  I guess sometimes you have to get some distance from something then take it by surprise so you can see what's really going on, because I really was blind to it before.

Friday, 30 May 2014

The Gym


As I mentioned on Monday I've joined a gym. I've tried working out at gyms before and not at all enjoyed the experience, but I want to get fit and healthy so I've swallowed my doubts and given gyms a second chance.  The gym I've joined, with Colin and a friend, is The Gym in the centre of Leeds, just a couple of minutes from where we all work (too close to avoid on a lazy day!).  We visited it two weeks ago and they offered us a tour.  It had lots of equipment, was spacious and had a good atmosphere.  It also helped that the guy who showed us around didn't try to sell us membership!  He gave us a discount code to get the joining fee for £10 instead of £20 and let us go without any pestering.

I'm two visits in now and finding it to be a different experience from the other gyms I've tried.    I like the fuss-free atmosphere and not feeling cramped up.  The staff are very helpful, everything's clean and in good condition and there's enough variety of equipment to keep me interested.  The biggest difference is that I'm enjoying it!  It feels good to be challenging myself and to know that I'm doing something positive for myself.  I was surprised at how much it's helped me wind down after work; after 15 mins of cycling hard I'd left the day's stress behind, and by the time I got home and showered I felt more relaxed than I have in months.

We've agreed to nag each other to go if our motivation flags, and I've promised myself that if I really can't be bothered at any point I'll go anyway, do something gentle and that will probably get me in the mood.  I want to feel fit and healthy for once in my life, and to know I'm building myself up stronger than before.  I'm forever getting aches and pains, feeling sluggish and ill so I need this boost and I've finally decided it's worth putting in the effort in to do it.


Monday, 26 May 2014

Square

I've got half a 'tah da' today because I've finished the 49 granny squares for a blanket I'm making...


...and today I've started joining them together with rich red yarn.  It's going to be fairly large, I'm aiming for generous throw sized.  I like to have a granny square project and some sock knitting in progress at any given time because they're both straightforward and I don't need patterns for them.  With this project I've enjoyed using up scraps from my stash of DK acrylic yarn and making some unlikely colour combinations which should work when they're all pulled together in one blanket.  Something I like about this sort of project is that the squares themselves can be way out in their colours but all the squares balance each other out when they're joined.  Each of these granny squares is 5 rounds and three colours.  Joining them is a big task but I love getting stuck in.

The second square thing is a typewriter I bought in a charity shop for £5 yesterday.


It's a Silver Reed Leader Two and is in very good condition.  It needs cleaning because there are crumbs and hairs under the keys but it's well oiled and works well.  Most of the ribbon is still moist because it was wound up and kept in a case.  I want to clean the platen, which is the only really grubby bit (blobs of white out), give the case a wipe down and get the dust out of the inside of the machine.  This is my second typewriter.  My other one is an Olivetti Lettera 32 and was my Dad's.  I'll write more about both of them soon because I think they deserve a (loving, adoring) blog post of their own.

A third third thing which is suspiciously un-square for me is that I've joined a gym and will be starting with an induction tomorrow.  It's a budget gym in the centre of Leeds and I was impressed when I had a tour of the place so I'm going to give it a whirl as I want to improve my overall fitness and flexibility.  I'll report back on it over the next few days!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Thursday and Miss Alcott

Here we are at Thursday, plenty of week behind us and lots of weekend a little way ahead.  Work's been eventful with a bit of accidental team bonding, a suspected heart attack (all was ok in the end), a project looking fit to collapse but pulling through and the usual smattering of things breaking unexpectedly and general headless chickenry.

I've done hardly any writing or making this week, I've mostly been reading; an input week rather than an output week.  After a weekend when I pushed my own nerves to the limit it's been a welcome come down, and talking to a couple of friends who are absolute bricks has helped a great deal.  I've been reading letters and journals of Louisa May Alcott and some of her shorter stories.  I've loved 'Little Women' for years so it's interesting reading some of her other work.  Her 'pot boilers' are dramatic and over the top but with cunning twists.  I prefer the stories she wrote about everyday people and everyday things and believe that's where her humour and wisdom came out most strongly.  Such a shame that she lived in an age when as a single, childless woman she had to continually justifying herself.  Has much changed though?  We still live in a culture focussed on pairing off and having children and I think the stigma of being an 'old maid' is, unfortunately, alive and prospering, as is disbelief at a woman choosing not to have children.  It would be good to see things move on from these Victorian values!  If you like 'Little Women' I highly recommend 'Work' and 'Hospital Sketches' as both are based on her own experiences and are full of the flavour of real life, with a lively sense of fun as well as touching sadness.  They're both available to read for free online here or to download to Kindle for free on Amazon ('Work' is here and 'Hospital Sketches' is here).

Reading, eating strawberries, watching the rain and letting my imagination wander...ah, wonderful, wonderful laziness, and a happy Thursday evening.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Sunday

I've been feeling unsettlled lately but it only hit me yesterday after I'd worn myself out with housework after a busy week at work, then sat in the sun feeling drained.  I realised that because of the age I'm at and other circumstances there are certain major decisions hanging over me that must be made; nothing I want to write about here but it would be downright dishonest of me to pretend everything is rosy and bright in my mind at the moment.  It's also made me realise that in the stress and struggle of recent years I've fallen out of touch with myself, like forgetting about an old friend.  I'm quite a reflective person but have perhaps fallen into the natural temptation not to reflect too deeply for fear of what I'll find.

There are always good things to be enjoyed though, and feeling like this causes me to reflect on those things too, keeping me balanced.  We got a new bench for the yard yesterday so I have somewhere to sit that isn't the hard front step and because I'm awake early I've come to sit outside on a beautiful and quiet Sunday morning.  It's just me, the singing birds, a busy rook strutting around the street and the cats.  Actually, a cat was stalking the rook stealthily then the tiny dog from up the road came galloping along and scarred them both off, which looked very daft!

I've promised myself that today will be a day with plenty of quiet time and pleasant things like good coffee, planting seeds, writing and sewing.  I'm wishing you an equally lovely Sunday too.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

A Trip To Scarborough


 Me and Colin took a trip to Scarborough on Thursday, where we stayed for a couple of nights.  We a fed bread to a seagull bread when it landed on the roof by our holiday flat window:


We stumbled upon a hidden cliff path:


With views of a hidden bit of beach that we couldn't get to:


We had a walk down the cliff, then had to face the climb back up!


On both evenings we walked along the cliffs and beach:


We had a look at a big area of rock pools which looked volcanic and weird:



Colin wrote me a flattering message in the sand:


Monday, 12 May 2014

Reaching Further

I saw an old interview with sculptor Henry Moore today in which he said:

"The secret of life is to have a task—something you bring everything to. And the most important thing is—it must be something you cannot possibly do."

What struck me was the the last part, that it must be something you can't possibly do.  I like this because it reminds me that I'd rather reach beyond myself and fail than to only do what I know I can do and remain stagnant.  In fact dormant might describe it better; standing in one place waiting for something to happen instead of growing outwards to reach it.   But how tempting it is to stick to what I know and not venture beyond it.  I think it's worth remembering that all the millions of people who've discovered new things, created fine art and music, explored new places and thought in challenging ways were and are ordinary people who've been motivated to go a step further than what they're comfortable with and see where it takes them.  We can't all be genius scientists, artists, explorers and philosophers, but we can expand outwards as far as we can go in our own unique sphere and refuse to put artificial limits on ourselves.  We can learn to be fearless in what drives us by willing to go just that one little step further and see what happens.


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Charity Shop Gold: Moka Pot

Yesterday I found something in a charity shop for ages.  It's a moka pot for making coffee and was worth the wait to get it.

It's a lot simpler to use than I thought it would be.  Cold water goes in the bottom chamber, ground coffee in the middle section and then you heat it on a medium heat until the coffee bubbles through to the top chamber.



Then you mix it with hot water and milk for a wonderful cup of coffee (or drink it on it's own for an espresso like hit).  I love good coffee and think this tastes better than coffee from our filter machine.  I found detailed instructions for making coffee in a moka pot here along with conflicting advice in the comments section; what else is the internet for if not for getting confused by contradictory advice?  It varied from one person laying down Rules In Set In Stone that you MUST follow in order to get good coffee, to another saying bung the coffee in and just go for it (I liked that one).

I love this and it's a good job I've got de-caff coffee in the house as well as regular as I keep wanting to make coffee in it but don't want to buzz about all day!

It's a blustery and cold day here in West Yorkshire so I'm going to take my coffee upstairs into the bedroom, where it's warm and bright, write and enjoy being inside while the weather's so uninviting.  I want to crochet but have reached 'Saturation Point' with it ie. I've done too much of it and now my finger hurts.  Ah well, gets me to focus some quality time on writing instead though, which is a good thing.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Monday, 5 May 2014

Gardeners Confession Time

I havn't mentioned gardening on here for a long time, I might even say a suspiciously long time because if I'm honest I've been avoiding even thinking about it.  My gardening history is:

2009:  Moved to a house with a large yard, planted flowers and seeds, they bloomed and grew gorgeously.

2010 and 2011:  More effortless growing.  I had a comfortable rest upon my laurels.

2012:  It rained and rained and rained.  The garden, along with the rest of the UK, got washed out.

2013:  The yard was subjected to a reign of terror by slugs and snails who ate everything.  I was angry, disappointed and I cursed the molesting molluscs and their families, chucked out all the stumps of my beloved plants and swore off gardening*.  Then got an allotment with some friends;  I'm nothing if not reliably inconsistent.

Late 2013:  After a Summer spent struggling with the neglected and tangled patch of land we inherited which some would call an allotment, we decided to give it up.  Me and Claire had a frank talk about it and felt like we'd been avoiding a taboo topic!  We were both feeling guilty about not being able to devote time to it to make it work, but it did feel good to give up the responsibility.

*I think Colin must feel the same because when I asked him what the collective name for slugs and snails is he replied "Bastards".

This brings me to 2014 and the second plague of slugs and snails.  Last week I saw that they'd eaten the one tub of flowers I've planted so far.  The speed with which they destroyed them gave me the creeps and I'm now scarred of planting out the peas and tomatoes that are getting too big for my kitchen windowsill.  I never suspected that the simple act of planting seeds in pots and leaving them outside could be so traumatic.  Before they ate everything I tried migrating the snails ie.  moving them to the park (the slugs got away scot free as I couldn't bare to touch them).  After the plague I've decided I'm going to have to play dirty and have bought slug bait.  It's a bottle of granules that swell up with moisture, the slugs eat them, get full, crawl back home with a food hangover and die of over eating.  The granules are non-toxic so are safe around investigative dogs, cats and toddlers.  It seems to be working but I can't be sure as there's so little greenery left that there's nothing to judge it by, so I may have to put out a brave little pea shoot to test the waters.

So The Garden 2014 so far:  Slugs and snails eating everything, slug bait in place, yard otherwise bare (blue slug bait is the only colour) and seedlings safely behind glass but getting a bit too big to stay there.

How's your garden growing?  Any tips for organic slug slaying?

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Progress

I've had two small victories with writing today which have spurred me on.  One is that I've reached 7000 words on the story I'm writing on, which is more than anything else I've written.  The most previously has been around 5000 words before it petered out and I found I was so bored by my own story I didn't want to go on.

The second small victory is that when I read back over what I'd written I found I wanted to know what happens next and where the story will end.  I think that as long as I'm curious I'm motivated to keep on moving things forward.  With this one I'm really trying to keep on asking questions when I get stuck or bored so that I'm digging deeper, trying new things and - hopefully - improving my writing.  I do have a rough outline but it's sketchy, so I've got lots of freedom as I go.  I've read how lots of writers won't start writing a story until they have detailed outline, and others don't plan at all, but so far I'm enjoying the middle ground.  I know roughly where I'm heading and I have notes on my characters, plot and ideas, but there's room to expand and adjust, which gives me a wonderful feeling of being unlimited and free.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Escape from Facebook

This is how I wrote this post originally; it was self righteous and annoyed:

I used to have a Facebook account but deleted it because I found it a negative and messy place to be.  Recently I opened a new one because so many of my extended family are on there.  How long did I last before deleting it again?  Three weeks.  Returning to Facebook reminded me of the two main reasons I left the first time around.  The first thing that struck me on returning to Facebook was the clutter;  I felt like everyone's stuff was scattered all over the place, in my face whether I liked it or not.  To me it felt claustrophobic and messy, closing in endlessly.  Secondly, and the biggest reason, is the sheer amount of everyday meaness and negativity.   Part of this is receiving friend requests from various people who made my life hell when I was younger;  it hit home when I got a friend request from a man who bullied me mercilessly every day at school from when I was 5 to when we went our separate ways at 16.  There also seems to be a lack of civilised exchange.  A discussion disintegrates into a viscious argument faster than you can say 'Dislike'.  I don't like the idea of all this aggression and negativity being chanelled into my home.

However, this is how it ends now:

I found out that to play Scrabble on my phone I need to sign in via Facebook so I've signed up again.  Everyone has their price; it turns out that mine is a board game I'm not very good at but can't resist.

Damn.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Treasure Sense tingling...

After work today I went to a nearby charity shop knowing, just knowing, I'd find treasure.  You know that feeling you get when you're a keen charity shopper and your Treasure Sense is tingling?  You know you're going to find The Thing.  I had that feeling as I headed the the shop, which is usually packed with cheap stuff (clothes £1.49, CDs 20p, books 10p) ready to rummage until I found The Thing...



...and I didn't find it!

You can't win them all; at least I'm saved from bankrupting myself in a binge of 10p books and assorted bric-a-brac for one more day.

Photo from Alex: The Beast

The Beast at the bottom of a suburban garden silently stalking his prey, the cunning shrew.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

What colour is Wednesday?

When I look ahead to a free weekend with no plans I see two equal sized boxes in my mind, ready to be filled or not filled.  The boxes sit side by side, are attached to each other and are transparant.  Through them I can see the colours of my home, not clearly defined but more as a wash of various colours in the background.  I've always carried a visual image of the days of the week in my head and it never occurred to me that I did until a colleague turned to me last year and asked "What colour is Wednesday?"  I told her it was dark blue and she said "Ah, you do it too."  We found that we agreed on some of the days as the same colours and others as different.  In my mind's eye the week looks like this:

Monday = Light blue
Tuesday = Light green

There's a small gap between Tuesday and Wednesday

Wednesday = Dark blue

Another small gap between Wednesday and Thursday

Thursday = Dark orange and at I slight peak above the first three days
Friday Morning = Purple
Friday Afternoon = Red

Saturday and Sunday = Red and boxed off from the other five days

When I try to imagine not seeing the week like this I can't get my head around it.  I just can't plan the week without this framework appearing in the background.  I find that when someone describes how they visualise it (or don't at all - shock) it makes me feel a little off balance, almost "What?  How can you live like that?".

Today's box so far has been filled with a little of this and that; writing, knitting, soaking in the bath, making soup, cleaning the house and continuing my sift of all the clutter in my home.  It's been a gentle rhythm that I suddenly realise has actually relaxed me after the work week of madness.  Weekend pottering is good stuff whatever colour the day is.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Hello Trello

Following a month where work has gone off the scale thanks to more incoming work and less staff I've launched into a new project today which relates to boosting the organisation's social media profile.  Am I mad to have taken it on?  Possibly, but it's interesting, new and full of potential.  I'm also trying to get more involved in the different parts of the company and develop my career in a more interesting direction, five years of admin having worn me down to a nib, so it makes sense to grasp these opportunities.

One big problem:  Whilst I felt enthused as I walked home from work I also felt overwhelmed.  I can think of four distinct projects I'm working on, along with piece of training I'm about to undertake, finance, PA work, events preparation and everyday admin work.  I can't fit any more hours into the day and the only work I'm willing to take home is for the training course if I can't squeeze it into my day somewhere.  I want time to write, make things and spend time with my husband, friends and clingy elderly cats so bringing home work is a no no.

I've always relied stubbornly on pen and paper but this amount of time planning was giving me too many separate To Do lists and making things look even worse, so I'm giving an online planning app a chance.  I've set up a Trello account and so far it's looking good.  I've set up one board to share with the people who'll be working on that particular project in other offices so we can co-ordinate our efforts.  I've set up five other boards to cover different areas, so that each of the five work areas (and their many sub-areas) that are supposed to be my number one priority (!) are now separated out from each other.  Now that I've got them in distinct lists everything makes more sense in my head and although I havn't reduced the amount of work or increased the amount of time I have it all looks manageable now and I can see what needs doing now and what can be put off reasonably.  (I can also see that I should be paid more, weep weep.)

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The simplest of simple tips for writers block

I was annoyed yesterday when I set aside a large chunk of time to write without interruptions or distractions and couldn't think of a thing to write.  I have a couple of stories I've been working on, some ideas for other things and access to infinite online writing prompts and yet I continued to sit there clicking between stories, doing nothing.  I looked up writer's block to see what tips I could find and the one that worked for me was as simple as it gets:  Get up, make a cup of coffee, write for 25 minutes.  Both the coffee and the short time limit worked.  I wrote for 15 minutes on a story, got up to stretch for a minute or two and wrote for another 15 minutes.  Framing a small amount of time to write in was effective because I was able to tell myself that if I just wrote whatever came into my head for 25 minutes I'd have made progress and now I feel freed up again.