Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Novice Gardener

This year I am determined to make something of the garden.  We have an odd garden; the house is two cottages merged into one house but nothing was ever done with the gardens.  As a result, we have two very small, kind of separate, gardens - one yard and one lawn.  I'm focusing on sorting out the grassy bit first.  The yard is U-G-L-Y and needs a little more time (and money) spending on it.

With the sun shining brightly on Saturday we hit the garden hard.  Andrew's mum came over to help;  she also brought yummy scones and clotted cream for our mid-afternoon treat :-) 

There I was; forking up earth, snipping away dead stems, yanking out old [blind] daffodils and other dead 'matter', having a whale of a time.  Really enjoyed it (and the endless enamel mugs of tea)!  

I am determined to have a cutting patch this year so that I can have jugs full of my own flowers all through the summer.  Andrew's mum dug an extra [small] flower bed for us in the sunniest spot of the garden and I'm seriously considering finding some enormous pots or barrels to plant more flowers in the yard area.

So, before we went on holiday I sowed a few seeds.  (Ha! Get me!)  I am trying to grow my own scabiosa, cup and saucer flowers, cosmos, helianthus, salvia and cleome spinosa (confession:  I don't know actually know what the last one is).  I bought a tin of seeds from the Sarah Raven website which seemed a good place to start for someone like me who doesn't have a clue when it comes to gardening.  I think for just £30 I can give it a whirl and just learn from my mistakes.

I also bought a tin of salad seeds.  The amount of wilted salad I throw away from those supermarket bags drives me crazy and I'd like to be able to nip into the garden for fresh salad leaves this year.  I threw them in a few pots of compost and here they are:

Doing well so far.  Only trouble is, I am not sure what to do with them next.  Panicking a bit.  I have rocket, a couple of varieties of lettuce, mustard and mizuna.  Need to read the next stage on my instructions! 

I have pricked out some of the cosmos seeds already; they are growing like billy-o.  I think there will be a little more pricking out to be done this weekend too.  I bought a little tiny greenhouse to transfer my seeds to and now I am obsessing over finding some nice wooden plant labels!

At the garden centre I picked up some sweet pea plants; I was excited to use the teepee that I made.

It just about fits in this old Christmas tree pot.  Am so proud of myself.  If the sweet peas grow enough to wrap around the willow I'll be even more chuffed!  

I love this old wall behind the sweet peas.  A little further along it has this ornamental plaque thing attached to it.  Anyone know what it is?  I love it, but it does puzzle me. 

Enjoy the sunshine my lovely bloggy friends.  Thanks for all of your comments, I love reading them.  Just wish I had enough time to respond to everyone.  I get there in the end! 



PS Not going to talk about my horrid dentist appointment on Thursday.  Thank heaven I am being sedated for the treatment. I am panicking about it so much.   Keep having comedy day dreams that I'll try to run away from the dentist before he can do anything and he'll have to get me with one of those darts that they use for angry gorillas on the telly.  :-)

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Back from our holidays!

I'm back from my first ever visit to Center Parcs.  I'm always honest on my blog (and on yours, when I comment) so I'll start by saying that I really wasn't expecting much from the place.  I imagined an overpriced Travelodge in Nottingham with a sports centre attached.  

I loved every minute.  Of course, the weather helped - we were treated to beautiful spring sunshine every single day.  

We hired bikes as soon as we got there (£25 for the week - take your own if you have them!) and I loved the simplicity of travelling everywhere by bicycle.  (Although I did discover that my cycling skills are not quite so sharp in the dark after a few glasses of wine and a huge plate of nachos in the pub-style Sports Cafe...)

We played badminton every morning and followed it up with a Starbucks coffee on the terrace with the sun on our [red/sweaty] faces, listening to the birds sing and watching the grey squirrels go about their business.  

We were on holiday with my parents, my sis, her husband and my adorable little niece and we all shared a lodge.  It was newly decorated (I think, actually, it was newly built) and a really good size.  There were four bedrooms each with its own flat-screen TV, wooden balcony with furniture and a decent en-suite with double sinks, jacuzzi baths and monsoon showers.  Our particular lodge also had an open fire, a mains-fired barbecue on the terrace and our very own outdoor sauna!  We had a games room, too, with a pool table and PS3 which came in handy for the evenings if you fancied staying in*.  

I loved being Auntie Nicki for the week.  Particular highlights (that all Mums probably take for granted) included snuggly cuddles at 6am each morning, hiccuping giggles at the silly jokes I made and her absolute, unwavering concentration on our little game with the Sylvanian Families toy that I took as a mid-week surprise for her.  Cute as a button.

Part of the wall in our lodge painted with blackboard paint  - a bowl of coloured chalks was provided.

We also played a fair bit of table tennis.  The husband was chuffed (and surprised) to discover that I'm a bit of a demon with a ping pong bat.  I did beat him at a game on our honeymoon but he considered that a fluke.  Drew is amazingly good at table tennis so I didn't beat him but I put up a bloody good fight and felt a bit like the cool girl in the K-Swiss ad.  Ha!

Of course, Center Parcs is well-known for its swimming facilities.  I did give the rapids and one of the slides a go but, to be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed.  The wave machine was tame and the slides were short and, dare I say it, a bit boring.  However, we paid for a cabana for the afternoon which gave us our very own wooden little hut with sunloungers, magazines, TV, fresh towels and cold drinks.  It was lovely to have somewhere to escape; to dry off, relax with a coffee and a waffle and watch Baby Jake...   Also, my Mum's experience of the rapids will stay with me for the rest of my life.  She was hilarious.  Very embarrassing but hilarious too.  She disappeared for ages - my Dad had to go back to fetch her and the lifeguard had to yell across the pool to her (he called her 'my love' which tickled me; he was about 19!).  I stood by him laughing my head off, almost to the point of wheezing, when she blinkingly emerged from the final - quite fierce - waterfall, very panicky with puffed out cheeks and her hair pasted down to her forehead looking exactly like a hairy swimming cap.  Makes me laugh just thinking about it - sorry Mum.

We girls spent Wednesday afternoon at a willow weaving class**.  It was ace.  In an hour and a half we each made a willow teepee for the garden.

We did manage to whack each other a few times with unruly bits of damp willow (it is soaked in cold water for a few hours before the class to make it malleable) and my Mum was embarrassing yet again when she accidentally whipped the oldest lady in the class (who let out a surprised yelp) but all in all it was a very civilised activity and I can definitely recommend it.  In fact, I'm up for doing more of it.  I'd like to make hearts and wreaths next.  

Izzie had a fantastic time. The place really is great for kids and families (I know, that's the point). 

She took part in tots bowling and tots tennis whilst we were there and then went on a pedalo with her dad on the lake.  There are parks a-plenty and a little man-made beach which was quite popular.  (It was packed out and this was March.  I imagine it's horrendously busy in the summer.)

So, a fab time had by all and I'm hoping it will become an annual event.  I've come home looking and feeling much healthier and fresher - I feel as though I've blown the cobwebs away ready for spring.  

Have a great week! 



*These lodges are quite expensive in the school holidays but because we stayed off-peak and shared the cost between three couples we managed to get amazing value for money.  

**You do have to pay for activities when there so it's worth bearing this in mind before you go - the willow weaving class was £16.  I thought this was pretty good value for money but I do think that to properly experience Center Parcs you should really pack in the activities, which obviously mounts up.  Definitely take your own bikes when you go - it's super-safe to cycle around as no cars are allowed in the park except on the two changeover days.  Next time I will be trying the watersports - the double kayaks look like fun - and I'll take my tennis racquet too.  

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Doughnut Muffins

Sleepy people in our house today.  We've had a busy week and J, my stepson, was feeling a bit under the weather so we all stayed home to chill out.  

I spent a bit of time pottering in the kitchen and made doughnut muffins from my new book - Tea with Bea.  I have never been to Bea's of Bloomsbury but heard loads of good things about it.  The book has quite a few unusual recipes in and the photography is dreamy.  I'm totally planning a trip to the cafe next time we're in the area.

The muffins are easy to make - fun too.  You basically stir all of the ingredients together until just combined and then bake in a muffin tray for about 25 minutes.  As soon as they've finished in the oven you quickly coat them with a little melted butter, roll around in a dish of caster sugar and pipe raspberry jam into the centre.  The book says to serve immediately - you'd think they would be delicious warm - but we prefer them cooled.  Delish!  

As I write this, the three of us are sprawled over the sofas in the living room.  We've dragged the pretty eiderdown downstairs, the dog is sleeping in front of the fire and we've watched about 10 episodes of 'The Middle' (daft American sit-com) on our new BT vision box.   We are well and truly chilled.



Monday, 12 March 2012

Walking Weather

We made the most of the weather yesterday and set off for a good, brisk, walk across the fields with the dog.  We were out nearly three hours and saw just two other people, each with their dog.  (Until we walked past the village pub and every single table outside was occupied.  Spring is a-coming!)

I wanted to take a photo of the garden which is behind the pub on the right of this photo,
but there were too many people!  It felt intrusive.

I love watching our dog so happy to be free, sniffing in the fields.  Seeing her great big smile and the little bunny hops she does through the grass make me feel all squishy inside.  As we walked, Drew and I chatted about nothing in particular (and squabbled good-naturedly about the right path to take through the fields).  Perfect quality time together.

As soon as we got home we plonked ourselves on the swing seat in the garden - first time this year!  I took off my socks and boots and wiggled my toes in the fresh air.  That first cup of coffee and a sit down is such bliss when you come back from a good walk.

We spent the rest of the day reading - I have found it difficult to concentrate on anything lately so was thrilled to download a book on my Kindle yesterday that really absorbed me.  I started it at 3pm and didn't put it down until I finished (at 1am).  It was just chick lit, nothing high-brow, but it had a bit more substance than the usual girl-meets-boy novel.  It is called Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes if you fancy reading it.  I particularly liked the ending; it could have disappointed but I was happy with the way it all wound up.  I've now downloaded a couple more of Jo Jo's books. Think that I've found a new author to read - love that.

I know that I need to show you my little envelopes (little bit worried I may have built it up a bit too much - prepare for an anti-climax) but I am going to finish up by asking for some advice.  I haven't been sleeping properly for the last few weeks.  I don't think I'm worried about anything, I just have a lot on my mind - mostly just things I need to do.  What is your top tip for a good night's sleep?  A bottle of wine usually knocks me out but I can't have a hangover at work! ;-)

Have a great week and thanks for stopping by.



PS - our forthcoming holiday is a little trip to Center Parcs. BEYOND excited. Have never been before but am looking forward to lots of fresh air and naps.  The best thing, by far, is the fact that my niece will be there too so I get a whole week with my favourite little girl!  Will love being Auntie Nicki and Uncle Drew (pronounced, by her, as Ju) for the week.  She loves messing around with my crafty stuff so I'm off to Hobbycraft at the weekend to buy a big stash of coloured papers, glitter and paints to take with me for any rainy afternoons indoors.  Can't. Wait.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Spring makeovers and a spot of crochet

Spring is on its way and so everything around here is getting a bit of a makeover.  I've started going to the gym, had my hair done and have booked in for a mani/pedi ready for my forthcoming holiday.   I'm gathering stuff to sell on eBay so that I can treat myself [guilt-free] to a load of pastel-coloured clothes.  I will pick out a new perfume and every inch of my body will be scrubbed, buffed and moisturised so that I'm ready to bare my lily-whites when the sun comes.

Let's not talk about the fact that I've been to the gym eight times over the last fortnight and have still not lost any weight.  I come home with a bright red face, dripping hair (I'm not kidding) and halfway through the class I feel as though I'm going to throw up.  The fact that I haven't lost any weight is like a great big poke in the eye.

I've been to zumba and body combat classes.  They are killers!  Although I have picked up a little tip for reducing aches the next day:  have a glass of milk after you exercise.  Don't know if it's coincidental [probably] but it has totally worked for me. 

Notice anything else around here that's had a bit of a makeover?

Yep, I decided to pimp up my blog so I approached Sarah of essbeevee.  I really like Sarah's blog - she's witty, stylish and verrry cool.  I love her illustrations and did not hesitate to commission her to prettify my blog when I saw that she takes this kind of work on.

What do you think?  Obviously the little illustrated icons in my sidebar will link to proper pages with actual words and photos when I get a chance to update them but so far I am thrilled.  Skippy-happy!  

I ought to just acknowledge Sarah for doing all the technical stuff for me too.  She made sense of the html codes [etc] for me and was very patient with my blonde moments.  


Did someone mention blonde moments?

I've been crocheting egg cosies this week.  I thought I'd followed the pattern to the letter but it finished up just a tiny bit too small.  Ha!  I'm proud of the pom pom though - aren't they fun to make!  You can expect to see more pom poms around here, oh yes you can.

I've had a go at crocheting flowers too.  They were a little bit more successful than my attempts at egg cosies, probably due to the plentiful advice from CupcakeJoJo.  Thanks lovely!  *blows kiss*

Aw.  It's a pretty little thing that's now attached to a crocheted tin cover.

I've started a new book - A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah - so I'm off to read that shortly.  Before I sign off I thought I'd share a photo of the adorable little Easter pegs I've bought recently.  They will be perfect for my Easter tree. 

Husband:  "What Easter tree?"

Me:  *rolls eyes and saunters off importantly*

I collected loads of twigs from the fields when we were walking the dog over the winter.   They are drying nicely in the barn and then I'm going to spray them with matte white paint.  Stuck in a steel pot weighed down with pebbles they will form our Easter tree.  We haven't had one before but I think they're kind of cute and I like an excuse to decorate.

See those little envelopes in the picture?   I made them at the weekend.  Here's a close-up:

I bought a tiny little wooden template and the paper was free with a craft magazine at Christmas.  They are such a lovely little size and are perfect for the purpose I have in mind.  Which I will tell you about next time.

Oooh, what a cliffhanger.  :-)

Hope you're all having a great week.  Nearly the weekend!



PS Thanks so much for all of the cheery comments that you've been leaving.  I love reading them (although I received my first spam comment the other day which I promptly deleted!) and  I do like to respond to everyone.  Thing is, I work full-time and the evenings seem to fly by.  Some of you are no-reply bloggers - if you pop your email address on your profile page it will let your blog friends respond via your comments.  This is much quicker for me, certainly, and means that I can catch up from my phone when I'm waiting in the post office queue (or whatever).  Hope I'm not being bossy... 

Instructions on how to do this are here kindly provide by the Scrap Shoppe.  Cuckoo shared them a while ago.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

New trinkets, pretty flowers and a fab weekend

Having seen the pretty tea towels from Primark on various blogs, I felt the rare urge this weekend to visit said shop and bring some cheap goodies home.  This meant a trip to Bedford.  

We never shop in Bedford.  I've always thought it was a bit of a scruffy town with old-fashioned shops.  Sorry if you live there but whilst it has the potential to be super-pretty, you have to admit it's kind of scruffy.  This put us off to begin with - we hit Primark pretty quickly (lots of little treasures and I spent £14!), had a wander round the market with a bag of hot dinky doughnuts and were ready to leave.  I'd spied a lovely looking florist on our drive into the town and, as it was a nice day, suggested we take a walk to try to find it.  

Man, am I glad we did.  We found a fantastic little row of homeware shops in the Arcade and the florist was even lovelier than I'd expected.  We spent ages in there, with me oohing and ahhing.  It's called Fleurette and if you're ever in the area I'd definitely recommend a visit.  It's a new favourite of mine.  I finally made my choice, but it wasn't easy: 

A gorgeous bunch of flowers and a distressed chunky candle holder.  L♥ve!  Even better, the husband surprised me by whipping out his card to pay for them.  I know, I'm lucky - he's dishy, funny and spoils me rotten :-)

I am so pleased with the flowers.  Don't they look pretty on my sideboard!  I make a little squeal of joy every time I see them.  They are exactly the kind that I hope to grow in the cutting patch that I am starting this year, with the help of Belinda's cutting garden series and a Sarah Raven book.  If you haven't been over to the Wild Acre Flowers blog before, pop over and have a look.  If I lived near Belinda I would treat myself to a posy a week.  Lush. 

Now, I know that the dark pink flowers are ranunculus and the white are anemones but can anyone remind me what the little pink flowers are called please?  The lady in the shop did tell me but I can't remember.  I want to grow this - it smells nice too!  And the little white ones?  I need to scribble their names in my cutting patch notebook.  

I managed to pick up some tea towels in Primark.   I went in for the floral, Pip Studio style but liked this bright check when I got to the shop:

I'm also keeping my fingers crossed to win LaaLaa's gorgeous blog anniversary giveaway which includes more pretty tea towels!  

£1.20 each. Bargainous.  I also bought a few cheap faux pearls which I really like.

These will do until I can afford the real thing!  I love the look of lots of strands of pearls at different lengths with chunky silver necklaces interspersed so that's how I'll be fancying up my frocks this spring.


I've got loads more to waffle on about - I've been very crafty this weekend and have made some sweet little envelopes.  There is also some crochet goodness to share.  I will save all of that for another day and finish up with my rocking chair reveal:

I am so chuffed with my favourite little chair.  I loved it before but the dark wood in such close proximity to the oak cabinet just bothered me a bit.  I used Annie Sloan chalk paint in Country Grey (needed a couple of coats) and sanded down in places to make the chair look worn.  I then gave it a good coat of soft clear wax.  

I have to admit that I didn't enjoy doing it; I got really bored halfway through, my back was aching, it was messy and I hated trying to coax the paint into all the awkward little nooks and crannies.  As a result, there are two little half-painted stools in my conservatory that I didn't have the stamina for.  I'm glad I did it though and considering the chair cost just £40 in the charity shop I think I've had a bit of a result.  Thanks again to Shabby Chic Sarah (the master of paint jobs!) for all of the advice on text and email!   Thanks espesh for the moral support when things were looking rubbish and drippy!  

So here we are - Sunday evening and I've got a bit of ironing to do and some crochet flowers to finish off.  There is also a small bag of dolly mixtures with my name on it.  It has been the most fab weekend and I'm not even going to let the prospect of Evil Monday dampen my spirits! 

Have a great week and thanks for reading, you gorgeous girls, you.



PS Other news in brief:  I've had a clumsy kind of a week. I fell out of bed in my sleep last weekend (ouch) and a particular low point was when I fell up the stairs the other morning wearing nothing but a towel (after a shower).  I found myself in an undignified naked heap on the floor with a sore ankle.  Thank heaven I was home alone.  

It's raining so much that we gave tonight's walk a swerve.  Someone isn't happy.