Thursday, 30 May 2013

Sponsored Post: Moving to University

Moving to university – the essentials to bring

Moving to university can be a stressful time. Not only is it the first time that many people really move out and live on their own, but it’s also often a long way away too. Depending on where you live, your university could be anything from an hour to half a day’s trek from home. It could even be on the other side of the world so deciding what to bring is highly important

If you are about to make the move to uni, a cheap courier service is often a great way to do it. Much less stressful and more cost effective than piling everything into a car, many companies can pick up and deliver your stuff anywhere across the country for a great price. Here’s a lowdown on the things to remember if choosing this option.

Kitchen utensils

Pots, pans, plates and a few knives and forks: these really should be at the top of the list when you move. Although surviving on beans out of the tin (don’t forget the tin opener!) is a rite of passage when you’re studying, it’s best to have a few select kitchen utensils so you can cook yourself a proper meal. This will also save you throwing money away on expensive takeaways. 

Don’t bring all your clothes

Go through everything and decide what you want to bring. It’s important that you have enough clothes to wear every day but bringing your whole wardrobe can be tedious and weigh you down. 

The best thing to do is only take a few different coats as they are the items that really add a lot of bulk to your load. And besides, you’re bound to get a few new pieces of clothing when out shopping with your student mates.

A word on chairs, desks and beds

If you’re moving into a flat and not university halls it’s important that you bring a good comfortable chair and desk to sit at while you do your work. Not only will this make sure that your back and posture remain healthy but it will also give you a great workspace in which to focus when the essays start piling up. 

Again, small courier services are a great way to transport things from your hometown to your new place for a very competitive price. 

Don’t forget technology

University is not only about studying, it’s about having fun too! Make sure you’ve remembered all the electronic devices you need to do this. For example, your computer may play music but if you’re going to have friends round, you need to remember your speakers too. Remember to bring all your different chargers too. After all, there is nothing worse than having all the kit but no power!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Cake Decorating: Rapunzel Birthday Cake

Yay, it's the weekend!  I was up early this morning, despite a late night.  We have J, my stepson, here this weekend and we went up to the village pub for dinner, then came home to watch endless episodes of 'Extreme Couponing'.  (I hardly watch any TV at all but when J's with us we seem to watch all kinds of rubbish.  I kind of like it!)

So I've been fiddling around with my DSLR and came across a few photos of the Rapunzel birthday cake that I made for my niece this year.  

Izzie's birthday is in January and she was four this year.  The photos were really hastily taken because the party was planned for a Saturday afternoon and on the Friday evening before, when I had to make the delivery, we had some of the worst snow that winter.  I had spent a couple of days making and decorating the cake and was really worried that I wouldn't be able to deliver it.  Before legging it out of the door that Friday afternoon I grabbed my camera and took a couple of quick shots. 

Rapunzel birthday cake
Izzie, like a lot of little girls her age, is now obsessed with Disney princesses.  Rapunzel is her very favourite (she has a little Rapunzel outfit that she likes to wear, with a very creepy long blonde wig) so it was inevitable that I'd be asked to make a Rapunzel cake.  As with all of my little cake projects, I start by googling images for inspiration and then I come up with my own rough design.
Cake design scribbled on greaseproof paper! 
After I've baked the actual cakes, the first things I make are the sugar paste flowers and any other small decorations that I know I will need lots (and lots) of. 

Handmade sugar paste roses and flowers from little stamp sets
I was taught how to make proper wired sugar roses at night school, using special cutters for the calyx, then cutting, frilling and wrapping each individual petal.  I've since discovered a super-fast, super-easy way of making them that is fine for projects where the flowers don't need to look too realistic.  

Rapunzel's tower made of cake 
For this cake, I made an 8" vanilla sponge sandwiched with buttercream and raspberry jam.  I made the tower-shaped cake in a baked bean tin (lined with greaseproof paper).  To make the roof, I made a big cone of sugar paste and then cut individual tiles which I then laid out with my best brick-laying skills.  I squished them around to make them looks as rickety as possible.  The tower had a plastic dowel through it to keep the structure secure.  Obviously, the Rapunzel and Flynn figurines are plastic - I didn't make them!

The cake is on 12" cake drum which I decorated with pale grey sugar paste to look like cobblestones.  With a few odd flowers dotted around, and some green vines squeezed through my special little gun (a garlic press works well too) I was finished.  I loved making this cake, especially knowing that little Izzie would love it.  The children at the party were enthralled by the cake and lots of sticky little hands reached out for the figurines.  My sis even told me that a couple of dads asked afterwards who made the cake - they said it was the best they'd ever tasted!  Yay - score!

Have a great weekend.  My parents are bringing said little niece over to see me this afternoon.  I'm looking forward to colouring-in with felt tips and having lots of cuddles.



Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Debating the decline of our high street

Firstly, I am not going to be a diet bore but I have been really chuffed with the words of encouragement for my 'transformation project' both here and on my Instagram account.  Thank you, lovelies.

Irrelevant but pretty photograph of the last cake I baked.  Missing you already.

It isn't easy, especially not as this week I have PMT and am really craving chocolate.  To the point of obsession.  I have a few emergency bars in the house (hidden in various ridiculous places - I found a forgotten Double Decker underneath the potatoes the other day) but so far have resisted temptation.  However, I am currently having a face-off with the husband's Twix that he has rudely left on the kitchen table whilst he watches the football.  Very trusting of him.  Maybe he's testing my willpower.  I'll show 'im.

Keeping my hands occupied with crochet.


Anyway.  I wanted to tell you about the WI.  It was our monthly meeting yesterday and we had a visitor from the county WI House to talk to us about this year's resolution.  Normally, our speakers are local artists, musicians, sportspeople or craftspeople but the WI AGM is at the end of the month and all members need to vote on what we will adopt as our next campaign.  There is just one to consider this year: 'the decline of our high streets and town centres'.   Such an emotive subject and we had a very lively discussion.  

Soldiers in Petticoats!

As a group, our immediate reaction was to support the resolution; we would all like to see an improvement in Northampton town centre.  However, after further debate, we realised that the decision wasn't quite so clear-cut.  If the campaign was adopted, as loyal WI members we would all be expected to make every effort to do the majority of our shopping on the local high street, leading by example.  We would be required to actively call upon local decision-makers to take action to address the decline of our high street.  We asked ourselves the questions:  Did we really want to commit to always using the town centre for our weekly shop?  Often, it is more convenient to shop at the larger superstores that are open all hours and offer a wider variety of products than their high street counterparts.  Can we really do anything about the decline of our high street or is it a sign of the times?  What has caused the decline of the high street?  Not all town centres are grotty and depressing, after all.  What makes Northampton different to, say, Market Harborough or Olney?

It has really made me think.  I do most of my shopping on the internet (my ex Post Lady has become one of my good friends - we bonded over ebay deliveries of china ).  I don't really want to spend my, very precious, spare time wandering around the [frankly, rubbish] shops in Northampton with heavy bags full of stuff when I could have the nice Parcelforce/DHL/Ocado delivery person bring them to the door whilst I stay home knitting, baking and drinking G&T. 

My preferred approach to shopping

However, I do think it is desperately important for every town to have a sense of community and obviously our high street is an important contributor.  I would love for Northampton to be a hive of activity with pleasant shops and cafes, clean pavements and cheaper parking.  What to do?!  Is there anything that we can do?  Anything within our power?  

It was nice to have a good old debate at the meeting yesterday for a change.  I'm attending the AGM on behalf of my WI members and I am looking forward to discussing it further.  I am also looking forward to seeing the NFWI operating in all its glory - there will be 4,000 members there on the day representing more than 6,600 WIs.   I expect to feel very proud to be part of such a worthwhile organisation and, probably, very young.  Yay.  (Part of me, the mischievous part, cannot help but imagine it is a very similar event to that of the meeting of witches in Roald Dhal's book.  Will they all remove their wigs and shoes as soon as the doors are locked?!)

What do you think of the resolution?  Can we do anything to improve our high streets and town centres?  Do you support yours? What would help?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  

I am going to log off now.  I'm feeling a bit like Mrs Banks in Mary Poppins and want to march about with a WI sash around me singing that we're soldiers in petticoats.  :-)



Monday, 6 May 2013

Happy Days

A day off with bright sunshine and I feel as though I've won the lottery.  It's days like today that make me realise that it doesn't take an awful lot to make me happy.

I've been up since 7 (on my own - bliss!) and have already pegged out my first load of washing, put a second load on, fed the dog and had a hot cup of coffee (a rarity, I usually get distracted and they go cold).  

Friday morning's cuppa.  This morning's was much the same!
We've had a lovely weekend here so far.  Both Drew and I took an extra day's leave on Friday and had lunch together at the Bell Plantation in Towcester.  The cafe there is one of my favourites - gorgeous homemade food and the place is really nicely decorated too.  It was a lovely sunny day so I dug out the summer brights.

Dress, cardie and bag all Joules.  Pumps M&S.  (Grin c/o of boss for sorting my work woes this week.)
We ate homemade salmon quiche with salad and chips.  It was so good.  Afterwards, we came home for a nap in the sunshine before fetching J.  Upon seeing me, J 'helpfully' commented that I was 'one of those' people who wears their summer wardrobe the second the sun starts to shine (I am).  I'm not sure it was a compliment.   
The sun has continued to shine all weekend, for the most part, and after a busy day on Saturday we spent yesterday just hanging around at home, painting (me), watching football (Drew) and watching TV/texting whilst pretending to revise (J).

Still working on my tea cosy.  I hope to finish it this week.

I have a few plans for today, all of them fun.  Yay!  First up, I'm going to give my craft room a good sort out.  I haven't really used it since we had the kitchen done apart from popping in occasionally to retrieve and deposit yarn/books etc.  I am sitting in here now and there are piles of craft books and bags of yarn everywhere, all lightly sprinkled with a dusting of various random craft items including ribbons, jewellery charms, embroidery floss, fabric scraps and beads.  It *sounds* like my idea of heaven but in reality is beginning to resemble a scene from 'The Hoarder Next Door'*.

This afternoon I'm going to have a go at some patchwork and might pop out to a local May Day fête.  I should be able to persuade Drew to come if I let him know there will be homemade cakes!


Finally, I am pleased to report that I have, at last, hit the point where I am properly motivated to lose weight.  I've steadily gained pounds over the last year and now none of my favourite Current/Elliot jeans fit me.  I've tried to diet recently but have been through a bit of a mood slump and chocolate was the only cure.  The slump is finally behind me (a whole other, very boring, story).   I had the loveliest of chats with my gorgeous friend Lisa over wine and pizza on Thursday and now feel totally motivated to sort out my shiz once and for all.  

Pre-run, proudly showing off my bumbag.  See, I am so motivated that I bought a BUMBAG!
I'm 5'6" and yesterday hit the scales at 11st 1lb.  I am very small boned and do not carry weight well at all.  My hips and bum are a size 14 and my bazongas now require an F cup.  This would be fine if the clothes in my wardrobe were able to accommodate such voluptuousness, but they aren't - they were all bought for a far less curvy me.  So, yesterday evening I took photographs of myself in my undies without holding my breath.  I took photos from the front, the side and (shudder) the back.  (Then I had a stiff drink.)  I've annotated the photos with 'Day One' and my weight, then saved them in a special file on my computer that is heavily encrypted and causes any would-be hackers to spontaneously combust if they try to access it.  I'm using the MyFitnessPal app on my phone to log my calorie intake and I've set up an extra instagram account for photos of every bit of food I scoff (sounds enthralling, right?! ha!).

I have also started a weight-loss journal.  At the back of the book I've logged my weight and vital stats, then each day I will record the calories I've eaten and the exercise I've done.

My favourite 'food rule' is the 'Cake at Weekends' bit... I wanted something positive! 
It will be my gratitude journal too; each evening I will list five things that day I am grateful for.  Yesterday I noted gratitude for having such a lovely stepson - he delighted me by producing a diet coke for me.  He put it in a pretty glass and took the time to put ice in.  Unprompted.  That boy has been brought up well.

Enjoy your bank holiday Monday everyone.  I haven't forgotten about showing off my kitchen... I'm just waiting until it's tidy enough for some nice photos with my big girl's camera.

Big fat kisses,



* Fascinating and mildly horrifying programme on CH4 which documents people who live atop a huge pile of general rubbish that they've hauled into their homes over the years.  One woman actually had rats nesting in her 'stuff'.  Eeek.