Tuesday, 26 June 2012

docrafts Blog: A Stash Stretching Technique

Bob has been having some slightly longer daytime naps recently - he still doesn't go to sleep until 9 or 10 at night, but can't have everything I suppose!  Anyway, this has given me the chance to get a couple of whole projects done, so I hope the trend continues.  A couple of these have been published over at the docrafts blog today: docrafts Blog: A Stash Stretching Technique.  In the post, I describe a thrify way to get the best out of decoupage card kits, using one of the lovely Michael Powell kits as an example.  I hope you'll take a look - I'd love to know what you think.

Friday, 22 June 2012

New blog!

While it's always best to feel you've made your own choices, sometimes going with the flow makes life so much easier.  When I set up a new blog last year, I picked Wordpress so that I could have more control over what it looked like.  Although I knew I could do more if I hosted the blog myself, I didn't realise how limited it would be if I didn't.  Simple things like following other people's blogs, and attracting followers to mine, are such a pain that it really is a bit disheartening.  So, I thought I'd have a go at running Wordpress and Blogger blogs alongside one another for a while, and choose which one I like the best.  A quick Google revealed that Wordpress will export a blog, Blogger will import one, and the nice people at www.webupd8.org will convert a Wordpress export to Blogger format.  So, here's my new, new blog.  Some of the formatting has suffered in the transfer, so please bear with me while I fix all that by hand.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Manda's kitchen experiments - bread

I've always loved to cook, and I don't like to let a little thing like not having, or not being allowed, all the ingredients get in my way :-)  As a result, I often experiment...

I've made my own bread (in a bread machine) since reading about the horrible things done to mass-produced bread in Felicity Lawrence's excellent book "Not on the label".  Over the years I've come up with a recipe I'm happy with for a wholewheat loaf but, like most bread, it does contain salt.  Babies shouldn't eat salt, so part of my prep for Bob's weaning was to modify my recipe to exclude it.  Salt does two things in bread, it adds some flavour, and it inhibits the fermentation of the yeast, so giving a good texture.  Just cutting it out without other alterations to the recipe results in a bland loaf with a sunken top and big air pockets.  Regarding flavour, I add spices to my bread anyway.  Ginger is my favourite, but I also like cinnamon, mixed spice, celery seeds and aniseed.  As for texture, most recipes include sugar to feed the yeast, so cutting down on that is an obvious way to counteract any loss of salt.  I also found the texture was improved by mixing some strong white bread flour into the mix, and by cutting down on the yeast.  I tried using the quick programme too, but this made bread that was a bit too dense, and made stodgy sandwiches.  So, here is my recipe for salt free bread.  I cook it as a standard large loaf (4 hours on my Panasonic) and pick a light crust. I hope it's of use to you!

My salt-free bread - not perfectly shaped, but very tasty 
  • 1 mean teaspoon quick yeast (I use Doves', as I find the tiny sachets don't rise as well)
  • 1 mean teaspoon unrefined sugar
  • 1 generous teaspoon (or more) of dried ginger, aniseed, mixed spice, cinnamon, or your favourite herb/spice
  • 550g bread flour split roughly 50:50 between strong white bread flour and either stoneground wholewheat or strong multigrain bread flour
  • 380ml water
  • 1.5 tablespoons olive oil or rapeseed oil

I also like to throw in a handful of raisins sometimes, but don't do this if, like me, you let your doggy have the corner of your breakfast toast crust.  Raisins/grapes are surprisingly toxic to our canine chums.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Popularity - Blog prompt catch up, Day 28

Day 28's prompt was to write about our blog's most popular post.

This was a really useful exercise for me, as I hadn't previously taken the time to explore all the statistics that wordpress collects.  I was really impressed - you could spend hours looking at where your readers come from, and where they visit.  If my blog was part of a business, it'd be a great tool for evaluating on-line advertising.  As it is, it provided me with an hour of happy geeking instead :-)

In terms of number of views, 16th May was my blog's busiest day with 81 views, 32 of which were for that day's post "A day in life of Baby Bob aged 8 months".  I posted about this update in a few groups on Facebook, so I think this peak says more about that than the post itself.  I'm always really excited to get comments on blog posts, as it means people were interested enough to linger and interact, so this is how I measure the popularity of my posts.  The most commented award goes to 26th May's post "Happy day, happy card".  As that post featured the first craft project I'd managed to complete for weeks, that makes me pretty happy :-)

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Busy little blogger

Phew! What a busy week.  Last weekend we went down to the south coast to celebrate one friend's birthday and another's new house.  We had hoped it would be Bob's first trip to the seaside, but the weather was too horrible to contemplate the beach, so that fun is yet to come.

Veggies, herbs, and flowers all mixed in together 
My parents came to visit for the first half of the week, and Dad did some amazing work in the garden.  I love gardening, but I've struggled to find the time for it over the past few summers and this, combined with my general reluctance to cut things back, meant that it was a bit of a jungle, overrun by self sown hardy geraniums, and megalomaniac ivy, lamium and jasmine.  We used to have poplar trees at the back of the garden, but had them removed last year as a precaution after a neighbour had problems with theirs.  Our once shady garden is now very sunny, so I can grow veggies for the first time.  Dad made all the ruthless decisions I've been avoiding and has transformed the beds to a lovely flower bed on one side and a combined veg, herb and rose bed on the other.  The whole thing's looking great, and I'm looking forward to serving up some of my own runner beans, courgettes and potatoes later in the year.  I have very fond memories of growing veg with Daddy when I was little (and then cooking it with Mummy!), and this is something I'm looking forward to doing with Bob.

Runner beans and sweet peas replace gnarly old winter not-flowering-any-more jasmine 
One of the only bits of my original planting scheme to survive - variegated berberis and golden philadelphus

While Dad toiled in the garden, Mum played with Bob, so I was able to make some real progress sorting out my craft room.  The table part of our changing table (which I've never used) has been pressed into service and has allowed me to get a few more things out of storage boxes.  I also managed to get a bit ahead with housework, so I managed to spoil myself with a couple of crafting sessions later in the week.  Look out for a blog post about the technique I was using very soon. At the weekend we had another birthday barby, this time with family.  The birthday boy was 3, and I'd hoped to make a penny slider card, but spent too long trying to find the Pixar Cars embellishments I wanted to use.  I made a Woodland Folk card from a kit instead, but then forgot to photograph it - doh!  I should be telling you about the Fathers' Day cards I made too, but for some reason I had it in my head that it wasn't for another week, so they're not done yet.  The three special dads in my life will just have to have their very own day this week - Queenie gets two birthdays, so why not?!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Making the most of things - Time

As you may have seen me whinge before, motherhood has drastically curtailed my crafting exploits.  There are opportunities for creativity though, I've just had to get a little flexible, and a lot patient...  Step one has been to rediscover cross stitching.  I've always taken kits on long journeys, as it's not too hard to do with all the car jiggling, takes up very little space, and doesn't need lots of setting up/packing away.  We don't do many long journeys at the moment, but we do take Molly to the woods every day for walkies, and that's almost 10 minutes each way.  Sometimes Bob really doesn't want to be in the car seat, so I have to sing Old Macdonald and play with rattles, but then again, sometimes he falls asleep on the way and I have to sit in the car park for a while, missing part of the walk.  Anyway, here's what I've managed to achieve by reclaiming almost a month's worth of previously wasted 10 minuteses.  They're from docrafts So&Sews card kits from a few years ago and they aren't *quite* finished - I didn't think it was wise to try to sew on the beads in the car :-)

When I do miss part of the walk because Bob is asleep, I could do something that isn't jiggly car friendly, so my next plan is to stick some decoupage, stamped images and my watercolour pencils in the car too.  This could also be the way I tackle one of my new year resolutions - learning to knit!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Best childhood memory - Blog prompt day 25

The 25th prompt was to share our best childhood memory.

[caption id="attachment_390" align="alignright" width="296"] Nanna, the rose garden, and the apple trees[/caption]

Many of my strongest childhood memories are just snippets really, and most are triggered by smells.  One place that smells keep taking me back to is the house where I was born.  My paternal Grandparents rented the house from friends who owned a farm in Silver End in Essex.  It had the most wonderful garden (almost an acre), with chestnut trees, grape vines, a huge pampas grass and apple trees - a brilliant place for playing hide and seek!  Nanna had a rose garden at one side, which used to fill the air with a gorgeous heady scent, and the smell of roses always transports me there.  Grandad's passion was for cacti, and I found his collection fascinating.  The smell of warm compost, cactus and wooden greenhouse is just as evocative for me as that of the roses.  Grandad's study had a very particular feel too.  I was only allowed in there sometimes, so it seemed quite exotic, but it also seemed outside of time, the only movement being the dust motes that danced in the sunbeams and the heavy ticking of a big clock on the mantlepiece.  I felt the same feeling in our dining room the day we first viewed the house, and it was one of the reasons I wanted to live here.

There are so many little details about that house that I remember fondly - the pebbledashing (I used to pick the pebbles out), the bubble pattern on the kitchen door glass, the feel of conkers underfoot, the squiggly black pattern on the yellow table in the kitchen, the special drawer in the sideboard that contained Christmas cake decorations...  The house came up for sale about 10 years ago, but it's been extended so much that, even if I could have afforded it, it wouldn't have been the house I remember. Although that house is irretrievably gone, it will always be a source of very happy memories for me.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

10 things about me and 5 things I love - Blog Prompt Days 29 and 30

The blog prompt is officially over, but I thought I'd spend the next couple of weeks catching up on the topics I'd missed. I've had a very busy week this week, but days 29 and 30 are nice and short, so I thought I'd catch them up together. Here goes: 10 things about me: I wasn't sure if this should be the 10 most important things, or the 10 most surprising, or some other criteria, so I did 10 random things.

  1. I met my husband almost 26 years ago at our college motorbike club.
  2. I became a mum for the first time in 2011. I'm not sure how I imagined it would be, but it's not like that so far :-)
  3. I love to craft and have a teensy weensy problem resisting buying patterned paper, rubber stamps and embossing folders.
  4. For the past 6 years I've funded my craft addiction and explored my hobby by doing demos and magazine work for do crafts. Seeing my work in print makes me stupidly happy.
  5. When I was 21 I graduated in physics, started working as a trainee engineer for a missile company, and wouldn't have believed points 2, 3 or 4 :-)
  6. My grandmother's sudden death 10 years ago prompted me to downshift so that I could break out of a work-eat-sleep lifestyle, spend less time at airports, and spend more time with my family and friends.
  7. I spent a year volunteering part time in the fabric workshop at the Shuttleworth Collection, where I helped to re-cover their Tiger Moth - stitching the fabric to the wings was my favourite job.
  8. I love mountains and the sea, but live in one of the flattest and most inland counties in England. I'm not sure how this happened.
  9. My favourite colours are yellow and purple. The first time I was asked what colour room I wanted as a little girl, I chose really dark purple. It was *brilliant*.
  10. I'm a keen geocacher. For those of you who are not familiar with the hobby, it involves using a GPS to hide (typically) bits of tupperware in the countryside and to look for the tupperware other people hid before you. It's a lot more fun than it sounds ;-)

Shelacking the SE5a wings

I rubbed all the fabric down at least once - that's a lot of rubbing!

With Tiny Tears in my purple palace
5 things I love:
  1. My family, of course, and creative pursuits. These are both so obvious, I bagsy they can be doubled up so I only use one of my 5 :-)
  2. Spitfires, the flying kind. Well, I love anything with a Merlin engine really, but the Spitfire is so beautiful and elegant, and was so important in winning the Battle of Britain that it will always be extra special to me. When the oil runs out, I hope they save the last bit for one last Spitfire display.
  3. The great outdoors. I've always loved walking in the countryside, but barely did any of it towards the end of when I worked full time - I really didn't feel like me. Now I'm fortunate to be able to walk several miles every day - according to my GPS I managed 1300 miles while pregnant.
  4. Food! I'm always very sad when people say they're not interested in food. We all have to eat, most of us do it 3 times a day, and our bodies have to replace 10-50 trillion cells a day using only what we eat and breathe in. It makes sense to make our food both pleasurable to eat and as good for us (or at least as un-bad) as possible. For me, this manifests itself as an interest in cooking and what's in food that borders on obsession!
  5. Photographs. I say photos rather than photography because the mechanics of taking a good photo only interests me in as much as I have to know it to end up with a good photo. If I could just click a button on the side of my head and save how I see a scene, or if I could have a super-intelligent camera that I could just talk to, I'd be much happier than having to muck around with aperture sizes and exposure times. I feel so lucky to live in an age when we can record so much of our lives for posterity. I've only dabbled in scrapbooking so far, but I'm really looking forward to getting properly stuck in!