Monday 31 January 2011

Mum, Mick & Marguerite

Up until about five years ago I was absolutely awful at cooking.  I'm not saying I'm rivalling Nigella or anyone now but I tell you, pre-2006 I was a right cookery dunce.

Even school Home Economics lessons were bad.  I really wanted to be good at cooking but no matter what I did it always seemed to go wrong.  I remember the day I came home with a sausagemeat plait that I'd made in Miss Worth's lesson.  Mum had cleared away all family dinner cooking plans because that Tuesday night I - yes I, thirteen year old I - was feeding the family.  Mum was going to provide some mashed potato and vegetables but the undisputed star of the meal was going to be my majestic sausagemeat plait.

At three o'clock that afternoon I left my Geography lesson (what a waste of a subject that was on me - I have trouble pinpointing Cambridge on the weather map) and headed over to Block 5 to collect my culinary masterpiece.  I walked into the classroom which was filled with the aroma of baked pastry and warm sausage (bottle that, Gucci - there's a scent!) and found my sausagemeat plait sitting on a cooling rack with my name label next to it.  Dang, it looked good!  I was so proud.  I carefully lifted it into my red Family Circle biscuit tin and set off on my journey home. 

I kept the tin level all the way home.  I didn't even stop at Moore's newsagents for my daily packet of Space Raiders because I had an important cargo that needed to be shown to my Mum.  As I approached the house Mum opened the door for me and I carried my tin through to the kitchen.  I had such a grin on my face as I removed the lid for the big reveal ..... and then that grin quickly fell off my face as I looked inside the tin.  My lovely sausagemeat plait seemed to have shape shifted during the walk home.  Instead of gazing upon the delicious crisp, golden, carefully-braided loveliness that I'd lifted into the tin less than an hour before, I was looking (in horror) at a pale and oily plap of stuff that seemed to be sweating grease.  Think Mick Hucknall in pastry-and-meat form.  My sausagemeat plait had collapsed into a right old sorry heap. 

Mum got the fish slice and lifted the item out of the tin and onto a rack.  She dabbed at it with some kitchen roll in an attempt to remove some of the drippy fat and then she gently patted it back into some kind of shape.  I was thoroughly crestfallen (that's the first time I've ever used that word) and very disappointed.  The 'plait' sat on the cooling rack until about a quarter to six when Mum transferred it to a baking tray and put it in the oven to warm through.  On the worktop, underneath the empty cooling rack, sat a puddle of grease.  I have NO idea why my handiwork was so oily.  Maybe it was the sausagemeat or perhaps I got the recipe measurements wrong?  I don't know.

At six o'clock we sat down to dinner and Mum dished up slices of my plait onto plates.  Bless her, I knew she was trying not to laugh but I could tell that she desperately wanted to.  Her and Dad ate the sausagemeat plait (it's a joke to call it that) and Dad honestly seemed to enjoy it.  Sally wouldn't eat hers and I also refused to eat mine.  Thank goodness for Mum's mash and vegetables or we'd have been hungry.

So yeah, me, Home Economics and cooking in general just didn't go together.  I would help Mum in the kitchen, just as I always had - mixing cake mixture, making jam tarts, Angel Delight and Rice Krispie cakes, cutting out pastry leaves for pies and, of course, licking cake spoons and bowls - but whenever I tried anything more complex than that I would just fail miserably.

My Mum was an amazing cook.  Her cakes were sublime and she made the most wondrous apple pie.  Her roast dinners were superb and her bread pudding was legendary.  Mum would read cookery books like novels - she had a cupboard chock-full of recipe books of every age, type and description.  She absolutely loved the things.

My Mum died in 2006.  She had a heart attack on Mothering Sunday.  

I know.  

I was just starting to get into cooking.  It was back when Ready Steady Cook was good and Jamie Oliver was King Of The TV Chefs (he still is in my mind) and I was inspired by it all.  I'd planned to cook Mum a Mother's Day lunch.  We were going to have chicken chasseur followed by homemade pavlova.  Mum didn't feel right on Sunday morning and I joked that she was just trying to get out of eating my cooking!  I helped her upstairs so she could have a rest and I went back downstairs and set about cleaning beads and getting the raspberries out of the freezer to defrost ready for the pavolva.

Then all of a sudden, within the space of about forty five minutes, our lives changed forever.

We never did have that lunch.  I can remember tipping the chicken and raspberries into the bin the next day. 

One of the first things I said after Mum died (to a lovely paramedic who was wonderful and who made me a very sugary cup of tea) was 'I'm never going to eat one of my Mum's roast dinners again.'  A very odd thing to think of at such a time but it kind of tells you what an ace cook she was.

On the Monday I vowed that I was going to learn to cook like Mum.  I had to because we'd all become so used to her delicious meals and puddings that there was just no going back.  I went through Mum's recipe book cupboard and I fished out the book that I knew was her ultimate cookery Bible - Marguerite Patten's Every Day Cook Book.  That very book is sat next to me right now. 

Marguerite Patten's 'Every Day Cook Book'

Marguerite Patten's 'Every Day Cook Book'
Mum's 1970 copy of Margeurite Patten's 'Every Day Cook Book'

It's the 1970 edition and is in a bit of a tatty state.  It has lost its dust jacket and some of its pages are loose.  The index is torn and in need of mending and the book feels floury (yes, actual flour - some probably about forty years old) and it has food splats all over it.  The front cover seems to have had a fight with some chocolate cake mixture and page 144 - the chicken and bacon pie page - has actual bits of pie stuck to it.  But despite its condition I love this book.  It was Mum's go-to recipe book and having read it and used it umpteen times myself I can see why she loved it so much.  I refer to this book at least once a week.  It contains everything you need to know about cooking.  

It also contains some amazing retro photographs of retro food.  I just love how there's so much orange (the colour, not the fruit) and brown - you just don't get food photographs like these now!

Images from Marguerite Patten's 'Every Day Cook Book'

But retro pictures aside, this book is amazing and  Marguerite Patten is amazing.  She has taught me how to cook and, more importantly, she has taught me how to cook like my Mum used to.  That chicken and bacon pie tastes exactly as it did when Mum made it.  Making the cakes, scones and flapjacks from the book reminds me of Mum because they taste just like hers did.  Isn't it marvellous how one bite of cake can bring back so many happy memories?

Obviously Mum isn't here to see how far I've come with my cooking.  She's not here to watch me in the kitchen using her recipe books, scales, mixing bowls and pastry cutters and she's not here to taste my cooked goods.  But when I'm in the kitchen twiddling about with cakes and pastry I feel closer to Mum.  I might have been a rubbish cook when I was younger but I've really improved and I'm learning all the time.  I can still hear Mum's voice and her words of cookery wisdom - "Roll it like that", "Cut it like this" and "Don't stir it - fold it in gently" - like some kind of Obi-Wan Kenobi in my mind.

Yes, cooking definitely makes me feel closer to Mum and that's a brilliant thing but I'll tell you what, there is NO way on Earth I am attempting another sausagemeat plait ever again!

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Hungarian Hot Wax

Chilli Seeds
No, I'm not blogging about some new-fangled hair removal fad although I dread to think what a 'Hungarian Hot Wax' would involve.

The Hungarian Hot Wax is in fact a type of chilli pepper and I've just planted some.  Yes, Operation Garden has officially started.  I've even made a makeshift plant label out of a milk carton (see, I do recycle) but I will get some proper labels at the weekend which apparently I have to write on with a pencil, not a pen.

I'm starting these chilli seeds off indoors and I'll put them outside when they've done something.  Or when there's no frost.  (Oh heck, there's a lot to learn with this gardening malarkey!)  I'm going by the instructions on the seed packet which I got from Sarah Raven's Kitchen & Garden.

Grow little chilli seeds, grow!

Monday 24 January 2011

A little follow up post

It sounds a touch dramatic but I'm pretty overwhelmed by all the comments you left with regard to my last post.  As I said then, I have no idea why I woke up today and decided to tell you what I told you but I'm really pleased that I did.

Some of you raised some interesting points in your comments so I will address some of those now :

Yes, as some of you noted I do tend to go quiet from time to time and yep, that is normally because I'm feeling low.  Of course, it might also just be that I have nothing to say or I'm mega busy but yeah, if I go quiet for more than a week it's normally down to a bout of Crazy Brain.

Silly Moo, I don't want to sound like an agony aunt but please, do not be ashamed because there's nothing to be ashamed of.  I was saying to Chris earlier that it's taken me many years to accept it but this depression thing is just part of who I am.  And yes, David Mitchell is one half of Mitchell & Webb.  There's just something about him ....

Tina, as you can probably see I'm not all doom and gloom either!  Even during a pretty low period I still laugh and joke.  You've just got to, haven't you?!

Daniela, Shirl and any new readers - thank you for following!  I promise you that my blog posts are not always so heavy.

Caroline.  Robert Webb in the leotard?  Only in the leotard?  I once saw him in a play in London in just his swimming trunks ....

Mary, yes, a few doctors have said to me that the depression and OCD are very common in creative people.  Must be something to do with the way the arty-farty brain is wired.

Karina, Marcy and Rebekka - I have no idea about the courses of tablets.  I've seen about seven different doctors over the years (due to the NHS and moving about) and they all seem to approach depression medication in their own way.  I will certainly ask my current doctor about maybe staying on them.  It would make SO much more sense.  Thank you for your input.

Lovely Kerryn - I felt I had to say something as it was kind of becoming an elephant in the room.  I know that a lot of you didn't know that said elephant was camped in the corner but I did.  When I'm low I can't work properly.  It affects my output, my blogging and my communication with people.  I kind of ran out of excuses for long bead breaks and I felt it would be a whole lot easier if I just told you all. 

If anyone is baffled by Jonah The Dog's Anna-and-the-hoover-wedding comment I should explain that Jonah (not her real name) is one of my best friends from school and college.  She has known me for years and she is referring to a fake but very hilarious wedding that took place during an art lesson when we were about fifteen.  A hoover was involved in the ceremony.  Of course.  (You probably had to be there.)

My 'Little follow up post' is going on a bit so I will draw it to a close.  Before I do so I can't let the subject of olives go without a mention.  Mary, yes I do like olive oil, it's just the texture and look of actual factual olives that I don't like.  It sounds bizarre but I don't trust their opacity.  They seem so solidly-coloured and they always look waxy.  I just don't want to be eating them and it looks like I'm not the only one.

Once again (this is sounding like Kate Winslet's Oscar acceptance speech) thank you to everyone who has commented, emailed and tweeted.  You will never know how much I appreciate it.

In future I may refer to the depression every now and again but I certainly won't be making a habit of going on about it.  I'm just pleased you know and it sounds arse-about-face but my telling you about it has made me feel really good.

Have a lovely evening!

So you think you know me?

Well, this is odd.

If you'd have told me that today I would wake up and feel compelled to write what I'm about to write then I would have laughed in your face and asked if you knew me at all.

But that's it.  That's the thing.  My blog is in its fourth year now and the very fact that you think you know me (or think you have a good idea about me) is why I feel I should write this post.

I blog about my beads, random life things, my obsession with all things red, white and polka dotty, my love for chocolate and my gardening plans (still no further forward there) and you all leave lovely comments, send me wonderful emails and some of you brilliant people even post me birthday cards and occasional gifts because you feel as if you know me.

But I sometimes feel guilty because most of you don't know me.  Not properly.  Because I have kept something about me quiet.  Well, not quiet but I've kept it to myself.

I'm not intentionally bigging up the reveal.  I'm not a nudist or a trainspotter and I don't collect unicorns.  But there is a thing about me that not many people know.  Some of my family and friends don't even know.

Here goes.

I suffer from depression.

There.  I said it.

Hang on, don't go away.  Don't sigh to yourself 'Oh, bloody hell, not depression.  I'm off to check Facebook and read less ... well ... less depressing stuff.'  Don't do that.  Please stay here and let me explain further.

I've always tried to keep my blog jolly.  I like it to be a place that you come to, look at the pretty beads, read the random things I've written, leave a comment (I like comments) and then go about the rest of your day.  I hate reading blogs that are more whinge, moan, misery, blah, anger, rant and bad mood than anything else.  They're boring.

But as I said at the start, for some odd reason today I feel compelled to tell you about me and my crazy brain.

I've got standard clinical depression.  I'm not bipolar.  I'm not so down that I've ever thought about, let alone tried, doing anything silly.  I'm not on a cocktail of mind-numbing drugs.  I don't sit here crying all the time.  But my depression does affect me.  And my work.

I was diagnosed and started on the antidepressants (I hate writing that word) about six years ago but I strongly believe that it all goes back further than that.  Possibly to when I was in my early teens.  Mum used to say I was 'moody' and 'emotional' and yes, yes I really am.  Isn't everyone?  But my moodiness and emotionalness have always been a little bit extreme.

I also have (and I expect this will come as zero surprise) a degree of OCD.  Chris finds the fact that I will get upset to the point of tears about the fact that the house needs hoovering and it needs hoovering RIGHT NOW a little baffling and probably slightly disturbing.  Now, I'm not saying that I wash my hands seventeen times an hour and have to have every surface sparkling clean and that I will Mr Muscle the worktop after every cup of tea I make (heck, you should see my shed - it's proper untidy) but I can suddenly flip out about the washing up or the compost caddy.  I think Chris is slowly getting used to it, though.  Bless him.

So what's wrong with my brain?  Something to do with serotonin levels.  I don't know exactly - it's scientific and if I'm honest when I see my doctor and she starts getting all technical I kind of zone out and start studying the pen collection on her desk.  But I get the gist that my serotonin levels are a bit out of whack.  I take a tablet each day to try and sort that out (Fluoxetine, in case you're interested) and most of the time it works.  I'm three and a half months into my current six month course of tablets and then I will go back and see the doctor, she'll ask me how I'm doing, I'll say 'Great, thanks!' she'll tell me to slowly come off the tablets, offer me some counselling, suggest some CBT (and I refuse both and please don't tell me how good it is because I know it's just not my thing) and recommend a self-help book with a patronising title like 'Your Brain : It's Not Broken, It's Just Different' and I'll skip off happy thinking 'Yay!  I'm normal again!'  Then about six months down the line I'll get the warning signs that my brain's off on one again and I'll become the moodiest, snappiest, most horrible version of myself.  I'll find it harder to get out of bed in the mornings, even harder to get motivated, become totally withdrawn and before long I'll be sat there crying and/or staring into space thinking about nothing. I'll do that for a couple of weeks and then I'll admit that maybe I need the tablets again and it's off to the doctor where she'll make me answer a set of standard nosey have-you-thought-bad-thoughts-and-if-so-how-often questions, offer me some counselling, suggest some CBT and recommend a self-help book with a patronising title like 'Depression : It's Alright, You're Not Going Mad' and I'll mope off with a prescription for The Tablets.  I'll start taking them, feel instantly happier because I'm doing something about The Depression, suffer ridiculous headaches that even make my teeth and hair ache for two weeks and then my serotonin levels will even out and I'll feel normal once more.  And then the whole cycle will begin again.

You see, I strongly believe that all health things and a lot of general life things go in circles.  I know it's a bit hippyish and new age but that's just what I think.

Right now I'm in the middle of my course of tablets and things are good.  I'm working long hours with no troubles, I'm blogging regularly again, I'm interacting with people (albeit in a virtual Twitter sense) and right now there are two dirty mugs on the table and I'm not freaking out about it.

So that's that.  I think now you know pretty much all there is to know about me.  While we're at it (and I'm aware that this could lose me a couple of followers if the depression stuff didn't already) here are a few more Laura facts for you :

  • I hate olives.
  • I am an atheist.  I don't believe in any kind of God.
  • I don't read a newspaper.
  • I refuse to rinse out Marmite jars before recycling them.
  • I fancy David Mitchell.
  • I'm irritated by youths who play music OUT LOUD on their mobiles.
  • I swear.  A lot.  But hardly ever on my blog or in tweets.

Yep.  I think I can now go about my everyday business without that nagging feeling that I'm keeping something from you.

I do apologise for starting the week off with a 'misery blog' but I tell you, I do feel a lot better now I've got that off my chest.  I hope that any friends or family who are reading this now have a better understanding of me too.

If you've read this far, thank you.  It's much appreciated.  Normal blog service will be resumed shortly.

There, you can trot off to Facebook now.

Happy Monday!

Sunday 23 January 2011

Bracelet & Instagram

Lampwork Bead Bracelet
While I was making beads yesterday I started to design a bracelet in my head.  I hardly ever make jewellery and it's even rarer that I make jewellery for myself but I just knew that I had to make this bracelet happen.

I was making lots of black and white polka dot beads yesterday (finally on the home stretch with my mountain of bead orders so if you're waiting for yours they will be posted within the next week) and I remembered that I had a plain red heart sitting in the kitchen window sill.  It was supposed to have a white heart on it but the postman rang the doorbell just as I was about to apply the white heart so I put the plain bead into the kiln and then forgot all about going back and finishing it.  (I'm sure you didn't want to know all that about the heart bead but now you do and I hope that this extra bead information has been of benefit to you!)

Anyway, my brain got to thinking that the black and white polka dot beads would look cute with the red heart so I made a few extra and then I also whipped up some red spacers at the end of yesterday's glass melting session.

I've strung the beads together with some sterling silver and the resulting bracelet is just how I envisioned it - very simple, quite bold, a little bit retro, a tad chunky but oh so me.  I like it!

Here is the bracelet again.  It's exactly the same photo as the one above but I've put a filter on it using my new favourite iPhone app - Instagram.

Instagram image of my bracelet
The same photo but with the Instagram 'Earlybird' filter applied.

Oh, how I am loving Instagram.  It's an amazing little piece of software that is making me want to photograph everything.  The app is free and you can twiddle about with existing images on your iPhone camera roll or you can take pictures within the app.  You can then apply various different filters to your photographs to give them a quirky, retro kind of feel.  But it doesn't stop there.  You can link your Instagram feed to your Twitter, Facebook or Flickr accounts so that all your friends and followers can see your groovy images. 

If you've already got Instagram or if you're off now to download the app (and you should because it's excellent fun) and you fancy following me on Instagram my username is, surprisingly, 'beadsbylaura'.

Right-o, it's time for some bead cleanery.  Have a great Sunday evening!

Saturday 22 January 2011

Beads that match the weather

Lampwork Glass Beads
These beads seem pretty appropriate for the current January weather.  We haven't had any storms here but the sky is moody.  It's blue with touches of grey and quite frankly it looks like it's in a bit of a strop.

If you fancy making some jewellery with beads that match the weather you can find these 'Stormcloud' ones over in the Beads To Order department of my website.

Have a good Saturday!

Thursday 20 January 2011

Edwardian Farm

Alex, Ruth  & Peter  from BBC2's 'Edwardian Farm'
Last night saw the end of Edwardian Farm on BBC2.  I was sad to see the series end and I won't lie - I was a little bit misty-eyed when they went off in the boat at the end.  The programme was filmed over a year at Morwellham Quay in Devon and showed the trials and tribulations of life on a farm at the turn of the 20th Century.

I loved every minute of Edwardian Farm.  It was beautifully shot and Ruth Goodman, Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn did a wonderful job, just as they did in the equally brilliant Victorian Farm.  I have learned so much from both series.  Ruth Goodman's historical knowledge is vast and she somehow manages to make the most grim tasks seem appealing, be it tarting up an outdoor loo, making a brown paper duvet, sewing long johns, charring a dead pig or spraying crops with antique machinery.  She has a wonderful way of making it all utterly captivating.

I first watched Ruth, Alex and Peter in Tales From The Green Valley a few years back.  That series - also marvellous - saw them running a 1600s farm.  Then between Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm there was Victorian Pharmacy which was absolutely fascinating.

Peter Ginn
Peter and his goose.  And his sideburns.  His lovely sideburns.

I will admit that seeing Peter Ginn in his period costume has been a weekly highlight for the past twelve weeks and I am going to miss that but I do have the DVDs of Victorian Farm and Tales From The Green Valley if I find myself in need of a Peter historical fix. There isn't long to wait for the the DVD of Edwardian Farm which is out in February.

Apart from enjoying learning about all the farming, cooking, clothes, daily routines and old machinery I was also gripped by all the old crafts such as basket weaving, lacemaking, thatching, hedging and blacksmithing.  In last night's episode they had an expert called Simon Summers making a beautiful copper and iron weather vane.  It was just amazing to watch and the finished item was gobsmackingly beautiful. Such skill.

Mrs Beeton's Book Of Household Management

Inspired by Ruth Goodman I bought myself a copy, albeit a modern one, of Mrs Beeton's Book Of Household Management.  I have been dipping in and out of it and it's wonderful - a real glimpse into the past.  I'm quite surprised at how relevant a lot of the book's advice and information still is today.  Some of the recipes look good although I have had to research some of the ingredients.  Mrs Beeton had a bit of a thing for isinglass and that was something I'd never heard of before.  If you've got a Kindle or a Kindle app you might like to know that you can download the book for free from Amazon.

I'll stop waffling about historical things now.  I just wanted to write a little post about my love for the wonder that was Edwardian Farm.  If you enjoyed it too you'll understand.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

I'm shrinking!

Special K
My dieting is going well.  I've been watching my weight and counting the calories for just over a fortnight now and I've lost five pounds!  I can actually see the weight disappearing and my thunder thighs are definitely not as thunderous as they were two weeks ago.

How have I been shrinking myself?  Just by eating less.  I'm not doing any particular diet plan.  For breakfast I eat a bowl of Special K with a handful of dried blueberries, cranberries and raisins sprinkled on top and then I have the same for lunch.  If I don't fancy the cereal lunch (because let's face it, it can get kind of boring) I'll have some scrambled eggs.  I don't have any morning snacks betwixt breakfast and lunch but if I get peckish in the afternoon I have some nuts or fruit from my Graze box.  For dinner I have a normal meal.  The worst thing about the diet is cutting out my puddings!  As you know, I'm a proper pudding monster and I'm finding myself craving desserts.  Last night I would have done anything for a bowl of warm apple crumble and custard.  Instead I had a couple of Thorntons chocolates so it wasn't all bad.

Bridget Jones
Bridget at the gym
In the evenings I do half an hour of exercise bike or hooping.  In fact, tonight I did forty five minutes of biking so I was pretty chuffed with myself even if I did look like a big red-faced sweaty heap at the end of it.  I felt like Bridget Jones in that scene at the gym except I didn't fall over as I climbed off the bike but my legs were pretty worn out!

I must say, I don't think I'd be making the progress I am if it wasn't for the MyFitnessPal app on my iPhone.  It's really motivational.  You enter your starting weight and tell it how much you want to lose and then it calculates how many calories you should be eating a day.  You fill in the food diary throughout the day and it tallies up your calories.  It has a vast range of foods in its database or you can enter your own meals and snacks.  You also tell it what exercise you've done - there's even a housework option so if you do an hour of hoovering, dusting and polishing you can log that too.  Then at the end of each day it will give you a little weight forecast based on all the information you've entered.  Nifty.

So yes, all is going well on the diet front but can I ask you to do me a favour?  Next time you have a pudding please have a spoonful for me!

Tuesday 18 January 2011


Lampwork Glass Heart Beads
These glossy red heart beads would be fab for Valentine's Day jewellery.

They're £8.00 each and are available here

Monday 17 January 2011

The Garden : Part One

Our Garden : January 2011
We moved into our house in June last year and we have done next to nothing to the garden.  It's a nice spacious garden with a small paved area, two huge trees and some grass.  When we moved in, the centre of the grassy area (I won't call it a lawn) was home to a circle of mud with a couple of flowers in it.  The guinea pigs ate the flowers and we levelled out the round 'flowerbed' and grew some grass seed to cover it.  You can see where the bed was in the photo above - the slightly brighter green area.

As I mentioned last year I bought an Alan Titchmarsh book and have been reading lots about gardening.  So far all I have planted is some tulip, daffodil, snowdrop and crocus bulbs and they are just peeping through the soil in those black plant pots in the picture above.

Seeing as I spend a heck of a lot of time in the garden making beads in my shed I figure it'll be nice to have a lovely garden to gaze upon whilst doing so.  The previous occupiers appear to have had some kind of addiction to mail order catalogues and the postman delivers at least one new shopping brochure in their name on a weekly basis.  They range from holiday and gift brochures to swanky knitwear, jewellery and cosmetic booklets.  Anyway, the publication that arrived last week was the Spring 2011 Sarah Raven's Kitchen & Garden catalogue.  It looked pretty so instead of filing it in the bin I saved it and on Thursday night I opened it and had a flick through.  I loved it and on Friday night I placed an online order for some seeds.  On Saturday morning I was looking on the web for instructions on how to make a raised flowerbed and yesterday we went to Homebase and I bought some more seeds.  I am now raring to start our garden revamp.

So that up there is our garden.  Think of the image as the 'before' photo.  Like when overweight women pose for before photos in a magazine and they've clearly been told to wear their scrottiest underwear, not to put on any make-up, not to brush their hair, not to breathe in and to try and look as miserable as possible.  Yes, this before photo of the garden is the equivalent of that - a boring, bare garden on a rainy Monday in January.  It couldn't look any worse.

Come with me and let me give you a little guided tour of our garden .....

To the left and back, just out of shot is a little area where we keep the wheelie bins.  To the right, out of shot, is the guinea pig hutch.  You can see a white rubble sack behind the bird feeder.  No, you're mistaken.  I know it looks beautiful but that's not a modern minimalist Bag Garden.  It is in fact a white rubble sack filled with soil that was removed when the shed base was put down.  Weeds have taken to it and they now live in it ... but not for much longer.  Behind the weed-garden-in-a-bag is the compost bin.  Then we have my shed where I spend a ridiculous amount of time.  On the right hand side is the Little Green Shed which houses my propane, guinea pig hay and bird food.  As we move down the very rickety and annoyingly messy fence (it's the neighbour's fence) you can probably make out some green mesh.  This stops the guineas getting under the aforementioned rubbish fence.  Then you're back on the patio and those black pots contain the flower bulbs that I spoke of earlier.

That's it.  Very basic but I reckon it's got potential.  We haven't got grand plans as I am a novice gardener and will be learning as I go.  Chris has said he'll help me build the flowerbed and he will mow the grass.  Apart from that I don't think he's that fussed about planting, weeding, pruning and flowers in general.  So I think the garden is going to be my little project.  I'd like to get rid of the gravel border and put a raised flowerbed along the left.  It's got to be raised to stop the guinea pigs eating all the plants.  The bed will start at the edge of the patio and will run all the way up to where our fence ends.  Half of this bed will contain vegetables and the other half will contain flowers.  My flower seed purchases include sweet peas (to grow up the fence), poppies (one of my Mum's favourites), trailing lobelia and some honesty.  I know the honesty won't flower this year but I really like the little seed pods it produces.  I will be getting some more flowers - I would just love a big mish-mash of colour and lots of different types.  Then so far for the vegetable department I've got courgettes, spring onions and lettuce.

I'm also planning some kind of shelving and I'm going to fill it with little pots of herbs along with some chillies and tomatoes.  This will stand on that patch of gravel to the left of the paved area. Some pot gardening is also on the agenda and I'm going to give broad beans a go.  I've got some marigolds, limnanthes, nicotiana and alyssum to put amongst the foody plants to attract the helpful insects and repel the not-so-helpful ones.

Obviously I will get some more seeds and bedding plants as time goes by.  I'd also like to grow strawberries and possibly a blueberry bush but the first thing we need to do (I'm involving Chris here) is stain the fence and build the flowerbed. 

So that's our garden.  I will keep you posted as progress is made and hopefully you'll see the garden change from the metaphorical miserable grey-pants-wearing one into a happier, brighter and tarted-up-with-make-up-on version of its former self.

Thursday 13 January 2011

'Wisteria' To Order

Lampwork Glass Beads
I've just added a couple more sets of beads to the Beads To Order section of my site including these pretty 'Wisteria' ones.  This set contains four pairs so they're great for the earring-makers amongst you.

The set is priced at £36.00 including worldwide delivery.

All ordering details can be found here.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Beads & Calories

So far January has been a complete whirlwind.  I can't believe we're almost halfway through the month.

I've been in the shed making bead orders like an absolute mad thing.  This afternoon I cycled to the post office with over 500 beads to send off to their new homes.  That's a lot of bead cleaning, stringing and packing!

In other news I am on a diet.  I would like to drop a dress size and I'm doing this by cutting right back on chocolate, biscuits, cakes and other food naughtiness.  I've got the MyFitnessPal app on my iPhone which is absolutely brill - very easy to use and the food diary part of it really makes me keep an eye on how much I'm eating.  Exercise-wise I am using Chris's exercise bike and I've also bought myself a weighted hula hoop.  When I used to use the Wii Fit I found the hula hoop games to be the most effective.  And fun.  Several people on Twitter suggested jogging or running but the thought of that bores me to tears.  Plus it would mean buying trainers - proper sporty trainers - and I haven't done that since I was about seventeen years old.  So yes, I have a hula hoop which was tricky to start with but I can keep it twirling for several minutes at a time now without it falling down.  It's flipping hard work and I have bruises on my waist but I was expecting this.  The Hooping book I purchased warned me about it but I tell you, hooping is a lot of fun.  I got my hoop from Handmade Hoops and it is excellent - very well made and you can choose your own colours.  Mine is purple, black and metallic red.  Groovy!

The diet is hard and the first week was like some kind of torture, especially with all the leftover Christmas food bits knocking about.  Last week I actually found myself sniffing the inside of an After Eights box trying to 'eat' the scent of the minty fondanty chocolate!

I've bought a copy of Cook Yourself Thin which has some really great recipes in it.  I made my first ever soup on Saturday from it - tomato, chilli and basil - and it was delicious!  I think I'll make a couple of batches of that this weekend and put some in the freezer.

So yeah, all in all so far 2011 has brought many many beads and much calorie-counting.

I have no picture to illustrate this post.  I did have all good intentions of getting Chris to photograph my new hats (I've knitted three since the last one I showed you) last weekend but I was making beads for most of it and by the time I remembered it was dark which isn't conducive to good photography.  I'll try and do the hat thing this weekend.

I promise I won't leave blogging so long next time ......

Tuesday 4 January 2011

January isn't January without a sale .....

..... so from today until Sunday 9th January I am offering a 20% discount on all Beads To Order.

Please click here for all the details.

Apologies for my brevity.  I will be back soon with a proper post but for now, de-Christmassing the house and then a ridiculous amount of cleaning calls .....

See you later!