Monday, 30 July 2012

Bitter Sweet Peas

When we returned to Leeds at the weekend one of the first things I did was inspect the garden. After such a warm, dry week, I was expecting to find a dried out husk of a garden, but was pleasantly surprised to find things growing and flowering. At last, after weeks and weeks of rain, our little garden benefited from some sunshine. 

At sweet peas have flowered. I've been waiting months for these. I love their bright colours and floppy heads. I was greedy and picked nearly all of them. I reasoned that, since the weather forecast says rain showers all week, I will enjoy these flowers more in the house than in the garden.

From this... this...

...and finally, some blooms!

I couldn't remember what colours I'd planted, so it was a nice surprise to see purple, pink and white flowers blooming.

It was not exactly an abundant crop, so I padded out my posey with lavender and bay. One little bouquet that cost me nothing.

I put them in a blue enamel jug on my bedside table.

I love having flowers in the bedroom, it feels more decadent somehow. Does anyone else keep cookery books on their bedside tables? I love reading recipe books in bed. I keep a pad of post it notes in the bedside table drawer so I can bookmark recipes I like the look of. Is that weird? I'm sure there are worse things to keep in one's bedside table drawers.

Pottering, prettying, nesting, blessing the home - call it what you will, but simple activities like picking some flowers I grew and arranging them in a jug make me inordinately happy. It is things like this that make me feel that I am home again and help banish the holiday blues.

It was hard to come back to Leeds. I have mixed feelings about living here. We moved here after university and, twelve years, one wedding, two houses and two children later, we are still here. The things that attracted us to Leeds (shopping, gigs, clubs, bars...oh yes, A JOB) no longer matter in the same way. Partly it is the fact that we have no family in Yorkshire - all my family live on the South Coast and John's in Durham, in the North East. But also, I do think that I want to raise our children in a less urban, more rural environment. This matters more to me than John, but I know he doesn't want to live here forever either.


We have made such good friends here. We've had too, really - when you have babies and your family live hundreds of miles away, you have to build a support network of people to count on and go to. Friends to celebrate with, hang out with, drink with, moan with. Friends who can babysit. And Bella is very happy and settled in her (fantastic) local school and we would have to think long and hard about moving her. And we love our little house. It is nothing to look at from the outside, just a typical three-bed-semi with a tiny garden, like millions of others in the UK, but inside we have worked so hard to make it ours.

Lots to think about. I am sure this is a dilemma for many people. I have only a handful of friends who live in the same area as their family and their partner's family. We move around now, for love, for our careers, because we want to leave the small town we grew up in and experience new  things. So Leeds is bitter-sweet for me, and despite twelve years and lots of wonderful friendships and happy memories, I still struggle to think of it as "home".

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Weekend Breakfasts - Breakfast Burrito

I've resurrected my weekend breakfast posts, partly to continue the holiday feeling (after all, John doesn't go back to work until tomorrow) and partly because I'm fed up with toast and jam. Again. I intended to publish this post this morning but the pesky internet connection has not been cooperative so I am doing it now. A bit late for breakfast I know, but technically it's still the weekend.

This breakfast was John's idea, and without wanting to stereotype too much, I think this is quite a "male" breakfast. Meat? Check. Eggs? Checks. Potatoes and tortilla? Check. Total absence of fresh vegetables? Check. According to my research, it is New Mexico dish, intended to be portable so that hungry ranchers, truckers, ski bums and snowboarders could grab one and eat it, wrapped in foil, on the go. And it is apparently the chillies that set it apart and make it a true breakfast burrito rather than just a lot of bacon and eggs wrapped in some bread.

You need (for two people):

4 rashers of bacon
4 eggs
1 small potato
1 small chilli
2 flour tortillas
oil/butter for frying
ketchup or avocado optional

  • Grate the potato, making sure you've squeezed all the water out of it.
  • Chop and fry the bacon until it's crispy then set to one side.
  • In the bacon pan, spread the grated potato into an even layer and fry for five minutes of so until it's brown. You may need to add a little more oil. Flip it (mine broke) and cook the other side for another five minutes.
  • Beat the eggs, adding your chopped chilli, and scramble them in another pan.
  • Put the cooked potato on a plate and heat the tortillas in the bacon/potato pan, turning them a few times.
  • Make a little assembly line of all your ingredients.
  • Put the tortilla on a plate and load up with half the cooked bacon, potato and egg. Tuck each end into the middle and roll so you have a little parcel.
I ate mine with avocado on the side as I thought the whole concoction needed something resembling a fresh vegetable. John ate his with ketchup.

The verdict? It is filling. Boy is it filling. Definitely a brunch not a breakfast. I was still stuffed about six hours after eating it. I skipped lunch. I don't think it's for me, this one. This may be the perfect teenage breakfast, full of delicious, salty protein and carbohydrates but it was too much for me, weakling that I am.

It's just occurred to me that this would make an excellent breakfast if you have a hangover. I always want huge portions of salty, greasy, starchy food when I am feeling worse for wear (which is never, Mum) with a bottomless cup of tea. 


One last holiday photo...Bella's hair when I tied it up for her bath last night. Look at those sun-kissed blonde streaks in her light brown hair. I wish my hair looked like that. I used to pay a fortune for those kind of natural-looking highlights.

I hope you've all had a lovely weekend. We are settling into life at home, cooking, doing chores, inspecting the garden in between rain showers, and the children are happy to be back amongst their toys. Have a great week and thanks for reading. x

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Cotswolds

We are back in Leeds. I am trying my hardest to feel happy about this. The car has been washed, waxed and vacuumed, the grass cut, the garden watered. Two loads of washing have been done and a trip to the supermarket has been made. Normal life resumes.

But I am clinging on to the holiday feeling while I sort through the photos I took throughout the week. Indulge me, please, while I share some holiday snaps with you.* That top picture captures everything that was good about our holiday; sunshine, freedom and two very, very happy children. There were no theme parks, zoos or expensive outings. One trip to a local farm, lots of exploring villages and eating ice creams, minimum screen time and lot of attention from their grandparents, and it was lovely.

These were taken out and about in "our" village, so picturesque it's offensive...I mean, how can anywhere else compete?
The view from the local village playground...
We explored lots of beautiful Gloucestershire villages, like Chipping Camden:
Stow-on-the-Wold, where there was a definite Union Flag theme going on:

as well as an abundance of charm and history, like The Royalist Hotel, believed to be the oldest inn in England dating from 947 AD:
But my favourite place was Bourton-on-the-Water. A river flows right through this village and there are little stone bridges here and there. It is incredibly pretty and on this very hot day, the river banks were packed with families eating picnics and paddling and enjoying the sunshine. Bella and I dipped our toes in and we all sat on the river bank for ages, just soaking it all up. We talked about our favourite holiday moments on the way home today (Bella - holding the rabbits at the farm, feeding the horses, the river boat tour in Stratford-on-Avon. Angus - the park, eating ice creams. John - the sunshine, not being at work.) and this would be mine, just sitting and enjoying the moment. Oh, and getting three Emma Bridgewater mugs for 50p each at a car boot sale. 


* I recently discovered picmonkey, and am putting it's collage tool to good effect here. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Rural Idyll

I don't think I've ever stayed in a house with such pretty windows, and so much natural light. I am obsessed with the rose around the front gate, I can't stop looking at it and smelling it and taking photographs of it. Morning light, afternoon heat or dusky evening - this little cottage is a slice of heaven.

We have settled into a very chilled out holiday routine. Up whenever the kids can no longer be contained in their very sunny bedroom. Leisurely breakfast with lots of coffee refills then out for the day. Home late afternoon to sit in the little courtyard garden and have a cup of tea and do some crochet. My parenting technique on holiday is "hands off" to say the least. Cups of tea are replaced by cold beer because, as everyone knows, the bar opens early on holiday. We eat with the kids around six, then relax with wine while they play and we ignore their late bedtime. Then, when they are finally bathed and settled I go outside again and sit in the peace and quiet. (Except for last night when the bell ringing practice in the church opposite was very LOUD).

Honestly, I am so very, very happy. 

Monday, 23 July 2012

A Late Afternoon Walk Around The Block

Walk out of the front gate. 

Turn left and walk up the little lane, pausing to admire the entrance to the grave yard...

...then go through the gate into the field.

Say hello to the sheep and walk a little while...

...then go through another charming gate into the church grounds.

Wander past the church...

...and the gravestones.

Pause to check the time on the church sundial...

...and gaze up at the spire and the blue sky.

And then back down towards the lane...

...and "home", stopping at the gate to smell the lavender and wonder what those giant daisy flowers are called.

All this, all this, on our doorstep. This little stroll around the block takes around half an hour and is perfect for little legs as it isn't far and there is lots to see. Great for the kids to burn off some energy. The cottage we are renting has no garden, just a pretty front courtyard with a table and chairs and more climbing roses than I have ever seen in one place (I have taken about a hundred photos of one particular rose. It's getting out of hand). This courtyard provides the most excellent spot to watch the traffic, screened from the lane by the flowers that climb up a trellis. When I say "traffic", I mean hikers, dog walkers, people on horseback and the odd car. I spent most of yesterday in the sunshine with some crochet in that spot.

I love it here. Possibly too much. Going back to Leeds is going to be hard after all this enchantment and sunshine. There is a house two doors up called "Grey Gables", which seems apt as this gorgeous corner of England is just how I picture Ambridge to be when I listen to The Archers.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Packing Our Holiday Bags

Good morning! The sun is shining, it is the first day of the summer holidays and I am doing my very best to ignore my hangover and concentrate on everything I need to do today. We set off for a holiday in the Cotswolds today and I wanted to show you our holiday bags. Yes, more bags, I'm sorry. 

When I was a child, my mum would make my sisters and I a holiday bag and give it to us at the start of our annual family holiday. Each bag contained something like a new story book, a pad of paper and a new packet of crayons, some snacks. As we got older there would be puzzles, word searches, games to keep us occupied throughout the journey (my favourite - design your own treasure island with a map and key...I used to spend all holiday working on this). I looked forward to the holiday bags as much as the holiday itself.

It's a little tradition I wanted to carry on for my children. A couple of years ago I made them a bag each and every year when we go away I fill it with bits and bobs and treats I know they will enjoy and things that I hope will keep them happy on the journey and throughout the holiday. My two have never been great travellers (even with their own little DVD players!) - I must have the only two children in the world who don't like sleeping in car seats.

Sticker books - £3
Felt tip pens - £2.50
Doodle pad - 50p
Toy - £4
Sweets - £1
Juice - 50p

Total amount spent for a hopefully peaceful car journey and happy holiday: £11.50.

What about you? Any pre-holiday traditions in your household? And any tips for a keeping children entertained on a long journeys? Bella loves I-Spy but it's frustrating as she doesn't really grasp the fundamentals.

Bella: "I spy something beginning with P." 
Me: "Paper? Pen?" 
Bella: "No. Panda." 

There are no pandas inside or outside the car.

The weather forecast looks very promising with warm and sunny weather, and nothing could make me happier after the months of rain we've had here this summer. I am told there is broadband, but I may not be around much here for the next week or so, although I'll try to check in if I can. Have a great week everyone, and a warm welcome to new followers. xx

Friday, 20 July 2012

An Apple for the Teacher

It is the last day of term here today. At 3.15 this afternoon, Bella breaks up for the six week summer holiday. It has been a crazy couples of weeks, filled with appointments, meetings, errands, messages, things I Must Not Forget To Do. I have a list as long as my arm on the fridge and I am slowly ticking things off. Bella's already busy social life went into overdrive this week with end of term parties and celebrations and her first school trip, not to mention the usual round of after school activities and play dates.

We all really need a holiday. 

But probably not as much as Bella's teachers who, I imagine, are pretty exhausted by now. I've spent the past week making two bags, simple shopping bags with a little applique picture (designed by me but the apple is inspired by one in Chloe Owen's All Sew Up). The bags contain a card made by Bella, a pot of jam, and a bag of homemade fudge. I hope no-one's diabetic. 

One is for Bella's teacher (Mrs C) and the other for the teaching assistant (Mrs B). They are fantastic at their jobs and passionate about the well being of the children they teach, and they have made Bella's first year at school a very special and rewarding time. Mrs B, in particular, worked in Bella's nursery and has known her since she was three. Bella is now preparing to move up from reception to Year 1, where there are more tables and chairs and less sandpits.

In other news, Angus has been having "settling in sessions" at the school nursery, in preparation for when he starts attending every morning in September. On Monday, when I left him, and he cried so loud and for so long that they went to get Bella from her class. (I am not happy about leaving a crying three year old, honestly, but Angus cries when he is left with anyone except John and I, and he really needs to go to nursery and get used to small amounts of independence.) Apparently, Angus stopped crying the minute he saw Bella. They held hands and she played with him. When I went to collect him they were playing with the train set. I don't think he let go of her hand the whole time. 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Friendship Bracelets (Mollie Makes Magazine)

According to my latest issue of Mollie Makes, friendship bracelets are back in fashion. At the ripe old age of 34, this might be my first "Oh, I remember when those were first in fashion!" moment. These woven bracelets take me straight back to being eleven years old. My sisters and I used to buy these on French market stalls on holiday. Then I learnt to make them, prompting memories of comparing newly made friendship bracelets and tanned forearms. They remind me of Summer, of beach holidays, friends and carefree days, and I can see how they fit into the Summer festival fashion theme.

And yes, despite all meteorological evidence to the contrary, IT IS SUMMER. Do you see how hard I have been working at this lately?? I've deliberately been focusing on all things summery in July's posts. It's making me feel better.

I haven't shown you a finished "make" since the Somewhere Over the Rainbow tea towel  over a month ago. One month! There has been baking and decorating and playing and many, many trips to IKEA, but no "I made this!" moments for you. Or for me. I am working on a couple of crochet projects that are hugely rewarding but sloooow in the making, so it will be a while before I can show you them. I needed a quick and easy "make", a little pick me up. These bracelets are very easy, all you need is some embroidery threads, and there are many tutorials on YouTube. I like them because the variations are endless - candy stripe or cross or chevron pattern, any colour combination you can think of, keep it simple or embellish with beads and charms and feathers. Bella demanded one straight away and it prompted a relaxed crafternoon of playing with bracelets and beads. I love crafting with my girl.

I had endless amounts of fun choosing colours and patterns. I made one with a nice nautical feel, one that reminds me of the colours and flavours of Neapolitan ice cream, and the third is inspired by this one that I saw on Etsy. I like the muted colours and irregular colour stripes. It reminds me of Autumn and tweed for some reason.

To take full advantage of my Mollie Makes subscription, I set myself the challenge of making one thing from each issue. Issue number 11 (my first) - fabric mice, issue number 12 - a patchwork apron. Issues 13, 14 and 15...still waiting. Issue number 16, consider yourself made.

I will wear my friendship bracelets with my Hunter wellies, while I trudge to the shops in the rain to buy milk. In my head I will be at a really cool festival, sipping cold beer in a (non-muddy) field of daisies while listening to folk music in the sunshine.