A bunch of May

May Day posies

A bunch of May I have brought you

And at your door it stands.

What does the first of May make you think of? May poles, ribbons and pretty dresses, perhaps? Or maybe it’s the old wives tale about getting up at dawn to wash your face in the morning dew. There are lots of complicated, intertwining traditions, most of which are now long forgotten.

These days, most of us just hope for a day of good weather.

But we can still enjoy May Day in its very simplest form. The desire to celebrate spring and spread some joy never goes out of fashion.

Last year I wrote about May Day traditions, and this year I’m revisiting the subject.

One very sweet May Day tradition from the nineteenth century were the floral garlands made by children. These garlands were carried around the village by children, who would sing and dance at people’s doors.

In Lark Rise to Candleford, Flora Thompson remembers that:

on the last morning of April the children would come to school with bunches, baskets, arms and pinafores full of flowers – every blossom they could find in the fields and hedges or beg from parents or neighbours

These flowers were woven round a wooden, bell shaped structured, carried about on sticks.

May Day posies

I’m not about to resurrect this tradition (although it could be rather lovely if you live in village), but how about talking a little of its spirit and re-interpreting it for today? I love the idea of using flowers to spread a little joy around the neighbourhood.

So, this May Day I’m going to gather flowers and greenery from my garden and make posies. The children are going to help, and we’re going to deliver them to our neighbours. All you need are a few empty jam jars and some gathered blooms and blossom.

May Day posies

Tie on a label and leave one on someone’s doorstep to make them smile! 

If you’d like to share your photos on Instagram please use hashtag #abunchofmay – I’d love to see what you make! 

 

Three things I’m loving this week

Crab apple blossom

According to the weather man on my radio this morning the weather this week is going to feel more like January than late April. The news is pretty dreary too. Whatever. My internal barometer is still firmly set to spring.

So, let’s not talk weather or politics (for now), let’s embrace the sweetness and light. 

T-shirts that do the talking

I haven’t worn a slogan t-shirt since the 1990s. And until recently I wasn’t in a hurry to wear one again. But there’s no denying they’re having a bit of a thing at the moment. I snapped up this gorgeous grey t-shirt from Joanie Clothing, which is perfect for spring. It makes me think of coffee, pancakes and sunny weekend mornings.

Joanie clothing t shirt

Fresh new scent

While I was (child-free) at the airport the other week I bought a bottle of Earl Grey and Cucumber cologne from Jo Malone. It’s really fresh and summery – sweet, but not cloying. It’s quite light, so I’m enjoying squirting clouds of it over myself at every opportunity. I prefer the smaller size bottles as I can never commit to choosing a huge bottle.

Jo Malone Earl grey and cucumber cologne

The sweetness of apple blossom

The cherry blossom may be blowing off the trees, but the fun isn’t over yet. Now it’s the turn of all the apple blossom. It doesn’t just look splendid, it smells it too. Go sniff a branch, it’s the essence of spring.

Apple blossom

What are you loving this week?

Life lately: punting, a mini-break and chocolate

Spring flowers

Well, that’s the Easter holidays done and dusted! The children had two and bit weeks off school – which was just the right length of time for them to relax and spread their wings, without getting too fed up.

At the start of the holidays the weather was unusually warm and delightful. In Britain we’re trained from birth to make the most of every scrap of decent weather. As soon as the warm weather starts, everything shifts up into such a happy gear. People are smiling, the birds sing, barbecues are lit. I love it!

Ely is beautiful in the sunshine, but Cambridge is even better. We couldn’t resist heading over there for some punting in the sun.

Punting in Cambridge

Despite being Cambridgeshire born and bred, I’m still a newcomer to punting. Luckily, Mr Marmalade isn’t, so he was our punting chauffeur for the day. Blue skies, blossom, old buildings – heaven, as far as I’m concerned! You can hire a self-punt by the hour, or why not take a tour instead?

The River Cam

After we’d finished on the water, we headed straight into Fitzbillies on Bridge Street for some delicious coffee and lunch.

Fitzbililes, Cambridge

We then pottered about in the warm sunshine, admiring the blue sky and blossom – and wishing we had a spare million tucked away to buy a beautiful house in the city.

Cambridge cherry blossom

Later in the holiday we went away without the children for a couple of days on the Isle of Man. We don’t go away without them very often, so it was nice to just relax and be free from all our usual routines. Which mainly meant eating, drinking and going for a few walks.

Port Erin, Isle of Man

Our favourite walk was in Port Erin, hiking up to Bradda Head. At the start it was all wild garlic and bluebells.

Wild Garlic

By the time we reached the top we were floating in the clouds (let’s not talk about the rain).

Bradda Head

The Easter weekend rounded off the holidays with chocolate and roast dinners. The warm weather had disappeared by this point, but none of us wanted to stop being outside. So time was spent sowing seeds and visiting the plant nursery – all accompanied by coffee and chocolate eggs!

Easter eggs

And now the boys are back to school. Well, one is. The other is off on a school residential trip until tomorrow. I’m getting my work back on track and starting running and eating healthily again (the downside of eating too many Easter eggs).

Actually, I’m glad of the running, as it feels like a positive way to leap into the new term and all the new adventures it’ll bring.

Running through blossom

I hope you had a lovely Easter too. I’d love to hear about what you’ve been up to! 

 

A tale of cats and dogs

Tabby cat

In life, there are dog people and cat people. Some people like both, but usually, it’s one or the other. I always thought I’d be a dog lover for life. Turns out I was wrong.

I’ve always been a dog person. And for the first twenty-five years of my life they were always around. Loyal, affectionate, a bit smelly – but lovable, oh so lovable.

I always kept away from cats. Didn’t have one, didn’t want one. The claws, the fickleness, the jumping on everything – I just didn’t get it. Let’s just say we didn’t speak the same language.

I also thought I’d have dogs when I grew up. Well, I’m a grown-up now – with a husband, two kids and a mortgage – and guess what? It turns out it’s not as simple as that.

Dogs are a big lifestyle choice.

Deciding to get a dog is like deciding to have another baby. They need a lot of care, attention and walking – they also create a lot of upheaval. Chewing, little accidents, stealing, yapping. Mostly it’s happy chaos – of the amusing, character-building kind – but it’s still chaos. I already have two young boys who reduce my house to rubble daily. I felt like I had enough amusing spontaneity in my life already.

So, we didn’t get a dog. We got close a few times, but we always got cold feet. But you know what? Having no pets isn’t much fun.

Tabby cat

Last summer, I decided to try something different.

I decided to be a cat person. It all started when my husband (who has previous with cats) suggested we think about adopting one.

There seemed no harm in going along to meet some cats. We met two tabby sisters through the Cats Protection League. They appeared to like me and the children. I stroked their silky fur and they seemed to enjoy it. I felt a connection. They needed a home and we had one to offer. It felt right.

I was wary at first and a bit clueless. In a way that made it easier. I started again with no expectations. Cats are totally different to dogs, I had to forget everything I’d known about having a pet.

Tabby cat

So, what’s converted me?

They’re low key. If dogs are an annoying younger sibling following you around slavishly, then cats are the cool older kid you want to impress.

I’m not saying that owning a cat isn’t a commitment. It is. It’s just an awful lot easier. No one is expecting you to train them beyond the basics of cat flaps and litter trays. And no one’s really judging you either. Owning a dog is very public, and if your dog is anti-social you can feel like a social pariah. No one expects you to stand in the pouring rain at cat training classes.  The lack of expectations makes the whole feel less stressful, and more relaxed and pleasurable.

The trade-off is that you get a different kind of affection.

Dogs always know when you need love and affection, they’re very intuitive. Things are very different with cats. It’s not that they aren’t affectionate. What’s different is that it’s on their terms.

Some people say that a cat makes a home. They’re right. Part of their appeal lies not the physical affection, but the fact that they are always there in their own way. When they hear my key in the door, they come and say hello. They get stroked then they wander off (unless it’s tea time, in which case there’s a bit of polite mewing).

They are creatures of habit and I find enormous comfort in this. They’re nice, undemanding routines – cuddles, food and a bit of playing. It’s the opposite of the wearisome routines of owning a dog.

Tabby cat

But aren’t cats a bit boring and humourless?

I used to think so. But the truth is very different. Cats are every bit as amusing as dogs. The difference is that they amuse me in a gentle way, whereas dogs often just made me lose my temper.

I find their minor irritations quite amusing and charming. They get in the way when I take a photo or make a cake. But somehow, it’s sweet and endearing. They’re interested in what I’m doing and I like that. It’s the closest I get to the intuitive relationship I’ve shared with dogs.

Because their affection isn’t free-flowing, it can leave me feeling a little needy. But I think I prefer this to the slavish devotion of dogs, which can be overwhelming at times. Dogs are the needy ones, which can feel suffocating at times.

We have a very different relationship. I wouldn’t go so far as saying they own me, but it’s certainly very different. We’re on an equal footing. And you know what? It feels great.

Is there anything I don’t like?

I fully admit that I’m not a fan of rodents being brought into my house (dead or alive). But compared with the things my dogs used to do (fox poo, anyone?) these feel like things I can put up with.

Tabby cat

So, am I truly a cat person now?

I don’t own any cat tea towels yet, but I’m a convert.

Being a cat person isn’t quite like being a dog person. You don’t really own a cat. It’s more a way of life. I’ve picked up on their take-it-or-leave it attitude and I like it.

I get it now.

 

The Eames plastic chair: exploring a design classic with Lionshome

Eames chairs by Vitra

Image source: https://www.vitra.com/

The Eames plastic chair is a design classic. It’s been in production since 1950 and looks just as fresh and exciting now as it did back then. 

According to its designer, Charles Eames: “Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose”.

He certainly achieved that with his classic plastic chair, which effortlessly combines practicality and style. The plastic seat is designed to mould itself to your shape, yet the elegant little legs keep it looking light and graceful.

Image source: https://www.vitra.com/

In recent years I’ve fallen in love with the mid-century look. It still feels fresh and exciting, yet it’s simple enough to sit well alongside designs from other periods. In my house I combine an original Ercol sideboard and a mid-century inspired sofa with bits of simple furniture from the nineteenth century and even IKEA. It’s a mix that works.

But I’m yet to own an Eames plastic chair. 

Like all design classics, the Eames chair, has inspired lots of imitations. Imitation is the best form of flattery – especially if it means that those of us with smaller budgets also get to enjoy a little bit of design history in our homes.

Where do you start to find one? With so many Eames-inspired plastic chairs out there it’s hard to know where to start looking. Which is where a site like Lionshome is incredibly helpful. Type ‘Eames chair’ into their search and they’ll instantly curate a collection for you to choose from. So much easier than trawling though lots of magazines and web searches.

When I typed in Eames plastic chairs, the first thing I found were the real things. The original design by Charles Eames, manufactured by Vitra, who’ve been making them since the fifties. They’re still being made to the same design. It’s been tweaked a little – the original fibre-glass reinforced polyester resin has been replaced with modern polypropylene – but it’s still essentially the same.

It can be yours, admittedly for quite a hefty price tag of between £300-400. For one chair.

Luckily, there are a lot of Eames-inspired alternatives out there for less than £100. The Lionshome site gathers them together so you can choose between the classic original and the cheaper versions, like this one (£57.50):

Eames-inspired chair

Or you could try one with metal legs (£57.50):

Eames inspired chair

Do you love Eames-inspired chairs? Would you choose the original (and probably best) or something more affordable?

This post was written in collaboration with Lionshome Home and Living. All words and ideas are my own. 

 

Decorating your home for Easter

Easter styling for your home

Easter is such a lovely time of year. I’m hopping with excitement like a little bunny.

Whatever your beliefs, we can all join in the celebration of new beginnings. Fill your house with the sights and scents of spring – anything from some flowering bulbs, or a pretty egg-tree. Then gather some friends and family and share delicious food and a bit of light-hearted fun. No one is ever too old to enjoy an egg hunt, are they?

Here are three easy ways to decorate your home this Easter

Bulbs in jar

Buy some potted bulbs. Take them out of their pots, divide and carefully wash the long roots to remove all the soil. This is great activity for little hands, who’ll find the long roots really fascinating.

bulb roots

Place in a jam jar or a vase with a little water. Don’t submerge the bulb, you just need a little bit of water for the roots. The bulbs have everything they need inside them and will continue to flower!

Easter styling for your home

Pretty posies in unusual pots

Make your spring flowers really shine by arranging them in interesting old china – like a pretty teacup or an old mug. An easy trick to achieve a really pretty, balanced arrangement is to create a grid with tape. I used washi tape as it’s more gentle on old china.

Easter styling for your home

It makes it much easier to create an even display that won’t fall over!

Easter styling for your home

An Egg tree

It’s an Easter classic that everyone should have a go at. Gather some twigs, ideally with green shoots or blossom on them. Casually arrange in a pot or vase and hang little decorations on the ‘branches’. Pussy willow also works brilliantly. Mine usually look a bit lopsided, but it wouldn’t be the same without one!

Easter styling for your home

Easter styling for your home

What are your favourite ways to decorate your home at Easter? I’d love to hear them in the comments! 

Keeping your little cubs occupied over the holidays – with BEAR

Easter holidays with BEAR

The school holidays…do you love them or loathe them?

For me the holidays are all about finding balance. It can be a bit intense – laughter one minute and tears the next (and that’s just me!). I like to say yes to things as much as I can, but I also want to encourage the boys to amuse themselves.

The great thing about Easter is the longer days and warmer weather. It’s the first holiday of the year where spending time outdoors doesn’t feel like a punishment. The lovely people at BEAR read our minds and sent us a wonderful package of goodies encouraging us to get outdoors and embrace our inner bear!

Easter holidays with BEAR

Here’s my simple formula for entertaining your little cubs over the holidays! 

Start the day well

I’m trying to get out of bed at my normal time, while they get a bit of a lie-in. This gives me a little  bit of time to drink a cup of tea in peace before the madness begins. Once they’re up we always start the day with a decent breakfast. Alphabites from BEAR are a great favourite, along with good old-fashioned porridge and crumpets. Alphabites taste great, but crucially aren’t filled with rubbish – just five whole grains and a sprinkling of coconut blossom.

Alphabites by BEAR

Exercise for the body and mind

Take your small people out for a big part of each day and you’ll all feel happier and healthier. Even if it’s only in the garden. One of our favourite things is to pack up a rucksack with a notebook and pencils and go out nature spotting. It moves their little legs and keeps the cogs turning in their brains. Go somewhere out of town, or just wander round your local park. The change of the seasons means they’ll be plenty to spot whether it’s birds, blossoms or just an interesting stick. Write about what you see and draw some pictures while you’re out.

Holiday fun with BEAR

Freedom

Don’t go too mad with the planning. Remember to always allow your children the freedom to do what they want (within reason!). Children have to endure the regimented routines of school from a very early age and the holiday is their time to relax and be free. Sometimes even the best laid plans are worth ditching in favour of dressing like a bear or having a rainbow painted on your face.

Giving your children freedom also means allowing them to be bored. Don’t be afraid to embrace it. Sometime’s the best childhood games are born from having the time and freedom to be bored. Hold your nerve and let them whinge for a bit. You never know when inspiration will strike!

Rainbow face paint

Have a few activities up your sleeve for a rainy afternoon

You don’t have to be a crafting superstar everyday, but it’s worth having a few easy things in reserve.. My hope is that this will buy me some time later in the day to get something done on my own (or feel less guilty when they watch an hour of telly).

Our favourite craft of the moment is painting terracotta plant pots with acrylic paint. It’s easy and not too messy.

Painting plant pots

That’s my simple formula. The next two weeks will be a mix of giggles, tears, tantrums and chocolate eggs. But that’s ok. The most important rule of parenting is not to be too hard on yourself! 

A big thank you to BEAR for sending us the most awesome box of goodies for the Easter holidays! They have lots of great ideas for outdoor activities on their site. 

This is a sponsored post, however all ideas and photographs are my own. 

#OnePerfectThing in March

Marmalade jar

Perfection often feels out of reach. But however imperfect you’re finding life, you can make an effort to find #OnePerfectThing. Something which makes you pause, smile and feel thankful.

#OnePerfectThing is a community I started on Instagram last May. That’s almost a year ago. I started it as a little project to remind myself to feel happy every day. Now there are over two thousand little moments of perfection in our gallery! Every month it continues to delight and surprise me – especially as we all seem to be so like-minded.

March has been a wonderful month. As we move into spring I feel like my happiness dial gets turned up a little more everyday. Your photos were so colourful – from sunshine yellows to purples and pinks. The dull days of winter already seem long ago.

Here are my March favourites:

#OnePerfectThing in March

Top row, left to right: @miss_dig_for_victory / @whenlovelookslikelaughter / @thetwinklesmama

Middle row, left to right: @darwinboerne / @mimmironning / @genuineplacebo84

Bottom row, left to right: @georgia_coote / @meyouandmagoo / @caro_urbanvegpatch

Thanks to everyone for joining in during March!

 

 

The pink pleated skirt of dreams

Pink pleated skirt

A pink pleated skirt is the fashion equivalent of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.

I bought this jersey skirt in Primark. It also comes in grey and bottle green – my usual colours of choice. But my inner butterfly made me reach for soft dusky pink instead. For £6 it was worth a little punt out of my comfort zone.

And guess what? It’s now my favourite thing. It’s happy-making. When paired with my favourite greys and dark blues, it’s the perfect way to kick off the warmer weather. It’s also surprisingly informal. Pink skirts are definitely not just for weddings!

Pink Pleated skirt

T shirt, £8.99, New Look /  Skirt, £6, Primark (in store only) / Shoes, White Stuff (similar available here)

I also love this version from George – especially when dressed down with this t shirt (which I’m about to order right now).

Will you be trying a pink pleated skirt? They’re the perfect transitional piece. Wear with tights now and sandals later! 

Subscribe today!

If you're not already a subscriber to Marmalade Pie, please sign up. You'll get all my new posts by e-mail as soon as they appear.

10 reasons why you should visit Ely market

Ely Market

Ely is an unassuming place. It doesn’t shout about itself. But it should. The city has a right to be proud of its amazing markets and we want more of you to come and experience them. 

The market has been around for the last 800 years. But just lately something has changed. A quiet revolution is taking place. It’s not just a nice place to come and potter around. It’s becoming a real destination – the foodie capital of the Fens.

The weekly Saturday craft and food market is the jewel in the crown. It’s packed with delicious food, interesting crafts and vintage collectables. On the 2nd and 4th of every month its ranks are also swelled by the farmers’ market.

Here are ten reasons you should visit Ely’s Saturday market.

Prosecco at Hum-Closen on Ely market

 Cheese and wine

Susannah of Hum-Closen is a newcomer to the market, but she’s already causing a stir with her beautiful collection of cheese and wine. Try a glorious bit of Roquefort or the perfect Comte – washed down with a glass of bone-dry, cloudy Prosecco. Or, if English cheese is more your thing, visit the Lincolnshire Poacher Stall. Get everything you need for a perfect cheeseboard.

Hum-Closen on Ely Market

The best dumplings in Ely (and possibly the world?)

 The I Am Dumpling stall is street food at its very best. While your dumplings steam listen as Andrew sets the world to rights. After working in Asia for 30 years he really knows his stuff. For just £3 you’ll get a plate of delicious meat or vegetarian dumplings. The sweet, sticky buns are also gorgeous!

Dumplings at Ely Market

Authentic Mexican food

The Al Chile van is a little bit of Mexico, plonked down in the middle of Ely. Forget what you think you know about Mexican food. This is fresh, healthy and light. Try a proper Mexican pulled pork Taco, or an authentic burrito. The perfect place to eat as a family.

Mexican food at Ely market

Vegan Alley

Ely’s famers’ market has a strong vegan presence – so much so that it’s now affectionately referred to as Vegan Alley. Audrey’s Cakes are delicious, as are Lizzi’s ‘eggless’ scotch eggs. On the Luxury Vegan Samosa Company stall, Sudesh creates the most wonderful samosas – freshly cooked while you watch. They are genuinely the nicest samosas I’ve ever eaten.

Samosas on Ely market

The Cakes

You can’t leave the market without trying one. One highlight is newcomer George’s Bakery – a young baker makes a delicious selection of cakes and quiches. The Dessert Man also offers a rather special millionaire’s shortbread and enough varieties of cheesecake to, well, start a market stall. Audrey’s cakes get another mention here – you’d never realise they were vegan!

Audrey's cakes on Ely market

Gin

The Ely Gin Company started life five years ago on Ely market. They still have a stall every Saturday, but have also expanded into a shop nearby. They specialise in fruit gins – everything from the traditional sloe to black cherry. Their latest gin is marmalade flavour. Obviously, I had to try some and can report that it’s very nice indeed. They also sell some of the most interesting tonic I’ve ever seen! Visit their stall on the market for generous samples.

Tonic water at the Ely Gin Company

Fresh local produce and new discoveries

The Farmers’ market is full of local, seasonal produce. From quality meat, bread and fish to early pink rhubarb. There’s also always something new to try. On my last visit, I tried Kombucha for the first time. Never heard of it? Well, it’s fermented green tea. Esther brews Cha Kombucha from her home in Cambridge. Try a sample – it’ll definitely kick-start a few conversations.

Cha Kombucha on Ely Market

Jams and Chutneys

Traditional market fair, but yet again, Ely offers a fresh approach. Amanda at the Cambridge Preserves Kitchen has the most delicious stall of jams and chutney. My favourite was the pear and lavender jam, which would be stunning in a Victoria sandwich. A few steps away, Madame Sunshine is ready with a smile and her fiery sauces.

Cambridge Preserves Kitchen

The Deli which is still part of the market

The Lemon Tree Deli and Cafe on the marketplace gets a special mention here. Debbie and her husband have recently made the move from market stall to permanent shop. They sell beautiful local cheese and do a lovely cheese scone.

Debbie, owner of the Lemon Tree Deli in Ely

The best flat white in Ely

The Silveroak Coffee stall serves the best coffee in Ely. It’s a bit of a well-kept secret. Relax at one of their tables and watch the market bustle around you. Bruce sources the finest beans and roasts them just outside Ely. Their flat whites are my weekly treat and worth waiting for.

Silveroak Coffee on Ely market

If you can tear yourself away from the gorgeous good, there’s also a brilliant selection of stalls selling vintage collectables, second-hand books and crafts. The best thing? The stall holders love to haggle and it’s worth a trip to discover some great finds. You can also pick up a bunch of beautiful and well-priced flowers while you’re at it!

Flowers on Ely Market

Ely markets take place on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The best way to travel to Ely is by train. The market is just a 15-minute walk from the railway station. More information on the markets can be found here. 

Why not come and join us on Sunday 30th April and Monday 1st May for the Ely Vegan & Vintage Fair?

A big thank you to Ely Markets for inviting me on a tour of the market! It was fun being a tourist in my own city.