Category Archives: Uncategorized

A September state of mind…

New Look Shirt Dress

Come September, I want my life to feel as neat and ordered as a pencil case full of freshly sharpened pencils. The start of every school year is a new start. Even when the playground is a distant memory that feeling is hard to shake off.

Life doesn’t stop for the summer, but it does change pace. As the trees start to change colour, my attitude shifts and I become more productive. Work, hobbies and ambitions all come back into focus.

A September state of mind

I don’t want to stumble into autumn, I want to meet it head on in my best pair of new shiny shoes. I’d be kidding myself if I said I’m going to feel my best self every single day. But I do want to look like I mean business. Remember your new school uniform? It made you stand up a bit straighter, even when felt a bit nervous on your first day.

The good thing about being a grown-up is that you get to choose your own uniform. Wear things that make you feel the way the way you want to feel. My September outfits always have a back-to-school look about them. Neat, smart and productive – with not a flip-flop in sight.

New Look Shirt Dress

A shirt dress is a great piece to invest in. It’s still cool enough for warmer days – but if you choose a dark colour it’ll also feel pleasingly autumnal. You don’t have to spend much – my black spotty one is from New Look and it’s £24.99.

September fashion: shirtdress and jumper

Add a loose knit on cooler days. Preferably one with a v-neck for just a hint of school days. I bet you have one lurking in your wardrobe, but if you don’t then this one is from H&M and it’s £17.99 (the oatmeal colour I wear is currently only available in store).

New Look Satchel and shirt dress

A satchel is always very appealing in September and it’s big enough for all your to-do lists. I bought mine from New Look last year and they still sell the same bag in a gorgeous brown colour. It’s £19.99.

This outfit, or some variation on the theme, is what you’ll mostly find me wearing this September. What will you reaching for?

 

 

Marmalade Pie and GDPR

Yellow flowers

Like everyone else, I’ve been getting dozens of GDPR emails over the last few weeks. I’ve realised that this blog has never published a privacy policy – so in the interests of transparency, I’ve decided to add one. You can find it here.

The main data this site collects is when someone signs up to receive updates by email. If you’re reading this in an email then that includes you. Thank you!

Those subscriptions are handled by the WordPress system. The only information I can see is your email address – no other personal data – and that never leaves my system. I don’t share it with anyone else and won’t use it for anything other than sending the email updates you’ve requested.

If you ever change your mind about keeping in touch then just click the ‘unsubscribe’ link at the bottom. It’s on every email sent from the site.

Thanks for reading – and if you’re a subscriber, thanks for being on my list.

Books: our chance to travel through time

Books you never grow tired of

A familiar book is like an old friend. You may not have spoken to each other for years, but as soon as you meet again it’s like no time has passed at all. As you gaze at those familiar pages, you’re transported back to all the times you’ve read it before.

It’s a strange feeling – comfortable, but there’s also a tinge of melancholy. Time has passed, and sometimes you wish it hadn’t. I like to see these books as prisms through we which can view our own lives. It’s a bit like time travelling. You get a fleeting reminder of the first time you read it, the feelings you had at the time, the place you were in. I’m often shocked by how vivid these memories can be – and yet, they slip through the fingers so easily.

I get this feeling when I revisit the books I read when I was between the ages of 16 and 21. Those introspective years when you do so much growing up, so quickly. The long summers when you’d devour book after book in a quest of self-discovery. It’s no coincidence that the books I remember from this time are some coming-of-age classics, like I Capture the Castle and the Cazalet Chronicles.

Books you never grow tired of

I’ve re-read these books many times over the years that followed, and they always take me back to that time in my life. But the clever thing about books is that they’re not just snapshots – they help us remember, but they also help us imagine. Each time you revisit a book it’s still possible to learn something new, to appreciate it on a different level. I sympathise with different characters and notice things my younger self missed.

And what about those books you always meant to read as a child, but never did? Go back now and found out what you were missing. The Harry Potter novels never clicked for me as when they were first published – I was just the wrong age, and it wasn’t the right time for me to appreciate them. But reading them in my thirties has felt more special. I devoured them, and felt bereft when they were finished. It was almost as though by reading them I’d been able to travel in time again – back to the time I might have read them.

Books are prisms. Look one way and you’ll see the past, reflected through the present – look another way and you’ll see the future. That feeling of discovery never gets old, and it’s a reminder why books should always be an important part of our lives.

Do you have a favourite book you like to return to, again and again?

 

 

 

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! 

 

Dreaming of worktops

Image source: Devol Kitchens

The other night I had a dream about a kitchen. It was pale, light-filled and elegant. The cupboards were painted soft grey and there was a beautiful sweeping marble worktop. I think it might just be my dream kitchen. 

Of course, when I came down to make breakfast in the morning the reality was quite different. Our kitchen was the same as ever: tired, messy and boasting a very old IKEA wooden worktop.

Marble isn’t something I’d ever contemplated in a kitchen, but this feels like a bit of divine inspiration. I was, and am, a big fan of wooden worktops. When we had our (former) dream kitchen installed in our old house, one of its main features was the solid oak worktop. It was really beautiful.

But that was about seven years ago, and I’m not sure wood would be my first choice again. Increasingly, I’m drawn to harder, shiner surfaces like granite or marble. It’s not for practical reasons – wood deteriorates, but marble is also very sensitive. It marks and stains just as badly as any bit of oiled oak. It’s a natural substance so it’s going to change as it ages – getting scratched and discoloured. In fact, it would probably be a very expensive and high-maintenance choice.

But I just love how it looks. Pale, polished marble is a wonderful, timeless look that is never going to date.

Image source: Pinterest

If the price (and the idea of caring for it) terrify you, then you could consider a laminate worktop in a marble finish. It might not be so sumptuous, but it’s a whole lot more practical! A great option if you’re looking for a cheap kitchen work surface.

Marble laminate worktop

Marble laminate worktop

I’m nowhere near getting a new kitchen. But I’m going to keep that bright, shiny marble-topped image firmly in my dreams.

This post was written in collaboration with Worktop Express. All thoughts and ideas are my own. 

Home Etc

Thick jumpers and swishy skirts

Pleated skirt and woolly jumper

Pleated skirts have been on my radar for many a year, but for some reason I’ve never bought one. Mainly for boring reasons of practicality. But sometimes a swishy skirt is just what you need. And who says they have to be impractical?

I recently invested in this one from H&M. It’s dark grey, with a subtle sparkly thread running though it. At £14.99, I was happy to take a chance on it. It’s pretty, yet comfortable (got to love an elasticated waist!) and works equally well for day or night.

Chunky jumpers and pleated skirts

By day, it’s great with lots of layers – a chunky jumper, scarves, thick tights and a baggy coat. It’s general swishyness stops all the things keeping me warm feeling too boring and dowdy. What to wear on your feet is mildly tricky – I want to avoid looking overdressed. I’ve decided that simple trainers are the best thing.

Your basic fomula is…

Chunky jumpers and pleated skirts

Skirt, £14.99, H&M / Jumper, £14.99, H&M / Trainers, £14.99 by (you’ve guessed it) H&M. My coat in the previous pictures is also from H&M and is £39.99.

The whole thing – minus a few layers – also works really well in the evening. I wore it recently to an early evening event with a simple black jumper and the succulent necklace (from my shop).

Pleated skirt and woolly jumper

It’s pretty and practical…with just the right hint of sparkle. Perfect for the busy month ahead! 

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Things to do before Christmas: visit a gallery

Visit an art gallery

Already a bit tired of the high street’s generic offerings this Christmas? I know I am. And it’s not even December yet.

How about trying something new? Most towns have an independent gallery. They’re not scary places, I promise – and they’re a fantastic place to buy beautiful and unusual Christmas presents. Most galleries will have a great range of things – from small paintings and more affordable prints, right down to little handmade craft items, jewellery and cards. You don’t have to have a full purse to be able to leave with something.

Recently I went to a special evening hosted by Cambridge Contemporary Arts, and their sister gallery Cambridge Contemporary Crafts. I had soon compiled a Christmas wish list as long as my arm.

Blogger evening at Cambridge Contemporary Arts

My husband and I both fell in love with some gorgeous linocuts by Gail Brodholt. Our favourite was Every Moment So Fleeting (£300). Clearly it would be an expensive purchase, but we were both tempted to have this as a single, joint Christmas present to each other. A great investment, and something we could keep on enjoying.

linocut 33cm x 34cm edition 75

linocut 33cm x 34cm

I also loved this screen print (£345) by Angie Lewin. I can completely picture it in my house and I’d love to own it.

shoreline

It’s worth noting that both of these prints are available to buy via the Arts Council’s Own Art scheme – where you pay for your purchase over ten monthly payments. The scheme is available for artwork priced between £100 to £2500. Such a good idea – especially when it’s hard to justify spending so much in one go.

But galleries aren’t just about paintings and prints. I also love the little decorative objects available, which are often much more affordable than the paintings – but every bit as unique and precious.

Ali Smith Angel

Ali Cooper’s beautiful Christmas porcelain pieces were my favourites – white, glossy and with the merest hint of gold. I fell completely in love with this little bird house (£20) and it came home with me. It’s always wonderful to buy a really special ornament for the tree every year.

Ali Smith ceramics at Cambridge Contemporary Arts

Will Shakspeare’s hand blown glass baubles are also completely covetable and I was thrilled to add another one to my collection.

Will Shakspeare's glass at Cambridge Contemporary Arts

So, whether you’re looking for jewellery, crafts, prints – or maybe just a gorgeous Christmas card – try calling into your local gallery. I came away feeling very inspired with lots of ideas.

Or how about a trip to Cambridge? It’s a magical place for festive shopping.

If you’re planning a visit, here’s how where to find the galleries. You can also order direct by viewing their websites:

Cambridge Contemporary Arts, 6 Trinity Street, Cambridge, CB2 1SU

Cambridge Contemporary Crafts, 5 Bene’t St, Cambridge, CB2 3QN

 

 

 

Wildlife spotting in the garden, plus a vlog!

Cloud binoculars craft

There’s so much going on in the garden at this time of year. In even the smallest outdoor space you can spot all sorts of bugs, insects and other wildlife. You don’t have to look hard: just pause for a moment and it will come wiggling, buzzing, creeping or fluttering its way to you.

This summer BEAR nibbles have partnered with the Wildlife Trust to encourage children to get out in the fresh air. Each box of yummy BEAR paws contains some cards with fun and inspiring outdoor projects – from building a den and leaf rubbing to camouflage headbands and open-air yoga.

Our little town garden is absolutely teeming with wildlife at the moment. And what do you need to spot all that wildlife? A pair of binoculars of course! One of the little activities from BEAR is for a simple pair of cloud-spotting binoculars.

Making cloud binoculars craft

Making cloud binoculars craft

Tom loved making his and used them to go and look at his favourite garden residents: our bucket of frogs. We discovered them when we were clearing away a pile of old fence panels and buckets. We’d inadvertently created a perfect habitat for them. After we’d cleared everything we worried they’d be unhappy and leave, but they’ve stuck around. We spotted three in there with the binoculars yesterday!

Frogs living in a bucket

Here’s an adorable video about our wildlife crafting session!

Thank you to BEAR nibbles, who kindly sent us our crafting supplies and lots of yummy snacks. 

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#OnePerfectThing in May

Pink vase

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.

Earlier in the month I started my new hashtag #OnePerfectThing over on Instagram. It’s all about capturing a little moment of your day – a small piece of perfection. This might be a cup of tea in the sunshine or a new pair of shoes. It’s all about taking the time to step back and appreciate the little things.

I’m so thrilled that so many of you have joined in and I’ve loved seeing your photos.

Here are some of my favourites:

OnePerfectThingMay

Top row, left to right: @mummyspooner, @three_sons_later, @pushingthemoon

Middle row, left to right: @jennyseaves, @sallytangle, @tobyandroo

Bottom row: left to right: @helloitsgemma, @someone_s_mum, @trot_a_mouse

And my absolute favourite of the month is this photo taken by Fionnuala of Three Sons Later of some pretty eggs from her new hens.

eggs

The image summed up everything about #OnePerfectThing and this little present from my shop will be winging its way to Fionnuala soon.

Bird bottle stopper

Thank you all so much for taking part, I’m looking forward to seeing you next month for #OnePerfectThing in June.

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What I’ve been reading lately

What I've been reading lately

The Way We Live Now – Anthony Trollope

This is the first Trollope novel I’ve ever read, and I have to admit it was a bit of Herculean challenge at times. It’s not that it wasn’t good – it was – but at 762 pages, it required a bit of sticking power and there’s a lot of detail. I’m glad I did though. Set in London in the 1870s, it’s a sharp social satire on greed, ambition, love (and maybe a bit of lust) and other human follies. If you fancy a sweeping, panoramic read, then give it a go – despite its age it really does feel remarkably fresh and modern.

A Summer at Sea – Katie Fforde 

This is something completely different, and perfect if you fancy a bit of light (but reasonably intelligent) froth.  This one follows the usual quirky pattern of a Katie Fforde romance: plucky heroine meets handsome chap… this time it’s a midwife on a career break, spending a summer cooking on a steam boat in the Western Isles of Scotland. It was as light-hearted and charming as Katie Fforde books always are, although I think her more recent novels are a bit weak compared to her earlier ones (my favourites are Living Dangerously and Wild Designs). Nevertheless, it’s a nice, effortless summer read.

Sister Carrie – Theodore Dreiser

Now we’re back to the past again, although this time it’s Chicago in the 1880s. The story is all about Carrie, who arrives in the city from the country aged eighteen. We follow her struggles to find work in the rapidly growing city, and then her fascinating rise as the mistress of a wealthy, but flawed, man.  The novel is very direct and modern and was considered pretty shocking at the time, and was first published in a heavily edited form in 1900. Carrie is not always a particularly likeable character, and her decisions (and the narrative of the novel) are strikingly modern and brutal at times. It really is a fascinating read – in parts sad, shocking and unsettling – but, also a great page turner and I couldn’t put it down.

What have you been reading lately?