Archive for June, 2011

June 27, 2011

Quernus Crafts

This is a slightly different post to my usual writing, because today I’d like to introduce you all to Coco Chanel…in polymer clay form.

Coco Cat

Coco Chanel is a commission of mine from the incomparable Kirsten Miller of Quernus Crafts. There’s more detail here about her and how she was made: Quernus Crafts: Coco Chanel Cat (b.8 April 2011). I do love the story of Coco Chanel, although I know she wasn’t an altogether pleasant character, she is fascinating to read about and I think that Kirsten has captured her attitude perfectly. I only wish I could afford that outfit myself!

Some of you may remember that I previously asked her to make me a Captain Robert Falcon Scott cat for my lovely sister in law, and here he is:

Scott of the Antarctic

There are a few more photos of him here: Quernus Crafts: Scott of the Antarctic Cat (b.18 February 2011). Scott Cat is very much loved and is now proudly exploring the sitting room of Sam’s new home.

I love looking through the website to see what new commissions people have requested, they’re so unique and personal to each individual. The combination of over-active imaginations and Kirsten’s  talent seems to mean that nothing is impossible! For those of you who don’t want an individual commission, she also makes the most adorable mice, cats and other assorted characters, particularly for celebrations. The Christmas mice are my favourites. The detail on these figures is even more astonishing when you see them for real. Which probably explains why I seem to have developed something of an obsession with presenting Kirsten with new challenges and we’ve agreed on a couple of new commissions – one to celebrate the launch of this very blog, and another secret one for Christmas which I am HUGELY excited about…

If you get the chance, Kirsten is going to be at the Made- It Craft Fair this Saturday, 2nd July in St Margaret’s Hall, Horsforth, Leeds, LS18 5LQ. If you can’t get along to that, then do visit her website Quernus Crafts to have a look at all the wonderful characters she has created, and maybe buy one for yourself!

June 19, 2011

Breathing Room.

Today, I am feeling a little bit suffocated.

You see, I live in a very small house, with three other people and the walls appear to be closing in on us. Without an Alice in Wonderland “drink me” solution, we have only one option and that is to tackle all our stuff. Which is mostly mine.

The problem with being a scanner is that almost everything can be interesting at some point or another, and I’m not great at throwing anything away. Although, I think that living with a scanner is even more problematic, but you’ll have to ask my husband about that. He did say that he’d follow me to the ends of the Earth yesterday which was rather lovely, but I do think that on a day to day basis, I drive him crazy. Anyway, I digress… My hoarding nature means that the house is littered with half-finished projects, books on a myriad of subjects and six months’ worth of all the magazines I buy. It is also not an overstatement to say that every surface in my house is covered with a random assortment of casually tossed aside detritus from each day; endless pre-school drawings, tyres from toy cars, odd socks, clothes pegs, biros, bits of loose change and one one memorable occasion from last week, a pile of dried out rabbit droppings from a nature walk.

Add to that, my two darling children and their seemingly endless array of toys, vegetable seedlings for the allotment growing on the windowsills  and you have a recipe for chaos. There is no wonder the cat has a permanent expression of panic on her face.

The wonderful writer Lesley Garner, in her book ‘Everything I Have Ever Done That Worked’ wrote an essay called Integrate or Disintegrate. Her basic argument is that every new thing you introduce into your life has to integrate with what is already there, in order for it to be a success. As I stare at the teetering pile of unread books gathering dust next to the side of my bed, I think she has a very valid point. I need to clear some space, and make some room for new things to enter my life.

The truth is I need to be brutally honest with myself about what should stay and what should go. I have already sold several items of clothing that belong to a life I no longer have. There is not much call for designer heels on the allotment. I have also begun to take books, some of which have truthfully never been opened, to the charity shop. I am embracing the library for all my paperback novel reading these days. Not to mention all the books I borrow on whatever subject takes my fancy. The librarians have become used to my pick-n-mix reservation requests.

Now, it’s onto the rest of the house. Will I ever finish the cross stitch I started in 2006 when I was pregnant with my daughter? There will not be much appeal in a Beaxtrix Potter Alphabet sampler unless I finish it soon. How many cook books do I have that I have never cooked anything from?  (Truthfully though, I do consider just reading great cookery books to be a hobby in its own right, but it would be a good idea to have a go at cooking some of the food created in those pages instead of salivating enviously over the photos and then having another piece of toast.) Will I really ever get into those size 10 jeans again? Why do I even have a chess board, when I cannot play? How many Paris guidebooks does one person really need? And so on, and so on.

Once all of those questions have been answered, and I have removed anything that I honestly shouldn’t be keeping, it’s on to the fun part of trying to tidily store what is left. Which, lets not kid ourselves, will still be far too much. Sitting here in my bedroom, I can see a stash of children’s face-paints on the top of the wardrobe, three cameras on my bedside table and a half strung guitar resting against the wall for starters. I am going to need a trip to Ikea for lots of storage.

But getting rid of the stale things, those that I will never re-start, that are just littering my house like fallen comrades on the search for happiness, will free not only my house but also my mind. With space to breathe again, I can make a fresh start. The old will have given way for the new, exciting things to come my way. Which, to a scanner, is pretty much the reason for living.

June 12, 2011

Time Flies…

After a dull day sitting at home watching the rain fall and trying to be grateful that at least it means that I don’t have to go out and water the allotment, I have decided that what my 35:35 Challenge needs is something of an adrenaline kick.

So, I’ve decided to have a go at flying. Now, I know I’m not Icarus, so I will be using some kind of contraption to get myself (and more importantly, keep myself) airborne.

A glider is a bit like a plane without a motor:Yorkshire Gliding Club.

Whereas a paraglider looks to me like a parachute with a seat at the bottom : Learn to Paraglide | Active Edge.

I’m assuming you know what a hot air balloon looks like.

I will try one of these – once – to see what it’s like. Who knows, it might be the start of something great. Or, it might help me get reacquainted with whatever I had for breakfast that day. There’s only one way to find out!

My question I put to you now, is which one to choose? They all scare the hell out of me, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. And before anyone suggests it, I am not doing a parachute jump. To paraphrase Woody from Toy Story, that’s not flying, it’s falling with style…

June 9, 2011

Buongiorno, numero due!

I’ve written before on my preferred styles of learning, and my desire to have a go at some new methods, and it seems that the 35:35 Challenge is a great opportunity to give them a go!

One of my 35 Challenges was to visit somewhere new. Although I adore Paris with a passion I reserve for very few things, the world is a very big place and to only return to the same place, however wonderful, feels a bit self- limiting. So, even though I will be attempting (finances notwithstanding) to continue the annual pilgrimage to Paris, I am going to try and see a bit more of the world too.

With the children being so young, and with one eye on my carbon footprint, this really means the UK and Europe for now. We took the kids to Italy when they were small; Ben was only 4 months old, which when I think back, was actually quite a brave thing to do. Mind you, at least small babies stay where you put them! Now he’s two, I need eyes in the back of my head. The people we met in Italy were just lovely, the Tuscan countryside was amazing, and I loved the places we visited, such as Lucca and Florence, even though I spent much more time lounging around in local cafes than going to visit the Renaissance art!

So, as a result of that experience, I’ve decided to visit Rome. I’ve never been, it looks incredible and I can get there easily. This is going to be a break for just my husband and I, with the little ones staying with their adored and long-suffering grandparents ( thank you!)

Anyway, the point of all this waffle is that I always like to learn a bit of the language of any country I visit. I think it’s only polite, plus it usually means that  you have a better experience. Paris has a reputation for being a rude city, but I’ve never experienced this, perhaps because everyone is too busy trying not to laugh at my appalling accent…

So it’s time to commence Challenge 2 – to learn Italian. I managed a little bit the last time we visited, and Eve was happily shouting “ciao” to everyone after only a day there – proof that language learning is easiest when you’re a small child!

To do this, I have chosen several different new learning methods.

Number 1: Earworms. This is a very new idea for me and is based around the understanding that we retain information better when it’s delivered to us via music and rhythm – how many of us remember odd phrases in foreign languages as a result of song lyrics? Here’s the link, if you fancy a look: earworms mbt® is a revolutionary accelerated learning technique that takes the hard work out of learning.  I’ll be uploading this to my Ipod and listening to it every day.

Number 2: BBC Active | Talk Italian is the second method I’m going to use. A more traditional book and CD to work through, I’ve had a bit of success using this kind of method before, but it does require a bit more time spending on it, sitting at home and working through exercises.

Number 3: The third method is a bit of fun. MindSnacks Italian – Language Learning Program for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad on the iTunes App Store. This is basically a games based language learning app for the iPhone, which helps you to learn more vocabulary through spelling and recognition.

So, there we are, I’m starting today. Wish me luck.


June 7, 2011

Let the challenge commence…

So, I was 35 yesterday. Hurrah for me. I spent most of the day under a pile of cake or having my glass of fizzy wine topped up, which is as good a way as any to spend a Monday.

Today, however is the first day of my self imposed 35:35 Challenge.

Despite plenty of more exciting suggestions, I decided to start small, with creme bruleé making. I used 6 egg yolks and so decided to make a bunch of meringues too ( an egg white omelette being just a touch too Hollywood for this house) so we can have lots of Eton Mess this week.

I’ve been meaning to have a go at this particular dessert for ages, but the combination of custard making and boiling sugar made me a bit nervous, but today I managed to recover the custard after it threatened to split and then left them all to cool before adding the sugar to the top and caramelising with a cook’s blowtorch – one of the few things in the world that somehow manages to be both ordinary and terribly thrilling.

I think they look pretty good.

Here's the proof!

I think that it’s a good job that some of my challenge are going to be somewhat more physical ( like the Yorkshire 3 Peaks!) as I am now going to eat all three of these…

Any more ideas out there? Please let me know!