Archive for November, 2011

November 30, 2011


I didn’t really know how to title this post. It’s not that I’m anti-Kindle or (insert other e-book device here) it’s just that I’m pro-books. Actual books. The smell (from sharp new academic texts, to fusty old, mouldy ones) the feel of the paper, the design of the cover, the choice of typeface; cannot be beaten.

Growing up, my love for the library was so great that when everyone else wanted to play dress up as doctors or super heroes, I pretended to be a librarian. I used to stamp my books before loaning them out and kept a fiercely updated list of who had taken which book.

My favourite books were pony books, and as a grown-up, I collect first editions of the ‘Jill’ series by Ruby Ferguson; my ultimate rose-tinted memory of that period.

Pony Books

In contrast to this, I recently enjoyed a completely new experience. My first Twitter book-club discussion, run by the lovely people at @More_Than_A. It was lovely to chat through a recent shared read (One Day, by David Mitchell) and hear other people’s views on such a popular book. A great discussion was had and it felt like a lovely way to share the love of reading and meet some new people online. I am already looking forward to the next one!

Although I still pay a couple of visits each week to the library, I have indulged in my love of books through the mighty Amazon. Like so many of us, I find the combination of choice and discounts irresistible – which, unfortunately has resulted in something of an overwhelming stack of books waiting to be read.

Ploughing through that stack of books has taught me that I need to slow down in my purchasing. To savour the buying of a book like I used to, instead of buying them in great swathes because they are cheap. It also struck me that if everyone shops like me, buying their books online, then the bookshop where I live would bear the brunt. So, this week I went to the bookshop instead. I spent a good long hour having a browse around, before choosing something purely because it felt right. (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon, in case you’re interested.) Returning to the bookshop gave me a sense of pure, unadulterated joy. I will be back, and be spending more of my time and money in a proper bookshop, rather than just online. After all, a city without a bookshop is not a city I want to live in…

November 28, 2011

Easy Peasy Family Pizza

Family Sunday often involves making food with the kids, who, like many others, are pretty fussy when it comes to food. One thing I have noticed, is that the more involved they are in the making of the food, the more likely they are to eat least try some of it once it’s ready for eating!

The one thing that always goes down well with everyone is pizza. I’ve made this lots of times now, for adults as well as children and it always gets a good reception, plus by knowing exactly what is in it, you can be reassured that it’s far better than shop bought ones.

To make the dough:

400g strong white flour (bread flour)

200ml warm water

1 teaspoon caster sugar

1 teaspoon salt (you could use a little less if you’re worried about salt content, but don’t leave it out, there is no salt in the tomato topping, which reduces overall amounts to less than shop-bought pizza)

1 and a 1/4 teaspoons fast-acting dried yeast. This comes in little 7g packets in the supermarket.

3 tablespoons olive oil.

A scattering of semolina for the outside – sprinkle this onto the work surface when you’re rolling/stretching the dough out.

Add all the ingredients together and mix until you have a firm dough. I use my trusty (best Christmas present ever) KitchenAid with the dough hook on, but I have made it by hand in the past. Once it’s all come together, you need to turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for about five minutes. Use the heel of your hand to push the dough away, turn it at a right angle, fold over, and turn it away again. You will find that it doesn’t take long to come together in a nice, stretchy ball of dough. The put it into a large bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave for about an hour. Smear some more olive oil on the inside of the clingfilm in case the dough rises enough to stick to it.

After about an hour, the dough will be roughly double it’s original size. Take it out, and give it a quick knead again before breaking into chunks for individual pizzas. This amount of dough makes about 4 pizzas. Be warned, the gluten in the dough means that as soon a you stretch it out, it springs back again, so you have to persevere with stretching it out – I usually just use my hands to flatten and stretch it out, rather than a rolling pin. You could always have a go at being a proper pizza chef and do a bit of twirling in the air!

Once it resembles something like a pizza base, you’re ready to add the topping. For the sauce, we heat through some basic tomato passata, with a little extra tomato puree and a dollop of ketchup or sprinkling of sugar to take the sharpness away. Add a few dried herbs – oregano or an Italian mix and a grating of black pepper. Leave it to cook through, raw tomato puree is horrible! Make sure it’s nice and thick.

Then the fun part can begin – the building of the pizza. We usually chop a variety of vegetables, cheeses, meats into little bowls and then let everyone choose their own toppings (which brings out the inner ‘TV cookery show presenter’ in everyone!) The kids really enjoy this bit, and it’s a lovely way of getting them to try a variety of vegetables, maybe even something new, amazingly. Make sure that all the toppings don’t end up in a little mountain in the middle of the pizza otherwise that will still be cold when the outside is burnt.

The pizza takes about 10-15 minutes in an 180 degree celsius oven, but keep an eye on them whilst cooking, as they may take even less. Then eat it all up!

November 27, 2011

Silent Sunday

November 25, 2011

I’ve Been VERY Good…

A Christmas Wishlist.

Alex Monroe jewellery is just so beautiful.

Alex Monroe necklace


Because if anything will get me knitting, it’s this…

Wool and The Gang


This necklace would go with EVERYTHING!

DAY Birger et Mikkelson necklace


This lovely cocktail ring would help me channel my inner Kirstie Allsop.

Chan Luu ring


The ultimate luxury bag. I love it and I’m never likely to buy myself one…

Chloe 'Marcie' bag

And finally, it’s that Markus Lupfer badge again.

Markus Lupfer badge

PS – to my lovely family, anything from my Amazon list would also be perfect 😉

All items available from Net A Porter.

November 23, 2011

Not Very Crafty…

I never learned to knit when I was younger. Or crochet, sew, embroider – or any other craft. From the age of seven, I spent all my spare time with ponies.

So, it’s a bit of an embarrassment to find myself at the age of thirty-five being completely clueless about craft. To be honest, it still baffles me how many women of my age do know how to do these things – where did they learn, what did I miss? (Mum, I’m looking at you…) I have decided that I want to learn a craft as part of my 35:35 Challenge, and so that, in time-honoured tradition, I can pass it on to my children

I’ve been trying, through the advice from a mixture of library books, YouTube and some lovely people on Twitter, to learn for myself. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for me appears to be my left-handedness. You see, all the instructions are for right handed people. Even if you do find something that teaches you how to do it left-handed, there is still the issue of following patterns, all of which are written for the right- handers. It’s an irony, given that left handed people are actually supposed to be more creative (something to do with having a dominant right-brain, apparently.)

This is my first attempt at crochet. Don’t laugh. It took half a day, and a LOT of creative swearing, to get this much:

A tiny piece of crochet…

I will persevere with the crochet, but am also pinning high hopes on sewing. I have a one-to-one session booked in with the lovely Abi at Sew You Handmade in January. Looking at some of the beautiful work she creates, if I cannot learn from her, then there is no hope.

If all else fails though, and I have to give up trying to make things, I will teach my children the art of accessorising instead, and pin one of these lovely sparkly letters from Markus Lupfer (at Net A Porter) onto everything I own…

Markus Lupfer sequinned initial brooches

Are they not the cutest bit of sparkle ever? I might buy the letters to spell ‘mummy’. After all, Eve does like me to wear a badge so I don’t forget:

A badge for me…

November 23, 2011


This isn’t a true blog post. Well, I mean, it is, because it’s here, but it’s really a scheduling agreement that I am making with myself with you as my witnesses.

I’ve been struggling a bit to find the time to write here and this is my solution. A bit less ad-hoc posting and a bit more scheduling. After all, it’s how I manage the rest of my life so this shouldn’t really be any different. I’ve still got to work out quite how other people who write blogs manage to do so much. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are not many who have young children AND work full time. It’s one or the other, or perhaps part time hours. Also, I don’t want to be doing things in life purely so I can write about them here. This is a blog about my life, not a work of fiction, so in order for it to be authentic, I have to spend time doing the things I want to do so that I have something to write about!

Anyway, here is my solution. I will post between three and four times a week.

  • Monday will be a post on parenting/Family Sunday/weekends/35:35 Challenge.
  • Wednesday will be henceforth known (in my mind anyway) as ‘Barbara Wednesday’. On this day I’ll write about all the things that I’ve categorised as being ‘Barbara’. See the list of previous posts to know what I mean. Or cast your mind back to The Good life. Whichever is easier.
  • In the same vein, Friday is now ‘Margot Friday’.
  • If I have taken a photo during the week that is good enough to sum up my week without any title or caption (because those are the rules!) then I will do a Silent Sunday post, because it’s a beautiful thing. To learn more about Silent Sunday, click on the box on the right.

As my 35:35 Challenges could be classed as either Barbara or Margot categories, I reserve the right to talk about a Challenge on Wednesday or Friday accordingly, and also there is bound to be some cross-over. The categories are to make life simpler and were used to help me sort out my scanner brain, but they’re not iron clad. I am human after all…

So, there we go. This is what you can expect from this site now, and what I can expect of myself. Thanks for sticking around for this long, and I hope you’ll be back for the first Barbara Wednesday post a bit later today.

November 22, 2011

7 Secrets.

I must have done a marvellous job of answering the last meme (which I’ve looked up, since my last one : an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture), because I have received a blog award!

Thank you Rhiannon! (@The_Last_Slayer)

To receive the award, I now have to share 7 secrets about myself. There is little that the people in my life don’t already know about me, but for the benefit of folk who read this who haven’t known me all that long, here we go:

1: I have a degree in Equine Science. As you can imagine, outside of the specialist industry, it’s not massively helpful as a career booster, but the three years I spent studying it gave me a husband, some of my best friends (who I am very bad at visiting, sorry girls xx) and some of the best memories I’ll ever have.

2: I have two favourite novels – ‘War and Peace’ and ‘I Capture The Castle’. I Capture The Castle has become a bit of a cliche as so many famous women list it as a favourite. I feel as though they stole it from me! It’s the perfect bittersweet coming-of-age novel which I read time and time again, I cannot wait to share it with my daughter. I don’t talk about War and Peace as much because people think I’m trying to be clever. I’m not. Yes, it is a huge book, but it reads like a soap opera and it makes me so sad that people are scared of it. Give it a go, it’s truly an amazing book.

3: One of my worst vices is my magazine addiction. I have been known to buy 30 magazines in a month, on a variety of subjects including fashion, horses, gardening, travel, antiques, food and surfing. One of my favourite memories from being young is a day off school (due to strikes – nothing changes!) and spending my pocket money on a can of 7Up and a copy of Vogue. So, from a very young age I’ve been addicted to the glamour and artistry of the fashion industry, which means I know far more about it than my appearance suggests!  On occasion, it’s proved very useful. I once won hundreds of dollars in Australia on a back-packing trip by knowing what Coco Chanel’s real name was. None of the other students had a clue. PS – I only bought that surfing magazine once…

4: I am a qualified massage therapist. I never get to practice because my husband hates it. I like to think that it’s not just because I’m rubbish…

5: When I was 14, I wrote a list of all the things I wanted to do with my life. I used to carry it around and look at it, without every really doing anything about making any of them happen. (The start of my life as a scanner, clearly!)  It never occurred to me at the time, that I’d need about ten lifetimes to get through it all, not to mention some serious wealth. I finally realised that and threw it away, but I often think about it, and have subsequently written a proper Bucket List (which, for now, remains a secret!) Now I carry that around without doing anything about making any of it happen. This has got to change.

6: I once spent the equivalent of my monthly mortgage payment on a pair of shoes. I don’t regret it.

7: For a brief, shiny (but quite frankly, starving) moment last summer, I wore size 8 jeans. Now, I am a rounder but less angry size 12. It turns out there are a lot more important things to me than being really thin. The jeans are going to a car boot sale. Having said that, I remain eternally optimistic that one day I will be able to balance my desire to be a bit thinner with my desire for a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.

Now, I have to pass this challenge and award on: so I am going to pass it to @Minibreakmummy!

November 21, 2011

Date night at Leeds International Film Festival

During my stress management session last week, I was asked when was the last time David and I had been out together as a couple, on our own. I couldn’t remember.

So, as soon as the session ended (in a rare grabbing-the-bull-by -the-horns moment )I went straight to the Leeds International Film Festival box office, and bought a pair of tickets for the closing gala film, ‘Shame’, which was showing at the Leeds Town Hall last Friday night. Of course, having bought the tickets, I then needed to get hold of  a baby-sitter. Thankfully my Dad stepped into the breach. As my parents and in-laws give us so much support through the day, I often find it hard to ask them to look after the children so we can go out, but I’ve come to realise that we need some time as a couple too. After all, one day the children will grow up and leave home (all being well), and it’ll be just the two of us again!

The film was shown in the Victoria Hall, a two tiered hall with a stage. All around the top of the hall, in beautiful tiles, are typically Victorian mottos of industry, religion and altruism. It’s a lovely room, and one in which I’ve never seen a film before. In fact, although I’ve planned to for many years, I’ve never seen a film at the Film Festival before, so I’ve decided that, despite the lack of much effort on my part, this counted as one of my 35;35 Challenges.

As my sister-in-law said ‘my challenge, my rules!’

This year’s Festival was the 25th Anniversary, and Leeds has been accepted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to become part of the Academy Awards® process in the categories of Live Action Short Film and Animated Short Film for the 2013 Oscars®. So, exciting times and it was a great pleasure to finally see a film as part of the Festival.

Now, I’m not a film critic, and this isn’t a post about the film itself, more about finding some balance in my life, but I will say a little about ‘Shame’. Mostly because it’s ingrained on my memory. Shame stars Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a sex addict, and Carey Mulligan as his suicidal sister. As you can tell from this, it’s not a feel-good kind of film. There is a huge amount of nudity and a lot of sex scenes. As Brandon is a sex addict, these are not scenes of loving, joy-filled sex, but of his gradual, seedy and desperate descent into the gutter. It’s a powerful, heart-breaking film and both actors are brilliant, but it’s not easy to watch and was quite a challenge for me.

When I start to suffer from stress, I keep myself in a little bubble, locked away from any particularly difficult news, or fictional content. Instead I watch a lot of easy comedy, read light hearted literature and insulate myself from anything challenging. Mainly because I react badly, and in the case of the news, the feeling of being powerless against the worst is something I do not handle very well.  Once I’m back on form, then I break free from my self imposed bubble and start to take part in the world again!

So, a rare night out, a final Film Festival experience and some time spent with my lovely husband ( who, incidentally, reacted to the film in a similar way to me). Not too bad, all in all and I’m happy that we have resurrected Date Night. Long may it continue.

November 18, 2011

Fashionable Ways to Keep Cosy.

As the weather has turned colder, I’ve started the hunt for the perfect jumper. Which needs to be cosy and yet not make me look like a Yeti. A tall order. On my last trawl around town, I found way too many cropped or short sleeved jumpers. I will NEVER understand the allure of a cropped jumper. I have no idea (beyond the obvious) what my poor stomach has done to deserve being left out in the cold. I also need long sleeves, there is nothing cosy and comforting in cold arms.

Here are a few that fit the bill:

Emma Cook embellished sweater

I love the slim line of this one, the embellishment ( a bit of sparkle!) and, as it’s merino wool, it’ll be wonderfully warm.

Paul and Joe Sister sweater

Again, slim line, long, and embellished. How could you fail to feel happy wearing this one?

J Crew sweater

I don’t subscribe to the view that horizontal stripes necessarily make you look fatter. They do make you look stripy…(this is paraphrased from an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a favourite show from my college years). This one is in a great colour combination and is reassuringly long.

J Crew sweater

Again by J Crew, this cable knit is a classic.

So, that’s my jumper choices sorted out. Now all I need is a fall of snow, a roaring fire, a cashmere blanket and a steaming mug of Pierre Hermé hot chocolate and I will have a winter fit for a fashion shoot.

All items available from Net A Porter and thanks to them for all images.

November 18, 2011

10 Questions.

This is the first time I’ve been asked to do one of these. I’m a little nervous, not least because I read the original post and it mentioned things like ‘linky’ and ‘meme’. I do not know what these are. (Note to self: find out, sharpish)

So, thanks to the lovely Rhiannon at A Hell of A Woman (who has spent the day making me smile and has great taste in TV shows) I have been tagged, and here are my answers.

1: Describe yourself in 7 words:

Friendly, helpful, busy, scanner, interested (in everything) and untidy (at this point, I ran out of ideas and asked my husband – he said ‘wonderful’ but I think he knew what I was doing, so I don’t think it counts.) I’ll settle for organiser, as my last word.

2: What keeps you awake at night?

Can I put my son? Because at the moment, it’s my son. He’s two and a half and wants to sleep with MUMMY and not in his own bed. Apart from that, the  usual things keep me awake – money, time, the end of the world, something happening to my kids, whether I sent that last work email and what I need to remember for the next morning. And cold toes. I cannot sleep if my toes are cold.

3: If you could be anyone for a day, who would it be?

Ooooh, this is HARD. I’d love to be someone like Grace Coddington. Or Karl Lagerfeld. Or, Mary King, the Olympic three day eventer. Or, and I don’t have a specific name in mind, but I’d like to be the kind of journalist who gets to review things of luxury – spas, hotels, restaurants – all in the name of work. It turns out I have a long list of people I’d like to be. I did not know that.

4: What are you wearing right now?

Giant stripy cardigan with a button missing from Gap, vest top, black leggings and odd socks. I am basically an unrecognised style icon. Also, I was on my way to bed when I got this link, and being the dedicated blogger that I am, came back downstairs to type. Had I known that this was going to be a question, I’d have got changed into something with sequins…

5: What scares you? 

See my answer to 2, above. Environmental disaster, something happening to my children, injustice, famine, war. All the big stuff. Cheery, no?

6: What is the best and worst thing about blogging?

Hmm, the best is that I have unlimited space to write what I like, even when the grammar is poor and my subject matter is dull. I am also really enjoying meeting lots of new people from all over the place and, in some cases, meeting them in real life too! The worst thing is that sometimes I get lost with terminology, technology and IT (I mean, what IS a meme?…seriously, I have no idea) plus I need a lot more time to balance this with a full time job, two small kids, an allotment and a bunch of other stuff that I want/like/need to do in order to function as a normal, happy human being.

7: What was the last website you looked at?

Well, apart from the very blog that sent me this link, it was 4OD. I love on-demand TV. In fact, I watch the majority of my TV when the rest of the world has already seen it. Which means I’m very rarely in those live-stream Twitter conversations, but it does mean that I can balance a healthy TV habit with the rest of my life!

8:If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

If you’d asked me this question a few years ago, I would probably have given you a great big long list of things. As I reach my mid-thirties, there is little I’d change physically. Even my hair, which I spent the majority of my teenage years battling with, I’ve grown to like. My c-section scars are a reminder of my history and my stretch marks likewise. I’d quite like to be a bit fitter, as at the moment I’m battling with some odd foot problem, which is stopping me from exercising. If I could change ONE thing though, it would be to get rid of the keratosis pilaris on my upper arms. The reason I don’t wear sleeveless. Pah.

9: Slankets: yes or no?

What is a slanket?

10: Tell us something about the person who tagged you.

Rhiannon from A Hell of A Woman is a mummy blogger with a Buffy The Vampire Slayer obsession (see, told you she had great taste in TV) but who thinks she has style closer to that of Sue Heck from The Middle than the lovely Buffy (which I’m sure isn’t true). She’s the mother of two, a fan of cake and (in her own words) ‘a secret coveter of a real life that matches her imaginary life!’ Go and spend some time on her blog, she’s written some great stuff on there and is embarking on something of a life challenge, which is fabulous.

So, in accordance with the rules, I have to tag someone else, and so I’m going to tag Musings from a Mum, as I’ve just started to chat with her on Twitter, and I’d like to get to know her a bit better. I now have to go to the original post by Super Amazing Mum and leave a comment.

That’s that then. I’m off to Google all the things I don’t know about…