Archive for November, 2011

November 17, 2011

Fashion Maths: A few failures.

I’ve talked recently about  few of my Fashion Maths successes. Sadly, it’s now time to share my failures. Basically all my fashion failures are down to one reason and one reason only: the inability to see the different between My Real Life and My Fantasy Life…

My Fantasy Life is a place of parties, sunshine (except on a fabulous winter ski trip) and high heels. I traipse around in a fog of loveliness surrounded by kittens, cupcakes, fluffy clouds and afternoon tea. I have innate chic, an unlimited budget, no fixed schedule and perfect hair.

My Real Life is a place of deadlines, school timetables, tight budgets, Cheerios, lost socks, headaches and curly hair that basically does what the hell it likes with no thought for me what-so-ever.

Which means that my worst fashion failures (apart from the ones where I’ve bought something a size too small to diet into, we all know how well THAT goes) are when I’ve shopped for parties, not the school run; for afternoon tea, not a hectic breakfast eaten stood by the kitchen sink, whilst pleading with my daughter to ‘please, please for the last time put on your socks’ or for dinner out in stylish restaurants instead of dashing to the supermarket before getting the number 40 bus.

So, bye- bye McQ little black dress, farewell orange platform heels and au revoir giant Aviator sunglasses. I am trading you in for things that work in My Real Life. This is not to say that I am giving up on glamour, not at all. It’s just that I will wear sequins on a jumper that I can pair with jeans, instead of on a party dress. My fabulous shoes will be of a height I can walk in. I will wear my other, more sensible sunglasses on my long-awaited -for-and-bloody-hard -earned trip to Rome (in April…which I wish would just HURRY UP).

Plus, selling some of the clothes from My Fantasy Life will help to pay for a glittery jumper and a fabulous pair of flats. A success then, in the end.

November 16, 2011

A Family Walk via Hipstamatic

Photography is a hobby that I’d love to spend more time (and money!) on. At the moment, neither time or money are in abundance but I am having fun using various photography applications on my phone, and I thought I’d record our family walk from this weekend using my phone.

As part of our attempt to slow life down a bit – to cope with stress levels, and enjoy spending some great quality time together, we’ve started trying to book out the whole of Sunday to spend together, enjoying a variety of activities; arts and crafts, cooking, walking, gardening and spending some time outdoors.

So, here is my record of this weekend’s walk:

November 14, 2011

German Friendship Cake: part two

So, I promised that I’d tell you what happened when I finally baked Herman the friendship cake. After 9 days of living with the mixture bubbling away in the kitchen (because you can’t put it in the fridge, otherwise you’ll kill off the yeast) I finally divided it up into quarters, and used one quarter to form the basis of my cake.

Adding diced apple, sultanas, cinnamon, eggs, oil and a bit more sugar and flour, I ended up with an enormous amount of mixture, which looked like this.

Raw cake mixture

Given that raw cake mixture is one of my favourite foods of all time (even though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t actually count as a food stuff) I did have a little taste – and despite the fact that it had been sitting around for days, and some of it (the bit I was initially given) for a lot longer, it tasted pretty good!

So, the next issue was finding a cake tin big enough, which was a bit of a challenge. I ended up using my giant Le Creuset roasting dish, which last held a shepherd’s pie, because none of my cake tins were big enough. After a long while cooking, I ended up with this massive slab of lovely cake. It tastes really good, which is a bit of a relief, given all the effort it took to make it! The stab marks you can see in the cake below are just from me testing it to see if it was cooked. It’s got a great taste, and the little chunks of apple studded through the cake remain nice and juicy in the cooking.

The final result - yum!

Apple chunks...

Thankfully, it freezes well too, so I’ve put a large chunk of it in the freezer, basically to stop me eating it for breakfast every day…

November 13, 2011

Silent Sunday

November 11, 2011

Fashion Maths: my best successes.

Let’s play a game of fashion maths. Everyone knows fashion maths, don’t they?

It’s the cost of an item, divided by the number of times you wear it, which gives you a cost-per-wear figure. The lower the cost-per-wear, the better the bargain.

It’s otherwise known as the way in which you justify to yourself spending a small fortune on a single piece of clothing – especially useful for those classic items; the perfect white shirt, cashmere sweater, trench coat, tote bag, blazer. Things that you might wear forever, and are therefore worth spending extra on. As an aside, if you ever do find the perfect white shirt, or a pair of trousers that are just right, and you can afford it – buy more than one. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

This is not to say that all of my wardrobe is expensive.  Most of it is high street, second hand or actually so ancient (vintage!) I barely know where it came from. I do, however, believe in buying quality over quantity and am very much against very cheap, throwaway fashion.

So, what are my best ever fashion maths results?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a few classics. My Mulberry Antony in a great burgundy colour, which I wear almost daily (you can see it here). It was a few hundred pounds new – but owes me nothing now. It’s a bit like an extra limb, I can barely bring myself to leave the house without it! I also have a Mulberry Ledbury in a black crocodile finish, which is smaller and more structured – better for when I’m without the kids, as I have to hold onto it.

Alongside that, I have a handful of Longchamp pliage bags, which I use all the time, and have over the years acted as nappy bag, carry-on luggage, laptop bag, gym bag and shopping bag. Again, they’re not terribly cheap (cheaper in France than in the UK) but I love how they fold up when empty, yet remain stylish  – just take a look around if you’re ever in Paris and you’ll see half the female population toting one.

The most expensive pair of shoes I ever bought are this pair, from Bottega Veneta.

Favourite red shoes.

Yes, they were ‘take-a-deep-breath-and-hand-over-the-money’ expensive, but they’re beautifully made, stylish and (importantly for someone who is always in a rush) they’re flat. Plus, with a pair of cropped slim black pants, they make me feel as gamine and Hepburn-esque as I am ever going to feel and so I wear them a lot.

So, those are some of my successes – where I’ve not felt bad about spending a bit more money to have something that I love and get a lot of use out of. Not surprisingly, they’re accessories rather than actual pieces of clothing. I find it far easier to buy high street clothes and then accessorise well, than the other way around.

But what about my failures? I’m going to own up to them soon…

What are your best fashion maths successes?

November 8, 2011

German Friendship Cake: part one

Last week a lovely friend gave me a small amount of bubbling cake mixture in a little pot, together with a page of instructions.

This was Herman, my German friendship cake. After something of a tricky start – he nearly exploded all over the office and then I nearly spilt him on the bus journey home – he soon settled down to a daily routine of stirring with the odd flurry of activity in the form of cups of ingredients being added to the bowl. (As an aside, I’d just been to buy essential oils as part of my stress management routine, and so must have had a rather ‘unique’ aroma of cedarwood and sourdough yeast on the bus…)

Anyway, I am now in the point where I’ve had him for the required number of days, stirred in the required number of cups of flour, sugar and milk and divided it up into quarters.

Bowls of Herman mixture.

The kids have really enjoyed doing the daily stirring and adding mixture. We do a lot of baking together, but usually with measuring scales. They rather liked the American way of using cup measurements instead of weighing things and it’s a bit easier for them to manage, so it’s something I will do with them again. I do have a great looking Magnolia Bakery book with recipes using cups. So far I’ve not tried any of the recipes, and it’s about time I did so that’s where I’ll start.

As far as Herman goes, it’s time to add the final ingredients and put him in the oven. I’ll let you know how I get on, and if you’re local and you fancy some starter mixture, come and get some! If you fancy making your own starter, there are loads of recipes online if you just do a web-search. I find the idea of sharing this cake starter really heart-warming. When times are tough, friends and cake are two very important ingredients for making things ok again.

November 5, 2011


So, my doctor says I’m suffering from stress. Surprised? No, me neither. I have a full time job, with plenty of pressure and not enough resources, and two small children. Oh, and there’s still a hole in the house roof…

I had a telephone appointment with a counsellor yesterday, and she asked me to explain my life to her. At the end of it, she said ‘I’m a bit stuck here’… Not a terribly reassuring thing to hear a therapist say, especially down the telephone, which clearly isn’t a long term solution. I do now have five sessions face to face with someone else and we’ll see how that goes.

One of the things she asked me was what in life I could stop doing. Anything that I could give up, which would give me more time to just ‘be’ instead of being on the perpetual treadmill of ‘doing’. A lot of the causes of stress in my life at the moment are externally driven, things I cannot change. The truth is that I cannot afford to reduce my hours at work, and I clearly cannot hand over my kids to someone else until they start sleeping through the night, so really, the only things I can give up are those things I do for myself. The things I do to keep a bit of me around, the me that isn’t an employee or a mother, but just me. I’m not about to do that, because those are the things that help me retain my sanity, albeit on a very loose thread.

I could, however, give up my 35:35 Challenge. I’ve come to realise that I am pretty unlikely to get to complete 35 new things before June, unless there is a flurry of activity soon. It’s hard to find the time in amongst all the other things that need doing every day, or every week. After a bit of thought, what I’ve decided to do, rather than giving it up, is to stop putting pressure on myself to complete it. So what if I only do twenty new things in the year? That’s still a good handful of new experiences, new people, new places. The journey is what counts, not whether I make the numbers ( I have enough budget management to do as it is!).

So, a relaxing, then, of the Challenge. Not an abandonment. I do still have things in the pipeline that I will continue to do. Some of them I will be writing about very soon. And there is still my ‘Bucket List’. A more important list of things I really, really want to do before I drop off my perch, which I wrote ages ago and then ignored, like somehow it was going to just happen all by itself. So, there’s the rest of my life to think about that, rather than just the time to my next birthday.

But what I need to do now is find some better coping mechanisms. The last thing I want is for my children (who let’s be truthful, are often the cause of my stress, as well as my happiness) to suffer because I am exhausted, anxious, weepy or snappy. I’ve started taking a better, more objective look at myself and what I’m doing every day. My crutches have been occasional drinking, way too much sugar, and getting into bed or slumping in front of the TV instead of to the gym or out in the fresh air. I also need to tidy the house, as the sheer amount of things we have in it sometimes feels as though the walls are closing in. In her wonderful book and website  “The Happiness Project“, Gretchen Rubin understands that outer calm creates inner happiness, and I agree with her, so I need to tackle the clutter!

I don’t think it’s a generalisation too far to say that working mums (or dads) put themselves at the bottom of a long list of people, but once you burn out, then you are not helping yourself or them. So, time for a bit of self-help, alongside the counselling. Better nutrition, that will give me more, longer sustained energy; getting some exercise; a massage. Taking some time for me, to find a bit of calm and peace on that treadmill.

If there are any stress management things you do, that you think would help me out, do let me know. I know I’m not the only one out there who juggles a lot in life, so it would be brilliant to hear how you manage it!