Monday, 30 June 2014

Meal Planning Monday

A good week for food. We have a new Aldi near us and we are just testing it out for a few weeks to compare prices and quality. So far there is very little we would rather have bought at our usual supermarket, except coffee and perhaps fruit juice concentrate. Oh, and they don't do bagels but since the Princess has got braces on her teeth, then bagels are out anyway.

So menu for this week;
Monday; Spanish Pork and pasta. A family favourite from Delia Smith, with an updated recipe available here; Broccoli as a side.
Tuesday; Mustard coated chicken; I should be using chicken thighs here but the price of a  whole chicken is too good to resist (£4.99) so I shall be cutting the chicken up myself. First.time.ever.
Wednesday; Salisbury Steaks and potatoes. Fancy burgers, basically, but I may dip them in egg and breadcrumbs as well. And the potatoes are potato gratin from Aldi. They take 30 minutes to cook to soft. I need to learn how to make gratin and then just do it.
Thursday; Frikadellen and pasta; Aldi do brilliant German/Austrian meatballs. We use two packs for our 5 hungry people but at £1.89 each that's a meat for a meal at only £3.78. With a cheap pasta sauce or a good home made one, it's a reasonable and filling meal.
Friday; The hubby is out and we are at play. The Abbey Fryer will cook tea for us, probably fish and chips or pie and chips.
Saturday; Meat kebabs with couscous and ratatouille. On the barbecue if the weather holds.
Sunday; beef or pork, I haven't decided. We're not doing anything that day, so I can choose nearer the time. Either way it will probably be braised in the slow cooker so that a delicate, tooth brace wearing daughter can eat it with no problems.

Very much a recipe free zone. I have been cooking from Jamie's Money Saving Meals for a few weeks and I am having a break to see what recipes I miss and need to integrate into usual family routine. The weekly shop cost us £62.84 with breakfasts and lunches included, which at Sainsbury's (our usual supermarket) would have cost us £87.43. I would work out the saving, but I'm flabbergasted. I wish I was sponsored by Aldi, I can tell you, I am a convert. Add to the distinct savings the fact that a lot of our Christmas treats usually come from Aldi and I can't see us switching back any time soon. It's even closer and within walking distance, saving money on petrol as well. Winner!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Tired? Emotional? Take to the craft box.

The Princess spent Friday night on a sleepover with 5 bezzies for a birthday party of a friend. 5 twelve year old girls does not give much sleep, and Saturday morning dawned far too early for her. By the time elevenses came, she was curled up on our sofa and sleeping off the effects of the night before. This does not bode well for the future, when such nights may well be fuelled by alcoholic as well as high spirits!!

It did mean that by the afternoon she was tired but restless and ready to do something but not anything hard.

Enter the craft I have been meaning to do for ages but just never got on the table.

I remember back when I was a Brownie making a match box house, for real matches at a time when people still smoked and used them, and having a great time doing them. And ever since the Princess was a reasonable size for crafting I have been meaning to make one again.

We used the big kitchen matchbox, emptying a load into a Bonne Maman jar just to free up two, because sometimes a craft needs to be done as a pair. A quick raid of the felt box and plug in of the hot glue gun (remember; it is hot) and we were set up.

It was a simple cut and paste job, just picking colours, glueing the sides and roof on and cutting small shapes to use as the windows and door. The Princess lined hers in dotty blue gift wrap (cutting it out of the middle of a large sheet; why do children do that?) but I have a wish to create a Brambley Hedge style interior, so mine is still blank.

And no house is a home unless it is lived in and loved, so we had to make the inhabitants. Just had to, didn't we? Despite the fact it was nearly tea time and I should have been cooking bolognese. Break out the Fimo, and a little kneading and baking later and the people were done. You can see I went very traditional red and green in style. The Princess has gone for mix n match gnomes, but I am banned from showing you her people because they are going to be on her website. Of course.

And by the time 7 o'clock struck, we were chilled, happy, relaxed and ready to join the human race again. I plan to make a mouse house during the summer holiday, complete with little Fimo mice and twisted wire furniture.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Summer rain? Well, it is Wimbledon

So when you've had a busy afternoon with two teenage sons, been and got the new Simply Crochet and Mollie Makes and come home to breakfast at night for tea, what is the preferred method of relaxation?
I'd love to say lighting a fire and sitting out listening to the birds, but it is raining.
I don't mind the rain, I just don't want to sit out in it. (Memo to self; must measure up gazebo and buy plastic roofing for it)

So on goes the TV, change channel to Wimbledon and settle down to some repetitive hooking; small squares, big squares, edge them off patterning until the eyes start to droop and I think it might be time to just be instead of do, to rest mind and body.
And the tennis is over and the football is back on.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Hippy Hippy Backpack in action

I know, I know, I owe you pictures of my Autumn sunset backpack. I didn't get to the computer the next day. Apologies.

Instead, here are some action shots of my Princess with her backpack, wearing a flower garland for Midsummer at Tatton Park last weekend.

 Doesn't she just look like a hippy worthy of Glastonbury? I think I really love her choice of colours, especially when she chose blue flowers for her hair.

Next stop, San Francisco.

Why I write; Angel Jem's City Cottage

'Why I write' Blog Hop; I hijacked the Hop from Coal Valley View. She did ask for volunteers.
 It's going around the blogoverse, and different people have been thinking about it. CJ at Above the River wrote about her writing here, and passed the baton on to Leanne at Today's Stuff, while people whose blogs I have never read have written their thoughts at Miss and Misters, A Colourful Life and Clairey Hewitt from Australia. I guess that is the point of a blog hop; you never know where you'll end up or who you'll visit. New friends waiting to be made, new ideas, places, lives to be learned about. I love blogs just because so many people just write to communicate. And we get to see people who, if they lived in the next town, would undoubtedly invite us for coffee and a really good walnut cake but can't because a continent and the deepest ocean in the world lie in between. More contact makes for a smaller world. I like the global village. Fancy a cuppa? Come on then, sit down and I'll tell you my motivation for this craft I do.

 What am I working on?
 I'm working on keeping up the blog; getting a post a week at least that captures life here in Liverpool. I've been blogging for seven years now, and in that time my children have changed from infants to teenagers. I look back at the beginning sometimes and it is so sweet to see how they have changed. Have I changed, too? Yes, of course! I think when I first wrote I was driven to an extent by what others said or how many visitors I had, and I had incredible blog envy for Those Really Popular Blogs that had loads of visitors or had time to do pretty photography. Life always had too much for me to do to let me take pictures against a white background, and white backgounds don't last long in a house with my children. Now I really have no ambition for the blog to be the centre of a world wide empire or to be anything other than an online diary or dialogue between me and the people who read and comment on the site. No dreams of e-courses, patterns for sale or monetised associate programmes. Just a stream of consciousness set of posts about life, love, crafts and anything else that takes my interest. I hope it's nice to read because there is no drive to succeed.

 How does my writing differ from others in my genre? 
What genre is that? The writing letters to a load of friends at once genre? The bored and need to do something so a new post will fill an empty five minutes genre? The I finished my new bag and I really like it so someone else will as well genre? I suppose if I fit into a genre it is purely journalling, just keeping a line open with the outside world and people who like the things I like, do the sort of things I do and validate my career as wife, mother and worker in the world without judging me as a person. I like that I can write about craft, cooking, days out, and then stick a post on life, politics, religion (although not sex, funnily enough. Don't know why) in and still get a few comments on it back.

 Why do I write what I do?
It's a need to write. I used to write loads of stories when I was a teenager and have a dream to write stories again; I have a plot I'd like to do about a fat, middle aged vampire mother of three, but I need to be more disciplined and set time aside for actual fiction. And I used to have diaries, a lot like the blog only very stop start, from this notebook to this new one. I like blogging better. Somehow the time needed to capture my everyday thoughts and plans on the page is easier, less stressful and a lot more fun. I'm a good listener and talker as well, so I like to think this is a lot like telling my favourite Auntie or cousin about my day today. I should probably not write my Great Novel, but a comedy book about life in general.

 How does my writing process work?
Sometimes I actually plan a post in my head. I know what I want to put down and think it through from start to end. I did have a blog post list once, but more often than not the posts end up being very of the moment, thoughts on life that day, written straight into Blogger and published without more than a proof read for spelling and common sense. Sometimes I read an article or a post online and need the right of reply without feeling vulnerable. Often I won't know til I start what the post will be about. Does that make for disjointed reading? I don't know. This was a rare post that I actually thought about and wrote and saved to review, edit and publish later. I knew I didn't have any pretty pictures (and the weather today is rubbish; dark, dank, miserable moss green trees over shadowing my garden) and that I hadn't made anything, because I'm making a blanket and that makes for really interesting reading (not) so writing and explaining what makes me write was a good time filler.

Where do I go from here? 
This wasn't where I expected to be...... well, it is really. Just a plain not so old (but getting older) Mum with a messy life and a messy blog who used to keep diaries and uses this for the same reason. Except I don't spend as much time calling other girls bit....s of fun. Whoops. There was a real retaliatory streak in my diaries that the blog doesn't have. I've mellowed. I'm happier, more confident, a lot less dependant on the opinions of others. That's good, isn't it? Don't you think???

And my chance to pass the baton on;

Lisa at Jumble and Jelly, do you fancy telling us why you write?
And Jo at Through the Keyhole; give us a glimpse into what keeps you blogging?

If you're a blogger who fancies putting your inspirations into words, please do the exercise and post a comment and link below. It's interesting to know why we do what we do.  And if you're a Blog hopper and a new visitor; welcome! Please say Hi and do please come back again. The more the merrier in the City Cottage!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Tatton Park, Cheshire

We spent Saturday with friends at Tatton Park, Cheshire. It's a lovely big house that used to be the home of the Earls of Bridgewater (them of the canal fame).
Yesterday was their Mediaeval Fayre day. There were lots of stalls selling ye olde arrows and shoes, but this was the sign that made us smile.

The men in armour must have suffered in the heat yesterday, but I think they enjoy suiting up and whacking chunks off each other with broad swords, so I'm not too sympathetic.

 Our friends' children are 9 and 8. The 'pitched battle' that we couldn't see for all the grown ups in the way who WOULD NOT let them through soon lost any trace of interest to their own pitched battle; empty coke bottles are such good swords for a 'friendly' contest. Don't worry; the 8 year old beat my 2nd son absolutely!
And by the end of the day, we wandered off quite happily. 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Midsummer Night's Dreaming....

Last night was Midsummer night. I made myself a promise that this year I would mark it with a big fire and a late night spent outside until the sun went to sleep. It was 11pm by the time Eldest Son and I came back in. Just in time for another game of football!

 Midsummer used to be a big event in England, with fires and fortune telling, but the Reformation and Industrial Revolution put paid to them in the end. It seems a shame to me that as a nation we seem happy to lose our traditions; old songs, old dances, whatever passes for 'national costume' in England, we let them go so easily in the name of progress. I'm not sure we replaced it with stuff that was better; we just replaced it with stuff.
Our Church is running a course on hospitality, on opening our doors and lives to strangers, on sharing a cuppa or a sarnie with someone and getting to know people where they are. It's good; it questions the closed boxes we live in and makes us focus on making the world a better place. A place where we share things, a place where we can ask for help or give a neighbour a hand for no other reason than the joy of serving others. Used properly, hospitality must make life better as long as it is freely given and freely received.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Next! Roll on the Autumn sunshine bag.

I must not keep making bags.
I must not keep making bags.
I must not keep making bags.
Oh B*****ks. I made another one.

And because it only takes an evening to do the bag part of the bag, I didn't remember to take tutorial photos as I went along.

Double B*****ks.

Perhaps I should make a pink one, like She asked me to.
And photograph all the stages this time.

This bag has been made in Stylecraft DK used double to make a chunky weight yarn. That gave me the chance to blend my colours. I'm very happy with the way it turned out. Do you want to see the full bag? 

OK, come back tomorrow.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Chunky Bag love continues...

If something is this good and easy, it bears repeating. And anyway, my daughter asked me to make her one.

Once my chunky bag was finished She (who should keep quiet but likes to be obeyed) asked would I make her one. Only..........

"Your colours are too dark," She proclaimed. "I don't like that brown and the blue is too..... well, boring."

 So I got on to the Wool Warehouse straight away. "These are the chunky colours, " I protested, "Look! Choose about 7 and I'll make your bag your way."
I blame Burger King.

 It's the same basic idea; a rectangle for the base made of 19 chains and a row of single crochet, two chains at every corner and 5 rounds to form the base. Don't ask for proper pattern notation. You can figure it out if you think about it, seriously.

 She wanted a backpack, a different shape. Yes, she is demanding. I crocheted the body of the bag straight up, 25 or 26 rows, then did the cord row by trebling 5 stitches and making one chain instead of the next treble, then treble 5 more. A final row of treble on top and an outline row of single crochet in the colour of her choice (red; she is my daughter, after all) and the body was done.

 I used my coaster pattern again for the flap. It is so cute, with petal stitches that really do form points so that it looks like a flower on the bag.
And then I panicked. How, in the name of all that is holy, do you crochet Backpack straps?

 Well, really, you just don't. Ebay sell 25mm wide webbing that is designed for backpack and bag straps at a price reasonable enough to afford. This search page just holds a selection, I can't remember which I used. It cost about £4 for 5 metres, and you need about 2.5m to make the backpack. I machine stitched the straps across the back of the bag, running to and fro a few times to add security.
They even sell plastic catches and buckle things to add completely to th eimpression that This Bag has been Made By A Woman Who Knows Her Stuff.
It's all smoke and mirrors. I'm not showing you the catches. Not even if you ask. Even if you ask nicely.
That might be because they haven't made it onto Her backpack yet.

 The button came from the Wool Warehouse, again for pennies really, and delivery was free for orders over £25 (there were a few items that slipped into my basket; you'll see them later on the blog)

 6 lengths of chunky plaited in sets of two made the cord, sized to go all the way round with an excess of about 5 inches (whatever centimetres) on either side of the middle front holes. You can see how it was threaded in and out below, and how the cords cross over so that no part of the top is left unfastened.

 The lining was left over from a green dotty top we made together, and just done by eye like in my chunky bag. It was even easier to sew in because it is just a bag with pockets sewn on before you join the sides together. I like to make it from one continuous piece of material so that there are no joins at the bottom of the bag to add strength.

And there you have it. A crocheted back pack. I need to make another one and actually stop and photograph the stages. I might even try my hands at a tutorial and proper explanation, although seriously as long as you can treble and you use your common sense it can't be that difficult, can it?
 She loves it. It is her Dyslexia Action bag that she takes with her every Wednesday. And, yes, now she's kidded me into one bag, she has Plans for more.

"Wouldn't a pink bag be brilliant?"

Friday, 13 June 2014

What? Bears do minimalism? Who knew?

Once Georgie had been done and dusted, passed over to her new owner, said owner set about creating a bear house. Because (ahem) Every Good Bear Deserves .... ok, a Flat doesn't quite fit the musical note mnemonic, but it's close enough.

Said owner is not famous for her minimalist tendencies. Having inherited a good few genes from me the 'if a little is good, more must be better and so much that you can't move must be the best' attitude has usually invaded her bedroom, wardrobe and pencil case. She's organised, yes, but she organises a lot of Stuff. So when she disappeared off to make the house, I thought of wild decorated walls, pictures, lots of furniture, bright bedding, all her Sylvanian accessories re used.

I never expected this positively Danish retreat, the white walls, furniture and bedding. Positively beautiful.

Who are you, and what have you done with my daughter?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Free gift... make it tonight!!

I love seeing this on magazines, it's such an inducement to buy, sometimes. I am a sucker, and a fool and his money are easily parted.

But sometimes the gift is actually something I want to make, or have had eyes on for a while, or just know would be a 'good thing' to make, and fun to do. I got suckered this way in the last two weeks.

The first free gift is this, a lovely Maria doll. She looked so cute, and I love Russian dolls.
Alas, she lies alone and unmade, waiting for a free evening when inspiration strikes and I think, "Gosh, I must do some knitting because it is ages since I dropped any stitches or stuck my tongue out at a tricky bit of slip one, knit one slip slip stitch over"
I can't remember the last time I thought that.

The second kit I got was a bit easier to think about. See, here is George Bear.
He came with instructions, wool and the offer to "Knit George Bear TONIGHT!!"
I took up the challenge, cleared my evening and sat still, tongue in place, to complete.....

Georgie Bear. Somewhere in the evening he changed sex. The bow tie became a rather fetching and very curly ra-ra skirt, and s/he was fun to do.
The body and head are knitted in one piece, with only the arms knitted individually and sewn on. A little stuffing, a few embroidery stitches and the Princess was happy the next day when Georgie took up residence next to her breakfast.

It was a good pattern; as a knitter who dislikes sewing up and attaching lots of little pieces the whole body/head piece was beautifully simple and very effective. 

And, yes, the request for a proper George has been made. One day, I promise, one day.