The Gallery: A Novel Idea

Way back in history, during my university days, I was lucky enough to spend some time living in Venice. I studied the History of Art for my degree and loved every minute of it. Sadly I don’t have much to do with the art world these days, other than the occasional trip to a museum or gallery, but I still have a passion for art and architecture and would love to get back into it in the future.

As students in Venice, we soaked up all that Renaissance Italy had to offer. My days were spent in galleries and churches, walking through ancient towns and seeing the sites. We visited Padua, Verona, Milan and in particular, we spent a couple of weeks on a study tour travelling around Florence and Siena. We stayed in youth hostels and eccentric hotels in the student quarters, ate delicious and authentic Italian food in restaurants well off the beaten track and walked our socks off. It was wonderful and I remember it like yesterday. 

On this trip, I read two beautiful (and very geographically appropriate!) books – ‘A Room with a View’ by EM Forster, and ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ by Frances Mayes. They are my favourites and so I’ve decided to use them for this week’s Gallery challenge over at Sticky Fingers, where the subject is to choose a photograph which represents a book.

‘A Room with a View’ was written in 1908 and is a romantic novel, set in the Edwardian era. Here’s a description from Amazon: “A brilliant social comedy about the English middle classes abroad and at home, A Room with A View is one of E.M. Forster’s most popular novels. The medieval beauty of Florence is the setting for the emotional awakening of Lucy Honeychurch, a young woman travelling abroad for the first time with her cousin Charlotte. On her return to England, in her relationships with her cousin, the unconventional Emersons and her supercilious fiance Cecil, Lucy is torn between lingering Victorian proprieties and the spontaneous promptings of her heart”.

The photo I’ve chosen is a view over the city, taken from the Forte di Belvedere.

Picture: Florence

The second photo was taken in Siena and looks out over the rooftops and beyond to the Tuscan hillside. It reminds me of the evocative writing in ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’. A description (again from Amazon) follows: “Frances Mayes – widely published poet, gourmet cook and travel writer – opens the door on a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. She finds faded frescoes beneath the whitewash in the dining room, a vineyard under wildly overgrown brambles – and even a wayward scorpion under her pillow. And from her traditional kitchen and simple garden, she creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes, all included in this book. In the vibrant local markets and neighbouring hill towns, the author explores the nuances of the Italian landscape, history and cuisine. Each adventure yields delightful surprises – the perfect panettone, an unforgettable wine, or painted Etruscan tombs. Doing for Tuscany what Peter Mayle did for Provence, Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasures of a foreign country with gusto and passion. A celebration of the extraordinary quality of life in Tuscany, “Under The Tuscan Sun” is a feast for all the senses”.

Picture: Siena

Writing this post, I’m also delighted to discover that Frances Mayes has her own blog, which you can visit here: www.francesmayesbooks.com

Sadly these photos were taken well before digital photography and I’ve had to scan them in, so neither really do justice to the beautiful scenery. I would absolutely love to go back there one day (husband please take note if you’re reading this!)

Posted in Photography | 11 Comments

Kitchen Accessories

How can I describe our kitchen? It’s certainly one of the main things that attracted me to our house, with a large dining area and two sets of patio doors leading out to the garden. The room is light and airy. In the summer, the garden really does become an extension to our living space and as soon as we come downstairs in the morning I open up the doors for the boys to play in and out all day.

The actual kitchen units were put in when the house was built ten years ago, so it is a bit dated and I’d love to get a whole new kitchen. As it stands though, it’s perfectly useable and I think I might save that project until we eventually move into our ‘forever home’, which certainly won’t be for the next couple of years! The units are a honey coloured wood and the tiles are shades of terracotta.

Picture: Decorative blindAs a little project, I’ve put together some kitchen accessories to match the decor. So far I’ve done a decorative blind, window valances, teatowels, oven glove and a kitchen organiser. I’ve still to do a table runner and ironing board cover in the matching fabric, but if you have any other ideas for creative kitchen accessories that I can make, please let me know! I’ve included some photos here and a quick ‘how to’ for the kitchen organiser, just in case you want to have a go at something similar.

Picture: Window valanceI wanted to pick a fabric that would match the terracotta colour scheme and managed to pick up two complementary fabrics on special offer at last year’s Ideal Home Exhibition. The first is ‘Sophia’ and the second is ‘Cervino‘ both from Voyage Decoration. I absolutely love Voyage fabrics, they’re good quality and have some lovely design collections. These two work well together as I’ve used the bolder fabric on prominent items such as the window treatments and the more detailed fabric on smaller accessories such as the teatowels. What do you think?

Picture: Teatowel & ovenglove

I know I’m not the only person who does this (really, my friends have admitted it too!), but several accessories in my kitchen are DPO, that is, Display Purposes Only! I found my father-in-law (very kindly) doing the washing up with one of my new tea towels last weekend and had to explain to him calmly that they were not ACTUALLY to be used for drying things! Yes, I think he thought I was bonkers too…

Kitchen Organiser 

You will need: Ready made picture frame with glass removed, magnetic memo board (removed from its frame & cut to size if necessary), a sheet of cork (cut to size), fabric, ribbon, drawing pins or decorative brads, glue, wadding. You can pick up all these things from somewhere like Hobbycraft without spending too many pennies.

1. Using the cardboard backing from the picture frame as a base, glue the magnetic memo board in the top right corner and the cork across the bottom.

2. Glue wadding in the top left corner and then place the fabric over the top, glueing the edges underneath the cork and memo board to seal into position.

3. To hide the rough edges, glue ribbon along each component of the noticeboard. For a pretty touch, add bows of ribbon and secure with drawing pins/decorative brads or simply glue on.

4. On top of the fabric, place strips of ribbon at diagonal opposites to form a grid. Then, using decorative brads or plain gold drawing pins, push through each intersection and around the edge, in order to secure to the cardboard base.

5. Finally, snap the frame onto the cardboard backing, securing the different elements of the noticeboard into position. I also added some cute butterfly magnets, made by Parlane.

Picture: Noticeboard

Posted in Blissful Home Ideas | 6 Comments

Garden Makeover

Picture: New garden accessories 2

As mentioned yesterday, I’ve been doing some work in the garden over the last few days. We’ve had beautiful weather here in Hertfordshire so I thought I’d make the most of it. I’m a novice gardener – pulling out the weeds and mowing the lawn has really been the full extent of my capabilities so far, but as a keen flower arranger I do know a little bit about flowers and shrubs at least.

The main problem with our garden is that it is completely overrun by brightly coloured plastic toys. I’d love to get one of those wooden fortress style climbing frames for the boys but a) I’m not sure it would actually fit in our garden! b) they cost about £2000 and c) after this weekend, I’m still building up courage to let the little monkeys out to play on their own, let alone clamber over a climbing frame! Still, they are fast outgrowing their toddler toys (it’s a sure sign they need something a bit more adventurous to play with when they pull their little slide over to the twirly washing line in a bid to jump onto it and swing round).

Having decided then to give our garden a bit of a makeover, I popped across to Van Hage in Ware. To call this place a garden centre would be doing it an injustice – they sell just about everything for the home including all my favourite brands, as well as stationery & books, restaurant and of course, plants and garden accessories. The best thing however is its child-friendliness. The boys love feeding the goats, chickens, pigs and bunnies at the animal park and we always have a train ride courtesy of the East Herts Miniature Railway Society, which runs on-site. I’m not getting paid to say this, but it is a great local visit if you have young children – just about the only place I can enjoy a relatively relaxing shopping trip with the boys!

Anyway, I picked up several new plants for the garden including a Fuchsia, Mexican Orange Blossom, Californian Lilac, Lavatera, Rosemary, Thyme and some Lavender – I was aiming for fairly fast growing plants, so that our garden really comes into full bloom by next summer. I’ve still got my eye on a few more shrubs and some pretty bedding plants, but thought that would be enough to get me started! Fortunately my lovely Dad mowed the lawn for me and helped with the planting.

My next project was the garden furniture. After several years of neglect, our table & chairs were covered in cobwebs and bird poo! After giving them the pressure-washer treatment, I sanded down the wood, rubbed over with wire-wool and then applied several coats of teak oil. Quite an arduous job, but I’m really pleased with the results. For the finishing touches I bought some cute hanging lanterns, placemats, Cath Kidston napkins, stylish silver lanterns and some very fragrant thyme and citronella candles (in a bid to keep the waspies away!). By yesterday evening, everything was finally ready to light up the BBQ and enjoy a perfect candle lit dinner al fresco!

Picture: Garden accessories 1

Posted in Gardening | 2 Comments

A Trip to A&E

I had a lovely post lined up today as I’ve been busy with a garden makeover whilst we’ve been enjoying this glorious weather. Sadly though, our weekend didn’t pan out quite as we’d planned. My sister-in-law arrived on Friday afternoon to babysit for us, but after the boys had eaten their tea we heard a loud crash in the garden. Running outside I found my eldest monkey screaming, lying under his scooter with a big cut on his lip. My heart was in my mouth, there was blood everywhere and the poor thing was beside himself.

Bringing him inside to clean the wound I realised immediately that a trip to Casualty was required. He was such a good boy – after the initial shock he calmed down and was quite intrigued about a trip to the hospital – what a novelty! We called our friends to let them know we wouldn’t be able to make dinner and set off, prepared for a long wait. On one of the hottest, stickiest days of the year, the children’s waiting room was full of poorly little people along with their anxious parents – I do hope everything turned out ok for them all.

The thoughts going through my head were mostly worry for my little man – How would he manage stitches? Would he have a permanent scar? Would it affect his speech? Overwhelmingly though, I was so proud at how brave he was. Unfortunately they told us that given his age, he would need to come back early the following morning for a little operation.

Following a fairly sleepless night we arrived at the children’s ward on Saturday morning and were looked after by a lovely nurse named Heather. After a while we went down to the operating theatre and met the facial surgeon. The worst moment came as I had to sit with my gorgeous three-year old in my arms as he was given a general anaesthetic – he really struggled with the mask and I tried hard to keep things together and stay brave myself. Once he was under, I burst into tears! 

After what seemed like hours (but was in fact about 45 minutes) we went to pick up our little monkey from the post-op ward. He was very, very upset for about 20 minutes but eventually calmed down and slept beside me on his bed, until he woke up hungry and ate two rounds of toast and of course, some special chocolate stars for being such a brave boy! Later in the day he was ready to go home. The consultant was happy everything had gone well.

I feel a bit sad that his angelic little face is a bit less perfect (well I am his mum so I’m bound to be a bit biased!), but boys are meant to have scars aren’t they?! I’m also so grateful for the care we received in the hospital and most of all, I’m incredibly humbled by the parents with sick children, for whom hospital isn’t a novelty at all. The whole experience has really made me count my blessings and realise how lucky we are. Sadly we missed the wedding we were due to attend on Saturday but with two boisterous little boys, I’m sure this won’t be the last time we have to visit hospital. Hopefully though our trips to A&E will be few and far between!

Posted in Family Life | 5 Comments

Wedding Stationery

We went to a lovely wedding this weekend and have another one to go to next week. Things have calmed down a bit this year (we’re moving onto Christenings!) but a couple of years ago we went to 9 weddings in one year. When you take into account hen and stag dos, hotel accommodation, new outfits and wedding gifts – that’s a lot of money spent on weddings! I wouldn’t have missed out on any of them though. Witnessing our friends and family tie the knot is a wonderful experience and I always feel so privileged to have been invited to share such a special event.

Someone gave me some great advice before my big day – everything will go by in such a blur that you should try to pick out key moments that you know you are going to treasure, rather than attempt to remember everything. We had a big wedding with over 200 guests so that advice came in really handy.

My happiest memories of the day were walking down the aisle seeing all my friends and relations – I was amazed and humbled at how many people had turned up, just for us! Then, when my eyes fell on my husband, everybody else just seemed to disappear. After the ceremony, we walked back down the aisle to the sound of the ‘Top Gun’ theme tune being played on the magnificent church organ. When we arrived at the reception, I looked through the window and, after months of meticulous planning, it felt wonderful that everything had finally come together. Naturally, my Dad’s speech made me cry and our first dance made me feel like a princess…

My wedding dress still sits in its box; I haven’t the heart to part with it (despite the fact it would probably be a bit tight now!) and I never tire of looking back at the photos. I was searching through our honeymoon photos for my previous post and came across the following pictures of our wedding stationery, which I thought I would share with you. My sister-in-law and I spent hours making these and I was really proud of what we achieved:

Picture: Wedding stationery 1

Picture: Wedding stationery 2

Posted in Weddings | 4 Comments

Photography ~ The Gallery: Holidays

Since starting my blog I’ve been carrying my camera everywhere and have to say that I’m really enjoying improving my photography skills. I bought my husband a fancy digital SLR camera for his birthday last year (some sort of electronic gadgetry is a sure winner in the birthday stakes where he’s concerned) and given that said husband is pretty good at chopping off people’s legs and the tops of their heads in most photos, I now seem to have inherited a lovely new toy to play with. There’s a lot to learn (I haven’t even taken it off the ‘auto’ setting yet!) but I’m getting there.

I’ve got a fairly good eye for composition but the technical stuff is a bit beyond me at the moment. My brother can give me a few lessons – he’s a professional photographer and has recently started his own business: Geoff Daley Photography. Just had a thought – maybe he’ll give me a few fancy photos to feature on my blog! 

I’ve just discovered The Gallery, run by Tara at Sticky Fingers and this week’s theme is ‘Holidays’. I could have picked so many photos on this theme – childhood holidays camping in the South of France, a trip to Barcelona with my uni girls, a long weekend in Prague when I came home with an engagement ring, or my first ever (and thoroughly enjoyable!) skiing holiday earlier this year. In the end though, I decided to go with some photos from our honeymoon. We went to Kenya and the Seychelles, which was an amazing adventure and a much-needed rest, all rolled into a beautiful 3 weeks with my new husband!

 

Picture: Masai Mara Balloon FlightEarly morning balloon flight over the Masai Mara

 

Picture: CheetahCheetah in the midday sun

 

Picture: Giraffe at DuskGiraffe at Dusk

Picture: SeychellesBeautiful Seychelles

Posted in Photography | 4 Comments

Personal Challenge: July

Following my post yesterday I’ve been given a great link by Tiddlyompompom to join the ‘Personal Challenge’ for July over on her blog. Maybe if I commit to achieving something here I might actually get myself moving! Obviously the challenge I’m going to set is to be more organised. By the end of the month I’m aiming to get my life, home & family in order, so that I can start thinking through my business ideas and pull a plan together. Here’s my challenge broken down:

Life:

1. Create a ‘mind map’ of my goals for 2010 and beyond.

2. Look at where I am now and what objectives I need to achieve to get where I want to be.

3. Pull together an action plan (I spend more time making fancy colour-coded plans than I ever do taking action, so I need to make sure I keep this bit short & sweet!).

Home:

1. Create a ‘home file’ with all the jobs that need doing each day/week.

2. Prioritise what I’m most rubbish at – WASHING & IRONING! I read somewhere that you need to do something at least 15 times for it to become a habit, so I need to build this into my daily routine rather than let the mountain reach Everest heights before I feel compelled to do anything about it – this is going to be a tough one!!!

Family:

1. Hopefully if I get into a routine with the jobs in my home file, organising the family should come more easily. I always manage to leave things until 5 minutes before we leave the house to get things together, so from now on I’m going to put out the boys clothes, pack their swim kit, nursery bags etc, the night before.

2. Leave the house 10 minutes earlier than we normally do – everything seems to take so much longer with children!

3. Make sure I spend some time actually playing with the boys rather than rushing around trying to get jobs done all day!

Posted in Personal Challenge | 7 Comments

Getting Organised

So today I’m going to start a series on organisation. In September my oldest monkey starts school (sob sob x) and after two years of enjoying being a full-time, stay-at-home mum, I’ve decided that I really need to dust off the mental cobwebs and do something. Just not sure what that something is yet…

I guess I was very career focused before I had children – I spent most of my time either in work, thinking about work or going out with friends from work. I even met my husband there! Once our little boys came along though, my priorities changed and decided that I wanted to be at home with them. Since then, I’ve thrown myself into being a mummy – toddler groups, play dates, swimming lessons – I even run our local church playgroup, which I love doing.

But the time has come for a new challenge. I decided once I gave up work that I didn’t really want to rejoin the corporate rat race and I’ve been mulling over ideas for quite some time on ways to set up something on my own. Despite the alarming rate of new start-up failures, I’d still love to run my own business – who knows where it could lead?

I’ve a whole world of planning to do before I even get to the stage of deciding what I’m actually going to do. I need to look at my skills/experience, any necessary re-training (I’m looking at a complete career change), local market opportunities, finance, the mechanics of actually setting up a business, suppliers, business plans, marketing, research – the list goes on and on! Most important of all, will be to convince my husband, who will not only be stumping up some of the cash (and potential serious financial commitment should everything go wrong!) but will also have to live with a messy house, increased childcare costs and an even more disorganised homelife than normal. How will he cope?!!!

Business-wise, there’s so much to think about. Before I get to that though, I think I need some serious organisation in my life as it currently stands, so that I can free up time to focus on my new business ideas. Hence the following series of posts on organisation. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be blogging about (and acting upon!) organising my life, home and family. I’d love to hear from you too – any tips you can give me would be much appreciated!

Posted in Organised Mum | 5 Comments

Connemara, Ireland

We’ve just come back from a lovely holiday staying on the West coast of Ireland, hence the short blog posts for the last week. It was a great break (not least because we went with my husband’s family, so there were 5 extra babysitters on tap!) – beautiful scenery, sunny weather, unspoilt sandy beaches, deep-sea fishing, nature walks through the Connemara National Park, live Irish music, open top bus tours and a trip to the National Aquarium of Ireland (the boys’ favourite, unsurprisingly).

Back to normality tomorrow – starting with a mountain of washing and ironing! Here are a few photos from our trip, as a little taste of Ireland…

Picture: View from the cottagePicture: IrelandPicture: Chasing WavesPicture: Beautiful Scenery

Posted in Holidays | 4 Comments

Blog Planning

Well I’ve been blogging for just a few posts now and am starting to get pretty excited by all the possibilities. It’s so addictive and there’s so much to learn! I’ve joined British Mummy Bloggers, which seems a fantastic and very friendly site – a great forum for networking and sharing ideas. Does anybody know if there are any similar forums for craft bloggers out there?

Having had a good look around, I’m definitely suffering from blog envy – I already feel like I need to update my site with better graphics and improved features! I’m also still trying to find my ‘writing voice’, which doesn’t come naturally to me, so apologies if my posts seem a little stilted so far! I’ve decided I’m just going to try writing like I speak, and see how I get on.

I’ve been posting at random but believe I need to get a bit more organised if my blog is going to get off the ground. So how to plan my blog to keep things interesting and get across what I set out to achieve? I’ve outlined my thoughts below, but if anybody has any tips on this subject they would be much appreciated.

  • Diarise when I’m going to write, edit & publish my blog posts (aiming for 3 or 4 a week)
  • Keep an ongoing plan of the theme of my posts. I’ll be rotating through topics on family life, craft & home projects and of course, starting up my business. Before all this though, I think I’m going to run a series of posts on organisation in general, as it’s something I’m really focussing on at the moment!
  • Diarise my blog ‘networking’ activity so I get the most out of online forums.
  • Putting aside time to read and comment on the other great blogs I’ve found out there.
  • Carry a notebook and my camera with me all the time and wait for inspiration to strike!

Thank you for the lovely comments I’ve received so far and I hope you will bear with me as I get to grips with all this.

Posted in About my blog | 8 Comments