Saturday, 27 October 2007

Jewellery update

I just wanted to say thankyou to all of my customers! The jewellery business seems to be proving a very popular venture. What started out with a couple of pairs of earrings for friends has now turned into several commissions..I feel most important! I have made two bracelets and two pairs of earrings today at work (shhh! don't tell the boss!) and have a few more bits to make.

One of my bosses (he wasn't in today) suggested I need to have a name for the company, and several bizarre suggestions have been thrown around...Fields of Beads is one of the better ones. Let me know if anyone has any brainwaves! (or wants to place an order...)

Thanks again.

The future's bright...

Down by the river where we walked last weekend is a fabulous plant nursery, basically set up in a field by a guy who loves all things green (and orange). This year he has sub-let half of the field to the pumpkin seller, and as I drive past twice a day, both to and from work I am always mesmerised by the sight. There are pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, and thankfully they are all orange. I realise that may sound odd, but I read in the newspaper last week that there has been a nationwide pumpkin-ripening problem this season due to the damp weather and lack of sunshine. Maybe this guy has a special pumpkin ripening trick that the rest of the country aren't privvy too, and if that is the case then I am glad, as very morning they make me smile. Unfortunately it is now dark on my way home and with the clocks going back an hour tonight I won't be able to see them at night. Instead I shall have to make do with my lantern...

This photo has been turned into a screen saver on the computer...

I have carved several pumpkins and put them in the window of the office, which the children love. They have been strategically placed over raised lights (which don't give off heat, I hasten to add) so as it starts to get dark late each afternoon the faces glow. I think perhaps I need to start making pumpkin soup soon. I have read a recipe for it today, which recommends putting parmesan crusts in. I am not convinced I have any old parmesan crusts lying around in my fridge, but I will check...

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Weekend of walks

We have had a lovely weekend of fresh air and walks, starting yesterday with our friend Gill and her son Matthew. We were very kindly invited to partake in a walk and barbeque on Crickley Hill, just outside Cheltenham, so armed with a flask of hot soup, a packet of sausages and the all important football (should have been a rugby ball) we set off. The weather has been beautiful this weekend, properly autumnal with sunshine and a crisp bite in the air, and we could see for miles from the top of the hill.

We had a great time, Gill had made parsnip soup which was fabulous, and Rob took charge of the bbq and the football. It was lovely to be outside in the fresh air, in such beautiful surroundings. We managed to set up camp in a small clearing amongst the trees, complete with picnic table and bbq and space to play football, so everyone was happy.

After our lunch of soup and sausages we set off for a walk along the top of the hill, admiring the view and making some friends on the way..I have never seen stripey cows before, they were adorable, and some of them still really young.

They certainly kept Matthew entertained anyway. After taking the wrong path several times, and many near misses of cow pats we made it back to the car park, excited about watching the rugby.

We looked quite happy before we watched it didn't we?!! Never mind.

So today, to follow on from our day of fresh air and exercise we went for another walk along the river Avon where we live. We don't take advantage of this walk as often as we should, which is a shame because there is always something new to see. We can almost walk in a huge loop from our house, along the tree lined river and back again. The sun was shining and the sky was blue and Rob got a bit trigger happy with his arty photos. This is the pedestrian ferry which takes people from the caravan park across the river. It saves them from having to go the long way round.

The caravans all looked beautiful this morning, there were lots of people sat outside them drinking coffee and reading the papers, it felt like Summer still.

The water was so calm this morning, it's hard to believe that it was only a matter 0f weeks ago that is caused such devastation locally. We wouldn't have been able to have travelled along the path we took this morning without a canoe back in July...

I had a mad five minutes of domestic goddess-ness when we got back, and spurred on by Gills' soup from yesterday I roasted some parsnips, sweet potatoes, red onions and a big red chilli in some olive oil for half an hour and then covered it all in stock in a pan, added some lentils and bubbled it up on the hob. I whizzed it up in the blender, and hey presto! It was gorgeous, and I now have lunch sorted for the rest of the week. I also decided to christen the coloured cake cases that I bought on my shopping trip to Oxford with Nancy...the cakes are huge for some reason, not quite sure why, but they taste ok! (and they will keep the boys at work happy this week)

Friday, 19 October 2007

Brotherly Love

Back in June my brother and his wife moved to Canada for two years. (apparently for 'work' although I'm not seeing/ hearing much evidence of that...)Although we didn't see a massive amount of them both when they lived in the UK, whenever we did manage a weekend it was usually a lovely one, full of food, wine and chat, usually into the early hours. It is only now that they are gone that I realise how much I miss them.

I think it is safe to say that when we were kids my brother and I were not what you would describe as 'close'. I remember my first day at high school, scared as hell, walking through the playground and seeing my brother walking (sauntering) towards me with his mates. Obviously at the age of 11 I wasn't massively aware of the the fact that it is incredibly 'uncool' to have a little sister when you are a 14 year old lad. So there I was, massive grin plastered to my face purely because there was a familiar face in front of me and.....he ignored me. I do believe his mates spluttered and jabbed him in the ribs etc. I was mortified. I think he was as well. (although no doubt he is reading this with no recollection whatsoever).

My favourite 'poor me' story from that time is when it was snowing one morning. My mum wanted me to wear wellies to school (ouch) for obvious reasons (I know you meant well Mum) and I hated wellies. Especially red ones with white clouds around the tops. My intention was to wear the damn wellies until out of site of the house and to then swap them with my shoes that were in a carrier bag, thus avoiding anyone seeing the tragic footwear. The plan went horribly wrong when Dave decided to grab the shoe bag and run off up the road, cackling gleefully, with me galumphing along behind him, whining and shouting. Git. I did manage to get the bag back, once we were safely on school territory and everyone had had a good gawp, obviously.

I remember fights, really physical fights, with punching and scratching and hair pulling and lots of 'MUUUUUUMMMMMMM, he's KILLING meeeeee' shouts. Grrrr.

We got closer once he left home (that doesn't make sense, does it?!) but I remember being so excited when he asked me to accompany him to his passing out parade at Sandhurst. My Mum came with me to buy a dress, a black, slinky halterneck, (I think I fancied my chances of pulling an army officer) and as a family we drove down to stay in a hotel the night before the big day, had dinner and all went to bed. My stomach was churning with what I thought was nervous excitement. It was food poisoning. I spent all of the next day sat in the car being sick into a plastic bag and sobbing, feeling wretched and incredibly sorry for myself. Needless to say I didn't go to the ball....I have still got the invitation though...

Fortunately I was invited to future army events, black tie dinners, balls etc. and had a great time. We obviously liked each other by now...but then he discovered girlfriends. (I would like to point out at this stage that he had had girlfriends before, but obviously there weren't any at the time he liked enough to be seen out in public with..heehee) so they then tended to get invited along to the shindigs instead of me.

Some terrible girlfriends followed (don't worry, he knows they were) as well as a couple of nice ones, but they always seemed to feel the need to pat me on the head and talk to me as if I was 12.(please, I must have been at least 14....) but I would like to fast forward a few years to the lovely Nic.

I can remember the first time we met, thinking "Here we go again, about to meet the latest girlfriend who will ignore me or pat me" and in fact thinking she looked absolutely terrified when she walked into the house. (heehee, she was, she told me later) This boded quite well, I thought, and it was a unanimous verdict amongst the Racey clan that she was lovely. Once she stopped shaking. Nic and I have a lot in common (the fact that she is a size 8 and I am errm, not, is not one of them) we seem to think along the same wavelengths, can be horribly bitchy together and equally incredibly compassionate together. ( I have no examples of either) I do not share Nics' domestic skills unfortunately, as she would put Kim and Aggie to shame, but I think she forgives me my slovenly ways with the duster because I can make cakes.

I was so proud of them both when they first met my husband. I had gone to stay with them for a weekend and turned up a bit miserable as Rob and I had been seeing each other a while but as we were keeping it a bit low key I had gone on my own. They weren't actually aware of his existence until halfway down the second bottle of wine I annouced that I was 'seeing someone'. They demanded all the gossip and insisted I ring him there and then. My brother got on the phone to Rob and told him to get in the car and get his arse down to Bracknell. This must have been about 9pm at night, and Rob was two hours away. He came. This went down well in their eyes (as well as mine) and despite being petrified that they would all hate each other (Dave and Rob being as judgemental as I am) they got on like a house on fire, and we all have ever since.

I have a lovely photo of Dave and I sitting on a sofa at my wedding. There is another photo of us together at his wedding. He emailed me yesterday to say hi, and how much he liked the blogs. I think I could talk to him about anything, and hope he feels the same. Thanks brother of mine. I still haven't forgiven you for the wellies

Dave, Nic, me and Rob on New Years Eve 2006 (note the rosy cheeks and half empty wine glasses...we moved onto home made sloe gin...)

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Tom Foolery

My friend Sarah has her own business selling handbags, jewellery and gifts, and offered to try and sell some bits and pieces for me at her next party, at another friends, Claires' house on Tuesday. I have spent the afternoon sat on the sofa, pliers to hand and surrounded by boxes and tubes of beads being very creative. I have gone a bit mad actually, so I really hope someone buys something otherwise it will have been a wasted effort. I may have to get extra holes pierced in my ears and start modelling my range. I have kept the designs all quite simple and straightforward (no parrots or feathers or smurfs,etc.) to try and appeal to the majority of ladies going to the party.

Sarah has suggested that as a sales person (I prefer to say marketing myself, sounds less like I work in the Co-Op -not that there is ANYTHING wrong with that...oops)I should hold up my jewellery and say very loudly,
"Wow! How lovely are these? I must buy lots of pairs straight away before they all go. Have you all seen the lovely earrings and bracelets?" etc.etc. She may have a point. However being the pessimist I am, I have visions of someone turning around in response to my enthusiasm and replying,
"Actually, my 3 year old daughter could have done a better job with her hands tied behind her back." before giving me a withering look. This is the point where I would pick up the bowl of cheese puffs and Sarah would leap across the sofa to wrestle me quietly out of the room....
We shall see. I am sure that if I were to make any proper money (as opposed to Monopoly money) I would no doubt end up spending it on other stuff that I don't need but think is wonderful, as is the norm at these gigs.
So obviously these are the earrings, and here are the bracelets, I have tried to tone them down a bit from the last ones I made as I came to the conclusion they were a bit garish and resembled Christmas decorations.

After all of this hard work I am now going to slump on the sofa (where I have spent the last three hours anyway, but it is working so doesn't count) and read the papers before tackling the ironing. Obviously when I make my millions from the jewellery business I will be be able to pay someone to do the ironing. Now that would be lovely....

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Garden critters

As well as snails that have taken over the garden as their new home, we are also housing a bizarre number of Caterpillars. I decided to throw some free nasturtiam seed around the garden earlier on in the year as I thought it would provide a bit of colour, as well as fill a border. So I finely raked a lovely seed bed and lovingly planted the seeds, carefully marking where the row was, etc. When I came to water them the next day I noticed that some kind of creature had decided to play in the flowerbed in the middle of the night, thus scattering the seed far and wide. I was far from impressed and decided that there was little point in trying to restore order, so left it as it was. I then planted several courgette plants in their place and let nature take its course.

I did experience a Jack and the Beanstalk moment in that one day we had courgette plants, the next day we had nasturtiams. EVERYWHERE. They grew before our very eyes and took over the entire garden. My poor tomatoes got attacked, the courgettes and patty pan squashes became strangled and the caterpillers moved in. I have never seen so many caterpillers in my life. There are hundreds, and all of them were laying eggs. Everywhere. Grrrr. I decided in a mad frenzy to hoik the entire lot out of the border about three weeks ago, and a large pile steadily began to mount up in the middle of the lawn. Crawly things were flying everywhere, snails were shielding for safety, and tomatoes began to experience what sunlight felt like again.

I thought this would be the end of bugs. Oh no. They came back, this time on the courgette plants. Damn. I was, and am still not impressed. I have never known a summer where our garden has resembled a nature reserve before. We have had toads, mice, birds of all descriptions (they can stay obviously) squirrels dancing along the school roof, tarantulas (ok, small spiders-that are HUGE) snails and caterpillers. I convinced myself that we would have a mass influx of pretty butterflies, so all the holes in garden foliage would be worth it. Until my friend informed me that they are moth-caterpillers. I am not quite sure how she knows this, but have no reason to doubt her. If anyone else has any suggestions as to what they are then do let me know. Not that it matters particularly, I would just be interested. No doubt if they are moths then they will find their way into the house, up the stairs and into my pile of cashmere jumpers anyway....

Thursday, 11 October 2007

The whole package

I am unable to resist anything which is prettily packaged, I love eye catching labels, vintage tin signs and boxes, satin and silk ribbons and printed wrapping paper.

Rob came home with this chocolate tonight,

a) because it's chocolate...and ....

b) because he knew I would love the packaging.

I almost don't want to open it because it is so gorgeous. (almost) I really like the vivid colours, which is strange because our entire house is painted in boring creams and beiges. If any strangers visited they would probably have us down as being quite dull, due to our unadventurous use of colour. This is obviously completely untrue! I just think that cream is quite a good backdrop. For our cream sofas, curtains and carpets that is.

Rob is very good at buying cool presents which he knows I will love...this was in my christmas stocking a couple of years ago...

With marmite on toast being my number one favourite thing I was quite excited to open this. I hadn't realised that marmite used to be packaged in cubes like OXO before being made into spreadable stuff. It really is an education...anyway, the tin lives on our printers shelf in the kitchen, along with lots of other bits and pieces. Speaking of OXO, this is another present which the lovely husband bought for me.

I LOVE IT!! it is full of oxo cubes, which I know Jamie Oliver wouldn't approve of, but I really don't care. It is on the 'red shelf' in the kitchen. It is a bit battered around the edges, which really adds to its overall charm. I can't say I fancy drinking either marmite or OXO particularly, but both have their uses.

I think tins and cans are a great way of packaging. (this could be my fathers influence however. Had never thought of that before, but his company used to make millions of the things. Hmm) I find myself in the supermarket buying tins of mustard powder. I rarely use mustard, but who could resist the cute yellow tin? On holiday in St Ives last year, and whilst out on our morning jaunt I decided we needed to go into a particular cafe for coffee. No doubt Rob thought it was because I liked the look of the interior/menu/man behind the counter. The real reason was because they had a fabulous window display full of deli style ingredients for sale, and I spotted this.

I could picture it sitting on my kitchen shelf, quite happily surrounded by other junk, and 'remembered' a Nigella recipe that needed smoked paprika. Obviously they don't sell it in Tesco in little packets. I have actually used it, very hot. Ouch. Still, the tin will long outlive the contents.
My bedroom also suffers from packaging overload. The boudoir houses the more luxurious items from the collections. A couple of years ago I spent a birthday at my brothers house. He and Nic bought me this..

The excitement was so great I almost forgot to open it. It was a lovely scented candle which gets an occassional burning in the bathroom. The height of luxury. I love it. But. I also love the box....

Why don't more companies use ribbons? It really does maketh the gift in my opinion. I love wrapping up presents nicely, with gorgeous ribbons and bows, and have a big pine chest in our lounge stuffed full of wrapping paper, tissue paper, ribbons and sparkly bits and pieces.

Finally, one of my favourites, which really did make my heart skip a beat...

Oh, the lovely turquoise box and white ribbon combo that is Tiffany- isn't it gorgeous? This now lives in a cupboard, but every now and again I take it out and stroke it. Yet again the lovely husband came up trumps shortly after we got together and it had a lovely silver bracelet inside which I obviously still wear from time to time. Considering my obsession with the Tiffany catalogue I was quite concerned that I had never seen 'Breakfast at Tiffanys' so decided to get it out on DVD last year. I was massively unconvinced and thought it was all a bit mad, but the boxes live on.

May now be time to open that chocolate and see if it tastes as good as it looks.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Snoozy Sundays

I am one of those people that thinks a cup of tea solves a lot. Not everything, but a lot. I used to get through coffee by the gallon, but when I started my current job I decided to give up the caffeine along with a lot of other toxins from the office…..

I now drink 'normal' tea throughout the day and chamomile tea in the evnings, with the odd bag or two of peppermint thrown in when I'm feeling adventurous.

In Broadway Deli yesterday I came across these little bags of wonder…

They are tiny chiffon type bags- or ‘tea temples’ full of chamomile flowers and I love them!! I drink chamomile tea in the evenings to try and help me sleep, along with warm baths, lavender drenched pillows, etc. I am an advertising executives DREAM. I read the back of the box and became convinced instantly that these bags would help me sleep where all others had failed. After all, I had no idea that ‘normal’ tea bags are full of dust! Did you? Or crushed flowers? These aren’t! Oh no, these are 100% whole flowers from Croatia! How exotic. They are so pretty I feel I want to place them carefully in my underwear drawers.

So currently I am sat here with my very pleasant cup of chamomile flowers, along with a (very small) slice of Nigel Slaters’ fruit cake, still warm from the oven.

Ignore the burnt bits, they add to the flavour.

So I am all set. Rob is watching the rugby. Again. Maybe I will sleep well after all.
Goodnight. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Vegetable Medley

After the garden cull yesterday we went to one of our favourite villages in The Cotswolds, Broadway. This time of year is always a better season to visit, as during the summer months the streets and car parks are jam packed full of tourists. I don't consider us to be tourists as we only live five minutes away. Sure enough we managed to find a parking space relatively quickly and walked through the little arcade with its tiny shops selling candles, sweets and jewellery and out onto the main street. The deli has moved from the arcade and out onto the High Street, so we stopped to buy some lovely bits and pieces for lunch. I had to escape from Rob at the till so I could take some photographs. Since the blog started I have followed Nancys advice and started to carry a camera everywhere. I am so glad I did as the colours and shapes of the fruit and vegetables in these baskets attracted me instantly, so I sneaked outside after putting in my order for Spanish Tortilla (yum) and snapped away.

Unfortunately most of my tomatoes got blight this year and my plan to stuff the freezer with home made soups and sauces like I did last year went horribly wrong. I have higher hopes for the parsnips and hope they turn out like the ones above. One of my favourite vegetables is roast parsnips, preferably with a drizzle of maple syrup over the top...

Seeing the butternut squash reminded me to try the recipe for Nancys butternut squash soup as well, so that is on the list of 'things to cook'. I may end up making green tomato chutney as well with the dozens of tomatoes that escaped the blight but missed the sunshine.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Saturday fun

The plan for this morning was to give the back garden a major overhaul. I am ashamed to say it has become a bit of a dumping ground of late, especially with old flowerpots, dying plants and random bits of wood taking up space and making our already tiny garden even more cluttered. The largest problem (at least I should imagine our next door neighbour thinks of it as a problem) is a grape vine which has a mind of its own. It grows rapidly each year, and despite severe haircuts, takes over the entire fence and wall, snaking into crevices, behind the compost bins and over into next doors' garden as well. So I decided that it was time to take action!

My Dad came over to help (Rob is no gardener- he made the tea and hoovered the lounge instead- I am no hooverer) and did a fantastic job, bringing over strong sacks and dustbins to fill with all the debris. I actually found it all very therapeutic, ripping vines off walls could well be bottled as a stress therapy and sold. We found HUNDREDS of snails, and here are a small party, enjoying the lido.....

They had a lovely time! And if you don't believe me, check these guys out!

Think it may have been a last request?! (no animals were hurt in the making of this blog. Obviously) So anyway...after watching the antics of the snails, we swept, tidied and threw out, and as a result the garden is looking bigger, but bare. I managed to save a handful of blueberries from the shrub I bought earlier this year. It has done brilliantly considering it's still tiny.

We are very lucky with privacy in our garden in that we back onto a high school and have a run of mature trees across the back which provides a lot of wildlife and greenery. Each year I forget that come the end of summer the men arrive with their chainsaws to do some serious pruning. I am in no doubt that this is to our benefit as local residents, as obviously the school don't want great branches falling into our gardens. However each year when it happens I know that summer is over, as the garden suddenly seems stark. It no longer has shadows from the trees cast across the lawn, and the green shrubbery is replaced by grey skies instead. It all looks rather sad. Perhaps next year I will remember to do a 'before' photo as well to show what I mean.

Yes they are gingham curtains in my shed windows....I was also pleased to save a summer pattypan squash from the hoardes of caterpillars that have also decided to use our garden as a breeding ground. They look like little UFO's and are quite tasty chopped up and thrown into a pasta bake. I haven't yet got around to deep frying the flowers as Mr Oliver keeps recommending. Maybe next year.

So this is the rear view- just to the right of the black compost bin is the wall where the creeper was, and the trellis behind the plastic greenhouse was covered in grape vine. It was all just getting a bit out of hand, and now I can have fun trying to decide what to plant next spring to take their place. I have a lovely bluey purple rambling rose to the left of the compost bin which will actually be able to ramble now that the other plants have gone. Speaking of rambling I think I have done quite enough.
P.S- thanks Dad xxx

Friday, 5 October 2007

Beads and bangles

A few weekends ago now I went on a jewellery making course with my friend Sarah. We were in girl heaven, sat in a little cottage in the Cotswolds surrounded by jewel coloured beads of all shapes and sizes and taught the basics of making necklaces and earrings.

I am a bit of a magpie when it comes to sparkly things, so the afternoon was right up my street. We threaded beads, critically looking over what we had done, before un threading them and starting again. There was a lot of 'Oohing and Aahing' over each others designs and we both went home happy (via the craft shop- and a few pounds lighter), keen to get started on our new found skills.

These are the earrings I made on the course itself, and although I probably won't actually wear them, I just fell in love with the beads, I think they are so pretty! So instead I just pick them up and gaze at them, full of admiration for whoever had the skill and patience to hand paint the tiny gold edged pink flowers on them. Beautiful.
Now a warning for anyone considering this as a hobby- it is massively addictive! I have spent several evenings in front of the television, surrounded by beads, wire cutters, clasps and other paraphernalia having a great old time of it! I also now have an absurd amount of earrings (these are the easiest thing to make!) and am writing a list of how many people I can palm them off on for Christmas....I have branched out to charm bracelets now, having seen the fabulous array that the lady who ran the class had designed and made. I am halfway through making one for myself in reds, blacks and silvers, and another for my father in laws partner, in blues, turquoises and silver..

I keep adding extra beads and baubles to them, seeing gaps here and there and fiddling about with my pliers and wire. Maybe it is time to stop now. I think i will see how well the blue one is recieved before I make any more. Rob kept looking at them out of the corner of his eye with a slight frown on his face, so I am not convinced yet as to whether they are actually that nice, or more like the sort of thing one might buy in Claires Accessories...we shall wait and see. Either way, it's very relaxing and good fun having lots of plastic jewels to play around with.