Sunday, 24 November 2013

It's not all Homespun...

Recent comments on my Instagram and blog have compelled me to write this following piece. I've had people mention to me how lovely and 'country bumpkin' like my blog is. And how idyllic I make everything look, but I can't help but feel a slight sense of guilt when people say this to me.

My friend Lauren recently posted a little piece about me on her blog as part of an Introduction to her sponsors, and she quoted me saying “...I wanted to create a space for people to come to, that were looking for something down-to-earth and simple, which didn't make others feel inadequate.” And, I feel, this has hit the nail on the head.
For myself, a Homespun lifestyle is not about creating something ripped from the pages of a John Lewis catalogue, situated in your home that was featured on Escape to the Country and has been photographed for Homes & Antiques magazine. If that's your bag, then brilliant, but, I'm looking for something a bit more realistic here. 'Homespun' and striving for that lifestyle is about taking note of the little things, counting your blessings, and being content with what you have...all with a healthy dose of dreaming thrown in.

Yes, my life consists of dog walks in beautiful Autumnal settings, and Christmas crafting with a hot chocolate and an episode of Nigella, or baking cinnamon cookies on a rainy afternoon but, these are all situations that I create for myself in an attempt to un-wind, switch off and slow my brain down to a nice steady tick, rather than the Energizer bunny mentality that threatens to take over quite regularly.

I dream of a little house in the countryside somewhere, with ample chimney space for a wood burning stove, surrounded by leafy lanes to walk a dog down, and nearby parks for our as-yet unconceived children to play in. But, for me a Homespun life is about appreciating what I have, and realising just how darn lucky I am to be in a steady full-time job which allows me to make a home with my fiance, pay the bills, and save for our wedding.

Our flat may be rented, and not entirely ours to do with as we please but, when I kick off my shoes at the end of the day, and slump onto our slightly uncomfortable Ikea sofa, I am home. The chimney breast may have been blocked up and replaced with an unsightly plastic air-vent but, I have the remains of a chunky Welsh slate hearth on which I can rest candles and pine-cones, creating a seasonal display for my enjoyment only. Yes, we have gorgeous block wood flooring and high-ceilings throughout the majority of our space reminding us of it's Edwardian heritage but, the skirting boards are drafty and we've been going to bed every night since October with a hot-water bottle because the rooms are so tall and expensive to heat.

So, what I guess I'm trying to say is... Please don't envy me, because I'm really not worth envying. I'm just a 24 year old girl, trying to appreciate the finer things in life, and not get sucked up into a world full of the latest gadget, the latest beauty treatment, must-have fashions and parading my perfect life around on the internet.
I am me, and you are you...and I think that alone should be celebrated, and shouted from the rooftops.

It astounds me to think that this little space of the internet I created inspires people, and makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But, don't look at this site and think “Oh I wish my life was more like her's” because to me, it already is. You just need to slow down and take a look at what you've got right infront of you.

A few little tricks to help me on my way are...

-If you're fresh out of milk, DO NOT jump in the car and fight your way through the crowds at Tesco. Grab a couple of quid from the jar by the front door, and head down to the corner shop, say “Hello” to the local shop keep, and pay into the pocket of someone who lives a stones-throw from your door.

-At the end of a long day in work, try not to veg on the sofa watching trash all evening, still in your uniform. Get into your pj's, put the kettle on, and drag out a film you haven't seen in ages, or watch that documentary which you know people will think is a bit dorky but, you find it really interesting.

-Leave the gossip mags on the shelf in WHSmith and instead, save that couple of quid you would have spent on reading about Kim Kardashian's baby weight battle, and put it towards the latest Dan Brown or Sophie Kinsella novel, and accustom yourself with the writings of someone who didn't get their source material from the paparazzi.

- And finally, if it's a miserable day outside and you don't know what to do with yourself. Please don't trapse around a shopping centre or retail park, along with the rest of the country. Get the Pritt Stick out and do some crafting, or put on your wellies and take a walk in the rain until your nose is red, and your toes are numb. Then come home, put some warm clothes on, heat up some soup and thaw out. Trust me, it's bliss!

Monday, 18 November 2013

From Season to Season

It's been a lovely lazy few days round these parts. Myself and the Mr have enjoyed a few days off work together and thus, have been slowing down, gradually getting into hibernation mode. And it turned out to be exactly what we both needed.
A couple of cinema dates, lunch at my parents' house, and very many well deserved lie-ins were followed by a lovely day taking in the seasons in the chocolate box village of St Fagans which is but a short drive from our home. Within the village resides a lovely open air museum which holds a special place in my heart. This place evokes many a fond memory of Primary School trips spent with a freshly baked Bara Brith tucked in my rucksack to take home for my mum, or sneaking a couple of Cola pips from a paper bag as we explored a time line street of cottages and 40's prefabs, or squelching through pits of mud ready to wattle and daub a Celtic roundhouse. It really is a child's dream.

On this particular day, it was perfectly quiet. We strolled about the leave strewn lanes leading from farmhouse to mill, to working men's club, and then made our way down to the grounds of the wonderfully grandiose manor house which sits in amongst perfectly manicured gardens and greenhouses. Even the dog seemed to enjoy himself, barking at a particularly menacing looking boar in the field next to the farmhouse, and splashing his way through puddles from the day before.

Sometimes it's nice to get away from the traffic noise, and switch your phone onto silent, and just take in the fresh air and the elements around you. Despite the trees looking perfectly Autumnal and golden, I fear since that our visit that they may have lost most of their jewels in the wind and the rain. It well and truly feels like Winter is creeping in upon us, which makes me even more thankful for this lovely sunny but chilly day, spent crunching through leaves before they are spoiled by Jack Frost, and a cold, wet Welsh winter.

This hibernation spirit, has certainly come at a perfect time and I think from now on, my evenings will be spent crafting Christmas gifts and consuming far too many hot toddies and mugs of cocoa groaning under a pile of marshmallows. As much as I love Autumn, I'm ready to slow down into the coldest part of our seasonal year, and anticipate the arrival of Christmas, and then...Spring! But maybe not too soon, ok?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Crafting Christmas Gift Tags

One of the things I love most about Christmas is the creativity that surrounds it. It gives opportunity for even the most inartistic person to throw caution to the wind and dabble in a little creative crafts be it in the form, of sewing, gluing,painting or even cooking. There's nothing quite like sitting at the kitchen table on a rainy November afternoon when it's blowing a gale outside, and putting Pritt Stick to paper, all in the name of St Nick (not forgetting the baby Jesus of course). And that was precisely what I did.

Making gift tags has got to be one of my favourite, not to mention the easiest Christmas crafts to get involved in. All you need is a few magazines, or old Christmas cards...or in my case, old Christmas postage stamps, some card or ready made manilla luggage tags and a glue stick.

This particular idea came from many a Pinterest board, as well as a feature in the latest Country Living magazine supplement, and was so easy, even my 3 year old niece could get involved.

I'll admit the stamps were purchased from eBay in order to make sure they were all Christmas themed, and to save me rooting through the attic for my old stamp collection but, at a couple of quid for a job lot of about 60 festive stamps, I couldn't really complain.

It was so nice just sifting through the different motifs reminiscing with my mum about the ones I could remember from my childhood.
One of my fondest festive memories, is of waiting endlessly in the queue at the post office to buy a whole sheet of Christmas stamps to adorn our pile of cards and family newsletters to send out year after year.
Anyhoo, where were we...before I went off down Christmas memory lane. Ah tags!

I picked and chose the ones I liked best, in pretty little combinations and that, really, was it. To jazz them up a bit and make them look a little bit more authentic, I added a franking stamp which was bought from a bargain bin at Hobbycraft, and I changed up the plain white string on the tags for some read and white striped bakers twine. And I'm not all ashamed in saying, I'm really quite pleased with the result. I'm thinking of even rocking the Post Office look by wrapping some of my gifts in brown kraft paper and adding a few spare postage stamps to the outside. What do we think? Too much? Oh what the heck, it's Christmas! Let's go all out.

Happy Crafting guys. I'll be back soon with a few more ideas.


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Christmas Planning: Baking

I will admit, whole heartedly, that I am one of those people that starts thinking about Christmas back in October. As soon as the Mr's birthday is out of the way come the end of September, my mind immediately starts to turn towards cosy nights in by the fire with a hearty bowl of stew in hand, berry and spice scented candles burning in the fire hearth, and piles of presents accumulating in the spare room just begging to be adorned with paper and ribbon.

This sort of stems from my love for the festive period, since I was a child but, more recently it has come from my choice of day job. More often than not, working in retail at Christmas means December has gone in the blink of an eye, and before you can say “Bah Humbug!” to one more rude Christmas shopper, Christmas Eve is upon us and you've still got a dozen presents to buy.
But not this time. No Siree!

I've got this Christmas Organisation lark down to a tee. So let me share a few tips with you, my lovely readers. And what better place to start, than in the kitchen...

The beady eyed amongst you may notice that once 'Back to School' time is out of the way, supermarkets already begin to filter festive items onto their shelves. Now is the time to strike! Adding little bits and pieces to your shopping trolley which can be stored away for the winter months will not only help make a dent on that seasonal shopping bill, but also help you out amidst a crisis when it turns out you completely forgot about that bake sale you volunteered for back in July, and now you're too caught up gluing tinsel onto cardboard angel wings for the nativity play next week.
My store cupboard items of choice so far have been:
    Cocoa – to jazz up a whole load of different recipes.
    Good vanilla extract – To add to cream, cupcake mix, even porridge. Again strictly for jazzing up purposes.
    Mini Marshmallows – for above Bake Sale crisis, when Rocky Road saves the day. (And for having on top of hot chocolate on particularly cold nights).
    Pumpkin Puree – Great for a quick dessert, sweetened and added to a ready made sweet pastry case, or adding with onions and spices to make pasties, or loosen with veggies and chicken stock for a lovely soup.
    Chocolate coated marzipan – For when you need a sugar fix but, daren't break into the Quality streets. Also goes lovely cut into slices and served alongside coffee, after dinner.
    Mulled wine sachets – simply add sugar, and wine, heat and enjoy! Aaaah, bliss!
    Cupcake cases and treat bags – for those teacher/neighbour present emergencies. Put SOS Rocky Road into said cellophane bag, tie with ribbon, and hey presto, instant pressie! And you barely broke out in a sweat.

And finally my all time favourite tip for this time of year is cookie dough! No, not to eat raw from the tub when you've had a rubbish day, and feel like all of your festive dresses make you look like the pudding on the table. It's to put in the freezer!

Trust me, this is a good one. When you're feeling in the baking spirit, or you have eggs in the fridge for once and want to use them up before the Mr makes himself another fry-up and stinks the kitchen out, whip up a batch of cookie, or even biscuit dough, wrap it up well in cling film to protect from freezer burn and whack it in the freezer.
So by the time December comes around you roll in the door, in the cold and dark and can't face one more shop bought mince pie, you can find comfort in the fact that your forward thinking paid off. Hurrah! You have biscuit dough in the fridge which was thawing from last night, and yes you can have Cranberry and White Chocolate cookies after all. Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to all men!

This also works particularly well with freshly baked, un-iced cupcakes and sponges but remember to wrap these in tin-foil too, to protect from freezer.

So go on folks! Before you start hibernating and hiding behind your sherry and Buzzcocks Christmas special, pop a few extra bits in your trolley and bash out an extra batch of cookie dough for the freezer. Trust me, you'll be thankful come December 25th!