Sunday, 4 December 2016

Made: An Evergreen Wreath

This is an edited repost from my now-defunct blog, Words That Can Only Be Your Own
For me, nothing quite says 'Christmas' like bringing boughs of evergreens into the house. From pagan yule logs to modern wreaths, the custom of using holly, ivy and other evergreens to decorate the house in December is an ancient one that has lasted thousands of years. However, wreaths made from fresh foliage can be very expensive to buy - understandable, as they're time-consuming to put together. But with a bit of foraging for free greenery plus an hour of patience and sore fingers, you can make a wreath that's just as beautiful as a store-bought one.

You will need:
A wreath base (usually made of moss over a wire ring - I found mine on eBay for less than £2)
Armfuls of greenery - at least two different kinds but the sky's the limit. I used cypress, holly, eucalyptus, ivy, pine and hebe
Florists wire
Secateurs or strong scissors
3 metres ribbon
Assortment of decorations - I dried some orange slices and teamed them with foraged pine cones and cinnamon sticks tied together with scraps of ribbon

1. First, forage for your greenery. You don't need to live in the countryside for this: I picked up the pinecones from under a tree on a nearby industrial estate, the eucalyptus was from my mum's back garden, the hebe from a shrub in my yard, the ivy cut on various walks along the local canal, and the cypress, holly and pine from friends gardens.
2. Soak your ring [snigger] in water before squeezing out any excess.

3. Your wreath will be made up of multiple bundles of greenery, each affixed to the base. Gather a small piece of 3-4 different evergreens and pull together to form a bouquet. As I had 6 different kinds of evergreens, I varied the contents (so one had holly, pine and eucalyptus, while the next had hebe, ivy and cypress, for instance). 

4. Bend a length of wire to form a U-shape at one end, approx. 1 inch long. Place the U at the base of the bouquet (with the remaining wire pointing away from it) and then wind the wire around the bundle two or three times, to hold the bundle together securely. You should be left with about 15cm of wire still pointing away from the bouquet.

5. Push the long piece of wire through your base, bend and push back in again to secure. 
6. Repeat, laying each bundle of greenery so it points in the same direction and overlaps with the previous one, until the wreath base is covered.

7. At this point you may find some bundles need another piece of wire looped around and pushed into the base to ensure they're completely secure.

8. Again using wire, attach the decorations at intervals. 

9. Cut 2 metres from your ribbon and loop it through the inside of the wreath. Tie the remaining metre into a bow around the hanging ribbon, trimming the ends neatly.
10. Once it's hanging up you may need to trim some edges: I found my eucalyptus especially needed a bit of a prune.

11. Step back and admire your work! Wreaths made from fresh foliage will survive for about three to four weeks if hung outside in the cold. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Weekend Scenes

Thomas is working away a lot at the moment, so what time we do have together we are trying to make the most of. And it's been brilliant, actually, at shaking us out of our weekend rut - our tendency to mooch around the house doing jobs that yes, need doing, but no, aren't terribly exciting or relaxing.

This weekend, after a Saturday spent working (him) and sewing and hanging out with the cat (me), we had a rare Sunday together.

Homemade soup for lunch.

A walk into town, discussing various job opportunities for Thomas (his contract runs out in March, because academia sucks for finding permanent employment, so he's back on the job application treadmill).

A visit to the 13th Century Newarke Gateway, open rarely as part of Leicester Council's Heritage Sundays, where I was terrified of the stone spiral staircase but much taken with the view from the mullioned windows.
A visit to the Guildhall Christmas market, where we picked up some lovely stocking fillers and admired the gorgeous Christmas tree in their courtyard (and difficult to wrap our heads around the idea that in eight months we'll be drinking post-wedding Prosecco in that same courtyard!).

A mooch around the shops in the city centre, before we got sick of the Black Friday-on-Sunday crowds and walked up the hill out of the city to the Lansdowne, for restorative cider and a vegan roast dinner for Thomas and a decidedly un-vegan Brie and bacon melt for me.

It was one of the nicest Sundays we've had in ages, and my not-quite-new-years-yet-resolution is to have many more the same. After all, those boring jobs at home can wait, surely?

Monday, 28 November 2016

A Buyer's Archive: October & November

Since February last year, inspired by Elise's Buyer's Archive project, I've been keeping a record of all my clothing purchases in an effort to track what works and what doesn't and - in theory - cut down on my spending. Check out the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter/Instagram to see posts from everyone taking part.

I've combine two months' worth of Buyer's Archive because I did so late year, and it made it easier to compare. So, last autumn I spent quite a lot (£169.33 to be precise) on eight items, three of which have been sold on or donated and one of which (the lace dress) was returned to the shop. Only the cocoon coat - my favourite coat ever - the statement necklace and the jeans have had any regular wear, while the green cardigan is something I often put on and then change my mind about at the last minute, for some reason. Overall, then, not the most successful month: did I do any better this October/November?
Tan loafers, Dorothy Perkins £10 (50% off)
At the start of October I bought some tan leather loafers from New Look, but they were far too big and I sold them on Instagram before buying these Dorothy Perkins ones in a smaller size (the New Look ones being sold out). I've already worn them - and got blisters from them - with skinny jeans and a Breton top, and I reckon that if I can defeat the blisters, they'll become wardrobe staples before the winter is out.

Brass necklace by Trade, Mustard £18
I've been eyeing this necklace up online since first seeing it in Sheffield earlier this year. So when I stumbled across it in a local boutique, Mustard, I decided to treat myself. Call it an early Christmas present. To me.
Black polka dot jumper, Mango £35.99
I never go into Mango - nothing fits me so there's no point - but I randomly decided to take a peek while shopping in town and lo and behold! This polka dot beauty was my reward. £36 is more than I'd usually spend on a jumper but my office is freezing so I need as many jumpers as I can get. So far I've already worn this a few times and I'm really happy with the fit, so I reckon it will turn out to be a good purchase.

Tan ballet pumps, New Look £4.00 (not pictured)
I wear New Look's ballet pumps constantly, so when I spotted them in the sale when I was in Glasgow for just, I grabbed them while I could. Worryingly, I now can't see them online so I have a horrid feeling they've discontinued them.

Book print skirt, Joanie Clothing £21

"But Janet," I hear you say, "you bought a book print skirt from Cath Kidston in September." And yes, yes I did but.... I wanted another one? I have been good and sold the CK one - unworn as it was really too small for me - before I bought this from Joanie. And now I haven't worn this as it's slightly too big for me!

Black denim pinafore dress, Dorothy Perkins £17 (not online anymore)

I suspect that a 38 year old woman in a pinafore dress breaks all kinds of fashion rules but since when did I care about fashion rules?
Finally, a couple of eBay bargains. This dress - combing my beloved polka dots with a crochet collar (originally New Look but via eBay £6.00) - is so very much Janet that it was a must-purchase. Luckily it fits really well and I've already worn it a few times.

Meanwhile, becoming embroiled in a bidding war for this chunky mustard cardigan (originally New Look but via eBay £14) means it wasn't such a bargain after all. However I was desperate to get my hands on it having recently seen a girl wearing the same cardigan in Asda and becoming obsessed with the notion of having it in my life. And I love it, so I'm glad I pushed my bid to the limit and nabbed it.



All of which gives me a two-month total of £125.99 for eight items, however - using my usual creative accounting - I also sold £47-worth of stuff on Instagram, so my total after that is a more palatable £81.99. I am determined to keep my spending down in December, but we shall see...

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Photo An Hour: Saturday 19th November

Miraculously, I managed to remember Photo An Hour for the third month in a row, which I think might be a record. Last November's Photo An Hour chronicled my failed attempt to get to a clothes swap in Sheffield, and hanging out with my mums in Leeds.

This month's once again fell on a weekend that Thomas was away. I had plans with my friend Leanne - a day out in Rugby, purely because neither of us had ever been before and it's only 30 minutes down the A426 from Leicester - followed by an evening of Strictly and cheese-based snacks.
8.30am:
One thing that makes me smile about following the #photoanhour hashtag on Instagram is how similar most of our days look: between 7.30 and 9.30 in the morning, there are always a plethora of tea-and-a-book photographs. Here's mine - I was finishing up Matt Haig's The Girl Who Saved Christmas (not a patch on A Boy Called Christmas, sadly).
9.30am:
Despite having already had her breakfast, Missy was convinced that she was owed more food. Her ploy to get it? Bringing me her little pink mouse as a gift, and then staring at me very hard with big sad eyes.
10.30am:
Getting dressed to go out, and worrying that Leanne wouldn't recognise me without stripes or navy blue. Not even any polka dots! But I at least have my trusty crochet collar on this new-to-me mustard yellow Topshop dress.
11.30am:
Before heading out I needed to ask Leanne's advice about something top-secret. Here's a tiny sneak peek; betcha can't guess what it is.
12.30pm:
We stumbled across such a cute shop in Rugby, called The Nest. Filled to the brim with handmade, vintage and vintage-inspired goodies, I couldn't resist buying some fabric and some jewellery.
1.30pm:
We went to the Bacco Lounge for lunch, and very nice it was too.
2.30pm:
Desperate attempt to thinking of something new to take a photograph of, as we were still in Bacco Lounge!
3.30pm:
I don't always have great luck in charity shops when it comes to books (having usually read the vast majority of any interesting looking books already), but the past few days have been great: I found four books on a charity shop binge on Friday and then happened upon a book I've been wanting in Rugby's Oxfam.
4.30pm:
Yup, still shopping. Leanne was looking at coats in Debenhams while I snapped this adorable cat-print shirt. Did not buy, however, as I'd already spent far too much.
5.30pm:
I've had such a good week for finding cute fabric - this little haul is from a trip to Crafty Sew & So in Leicester earlier in the week, plus the fat quarters I bought in The Nest today (those penguins!). I also found a plus size dress pattern for £1.25 in a charity shop in Rugby, what a bargain!
6.30pm:
Photo An Hour always makes me realise how repetitive and predictable my Saturdays are: wake up at half 8, read, cup of tea, do something, then home and fire and pyjamas for the night. Wow, 20s Janet would be ashamed of 30s Janet.
7.30pm:
Dinner! And yes, I ate a whole baked Camembert all to myself (the vegan's away, remember). 
8.30pm:
Oh dear. Turns out my IBS wasn't impressed with the Camembert. Oops. Instead of a photograph of what I was actually doing at half 8 (no-one wants to see that), here's another from 7.30, when I was watching Strictly and shouting at the judges (Only an 8 for Ore! And 40 for Danny! They have to be joking).
9.30pm:
Thomas should be home later, but in the meantime I've made a start on my new book and am very much enjoying the epigraphs.
10.30pm:
And ending the day where it began - in bed with a book.

What did your Saturday look like, and did you do Photo An Hour?

Monday, 14 November 2016

Ten Things For Which I'm Thankful

As 2016 continues its quest to be The Worst, I decided (inspired by Kezzie) to take some time to reflect on the things for which I'm thankful this week: from small moments that have made me smile to the people (and cats) to whom I'm grateful.
1. Missy. At the risk of sounding like a new parent, I just can't remember life without her. Five months of cat ownership have gone in a flash and it has been an endless joy to watch Missy grow in confidence as she settles into our home, going from a frightened and skittish little thing to a cat whose favourite place is curled up on my lap. I'm not sure how I'd have got through the past few months - and especially this past week - without her furry face.

2. The simple pleasure of lighting a fire and some candles and snuggling under a blanket. I do like it when it gets properly cold outside; it's the perfect excuse to get into pyjamas and make the living room super-cosy.

3. That I'm not a teacher anymore during this, the most endless and hellish of school terms. Self-explanatory, really!

4. That Rent is touring the UK again (finally), and coming to Leicester! I'm going to be online first thing tomorrow to make sure I get good tickets because I freaking love Rent probably more than I love anything that's not my family, friends, cat, or house.

5. My friend Rebs, who you will definitely know because she knows everyone on the internet. Literally everyone. But she is one of the most welcoming people I know and she's really good at forcing me out of my misanthropic loner hole by suggesting fun things to me. She's also introduced me - sometimes virtually and sometimes IRL - to some extremely cool people who I'm really happy to know.
6. A lovely day in York the Saturday before last, with lovely internet friends Alex, Becks, Gwen and Lucy. We talked about cats, bought books, drank Prosecco and ate cake in Bettys (I'd never been, can you believe it? I could have my Yorkshire card revoked for that), and generally had a brilliant time. Plus, the photo Becks took of us fails to suck which, with my hatred for every photograph of me, is a bonus thing to be thankful for.

7. A lovely Sunday walk in the woods with Thomas yesterday, followed by a cheeky cider and some chips in a cute country pub. Before we headed home to do boring life-admin like job applications, vacuuming, and cleaning the bathroom. Hmmph, adulting sucks.

8. Mr Kipling Frosty Fancies. I genuinely squealed with glee in the supermarket aisle when I saw them. All the fun of fondant fancies but with added festive-ness and without the chocolate ones which, let's face it, no one actually likes.

9. Finding some gorgeous dresses for my mini-bridesmaids. Honestly, part of me would have preferred to not have bridesmaids at all. But I remember all too well the feeling of being 9 years old and desperate to be a bridesmaid, so I couldn't in good conscience not ask my nieces to take part in the wedding. And actually, the dresses I've found - mint green polka dot numbers from Yumi Girls - are so cute that I'm very pleased I did!

10. The sprays of eucalyptus that I cut from my mums' back garden which are now bedecking every jar, jug and vase in the house. There's something about bringing seasonal greenery into the house - regardless of the time of year - that just feels special.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

What I've Been Reading Recently

The Sun Is Also A Star
Nicola Yoon
Rating: ****
Nirvana fan and budding scientist Natasha is having the worst day of her life when she meets Daniel on the streets of New York. There ensues an extremely sweet, entertaining and heart-warming love story, with added physics. What raises The Sun Is Also A Star* above your standard contemporary YA, though, is Yoon's deft touch for character; she brings every person to life on the page with touching and occasionally devastating vignettes that show how the tiny gestures we make on a day-to-day basis can have enormous knock-on effects.

The Power
Naomi Alderman
Rating: ****
The Power* poses the question: what if the power to hurt were in women's hands? If, with a flick of the wrist, women and girls could cause agonising pain and death? It begins as the ultimate feminist revenge fantasy, as women strike back after thousands of years of patriarchy: oppressive regimes in the Middle East are overthrown; women empowered the world over. But - despite the dark humour - it quickly becomes clear that this is no feminist utopia. As the world heads towards a cataclysmic event, we discover that power will always be abused, no matter who wields it. This is a violent, brutal  page-turner of a dystopian novel, and I heartily recommend it.

If I Was Your Girl
Meredith Russo
Rating: ****
Amanda is 18 and about to start her senior year at a new high school. What her new friends don't know, however, is that Amanda was born Andrew. Being a little bit tired of cisgendered people telling trans stories (*cough* Lisa Williamson *cough*), I was excited to read a trans author's take on YA. And one thing I particularly enjoyed about If I Was Your Girl was the fact that - some flashback chapters apart - this was a post-transition story. It was also a fairly straightforward 'new girl at school' tale, and all the better for it, demonstrating that Amanda's life isn't centred around being trans: she has the same worries - making and keeping friends, crushes, college plans - as any other teenage girl.

Lie With Me
Sabine Durrant
Rating: *****
Lie With Me is an engrossing, slow-burning thriller of the very best kind: think Patricia Highsmith, rather than the pile-em-high Gone Girl-alikes. We meet our thoroughly unlikeable narrator Paul in a damp Charing Cross Road bookshop, where he bumps into an old university friend, and follow him as he wheedles his way first into a dinner invitation and then to a Greek island holiday. The genius of Lie With Me is in the way every piece fits together like a jigsaw puzzle: tiny details pass us by, as they do Paul, before finally we realise their significance at the end. And oh how perfect to read this while lying on a sun lounger on a Greek island myself. My favourite thriller of 2016 so far.

What Light
Jay Asher
Rating: **1/2
Sierra's parents own a Christmas tree farm and, as a result, she spends 11 months of the year on the farm in Oregon and the month of December on their Christmas tree lot in California. And her seventeenth Christmas in California may well be her last - as her parents are talking about closing the lot - so this is not the ideal time for her to fall for a local boy with a troubled past. What Light* is a fluffy, festive read but a long way from Asher's highly praised, gritty debut, Thirteen Reasons Why. Caleb and Sierra's romance is entirely PG and as saccharine sweet as the candy canes they're constantly stirring into hot chocolate.

Missing, Presumed
Susie Steiner
Rating: *****
I picked up Missing, Presumed in the library but didn't have particularly high hopes for it, so I was surprised to find myself completely absorbed and engaged within the first few pages. The first in a new series following police detective Manon Bradshaw, what I particularly liked was the combination of a police procedural with multi-character points of view, so that instead of seeing everything through Manon's (admittedly very interesting) eyes, the reader also 'hears' from the parents and best friend of the titular missing person, a co-worker of Manon's, etc. Also appealing to me - being a bleeding heart leftie - were the ways in which Steiner incorporated such issues as children in care, the Met's racist stop-and-search practices, and prison conditions, but with a light enough touch that the reader never feels preached at.

The Blood Card
Elly Griffiths
Rating: **1/2
I've always enjoyed Elly Griffiths books, although I'm baffled by the speed with which she cranks out both this Stephens & Mephisto series and the Ruth Galloway novels. The Blood Card* finds all the usual ingredients present and correct, most notably an atmospheric post-war Brighton setting combined with a fairly predictable but enjoyable plot. It just didn't get me turning the pages in the way I expect of a Griffiths novel.

* A digital copy of this book was kindly provided by the publishers for review via NetGalley.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Thrifty Christmas Gift Swap

It's your last chance to sign up for this year's Thrifty Gift Swap! If you want to get involved, see below for details.

1. Send your name, address, blog address (if you have one) and extra information to jbistheinitial@gmail.com by Sunday November 6th. Include in your email as much detail about your likes and dislikes as possible, so your giver has a starting point.
2. Once you receive the information about your recipient (by November 10th at the latest), you can start putting together a box of bought, thrifted and handmade goodies you think your recipient will love.  In previous years gifts have ranged from framed animation strips from the giftees favourite film, to Christmas mix CDs, to cool brooches and embroidery hoops, to secondhand books.
3. Limit yourself to a £12 spend (not including postage).
4. Pop your parcel in the post by December 10th (although try and be a bit more prompt if sending overseas).
5. Sit back and wait to receive your own box of delights from a mystery giver!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Photo An Hour: Saturday 29th October

Each month Jane and Louisa arrange Photo An Hour, and for the second month in a row I managed to remember in time to take part!

Saturday was a fairly quiet day: despite being our four year anniversary, Thomas had to work down in London all day so I mostly pottered around the house, did a wee bit of shopping, and hung out with the cat. Check out the #photoanhour hashtag on Instagram and Twitter to see who else took part and what they got up to.
9am:
Just awake and starting the day right: in bed with a book. I'm halfway through This Song Will Save Your Life and very much enjoying it so far. This quote felt very relatable to me: "Lord knows you can launch any kind of criticism at me... but don't you dare doubt my musical knowledge," because that was basically me when I was 16, too.
10am:
How every Saturday at home begins: listening to the Huey show on BBC 6Music while waiting for the kettle to boil. He's an absolute twat of a man, but his taste in music is impeccable.

11am:
Missy doing her best Batman impression. This is one of her favourite spots on which to sit, while she susses out whether the bed it ready for her to make the leap.
12 noon:
I'd pretty much finished getting ready when I realised I hadn't showered since Thursday! So, full make-up on and hair already put up, I dashed to the bathroom quickly and remedied the situation.
1pm:
Hearts or bees? I've been lusting after this bee-print Primark shirt since I saw it on Donna's blog and Rebecca's Instagram. Sadly, #bigboobproblems struck again: the only size I could get fastened over my chest hung like a sack everywhere else.
2pm:
I got bored pretty quickly in town when I realised I can't afford to buy much, so I came home to see this furry little face snoozing in her usual spot on the end of our bed. I sat with her for a while and read an improving book  faffed about on my phone until I felt I should actually achieve something, so...

3pm:
... to the office/craft room, where I finally - a year after purchasing it - started to use this cute fox-print fabric. I made a couple of zipped pouches, which will probably find their way into some Christmas gift swaps, and then got sick of my sewing machine playing silly buggers so I went to sort out...

4pm:
... the woodshed. I'd popped to Aldi earlier in the morning to get more of their excellent value kiln-dried logs (god I sound like such a nanna). I love a well-stocked wood shed, so this task gave me more satisfaction than it perhaps should have.
5pm:
Completely lacking inspiration for my 5 o'clock photo, so I snapped what was closest to me: the anniversary card I gave Thomas this morning. Black cats + stripes + staying in = very apt.
6pm:
This may look like your common-or-garden photograph of a sleeping cat, but it's a record of only the fourth time Missy has ever sat on my lap! After adopting her four months ago, both Thomas and I have used various wiles to try and get her to settle down with us but she showed no interest until a week ago, when she sat on my lap three times over the course of the weekend. Then a week with no lap action... followed by Thomas getting a precious 10 minute sit on Thursday and this long snooze on my lap last night. (Since then, she has run onto my lap when fireworks scared her last night, which just about made me weep with joy, and had a long snuggle with me this morning. Aaaaaaah!)
7pm:
Wine o'clock. Strictly o'clock. 
8pm:
Thomas is home! He'd had a good day at the London Anarchist Book Fair, his workshop had gone well, and, being the total boss he is, he'd brought me presents. Yep, this guy knows me well: forget anniversary flowers, what really sets my heart racing is anniversary zines about fat activism 💕
9pm:
And in a rather meta turn of events, my final photograph of the day was one of me editing this very post, while waiting for Thomas to finish watching Borgen.

Did you take part in Photo An Hour yesterday? Hit me up in the comments so I can have a peek at your day.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

A Week In Crete

In the last week of September, Thomas and I went to Kolymvari, Crete. After a hectic year for both of us - twelve months that have seen him complete his PhD and start two new jobs, and me leave teaching for a new role - a break was long-overdue. Our plan for the week, therefore, was to sit by the pool and do nothing.

Kolymvari is pleasingly undeveloped and our apartment complex 2km out of town was small, peaceful and surrounded by olive groves, which meant we could totally relax. There were enough shops within walking distance to keep us stocked up on spinach pastries, bread, tomatoes and olive oil, a couple of tavernas for evening meals, and that was it. As a result, we had a wonderful seven days of reading, swimming and lounging.
However, being more used to frantic weekend breaks and city-hopping, we couldn't quite manage a full seven days of lounging. Luckily, Hania - the second-biggest town on the island and site of the ancient Minoan settlement of Kydonia* - is within easy reach of Kolymvari on the bus, and we fell head over heels for its picturesque Old Town. A mass of tiny alleyways and iron balconies with lush vegetation spilling overhead, you never know when you might stumble upon an intriguingly mysterious corner of Venetian architecture or some decidedly contemporary street art.

* This fact ensured I had Muse's Knights Of Cydonia stuck in my head for practically the whole week.

Thomas having struggled all week to find any vegan food (hence the bread, tomatoes and olive oil from the local shops), we were thrilled to find Tamam, which has a number of vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu, while exploring the Old Town. Being a bad blogger, I completely failed to make a note of the other taverna we found in Hania that had a vegan menu, but if you ever find yourself in the area, it was opposite the old arsenal.

I'd thoroughly recommend the quiet northwestern coast of Crete if you're looking for something a bit different to the usual resorts. The combination of majestic mountains and peaceful olive groves, ancient historical sites, and friendly and welcoming towns made it a real winner. And for late September/early October, the weather was glorious: we had above-average temperatures for the time of year - hitting 32c on the 1st October - and gorgeous sunshine every day. We're already planning our return trip.