Thursday, October 31, 2013

Brit Sewing Thursday Linky (31st October 2013)

Not much to show for myself this week on the sewing front!

My secret Christmas project is coming along slowly but nicely and one of the swaps I am in closes tomorrow, so I will finally be able to show you what I made next week (and maybe what I received too?)

In the meantime I have signed up for the Doll Quilt Swap on Flickr. If you fancy joining the sign up is still open. This is my inspiration mosaic...

Doll Quilt Swap inspiration mosaic

And one other thing, if you are looking to promote your blog for free next month, why not take part in my badge swap? You can read about it here.
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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mature studenting... how it is so far

Just over a fortnight ago I started on a four year distance learning Graphic Design degree with the Interactive Design Institute. It's something I have wanted to study for most of my life, but even so making the commitment to do it wasn't easy.

I had to take out a student loan and commit to four years of work and I still have nagging doubts about whether I actually have the talent to do it. My experience of university up till this point had been the one term I spent at the University Of Westminster 20 years ago studying Media Communications. I left because I was offered a job, but I looked for the job because I was bored and university wasn't for me.

Starting again two decades later, I spent half of the first week in a state of blind panic, convinced I couldn't handle the workload and completely blindsided by all the university lingo, failing to understand I was doing two modules simultaneously and flailing about with my schedule.

The second week was 100% better and with each new task I am finding I enjoy it more. In fact at points it's felt downright indulgent fiddling round with fonts and spending hours browsing the web looking for poster designs and yet calling it (quite legitimately) "work"

Into my third week the workload is intense but not uncomfortable. I can achieve it and I can do it without it being stressful. My sewing time has dwindled and my weekday TV time has vanished, but I'm ok with that.

After many false starts over the years, I pinch myself that I am finally doing it. Like most things in life, the build up to it (six months!) was the worst, it gave me too many opportunities to examine it and question whether I was doing the right thing. However I can say with absolute conviction that distance learning was definitely the right option for me. My own pace, my own desk and the freedom to fit it around all the other stuff that goes on in life.

I still have a mountain ahead of me to climb, but so far it's feeling surmountable.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

It's swap time again!

So the storm had the final say about my plans to attend the Next Bloggers event in London today. I'm stuck at home as there are no trains running!

But in the spirit of blogs and networking, I thought it would be a good day to put a call out for badge swappers for November. This month we have been introduced to the brilliant bloggers behind Maddie Moes, La Famille Brown, Circle Of Pine Trees & Rascal & Roses. If you'd like to be one of next month's swappers, all you have to do is host my badge on your blog and in return I will host yours. It's a great way of reaching out to new readers and meeting fellow bloggers.

The only thing I must stress is that spots are limited and they are only confirmed when you have sent me your badge. If you miss out for this month though I'll stick you straight to the top of the list for December.

Interested? Email me.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Waiting for the storm...

This weekend has not worked out like we planned.

Theo has a cold, the friend who was due to visit is ill, the village ploughing match was postponed and now this storm...

Tomorrow I'm supposed to be going to London to attend the Next Bloggers Workshop. It was going to be my first taste of blogging out there in the real world. I have had my train tickets booked for weeks and Jim has the day off work... but you've seen the forecast, right?

We've got trees down here already and the relentless battering winds have kept us indoors (save the dog walk) all weekend. It's driving me a little bit stir crazy if the truth be told!

But on the plus side, Jim has the day off. So if utter chaos does break loose tomorrow at least neither of us will really have to go anywhere (even if I will miss the bloomin' bloggers conference!)

So batten down the hatches folks and stay safe. We'll see you the other side....

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Exciting news... we won!

CenterParcs Family Blog Club 

You may remember that a few weeks ago I wrote a blog post which featured our video entry to become Center Parcs family bloggers. Well, after a tense and exciting wait, we found out earlier this week that we are one of the chosen families!

As well as taking a short-break at Longleat Forest in the spring, I will also be trying out their spa facilities with a friend and we'll be taking part in their monthly challenges on this blog. So lots to look forward to!

There were 12 family bloggers selected in total and you can read about the others on the Center Parcs blog.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Brit Sewing Thursday Linky (24th October 2013)

This week I finally finished my paper pieced bird which is this month's FQR Bee quilt block. It was a fairly fiddly block to do, but by far the worst bit was joining the half a dozen individual components. Only when I stepped back from it did I actually realise that there's something not quite right with where the tail joins the body. I say "something" because I initially thought I had misaligned the two parts, but now I think maybe I just used the wrong fabric in the wrong bit. I resisted the urge to pull it apart, fearing it might disintegrate in the process. I hope Carol doesn't mind a bird with character!

Silly bird

Also this week I had a nice surprise. A copy of this book arrived...

It's written by Erin who blogs at House On Hill Road. Erin is pretty much the first quilt blogger I ever found in about 2008 when we were living in Canada. I have followed her over the years and learned a lot from her quilts, sewing and photography. (She actually got me started on the 365 project back in 2010)

Anyway, last year out of the blue, I was contacted by a picture researcher working on a quilt book, who asked if they could use one of my images in a quilt book, a book which turned out (rather serendipitously) to be written by Erin. So many, many months after that first request, it's published and....

Ta-dah!! That's my circles quilt on the right!

I am actually featured in a real published quilt book. It feels like a small but exciting milestone! And the funny thing is, earlier today I had an email from someone asking about the construction of that very quilt, so I will revisit it for a tutorial soon...

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two dogs born six thousand miles apart...

Tots 100 & Swell UK are asking bloggers to tell them about their pets for the chance to win £500 to spend on them and I thought this would be an excellent excuse to introduce you to our two very different dogs, who rather uniquely were born on opposite sides of the globe.

Macy the snow dog

Macy is our Canadian Prairie Dog and was born on a farm in Southern Alberta. Although we are unsure of her genetic make-up she looks like a lot of Canadian cross-breed dogs, with her large build and thick coat. We collected her on a very cold April morning from a barn near Strathmore, where she was living with horses and her two brothers. It was several degrees below zero, but she and all the animals who lived on the farm were completely unphased by the temperature. To this day she still loves the cold.

On the way home we discussed what to call her as she squirmed on a blanket on my lap in the back of the car. Flicking between radio frequencies we found a jazz station and suddenly and instantly she calmed. "That's it we said, we'll name her after whoever this is." Typically the DJ went straight to the next record "Ok, whoever they mention next!" The song finished and they started talking about a jazz musician doing a local gig. He was called Macy O'Parker and so that was it. The name stuck.

Fifteen months after Macy became ours, we were on the move again and she came too. Boarding a flight from Calgary to Cyprus via Germany. The cost of the flights, the paperwork, the vaccines, overnight accommodation and transport to and from the airport (a 6 hour round trip in Canada) was staggering, but all part of what forces families do to try and cling on to a feeling of normality.

Macy our snow-loving prairie dog arrived in Cyprus in August and was not impressed. With new jobs and a new home, our routines changed and we found ourselves away from the house for longer periods during the day. She was hot and bored and she let us know by taking it out on our possessions. The final straw came when she chewed a hole right through the centre of a newly completed quilt! What to do? The answer was obvious to us, though perhaps not to everyone. Get her a companion...


So along came Bella. A tiny skittish waif of a dog who had been found abandoned at the side of the road and had been taken in hungry and terrified by a rescue shelter. We agreed to trial her for a week and for six of those seven days she did very little except sleep and run away from things. Then on day seven she suddenly relaxed and started to play.

It was a long journey teaching Bella that her new home was safe and 18 months later we were posted by the military again. Unlike Macy, she did not take a long flight to the UK in her stride, emerging from Gatwick pet transport looking utterly terrified whilst Macy merely sniffed the air and looked at us as if to say "Oh, another country?"
But three years on (and another house move, this time thankfully by car) Bella is a dog transformed having grown enormously in confidence by hanging out with a larger and more self-assured animal. 

Macy & Bella
Macy & Bella (with snow)

Being a Beagle-cross she is of course terribly naughty and loves nothing more than raiding bins, stealing anything edible and running off after prey, but she's a massive character and we'd never be without her. True to her Cypriot roots she loves hot temperatures as much as Macy enjoys the cold and so in winter Macy will sit on our patio watching the stars whilst Bella curls up by the radiator inside and in summer Bella will lie stretched out in the sun whilst Macy slopes off to the garage for a doze.

These two unlikely companions have seen the world between them and been on incredible adventures. They have run with cattle across the Canadian prairies, swum with turtles in the Meditarranean and scampered through the ruins of snow covered Scottish castles. If they were humans they'd be propping up a bar with a pint in their hands and telling another of their tales, whilst the other drinkers rolled their eyes and said "Oh no, not another shaggy dog story!"

This post is an entry into the Tots100/Swell UK competition.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Five hours, a ton of apples and thirty gallons of cider....


So Saturday was Apple Day. A day to celebrate our national apple heritage and to highlight our disappearing orchards.  We have a 180 year-old orchard right here in this village that we are trying to save, so a few weeks ago I mentioned that it might be appropriate to do something.... and from this small casual mention of perhaps-we-could, suddenly an event grew.

I didn't sleep the night before worrying about the weather or no one showing up, but they came. Sixty or seventy people of all ages, some friendly faces, some we had never met before. Some spent hours manning presses, whilst others just chatted or watched. There was no expectation of what people should do, only a desire to bring the community together.   

I tried to record it all on film, in words, in audio and pictures whilst talking to people, making dozens of cups of tea and trying to keep an eye on Theo. I failed in small ways in almost all sectors. Theo wandered around amongst his people with an empty cup and they answered his cries of "juice" with continual top-ups. By evening he was suffering the ill effects.

But we did it. Despite the rain and the loose ends in the planning. We started at 9:30am, we were packed up by 3pm and now we have "Tin Tin" a five gallon keg, living (yes he is very much alive) in our lobby (with his siblings scattered around the village) Now there is talk of wassailing in January. A dance, singing, a fire and of course, the village cider. I can't wait!

PS - There will  be a short video to follow, in the meantime here's one of the team who organised the day talking about it...

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Seven mistakes I made in the first seven years of blogging...

The other week on the Blogtacular Twitter chat we were discussing thngs we had learned about blogging. I have been blogging for 7 years, but I have spent the majority of that not having no idea what I was doing. In fact only about three months ago did I actually really start to "get" it. Here's seven things I learned the hard way...

(1) Buy your own domain
It doesn't cost a lot but it makes you look so much more professional, it's easier to tell people your address and it gives you the power to move platforms without losing your address.I only bought my domain in July of this year and having built up a good google pagerank I had to go back to zero with my new domain.

(2) Network 
When I started blogging I honestly believed I could just write a blog and people would find it without me doing anything, but that does not happen! To find an audience you need to be active on social media, take part in link parties and comment on people's blogs. This is not as calculated as it sounds though. Doing those things has made my blogging life richer and helped me discover some inspirational people online

(3) Make all your social media photos the same
This is so simple and so obvious, but a lot of people don't do it. Your photo is your visual representation, much like a companies logo. People may forget your name, but chances are they will recognise your image, so don't keep them guessing if the "you" they have found on Instagram is the same "you" as on Twitter

(4) Don't try and put too much in a post
New bloggers do this all the time, then they feel they have to dedicate a whole day to writing up everything that happened in the last fortnight. Write more frequently and write less. Photos and a few words can speak volumes.

(5) Make your photos big and bright
When I first started blogging the advice was not to make blog posts too photo "heavy" because of download speeds, so I had lots of diddy little images which were hard to see. Now those days are long gone, so make your photos big and bright. If you need to brighten them up use picmonkey. Most of the images on this blog are technically slightly over-exposed, but it's deliberate and makes them much nicer to look at.

(6) Get a decent blog header
I read somewhere that your blog header should be able to tell a new reader straight away what kind of blog to expect, I think this is good advice, but remember don't make your header so huge that it gobbles up all the "above the fold" space.

(7) Invest in design
If you want to take blogging seriously (and by that I mean you want to make any money from it directly or indirectly) ether invest serious time in researching blog design, or invest money in someone doing it for you. A bad design is the number one reason I don't bother to follow a blog.

Like this? Let me know and I might write a part two...

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Getting ready for Apple Day...

Community Cider Making Day

The weather held out for us this afternoon and our team of pickers collected the best part of a ton of apples from people's gardens for our Apple Day celebrations tomorrow. 

We'll have an early start tomorrow to erect gazebos, transport tables and wash and chop apples. Please keep your fingers crossed the rain holds off for us and we get a good turn out. The forecast looks different everywhere I look!

I'll report back after the weekend an I'm hoping they'll be a little film to share with you too!

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Brit Sewing Thursday Linky (17th October 2013)

This week it feels like quite a lot has been achieved on the sewing front, but yet I have very few photos to share with you!

The Apple Day bunting is complete and fortunately it looks as though the weather may actually remain dry on Saturday for the event too. I was starting to have visions of my beautiful bunting out in the pouring rain! No photo of that because I'm saving the "reveal" till it gets used.

I'm also ploughing on with my Christmas quilt. Lots of cutting of fabric and nothing I can really share because it is a secret...

I've also made progress with Carol's block for the FQR Bee. Carol is making a quilt that has the theme 'It's A Wonderful World' and she asked us Bee members to make a feature block on that theme and possibly a filler too. So I made my feature block but I wasn't happy with it.... So now I'm making a new one...

Paper pieced bird

Poor Carol even had to send me some more low volume fabric for the background - she probably wishes I'd just stuck with the brief!

I've also made the filler block too....

Low volume filler block

So it looks like Carol will get three blocks from me in the end! I really curse myself sometimes for my inability to walk away from a project before it's right (I won't say 'perfect' cause I never quite achieve that!)

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Butternut Squash Brownie

Do you ever get the feeling that there are no original ideas left in the world?! Even the really crazy ones?

The other night we were eating butternut squash pasta and I thought "I wonder what this would be like in brownie? Wouldn't that be crazy!"

So I googled it just to check... and someone's already done it. In fact loads of people have already done it. Butternut squash brownie is not crazy or original, in fact half the world probably bakes it at this time of year. Maybe I am the last one to discover it?

Anyway, as baking is always a pretty successful way of passing an afternoon with Theo we thought we'd give it a go.

The butternut squash is cooked in the microwave for 8-10 minutes before combining it with dark chocolate to form a smooth batter (at which point it ceases to look anything like vegetables.) Then you whip eggs and sugar, before folding in dry ingredients and the squash batter.

The recipe I used is from Delicious magazine and can be found along with the ingredient list on their website. My brother-in-law is actually the publisher of Delicious, but sadly for me he has never attempted to bribe me to feature his content. In fact after six changes of address in as many years, he's even given up sending me a free copy of the magazine - Ha!

The resulting brownie had a lovely indulgent dark chocolate flavour which would go brilliantly with ice-cream and it's low fat, because the butternut squash replaces the fat content!

I'm linking up with Tasty Tuesdays for the first time...

Tasty Tuesdays on 
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Sunday, October 13, 2013

The joy of jumping in puddles


Sometimes the morning dog walk can be an exercise in continual motivation and persuasion.

"Just a bit further and there are some blackberries" 
"If you hurry up we can have a hot chocolate" 
"Let's catch up with the doggies!"

And then you put puddles in the equation and he can't get from start to finish quick enough. He may fill his wellies with water and soak his trousers through, but the pure joy from something so simple and entirely free is a thing to behold.

So now every time I see it start to rain outside, there's a part of me that smiles at what's to come.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall
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Saturday, October 12, 2013

The wonderful colours of October...


Gosh, autumn is beautiful round these parts!

When we lived in Canada the thing I really used to notice when we came back to the UK for visits, was how colourful winter was. I don't think you really notice it until you have lived abroad.

On the Albertan praire for six months of the year things were a bit monochromatic. First the snow and then a spring that took ages and ages to arrive.

In the UK there is (mostly) always green grass, lichen on trees, berries in hedgerows or nuts on the ground.

My graphic design course kicks off with a "visual awareness" module next week... I'm in practice already.

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