Saturday 30 April 2016

April Achievements

Life was rather busy this month, so the crafting has been more 'urgent requirements' than 'a relaxing time of creativity'. I enjoyed the last minute hat for Rosie, and the Disney dress for my friend Brooke. Then there was all the stuff with the new die-cut machine - the greetings cards, then all the conference tags. And all those stash-busting drawstring bags. But it is still a fair output, and I am happy with April's Achievements

Friday 29 April 2016

I Love Lego

It is entirely Steph's fault. She went to a Team Meeting at work, and the amazing cocktails were served with little chocolate Lego Men perched on the top.
There is always room for a little Lego man somewhere. So I decided I should have a go at making my own. [I need to get plenty of practice before Rosie is old enough to enjoy them!]
The silicon tray can be used for chocolate or ice. I melted 16 small squares of chocolate in a Pyrex jug over a pan of water, and that was enough to fill 8 moulds. I used a BBQ skewer to encourage the chocolate into the corners and crevices.

Here is my first little man - turned out very neatly

So then I made a batch of dark chocolate ones as well

I refashioned a box which had held notelets, and put a selection of men inside. You cannot see clearly - but each Lego man is sitting in a neat little card area lined with tissue paper. Clingfilm holds them in place during transit.

Bob thinks they would make toppers for cup cakes too.

Thursday 28 April 2016


This weekend I am off to Northampton for Y-Pray, our first ever WWDP Conference aimed at younger women. Yes, of course I am going as a committee member, not as a delegate!
Everyone who attends will get a 'welcome pack'  containing information, and a few treats. Rather than just print off a name label and sticking it on, I have been busy making personalised tags. I chose one of the "rounded-off squares" from my set of nesting dies. A great excuse for more practice withe my Big Shot machine.

Then I took some of the leftover booking forms. I From each I cut out the conference logo, and a matching piece of plain turquoise from the back of the form. I stuck these together, and pasted on a name slip. I laminated and trimmed each tag, then put an eyelet in one corner.
A brightly coloured elastic band threaded through the holes, and all the tags are ready for slipping round the handles of the goodie bags.

I am pleased we could recycle the spare forms to good effect. More stuff about the conference will be following later...

Wednesday 27 April 2016

The Memory Of The Just Is Blessed

That's Proverbs 10:7 - a verse my Dad often quoted after the death of a good person. Another version puts it like this...

I have been very touched by the number of people who commented on my post about my friend Ann who died recently. Thank you for what you said. My blogfriend Lesley has posted her thoughts and they are a lovely continuation of my feelings. Do pop over to 'Nearly Martha' and see what she's said. It's good stuff!

I Read It In The Paper

I love stationery - pens, paper, cards, envelopes,crayons, fasteners, staplers, any and all sorts of gadgets and gizmos. I have been a filofax user for more than 30 years, and cannot see me changing my ways just yet. So I was pleased to see that today is special...
Who knew? 
This event is part of a whole week of celebrations . Yes writing does matter, proper letters through the post are a treat. It is much more satisfying to cross things off a paper to-do list than to just delete a line of text on a tablet. 

I have had rants about stationery before, so will endeavour to contain myself this morning. But two questions remain
  1. Why do the organisers of this event hold a wonderful exhibition at the London Business Centre - and then restrict it to trade only?
  2. Why is our local branch of Staples, that well known office supply chain, full of bins of pens/files/etc labelled "Stationary Sale" ? Surely they ought to be able to spell it correctly!
I finish with this very clever little advertisement which is entitled "Paper Has A Future"

Tuesday 26 April 2016

A Cut Above

Recently I was offered a die-cut machine by a friend -it is a Sissix Big Shot . This was her original model, and she has now moved on to more complex machines. She gave me a few dies as well. How incredibly kind!
I purchased a few more dies- a bird, a set of nesting shapes, and a rather beautiful and intricate picture of a couple under a tree.

Then I had a lovely time playing and creating. My initial efforts involved using the various cards and papers I had to hand.
The script was fun, and I like the way you get two sheets with the bird - to make a lining and an overlay. The flower dies are similar. Plus you can emboss as well, to create some texture.

The intricate one took quite a while to master - but it will be useful for weddings, engagements and anniversaries. Have you done any crafting with die-cut machines? and do you have any useful tips, please? Thank you to my friend for a lovely gift.

Monday 25 April 2016

Stash Busting...

...with a vengeance! Last week, I went into the loft and fetched down around a huge armful of scrap fabric.
And then I made dozens of bags - some large, some small - and all with elasticated tops. I used my overlocker to do the side seams, and finish the top edge. Then I folded over a casing and stitched on my regular machine. Then I spent a couple of evenings threading the elastic through.

In the end I only used up about 12 metres - but I am glad that I have found a useful purpose for it. You will have to wait till after the weekend to find out what that is. 

Sunday 24 April 2016

Remembering A Kind Friend

There have been quite a few deaths of famous people in 2016, who did not quite reach their 'threescore-years-and-ten'  - like Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Garry Shandling, Victoria Wood, Prince... but the death of my friend Ann, aged just 61, did not make the headlines, or become the first item on the radio news bulletins.

Her funeral was last week, and sadly I could not get to Norfolk to pay my respects. On Wednesday afternoon, I spent time outside looking at the flowers and trees, listening to the birds and enjoying the sunshine, and remembering her, and our friendship, which goes back over 50 years, from the first month my family moved to Dereham.
Ann, an only child, lived with her Mum and Dad and they all came to our church. She and I were among the girls who were there the first night our Girls' Brigade Company started, with Miss Johnston as our Captain. We did club swinging, and figure marching, and made [hideous] raffia lampshades. And we helped with the younger girls. And we complained about the uniform.
Ann's Dad John, died suddenly, whilst she was a teenager, and after that, she and her Mum, Vera, became very close. Vera was especially kind to my Mum, and used to come round to do home perms for her. Does anyone else remember the evil smell of Twink? 
We were still in GB, and both did our Officer Training. We were both baptised and became church members.
I went to Uni, but Ann remained in Dereham and went to work at the Mackintosh's Chocolate factory in Norwich. Ann and Vera were good at floristry - when Bob and I married, they arranged all the flowers in the church - that was their wedding gift to us. And Ann still lived at home with Vera, whilst taking on more and more responsibility for the Brigade Company.
My Mum died in 1991, and Ann and Vera were so kind to my Dad, often baking him sponge cakes and home-made pies. In 1996, Mackintosh's closed their factory, and Ann went to work for Wilkos. She was always a cheery face behind the cash register. 
Then Vera became ill and died - that was hard for Ann. But she continued her service in GB, and always made time to help others. Whenever we went back to Dereham, I'd pop into Wilkos to say Hi, and we'd catch up on the news. She always asked after my girls, and our church life, and we'd reminisce about our teenage years. 
Then Ann herself became ill with cancer, and had quite a few years of treatment - but last year moved into Eckling Grange,  a residential care home/sheltered accommodation scheme - she knew she could no longer look after herself. Although she had no relations nearby, there was a constant stream of friends from church visiting her, and sitting with her in her final days. 
She had planned her own funeral, and requested that people wore blue [her favourite colour] so I wore a pretty blue dress on Wednesday for her. I think she would have been amazed by how many people attended the thanksgiving service. 
Ann was in many ways, just an ordinary woman - she never hit the headlines, never earned a fortune, never expected special treatment - but she was gracious, and thoughtful, and cheerful, and loving. Her faith in God was strong - and she worked hard at her job, at Girls Brigade and in every aspect of her life. In her quiet way, she touched many lives, and she will be missed. I am reminded of a stanza from Gray's Elegy about the country folk whose simple lives were lived out faithfully but without fuss.
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,Their sober wishes never learned to stray;Along the cool sequestered vale of lifeThey kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Ann was not clever, or rich, or famous - but she was a good friend. I am glad to have known her, and glad that her pain and suffering is over, and glad she is with her Saviour, and reunited with her beloved parents. And I am sure that even though her passing did not create much of a stir down here, when she passed over, as John Bunyan said
"all the trumpets sounded for her on the other side"  RIP Ann, my friend.

Saturday 23 April 2016

Dum Di Dum Di Dum Di Dum...

I am a life long Archers' Addict. Look at this lot

There are my two mugs [the red one has a damaged handle, so is now my pencil pot]

Then there is my jigsaw, and my two books. I had loads more of the books, but sold the others last year to raise some cash. I kept my special 40th Anniversary book, and Jennifer's Cookbook [ gift from friend Elisabeth, another AA - and full of great recipes which I make from time to time]

Then there is my wonderful Simon Drew Tea Towel [half these characters are dead now - it is almost twenty years old!]
This final item is not an Archers piece - but right now I think it is relevant.
I bought this badge about 23 years ago, when I was working for Social Services. At that time, the statistics appeared to suggest that 1 in 5 women was suffering some sort of domestic violence [physical or verbal] Sadly now it is believed the figure may be higher. The NSPCC recently reported that 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse, and 1 in 5 teenagers have been physically abused by their boyfriend or girlfriend.

If you follow the Archers you'll understand why I mention this - the current storyline surrounded Rob and Helen Titchener has been riveting, if sometimes painful, listening. I am not the only person I know who has been shouting at the radio!

Yes, I know it is only fiction - but it mirrors the awful treatment that many people face daily. Full marks to Paul Trueman for grabbing the moment, and setting up a Just Giving page to help the real people out there caught up in this tragedy. He began it at the beginning of February with a target of £1000 - within hours donations had passed that. So he reviewed the target, and upped it to £125,000, and he is almost there. That represents hundreds of women [and teir children] being given shelter, nights in secure Refuges, up and down the country. 

I shan't reveal any of this week's plot developments - I know many people catch up via the Sunday omnibus and I don't want to reveal any spoilers. But I am glad this programme is not afraid to flag up the issues that should be concerning all of us.

[the BBC reckons 1 out of 11 people listens to the Archers at some point. We are the ones who do not answer our phones between 7 and 7.15pm]

Friday 22 April 2016

Beyond The Pale

This expression nowadays means "outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour", but its roots are much older, dating back more than seven centuries. A pale, or paling, was an upright stick [often pointed at the base] - and when these were all joined together, or stuck in the ground in a tight row they made a fence [also known as a pale] The word is from the same family as pole, impale and palisade.
"The Pale" was the fence that marked the boundary of someone's jurisdiction - most famously "The English Pale" across part of Ireland. The English considered that to travel 'beyond the pale' was to leave civilisation and the niceties of English society behind.

We have been working in the garden, and Bob put down an area of old bricks [reclaimed from the church building project] next to the shed. The wheelbarrow, incinerator and our new big brown garden wheelie bin stand there. But they were something of an eyesore. So he took some old wooden tongue&groove strips [also of no further use at UCF] and made a pale. Then he painted it with some preservative left over from another fence. Minimal cost, maximum recycling - and it all looks much better with the horticultural paraphernalia hidden behind a screen. 

Here is Bob standing beyond the pale!!

Thursday 21 April 2016

The Power Behind The Throne

Today Queen Elizabeth is 90 years old. Her 'official' State birthday will be celebrated in June, but this is her 'real' anniversary. I pray she has a happy day with her family - children, grand-children and great grandchildren. There will, no doubt, be lots of celebratory books and TV programmes about this gracious lady, but can I mention just one. This book makes fascinating reading - and you can order it here, and read more about the contents. I love the picture on the front, approved by HM herself. It's as if she is glancing heavenward and thinking "At least YOU understand what this reigning job is all about - You've been doing it infinitely longer than I have" Thank you, Your Majesty, for all your years of faithful service to your God and your subjects. Happy Birthday

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Poste Restante

In so many novels written in earlier years [especially the glorious 1930's crime novels, by Christie , Sayers et al] people frequently make use of 'Poste Restante' - the service by which mail is sent to the local Post Office and can be collected there. So useful for travellers and detectives [As I look for the culprit, I shall be working in disguise in the Dorset Area - send any mail to the main post office in Christchurch please] I was surprised to find that Royal Mail still offers this facility. I will let you know if I ever require it. 

What made me think about it was arriving at the Church Office last Friday, and Aline, our lovely administrator said "There's a letter waiting for you, from France". She was as intrigued as I was by this unexpected delivery from across the Channel [well, she is half French herself]

It was a wonderful, long, beautifully handwritten letter from a blogfriend, who is trying to send more real letters to people. I felt incredibly honoured to receive such an epistle, full of interesting news, and bits and pieces which don't get into blogs.

But because she didn't have my home address here, she had been very intelligent, and found the address of our church via its website

Bob was very pleased, he and others have been working very hard recently to make our new website attractive and interesting. Do check it out [you can even listen to the sermons]

No, I haven't got round to replying yet - but I will do soon. Another blogfriend letter also came last week - with a packet of seeds inside. People are so thoughtful aren't they?

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Belle Of The Ball

I thought I had left all those Disney Dressmaking tasks behind when we moved from Leicestershire, but it seems I haven't.
A young lady I know had a "Belle" princess dress, but it was rather too small for her. The sizing on these frocks seems rather skimpy, to me. There was a white underskirt, which had a plastic hoop threaded through the hem, like a crinoline.

I needed to make the dress larger in the chest and waist, lengthen it, and also change the underskirt. My friend also has to spend time in her wheelchair, and a rigid circle of plastic does not settle well, but pops up. 
I began by removing the hoop and carefully cutting down the side seams and laying the dress out.

Next I cut panels to insert in each side [the front was brocade, but the back and bodice mostly just plain gold]  and some white panels for the sides of the underskirt. I used golden tulle to make an extension frill, so that the underskirt would still give the dress some shape, but be easier to accommodate when sitting in the chair.
I was pleased with the final result. The dress has been altered to fit, with some growing room - but still looks remarkably similar.

Do you think Rosie will want Disney dresses when she is older? Liz and Steph never desired such things - but I did make other costumes for them when they needed them.

Monday 18 April 2016

Eyre Apparent

This Thursday marks the bicentennial of Charlotte Brontë's birth. There are loads of events planned nationwide to mark this auspicious year. You can check out the Brontë Society website for information - they are really having fun, as the four siblings all celebrate their bicentennials within 5 years. Charlotte born 2016, Branwell in 2017, Emily in 2018 and Anne in 2020 - and they moved to Haworth in 2019. No wonder mother Maria died in 2021 - all those babies and moving to a new Parish is enough to wear anyone out.
Jane Eyre is definitely my favourite of all the Brontë novels. I read it quite young, and I think the fact that Charlotte was the daughter of an impoverished parson, and her heroine had a similar background must have resonated with me. We were living in County Durham at the time, and our old, cold Manse was a tiny terraced house, with an attic, and resident mice. I think also I liked Jane Eyre best because in the book [unlike so many of the film adaptations] there is so much about this woman's strong faith in God. Here is my vintage copy of J.E. It is a Dean's Classic - I received loads of them as school prizes and birthday presents.
The Society in Haworth has got a great team on board to help with the celebrations
Writer Tracy Chevalier [Girl with the Pearl Ear-ring, etc] is curating the event, working as 'Creative Partner' with the museum for the year. She has also edited "Reader, I married Him" a collection of 21 short stories, inspired by the first line of the final chapter of J.E. Contributors include Susan Hill, Helen Dunmore and other. It has already received good reviews.
The irrepressible Dame Jacqueline Wilson has been appointed "Ambassador for Charlotte" - many of her heroines are feisty, motherless young women, and she also admits to having loved JE since she was 10. She wants to encourage more people to read the Brontë novels.
And another Dame - Judi Dench, has just been announced as the Honorary President of the Brontë Society. She played Mrs Fairfax in the 2011 film of JE.
If you cannot get up to Yorkshire for all these shenanigans, you can always visit the small but carefully planned exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, which runs till August 14th - and is completely free!
 And finally, down south, at the Chawton House Library in Hampshire there are more events. CHL was the home of Jane Austen's brother, Edward and is a centre for the study of women's writing. Their Conference is in Mid May.
If you do not get to any of the events, do try and read Jane Eyre sometime, it's a great story. If you have read it, then try The Wide Sargasso Sea, the 'prequel', written by Jean Rhys some fifty years ago - an interesting interpretation of Mr Rochester's early life. Here's a trailer from the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre [featuring Dame Judi, naturally]

Sunday 17 April 2016

Planting For The Future

Despite the rain and hail, a dozen of us spent yesterday morning working on the church gardens. Trees were pruned, beds dug over and replanted, the flower troughs at the front were planted up. And John stood under his golfing umbrella and cooked burgers and sausages on the BBQ to feed the workers. We hope that the beautiful outside appearance of our premises will help attract people to come inside
Last week we drove along the B3082 by the National Trust property Kingston Lacy, through the amazing Beech Avenue, planted by the owner William Bankes around 1835. It was a birthday gift for his mother Frances, with 365 trees one side of the road, and 366 the other. People mocked him - she would never live to see the trees reach full maturity, and it was doubtful if he would either [he didn't - poor chap was exiled to France for conduct unbecoming, and never saw KL again] But he planted this wonderful avenue anyway, and 180 years later we can enjoy their beauty. 
Whilst all this was happening down in Dorset, and Britain was still recovering from the Napoleonic Wars [particularly all the naval battles with Nelson and co] questions were being asked in Parliament about timber for building more ships. If it was necessary to import, they decided that Swedish timber was deemed particularly good. Over in Sweden, their navy was concerned about shipbuilding too. The Crown had sole rights over the use of oak trees, since the Middle Ages. In 1835 the Swedish Navy requested more trees to be planted. So 300,000 oak trees were planted on the island of Visingö.

But time moves on, and by the start of the twentieth century, iron and steel were the preferred material for shipbuilding. However, some people, like the Swedish Forestry Service, keep meticulous records [do the SFS have log books?] and in 1978 they actually wrote to the Navy and said "Your trees are now ready" 
The workers who planted the trees all those years ago knew they would not be around to see the results of their labours - but they did it for their King and Country. In these days when we so often want immediate results, fast food, quick credit and instagram pictures, it is good to remember that some things take time and effort to grow to full maturity. That includes family relationships, communities, church fellowships. We need to plant in faith, believing that one day somebody will see the fruits of our labours.
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians Chapter 3 [J B Phillips translation]
 I may have done the planting and Apollos the watering, but it was God who made the seed grow! The planter and the waterer are nothing compared with Him who gives life to the seed.

Saturday 16 April 2016

Lesser Spotted Lemons

I am trying to sort out my pantry, and use up tins and jars which have been lurking at the back of the shelf for far too long. And right at the back I came across a jar of lemon curd. Where did it come from? Why did I buy it? or rather, why on earth did I buy this 'basics' curd? Above is the lovely Tiptree Jar, with these ingredients - Sugar, Butter, Lemon Juice[11%] Whole Eggs, Citric Acid, Pectin, Lemon Oil.  

And here is the Sainsbury's basics curd, with these ingredients - Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Water, Palm Oil, Maize Starch, Dried Egg, Gelling Agent: Pectin; Citric Acid, Lemon Oil [0.1%], Acetic Acid, Antioxidant: Ascorbic Acid; Acidity Regulator: Sodium Citrate; Colours: Curcumin, Beta-carotene.

That's right - the Tiptree one contains more than 10% lemon- that's 100 times more than the Basics, with a mere 0.1% ! Not to mention butter and whole eggs in one, and lots of nontraditional curd ingredients in the other.
Maybe that is why I spent 30p on the supermarket own brand - and not £2.30 on the pukka stuff from Essex.

But I found a recipe online to use it up - the Daily Telegraph had a three-ingredient pudding, needing just a jar of curd, eggs and flour. So I decided to use the jar in a pud. "Xanthe's Magic Lemon Pud"

1 500g jar of lemon curd
2 eggs
45g plain flour

Preheat the oven to Gas 4 / 180C / Fan 160.

Beat the lemon curd, flour and egg yolks together.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff, and then fold them into the rest of the mixture. Scrape the mixture into a buttered 1 litre ovenproof dish.
Place the dish in a roasting tin and pour boiling water around it to a depth of about 5cm. Measure out 150ml of boiling water and pour this over the top of the pudding mix.

Bake for 35 minutes until risen and browned. The pudding should be dry to the touch, but still a little wobbly. Serve with pouring or lightly whipped cream [or custard]

So this is what mine looked like 

I was quite pleased with it - we had it half of it hot from the oven at lunchtime when it was cold, windy and wet outside. It tasted good. The top was a light sponge, and underneath a lemon sauce.
However I let it cool and put the remainder into the fridge. When I reheated it in two pudding bowls that evening, it tasted quite strange!! The sauce went very thick and gloopy - Bob didn't realise it was the same pud he had eaten a few hours earlier. I suspect that with proper curd it might have been ok. But this is not a recipe where you can substitute - unless it is all going to be eaten immediately. We live and learn...