Monday 31 December 2012

Goodbye 2012

It's Hogmanay and time to say goodbye to 2012.  It's been eventful as ever.  I like to look back at my photographs and remember the highs and lows of the year.  I'd like to think there have been more highs than lows and my photos seem to reflect this.  Here are 3 pics that sum up the best 3 highlights from my year.
Just before the start of the year I had to say goodbye to my old golden retriever.  This left Lucydog an only dog and she was upset as she'd never been on her own. For many years I'd had 3 dogs and to have only one didn't feel right.
At that stage it had been agreed that I would stay in this house so getting a puppy was an easy decision.  I had always wanted to breed dogs and now I had the freedom to do the things that I had wanted.

Enter Emma, the cutest looking puppy I'd ever seen but that sweet look hides a truly mischievous nature!!  She's now 10 months old and just had her first season.  I need to give some serious thought to my plan of breeding from her.

This is me with my gorgeous middle son at his graduation.  Apart from having to share the day with his dad (I was a big girl and played nice!!) it was a lovely one.  He graduated with honours in German and now lives in Vienna.

This is my favourite holiday snap. No really!! Despite the awful weather forecasts OH and I took our blended family on a campervan trip up the coast of Scotland and did some island hopping.  Apart from this really wet day at Callinish we were lucky with the weather.

The low point of the year was definitely realising that I would have to sell my house.  It's turning into a long drawn out saga and the uncertainty of it all is causing me a wee bit of stress.  But I'm trying to look at the positives in it.  I'm still living in the house I love, I just don't know how long for atm.

My proudest achievement this year was taking the plunge and setting up my wee felted tartan business.  An Etsy shop to begin with, then stocking a local craft boutique, setting up a website and ending the year with a Christmas fair.  I have lots planned for next year!

So goodbye 2012.  Thank you for the highs.  I've learned from the lows and will use that to make 2013 an even better one.

So at the bells tonight I will raise a glass and wish you all a Guid New Year in the words of Rabbie Burns

Here's tae us
Wha's like us
Damn few,
And they're a' deid
Mair's the pity!

May those who live truly be always believed,
And those who deceive us be always deceived.
Here's to the men of all classes,
Who through lasses and glasses
Will make themselves asses!

I drink to the health of another,
And the other I drink to is he
In the hope that he drinks to another,
And the other he drinks to is me.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand
And may his great prosperity
Ne'er fail in old Scotland!

Monday 17 December 2012

Forward Planning

Here's the finished Christmas pudding.  It's now wrapped up and stored in the cupboard for next week

Cranberry and orange sauce already frozen and stored in freezer.  I got the cranberries with a gift card I had for another store so they were free.  A really quick and easy recipe of a punnet of cranberries, juice and zest of an orange and 3 spoons of sugar.  A 5 minute simmer until they pop and go squishy.  It's a wee bit tart so another spoon of sugar would have been better but I'll add some honey to it once it's defrosted.  So 2 elements of the meal are already sorted!

My latest felted kilt.  This was a long ladies kilt.  These are pretty hard to find so I was thrilled to win one on Ebay.  Although there is a lot of length in the fabric once the pleats are unpicked, the width is always short.  Usually only 40 to 50 cm once it's felted.  But this piece of felted tartan is a generous 180cm by 80cm and it's a lovely soft felted fabric.  No idea how I'm going to use it yet.  I'll wait until the new year to decide.  I have a few other kilts winging their way to me in the next week.  I went a wee bit mad after getting my first payment from the local craft shop :-)  But I now have a wide range of colours to play with including white Royal Stewart tartan for a commission.

I've been working on a few special pieces but can't reveal these yet in case the recipients see them here.  But photos to follow by the weekend ;-)

Friday 14 December 2012

Christmas Meal Challenge

About 10 years ago I became very disillusioned with the whole commercial nonsense surrounding Christmas.  I could see that me, my friends and family were spending far too much money during the festive period.  We were buying gifts that were not needed nor really wanted.  A family member stated that they bought their child a laptop because "They couldn't think of anything to get."
We were buying food and alcohol just to eat and drink to excess (and a lot was wasted I'm embarrassed to admit) When I was a child Christmas (and birthdays) were the only times we got new clothes, toys or books.  It was a big deal.  And while my 3 boys were appreciative of the gifts they received I worried that they were getting too used to 'things' and expected 'holiday food' to be provided 24/7.
So I bought a book called 'Unplug the Christmas Machine'  It changed everything, not just Christmas but everything that felt 'wrong' in the way we were living to excess.  A few years later we made the commitment to totally change our lifestyle and begin the road towards a more self sufficient life.  Unfortunately my ex decided that he wasn't cut out for a life of working hard outside an office, hence the situation I now find myself in.  But I wouldn't change it :-)
Blimey, how did I manage to digress so far from the original post topic?? Lol!!  Thanks for sticking with it so far :-)
Anyway, back on topic.  I still feel that we as a family spend far too much on food at Christmas.  Much of it is waaay overpriced and we're conned into buying 'party food' even when we aren't having a party! 3 for £10 on prawns wrapped in filo pastry is still £10 we don't really need to spend.  But the main day itself is completely dominated by the turkey.  A turkey that can cost up to £60!! (Last time I cooked one for a bigger gathering it was an M&S one at £64) And that's before buying all the trimmings, a starter and desserts.  When I cooked Christmas dinner for us plus 4 grandparents and 2 uncles it easily cost £500 plus including wine.
So here's the challenge.  I'm going make a 3 course traditional turkey dinner for 8 people for free, from scratch.  Yes FREE! Zero money.  How?
I'm going to use my nectar points that I've saved up over the year.  They're worth £52 in the supermarket that I usually shop in anyway. The turkey will be provided by a butcher friend of OH as a thank you gift.  Everything else including drinks will come out of the £52.  I totally believe that it's possible.  I keep a decently stocked storecupboard so I won't be including anything I normally have in stock like sugar, flour, stock powder etc.  But anything specially bought will be included in the £52.

Last night I had a good yellow stickered outing. 5 punnets of strawberries at 10p each, broccoli 10p, spring greens 10p and organic sprouts 49p.

Strawberries were chopped and left overnight in the juice of a lemon and a few teaspoons of icing sugar.

Today I pureed them and sieved them into just over a pint of strawberry coulis.  Some will go on a melon type starter and the rest can be ice cream sauce.  It's already in the freezer.  The sprouts have been prepped, blanched and frozen.  So that's 99p off my total already.

This lovely Christmas pudding mixture is now steaming away in my slow cooker.  I had all the ingredients except for the Guinness and black treacle.  But I used a voucher for another supermarket so I'm counting that as free as no money changed hands ;-)  I can use the treacle in other things (like treacle toffee!) and OH can drink the rest of Guinness!!

So far the menu looks like this (for 5 adults, 2 teens and a pre teen)

Fruit cup with strawberry coulis (possibly melon, grape and orange)

Turkey with gravy, bread sauce and cranberry jelly
Roast potatoes
Carrots, sprouts, sweetcorn
Chestnut stuffing (I actually have a pack of chestnuts in the cupboard!!)
3 cheese tart (for the veggie teen)

Christmas pudding (Mary Berry recipe)
Mango trifle (saw this on breakfast tv the other morning)
DIY Knickerbocker Glories (to use up leftover cake, fruit and cream from trifle plus coulis)

Look ok to you?  All thoughts and comments welcome.

PS Recipe for biscuits in previous post is from Veggie Kids by Roz Denny

115g chopped butter
175g plain flour
50g caster sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup

Put everything in a bowl and using your fingers rub everything together.  You might need to add more flour as it can get really sticky.
Knead into a smooth ball
Put dough in fridge for 30 mins to firm
Roll to 5mm thickness and cut out shapes, re roll to use up all the dough
Bake on a tray at 180 for 10 to 15 mins (keep checking after 10 mins as they can burn easily)

Tuesday 11 December 2012

It's beginning..... look a lot like Christmas! :-)  I was feeling very Christmassy yesterday when I found my box of cookie cutters so I knocked up a batch.  They're just flour, sugar, butter and golden syrup.  So easy to make and taste yummy!

I might make some gingerbread ones next week.  I'd love to hang some from my tree but I suspect the dogs would be too tempted!!

I bottled my blackcurrant vodka yesterday (see my snow out the window?)  The blackcurrants were from my mum's garden (I had hardly any this year) and had been lurking in the freezer before I added them to vodka and sugar.  They've been steeping quietly in a cupboard for a month.

I also have a bottle of toffee vodka on the go as well but I'm not happy with it yet.  Think I'll need to add more toffees to it to get the desired consistency.

I like to make up gift baskets containing jams, chutney and a wee bottle of something alcoholic for family and friends.  Easy, inexpensive and always appreciated by the recipients

Monday 10 December 2012

My first Christmas Fair

Although this was my first fair as a seller I've organised and taken part in many fairs over the years as a teacher and PTA member.  But it's very different when you're on the other side of table trying to earn money for yourself!
The venue Mar Lodge near Braemar is a National Trust property.  It's a country house originally built as a sporting lodge in Victorian times. It can be used for functions and events.
When we arrived we were told to pick a table.  All the local folk had bagged the downstairs area so I had to go upstairs to the panelled landing.  It was a lovely setting but very dark!  It took us ages to work out how to use my lovely new camera but I managed to take some pics.

First layout of my stall.  When I stood back it looked too cluttered so it got re arranged several more times after this! I didn't take any more as customers started to arrive.

With the baskets removed

My lovely mum and aunt knitted these wee Christmas puddings.  They have a well known chocolate inside ;-)

Heart cushion.  I nearly sold this but the lady dithered (good Scottish word!) and said she'd think about it and come back.  She didn't!

Star cushion.  Really thought I'd sell this one.

In the end I sold 4 wee brooches, a star tree decoration and loads of the wee knitted decs.  Total made was £53.  Not a huge amount for 4 hours but the table was free.  I handed out a few business cards so maybe I'll get some commissions at a later stage. And I can add a National Trust Christmas Fair to my CV.

But the best part of the day was talking to 2 of the other stall holders.  They were so generous with their advice.  I learned loads of practical tips about setting up my stall (battery powered fairy lights, bunting in the textile you're selling, display boxes/shelves) and got amazing business advice to take my stuff to the next level.

They both talked about how you can never predict what will be a good fair (in the sense of making money) Weather, location or time of year don't seem to be indicators of potential customers or how much they will spend.

The lady next to me made items in Harris Tweed (phone covers, keyrings etc) She has been trading for just 18 months.  She was featured in Country Living magazine and sells her products throughout the UK!!  Like me she works from home and has turned a hobby into a thriving business.

I am seriously considering her advice.  Scary yet exciting at the same time :-)

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Poorly puppy

My dogs are a huge part of my life.  So when one of them is ill it's a worry.  Poor Lucydog has had a nasty upper GI bug.  After 4 days of vomiting the diarrhoea kicked in.  So a quick trip to the vet for some meds and special food (she's lost weight!) resulted in an unplanned expense. 

It seems every time I get a few pounds saved, something crops up that needs money thrown at it.  Recently my car needed new tyres, it had an oil leak and an engine misfire.  Big garage bill! And now a vet bill.  Fingers crossed Emma doesn't get it but since they like to cuddle up together in bed it seems likely that she'll get it too.

Ah well, I just need to sell loads of stuff at the Christmas fair this Saturday!

Saturday 1 December 2012

Busy is good, right?

Oh my, it's December already.  I am so busy with stuff right now I don't know if I'm coming or going.  The Christmas fair season is upon us and I have orders to fill, I've had my first commission (6 tree decorations in a specific tartan) and am desperately trying to get my website photo gallery sorted out  Not helped by my camera getting smashed as it went through airport security.  Hey ho.
I have managed to fit in a quick trip to Vienna.  Sadly no photos but we had a lovely time visiting my middle son who lives there and seeing the gorgeous Christmas markets.  Lots and lots of lovely inspiring ideas.

Next batch of brooches for the shop in Crieff

Present I took for my son :-)

Last night it snowed here.  Just a little but enough to make me realise I need to get myself more organised for the big freeze they're predicting.  A couple of years ago I had so much snow I couldn't get my car up the wee lane to my house for 7 weeks.  It snowed, then froze. Then snowed again and froze.  For several weeks.  It's going to be that bad again apparently so I need to make sure I have plenty of food and supplies.  We also lost the electricty for several dyas as the snow brought down the power lines.   Since I'm so rural I'm at the end of the lines so am always last to get reconnected.

Despite the cons of living here, the pros are good enough to make it worthwhile though :-)

Thursday 15 November 2012

Technical stuff!

I am not a techy person at all but today I out did myself.

I built my own website!!! :-)

Have a look here

Still a work in progress but once I've figured out how to do the photo gallery I'll be happy.

I also set up a business email address and ordered some business cards.

All low cost so hopefully I'll re coup it over a period of time.

I've had lots of lovely comments from friends and family.  Let me know what you think!

Saturday 10 November 2012

What a week!!

In the space of a week I had a house viewing (not interested!), I completed 13 cushions for the local craft boutique and got 2 invites to attend craft fairs to sell my stuff!! :-)

One set of elephants

All 13 cushions - 3 owls, 6 elephants and 4 dogs

My owls

My Scottie dogs now with collars

And the local contemporary craft boutique shop front.  Can you see one of my owls in the window? ;-)

Friday 2 November 2012

I have a viewer!!

Just a quick update to say I have a viewer tomorrow.  The last few days have been manic trying to make sure the house is looking fabulous.  They say that you make up your mind about a house in the first few minutes.  So I'm focusing on making the entrance hall, living room and conservatory look amazing!

But I fear it may all be a waste of time as next door has been renovating their house for the last 2 years (yep 2 whole years of builders!!) and the driveway is an obstacle course of skips, pallets, bags of sand etc etc.  And the driveway has been dug up in many places as they investigate a leaky pipe.  So their first impressions of my fabulous location may not be that good.

Fingers crossed!!

Saturday 27 October 2012

Selling my house

I've already mentioned here that my house is back up for sale. So far, zero viewings.  What I haven't said is that it was up for sale last year for 9 months.  I had 5 viewers.  Everyone said they loved the house and the location but it needed a lot of work.  Not true!  The house is structurally sound (home report verifies this) and has a stunning new bespoke conservatory and mud room that cost us almost 6 figures.  The house doesn't need a lot of work!!!
But I will concede that it may need some decorative touches.

Now UK readers will know that this lovely man is Phil Spencer.  And yeah, that's me grinning like an idiot. Not my finest moment when I gushed "I'm a huge fan, can I have a photograph?" I was lucky enough to meet him at a Homes Show in Edinburgh when I was helping a friend out (hence the tag!)  He's a TV expert on buying and selling houses and did a Q and A session.  He currently has a show on Ch4 called Secret Agent where he goes into houses and tries to work out why they're not selling.  He gives advice on what the owners should do to get a sale.

So I've been trying to look at my house with a 'Phil Spencer eye' and think what he might say about it.

This is my living room, well about half of it as there's a dining area with a large table and 10 chairs not shown.  This pic is on the house schedule so people see this on the internet if they're looking at my house.  Yes it's a mustard yellow colour!  Not painted by us, it was that colour when we bought it.  I like it but could this be putting people off?  To totally redecorate would cost a fortune.

So imagine my delight when the Make It and Mend It site that I love for inspiration announced a competition to win £300 of Wickes vouchers.  I thought I'd give it a go!  All I have to do is describe the room I'd re decorate and what I'd buy. So here's what I would buy if I won.

 Trade Matt Paint Magnolia 15l £31.99

Magnolia paint!  Litres and litres of the stuff.  Phil says 'Keep everything neutral so potential buyers can imagine their belongings in your rooms.' Bit boring but hey, if it sells houses......

MDF Diamond Lattice Screen 3x605x1220mm £23.49
I've got 4 ugly storage heaters in the room. Practical but not nice to look at so I'd cover them up with a lovely radiator cover made from this diamond pattern.

Screwless Flat Plate Socket 2 Gang £12.56
And look at these lovely chrome sockets and switches.  My long term plan was to change every socket in the house to these.  The conservatory and mud room are done and I've got some in the kitchen.  The living room has a hotch potch of gold and white ones.  I'd change the whole room to these ones.

Screwless Flat Plate Switch 1 Gang £7.49

TV Socket with Black Insert £7.64
To totally redecorate this room the way I would like would cost a lot of money.  If I was staying in this house I would save up and do it properly.  But right now all I need is gallons of neutral paint at a decent price and a few decorative finishes to make it look lovely.  £300 in vouchers would be very handy!!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Good news!

So, I met with the owners of the new craft gallery/boutique last night to show them my cushions, brooches and tree decorations.  They loved them and want to stock them in their shop :-) On a sale or return basis but that's ok with me.  They also want to take my stuff to craft fairs.  Brilliant!! It costs a small fortune to take a stall at these bigger fairs, not something I would be able to do on my own.  But they will take all the other artists' stuff as well.

I'm absolutely over the moon!! It's one thing when your family and friends tell you the things you make are lovely.  But when a 'professional' likes them, it really is thrilling.  I won't make a lot of money from it but I do love making things.  And that's more important to me just now.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Cushion collection

Here's the first wee cushion made from my recent fabric finds.  A slightly different version of my trademark Scottie dog.  The back is made from the green kilt from the charity shop.

Another version of the elephant, slightly bigger than the last one.  Think it could go a little bigger but I'm happy with this size.

And here is a group photograph of completed cushions.  Not all are on Etsy yet.  I have a meeting arranged with the local craft shop next week.  They've asked me to bring my items and a price list. I'll take these guys plus a selection of brooches, tree decorations and the advent calendar if I ever get it finished! I'm not sure if they will sell my stuff on a commission basis or if they buy them outright.  It's all very new, very exciting and if I'm honest rather scary.  What if they don't like my stuff after all?

Monday 15 October 2012

More kilted loveliness

Today I acquired 7, yes seven lovely vintage girls' kilts.  I used to run the nearly new shop at the teenager's school.  In the not too distant past it was a boarding school where the girl boarders had to wear kilts to church on Sundays. When the last boarding house closed these kilts were no longer needed and donated to the shop.  But no teenage girl would CHOOSE to wear a skirt like these so they've been languishing in the shop for years. I took one home to play with originally planning to make a cushion cover.  But somehow along the way the felting seed was planted and look where I am now!

These kilted skirts were on their way to the rag bank along with old ski wear and gym pants! For a decent donation they were mine (the kilts, not the nylon gym pants!!)

My camera doesn't really do justice to the lovely colours.

They're in decent condition, a few rips and have a slightly musty odour.  But a few washes at 90 degrees will soon fix that wee problem!  I'm also starting to accumulate kilt pins.  I'm sure there's a brooch idea in there ;-)

Saturday 13 October 2012

Some vegetarian cooking

*waves and says hello to everyone who has popped over from Rhonda's blog*
Once upon a time (not that long ago!) I used to buy premium organic vegetables.  I still believe that veg grown organically is better for you but have to cut my cloth according to my purse atm.  Once I move house I will put up my huge greenhouse and grow my own again but until then I buy whatever is on special offer at the supermarket. 

This week it was carrots, peppers and aubergines.  I also got 1kg bag of onions.  4 big bags of vegetables for less than £5.

I've been wanting to encourage the veggie teenager to be a bit more adventurous so when someone recommended Mary Berry's Spiced Lentil and Tomato Moussaka I knew what I was going to make.  (it's not got any spices in it so dunno why it's called spiced!!)

In my trusty wok there's onions, peppers, tinned tomatoes, cooked green lentils (recipe said Puy lentils but I didn't have any), veg stock and mango chutney.  I let it simmer away until it was thickened.

I sliced my aubergines and brushed them with oil and baked them in the Aga for 15 mins.  Recipe said to grill them for a couple of mins.

Then I made some cheese sauce.

Then I put a layer of veg mixture, some cheese sauce then a layer of aubergine and repeated.  I topped it with cheese sauce.  I still had half a pan of mixture so I made a lasagne as well using lasagne sheets instead of aubergine between the layers.

Lasagne on the left and moussaka on the right.  Both are in the fridge ready for the oven at some point over the weekend. 

I've also made a pot of carrot and lentil soup.  Just what we need in this damp cold weather :-)

Friday 12 October 2012

New projects

Here are a few of my latest projects.  I'm working on some wee Christmas things to show the craft shop first before putting them on Etsy.  I've already had a few special requests for some robins and other tree decorations.  But this is my biggest project so far.

A tree advent calendar!  My original idea was to put 25 different pockets randomly over the tree but I quickly realised that this would take hours of work.  From an artistic/creative viewpoint I still think this would have been the best idea but the total woman hours taken to handstitch them all would make the cost of the finished product exorbitant.  At the end of the day I really want someone to buy it so I'm stitching strips of pockets instead.  So far there's 2 hours of work in it and I estimate it will take another 3 to finish it. It's just pinned together in the above photo but I've stitched the numbers 1 to 6 already.   I'll put a layer of wading between the front and back to make it hang better.

Some wee decorations to hang on a tree

My lovely mum is a fab source of encouragement.  She has always knitted and sewn clothes for me and my sister.  Growing up money was tight so these skills were utilised out of necessity.  How I longed for 'shop bought' clothes!  But she passed on her skills to me and is so supportive of my efforts.  So when someone in her knitting group was given a load of buttons from a button factory that was closing down, she immediately thought of me!  No idea how I'm going to use them yet but I just love them.

There was also a box of metal zips.  I picked out all the pastel blue/lilac ones and plan to make some zippy roses.  I've seen some lovely ones on the web and really fancy having a go.

I definitely have my creative mojo back!! Shame my housework one is still MIA!!

Wednesday 10 October 2012

How to felt a kilt

As I mentioned in my previous post I've been rather unwell.  Possibly run down a bit due to stuff going on outwith my control but I think I'm over the worst of it now.  The house is officially up for sale and I'm officially back in the job market.  Heyho, not the end of the world but not what I want to be doing hence the general lack of mojo.  A friend on FB shared the pic on the right there ------->  Good reminder to myself that I can do this.
A couple of weeks ago a friend forwarded me a wee advert she'd seen with the message "Saw this and thought of you."  A new craft shop is opening locally and are looking for unique items to sell.  I emailed them the link to my Etsy shop (see above) and they want to see my felted stuff!  Who knows what might happen? :-)
So when I was browsing in my local charity shop I was chuffed to bits to find this old kilt for sale.  It's a bit tatty and a weird size.  Obviously made for a short stout gentleman!!  It was £35.  Total bargain for a kilt as they can cost up to 4 figures!  I bought it on impulse (btw did you know some charity shops accept debit and credit cards??) knowing all I would need to do was make and sell a cushion and 2 brooches to recoup the cost.

I laid it on the floor to have a good look at it.  No label but I was sure it was 100% wool.

I unpicked the lining at the waist and was delighted to see it was a traditional handstitched kilt.

I trimmed the edge at the waist ready to unpick. It took over an hour to unpick all the pleats!!!

I laid it out on the floor and measured it.  Just over 7 metres or 23 feet of tartan!!  A traditional kilt should be in one continuous piece.  This one was in 2 pieces so obviously not a top of the range one! But cleverly stitched nonetheless.

I bundled it up and popped it in the washing machine with an old towel and washed it at 90 degrees centigrade. Three times!!

It was a bit scary checking it after 2 washes to see if had felted properly.  If a kilt even has 5% non wool fibres it won't felt.  It frays when you cut it.  But it was looking good so in it went for the third wash.  It's a lovely colour and will make some lovely cushions.  I could make 10 cushions from it so lots of profit from a £35 investment.

Now that's given me back some mojo!! :-)