Monday, 27 March 2017

A Buyer's Archive: February & March

 Since February 2015, 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. 

This time last year I was buying a lot of polka dots and stripes (some things never change) and picking up beautiful jewellery in Cape Town. My buys from February and March 2016 have varied in wardrobe longevity - the black polka dot top (February) and the Breton top (March), both from La Redoute, have predictably become staples and I get frequent wear from the jewellery, too. However, both the Closet dress and the Dorothy Perkins one have been sold on, as neither fitted me properly. 
Striped top, Primark £3.50
I regret to inform you that after a month or two of cold turkey, I've fallen off the stripes wagon once more. As always, I had oh-so-many justifications for why I needed this top (it being scoop-necked where the rest of mine are crew- or boat-neck being the main one) but ultimately it comes down to the old addiction rearing its head again.

Mustard snood, Fat Face £12
Did I really need another mustard scarf/snood? No. But when I found this in the Fat Face sale I couldn't resist.

Washed black Jamie jeans, Topshop £42
It's so rare that I pay full price for anything, but I was in dire need of a pair of jeans and these Jamie jeans aren't always reliably in stock in my size, so I grabbed a pair when I saw them. 
Polka dot dress, H&M £12.99
H&M now go up to a 20 online in their Divided range, which is great news for those with boobs like mine, which generally preclude squeezing into even their biggest size in store.

Scallop collar top, Tu via Oxfam £3.99
Because it's navy blue and it has a collar. It would've been rude to leave it, right?
Black jersey skater dress, Simply Be via charity shop £2.50
I had a great jersey skater dress from H&M, which went AWOL a year or so ago. This is a great replacement, handy for those days you don't really want to think about what to wear: with a chunky cardigan and boots, it makes for a comfortable and easy outfit.

Organic cotton striped t-shirt, Mango £6.99
I have a lack of short-sleeved stripe tees to wear with jeans once it warms up, and this one is the perfect combination of fitted and slouchy. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.
Red Pour Moi bikini top, Next £14 (inc. £10 off code)
Red polka dot bikini bottoms, part of set from Amazon £12.99
This has the potential to be the most expensive bargain bikini ever. Let me explain: it's extremely rare to find a bikini top that's both big enough for my HH boobs and and provides enough support. It's even more rare to find one for less than 40 quid. So when I saw (and fell in love with) this rather vavavoom top by Pour Moi, I needed it in my life. And then obviously I wanted bottoms to match. And now obviously I want to go on a holiday during which I can wear said bikini, and have talked Thomas into taking a late-summer break in the sun. Hence, this supposedly cheap bikini will end up costing me a few hundred pounds (totally worth it though).

Looking at this collection of purchases, it seems they continue to stick to the themes well established within my wardrobe: polka dots, stripes, blue, mustard, collars. I'm starting to feel like there's a very fine line, though, between having a defined style and being stuck in a rut, and I worry I'm the latter, constantly buying the same things over and over. Hopefully the coming spring and summer will see me in a more experimental mood.

Total for February & March: £112.96

Total so far for 2017: £195.41

Total this time last year: £149.49

So it seems like my whole "spend less in 2017" resolution isn't going to plan. Oops.

Look out for the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to see the other bloggers taking part.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

How I Use My Bullet Journal & Passion Planner

I literally could not think of a non-wanky title for this post: My Bullet Journal Journey? Vomit. From Bullet Journalling To Passion Planning? Bleurgh. The terminology is all ridiculous and eye-rollingly silly*, but the practice of it? Brilliant.

* Especially Passion Planner, which brings to mind dodgy sex tips from Cosmo.
Bullet journals: just hipster to-do lists?
Unless you live under a rock, the bullet journal craze won't have passed you by. At its most basic, a bullet journal is a fancy name for a book of to-do lists. Of course, for most people it's far more than that. They can be a home for reading logs, gratitude lists, and I know lots of people who find it an invaluable tool for managing their mental and physical health, using habit and mood trackers to monitor their weeks. The appeal of a bullet journal is the ability to craft something completely unique, flexible and suited to your needs.

However, that benefit comes with a cost: chiefly, for me, was the time it takes to plan and draw layouts, and the fact that my lack of artistic skills meant it never looked as pretty nor as neat as I wanted it to. I went from using it daily, to only remembering to pick it up once or twice a week, to barely using it at all.

And so, enter the Passion Planner.
I saw Ingrid talking about the US-made Passion Planners on Twitter and, as I was struggling to think of what I wanted for Christmas, I took a look at their website and decided to try one out.

The biggest and most obvious difference is that the planner, while not providing the unique flexibility of a bullet journal, has a pre-printed layout that gives structure for each week and month. Briefly, there are monthly planning spreads, weekly planning spreads, and then within the weekly spread each day is broken down into 30 minute intervals. The weekly spreads also have a space for To Do lists (both personal and work) and a list of Good Things That Happened (providing the gratitude journalling element I liked about bullet journals).
I personally find this method of organising myself enormously more beneficial than the bullet journal.  While my bullet journal provided so much opportunity for creativity that I became almost paralysed by it, the Passion Planner gives me a structured space and keeps me focused. I especially like the opportunities given to reflect on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. The Space Of Infinite Possibility at the bottom of each weekly spread gives a little of the flexibility of a bullet journal, too - I tend to use mine for habit and spending trackers (on the website you can print off - for free - trackers to stick into your planner). I suspect that the planner will especially come into its own come September, when I start a part-time Masters and need to organise myself to do things a little more complex than 'wash hair'.

However, I haven't entirely abandoned my bullet journal. Now, instead of using it daily to plan, I use it as a reflective space for longer pieces of writing than will fit into my planner; for keeping track of specific things (such as reading lists); and as a scrapbook and journal of important or notable days and events.
Practicalities & Details
- I have an A5 undated Passion Planner, because the dated ones ran from Sunday-Saturday and that's just totally counter-intuitive to me! I think next time I'll try the A4 planner, as the A5 - although super handy to carry around - obviously doesn't provide as much space for writing.

- Not sure a Passion Planner is for you? Brilliantly, they offer free downloads via their website, so you can print off a month's - or even a year's - worth of pages and give it a go without spending your pennies.

- For my bullet journal I use a Leuchtturm 1917 journal from Fred Aldous. I chose graph paper, which makes drawing layouts much easier.

- I write with Stabilo fine liners in both books, and don't experience any bleed-through in my Passion Planner and only a little in the Leuchtturm.

- Other supplies I use are washi tape, to stick photos, tickets and other ephemera into my journal, and To Do stickers (from Etsy) for my planner, to provide a visual focus for my daily lists. I also print the Passion Planner finance sheets and habit tracker sheets from the website.

This is not a sponsored post, I just really like the Passion Planner!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Photo An Hour: Saturday 18th March

Another month, another Photo An Hour day, organised by Jane & Louisa (thanks guys!).  My day was a fairly typical Saturday of pottering at home, reading, a bit of shopping, and hanging out with the cat, before ending the day with a glass of fizz.
One of my favourite things about participating in Photo An Hour is seeing what other people get up to, and I especially enjoy it when our photographs all synchronise. This month, it was a rare first photo that wasn't of a book in bed.
Leftover pancakes from yesterday for breakfast, together with banana and raspberries in an attempt to claim it as a healthy meal. I mean, that's two of my five/seven/ten/whatever they're going to claim next a day, right?
Shower time. It's like hammer time but with more water. And considerably fewer baggy trousers.
Reading through the first submissions for the two zines I'm currently working on. Laura and I are making a compzine about 90s nostalgia called Mixtape, and I'm also editing a zine about virginity called Cherry. I'm still seeking submissions for both zines, so let me know if you want to write or make something!
I only wear stripes on days that end in a -y.
A vintage warehouse has opened up not far from where I live and I went to have a browse to see if I could find a chair for our kitchen: sadly I didn't find anything suitable, but there were lots of interesting bits to look at nevertheless.
Time for tea and cake in Clarendon Park. I was feeling a little delicate after an evening in the pub on Friday and hoped that mint tea will settle my stomach.
Home, via the bike shop where Thomas splashed out on a new ride (after being told that his old bike needed repairs that would cost 5 times what it was worth), and a chance to hang out with Missy cat. This photograph doesn't properly reflect how lovely and affectionate she was being: lots of of head boops and nose kisses.
My pins and badges had been scattered across the mantlepiece in our bedroom - I found a scrap of linen fabric in my stash and 5 minutes of pinning later, had a much neater storage solution for part of the collection.
For the past 6 weeks we've been in bathroom renovation hell, having tiles (and bits of wall) ripped off, walls replastered, new tiles put on and finally, applying coats of paint. Now it's onto the fun bit: Thomas had just put up the new wire shelving so I got busy styling it with vintage Penguin paperbacks, pretty toiletries, and a plant.
Onto outfit two of the day (I was freezing and felt the need for a big cardi), ready to go round to my friend Leanne's for the evening.
Doing Saturday night right with pizza and Prosecco. It's also where I abandoned the photos, as I didn't much move for the next four hours!

What did you get up to this weekend?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

What I've Been Reading Recently

I spent a lot of February struggling with reader's block, but in between the unfinished reads and the unfulfilling struggles with books, I did also manage to read some crackers. Unfortunately, two of my favourite books - The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein and The Upside Of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli - aren't published for another month or two and are thus embargoed, but there were plenty of other books that I enjoyed (and one or two I didn't).

The Chalk Pit*
Elly Griffiths
Rating: *****

A new Ruth Galloway novel is always cause for celebration, and the latest is no exception to the brilliance of this Norfolk-set series. When forensic archeologist Ruth is called in to examine some bones found in an ancient tunnel under Norwich town centre, neither she nor DCI Nelson expect her case to intersect with his investigation into a series of disappearances and murders in Norwich's homeless community. The joy of these books lies less in the detecting - although there are some moments of genuine tension and fear in The Chalk Pit, and there are a number of satisfying twists to the tale - but in the wonderfully real characters. From academic Ruth, the irascible Nelson, eccentric druid Cathbad, his partner and Nelson's DS Judy, to the unreconstructed, McDonalds-munching policeman Cloughie, each character feels more like a friend as the series develops. Combine this with Griffith's wonderful descriptions of the North Norfolk coast, and you have all the ingredients for a perfect crime novel.

The Good People*
Hannah Kent
Rating: ****

Hannah Kent's debut novel, Burial Rites, was my book of 2012 and is consistently my most-recommended title at work. So I had extremely high hopes for this book and they were, for the most part, realised. The Good People moves from the bleak landscapes of 19th century Iceland to the similarly bleak landscapes of 19th century Ireland, and follows three women - widow Nora, her young maid Mary, and local healer and midwife Nance, who is relied upon but distrusted by the villagers. Nora is struggling to raise her disabled grandson in the face of local mutterings: that he's a changeling, that the real Michael has been stolen by the Good People of the forest, that he is bringing bad luck to the settlement. She believes Nance can help her and, such is the power of the writing, that as a reader I believed it too.

Indeed, the wonder (and the horror) of the book lies in Kent's demonstration of how easy it is even for good people to be swept away by belief and superstition; how we can justify terrible acts to ourselves. In this sense, we can understand the 'good people' of the title to refer to the protagonists as well as the fairy folk. The Good People is a haunting, atmospheric and devastating examination of folklore, belief and superstition: very much recommended.

Naomi Novik
Rating: ***

Alex told me about Uprooted and, as her last two recommendations (The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet and Daughter Of Time) have been such great reads, I put it on hold at the library. And it's really hard to explain why I didn't love it, because it had all the ingredients of a great book: Eastern European folklore & fairy tales, magic, plucky young heroine, to name just three. But I found the narrative a little disjointed and never quite connected with the character

Not If I See You First
Eric Lindstrom
Rating: ****

Another recommendation, from Rebs this time, and I absolutely loved it. When she was 7, Parker was in an accident that cost her her mother and her sight. Now 16, she's ballsy and bitchy as hell, determined not to cry over the death of her beloved father 3 months before. Not If I See You First is a brilliant contemporary YA novel. Although it has elements of romance, it's far more about Parker's friendships, which are just brilliant (with the characters of Sarah and Molly being especially well-realised). These teen girls are complex, interesting, witty and fully rounded characters who are just a sheer pleasure to get to know as a reader.

Let The Dead Speak*
Jane Casey
Rating: **
18 year old Chloe returns to the London house she shares with her mother, Kate, to find the house covered in blood and Kate gone. With no body but everything pointing to murder, DS Maeve Kerrigan and her team are called in to investigate, but matters are complicated by her prickly new DC, Georgia, and her fractious relationship with DI Derwent. The mystery itself is satisfactorily twisty, with a great final reveal just when you think it's all solved. However, this is the 7th book in the series but the first I've read, and I think I'd have benefited from starting at the beginning - although it does work as a standalone novel, I found it hard to connect with Kerrigan & Derwent. Their friendship and banter is clearly a central part of the books, but I couldn't get to grips with the nature of their relationship or feel properly invested in them and, by default, the investigation.

 * This title kindly provided for review by the publishers via NetGalley. 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Made: Painted Seagrass Baskets

I love a DIY project, and I especially love an IKEA hack: to take something that's cheap and mass-produced and turn it into something unique is so satisfying.

When we were in Norfolk a couple of weeks ago I saw some beautiful painted seagrass baskets on sale for £40 in a gift shop, which is massively out of my price range. So instead, I hatched a plan...

You will need
- A seagrass basket (mine are IKEA Fladis, £9 each, but you can find them in all shapes and sizes in places like Wilkos and Home Bargains).
- A pot of tester paint
- A paintbrush
- Old newspaper
- Spray varnish (this is probably not essential, but it will make the baskets more hard-wearing)

I would do a step-by-step but it's so ridiculously easy that I don't want to insult your intelligence: basically, put paper down, paint basket, wait for it to dry, spray with varnish.

The only issues I encountered were that masking tape doesn't seem to stick to seagrass, so I had to go freehand with the paint. Also, on the green basket - which required more than one coat of paint - the paint started seeping through to the inside of the basket. To solve that, I let it dry then rubbed the inside down with wire wool, which cleared it.
Because I was limited by the tester paints my local Homebase had in stock, I'm not totally sold on the colours - the mint could be bolder and the pink a bit less Pepto Bismol bright. But I'm too impatient to have waited while searching for the perfect colours, and the beauty of a project like this is that, if and when I tire of these colours, I can just sandpaper the varnish off and repaint.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A Wedding Planning Update

Well, the invitations are out and the RSVPs are (slowly) starting to arrive, and it's beginning to feel like this is actually happening. Our invitations are probably my favourite thing about the entire wedding planning process so far. The portrait was painted by Laura (she has an Etsy shop as well as her blog) and the invitations were designed by my brilliant cousin Jaye as our wedding gift. The wording, meanwhile, was done in the most Janet way possible - by crowd-sourcing opinions on Twitter!

We've narrowed down our readings and asked the family and friends whom we want to be involved to speak (well, I have, I think Thomas has yet to ask his friends. So Mathijis, Tim & Bart, if you happen to be reading this - Thomas has something to ask you!).

I've bought a Ms Brown necklace from Sugar & Vice to wear on the day, just in case anyone was in any doubt that I won't be changing my name.

We've chosen an amazing menu of vegan and veggie food for the party, booked a venue for a family brunch the morning of the wedding, and started putting deposits down.

Most importantly, we're continuing to talk and hone our ideas of what we want our celebration to be*, shaping it into something unique and special to us rather than blindly following tradition and ending up with an identikit day. For example, we were both really uncomfortable with the idea of arriving at the ceremony venue once everyone was seated and walking into a silent room, even if it was going to be together (*falls off chair laughing remembering when someone I used to work with asked me, "who's giving you away?"*). So instead we'll be there at the venue to greet everyone, to chat and say hello and enjoy the music our friends will be playing.

After the big day I will no doubt write in more detail about how we planned a budget wedding, but what I will say here is how bloody lucky we are to have so many talented friends. There's no way we could have managed to spend so little without having people like Laura, Jaye, Elle (who'll be making our cakes), Abby (one of my best friends, and a musician who'll be performing before the ceremony), and James (our photographer, and brother of Abby). I appreciate that most people don't have such expertise on hand - I mean, who just happens to know a wedding invitation designer, a bespoke cake maker, a wedding band, and a wedding photographer?!

* You can read here about why we've chosen a non-legal ceremony for our wedding celebration.

Friday, 24 February 2017

15 Facts About Missy Cat

Last week Kerri wrote a post titled 15 Facts About Sir Pork Chop (her hamster, for those of you who don't read her blog - although if not, why not?!) and I thought "aha! The perfect opportunity to bore on about Missy!" So, here are my 15 facts about Missy the Cat.

1. Missy will turn six in May and she's a domestic shorthair cat. We adopted her from our local RSPCA rescue centre, where she'd languished for months, in June of last year.

2. I don't actually like her name but we didn't have the heart to change it as, rather than a stray who the RSPCA named, she came into the rescue centre with it.

3. Before we adopted her we asked to have a one-to-one session with her in their 'meeting' room. This ended up not happening as, such is Missy's hatred of being handled, no-one could wrangle her out of her pod. Rather than put us off, this just made us want to adopt her more. Adult black cats are the hardest for rescue centres to rehome, and an adult black cat who was a bit feisty and grumpy struck us as especially hard to rehome, so we were determined to give her one.

4. She's still not a great fan of human-cat contact unless it's on her own terms. Things she likes include head rubs and chin scritches, giving us head boops to say hello, and little wet nose kisses when she's feeling really affectionate. She won't tolerate being picked up, being stroked for too long, or any hand-belly contact whatsoever.

5. Her favourite toys are, in order, an extremely ratty pink stuffed mouse, a second extremely ratty pink stuffed mouse (which we bought when the first one went missing for a while - later found hidden under the sofa), and an old leather shoelace.

6. One of her favourite places to sit is on top of our fridge freezer. Unfortunately, she often forgets how to get down and miaows pitifully from up there.

7. When she first arrived she was pretty much silent, but as the months have gone on she's become more and more vocal. Her range now includes an "I'm so happy to see you!" miaow, a "give me food NOW" miaow, a "where are you?" yowl, and a "why can't you make it stop raining?" grumble (which is very similar to her "leave me alone, I'm sleeping" murmur).

8. We suspect that Missy isn't the brightest of cats, as she can't seem to learn that head-butting a door she wants to go through will close rather than magically open said door. That being said, she was really quick to take to her cat-flap, so maybe she's not entirely hopeless.

9. Despite being a skittish and nervous little thing, she's not aggressive at all. She'll give a warning nip if your hand strays too close to her belly, but she's only ever scratched me when getting over-enthusiastic about Dreamies. Her more common form of warning is a hiss (or, weirdly, an open-mouthed silent hiss).

10. Her favourite game at the moment is to race up and down the length of the upstairs hallway, popping her head around the bedroom door every so often to check that we're watching.

11. She seems to have adopted me as her Person (it's common for rescue cats to be more wary of men, and with Thomas standing at 6'3" and hairy, he must seem very male to Missy) and will often follow me around the house, standing and staring at me until I give her a head scratch. Thomas calls her my shadow.

12. She's not a great lap sitter: the conditions need to be optimum (ideally her favourite yellow cushion will be ready on the lap for her to perch upon) and she rarely settles. It took her until October to sit on my lap and since then she maybe comes for a snuggle once a week, at most. Still, it makes those moments all the more special.

13. She is a great one for trolling us. Twice now we've made a vet appointment only to cancel when it becomes clear that no, she doesn't have a disastrous eye infection but instead is holding one eye shut while mewing pitifully for obscure reasons of her own (said reasons being to get food, I suspect).

14. Our nickname for her is poeshoofd, which is Dutch for cat head. Blame Thomas for this spectacularly unimaginative name.

15. Finally, she is (as we tell her daily) the best little cat in the world. She has immeasurably improved our lives and we are both completely obsessed with her. Remembering what a sad and angry little cat she was in the RSPCA makes it all the more lovely to see how happy and settled she is now.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Photo An Hour: Saturday 18th February

Saturday was Photo An Hour day for February, as arranged by Louisa and Jane. It turned out to be a day of pottering about at home, getting jobs done, reading, and a big gap in the evening when I forgot to take photos. Weirdly, February 2016's Photo An Hour was not all that different! Must be something about this time of year...
I'm tending to sleep so late at weekends at the moment, I'm not sure why. At half nine I'd been awake for a short while and had picked up my book - Uprooted by Naomi Novik - to read before breakfast.
What weekends are made for - leisurely breakfasts with a magazine, instead of rushing about like a mad thing trying to get ready for work.
This little cat is so silly. Despite yawning fulsomely, she just won't go to sleep. I think she has a severe case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), as any day that we're in the house she really struggles to nap, instead following us from room to room to keep an eye on our activities.
I went to the garden centre yesterday, as our hanging baskets and pots were looking very sad and brown after a long winter. Half an hour with the trowel, and everything's looking a lot better.
In an attempt to earn a bit of extra money, I'm doing some proof-reading work. This is a frankly incomprehensible PhD thesis, but really well-written so it's turning out to be easy to edit.
And she's finally asleep!
Working on an IKEA hack. I think I'll write a post about this soon, it's been such a fun and easy project.
I walked into town (stopping to chat to a friend on the way) and made a beeline for Oxfam to have a look at their book selection, before returning some bits at H&M and buying a new pair of jeans (which I need to return, as apparently I am now taller and the 30" leg jeans are too short).
Strictly speaking, at 5.30 I was browsing in Waterstones, but I figured two photos in a row of bookshelves would be a bit dull. I've been racking up points on my Waterstones card for quite some time now, and finally decided to spend some: I got this and a Holly Bourne novella.
Date night, and our first-choice pub was rammed so we went to Firebug instead. Vegan pie for Thomas, nachos for me, cider for both of us.
Still in the pub.
Home two hours later, and Missy was so happy to see us that she came and hung out on the bed with us (a rare occurrence, she doesn't usually like it if we're both in bed - she prefers having a full side to herself).

Sunday, 12 February 2017

A Long Weekend In Norfolk

I love Norfolk: not only is it a relatively quick drive from Leicester, but it's just so beautiful. Thomas and I have visited the North Norfolk coast together three times now, and especially enjoy the bleak and windswept beauty of the area off-season. As lovely as Norfolk is in summer, it can get overrun with visitors. In October (when we usually go) or February, on this trip, the roads are emptier, the pubs are quieter, and the beaches blissful expanses of sand.

Last weekend we were back on the A47 heading down to Stiffkey, a tiny village a few miles outside Wells-Next-The-Sea. Our cottage was the cutest, cosiest space we could have hoped for (although, as we realised when we were awoken at 7am on Friday, it directly abutted a building site - but that's another story!). Our plans were for plenty of relaxed walks, time spent with friends who live locally, and  lots of reading.
After a bracing but gloriously sunny walk along the coastal path, with stunning views across the saltmarsh, we headed into Wells on Friday for a mooch around the shops and a walk on the beach. I love Nomad & The Bowerbird in Wells, and always insist on a visit to eye up the vintage signs and lettering (this time I managed to escape without parting with my money).
Saturday dawned grey and rainy so we headed over to Norwich to visit the cathedral, which is one of my favourite in the UK (yes, I have a favourite cathedral. Yes, I'm a massive geek). The way they combine modern additions and stained glass work with the original building is wonderful; thanks to the pouring rain, I didn't take a photograph of the visitor centre, but it's so cleverly incorporated into the ancient stonework.
We had a delicious lunch at The Iron House (I'm still fantasising about their tofu katsu curry - oh my!) then, taking advantage of a break in the rain, poked around The Lanes admiring street art and sniggering like teenagers at road signs.
Thanks to the building work next door, we cut our holiday short by a couple of days and headed home on the Sunday after meeting friends for a walk along the marshes to Blakeney and a pub lunch. Luckily, super-negotiator Thomas has wangled us a full refund so we're already planning our visit to the area.