Saturday, 30 November 2013

Day 30: To the end

Photo via weheartit

Well, November has been a funny old month.  I've had a seemingly endless troupe of family coming to visit, which has been lovely but necessitated a lot more cleaning than I usually do (probably not a bad thing!); I went to London for my uncle's memorial service and spent time reflecting on the nature on family and how I cope with being far away from mine; I've been in agonising pain and was finally diagnosed with temporomandibular joint disorder.  The pain continues but at least I have a name for it now; I've started my new role at school in earnest, and been plunged into the deep end with two students to support.

So the fact that I managed to blog at all, let alone most (if not every) day is miraculous to me.  I was sad to have to miss a few topics that I wanted to tackle, so keep an eye out for some fashiony stuff and a home tour sometime soon.  But I'm really looking forward to getting back into a more regular, relaxed blogging schedule.  I found myself becoming quite anxious about blogging at times, which is really not how I want to feel about Words...

In amongst the stress there have been some posts I've really loved writing.  Ten Steps to Feeling Body Positive is something I'd been planning for a while, and I'm really pleased with how it turned out.  And being the book obsessive that I am, I loved putting together the Books A-Z for Day 16's Hobbies prompt.

As in May, my favourite thing about blogging (almost) every day in November has been finding some wonderful new (to me) blogs.  Thanks to the #BEDN tag on Twitter I stumbled across Espresso Coco, Some Things Have Happened, World Of Joy, A Crafty Chai, and many others (sorry if I've missed you off this list!).

My favourite find, though, has been A Safe Mooring.  You know that feeling, when a blog is so beautiful to look at and so wonderful to read that you sort of don't want to read it because it makes you envious?  Or is that just me?!  Well, Kirsty's blog definitely gives me that feeling in spades.  The quality of the writing is so important when I'm reading a blog, and A Safe Mooring doesn't disapoint; I especially loved her How To Feel Festive post. 

I was also really happy that one of my favourite blogs, Make, Do and Spend, decided to take part in #BEDN.  It is always so gorgeously presented and fun to read (it was one of the blogs that used to make me feel the above-mentioned jealousy, until I got to know B & E a bit better and stopped being all green-eyed monster about their lovely blog!), and even writing every day has not lowered the quality of their posts.  I especially liked their take on Day 9's topic: Boyfriends on Blogging.

If you've been blogging every day in November, what's been your favourite part?  And are you as glad it's over as I am?!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Day 29: All I want for Christmas

Clockwise from left:
1. I have a real hankering to replace my tatty Primark pjs with posh loungewear, so I've got my eye on a pair of Fat Face slippers and some Cath Kidston pyjama bottoms
3. Liz Lemon "What I want..." screenprint (to remind myself how lucky I am to have found exactly what I wanted)
4. Burt's Bees pomegranate balm is always a winner for my chapped winter lips
6. Let It Snow short story collection (mostly - ok totally - for the John Green-penned story)

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Day 28: The great outdoors: Bradgate Park in pictures

If you're from the East Midlands, you'll immediately recognise this landmark.  This is Old John, a folly on top of one of the only hills in Leicester.  Visible from all around the county, it - and the surrounding deer park and ruins of Bradgate House - makes a cracking walk on a fine late autumn day.  I convinced The Boy to play hooky from his academic research during my day off recently, and we wrapped up warm, walked up hills, ate beans on toast in the cafe, "oohed" at deer and generally blew the cobwebs away.  It was lovely.



Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Day 27: Yes moments

Photo via weheartit

The moment I decided to become a teacher
I was a wild child in my youth, making the transition from geek girl to party animal at the age of eighteen and not really growing up much in the years following.  I lost more jobs than I can count, spent whole weekends at raves, got into huge amounts of debt, had all sorts of mental health crises, sent my parents grey with worry... in short, I was about as irresponsible as you can get.  And then, suddenly, I decided that teaching was for me.

I won't lie, a big factor in my becoming a teacher was the fact that the financial incentives were great at the time: tax-free training bursary, a Golden Hello payment, and the government would pay off my student loans if I found a job by the deadline (and with four years of uni and £18,000+ loans, that was not to be sniffed at).  The other thing that convinced me was the TV programme Teachers, which made it seem as if teaching was one big doss and you got to go to the pub every night. 

Not the most auspicious start to a glittering career in teaching, I'll admit.  But, to the utmost surprise of everyone, it turned out I was really rather good at it. 

I aced my PGCE, working my arse off (for the first time in years) on my assignments and doing well in both placements.  I was offered a job at my first placement school and started teaching full-time in August 2005.

And the late nights, the constant partying, the inability to hold down a job?  Turned out, all I'd needed was a bit of time to grow up and the chance to take on some responsibility.  Teaching turned my life around; turned me from a dissolute youth to someone with control over things.  It was the best "yes moment" I ever had.

The moment my mum told me to buy a house
I'd always loved whiling away hours on Right Move, but I never thought that house ownership was within my reach.  And then my mum came to visit and, during dinner, said, "You should buy a house."  Now my mum almost never tells me what to do (even during the aforementioned wild child years, she largely kept her nose out of my business), so when she said this I sat up and took notice.

I'd seen the house that became mine during one of my mid-Location Location Location Right Move browses and, when my mum put the idea into my head it was the first thing I thought of.  So I arranged to look round a couple of days later: my first ever house viewing.  Within minutes of walking in, I knew I'd found my home and after that, things just fell into place.  Both my mum and dad were very generous about lending me enough for a desposit, I found a mortgage offer quickly despite the credit crunch, and two months later I had my keys!  That was five years ago this week and I have never regretted it for a moment.

The moment I got on the bus instead of going home
It's October 29th 2012.  I have a first date with a guy I've 'met' on Ok Cupid.  I feel sick with nerves and utterly reluctant to leave the warmth and comfort of my home to strike out into the unknown.  I hate meeting people and the last few internet dates I've been on have been disasters, so this seems like a terrible idea.  Why don't I just turn around and go home?

But the bus arrived, and I got on it, and I went to the pub, and met the boy I'd been chatting with online, and he turned out to be The Boy.  He'll be moving in with me soon.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Day 26: Cohabitation: Or, how the hell do you do it?!

Another day, another #BEDN post that hasn't quite gone to plan.  The topic today is 'Home Sweet Home,' and I wanted to do a house tour, but lack of time to take photographs during daylight hours has scuppered that plan.  Hopefully next week I will manage to put something together.
In the meantime, though, I have something I want to solicit advice about.  You see, I have exciting news... The Boy is moving in!  However, having lived on my own for the last eight years and having never lived with a significant other, I am somewhat adrift.  And he, having also never cohabited with a partner, is equally clueless.
I really cannot wait to share my space with T: to make a home together and have him there every day and every night (which, to be honest, is not terribly different to how things are now.  We worked out recently that he spends about 8 hours a week at his house and the rest of his time at mine).  However, I really don't have a clue how I will adjust to having him living in the house that has been mine and mine alone for five years.
We are already talking about things like joint accounts; about how to divide up the housework; about who puts their books where*; about what to do regarding our differing styles in home decor.  But it's all so new to me and I really want us to get this right.  While trying not to be too puke-inducing, our relationship has been pretty damn amazing thus far, and I don't want cohabitation to mess things up.
So, I want to know how you guys do it!  Is there anything I should not do.  

* Although I already know the answer to this one: I put my books where I want, he builds a new shelf for his so they don't mix with mine.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Day 25: Some festive favourites

My name is Janet, and I'm a Christmas-aholic.  I have always loved this time of year, and rather than become less festive as I get older, I seem to be becoming more obsessed with all things Christmassy.  I have so many favourite traditions, foods, gifts and crafts, but here are just a few...

Favourite Christmas carol
Oh Holy Night, especially the version from Sufjan Stevens's Songs For Christmas. I defy anyone to listen to this and not feel the Christmas spirit.

Favourite Christmas song
Nat King Cole's version of The Christmas Song (even though I always laugh at the first line, because it says 'nuts' and I am very immature).

Favourite Christmas film
It's a toss-up between A Muppet Christmas Carol and The Family Stone. The latter is dripping with sentimentality and makes me cry, but I love it. The former is just 100% joy and festive spirit.

Favourite Christmas tradition
I love the run-up to Christmas and have all sorts of traditions for the period leading up to the 25th: from the way I plan (using spreadsheets, what a geek) to the annual buying of the Red Magazine Christmas issue (disappointing this year, I have to say), which I wrote about last October.  On the day itself, my absolute favourite tradition is opening stockings.  Although the tradition has changed over the years - from opening them on our parents' bed as children to now opening them with with a glass of fizz in the living room - it's still my favourite part of Christmas.

Favourite Christmas present
It's got to be the original and best Handclapping Songs mixtape. I told the story on Laura's blog, Make Do & Mend, a while ago, but for those who haven't heard it:
My brother, Richard, gives great gifts, and my absolute favourite present from him was this mixtape. Titled ‘Handclapping Songs’, it was prompted by a discussion many years ago in which I mentioned that adding handclaps to a song immediately made said song awesome. About six months later – six months in which Richard had spent hour upon hour listening out for handclaps in songs, noting down the title and adding it to the mix – I opened my Christmas presents and found the tape. Best. Present. Ever.

The mix included songs I already loved (The Shins, Badly Drawn Boy, Ben Folds), reminded me of old favourites (Garbage, Kenickie, Air), and introduced me to artists (Todd Rundgren, The Beach Boys) that I’d never taken much notice of before. Subsequent editions of handclapping songs mixes have been made by Richard over the years, with the series now available in cassette and CD format (cassettes for my car – yes,that’s how ancient it is – and CDs for home), but volume one is the original and the best.

Photo via A Little Happy Place

Favourite Christmas craft
For a simple but always well-received gift, cookies in a jar are a winner.  It's so easy that I'm not sure it qualifies as a 'craft' though! 

I am also really excited to try out a couple of new Christmas crafts this year: firstly, I want to tackle this lovely 'Let It Snow' embroidery that I found via a Christmas craft link-up last week.  And to go with it, Pointless Pretty Things featured this Reindeer Hoop recently, which I'm raring to try.

Favourite Christmas food
All of it! From satsumas to marzipan to roast potatoes to mince pies, Christmas food is THE BEST. I also love those lazy days between the 25th and New Year, when you don't so much eat proper meals as graze on leftover chocolate, cheese and crackers, and the occassional piece of fruit to stave off scurvy.

Favourite Christmas recipe
For the past few years I have made a Christmas cake using Nigel Slater's recipe, and it's always pretty darn good. My go-to recipe for Christmas hampers is this one, for Christmas ginger cookies. It makes masses of biscuits, which are always well received by friends and colleagues in the run-up to the big day.

Favourite Christmas drink
Spiced cider: take my favourite drink (cider, obvs), add some of my favourite flavours (cinammon, vanilla) and my favourite scents (clove, nutmeg) and you have a drink of champions. Leicester bar Manhattan 34 makes the best spiced cider, although my homemade version runs a very close second. Watch out for a recipe coming soon.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Day 22: 2013, a year of travels

Because of spending 8 months of this year in a long distance relationship, I saw my fair share of St Pancras Station and Luton Airport during 2013.  I have spent a huge amount of time visiting The Netherlands (where The Boy was based), with trips in January, February, twice in May, and in July.  We also had a romantic rendezvous in Paris, visited Berlin, attended the wedding of two of his friends in Macedonia, travelled to Devon for my best friend's wedding, and have been whizzing all over the UK since he got back in September.  As a result, I have a ton of photographs (although not quite as many as most bloggers would manage: I am still fairly crap at remembering to get my camera out of my bag). 
Spring blossoms in Paris, April

Berlin in May

Picking up pebbles on a Devon beach during a school trip in June

Macedonian wedding festivities in July

A boozy weekend in Brussels for a hen do, admiring the street art and colourful confetti.

Trying to play Scrabble on a Dutch set in Nijmegen, July

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, September
 A romantic weekend in Brighton in October for our first anniversary

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Day 21: My top TV picks

I don't watch a great deal of TV but when I do, I want complete escapism.  I don't want to think about the horrible realities of meth dealing.  I don't want complex Scandinavian detectives brooding moodily.  I don't want a treatise on terrorism and the CIA, as told through the (admittedly superb) cry-faces of Claire Danes. 

I want sparkles and laughs and silliness. 

I want cake-based double entendres from Mel & Sue. 

I want fictional physicists making geek jokes.

The best way I can sum up my taste in TV is thus: if it involves dancing or baking or property-buying, chances are I'll love it. If it's a half hour American comedy show, I'll certainly give it a try.  If it's anything award-winning, or that could be described using the phrase 'hard-hitting', or that the broadsheet critics assure me is a 'must-see', chances are good that I'll never have seen it and never want to.

My favourite 'comfort watches' are embarrassingly untrendy.  Give me a good Agatha Christie adaptation and I'm happy (and yes, I will be watching with a blanket draped over my knees because I am utterly rock & roll like that).  Location, Location, Location is always a joy due to the sheer watchability of Kirstie and Phil, plus the chance to nose at strangers' houses is impossible to resist.  The Great British Bake-Off and Strictly Come Dancing are what make autumn the best of all seasons.  And finally, One Born Every Minute makes me cry every single episode, despite being the least maternal person I know.

As for television that is somewhat more socially acceptable, New Girl (which I ranted about here), How I Met Your Mother (before it jumped the shark), Happy Endings and Big Bang Theory are my must-watch programmes.  On boxset, Freaks & Geeks and My So-Called Life just cannot be beaten, although I am being won round to Game Of Thrones.  I have a great fondness for long-forgotten soapy American series, such as The L Word or Dawson's Creek spin-off Young Americans (both of these shows have in common the peerless - by which I mean I really fancy her - actress Katherine Moenig).  But basically I like shit TV, and I am totally ok with that. 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Day 19: Cool creatives @ Maker's Yard

On Saturday I visited Maker's Yard in Leicester, an amazing new venture supported by the city council.  Located in the oldest hosiery factory in the city (hosiery historically being the main industry in Leicester), the building has been beautifully and sympathetically renovated to house studio space for ten creative business.  From glass blowing to sewing to felting to screen printing, it's an incredible space that offers local artist and designer-makers a place to work, make and teach.

I enjoyed browsing the wares and picking up flyers for workshops; I took (and enjoyed) a sewing workshop run by Maker's Yard tenant Ruth Singer a couple of years ago, so top of my list now are the clothes upcycling sessions run by Re-fashioned and the felting workshops with Sushila Pillai.

My favourite stalls were those run by illustrator Will Wright, whose screen prints I loved, and Martha Ruth Harris, whose cute animal print totes, cushions and cards won my heart.  How adorable is the little robin Christmas decoration?!

It's an inspiring space to walk around, the old industrial heritage having been carefully preserved and restored in some places while being sympathetically updated in others, and the people taking part in the open day were a great example of how creative business are thriving in post-industrial cities.  I'd love to hear about similar spaces and studios around the UK; let me know if a place like Maker's Yard exists near you.  And if you're near Leicester, their next open studio event takes place on Saturday December 7th.


Monday, 18 November 2013

For family, far away

Our international family in 1983 (with one brother, Stephen, missing.  He was then living in Lesotho).  Back row from L-R: my mum & dad, living in Oxfordshire at the time; Barbara and Michael, South Africa; Elane & David, London; Derek & Judy, USA. 
Also proof that my brother Richard and I (we're the very blonde children at the front) have been looking awkward in photographs all our lives. 
They say blood is thicker than water.  I always understand the truth of this when I spend time with my extended family.  Scattered across three continents by the apartheid-era South African diaspora, I've always lived thousands of miles away from the people I'm most closely related to.

At a memorial service for my uncle (my mum's brother) this weekend, I thought about how, despite the distances between us, we strive to maintain relationships.  My mum is one of five and, now that David has died, her remaining three brothers live in three different countries.  If I counted, I could probably tally the amount of times I've met most of my twelve cousins on one hand.  I spent my childhood waiting years to spend time with family, before being plunged into intense and emotional and wonderful weeks together during their very occasional trips to the UK.  As an adult, I've spent scant but precious time with people during my rare visits to the US and South Africa.

And yet... and yet...

I feel close - I am close - to almost all of my Kotze family.  I have cousins I see once a decade, if I'm lucky, yet they understand me almost as well as the friends I see every week.  When we're together, we talk about the things that matter and we talk about the things that don't and we laugh and we cry and we play games and it's all real.  There's a connection there, with these people whose blood runs through my veins and mine in theirs; a connection that transcends miles and years apart. 

Living so far from family, you can forget that there are people in the world who belong with you.  When we're together, I see it in a look, an angle of the face, a familiar nose or curl of the hair.  The similarities that say: these are your people, this is where you come from.

The stories we tell ourselves, about who we are and where we come from, are inextricably linked to family. I see this in my 6 year-old niece's questions about our family and her recitation of names: which uncle is "grandma's" (my mother's) oldest brother? What was "granny Helen's" middle name? The photographs that line my bedroom wall are of grandparents, family weddings, my parents as small children; I see the same photographs on the wall of my cousin's apartment in Brooklyn. And so, despite the miles separating us, we all share a common experience of each other and of family history. 

Time together is always bittersweet.  As much as we find joy in our times together, it serves as a reminder of all the experiences we can't share with each other.  And never more so than on a sad occasion like yesterday's, when the reality of mortality hits hard and I wonder how many more visits from my uncles there will be; how many more times my mum will see her remaining brothers.

But through the marvel of social media, my cousin from Canada already knows what I've been up to before he sees me (his first question yesterday, "How's the head?"!).  My aunt and I trade blog links, from South Africa to England and back again.  My cousin in New York can Facebook details of her husband's art shows and her dance performances, so although we can't be there we can read the reviews and watch the videos.  Email enables my mum to keep in contact with her brothers, even as she goes deaf and talking on the phone becomes near impossible.  Even when far apart, we can be involved in each other's lives and maintain our close relationships.

My favourite photograph of the Kotze clan, from 1976 (well before I came along) - one of the last times all five siblings were in South Africa. The watermelon in the middle is a very typical Grandpa touch!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Day 16: Books A-Z

The topic today is 'Hobbies', so what better time to post this Books A-Z that I first saw on Nova's blog a few weeks ago...

A uthor you've read the most books from?
The answer to this is almost certainly a crime or thriller author.  Crime novels are like literary junk food: I consume books by people like Karin Slaughter or Lisa Gardner voraciously, even though they often leave me feeling queasy and ill-nourished.  That being said, truly brilliant crime writers such as Ian Rankin (I think he is my most-read author) are a much nicer reading experience.

B est sequel ever?
The first of Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie novels, Case Histories, was a witty twist on traditional private eye tales, but the second, One Good Turn, is a superlative thriller with moments of farce that are laugh-out-loud.

C urrently reading?
Too many!  I have a terrible habit of beginning books and then not finishing them immediately, so I currently have the third in the A Song Of Ice & Fire series (A Storm Of Swords) on the go but am also trying to finish a great book about feminism, Reclaiming the F Word.

D rink of choice while reading?
Give me a cup of tea, a cosy armchair, a fire in the woodburner, and a good book, and I'll be happy for hours.

E -reader or physical book?
Physical books win out for me every time except when I'm travelling, in which case having all of those books at my fingertips is invaluable, as I'm such a fast reader.

F ictional character you probably would have dated in high school?
Any of the male characters from Paula Danziger's YA novels.  She was brilliant at writing conflicted, realistic, tortured adolescent girls and the boys they love (who I suspect were rather less realistic, being always romantic and kind and gentle, which the 14 year old lads I knew were certainly not!).

G lad you gave this book a chance?
So many, but the one that really springs to mind is What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn, which didn't strike me - on reading the blurb - as something I'd particularly enjoy but which is in fact a wonderful and touching book.

H idden gem book?
I really love books about books and reading; the kind of books that languish on bookshop shelves as they're so hard to categorise.  Not Literary Criticism, not Fiction, not Biography... but always wonderful to read when you yourself are a book lover.  Howard's End Is On The Landing by Susan Hill, and Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman are my two favourites.  There's just something comforting about knowing that other people are as completely bonkers for books as I am!

I mportant moment in your reading life?
When I was five or six, my mum started reading The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe to me before bed every night.  Up to that point, I'd only ever read shorter Ladybird books designed for new readers; the C.S.Lewis book was a proper novel.  But I got so impatient waiting for mum to read a chapter each evening, that one day I picked up the book and read it myself... right up to the end.  From that moment on, I was A Reader.

J ust finished?
Coals to Diamonds, the memoir of Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto (you can read my review of it here).  I was also in need of a quick and comforting re-read last weekend, so I started and finished Gail Carriger's steampunk/fantasy novel Soulless within 24 hours.

K inds of books you won't read?
Sci-fi is the least interesting genre to me, although my brother and boyfriend are both always trying to get me interested in it.  I have loved the few dystopian novels I have read - namely The Handmaid's Tale and, of course, The Hunger Games trilogy - so if I ever do get into the genre it will almost certainly be via dystopian fiction.

L ongest book you've read?
Does the whole A Song of Ice & Fire series count?  Even if I can't count the series as a whole, then book three is still almost certainly the weightiest tome I've ever slogged through.

M ajor book hangover because of?
On finishing The Song of Achilles I cried such gut-wrenching, heartbroken sobs that I thought I might crack a rib.  And then I opened the book at page one and read it all over again.

N umber of bookcases you own?
Ten: five in the front room (official repository of novels and most non-fiction), one in the living room (history & geography), one in the kitchen (cookbooks), one in my bedroom for unread books, one in the spare room (travel books), and one in the craft room for crafty and sewing books.  I really believe that a room isn't furnished unless it has books in it.

O ne book you have read multiple times?
I'm a re-reader.  At least one of the books I read each month will be a re-read, as I enjoy revisiting books I've loved.  There are many books I've read over and over again, but the ones I've read most often are probably Generation X, The Secret History and Drawing Blood (you can see how tattered my copy is on the photograph further down the page).

P referred place to read?
Anywhere!  I can read on planes, trains and in automobiles.  I can read standing up or lying down.  I suppose my favourite place is in bed, snuggled under the duvet and leaning against a pile of pillows.

Q uote that inspires you / gives all the feels from a book you've read?
Pretty much the whole of The Perks of Being A Wallflower made me gasp with recognition.  It's the most perfect evocation of being 16 and feeling out of place.  The quote above is widely known and loved, but it is so for a reason; how wonderfully does it sum up that feeling of being young and with your friends and so happy and alive that you could burst?

R eading regret?
Reading A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  Not only was it rubbish, and overly long, but I only realised towards the end that it was the first in a series so there was no satisfying conclusion at all.

S eries you started and need to finish (all the books are out in the series)?
I honestly don't think there is one - at least, not a series that I want to finish (see above!)

T hree of your all time favourite books?
1. A classic, Persuasion by Jane Austen: beautifully elegiac and romantic;

2. In contemporary fiction, Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld: she really understands what it is to be an outsider;
3. Finally, a short story collection that I can read time and again, and always find something new within, is Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter Of Maladies.

U napologetic fangirl for?
Poppy Z Brite.  I own literally everything she's ever published (often in US and UK editions).  From her early gothic horror novels Lost Souls and Drawing Blood, to her series of stories based amongst the restaurant world of New Orleans, Brite creates characters so real you'll think they're your friends, and evokes setting so perfectly that you'll believe you've visited the places in her books.

V ery excited for this release?
Hilary Mantel's final book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy.  Wolf Hall is one of the - if not the - best books I have ever read, and I can't wait for the third one to be published.

W orst bookish habit?
Leaving books open, spine down.  It drives my ex-librarian mother mad.

X marks the spot : start at the top left of your shelves and pick the 27th book
The problem here was, "which bookshelf?" (see my answer to N).  In the end I started at the top of the big floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the front room, and I landed on Germaine Greer's The Whole Woman.  I bought this when it came out in paperback, around 1999/2000.  I went to see her talk at Leicester University around the same time and found her inspirational, sharp, witty and wise.

Y our latest book purchase?
The Morrissey autobiography, which I'm now reluctant to begin reading after seeing so many coruscating reviews of it on blogs.  He's a funny one, isn't he?  We all know he's a twat of the first order, yet we can't help worshipping him just a little bit.

Z zz-snatcher book (the last book that kept you up late reading?)

A pupil lent me The Hunger Games over the holidays a few years ago and, after starting it at 10pm I stayed awake until 5am as I just HAD to finish it.

Day 15: Festive things to see and do

We're getting into the time of year when calendars are bulging with social engagements and every weekend brings a list of possible events to attend.  Here are just a few of my top picks for Christmas markets and crafty goings on, to get you into the festive spirit.

Leicester & The Midlands

Kicking things off this weekend in Leicester, the newly-opened Maker's Yard has a Christmas shopping open studio event on Saturday 16th November.  I will definitely be popping down to buy some locally made gifts from independent design businesses.  The Maker's Yard will also be open for the annual Christmas Maker's Mart on Saturday 7th December.

Other good Christmas shopping opportunities in Leicester include the Guildhall Christmas Craft fair on 30th November & 1st December, the Clarendon Park Christmas Fair on Sunday 1st December, and the St Martin's Square Christmas Fair on Saturday 7th December.

In Nottinghamshire there is an embarrasment of riches when it comes to festive markets and events, and the annual Frankfurt Christmas Market in Birmingham is a great way to get all the atmosphere of German markets, without the cost of flights.

The North

The Handmade Hour Christmas Craft Fair comes to Harrogate on Sunday 8th December.

The Lincoln Christmas market, from 5th-8th December, takes place in the shadow of the cathedral, and as far as long-running Christmas markets go, the Manchester markets can't be beat.  Taking up half of the city centre, it's so atmospheric and festive (but be warned, it gets PACKED!).  My favourite section is the one in Albert Square.

And if you missed last weekend's Renegade Craft Fair in London, the annual Bust Craftacular is a market well worth a visit.  This year it takes place on Sunday 8th December in York Hall, Bethnal Green.

Of course, there are a ton of other Christmas goings-on in London: Drink, Shop, Do and Homemade London are my favourite venues to get crafty in the capital.


Take a look at local event guides (usually found on council websites and also in local libraries) to find wreath-making classes and Christmas craft sessions. Here in Leicester there are a range of festive events; most towns and cities will have something going on.

Or, if you prefer more picturesque surroundings, National Trust properties around the UK always run wonderful craft workshops, markets and events in the run-up to Christmas. Check out their website for details.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Day 14: Workspace

I'm very lucky to have a wonderful workspace for crafting at home.  At the end of the upstairs hallway, just before the bathroom, is a small area that's half-corridor, half-room.  It's the perfect space in which to store all my sewing and craft supplies, and a nice little hideaway from the rest of the house when I want to concentrate on making.
It's furnished, like the rest of my house, in part-Ikea basics, part-vintage pieces, part-family heirlooms.  The wonderful pine bureau was a steal on eBay a few years ago, and the chair was a £5 charity shop find that I upcycled this summer.  I also love the slimline Billy bookcase, which is perfect for my fabric stash and collection of craft books.  My craft room is not a tidy workspace, though, and as you can see from these pictures I usually have half-finished projects scattered around the place.
I have a small collection of glass jars, which are perfect for storing ribbon, trim and buttons.  I'm still on the look-out for an old printer's tray to hang on the wall and display colourful cotton reels, which at present are also stuffed into a jar.
The final touch to this room was putting together the picture wall recently.  I used patterned washi tape to affix a random collection of postcards, prints, photographs and notes to the large blank wall next to my desk; I like the fact that I can add to and change this display easily.