Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Variations On A Theme Using Toppers

As I'm new to card making I'm mostly playing with toppers to make my Christmas cards for friends and family this year, as this is the first year I've made cards I'm not very skilled using rubber stamps and some of the fantastic techniques I've seen on the internet and in magazines. Along with die-cuts and paper pads which have featured in some of my cards, toppers are so easy to use. Plus I love how you can take a basic set of items and depending on card colour, texture and the additional items you choose as accents you can get a whole range of themed cards from one topper sheet, no two cards are ever the same, unless that is you want them to be! The above three cards are made using a topper from Foilplay, its called Mr & Mrs Snowman and is a Kanban design, I love the colours and the gold foil decoration really sets the topper off don't you think?

The cute teddy cards above are made with a Hunkydory design, this one called 'Sending Love at Christmas', and was another foilplay purchase, in fact all the cards in this post are made with toppers that I got from foilplay. These cards were really easy to put together, after I'd embossed the card, all I had to do was attach the topper then I added a few stick on gem stones for some added bling.

The house cards come from another Kanban sheet called 'Christmas Country Houses' it's a little hard to tell from the photo but the landscape card is a decoupage, the topper sheet has enough items to make 1 decoupage card and 2 other cards like the purple one above. I had a scrap of adhesive fuchsia pink ribbon left, but it wasn't long enough for the length of the card, but I wanted to use it, so it occured to me to use the 3 little snowflake circles from the topper sheet left over to disguise the fact that the ribbon wasn't long enough, each snowflake circle has a sparklie gem stone in the centre which was the finishing touch and I think it came out rather well :)

My final card selection is another Kanban topper from foilplay, this one called 'Christmas Fairy Wishes', I have to say I really love this design, one of the cards is going to my niece for Christmas, although I'm not saying which one ;) The topper sheet contains five toppers and was an amazing 99p, an absolute bargain and its made some really pretty cards, with two more to go.

The cards in the photos above bring my card total so far to 43, so I have 21 cards left to make to achieve my target, if I'm honest I didn't think I'd make it, but I have so many toppers and ideas I do believe that I'll exceed my total. Some cards will go to next years stash, others will go to my local Cats Protection to help them raise funds.

I already subscribe to Quick Cards magazine, and this weekend I treated myself to a subscription to  Papercraft Essentials because they were giving away a 10 piece Joanna Sheen Signature Die-Cut Collection which has owls, lacy borders, flowers and butterflies, when you subscribe. All elements that will make excellent items to add to future cards. My xmas craft card making stash is pretty well stocked, and I'm already looking for ideas for birthdays and other celebrations to make cards for friends and family as birthday and non-christmas events are a bot thin on the ground.

I was also lucky this weekend to pick up a copy of Issue 73 of Creative Cardmaking for £2.50 RRP £4.99, it came free with 24 silver foiled toppers and a paper stack with some of the papers also foiled. I think they will be used in some of tomorrow's creations, although I still have lots of kanban toppers I want to play with. Problem is I'm falling in love with my creations, hence taking photos, if I don't I'm not sure I'll be giving them away. I did give one card to one of my oldest friends and she loved it, which has given me courage, because I was really worried about giving homemade cards!

Friday, 28 November 2014

29 Cards To Go!

So when I decided to make homemade cards for everybody this year I didn't realise how many I'd need, I made my list today and yes I've checked it twice ;) But I need 64 cards to achieve my goal, that's easy I thought, surely I have enough now? I counted the cards made and nope I only have 35 that I can send, so I have 29 more to make!!!

So I've been making cards this afternoon, the above two cards have homemade toppers printed out on my PC one is a Bebunni design the other is Party Paws Christmas. Both are laid on embossed cards and finished with different elements from my craft stash. The edging strip on the Bebunni card is scrap from a Hunkdory topper, but as it was a knitted effect I thought it went well with this card.

These two quick makes use different embossing folders, the 'Happy Christmas' card using a Kanban topper from Foilplay and some snowflake diecuts and gems. The 'Merry  & Bright' card uses another topper printed out on my PC on a shiny metallic blue die-cut shape as a background. I really do think that embossing the card really adds to my designs and I love the way you can pick elements of the embossed design out like with the snowflakes.

I'm also busy die-cutting and embossing the pieces to make 25 gift bags for putting homemade sweets in as gifts for the family. I've made matching tags and co-ordinated cards from some free Hunkydory toppers that came with November 2014's issue of Cardmaking & Papercraft Magazine. Each bag takes 2 sheets of A4 card stock, I'm using the Xcut "Gift Bag Die Set" and Crafter's Companion "Vintage Music" A4 embossing folder from the Vintage Christmas Collection to decorate the bags. Hopefully all bags will be ready to assemble by the time I need them at Christmas and the cards will be finished so I can get them in the post by the middle of next week. Next year I'll start earlier!!!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Bitten By The Card Making Bug

I know I've not blogged as much as I intended to this year, its been a rather odd year that has seen me suffering from anxiety and mild depression, that all started back in January when I hit 50, I got a case of the female mid-life crisis methinks when the menopause kicked in! I've kept a brave face on publicly, but I have had some gloomy days where I felt like giving up, but that isn't an option, so I've been trying various ways to not turn in to a basket case for several days every month, and card making and St John's Wort seem to be doing the trick.

I've been saying I'll make my own cards for years now and over time I've been collecting card making stash, magazines, card blanks, ribbons, buttons, glitter and lots of ideas and they just went in to boxes under the bed. A good friend makes cards to deal with her stress levels and thanks to her gentle encouragement I realised that maybe card making was an option for me.

Simon treated me to a Sizzix Big Shot die cutting and embossing machine and I made my very first card, aptly a birthday card for my card making friend Kat, and after that I was hooked. I acquired more embossing folders and dies and have been making a lot of cards, this year as well as home made sweeties, the family and friends are getting homemade cards. The cards below are for Simon's family and we're making matching bags and tags to put the homemade sweets in that we're giving for Xmas.

The first photo in this posts shows cards using items from my craft stash, metallic A5 cards, coloured cards, adhesive gems and some of my new embossing folders. I love my embossing folders, they instantly add texture and subtle decoration to my cards. I think the die-cut machine and all its possibilities are one of the reasons I've really got in to the hobby now. The 'Dress' card is made using a topper from a Hunkydory set that came free with Cardmaking & Papercraft Magazine in November.

The trio of cards above this paragraph also use toppers from the freebie, the two centre cards in image 1 come from a free CD from Crafters Companion Crafter's Inspiration: Issue 5 Christmas Edition and were printed out via my computer and cut to shape with die-cuts. The images are from the Bebunni range and I have to say I'd fallen in love with the Bebunni characters. They're turning up a lot in the cards I'm making for Christmas and will be featuring in cards I'm making for other events like birthdays and special occasions.

The next batch above, again are using toppers and embossing folders, I got some amazing toppers at bargain prices from Foil Play, Gill the lady that runs Foil Play is lovely, she offers free postage over £10, free topper for each £20 spent and excellent service, she also has regular competitions and a lovely little facebook group that I'm now a member of. Above photo also has toppers from Crafter's Companion and Hunkydory and the 'Let it Snow' card is a mix of an embossed by me card with a Sheena Douglas 'Ornamental Snowflakes' embossing folder, starry paper from my craft stash and a topper that was also in my stash.

The glittery 'Let it Snow' bauble is done using an X-Cut 'Christmas Sayings' die and snowflake are done using die-cuts with sticky back glitter foam. The snowflake die was free with a magazine, but I can't remember which one! I've also used the sticky back glitter foam to make a frame for the Bebunni card on the end, this time in silver. I realise that I'm using lots of pre-bought toppers at the moment but they work for me whilst I learn how to successfully use rubber stamps and play with other techniques.

For today, my last photo shows my first attempts at decoupage, I've made these cards for my nephews, again the background of the card uses the Ornamental Snowflakes embossing folder, but this time in landscape. There's another Bebunni card using Crafter's Companion toppers and finally the gingerbread man card which is made using a free embossing border from a special Christmas mag that Cardmaking & Papercraft but out every year called Make Christmas Cards it was a tad expensive at £7.99 but you got two embossing folder borders, lots of papers, toppers and stamps as well as the magazine. The gingerbread man is another die-cut this time from the X-Cut 'Christmas Medley' set, backing paper is from the craft stash. I stamped the gingerbread man out of ginger biscuit coloured craft foam from The Range, which has a good selection of base colours like brown, flesh, biscuit, white and black.

I guess you can say that I've been bitten by the card making bug in a big way, it's something I'll be doing for a long while to come, I love making cards, taking a set of basic items and turning them in to something unique. Some of my very first efforts were a learning curve, there have been some mistakes, but I've filed them for future reference as to what NOT to do. I've also decided that if I make more cards than I need, then the local Cat's Protection can make good use of them to sell to raise funds. I have lots of ideas for cards to make and a lot of stash to make them with. Some of them I may share on the blog here in the future. It's certainly a very therapeutic hobby and its certainly helping me when I have a down day :)

Monday, 1 September 2014

Spiced Apple & Cider Sauce

I have to admit to getting really lazy over the past few years and turning to jars or ready made stuff like mint sauce and apple sauce to save time. What I forgot was in saving that time I was losing out on flavour and that sense of satisfaction from doing something for yourself. The irony is it didn't actually take that long to make either! I'd bought bramley apples to make a cake and there was some left over, we had roast pork for dinner yesterday so I decided on a whim to make some apple sauce.

It's true that the 'Simple Things' in life really do make all the difference, the apple sauce I made was soooo tasty beating shop bought hands down. I made enough for 2 and there was enough to save some for eating with some sausages or pork chops later in the week.

  • 2 Bramley Apples - About 500g in weight it prior to peeling and coring, peeled, cored and evenly chopped
  • 100ml Cider - I use sweet cider but you can use any kind.
  • 1 Sml Cinnamon Stick
  • 30g Golden Castor Sugar - This gives in a slight toffee flavour. Plus 1 teaspoon for when cooked.
  • ¼ Tsp Mixed Spice
  • ¼ Tsp Lemon Juice - Optional but it does stop the apples going brown

  1. Once you have the desired texture stir in 1 teaspoon of golden castor sugar, more if you like a really sweet apple sauce.
  2. Put the apple pieces, cider, sugar spices and lemon juice in a pan and bring the liquid to the boil. Once at boiling turn down the heat, but a lid on the pan and leave to simmer for about 10 minutes.
  3. After 10 minutes remove the lid from the pan and allow to simmer stirring occasionally to allow the liquid to evaporate. By this time the apple sauce should be the consistency of the photo above, it doesn't matter if there are a few chunky bits left, they will be soft, if you want an overall smooth sauce then use a potato masher to further break down the apple pieces. I like a bit of texture. Make sure you remove the cinnamon stick before serving.
  4. Allow to cool before storing, or serving.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Finding Private Barry

The centre name of the above photo is that of my Great Grandad William John Barry, he was born in 1874 and died sometime in late 1916 aged 42, his name here is inscribed on the memorial at St. John the Divine Church at Lytham St. Anne's to honour those that lost their lives in WWI. The thing is my Great Grandad doesn't appear to have left the UK, he was discharged from the army in 1916 as being 'no longer fit for service', but there is no grave for him in St John the Divine, my Great Grandma is there, but not my Great Grandad. So where was he buried?

I knew very little about my Great Grandparents on my Dad's side of the family and only recall a little about my Great Grandad Rowe, my Mum's Grandad. It was the 100th anniversary of WWI that set me looking for him after I came across the photo I'd taken back in 2006 when I went to find the house that my Nanna grew up in as a girl in Lytham St Anne's. To be honest having a relative in WWI never really registered, I knew my Grandad had served in WWII but I had no 'connection' with WWI or very little knowledge about it come to that, which is odd given that the event happened just 50 years before I was born.

I have a lot to uncover yet but so far the little I've discovered has been rather interesting, he was 5ft 5", had light brown hair which faded to grey as he got older and he had grey eyes. That was a eureka moment, for decades I've been teased by my father that I was "the milk man's" because unlike the rest of my family and my grandparents, I have light hair and grey-blue eyes, everyone else is dark haired and brown eyed. So I was elated to discover that my Great Grandad is the reason I have light brown hair and grey eyes, no more teasing Dad, its genetics :p

With the help of a facebook friend who has access to some WWI archive material I've found GG Barry's war pension allocation to my Great Grandma, using census records I discovered that my Nanna had an older sister, and brother that we didn't know about who went to live in America after WWII. I also learnt that for some reason the army 'lost' Great Grandad Barry when he was being discharged! How he died remains a mystery, I know it was sometime in the 4th quarter of 1916, I've ordered his death certificate and when it arrives I'll know when and where he died and hopefully, what he died of. I did attempt researching family history a while back and was given a bag of photos and documents and when I dug them out at weekend to reinvestigate I discovered a photo of Great Grandad Barry in his uniform, what a dashing man he was.

Finding the photo has made my Great Grandad more than a name, I can see my Nanna and me in him and when my youngest brother saw the photo he declared he's inherited his ears lol! It's amazing to think that he's a part of my family line and without him I wouldn't be here today, but until recently I knew very little about him. I'll be posting more about him as I find things out and about the voyage to discover the rest of my family tree, made a little progress on that when I found the grave of my Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother the parents of my Dad's dad, my Grandad Webster. I'm hoping that my searches will find extended family and that they may have some pieces of family history to share, you never know, I may get lucky! For now I'm happy with what I've discovered so far and I'm looking forward to the death certificate turning up to give me more clues. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

WWII Eggless, Fatless Gingerbread

Eggless, Fatless Gingerbread
A couple of years ago I got inspired by the BBC programme 'Wartime Farm' to try out some recipes from the WWII era, the whole plan was to grow veggies and try to live a 1940's lifestyle, sadly I found that my life wasn't wholly compatible with the 1940's, cooking everything from scratch required a lot of effort and after just a few months, my efforts bit the dust, along with the blog I set up. However it's still there so I thought I'd take what posts were still relevant and add them to my "warts an' all" blog, then I'm going to delete the WWII blog.

The problem I have found is I have a lot of hobbies and interests, the primary one is herbs which will never change, I've started blogs for my love of France, for crafting and even slimming, they all start out well, but with so many interests their isn't time to keep them all going and do the day job and look after the home, hubby, cats and garden. So slowly but surely French posts will be culled from the French blog, diet recipes may end up here but herbal stuff will always go on my herby blog. If I have almost everything in one place, I have more to write about which means I can blog more often when my work schedule allows ::whispers to self 'Good luck on that!'::

So lets cast our eyes - and mind if you've a half a mind to - to 28th September 2012 and look at my Eggless, Fatless Gingerbread recipe that I made when my copy of Wartime Farm arrived, I'll add some [bracketed annotations] to the text if things worked or didn't....

My copy of Wartime Farm arrived at the beginning of the week and I began reading it with relish, I'm fascinated by the herbs used during the wartime information that's in the book although for a true herbaholic like me the section could have been bigger, but more of that in a later post as I've been doing some research on the WWII herb gatherers, what they gathered and they used the herbs for.

Watching the Wartime Farm series has kindled in our household a desire to do more for ourselves [honestly it did, we did try to be more self sufficient for almost 4 months]. Mr C announced last night he wants to learn how to make furniture, in particular bookshelves, we've been coveting a pair that would cost us almost £1,000 they're oak and rustic looking, something Mr C reckons he could achieve himself for a lot less money [he got as far as buying chisels and a few technique books!]. Don't get me wrong he's a dab hand at lots of things, he can fix plumbing and electrical problems and he's made me raised beds, potting benches and the like for the garden, but they are a little 'Heath Robinson', he wants to learn how they made furniture "in the old days", my comment that they probably took lessons from Heath Robinson met with Mr C's classic 'pickled onion' face lol!

So he's decided that as he doesn't know how to do dovetail joints and that kind of thing, and as there are no surviving family members to teach him, he's off to do a woodworking night class [never happened, we took French classes instead!]. He'll go for a 10 week course, downside is he's missed the start of the September course and has to wait until the next one starts in January! He's disappointed, shades of the allotment here, I said no allotment, until he proves he's willing and able to take it on, so a delay for his grand scheme there to. On the plus side if all goes to plan he'll be able to build a shed on the allotment when we get it lol!

Luckily not everything has to wait, well at least not very long anyway.... The picture of the Gingerbread Cake in Wartime Farm looked so yummy I just had to make it, the fact that it's a fatless and eggless recipe was an added bonus. I had to do a double take though, I thought there had been some cheating going on for the photo because in my mind, no way can a cake be that spongy without fat and eggs! I looked at the ingredients and I had everything in the store cupboard to make it, super thinks I, cake for Mr C's pack up tomorrow.

So I assembled the ingredients...

1/2lb Self-Raising Flour
6oz Golden Syrup
2 Tsps Ground Ginger
1 Tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
1/4 Pint Tepid Water

I also added....

2 Tsps Milk Powder

Making the cake is simple, you put the flour and syrup in a bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients in a jug and then pour the jug contents into the flour and syrup mix until you have a nice creamy batter, you can see the effect of the bicarb almost immediately the batter starts to become foamy, that's the bicarb doing it's egg substitute thing, bicarb is a natural raising agent and that makes the cake light and airy or spongy.

The next step is to turn the batter into a greased tin they say 11" x 7" in the book, but I didn't have one so I used a 9" x 9" tin instead. Next bake the cake in a moderate oven (gas mark 4, 180 degrees Celsius, or approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit) and leave it there for 45 mins to 1 hour, check it after 45 mins to see if it's done or not.

The final stage is very important to note when you want a cake for serving after tea or for the hubby's pack up the following day... Wrap in greaseproof paper and store in a tin and do NOT cut for 2 days!!! There's logic in that instruction, when the cake first comes out it's a bit dry looking, leaving it to stand for a couple of days lets the syrup work its magic and make the rest of the cake turn into the sweet sticky texture we know and love when we think of gingerbread.

Taste test.... Gingerbread when all said and done is supposed to be more bread like and less like a cake in texture, so don't expect a sponge cake. We couldn't wait and did cut some and eat some an hour or so after it came out of the oven, it tasted okay but a bit 'dry'. By the following morning it was moister and tasted a lot better! In all honesty I can 'taste' the bicarb of soda in the cake, but it isn't unpleasant so don't be put off.

As for the over all taste next time I think I'd add 5oz golden syrup and 1oz of treacle, this gingerbread was a little 'pale' for my tastes. I think I'd also pop in a little cinnamon or mixed spice as well. But overall it's a hit especially when you take into account that WWII housewives could save their precious egg and fat rations and still have cake! Mr C took a slice in his pack up today and we have gingerbread for the weekend with a nice cup of tea, bonus! Just need to remember to make it a few days before we want to eat it in future lol!

The cake cuts into 15 slices doing the maths on the calories in the syrup and flour it works out at just 90 calories a slice you can check the calorie values in other WWII recipes here.

August 2014 Addendum: As this blog evolves I'll be making and sharing recipes from not just WWI and WWII but from other periods in history, some will be authentic, some will have a modern day twist. One thing we did learn from our short WWII cooking adventure in 2012 was that some of the food was not to our modern day tastes, somethings we couldn't eat, others were pleasantly surprising. The whole point of doing this is to save money, and whilst I appreciate that my Grandmother and Great- Grandmother and their families had no choice but to eat the food that was put on the table, today because of their sacrifice I can chose to eat what I want and if it tastes like wallpaper paste and looks like frogspawn I'm NOT eating it, sorry Nanna!

My aim is to make more things for the home, get back to basics and cook from scratch and generally make do and mend, eat with the seasons and revisit old school methods. I'm not going to start wearing a pinny and hair rollers and listening to the Andrew's sisters or Al Jolson, and I know some of my friends do live 'retro' lifestyles, they're happy and I learn lots from them, but I'm a 20th century girl and no amount of mock duck will change that. So onward and upward...

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

1914 - 2014 Trench Stew

I know its been ages since I wrote anything for this blog, work and herbal things have been keeping me busy. Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of England going to war with Germany in WWI and around the country people held candlelight vigils, their were ceremonies and services and people remembered the those men and women who sacrificed their lives to build a better future.

My hubby and I watched the BBC2 programme 'World War One Remembered' it focused on honouring a lost generation, which were silenced for ever amid the hellish cacophony of the WWI battlefields, and were remembered on the 100th anniversary of Britain’s First World War declaration.
War is never glamorous or pretty, but when you look back it does fill you with awe, battles were fought overseas and here to keep food on the table and some semblance of normality going for those left behind.

I wanted to do more than just watch the programme and light a candle so I decided to cook a WWI inspired menu for our tea yesterday. I chose a dish that was called 'Trench Stew', it evolved to be called Corned Beef Hash where I grew up in Manchester, with additional ingredients and flavourings. In the days of Thai Green Curry and an array of world cuisine foods that we eat on a weekly basis, in many ways basic cooking and English recipes have been left behind in our house.

I made a few dumplings to go in the stew, although I'm sure the soldiers in the trenches didn't have those, I made a simply suet pastry and turned 1/3rd in to dumplings and the rest into a jam roly poly that we served with custard. It was made all the more special because the jam in our roly poly was a homemade jam or 'Dark Red Plum' that had been made by my hubby's auntie and gifted to us along with a lot of other homemade jams and jellies. How I miss making chutneys, pickles and other yummy and tasty homemade items, I think last night has reawakened the urge to get creative in the kitchen again, watch this space!

As we're trying to pay off our mortgage faster and save for a rainy day plain, simple meals seem logical as they make economical sense. I worried about the use of lard and butter for example in wartime dishes, but then realised my parents and grandparents ate them and turned out just fine, so over the next few months I'm dusting off my wartime cook book and seeing what I can find to feed me and my darling hubby that will fill our bellies without emptying our bank account!

I have to say that as I chopped vegetables, mixed everything together, stirred my pan of bubbling stew and watched the dumplings and pudding rise, my thoughts kept turning to wondering what people were thinking that night back in August 1914, hours before the country went to war at 11pm? My Great Grandmother, Sarah Jane Webster could have been making stew for her 4 sons and 3 daughters none of them older than 8 years of age, so safe from drafting but not safe for the perils and dangers that war could bring.

This morning I woke up to my two cats, not a care in the world beyond making sure the days work got done and my article was submitted to the garden magazine I occasionally write for, what a contrast to what my Grandmother woke up to 100 years ago, I've seen films, read newspaper articles and books but nothing compares to the reality.  I find that I cannot celebrate what happened but yesterday did make me realise just how incredibly lucky I am today. To everyone who made a sacrifice, no matter how great or small I am humbly in your debt and eternally grateful!

1914 - 2014 Trench Stew

  • 3 Medium Potatoes (1914 - 1 Turnip), peeled and chopped
  • 2 Medium Carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 Medium Onion, peeled and chopped
  • ½ Tin Corned Beef, cubed into 1" pieces
  • 2 Beef Stock Cubes (1914 - I'm not sure if they would have had access to stock cubes in the trenches, our great grandmothers would have made their own stock and adding stock to this stew certainly improves the flavour.)
  • A few generous dashes of Worcestershire Sauce (1914 - I think the same applies here as stock cubes, I would hazard a guess that the soldiers used whatever they could obtain to add flavour to their food.)
  • Salt & Pepper to season
  • 1 Pint of Cold Water

The method is simple, add the potato, carrot and onion to your pan of water along with the stock and Worcestershire sauce and bring it to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer the stew until the vegetables and cooked through and tender. 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time add the corned beef and season to taste with salt and pepper. If you want to add dumplings add them at the same time as the corned beef.

Serve in bowls with pickled beetroot, cabbage or onions.

Friday, 17 January 2014

2013, That Was The Year That Was - Part 1

How do you see a year when it's past? A whole twelve months have just whizzed by and I have some memories, but its fuzzy in parts. In previous years I've had a tendency to focus on only the negative aspects of the previous year, and sometimes, I've even forgotten when something happened, or that it ever did! I find it useful to look back on the previous years photos, its said that photos never lie, I don't think that's the case, how often have I put a smiley face on in a photo when I feel like crap, I hazard to guess.What photos can do, is remind you of places, dates, meetings and moments be them good or bad. So here thanks to my phone and digital cameras is a look back at 2013, its highs, lows and in-between bits.

January 2013 started out like most years have done since I was about 30, my seed boxes and gardening books come out and I started making plans for the new years growing season. By January I'm usually mentally starving for growth and greenery. Last year the bright fragrant flowers of my bargain witch hazel shrub greeted me on my birthday and there were rose buds on the rose bushes, they didn't last mind, the bitter cold weather we got and the snow saw to that. Plans were made for writing a variety of new articles for Garden News magazine and my contract got renewed, albeit for a shorter time than I thought, but that's life.

February 2013 saw the 3rd and final part of the article I wrote for the Herb Society on their founder Hilda Leyel, her life and the books she published be printed in the society's journal 'Herbs'. The article was well received and I really enjoyed writing it. So much so, it inspired me to get back into my research on the lives of Dr W.T. Fernie and several other late 19th and early 20th century herbalists.
March 2013 was a sad month, we had to say goodbye to our elderly cat Fuzzball, he had wormed his way in to our home and hearts back in 2006. He was old when got him, although we never knew just how old he was, but he was a sweet little character, who could be a bit of a thug, especially to his sister Poppy. I still miss him, and as sad as it was to let him go, I know we did the right and kind thing. RIP Fuzzy <3 March also saw me meet James Wong for a second time and he remembered me and my rose geranium cake :)
April 2013 was a first for my hubby, he got his first ever brand new car, nobody but him had ever driven it before and it had that new car smell. It wouldn't have been possible if I wasn't working now, and it felt good to be able to go and pay for something knowing that we had the money to do it. We timed the purchase to coincide with his birthday, he was grinning like a loony the day we went to collect it and the smile stayed on his face for days after. Money well spent :) It was scary to witness being so grown up though. We'd made cut backs to save up for ages then spent it in an instant.

April saw Poppy have to make some adjustments and not for the first time last year, for a good few weeks after Fuzzy was no longer with us she mooned around at a loss. It hadn't been easy getting the two of them integrated, Fuzzy just didn't want another cat at all, which is ironic as he came in to the house when we had Pyewacket, so being a two cat family wasn't an alien concept. Poppy slowly adjusted, although she did take to sitting in Fuzzball's favourite spots for a while.

May 2013 was a busy month, spring had finally arrived and we started getting out and about again, after the very damp start to the year and the dreadful weather of 2012 it was nice to start being able to make garden plans. My first big outing was to Oxford, it was a duel visit, the hubby met up with some R2D2 robot building friends who were having a gathering not far from the National Herb Centre in Warmington. Lots of new herbs were purchased and ideas for articles blossomed.

The following weekend I had the pleasure of finally meeting the Lemon Verbena Lady, she and I became herbal sisters several years ago via our herbal blogs and kept in touch via emails and facebook. When she came to the UK for a holiday it was the perfect opportunity to get together, and where did we get together? A place where herbs abound lol! I met up with her at Hardwick Hall in Hardstoft, Derbyshire for a wander around the herb garden and hall. Then back to my house for tea with my homemade Lemon Verbena Cake made in honour of my special guest's visit.

The 26th May saw the icing on the cake of the month of May, along with my hubby I went to the O2 Arena in Birmingham to see my favourite band of all time play an outstanding concert. Their 'Clockwork Angels' tour lived up to all my expectations and left me glowing inside.

I've been a Rush fan since I was about 15 which is coming up to 35 years now and I've seen them in concert 7 times and every time was an experience, you feel, see and taste the music as well as hear it when you're in the same space and time as the band.

June 2013 arrived and we had some glorious sunshine, my young niece Zoe came to visit for a week, we had fun going to the beach, visiting National Trust properties and going for walks. On the walks I taught her how to recognise some wild herbs and trees. We baked, and I taught her how to blanket stitch a felt doll. Zoe was also keen to help me with a herb project and posed for photos for a series of blog posts that I'm working on 'Herbs for Children', over on my Herbal Haven blog.
The fine weather continued and in late June I attended the Discovering Herbal Medicine seminar on the subject of "Nutrition and Herbal Medicine for Allergic Conditions", as ever I had a superb time, learned new and interesting things about herbs and enjoyed wandering around a wonderful garden of unusual herbs. I was gifted with a lovely Vitex Agnus Castus shrub, more on that in part 2! I'm halfway through the year so will take a break now and work on July - December next. More from me soon... :)