2014: The year that was….

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I have to say, 2014, you were pretty flippin’ brilliant.

It’s been a busy and eventful year, and probably the most memorable yet for me. I even stuck to my new year’s resolutions…although more on that another time.

I was a great start to the year….our new baby niece arrived, I had stacks of Valentines orders, there was heaps of crafting to do ahead of a certain event, as well as LOTS of planning….all leading up to the 3rd of May when I got to marry my best friend, not to mention the 24th May when we had a huge celebration with our friends. After our two-part wedding it was an amazing honeymoon in Bali, Indonesia, then more wedding shenanigans, including the wedding of my dear friend Claire for whom I was Bridesmaid.

There were more adventures as we made the brave move from Hitchin to Yorkshire. It’s been non-stop since we arrived, but we’re finally settled in….and have actually decided where gets to keep us as we found a perfect new home for us, and have had an offer accepted on a wonderful house!

As you can imagine, I’m pretty excited for next year now too….not only will we be buying our first house together (fingers crossed!) but we have lots of other things to look forward to as well.

I’d like to thank all my lovely friends for being just that….all of you who read my little blog, and get involved in commenting etc to make it so rewarding….my family (and the new extensions of that!) and of course my new husband, who I think is really rather splendid. Thanks for helping to make 2014 such a great year!

I hope you all have a fabulous New Year’s celebration, whatever it is you’re doing (cocktails and board games with friends at home for us!)….and I look forward to seeing and hearing from you in 2015!

Big loves,

Ems x

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Something from the weekend…..mainly eating and shopping

It was with a great deal of difficulty that I dragged myself out of bed this morning……it appears that I’m too old now for starting off the weekend with a 3am bedtime and lots of wine. Still, it was a super fun weekend, and I did manage a little relaxation time too! And we’ve only got two weeks left in London so I want to make the most of it!

After work on Friday it was off to the Post Office with the stacks of things I had to post….I’ve been listing lots on EBay to get rid of some things I don’t use any more before we move. That out of the way, we made our way to Hither Green, where we’d been invited to our friends Siobhan and Matthew’s new place for supper. We were a little early, so we took the opportunity to try out You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, the lovely little florist/coffee shop at the station, where I’ve been wanting to go for ages. It was nearly closing time, so we had our flat whites served to us outside on the pretty melamine tables….and the coffees were perfect! It’s such a darling little place, full of treasures and pretty flowers, and the yummy offerings are a real bonus!

By the time we’d finished, we were in good time to pop round the corner to our friends, for our first snoop around the place! It’s such a lovely flat…..really well laid out and organised, and Matthew and Siobhan have added lots of personal, colourful touches to make it special. The place also smelled amazing, with a lamb tagine in the oven, as well as Sophie Dahl’s chocolate cake……we were ravs by the time we finished chatting and drinking gin and Prosecco, so devoured the delicious meal which came along with yummy roasted veg and home made aubergine dip. The chocolate cake was the real triumph though….topped with creme fraiche and fresh berries, it was perfectly balanced and incredibly moreish.

As usual, we lost track of time in our hours of chattings and ended up taking the night bus home……it was a lovely walk over Tower Bridge from the South of the river though from the bus stop, and we flolloped into bed absolutely shattered at 3am!

A lie in was very much needed on Saturday morning, which fitted in perfectly with our days plans……we were heading over to friends Richard and Tara’s place in Farringdon to meet up for a nice late brunch. Knowing that the meal would probably cost us most of our day’s Weight Watchers Points, we opted to take the 40 minute walk there, through the City and Barbican (which gains us extra points). It was a lovely morning for a wander, and I know I’ll miss taking walks in the City, past the Guildhall and the pretty little gardens.

It was the first time we’d been to their new(ish) place too, and we enjoyed meeting their giant house rabbits! Our friend Sam was visiting for the weekend too, with her daughter, so the six of us popped around the corner to Giant Robot for a slap up brunch. It was a Bloody Mary to start for the most of us, and then their ‘Giant Omellette’ to eat….. both were utterly delicious and I left stuffed and sleepy!

We needed the walk back too, in order to wake me up a little and walk off the gluttony….so we ambled over to Old Spitalfields Market, where we met friends Kate and Jason to potter around Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair. I’d been eying up a little Hornsea Pottery Fauna Deer Vase the last time the fair was there, and I’d decided that if the stall still had it, I’d get it! And sure enough, the pretty I Heart Vintage stall was there as usual, and their shelf of cutesy deer ornaments still contained what I was after! I snapped it up and also spent a while snooping their other treasures and getting ever so tempted by various vintage tins, cuckoo clocks and weather houses! I managed to be good though, at least until I came across a stunning green gingham melamine drop leaf table…..I’ve loved the style for ever and moving into the bigger house means we have space for such things. I plan to use it as a desk in my little studio and can’t wait to set it all up!

It was straight home after that (after all, Adam did have a table to carry!), and most of the rest of the day was spent drinking cups of tea, eating and reading, until it was time for an early night.

Sunday started with another naughty brunch of Belgian waffles, banana and maple syrup…..merely to set us up for another day out and about! After having stuffed our faces we jumped on the tube over to Pimlico to go to the car boot sale there. It runs every Sunday, inside and out, and I’m a little miffed that I only recently discovered it and this was our first visit! It’s crammed with booty, and we spent a good while mooching about the various offerings.

I picked up a great haul……several little bits and bobs from a big gingham cloth of treasures on the floor (which Adam had to forcibly remove me from rooting in), a beautiful Toile bed linen set (exactly what I was after for a guest room in the new house), a wonderful little man’s travel set (which will be added to my Etsy shop when I have some more vintage stock), and a darling little sweater with tortoises on it! I’ll post some pictures of my finds soon!

We still had a little energy left for adventure, and needed a cup of coffee, so we walked just round the corner to the Tate Britain. It’s undergoing a lot of work at the moment, so we found it tricky to make our way about, but we eventually found the cafe, only to be served two rather rubbish Americanos. Still, it was worth popping in just to see their awesome collection of Turners (my favourite) and their brilliant shop!

After that though we were pretty shattered, and so once home it was more cups of tea and reading until it was time for a supper of butternut squash risotto and a quick film before another early night! Rock and roll!

Ems x

Something from the weekend….. Dinosaurs, Sphinx and other friends….

So the weekend huh? Good weather huh?! It makes such a difference when the sun shines and I had such a lovely weekend…..

We didn’t start out with a weekend full of plans, so when we saw the blue sky and it was warm enough to have the windows open, we decided we just had to spend the day outside. We’ve been wanting to go to Crystal Palace on an adventure for ages, so on a whim we packed a lunch and headed towards the overground. I went once before but years and years ago, and before they refurbished the dinosaur trail, so that’s where we headed first and sat on the grass eating our picnic of falafel and tabbouleh looking down at the park below.

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Picnic finished, we began to make our way around the Dinosaur Trail. Created in 1953, this was the original Jurassic Park, and whilst the original Victorian stone statues are now known to be anatomically incorrect, the creatures are all the more charming for it. There is now even an online audio trail to follow as you take the path around the lake to look across to the Dinosaurs on their islands. The park itself is beautiful, with huge rhododendrons blooming everywhere and pre-historic looking shrubs.

Once we’d looped around we also discovered the little farm there, formerly ‘Pets Corner’, where we met lots of other creatures…… There are two very smiley and vocal pigs…. four handsome goats….. a pair of ‘short and brutish’ Shetland ponies…. rabbits, chickens, birds, guinea pigs…. and perhaps my favourites, two beautiful alpaca and some sheep with lambs! You can get really close to all of the animals so it was great to stroke them and take some photos. And chat to them for a bit of course.

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Next we made our way up to the main park, where the famous and iconic Crystal Palace used to stand. It’s incredible to think how huge it was…. I wish I could have seen it. It was built originally in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1852, then moved to this site in 1854. There have been rumours of re-building it for years, and if I won the lottery, I know that’s what I would do. There are plenty of bits of the Victorian architecture left, all falling into disrepair and weathering away. My favourites are the Sphinx which stand at the opening to several grand stair cases.

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From there we made our way into town and grabbed a pub meal on our way to Trafalgar Square. There we met our friends Kate and Jason to see the LSO Open Air Classics….. The London Symphony Orchestra were to play a selection of Stravinsky suites right in the square. The series is open to the public and free. The orchestra sounded incredible of course, and although a little was lost in terms of acoustics because of the location, the atmosphere more than made up for it. It was great to be able to sit and relax with friends, listening to such wonderful music, and so brilliantly different from a normal concert experience.

We were disappointed though that our friend Martin, who had come all the way in from Hitchin to see it, was delayed by the wretched tube and then wasn’t allowed in! He was told by security manning big barriers that the square was filled to capacity, but we had loads of space around us, and more in fact than where Martin ended up, crowded outside the barriers! I hope they work out the problem before the next one.

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Afterwards we went into Covent Garden for some drinks at the Punch and Judy pub (it was Punch’s birthday weekend after all) before making our tired way home to bed.

Our day of adventure left us needing a long lie in on Sunday morning, followed by a hearty brunch (recipe here). Then we took the bus up to Islington to see our friend Vixie and her stall at the Wonder Hill Market. As usual, I didn’t manage to get away without buying something (another brooch of a very cute spinning windmill!) and we had a lovely time snooping about the various crafty and vintagey stalls. We bought a huge slice of chocolate and Guinness cake and went to see it in the church grounds opposite in the sun. It seems so long since we were able to do that!

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From there, we had a little wander around the back streets off Upper Street, finding some gorgeous houses covered in Lilac and amazing smelling Wisteria, as well as the pretty Angel Puppet Theatre. Unfortunately we made it to the Chapel Road Market too late for the Farmers’ Market, but we made up for it by finding a brilliant ‘fancy goods’ shop called Zebedees which had stacks of cool stuff.

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Back at home and we were ready for a nice cup of tea and a sit down. I did a little sketching for some jewellery design ideas I’ve had, before making a start on our supper. We’d saved up loads of broccoli and leeks from our veggie box for the week and so I made a big batch of soup. I was super pleased with it…. in fact I think I’ll share the recipe here soon.

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And then we snuggled up on the sofa to watch Fantastic Mr Fox….. I haven’t seen it since the cinema and had quite forgotten how amazing it is! We were laughing out loud at all the brilliant and original funnies, as well as rocking along to the awesome soundtrack. After that, we were ready for an early night and so we sat in bed planning next weekend’s adventures!

Hope you managed to make the most of the better weather too!

Ems x

Something from the weekend…… Treasure Hunting in Hertfordshire

With the weather set to put a damper on the weekend, I wasnt terribly convinced that I’d get up to much this weekend. And yet the shone shine just enough and our weekend out of London was very fruitful indeed.

Packing for the rainy weather ahead

Packing for the rainy weather ahead

Adam had managed to get the afternoon off on Friday, so at lunch time we made our way to Kings Cross to catch a train to Hitchin in Hertfordshire (Adam’s home town). It was the first time we’d used the new concourse, and we were wowed as we walked through to our platform under the stunning new ceiling…..

New entrance to Kings Cross station

We arrived just in time for a yummy lunch of Adam’s Mum’s home made Leek, Potato and Stilton soup, and then we were off for some treasure hunting right away! We headed down into town for the Friday afternoon flea market…. it wasn’t busy because of the rain and some of the stall holders were already getting ready to pack up. Still, I had a great chat about my stamp jewellery (and my collection of stamps that I use to make it) with a lovely chap on a stamp collectors stall, and I managed to catch the wonderful bead stall to get some supplies. Next, we popped into Tim’s for some art supplies…. it’s a wonderful, proper old fashioned art shop and has brilliant stock. We even met Tim himself (we think) who offered us tips and was very friendly!

Then it was around a few of the wonderful charity shops in Hitchin….. I find some great stuff there and lots for my crafting like old picture frames and odd brooches and charms. We even saw at one shop an amazing collection of old film cameras, including a Super 8 movie camera! I really wanted it (and Adam even offered to buy it for my birthday!) but I know how expensive it is to process the film and buy it in the first place, and I didn’t want to have it just to sit around doing nothing. Still, if I win the lottery I would definitely go back for it!

Hitchin's High Street

Awesome camera collection in a charity shop

For dinner we headed over to nearby Letchworth, and to the amazing Italian restaurant there. We’ve been to L’artista plenty but it still feels like a treat….. every dish I’ve had has been brilliant and they have delicious foccacias and the best tiramisu!

Risotto ai Funghi at L'artista

On Saturday morning it was back into Letchworth to snoop about their charity shops. I picked up a lovely new (although old!) table cloth to use for my craft stall. We also happened across a little farmers’ market which sold extremely yummy cakes and lots of free range meat! We bought up a load of Free Range smoked streaky bacon, as we struggle to get that even at Waitrose (it was a bargain too), as well as some scotch eggs (hardly ever get those now so snap up the Free Range ones when I see them!) and some Free Range herby sausages….. we actually ate them last night and they are INCREDIBLE! Will definitely be visiting the Farroby Farm shop and tea room on our next visit to try more of their stuff!

After that we took a pit stop back at the house to yum up some of our goodies, before heading back into town for that day’s market and some more charity shop shopping. On our way back, Adam took me a different route than usual, down the little lane that runs behind the house. It was lovely to hear about all the places that Adam used to play as a child, and a shame that lots of the open spaces (where he would pick blackberries and plant trees) are now built on with new houses.

Hitchin Market

Down the little lane behind the house

The little lane in front of the house

For dinner, we went over to Holly and Jamie’s, where we met a bunch of other friends too. Holly had made a delicious selection of Spanish dishes for a sort of Tapas meal….. some yummy fritatta…. Patatas Bravas…. olives…. butter bean stew….. We ate lots and lots, and drank some wine whilst chatting about nothing in particular. I also managed to show off some of the jewellery I’ve been making to boot!

On Sunday we decided to take a chance on the changeable weather and go for a nice walk with the dogs at Chick Sands. Adam has told me lots about how he loved going there as a child, adventuring in the woods. It’s a remarkable place, and in the ‘just rained’ light everything shone beautifully (and very photogenically!). We dawdled about, meeting other dog walkers, and finding treasure all the way…. before an approaching grey cloud of doom told us it was time to head back to the car and we just missed a down pour!

The path to Chick Sands

Amazing light in Chick Sands Woods

So many beautiful trees!

Dinosaur tooth / bark we found

We were due a rest after our adventure, so back at home we relaxed with cups of tea and home made flapjack, whilst I played around with double exposures of the photos I’d taken and surveyed the treasure we had found!

Playing with a double exposure app

Treasures from Chick Sands

Newton getting comfy for a well earned rest

There was still time before dinner, so looking out at the now sunny again sky, we decided to have one last wander about the market and shops (just in case there was any more treasure to be found). Unfortunately, all of the stall holders had already packed up by the time we got down there, so we opted instead for a nice walk around the church. It’s the largest in the county I believe, and exceptionally pretty. In fact the whole town centre is terribly idyllic if you can ignore the recent additions of chain coffee shops and Italian restaurants.

St Mary's Church, Hitchin

When we got to the market square, we began to hear some wonderful drum music from the far side….so we went to investigate….. There was a parade on its way towards us with a brilliant drum group, followed by hundreds of Scouts. I think it must have been a St George’s day parade. It was lovely to see all the children in uniform and marching along to the fabulous music. I love a drum group! (If anyone knows the name of the drumming group I would be much obliged to find out!)

Drumming parade

Lining up in the market square

After packing up our treasure and having a lovely supper of meatballs and chilli pasta, we began our way home. Or so we thought. We’d happened to check the trains from Hitchin to London and found out there was a broken down train stopping all the others getting through. So an hour’s worth of phone calls later we found out that we weren’t allowed to use our tickets to go from Luton on the other line instead, but we could pick up a train from Stevenage. But when we got to Stevenage the trains were far more delayed than we’d been told, and in fact we waited for an hour before giving up on the mythical train that the staff had no idea of an arrival time for. And so we called for a lift back, and no sooner had we left than a train arrived of course! Still, who knows how long it would have been delayed further (I feel awful for those marathon runners who got stuck and spent 8 hours getting home!), so we enjoyed another evening of relaxation before heading home on Monday morning.

What a weekend!

Waiting for a train at Stevenage.... double rainbow!

Some of the weekend's treasure..... lots of new beads, some old silver and gold chains, loads of vintage picture frames, lots of cool fabrics, mis-matched cutlery for the collection, and a lay figure for the stall!

Splendid Snowy Sunday

It’s taken us ages to find a free day to meet up with our friends Siobhan and Matthew, but finally today we managed a whole Sunday together. As they live in South East London (near to my old stomping ground) we thought we’d take the opportunity to visit the Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Royal Observatory, as well as have a snoop around the market.

Having managed to get out of bed at a reasonable hour (considering it was Sunday), we decided to head off a little earlier than planned to take some photos on our walk through Greenwich to meet them. The snow slowed us down a little with signal failure at our DLR stop, but we managed the walk to the next one along thanks to my very snug sheepskin coat, Alpaca socks and my trusty Hunter boots. Once in Greenwich, we began our wander through the Old Royal Naval College, snapping the various scenes we’ve seen in so many of the Dickens series. On our way, we found a temporary structure on the King Charles Lawn, beside which was what looked to be a miniature jousting area, marked out by bunting and several yurts. It rather looked like we’d missed something, so we carried on to the gorgeous Painted Hall for some snaps.

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Outside, a team from the Council were busy shoveling the snow from the central pathway, which seemed an odd length to go to in such a place. But they provided a great subject for our snowy photos, with the Queen’s House and Observatory behind.

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Next we headed over the road to the National Maritime Museum and around the beautiful Queen’s House where we began to hear the happy noises of the park as couples made snow angels and children threw snow balls. It was when we got into the park proper though that I got really excited to see everyone dashing around, over-joyed to be out in the snow. The squeals as people got playfully thunk-ed with snow balls, and the barks of over-excited dogs tearing around brought such a grin to my face…. the place was the noisiest I’d ever seen it and the atmosphere was genuinely joyful. I found myself bounding around squeaking with delight!

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On the large hills running down from the Observatory, dozens of people were sledging on beautiful traditional sleighs, stream-lined plastic sleds and even bits of cardboard and in one case an old door! Despite the slightly treacherous walk up the steep path to the top, everyone was having such a lovely time and it was so gorgeous to see everyone whisking down the slope in the opposite direction that we didn’t mind the hard going at all. And waiting at the top were our dear friends, commentating on which of the snow crafts were most effective and who was ‘winning’.

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So, all assembled, we headed straight inside the Observatory to see the exhibition. It’s been running for three years now and Adam and I have been to every one. It’s a short but well curated exhibition, and free to get in. When we first went I had no idea of the possibilities of astro-photography and what was achievable with such little specialist equipment. The images are always eye opening and awe inspiring, so we wouldn’t dream of missing it.

Entrants are asked to submit photos in several different categories: ‘Earth and Space’, ‘Our Solar System’, ‘Deep Space’, ‘People and Space’ and ‘Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year’. There is also a prize for ‘Best Newcomer’ and this year they have added a new prize for photographs taken with a ‘Robotic Scope’. The Deep Space photographs always grab me, because of the surreal, seemingly computer generated quality in the colours and shapes captured. It’s incredible to think what is going on so far away from us, and how vividly someone can capture it. I especially loved Michael Sidonio’s Fighting Dragons of Ara, in which oily colours and patterns form a mind boggling amount of detail. This year, I also really enjoyed the People and Space photographs, and especially Jean-Baptiste Feldmann’s Hunting Moon in which the subject appears to be catching the moon in a net.

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Back out into the cold and we were ready for something to fill our tummys and warm us up, so Siobhan took us to Bianco right next to the Cutty Sark. Needing an instant warm-up, I ordered a Cappuccino which arrived quickly (thank goodness) and expertly made (in fact, one of the best I’ve had outside Italy and Monmouth). Adam and I decided to do our swapping trick, ordering the special pizza of the day and the baked gnocchi to share.The pizza was perfectly thin and crispy, very authentic, and well laden with its toppings of fresh tomato, mozzarella, Italian truffles and Parmesan. Even though it was pretty large, we demolished every tasty mouthful. The gnocchi too was delicious, baked in a tomato and basil sauce, and topped generously with toasted Parmesan.

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The cute cafe suffers somewhat from the noises of young families, and is a little over-cosy for my taste, but then its location and the quality of the food far outweighs these slight inconveniences.

Next, we were off into the wonderful covered market, where I’ve spent many, many hours but haven’t been for over a year. We used to go regularly when I only lived down the road, and things have changed a little bit now with new shops and stalls. The wonderful 360 Degrees Vintage clothing shop had us all rustling through busy rails of gorgeous treasures, and Adam picked up a stunning military coat with big pointy collar and shiny buttons. The food stalls are also far too tempting, even though we were stuffed from lunch, but we got away with only a small purchase of Maple Pecan flavoured coffee beans.

Just outside, we discovered an enchanting shop called Lush Designs, in which lamp shades, cushions, totes and cards are covered in delightful illustrations of animals, nature and architecture. The colours and lines feel almost 70s, whilst the application of the drawings feels very contemporary and we all quickly picked out our favourites and ‘wants’.

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It was soon time for another warm-me-up, so we hopped over to Bar du Musee for hot chocolates. After those and some more shopping (Siobhan picked up two beautiful dresses in Joy, where I also spied the gorgeous necklaces of Jenny and Jimbob) we began hearing rumours of a parade due to go through Greenwich at 5pm. Presuming this was a one-off thing to celebrate Greenwich being named a Royal Borough as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, we decided to hang around to see it….with another hot drink, this time Chai Cafe Lattes and Spicy Mochas at The Organic Cafe.

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Before long though, it was time to try to find this rumored parade, and following the men in fluorescent vests and the cars at a stand-still, we marched back down to where we’d seen the temporary structure and bunting earlier (which also explained the snow shoveling), just in time to see the very front of the parade pass by. Just like in the park earlier, there was a proper party spirit as hundreds of people passed by with lanterns, some in Royal and historical themed costumes, but all loving the buzz of the parade. Several marching bands, troupes of cadets and a marvelously energetic band (who are you please?! the ones wearing all black with red sashes!) who had us all hopping about to the beat.

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The Royal Naval College had been lit up in bright pinks and purples, with a gobo of the Royal Borough’s Coat of Arms right at the top, and inside the tent adjacent, the brilliant Fat 45 warmed us all up dancing to their fabulous ’11 Piece Jump Jive Big Band’!

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By now though, we’d been out in the snowy chill for almost eight hours, and had become rather sleepy. So it was back to the DLR, farewells to our fellow adventurers, and home to snuggle on the sofa with a pot of Assam and a cosy Vetiver and Cardamon candle from White Company. What a splendid, snowy Sunday.

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We would all recommend the Astromony Photography exhibition, which runs for just one more week until the 12th February). The snow though, well who knows?!