Saturday, 31 December 2011

Welcome 2012....

Image via

The turn of the year is just 12 hours away and I've been thinking over the events of the past twelve months, and those that may be in store in the coming year. I've also been pondering what my new year 'ambitions' will be for 2012 (as my friend R says, ambitions seem so much more positive than resolutions).

Image via

My plan is to have a word of the year as opposed to a long list of ambitions -a word that I will hopefully remember as I make and take the day to day decisions, plans, and opportunities that arise throughout the year.

The end of the year also brings to an end of my first six months of blogging - and it has been something that I have loved becoming involved in...more so from the inspiration of some amazingly talented bloggers out there, but also as a means of marking the small things that make up who I am.

Pinned Image
Image via

...if you feel so inclined (me, probably not so much - certainly not the dancing on the table part!). But however you choose to mark the clock striking twelve this evening, I wish you all a wonderful new year - I'm already looking forward to lots of post-reading in 2012.  

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Image via Prairie Perch

It is early afternoon on Christmas Eve

I have one more handmade gift to press and wrap in readiness for tomorrow

I'm looking forward to speaking with my family in Australia this evening (as they will be waking to their Christmas morn)

All ingredients are purchased in readiness for the dish I am taking tomorrow for Christmas lunch at my friends (the traditional ex-pat 'orphans' Christmas - complete with catering for vegetarians and those with gluten intolerance!)

I'm thinking that one (or two) mince pies for supper is perfectly acceptable

And I'm still thinking about the absolutely gorgeous production of The Nutcracker I saw last night by the English National Ballet
Image via ENB website

It was simply enchanting and has put me in the perfect mood to celebrate the magic of Christmas.

Wishing you all a joyful and merry Christmas

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Carolling....last time....I promise...

... well apart from the ones during the Christmas Day services at church, but I promise not to blog about those.

This post was also a chance to post a gratuitous photo of the gorgeous St Paul's Cathedral. I was there on a cold, crisp Tuesday evening this week with about 2000 other people for the Lord Mayor's Carol Service. After standing in the opening of the great west door for about 40 mins directing people to their seats and handing out programmes (which was my means of getting to actually attend the service - volunteering for my hospital's charity - but after about 25 mins my voluntary role became increasingly chilly!) I was able to sneak into a seat at the front of the nave, just near the dome to enjoy the service.

I always think that Westminster Abbey is my favourite church in London, but every time I am in St Paul's I'm torn - the symmetry and beauty of Wren's design is just breathtaking.

The carol service was lovely, but (and I'm not sure I should admit this), but I was almost more excited with another celebrity spotting episode....
Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) of Downton Abbey (image via)

Though in actual fact she was looking more like this...
Image via

Those who are regular readers of this blog will know that I was excessively a little excited in the autumn when Dowton Abbey returned to our screens here in the UK. So even without the beautiful period costume, I was pretty impressed to see Lady has already made me look forward to the 2-hour Dowton Abbey Christmas special on Sunday night... but I promise not to blog about that either!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Christmas Carols...

Wednesday evening marked my first Christmas Carol service for the season (I have two more scheduled in over the coming can never attend too many Carol services in my opinion, particularly when they are held in gorgeous old churches lit by candlelight). Wednesday's service was held at St Bartholomew's the Great, in Smithfield London, located next to one of the hospitals at which I work. The annual service helps to raise money for the hospital's charity, which supports various clinical services in the hospital.

The church was founded in 1123 as an Augustinian priory and has been in constant use as a place of worship sine 1143. The extensive history of the church is easy to see in its spectacular architecture. The church is also frequently used as a setting for film and television - including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth the Golden Age, and Amazing Grace.

Here are two additional pictures so you can see the beauty of the church (better than I was able to capture it from my pew in the nave)...
Image via Daily Mail

Image via

After the service, all of the guests repair to the Great Hall in the hospital for mulled wine and mince pies (my first for this year!)
The hospital was also founded in 1123, by the prior of the abbey. The North Wing of the hospital in which the Great Hall is located was built in 1732 and is renowned for its Hogarth murals. The walls are decorated with plaques which list the various benefactors of the hospital over many years. And isn't the ceiling beautiful? Here is a close-up...

And so you can see how lovely this space is, here a few more images...
Image via
The Hogarth Murals - Image via

So, the Carols and minced pie have worked their magic - I'm now filled with festive spirit! I hope you are all enjoying these last days as Christmas approaches...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

A December Saturday in London...

London decided to play host to the most beautiful winter weather yesterday - bright blue cloudless skies and lovely sunshine...but my goodness it was cold. 

The weekend has focused on celebrating the birthdays of two good friends. I met the first on Saturday afternoon at the theatre to see 'Three Days in May' which is about (oddly enough), the three days in late May 1940 just before the evacuation from Dunkirk when Churchill and the war cabinet discussed (and dismissed) the possibility of negotiating a peace treaty with Hitler - excellent production...I'd highly recommend it to anyone living in or near London. The theatre where it was being held is right at the top of Whitehall, near Trafalgar Square, so given that I was a little early, and the sunshine so lovely, I decided to spend a few moments admiring one of my favourite London landmarks...
Admiralty Arch

Trafalgar Square itself appeared to inundated by hundreds of Santa's - they were pouring in from all directions. I tried to grab a few pictures, but as I wasn't prepared to cross the road into the square and join the Santa-melee, you'll have to excuse the picture quality...

I'm still yet to determine the reason for their presence...

Once the play had finished, K and I decided to repair to somewhat more refined surroundings for a drink to celebrate her birthday before joining the second birthday dinner in the evening. So, a brusque walk up through Piccadilly and Mayfair saw us to the door of one of my favourite hotels/bars in London...

The Connaught Hotel - unfortunately, it is somewhere I only get to visit on special occasions due to the incongruence between the prices on their wine list and my budget - but you do get a lovely provision of complimentary bar snacks. I also managed to indulge in some (for me) pretty impressive celebrity spotting - sitting next to us in the bar was Matthew MacFadyen (aka, Mr Darcy from the P&P film) and his wife Keeley Hawes. After a very civilised hour or so, we ventured further west to meet our other friends and continue the celebration.

And I couldn't resist picking up this little sweetie at the supermarket this weekend. Robynne from Robynne's Nest had the most beautiful photos on her blog last week of miniature pointsettias (I'd highly recommend a visit to her blog to see for yourself). So, when I saw this for the princely sum of £2 I couldn't resist... doesn't quite have the gorgeousness of Robynne's jam jars lined with music manuscript, but I thought it was quite charming nonetheless...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Back to the history books...

I studied history all throughout highschool - however, spending ages 14-15 studying Australian history (afterall, my school was in Australia), and ages 16-17 studying ancient history, has not really equipped me terribly well for appreciating living in England today (and in reflection, I now can't for the life of me think whatever enticed me to study ancient history...)

England, and London in particular, is incredibly steeped in history - I mentioned in my last post that one of the hospitals where I'm based has had a hospital on the site since the late 13th century. It is also the site where William Wallace was executed, and not far from where protestant heretics were burned during Mary I's reign. The history around the other hospital site where I am based is a little more recent but no less gory - it is the stomping ground of Jack the Ripper, and the Elephant Man actually used to live at the hospital.

My point is, that wherever you turn in London, you are in a place that has seen centuries upon centuries of human experience. My knowledge of English history from Queen Victoria onwards is reasonable, and my Tudor history is not bad either. But, throw in the Plantagenets or even the Georgians, and I am more than a little lost. Which is why I was delighted to stumble across this in my local Waterstone's last weekend.

Written by Simon Jenkins in association with the National Trust it covers major segments of English history from the Saxons onwards in chunks of ten pages - a whistlestop tour through the last 1500 years, but enough to whet my appetite and get the major events and players in something resembling the correct chronological sequence in my head. And now that it has actually turned cold here, something to curl up beside the heater with on a quiet evening...

Monday, 5 December 2011

Preparing for Christmas...

The 30-day simplification project is coming to an end, and I can start looking forward to Christmas. Over the past few weeks I have culled every cupboard in my home, made two trips to our large council recycling centre, rearranged bookshelves, altered clothing that I wasn't wearing into items that are much more suitable for my wardrobe/lifestyle, finished making Christmas gifts, downloaded photoshop actions, and finally, organised all of the photo folders on my laptop. I have a couple of tasks left to do, but they will need to wait until the filing solutions I've ordered have arrived.

So, this weekend, I've been able to look forward to all things festive (...and many thanks to those of you who made such lovely comments on the little winter coat decorations -they are now wrapped in brown paper and red gingham ribbon, and are in the custody of Royal Mail on their way to Australia...). The Christmas tree has made an appearance, squeezed into a corner of my sitting room. The little lady above is my favourite decoration - a gift from my mother and sister a few years ago.
I have two lovely Carol services to look forward to...the first is work-linked. I work for a large hospital trust in London, and on one site, there has been a hospital since the late 13th century. It is located adjacent to St Bartholomew's the Great (a church made famous in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and other films...), so each year our hospital charity hosts a carol service in the church followed by mulled wine and mince pies in the great hall of the hospital - it always seems to mark the start of the Christmas festivities to me. This year I am also volunteering (by ushering and handing our programmes) for the Lord Mayor of London's charity fund-raising Carol service at St Paul's Cathedral on the 20th - so I'll also get to enjoy that service as well.

Then there are also the various Christmas parties, and catch-up with friends that seem to squeeze into each spare evening during this season. Plans for the big day itself are still up in the air but will hopefully be sorted soon.

And in terms of receiving, I was delighted to win my first blog giveaway last week - from Simone, at The Bottom of the Ironing Basket.
After reading about these products on Simone's blog, I'm so looking forward to enjoying them - a little treat for my skin, now that the cold winter weather has finally arrived. Thanks Simone!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Handmade Christmas Ornaments...

For the last 15 years or so, a small group of girls that I attended high school with have had a pre-Christmas catch-up on the Saturday before Christmas. A key part of this catch-up was that we each brought a small gift for each other - I'm not entirely certain now how the 'rules' were determined, but it quickly evolved to the specifics of 'handmade' and 'Christmas decoration'.
Now, there have been quite a few years where I have not been in Australia for this event, but still partake in the gift giving and receiving. I will also have to admit that there have also been a few years where I have resorted to purchased decorations (there were some lovely paper-cut decorations from Prague one year that found their way back to sunny Sydney).
Fortunately, this year I found some ready inspiration from Alicia's blog posie gets cozy. Alicia has been making ornament kits for the last four Christmas seasons, and they are simply beautiful. This year I've decided to make each of my Sydney friends a little winter coat from Alicia's 'Snow'Day' collection
Image and pattern via
And here are my finished versions...
...a little bit of northern hemisphere Christmas warmth to add to their southern hemisphere celebration...

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Miniature mittens...

I have been busy sewing tiny little mittens that are part of the handmade Christmas decorations that I am making for gifts this year - however, over the last week or so this project has been going very slowly. It was transforming in my mind from a festive pleasure to a bit of a chore.

The actual decorations themselves are simply lovely and I think they'll look gorgeous when finished (which I'll be sure to post about...finally). However the source of the pattern for the decorations, has now also provided me with some impetus to get them finished.

Alicia Paulson's blog, Posie Gets Cozy, was one of the first that I began following. This was the image that she posted on her blog today...

There are just so many things I loved about this image - but I think it was the sense of peacefulness that most drew me in. Alicia and her husband have been through a heart-wrenchingly difficult time of late - yet, to me, this picture spoke of the serenity and gratitude they seems such a part and parcel of this couple as they move forward.

With this one image, I've been reminded of the reasons as to why I am making home-made gifts, the simple pleasure that comes from watching something take shape beneath my hands, and to take these days as a marker of the coming weeks and festivities. It has also given me the impetus I needed to finish off my tiny mittens, finalise the still-to-be-done tasks on my simplification list (day 19 = 18 tasks complete), and then enjoy the simple pleasure of decorating my home for the approaching season...

Thursday, 24 November 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like winter...

The unseasonably warm November is drawing to a close and December and the festive season is fast approaching. London is also experiencing it's first taste of winter. I love this photo which I saw in last night's paper, taken yesterday morning on Westminster Bridge ...three iconic images of London - Big Ben, a double-decker bus, and fog!

Today is day 13 of the simplification project = 11 tasks completed...hmm, I think I might need to make the most of a cosy day indoors this weekend and get cracking on those tasks...however, at least I can relax knowing that all Christmas gifts for family in Australia have been purchased, made, wrapped and posted...

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Managing paperwork at the point of entry...

Today I'm sharing one of my solutions to managing the influx of paperwork that is part and parcel of any household - organising paperwork is one of the tasks on the 30-day simplification project (Day 6 = 10 tasks completed).
I haven't gone to digital records, and so still keep and file important papers e.g bank statements, pay slips, household utility/insurance papers etc. I actually have to keep greater numbers of these than would normally be the case in terms of having sufficient proof for visa and residency applications in the UK.
My habit has been to open mail when I get in each evening, and then place in a pile all of the papers that need filing. This pile starts in the kitchen (where I open the mail), and then gets shifted to the dining table where it continues to build up until such time as I bite the bullet and get filing.
I am intending to streamline the filing process so that I tackle it more regularly, but in the meantime I have set up a mail sorting area in the corner of my kitchen. I also decided if I made it pretty as well as functional, then I'd be more likely to make sure it was used properly. So, I bought myself a lovely little wooden/metal vintage-looking tray to tidily hold the papers that are awaiting filing. I also made myself a linen-covered bulletin board which I've attached to the wall above the tray to hold bits and pieces of information/pictures that I want more ready access to, rather than being filed away. The lovely linen, white grosgrain ribbon and upholstery tacks were all purchased via ebay, and I picked up a cheap corkboard at my local homebase - all in all, I think it cost me about £12, with the majority of that being the cost of the fabric (of which there is still a good amount left which can be put to use for other projects).
Yes, I still need to get around to the actual filing, but at least it is looking pretty and organised while in this temporary holding stage...

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Developing an infatuation for red transferware...

Pinned Image

Blue is my favourite colour - it has been for many years, and I think it always will be. There are always elements of blue in my wardrobe and my home furnishings.

But, I've been developing a bit of an infatuation for red transferware. Not that I'm relinquishing my love of blue (including some lovely spode pieces I have in storage), but the pretty pinks are appealing to me of late.

Pinned Image
Pinned Image
Pinned Image

And it seems particularly relevant as my thoughts turn towards the festive season...
Pinned Image
Pinned Image

Anyone else sharing a love for transferware?

Monday, 14 November 2011

Simplification progress report...

The 30-day simplification project is underway. It is technically day 3, and I have 5 tasks ticked off the list.
One of those tasks that I had been procrastinating over was completing the cull of my wardrobe. I had started a clear out two weeks ago, but had made little progress since then. Late Saturday afternoon saw the contents of the wardrobe emptied onto the bed, and the inside completely cleaned (I have to admit to being ashamed to how much dust had accumulated inside - I think this is an activity that needs to be done more than once per year!). However, if a pair of shoes was covered with dust it was at least a good indicator that they were not being worn often (if at all!!). I do have to own up to the fact that I now get quite a bit of enjoyment opening the wardrobe door and seeing the nicely organised clothes hanging there.
I was reading Simone's blog over at The Bottom of the Ironing Basket today. Simone is blogging this month on the concept of wellness - there are some great posts that I'd encourage you to look at. Her post today was around the essential activities that she tries to build into her life to maintain wellness - but also some of the challenges to maintaining these consistently.
Simone's post made me reflect on one of the reasons for my 30 day simplification project - in great part, it is about simplifying my living space so that it feels more calm, less cluttered...when you live in a small space with limited storage, it can begin to look messy very quickly. But after reading Simone's comments, I started to think about how the concept of calmness and order actually brings about my own sense of well-being. If things are calm, organised and in control, then I too feel calm, settled and at ease. If the pile of papers for filing is threatening to topple over, the unfinished craft projects are piling up, and there is a pile of things awaiting a trip to the recycling centre, then I too feel discordant and at a loss of where to start - which has a direct impact on my sense of ease and well-being.
So, there is some extra motivation in getting though my 30 tasks - yes, it is helping me complete all of the big and small outstanding tasks that have been building up at home (and there is quite a bit of satisfaction at ticking things off the list), but as I complete each task I can all feel a slight lessening of my 'perceived load' and a move towards a way of living that is simpler, easier to maintain, and improves my sense of wellbeing.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

30 day simplification project...

My home decluttering project started off at a reasonable pace with the culling of the bookshelves in the sitting room and an initial cull of my wardrobe. Unfortunately, since then, the term 'snail pace' may be more truthful.
So, the 30-day simplification project has been born. I spent some time today listing all of the remaining projects that I need to do in order to get this small home in order before the Christmas season gets into full swing - and so I can enjoy putting up some decorations without working around bags of clothes waiting to be taken to the charity shop, the broken dvd player that needs to go to the recycling centre, and the pile of items awaiting mending/alteration before they earn a place back in my wardrobe.
This project came about directly from the inspiration derived from Rachel Meek's blog small notebook. So many useful tips and anecdotes about simplification, organisation, storage and much more. I particularly liked the fact that Rachel and her family were proponents of apartment living for many years, so she completely understands the reality of 'limited storage' - I'm hoping that I too can get past the fact that I lack loft space, garage space, or even a spare room to manage my acquired household paraphernalia, and make better use of the storage that I have.
To make the simplification project 'simple', I've managed to devise a list of 30 tasks/activities that need doing (and yes, I was actually procrastinating from starting the project by making a 30-item list complete with tick-boxes!). Some are small and should only take a short time - some are more daunting and may require a couple of days to complete. For example, I somewhat rashly decided to make several Christmas gifts this year - what seemed a good idea in August, has now come to seem slightly more daunting in terms of getting the items completed in time for international posting.  So, I'm hoping that the average of one task per day may see me arriving mid-December with a clear plate and no more a 'to-do' list...or at least one that doesn't involve tidying/culling/decluttering!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The day to day...

...has managed to get in the way of this blog over the past week or so. Or, to be more truthful, my ingrained habit of procrastination has been making itself felt, and the activities that I have been planning to do keep being postponed in lieu of more 'important' tasks (...hmm, that might involve lying on the sofa reading a book...)
But, some things have been happening in this little corner of London...
The great bookshelves purge is almost complete. Four large bags of books have now been donated to my local Oxfam book shop. The bookshelves are looking better but not as uncluttered as I would like. I was hoping to free up some space by moving the ten or so lever arch folders containing PhD references into the hall storage cupboard, but have since discovered that their weight over the past few years has irretrievably distorted a few of the shelves on my IKEA billy bookcases. Given that I am not about to outlay money at this stage on new bookcases they are all contained on the bottom shelf doing an admirable job of actually holding up the shelf above!
The smocked baby dress is now complete - just as well the anticipated arrival is late!

And finally,
Completely unseasonal, and unfortunately not strongly fragrant, but a welcome change from my usual weekly supermarket flower purchase of white roses...

Monday, 31 October 2011

Early evenings...

The clocks went back here yesterday, so the time of year has come when the evenings close in ever more quickly...and I have begun contemplating some small decorating changes in my sitting room.

Given that the seasonal changes are minimal in Australia, changing decor and soft-furnishings based on the season wasn't part of my childhood. Here in the northern hemisphere however, it seems much more pertinant - the need to feel that cozy welcome as you walk in the door from the cold, dark evening.

Whilst there are a limited options as to what one can do when a) on a budget, b) restricted by space and c) living in a rental, I'm currently toying with a few ideas....

The image above is from Trina's gorgeous home as featured on her blog A Country Farmhouse. I love so many things about this - the traditional style of the sofa and chairs, the beautiful polished boards, the light streaming in the window... But, in my current musings, what I take most from this picture is that a room need not necessarily be cluttered with furniture and soft furnishings for it to feel cozy.

So, I'm planning on swapping a few cushion covers (making one from an old jumper of mine and thinking about other embellishments), and perhaps adding a different throw to increase the sense of warmth.
Mohair Blankets
soft furnishings
Image via pinterest

...and of course, completing the decluttering project so that the space feels much more calm and cozy...

Saturday, 29 October 2011

It is a truth universally acknowledged...

sillhouettte.gif (9485 bytes)
Image via

...that the viewing of too many Jane Austen-related films and adaptations may begin to influence one's wardrobe choices...

Austen is my favourite author, and equally, I love nothing better than watching a tv/film adaptation of her work - not purely for the wit of her stories, but also for the fashion.

Gywneth Paltrow as Emma (image)
Who can go past Jennifer Elhe and Colin Firth as
Elizabeth and Darcy (image)
Kate Winslet and Greg wise as Marianne and Willoughby
Romola Garai as Emma (image)
Romola again with Johnny Lee Miller as Mr Knightly (image)

I mean really, who has never imagined themselves in a regency gown being courted by Messers Darcy, Knightly, Brandon, and Tilney??? (...or perhaps I'm over-sharing here?)

My love of regency fashion came to fruition several years ago when I attended a costume ball in Bath during the Jane Austen festival. Below is the gown that I created using a Sense and Sensibility pattern...

This seemed to allay my Austen fashion tendancies for a few years. However, a few weekends ago I was beguiled by the gorgeous burst of late summer weather and some fabric that I had been saving to make a casual summer dress using the same pattern...
 I made a few concessions for modern day wear, replacing the back button placket with a side zip, and reducing the gathers across the back to a few simple pleats... there we have a new addition to my summer wardrobe (and another unfinished item ticked off the list).

So far, despite my Sunday night viewing of Downton Abbey, I've yet to come up with an idea of adapting an Edwardian dress pattern - Any suggestions...