Monday, 26 January 2015

Papercutting

Today I'm attending an art group where I will be tutoring adults on various arts and crafts.  Interestingly, the classes are to be themed around Commonwealth countries, thus making the choice of crafts a little more challenging!

I figured, seeing as I've never tutored an art class before, that I should start with something I know, so I decided to wade in with papercutting.

Papercuts are an older form of art and can be found in various interpretations all over the world, from China, to India, to England.  The oldest surviving paper cut is from 6th century China, and look a bit like this:


The ready availability of materials needed to papercut is probably the things which has made it so successful as a craft.  Almost anyone can pick up a scalpel, or other papercutting tool (they can be very fancy these days), and a piece of paper and get cutting.

It's very therapeutic too.

I began papercutting after stumbling across a very talented papercutter in one of my craft magazines one day. Paper Panda (or Louise Firchau) is a papercutter based in England who has created her own franchise of papercutting designs based on her own drawings and characters.

The work she does varies from lettering (a favourite of hers), to intricate work detailing houses (including ALL the rooms!), story pieces featuring her now famous bunny and bird characters, as well as some rather cheeky sweary word work.  I don't want to pinch any of her photos to stick up to show you (although I wish I could) because that's a bit naughty, so I'll leave this LINK here instead for you to look at.  You won't be disappointed!

Although, here's a papercut I did all by myself from one of her Paper Panda  template packs which is downloadable and you can keep forever! Great for practicing and making birthday cards out of!

Not bad for a first try, huh?

After reading her blog and having a nosey through the photos on her facebook page, I decided I would give papercutting a try - after all, all I needed was a knife, a cutting mat, some paper and some patience.

I've really enjoyed papercutting - it's a great wee craft which you can be as good at or as bad at as you like!  For those who are not so confident at it, there are various templates which you can download for free and print off, or if you're looking for some more intricate projects, some even sell their own designs for you to try.  Take a look on Pinterest, Etsy etc for inspiration.

One of my freehand papercuts
If you like drawing , you can even draw your own designs - but beware!  You have to think and draw back to front so that when you cut around the lines, you can flip it over to hide the pencil marks.  This is admittedly quite tricky to do! Alternatively, you can scan any front-facing drawing and, provided you have the correct software on your computer, you can easily flip the image and then print it out.

My favourite thing to do is a bit of freehand with a bit of light pencil thrown in.  I've done more than a few papercuts this way and quite enjoy it because it means I can change the image as I go (I am such a butterfly when it comes to these things.  I can never stick with a plan!




Here are a few tips for successful papercutting

Freehand xmas design
  1. Don't panic if you can't get it right first time. It can be really hard to get the hang of tension, pressure and the actual cutting blade.  Try sitting with different kinds of card or paper and cutting out freehand shapes for practice.
  2. Start with something easy. It might be something that looks so simple that it almost looks too easy, but you need to build up to cutting out tiny detailed shapes. You'll get much more gratification from it if you start slowly.
  3. Change your blade often.  The sharper the blade, the better and smoother the cut - and the more likely you'll be able to cut the tiny details
  4. Take it slowly. There's no rush! Papercutting should be something you can concentrate on but enjoy. If you are getting frustrated, stop.
  5. Cut away from your hand! These are sharp, sharp scalpel blades and it's very easy to accidentally stab a finger - and whatever you do, watch your face! You have no idea how many times I've gone to itch my face or my nose with the scalpel in my hand!

It's great fun - why not give it a try? What's your favourite found craft?

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Degu Days

Hey, did I tell you all about my new love affair?

No?

Wow, I've been really lax lately.


Meet the boys!  These handsome chaps are Brewster and Whiskers and they are Degus.

Degus are Chilean rodents which are derived from the same family as Chinchillas and Guinea Pigs.

And they are really cool animals.

Did you know they have orange teeth and UV reflective fur?

AND they are fibrevores, meaning the feast purely on dried grasses, flowers and roots.  They are also diurnal, meaning the sleep at night and wake during the day.

Highly sociable and very clever and inquisitive, these guys make awesome pets.

We're having a fab time with them and have learned loads about these complex and interesting animals.

They snuggle up together for a wee nap, they build amazingly complicated nests and keeping them entertained is a daily task which proves challenging as fun, as they bond with us, and us with them.

I'm really chuffed with our new friends.

Want to know more about degus?  Check out degutopia or octogondegus for more information



Saturday, 24 January 2015

Pregnant Drinks

So, I'm now 18 weeks pregnant.  I've finally reached that glorious middle ground where I no longer have crazy hunger/simultaneous food aversions and somehow (most days) I feel replenished with the energy which has evaded me these last  few months.

My appetite has come back with a bang - and although I'm currently (guiltily) restocking on much-missed carbs and other food groups, I'm also back to some kind of routine, meaning I'm not in bed by 7.30p.m each night (hello T.V catch up!)

Thus I am able to once again work as hard as I ever have and, when the chance occurs, sit down and relax, enjoying my evening with my favourite snacks and drinks.

Except, I can of course no longer settle in front of House with a beer, or sneak a wee cheeky glass of wine while soaking in the bath with a good book.

I do love a drink.

Having worked in various bars over the years, I've got a pretty wide palette when it comes to alcohol and I do enjoy certain drinks based on season or mood.

Summer? A nice cold wine spritzer or cold raspberry cider.

Winter? A hearty Guinness, or a nice smooth Merlot.

Christmas time? Baileys, mulled wine or schnapps.

Party time? Tequila! Morgans and coke or a speciality bottled beer.

I love a malt whisky, I take great delight in supping a freshly brewed local ale and I know my way around a wine cellar.

Unfortunately, being pregnant kind of scuppers the joy a little.

Sure, over Christmas and even my birthday, I was unusually not bothered about drinking.  All day morning sickness kind of just makes you grateful for the small things in life, like super-cold fresh orange juice and ice cubes.

Over the last few weeks, I've started to be jealous of Dave when he cracks open a 'real' beer on a weekend.  True, he doesn't do it often, but my pregnant nose can discern the difference instantly; the oaky, hoppy notes of the beer, the alcohol, the sweetness of it just teases me like nothing else.

The bottles of Prosecco we were gifted for Christmas sit on the side, winking at me  with their cheeky wee corks cages poking out from the black foil binding.

There's nothing quite like a hearty glass or two of chilled Prosecco of an evening, if you are so lucky.

In a bid to find some kind of satisfying replacement, I've tried to adapt my tasting skills to the vast array of non-alcoholic alternatives available.

I'm determined to find joy elsewhere; after all there are so many amazing fruity blends out there just now, and certainly more than when I was last pregnant.

Have I been satisfied?  Well, I have to say, I've been pleasantly surprised.  There's a lot of rather lovely alternatives out there which I could happily relax with after hours (or before hours!), pregnant or not.

Here's a few I've tried.


BECKS BLUE, ALCOHOL FREE


Coming in at around the £3.50 mark for 6 standard-sized bottles, Becks Blue is a nice, cheap alternative to your generic lager.  If you like Becks normally, you might be so inclined to like this too.  In fact, I think I like it a wee bit better than Becks.  There's something about the alcohol Becks which can make it quite a tough drink if you're not in the mood for it.  I used to drink it as a student, but as my taste buds developed, I got more of a taste for the richer, smoother lagers, like Kronenbourg. Becks Blue is good - I would go as far as to say it's a wee bit moreish if it's cold enough.  It doesn't dry you out, nor does it feel too heavy.  I find this one makes a real week-night treat.

BITBURGER 0.0%


This beer made me so, so sad.  Dave and I had gone out for an amazing anniversary meal at the fabulous Rancho Pancho in Dundee (the best Mexican restaurant ever!) and once again, as chief driver, and this time, chief PREGNANT driver, I sat surrounded by the finest Tequilas and most amazing Mexican beers, lagers and cocktails going, while promising myself of an epic night of drinking at the Rancho soon. 

*sigh*

All was not lost, however.  Despite being amazingly busy (on the first Monday night after New Year, no less) and despite not listing any non-alcoholic cocktails on their drinks menu, when asked, the lovely (and very pressed for time) waitress made me a gorgeous peach and strawberry slushy cocktail which easily rivaled whatever else was on the menu. It was a real treat. Dave of course could and did tuck into a rather tasty Mexican lager, which was honestly delicious (yes I'm allowed to taste - I'm not a total martyr!), although the name escapes me just now (and they've changed the online menu so you can't see their lagers), all I know it was not Dos Equis, but a very similar tasting cerveza,  which was super easy on the palate and really refreshing.

Sadly, our sojourn at Rancho was over too quickly, and we were faced with the same dilemma which faces us ever anniversary (damn you, January wedding!) - a real lack of any open bars where we could settle for a drink.  Plus, we live quite far from town centre now and being knackered and elderly, we decided to choose a premises closer to home.

Our local of choice, like many others, took the opportunity on that quiet January night to have a bit of down time, thus we ended up in our local Chef & Brewer, The Bell Tree, which we thought was a safe bet on the quality front.

I have to say, we were sorely disappointed.  I'm not one to call a place usually on the standard of fare available, rather I usually just not mention it at all, but it's the first time for a while where we have left our drinks more than half finished.

Having been a bar person, I would always much rather take the issue to the bar at the time, but in this case, there was one bar person, it was a very quiet bar and it felt like more hassle than it was worth for a couple of drinks.  Dave had a rather flat, fousty-smelling Kronenbourg, and I ordered the only non-alcoholic beer available, which was the Bitburger.

The smell alone put me off. Bitburger has a distinctive hoppy smell to it, which I didn't find very pleasant and I think it was an odd one to have as an only choice for those who fancy a non-alcoholic beer.  It was a bit flat, a bit thick and left a smoky kind of aftertaste. I felt like it was chosen by someone who hadn't tasted it - like they simply wanted to fill the non-alcoholic gap in the bar.  After the stops that Rancho pulled to make me feel all special on the soft-drinks front, this was a sad, and kind of brutal alternative. 

A poor end to an otherwise fabulous night!


ERDINGER ALCOHOL FREE 0.5%



Right, stop the train!  This is a helluvanawesome drink. So awesome, apparently I just made up a new word to describe it. I first encountered the Erdinger Alcoholfrei on a night out while I was still completely off food and hadn't really told anyone my huge preggers secret yet.  In a bid to appear like I was drinking and to, er, throw others off the scent, I asked the bar staff at Drouthy Neebors what they could suggest on the alcohol-free front.  They had two different things to try, a nice wee bottle by Brewdog (more on that later) and the Erdinger.

Being a bit of an Erdinger lover, I was a bit worried about trying it out - after all the preggers/driving version is never as satisfying as the real thing, and plus, I was still feeling a bit dodgy: what if it put me off Erdinger completely?

Given the correct Erdinger glass to pour into (Erdinger glasses are coveted in the bar trade as for one, they are expensive and for another, Erdinger is a very special beer which only looks good in the long, tall, thin and beautiful Erdinger glass.  Which is why they end up in a lot of handbags, I guess.)  The way Erdinger pours, it's supposed to have a rather tall head, which just adds to the sexiness of the lager beer.  It's an almost creamy liquid which is golden in colour and never disappoints - I'm yet to be served a bad pint of this stuff.

The bottled alcoholfrei version also did not disappoint. In fact - it's pretty much a super drink.  Check out the blurb (I always read the blurb - I'm such a beer geek):

ERDINGER Alkoholfrei - The Refreshing Isotonic Recovery Drink.

ERDINGER Alkoholfrei is a refreshing isotonic recovery drink. It provides the body with essential vitamins such as folic acid and vitamin B12 which help reduce fatigue, promote energy-yielding metabolism and support the immune system. Just one bottle (0.5l) of ERDINGER Alkoholfrei is a daily contribution to a healthy nutrition.

ERDINGER Alkoholfrei is brewed under the strict Bavarian Purity Law, which means it is made from only highest quality, natural ingredients. Not alcohol free for the purpose of UK Food Law.
I mean - come on! Isotonic? Folic Acid? Reduces fatigue? Supports the immune system?

Hello!  This is THE drink to have while pregnant, no?

It was very tasty, very satisfying, and yes, I went back for more. It even poured with the head on it. I swear it even made me feel a little bit less sick, which is odd.  Maybe the blurb had psychosomatic effects?

Either way, this drink is a doozy, look out for it.  The only down side I suppose, is it can be quite pricey, even in the supermarkets, so it's definitely just a rare treat. It is to be savoured and enjoyed though - definitely not a middle of the road alternative, which is the most refreshing part about all this.  It's nice to feel special when you need to.

BREWDOG NANNY STATE

I think I love Brewdog.

I love them, because they bring so much character to their beers, ales and lagers, in a friendly tongue-in-cheek kind of way which I totally get.

The bottled stuff regularly appears in places like Aldi and  Lidl, where you can pick up a cheeky wee brew for a cheeky wee night at home cheap enough, while still pretending that you're young enough and cool enough to be hanging out round the new Brewdog bar (you know, if it wasn't for the damned kids needing to be babysat and having no babysitter and so on...chuh!)

The name alone of this wee beer raised a nod and smile of approval from me when I picked it up in my local supermarket.  I'm sure the good folks at Brewdog didn't have us preggers beer fans in mind when they concocted this brew, but still, it resonated with me; at no other time in my life do I feel as nannied as when I am expecting.  There are so many rules - do this, don't do that, don't EVER try this - it becomes a fine balance between trying to live your life as comfortably as you can while adhering to the long, long list of advisory and statutory bits of advice, information and commands.

The  tasting notes are thus:

Big fruity up front and in your face aroma with a medley of ripe citrus, orange, sherbet lemon and lychee. Herbal and piny edges add a touch of balance. On the pallet the 100% of speciality malts work hard to balance out the barrage of Humulus lupulus we throw at this beer.  Amber and crystal malts add some biscuit sweetness which is quickly balanced and overcome with more fruity hop and resinous flavours and then these cleanse the palate and transcend into a long, refreshing and quinine bitter finish.

Which sums up why I do love Brewdog - they aren't sacrificing taste for lack of alcohol, which is very much appreciated.  A bit rougher than the old Erdinger, which is what I would expect, Nanny State hits the hoppy, tasty spot. Perfect when you want something a bit tastier than lager, but a bit cheaper than Erdinger. Yum!

SCHLOER


Sometimes you just want wine.

I'm not saying Schloer is going to do it for you, but it's a pretty great alternative.  I honestly believe, having tried and tested many 'juice' products in the same guise, that Schloer still holds the crown as far as a wine alternative goes.  It's sweet, it's moreish, it's fizzy and best of all, if you really are looking to fool your friends at the beginning of pregnancy into thinking you are still drinking, the colour and character of this stuff really does the trick (just make sure you hide the bottle - brown paper bag for authenticity?)

What's more, special occasion? Don't feel like you are missing out - you can still enjoy the same old rigmaroll of popping a cork and pouring some fizz.  Yep, Schloer have certainly tapped into the whole pregnant lady needs a drink thing, and have produced a rather special looking Bubbly version in pink and white, which isn't too expensive at all for a special occasion drink.


Not bad, eh? I bought these for Christmas, determined not to miss out on the drinky fun. By that point though, I had been drinking a bottle every weekend (to myself!  You can't do that with fizzy wine!  Well - you can, but not without an epic hangover) and thus I think it had lost its appeal by then.  But I do still enjoy it.  It's just that I would enjoy a dry Frixienet Brut or glass of Prosecco a wee bit more. I find Schloer a bit sweet sometimes, especially as my normal wine tipple would be dry, but I am extremely happy to pull this out as an alternative. In fact, I have pulled it out in wine glasses for appreciative visiting drivers who also enjoy feeling like they've had a specialdrink without having a special drink, so job done, Schloer! Good work!


Well, I've yammered on enough now, so I suppose I'll stop there.  I realise there's a whole world of stuff yet to try, but these are the only ones I have seen available - and trust me, I've been looking!  I'm still quite surprised at the recent surge in low/non alcoholic beverages available now, which is a welcome change. The last time I was pregnant, I was literally limited to Schloer and Kaliber.  It's really great to see some breweries taking the initiative to produce some viable and tasty alternatives.

Have you had any really tasty non-alcoholic beers/wines/ciders?  I'd love to hear any suggestions!


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Preggers, health, dreams and visions...

Turns out I'm not so good at blogging while pregnant.

I'm at 17 weeks now (nearly 18) and have had every malady, one after another, for what feels like the last 4 months.

It started with the crucifying morning sickness (all day sickness), tailed by never ending exhaustion for weeks.   When I wasn't desperately seeking out which food I could actually eat without wanting to throw it back up again, I was trying not to fall asleep while being asked to 'pway, mummy! Pweeeze pway wif me!'

Then came a horrid cold which made me feel awful, right on top of the sickness bug which both kids had been off school and nursery with (there's nothing worse than looking after sick kids while feeling sub-human). They got better and then I got floored. Excellent.

Cue a rough xmas season, which was actually quite nice, but again, still plagued with morning sickness and food aversions, a really awesome stomach bug which nearly destroyed me and finally, I am at the moment working my way through what started as a lovely fuzzy headcold, which has fabulously moved down into my chest, leaving me with the inability to take any kind of deep breath without hacking up a lung and waking up every morning with the world's most awesome dehydration/sinus headaches.

It's been a jolly old time.

In between of course, I've been spending my time freaking about the potential harm this could all be doing not to me (oh no) but to the small, growing foetus inside of me. The internet is not a great place to go to when you are looking for answers.  Chances are, that worst case scenario in your head, if you Google hard enough, will crop up and you will convince yourself that the worst has happened...oooh...99% of the time. And I am nothing if not a researcher.

Over the last 14 weeks or so I've internet diagnosed myself with LOTS of things.  I should really learn to just walk away from Google...

It's been an okay time apart from that. I feel really happy (if a bit hesitant about it all - I'm the world's best worrier and will worry until the baby is at least 42) and finally, it seems that all of our shit is coming together.

Dave has a nice new job, the kids are happy and healthy, and we are finally looking for a forever home of our own.

So when I'm hacking up more phlegm, trying my best not to freak out over whether that might be the baby moving or not, or struggling against yet another tide of exhaustion, I'm trying to stay in my happy vision of opening the door on my own back garden, letting the boys out to play while I shoogle a wee baby.

Oh please, let that happen!

Everything crossed. And completely no Googling!