Monday, 29 July 2013

Loving Lately....

Oh, how we needed a glorious summer in England!  The weather has turned slightly these last couple of days; it has still been muggy and sunshiny but with short thunderstorms and lashing rain every now and then.  But I'm loving every minute, I am.  

I am loving..... 
  • Filling jugs with huge, blowsy, peonies of the very palest pink.
Frilly peonies.
  • Taking lots of lovely, cool, showers and lathering up with zesty shower gels.
  • Sleeping beneath just a single, cotton, sheet. 
  • Having brown feet and living in sandals or flip flops.
  • Pottering in the kitchen with the doors flung open.... 
The kitchen stable door wide open, vainly trying to generate a breeze! 
  • ...whatever the weather... it's just so warm! 
Even the overcast days have been hot, hot, hot! 
  • Eating outdoors at every opportunity.
  • Letting my hair dry naturally.
  • Slowly chop, chop, chopping to make colourful salads for dinner.

  • Propping open doors and making the most of the evening breeze through the windows.
  • Watching my little dog find an occasional wind tunnel by the door (especially now the weather is gustier) then standing to enjoy it, wind blowing through her fur.   Too cute.
  • Listening to the radio outdoors on a little portable cat speaker given to me recently by  
Good little speaker; perfect for kids.  Cute and fun with surprisingly good sound for its size
(you can forgive the lack of bass).
  • Evening walks through the fields with husband and dog (and occasionally stepson) as the sun sets.  Chatting about nothing much and enjoying each others' company.
  • The blissful coolness of our stony (usually freezing) little living room downstairs.
  • Laundry drying on the line within the hour.
  • Fresh mint galore.  And lots of lemon.

It isn't all perfect, of course.  I'm not loving, for example: 
  • Being sweaty.  Having an even sweatier husband.
  • Noticing how dirty my windows are all of the time, because it's so sunny.
  • Ants, flies, wasps, moths and crane flies in the house.
  • Working in an air-conditioned office.  It's blinking freezing in there! 
  • Leaping about for the 30 Day Shred in a conservatory the temperature of a sauna (it's the only place we have room for star jumps in this tiny cottage of ours!) 
  • Melted chocolate bars.
  • Searingly hot leather car seats on bare legs. 
  • Having to wear 'sexy' flesh-coloured undies because light linen does not mix with white knicks.

Obviously, the pros of summer far outweigh the cons but you can bet your life I'll be excited for the autumn when it finally comes.  That's what I love about England: the change of the seasons. 

Have a great week! 



Monday, 22 July 2013

Guest Post: Oval Soul*

Sara Baillie is my kind of girl.  Obsessed with vintage patterns, prints and designs, she loves rummaging in bric-a-brac stores and antique fairs then revamping her finds.  When she asked if I would like to feature her gorgeous cushions on my blog, I took one look at her online shop and was immediately sold.  

Gorgeous, jewel-bright colours, with bold prints and stunning got-to-touch-them-trimmings, these cushions have a modern-vintage vibe and I am in love.

Sara is a freelance writer and lives in Birmingham with her husband Max and her adorable son, Dexter, who's 2.  She's an inspiring woman to know; she loves a good slab of homemade cakes and enjoys a bit of a dance round her living room from time to time.  However, despite being a working mother, with another baby on the way, she also manages to create beautiful home accessories which she sells alongside a few vintage goodies that she unearths on her travels.

Oval Soul was born when Sara was looking for cushions for her home that would add a bit of zing to a room; she wanted bright, on-trend patterns with beautiful trimmings.  Understated is not the Oval Soul way!  As well as fabulous design, Sara also wanted quality fabrics and materials and, like many of us, it was important to her that they be manufactured in the UK. 

It occurred to Sara that she couldn't be the only one struggling to find such items and having put together a few ideas, she created a selection of prototypes and started to sell them at craft fairs.  Unsurprisingly, they were very well-received and Sara was soon producing more and more to meet an increasing demand.  Very quickly, it became apparent that Sara's personal sewing machine wasn't going to keep up; especially as it was important to ensure consistency across the range.  

A small, local, manufacturing company just down the road from Sara makes the cushions now which makes Sara very happy.  Having grown up in Birmingham, surrounded by closed factories and failed industries, she likes the idea of a nice group of ladies at the factory sewing her cushions.  I love that Oval Soul is supporting the local textile industry and can confirm that those nice ladies at the factory are doing a stirling job!  The cushions are exceptionally well made and the beautiful trimmings that Sara selects are very sturdily attached (totally on my radar now following the disappointing shedding of pompoms from my gorgeous, but shoddily made, Cath Kidston tapestry cushion).  Sara uses fabrics and trimmings from UK companies and specially selected feather and fibre inserts also made here in the UK.  

Not only are the cushions bedecked with silky tassels or fluffy pompoms, they are also reversible.  A genius idea, Sara wanted to achieve two looks from one cushion.  The large floral prints are my favourite, but the three cushions I chose are backed with the most amazing geometric prints in contrasting colours and it's difficult to decide which side to show off! 

Bright yellow fabric, hot pink pompoms with a monochrome geometric pattern on the reverse.  Stunning.

Love this yellow geometric floral with peacock blue trim.  Swoon.

If you fancy treating yourself to a few new beauties, Sara has offered a generous 25% discount to my blog friends; just use the code HOMEBIRD25 at checkout.  My cushions are seriously gorgeous but you don't have to choose the same ones as me, you can switch trimmings, fabrics and colours.  Pop over and have a look.  You will also find napkins, tea towels, cards and a few one-off vintage items.  Let me know what you choose! 

Thank you, Sara, for affording me the opportunity to review your cushions and do let me know when gorgeous Dexter's little sister arrives!  :)



* for those of you wondering, Sara's brand name was inspired by a Sylvia Plath poem about balloons.

Follow Sara on both twitter and instagram 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Book Loving: Holiday Reads (part 1)

As well as picking out a crafty project or two for my holidays I love having the opportunity to choose my holiday reads.  This year I read six, quite different, books but first I'm going to tell you about the book I read just before our holiday:

I've read a few of Dorothy Koomson's books and am not a massive fan.  I picked up The Ice Cream Girls in Tesco purely because I'd heard of the TV series and was disappointed to have missed it (plus Tesco had their usual multi-buy offer).  

However, once I started reading this book I couldn't put it down.  I loved it and stayed up until the wee hours (on a school night!) to finish it.  Don't you just love it when that happens?! 

Disguised as chick-lit, this book is undeniably a thriller.  The story starts in the 80s and is about a creepy, slimy teacher who separately, and subtly, seduces two of his teenage students until they each find themselves in abusive, destructive relationships with him.  For both of the impressionable teenagers, this man is their first love, their first sexual relationship, and they relish his apparent adoration and attention.  Very soon, though, they see the man for what he really is and both girls become trapped in abusive, destructive relationships with him.  Neither of the girls knows about the other until, one day, he introduces them and, cruelly, plays them off against each other.  An horrific event occurs and the teacher is murdered; the reader is then left to work out what actually happened.  The tale flits enticingly from the past (the 80s) to the present day and we hear both sides of the story from each of the girls.  The plot is believable and the girls are likeable - growing up in the 80s, I can relate to them.  The teacher is one of those men that you love to hate - the subtlety and slow pace of his abuse is entirely believable.  I was surprised to enjoy this so much.  Don't write it off; I urge you to give it a whirl.

Laura's Handmade Life, by Amanda Addison

Knit and read at the same time, it's not all bad.

The type of book that you don't have to concentrate on AT ALL.  I finished this in an afternoon.  It was OK, not one I'd recommend but if you find your hands on a copy then you may as well read it.  Bit of a cliche, not especially likeable characters and you could see the fire coming a mile off. (Couldn't you?  Oops, sorry.)  I didn't love the 'alluring' ex at all and was constantly irritated by him.  I did love the stitching references, however, and the book allowed me to indulge in my personal fantasies of staying home in my pretty little cottage and stitching all day instead of doing my boring office job. 

More easy-reading but I loved the way this was written.  It was my favourite read of the holiday.  Unfussy writing with bohemian characters I could relate to and admire (Biba = dislike, Rex = love).  A cool and believable story about a summer with a group of people I'd have loved to spend time with myself.  Friendship, romance, mystery and nostalgia make this a fantastic read. Another intriguing murder story with a highly satisfactory ending. I very much enjoyed this book and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. 

Rich, over-sexed and obnoxious characters.  Loved it.

What's a holiday without a Jackie Collins novel?  The usual suspects appear in this book; billionaires, movie stars, supermodels, sports heros and the token gay boys.  This time, they all head out on an exclusive yacht for a luxury party to celebrate the supermodel's birthday and end up held hostage by a clan* of pirates (*unsure of the collective noun for pirates - must google it**).  Everyone's attractive.  They all have fantastic bodies; amusingly, they have either massive willies or huge boobs.  The characters have sex anywhere and everywhere.  There's a hot rough diamond of a man and a simpering politician who sounds like a right arse.  It's typical Jackie Collins and I loved it.  I especially loved reading the more explicit sections aloud to my [easily embarrased] husband, who couldn't believe the trash I was reading.  It made us laugh out loud.  Hugely entertaining and an absolute must-read.  Not one for the prudish but your grandma would secretly love it.

What have you read lately?  Anything I'd like?  Please let me know in the comments box below.



** Googled it; it's a crew of pirates. Or a mutiny.  Mutiny's my fave.

Launch of a Weekly Feature: Book Loving

I read.  A lot.  I finish at least a book at week; very often two books.  I'd choose a novel over the television in a heartbeat and I read, without fail, every single day.  

I have been reading like an addict since I was a teeny tot.  There were obsessions with Topsy & Tim, Enid Blyton, Little Grey Rabbit, Dodie Smith, Noel Straetfeild, Sweet Valley High and Virginia Andrews in my youth.  

From a very young age, mum bought me a book per week.  I'd choose one at the front of the supermarket and sit in the trolley (or later, walk around the store, bumping into random people and objects), nose buried in the pages, as Mum completed the boring task of our weekly food shop.

As a child, I enjoyed trips to the library more than any other shop, particularly as we walked through the recreation ground and stopped at the swing park on the way.  We lived in an historic market town and the 16th Century market house served as our library.  

The Market House.  The library was upstairs.
photo source:  wikipedia.  I wish someone had thought to remove the rubbish bags, pre-snap! 

I remember the building vividly.  I adored it, even at the age of 7 or 8.  I remember sunlight pouring through the large leaded windows, warming the room as I knelt on the polished oak floor and picked out a selection of beautiful hardback books.  I liked how quiet it was and I loved the heady, slightly fusty, smell of well-handled paper and ink.  I enjoyed watching the librarian hand-stamp my chosen books with the return date and would put each book carefully into my mum's cream string bag before dragging it home (I insisted on carrying it, even though it was enormous, mis-shapen and heavy).  Back home, I'd sit on the kitchen counter and read to my mum as she cooked dinner.  Brer Rabbit was my very favourite and I remember us laughing a lot over his antics.  Those were truly happy days. 


It's fiction I love best, although I relished every single one of Torey Hayden's books from her days as a child psychologist.  Nigel Slater's 'Toast' is an all-time favourite, too.  

 I love crime stories, thrillers and horrors. I have read and re-read many of the classics.  I read the occasional piece of erotic (grim word) fiction and I often pick out a regular old-fashioned, feel-good novel:  the Miss Read stories of Fairacre and Thrush Green are as cosy as a book can get.  The Persephone range of neglected female writers of our past is a new favourite discovery (love Dorothy Whipple) and I have devoured all of the Alexander McCall-Smith books about the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.  I'll read almost anything, if it is well-written and suits my current mood.  

I haven't mentioned 'chick lit' yet for a reason.  I hate the term 'chick lit'.  I think it's a derogatory expression and most often used, scathingly, by individuals who have an inflated sense of self-worth.  People who, actually, don't read very much at all.  I adore a bit of light-hearted modern fiction every now and then.  I find it easy to read, entertaining and - very often - amusing.  I agree that there are some dreadful examples but isn't that the case for every genre (don't get me started on James Patterson)?  As I have said already, my pre-requisite for a book is that it must be well-written and suit my current mood - Adele Parks, Jane Green, Lisa Jewell and Sophie Kinsella very often hit the spot .  


And so,  I am launching my first weekly feature, entitled, 'Book Loving'.  I'll share my thoughts on the book/s that I've read that week and would love you to tell me about the books you've read too.  I'm always happy to do a book swap, if you fancy.  Don't expect great long reviews from me - it'll be a paragraph or two about what the book's about and what I liked/disliked about it.

Let the book loving begin!