Friday, 15 July 2016

My Joyful Things

I started Parcels of Joy as a way to pass on my excess baking, but the more parcels I make the more I find myself wanting to pick up things here and there to add to the parcels. I know most of the participants like books and lots of people have book wishlists in their sign ups, but the more I do the more I want to know about other things you like so I can add and make more little bits and bobs for people. I so love this project, and I love how circumstance seems to conspire to deliver parcels to people when they need them most. Because of the vastness of the world, a lot of my baking isn't practical to send abroad, particularly in certain months, and so for those participants outside of the UK especially I'd love to know a little more about what you like!

I'd love it if you'd write a blog post and let me have the link, or send me an email (either to keep private or to be published here if you don't have your own blog but want other participants to know a little more about you!) and I though I'd go first to give an idea of the kind of thing that I mean!

All About Me

Here goes... I'm an English and Creative Writing graduate specialising in fairytales and feminism (I did my dissertation on Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber) but I don't really write anymore,although I wish I did. I love baking and growing stuff in my garden, particularly fruit and veg. I dream of owning chickens and bees and think self - sufficiency is an excellent goal, although I'm not sure I could keep up the amount of work involved! I adore penguins, dolphins and think wildlife parks are excellent. I'm obsessed with Gilmore Girls, Friends, Grimm, and Smash and have just got Netflix, so I'd love recommendations of stuff to watch! I knit slightly obsessively but have a chronic problem with unfinished projects and basically live surrounded by bags of yarn. I own my own business making knitted stuff, although it's been stagnant for a while since I decided to stop making traditional toys due to all the safety hoops you have to jump through! I have two young sons and they love anything to do with water, sand or making a mess! They also love going for walks, exploring nature, the seaside (which we live near) and Duplo. We pretty much live at the library. Playgrounds are excellent, as is splashing in puddles. I like to lay in the grass and make grass angels. Whenever we've been out in the rain we have to have hot chocolate. We have about six different types in our cupboards. I have a giant window seat box full of board games, the best of which is probably the Ankh-Morpork board game. We collect different editions of Monopoly - my favourite that we own is Muppets Monopoly but we also have the Make Your Own one that we have yet to do. I love playing cards but always leave so long between doing it that I forget how to play things. We love having random adventures and often just get in the car and start driving with no idea where we're going. I love trying new foods and particularly stuff that's local to the place I'm visiting. I'm a total history geek and am so excited that we were given membership to English Heritage this year, which means we've been visiting allll the castles. I really love learning stuff about the world and get super excited when my kids do too! I play piano, although I don't get to practice much anymore, but we do have a piano and I wish I got to play more. I also play guitar and sing. I have a husband who loves football and is a classically trained singer. We both love the theatre, and musicals in particular and see as many as we can. I'm an ex-Londoner but love the countryside. Camping is fantastic and Devon is my spiritual home.

And now everyone knows everything they could possibly wish to about me, right?

If you do write your own 'get to know me' post then feel free to leave the link in the comments here or email it to me or add it to the shared spreadsheet! If you're not part of the project yet but want to be you can sign up here

Monday, 23 May 2016

Monday Happy Things #4: Baths

When I was at university I had a job which only ended up lasting one day and it was (and still is) one of the worst days of my life. The job was horrible in ever single sense of the word - physically demanding, belittling and triggering every single one of my anxieties. When they let me leave for the day I walked the mile and half home in tears, and then I got home and ran myself a super deep, super hot bubble bath and sat in it until the water went cold. It was the first time I really remember having a bath for the purposes of relaxation rather than cleanliness, and it had such amazing effects that I've never stopped using it as that.

Now I have kids I love baths even more, mostly because they afford me a space where I can be alone with my book and have nobody disturb me for an hour, but also because they're a place to just breathe. They help you relax, sleep better, improve circulation, and relax your muscles after exercise, what's not to love? There's nothing like a bath to help you feel refreshed. I tend to take a long bath and then use body and face scrub and moisturiser and feel awesome. Also, baths (even bubble ones) are not 'girly'. There's nothing gender specific about nice smells, relaxation, and good hygiene.

Personally I love bubble bath and scents in my baths. Lush is my current favourite - I've been in love with their bath bombs for a long time, but they have bubble bath bars that I've only just discovered which are awesome as well. I also love the idea of making my own bath products, although I have yet to try any, but I do subscribe to the idea that essential oils can make a lot of difference to your mood, and you can check out this article for some ideas on which oils to use for which issue.

Just in case you've never done it, here's my handy how-to of taking a bath:

How to Take a Bath
* Turn on the taps - adjust the water to the temperature you want your bath to be.
* If you want bubbles, run bubble bath or put a bath bomb or bath melt under the running tap, or add bath oil or essential oils.
* Let the water run until it's as deep as you want it, remembering it will rise once you're in it!
* Light candles if you're so inclined, play music, pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of tea. Bring your book.
* Get in the bath. Relax.

The end.

Some places to try for great bath related stuff:

Lush - for bath bombs, bath melts, bath oils, face and body scrub and moisturiser. All fresh and gorgeous. Highly recommend their Ocean Salt face and body scrub and the Rainbow bubble bar but try anything really, you can't go wrong!

Boots (or other chemists/ supermarkets) - for bubble bath, particularly Radox which is my favourite. Their muscle soak is pretty great.

Etsy - as always. This links to the result of me searching for 'bath stuff'. Knock yourselves out.

DIY Bath Bombs

10 Fun DIY Bath Ideas

DIY Lavendar Lotion Bars

Do you have any great bath tips or products I should try? Do you already love baths, hate them? Let me know!

Want to contribute your own happy thing to be featured on a future Monday? Fill in the form!

Monday, 16 May 2016

Monday Happy Things #3: Guitar

Another Monday, another happy thing, and this week the thing that's been making me happy is my guitar. I don't play enough anymore but it used to be the thing I'd pull out every time I was a little sad, ecstatically happy or just needed some time alone to think. If you've never played guitar I'd really really urge you to try. If you're in the UK you can often pick them up really cheap in charity shops and new strings don't cost the earth. Once your fingers get used to the strings sitting alone or with friends and playing some favourite songs can be an awesome way to pass summer days.

Above is an example of what can be achieved when you become an awesome guitarist, but all you need is A,E and D chords and you can play a whole load of songs including these 12 NME want to tell you about. Learn them now, go on, you know you want to. Then you can spend your week playing Wild Thing and annoying everyone you know!


Some excellent website to try for guitar tab and chords to some favourite songs are: Ultimate Guitar, GuitareTab and Songsterr. If you have any recommendations related to guitar playing please leave them in the comments, and let me know if you do have a go!

Happy Monday!

Monday, 9 May 2016

Happy Things #2: Cheese Straws!

Happy Monday everyone and welcome to Monday Happy Things, your weekly boost of happiness courtesy of me!

This week something really simple has been making me super happy. You probably don't know this but I am an absolutely giant fan of cheese. I'm also a big fan of Hugh Fearnley - Whittingstall and have many of his cookbooks. I recently came across this recipe for cheese straws from The River Cottage Family Cook Book and it is literally the best thing ever. They're super simple, super fast to make and so yummy you'll have to make double quantities or they'll only last five minutes. We made them this week and ate every single one for lunch....

If you're dairy intolerant then I can understand how these wouldn't be a happy thing for you, but I'm going to call on my dairy and gluten free sister to attempt to make a gluten & dairy free version with sheep or goat's cheese and I'll update you on how that goes...

Here's the recipe. Give them a go, and thank me later!

I know, food photography is my absolutely speciality. I'm great at it...

Cheese Straws 
(from The River Cottage Family Cook Book by Hugh Fearnley - Whittingstall & Fizz Carr)

Makes 24 or so:
Mature Cheddar cheese, or a mix of cheddar and parmesan (or whatever strong hard cheese you want to use) 150g
Plain flour, 100g
Cayenne pepper (if you want, I left this out and just used black pepper)
Butter, 100g
Egg yolk
Black pepper

  • Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas Mark 7. Grease a baking sheet & cover with baking parchment
  • Grate the cheese into a mixing bowl. Add flour, cayenne (if using) and black pepper. 
  • Cut butter into cubes and rub it into the mixture with your fingers, pastry style. When the butter has almost disappeared into the flour and the mixture is crumbly, stir in the egg yolk with a butter knife. 
  • Gather the pastry into a ball (it should come together very easily). Dust the work surface with flour. Roll out the dough into a rough square about 5mm thick. 
  • With a sharp knife, cut the square into strips, then each strip into fingers. Lift them onto the lined baking sheet leaving a little space between each one. 
  • Put the baking sheet in the oven for about 8 minutes but check after 5 or 6 as oven temperatures vary. They should be very pale golden brown. Leave them to sit for 5 minutes after they come out as they are very fragile, then carefully transfer them to a cooling rack. 
Eat all of them. Immediately. Or, you know, show some restraint and just have one... 

Have a great week everyone! I'll be back next week with another happy thing, and if you have one of your own you'd like me to feature in a future post be sure to fill in the form and let me know!

Monday, 2 May 2016


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Happy Things #1: Happier with Gretchen Rubin

Hi everyone! Mondays are hard, right? So in an attempt to liven up the week I'm going to feature something happy on this blog each Monday! This could be anything - another happiness project, a great book I've read, something one of you loves (submit your happy things for future features here), anything, but first up I'm bringing it all back to the lady who got me thinking about happiness in the first place.

Image credit

Many of you will probably have heard of and even read The Happiness Project or Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, and I hope that you've also had the pleasure of listening to her podcast, Happier which she hosts with her sister, Elizabeth Craft. I love this podcast so much. It's short - usually 30 minutes or so, and Gretchen and Elizabeth talk about all sorts of happiness related things. The thing I particularly like and have benefited from is their 'try this at home' idea, where each week they give listeners a simple thing to try which they think could boost your happiness. My very favourite of these was from episode 1 or 2 of the show I think and is the One Minute Rule. Basically if it can be done in a minute or less I just do it and you honestly wouldn't believe how much that's affected my stress levels, it's brilliant.

Have you listened to Happier? Got any other great happiness related book or podcast recommendations for me? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Submit a happy thing of your own here.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Parcels of Joy: An international Happiness Project

Parcels of Joy is a concept that I came up with while once again baking waaaay too much for my family to actually eat. While I often send spontaneous gifts for no reason to family and friends I decided it would be cool if I were able to do that for people that I knew online and in the book blogging community as well, and even better if I had a database with people's details so I could do it without having to alert them that I was sending something. That way it could be just a brilliant surprise when they received an unexpected parcel of goodies in the post!

I launched the project on my blog at the end of January and have had massive response since then. Besides myself there are lots of other people who are sending brilliant parcels to each others - stranger and people who already knew each other - and it's been fantastic to see the response on twitter and Instagram!

I am already inspired by this project so I wanted to give it a space of its own in order for it to be able to grow and so that it didn't get sidelined with all my other projects. Now that I have this space for it it's easier to direct people to information and where they can sign up to be involved.

This is a no commitment project. I send occasional emails to participants but there is no pressure to send things - you can sign up just to receive or to send stuff as well - and no commitment for how regularly you send stuff. Personally I try to send a couple of things domestically per month and at least one international parcel, but it's absolutely what you can afford and what you have to send that month!

Parcels can include baked goods, homemade sweets, things you've made (sewn,knitted,crocheted, whatever), books (there is an option to add your book wishlist to the sign up), tea, or anything else lovely you think someone might like. They can be literally just a little box of cookies or they can be (like a brilliant one I received) tea, sweets, chocolate and stationery. It doesn't matter because it is all about the joy. The point of the project is to bring a smile to someone's face by sending them something lovely and that is all.

If you are completely inspired by this idea then please feel free to sign up using the form here. Please note you will need to provide a blog or twitter link so that I can verify you're an actual person, but that's it!

If you'd like to help spread the word about the project please use #parcelsofjoy on social media, and if you'd like to feature the project on your blog or website then please email me.

I'd love this to be a collaborative space and plan to include inspiration via patterns and recipes in the future as well as inviting other participants to write guest posts and spotlighting other happiness projects. If you'd like to be involved in the blog please let me know in the comments or on twitter, I'd love the help!