we interrupt our normal service …..

for a short personal rant.

I don’t know if you have seen this page on the net. I’m sure if you haven’t yet it will soon turn up in your inbox.   The Van Squigglebottoms

On first viewing, what a good idea. On second…. really? I feel I have a slight moral upper hand. My surname, which I willingly took when I married, is somewhat unusual and has the guffaw potential. Smellie is my name by marriage and not by birth but it is my name and it is not a joke. Okay there may not be any Van Squigglebottoms, but there are a whole load of people out there with “funny” names. They are our names and we are proud of them.

I appreciate what the couple are trying to do, but why choose a name that only promotes giggles? If they really want to make a point then what about taking a name that will make people sit up and notice. In the current political climate that could be an overtly Muslim name for example. Are they brave enough to take on a name that doesn’t make people laugh but may make people back off? I suspect not. In the meantime everyone has a good laugh over the Van Squigglebottoms and if there are any genuine Van Squigglebottoms out there they are probably rather bemused.

Good idea. Cheap trick. Sorry.


colours and shapes and things that go bump around the hips

I was due to have my “colours done” on Monday, for a variety of reasons Monday turned out not to be good for Alana or I so we have rescheduled for next week.  A few days is not a long time to wait since I first made contact with Alana way back in June.  I spent some time researching who I wanted to see and Alana hit all the boxes.  Unfortunately she was in Nova Scotia until September.  Aagh.  After all my research I wanted them done now.  But I wanted Alana to do them more so I waited.

Why was Alana different?  Have a look at her website and tell me what you think.  Dress Up Cycle.  Quite apart from the name, read the first sentance…. slow fashion. Not throw away high volume fashion.  Not quick make me feel better purchases that hide in the wardrobe.  Slow fashion like slow food appeals.  Fashion magazines have banged on about capsule wardrobes for decades, but they still promote the latest trends and must have items for your wardrobe several times a year.  Apparently one must have item is a pink coat.  Were I in the market for a coat I might consider pink, I have always preferred coats to be, like my handbags, a little distinctive and different.  The only black coat I have ever owned was ankle length, double breasted, fitted at the waist with a HUGE fake astrakan collar.  I wore it to death.  However, I am not in the market for a coat so why would I want to buy a pink one just because it is pretty and on trend.

SInce I did Project 333 I have been much more conscious about my clothes and what I wear.  I had always thought I was relatively discerning but as I filled bag after bag I realised that I had accumulated a load of clothes from skirts and dresses to shirts and cardigans that I liked the look of, but crucially, not on me.  By the time I had pared down my wardrobe I discovered that I wore a few types of clothes a lot, not only that they went together well, fitted my lifestyle were relatively multipurpose and were a capsule wardrobe.


  • Linen trousers in white, black and navy
  • leggings in black, navy and dark grey
  • Full circle skirts
  • straight skirts that come just above or just on the knee


  • plain cashmere jumpers (I have a bit of a thing for cashmere)
  • button back cardigan tops
  • plain white t shirts
  • matelot tee shirts
  • long white shirts
  • tunic tops
  • Long cardigans


  • Silk squares
  • wool (or preferably cashmere!) wraps/big scarves
  • Broaches
  • Big necklaces/pendants
  • Statement ring (one plus my wedding/engagement ring)


  • Shift, from cocktail to beach


I have plenty of jackets but apart from a few occasions I just don’t wear them, likewise jeans are worn only for gardening.  Fitted shirts, however smart never make it out of my wardrobe.  I went through a jersey wrap dress phase but I never felt comfortable so out they went too.

Even if you don’t stick to something like Project 333 forever, just trying it out for three or even six months gives you a valuable lesson in wardrobe and body awareness.  I have a much better idea of the kind of clothes I feel comfortable in.  I have some idea of the colours that suit me and now I can’t wait for Alana to give me her advice and then perhaps if Father Christmas is looking kindly upo me she may be able to come back next year and look at my wardrobe as well.




take 4 pints of full cream milk….

My apologies for my absence.  Life has been rather busy.  First my 50th birthday, then during the following week the Durham Shopping Extravaganza (of which I was chair this year) and my godmother’s 70th birthday followed by a trip down to Oxfordshire to celebrate my oldest friend’s (we were at prep school together 43 years ago) 50th birthday.  It has all been wonderful.  However, this week has mainly been spent filling and unfilling the washing machine, identifying strange objects in the fridge and reacquainting the dogs with the concept of a walk.

So today I am more or less up to date and contemplating my nice clean tidy kitchen I opted to muck it up rather than attend to any of the extremely dull jobs on my to do list.

How many things can you make out of 4 pints of full cream milk?  I am not including the carton (though I held a competition for that once and some of the entries were extremely entertaining.  Another post perhaps).

Mozarella.  I used this recipe, combined a little bit with the one from Cheesemaking made Easy by Ricki and Robert Carroll.  I don’t think I pulled it enough.  Actually I really didn’t pull it enough at all.  I need more practice (what a shame 🙂 )  However, I have some perfectly passable white cheesy stuff that is a teensy weensy bit like mozarella.

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I fear my friend Gio would weep if he saw it.  But he’s safely in London so that’s okay.

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Ricotta  Not a great deal, but enough for a little starter before supper this evening.  It is pretty straightforward to make.  See here.

The draining

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The finished product.

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Whey and lots of it.  Some of this will be used to make soft dinner rolls.  In fact, if we could eat enough rolls I would use it all for this as it really does make the most beautiful soft bread.  I’ll mix some in with the dogs supper tonight and the rest I will freeze for more rolls later on.  If you are swimming in whey there are some good ideas here too.

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I used to make lots of cheese and fell out of the habit when I was working.  There are only so many hours in a day after all.  There is something magical about watching the curds and whey separate, in fact I think that’s probably the main reason I make cheese at all.  I’ve yet to have a go at hard cheese, but I have a press now, so that may be the next project.

celebration part two

I went to a marvellous party
We played the most wonderful game
Maureen disappeared
And came back in a beard
And we all had to guess at her name
We talked about growing old gracefully
And Elsie who’s seventy-four
Said, “A, it’s a question of being sincere
And be, if you’re supple you’ve noting to fear
Then she swung upside down from a glass chandelier
I couldn’t have liked it more
With thanks to the equally wonderful Noel Coward
As far as I recall everybody left in the same gender in which they arrived and the chandeliers are still intact.  However it was a wonderful party and if I can hang upside down from a chandelier when I am seventy four I will be delighted (and eternally grateful to Noel and Laura my yoga teachers!)
The most wonderful thing about having a caterer (particularly one as supremely talented as Andy – really if you are looking for a caterer in the North East he is your go to man), is not only are you guaranteed fabulous food, but you don’t have the stress on the day of cooking it.  I love to cook, I love to give parties, dinner parties, lunch parties, supper parties, I have even given breakfast parties, I adored giving children’s parties; but sometimes it’s nice to have the day off.  As a result, instead of spending the day in the kitchen I could spend the day decorating and playing in the Barn.
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Work in progress.  Lavender and foliage from the garden.  I keep vast quantities of tartan ribbon which is used time after time.  My fingers were quite sore after winding wire round 16 mini bouquets and wrapping them in the ribbon.
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Finished product.  Worth the pain I think!
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These were the only flowers I had to buy.  One huge hydrangea head and one deep blue delphinium.  Cost £5.50.  I cut out a silver tag for the place name.  By now my fingers were hardended and I had found some softer wire.  I had also had a glass of wine which may have helped dull the pain….
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Close up.
By now I was on a roll.  Next up were table decorations and flowers.  I had already decided on lots of little jars and pots.  So it was back out into the garden to raid what was left.  If you are lucky enough to live in a rural area or have plenty of weeds (!) don’t ignore them, some of them are very pretty and tree foliage is a wonderful filler at this time of year when the colours are so rich.
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The candles are resting in black lentils.  I did um and ah, as I won’t be able to cookwith them now!  But they were just perfect and I had bought them ages ago on special offer so I didn’t feel quite as bad.  Also I can reuse them again and again.
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The finished product.
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The fifty balloons were a present from the Singers.  Unfortunately the five kept turning around and it looked as if I was twenty.  One look at me would confirm that this was an error!
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The only non-edible disposable purchases – two flowers – cost £5.50.  And they will be composted.


Today is a perfectly ordinary day other than the fact it is the day when I celebrate my first half century on this planet.  I hope for many more years to come but I am grateful for those that I have already had.  I am a very fortunate and happy lady.  Some of the wonderful things I have experienced:

  • seeing something I have planted and nutured grow and bloom
  • meeting my three daughters for the first time
  • crying in despair and wiping my eyes and realising I can still laugh and smile
  • the smell of a warm, slightly damp dog
  • a family, oddly shaped, but a family nonetheless
  • opening my stocking and knowing that Father Christmas had been in my room whilst I slept
  • the gentle touch of my husband
  • a wonderful roof over my head
  • the chance to live in another culture
  • the burning passion to set things right
  • an education
  • friendships of all shapes and sizes
  • glamour when I was just old enough to understand and young enough not to care
  • freedom of expression
  • Caithness and Sutherland
  • belief in tomorrow
  • big blowsey garden parties that go on forever and where children sleep where they fall
  • seeing dreams, both large and small, come to fruition
  • being a stay at home mummy
  • writing a book
  • summers in North Dakota

I could go on and on, but you get my drift.  My life is not necessarily what I expected but it is all the richer for that.  In the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway bet ten dollars that he could write a complete story in just six words. He wrote: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  He won the bet.  An American online magazine asked its readers to write their lifestory in six words.  You will find mine at the bottom of the page here. 

So to celebrate those fifty wonderful years I have invited 14 friends to dinner on Saturday.  As it is my birthday I shall not be cooking, the food will be provided by the supremely talented Andy at Papaya.  However, I do need to decorate the table and so forth and fully intend to do so without buying a single thing.

The before, I have started to put a few of the glass jars out but most of them are soaking to get them all nice and sparkly!


I can’t show you the after as I haven’t done it yet!  However I am thinking garden flowers and greenery in the various sized glass jars.



We have lots of 2 and 3 candles silver candlelabras but I am prefering  glass jars and bottles with candles and tea lights.  The lavendar is still doing beautifully so that is going to feature heavily and I have decided to starch the damask napkins so that I can be creative with the folding (more flowers there I think too).   I have plenty of empty tin cans of various sizes from small to vast and ribbon and flowers will be going on there as well.  Chair covers are in the wash but I am not hugely fond of them, they are too dark.  Not sure I can rustle up 16 made to measure covers in  2 days so am going to have to think a bit there.

We have plenty of crockery and cutlery.  However,  a recent rash of slippery fingers has reduced our large glassware somewhat so that i have had to buy.  Ebay has been a godsend.  Crystal glasses go for very little.  I have stuck to a shape and mixed and matched.  Wonderful bargains and beautiful glasses that will give pleasure for years to come (so long as the slippery fingers don’t get them).




On of our new glasses, full of course, next to my favourite Inuit bear.

After photograph on Saturday.  This is my dry run for Christmas.  No buy parties.