2015 – Clean Slate

It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of all the New Year hubub, or the massive expectations placed on the change in calendar year for bringing about change in our lives or the world at large. Unfortunately the little demon that lives in my brain sees this only as an opportunity to dredge up all the disappointment and missed opportunities of the past year and project them forward onto the next. All-in-all this makes for the beginning of January being quite a miserable time for me (and, often, for those unfortunate enough to be around me).

But, I am trying to be better. So, no dwelling on what I didn’t achieve this year, and no resolutions either, as they tend to make me focus on negatives too.

So, to kick of 2015, here is a quick look at some of the things I did do in 2014, even though I didn’t blog about them, in the hope of many more good things to come in 2015.

Halloween 2014

This year we celebrated our first Halloween in our own home with a small gathering of friends and a sickening quantity of sweets and cake 🙂

Canal Boating in Yorkshire, November 2014

In November we travelled over to Yorkshire to visit friends and hired a narrow boat on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal for a day. It was a lovely day with great weather and definitely something a bit different, I even had a go at driving for a bit which was nerve racking but fun once I got into the swing of it.

Wales Comic Con, November 2014

We attended our first comic convention this year in Wrexham. I’ve been keen to attend a convention for a while but had always thought we’d have to travel further to get to a good one – but when we found one in Wrexham we jumped at the opportunity. It was quite late notice so I only put together quite a simple costume – a test subject from the game Portal. It was loads of fun and we saw Anthony Head, Chris Barrie, Jerome Flynn with other Game of Thrones actors and the main cast from Atlantis. The next convention is in April and Nicholas Brendon is going to be there (Xander from Buffy), so I’m definitely planning on going again.

Thank you all for sticking around. Here’s to the future 🙂

Love

Halloween 2013

Halloween this year was not quite as much of an event for me as it had been in previous year.

A combination of factors including our recent move, work and a lousy mood that overcame me for most of last week meant I didn’t have the time, effort or cause for a big fuss.
I got to dress up a bit on the Wednesday when I helped with children’s craft activities at the National Trust property where my mum works. I wore the same Pearls & Swine Devil Horn fascinator as last year because, well, there aren’t exactly a great range of occasions when one can wear a devil horn fascinator. It was an enjoyable but very tiring day – something in the order of 120 kids got involved in making Halloween Trick or Treat bags and kept me on my feet (in heels) for 6 straight hours without a break! 
On Halloween itself I found time to bake a cake; orange with chocolate fudge frosting. I’m not sure what happened but my first attempt went horribly wrong and barely rose at all. That one had to be consigned to waste and I had a second go that was marginally more successful. I was rather disappointed as it was a recipe I have used several times before and has always produced brilliant light, fluffy sponge. It was perfectly edible and tasted nice, but it fell short of my expectations and I don’t get on well with baking failures 😦
My Halloween Orange and Chocolate cake, with pumpkin, ghost and bat sprinkles
As I had been quite busy I was rather tired, that combined with my low mood meant I didn’t really feel like going to the cinema in the evening, so we didn’t get to see Frankenstein. Again, I’m a little disappointed in myself now that I didn’t feel up to it. Fortunately there is another opportunity to see it, this time with Jonny Lee Miller as The Creature, later in the month, so I hope to still get to see it.
Instead, Pete and I carved pumpkins (also rather delayed by being do busy) and watched The Walking Dead. We’re a bit late to The Walking Dead and are only on Season 2 at the moment, only 2 episodes from the end of the season now. I was even quite lack-lustre in my pumpkin carving and stuck with a fairly classic scary face. It was still a nice evening and appropriately Halloween-y.
Pete’s Spooky Ale
My Demon Face pumpkin and Pete’s Alf inspired design
Alf was a little unsure of his pumpkin doppelgänger
Apologies for the poor quality of the photographs. Taking pictures with my camera is another thing I’ve not been so good at lately, so these are just ones I have taken with my iPod. If you want to see more pictures from me you can follow me on Instagram.
I hope you all had a good Halloween, whatever you did or didn’t get up to 🙂
Listening to: Alkaline Trio (the only band for Halloween)
Watching: The Walking Dead, Season 2
Reading: Wuthering Heights (I’ve been reading this for ages and am trying to slog through the last few chapters)
Love,

Far Over The Misty Mountains Cold

I’ve still not quite got back into the blogging habit, have I. Things have been a bit busy, well, busier than I have been used to for quite a while anyway. Pete and I have both been doing some teaching at the University, only a couple of hours a week but often quite spread out so we end up spending most of our days there.

Things are going to be getting even busier for Pete now though, as he got a job this week! As of the 1st of November he will be a full time teaching assistant and PhD student at the uni. We are both so happy and I am very proud of him. Not only is it great news because we a) have an income and b) have a definite reason to stay in North Wales for at least 3 years, but he has been trying to get funding to do a PhD for a long time now, so it’s so nice that all his hard work has finally paid off.
He interviewed for and was offered the position on Wednesday, but as we had to work again on both Thursday and Friday we put off celebrating until Friday evening. I cooked a huge Chinese feast, as he loves Chinese food and it meant I got to go to the local Oriental Supermarket and search through all the exciting things. My favourite bits are always the ‘accesories’ – prawn crackers, spring rolls and fortune cookies 🙂 I meant to get pictures but it all got eaten so quickly I didn’t get chance!

The plus side of being kept busy during the week (other than making some money) is that our weekends feel more proper again and we try and make the effort to get out and do things – ideally things that Alf can join in with as well.

Last weekend we visited the local Farmers’ Market and picked up some pumpkins to carve for Halloween. If you are a regular reader you are probably aware that I LOVE Halloween (see my previous Halloween posts herehere, here, here and here). My plans this year include pumpkin carving, helping out with a kids’ Halloween craft event at the nearby National Trust property (including dressing up) and going to see Benedict Cumberbatch as The Creature in Frankenstein at the cinema. Oh yes, and hopefully get some Halloween baking in :)I’ve been trying to think of a design to carve into my pumpkin this evening. I’m not totally set on an idea yet, but I’ve put together some ideas on a Pinterest board. I will blog about it once it’s done.

Today we went on a trip to Beddgelert (pronounced Beth-gelert), which translates as Gelert’s Grave. Beddgelert is a village in Snowdonia National Park which (allegedly) takes it’s name from the nearby grave of/monument to Gelert, a dog that belonged to Prince Llewellyn, Prince of Gwynedd. The legend of Llewellyn and Gelert tells how, upon returning from a hunting trip, Llewellyn was greeted by Gelert who was covered in blood and discovered his baby son missing from his crib. Llewellyn immediately drew his sword and slew Gelert for murdering his son, but, as Gelert gave his last whimper, Llewellyn heard the cries of a baby and discovered the child, unharmed, alongside the dead body of a wolf. Realising his error, that Gelert had in fact saved his son and not killed him, Llewellyn had his faithful hound buried in a big ceremony and was said never to have smiled again.
We were following a route from a new book my mum bought us – Countryside Dog Walks: Snowdonia. It’s a really good guide, breaking walks down by level of difficulty (this one was an ‘Easy’) and gives helpful information about parking and facilities. The instructions are really clear and easy to follow, even for someone with as poor a sense of direction as me, it was obviously written by someone who has walked the route and not just looked at it on Google Earth.

Clockwise from top left: Our route through a gap in a dry stone wall, fungi on a fallen tree, Alf and Pete loving the adventure, Welcome to Beddgelert

The route took us briefly through part of Beddgelert village then onto Gelert’s Grave just on the edge of the village. The grave itself was quite humble, a large rock flanked by two trees with two plaques in front of it telling the story of Gelert (one in English and one in Welsh). Just beyond the grave are the ruins of a small building, inside which is a bronze sculpture of a dog which we tried to get Alf to make friend with, although he wasn’t exactly sure. Most of the other visitors made it as far as the grave, a few ventured the extra ten or so yards to the house, but once we ventured on with the walk past the ruins we didn’t see another person until the end when we returned to the car park. On one hand it’s a shame that everyone else missed out on the beautiful scenery and views, but on the other, it was really nice and peaceful having the whole place to ourselves.

Clockwise from top left; Alf looking cure on a wall, Signpost to Gelert’s Grave, Alf and his new buddy Gelert, Beautiful Autumnal Woodland 

The title of the post is taken from the song of the Dwarves from The Hobbit, which came into my head as we walked through a forested area with several rocky outcrops and a carpet of fallen leaves, moss and mushrooms – it just seemed appropriate (even thought it was, thankfully, not particularly misty or cold). The lack of people did make the whole walk feel like a bit of a mysterious adventure – going through forest, through gaps in stone walls and along and across rapid little streams.
Alf absolutely loved it, running through the trees, smelling every smell he came across and climbing every rock and wall that we encountered along the way. He got thoroughly wet and muddy and was really quite tired by the time we got back to the car – he slept wrapped up in a towel on Pete’s lap the whole way home.

Clockwise from top left; The story of Gelert, Rocks and leaves, Mini Waterfall, Mossy brances

We were rather lucky with the weather, just as we got back to the car it had started to spit with rain and had started absolutely chucking it down within minutes of us leaving.

I really love living up here, it’s so much more relaxed and beautiful than the south coast. There are certain things I miss about Southampton and it’s proximity to London, but I’m not sure they’re worth giving up living here for. Plus, once I get my own job, it shouldn’t be too hard to make the occasional visit 🙂

I hope things are going well for all of you and that you’re looking forward to Halloween, however you chose to spend it.
Also, what do you think of the new blog look?

Love,

I had a scream!

It’s no secret that Halloween is one of my favourite occasions of the year. I love the dressing up, themed food and cheesy not-very-scary camp horror (not so much the proper scary horror).

As Halloween fell on a Wednesday this year, we only had a small gathering of a few friends, a few drinks, loads of cake and a scary movie. I would have quite happily gone with Tucker and Dale Vs Evil (if you haven’t seen it you really should) but we ended up watching The Woman in Black. Everyone spent the week telling me how scary and jumpy it was, so I was pretty scared to watch it, but it honestly wasn’t that bad – thankfully.

I struggled to come up with a costume idea this year, especially as I’m working on limited funds. My dilemma was resolved thanks to The Vintage Fair who ran a competition to win a Pearls & Swine Devil Horn Fascinator, which I won! So that obviously had to be the centre piece of whatever I wore. In the end I just went for a demon type look, pale face, dark eyes, dark lips, blood and horns.

My boyfriend Pete dressed up as some kind of scary Viking warrior. He completely covered his face in fake blood. Fortunately it was slightly easier to get off than the masses of black face paint he wore last year that took forever to scrub out of his beard. It’s probably a good job we didn’t get any trick-or-treaters.

I also did a fair bit of baking. We recently had a new oven fitted in our flat, and I was very excited to find out how much better it was at baking cakes than the old one. They turned out fantastically 🙂
In recent weeks I seem to have had a fair amount if luck in competitions I have entered. As well as the horned fascinator, I also won a Halloween Modelling Kit from Renshaw. The Kit was only available to buy at The Cake & Bake Show, or through this competition, so I was pretty excited to have won one! Fondant modelling has never been a strong point of mine, but I gave it a go. The ghosts and pumpkins were much easier than the witches hat, black cat or spider, so I mostly stuck to those.
I went a little crazy on the decorating front and used a mixture of rice paper eyeballs, sprinkles, plastic toppers, fondant models and fondant covered biscuit shapes. Oh yeah, and edible glitter, lots of edible glitter!!

Of course we had pumpkins too! We were both set on out-doing last years efforts. Mine didn’t work out to be quite as impressive as I had intended, and Pete very nearly bit off more than he could chew. In our own tradition, our pumpkins go to the vote to see whose is best – based on judgement of our guests, I think I won this year. What do you think? Mine is the haunted house, Pete’s is the howling wolf.

I hope you all had a great Halloween. It is a great excuse for a party, some indulgence and a bit of silliness 🙂 Any good ideas for next year’s fancy dress would be more than welcome!

Next event on the calendar – Thanksgiving! So I’ve only got a few weeks to work off all of the Halloween cupcakes before then :/

Love,

Halloween Dress Up!

Yes, I still have more to write about Halloween. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was my favourite occasion/celebration.
Last night we went to a Halloween cocktail party at a friends house. It wasn’t a massive do, but it was good times with good people and an opportunity to get dressed up and indulge in a bit of spooky drink mixing. They had gone to a lot of effort in decorating the place, setting up games and providing food, which was awesome.
As much as I love dressing up, sometimes I do get a bit stressy about it, trying to come up with an awesome costume and pull it off properly. I had a few ideas I was toying with this year, but in the end I settled for a Dia de los Muertos theme, with fully painted face and a sort -of-vintage style outfit. My boy also went for a full paint job and went as a bit of a Witch-Doctor.

I was pretty happy with how my costume worked out. I do often consider buying full costumes for these things, but they can be expensive and are generally predictable and unnecessarily sexualised. I quite enjoy the process of throwing something together from my vast wardrobe, it’s a good excuse to wear things that I might otherwise leave in the back of my wardrobe. The only things I had to buy for this look were the face paint and the gloves (which I totally love, may be breaking them out of the dressing up box and into my regular wear wardrobe!).
The dress was picked up on eBay, the necklace is M&S and the scarf is Topshop. I made the head-dress myself, out of netting I bought to make my own fascinators and a rose hair clip I’ve had for ages.

I had a very good time at the party. It was the first time in a while that I’ve had a drink on a night out and it was nice to let my hair down. Due to the clocks changing I have no idea what time we got to bed; it was either 1:30, 2:30 or 3:30 :/ Fortunately I woke up without a hangover, but I’ve been pretty tired all day and had a bit of a nap this afternoon (old lady).

I don’t actually have plans for tomorrow, which feels very odd, as it;’s actually Halloween. I may just get dressed up for the sake of it, although I do have a doctors appointment and would definitely get some funny looks in the waiting room!

I hope you’ve all had a great weekend, Halloween filled or otherwise.
Love,
Betty
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Halloween Nails

I’m still gearing up for Halloween, getting rather excited now.

This evening I painted my nails all Halloween-y. It’s not exactly in-keeping with my costume, but it’s still in the Halloween spirit.

As I’m right handed, my left hand turned out much better than the right. The photo of the left hand is also a lot better :/
These ones are my favourites 🙂

There’s lots of Halloween nail based inspiration out there on the internet if you need more ideas. Wah Nails is always a great place to find some super fancy, elaborate nail designs.
Most of the colours I’ve used here are from my Models Own haul during their 50% off promotion, including their Wah Nails Nail Art Pen. I think the only exceptions are the purple, which is Gasoline from Gosh and the orange, which is Hanky Panky from  Leighton Denny and came in my October GlossyBox (disappointed I got orange as this is the only time of year I can even consider using it).

Hope you have Halloween plans for the weekend,
Betty
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Halloween Cupcakes

I am absolutely knackered having spent all afternoon in the kitchen baking. I’m not complaining though, I really enjoy baking and today was extra fun as I was getting to create some cool Halloween cupcakes 🙂

I’ve seen a lot of Halloween cupcake designs online over the past few weeks, which gave me a good deal of inspiration, but mostly I worked from “A Zombie Ate My Cupcake” by Lily Vanilli. The book was a birthday present from one of my very good friends, and I’ve been waiting for Halloween ever since.
A Zombie Ate My Cupcake by Lily Vanilli
Now, despite my love of cupcakes and baking, I don’t actually have a single go-to cupcake recipe. So, as I was using the book for design inspiration anyway, I thought I’d try out the cake recipes included in the back. 
I was so impressed. The mix was really simple and produced a really lovely thick and creamy batter, plus I got 18 cupcakes out of the mix. As I wanted to make a batch of both vanilla and chocolate that means I ended up with 36 cakes!! The cakes baked well and rose really nicely. Plus, most importantly, they taste great! To be honest, I think I might have found that trustworthy go-to recipe.
The design ideas in the book are also totally awesome.
Day of the Dead Skulls (Lily Vanilli)
Monstrous Mummies (Lily Vanilli)
Shattered Glass (Lily Vanilli)
Undead Gingerbread (Lily Vanilli)
These are just a selection of my favourite designs in the book. I think the Day of the Dead skulls are my absolute favourite, but looked a little bit too much for me to take on without having a few opportunities to practice. Again, I totally loved the idea of the shattered glass but chickened out a bit because the recipe specifies using a candy thermometer, which I don’t have. It might be fine without, but I’m a bit scared :/
I went for quite a selection of designs in the end, which took quite a while with three dozen cupcakes to decorate!
Clockwise from top; Mummy cupcake, Graveyard cupcake, Ghost cupcake, Spiderweb cupcake, Bleeding cupcake, Night sky cupcake. Centre; Frankenstein-esque cupcake
Graveyard Cupcake
This one is a chocolate cupcake with chocolate fudge frosting and gingerbread gravestones. My piping skills really aren’t great, and writing on tiny grave stones was really tricky! The one on the left is meant to be a cross, but looks more like a lightning bolt in this picture!!
Mummy Cupcake
This is one of the best ones I did, in my opinion. It’s a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting and fondant icing bandages. The eyes are made of rice paper and were also a gift. The bandages took quite a long time, rolling out the fondant and then cutting the strips and placing them, but it was totally worth it. My ones are a bit different to the ones in the book, I adapted them based on things I’d seen online.
Frankenstein-esque Cupcake
Green Cake
These ones didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. The cake is vanilla, but coloured green, then covered in green vanilla frosting, with black nonpareils for hair and black writing icing for the face. The ‘bolts’ are made from Oreo Funstix.
Bleeding Cupcake
Another vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting, with a slice through the middle filled with cherry jam. If I get enough courage to make shattered glass, then it will go in these.
Pumpkin Cupcake (not in main picture)
Chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting and a fondant icing pumpkin. I’ve not really worked with fondant before, let alone colouring it! I was very worried I was going to end up with orange palms, but I went for it and fortunately my skin didn’t get stained.
Day of the Dead Skull Cupcake (not in main picture)
Chocolate cupcake with grey vanilla frosting and a fondant icing sugar skull. In truth, I was hoping to turn the frosting black with black food colouring, but grey was the best I could achieve. I’m really pleased with the fondant skull, if I hadn’t been so tired from all the rest of the decorating I would have made more. I definitely want to work more with fondant.
Now I just need volunteers to help me get through 36 Halloween cupcakes!!
I also made some larger gingerbread gravestones just as biscuits, some gingerbread ghosts and some gingerbread men that I want to decorate up as gingerbread zombies. As with the fondant skulls, I just didn’t have enough energy left to decorate those today. Oh well, I might just have to decorate biscuits tomorrow!
Woop, more Halloween-ness for me.
Love,
Betty
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