Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Simplifying 2014 with just four goals

explore the essex coast; black hair; black hair and beauty; creative writing; the only way is essex; the pier harwich;
I have been looking back and 2013 and well what a year! We moved home and business and that was such a big step both for my family and for my little business.  It was also a total nightmare that almost, I say almost, crushed my spirit but now Strange Fruit has a studio to call its own and we have a house we all love the foundations have been set for a very busy 2014.

I am a natural planner. Since I was a child I have broken what I want into manageable goals, I don't do well with focusing on the big goal. Just working on one small bit, then another small bit works much better for me. My other big thing is not talking about those goals until I have really got my head around what I need to do in order to achieve it. I am still plodding my way through some big goals so my main 2014 goal is to keep doing what I'm doing and keeping all the balls in the air! 

There are some things it really is time for me to focus on but I am keeping it simple and simplifying my New Years Resolutions and setting myself just four goals for 2014.

1.  Explore the Essex Coast.  I have read and looked at so many lovely pictures of the Essex Coast that I cannot wait to go and explore it for myself. We like Southend and Westcliffe – we have spent many a New Years Day wandering along an Essex Beach in the freezing cold but we have never really ventured beyond the usual towns and I know there is so much more.  So even though I am proud to say I have never watched an episode of The Only Way is Essex I am heading up the A12 to see what I can see and quite possibly eat my way through the entire menu at The Pier in Harwich!

Southend as the sun sets
2.  Fall in love with my hair.  I have never been big on my hair – it is there on the top of my head, I have a lot of it (with a few grey strands now) but I have never really taken much interest in it. To be honest I find doing anything with my hair is just too much effort. 

Tracee Ellis Ross has great hair and a great blog, where she talks about - yep hair

When I was younger I was excited by hairdressers – but what a nightmare that turned out to be – black hairdressers took all day – wasting time I did not have and European hairdressers had no idea what they were doing.  But times have changed and I am totally inspired by all the great blog posts, products reviews and pictures I now see - advertisers take note - I am a consumer hungry for more black hair and beauty. And now I want to slip into this new world where other people will not only love my hair but teach me how best to look after it and love it. You never know I may even start wearing it out – but give me time – my hair has been ‘up’ for the last 20 years – this is a big emotional journey for me. I am investing in a monthly products from Root to Tip and I have saved a link on my phone to a lovely blog Freshlengths which charts Lesley Buckle's hair journey, you know, just to keep me feeling secure. I know am going to need all the advice and support I can get!

3.  With a settled mind and a room of my own I have got a place to write. It seems I haven't really changed much since childhood, writing short stories and plays was the one big thing I loved to do and that always made me happy. More recently making the time to write down the stories in my head has been in a box marked 'later'. Later is now and I will even try to be brave enough to share some short stories here, I might even get round to editing my novel - but no promises ha ha.

4.  The last goal I am setting myself for 2014 is of course to continue to grow Strange Fruit. I couldn’t expand the business without first having putting in some strong foundations to stand on – that has been done and now Strange Fruit can flourish. I have ideas everyday about new avenues to explore; a bit like the Essex Coast the possibilities for Strange Fruit are unexplored. But now at least Strange Fruit has a base that isn’t the corner of my bedroom and what a difference that makes. I love the room I use as a studio. Its grey – the best colour - which is a major bonus, it has everything I need it and best of all I can cut up as much paper as I like and not have to tidy up until I am finished on a project. My productivity levels have gone through the roof as getting work done is now so much easier.

Deciding to move home so I could continue to work Strange Fruit around my life was the right thing to do. I love that I can be working on new designs while to boy sits in the arm chair ‘reading’ a book or laying on the floor with his Star Wars Mini Figures. I always wanted Strange Fruit to enhance my life and what I was giving back to the world and not to encroach on family time or other commitments – my new live and work space has done that and I am super happy and totally ready for 2014.

Happy 2014 everyone , hope it is prosperous and full of adventures for everyone.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Dream kitchens and Universal magic

kitchen cabinets; kitchen remodel; parquet flooring; traditional kitchen taps; yoga; salvaged kitchen; 
I hope everyone has had a merry Christmas time. I have eaten too much and really enjoyed spending time with the husband dreaming up our new kitchen. 

We are still a few months away from actually doing our kitchen remodel, there is so much to do before then, like fixing the bowed floor and removing the totally gross ceiling, but dreaming is good (and a necessity). We are having the roof fixed soon, and will probably decorate our bedroom before even starting the kitchen, so dreaming is about all we can afford to do at the moment. But it is surprising what dreaming can do! 

Industrial chic

Before we got started on thinking about the kitchen we were planning our little entrance hall and thought how lovely it would be with parquet flooring, and by some Universal magic, we were given enough parquet floor to do our entrance hall AND our kitchen. That was a game changer and when the kitchen dreaming really began. We had already been thinking about a black kitchen cabinets with an industrial look and by the power of Pinterest we have created our kitchen wish list which features black kitchen cabinets, a butlers sink, traditional kitchen taps, I would love to find some antique brass ones, and of course a polished parquet floor. 

Dream kitchen, parquet floor, black cabinets.

Every Victorian house needs a butlers sink

A brass mixer tap would be lush

A parquet floor works in the kitchen 

Given the Universe sent us some beautiful flooring we are going to push our luck and will (really hard) a salvaged kitchen into our lives and our home. We fitted the kitchen in our last house and given that our bathroom build was a nightmare, that we have only recently got over, I am quite sure we will be fitting our new kitchen ourselves. We have seen some great re-fitted kitchens on Pinterest and are totally inspired by what a some re-working can do. 

I am slightly scared  that we have to live in our house while the roof is fixed and that we have to clean the bitumen off about a 1000 wooden blocks before we can even get started on the kitchen. Not sure this is the most glamorous way to begin 2014, but as everyone always says it will be worth it in the end, and in the meantime, thank goodness I have yoga and Pinterest.

Friday, 27 December 2013

This Christmas I discovered men just don't like Downton Abbey

downtown abbey christmas special; downtown abbey; suffolk; men don't like downtown abbey;
This year we were really lucky to spend this Christmas up in Suffolk with family. There was overeating, Christmas songs and log fires and I cannot tell you how lovely it was. The little one especially enjoyed hanging out with his cousins, the fact they are in their early twenties and he is just six didn't seem to put him off at all as far as I know they didn't feed him beer so all is good. 

Time with loved ones, rubbish internet connection, power cuts, a turkey we had named Sebastian and a very heated game of 'Animation' made a very merry Christmas.

As is custom on Christmas day we all watched a movie together, people were everywhere, on sofas, beanbags and on the floor. After the film Granny wanted to watch Downton Abbey, me and my Aunt stocked up on mince pies and tea, and  by the time we came back to the TV room, all the boys, whose ages ranged from 6 to 55, had gone.
I had never noticed before, I usually watch TV at home, and not often with 10 people, but is it really true that men don't like Downton Abbey?  Even the little one legged it! He loves watching Antiques Roadshow with me, but when as soon as the words Downton Abbey came up on the screen he and his Darth Vader fled. I know lots of viewers didn't enjoy the cosy drama, but were the 6.8 million viewers all women? And if they were, doesn't this tell us that we need more TV with female leads. Maybe we watch Downtown because of the female representation and we just like seeing clothed women on our TV screens. Its a simple theory but one that has intrigued me.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

He's back ... the black Santa

black Santa; Stoke Newington Christmas market; Betty Knits; african american christmas cards; stange cards
For the second year running, our black Santa is still our best selling Christmas card! Not that I am surprised. What started out as a bit of fun has taken on a life of its own. I drew this on the Mac with the boy, we were just playing around. I shared the picture on Twitter and what do you know - loads of people wanted to buy him on a Christmas card. 

Of course the answer to all those potential customers was "yes of course you can" but turning a print run around a couple of weeks before Christmas was a challenge. But one I did and 500 black Santa's made their way out into a Christmas Wonderland.  This year the requests for this card kept coming. I am really fortunate that Strange Fruit customers are a loyal and super organised bunch and helpfully pre-ordered their cards. I can't tell you how helpful this was to me as a micro business; planning is a dream when you have a good idea of how much stock you need.

I do of course have other cards, in the Strange Fruit style, this is my favorite - she is just such a cutie!

So where can I see these cards for myself? 
Well If you are around N16 the weekend of 14 and 15 December I will be selling the cards are a few other festive treats at the brilliant Stoke Newington Town Hall Christmas market. This is a great market, loads for everyone and all reasonably priced. I did one day at this market last year, the fact I am going back for the whole weekend is testament to how much fun it is. It is even going to be a bit of a family affair as Betty Knits (the step mother who smashed the mould and turned out better than the real thing and her sister) will also be there with their vintage inspired accessories made from old patterns, plus a few new patterns that capture the spirit of the forties, fifties and sixties. Trust me - these women are vintage loving queens!

The festive pace is stepping up, and I have learnt now not to over do it at Christmas, it is after-all family time.  That is also why I only do one market at this time of year and load up the online shop a little later than maybe a business guru would like. But that's me - never sticking to the rules!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Christmas presents for the girls with everything

cheap Christmas presents; presents for girls; babysitting voucher; first class flights; etsy; laduree; sugar syrup recipe; 
Cheap presents your friends will love. Really!!

If like me you all your friends have everything they need part from first class flights to Honolulu and a chauffeur driven car then you'll be wondering what on earth to gift them for Christmas without breaking the bank. I have had a bit of a think about this and come up with five thoughtful ideas - I've tested them out on the girlfriends and they all agree these would make great gifts.

1. A babysitting voucher  - the benefits are obvious. craftjenny.com even has some free ones to download, just in-case you don't have time to design one yourself and these fun designs by bononbazar are the coolest babysitting vouchers I found on Esty.

2.  A great picture of a fun time together printed off your phone and into a frame.
My lovely friends gave me such a fabulous hen party but none of the pictures are displayed in my home but do appear to be all over Facebook!

3. A bottle of wine and a date made to drink it together. And yes this can even be one that currently lives in your kitchen.

4. One beautiful Laduree macaroon - one is enough, ok six are better, but either way they are perfect!

5. Home made sugar syrup for cocktails - who remembers to make this until you are opening a bottle of vodka! But hmmm and what could be simpler. Save some water bottles, or buy some from Ikea and a few bags of sugar and your done. Here is the recipe.

Ingredients: 2 parts sugar to 1 part water.  Preparation:

  • Bring the water to a boil. 
  • Dissolve the sugar into the boiling water, stirring constantly.
  • Once the sugar is dissolved completely, remove the pan from the heat. (Note: Do not allow the syrup to boil for too long or the syrup will be too thick.)
  • Allow to cool completely and thicken, then bottle.
To prolong the shelf life of your simple syrup, add a little vodka - around a tablespoon, depending on how large the batch of syrup is. Secret tip, replacing white sugar with demerara sugar is a lovely alternative because it adds a richer sugar flavor. The drawback to using light brown sugar is that it will alter the color of cocktails and while the difference is noticeable, the taste makes up for it. Courtney, the Blond Gourmand has some great recipes, I've been checking out her blog for a while and err collecting ingredients and a drinks trolley.

I am sure like me you would rather receive a thoughtful cheap gift this Christmas than something expensive that you don't actually want or need. So long as the gift comes with love, happy holidays will reign.