DIY: Christmas Wreath

Wreath DIY - Toad & Feather

Wreath DIY - Toad & Feather

I so enjoyed having a little autumn wreath around the place earlier in the year that I was really excited about making one for Christmas. I think that making things is probably my favourite thing about Christmas – I often do quite a lot of baking, card-making and homemade present fashioning at this time of year.

A little while ago, Turtle Mat offered to send me a few Christmas wreath-making supplies and a gift voucher to help me out, which seemed very kind. I had a vision of a wreath made from holly, which I know is making a rod for your own back really (those guys are prickly!) but I didn’t have any other holly-related plans for my house this winter and I decided to go for it.

The other day we went down to Cameron Toll to buy our Christmas tree, and I asked the people there if they had any holly as well. One of the guys said yeah sure, just leave a donation in the charity box and I’ll get you a bagful.

I didn’t expect him to climb up onto the roof of his shed, shin up a ladder into the treetops, and cut down a bunch of the good stuff himself in the freezing cold, dark Edinburgh night, but that is what happened next. And all for charity, too. I was so impressed. Get your trees and holly from them if you’re in Edinburgh!

Wreath DIY - Toad & Feather

The next day, I got constructing. And it was so easy, even if my finished result is a little, er, rustic.

I’ve seen some amazing homemade wreaths online made out of everything from paper snowflakes to bright green knitting, so do whatever you want really. But if you want to make a simple, natural wreath like I did, once you have a wreath ring (supplied for me by Turtle Mat, but you can get them in lots of places) it’s really just a case of weaving your branches in, securing a few key ones with string, and seeing what looks best as you go along.

If you’re using holly, the weaving can be a slightly hair-raising affair and I wouldn’t try to do it without some relatively thick gardening gloves, pictured below in all their sexy glory.

Wreath DIY - Toad & Feather

Wreath DIY - Toad & Feather

Tea!

Tea is also essential for the creative process.

Wreath DIY - Toad & Feather

Finally, to jazz it up a bit, I wove and pinned in some dried orange slices, pine cones and feathers, courtesy of Turtle Mat, at the bottom.

Et voila, yuletide joy! It’s making our house feel pretty festive and cosy already.

Wreath DIY - Toad & Feather

Wreath DIY - Toad & Feather

 

A Moment of Zen

shameless, I know.

A little while ago, I got an email inviting me to a very luxurious Christmassy evening: an evening of mince pies, mulled wine, sparkle and beauty at the very swish Zen Lifestyle in Edinburgh.

I’ve started to get a few nice offers like this from people who read Toad & Feather, which is a lovely surprise! Especially as this is not really a beauty blog. I’ve never been one for spending much time on pampering, to my shame.

My nails are, usually, a frayed disgrace, while my hair is pretty much left to do its own thing. As for my eyebrows, I try to keep them vaguely in check and every now and then get a professional to haul them back from the brink of cavewoman wildness.

My sister takes much better care of herself than I do, however, and will sometimes fix it for us to go together to have a kind of mini spa day so I end up looking more like a competent, put-together 21st century person and less like a preserved bog woman from the Bronze Age.

So, naturally, I brought her along to this festive pampering evening at Zen Lifestyle, a lovely cosy haven from the freezing rain of an Edinburgh winter evening. And a few days later, once the warm glow of the mulled wine had faded, I headed back to Zen to get an “HD Brows” treatment done, to sort my face out a bit. You can see the results in the amazingly awkward selfies above!

I was a bit worried that the HD effect would be too dramatic for me and my standard-definition face (is there a level up from HD Brows, I wonder? 4K brows? 3D brows with surround sound?). I didn’t want to end up looking like a scary Kardashian waxwork. But I’m actually really pleased with how it turned out.

Even though I was nervous, luckily, the name of the salon is pretty apt: everyone at Zen is incredibly nice and calming. What they do is, they shape your brows with wax and threading, and then they tint them, and then they show you how to pencil or powder them to fill in any gaps. The whole experience was a lot of fun and very educational, beauty-wise. I wasn’t convinced by the pencil effect, which I felt was probably overkill for someone on the less-glam end of the beauty spectrum like me, but I really liked the shape and the extra definition from the tint.

Anyway, my brows and I are now fully defined and ready for Christmas. Bog-woman, begone!

Lush for Grown-Ups

Lush for Grown-Ups

 

When I was 13, my sister got me a glittery bath melt from Lush for Christmas. I ran a bath, slipped the sparkly bar into the water, emerged some hours later and skipped off to a school disco covered in blue glitter, feeling like an ethereal ice princess.

Thankfully, no photos have survived.

These days, I’m not as partial to glitter as I once was. There are few occasions in 2015 when, as a 26-year-old, you can get away with body glitter.

I still love Lush though. It’s just that, now I’m a grown-up, I have to try not to look like a mad glitter princess, and it’s good if I can smell elegant and sophisticated, and not like a sweet shop threw up on me (some of the more child-friendly lush stuff smells sweet enough to give you toothache).

Here are some of the Lush bath things that are fun, useful, joyful to use and don’t make you feel 12 years old. Sickly sweetness strictly forbidden.

1. Blue Skies and Fluffy White Clouds

The scents are patchouli, frankincense and cinnamon, slightly hippyish, delectable, a little festive. Makes the entire bathroom smell like a Middle Eastern palace, I like to think. Lush describes this bubble bar as “scented for when you need to get away from it all”. It’s double sized, so although it’s one of the more expensive bubble bars, you can use it twice (though I’ve never been patient enough to do that). You crumble it under your tap as it’s running to churn out mountains of fluffy bubbles. Gorgeous. Warning: it does turn the bath blue, but that’s rather nice I think.

2. Dreamtime Bath Melt

This is a subtle one. Lavender, cocoa butter, chamomile and jasmine are all very soothing and grown-up, and it makes the bath silky and milky, so you can pretend to be Cleopatra. Smells so sophisticated that  I think you’d be hard-pressed to tell it was  from Lush if you didn’t already know.

3. Ceridwen’s Cauldron

First of all, I love the name. Ceridwen was an enchantress in medieval Welsh legend who held the fount of poetic inspiration. I’m not sure how she’d feel about having bath products named after her, but I guess inspiring nice baths is almost as good as inspiring poetry.

It’s a pack of cocoa butter, oats, essential oils, sandalwood and dried flowers, tied up in a little cloth bag. You swoosh it under hot running water and it produces a mountain of beautifully scented, vanilla-y, slightly floral bubbles, with the water milky and moisturising. Then once all of the cocoa butter has melted, you can use the bag as a little exfoliating pad because of the texture of the oats and various pieces left inside.

I love the way this smells but the bag always seems to disintegrate a little when I use it, leaking out oats and stuff into the bath, making me worry for the state of our 19th century pipes and ruining the exfoliation potential. But when it works it feels luxurious and literary, and I recommend it to the rafters.

4.  Butterball

The fizz is more on the level of flat lemonade than a bomb, and the scent is barely there. But when you do catch it, it’s sweet but grown-up at the same time – soft vanilla cocoa butter and ylang ylang.

Butterball has chips of cocoa butter inside which melt in hot water, making your skin feel really moisturised. I usually have quite dry skin but Butterball sorted it out completely.

I think they might be discontinuing it though. Hiss.

5. A French Kiss

Close your eyes and you could be in a hot tub on a lavender farm in Provence, soaking up a sultry evening in late July. The main scent is French lavender, and it’s a bubble bar that you crumble under the tap. The lavender isn’t at all powdery. It’s a complex, woodsy and modern scent, deepened with rosemary oil. The bath water was also tinged faintly lilac. Also, before I used it, it looked really pretty sitting on my bathroom shelf. This is a bath staple for me.

And there we have it! Do you have any favourite grown-up Lush products I’ve missed? I’m always on the lookout for more excuses to go back to Lush and stock up, so please give me tips…

Autumn Wreath

Autumn Wreath :: Toad & Feather

I didn’t make this myself. I’m planning to try to make my own seasonal wreaths at some point (a wreath is not just for Christmas!) but I saw this in John Lewis when I was on my slightly crazy early Christmas decorations binge the other day, and thought it would make a nice little autumn decoration.

We’re having some people over for a harvest-inspired dinner soon, so I’m thinking ahead with how we can make the flat feel festively autumnal. This is step one. Maybe step two is making a little autumnal nature table like you used to do in primary school, or is that a bit sad? I always end up collecting things when I’m taking Luna out for walks, so it’d be nice to have somewhere to display them.

This wreath hook was TWO POUNDS from John Lewis, a bargain which I shall be glad of when I use it to hang up my homemade, all-natural, fabulous craft-explosion Christmas wreath which I shall weave with my own fair hands. Maybe.

So far my other autumnal decoration concessions include lighting lots of candles, having bundles of white fairy lights around the place, and allowing my ever-expanding crochet projects to find their way into every corner.

How are you decorating your house for autumn? Is that a thing people do? I’d love to know!

Autumn Wreath :: Toad & Feather

Christmas Comes Early

Christmas Decorations :: Toad & Feather

All right, don’t judge me. Basically what happened was, the other day I was in John Lewis, perfectly innocently buying some extra wool for the crochet blanket I’m currently in the middle of making, and I happened to see that they have their Christmas shop all set up. Already. Complete with trees, lights, stockings, nativity scenes, baubles, angels, wreaths and all. And yes, it is still September.

I had a quick browse, mostly so I could take a snap on my phone and send it to Sean with an “Isn’t this ridiculous?!” text alongside. One decoration did catch my eye, however, while I was snorting with derision. It was this little corked-up glass bottle with a message inside, floating among some pretty, loose, silver glitter, which looked a bit like water or sparkling sand.

 

Christmas Decorations :: Toad & Feather Christmas Decorations :: Toad & Feather

Anyway obviously as soon as I got home I started thinking, damn, I wish I’d bought that pretty little decoration, even though it’s still only September and actually it’s too warm even to wear a jacket today.

The thing is, if you wait until December to buy your decorations, lots of the best ones in John Lewis et al tend to be sold out already. This is a terrible excuse for starting Christmas shopping before autumn has even got its boots on, but I needed some kind of reason to cling to as I handed over my cash.

And of course, when I went back I saw several more gorgeous, slightly Scandinavian-inspired Christmas decorations too, which somehow made their way into my basket. I love these festive felt creatures, and the little pack of jingling silver stars.

We didn’t have our own Christmas tree last year because we were in the middle of moving house. Or the year before, because we spent that Christmas in Italy (the most amazing Christmas ever – remind me to tell you about it sometime, because it was EPIC). So I think I have a couple of years’ worth of Christmas tree excitement building up in me.

I’ve been trying to live with more awareness of the seasons recently, which means NOT skipping right ahead to Christmas whenever the whim takes me. There’s so much of autumn to enjoy first.

So I’ve popped these little guys in a shoebox at the back of my wardrobe for now to have a snooze, and I’ll see them again once the frosts have come and Christmas is well and truly in the offing. I cannot wait.
Christmas Decorations :: Toad & Feather

(The linocut hare in the background of these pics is by Sean, a man who sings Christmas carols around the house all year round, and who has therefore forfeited his right to object to any early Christmas nonsense on my part.)

Heady scents of late summer

Heady scent for late summer

do son by diptyque :: neom real luxury candle :: lush floating island bath melt

Before the summer ends, I’ve been trying to capture the smell of it. Not the fresh floral smell of early summer, but the heady, pungent, almost rotting perfume of the end of the warm months, when the flowers have turned and are giving off their last, rich, too-sweet fragrance to hang in the air.

I’m doing this because usually I wish the summer away, and can’t wait for the nip and spice of autumn. But this year I’m trying really hard to appreciate the seasons while they’re here, the sights, smells, tastes and scenes. Late summer is, for me, lavender, wood, grass and lemon, with a bit of sticky sweetness and rain. I love to add the scent of jasmine where I can, too, because it smells of holiday evenings.

Heady scents of late summer

drying lavender from the garden

I’ve been wearing a lot of Diptyque Philosykos, which makes me feel as if I’m wandering through an Ancient Greek fig grove in a floaty toga at sunset, but Do Son was a present from S and it’s just as perfect for summer: a sea breeze with tuberose, berries and orange.

I’ve been trying new kinds of candle, too, and Neom doesn’t disappoint, especially not in the extremely cute travel size. The “Real Luxury” candle (I wish they had better names) is woody lavender and rose, and smells the way I wish my garden did. And the Lush bath melt, Floating Island, fulfils the sickly sweet side of the bargain with almond, cocoa butter and sandalwood.

These are three things I’ve been using to eke out a little more of the summer and survive the crazy, crazy onslaught of the Edinburgh festival over the last few weeks, which has taken over my life with work and shows and seeing friends – all very nice, but all very busy.

I think I’m ready for autumn now, and new beginnings.

Growing My Own: A Work in Progress

Tiger Tomatoes

My garden has been growing. A few weeks ago, Tiger Sheds sent me an email and asked if I’d mind trying to grow some lettuce for a summer Grow Along project along with some other bloggers. They’d send me everything I needed – a little wooden planter, compost, seeds etc, and even some patterned gloves and a little trowel – and I’d have a go at growing my own salad and see how I got on, with a blog post at the end.

I’m not particularly experienced with growing edible things (except for herbs, which I love), so I was a bit daunted. But to begin with, things seemed to be going well! After only a few days, little shoots were poking through the earth.

Read More

A cool home in summer

Bowl

The heatwave has reached Edinburgh. Yesterday was my birthday, and as I stayed up late to watch the England women crash out of the world cup in the semi-finals, a huge storm burst over the city. This morning there are some great pictures of forked lightning over all our local landmarks doing the rounds online.

As the heat has closed in, I’ve been hunkering down indoors in the cool. I am currently struck down by a summer cold, but also buoyed by a huge feeling of contentment and excitement for the future. Things are looking up, basically.

The folk music choir I started earlier this year had our first gig last week, which went really well, and I’m starting to nurture some thrilling plans for the Year In Which I Am 26 (some of them musical, some of them to do with home and life, all of them top notch).

One of the things I got for my birthday is a ukulele. I play the folk harp, but it’s not the most portable of instruments, so I was keen to get hold of something a bit easier to cart around. Also something I can practise while lying in bed.

This is a picture of S playing my new uke, though, not me.

Ukulele

Mantelpiece

Also in the birthday haul was a huge and beautiful bunch of Bloom & Wild flowers from my sister. I love big, branching, leafy arrangements and this was right up my street. The dining table is looking a little brighter, for sure.

house8

house9

Meanwhile, some of my dearest friends are waiting for new babies to arrive, so a sense of anticipation is in the air for everyone. This weekend I’ll be rampaging across East Lothian on a recce mission, and then heading to a big family summer party, at which I hope there will be lots of the delicious beer that my talented cousin brews for a living.

house3

house5

house6

The beautiful blue and cream hand-painted bowl in the top image was a present from our friends Rob and George, the kindest of folk and people who can always be relied upon if you fancy a lavish steak dinner. They are getting married to each other next year and I couldn’t be happier about it. More to look forward to.

This post is just a general life update, and a look at how I’ve arranged our flat for the summer. When the heat and the anticipation gets too much, it’s soothing to have a place of refuge, and after a footloose few years I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have somewhere that feels like home.

house4

Gorgeous folky music to soundtrack your summer from some stunning local Edinburgh types:

Kite and the Crane – Lights Across the Way

Caro Bridges – Weary Travellers

Happiness through gardening

Gardening

Happiness might actually grow on trees. Recently I have been making a garden in my new place.

I used to love being in the garden when I was little, and commandeered a small patch of my parents’ in which I grew a few tiny bits and pieces and generally forgot to water them. I can’t now remember what I grew. Possibly carrots and geraniums, maybe some sunflowers? I loved the tall thin silver birches that grew in abundance near our house, almost as much as I loved splashing through the puddles in my wellies when it rained, and looking for snails.

My best friend growing up lived in a house with the most enormous, incredible, magical fairytale garden – her dad is a landscape architect – and we used to spend whole days rampaging through the flowers and trees and hedges. My granny’s garden was another haven. I loved the warm, earthy smell of the potting shed there with its rows of seedlings, and outside the bright geraniums and busy lizzies, and the bird table we used to watch from the dining table when I stayed over, eating breakfast and watching the wrens have their breakfast too.

One of the last times I visited my granny’s house before she died, there were some late white sweet peas growing, and we went out together to cut some chives to mix into the salad we made for lunch.

I know I’m incredibly lucky in that when I look back at my childhood, it seems to have taken place entirely in gardens. I miss them all.GardeningMy new garden started with mint. “My new garden” sounds grand: I actually just have a collection of pots on a little weather-worn patio. But back to the mint. It’s almost impossible to kill mint, I’ve discovered, which is a very heartening thought when most of your outdoor space is in the darkest, wettest shade known to man.

Since my initial success with potted mint from the supermarket, I’ve branched out into new mint varieties, the spoils from a recent trip to Secret Herb Garden in the Pentlands: strawberry mint, Corsican mint, and mint that smells like After Eights. Now on my tiny patio I have a whole mint grove, a forest of mint, a mint kingdom. Fancy some mint tea? COME TO MY HOUSE.

In the shadier side of my patio I now have hostas, blueberry bushes (one ‘Bluecrop’ variety and one ‘Spartan’, and they may get upgraded to the sunny side soon where they belong), lupins, foxgloves, ivy and lots of mint. In the sun there is less space, but I have two types of lavender and strongly scented sun-loving herbs like oregano, sweet marjoram and thyme. Indoors I have tomatoes and peppers. The lavender is my biggest success so far.

From time to time I have found myself leaning out of the window with a sketchbook, having opinions about compost. I listen to Gardeners’ Question Time, and I find my soul is tickled.

Lots of us find happiness through gardening. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, almost 90 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds have a garden or an allotment, or grow their own plants or flowers inside their homes. The RHS is using this statistic to claim that gardening is going through a nostalgia-cool renaissance. Basically like the Great British Bake Off, but with plants.

That seems like a huge number, especially for a country in the midst of a housing crisis. Maybe the stats include people who just buy flowers to plonk in a jug on their coffee table once in a while. I don’t know if it all counts, but it all helps: helps us feel a bit more wild, helps us respect the seasons.

Partly, my motivation for gardening over the last few years has been a need to put down roots, literally as well as metaphorically. Like most of us who are just trying to figure out our lives in our twenties, I’ve resided in a series of crappy rented flats (I had to move out of the last one when the ceiling collapsed on New Year’s Eve, joy of joys). But there’s nothing that makes you feel more at home anywhere than planting a few pots and getting some life around the place.

Gardening

I’m not sure I’m convinced that hipster gardening is the new baking, though. Gardening in cheap pots on a wet rented balcony will never have quite the same instant wow factor as a fancy iced sponge. People may well be cultivating all sorts of delicious fruit and veg on their balconies, but it’s still fruit and veg – show me a way to grow cake on trees and then we’ll talk about a hipster gardening revolution.

And yet. There are pressures in baking that you don’t find in the garden. If your cake has a soggy bottom, guests will wince as they eat it and you will feel nothing but shame. But if one of your plants has a soggy bottom, sort out your drainage and nobody need be any the wiser.

Alternatively, a small bunch of daffs or some tulips only cost a few pounds at the supermarket at this time of year, and they do wonders for brightening up dismal rental accommodation, distracting you from the mysterious ooze coming up through the floorboards, or the stench of death in the electricity cupboard.

I may not have millions of pounds or rolling acres of beautifully landscaped greenery. But, like lots of us nature lovers in our twenties, what I do have is heart and motivation and a willingness to try. Plus a fondness for buying interesting-looking plants at garden centres and seeing what happens. And lots of mint.

If you’ve had successes with anything in particular that you’ve planted in containers (especially in the shade!) please let me know – I am very keen for ideas. Oh and if you plant something, tell me how you get on! Especially if it’s mint.

Portobello Sunshine

Portobello

Saturday was a beautiful spring day with bright sunshine and a freshness in the air. We drove down to the seaside at Portobello with Luna, as well as Hannah and Adrian who were staying for the weekend.

Portobello beach can be a bit gross out of season (think dog poo and junk washing up on the shore) but in the sunshine it still looked optimistic and beautiful. We had burgers and chips in the Espy, which proudly welcomes dogs to laze around on blankets in the warmth.

In fact, there might have been more dogs in there than people, all of them staring intently at everyone eating their burgers. 100% cuteness. Luna was in heaven.

Portobello

If you’re in Edinburgh for more than a few hours and the weather is kind, you should definitely try to make a trip to Portobello. People don’t often think of Edinburgh as a seaside town for some reason, so it’s a bit of a neglected treasure for tourists (though whenever I go, there are tons of locals), but it’s so easy to get to by bus from the centre of town. The number 15 and number 26 buses both get you straight there from Princes Street in about 25 minutes, tops.

Luna had the time of her life running in and out of the sea. When we first got her, back when she was eight months old, we had to teach her how to have fun swimming in it. But she loves it now.

She’s still a tiny bit scared of it though, while intrigued by it at the same time, so she went a bit hyper. In fact she was running around so fast that I managed to not get any good pictures of her.

Portobello

Portobello

I did get a nice picture with this one though <3

Because it’s Scotland, and it’s April, and it’s therefore not exactly balmy in temperature, I was wrapped up in a scarf and coat. I heard a Russian proverb the other day that translated roughly as “Go outside in March, wear four pairs of trousers”,  which could also apply to Edinburgh in April. Or actually any season.

BUT we saw a bunch of game-looking people in bikinis and swimming trunks actually having a dip and not even looking too cold? Madness!

We still had ice cream though. Naturally. S Luca’s finest, plus Mr Whippy for good measure.

Portobello

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