A love of Boardgames

The plants keep on growing but, as they say, a watched kettle never boils, so playing in my garden, unfortunately, cannot be my sole source of entertainment. I have recently become something of a board game fanatic. It snuck up on me – although I had always enjoyed a good family game at christmas or when visiting grandparents it’s not something I ever would have thought of inflicting on my friends until a few years ago.

I originally found solace in boardgames in a post-break up, post-finals, miserable and extremely anxious period of my life where finding anything that would ‘switch off’ my racing destructive thoughts was something of a saviour. Although the wonderful world of fiction works well for this there are some draw backs – books themselves can throw you into a state of misery or anxiety depending on the content (although this is mitigated by re-reading books, particularly books I loved as a teenager), this can also be very antisocial, fairly addictive, can start getting in the way of sleep and other important day-to-day functions.

Boardgames however allow you to be with other people but also focused on something, I remember going to a good friends house and playing Settlers of Catan solidly three times in a row with both of us pretending to be two people to make it work properly. This was my ideal post break-up therapy. I didn’t have to talk or explain, but I wasn’t on my own, my friend was there with me and we could just play. Silent supportiveness.

I then started a new job in a city which most of my friends had left. Boardgames now provided a way of socialising with new people with out wondering what to say, or worrying what people are thinking etc – Good old structured fun! I was lucky that I found some good friends who also enjoyed games, even if only one or two really loved them as much as I did! Gradually once the frienships were more solid ‘games nights’ were required less, so it just came down to enjoyement.

By this point I had become hooked on games: even though I no longer needed them to distract me from crazy thoughts or to allow me to socialise without any anxiety I had developed a true love for them and wanted to continue on my gaming journey. Happily I had converted some of my close friends who even encourage it, and dare I say it, have over taken my passion! Unfortunately, despite my housemates telling him that if he didn’t like my games I would probably stop dating him on about date 3, my boyfriend is not a fan. He tolerates playing them with me, and sometimes even suggests it if I am being particularly grumpy but there are very few games that he seriously enjoys – much to my ongoing despair.

So, now that I really can’t inflict Settlers of Catan on people many more times, it is time to branch out.  The huge variety of games on offer in board gaming shops (not quite the place of peaceful joy that a bookshop can provide, but almost) has led me to look for some sort of structure in my boardgaming –  I have suggested to one of my friends, who has started a very impressive boardgame collection over the last two years, that we make it our mission to play all of the ‘Speil des Jahres’ winners, and if we finish them, then we can move onto the nominees!

Speil des Jahres is a german award for family style board games and card games. It was started in 1978 and is a really big deal in the board game industry. Think the Oscars, a nobel prize, a knighthood…

Obviously this kind of list ticking quest is crying out for me to blog about it, so to start with here are the Speil des Jahre winners and nominees that I have already played:

  • Bizarrely the Rubik’s cube, despite being neither a board game or a card game won in 1980. I cannot complete a Rubik’s cube.
  • 7 Wonders won the 2011 Connoisseurs’ game of the year. I actually quite like this game although it was a bit of a slow burner. Initially i found this extremely difficult to understand and my friend that originally bought this as an attempt to move on from Settlers spent hours watching YouTube videos to try to understand the rules but also, how it was fun. After a few attempts we gave up until I ended up playing it with another group of friends – I think crucially in a much bigger group – and suddenly everything came together and I realised it was actually a really great game.
  • The Settlers of Catan won 1995. I think I have already made it clear how I feel about this game. I own seafares, cities and knights, 5+6 players, and seafarers 5+6 players expansion packs…
  • Carcassonne won 2001. This is a great game, and pretty iconic for the invention of the Meeple. I like it, its simple and easy. Not much depth.
  • Ticket to Ride won in 2004. This is the game that really got my friend who I want to do this list with hooked on games. She agreed to come to the Thirsty Meeples cafe in Oxford with me, without thinking too much about it, and loved this game so much that she bought it whilst we were there, and couldn’t resist opening it when we got back to our hotel to continue playing it despite meaning for it to be a present for someone… I just bought the Nordic version for myself. The great thing about this game is that there are so many maps you can get so that you don’t get bored of doing the same maps over and over again.
  • Dixit won 2010. I love this, it’s so abstract and creative but you do need to mix up the group that you play with or you will start to learn which words people associate with which pictures!
  • Hanabi won 2013, It’s a collaborative game where you work together to beat the game. I don’t think I have played the full version of it, just the card game but I LOVED it and have now bought it for myself and I thought that my boyfriend actually liked it but he has now corrected me to say that he would rather play it than some other games, and slightly enjoyed being the ‘judge’ to check we weren’t cheating but saying he enjoys it is an exaggeration…
  • Camel up won 2014, simple, slightly childish, but fun. Slightly spoilt for me by having to play it so many times in a row that I couldn’t imagine wanting to play it ever again the first time i played it! I am just about ready to break out camel up again though… I mean whats not to love about gambling on racing camels and a build your own pyramid dice shaker?
  • Colt Express won 2015. Another 3D game,so different from anything else, it can be so frustrating but so hilarious and its nice and quick for those who aren’t big gamers. I always look forward to this game.

So now for the rest of the winners… or shall we start with the 2016 nominations? Should I go from back to front or front to back? Where am I going to find all these games without going to camp out in Oxford!? Shall I rank them? Rate them? When will I find the time??? What about all the games I love that aren’t on the list? Questions that I will ponder another day…

Happy Ramblings…


A Button Lampshade and the first fruits of my labour

Last night I made a button lampshade. Button lampshade number one, that I originally made three years ago as a procrastination from finals, unfortunately had broken (probably from being battered by my flailing sleeping arms and a few too many knocks to the floor). Armed with the leftover buttons, some new ones from my mum, and some that I had bought in cute shops in york and a craft tent at a steam fair I was ready for lampshade number 2.

The first time round I had used superglue to stick the buttons on which was definitely quicker but expensive and I lost all of the skin on my finger tips in the process. This time I opted for pva: cheaper and easier on the fingers but does need a lot of drying time – this time I had to leave the lampshade one side up for about 24hrs before I could move it without the buttons sliding, meaning the lampshade had to be completed over a series of days.

It is still a bit gappy as being bigger than my previous lampshade it needs more buttons to cover it but I actually am quite enjoying the effect the gaps give – and I can always add more buttons at a later date! I love this lamp (because i really love buttons…) both in the daytime off but also at night when all the light comes shining out through all the button holes!

I have also recently been able to start enjoying the delights of my herb garden! I have now had the pleasure of both a lemon verbena tea (which I highly recommend) and a mint tea with the curly mint which I enjoyed both with and without sugar. I did learn a lesson about washing my herbs after I poured hot water onto the lemon verbena leaves only to discover there were a fair few flies floating in my tea!

I have also eaten some of my sage, and some of my oregano, both in stuffed in chicken.

For the sage, I chopped up a handful and mixed it in with butter and a small amount of wholegrain mustard and stuffed it into some chicken breasts before wrapping them in prosciutto. I then started by browning them in the frying pan before finishing them up in the oven – I mixed the left over butter mixture in with the mashed potatoes which was also delicious!

For the oregano, I decided to try to be slightly healthier so I simply stuffed the bare leaves into the chicken breast, placed the chicken on a bed of spinach, seasoned with salt and pepper, wrapped them in foil and oven cooked them – and they were delicious!

To top off all this productivity and positive energy I popped out into the garden today to do some watering and the daily de-snailing of my strawberry pot to find this beauty:


I know I was supposed to encourage my strawberries to put down roots by taking off most of the flowers but I couldn’t resist leaving a couple and I’m so glad I did!

But now its off to the shops for dinner ingredients, maybe its time to use the parsley…


Experimenting with Seeds

My first seed project was a disaster. Not a major disaster like the time i took my bonsai tree out of its pot, cut of all of its roots and soaked it in water allowing all of the soil to wash away in an effort to bring it back to life. No surprises that the bonsai tree is no more. The seed project was just a minor disaster in that I managed to grow a small city of mushrooms which proceeded to deposit ash like spores all over the windowsill. Those containers went in the bin. No one needs that.

I have now started some more seed projects which I don’t doubt will have mixed results. In the summer sun of the weekend I decided to go ahead and plant all the seeds that I had left in a combination of the small pots that I took my herbs out of and some upcycled hanging baskets. Yet again inspired by pinterest I tried to make hanging baskets out of plastic bottles.

It probably could have gone better. Firstly I had to fish them out of the recycling bin so they were a little on the stinky side, secondly because I was over ambitious with the size of the hole in the top so the milk bottles really collapsed and probably aren’t going to be able to structurally able to support any flowers and lastly because despite the vast quantities of holes I made in them they seemed to remain waterlogged.

The pots didn’t go much better mostly because I completely didnt pay attention to which ones I had planted and which I hadn’t so I may have two empty pots and two completely over filled ones!

But we shall wait and see…

My second experiment involves a tomato seed set that my brother bought me for my birthday. After I had planted them I was informed that it may be too late for tomato seeds but my mum says that in that if they don’t ripen I will just have to make a lot of chutney!

The kit came with 6 types of bizarre tomato seeds, some strange expandable soil disks, some small pots and plastic bags to work as mini greenhouses. A fun and easy activity that will hopefully have some interesting, if not perfect, results. Apparently marigolds make good companion plants for tomatoes so I am thinking tomato and marigold window boxes?

Looking forward to be able to do updates on these guys!


To Blog or Not To Blog?

Some thoughts on blogging, as I start my own blogging journey.

To Blog:

  • To send detailed updates on my varying craft and garden projects to people who are interested in them, such as my Grandma, without spamming up people’s news feed and making everyone think I’m a crazy herb lady. That is, those who don’t already think I’m a crazy herb lady from how much I fretted when it snowed.
  • To build a fan base for the eventual release of my slowly growing novel… If only I believed this! Blogging seems to be a common thing for authors to get into to try to both publicise their work but also use it as a writing ‘soundboard’. Who knows maybe it will work for me…*descends into daydream about being a full time writer*
  • Make connections with people from the comfort of my sofa/bed in a capacity outside the realms of Facebook, blogging also seems particularly common in the world of introverts and the socially anxious. Maybe it is the illusion of a shield/disguise that the internet provides us with that can allow like-minded people who do not meet in clubs, bars and other hard core and terrifying sociable places a chance to converse with each other and make connections. Especially as many of the ways our Grandparents generation made friends seem to have gone down the pan – this is especially true for isolated stay-at-home-mums who have their very own blogging niche, although not so relevant for me!
  • If you really have something important to say and can write is so well, and have enough connections and followers then the internet can create revolutions. This one is not really applicable to my blog, but felt it should be included for a sense of completion. Although maybe I will get all politically ranty eventually. I mean don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  • A form of procrastination! Need I say more?
  • Self-indulgence. I mean who doesn’t love talking about themselves? Socially frowned upon to do this in real life but in a blog… go for it!
  • Pay attention this is an important one…. BECAUSE YOU ENJOY IT. And what else is there is life but to find things that you enjoy and do them. Who cares about the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’. If you enjoy any excuse to write, they go ahead and blog. Leave the haters behind.


Or Not To Blog:

  • Internet trolls. Although we may feel the internet is a great platform to float our ideas and opinions into, and many can open up in the impersonal written format that blogging provides in ways they are unable to in face to face conversations it is important to remember that it IS NOT private. Nothing on the internet is private. By putting your thoughts and opinions out there onto the worldwide web you are opening yourself up to being trolled. And trolls are thorough and stubborn. The grown up equivalent of the playground bully. Saying things so hurtful and offensive you cannot conceive any adult saying them directly to your face. This is a huge problem in the online world and one that has driven people into depression and sadly, suicide.
  • What happened to diaries? Shouldn’t a lot of this stuff be going in a diary? Yes you can use blogging as a political platform etc etc but for the everyday ‘look what I cooked for dinner’ ‘look at my garden’ ‘listen to my angry rant’ blog, this is the stuff that back in the day would be going in your diary and no one else needed to be bothered by it. Why do we now feel it is acceptable to fill up the internet with our mundane lives? And why, when it comes down to it, is this ‘diary style’ blogging so popular? People are creating entire careers based on blogging. Being invited onto television, being given book deals, getting financed to open restaurants and shops. WHAT IS HAPPENING? WHY ARE WE ALL BLOGGING?
  • Because you don’t want to. Even if there is a reason you think you should, don’t force it. Don’t ask people what to put in your blog. Don’t go to sleep worrying if people will like it. Don’t sweat about the negative comments from people you have never met. Just stop.
  • You want to publish a book but your blog is so rubbish that it really gives it away to potentially publishers and editors that you are a no-no. I hope that this doesn’t happen to me…. *descends into author dreamland again*
  • Is the growing trend of having our entire lives online detracting from the real world? Should we be facing our fears of interacting in real life and making connections in person instead of hiding out on online platforms where everybody posts everything they do, but who really know is enjoying it and who thinks ‘oh no not another ranty post about the junior doctor contract.’, ‘Oh no – not more holiday pictures from xyz. I can’t take this anymore, when do they come home?’, ‘Oh dear some of my friends had a social event that I wasn’t invited to’ or even ‘oh god why is my dad trying to be funny again.’

In conclusion, seeing as so far in the last 24 hours I have been really enjoying myself, I am going to plod on with my blog. Because its fun. Because I like sharing my pictures of herbs. But don’t worry, I know everyone does it, I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and I won’t continually post links on my Facebook page. Just occasionally.


A parting thought: This is Howard the goat. Goats will find a way to eat blogs.

A wheelbarrow herb garden

On a mission to learn how to be a proper gardener I had looked after my geraniums for a year with mixed success (50% survival rate.., but they would of both survived had my housemate not forgotten that she put them outside in the frost for a few nights in january).

I thought that now was the time for the slightly more ambitious project of a container herb garden. A small step on the road to self sustainability. After browsing container gardens on pinterest I set my heart on having a herb garden in a wheelbarrow! (https://uk.pinterest.com/tednsteph/fab-ideas-for-herb-containers/)

Luckily for me my parents had an old wheelbarrow with a bust wheel that I could rescue from a trip to the dump, and all I had to do was wait for the last frost. The predicted last frost date in Manchester is the second week of May. Unfortunately patience is not one of my strong points and I made it to the last week of April to plant my herbs!

How to choose? Well I obviously did some googling and found this article particularly helpful (http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/aug/15/ten-best-herbs-grow-containers) and I had a number of conversations with my Grandparents whose Birthday Money was funding my herb venture. My Grandma’s advice was that if I wanted to grow Rosemary and Sage I should keep them out of the wheelbarrow as they could grow quite big and woody and they might take over the wheelbarrow, similarly mint should always be contained on its own should I wish to grow it.

My two favourite herbs are parsley and oregano so no doubts that they would be featuring, and equally I can’t stand either basil or coriander so they would not be welcome (handy that they are two of the more temperamental herbs to grow). Although I’m not a huge fan of mint it sounded so easy to grow I would be missing out on an easy success to pass on it. My grandma recommended lemon verbena which was seconded in the guardian article so I also chose this alongside thyme, chives and tarragon. A last minute phone call to my Grandma from the garden centre to see if that sounded like a good starting selection and I was ready to go!

I had recently gained a beautiful pot that would be perfect for my sage and rosemary as well as a lovely strawberry planter (many thanks and love to Grandad Alan and Grandma Angela), so the only pot I needed to buy was one for my mint. I bought my herbs and strawberries from a huge garden centre that I visited on Trentham estate in shropshire when it was raining too hard for me to wonder round the gardens as planned. It was one of the biggest garden centres I have ever been to with everything you could possibly need/imagine and THREE cafes inside! (http://www.trentham.co.uk/shopping-and-eating/a-to-z-of-shops/trentham-garden-centre/trentham-garden-centre)

Here you can see my final selections. In the wheelbarrow: top left thyme, top middle french tarragon, right top and bottom 2x flat leaf parsley, middle oregano, bottom left lemon verbena, bottom middle chives. Blue pot: upright rosemary and tricolour sage. Smaller pot garden mint + curly mint. In the strawberry pot I have planted 6 small di toscany strawberries in the walls and 2 larger albion strawberries on top.

For the wheelbarrow I had to drill some holes in the bottom for drainage – using a second hand drill from my Dad and a drill bit from the ridiculously large selection of mostly rusty drill bits I gained from my Grandad’s garage. This was my first drilling experience and a challenge from working out how to put the drill bit in the drill to deciding on appropriate eye protection (in the absence of goggles I went for giant sunglasses). Luckily, following my uncle’s advice to start with a small hole and then make it bigger rather trying to drill straight through with a big drill bit – I had success!

I then mixed in quite a pit of potting gravel with my potting compost to try to help with good drainage and once I had planted all my herbs and throughly watered them I covered the bare soil with more potting gravel to keep out the weeds.

Unfortunately the day after I planted them it frosted heavily, and snowed on and off for the next 3 days. They then had a spell of regular watering following a week of burning sunshine and high temperatures when I was visiting my parents and couldn’t water them. Despite the intermittent care they are receiving they seem to be doing well. The tarragon is the only herb that seems to have suffered at all although I haven’t given up on it yet, and although two of the strawberry plants look almost dead possibly from being in the shaded side of the pot I have had lots of flowers that I have had to remove. Although I would love a strawberry crop this year my gardening book says I should let them focus on putting down roots.

Bring on the eating!

Indoor plant projects: the beginning

And then there were three. Antoine, Fizz, and Florence. They were to be the start of my project to turn my fingers green. I ordered them from somewhere on the internet (much to my surprise who knew you could post plants!!), they proceeded to spend 10 days in the postoffice parcel collection building and then they made it home! I can’t tell you what kind of plants they are, only that I choose them because they said they were difficult to kill and were ‘good for you’: something about your indoor air cleanliness. I thought this was most likely nonsense, even if it was nonsense I was happy to go along with until I found some information about NASA recommending house plants (see link below).


I have now had them over a year, they were originally Firs Villa residents, and they have survived a house move, some VERY sporadic watering – both extremely dry periods and extremely wet ones, and for Antoine and Fizz, a repotting! Florence is doing marvelously, but the other two seem to be slowly getting smaller and smaller (not what I was expecting of plants) despite the recent addition of plant food and I really am lost as to what the problem may be. Above you can see them in their majestic newly arrived grandeur (yes I made a pot sizing error, but if you think Antoine’s pot is bad you should have seen the pot that Fizz was supposed to go in: about the size of an egg cup…). Below you can see them currently – Florence doing well, but the other two looking a little sorry for themselves.

Shortly after these guys arrived I saw a couple of posts on pinterest about growing your own avocado tree ( https://uk.pinterest.com/explore/growing-an-avocado-tree/ ). The occupants of Firs Villa were avocado eating machines and this sounded like a brilliant idea (ignoring the time period before you actually get an avocado…) not to mention how rewarding it would be to grow an actual tree out of your casual avocado stone. So, armed with cocktail sticks, I set about soaking a handful of avocado stones in whatever small containers I could get my hands on. To start with they were all named with A names, but as nothing grew it quickly became apparent that the was futile.

However, a couple of months later it was sadly the end of Firs Villa and these little guys (about 10 of them) had done nothing except grow mouldy, and moving house is difficult enough without trying to carry 10 small pots of water and some mouldy avocado seeds around, so sadly they all went in the bin.

And that was the end of it. Until a few months later I visited home and discovered that the singular avocado stone that my brother had abandoned in a pot of water in the kitchen that may parents had been keeping filled with water WAS GROWING. Despite being in a pot filled with mould, and having a narrow escape from the bin when they almost gave up on it, it now had three large roots filling up its jar. And if they can grow an avocado without even thinking about it, I certainly wasn’t going to give up. And so the many pots of avocados reappeared on my windowsills, this time I regularly changed their water over, deliberately tried to put them in the warmest places possible and every so often changed a few stones that were starting to look a bit shrivelled. Eventually I had success. First one, and eventually three, of my little avocado stones first put down roots and then eventually SPROUTED. They have now been actually planted in real soil and seem to be doing very well. The rest of the mouldy stones went in the bin, as three is quite enough to be going on with, and when I visit home I can see the progress that the original plant is making and ask my dad what he does to keep it alive. Below you can see my three when they were originally planted, and then about six weeks on, plus the colossal giant that lives in Steeple Morden.


My right most plant (the first to be planted) is named Atticus the second (Atticus the first being a small cactus that we carried around europe with us for 6 weeks in summer 2011 and featured in the potentially award-winning composition “Domesticated-cactus-in-plywood” [see below], an incident that caused hours of hilarity in some delirious-hungry-spent-too-much-time-on-trains-hostel-bound-travelling girls.) He was unfortunately accidentally abandoned in the camping area of Sziget festival in Budapest. The other two avocado plants have yet to be named but I will try to pick other famous fictitious characters beginning with A.


Finally, my most recent addition to my indoor plant family is this christmas cactus that my dad grew, I believe he grew one for each family member out of bits that came off the christmas cactus they have in the toilet. We shall see how it survives now it is with me…