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Posts from the ‘Great Gifts Anytime’ Category

12
Dec

Very Last Minute Christmas Gift List

IMG_0961 copySave time at Christmas – let your fingers hit the keyboard!

I really don’t have the time to wander round shops searching for suitable gifts at Christmas, and judging from the retailers, I’m just one of hundreds of thousands who think the web is a wonderful place to wander round instead.

So where to start?

We tend to keep all the Christmas catalogues that arrive in the post and use the ones we like best to choose our gifts. Here are the mail order catalogues we chose this year:

Lakeland, Wiggly Wigglers, Thompson & MorganIMG_0975 copy

Why Lakeland?

What a range of goodies! You may need an evening or two to go through their website, but it’s well worth the time.

Christmas is a time for indulgence and our favourite edible gifts this year were Finlandia fruit jellies and the Glacé fruit tray – the thought of both make your mouth water! Makes a great change from after dinner mints.

51855_1Five minute origami will suit a five year old who loves making things. A nearly impossible jigsaw puzzle will infuriate a brother! A Christmas themed set of skittles will get the teams lined up, to win of course! And we can all dip into the tins of biscuits while we compete for supremacy! There is always a slice of delicious Country Fare Glacé fruit cake on hand.

Only one of the many items we ordered was out of stock and we were able choose another equally scrumptious alternative.

One big feature is the Lakeland no quibble return policy which works! And they make shopping so easy, you can phone and order, visit one of their many outlets, click and collect, send orders in the post, or order direct on line.

Why Thompson & Morgan?

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 14.58.55Nothing marks the start of the gardening season like the first seed sowing of the year. You could give the gardener in your life all they’ll need for the earliest start in 2015. For the fastest seedlings in small batches you’ll want to treat them to the T&M Premium Seed Kit with its seven tray heated propagator. Both the flower and vegetable selections have something for pots, baskets and open soil. The kit includes plant labels and pencil. We use our seed propagator all the time now, wouldn’t be without it – it gives peace of mind – it is so reliable.

Alternatively you could always order some plug plants to be delivered in time for the best planting period.  We have ordered gifts from T&M for several years now and love their indoor plants. This year we particularly like the Christmas Cactus, only £12.99.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 14.58.06What about a standard Bay Tree to give a classy look to your front door? Every outdoor plant we have ordered from T&M has done well, some are now more than 7 years old – for instance the lemon tree in a pot, now safely in the cool greenhouse.

Order before midday on 19th December for guaranteed delivery in time for Christmas.

Why Wiggly Wigglers?

Here we have a real success story, a farmer and his wife provide a real joy of a catalogue to browse through. Everything a bird feed enthusiast might want, bird nesting boxes, garden composers, composting worms – the worms do the work by the way! We have ordered a terracotta bird nesting box and some roosting pockets for some young children to put up in their garden.

This year we have ordered Goat Sock Gifts. To be on the safe side rather than buy the wrong size sock, why not, in view of the possible very cold weather ahead, buy some bed socks. Honestly they are really so good we each have two pairs to make sure we always have cosy feet every night. Can’t praise them enough. They come in one size which seems to suit everyone we know.

Great British Florist is part of the Wiggly Wigglers organisation and they offer the most beautiful bouquets and wreaths. To receive a monthly bouquet of seasonal British flowers you can subscribe to the monthly flower delivery. This would be an absolutely fantastic gift for someone who just loves fresh flowers that haven’t been flown halfway round the world. We really urge you to look at the website and get more information about their flower club, flower workshops, wedding packages including natural flower petal confetti. Do have a look on the Christmas page on their website – we’ve just ordered a Christmas posy for the Christmas Day table and a wreath for the front door – look for the one with brussel sprouts as part of the design! Last date for guaranteed delivery for Christmas is 22 December – don’t miss out, you won’t regret it!

Gifts for ourselves –  two witch hazel bushes, one yellow and one red. Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 15.57.35I remember a huge hedge of witch hazel plants with a most wonderful perfume in Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and have always wanted one since. We heard they were on the Lubera were selling them – Lubera has a most wonderful plant list.

Grown in SwitzerlandScreen Shot 2014-12-11 at 15.59.14, all their plants are hardy, useful in Cumbria as we can’t cope with tender plants without a lot of care. Recently we now have a damson tree, two pointilla bushes – they provide a most unusual tasty fruit, six raspberry plants both gold and red, and strawberry plants. For more information go to their website – we will soon be writing more about their plants in a separate feature – We Love Lubera!

We always look for unusual decorations for this time of year and found a lovely tealight decoration on the Notcutts website. The Circle of Friends costs just £8.99 and looks wonderful on a windowsill.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 15.13.22Finally, something for us at Christmas when we’ve had enough food, games and alcohol, a jigsaw to push our brains in active mode! A jigsaw puzzle that will take a lot of time giving lots of fun: a copy of the Heye Jigsaw – 2,000 pieces, Napoleon’s Winter, designed by Jean-Jacques Loup. Here’s a link to browse through.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 15.13.36We already have copies of Loup’s Noah’s Ark – we loved it so much we did it twice, and the Spaghetti puzzle, both of which we had a great deal of fun and frustration but what a sense of achievement when we completed it with a touch of regret that we didn’t have it to work any more! We might just contemplate the 4,000 piece  Crazy World Cup for next year, but then there is the House of Horror, and the Orchestra designs! Decisions, decisions! By the way we found a source of the Heye puzzles in East Yorkshire, http://www.jigsawpuzzlesdirect.co.uk 01287659036.

We are really looking forward to retreating into puzzle mode and forgetting the wintry weather outside. Can’t wait for Christmas Day now!

Right, that’s everything done … now for a swig of that damson gin we put away a month or more ago. It must be ready by now!

We wish you all a very Merry and Happy Christmas.

Val Reynolds and her team

9
Oct

Lightweight Gardening Tools

Making light of physical garden work

IMG_0582Our garden has long but not very wide borders. We decided to clear them of unwanted plants and make them deeper and add curves to add interest and decide on a more varied planting. One unwanted plant with very deep roots is Centaurea Montana and some of the beds need a second deeper dig to remove new growth.

The soil is easy to work and after I had a look at our garden tools I realised most of them are heavy, suited to my husband, not me. Also I managed to break the wooden handled spade I have used for years when digging up strawberry plants in a friend’s garden – her soil was quite compacted and harder to work than ours.

IMG_0592When I found it was as expensive to replace the handle as to buy a brand new fork, I had a look at the Fiskars Garden Light range on their website. My husband had recently bought the edging tool which I found light and easy to use and wanted to see what else was available.

Weighing only 1.4 kg each, I decided on the fork and spade. Each have lightweight, plastic coated aluminium shafts designed to reduce back strain and make garden work lighter. Just as attractive with regards to weight, the rake and patio broom just had to be added to the list!

I already had Fiskars secateurs and multi purpose scissors Cuts+More – a really useful item to have around the garden and indoors – see list of features below.

IMG_0579We did consider a garden shed to hold the tools and found some quite suitable ones on the web.  In the end we decided another shed would be one too many and instead we utilised one end of the new woodstore. It gives easy access while protecting from the weather all our Fiskar tools. The pair of Fiskars scissors on the left hand side was bought about 1970 is still in use – simply love it!

I have to say I’m delighted with this tool storage, easy to access, shielded from the weather that cost virtually nothing. Now what more could be squeezed in! I’m thinking of a brand new hoe, maybe …

Val Reynolds, Editor

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 16.46.22The Cuts+More is designed to cope with

Trimming, pruning, opening packages

A power notch to cut light rope

A wire cutter for cutting light wire without damaging the blades

A twine cutter to cut twine cleanly and quickly

A pointed awl tip for piercing holes in cardboard, plastic, matting

Titanium-coated, take-apart knife for cutting sheets of polythene, cardboard and sheeting – this is particularly useful

The cover includes an integrated ceramic sharpener and tape cutter

And a bottle opener for a well-earned drink in the shed at the end of the day!

Photography by Pintail Photo © PintailPhoto

9
Jun

Fourteen Thoughtful gifts for Father’s day June 15th 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 16.37.32We asked busy garden writer Amily Grossman, to give us some of her ideas for gifts for Fathers’ Day. With a little help from friends and relatives, here is her list.

Dads can sometimes feel a little left out in the early days with mum and baby sharing so much one on one time together. Water Babies, is a leading baby swimming school with classes all over the country. Water Babies lessons are a great way to get Dad involved as little ones are able to take lessons from birth, giving Dad and baby a fantastic opportunity to bond. Our favourite Father’s Day gift!

The weight of garden tools can become an issue if you frequently dig, hoe and rake. So your dad might welcome on of the new Light Gardening Tools from Fiskars. Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 16.53.27The lawn rake looks especially useful, it efficiently clears grass with much less effort than usual. The patio knife on a long handle would save a lot of back ache. Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 16.57.57Having just broken a wooden handled spade we’re now seriously considering the Light spade for our own gardening activities.

My dad really likes doorstep size slices of bread, toasted muffins, toasted crumpets and fast toast. The Magimix Vision Toaster comes top in all these requirements – the chance to watch the toast cooking a plus feature.

This toaster is great for the man who is of the opinion there is no point in heating up the grill in the cooker for a couple of slices of toast – a total waste of electricity. The side by side design means it fits on the work surface neatly, although we would have it on the table for easy access. Just so you know, this toaster is a Which Best Buy and although pricey at £145 it has good user reviews.Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 17.00.31

OK, so a toaster is not appropriate for your dad. What about a book?

How about the Penguin series devoted to Simenon’s books – he may well enjoy the first Inspector Maigret novel Pietr the Latvian, if only for nostalgic reasons! Penguin are publishing the entire series of the Maigret novels, so this could cover your gifts for several years!

Confessions of The World’s Best Father – a tongue in cheek series of web entries that started an internet phenomenon. His bewilderment as to how to best raise a child makes Dave Engledow’s book an amusing read. The photographs are pretty good too!

If you’d prefer to give a more sober present, you could go for The Death of Money. James Rickards shows how we could avoid financial collapse.

James Lovelock’s A Rough Ride to the Future confirms his belief that the survival of the human race is one of the most important steps in the evolution of our planet. 

With Flowers Shows happening all over the country why not get tickets?

  1. For instance the Blenheim flower show 20-22 June. http://blenheimflowershow.co.uk/
  2. Hampton Court Flower Show is on from 8 to 13 July. Yes, it’s pricey but it’s big, a great time to talk to like minded gardeners, many exhibitors are readily accessible and it’s generally good weather! Link
  3. Harrogate Flower Show is 12-14 September. http://www.flowershow.org.uk/

If your dad is a keen veggie grower he might just like a copy of the Suttons Vegetable Garden Planner <suttons@growveg.com> An absolutely winner for us – it  takes out all the guesswork and is an easy to refer to record throughout the year.

Backdoor shoes – if your dad is constantly in and out of the garden, he might well like a pair of lightweight Backdoor Shoes to slip on and off. Might keep mum happy too with less mud to clear up. We love ‘em, ours has taken 4 years of hard wear and need replacing now. Which design to choose will be a challenge!

11182_1Does this portable USB iShaver razor appeal? Designed to easily slip in a pocket or washbag significant features include:

  • Recharge via USBi shave
  • Stylishly sleek compact design
  • Ultra-thin net foil with floating blades
  • Cleaning brush included
  • Easy on/off switch
  • Comes in a high gloss case and ultra-thin net foil with floating blades for a close, comfortable shave

Finally, some alcohol? Yes, it is a bit of a get out clause, here are some suggestions 

You could sign him up for Naked Wines. The company was started up by two former employees of Virgin Wines, with the added ethos of supporting the wine producers, all small scale but dedicated growers. You might like to make your dad a wine angel! Sounds fun? Here’s a link.

Taylor’s 10 year old Tawny Port is rather tasty, we keep some for special occasions and in the winter when we feel the need for something to keep us warm. http://taylor.pt/en/port-wine-ratings-awards/press-comments/

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 17.07.34Lastly, for the dad with a dog. The Forestry Commission England has created a one-stop-shop for owners and their dogs looking to take a break in and around forests and woodlands. The Ruff Guide to the Forest showcases 34 Forestry Commission locations across England, highlighting each site’s trails and facilities suitable for dogs, along with dog-friendly places to stay nearby.

Phew, will have to take a break now and go for a spot of weeding! The sun’s out and I’ll don my Backdoor Shoes, pick up the handy trowel with its graduated scale for planting seedlings, put on my Ethel gloves and make sure the waterproof jacket is by the backdoor in case of an unexpected show.

Good luck!

Amily Grossman, gardening expert and occasional contributor to In Balance Magazine

5
Dec

Twelve Thoughtful Gifts for Christmas

These gifts are good to give any time – they are our absolute favourites – they might just appeal. We make no apology for the gardening flavour … we dedicated gardeners just have to pass on details of products that work for us.

Plant theatre

Plant theatre

Plant Theatre  The Dobies catalogue is full of goodies for the gardener, and we really like the Plant Theatre they sell. We have put our new collection of streptocarpus cuttings in our Plant Theatre, although  traditionally used to show off auriculas.

Our plant theatre is on the floor of the conservatory at the moment but  will be erected on the wall as soon as possible to keep the plants away from draughts. Essentially woodland plants streptocarpus don’t like a lot of direct sunlight preferring to be kept lightly moist, bordering on dry. If you are interested have a look on the internet, there is a vast choice. You can buy cuttings on eBay as well. Some are absolutely beautiful and unusual.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 16.51.53Hi Lo 

If you know someone with hanging baskets who gets weary with lifting heavy watering cans, getting water up their arms,  puddles of water on the ground, our feeling is they would welcome a HiLo device. It allows you to lower the basket to a workable level for pruning, deadheading and watering. Then pulled up – carefully – to the height you want it. An essential item for any dedicated hanging basket fan. At the moment Dobies have a 3 for the price of 2 offer you might like to take up.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.18.17Know someone who is a keen ‘Grow your Own’ gardener? The Allotment Almanac provides a month by month entry to remind you, and look forward to, what could be done in your vegetable plot, big or small. A fascinating and infomative read written by Terry Walton,  gardening guru of BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show. A pleasant read and good guide for both experienced and novice gardeners alike.

G&P 2014 coverKnow someone who is intrigued by the effect of the moon on plants and their development? Gardening and Planting by the Moon 2014: Higher Yields in Vegetables and Flowers is out now and a fascinating read written by Nick Kollerstrom. Here we learn  the rhythms of the moon affect both crops and livestock. The gardeners at RHS Wisley have proved the benefits of the lunar effect under controlled research conditions. Increased yields of 20% – 30% are routinely touted. You won’t have to get up in the middle of the night to sow your carrots! Country folk know that planning their work in harmony with the rhythms of the moon produces better crops. It’s that easy. They get higher yields and better flavour in vegetables. Flowers produce stronger displays and heightened colour. This guide computes everything you need to know about the daily influence of the moon and the planets in the garden. With its full 15-month daily calendar, it creates an essential timetable for the year ahMead and a fine means of self-discipline for keen gardeners. More information on http://www.plantingbythemoon.co.uk

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 15.22.53We absolutely love the aromas from AromaWorks. Can’t say enough good things about them, from the candles to  reed diffusers,  body oil to bath oil,  room mists and essential oils.

We find it difficult to say which is our favourite but must note the mix of May Change and Sandalwood of the Nurture Room Mist is fabulous, and the aroma mix of Serenity is out of this world. The scent lasts for ages, it is highly concentrated, 100% pure but not overpowering. Even when we put have them away for a week or so we can still detect a feint scent for days.

These scents are well worth the money and the only room scent products we give as gifts, they are that good. See more details on AromaWorks.

Know a fan of Tolkein books? Then a series of epic stories that inspired Tolkein to write the Lord of the Rings has been published by Penguin.

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 12.03.53

The five titles of the Legends from The Ancient North are:

  • Beowulf
  • The Elder Eddo
  • The Saga of the Volsungs
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • The Wanderer: Elegies, Epics, Riddles

Each title is priced at £6.99. eBooks are £4.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 16.46.22A pair of secateurs is very useful when pottering around the garden . However  we have found a very useful pair of multi purpose scissors designed by Fiskars with so many features that makes it an essential item to carry around as well with you as well,  indoors and out. They are brightly coloured so less chance of losing them. I always tie a long red ribbon on secateurs which works for me.

Here’s a list of what the Cuts+More it is designed to cope with:

  • High-quality blades for trimming, pruning, opening packages
  • Power notch to cut light rope
  • Wire cutter for cutting light wire without damaging the blades
  • Twine cutter to cut twine cleanly and quickly
  • Pointed awl tip for piercing small holes in cardboard, plastic, matting
  • Titanium-coated, take-apart knife for cutting sheets of polythene, cardboard and sheeting
  • Cover includes an integrated ceramic sharpener and tape cutter
  • Bottle opener for a well-earned drink in the shed at the end of the day!

We love ours! Why not treat yourself and/or give a pair to a dedicated garden potterer?  Available from B&Q and independent home and garden stores.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.27.23Apple peeler/corer/slicer – its appearance does give the impression it is an instrument of torture! In fact it makes a job that can turn into torture into a breeze. And the results are so worthwhile and easy to produce I’m surprised it has taken us so long to find it!

When I lived in France Apple Flan was a regular and delicious treat. However that was in the days when we all had time to sit round a table to peel, core and slice apple ready for the tart to go in the oven and didn’t mind having brown stained fingers.

With this apple peeler everything is done in a trice.

Here are my Eleven Easy steps:

  • Wash cooking apples – it’s amazing how much dirt is removed in this one step.
  • Wipe dry, roughly.
  • Push onto the prongs
  • Turn handle
  • Watch the peel just fall down – straight into the compost bin!
  • Remove the peeled and cored apple
  • Cut in half
  • Lay straight onto pre-cooked pastry in the flan dish (some people put in a non stick cake tin liner to make sure the baking beans are all removed.
  • At this point some people put a layer of apple puree before adding the apple slices – this makes it all rather gorgeous!
  • Brush the apple slices with lemon juice – you could put them under the gril to brown them a little before brushing on a thin apricot jam syrup
  • Serve with beaten Light Philadelphia, or 0% fat greek yogurt. Yum!

Phew! That’s so easy! And quick! And looks so impressive!

Widely available on the web, where we bought ours.

We found several recipes on one website http://www.joyofbaking.com/FrenchAppleTart.html that you could adapt to suit.

One aspect of a kitchen sink is the space the draining board takes up, permanently, and the fact is we find it is not an easy space to use for anything else.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.08.21When we had a kitchen installed recently we asked for just a sink bowl and bought a Joseph Joseph flip side draining board – available in grey or white. This can be put away once finished with, leaving a clean, flat surface to use for other work which looks so much nicer. Ideal for two, but not very practical for a family.

Know someone who is worried about draughts and high energy costs? This is just one item we have found that really made a difference to the temperature in our hallway. It’s the EcoFlap. Fitted on the inside of the letter box it stops the draughts getting to your radiator thermostat.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.45.26We’ve just moved house and our new letterbox did leak air, seeped rain, rattled, snapped, and crumpled our mail! We quickly installed another Ecoflap – inexpensive, easy to install and effective. Can’t praise this enough!

Know someone who always has cold feet? We have tried three different products. The Carnation Silversocks made with pure silver fibre are said to relieve the pain of diabetes, chilblains, epidermolysis bullosa and circulation disorders, we like the idea of the anti bacteria element. They were rather too tight round the ankles for us, however would be fine for those with thinner legs.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 18.56.47Workforce socks fit the bill for when we are in and out of the cold, it doesn’t matter whether we are using boots or shoes in cold weather, they are comfortable and warm with a really comfy sole – a hit with husband!

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 16.52.32Then we came across goats’ woollen socks – they are wonderful! By far the most popular in our house. The socks come in long, medium and short. Plus topless, ideal for anyone who doesn’t like a mark on their leg or who might have circulation problems. Available from Wiggly Wigglers whose reviews are excellent, so it’s not just us who love ’em! Here is one: “These socks are quite simply the warmest socks that I have ever worn. They wash and dry well, and do not shrink. They also make great bedsocks!!! The weather outside is doing its worst (this is eastern Scotland after all!)  but my feet are warm and toasty!” Grown by Goats … for Toasty Toes … See more reviews and full details here.

5091David Austin roses  Whoever you give a rose to will be reminded of you for years to come. We love David Austin roses and have given so many as gifts over the years and never fail to find an excuse to give another! Our favourites are the ramblers and this year we have planted Creme de la Creme, a beautifully scented climber on the pergola. We have planted a white wisteria to complement it and between these two plants we are anticipating pleasant rests in the sun.

Compiled by Val Reynolds, Christopher Johns, Liz Lovell, Rose Monro

We’ll write something about the most successful presents we have given and received this Christmas. You might like to contribute!

10
Oct

Must Have for Christmas List No:1 Baileys Chocolat Luxe

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 18.21.15Just a sniff of the bottle was enough to get a wild response! This drink is something else, a perfect blend of Belgian chocolate and Irish whiskey.

Oh My God, just doesn’t sum it up! It’s deadly for anyone on a diet we think. Perhaps a thimbleful at a time would be best! (That’s once a day mind, make it last!) In fact 100 ml adds up to 371 calories (16g of fat, 27g carbs, 3.5g protein) … you can work a daily dose out for yourself!

The result of a three year project this is a chocoholic’s dream. Anthony Wilson is the son of the man who led the team behind Baileys Original Irish Cream some 30 years ago. So you can expect this chocolate offering to be in the same league of lusciousness.Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 18.21.29

This chocolate indulgence makes it impossible to envisage ice cream without it. We are putting together a list of other luscious items that would take a good dribbling – how about chocolate eclairs, meringues, jam doughnuts, shortbread and strawberries, cooked pears … the list could go on and on. Must stop fantasising, work to be done. Husband has hidden the bottle … but I will soon find it!

There is a video on the Baileys website link

Baileys Chocolat Luxe is available from October with an RRP of £16.99 for 50 cl. More info at www.baileys.com.

Val Reynolds, Editor

8
Sep

In Our Shopping Basket This Week

lady marmalade roseSometimes a plant comes on the market with a unique universal appeal, one many of us would love in our gardens. 

Lady Marmalade, a rose, falls into this category. Soft, sweet scent, beautiful colour, classic flower shape, with modern disease resistance and repeat flowering throughout the summer. What’s not to like! To cap it all it has just received the RHS award of Rose of the Year 2014.

We’re pretty sure it’s going to be a real winner and if you love the look of it as much as we do we really think you should order it straight away!

Here’s a link to the Thompson and Morgan web page giving full details

Just so you know, we do not receive any kind of remuneration for any of the products we recommend in our magazine. Every product reference is made purely based on what appeals to us and in almost all cases, from our own experience.

We are very attracted to this rose and thought our gardening readers would like to know about it as soon as possible and before supplies sell out!

lady-marmaladeWe notice The Telegraph is selling the same plant in a 4 litre pot for £17.99 whereas Thompson & Morgan are offering a bare root plant for £14.99. Full details for planting and aftercare are on their web page.

This beautiful floribunda rose would be an ideal plant as a gift … Especially to a rose lover – what a lovely surprise!

Elizabeth Gunn, Gardening journalist

29
Mar

Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum

01182878_001

Herculaneum, Bay of Naples, Italy, 2012 Copyright Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei / Trustees of the British Museum

It’s a well known fact that these two Roman towns were buried under mountains of ash, lava and rubble from Versuvius, with the horrifying result of wiping out both populations, grim indeed.  However, the latest exhibition at The British Museum, though set in the context of the disaster, is focussed on people’s everyday lives and their possessions. The things people commissioned, talked about, bought, loved, were proud of, sometimes broke, sometimes threw away, nevertheless things owned by real people.  It’s a new take and a welcome one, as the unusual circumstances of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption leave a unique opportunity of glimpsing the civilisation that was the Roman Empire.  And although Herculaneum is often seen as the smaller sister of Pompeii, it’s given almost equal billing here.

The exhibition revolves around the home, its interior, its gardens, its kitchen and also the streets and shops.  The artefacts are clearly explained with Latin inscriptions helpfully translated.  One fresco that particularly strikes a modern chord is of drinkers gearing up for a brawl;  indeed, you felt yourself thinking on many occasions, that life hasn’t really changed that much since AD79!

The pyroclastic flow that hit Herculaneum was so much hotter than the ash and rocks. People were instantly knocked to the ground, their bones broken, their bodies burned to the bone. Items were crisped and carbonised, so amazingly we’re able for instance to see a loaf of bread from Herculaneum, and even the stamp of the baker on a loaf of bread.  His  name, Celer, means speedy. Speedy was obviously proud of his ability to turn out loaves of bread. The child’s wooden cradle that still rocks serves as a poignant example of everyday life.

01182795_001

Wall painting of the baker Terentius Neo and his wife. From the House of Terentius Neo, Pompeii. AD 50 to 79. Copyright Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei / Trustees of the British Museum

From the artefacts it’s clear that many slaves became freed men and women and integrated more fully into everyday life in both towns.  Also highlighted is the important role of women which throws into the air our ideas that they were generally considered to be second class citizens.  One of the most beautiful and telling exhibits is a beautiful fresco, showing a man, and his wife, standing side by side, he holding a scroll, she a wax tablet, on which she kept domestic and business accounts; so who was wearing the toga in that household?  Women may not have been able to vote or be elected to public life but they seem to have had equal say in everyday life.

You are encouraged to enter the lovely home and garden with its wonderful frescos of birds and flowers, to make yourselves at home and  view the wonderful items of Roman life  many of which have never been seen in public before.  And as you enter the final rooms of the exhibition, you can also see a few of the famous casts of bodies from Pompeii, a reminder of the tragedy that struck but still telling you that these are real people.

00567381_001

Gold bracelet in the form of a coiled snake, 1st Century AD, Roman, Pompeii. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum

Look out for the dormouse fattening up pot! The gold jewellery  is fascinating, you can buy a replica of a beautiful snake bracelet for £120 in the inevitable shop at the exit.

Jeannette Nelson Arts Critic   A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

18
Dec

Protect Skin from Winter Cold with Creams

verveine

Verveine (Lippia citriodora)

One of my most enduring memories of a year long stay in France, as an au pair, was a hot drink made from verveine, a plant we refer to as lemon verbena. It was wonderfully comforting, had a familiar lemony aroma and sugar really enhanced its flavour. So when I heard about a hand cream with that wonderful scent I just had to try it out.

Winter time is one when my cuticles have a tendency to crack, resulting in that really long period of pain. The lemon verbena hand cream has a 20% shea butter base. It’s creamy texture is easily absorbed, leaving hands soft and supple and I find especially effective when rubbed round the fingernail.

IMG_6709On my desk at the moment are the final contestants in my Strictly Skincare  hand cream choice. I started with about 20 different products. The five are, in no particular order of preference – they are all used regularly:

Energizing Verbena Hand Cream – Panier des Sens, en Provence that comes with very pretty packaging

Morrisons Unscented Hand Cream, Concentrated – a glycerine based cream it is useful when you don’t want to wear a second scent that might conflict. It is very creamy, softening  dry skin and useful to add before you start to work in the garden.

Q10 by Pharma Nord is another hand cream that conditions and protects at the same time. It contains ginkgo Biloba, Pycnogenol and Vitamin E. All ingredients considered highly beneficial by skincare aficionados.

Lotil Original is specifically designed for cold weather and I always check there is a small tube in my handbag at this time of year.

On a recent visit to The Dales I took my tube of English Weather Cream. I always use this in cold weather because my face dries out in cold windy weather and this cream works absolutely fantastically. However, it has been recently discontinued …  Made by Lotil it is no longer available – such a shame. I’m looking for a replacement product and will let you know if I find one.

Wearing silk lined gloves helps to keep my hands warm and in conjunction with any one of these handcreams I’m able to keep them in good condition, safe from damaging cold weather.

All are available online but of course in store is always a good place to try them out!

Kate Campbell, Health Editor

Kate has worked with editor Val Reynolds since 1996 and they are constantly looking for top quality, effective skincare products. Do you have a favourite? Do let us know and we will pass on your recommendations.

17
Nov

Top Ten Christmas Gifts for 2012 – Personal Favourites

Every year we put together a list of the products we have tried and loved over the year and include them in our Christmas List. 2012 has been a memorable year for visits, tastings and tests.

These are our favourites:

Orange_Bouquet

Orange_Bouquet

Chocolate bouquet – can’t think of anything more tempting than this astonishingly beautiful chocolate bouquet – we’re sending it as a family gift to five families who live far and wide who will be meeting up for Christmas in a country house in the Midlands. A smaller bouquet and individual flowers are also available. Utterly charming, seems a shame to eat them.

Last year we were impressed by and ordered several items from the Thompson & Morgan catalogue of bouquets and other floral gifts. This year they have added to the items on offer. All details on their website.

Booja Booja chocolate truffles are oh so yum! Organic and made by hand, we have to restrict ourselves to one each a day until the box is empty. Delicious flavours include raspberry – our absolute favourite is the Champagne Truffle … so irresistible they should be banned! Ingredients for chocolate aficionados: Dark chocolate (cocoa solids 55%, cane sugar, emulsifier, soya lecithin, vanilla, coconut oil, champagne 8%, Agave, Cocoa powder.

Organic Champagne Truffles

Organic Champagne Truffles

Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is always interesting and on our return from a two month stay in France we immediately bought a hand blender – there are lots on the market but we plumped for the Sainsbury 200K version. At the surprising price of £4.13 it does the job quite well and is good enough for soups, blending cooked fruit and vegetables. We love the flexibility of blending direct in the saucepan. Much less washing up. For slicing, chopping and making small quantities of sauce our Magimix is indispensable – it has considerably more power with well designed cutting discs.

We love our Russell Hobbs Brita Filter Kettle. Living in a hard water and limescale area, dark rings on cups and a film on coffee and tea is really noticeable and slightly unpleasant. All that disappears using this filter kettle and your tea and coffee tastes so much better too. Of course you have the ongoing expense of the filters, but we prefer that to the unpleasant effects of scale. We use the filtered water for cooking as well.

Spoon Rest

Spoon Rest

Another useful device in the French kitchen was a simple Spoon Rest. I could only search out one, in John Lewis, the Playnation Ceramic Rest costs £8. It’s big enough to hold more than one wooden spoon, it gives me less cleaning to do of food marks on the worktop. Just throw it in the dishwasher, well best not to throw … Definitely the most useful piece of kitchen kit I have come across in years.

Digital scales As I am on a calorie restricted food programme (called a diet by everyone else!) an accurate, easy to clean, set of scales is essential. Again John Lewis came up trumps and I was pleased the nicest one I found, Salter 1036 Electronic Disc Kitchen Scale, 5kg, Black only cost £12.80. It has a lot of positive reviews.

I was lucky enough to interview Stanley Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, a month or so ago to talk about her, painting, work methods and style. The feature will  appear in the New Year.

Christiane was kind enough to sign a copy of the Taschen Book: The Stanley Kubrick Archives for us to offer to In Balance readers. This giveaway will appear on this website early in 2013.

The book is the first to explore Kubrick’s archives and the most comprehensive study of the filmmaker to date. It would be a must for any film buff. Reviews on the Taschen website are enlightening.

Another book we came across is Uniquely British, A Year in the Life of The Household Cavalry, written by serving officers and soldiers. The book covers events that took place during 2011 and 2012 and gives a unique insight into the background activities of a 350 year old organisation. Published to fund the launch of the Household Cavalry Foundation, a new charity to support serving soldiers, operational casualties, veterans or even their horses. Uniquely British is available direct from the publishers Tricorn Books, who presumably pay their British taxes which is more than be said about that huge organisation that sends most of its UK profits home to the US whose name begins with a capital A and from whom we assume you wouldn’t order this book. Sorry, our prejudices are showing.

OTHER Favourites to Give you Inspiration

For those who find listening to book a lifeline when driving long distance, or doing any repetitive activity like gym work, talking books might be an appropriate gift. Our recent feature gives details

George Foreman Grill – Absolutely besotted with this easy to make sandwich grill that cooks steaks to a T! Our feature gives details

Rose Oil is our absolute favourite product for facial care. From Living Nature we would never be without it!

Belleville Rendezvous – If you haven’t seen this do have a look at our feature – it’s a cartoon which is so funny and whacky yet charming and engaging.

Insect House – This is a fascinating item to attracts insects that will stay in your garden to help pollinate your fruit and vegetables. Young children love it. Our recent feature gives details.

Relaxing by the pool

And FINALLY, we’ve left the best until last! We spent an overnight spa stay at Whittlebury Hall. We so enjoyed this. A world class hydrotherapy centre, offering a vast range of treatments, beautiful decor, spacious accommodation, wonderful food … seriously large swimming pool, golf course, beautiful grounds to explore … You might just like to book up one of the special deals on offer up to Christmas! I took my husband who loved it … now that’s a recommendation!

Phew, I hope you find something of interest to choose as a thoughtful gift.

Good luck and the compliments of the season!

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

 

6
Sep

Five Best Skincare Product Ranges

We always search out skincare products that don’t put unnatural chemicals on our skin and hair. Everything we write about here are our favourites, the ones we would always buy.

Now you might think there are rather a lot, but we often give some a break and then go back at a later date. This seems to work especially well with shampoo.

Tisserand have such a wonderful a range – you can see them on their website –  that choosing is hard. However here are our absolute favourites:

  • Intensive Hand and Nail Cream – wonderful aroma, good feel, organic and ethically harvested (As at 25 August they were offering this at a much reduced price)
  • Anti-Blemish Stick – this works well on reducing redness, it’s not a cream but a tea tree oil mix easy to apply with a little stick we always have one in our bag
  • De-Stress Bath Soak – this has a lavender base … need we say more!
  • They also have a range of remedy roller balls, Head Clear that cools and relieves, Energise that boosts and revitalises, Focus that stimulates and invigorates, De-Stress that comforts and rebalances
  • There are frequently offers – you might like to keep in touch via their newsletter.

Melvita offer a wonderful range of good quality organic, natural cosmetics not tested on animals. We love the Argan oil and use it on our face and hands in the daytime. At the moment the website is offering free samples … worth a look if you are really interested in top quality products. We notice they have added three new hydration products that soften and plump up your skin. Must try the narcissi fragrance! They also have a newsletter you can subscribe to.

Living Nature have a fabulously scented night oil containing rose and rosehip oil together with calendula to aid the regeneration process. This together with their firming flax serum, which we absolutely love, make a great combination to help reduce lines and wrinkles. Uniquely New Zealand the range is available on their website. To find your nearest stockist go to their website

It’s not easy finding a paraben and aluminium free deodorant and after a bit of a search we found Bionsen, a roll-on product, containing no alcohol – another ingredient some skins object to. Made with Japanese spa minerals it’s widely available, look out for it in Boots, Sainsburys, Tesco for instance, or even buy from their own website.

Nelson’s Arnicare bath and massage balm worked wonders for us when we had a remedial massage recently. Pleasantly scented it melted into our skin and relieved our aches and pains. We’ve used it since on different occasions and were pleased with the results. With an intriguing list of ingredients, free from parabens, lanolin, mineral oil, SLS’s and PEGs, we think it will please those looking to relieve their aches and pains, try it in the bath … wonderful!

More information about Arnicare. Available in Boots, Holland & Barrett and online.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

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