Review of 2018

2018 was quite full-on for me for a number of reasons – not least because I am finally feeling vaguely adult-like at the grand old age of 35!

This year, on my route to adulthood, I
– Moved in with my boyfriend
– Found myself a new job that means I get to use my Open University degree (I graduated in 2015)
– Got engaged!
– Paid off my student loan (at last)
– Acquired a rescue cat and four rescue chickens

I also continued my attempts to be a ‘good person’, racking up

– Volunteering at the World Para Swimming European Championships in Dublin
– Volunteering at the Open University on their archiving project
– Making my 50th blood donation
– Being asked to feature in the 30th birthday video for the Lister Fertility Clinic after I was an altruistic egg donor a couple of years ago
– Wrote more articles for the International Paralympic Committee
– Rowed The Queen’s Rowbarge Gloriana at the Boat Races

I nurtured my creative side and participated in quite a variety of classes and courses

– Weaving class

– Pottery course

– Lino cutting course

– Biscuiteers class

– And I finally managed to make some decent meringues!

In other creative news, I’ve managed to create a few new products this year in both my Becky Button and Bellbird & Button shops. This is particularly good as last year’s semi-forgotten ‘resolution’ was to work on my Etsy life, and that has gone well this year. I participated in March Meet the Maker and managed to post something for all of the daily prompts (thanks to careful planning!).

I continued my involvement with the Oxford Etsy team, participating in the latest pop-up shop in Didcot, as well as selling at the Oxford Castle Quarter x Oxford Etsy markets over the summer, and being picked to have a stall at the Oxford Etsy Made Local event in December at the amazing Examination Schools building.

I designed the poster for the 50th Oxford City Royal Regatta, using a 1960s Pop Art theme and going from concept to print in less than two weeks.

We also managed a few holidays this year

  • My first skiing experience, in Tignes, France in January
  • A nice summer break to Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, where we went sea kayaking and I tried snorkelling for the first time (and M proposed <3)
  • A quick trip on a half price offer to the very fancy and lovely Ragdale Hall just before Christmas (would definitely recommend!)

And finally, M and I took up dance lessons, which are proving to be trickier than Strictly makes it look, but we are enjoying them and we are definitely seeing improvements in our technique and rhythm.

Despite this list of accomplishments I’m still having trouble with thinking that I haven’t done ‘enough’. I’m not sure what this mystical ideal of doing ‘enough’ actually entails so perhaps I should work on being kinder to myself…

My unofficial resolution for the New Year is to actually use the notebooks I have been hoarding for years, deeming them to be too special/pretty/expensive to use for anything ordinary.

I suspect most of the first part of 2019 will be taken up with wedding-related organising and making but I hope to still find time to add some more achievements to my list. I’m not sure I expected 2018 to be quite so busy, so who knows what might happen this year!


Gluten Free and Dairy Free Courgette (Zucchini) Loaf Cake

I’ve been meaning to pop this recipe up on the blog for ages because it’s been getting such good feedback from people – alas now we have come to the end of this year’s courgette glut (though we did find a sizeable specimen -still edible! – hidden in the veg patch as we were clearing out all the old plants ready for winter yesterday). Anyway, although it’s not quite as good as using produce from your own garden, courgettes are available year-round from good supermarkets (in the UK at least) so you don’t have to wait until summer to try this.

It’s a recipe I developed based on a BBC Good Food one, specifically to take to a picnic with friends where I knew that there were people with food intolerances to dairy and gluten. The recipe is not currently egg free as I have yet to try replacing the eggs with a couple of tablespoons of non-dairy yoghurt (a trick I’ve tried with other cakes), but if someone wants to try it and let me know that’d be great!

This cake sounds ‘scary’ but tastes great, I’ve had nothing but positive feedback once people get over their fears about vegetable-based cake potentially tasting weird (I get the same thing when I make pumpkin pie, but I just figure that leaves more for me!). I always add a lemon glaze to this which really brings out the flavours and moistness, but it’s entirely up to you. The pictures show it without the glaze.

Non-dairy spread (for the tin)
2 large eggs
125ml vegetable oil
100g soft brown sugar
3 courgettes grated (should be around 450-500g)
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g rice flour
100g ground almonds
2tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp gluten free baking powder
85g walnuts, roughly chopped
140g sultanas
1tbsp lemon juice

Drizzle topping (optional)
100g caster sugar
2 lemons

Heat oven to 180C / 160C fan / gas mark 4. Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, oil, lemon juice and sugar, then add the courgettes and vanilla.

In another bowl, combine the remaining ingredients with a pinch of salt.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet mixture, then pour into the tin. Bake for one hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

If you’d like to add the lemon glaze (I’ve borrowed it from my Pinterest-famous write up of Mary Berry’s lemon drizzle traybake recipe), juice the lemons, add the caster sugar, mix together until a smooth glaze is formed. Poke the loaf all over the top with a fork while it’s still warm and then pour over the drizzle. Allow to cool completely before removing from the tin.


How I learned to love vegetables (sometimes)

I’m a lifelong vegetarian, and I’ve been something of a fussy eater for as long as I can remember.

For many years I described myself as a ‘vegetarian who doesn’t like vegetables’ and who relied on yellow food (aka carbs) to get through. A couple of years ago I reached the conclusion that I did not want that label any more and decided to learn to love vegetables!

Here’s how I’ve managed to increase the amount of vegetables and variety in my diet, in case anyone else wants to do the same 🙂 Continue reading

Review of 2017

My now-traditional end of year review is here! It’s been a busy old year again (though it often doesn’t seem like it at the time). Amongst other things, this year I have:

– Launched my new art prints (and printed textiles) Etsy shop, Bellbird & Button
– Joined the wonderful Oxford Etsy Team, had my items stocked in their very successful pop up shop, and was also chosen to have a stall at the very popular Etsy Made Local market in December
– Started getting a veg box delivered by Abel & Cole to try to improve how adventurous I am with my diet. This has proved to be very successful, and my boyfriend has started getting their soup box too. I only get one delivered every three weeks so it’s not too extravagant and it really has made a difference. Discount code here if you want to try one yourself!
– Inspired by said veg box, I designed a vegetable pattern and had it made into tote bags, tea towels and aprons. Soon to be listed on my Etsy shop…
– I volunteered at the Oxford Half Marathon again – fourth year in a row! This year I was making sure that runners took the correct route to the start and then handing out goodie bags at the end.
– I participated in Creative Sprint October 2017
– I went on holiday to Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne region of France with my boyfriend, and had a truly memorable meal at a Michelin star restaurant
– I volunteered at the IAAF World Athletics Championships and World Para Athletics Championships – events I’ve had my eye on since they were announced in 2013! I had the BEST time being a Spectator Services volunteer at both events. I really, really recommend volunteering, and I’m already signed up for a few opportunities this year, as well as looking ahead to future events… (Commonwealth Games 2022, anyone?)
– I bought a new hybrid road bike and entered the ballot for Ride London 100 2018… I’m aiming to complete the London Classics some day
– Helped the Co-op test out their Now Cook It campaign
– Had my first skiing lessons as I’ve been inveigled into going skiing this month and I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be a total disaster
– Volunteered at the UEFA Champion’s League Finals in Cardiff… including a ‘starring’ role in the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final opening ceremony
– Went to the truly epic immersive Secret Cinema experience of Moulin Rouge
– Started having Crafternoons with friends where we have chat, food and crafts!

Last year’s resolutions were to be more eco-friendly, buy more mindfully and try to save some money. I’m please to say that my mail-order habit is now under control, and I managed to beat my savings target for the year by quite a way. Eco-friendliness is something that will always need to be worked on but I have successfully changed some of my behaviours and buying habits and will continue to work on the rest!

I was also supposed to work on my all-or-nothing approach to life but that’s not really changed… guess I’m stuck with it!

This year my main aims (resolutions?) are to really sort out my Etsy life. Now that I have two shops, I need to take control of my making-space, my finances, records and inventory; I need to design and make and list some new things; I need to work out which direction I want it all to go in and actively seek to make the required changes. A lot of work, but hopefully it will be worth it. Any advice will be gratefully received!

Outside of Etsy, there are a good few exciting things in the pipeline already, so it will be interesting to see how they worked out when I do my review at the end of 2018!

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and a happy New Year 🙂


Visiting Clermont-Ferrand and the Auvergne region

TL;DR version: Buy a ClermontPass! Eat some cheese! Make sure that things will be open before you try to visit them!

This year, M and I went on our summer holidays in September. We visited the quiet and somewhat forgotten Auvergne region in the centre of France, and even the locals were surprised that we were holidaying there. It was a much-needed slow-paced break from hectic work life as opposed to an action packed holiday, and I very much enjoyed the experience.

M had spotted an article about the Auvergne in the Sunday Times Travel section a couple of months previously, and since we’d been talking about visiting France for a while, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to head to somewhere off the beaten tourist track. Continue reading

Review of 2016

I’m a little late with my review of the year this year, mostly because I was away from home over the festive period but also because I wanted to write up some really considered ‘resolutions’ for 2017.

I was pretty busy in 2016, although almost the entire first half of the year had a definite rowing focus.

– I went on rowing training camp to Gent, Belgium again, and was deemed ‘most improved’ at the end of it
– I was happy to be chosen to compete for my rowing club at the Henley Women’s Regatta and we made it through the time trials and two competitive rounds before going out in the semi-finals to the eventual winners
– I was asked to do the decorations for the rowing club annual dinner and managed to do some pretty nifty things on a very low budget
– My efforts earned me the Lady Rower of the Year trophy at my rowing club – all the blood, sweat, tears, DOMS, blisters, fatigue, hunger and doubts were worth it in the end!
– I volunteered at the Oxford Half Marathon for the third year, this time handing out medals at the finish, and also assisting with the local schools’ event
– I got my first ever work promotion
– I met my boyfriend!
– I went on a romantic vacance to Paris with said boyfriend – we visited the Louvre, Pompidou centre, Eiffel Tower, Champs-Élysées, Montmartre and Versailles amongst other places
– I became a volunteer writer for the International Paralympic Committee
– I was a social media volunteer at the IPC Swimming European Open Championships in Funchal, Madeira
– I joined a Biobank and found out some interesting facts and stats about my body! (Thankfully all good ones)
– I finally managed to visit the Thermae Bath Spa – lovely on a cold, slightly snowy winter’s night
– I did another Creative Sprint in October 2016, and even got one of my creations featured on Instagram!
– Way back in January 2016 I won the Charity Award at my work’s New Year party for my efforts organising cake sales for fundraising
– I moved house (again)

So, to my ‘resolutions’ – though they’re not set in stone. After the continuing success of my resolution a few years ago to ‘be more positive’, these days I am all about making long-term, lasting lifestyle adjustments.

I’ll continue to improve the eco-friendliness of my life – I’m already seeing good results from this, it’s making me use my imagination more, be healthier, and be more mindful of how I go about doing things.

I was guilty last year of buying lots of things via mail order, mostly because, what with all that rowing, I very rarely had the time or energy to go to the shops. The trouble was I spent a lot of time and money sending things back, and the packaging that items are sent out in is often both copious and non-recyclable. Plus I was missing out on trying things on and experimenting. Last year my standout purchase was an amazingly flattering pair of dungarees (of all things) which I would never have bought via the website, but thought ‘why not’ in the shop! This is part of a ‘try new things’ kick which I have been on for a couple of years. The only time I am planning to make an exception to my mail order rule is when either the brand does not have a physical shop or offline stockists, or if I am able to support an independent Etsy seller by buying something from them.

I’m still working on finding some happy mediums with all of the things I do. I can be very much an all or nothing kind of person and I need to learn to exist in the middle ground a bit more.

What with all the being eco-friendly and kicking my mail-order habit, I’m hoping to be able to save some money this year. My stepdad pointed out the other day (if evidence of the above all-or-nothingness was needed) that I like to have Big Experiences. So instead of, for example, just going to the Winter Wonderland event in Hyde Park in London, I readily sold many of my worldly belongings to be able to afford to go to Norway to see real snow, real alpine forests, real Northern Lights. Similarly, he said, I don’t want to go to a mere zoo, I want to go to New Zealand to save an endangered parrot! All these wonderful experiences cost money so I’m going to make it my mission to save up enough to do another one soon.



Back in the day, I was very much into anything to do with the environment. I was into recycling, saving the animals, protecting the rainforests, you name it!

As I got older, and had more life stuff to think about, I began to lose some of my eco-focus. Not all of it: I still recycled; I avoided anything that might be particularly harmful to the planet; I used canvas bags as an alternative to plastic bags for years before the 5p bag tax was introduced. But I just lost interest and got a bit lax with my habits over time.

A new friend has inspired me to get back into being a treehugger again. She’s doing a project for a year (at least) that involves living a lifestyle that generates zero waste – with a focus on single-use plastic. When she first told me about this, it made me realise that I’d lost sight of how I used to be, and that I should probably make more effort!

She’s recording her efforts and thoughts on the project over on Instagram. My favourite photo (so far) can be found here, and it’s my favourite because of the caption she added:

{ Plastic Free July tips – for everyday… }
Whenever I leave the house, I nearly always have my [Kleen Kanteen] waterbottle and my keepcup with me – I love them so much, they fit in my bag, and it’s super easy. It means that I never really need to buy bottled water, as I can normally find somewhere to refill, and I can always have tea/coffee on the go. I also normally carry a cotton tote bag, in case I buy anything and need some way to carry it. If I’m going out for the day (or longer), I will often also carry a container (such as a jar, or old tupperware) and a spoon/fork, in case I want to buy lunch, or a snack, on the go. If I forget these things, which I do, coz I’m only human …then I will just enjoy tea, or a meal sitting down which is a nice way to slow down a bit anyway. Sometimes I will even pop a stainless steel straw into my bag…

I’m terrible for rushing around all the time so the idea of having a proper sit-down meal as the ‘green’ option really resonated with me. It would actually be more effective at making me slow down than any kind of concern for my own personal welfare!

It’s very early days for me and I’m clearly not as experienced as Hannah in these matters, but I’m going to concentrate on improving things bit by bit and see how I get on.

I’m going to try to get back into upcycling and recons too, so hopefully I will have some craft and design based posts to share soon.

What are your tips for living a greener life?