How does your garden grow?

I have never really taken all that much interest in gardening. I suffer from hayfever, and spend most of the summer months hiding in the house pretending that the hot weather is just a horrible dream. I grew up in a fairly modest garden, lawn, patio, earning pocket money hacking down the enormous laurel bush at various intervals, and drawing on the walls with chalks. Gardening just wasn't a thing we did as a family in my house. Strangely both sets of my grandparents were voracious gardeners and when clearing one house before my granny went to live in a care home I found album upon album filled with images of her precious flowers, but not in our house.

When we moved into this house we were told by people don't do anything with the garden for at least a year. Given the work we wanted to do in the rest of the house I was happy to take this advice and (general tidying aside) we have spent a year watching the garden do its thing. The previous owners planted it to have waves of things growing, just when we thought a bed was going to be empty for the next season a pop of colour would appear, or something we were convinced was a weed would burst into an amazing showing of flowers.

We have tried our hands at house plants and it has been an unfailing disaster. Everything dies. Even spider plants, small children can keep spider plants alive, I remember doing it at school, but in our house? No, they commit suicide.

I researched, I tried to make sure I wasn't watering too much or too little, we ought cheap plants, we bought expensive ones, nothing survived. Then an idea struck me, perhaps it wasn't the plants that we the problem, maybe it was our watering can. There is a vague memory in my mind that I used it for cleaning our deck with some nasty chemicals and it struck me that possibly this wasn't the best ingredients to build an amazing selection of house plants. So I swapped our watering can for an empty milk bottle with holes punched in the lid and tried again.

I sowed some seeds, popped a lid thing on them and waited.

And we only bloody did it! we have seedlings. Everyday there would be coo's of "look how much its grown" and "is that a shoot or a bit of stick?", till now we have a positive bed of seedlings that have been (slightly inexpertly) re potted.

I am so excited to try more. There are grand plan afoot for gooseberry bushes and lavender beds. If you've recently moved and are thinking about taking your first steps into the garden I would certainly listen to the advice of others, leave it a year, watch your garden, see what you like, and then make your changes.

And of course remember don't use your watering can to clean the decking. Ever.


Precious Recipes

There are certain recipes that are scribbled down on scraps of paper that become your Precious ones. They are the only way to make a certain dish. I have very few of these. I am more of a book lover when it comes to recipes. Though I do on occasion tear something out of a magazine, or keep a print out of a dish that that was really spectacular, these bits of paper end up in a folder that I only ever look in when I am putting away a new recipe that I will invariably never use again.

There are 3 exceptions to this. Firstly my Luscious Lemon Drizzle Cake which I have been making for YEARS having heard it on Woman's Hour. It is a super simple recipe that I go back to again and again.

Second the spicy halloumi salad nbnqnbnq sent me a couple of years ago after I fell in love with it over dinner one night.

And finally my broccoli and blue cheese soup with cheese scone scribble. These three scraps of paper have lived either attached to the fridge or pinned to the noticeboard since I discovered them. But when we moved into this house they went missing. I searched through folders, boxes, drawers of stuff, everywhere and they were nowhere to be found. I managed to track down the lemon drizzle online and I knew the halloumi was only a google away but my precious cheese scones were gone forever.

In an attempt to get over the loss of these future heirlooms I have tried about 15 different scone recipes and nothing was quite right, either the amounts were tiny and we only got 4 scones, or there wasn't enough cheese, or they didn't rise, or they just tasted grim. I had very much thrown in the towel. Clearly my cosy double cheese suppers were a thing of the past, until we finally opened our last moving box. And there they were! My Precious came home! Hidden amongst the living room ornaments (of course I should clearly have looked their first) were these beauties. I instantly headed to the kitchen and made a batch of scones for lunch and they were awesome. These ones are flecked with red pepper as we had some Mexicana cheese knocking about that needed munching.
To prevent me ever losing them again here are the recipe for my cosy cheesy scones.

 Cheesy Scones
400g self raising flour
80g butter diced
150g grated cheese (extra mature is my favourite)
1tsp english mustard powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
200ml milk (warmed)

  1. preheat an oven to gas mark 7/200c Fan
  2. rub together the flour into the butter 
  3. add the cayenne pepper, mustard powder & 100g of cheese to the flour mixure and stir
  4. gently combine with the warm milk until a soft dough is formed
  5. turn out onto a floured surface and shape into a large round
  6. cut into 8 wedges and arrange on a baking sheet
  7. bake for 10 mins
  8. remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining cheese
  9. cook for a further 6 minutes
  10. serve warm with butter, or dunk in soup.


A Bookish Affair

I have been having an affair. You know how it is at the beginning everything is new and exciting, you are learning all the things you have in common, you get to do things you would never imagine doing, it feels even more exciting because you know you are cheating. But sooner or later you have to make the choice, is this really for me? Am I really ready to give up everything I love for something exciting and new, but very uncertain.

Yes dear blog, I have been having an affair. For the last year I have been having a fairly intense affair with YouTube.

You know how it is, you read an article in the Observer about the 'new media' stars, and then all of a sudden your watching their content just to see what it is all about and before you know it the lives of somewhat shiny early 20's vloggers have taken that place in your life that blogs used to fill. But as with all affairs when you start trying to think about a serious future together you realise that beneath the shiny excitement of something new you don't quite fit. I tried my hand at making videos but it never quite clicked for me, it is something I am working on in a work capacity at the moment so personal vlogging has felt too much like a busman's holiday. Rosalilium wrote an interesting blog and made a video on this subject about if YouTube is for 30+ or not and it got me thinking about vlogging and the kinda content I was actually enjoying. Who's video's did I watch as soon as they appeared in my subs box, and who did I leave languishing at the bottom?

I found that the majority of the content I really like was book related. There has been an upsurge in the awareness of BookTube as a 'thing' recently, and I have found myself watching more and more of this content. BookTube is just that, it is videos dedicated to books, to discussing book themes, to book reviews, to general bookish stuff. I started refining my YouTube consumption and now it seems most of the channels I watch are bookish. A lot of my mornings now start like this

catching up with Jen Campbell's latest

I have always been a voracious reader, but in the last few years I have found myself reading the same kind of books again and again. The endless supply of cheap books available on my kindle at 2 in the morning when insomnia strikes means that rather than reading even mode widely I have had to get narrower and narrower in my selections to try and cope with the huge choice. BookTube had once again given me confidence in trying new books. Where a BookTuber (someone who makes YouTube video's about books) has reviewed a book I've read and I have a similar opinion to them I've given some of their other books a go.  This confidence is getting quite costly though. There is something about watching hours and hours of people holding physical books, sat in front of bursting-to-the-seams bookcases that makes me crave piles of books. Having just Marie Kondo-ed our books my shelved were looking pretty anaemic, so I have been buying books. A lot of them. This great video by Choncey Boddington  has assuaged my rediscovered book hoarding tendencies a little.

For me the moral of this story is about finding balance. I love blogging and I miss doing it. I was seduced by YouTube for a while, and despite having found a little corner of it that feels like it fits, my heart still belongs to blogging. I am still going to head to BookTube to get my weekly fix of bookish recommendations, but I think it is time to dust of the keyboard and find my way back to bloggy words.


Jurassic World

On Thursday night BorderlineStraggler and I rocked over to our local Odeon to see Jurassic World. I work at an arts centre, and one of the perks of my job is the free tickets we get to most shows and films. This means most of the cinema I see is in our cosy cinema, with all the art centre experience you would expect. Whilst I love being able to bop downstairs and see a film at the end of my working day, there are certain films you must see in a booming-sound-enormous-chairs-expensive-snacks-giant-screen-multiplex extravaganza. Jurassic World is definitely one of these films.

I love the Jurassic Park film series. I saw the first one at the cinema with my dad when I was 11, and the moment I sat down in my throne like chair on Thursday I was transported back to the very first time I heard the opening bars of the famous John Williams theme tune, and saw my first dinosaur running free in the wild. There was no cynicism or critical engagement going to happen, just pure unadulterated childlike joy.

Since watching the film I have had so many conflicting reviews. There is a lot of criticism about the  one dimensional characters and unbelievable plot and the trailer size holes in it, but for me it was a perfect combination of excitement, fast paced plot, exaggerated characters with little or no back story and motivation, and DINOSAURS! I loved it. It took me back to being 11, being full of awe and wonder, and sitting here writing this I still have the biggest grin on my face at the big ending. If you are looking for some escapism to munch your popcorn to I can highly recommend this.

And I just can't stop humming this tune


BEDM: Special Talents

This was another prompt I have been dragging my feet over. BorderlineStraggler reckons I have just reached my 1/3 way through slump, but I think I am struggling so much with this one because it is hard not to write something that seems arrogant. I know the things I love doing do impress other people, but to me these are things that have been inspired by others, or I find myself jumping to show people how they can do something just as easily. I love sharing my skills, so I never really see them as all that.... special. For me it is hard to know what things are my special talents when it is all about context. For example, I work in participatory arts where the focus of my people's talents and enthusiasm is about running engaging interesting sessions. My ability to make a decent spreadsheet is seen as unusual, I run the risk cries of "burn the witch!" every time I pop in conditional formatting, turn off gridlines, or run a mail merge. But when I worked at Oxford, my limited knowledge of excel was below standard for the kind of work I had to do. I went on courses, pestered colleagues to show me what they were doing, and embraced the ideals of fake it till you make it - blustering through any bits I was unsure on and then furiously googling the answer in private. 

Nowadays my circumstances mean my most often mentioned work based special talents lie in my kick ass admin skills, my frankly beautiful forms and elegant processes. I am super proud of how I use these to improve my projects at work, but sometimes it'd be nice to have a slightly cooler special talent, like being able to hoop with fire like Katie, play the saxaphone like Dave, speak three languages like EmmaLou, ride a daredevil bike like Caroline, or take beautiful pictures like BorderlineStraggler. For now I shall content myself with being able to make a damn fine process, bake a cracking brownie, and make the cutest leather notebooks.


BEDM: A day in the life

I am really excited about this prompt today as I am going to have a very 'bloggable' day. There will be early train rides to Manchester, a conference, more trains, the premier of my friends' film, followed by dinner and drinks! Phew. I will be posting a photo an hour via instagram which will magically appear in my feed here >

If you are on instagram come check out my day @ratsasbigascats


7 am #adayinthelife #BEDM

A photo posted by @ratsasbigascats on



8am: train times. #adayinthelife #BEDM

A photo posted by @ratsasbigascats on


9am: getting my research on #adayinthelife #BEDM

A photo posted by @ratsasbigascats on


10am:Tiny break from proper work #adayinthelife #BEDM

A photo posted by @ratsasbigascats on


11am: The Whitworth branding is divine. Now shhhh its conference time #adayinthelife #BEDM

A photo posted by @ratsasbigascats on


12am:gorgeous location and weather for today's conference #adayinthelife #BEDM

A photo posted by @ratsasbigascats on


2pm: breakout session time #adayinthelife #BEDM

A photo posted by @ratsasbigascats on


3pm: catching up on some "urgent" calls during a conference break #adayinthelife #BEDM

A photo posted by @ratsasbigascats on


6pm: train again. Lots of hot drinks to get warmed up #adayinthelife #BEDM

A photo posted by @ratsasbigascats on

A photo posted by @ratsasbigascats on

10pm: dinner might help #adayinthelife #BEDM

A photo posted by @ratsasbigascats on


BEDM: Home Sweet Home

BorderlineStraggler and I are renovating our first home. We were committed renters until an inheritance meant we were able to think about buying. This was never in our plan, having lived in Oxford for years where there was no chance we could ever afford to buy a house we'd written off buying as something other people did. The beauty of moving from the dreaming spires to a tiny city on the border of Wales was that, along with lack of deli's, few late night brownie and ice cream opportunities, and no French restaurants, the house prices were actually reasonable. With some fancy work from our brilliant mortgage advisor, just a little under a year ago we bought our first house. After years of having bemoaned our ability to Change Things in the many houses we've lived in, it turned out once you could do anything, it meant you had to do everything!

Our renovation to-do list is still epic, but alongside huge things like having the basement converted into amazing studio space, or getting a new roof, we have found joy in the little improvements, like building the perfect cookbook shelf in the kitchen:

or finally painting that chair I've had for over a decade

Or replacing the disgusting string on our kitchen airer for something a little more stylish

Our home is far from finished, but I am loving having dirty, painty hands, and seeing the details I have been dreaming about for years come to life. You can expect a lot of house-y things on the ol'blog in the coming months years. I hope you enjoy watching our home, sweet home, appear. 


BEDM: Share the Blog Love

I started reading The Black Apple's blog back in 2008. I had only recently discovered blogs and I was smitten. I loved her aesthetic, her tone of voice, and the things she made were perfect - just the right amount of whimsy for me. I desperately wanted some of her work but I couldn't afford the beautiful dolls, or really stretch to the international shipping on a print. I did eventually buy myself a little piece of The Black Apple world. I have two prints and they have lived on everyone of my desks. Telephone girl still makes me smile, and if I could I would visit a house in the woods immediately. But almost more than the prints I was in love with the packaging. I kept the envelope for years, before finally making it the cover for my 50 words 50 images project at college, where it stood as an example of the kind of crafty business owner I longed to be.

The Black Apple's career has changed a lot over the last few years, becoming a successful children;s book author and illustrator. Her blog has changed a lot too. Posts are few and far between, and I often long for the days of her long posts which I would sit down and enjoy with a cup of tea. Nothing could cheer me up faster from stressful meeting at work than losing myself in her Christmas posts from years gone by. And then I sort of moved on there were other blog girls, I had my heart stolen by business blogs, and lifestyle blogs and the occasional art school blog. But recently I have found myself at a loose end, desperate for the cosy familiarity of her 2008 so I wandered over to that candy striped corner of the internet and was so saddened to find that Emily had removed these older archives from her blog. Nothing earlier than 2008.

But we all know that nothing is ever really gone from the internet and the wonderful Way Back When machine leapt to the rescue and provided me with her full Archives right back to the beginning in April 2006. My stressed out self can once again enjoy this little corner of history.


Audio Adventures:

Rivers of London wasn't the first audio book I bought (audible tells me it was my 5th...) but it was the first one I really got properly sucked into. So much so that 5 days later I bought the sequel and similarly devoured that! Set in London, this series follows PC Peter Grant as he finds himself dragged into the magical underbelly of London when trying to take a witness statement from a witness who is undeniably dead.

The book is a perfect balance of pace and character, with the magical world being so well crafted that it is entirely believable. Though the book is told from Peter's perspective the supporting characters are fully realised characters which I find sometimes doesn't happen in first person narrative. This isn't the longest audio book at a smidge over 9 hours, but I found myself walking incredibly slowly to work to try and eek out a few extra minutes listening, or offering to do both the cooking and the washing up as an excuse to hear more of where the story would go. And a lot of that is down to the wonderful job that Kobna Holdbrook-Smith does of narrating the book. He does a great range of believable accents for the different characters in the book which is rarer than you would hope for in audio books, and his Peter Grant is perfect. 

Too perfect in fact. 

Having devoured the first two books in days I faced an interminable wait until 'Whispers Underground' was released. I was so excited that the day it came out I rushed down to Waterstone's, bought a copy and settled down for the next instalment of my favourite wizard detective. And failed. I tried to read those first few chapters at least 5 times before I gave up. What was the problem? Had Aaronvitch lost his spark? Was the magic police finally too unbelievable? No, none of these. I couldn't get the voice right in my head! Like having your proper Sherlock, the only proper Peter Grant was the one as read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. 

And that was the moment I truly fell in love with audio books as their own thing, rather than as a hands-free alternative to reading. When the voice in my head wasn't as good as the voice in my ears I knew I was lost to the wonderful world filled with Audio Adventures. 

So if the idea of Magic, crime, and the most perfect reading voice intrigues you I highly recommend the Rovers of London series. I am pretty sure Rivers of London is my favourite, followed very closely by Moon over Soho, but they are all wonderful. 

ps Today should be BEDM: Cinco de Mayo, but I couldn't get myself event slightly excited by it. However if you want some Mexican themed blogging you can check our my post from last year here


BEDM: Guilty pleasures

I was very tempted not to do this post prompt. I disagree with the idea of a guilty pleasure*. The things I love may not be your cup of tea but I tend to fall in love with things pretty hard and trying to persuade me that I shouldn't enjoy them will generally only make me a)spend longer convincing you of their awesomeness or b)a parting of ways until my love affair has fizzled out. Honestly I spend more time on category a which sadly often leads to the other person invoking category b.....

This quote by Eames is one which resonates deeply with me. 5 years ago I was working at a huge university, spending my evenings away wishing I was one of those crafty women who spent their lives creating things and then blogging about them, never really taking my own crafty pursuits seriously. I went to evening courses, I had flirted with so many different techniques and crafts that I was able to whip up a handmade gift when needed, and I had run a stall at a fairly disastrous craft fair.But I hadn't ever taking it seriously.

Until one day I did.

I discovered that crafting was something you could do a degree in and my life changed! I applied to a BA in Contemporary Applied Arts, got in, moved to Hereford, and worked really REALLY hard to get a first. I took the things that gave me pleasure seriously and now I am in the lucky position of working in the Arts, using my degree to help support the lives of isolated older people.

So don't ever dismiss something as a guilty pleasure, if it is important to you and you enjoy it, take it seriously. You deserve it. Who knows where it may lead you.

*This being said I am deep in the throws of love affairs with the following things:

  • RuPaul's Drag Race
  • White glass writing pens
  • Re watching the West Wing (the UK election seems so blah that we need a little drama in our politics!)
  • my Audio Adventures

BEDM: Self care sunday

Today I am in very much need of a self care Sunday. It is a very busy time at work and I am having that dreadful thing when you can't even turn off your brain to sleep. Rather than tying myself to the computer writing blogs as planned I have been taking having a very lazy day.

My self care Sunday involved baking, friends, and tea:


BEDM: Adventure

My first Adventure was Paris.

My very best EmmaLou first took me there is 2006. I was 24, and about to marry a man I had met only a few months before. It was in the Summer of Love when my life changed completely. We stayed in a real life working Paris fire station, I learnt about pop-out light switches, had my first bikini wax (conducted entirely in French, translated by EmmaLou in a situation so awkward we still laugh about it), I visited my first tabac, saw the Eiffel tower, went to the louvre and didn't see the Mona Lisa, and I bought the comfiest pair of knickers I have ever owned.

The most exciting thing about the trip was how spur of the moment it was. I didn't know EmmaLou all that well, but she was going to Paris and I had never been. In fact the whole summer could be described as spur of the moment. I fell in love in a stripey-jumpered moment. I danced too many nights away, and spent many mornings trying to type quietly so as not to awaken my hangover. I lay on the floor between speakers, learning about music and developing an enormous Patti Smith crush. I spent the most perfect hour sat in the gardens of the Barbican, planning a brand new life. Most of my life had been spent worrying about what other people would think, what would make them happy, without really taking any time to think about what made me happy. That summer taught me that the best things in life come from the adventures that happen when you make that spur of the moment decision, if it feels right, it probably is. And if it doesn't work out, just make another decision, try a different path. Perhaps this adventure didn't work out, but the perfect one is probably just another spur of the moment decision away.


BEDM: Introduce Yourself

Picture courtesy of BorderlineStraggler

Sometimes at work I find myself being surprised at a previous bout of efficiency on my part that makes the day run a little more smoothly. At these times I always find myself congratulating Past Penny. At the moment this blog feels like something Past Penny did and not me now which make me really blue. I loved blogging and I miss it.

Enter #BEDM

Blog Every Day in May is a challenge run by Rosalium, and this year I am attempting it...again. Day one is Introduce Yourself, so as it has been so long I am going to introduce Present Penny & her Rats as Big as Cats.

I work as a project manager at an arts centre in Herefordshire running an arts programme mainly aimed at older people. It is an exciting, tiring, challenging job that I love most of the time. Due to the client group I work with I can't really share much of my day to day job here, but for me it has been the perfect combination of my creative side and my project management experience. My favourite days are when I can make a process not only efficient but also beautiful (my forms are a riot of cheerful, colourful joy).

Outside of work I am renovating my first house with BorderlineStraggler, attempting a 50 books challenge, and slowly making my way back to a crafty life after Art School stole all my creativity! This blog follows those adventures as I make my way in the world. You can expect lots of craft, musings on life, the occasional book review, and maybe even a tutorial here and there.


Audio Adventures: The Casual Vacancy

I am completely addicted to audio books. As a crafter I spend a lot of time needing entertainment which doesn't require my eyes. I used to be in a very serious relationship with Radio 4, but since a lot more of my crafting time is spent on the train for work, or in my shared studio, we have had to go our separate ways.  Back in 2011 I splashed out on an audible membership, and I have never looked back. In this series of posts I will take you through some of my audio book favourites and any new books that are filling my ears while I craft my evenings away. 

I am an unashamed Potter fan, but I was a little reticent about trying The Casual Vacancy. It got very mixed reviews when it came out and I didn't want to burst my JK Rowling bubble. Luckily I was sucked in by her Cormaran Strike books published under the name Robert Galbraith and decided it was high time to give The Casual Vacancy a go. 

The first thing you have to be sure about with an audio book is the narrator. There is nothing worse than a narrator whose voice you don't get on with, or one that is just indefinably wrong, like listening to the american versions of Harry Potter which are not read by Stephen Fry! I am happy to report that Tom Hollander does a wonderful job of narrating this book, his tone and delivery perfectly suit the middle-england setting of this novel which follows the ups and downs of a mid term parish council election. 

As I have said I was wary about this book, and it took me a while to get into the complicated cast of characters but by the second hour I was hooked. This is a long book standing at nearly 18 hours but it was worth it. The novel needed that long to let its complicated storyline come to a satisfactory conclusion. What Rowling has an undeniable talent for is creating wonderfully realised worlds whether this is the magical world of Hogwarts or the complex life of a private detective or the quintessential small town of Pagford. 

If you are looking for an accompaniment to knitting a new pair of socks, or finally getting cracking on that paper pieced quilt this epic audio adventure will keep you company with a story which will keep you sewing just one more hexagon as an excuse to get to the end of the chapter. 

I give it 4 out of 5 *

If you fancy giving The Casual Vacancy a go you can get a free audiobook from audible here.

*2015 has started with a new origami obsession so I couldn't resist a little paper star system!


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