Friday, 31 January 2014

CROCHET: An Afghan

CrochetAfghan CrochetAfghan CrochetAfghan

Crocheting an afghan is a commitment but it's also an adventure, a challenge. You start yet you don't know when you'll finish, or the person you'll be. Some blankets take a day, some months, maybe even years. Being a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to crafts, I never really full heartedly fell in love with the last ripple stripped afghan I crocheted, maybe because it's a little wonky or because the colors to me jar a little.

Or maybe it's because you can never have too many blankets.

So I've been wanting to crochet another one ever since I finished the last and the idea of crocheting another actually featured upon my intentions for 2014 list. Granted its taken me about a year to actually decided to do something about it yet alone pick colors or even a motif. After finding balls and balls of mustard yellow yarn at an estate sale I knew I'd found a winner. I love mustard. Many people don't - its too gordy for some. But I love it. So mustard, cream and white will make up the majority of the colors, the inner details a mix matchy scrappy rainbow.

As for the motif, well that's an African Flower Square found on ravelry (but you can also find it here if you're not a member). If you're new to crocheting it's a really easy to follow design or if you've been crocheting for years like myself, it's easy enough to do while getting lost in your favorite TV show.

The hardest part is working out the border color to finish the motifs off to ya know, actually turn them into a square and all, but that's too hard a decision to make as of yet, although if you have any suggestions I'd love to hear them!

What have you been crafting lately?

Thursday, 30 January 2014

READING: The Fifth Beatle - The Brian Epstein Story


Brian Epstein - often known as the man, the force behind The Beatles, yet a man that rarely receives the recognition he deserves. Walking into the Cavern in 1961, Epstein at the age of 27 took to becoming their manager - one who went on to get the band signed and reach national and international success.

The Fifth Beatle - a graphic novel by Vivek J. Tiwary features the untold biography of Epstein - somewhat of a loner, overcome with ambition yet a man, gay in a Britain that made it a criminal offence, battling with a drug problem and who died painfully young at 32. But it's rare that what many consider being the man, the power and even as McCartney put it "If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was Brian" to be worthy of sharing his story.


Beginning in a dark, rainy Liverpool a young man stands dressed as a sailor smokes and leans back against a dark damp wall, only to punch the suited figure, what we learn to be a young Epstein who works for his father's record store company. A twist of fate lands him in the Cavern watching what will become the Beatles performing he takes it upon himself to make them successful, and here the tale behinds. We see the success of the Beatles against the increasing loneliness of the main protagonist yet I feel his true character never really comes through, it's hinted at sure, but his relationships, friendships with The Beatles themselves are barely mentioned.  The bright, vivid, hippie tones of the Beatle inspired illustrations give away to the dark, harsh drawings around Epstein. The illustrations themselves are wonderful - capturing the style and feel of the era, holding and portraying the emotions and situations.


There is some artistic license with this work, especially with the introduction of the pretty faced Moxie - Epstein's PR. Key dates are notated in the corners to pages, but without any knowledge of The Beatles history and with little explanation they are just dates to anyone else. Nevertheless, The Fifth Beatle is worthy of reading - either for your love of a graphic novel, interest in The Beatles or for finding out just a little more about Brian Epstein.

Either way it's continued my interest in graphic novels as something that can be read and enjoyed - if you have any recommendations I'd love to hear them!

What have you been reading lately?

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

PITTSBURGH: The Monongahela Incline

Pittsburgh Incline

Each of the last couple of visits to Pittsburgh Joe's been meaning to take me on a trip up and down on the Monongahela Incline - sadly the back in August it was broken, but when we happened to be down in the city for Thanksgiving we had an afternoon to spare. Built in 1870, the incline is one of only two that remain from the fifteen that once use to transport people and goods up and down between the river valleys and the communities above. It's also the oldest continuously operating funicular railway in the United States.
Pittsburgh Incline

Today both the Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines transport residents and tourists 600 feet up and down the side of Mount Washington. Before their construction the only way to pass between the river and the hill was upon extremely steep walkways, now for a round trip of $5 (if I remember rightly) you get to sit back and enjoy the ride and see the Pittsburgh skyline before you has you travel down the slope towards Station Square.

Pittsburgh Incline

The cars travel at around 6 miles an hour which is fast enough when you can look down and see the drop. Each of the cars operate as a pair, simultaneously pulled up and down by a cable operated by an engine within the upper station.

Pittsburgh Incline

Parking at the top of the incline after the short descent we spent an hour or so walking around Station Square - a popular retail and restaurant area of Pittsburgh which is housed in what was a former railway station  for the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad (see logic in the name and can be seen in the first image as the building with the red long roof). Being a train geek Joe knew I would love a look around and it's exciting to see how they changed the stations interior while keeping the overall feel of the station both inside and out.

Pittsburgh Incline

The above image (source) taken in 1910 captures the incline from across the river by Smithfield Street Bridge gives you a better scale of both Mount Washington and the incline itself. The Railway Station is just before it to the right.

If you ever happen to be in Pittsburgh and have an hour to spare, an incline ride is well worth the experience - the ride is a little scary when you consider you're only been held in place by a cable but the views are amazing!

Monday, 27 January 2014

LIFE: Icy Lakes and Blizzards

There is something a little unworldly when you look upon what's normally a lively lake at any other time of year. Yet come winter especially this one, for all the eye can see is pure ice. Apparently ice coverage upon the lakes is at it's largest amount for the last 25 years and covers 60% of all the lakes which make up the system.

Jefferson Avenue runs at least partially for a while in the area what's collectively known locally as the Grosse Points alongside the shore of Lake St Clair. While it's tiny in comparison to many other lakes in these parts, it makes up part of the Great Lake System which eventually works it's way eastwards. We happened to be over at that side of Metro Detroit for this weekends estate sales, and while forgetting both of our cameras again, I did manage to grab a couple of bleak shots with the old phone.

LakeStClair LakeStClair LakeStClair

Everything you see to the horizon is ice. An ice lake. 

Don't be fooled by the blue skies, temperatures have done little to get above -5C, in fact -5 feels like a heatwave when the majority of the days are below -10. Crisp, biting winds powerful enough to drive huge snow drifts across the road and rock your car take over when the snow stops. Five minutes after the lake side photographs were taken we were met with a wall of snow blizzard driving and the fun starts again!


With 31.5" of snow falling in Metro Detroit this month - yes really, it's not surprising this month has seen more than any other in Detroit's weather records (although they didn't begin until 1888).

If you're like me and get interested in this kind of thing there's some great photographs of the ice on the lakes including this drone shot video of the ice upon Lake Michigan to these stunning frozen land camera shots of Lake Erie (the next lake down from Lake St Clair) by Kaylah on her blog The Dainty Squid.

Hope it's warmer where you are!

Friday, 24 January 2014

VINTAGE COMPACTS: Stratton Additions

After posting last week about how to date those popular Stratton compacts you might come across, I thought I'd share my latest couple of Stratton additions. 

Two of these compacts were picked up at estate sales for just a couple of dollars each. I will admit to not being the biggest fans of this brand, but at that price I can't grumble. It was a Stratton after all that got me into this collection in the first place.
Stratton Stratton Stratton

Both these compacts are of the same era - if we're dating by the design upon the base - we're in the 1980's but both styles of the design of the compacts shape, began in the 1960's - you can see the issue here. Either way this compact has a simple leaf and line design upon the top and an inner powder lid. 

Stratton Stratton Stratton

This Rose compact is the larger of the pair and remains unused with it's original little inspected slip still left inside.  Patent number 764125 which was granted to Stratton in 1956 indicates that this is a convertible compact designed for both loose and solid power which would have been held within a removable tray. Unlike the smaller compact above, this compact has a hinged metal ring rather than an inner lid, to keep either the sifter or powder tray in place.

Stratton Stratton Stratton

Finally you might be surprised that Stratton still manufacture, design and sell compacts today. I won this Diva Stratton through Vanroe Compacts (a great store and source of information) which is decorated with a beautiful college of black and white images of some of my Hollywood favorites - Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Bette Davis to name a couple. While not vintage, it's still designed for loose powder and is very much embedded in the history of Stratton. I'd highly recommend looking at Vanroe if you never need an extra special gift.

Do you have any vintage Stratton compacts?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

BOOKS: Guidebooks To Get You Around America


With a new year ahead we all love to start thinking about travel plans, I know I do and America is often high on many people's to visit list. Having a great, readable and informative tourist guide can be a key essential to your luggage and can be a godsend in really helping you find things to do on your travels. I travelled to the USA with four guides all with a different overlook - from US wide down to regions, state to city all of which we've used in some manner in the two years of being here. I thought it was high time I came to sharing which brands of guidebooks I swear by.

Rough Guides - [Chicago]

Rough Guides can do no wrong in my eyes and you can tell I love them by how well thumbed and read ours are. We used one for Edinburgh trip so when I knew we'd settled on Chicago for our honeymoon I didn't think twice about picking up the same brand for our trip. Rough Guides are great in providing enough variety in mainstream and out of the way places to visit, the have clear maps and excellent go to information. They provide the indepth really geeky history and information that I love to know about including fiction and films to see about the places your heading whatever your budget. Moreover their restaurant and hotel/hostels guides are super.

Moon Handbooks - [Michigan]

I stumbled across Moon while browsing the great London travel bookshop that is Stanfords. They were one of the few guidebooks out there that actually had a guide for Michigan - because Moon tend to do their publications by state [at least US wise]. I guess you could say I like my guidebooks to be geeky, crammed full of history, geography and information and with Moon you'll be more than sorted. Each area of a state is divided with great attention given to each, highlights, maps and which places to hit all clearly denoted.

Michelin - [USA East]

I guess you might call the Michelin guides more user and family friendly with all their colour photographs and a mix of attractions for adults and children alike. While this guide might not go into as much detail as the two publications I've already mentioned they do cover a lot of things to see and do. This guide covers Chicago eastwards all the way south to New Orleans and offers a decent overview of some of the more popular cities, attractions and places to visit. The maps possibly aren't the best - they kind of just show the interstates whereas Moon and Rough Guides encourage you to get onto the beaten track which is what I prefer.

Road Trip USA [another moon publication]

This book has to be my favourite of them all. If you're like me you want to get off the interstate and see real America then you can't go wrong with this HUGE book. Even if you're not planning to road trip you'll find this book a great resource. It'll show you the quirky museums out here in America, mom and pop diners alongside their suggestions of 11 road trips using just the two lane highways. If you want to get away from the tourist traps, you don't fancy being where everyone goes then this guide is the book for you! They also have a great website that goes with the book too.

What great publications for your travels have you come across? Do you stick with the same publication or have a mix of them all?

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

LIFE: Visiting The Zoo in Winter Months

DetroitZoo DetroitZoo DetroitZoo DetroitZoo DetroitZoo DetroitZoo DetroitZoo DetroitZoo

You might not necessarily consider visiting zoo's during the winter months but it's well worth bundling up, sticking on the layers (in this instance two pairs of socks and gloves) and having a wander in the off season. Come summer when the masses hit with their picnic baskets and children in toe, you'll find many of the animals inactive - much to the discontent of visitors wishing and declaring the animals to always be doing something regardless. Yet for many animals the Mid West summers can be just too warm for them, the colder climes are their season, and now is the time to get out and see them being active while the masses stay home.

Wrapping ourselves up warm we took to our local Detroit Zoo this weekend to just see which animals were making the most of the colder weather - in fact many of them were. The Polar Bear (a regular on this blog) was enjoying himself in his pool - attacking playfully, tossing around his plastic barrels and balls, the two otters chasing and swimming after each other, their waterfall glistening against a backdrop of icicles to the camels just not being at all bothered about the snow under his tummy. Granted for us humans there were quick dashes between the indoor exhibits to keep warm and battle my steamed up glasses yet alone camera lens but it was fun all the same. 

You might this this weather would make penguins feel right at home, yet here in the US many penguin exhibits are housed inside (the only one I haven't seen inside is at the Toledo Zoo, Ohio) due to again, the summer heat. Sadly penguins wouldn't far too well in those temperatures, yet compared to seeing how penguins are houses in the UK - I'm thinking of particularly of Edinburgh Zoo, penguin buildings always seem to be a little on the dark side in the US. Nevertheless as a lover of the penguin I'm really looking forward to the purposed new penguin building that the Detroit Zoo in planning to open by the end of 2015.

So get wrapped up, miss the crowds and go see the animals while they are enjoying their favorite time of the year!

Which if your favorite time of the year for zoo trips?

Monday, 20 January 2014

LIFE: Starry Night at a International Dark Sky Park

Have you ever really looked at the nights sky? Like really looked, miles from nowhere, away from all the light pollution? If you do you'll certainly start looking at and considering the sky and the universe in a new light. Now don't get me wrong I know nothing about the sky, stars or the planets aside from the basics we all learn in school but even I have come to truly appreciate the wonders of the sky.

If you have your nose to the ground when it comes to science or even rethinking public space and how it comes to be lit you might have heard discussions about light pollution and it's effects not only on the world around us but upon nocturnal creatures. Living in Metro Detroit there is a constant orange haze to the nights sky and it's rare that you ever spot more then a couple of stars or even a planet on any given night and this is increasingly true in many of the places - cities to towns that we live in. This is why Dark Sky Parks are having a growing and important presence.

As I previously mentioned last week we drove up to Mackinaw City to visit the Headlands - Michigan's Intentional Dark Sky Park one of only 11 in the world (you'll find the others in Utah, Pennsylvania, Washington, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, California, Scotland and Hungry) - places which are protected, mitigate light pollution, build awareness of the value of true dark skies both culturally and within science while offering the most incredible skies you'll ever experience.

While open all day, the Headlands comes to life at night, as you approach you start to realise just how incredibly dark real darkness is - there's no street lights to guide you or your car down to the viewing area and with your own torch you slowly make your way through the bush to the waters edge. You gaze up and you just see star after star after star, the sky - the universe above you just seems endless, you realise just how small we all are in the greater scheme of things. This place, this tiny insight into the universe above us, truly made me appreciate the need to understand it.

I could not recommend enough visiting any of the International Dark Sky Parks, or if you don't live close, just getting out into the countryside, you don't need fancy equipment, just darkness and the time to stare up and look. I wouldn't even suggest taking a camera - while a powerful DSRL might be able to capture it, this isn't a time for looking at something through a screen/lens. It's time to experience in the right now.

It'll be an experience that will really stay with you.

Have you ever been to a Dark Sky Park? Have any star gazing tips?

Friday, 17 January 2014

BEAUTY: Dry Skin and Winter Months

Dry Skin Helpers!

If there's one kind of beauty post I always click - reviews on products for dry skin. Granted I'm far, far from ever being a beauty blogger but as someone who's had really bad dry skin since my late teens and with it now being increasingly affected by the seasons (hotter and colder seasons then what I grew up with in the UK) I thought I'd take the time to share my four top, affordable products that have really helped my skin.

Palmer's Cocoa Butter

Starting off with possibly everyone's favourite cocoa butter, since I've started using Palmer's I swear by it. Granted the cocoa butter fragrance isn't my favorite which initially is why I was a little hesitant in purchasing this product but for the results, I can happily live with it. Being a hypoallergenic and conatning cocoa butter and vimnium E it's designed for those of us with very dry and sensitive skin. A small amount is enough for once a day application leaving my skin feeling a lot softer and more refreshed.

Olay Ultra Moisture Body Wash

I've never had any luck with finding a body wash that moisturises and I began to think all body washes were the same and were never going to help me or my dry skin out. So when I originally purchased the Olay Ultra Moisture Body Wash I didn't hold very high hopes. How wrong was I. Made with Shea butter this body wash has to be the thickest and creamiest I've ever used, it lathers well and smells delicious. What's even better is that a little goes a long way and there was an instant noticeable difference in how fresher my arms in particular felt getting out of the shower and one that's continued to improve over the months of use. .

St Ives Intensive Healing Hand Cream

We all know of St Ives from their yummy scrubs but they also do a lifestyle of a hand cream. Now a lot of hand creams do nothing for my hands yet St Ives Intensive Healing Hand Cream does things hand creams have never done before - work. Fragrance free - which is fine by me, it absorbs really fast, this hand cream works without leaving your hands sticky or slippery, it moisture's and leaves your hands feelings refreshed and I apply it throughout the day as and when my hands are feeling dry without having to use it constantly.

If you have dry skin that needs a bit of extra loving in the winter months I hope you found this useful - I use all these products year round and have noticed a healthy difference in my skin for doing so. This post was one for the #2014bloggerchallenge, and i'll admit I don't really know the first thing about beauty products, I rarely even read beauty blog posts so this was a challenge in more ways then one!

What are your tips for keeping your skin healthy in the winter? What would you recommend for dry skin?

Thursday, 16 January 2014

VINTAGE: Dating Stratton Powder Compacts


Stratton Compacts happen to be some of the easiest of compacts to find - for use or for collecting - I myself have eight of them (shown above). As a brand, Stratton began importing and assembling partially finished American compacts in 1923, yet by the 1930's they were a brand in their own right ultimately producing half of the compacts made for the UK market. With over 70 years of manufacturing, they made countless designs - both with regards to the top and the bottom of the compacts, therefore they aren't the easiest of compact brands to date. 

Through my own personal collecting and researching, I've found a couple of tips and links about how to date your Stratton compact. I know a couple of you how have commented previously on my compact posts, own them so hopefully you'll find it helpful in gauging just how vintage your compacts are.

Dani Boyd - a member of the British Compact Society produced a Youtube video in 2013 showing how you can date your Stratton's by the design upon the bottom of the compact. It's a really handy guide to visually being able to date your compact and you'll be surprised that many aren't as old as you might think.

    As a rough, rough guide your basic popular Strattons certainly can be divided up into eras;
    • Late 1930's to 1950's - base designs tend to be of a spiral 
    • Mid 1950's to  mid 1960's - base design of all over stars
    • Mid 1960's to early 1970's - base design of stars again but with the addition of the Stratton name
    • 1970's to 1980's - Somewhat spotted designs with the Stratton name
    • 1980's to 1990's - base design woven patterns with the Stratton name

    Star base #1 // Star bar #2 // remaining images from my own collection

    Not all of the above can be applied to every Stratton model as they were manufactured over 70 years there's a variety of styles - also there's a lot of generic designs which can't be aged so well. How much of a lap over or definitive this list is, I'm unsure, but it's certainly a basic reference point to dating your Stratton.

    Other ways to date;

    • The "Compact-in-hand" logo upon the inner lid was made between 1950 and 1970
    • Convertible Stratton compacts (ones taking powder and cream) date from the mid 1950's onwards
    • Self opening inner lids began to be manufactured after 1948
    Stratton Compact
    Compact in Hand Logo
    Stratton Compact
    Convertible Stratton

    Dating Stratton compacts is always going to be a work in progress, even after four years of collecting i'm still learning, finding new ways of dating (you can even date through the size and shape of the original powder puffs). But rough overviews are always a helpful guide to knowing where to start and what your looking at - whether for collections or use. 

    I hope you find it useful!

    Tuesday, 14 January 2014

    LIFE: Things #4

    Oh Christmas, you're a joyous time of love and giving but you do get me out of my blogging routine for sure. With it being over a month since my last rambley/ranty things post - it's probably about darn time I do you an update. Granted there's been less rambley ranty things to write about (odd in itself) so more of a life update and you can always share your rants to make up for mine!

    Estate sale book mountain // sleeping ed on my toes // Hell // selfie // Reindeer winnings from a claw machine // concrete mixer // British logic

    So for the first time in 2014 ...

    ♥ After last weeks snow days, +3 degrees C now feels like a heatwave - but Hell (a place in Michigan) really did freeze over

    ♥ Constant stress about renewing my greencard (probably a frequent contender on the things list until it gets renewed  

    ♥ Grumbling about ebay non payers - story of my life

    ♥ Trying to wade through the huge backlog of draft posts for my blog ...

    ♥ Seeing my bloglovin blog followers list grow and grow - thank you much!

    ♥ Loosing hours google mapping locations of old motels and restaurants found upon vintage postcards and finding many of them have turned into McDonalds

    ♥ Coupons for BOGO on Culvers concrete mixers - happy times (if you ever happen to be in the Mid West/Plain states pop to Culvers, you won't regret it

    ♥ Filling bags of books for $5 at an estate sale and spending the afternoon reading 1950's government literature on how to survive an atomic bomb - just a bit of light reading

    ♥ Speaking of reading, setting up a Goodreads challenge of 30 books for 2014 (you can add me here if we're not already bookworm friends)

    ♥ Ranting to myself at the increasing non lifestyle blog posts and blogs you find when trawling through the #lbloggers twitter hashtag

    ♥ Kitties falling asleep on your toes ... to over your arm when you're trying to work

    ♥ Getting Hulu Plus, binge watching Reign, Ironside and Community and our decision to get around to canceling our cable altogether

    ♥ I know you like your new baby but you don't need to show how you've dressed it every single day on facebook ...

    Oh look I did have a couple of rants in me!

    Monday, 13 January 2014

    MICHIGAN: The Tourist Trap of Mackinaw City

    Mac City Mac City Mac City Mac City Mac City Mac City

    Mackinaw City is the most northern point of the Lower Michigan Peninsular. It's also the most tourist trap-themed place I've yet to come to visit while in the US. If you took your Whitby or your Scarborough on a smaller scale and threw it into America and looked to see where it landed - you'd find Mackinaw (however here it's by a huge lake rather than a seaside ... but there's still sand all the same). Replace candy floss stands with fudge and popcorn factories and you're well on the way to imagining what it's like. 

    The city is most often used as a base for either heading over Mackinaw Bridge into the Upper Peninsular or as a parking lot for the short ferry ride over to Mackinaw Island. It's probably something of a tourist crime to not visit the island - something which is considered one of the places to visit in Michigan, but our main reason was to see the Headlands Dark Sky Viewing Area once the sun had set. Until then we visited the Popcorn Factory - home to such flavors as Maple to Nacho's, explored around the Old Mackinaw Point Lighthouse and peered through the wire around Colonial Michilimackinac - a representation of the former French and then British fort - yes us British have a long history in these parts until we were somewhat chased off onto the Island .. enough said.

    Mackinaw is a huge cultural difference to the quaint fisherman towns along the shores of Lake Huron and Michigan that I had come to love, it sadly seems a little too much built for tourists and little else, just row up row of hotels and motels. While it was worth a visit and there's certainly things I want to do given more time (visiting Mackinaw Island, Ice Breaker Tour to taking a boat trip out to visit the lighthouses) but i'm certainly coming to prefer my smaller, out of the way USA.

    How do you prefer your seaside and lake side towns - has tourist traps or small and quaint?

    Friday, 10 January 2014

    FOOD: British Foods in American Stores

    British Food British Food British Food

    British food is somewhat easy to come by living in the 'burbs - at least in the larger supermarkets or more higher price specialised stores. Passing through Royal Oak at the weekend we took for having a wander inside Holiday Market - a higher end supermarket which has an average sized British section (right next to some interesting looking German imports if I do say so).

    Standing infront of all the British food goodies makes me feel like a kid in a sweets store, and being a little over priced, I tend to only buy one thing at a time depending on my cravings. It amuses as well as intrigues me as to just what food you'll find upon those British shelves - what do American store owners think is typically enough British to be there and therefore what are people (expats or otherwise) buying. 

    Regardless of the store there's some regular products - your Birds custard, mushy peas (was very tempted), HP sauces (more likely to be the normal over fruity version), PG Tips (Tetley you can find in the normal tea aisle) and some form of digestive or hobnob, maybe some Ribenna. As for chocolate bars - well for $1.70 (plus tax) you might want to purchase yourself a single Aero bar, Yorkie Bars, Double Decker, Curly Wurly, Bounty or Lion bar. You'll always find some version of marmalade, vinegar, Marmite and gravy granules, I even saw Penguin bars this time, but sadly no Irn Bru.  

    I did see Pickled Walnuts - I've never even heard of pickled walnuts. I know there's this image that us Brits like anything that's pickled, but walnuts, really?!

    So what did I buy? 

    Salad Cream.

    British Food

    Yes the Yorkshire lass who has been away from the home turf for over two years brought one bottle of salad cream over everything else. Why?! Because there's nothing like it in the US. There might be endless - and I really mean huge salad dressing shelves in supermarkets here but there is nothing like salad cream and not being a huge fan of mayo, nothing comes close. 

    How much for said salad cream - $5.29 - worth every last cent. 

    What food(s) would you miss if you left your home country?

    PS. Thanks for all the lovely comments on yesterdays whiskey post - it went down a lot better then I had expected. Liquor posts may have to become another feature across the year.