How To… set up a great picnic.

I’m not sure what it’s like where you are, but around here the weather is just about right for picnics. The Summer heat is fading a little, but the wind and rain hasn’t picked up yet. This means filling a hamper with food and going somewhere nice and warm to eat it.

This is how I make a traditional picnic, without relying on crisps and fruit, to have a great time anywhere.

1: Pies, pasties and puddings.

I try and make sure that all the soft foods like jam, meat stew and the likes are firmly encased in pastry, to make them easy to handle and carry.

Meat breads are also a great idea. You make dough and then as you are forming the rolls, you tuck meat and vegetables into the centre of the bread. When it bakes the dough absorbs some of the juices and makes for a delicious treat that is more robust than a sandwich.

2: Solid things.

Bring only hard fruits, like apples, or things in tupperware boxes. Anything soft or crunchy will crumble apart.

3: The basket.

You want a basket that closes well and keeps everything inside even if it is swung around. You want to pack it neatly.

4: Dishes and cutlery.

Choose less breakable items and try and bring a tray to keep them together.

5: A blanket.

A requirement. If the weather has been a little damp, bring a ground mat from a tent!

6: Keeping clean.

Baby wipes, two tea towels and a bottle of lightly soapy water for rinsing everything.

7: Drinks.

Bring plastic bottles, not glass or cans. If necessary, decant drinks from cans and glass bottles into empty water bottles before leaving. Just don’t bring glass or cans, as they can break, injure people, waste drinks and make a mess.

8: Against the elements.

Pick a spot where your blanket stays put on its own. Just put it down and watch it a moment if you’re not sure. When the wind doesn’t move it, the spot is right.

Don’t set up immediately under a tree, at the shell line on the beach or near sand dunes.

9: Against ants.

If ants are hard to avoid, bring some cinnamon and sprinkle it over your blanket. It burns ants so they will leave you alone.

10: For fun.

Bring two things for every person. There can be overlap, for example if two of the kids want to play football, that’s one thing for each of them, plus a magazine for the older kid and an art block for the younger one. Make sure everyone has something to do.

11: Make memories.

Press a few flowers, take some pictures or collect some still life every time you go on a picnic, it makes it all the more fun.

Finally, like anywhere, don’t overstay your welcome. When the food is gone, everyone has had fun and people are getting bored and tired, it’s time to leave. Trying to linger when everyone is bored is a surefire way to ruin a good picnic, not a way to make the day more fun.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

Do you like picnics? How do you manage them? Got any good picnic recipes or ways of wrangling the kids? Feel free to share them with us!

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How To… create an ambiance.

An ambiance is something hard to define as a word and hard to explain in reality. The word basically means “environment” or “atmosphere” in French. It’s a metaphor for the general feeling you get when you’re in a room or building. For example, the ambiance could be relaxing because the room is in light colours, the lights are dim, there is a pleasant fragrance in the air and you are sat somewhere comfortable. But ambiances can also be jarring, just not work. It’s like interior decoration for the soul.

So this is how we create an ambiance.

Step 1: Pick a theme.

This is so that there won’t be much conflict between the various elements.

Relaxing themes: seaside, cabin retreat, library, forest.

Vibrant themes: big city, bar, toyroom.

Festive themes: Christmas, Valentine’s, May Day, Easter.

Seasonal themes: Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring.

Topical themes: colours, items, textures, places, etc.

Try and pick a theme you will enjoy year-round or that you can easily transform.

Step 2: Fit the theme to your house.

For example, a seaside theme in a bigger house or room can feel like a beach, the water, rockpools or a boat. This is because it’s easier to make a bigger room feel like the outdoors. In a small room you may want to go with the “beach hut” or “boat cabin” theme, like the seaside will be just beyond the window.

Step 3: Consider what’s missing.

For example, your “big city flat” theme would be incomplete without the sounds of traffic. You may want to add them or adjust the theme to explain where the traffic went.

Step 4: The space.

Now we’re going to start on the senses. First sight. The first impression people will get of your room, your home, your office. Look around. Ask yourself how you can reorganize the room to better suit your theme. You want the theme to come together and look “right” the moment you step in the door, so consider that angle first. Look at what furniture you have, where you can put it, from what angles the room looks open or closed. Open areas make vibrant themes more extreme and quiet themes more subtle. Closed areas make quiet themes cozier and energetic themes more peaceful.

Step 5: The colours.

Pick colours for your room now. Choose a primary colour for the theme and a secondary one and look up compatible colours to give you more ideas. A city theme would be black and white, with either as the primary and plenty of bright colours splashed here and there. A sea theme would be primary blue, a boat theme would be primary white and a beach theme would be primary brown or yellow. Think carefully about the colours, the rest of the room will not come together otherwise.

Step 6: Furniture.

It can help to pick one or two items of themed furniture in your primary or secondary colour and build the rest of the room around them. Usually a chair, picture frame, table, dresser, mirror, bed or media cabinet will be the centre of the room’s decor. Chandeliers, bathtubs or desks can be too, but that would be more statement.

Also consider the comfort of the furniture. Sharper lines, even if the furniture is quite soft to touch, can make people feel like they’re on the go. Armchairs make people inclined to rest. Do you want everyone at the same height when they sit?

Step 7: Decor.

Try and pick ornaments and decorations inkeeping with your theme. Prominently display the ones that fit your theme. Put others further back or somewhere else. Paintings should actually reflect on your theme, not be it. Paintings of the seaside can ruin the feeling that you’re in a seaside cabin. Instead, photos of you on the beach and paintings made with sand will look more authentic. Try and think about the materials that would be available to you if your ambiance were a real place.

Consider minimalism, but bear in mind that traditional ambiances like rustic, hippie or forest will lend well to clutter.

Step 8: Lighting.

Hopefully you won’t need different lighting with your colours, but sometimes a room just doesn’t look as good by day as it does by night, or vice versa. If that’s the case, try these lighting tips:

Natural light for nature themes.

Bright light for Summer and pop themes.

Coloured light for city, sci-fi and 80s themes.

Dim light for peaceful themes.

Soft light for childish, boho or girly themes.

Incandescent light for indoor themes.

Fluorescent light for metallic and plastic themes.

Step 9: Scent.

Humans rely on our sense of smell far more than you would think. We associate certain smells with food, danger, home or fun. Using this can boost an ambiance very subtly, making someone feel energized, at ease or ready for food without really noticing why.

For clean-cut, urban themes, use scented candles.

For natural, boho, hippie themes, use incense.

For rustic themes, try and rely on the natural smell of firewood, flower arrangements or baked goods.

You can also spray perfume on furniture and curtains for light bursts of classy fragrance.

Try and avoid overusing air fresheners, they just don’t provide the same quality of scent.

Step 10: Sound.

Some themes lend themselves very well to sounds. Depending on your theme, you could use relaxation tapes, music, audiobooks or TV to bring the room to life. This can sometimes pull an ambiance together, such as using wave sounds for a boat theme or music for a bar theme. Just be careful as some themes, such as cabins, do well without sounds and can feel tacky if you add sound.

So that’s how to create an ambiance. You can follow all the steps when modelling a room or you could just follow a few to improve the ambiance in your home or to prepare a room for a dinner party.

What are your favourite ambiances? What feel would you like your home to have? How do you prepare the house for guests? Do tell!

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

Welcome Spring!

This Friday is going to be the Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the Autumnal Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. Which basically means the time the sun is up will be equal to the time the sun is not up. Which means that here in England, Spring has finally sprung!

Like the other three seasons, I love Spring. There are many reasons to love it and many things to do. The days are going to get longer and warmer and melt into Summer.

The first thing I’m looking forward to is the beach! I’m an outdoor person in all weather, but something that’s very hard to do in Winter is go to the beach. Chilly wind, huge waves, flooding, sea spray, storms, beached animals and sand flying everywhere doesn’t really make the multi-hour trip to the coast worthwhile. But I’m not really much of a Summer beachgoer either. Direct sunlight for more than a few hours at a time, the intense heat and the holiday crowds don’t appeal. So Spring is when I like to get to the beach. We don’t go very often even when it is Spring, but I’m looking forward to when the air is warm enough to go out in a top and a light, airy skirt, the water is just cool, the wind is calm enough to sit for a picnic and the beach is empty enough to go for long walks, seek out mussels and crabs and just have a great time.

Until the weather is spot on and we have a series of days off in a row, though, our walks will remain landlocked, in the green countryside. I adore spring flowers. From the last nodding snowdrops to the first daffodils to the explosion of Summer wildflowers, Spring brings great colours and scents to the countryside and my garden. I look forward to collecting a variety of wild daffodils on our walks, watching the wildflowers and beds bloom in our garden and seeing my seedlings start to burst up and flower, ready to give us tasty fruit through Summer and Autumn. That is, if we get to them before the rabbits do!

A part of Spring I hate to love at the moment is all the little fuzzie baby animals. They’re so cute and bouncy, from lambs to rabbit kittens to ducklings. They break into my garden and eat everything they can get their grubby paws, hooves, mits, teeth and beaks into, but they look so cute and friendly, as all diminutive animals do. Don’t get me wrong, they’re going in the pot when they grow up. But whilst they’re tiny I like to look at them and think about when my babies will be running about the garden stepping on my peonies and eating the tomatoes off the vine.

And then, once the rain is dying back, onto Summer with delicious home-grown fruit and veggies, barbeques in the garden, picnics in the woods, mid-afternoon siestas and weightlifting outdoors.

But for now, let’s enjoy Spring.

TTFN and Happy Hunting.

What are your favourite parts of Spring? What are you planning on doing this Spring? Is it Autumn where you live? What are you looking forward to down there?