Saturday, 31 December 2011

What have I learned?

It's been a funny old year 2011. Like all years, it's had it's highs, lows and downright ridiculous moments. I'm not going to wax lyrical about it. I'm not going to make any resolutions. It's taken time but I've finally accepted that the whole process of making resolutions feeds on the reality that before long they'll be broken - it's just part of a cycle, and not something I'm going to get hung up on. History tells me that regardless of my good intents, certain things usually happen in the course of a year; I get older, wiser and increasingly rotund. The bit that naffs me off is that they don't all happen in equal measure or what I could even consider a fair proportion!

One thing I am going to internalize and take with me into the coming year is the success of last night. Despite my having done nothing in terms of shopping or food prep, last night's dinner party was still a wonderful success.

The fact that the hand towels in the bathroom were not freshly laundered and folded on the towel warmer didn't seem to matter. I'll even go so far as to say that, given the company we were in (warm and loving), it didn't really matter when fifteen minutes after having finished our starter, Craig announced he was about to prepare, saute and then bake (!) the main course. Conversation flowed even faster than the wine, and before we knew it the Mixed Bean Enchiladas smothered in cheesy natural yoghurt were sizzling on the table.

Will this change how I feel next time people come to dinner? I hope so. Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to turn this place into Chez Waynetta, but then I quite liked watching Craig dance as he prepared dinner, laughing, relaxed and happy. Perhaps there is more to life than fluffy hand towels and a meal which is well punctuated with equal stops between courses.

My only input into prepping the evening was to add these little ditsy wine glass charms which I have made. Making wine glass charms is my creative craft of choice right now. I just thought on about buttons a couple of days ago and like them. I'm not entirely a beaded person and think these chunky colorful buttons ease onto my table much more graciously.

The purple dotty one, and a peach one which isn't here as I had camera shudder, are my favorites.

Well, all that remains is to wish you all a year full of growth, zest, love and laughter; and for those who know the year ahead will bring it's challenges, I just want to share this poem I've found, which for me really sums it all up.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?
The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.
We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.
We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.
We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our prides, we sheet our dead.
We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of a year.

Friday, 30 December 2011


I headed off into town with the children today, on a mission to wander, take deep breaths and to enjoy the sights, both new and old. No matter how long you live in a place, I think there are always new things to see.

Ducks and bridges.

Boat landings and rowers.

Pretty birdie amongst the tab ends.

Mountains to climb.

Rose window.

An interesting door.

A sculpture, hidden behind bars in what looked like someone's garden.

Pretty butterfly, spotted by Hermione, on the wall.

Big bell - the type I would like for summoning all to family meetings; yes, we do have family meetings, on much too often basis for the liking of some around here!

Carving of a judge beside the doorway of the University Law School building.

Ah, a welcome sight at the end of our wanderings.

Having busied myself as described above, and having watched the Christmas Special of Horrible Histories yet again, I'm pleased to report I have not ventured anywhere near Asda's olive aisle and my resolve to put Craig's hosting skills to the test has not weakened. Oh boy, I do hope I won't regret this!

Thursday, 29 December 2011


Sometimes it feels like there's no beginning and no end. Not enough to go round. No chance to replenish your own self before you need to dice it up and give it out.

I know, I've posted this clip here before, but it still brings me comfort at times when I feel demand is high and stocks are low. I don't know what it is, but there's something out there which, in the stillness, will bring me the warmth and openness to give freely to those small souls who need it so much sometimes.

I'm also hoping that while I'm trying hard to stock up on the rosy glow which makes mothering much easier, Craig will be stocking up on gastronomic tips as I have decided I don't have what it takes right now to prep a dinner party tomorrow evening.

It's all about choices I guess. I figure the scary option of delegating dinner party prep will, regardless of whatever may be dished up under the guise of food tomorrow, bring the greatest benefit to me and my peeps. Right, enough said on that front. The longer I linger on that thought the more likely I am to run out screaming all the way to the Asda's fancy stuffed olives aisle!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011


There's so much to be thankful for every day, and one of the many things I love about blogging as opposed to other online communication mediums, is that for me at least, it really helps me to focus my mind on the positive.

Today I was thankful that Miles and I got out to see friends again after the festive period. Our usual haunt was closed and unfortunately we didn't realize till we arrived, but we soon found somewhere else to hang our hats and drink coffee.

I got to play with playdoh, while it was still soft and colorful as opposed to grey/brown with crunchy bits in. Oooh, the smell oh 'real' playoh; I love it!

While playing with the said doh we listened to Kate Bush, Fifty Words For Snow, which my wonderful husband has put on my kitchen music thingy me jiggy. I need to get with the new technology, I'm lost since the death of cds.

I hadn't realized she was still recording to be honest, and was very thankful to learn that she is. I look back fondly on the days when I used to listen to her on my tape cassette walkman on the bus. Her new stuff still has her particular hallmark in my view, but her voice has matured and has new qualities. It's more of a grower though as opposed to something which will instantly grab you. You can hear some of her new stuff here.

I was exceptionally thankful that while cooking dinner this evening I happened to glance across the room and felt quite pleased to have blown my Christmas money on a fur throw to cover the sofa, which has fallen victim to the air hockey table which has knocked it out of it's 'proper' place.

It's not to my usual taste. I have to say I have thought back a few times today to the sage green chenille throw which I was hurrying to the check out with when Hermione spotted the fur one which we did buy. However, it's cosy, comfy and everyone else loves it. I think it's even helping Miles to fulfill his current Mowgli and Baloo aspirations!

I'm thankful that this little red robin has survived my Christmas decoration cull. The wind is howling again, blowing an absolute hooligan, and this little chap is still very de rigueur.

I'm thankful that I can sit here typing this post knowing one titch is tucked up in bed, sleeping soundly, while the other is happily whooping her father at Cluedo.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

On my book shelf

Or perhaps I should say on my new beautifully attired Kindle? Hermione bought me a bright pink jacket for my Kindle for Christmas, which I hope will help it roll with the knocks it inevitably takes.

Amazon describes this book as, 'The fascinating narrative of the fabulously wealthy Jewish Ephrussi family moves through the decades from commercial Odessa to the Paris of the Impressionists and artistic salons to the brutal destruction of the Anschluss of 1938 in Vienna and a familial diaspora over three continents. Parallel to this, we follow with the author his own emotive journey to reclaim the lives lived in the vanished rooms of his forbears'.

It has rave reviews and was recommended by a friend. It's fair to say I set out with high hopes. Sadly those hopes weren't realized. I struggled through the first half and was much more than half was through before I began to really enjoy it. It was interesting, and had huge potential, but I felt the writing style was lacking.

Dissolution is the first book I have ever read by C J Sansom and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's the first in a series about a lawyer called Shardlake. The subject matter is relatively dry, and as I was buying it I really did wonder if I wanted to read yet more about the dissolution of the monasteries, seeing as Hermione got stuck in the Tudor groove of history for suck a blinkin' long time.

I was surprised with how quickly I was drawn in. The style of writing was excellent, really descriptive with a good balance of narrative. I enjoyed it so much I quickly moved on to the next in the series, Dark Fire.

Again, what can I say, a real page turner! If some had said to me, 'Oh, go read this book about a lawyer in Tudor times searching for the secret of Greek Fire, a weapon used in Byzantine times' I would have thought they were mad! Had it not been recommended by friends I wouldn't have looked twice at it.

This is a beautiful collection of songs, stories and poems. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading these aloud during recent dark and windy days. You can buy it here amongst other places. I have the Spring one on my wish list.

Of all the above I think The Help is perhaps my overall favorite. Described as, 'An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960's decides to write a book detailing the African-American maid's point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis,' it had me hooked from the start.

All recommendations on what to pick up next gratefully received. I'm no fan of romance, sci-fi or gratuitous gore, although I don't mind gore which is part of the whole if you know what I mean.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Ahhh you know it's over..

..when you just spotted your Christmas tree blowing down the drive in gale force winds!

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas; I love the build up to it, being in the midst of it, and also winding it down. Like all good things, it's not over till it's over, but having pulled yet another pine needle from my foot etc, and given I had a spare half hour, I decided to quickly drag it on down while everyone was otherwise occupied upstairs. He he, it feels smugly satisfying. Craig feels the need to have at least two formal meetings, a spreadsheet and a full written forecast before embarking on any task. I could see his shock and horror when he came down to see it had been done with no planning.

Anyway, as for the day itself it was remarkably calm and peaceful (that is when the children weren't shooting at each other with nerf guns or hurling rudolph shaped splat toys around the place).

We all received many beautiful gifts. I must photograph some of the lovely home made ones to show you later.

Nana bought the children a stunt ramp for use with their scooters, bikes and skateboards. Miles, rather wisely I think, has decided to familiarize himself with it on a space hopper before venturing onto wheels!

The children also received a joint gift from Craig and I, an air hockey table. Miles in particular is very competitive and I can see lots of fun being had with this. Only trouble is that with a football table and an air hockey table in the playroom, it's becoming rather congested, and, I decided over dinner this evening that we needed to do a bit of furniture rearranging. I now have a sofa in my dining area and will have to see how that feels before I decide if it's staying - or if they will have to learn to work around it when playing table games.

Hermione decided that some of our chooks would have gifts under the tree this year and that they should come in to open them in the glow of the fairy lights too. Sheesh, sometimes I think life just gets nuttier by the day around here!

For me, one of the highlights of the day was being able to share with Nana all of the work I have being doing on her family tree. I have managed to trace one part of her family tree back to the 1500s and have discovered that my children are the thirteenth generation of a particular bloodline, to live within a twenty mile radius of those original relations. I find that fairly amazing!

I also discovered that we originate from a family of famous watchmakers and silversmiths. Their things can still be found in antique shops now and with some help from a friend I managed to find a sweet little silver brooch made in the 1800's by Nana's Great Great Great Great Uncle, to give to Nana along with a booklet I had made about her family in days gone by.

I was so excited to share it all with her after months of trawling through records and trying to piece it all together. Thankfully I think she is as delighted as I am to have discovered so much about our roots.

Well, so there you have it! It's been wonderful but now it's time to move on. I don't like to let the grass grow under my feet. Onwards and upwards - as Craig is fond of saying, nothing stands still, everything changes and if you're not changing with it you're actually going backwards.

Looking forward to easing back into a weekly rhythm with the children, friends and home. The spontaneity and celebration is great, but I love the comfort of my rhythm. Goodness, as it is only Boxing Day I shall leave it at that, perhaps I'm wrong, perhaps it's not really over till there's no more turkey or cold stuffing balls left in the fridge....

Saturday, 24 December 2011

All set

The Christmas preparations are almost complete here.

The presents are (almost all) wrapped. We have a turkey and a tin which it will fit in. Home made gifts are virtually complete, needing only minor attention. The beautiful crochet stockings made by a friend are hanging by the fire. The children are now relatively calm having just returned from a trip to the park to run off excess energy. Our Christmas night reading is sorted.

Phew, I may just pour myself a little tipple and do a bit festive baking to the sound of carols.

Wishing you all a time full of joy!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Yuletide Blessings

Brightly burns the Yule log tonight
Magic dances in firelight
Hold my hand and join the song
Raise the Sun King bright and strong
Dark is giving way to light
As brightly burns the Yule log tonight!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Meringue Snowflakes, Marshmallow Snowmen

Way hey! What a day! Lots of things to smile about today; we finished our 'work' for the holidays, we discovered that our hens haven't given up laying - they've just taken to laying in an obscure patch behind our water storage tanks (which I hope Craig can reach as I certainly can't) and Hermione has made yet more scrumptious things at her cookery class.

These meringue snowflakes taste every bit as good as they look. It's ordinary meringue, piped and dried slowly. So simple yet really effective.

The texture of these truffles she made is spot on. They're a bit of a strong hit for the children so I've felt obliged to polish off a fair few myself over the course of this afternoon. They're seriously strong and have revved me up for a festive night out and about with a great friend.

Last but certainly not least, marshmallow snowmen. Even toddlers could enjoy making these. They're just marshmallows held with a cocktail stick in the middle, then decorated.

I really enjoy the ideas Hermione brings back from cookery class. It's not all about technique and doing complex cordon bleu cookery. Sometimes its just nice to get new ideas.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Frosted Lanterns and Best Ever Mince Pies

This morning Hermione went for a cookery lesson while I ran around town like a mad thing, trying (and largely succeeding) in not panic buying.

She arrived home with a dozen warm mince pies which were, without doubt, the best mince pies I have ever tasted. They were made with a special festive pastry containing ground almonds and orange rind in addition to all the usual ingredients.

This afternoon Miles and I made some frosted lanterns. We covered some jam jars in PVA glue and sprinkled epsom salts all over them. Voila!

I had planned on making them at Yule, or at least not placing them on our nature table till Yule. Ho hum, it's a good job there's always plenty of room for flexibility round here. It seems the darkest day has already passed and the sun is growing in strength in our hall!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Ho ho ho, what a wonderful afternoon!

We decided to push the boat out and go see Santa somewhere a little different this year. I felt under pressure as we had a private audience at a set time, we hadn't been to the place before, I was unsure of where we were going and whats more we had to clean out the chook and duck houses before we went. Arghhhh!

I'm pleased to say we found it, in time, and having been accosted by a lovely lady with a big tray of steaming glasses of mulled wine, I was feeling much better. Oh dear, I think the weekend before Christmas is always a time of heightened tension for parents. There's so much pressure knowing there's so much to be done, yet also so busy ensuring there's festive fun to be had by all - or perhaps it's just me who feels that way?

We explored beautiful frost tinged gardens, hunting for treasure clues. The gardens were stunning, even in the depths of winter. I'm so pleased to have discovered them and will certainly return come spring; with Nana too as I think she'll appreciate their style of planting and design.

It doesn't look it in this picture but the lake was actually frozen, from edge to edge.

Sheesh, chilly!!

We visited the Magical Glitter Grotto where elves were dispensing magical oats to entice Rudolph onto our lawn come Christmas Eve.

Songs and stories by the fire.

Mock snowball fights with crumpled newspaper in the Jacobean Hall. With or without the help of Mr Frosty (at the back there) our team won hands down.

Whoops, that one was heading right for me.

Of course, last but not least, the main man, in the most magical grotto I have seen. He had gifts for us all - a book for Miles, a mug for Hermione, a jar candle for me and liqueur chocolates for Craig. Sadly Craig doesn't like liqueur chocolates but I was happy to relieve him of them while catching up on a bit of tv tonight.

To top off what was already a lovely day, Miles headed to bed at a reasonable time and Hermione headed on off to a carol service with Nana. This gave me the ideal opportunity to do gift wrapping, while catching up on TV and scoffing liqueur chocs. So now I can go on to enjoy all this weeks festivities knowing I'm probably more organised than ever. Yay!!!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Scarves and Coca Cola Cake

Ah well, the log basket is stacked to overflowing, I'm all ready; yet there's still no sign of snow! It's been a damp and miserable day. The temperature has hovered just above freezing, there's been no sunshine as such, just cold grayness.

So, what's a family with seasonally hyped children to do on such a cold gray day? We hit the swimming baths! In our experience leisure centers are always quiet the week before Christmas. Thankfully it was quite quiet today and fun was had by all - those (all apart from me) who were in the pool, and, those who sat in the spectator area knitting (me).

I'm a novice knitter, or perhaps I should say a 'born again knitter' as I have knit in the past but hadn't done so for years, up until last week when I felt inspired by Hermione clicking away with her needles.

I knocked up a short green scarf for Miles with some wool we had lying around. The trouble with little ones and scarves is that in our experience they tend to hang out of the bottom of their jackets. So, here it is, holes and all! I know it's far from perfect - those darned stitches eluded me at times - but I did enjoy the process and Miles was wonderfully appreciative, even if he hasn't actually worn it as yet.

So, with one under my belt so to speak, I agreed to knit one for Hermione. We went into town to buy some yarn. There was very little choice in town, we'll probably have to shop on line or travel to a larger town next time. Anyway, she plumped for a pink eyelash yarn, which is knitting up quite nicely.

It took me a few rows to get to grips with this yarn. When you look at your needle it's not so easy to see the stitches for all the 'eyelashes'.

The other day I whisked up a Coca Cola Cake. I had spotted Coca Cola Cake in a retro diner when coffeeing with a friend a wee while ago. Having quite a Coke habit I thought it had to be the cake for me. I followed this recipe below.

Preheat oven to 350, and line your tins.

2cups flour
2cups sugar
1/2tsp salt
1tsp baking powder
1/2tsp cinnamon

In a saucepan over medium high heat stir this up good until it boils:
1 cup butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup coca-cola
1/2 cup milk
now take off heat and add that to the flour mix & whisk until combined.

Then add:
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
mix, put in pan, bake it for about 30minutes. Yes, it’s a quick bake. Don’t over-bake it!

Looking around on line most people add a frosting too but I figured there was already way too much fat and sugar in this one. I opted instead for sandwiching with strawberries, which of course won't negate the rest but won't add to it either!

Well, will I make it again? I don't even have to think about this one - no! It was good, but no better than a good chocolate cake and it had so much more sugar and fat in it. It was light and airy (you can see the big bubbles on the picture) and had a great flavor even if not entirely like Coke. If I do decide to do it again I think I'll tinker with the recipe.