Sunday, 27 December 2009

Christmas bake off

Little Man took this picture - it's better than anything I could do!

Well, it's all over and I'm missing it already. For the first time ever we had most of it by ourselves. Usually, my parents come to stay for at least a week and after a while things get a bit fraught. But in the summer, we took a selfish stand and said we wanted it on our own. This didn't go down very well, but they were good enough not to say anything, and stayed with my brother instead, hee, hee, hee!
Anyway, we had Husband's parents for lunch on Christmas day, and my parents came for afternoon tea on boxing day(yesterday). We are all feeling festive, happy and relaxed, it's been the best Christmas ever!
With the lack of house guests, the children and I got down to some serious Christmas preparation. We got busy gingerbread decorations for the tree (they never did make it to the tree!). We used the recipe we use every year, and I honestly can't remember where I got it from, but it's good, so here it is:

Ginger Bread Tree Decorations
12oz plain white four
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tbsp ground ginger
1tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground cloves
4oz butter
6oz light brown soft sugar
4tbsp golden syrup
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celcius.
Sift the spices, bicarbonate of soda and flour into a bowl.
Rub the butter into the flour mixture, until it forms fine breadcrumbs.
Warm the syrup (I put it in the microwave for 20 seconds).
Beat the egg into the warm syrup (wait for the syrup to cool slightly, so it doesn't cook the egg!)
Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients, and mix with hands or a wooden spoon.
Roll the dough out into a 1/4 inch thick layer (if you roll it too thinly the biscuits will be very crunchy. I like my gingerbread soft and chewy, so I roll it out a bit more thickly).

Then use a selection of cutters to make Christmassy shapes. Line some baking sheets with greaseproof paper, ready for the cut out gingerbread.

Pierce each shape with a large hole and pop them in the oven for about 10 minutes. Let them cool on a rack and then get busy with the icing. This year I opened my baking cuboard and got all the cake decorations that I've collected over the year, and the kids had a ball! Here are the results, Christmas bling:

We also decorated the Christmas cake I made three weeks ago. I love bloggy before and after shots, so here's mine:


Merry Christmas!

Friday, 25 December 2009

Our upside down Christmas tree

It all started so well. I packed the Little People into the car (Husband was too bah humbug to come, so stayed at home with his paper!)and off we went. We headed up to Whittenham Clumps, the highest hills around, to the place we get our Chrismas trees. It's quite hard to find, because it's in someone's back garden. About thirty years ago, the man who owns the garden planted a tree which has self seeded again and again. He's turned it into a truly magical place.

Snow was still on the ground, and a the Little People ran through the trees and disappeared, all I could hear was laughter breaking the freezing silence. I was getting all nostalgic, until Little Lady ran towards me saying 'Mummy, I need a wee'.

We had to find a 'Den' in amongst the trees and she got to melt some snow.
Any way, we couldn't find a beautiful small tree, so the owner said he'd chop the top six foot off a twenty foot tree for us - they needed to be thined out. Little Man shouted 'Timber',and we got our tree! I got it into the car - just!

And when we got the tree home, Husband pointed out it was too big for the house. He rushed off excitedly to get his electric. He sawed and chopped a bit off the top, a bit off the bottom, a bit more off the top, a bit more off the bottom, until we could get it into the house...
The problem was there was a bit too much taken off the bottom, so we ended up with an amazing upside down Christmas tree!

It still looks beautiful to me though... the dark!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

My Favorite Books of all Time

I've been fiddling with my blog today, tweeking this, deleting that, and I realised I want to start lists of things. I'm a messy organiser - I love to get one thing organised, even if everything else is falling apart around me! Anyway here goes with my list of best books (the ones with a (C) are children's books!):

The Tiger who Came to Tea - Judith Kerr (C)
Fix-it- Duck - Jez Alborough (C)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (C)
Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
Dreams of my Father - Barack Obama
Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
Madame Bovary - Flaubert
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
Animal Farm - George Orwell
How to Eat - Nigella Lawson
Mort - Terry Pratchett
Driving Over Lemons - Chris Stewart
Vanilla Beans and Brodo - Isabella Dusi
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
Wild Swans - Jung Chang
Bound Feet and Western Dress - Pang-Mei Chang
American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Homemade Secret Santa

I had a rare two seconds to think at work about two weeks ago, and I put it to great use. We do Secret Santa every year, but it's got a bit tired, so I took the initiative and sent an email. It read 'This year, in honor of the credit crunch, it's homemade Secret Santa, the budget is limited to £5.' A frisson of excitement went through the office and then everything went quiet.

Once I'd set the ball in motion, I had creators' block, great! So I did some blog stalking (I will leave a comment one of these days!), and then typed crochet into You Tube. I love seeing what people make films about, and I can't believe how much you can learn about crafting from the tutorials people make and upload. Anyway, I found these two VERY easy tutorials:
Simple hat
Threadbanger hat
I sort of combined the two, got some wool that's been hanging around for ages and made a hat. When it was finished, it looked a bit dull, so I went back to You Tube for a flower tutorial. This one was great:
Crochet flower
The end result is my first ever crochet hat:

The crochet bug had me in its grip, so I bought some cotton yarn and followed no particular pattern to make up this hat. It looked a bit plain, so I went back to You Tube and found out how to crochet a heart and some leaves, and voila - a strawberry hat:

I loved it so much I sent it to a friend's two year old daughter for Christmas. Now I have to make a pink one for Little Lady, I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Cosy for Christmas

I have a great friend who forces me out most evenings for power walks, gym sessions, aerobics classes and we never stop talking! I'm fitter than I've ever been and I've got to know a really lovely person. Now Christmas is round the corner, I've been trying to think of something to give her.
Earlier in the year, (or was it last year?)I crocheted a blanket in a little over a week. Every time my friend babysits for us, we find her snuggled under the blanket at the end of the evening. She's also mentioned the blanket several times, so it occured to me that she might like one of her own.
I've labelled this post as a tutorial, but I feel like a bit of a fraud! I'm sorry if you were expecting more detail, I'm not proficient enough with crochet (yet!) to do any better than this! Anyway, it was really easy, I just bought two types of wool, got out two sizes of crochet hook(8mm and 5mm)and started making a chain, then I just double crocheted(I think it's triple crochet in the UK, but I'm no expert)for four nights and Voila:

I got carried away with the camera, so I took a few arty shots, as you can see I'm no professional!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Crimean Soldier costume tutorial (sort of)

Little man came home one day announcing that, as he was doing Florence Nightingale at school, he had to go in dressed as an injured Crimean soldier on his class's Florence Nightingale day. My mind immediately sprang (hopefully) to an easy trip to a fancy dress shop, or maybe we could make do with something simple, ha, ha, ha! I made the mistake of looking up the costume,on the internet, only to discover that my task (should I choose to accept it) was to make a proper, traditional red soldier's uniform...
I searched fancy dress shops, scoured the internet for a toy soldier costume or even a useful tutorial, but I drew a blank. Nothing, zip, nada. Is little man's school the only one which puts mothers through this trauma?

I couldn't let little man down so I came up with this:

Before I begin, this is for any poor unfortunate mother who is faced with the same dilema as me.

You will need:

1 red jacket
1 length gold braid
1 length thick white ribbon
6-8 large gold buttons
large poppers (snap buttons)

First of all little man and I set off to our closest charity shop (thrift store) to find a ladies' (they're smallest I could think of)deep red jacket. Miraculously I found a single breasted one (UK size 10, US size 8)on the sale rail for £2.50! I bought the rest of the 'equipment' at the haberdashers in our town. Then I got to work. This is the Jacket before the transformation:

I cut part of the arms off the jacket(and hemmed them roughly), so that they were the right length for little man. I also cut the buttons off. Then I put the jacket on little man, turned the collar up and wrapped one side of the jacket over the other, turning it from a single breasted jacket to a double breasted one. I stitched the popper buttons on so that the jacket could be buttoned up. Then I stitched the gold buttons on the front of the jacket, and the braid on the collar. Finally, I drapped the white ribbon over little man's shoulder and stitched it to a length I had velcroed round his waist. Little man was so impressed he said 'Mummy I didn't know you were THIS good!' which really made my day! Here's the finished article (we used red food colouring (for blood)on the bandage, which was amazing except for the fact that it dyed a patch of little man's hair red for a few days.):

The moral of the story is, make friends with a mother of older children, who have a whole wardrobe of relevant costumes you can borrow!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

A life list

Nabbed from here and here.
Things you've already done: bold
Things you want to do: italicize
Things you haven't done and don't want to - leave in plain font

1. started your own blog
2. slept under the stars
3. played in a band
4. visited hawaii
5. watched a meteor shower
6. given more than you can afford to charity
7. been to disneyland/world
8. climbed a mountain
9. held a praying mantis
10. sang a solo
11. bungee jumped
12. visited paris
13. watched a lightning storm at sea
14. taught yourself an art from scratch
15. adopted a child
16. had food poisoning
17. walked to the top of the statue of liberty
18. grown your own vegetables
19. seen the mona lisa in France
20. slept on an overnight train
21. had a pillow fight
22. hitch hiked
23. taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. built a snow fort
25. held a lamb
26. gone skinny dipping
27. run a marathon
28. ridden a gondola in venice
29. seen a total eclipse
30. watched a sunrise or sunset
31. hit a home run
32. been on a cruise
33. seen niagara falls in person
34. visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. seen an amish community
36. taught yourself a new language
37. had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. seen the leaning tower of pisa in person
39. gone rock climbing
40. seen michelangelo's david in person
41. sung karaoke
42. seen old faithful geyser erupt
43. bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant
44. visited africa
45. walked on a beach by moonlight
46. been transported in an ambulance
47. had your portrait painted
48. gone deep sea fishing
49. seen the sistene chapel in person
50. been to the top of the eiffel tower in paris
51. gone scuba diving or snorkelling
52. kissed in the rain
53. played in the mud
54. gone to a drive-in theatre
55. been in a movie
56. visited the great wall of China
57. started a business
58. taken a martial arts class
59. visited russia
60. served at a soup kitchen
61. sold girl scout cookies.
62. gone whale watching
63. gotten flowers for no reason
64. donated blood
65. gone sky diving
66. visited a nazi concentration camp
67. bounced a cheque
68. flown in a helicopter
69. saved a favorite childhood toy
70. visited the lincoln memorial
71. eaten caviar
72. pieced a quilt
73. stood in times square
74. toured the everglades
75. been fired from a job
76. seen the changing of the guard in London
77. broken a bone
78. been on a speeding motorcycle
79. seen the grand canyon in person
80. published a book (this one's a bit of a cheat - I work for a publisher!)
81. visited the vatican
82. bought a brand new car
83. walked in jerusalem
84. had your picture in the newspaper
85. read the entire bible
86. visited the white house
87. killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. had chickenpox
89. saved someone’s life
90. sat on a jury
91. met someone famous
92. joined a book club
93. lost a loved one
94. had a baby
95. seen the alamo in person.
96. swum in the great salt lake.
97. been involved in a law suit
98. owned a cell phone
99. been stung by a bee

Monday, 5 October 2009

I'm a bad mother - tell me something I didn't know!

Why do people always want to make mothers feel bad about the choices they make? I haven't met a mother yet who doesn't live with self-inflicted guilt every day - did we smile just the right way when they came into our rooms at 6:30am? Do they really understand just how much we love them? Are they eating the right things? Have they done enough exercise today? Have we done everything we can to make sure they succeed in class, in the playground, in life? No matter what we do we'll never get rid of that nagging doubt that we should be doing something more.

So when a 'study' came out last week saying that the children of working mothers are more likely to be obese, watch more TV, eat more sweets (candy) and do less exercise than the children of stay at home mothers, I was annoyed! Then someone else announced that daughters of working mothers perform better in school, are more confident and have more successful careers than daughters of mothers who stay at home, I was even more incensed!

I should clarify, at this point, that I'm a working mum four days a week and a stay at home mum three days a week, so according to the two studies I'm either the best or worst mother around! I get really annoyed with sweeping statistics that are used by people who have their own personal agendas. They want to make other people feel bad for not making what they see as the 'right' choices. Most mothers are doing the best they can, if that's not good enough for other people I don't care, as long as the children are happy and loved.

By the way, neither of my children are obese, they are both (too) confident, watch a maximum of 5 hours of TV a week, walk, run, swim and eat sweets (!) but most importantly they are deeply loved, and they know it! Instead of a yummy mummy, I think I've turned into a smuggy mummy - can't decide which is worse!

Now I can go to bed without that nagging guilty feeling tonight, by tomorrow morning I'll have thought of something else I won't have done...

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Busy, busy...

Well it's Wednesday and I'm still recovering from the weekend, I'm getting old I just can't take the pace! On Friday I went out with some girlfriends to celebrate a birthday (not mine!). On Saturday, the two little things, Darling Husband and I went to Woburn Safari Park, we all had a great time. Then we went to my dad's 70th birthday party at a beautiful hotel on Sunday. Little man wandered off with our camera and took some great shots, this one looks professional, he's a better photographer than us!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

I'm dreaming of a white christmas...

Well, I can dream can't I?! I'm starting to think about Christmas, and before you bury your head in your hands some of my friends have finished their shopping and are sitting back smuggly! Meanwhile, I've found this wonderful website:

It's great, so I know where I'm spending my evenings this week...

Monday, 14 September 2009


September has meant a lot of different things to me over the years - the end of the summer holidays, the return to school, friends and homework, my dad's birthday, the beginning of autumn. I love the clear blue skies, the smell of the leaves as they start to fall and the chill of the air in the mornings. But more than anything else, for the last seven years, probably like everyone else, I have remembered 9/11. I know where I was when it happened, and how I felt as I watched those huge buildings collapse. I also remember seeing the whole of New York from the top of one of the towers, when my parents took me to New York, as a little girl. But most of all I remember Erik Isbrandtsen.

When I was 13, my parents took us to live in the States for a year. I went to school in Marblehead, near Boston, and Erik was in my 'Home Room' class. I remember him being a kind and thoughtful, popular boy who was full of fun. He loved his country, but tried very hard to understand why I loved mine as much as he did his. I often think of all the friends I made in Marblehead that year, I wonder what they're up to, whether they have children, if they're happy. So it came as a great shock when, in 2002, I found out that Erik died on the 105th floor of the World Trade Centre on 9/11. He was 30 years old.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Tomatoes, tom-toes and more tomatoes...

Every year, as soon as the weather starts to warm up and the days lengthen, my Darling Husband gets an urge to plant things, so about this time of year I am faced with his seemingly never ending (highly prised) supply of produce. Over the years, we've had fields of basil, mountains of raspberries, kilos of courgettes (often marrows when we've left them a day too long) and huge helpings of french beans. Although most of the produce varies from year to year, tomatoes put in an appearance every year. This year we've made tomato sauce and tomato and mozzarella salad as usual and then I got the urge to make tomato relish. I daren't put the recipe up quite yet, mainly because the whole house stank of vinegar for the hours the relish had to cook, and I can't imagine the result is going to be nice. We're going to wait a couple of weeks and then the sampling will begin, if it's any good the recipe will put in an appearance, watch this space! I'm off to skin more tomatoes...

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Partying in Bronte country

We've just had a wow of a time at a friend's 40th birthday party weekend.
My Darling Husband flew in from Houston on Friday morning. (He'd been away for a week, my parents came over from France to help out, but that's another story...) Anyway once he'd had a sleep and a bath, we stuffed the kids in the car and set off for Howarth in Yorkshire. The traffic was awful, so it took us almost five hours to get there, but we weren't the last to arrive! There were sixty-seven (Yes, 67) people altogether, we took over a large youth hostel that had been built in the 1840s, it was absolutlely beautiful. The kids were over the moon, they had bunk beds to sleep in, loads of children to play with and a never ending supply of food, sweets and activities. The first night we ate, unpacked and got to know everyone. The next day we all walked down one hill and then up a very steep one, past the Parsonage where Charlotte and Emily Bronte used to live and up onto the moors where many of their novels were set. We met some people walking their dog so Little Man and Little Miss made friends. Little Man loved 'rock climbing' with the other boys. We met up with everyone on top of the moor and had a picnic, then made our way back down the very steep hill.
Simon had a rest on a fence on the way. I'm getting old, my knee has been giving me a bit of trouble since then. When we all got back to the hostel, there was a children's party, where we discovered that Little Man doesn't take losing very well, to say the least! Little Miss made sure she got her face painted, and spent a lot of time roaring! The children had their party tea and then it was the adult's turn for tea, Happy Birthday and a Disco, Little Miss was boogiing with the best of them... This morning we had the full English breakfast and then everyone trooped off to Ingrow train station, a few miles from Howarth, and caught a steam train to Oxenhope where we had a picnic in the millenium park there. Little Man was determined he'd see the inside of the engine's cab, so as soon as we stopped he made sure he was first on board! Little Miss just wanted to pose!
We went past the smallest station in England, and the one where they filmed the railway children. Once we got back to Ingrow, we all said our goodbyes and made our way back home. I'll post some photos tomorrow. It was a lovely weekend for all of us, and now it's back to work tomorrow, snif...

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The best chocolate chip cookies in the world!

I made 40 good sized chocolate chip cookies on Monday afternoon, and in a day and a half they've all gone. Whenever I bake I find things don't last long, but I had hopes for this last batch, I should have known. I have a lot of recipes for chocolate chip cookies, but this one is, without doubt, the most popular one in our family! Drum roll, here's the recipe, I've tried to give all possible combinations of measurements:

7 oz/175g/1 cup butter
7oz/175g/1 firmly packed cup brown sugar
7oz/175g/1 cup granulated (or caster) sugar
2 eggs beaten
7oz/175g/2 cups quick oatmeal OR porridge oats
1 teaspoon vanilla
8.5 oz/210g/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
0.75oz/20g/0.25 cup wheat germ OR wheat bran
6oz/150g/1 cup chocolate chips (dark chocolate is better than milk)

Take the butter out of the fridge to soften a bit before you start, it makes life easier! Preheat your oven to 180C or 350F. Cream the butter and all the sugar together. Add the eggs, oatmeal and vanilla and mix, I use the back of a fork to mix everything throughout this recipe. Add the flour, soda and salt and combine. Add the wheatgerm or bran, and chocolate chips and mix. Now make walnut sized balls of dough, press them flat so that you have small, thick discs. Either grease a baking tray or line it with Baking Parchment. I can fit between 9 and 12 on one sheet. Bake them for about 15 minutes, but start checking after 10 minutes.

Warning: Wait 'til they have cooled down before trying them, if you have one warm, you won't be able to stop yourself...

Monday, 27 July 2009

My first attempt at crochet...

Well, the night spent in the (new) tent in our back garden was not a success. At 3am I decided I'd had enough of being cold and hauling Little Man back onto his inflatable mattress, so we wandered back to our own (warm) beds. My conclusion was that I need a MUCH warmer sleeping bag, not the 15 year old, thin, warn out one my darling husband assured me would be fine!
While I was lying awake, shivering, I realised the crochet blanket I'd brought with me was keeping me warmer than the said sleeping bag. I am inordinately proud of my crochet blanket, it is a bit lopsided and the colours aren't the ones I would usually choose, but it is my first completed crochet project and I taught myself. Well, that isn't strictly true, there's this wonderful lady, Theresa, who has spent huge amounts of time recording short, really easy to follow, crochet tutorials on You Tube. I sat with my laptop on my lap, a sturdy pair of headphones clamped to my ears, my crochet needle and wool at the ready and Theresa taught me some basic crochet.

Once I'd got the hang of (very basic) crochet, I decided I wanted to make a blanket. The trouble is that I have no patience and I always want to see results fast, so granny squares weren't really going to fit the bill. I went to the wool shop in town and bought the thickest wool and thickest crochet needle I could find. Then I set to with double crocheting my blanket, after a week, spending about two hours a night, I made this:

If you're interested in learning to crochet, or you can't remember a stitch Theresa has her own blog, 'The Art of Crochet' that you can link to it here. She is amazing!

So I have achieved one of my life's ambitions and learnt to crochet, and now I'm doing a twirly whirly scarf for someone's Christmas present this year. I'll post a picture when I finish it.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Tent Blogging

I am blogging from a tent this evening. It all started this morning when we put our new tent up in the back garden, in order to avoid jeering and heckling from other campers on holiday at the end of August. After about 45 minutes of tension fuelled team work we stood back to admire our handy work, and little man decided we were going to spend the night in it. My quick-witted husband told him that 'yes, mummy would love to spend the night in the tent with you', little man looked at me with his big blue eyes and here I am. It's cold, I've got bed socks on, I'm wrapped in a sleeping bag and a blanket and I'm going to be up at the crack of dawn, yea!
On a more positive note, we all had a great day with my brother and his partner, we had lunch at Pizza Express and then spent the afternoon flying kites at Whittenham Clumps, I love it up there. I'll post some photos tomorrow.
We've got friends coming for lunch tomorrow, so I should try and get some sleep...

Friday, 24 July 2009

Busy bees

The kids and I on holiday, so I'll be going back to work for a rest on Tuesday (I work four days a week)! My two little people haven't stopped all day. They watched a thunder storm in the morning and we all made our pizzas for lunch. Then we went into the garden and found a mouse Wicket (our cat) thought we might like, so we held a burial, a lot of time was spent 'decorating' the grave (you can just make out the cross little man made with sticks):

The somber mood and tears were soon forgotten as they blew bubbles in the garden and made a blueberry tart:

Then they wrote, they painted and they made a mess...
Tomorrow will be another wow of a day. My brother and his partner (the kids' two favourite people) are coming over, and then we're probably sleeping in the garden tomorrow night. We're going camping at the end of August with friends, so we've bought a tent and we need to practice putting it up. I can't wait.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

My first blog...

Everyone's gone to bed and the house is quiet at last, so now's my chance! I've been reading other people's blogs for weeks, and now I'm going to lay claim to my own corner of the Internet. I'm under no illusions, there seem to be trillions of blogs, so my readership will probably be limited to one (me), but as I have no idea what I'm going to do with this 'space', that's probably no bad thing.

I always seem to be slightly late joining trends. I gave up trying to follow fashion a long time ago, it wasn't great when I was the only one still wearing leggings - and sadly no, I don't have the legs for them! I did have a huge mobile phone when they first started to become mainstream, but I kept it for a bit too long. I got very excited when I set up my Facebook account only to realise that half the world had beaten me to it. So, given my reluctance to blaze a trail into the unknown, I am shocked to find myself blogging, but then everyone else is doing it...