Thursday, 24 December 2009

The stockings were hung...

The stockings were hung, the welcoming snack and drink were put out for Santa and Rudolph ( chocolate brownie and whisky this year - a bit untraditional!), Baby Jesus had arrived in the Nativity scene and the children were in bed. It was nearly midnight, all was quiet and full of anticipation...
A very Happy and Peaceful Christmas to everyone!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Snow day

Heavy (for us) snowfall overnight. I.'s school still closed so an early start to the Christmas holidays for him. The girls were really hoping their school would be closed too, but it stayed open although they finished at lunchtime. I. and I had a snowball fight, he played with his Lego in the snow and then I took him out in the sledge and he met up with 2 other boys from his class in the playground. Lovely for him that we really had time to enjoy the snow today.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Frosty Morning

No snow here yet ( the children live in hope), but we had the first hard frost this morning, and we may possibly get a little snow on Thursday.
Indoors, the woodstove is lit, the christmas lights are on and I'm planning a day of card-writng, present-wrapping and knitting (yes, that reindeer) with I.'s school Nativity play this evening. It's really beginning to feel festive...

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A walk in the wood

We are so lucky that we have in our village, only a 5 minute walk from the house, a 90-acre ancient wood, which is carpeted with bluebells and wild garlic in Spring, full of fungi in Autumn, and home to Red and Fallow deer.
Every weekend, I like to get I. outside for a walk, accompanied by whatever other family members are around. Today it was just me and him, and we walked down to and around the wood. Although there wasn't much wildlife to see today, I. entertained both of us by pretending we were on a train and keeping up a running commentary along the lines of "On your left you can see... In this oldest part of the forest..." all the way along the whole walk. I was enchanted.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Sew pleased!

Hooray - bunting is finished! I used the seam binding which I could only get in 5m lengths and I had made so many flags there were enough to make 3 lengths of bunting. I am so pleased with this project - although it is pretty simple, it is the first sewn project I have made for years and the first thing I have made on my new(ish) machine. I've lots of plans for future projects...
Away from the sewing machine, it is a gorgeous day here - this morning R. and I both walked I. to school across the fields - the sun was just coming up and the trees were ghostly shapes in the mist - magical. I'm pressing on with knitting my reindeer - maybe I'll have him finished to show here in the next day or two. Happy Friday.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Catching up

Counting down to Christmas now and there's still lots to do, but I am trying to fit in something creative each day. Today I finished making my cards, I had intended to make 65 but when I counted them up today there were 61 - I think this will be enough!

I've now made all the bunting triangles - they are not perfect - there are some not-very-pointy-points there, but once it is finished I think it will look good. Today I bought some red seam binding and ribbon (not sure which will work best) to attach them to, and I hope to finish this tomorrow.

Although I didn't mange to post about it, I did make something new for supper on Tuesday - this is Aubergine and Red Onion Bake, from "365" by Gary Rhodes. A very quick and simple recipe, and it tasted really good - in fact I had the leftovers for lunch both yesterday and today ( I doubled the quantity). I realise it is another gratin-type dish - I need to find something completely different for next week!

On Tuesday, I also went to an Ornament Exchange party at my friend D.'s house back in S.W.
This was the first one I had been to and wasn't sure what to expect, but it was a lot of fun and some lovely food, as well as seeing people I hadn't seen for ages - one or two people I hadn't seen since we moved up here nearly 6 years ago. It was really good to catch up with them.
This is the ornament I took to the swap:

And here is the one I ended up with - it is actually a little photo frame, so I am debating what photo to put in it:

It was a really good evening, but the party went on till after 11.30pm , and I didn't get home till 1am, so have been feeling a little jaded. In contrast it has been lovely being home these past two evenings, just reading and relaxing...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Practising completion

I am great at starting projects - I see a pattern, have an idea, and I'm off...
Finishing is quite a different matter. Before I have finished some of these projects which I began in such a blaze of enthusiasm, I have either lost interest, started something else, or put it aside through lack of time and never taken it up again.
I've been thinking a lot about this recently, particularly now at this time of year when blogs and magazines overflow with wonderful ideas which inspire me to want to start something else new.
Sure, I can allow myself a lovely new project (favourite candidate is Mousy Brown's wreath), but I also need to devote time each day to a completion practice.
So yesterday and today, my completion work is the bunting for E.'s room which we started way back in the summer. She doesn't know I have taken this up again, so hopefully I will be able to surprise her with it as part of her Christmas presents. It feels good to get out the sewing machine again and work towards finishing something - this will be a good discipline for me.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

A Quiet Sunday

(Spindle berries collected by R.,E. and I. on their walk yesterday)

A quiet day at home today... woke late, organised breakfast for everyone, including E.'s friend who had slept over. Made another batch of Christmas cards, then made a pan of lentil soup for lunch. A brisk walk by myself to get some fresh air and then helped L. get ready for the party she is hosting for her friends tonight. R. and I. are out, so all is quiet in the house - there are any number of crafty things I could be getting on with, but somehow all I want to do is nap...

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Apron Love

I wear one of my aprons every day - when I cook and when I clear and wash up and when I serve up meals. Basically all the time I'm working in the kitchen. Often, I end up answering the door in my apron - to the postman/woman, friends, or the parents of my children's friends. No-one ever says anything, but since I have never seen any of my friends wearing aprons, I wonder if I am alone round here in doing so?
I love aprons. When I was a young child, in the Sixties, my favourite one of my mum's aprons was bright pink flowered in silky fabric with a ruffle round it. I used to always choose to wear this one when I helped Mum with the cooking.
My preference, though is definitely for bib aprons, and all mine seem to have blue in them. But I'm very open to other colours! In fact, I feel that an apron sewing session may be in the offing. ( Just as soon as I finish everything else I've started.)
So, are you an apron-wearer? If so, and if you, like me, love your apron(s), you can indulge yourself in more apron-love here:
Apronology - a wonderful publication from Stampington
The Apron Book - includes a pattern for a basic bib apron
Tie One On - wonderful blog about all things apron-y

Friday, 4 December 2009

Cheering my heart...

...on these damp, rather dismal mornings when I go outside to let out and feed the hens, is the beautiful blossom on my little cherry tree, bravely flowering away:

...and when I come back inside the first thing I do is make myself a mug of my favourite Cappucino, for further spirit-lifting purposes:

Have a great Friday morning, whatever the weather is like where you are.
Collecting E. from her two weeks away tonight ( yes, she was home for the weekend, but the house and the family just don't feel right without her here each day) - can't wait to have her home again!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Time for a deep breath

Feeling frazzled today. I ventured into the city to take back some items of clothing for E. and I. which were too big, and to try to finish all my Christmas shopping before it got too busy. I ended up feeling demoralised by the relentless commercialism and exhausted by trekking back and forth, especially when I had got all the way back to the car park only to realise I had forgotten to take back one item to a shop back across town, when I had actually already been in that shop earlier. On the way home I also had to food-shop, and then remembered the hens were in immediate need of more woodshavings for their nest box - so another detour was required.

So I have ended up feeling quite out of sorts, with nothing done in the house today, or any crafting. A deep breath is needed, to remind myself what this season is really about, and to centre myself back into my life here. Tomorrow will be a day at home, and hopefully tonight I can get on with my knitting...

( I treated myself to this lovely Cyclamen when I visited The Kitchen Garden recently.)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

WIP Wednesday

Hmmn... what is this fluffy, grey object, I hear you wonder. Well, it is all I have managed so far of my reindeer. I'm finding the Rowan Alpaca Cotton yarn difficult to knit with as it is so fuzzy, and counting the rows on the knitting is practically impossible (as I found when I realised I'd misread the decreasing instructions and had to take out a good few rows). I obvioiusly need to press on with this to have him ready to grace our home over Christmas so he is the #1 knitting priority at the moment. In fact, if I can get today's tutoring session prepared quickly, I may just manage a bit more of him before collecting I. from school.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Advent's here!

I know that advent really started last Sunday, and perhaps next year I will make an advent wreath and start our celebrations on the Sunday, but this year today was the day. Nestled inside the drawers of our advent house are colour-coded ( gold for I., green for L. and pink for E.) tissue -wrapped little gifts ranging from tiny reels of ribbon to tiny diaries and individual chocolates, together with a couple of "tokens" for seasonal treats. We're all looking forward to enjoying this lovely time of anticipation and tonight lit our advent candle for the first time.

Also at supper-time, it was Try Something New Tuesday, and this is what we had:

Mushroom Ragout with Rice Pilaf
This seemed to go down very well with L. and her friend who was here for supper and also with R. - all of them had second helpings.
The recipes are both from "From Anna's Kitchen" by Anna Thomas. The pilaf in particular was very easy - the ragout was a little more involved, but I will certainly make them both again.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

A quick and simple card

Yesterday I forgot to share the very easy and quick (but still, I hope, pretty and effective) card I made for L.'s birthday. The gorgeous fabric is "Confections" by Robert Kaufman, and the epoxy sticker is by"Love Elsie" from KI Memories.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

A birthday, a cold walk, and a tired boy...

Today we...

celebrated L.'s 17th birthday:

The cake is the carrot cake recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery book - absolutely delicious and easy, even though I do not own a food mixer and did all the mixing by hand ( I've developed a very strong right arm over years of baking!)

Had a cold, but lovely walk up what we (unromantically) call "The Concrete Path" - a farm track through the fields from our driveway:

Some of us a little reluctantly:

And fell asleep on the sofa, too tired to sing his sister "Happy Birthday":

Thursday, 26 November 2009


Yesterday I managed to get an hour in the garden and planted my tulips, which were beginning to sprout. I love tulips and every year I plant a new variety in two small formal beds we have outside the back of the barn. I am very taken with the idea of formal beds with a succession of bulbs and bedding plants through the year, surrounded by box hedges ( I visited Sissinghurst at an impressionable age!) and these two small beds are my rather basic formal garden. After the bulbs I only have one lot of summer-flowering plants, although it would be nice to follow these with something that will last through the winter, like pansies. This year I have put in Sweet Williams which are biennial and are happily overwintering to flower next summer. I have been spectacularly disorganised about the tulips, though, not only have I left it rather late to plant them, I also managed to throw away the label where I had writen the variety name, and now I can't remember what they are. Possibly "Ballade", as that is the name which comes into my head, and there is actually a tulip of that name. Oh well, it will be a surprise in the Spring to see what they look like!

This is one of the beds, just before planting.

And here is my assistant gardener, Edwina, who always jumps out of the pen and comes to dig around, very unhelpfully, whenever I attempt any weeding or planting.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

W.I.P. Wednesday

My first posting for W.I.P. Wednesday and today my Work-In -Progress is my Christmas cards, which I finally started this morning and managed to get 10 completely done and 10 more partially done in just over an hour. My design is very simple this year, and apart from the dove stamp and the card blanks which I have bought specially, everything else is items already in my stash. ( I have got so much stuff I really need to use up!)
The dove stamp is from te English Stamp Company and the background calligraphy stamp is by Invoke. The paper is left over strips from a Dovecraft pack I bought for last year's cards.
I'm hoping to do another 10 each day to work towards my target of 70.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Try Something New Tuesday!

Well, I did cook something new, Mushrooms and Lentils Au Gratin and I think it was a success - L. had a second helping, but there was only L. and me eating it, as R had cooked a chicken which needed using and he and I. ate that, and E. of course is away.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Missing her already.

Yesterday, I took E. to stay with our good friends A. and M. as she is doing her Work Experience with the National Trust, which M. works for. She will be with them this week and next, although I will be collecting her on Friday for the weekend back at home (it's big sister's birthday).
I know E. will have a lovely time - she has often stayed for a night or two with A. and M. and their daughter is one of her best friends. And I know it's not for long - but it is the longest she has been away, and she is such a full-on personality that the house and family seem very quiet without her. It also feels like a rehearsal for when she (and her sister before her ) will leave home - not very many years away now - and I'm not sure that I will be ready...

Saturday, 21 November 2009

What's for tea, Mum?

I read in the newspaper last week that a survey found most mums "recycled" the same 9 dishes for dinner ( or "tea" as we tend to call it in our house - my Northern roots are showing!) over and over again. When I came to think about what I cook each evening, I realised that my regular repertoire is not much more adventurous - I do tend to make the same "safe" dishes that I know the children will eat, very regularly.
So, I have decided to give myself a challenge which will perhaps make the answer to the above question more interesting. I am going to find a new dish to cook once a week - the best night for this will be Tuesday- so here's to "Try Something New Tuesdays"!
The picture above is one of our summer regulars - Halloumi and Vegetable Kebabs, which I have promised my Halloumi-loving L. that I will make tomorrow, even though it's late Autumn...

Thursday, 19 November 2009

At last...introducing my new design - "Betsy"

Well, it has taken me quite some time, and 3 test knits ( you may notice this one was a little different), but finally I am happy with my baby pinafore design. The pattern will be available soon to buy as a download on Ravelry, and I'm looking forward to knitting it in other sizes and colours ( denim blue for starters) to hopefully sell finished garments as well . Watch this space for news on that...

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Remember not to rush...

One of the other mums at I.'s school brought me up short with a comment today when I met her while picking I. up - "You seem to be in a rush today - calm down" she said. And, thinking about it, I realised she was quite right - in fact I was feeling quite breathlesss from rushing. It had been one of those days - I had been into the city, birthday-and-Christmas-and clothes for DD2's-work experience next week-shopping, come home, done a few jobs and had a quick blog-browse then realised I was runnung a bit late to pick I up. But it is more than just one day - I seem to rush at life a lot of the time, even feeling anxious and a bit panicky about all the things I feel I need to get done. Even though I have taken the decision to cut back on some activities ( I talked about this here) I still feel sometimes there are not enough hours in the day, and this also leads to me staying up too late and ending up a tired and grumpy mama.
The picture above is of me with my littlest and biggest on the beach at Wells-next-the Sea ( one of our very favourite family places) last February and is there to remind me to calm down and remember not to rush through this life of mine. To be honest, it's going too fast anyway...

Monday, 16 November 2009

Memories in a tree

I love this little tree. It is a winter-flowering cherry (Prunus Subhirtella Autumnalis) which was one of the first trees we planted when we moved here nearly 6 years ago. Then it was tiny, quite ungainly in the way its branches fell. Now it is filling out and becoming more graceful. I love it for the beautiful autumn colour, and the anticipation of the starry white flowers adorning the bare branches in winter. Most of all, though, I love it for the memories it represents - we had a much larger version of this tree outside the front of our house in S.W. and it was a special place for the girls when they were very young - almost magical. They used to hold tea parties for their dolls and themselves under its shelter and it was a joy to look at with it's firey leaves in autumn and abundant blossom in winter. When we sold the house to move here, the purchasers were concerned about the tree's roots getting into the drains and they cut "our" beautiful tree down.
So the young tree in the photo above is the repository for me of all those memories and will, I hope, go on to make its own memories. The girls are too old now to hold dolls' tea parties, and I. is only really interested in trees if he can climb them, but I hope that one day its branches will be shading the patio where we will be eating our meals outside, and maybe one far-off day, when the tree is really quite big and old, my grand-children might hold dolls' tea-parties under its shelter.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Duvet day

Yesterday a pale, tired, headachey-and-tummyachey boy greeted me when I woke him up. Not exactly ill, but not exactly well either, and definitely someone who needed a day just being at home. So we had a lovely, restorative day quietly at home, a lot of which was spent snuggled under his duvet, lying on the rug reading or playing. I. loves his duvet and usually appears downstairs in the morning wrapped in it, having trailed it down the stairs like a prince trailing his cloak.

By teatime, the rosiness had been restored to I.'s cheeks and all achiness was forgotten. He ended the day happily relaxing on a makeshift "sofa" in front of the woodburner. A happy day indeed.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

I just couldn't resist

this gorgeous Rowan reindeer pattern which is in the current issue of Knitting magazine, and I got the wool for it in John Lewis while I was supposedly beginning my Christmas shopping yesterday. I've never knitted a toy before, but I'm looking forward to having a go at this once I've finished working up my pinafore pattern.

Monday, 9 November 2009

On my needles

...and on my lap this morning is my new design. It is a "no sew" baby/toddler pinafore dress in Rowan handknit cotton which I am in the last stages of test kniting and writing up the pattern. I hope to have it as a download on Ravelry in the near future.
Started out here as a lovely bright morning - now it has clouded over. I think it may be time to light the woodburner...

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Alone at home...on a weekend

While I'm often in the house alone during the week with R at work and the children at school, it's very unusual for me to have any time in the house by myself at the weekends. But this morning E was still at our friends' house where she had stayed overnight after a fireworks party, and R went with I and L into the city, and I was here unexpectedly by myself for an hour or so until E returned. I don't know whether it was to do with the pale autumn sunlight in the rooms downstairs, but the house felt especially peaceful, not as if it was holding it's breath waiting for the family to return, but as though it was breathing out in the quiet after a typical busy, noisy, week.
The house settled down around me as I pottered about, clearing up, washing dishes...just the house and me...blissful.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Crab-apple jelly

Coming into the kitchen when I woke up this morning I was greeted by the sight of the sunshine glinting through the jars of crab-apple jelly which I made yesterday which I had left to cool down on the kitchen table. They certainly are a wonderful colour, but although the jelly is set, it looks as though it will be quite runny - I think the fruits from our tree, which is the variety "Evereste", may not have as much pectin in as some crab-apples.
It was easy and fun to do and I used a doubled -over piece of muslin, which I wet and then wrung out, instead of a jelly bag - I had checked out the prices of a jelly bag and stand at Lakeland - £18! Halving all the fruit took a bit of time as the crab-apples I used were quite small.
Here is the recipe I used, given to me by my neighbour, Liz:
Crab-apple Jelly
6lb crab-apples
4 pints water
sugar - 1lb to each pint of juice yielded
(note: I used 4.5lbs apples, so I needed only 3 pints water. This quantity yielded 2.75 pints juice to which I added 2.75 lbs sugar.)

1) Wash fruit and cut apples into halves.
2) Put into preserving pan or large heavy-bottomed pan with the water.
3) Bring to boil and then simmer gently for 45mins to an hour. Resist stirring during this time as this can make the jelly cloudy, but be careful the apples don't catch and scorch on the bottom of the pan when bringing to the boil.
4) Strain the pulp through a jelly bag or muslin for at least 2 hours or overnight.
5) Measure the yield of the strained juice and add 1lb sugar to each pint juice.
6) In the pan, bring to the boil and boil until setting point is reached - between 5 and 20 mins depending on amount of pectin in the fruit.
7) Fill pre-washed and sterilised jars while the jars are still warm and put on lids.
8) Enjoy and/or give to friends!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Taking on too much

When will I ever learn?
In the summer my girls did a 2-day art course with an artist friend of mine, and while waiting outside her house in the sun to collect them each day, I thought " How nice it would be to do an art course!" My dad was an artist and I did art at school to A-level, but have let it slide in all the years since. I felt that now I was getting back to doing some creative activities it would be good to brush up on my sadly neglected drawing and painting skills.
So, in September, I signed up for a beginners art course with Zangmo Alexander, a local artist and teacher, and paid upfront (or at least, DH did). After just 4 sessions and having been unable to go to 2 others, I've had to come to the realisation that this was a course too far, and it is just unrealistic given my committments to family, house , teaching and my own time. It has been an expensive lesson.
However, I have learned some good tips and techniques to improve my drawing, and I have a nice new set of drawing pencils to play with!

Look who's 9!

A couple of weeks out of date, but I. recently turned nine and I love the look on his face that sister E. captured in this picture. Oh the joy of blowing out birthday candles!
This is the first of the children's birthdays, all of which fall at this time of year when although bithday parties and teas in the garden are out, it is dark enough at tea-time to have the proper conditions for the ritual candle-blowing-out.
This year's "party" for I. consisted of going to the cinema with 2 friends to see the lovely film, "Up", and then having one friend to sleep over. Much more calm than in previous years, and because friend had gone home by Sunday tea-time it was just the family who were there to sing Happy Birthday and enjoy the chocolate brownie cake - a relaxed and cosy occasion.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Fairy Ring

Today on the way back from a bike ride with I ( which was not an unqualified success since he got very cold ears and very tired so we ended up pushing the bikes up the last stretch), I saw this round one of the birch trees in the garden. All the birches had fungi around them, but this one had a complete fairy ring. Is there something in birch roots which attracts them, or do we really have fairies at the bottom of the garden?

Also, a picture of Saturday's Halloween pumpkin. The ones I took while it was lit on Halloween didn't come out well enough...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Summer Garden Stripes

My first completed knitting design project - a baby blanket knitted in Rowan Handknit Cotton. I loved these delicious colourways, Gooseberry, Delphinium and Thunder together, and the names inspired my "summer garden" name, even though it was photographed today minutes after being finished, in my Autumn garden.
An easy and enjoyable project, though knitting all the stripes does take quite a while!
Pattern for Summer Garden stripes Baby Blanket
Rowan Handknit Cotton ( which is machine-washable)
Colour A - 334 (Delphinium) - 4x 50g balls
Colour B - 219 ( Gooseberry) - 3x50g balls
Colour C - 335 ( Thunder) - 1 x 50g ball
Pair 4.5mm needles
4mm circular needle ( 80cm long)
Using colour B and 4.5mm needles, cast on 116 st.
Row 1 - k to end
Row 2 - k1, p to last stitch, k1.
These 2 rows form the stocking stitch pattern.
Continue in stocking stitch following this stripe pattern:
B - 6 rows (in total)
A - 4 rows
B - 6 rows
C - 2 rows
A - 6 rows
B - 4 rows
A - 6 rows
C - 2 rows
These 36 rows form one rpt of the stripe pattern.
Work a total of 5 rpts of the pattern , then proceed as follows:
B - 6 rows
A - 4 rows
B - 6 rows.
Cast off.
Weave in ends in same colour stripes using duplicate stitch.
Short side borders ( work both in the same way)
Using 4mm circular needle and colour A, pick up 113 sts along one short edge.
Row 1 - k1, m1, *k1,p1, rpt from * to last 3 sts, k1, m1, k1. (117 sts)
Row 2 - k1, m1, *p1, k1, rpt from * to last 3 sts, p1, m1, k1. (119 sts)
This forms the moss stitch pattern.
Rpt these 2 rows 4 more times (10 rows in total, 135 sts)
Cast off.
Long side borders (work both in the same way)
Using 4mm circular needles and colour A, pick up evenly 145 sts along one long edge.Work 10 rows in moss stitch increasing as for short edge borders.
Cast off.
Sew together border edges using backstitch.
To block, machine wash at 30c then pin out on blocking board or large towels to the finished dimensions ( 86cm x 68cm). Leave to dry.
If you find any problems with this pattern, please leave a comment or e-mail me on

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Christmas is coming...if you're a crafter

No, I'm not so organised that I have already designed and made my Christmas cards. This is a picture of last year's design, of which I made about 65!
But I do need to , in fact have started thinking about this year's one. When I was in my local garden centre last week the staff were busy putting together the Christmas department. And I have now ordered my stamp for this year, a dove, from the same company as the tree - The English Stamp Co.
I promise, though, that apart from my cards I will do nothing else about Christmas until at least November. But making 65+ cards does have to be spread out a little...