Wednesday, 14 December 2011


God, I love Christmas. I start thinking about it and planning for it as soon as the Beautiful Girl's birthday is over, at the end of August. Shopping is mostly completed by the end of November, allowing me to spend December in an orgy of mince pies, fairy lights and sentimental songs. Bliss. This year preparations began when the gorgeous-in-every-way Jen and I went to a batiking workshop, where we made our own batiked (and in my case, snowflake and glitter embellished)  Christmas cards. I was actually really pleased with how they turned out.... 
When I got home I stashed them away in my vintage Christmas biscuit tin, after wiping the inside with cinnamon oil, where they have sat, all warmly fragrant, waiting until I find the time to finish writing and addressing them. Now, if Santa will just bring me an extra four hours a day for Christmas, I'll be all set....

Monday, 7 November 2011

Bonfire Night

After reading Nina's gorgeously evocative post about the way she scents her house I've been inspired to experiment a little with some nice smells here at home. I splashed out on a lovely apple and elderberry  scented candle and have been burning seasonally spicy essential oils. However, the best way of scenting our home so far has definitely been the gingerbread I baked on Saturday which filled the air with yummy sniffiness for a whole day. The gingerbread accompanied us, as tradition dictates on Bonfire Night, to our friends' house where we oohed and aahed at the fireworks, ate bangers and mash and fresh gingerbread and drank mulled cider around the bonfire. Good times.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Strange going-ons

The Beautiful Girl has this... well, I'm not quite sure what to call it. A foible? An idiosyncrasy?Anyway, she has this personality trait which I find exasperating and endearing in  equal measure. She ascribes feelings to inanimate objects and then worries about those feelings. For example, we had a wonderful summer holiday with my family this year and on the last night we released some of those beautiful Chinese lanterns. Well, most of us did. The Beautiful Girl refused to, in case her lantern grew cold and lonely up there in the sky, on it's own. On a day out recently she couldn't choose between a pencil and a sharpener in the gift shop. After settling on the sharpener she had to whisper "I love you" to the pencil before she put it back, so it didn't feel rejected. And our lovely family tradition of choosing a Christmas tree on the first day of the school holidays became a traumatic experience for us all when accompanied by heart-wrenching sobbed apologies to the trees we didn't pick. All of which serves as an explanation as to why ours are the only pumpkins on the street to look like this.......
Apparently it would be unforgivably painful and cruel to actually carve a pumpkin. The irony of her returning from trick-or-treating to tuck into hot dogs and pumpkin soup is, thankfully, lost on her.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

More spicy seasonal baking

The Lovely Husband doesn't really have a sweet tooth, yet he loves all things gingery. So, with him in mind, I made a ginger traybake... To be honest, it wasn't my greatest success. The icing was too fudgy (I know, how can that be a bad thing, right?) but it lacked a strong enough ginger hit to cut through the sweetness. My fault entirely - I hadn't bothered to check my spice shelf and didn't have quite enough ground ginger. But when my sister and her children came over for the day and we went out here it did well enough as a mini-picnic to keep the energy levels up. The kids made Hallowe'en cards, dressed up, and explored the Tudor house on a ghost hunt, then we sat on benches in the beautiful autumn sunlight, enjoying the gorgeous garden and tucked into our foil-wrapped treat.
I wish half-term was longer...

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Continuing the theme....

I baked a cake yesterday - English apple and cinnamon. It's a favourite of mine and I make it often at this time of year. Particularly loving this one though, because it's made with the apples I brought home with us on Sunday. And because I added a crumbly, buttery, oaty topping. And because it's served on my new vintage cake plate.

Monday, 17 October 2011

An Apple (a) Day

One of my favourite autumnal rituals is our trip here, to Ryton Organic Gardens, for their annual Apple Day. Each time we go we are blessed with one of those beautiful crisp, clear autumn days that, for me, are one of the reasons why this is my favourite season. Yesterday was no exception. I love visiting gardens and this one, with its woodland walk, orchards and covetable vegetable gardens is wonderful. First though, we strolled through the Rose Garden, enjoying these beautiful late bloomers.

And this last one is a newly-discovered favourite. Named, "The Generous Gardener" in celebration of the NGS Open Garden scheme, it seems apt, for it's glorious scent - and beauty - really feels like a gift.
Stars of the day, though, had to be the apples. I've blogged before about how much I love apples in the autumn so getting to taste the dozens of different varieties on offer, making an apple bird feeder with the Beautiful Girl, drinking warm spiced apple punch and pressing our own apple juice was a little slice of autumnal heaven!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Pressing the pause button

Sickness abounds in our house and the weather outside is cold, wet and grey. It is a day to abandon plans to go outside, to find solace instead in the comforts of home. A day for soup, for napping and for crochet. A day for comfort baking while listening to "Gardener's Question Time". A day for wallowing in a newly-discovered favourite book ("The Pursuit of Love" - how can I have missed this?). And it works. By the time Monday morning dawns, crisp and beautiful, I'm ready to face the world again.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Making me happy today...

A thrifted tea cosy hiding a pot of Earl Grey and a little posy cut from the garden.

Friday, 8 July 2011

A random act of kindness

Standing at the bus stop, arms filled with heavy bags, I realise I am just short of the change needed for the fare. I could walk to the nearby shop, but then I'd miss my bus. What to do? Standing, pondering this question, a woman approaches me and offers me her no-longer-needed daily pass. She hasn't realised my situation and won't even accept the (short) change I have ready. Her random act of kindness makes my day and I resolve to try and do the same for someone else.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

And the living is easy....

After a truly crappy six weeks or so, we decide to get away from it all. Kind friends offer us their yurt for the weekend so we hastily and disorganisedly throw some things into a bag and off we go. We pick up the Beautiful Girl's sousin ( a word they invented to describe their relationship "because we're actually cousins but we love each other like sisters") and after a slightly too-long-whoops-I-should've-trusted-the-satnav-style journey we arrive at this beautiful spot in the Brecon Beacons....
Waking up on Saturday morning, lying in bed with the door open, sunshine and birdsong streaming in and the air filling with the smell of coffee brewing on the woodburning stove I'm more relaxed than I've felt in ages. What could be better than this? How about spending the morning in Hay-on-Wye?

There was a little shopping - second-hand books, of course, plus some vintage hand-embroidered linens. Lots of browsing and a little sitting and indulging too...

Back at the yurt, the girls go off to play around the orchard and the Lovely Husband and I settle down for some serious relaxing. Reading, Scrabbling and (should I admit it?) snoozing. Later, a campfire, stories and a deep, deep sleep.

Sunday morning and we go for a short walk,through the fields and then a wood to the river.
I take my book and an apple and sit in dappled sunshine while the girls paddle, play, throw stones, try and catch fish and paint themselves with mud. Eventually, we admit to ourselves it's time to start heading home. Before we hit the M5 though, we stop for another walk alongside this beautiful weir.....

Such a beautiful place. Such a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

More floral joy

Less extravagant and show-offy, but just as happy-making..... this teeny tiny posy of sweet-peas from the garden.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Peony love

I found some!

(Edited to add: sorry for the dreadful photo: why I chose dusk on a rainy evening to capture these, I cannot say.)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Mixed messages

Me: Have you any peonies or are they all finished?
Florist #1: They're all finished, I'm afraid.
Me: Oh, I've completely missed them this year, what a shame...
Florist #1: Mind you, they're so expensive - and they don't last at all you know.... (to Florist#2) This lady was just asking about peonies.
Florist #2: Oh yes, we haven't got any in, but they're still about. And much cheaper too. And they're lasting so much better nowadays.....
Me (looking bemusedly from one to the other): Oh... um.... thank you?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Monday, 30 May 2011

Lost my blogging mojo for a while there....

.... so to get me back into the swing of things, another 3 beautiful things post...

1. I'm having a lie-in, alternately dozing and reading my book. Downstairs I can hear the Lovely Husband washing dishes and doing laundry. Just at the point at which my guilt overwhelms me and I decide to get up and help, he arrives in the bedroom with a cup of tea and tacit permission to laze a while longer.

2. My dad, with whom I have a complicated and painful relationship and who is now bedridden and dying of cancer, holds my hand and squeezes it whenever his strength allows. The things I thought I needed to say - and hear - turn out to be unnecessary.

3. Prawns in a crispy, chilli-laden tempura batter.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Mothering Sunday

I just wanted to share this beautiful, glitter-festooned clay heart that the Beautiful Girl made for me at her Saturday morning art class for Mother's Day. I received other presents too; a new Persephone, series one of Downton Abbey on DVD and a set of vintage teaspoons with pretty enamelled handles. (I detect the work of the Lovely Husband there). But when she asks me which present I love the most, we both know it's her handprint that makes my heart skip with joy.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Little luxuries

My favourite part of Desert Island Discs is the last minute or so, when Kirsty Young asks the guest which book they'd take to their desert island and which luxury. In moments of idleness I often wonder which book and luxury I would choose. I realise that sounds like an exaggeration, a clumsy way to introduce this post, but sadly no, I really do ponder this question quite often.

Sometimes I think for my luxury I'd have to choose a Roberts Radio (one of those gorgeously floral Cath Kidston ones, naturally), tuned to Radio 4. Radio 4 provides the soundtrack to my life. Switching on the Today programme is the second thing I do every morning and the radio often stays on all day. I listen to all sorts of programmes and learn all sorts of things, from the plight of native British songbirds to the effects of public spending cuts on partially sighted people in the North. I love Radio 4.

Sometimes I think I'd have to take my crochet basket. My goodness, I might actually make some real progress on the Heirloom Blanket with no distractions and nothing else to do, stuck on a desert island. Then again....

Ultimately though I come to one of two choices for my Desert Island luxury. Firstly, lavender oil. I use lavender oil all the time. I sprinkle it in my bath and on my pillow before bed. I use it as a perfume. I blend it with sweet almond oil and smear it on my face. I use it for first aid, for burns and insect bites.

My other option would have to be tea. Oh, how I love my cups of tea. Switching the kettle on is the first thing I do in the morning and cups of tea punctuate my day. There's the big mug of builders first thing, the scalding, got-to-drink-it-in-the-five-minutes-I've-managed-to-grab-for-lunch at school and the tucked-up-in-bed-with-a-good-book-and-cup-of-Earl-Grey. I just can't imagine a day without tea.

So I was intrigued, on a recent trip to the farmers' market to find a way to combine my two favourite luxuries - lavender tea. I bought some and was really looking forward to trying it. Trouble was, I just couldn't find the right time. I'm a creature of habit and forgoing any of the aforementioned cuppas was just unthinkable. And then, the perfect opportunity arose - a sunny afternoon, a snatched solitary half hour and a favourite magazine. Perfect.

Monday, 28 March 2011

As seen on my living room floor

Don't you just hate it when you get stuck behind a unicorn in the queue at the bakers? You just know they're going to buy the last croissants...

Monday, 21 March 2011

Spring sunshine

It was a glorious weekend, here in the second city. The sun was warm and bright, the sky a beautiful blue and the birds sang like they were - well - full of the joys of Spring. Most of the weekend was spent in the garden here. Consequently, all is spick and span. There was a trip to our favourite garden centre on Sunday too, which means there is a new nesting box waiting to be hung and a small collection of plants (a peony bush, another hollyhock and 6 different varieties of sweet pea) waiting to be rehomed in our tiny garden. Best of all though, there are also a couple of large wicker vegetable planters, this being (so the Lovely Husband and I have decided) the year we finally get to grips with growing our own. I have this vision of us eating something we've grown ourselves every day throughout the summer. Watch this space....

Sunday, 13 March 2011

I wish I had the time to blog more frequently...

... I really do. It seems like I'm always thinking of things that I'd like to mention, pictures I'd like to capture and share but I just never seem to find the time to actually write those posts. Real-life gets in the way, other things have to take priority and whatever moment in time that I wanted to mark, well, it passes.

This weekend though I carved out an hour or so to sit with the laptop and catch up on some of the wonderful blogs out there. I'm loving everyone's "Spring is in the air" posts, although I'm struggling to match the vitality and energy that accompanies them. Instead I've begun to celebrate the imminent arrival of Spring in my own small, quiet way. Like having the windows open at every opportunity and hanging the washing on the line even though it's still damp hours later. Eating lemon shortbread, planting violas into vintage tea cups, filling the house with daffodils, snowdrops, hyacinths and early tulips. Splurging on pretty new bed linen. All signs in my own personal calender that Spring's definitely on it's way!

Monday, 21 February 2011

A delicious disaster.............

I find myself agreeing to host a family lunch for 15. What I was thinking of I don't know - I don't have 15 unchipped plates, never mind 15 chairs and the space to arrange them in. Never mind, it'll be lovely to all be together and I'll enjoy feeding everyone, goes my thinking. On Sunday morning I'm up at 6 to start cooking. I bake a ham in Coca-Cola and cover it with a sweet, mustardy glaze. I make a caramelised onion, goats' cheese and thyme tart. There's roasted pepper salad, cheeses, nuts, fruit and crusty bread. Different salads, olives and those posh vegetable crisps. A batch of the gungy brownies that went down so well at school. And for the piece de resistance I decide on a lemon meringue cake - a gorgeous concoction of lemon sponge, crisp yet chewy meringue, lemon curd and whipped cream, covered with another layer of the same. Perfect, I decide, looks impressively beautiful, tastes amazing and is fail-safely easy. Then.... disaster strikes. Halfway through whipping egg whites, my whisk breaks. It is 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I try and produce the glossy, stiff peaks by hand but as I pour the meringue onto the sponge I know it's not going to work. I was right. It doesn't. The thing collapses in the oven, then utterly falls apart when I try and remove it from it's tin. It looks like a car crash of a cake. I cover the entire thing with a mound of whipped cream to try and disguise it's ugliness. That doesn't work either. I offer it to the family anyway and my glorious disaster of a cake becomes the source of much hilarity. After much teasing I offer it around. Everyone tries it. Every plate is licked clean and the cake pronounced delicious.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Ego boost

For times of need....

Find a staffroom full of tired, over-worked teachers. For optimum results ensure they are at the end of a long day with a long, taxing meeting still facing them. Produce a tin of homemade brownies. Bask in the appreciation....

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Another 3 Beautiful Things post.....

...... in (slightly delayed) honour of the new arrival over at Clare's blog.

1. The sound of 150 children sweetly singing the responses in Mass makes tears prickle at the back of my eyes.

2. My wonderful new Cath Kidston trolley means no more spaghetti arms while lugging piles of books, laptop, paperwork and planning folders on the bus to and from school.

3. "The King's Speech". Just as wonderful as I was hoping it would be.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

If this doesn't make you howl with laughter.....

.... then, quite frankly, there's no hope for you. It's the blog of a woman called Allie Brosh - her words and drawings are the funniest thing I've read online, ever. Read back a few posts - I love the one about moving house with the dogs. And the Christmas one. Oh, I love them all. Find it here...

Sunday, 9 January 2011

In denial

The cards have been put out with the recycling, the tree has been taken down and the needles swept up (other than those which we will continue to find in oddly random places between now and June). The last of the mincemeat has been stuffed inside a fat Bramley and baked in the oven and the last slices of the Cake have been wrapped in foil and stashed away for this afternoon's walk. Thank-you cards have been written and posted and the new toys amalgamated with the old. The fairy lights, though - they've been left up. I'm not quite ready to meet January's cold, harsh stare. Not just yet....