Sunday, 30 December 2012

In between...

I love these Emma Bridgewater mugs
Now we've recovered from nasty coughs and viruses we are enjoying these leisurely in-between days before New Year celebrations.  Little S must have felt much better as she was up brightly this morning and in baking mode. Red velvet cupcakes looked very festive but her first attempt at mixing purple (yes, purple!) buttercream icing was not successful and it came out grey! A little more experimentation and she managed to transform it into blue.  These colourful offerings were certainly very cheering and delicious, especially with a nice mug of Christmas coffee.

Poor Luna hasn't had as many walks as she would normally over the festive period and so we wrapped up warmly and took her down to the beach. The tide was almost completely in but we still had a long strip of sand for her to really run along and play, chasing the waves in and out and teasing us with long strands of seaweed in her mouth.

Later S and I got absorbed in some crafts; she in paper snowflakes and me with kite paper window stars.

The Wonderful Man is busy planning the menu for Hogmany and New Year's Day but he still managed to produce a super Saturday supper.  I bought some proper Garofalo pasta from the deli and he made my favourite tomato sauce with wild rocket and vodka - bellissimo!

I've also had time to look again at the beautiful presents we've received.  One of my favourites is this Christmas Matryoshka nesting doll that I originally bought for L's mum from the Russian shop in Edinburgh.  She's enjoyed it for the last 10 years but her house is practically groaning under the weight of many, many decorations and so she thought it would be nice to pass it on to H.  Aren't they wonderful!
Appropriately in the background  is a photo of L's mum holding H as a baby

My other most treasured gift is from my mum.  I can't believe she made such a beautiful cross stitch  for me and it was a complete surprise.  She managed to get L to hide it until Christmas morning and I had no idea that she had been working for years to create such a beauty.  I got L to hang it by the stairs so I can admire it every time I go up or down. Thank you Mum!

The words at the bottom read, 'Over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house we  go'

Friday, 28 December 2012

This music...

In place of This Moment I thought I would share 'This music' instead - a seasonal and an inspirational moment.  I am never quite sure what I think about contemporary choral music but this is a masterpiece.  Whatever your religious persuasion you cannot help but feel spiritually enriched by this work.

If you don't know him already then Jonathan Dove is a modern British composer. 'Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars' was first performed in 1995 and inspiration comes from Psalm 139. It begins with what can only be described as a musical equivalent of an image of thousands of twinkling stars. I was very privileged to hear this being rehearsed in Wells Cathedral one time and at its peak it was as though the music blew the roof of the cathedral away and gave a glimpse of the magnificence of the heavens.  At the end I left feeling thoroughly uplifted and as light as air itself. 

Tuesday, 25 December 2012


Christmas has arrived in the Little House and despite feeling wretched with horrible cough, and the distinct lack of snow, I have managed to conjure up some Christmas cheer!

We just had time to put the finishing touches to our homemade gifts for friends in the village.  S helped me to re-purpose some jam jars and we tried our creative best to fashion them into  pretty night light holders, complete with wire handles, ready for the Christmas Eve nativity service.

The middle one has been decorated with the sheet music for Silent Night
In the kitchen the oven was in constant use with cranberries being the ingredient of choice:

Sticky cranberry sausages - yum

Cranberry scones with egg glaze (from eggs laid that morning of course)
There was such a storm the night before Christmas Eve that the hen house took off in the high winds in Wizard of Oz fashion and we very nearly had no eggs at all for baking and I wondered whether the hens had been blown across the North Sea.  It took L and our very handy neighbour most of the morning to put things back together and secure the coop with ropes.  

Gone with the wind!
Along with the wind came the rain and then more rain and we were forced to stay indoors and cosy up and enjoy what the Danish call 'hygge'.  There really isn't an English translation for this interesting word; it's more of a feeling of good company, friendship and warmth. 

'Frankentree' seems to be surviving the weight of all the decorations.  Almost all have their own story.  My favourites are the cable car bought back in 1994 during a visit to San Francisco and the rather garish dragonfly bought to remember the time we lived on the Somerset Levels and our garden was visited constantly by them.

The three wise men have begun their journey down the stairs though I think we'll let them arrive before Epiphany on the 6th January. My nisse dolls are waiting patiently on the mantlepiece; another Danish decoration I'm very fond of.

I love her stripes and long felt hat
Luna sneakily managed to wolf down the Christmas cookies left for Santa the minute our backs were turned; she was less interested in the carrot for Rudolph.  Having spent last Christmas traumatised and hiding under H's bed this is the first time she's had any 'involvement' in the festivities.

Someone also seems to have eaten all the nuts, though this time I suspect L!

Little squirrel dish is empty
Finally, Christmas Eve preparations were complete and we sat down to a traditional Danish supper.  L has perfected the handed-down recipe for the special Risalamande (Christmas rice pudding). This is mixed with whipped cream, vanilla and chopped almonds and served with a warm cherry sauce. Traditionally, one almond is left whole and whoever finds this in their portion wins the marzipan pig!  Ironically, this was The Wonderful Man himself.  He hates marzipan!

and the winner is...

Friday, 21 December 2012

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - no some words, capturing an image from the week. A simple but thankful moment that I would like to pause and remember.

S might have been a poorly girl this week but, after such unimaginable horror in Connecticut, I found myself watching her sleep peacefully and was truly thankful to have both my girls safe at home. My thoughts and prayers go out to the broken hearted whose children did not return home from school that day.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Oh, Christmas tree...

Christmas never feels quite like Christmas until you have a tree.  I've often admired artificial trees and their perfect symmetry, let alone their distinct lack of needle drop, but for me there's nothing quite like a real evergreen brought indoors to start yuletide good and proper.  Just a whiff of cut pine and I'm instantly transported back to my childhood. I can remember vividly my father tying the tree to the roof of the car and then struggling to find something to stand it in and then to keep it straight.  It was before the days of special stands and I seem to remember that generally he resorted to using a bright orange plastic bucket heavily disguised with green crepe paper and filled with heavy stones.  He would then go about untangling the fairy lights and attempt to drape them around the tree. He was very exacting about this and the end result was perfectly placed lights but on a now leaning Tower of Pisa tree with half the needles on the floor.

The Frankentree
In the Little House we've been a little slow getting into Christmas mode this year and, keen to keep the expense of Christmas down, we decided to just buy one of the cheap ready-netted trees from our local supermarket rather than selecting one of the more extortionate varieties from the garden centre. The resulting purchase I have begun to refer to as 'Frankentree' (reminiscent of Frankenstein's monster rather than anything to do with frankincense). There is nothing standard about it and it appears as if it has been grafted together from random off-cuts.  Clearly from the outsize section, it has a very fat bottom that bulges out and hangs down at the back (I know how it feels!) The middle is completely disproportionate; there are disconcerting gaps whichever way you turn it and there are odd stunted sprigs. The top half has bare patches on the trunk with completely different triffid-like branches that come out at odd right angles more like some weird coat stand than tree.

Once fixed in the stand and not looking a whole lot better 'we' had to work out where it should go (that's the royal 'we' where I direct, L does what he is told and I take the credit) .  'We' had thought that the most likely position would be in the front window and so I had L move the tall and awkward wooden cabinet and glass lamp in order to put it there.  But no, in that spot no one would be able to get in and out of the room without having to brush past it and so out it came again and back went the cabinet and the lamp.  Next 'we' decided that it might be better placed next to the sofa.  L moved the other small, but surprisingly heavy, coffee table out of the way and upstairs along with yet another lamp. Once in situ it became obvious that the door would bash against it and it would probably dry out as it was opposite the wood burning stove. So, the coffee table came back downstairs and the lamp was connected once again. 'We' decided that the corner of the room by the other window might be better and so S's keyboard was moved out and went upstairs.  L searched high and low for an extension lead so she would still be able to do her daily practice. Eventually, he managed to find one and get everything working again. He informed me that the football had started. But, now you could not really see the television or get to the cupboard with the control for the central heating.  Not very practical so out it came again and stood in the middle of the room for quite some time while L muttered...and sighed ...deeply.  Finally, 'we' decided that the corner really was the only position for it to go and so the TV and the the other even heavier cabinet would have to move along and the Sky box and DVD player unplugged and then reconnected to the side.  'We' needed another extension cable but that was alright because it was half time anyway. At last 'we' managed to make it fit and I can see why L thought to suggest this position in the first place. He can still make the remote work if he walks over to the other side of the room and kneels down.

It did irritate me though that the picture above the TV was no longer central and so I suggested to L that 'we' re-hang it.  He went outside. I thought it was to find the hammer and picture hooks but when after half an hour he still hadn't returned I went to find him.  He was sat on the wood pile in the barn wearing two coats and listening to the post-match discussion on his portable radio.  Two empty beer cans were lined up beside him.  'I've found the lights,' I said enthusiastically.  He managed a weak smile.  At least I think it was a smile, it was quite dark by then so it was difficult to tell.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Adventures in Advent

I love Christmas time and have never lost that feeling of childlike anticipation that accompanies advent. All our Christmas decorations are stored in boxes high up in the loft, but each year one box is held back and put safely under our bed.  This is the advent box and the first precious item retrieved from it is our advent wreath.  These are traditionally meant to be a handmade circular garland of evergreens but long ago, realising my creative incompetence, I acquired a pretty Swedish-made crystal one.  We light one more of the four candles each Sunday in the run-up to Christmas.

I'm sure L enjoys the season too but each December he complains with Scrooge-type mutterings about some aspect or other of the preparations.  This year he was most unseasonable about my choice of 'stupid' gold candles and in his frustration, which manifested as constant rubbing of his face and much sighing, he ended up with gold-speckled chin and highlighted eyebrows. I decided not to inform him about his unintentional 'make-up' even when he went off to the village committee meeting where I'm sure the elderly members must have been surprised at his 'brilliant' appearance. 

My mother-in-law, who is Danish and far more tuned in to yuletide traditions, used to bring us a beautifully illustrated advent candle from Copenhagen every year with the numbers 1 to 24 marked down the side.  This year though she has been unable to travel and I was forced to find one myself.  I turned to the trusty internet and felt sure that such an item would be in stock but I had no joy.  L suggested, unsympathetically, that I 'just make one' from a normal white household candle and use a black Sharpie pen to write on the numbers!  Clearly, he has not inherited his mother's Scandinavian genes so, undeterred, and ignoring his ugly suggestion, I set off on my advent journey to that beacon of hope - John Lewis. There amongst the December chaos of celebrant shoppers I found a simple but attractive candle more in keeping with my  aesthetics.  I was thrilled with my minor commercialism and smugly made my way to the heaving queue at the checkout where I paid the grand total of £3.50.  The lady at the till seemed thoroughly bewildered by the appearance of real money, let alone actual coinage, and her expression seemed to suggest that I was not materialisitic enough to shop at such a debt-inspiring establishment.  My smile though faded when I went to leave the car park and paid £4.80 to do so; I'd only been in there for 20 minutes! Nevermind, I think it was worth it.  Each evening at supper time we light the candle and admire its glow. We watch the numbers slowly melt away and we are mindful of the season and its meaning. 

Light the Advent candle one
Now the waiting has begun
We have started on our way
Time to think of Christmas day.

Candle, candle burning bright
Shining in the winter night
Candle, candle burning bright
Fill our hearts with Christmas light.

Friday, 7 December 2012

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. Photos - no words, capturing a favourite moment from the week. A special and treasured moment that I would like to pause and remember.

Taken by H - thank you!


Friday, 30 November 2012

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - no words, capturing a favourite moment from the week. A calm and peaceful moment that I would like to pause and remember.

Monday, 26 November 2012


Last weekend we set off on a jaunt down to old London town.  It’s been a long time since I’ve attempted to travel on public transport, especially with the entire family, but once on board I was reminded of two certainties about train travel.  Firstly, that you are guaranteed to be delayed. There are a multitude of lame excuses used to explain the hold-up but the most frequent at the weekend is 'engineering works' or possibly a cow on the line or some other errant farm animal.  Fortunately, the delay was mercifully short and we were spared the miserable experience of the 'replacement bus service'. The second certainty about train travel is that even though you have booked a seat and have the proof of your reservation clearly displayed, someone else will brazenly be sat in it.  On this occasion a solitary old man had set up home at our reserved table for four.  He was festooned against the window in an enormous tartan scarf and about to pour out what looked like a second cup of elderly tea from his ancient thermos.  He looked so comfortable I hardly had the heart to ask if he would mind moving and ended up searching for a spare seat for him and then helping him to decamp.

Travel on the East Coast network is an experience much like sharing a narrow and overcrowded sitting room with a whole host of strangers.  You are forced to acknowledge individual quirks and foibles at close range.  For example, the couple opposite, who sat one side of the much coveted table seats, seemed to have a whole party picnic going on.  The train was only part way out of the station when mini bottles of wine appeared from a Mary Poppins-like bag complete with party napkins and colourful plastic cups.  Next,  came the hot and spicy flavour Pringles which were munched enthusiastically at high decimal range.

Behind us was a cluster of grungy-looking students clearly heading home with a term's worth of washing overflowing from their backpacks.  Their grunted conversation was punctuated with the inevitable filler 'like' every few words and followed an endlessly circular theme of: "Like, that was some party",  "I was, like, so wasted", "I don't, like, even remember, like, how we got back?", "That's because you you were, like, so wasted", "Yeah, like that was some party" and so on..and on.

Looking round the carriage the other thing that stood out was the plethora of iPhone, Kindle, iPad and tablet that covered every available surface. In amongst this hive of 21st century connectivity there was someone attempting to travel with the most dated and unwieldy of laptops.  This luddite had infiltrated the 'cool' carriage with a laptop/tabletop the size of Mars.  The cinema-sized screen blocked out all light like some kind of electronic eclipse. Nevertheless, he sat smugly with his underwhelming technology and watched a steady stream of equally naff movies, oblivious to the looks and sneers of other less-endowed travellers.  For my amusement, apart, of course, from the merriment that is the East Coast trainline, I chose to partake of that old-fashioned but delightful occupation...looking out of the window. I love the constantly changing scenery of passing towns and villages, imagining what it might be like to live there.  Through the window I viewed tantalising glimpses of the lives of others and I wondered what their stories might be.  Being held captive as a passenger forced me to slow down and be mindful of the moment - my breathing slowed and my muscles relaxed.  Such a beautiful ribbon of images danced before my eyes - the unspoilt coastline of Northumberland, the hay bales dotting the autumn fields,  vintage little stations evocative of The Railway Children, the brightly lit arch of the Tyne bridge - all caught and held my attention and provided an alternative and far more inspiring entertainment.

Joining in with Suzanne at 3 Children and It and Oldies but Goodies.

Friday, 23 November 2012

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - few words, capturing a favourite image from the week. A simple and funny moment that I would like to pause and remember.

You're not leaving!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The bizarre world of freecycle

I'm always surprised by the number of emails that jettison into my inbox with such alarming frequency at any time of day or night.  Alas, they are not from any genuine contact but instead a tawdry selection of direct mail that managed to sneak past the spam filter.   At least 40% of these are the ubiquitous Groupon deals; how I rue the day when I foolishly signed up to that online bargain bucket!

Daily, I am also presented with the eclectic freecycle list.  For those of you not familiar with this enterprising idea then the freecycle network claims to "match people with things they want to get rid of with people who can use them, so keeping usable items out of landfills".  In other words, if you have something pointless and dated that you haven't managed to sell, then don't trek to the dump but put it on freecycle instead and, just because it's free, someone will come and take it off your hands.

I have only ever used freecycle twice - to offer an old (and possibly lethal) bicycle and, after a house move, a surplus fridge with a dented door. Having 'joined' the freecyclers I now seem to be subscribed to the daily digest of items.  It may be my imagination but the list seems to get more and more bizarre.  Yesterday, someone, with the uninspired moniker of BigLen, was offering 20 burlap sacks.  I know we live in a rural area but 'burlap' sounds positively medieval and I can't help but imagine that if you went to collect, you would find BigLen in some Chaucerian hovel, lying on his earthern floor drinking mead and surrounded by overflowing sacks of rotting apples.  Burlap sacks are just one of the offered goods; there is a whole host of other truly random freebies: - a home planetarium (really?), a plastic pond liner, a pair of men's extra large leather jeans (*shudders) and a washing machine in working order but without a soap dispenser drawer!

Just as bewildering is the list of 'wanted' items.  The desperate or  criminal (I can't decide which)  GrannyGrimble wants electronic goods (don't we all) - a flatscreen tv, an ipod docking station, a spare laptop (you've got to be kidding!)  Surely a true granny would want knitting patterns, old copies of the Reader's Digest perhaps or jars for jam-making.  I feel certain that if you were to actually meet Big Bad Granny Grimble she'd have pointy ears and sharp teeth.  It's funny how such a noble idea has been hijacked by these 'freakcyclers'; they make me want to post my own Christmas 'wanted' list and ask for the ridiculously weird or just the downright cheeky just to see if anyone actually responds.  

I'm recycling this old post with Suzanne over at 3 Children and It and the Oldies but Goodies linky

Friday, 16 November 2012

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - no words, capturing a favourite image from the week. A simple but magical moment that I would like to pause and remember.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Look back Monday...

Sharing with you some favourite scenes from the weekend;  little Luna features in most of them.  The battle against matted fur and mud was lost and she had to be taken to the doggy beauty parlour.  Unfortunately, they seem to have got a little carried away and, although all mud was shampooed away and all matted knots gone, we were left with skinhead Luna - almost bare and about half the size without her Bichon Frise afro. The girls were worried that she would get cold and went to find her a 'jumper' - eventually they decided on a 'Build a Bear' festive jersey.  Poor Luna, I don't know what was worse - being shorn or having those crazy girls dress her up like a teddy bear.

She wore this impractical ensemble for a bracing walk down at Pease Bay where she enjoyed chasing the waves back and forth with S.

We had the beach almost entirely to ourselves; the fading light in the late afternoon made the sea and sky blend into overlapping strips of baby blue.   We could feel the ice cold of the North Sea through our wellies and it wasn't long before the biting wind got the better of girl and beast and we turned back home.

Back in the warm, all the family settled in for a cosy evening of tv, though H stole the softest blanket and kept the dog hot water bottle to herself.

Even Fabbydoo graced us with her presence:

Saturday, 10 November 2012

How to be a domestic mortal

Like most families with school-age children our working week in term time is a finely-balanced juggling act. The ideal morning scenario is that children are up early, washed and properly dressed in clean uniform. This ideal is rarely a reality in our household and we regularly conduct frantic searches for school shoes, bags and reading books. The girls often go to school as unintentional fancy dress urchins. I warn them not to take off school jumpers so they don't reveal unironed shirts with washed-in stains. My own working wardrobe isn’t much smarter.  My ‘uniform’ consists of dreary black and brown separates designed to disguise squidgy mummy flab and yet convey a serious professional image. Unfortunately, a working lunch at my desk means that most of what I eat ends up down my front, leaving a Hansel and Gretel trail between stomach and chin in case I forget the way back to my mouth.  I learnt a long time ago when H was a constantly dribbly baby that a patterned scarf is an essential cover-up accessory.

One year, I optimistically bought one of those intimidating family organiser style calendars with terribly twee seasonal scenes and separate columns for each family member. I think the idea is that you can see clearly who is doing what and when and presumably where things might clash. We tried using it properly for at least January and February, even using different coloured pens for different types of engagements.  By March though our enthusiasm had waned and S found it difficult to write in the right column; I was surprised one time to see that someone called Lewis had invited me (in bright orange crayon)  to a bowling party. 

This week S has been poorly and her pale little face peeks out from the quilt arranged on the sick-bed sofa.  L switches to resident nursemaid while working from home and I need to put worry aside and head for work ready to teach other well children.  Once at work, I wonder how many times it is acceptable to check my mobile phone for texts from sickly child when a strict ‘no mobile phone’ rule operates for all pupils (school policy doesn’t say it but you know this means teachers as well).  I secretly send emoticon hug; it really isn’t the same as a real one from mummy.  Sickly dependants present a different kind of challenge for the self employed too.  I came home to find that L had set up a temporary home office on the landing with laptop perched precariously on the banister so that his sales pitch wouldn’t be drowned out by the sounds of the Nickelodean tv channel.

When a child isn’t well the weekly routine gets more complicated, and the juggling more frenetic, but you can usually manage. However, when an adult member of the team falls ill, things begin to slip and slide and by the time Wednesday arrives, domino-like complete organisational failure threatens. You crawl towards the hope of Friday evening when you can legitimately crash on the sofa too and sob into your sauvignon. 

Even when all are well there seems to an unwritten rule that if you have a particularly full week with deadlines looming then at least one child will have a particularly onerous  homework task: build a motte and bailey castle, find and record all the food items in your kitchen that contain palm oil, design an Egyptian death mask (would a photo of mummy’s unmade-up face in a the morning be acceptable, I wonder).  I kid you not, all these were real ‘tasks’ we’ve been presented with in the last year alone.  As Scotland’s Curriculum for Excrement (sorry, Excellence) continues to spawn its tenuous links between topic and real world so homework becomes ever more ambitious.  Across the land hoards of parents work as nightshift teachers, googling for help and inspiration (if you’re not a history teacher you’ve probably just done exactly that, using the search terms ‘motte and bailey castle’, haven’t you!)

Working as a teacher means that sometimes the edges between domestic and work life blurs.  Responsibility for children, one’s own or someone else’s, becomes a 24 hour occupation. On an almost daily basis I witness the fallout from frayed parents not quite managing to pull it all together.   Tell-tale red wine rings all over the front of one child’s exercise book, the mother who fell asleep at parents evening, school bags devoid of books or pencil case and, on closer inspection, containing a half-eaten six-month-old sandwich and a lone ballet shoe.   Packed lunches where manic households have run out of standard lunch fare and, with no time for a proper shop, resorted to highly unsuitable substitutes for a sandwich – a torn up hotdog or Carr's water biscuits and the odorous remnants of dinner party cheese. This tells the lunchtime supervisor far more about the level of disposable income than culinary preferences.  A teaching colleague told me recently of an amusing incident when a confused but delighted Primary 1 child brought in his father’s briefcase as an item for ‘Show and Tell’.  Whether this was the mischievous imp’s intention or if there had been a mix-up during the journey to school was unclear, but it was all too easy to imagine the resulting crisis. Although I had complete empathy with the father, I also had to snigger as I pictured him briefcaseless with school satchel instead and the intended show and tell item – what would a five-year-old boy normally bring? - a yo-yo perhaps, a Lego model or maybe a toy character like Buzz Lightyear.  Let’s hope the father was in something PR-related and could somehow weave in, ‘To infinity and beyond!’ as a potential company mission statement!

Friday, 9 November 2012

This moment...Spectator

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - just a title - no other words, capturing a favourite image from the week. A simple and cute moment that I would like to pause and remember.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Look back...Wednesday

Sickly children in the Little House has meant I'm a little late in the week to be looking back at the weekend (I'm already looking forward to Friday!) It was a great weekend though and made all the more special by Halloween silliness, the company of good friends, fireworks in the garden and a magnificent selection of cakes! 

The chocolate coated apples proved to be difficult to create and most of the chocolate ended up on the floor!

They proved tricky to eat too
The Wonderful Man did a wonderful job carving the pumpkins and I especially loved the moon and stars design:

Very whimsical

Halloween was extended into Saturday and S really went to town on her outfit.  She decided to be a Victorian vampire and her older sister thoroughly enjoyed being make-up artist.


 We braved the cold and the wind and had a mini firework party in the front garden.  The boys (sorry men) were enjoying themselves with the pyrotechnics and scuttled about the garden with tapers and torches.

The girls sat along the front wall, wellies dangling and little faces turned upwards, craning their necks to the sky and a chorus of 'Oohs' and 'Aarrhhs' ensued.

Then back inside and gathered around the kitchen table we tucked into the bring-a-dish delights (including a yummy veggie chilli with a kick) and a overwhelming selection of cakes including delicious lemon slices made by the youngest member of the party - very impressive.

I love all the different conversations going on in this photo
Thank you friends for your generosity and your good company.  

"The bird a nest,
the spider a web
man friendship"

William Blake