Friday, 19 December 2014

Five on Friday

Five slightly festive things that I've been enjoying this week.


Candlelight on glass.  It always makes a room look quite special.  I find that it's best enjoyed after fire-loving boys have gone to bed though.  What is it about boys and danger?  They're like, well, moths to flames.


Rope swings in the woods.  More things that boys love.  I really enjoy watching them have good healthy outdoor fun, and it's a pleasure at the moment to get outside somewhere where there's space and cold clean air.  School has become a bit claustrophobic this past week or two.  It seems to be endless party days and hours of watching DVDs.  It sounds good, but to be honest they're fed up with it now.


Mince pies at dawn.  Way before dawn in fact.  I don't always sleep well, I was up at 5 o'clock this morning, so I made some mince pies with the cranberry mincemeat I made the other day.  I even tiptoed off and got my camera.  It's important to bake quietly at 5am.  


I'm a bit obsessed with beech hedges at the moment.  They really come into their own at this time of year.  Suddenly you notice them everywhere.  In the summer they blend in a bit more.  I love how they retain their leaves for a long time.  It means that even though they're deciduous they're still a screen even in the winter.  And with the sun on them, they're gorgeous.  I've put pictures here before of lollipop shaped beeches and a beech arch, it makes me wonder if I could squeeze one into the front garden.  


It was the school Christmas carol service tonight.  It was in turn beautiful, moving and hilarious.  The lights were turned off and solo voices sang sweetly in the candlelight.  The tiniest people dressed as nativity characters and sang a verse of Away in a Manger.  Toddlers charged about the place, shaking the Christmas tree violently and yelling to go outside.  A cartoon about the meaning of Christmas was handed out to everyone.  The biggest boy had done it.  Little bit proud of him.  The middle boy played the recorder very nicely.  The littlest boy conducted the recorder group from where he was sat with his class.  He had the flashing lights on his shoes turned on and had possibly smuggled in a Loom band bracelet, all of which is highly forbidden.  We play to our strengths around here.

Joining in with Five on Friday, taking five minutes from our day to enjoy five things.  To visit the other bloggers joining in this week, click on the links below.

           Amy at Love Made My Home                        Jill from Emerald Cottage

           Nicole from My Garden Diaries                     Beth from the Whimsical Dowager

           Alison at Sylvan House

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Colour Collaborative: December: Spice

Image via Pixabay
Red, gold and green, the colours of Christmas and the colours of spice.  The warmth of their colours and flavours are perfect for these chill days.  Whilst the fresh, clean tastes of spring and summer happily stand alone, in winter we look for a little extra, the complex unmatchable flavours and aromas of spices.  The hot colours of orange, yellow and red are dominant, the warmth and depth of spiced food is perfect for cold dark days.

Image via Pixabay
These precious compounds have been revered for five thousand years or more, causing wars, founding trade routes and shaping history.  Coriander, fennel, juniper and cumin were found in the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs.  Black pepper, cinnamon, ginger and cloves were around in the Middle Ages.  The unique flavours were so treasured that spices were worth vast sums of money.  Pepper and other spices have been used as currency, and nutmeg, which was for a while used to prevent plague, has at times been worth more than its weight in gold.

Image via Pixabay
When I was twenty-one I spent a while cycling around Morocco.  The parts I enjoyed most were the souks, where everything was for sale, from the delicious Moroccan bread that I've never been able to replicate since, to little silver teapots for mint tea, and richly coloured carpets.  But the most amazing displays were on the many spice stalls.

Image via Pixabay
Powders of every shade of orange, yellow and red piled high in wide bowls.  It makes me think that we under-utilise spices here, buying them in tiny glass jars and little glassine bags.  When I see the drama and colour of a North African spice stall I wonder if I might be missing something.   The health benefits of spices are only now starting to be documented, and I'm convinced that many of them have considerable positive effects on human health.  I often read that it's good to eat a rainbow of foods, somehow in the vivid colours there is magic.  And where better to find these deep, saturated colours than in spices.  This Christmas I'll be using more spices and different spices, and it's something I'll try to keep up in the New Year too.  I could use a little ancient magic.

Image via Pixabay
To visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below:

               Annie at Annie Cholewa                            Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

               Sandra at Cherry Heart                               Jennifer at Thistlebear

What is The Colour Collaborative?

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Holding my nerve













When it comes to big events, I like to hold my nerve as long as I can before I start panicking.  It's a strange thing, but almost everyone who knows me seems to think I'm calm and laid back. But inside I feel I'm exactly the opposite.  It's a strange dichotomy.  I'm not sure how I come across in this space.  Calm?  Frantic?  Nervy with a light edge of hysteria?  I find myself saying, "YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING" quite frequently.  But on the whole I can usually see the bigger picture enough to keep a tenuous grip on things.  Right now I'm in the nerve holding phase of Christmas.  Any minute now I'll break into the panic phase, I can feel it coming on.  

I made mince pies this week, but they've almost all been eaten now.  That's the trouble with festive baking isn't it.  The tree is up and decorated.  I've had Christmas cards from Christina and Sara, and Christina sent a sweet little crochet star that I've put on the mantelpiece.  I've got those nice oranges that come with leaves on at this time of year.  It fools me into thinking that they're nice and fresh from the tree.

Christmas reading includes Nigella's "Feast" for the seasonal recipes and Joanne Harris's "Lollipop Shoes", the sequel to "Chocolat".  It's made me a bit obsessed about chocolate, she writes so beguilingly about it.  I've written down a truffle recipe in my notebook as well as Sue's recipe for florentines.  The biggest boy has requested a Bruce Bogtrotter's cake.  It's from our Roald Dahl recipe book.  I'm an absolute sucker for this kind of cookery book.  I've bought the Winnie the Pooh one for the littlest boy for Christmas and I've had the Moomin one from the library too, it's excellent.  I think it helps me live in a fantasy world of rabbit holes and Scandinavian adventures.  I've perfected the art of avoiding reality when required.

I'm also reading Jostein Gaarder's "The Christmas Mystery" to the little people, one chapter a day during advent.  It's lovely to have a book that stretches out nicely over December.  Are there any others like this?  I don't know, but I shall look out for one.

On the gift front I've managed to avoid the shops, and we had another lovely walk on Saturday, miles from the busy places.  Father Christmas has been ordering online, but there's been a little snafu with the skates that you will recall the littlest boy requested.  FC, in a moment of festive absent-mindedness, ordered the wrong size - the size that would fit the middle boy.  I made discreet enquiries of the middle boy.  Did he fancy skates for Christmas?  He couldn't think of anything before, so he'd decided to have money so that when something catches his eye he could have that.  He's a lot like me, he agonises over every choice.  I'm the one who stands in the toothpaste aisle at the supermarket for twenty minutes paralysed by indecision.  Anyway, he gave it some thought and decided that he didn't know if he wanted skates or not, so he wouldn't have any, but if he did want some later he could buy some.  So FC returned the skates and crossed his fingers that the replacements would turn up in time to avoid disappointment.  Two days later I had a conversation that went something like this.  "Mummy?"  "Yes sweetie?"  "You know you asked if I wanted skates for Christmas?"  "Yes..."  "I've decided I would like some please."  FC has spent some time on the phone today trying to sort it all out.  There is a distinct possibility we'll end up with three pairs, not all from the same place.  It's too complicated to go into, but no doubt you've had these exact moments yourself, you know how it goes.

The next time I write I'll have moved into the panic phase.  You have been warned.  CJ xx

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Four days in December

Sunday

The country park walled garden in winter.  I love these fruit trees trained against the walls.  We played tag in the rockery overlooking the river.  We hid and hunted each other down and had a huge amount of fun.  It was a good day.





Monday

Making plant labels out of sticks that I picked up in the woods at the weekend.  I always lose the little plastic ones during the summer.  The plants grow big, the labels disappear.  Hopefully these won't.


Tuesday

Trying to photograph a beautiful sunrise.  It's so hard to capture what the eye sees.  The day was cold.  I stayed at home and cleaned and baked and did quite a few of those things that pop up suddenly and need dealing with.  There have been a lot of those lately.


Wednesday

A lovely surprise, this package arrived from Mel at Coal Valley View.  I won her giveaway, a print and a brooch all the way from the Tasmanian Craft Fair.  They really are delightful, thank you Mel.  The postcard is of a Tasmanian Devil, a feisty little chap by all accounts.




This afternoon was the littlest boy's nativity play.


It was one of those poignant Lasts.  He won't be in a nativity play again, his school only have the younger children in it each year.  No more watching him being a shepherd, listening to him saying his lines, sighing as they all sing "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night" and "Little Donkey".  It's one of the highlights of Christmas for me.  It makes me sad that he's growing so fast, leaving behind these sweet early days.  But of course it's how it should be.  Onwards, always onwards.  And always before I'm quite ready.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

An antidote to shopping















It was the school Christmas fete this morning.  The usual high octane blend of over-excited children, lucky dips, Santa's elves and a tombola.  I was heard to mutter something unkind about Christmas while trying to wrestle the Christmas tree into the car as well as persuade the children to get in without making too much noise on a residential street on a quiet Saturday morning.  Afterwards I felt in need of a lie down in a dark room.  I made do with a little walk instead.

We headed up the hill above Wotton-under-Edge.  It's part of the Cotswold Way and quite breathtaking in places.  It was only a short walk really, but we tend to stop quite a bit (a sit down and a cookie, possible bird sightings, befriending passing dogs and their owners, swinging on a tyre in the woods - you get the idea) so it took us from two o'clock until about half past four, by which time the sun had set and it was starting to get chilly.  That's my favourite time of day in winter.  Time to hurry home past lighted windows and smoky fires and Christmas wreaths on doors.

So we have a tree, but it's in the garage for now.  I need to work up to the whole decorations thing.  I'm almost there I think.  I just need to put a few days between me and the school fete.  I like my Christmas festivities a bit more mellow.  Carols on the radio, candlelight, a bit of baking.  Although of course once the box of decorations is down all hell will break loose as the boys compete to see who can get their baubles on the tree the fastest.

How are the festivities with you?  Have you had a mince pie yet?  Seen Father Christmas?  We glimpsed him briefly this morning, riding past on a vintage motor cycle.  I guess Rudolph was having a lie down.  Saving his legs for the main event.  Two and a half weeks from now.  Eek.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Diet and exercise


Does this hamster look a little on the portly side to you?  I think he's getting a bit chubby round the middle and I'm worried that he's not making sensible choices when it comes to portion size.  Need a different angle?


I've put him on a diet.  And I have to say he's been a lot more active.  It's tricky feeding these tiny little creatures.  One nut to a hamster is like a kilo of nuts to us.  Possibly.  I'm not giving you scientific facts here, just guessing.  But anyway, he's small with a teeny tiny roll of fat round his middle.  He's cutting down.  If I was a better woman I'd join him.

But what with the chilly winter temperatures I'm finding it hard to avoid a good pudding.  I spent the morning in the forest with the littlest boy's class.  It was freezing.  Literally.  They made dens and toasted marshmallows.  I hopped about trying to keep warm.




I helped out at Beavers the other day as well.  It was hot chocolate, story and biscuit night, which in the scheme of things is a pretty good gig to get.  I've had my share of more combative nights so it was only fair.  Hot chocolate night was a dream in comparison.  I was in charge of the squirty cream.  I tried to bear in mind that with great power comes great responsibility.

On the home front there have been a few little advent packages, a candle and a letter or two to FC.






I should just point out that here in the west country he's sometimes referred to as Santer.  We like our "r"s and we're not afraid to use them.  I've heard that FC will be replying this year if you write to him at this address by Saturday.

I'm feeling a little Christmas anxiety today.  The present thing is always slightly stressful.  Trying to make it look like everyone has the same.  Wondering about the wisdom of some requests.  In-line skates for the littlest boy???  I'm already far too well acquainted with the Children's Hospital.  But then again they would make him very happy.  Decisions, decisions.  I'm hopeless at them, I always overthink absolutely everything.  And where is my mincemeat recipe?  And the one for the special pastry I like to make at Christmas?  When it all gets too much I shall make lists.  And then I shall check them twice.  I already know who's naughty and who's nice.