Wednesday, 31 December 2008

In the last few hours of 2008

I did it.

My best boy got his quilt a whole hour and a half before midnight stuck.

Happy New Year everybody!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Christmas time

The holidays have at last arrived for all of us.

They began well with french toast and strong coffee early this morning.

The Christmas cards are tacked up all along the hallway.

A Christmas tree and its carefully wrapped decorations were retreived from the loft. There were a few curses (from me) and much patience (from G - he has incredible amounts of patience, more than anyone else I know) as the lights went up.
I decided we all needed emergency rations of fruit cake and Wensleydale to keep us going.
But at last, the tree, lights and decorations are where they should be, and our holidays have begun.
Happy Christmas everybody.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Super clean clothes pegs

Here are all the things I have inadvertently put through the washing machine in the past week.
  • Swimming goggles – 2 pairs.
  • An entire pocket sized packet of tissues, still in their wrapper.
  • Three lipbalms; one of which, disastrously, went through the tumble dryer as well.
  • Two clothes pegs (why? Have not hung washing outside since October).
  • A chocolate wrapper
  • Enough loose change to pay for one child’s school meals this week
  • One plastic catapult which came free with the Beano
  • A marble
  • Five hairclips
  • One slipper

There is now a sign up next to the washing machine.

Sunday, 14 December 2008


I so want to get this quilt finished by Christmas. I'm near the end but there's still a great deal to do. I'm not sure how that works, but it's true. I want C to be able to sleep under it on Christmas Eve and potter round the house with it wrapped around his shoulders at some ungodly hour of the morning on Christmas Day. And I want to be able to photograph it in some nice, bright winter sunshine please.

I can't neglect everyone else though. I've been sewing for my sister, my niece and my nephew, and there are secret somethings for my sister-in-law and for G still to do. I feel as though I am hibernating under a half-sewn quilt, with my sewing machine and my box of hand sewing bits that moves around the house with me. I think maybe I will emerge, blinking, into the sunlight on Christmas Day like a mole coming out of its hole: 'Oooh, hello everybody! Is it Christmas now?'

A seasonal parcel has found it way into my burrow. My Holiday Traditions package arrived from Christie yesterday. I am now listening to some cracking Christmas tunes (Frosty the Snowman - so cool!), dreaming of ginger snaps and sugar plums, and cleaning the remains of candy canes from my children's hands.

But most of all, I am in AWE at this lady's embroidery skills. I now realise I have some way to go before I can say I do embroidery.


Thank you Christie, for such a thoughtful, exciting and Christmassy parcel! It is making my last-minute winter hibernation much more festive.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Variations on a theme

I’ve taught C how to make porridge, and he now cooks it every morning for himself and O. At weekends, G and I sometimes have it as well. Eating something your child has cooked for you is right up there as one of life’s greatest treats.

He’s tall enough to stand at the stove safely and climb up to where the oats are kept without sending other packages tumbling. He’s no longer freaked out at the process of lighting the gas, and he can measure the ingredients accurately. In fact he can now cook the whole thing semi-asleep and without any fuss at all.

There are only two things you need to know in order to cook porridge:
  1. The volume of liquid must be one and a half times the volume of the oats
  2. Keep stirring

In its most basic form, the ingredients are oats and milk, but even that is not set in stone. There are many variations.

The oats can be traditional Scottish porridge oats or jumbo oats or ground oatmeal. The milk can be swapped for other liquids: apple juice, half milk and half cream, half milk and half water. Even 100% water should you be feeling particularly puritanical.

If he’s making two child’s portions, C tips oats into the measuring cup up to the 20ml mark. Then he measures out one and a half times the volume of liquid – 30ml here. It all goes into a small pan over a medium heat and he stirs until it is thickened to his liking and then spooned, steaming, into bowls. C actually prefers his porridge really quite runny, but I think that’s more to do with impatience to get eating rather than any kind of gourmet preference.

When it comes to additions and toppings to the porridge, C’s creative side comes out.

Favourite additions to porridge – these are added to the pan with the oats and liquid at the beginning of the cooking.

  • raisins – one handful per person
  • dried apricots, snipped into pieces with scissors
  • any other dried fruit – dried strawberries and dried mango slices have been popular with C and O
  • bran – G’s favourite addition – a small handful per person
  • a grated apple
  • chopped hazelnuts
  • all of the above!

Favourite toppings for porridge – these are added once the porridge is in your bowl.

  • golden syrup
  • honey
  • sliced banana
  • fresh raspberries
  • strawberry jam, blackberry jam, apricot jam – any kind of jam
  • soft, dark sugar
  • stewed apple – cold and tart from the fridge

Of course there are endless combinations of additions and toppings. Our favourite discovery recently is porridge cooked with apple juice as the liquid and then with blackberry jam stirred in before eating – you end up with a deliciously sweet, autumnal, blackberry-and-apple start to the day. O is a strawberry fanatic and likes her porridge cooked with dried strawberries and milk and then strawberry jam stirred in at the end.

My mother remembers my grandmother pouring a little dribble of undiluted Ribena around the edge of her porridge when she was a child in the 50s. C and O tried that yesterday and there were sighs of delight around the table. I may not repeat it too often though as the smell in the kitchen was almost horrifyingly sugary. It sounds like a post-War, sugar-rationed adaptation to me. Although is it any worse than a lake of golden syrup on top? Probably not.

This is forward thinking to a ridiculous extent, but right at the back of my mind is now a happy thought: when C leaves home at least he’ll be able to cook himself porridge and have a healthy start to each day. Yes, that’s in a decade’s time, I know, I know.

But it’s never too early to start learning survival skills and it’s never too early to give your Mum a bit of peace of mind.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Words, no pictures

So this week I've been doing things and not taking photos.
  • Sewing secret Christmas presents for special people
  • Visiting the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum
  • Admiring the new paint on the stonework on the outside of our house (who knew that watching paint dry could be so satisfying?)
  • Showing C how to bake mince pies (the results were way too tasty to photograph them before eating)
  • Putting the finishing touches to Christie's Holiday Traditions parcel

So no photos means that I must tell, not show. The opposite of what I mostly like doing.

It gives me a good reason to finally get round to doing this tag that Driftwood passed on to me. What photos am I going to find to go with any of this?

7 things to do before I die

  • Go back to America. Take my children with me and show them all the places I love there. Explain to them why they were nearly called Austin and Virginia in a burst of hormonal nostalgia.
  • Walk up some Alps
  • Knit a pair of socks
  • Finish the dratted monster fence rail quilt
  • Have a holiday here
  • Have grandchildren
  • Visit Iceland

7 things I do now

  • drink far too much coffee
  • blog
  • fret about the need to move house versus the imploding economy
  • daydream about spending all my time sewing (not at all compatible with need to move house and imploding economy)
  • go for walks to clear my head
  • buy sewing books
  • get up just that little bit too late in the morning

7 things I can't do

  • be nice to anyone before I've drunk a cup of coffee
  • iron (yet mysteriously I seem able to press seams really rather well - sssshhh - don't tell G)
  • enjoy swimming - urgh, chlorine up the nose - urgh
  • argue
  • remember which way round repos and reverse repos work
  • listen to G singing without wincing. Sorry, I do try, but I can't help it. I know its mean of me, but I think its some kind of instinctive reaction.
  • stop fretting about the need to move house versus the imploding economy

7 things that I find attractive in the opposite sex

  • enthusiasm
  • working for a company that gives you free books
  • big, soulful eyes
  • the ability to iron so beautifully
  • not singing, unless its perfectly in tune and a song that I like
  • tolerence of pre-coffee grouchiness
  • nice, chunky arms

7 things I say most often

  • Have you got your lunchbox?
  • I'll do it
  • Sshhh - its the Archers
  • Lord, I need a coffee
  • Lets go for a walk
  • Don't interrupt!
  • Morning girls! Who wants some nice cabbage leaves?

7 celebrities that I admire

  • Erm....
  • Writers and cooks mostly
  • Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Clare Chambers, Sarah Waters, Shirley Hughes, Nigel Slater, Dorothy L Sayers

7 favourite foods

  • coffee
  • butter
  • toast
  • parsnips
  • pie
  • smoked salmon
  • plums

I'm off to find my camera now. I'm forgetting what it looks like.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The next generation of list writer

At the last parents evening we went to for O, I noticed that her class teacher had written in her maths book the comment "O is a little unsure of how to write a list".

The cheek of it! My daughter knows how to write a list! I mean, she has list writing genes!

Since then - of course, wouldn't you? - I've been secretly turning her into a proficient list writer. Shopping list needs jotting down? Get O to do it. Gift lists for Christmas need compiling? Get O to do them. Never again will a teacher say that a child of mine does not know how to write a list!

However, I now think I may have been taking things a little too far.

I came downstairs, bleary eyed, yesterday morning to find this stuck to the mantlepiece:

She had been inspired by one of her favourite TV programmes on CBBC at the moment, Gimme A Break, a programme in which the children draw up the family rules....

House rules
  • No ballet
  • No walks
  • No veg
  • No accents of any language
  • No moaning

She explained to her querying parent, that 'No ballet' meant no ballet by anyone in the house other than her. I don't think we meet her high standards.

'No accents of any language' is apparently for me and C who enjoy conversing with each other in whatever amusing and entertaining alternative accents we can think of. C is going through a Jamaican phase and my specialty is Southern Belle. Can't really see what the problem is there.

'No moaning' was one that I approved of, but then she explained that it didn't mean children weren't allowed to moan - it meant that parents were not allowed to moan about the house rules.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

So much sewing

In between taking photos of my shoes last week, I've also been sewing madly.

Anna sent me this charity shop bargain she found - a dressmaking manual published in 1972 (a metric re-issue!). Its awesome!
I was enchanted first by all the photos and drawings - the epitome of weird and eccentric 1970s elegance.

But once I started reading, I could not stop. The manual is crammed with full sized pattern pieces and detailed advice. You could totally teach yourself to sew clothes with this book.

Later in the week, the first edition of Sew Hip plopped through the letterbox. I've been looking forward to this for months now, and I wasn't disappointed. Like my dressmaking manual, it is crammed with patterns, but also interviews, ideas and inspiration. Love it!
On Thursday evening I went back to The Make Lounge for another sewing course. This time I did the Knockout Knickers course and brought my two sisters-in-law along for company. We had so much fun and all came away with knickers that fit - amazing!
Sewing elastic and stretch jersey is as fiddly as I'd imagined, but I picked up so many tips from the tutor that I'm sure I will have a go at making some more at home. The knickers can be made from printed cotton as well as jersey and I can't get out of my mind the thought that a pair of knickers made from a Kaffe Fassett printed cotton would be an amazing thing to have!
Here are the ones I made on the course. I didn't cut the elastic short enough, so they are a little big - they should pucker up a little more around the waist and the leg. Next time I won't be so nervous about making them too small.
Finally, I've finished sewing the things I am going to send to Christie for the 2008 Holiday Traditions exchange. I need to put together all the other bits and pieces for her now and then send it all off to South Carolina with good wishes for the holiday season.
Then I need to bind C's quilt - its nearly quilted now.
And THEN start making Christmas presents for everyone!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

A week in my shoes :: Day 7

You will be able to deduce from the shoes and tights I wore today, that I wear much fancier clothes to work than I do at home.

On the way to the tube station this morning.

On the tube (the man next to me was asleep so I didn't feel too weird leaning over to photograph my (and his) feet).
Coming up the v..e..r..y.. long escalator at St Paul's station.
Sitting at my desk. The shoes in the distance belong to my colleague who sits opposite me, the lovely Mrs H. Mrs H is very sensible and wears trainers to work, only changing into heels once she gets there. I've never been able to bring myself to do that, so when I buy a new pair of heels I spend a long time in the shop trying them on and making sure they're going to be comfortable.
Thank you all for your kind comments this past week. I am don't know whether to be slightly worried or deeply impressed that so many of you can spot a Boden coat from a tiny glimpse in the corner of a photograph!
I hope your shoes have taken you to nice places this past week.

Monday, 24 November 2008

A week in my shoes :: Day 6

I had a very nice day off work today - using up an odd leftover day before the end of the year.

I brought the milk in from the doorstep.
I took the children to school - this is our front path, with the original, Victorian tiles. I love this path. One day I will make a quilt of it - right down to the colours and everything.

It was wet, cold and nasty outside this morning, so when I got back home I put on another pair of socks my mother knitted for me. This time a bamboo pair that are incredibly soft.

After a day of sewing I was feeling a rather house bound and headachey. The sun came out and I grabbed my walking boots before dashing out for a late walk on Wanstead Flats as the sun set.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

A week in my shoes :: Day 5

No shoes today. Just some very, very cold toes as I ran outside in the snow, wearing only sandals and pyjamas to feed the hens this morning. I threw some corn in to them, ran back inside and didn't venture out again all day. Brrrrrr.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

A week in my shoes :: Day 4

It is Saturday. The sun is shining. So clearly I need some brightly coloured tights again. This time I chose purple ones.

Before breakfast, on the world's most awful carpet (in our hall). Accompanied by rather a large number of snippets of thread. 2009 will definitely be the year in which that carpet goes.

In Wanstead, before lunch, on my way to buy a newspaper and a bunch of coriander.
I love how my crazy tights can barely be seen next to the vividness of the tomatoes and spinach at the greengrocers. Just a shiny, patent toe peeping out.
Back home, after lunch, next to the fire. Now the fire is lit, I'm in for the day.
Other people's shoes
Ali has a fabulous pair of red boots on. If I had red boots I think I would wear them solidly from October until March. After I've paid for a new carpet, red boots may be at the top of my spending list.
My mother-in-law wore these shoes to have coffee with friends.

I hope your shoes are taking you to nice places this weekend. Or else that you are cosied up indoors next to a fire with some thick socks and a good book.

That's where I'm off to - right now.

Friday, 21 November 2008

A week in my shoes :: Day 3

In haste this morning, I jammed on the first pair of shoes that came into my hand as I rummaged. These lovely pale green pumps with a short, 4cm, heel. They are over five years old and I still love them but don't wear them very often. I need to be in a pale green mood.

See how beautifully they match the lichen on the pavement!
However, they were the wrong shoes. By the time I got home from the morning school run my feet were like blocks of ice. I put on these amazingly beautiful and warm socks (knitted by my mother from Kaffe Fasset Regia yarn), and did not remove them for the rest of the day.
This afternoon's school run was done in trainers.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

A week in my shoes :: Day 2

These astonishingly bright tights are from Gap and I adore them! Perfect for grey autumn mornings doing nothing in particular.

Walking to school.
Waiting with G in the playground for a parents' numeracy workshop (very good - G and I were swots and put our hands up to give the answers quite often - ha!).

In the car on the way back from the supermarket.
In the kitchen as I baked a cherry and almond cake.

Notes from yesterday:
  • My mother bought some boots - I was merely there to advise and tut over the price, in a complete role reversal from my teenage years.
  • The parcel was from Clothkits and is for O for Christmas....

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

A week in my shoes :: Day 1

It was trainers all day today as I was having a pleasantly busy, walking-around kind of day.

In the playground at school.

On my bike as I came back from picking up a parcel from the sorting office.

Walking down Oxford Street on the way to meet my mother.

In John Lewis trying on boots with my mother.