Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all a wonderful and happy 2013!


For the first time ever, we are double-booked tonight. For the first part of the evening, me, Chickpea and Ben are off to a party at Sue and Gordon's house. We're then returning for the final hour of 2012 to a local pub to welcome in the New Year with a glass or two with my parents.

Have a lovely evening wherever you spend it. Thank you for visiting me during my first 6 months of blogging. I look forward to welcoming and visiting you during 2013. x

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Galaxy Scarf

Do you remember back in November I teased you with some knitting I was doing as a Christmas present? Well, now that the big day has passed, I can reveal it was a scarf.

The wool is King Cole Galaxy (shade 688) and the pattern was free from the Black Sheep Wools web site. It's triangular in shape and takes just one ball of wool. You basically start by casting on 3 stitches and increase 1 stitch at the end of every row until there is just enough wool left to cast off. Each row was meant to be knitted but I thought it looked a little boring so created a striped pattern by alternating blocks of 5 rows of stocking stitch (knit a row, purl a row etc).

The wool knitted up beautifully - soft, light and delicate. Once the scarf was finished, each point was decorated with 3 beads (all from Hobbycraft).

And this is the finished scarf. Ta-dah! I had a text from Sue on Boxing Day to say that she loved the scarf and the matching brooch I also made...but that's another post ;-)

Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas & Boxing Day

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas. Here's a few photos from mine.

Father Christmas has been! Mum and Dad come round to watch us open our presents so I give them a ring and Chickpea opens the presents from her stocking in my bed while we wait for them to arrive. Then it's downstairs to open those under the tree.

As always she has quite a pile to open - these are all hers! Father Christmas was kind to me too :-)

After present opening, it's time for breakfast and I'd provided a selection of danish pastries and croissants. Mum and Dad leave to prepare Christmas dinner and to open presents with my brother. We follow a couple of hours later.

Cheers! Christmas dinner at 1.30 at Mum and Dad's. As almost every year, there are 5 of us for dinner: me and Chickpea, Mum and Dad, and my brother.

Turkey, stuffing, chipolatas, roast potatoes, carrots and broccoli, gravy and cranberry sauce. Crackers pulled and bad jokes told!

Me and Chickpea dance to Christmas songs while waiting for Christmas pudding to arrive. Well, except for Chickpea - she hates Christmas pudding so just has a dish of white sauce!

Later, we go next door to wish Mary and her family a merry Christmas before sitting down to watch TV. We usually play our favourite board game, Cluedo, but I think we were too exhausted this year.

About 9pm we said our goodbyes and walked home. Another lovely and familiar Christmas Day comes to a close.

Boxing Day morning arrives and, yes, I was one of the crazy people who was at the Next sale at 6am. I bought mostly house items and accessories this year. The rest of the sales will wait until tomorrow when we go into Manchester for our other Christmas ritual: theatre at the Royal Exchange.

Later in the morning I visited those who are no longer with us. We would always visit Nanna and Grandad and Auntie Lilian on Boxing Day so I've kept up the tradition.

By special request, baking cookies to take to Ben's (Chickpea's boyfriend) house. I also fitted in a bit of knitting and browsing through my new cooking and craft books.

Later, a buffet at Mum and Dad's and watching the Tim Burton version of 'Alice in Wonderland' on TV (not sure I was that impressed).

And last but not least...this wasn't on Christmas Day or Boxing Day - it was yesterday - but I couldn't resist showing you Toby, Ben's dog. Isn't he gorgeous? We were invited to their house for hotpot so spent the afternoon and evening with Ben and his parents - I think this is the start of a new tradition :-)

And so we close where we started, hoping that you had a lovely Christmas and enjoyed both old and new traditions with your friends and family.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Simple Saturday

Well, this wasn't the post I planned for today (I'll save that for another time) but I had such a lovely day yesterday that I wanted to have a record of it to look back on. 

Chickpea's favourite decoration in a prominent place on Mum and Dad's tree. Actually dating from my own childhood so he must be at least 40 years old - both of us are showing our age!

Not one but three cards and letters from my friends overseas! All on the same day! So exciting!

An afternoon spent baking to the sounds of Michael Buble's Christmas album. Christmas tree cookies to take to our friends for dessert with ice cream (Ben & Jerry's Baked Alaska).

Wrapping a last handmade gift to add to the presents for the same friends. And a lovely evening spent with them sharing food and stories. Watching in delight, their cat with her paw on the fish tank, fascinated by its occupants.

And there you have it. Nothing flashy or spectacular or out of the ordinary. Just one of those days of simple, quiet contentment that often get forgotten but which life is made of.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Christmas pot-pourri

As part of our Christmas decorations I bought some pot-pourri to scent the house over the festive period. Although it smells lovely, when I put it out I thought it looked a little plain. I rummaged around in my craft box and amongst our rejected decorations and came up with these mini-toadstools, red beads and gold-tinted ivy leaves.

The resulting pot-pourri was just that bit more interesting with a touch of extra shape, colour and sparkle.

And, if you're looking for a last minute gift idea, how about this one? In a local garden centre they had pot-pourri for sale in jars with holes in the lid to let out the scent. I just added a standard lid, covered it with some pretty Christmassy fabric and decorated it with ribbons. A 'pick' gives a hint of some of the elements inside.


Chickpea's boyfriend stayed with us last week as it was their 2nd anniversary. It must be love as not only did she clean both her bedroom and the bathroom unprompted but she made him these absolutely yummy chocolate chip cookies. The recipe by Felicity Cloake was billed as the 'perfect' cookies and I think she might be right. We'll definitely be using this recipe again. The following day, we had them for dessert sandwiched with ice cream - mmmmmm!

This week there were two Secret Santas: one at work and one at my yoga class. There was also a Christmas lunch and another Jacob's Join (thanks for your suggestions of dishes - plenty of ideas for next year). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take part in any of these as I've been laid low with a bad back. It's been soooo frustrating not to be able to take part in the festivities. Still, I'm on the mend and should be fine in time for Christmas. I'm determined to be better for Carols by Candlelight on Sunday as, for me, that's the start of Christmas proper.

Hope your Christmas preparations are going well and according to plan!

Sunday, 16 December 2012


Last weekend we put up our tree and other decorations. I have only the vaguest memories of having a real tree whilst growing up and it's so vague I'm not even sure whether it's a false memory. For my family, it was artificial all the way. And we had a small living room so it was always a small tree. I swore that as soon as I got a house of my own, we would have the biggest real tree I could find.

So we did. Our previous house had very high ceilings so I bought a 7 foot tree and covered it in decorations. Chickpea was about 5 years old and, the first time she saw it, she stood open-mouthed in awe. Her eyes travelled slowly up the tree until they reached the star at the top - it was a magical moment, like something out of the movies.

We had a real tree for a few years but eventually the convenience of artificial won out. I was tired of trying to squeeze a large tree into a small car - hard work when it was new and covered in net, but hazardous when it was fully open and shedding needles everywhere! Lately I've been tempted to get a real one again though smaller. Since we now have 'green' bin collections, it would also be much easier to dispose of.

However, this year we're sticking to the tree we've had for over 12 years. It's about 6 feet tall and is assembled by slotting the metal branches into plastic cups which go up the trunk. My least favourite part of decorating the tree is putting on the lights - oh, how I wish I had one of those new-fangled pre-lit trees!

The decorations are mostly red, green and gold - I'm a traditional girl - and have been collected over the years. Some of them have special memories, like this one which I bought whilst visiting my penfriend in America.

And here's the finished tree in what we call The Ballroom. Our living room is 'L' shaped and the bottom part of the L is a raised platform - I try not to think of why the previous owners decided to have a raised floor and what might be hiding underneath. When we first moved in, it reminded us of a dance floor, so The Ballroom was born. Every time my friend's little girl comes to visit, she's drawn to it like a magnet and loves prancing around doing her ballet moves. We keep saying we'll get a glitter ball to go on the ceiling! The cupboard peeking out on the right is where my computer lives and where I'm writing this now.

The rest of our decorations are also traditional and gathered over the years. The windowsill has a candle arch and this artificial foliage, plus wonky candles.

And, of course, you can never have too many Father Christmases! The Four Santas were made at my quilt group a few years ago. Their bodies are filled with rice so they're pretty heavy.

And we have several ceramic ornaments which I gradually collected in the New Year sales at a local garden centre. This is Chickpea's favourite.

My favourite is Santa Bear because he's also a wind-up music box and plays 'Have yourself a merry little Christmas'. His reindeer friend plays 'We wish you a merry Christmas'. I have a musical snow globe too but none of us can work out what the tune is - something classical.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the tour around our decorations (and the peek at our house!). And I hope you enjoyed your weekend - only 9 sleeps to go!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Jacob's Join

On Wednesday my quilt group had its Christmas meeting at which we always have a Jacob's Join. You probably know this better as a 'pot luck' where each member brings along a plate of food to share. I'd never heard of the term Jacob's Join before I became a member of our group. And it wasn't until I did an internet search to find the origin of the name that I discovered it's a term used mainly in and around Lancashire (though strangely there were lots of mentions in North Carolina too!). No-one seems to know why it's called a Jacob's Join but the most common suggestion is that it has biblical origins and is related to Jacob and the 7 year famine during which he sent his sons out to bring back food.

Whatever the explanation, every year I agonise over what to take. I usually aim for something savoury as there are always plenty of desserts. It needs to be either something I can make in advance or something very quick as I don't have much time between getting home from work and rushing out to the meeting. And it has to be cold as I never fancy trying to transport hot food in the car.

Last year I made these canapes which were in one of the free food guides you get from supermarkets at this time of year and they couldn't be simpler. Take one slice of salami and place in the middle a sunblush tomato, a piece of mozzarella and a couple of rocket leaves. Roll up and secure with a cocktail stick.

They were such a success that I decided to do something similar this year but with a slight change of ingredients. A Google image search for salami canapes found a picture showing a canape which used a slice of salami, a slice of cheese and an olive. For the olive haters, I decided to substitute a ribbon of cucumber. Look pretty good, don't they? Appearances can be deceptive. The cocktail stick didn't do a good job of holding the sides together and they soon fell apart. They also didn't stack well on a tray as the cocktail sticks got in the way. I fiddled and twiddled and couldn't figure out how to get them to work. Time for a rethink.

The simplest solution was to stack the ingredients onto crackers so I did an eleventh hour dash to our local shop and picked up some oatcakes and wheat crackers. Next predicament: the salami slices were just too big to sit neatly on top. Out with the pastry cutters. Un-fluted side for the salami, fluted side for the cheese, and a smaller one for the cucumber.

And these were the finished canapes. After a couple of false starts, I was really pleased with the results. But do you know what? Out of 15 that went to the Jacob's Join, 10 came back home with me. Sigh.

I obviously didn't hit the spot with these. Maybe they looked too bland? Or there were a lot of salami and/or cheese haters? In any case, I need to up my game next year. So, dear readers, please help a fellow blogger, what's your favourite and sure-fire winner of a dish to take to a Jacob's Join?

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Woodland vase

Last weekend we visited our friends, Sue and Gordon, and I was very taken with a vase display that Sue had created. So taken in fact, that I decided to have a go at making one myself and spent a very happy hour on Sunday putting it together.

For the display, you will need a large plain glass vase. It can be round, square, rectangular - whatever you have.

Next, you'll need something to fill the vase with. I used a selection of glass pebbles, pine cones, moss and lichen-covered twigs. Sue gathered her moss in the beautiful Scottish location of Loch Ness. Mine was gathered in the rather less glamorous surroundings of Hobbycraft.

And, of course, the all important element of lights. These are battery-powered micro LED lights on a silver wire and were £3.50 from Wilkinsons. Don't they give off an amazing amount of light for such tiny bulbs?

In this version, I layered up the different ingredients, winding the lights in as I went, trying to get them as evenly distributed as possible.

The second version is more like the one Sue had made, though she had far better twigs than me - long and elegant whereas mine are short and stubby! The vase is only half-filled and the lights are strung around the twigs as well as in the vase. I added a few festive baubles for extra shine and colour.

Not a new idea, I know, but so effective and easy to put together. Can you imagine it in the summer with pebbles, shells and driftwood?

We've had a decorator in this week painting the stairwell and landing, so the house smells of paint. I hate when the house doesn't smell 'normal' and find it somehow unsettling.

And today we put up our Christmas tree! The paint smell must have unsettled me more than I thought because I managed to slip on the stairs carrying the boxes of decorations down. No harm done except for a grazed elbow: I was more worried about damaging the new paintwork! Tomorrow I need to write letters to go in some cards so not much time for blogging. I'll be back later in the week though with pictures of the tree. See you then. x

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Christmas patchwork

Today I thought I'd share with you a quilt I made a couple of years ago. Jackie challenged Bolton Quilters to make a quilt based on a Christmas card and I chose this design by Brigitte McDonald, appropriately called 'Christmas Patchwork'.

The design appealed to me because it had clearly defined sections and bold, simple patterns.

I also thought the use of non-Christmassy colours was interesting and it offered the opportunity to do some embellishment.

The best part was choosing the fabrics. Most of them were from my stash but I had to buy a few like this navy with gold spots to use for the night sky.

And this is the finished quilt! It's machine pieced and appliqued with hand embellishment and was completed in 2009 just in time for our previous exhibition. Can you tell that the photo was taken in the summer? It seems ages since the garden was so lush and green, particularly as the temperature has gone below zero overnight. Brrr!