Saturday, 29 December 2007


I'm not going to write a list of resolutions as lots of people have already written my list for me - I could use any of these! So instead ... we went to Liberty on Saturday so I could buy my Christmas present (hee hee!) and I found some of the scrumptious and non-fattening Martha Negley Cupcakes and Teacups fabrics.

I've been lusting after these literally for months. I managed to leave some on the shelf for anyone else who gets there quickly - and it wasn't easy, believe me. And then I saw the whole shelf of Amy Butler prints. Hmmm. I'd better say this quietly - I don't think I really like Amy Butler fabrics. There, it's said. Please don't judge me, all you goddesses of style! There really is no hope for me.

We came back via St Pancras. How could we not, knowing that MrsM is so proud of MrM for his part in it?

I'd seen it described as "the sexiest station in the world", and let's just say the writer did not lie. We stood there like Sir John Betjeman:

All we could do was gaze at this beautiful old structure, so gorgeously modernised, and feel very envious of the people setting off on Eurostar while we shuffled back to grubby Kings Cross. But hey! At least we got to show the girls Harry Potter's Trolley!

Anyway, you'd think that would be enough, but no. Today we braved Cambridge John Lewis for school shoes; who was the genius that placed the children's shoes next to the toy department and then ensured a 30 minute queue? Thank goodness I was not wrangling both of them by myself ... Of course, after that ordeal I had to just check the haberdashery department. I was feeling very pleased with myself that I had resisted the delicious new glass beads (because really, I do not need any more stitch markers and unless I start selling them I will soon be buried) when I spied the woolly sale bin. Tell me honestly, could you have resisted this little lot at £3 per ball?

No willpower at all. Which doesn't bode at all well for the New Year's resolutions. Oh well, have a great night and a brilliant 2008! I'm off to find some champagne.

Coming out of hibernation

The weather and the festivities kept us inside over Christmas and Boxing Day , but now it's time to venture outside and try to walk off some of the roast potatoes. We took a flask of tea and some brownies to the bird reserve on the edge of our village and fished with sticks on our way to the big hide that looks out over the reedbed.

Obviously we didn't see many birds, walking with two loud galumphers, but we saw a bridge being renovated,

and we saw some huge skies, and , as usual, vowed that we should come back more frequently. It is a wonderful place.

Returning home, it was time to write Thank you letters.

How come everyone here receives presents but only one of us ever writes the letters? OK, at least two of them can't write very well, so I suppose I should just be grateful they sign their own names ...

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Happy Christmas!

I know Christmas is nearly here now - because we made our annual trip to the teddy bear train at Audley End. We picked a really cold and frosty day, just perfect; the steam hung in the air and as we rode through the woods everything seemed very magical (and nearly made us able to forget how cold the seats were).

Eventually we reached Father Christmas' forest hiding place where the man himself was waiting with Rudolph to hand out Gummy Bears and teddies to all the children. I love this train. It is old and rickety and a bit grubby but the children don't see any of that, and it is a real treat to be able to share that with them.

So, the presents are wrapped, the cake is iced, the tree is decorated, the spare room is made up; now there are socks to be knitted and wine to be drunk, and my inner five year old is going to find it hard to get to sleep tomorrow. Wishing you all the happiest of Christmases, and I'll see you when it's all done!

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Decking the halls

I was tagged by Lina for random Christmassy things recently, so I thought I'd tie it in with some pictures of decorations and see if I can make some sort of pattern from the randomness - hey, I am a scientist after all!

I've been holding off posting these pictures as some have been sent off in the Montessori by Hand swap and I was waiting until I was confident the parcel must have arrived; but then I realised if I didn't put photos of them now I'd be posting about Christmas decorations after Christmas! I made quite a few decorations this year, trying to find the right ones to send . Not all of these made it into the parcel but here they are anyway:

These are clove scented, and the beaded snowflakes were inspired by some that Dragonfly made for her Christmas cards this year. Random thing: I still secretly hope for a white Christmas even though the only ones I remember were in the US and even though it would be complete chaos in this country if we did get snow at Christmas and even though I know I'm the designated driver on Christmas Day - and I hate driving in snow. I used to be OK in a 4wd pickup in snow, but in a people carrier? Scary thought.

I was really pleased with these - then I saw something very similar in Good Housekeeping, so not very original after all. Random thing - I love red and white in Christmas decorations - maybe because they're the colours of Father Christmas?

I've had these little panels for ages but I finally stitched them and stuffed them - more cloves! And there's another random thing - I can't resist Christmas fabric or Christmas ribbons. I've had the various bits of fabric I've stitched for a good couple of years but they called to me in the shop ...

These looked very different in my head. Fimo is far more bendy than I remember it! There's a little bell swinging at the bottom, which sounds very festive but won't hang still from a shaky hand. Random thing: You can see here evidence of my "more is more" approach to tree decoration - we don't have tinsel or garlands on our tree, and we do have simple white unflashing lights, but the concession to good taste ends there. If I see a branch without a bauble, I don't feel I've done my job ...

This is a little wreath I made using mosaic tiles from the local craft shop. They took far more tiles than I thought they would to get the tiny cardboard rings covered but I am pleased with them. Random thing: I love a wreath on the door at Christmas. My mum always put the same one up and it had that essential Christmas familiarity about it. Throughout my childhood we had all the decoration in Sainsbury's carrier bags, with the baubles packed in plastic egg boxes. I love unwrapping the same decorations year after year. I loved the crinkle of those boxes and the rustle of the bags, and the smell of the plasticine and oasis she always used to make a Christmas display with floral picks and model reindeer. Gorgeous.

These were fabulous fun. We had some very cheap beads left over from a necklace making party and I decided to stick them onto silver wreaths. I LOVE these. In fact I'm tempted to stock up on the bead sets lining the supermarket shelves at the moment and going into production for next year!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Hansel & Gretel time

We have had an introduction to the construction industry this week - for once, not courtesy of Bob the Builder (altogether now, "Can we fix it?") I saw a pretty gingerbread house on the cover of this month's BBC Good Food - not one of my regular reads, but still - and it seemed just the thing to occupy two little people who weren't dreadfully ill but ill enough not to be going off sneezing all over their classmates.

The recipe and patterns are on the BBC web site - the gingerbread is gorgeously crunchy and makes lovely little men. We had a couple of heart stopping moments when I dropped one of the panels while sticking the walls together - gulp - but the shell went together well:

and the decoration was huge fun:

We got out the edible glitter for the roof - well, what else did you expect? The hardest part was stopping them eating all the sweets before we'd decorated it ...

Monday, 10 December 2007

Everything's better covered with glitter

Oh blimey, it's been a week since I wrote anything. The truth is I think I'm longing for the end of term more than the children are - we've all had colds, we've been flat out with work and school and really, enough's enough. Only another week to go, hurrah!

I have been making things too. Yesterday was the School Fayre, which went pretty well - we were busy for 2 hours solid, even with a cold and yet another sick bug felling half the PTA committee and a good number of the children. We sold a lot of mulled wine :-) I was running a children's craft stall, with lots of glitter and glue. It was a hit with smaller children - and the parents who realised they got 10 minutes babysitting for 30p! The older children - less so. Oh well. At least we have lots of bits cut out ready to do it all again next year ...

We offered them hearts and trees:

stained glass snowflakes:

lovely smiley Rudolphs:

and some shiny stockings that completely failed to hit the spot, so they need a rethink. More fluff and sparkle needed, methinks.

By the way, please note the gorgeously glittered display twigs. They grow that way in our garden, you know.

PS Do you think the teachers will be inundated with Nigella's Chocolate Pistachio Fudge this year, or can I risk it? I've got Oxfam Unwrapped stuff for them too but this is something the girls could "help" with.

Monday, 3 December 2007

A new tradition

We always had advent calendars when we were little, and it's a tradition I've kept up with our two. We have the picture based ones, and we have the one the elf fills (going well so far, hurrah!), and we also have another one that has slips of paper in with activities for each day. I've seen other people doing this too, and it isn't that I object to the sweeties or gifts that frequently come in these, it's just that we don't need quite that much sugar-and-sparkle fuelled excitement before breakfast. Believe me, they're not lacking in chocolate.

So, one of the activities for last weekend was to visit the Christmas tree festival being held at the church in a nearby village. We arrived as it was getting dark on Sunday afternoon and the effect of the candles lit for the advent service, and the 28 (!) sparkling trees decorated by village groups was absolutely magical.

We will definitely be marking this in our calendar for next year.

In case you have been wondering what I look like, this is a portrait of me, apparently.

No, I'm not crying, those are my ears.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

OK, who stole November?

It is not possible. How can it be December already? If I think logically, a lot has happened this month but I honestly thought I had longer left to finish the Advent calendar:

It may not be as original or creative as some of the gorgeous ones others have been making - it comes from one of those preprinted panels - but I like it and it does the important job which is giving the Christmas Elf somewhere to put all his ornaments. Every year we dig out a little wooden tree (a bit like this one, only ours is green) and each day during December the elf hides a tiny ornament somewhere in the house. Only, sometimes he forgets and has to leave 2 or 3 days at once. I'm hoping this calendar, placed prominently, will REMIND HIM!!! Which reminds me, better get it out of the loft ...

I've been making all sorts of things but most of them are half done. One very quick project was these little books that have been appearing all over the place recently (apologies - it's early and the sun was not up when I took this picture):

They're just scrapbook paper covers with plain paper inside and handstitched - I tried machining but ended up with perforated pages which has its own charm but wasn't quite what I was going for! I don't scrapbook, but I have silly amounts of paper stashed away and this made me feel a bit less guilty about it. The plan is for the girls to fill in one book each for each grandparent for Christmas - there are only 6 pages and they chose the covers so hopefully it won't be a case of me chopping up random scribblings to stick in on Christmas Eve ...
I thought this was an original idea until I realised Amy Karol is doing the same thing. So, I'm in good company then!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Improving on Nature?

We've been doing more experiments. This one took days to complete but we had fun setting it up and were pleased with the results. We've talked frequently in the garden about how plants take up water from their roots and it travels up the stems, but this lets them actually see it happening.

We started by making strong solutions of food colouring - one pink and one blue - in oddly appropriate glasses, and then standing some poor white flowers and sticks of celery in them.
We let them stand overnight, and by the next day we could see the vessels clearly stained in a slice of celery. The light was rotten - this was midday, outside.

It made me want to buy a tiny microscope - too soon, too soon. Though I am tempted to buy one for myself.

After another day or so the white flowers had blue (or pink) streaks in the petals

and the celery was nothing short of alarming! (if you click on this one you can see the tiny veins in the leaf are dyed. I know, I'm a geek.)

Would you eat that?! Really, this is the only good use for celery, I think. To me it is just evil in plant form.

I've found a couple of good books of experiments for little people, and this one is a cross between stuff I did at school and ideas from "The Usborne Big Book of Experiments". There's a newer version of it - a book of Science Things to Make and Do, like those fairy books they do - that I think I may request from Father C in a month or so. I have tried to be a good girl ...

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Bet you look good on the dance floor

We went off to a wedding last weekend, and a good time was had by all. But capturing photos of tiny people in the darkness of an evening disco is very hard when they won't stand still!

I've been tagged by Tess to list 8 random things about me, and was tagged ages ago by Nicolette for 6 facts, so I guess I should try:

1. I am married to a very kind man who is 11 inches taller than me, and my children look like they'll be taller than me too. I shall be known as "Little Mummy"!

2. I have a PhD (well, actually a DPhil) in molecular biology, and my thesis supervisor won the Nobel Prize - not directly for my work, I hasten to add!

3. I love to read. When the children were little the thing that drove me most to distraction was not being able to read for more than a few minutes at a time. My favourite, most frequently read and reread is Pride and Prejudice (how original).

4. I used to be able to snowboard (badly), but I can't ski. I haven't done either since having children.

5. I adore Radiohead. We saw them at a tiny venue in upstate New York around the time The Bends came out; they were already big in the UK but barely known there and it was simply brilliant. Fake Plastic Trees - just, aaaaaah. I realise this makes me sound very, very sad and old.

6. I am chronically untidy, but I actually hate mess and from time to time stomp around the house with a big rubbish sack, muttering and throwing stuff in.

7. I have seen Four Weddings and a Funeral so many times I virtually know it by heart.

8. I watch rubbish TV, but I have to be doing something else at the same time - sewing, knitting, pretending to read.

Oh, and I pulled a muscle in my back today pushing the pushchair and it huuuurts! But that's not one of the 8 things ;-)

The rules for both tags say I need to tag more people - but I think many of you have already done this. If you haven't, and you'd like to, then you're tagged!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Christmas pudding patch

Inspired by Julie's Christmas puddings and her fairy cake patch, I fiddled about with some wool this week and ... tada! Here is my very first knitting pattern!

For the pudding:

Cast on 8 stitches in brown (B)
Row 1: purl
Row 2: Inc 1*, knit to last stitch, inc 1
Row 3: purl

Rows 4-9: Repeat rows 2 and 3 until you have 16 stitches

Row 10: Join in white(W) - (K2W, K3B) 3 times, K1W
Row 11: P2W, P1B, (P4W, P1B) twice, P3w
Continue in W only.
Row 12:K2tog through back, K to last 2 sts, K2tog
Row 13: purl
Row 14: K2tog through back, K to last 2 sts, K2tog
Row 15: purl
Row 16: K2tog through back, K to last 2 sts, K2tog
Row 17: purl
Row 18: K2tog through back, K to last 2 sts, K2tog (8 sts)
Row 19: P2tog through back, P4, P2tog
Row 20: K2tog through back, k2, k2tog (4sts)
Break wool and thread through remaining stitches

* Inc 1 - increase by knitting into front and back loops of next stitch.

For the leaves (make 2):

Cast on 2 sts in green.
Garter stitch 4 rows.
Slip one, pass slipped stitch over, break thread and pass through the last stitch to finish.

To make up:

Weave in ends, shaping the pudding as necessary. Attach the leaves and add berries using French knots in red (or beads, or knitted bobbles). Stitch a few beads for added sparkle.

Do not eat it!!

(If you do knit this and find any problems, please let me know. I've never written a pattern before ...)

Friday, 16 November 2007

Who's a lucky girl then?

As many others have discovered, the best bit about blogging is the kindness of the people you "meet". Most days I'll have email or comments that make me laugh out loud, and since there are only so many times my long suffering husband can admire knitted socks or new fabric, it's lovely to be able to show it to others who will appreciate it. Maybe this is unique to the family/craft blog community, but it is a constant joy.

Anyway, I've been very lucky recently to receive three (!) gorgeous packages from kind women. Unforgivably it has taken me 2 weeks to publicly thank Katy for the parcel she sent as a prize in her recent giveaway (don't worry, I did email, I'm not quite *that* rude!) - it was held up in the aftermath of the post strike but was well worth the wait:

Her little one painted the pot, which is even prettier and sparklier in real life and currently full of glittery mosaic pieces. Katy makes really beautiful softies at I'm A Ginger Monkey, do go and have a look. And watch out for the yoyos appearing here one day soon.

Alice of the wonderfully original The Magpie Files sent the most generous gift for my two tinies; who could resist Smartie paper?

And inside, sweeties and pencils and notebooks, every little girl's favourite - especially since there were even two different shades of pink!

Plus books, which have kept us busy for the last two bedtimes (I hope they don't get any ideas from My Naughty Little Sister when she pokes a feather duster up the sooty chimney).

There were even tiny beaded butterflies made by the lovely and talented MissM - I have stolen those away and have plans for a brooch ...

Finally the postie knocked on the door today with a parcel from Tracy - I won the Christmas knitting giveaway at her beautiful Pink Purl recently and there were goodies for all of us:

I have big plans for that wool - you'll see. It is incredibly soft!

The soundtrack to this photo was a small person shouting "Give me those sweeties!" across the garden (Back off, half pint. At least 2 of them are MINE, bwahahahaha).

The light is pretty but very low at the moment but I couldn't resist snapping the frosty table before it all thawed.

All in all, I feel a bit like Katy Carr when she and Clover receive their Christmas parcels in What Katy Did at School - thoroughly spoiled, very happy and a little overwhelmed!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Slip one, drop one

After all the science and moaning I thought I should put something crafty up. I have actually been really busy making stuff!

I've been making a lot of stitch markers recently, both for myself and as gifts. I am mildly embarassed to admit that until this summer I had no idea how to use these - I used to have those split plastic monstrosities and get them tangled up with the wool, until I finally realised that the markers go *on the needle*, not in the wool. Doh. Anyway, there's no stopping me now, and here are a few pics of how I make them in case anyone else wants to have a go. Sorry about the yellowness - I am not often crafting during daylight these days!

I use silver headpins from the local craft shop and any beads I can find. My favourites recently have been some really pretty glass lampworked ones. Arrange the beads in the pin:

Bend the top end of the pin at right angles about 3 mm from the top of the topmost bead - this makes a little shank to wrap the wire round later. Now you need to form a loop - you can do this with round pliers but I tend to wrap around a large gauge knitting needle:

Now you need to wrap the loose end tightly around the gap between the loop and the pin. This will be familiar to anyone who has made many earrings in the past but if you want pictures let me know:

I tend to make them in pairs but odd ones also look pretty.

Now go and knit something!

A couple of people have asked what stitch markers are for - well, I find them invaluable in sock knitting, or anywhere there is any counting to be done. I hate counting stitches almost as much as I hate sewing up knitting - which is why I tend to knit in the round. And there you really need a marker to show you where the start of each circular row is or it rapidly goes to pot ...