Saturday, 28 November 2009

It all starts here...


So it's almost upon us! I don't know why I get so excited about the Christmas season. I'm not religious at all, I'm not that keen on the day itself and I'm separated from some of the people I love most at this time of year. BUT the run up, the Advent period, the decorating, the carols, the frosty weather, the lights, the present buying, the movies, the food.... just grab me every December, fill me with excitement, wonder, creativity, love...it's a kind of magic! This year I'm looking forward to it more than ever. Perhaps because I'm really organised and that means that I should be able to enjoy the holiday without worrying or too much stress. It's so hard, in most ways, having my middle sister and her family so far away in Australia, but if it has one redeeming feature it's that it pushes you into searching out the perfect presents early and getting them wrapped, packed and sent off by the end of November at the latest! And over the years, this has expanded from just getting their presents, to getting everyone's presents because among the many pearls of wisdom that fall from the lips of the wonderful, beautiful Susan Branch (http://www.susanbranch.com/ and you'll see what I mean!) is the truth that presents should be bought throughout the year, when you see them, NOT left until the last minute when you'll (let's face it) buy anything in your desperation to have a gift to give...not only probably choosing something unsuitable but usually hideously overpriced and extravagant. This is the pitfall that so many men fall prey to when they don't even start thinking about a present for their loved ones until Christrmas Eve! So if I have one thing to share with you this Advent-Eve it's this: if you haven't already, start buying things now, get them wrapped in good time (another job that's fun if done as you go along, but stressful and shoulder-aching if left until Christmas Eve!) and then r-e-l-a-x. You'll have time to enjoy the beautiful things about the holiday season, without that nag in the back of your mind!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Some things I love to bake...

This tray of Cherry Pie Bars, for example. A recipe I made up for our local coffee shop to sell today. Quick-ish, looks delicious (I think!) and tastes good too (I actually bought a slice this afternoon) Or this tray of Spiced Autumn Gingerbread with Orange Frosting. Really gorgeous, just gingery enough and moist as anything.
But other things really stress me out, and give me no inspiration whatsoever. This cake, for example. I really, really hate baking novelty cakes! Everyone who orders one, has a picture in their heads of just how the cake should look. And my huge worry is that it just won't! And they'll be so disappointed, and I'll end up on one of my favourite blogs, http://www.cakewrecks.com/! I don't think this effort will get there, and it SHOULD taste fine. But I'm really, really, really not going to bake any more novelty cakes ever ever again. Unless I really love the person. And they really love me!!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Suddenly my heart has wings....


However well I know the works of my beloved Mozart, he still has the power to knock me off my feet with the beauty of his music. I was just preparing supper when Paul called me from work and told me to 'switch to Radio 3'.

As I always know what this means, I immediately turned the dial....and tears sprang into my eyes as I heard the joyful, life affirming last movement of Piano Concerto No. 15 in Bb Major (K450).

If you don't know this piece (or if you do!) just listen to it....and I hope it works for you too. Guaranteed joy and hope for a better world in a few perfect bars. What would I ever do without you, my darling? Here endeth the lesson.....! xo

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembrance


'Here dead we lie because we did not choose
 To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
 Life, after all, is not so very much to lose...
 But young men think it is - and we were young'

This poem by A.E Houseman has always moved me so much and reminds me of the way those young, young men who volunteered so eagerly for service in World War One must have felt as they joined up. That they were upholding all that they held so dear, defending their beloved countries. And so many, so very many, never saw that much loved homeland again.

There have been wars before, wars since and wars still. But for me, the sheer scale of the loss of life, the futility of the sacrifice they made and the unimaginable reality of everyday life for those who fought, suffered, died or lived with the terrible images of what they'd seen held within them forever encapsulates the true meaning of Remembrance Day. We truly must never forget. xx

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Luces meae vitae....


Nine years ago, my darling younger sister emigrated to the beautiful East Coast of Australia. It's something that she & have I never quite recovered from. It's her home and she loves it there, she's married to a gorgeous, tall, dark, handsome Aussie hunk of manhood and she definitely wouldn't be happy living back here in the grey, cold (usually) UK. But - there is always but - she's not with me physically and that's harder than anyone not in the same situation will ever know. We talk every week without fail and e-mail or text most days too....I also am lucky enough to be able to visit every year and they have been back to England 3 times too. But it's the everyday things, the not being able to just pick up the phone when I hear or see something funny, the popping round for a cup of tea, the quick 'I love you' hug when you really need it...and it all became much, much harder seven years ago when my adorable niece was born, followed by her 2 delectable brothers.

I made it across 12,ooo miles in time for all three births, and I can honestly say that they are the lights of my life. Everyone thinks this about their own children, but I know I'm right when I say that none were ever so beautiful, sparky, intelligent, kind, funny and delightful as Scout, Kip & Alfie are! They are truly a delight to spend time with, and I look forward to seeing them grow into the wonderful adults I know they'll be. I'm just lucky that I now have another gorgeous nephew this side of the world, or the deprivation might send me mad!

The reason for the photo that accompanies this post is that the children call the moon 'Bella Luna' (italian spoken in broad Aussie accents has to be heard to be believed - but it works!) and wherever I am, I look up and see it and know that in a few hours the same sharp brightness will be lighting their night sky.....such a BIG sky they have....and it's comforting, somehow.

So here's to you, Little Robinsons (and big ones too!) You are loved far, far more than I can ever say. X

Friday, 6 November 2009

Walking with Alice & Hallowe'en


I know that this is a little late, but I thought you might like to see my Hallowe'en window. We really don't get many Trick or Treaters here....Hallowe'en (despite the best efforts of the shops) isn't a huge thing in the UK as it is over the Atlantic. As we were driving down to Boston, through New Hampshire, I saw whole mock graveyards set up on people's front lawns...spiderwebs covering bushes and trees....skeletons and ghosts peeking from every window & from behind porches...oh no, over here we may have the odd carved pumpkin and spooky table decoration but we really don't do Hallowe'en like our American cousins!

Still, we do our best! I had a grand total of 12 little ones knocking on the door that night - actually quite a lot compared to recent years. I made some spooky cupcakes for our local coffee shop too...I was pleased with the eyeballs (inspired by a post on Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP blog!) The cakes were red velvet, so should have had a nice 'bloody' look to them...


Every morning during the week (Paul takes over at weekends), rain or shine, I take Alice out for a walk...we usually end up at a local beauty spot, about 15 minutes drive away. We always take a different route to keep it interesting, and I love seeing the seasons and the weather come and go throughout the year....from the top of the hill you can see the Prime Minister's weekend house, and if the weather's clear (which it wasn't when I took these, obviously!) you can see across 4 counties...The memorial commemorates local men who fought and died in the Boer War and it's been hit by lightning more than once!


Sometimes, when the bad weather closes in and we're battling across the hill with with wind and rain battering against our faces it can feel like a bit of a chore...but I never regret it afterwards - there's always something new to see, smell, hear. And our girl loves it so much too!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Salem's Lot...


When we were in Cape Cod, we drove up to Portland, Maine & broke our journey with a stop in historic Salem. Anyone who's read Arthur Miller's The Crucible will already be familiar with the terrible Witch Trials that occurred there in the late 1600's. Basically, if anyone didn't like you (for whatever reason!) they could denounce you as a witch, say that you had caused their illness or their animals to die or anything at all...and you'd be tried and probably hanged. Visiting the old Burial Ground and the site of the original court where these poor (usually) women were sentenced to death on the most trivial of grounds made me go cold...

However, Salem is a beautiful place and home of the Peabody Essex Museum which is worth a special trip there on it's own. The museum also has one of the best gift shops I've ever seen..great for buying early Christmas presents! Salem also gave us a fantastic lunch (Thanks to all at Lyceum Bar & Grill!)and the worst ever public lavatory in the history of the world (not in the restaurant, in a shopping mall!)

But over it all hangs the spectre of those long gone but terrible times, and the horrible truth of what took place there....

There's a lot that's wrong with the world now, but visiting a place like this reminds me of just how lucky we are in most ways!