Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Things are beginning to feel decidedly end-of-year-ish round here. There's something about the last few days of November that sends me into a flurry of nesting. Suppose it is probably linked to the short days, hunkering down for winter and trying to impose order on the house before the relative anarchy* of the Festive Season.

*I mean anarchy, relative to real life, not anarchy of my relatives, who are, on the whole, fairly well behaved.**

So my cupboards have been treated to some new hooks

to hang our winter woollies on.

Our finances have been squared away (yes, those are credit card slips - guess we hadn't reconciled them in a while).

And I have the most gorgeous calendar (from Sarah) ready to track the passing of the new year.

We're all set, let the festivities commence.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Small pleasures

A morning shaft of sunlight in our bedroom (something of a rarity in these grey November days). The simple delight small boys take in the antics of a naughty shadow-bird.

Preparing some jars of Vanilla Sugar for friends.

A timely reminder to notice the little things.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Trouble brewing

Two steps forward, one step back. Mark's ever patient, ever smiley teacher wasn't looking too smiley when she cornered me in the playground this afternoon. I know that look and it's not good.

The irony of it is, I saw the latest episode of this coming. Parents' evening was 2 weeks ago. She was really smiley then, but I told her, trouble was brewing - I have learned to recognise the early warning signs, but I don't think she took me seriously.

This time of year is a nightmare with Mark. The endless Nativity Play rehearsals which bore him rigid, the attacks of the wanties brought on by the proximity to Christmas, the appalling weather thwarting every opportunity to let him burn off some steam outside.

I can't do much about the triggers and I am so utterly fed up with having to cope with the outcome. And so we enter a spiral of negativity, at home and at school, that sweeps everyone along with it, miserable and clinging on for dear life.

The Autism Support Outreach worker is going in to school to observe him on Monday and the Sensory Processing Disorder lady on Tuesday. And on Thursday I am running away from it all to Bath with Hubby for a few days of pretending it's not our problem.

And then, just maybe, I can summon the energy and the insight to get us moving forward again. My newly framed print by Jen of Swallowfield is called 'I feel lucky'. Let's hope it's a talisman.

The 's' word

Today seems an appropriate day for a Euro-centric post (given that our American chums will be far too busy stuffing their faces with turkey and vegging out to read blogs - Happy Thanksgiving though guys).

Now, don't hate me, I know, we're crafting like mad and pledging ourselves to Handmade, but sometimes, shopping just has to be done. I used to try to spend my gift cash at my local independent toy shop. But I obviously didn't spend enough, because it closed down recently. So sad.

In looking further afield, I discovered a little online gem for the under 5 crowd, called Izziwizzi Kids. This contraption had Johnny's name written all over it. Monkey scales (if anyone comes up with a tutorial for handcrafting those, I'll eat my shorts).

The customer experience was great and best of all, they've let me give all my chums £5 off. So if you want a money off code, let me know your e-mail. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone you are spending money on illicit manufactured pleasures.

Happy shopping (sorry, the 's' word again).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Preparations 4 - Rubber Stamp

It's been a while since I carved a rubber stamp - I forgot how fun and quick a process it is. The only thing is, I didn't really intend to make Santa look like a wino. Although with HIS to-do list, He'd be forgiven for hitting the bottle at this time of year.

If you want to have a go, here is the tutorial which got me started.
Perhaps I'd better have a cup of tea and re-group. This is my new seasonal favourite - even the box is uplifting.

My photos look pants today - sorry, its just so dark and wet and miserable. Natural light? Chance would be a fine thing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Preparations 3 - Salt dough

*****Edited to add some important painting info*****

Christmas Fair time rolls round again - next Saturday I'll be up to my eyeballs in some kind of crafty endeavour with a zillion clamouring primary schoolers.
Thought we'd have a go at salt dough Christmas ornaments. But a trial run with my resident assistants seemed to be in order.

Recipe: 2 parts flour to 1 part salt. Mix in some warm water to form a dough. Knead for 10 minutes until nice and smooth.

I had anticipated some freehand modelling, but it's harder to do than I had thought. Not sure the under 10 crowd would be too impressed, but my testers perked up when we broke out the Christmassy cutters. My inability to see a cute cutter without wanting buying it evidently has it's up sides!

I have a whole batch drying, so the punters on Saturday can paint one ready formed ornament and model one of their own to dry and decorate at home.

But I'm going to need a vat of hand cream afterwards, because a couple of hours dealing with desiccating effects of the dough has left me with lizard hands. Ick.

*** A couple of folks asked about painting these. I had planned to use Acrylics, but BIG word of warning - they don't work very well. I found out (luckily the night before the fair) that tempera/poster paints work much much better. Apologies for misleading you (and for raiding my boys' paint box)*****

Friday, November 16, 2007

Lurid cupcakes

There's no place for subtlety in the world of child-pleasing cupcakes. Bright is good, but lurid is better.

Cupcakes for Children in Need cake sale.

Mark had to go to school today, dressed as something he'd like to be when he grows up. Amidst a sea of firemen, pop stars, policemen and footballers, he stood out somewhat in his Daddy's tie. He's a Town Planner (I blame the Lego Corporation).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Preparations 2

With my big ball of string I can do anything,

anything, anything, anything at all.

Christmas cards in progress.

Life this week has been a bit like wading through treacle. The Dinosaur School (which goes on for the next 12 weeks) was a huge hit with Mark. Well pitched with lots of adult attention and activities he really enjoyed. He's looking forward to his session next Monday.

I can't say the same about the parents' group. I found it very difficult, sitting and sharing thoughts with people who are struggling with violent family members or getting the next meal on the table. It was heartbreaking and energy sapping and I dearly wish I didn't have to go back.

Reality is uncomfortable to face sometimes and the fact that I would rather not confront these people's realities makes me feel guilty. And over privileged.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Monkeying around

Just an hour taken out of this weekend to mooch round Albert Park,

pet the doggies who are out walking, scuffle through a few leaves

and explore the monuments.

Just to be peaceful and breathe. It did us all good.

This evening Mark and I are off to Dinosaur School. I think its a dressed up group therapy programme, to help kids understand their feelings and promote social competence. Oh, and a parenting course, which I am looking forward to about as much as a trip to the dentist. But trying to be all "rah rah isn't this fun" for Mark's benefit. Does anyone know of a big rock I could just go and hide under?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Preparations 1

Is it just me, or are all these 'Handmade for the holidays' tutorials, lists and gorgeous finished items stressing anyone else out? Don't get me wrong, I love them, I'm inspired by them but I'm breaking out into a cold sweat.

I'm going to have to sit down and bite the bullet of a serious 'to do' list. Though I have done the little gifts for Mark's teachers. We decided on coasters for their breaktime cuppa.

So Mark drew a design for each of them.

We scanned it and printed it out on the computer in mirror image. Then it was easy to trace over it with a heat set embroidery transfer pencil (amending the odd spelling hiccup and too-tricky-to-sew design element) and transfer it to a piece of linen.

The idea was for Mark to do a bit of the sewing, but I was having too much fun with the red linen thread to share.

And then we used Amy's instructions from 'Bend the Rules Sewing' to turn them into coasters.

Hopefully they will prevent mug mix-ups at morning break. And at least one item on the list has a tick next to it!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Just a cup of coffee

Anna was talking about cold brewed coffee the other day. It sounded good - less bitter, less dehydrating, so I thought I'd try a batch. No one mentioned the mess. All this for a cup of coffee:

Perhaps I could figure out a straining system that is a bit more washing-up efficient. No need to abandon the process just yet.

Then I tasted it - mmm good (once I'd figured out how much to dilute the concentrate).

I swear I just had one small cup, with oodles of hot milk but you would think I had been mainlining espressos all morning. Unbelievable caffeine hit - my heart is still beating faster than normal. Too much coffee makes me jabber incessantly. My poor friend called me post-coffee and 45 mins later I was still bending her ear. Perhaps I'd better try again with decaf.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

New seasons

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.
Henry David Thoreau

Giving in (reluctantly) to the reality that cold weather has arrived.

The car has needed de-icing on two mornings already and I'm very glad that I brought my Jade trees in from their summer holiday outdoors when I did.

They are also known as Money Plants and they are meant to attract wealth - or so the Feng Shui
experts suggest. One of the few bits of Feng Shui information I ever retain is the importance of shutting your toilet lid, or else your good luck goes down the pan. Fat chance of implementing that one in this house. It would be a miracle if I could get the boys to remember to raise and lower the seat appropriately.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Plan, schman

Don't worry, I've got some new shower gel. Everything's going to be just fine.

And just to clear one thing up, I have no intention of stopping blogging. I feel nothing but gratitude for the tremendous friendship and warmth that this community of ours provides. I love the sense that you are never alone. Whatever you're feeling or going through, there are souls out there who've been there. And they share their thoughts, experience and wisdom freely.

And besides, who else am I going to show my new red boots to at 10 o'clock on a Sunday night?

Bugger the plan, let's go shopping!

Friday, November 02, 2007

What's the plan, Stan?

When we first got married, a wise Professor of Hubby's told us that we should always have a 5 year plan. A written record of where we would like to be 5 years from now. Given this advice came from someone who managed to achieve a Knighthood during the course of his life, we took heed. And it became an annual tradition for many years - we would sit together and over several glasses of wine produce our route map.

Life plans.

And the funny thing is, when I look at the plans from 1994, much of what we wrote has come to pass. Yes, there are elements that have we have dropped (Third child? What was I thinking...), but we managed to get ourselves back to the UK, in a home of our own. Hubby did his MBA, I found a job I enjoyed, we started a family - so many things clicked into place.

But as we contemplate life from here on, the plans become harder to make. I knew right back then, that when we had children, I would want to be at home with them. But I'm filling in applications for Johnny's school place next September and I find myself acutely aware that a chapter in our lives is drawing to a close. A new page will be opening and I haven't the foggiest idea what to write on it.

Looking back, I see that my part in our life plan has often been in a supporting role. And I have loved doing that - I don't begrudge it in the slightest and I would do it again in an instant. The only thing is, after thirteen years of fitting myself around other elements of life, I am finding it almost impossible to know what what it is that I really want to do. Sometimes too much choice is a difficult thing.

And I worry, that blogging is somehow deferring the need to make some plans. There's a Japanese phrase 'giri-giri' which is hard to translate, but means something along the lines of 'working out of a sense of obligation, rather than to achieve anything in particular'. Sort of like Busy Work. And I wonder if my blog is giving me a false sense of achieving something with my life, when I'm not really.