Sunday, 30 December 2007

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Would you?

I went shopping today. As per usual I had to head back to the car before I was ready because my neck and arm were hurting. Got a bit of a long standing issue with my shoulder and carrying shopping bags exacerbates it.

I have no hesitations in using a shopping trolley when slinging one of the children. I've quite a nice black one not dissimilar to this one below. But, dare I use one when I'm NOT carrying a child?

Don't get me wrong. I already commit what is probably every style faux pas in the book. I'm a *literally crunchy* parent as opposed to a *trendy right-on crunchy* parent. I aim to brush my hair every day but it just doesn't always happen. Perhaps pulling a shopping trolley around town will make no difference? Just can't help thinking I'm the wrong side of forty (or perhaps I should say seventy) to be using one. Would you? Any style gurus with a practical streak willing to share their thoughts?

Friday, 28 December 2007

Reflections on Christmas

I was determined that Christmas would be more meaningful and less stressful this year. I think it was on the whole, but on reflection it still didn't quite strike the note I had hoped for.

We all had fun, gave and received beautiful gifts, ate lots of fine food and enjoyed the company of family and friends. Trouble was I also had this feeling that I just wished it was over and as per usual was in a great rush to take down the decorations on Boxing Day. Glad to see it come but almost happier to see it pass.

On reflection I think I felt that by spending less I was actually downsizing Christmas, paring away the excess and leaving something more meaningful behind. This wasn't so. I've discovered that the January bank balance is not a reliable indicator of the kind of Christmas you have had - although I am of course quite pleased that my bank balance will be healthier this January than in previous years!

It was probably well into November when I started giving Christmas much real thought this year. I knew I wanted to do things differently but by that time it seemed almost too late to start deviating far from the norm. I'm going to be more prepared this coming year.

I've added Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season by Jo Robinson to my Amazon Wish List (thanks to Mom Unplugged for bringing this book to my attention). I'm going to think about the spiritual aspect and what it means to me - and what it means to us as a multi faith household. I've started a list of ideas for home made gifts. I'm going to think about the stereotypical roles in the preparations for Christmas too - watch out Craig if you're reading this!

Despite downsizing the children still had lots of gifts. Hermione got a new bike, a pogo stick and some wheel heeled shoes. She was delighted with all of her gifts however that didn't change the fact that she spent much of yesterday running up and down the garden pulling a plastic bag tied to a piece of ribbon - a home made kite. Her joy and excitement with this was at least equal to that with anything which we had bought her.

Miles also received some wonderful presents and he played with all of them - but probably only for so long as he sat stuffing sweetcorn and turkey into half of a pulled cracker at the dinner table!

Lots to think about before next Christmas. Lots to think about generally. If possible I would like to keep all the qualities associated with the spirit of Christmas - joy, peace and warmth, and spread them throughout the year. Why should just one time be thought of as that of goodwill?

Thursday, 27 December 2007


There's nothing quite like a piece of cake to put a smile on every one's face around here. Probably because they are quite a rarity.

Since both of the children have allergies and multiple food intolerances buying cakes is almost always out of the question. There's almost always something in that one or the other shouldn't eat. Consequently I make my own and try where at all possible to include a veggie that the kids otherwise wouldn't eat. Some parents blend pasta sauces to hide veggies. My kids expect that I take it a step further!

Chocolate Courgette Loaf

170g of Green and Blacks dark chocolate
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
110g of caster sugar
225g of finely grated courgettes
175 ml of sunflower oil
2 medium eggs
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 180oC gas mark 4.
2. Grease and line a 1kg loaf tin.
3. Melt chocolate on a dry bowl over boiling water.
4. In one bowl mix all dry ingredients thoroughly then add the courgettes and mix again.
5. In another bowl mix together the eggs and oil. Add this to the dry mixture and finally stir in the melted chocolate.
6. Place in oven till cooked which in my experience seems to be anything from 50 - 65 minutes.

Another cake recipe which I quite like is this one for Chocolate Beetroot Cake. During the Second World War the government produced leaflets advising people of possible substitutes for rationed food. Beetroot was considered to be a substitute for chocolate (?!?!) and a recipe not dissimilar to the one below was suggested.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake

11oz cooked peeled beetroot
3 large eggs
3oz good cocoa
7fl oz sunflower oil
pinch of salt
7 oz caster sugar
6 oz flour
3 tsp baking powder

1. Mix beetroots, oil, eggs and salt in blender.
2. Mix remaining ingredients together and then fold them into the beetroot mixture.
3. Bake in a loose ring cake tin 150 C / 300F / gas mark 2 for about 50 mins or until a skewer comes out clean.

The beetroot cake is what I think of as a *grown up* cake. It is quite bitter sweet and may not appeal to all younger palates. My kids love it but then when it comes to cakes they have known no other than my home made creations. Bless them!

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Logs and stuff

A wee while ago I rediscovered a long lost recipe for Chocolate Courgette Loaf. This was a firm favourite with Craig before I misplaced the recipe about three years ago. I decided to use it to make our chocolate yule log.

All was looking good, that is until I took my eye off the ball to send out our email seasonal greetings. What followed was a technological nightmare combined with concerns about other peoples views on my choice not to send cards, choice of charities etc. (Mental note to self to make appropriate new years resolution about this sort of self doubting behaviour).

The stress was suddenly interrupted by the smell of burning. Pulled log quickly from oven to discover it was black on top and smoking slightly.

Managed to avoid frazzled weepy meltdown by convincing myself that it was nothing that a good trim and copious amounts of creamy icing could not fix. This put me in mind of a strange exchange I had with a good friend on the train to Edinburgh very early one morning a few years ago. We were on our way to a homeopathic fish and chip supper to celebrate the birthday of Hahnemann. Basically we concluded that your attitude to burnt baking is a good indicator of your mental well being. If you can chop off the offending parts then you are doing fine. If your chin begins to wobble and you dash for the cupboards to start over again perhaps it's time to take stock.

Every day this week I told myself that we would take a walk out and find a log for Yule. It didn't happen though so Hermione selected one from the wood pile instead and we warmed it by the fireplace all day.

The house is now as dressed and decorated as it's going to be.

On Friday night we burnt our log in a room lit by candles and fairy lights having earlier eaten the cleverly disguised burnt log of the chocolate variety. We sipped warm spiced cider and tried to work out by how much the days get lighter each day now. Must google that some time and find out who's guestimation was closest.

Over the weekend we have visited the theatre to see a dismal production of A Christmas Carol. All slap stick clap trap, hysteria and flatulent children (the worst offender being mine I think). Not a pleasant afternoon. Only ear muffs and a gas mask could have improved it.

Also got round to taking a wander in our local country park. The pond was frozen and the ducks comical.

I think that will be it for me this side of Christmas. We have lots of visitors over the next couple of days. I'm hoping to find time to curl up and read the first book in the Ringing Cedars series which was a special gift from a good friend on Friday - that could be me just being overly optimistic though.

I hope that you all enjoy much peace, happiness and joy. I'll think of you all as I hang up my stocking which I'm hoping to find full of love, light and a swimming costume with legs (and possibly short sleeves) in time for my holiday in a few weeks time.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Clove pomanders, crazy conversations

I had an odd conversation with Craig this morning.

Claire - I've done all the food shopping and bought all of the presents but I don't feel I have enough little bits to go in the kid's stockings. Could you pick up some stocking fillers today?

Craig - OK, you want me to do that today huh? When are they for?

Please say it's not just me who finds that bizarre on the 21st of December? It's the season of goodwill so I'm going to resist the urge to make a sexist comment.

We've since been busy making orange and clove pomanders and they smell wonderful!

Thursday, 20 December 2007


..roasting by an open fire.

Shame no one would actually eat them!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

More stuff

A bit of a catch up on the last few days.

After the usual 'will it won't it' conversation we realised that once again the Christmas tree would not fit in the hall. Attempts at putting it up have left sappy marks on the ceiling which will have to be painted in January *sigh*.

Ten minutes later, with a good eighteen inches or so chopped off the top, it was up. Hurray!

We decided to leave the decorating till Miles was in bed, the least attention drawn to the baubles the better I thought. The rest of the day seemed to pass in a whirl of teifoc building, tea parties and book shopping.

With Miles sleeping soundly it was time to crank up the Christmas tunes, nibble mince pies and sip ginger wine while we all unravelled lights and strung baubles.

Hermione and Lily have spent time messing in the garden. Miles has been out too which is surprising for him these days as he seems to hate the cold.

We have made bird feeder baubles and pine cones. Miles sat up for well over an hour making them. He particularly seemed to enjoy spreading the lard on the cardboard. Hermione and Lily had enough after a while but Miles wouldn't leave the table till the lard was all gone!

My plans to do more 'work' with Hermione this week have fallen by the wayside. She has been to three Christmas parties within the last week and there is another on Friday. All in all things are just too hectic. Time to just go with the flo I think. We have finished reading What Katy Did and made a start on Mary Poppins.

I have stayed home for days awaiting the arrival of the kids new shoes. I didn't want to be out when the parcel came and then have to find the sorting office and so on. They finally arrived this afternoon. The children having new shoes wouldn't usually be a blog worthy event but I'm very excited about their new handmade made to measure shoes and Hermione has asked that I put pictures on here to make sure Auntie Helen sees them. Unfortunately they had been out in the garden before I had a chance to quickly snap them. Nothing looks new for long around here!

Also, within the last week Miles has had his first ever haircut. No more wispy fluffy hair round here. Feeling rather sad about that. Also, today was the first day he went happily into a pram. I'm not into prams at all. I tried Miles in one a couple of times when he was weeks old and it didn't go well. I've not tried since. We've just bumbled along with our slings, pouches and hip seat. I've been having trouble with my back recently though so Soo let me use her old pram today and he liked it. Another big change. No carries and no wispy hair. He'll be making cups of tea next. Todays brew was Pukka Love, my current favourite.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Bonking bunny

The usual seasonal irritations such as not being able to find the end on the sellotape have been over shadowed round here by our rabbits new occupation.

He seems to have sussed that it is the season of good will and is attempting to spread joy amongst the hens all bloody day.

If one more meal time is ruined by Hermione jumping up from the table and running round and round whooping with laughter, shrieking about Prinlges 'doing the conga' with Fanjio, Omlet or Henrietta one more time I'm sure I will scream.

The hens don't seem perturbed.The rabbit looks happy albeit a little frustrated. Hermione thinks it's excellent that the animals are 'dancing'. Perhaps I'm being a spoil sport but I'm sick of it. All in all I think there's something rather unsavoury about a rabbit and hen doing 'the conga' along the deck all day.

Suggestions anyone?

Monday, 17 December 2007

Wool Unplugged

Combining festive fever and the Weekly Unplugged Project we came up with a woolly snowman and angel this week.

Friday, 14 December 2007


Try as he might Craig couldn't seem to convince Hermione that there was not enough snow for a sled ride this morning. Actually there wasn't any snow, just very thick frost which hasn't moved from most of the back garden for days.

We completed our Yule scene today. A couple of little animals in a sparkly forest, looking up at the sun (a gold sprayed acorn), awaiting the return of it's strength.

I'm not certain what to do next week. Part of me feels that I should pack up the books and leave things till the new year now, but another part of me feels that we should carry on. We generally spend less than an hour a day doing anything with any kind of structure and we both enjoy it. I know it sounds corny but it just isn't like 'work.' It's a pleasure not a chore.

I've ordered some back issues from Horrible Science and Aquila magazine. Looking forward to their arrival.

Off to string cranberries and popcorn. Must check those orange slices drying in the airing cupboard too. Oh, tis the season to be frivolous la la la la la.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

The Boy Who Grew Flowers

Today Hermione and Nana went to see a production called The Boy Who Grew Flowers performed by Kazzum Children's Theatre Company. They enjoyed it. It had been a short production at not even an hour long, but they were very enthusiastic about it when they came home.

We carried on chatting about Yule. We read a story adapted from a Cherokee tale of creation. It tells of how the sun rewarded some trees with evergreen foliage because they stayed awake and awaited his return, while other trees dropped their leaves and slept.

We decided to go out into our garden and check out what evergreen and what deciduous trees we have. We have no mature evergreen trees so we concentrated on shrubs instead. Hermione was armed with the camera and has now photographed virtually every shrub we have - they all came within one or other of the categories we were talking about!

We made a start on creating our Yule scene. We just managed to do the ground work today - a thick coat of green paint on an Amazon delivery box and four toilet roll inner tubes. Hopefully we'll finish it tomorrow.

A comment about our wreaths set me thinking that I very rarely do anything crafty these days even though I enjoy it a lot. So, last night I made three little fabric Christmas trees. I found it really relaxing. We may well end up with a forest of fabric trees soon.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007


We have looked at the history and some of the traditions surrounding Yule over the past couple of days.

We started by discussing how years ago people believed that when the days grew shorter in winter they had to actually *do* something to make the sun come back. 'The Winter Solstice' by Ellen Jackson explains many of the ancient customs well.

We looked at a Scottish family bathing in water into which they had dropped burning coals. They believed this would keep evil spirits away at this dark time.

We looked at how some ancient people performed elaborate rituals in which they dressed as animals or birds.

We talked about Stonehenge where huge stones were placed together to frame the setting sun on the day of the Winter Solstice.

We looked at the Scandinavian great Yuletide feast.

We talked about how fire and light were a big part of many people's ceremonies at this time of year.

We went on to discuss how we now know that the sun will come back without our intervention. It is part of the seasons. We conducted a little experiment to help us understand how this happens.

We drew a circle around a large orange. This represented the equator. We then made a cross approximately where our country is. We stuck a cocktail stick into the top and bottom of the orange and headed off to a dark room with the orange and a torch. Hermione shone the torch at the orange as I slowly spun it round, illustrating how day and night comes about. I then tilted the orange to one side trying to replicate the angle it is at this time of year. We could see clearly then how most of the light fell upon the area south of the equator (currently having summer) while up at the top there was little light.

We read 'Rebirth of the Sun' from 'Raising Children in Goddess Traditions' by Starhawk, Diane Baker and Anne Hill. A lovely story in my opinion, in which the sun and moon are personified.

A friend called round with a Lady of the Light Crown she had made today. Wonderful. An excellent centre piece for our kitchen table!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

You keep on knocking...

..but you can't come in!

It's nothing out of the ordinary to glance over to the window and see a hen staring in at you here, they are very curious creatures.

However, today Pringles our free ranging bunny decided to indulge in a spot of people watching too. I suspect he was looking for food as there was a thick frost first thing.

We strung our scented decorations today. They don't look particularly decorative but they smell wonderful. I thought about painting them but that may contain the fragrance. We made them by mixing three quarters of a cup of apple sauce, a teaspoonful of ground cloves, a cup full of mixed spice and two tablespoonfuls of glue. Mixed it together, rolled it out and cut it into shapes. Left it to dry out for a couple of days.

We started looking at the history and traditions surrounding Yule today, and hope to continue tomorrow, but we have haircuts in the morning and a party in the afternoon so I may be being over optimistic there.

Monday, 10 December 2007


This morning Hermione made a 'nature wreath' in keeping with this weeks unplugged project. A strange concoction of animal prints and cut out holly leaves bearing words which symbolise nature for her.

This afternoon we went for a walk and collected some holly which Nana transformed into this lovely wreath.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Willow dome

The weather took a remarkable turn for the better today so we made an early start on the dome.

Here it is. I'm delighted with it. Only hope it takes root and flourishes.

Couldn't have done it without Soo who was a great help - particularly with the mallet. I think she liked that bit best - particularly when she hit my arm *grin*.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Lantern Parade etc

The weather's been bleak with sleet and snow but it hasn't stopped us - we've had a rather busy day today.

Hermione came home from music academy this morning with a clarinet. It belongs to the academy but she can now have use of it as long as she is attending academy and making progress. She is finding it much easier to play than the sax and has played it lots today. My head has throbbed at times but I've tried my best to look very appreciative and not dampen her enthusiasm.

This afternoon we (myself, Nana and Hermione) went to collect the willow to make our dome. The man who has kindly given it to us lives about fifteen miles away. When we got there it was snowing hard and we realised we were inadequately clad to be clambering around an allotment gathering willow in a blizzard. We finally concluded we had as much as we could possibly manage in the car and struggled to find a way to make the part sticking out of the front window safe. We drove the fifteen miles home in driving sleet and snow with the window open. Nana was adamant that we avoid anything which could be a bus route as she was worried that we may skewer someone standing at a bus stop with our willow overhang. Finally made it home. Just hoping the weather brightens up a little tomorrow so I can make a start.

This evening we went to the Lantern Parade at Hartlepool Marina. Despite the fact that Hartelpool has recently been voted as one of the worst places to live in England, we were quite impressed with their Christmas Festival - once we found it and managed to get parked that is!

There were carol singers, a snow machine, men dressed up as Santa behaving rather bizarrely with what I think was a role of carpet, two fairies pushing a huge Christmas pudding on wheels plus lots of the usual food stalls and such likes.

We also saw jugglers...

...and marched (very briefly) behind the jazz band.

I had expected there to be more boats illuminate There were just odd ones here and there with lights on. Very pretty al the same.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Grace Darling

I thought that we would watch a dvd today, a title which I rented from Amazon about traditional Spain and it's customs. Thankfully I previewed the programme which was just as well as it was ghastly. Bullfighting was hailed as a most valiant sport and the best thing to ever come out of Spain. That was enough for me. I couldn't watch the rest. It was in the post box back on it's way to Amazon first thing this morning.

So, on a last minute whim we decided to revisit The Little Red Lighthouse which we read last week and also read the story of Grace Darling from 'Britannia - 100 Great Stories from British History' by Gerladine McCaughrean and Richard Brassey. Hermione enjoyed it. We both quite like this book. The stories are short, ranging from a couple of pages to half a dozen or so pages. Child friendly history in small bite size chunks. Lovely colour illustrations too.