A sticky situation

IMG_1727There are new pets in our household. Son Number One finally got his Christmas present – some stick insects. I took the plunge and ordered a kit containing five young insects from an online shop. It is quite strange to receive a parcel in the post labelled ‘Live Insects’. Unfortunately we were not at home to accept delivery when they arrived. It is a testament to my elderly neighbour that she was not in the least bit fazed when the post man asked her to take care of our parcel.

We’ve had them for two weeks and so far our six little stick insects (did they put another one in in case of mortality en-route) have been surviving well. They are very easy care pets. Spray them every other day and make sure they have enough space and food (bramble leaves in our case) and they seem happy. I mean can’t you see a smile on that little face?IMG_1874They are still quite small but apparently will be 10cm long in six months. Tonight was the first time we have taken them all out and added fresh leaves. They are so light that you can barely feel them walking on your hand. I was a little nervous about the boys handing them, especially Babykins but he was very good and kept still. It is tempting to try to get hold of them, especially if they seem to be ‘escaping’ – they can move surprisingly fast when they want to. The best way of encouraging them to go where you want seems to be to get them to climb onto a leaf. You can then quickly move the leaf from their tank to their ‘holding pen’ (the original box they arrived in).

They may not be cute, fluffy or greatly in need of human company but they provide plenty of entertainment. ‘Spot the stick insect’ is a game I play at least twice a day. I rarely find all six of them, which is a little unnerving…

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Christmas Preparations: The Home Made Gift Challenge

homemadegiftchallenge1Yes, you read it right: Christmas Preparations.

I don’t really do New Years Resolutions. I know that my capacity for sticking with anything is minimal and actually, I’m pretty contented; there’s not much I want to change. This year though, I am making a plan. I want my Christmas gifts to be homemade in 2013. My New Years Resolution is to work on my preparations, creating at least one gift per month. With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about what I can make. My list so far includes:

1. Christmas Cakes or puddings.

2. Food or preserves hampers

3. Crochet items – scarves, handwarmers, shawls, bags, brooches, Christmas decorations

4. Flavoured liquers – I already have quite a bit of apple and bramble gin steeping. It should be delicious by next Christmas!

I can assure you, in the words of Jessie J that “It’s not about the money, money, money”. I think that in terms of the cost of the supplies required to make the gifts and the time, I probably won’t be much better off. It’s about the pleasure of giving. Each year I hate the stress of buying gifts. I’m hoping that creating them makes Christmas more enjoyable.

If you have any good ideas for home made gifts that can be made well in advance I’d love to hear them. Likewise if you’d like to join in my home made gift challenge and create something once a month, let me know.

Happy New Year

The night before…

Celebrating with old friends and lots of children; plenty of food, drink and sparkling lights.IMG_1375

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IMG_5872The day after….

Very much feeling like a socks and sofa kind of day. I feel slow, tired and not able to cope with much more than the gentle glow from a few candles. I hope 2013 is kind to everyone and that tomorrow I can summon up the energy to get my house back to normal.

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Happy Christmas

IMG_5698Happy Christmas everyone. I hope you are still enjoying the festive season.ChtiIMG_5813Christmas takes a lot of organising. I think I spent most of the weekend at my table wrapping. I am eternally grateful to my brother for taking my eldest two children out on Saturday and to my Mum for entertaining them for a big part of Sunday.

IMG_5819It’s not all hard work though. The Husband and I were able to enjoy a proper breakfast on Sunday as I wrapped gifts while still wearing my PJ’s.

IMG_1172As you can see, I found a fruit cake to decorate. It’s been wrapped up in a tin for a while (not sure why we didn’t eat it)  but it seems ok. On the 23rd The Husband and I had a busy night in the kitchen. Between us we made florentines, cranberry sauce, sweet pastry, special jellies and a batch of royal icing. Actually, I made the florentines, The Husband made the rest (and our supper). In my defence, florentines are very labour intensive and I did also manage to put a layer of almond paste on the cake.IMG_1167The next day, while I was out doing some last minute shopping with The Middle Miss, The Husband baked mince pies with Babykins and covered the cake in icing. I love a good snow scene. It’s completely in the spirit of Christmas – over the top in every way. We had so much icing left over he decided it would be a good idea to dab some on the mince pies.IMG_1171The jellies were made in our relatively new but very well used, tree shaped, silicon mould. I bought some lime jelly a week or two ago with this in mind… IMG_1173It worked well as a gluten-free pudding on Christmas day as well as treat for the children. Using the silicon mould worked really well. They all popped out easily without being dipped in hot water.

Father Christmas was good to us this year.

IMG_1175Our living room is still trashed from the present opening. I really should be sorting out all the piles of paper, plastic and cardboard ready for recyling. Instead it’s still stuffed into the biggest gift bag I had, cluttering up the corner of the room.
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My Mum’s house is probably tidy now but on the evening of Christmas day there was a big box full of waste paper in her living room too. As you can see, my children had a great time diving in it. They kept shutting themselves in the box so we teased them that we would parcel them up and ship them off to visit their Great Aunt in Canada. You can’t beat playing in a big box at Christmas.IMG_1261
I hope you had fun this Christmas.

How to make Eggnog

IMG_1150For those of you that asked, here’s how to do it.

Use pre-chilled ingredients for best results.

2 (4) small free-range eggs

60g (100g) caster sugar

a hefty pinch or a few good scrapings of nutmeg

a few drops (capful) of vanilla extract

200ml (400ml) double cream

150ml (300ml) milk – whole is best but we use semi-skimmed

80ml (300ml) dark rum (or to taste)

The amounts in brackets makes 2 1/2 pints which is probably the volume of our biggest measuring jug. You can see that the ingredients haven’t all increased by the same proportion. All I can tell you is that that is how The Husband makes it after lots of trial and error. I’m ashamed to say it never lasts long in our house.

In a medium bowl beat the eggs until they are very frothy. Add the sugar while whisking, then sprinkle in the nutmeg and vanilla, beating all the time. Pour in the cream, slowly, followed by the milk. When frothy, beat in the rum.

That’s it. Keep it in the ‘fridge and be aware of the use by dates on the ingredients you have used. Raw eggs are classed as a high risk food so be careful to only serve this to people who are in good health. You can minimise the risk of the eggs being infected by salmonella by buying lion branded eggs. IMG_6555

Christmas Traditions

All families have their own favourite Christmas traditions. Here are a few of ours (NB: if you are a family member you are hereby banned from reading any further or one of your Christmas surprises may be spoiled)…

Receiving cards that the children have made at school.

IMG_1149Bottling up eggnog. Do you like our special, patriotic 2012 Christmas tree?

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Wrapping ‘tree presents’. After Christmas dinner the fairies leave little gifts around the Christmas tree. They all come with a riddle-like clue attached and you have to try and guess what your gift is before you open it.

IMG_1152Making decorations for the top of the Christmas cake. I’ve been very lax with icing Christmas cakes in the last few years but tomorrow will see the creation of a full-on, traditional ‘snow-scene’.

IMG_1154Cranberries popping their skins in the process of becoming sauce

IMG_1156Baking florentine biscuits. It’s been a few years since I did this and my word, it is a faff. I think I have perfected the technique tonight after a lot of trial and error. Now I just have to dip them in chocolate and work out how to package them.

IMG_1163As I write this it is officially Christmas Eve. In about seven hours my children will wake up on the third most exciting day of their year (after Dec 25th and their birthdays). We have got a really busy day planned tomorrow and it will no doubt be a long one. However I think it will be a lot of fun. We’re going to the Panto, a trip that could well become another Christmas Eve tradition along with putting out a snack for Father Christmas.

I’d like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and to all hard-working parents, may the god of deep sleep be with your children tomorrow night!

Winter blues and the return of the Mojo

The start of December was mostly about being ill. First it was me. I think I had tonsillitis, an experience I am happy never to repeat. Then both the older children had what added up to a week off school between them, one with a vomiting bug and the other with the same symptoms as me. To finish it off, I got the vomiting bug, spent 32 hours in a darkened room and then passed it on to The Husband, who, as usual was barely been ill and refused to take any time off work. In this house, it’s the woman who gets the ‘man flu’.

All this illness definitely left me feeling grumpy and fed up. I could quite happily have given motherhood a miss for a few weeks. I was not feeling the joy at all. It’s horrible when you feel like that. I usually have a kind of certainty in the back of my mind that it won’t last forever. I know that it’s usually just the circumstances but still, it can make you worry. When motherhood is your day job and you feel like quitting, home is probably not the happiest place to be.

Fortunately, In the last week or two I seem to have got my mojo back. This also coincided with a pretty drastic haircut.IMG_5744I feel like a new woman. It’s had such an effect on me I’ve even been wearing lipstick!

I’ve got loads of stuff I want to post, mainly because I feel like this is a little family archive now. So, here it is. December’s fun and games in photos…

Generally I like this time of year. I’m happy to see the decorations go up…IMG_5614

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IMG_1040Turning on the lights is always a special moment. So far our cheap lights from Woolworths haven’t let us down. They must be 10 years old.

IMG_1048Every year there are a few new decorations on the tree. These were made by Son Number One and The Middle Miss. The robin and snowman were from kits and the glittery bauble was from school.

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I haven’t really got into Christmas baking mode yet. We still don’t have a Christmas cake though I have made quite a few of my favourite, easy crushed pineapple cakes, which are similar. Unfortunately we have either eaten them or given them as gifts. The Husband baked some fun, Christmas tree cakes for the children to take to the school cake sale and I have finally baked some mince pies but that is it. I think the lack of baking coincided with my lack of mojo.IMG_5621

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That’s not to say that the oven hasn’t been on. On the contrary, at one point it seemed it was hardly off! The children and I got stuck into making salt dough ornaments…IMG_5678
IMG_5725Now, this all sounds very lovely and crafty but I assure you it was more out of desperation that our playdough had all dried up than anything else. Salt dough is quick, cheap and easy to make, really, honest. You can find the recipe I used here, though I also like the look of this one if you fancy something more akin to playdough. I had quite a lot of salt dough left over so I decided to take it to the Bumps and Babies group that I run and see if any of the mums wanted to made a handprint with their baby. All the babies in this group are experiencing their first Christmas and I had this idea in mind….IMG_5782I think it turned out quite well, though I am slightly concerned that the dough was a bit wet and might never be completely dried out. My second batch was much better. I think, like pastry, if you can use the minimum amount of liquid to bind the ingredients together you will get the best result. You really need to get your hands into the dough early on so that you can judge this. The good thing about salt dough is that you can’t really overwork it, unlike pastry.

I had some fun making some (slightly modified) jolly holly and turning it into a decoration for my hat. I didn’t stiffen it though so it looks considerably more droopy now. The berries are made from little bells and I can hear them jangling every step I take. I don’t think anyone else can.

IMG_5653My Christmas gift shopping is complete now. I have made a bit more of an effort to shop outside the big supermarket chains and online retailers. I haven’t managed it completely but it’s had it’s up side. I managed to get an afternoon out to visit our local Christmas market one day when I was feeling pretty blue. It was very cold but the time out cheered me up.IMG_5637Father Christmas will be bringing some gifts from this stall though I don’t think they are in this picture.IMG_5776I was also lucky enough to have a day out last weekend with my Mum at the Bowes Museum Christmas Market. It was a great trip. There was out of town parking with a free park and ride on specially decorated vintage buses. There were all sorts of craft and food stalls. I actually parted with most of my cash in the museum shop and in Barnard Castle itself. The stalls were lovely but I don’t tend to buy much at crafty places because I know so many people within the family who knit and sew. I was taken with a stall selling rows of hooks made from upcycled old cutlery and I nearly parted with £80 (way more than I would normally even consider) for a set of framed Thomas the Tank Engine postcards. The park and ride buses stopped in Barnard Castle on the way back and I was very pleased to get the opportunity to shop. We drive through this town every time we visit the in-laws and I always want to get out and explore but we never have time. There are some lovely shops, it’s well worth a visit, especially if you like antiques and vintage.

This week has been mostly about the end of term; school parties and nativity shows and even a performance on the electric guitar by Son Number One. Of course, the end of term means something else I always look forward to….My BIRTHDAY. I’ve had a lovely day today sharing my mince pies with my friends, unwrapping presents and eating a big, home-cooked (by my Mum) chinese style meal with my family. Poor Mum, she wasn’t feeling very well today but she still gave me a party. What a star. Here is my collection of presents.IMG_5814Didn’t I do well?

If you have been celebrating the solstice today I hope you have been having a happy time. Anyway, at least the world didn’t end.