Wednesday, 31 December 2014

happy new year

Glass Star - Plümo Ltd
image from plumo
New Year's Eve. Love it or loath it? I'm in the latter camp, I'm afraid. I don't like crowds, I'm not good at parties, I hate forced jollity and that whole countdown thing leaves me cold. Don't get me wrong I won't be sitting at home in the dark wishing it would go away. No, I'm going to light every single candle in the house, cook something lovely for us, enjoy a special bottle of wine and then wish it would go away. Happy New Year!

Sunday, 28 December 2014


Post Christmas bliss - homemade sloe gin, Stilton & crackers, sister-in-law's chutney and enamel hot chocolate/coffee pot (a favourite gift) and the peace to enjoy it all...

Tuesday, 23 December 2014


image from pinterest

So here we are the night before Christmas Eve. All is as calm as it can be in a house with three young boys. Presents are wrapped, the cake is iced (this in itself is a miracle), the turkey and ham arrive tomorrow, friends will come for brunch and we will spend Christmas Eve at home with the air fizzing with excitement and expectation. Bedtime will come soon enough and we will hang the stockings and read A Child's Christmas in Wales and 'Twas the Night before Christmas together on sofa and then finally, finally their sleepy heads will rest on their pillows and the rest is magic... Wishing you a Merry Christmas...

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas wreath

Yesterday the sun came out so the dogs and I took a walk around the lanes to forage a bit of ivy for the Christmas wreath. Funny how the dogs are willing accomplices and the children are not. They enjoyed their amble, sticking their noses deep into the hedgerows and I enjoyed the sun on my face and watching the crows flinging themselves around the blustery sky. Back home I snipped the last few hydrangea heads and some greenery from the garden and then spent a blissful few minutes out by the back door weaving the ivy and the flower heads together to create our wreath. This is one of my favourite Christmassy things to do...I love the faded dusty pink of the flowers, the shiny lusty green of the ivy and the euphorbia and that touch of silvery grey from the stachys. Yes, the Christmas wreath reminds us there's no beginning, no ending, life growing and fading, we would do well to remember that.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

precious days

These are the precious days- the last few, when all the preparations will come together with hopefully no stress. We have shopped local (for the most part) this year so most of our present buying is done. It's time to slow down and enjoy the moments as they happen. I light the candles early in the morning - it helps against the winter gloom and their light casts shadows from an early-opened Christmas present (dear friend, you chose well!). The boys are nearly beside themselves with excitement and yesterday we kicked off our holidays with a trip to The National Concert Hall to see The Snowman performed by their orchestra. There was live puppet animation by Matthew Robins- it was just beautiful with intricately cut paper puppets and, of course, there were lots of carols and Christmas songs which we all joined in with. We bought paper cones of fantastic maple and pecan popcorn from the vendors at the side of St. Stephen's Green and enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle of people as we strolled through the park. Today we are at home with nothing more pressing on the agenda than making pancakes and having a family movie night. These are the precious days.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

rain stops play

Simple beauty.
image from pinterest
Oh heck! We were supposed to go up the lane, the boys and I, after school to go foraging for holly and ivy for our wreath. At three o'clock when I collected them from school the rain was pit-pattering and now, an hour later it's pouring down and it's dark. There's nothing for it then - light the fires, light the candles, draw the curtains and wait until tomorrow...

Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas traditions

breakfast time
breakfast time by Becca Stadtlander

This is going to sound daft but I do love a good breakfast! Hot coffee is a must, cream is an optional extra, porridge with brown sugar, toast with marmalade or honey. Weekend breakfasts might include buttermilk scones, pancakes with maple syrup, homemade granola or sometimes eggs and bacon. We've a lovely pre-Christmas tradition of inviting friends for brunch on a morning as close to Christmas day as possible. We'll have something sparkling and bubbly to drink, cinnamon poached plums with greek yogurt, smoked salmon with eggs and, in a starring role, plum duff fried in butter and served with smoked bacon, this is possibly the best breakfast of all with the clatter of excited children and the laughter of friends around us making us feel very lucky indeed.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

winter reading

In between playing dinosaur matching games and making Christmas glasses with the boys (paper glasses that when you put them on you think of Christmas.... like you need paper glasses to do that, ha!) I've been sneaking in a bit of reading. And this beautiful little book is perfect- a spooky story with a deeper message and to be honest quite the prettiest snowflake cover (I know, I know books and covers and all that). I've also got A Winter Book by Tove Jannson lined up (short stories, perfect for fireside delving) and How to Run your Home without Help by Kay Smallshaw,  a birthday gift from my husband, which was apparently not intended as a hint.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014


So here's the thing. We have been without the internet for some time...why does it seem like weeks, it's only been a matter of days... And apart from the stress of having to go to friends' houses and the library to work I have to admit it was quite nice not to have it. In the meantime there has been much Christmassy activity here. We have decorated the house from top to toe - lots of sparkling lights and holly and the tree is a most welcome addition to our home. We had a big family lunch with lots of visiting babies and got a mammoth job finished in the garden in time for planting in the Spring. We are looking forward to Christmas day itself but the countdown is so exciting, don't you think...and there's plenty more fun to come!

Monday, 1 December 2014

beginning to look a lot like...

Halley's Comet Postcards, 1910
It's the beginning of December. A starry, Christmassy month scented with cinnamon, spices and tree sap. A month of preparations and tinsel, glitter and baking and yes, a certain amount of dashing around. We are certainly getting in the Christmas spirit. The Advent calendar is up (same as last year) and we'd a mammoth cake baking session at the weekend. Five cakes later we are feeling slightly sultanaed out. The sloe gin is nearly ready to be decanted and given as gifts and Santa lists have been written. Today the boys arrived home with their Christmas cards- drawn by them and then printed (as part of a school fund-raising project) they feature those well known festive characters - Wally walrus, Santa's er, lighthouse and camels, as well as a Christmas cat. Anyway I know it's easy to get frazzled by all the fuss and bother, but really this year I'm planning to enjoy every single second of it. The boys are at lovely ages where Christmas is so magical and I know that doesn't last forever. Happy Decembering!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


~Espaliered apple tree...
image from pinterest

Oh, it's good to have plans. We walked around the garden the other day talking and day-dreaming when we had one of those rare moments of clarity and a plan was hatched. A plan to plant a small potager garden, within the garden. A plan to build raised beds. A plan to grow vegetables. A plan to eat what we grow. And yes, it's good to have plans that are positive and life affirming and involve work and toil and ourselves. For so long I've wanted to grow some (at least) of our own food and for so long I've said the garden was too small, what with three boys and all. But think of all they'll learn too, if we grow our own. Think of the good food in their tummies. Oh yes, we have a plan and it's a good one.

Sunday, 23 November 2014


This evening light is fading fast. Today was one of those sunny November days, the type of day with the light at just the right level to highlight all our grubby windows. So I washed them all, inside and out, and now each glance outwards is through clean glass. I am ridiculously pleased by this. It's the little things, as Kevin says.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

winter reading

There is nothing better on a cold winter's night than hatching down by the fire and reading. It is especially good if:
a. there are no distractions i.e. all children are tucked up asleep
b. you have a (large) glass of red wine beside you
c. someone has thoughtfully filled the log basket -you merely have to stretch (a little) to throw another log on the fire
d. you have some well chosen, possibly even seasonal reading matter. Oh, I do like a book with a house plan! This one involves a country house party (tick), relatives with motives (tick), Santa Klaus (tick) and murder...
e. after a decent interval someone arrives bearing a tray laden with tea/chocolate or port/cheese

Monday, 17 November 2014

five picnic at the castle

I know a great place to have a picnic, said Kevin. We were heading to Slieve Gullion for a walk and this place happened to be on the way. Castle Roche was just amazing - a massive, ruined Norman castle built on a high rocky outcrop with views over the most beautiful drumlin landscape. We picnic-ed in the interior and the boys whooped and ran about and declared it 'the best castle ever'. It certainly was somewhere The Famous Five would have had an adventure and we wondered who would be brave enough to camp there...Then it was on to Slieve Gullion for a walk in the November sun until it began to turn chilly and we headed for home.

Friday, 14 November 2014

happy weekend

House at Night, collage by Tirzah Garwood

Oh my goodness, I wish I had the energy and the focus to write something meaningful but I am tired and frankly, uninspired. This week has passed in a flash, the usual scurry of school and work, meetings, activities and anxiety (mine). So I'm simply going to wish you a happy weekend with this lovely collage by Tirzah Garwood. I love the night sky, the lit windows, the lacy curtains, the straight path, the symmetry and the fact that it looks friendly, comfortable and safe.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

winter time

It's winter. Time to snuggle up in something woolly...
...grind the beans and make the coffee...
...make something yummy for dinner...
...and keep warm by walking the dog. Or the penguin...

Fabulous drawings by Japanese artist Yusuke Yonezu and thanks to the Jealous Creator for leading the way.

Monday, 10 November 2014

tree planter

Sometimes in the midst of busy family life you only get to read snatches of books, a paragraph or two before your attention is drawn to something else. But this weekend I revisited an old friend in its entirety. I first read The Man who Planted Trees by Jean Giono years and years ago. It's short- barely 40 pages but it sure packs a punch. It tells the story of simplicity and hope, resourcefulness, courage and patience and is beautifully illustrated throughout with wood engravings by Michael McCurdy. In this world of noise it is a joy to glimpse peace.

For a human character to reveal truly exceptional qualities, one must have the good fortune to be able to observe its performance over many years. If this performance is devoid of all egotism, if its guiding motive is unparalleled generosity, if it is absolutely certain that there is no thought of recompense and that, in addition, it has left its visible mark upon the earth, then there can be no mistake.
The Man who Planted Trees Jean Giono

Thursday, 6 November 2014


In the Garden by Sigrid Hjertén
The postman brought 'The Persephone Biannually' yesterday. Oh it's so good to sit by the fire on this dark, dank November evening and read of their Autumn/Winter books, ticking off the ones to order (gardeners have their autumn seed catalogues, I have my read catalogue) but it's also full of lovely drawings and paintings, short stories and book reviews. I love the list of events on the back cover...wouldn't it be lovely to go their showing of the 1945 film They Knew Mr Knight (on the 19th November if you're in London) or what about the Christmas Open Day...I doze in front of the fire and dream Persephone dreams

Monday, 3 November 2014




My favourite time of the day- that cobalt sky as evening falls, the moon glowing, the hustle and bustle as the birds roost. I walk the dogs a little way from home, they sniff the wintry air and the hill echoes with the sounds of the cows bellowing in the fields. It's chilly but I know that I'll go back indoors to the warmth of the log fires where the children, happily watching a birthday DVD, have tummies full of birthday cake. Not for the first time I count my blessings.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

town and country

Oh, November you can be a little dull and frankly my dear, a touch dreary. You don't have the golden leaves of October nor the sparkling promise of December. But fear not November, you do have the wonderful Emily Sutton's 'Town and Country' in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park right bang smack in the middle of this month.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014


dark blue paint bedroom walls
image from Pinterest
The change in time along with some truly wet and dark mornings has left us a little confused. Asleep in front of the fire at 9pm, wide awake at 6am although perhaps the drumming rain has something to do with that...The boys too are fuddled. Mide finished his lunch yesterday, slid down from his chair and announced he was off for a nap, like some old chap. And he did just that. Tucked himself up in his bed, blanket firmly wrapped around himself and he snoozed for over an hour. I am just very glad that it's school holidays and if anyone wants a mid day sleep it can be done. I am also glad that I am totally lazy parent. School holidays are not for filling up every last minute with 'achievements' or even 'experiences'. No, they are for slow mornings. Playing. Maybe meeting friends. And sleeping, if needed.

Friday, 24 October 2014

happy weekend

A City Garden
A city garden by James McIntosh Patrick

We are here again, Friday. The weekend stretches out like a lazy cat, all as yet unspent, all to look forward to. And we have the added pleasure of Hallowe'en break from school. As these mornings darken and it's so much harder to wake and get out of bed and get the day started, it will be nice to have a few days where there is no pressure and if another half hour slumbering is needed, then so be it. Yes, October days are shortening and darkening, leading us to winter and the need to nestle in. I'm nothing like the busy artist's wife with her laundry drying on leafless trees- she's making good use of her autumn days! I do like the light in this painting, exactly right for this time of year. Happy weekend!

This weekend I'd like to make these cupcakes, read more of The Little Friend and try this recipe from the always delicious Green Kitchen Stories

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

recipe :: sloe gin

On this wild and windy day, a recipe to keep out the cold. Sloe gin is a favourite- it's lovely with cheese after a meal or to warm you up if you're out winter sporting or walking. It also makes a perfect Christmas gift. I use Sarah Raven's recipe from her Garden Cookbook.

For about 800ml:
450g sloes
710ml gin
350g caster sugar

Making sure the sloes are dry and clean, prick them all over with a fork** and put into a large sterilised kilner jar along with the gin and sugar. Close the jar tightly and turn it every so often until all the sugar has dissolved. Leave it in a dark place for 3 months and then strain into warm sterilised bottles and seal.

** or put them in the freezer for the same effect

Saturday, 18 October 2014

gathering in

This month is a good time to do some gathering. The two smaller boys and I walk up the lane in search of sloes. The day is heavenly- blustery with fallen leaves eddying at our feet but it is warm and the skies are blue. Leaves are picked up, examined and discussed as we make our way along and the boys play lion and zebra, taking turns to be the hunter and hunted.

We walk to the top of the lane and then pass through the overgrown hedges and come out onto an old track or lane-way. The sloes are plentiful. I improvise a basket out of my scarf and we start picking. William wants to pick them all but I say no, take some and leave some for other animals.

We're like apes, says William as his little hands dart in around the thorny branches. Yes, yes we are, I reply. Although I'm pretty sure the apes wouldn't be making sloe gin with their fruit, like I'll be doing with ours.