Friday, 28 February 2014

The Year in Books: February

Cor, snuck this post into February by the skin of my teeth!

February's book was Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell. It was pretty much a dead cert that I was going to enjoy it - I have yet to read a book of hers that I haven't loved. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and The Hand That First Held Mine are both up there in my list of favourite ever books.

The first page of Instructions for a Heatwave documents the 1976 drought act and the only permitted uses of water. There was a somewhat pleasing irony that I was starting to read it on a day when our city centre had been flooded, the bridge across the river had been closed due to the volume of water, and the local swan population were been revelling in their expanded waterways. No drought here.

Maggie O'Farrell has that magical knack of translating human relationships to the printed page. I think it's that aspect of her writing that I love the most. The way she captures sibling rivalry, marital harmony (or lack of) and perceptions of love.

Maggie O'Farrell often writes about family secrets, untold stories and dark pasts. Instructions for a Heatwave is no different. The story starts when Robert Riordan tell his wife he's just popping out to buy a newspaper. He doesn't come back. What follows is the rediscovery of the strength of family ties, the remembering of a shared history and a secret that has been kept for decades.

Because this book was so unputdownable, I sped through it, reading chunks at a time when I got a chance for a solo weekend breakfast. And finished it so quickly, I managed to start another book in February - Girl Reading by Katie Ward, picked up for pennies from the local charity shop. I'll write more on that next month...

Monday, 24 February 2014

Sunday tea

Many moons ago when I was small, Sunday tea was the norm.* Church in the morning, roast dinner for lunch and then scones, crumpets or English muffins for tea, eaten perched around the small coffee table in the front room. A few times I even remember using the long fork to make toast on the fire. In these memories it always seems to be winter - log fire, dark outside, Narnia on the TV. Cosy.

In my role as eldest child, I seem to have a desire to replicate many of my childhood experiences for my girl. And so, when we're organised enough, we have roast dinner at lunch time, and then a (sadly Narnia-less) smaller tea.

With a blueberry fiend for a daughter, American-style blueberry pancakes seemed a safe bet this week. Served with extra blueberries (her) and drizzles of warmed golden syrup (us), they were a bit of a treat before we started a new week.

Roll on the next Sunday tea - perhaps with a snow filled wardrobe, a street lamp and a talking lion next time though...

* I'm waiting for my mum to read this and tell me that we only ever ate tea like this a handful of times/that I've completely fabricated these memories. I hope not!

Sunday, 23 February 2014



Oh, you do make me laugh. You patted the chair and said "ub!". Then reached over to get the blanket and sat on the chair, oh so pleased with yourself.

Joining in over at Practising Simplicity.

21 months

Dear my favourite girl,

21 months old. Coo. You're getting more decisive, more independent, funnier, and if it's possible, even sweeter of face. We're having so much fun. I feel very, very lucky that I get to spend my days with you. Your second birthday looms ever nearer - when people ask how old you are now, I find myself saying "nearly two". How did we get there already?

At 21 months old you are...

Baby (still. Great Grandma's knitting needles have been busy and she now wears booties, a hat and vests. The excitement in your voice when you see her in the morning is so infectious), dogs, cats, birds, blueberries, hats, wearing your wellies, roast dinners, hiding down the side of the chest of drawers/behind the curtain, sitting on the sofa in the conservatory reading gardening books, walking to the park, reading Oh No George!, The Baby's Catalogue, the cat book, and anything Shirley Hughes, making cups of tea for mummm and dada, skyping manma and daada, sitting in your new booster seat, wearing your (mum's) scarf, playing with the waterbeads, playing the matching game, doing the sleeping bunnies song, making the squirty dogs eat your knees when you're in the bath, getting into mumm and dada's bed, having your hair brushed, putting beads on pipe cleaners, running, and being spun round and round/making yourself go round and round.

Not liking: Going in the pushchair when you want to walk, having your hands washed after tea, having your nappy changed.

Favourite words: mummm  dada, down, deddy, baybeeee, gone, bah (bunny), baa (sheep), brmmm, shoes, keys, cheese, zip, drink, swing, zzzz (bee buzz), raa raa (the noisy lion, but has come to mean all things tv!), round and round, maooo (cow), bubub (bubbles), bang!, ball, bowl, tea, tree, dihdih (digger), titch, stih (sticker), nee-nah, train, choochoo, meeoowwww, nee-nah, scheeee (sleep), bee bees (blueberries), big, grrrr (yes!), mohhhh (no), jeeee (green, or any other colour), manma (grandma), daada (grandad), dar (star), bobper (popper or bubble), bees (beads), been (spoon), Gggge (George), Bibby (your friend), Ub (up), nam nam nam (eating).

You seem to be picking up more words at a rate of knots at the moment. I'm very glad I'm trying to keep a record of your chattiness, it's so interesting to look back on (for me anyway!) 

Friday, 21 February 2014

This Week: February #4

I seem to be neglecting this little corner of the internet of late. Popping in for the weekly posts, but nothing more. There are lots of half-started drafts that are currently lurking, unread. I must let some of them see the light of day soon.

This week has been full of lovely distractions. A visit from Manma and Daada (aka Grandma and Grandad, if you don't speak toddler) was a very exciting time for a certain little one. Sunday lunch at the local pub, a wander around the cathedral, finally getting some shelves up, seeing a beautifully bright double rainbow, and a trip to Hanbury Hall were just some of the things that have kept us busy and away from the laptop.

Running in the cathedral / waiting /  double rainbow (look closely, you can see where it ends... / a shelfie (now need to fill those frames with photos).

Today is less exciting - there's scaffolding going up around our house for some much needed roof repairs (the damp patches on the bedroom walls are growing every time it rains; such are the joys of old houses) so I'm flinching slightly with every crash and bang. We've had a happy morning pottering around the house though - tidying up and catching up on those little jobs I always mean to do. We've also been packaging up a parcel full os distractions for a friend whose husband is undergoing spinal surgery next week. Things like that really make you count your blessings. We've also discovered the magical things that are water beads. A washing up bowl full of the tiny, bouncy balls is the perfect thing to keep a slightly whingy toddler occupied for ages it seems.

Water beads - running my hands through them is quite addictive / playing in the watery light marks on the wall - one of my favourite photos of her, ever

Tomorrow looks to be dry and sunny so we're heading out on a road trip to Cheltenham for a mooch round the shops and a burger here. Hoping for a rummage in the charity shops too... Hope you all have a happy weekend.

Saturday, 15 February 2014



Early morning duplo-playing with Daddy as the rain pours down outside. (Plus wearing a new-to-her dress - over the top of her other clothes!)

Joining in over at Practising Simplicity.

Friday, 14 February 2014

This Week: February #3

A week of weather extremes: sheets of rainwater and then glorious sunshine. We've either been hibernating or spending every available dry moment outside.

This week:

A rare evening out with my love.

Little curls.

The first crocus.

Late afternoon sunshine making the peacock feather sparkle.

Bringing a bit of spring inside.

A charity shop find that just had to come home with us.

The floodwater seems to be slowly receding. Slowly.

Tune of the week: I need my girl by The National. Just beautiful.

P.S. Happy Valentine's day! x

Sunday, 9 February 2014



Wrapped up warm and cosy against the bitter wind blowing round these parts. That scarf suits her more than it ever suited me. We were out for a wander to see how the river was doing. (Verdict: very, very high. The only bridge to the other side of town was closed while we were out).

Joining in over at Practising Simplicity.

Friday, 7 February 2014

This Week: February #2

Morning sunshine streaming through windows. Since having the (old, heavy and very filthy) secondary glazing removed last week, the house seems so much brighter. Being able to open the windows (some of which have never been opened since we moved in over 2 years ago...) on sunny days makes everything fresher.

New greenery has been added this week too. Bargain narcissi plants in bud, old roses softening round the edges, and a new house plant for the mantel.

A new frame for an old print (it's actually wrapping paper). Staying in and reading stories. Getting out and seeing aeroplane trails and splashing in puddles. Plus some interesting, and rather acrobatic, dolly-caring skills.

The Leon cookbook has shaped our week food-wise. Indian spiced parsnip soup, chicken superfood salad and cauliflower gobi are all dinners we'll definitely be repeating. Nigella's pea and bacon orzotto (except our version was alphabettiotto as we ran out of orzo) was a big toddler hit. As were the poppadoms we had with the cauliflower gobi. Her 'crunchy' face was a new one to me.

I've been devouring the end of The Goldfinch too. Not many pages left now. February's Year in Books post will be coming up shortly...

Tunes of the week: John Grant's Black Belt for its lyrical genius: Etch a sketch your way out of this one, reject! Ibibio Sound Machine - Let's Dance: never fails to incite a kitchen dance party. Plus St Vincent's Digital Witness for its sing-a-longability and horn section.

I hope the sunshine has reached you this week. Happy weekending.

A Marmalade Chocolate Cake

Yes, you heard right. Turns out that marmalade + chocolate = really good. I'd spied this recipe on Charlotte's Plot (well worth a read for foody, gardening types) and decided that it was exactly what was needed on a(nother) cold, wet day.

A satisfyingly easy cake to make (butter and chocolate is melted together, and then each ingredient is stirred in, before the resulting glossy mixture is poured into the tin), it was ready in the time it took us to don wellies and head out for a quickish puddle walk around the block. It really does taste as good as it sounds - the initial chocolate taste fades until you are left with that unmistakable bittersweet tang of the Seville oranges. I don't see this cake hanging around for long. (I contemplated having some for breakfast this morning...).

I want to have a go making a flourless version - it's so dense and moist anyway, the flour seems rather extraneous. I think an experiment is in order - and I'm sure I'll find some willing tasters. This recipe, minus the coffee and vanilla, but with the added bonus of a few spoons of marmalade will be my starting point I think.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

This Week: Feb#1

And so, just like that, it's February. January seems to have passed by in a blur of grey days with the odd flash of sunshine. But the grey days aren't all bad - just another reason to stay in and get cosy. Marmalade has been made, twice. Cake seems to be making a regular appearance in the tin in the kitchen (the last lot was made purely because the heating was on the blink and I wanted to heat the kitchen with the oven. A darn good reason to make cake I reckon). We've been rediscovering old favourite recipes and trying out new ones too which makes for some good dinners. We seem to have been challenging the grey damp of January with the heat of red chilli; guacamole, Thai noodle soup, beef pho, cajun chicken... A delicious way to warm up.

This week has flown by in a blur of work being done on the house, entertaining the small one with miaow-shaped drawings (and post-nap cat masks), teddy and bunny getting kissy - mwah!, discovering forgotten bulbs and seed heads awaiting emptying whilst clearing out the dumping ground (aka the conservatory), and getting out into the garden to catch up on many, many jobs. Plus a lovely dinner out with a good friend. This week also marked 9 years since I first met R. 9 years! Woah.

This morning, we decided to head out into the sunshine. A ride on a steam train was very exciting for a certain small one, and then on the short walk we went on (before deciding we were too hungry and instead making a beeline for the sandwiches...) we found this happy robin singing away in the dogwood and managed to creep right up beside him. One of those magical moments.

Hope your weekend has been full of lovely things.



We went for a ride on a miniature steam train this morning. She was fascinated by the smoke and the flames, and loved hearing the 'wooo wooo' of the whistle.

Joining in over at Practising Simplicity.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Garden Diaries: January

heather, providing great swathes of colour / love these spiky seed heads, especially with the red dogwood behind / silver birch bark / camellia - it's been in bloom for over a week. I'm sure it wasn't this early last year / new in with the old: hydrangeas / buds shooting skywards - not the first time I've taken a shot like this / bluebells beneath the smoke bush / snowdrops - and here they are the same time last year. Looks like this lot are a bit slower to get going though than last year's.

Garden jobs aplenty this weekend - the glorious sunshine (albeit with biting wind) provided the perfect moment to head outside. Sodden ground dug over (much to the happiness of the blackbird mum who came to dig up worms right next to where I was working), the garlic was planted, the straggly strawberry plants were tidied and some of their baby plants rehomed (anyone local want one?! I've got 3), and the narcissi were potted up (yes, yes, they should've been planted ages ago, but in our massive conservatory clear up and sort out that we did this morning, I found a forgotten packet. I've got my fingers crossed that they'll still grow). Here's to plenty more sunny, productive mornings over the coming months.