Tuesday, 5 December 2017

December weekend

I can't quite think we're almost a week into December already, and following a hectic couple of weeks, I intend to slow right down and take time to enjoy this magical season. The weather has turned very cold here and we have woken to many frosty mornings, which all helps with getting in the festive mood.
The excitement is gradually building in our house, and last weekend Lily just couldn't wait for us to go in search of our Christmas tree. We went to a local garden nursery and were almost spoiled for choice. We had great fun choosing one and bringing it home in the van. I hope it's going to become a new tradition for us as a family and I'm so happy to be back to having a real tree once again. So far Mog has left it well alone. Let's hope it lasts.
The advent stockings I made are now hung above the mantel and Lily looks forward to her chocolate coin inside each one every morning. My lovely friend also treated Lily to a book advent calendar this year so she unwraps a new book every evening and we read it together at bedtime. It's a really precious time for us both. 

On Sunday I had every intention of baking some Christmas cookies, but the day was too good to be spent indoors and we went out walking. There were some beautiful views and while we sat on a bench for a short rest I heard Lily say 'This is the life'. I sometimes think she is four going on sixty four! I know what she meant though, because even though we were still suffering with some horrible coughs and colds, it was a really lovely day out.
In the evening we decorated our tree and over the next few days I will add the finishing touches to the house, which I will share with you towards the end of the week. I do love to see how other people decorate their houses for Christmas don't you?
And, if I'm really lucky, I might even get around to finally baking those cookies!
J. X

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Cosy v-stitch blanket

On this cold and icy morning I thought I would take a moment and share with you my v-stitch blanket which I finally finished this week. Although I say 'finally,' it has probably been the easiest and fastest blanket I have worked so far. I had never tried working the v-stitch before so I am really quite happy with how it turned out.
The yarn I used is a wool/acrylic blend which is a perfect compromise for me as it makes for a very cosy blanket and yet can be thrown in the washing machine with little worry.
Instead of a border I finished it off with some fringing.

The finished blanket measures 100x135cm and I used DK yarn and a 4mm hook.
I made my foundation chain with 154 stitches. 
Work 1treble, 1chain, 1treble into the 4th chain from the hook. Skip two stitches then repeat until the end of the row, finishing with 1treble into the last stitch. Break yarn.
Join the contrasting yarn at the start of the row, chain three then work across the row working 1treble, 1chain, 1treble into the gaps created by the V's in the previous row. I worked 151 rows altogether.

The 'arty' shot........

and the out-take........

I give up!

J. X

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Bright November days

November days can often be grey, dull and gloomy but recently we have been fortunate enough to enjoy some beautiful sunshine. Even better is that these sunny days have fallen on the weekends when we have been able to seize the opportunity to get out.
Last week we walked up Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales. As it was a beautifully clear day there were amazing views right out towards the sea. There were a few fell runners on the mountain and one even challenged Lily to a short race! Of course she was up for it and gave it her all.
It was a long but (fairly) easy climb to the summit but we didn't spend very long up there as it was sooo windy! We hastily ate our lunch in the wind shelter and retraced our steps back down the mountain.
This weekend's walk was closer to home. We went through the fields and up towards one of our favourite viewpoints overlooking the mountains. It was a beautiful frosty morning and named 'ice day' by Lily who was fascinated by the frozen puddles. There are now more leaves on the ground than on the trees, their dark silhouettes contrasting against the brightness of the sky.
Wintry weather is creeping in now and I'm wearing my woolly jumpers on a daily basis with scarves and mittens within easy reach for those colder mornings. I'm not good with cold weather and always have to wrap up well.
Yesterday I treated myself to my first mince pie of the season and this week, once I've finished making my sofa throw, I will begin my festive planning. Yes! It's getting close to that time of year again. Who's ready?
J. X

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Fresh air and Fireworks

Last Sunday morning dawned bright and clear. A light frost, blue sky and a sharp chill in the air. My favourite kind of Autumn day.
We had an early start as we were headed for an easily accessible, and therefore, very popular part of the Lakes which is far better enjoyed before the crowds descend. Having packed a rucksack and prepared a packed lunch the evening before, we were out of the house nice and early, delayed slightly only in order to defrost the car.

The early start was definitely worthwhile, however, and we enjoyed the first half of our walk in peaceful surroundings. Having initially walked up a steep incline, we soon warmed up and  were rewarded with stunning views of the landscape awash with Autumn colour. Lily was fascinated by the wishing tree to the edge of the path. Coins are wedged into the bark of the fallen trunk by passers by in the belief it will bring them good fortune. They are becoming a common sight on many walks. Our pathway continued along the hillside, parallel to the road down below, eventually dropping down once again to pass along the lake shore.

After a brief stop to eat our lunch - it was far too cold to sit around for very long - we made our way to a favourite cafĂ© for a much needed warming drink. My choice at this time of year is hot apple and cinnamon cordial - delicious!

Following our morning's activity we spent the afternoon pottering and relaxing at home before going back out again in the evening to watch the fireworks. Lily doesn't really like loud noises so we watched from a 'safe' distance. Blimey! It was cold. I was glad we were well wrapped up and thankfully, as the display was quite small we were not out for very long.
Returning home we enjoyed some Sticky Ginger Cake (I always have to make this for Bonfire Night) and lit some sparklers in the garden. Lily was too wary to hold hers so I put them in one of the garden pots!

Recipe for Sticky Ginger Cake:

225g Self Raising flour
1 tspn Bicarbonate of Soda
1 tspn Ground Ginger
1 tspn Mixed Spice
1 tspn Ground Cinnamon
115g Butter
115g Dark Brown Sugar
115g Black Treacle
115g Golden Syrup
275 mls Milk
1 beaten egg

Sieve the dry ingredients, then rub in the butter.
Melt together the syrup, treacle, sugar and milk.
Mix together and add the beaten egg. Pour into a loaf tin (the mixture is quite runny) and bake at 140 for around 50 minutes.

J. X

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Autumn Joy

The surrounding countryside has taken on a distinctive russet hue, trees are almost aglow with gorgeous Autumn colour, drifts of leaves line the lanes and cover pathways and there is a comforting scent of  wood smoke in the air. There can be no doubt we are in the midst of our Autumn season and all the beauty it has to offer.
Yesterday's morning frost made way for a stunning, bright clear day which set off the Autumn scenery in all it's glory. A wonderful treat following some dark and overcast days.
The clocks going back has meant some cosy evenings in. It's so satisfying to draw the curtains, light some candles and make use of the blankets scattered on the sofas. Alongside this simple pleasure there have been some delicious aromas emerging from the kitchen. Apple and cinnamon crumble and sticky ginger cake are perfect sweet treats at this time of year.
Last week we spent a few days in Edinburgh, which always seems to happen at this time of year. We took some time to enjoy the city and relax in familiar surroundings. Princes Street Gardens are beautiful in the Autumn and there are always plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. This time we discovered a delightful walled garden just off Canongate which we had never noticed before. Lily busied herself trying to catch the leaves falling from the trees while we sat and soaked up the sunshine. Some more photographs from our previous visit can be seen here.
Since our return I have mostly been keeping busy with visiting a family member in hospital. I do feel like I have been chasing my tail the last few days but I have managed to find a little time to enjoy some walks and another bike ride to the seafront (I really, really need some padded shorts!!!)
Thankfully, within the next few days life should return to a reasonable level of calm once again but for this evening we're lighting up the pumpkins and getting ready to welcome some 'trick or treaters' and with any luck I'll have some treats left over for myself.
Happy Hallowe'en!
J. X

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

In Search of Autumn

October is marching on, and although I've settled into a 'sort of' routine I haven't managed to post as much as I would like. I think it has just taken me a little longer to adjust than I originally anticipated.
Life is very good, however, and with weekdays now being filled with work and school it has been even more important for us to make the most of our precious time together at the weekends. Therefore, when Lily came home from school last week with a little note requesting we go out and search for signs of Autumn, it didn't take much persuading for us to gather together our warm socks and boots and head off into the woods.
We ambled through the fields, which have become incredibly muddy over the last couple of weeks. Being careful of my footing I was very glad of my new 'sorry I forgot your birthday' field boots. The hedgerows are full of berries with bursts of red everywhere and there were still plenty of Rosehips for the picking, the birds having seen off the last of the elderberries. Although the sky was grey, the air was warm and still and it didn't take long for jackets to be removed.                         
Since our last walk the woodland floor had become covered with leaves. On the pathway beneath the now scant canopy of the trees they had turned brown and squelchy, but in the clearings where the track opened up there was a great variety of colour, the russet, yellow and orange underfoot in sharp contrast to looking upward at the black silhouette of the tree branches against the murky sky.
At this time of year my inner child never tires of kicking through the leaves, so when Lily is around I make the most of every opportunity, along with trying to catch some as they fluttered down on us from above. We gathered leaves of each colour to take into school along with a handful of conkers.
At the farm shop there was a gorgeous display of locally grown pumpkins for sale. I couldn't resist taking a photograph.
I think we found Autumn.
J. X

Sunday, 1 October 2017


We have finally reached the end of Lily's first week comprising of full days at school and thankfully all is still going well. 
Following some employment changes over the Summer months, as a family we have now settled into a new pattern which works for us and I am slowly realising that dealing with school paperwork, requests for my time and sudden changes to term dates etc. amounts to a full time job! It is never ending.
Lily appears to be keeping the teaching staff busy (there was a running rogue on to the school field incident!) and although she is thoroughly enjoying her days at school I can tell she misses the freedom of being outdoors, so I am keen to make up for this at the weekends to enable her to burn off some of her endless energy.
We've been out for some shorter, although lovely walks recently. The light is beautiful in the woods at this time of the year, the trees are beginning to shed their leaves now and it won't be long before we will be walking on a carpet of red and gold.
The Autumn Equinox (over a week ago now) brought with it some wetter weather, yet it is still fairly mild here. I have some gardening jobs which need completing once the weather decides to co-operate and the grass might need cutting back one last time.
I'm finding that I'm spending more time in the kitchen, which Autumn lends itself to so very well, filling the stores in anticipation of the Winter months. I finally got around to making my blackberry jam - five jars and enough blackberries left in the freezer for five more. I've made various soups and the daily packed lunch box always contains some delicious homemade flapjack or ginger biscuit.
I have started running again. Hurray! After several months of inactivity I decided (once I knew Lily was settled at school) to make a huge effort and went out for a short run every morning last week to give myself a kick start. It gave me such a boost and my plan is to go out running on only three days this week but to increase the distance slightly. I'm enjoying it so much and I didn't realise how much I had missed that time spent just for myself. So important, but easily overlooked.
As much as I am always so very ready for the Summer months to arrive, along with the freedom and unpredictability they seem to bring, I do find I'm now craving the routine and steadiness of these Autumn months.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

One-pot Cooking - Shakshuka

Thank you all so much for your kind words and good wishes with regard to Lily's first week at school. It means so much and it's lovely knowing there are so many caring people around.
She looks forward to going each day and appears to have settled in well, returning most days with muddy trousers, which can only be a good sign where Lily is concerned. I'm gradually getting into the swing of the school run, rushed mornings and the daily checking of the book bag for the seemingly never ending stream of letters (which get sent by email anyway so I don't understand why they do this.) It's all good so far.
So, for a while now I have been promising the lovely Sheila I would post this recipe for her and finally, here it is!
Anyone who knows me knows I am not  natural in the kitchen and quite honestly I become all fingers and thumbs when it comes to attempting to juggle various pots and pans, get timings right or serve up in an attractive manner (me or the food!) ending up a bit frazzled and unable to properly enjoy my meal.
To this end I am a huge fan of one-pot cooking. I find this way of cooking far more relaxing and enjoyable. Being able to produce a delicious meal with a glass of wine in one hand and at the same time holding down a conversation can only be a good thing, right? Add to that a lot less washing up and I'm on a winner.
One of these dishes which has recently become a firm favourite is Shakshuka, a delicious Middle Eastern dish with flavours which can be adjusted to suit your own taste. There are various recipes online with suggestions for alternative ingredients but this is my favourite as it is so simple, fresh and tasty.

You will need,

1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 courgette
2 peppers
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
4 medium eggs
50g Feta cheese
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
A little oil for frying
Fresh mint

Slice the onion, garlic, courgette and peppers and fry using a little oil for around 5 minutes. Add the tin of tomatoes and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Make 4 wells in the mixture and crack an egg into each one. Put the lid on the pan and cook for 8 minutes by which time the eggs will be cooked through but still soft in the middle. Sprinkle over the crumbled Feta and chopped mint and serve with some pitta or crusty bread.


I hope you enjoy this recipe, please do let me know if you try it.
J. X

Friday, 8 September 2017

Last days of Summer

As I write this it is damp and grey outdoors and it is time to finally accept that, for me at least, Summer is now over. I know we can still expect some warm sunny days ahead but the nights are getting longer now and there is a distinct coolness in the morning air.
I have so much enjoyed these late Summer days and really wanted to make the most of this precious time spent with Lily before she begins school next week.
Naturally one of our days was spent at the beach. I think it will be a while now before we will once again be wearing our shorts and running into the sea.
We've been walking and collecting  more blackberries and some elderberries. There have been so many this year. Some of the blackberries are currently being transformed into blackberry vodka while the rest are still in the freezer waiting to be become jam at some point during the coming week. The elderberries will be turned into syrup. It is delicious on porridge during the colder months and apparently it also has antiviral properties.
While we were in Settle, a couple of weeks ago, we called in at a lovely little toy shop where I picked up a colourful  pocket kite for Lily and when we were out walking last weekend it was breezy enough to try it out. Initially a little unsure of how it worked she soon got the hang of it and thoroughly enjoyed herself. Luckily there is no shortage of wide open spaces around here so I will keep the kite folded up in the rucksack in anticipation of the next flying opportunity.
Also, last weekend I made a brief foray into the world of cycling in order to try out our recent purchase of a trail-gator. I found I enjoyed it much more than I expected. It's been a few years since I was last on a bike, let alone one with another attached  to it and being told 'faster, faster!' We're hoping to get out again very soon, suffice to say I will be getting hold of some padded shorts before I do.
Yesterday I spent an hour sewing name labels into school uniform and this time next week Lily will have spent her very first week at school! I can't think where the time has gone. She seems excited but no doubt it will take her a while to settle in. She's certainly reached a stage where she is ready for new challenges and once she find her feet I'm sure she'll thrive. It doesn't stop me worrying though.
The changing of the seasons sees us finding a new routine to our days which, although very different from the freedom of the Summer months, is reassuring to return to at this time of year.
J. X