Monthly Archives: December 2015

Happy New Year to you all

As one year draws to a close and another begins, it’s a time of both reflection and anticipation, of memories from the past year and plans for the one to come.

I have made a small collage of some of my favourite images from 2015. They are photos that make me stop and smile for what they are or for what I remember happening at that moment.

PicMonkey Collage2015

However we all choose to celebrate Christmas, it is an important way of structuring the year, a punctuation in the yearly cycle of our lives. There is the inevitable frenetic build up to the big day with all the food to prepare, presents to buy, the decorations and tree to put up. Added to this there are school nativities, Christmas parties, panto trips, Santa’s grottoes and so on to fill up the diary.

In the time between Christmas and New Year there is a lull; the kids are happy, the fridge is brimming with leftovers, there’s time to get out for some much-needed fresh air and there are fewer demands on your time.

At this time I always find myself reflecting on the year that is about to end but also planning and looking forward to the new year.

But not forgetting that although Christmas is a time of celebration it is also a time to remember loved ones who are no longer here or to consider others who are going through a difficult time.

Not far from us in York, many families have had to leave their homes because of the flooding. There is never a good time for such disasters to happen but it seems so much harder at this time of year. Watching the footage on TV makes me grateful that we were able to spend our Christmas in comfort and with our family.

I am not one for making resolutions that involve abstaining from this and that or deciding to join the gym. I prefer to think about things I have enjoyed doing in the past year and to try and make sure we do more of the same in the year ahead.

So for me, a few things I want to do are:

1. Enjoy the outdoors. Some of the nicest days we have had in the past year have been outdoors with the kids. These are definitely our happiest times and I would like to do more of this. I subscribe to a newsletter from Get out with the kids which has some great ideas and tips.
2. Camping. We took our tent to France in the summer and the heavens opened for three days solid yet we still had a great time. If anything, this has shown us that we can have fun living under canvas whatever the weather. The Cool Camping website always provides plenty of inspiration for campsites to visit.
3. Knitting. I got out my knitting needles in 2015 and started clicking away. I found the knitting therapeutic and the fact that I made myself something I would definitely go out and buy was an incentive. There are so many inspirational websites and stores like Loop Knitting and locally Little Lamb Wool, that sell beautiful yarn or online communities like Ravelry that offer free knitting patterns.
4. Getting creative. My husband bought me a printmaking book (Print Workshop by Christine Schmidt) for Christmas which has some great ideas for projects that are do-able on the kitchen table.
5. Writing. Find more digital writing avenues. I have been a journalist for 16 years and have seen huge changes in the way we communicate with readers. I started out on newspapers when websites were in their infancy. But now digital media really has taken over and journalists have had to adapt to this and master the new technologies.
6. Photography. One of the things I enjoy about writing a blog is taking the photographs. I would like to master some of the more technical aspects of digital photography. I enjoy playing around with picmonkey for editing and collages on my blog.
7. Make mini movies. As well as photography I would like to create some short films of our happy times. I love the short family films that photographer Xanthe Berkeley makes.
8. Clear out the clutter! A classic one for this time of year. So much seems to come into the house that something’s got to go…..this one will send shivers down the backs of my husband and kids’ spines…I will need a day to myself for this one! There is even a book called Stuffocation:Living More with Less arguing that we are in fact happier with less.
9. Organise my photos. We have hundreds of digital photos which I would like to store properly. I also want to get prints of the ones I really love and put them in albums. I never quite trust the ‘cloud’ with my treasured memories. I came across this website that has some good tips for tidying up your digital snaps.
10. Catch up with old friends. In my Christmas cards to and from friends from far afield we always say it would be great to meet up in the new year. I would love to make that happen in 2016.

So there you have it – my resolutions etched not exactly in stone, but on the blog, there to remind me at the end of next year of what plans I managed to fulfill – and those that might shift into 2017…

**Happy New Year to you all – and thank you for taking the time to read my blog**


A chandelier Christmas wreath

Styling the table for Christmas dinner is a festive tradition many of us enjoy – with a decorative centrepiece of greenery or candles perhaps to make the meal feel even more special.

But I have also admired the Scandinavian-inspired chandelier wreaths that hang above the table. So, this year, I have had a go at making one.


I am probably pushing it with just three more days until Christmas to suggest that you might like to have a go. But if like me, you can’t resist a creative diversion then here’s how I made it.

You will need: a twig wreath as the base (mine is from Hobbycraft), some string to hang it (I got some with silver thread running through from TKMaxx), some Christmas decorations, some ribbon to hang the decorations, some foliage like pine or ivy, cinnamon sticks, battery fairy lights.

First I attached the twine to hang it with and temporarily knotted it at the top.


Then you need to add your decorations – I opted for one colour theme of silver which I attached with thin silver ribbon.


After I had attached a few I found it easier to hang the chandelier from something so I could balance out the decorations. For the best effect you want them different lengths.


Then I added some greenery – in my case ivy and pine which I used some soft gardening twine to attach.


For the final touch I added some cinnamon sticks and I twisted some fairy lights around the wreath.


We have a pendant light over the table so it was easy to attach to this as it’s not terribly heavy. I knotted a circle of extra twine around the light cord and then attached the three pieces of hanging twine to that.


It looks so pretty all lit up that I don’t think I will want to take it down after the twelve days of Christmas so it may remain as a winter chandelier to brighten those long, dark days ahead.

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And as it is the winter solstice today we will welcome a little extra light.

Christmas at Castle Howard

Castle Howard looks truly magical at Christmas. During the festive season each room is transformed with baubles, garlands and wreaths. Log fires flicker in the hearths and the romantic glow of candlelight illuminates the interiors.


We are lucky enough to live near the North Yorkshire stately home which many of you will remember from both films of Brideshead Revisited. We visit its grounds most often as it has a fun adventure playground for the boys and some great walks around its estate.


We’ll visit the house if we have visitors with us or at Christmas to marvel at the splendour of its interiors decked out in the most fabulous decorations. It’s always nice to see how the big houses trim up for Christmas with all that space and grandeur to show off.


This year there were a few surprises. The chandelier of larch, hydrangeas, berries and foliage was a stunning sight hanging from the centre of the Long Gallery.


Two of the upstairs rooms were bare apart from faux fir garlands which corkscrewed downwards adorned with giant twinkling baubles.



I am not sure what I think about dogs dressing up for Christmas…..but we came across this little chap who didn’t seem to mind getting into the festive spirit.


We had a walk and spent some time in the playground afterwards giving us all some much needed fresh air. It was refreshing to get out and not be ticking off more things on the ‘Christmas to do and get’ list.


As we left, the tree-lined avenue was lit up with twinkling lights making the place look even more magical than before. More visitors were arriving for the twilight opening with reindeers, ginger mulled wine and carols – it was the perfect midwinter wonderland.

Christmas baking: Edible gifts

If you enjoy baking then giving someone an edible gift you have made for Christmas always goes down well. I have just made a huge batch of florentines to give as presents.

It’s not clear what the origin of these little biscuits are, most likely French rather than Italian, but to me they are a typically festive biscuit.

They are easy to make and taste delicious. I am just amazed that these ones didn’t all disappear before they got wrapped up to give away.

All you need to turn your homemade biscuits into a fabulous gift is a bit of thought with how you present them. I got some boxes and paper from Hobbycraft which are meant for just this type of thing.


So if you would like to make some, read on. For about 30 florentines you will need:

50g (2oz) unsalted butter, 50g (2oz) caster sugar, 25g (1oz) chopped pistachios (shelled), 25g (1oz) chopped walnuts, 25g (2oz) flaked almonds, 50g (2oz) candied peel, 50g (2oz) glace cherries, 1 tablespoon double cream, 75g plain chocolate, melted, 75 g white chocolate, melted.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the sugar. Bring to a fast boil and take of heat. Mix in the nuts, candied peel, cherries and cream.

Line some baking trays and drop a small amount of the mixture onto the trays. You don’t need as much mixture as you would imagine as it will spread while baking and they should end up lacy rather than solid biscuits.

Bake in a preheated oven at 190 degrees C for 5-6 minutes. Do keep an eye on them as they can easily burn. I cooked mine in an Aga, top oven with the cold shelf above, for 9-10 minutes. When I got them out of the oven, I pushed the mixture back into biscuit shapes before it cooled as it does spread a lot.

Leave to go cold on the trays before lifting them off with a fish slice.


When they are cool, spread the melted chocolate on the back of each florentine and leave to set. The dark chocolate sets quicker but the white takes a while so I put mine in the fridge.


Florentines freeze well so you can make them in advance. Otherwise, they will keep in the fridge for a few days until you are ready to put them in your chosen box and hand them to the hopefully grateful recipient.


Only thing now is, I promised I would make another batch for the family so I don’t think I will be escaping from the kitchen any time soon!

Christmas crafting: part two – reindeer decorations

I first made these little white glittery reindeer decorations a couple years ago after seeing them on a website called The Imagination Tree which has some lovely ways for getting creative with children.


I had a go at making them – and was thrilled with the outcome. They hang alongside the fabric baubles (tutorial on the previous post) on snow-sprayed branches in a tall silver vase with a few fairy lights strewn through.

They are made from baking soda white dough clay. The kids can help you make these as children always seem to love messing about with dough. Although you may want to assist with the rolling out and cutting as we did lose a few limbs first time round (the reindeer not us!).


To  make them you will need: one cup of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda),  1/2 cup of cornflour, 3/4 cup of warm water, glitter, an old pan.

Put the dry ingredients in the pan then stir through the warm water. It will start bubbling and coming away from the side of the pan. Keep stirring until it starts becoming drier, more like a play dough consistency.

Take the pan off the heat and once it’s cool enough turn the dough out onto a surface and knead it well. Then roll it out and sprinkle the glitter over the rolled out dough. Use reindeer cookie cutters to cut out the shapes and a straw to pierce a hole in the body part so you can thread twine through later.

Bake them in a cool oven, 100 degrees centigrade, for an hour. Or you can leave them to air dry which takes a day or so.

Once they are dry, thread the twine through and hang on branches or on your Christmas tree.



Christmas crafting: part one – baubles

If your Christmas tree is anything like ours it will already be laden with baubles and festive trimmings. But why restrict baubles to the tree? Christmas is no time to go minimalist with the decor.


These fabric ones are easy to make and look best if you hang them on some snow-sprayed branches in a decorative vase, maybe mixing them with other decorations as I have done.

Here’s how to make them if you fancy getting creative (and your energy levels are still running high in the busy countdown to Christmas Day). You will need:

Polystyrene balls (I get mine from Yorkshire Trading in Malton but most craft suppliers stock them), fabric, ribbon and PVA glue.


The great thing with these baubles is that you can make them to match your colour scheme – if you have one. I chose reds and greens for these ones for a festive feel. I used fabric from fabric swatch samples that I have gathered over the years.

Cut your fabric into two centimetre squares using pinking shears to stop them fraying.


Pop the polystyrene ball into an egg cup or similar to hold it stable. Then start by gluing one of your squares onto the polystyrene ball and leave to dry.


Next glue the ribbon on around the ball making a loop with it to hang the bauble.


I use a peg to make sure the ribbon stays in place until the glue is dry.


Once the ribbon is firmly stuck down glue two pieces of fabric either side of the ribbon ends.


Now you can carry on sticking the fabric on in a patchwork pattern, smoothing the fabric as you go.


Collect some branches, spray with snow spray, mix in some fairy lights and some other decorations if you wish.


I must say these baubles are a bit like fairy lights in our house – I don’t restrict them to Christmas. I love a bit of sparkle through the winter months so the lights stay up. The baubles look pretty piled up in a bowl or mixed with pine cones.


Coming next…….the little white glittery reindeer.