Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Blog Review 2008

I loved this idea from Kelli of "There is No Place Like Home":

Post the first sentence of your first blog post of each month. You can also add a favorite picture from each month.

May you all have a happy, healthy and blessed 2008!


I often find that different seasons interact... the chronological seasons, the liturgical seasons and my own life seasons.


ENTP, Originator, Intellectual, Linguistic, Logical

That's me, according to


I know I have a few readers who are Mac users, so I thought I'd pass on a recommendation for some image editing software I have been using: ImageWell.


Tevye and I have been away ... two days and one night on our own!


After thinking and reading about Montessori and Waldorf for a while, over the last couple of weeks I have been digging my way back into Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy, and realising over again why I have always found it such a wise path.


Outside My Window ... the darkening sky of a warm summer's evening.


Lots of irresistible babies at the zoo this week.


Outside My Window ... washing hanging on the line and skies turning ominously grey.


I love it! Little Cherub is at the stage where she mostly gets the words right, but the order is often rather tangled up.


This is a confusing year.


Outside My Window
... dark, cold, wet December morning.
If you want to play along, visit Kelli and add your post to her Mr Linky.

HT: Sandra at Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 30th December

For Tuesday 30th December

A day late, because thanks to the holidays I completely forgot yesterday was Monday.

Outside My Window ... a bright, crisp, frosty winter afternoon.

I am thinking ... of goals for next year.

From the learning rooms ... still Christmas holidays.

I am thankful for ... the change of pace between term time and holidays..

From the kitchen ... pasta with pesto and fromage frais for dinner. And we are still eating up Christmas leftovers and treats.

I am wearing ... faded blue jeans, beige sweater, woolly socks. Warm and cosy for a cold day.

I am creating ... soft, stripey socks in a bamboo blend yarn.

I am going ... to the supermarket to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy and a few food items I forgot yesterday.

I am reading ... On Brick Lane by Rachel Lichtenstein and a Good Housekeeping magazine.

I am hoping ... that all the dire financial predictions for next year turn out to be wrong.

I am hearing ... the TV downstairs. Star is watching a film.

Around the house ... a scattering of Christmas gifts being used or played with.

One of my favorite things ... the clean slate of a new year.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... visiting old friends to see the New Year in; bowling with friends on New Year's Day; a visit from my SIL and her family on Sunday.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing ...

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own.

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year Resolutions - Stock Take

Time to make that annual stock-take again ... how far did I get with last year's resolutions? And what do I want to aim for this year?

First, a review of last year:

A daily 30 minute quiet time for spiritual reading and prayer.
Failed abysmally.
Keep on the Motivated Mom wagon for the entire year.
Not bad. I morphed Motivated Mom into my own list on Toodledo. After a while this got me into a fairly good cleaning routine and I now only need to use Toodledo to get myself back on track if things slip.
Walk to Rivendell with Frodo. I think 458 miles in a year should be possible. If I aim at 10 miles a week that allows for the inevitable slippage. HT: Heather at Doodle Acres
I tried, but was very, very erratic, as you can see from my sidebar. Even after I joined the gym I didn't manage to get into a good routine. By November I had fallen apart completely and stopped counting.
Read at least one history book each month. It has been a while since I have done any serious historical reading and I would like to catch up a bit with what is going on in the historical world, plus read up on some topics I'm interested in.
Pathetic. I don't think I made it past a couple of books.
Knit. After doing virtually no knitting for years I have enjoyed the occasional knitting project over the last couple. I think I'll make 2008 the year of the knitting needle and take it up again properly.
I did well on this one, though I have realised I am a cold weather knitter. I stopped knitting in the summer and then started again in the autumn.

Even though my success rate is very hit and miss, I do find it helpful to make New Year Resolutions. It means I take time out to really think about what things I want to improve or change over the next year. I know from experience that I never manage to achieve all my goals, but some success is far better than none, and I like having something specific to aim at.

I will be posting next year's resolutions later in the week. I have some ideas, but want to ponder bit more first.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


On opening her first Christmas present ... "Can I keep it?". Yes sweetheart, that's how it works. On opening the second ... "Will you buy it for me?". Confusing, this Christmas thing.

Tevye: What's my name?
Cherub: Michael
Tevye: What's my other name?
Cherub: Jewish!

Bouncing up and down excitedly on being told that there were jam doughnuts ...
Cherub: I like doughnuts! Ham doughnuts!
Me: Not ham darling, jam. They are jam doughnuts.
Cherub (disgruntled): I not like doughnuts.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Header Art

Star is very keen that I should tell you, prominently, that she drew the picture in the header.

5 Things I Love About Christmas

1. Carol Singing on Christmas Eve in the High Street. In the evening the Salvation Army and the Rotary Club organise carol singing for the town - the Salvation Army band plays, Santa visits in his sleigh and throws sweets to the crowd, carols are sung, and Christmas spirit prevails. In good weather years like this one the crowd virtually fills the High Street.

2. Midnight Mass. I don't go to Midnight Mass now as it wouldn't work for our family, but in the days before children I loved it. Even in my atheist-agnostic-former-Methodist days I used to go to the Midnight service at Christmas.

3. Christmas Trees. Other Christmas decorations I can take or leave - all it takes to make me feel festive is a Christmas tree. Tall or small, real or artificial, themed or eclectic. Any Christmas tree will do. (If you are wondering, ours is medium-sized, artificial, and this is an eclectic year.)

4. Christmas Presents. I don't think I am a particularly materialistic person, but I love giving and receiving Christmas gifts. I even enjoy Christmas shopping, particularly since the internet took the pressure off. Seeing a big pile of presents under the tree gives me the same thrill it did as a child.

5. Christmas Pudding with brandy butter, custard and cream ... or with brandy sauce and cream. Either way is perfect. I even used to eat Christmas pudding for breakfast on Boxing Day, but sadly my stomach has passed the age when it can cope with ridiculously rich food for breakfast.

HT: Sandra

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas,
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
And a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Little Glitch

... in my online grocery shopping.

What I asked for ...

What I got ...
Pesto with turkey, anyone?

In all fairness, I know from experience that if I had phoned and complained they would either have delivered the missing stuffing or had it ready for me to pick up, and would have given it to me at no charge, but I just didn't have the heart to add to their workload this week over one small item!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 22nd December

For Monday 22nd December

Outside My Window ... four o'clock and nearly dark.

I am thinking ... how glad I will be when the days get longer and the evenings lighter.

From the learning rooms ... Christmas holidays!

I am thankful for ... online grocery shopping and avoiding the pre-Christmas supermarket queues.

From the kitchen ... apple pies, cranberry sauce and bread sauce to make for Christmas dinner.

I am wearing ... faded blue jeans, beige hooded sweater, woolly hiking socks.

I am creating ... a soft, fluffy scarf as a Christmas present for my mother.

I am going ... next door for a pre-Christmas get together with our neighbours this evening.

I am reading ... English Catholic history.

I am hoping ... that we don't catch any more coughs and colds over Christmas.

I am hearing ... Little Cherub talking to Star.

Around the house ... a sitting room floor covered in even more Playmobil than last week; washing waiting to be dried; Angel and her friend upstairs.

One of my favorite things ... Little Cherub's experiments with English grammar.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a joyful family Christmas.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing ...

We have this Playmobil nativity, though a couple of minor pieces have gone missing and it is regularly rearranged by Little Cherub. Also, we don't add the Three Kings until Epiphany.

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own.

Out to Dinner

No blogging at the weekend because I was out to dinner - a carvery meal on Friday evening for Tevye's office Christmas celebration, and on Saturday we went to a fiftieth birthday celebration here ...

Just to whet your appetite, this was what I had to eat ...

Terrine of Gravadlax and Saute Potatoes
Cheese Fondue and Pickled Peppers


Loin of Lamb braised in Claret
Potato Puree, Braised Shallot and Root Vegetables
Claret and Rosemary Jus


Caramel Souffle

It was every bit as good as it sounds, and enhanced by champagne, Pimms and red wine. Every once in a while, it can be fun to live the high life!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Muddy Puddles

Inspired by Peppa Pig, Little Cherub wanted to go jumping in muddy puddles with her new flowery wellies.

She had a lovely time ...

... until the inevitable happened.

Poor Cherub. She was most distressed by the blob of mud that went down her boot!

7 Quick Takes Friday

-- 1 --

I just re-read Bill Bryson's Notes From a Small Island in which he takes a quirky and affectionate look at the UK and its inhabitants. I then had a Bryson-ish moment of my own last weekend. While on a break from playing Christmas music in a local shopping centre I took a turn holding a collecting tin, and was approached by a man whose small daughter had put in some loose change a few minutes earlier. He lent over to me and muttered confidentially, and with the embarrassed air of someone not naturally given to paying public compliments, "I don't know if anyone has told you ... but the music is quite nice." British understatement?

-- 2 --

More brass banding last night - this time a cheerfully chaotic Scouts' Christmas event at a village a few miles away, held in the medieval parish Church. Great fun, with lots of singing along, clapping and cheering, an eccentric version of the Nativity story written and performed by Scouts with sock puppets, Beavers singing about a red nosed reindeer, and Cubs reciting 'Twas The Night Before Christmas. Unlike many old churches, this one had the luxury of both reasonably effective heating and indoor plumbing (new since last year!). And to round off an enjoyable festive evening I won a hamper in a raffle. The girls had fun unpacking it this morning - various boxes and bars of chocolate, a little Christmas cake and a small pudding, a bottle of wine, shortbread, mince pies, chocolate crispie cakes - all sorts of goodies!

-- 3 --

Little Cherub was distressed this week by the discovery of a "wood mouse" in the sitting room. No, not a little furry rodent, but a small and harmless bug. Cherub has problems with the letter "L". (Translation for American readers: wood louse = pillbug. I think.)

-- 4 --

Star spent weeks refusing to wear a coat outdoors on the grounds that she wasn't cold, even in near freezing temperatures. Why, then, is she now insisting she needs to wear her coat indoors to keep warm?

-- 5 --

Nearly time to light four candles on the Advent wreath. Whenever I think of four candles the Two Ronnies sketch jumps unbidden into my mind and they turn into "fork 'andles". Please tell me I am not the only person in the UK (or the world?) to have this problem.

-- 6 --

I watched a documentary about steam trains last week. (Why? I like trains!) As I am not old enough to remember steam trains running on commercial services I had vaguely imagined that they were phased out in the 1930s or 40s. Apparently not. Converting the British railways to electric or diesel was considered too expensive after the War, and hundreds of new steam trains were built during the late 40s and 50s. The last were built in 1960 and expected to have a life well into the 1980s. Then the decision was taken to switch to diesel and they were all withdrawn in 1968. Hundreds of serviceable trains were sent to scrapyards to rust. Eat your heart out, Thomas the Tank Engine. I had no idea I missed the age of steam by so little. In fact, technically I didn't miss it ... I just don't remember it.

-- 7 --

Last day of school today, then two whole weeks of everyone home (almost - Tevye has to work Monday and Tuesday next week and then is off until January 5th). Yay!

For more quick takes, visit Jen at Conversion Diary.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Been There, Done That

I've been meaning to do this meme for a while, since I saw it on Dorothy's blog ... and then Alicia's ... and now Karen's. They don't come simpler than this: if you have done it, bold it; if not, don't.

1. Started your own blog

2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower (I stayed up to watch one once, not realising it was only visible in Australia)
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland (DisneyWorld) (Eurodisney)
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors (not hard, I only live three miles away)
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language (not fluently, but enough to get by)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied (in general)
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo's David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone (only a toe)
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book (only an article in a book)
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit (as a witness in dangerous driving case)
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day

Monday, December 15, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 15th December

For Monday 15th December

Outside My Window ... a dark, cold, damp evening. Again.

I am thinking ... I should try to do some Christmas crafts with Little Cherub this week.

From the learning rooms ... more science fun for Star. Today they made sherbet. I'm not sure what the other ingredients were, but she had to take crushed Love Hearts with her. She said it was very yummy and the best science lesson ever.

I am thankful for ... breathing easier after my asthma flared up last week.

From the kitchen ... baked potatoes and chilli. Warming winter food.

I am wearing ... black jeans, blue hooded top, beaten metal circle pendant on a leather cord, warm woolly socks.

I am creating ... a soft cream crocheted scarf for Star like the grey one I made for Angel last year (pictured at the end). I finished my socks and a matching pair for Little Cherub that I just (really only just!) managed to squeeze out of the leftover yarn.

I am going ... to get to work on the English Catholic history book for children I am writing. I abandoned it half-done when I was expecting Cherub three years ago. I've given myself a deadline of next summer to get it finished.

I am reading ... nothing. I just finished Bill Bryson and haven't picked anything else up yet.

I am hoping ... that I can get this post onto Simple Woman's Mr Linky. It wouldn't show up for me last week. Anyone else had the same problem?

I am hearing ... Star and Cherub sharing a bath.

Around the house ... a sitting room floor covered in Playmobil, a glue stick with a missing lid, and scattered Christmas tree decorations. Cherub has been busy.

One of my favorite things ... gingerbread latte with whipped cream.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a couple more brass band Christmas concerts, Tevye's office Christmas meal, and - big treat! - a meal out at a smart restaurant for our neighbours' joint 50th birthday celebration. Busy, busy ... but good busy.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing ...

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own.

Friday, December 12, 2008


We are gradually getting ready for Christmas. We put the tree up last weekend, and Little Cherub has been enjoying herself stripping the ornaments off and lining them up - in the evening we round them up and put them back, having decided it simply isn't worth becoming the Tree Police and that she will eventually tire of the game (hopefully before January 6th!). Yesterday we made Christmas puddings and there is a batch of mince pies in the freezer. Presents are bought and wrapped. I am having an untypically efficient year with leisurely stress-free preparations.

I am feeling so organised I am almost tempted to try this Provencal Christmas Eve tradition ... Les Treize Desserts. Yes, that's right, thirteen desserts. Dorothy makes it sound quite do-able. I would need to adapt to my families less adult tastes, but I think it could be done.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One Shelf at a Time - Shelf 10

The top shelf of the next bookcase in the dining room has mostly Bibles. I have a selection of translations that would grace a theology library, acquired mainly from my great-uncle who was a Methodist minister and my mother's former college tutor. Among others I have the Douay-Reims, the KJV, Jerusalem Bible, Knox, New International and RSV. Then there are Greek and Hebrew New Testaments and a Hebrew-English Bible, together with lexicons and grammars. Dante in English and Italian (more inherited books, and no, I can't read the Italian) and various old poetry books - I noticed Milton and Wordsworth - are in a pile along with odd volumes of Virgil, selected writings of Thomas Aquinas and a biography of Peter Abelard. Mostly books I don't use but can't bring myself to part with.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 8th December

For Monday 8th December

Outside My Window ... thick white frost on the road, but thawing on the grass and trees.

I am thinking ... how good it is to start the week with some plans and some energy after last week's inertia.

From the learning rooms ... Star's science homework last week was to make a parachute for an egg, to be launched off the school stairs. She was very indignant that I would not let her do a test run at home with a real egg. As it turned out hers was one of the more successful efforts and her egg sustained only minor injuries.

I am thankful for ... recovery from last week's nasty cough and cold. Just a residual cough left for me now.

From the kitchen ... chicken in mushroom sauce; chocolate brownies; sultana and cherry cake; Christmas puddings to make.

I am wearing ... warm blue pyjamas.

I am creating ... more socks. I discovered one ball of sock yarn is just large enough to make a sock for myself and a cute matching little sock for Cherub.

I am going ... to finish the last of my Christmas shopping and wrapping this week.

I am reading ... Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. I wanted something cheerful and humorous to cheer me up after a week of feeling ill.

I am hoping ... everyone else recovers properly from the wheezles and sneezles. Tevye can't stop coughing and Cherub and Angel are both still under par.

I am hearing ... the washing machine making a clicking sound.

Around the house ... cleaning to do, surfaces to clear, toys to put away.

One of my favorite things ... a room lit by the glow of Christmas tree lights.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a trip with Little Cherub to a local theme park for their Christmas special; playing Christmas carols in a couple of large shopping centres at the weekend (the Christmas season is busy for brass bands); finish the Christmas newsletter I started with a burst of enthusiasm three weeks ago.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ... ballerina? or fairy?

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Blog Personality

Interesting. Thanks to Willa at Sierra Highlands I used this Typealyzer to analyse the personality type of my blog.

ESFP - The Performers

The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always at risk of exhausting themselves.

They enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.

That comes out with a mix of similarities and differences to my own personality type, which is ENTP. I'm slightly surprised that it comes out as "feeler" rather than "thinker", though not surprised that the visual, immediate element of a blog swings it towards "sensing" rather than "intuiting". The ESFP description makes is sound as though my blog is a bright and cheery place to visit, which is nice.

Both my cookery and knitting blogs are "Doers" with ESTP personalities, which figures as they are about concrete activities.

Friday, December 05, 2008

7 Quick Takes Friday

-- 1 --

Little Cherub outgrew her last pair of miniscule wellies (waterproof rubber boots) so I bought her new pair. A pink, flowery pair. She is delighted with them - so delighted that she is sitting next to me on the sofa wearing a pink spotty hooded dress, tights, and yes ... wellies.

-- 2 --

This year the feast of St. Barbara (December 4th) passed me by in the haze of wheezles and sneezles, but next year we will definitely be copying Erin's idea for celebrating this day. As an unrepentant chocoholic this has to be one of the best liturgical year activities I have ever seen.

-- 3 --

What to do when you are laid low by the sneezles? Download this iPod Touch / iPhone app. Many happy hours of timewasting are guaranteed. If you can get the iPod back from timewasting daughters, that is!

-- 4 --

I promised to take Star Christmas shopping tonight. Wheezles notwithstanding, we are going to have to go as her school shoes are falling apart yet again - letting water in and disintegrating from the inside out. Marks and Spencer has now officially failed the roadworthy school shoes test, along with pretty much every other pair we have tried. It seems manufacturers do not realise that some children have long walks to and from school, and therefore need shoes that will stand up to real use. To be fair, one Clarks pair did last two terms, but their shoes fail the Star pickiness test. So far, Angel's cheap discount store pair are holding up surprisingly well, so I'm hoping we can find something there. School shoes and Christmas shopping ... it's going to be a long evening.

-- 5 --

Did you know that if you can't find purple and rose candles for an Advent wreath, white is the liturgically correct colour? I didn't until this week. So it was lucky that white was the only colour I could find on Saturday, having forgotten to pick up a box of red or gold ones in the supermarket as I intended.

-- 6 --

I just realised with utter horror that if you add together the weights of all three of my daughters, the result would be pretty close to my own weight. Admittedly both the older two are very, very slimline, and Cherub is tiny ... but even so!

-- 7 --

For UK readers ... Tesco are selling beautiful, big poinsettias for £2.49 each. I bought one yesterday and it looks gorgeous - so much so I think I will go back and get a couple more. And they are guaranteed to last until early January. Though sadly, they are not guaranteed against plant-watering failure.

For more quick takes, visit Jen at Conversion Diary.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Wheezles and Sneezles

This morning Little Cherub informed me "I've got sneezles", and indeed, like Christopher Robin, we are all suffering from wheezles and sneezles in some degree. If coughs are a symptom there is a strong possibility that some of us also have phtheezles.

I'm hoping we will still be imitating Christopher Robin tomorrow:

Christopher Robin
Got up in the morning,
The sneezles had vanished away.
And the look in his eye
Seemed to say to the sky,
"Now, how to amuse them to-day?"
Cherub is at that endearing stage where she can articulate what is wrong, but sometimes loses things in translation ...

Me: Is your throat sore?
Cherub: No!
Me: Does it hurt inside your neck?
Cherub: Yes!

She was also keen to make clear that despite being decidedly warm she was not poorly and should not be given medicine (Calpol), which she hates. "I not need medicine" she informed me ... then, winningly and clearly playing what she considered her trump card ... "I is not crying!"

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Pear Tree

I love Amazon marketplace, where I have been able to pick up some lovely picture books for the cost of postage and a nominal penny charge. The latest arrival was The Pear Tree by Meredith Hooper, illustrated by Bee Willey (who also illustrated The Jesse Tree). This is a beauty! It uses the Twelve Days of Christmas format, but begins with a pigeon in a pear tree in January and moves round the year adding extra animals for each month (two starlings, three bees, four squirrels and so on). On each page the animals are illustrated in and around the pear tree, which is seen moving from its bare winter branches, through spring buds, leaves, blossoms and fruit, and back to bare winter again. Some of the animals are quite tiny and need eagle-eyed spotting. The level of detail is still a bit much for Little Cherub who ran out of steam around June, but I can see us getting a lot of pleasure from this book over the next few years.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 1st December

For Monday 1st December

Outside My Window ... dark, cold, wet December morning.

I am thinking ... about the possibility of Star and Little Cherub switching rooms. Star likes her old room, even though it is smaller than her current one, and a larger room would give more space for Cherub to play and room for toy storage.

From the learning rooms ... Help Week at Angel's school, fund raising for various charities.

I am thankful for ... a quiet day today.

From the kitchen ... turkey steaks and mushroom sauce for dinner. Mince pies to be baked if I have the energy.

I am wearing ... ridiculous pink pyjamas.

I am creating ... socks. I had an urge to knit socks. One toddler pair is done (blue, her choice), and I am working on a pair for myself.

I am going ... to rest as much as possible today. It is my turn for the cough and cold that has been working its way round the family.

I am reading ... Christmas books. Admiring impressive crafts and complicated recipes that I have no intention of attempting.

I am hoping ... Little Cherub has a good long nap this afternoon. She didn't settle until 10.30 last night and is likely to be tired and cross today.

I am hearing ... Tevye leaving for work.

Around the house ... Advent wreath and calendar. No Jesse Tree this year - I decided to settle for doing less things but doing them well.

One of my favorite things ... Christmas! And by extension, Advent. I love everything about the whole season.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a mother and daughter shopping expedition with Star; helping to organise an end of term Nativity Play for the First Communion classes ... there are two classes and they have only rehearsed separately ... Mary and Joseph have never met ... it is going to be an exercise in chaos limitation.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ...

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Traditions: Young Wheat

According to some traditions, we are linked to the ancient past by young wheat, which in the Advent period represents the awakening of all new life. It is still a custom in Slovenia, usually on St. Lucia Day (December 13th) or St. Barbara Day (December 4th), to plant wheat seeds in shallow bowls. The bowls are placed in the crib, under the Christmas tree, or elsewhere in the living room, and during the Christmas period fresh green wheat sprouts grow from the seeds. This wheat is left to grow until the Festival of the Three Kings (Epiphany) or until Candlemas (February 2nd) at the latest. Similar traditions still exist in France, where lentils are also grown, and in croatia and the Ukraine, where the sprouted wheat has place of honour on the Christmas table.
Christmas! Traditions, Celebrations and Food Across Europe (Stella Ross Collins)
No wheat seeds here, but on the feast of St. Barbara (4th) I plan to cut some twigs from the hedge surrounding our garden, put them in water and see if I can force them to flower during Christmas.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Advent Music

After another trawl through the iTunes store and my music library here are some suggestions of music for Advent. Christmas music to come later.

Advent (General)

  • O Come, O Come Emmanuel - of course! I downloaded the version by the choir of King's College, Cambridge.
  • Gabriel's Message, also performed by King's College Choir
  • Advent Mass and Vespers from Chant - Music for Paradise by Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz
  • The Kingdom Triumphant by Eric Ball (Norman Law and Sellers Engineering Band) - rousing brass band setting of three Advent carols. Not sure what the first is, but it segues into O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ends with Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending.
  • Christmas is Now Drawing Near at Hand (traditional), from Frost and Fire, The Watersons
St. Nicholas
  • Canticle to St. Nicholas, performed by St. Eliyah Children's Choir - beautiful Orthodox hymn
  • St. Nicolas Cantata by Benjamin Britten
  • The Advent Polka / St. Nick's Brawl, The Albion Christmas Band - fiddle music
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town
  • When Santa Got Stuck Up the Chimney
  • Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer
Immaculate Conception
  • Immaculate Mary (hymn)
  • Gregorian Chant: Graduale Romanum - Missa in Conceptione Immaculata
Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent)
  • Gaudete (medieval hymn) - I like the folk version by Steeleye Span
O Antiphons (used duing last week of Advent)
  • Seven Magnificat Antiphons by Arvo Part
  • Advent Carols from St. John's: Antiphons, performed by choir of St. John's College - plainchant

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Preparing for Advent

Advent calendar - bought
Chocolates for Advent calendar - bought
Advent candle ring - found
Jesse tree decorations - found
Blog template - tweaked
Jesse tree - still dithering
Candles for Advent ring - still to buy

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

St. Catherine of Alexandria

In honour of my name saint ... a day late, but hopefully of use next year!

A Few Facts

Timeline: died c.305 at Alexandria, Egypt
Feast day: November 25th
Patronage includes: lacemakers, librarians, unmarried girls, educators, students and schoolchildren
Colours: St. Catherine's colours are green for wisdom and yellow for faith

The story of St. Catherine is legendary and for this reason her name was removed from the calendar of saints in 1969. It was reinstated in 2002 and she is now considered an intercessor for unity between the western and eastern Churches, where she is greatly venerated.

Things to Read


  • Saints for Young Readers (Susan Wallace)
  • Lion Treasury of Saints
  • A Story of St. Catherine of Alexandria by Brother Flavius (Neumann Press)
Picture Study

Traditions associated with St. Catherine

Lacemaking was an important occupation here in Bedfordshire, and "Cattern's Day" was an important holiday for the lacemakers. Cattern's Day marked the point of the year at which lacemakers The day was celebrated with "Cattern cakes" and the custom of jumping over a lighted candlestick. This was the origin of the rhyme:
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack jump over the candlestick
The tradition of making and eating Cattern Cakes dates back to the saint's namesake Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII ...
The origin of [Cattern Cakes] was the concern of Catherine of Aragon, who when hearing the plight of the lace makers of Bedfordshire, burnt all her lace and commissioned new lace, thus keeping the lace makers employed. There after the lace makers contributed to a fund that provided tea and cakes on this day.
In France, heart shaped cakes are given on St. Catherine's Day to unmarried women over the age of 25 to encourage them to find love. The women are called "Catherinettes" and wear green and yellow hats.

Food for St. Catherine's Day

Craft Ideas:


O God Who gavest the Law to Moses on the summit of Mount Sinai,
and didst miraculously place the body of Thy blessed virgin-martyr Catherine
in the selfsame spot by the ministry of Thy holy angels,
grant, we beseech Thee, that her merits and pleadings
may enable us to reach the mountain which is Christ.
(Collect of St.Catherine from traditional Roman Lectionary)

Almighty and eternal God,
who gavest to Thy people the invincible virgin and martyr Saint Catherine,
grant that, by means of her intercession,
we may be strengthened in faith and constancy,
and spend ourselves unsparingly
in working for the unity of Thy Church.
(New collect of St. Catherine from Roman Lectionary)

St. Catherine, St. Catherine, O lend me thine aid
And grant that I never may die an old maid.

Finally ...

Check out St. Catherine on Facebook!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


One minor frustration since Angel and I became iPod owners is that we couldn't find a way to convert DVDs to MP4 files so that we could play them on our iPods. I looked at a couple of programs with a view to buying one, but they looked clunky and confusing and I couldn't justify the price. Thanks to a tip from my helpful neighbour we now have free DVD / MP4 conversion software and are busily overloading the iPods.

Handbrake has both Mac and Windows versions and is very simple to use. One caveat for Mac users ... the most recent versions only work on the new Leopard operating system. If (like me) you still have the old OS X 10.4, you can find an old version here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 24th November

For Monday 17th November

Outside My Window ... grey and damp, with bare tree branches.

I am thinking ... that it would be fun to experience some of this weather, just for a little while. It is so totally outside my experience.

From the learning rooms ... 1:1 Learning Conversation day for Angel. Normal school is cancelled and all the students get a 15 minute one-on-one appointment with their class tutor to discuss their progress. The rest of the day is supposed to be spent doing assigned work at home. Right now, Angel is sleeping.

I am thankful for ... the friend who gave me a lift to Church yesterday morning. I discovered at 10.05 that our car had two flat tyres and I was due to play the organ at 10.30!

From the kitchen ... Cattern Pie for St. Catherine's day tomorrow. Not only is she my name saint, but she is patron of lacemakers. We live on the edge of an area where lacemaking was a traditional occupation, and Cattern's Day was celebrated as a holiday by the lacemakers.

I am wearing ... beige hooded sweater, faded blue jeans, striped fluffy socks. Warm and cosy, but on the scruffy side.

I am creating ... a sweater in navy cotton. I found it in my knitting box, three-quarters done when I abandoned it back in the spring.

I am going ... to play some games with Little Cherub. She is deep in a game playing phase. I'm hoping Father Christmas will expand her collection, as we could all use some variety!

I am reading ... The Magical Maze by Ian Stewart. Living maths.

I am hoping ... Tevye manages to get the tyres fixed or replaced this morning. It looks as though one of us ran over a nail. (He just texted: one repairable, one needs replacing)

I am hearing ... Cherub click-clicking with her Playmobil again. A camper van this time. I rotate the larger Playmobil toys.

Around the house ... a mouse in the garage. I know from experience that any food stuffs left in the garage will attract mice. I thought I could get away with a very thick box of chocolate brownie mix. Wrong. Apparently mice like gourmet chocolate brownie mix.

One of my favorite things ... my toasty warm, feather and down winter duvet.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... haircuts for myself and the two older girls, and maybe the toddler if she cooperates; preparations for Advent (I gave up on the felt Jesse tree idea for now).

Here is picture thought I am sharing ... I just found and scanned in this photo of my great-grandmother, Frances Dugdale

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christmas Newsletter

In response to overwhelming demand (from one commenter!) to hear about previous ideas we had used for Christmas newsletters, and not wishing to disappoint my reader ...

Due to massive incompetence, it seems we only have a copy of last year's newsletter. All the previous ones have been lost in the shuffle of various computers, and we never had the sense to keep hard copies. Last year we took a literary theme, using book titles as headings for each section, illustrated with cover art borrowed from Amazon. So a section on the girls came under Little Women, Ballet Shoes covered dancing, Five Went Down to the Sea (Famous Five) was for our beach holiday, Tevye's trip to his father's home town of Gdansk was Roots, and so on.

Racking my fuzzy brain for previous themes ... one was a similar idea with song titles, another was a humorous school report with subject headings (holidays under geography, dance under PE, and so on). I'm fairly sure I remember one with a multiple choice question format, though Tevye thinks not ... but given that he writes multiple choice questions for a living it would be very obvious. I think there was also a "Twelve Days of Christmas" letter, where we managed to come up with something relating to our lives for each of the numbers.

I enjoy the creative element of writing newsletters. Writing and addressing Christmas cards is a whole different ball game ...

Friday, November 21, 2008

7 Quick Takes Friday

Joining in with Jennifer's seven quick takes again ...

-- 1 --

This week I had a moment of awareness when I stopped to truly appreciate my good fortune. How many 48 year olds get to start their day singing nursery rhymes with an enthusiastic, giggling two year old? There may be times when I feel old and tired and stiff, but I wouldn't swap for the world.

-- 2 --

Friday is my day for socialising over food. My neighbour (and good friend) doesn't work on Fridays so we usually share breakfast, and Little Cherub and I regularly go out for lunch with my mother. I've also promised to take my middle daughter to Borders this evening for a browse and a Starbuck's hot chocolate. Lots to look forward to today!

-- 3 --

I can't say I was surprised by the announcement I heard on the radio news that October's retail trading figures had failed to live up to the doom and gloom predictions of the media. Sales had fallen only a microscopic 0.1% since last month. I went to a large retail park on Saturday to pick up a couple of duvets. Busy, busy.

-- 4 --

Listening to coverage of the economic summit I noticed another difference between elections in the US and the UK. In the UK the leader of the winning party becomes prime minister with immediate effect; in the US there is a time lag before the new president takes office, leaving the outgoing president in a rather awkward position where he has to look presidential but can't actually commit to anything.

-- 5 --

Tevye and I have a tradition of sending out an annual Christmas newsletter with a twist. Each year we try to come up with an original theme or approach. I'm feeling smug that I managed to hit on something entirely new for this Christmas. Unfortunately I can't tell you what as some recipients read this blog. All I can say is that it is quirky and cryptic and different from anything we have done before.

-- 6 --

Angel came home from school yesterday with an interim report giving scores for behaviour, effort made in class, and organisation and quality of homework. Excellent scores across the board except, bizarrely, for English were they were very poor. Having looked at her English work I can confidently predict that someone messed up and input the wrong numbers (the report is all electronically generated). How nice to be able to be so sure that a bad report is wrong ... and how unlike her parents she is. I found some of my old school reports a while ago. Comments included the classic "K does the minimum of work or less". Tevye tells me his weren't much better.

-- 7 --

Winter is forecast to arrive today, with temperatures plunging down to freezing and maybe a few snow flurries over the weekend. According to weather lore, a cold November is supposed to herald a mild, wet winter ... "if November ice will bear a duck, all the rest is mud and muck".

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Tale of Two Zoos

Today I took advantage of the weather - dry and not too cold - to use my membership pass and take Little Cherub to Whipsnade Zoo. Unusually for Whipsnade in November we managed to stay quite warm - the zoo is in a very exposed position and gets every blast of cold wind going. The five layers of clothes may have helped; so may the hot soup and chips (fries) for lunch. As this is the zoo's winter season we were able to take the car in without charge and drive round, turning it into a rather eclectic safari-style experience. I had never noticed before just how geographically jumbled parts of the zoo are ... reindeer, antelope, yaks and camels all sharing the same large open area was a particularly bizarre combination!

It is a while since I had taken Cherub on her own and it was very noticeable how much more engaged and curious she has become. We have definitely moved beyond the "look, an elephant!" stage to real interest in the different animals and their habits - camels eating hay, yaks that give milk ("milk come from cows!" ... "yes, and from yaks too" ... "oooohhh!!!"), the size of a yawning hippos mouth. She was intrigued by the mara which roam freely, which she called "mara rabbits" after I said they looked a bit like a giant rabbit. She also took charge of the map and wanted me to show her where the different animals were - they are marked with little pictures - and where we were going next.

Our highlight of the day was a stand off between a rhino and a magpie. The magpie was perched on the muddy rhino's back pecking at something tasty it had found there. This was clearly irritating the poor rhino, who tried everything he could to shake it off - running (too slow!), shaking, and wriggling as best a rhino can. The magpie simply stood there and carried on pecking. After a while the rhino gave up and just stood looking grumpy until the magpie eventually decided it was done and flew off. I'm sure there is a fable in there somewhere.

Today's zoo trip reminded me that I meant to post some photos from our trip to London Zoo at half-term and forgot. Here are a few to make up for the lack of any today (I forgot the camera) ...

Star took this photo of one of her favourite animals, the tapir ...

The pair of silverback gorillas ...

We loved the butterfly house. This raggedy moth was the size of a soup plate ...

And finally Star with dragons. The Welsh dragon came to visit after she was voted class "star of the week"; the komodo dragon can be seen in the background trying to disguise himself as a log. Lighting and focus were my downfall in this photo, but he was such an impressive lizard I'm posting it anyway.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November Prayers

I have been finding it difficult to get Little Cherub to engage with a prayer time in the morning, beyond playing with anything I have set out as part of a liturgical year display. Arranging angels, yes; joining in with (or just tolerating) even the shortest of prayers, no.

For November, I set out some photos of family members who have died - my father and grandparents, Tevye's parents, and an aunt who died earlier this year - and a row of tea lights, with one candle for each person I want to remember this month. And this time, she is hooked! We light the candles, look at the photos, talk about who each candle is for and pray for them. Then she blows the candles out. She is so enthusiastic she even wants to do it more than once in a day. And the enthusiasm has extended into wanting to look at and talk about the "saint of the week" picture I try to remember to keep out, light another candle and say an extra prayer. I'm saying a simple morning offering and hoping that she will soon pick it up and start to join in.

I admit we were nearly half way through November before I got this organised, but I'm glad I decided it was better late than never.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 17th November

For Monday 17th November

Outside My Window ... late autumn. Many trees almost bare, some still with old yellow leaves falling.

I am thinking ... I must be more disciplined about going to sleep earlier. I'm a night owl and tend to come to life at bed time.

From the learning rooms ... Little Cherub is getting interested in letters. She likes to spell out her name on her bedroom door ("Naomi ... Apple ... Orange ... Mummy ... Ice Cream") and is beginning to pick the letters out when she sees them. This morning she pointed out "Peppa Pig" (p) and "elephant" (e) on the back of a book.

I am thankful for ... a big cardboard box that arrived this morning containing a new printer. The old one had reached the point where it only worked if you held the back together as it printed.

From the kitchen ... more apples from a friend's tree, so this morning Cherub and I made Dorset apple cake and put two apple crumbles in the freezer. There are enough apples left to make an Eve's pudding tomorrow. Bella's delicious sandwich bread is rising in the bread machine. Dinner tonight is chicken stir fry and noodles.

I am wearing ... black jeans, grey polo neck sweater, blue and pink striped fluffy socks, blue crocs.

I am creating ... playlists on iTunes. I had an urge to put together selections of seasonal music.

I am going ... to use iPlayer to catch up on a new BBC series about picture books while Cherub naps.

I am reading ... knitting and Christmas books. I am in the mood for making and doing.

I am hoping ... to get most of my Christmas gifts bought and wrapped by the end of November. I like to be able to focus on Advent and not end up with a last minute rush.

I am hearing ... the click-click of Cherub playing with her Playmobil aeroplane.

Around the house ... laundry drying; a new electric blanket for our bed - the old one broke while still under warranty and the replacement arrived this morning; the printer waiting to be unpacked and set up.

One of my favorite things ... listening to Little Cherub talking to herself as she plays.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... I want to try to make a felt or fabric Jesse Tree. I used to use a silver spray-painted branch but threw it out when it got tatty and have never managed to come up with a replacement I am happy with. Last year I just used a small artificial Christmas tree.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ... the queue for lunch at London Zoo

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to do one of your own.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

November Music

I spent some time last night trawling through iTunes looking for seasonal music. Even though we are already half way through November, I'm posting a list for the month. That way I will be able to find it again next year! Some of the music I know or own already, the rest sounds promising from 30 second samples but I haven't downloaded any yet.

  • Handel - Music for the Royal Fireworks
  • Durufle - Requiem: Pie Jesu
  • Britten - Sinfonia da Requiem
  • Karl Jenkins - In Paradisum: Requiem
  • De Victoria - Missa pro Defunctis
  • Faure - Requiem: In Paradisum
  • Mozart - Requiem
  • Elgar - Elegy (Opus 58)
  • Celtic Requiem (Mary McLaughlin)
  • Purcell - Ode for St. Cecilia's Day
  • Britten - Hymn to St. Cecilia
  • Herbert Howells - A Hymn for St. Cecilia

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Google Trends

I just discovered Google Trends where you can see graphs of the popularity of search terms. This site should only be visited by trivia loving geeks with time to waste. It seems I fall into this category.

The joy of these is not just to spot trends, but also patterns. This one for snow is entirely predictable but rather pretty. My favourite summer drink, Pimms, peaks in the summer, but the height of the peak varies according to the weather - colder summer, less hits.

You can find lots of economic trivia. Both Tesco and Waitrose (UK supermarket chains) have rising search numbers; both show peaks before Christmas, but Waitrose spikes much higher. Unsurprisingly, recession has jumped out of flat-lined nowhere to violent peaks and fluctuations in 2008.

Friday, November 14, 2008

7 Quick Takes Friday

I love this idea from Jennifer at Conversion Diary of posting seven quick takes ... snippets and half-thoughts that don't quite merit a fully formed post of their own. Check out Jennifer's quick takes for today and links to other contributors here. And if you also have half-formed thoughts and half-baked posts lurking at the back of your mind, add your own.

-- 1 --

I have been watching various BBC programmes on World War I broadcast for the ninetieth anniversary of Armistice Day. While I knew about the Spanish Flu epidemic after the war, I had no idea it started in an army camp and was rife among the soldiers on both sides. Many soldiers died right at the end of the war. Imagine how it must have felt to know your son or husband had survived the war and was due to return home imminently, only to hear a few days later that he had died of flu. Beyond poignant. Also, did you know that the Spanish Flu was a bird flu virus? H1N1, rather than the H5N1 bird flu that has been in the news over the last year or two.

-- 2 --

Moving swiftly on to something more cheerful ...I ordered new Crocs for Little Cherub for next summer as I wanted to take advantage of a 40% off sale. I was intrigued to see that this pair were made in Bosnia, unlike the last pair (and both mine) which came from China. If any UK readers are Crocs fans and want a discounted pair, I can recommend Sweetfeet Shoes - good selection, good service and good prices.

-- 3 --

I have been placing some online orders and have realised that I am a thematic Christmas present buyer. Which is another way of saying that once I have a good idea I'm inclined to run with it and buy variations of the same gift for more than one person. This year is, apparently, the year of the clock, the radio, and the toasty warm bed. And yes, there is a clock-radio in there for good measure. I'm not quite in the same league as my dad, who was a one stop Christmas shopper. At least he varied the shop he visited from year to year, though the book shop and Marks and Spencer tended to feature quite regularly.

-- 4 --

I have declared war on our gas usage (natural gas for heating / hot water) since the gas company insisted we need to increase our monthly payments by 50%. It is probably poetic justice that I can't get the central heating to work this afternoon.

-- 5 --

Lesson learned yesterday. Do not give a sticker to a toddler who is about to go to bed. You will have to hunt for the sticker before you can get the toddler upstairs. You will then be summoned to search for the missing sticker two minutes after you put the toddler down to sleep. The sticker will turn up in her bed only after you have mollified her with an alternative sticker. Two minutes later both stickers will have disappeared again. At that point, you need an older sister to calm her down by giving her a stuffed penguin to cuddle.

-- 6 --

Why, when Star has known for over a week that today would be a non-uniform day at school, was it still a major crisis this morning to decide what to wear?

-- 7 --

I'm sleepy. Little Cherub has had a run of waking early (6.00am or soon after). This morning she woke at five. She went back to sleep. I didn't. Why am I blogging when I should be taking a nap?

One Shelf at a Time - Shelf 9

The bottom shelf of my children's history collection (non-fiction - historical fiction is somewhere else entirely) ... an eclectic mix here. There are various books picked up in library sales, ranging from a book on Medieval People to (blush) a history of toilets; a few historical picture books; Diane Stanley biographies (Cleopatra, Peter the Great, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci); picture histories of Scotland and Ireland and other miscellaneous oddments. Then there are some adult level books: assorted chronicle-style books, ranging from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to Russia, and several historical atlases.

Three favourites from this shelf ...

How Children Lived by Chris and Melanie Rice ... similar in style to DK's Children Just Like Me. Each double page spread focuses on an imaginary child from a different era, beginning with the ancient Egyptians and ending with 1920s America.

The Boy Pharaoh: Tutankhamen by Noel Streatfeild ... although she is better known for her fiction (Ballet Shoes, White Boots and so on), Noel Streatfeild also wrote several history books for children. This one was written to accompany the Tutankhamen exhibition when it was shown in London in the early 1970s.

The Book of Greek Myths Pop-Up Board Games by Brian Lee ... does exactly what it says on the cover. Four pop-up board games, each themed on a different Greek myth, with everything you need to play them in a little pocket. Very unusual, and we have had a lot of fun with this one over the years.