Hyde Hall Gardens

Another day out – we went to Hyde Hall Gardens in April. We’ve been before, but this was easily my favourite time. The gardens were in bloom, and although it was a little windy, there are enough cafes and sheltered spots to make it enjoyable. Once again the photos will show it off better than my words…Starred Photos251

The little one loved the ducks of course, and we were all fascinated by the sculptures including the one below which moved in the wind.

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The small print – Hyde Hall is and RHS garden. Entry is £9.95 for adults, £4.95 for children aged 5-16 and free for under 5’s. The amounts vary a bit according to whether you include gift aid, buy family tickets etc etc but that’s roughly what you’ll pay. The cafe was busy, but we did get a table fairly easily. The food was good, although I wouldn’t recommend their kiddie lunchboxes – most of it was processed food and it included no fruit. They also have a very nice shop with plants, books, home goods, toys and more.

It’s not set up for children – keep an eye on them around the pond – so there is no playground, but there are plenty of areas for little ones to potter and it’s fairly buggy friendly (although you will be pushing on smooth grass if you want to explore the whole garden). We all had a lovely time and look forward to going again in a different season.

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Reading lately – May 2015

I fell off the wagon a bit with reading this month, so just a couple of books to mention. I always struggle to get into the next book after reading one I’ve really enjoyed which is why I stalled in May. But I’ve just started The Flight of the Maidens so hopefully June will go better.

The Well-Versed Family by Caroline Boykin

I heard Caroline speaking on the God Centred Mom podcast and was so inspired I went and bought her book before the episode even finished. Which was a blessing as I’ve already finished it, but also a mistake as they mention at the end of the podcast that the second edition has just come out. If you’re interested you may want to look out for that, but I can say the first edition was great too. It’s practical, inspiring and encouraging. Everything refers back to the Bible, and I’m so excited to start teaching the little one scripture and helping him learn to apply it to life in a year or so.

Disciplines of a Godly Family by Kent and Barbara Hughes

This wasn’t as accessible, but still had a lot of good points and ideas. The authors go into great detail about their own experiences and strategies which I don’t think would work for every family. I found their chapter on praying for your children particularly useful and it’s inspired me to be much more structured, specific and intentional about praying for the little one.

Reading lately – March/April 2015

IMG_0453I completely missed posting in March so here’s a double batch of my reads from the last couple of months…

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This is a good and slightly creepy mystery, which was originally published as a young adult novel in Spain. The main characters, a group of sixteen year olds from a Calcutta orphanage are very varied and I’d have loved to have heard more about some of them. The plot centres around one of the group, Ben and his long lost twin sister but I actually found some of the others more intriguing. The twins are stalked by a figure from their past who has vowed revenge – nothing very original but as you’d expect from the author of The Shadow of the Wind, it is well written and held my interest. It is a YA novel so doesn’t have the length or depth that would have made it a really good book but that doesn’t stop it being a fun read and definitely one to recommend to any teenagers you might know.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

There was a lot I enjoyed about this book. Characters with depth and some that even developed throughout the novel. Some I liked, some who were awful. A wide range of themes were touched on – love, faith, friendship, fishing, engineering, politics, a little about Yemen itself. The story is told through diary entries, letters, interviews, emails and extracts from an autobiography. It progresses at an engaging pace and the constant shifts in narrator and style keep it fresh. I was surprised by the ending and am not sure whether it is satisfying, but it certainly didn’t disappoint. I have already passed this book on so it missed the photo call, and I would suggest giving it a try if you are looking for a new read.

The Uglies series by Scott Westerfield

My sister lent me all four of these and I raced through them in a week of naptimes. They were a fun and quick read, but I never warmed to the main character as she complained for most of the four books. It’s dystopian teen fiction but it’s no The Hunger Games, which pretty much forms my benchmark for the genre.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

I don’t usually read short stories as I like to get absorbed in a book and spend a while with the characters. BUT. This was great and made me think I should try more collections like these. It opened windows into transitional periods of time in the lives of couples, families, communities and individuals and explored all sorts of themes. The people are all Indian emigrants in the US, and the juxtaposition of the two cultures was the best bit about the stories. My favourite was The Third and Final Continent, which followed a man, used to bachelorhood, as he awaits and then adjusts to the arrival of his new wife. Their growing together is painful, sweet, and finally, hopeful.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Despite my enjoyment of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, this was the winner of the stack this time around. It follows Sarah (the daughter of a rich plantation owner in 19th century South Carolina), and Hetty (the 10 year old slave presented to Sarah on her 11th birthday). Sarah has strong anti-slavery views, and Hetty is encouraged by her mother to understand that no one really owns her, so both girls face opposition as they become friends, grow up, grow apart and as the anti-slavery movement grows. It is inspired by the real Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina’s involvement in the abolishionist movement, and also touches on women’s rights, love and desire for parental acceptance. It’s beautifully written with strong voices from both protagonists, and has left me keen to read more of Sue Monk Kidd’s work – particularly The Secret Life of Bees which I’ve heard good things about.

Claremont Landscape Garden

We visited Claremont in early February for a family day out and had such a lovely time, it has inspired what I hope will be a regular series of posts here. I always love to read about what other people do in their free time, especially if it inspires adventures of our own.IMG_5791IMG_5810It was chilly (see the birds standing on the ice?) but bright and Claremont is a lovely little place to visit for a breath of fresh air, beautiful views and (as with all National Trust places) excellent cake in the cafe. I think photos will do it more justice than words so here are a few more…

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IMG_5803We are NT members so entry was free, but the website lists prices at £8 per adult and £4 per child. I’d say for a day out that would be a little pricey for us but with membership it is a bargain. There is a lovely wooden playground with a castle and a bridge, and the little one loved pottering around near the birds by the lake. As you can see, they’re pretty tame. In the woods you’ll stumble across lots of sculptures, and a thatched cottage with 19th century games and costumes (for the children!). There’s a nine pin bowling alley near the top of the hill, a lake, a tower and an amazing turf amphitheatre. And again, the cakes really do deserve a second mention…

Chinese New Year dinner party

Where have the last couple of weeks gone? Life has been bright around here – solo steps being taken (the little one), a new job started, friends seen, projects organised, muffins baked, a new game…

So I thought I’d pop by today to share a quick project I did on Saturday morning. We had invited friends over for a Chinese new year dinner party. I visited the oriental food shop in our town for the first time and it was the loveliest experience, the lady was so friendly and helpful. We served duck and pancakes for starters, followed by slow cooker Honey Sesame Chicken, and then finished up with some sweet nibbles from the shop, mainly picked up because I thought it would be fun to get people to guess their names and what was in them – “Peanut Dainties” and “Green Tea Mochi”.

Each course was followed by a quick (sometimes tenuously) Chinese themed game. It was so lovely to squeeze eight of us around the table and spend the evening enjoying ourselves. Something to build on if I remember my one little word!

IMG_5950To make it a Dinner Party rather than just a dinner, I put out some candles, napkins and these place cards. I already had the cards from a family gathering last year, and used my new watercolours to do some little pictures on each one. It took about an hour to do all eight, and some people took theirs home (no higher compliment!), so I just had these five left to photograph this morning. It was such a fun little project, and I am filled with respect for the people who did the originals – after a few failed attempts at replicating these I decided plants were easier than fish!

Reading lately – February 2015

My efforts to bring reading back into life have been going well. In the last month I’ve enjoyed…

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I liked this book a lot. The writing is good and doesn’t get in the way of the story. The characters are complicated, their depths explored but never completely opened to the reader. There are secrets, some of which are revealed and others that remain hidden. There are mysteries and twists I saw coming, and some that took me by surprise. The lady who sold me the book in Waterstones gave it a glowing recommendation, and the man next to her behind the counter recommended The Bees so that is next on my wish list.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

This is a beautiful story about a man, a life, his wife, their marriage, friendships long and fleeting, walking, England, acceptance…the list goes on and on. Harold is a wonderful character who goes from passive despair to determined hope. One day he receives a letter telling him that an old friend is dying. He sets out to post his reply and keeps walking. Rachel Joyce has also written a follow up about the woman he walks towards – The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy – so that is also on my list.

imageTooth and Nail by Ian Rankin

I am a big fan of mysteries so enjoyed this book from that point of view. I’d not read any of Rankin’s work before but it was lying around the house so I gave it a go. It’s a bit graphic and dark for my tastes, but it was a good story and a satisfying ending. The detective, Rebus, isn’t perfect but he’s very likeable and Rankin is an engaging writer.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera (translated by Sonia Soto)

I’m undecided about this novel. I’m pretty sure I won’t read it again but I did like it. I just wanted and expected to like it more. For me there wasn’t quite enough action, and a bit too much philosophical discussion – but that is exactly the problem I think the community featured have identified in the modern world. The main character, Miss Prim is supposed to be educated and sensible but seemed to flit around, constantly being unsettled and flustered by the views and ideas of those around her. She takes herself very seriously and while tolerant, seems determined not to be persuaded by any one else’s viewpoint. I think if you enjoyed Sophie’s World this might be something you enjoy, and for that reason I’ll be passing it on to my sister. It’s also worth noting that it has been translated – it’s well done but it also reminded me of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. That too contained a bit too much philosophy and too little action for my liking – but again, if you enjoyed it, maybe it is worth giving The Awakening of Miss Prim a try.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these if you’d like, I’d love to hear another perspective on them.

One of the best: Chocolate Brownie Cake

I recently made this amazing Chocolate Brownie Cake. I could not believe how easy and more importantly how delicious it was. I even burnt it a little (I’d recommend cooking for 30 minutes and keeping a close eye, instead of the 35-40 in the recipe), and it looks just ok, but when you taste it – it melts in the mouth.

IMG_5639This is not allergy friendly sadly – it contains chocolate, eggs, flour, butter, caster sugar and pecan nuts. I’m going to work on a version without wheat flour – it only takes 65g so I’m sure a substitution could be made. I’m also sure it would work fine without the nuts, although they do add some nice texture.

This has already gone into my collection of recipes to be repeated, and I’m sure it won’t be long before it makes a reappearance in our house.

Books lately – January 2015

IMG_5622One of the things that has fallen by the wayside since becoming a stay at home mother (and giving up the hour long train journey into London and back) has been time to sit and read. This Christmas holiday I have loved getting stuck into a few books and wanted to share some thoughts…

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

It took me ages to pick this up, mainly because I knew from the blurb it would be quite a serious read. I was right, but I’m so glad I got around to it. The writing is beautiful, and I alway love to read about times and places I’m unfamiliar with. This is set in Malaya before, during and after the second world war, as the Japanese prepare to, and then finally invade before being driven out after Pearl Harbour. It follows an English-Chinese boy, Philip. He is torn between his duty to his family, their company, his home of Penang and his duty to and love for his Japanese martial arts master Endo-san.

It is fascinating to see how choices made with the best intentions have devastating results, how cultures collide, and how relationships can be good and also destructive all at once. Philip’s actions and alliances have far bigger implications that he realises. It is very gripping and I’d definitely recommend it. If you’ve already enjoyed it, try The Garden of Evening Mists also by Tan Twan Eng.

The Cookoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

As most people will know, J K Rowling wrote The Cookoo’s Calling under a pseudonym before being outed by the media as it’s author. I enjoyed reading it in the light of this, and wondered whether I’d have spotted the similarity in style which I can now see clearly. This is a fun and gripping murder mystery. It’s not a children’s book (a bit more ‘language’ than in Harry Potter!), but isn’t hard to lose yourself in. Mysteries are one of my favourite genres so I found the ending a little predictable but it was very enjoyable anyway. The biggest draw for me was the two main characters – detective Cormoran Strike and his new receptionist/secretary, Robin. We see the story unfold from both perspectives, which I think adds to the telling. Robin is efficient, keen and observant but doesn’t yet have Strike’s experience. I liked the interplay between the two of them as well – it was good to see their working relationship and friendship developing as both also juggle intrusive personal lives. I’ll look forward to reading more – a follow up book, The Silkworm is out and I’m hopeful there will be more!

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

A really interesting book. There is a basic mystery – when Rosemary was five, she was sent to her grandparents’ house. When she returned home, her sister Fern was gone. The first half of the book leads up to a twist which I won’t reveal. At the time the twist was disappointing – it was not at all what I expected and changed the book completely. After a while I decided I liked the twist – it’s unusal for the premise of the story to be so turned on its head, and as a reader it was challenging to let go of my ideas of what the book was, and to enjoy the reality. It became a story about family relationships, trust, morality and loss. In the end the story it became was even better than the one I’d hoped for. The ending was satisfying, and hopeful. Definitely one I’d recommend. I’ve skirted around the main theme so as not to give away anything important, but let me know if you’ve read it and what you think – I’d love to hear someone else’s perspective!

I was excited to receive a Waterstones gift card for Christmas, and have queued up The Awakening of Miss Prim, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Miniaturist to read next. I’ll be back with some more thoughts in a few months…

A Painted Gift

Happy New Year everyone! Today I’m sharing a project I completed just before Christmas as a gift for the little one.

One of his favourite books at the moment is ‘Come on Daisy’ by Jane Simmons. I’d never heard of it before but we got it out of the library the first time we went and then renewed it about five times before finally returning it. The Daisy books were one of the first things I suggested when family began asking for Christmas present ideas for him.

I decided it would be fun to try making a Daisy artwork for his bedroom. I don’t know how long the interest in ducks will last but it made a good project and having it in mind as a Christmas present meant I had a deadline. Always good.

1412 CraftMy first step was to paint the background – a splodge of a few different blues, green and white on a plate, and a nice wide sponge “brush” and I spread it over the canvas until it looked right. I always overestimate how much paint I’ll need. Luckily with acrylics you can cover the plate in clingfilm (pressing it close down into the paint) and it stops it from drying out for a few days. This helps when doing multiple coats of the same colour as well as you don’t need to match the colour you’ve previously mixed.

Once that was done, I drew the outline in pencil and began colouring. The issue with painting the whole background first is that then lighter colours like yellows need a few coats to stop it showing through. When the base colours for each section were done I started the shading – a lighter red on the top of the beak and feet, the darker edges of the leaf and so on.

1412 Craft1Again, my method is keep going until it looks right and then stop. Sometimes the stopping gets missed and I have to go back a bit. I used acrylics and the brilliant thing is if you paint something and then decide straight away it looks wrong, you can usually fix it with water and some kitchen roll.

IMG_5336I added the dragonfly at the end and finally it was done. The whole thing probably took about 3 hours, but with lots of drying time in between. I did it over a week, a little bit every day. In reality the colours are a little brighter than in the pictures. I was so pleased with how it came out and I’m sure the little one will enjoy having it in his bedroom in 2015.

One Little Word: BUILD

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Aristotle

This has rung true in so many areas of my life this last year. In creative pursuits, in motherhood, in marriage, in faith, in friendships…the list goes on.

One of my longest running projects was a record book of the little one throughout the course of his first year. One photo every week for a year, from the week he was born through to first birthday. Some weeks the picture just worked – light, clean clothes and happy baby all aligned for a lovely image. Other weeks were harder – it would be dark by the time I got around to taking the photo, the little one would be tired and when I finally uploaded it the picture would be a little out of focus. I’d look at it, be momentarily discouraged and then I’d stop, step back and look at the final goal. We had the book printed just before Christmas and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result. All together, the pictures tell a story. I see my little boy learning to smile, clap and wave. I see him growing in and out of new outfits. I see his hair appearing and his personality developing. The whole is so much bigger than 52 individual photographs.

I’ve noticed this translating to other projects (what would my felt fruit basket be with just one banana?), to motherhood (which really is made up of so many little things repeated, multiplied and added to) and to relationships (in which every email, smile, kind gesture builds up a friendship).

So, for 2015, my aim is just to keep building. Building memories, creative habits, family traditions, investing in good friendships. I’ve seen the idea of One Little Word floating around before but this is the first time I’ve found a word that feels right. 2015 will be the year I BUILD.

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