Monday, December 27, 2010

My Favourite Posts this Year

It's been a heck of a year for us with the new baby, the move to London, the eviction, the three moves and the furniture. During it all I've blogged and blogged and blogged.

I thought I'd round up my favourite blogs throughout the year - a recap, if you will.

On January 5th I made my New Year's resolutions which you can read here. I accomplished all except losing the rest of the baby weight. It's been a wildly trying time in London and finding a minute to exercise is impossible. But as I said, I'll just tack it onto my list for 2011.

Reading back over the blog I'm surprised I am still living. It's a funny thing, time - it really does heal all wounds and much like pregnancy - you DO forget how bad things were. It started with the many, many illnesses I picked up when we first got here and the first of the three computers being destroyed. Ah, read the beginning of fun times in London is Trying To Kill Me here.

We found our first flat and tried to move in. Yeah, that didn't happen. Read it here.

Then the boxes arrived. Oh, that was hellish. We couldn't move for the rest of our stay in that flat. See here.

Let's not forget how fun the eviction was - read here.

We moved and things started to look up! See here.

I started to enjoy the hood and take photos here, here, here and here.

We did a little travelling to fun places Stonehenge, NY, our lake house, Bath/Wales and Ludlow.

Fall began and I became involved in my women's club, Cate started school and things started to take off.

The story of how I met my husband Fen was really popular and was one of my most fun to write.

Some of my more fun posts were James Bond and Moi, Bar Boulud, Heeeere's Mommy, and Things That Go Bump in the Night.

Hopefully 2011 will go just a bit smoother. Happy new year to you all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The history of all things Christmas

I think most people know the origins of Christmas - the birth of  Christ - but what most don't is the holiday we celebrate today is steeped in pagan rituals. In the Western world, the birthday of Jesus Christ has been celebrated on December 25th since AD 354, replacing an earlier date of January 6th. The Christians had by then appropriated many pagan festivals and traditions of the season, that were practiced in many parts of the Middle East and Europe, as a means of stamping them out.

In Scandinavia, a period of festivities known as Yule contributed another impetus to celebration, as opposed to spirituality. As Winter ended the growing season, the opportunity of enjoying the Summer's bounty encouraged much feasting and merriment. Another popular ritual was the burning of the Yule Log, which is strongly embedded in the pagan worship of vegetation and fire, as well as being associated with magical and spiritual powers.
The Celtic culture of the British Isles revered all green plants, but particularly mistletoe and holly. These were important symbols of fertility and were used for decorating their homes and altars.

 New Christmas customs appeared in the Middle Ages. The most prominent contribution was the carol, which by the 14th century had become associated with the religious observance of the birth of Christ.
Saints Days have also contributed to our Christmas celebrations. A prominent figure in today's Christmas is Saint Nicholas who for centuries has been honored on December 6th. He was one of the forerunners of Santa Claus.
Celebrating Christmas has been controversial since its inception. Since numerous festivities found their roots in pagan practices, they were greatly frowned upon by conservatives within the Church. The feasting, gift-giving and frequent excesses presented a drastic contrast with the simplicity of the Nativity, and many people throughout the centuries and into the present, condemn such practices as being contrary to the true spirit of Christmas. The earliest English reference to December 25th as Christmas Day did not come until 1043.
The custom of sending Christmas cards started in Britain in 1840 when the first 'Penny Post' public postal deliveries began. (Helped by the new railway system, the public postal service was the 19th century's communication revolution, just as email is for us today.) As printing methods improved, Christmas cards were produced in large numbers from about 1860. They became even more popular in Britain when a card could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one half-penny - half the price of an ordinary letter.
Traditionally, Christmas cards showed religious pictures - Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, or other parts of the Christmas story. Today, pictures are often jokes, winter pictures, Father Christmas, or romantic scenes of life in past times.
Father Christmas is based on a real person, St. Nicholas, which explains his other name 'Santa Claus' which comes from the Dutch 'Sinterklaas'. Nicholas was a Christian leader from Myra (in modern-day Turkey) in the 4th century AD. He was very shy, and wanted to give money to poor people without them knowing about it. It is said that one day, he climbed the roof of a house and dropped a purse of money down the chimney. It landed in the stocking which a girl had put to dry by the fire! This may explain the belief that Father Christmas comes down the chimney and places gifts in children's stockings.

He has morphed into Santa Claus or Father Christmas who we all know as a busy toymaker who lives with elves and reindeer at the North Pole!
In English-speaking countries, the day following Christmas Day is called 'Boxing Day'. This word comes from the custom which started in the Middle Ages around 800 years ago: churches would open their 'alms boxe' (boxes in which people had placed gifts of money) and distribute the contents to poor people in the neighbourhood on the day after Christmas. The tradition continues today - small gifts are often given to delivery workers such as postal staff and children who deliver newspapers. 
Many legends exist about the origin of the Christmas tree. One is the story of Saint Boniface, an English monk who organized the Christian Church in France and Germany. One day, as he traveled about, he came upon a group of pagans gathered around a great oak tree about to sacrifice a child to the god Thor. To stop the sacrifice and save the child's life Boniface felled the tree with one mighty blow of his fist. In its place grew a small fir tree. The saint told the pagan worshipers that the tiny fir was the Tree of Life and stood the eternal life of Christ.

Another legend holds that Martin Luther, a founder of the Protestant faith, was walking through the forest one Christmas Eve. As he walked he was awed by the beauty of millions of stars glimmering through the branches of the evergreen trees. So taken was he by this beautiful sight that he cut a small tree and took it home to his family. To recreate that same starlight beauty he saw in the wood, he placed candles on all its branches.

Yet another legend tells of a poor woodsman who long ago met a lost and hungry child on Christmas Eve. Though very poor himself, the woodsman gave the child food and shelter for the night. The woodsman woke the next morning to find a beautiful glittering tree outside his door. The hungry child was really the Christ Child in disguise. He created the tree to reward the good man for his charity.

Others feel the origin of the Christmas tree may be the "Paradise Play." In medieval times most people could not read and plays were used to teach the lessons of the bible all over Europe. The Paradise Play, which showed the creation of man and the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden was performed every year on December 24th. The play was performed in winter creating a slight problem. An apple tree was needed but apple trees do not bare fruit in winter so a substitution was made. Evergreens were hung with apples and used instead.

I could go on and on (most of this is stolen from all over the internet, by the way). But I have a tree to decorate, a nativity to put up and short bread to make. I wish you all a very merry Christmas, happy Hannukah, happy kwanza, or whatever you decide to celebrate. Regardless of it's start, Christmas is a time to celebrate family and friends. So cheers everyone! 

Monday, December 20, 2010

A good day?

Today has turned out to be a good day - I think. First Cate developed a fever, after I came back from a big shopping haul. I gave her some meds, a snack and drink and set her up on the sofa. For a special treat I said she could watch any movie she wanted. I knew she'd say, 'Princess-rella' which is what she has called Cinderella since she could speak. But she said, 'I want Cinderella.' My soul was crushed just a tad to see she is, indeed, growing up.(She's currently feeling fine and playing Candyland with her brother who is trying to eat the cards)

I just nodded and turned on the television. It was tuned to Nick Jr. as I set about getting the DVD in order.  To by complete surprise X waddled over, pulled the binky/dummy out of his mouth, pointed and said - clear as a bell - 'Peppa!' Peppa Pig was on. It's his first word (other than Mama and Dada). I was stunned and delighted. He speaks!

I applauded him and called Fen into the room to marvel at our wee son's genius. He didn't say it again, but was clearly pleased with himself.

And then two things dawned on me - both of my kids are growing up. I don't have a baby anymore. An overwhelming urge to have another washed over me like a tsunami. I can't seem to shake it. There is NO WAY I'm having another child but'd be nice...

They say you forget about how hard pregnancy and childbirth is - also the first six months of a child's life. And it's so very true. One of the reasons why I started this blog when I was 7 months pregnant was to remind myself of how rough the last trimester is... so I look back at last year. Here are the 10 dumbest things said to me while pregnant, the last illness I had while with child,  the realization that a BABY is on the way, hormonal freak outs and then more freak outs followed by sleeplessnes and, of course, sweet, sweet bliss:


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nothing Says Christmas Like Snow Covered Palm Trees

This is the view from my lounge window today. It's snowing - and it's coming down in buckets. Everything always looks so much more beautiful with a nice white coating of powder, doesn't it?

I just think it's funny - having grown up in the Bahamas, palm and coconut trees are comforting to me - love 'em. So when we saw this building with the palms in front I knew it was the right place to move (considering all the trouble we had it was the right move at the time). But now it's winter and the palms covered in snow is madness! How on earth are they surviving this? Guess they're a hearty breed of palm.

Regardless, I love it. I used to think it wasn't Christmas until I saw twinkle lights wrapped around a palm tree trunk. Now I think snow on a palm is the way to go!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Guest Post at Beckicklesie...

I'm guest blogging over at Becca's blog at the moment. Go and have a looksee. I asked Becca for a recipe from Cheffy Daddy (her partner is a chef) and he sent over the cutest recipe ever - for meringue snowmen. It took two days (because of time) but Cate was thrilled with the outcome. It's fairly easy, loads of fun and delish! 

With the kids home for the holidays - it's a nice afternoon or two for you. Just don't let them eat too many in one sitting - they are pure sugar (but you can eat as many as you like!)

Becca is an absolute doll and her blog as well as Cheffy Daddy Daily, Oui Chef competitions are fantastic reads, loads of recipes, great giveaways, competitions it's just chock full of goodness. Go have a gander you might stay there for hours.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gifts for Teacher

 So I'm new at this whole school thing - being  a parent of a nursery school child. I thought I'd get a nice card and maybe a bottle of wine for my daughters two teachers. Wow, was I way off. I'm a member of the Parent/Carers Teacher Association and just thought I'd ask if gifts were acceptable. Oh, yeah...they are.

I remember baking cookies for  my teacher and presenting them along with a small gift my mother picked out. The teacher was always delighted (or acted so) and I was pleased she/he was pleased. I only had one teacher a year during primary school so it was one gift.

The nursery that my daughter attends is a different story. There is the main teacher - who is lovely. And then there are two teachers who trade days throughout the week with my daughter's group. There are also three other teachers in the class who each have a group of children they look after. Then there is the nurse and the two lunchtime fill-ins who look after the kids. I'm expected to give a gift to EACH of them. It's madness. Apparently, a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates won't do - well it will but I'd be considered a cheapo - not that they would ever say that.

Here's what folks suggested: gifts cards to different women boutiques (mid-level not high end), jewellery, vouchers for music or electronics, electronics, etc. Some folks were more like me - it's too much. They are all really very nice women, but I am not a Rockefeller. That's eight gifts I'm expected to buy. AND I gave little cards to her 39 classmates. So what do I do - should I be the cheapo and buy wine or go whole hog and buy them each an iPad?  I want to do what's right but I don't want to break the bank at the same time.

I'd love some input on this one....

Lucy (see below in comments) sent two lovely ideas over that I have to share. How ADORABLE are these?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Favourite London Christmas Lights

One thing that I really, truly love about London at this time of the year is the British know how to bring the Christmas spirit. The food alone in every store is delectable and so in the spirit, I love it. We're staying here through the holidays and our dance card is filling up with fun things to do. Last weekend we took a shopping trip through Regent and Oxford Streets and
Carnaby Street with a space theme

The tree at Covent Garden

Hamleys window


House of Fraser

Liberty of London's window

Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street

Oxford Street

Debenhams on Oxford Street

Saturday, December 11, 2010

British Mummy Bloggers Holiday Luncheon

Earlier this week I attended the British Mummy Blogger's luncheon which was just heaps of fun. X came with me and is usually no trouble at all. But after lunch I could tell he'd had enough. He'd skipped his nap so after he ate he was ready to hit the hay. Unfortunately I was seated as far from the entrance as possible and couldn't bring the pram over to the table and was going to sneak out early as to not make a scene. Well, the security guard wouldn't hear of it and after a bit of an ordeal, they carried my pram (sans X) through the food prep area and into the back of the restaurant - St. Martin's in the Field Crypt at Trafalgar Square - to have little X sleep soundly, and peacefully for the rest of the lunch. And if was a wonderful affair.

I sat at a table with the two Sarahs from Muddy Puddles, Maria from Mummy's Busy World (and Little M!!!) Sandy from Baby Baby, and Uju (and Jed!) from Babes About Town.They were each more lovely than the next. We all got along swimmingly. There were so many people to meet.
 The food was amazing and plentiful. We started with beautiful and HUGE seafood salad (featured below), followed by a full turkey dinner with stuffing, gravy, roasted potatoes, carrots, parsnips - I couldn't even eat it all. There was wine and the conversation flowed.
Heinz sponsored the event and we had to guess the secret ingredient - we all knew it was Heinz 57 tomato sauce in the seafood salad dressing, but were surprised it was also in the stuffing! They presented us with a goodie bag with a giant bottle of Heinz, an apron, wooden spoon, and a magnet - very nice of them indeed. Muddy Puddles also gave a wonderful waterproof bag with wrist cosies, glove savers, and neck chubes all of which are perfect for Cate right now. She's already wearing them all.

My favourite was the secret book exchange. I brought a book on dreams that I have several copies of. Unfortunately, I forgot to put my name in it so I hope whoever got it was as happy as I was with the book I received from Hannah at Muddling Along Mummy. Unfortunately, we didn't meet. Hopefully next time or at CyberMummy. The book is A Slice of Organic Life by Sheheradzade Goldsmith. I've been poring over it for days loving it. I don't think I'll keep chickens or geese or raise a pig here in London - I think the  neighbors would complain, but the baking, windowsill gardening, saving energy, making wine, shopping locally, perserving, chutneys and jam - all have HUGE potential for me and the kids.

I only caught two of the readers of their Holiday posts. One was from Anna at The Beauty Glo which you can read here. Very sweet and clever. I did not catch the name of the other reader so please let me know who she was so I can say hello!

As mentioned, I met so many lovely women, including the organizers: Karin at Cafe Bebe, Susanna at A Modern Mother, and Jen of Jenography. They did an amazing job and made sure everyone was having a good time. I hope they had fun themselves.

As I've said in the past, joining my women's club and writing this blog have really been my saving graces throughout this very, very trying year. I'm so glad I took the initiative on both accounts.

Friday, December 10, 2010

One of THOSE days

I'm grumpy. It's one of those days - after a really nice week, it's Friday night, I'm home alone and feeling blue. I'm usually pretty upbeat and try to see the best in everything but today - it ain't happenin'! Maybe it's the season, maybe it's because everyone I know is out on the town and I'm not, maybe it's because of my younger sister's illness, or the fact that we're not going home for Christmas, or maybe it's something else. But I think every now and again, no matter how well things are going - you just have a moment of blah. That's me right now.

So I do what I do when I don't know what to do - I work. I know I'm a workaholic but I like it. It's for the same reason I like cooking - it takes your mind off whatever is bothering you and helps you escape - and at the end you have something delish (or a to-do list completed). Eventually, somewhere in the process you forget your troubles and feel better along the way.

If that fails, I'll just go take a peek at my two sleeping children. THAT is always a mood lifter!! I think I'll just do that right now...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The search for the perfect tree...

Things have been incredibly busy for me lately. I haven't sat down for a minute - until today when I woke up exhausted and decided to take a day off of everything (except being a mommy!).

Last week I closed two very successful deals which was great. Two projects I have been working on since the summer have finally sold - ironically to the same editor! But it's nice to see all the hard work paying off and being appreciated in the end. I'm working on two more for next week as well - one huge, one small - both terrific (natch).

I've pretty much finished my shopping - I pick up things throughout the year so when Christmas rolls around I have a scavenger hunt to collect all the goodies and then have an afternoon of wrapping. That is next week once we get our tree - where we're going to put it is a mystery but we have to have a tree!! The tree! I haven't seen one that I'm gung ho about yet. They seem sparse, but I keep looking. I'll find it soon - I hope.

In the meantime,  here are a few of my favourite trees 'round the world to inspire us all:
Rockefeller Centre tree in New York City - first time in 20 years I won't see the tree. Makes me really homesick.
This giant tree is in Monte Ingino outside of Gubbio, in Italy's Umbria region. Composed of about 500 lights connected by 40,000 feet of wire, the'tree' is a modern marvel for an ancient city.
This enormous tree is in Paris, of course, in the Galeries Lafayette! It's stunningly chic, so gorgeous, so sophisticated and so...Parisian.
Illuminating the Gothic facades of Prague's Old Town Square, and casting its glow over the manger display of the famous Christmas market, is a grand tree cut in the Sumava mountains in the southern Czech Republic .

And last, but not least:

A token of gratitude for Britain's aid during World War II, the Christmas tree in London's Trafalgar Square has been the annual gift of the people of Norway since 1947.This one we're going to see on Monday. Let's the tree hunt begin...!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Winner of the CSN Giveaway

Sorry for the delayed announcement. The winner of the KitchenCraft Let's Make Childrne's 11 Piece Bakeware se from CSN is Kim Carberry of @kimmer2111. It's on it's way to you! Congrats.

Keep an eye out for great giveaways coming up soon!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The BBC's 2003 quest to find the nation's best-loved novel.

Lou of The Archers at the Larches has recently posted about the BBC's 2003 quest to find the nation's best-loved novel. Below are all the results from number 1 to 100! Whether you like the list or detest it, it is an indication of the tastes of the UK in 2003 (or at least those readers that check out the BBC online or go to libraries!) Why not see how many you've read.

For Instructions:

• Copy this list.

• Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.

• Italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.

• Underline the ones you really want to read

I've put an asterisk next to the one I love the's pretty predictable! I was an English major and it shows.

1.The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. *Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen *
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Berniers
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The X Man Turns one

On Tuesday my little man turned one! I cannot believe I don't have a baby anymore - he is a little boy. Granted he loves his mommy and runs to me when things aren't going well but he's fiercely independent and loves the explore. I find myself running after him all the time now. He's a climber - heavy sigh.

We started the day with porridge, his favourite and then we headed off to the Peppa Pig Party - a play held at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circle. Both kids love Peppa so when I won tickets on his birthday from Janis at Really Kid Friendly I was ecstatic. So Cate got a day off from school and we bundled up the kids because it SNOWED!!
We headed over to Piccadilly on the tube and made our way to the theatre, much to the delight of both kids - it was wet, slushy snow with big flakes so Cate giggled the whole way loving it. X sat snuggled in his pram under a plastic wrap but he kept laughing because Cate was (beyond cute).

I was a little worried X would want to walk around and never sit still so when we got there and after we loaded up on the kiddie paraphernalia - snacks, drinks, a flashing, whirling colorful wand with Peppa on it, we settled in and I fished out a bottle for X. Then the show began:
Both kids were enraptured. It was very cute! X sat back and drank it in, he danced when the music played, clapped when everyone clapped and waved goodbye. Cate was right up in the thick of it - I think she wanted to go on stage! She did manage to break the wand I bought her before we even left but it's fixable. And she managed to finagle a balloon so she made out quite nicely. We had lunch and went home to bake a cake for the mini-impromptu party we threw. We invited the kids in the building and sang, had cake and had fun. X did not care for his cake. Ah well.

Overall, lovely day. I cannot believe my baby is a toddler already. He's a good fella, my little love! Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Shropshire is a wonderland!

This past weekend we took a drive to rural Shropshire to visit with the lovely Archers at the Larches. We had a wonderful time. Not only is Lou's home as amazing as it seems on her blog - it was just nice to visit without rushed lunches with train schedules looming, etc. Lou and I haven't seen each other since a lunch about two months ago so I was so looking forward to a leisurely weekend in the country at their really, ridiculously fabulous house and farm. And it was especially nice to sit over a glass of bubbly and just chat in her huge kitchen while the delicious stew was bubbling in the oven.

It was mighty cold but they had roaring fires in just about every room. Cate and X both loved all the space. Cate ran off with Lou's two sproglets to play dress up and other fun games, Fen and Lou's Hubby watched rugby while sipping beers so everyone was happy.

Lou made the most amazing meals: the beef stew (recipe on the link above), a full turkey dinner, great cheese, hummus and nibblies (see how I carried the cheeses here), full English breakfasts - it was all delicious and she made it all look so easy. I tried her stew last night, threw in mango chutney and loads of burgundy wine - but it couldn't hold a candle to hers!

We took a trip to Ludlow - a medieval castle in Shropshire (photo above) which used to be the capital of Wales but now is actually in England. It is where Prince Arthur, King Henry VII's brother died and his heart is buried (not sure where the rest of him is). Prince Arthur's grieving wife, Catherine of Aragon went to London where she eventually became the first wife of King Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Mary. She lived a tragic life, really. The town is very quaint and magical. There are Tudor buildings at every turn. This one on the left is the Feathers Hotel. It's magnificent and the picture doesn't do it justice.

There was the Christmas Fayre going on and we walked amidst the medieval townsfolk and took in all their wares:

 The Christmas fayre was amazing. Right at the foot of the castle. We didn't go in as it was getting quite cold but I managed a quick snap!

The music makers were my favourite although everyone looked fantastic

We also walked around the town and visited the Lou's favourite cheese shop which was tiny and delightful. The folks behind the counter could not have been nicer and had the thickest, fullest, waves of locks for hair, Rosy cheeks and quick with a smile. They looked like they had just come down off the mountains in Scotland - fabulous! I loved their front window:
Here are Cate, Little Sproglet and Lou hiding in front of the cheese shop. Cate kept asking for samples - so it was really just a hit all around.
It got too cold for the kids, Cate looked like she was about to turn into an icicle so we packed it up and headed back to the Larches were we defrosted and had a tour of the farm.

All in all - a marvellous weekend. Lou, get ready, we're back in the spring - especially now that you're finished with NaNo!