Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Ritual 01 / Christmas

Christmas stills:
Ilex and paper garlands - every year

Bristol's best Christmas lights. The kids were ready for bed but we hopped into the car with blankets and hot water bottles, and a flask of hot chocolate. They were enchanted by the lights, and more so by the adventure.

One of my favourite presents: a dipped terracotta jug from Decorator's Notebook

Long shadows

The tree (why are they so difficult to photograph?) with its non-breakable decorations: slices of dried orange and apple, gingerbread stars (long since eaten), glittered salt-dough decorations, pine cones, toadstools, origami stars, and my new favourites - A's hand-drawn cardboard creatures

Operation wear 'em out - Christmas Eve hide-and-seek at Ashton Court

Homemade wrapping paper

Not pictured:
Christmas Eve ice skating followed by pizza and a couple of limoncellos. We walked back along the harbourside, the kids on their scooters with fairy lights tied around, all of us singing rude carols.

There is no month like December for observing rituals so keenly. Every year the same: the box of decorations comes down from the attic; the choosing of the tree and its adornment; songs on the radio, songs sung at school; stockings dusted off and hung on the mantelpiece; mince pies and carrots left out for the man in red; feasting with loved ones, that food and drink only consumed during these short weeks; staying up late, sleeping in, forgetting what day it is.

With ritual comes great comfort. Repetition intertwined with familiarity; a security of sorts, those traditions particular to each household are so reassuring and signify that Christmas is here. I am a sucker for nostalgia, and for its markers. Like the pudding drowned in brandy, this time of year is drenched in nostalgia. Nostalgia literally means 'the pain from an old wound', and there are times when I feel that ache just observing the ritual, the traditions, the children repeating Christmas in the same way as last year; this time a little older, a little wiser, a little further away from being my babies.

I've decided to make ritual the subject of a new blog series, each post exploring a different ritual personal to my family or observed more widely. What are your rituals?

Oh, and Happy New Year!


Saturday, 28 December 2013

Winter crafting: a natural boutonniere

Christmas is so twinkly, so shiny, so artificial. Much as I LOVE all that stuff, I wanted to make something to wear on Christmas Day; an antidote to the tinsel-heavy bling surrounding us.

On Christmas Eve we headed to the wide open green space nearest our home, played hide-and-seek, picnicked in the cold, drank hot chocolate in the warm, and burnt off a bit of that over-excitement. The high winds and stormy weather the night before meant there were copious natural treasures on the ground: spindly green spruce and tiny cones, of which I picked up a few and put them in my pocket. (A woodland stroll is just not the same without a little keepsake.)

At home, I put this boutonniere together using the foraged greenery, plus bits from the florist and a ribbon from my stash. The viburnum berries go particularly well on a background of my latest wardrobe obsession, navy blue.

Step one:

Gather your bits and pieces: greenery of choice, long-stemmed berries, cones, or other natural trinkets. You'll also need twine, a ribbon, pins and scissors/secateurs (these neon orange-handled snippers are from Sisters Guild).

Step two:

Fiddle about with the greenery until you find a pleasing arrangement. Tie the stems tightly with twine.

Step three:

Wrap your ribbon around the twine-tied stems and tie at the back.

Step four:

Use the pins to fasten the boutonniere to your top for a bit of natural festive beauty.

It should last a day, perhaps two.


Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

Have a wonderful day, lovely readers x


Monday, 23 December 2013

Recipe: Chocolate honeycomb

Last week, I found myself in the only slightly terrifying position of having to make a handmade secret santa gift for the editor of a craft magazine. Gulp.

Usually, in times of crisis, I find myself in the kitchen. Bodging about, I flicked through books and pondered what might make a simple gift with a bit of pizazz. Here is what I came up with.

I cannot express quite how straightforward this is; despite the melting sugar aspect of things, it's just three ingredients, one pan, and takes around 5 minutes. Really, if you're after a speedy, greedy gift then this might just be the answer to your prayers. 

You will need:
100g caster sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup, honey or maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g dark chocolate
Baking tray, lined with parchment/baking paper

Step one:
Weigh the caster sugar and syrup/honey into a pan and mix together.

Step two:
Set over a medium heat. Don't stir, just gently melt the two together and keep a beady eye on what's taking place in your pan - it shouldn't burn or turn too dark.

Step three:
Once melted, which should take around three minutes, you're ready to add the bicarb. (If you're that way inclined, use a sugar thermometer to check you've reached 160 degrees or - fnarrr - somewhere around the hard crack area.)

Step four:
Off the heat, mix in the bicarb with a wooden spoon. It will bubble and rise up like lava - this is what gives honeycomb its bubbly, aerated texture - so work fast, and pour immediately into a small, baking paper-lined tray.

Step five:
Leave the honeycomb to cool, which takes around half an hour (depending on the temperature of your room). Once cool, bash it up into shards.

Step six:
Melt the chocolate, either in a double pan or in the microwave for around 90 seconds, in 30 second bursts.

Step seven:
Dip the pieces of honeycomb into the melted chocolate - this quantity is just enough to half coat each piece, so use 200g if you want to fully coat yours - and place back on baking paper to set.

Step eight:
Store in an airtight container (I like Weck jars as they are both functional and look good). Whatever you do, keep it away from moisture. Add a little festive sparkle with a glittery gold ribbon to match the golden treats within.

Chocolate honeycomb should keep for around two weeks, making it an even-more-perfect, perfect present.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

A festive wreath

There is something very special about a group of friends making, chatting, laughing together. A few years back I co-founded a new branch of the Women's Institute with exactly this in mind. I've had to focus on my work over the past year and haven't attended Malago WI. Last Sunday, I realised I've been missing it.

Lou organised a wreath-making afternoon for a group of blogger friends (we last met this time last year in Bath), and we sat around the table moulding moss, wrapping wire, and fixing beautiful evergreens alongside billy buttons, berries, feathers, ribbon and cotton - all supplied by Xanthe of Ivory Flowers. It was a tonic, a break from the mayhem of the Christmas build-up, and a wonderfully messy chance to catch up with like-minded women (and one particularly lovely baby).

I'm pleased with my wreath: eucalyptus, mimosa, ivy berries, crab apples, feathers, and pink peppercorns really pop against our yellow front door. After a couple of years of rather sorry attempts, I finally have a beautiful, special wreath on the door that looks handmade, not homemade.

Have a look at the other wreaths and bloggers:
Lou / Laura / Kat / Bethan / Cathy / Natalie and of course Xanthe for the inspiration.

Saturday, 21 December 2013


A: An unconventional way to cut cookies
T: Making reindeer food. Those little wrists!

These children of mine: so maddening and yet so thrilling. They could not be more excited about Christmas and we're reaching fever pitch. I dread to think what Christmas Eve will be like; I have a strict schedule of physical activity planned, and intend to wear them out as much as possible.

Week 51. What?! Recent weeks have been just so busy and action-packed. I've loved this project so much but I find it equally motivating and frustrating; the need to take a picture every week can sometimes feel like I've included images that aren't technically great, nor that really represent the week. But they are there, necessary and real. I've had to put so many things on hold this month; I cannot wait for (almost) a fortnight of living lazy ahead. Nearly there....

Friday, 20 December 2013


Image: Pinterest

'Alfie helped Dad to carry [the tree] into the living room. It smelled lovely. Then Dad fetched the big box of decorations from the attic. They spent a lot of time arranging them on the tree. When they had finished, they switched on the fairy lights and left the curtains open so that all the people passing by could see it. "To wish everyone a happy Christmas," said Mum.'
Alfie's Christmas, Shirley Hughes

I confess to being a right old nosey parker. On my walks home from work peeping into houses was the perfect way to pass an otherwise tedious half hour. Timing it right, I'd hit that magic hour when dusk had fallen; dark outside and lights on inside makes for prime snooping time. My other favourite thing to do was to guess the food cooking inside from the smells wafting out; I was a Bisto kid supper tourist.

This time of year is perfect for a bit of low-level nosing. With trees dressed up to the nines, lights twinkling, decorations shining, it'd be rude not to look, not to acknowledge that silent 'happy Christmas', wouldn't it?

Monday, 16 December 2013


A: Messing about in a messy bedroom
T: In his favourite place: a cardboard box

Feeling overwhelmed this week; so much to do before the big day. I had a bit of a scrooge moment on Friday, wondering about the point of it all. I know it's because I'm stressed and tired (aren't we all?) and struggling to that finish line. Friday, you can't come soon enough.

Joining in with Jodi's 52 project

Thursday, 12 December 2013

At the chapel

When you have children, even ten minutes of peace can be heavenly. A full twenty-four hours is unspeakably precious, blissful, sublime time.

A few weeks back, Ben told me to save the date as he had a combined birthday/anniversary surprise planned. On Friday, his mum picked up the kids and whisked them away, while he left work early and we threw overnight bags into the car headed for Somerset.

Picture the scene: a beautiful stone facade, mullioned windows betraying a former purpose, just a quiet sign to show we had arrived. The double doors, adorned with Christmas wreaths, were open, leading us through to the white walls and warmly lit interior. Shown up to our room, treading black carpets and through heavy wooden doors, we found door number 2. Inside, the most beautifully simple room - just black floorboards, giant bed, an armchair and standard lamp, and heavy grey curtains, wide and tall enough to cover the enormous stained glass window that dominated the room.

First, a gin and tonic was brought to our room. I ran the deepest, bubbliest bath in the grey marble bathroom - heated underfoot and warm as toast - where I sipped and read to my heart's content. We dressed for dinner, and another treat awaited us down in the dining room. After a Bellini or two at the bar, we made our way to the table and sat - surprise! - with Anne and Will, friends who live nearby in Somerset. To start, I chose the roasted squash with mozzarella and chilli, which was something else. All the buttons pressed: salt, cream, heat, and so much flavour. Ben's pizza was exactly how pizza should be - thin, delicious, not overly-topped, cooked to perfection in the bakery pizza oven. Chat, wine, laughter, that lively hum of a busy restaurant. All such a treat, such pleasure.

Too stuffed for pudding, we stumbled back to our room and sank into the fluffy white bed. Tipsy and tired, we fell asleep with the telly on. Next morning, we awoke to find a little paper bag hung on the door held two perfectly-baked croissants that we ate in bed. Crumbs everywhere.

Later, we headed into Frome for shopping and lunch, and uninterrupted conversation and fun. I am a lucky, lucky girl in love, having such a thoughtful husband and such generous family who care for our children so well.

At the Chapel
High Street, Bruton, Somerset BA10 OAE
01749 814 070 mail@atthechapel.co.uk

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

It's beginning...

The tree is up and decorated. Festive bits and bobs are (finally) making their way into our home...

A little Christmassy vignette - miniature tree, bark wreath, tiny antique bear guards a fir tree candle /

Pomegranates drying on the back of the oven /

Slices of apple destined for homemade decorations

Joining in with Lou's Nature in the Home series.

Saturday, 7 December 2013


A: Learning backgammon
T: Learning to hold a crayon

This weekend I've been treated to a surprise night away (lucky me!), more of which soon. And we'll be getting a little bit more festive around here, too. 

When I look around me, it seems as though everyone's Christmas-ready but me. I haven't bought a tree, decorated, found any presents let alone planned anything, nor have I written any cards. I'd better get on with it, hadn't I?

Friday, 6 December 2013

Snapshot: late autumn days

1. Blue skies and park days
2. Manhattans at lunchtime
3. A wily pooch at the Frome Supermarket
4. Serious fun
5. Velvet red roses and sea thistle
6. Choosing magic keys at the flea market

Thanks to Debenhams Flowers for sending the beautiful 'Rejoice' bouquet. 
Readers of Oyster & Pearl can claim £5 off any Christmas flowers by using the code XMASBLOG (offer expires 21 December 2013). 


A month of now / week one

November's vegan month wasn't quite what I'd hoped. I think I'd better draw a line under the whole episode, which just confirmed for me that the middle ground is the best option (sounds contrived, but that's what the book is advocating, too). Although I was interested to see that Jay Z and Beyonce are also attempting to eat vegan for a month or so.

Anyway, on to this month. December is a month of NOW. I am the world's worst procrastinator and I like to make a simple one-step job into several, more complicated ones, perhaps dragged out over multiple days. No more. This month I'm going to say NOW and YES and OK all the time. Here's hoping.

Are you a procrastinator like me? Or perhaps you're going to attempt to try something different for a month. I'd love to know.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

On the first day of Christmas: an advent calendar tutorial

Last December I heard tales of woe from a friend whose kids were waking at 4am, so eager were they to open their chocolate advent calendars. Recently, we've cut sugar right down in T's diet, partly in a bid to reduce the congestion in his system (hoping to improve his hearing) and partly to calm down his behaviour. It's been working.

So this year we've avoided chocolate advent calendars altogether, instead buying a Lego one and making our own as well.

For this simple advent calendar, you will need:
Brown paper / paper bags / envelopes
Luggage labels
Card / little presents
Drawing pins
Ribbons / bakers twine / other decorative bits and bobs

To make:
Match treats to days (we already have some fun Christmassy stuff planned so this is what each envelope will contain).
Match treats to wrapping, write out your numbers on the wrapping or on luggage labels.
Wrap treats or write out little postcards and seal in individual envelopes / paper bags; attach corresponding labels using festive ribbon or twine.
Hang string - we have a giant blackboard that dominates our breakfast room, so this was the obvious place for our advent calendar. You could also use a mantlepiece, mirror or beam, or hang a large branch over the table.
Peg each individual package to the string.
Add snippets of foliage - I used rose hips, ivy, rosemary and chilean potato vine - either under the pegs or glue-gunned to the pegs themselves. I also added a couple of glittered acorn cups for added sparkle.

If you need some ideas for what might go into each package, here's a list of our treats:
1. Visit to a Christmas market
2. Chocolate coin
3. Lego
4. Make gingerbread biscuits
5. Chocolate snowman
6. Put up little trees in boys' bedroom
7. Christmas party
8. Christmas tree shopping / decorating
9. Chocolate coin
10. Moshi monsters
11. Watch a Christmas film
12. A message from FC
13. Make paper chains
14. Lunch out
15. Make a gingerbread house
16. Chocolate coin
17. Stickers
18. Wind-up toy
19. Bubbles
20. Tea by candlelight
21. Make reindeer food
22. Make hot chocolate
23. A decoration for the tree
24. Ice skating

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