Friday, 31 December 2010

On the sixth (and seventh) day of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas....

I still wasn't reading much. Still feeling poorly with the flu - I managed to stagger out for ANOTHER theatre outing, this time to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, over in Northampton - I took my Mum for her birthday (but secretly it was a treat for me too!). It was quite good but it turned out to be a musical version and it was a little weird when the Pevensies came on stage and burst into song. K kindly drove me there, and I realised how poorly I was, when, requesting a stop at Hobbycraft on the way home, I came out with only the 2 things that I needed.

I finally started to flip through Kitchen by Nigella Lawson, but whether it was because I was feeling poorly, nothing really grabbed me with the exception of the treacle tart which I look forward to having a go at in the New Year.

I then read Cherry Ames: Student Nurse by Helen Wells which was a lovely relaxing read - it's the first of the Cherry Ames books - vintage reading, I think they are set in the 1950s - you can read more about the series here. I own another couple of them, but it was nice to see how the series started, and now I am quite keen to collect the lot!

On the seventh day of Christmas
I am actually feeling even worse. About 11am I got up and decided to pretend not to be ill for a bit and made some AMAZING danish pastries, but then went back to my sick bed. I am yet to read anything today but am hoping to read Wish her safe at home. This was another find at Notting Hill which I had been desperate to read since reading Rachel's view here.

We were hoping to go out salsa dancing for New Year, but I think it will be spent at home again. Still, K told me this morning that he doesn't mind too much as he will still get to spend it with the woman he is going to marry in 2011! Me!! I can't wait, 2011 is going to be an excellent year.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

On the fourth (and fifth) day of Christmas, I was reading...

On the fourth day of Christmas...

I was reading - The other Miss Perkins by Lorna Hill. I treated myself to the two latest Greyladies titles on the strength of the fact that I will be working 6 days a week next term, and this was one of them. The name Lorna Hill will be familiar to those who enjoy her ballet books. This is one of her two adult novels and was hugely enjoyable. If you enjoyed Miss Pettigrew or Mrs 'Arris goes to Paris then this tale of an ordinary woman to whom extraordinary things happen will also appeal.

I also went out for a training swim in the morning, and managed to complete 3km (120 lengths) in about an hour, which I was very pleased with, although my shoulders hurt at the end. Doing a 10k swim next September suddenly seems do-able.

In the afternoon we went out to Rumsey's Chocolate Shop for hot chocolate and then had an evening of nice food (I have been doing lots of yummy cooking, not just baking for once!) and some television. In bed, I read Emma's Island, which was one of the children's books that I picked up on my latest trip to the Books and Comics exchange in Notting Hill.

On the fifth day of Christmas...

I wasn't reading at all. Not in the morning when I woke up with flu. I had a dreadful cough yesterday evening and overnight it turned into achiness, feeling sick, headache and sore throat as well - flu pretty much. I have made it out of bed now, and onto the sofa, and as far as the computer so I am at least feeling a bit better than I was first thing. The lengths one goes to do get out of seeing the in-laws again!! Still, it is a grey day so I guess being stuck inside doesn't matter too much. I may yet get a book out - I have a lovely book, The Queen's Dolls House, which is full of beautiful pictures, so I may have a look at that. As I'm feeling below par, I'll cut and paste the description from Amazon:
The Queens Dolls House is one of the largest, most beautiful, and most famous dolls houses in the world. Created for Queen Mary in the early 1920s by the renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, it is a perfect replica of an aristocratic Edwardian residence, complete in every way from the wine-cellar, with its store of tiny bottles, each containing a thimbleful of vintage wine, to the library, with its exquisite volumes of original works by authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy and EdithWharton. This most magical of dolls houses also has a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll, a garage full of miniature limousines, and running water, electricity and working lifts. Each room, from the servants bedrooms to the grand saloon, is fully furnished in every way, and waiting to be explored.

I think that has convinced me to return to the sofa and put my feet up...

Monday, 27 December 2010

On the first day of Christmas (and the second and the third...) I was reading...

On the first day of Christmas...

I was reading, Blooming books by Raymond Briggs. Recommended to me by the lovely Dot Scribbles, this is part anthology, part discussion of the illustrator's work over the years. I thought it was just going to be a compendium of all of his books, so was fascinated to read all the analysis as well. This was a present from my lovely fiance, which just made it through the snow to arrive in time for Christmas! I spent some time on Christmas Day leafing through it, and it was much admired by some of the in-laws too.

We spent Christmas Day dashing through the snow - K's father is presently in hospital in Hampshire, so we went down there first thing (after opening our presents of course!). While we were sitting chatting, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a tuba go past! And to my pleasure, 10 members of the Salvation Army turned up and started playing carols to the patients. I have to say that that absolutely made my Christmas - I love brass band carols and they even played Tye first nowell for me! It was then back to Wokingham for Christmas dinner with K's brother, sister in law, their three girls, his sister, mum and Gran. I'm used to Christmases with a maximum of three people so it was a little overwhelming, but I was allowed to take Bernard, my new cuddly teddy bear with me!

When we got home, I read Trouble at Skelton Hall by Elinor Brent Dyer. Not as good as her Chalet School books!

On the second day of Christmas....

I didn't have much time to read. After sleeping in until 11am (needed to catch up after a chaotic week!), we went to London to see the Matthew Bourne production of Cinderella - despite allowing time for lunch, the combination of Boxing Day traffic and a tube strike meant we arrived with 10 minutes to spare. We were glad to have made it though as we thought it was superb - by no means conventional ballet, more modern dance, it was a fantastic setting of the familiar fairy tale in 1940s Britain. There was so much clever choreography and so much to watch that we will probably go and see it again when it tours to Oxford next summer. (The only thing that let it down was the recorded soundtrack).

When I got home, I opened up Eat me by Xanthe Milton, a baking book recommended by Joan Hunter Dunn from Flowers and Stripes - I picked it up very cheaply before Christmas from the Book People. Lots of lovely things that I want to make in it (will have to write more about it in due course when I get to some of the recipes!)

On the third day of Christmas...

K's Dad is very poorly and has moved hospitals in anticipation of a blood transfuction, so as K has gone down to see what's what, I'm at home doing some jobs and watching Torvill and Dean on the t.v. We were supposed to be entertaining my parents this evening, but after I'd bought lots of nice things firstthing, my Dad phoned to say that he still has flu and didn't feel well enough to come round. I'll pop around later to give them their Christmas presents, but in the meantime, I'm trying to finish Wait for me by the Duchess of Devonshire, so that I can lend it to him! It's hugely entertaining so I had better get off the computer and get back to it!

Friday, 24 December 2010

12 bakes of Christmas

I've had a wonderful time writing about my festive activities over the last month or so. The blog has been a little light on bookish content, so I'm hoping to pop in with a brief post over each of the 12 days of Christmas to let you know what I'm reading, as I'm hoping to have the chance to get through some good books over the celebration season.

In the meantime, I'd like to wish all of my blog visitors a very happy Christmas, and to sing you a variation on a traditional song using illustrations of some of my festive bakes - for brevity's sake, I'll start with the last verse! (but you do need to sing as you read, because I've made it scan...)

On the twelfth day of Christmas I baked for my true love...

12 bags of biscuits
11 starry brownies

10 stars and angels

9 cranberry buns

8 slices of stollen

7 Lebkuchen

6 shortbread snowmen
5 mince pies

Four spic-ed reindeer

three mincemeat jars

2 starcakes
and a shortbread nativity

Thursday, 23 December 2010

2010 revisited

At the end of 2009, I did a great meme to look at the books which I'd read during the year. I was quite excited to reread this meme, and particularly the comment from Paperback Reader Claire where she said it was unlikely that I would ever surpass the numbers of books read/acquired in 2009 (701/400+). I'm happy to report that I have very much exceeded the numbers of books read then (currently at 810ish), partly, this was a result of continuing illness, and partly this was due to medication frying my brain so that I spent a LOT of time reading children's books, particularly the Babysitters Club series (however, even if you discount the nearly 100 BSC books that I read this year, I still beat the 701 books I read in 2009!). I would probably have read far more this year, had it not been for taking up cross stitch and other crafty things, which I think have proved to be a fun extra element to my blog this year. Embarassingly, despite cutting down on book expenditure I have also acquired far more books than I did in 2009 - 504 if my librarything account is correct. I have more bookshelves than I did in 2009, but I HAVE dispensed with some books. I have also worked out that 1500 books is really all that my flat can hold, which means that at 1550+ books I am far over the limit until we acquire a house, so in the New Year I need to either clear out some more books or put some into storage.

Anyway, back to end of year memes, and this year I'm doing a slightly different one, gleaned from Stacy at Stories and Stitches.

1. Best Book of 2010: It's difficult to say as I have read some extremely good books this year, but I think I will single out The pastor's wife by Elizabeth von Arnim because it was a fantastic book that introducted me to a wonderful author. And with perhaps a special mention for Still missing by Beth Gutcheon, and Bake and decorate by Fiona Cairns. I also loved so much to tell

2. Worst Book of 2010: I struggled through several of the VMCs for my Virago Venture, the most recent one was Keynotes and Dischords by George Egerton.

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2010: It's difficult to say, some of the VMCs that I have read this year have been disappointing, perhaps because I anticipate hopefully that every VMC that I read will be wonderful, but I (and K) were a bit disappointed by The secret life of Bletchley Park which could have been so much more.

4. Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2010: The hopkins manuscript by R.C. Sherriff - this was the last Persephone book that I had left to read, but had delayed it, because although I'd greatly enjoyed Sherriff's Fortnight in September, I was dubious about it because it was science fiction. In the end, it gripped me completely. I read it as part of Persephone Reading Week, and am very much looking forward to the Persephone weekend that Claire and I have planned for the end of February.

5. Book Recommended Most in 2010: Probably Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig, Orange longlisted. Was very disappointed that this didn't make it onto the shortlist - I loved it and recommended it to everyone! The other Orange longlisted book that I recommended widely was a birthday present from Paperback Reader Claire, The still point.

6. Best Series You Discovered in 2010: I rediscovered the Babysitters Club series and had fun reading my way through lots of those; I also discovered the Little Black Dress imprint and found those great guilty pleasures.

7. Favorite New Authors in 2010: Authors new to me this year included Wilkie Collins (see below also!), and Elizabeth Von Arnim - both highly recommended!

8. Most Hilarious Read in 2010: Sophie Kinsella's Mini shopaholic had me giggling for an entire evening shortly after recovering from the worst cold I've ever had.

9. Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book of 2010: The dead secret which was my first Wilkie Collins or perhaps Still missing .

10. Book Most Anticipated in 2010:I didn't read too many new books but at the time of writing (I'm filling this out 10 days ahead of posting...) I'm anxiously awaiting my copy of Wait for me: the memoirs of the Duchess of Devonshire, which sounded so good when I read about it on Darlene's blog.

11. Favorite Cover of a Book in 2010: Probably one of the beautiful original green Elizabeth Taylor novel covers, The blush, was particularly lovely.

12. Most Memorable Character in 2010: Not hugely sure about this one - perhaps the real life Kaye Webb in her biography by Valerie Grove, So much to tell.

13. Most Beautifully Written Book in 2010: I loved Jane Brocket's The gentle art of domesticity with its blend of pictures and writing about all things crafty and domestic.

14. Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2010: Teach us to sit still - I wrote about it here so won't repeat myself again, but it really made me think about whether the way I pack my days with so many things that I sometimes forget to breathe has an impact on my wellbeing.

15. Book You Can't Believe You Waited until 2010 to Read: All of the Wilkie Collins books I read this year - can't believe it took me 26 years to discover him!

Obviously a year of Wilkie Collins! All in all, I've really enjoyed reading and blogging this year, and big thanks to all of you who visit my blog and inspire me to keep reading and blogging with your comments, suggestions and your own blog posts.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Some Christmas reading plans

I've been gathering together some of the boks that I want to read over the Christmas break...both Christmas reads and books that I have been hoarding to indulge myself in. Unfortunately, I haven't got quite all of the books that I wanted to read - disorganisation meant that I didn't get reservations in at the library for a couple of books that I wanted (Rachel Johnson's Diary of the Lady was one, and Yes sister, no sister: my life as a trainee nurse by Jennifer Craig was another), and the snow means that a couple of the books which I ordered from the internet as a treat * have yet to arrive, which disappoints me greatly as I am desperate to get my fingerless gloved hands on Wait for me: memoirs of the Duchess of Devonshire and Domestic Soldier by Jennifer Purcell.

Still, I have got quite a big pile of books, and should I be snowed in, would have enough to keep me busy (I also defrosted the freezer at the weekend and realised that the amount of pre-made meals I had forgotten about (mainly veggie spag bol and veggie chilli) would also keep us going until the New Year).

I wrote about Christmasssy reads here...and the four books that I have selected are:
Christmas at Fairacre which I always like to reread
How to survive Christmas (Jilly Cooper), a charity shop find earlier in the year
The Christmas books by Charles Dickens in this beautiful new edition which I recieved from the publisher a little while ago; Christmas Carol is the only one I've read so looking forward to these.
Christmas poems by UA Fanthorpe. I don't often like poetry, but I do like Fanthorpe, perhaps because she came and did a reading at my school when I was in the sixth form. I have come across some of her Christmassy poems before, so I am looking forward to dipping into this collection.
Not pictured as it was left at work as it has been entertaining me on my tea-breaks over the last week or so is the Virago Book of Christmas which I strongly recommend as it's a lovely collection of different sorts of writing by a spectrum of women.

Of course, in pride of place among my non-Christmassy reads is The mystery of Blencarrow, my Secret-Santa'd Persephone, kindly sent to me by Frances, and which I am keeping wrapped up as it looks so pretty!

The other books include:
Cherry Ames: student nurse
Challenge for the Brydons (Kathleen Fiddler) - I LOVE the out of print Brydon's books so was very excited when I saw this for only £3 in a bookseller's catalogue
Secret intensity of everyday life - been on my TBR as I bought it for my holiday in September but didn't get round to reading it then.
Vicarage Children - third in this series by Lorna Hill.
Wish her safe at home - very keen on reading this since reading a review by Rachel of Booksnob. Paperback Reader Claire and I both picked up copies on our outing at the start of December - I think Claire has already started reading hers.
The dig (John Preston)- have wanted to read this for simply ages! It is a fictionalised account of the excavation of Sutton Hoo.
Private peaceful (Michael Morpurgo) - Morpurgo writes some wonderful stories so I am looking forward to this one.

I still have a mass of chick-lit from the library, and...K is keeping quiet as to whether or not the book that I asked for from him for Christmas has arrived, so I may have that to look forward to to! I'm planning to write a brief post for each of the twelve days of Christmas featuring what I'm reading that day, and also so I can write about the other things that I'm up to, which will hopefully redress the lack of bookishness on this blog over the last month!

* yes, I was being frugal, but at the beginning of the month I got another job starting in January, working 20 Sundays supervising one of the buildings where I work, so I have a few extra pennies for treats

Monday, 20 December 2010

A weekend of ballet

We had not one but TWO wonderful ballet outings this weekend. Or at least, both ballets were fantastic, but the travelling to the first one was rather less so. As UK readers may be aware, we've been hit by rather a lot of the white stuff, but with tickets for the Royal Opera House on Saturday and two little girls who we didn't want to disappoint, we decided to make our best effort to get there. Conditions were difficult to say the least, but K dropped me and the girls off with 3 minutes to spare. He thought he'd missed the first act as he went off to park, so was in no hurry to get back, sauntered along, oblivious to the fact that I was texting him to say that it still hadn't started, and then suddenly realised when he got into the building that it was running 10 minutes late and appeared at our seats!

After such excitement, we were quite glad to sit down and enjoy the show. The first act was a one act performance of Peter and the Wolf, danced by students of the Royal Ballet school, and was really very well done. I've never seen this done as a ballet before and it worked extremely well. The second half was the marvellous Tales of Beatrix Potter - Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggywinkle, Squirrel Nutkin were all there - I am always so impressed to see the dancers dancing so well in such awkward cosutmes. The production didn't sparkle quite as much as when we saw it last year, perhaps because they had had to make a number of last minute substitutions, but the girls, who take ballet lessons, were absolutely enthralled. I was entertained to hear them describing it to their Mum later on - rather than telling her about the animals and costumes, they provided a detailed description of the different dance moves that had been used!

Luckily, the journey out of London was far better than the journey in, and we saw lots of pretty Christmas lights, including Harrods all lit up. After a quick cup of tea, we then attempted to get from Wokingham back to Oxford. Not a great journey - it involved being stuck for about half an hour, with no idea what was happening...but we did eventually make it home, very tired but pleased to have been able to take K's nieces for a wonderful outing.

What a relief that Sunday's ballet excursion only involved a 20 minute walk down the road. Wrapped up, we headed for the Phoenix Picturehouse along snowlined streets. I started thinking of mulled wine as we got nearer, and as we opened the door into the cinema, we were suddenly able to smell it! The Phoenix is one of those brilliant cinemas where you can take a proper drink in with you, so we got a beaker of mulled wine to share as we headed for our seats. We were there for a live screening of the Nutcracker with the Bolshoi Ballet, beamed live from Moscow! I'd anticipated something similar to watching ballet on the TV at home, only a larger sized screen, but a real effort had been made to make it a real experience. We arrived to cameras showing people going into the theatre, and then went behind the scenes and watched the dancers getting ready. Watching the ballet itself was also amazing, because the cameras were able to zoom right in on the dancers - at first I found this a little irritating as I am used to watching the whole stage, but as the performance progressed I decided I liked it as it enabled me to see a level of detail which I don't normally see, such as the expressions on the dancers' faced.
Absolutely wonderful afternoon out, and I would definitely go to more live performances (there are different ballets being screened during 2011 but unfortunately they all clash with my new Sunday employment)

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Dingly dangly reindeer

I am a little ashamed at how I have allowed my blog to be taken over by Christmas bits and pieces; in fact, the bit of my life which is outside of work and swimming has mainly been Christmas dominated! I have been reading, but nothing especially worth writing about; I'm starting to amass a nice pile of books to read over Christmas, but at the moment my mind has been taken up with baking and festive occasions. We're off to take K's nieces to the ballet today, and we're going to see a live screening of another ballet at the cinema tomorrow - so in the meantime I'll leave my new Dingly Dangly Reindeer decoration to watch over the blog!

(He is unfortunately turning into The Annoying Decoration of 2010 as bits keep falling off him, either his legs or arms, but mainly his nose - invariably a bit of him will be on the floor in the mornign, or make a bid for freedom while we are having dinner. But he is very cute and didn't take long to make so I will forgive him)

Friday, 17 December 2010

Christmas cake

This is the first time I've made a Christmas cake, but I thought I'd use the chance to practice doing a celebration cake ahead of attempting to do something for our wedding next year. Good job I did, as I have to say I'm slightly disappointed with the results. Obviously, a large part of the cake's success will be in the eating, and I'm hoping that the vegan/gluten free recipe that I made comes up trumps (I think it will as I've used it before). But aesthetically, I feel it is a little lacking...

The first problem came when I put the icing on. Or rather it came with what I hadn't done before - levelled the cake out, or used sufficient marzipan to create a flat surface. The first layer of sugar paste provided a quite wobbly surface. Fine, I thought...I was planning to make Penguins to go on top, so that will make a nice snow scene. Until I (and then K) tried making Penguins. We followed the instructions but the results were not fit to go on a cake; I think a 5 year old would have made better Penguins. So it was back to sorting out the wobbly cake.

K cleverly built up the surface with more sugarpaste and then I covered it with another layer of sugarpaste, which did come out reasonably ok. It is just that the cake looks a bit wonky. I cut stars out of more sugarpaste and decorated them with silver's not fantastic, but it'll do, and I'll need to

Future sister in law saw it on Monday night, the day I covered it, and was very complimentary about it, so perhaps it was not as bad as we thought.

(I think actually the photo makes it look a bit worse than it really is)

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Petition to save all libraries in Oxfordshire

A very short post to ask you to spare a minute of your time to click through and sign the e-petition to save all of Oxfordshire's libraries. There are 43 in the county, and the council are proposing to stop funding 20 of them. Although currently 82% of library visits take place at the remaining 23 libraries, the small libraries are often important community centres and provide access to library services far more readily than if they were closed. It is proposed that they will be taken on by the government's Big Society scheme but as a librarian, and regular public library user, I honestly don't see how that will provide the same facilities and resources.

The petition is available here - unfortunately, you'll have to register to put your name down, but all you have to do is fill in your name and email address.

Please do spare a minute of your time if you can!

Snowman thank you or festive letter writing cards

A month or so ago I spotted some lovely The Snowman card making papers and a decoupage set. As I had really enjoyed the Forever Friends decoupage I did back in the summer, and given how much I love The Snowman, I couldn't resist getting them to turn into cards. As you can see from below, I went a bit wild and have made LOADS of cards. Too bad I had made all of my Christmas cards already, but I think they will do perfectly as thank you cards.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Mince pies

I am quite proud of my first ever batch of mince pies, particularly as they also happen to be vegan and gluten free. I used this recipe from the Butcher, Baker blog. I found the pastry a little difficult to work with, so was glad that I was only making mini pies rather than a large tart; I also found the pastry a little tough on eating, but I'm wondering about using the gluten-free baker's friend Xanthum gum, which is often added to make GF baking more fluffy. Still, they were devoured by K as much as me (with some brandy cream :) ) and they look so pretty!

Persephone secret santa

I mentioned a while ago here that my friend Claire from Paperback Reader was organising this year's Persephone Secret Santa. I wasn't able to participate myself so was very surprised when I recieved a package from the shop in the post! (I found out at lunchtime the other week when I was asking my fiance if I'd had any post, and he told me about the package, which led to a certain amount of confusion and worry on my part - I was /sure/ that I hadn't ordered anything from them!). It turned out that the extremely kind Frances from Nonsuch book had included me, saying:

"When I saw that you were not taking part in the Persephone Secret Santa, I asked Claire for your address. You not participating just seemed wrong! :) Hope you do not have this one. Merry Christmas!"

I was hugely touched by this kindness, especially as I now have one of the new books - The mystery of Blencarrow by Mrs Oliphant, which I think will be perfect Christmas reading. And, it was the first time that I've ever recieved anything giftwrapped from the shop - as you can see in the picture, I can't bear to unwrap it, so it is adorning our Christmas tree. I could tell what it was from the bookmark included.

The other Persephone related news is that Claire and I will be hosting a Persephone Reading Weekend at the end of February; the whole week was fun, but a little exhausting for the both of us, so we are limiting ourselves to a weekend this time. It'll be the same format as the previous reading weeks - you can read as many Persephone books as you like, post reviews and Persephone related posts, and we'll have a couple of quizzes and hopefully some prizes for our favourite posts. As I finished reading my way through the Persephone 90 (or rather 87 as it was then), with the exception of the Mrs Oliphant which I am going to savour over Christmas, during the last reading week, I am looking forward to rereading some of my favourites this time around.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Festively wrapped biscuits

It is a little early to start giving presents, but I had time at the weekend to make biscuits for the members of my teams and the peripatetic staff at work as a thank you for their hard work over the year. I got the lovely poinsettia decorate bags from Lakeland, which I think make the biscuits look particularly festive. The biscuits themselves are a new recipe to me, from Lindy Smith's Bake me I'm yours...cookie book, and are orange and cinnamon flavour. Everyone seems to have appreciated them so far!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Tuba carols

We had another festive outing this weekend, again to London, to participate in Tuba carols!

It's not something I've written much about on this blog, but I used to play the euphonium and baritone in various brass bands over a number of years (in fact, it was at a brass band event where I met K, and got to know him when I joined the band he was playing with). I had to give up 2 years ago when my stomach problems got particularly bad, but it is something that I miss dreadfully. Occasionally tho, I get the chance to join in a one-off event, so when I was emailed about Tuba Carols last week I couldn't resist persuading K to take me to London for the day to join in.

Tuba carols is a fairly long-standing event that resumed 3 years ago after a few years hiatus and basically involves tuba players turning up at St Paul's Cathedral on the second Sunday in December and playing carols for 1.5 hours. to raise money for charity, this year Barnardos. The term "tuba" is used rather loosely, it wasn't just orchestral tubas that were present. As I mentioned earlier, I have a euphonium and baritone (small tuba and tiny tuba shaped instruments), which is what we took along - I was the only baritone player, apart from a couple of German baritones. There was a tuba in F (usually tubas are in Eb or Bb), a couple of sousaphones (the sort of tuba that you wear (I now really really want one of those), and a couple of cimbassos (a strange sort of trombone tuba hybrid). There may have been a Wagnerian tuba too.

Here is a picture of the group that turned up, conducted by Patrick Harrild, principal tuba with the London Symphony Orchestra:

I of course took the opportunity to get my pink tinsel out:

It was quite chilly playing, even if the weather was warmer this weekend than it has been. So we had a much needed gingerbread latte afterwards :)

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Advent Tea Party

It's become a bit of a tradition to have a tea-party at our flat to mark the start of advent. As Christmas approaches, people get increasingly busy, so it is nice to do something early on. Plus, it gives me an excuse to put the tree up early, and get started on some Christmas baking!
This year, it gave me an excuse to get out my new Snowman Christmas stand which is my Christmas present from my Dad (he kindly said I could have it a bit early)

The centrepiece of the tea was my Christmas tree made out of biscuits; unfortunately I ran out of time and didn't get to ice the points of the stars as I had intended, but it was much admired (and nobody wanted to disturb it to take a piece, so we are now left with an awful lot of biscuit!)
And here is the tea itself:
Lebkuchen, orange and cranberry buns, Christmas shortbread, and starry chocolate brownies. You'll be seeing these in close-up in a super-duper Christmas baking post that I have planned!

We had mulled wine, I wore my new Christmassy snowflake jumper dress, 10 people came, many bearing Christmas cards and other nice things (an ornament for our Christmas tree, chocolates, biscuits, more chocolate, and this FANTASTIC bag (I know it's still 3 weeks til Christmas, but I think this is probably my favourite present - it's for books, it's library-themed and it's pink and purple!)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Ken's gingerbread house

Last year, you may remember that my beloved made his first foray into gingerbread construction with a stable to house the shortbread nativity that I had made. This year, he was determined to make something bigger and better, and decided to make a traditional gingerbread house (since that has far more potential for decoration than a stable does!). We made the dough together last Thursday, but the baking, construction and decoration was all his work and I am hugely impressed with the results. The stained glass windows are made out of boiled sweets, and the roof is malted milk biscuits. The log pile is made out of chocolate fingers and it's all stuck together with several boxes of royal icing. He used some battery operated fairy lights to light the inside of the house and they can be switched on when it gets dark!

Given house prices in Oxford, I'm wondering if perhaps we should build a gingerbread house somewhere...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A wonderfully festive weekend

I could write a week of posts about the weekend I've just had, and in fact, I may well have to! It was a great start to the festive season, although I was almost glad to get back to work to have a break today.

On Saturday, I went to London, for a day out with Paperback Reader Claire. An incredibly efficient bus ride, spent listening to Christmas carols on my ipod got me to London 3/4 hour early, which meant I had a huge amount of time to browse the shelves in the Notting Hill Books and Comics exchange where we had planned to meet. I offloaded some of my unwanted books which meant I had £28 of credit to spend; I had, however to stop choosing books when I couldn't carry anymore. These are the things I picked up (crowned by the exquisite Persephone 90 which was a present from Claire) (she also gave me the new Nigella book, not pictured)

As you can see, I managed to snag several VMCs (including one I already had - K didn't check my shelves fast enough - but I passed it onto Claire), a book set in Cornwall by Jill Paton Walsh, two children's books set in the war (Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, and Blitz Cat by Robert Westall), two children's books belonging to series of which I already have one - Emma's Island (Honor Arundel), Across the barricades (Joan Lingard), a lovely Eyewitness guide to Monet (for only £1!), The dig by John Preston which I've wanted to read for ages - a fictionalised account of the digging up of Sutton Hoo, Waterland by Graham Swift, which again I've wanted to read for ages due to its watery theme, a copy of Wish her safe at home by Stephan Benater which I was intrigued to read about on Rachel's blog (Claire also picked up a copy), a book from the Little Black Dress imprint to which I am completely addicted for easy reads (more about those another day I think), Monica Dicken's Kate and Emma which I've read before but don't own, Corsets to Camouflage by Kate Adie, ditto - and it's such an interesting popular book about women's history and their role in wars, and Full term which is the last book in a quartet which I've not come across before but is set in Oxford and for that, it interested me.

After that, we went and warmed up with drinks in Starbucks, before catching the tube down to Hoborn for some lunch, where I took this picture of our matching Persephone bags. Sadly we didn't have time to go to the shop on this occasion, but we did of course use our bags to carry them around!)

The main reason for our visit was a trip to see the stage production of Raymond Brigg's The Snowman. This was the third time I'd seen it, and it didn't disappoint - it translates beautifully to stage and is a really magical way to start Christmas. Claire said I could put up this picture; I apologise for the blurriness - I obviously had too much tomato soup!

Thanks Claire for lots of fun - it was a great day out! I think this post has quite enough in it so I will write about what K did in my absence tomorrow, and my advent tea party on Thursday.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Christmas cards 3 (preparing for Christmas 6)

Last week I showed pictures of my mini Christmas tree Christmas cards; this week I have some more special cross stitch Christmas cards which took quite a lot longer to make (each about a week), so are for EXTREMELY special people (I haven't quite decided who yet!).

One of the things I love most about Christmas is The Snowman - I think Raymond Briggs illustrations are wonderful, and I think the music from the film is absolutely brilliant - it is my piano music of choice at present (I would contemplate recording a podcast of me playing but my Walking in the air only just gets off the ground, and my Dance of the snowmen involves a lot of one-legged snowmen). I am particularly excited about the Snowman this week, as I love the stage show and I am going to see it this week for the third time!! I went originally in 2007 with my parents, found the excuse of taking K's nieces last year, and am happily accompanying Paperback Reader Claire this Saturday - she mentioned that she was booking tickets, I jokingly asked if I could come too, and she said yes, because her boyfriend didn't really fancy it. More about that on Monday I think, plus the book shopping and book exchanging that we will be up to at the same time!

Anyway, I spotted a kit on ebay to make 4 Snowman cross stitch Christmas cards, and I couldn't resist it as I thought it would be lovely to spend November stitching The Snowman. It was. and here they are - there is a slight modification from the kit in that I decided to stick the completed designs onto cards larger than the ones supplied; since I had spent so long making them (each took a week of evenings and a weekend afternoon). Here they are - I'm not sure if I can bear to part with them!

I have also made two Forever Friends Christmas cards - they come from a kit intended to be a Christmas decoration, but I decided I could get more mileage out of it as two Christmas cards for two of my close friends. I decided that a red card would make a good mount, and borrowed the idea of trimming the fabric with pinking shears and sticking it straight onto a card, rather than using an aperture card, from the Snowman designs.