The Liebster Award

It has been one of those weeks. The penultimate week of a 19 week term, parent-teacher conferences, a school trip, last minute Christmas shopping, and a teething baby. Those top two teeth are evil l tell you. Thank goodness for chocolate advent calendars, mulled wine, Calpol and Bonjela (and that is just for me).

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Then l was nominated for the Liebster Award by the lovely Nicole at Mariella & Me, which made the week a whole lot better. So thank you Nicole! Check out her blog at some point, she has the cutest little girl and does some great baking, and l thoroughly enjoy reading about her daily life.

Accepting the award means l undertake three tasks. Firstly, l need to answer some questions about myself, secondly l need to tell you eleven random facts about myself, and thirdly l need to nominate some other blogs that l like. Here we go…..

The Questions

1. If you could have something right now, tangible or not, what would it be?
It sounds a bit mercenary, but l would like to have enough money saved to buy a house. We are currently working our butts off to save enough, which is partly why we are living abroad. It would be nice not to have that pressure!

2. What are you most grateful for?
My husband and my boy. My family and friends. Basically, for having people around me who love me for who l am. Even though l have absolutely no common sense or spacial awareness and do things like pick piping hot plates up, walk into glass plate windows and drive cars into posts on a regular basis.

3. What is something you hate to talk about?
Hard question! Being a teacher means you usually have to talk about most things. But l really don’t like people describing their injuries to me. I used to think l would be a great nurse, but l feel physically sick if someone starts talking about their wounds.

4. What is your one biggest regret?
Letting my parents talk me out of pursuing a career in art when l was a teenager. I had some amazing adventures instead, but part of me does feel like l wasted a few years not doing what l was supposed to do.

5. What is your favourite book of all time?
I am going to cheat and have three (l love books, am married to an English Literature teacher, and the tables at our wedding were all named after our favourite books!). Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and Mr God, this is Anna by Sydney Hopkins. All brilliant stories, with unusual and intriguing characters.

6. If you could tell your 16 year old self something, anything, what would it be?
Stop fighting who you are! I went through a few turbulent years from age 16 onwards and desperately hated who l was, which made me massively insecure. It took me a long time to accept and like myself for who l was. Also, l would tell my 16 year old self that a shaved head is fine, but it will take forever to grow out and look hideous in the process.

7. Why do you blog? For who?
A good question. My husband blogs (really well, he is an incredible writer – find his stuff at Tastehitch) and suggested it as a way of recording all the little baking projects, photography, and other creative bits and pieces that l do in my limited spare time. Now l have started l really rather enjoy it. I just wish l had more time to invest in it…

8. What one thing about your house/living situation would you like to change?
See above – owning our own house! Especially one without termites/mosquitos/and the potential of harbouring king cobras. Oh, and living somewhere with seasons. Seriously, how can it be Christmas when the temperature is 32 degrees Celcius?

9. What is your favourite memory as a child?
There are many, but one of my favourites is being on summer holiday in cold, wet, North Wales and my mum dragging us on a long muddy hike. We reached a hidden lake just as the sun broke through the clouds and my mum stripped off her clothes and jumped in the icy water. The three of us kids followed suit (my Dad stood there looking holding the packed lunches  and staring at us in disbelief). To this day we still swim in the sea on Christmas morning.

10. What are three goals you have for 2015?
My first it to start a little Etsy shop selling some of my design work – this is so scary as l don’t think my work is very good, but people seem to like it so l am going to give it a go. My second is to improve my video taking and editing skills – l am trying to make family videos of every holiday, but l want them to be cool to watch too. My third is to start writing letters instead of sending emails to my friends. It takes the same amount of time, and who doesn’t love getting a letter in the post?

11. What are you most proud of (aside from your kids!)?
Completing a half marathon in my fastest time ever, 7 months after having The Boy. It hurt. A lot. But it was the best feeling knowing that l had achieved a goal l set myself.

11 Random Facts About Myself
1.) I have a lazy right eye that doesn’t see a lot, so have a blindspot that means l cannot play badminton. At all.
2.) I once was a life model for students at the Royal College of Art in London.
3.) I have said ‘hello’ to Princes William and Harry when they were doing their Christmas shopping in Selfridges.
4.) I used to play rugby, and broke my ribs, two fingers, my nose (twice) and several toes in the process.
5.) I was born in a farmhouse (another story for another day!)
6.) There are two skills l would love to have – to be able to dance and sing. I can do neither well. Until l am drunk, then l think that l can do both awesomely.
7.) Once l sat up all night with a dead body, whilst living with a family in Japan.
8.) I went to Yemen about 15 years ago and had a guard who was armed with a kalashnikov. I got the best prices in the market.
9.) I can’t imagine a life without Post-It notes.
10.) Like most women, l love shoes. I own too many, including several pairs with ridiculously high heels that l wear once in a blue moon. And still l buy more.
11.) I gave birth to The Boy in the middle of a military coup. Which sounds much more dramatic than in actually was, but still, it’s a story to tell him when he is older!

Blogs I am nominating:

The Two Saving Sisters  –  I love shopping, but am also a fan of a bargain or two, so l love this blog for all it’s helpful tips!

Scrawling Consciousness – Great blog about the daily adventures of Little Man combined with down-to-earth experiences of being a parent.

Unsimple Life – Laugh out loud stories of being a Dad. Enough said.

Life in Japan with Toddlers – I am a little bit obsessed with Japan, so l love this blog. Rather than your usual tourist adventures, it gives insight into what life is truly like. With kids.

Girl Gone Expat – Amazing photography of an absolutely stunning landscape, with some great writing as well. Check it out.

JuJu’s secret Ingredient – Great recipes, a beautiful looking blog and again, great photography. I could look at this all day, but it makes me too hungry.

Please check out these blogs! They are great.

If l nominate you – here’s what you need to do:

Your job is to answer these questions in a blog post and spread the Lieb!

1. What do you like to blog about?
2. Describe your ideal day.
3. Are you excited about Christmas?
4. What would you spend a million pounds/dollars on?
5. What has been your worst disappointment in life?
6. What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
7. What are the best five words to describe you?
8. Do you want to change anything about your life?
9. What is happiness to you?
10. What songs do you regularly listen to?
11. What and/or who inspires you?

Here are the rules of the Liebster Award:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.
  2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)
  3. Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.
  4. Provide 11 random facts about yourself.
  5. Nominate 5-11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note that you can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)
  6. Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.
  7. List these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to:
  8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!).

Leaving the baby behind.

This may sound controversial, but sometimes leaving the baby behind is just brilliant.

Last weekend, for the first time in almost 7 months, l left The Boy behind. Intentionally, l might add, and at home in the capable hands of his daddy. It was a tearful moment as l waved goodbye from the window of the taxi, but by the time l had reached the airport (and had consumed a large Chai Tea Latte and a chocolate muffin) l was feeling better. In fact, excited about the prospect of a couple of days alone, exploring the temples of Siem Reap, a place that has been on my bucket list for years. I was not so excited, however, about the half marathon darkly looming on the horizon as well.

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I had thought l would spend the weekend worrying about, and missing The Boy and The Husband. I did up to a point, but l also relished some alone time, space to think, to explore, to sleep, to spend time with friends. To just be.

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And the half marathon? I managed that too, in the fastest time since l began running 10 years ago. Which made me pretty damn proud of myself.

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Lining up at the start

Sweaty but still smiling

Sweaty but still smiling

Then l got to go home to my two favourite boys, and to be honest, their smiles and hugs as l walked (hobbled) through the door meant more to me than any medal.

The First Noel

I am so excited that it is The Boy’s first Christmas. Really over-excited. So much so that the reality may be a bit of a disappointment. He will definitely love the wrapping paper and tree ornaments more than anything else, and his ideal present would be our cats in a box, so that he could ‘stroke’ (in reality grabbing fistfuls of fur and pulling their tails) them without chasing them into a corner first. I know deep down that presents will be a waste of time, and that l should demonstrate restraint, but my inner shopoholic can’t help it. Last night l hit the (internet) shops.I am sure l can hear my bank manager sobbing, luckily he lives over 1000 miles away. If you are interested, here is what he (The Boy, not the bank manager) will be getting for Christmas.

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I wish they did this in adult size, l have a Paddington Bear obsession.

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He has been crawling for all of 3 weeks and now wants to be walking. Shoes it is.

 

 

 

 

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Just. So. Cute. Perfect for cold toes.

 

 

 

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Christmas Day outfit. ‘Nuff said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I have been told quite specifically by The Husband that this is horrific and in no way am l allowed to buy it. Oppps.

I seem to have a mustard obsession at the moment. This is the fourth item l have bought in this colour recently.

Leggings were vetoed too. Duly ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So our cats don’t live out their remaining lives in fear. Hopefully.

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The best Christmas book ever. Fact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the first time ever l have not bought myself a Christmas present. Well, not yet anyway. These are bookmarked, waiting for that inevitable evening when l am home alone with a glass or three of mulled wine. On reflection, I had better buy the bank manager something too….

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*SWOON* I am a new addict to expensive make up. Look how pretty!

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This year’s Christmas jumper? Yum.

 

I wish it could be Christmas everyday

Christmas Day has always been one of my favourite days of year. I have spent most of my Christmases in the UK with my family, following much the same traditions as the year before. Wake up early, open stockings (at 37 l still get ridiculously excited about this), go for a swim in the sea (yes, the actual sea), warm up with a nip of brandy and a hot bath, change into Christmas outfits, eat dinner, open presents, play games and them one by one fall asleep in front in the television. Even with divorces, remarriages, partners, friends and the odd additional pet, most years remain comfortingly the same. Apart from the last four.

2010 – Myself and The Husband, then boyfriend, had been through a horrific breakup a couple of months earlier. He had moved to China. I was still very much an emotional mess. This Christmas l just remember being a black hole of tears with sad songs on repeat and, really, not much else.

2011 – Myself and The Husband, then boyfriend, had just got back together. However, my mum had been unexpectedly diagnosed with lung cancer a week before, and was due to have a lung removed two weeks after Christmas Day. It was a quiet and sombre day despite our best efforts. No-one swam. No-one really ate dinner. The atmosphere was pretty bleak.

2012 – Having just moved to Bangkok, myself and The Husband, then fiancee, decided that we would take the holiday we had talked of for years. We went to Japan. It was amazing, and we spent Christmas in Tokyo, one of my all time favourite cities. We woke up in a tiny hotel room, opened the few presents we had managed to squeeze into our backpacks, went for Christmas Dinner in a British Pub, took a walk in the park and watched ‘Cross of Iron’ (not my choice) on the laptop until we could Skype the family. We ate take-out sushi from the 7-Eleven for dinner with a can of Asahi from a vending machine. Probably the strangest non-Christmas/Christmas either of us have ever had.

2013 – I was almost 4 months pregnant, so myself and The Husband decided to stay put in Thailand. We had my brother and another good friend from China come and stay. We tried to create as traditional a Christmas as possible. We all had stockings to open in the morning, took a Christmas swim in our swimming pool (a tad warmer that the sea), drank Bucks fizz, then headed for a buffet lunch at one of the posh hotels in the city. Bloated (l blamed my bulge on the growing baby, not the mountains of Christmas pudding), we played games into the evening, when we all passed out on the sofa watching a film. It was perfect.

Fast forward to 2014. We are taking The Boy back to the UK for two weeks, to experience the Christmas I had when growing up. We have, however, already introduced him to the joys of decorating a tree, thinking he would love the twinkling lights and sparkly baubles. In truth, he prefers the plug socket underneath.

This decoration was promptly thrown up on.

This decoration was promptly thrown up on.

Not happy about the antlers. Or the selfie.

Not happy about the antlers. Or the selfie.

This is taking up valuable crawling space.

This is taking up valuable crawling space.

What do you expect me to do with this?

What do you expect me to do with this?

Okay, l got this.

Okay, l got this.

Rocking around the tree. Dad style.

Rocking around the tree. Dad style.

After the baby had gone to bed.

After the baby had gone to bed.

Advent Calendars tomorrow, yippee! Happy Advent one and all.

 

My Hero

In the first 20 days of December l will be running a total of 100 kilometres in honour of my hero: my Granny.

She would have turned 100 on the 20th December, but sadly passed away in May. She never met her three great grandsons (including The Boy) who were born in March and May respectively. She did, however, live to see me married and settled and of that l am so grateful.

At her funeral, I did my best to put into words why she was my hero, but emotion and jet lag made me stumble, my words unclear. So now, in a blog she will never read, I hope to do her justice.

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 Granny had several sayings, most of which have stuck with me throughout my childhood and into adult life. She was fond of saying, “Life has its ups and downs, but without the downs, you will never appreciate the ups”. She went through more than most in her life, but was unfailingly positive in every circumstance, looking at every day as a thing to enjoy and appreciate. She gave me advice on many things: not to marry until l was in my thirties, to use moisturiser twice every day, to push every door until one opened, to follow my dreams. I have followed most of this advice and am happily married, have good skin, and have had a fulfilling life full of adventure.

As a child she taught me to sew, to embroider, to cross stitch, to make clothes (she trained as a tailor), to go to fabric shops and know which ones to choose. She had drawers full of scraps of fabric, wool, lace, threads and sewing implements which used to drive my Grandad crazy. I was allowed to delve into these at any time, explore the colours and textures, and encouraged to just create something. Likewise, my Granny was rarely without some sort of needlework until arthritis took its toll on her hands. I now have a study that is also packed with various materials, am rarely without some creative project on the go, and have a career teaching Art. I can only hope that my students are as inspired by me as l was by my hero.

In my late teens l went through a stage of rebellion. I shaved my head, refused to talk to my parents, went out until all hours, got a tattoo and piercings and whilst l thought l was being utterly unique, l now realise l was a  typical teenager. My parents tore their hair out. My Granny just made me cups of tea and listened to my woes, gently offering me an alternative point of view, but always accepting who l was. She was like this with everyone. We often joked that all of her friends were slightly mad, but the fact is that Granny could see past oddities in behaviour to the person underneath, and was capable of loving everyone for who they were.

Her terrible cooking, her love of shopping, her amazing driving skills, her outstanding musical ability, her strong will, her perseverance, her love of life, her smile: there are so many things that made my Granny the person she was.As it approaches what would have been her centenary, l feel sad that my son will never know the voice of, or feel the warmth of his great Granny’s love, but l do sincerely hope that one day he has his own hero. Someone who will make him want to be a better person, to look at every day as an adventure, and to always be true to himself.

Swedish Cinnamon Rolls

It was one of those moments that my Mum now dreads. The ones where I make seemingly random decisions that often end in near disaster*. Four years ago, heartbroken, ridiculously stressed and slightly delirious with exhaustion,  I booked a flight. To Stockholm. In December. On Friday. It was Wednesday. It started with a snow storm in the UK. My flight was delayed. I arrived after midnight, stepped out of the bus and almost drowned in snow (no exaggeration). Sweden has an abundance of snow. In fact, I spent the whole time marvelling at this white, twinkly wonderland that people were living in. Well, most of my time. The rest was spent wearing every item of clothing I had brought and fending off frostbite. Note to self: thin leather jackets and Converse are not appropriate winter wear north of the UK.

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Snow, snow, and more snow.

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Appropriate winter wear.

Luckily, there were also plenty of cafes to warm my frozen fingers in, which is where I developed an everlasting love for cinnamon buns. Sticky, sweet, warming and spicy, and perfect with a glass of gluwein. This is the food that mends sad hearts.

*This trip ended with a cancelled flight, no flights out for the foreseeable future, many hours in queues, and the possibility of Christmas spent alone in a hostel in Stockholm. My Mum came to the rescue again and I made it home for the holidays.

Cinnamon Buns

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Soft, sweet and spicy. Note the glass of milk instead of gluhwein (it’s not December yet!).

Ingredients

For the dough:
225ml milk
75g butter
300g plain flour
125g wholewheat flour
70g brown sugar
1tsp cardamom
½ tsp salt
10g dried yeast
1 egg, beaten

For the filling:
75g butter
50g brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt

To finish:
1 egg, beaten
brown sugar

Mix together flour, brown sugar, salt, cardamom, and yeast in a large bowl.IMG_5787
Make a well in the centre and mix in beaten egg, and milk that has been scalded with butter and then cooled. Mix it to a dough, cover with clingfilm and leave it in a warm place for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, beat together butter, cinnamon, brown sugar and salt.IMG_5789
When dough has risen, roll out to the size of a laptop and spread filling over it. Roll up and cut into 7 slices, one smaller than the rest. Arrange in a greased baking tin.

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Cover, and put in a warm place for 30 minutes. When doubled in size brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake at 200 Celcius for 20-25 minutes.

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Leave to cool and then tear apart and eat. IMG_5808

Delicious, even if your heart is not broken. IMG_5814

Santa Baby

You are young (say, under 30), your friends have started reproducing, and it is Christmas. Your mantlepiece starts filling with cards adorned with various offspring dressed as Santa Claus, a Christmas Pudding, a Wise Man, or just in a festive jumper smiling broadly for the camera. “Oh no,” you think scornfully, “poor children, surely that will scar them for life”. Then you become a parent. One day, with nothing better to do, you find yourself putting your child in an empty cardboard box for fun. They like it. A lightbulb pings in your head. Christmas is coming…..

Here are the outtakes:

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