Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Weekly Baking: a summer berry tart with good intentions

I try to bake something every week. I don't always achieve it. There are after-school snacks to take care of, the occasional pudding, and those empty-tummy moments that seem to accompany my life working from home. I've been trying to bake more healthily, with Ella's book, the Hemsley sisters and Sarah's lovely book. Yes there have been the ubiquitous date balls, raw food brownies, and oat-banana cookies in my kitchen, just as you've seen all over the blogosphere. 

And then this last weekend, I just needed a good old-fashioned fat & sugar blow-out.

Nigella to the rescue!
Nigella Lawson's Easy Summer Berry Tart
This is Nigella's No Fuss Fruit Tart. Brownie point one (pardon the pun): it was so easy to make. Brownie point two: no unusual ingredients. Brownie point three: no oven involved. Brownie point four: it's absolutely delicious. And those berries: just look at those rich red to blue hues. You can't help but want slice after slice.
Nigella Lawson's Easy Summer Berry Tart
The down side is that I couldn't in good conscience give such a sugar/fat-fest to my young children twice a day. And my husband and eldest son are both on a pudding-free health kick (which means one slim slice only). And my very youngest Tiny One, who is the lone picky eater in a family of adventurous eaters (I can't even begin to tell you how draining it can be), didn't like it.

Conclusion: make it for a dinner party, or a big family gathering, or friends for a barbecue. It's so easy, everyone will have a slice, and pretty much everyone will love it. 

Don't make it like I did, just for your family who mostly won't eat it. Otherwise you might end up eating about three-quarters of it all to yourself a week before going on holiday when you're supposed to be being good (swimming costume shame, blah blah).

Consider my wrists slapped. I'm back to the raw health food. Once I've polished off the last slice that is.
The Twinkle Diaries

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Room for improvement: reversible bedroom cushions

I'm starting a new occasional series on the blog today. It's called 'Home Improvement'. What is it and why?
  • Our house is in a permanent state of un-finished-ness (yes I know that's not a word!) I want to feel it's done. I want to feel proud of it.
  • We never have time to decorate, and we certainly never have the money. I want to move it up our priority list, and this series will act as a motivator. I want to be more creative with what we have and where we source things.
  • I love to make and to sew and I do it for my job, but I would love an excuse to sew more for our home. I want to have at least one thing I've made in every room.
I plan to tackle one room at a time, and give myself (or, let's be honest, ourselves, since I'll be roping my husband in) one month for each room. They won't always be completely finished by then (far from it), but they can certainly be improved. Hence, Room for improvement.

I'm starting properly with August in our youngest's bedroom. But until then, I've dipped my toe in the water with some new cushions for our bedroom. I love these prints and didn't want to sew and give them away. And I needed to time myself making cushions. So they became a sneaky project just for me!

Sewing just for me! Yes, it's both my husband's and my bedroom but he would never say "Do you know, we really need some cushions," so it was definitely a selfish project. I was inspired by Things for Boys' #selfishswap and though the deadline was the end of June, I haven't got around to photographing and blogging these until now.

What do you think? The good news, or the bad news depending on how you look at it, is that I'm inspired to sew a whole load more for our room.

For those who are interested, I recovered the chair in Raindrop Poppies Bronze from Anna Maria Horner's Field Study line and blogged about it here. I made the cushions mostly using fabric from The Village Haberdashery, one of my most favourite online fabric stores. The fabrics, top to bottom (in the picture below) are... well I shouldn't have said top to bottom as I can't remember the first one! But I really love those Arabic-looking trees, so do tell me if you know. After that, it's Lizzie House's Pearl Bracelets in cosmonaut, Hothouse Flowers Seeds in pink, and Michael Miller's Brambleberry Ridge Flight in gold & white.



Home Etc


Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Crafting with Kids: home-made thank you cards in 3 quick & easy steps!


So this is the way it goes it my house: child has birthday. Child receives birthday presents. Child needs to send thank you letters. Mother keeps forgetting. It was the Little One's birthday in early June and now the month's been and gone I've really got to get these 'thank you' cards sorted!

It's important to me that those people who were kind and generous enough to give a present get a meaningful thank you in return. That means different things to different people, but to me it means a handmade thank you card.

It is also important to me that I don't give myself yet another huge 'to do' on top of everything else, and that writing 'thank you's' is not something my children dread as a chore. You can see the colourful 'thank you' cards my Tiny One made after his birthday here. But I can't do the same thing with the Little One (their birthdays are two months apart and my aunties would remember!).


Which brings me to...

Step one: Find an appropriate picture your child has made, or get them to make one. I used a Star Wars picture my six year old made for his Star Wars party but it would've been more sensible to find one on a white background. Of course, you can keep a coloured background but I was being thrifty and avoiding caning through all that yellow ink!


Step two: Scan and upload your picture. Now, if you have photoshop like me, you can white out the coloured background and add some text (I used a free Star Wars font that I downloaded). If not, get your fabulously helpful child to make you a bespoke picture and write 'thank you' etc on it. Using photoshop or your programme of choice, multiply that photo into four on an A4 sheet. You could do this using a photo mosaic programme too.


Step three: Print the photos out on thick paper stock, cut up and use! (Here's where it gets a bit tricky as you have to get your six-year-old to neatly write their name over a dozen times!)

Helpful? If you want more specific instructions on how to do this on photoshop (it took me less than half an hour), do let me know!
The Twinkle Diaries

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Happy Father's Day: an ode to the father of my children

This man. This man who spent most of Father's Day in car travelling back from a wedding. This man for whom Father's Day came and went without much fanfare. This man who deserves a fanfare. Let me tell you nine things about this man...
  1. He is a father to my sixteen year old in every sense. I forget he's not his biological father. I think they both forget it too. And that's the best I could ever have hoped for.
  2. He is our rock. For all of us, we can always rely on him, we can always lean on him, and we always know where we stand. There's a lot to be said for a man like that.
  3. He is thoughtful, considered and methodical. We know what he believes to be true and good, and we know he will stand by that. He believes in family, in honesty, in stability, in perseverance. He takes a little getting to know, which is a good thing. When you know his soul, you've earnt that knowledge and you hold it dear.
  4. He has been such a natural father to our little two boys. He has felt every joy, noticed every idiosyncrasy, learnt every quirk of their personalities. He knows what they need and he gives it to them. He is steadfast in focusing on their needs when they are distracted by their wants! You need that in a parent.
  5. He is generally a serious man, but we all get to enjoy his silliness, his thrill-seeking, his fun and jokes, his adventurous spirit. One of my favourite things is to see him forget his self-consciousness and do a loony little dance with the boys in the kitchen.
  6. He puts his needs aside and can just do the right thing because it's right. When he's tired or has had a hard day at work, he still does what the boys need, he still reads the stories with them or takes them out on their bikes. He's the kind of man who gets out of bed on time every morning. I'm the kind of woman who stays in bed for 'one more minute'. I wish I were more like him!
  7. Really, he dreams of being a photographer. But he stays doing his job, which he likes enough, which is good enough, which pays just about enough. He stays because he's a responsible kind of guy, and because he knows that in this season of our lives he's our breadwinner and we all rely on him. I really hope that one day I get really successful or that lottery win magically arrives, because I'd love to let him throw caution to the wind and follow his dreams.
  8. He's the kind of father these boys need. Reliable. Strong. Great at kicking a ball (or whatever sport they're currently into). Predictable. But sometimes surprising. Interested in them. Attentive. And sucking up the joy they bring into his life.
  9. He doesn't read this blog. Well he's maybe read it once or twice, but he's not a fan of social media, and so I've taken to writing away without even mentioning it much. But he supports me and he believes in me. He thinks I can write. Part of being a good father is being a good husband, and for that I'm a very lucky lady.
(PS I can't believe I just referred to myself as 'lady'. Wasn't I just sixteen a moment ago?!)
(PPS For a similarly effusive and grateful post about my own dad, see here.)

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Southwold, family and aging

We all went to Southwold to celebrate my Dad's 70th birthday. My husband and my three boys, my parents, my brothers and their partners. And an auntie, a baby in a belly and a dog. This was all of my family and I have to tell you: I love them all like crazy. And I really like them (which I know not everyone can say about their families). Suffice to say, it was good to all be together.
We holed up in a big fancy house, ate good food, mooched around the Southwold shops, took walks, played on the beach, and generally fantasised about living there. I mean, just look at these pictures. I defy you to not want to visit, at the very least.
My youngest two boys just love the seaside. They are diligent diggers. They are wild wave jumpers. They screech when their toes are chased by the chilly sea and run away just slow enough to be caught by it. They build sandcastles, bury toes, and don't seem to mind if it's nippy or warm. They could stay there for hours and it's a shame we didn't always have time to.
My feet had their first wriggles in the sand too. Really I'm an inland girl at heart: I'd pick a wildflower-bordered country lane, a bluebell-bespeckled wood, a windswept hillside or a verdant stream over the seaside every time. But I still love to visit the coast.
It was good to all be together, but this 70th birthday felt important. Not only has my Dad had a few narrow escapes healthwise in the last few years, but he's really struggled with aging. I often felt the need to hold on to the gladness that he's here with us still, and also to discard the negativity over his getting older and instead count our blessings. I really hope he can learn to embrace the passing of time because, to me, it is a sign of how lucky he is. The alternative to aging is not to be here at all, and I know too many people who've lost older relatives to know that we should be cheering for getting older. It means life.
I got to know my brother's partner a bit more too. They've been together a year or two but I haven't met him much. My middle brother and I can be quite different but I feel really fond of him and sort of protective. The youngest brother has always got on with his life and done well out of it. I worry about my middle brother more and want good things for him. I think that's what his new partner is: a good thing. It was lovely to see my brother so settled and at ease in himself.
Ooh this blog post is turning out much more reflective than I thought. I guess it was that kind of a holiday. I guess that's what happens when you bring all the branches of your family together to mark a critical gateway in life. And there we all were: me settled with kids, my middle brother settling down, my youngest brother on the journey to fatherhood (he'll be such a good one). And my parents heading towards older age but with such youthful hearts. There was this one time when my mum and her sister took me into Seasalt to buy me a coat (and that's another story - watch this space!), and my dad and eldest son came in to give their opinions too, and I just thought: I'm not a strike-out-on-my-own kind of a person. I'm quite independent in lots of ways but, gosh, I really need to feel like I'm sandwiched in the metaphorical hug of a big family all the time. And weirdly, the older I get the more I feel I need them around.
It was a really good break. Southwold: I'm sorry I didn't say enough about you in this post. You were cheery and inspiring. You were the kind of place I felt I belonged in. I couldn't live there (coast!), but my goodness you were the perfect match for a holiday. And to my family: I meant it. I really, really like you lot.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The 2015 Summer List

The 'a touch of domesticity' 2015 Summer List
I feel like I can finally say, without jinxing it (though you know it really will be jinxed now I've said that)... summer's here! But what to do this summer? My list of activities for the boys' six-seven weeks at home is coming up in July, but here's my list of things that I want to accomplish, for me and the family. You know me, it's going to have nine things in it...
  1. Get outdoors every day. Once the school holidays kick in it can be tempting to stay in with the Lego on a miserable day, but my boys are like sheepdogs - they need to get out. They need to work off some energy, they need a change of scene, they need inspiration and adventure. And I also need the inhalation of simplicity, appreciation and good old fresh air.
  2. Visit more National Trust properties. Once a week - yes really - once the holidays kick in, and occasionally on weekends before then. We do go often but we went to Tatton Park last weekend (post to follow) and it cured all ailments, at least for a while.
  3. Sew more for me. With the job I have (curtain & blind making), if I'm not sewing for someone else I'm not sewing at all. I've got to shift some of my plans from the 'to do' to the 'done' list.
  4. Watch less telly. It's beautiful outside, there are books inside, conversation to be had... to be honest, I would've gladly done this a long time ago but my husband needs television to manually switch him from 'work' to 'relaxed' mode. I need to tell him that I don't.
  5. Bring more of the outdoors indoors. Fill every vase at least once. It finishes a room, and it elevates my mood. It's better for the environment and my bank balance if I don't go and buy the ubiquitous cellophane-wrapped store flowers.
  6. Keep spending less. Every little helps (no, I'm not referring to the supermarket). Not that we spend much anyway but we're trying hard to be even thriftier at the moment. I'll be making more ice creams at home, looking for free outdoor adventures, cutting off my jeans rather than buying shorts.
  7. Bake more. We've been on a healthy eating kick recently and, with all the Easter chocolate still around, there's been no reason to bake. But there are healthy cakes out there these days (it's no longer an oxymoron) and the baking element of this blog's subtitle has been sorely lacking.
  8. Make a little cot quilt for my first ever niece or nephew. She or he will be a summer baby and will have to get used to an auntie showering it in sewn gifts!
  9. Fix myself. The rubbish anxiety condition that the PTSD left me with four years ago has been niggling a bit recently. I can usually go four-six months absolutely fine before a few days or weeks of a dip. But recently, though much less severe, it's been kicking in every few weeks and to be honest I'm fed up of it. It isn't me and it stops me from living the life I want and need to live.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Days out with the kids: West Green House Gardens in Hampshire

Let me pique your interest with these beauties...
Come for a walk with me. We're going to West Green House Gardens in Hampshire, a third of the way down the M3...
We'll potter along formal garden paths, boxed by hedges and planted with such an array of beauty that your heart will sing, while your children run around excitedly playing hide & seek...
We'll explore woodland paths too, tickled by ferns and sheltered by boughs laden with all the shades of emerald...
We'll find nooks and outdoor rooms, and every now and then a peek at the house we wished we lived in, the chicken coop that is fancier than any we've ever seen, the statues that surprise us...
And if we're there in spring time, the blossom, oh the blossom. And for tulip lovers (like us), every shade, every form, every delight we could imagine. The children will hop over the channels of water while we soak it all in...
We'll take note of the colours we see, the flowers we love, and vow to take our mothers one day, who would love it so much...
We will show the children the flowers they can smell, the insects buzzing around in spoilt gluttony, let them run down the paths and play hide & seek some more...
And every corner we turn will bring us a fresh view of elegance, of artistry, of wonder. We'll imagine sitting by that fountain in the thirties, cocktail in hand, band playing in the distance. Or pushing open those formerly unlocked gates and strolling, Victorian dress swishing around our ankles, with someone we hope likes us back...
Our families will rest by the lake, searching the depths for signs of fish, watching the ripples as they dance away, looking at their reflections...
If we're there in early spring, the magnolias will be out in all their gravity-defying beauty. We will muse on their bold promise of warmth and daylight to come...
We'll grab an ice cream from the cafe, or sit at one of the pretty little tables, adorned with little pots of flowers, and drink coffee from a filter or tea from a teapot - served as it should be, - drunk with birdsong in the air...
If we're there with our husband, we'll hold hands and talk about life and our plans, delight in our children as they play, and think how lucky we are, and how many blessings we can count...
If we're there with our friends, we'll note the hellebores and bluebells hidden in the flower beds, plan our own gardens, tell each other of how our lives are changing and blossoming too...
Perhaps we'll be lucky enough to be local enough to visit again. Perhaps we'll plan trips to the opera there, staged in the summer, or the garden parties with strings. Perhaps though, like my family and I, we'll know that the chances of us ever passing by again are so very small, and instead we'll take photographs, breathe it all in, and then write a little about it to tell you that if you can't come with us, go with your own loved ones instead. It is heavenly.


Thursday, 4 June 2015

In which my Little One turns six


This boy. Skinny as a rake, fast as a hare, with superhuman balance. He has a thirst for knowledge and answers; he has perseverance and tenacity. This boy who clings and cuddles yet strikes out with sure independence and autonomy. He is six today.

When he was born it was ten years since I had last had a child and he was like a new first to me. He still has many qualities of first born children: he is a planner, a rule-follower, an achiever, particular. He can be highly-strung. I am also a first-born. I feel a sense of affinity with him, an empathy.

He loves his friends and his family fiercely. He has an enduring love of yellow, since he was at least two. When my parents come to visit, he always asks them to bring apple & mango juice, smoked salmon and dates. He is a creature of habit and he needs a sense of security. He prefers the known to the new. 

He is serious and considered, yet has a wild and silly streak in his comfort zone. I love to watch it come out. He dances like a hillbilly. He loves to jump.

He loves Star Wars and superheros right now. He likes to read and to study fact books. He loves numbers and sports. If you play along with feigned ignorance, he does a mean magic trick. He eats nearly everything, and in it goes to his Tardis tummy. When playing with his brother, he likes to be in charge, but with big boys he hangs on every word. This is a boy who is going to be a scientist rather than an artist, a conformist rather than a rebel.

He is not my baby any more. He is still a mummy's boy but on his own terms. And though it can be bittersweet I love to see him stride out into the future, gaining confidence and sovereignty over himself. He is crossing the bridge from little boy to big boy, never too far from me, but not needing to hold my hand anymore. Yet in bed, when he cuddles goodnight, he won't let go. I'm thinking I should stop trying to get away to my chores or my own time, and let him hold on a bit longer.

He had a Star Wars party at the weekend but today is just about our family, his favourite dinner (veggie lasagne and a lemon (yellow!) cake), and getting to know his new toys. My love for him is strong, calm and deep - like an ocean - and I am feeling it heartily today.

The Twinkle Diaries

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

On winning, instagram, and the pursuit of popularity

I resisted Instagram for several years but, in an attempt to get better at mobile photography, I started using it last summer. I'm such a convert. The photo (below) I took of my Thursday Breaktime  won a spot in Little Maldod's #mythursdaybreaktime roundup a fortnight ago. And I like to think I'm the sort of person unaffected by popularity or awards of any sort, but it turns out I am. It put a skip in my little heart that day.

#mythursdaybreaktime
I also published this picture of our winning May Queen window on Instagram. Our village has the longest lasting uninterrupted May Queen procession in the country (since 1928), and each year we enter the 'best dressed residential window' competition. Last year's won second prize, which was nice but didn't seem to affect me. This year's, on a space theme and featuring my sewn star garlands and the boys' homemade rockets, alien pictures and various space toys, won first prize. And again, to my surprise, I felt a swagger in my step. As a child I needed validation and as an adult I once turned my nose up against it. But it turns out that need is still there.

May Queen space window decorations
I'm working on some cushion covers for a competition, and it's my opportunity -although through random chance - to give someone else the feeling of winning. But I know, deep within, that it's also designed to validate me too - exposure, the number of people entering, eyeballs on this blog or my business site - all these things will be totted up in my head. Is this a bad thing? I'm not sure it is. As a writer, lovely though it is to write just for yourself, you have a symbiotic relationship with your reader. Can you really be a writer without a reader, or are you just a literary version of Schrodinger's cat? And as someone who sews for business, I do not exist without customers, and satisfied ones at that. I think it's possible to seek validation without decrying it as vanity, because it's an independent judgment of the value of your work, of the strength of the effort you've gone to and the result you've toiled for. And I can't deny that on a very basic human level, hearing someone else tell you that what you're doing is good, lovely, liked - or whatever - feels good.

my fabric stash
And I originally planned this post as a quick one to let you know I can't actually take any photos at the moment as my phone's broken!

Days out with the kids: Eyam Hall in Derbyshire

This post is a long time coming. In that it was April when we went and now, shhh, it's June. Still, you can bet your bottom dollar (does anyone actually say that anymore?!) that it's even lovelier now the late spring blooms are out.

Eyam Hall 1
We love visiting Eyam Hall, a recent acquisition by the National Trust in Derbyshire. It has a beautiful garden that still feels like a work in progress, and there are often (very lovely) volunteers gardening in it while you're there.

Eyam Hall 2
The house itself (it was too dark inside for pictures when we were there - the sun came out in the garden) is beautiful and so interesting. It was inhabited by the same family until just a couple of years ago, and so is a lovely mishmash of centuries. It almost looks like they were there yesterday and left in a hurry. I love it.

Eyam Hall 3
The best thing about it when you have small children is that the house is just the right size to be manageable by children who start inquisitive but can run out of steam in the more stately properties. And the garden is the perfect size for them to run off without getting lost, play hide and seek, and whatever other Robin Hood/Star Wars/superhero games are currently in rotation.

Eyam Hall 4
There's an adjoining craft centre with some sweet little shops, and the house is on the same road as all the information boards, the church and other historic places that reference what Eyam is famous for: its sacrifice at the time of the plague.

Eyam Hall 5
We go at least once a year. You should too.