Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Spirit

Three things happened this week that have given me the Christmas spirit. First, Oldest played Joseph in his nursery's nativity. He was absolutely adorable and I loved seeing how much confidence he has that he was able to do that on his own, and jump in with extra bits when the teacher was reading out the story of baby Jesus. I am such a proud mom.

Then, this morning it started to snow. First it was just itty bitty amounts, then quite big snowflakes. I hope it sticks so the boys and I can make snowmen later on. I love snow. Oldest and I ran around a bit in a nearby field before I had to drop him off. Littlest is at his Nana's today, I hope he's enjoying it just as much!

And finally, almost instead of lunch, we made gingerbread cookies. I'm not the biggest fan of ginger at all, but I heart gingerbread cookies. They almost epitomise Christmas. And they were easy and fun to make. I've included the recipe.

Gingerbread cookies

To make about 20 biscuits, you will need:

350g (12oz) plain flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
100g (4oz) butter or margarine, cut into chunks
175g (6oz) soft light brown sugar
1 medium egg
4 tablespoons golden syrup
cookie cutters, whatever shaped you'd like
2 greased baking trays

Heat the oven to 190 degrees C/375 degrees F/gas mark 5 before you start.

1. Sift the flour, ground ginger and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Add the butter or margarine chunks.

2. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers until it is like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.

3. Break the egg into a small bowl, then add the syrup. Beat well with a fork, then stir the egg mixture into the flour.

4. Mix with a metal spoon until you make a dough. Sprinkle flour onto a work surface, then put the dough on it.

5. Stretch the dough by pushing it away from you. Fold it in half and repeat. Carry on doing this until it is smooth.

6. Sprinkle more flour onto the work surface. Cut the dough in half. Then, roll out one half until it is 5mm (1/4 in) thick.

7. Use a cookie cutter to cut lots of shapes. Then, lift all the hearts onto the greased baking trays with a fish slice.

8. Roll out the rest of the dough and cut out more shapes. Put them on the baking trays, then put the trays into the oven.

9. Bake biscuits for 12-15 minutes. They will turn golden brown. Carefully lift the baking trays from the oven.

10. Leave the biscuits on the trays for about 5 minutes. Then, lift them onto a wire rack. Leave to cool. When biscuits are cool, decorate as desired!

How do you get into the Christmas spirit? What epitomises Christmas for you?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Books to tide me over!

It's been a slow reading month so far. Nearly half way through December and only two books read! Despite having almost no time to read and having some books already checked out, I still need variety, so first thing this morning, I headed off to the library. This is what I picked up.

1. Shrimp by Rachel Cohn - I don't really like the cover of this one, and I'm not entirely sure why I picked this one up, but I did. There we go.

2. Finding Grace by Alyssa Brugman - This title was displayed on the recommended shelf. It looks kind of pretty so I thought I'd give it a chance!

3. Prom Nights From Hell by Meg Cabot, Stephenie Meyer etc - I figured I'd need quick and light things to read over Christmas. This sounds just right.

Next, we have:

4. What I Was by Meg Rosoff - Another Meg Rosoff for me. I think I started this before but it wasn't the right timing. Hopefully it will be this time!

5. Empress Orchid by Anchee Min - This book was at the front of the library on display. I'm not sure I've heard anything about it, pure impulse borrowing!

6. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - More with the short stories. I generally don't like short stories at all, but I've been finding that as I get older and my concentration levels decrease, I'm enjoying short stories more and more...

Here are the books that scare me and are really not my normal thing:

7. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. - I had no idea what this was about. But the title is familiar. I thought, why not?

8. Mort by Terry Pratchett - Having Joined the Pratchett reading challenge, I'm really pushing myself to read something of his. The books about Death were recommended, so I picked this one up, which I hope is the right place to start?

9. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett - here's another Terry Pratchett. This time, a YA novel. I think I tried this once before, but I think when I tried it, my mind-set was 'I'll hate this, I'm not sure why I'm bothering' and now I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

10. Dune by Frank Herbert - why did I pick this one up? I was in the sci-fi/fantasy section, this one caught my eye and without thinking I put it in my bag. I'm really surprising myself here. We'll see how it goes.

And no trip to the library would be complete without a trip to the charity shops. Today I picked up Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka and The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney.

I really hope that these books will keep me busy throughout the Christmas period! What will you be reading?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Children's Christmas Baking

I have this problem every year. We put up the Christmas tree, we decorate the house, we write out our Christmas cards, we play the Christmas music. We get everything ready and out, prepared and bought. We make plans about food and where to go and what to see. And I never feel Christmassy. Not until the very end usually.

So I'm doing all I can to speed up that process. I actually have a little to-do list which includes making our own Christmas cards and wrapping paper. Making Christmas decorations and so on, which I've not yet had time to do. But one of the ways I have made time for is by baking Christmassy things with the children.

I have a 4 year old and a not quite 2 year old. So things have to pretty simple for them to help out. To be fair, there isn't much my Littlest can do. But Oldest likes measuring and stirring and especially those little cutters. Here are some of the things we've 'baked' in our house this week in preparation for Christmas. It's kept the boys busy for a few hours anyway.

Creamy chocolate fudge

To make 36 squares of fudge, you will need:

75g (3oz) full-fat cream cheese
350g (12oz) icing sugar
1 level teaspoon of cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of oil, for wiping
75g (3oz) plain chocolate chips
40g (1 1/2oz) butter
a shallow 15cm (6in) square cake tin
greaseproof paper

1. Put the cream cheese into a bowl. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa through a sieve into the bowl too. Mix them together well.

2. Put the cake tin onto a sheet of greaseproof paper and draw around it. Cut out the shape, just inside the line.

3. Use a paper towel to wipe oil onto the sides and base of the tin. Press in the paper square and wipe it too.

4. To melt the chocolate, pour water into a pan, until it is about 3cm (1in) deep. Heat it until it bubbles, then remove the pan from the heat.

5. Put the chocolate chips and the butter into a heatproof bowl. Put on oven gloves and gently put the bowl into the pan.

6. Stir the chocolate until they have melted. Using oven gloves, carefully lift the bowl out of the water. Stir in a tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture

7. Pour the chocolate into the cheese mixture in the bowl. Beat them together with a spoon until creamy.

8. Spoon the mixture into the tin, and push it into the corners. Make the top of the fudge as flat as you can.

9. Put the tin in the fridge for two hours, or until the fudge is firm.

10. Use a blunt knife to loose the edges of the fudge, then turn it out onto a large plate. Remove the paper, cut the fudge into lots of squares. Put fudge back in fridge for two hours, or until hard. Enjoy.

My thoughts: I'd never melted chocolate before. It was a new experience and I quite enjoyed it. I always thought I'd have to faff around doing that, but it was quite simple. I couldn't find my sifter though, and I think the icing sugar really needed that. The taste was wonderful, everyone seemed to enjoy it. I think I've started a Christmas tradition with this one :) Next year I might buy some pretty cellophane and wrap them up to give as gifts or in goody bags or something.

Peppermint creams

To make about 25 peppermint creams, you will need:

250g (9oz) icing sugar
half the white of a small egg, mixed from dried egg white (mix as directed on packet)
1 teaspoon peppermint flavouring
2 teaspoons lemon juice
green food dye
a rolling pin
small cutters
a baking sheet covered in plastic foodwrap

1. Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl. Make a hole in the middle of the sugar with a spoon.

2. Mix the egg white, peppermint flavouring and lemon juice in a small bowl. Pour the mixture into the sugar.

3. Use a blunt knife to stir the mixture. Then, squeeze it between your fingers until it is smooth, like a dough.

4. Cut the mixture into two pieces. Put each piece into a bowl. Add a few drops of green food dye into one bowl.

5. Use your fingers to mix the dye. If the mixture is sticky, add a little more icing sugar and mix it in.

6. Sprinkle a little icing sugar onto a clean work surface. Sprinkle some onto a rolling pin too, to stop the mixture sticking.

7. Roll out the green mixture until it is about as thick as your little finger. Use cutters to cut out lots of shapes.

8. Use a blunt knife to lift the shapes onto the baking sheet. Roll out the white mixture and cut out more shapes.

9. Lift all the shapes onto the baking sheet. Leave them for at least an hour until they become hard.

My thoughts: These were fun to make and quite simple. I followed the recipe to the letter but found my batter needed a bit more egg white than was required. Also, I didn't make white and green batches but dropped some green food dye onto the whole thing. I think I needed more. The strong peppermint taste is not to everyone's liking but I think it'd make a great gift if put into a pretty box!

I love the idea of Christmas baking. For the following weeks we plan to bake gingerbread cookies, shortbread, cheesy Christmas stars, shining star biscuits, and possibly chocolate truffles! See, I'm already excited. Christmas here we come!

A huge thank you to Marg and Kailana for organising such a wonderful event!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

South Park Meeee

Oh, this is a bit of fun, isn't it? Can't say I ever watched South Park, but N decided to make me into a South Park character using this website. I think he did an excellent job, especially with those antlers and the great big lolly!

What do you think, is it me? What would your South Park character look like?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stuff on head, Christmas edition

I have a thing about fun hats. I have wizard hats, a turkey hat, head-boppers, monster ears, bunny ears.. loads of fun things to put on my head. And, we have a bit of a Christmas tradition involving hats. Somehow it's worked out that N buys me a special Christmas hat every year! I love traditions that add to my collection and/or my craziness.

Here are just SOME of the hats modelled especially by my Littlest.

This Santa's Helper hat has little bells attached and make quite a little racket. This hat doesn't often come out of my special Christmas box as last year Littlest ripped some of the bells off and stuck one in his mouth!

Did you know I never had a normal Santa hat before? I didn't, but I do now! It's so furry and it's great for keeping a head warm and putting a smile on Littlest' face!

Instead, I have hats like this. Typical Santa hat, but in a jester style with three points. This hat is quite small though and neither child much likes wearing it. Sadface. Cute though.

This is one of my favourites. It's an elf hat, but with ADDED EARS! How cool are they? Littlest couldn't keep his hands off them.

These reindeer antlers are by far his favourite. He kept taking them off and putting them on and making the cutest faces. I remember we bought these antlers the first year I moved here, so possibly my oldest piece of headgear!

This was last year's hat. Pink! Couldn't be cuter, really!

And finally, this year's hat. My favourite of the lot, I think. That's mistletoe at the top and on the white brim is a read 'Kiss Me' Ha!

I think it just might be beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


I've decided instead of torturing myself to write proper reviews of everything I read, therefore not reviewing anything, I'd go down the mini-review road. Much easier and less stressful for everyone.

Generation A by Douglas Coupland - I really don't know how to review this one. It's been kind of hit or miss with me and Douglas Coupland. I've read a few of his books and liked some, Eleanor Rigby in particular, was absolutely beautiful. Then others, like Microserfs, I couldn't really find my place in it and had to abandon it. I wasn't sure what I would be getting into with Generation A. I hadn't heard anything of it before I saw it in the library. I picked it up thinking that perhaps N would like to read it and instead it was me who finished it. And here we are, weeks later and I still cannot find the words. I ... liked it. I'm not sure what I was expecting but I did like it. The first half of the book is very different from the second half and that just confused me more than anything else. It felt like if Coupland had explored aspects of the storyline in different ways (a romance between two characters was started and then dropped suddenly/it started off sounding like a paranoid conspiracy theory which could have been interesting) I might have liked it better, but it was still a fun, intelligent read. It's set slightly in the future, where bees have become extinct for awhile. Then all of a sudden five people from all over the world are stung and they end up being studied by the government before being shipped to an island together. It's interesting.

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton - The first book in the Anita Blake series. As I've mentioned before I feel a little uneasy starting a series with so many books in it. I believe there are 17 books in this series right now. 17. That is too many. How are the books towards the end of that? Still as good? I don't know. I liked Guilty Pleasures, but I didn't love it. I started reading it and it just felt like I'd miss something. I had to put my book down and check the internet to see if Guilty Pleasures really was the first book in the series and not the second. Because nothing seems to be explained. We're just sort of thrown into Anita Blake's life as an animator/vampire hunter and introduced to a bunch of characters and find out very little of her back history. I was confused a great deal. I kept getting the male characters mixed-up. The people Anita works with, the stripper, the men trying to kill her, her colleague. I don't know, I found it to be a lot to take in all at once. I liked Anita as a character, she seems quite feisty. I like the premise of it all. But can I commit myself to another 16 books? I'm still undecided.

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera - I thought that The Whale Rider would be a light, fun read. And it was fun, and it's not very long, but it's so full of history and it was so interesting that I took a lot more time over it. I love reading all those stories about how the relationship between the Maoris and the whales. It was truly fascinating. The chapters alternate between the legends of the past, and the family of the descendents of The Whale Rider. As much as I loved the myths, I also adored Kahu, the sweet little girl who has such a strong connection to the whales and who loves her grumpy old grandfather Koro Apirana so entirely despite the fact that he denies her existence because she is a girl. The story is a little slow to start, but midway through to the end I was absolutely gripped by this tale. I actually sobbed in several different parts, it's so moving and beautiful. One to look out for.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin - Why has it taken me so long to read this book? It is truly wonderful. I stayed up too late reading this because I had to know what happened and then had crazy dreams about it. Le Guin's writing style feels quite sparse, but I was completely invested in the story and the characters right away. I was astounded by the detail and scale of Earthsea. I loved Sparrowhawk. I truly did. His struggle with his own pride and vanity, the self-doubt after he creates a nasty beast during a difficult spell - his coming of age journey was a magical thing to be part of. The show-down with the dragons had me almost breathless in suspense. I literally couldn't sit still from the anticipation of the final battle. I'm wondering if I will love the other books in the series as much with Sparrowhawk being only a supporting character? It doesn't matter, I have to read the other books.

And that is all! Mini-reviews of the books YOU are reading in comments? Please?

Monday, December 07, 2009

REVIEW: Evermore by Alyson Noel

I hadn't planned on reading this one, but then I read Raych's review over at books i done read (link below) and I was laughing so much throughout that when I saw the book at the library I thought 'why not?' and gave it a chance. Oh dearie me. It was .. interesting.

There are so many supernatural romances out there at the moment, and I have to admit, I've been enjoying reading them. But Evermore really grated on me. There is much that I disliked about the book. The premise is interesting.. Ever survives a car accident that kills her parents and little sister. From that moment on, she's able to hear thoughts and see people's auras. She goes to live with her aunt in California, and takes up with the misfit crowd while carrying on conversations with her sister's ghost. Then one day she meets Damen and things get a bit weird.

The parts I didn't like? The dialogue. Especially out of the mouths of Ever's 'friends' Haven and Miles. I put friends in quotations there because that bond of friendship didn't seem particularly strong, especially in Haven's case. Doesn't take a lot to get these friends riled up at each other. Haven and Miles seemed to be a bit two-dimensional as well.

Hated Damen. Throughout the book. He has very few redeeming features. He may be good-looking, but if you're a douche, as Damen appears to be, then that fact doesn't go very far with me. He's clearly messing with Ever, being very mysterious, not answering or addressing any of her concerns, blatantly flirting with the one person who is bullying Ever, and playing tricks with her mind. No. The fact that Ever and Damen are mysteriously pulled to each other? Not particularly believeable, especially considering all the crap that Damen pulls. Plus, what was with all the skipping school? That's not cool! I didn't much care for how slow Ever seems to be. She seems to be the most non-inquisitive person ever. Even when she sees Damen move faster than is physically possible, she still never asks any questions, doesn't demand any answers. Just thinks to herself idly, 'hmm, that was odd.'

I also didn't like the ending. The big reveal seemed to be too much, all at once. I couldn't really wrap my head around where everything was going and after the dragginess of the first 200 pages when not much seemed to happen, when everything did happen it was just confusing. But, it's not all bad, otherwise I'd have stopped reading.

I did think that Ever's grief over the loss of her parents was well done. I believed in that pain and the guilt that she carried around. I also like Riley, Ever's little sister. She was annoying but fun and I did enjoy it when Riley was around.

I wish there was more regarding people's auras because that seemed kind of cool. I'd have liked to see more development between Ever and her aunt. I wish Ever were a stronger person who took more control over her life. I'd have like to have seen a more believeable romance between Ever and Damen. But these things I think will have to be found in a different book. It's unlikely that I will pick up the others in this series.

Other Opinions:

books i done read
Reading Keeps You Sane
Karin's Book Nook
The Story Siren
Planet Books
The Compulsive Reader
Book Binge
Wondrous Reads

Sunday, December 06, 2009

TSS: Books read in November

It's been a while since I participated in a Sunday Salon. I've missed it. But in other news, I'm really pleased with this month's reading totals.

1. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
2. The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff
3. All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris
4. From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris
5. Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris
6. The Enemy by Charlie Higson
7. Generation A by Douglas Coupland
8. The Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks
9. Heaven Can Wait by Cally Taylor
10. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
11. Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto
12. Evermore by Alyson Noel
13. Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton
14. The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
15. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

I have reviews of those last few books coming shortly (I hope). I feel like it's been kind of a weird selection of books for this month. I don't know about you, but whenever I cross genres it feels like the month has been stretched in some way that makes it longer. Does that make sense? It barely does to me, so I'm not sure. But it feels like a great distance has been travelled between Ella Minnow Pea and A Wizard of Earthsea.

I finished the last three books in the Sookie Stackhouse series. I've enjoyed it. I wonder how much longer they will continue. I also started the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton. I'm not as excited about the series, and doubt I will read all 17 books but at least I've given them a try and will probably at least read the next two (more of that in my review!).

The YA books I've read this month have all been quite different, from the violence of The Road of the Dead and The Enemy to the supernatural in Evermore to the subtlely of The Bride's Farewell. The Whale Rider broke my heart. Generation A and Ella Minnow Pea are both dystopic but not in anyway similar. The Penelopiad is a modern retelling with a twist, I found it very difficult to put my thoughts together about Goodbye Tsugumi and Heaven Can Wait was just a wonderfully fun read. A Wizard of Earthsea kind of crept onto the list at the end of the month but it was fantastic. A book that kept me up at night reading desperate to know what will happen.

With all the books being quite different from each other, I'm feeling a little confused about it all. It does confuse me when the sequence of books I read seem to have no correlation with each other. It makes me wonder how I jumped from book to book this month, what were the reasons behind each choice. I don't want to overthink it though, I'm just enjoying the random selection.

Ah, but what will December bring? Are you expecting lots of time to read or less time with the holidays approaching?

Friday, December 04, 2009

New version of me...

The other week, I had a haircut. It was my first in a year. Is it just me, or are the women who work in hair salons a little intimidating? No? Just me? Anyway, I needed a change. My hair has been looking so limp and lifeless. So I cut it. Here's what it looked like before...

And.. after. The lighting is pretty bad, but you can tell I chopped a lot of it off, right? What do you think? It'd take a miracle for my hair to not look wispy and horrible at the front, but I like it. It makes my head feel a lot lighter. Try not to notice what a state my living room is in.

Here's the reason why. We always go to N's work Christmas party the first weekend in December. It's a formal affair, and you get the first sneak peak of what I'll be wearing...

Isn't it pretty? I'm not much of a girly girl, but I do so love getting dressed up, going out and I get to dance for this one night. Have a good weekend everyone.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

I need a bit of variety..

I decided that even though I had a bunch of books from the library already, I needed some more variety. Here are the books I picked up:

1. Can't really see from that horrible photo, but it's Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. I read American Gods earlier this year and I've been kind of desperate to read this one ever since..

2. Also, Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. I'm not the biggest fan of short stories, but I can't go wrong with more Neil Gaiman!

3. Whale Rider by Witi Himaera - I saw the movie a few years back and it was quite sweet, so the book must be better, right?

4. Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter by Laurell K. Hamilton - which is the first three books in the Anita Blake series. Just the other day I was saying to someone about how I wouldn't start a series which has so many books already in it, and here I am starting a really long series. Currently? 17 books? What am I thinking? (so far, I've read Guilty Pleasures and while I enjoyed it, I'm not dying to read the others just yet)

And then we have this interesting collection of books. It's a bit difficult to see, but that stack of books at the back is the first 6 books in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon which I won in a giveaway. I can hardly believe it. Thank you to Michele at A Reader's Respite for these. It will definately keep me busy for a long, long time and it was a very generous giveaway!

And also, because it appears that I cannot pass a charity shop without buying books, we have The Plot Against America by Philip Roth and Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman. (which were BOGOF!)

What do you think about starting books in a long series? Put off by it or excited that there's more to read?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

9 years

It's been a long time. I remember the first day we met, all nerves and bounciness. The kiss in the parking lot at Arby's. The hours we spent in Borders and at the bus stop. That you brought me flowers when I was feeling homesick at our first flat. The Book of Questions. Holding our babies. Long-distance operators. So many little moments that added up tell the story of our relationship. It's been a good 9 years, my happiest. Happy anniversary.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

REVIEW: Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto

I bought this book in a library sale on the vague memory that I'd read and enjoyed some other book by Banana Yoshimoto. I don't, in fact, remember anything about that book apart from the author. But that's OK. I started on a new page with Goodbye Tsugumi. And I loved it in a very subtle way.

Goodbye Tsugumi is about two cousins, Maria and Tsugumi. They live on the seaside in an old inn. Maria's mother in the mistress of a married man and lives apart from him. Tsugumi has been an invalid her entire life and while she can be quite charming at times, she is also spoilt and mean. Maria seems to be the only person who understands Tsugumi and they become close growing up. Maria spends one final summer at the inn where she must say goodbye to her childhood and to Tsugumi before leaving for university where her family is finally reunited.

I find it amazing how much Yoshimoto was able to fit into this little novel. My hat goes off to her, as this book is about so many things. Growing up, growing apart, first love, families... even a bit of revenge. I felt like Maria's voice throughout the book was really insightful and lovely. Despite everything else going on around her, Maria was able to show us that we must be thankful for little things all around us. The ocean, an old mailbox, nothing should be overlooked or taken for granted.

I thought Tsugumi was a wonderful, complex character. From the first page, I couldn't really stand her and I was worried that I'd find it difficult to read a book with such a rotten person for a main character, but from about midway into the book, my thoughts had changed completely. And there at the end I was completely behind Tsugumi, rooting for her as she wreaked her own sort of justice.

I really enjoyed this one. There's not a lot to the plot, but it's a very sweet little story.