Travel plans…

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I am sitting in a cafe with a hot chocolate, having an evening off bedtime and breathing a little sigh of relief at having some time to myself after an intense weekend and the whole of Monday spent indoors (my youngest has been ill). Last night she was up until 11pm feeling unwell, although I do think she is on the mend now, thank goodness. She usually throws off illnesses in a matter of days – Oh to have a wonderfully robust immune system!

My daughters, especially the eldest, struggle to go to sleep before 9pm, so I am usually shattered in the evening, as I tend to lie down with them for a while in a darkened room until my youngest is asleep (and often I fall asleep too..) My eldest still needs me too and always feels a need to talk about things that bother her at night. Of course I want to be there for her, but it can be exhausting and I don’t get much done in the evening afterwards. So my husband and I decided to give each other two evenings off “bedtime” each week . I use my Monday evenings to write here and on my Thursday evenings I either meet friends out, craft with friends, go to a meditation class or do some more writing. I treasure this time and am so much more present and patient on the other evenings with the children.

But one thing we have been doing most evenings, since January, is slowly planning our trip to the States this summer; deciding on one location every evening if possible, or at least talking the options through.

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We are planning a five week tour from Denver, Colorado to Portland, Oregon, flying out of Seattle. We have arranged most of our accommodation through the VRBO site as we believe that staying in a “home from home” environment will suit our children best. We will be travelling in the car a lot, which they dislike, so it will be good to have a base for three days each time, from which to venture out and return to at the end of an eventful day. We had considered bringing our tent, but we have decided against it as it will mean a lot more work for us and the children will settle quicker at each location this way, we hope. Family holidays can be exhausting as it is, so we want to reserve our energies. There is a fire pit at most locations and a lovely big outdoor space for the children to explore (with creeks on some of the properties),  so we will have plenty of adventure!

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I must say it’s really enjoyable spending time with my husband planning this trip – planning is surely half the fun of travel! We have a joint goal in common and it has brought us closer. Of course we have the children in common and our common goals for our family life, but we have missed making exciting travel plans together. For us:

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After getting married in 2000, we used to travel abroad each year  for three weeks or so at a time, including:  Egypt, Central America, India, Cuba, the States as well as multiple city breaks. We also both lived and worked in Australia and travelled S.E Asia in our twenties. My husband travelled a lot on his own and with friends prior to this and I lived and worked in both Italy and Germany for a year each and travelled solo by train in Europe (Interrail) and by Greyhound buses in the States in my early twenties. It is one of our joint passions; to discover new places and see new sights; making memories. My favourite song in my travelling years was “Travellin’ Man” by the band Free as I love to be on the move :-). I loved the freedom of travel and not knowing what was coming next or who I would meet.

Travelling with children is clearly a different ball game, although I know people manage to take their children with them to all kinds of exotic locations.

When we first had children, we dreamt of family trips to India or Thailand, but we haven’t ventured out of Europe for eight years, since our trip to the States in 2008, when we still only had one child (who travelled at a much reduced price). We don’t have adventurous children; our children find travel disorientating and take time to get used to different cultures and besides they are not vaccinated, so I am unsure about going to India and Thailand while they are still young. But I think they will be able to enjoy a trip to the States now they are older, as it shouldn’t be too much of a culture shock!

The first time we went to the States as a couple in May 2003,  we travelled from San Francisco to Denver and some of our itinerary will be similar again this time. We did the trip on a tight budget and camped most of the way or stayed in cheap motels. We even camped in the snow near the Grand Canyon (it was the first time they had had snow that year – in May!). It was so foggy, you couldn’t see the Canyon at all!!! So we moved down to New Mexico in a hurry to warm up! 🙂 We were much more spontaneous then and took things as they came.

We have decided to plan this trip better, with the children and our comfort in mind.

So this is our itinerary so far: We fly into Denver and will spend a few days getting over our jet lag in Grand Lake (which is incidentally where our youngest was conceived)  🙂 Then we will visit friends in Carbondale for a few days: we have visited twice in the past and love the town, it’s so liberal and progressive and it’s also easy to walk everywhere in the town centre.

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After that we will journey onto  Dolores, stopping at Ouray on the way for lunch (I wish we could stay there longer as I loved it there last time, but we have a long journey to make). We will stay in Dolores for three days, so we can visit the Mesa Verde National Park and the surrounding area.

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Then we will move onto Williams, Arizona so we can explore the Grand Canyon National Park region – finally! 🙂 We would have loved to have stayed in Utah too and had a brilliant time in Moab on our first trip, but we think one Canyon trip in the heat will suffice for the sake of our children (and our sanity!). We will be staying in Las Vegas for a day and night on our way across to Oakhurst, California where we will be based whilst visiting the Yosemite National Park.

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We missed out on visiting Yosemite on our first visit and are really looking forward to discovering the area.  Following this, we plan to stay in  South Lake Tahoe, California for three days. Last time we were there, people were still skiing in May!

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We will then journey onto the Lassen Volcanic Park area, which was recommended to us by friends. Our next stop after that is near Eureka, so we can visit the Redwood National Park and the surrounding area. And then we shall drive up the Oregon coast, via a stop off in Port Orford, Oregon, where we hear you can find agate crystals on the beach if you are lucky 🙂

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We will then stay three days inland, not far from Reedsport, Oregon; staying in a cabin with its own jetty onto a river! They even have a kajak we can use :-). From there we can explore the coast and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation area.

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And then we will finish our trip with four days in Portland, Oregon, spending time with friends before returning to the UK via Seattle (it worked out a lot cheaper than flying out of Portland and I hear flying out of Canada is even cheaper).

So that’s our trip so far. Now we have to think visas and a new passport for our eldest who will have less than six months validity left on her passport when we travel (passports have to have over 6 months validity left). We need to think how to arrange our luggage as we will be constantly in and out of the car and how to make the plane journey more enjoyable – my eldest is petrified of flying as I have mentioned more than once 😦 We have upgraded to Premium economy so that we can receive more attention if necessary and we think a smaller area of the plane will make the flight easier for my daughter. I pray for no turbulence! We also need to consider where the health stores are on our trip and many other details. But we will take the laptop with us, so I don’t think we have to plan in too much detail – thank goodness for the internet!

I am sure I will fill you in on more of the travel details as I make them.

We are so thrilled to have this family adventure to look forward to and feel incredibly blessed to be able to take this trip of a lifetime with our children.

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We will no doubt continue to pore over travel books and maps to flesh out how the trip is going to go. We have never been this organised, but it feels good to have some firm plans. I expect there will be plenty of room for spontaneity – we are not that organised!!

Any tips of where to go, bearing in mind our itinerary would be so welcome. We are open to ideas 🙂

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Half term …

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We were on a half term break from school last week. It was a busy week with trips out to meet friends and having them round to ours to play, which was lovely, if rather tiring at times. Many of our friends don’t go to our school, so the school holidays is the only time we see them really.

On Wednesday we had a super long play ‘date’ with two sisters from 9.30am to 7pm (another family popped in for a few hours after lunch too). This was followed on Thursday by having another friend over from 12.30pm til after 6pm. My children and I were exhausted by the end of each day and I think the other children were too! (this was unfortunately unavoidable or I would certainly have spaced these days out!). My daughters (and I), being introverts, don’t do well with more than one play ‘date’ in a row or very long days with friends – I think four hours is our maximum time for a successful play ‘date’. By the end of both days, there was repeated questioning of “when are they/we going home” (!) from all of children, which is a shame as they really enjoyed each others company for most of the day. You live and learn 🙂

I am not one for putting on films when we have friends over, but I think in the case of the super long day, it would have helped, as everyone became fraught in the last couple of hours. 😦 Watching a simple film does have its place I think.

On Saturday we met friends at a National Trust place with a Sylvanian Nature trail!

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My daughters are both crazy about Sylvanian families. They love little animals in general; soft toys, Sylvanians and the real thing of course! The trail was a little disappointing and the quiz questions rather baffling, but it got us round a lovely wooded area and the girls each brought one of their Sylvanians with them for the adventure 🙂

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My daughters went back to school today and I am frankly exhausted from all these outings and play ‘dates’ at our home. My daughters prefer to have their friends over to  our home, rather than visit them as they feel more free to be themselves (and I think they believe we have a better selection of things to play with!). I respect their wishes, but find half term breaks a bit too full on personally. I prefer the longer summer, winter and Easter breaks, as you don’t need to cram so much into a short space of time.

We did have two much needed days at home: Tuesday, we spent decorating and making for Valentines and on Friday, we went for a walk and my daughters started work on their own patchwork doll quilts. They’re going to be very floral! 🙂

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My youngest was very keen to get started and hand sewed several rows before her sister had even started hers.

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She only has two more rows to sew together before she finishes the patchwork square and starts on the border. My eldest decided to do it the easy way and caught up by sewing it all on the sewing machine!

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This is my first morning to myself in ten days and I am really appreciating a little quiet, so I can focus on getting things done without interruption. I so admire home schooling families, but I personally fear it would drive me a bit crazy to be in company all the time and my daughters don’t need a crazy Mummy!

I need to spend a few mornings on my own, going for walks, pottering about, doing a lot more decluttering and catching up on some long overdue making.

I started the Valentine’s hat before Valentine’s day, but unfortunately I have been struggling a bit with concentration, with this week being so tiring, so I have had to rip back several rows quite a few times as the pattern wasn’t coming out right 😦 and it HAS to!

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So here I am again, one row of hearts in and hoping to find more quiet pockets of time this week to continue this project. My eldest daughter chose the yarns, which are a pine green colour for the main hat and cornflower blue for the hearts. We bought the yarn through an internet shop and unfortunately the colours are quite similar in tone and the hearts don’t stand out too much.

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My daughter says she is happy with the effect (it’s not a surprise Valentines gift anymore so I wanted some feedback), so I shall plough on. My youngest chose light purple with dark pink hearts, which should look entirely different. I forgot how long it takes to knit with sport yarn: it is so fine, but the yarn is beautifully soft and I will have to stay patient.

Any tips for hats that are quick and easy to knit would be very welcome! I tried the Vermonter pattern, but it didn’t ever fit properly, so I had to give up after three tries! I am sure it works beautifully for some.

I was feeling a bit exasperated with my lack of knitting success, so I made myself another Drop Stitch Cowl, because I needed a quick project that required little concentration and I wanted something in a mustardy yellow too. I managed to knit most of it in a car journey and the rest while my eldest was seeing an osteopath! I think the osteopath is now inspired to start knitting too! 🙂

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Now that is finished, I am going to make a simple eternity cowl with this lovely bright green yarn as I don’t believe you can ever have too many bright and cosy scarves!

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I have never used such enormous needles before! Hopefully it will be another quick satisfying knit inbetween hat knitting.  It will be good to alternate between the scarf and hat depending on the mood of the moment!

I do hope this post isn’t too negative – it isn’t meant to be. I just feel very tired right now. It’s that time of year when energies are low. I’m certainly looking forward to the spring energy coming in.

Joining Nicole and all the crafty folk for KCCO.

Winter books for children

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I promised I would share our winter books with you, so here I am finally with a selection of our favourites. As I have mentioned before herehere and here, we love books and love to escape into a beautiful picture book. Our favourite picture books need to be beautifully illustrated, with a wholesome, heart warming story. My daughters particularly like stories about animal friendships and we seem to have a plentiful selection of these amongst our winter selection! The winter books are amongst my favourite of all the seasonal books we have. Perhaps because it is a time when we sit down to read more, or perhaps there is just more sparkle in these books?

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I will once again group the books a little as we have collected quite a few over the years.

Board books for young children:

Winter – Gerda Muller – a simple book without words, where you can make up your own story to go with the beautiful evocative illustrations.

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Picture books for young children with animal friends in them:

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The Sea Mice and The Stars – Kenneth Steven – our absolute favourite winter book. It is the task of the sea mice to collect falling stars to help light the homes of all the mice in the winter months. Little Ashenteen and her brother Willabee revel in their important roles. Heartwarming, sparkly – a joy to behold.

Snow Friends – M Christina Butler – a story of friendship. One winters day a young bear wakes up to find the world covered in snow. He is all alone and decides to make a snowman so he has a friend to play with. Other animals join him to make the snowman and firm friendships are formed. Very sweet and sparkly.

Rabbit’s Winter Walk – Lorna Hussey –  little brown rabbit wakes up in the middle of winter and is impatient for spring to arrive so he goes on an adventure in search of spring. Animals help him on his way, but he is no closer to finding spring when a snowstorm hits and he yearns for his snug burrow. When he awakens, spring is everywhere. A message to be patient and wait for things to come in their right time. Lovely evocative pictures.

Bella Gets Her Skates On – Ian Whybrow – Little Bella rabbit is very cautious by nature. and is worried whether she will take to skating when her family go to the local pond. With lots of praise and reassurance she tries it and finds she loves it. A story about trying things, despite worrying we may not do them right or fail.

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One Snowy Night – Nick Butterworth – we love the Percy the Park Keeper series about a jolly chap called Percy and his animal friends. In this book the animals are taken by surprise by a big snowstorm and one by one they all seek shelter in Percy’s hut and in his bed. Percy is always there for his friends and despite it being a squash and a squeeze, everyone finds a place to sleep in the end. There is a fold out poster on the last page for children to spot all the sleeping places of the various animals amongst other things. Good fun.

The Big Dark – John Prater – little Chinoo lives in an igloo in the Arctic with his parents. It is winter and where he lives it is dark for many months and Chinoo is bored as he can’t go fishing or play outside. One day his parents ask him to follow them to the sea. On the way he plays with various young animals. When he gets to the sea, the sun is just rising and the animals and his family look on in wonder. Beautifully illustrated and a plenty of glitter 🙂

Any Room for Me – Loek Koopmans – an old man loses his mitten in the woods. A mouse finds it and wonders if it would make a warm shelter, followed by a frog, a hare, a fox, a wild boar and a bear who all ask if they can shelter from the snowstorm in the mitten. The animals accommodate each other and there is a picture of all the animals sleeping happily in the very stretched mitten. The man realises he has lost his mitten and returns with his dog to find it at which point the animals scatter. Sweet story.

The Tomten and the Fox – Astrid Lindgren – the ground is covered in snow and a fox is hungry, so he ventures over to a farm in search of food. We see pictures of the cosy home with children playing, unaware that there is a fox out in the snow. The Tomten (a little gnome-like figure), who looks after the farm at night whilst the family is asleep, sees the fox prowling by the chicken coop and asks him if he would like to share his porridge, as he knows how hungry he is. Evocative illustrations and an easy reader.

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One Winter’s Day – M Christina Butler – a sweet story about a little hedgehog whose nest is blown away in a storm. He wraps up warmly and heads to his friend Badgers house, but finds he is not the only one who is cold. Hedgehog shares his warm clothes with his friends and they later repay him with rebuilding his nest. A heartwarming story of friendship and sharing. Lovely illustrations.

One Snowy Night– M Christina Butler – another beautiful picture book with little Hedgehog in it. Hedgehog is woken from his winter sleep when his home is disturbed by a snow storm. Soon a surprise present lands at his feet-a cosy red woollen hat. He finds it impossible to wear with all his prickles, so he passes it onto his friend Rabbit who passes it on to Badger and then onto Fox. Everyone finds it unsuitable in some way, until it goes full circle when Fox finds the little hedgehog curled up and freezing in a snowdrift. He wraps the hedgehog up in the stretched woollen hat and takes him back to Badgers house. It is now a nice warm cover and perfect for hedgehog after all. Lovely illustrations and sweet storyline.

A Book for Bramble – Lynne Garner. Bramble the hedgehog has to go to sleep for the winter. His mouse friend Teasel decides to write him a book about what he is missing out on during the winter as he wants to share winter with his dear friend in some way.  A sweet story of friendship and sharing.

Pooh’s Snowy Day – Andrew Grey – a short story about Winne the Pooh and Piglet going for a snowy walk and rebuilding their friend Eeyore’s house. Always jolly and heartwarming.

Other lovely picture books and early readers:

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Winter Days in the Big Woods – Laura Ingalls Wilder – we love all the Little House books. The book starts with the family preparing for winter by gathering their winter stores. We get to know all the indoor activities that the family do and enjoy to pass the time on long winter days in the house. A cosy book for reading by the fire 🙂

Longer picture books:

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Ollie’s Ski Trip – Elsa Beskow – a firm favourite at this time of the year. We love all Elsa Beskow books here! Here we read about Ollie’s adventures with Jack Frost into the magical Land of King Winter. where he meets and plays with the children who make sledges and skates for Christmas. Includes a visit from Mrs Thaw and Lady Spring.  Sweet story and pictures.

The Story of the Snow Children – Sibylle von Olfers – my youngest loves this book. Little Poppy is all alone at home. She looks out to see the snowflakes dancing outside and realises they are calling for her to come out and play. Soon she is on a sledge being ferried away to the Snow Kingdom where she joins in a party for the Snow princess’s birthday. Lovely pictures and story, typical of Sibylle von Olfers

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Squirrel Goes Skating – Alison Uttley – lovely heart warming story about Little Grey Rabbit, Hare and Squirrel. It is a chilly winter’s day and the friends go ice skating in their finery. After a lovely day of skating and sharing hot lemonade and sandwiches with their other friends, they go home to find a rat has eaten their carefully prepared dinner! Luckily their friends come to the rescue and all is well. Old fashioned goodness.

Bramley Hedge – Winter Story – Jill Barklem. The stories from Bramley Hedge have always been a favourite around here. The illustrations are so detailed and beautiful and the stories are so sweet. In this story, the mice of Bramley hedge are snowed in, but they cleverly dig tunnels under the snow to access their food store and decide to construct an ice hall so that they can celebrate winter with an impromptu ‘snow’ ball – a once in a life time experience. We enjoy seeing all the preparations, and as usual the mice know how to feast and make merry!

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The Snow Queen – illustrated by Anastasiya Archipova. Hans Christian’s classic tale about a couple of friends Gerda and Kay who get separated when a tiny piece of an evil magic mirror gets lodged in Kay’s eye and his heart turns to ice. He ends up living with the Snow Queen and Gerda goes on a quest to find her dear friend. The book is told in seven chapters as her quest is a long one. Full of adventure and a great read and of course it all ends happily ever after.

Die Sterntaler  or The Star Child– illustrated by Bernadette Watts. Grimm Brothers story – a little orphan girl Matilda is all alone in the world, with just some bread to eat and the clothes on her back. She has nothing to lose, so gives away all that she has to others that appear less fortunate than her. She is standing naked in the woods, when  countless stars fall from the heavens around her, which turn into silver coins. Matilda will never need for anything again. A story of kindness and its rewards with gorgeous illustrations.

Other winter resources: 

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Winter – Jennifer Aulie and Margaret Meyerkort – seasonal stories and songs that are used typically in Waldorf Kindergartens. Good as an at home resource.

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice – Wendy Pfeffer – lots of useful information about celebrating the Solstice and all the other celebrations around the world at this time of year and why we celebrate. For a school age child. Very informative and lovely pictures too.

 

We love these books but are always happy to know of any other books that you would particularly recommend for winter reading. I am very aware that my ten year old is growing out of our picture books. She still sneaks a look at least once during the season, because these well loved books conjure up memories of our cosy afternoon story time sessions when she was at Kindergarten or half days at school. I still try to read daily with my youngest, who is seven and still loves these books. I wonder what will happen to them after they have grown out of them?….perhaps I will have to store our favourites for grandchildren, or pass them on to well deserving families? For now, I shall enjoy them for as long as I can 🙂

Hope you are enjoying some cosy winter reading too. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A flurry of snow and snow memories…

We had a little flurry of snow on Saturday and my daughters ran out in their pyjamas to make the most of it. It didn’t settle for long and was certainly not enough to make anything  or even have a mini snowball fight, but it was magical nonetheless and lasted a couple of hours, so there was plenty of time for catching snow flakes on our tongues!

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At least the snowflakes we stuck on our windows in the hope of conjuring up some snow, seemed to have worked their magic 🙂

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We have missed out on a proper snowfall here in the South of England for over three years now, which has been disappointing for my daughters . They have strong memories of the four snowy winters ( well, at least a couple of days of proper snow…this is England after all!) that they enjoyed in their early childhood; with plenty of time for sledging, snowman building etc and they do wonder what has happened to “proper” winter (the one they remember from their early years and that they enjoy seeing in their picture books).

This time last year, fearing the snow wouldn’t return, we treated our daughters to a trip to Austria for guaranteed snow. When we arrived in Vienna, where we visited friends, it was actually quite warm – eek! But luckily we received a tip that there was snow on a mountain about an hour and a half away by train, so we made an early start and enjoyed a marvellous day of snow fun in a small mountain village called Semmering. We hired a couple of sledges and took a cable car to the top of the 3km sledging run.

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The run is dotted with characters and colourful tunnels to make the journey interesting for children.

I shared my sledge with my eldest daughter

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and my youngest rode with Daddy

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It was such fun; we felt quite out of control at times, but it was oh so exhilarating (like skiiing) and our daughters said it was the “best thing that they have ever done” with us, so it was so worth the travel and expense. We will probably go there or somewhere similar next year for sledging as it was a wonderful family experience for us. My daughters are very cautious by nature (the eldest only started riding a bike at 8yrs and the youngest is still too worried to even try yet), so it was amazing to see them trust us and let themselves go. It was such an enjoyable experience, with plenty of playtime in the snow on the way there from the station too. This is what memories are made of 🙂

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We have a lovely German traditional wooden sledge in the garage that needs some use. We haven’t given up hope of more snow….

“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! ” 

 

 

 

Valentines crafting

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We had a lovely Valentine’s evening yesterday. As my daughters are on a half term break from school, we spent a quiet day at home just the three of us; baking, making and decorating and the girls also had plenty of time to practise their Valentine’s play 🙂 .

I must admit when I was younger, I pretty much dismissed Valentine’s Day as a commercial exercise; where guilt ridden consumers were persuaded to part with their hard earned cash to purchase overpriced flowers and gifts for their loved ones and to sit dutifully in restaurants next to all the other “Valentine’s couples”, paying highly inflated prices for their food. I was far from romantic in that sense and rather cynical about the motivations behind this so called “Festival of Love”.

But since having children and attending the Parent and Child group at our local Steiner (Waldorf) school, I began to catch onto the real meaning behind the festival; a festival of love, not just in the romantic sense, but including family and friends and even a kind gesture to a stranger. It is an opportunity to send a card or text message to someone who you appreciate and to spread love wherever you go. It has become a touching festival and the children particularly look forward to it every year. At home, instead of  buying presents, we make presents as a token of our love and appreciation for each other.

The Early Years Department in our school celebrates the Festival with a marvellous Valentine’s market; with live music and plenty of homemade goodness. The Kindergarten children serve behind the counter and customers pay for their wares in shells (they receive these in exchange for a nominal donation at the door). There are heart-shaped candles, garlands, bath bombs, biscuits and jewellery, all made in the Kindergartens. Many of the decorations in our home at Valentines were purchased at this market over the years.  It is so atmospheric, if rather busy. Unfortunately I don’t have any photographs to share as my daughters are no longer in the Early Years  and I can no longer attend the festival. It is the end of an era and the girls missed their treats this year!

We did make a few heart shaped treats at home though, including our much loved and easy recipes for gingerbread biscuits (mentioned here) and carob sweets (mentioned here).

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They don’t look so tasty in these photographs, but they were! I don’t have much luck taking photos in the semi-darkness with my camera (which it is a lot of the time in the UK at this time of year!) 

We enjoyed reading our one and only Valentine’s book:

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It is a sweet story of Little Grey Rabbit and her friends receiving Valentines messages on leaves with drawings or poems. Very lovely and full of old fashioned goodness.

We decorated the house and Nature Tables a little for Valentines. It is always so lovely to have red hearts everywhere after a long period of colder whites and blues.We keep the hearts up for a while as it is our wedding anniversary in early March and Mother’s Day is often around this time too. Here are a few glimpses of our decorations:

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My daughters spent a little time put the finishing touches to their presents and cards and by the evening they were desperate for Daddy to come home to share Valentines with them!  We had a simple meal and opened our presents.

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As you can see the girls laid the table – note the position of the knife and fork! 🙂

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Daddy brought some lovely spring flowers home for his girls which were well received :-). We each made a present for one other, except for me and my husband. Our wedding anniversary is coming up, so we shall save ourselves for that! 😉

Here are the beautiful gifts we received/gave:

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The large felt rainbow chain was made by my eldest daughter for Daddy. It is now on our bedroom door.

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She made me the cross stitch sign “Create” for our ‘studio-to-be’ (garage conversion). I shall frame it and iron out the creases. It is so beautiful and the colour choices are perfect.

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My youngest daughter made the red and pink heart garland for Daddy. It is now hanging from our cupboard to pretty things up.

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And she made the tiny felt rainbow chain for me to hang in my car. It makes me smile!

The girls also made sweet presents for each other. My youngest made her sister a dress for her soft toy, “Lamby” and a cuddly cushion.

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and my eldest made her sister a Winnie the Pooh finger puppet, which she loves!

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Here is is being modelled by a friend who was over to play today.

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Daddy made his girls some large wooden hearts to hang in their rooms using some oak he already had. He put lavender essential oil on them as a special touch.

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I made my family these cards:

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This was my first attempt at paper cutting. The craft knife was blunt, so I had to cut it with nail scissors so it wasn’t as neat as I would have hoped. I improvised the pattern as I tend to craft ‘by the seat of my pants’;  making things up as I go along. I do follow patterns for knitting and dressmaking, but otherwise I prefer to just have a go. My youngest was so sweet and amazed when she opened her card ” Mummy that’s so creative!” I had to smile 🙂

I also made them these needle felted “Valentine girls”. I had planned to make a Valentine’s day Hat each for my daughters, but I didn’t have the right size knitting needles and they took ages to arrive, so I had to have a rethink and needle felt these girls instead. My daughters were really pleased with them and they will still be receiving the hats eventually as I finally have the needles and yarn now – my own Valentine’s present to myself – getting back to knitting. It’s been far too long!

We were treated to a Valentine’s play featuring their favourites Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. I wasn’t allowed to take any photos so I was fully present but here are some of the preparations

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It was very sweet and my daughters are already planning what they will be doing for their Easter play! I love that they enjoy performing for us. A lot of thought goes into it and we felt very proud of their efforts. I also loved putting on shows for my family as a child; it bring back fond memories.

I hope you have been spreading the love too. Happy Valentines!  

Sharing at Frontier Dreams KCCO.

A rather belated Candlemas…

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Candlemas is celebrated on 2nd February. It marks the midway point between the Winter Solstice on 21st December and the Vernal Equinox on 21st March. It is certainly a time when we feel more light entering our lives, but we are not yet out of the darkness and can benefit from candlelight a little longer. The days are steadily lengthening; with the sun now rising before breakfast and we note early signs of spring, including the welcome sight of the first snowdrops (also known as Candlemas Bells), which bring with them, the hope of spring and the longer and lighter days to come.

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I spied these beauties on my morning walk – what a joy!

In Christian terms, Candlemas is a celebration of “the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple” in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth. In Luke 2:32, Simeon phophesises that Jesus would be “a light of revelation”. In the Catholic Church, it is also a celebration of the “Feast for the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, marking the end of a forty day period of purification for Mary after Jesus’s birth. In Eastern churches, Candlemas is traditionally the time when families bring new candles into Church to be blessed.

Candlemas follows close on the heels of Imbolc (February 1st). Imbolc is celebrated by both the Celts as “the Feast Day of St Brigid” (patron saint of midwives and new borns amongst other things) and by Pagans – who celebrate Brigid,  Goddess of Fertility. It marks the start of the lambing season and the blooming of the blackthorn. Traditionally candles and fires were lit at this time to represent the increasing power of the sun.

In the United States and Canada the 2nd of February is known as Groundhog Day According to folklore, if it sunny when the groundhog emerges from his den, he will be scared by his shadow and retreat back to his den and winter will continue until the spring equinox, but if it is a cloudy day, the groundhog will stay outside and spring will come early. This is also mentioned in the Candlemas song my daughters have been singing a lot lately. 🙂

“When Candlemas Day is bright with sun

Then Winter has but half begun

But when Candlemas Day is dull with rain

Winter’s power is on the wain

Here it was mainly a cloudy day with a few showers and a little sunshine in the morning, so it looks like we are in for a mixed weather forecast (very typically English!)  A little snow would be sooooo welcome here before spring returns!

On the Nature table are the very first signs of spring, including these snowdrop children and some “snow” covered daffodils 🙂

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In our (Waldorf) school, the children wear light blue for the Candlemas assembly, to echo the colour of the sky at this time of year and the return to light after a long time of darkness (and the dark purples and blues of the other winter festivals).  The Kindergarten children made candles: in the past my daughters have made earth candles (by making a hollow in the earth, placing a wick in it and pouring melted beeswax into the hollow) and rolled beeswax candles.

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At home we usually roll our own beeswax candles on Candlemas day,  but this year I didn’t store the beeswax sheets well (they were outside in our cold garage), so the wax got too brittle and broke into pieces. 😦  So I decided this year we would recycle our old candles instead. Over the years, I have amassed a large number of old candles in a box in the garage. My husband has probably wondered on many an occasion what I was going to do with them all! – I do tend not to throw things away that can be recycled. It has felt very satisfying to give these old candles a new lease of life! 🙂

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I used old jam jars and terracotta pots from the garden as candle holders. My daughters wanted me to make them a scented white candle each for their rooms. I chose ylang ylang essential oil as we all like it.

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We started making the candles on Candlemas day, but melting the wax takes time and there was only really an hour to do it in between my daughters returning from school and before starting dinner (rolling beeswax candles is such instant gratification, we missed doing it!), so I resumed candle making again this morning.

It is evening now and I have made eight new candles in total including three large citronella scented candles in terracotta pots (to keep the bugs away this summer), three white(ish) candles in glass jars and this evening I just finished a multi-coloured candle in a glass jar and have one more layer of wax to go on a teacup candle. It’s fun experimenting with different containers and techniques and so rewarding to create something new and useful out of an item that has reached the end of its functional life!

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Here are the white candles decorated with ribbons and snowflakes 🙂

To make candles, you need a double boiler system that is used solely for this purpose (melting wax is a messy business!). I used an old saucepan and a glass bowl. I think next time I would like to use a large metal jug to help make the pouring less messy (I used an old tin can to transfer the wax this time) and perhaps a bigger pan to do larger quantities. Ideally I would take it all outside over an open fire to save all the cleaning up. You live and learn 🙂

I thought I would share how I made the candles with you. I know there are lots of great tutorials out there, but in the spirit of sharing, I thought I would show you how I made my candles and what I have learnt in the process (to save you making the same mistakes!)  🙂

To make recycled candles, you will need:

Wicks  – prewaxed are ideal. The thickness depends on the container ie thin wicks are for tealights and tiny candles. I used a medium sized wick for all of mine, I think. If you choose a very large container eg a bucket, several wicks would be better.

Tabs – little flat metal pieces to put the wick through. They sit at the bottom of the container.

Candles to recycle

Containers – jam jars, tins, cups, buckets, terracotta pots etc etc…

Before you start, cover all your surfaces with greaseproof paper or aluminium foil for protection and to help with cleaning.

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If you are using terracotta pots, you will need to close the hole to stop the wax from leaking out. We used air drying clay, but gaffer tape is also fine.

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Cut your candles up. I found cutting them at an angle with a knife worked well. Some people use hammers.

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I cut the candles into small pieces to speed up the melting time.

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Here is my improvised double boiler :-). Stir the wax every now and then with a metal spoon that you can dedicate solely to this purpose. It also speeds the melting time up.

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Insert the wick into the tab.  Cut the wick a couple of inches longer than the length of your container. If the wick isn’t prewaxed, dip it in some melted wax so it becomes more erect. Hold the wick in a central position by using two bamboo skewers that are taped together at the sides. Pour a little melted candle wax in the bottom of the container to keep the tab in place.

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When you pour the candle wax into the container, take care to avoid the wick and the sides of the container  – you save yourself a lot of cleaning up later!

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I had to pour my candles in stages as I only had a small double boiler system. If you are only half filling your container, then use a skewer to make little holes in the wax before filling the rest of the container.( I read this somewhere many years ago and have had good results so I keep on doing it!).

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When I filled a container all at once, like this teacup candle, there was a quite a marked dip in the middle once the wax had set. This is normal and easily remedied by pouring some more melted wax on top (remembering to make some skewer holes as before).

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Consider where you would like to leave your candles to set and ideally pour the wax there. If you move the candles after pouring, they are apt to get some pitting, as you can see with the red candle above which I moved outside. Once I lit the candle the pitting disappeared, but if you are giving a candle as a gift, I would leave the candle to set where it is.

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If you would like to make a layered candle with different colours, pour in one colour at a time and let it set (a couple of hours seems enough). Use a skewer to make holes, as above and then add the next layer and so forth. Here is one I made earlier 🙂

You can add a scent of your choice once your wax has melted and you have turned off the heat. Use as much as you like.

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The candles take around four hours to fully set. Once you are satisfied, cut the wick to around 2cm in length and enjoy!

There is nothing so peaceful and hypnotic as watching the flicker of candlelight.

When my daughters returned from school, we decided to decorate our jam jar candles with tiny paper snowflakes and ribbons to make them extra pretty. 🙂

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I thought it would be nice to have a cosy belated Candlemas celebration after school today, so I baked these gingerbread biscuits in star shapes, inspired by one of our favourite winter books The Sea Mice and the Stars.

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In the book, the little mice enjoy star shaped biscuits and “spicy hot drinks that made their noses tingle”, so my eldest daughter made us some mulled apple juice to go with the biscuits ( watered down apple juice with cinammon, cloves and star anise).

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We lit our candles and had a cosy time reading this much loved story.

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I am planning to share a list of our favourite winter books here shortly. It is only half way through winter after all, so there is plenty more time for sharing heartwarming stories with your children this winter. 🙂

I hope you are enjoying all that the season has to offer. Wishing you love and light.

Sharing at Frontier Dreams KCCO and The Really Crafty Link Party 

 

 

 

The magic of Lemon Essential Oil

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Just before Christmas I attended an Essential Oils Seminar from a Doterra representative. It was a lovely, cosy morning with like minded folk, learning about essential oils and their myriad uses and sampling some delicacies such as humous with lemon oil ( yummy – so fresh!) and raw chocolate with peppermint and orange oil (dreamy and so moreish!) and drinking mulled apple juice with Onguard (based on the four thieves recipe). This was a real treat for me. I have been on the lookout to buy some therapeutic grade essential oils that I can take orally, so I was delighted to discover Doterra oils (who are relatively new to Britain). They do rigorous testing on all their products and they are 100% pure and sourced carefully from all around the world. The oils are quite pricey, but they are by far a superior product to many of the other cheaper brands (who say they are 100% essential oils, but usually have another carrier oil  added to keep the costs down. These are not suitable for oral consumption and pose health risks if ingested).

I became very interested in essential oils and their wonderful health benefits after watching an episode of the inspiring Documentary Series The Truth About Cancer – A Global Quest a year or so ago. I diffuse Onguard or my own version of it (orange or lemon with rosemary, eucalyptus, clove and cinnamon) with Frankincense oil to help me stay well. I still get the beginnings of a cold but I fight it off quickly and never seem to have any after effects, like lingering coughs. It is revelation to me!

I sometimes add a drop of lemon (or orange) essential oil to a big jug of water to drink during the day.  It is a powerful cleanser. It binds petrochemicals and can take them out of your body. This is also why you can’t put lemon essential oil in a plastic water bottle and drink it, as it leaches the petrochemicals from the plastic! It is certainly powerful stuff and essential oils should only be taken orally with caution especially if you are sensitive or have high toxicity levels. Putting them on the soles of your feet with a carrier oil is a safer method. Alternatively they can be applied around the base of your neck or on your hands so you can also receive the benefit of inhaling these powerful oils which are wonderfully mood enhancing too.

Lemon oil is also a fantastic cleaner (as is orange oil) and I have been cleaning our guinea pig hutch with lemon oil (the cheaper version!) and water for over a year now: it smells fresh and feels clean too and is healthy for the guinea pigs too. 🙂

But something I didn’t know about lemon essential oil is that it is really good at getting sticky residues off things; they literally melt away. So in the week after Christmas I tried it out on our Clavinova (piano) keys and it worked a treat!

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My eldest daughter often sits at the piano, finding tunes and making up her own. Unbeknown to me she decided to cover the keys with stickers and sticky tape! 😦 I have tried all sorts of things to try to remove the dirty marks, including alcohol and vinegar amongst others, but nothing really worked until then.

The marks literally melted away with the Lemon Essential Oil: I just put a couple of drops directly onto the keyboard and rubbed a little with my fingertips and the sticky residue simply dissolved. Just like magic! Despite being a while ago, I had to share it here,  incase it would help anyone 🙂

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I feel so happy as the keyboard looked so dreadful and not at all inviting. Now it is sparkling clean and we can enjoy using it again. Thank you Lemon Essential Oil! 🙂

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Another quiet home day…

Both my daughters have colds now and I feel like I am fighting something too: it’s that January  (Oops February!) feeling 😦 We decided to meet up with some dear friends on Sunday anyway as they always cheer us up.

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and we even spotted the first signs of spring. Hurrah!  🙂

But the trip wore my daughters out, so we decided Monday needed to be a home day and a chance to rest and recover. It is hard to do brain work with a cold I find, so I didn’t feel they would be missing out on anything. Instead, we enjoyed a cosy day at home, listening to some Sparkle Stories.

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and drawing. My daughters don’t often spend much time at home drawing; they usually prefer to play, but since they didn’t have the energy for play, they rediscovered their love of drawing. They prefer to use marker pens for their definition, but also use pencils and crayons, depending on the effect they are after. These are just a sample of their numerous drawings:

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Often my eldest daughter comes up with the ideas and my youngest copies her, or they decide what to add to their pictures together: it is a game for them. They also like to make up their own drawings, of course. 🙂 I found this drawing below particularly upbeat and sweet.

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I am pleased their drawings are so joyful and colourful. Long may this continue 🙂

My daughters are big fans of Winnie the Pooh, as I mentioned in this post and it is their favourite thing, to spend hours playing Pooh and Piglet; our playroom has since become Piglet’s house and my eldest daughter’s bedroom is Pooh’s place 🙂 Here are some of the pictures they drew of their favourite characters :-). They are also compiling a little book of stories.

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Apart from all that drawing, my eldest managed to crotchet a massive ball of rags for the rag rug I mentioned here. She is so quick at these things, I can’t keep up with the cutting (or sewing for that matter!!)

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My sewing machine is really struggling with this project (it keeps skipping stitches). I have since bought a size 16 needle and things seem to have settled down a bit. There are still gaps, but it is holding together well, so I am going to persevere. Any tips would be welcome regarding tension, stitch length, needle size etc. 🙂 I realise I could of course sew the rug together by hand, but I prefer to use the machine for speed. It doesn’t need to be perfect after all.  I save my hands for hand knitting 🙂

My daughters have also been busily making Valentines presents!! I can’t share them right now as they are ‘top secret’, but I do have a photo of these hearts that my youngest made for Daddy.

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They love making things for us and each other. I still haven’t even thought what I am going to make for my daughters yet. It isn’t even Candlemas (Groundhog Day) yet I tell them.  Let’s see…

As for me, I haven’t been making much lately, apart from Window stars and cutting snowflakes. I yearn to get back to sewing and have several projects that I still need to complete, including belated Christmas presents, 😦 but I have had to prioritise sorting  our house out after returning from holiday, as things felt very disorganised and chaotic at home. 😦

I did manage to organise our craft cupboard today on my longer day at home, which was quite a big effort, but well worth it. Things got piled on top of each other and everything felt cramped and certainly not user friendly!  I have bagged a lot of things up to sell at our school fundraiser Jumble Sale this weekend; it always feels therapeutic to have a good sort out and to pass things on that we have outgrown or never used.

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A friend just returned my copy of  The Life Changing Magic of Tidying  to me and a re-read feels very timely: There is something about the first couple of months of the year that lend themselves to de-cluttering and putting our house in order – both physically and metaphorically;  a time to let go of things and to set our priorities for the forthcoming year.

We have decided to convert part of our garage into a studio; for my husband to design in (he is a Garden Designer) and for me to craft in 🙂 so I have lots more sorting out to do there before that happens!  I try to do these jobs when my daughters are at school, but as my youngest only goes half days, I don’t seem to be moving forward that quickly…

I have been too tired to do any sewing in the evening and I often fall asleep with my daughters, so I haven’t even been knitting in the evenings either. Sob! 😦 I did start knitting a hat last night, but it turned out to be massive (it didn’t even fit my husband!), so I need to downsize the needles and have try again. It is an American pattern and it appears to be difficult to find suitable yarn or even the right needle size in the UK sometimes, so I often need to improvise (not always successfully!)  Shame, it should be a quick knit, but obviously not if you have to keep restarting!!  I made myself a Wurm hat a few years ago that I loved, but I leant it to my youngest and we seem to have lost it now 😦 so I am really in need of a nice warm hat as it was my only one! Fingers crossed I make some progress soon!

I have friends coming over tomorrow morning for a crafting session (something we try to do regularly as there is nothing more nurturing than a group of women sharing a space whilst making things). Hopefully that will kick start me with my making again.:-)

Hope you are enjoying your making and crafts.