Sunday, 28 December 2014

Paddington Bear; he's just so funny!!

Mega Sized Movie Poster Image for Paddington Bear

I think this might be the US poster for Paddington, but it suits my needs. we went to see Paddington as a family just before Christmas and this has been my first chance to write it up since.
Now regular readers will know that I have three (almost) teenage children; DP is 16 going on 17 and almost tired of hearing that song, JW is 14 and the Princess is a precocious 12. We watch all the superhero movies, love playing computer games and have a cool attitude to life in general. So when we were thinking about a family movie to see before Christmas you might have thought along the lines of The Hobbit, or a decent spy and action film.
Oh no. Not us. We knew from watching the trailer that we really wanted to see Paddington. I am a long-term Paddington fan, having read the books and watched the TV series countless times before the 6 o clock news as a child. I love the stories of the bear from Darkest Peru and his adopted family. I loved the whole duffle coat/hat look he rocked and everything connected to him. I had the bear (a thrifty copy, not an original) and the image of the bear on tins, bedding, allsorts. It's fair to say I'm a fangirl.
Most surprisingly  my family turned out to be fans as well. We were the only family there without a child younger than 6 and we sat, surrounded by the sound of whispers and sweets being eaten. In a spy movie this might have been off putting but, accompanied as it was by lots of giggles and children's commentaries on the movie just made it more fun.
The film is beautifully made. I have to say that changing the voice from Colin Firth to Ben Whishaw is a winner; Ben has just the right tone of plaintive but not incapability to be a bear who would rather make things right by himself some days than ask for help. And the family are a lovely bunch. The way that Paddington works on them to get them to function together as a family (without actually trying to) is well portrayed, while the characters are well-presented as uptight father, boho mother, cool and distant daughter and too-wild-for-his-Dad son. The plot (a taxidermist wanting to 'get' Paddington as a specimen of a rare bear) runs along and there is just enough mild peril to keep children (and me!) on the edge of my seat. It was the little hints at immigration that I found touching. The soundtrack features a calypso band who appear on screen every so often, Mr Gruber is (of course) a jewish immigrant who came to the UK to find safety and other elements highlight the good that immigration has brought to Britain. I don't know how Paddington votes, but I'm prepared to think it's probably not Ukip. 
And I love the visual images in the movie. The Brown's house is just what I want to live in. I WILL buy the video to watch again as soon as possible and jot down ideas to use this year and next in a house revamp I am planning. I could just imagine my crochet blankets and cosies fitting in just fine. Love it. Just love it.
(I wanted to put a still from the film here, but can't find the one I want. Will keep looking)
Would I recommend it to others? If you like London. or Paddington, or films that need no rudeness or nastiness (apart from the nasty Taxidermist) or you have children aged 12 or below then I'd say yes. And if you're in or near London, you can do a Paddington Trail. Next time we go, it's high on my list!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Blogmas 25; Christmas Day

Merry Christmas and a Happy, Peaceful and Prosperous New Year to us all!

It's true, Christmas can feel like a lot of work, particularly for mothers. But when you look back on all the Christmases in your life, you'll find you've created family traditions and lasting memories. Those memories, good and bad, are really what help to keep a family together over the long haul.


I need to record my children more before they grow up completely. Here's the collage of Christmas Day 2014. Look at the wrapping paper centre (there was more all over the floor!) and my parents who came to me for Christmas for the First Time Ever. Did I enjoy myself? You betcha!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Blogmas 24; Christmas Eve

I'm guessing my Christmas Eve this year is pretty much like anybody else's if you've got Christmas dinner to cook the next day. I want as little as possible to do on Christmas Day so I plan.. plan and plan a bit more. My list this year ran;

11am make stollen dough (Paul Hollywood's recipe) and leave to rise.

11.30 make biscotti. Chocolate orange and cherry in the sort of style of the Hairy Bikers' Chocolate Orange and cranberry.

Noon Stollen stage 2; incorporate marzipan and swirl into shape. Leave to prove.
1pm bake the stollen. Watch the daughter decorate her Christmas cake with buttercream icing and wonder how she can get quite so green in 5 minutes.

2pm make the chocolate mousse cake. Put the pork on to roast.
3pm prep the veg; brussels sprouts, carrot sticks, carrot and swede mash chunks, broccoli cauliflower cheese cooked ready to baking stage, parsnips, sausage and stuffing balls wrapped in bacon.

4 or 5pm prep the turkey and begin to roast it.
6pm cook the potatoes and veg for today's tea.

 9pm make and chill the chocolate mousse for the mousse cake.
9.15pm Wrap all the goodies up and store them safe ready for the morning.

10.30pm go to Church. The choir will be singing one last time, and I'm a sucker for late night services. A touch of frost and chill in the air would be welcome, but I'll settle for dry and slightly colder than yesterday.
12pm+ slice and chill turkey. Eat the bacon that you put onto the turkey to moisten and prevent too rapid browning. Try to keep it all for oneself and fail dismally. You know they'll all want a piece.
1pm wait for Santa to call. What has he brought me today?

This is going to be my last Blogmas post. I won't have time tomorrow to get to the computer, so I'd just like to say I have really enjoyed the discipline of trying to write something everyday. I don't think I'll be able to keep it up, but I might well set myself a more regular pattern of posting. And I will definitely still be visiting the other sites I've found. Thank you very much to Sandra for thinking of the idea; it's been a pleasure to participate.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Blogmas 23; Favourite Christmas Story

The Story of Holly and Ivy; it's our tradition. Sarah and I disappear for an hour upstairs, we sit together on her bed and we read the book together. And it is a lovely story, about a doll and a girl who both need love who find each other and a home. It's a story about wishing and what happens when you wish hard enough.

I wish somebody else would remember how good Rumer Godden is and make an animation of this. It would go so beautifully on Christmas Eve with the Snowman and the Gruffalo.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Blogmas 20; Last minute gifts

Oh My! Last minute gifts... no, I don't do last minute. Everything I have is bought, packed and ready to go.

The husband, however, would rather wait and do his shopping on Christmas Eve. It is only the fact that I would be VERY disappointed if he couldn't present to me exactly what I had asked for.

They do say opposites attract.

Blogmas 16; My Christmas Tree Reveal... at last!

Finally... finally the chance to take photos has arisen; the weather is fine enough, I'm home (two weeks off school; I love Christmas break!) and the living room is tidy enough to risk taking some photos.  At last... only five days late.... here is my Christmas Tree reveal!!!

 A lot of my decorations come from the St Nicolas Tree decoration company. Their website is here, but they only sell to trade so to buy as an individual person you need to look at The Christmas Company website, where they have a full range of decorations that cover history, important places and special occasions. We bought a couple (don't ask me which ones came first!) and just found them so easy to buy one or two at places we visited on holiday. For a few years I could just about remember which we bought and where but now I just find it easier to write on the back.

You can see below we get decorations from everywhere we go... the Paris bauble actually came from Chartres! And the cones came from Ikea. 

In the shot above you can just see a reindeer with a name and a date. Every year I buy a decoration each for the 10 cousins (my 3 and 7 others) and put the name and year on. It's a tradition. At a party recently the cousins had a debate about who would do the same for THEIR children, They decided it would just be much easier if I kept the job up. Hopefully I'll be good for quite a few years.

And finally.... you'd like to see the whole tree, yes?

 That's my chair sat right next to the tree. It gets very overshadowed by the tree, but that's cool.

 And the last shot is my view of the tree and TV; this is my Christmas favourite place. A cup of chai, a lebekuchen from Aldi and a good view out over my beautifully satisfactory homemade Christmas.

Blogmas 21; My Favourite Christmas poem or picture

The Journey Of The Magi by T S Elliot

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

(Image from Scholastic)

Christmas by John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Blogmas 18; Stocking stuffers for the family

Bah! Humbug! Do you think with the cooking, the cleaning and the tree dressing I have ANY time for stockings!

Well, yes, of course I do. We have small stockings on our beds early in the morning of Christmas Day. It's a tradition we never had when I was growing up (Mum was a teacher and some years just getting the presents she needed to bought and wrapped was enough without trying to organise stocking fillers as well!)

I started it with Mr AJ when we got married, and now I pass it on to my children. The small things inside the stocking are cheap, cheerful and mostly designed to make them smile.

I read once that the best advice for stocking fillers was
something to eat, 
something to read, 
something to play with 
and something they need. 
It strikes me that that is very good advice and I have in recent years tried to follow it.

So what sort of stuff will Santa pack the stockings with this year? Well, some chocolate lollies. Either Christmas or some other kiddy style lollipops. Chocolate is a firm favourite.

Chocolate coins always score highly. The princess has to have milk chocolate, but the lads like white. Aldi's bags for 49p are the best value around.

A book. The Princess likes real books, the boys like virtual. Since wrapping a virtual book is hard, I print out a small card cover and wrap that. This year DP wants Moriarty, while apparently there is a new Heroes of Olympus for JW.

Toys used to feature in the stockings. Small things like sticky frogs or alien babies that are small enough to fit in a very confined space (Hawkins Bazaar was my favourite source; we didn't have one near us and I would stock up on them in Cheltenham on our holidays) I have wrapped usb sticks before now, but I haven't found any cute or cheap enough this year. We have a couple of joke-ish gifts,like these Star Wars key covers and Minion keyrings.

Some years I have packed toothpaste and a new brush, or a tube of deodorant, or another sensible gift. This year is a little soap each with a small figure in each one.  I bought them at a craft fair in Liverpool the other week. From a friend I know well, it turned out, although I hadn't seen her for a while and hadn't realised that she made soap as a sideline!

And that's about it! The stockings are only small sized, after all and only started as a means of keeping them quiet for a little while longer until we woke up and were prepared to face the onslaught that is a Christmas Morning with children. Now, we have to wake the teenagers and say, "Go on, open your stockings. Let's start Christmas!" A small voice whispers that Christmas is a lot less hectic, a lot later starting and that (perhaps) the stockings are ready to retire. But then the little elf inside me whispers that you are NEVER too old to have a stocking and that the small cost in terms of time and effort (and price!) is worth it to have that marvellous moment when the first footsteps start, the daughter creeps into the bedroom and the giggling starts.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Blogmas 17; Christmas in my home country

Oh, I have had such good fun with this!

You see, I am British, through and through. Born in Rainhill, lived there til I was 25 and currently a resident of a leafy middle class suburb in Liverpool. But this year I have adopted another country. I wanted to learn Danish (don't ask) and in a small way I am, but I have found myself studying the customs and characteristics of the country as well. It is no use knowing the language of a place and being ignorant of its culture, yes?
So this post I am going to talk about my adopted country. No, I don't live there, yes, I have never  visited YET but it is top of my list for places I want to go to. One day, when my Viking longboat comes in.

How do we Danes and quasi-Danes celebrate Christmas? I had fun looking this up. And even more fun trying to use some of the ideas in my life.

The Tree;
The Danes decorate their Christmas Tree with a  silver or gold star on the top, never an angel. They use strings of small Danish flags (Danes are very proud of their flag and use it a lot!) For a real Christmas feel they like to use real candles to light the tree and they usually light it for the first time only on Christmas Eve. After Christmas Eve dinner, the family join hands and dance around the tree. Then it's time to unwrap the presents; carefully, one at a time, with everybody watching so that each one can be enjoyed.

The Nisse;
The Nisse are Santa's helpers. Or they could be the origin of Santa Claus. Who knows? But they are little elves that take care of the houses and people in the house. They love rice pudding and porridge, and will get cross if you don't leave some for them!

The peppernoder;
Peppernoder are small spicy biscuits found in shops and easy to make at home. They are literally pepper nuts and came from Germany where they are called pfeffernussen. A good description and recipe for them can be found on My Danish Kitchen.

Danes love marzipan and will eat it in any form. At Christmas it gets made into shapes, hearts, stars, and gets put into other food like flødebolle (just like Tunnock's teacakes, apparently!)

The Main Meal;
This is eaten on Christmas Eve and can be pork or duck. Danes eat it with red cabbage, caramelised potatoes and other side dishes. They have Ris a L'amande as a pudding, which is basically creamy rice pudding and almonds. They hide a whole almond inside and the winner gets a marzipan pig!

Elf hats
Even usually sensible grown ups in Denmark will wear an elf hat during the Christmas season. It's a sign of their fun-loving spirit..... I think.

But the most wonderful thing I think that Denmark has at Christmas is the spirit of Christmas, the love of family and friends and the time they spend together. They love the warmth of candlelight, the heat of glug, the cosiness of blankets and games around a fire. And they even give it a name; hygge.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Blogmas 15; Christmas decorations

Christmas decorations; made with love by the daughter.

Made with a deal of determination by me.I am not a natural knitter. My nisse are looking after my house this season. It's full of love, smiles, laughter and just enough bitter sweet memories to add an extra dimension to my sweet life.

They look after my house and my family, according to tradition. And I love my little houses (last year's created decoration!)

The trees just look magnificent at the end of the mantelpiece. I loved making these!

And my cross stitch banner is up again. This must be about 4 years old now.

This is about the first year that I can look at my fireplace and smile at the amount of handmade decorations on it. I think over half of the stuff that is symbolising Christmas here this year has been made by me. That's a proud feeling.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Family Parties are the best.... but how come everybody else knew?

I have had a lovely time this afternoon and just wanted to capture it before the time flies by and I don't get a chance;

My lovely niece R had her birthday today; 19? 20? I can't remember! 19, I think and.... she got engaged as well!! So it was a double celebration. Now, obviously I knew it was her birthday, but I didn't realise that she had got engaged as well!!! I must have been out of the room when it was told to my family. Now I have to ring her up and say something to her instead of giving her a hug an da congratulations. My only worry is if she thinks I didn't say anything for a reason (disapproval or something like that)
Regardless, it was a good day and I wanted to put the pictures up here. It sort of fits in with my catching life philosophy this year; I want to save the memories to look at again. Of course I took photos and here are some;

Blogmas 14; What is my favourite childhood Christmas memory?

I don't know... I remember so many moments from childhood Christmasses. I seem to remember that it was a frosty Christmas Eve on the way to Midnight Mass when I first realised that the street lights made my red coats look strange, that I loved the feel of sheepskin mittens inside and out when Santa let me open them early for Midnight Mass and the cold plaster of the Baby Jesus figure for the church crib as I carried it out to the scene.

My childhood church is St Bartholomew's, Rainhill. It's not famous for much, except at Christmas when it puts up an almost life size crib scene; not on the grass or floor anywhere sensible; oh no. Their crib scene is suspended in the entrance gate to the churchyard. It takes a team of dedicated crib erectors to put it up. They have the skills down to a fine art. After all, the eldest member is 75 and has been putting the scene up for 50 years. That's him in the hat.

He came over from Ireland 50+ years ago and started helping in the church. For years he was the leader and the coordinator of the crib erection, until he decided it was time to take a less active role. Now he wanders around futfutting under his breath and Jaysusing if the others don't listen or grasp what he sees as immediately obvious. And when he's finished, at lunchtime on a cold December Saturday, he sits and sleeps the afternoon. (this is my Dad)

This is the team that put the crib up this year. From left to right we have;
My nephew M. He's studying forensic computers at Liverpool John Moore's University. He looks after my lads in family situations, by which I now mean they all get on the playstation or PC and grunt at each other occasionally.
My adopted nephew C. He is or is not at University now. I adopted him one day when his best friend, nephew M, said something mean to me and I told C he was my favourite nephew. He's a really nice lad (well, he came putting the crib up just for fun!)
My Dad. He used to have black hair. Thick black hair. That was when he first put the crib up. Now all that is left of the young Irish lad is the accent which acquires a degree of incomprehensibility when he gets together with his brother and sisters over the water.
Eldest brother A. A doctor in the North of Liverpool. Best childhood memory of him is that he had ants in his pants and couldn't sit still. He used to prowl in front of the telly all the time. I've missed many a good TV moment because he was on the prowl.
Second brother C. Another doctor in the North of Liverpool. And another childhood memory. THIS is the brother who played Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds at 6am on a Christmas morning FULL VOLUME. It's good, but at the right time.

And this is the crib. I think it is one of my favourite Childhood Christmas memories mostly because it is a constant. It marks Christmas every year; it marks a family working together across the generations and using their time to evangelise in a really soft way (by which I mean quietly, without being loud or in your face or assuming that because They are a Christian, You must be a complete Sinner) and to show God's love for the world in a way that makes people smile. I must see if Jesus is there at the moment. I know they put him in for the photos, but usually they leave out the baby until Christmas Eve when, after or before the evening mass, they choose a child to climb up a ladder and put the baby in. I got to do it once or twice, I'm not certain exactly how many times. It was a great feeling of responsibility. a real experience of life as a Herald Angel; I remember thinking "this is a special child and I am the person chosen to show him to the world." 
If you live near Rainhill (and why should anyone?) and you pass along the A57, be sure to look out for the church and the arch. It's just off Junction 7 heading towards Prescot. There is nothing else there, apart from a Premier Inn that does rather reasonable food and a few plaques remembering the Rainhill Trials of 1829. It's just a quiet, small village that links up with other small villages and towns to make Merseyside.

This is the video my brother took this year; it show you the steps that go into putting up the crib. It takes longer than this, about 2 hours in total, and afterwards they all go to Ma's house for soup and sandwiches. Tradition.


Joining in with Blogmas at Diary of a Stay at Home Mum; for the other people's pages, go visit her site!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Blogmas 13; How am I counting down to Christmas?

The Christmas countdown for me starts on the 24th May. That's the day after my birthday, so it's the day when I know my next gift-getting session is Christmas Day. And I start thinking in a very fragmented way that it will be Christmas again this year.

Actual Countdown Day is 1st September. 115 days to go, and a good time to set down what I need to get for presents, what gifts I want to make and to rough up a plan of what to get done by what date. Crafters can't leave everything to chance; we have to plan. I put the countdown next to the dates in my diary and mark them off day by day. I have been known to put the countdown Santa up on the 15th. 99 days to go!

There are several points on the way to Christmas that help with the countdown. Strictly Come Dancing starting on TV, X Factor live shows beginning, Halloween, Bonfire Night and Children In Need in mid November. They're all staging posts on the way to Advent.

And then the big countdown season starts. I have lots of ways of counting down. Lots. Santa on the fireplace is the children's chocolate calendar, bought a few years ago from Aldi and filled with chocolate coins, Santas or Celebrations. It's nicer than the shop-bought chocolate filled calendars and doesn't need to be binned every year.

The small books on the tree have been part  of our advent countdown since DP was a baby. They tell the story of a load of little mice getting ready for Christmas; making the cake, wrapping the presents, putting on a nativity and they are so cute.

My chocolate advent came from Next. Some years I buy and wrap dark chocolate gingers to eat (in memory of my Nan) but on lazy years I just grab a selection of small chocolates left over from filling the kids calendars and use them. This was also the home for my little Spanish crib scene until this year; they have new premises!

 A beautiful advent house that stands about a foot tall and has just enough space behind its doors for a figure a day. We're working our way through the villagers at the moment;

You can just see Lionel Messi and Suarez at the side, with the medics (yes, two; you always need a second opinion in medical matters) casting eyes at the mariachi band. I'm hoping we get to the important characters in the story soon. So far, they don't scream Christmas to me at the moment!

And there are intangible high points; the end of school (of course) is a biggy. Thank God it comes up soon. I can feel us all getting shorter of patience as we drag out the last week..... The BBC Sports Personality Of The Year coming up on Sunday (or X Factor final starring nobody we particularly desperately want to win? Hard choice!) Strictly Come Dancing the week after and the BBC idents that make the TV viewing festive. I love the whole sheebang!

Joining in with Blogmas at Diary of a Stay At Home Mum; it's been really good fun so far to write a daily entry!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Blogmas 12; Winter Wonderland where I live

How often does it snow in our world? Thank God for Bing Crosby, or we'd have no idea what a White Christmas was. Having said that, we did have a particularly lovely Christmas one year when it started snowing on Christmas Day just after everybody I knew would have travelled back to their own homes and when the houses must be groaning with food, drink and merriment possibilities for every one. Excellent timing; enforced rest when we needed it most. And it was good.

But for the children (and probably me, this year) the most excellently timed snowfall was the day we were due back to school. The Princess' school declared defeat and closed at the first snowflake, the boys struggled in to find out that their brave High School also weren't prepared to suffer the pain and anguish of teachers' cars being buried and got sent home. Two extra days after the holidays. Bliss.

We walked in the snow, and built snowmen. The Christmas food had been eaten, but I'd stocked up for the expected snowfall and we hunkered down. Marshmallow hot chocolate, homemade cookies and soup (not together) and the last tin of chocolates all eaten with icy fingers fresh from the snowfights and forts and fun.