Thursday, 18 December 2008

quick catch-up

Far too many things have happened since my last post. A lot of illnesses, peppered with meet-ups with friends, school-related activities and the pleasures of finding and wrapping Christmas presents, planning Christmas-related projects and spending more time with my kids. There are changes looming on the horizon, and I think I will be taking a really big step soon which is quite exciting but which scares me at the same time because right now I'm still not sure if it's the right thing to do. Maybe this Christmas I will get a sign that will tell me if it is.

For now, though, I shall limit myself to lists.

Things I'm enjoying right now

  • Go Slow England by Alastair Sawday. This is such a lovely, alluring book, inviting its reader to slow down and plan a journey to one of the places featured. The book is primarily about places to stay that promote the principle of 'Slow'. There are maps too that show where you can go on slow trips, enjoy slow activities and eat slow food. The pages are brimming with beautiful photographs. There are also some recipes given by the owners of the special places. The book just makes me want to sit down and plan a whole year of travelling to these places. And it also makes me want to work for Alastair Sawday Publishing because I don't know of any other publishing office that keeps pigs!

  • Hot chocolate and caramelised biscuits (the kind served with your coffee at cafés). Special thanks to my friend Crystal for letting me know that I can get caramelised biscuits from our local supermarket. They're terrific and best of all, they're cheap (63p for a pack)!

  • Sofia's speech. I had completely forgotten how delightful it is to hear a toddler learning to talk. I remember now how Lucas's attempts at complicated words would make me laugh hysterically, not out of meanness but just because he sounded so adorable saying those words. Now we're trying to get Sofia to say words like 'antibiotics'. She just comes up with the funniest expressions, such as when I switch off the lights and she goes, 'Oh, dark!' in a pretend scared voice.

  • Writing. I'm actually writing again. I don't know if anything good will come out of it but the fact that I have managed to write a few paragraphs without feeling overwhelmed makes me feel really good about myself.

  • Learning to play the guitar. It's painful and sometimes I still think I should have a childsize guitar instead, but I'm getting there.


Things I'm looking forward to

  • The children going ice skating. Lucas is going to try it on Sunday here with Simon and his friend Alexis. Then we'll take both of them probably after Christmas.

  • Christmas! Presents, Christmas lunch, an excuse to do nothing but have fun and eat!



I hope your Christmas will be wonderful and that you'll be surrounded by the people you love the most. Have a lovely time, everyone.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

in gratitude



Well done, America. And thank you for helping the rest of the world see a glimmer of hope in these dark, dark times.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

sew hip!



I finally managed to grab my copy of the maiden issue of Sew Hip!. I had been looking forward to reading this magazine, as there is a dearth of magazines dedicated to sewers here in the UK. Come to think of it, Sew Hip! might just be the only magazine for sewers in the UK.

Another reason I was excited about the magazine is that its editor is Manda McGrory, one of my favourite bloggers, whose writing shows how passionate she is about sewing. She is famous for her beautiful quilts and has recently ventured into sewing for her little ones, something that has inspired me a lot.

Anyway, I eagerly took home the magazine on Saturday but didn't get a chance to look at it until yesterday morning. It certainly did not disappoint. It's laid out beautifully and is loaded with charming photos. Some of our favourite crafty bloggers are featured here, including Alicia Paulson of Posie Gets Cozy and Heidi Kenney whose plush toys are love. There's also an interview with Amy Butler and the Prints Charming ladies.

There are also product and book reviews, which are always useful for sewers who love to collect sewing books (myself included) and buy nifty sewing tools. The adverts are unintrusive, but I actually enjoyed looking at them because they're all aimed at people who love sewing and/or buying handmade things, so I think they added value to the magazine rather than being a hindrance to one's enjoyment of it.

Of course, what would a sewing magazine be without sewing projects? There are twelve in this issue, each one with notes on difficulty level, size and materials and a template when necessary. The projects are great—a mini-tote bag, a quilt, a needle case, mini bunting and a mini kitten, which is perfect for fabric scraps! My favourites though are the peasant blouse and bloomers for little girls. They look easy enough to make (always a must for a beginner like me!) and Manda included suggestions for fabrics to use and instructions for making the clothes suitable for the season.




All in all, this is a really wonderful magazine. My only gripe is that it could do with better copy editing. I found some typos and grammatical errors (e.g., the use of 'it's' instead of 'its' and vice-versa, 'that' instead of 'who') which bug the editor in me. I also noticed that the templates for the body and the sleeve for the peasant blouse have been interchanged. I wouldn't mind so much if this was something written as part of someone's blog or a daily paper, but if the people behind the magazine had at least a month to work on it, they should have been able to come up with a perfect copy for it.

This won't stop me from buying future issues of Sew Hip! though. I'm sure these are just birthing pains (ooh, I hate that term) and considering that this is the first issue, it's a very minor flaw that can be easily remedied. In fact, I'm so impressed with the magazine I've already put a subscription to it on my Christmas wish list (hello, husband! :)) Here's looking forward to more Sew Hip! goodness!

Friday, 24 October 2008

did i say i was trying to lose weight?

Because you see, when you find yourself with a few blocks of dark chocolate, a couple of eggs, a whole load of sugar and some cashew nuts . . .




. . . you get tempted into making this:




And yes, I ate a chunk as soon as it cooled down because, well, what else was I supposed to do when confronted with a big brownie tray?

mrs piggy speaks

I know I'm stressed when I start pigging out on food. Which is what I've been doing for the past week. I won't even describe to you what and how much I've been eating, it's just disgusting. I think I've stretched my stomach to twice its size now, so I'll need to watch my diet and do a lot of exercise in the run-up to Christmas. That way, I can eat as much as I like on Christmas day. Hee.

I normally don't obsess about my figure, but because I've been shopping for autumn/winter clothes for the family, I just can't help but be annoyed with myself for being too weak to control my appetite and ending up with unsightly bulges. Thank goodness it's the season for wearing layers of clothes, and tunics are in, so I've been buying those! I don't care if Simon teases me about wearing 'maternity tops', I just want to wear clothes that won't force me to suck my gut in all the time.

Speaking of clothes, I'm still beaming at my first successful sewing project—an elf costume for Lucas's 'magical day' at school last week. I went into panic mode when I saw the e-mail about the costume a week before the event, but I was determined not to buy him one as we had a bagful of old clothes waiting to be either recycled or donated to charity. A rummage through the bag produced two old T-shirts, a blue one and a red one, which I thought would be perfect for the costume. It took me a couple of days to finally decide how the costume would look, and I worked for about four hours on measuring, cutting, and sewing the whole thing. Here's the result:



It's not perfect, and there are things I would have done differently, but Lucas liked it, and it fit perfectly. I've been showing this off to my friends, who have all said nice things about it, so now I've ordered black fabric and interfacing to make a witch costume for Sofia and a vampire's cape for Lucas. I'm even thinking of making them bags for collecting sweets when they go trick-treating on Friday.

It's half-term next week and I'll be taking three days off work to spend time with the kids. Which means I probably won't have a lot of time on my own to sew the costumes, so I'll have to sneak in some sewing at night when they've gone to bed. Yikes. I hope that will give me enough time to finish the clothes before Friday!

Oh, and yay, I get to have a break on Monday evening as I'm off to watch Martha Wainwright at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. Yay, I get to watch a real musician (by my standards anyway) this time, instead of crappy imitations that I always somehow get dragged to see. :)

Sunday, 14 September 2008

back to regular programming

To make up for the last two posts, let me tell you about something nice that someone did for me. My friend E, who lives all the way in Edinburgh, sent me a lovely little get-well package which I got in the post on Monday. It was a wonderful surprise and truly made my week. Inside the package were a little handmade monster softie, now christened Mr Mumu, a mix CD (!!! - I had not received a mix CD since 2001!) and a couple of Divine chocolates. It was the perfect present, something that only E would think up.


I found myself eating most of the milk chocolate on Thursday, which I felt a little guilty about, because I had intended to share it with Simon and the kids. To make up for this thoughtless act, I decided to use the dark chocolate to make chocolate chip cookies. Reading soulemama's post about The River Cottage Cookbook inspired me to get my copy out and try the choc chip cookie recipe. Yesterday afternoon, with Lucas and Simon out in Cambridge, and Sofia down for a nap, I decided it was the perfect time to bake the cookies. I had never made chocolate chip cookies before, so I was a bit apprehensive. I ended up with a rather tiny amount of batter, but the book assured me that the little dollops of cookie dough would spread in the baking process. And boy, did they spread! By the time they were cooked, they were a lot bigger than the cookies you get from Millie's.



The cookie batter


which produced these cookies (and four others)


The cookies were a big hit with the family. Despite their size, they had been gobbled up quickly. Simon said they were just perfect - slightly crispy on the edges, soft and chewy in the middle. Yum. I'm thinking of making another batch this week, although I might use milk chocolate this time. I love dark chocolate, but I think milk chocolate will give the cookies a creamier texture.



One happy cookie eater (she kept holding her bowl out and saying 'More?')

E, I wish I could send you some cookies, but I'm not sure if they'll stay fresh. Maybe when we meet up again, I can bring you some.

someone else's right foot

I've always avoided writing about unpleasant things in this blog because I use it as part of my relaxation process, but after Simon sent me this link the other day, I feel I just have to write just once more about broken ankles and plaster casts. Reading this article just left me feeling really angry. First of all, was the hospital involved running low on plaster supplies that the orthopaedic staff could not even be bothered to take off the old man's cast, have a proper look at his leg and then replaster it? If he had been going to the hospital every day to complain about the pain, the least they could have done was take off the cast instead of just cutting a bloody slit on it! It's so easy to say it was a mistake and apologize to the victim, but we're talking about an 80-year-old man here, who is his wife's main carer. The last thing he needed was to become disabled because the people who were supposed to help him get better just didn't care.

This whole thing got me thinking about how lucky I was. The first time I complained about my heel hurting from my cast, the orthopaedic technician told me to go to the hospital straight away so she could take the cast off. And when the second cast still hurt, the consultant didn't hesitate to give me a removable brace. When I asked the technician what could have caused my foot to keep swelling up in the cast, she told me that there are some people who cannot tolerate plaster casts. I now know that she wasn't just being nice to me so I wouldn't feel like a wuss, because my foot is still badly bruised from where the cast rubbed against it, and the skin still looks awful. So, if it is a known fact that some people do not tolerate plaster casts, why did the staff at Fairfield Hospital refuse to listen to Mr Talks's complaints?

All I can say is, shame on you, people. I hope you lose your jobs and are never allowed back into the medical field to ruin other people's lives again.



Mr Mumu was as indignant as I was when he read the news item.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

my right foot


Sofia and I a few hours before the accident. Those jeans had to be binned because I couldn't take them off after my leg was plastered.


Oh dear. I've just had a look at my last post, and, in the light of what happened a few days after that post, I can see that I had tempted fate by saying that things were good. To which it replied, 'Hmmm, if things are so good, that probably means life is a bit boring right now. So shall we make it more interesting by, say, letting you break a bone? How about an ankle? That wouldn't be so bad, would it?'

So yeah, that's what happened. I fell down the stairs one Sunday afternoon, with Sofia in my arms. I knew as I was falling down that I had broken something because I felt my right foot twist and heard a popping sound. Gross, I know, but I just had to share it with you. I dropped Sofia just as I hit the bottom step. The poor little thing fell face down but immediately sat up screaming at me. I was screaming for Simon to come and help me. Simon, who was painting the lounge, came rushing out into the hallway and wasn't quite sure who to help first. Despite his panic and the wailing noises Sofia and I were making, he managed to phone 999 and three paramedics arrived a few minutes later to sort me out and bundle me off to the A&E. They also checked Sofia but she wasn't hurt at all. That was a big relief!

The fracture didn't turn out to be so bad, so my leg was put in a cast. But my leg did not like being in a cast at all. My foot kept swelling up so I was in more pain a week after the accident. My leg was replastered, but a few days later, my foot swelled up again. Things were not looking good.

The painkillers and the lack of sleep from the pain drove me crazy. And I mean really crazy. I was having several panic attacks each day. If I wasn't panicking, I was crying uncontrollably. Worst of all, I could not eat. Me, the food junkie, unable to eat. I would cook my favourite dishes (cooking was the one house chore I refused to pass on to Simon) to try and whet my appetite, but once the food touched my mouth, I was off it.


Me at a children's party, trying to keep my spirits up with a glass of Pimms. Notice the mad glint in my eyes? That's because my cast was squeezing my heel, and it hurt a lot!


That was it for me. I couldn't take it any longer, so I did some research on alternatives to plaster casts. It turns out that there is an alternative to plaster casts - removable braces. I found a few being sold online in the UK, although they were quite expensive - a hundred pounds for the cheapest. I decided that I'd rather shell out a hundred pounds than endure three more weeks of being in a cast. So I phoned the hospital, in tears, to try and convince the fracture clinic sister to let me use a removable brace. She felt sorry enough for me to give me an early appointment the next day. The consultant immediately said yes and the nice orthopaedic technician told me as she fitted my brace that they had all heard about my crying fit and talked to the consultant about letting me use the brace. How embarrassing. But I don't care, because I've been happy ever since, and now I actually feel like I'm recovering. I've been moving about without my crutches, and tomorrow, I shall see the consultant again. I'm hoping my X-ray results will be good and I'll be allowed to walk without the brace and my crutches.


At a friend's wedding. See how much happier I look?



At the wedding reception, with my human crutch, who looked after the children and me and kept our household from descending into chaos


Needless to say, my kids also kept me from totally losing it. They cheered me up, gave me hugs and helped me out by fetching my crutches (yes, even Sofia) and opening gates and doors for me. Oh, and Sofia and I had lots of little tea parties using her new tea set. I love having a daughter as I get an excuse to play with the toys I enjoyed most when I was a child! But Lucas loves joining in the parties too. In fact, we borrowed the cooker that we use for roasting chicken and baking pizzas and cakes from him!




Sofia makes tea for Baby Doll. The cooker and the washing machine are both Lucas's, bought when he was three.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

today

It has been a good day so far. I've done some of the things on my long to-do list. I even managed to do things I wasn't expecting to do, like hang the wash on the line (the weather forecast said there'd be heavy showers, but it's actually quite sunny). There's banana cake cooking in the oven, presents that have been wrapped and are ready to be dropped off this evening, unwanted baby stuff put up for sale on eBay, letters posted, even some crocheting (presents for two little boys celebrating their birthdays next week) started.



Okay, ignore the unfinished sketch. That was something I did as part of my Morning Pages (from The Artist's Way, a great book that I've been struggling with for the past couple of years, which I blame on short attention span).

S has also been productive. He has been decorating the lounge since Sunday and is now in the painting phase. He finally decided to paint the walls blue, mainly because I wouldn't accept any of his colour suggestions, but on the condition that he be allowed to choose the colour for the dining room. Which I agreed to, of course, as long as I'm allowed to paint the dining room furniture white. Which is fine with him, as long as . . . you can tell that this won't end, can you?

But things are good right now, despite the feeling-under-the-weather-all-the-time that our family is going through and the long to-do lists. Things are getting done, we still find time to bake and make things, and right now I'm listening to Red House Painters, who, despite the sadness of their songs, always remind me of a wonderful time in my life spent with the most wonderful people I have ever known. Life is good.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

bread, paper, cloth


Sofia plays peek-a-boo with her spaghetti bolognese bowl


I marked my 35th birthday with a whimper and a cough. I caught a chest infection the week before, but cheerfully and foolishly ignored it until it just got unbearable. I finally went to the doctors' surgery last week, was prescribed antibiotics and am now recovering slowly. Well, I should be recovering anyway, but it looks like I've caught another nasty bug and have been forced to stay in bed again today.

Anyway, the illness accounts for the absence of birthday piccies. I regret not having pictures taken, though, because I baked a strawberry shortcake which looked and tasted really lovely (but of course, you'll just have to take my word for it). I also made rhubarb fool as dessert to our Chinese takeaway dinner. I followed the recipe from the River Cottage Family Cookbook. That cookbook's a gem, and even Lucas loves browsing the pages to look for cooking ideas. He especially loves the section on making butter (which always prompts him to get his Snipp, Snapp and Snurr book about butter) and marshmallows. I haven't dared make marshmallows yet. The process looks very addictive.

S gave me a couple of books off my Amazon wish list for my birthday. One is Sylvia Plath's Collected Poems. I had left my Sylvia Plath books in the Philippines so getting all her poems in a single book was a wonderful present. I also got Cook Simple by Diana Henry, a lovely cookbook written for busy people like moi. A lot of the recipes are of the leave-in-the-oven type, which is ideal for me because cooking something in the oven for half an hour gives me half an hour to do other things, especially in the evening, when the kids have to have their baths and get dressed for bed before dinner. My only complaint about the book is that most of the recipes call for pricey ingredients, which can be a bit of a problem for budget-conscious mums like me. Oh okay, before I hear S snort at this, I'm a mum who's trying to be budget-conscious. There you go. But I like the book, and am looking forward to trying some of the recipes, once I get out of this rut that I'm in.

Despite the illness, I managed to do some crafting the other weekend. I wanted to give Lucas's teachers handmade thank-you presents, so I decided to make paper globe lanterns. We used to make these things in grade school as Christmas lanterns, usually from old Christmas cards. They're nowhere near as beautiful as the Philippine parol, though, so I eventually forgot how to make them as I concentrated on making our family parol instead every Christmas. (Speaking of which, I'd like to make one this Christmas. I'll probably order ask S to make the bamboo frame for me.)



Ehrm, anyway, I found the instructions for making them in Heather Bailey's blog. I would have loved to make the topiary version, but I didn't want to spend too much time looking for materials, and frankly, I was trying to minimise my spending as well, so all I had to get was new glue, some stick-on paper flowers and a couple of metres of ribbon. After a few hours of work spread over a couple of days, I managed to make five lovelies.




Hmmm, I've just realised that I haven't written about the bread and cloth bits of this post yet. Sigh. This is what happens when you're ill. Or when you're just old forgetful, easily distracted me.

S and I have always wanted to bake our own bread. There's nothing like the smell of freshly baked bread pervading the air when you wake up in the morning. We bought a breadmaker a few years ago, but after we moved house, the breadmaker sat forlornly for some time among our not-so-frequently used appliances before I finally decided to give breadmaking another go. Unfortunately, it didn't work because it turned out that I had thrown out the paddle the last time I used it. How, I have no idea. But that's me, you know. Forgetful, easily distracted. Anyway, the breadmaker is still in our kitchen and we're still hoping to use it again soon.

But what got me thinking of breadmaking again today is this website that I came across. It's the site for a book of the same name, which I of course promptly added to my Amazon wish list. (Hello, S, anniversary present, maybe?) How can you not find yourself dreaming about bread when this book tells you that you can have your own freshly baked bread in just five minutes a day? The trick, according to the authors, is to make a master dough that you can keep in the fridge for two weeks and just pinch off part of the dough every time you make bread. How convenient is that? I found myself drooling this morning (just before lunchtime) over the photos of brioche and fruit pizza on the website. Yuuuurrrm.

So I'm now including breadmaking in my to-do list. Speaking of to-do lists, please don't ask me about my sewing projects because they are all on hold for now. I made the mistake of moving all my sewing stuff to the study upstairs only to find out that S will be using the study again for the next few months. Now it will require even more motivation for me to take the sewing machine downstairs every time I'd like to do any sewing. Who knows, though, I might surprise myself one of these days and just get on with my projects.

Right now, though, my main concern is getting a nice dress to wear to a wedding in August. I don't want to spend a lot of money, so I'd like to get as cheap a dress as I can get that doesn't look el cheapo. It wouldn't be a difficult feat if I were a normal-size person, as the high street shops are holding sales right now and they normally sell lovely occasion dresses. Unfortunately, given my small frame, it's so hard to find clothes that fit perfectly. (I'm actually starting to get sick of being called 'tiny' by lots of people, especially doctors and nurses. Stop it, I don't have body image problems and I'm not starving myself. Just ask my husband who has to remind me to chew my food slowly because I always eat like a hungry horse.) I found an online shop that sells just a limited range of clothes and accessories, but which promises to sell perfectly proportioned clothing. And because they have a sale on right now, I'm tempted to give them a try. I am enamoured of this linen lace dress. The only problem is, hello, it's in watermelon pink! I'm not a big fan of pink, but I'd wear it if it goes well with my skin tone. I'm normally fair-skinned (for an Oriental anyway), but I do tan very quickly and since we've had a lot of sun lately, I'm just really brown these days. I've already discovered that green doesn't look good on me when I'm brown. Not sure about watermelon pink though. I'm considering this one as an alternative, but since it's pricier, I'm not sure. Argh, I hate stressing out over what to wear, especially when I'll probably just wear it once! Anyway, I'll go back to bed now and just think about nice things. Like pretty paper and soft, moist Danish pastries. Or these two cuties:


Sofia at Linton Zoo




Lucas in Cambridge

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

because i could have been a drag queen in one of my past lives. . .

. . . I am fond of gay men, especially gorgeous ones like John Barrowman. This guy just kills me. He's the perfect gay man—extremely good-looking, funny and talented. And thanks to YouTube, I found a few video clips of him performing onstage, singing proper songs (unlike the abominable Air Supply song that he recorded for his album; why, John, why?). This one, with the equally amazing Ruthie Henshall (a fag hag, I bet), is one of my favourites. It's a lovely distraction from all the not-so-good things that are happening to and around me right now.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

i was feeling down . . .

I don't know what got over me the other day, but I just felt really low. I have been doing ten minutes of exercise every morning as soon as I wake up (in my desperate attempt to lose a bit of extra weight in time for a friend's hen do at the end of the month), but on that day, I couldn't even be bothered to stretch my toes. I was supposed to do some yoga during my lunch break (it was a homeworking day), but I pigged out on crisps and chocolates instead.

By evening, I was feeling so low and frustrated with my sluggishness that I decided to do something that never fails to cheer me up—cook a Filipino dish! After a quick rummage through the fridge and the kitchen cupboards, I managed to cook this:



This is bistek Tagalog, but instead of using beef, I used a pair of yellowfin tuna steaks (bought from the frozen food section of Waitrose, which meant they were a lot cheaper than they would be if I bought them fresh). Bistek derives its name from the Spanish bistec, which means "beef steak." I used to think that this is how all beef steaks were cooked, marinated in soy sauce and kalamansi (Philippine lemons, which actually resemble limes) juice, then cooked in the marinade along with onion rings, which give the dish a hint of sweetness. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that Westerners cook their steaks in a less imaginative way (in my Easterner's opinion anyway).

Anyway, this was exactly what I needed to lift my spirits up—soul food that brings me back to the place I love most. I definitely felt a lot better after cooking and eating my bistek. The tuna steaks were lovely, and absorbed just the right amount of the marinade to give them the sour-salty flavour. Bistek is simple enough to make, and I normally don't follow any measurements when I prepare it. Here's how I cooked my tuna bistek. Needless to say, this will apply to other "bistek-able" things, such as beef and pork chops. Just make sure to slice your beef and pork chops thinly to help them absorb the marinade better. They'll need more time to marinate as well, although the longest I have marinated them is three hours, and they've still come out really nicely flavoured.

Ingredients:

dark soy sauce
juice of half a lemon
medium onion, sliced into rings
2 tuna steaks, weighing around 300 grams

Combine some dark soy sauce and the lemon juice in a bowl. Put the steaks in the bowl and cover and store in the fridge for about an hour. Heat up a little oil in a frying pan and cook the onion rings gently, until they're soft and transparent. Remove from the heat and set aside. Fry the tuna steaks in the same pan for about 4 minutes on each side. Add the marinade, bring to a boil and simmer gently for a few minutes. Add the onion rings and let them absorb some of the sauce before turning the heat off. Serve with rice and steamed vegetables. Enjoy!

Tonight, I shall attempt to cook squid adobo. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

how to feed your baby doll: a lesson from sofia



First, position your dolly and take her nice clothes off because if you don't, if she's anything like you, she'll end up looking grubby after her meal.




Aim as close as you can for her mouth. If you can't put the food in her mouth, any other facial orifice will do.




If the food doesn't fit in your dolly's mouth (or the alternative orifice), trim it down to a suitable size by biting bits off.




Hmmm, actually, this tastes very nice. Yum.




Give your dolly a cuddle for watching you patiently while you ate her food.




Continue eating your dolly's food until you're satisfied, making sure to cuddle her at the same time.




Don't forget to drink your milk!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

a lull

A month of hectic work timetables, stressful waiting-for-s-to-get-done-with-his-exam, and watching Sofia make her way to toddlerhood has passed. I've done a lot of data work and administrative stuff and evaluating other people's data problems and sorting out solutions for them, and now we've entered a quiet phase at work. I'm spending the week just going over old publications and sprucing them up a bit. I'll try and enjoy this because I know that in a week's time, it could all go mad again.

S took his exam a couple of weeks ago, and is now just waiting for the results. In the meantime, we're making up for lost time by spending more time together as a family.

We still haven't planned our summer holiday though. I think we'll concentrate on decorating the house first in time for the arrival of our new lounge furniture, which is this set from Furniture Village. Our friends' eyes widened when we told them we chose the set to come in brilliant white. Yes, you read it right. We might happen to have two small children, both known to be unable to resist smearing nice clean surfaces with mud, tomato sauce, milk, chocolate, crayons and paints, but we're not going to let that stop us from having brilliant white leather furniture. We've insured the set, just in case, and I'm psyching myself for a new house chore—cleaning the set at least once a week!



I'd like to paint the lounge walls a pale blue, to make it look nice and bright. S wants to make it even brighter by painting the walls off-white. I'm not sure about that; I don't really want the lounge to end up looking boring and antiseptic. I told S that if we were to go for white walls, we'd have to get some bright and bold accessories, but even after I showed him photos of an all-white room with bright green accessories, he said he'd still be happier with white walls. I don't know how else to convince him to go for pale blue instead.

As for the dining room, we're thinking of stripping the carpet off and replacing it with hardwood. Because we have a toddler who insists on feeding herself and ends every meal by throwing food on the floor (as far as her arms can reach, so the food lands on the carpet, not on the splash mat under her chair), our dining room carpet is extremely grubby. We could either invest in a Vax or just change the flooring to make it easier to clean up the little madam's mess.


Little miss mess maker grabs master mess maker's schoolbook because she thinks she's a better reader than he is



I'm also getting a tall and wide bookcase with glass doors to store my books, a cupboard to serve as our art cabinet (an idea from The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule), and, if we manage to save enough money, a digital piano for Lucas. S and I think he's nearly ready for piano lessons, so we're thinking of signing him up for some lessons in the summer. I'm so excited for my boy, as I had always wanted to learn to play a musical instrument when I was a child, but my parents couldn't afford either a musical instrument or the lessons. S's parents were very musical, but did not teach their children to play music, so S feels sad about that. Hence, we're making up for what we didn't get by making sure our children have the option of learning music. And of course, Sofia will be taking ballet lessons too. (I've already asked around, and the ideal age to start is 3. Two long years to wait!) And S would like Lucas to take martial arts classes too. So yeah, our children will be busy. :)

Anyway, I must go back to work, and squeeze in some housework as well. (Can you tell that I'm working at home today?) We've had a lot of rain here in Cambridgeshire, but the sun has decided to come out and say hello today. Apparently, it will go into hiding again, and there'll be even more rain on Friday, when I have to be in the office. Ah, the British weather. No wonder the British people can't help but talk about it! :)

Thursday, 1 May 2008

maira!

Just found this short film on one of my favourite artists in the whole wide world, Maira Kalman. I could gush all day about her work. I've bought a number of her children's books for Lucas (Next Stop Grand Central is his favourite) and I was so pleased to hear last year that she had published The Principles of Uncertainty, which was first serialized in the New Yorker. I got Simon to buy a copy for me as a Christmas present. (I actually ended up with two copies because the first one that Amazon sent had a tear on the flyleaf, so Simon asked for another copy and they said that the return postage would cost them a lot so they just gave the first copy to him!) I've spent hours just leafing through the pages, studying the pictures. Maira's pictures, at first glance, look like they were painted by a child. But if you take a closer look at them, you'll be amazed at the colours and details. And of course, there's that childlike innocence in her pictures that just draw you in and don't leave you feeling intimidated. Sigh. Anyway, enjoy the video!

Edit: The original video I linked to has disappeared, so I've replaced it with this one of Maira's TED talk in 2007. If you don't know TED, go visit the website—it contains a wealth of talks by a great variety of famous and not-so-famous people, each one with ideas worth thinking about.

Friday, 25 April 2008

WIP it good



I'm trying to keep my eyes open right now by drinking a can of Coke, something I gave up a few years ago. Last night was one of those nights you hoped you'd never have again once your baby started sleeping through the night. I stayed up until 1 a.m. trying to comfort an eleven-month-old with a clogged nose, who couldn't understand why she couldn't suck her thumb and breathe at the same time. Then I got woken up again at 4 a.m. and had to stay in her room, curled up in the nursing chair with her in my arms until it was time to get up and get Lucas ready for school.

She's now sleeping blissfully (I hope) in her room, while I tiptoe around the house, trying not to worry too much about my long to-do list. Ah well. How can I be annoyed with her anyway when she's this cute?



Despite the illnesses that have been coming and going, the two little ones are doing well. Tomorrow I'll take them on a bus trip to Cambridge, which will be Sofia's first bus ride. I just hope I'll get enough sleep tonight or I probably won't have any energy to do a lot of walking tomorrow, even if it's in beautiful Cambridge.




Anyway, enough complaining. I haven't done much crafting lately, but there are a couple of things I've been working on. One of them is this amigurumi. Can you guess what it is?



No, silly, it's not a mouse. It's an elephant! It's something that I'm making for Sofia, as she doesn't have a cuddly elephant yet.

The fabric for the dress I'm making for Sofia has also been cut and the pieces are just waiting to be sewn together.



I got the cute flower buttons from John Lewis. I don't know how practical they are on a little girl's dress, especially when the little girl is an exceptionally wriggly one, but they were just too pretty to ignore.




The other day, I thought I'd take out my measly fabric collection and take photos of them to see which ones would look good together. Erm, am I the only one who enjoys looking at her fabrics so much that she has to take them out every day to see and touch them? I'm not, right? Right?



This one's my favourite of the lot. It's an Alexander Henry cotton fabric that I found on ebay. It cost a fair bit, so I decided to buy just half a yard. Problem is, I like it so much that I can't think of any project worthy of it. :)



Like I said, my collection is very small. Yesterday, however, two new pieces arrived in the post!



I was so excited I ripped up the envelope these fabrics came in. They're Japanese cotton canvas fabrics that I ordered from Kitty Craft last week. They're not cheap, but they're absolutely gorgeous and worth every penny. Just look at the cute turtles!



And I love this geometric print!



Kitty Craft was also nice enough to send me a complimentary piece of fabric with my order. And sharp girl that she is, she knew which colourway I was going for and sent me this cute green panda fabric.



Plus, a handwritten thank-you note. How nice! This is what actually drew me to the handmade craft community on the net. Aside from making beautiful handmade stuff, these crafters also know how to put a personal touch to the items they sell.


I took one look at the geometric print fabric and knew at once that it has to be made into a bag. Never having sewn a bag before, I immediately consulted my beginner sewing books to look for the easiest pattern.



I decided to go for Amy Karol's simple tote pattern. So today the new fabrics are going in the wash and hopefully tomorrow evening, there will be some sewing going on!

Friday, 4 April 2008

dude, i (almost) ruined the kaserola

Last month I started feeling that I had lost my cooking mojo. Simple dishes like spaghetti bolognese would turn out either too dry or too watery. My Easter Sunday roast pork was first undercooked, then after another hour of cooking, came out too dry. And don't even get me started on the roast vegetables. Suffice it to say that I felt obliged to eat most of them.

Why on earth I decided to cook braised beef in soy sauce, an untried recipe, despite my bad run in the kitchen I just do not know. There must be a masochist hiding inside me. Anyway, I just decided one day a few weeks ago that instead of cooking my usual beef afritada, which Simon and the kids love (yes, even Sofia!), I would try braised beef in soy sauce instead. So I went recipe-browsing on the internets, found one that didn't call for beer or some other ghastly ingredient I would never dream of putting in my food, and proceeded to cook. The recipe called for dry sherry. We had medium dry sherry, so I poured some onto the braising steak that I bought from Waitrose, added a cup of soy sauce, switched the cooker on, and went into the lounge to play with Lucas and Sofia.

Fifteen minutes later, I walked into the kitchen to find it filled with smoke. Yup, I burned the beef. And the casserole pot. I had completely forgotten that I was using a volatile liquid in cooking, and hence should have kept checking it every few minutes. The beef was unsalvageable, so I had to serve the family a tub of reheated afritada instead.

For days I soaked and scrubbed the pot, and through sheer perseverance, I managed to make it come out clean again. Just in time for cooking a meal for a newfound friend and her little daughter. And what did I cook in my kaserola? Beef afritada, of course.

It took me another few weeks to try cooking braised beef again (yes, there's definitely a masochist in here somewhere). This time I made sure to check the pot every five minutes. And you know what? The result wasn't so bad. In fact, Lucas enjoyed it a lot. So yeah, cooking mojo's back. But I think I'd still prefer beef afritada to braised beef any day!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

wishes do come true

Remember how I was pining for a Janome sewing machine last year? Well I haven't posted anything about it for ages, but in September, to celebrate our wedding anniversary, the hubby bought one for me! Here's a photo of that wonderful sunny day. See how the little one looks a bit worried that her mummy seems to have found a new baby. Hee.



Unfortunately, I have not made anything with the machine yet. For ages I was so scared of trying it out lest I did something horribly wrong to it. Again, it was the hubby who helped me by showing me how to thread the machine and do basic stitches with it. Indeed, I had no reason to fear the machine. I do fear sewing patterns though. I bought a couple of Simplicity patterns for baby dresses and dear me, Sofia will soon graduate to toddlerhood, but I still haven't gotten round to sewing the dresses. It took me a long time—and about ten sewing books for beginners—to understand half of the sewing instructions. I only just recently bought the notions I need. I have cut out the patterns, and all I need to do now is iron them, cut the fabric, and sew sew sew! I'm really excited albeit a bit apprehensive too. But I will definitely get started on it as soon as I finish the book I'm editing.