Bricks and mortar or shoes?

Last week after a great deal of deliberation, and in my case a considerable amount of angst, we came to the decision that it was time to sell our house in England.  Our tenant had given notice for early in the New Year and it seemed that the time was right to sell rather than continue renting out the house.  For me deciding to sell was not an easy decision, as since we moved last year still owning a house in England was the equivalent of a big security blanket; somewhere I could run back to.  Although what our tenants would have made of me turning up unannounced hot off the plane from Canada I am really not sure – I imagine, faced with a mad eyed woman on their doorstep they would probably have been well within their rights to call the police, and have me evicted!

Having been lucky enough to sell our house pretty much overnight (not wanting to tempt fate I will of course be keeping my fingers crossed until the contracts are signed), now it is time for the really big decisions.  In a nut shell, do we look for a house to buy in Canada and make our stay here more permanent?  Or, do we buy another house in England to go home to when our work visa expires?  Essentially this feels like a “proper” grown-up decision, one which will most likely shape the next 5 to 10 years (or possibly more) of our lives.  Rather than allowing job location or simply the need for a bigger house to accommodate our growing family to dictate our next move, we have to come to a decision of what will be best for us and where we want to make our next and more permanent home.  A decision which is, in more ways than one, of transatlantic proportions.  Where do we want our next home to be?

As we continue to think, discuss the pros and cons and debate what our next move should be, at the back of my mind there is of course a third option; I could always forget the bricks and mortar and spend the money on shoes!

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Christmas Lights

Our outdoor Christmas light display is currently the subject of much debate in our house.

Last weekend, keen to get the lights up before the temperature dropped too low, my husband made a stab at installing the lights (for the record we do not switch them on until 1st December).  Eager to avoid my “helpful” input, he did this whilst I was out!  Perhaps I should applaud his proactive efforts to get the house ready for Christmas, but instead, I am ashamed to admit I have been particularly critical.

I felt that our outdoor light display last year was rather amateur (the lights on the garage were hickledy pickledy and the lights wrapped around the tree on the front lawn were so tightly wound they gave the impression of a tourniquet).  This year I was determined that we would do very much better and in preparation have bought several more strings of lights.  I was therefore a little dismayed to return home to find the lights installed in exactly the same configuration as last year.  The boxes of new lights unopened and overlooked.  Upon expressing this sentiment it was obvious that I was considered more than ungrateful and my comments were definitely not welcomed.

As we continue to “discuss” my husband’s initial complete refusal to adjust and embellish the Christmas lights has turned to one of weary acceptance (he knows full well I will not let the subject go) and he has agreed to get the ladder back out and add in the multiple extra strings of lights.  Equally, I have sensed that whilst he will hang more lights it would be prudent for me to avoid giving too much direction.  Or this is what I understood from his subtle remark that if I continued to dictate he would “wrap said lights around my neck and pull tight”.

So we compromise, I get my extra lights but they will twinkle in the lopsided haphazard fashion favoured by my husband!

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The Walk in Closet

I sometimes have to ask myself if the walk in closet is a good thing?

Before we moved to Canada my husband and I adequately shared a double wardrobe.  Admittedly it was a little over full, and shirts and dresses often needed a good shake to eliminate the worst of the creases from the jostling they had had to endure in the closet.  But, it was what we had, all we had room for and we considered it perfectly acceptable and managed with our lot.

Since moving, we have acquired a fantastically sized walk in closet, so big that it requires its own heating source and is fully lit.  There is more than enough space for all of my clothes, shoes and bags to reside in wrinkle free splendour.  I have even been known, when family life forces me to seek five minutes of solice and respite to hide out in the closet; there is ample room to sit down for a peaceful cup of tea with a glossy magazine, and with the door closed I can go undetected for quite some time – bliss!

So, you may well ask, why I would even begin to question the value of such an obvious asset.  The problem is the capacity it allows for mess.

It seems that the closet is where my very well hidden but extremely untidy inner self is allowed to express itself.  Whilst I tidy the rest of the house on a daily basis, my closet is growing more and more cluttered.  Scarves, hats and sweaters explode off the built-in shelving units and the hanging space is full to capacity. It has now reached a point where it is physically impossible to select your outfit for the day without picking your way over an obstacle course of discarded shoes and bags.  My husband, bleary eyed at 6am, has been known on more than one occasion to be found on the floor of the closet, cursing as he yet again trips over the jumble of handbags in his efforts to reach a clean shirt for work!

To be honest, I am not sure how this has happened – surely I have not bought this many new clothes over the course of the last year?  All I can say is at least the closet door can be firmly shut to conceal the chaos, but perhaps that is the problem … out of sight out of mind, leaving me with no incentive to tidy.

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Dishwasher Debacle

Our dishwasher has just been condemned by the service engineer.  To be honest this did not really come as a great surprise as it was not only slowly leaking onto the kitchen floor but at the at the end of the cycle the dishes were not really very much cleaner, and were covered in an attractive layer of what I can only really describe as “silt”.

This particular dishwasher was one of the most antiquated appliances I have ever seen (possibly it would have sat well on the Ark and Noah would not have been concerned about his ticking water meter as the rain came down!), but it was also ridiculously noisy.  So noisy that not only was it impossible to hear the TV whilst it was running, but the whole house actually seemed to reverberate to its noise.  Strangely, whilst it clunked and whirled and drove us mad, to be without a dishwasher is causing much greater consternation.  Apparently, the average dishwasher washes 128 items per load, this, if my maths is correct, is an incredible 896 items per week!  Which give or take a few dishes depending on how efficiently you load your machine, adds up to an awful lot of washing up.

Now whilst we wait for our landlord to hopefully replace the broken dishwasher (realistically, this could take a while; last winter I had to operate the oven using a screwdriver for over two weeks after the control switch sheared off) I have a couple of options.  I could either buy some beautiful new tea towels and embrace the situation, or adopt a more belligerent approach and pop out for a fantastic manicure which would preclude washing up all together!

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Tea towels from Not on the High


Globetrotting Deer

Driving swim carpool earlier this week we had to pause as we approached the pool to let a deer cross the road in front of us.  Complete with a mighty set of antlers and a very graceful lope he was a pretty impressive sight.  Infact the general consensus in the car was that this was even better than the beaver we had spotted chomping on a stick a few weeks earlier (we are still trying to fathom out what the beaver was doing at the roadside).  As we drove on, one of the girls I was taking to practice that night treated us to a “fascinating fact”:

In his lifetime a deer walks the equivalent of twice around the world.

I admit that I have not attempted to verify this fact, as I was just so taken with the notion of deer majestically circling the globe.

So please, keep your eyes open and look out for the deer we saw this week as he continues on his round the world trip, and send him back my way.

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Christmas Shopping

With only 46 days now left until Christmas and last international postage dates rapidly approaching it is definitely time for me to embark on that crazy assault on the shops which is Christmas shopping.  As this year I really want to avoid having to make a panic stricken dash to the post office with seconds to spare before they call time on the Christmas post.  I am determined that I will be relaxing smugly on the sofa with a drink watching a Christmas movie rather than frazzled and manically wrapping presents late into the night the week before the big day, cursing the broken tape dispenser and by 1am all things festive!

Unfortunately despite my good intentions this week, I have found myself all too easily distracted from the task in hand, and to say progress made has been pedestrian would be generous.  Essentially I have found myself led astray by all things glittery (and sadly I do not mean diamonds!), and have returned from the shops not with thoughtful gifts but with yet more Christmas decorations.  I won’t even go into the ever growing mountain of festively scented candles that I now have squirreled away in the spare bedroom.

Tomorrow, I have persuaded my husband to take a day off work to help me shop.  Together we will perform a pincer pronged attack on the mall.  I will keep focused and we will jump start our efforts to punctually prepare for once.  Most importantly, I will avoid the distractions of yet more glittery baubles, and will actually start working through the gift shopping list.  That is of course once we have been out for lunch – optimistically we should have 45 minutes of shopping time before we have to get back for the school run ….

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Not so green fingered

About a month ago I bought a greenhouse, or to be more accurate one of those mini-greenhouses the sort of thing you fit onto your kitchen windowsill or a sunny shelf in the utility room.  I was going to grow herbs.  I would cultivate a wide variety of fantastic smelling herbs; they would be the perfect accompaniment to whatever I was cooking.  I would have fresh herbs at my fingertips whatever the weather.

Coming from a family of expert gardeners (my Mum proudly refers to herself as a gardening “anorak”) with their beautiful flowers and abundant crops of vegetables, how could my project fail, gardening was clearly in my blood!  I would be the next Monty Don.  Yes, my greenhouse was just the start; first herbs, then I would dig over the vegetable patch …. possibly even my own successful farmer’s market stall?

I enthusiastically potted my herbs, watered them and placed the greenhouse in the sunniest spot I could find, exhorting my son to please not practice his Taekwondo in that corner of the kitchen.  I took pictures of my beautiful herbs and e-mailed the shots to my long suffering family, boring them with the details of my latest project.  I sat back and waited for my plants to flourish.

A month on and the sad reality of my herb garden reproaches me from the corner of the kitchen.  My once green herbs are dried out and wilting and the potting compost sprouts a disgusting layer of mould.  Killed, not by kindness, but by neglect, as unfortunately it seems that my enthusiasm for this project did not extend to remembering to water!  The same sort of neglect which has seen off every house plant I have ever brought home within a week.

Whilst I may be a little disheartened by my lack of initial success, I am not deterred and my greenhouse will not be consigned to the garage to gather dust.  Conjuring up the image of the delicious homemade pesto I will soon be making from my very own crop of basil, I will be sowing basil seeds this afternoon.

Dream on ….

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Slippery Slope

Yesterday I crossed a line, one of those imaginary lines which until now I was adamant I would never under any circumstances cross …. I bought an electric blanket!

With winter now most definitely here and the first flakes of snow in the air (only a few and you had to squint to see them, but they were there!), how to keep warm and “survive” another Canadian winter is one of my main causes for concern.  With temperatures dipping below zero at night and the air a little more than crisp my feet seem to have morphed into blocks of ice and I am genuinely concerned that if I do not act then permafrost will set in and my toes may well not defrost again until spring.

Given this, drastic action was called for.  Turning up the heating a couple of degrees, shutting the window and pulling the overstuffed goose feather duvet up to my chin all helped, but I was still cold.  After some consideration the solution was of course obvious – invest in an electric blanket.

The only problem was that this would mean having to admit that I was wrong!  In the past I have been quick to admonish and openly mock electric blankets, considering them the preserve of the senior citizen (on a level with the bedside tea maker!).  Could I really buy one?  Well, it seems I could and have done …. so, hands up, I will say it, “I was wrong”.

And whilst my electric blanket may not be cool, this winter I will be warm.  I just have to work out how to operate the temperature dials first ….

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Bonfire Night Toffee and Chocolate Chip Muffins

As you know if you have read my previous post, I absolutely love Bonfire Night, so it will come as no surprise that this morning I have been making Bonfire Night themed Toffee and Chocolate Chip Muffins.

Making the frosting did lead to a small domestic incident, when my husband found the camera abandoned in the corner of the kitchen covered in sticky finger prints and a liberal dusting of toffee frosting on the zoom lens!

This muffin recipe is adapted from a Halloween recipe posted by Cath Kidston I felt the flavours were just as perfect for Bonfire Night.


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For this muffin recipe you will need:

150g (6oz / 1.2 cups) of self-raising flour *
3 large eggs
150g (6oz / ¾ cup) margarine
150g (6oz / ¾ cup) sugar
1½ teaspoons of vanilla extract
25g (1oz / ¼ cup) of toffee pieces
50g (2oz / ½ cup) of chocolate chips (a combination of white and milk)
3 tablespoons of milk
6 tablespoons of golden syrup

*  I have found I cannot buy good self-raising flour in Canada, so use all-purpose instead.  For this recipe I substitute 3 teaspoons of all-purpose flour for 3 teaspoons of baking powder.

For the frosting:
75g (3oz / 1/cup) of butter
200g (8oz / 1 cup) of dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons of milk
250g (10oz / 2 ½ cups) of icing / confectioners’ sugar

Makes 12 muffins

  • Heat the oven to 190°C / 375°F / Gas Mark 5 and line a 12 hole muffin tray with paper cases.
  • Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the eggs, margarine, sugar and vanilla extract.
  • Beat well until all of the ingredients are combined (I find using an electric stand mixer is not only easier and quicker, but leads to better results too, of course you can mix by hand if you prefer).
  • Add the milk and beat to combine.
  • Add the toffee pieces and chocolate chips and stir through.
  • Spoon into the paper cases.
  • Bake for approximately 25 minutes (until risen and lightly browned).
  • Remove from the muffins from the tray and place on a cooling rack.
  • Drizzle approximately ½ tablespoon of golden syrup over the top of each muffin (do this whilst the cakes are still warm).
  • To make the frosting melt the butter, brown sugar and milk in a non-stick pan over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes stirring occasionally (watch this mixture carefully as it makes a very sticky mess if it boils over).
  • Remove from the heat and beat in the icing / confectioners’ sugar (I would definitely recommend using an electric whisk).
  • Spread the frosting (or pipe if you prefer) onto the muffins using a palette knife and top with a few toffee pieces.
  • The frosting will be quite runny when first made, but sets very quickly as it cools, so it is best to decorate the muffins as quickly as possible.

Accessorize with a mini-sparkler for your very own Bonfire Night in a paper case!

Remember, Remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Sparklers!

Now that we are into November with it’s awful short days, dropping temperatures and the threat of snow (everyone is telling me that it will be a “proper” winter this year, I am not sure I really want to know what that means as I thought my first Canadian winter last year was the coldest and longest I had ever experienced!), winter is definitely on the way.  Subscribing as I do to the theory that if there are more than two inches of snow on the ground you really shouldn’t leave the house, and you most certainly shouldn’t drive, the thought of weeks of cold weather, lack of sunshine and how on earth I am going to manage to keep my feet warm, does make me feel a little bit sad.  Some things do make this descent into winter worthwhile; of course there is the excuse to go shopping for a fabulous new black polo neck and that winter coat which I don’t just want but need; but also, and one of my favourite events on the winter calendar, Bonfire Night.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason, and plot.

Whilst I tend to feel that celebrating the execution of Guy Fawkes for his failed attempt to blow up the King and Parliament is fairly macabre, the poor man was hung drawn and quartered after all; this moment of 17th century history has led to a fantastic celebration.  I love pulling on an extra warm pair of socks under my welly boots, the smell of the bonfire, sausages and hot chocolate, and watching the “guy” go up in flames as I eagerly await the start of the firework display.  Who cares if the display (as they invariably seem to) runs an hour later than scheduled, who notices the crick in your neck or feels a bit of a fool when you realise (and yes, it is always me) that you are the only person over the age of four shouting “ooh, isn’t it pretty” with every firework that goes off!

As you can imagine it has been a bit of a disappointment (but understandable) to find that Bonfire Night and our British anti-hero, Guy Fawkes, are not celebrated in Canada.  Last year I was pretty stoical and the event went unmarked in our house.  This year, I am reverting to type and will exercise no such restraint.  I will be taking my flask of mulled wine into the back garden, slipping on my warmest pair of mittens and lighting the biggest sparkliest sparkler I can find, to write my name in the air.  Cheers Guy Fawkes!

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