What are you reading?

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Are you a reader?

I grew up in a house of books; obscure and familiar, high-brow and low-brow, trashy and treasured.  An egalitarian wall of bookshelves meant that there was always something to read, and new discoveries to be made.  The collated volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica informed numerous homework assignments, Judy Blume navigated me through adolescence and later a diverse collection of philosophers fuelled my existential angst and earned me a university degree.  Even now whenever we come together as a family, someone will always ask on the first evening ‘what are you reading at the moment?’.

Discovering new authors is always a joy; exhausting the works of others always a sombre moment; Nora Ephron and Carol Shields feature prominently in my collection.

This Christmas and New Year break, I seized the chance to catch up on some great reads, old and new.  The Rocks and Fates and Furies were novels I’d read rave reviews of and which didn’t disappoint; both span decades and navigate the intricacies of marriage and friendship.  As a contrast, Julia Child’s autobiography of her years living in Paris and discovering – nay, Mastering! – the art of French cooking was a mesmerising read and made me immediately want to relocate to France and change career  (p.s. have you seen this film?  I watch it again and again…).

great novels to try

I was given some beautiful books for Christmas, including this one…

French laundry Cookbook

I’m smitten – and also completely outclassed – by the beautiful, complex recipes and preparations outlined in The French Laundry Cookbook, which is essentially a coffee-table cookbook, if such an idea were not intrinsically absurd.  Most of the cookbooks I read end in phrases like ‘… Made Simple’  or begin with ‘How to Cheat at…’, so this was a delicious and aspirational read.  Apart from posing with the book above, I have so far only mastered the important step of learning how to fold a napkin with a clothes peg, of which I am very proud.  Sauces and soufflés can wait for the springtime.  Or maybe never.  We’ll see.

Another gift; this gorgeous interiors book which celebrates imperfect homes and the contrast of old and new; flawed and smooth.  It’s made me wander thooughtfully around the house and move things around, to the great consternation of my husband, who finds nothing where he expects it to be these days. ‘Wabi-sabi‘ I whisper to him confidently as I waft past. ‘Transcience is the essence of beauty’.  I would best describe his expression as Unconvinced.  Two other recent, covetable reads; this book on colour which makes me want to paint my walls a deep, inky blue, and this one by stylist Sibella Court that’s an escapist work of art in itself.

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The last book I bought – two copies in fact – I haven’t yet read.  Harry and I have a new tradition; whenever I am travelling for work, I send him an iphone audio clip each day of me reading a chapter from a new story book, so that he can listen at bedtime each night, hearing my voice and following along at home under the covers.  It connects us and spans the distance of oceans and timezones.  Last time we read Jeremy Thatcher: Dragon Catcher (boys and pet dragons; what could be better?) and this time it will be James and the Giant Peach.  I’m looking forward to it as much as he is…

Roald Dahl

But now I need a new novel; my bedside pile is running low.  What are you reading right now; do you have any recommendations?

p.s. The ten most beautiful libraries in the world; I want to visit them all…

p.p.s. Top photo of Nigella Lawson in her library at home c.James Merrell for House and Garden 2004; all others my own.

Have a wonderful week!

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The Scent of Winter

Scented winter fire starters

Happy Sunday!

It’s been a frosty, overcast weekend here in this small corner of England, and each evening we’ve laid a fire in the hearth and drawn the curtains against the closing of the day; it’s a time for Hygge – for comfort, warmth and home.

To get the fire off to a crackling, scented start I made these bundles packed with clippings from …
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Down Under

Happy New Year!!  We’re just back from our extended roam around Australia; an amazing, amazing trip to visit family and experience a totally new-to-us continent. Here’s a few highlights if you’d like to see…

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Sydney Opera House, shot in morning sunlight from the Manly Ferry as we swung into Circular Quay

We began with a few days in Sydney, staying with my brother …
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Happy Christmas!!

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Driftwood and tiny shells from the beach at Port Stephens, NSW

Happy Christmas!

The big day has arrived in Australia, and we began last night with champagne and prawns on the barbecue; then today, a dip in the ocean (below).  A very Aussie Christmas, and a magical one.  Santa found us, leaving a …
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An Extraordinary Adventure!

Usually at this point in December, our home would be festively adorned, bedecked with wintery tableaux and with the fir lady preparing to make her annual seasonal entrance.  Instead, suitcases are down from the loft and checklists being drawn up and steadily ticked off as we prepare

…to go to Australia!

This year, for the first time ever we will be away for Christmas, going down under to Sydney to stay …
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Festive Stained-Glass Luminary Cards

Luminary Bauble Cards

Hello! Are you feeling festive yet?  We’ve had a Christmassy weekend, hunting down the perfect tree (I love the smell of resin and fir; even the myriad of inevitable small needle puncture-wounds that track my hands and arms are worth it…) and crunching through nearby fields of frost. Yesterday afternoon we lit a fire and retreated indoors, and made batches of these tissue-paper …
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Holiday Gifting: DIY kids desk art calendar

Each year at about this time I start to think in earnest about Christmas gifts, and Harry and I plan things that we can make for the biggest people in his life; grandparents, godparents… something homemade, for those who love him the most.  This year, we’re making desk calendars made from his favourite drawings and paintings over the last year…

DIY Desk Calendar made from kids art
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Vintage Treasures

A couple of weeks ago on my birthday I took the day off work and went to the IACF antique fair; a huge, sprawling open-air display of antiques, treasures, artefacts from old houses, junk and collectors pieces.  A little slice of heaven for me, albeit a frosty cold and bone-chillingly windy one.  Here, for those who have a similar unrequited love affair with all things old and lost, are some of my best finds, …
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Happy Halloween!

Skyline pumpkin

Happy Halloween!

I hadn’t carved a pumpkin since I was a little girl, so this weekend Harry and I decided to give it a go.  I’d forgotten just how much mush, seeds, grunt-work and elbow grease are involved in hollowing out pumpkins; any tips for shortcuts would be very welcome for next time.

For Harry’s we used cookie cutters and a hammer to stamp out bat …
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October!

I love October.  There’s something about the changing of the seasons and the arrival of the first frost …and the very, very first beginnings of the whisper of Christmas (I know, I know!! I can’t help it).

Here are some of the things we’ve been upto;

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Making yummy gingerbread ghost cookies with some spooky Halloween cutters (recipe here).  I made and froze some extra batches …
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In Praise of Autumn

This weekend has been a beautiful one so far, in the way that only a crisp, October weekend can.  Chilly mornings, pierced with brilliant sunshine and a newfound freshness.  In the park, horse chestnuts crunched under our feet and leaves swirled in the breeze; we wore our coats and scarves for the first time; shedding them after only a few minutes as the warmth broke through.

Inspired, Harry and I carefully picked some pumpkins and …
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