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18 posts from April 2010

30 April 2010

Today I Am Mostly …

…liking this colour combination

 

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Actually I think I like this better as my ‘April’ picture.

Apropos doesn’t anyone else want to link a photo to the April photo carnival below? Firstly the lack of entries is getting highly embarrassing. And secondly, don’t you all want server-crushing blog traffic as we all come flocking over to see what you’ve done? 

28 April 2010

Last Night’s Supper – Roasted Asparagus and Halibut with Tomato-Lime Butter

This supper couldn’t be more seasonal, delicious, easy or quick, making it perfect for a midweek supper.

The halibut round these parts is rightly famous, but you could make this with any firm white fish, and Washington asparagus is finger-licking good. 

 

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Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound pencil-thick asparagus

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 1-inch thick halibut fillets, about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/4 cup roasted tomatoes, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon each dried thyme and oregano

1/4 teaspoon lime zest

Juice of 1/2 lime

 

I got this recipe from the website of PCC our local, and favourite, supermarket.  Click on the link to get the recipe but essentially all you do is dress the asparagus with the oil, salt and pepper and place it in a roasting pan next to the halibut fillets topped with a flavoured butter made by combining the rest of the ingredients. If you can’t find roasted tomatoes in oil at your local supermarket, sundried tomatoes would work, or you could make your own by grilling/broiling or baking some cherry tomatoes sprayed with olive oil beforehand.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F/230degrees C/Gas Mark 8 and then put the whole dish in the oven for 10-12 minutes until the fish is opaque. See what I mean about easy? We served ours with some tiny potatoes but I was too busy eating to take a picture. This would be stunning with Jersey Royals (how I MISS Jersey Royals).

April Photo Gallery

 

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{Fading Lilacs}

 

Did anyone take on my April photo challenge? The idea is to post a photo up on your blog which sums up ‘April’ to you, post a link to the blog post below and then we all go and have a look at it.

Here’s mine, though it’s a little bit of a cheat as lilacs to me are more usually ‘May’. But they’re fading so fast this year that I had to get in quick. And I like this pic in B&W so have added that too.

I’ve linked to my blog below so you can see how this works. You’ve got a week to link to your own post.

26 April 2010

Palm Springs Afternoon Trip – Aerial Tramway

 

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We were very pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the landscape around Palm Springs. We most certainly weren’t expecting snow-capped mountains (nor the hugely impressive wind farm just outside the town, I love wind farms ).

 

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We drove about ten minutes out of Palm Springs to a fold in the San Jacinto mountains and then headed UP.

 

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I’ve been in a fair few cable cars in my life, but this was definitely among the most scary as the cliff face is pretty much perpendicular at some points and it was VERY easy to imagine crashing to a spectacular death. Matters were not helped by the base of the car turning slowly round to give everyone a 360 degree view and make it impossible to avoid looking at the terrifying bits. 

And look what we did when we got to the top! So NOT what we expected to be doing in Palm Springs.

 

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Here’s the view of the windfarm down below.  You get a much better idea of just how arid it is.

 

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And there’s Palm Springs itself, looking noticeably greener.

 

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All in all it was good to spend an afternoon among the pine trees in PS.  I would think it would be really fabulous when the temperatures down below get really excruciating.

 

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23 April 2010

Yet More Tulips

Last weekend we made out annual pilgrimage to the tulip fields north of Seattle.  To be honest this year was a bit of bunfight – the weather was glorious and as most of the fields had already been topped due to the early spring, it seemed like the whole of Seattle was standing round the edges of the few remaining uncut fields (note carefully cropped photos below).

But there’s still something incredibly joyous about the patchwork fields of colour and if you live in the Pacific Northwest I do highly recommend a trip out there (though not this weekend, the fields are already empty).

 

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Photos from 2009 here

Photos from 2007 here 

 

Is anyone working on an ‘April’ photo? I’m going to get the gallery up next week, though I still need to figure out my contribution. 

22 April 2010

Salty Knits

 

For the three or so readers who care about my knitting projects, I am still knitting.  I’ve just been totally bogged down in a sweater project,though I can finally see light at the end of the tunnel. I’m currently sewing it up and hopefully will have pics by next week. I bet you can’t wait.

Some people have, however, been knitting up a storm in West Cape May, New Jersey.

Search results for salty knits

{All images from Salty Knits Facebook page}

 

The mysterious people behind Salty Knits creep out at night and put up the most fabulous ‘knitted graffiti’. Calling themselves ‘mystery knitters who are sick of knittin kitten mittens’, they’ve got a very active Facebook page too.

Unfortunately, as fast as they can knit, someone has been taking all the knitting down, as they’re legally entitled to do since it’s on public property. 

But c’mon, it looks GORGEOUS, doesn’t it? (Apparently the town has been getting the best press it’s ever had too).  Would love it if someone did this in Seattle.  Maybe next winter I’ll make some tree tubes for the small dogwood in our front garden. (Actually really intrigued to know how they get the tubes on the trees, they don’t appear to be stitched.)

21 April 2010

Colony Palms Hotel – Palm Springs

The second hotel we stayed in was the newly refurbished Colony Palms Hotel, fabulously located close to the centre of downtown Palm Springs.

Again we’d been a little wary of booking here – a bit concerned that it would be a little too strait-laced and respectable for the Minx.

Again we needn’t have worried, the hotel was utterly different from the Ace, with a more glamorous and intimate vibe, but there were still plenty of other kids there, the Minx loved the pool and the staff could not have been friendlier or more welcoming.

 

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The hotel was built in 1936 by a Palm Springs mobster and used to house both a speakeasy and a brothel. It has recently been extensively and expensively refurbished.  The building is in a more traditional Spanish colonial style focused around a gorgeous swimming pool and restaurant area and surrounded by lovely gardens full of secluded nooks and crannies.

It’s not my favourite style of architecture – where is the reasonably priced funky modernist kid-friendly hotel in Palm Springs? – but it was certainly hugely comfortable and luxurious.

The interior is by Martyn Lawrence-Bullard.  He’s used a lot of Spanish influences – coloured tiles, bright colours, spindly wrought iron  – and mixed in some Turkish, Moroccan and Indian elements – with graphic embroideries, Indian statues and Moroccan tables tucked into the corners.

 

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The hotel also has a pretty swanky poolside restaurant, the Purple Palm, attached, and the food was really good, the best we had in PS and that’s saying something.

 

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Our room featured an incredibly comfortable bed, with padded embroidered headboard; big bottles of spirits in the mini-bar; an enormous bathroom with painted cement floor; embedded Spanish tiles (which I stupidly forgot to photograph) and a roll top bath.  The cheesy photos of airbrushed models cavorting round the hotel were hilarious. I’m not sure if that was intentional.

 

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The location was excellent, within walking distance of lots of great shops and restaurants and with the prettiest view we saw of the neighbouring San Jacinto mountains.

 

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All in all it couldn’t be more different from the Ace and yet I’d recommend it just as much, and combining the two made for a really interesting Palm Springs overview.

See also

Out and About in Palm Springs

Ace Hotel & Swim Club, Palm Springs

20 April 2010

Some More Photography Links

 

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We’ll be going back to Palm Springs later this week, but I wanted to get these links out there today in case anyone wants to sign up for tomorrow’s CreativeLIVE course (see below).

I’m on a bit of a crusade at the moment to take my photography to the next level. I’m feeling very photographically frustrated as all I can see when I process my photos are the flaws, and other peoples’ work still seems so much better than mine.

I’m not even quite sure why I want to get good – I have no aspirations to be a professional photographer - but it’s going to be useful for mirrormirror photography if nothing else, and it should make the photos on the blog a bit prettier.

The first thing I’ve been doing is listening in to CreativeLIVE’s course on the Fundamentals of Digital Photography, taught by John Greengo. The course is given as as a 10 week series of weekly video lectures and the best thing about it is that it’s FREE, as long as you tune in to watch the video at the appointed time. It’s also interactive, with questions taken via the website and Twitter and there is the opportunity to buy all the videos so you can refer to them when it’s convenient.

The course so far has been a bit waffly – though it was bound to be frustrating when I’m sitting watching them at 11 am on a Wednesday surround by stacks things To Do – but every so often Greengo will come out with a really useful nugget of information that makes the investment in time worthwhile. It would probably be even more useful for someone who’s just starting with their SLR as he really does get down to basics. Week Three is tomorrow (Weds 21st), so I’m also hoping that now we’ve got all the introductory stuff out of the way, there’ll be lots of real meat going forward. Overall I do highly recommend this, especially as it’s FREE. (CreativeLIVE’s other courses also look like they could be worthwhile – might even sign up for the watercolour one).

 

IMG_5780Last Saturday I also attended a workshop on Natural Food Styling and Photography with Seattle-based photographer Lara Ferroni.  The workshops cost around $100 each but with only six people attending and the opportunity to work in Lara’s amazing new downtown Seattle studio space Spare Room they are worth their weight in gold.

Lara showed us lots of good stuff about manipulating lighting, ideas on composition and clever food styling tricks  and it was fun to choose our own props from her prop-laden shelves to practise styling our own shoots. The above shot is of a wonderful rhubarb crostino that Lara prepared (waiting to get hold of the recipe for that, it tasted as good as it looked). I can’t wait to start using some of the things I learned going forward (the shots for flapjack recipe were done before I’d done the course).

I’m also going to be doing her workshop in Low Light Food Photography on May 17th if anyone wants to meet up there. Lara also writes a really useful blog about food styling and photography called Still Life With…

Finally the world and his wife has been raving about the new Hipstamatic app for the iPhone.  My very first camera was a little Kodak Instamatic which I loved to pieces. I haven’t played with the app much yet, but I’m loving it so far.

 

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UPDATE:  Just want to make clear that the CreativeLIVE course is based in Seattle but available to watch wherever you are in the world. Just make sure you tune in at the right time for your time zone (you can calculate that on their website).

The Food Styling workshops are located in Seattle, so mostly for local peeps (though for the last one someone had driven down from Vancouver to attend).

May The Plates Be With You

 

I am SO tempted to get a set of these for the Husband. Of course, they would secretly be for me, but he would never know. Just so super fab.

 

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Buy them at Beat Up Creations Etsy shop. {via Whorange’s Twitter feed} Find me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mirrormirrorxx

19 April 2010

Traditional English Apricot Flapjacks

 

or possibly the best flapjack recipe in the world. 

These are what I made for the Food Bloggers’ Bake Sale. I chose them because they’re quick and easy, as English as the Queen (no bake sale in the UK would be complete without flapjacks, in fact the Queen probably has her own ‘go to’ recipe) but would probably be a novel taste experience for an American audience.

I believe that in the US a ‘flapjack’ is a type of pancake, but in the UK a flapjack is a squidgy, chewy bar a bit like a granola bar, full of oats and redolent with sugar and butter. 

 

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Their unique taste comes from the addition of ‘golden syrup', a traditional British cane sugar syrup with a distinctive buttery flavour. It’s becoming increasingly available in the US and we have found it here in Seattle at Metropolitan Market, Cost Plus World Market and at British food stores.

If you buy some it’s also absolutely delicious on pancakes and porridge as well as being used for lots of other traditional British recipes such as treacle tart. You could substitute corn syrup, honey or molasses at a pinch, but your flapjacks won’t taste quite the same.

 

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This recipe comes from my mother-in-law by way of Waitrose I think (some British supermarket anyway) which I’ve adapted for American measures and temperatures etc.  The thing I like about it is the inclusion of not-so-traditional sweetened condensed milk, which definitely ups the sticky squidgy factor.

 

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks/6oz/170g unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups/6oz/170g soft brown sugar

2 tablespoons golden syrup

2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

4 cups/12oz/340g rolled (old fashioned) porridge oats

6 oz/170g chopped dried apricots

 

Method

Line a 13” x 9” pan with baking parchment and grease the paper with butter.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4.

In a saucepan gently heat the butter, sugar, golden syrup and condensed milk, until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.

 

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Stir the chopped apricots into the oats until they’re evenly distributed and then stir in the sugary, buttery, syrupy liquid until all the oats are evenly coated.

Press the mixture into your prepared pan. There’s no need to press down too hard, but make sure the top is even.

 

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Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. At the end your flapjacks will be slightly more golden, but won’t look much different from when they went into the oven.

Leave them to cool in the pan, then cut into 12-15 servings and devour.

Flapjacks are very tolerant creatures, so go to town with variations and additions. Try different dried fruits (raisins are very often used), nuts and seeds, coconut, glace cherries or even chocolate chips .

We had to wrap our offerings as well. Flapjacks are not the most aesthetically beautiful things (the pleasure is all in the munching) so I wrapped them with baking parchment sealed with Happytape (yes, the Husband took the anvil-sized on blog hint for Valentines Day).

 

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Oh, and as predicted Megan Not Martha was the star of the bake sale with these.  

15 April 2010

Bloggers Bake Sale for Share Our Strength

 

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On Saturday I, and a number of other much more famous Seattle food bloggers, such as NotMartha, Cakespy and Gluten Free Girl, will be donating baked items to the Food Bloggers bake sale. Megan NotMartha will apparently be upstaging us all with a secret something baked in jars. I will be contributing something very, VERY British.

 

Details:

When: April 17, 2010
10:am -12:pm

Where:
Metropolitan Market Uptown
100 Mercer Street
(free parking available)

What: Cookies, Cakes and baked goods made by Seattle food bloggers
Recipes will be available too.

Why:
Nearly 17 million— almost one in four—children in America face hunger. Despite the good efforts of governments, private-sector institutions and everyday Americans, millions of our children still don’t have daily access to the nutritious meals they need to live active, healthy lives. More information on SOS can be found at Share Our Strength.

 

The Seattle bake sale has been organised by Keren of FranticFoodie and if you can’t make it to Met Market in Seattle, then there are bake sales being organised throughout the US by Gaby of What’s Gaby Cooking.

Just running out the door to get rolled oats. British readers I bet you can guess what I’m baking!

Out and About in Palm Springs

We found Palm Springs to be a surprisingly fun, lively and pedestrian-friendly place to stroll about in, especially early in the morning and in the evenings when it wasn’t too hot.

 

Around Palm Springs

 

There’s quirky art to be found and palm trees (of course) and enough blue sky and bougainvilleas to make up for months of grey Seattle skies.

 

 

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Foodwise we can highly recommend Cheeky’s for breakfast, Matchbox for pizza and Las Casuelas for Mexican (with ENORMOUS portions) and Palm Springs Fudge & Chocolates for great ice cream and the most superb date shake (how did live without date shakes in my life? must try and recreate them in Seattle).

 

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I regretted not seeing more of the architecture than we managed. We bought a $5 selfdrive map of Palm Springs Modern architecture at the (gorgeous) Visitor Center and drove about the town for an hour or so one afternoon. It was all faintly frustrating though, as many of the nicest looking properties were on private roads and of course we couldn’t get to see the insides of the houses beyond the bougainvillea hedges. 

Highlights included the former Wamu (now Chase) building, the Del Marcos hotel, City Hall, the Visitor Center, the Bank of America building and the Visitor Center itself, which is a converted mid-century gas station. I’ve also no idea how authentic it is, but the KFC (with the red struts below) was the coolest we’ve ever seen.

 

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{All photos copyright Paola Thomas 2010}

 

When the Minx is a little older we’ll try and plan a trip for Modernism week. In the meantime there’s a fabulous review of Elvis’ honeymoon hideaway (which we didn’t get to this time round) here and a discussion of the whereabouts of the fabulous Palm Springs house shown in Mad Men (with great screen caps), which sadly doesn’t seem to be in Palm Springs at all, here.

(See my review of the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, Palm Springs here}

14 April 2010

We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Kevin, who was chosen by the cold hard random number generator to become the proud owner of 16 million colours via a Philips LivingColors LED Lamp.  Kevin, if you’d care to share some photos when you get it, I’m sure we’d love to see them.

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Thanks so much to Philips and thanks to all of you who entered. I loved reading your comments and it was lovely to see some commenters come out of the woodwork! If you weren’t the winner remember that you have a few more days to enter the draw to win one here or you can buy one here.

Look out for more giveaways soon.

13 April 2010

Ace Hotel and Swim Club – Palm Springs

So we got up very early on Thursday morning, caught a 7.15 flight to LA, drove along the dusty freeway and were in Palm Springs by lunchtime – 88 degrees, brilliant blue skies, slight breeze blowing through the canyon. Bliss.

And this is where we stayed for the first two nights.

 

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We’d been slightly reluctant to book a room at the Ace as we’d heard that the ‘douchebag’ quotient was high, but actually we loved it (though it’s entirely possible that we’re also douchebags – god I love that word, the best ever American addition to the English language).  But we took the plunge due to its reputation for kid-friendliness and were glad we did.

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It has the same tremendously relaxed feeling that I love about Babington House in the UK (still my most favourite hotel in the whole world) – everything is supremely comfortable and luxurious, with great food, powerful showers, free bikes, soft towels, comfortable beds, hammocks and loungers everywhere, night time fireplaces, well-equipped gym, really helpful staff, well stocked bar etc. but it’s not not in the least bit, prissy or intimidating or fussy, which is really important when you’ve got a small child in tow.

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If anything for my taste it was a little bit too unfussy – the building is nothing special, just an old Palm Springs motel with stained concrete floors, metal trim and a ‘diner’ aesthetic, on which they’ve overlaid a bohemian ‘California hippie’ vibe with some quirky art pieces (the Minx loved the stuffed wolf wearing necklaces and the rattan elephant), kaftans instead of bathrobes, photos just pinned up haphazardly in the bedrooms and sturdy canvas or leather furnishings.  To be honest too, our bedroom was a bit of a disappointment – a good size and close to the pool – but very dark and gloomy during the day (thank goodness we weren’t there much).

 

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Palm Springs

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There were some cute design-y touches though – canvas sunshades that looked like satellite dishes, a pergola adorned with misters, coloured perspex on the windows of the gym, an interesting rope ‘curtain’ hanging in the lobby which looked great at night, a cavernous bar and outdoor showerheads painted the exact same shade of yellow as the flowers that surrounded them.

 

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As for kid-friendliness, well, the Minx just spent all of her time in the large shallow area of the incredibly inviting pool, playing with all the other kids who were staying and giving mummy and daddy a chance to swim, drink excellent margaritas and read. It’s not explicitly a kiddie-place (no babysitting or kids clubs) but there are plenty of kids there and the relaxed vibe suits them perfectly (the hotel was also absolutely full of dogs – who even have their own dog park). 

Kids-wise the only thing we would have changed was the food. Someone in the kitchen has a gone a bit crazy adding spicy this and spicy that to things on the menu, to the extent that we found it quite difficult to find things for the Minx to eat, even though she’s not a particularly fussy eater (just not that fond of chili peppers).  And would it harm hotels and restaurants to at least offer vegetables and fruits for kids? My kid can’t be the only one who actually eats such things can she?  It was a shame as the food for grown ups was fabulous, with an incredibly tempting menu, and they did make a mean mac’n’cheese for the Minx.

 

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{All pics copyright Paola Thomas 2010}

Overall we loved our stay here and would definitely return, though we were pleased to leave on the Saturday morning as the hotel suddenly changed into a gay version of Jersey Shore as lots of short muscle-y suntanned men moved in.  The hotel had neglected to tell us that they were hosting a weekend of parties for White Party weekend (a gay event, not a neo-fascist convention). Not a problem per se but the hotel did become markedly less relaxing when the music started pounding at 11am. (The Ace definitely becomes a party hotel at the weekend, so it’s definitely worth double checking to see whether they are hosting an event while you are staying).

That’s part one from Palm Springs.  It’s going to be Palm Springs ad nauseam here this week, I suspect.

07 April 2010

AWESOME GIVEAWAY! – Philips LivingColors LED Lamp

 

As you know we like a bit of colour round these parts and we’re also not terribly fond of decorating, so I got extremely excited when I was contacted by the folks at Philips about giving away one of their awesome LivingColors LED lamps.

 

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One of you lucky peeps is going to win a small floor lamp with four different coloured LEDs which casts light onto a wall or within a small room to create instant mood, ambience and 16 million choices of colour.  Yes, you heard right, 16 million colours. You’ll never have to go to a paint store again.

 

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It comes with a cute and intuitive little remote control which allows you to precisely control the colour and saturation, so you can have colour for reading, one colour for eating, another for relaxing and another for well, I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

Suffice it so say I want one pretty badly, so I hope no one enters this giveaway.

If you MUST enter, then leave a comment below saying ‘what colour you would choose to colour your world with light and why’.

I will choose one lucky person using a cold hard random number generator when I get back from my Palm Springs weekend (did I mention I’m going to Palm Springs?) on Tuesday.

For more chances to win there is also a weekly sweepstake over at www.coloryourworldsweeps.com every week until April 18th, or you can always buy one here, though it will set you back $190.

05 April 2010

A Fun Family Easter

 

An egg as big as the Minx’s head

 

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Some Easter eggs we made instead

 

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(Remember when I fondly imagined the Minx and I following Martha’s instructions for tasteful natural egg dyes? Yeah right. Naive is not the word. This year’s egg dying kit from the drugstore was entitled ‘Bright & Shiny.’)

 

Some chocolate cupcakes made that day

 

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(Chocolate sour cream cupcakes with chocolate buttercream. The Minx was in charge of chicks, Cadbury’s Mini Eggs and sprinkles. Prize Easter cupcake wrappers from Bella Cupcake Couture.)

 

We opened the ‘Crack Mes’ and shouted ‘hooray’! (Still can’t get over how exquisite these were, and the Minx managed to get one with a HOMEMADE. PAPER. DAFFODIL inside).

 

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We went out for brunch and a movie too. (Both highly recommended).

We had tons of fun, what about you?

Sorry, I’m still in doggerel mode after the ‘Easter Bunny’ put together a hugely successful rhyming clues Easter egg hunt for the Minx. You have never seen two parents more ridiculously proud of their little selves than we were. Sad I know.

02 April 2010

Eggs-quisite

I just wanted to boast really.

Look what I’ve got nestling at the foot of the Easter tree!

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I just had a very nice lunchtime knitting session with Megan Not Martha and she gave me three of her exquisite chocolate and goodie-filled eggs which have been all round the blogosphere 85 times already.

I bet you wish you were me.

01 April 2010

April Photography Gallery

 

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Picture from last April’s Skagit Valley Tulip Fest 

 

This one is for all you photographers out there and is half something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, and half a complete copy from Tara’s weekly photo gallery on her fabulous blog Sticky Fingers.

Some of you may remember that, back in the day, I used to write a blog full of seasonal fun and jollity called The Year of Living Gorgeously , and that we held a monthly photography competition, which celebrated every month of the year through photography.

Well, we stopped writing the blog but I loved doing the photography competition and have been looking for a way to revive it. Tara’s idea seems to work very well. Over the course of the month post up your photograph of the month on your blog (if you don’t have a blog, send me your photo and I’ll post it up here) and at the end of the month I’ll set up one of those McLinky things here, so we can see all your beautiful images.  

So, get your thinking caps on.  What does April mean to you?  Is it Easter? Or Spring?  (Or Autumn in your hemisphere?)  Does it conjure up a particular food, or flower or view?  Or maybe a celebration, a birthday or a local event.  Or perhaps a hobby or pastime or craft that you particularly indulge in round this time of the year.

If you were making a really personal April calendar what would your April photo be?