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16 posts from December 2010

30 December 2010

New Year’s Resolutions

 

This year I have decided NOT to make any resolutions because a) I am absolutely crap at sticking to them and b) I’ve got quite enough on my plate thank you with my 101 Things list.

The good news is that I managed to make further inroads into the list over Christmas.

First up was ‘go snowmobiling’. 

Many moons ago, when I’d just met the Boyfriend (before he became the Husband) we went on a skiing holiday to Whistler (little guessing that we’d be living in Seattle and spending our Christmases there, ten or so years into the future).

I had been trying my hand at snowboarding and after a couple of lessons the then Boyfriend and I decided to board down the mountain. It turns out that I’m even worse at snowboarding than I am at keeping New Year’s resolutions and it soon became apparent that there was no way I was going to make it to the nearest chairlift before nightfall.  Cue a ruggedly handsome snowmobiler rushing to the aid of this damsel in distress and whisking me off down the mountain at top speed. And I’ve wanted to go snowmobiling again ever since.

So it went on the list and the Husband and I signed up to go snowmobiling last week in Whistler. I decided that it would only count for the list if I drove one, little realising how terrifyingly huge they are.

Here I am as nervous as hell before we set off.

 

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Here I am clinging on grimly for dear life (yes, I promise that’s me).

 

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And here we are after I decided that my tentative driving  was hugely unenjoyable for all concerned and I climbed on the back of the guide’s machine, whizzed at furious speed through the snowy trees, and  fulfilled all my snowmobiling fantasies.

It turns out that snowmobiles are another thing (along with cars and supermarkets) that are not designed for people who stand just over 5 feet tall.  It really would have helped if I’d at least been able to see over the windshield which became totally covered in snow at one point.

 

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The other thing I can of course tick off the list is ‘knit a sock monkey’.  Here are a couple of last photos, before I bore you to death, of Carmen B modelling a few accessories.  I knitted the hat on Christmas Eve, made her earrings and sourced the little sunglasses online.

 

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What are your resolutions this year? Is anyone going to join me in a 101 Things List?  If you’re feeling introspective then this list of prompts from Reverb is very thought-provoking (I may work on it in January).

Sadly Carmen Banana has not been an unequivocal success. The Minx was very impressed that I’d knitted her and told me that ‘she looks like she came from a sock monkey shop’. However the next night I found that she had been relegated from the Minx’s bed ‘because she looks a bit scary’. I have to say that I can’t really disagree with her.

24 December 2010

Pssst! Don’t Tell the Minx

 

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And she’s DONE.  I have to say that ears do help a lot in the beauty department. 

I have beads and findings to make her a necklace and some earrings and was planning to knit her a handbag and a hat, but even if I don’t get to finish anything else tonight, she’s in a fit state to go under the tree tomorrow.

There are also a ton of other little clothes to knit for her, but at the moment I don’t wish to look at her ever again. SO relieved that’s over.

All that’s left is to wish you all a very happy, peaceful and joyful Christmas. Thank you for all your comments, emails and suggestions over the year. I do love my little blog. And you guys of course. Have fun! xoxoxoxoxo

(Thanks also for all the lovely messages and emails about my ma-in-law. Sorry that blogging has been so sporadic recently. I will be posting a few updates between Christmas and New Year after we get back from Whistler).

23 December 2010

Pssst! Don’t Tell the Minx

 

Carmen Banana finally has clothes!

 

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Here she is lying seductively on our hotel bed while wearing her delicately embroidered undergarments.  I cannot tell you with words, by the way, how much I suck at embroidery.  Those took a LOOOOONNNNNNGGGGG time.

Here she is admiring the view from our Whistler condo during a whiteout. Carmen don’t do it!

 

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And here she is wearing her Christmas party dress.  My goodness but this was a labour of love. The end ruffle, where I had to knit about 250 teeny tiny stitches and then DOUBLE them and then DOUBLE them again, leaving me with about a thousand little stitches to cast off nearly blew my mind.

 

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She may have clothes, but what she doesn’t have are the ears, embroidered features, jewellery, handbag and hat I’d planned for her. It’s really going down to the wire, but for the moment, I’m off to go swimming in the snow and then to decorate a gingerbread houses with the pastry chef from Chateau Whistler.

Oh and yesterday I ticked something off my 101 List. Pics tomorrow.

   

20 December 2010

O Tannenbaum

 

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Apologies for the lack of blogging recently. I had a slew of Christmassy posts lined up, but we had some sad news ten days ago.  My lovely mother-in-law, who had seemed to be on the mend after her illness in the run up to Thanksgiving, died suddenly and the Husband rushed back to England for the second time in a fortnight to spend time with his father and help organise and attend the funeral.

This time we made the decision not to send the Minx.  She still finds the concept of death pretty abstract, and we thought was still too young to attend a funeral.  We were so glad and relieved that she and the Husband had flown back to see his mother just before her death and that they all had some final precious memories to share.

So the Minx and I were left on our own last week, trying to be as Christmassy as possible. Single parents everywhere, I have absolutely NO CLUE how you do it.  We made our becoming-annual Christmas pilgrimage to Whistler yesterday, so Santa had to get all his ducks in a row before this weekend, and getting Christmas organised for a week on my own was incredibly stressful. Not helped by the fact that when my mind goes into ‘organiser super extreme’ mode, I find it unbelievably difficult to switch off and ended up with terrible insomnia. All of which is by way of explaining why blogging ground to a bit of a halt.

We were so fortunate that the Husband got on one of the last flights to escape from the UK on Friday and so we managed to get to Whistler safe and sound. I’ll be doing a few posts here – the Minx and the Husband are skiing, but I can’t ski because of my arthritic knee, so will be doing some extreme loafing about instead.  I won’t be able to catch up on Advent Calendar posts as I haven’t photographed all the new stuff (it’s super fun, though, more when we get back from Whistler) but I will keep you up to date with sock monkey progress. There’s still a lot to do, and only five days to do it, so it’s going to be a race to the finish.

 

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In the meantime, the Minx and I did manage to decorate our tree last week when the Husband was away, and it amazed me yet again how much our tree has mutated from a tasteful gold and silver affair before the Minx was born, to a tasteless mishmash of colourful tat. But we love it anyway.

The prize for the most tasteless ornament goes hands down to this small creepy child with a candy cane growing out of her head.  It was carefully selected by the Minx on our first Christmas in Seattle when she was not yet two and every year is lovingly hung on one of the lower branches of the tree so it can admired all the more.

 

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Do you want to share your decorations? Got any REALLY tasteless ones that we need to admire? Share a link to photos or to a blog post below.  (I’ve included a link to this blog post below, so you can see how the Linky works).

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Christmas Baking with Kids

 

Last Saturday the Minx and I attended a Christmas baking class for kids at our local PCC supermarket

 

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The class, run by Birgitte Antonson of Nature’s Way Food, was huge fun and perfectly judged for kids aged 4-6.

We were given the recipes for four Christmas treats – Pumpkin Seed Date Snowballs, Holiday Maple Spice Cookies, Yummy Yam Frosting and Jewel Cookies.  Sneakily the recipes were comparatively healthy; minimising sugar, by cutting down the quantities and replacing it with maple syrup, honey, yams or fruit spreads; and incorporating more healthy ingreadients such as dried fruit, pumpkin seeds and whole wheat flour into the recipes.  I have to say, for comparatively healthy stuff, it was utterly delicious and the Minx thought everything tasted suitably decadent and Christmassy.

Two of the cookies recipes had been pre-prepared by Birgitte, so we were handed our cookie dough and got to work rolling and cutting and generally making a mess.

 

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Birgitte demonstrated how to make the Yam Frosting and the Pumpkin Seed Snowballs, and the kids were rapt, able to watch exactly what she was doing on the big screen.

 

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Our favourites were the Jewel Cookies (recipe below), where the Minx got to roll them into balls, make a big thumbprint indentation and fill them with fruit spread.

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When the Maple Spice cookies were baked we had lots of messy fun decorating them with yam frosting, shredded coconut for snow and naturally coloured sugar sprinkles (coloured with fruit juices etc). I had no idea these latter existed and will definitely be buying them again as the colours are very beautiful, notwithstanding the health benefits.

 

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I was going to post up the recipe for Jewel Cookies but we’re currently in Whistler and I don’t have it to hand, so you’ll get it after Christmas.

14 December 2010

Homemade Mincemeat

 

Or, the one in which I totally gross out my American readers.

The taste of a British Christmas were established hundreds of years ago when the Crusaders first brought spices and exotic fruits back to Britain and it was discovered that they were delicious preservatives of meat.  While the cooking of the rest of Western Europe is based on the use of herbs, British food relies much more on spices for flavour, and the British Empire grew up in part because of the spice trade. All manner of dried fruits, citrus fruits, strange spices, brandy and rum would be brought back to Blighty and our traditional Christmas foods all feature these erstwhile exotic ingredients.   Christmas cake, Christmas puddings and mincemeat are essentially all variations on the dried fruit, citrus, spices and alcohol theme, just different in texture.

 

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Mincemeat got its name, because, yes, in Tudor times, it used to contain meat – preserved by the fruit sugars, alcohol and spices. I love this quote I found here and taken from a 1545 cookbook.

‘To make Pyes - Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced and ceasoned wyth pepper and salte, and a lyttle saffron to coloure it, suet or marrow a good quantite, a lyttle vyneger, prumes, greate raysins and dates, take the fattest of the broathe of powdred beyfe, and yf you wyll have paest royall, take butter and yolkes of egges and so tempre the flowre to make the paeste’

As the years went past, the quantity of meat diminished and then disappeared, but the beef suet lived on, helping to preserve the mixture and giving an unctuous silky mouth feel to the finished preserve when warmed.  In my opinion, it’s not worth making mincemeat with anything else.

Who would have thought that one of the main things I’d miss upon moving to the US would be suet?  Suet is the dry fat around around beef kidneys, and, like lard, is very difficult to track down in the US. 

For some reason Americans will quite cheerfully chow down on all sorts of dangerous hydrogenated fats but are very circumspect when it comes to pure animals fats, such as suet or lard, even though they have no more saturated fat  than butter.

In the UK ‘shredded’ suet is available in boxes, chopped and floured into tiny pellets and looking like it never saw an animal in its life. This is good, as so many classics of traditional British cuisine, including many dessert dishes – steak and kidney pudding, jam roly poly, spotted dick (yep, I saw you laughing at the back), traditional Christmas puddings and mince pies – depend for their flavour and texture on copious amounts of chopped up beef fat.  Nobody could ever accuse traditional British food of being sophisticated.

Not only is shredded suet impossible to track down here, but, since the outbreak of mad cow disease in the late 80s in the UK, it, and products containing it, can’t even be imported into the US. Which means that I’ve missed traditional mincemeat and mince pies more than words can express. (Vegetarian suet and vegetarian mincemeat IS available, but it’s full of hydrogenated fats and tastes horrible, so to be avoided at all costs in my book).

However, even a dyed-in-the wool carnivore such as myself was slightly perplexed when I unwrapped my packet of suet from the butcher. Was I seriously going to put this in my dessert?

 

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I also had absolutely no clue how to prepare it  - all British recipes are resolutely silent on the issue, just assuming you’re going to use the packet stuff. So I improvised by painstakingly picking the globules of dry white fat from the papery membrane it was stuck too, and discarded both the membrane and the stuff that was more obviously meat rather than fat).  I began to realise why a certain Mr Hugon had made a fortune back in 1893 out of creating Atora shredded suet for the harried British housewife.

A quick pulse in the food processor later with a tablespoon of flour and this is what I ended up with. The suet is very dry and so crumbs up nicely. How much more innocuous and palatable this looked! 

 

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From then on we were on a roll. I used Delia Smith’s recipe from the venerable-but-still-much-thumbed-in-this-house-anyway Delia Smith’s Christmas.

 

Ingredients (Makes 6lbs)

 

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1lb/450g Bramley apples, cored and chopped small without peeling (I used the last of my precious Bramleys, but you can use any sharp, crisp apples)

8oz/225g shredded beef suet

12oz/350g raisins

8oz/225g sultanas (golden raisins)

8oz/225g currants

4oz (110g) mixed candied peel, finely chopped  (I could only find orange peel and forgot to chop mine)

4oz (110g) glace cherries (Delia’s recipe omits the cherries, which are not traditional, and uses 8oz of mixed peel, but I love cherries in mine)

12oz/350g soft dark brown sugar (you may want to use a little less if your apples are much sweeter than Bramleys)

Grated zest and juice of two oranges

Grated zest and juice of two lemons

2oz slivered almonds

4 tsps ground mixed spice*

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Grated nutmeg

6 tablespoons brandy

*‘Mixed spice’  is a ready made up spice mixture from the UK similar to pumpkin pie spice but omitting the ginger and often including ground cloves. In the US I replaced all the spices listed here with 2tsps cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp allspice and 1 scant tsp ground cloves.

   

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Method

Spend the best part of an hour weighing and  measuring fruits and chopping apples. This is fun as your kitchen will smell like you’ve died and gone to heaven and if your kids are anything like my kid they’ll be keen to help.

Stir all the ingredients, except the brandy, together in a large ceramic bowl. I added the brandy by mistake.

Cover with a cloth and leave overnight in a cool place so that flavours get a chance to mingle.

 

 

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Then place everything in a very cool (225 degrees F/120 degrees C) oven for three hours. This melts the lard and coats the apples, thereby preventing fermentation.

Look how yummy and moist and succulent and juicy it looks when it’s warmed!

 

 

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And look how faintly disgusting it looks covered in coagulated fat after being left to cool completely in the fridge.

 

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But no matter, all it needed was another thorough stir to break up the fat and it became unnoticeable in the mixture. The brandy is normally added at this stage to preserve everything. I was a little worried that my mixture would not preserve so well because I’d added the brandy before the warning process, so I added another 6 tbsps of brandy to be sure. That’s my excuse anyway.

Words cannot describe how delectable this tasted. Eons better than any brand of jarred mincemeat I’ve ever tasted.  I seriously could have eaten the whole bowlful that very morning.  Instead I packed it in clean, dry jars which I heated in the oven to sterilise.

If properly made, mincemeat will keep for at least a year or three. The flavours are supposed to develop and intensify in the jar so it’s customary to make your mincemeat in November for December eating. I honestly don’t see though how the flavour of this could be in the slightest bit improved.  Mince pies will be made at the end of the week.

   

10 December 2010

Shhh! Don’t Tell the Minx

 

Look who I caught misbehaving in my jewellery box yesterday.


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And yes that is a tail you spy.

 

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I’m cooking on gas with this now, though Carmen’s pointy earless head is freaking me out somewhat. I must get cracking on the ears, though I’ve read online that they’re tricky to get right. Working on her panties at the moment, so she will at least be decent soon.

   

09 December 2010

Facebook Page Giveaway – Atelier LZC Mirror

 

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I have FINALLY managed to get my act together and set up a ‘Page’ for ‘mirrormirror’ on Facebook. This is a page for fans of both the blog and the shop and I’ll be using the space to post up news of new product arrivals, our progress in opening the shop in the US and exclusive offers and giveaways just for Facebook fans.  Come and ‘like’ us here.

 

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First up we will be giving away your choice of an Atelier LZC Screen Printed Mirror worth £36 (approx $57) when we get 150 people ‘liking’ us on Facebook. Here’s the link to the mirrormirror Facebook page. Please hit the ‘Like’ button and also share the link with those friends you think may be interested.  When we hit 150 ‘likes’ we’ll do a random giveaway to all Facebook fans.

 

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If you want to buy the mirrors instead they’re available in the UK shop. We’re offering free delivery on all mirrormirror orders – international or otherwise - to Facebook fans too. Simply choose the ‘Free Delivery’ option when it comes to check out and mention ‘Facebook’ in the the ‘How did you hear about us’ section of the order form. We will double check you against the list of Facebook ‘likers’ though, so do make sure you’ve signed up.  Here’s that link again.

I’ve been terribly neglectful of the shop this year, but I’m now back to it with a vengeance. Expect lots of new products in the New Year.

I’ve also finally been cleared to work in the US which means I will also be opening the shop in the US, probably some time in the summer AND I’ve been accepted to do a course in Advanced Intereactive Marketing at the University of Washington over the first six months of the year, so hoping to get a ton of new ideas. Very excited for what 2011 will bring.

Oh and one of the items on my 101 Things list is to ‘set up a Facebook fan page and get over 1000 fans’ so you’ll be helping me out with this as well. There’s still rather a long way to go on that one!

   

08 December 2010

Lundby Advent Calendar – Days 5 & 6

 

After her 24 hour bath, the demented Lundby child was thrilled to find a cute new bathrobe in the calendar.  She may look like she’ll grow up to be a serial killer, but at least she washes her hands.

 

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The shoddily painted baby, who is actually  the scariest looking member of the family, is seen here playing with his new, very cute and absolutely enormous plush teddy. Let’s just hope it doesn’t roll over and squash him.

 

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Shhhh! Don’t Tell the Minx

 

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I did it! She has a face. And it’s not too ugly. 

I still have to embroider on her eyelashes, nose and smile etc. and knit her ears, so there’s plenty of scope yet for me to balls it up, but for the moment I’m quitting while I’m ahead and working on her tail and panties (!)

Still tons to do before Christmas though.

Adventures in Knitting – French Press Slippers

 

I’ve been knitting away at other things apart from sock monkeys, trying to get everything off my books by the end of the year, so I can start the New Year with some lovely new knitting projects. So I’ve got a couple of finished items to show you.

 

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These babies are one of the best projects I’ve ever completed.  Because they’re made of thick wool felt, the slippers are toasty warm and because they’re shrunk to fit your feet precisely, they’re INCREDIBLY comfortable. Seriously they’re going to have to be surgically removed from my feet I’ve been wearing them so much.

Firstly you knit and seam together a large ‘shoe’ from chunky wool.  I used Araucania Nature Wool Chunky, which felts delightfully and, because it is hand-dyed, has a pleasingly mottled depth of colour. I have to admit that the project doesn’t look entirely prepossessing at this stage.

 

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Then I threw them into my ‘Wonder Washer’ washing bucket, together with an old tennis shoe.   If you’re ever going to do any felting ever in your life, then I can’t recommend this highly enough. It gives you such control over the process (and is great for washing handknits etc. too).

The slippers took about 20 minutes to felt down to an acceptable size. I then felted them for three minutes at a time and kept trying them on wet until they were perfectly sized for my feet.

After drying and a haircut (for the slippers not me), I sewed on the straps, which are felted separately. I finished the slippers off with beautiful handmade wooden buttons from OruAka on Etsy.

 

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I think I’m probably the last knitter on Earth to make these slippers which have been all over Ravelry in the last year or so.  If you’re the other knitter on Earth who hasn’t made them yet, then the pattern is available on the French Press Knits blog here, which is also worth checking out for all sorts of cool craft and knitting projects. My project page on Ravelry is here, which shows the mods I made to make these from chunky wool instead of the worsted/dk weight recommended.

   

06 December 2010

Lundby Advent Calender – Days 3 & 4

 

Mrs Lundby was treated to a new pink dress on Friday.  It’s exactly the same as her old dress, only a different colour and a lot cleaner, so we do still have the ‘falling down and revealing her perky plastic bosoms’ problem. But I don’t suppose Mrs Lundby would want it any other way.

 

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Here she is relaxing by the pool. Unfortunately she can’t kick her shoes off as they’re painted onto her feet.  I did think this dress was somewhat unsuitable for a Swedish or indeed a Seattle winter, but the Minx insists that the whole family lives in Australia, which is why they are still enjoying the pool at Christmas time.

Saturday brought two bottles of bubble bath and a little rubber duck, so here we see one of Mrs Lundby’s many and various slightly demented-looking children (whom the Minx refuses to name) taking a relaxing bath.

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Fancy Hotel of the Week – Poet’s Cove

 

So I celebrated Thanksgiving in a rather unconventional way by heading off with a girlfriend to the Canadian Gulf Islands – part of the same group of islands as the US San Juans, situated in the strait between Vancouver Island and Vancouver itself.

 

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Snow was falling gently as I left the house early on Thursday morning to catch the Clipper and for a moment I was worried that me and my wheely suitcase wouldn’t even make it down our icy steps, let alone all the way to the islands. But I needn’t have worried – the crossing over to Victoria was as smooth as a baby’s bottom, and welcome rain was turning the snow to slush when I arrived.

The following day we took the ferry out  to Pender Island.  It’s only a short ferry crossing from Sidney, near Victoria, and then about 20 minutes drive on Pender from the north island to the south. And this is what we saw as we turned the last corner.

 

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Poet’s Cove is a modern resort, spa and yacht marina tucked into a tranquil and stunningly beautiful bay. My friend and I were lucky enough to stay in a two-bedroom cottage with its own personal outside hot tub, so we spent a lot of time drinking prosecco in the tub, watching dreadful movies curled up in front of the fire, doing the crossword and knitting, having treatments in the fabulous spa and dining on top notch comfort food in the relaxed and busy dining room.

The decor is in the modern ‘lodge’ vernacular which one finds so often in the Pacific Northwest and is all about the fireplaces and cosy sofas, high ceilings and a few interesting craftmade pieces.

 

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The staff were absolutely lovely. Nothing was too much trouble – here they are keeping brunch buffet open for us, so that we could fit in our spa treatments before they stopped serving brunch.

 

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And while the resort was tremendously relaxing for the body and mind, Mother Nature was busy weaving her magic on our souls.  An old Native American chief is buried close to the resort and you can see why he’d want to live out eternity looking out at views like these.

 

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A big highlight was when this little chap came out to play close to the marina.  This beautiful mottled seal was a star in the making, giving us a ten minute display of incredible underwater athleticism and seemingly revelling in his audience. 

 

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No wonder we looked somewhat drunk on fresh air, beauty (and possibly the odd caipirinha) by the end of our stay.

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Apparently this place gets understandably busy in the summer, though I’d still love to return then – I think the family would love it.

And if you live in the Pacific Northwest and are looking for somewhere fun for a weekend, even in the depths of winter, then head off here. It’s where even the seals come to relax and play.

02 December 2010

Lundby Advent Calender – Day 2

 

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Here’s Mrs Lundby relaxing after a hard day’s shopping, though she’s only managed to fit two Christmas presents in her oversized Christmas carrier bag.

Mrs Lundby is very Swedish as her pale blue boob tube slips down at every opportunity, revealing some very perky breasts (plastic always helps I find). She is also probably very cold but we couldn’t find her jacket this morning.

Things I Am Loving – Orla Kiely Reusable Shopper for Tesco

 

So US peeps, you may not want to read any further.

162762_169875396379221_108965912470170_407386_5717365_nSee this beautiful reusable shopping bag by Orla Kiely? Well, it’s apparently a Limited Edition reusable shopper available only through Tesco’s (one of the big British supermarkets) in the UK. The price is £4 with a portion of the proceeds going to some of Orla’s favourite charities.

Has anyone in the UK seen one yet to report back?  I have a horrible feeling that a lot of these will be going straight to Ebay.

Speaking of Orla, we had the last of our stuff in the UK shipped over last month (yes, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that we’re here in the US for the foreseeable future) and I used the opportunity to ship over some of the gorgeous Orla Kiely bedding they have at Heal’s.

 

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Here’s a crappy picture of it on our bed this morning (yes, it does look better ironed) and here is a picture of the beautiful boxes the duvet cover and pillow cases came packaged in, which are almost nicer than the bedding itself.

01 December 2010

It’s DECEMBER Already? – Lundby Advent Calendar Day 1

 

Could somebody PLEASE tell me where this year has disappeared to?

I realise that after all last year’s fuss about the Lundby Dollshouse, I never, ever showed you around. For all mothers of small girls out there, I can confirm that no toy of mine the Minx’s has ever been played with quite as much as this one.

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Friends, even boys, other parents and babysitters are all fascinated by the resolutely unchildlike nature of it all and the stunning attention to detail. The Minx plays with it even more now than she did a year ago and every time I go into her playroom I find that the dolls have been arranged into yet another vignette.

This year Santa is going to have no trouble at all as the Minx has given him firm instructions to get her the accompanying Gotland Summer House.  It’s available quite cheaply in the UK from Amazon (the Husband brought it back with him after his recent trip) and unfortunately more expensively in the US at Cheeky Monkeys. I don’t know why Lundby doesn’t distribute more widely in the US.

But I digress.

 

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This year, after much hunting online, I managed to track down a Lundby Dollhouse Advent Calendar. They were made in 2007, so difficult to get now, but still on sale at Cheeky Monkeys.  It promises clothes, accessories and Christmas decorations for the Lundby family and the Minx and I were beside ourselves with excitement to open door number one this morning. 

I thought it might be fun for you guys to see what’s inside, and show you round the house at the same time.

Today we she got a small wall clock, which has been (somewhat wonkily) applied to the wall of the main bedroom by the Minx.

 

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