More history and another challenge

From the age of 10 or so, I spent my long summer holidays with my English grandparents. We generally had 8-9 weeks, so it was much longer than the standard 6 weeks (or 5 if you’re a Swiss child!) and although there was plenty to do and see, there were times when I went looking for something to read or make. On my quests for inspiration, I frequently browsed a large collection of Family Circle magazines that my Granny picked up at the supermarket and kept in a cupboard. They were full of all sorts of fascinating information and tips, and yes, ideas of things to make. Within reason and if Granny had the bits and bobs, I spent many an hour crafting something I’d seen. It was understood that eventually, I would inherit this collection! Especially as I have gone on to develop a love of vintage magazines and books…

Unfortunately, the pile of magazines turned up so late in our packing-up of Granny’s belongings that I was restricted to a small pile to bring home with me, and I sadly had to dump the rest (though not without scouting through them for knitting patterns!). Now I am back home and the weather has taken a turn for the worse, I’ve started reading them and found myself taken back in time.

The first issue of (British) Family Circle came out in October 1964, shortly before my birth, and this issue has been faithfully kept – probably in the hope that it would become valuable! I did check online and it seems that it has gone from an original price of 1/- (one shilling in old English money pre-1971) to a value of around £20 now, so not bad. I suppose there aren’t many that have survived 53 years.

Domestic bliss was the aim for the 1960s housewife, but she was a modern miss, too. The title page advertises the competition to win an all-electric £5000 house – a real 1960s detached with all mod-cons, even things like dishwashers that didn’t become common in the UK until 30 years later.

Scandinavian style had reached the British Isles and jumps out every couple of pages – much like today!

Some of the fashions wouldn’t look out of place in 2017, either, albeit with slightly different styling. but really, Mad Men?!

It’s a treat to read real English that has been proofread, too, and the level of common sense is fantastic – sigh. The recipes look tasty and simple (in those days, few people were prepared to attempt any funny foreign food…), the embroidery timeless and the adverts no less ridiculous than in a modern magazine. I spied a few things that are of their time and yet – my mother still has a bamboo rocking chair exactly like the one in the home decor section

and I could knit up several of the patterns without the garments even looking “vintage”.

Tweed is in!

To a young 2017 mum it might seem shocking to see that babies were being given additional foods from the age of only 2 weeks, but the article about children’s imaginations v. lying is just as topical for any mum of a 4 year old, I’m sure. PG Tips and Ovaltine (Ovomaltine here!) still exist, while most of the offices you could write to (with a stamped addressed envelope, please…) probably do not.


So, the challenge I am setting myself is to implement some of the things I found in this stack of 1960s magazines! Let’s see how I do, shall we?

PS Scherenschnitte – Papercutting

I have just seen that the papercutting exhibition I wrote about back in the spring ( has been extended and will be shown at the Landesmuseum Zurich ( from January 9th – April 19th 2015, so plenty of time to arrange to see it if you’re interested!!

Meanwhile, one of the local banks is using illuminated papercuts as their Christmas decoration… very attractive and in its own sweet Swiss way, understated!IMG_3891 IMG_3892I wasn’t able to avoid the reflection of the glass, sorry!! 


The day before

As we begin on Christmas Eve, today is just “one day to go”… 🙂

IMG_2374This is one of those trees that could easily have ended up in the dump – it’s lost its tip, it’s a bit bent, the branches are irregular and it’s flat on one side…but to us it’s the perfect tree 🙂

Our middle daughter took on the task of decorating it and picked out some very harmonious baubles from the collection, which makes our tree different each year – look how pretty it is, a little bit of bling and my favourite fairy girls, along with some bauble lights! When the grandchildren arrived for a visit today, they looked up at it in awe, a skyscraping magical thing that helped to trigger the excitement of the build-up to their own Christmas over the next couple of days.

We also couldn’t help annoying the dog for a few minutes, which she put up with very patiently in anticipation of a treat! IMG_2376

Swiss Christmas

While the Americans are recovering from Thanksgiving and Hannukah (hope it was lovely!) and/or indulging in intense consumerism on Black Friday, here in Switzerland, we are heading into Advent, which begins on December 1st – today – this year. Advent

It’s meant as a time of preparation for the actual Christmas celebrations and whether you’re religious or not, I think that’s a good concept for a quiet run-up. Of course Switzerland is right up there in 2013 with the best of them, pushing the spend, spend, spend message and suggesting that we need all kinds of things that we really don’t…

So I’m glad that my experience of the season here over the last 30 years has not really been anything like we see in adverts, even here. None of the people I know or who I see interviewed in local papers or hear about through my children actually seem to even be trying to achieve what the glossies think we are (or try to get us to think we are!). On the contrary, it all seems pretty low key, fairly quiet and introspective and the worst thing I have come across is intense competition on the Christmas biscuit baking scene, where perfectionist housewives try to outdo each other with the number of different and exquisite creations they’ll be putting on the coffee table. It’s a deadly serious thing! chlaussaeckli_jute_dekor

But they will be putting them out along with traditional peanuts (in their shells), mandarine oranges and simple foil-wrapped chocolates, offering a spicy herbal fruit tea or a particularly high quality cup of coffee with it, and the decorations will probably just be simple greenery and pinecones. And really, a lot of women will just buy the beautifully presented biscuits from the supermarket! Mandarines will be handed out to adults and children alike when December 6th, St. Nicholas’ Day, comes round, and the children will get a bag of the afore-mentioned goodies – if they can recite a little poem to one of the many St. Nicks who will be patrolling the streets, along with their dirty assistant “Schmutzli” and his donkey. And the really naughty children might get a switch of twigs – though these days that will be decorated with chocs, so a win-win situation!

For children, the most excitement is the Advent calendar which, depending on the parents, could just be windows to open, candles to burn each evening with a bedtime story, a chocolate each day or even a small gift each day… some like to do the same thing every year and others do something different every year, but I think it’s the absolute highlight and the tradition is carried on in schools, too, where each child brings in a couple of tiny gifts (a glittery tealight or mini-soap, for instance) for other children so that nobody is forgotten and the countdown is taken very seriously indeed! teelicht

The four Sundays in Advent are popular with everyone for getting together either for a brunch or for coffee and cake – or rather tea and those biscuits! A Sunday afternoon walk is still a mainstay for a lot of families and you’ll often see three generations out for a healthy stroll, come rain or shine. Hardly any home would not have some kind of Advent decoration, wreath or otherwise, with a candle for each of the four Sundays and just by the existence of such a thing, a pause is automatically marked. Sunday shopping was only introduced quite recently and only on specifically advertised Sundays in Advent for a couple of hours (with special permission – and usually only one or two of those Sundays, too!). Unless there is really no time in your working week to shop or browse, it’s not really the “done” thing… though a browse through the Christkindl market followed by a Glühwein or a fancy cup of coffee at a pretty café can’t really be beaten for cheap entertainment :).

Christmas itself is a far quieter affair than what I know of English-speaking countries. For one thing, we celebrate on Christmas Eve. The shops are open until mid-afternoon for last-minute gift-buyers – often the men! But then everything shuts down, the roads empty quickly and families are busy putting up their Christmas tree as it begins to get dark. I’ve noticed the Swiss don’t go so much for the very full trees, but often prefer a sparse, airy tree upon which they’ll hang a few colour-coordinated baubles and clip real little candles, really quite minimalist. Families more orientated towards Germany might hang some “lametta”, silver stranded tinsel, over their tree, but more often than not, a few baubles or specially-designed hanging chocolates is all the tree gets. And it’s topped with a star, not a fairy! Lights as decorations (inside and out) are definitely on the increase but hardly ever blink and coloured lights are considered tacky – there didn’t used to be much in the way of lights, apart from candles, at all… and candles are certainly very popular indeed in all variations, even in wooden houses. Schweizer Christbaum

At the same time as the tree is going up on the 24th, a special meal will be prepared – most Swiss will look consternated if you ask what they typically eat for Christmas! Some have a cheese or meat fondue, others prefer fish or a ham, but often it’s simply a meal that involves a more expensive cut of meat (veal or filet, perhaps) and more courses, attractively presented, than the quite simple everyday meals common here.

If there are children, there will be recorder-playing and singing, though not so much ‘carols’ as simply traditional children’s Christmas folk songs. Then the children will be allowed to open their presents, again usually a pretty reserved occasion of careful unwrapping of a very few, if not always cheap, gifts. Adults often don’t bother with presents at all, bar a bottle of good wine or a foodie treat, and there aren’t a host of stocking-fillers or gimmicks, as a rule. It’s all about family, and usually exclusively so on Christmas Eve, though extended family might get together, and Midnight Mass is quite popular, too, often beginning around 10 pm – if you’re lucky, with some gently falling snow!

As rapidly as Christmas worked up to its peak, and although Christmas Day and Boxing Day are official holidays (known as the 1st and 2nd Days of Christmas), those appear to be days of rest. If you didn’t get together with family on Christmas Eve or want to get together with friends you’ll do so between Christmas Day and New Years’ Day and many homes lose the Christmas tree almost as soon as Christmas is over, rather than waiting for Epiphany on 6th January, the traditional time to take decorations down. That’s when special “Three Kings’ Bread” is bought or made, with a little plastic king hidden in it, to establish who will be King for the day and wear the gold paper crown…

And that is a Swiss Christmas over and done with! Now to get started 🙂 IMG_2193

(It’s New Year’s Eve that is party time – it’s the time for fancy food, glittery clothing, fireworks and champagne. Or an early night! In most places, the 1st and 2nd January are holidays, so time to recover, take a bracing winter walk and make all those New Year’s resolution…)

A horse, a horse…

…my kingdom for a horse…

Attributed to Richard III on the battlefield at Bosworth in 1485 (though now they say his last words were “Treason, treason, treason”, which I think is a little unfair – most horses are really faithful souls!)…

Anyway. The classic British “horsy” look of interiors is attractive enough – especially if you happen to own a stately home or the perfect cottage with a double loose box, when tweeds, Stubbs’ reproductions of famous sires and hunting scenes and a lot of old leather are going to dominate, along with a grubby blanket or two attractively arranged for the lurchers and Jack Russell dogs to squabble over on the decrepit sofa.

Not so in my home. And yet there are a few clues to my horse-loving nature for those paying attention…

Firstly, my bookcases, which cover every phase from girlish pony stories and pretty pictures to serious tomes on veterinary conundrums and alternative training methods with brain-ticklingly complicated geometric diagrams and assumptions that you have the “eye” for collection and practically each individual muscle. I think these are a pretty big giveaway, actually!IMG_2134

Since we don’t have fireplaces in Switzerland, I don’t have a mantelpiece – but pride of place on the shelf in my living room does go to an antique creamware sculpture of two horses playing. I inherited this from my husband’s family – I don’t think it’s particularly valuable, but it’s been in the family for a long time, probably 100 years-ish, and since I’m the horsey one, it came to me! I do know that my husband’s great-grandfather was in the German cavalry around Berlin, so perhaps that’s the connection. Still, an heirloom.IMG_2133

I do like things to have a story, so this glass pony in slightly Scandinavian style fits the bill, as it was passed on to me by a dear friend who has had a difficult life one way or another and continues to do so, so that we have little contact these days. But it’s a nice souvenir of some good times we had – we both had Haflingers back in the day and her Negus was just as much of a character as my Sturuss, so we had some entertaining rides out as they imagined ghosts in the woods and similar frolics… such fun! Negus was an escape artist and only rideable in full Western outfit; although this glass horse is not a Haflinger, it still makes me smile thinking of those days.IMG_2131

Let’s stay with the Scandinavian theme. It’s always been an ambition of mine to visit those northern countries, and I will do one day, I’m sure. (I wouldn’t mind trying out a Norwegian Fjord pony…!) The colourful artistic folk culture really appeals to me, and I love the Dala horses which have come to represent not only the Dalarna region but the whole of Sweden. An acquaintance knew of my ambition and gave me this one as a gift; I didn’t know him all that well and was touched.IMG_2136

When I saw these shiny steel beauties, I squealed with delight and half a dozen have been hanging in my windows ever since – a bit of less conspicuous bling. Not only are they sleek, minimalist and modern Dala horses, but they were for sale in Lucerne, just before we began spending so much time there, plus it was my grandson’s first visit to that pretty city – so a great souvenir, especially now we’re not spending so much time there any more! IMG_2132

Mention Swedish and I suppose most people will immediately think of THAT store, and yes, you may well get your tea served on a colourful little tray of Dala horses! And I think there’s a scholarly-looking one somewhere about, too 🙂Ikea Dala horse 2

You’d perhaps have to be a little more eagle-eyed to spot that I will sometimes wear horses… IMG_2137

And I hate to admit it, but the saddle and bridle presently sitting in my hallway are probably a pretty big give-away LOL. But they have their stories, too. I picked my saddle up secondhand when I first had Sturuss, 27 years ago, and it was not only a perfect fit but turned out to have been made by a distant relative near the small town I was born in Germany, and whose saddles I have never seen for sale otherwise in Switzerland! So it’s probably more like 50 years old and looking all the better for the 25 years of use I gave it. My bridle replaced a cheap one that was stolen from our tack room about 20 years ago, was made-to-measure and just got “seasoned” over the years – leather seems to do that, and with care, lasts almost forever. As does memory, which is why I simply can’t part with these, although I’ll probably never use them again! But where to store them?!

I wonder if I’ve missed anything so obvious I’m blind to it?!IMG_2135

(I’ve just discovered a cake tin in the shape of a Dala horse in my cupboard… oh dear!)

Happy Valentine’s Week…

Whether you actually approve or not (and I know I’m a day late!), it’s nice to do a little heart-themed thing now and again, just as a small reminder of the love… IMG_1194February is a good excuse to get all the hearts out!

I didn’t post yesterday because I was off gallivanting in Lucerne. Again. 🙂

This time, I finally made it to the Rosengart Museum. I actually seem to learn more about myself and my tastes when I go to art galleries and exhibitions, and this was no exception. I still don’t like Picasso and even less his later works, of which there are plenty here. Angela Rosengart knew Picasso personally and shows a lot of his sketches in this (permanent) foundation collection. The other main contributing artist here is Paul Klee, who I suppose I ought to like, since he was actually more of a graphic artist, but I’m afraid I didn’t much like these exhibits, either.

Is it my lack of art education or an eye for art? I just don’t seem to understand the majority of modern art. I can appreciate the struggle the artists may have had to try and free themselves from the constraints of everything that had gone before and the probably quite restrictive societies they had grown up in, both regarding culture and religion, but I simply do not get the final results – and least of all, why they should appeal to the extent of being considered valuable and collectible and exhibited with reverence in a museum…

One of the ironies in this collection was that I found I vastly preferred the few impressionist paintings – not usually something I’m easily enthused by, unlike many people (I’m a Dutch masters girl and a realist!). Even the Picassos and Klees are minor works, but there are a couple of rather bland Monets, small Renoirs, two Pissarro landscapes and a rather nice Vuillard with a hint of the Japanese about it – I think that last one is my favourite of the day. However, as the works are so minor, I can’t find many pictures to include… I might go back and get a postcard and edit this post! If anyone is keen, there are also works by Braque, Matisse, Chagall, Mîro and so on. 5597What is appealing about this? Art doesn’t always have to be “pretty” but… I don’t get it.

What I really liked about the Rosengart Museum was actually the building itself. Built for the Swiss National Bank in 1924, I felt it very much had a sense of the Egypt-craze that was going on from around 1922 in architecture and design, before Art Deco took over. It’s really quite reduced and minimalist, with very pleasing proportions and beautiful materials that I found very appealing. There is lovely, delicate plasterwork on and around the ceilings  and a very nice atmosphere throughout. Completely renovated and refurbished in 2002 for its new purpose as an art gallery, it is certainly a wonderful backdrop for art generally and this collection, spanning a period of ca. 1880-1970, but with some emphasis on the early 20th century (as well as late Picasso), is perhaps a fitting one. Rosengart200508161552160.luzern_rosengart_04As is usual in Switzerland, museums have an entry fee – though this one is on the Raiffeisen programme and allows free entry if you have one of their cards. I don’t know what other good deals there may be for Swiss museums if you are visiting! 

Bridging the gap… and Advent 1

They say no news is good news and everything has been fine – just really busy and intense!

IMG_0796 So a long post is probably due…!

Following my last post, my friend and I did indeed visit the Birmingham Art Gallery. The fantastic Edwardian Tea Room impressed us before we even got to the Pre-Raphaelites!


The Art Gallery was purpose-built (though this hall probably wasn’t originally intended to be a Tea Room!) and was definitely intended to impress and show off the collections in Birmingham, of which the Pre-Raphaelites are only one, and which we simply couldn’t take in all at once. It’s obviously a matter of taste, but I did enjoy looking at the varying styles within that category and finding little details that are simply pleasing…IMG_0731IMG_0732 Isn’t this cat gorgeous?!

Although we are close to Birmingham, I have never really known the city very well and even less so since it’s all been renewed, refurbished and in many cases, utterly changed (i.e. the “new” Bullring Centre!), so I was pleased and surprised to see how grubby old canal areas have been made trendy and lively with a huge amount going on from shops and restaurants to galleries and businesses. As there was a family connection, we also visited a small gallery called the Ikon, thinking we ought to be open to some more modern forms of art… I’m afraid that is all that can be said, as we thought the exhibits more than a little strange and an understanding of “art” that clearly supercedes anything we would consider in that category! But it was interesting to see something different, nevertheless, and we were extremely impressed at how beautifully the old school building had been restored and could appreciate the juxtaposition of the 19th century brick and stonework with the modern additions of glass and steel.  IMG_0734 IMG_0736IMG_0737IMG_0740

Not long after this nice little jaunt, it was time for me to head back to Switzerland, where my family had had to manage without me for a month – unheard of! Finding everything in good order and a warm welcome, I set about preparing for my next absence 😮  IMG_0811

As I knew I would be away during Advent, a time of year we all enjoy so much, it seemed to me a logical conclusion to spend the rest of November in a state of pre-Advent, including all those restorative elements such as baking, candles, decorations, downtime with tea, reading, knitting… you name it! It’s the little things like mandarines (clementines/tangerines) being available and an abundance of greenery and plants like poinsettia that make the difference, I suppose. In any case, we managed to spend a lovely three weeks of home comforts and seasonal activities to rival any other perfect Advent: wandering the pretty boutiques and Christmas markets of mediaeval towns (Stein-am-Rhein and Colmar), a little bit of non-stressful Christmas shopping, plenty of tea, cappuccino and hot chocolate, the aforementioned fruits and biscuits and then also a big dinner event with a Christmas show and another evening comedy event with a Christmas theme, plus a couple of visits to the cinema (that would be the new Bond – ace! – and Kristin Scott-Thomas’ latest offering in French – “Dans la maison” – which she does so well). I had time to see my friends for birthdays and days or evenings out or just a cup of tea and a chat, and to spend time with each of my daughters and grandchildren. My youngest daughter and I found time for a baking session (cinnamon stars!) and a couple of shopping trips in preparation for Christmas but also to feed her newfound enthusiasm (via her vocational training) for sewing… All in all a very successful and intense period of time that I thoroughly enjoyed!!

IMG_0767 This young lady is now walking… and still can’t keep still for a photo!

IMG_0784 Gallivanting with Helen in Baden – The Brown house with its collection of Impressionist paintings, interesting family history and beautiful interior IMG_0780 I thought the gardens and topiary very pretty, along with the garden furniture 🙂

IMG_0788 Still in Baden, one for my husband! The cold, dark day merited plenty of woollies…

IMG_0819 PERFECT weather in Colmar (Alsace, France) – I could bore you stupid with beautiful photos of the mediaeval buildings in Colmar, but thought you may not know that Auguste Bartholdi designed the New York Statue of Liberty, a miniature of which is standing on the little plinth next to him in this monument! IMG_0826IMG_0821IMG_0831IMG_0848IMG_0843IMG_0869IMG_0838…with a pike that probably doesn’t quite rival my grandad’s stuffed one…! IMG_0851Wonderful food in Colmar, too – this was an Apple Strudel that was delicious as well as beautiful!

While on the subject of food, I hasten to recommend the restaurant “Au Rendez-Vous de Chasse” of the Grand Hotel Bristol, just across from the main railway station in Colmar… Both buildings are art nouveau and retain all their turn-of-the-century style. The hotel is very nice, not overdone, and our rooms were lovely, plus the brasserie and breakfasts were excellent. The restaurant, however, is a proper posh French restaurant and my birthday menu was out of this world… takes you to the website with some beautiful images of the delicious food and how it’s presented!


Local interest

Although I am staying in the industrial Black Country area of the Midlands (UK), you may be surprised to know that the countryside is never very far away. Within 15 minutes or so, through grubby and often neglected suburbs – even more dismal in the chilly autumn rain – the greenery suddenly increases, the houses become either bigger or more attractive (or both!) and the sides of the road leafier, until you suddenly realise you’re actually in the countryside and travelling through some attractive and picturesque English villages.

I took advantage of the fact that my ladies are now able to manage to make themselves a cup of tea and a sandwich to take a day off, and headed out to the National Trust property of Wightwick Manor, just to the west of Wolverhampton and apparently, exactly 10 miles (16 km) away from my base. Having heard good things about the estate, I was keen to see the William Morris textiles and “Brotherhood of Pre-Raphaelite artists” collection that are such defining elements of this particular house, and I was certainly not disappointed.

Although the house appears to be a Tudor manor, it was in fact built behind the original 16th century house from 1887 onwards, initially a comfortable family home which was soon after extended by as much again to the large manor we see today, presiding over large, well-proportioned lawns and woodland, with beautiful grounds, particularly a generous rose garden and a large kitchen garden – and visitors are permitted to ramble around to their hearts’ content. Perhaps more attractive in warmer, or at least dryer weather!

The Mander family was an important one in Wolverhampton and the present day town centre mall is named after it. It had made its name in varnishes, paints and printing inks from the late 18th century and by the time Theodore Mander came to build Wightwick Manor, he had a large fortune to draw on. The family had originally bought the old house but found it too small for their needs, necessitating the new-build, and then its extension from 1893. Being keen on the late Victorian Arts and Crafts movement and the Aesthetic Movement initiated by the author John Ruskin, the owners built in a “naturalistic”, yet popular “Old English”-style, so that apart from the William Morris wall coverings and textiles, De Morgan tiles feature prominently in the large fireplaces, Kempe glass is everywhere and much of the art is by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and others of the era – a marvellous and valuable collection (though a good deal was added post-1937!).

Of course, many of the textiles are a little faded and worn after 130 years or have been introduced or replaced at a later date, and yet it is astonishing how well much of the colours are preserved in the wallpapers. Even if the colour contrasts are no longer quite as vivid in the textiles, they don’t appear frayed or tired, just comfortable and inviting. In fact, the whole house is like that – it makes you want to sit and bide your time. Despite the dark oak panelling in Jacobean style that is a dominant feature of the lower floor, the atmosphere is cosy rather than daunting and many windows of varying sizes and shapes, often bow windows, feature window-seats for sitting and enjoying the lovely views over the lower part of the estate, its lawns and gardens and many many great trees. It’s easy to visualise the ladies in their loose, jewel-toned gowns, having the leisure to sit and sew or knit quietly, or to lose themselves in the extensive collection of books that fills the house – not only in the library, but also overflowing in the Great Parlour and smaller bookcases in the upstairs corridors. There is a calm, comfortable feeling in all the rooms, rather than the pomp and splendour of greater stately homes. Surely the owners enjoyed the books and art themselves and weren’t just collecting these things to show off…

The Great Parlour was the main part of the extension added soon after the house was built, doubling its size. An enormous mediaeval hall with towering vaulted wooden ceiling, fantastic painted panels, Morris wall coverings and upholstery, a huge deep fireplace with sofas either side and fine collections of blue and white china (mainly drainer plates), as well as objects brought back from foreign travels. Along the whole south wall there are large windows, all shapes and sizes, it seems, so that the hall is well lit. It features a minstrel’s gallery above, though that is on the wrong end of the hall to be authentic (we were told), and actually gives access to the visitors’ bedrooms that had become necessary additions to the house as the family’s importance increased; Theodore Mander eventually became Mayor of Wolverhampton. Sadly both he and his wife died young, aged only 47 respectively. His eldest son took over the estate and younger siblings and later went into politics, eventually becoming Sir Geoffrey Mander. Over a period of 50 years, all kinds of important people were entertained at Wightwick, from the Duke and Duchess of York to Captain Scott (of the Antarctic) and Prime Ministers such as Stanley Baldwin! The large, formal dining room and billiard room (for the gentlemen) show how exquisitely they were received.

  Sir Geoffrey Mander


Jane Morris by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1870 (completed by Ford Madox Brown)

Interestingly, the day and night nurseries are featured when you tour the house. Our guide pointed out that they were much closer to the family apartments than was common among that class at that time – she suggested it may be due to the fact that Theodore’s wife, Flora, was Canadian and perhaps encouraged a closer relationship to their children than was usual. It is those private bedrooms which are kept separate and inaccessible – members of the Mander family still visit and spend time at the house, descendants from all over the globe, apparently. (After reading the guide, I noticed how bitter the last Mander owner was – perhaps her father was too busy with politics and her mother too busy with cats, Pre-Raphaelites and biographies to be loving parents?! It seems a shame and the house does not reflect her obvious dislike in any way.)

To finish, it is fascinating to see some “behind the scenes” rooms – a large, tiled Cook’s kitchen, pleasant servant’s hall, roomy scullery and laundry but also the in-between rooms such as the boot room or the butler’s pantry and the back stairs…

Unusually for a house with timed tickets and a guided tour, the visitors are free to browse the upstairs and secondary rooms of the house on their own, with only a few stewards available to keep an eye out and to answer questions (they are very knowledgeable). You can try and envisage yourself as an esteemed guest in one of those visitors’ rooms, which aren’t ostentatious but again, comfortable. A large, albeit shared, bathroom is another plus – warm, too, as the house was built with central heating, as well as electricity! One of those rooms has its own writing and dressing room overlooking the east orchard and used to house a large, elaborate bed said to have been slept in by King Charles II on his travels; however, he slept in it at Mosely Old Hall, so that has been removed back to where it came from.

I certainly had a lovely day out, enjoying the tea-room/restaurant with meals including vegetables grown in the Kitchen garden, the browsable National Trust/William Morris shop and the second hand book shop. Upstairs in the old house some Halloween crafts were being offered for children and I noticed there are a number of events planned for the winter season – how lovely to see so much life in a listed property!

And as I came back out, the sun had appeared to emphasise the wonderful colours of the autumn leaves on the mature trees!

Next stop, the Pre-Raphaelites at Birmingham Art Gallery!

(Outdoor photos my own, the rest collected…!)

Making Lemonade

Once again, it’s been a while. How dare life get in the way of blogging?!

Well, it has its ups and downs and while there was plenty of anxiety upon hearing that my mom had to have major surgery, we were very relieved that she got through it successfully and is now making a good recovery. Family matters and is a priority for all of us, so that as my mom has been there for her mom in the UK in the last years, there is no question that I would step in to help out in the meantime – and we’re so pleased that our daughters feel the same way. In fact, without my middle daughter stepping up and taking over my granny’s care until I could get there, things could have got pretty hairy. In any case, it all means I am spending a good deal of the rest of the year in England, sharing the care – and we all actually seem to be enjoying the opportunity to spend time together, four generations in harmony, which really is quite something!

Just before I left, little Mireille had her 1st birthday! We had a little get-together to celebrate and I enjoyed using the theme of her main present – a collection of small classic animals – to decorate the table for our brunch.

I made some animal-shaped iced biscuits for the occasion, used owl serviettes and printed out place-mats (that I laminated) from Martha Stewart’s website (!) that have Steiff stuffed animals all around the edges. Mireille enjoyed looking at them!


Animals seem to be more interesting to Mireille than cars and she enjoyed playing with them 

There were other presents, too. A headscarf that is still a bit big (she needs to grow some hair LOL!) and a book… 

Mireille’s book this year is one I think is extremely cute and I’m happy to promote it here: 


Having been practising for a year, our little granddaughter is now also walking! But the thing she enjoyed most on this visit was a little wooden footstool made by my husband in his woodworking class as a teenager! It was good to push around, climb onto, ride on and excellent to stand on to reach higher up the bookcase… and for stacking cups 🙂 


F O U R !!!!

My little grandson is 4 years old this month – where does the time go?!

Memories of my daughter’s childhood birthdays are something of a blur, to be honest, despite the fact that they are probably all captured on camera somewhere. I remember my eldest daughter’s (grandson’s mom) 5th and 7th, my middle daughter’s 2nd and 10th and my youngest daughter’s 6th, 10th and 11th most clearly and am quite proud of the fact that we’ve never resorted to a McDonald’s party (and I’m not sure if my daughters have ever even been to one?). We’ve made decorations and party favours, had pony rides home, dancing and a cinema to ourselves, outings with picnics (in November!) and dress-up, had pizza and cake and all the trimmings, teaparties, streamers, balloons and Mexican meals… with everything from only 2 or 3 friends to whole classes of 28 kids (who were good as gold!) – they say variety is the spice of life!

All my daughters’ birthdays are in the cooler seasons (January, March, November) and the only time we tried to have a party for my husband’s June birthday, it rained, so we were quite delighted that our grandson was born in July, so that he could have fun outdoor birthday parties – turns out a birthday in the summer holidays means he will never have his birthday in schooltime and so far, we’ve not managed to be in the country for it, either, as that’s when we’re usually at the seaside in France! Still, we’ve seen the evidence of barbecues, hot sunny weather so that the kids are naked and the icing on the cake melts, and of course they have stacks of fun with lots of children and adults milling around, sleepouts in the summer-house, water-sliding, trampolining and all the rest of it!

Now he’s 4, my grandson is very aware of gift-giving and spends much of the year perusing toy catalogues and muttering to himself which of the items could be a present from grandparents and godparents. He’s been into cars since he was a baby, that is, anything with wheels, so trains and so on, too. Considering what to get him for his birthday became a little difficult early on, as he soon accumulated various train sets and a multitude of cars and trucks and tractors and lorries of varying sizes… What DO you give a 4 year old these days without resorting to electronics and screens, battery-operated junk and so on? While he may not particularly thank his Nana, I have been determined to encourage his outdoor activities and his creativity, and don’t see the point in expensive things for children most of the time (if any are justified, you can usually borrow them). Plus we have a tradition that a book is always part of a present.

So…. this is the tissue box that is NOT a tissue box…! Inside, there are 6 different coloured silk scarves, about 90x90cm, that can be absolutely anything they want to be – grass, water, an Arab headdress, a prince’s cloak, a golden crown… popular in Waldorf kindergartens, they are intended to encourage creative play. I chose to package them like a magician’s string of knotted scarves, so that they can be pulled out of the box like magic! 

The second gift is a giant parachute, designed to be held by a number of children around the edges and moved up and down while one or more of the children run underneath or are bounced about – since any number of kids hang around my daughter’s house, there are bound to be enough at any given time for this social game! 

And the book this year is one of the Moomins books by Tove Jansson, written quite a long time ago, in 1945, originally in Finnish. I included the audiobook of some of the stories – ideally I should have recorded myself reading the book, but time constraints and weeks and weeks of having a sore throat put paid to that idea. Still, perhaps this energetic little boy will have some quiet downtime listening to the stories or having them read to him before bedtime….

(NB he may hate them, as my husband says he disliked the Moomins when he was a child, but you don’t know till you try, right?! I always thought they were very sweet.)

Anyway, Happy Birthday Sevi! Have a lovely year of being 4, starting kindergarten and generally growing up big and strong and active, even if you are bound to get a few bumps and bangs on the way – maybe we’ll manage to be here for your next birthday!!