Archive | December, 2012

My favorite floating tree

26 Dec

Keeping the posts short and sweet this week as we snuggle up with some family time.  On Christmas Day this week, we took a rainy drive to my favorite Cotswold village, Bourton-on-the-Water, to take a walk around the river Windrush and marvel once again at the floating Christmas Tree.  We wandered between the raindrops and saw very few other people out strolling the ‘Venice of the Cotswold.’


See how high and bright the moon is?  Can you guess what time it is?  About five pm.  I’m so relieved to be on the lengthening side of the days of darkness.


The river is very high, after our weeks and weeks of unseasonably heavy rain.
IMG_2970Cold … dark … blurry … still pretty.

A drive to Bourton-on-the-Water is always worthwhile, in my view, whether it’s for summertime ice cream and dipping toes in the river, or a chilly winter walk around a floating tree.

Reindeer oats

24 Dec

Just a tiny bit of our family holiday tradition — making and sprinkling ‘magic’ oats for Santa’s flying reindeer.

IMG_2882Any basic oats will do — the magic comes from the special additions of glitter and cupcake sprinkles.  (If you’re worried about leaving glitter on the road or lawn, cupcake sprinkles alone will do just fine.)

IMG_2868Singing christmas carols while stirring up the treat helps to seal in the magic.

My children first brought this idea home with them from pre-K, and it’s an easy craft tradition to keep up every year.  We sprinkle ours outside before bedtime on Christmas Eve in a glittery path that theoretically will be seen from the sky and appeal to flying reindeer.

IMG_2887All set!  Good night!

He’s behind you!

22 Dec

We went to the panto last year, and I knew this year to book our tickets early so we could sit somewhere out of the corner pocket of the theatre — a theatre I love, by the way.   I’m a bit exhausted and overwrought by the darkness of the season, but here are a few photos of what was a fun evening out …

IMG_2831Remember that unique English tradition, the pantomime?  I really can’t explain it.  This year, our local panto included a professional clown, who brought all ages to howls of laughter with his slapstick high jinks.

IMG_2836Yes, the Dame is wearing the London Eye on her head.

IMG_2839The ethereal Fairy had a touch of goofiness this year, and the settings were just as colorful and fun as before.

IMG_2843This year’s nonsensical audience-particiation song was set to an Olly Murs tune and featured baking … this Crumpet enjoyed herself.

IMG_2847And because even I will learn if you show me the same thing over and over again (ie, no one just walks in to a restaurant during the holiday season, everything is booked weeks ahead), I booked dinner for the family back when I bought our theatre tickets (in October), and we walked through the holiday-lit solstice darkness for a kid-friendly meal after the show.

It’s been a struggle to get in to the holiday spirit this season, but this yearly tradition is irresistible.

(Have you wondered the whole way through this post what in the world the title means?  Pantos have a repeating series of lines that show up in every show, every year.  One is a call and response from a character to the audience, along the lines of “If you see so-and-so, you’ll tell me, won’t you?” To which the audience SCREAMS and shouts “He’s right behind you!”  The character turns the wrong way, the baddie gets away once again, and everyone yells and howls.  It’s totally ridiculous, but so much of England makes more sense after you’ve been to the panto.)

It’s that time of year

20 Dec

Are you expecting a post about the holidays?  No.  It’s that time of year when I finally SNAP and FREAK THE FREAK OUT about the days of darkness and I LOSE THE WILL TO GO ON and my happy light gets drunk and quits trying and I stand outside at 3 pm when it looks the same as it did at 2 am and 7 am and noon and the same as it will look at midnight and MY BRAINS LEAK OUT MY EARS.

IMG_2817Actual photo of the actual sky.

Yes: I know it is darker elsewhere.  I do not care.  This is as dark as I ever need it to be, for as long as I ever need it to be dark, forever.

Thief of sunshine, thief of happiness.  We hates it!  We hates it forever.

Hazelnut-spread muffins

18 Dec

Apparently these are all over Pinterest.  I am not all over Pinterest, because if I go down that rabbit hole, I am never ever coming out.  You might use Nutella to make these, but if you are feeling slightly horrified by the sugar content of Nutella and happen to have a nice natural foods store or Whole Foods nearby, you can find a “healthier” hazelnut-chocolate spread that works well.  (Let’s just pretend it is healthier.  I’m not sure how over 30% hazelnut and 20% cocoa powder can be healthy, but let’s not worry about it.)

I used this recipe:

IMG_2569This stuff is ah-mur-zing.


IMG_2576And after baking.

The only change to the recipe I’d recommend is giving your chocolate-hazelnut spread a good mix with a spoon or fork before adding it to the muffin tins.  It’s much easier to swirl after it’s been whipped up a little bit.  These aren’t really cakes, but are a bit too sweet to be muffins.  I don’t know what they are, exactly, but they feel more like a breakfast or brunch food than an after-dinner treat.  Have fun and enjoy!

Lights of the season

16 Dec

I’ve already mentioned I’m a seasonal lights display junkie.  (What, you don’t remember that post from last year?  You don’t read and memorize every single post of mine?  That’s okay, I’ve started to forget what I’ve written about, too.  200 posts, baby!)

We returned to Prinknash Bird and Deer Park again this year for our dosing of holiday lights and Father Christmas grotto magic.  Before a sampling of photos, I have some tips to share if you are headed out that way, this year or next:

  • Buy tickets online ahead of time.  You’ll save a small charge per ticket, and when you arrive you can skip the line and go straight in.
  • Wear your wellies.
  • Although the paths are mostly paved and many parents seem to bring their push-carts, prams, and strollers, I would not consider this a stroller-friendly venue.  It is stroller-possible, but looks extremely aggravating and has some off-road sections. It is wheel-chair accessible.
  • If you go to the tent with Santa’s sleigh early, before the crowds, they might just let you take your own photo (instead of charging you for a professional shot).
  • Go directly to Santa’s Grotto.  You may think you want to wait until it is darker and the woodland lights walk is more festive, but you are incorrect.  You want to get in that line right away, before it gets long.  When the line gets long, the minders start to rush the visits to Santa, and the babies start to cry, and the parents start to get really cranky.
  • After you see Santa visit the Fairy in her Gypsy Caravan.  It’s a piece of magic on earth.
  • The lines for facepainting are not as long as you think.  Send one adult to get hot chocolate while the other waits with the kids.
  • They do sell hot dogs but there is nowhere to sit.  If you do find a seat it will be wet and covered in bird droppings.  Unless your kids are good at walking and eating and holding their gifts from Santa in the dark while strolling over mud, skip the food.
  • Don’t forget a visit to Rudolph and Prancer, the park’s reindeer.  They are big and have very sharp antlers.  This may surprise your little ones who are expecting a plushy small cuddly creature with a glowing nose.
  • After you’ve seen Santa, had the facepainting, met the Fairy, gazed upon reindeer, and procured your hot chocolate, now is the time to take a slow stroll through the holiday lights in the woods.  It will be dark and you can walk at leisure while poor parents push their prams or hurry-up their youngsters as they realize the line to see Santa is now about an hour long.  Sip that hot chocolate and enjoy at your own pace.


Ducks crossing.  Well-lit, holiday ducks.


The Christmas Fairy offers sweeties and listens to any wishes the children may have been too nervous to tell Santa.


Can I please live here, with you?


Prancer.  Reindeer are not really very cute.


A pheasant, roosting overhead along the woodland walk.


Along the walk, this lights display over a pond is one of my favorites.  Probably because it looks like something even I could put up.


A new display this year.  I’m going to say in honor of The Hobbit, but I doubt that’s true.  Still, spread the rumor.


A look back along part of the walk, with the new tree and a new toddler-sized gypsy caravan.


A view over another pond, to the woodland walk in the distance.

IMG_2760The several holiday tents where facepainting, crafting, food, and Santa’s Sleigh all await discovery.  Ho!  Ho!  Ho!

Cotswold Winter

14 Dec

crazy reindeer eyes

Over the summer we had a whirlwind week of local activities.  Phew.  Now we’re staring down the barrel of a winter week of school holidays before Christmas arrives, and I’m wondering how to fill our days.  Some of our favorite places are closed for the season, limiting our choices.  Still, I have a few ideas.  What do you think?

Santa’s Grotto and lights display at Prinknash Bird & Deer Park.  (We went last year.)

The Enchanted Christmas events at Westonbirt Arboretum. Or the Forest of Dean Clearwell Caves Christmas Fantasy.  (I really miss going to the holiday lights displays in the US.  Can you tell?)

Back to the Slimbridge Wetlands Centre (with suitable coats and walking gear — maybe even for breakfast with Santa).  We visited over the fall and had a great time.

A walk through Gloucester Cathedral — especially the crypts, the whispering walk, and if we can, a Christmas concert.

Also in Gloucester, the National Waterways Museum.  We’ve been before, but in a rush, and the kids would enjoy a repeat.  (And I could get some better photos to finally write a blog post about it!)

Not sure this is the best time of year to go for the first time, but we’d love to check out the Cotswold Farm Park.

beets, cheese, squash

We’ve been to the Cotswold Wildlife Centre a few times, so it might not top our looking-for-something-new list.  (Blog post one [a winter visit, with reindeer!], blog post two)

A Harry Potter walking tour of Oxford.

A cold day, can’t stand to be outside?  Maybe some rock wall climbing.  Or a trip to Bristol IKEA for Smaland and piles of inexpensive meatballs.

A train ride on one of the steam trains at the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway?  Maybe with Santa?

The Corinium Museum is a big hit with my kids, but we’ve been a bit too frequently, I think.

If I wake up with a million dollars in my pocket (and can’t catch a flight to Bermuda) we’ll shop and eat and play at the Burford Garden Company one half day.

If we find the stamina for a longer day out, a day trip to Cardiff Castle or Warwick Castle is sure to please.  Or someplace new:  Longleat Safari Park.

And I wouldn’t consider my Cotswold Christmas complete without a visit to the floating Christmas tree at Bourton-on-the-Water.

Right.  With a week of exploring to fill, we should be able to fit in at least two or three of these activities, right?

blue pickup


(photos drawn, somewhat at random, from a early December visit to the Burford Garden Centre.)