Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A Month in Books - November 2016

I hadn't initially thought that November was outstanding month of book reading but, looking back to write this post I see I was wrong. I mostly awarded three or four star ratings so goods and very goods rather than five star wows - although there are two of those! - but I did have a good run of indie author reads including two travel memoirs, a great mental health YA novel, an interesting self help guide and another thought-provoking Joss Sheldon novel. There's also a Christmas classic and thrilling Scandi-crime fiction.
If you read all the way through to the end of this post, I'm running a giveaway for my last read of November!

Four Chambers by John Henry Winter

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Winter was inspired to write this novella by quantum physics and his boom explores the idea of disparate events being connected in tiny and unexpected ways. It is cleverly done and I needed to read slowly (for me) so as not to miss any hints that were later shown to be important connections.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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I have seen several theatrical and film versions of A Christmas Carol over the years, but hadn't actually read the book since childhood and that was probably an abridged version. I loved rediscovering this timeless classic and thought Dickens' portrayal of London and her people must be pretty much impossible to top!

The Last Hotel Room by Sean McLachlan

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I have been impressed with all my KindleScout reward books so far and The Last Hotel Room was no exception. McLachlan evokes various aspects of life in Tangier, Morocco, and also explores the predicament of Syrian refugees trapped in poverty within the city.

Berta La Larga by Cuca Canals

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This young adult novel reads like a myth or a fairytale and it is great fun. Very Spanish in style, it tells of poor Berta who is supposed to have magical powers but seems to only be possessed of great height. However when she falls in love with a postman from the hated neighbouring village, her powers are unleashed to devastating effect.

Road To Nowhere by Jim Fusilli

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I bought this audiobook from Audible a few years ago, but for some unknown reason it wouldn't download so got forgotten about until now. It's an odd crime thriller, well narrated but with a strange premise that I couldn't completely get behind. I did like the female characters' portrayal although our 'hero' is depicted in too enigmatic a way for me to understand him.

London Overground: A Day's Walk Around The Ginger Line by Iain Sinclair

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I had been looking forward to reading this one as I like urban history, long distance walking and trains. However I was disappointed. There were some sections which were interesting, but much of the book is Sinclair's reminiscences about his own arty and literary friends and it came across to me as too pretentious.

The MacKinnon's Bride by Tanya Anne Crosby

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If you are a light romance fan and have never heard how Scottish people really speak then you might well like The MacKinnon's Bride. It's light and pretty predictable and I did quite enjoy the quick read. The interspersed 'historical language' is very odd though!

Wasp Days by Erhard von Buren

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It took a while for me to get into this book and I don't think it is one that would appeal to a wide audience. Essentially an elderly man reminiscing about his life, I was interested in historical Paris and in a journey he took to China.

Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson

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A great charity shop find and, as soon as he finished reading, Dave was straight on to Amazon to buy another mystery in this series! Perhaps not completely believable, but go with the flow for an exciting read.

Three Days In Damascus by Kim Schultz

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Another perspective on the refugee crisis, Schultz's newly published memoir recounts her long-distance relationship with an Iraqi man stranded in Syria.

March by Geraldine Brooks

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One reason I chose to read Little Women recently was because I knew I had this audiobook awaiting me. It fills in a story of Mr March, the girls' absent father, during the American Civil War and in his younger years. I particularly liked how Brooks weaves her novel around the original.

I Am The Ocean by Samita Sarkar

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Canadian Sarkar spent a month travelling in America alone and this memoir recounts both her physical experiences and her spiritual growth during her journey. Her Hare Krishna faith is an important aspect of the book.

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

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Another great charity shop find! We had already seen the film of this book and, unsurprisingly, there is a lot more to the novel although the film keeps very closely to its source material. I was fascinated by the portrayal of a Maori New Zealand community.

The Little Voice by Joss Sheldon

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Newly published last week, this first person narrated novel explores how we condition our children and asks whether what is considered to be best for our society is damaging its members. This is the second of Sheldon's books that I have loved and he has joined my favourite author list!

Your Flight To Happiness by Toni Mackenzie

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This self help guide to emotional resilience uses the author's former career as an air stewardess as its hook and includess useful exercises and mindfulness ideas, most of which look fairy easy to implement.

Turkish Gambit by Boris Akunin

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Disappointing historical fiction because there wasn't enough period detail for my tastes. The book is set during the Russo-Turkish War of the 1870s and does have a nice spy story mystery, but the characters aren't all particularly well developed.

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini 

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A bit of a sprawl of a novel, I didn't think this book had a strong enough structure and it lost direction during the second half. It's still good, but I think not a patch on Hosseini's first two books.

My Friends Are All Strange by M C Lesh

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Newly published in October this year, Lesh has written an insightful YA novel of a teenager trying to cope with her disintegrating mental health. This book is suitable for older readers too and I have a copy to give away on Literary Flits this week. (The post publishes itself at noon today).

Eighteen books later, that's all my November reads and I am set to start on December's delights! I know I have one Christmassy novella lined up and it comes with a Blog Tour giveaway for you to enter. There will be a witchy fantasy story with a giveaway too and I am wondering whether to take the plunge and start The Luminaries. I can't keep being intimidated by its brickness forever!

Monday, 28 November 2016

A brief stop at Champagnac-La-Riviere in the Limousin

Chez Trangiroux 
We've paused for a few days in the village of Champagnac-La-Riviere which is in the Limousin region of France to visit our friends Chris and Marta who have a base nearby. Our campsite here is again Camping Parc Verger and there have been a few changes since we were last here in April. There's now a little swimming pool - although it's closed for the winter - and plans are afoot for a cafe in the New Year. Franc and Lisa were welcoming again and we managed to get the same pitch as before with its view over the neighbouring lake. The water level is so low we can scarcely see it though. Apparently this part of France has experienced an unusually dry summer. I took advantage of the book exchange in Reception for a spot of BookCrossing so if you're wanting to read Turkish Gambit or And The Mountains Echoed, my copies are here!

Walk signs at Champagnac-La-Riviere 
We've been on two good walks around the local area with our friends. The first was one of their regular routes of about 8km. The second was shorter at 6.3km - Marta has a GPS gadget! - and mostly followed a marked route around the Circuit des Ecureuils. The photograph above is of art at Chez Trangiroux, a house on route which is decorated with several eye-themed artworks. Although chilliness descends once the sun has set here, we had pleasantly warm sunshine over the weekend so the autumnal woods were glorious in shades of orange, yellow and brown. Their paths were deep with fallen leaves too and Marta found a few chanterelle mushrooms. She is quite the eagle-eyed forager! We are delighted to have been given a jar of her homemade Medlar Jelly as a 'Happy Travels' gift. I know it is delicious!

Deyme, near Toulouse, is our destination today and we plan on an overnight stop at Camping Violettes - another good campsite we discovered last trip. If the weather there is gorgeous, we might be tempted to prolong our stay and cycle a little of the Canal du Midi again. Otherwise it will be straight on to pastures new.

Marta's Medlar Jelly 

Saturday, 26 November 2016

We see the Bayeux Tapestry and Battle of Normandy Museum

Bayeux Cathedral 
Our main reason for choosing the Manoir de l'Abbaye campsite which I blogged about yesterday was so we could visit Bayeux and finally see its famous tapestry. That's not all the town has to offer though and we started by visiting the Notre Dame du Bessin Cathedral, a stately and elegant structure which towers over everything. Inside it is mostly plain stone, but with many gorgeously vivid stained glass windows and an incredibly overblown 17th century pulpit. This is about half way down the cathedral, side on to the pews, and would make the speaker look as though they were preaching from within clouds and surrounded by cherubs. Not a subtle message to the congregation! We were lucky to see a worn, but still clear medieval wall painting which had been uncovered when large furniture in front was removed for restoration. We could also peep into a lower possibly Roman level underground, but couldn't walk around as this was closed off for the winter.

I liked this joiner's shop sign 
Also closed for the winter were the pay machines at the d'Ornano which pleased us. Parking is free here from the end of October until the Spring so we didn't have to pay for that or to enter the Cathedral or to wander around the interesting old streets. There is a trail of some twenty boards which explain aspects of Bayeux history from Roman times until the Second World War. We learned that the Roman town here was called Augustodurum. The massive Roman walls which were originally built to protect against Saxon raids were only abandoned during the eighteenth century and we were able to see a small section that has been preserved.

It was a clear but distinctly chilly day so we took the opportunity to warm up at Le Miette Doree, a tiny sandwicherie on Rue Larcher which was offering Soupe Maison at €3 a bowl. The soup was just what we needed and the coffee here was very good too.

Battle of Normandy Museum diorama 
We bought a dual ticket for the Museum of the Battle of Normandy and the Bayeux Tapestry Musem. This was €12 per person and turned out to be great value although Dave was unimpressed at the lack of seniors discount! The Battle of Normandy museum is huge and has extensive exhibits documenting the Allies invasion and ultimate capture of Normandy over the summer of 1944. I was particularly interested in the old photographs and artifacts. There are models in all the various uniforms, vehicles, guns and shells and a detailed diorama which I managed to get a reasonable photo of. The 25 minute film in the little cinema is very good and included a lot of information which was new to us. Most sobering were the images of absolute destruction. Town after town seemingly reduced to rubble. How did anyone survive?

From one war to another and I am happy to say that The Bayeux Tapestry is as incredible in person as it reputation suggests! There is Absolutely No Photography allowed which is understandable so I have 'borrowed' the image below from the museum website. We had read online the evening before our visit that the Tapestry is only 50cm high so I wondered if we would have another Magna Carta moment (is that it?!). Instead I was amazed! We were given audioguide headsets explaining each of the fifty-odd scenes along the seventy metres of embroidery. I wasn't prepared for there to be so much humour in the work - although it does get pretty gruesome later on. After viewing the Tapestry we also explored the accompanying museum which explained its making and the whole 1066 story in great detail and from the Norman perspective. Perhaps not everything I was told at school was true! This museum also has a very good short film and I loved the tiny models of contemporary landscapes and the full size replica of a Norman boat. I can't imagine trying to cross the Channel effectively in a big canoe - with horses!

Bayeux Tapestry detail 

Friday, 25 November 2016

En France! Manoir de l'Abbaye at Martragny near Bayeux

Manoir de l'Abbaye at Martragny 
I'd like to start this post with a big thank you to the weather for deciding to have its storm the day before our cross channel sailing! The sea for our crossing was practically flat and I hardly felt poorly at all. I even managed to drink coffee and eat a delicious salmon salad. If only all sailings could be as smooth!

Our first stop was Manoir de l'Abbaye campsite at Martragny, just outside Bayeux. The ACSI registered site is open all year, but as we pulled up the single track lane to the camping field entrance we spotted a barrier across it and our hearts sank. It's ok said Madame, waving from behind us. You can park in the courtyard. Just reverse back down this narrow curving lane. Reverse? We don't DO reverse! Fortunately Dave panicked less than I did and took the wheel. He managed to slowly but surely trundle our caravan back and then in through a huge stone gateway to the Manoir courtyard. Phew! Other than just clipping one corner, our worst caravanning nightmare was averted!

Manoir de l'Abbaye is €21 a night (ACSI price €18 for 3 or more nights) including electricity and free wifi and they only take cash. There is a little shower block in the courtyard, but the chemical toilet point is across the neighbouring camping field. If you stay here in winter too, don't wait until your toilet is full. It's a long traipse! We were glad of the protection provided by thick stone walls and an overhanging barn roof though. Monday night was pretty windy.

The Manoir was apparently built in the 17th century and the main house is a beautiful building. I loved that the barn where we hooked up our electricity was full of random broken furniture, old agricultural implements and a pretty new mini tractor. The three-foot-long door knocker is impressive too! Manoir de l'Abbaye is excellently situated for Bayeux so if you want to see the famous tapestry, this is the campsite to choose. The town is probably even within cycling distance for fitter souls. Just make sure to pull over and ask where you need to pitch up. Don't go zooming up the lane - whatever the signs say!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

#ThrowbackThursday - where we were on this day in Novembers past

Deer print by Mark Hearld 
I can revisit blog posts right back to 2012 for November's ThrowbackThursday post because I know I visited the Emma Mason Gallery in Cornfield Terrace, Eastbourne at the start of their Into The Ark exhibition of prints featuring animals. The exhibition was put on to coincide with that year's Eastbourne Christmas Open Houses. I never actually bought any large prints from Emma Mason, but it is a fabulous place to go for unusual and gorgeous greetings cards such as the Deer pictured here. The Eastbourne Christmas Open Houses is running again this year too, over the first two weekends in December and full details are on this Facebook page.

Estremoz architecture 
This time in November 2013 we were well into our First Great Caravan Adventure and were just about to arrive in Evoramonte in Portugal. We stayed at our second Dutch-owned campsite here and I remember that the shower block was architect-designed and absolutely fabulous. A Dutch couple caravanning on the pitch next to us had been stranded there three weeks while they waited for their Subaru car to be repaired in Lisbon and were understandably delighted when they could finally collect it. This photo is of a great building in our nearest town of Estremoz and we also took the opportunity to visit Evora which boasts incredible Roman ruins including an aqueduct and a temple to Diana.

Regrowing hillside above Xabia 
By the 25th of November 2014 we were in Xabia, Spain, and well into our second Great Caravan Adventure which would go on to last some 20 months. We donned our hiking boots to stride out over the hills overlooking Xabia port to discover eleven historic windmills which had originally been built between the 14th and 18th centuries. It was a bizarre vista as there had been an extensive forest fire only a few months previously so we saw lots of barren hillsides with blackened tree stumps and a few palm trees beginning to regrow. There was a burned car crashed halfway down one hillside too, but we never did find out if that had been the cause of the greater fire or it had crashed earlier and then been consumed.

Old olive mill in Castries 
Then on this day last year we were cycling around Sussargues and Castries in France. We were staying on a campsite in Castries and took advantage of a bright, sunny day for a two hour ride out as dar as Saint Drezery before returning for coffee in a pretty courtyard cafe and a stroll around Castries itself. The old olive mill pictured is now the Mairie (the town hall) and I loved that they had kept all the flowing arches.

This year we are in France again at this point in November and hopefully by the time this blog post publishes itself (I am writing a few days in advance while I still have reliable wifi!) we will have seen the Bayeux Tapestry - all 70 metres of it! That will certainly be a memorable day!

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

#TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye

Northern Edge coffee 
There's Christmas offers absolutely everywhere at the moment so it was tough to narrow down five to shout about in this post there's more in the Comments! I've chosen three small businesses to kick off November's TreatYourself suggestions and I am going to start with a discount code off excellent coffee because, lets face it, party season is almost upon us and those mornings-after are going to require help!

We discovered Northern Edge coffee when we visited Berwick Upon Tweed last year as part of our UK caravanning tour. The company is the most northerly coffee roaster in the country and the pictured Jimmy blend is one we sampled and consequently bought a whole bag of. It's damn fine coffee! If you'd like to try Northern Edge for yourself, use checkout code xmas16 until the 15th December to get 10% off your purchase.

Quirky gift and homewares shop Crimson Tiger has an even greater discount for you and I am excited to announce that this one is exclusive to Stephanie Jane readers! Simply use checkout code SJ16 to get 15% off. There's a good variety of UK made items, my favourite of which is solar powered Owl Nightlight made from recycled steel. Christmas cards and decorations are new in stock as are pretty floral silk scarves and cute wooden bird brooches. Plus, as an added incentive, for emergency gifts Nerissa at Crimson Tiger can write, wrap and send your gift and card direct to the recipient! The shop is based in Sutton and I love that Crimson Tiger is named for a line in a poem.

Bluebell Creations papercut art 
Bluebell Creations in Burntwood is Heather Weaving's Etsy shop where she sells beautifully detailed papercut artworks and jewellery all of which are laboriously cut by hand with a scalpel. Images like the Nordic Stags pictured make unusual Christmas gifts and Heather also makes ultra-romantic papercuts for anniversary and wedding presents. She is currently offering a generous 20% off purchases when you use the checkout code XMAS2016 and this code is active until the 31st of December.

A timely email from English Heritage ensured their inclusion in this month's five special offers and I like that this is a discount on doing rather than simply buying! Over 400 historic properties across the country are currently ablaze with autumnal colour and many also have special events at weekends including family days and indoor activities for rainy days. If you're struggling to find an unusual gift idea or want to take advantage of a year's membership for yourself, you can get a 10% discount off annual and gift memberships with the code EH2016. It's valid until the 31st of December and there are various package options available from single membership to couples to family groups.

Finally, have you got any 'spare' money at the moment?! If so, there's just 8 days left to take advantage of Ecobond4, an investment opportunity from Ecotricity. The company is raising money for new renewable energy generation infrastructure and is offering returns of up to 4.5% on monies invested via Ecobond4 (the investment and returns are not guaranteed). Even better, Ecotricity customers can realise up to 5%! If you are not already an Ecotricity customer and would like to switch, quote my code RAF-I2W6Y during sign up. You and I will both be rewarded with a John Lewis or LUSH shopping voucher for doing so.

Feel welcome to Comment any special offers and discounts that you know of and want to share - especially if you run a small business and it is your own offer!
I will look out for another five to share with you just before Christmas. I don't know yet if they will be last-minute festive bargains or the scrum of Boxing Day sales.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

A good campsite near Poole in Dorset

South Lytchett Manor Library 
Despite the best efforts of South West Trains I successfully travelled to Sutton and back to see the aforementioned Scrooge production which was great fun. Both my sister and niece were fabulous, of course, and I was pleased to see that three of the four performances were totally sold out!

We're at South Lytchett Manor campsite, just outside Poole in Dorset at the moment. The site is about a ten minute drive from the ferry terminal which is perfect for us as our boat leaves for France early tomorrow morning. As well as the convenient location, this is a really nice site too. It was named the AA Campsite of the Year for 2016 and is affiliated to the Camping And Caravanning Club although you don't need to be members to pitch up here. We got a very warm welcome on arrival and were allocated a wide hardstanding pitch. I was particularly glad of that with the incessant rain last night!

South Lytchett Manor has a well stocked and reasonably priced shop with a games room alongside and the wonderful Library Phone Box pictured above. I took the opportunity to swap a couple of books so if you fancy reading Asa Larsson or Witi Ihimaera, copies of one each of their books are here right now! There's plenty of other facilities here too. The shower blocks are well maintained and heated, although there is loud music playing all the time. We also got a free wifi code each and the signal strength is good - as far as pitch 52 at least!

If you don't have your own travelling home, South Lytchett Manor offer rental of three gorgeous Romany caravans instead. We didn't get to see inside any of them, but they look adorable from the outside. You can also hire bikes from Reception and there's a wide cycle path passing right outside the site entrance which leads off into Poole.

On a cycling note, Dave has been mooting changing his full size bike for a folder similar to mine and today took the plunge to buy one! He's got himself a Dahon Vybe D7 from Go Outdoors in Poole. He tried the bike out in the shop and was happy with it and it's offered at a good price right now - especially considering the extra 10% discount we got for showing our Camping And Caravanning Club card! We can fit both our folding bikes in the car now which means soon no longer having to lug the large bike indoors onto the bed every time we travel!

Dave on his Dahon Vybe D7 folding bike 

Dave looking cool on his new Dahon bike 

Our pitch at South Lytchett Manor 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Dave's Spiced Mince and Blackeyed Peas recipe

Dave first ate this meal at a one-day festival, probably in East Anglia somewhere, decades ago and this is his recreation of the recipe. It's a good winter warmer and we love how the spices soak into their hot, buttered toast 'plate'. I wonder if the idea dates back to Medieval 'trenchers' (from the French trancher, to slice) which performed a similar function. Don't be put off by the longish list of ingredients. Most are store cupboard staples.

This meal can be easily vegetarianised by substituting veggie mince and stock cubes for their meat alternatives. The mince benefits from overnight maturing of the flavours if possible, but is still good if cooked straight through. There is about an hour of preparation and cooking time altogether.

Rapeseed oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
200g beef mince
Worcestershire sauce
1-2 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground corander seed
2 tsp ground ginger
Salt and pepper
Beef stock cube
1/4 pint water
2 celery sticks, cut into 1cm slices
Chicken stock cube
200g (1/2 tin) blackeyed peas
Toast slices

Heat the oil and fry the onion until it has softened. Towards the end of the onion cooking, add the garlic so it cooks for 3-4 minutes.

Add the beef mince and stir it round until all the meat has browned. While the mince is browning add several splashes of Worcestershire sauce and the tomato puree. Also stir in the four spices and the salt and pepper.

When the mince is browned and everything is thoroughly stirred in, crumble in a beff stock cube and the water. Stir to combine and leave to simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the mince is almost dry again. Set aside to mature, refrigerating once cool, overnight if possible.

In a new pan, simmer the celery with the chicken stock cube and enough water to cover the pieces until it is all tender. Strain and add the celery to the mince.

Strain the blackeyed peas and add them to the mince.

Heat the mince, celery and peas through until piping hot. Check the seasoning and add more salt or pepper if needed.

Serve on on slices of hot, generously buttered toast.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

On the road again!

Our very first caravan campsite in 2013 
We're setting out on our third caravanning adventure today and, at the time this post publishes itself, we will be trying to cram the last of our 'essentials' into the car. Then we've got a short drive to pick up our Bailey caravan from storage before we head all the way to Poole (no, not far really!) for a few days at South Lytchett Manor campsite. This is a new site for us so we're looking forward to seeing it, especially as it was named the AA Campsite of the Year for 2016!

I am, of course, travelling up to Sutton on Friday for Sutton Theatre Company's production of Scrooge. Have all readers within a fifty mile radius got their tickets? See you there! (I have my fingers already crossed that South West Trains will successfully manage to get me there on Friday and back again on Saturday. Why can't all that Heathrow money be invested in a decent rail network instead?)

Our boat from Poole to Cherbourg is booked for Monday morning and this crossing will also be a new experience for us as we haven't tried this route before. It's supposed to be about four hours I think, similar timewise to Newhaven - Dieppe. We have got ourselves a cabin so hopefully my seasickness pills will knock me out and I can just sleep through it. I'm really not a good sailor!

I'm feeling a weird mixture of nervousness, excitement and melancholy about this trip. I will miss our new flat and Torquay which I have come to love already. However I am eager to be out on the road again and exploring new places. Even though this will be our third winter touring France and Spain and we've already been to so many amazing places, there's always much more to see. On y va!

Monday, 14 November 2016

Three Greeting Cards shipped and new crochet motifs for sale

A Christmas Carol greeting card - SOLD!
I enjoyed another walk into Wellswood this morning to post my latest Etsy sale, this pretty Literary Greeting Card which features text from A Christmas Carol embellished with a hand crocheted lilac star. The card is now on its way to Guildford. On Friday I posted two more cards, these ones featuring Wuthering Heights text and going to Slovenia where the winner of last week's Literary Flits Giveaway lives. I haven't got a Giveaway as such running this week as we are preparing to depart on our next European Caravan Adventure. Instead, my current and imminent Wednesday 'giveaway' posts feature books that can be downloaded for free - essentially a giveaway where everyone can win!

Seat cushions for sale until Tuesday evening! 
We depart for Poole in Dorset on Thursday morning and I will be taking almost all my Etsy shop stock with me as it doesn't need much space. I can curl up on my bench seat and crochet the long dark evenings away! This means you will still be able to buy from me throughout the winter, the only difference being that UK customers will need to allow an extra couple of days for post to arrive from France or Spain. I won't be transporting the four dining chair cushions around with us though because they are too big and could get damaged so if you had your eye on any of these, you have only got until tomorrow evening to do so! Then I will deactivate the listings until we return to the UK in April.

Tiny orange and cream crochet stars 
I have been increasing my crocheted motif stocks this week, adding more sparkly red hearts, black and silver stars, and bright blue flowers amongst others. The plan was to have made at least 50 of all the shapes for which I have sufficient cotton before we set out. That might not quite be possible as I need to schedule a fortnight of book review posts too! I made a new motif variant too - tiny orange and cream stars which are just 7/8 inch across. In technical parlance they are 'a bit of a faff' to make, but look gorgeous as cardmaking embellishments. The tiny stars are £2 for 10. There are currently 60 available and I have enough cotton to probably make about 200 altogether. Let me know if you want them!

Wuthering Heights greeting cards going to Slovenia 

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Top Five Etsy Finds - Advent Calendars

Chocolate Advent Calendar Set
by ChunkyMonkeyChoc
I wanted to curate a properly Christmas Etsy Finds post for this November installment, but couldn't narrow a theme from the overwhelming choice! I was tempted to take inspiration from my favourite Etsy Editor's Picks Page, Etsy Made Local, but already blogged my Top Five From Torquay in
May. Then my sister came to the rescue, getting in touch to ask if I could find an Advent Calendar for my niece. That's it, I thought! I bet Etsy artisans have created some fabulous Advent Calendars and I was right. There are gorgeous examples of all different types, many of which could well become heirloom pieces that become part of family tradition year after year. In this post I have picked out five of my favourites - and they're not all about the chocolate either!

For many of us, chocolate is kind of the point of an Advent Calendar these days though so I thought I would start my Five with the delights pictured above from ChunkyMonkeyChoc in Leeds. The Chocolate Advent Calendar Set is available in Milk or Plain Mint chocolate with the 25 squares wrapped in suitably seasonal designs - Numbers, Santas or Snowmen - which can either be placed into existing Advent Calendar pockets or mixed up together in a seanoably patterned bowl.

The Chocolate Advent Calendar Set is for sale at £6.99 with free shipping within the UK.

Yarn Lover's Advent Calendar by Zanetto 
The Yarn Lover's Advent Calendar is a brilliant idea from Zanetto in Bristol which I think would perfect for knitters and crocheters alike. The Calendar consists of 24 mini skeins of yarn accompanied by 24 knitting and crochet patterns, each to make a square which, when sewn together, will make up an attractive shawl or mini blanket by Christmas Day. Zanetto stocks beautiful yarn colours so I imagine the finished squares will be quite eyecatching. No clue is given as to the difficulty level of the patterns so the Calendar might not be suitable for beginners, but as each square is meant to be made in a single day, they probably aren't to technically demanding either. A choice of three different thicknesses of yarn is offered and orders are being taken now for shipping out from the 23rd November.

The Yarn Lover's Advent Calendar is for sale at £50 plus shipping

Treasure Hunt Advent Calendar 
by FitzjohnAndNoble 
Even more activity is on offer with this Treasure Hunt Advent Calendar created by Helen Fitzjohn at FitzjohnAndNoble in Stamford, Lincolnshire. 24 little numbered envelopes each contain a 'Today's surprise is' card upon which you write a clue to the location of that day's advent treat. Of course you'll need to buy and hide the Treasure Hunt treats yourself too, but I think this is a great interactive idea. Older children could take turns writing a card and hiding a small gift for each other or the treats could be different aspects of Christmas preparation: 'Today's surprise is making crackers' or 'Today's surprise is decorating the tree'. A printable pdf of the card inserts will also be sent by email so purchasers can print off new cards each year.

The Treasure Hunt Advent Calendar is for sale at £22 plus shipping.

Tea Advent Calendar by PostTea 
After all that running around it's probably time for a cuppa and I love the idea of this Tea Advent Calendar from Kim Villaweaver at PostTea in Goldalming, Surrey. The Calendar consists of 24 different loose teas, each in numbered sachets with enough for 2-3 cups each day, a metal ball strainer and a guide to your teas including tasting notes and brewing instructions. Blends that caught my eye include Gingerbread Chai, Spiced Apple Infusion and Cherry Medley Rooibos although I understand that the exact teas to be sent may vary.

The Tea Advent Calendar is for sale at £45 with free UK shipping.

Christmas Colouring Advent Calendar
by NaturesPals
And now we are all relaxed we can look at my fifth choice which is a beautifully detailed Christmas Colouring Advent Calendar drawn by Daria Krajewska at NaturesPals in Belfast. 24 number illustrations incorporate all the traditional Christmas icons and motifs and each page is one-sided and detachable so after you have completed your colouring, you can pin them up as decorations. The books has a choice of covers although the colouring in contents are the same.

The Christmas Colouring Advent Calendar is for sale at  £12 plus shipping.

So that's my five Advent Calendar suggestions and I hope at least one has caught your interest! If so, buying through one of the links from this post would earn me a small commission from Etsy. Thank you!