Thursday 27 November 2014

time for one more cup of tea

Hello, and do step in out of the cold!  It's lovely to have you round for another monthly cuppa and gossip.  I've got the pot warming so do shake off your umbrella and let me hang up your coat while we wait for the tea to brew.

How is November treating you?  I must confess to having a bit of a love-hate relationship with November.  I wish it weren't quite so dark and rainy, and while I love the preparations for Christmas, I can't help feeling that we're not quite there yet.  School is also keeping me busy, and I'm hoping to clear the last few reports and meetings with parents before the festive season really begins.  That way I can really enjoy my favourite time of year when it arrives!

Ah, the tea is ready.  It's vanilla flavoured, nice and sweet.  Do have a splash of milk. Shall we have a little bit of chocolate to go with it?  There's something quite luxurious about chocolate in the winter. Do you feel Christmassy?  I've got my shopping mostly done and I've been working on a few crafty projects too.  That's the good thing about cold dark evenings; excellent crafting weather!

I can't help feeling a little melancholy as this is the last time we will meet like this for the foreseeable future.  But actually when I think back over all our previous times for tea, I realise it's been going on for quite some time, and we've shared many a pot of the good stuff in all sorts of lovely locations! I got out a few old photos from cups of tea past, and can trace a little history from crafty cups of tea at home right through to posh cups of tea at the Ritz!

Having said that, it seems I can't help myself when it comes to taking pictures of tea.  Going through my photo collection through only the last 4 months produced all of these tea-themed photographs. Which makes me realise that actually the lovely ritual of social tea drinking will continue after all.

Do you ever look back through your photo library?  It's something I've found myself doing quite regularly of late, ever since doing my summer photography project.  I've really connected with photography again, and I love it! However, flicking through pictures on my laptop has made me wish that they were more readily available.  I feel a new year's project coming on: get those photographs up on the wall!

Would you like a top up?  I'll pop the kettle on.  I've been doing quite a bit of knitting lately; I never really thought I'd become this engaged in knitting but trying out exciting lacy patterns has really made it interesting and engaging! I love that feeling of a new challenge, and now find myself hunting out patterns that will teach me new techniques.  Plus it's nice to keep my hands busy when I commute to and from work.

I've also done a little bit of scrapbooking - keep an eye out for that shortly!  Fitting in the scrapbooking has been hard though. I really hope to make time for that most favourite of hobbies over the school holidays, as I really miss it. How do you find time to craft?

Well, it's very definitely dark now, and I'm sure you want to hurry home before the rain starts again.  It was so lovely to have you round - don't be a stranger!  And you never know; we may bump into each other again one day! Have a wonderful Christmas, and my best wishes for the new year.

If you want to share one last cup of virtual tea with other corners of the internet, head over to Abi at Creating Paper Dreams.  The tea posts were her inspired idea and you can find lots of bloggers to sit down and enjoy a cuppa with. While she is sadly retiring the Time for Tea posts, it has been lovely to sit down each month and share a pot.  Here's to one last biscuit.

Kisses xxx

P.S. And if you're ever in London for real, and would like to go halves on a pot of tea, you know where to find me.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

miami beach, baby

Hot, hot, hot: a supercharged 29 degrees even as the UK was getting it's winter coat on. This town has the rich and infamous to spare, beaches and tans, and a startling number of artificial islands. A boat tour showed us the skyline, the luxury waterfront houses and expensive yachts; the afternoon was given to the sand and sea while planes trailing banners advertising the hottest clubs soared above; the evening found us working our way through assorted cocktails at an outdoor table, watching the crowds shop late into the night as neon signs flared with commercial promise.

It could only be Miami Beach

Kisses xxx

P.S. It doesn't seem right in November somehow, does it?

Tuesday 25 November 2014

splooshing: adventures of a waterproof disposable camera

This has got to bethe greatest water park in the world! Aquaventure is listed as one of the top attractions in Nassau, the Bahamas, and this insane swimming complex at the Atlantis resort is the largest in the Western hemisphere.

However, a day pass comes with a hefty price tag of $110. Ouch.  A quick bit of internet research revealed that we could stay at one of the resort's five hotels for less than the cost of admission for one person. Once you're a guest, you can play on the slides from free!  Because frankly, there was no way I was missing out on a slide that plummets you vertically into a plexiglass tube submerged in a pool of sharks.

Sharks! Literal sharks!

The premise of the water park is simple: grab an inflatable ring, or an inflatable figure-of-eight for two, and navigate the mile-long circular rapids.  Easier said than done as you plummet over cascading waterfalls and huge waves attempt to overturn your vessel. You emerge regularly into different swimming pools and can paddle your craft along to the next death-defying section of white-water madness.

Safe to say, it is absolutely brilliant!

Should you tire of endlessly captaining your inflatable hoop, you can haul it from the water and try one of the numerous slides.  They were also unfailingly exciting, although you really to have to keep your bottom up out of the middle.  My bruised posterior was testament to this fact. Each slide empties its riders back into the rapids, so the ride never really ends.

Then there were the slides that you could go on without the rings, including the aforementioned shark slide. Called the Leap of Faith, I was unprepared for the frankly ridiculous gradient which gave me the sensation of falling.  I forgot to breathe.  I was conscious briefly of being at a great height, before disappearing at enormous speed into the shark pool.

As it turns out, you’re going so fast that you can’t see the sharks.  You can barely keep your eyes open. Fortunately, a second more sedate slide back atop the trusty inflatable rings meant that we could float through the sharks unhurried, and marvel at them swimming around us.

In the end, we made it our mission to complete every slide in every combination; single rings and double rings.  There’s nothing like a bit of compulsory fun!  Being out of season, the pools were quiet, we didn't really have to queue and we spent the best part of two glorious days larking around in this crazy, ridiculous, insane kingdom of swimming. A little waterproof disposable camera came along for the ride, took a battering and documented our adventures. And of course we had to use the last exposure for an underwater selfie.

I've never been anywhere like it.  But oh my goodness it was fun!

Kisses xxx

P.S. I know these pictures are far from perfect, but there was no way I was carting my  beloved dSLR into the pool, or abandoning it on a sun lounger. Given the way we rode rough-shod over the little waterproof camera, I'm actually quite pleased with how these pictures turned out.  Blurry, grainy...and fun!

Monday 24 November 2014

hanging out at rum point

Rum Point is one of those places where the clue really is in the name.  On our first day in the Cayman Islands, following the requisite post-travel lie in and time-zone adjustment and two-cups-of-tea (both for me - he takes a coffee first thing), we set out in our car to explore! Our ultimate destination was Rum Point, but we meandered around the coastal roads quite happily.  Partly because that's the Caribbean way, and partly because we missed the turning to cut across the island.  It's all good, man!

We finally arrived, and a strenuous day of cocktails, food, beach and hammocks followed. Beginning of course with a series of absolutely necessary self-timed selfies with the fantastic Rum Point sign. Some quite complicated ones which involved parking the car in just the right place so I could balance the camera on the bonnet, get the whole sign in, and be within 10 seconds of running-and-jumping-onto-the-barrels distance.  We only blocked the entrance for a few minutes and no one seemed to mind.

Rum Point's claim to fame, other than being beautiful and full of awesome, is that the Mudslide was invented here.  A Mudslide is a delicious thing made of vodka and Baileys and Kahlua and ice.  It's cold and sweet and creamy, and frankly it packs a punch. If you find it all a bit much, you can order a Virgin Mudslide which is free because, as the board points out, it's just a cup of ice.

We stayed for lunch, sampling our umpteenth round of conch fritters (so delicious with spicy jerk mayo) and tucking into jerk chicken and mahi. The food in the Cayman Islands was unfailingly mouthwatering, packed full of flavour and so fresh. Of course while we were eating, the heavens opened, but the unflappable staff simply picked up our table and moved it inside.

Once our food was fully consumed, the sun had once again got his or her proverbial hat well and truly back on.  Which was good because it was hammock time again.  Followed by knitting-on-the-beach time, paddling time, selfie-in-a-hammock time, reading-in-a-hammock time and silhouette-selfie time. Crazy busy.

It was a a lovely, relaxing and very picturesque places to spend the day. Apparently it's also a good place to do some pointing.  Everyone was friendly, no one was in a hurry to be anywhere and life took on a very restful pace for the day. Very restful indeed for some people (although some of us prefer to get a little bit more splashing in before we relax).

We stayed until sunset before piling back into the car.  A wonderful day, and a great introduction to Grand Cayman. Oh, and we had dinner in a lighthouse on our way back to the hotel!

Kisses xxx

P.S. I'm afraid the holiday-themed posts will continue for  little while longer, so sorry if you're tired of my wittering!  However, I'm working on a bigger crafty/scrapbooking/photo project which I will share after Christmas and I'm finding it really useful to organise my pictures and prepare my journalling through the blog.

P.P.S. Plus I'm just so pleased with the photos and memories I've come away with that I can't leave them alone!

P.P.P.S. At the end of this week though, I will have exhausted my photo stash, or near enough.  And it will be Christmas blogging time! Plus it's almost a month since the holiday now.  Time really does zoom along.

Friday 21 November 2014


One November Thursday afternoon, found me dashing around school organising my things for the following week and then setting off gleefully for the airport.  I was on my way to Berlin for a 3 day workshop, training to teach the mathematics part of the IB (International Baccalaureate). 

Professionally useful yes, as I'm brand new to teaching this particular qualification, but mainly I was excited to be doing my first "business" travel!  While this didn't equate to business class, I felt ever so grown up hopping on the tube and speeding through the dark to Heathrow, ready to catch my flight all by myself, because I am independent and I travel for work now, apparently. I'm like, so totes mature and stuff.

I arrived quite tired late in the evening, in a country I have never before visited.  Unfortunately I also don't speak a word of German, but the taxi driver I found did speak perfect English, and I attempted a few clumsy phrases anyway to show willing. The hotel was easily located, my extravagant splurge on a taxi less expensive than anticipated, and I fell into bed very satisfied with my free room upgrade and the prospect of an interesting work schedule by day, and a new city to explore by night.

It's always nice to catch the sunrise, and Friday dawned full of promise.  On the downside, I had to be up early enough each morning to catch the sunrise.  And on my final morning, I had to get up particularly early to do some exercise with a lovely lady I met who used to be in the military.  She switched to teaching a couple of years ago, but clearly has kept up the fitness aspect of things as she invited several of us to join her in her morning workout.  I had initially thought she was joking about doing an abs workout first thing before breakfast.  But by the time I found out that doing crunches at 7:00am outside the hotel wasn't meant to be joke, I couldn't really back out.  I didn't want to look like a numpty. (Any more like a numpty).

Berlin really excited me as a city; I am now desperate to go back and explore properly.  But for this weekend, it was wonderful to have the evenings to roam, and to experience a city commemorating its past, and celebrating its freedom, as Berlin marked the anniversary of the fall of the wall.  A trail of light balloons traced the old route of the wall, and large public screens shared newsreels and footage of times past.  It was remarkable, and poignant, and amazing to experience the city like this.

The Holocaust Memorial was particularly haunting; a very thoughtful tribute to a horrific period of history, and coldly beautiful in the moonlight.

Even though I had travelled solo, there were loads of teachers from international schools across Europe.  It was great to find a little cluster of maths teachers to go out with, who had a wide range of experience to share, and were all also eager to do some exploring.  At the end of the evening, we jumped into a cab, and requested to be taken to the Monkey Bar.  It was recommended to us, but we had no idea where it was.  The driver clearly knew his stuff, and took us to "Bikini Bar".  Apparently that's German for monkey, but it is possible that it isn't, and that my spelling and comprehension are entirely wrong.  Anyway, it turned out to be a great rooftop bar overlooking the zoo's monkey enclosure, with extremely nice cocktails, an upbeat atmosphere and a terrace with impressive views.  And biting cold temperatures.

I will come back to Berlin.  I hope it's soon.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Most perfect of all was the man appearing to surprise me at Heathrow on Sunday evening, providing a much-appreciated lift home, and pub dinner.  Brilliant!

Tuesday 18 November 2014

daiquiri shack

If you ever come across a place called Daiquiri Shack, you must go.  There has to be some unwritten rule surely, stating that we all have a duty to visit places whose names are so deliciously tacky that you feel you can’t possibly forgo the experience.

We hit up Daiquiri Shack on our last day on Nasau's Paradise Island resort.  Our only error was that we did so following a following a phenomenally large meal that consisted almost entirely of deep fried things with melted cheese.  And fries.  And possibly even sugary, fizzy drinks with ice cream floating in them.

We were on a health kick.

Looking to complete such an epic(ally misjudged) dining experience, it seemed as though the time had finally come to sample of the delights of Daiquiri Shack.  We sauntered up to the counter, and examined the 6 frozen alcoholic slushies available.  The man opted immediately for a rum runner. Quite what’s in it we will never know except that it involved rum and ice.  As both of these ingredients are colourless, and the rum runner was certainly not, there must also have been at least one other ingredient.  A lurid pink one. 

I sought the advice of the trusty Daquiri Master at the Helm of the Shack (I don’t know if that’s his official title but I don’t know his name), and he recommended the Pina Colada and the Pink Guava flavours.  Mixed together.

Mixed!  I always love a good chance to mix things together and rejoice in the resulting chaos, so I slurped away on the combo delightedly.  It was yummy, as I suppose something made of rum and ice and pink and yellow should be.

Another triumph for places with tacky names! And of course, the now-obligatory pointing photo.

Kisses xxx

P.S. I have loved the concept of Mixed ever since that fateful evening some four years ago when I first started volunteering with my Guides.  We give them a choice of Orange or Blackcurrant squash for a drink, but if you think those are the only options, you, like me, would be very much mistaken.  They patiently explained to me that I should make Orange, and Blackcurrant and Mixed.  Some of each.  They were right, it’s the best choice of the three, and I've been a convert to Mixed ever since.

P.P.S. And in fact a similar situation cropped up when visiting Istanbul.  Mixed!  I think the idea is spreading…

Monday 17 November 2014

lace, blocking and pubs

In the last 6 months, I have probably done more knitting than in the last six years.  This is largely due to the fact that I discovered the joys of lace.  I had never tried it before, but heard from other knitters that it was difficult and fiddly and complicated.  As I dabbled in knitting as a hobby, I wasn't particularly inclined to give it go.  

However, I had to admit that some of the lacy patterns I'd seen were very pretty, with intricate, detailed designs.  So I decided to try it out just once in a bid to improve my skills and at least attempt lace before I dismissed it completely.  You never know until you've tried.  To this end, lace knitting was added to my list of Things To Do Before I'm 30.

Oh how wrong I was!  First I would like to say that lace knitting is not hard!  It requires patience and concentration, but it is no more difficult than knitting anything else. Indeed, the fact that it required more concentration and thought really engaged me, and I discovered that far from being frustrating and annoying, lace knitting is absorbing.  Instead of thinking of knitting as something to mindlessly occupy my hands when watching a bit of telly, lace became something I wanted to work on in its own right.

I love knitting patterns like this.  I like the delicate details and the feel of soft, fine yarn, and learning to add tiny beads into the design was the cherry on top.  I've since embarked on more lacy projects, and because the knitting is so portable, I've taken to knocking out a few rows on my commute to and from school.

Just to clarify, I commute on the Underground.  I'm not driving and knitting.  And frankly, nor should you. (Health and Safety)

The only problem was that my completed lacy shawl sat scrunched up in a draw, unworn, for several months.  Because once again, I had to master a new skill before it would be finally ready to wear.  That new skill was blocking.  Blocking involves soaking a knitting project and then stretching and pinning it out flat into the right shape.  Then you leave it to dry and hope that the finished result is pretty.  Blocking is extremely important in lace, because the design doesn't really make much of an impact without it.  It just looks a bit sad and tangled. 

I had put off doing the blocking under the impression that I needed a lot of equipment and space and time, and that the process would be difficult and potentially ruin my lovely shawl if I got it wrong.  Once again, I was wrong.  I picked up a couple of packs of pins and improvised, tacking that shawl firmly to the bedroom carpet.  And the results were better than I could have hoped for.  The design really opened out and the detail appeared.  Brilliant!

A few details then: the pattern is called Out of Darkness by designer Boo Knits, I knit it out of a skein of Squoosh yarn, a blend of merino, cashmere and nylon, which I bought from lovely London yarn shop Loop. And I followed the instructions from Tin Can Knits when if came to learning how to block.  In fact, it was reading this clear, practical and easy-to-follow tutorial that made me decide to get a move on a block my shawl this weekend. All that was needed was a chance to wear it...

The man and I spent a very lovely Sunday afternoon on the South Bank of the Thames, strolling through the Christmas markets popping up along the river, before settling into a cosy pub to indulge in a hearty meal.  The Founders Arms is right on the river and we go there quite regularly, as the location and views are wonderful.  The food's pretty yummy too, and they always seem to be among the first pubs to add mulled wine to their repertoire when the temperature drops.

Anyway, if you find yourself loitering on a terrace looking across the Thames towards St Paul's Cathedral, and you happen to wearing a shiny new crafty project, then you may as well play photoshoot while you're at it.

The man was pressed into being photographer for me, and therefore clearly earned a sojourn in a nice, warm riverside pub with a toasty glass of the capital's finest mulled goodness.  After all, that's what Sunday afternoons are for.

Kisses xxx

P.S. If anyone tells you I had four glasses of mulled wine during the day, don't believe a word of it.  As if I would possibly do such a thing on a cold, crisp day when the city is starting to think wintry thoughts.

P.P.S. It's definitely not true, because one of them was called "Spiced hot wine with brandy" and emerged steaming from a giant copper kettle.  And one of my receipts says it was hot sangria.  So I really didn't consume 4 mulled wines. Fact.

Saturday 15 November 2014

las tortugas

Apparently when Columbus discovered Little Cayman, he thought it was surrounded by large, round boulders.  Closer inspection revealed these rocks to be thousands upon thousands of turtles.  The islands were therefore named Las Tortugas.

Unfortunately for the resident turtle population, it was soon also discovered that turtle is delicious and stores well on long sea voyages.  Since then, turtle numbers have declined rapidly and they are now considered endangered. In recent years to combat this, Grand Cayman has established a turtle conservation centre where they breed turtles and release them into the sea when they mature. 

In the wild baby turtles are tiny and everything is against them; their chances of survival are slim and so females lay clutches of 100 eggs at a time.  However, the little turtles incubated and hatched in the centre have around a 50% survival rate (which is huge compared to 1-2% in the wild), and since it opened the centre has released over 30000 turtles in the wild.  Tracking their progress has revealed how far and wide they have spread, and some of them are now starting to return as they reach maturity in order to lay their own eggs.

As we wandered around the centre, we encountered various types of turtle.  We could hear them gasp for a deep breath of air as they rose to the surface, before paddling serenely down again. And we kept our fingers well out of reach, as apparently some bite!

My favourites were the tiny, yearling turtles, and I leaned wistfully over their pool. An attendant asked me if I would like to hold one.  I nodded vigourously.  Would I like to climb into the water? More vigorous nodding, some grinning, and a little bit of hopping up and down. My man politely declined this opportunity which gave yours truly just enough time to thrust the camera in his direction, gather up my skirt and wade into the pool with abandon.  The year-old turtles paddled about quite cheerfully and I soon decided that I would have a quick chat with each one.  As long as I could catch them...

They seemed pretty chilled even when lifted gently from the water.  They waggled their flippers, but stroking them gently under the chin made calmed and reassured them, and they sat quite happily in my hands, posing for pictures like pros.

You can't hold the grown-up ones. They weigh about 400lbs, and this chap looked imperiously at me as though the very idea offended his dignity.  I apologised, of course.

Kisses xxx

P.S. While it is never nice to see animals in captivity, I'm glad that effort are being made to protect these lovely creatures and as a tourist it was a real privilege to get so close. It's illegal to disturb turtles or their nests now and let's hope that with a bit of support they can continue paddling around.

Thursday 13 November 2014

catching the sunrise

I have to credit him with the idea. Even if I'd thought of it, I wouldn't have suggested it as it sounded just a little bit crazy.  What if, he said, we get up at half four, drive around to the eastern side of Grand Cayman and watch the sunrise there?

I loved the thought.  That he wanted to go for it, that he was willing to go for a mad-cap pre-dawn wild goose chase to the sun. That he was happy to forgo the lovely cosy comfort of a lie-in for a sunrise mission with no guarantees of actually catching it. How could I resist the inherent romance of the adventure? I love him all the more for that.

But of course rain thwarted the plan.  And the odd storm.  But we still had one more night on the island. And when I stuck my head out of the door on that morning, we were in luck.

This time was a winner, had to be a winner.  Our last day.  Our last chance to catch the sunrise.

I drove; I insisted as I loved the idea of chasing the dawn around to the other side of the island.  The roads were quiet and as we streamed along the coastal road, the first glimmers of daylight began to appear on the horizon.  We didn't have a destination in mind, instead hoping to drive as far east as possible and then claim a deserted stretch of sand.

Our luck was in.  We found our beach, and it was all ours. This time our operation was more professional as we'd been able to borrow deck chairs from the hotel. 

And we waited.

It was so worth the wait.  A perfect morning.  A perfect moment.  These pictures are some of the best souvenirs I could have, but they don't fully convey the gloriousness of the sun appearing on the horizon, the clouds streaked with vibrant colour, the sounds of the sea, the peace and the excitement wrapped together in that sunrise.

It was that morning when I found the conch shell too.  I suppose you're probably not supposed to take them, but it had been long-since abandoned by its resident and was a little battered, and I couldn't bring myself to leave it behind.  I saw it just as we were climbing back into the car.  I jumped back out, shook off the sand, and popped the intricate shell under the passenger seat.

Later, I cleaned it, and wrapped it up carefully in my clothes to protect it from the battering my backpack would undoubtedly receive on the journey home. It made the long trip unscathed.  It's currently sitting on my windowsill.  A lovely reminder of bright mornings and wonderful moments as we head into winter.

Kisses xxx

P.S. I can't imagine a more wonderful way to achieve goal #26: get up early and photograph the sunrise. When I wrote that goal, on my list of things to do before I'm 30, I never dreamed it would be with him on a beach in the Cayman Islands.