Monday, 18 June 2018

The house with chicken legs by Sophie Anderson

books set in Russia, Russian folklore

The Russian folklore and fairy tales have been a source of inspiration for many modern story-tellers. From the recent ones, The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter spring to mind.

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson (Usborne Publishing Ltd) is a captivating magic tale, based on the Russian folklore, and particularly stories of Baba Yaga.

I enjoy reading young adult fiction. Browsing new paperbacks at Waterstone's recently I couldn't resist the beautiful cover with the oh-so-familiar from books and films of my childhood image of the house with chicken legs. Elisa Paganelli's illustrations deserve a special mention, they are an organic part of the book.

This is an inspired re-invention of the Baba Yaga image. Baba Yaga of the Russian tales is an ugly scary old woman, who kidnaps (and eats) children and often tries to mislead the main heroes on their quest. Sometimes she shows a kind side, and shares her wisdom, and even gives a magic gift to the brave hero or heroine who visit her. She lives in a house with chicken legs. Baba Yaga is not your benevolent granny who wants to help you, out of a kindness of her heart.

That's why the re-telling and re-imagining of the Baba Yaga story by Sophie Anderson is intriguing. Her Baba Yaga might look the part, but she is a wise woman, who helps the dead and guides their spirits into the next world.

The story is told by Marinka, Baba Yaga's grand-daughter, a spirited and feisty girl, who dreams of being normal and making friends.
Marinka and her Baba live in the house with chicken legs, which has a mind and soul of its own. It is the house which makes the decisions on when and where to travel next. The house is a live organism which adapts to the wishes and needs of her adopted family.
When the souls of the dead arrive in the night, the house opens the Gate, i.e. the portal to the other world, for them. Baba and Marinka are there to celebrate the lives of those who pass through their house.
When Marinka was little, the house would play tag with her, build dens and playpens for her, tickle and make her laugh.
She knows her destiny is to become the next Guardian, just like her Grandma, but oh boy, how she resents it. She hates the idea of guiding the dead for the rest of her life, and tries to fight her destiny.

Marinka is feeling lonely, despite the love from her Baba, the house and her companion, jackdaw Jack.
She is delighted to meet a boy called Benjamin, and adopts a baby lamb. She craves human interaction, and wants to be friends with two girls, Salma and Lamya, who show her the nasty side of the human beings. And then there is Nina. Nina is dead, and she doesn't want to enter the next world, Can Marinka keep her friendship with the dead soul a secret? Sadly, this secret will bring on a great disaster.

This original story explores the difficult themes, like death and bereavement, and the meaning of life.

Will Marinka be able to break free?

In the last couple of years there's been an explosion of books about women who inspire us and rebel girls. Marinka will easily fit into the rebel girls category. She's a fighter, smart, stubborn, loyal and passionate. An ultimate heroine for modern times.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

A day at Legoland

Legoland, the world of plastic bricks' magic, brings a lot of memories and emotions.
I remember the first time we discovered Legoland with little Sasha who was about 4 and a half years old. I look at the old photos from the days when photos were still regularly printed and not just stored digitally, and his beaming smile tugs my heartstrings. He was such a cutie.

Sash in Legoland

Our lovely boy was entranced with the Miniland and enjoyed the rides for younger kids. He was small and portable then.
We returned there two more times, the last time, when he was 8 years old, growing more and more autistic and having sensory issues, and I was pregnant. That trip was so stressful, with Sash getting a sensory overload, and becoming frustrated with the queues, that I vouched never to step there again.

Until last Monday, when we took Eddie to Legoland for the very first time. He's been talking about it for years, but I just couldn't see how we could make it a fun event if we went as a family of four.
This week Sasha's class went on a residential trip to Butlins Minehead, and we decided to take Eddie out of school for several days to do things with him, which we cannot do otherwise.
The school trip ended for Sasha earlier than planned, as unfortunately his anxiety went through the roof. We had to change plans, but Monday was all about Eddie and Legoland.

The tickets are £47 per person, which is a total racket. I had a voucher for one free ticket (you can find these vouchers on boxes of cereals or chocolate - look for them in Poundland for the best value).

And they are making money out of everything. You would expect them to have some discounts on LEGO sets and minifigures, but no, the prices are not competitive at all. 
And I totally resent paying £2.20 for a small bottle of water. That is a rip off. We had a bottle of water with us, but it happened to be a very hot day, and the water didn't last long. 
Maybe because it was Monday, many food stalls and ice cream booths were closed, and the choice of food was very limited. 

We visited most of the areas, but as we had to travel by bus, train, taxi to Legoland, we arrived at 12.30pm, and that didn't leave us much time until 5pm, when the park closed. We couldn't leave home earlier, as we needed to get Sasha to school first for his trip.

We started with the Land of the Vikings and the Vikings' River Splash, which thankfully didn't last long, as it made me utterly queasy. While I moaned, Eddie enjoyed the ride and deemed it too short.

Legoland, Windsor

Eddie loves Ninjago characters, and the second area we visited was Lego Ninjago World. He admired all the statues around the Ninjago pavillion.

The Ninjago ride was quite entertaining, with digital interactive screens.
We moved on to the Kingdom of the Pharaohs, and the fun Laser Raiders ride. Am I being too childish to rejoice at the fact that my score of shooting the baddies was the highest?!

By then we were a bit on the hungry side, and hoped to get something to eat at the Heartflake City area. We have picked the wrong time, as there was a singing performance going on the stage in front of the cafes, with music blasting at the top level, and the most talentless singing from the crew who, I presume, were supposed to be the Lego Friends characters.
We had a quick peek at the Heartflake cafe, but all the pastries and donuts seemed to be covered with half a pound of sugar each.

Adventure Land has a cool boat ride called SQUID Surfer. We queued for about 20 minutes in the heat. The boy in front of us was too short to be allowed on the ride, even with his father, and he was inconsolable. While I appreciate the safety reasons, I still think there should have been someone measuring children at the entrance to the ride, so that people didn't waste their time or have their hopes dashed.

Eddie went on his own, and had a fabulous time.

Someone at the church told Eddie about the young drivers' course, and he was intent to drive a car.

While they were queuing and driving, I did a bit of plane-spotting. The planes were crossing the sky, one after another.

I thought we'd run through the Duplo Valley, but Eddie begged me to let him into the Drench Towers.
There is a shop next to it, where you can buy towels and swimming trunks. We got the trunks, and off he went to splash in the cold water and going down the slides. He was wet from head to toes, but so-so happy. A pity we couldn't stay longer there, as we had half an hour left til the closing time, and he wanted to build a minifigure at the Imagination Centre and have another look at the shop.

We walked through the Miniland, which is the most creative and beautiful area of Legoland, with the famous landmarks from around the world built from Lego bricks.

There were scenes from picturesque Italian towns...

Italian piazza in all its glory

I loved how the Dutch homes got colourful reflections in the water.

Magnificent Belgian architecture... I believe this is Leuven.

I loved the ruins of the abbey in Scotland (does anyone know what is it? We were running by then and I had no chance to read all the plates).

We found St Basil's Cathedral, representing Russia (and looking at that photo, I realise I so need to go on a diet).

London's landmarks took a whole big area.

And it being less than a month after the Royal wedding, you couldn't escape it in Legoland either.
Having arrived at the train station in Windsor, we saw this rather excellent piece of Lego art.

Meghan and Harry appear as Lego characters, leaving the Windsor after the ceremony.

I wish we had another couple of hours to see more of the Miniland, and also visit the Knights' Kingdom, but it was time to leave.
Eddie did build his minifigures and bought a set of Lego Minecraft figures as well.
He's been talking about it all the week, and says he wants to go back there.

Have you recently visited Legoland? What was your favourite part? 

Photo diary: week 24, project 365

This was one rollercoaster of a week for us. Sash was leaving on Monday to stay for five days at Butlins, Minehead, and we took Eddie out of school to do things together which we cannot do as a family of four any longer. It didn't work out as planned. Sasha couldn't cope with a new place and everything being out of his normal routine, and was too distressed, so he came home earlier.
Disappointing, yes, very much so, as we were looking forward to having a little break and devote all our attention to Eddie, but life is life, and that's what it means having a family member with a serious disability - life usually revolves around their needs.

At the weekend I made one last dash to the shops to get ready for the next days' trips. Walking through the flood fields, we saw this pretty skyline with clouds which looked like dinosaur ribs.

On Monday we waved Sasha good bye, and jumped on the bus to Oxford. Three train changes later and a taxi ride, and we were in Legoland at 12.30pm, which didn't leave us much time.
We managed to cram as much as possible, but still didn't quite make all the rides.
Eddie's absolute favourites were the Splash park and the Squid surfer ride at Adventure Land.
His smile really says it all.

On Tuesday morning we packed our bags for a two nights-stay in Brighton. We booked a family room at Jurys Inn Waterfront hotel. When we arrived, we got the keys to the room which overlooked the back, with a smelly fish shop. Eddie was so disappointed, that we went to the front desk and asked if we could be moved somewhere else. We explained that two years earlier we stayed in a family room on the side, with a partial view of the sea.
They offered us a room with a view at the front, but we'd have to pay more for the pleasure. We agreed. Eddie thought it was the best view in the world. We could see the beach and the Brighton Pier from our window.
Here is Eddie, chillaxing after a walk on the beach, eating breadsticks.

The next day I got a phone call from Sasha's teacher that he was too distressed and they were bringing him back home. They knew we were staying away, so asked when I could possibly be back.
There was not much I could do but grab my bag, and say Good bye to Eddie and Federico who stayed for another day/night. Eddie was pretty upset, as we had big plans for the day, including having fish and chips on the pier and long walks on the beach, and playing in the arcade. Alas, it was not meant to be.
On top of that, while on the train, I got messages and calls from Witney friends that there was a huge fire in our area, and our street was closed, and some of the houses were evacuated. I was worried that we won't be able to stay at home that night, and if Sasha were distressed after his trip, staying another night elsewhere would have been a nightmare.
But the angels were listening and took pity on me. The fire was put out by the time I came home, and when Sasha arrived later, his transport was let through the cordoned area.
When I went out in the garden, there was a muntjac deer, jumping around in panic. I managed to take one shot of it, and it scaled over to the neighbours' garden, first on the compost frame, then over the wall. Don't know how he would manage to get out of there, as their garden is on a much lower level than ours, and is surrounded by high walls on all sides.

Tomatoes in the greenhouse are just beginning to take shape. These are the yellow plum tomatoes.

Walking into town, we met this cat. It must be living locally, as we see it often enough.
I liked the silhouette of his head's shadow. Looks totally like a  Batman. So, it must have been a Catman.

There is a photo booth frame in the Co-Op. I guess there is some comp going on. Of course, Eddie had to poke his head through and giggle.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Degustabox World Cup (May'18) Box

The World Cup is almost upon us, are you counting the days? I don't watch football these days, but when I was a teen I used to watch football with my Dad and brother and knew the names of most players of the international teams. As years passed, and life moved on, I somehow lost interest in football.
In the lead to the World Cup many food brands are joining in, and offering fun competitions and novelty selections. Food box Degustabox has chosen the World Cup as the theme of their food and drink selection for May'18 box.

We are always looking forward to our Degustabox delivery, which arrives every month and is full of foodie surprises. This monthly food and drink subscription box is an excellent way to discover products which have only just appeared in the shops or those which might have been around for while, but you haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Thanks to Degustabox, I have found new favourites to add to our shopping list, including some products which I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.

Each time the box arrives, it's a total surprise. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.
If you haven't tried Degustabox subscription box yet and would like to have a go, I have a whopping £7 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time) - just use a code 8EVI8 when you place an order.
What did we receive in the May Degustabox? Let's have a look.

food box

KitKat does not need any introductions.
KitKat Senses Mix is a mixed box of three delicious flavours - Salted Caramel, Double Chocolate and Hazelnut. This is a sharing box, with indivdiually wrapped treats.
Which flavour is your favourite?

chocolate treats

Hazelnut is a combination of indulgent praline with crunchy pieces of hazelnut.
Salted caramel is infused with crunchy caramel flakes, while Double chocolate has rich chocolate ganache with crunchy cocoa nibs.
Nutrition information: 10.1g of sugar and 107kcal per 2 pieces. Actually that's not bad at all, when you have a chocolate craving. One piece will be just enough to satisfy it.

KitKat Bites White Chocolate is another sharing variety. These are mini crispy wafer fingers covered with white chocolate.
Each serving (4 pieces) has 11.3g of sugar and contains 125kcal.

While KitKat represents the USA, Brioche Pasquier PITCH is obviously standing for France.
We love Brioche Pasquier. The plain variety is a great base for the bread and butter pudding.
This time we received two chocolate varieties chocolate filled and choc chip.
You might have spotted promotional packs in the shops - PITCH for every pitch. You can win sport prizes like footballs, headbands, sports socks and inflatable goals.
We've won a headband with the first code. I'm not sure if you can win more than one prize, as we have entered 3 more, and they are just added to a list to claim a free sports bag (the kind you would put your towel or trainers in).

One brioche roll counts as 136kcal and contains 9.7g of sugar. They are all individually wrapped, and are convenient for lunch boxes.

Subscribers would have also received Cirio pasta sauce - standing for Italy. Try this premium peeled plum tomatoes in two new pasta sauce recipes. Made with 100% top Italian ingredients for a genuine and tasty dish.
As a blogger, I haven't received the Cirio products, but Cirio is one of our favourite brands, and if you're looking for inspiration, I have plenty of Cirio recipes on my blog - just click on the link Cirio.

Joe and Seph's popcorn was a bonus item included in a limited number of subscriber boxes (which again the bloggers didn't receive). This British brand is waving our national flag in the World Cup of flavours.

Santa Maria Latin American Kitchen takes us across the pond to more exotic flavours.
Caribbean Creamy Chicken Curry Seasoning Mix offers a taste of the Caribbean, which is a fusion of cuisines. This mild curry mix works perfectly with chicken. You can also use it for a great vegetarian curry, or even a vegan one, if you use coconut milk instead of dairy.

Mini Coconut & Black Pepper Soft Tortillas are a fabulous receptacle for all kinds of fillings, to please anyone - from meat-eaters to vegans.
These are soft tortillas, with a mild flavour of coconut and pepper - typical Caribbean ingredients.

I made a vegan dish with these tortillas, with the Koko Cheddar (vegan cheese), borlotti beans, Vivera Smoky BBQ pulled veggie, avocado, salad, tomato and coriander, and it was a delicious lunch.

Lucozade Energy Original is a soft drink originating from Japan. It gives you energy when you need it most. I'm not the biggest fan of energy drinks, but they have their use.
Lucozade is best served chilled.

Say Aloe drink has pieces of aloe vera which give it a unique texture and a clean taste. This refreshing drink is rich in vitamin C, has no artificial flavours or colours and comes in 3 flavours - Original, Mango and Strawberry.

Subscribers would have either received the We Made Lemonade (in a non-alcohol box) or The Good Cider in the alcohol version of the box.

We have already tried The Good Cider of San Sebastian a couple of years ago. It is a premium quality cider, zingy and refreshing.

In the past I have baked an Apple cider pound cake.
Last week I cooked Apples Stewed in Apple Cider. It was a delicious dessert.

It was a lovely themed food box. My only note of disappointment was that there was not a single product from Russia. After all, the World Cup takes place in Russia, and it would have been super to source out a genuine Russian food product.

Disclosure: We receive a monthly Degustabox delivery for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Photo diary: week 23, project 365

Last week was mostly sunny and warm. On Sunday we popped into Costa, and Sash was also there, with his Dad. We did sit separately as Eddie loves sitting on the bar stools, while Sash was in one of his favourite corners by the big mirror, from which he could see everything that goes on in the cafe.

We walked home, and spotted this funny-shaped cloud. It looked like a little Dumbo with his trunk up and ears flapping mid-jump.

On Tuesday I had to go to Sasha's school for a meeting with his teacher and our social worker to discuss the provision for the next year. Sadly, our much loved school ends this year, as they don't do 16+ education. Sash got a place in a special needs school out of town which will be a long journey each day, and I'm anxious, as for him every change is a huge stress, and this will be an enormous change.
Teachers here know him well and are wonderful, dedicated people who love him.
This rose bush is in someone else's garden, on the way to school.

More sky pictures - these lines were like a child has scribbled all over the blue.

On Thursday Sash stayed overnight at his residential place, so Eddie and I popped on the bus to Oxford after school to explore the West Gate shopping centre. He loved the LEGO section in John Lewis. No surprises then. I loved the T2 tea shop, and couldn't resist buying some chocolate bars in Hotel Chocolat too.

This plant - now the name escapes me - is just outside our sitting room window, on the old stone wall. I have to cut it yearly, as it climbs on the low roof with alien-like roots from its branches. But the blooms look delicate and pretty.

On Monday Sash goes off on a residential trip with his school until Friday. They are going to Butlins, Minehead. I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed for the trip to go as smoothly as possible.
It is quite a journey, and a totally new place for him to stay. We've never been to Butlins.
I had to buy new shorts and swimming trunks for him, so Eddie and I traipsed through several shops earlier today.
I needed a cup of coffee, and we popped into Costa. The only available newspaper was Mirror. I had a chuckle at the cover of the TV magazine. Can't wait for the latest installment of Poldark, as I love costume dramas. I am quite indifferent to Ross's charms, and his naked chest doesn't make me swoon.
Give me Jimmy Perez any time, now he is my kind of an eye candy.