Our Snow Queen. Please ignore the surrounding mess, it's a work in progress!
Remember when we had the big storm in November and a tree fell down in our garden? Well, just before Xmas we received a wonderful surprise gift from out lovely neighbour Mr G. He'd bought us our very own birch!
They have one in their garden that he brought over from Sweden years ago. Ours is a Himalayan birch "Snow Queen" (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) and it's going to look like this when it grows (obviously without the "pots"):
Thank you once again Mr G for the brilliant present! May it grow to be as magnificent as your birch!
It's beautifully shot, funny and sad, makes you smile, laugh out loud and reach for a box of tissues.
Nature is so cruel yet these amazing creatures get on with their astonishing feat to keep the next generation going year after year. Some of them do not of course make which is when the tear ducts get a workout.
I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the size of this dog. I know he is a Great Dane but still!
George, a four-year-old blue Great Dane from Arizona (above with his owner Dave Nasser) is certainly a contender for the world's tallest dog.
The gentle giant, who measures 7ft 3ins (2.22 m) from nose to tail, 42.625 inches (108 cm) at the shoulder and weighs 245lbs (111 kg) could take the title from the former record holder Gibson, a harlequin Great Dane who passed away from cancer last August.
Our Siouxsie (below) looks like a Chihuahua compared to him! Even our Archie The Wolfhound, who was a giant, looks tiny!
EDIT 26.2.2010: George has now has been officially recognised by Guinness World Records as the tallest dog ever on record.
The fact that the tragic ski jumper legend Matti Nykänen made it to the top of the BBC's news feed this morning made me chuckle.
Apparently he tried to "murder" his wife on Xmas day and for some reason the news agencies around the world made top headlines out of it.
Except he has tried to kill/maim/mutilate/divorce his wife on every single public holiday and other dates when they've happened to be in the same room (with alcohol of course) for more than 10 minutes in the last 10 years! They married in 2001 and by last year she had tried to divorce him 14 times and vice versa!
He is undeniably the greatest ski jumper the world has ever seen, even though it may be by a combination of freak of nature and luck that he climbed to the top podium time after time.
And his private life, a colourful story which was told in a full length (acted) feature film "Matti" in 2006, has kept the Finns amused all these years.
Apart from bashing his wife he has made a career out of singing, stripping, a cider named after him and various other doomed projects. Not to mention the famous, mostly unintentional Matti sayings like “The chances are fifty-sixty.”
So what's next for the happy couple? True to form the latest divorce application will be cancelled, a two week holiday to Tenerife booked (paid for by a local glossies like Hymy or 7 Päivää ) and a warts and all interviews arranged.
Things you notice on TV: I was just watching last night's Alan Carr: Chatty Man as one of his quests was the divine Ms M (she was the only reason I taped it in fact!), Bette Midler (top pic with Alan).
At one point she was hiding behind a pillow (middle pic) and I noticed it was the same one (plus a fringe) I've got on my sofa (bottom pic)!
Funny thing is I bought mine from a pound shop in Tooting (last of the big spenders, eh?!), the producers of the show have probably spent loads on theirs!
I thoroughly enjoyed BBC 2's Victorian Farm which aired in the beginning of the year.
Now the team, archaeologist and historian Alex, archaeological digger, supervisor and teacher Peter and historian Ruth return to the Shropshire estate to celebrate a traditional Victorian Christmas in a three part special.
From the left: Peter, Alex and Ruth
I just watched the first episode and it was as funny, entertaining and indeed educational as always. Makes you appreciate how easy life is in the modern world!
The first outing for the team, Tales From The Green Valley (in 2005) was set in Tudor England of 1620 and Victorian Farm followed. I loved both of them so I hope they do another full length series set in yet another time.
The website dedicated to the specials is full of handy hints on how to create your own Victorian Xmas including cards, crackers, wrapping paper, decorations and many more.
I wasn't keen on the DIY tills when they first appeared in our local supermarket but since they've made the whole process a bit simpler it's a breeze.
The only gripe I've got are that the scanning plate should be cleaned at regular intervals as sometimes they are so grimy you have to do the barcode a few times before it "beeps".
Also people please take note: the person after you cannot start the process before you lift your bags off the bagging area as the whole thing is a scale. While you start to sort out year's worth of receipts in your purse the queue behind you is standing still.
What do cats do when their owners are away? There was one way to find out - "cat cams."
Fifty American house cats including Leo-Hector (below ) were given collar cameras that took a photo every 15 minutes. The results put a digital dent in some human theories about catnapping.
About 22 percent of the cats' time was spent looking out of windows, 12 percent was used to interact with other family pets and 8 percent was spent climbing on chairs or kitty condos. Just 6 percent of their hours were spent sleeping.
"What surprised me was how active the cats were. I believed my three cats were sleeping during the day," said Jill Villarreal, an animal behavior scientist who collected the data for Friskies brand of cat food.
The 777 photos studied by Villarreal showed the cats looking at a television, computer, DVDs or other media 6 percent of the time and hiding under tables 6 percent of the time. 5 percent was playing with toys, eating or looking at finished food came in at 4 percent.
Should we give the tradition of buying Xmas pressies to people we don't like or hardly know the heave-ho, asks the BBC Magazine.
My answer would be a resounding yes. Waste of money and everybody's time. The gift will most likely be half-heartedly bought and the recipient will pretend to like it for about three seconds when the giver is around.
Even worse they haven't got anything for you and now feel obliged to rush out to get something which again will probably be not wanted.
I'm so glad I don't have to be part of the Xmas present merry-go-round with friends and relatives, let alone work colleagues.
All of my family live abroad and we've all agreed not to send each other presents. For instance my mum gives me cash for both birthdays and Xmas when we see each other and when I go to visit relatives I take them bits and pieces they've asked for.
I buy Xmas presents for exactly four people and always check if there is something they'd like and that's what they'll get.
My favourite from the beginning was 80's page three pin-up Sam Fox but since she got voted out I've liked both snooker ace Jimmy White (below on the left) and The Queen Of Clean Kim Woodburn (below right).
I didn't know what to make of "The Whirwind" at first, he didn't really say or do a lot (well nobody had the chance because Katie Price got voted to do everything!) but towards the end he's come up with some cracking one-liners and turned out to be great entertainment.
My favourite moment was when Kim was hassling him to hand over his clothes for a wash and then pack because he might be the next one out and he just said: "I'll tell you what, if I leave you can burn the clothes for heat."
I don't mind if Kim winds, she's as mad as a bag of spanners but funny with it. Oh yes, luvvie! That's right dah-ling.
But I hope Jimmy is crowned the new King Of The Jungle tonight, not only is he deserving, he's a Tooting lad as well! I read his autobio a few years ago.
Mind you is he wins ITV2 are buggered next year because traditionally the King hosts the Get Me Out Of Here, Now! show and Jimmy...well, he's not exactly the most talkative of the lot! Last years King Joe Swash is perfect for the job, you can't shut him up!
EDIT 5.12.2009: Gino won, Kim came second and Jimmy third.
In the photos from top left: Miro, KB, me, Drasco, Jan. Bottom photo from the left: Michael, Alison, KB, Jan, Ronni.
We had a fantastic meal in U Emy Destinnove near our hotel. My steak was easily in the Top 3 of All Time Best Steaks. Recommended!
We also frequented Banditos bar for those afternoon perk-me-up glasses of wine and discovered another local restaurant Hostince ResPUBlica on Bělehradská when we couldn't get into our first choice restaurant.
It's a real "local bar for local people" with added cigarette smoke! There were three of us (our friend Heidi was in Prague on business and joined us for dinner), we had a main course each and tons to drink - the whole bill was £16!!!
I fell in love with the city, there is still so much more to see and discover, have to go again soon! Below some pics, enjoy!
Next Wednesday KB and myself will hop on a Czech Airlines flight to Prague for three days. Yay! It's nice to have a change of scenery again.
Although the country is known for dozens of varieties of beer (which I do not drink) I'm sure I will be able to sample some local vínos! I will steer clear of Absinthe though, I don't think I could handle the headache the next day!
The weather over there is pretty much the same as here with an added danger of snow so hats, gloves and thermal socks are packed.
Also, my friend Heidi is arranging a work trip for the same days so we will be able to meet her as well! She has actually lived in the city so some local knowledge will be handy.
It's doodlepip for now as I have to reserve my energy so I'll be back next week after the trip.
A cartoon of Simon Tofield's cat has become one of the most-watched videos ever posted on YouTube.
Hugh has become an internet celebrity after the London-based illustrator focused his animations on the antics of his cheeky feline friend.
He said: "I basically sat down one day and thought I'd teach myself to use some new computer animation. That morning Hugh, who was then a tiny kitten, had been jumping all over me - pulling my ears and scratching me, trying to wake me up for his breakfast. So I decided to do a little film of a cat trying to wake its owner. I made it up as I went along."
Over 45 million people are thought to have viewed the videos in a little over a year, with Mr Tofield being offered book deals as a result.
The Simon's Cat book was published in October - and although Mr Tofield has not made money from the YouTube hits, he describes the book deal as "a dream come true". He has also created a website and a YouTube channel dedicated to his cat.
Mr Tofield said that it takes him six weeks to create a minute and a half of animation, and one week to do the sound.
He says the animations have a broad appeal due to their slapstick, old fashioned comedy values. "He's worked out how to twist me round his paw," Mr Tofield admitted. I think a lot of cat owners can relate to that."
A police camera has captured the moment a cat became overly friendly (video) with a Texas police officer while he was writing a traffic ticket.
The footage caught by the patrol car's dashboard camera shows a black cat clambering up and down officer Keith Urban, until he finally gently shoos it away.
Captain Don Georgens of the Taylor Police Department said: "We see a lot of horrendous videos, the officers go to all different types of calls, to traffic accidents and things of that nature so when we come across a video like this it kind of helps with our humour around the station."
After a century buried in the Antarctic ice, a rare batch of whisky which belonged to the polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is to be recovered. So what will it taste like?
A team of New Zealand explorers heading out in January has been asked by Whyte & Mackay, the company that now owns Mackinlay and Co, to get a sample of the drink. The two cases of "Rare Old" brand Mackinlay and Co whisky were left behind by Sir Ernest (below on the left) when he abandoned his mission to the South Pole in 1909.
The crates were discovered again by polar explorers in 2006, but couldn't be removed as they were too deeply embedded in ice. Now the team plans to use special drills to rescue a sample.
A whisky can survive indefinitely and taste the same if it is stored correctly. It should not be exposed to light or heat, which change the colour and make it fade. Most importantly the bottle should be kept upright, unlike wine.
Alcohol erodes cork over time and whisky is about four times stronger than wine so if it is in contact with the cork it will damage it quickly. The vapour in the bottle should be sufficient to keep the cork moist and prevent it from drying out and air getting in. If whisky is being stored for any length of time you may have to wet the cork occasionally, but even then only once or twice a year.
Extremely low temperatures, like those in the Antarctic, will make the whisky cloudy, but this should fade when it is warmed up, says David Stewart, a master blender at distillers William Grant & Sons Ltd. "If these bottles have been stored upright there is every chance they will be drinkable," he says.
The fact the temperature will have been consistently low will also work in the whisky's favour. Fluctuating temperatures are worse because they cause the cork to contract and expand, which could allow air in.
If the whisky is drinkable, experts say it will taste different from what is on sale today as the "Rare Old" brand of Mackinlay is not made any more. Also, different casks are used to make whisky now so it is blended differently.
"Whiskies back then - a harder age - were all quite heavy and peaty as that was the style," says Whyte & Mackay's master blender Richard Paterson. If the team of explorers are unable to retrieve a full bottle, they are hoping to use a syringe to extract some of the contents. "We might get enough to be able to take a stab at recreating it," says Mr Paterson.
Photographer Carl Warner, famous for his foodscapes, and a team of five model makers spent three weeks crafting the scene using hundreds of pieces of fruit and veg - all painstakingly glued together.
The Houses of Parliament are built from a mix of asparagus, green beans and runner beans which are mixed with baby sweetcorn to depict the intricate stonework.
The Gherkin, found in the Square mile, is cunningly crafted out of two types of melon and embedded with green beans to highlight its spiralling glass frames.
Nelson's column is cleverly constructed from a cucumber, baby courgettes and a carrot with a monkey nut and almond stuck on to it. Other high profile London landmarks given a makeover include The London Eye which has green beans as spokes and its pods made out of baby plum tomatoes.
It even features the Thames-side lampposts which are made from onions wrapped in vanilla pods for the lamps, asparagus for the posts and mackerel for the ornate fishplinths.
The spire on St Paul's Cathedral (above) has been given a fruity new look after it was created from roundels of carrot, yellow and green courgette and baby leeks. The famous dome has been made using a melon, while the impressive columns have been crafted out of baby sweetcorn.
Roopa Gulati from the Good Food channel, the company who commissioned the work, said the image represents how fruit and vegatables can be used imaginatively in the diet.
He said ''This stunning image has quite literally transformed the London skyline with good food and it proves that fun with food in a creative and light-hearted way is the way forward''.