Enjoying nature’s bounty

This autumn I’ve mainly been enjoying free food produce courtesy of ours and mum’s gardens πŸ™‚

I’ve had cooking apples and rosehips from mum’s, and sour apples and blackberries from ours (I can’t believe how many blackberries there actually were growing at the back of the garden amongst the other bushes and trees.)

Rosehip syrup and Apple & Blackberry jam

I’ve also had a few courgettes from a plant given to me by a colleague, sage, oregano, chives and mint from my pots, chilis from a plant another colleague gave me, and gorgeous little cherry tomatoes from mum. All of these have supplemented whatever I’ve had in the kitchen to make yummy casseroles and dinners.

The apples have also been used in crumbles and pies, apple sauce and various cakes (e.g. spiced apple cake, Dutch apple cake, apple dessert cake)

Somehow it all tastes so much better when it was harvested for nothing and then made into food with lots of TLC πŸ™‚

Laughing and late nights.

Stephen always shares funny videos etc with me and lifts me with a few minutes’ conversation every day, but I think he made an extra effort since my little meltdown and it’s been much appreciated. First he sat one evening and watched his “Rise of the Dark Knight” DVD with me and I thoroughly enjoyed both the film and his company. He has also shared some funny videos with me this week including – An American coach in London (football related) Running Man (football related) Substitute teacher – and then others by the same comedian.

I then had three late nights this week. THREE! I can usually only manage one, but I have to say that I really enjoyed all of these and felt they did me the world of good.

On Monday I had Helen, Nic and Sarah round for tea straight from work. I’d set the table and cleared the kitchen before I went to work and even picked some flowers from the garden to put on the table. I warned them that I had no idea what state the house would be in when we arrived home, though I knew Nel and Billy had both planned to do their bit during the day. I was pleasantly surprised to find a spotless house with everything in its place. Wonderful πŸ™‚ Billy had even taken the loaf out of the bread making machine for me and it was sitting cooling on the side, greeting us with its heavenly aroma. As I’d prepared the food the day before, we relaxed with a mojito in the garden for a while then ate our quiche, homemade coleslaw, salad, and aforementioned bread accompanied with a glass or two of wine. For afters we had strawberries, whipped cream and homemade shortbread and then we went and sat outside again until quite late. It was really lovely and relaxing and must do it again before too long.

My second late night was on Wednesday which was Billy’s birthday. We met up with some friends at Wetherspoons before going on to the Coach later and had a very enjoyable night. I didn’t really want to go home but with work in mind, reluctantly tore myself away about 10.30/11pm and Billy walked me home before going back out to finish his night. It was great and I only wish we could do it slightly more often. I think Billy had a good birthday anyway, which was the object of the exercise; I certainly enjoyed it!

On Friday we were back out for our summer darts mini-league. We’d decided not to simply sit back and not touch a dart all summer so Senior had come up with the idea of all 8 members of our team having a little competition ourselves. Each week we’ve been playing each other in 3-leg games and we each played everyone else twice. For fun, Paul worked out the odds of each of us winning the league and though I can’t remember the exact odds for everyone, he was pretty much spot on with Senior running away with it. I was 28/1 and was actually quite pleased with my performances. Could have won a few more maybe, but equally I could have lost more. I was pleased with a 2-dart finish to check out on 91 this week πŸ™‚ Only Graham beat me 3-0 twice. Senior did so once. I’ve won two games 3-0 and most of my games have been 2-1 regardless of whether I won or lost. I’ve played all my games now, as have most of us, but Mark just has a couple to play which will affect the final positions for us all. Not only has the extra playing time done my darts good I think – I’ve been regularly hitting treble 20 – but I’ve also enjoyed seeing the gang each week and relaxing in to the weekend with my favourite people.

Despite being a bit tired, I really enjoyed my week and felt it perked me up emotionally and mentally πŸ™‚

Smoothly back to earth

After my wonderful week off, I had a surprisingly smooth week back at work in the main. I soon picked up what was what again in my orthotics role and even the secretarial work went okay the second half of the week. At least, until Friday which is always a manic day with everything needing doing before the weekend plus the usual hunt to grab a consultant to answer a query from a GP, patient or colleague etc. Unfortunately this is always time consuming and this particular day, everything turned into a project. But I survived πŸ™‚

On the Friday evening it was the darts league’s annual doubles competition – any pair of league members can turn up on the night, register and play in a knock out competition. We were supposed to be playing a rearranged cup fixture before hand and had made the effort to get there early but the opposition team arrived too late to play in time before the doubles competition. At least we were there early to get a table πŸ˜‰ Billy and Raji were at cricket nets but the rest of us entered – Paul got the short straw and partnered me (“short straw” because once you are knocked out, one of your pair has to mark the next round on that board), Graham and Mark paired up and as usual Junior and Senior joined forces. As we’d expected, Paul and I were soon knocked out (and indeed, played poorly) but Mark and Graham were unlucky to lose and Senior and Junior stayed in for a couple of rounds. It turned out to be a really good night, with the club being pretty busy but no uncomfortably packed, and the faces were all familiar and friendly so the atmosphere was relaxed. Our group then went on to the Skinners for a drink and there was a live band playing jazz/rhythm type stuff on a sax, double bass, drums and guitar . We’d had a couple of drinks and joined in miming playing instruments which was a bit of harmless silly fun. Billy, Paul and I then wandered on the Heart and the others went to the Fox to play pool. What a great night out with my best friends πŸ™‚ With the end of the darts season nigh, I said I would miss them each week so it has been proposed that we have our little league competing against each other over the summer. But then we’ve said such things before……

The weekend was a nice long one with the bank holiday πŸ™‚ It was wonderful! I spent the entire 3 days home-making – but as the weather was rather gorgeous (late spring weather suddenly arriving over night after the cold!) I managed to enjoy a cuppa and a lunch or two in the garden. The garden is sprouting a new plant/flower every day and it’s interesting seeing what will pop up next. The apple tree has gone from being bare to being green, the flower beds have come alive with veritable triffids and big furry bees are buzzing happily in the flowers and the trees. (Zeb keeps chasing them and he’s going to come a cropper soon I think!)

Awakening garden

Patio area

The Rayburn’s hotplate cleaned up nicely with a little aptly named “Astonish” and a lot of elbow grease:

The Rayburn


Hotplate – Left side cleaned

After cleaning, I enjoyed the next experiment – Scotch pancakes πŸ™‚ There’s something naughty about pouring food directly on to the cooker, but wicked fun! (Any yummy results!)

Scotch pancakes

On the Saturday, I watched Swansea 0 – 0 City online but I badly needed to sort my clothes and toiletries out too (still in unorganised boxes and bags from the move!) so I did the two things together. I was rather glad I had managed to do something useful with the time as the game was pretty tame and a bit of a non-event. Still, a point is a point.

MCFC’s 60-second highlights here
MCFC’s extended highlights here

Greetings from the other house :)

I’m back! Did you miss me?

We have now moved to our new home and it was the most chaotic move I have ever experienced! Added to that we had no TV, phone or internet for 3 weeks. As you can tell, we now have the latter sorted and we now have a functioning home, albeit that we have a few more boxes to unpack and sorting to do still.

We picked up the keys on the Friday (1st March) and Billy and I were off work that day so that we could spend the day packing up the last of the stuff (by this time I was sick of packing and boxes, having been doing it for the last 2 weeks!) and we had two friends and their vans arranged to help with the actual move the next day. The plan was for Billy to be at the old house conducting that end of the operation and I’d be at the new house organising where things should be put and sorting them out.

But it didn’t quite turn out like that…..

One of Billy’s friends who had offered his services and van for the move was unexpectedly free on the Friday afternoon so came to make a start! And so it ended up that for the next two days the move went ahead in a very chaotic fashion – moving things that weren’t yet packed and in very random order rather than room-by-room as I’d envisioned. Important things (like kitchen pots/pans, crockery etc) were left behind (including the draining rack full of the morning’s dishes!) whilst nick-nacks stored in the loft for years were brought in various containers and bags. Naturally the food was removed from the fridge and freezers before they were brought along, but the food then got left behind! Divan beds had their bases separated for moving, but the clips to join the two halves got lost somewhere along the way. All that said, we were very grateful for the help of our extremely willing and hard-working friends and eventually we called it a day, though one friend was going to return the next week to take the final load and then take all the rubbish to the tip for us. (This hasn’t actually happened as yet and though Billy and Raji have collected some stuff on foot, and I have done a couple of car runs, we need a van for one last run which is frustrating.)

By the end of the weekend I was dirty, tired, aching and had broken nails, very dry sore hands and sported a multitude of cuts and bruises (I’m really not built for manual work!) I had the Monday and Tuesday off work, thankfully, so I was able to spend those two days playing put-and-take sorting out and by the end of that time we had a functioning home with all the main elements reasonably organised.(Kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms.)

I have to say that the cats have been absolutely brilliant and took it all their stride. We had two cat carriers and I borrowed another from a colleague but I anticipated a few problems getting the cats in. As it turned out Timmy and Zeb didn’t put up too much of a fight and Zara walked in to the borrowed basket voluntarily, much to my surprise. Nel and I took the cats and the hamsters in the car to the new house and deposited them all in her bedroom – for two reasons: firstly, her room is on the 2nd floor so nicely out of the way of the moving chaos and secondly, she also can’t cope with too much upheaval and our plan was to get her room moved so she could shut the door and stay quietly sorting her own bits. This worked really well and the cats stayed in with her for a couple of days before being allowed to explore the rest of the house in their own time. They’ve done this very casually and absolutely love having the run of a 3 storey house! After two weeks of keeping them indoors (which they accepted without complaint, though the cold, snowy weather helped) I opened the back door for them to investigate the garden. They loved this and were soon jumping up (and over) the walls and lapping water from the (tiny) pond in the corner. Once they all came back inside I shut the door but unblocked the cat-flap. Within an hour they were all coming and going freely and I was pleased to think they could now please themselves. All in all, I’d say they are quite satisfied with their new home, garden and lifestyle!

Car parking is an issue here and we were given, by our lovely landlords, a visitor’s parking permit. However, after searching in vain for a parking spot, Billy and I went in tot he council offices to enquire as to exactly where these parking bays were. There are 4. Four bays for the whole street! (At a cost of Β£15 per year.) The previous owners apparently had an arrangement with a chap further down who has his own designated bay but no car. He wanted Β£20 a month for this. However, after our visit to the council offices, we’ve instead bought a county-wide parking permit (for all council pay-and-display car parks across the whole county) which is Β£130 a year (though we’ve currently paid for 3 months at Β£48.) It means the car is parked a bit of a walk from the house but this isn’t a huge issue as we don’t use it for small trips on a daily basis. Another half a day spent sorting this out though!

You won’t believe the saga with TV/internet/phone that we’ve had! It’s like something out of a sitcom! We had, at our old house, all of these with Sky and we called before our move, giving a couple of weeks notice so that could simply switch us over. Simple, yes? No! They couldn’t ascertain whether or not there was a phone line in the new house. We told them there was. They insisted it wasn’t clear and they’d report it as an issue to be resolved. In the meantime, though, they’d book a Sky engineer to come and set up the TV – but it couldn’t be the day of the move so we’d have to wait until the Monday. On the Monday, out came the engineer and as Billy had been called in to work (he was NOT amused!) I had to deal with this. I’ll try to keep this simple:

Old house: 1x Sky+ box, 2 x Sky boxes (multiroom)
New House: 1 x Sky cable in to upstairs lounge, now Raji’s room
Wanted in new house: 1 x Sky box in living room (which has no TV or Sky cables/sockets at all) and 1x Sky box (multiroom) in Raji’s room.

So the engineer looked at the Sky dish on the roof and announced that he couldn’t get up to it as it was on a pole next to the chimney and he couldn’t safely get to it. (“Must’ve been a private company that put that up” he said.)
However, he could drill holes in the wall on the front of the house to safely affix his ladders to get to it. Er, no. It’s a grade II listed building and not our property.
Hm. Well he could fix another, separate dish to the front of the house. Er, no. It’s a grade II listed building and not our property.
Well he could drill a hole in the wall in to the front room and feed the cable that currently goes in to the upstairs room to the sitting room. Er, no. It’s a grade II listed building and not our property.
Deep thought. Aha! He could fix our dish to the dentist’s property next door! Er, no! As if!
I’d pretty much got the picture – there wasn’t going to be anything he could do so we’d simply have to have the one Sky box in Raji’s room only. No, no….. he’d wait for his mate and see what he said. Two hours later we ended up with the one Sky box in Raji’s room only! We could have done that ourselves had we known, and at the least I could have had an hour and a half more time unpacking! Amused, not!

OK, we could work around this – we’d have the Sky box in Raji’s room, Nel had a TV aerial socket and had bought a freeview set top box, and we could register 4 devices to stream TV via SkyGo so that would work. Once we got the internet of course…..

We plugged in a phone to the phone socket and had a dialling tone. Great! We could call Sky and tell them we definitely have a phone line installed and they could connect us straight away. Er no! It still appeared we had no line and a BT engineer would have to be booked. This would not be until 21st March! 3 weeks after moving in! Paul came round and ascertained the telephone number. Great! We could call Sky and they could cancel the engineer and connect us! Er, no! There IS no phone line and the engineer was coming out to INSTALL one! So we had to wait 3 weeks with no TV for all but Raji, and no internet at all. This was hardest on Nel because of her autism – the only place she can interact enjoyably with people is via the internet (no trying to read people’s expressions, pick up on unspoken clues etc. – all nice and clear in black and white.) She ended up spending a fortune on mobile dongles and top ups, having been sold various things that were no use or cost her the earth (avoid Carphone Warehouse!) We were very upset on her behalf and Billy sorted out a mobile dongle at a better rate which helped. Naturally with these things she still couldn’t do the things that are important to her so she really did suffer during this time.

And so the great day dawned. At last, the BT engineer was coming and since Billy and I were working, Paul very kindly got up early during his week off and came round to let the engineer in the house and speak on our behalf. Not only this, but he actually arrived promptly at 8.45am. Just as Billy found out that our phone line was now active! BT engineer had clearly looked at his job sheet, checked there was a line already installed and activated it at the exchange! After quickly plugging in the brand new Sky router and checking the internet worked, Paul left the house with us as we set off to work. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!Unbelievable!3 weeks of stress for no good reason!

It is nice to feel part of the world again, though I have yet to catch right up and to get into a routine and of course, much of my time is still taken up with working 35 hours a week and sorting the house – as well learning to use the cooker here….

This house has a Rayburn cooker which means learning to cook a whole new way. There is also a ceramic hob, but after one play with this, I have made it redundant (the biggest problem being that it takes a while to heat and then an age to cool and I’m worried about the cats getting burned if they jump up when the kitchen is unattended.) The Rayburn also provides the house’s heating and hot water, but we’ve yet to learn how best to use it for this so it’s a bit chilly as yet and we sometimes run out of hot water.

Rayburn cooking is completely different to “normal” cooking and I’m glad I am a confident cook else I think I’d be terrified! You cook 20% of stuff on top of it on the hotplate (a solid plate which varies in temperature so you slide things around to hottest/coolest spots) and 80% in the ovens – an upper and a lower, the lower running at about half the temperature of the upper. It takes around half an hour to heat the oven to the baking or roasting temperatures and it seems about 2 days to cool back to the lowest setting, even when “idling”. The whole of the oven is hot, including the floor (which is good for baking pastry without needing to bake blind) and the shelves are deep so you can get 2 dishes on one shelf. The Rayburn is NOT for quick cooking or for cooking one thing then turning off!

So after two weekends of experimenting (the results of which were all edible, I’m pleased to say) I have learned that it’s best to batch bake/cook at weekends and then simply warm each evening meal in the idling oven all day whilst at work. Lots of casseroles and such, accompanied by home-made bread courtesy of the bread maker which is now in almost daily use πŸ™‚ It means a lot of my weekend is gone doing the batch cooking, but it is lovely coming home to a hot, home cooked meal each evening after work. Today, on only my second weekend of experimenting, I have managed to cook a roast – challenging and time-consuming but absolutely gorgeous as the Rayburn keeps in all the flavours of the meat (beef on this occasion). Even the gravy was wicked! I’ve pre-cooked the meals for the week and each evening I put porridge in the oven to cook slowly overnight and Raji and I love coming down to a bowl of that every morning.

I am going to need to invest in some hotplate-to-oven friendly cookware as I am currently having to mess about swapping pans for casserole dishes and I’ve only got 3 casserole dishes. I am getting the hang of using the Rayburn for drying dishes, warming plates/jugs/mugs/bowls and airing wooden cooking utensils. I am looking forward to using it for making herbal oils and drying herbs etc.

Oh yes, I almost forgot – Nel’s freeview box doesn’t work – but it looks like the aerial isn’t working so still, Raji is the only one with proper TV. I have to admit I never watched TV much anyway and haven’t yet started watching it through my laptop. The only thing I miss having on in the background is Sky Sports news – I do feel very out of things without this. Must find a new routine where I can watch this each day to keep up with things.

The “children” seem settled and happy here and I think they like having the top floor of the house to themselves. Raji is Raji – one can never tell, but he seems happy enough and seems to like having the biggest bedroom in the house for all his stuff. Billy and I are just relieved to have left the old house and feel lucky to have found a large enough home for us all, in walking distance of our needs and where cats are allowed. There are lots of things to work through yet but we have a roof over our heads and can hopefully move forward.

So, there you have it. A brief catch-up on our move. I’d like to tell you more about this lovely house when I get the chance but for now………. welcome πŸ™‚

Nel’s Snowy Birthday

Nel’s birthday was on a Saturday this year and since she hates football so much, I forfeited my match to devote the day to her. She wanted to visit the Hancock Museum followed by a Chinese meal for lunch at a restaurant in Newcastle that we’ve enjoyed in the past. However, snow started falling heavily on the Friday and we decided to revise our plans in the interests of safety and having a stress-free day. (We have agreed, however, to go to the museum at a later date so that she doesn’t miss out, but the restaurant appears to now be closed.)

As usual, I was the first up and as Nel had requested a birthday cheesecake, I got on with making her one (and one for the rest of the family!) as well as a big pan of leek and potato soup. When she woke up, she sent me a text requesting a chopped apple and a cat to be take to her in bed! After obliging, I also gave her her presents and cards (DVD’s from us) and Billy trudged through a blizzard in the (now fairly deep) snow to collect Mum’s birthday parcel from the sorting office.

Just before noon, Billy, Raji, and I took the birthday girl out for her Chinese lunch to one of our favourite restaurants, The Golden Dragon, just in town. We had a lovely meal whilst watching the snow falling outside. We had the lunchtime menu but added crispy duck pancakes too as it was a treat. Although I ordered my usual favourite (chicken in lemon sauce) we all shared our dishes so we also had chicken and mushrooms, beef in black bean sauce and broccoli in garlic sauce. The latter was gorgeous and a new (2nd) favourite of mine. Billy left to go to his football match which was still on, and transport running, and the rest of lingered over coffee and Chinese tea before leaving. On the way home, we rented a DVD for later, and then when we got home, Nel went for a nap!

Since I had written off any hope of following my match, it was an unexpected bonus being able to do so, and Raji and I settled in the living room with the fire on, TV flicking between the rugby and Soccer Saturday and I followed MCFC’s text commentary of the game, a comfortable sounding 2-0 win for City. πŸ™‚

We had an evening meal of homemade soup, bacon sandwiches and cheesecake and once Nel appeared, she, Raji and I watched The Amazing Spiderman whilst drinking mulled wine – a cosy way to spend a snowy evening πŸ™‚ The film was very good and much better than previous Spiderman ones; it is very much in keeping with the Avengers series and I look forward to the next film.

Although it was not quite how we’d planned to spend Nel’s birthday, it was a very pleasant and relaxing day in the end and we all rather enjoyed it. I can’t believe my youngest baby is 20 now, but am very proud of her and how she’s grown into such a lovely young woman πŸ™‚

My Christmas Cake Recipe

Having made Christmas cakes for a few people and receiving many compliments, I’ve been asked for the recipe. I have used this same recipe for the last 20 years or so and have adapted it as I have gone along, so I include my own little notes.

1 lb (500g) Sultanas } I tend to use
1 lb (500g) Currants } 3 lbs 4oz (1.5 Kg)
12 oz (350g) Raisins } Mixed dried fruit
6 oz (175g) Chopped, dried peel }

6 oz (175g) Quartered glacΓ© cherries } I have also used diced apple instead
4 oz (125g) Chopped almonds } Can use any nuts, ground or chopped

10oz (300g) Flour
10oz (300g) Margarine or Butter
10oz (300g) Soft brown sugar

1 tbspn Black treacle } I use either syrup or honey

6 Eggs, beaten
Β½ tsp each Mixed spice, grated nutmeg, salt
4 tbspn Rum, brandy, sherry or whisky

TIN PREPARATION: Preparing the cake tin is very, very important as it prevents the cake drying out and the outsides burning as it needs to cook very slowly!

Double line and grease a deep 9” (22cm) cake tin with greaseproof paper. Then tie newspaper around the OUTSIDE using ordinary string. (I take 3 sheets of newspaper and fold in half lengthways, and again so that it is a long strip and I find that two of these overlapping will go round the tin. The newspaper should be higher than the sides of the tin, by about 2cm / 1”)

(If you want a slightly less deep cake, this mix will make an additional 1 lb loaf sized cake – it’s a generous quantity and you will be able to experiment with the number and size of cakes you get out of it. e.g I make 1 Β½ times this mix and get a 9” square, plus a 2 lb and a 1lb loaf from it.)

OVEN: Turn on oven to warm up: Gas mark 3 (170Β°C / 350Β°F)

METHOD:
* In a large bowl coat all the dried fruit and nuts with approx a tbsp of the flour so that it is all lightly dusted.
* In a separate bowl cream the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy then beat in the treacle/syrup/honey.
* Gradually add the beaten eggs (adding a sprinkle of flour to prevent curdling as needed)
* Sift the flour, spices and salt together and stir in to the mix (unlike sponge cakes there is no need to worry about folding in to keep in the air.)
* Add the alcohol – this is the key to the moistness of this cake.
* Lastly, stir in the fruit and nuts.
I like to follow tradition and close my eyes and make a wish whilst giving one complete stir. I then get any family member around at the time to do likewise.
* Pour mix into prepared tin(s) and bake

BAKING:
* Place cake(s) in centre of oven on Gas mark 3 (170Β°C / 350Β°F) for 20 mins
* Then reduce to Gas mark 2 (150Β°C / 300Β°F) for 40 mins
* Then reduce again to Gas mark 1 (140Β°C / 275Β°F) for approx 4 hours (for the 9” size)
* Cake(s) will be cooked when a skewer or knife comes out clean
* Leave cake(s) in tin(s) for around an hour before removing
* Place on clean plates and when completely cool, wrap in cling-film making as air tight as possible

STORING:
The wrapped cake should keep for weeks (if not months!) and should certainly be kept a minimum of 2 weeks before eating, to let the flavours mature. If keeping longer term, you can periodically add more alcohol for moisture and flavour, by using a cocktail stick to pierce the surface and trickling a capful of your chosen alcohol over it and allowing it to be absorbed.

DECORATING:
Marzipan should be added at least one week ( I prefer 2) before icing and once marzipanned, the cake can be just lightly covered to protect from dust, but you want the air to dry the marzipan before icing.
Once iced, this cake will keep for weeks so it can be made well in advance of Christmas.

Have fun experimenting with this basic recipe – Christmas cake is very forgiving and you can mix and match ingredients. Enjoy!

Precious family time at Christmas

Having finished work on the 21st December, I had two glorious weeks off ahead and got it off to a good start with a couple of nights out. On the Friday night, the darts team got together for a few drinks and light-hearted darts games at the club – this is becoming a very nice tradition now πŸ™‚ On Saturday it was Billy’s work Christmas dinner and this was held at The Heart and was a wonderful night with fantastic food and company. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it put me nicely in the Christmas mood. I then had a couple of days staying indoors to potter around at my own pace preparing for Christmas so it was all very relaxed and un-rushed πŸ™‚ Since I’ve scaled down present buying considerably over the last few years, there weren’t too many to wrap and I’d just about got cards written and posted a few days previously, so I could concentrate on the house and food.

Mum had given us a food goody-bag in which there were really well thought out supplies such as chocolates and biscuits, savouries and beverages and even a treat for the cats and hamsters! (Thank you mummy πŸ™‚ ) We also had another thoughtful gift of an M&S gift card from another relative and this was spent on fresh foods such as dips, pate and cheeses. Finally, my Tesco Clubcard vouchers covered the turkey, a beautiful piece of silverside beef and the other Christmas essentials. All that was left was for me to bake so on the Sunday I made my shortcrust and puff pastries and on Christmas Eve I cooked the meats and did the baking.

Coleslaw and Sausage Rolls

Mince pies and Christmas cake

and set the table

Christmas table

When I went to bed that night, I was just drifting off when I suddenly remembered the kids’ stockings! ARGH! Stephen had gone to work and wouldn’t be home until midnight or after so I could put his on his bed and he’d find it when he came home. But Nel was still up and not likely to go to sleep until the wee small hours; what to do?! As I leapt out of bed Nel called out “Have you just remembered what I have?” and so I went in to her to discuss my dilemma. At no point did she deny that if I left her her stocking now, she’d immediately examine its contents πŸ˜‰ I suggested I placed it somewhere “just so” and she was to get a clock and take a photo to prove it hadn’t moved until after midnight, and she came up with the idea of hanging it on the hook under her clock, which also happens to be on the wall that backs on to my bedroom – so I’d hear her if she tried removing the clock to alter the time! For the final touch, I stapled the top of the stocking so she couldn’t try peeking without touching and we took a photo to show its exact position:

Nel’s Stocking!

She took another at midnight – though in fact Billy (who had spent all afternoon and evening in the pub) returned around midnight and vouched for the security of the stocking at that point πŸ˜€ I don’t know! You’d think when your children are adults, they can manage to wait for their stockings wouldn’t you? πŸ˜‰

The next morning I enjoyed some peace and space whilst everyone else slept and I prepared the veg etc before they emerged at 11 am. Nel sorted the presents and took her own upstairs to open alone (after her diagnosis of autism we started this last year and she was able to fully enjoy presents for the first time) and then everyone gathered in the living room to open our presents together – with Nel opening the cats and any family ones.

The cats enjoyed the wrapping paper pile in the middle of the floor πŸ™‚

As usual, we had some lovely and perfectly chosen presents, including these beautiful Christmas ornaments which a few of the secretaries at work had given me (so unexpectedly that I’d burst into tears when they presented me with them along with a couple of bottles of wine!)

Photobucket

After clearing up and making a couple of family phone calls, I continued to prepare dinner in a leisurely fashion, and it all came together nicely for a relaxed and enjoyable meal – with the usual naff crackers, lots of laughs and everyone enjoying the food (and drink!) After clearing up, Raji and I did the washing up and watched the Queen’s speech (unfortunately the main thing I noticed was that those poor Military Wives had been asked to sing in public a song they clearly didn’t know as they had to make up the tune to “In the bleak midwinter” as they went along! (Why, oh why do people feel the need to take a traditional song and mangle it dreadfully to a new tune? πŸ™ )

We then settled to an afternoon of playing The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game which we had been bought a couple of years ago and somehow overlooked. It was brilliant!

Nasty Horse Racing

By the time Billy won this (having kept a great poker face when Stephen was openly convinced he’d won πŸ˜€ ) we were flagging and settled in front of the TV for a short while before bed.

It had been a very relaxed and smooth running day and I really enjoyed spending the time with my family. We should definitely play games together more often and though they may all have started out just humouring me, I think everyone genuinely enjoyed it as much as I did πŸ™‚

This time last year – I laughed at Nel and her stocking!

Apple time of year again

Mum’s apple tree, despite being heavily cut back, has produced lots of apples again this year so we received a box and this weekend was my first chance to do something with them.

I spent my Sunday morning happily engaged in making an apple and almond cake (to be accompanied by ice-cream or cream) to follow the shepherd’s pie made for dinner, I stewed some for use in a pie or crumble another day, and I made some spiced apple chutney:


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A very satisfying start – there are still a load of apples left for next time too πŸ™‚

Birthday breakfast, cake, and Chinese.

Thursday was Nel’s birthday and she wanted me to have the day off work so I worked overtime on Wednesday and Friday this week, making it a strange week for me.

She wanted breakfast in bed at 6.30am (as she was working) so I agreed to do my best, but I don’t use an alarm to wake up, I just wake naturally. I woke up at 6.17am so I leapt up, ran downstairs and after feeding the cats, made Nel’s bacon sandwich and drink, arranged them nicely on a tray with serviette and presented it to her at 6.30am on the dot! πŸ™‚ I then left her to eat to open her cards and presents. We’d given her the “Thor” DVD as requested as well as her usual cash and she had a card and present from Mum, and cards from Rick and from an aunt.

When the children were little I always used to make them a birthday cake decorated with whatever character or picture they wanted. Over the years I’ve done everything from Power Rangers to Forever Friends and used to enjoy the challenge. As they’ve grown older, they haven’t wanted them any more, but this year Nel decided she DID and the picture she gave me to try and reproduce on a cake was this:


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Well I had great fun and games trying to mix the right colours for the icing for a start! The red food colouring I used turned the white icing a peach colour instead of pink! So I tried again with the red gel food colour and thankfully this WAS pink, but I still couldn’t get the exact shades I wanted.

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Eventually I started the design, and it was much harder than I remembered from when the children were little! I struggled resizing the picture, even allowing for overlapping the sides a little, and I wasn’t happy with the accuracy, but in the end decided I wasn’t going to achieve perfection and just did my best.

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(The flash on the camera has drained much of the colour – the icing is pinker than it looks, and I used the peach colour as the background.)

I stuck with it and Nel came in to watch me finish it, just as I was bemoaning the lack of black icing colour – which she just happened to have upstairs having used it for her art occasionally πŸ™‚ To my utter frustration, when I tried to use the red gel colour to outline the mane, it looked dreadful and ran everywhere so I attempted to remove it – ruining the whole thing πŸ™ Nel remarked how we were similar in spending hours on something, wanting perfection and feeling like scrapping the whole thing when one of the finishing touches spoiled it. Well at least she understood, and could appreciate that I’d spent hours and done my best. (It tasted good anyway πŸ˜‰ )


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In the evening, Nel, Billy and I enjoyed a Chinese takeaway and a bottle of win whilst watching “Captain America” (the last of the series of Avengers films out thus far which we had yet to see) It wasn’t bad but not the best of them (Thor was my favourite, and Nel’s too.)

The last bit of her birthday celebration was a sleepover at the weekend, but the day itself was over and I think Nel quite enjoyed it, which was the object of the exercise πŸ™‚ It’s hard to believe that my BABY is now 19!

Quiet Christmas at home.

When the children were small I used to have all the presents under the tree but they’d get a stocking from Father Christmas, which he delivered when they were asleep and which they were allowed to investigate when they woke up in the morning – before disturbing me at 6am πŸ˜‰ Of course, as they’ve got older they’ve stayed awake until their stockings arrived and opened them before even going to sleep. Now they’re older still and go to bed way after me, they open them before even going to bed! So I was rather pleased with myself this year when I came up with the cunning plan to leave their stockings in the morning when I woke up – before they were even thinking of waking up! πŸ˜€ But Nel was not amused! She begged, pleaded and finally threatened that I was messing with her autism! So I said “OK. Go and get me your stocking and I’ll fill it now then, as I don’t want to mess with that!” At which point she hesitated. And admitted she’d used it as an excuse. (I’d guessed that.) I said that nevertheless, if she wanted it now, she could have it. So she thought about it and came up with a compromise – since I always get up for the loo in the night, I could do the stockings then. That seemed workable so after she’d closed my door I filled the stockings – well, OK, stocking plus a small bag for Nel and a large gift bag for Stephen as his stocking went AWOL years ago. πŸ˜‰ When I got up at just gone midnight for the loo, I put them outside the kids’ doors – Stephen was out but Nel pounced on ehrs the second I shut my door so I laughed and called out “Merry Christmas” to her πŸ™‚

When I woke up properly at 6 am, I had a pounding headache and my ears were sore so before I had my breakfast and coffee, I took a large dose of herbs* to try and settle it so it wouldn’t spoil Christmas. It took an hour or so before it calmed enough for me to face the day and I had to take a couple more doses during the the morning but it receded enough to let me have my Christmas. Nel was up next and came in to say hello just as I was about to go for a nice bath. We had already agreed that she could open her presents on her own as it causes her a lot of stress opening them in front of other people ( a genuine autistic trait) so she opened them whilst I bathed.

When the men got up and joined us, we all sat together in the living room to open presents together – Nel had the cats’ and hamsters’ pile to open and she had her one from mum as mum had stipulated that we all had to open them together as they were themed. Mum had bought us all a watch each! What a lovely idea and all of them well chosen to suit the individual πŸ™‚

Nel gave the cats their treats and their “cosmic banana – Zara got it first and Nel left it wrapped but she didn’t take long to unwrap it:

The toy had come with a warning that cats go absolutely mad for it so it should be kept well hidden until Christmas and it seemed there had been no exaggeration. All the cats took turns with it, though Zara had had it the most and spent the rest of the day quite literally stoned!


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We all did very well – we had fewer presents than in previous years but all of them were perfect and we were happy. Billy bought me a beautiful pair of sapphire earrings; Nel bought me a colour-changing candle, some rose bath salts and bath fizzes and a pretty purple wine glass; Raji bought me a gift set of my favourite perfume; and Stephen bought me a rather fantastic mug:

Stephen rather amusingly, thought he’d had just a key-ring gadget from us and a child’s Thorntons chocolate animal from Raji – we had to tell him he’d missed the money that was wrapped with them! πŸ˜€ Bless him! Billy did well as both kids got him an Amazon voucher which he could use together and get something from his Amazon wish list. One of Raji’s best presents was a huge mug from Nel so he now only has to make cups of tea half as many times whilst still feeding his tea addiction πŸ™‚

After a couple of phone calls to wish mum and Rick a Happy Christmas, we all sat together for Christmas dinner at 1pm – turkey and the trimmings (beef or pork for those who preferred it/wanted it as well as turkey), Christmas crackers (complete with naff jokes, paper hats and a game of charades), Christmas pudding (or syrup sponge pudding/mince pies for those who preferred) with cream or ice-cream, coffee and chocolates. For some reason Billy kept trying to get down from the table and Stephen couldn’t wait to get away either so after a couple of rounds of rather entertaining charades, I gave up and let them go. Nel and Stephen disappeared upstairs, Billy immediately flopped on to the sofa, and Raji helped clear the table. Guess who washed up?! (More herbs helped me through.)

Raji and I sat and watched the Queen’s speech (Billy disappeared for that bit) and I thought she got the tone just right. Well done Ma’am. πŸ™‚

Then at 4pm we all sat together again to watch the last Harry Potter film – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 – both the kids had seen it before, Billy and I had seen all the previous films and had read the book, but Raji had never seen any of the films – so at the end, Nel loaned him her boxed set so he could catch up πŸ™‚ Stephen fidgeted a bit and eventually disappeared, which was a bit disappointing as he knows I like to have the family together on Christmas Day, but otherwise I enjoyed the film and the day.

I was tiring fast but Nel wanted me to watch TV with her at 8pm so I went upstairs and got undressed and read a couple of magazines until then, but really could do without it – my headache was building up again and I felt like I could sleep for a week. I just about made it to 8pm but then Nel said she was too tired too and wasn’t going to watch TV after all. Hooray! Oh dear! She was upset at missing her programme though so I sent a text to mum to see if she’d record it for Nel to watch next day when we visited. That sorted, I collapsed thankfully into bed – and went out like a light.

Merry Christmas everyone. πŸ™‚

(* Herb mix was anti-inflammatory and lymph system boosting: Poke root/puke weed; white willow bark; meadowsweet; liquorice)