crEAting Christmas…days 3 & 4

As we left for home yesterday we drove past the sad little bay just round the corner from our cottage where the recent tragedy happened, all was completely calm and peaceful now as if nothing had happened and at that moment a rainbow appeared.It is a community in mourning, feeling the loss of a friend and neighbour – many of the locals are calling for a road barrier to be put in place now so this loss of life does not happen again in the future when the sea is at high tide.  The sea that I love so much has suddenly become quite a fearful place but even so now I am back in landlocked Yorkshire I miss going to sleep with the roar of the waves in the background.

As we were on the road yesterday I had a really simple Advent activity – something only available to ‘us northerners’ and something I look forward to getting each year…

…the Booths Christmas Book and for you southerners (and any readers from other parts of the world) Booths is a family run grocers business founded in 1847 and now a chain of supermarkets across the North of England and often refered to as the Waitrose of the North.  It trades on quality, local produce and great customer service.   Their release each Christmas of their hardback, bound book is always eagerly awaited by all their shoppers and followers.Our nearest store is – a bit too far away for a our weekly shopping but we always call in on our way to or back from Scotland at the Penrith or Kendal branch.  It is packed with photographs of deliciously tempting Christmas fayre to order or buy in store interspersed with a few recipes to make.

So I collected mine yesterday and spent my elevenses this morning pouring over all the Christmas food on offer and a quick look at the recipes in the back.  I find it remarkable that Booths can produce such a lovely little book and give it away free – I was a truly happy bunny.

Todays activity…As you may remember from last year I decided to do something different to the usual wreath on our front door so I hung my chicken wire cone see post here (a left over from my daughter’s wedding that hung on the Church gateposts full of flowers) and this time filled it Christmas foliage.  I quite liked it so have done it again this year.  If you don’t find wreaths easy to make this is a simple alternative…

…first bend some chicken wire to form a cone shape – making a hanging loop at the point on the back.  Pack the front and sides with moss (I had collected a small heap in the summer in readiness).  Find an empty jam jar and push down into the cone as far as it will fit and so it is not visible. Remove the jar again and push some chicken wire into the jar to hold the stems steady when filling with foliage.  Fill the jar with cold water and start arranging pieces of foliage. Hold the cone steady in a small bucket then lower the jar into the cone making sure it is a snug fit. At the moment I am using some dried red hydrangea heads and a dried white one, some ivy and a few holly stems.  As we get closer to Christmas I will swap these for eucalyptus, holly and Hypericum like last years.

I have hung mine to the side of our main door but they are quite light and will hang on a door.As you can see I am no florist but it is not too difficult to get a pleasing arrangement.  You could add sprayed leaves, ribbon or pretty much anything.  Just remember to keep topping up the jar of water.

We have placed a small rooted Christmas tree by the front door (only £10 at Wilko) and put a few lights on it.  DH has still to do the rest of the lights in the front garden and paint the front door – I will take a few photos when it is all finished.

Whilst in Scotland we went over to Portpatrick for a stroll by the harbour and found they were having their annual Christmas craft fair in the village hall so went for a look around.  There was some lovely things to buy – after much deliberation and bearing in mind I had to limit my spending I chose these……a pack of watercolour notelets (right) painted by a local artist to support the Aldouran Wetland Garden and these two pretty little felted Christmas tree cards for each of my daughters – made by a local crafter.

I also bought a few other bits and pieces whilst we were out and about – goodies that I never see down here in Yorkshire.The frilly cake band takes me back to my childhood and reminds me of Christmases past – they would appear each Christmas round our Christmas cake – at 99p I just had to have one.  The packet contains an iced ginger cake – we always buy one when we are at the cottage but usually we get the un-iced version – these too are only £1 from Tesco or Morrisons but I have never seen them south of the border.  I thought the iced one would be a nice treat for Christmas. And on the way home a few small inexpensive things for Christmas from Tebay services of all places – each of these little tissue parcels were a £1 – you will have to wait a while until I unwrap them to find out what is in them.

Welcome to my new followers too.  Christmas is a lovely time in Blogland – everyone is so busy making and baking.

Back tomorrow for Day 5 of Advent. x

 

 

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crEAting Christmas…day 2

Today my Advent card reads…

‘fill the house with the scent of Christmas and make pomanders and dried fruit slices’

At home I would do these in the oven to savour the wonderful smell it produces but here in the caravan to save on the gas I used the microwave to dry out the slices and I wasn’t sure if it would work. I stuck a few cloves into the end slices and the smell was really nice.  I wasn’t very impressed with this microwave method – one or two of them scorched a bit but this won’t be that noticeable when the colour darkens with age.  I will take them back home and put them in the airing cupboard for a while.  I decided not to continue with them here and wait until I get home and can use my oven.

As promised in my last post a few pictures from the Stranraer Christmas parade and switching on of lights.  The town has a population of about 13,000 and is around 70 miles from the larger towns of Dumfries and Ayr so the people here have to provide a lot of their own entertainment and they do it so well.  There are few national chain shops – a recent but small New Look, Argos and Peacocks and a WH Smiths, Boots, Superdrug, Mac & Co and a Subway; the rest are all little privately run businesses.

Most of the outlying community had come into town eager to see this event – the cafes were full and the shops very busy.  Eventually you could hear the distant pipes as the procession arrived in the town centre… …with the Three Wise Men on camels who were awesome (as Sybil would say) though it was hard to get a good photo without all the police escorts and minders getting in the way of taking pictures. They were like big cuddly teddy bears and didn’t seem the least bit phased by the noisy crowd, the bagpipes and the loud speakers on the castle belting out Christmas music; and were very amenable to the children stroking them.

Santa made an appearance too in his chimney …As it is quite a small town the parade circulated a couple of times and as it became dark everyone gathered in the square by St John’s castle (which had become Santa’s grotto for the day) for the countdown to the switching on of the lights by the winner of the Primary Schools competition.  There was such a sense of excitement in the air.Once the lights came on a big cheer went up and it was quite spectacular but not something easily caught on camera.  It felt so nice to be part of this community spirit here. All the shop windows around the town have been dressed with a Christmas theme and lit up too – it was a wonderful sight that you don’t see very much now on most high streets (well not in Huddersfield) since the national chain shops seem to have taken over and don’t really go in for window dressing in this way;  but up here in Stranraer the majority of shops are mainly small family concerns and whether they are bakers or hairdressers they all join in to make their little town look delightful.  Here is a quick tour of the shop displays and haven’t they done well.

…even the man at the antique shop has done a lovely old-fashioned display…

…and this one with the Nutcracker soldier is for Sadie if you are reading this!

Tomorrow we will be travelling down home again – it has been a very mixed emotional time for us this visit – I think for once I might be glad to be home for a while.  I may have to delay tomorrow’s post until Tuesday – but I already know that my Advent activity for day 3 is a very simple one.

crEAting Christmas…Day 1

I flipped my first Advent card over today – the activity read:-

‘a walk along the beach looking for treasure to bring home ‘

Knowing we would be in Scotland today one of the things I love to do at this time of year is to walk along the beach.  I am drawn to the shore during these winter months when it is rather grey and bleak looking it has a natural wild beauty of its own and I look forward to finding all those small treasures amongst the pebbles and rocks to bring home; pieces of sea weathered glass, shells and bits of driftwood – this was a perfect Advent activity for day one.

But not today – in fact the very reason I love going down on the beach at this time of year suddenly feels rather foreboding due to the sad, sad incident that has happened here and you will understand why I am not going to fulfil this Advent task at the moment.

I think you will all have heard on the news by now that the two bodies of the missing couple have been found washed up on the shore across the bay at Port William early this morning (which must be close on 15 miles across the water) and our little beach here, where the incident happened, is no place to be at the moment.  It has been a very subdued empty place apart from the Coastguard team  – not even a dog walker has put a foot on there even though it has not been closed off to the public it just hasn’t felt right to go down there – it would seem an intrusion.  The whole village (a small population of just over 300) is extremely shocked but as a community will pull together to help the family and friends of the couple that died in any way they can.

So I had to improvise slightly today and we went into Stranraer (our nearest town) for the afternoon to join in watching the parade with the camels and see the switching on of the lights.  When we planned to come up here I hadn’t realised it was the switching on of the lights and we had not seen it before but it was a lovely place to be – the sense of community here is so special it made a lovely first day of Christmas and I will post about this tomorrow with pictures.

Tonight my thoughts are with the Kenneavy family and their tragic loss. x

 

mEAndering…a detour en route to our cottage

On our journey up to Scotland on Thursday we crossed the Scottish border and decided to look for somewhere to pull off the road to have our packed lunch; so we took a detour through Gretna town centre (about 5 shops!) and out on the tourist route (avoiding the busy A75), ending up at Dornock a tiny village about 6 miles down the road. Not to be confused with Dornoch.

We randomly chose a road to turn into to the left of the main village road (Church Road) and stumbled upon this little church.  After eating our sandwiches I went off to explore.DornockDornock ChurchAt first glance it wasn’t obvious that the church was still in use but further investigation told me it probably was (and of course Google helped later).  It is a listed church dedicated to St Marjory and built in 1793 on the site of the initial medieval church that was knocked down and of which there are no remains.

The church forms a T shape, built of sneck harled rubble (I got that off Google – I am no expert on stones!), the porches were added on at a later date. It has round-headed windows and two of them are stained with glass designed by Ballantine and Gardiner of Glasgow (in 1843 they won a competition to design windows for the new Houses of Parliament, although in the event they only provided some windows for the House of Lords).  We couldn’t go in the church to see the windows but they look quite intricate from outside and the windows are covered in that shatter proof plastic sheet so they must be quite important.

The bellcote, also added later in 1855, and which I inadvertently chopped the top off in the photo has no bell as strangely the bell lies in the Sanctuary at the doorway of another church in Bowness on Solway; taken by the English in retaliation for the Scots pinching their bell which now lies in the Solway!  A bit of tit for tat.One of the things that struck me wandering around the graveyard is firstly that it is such a wild yet beautiful graveyard, so peaceful with a view that stretches over to the Solway estuary in the background.  The second thing is the sheer size of all these 18th Century grave stones that are packed into this graveyard and almost towered above me and more resembled one of those large city cemeteries than a tiny parish church. All around the graves the grass was long underfoot and difficult to walk over with mounds and clumps entwined with brambles.These two graves I came across are a sad reminder of how children often died young through infectious diseases that couldn’t be cured back then and how some families lost more than one child at the same time with the same illness.  This was written on the gravestones…

Here lyes
Jannet Turnbull
Daughter of Robert Turn
bull in closhead who Died May
30th 1775 Aged 11 Months
& John Turnbull son of the said
Robert Who Died Janry 11th 1784
Aged 8 years
Also Mary Turnbull Daughter
of the above who Died Janry 28th
1784 Aged 1 year & 6 Months

The stone on the right is simply inscribed:-
Here lyes Thomas
son to John Turn
bull in Longland
Who died young

On the back:-
John Turnbull
who died 1792
Aged 78 years

What a truly peaceful place to sit and ponder on life…

What a shame we couldn’t linger any longer but we will go back as I have read on Google that somewhere amongst all those grave stones are 3 Hogbacked gravestones (carved stones) with Viking links from when the pre-reformation Medieval church was in use and I am curious to see these now.

I also learnt from the internet that there is a Watchnight Service at 11.30pm on Christmas Eve – how I would have loved to be up here to go to that.

From the peace of the countryside we headed back to the A75 calling in at Castle Douglas for a chip butty tea and then on to the sleepy backwater market town of Newton Stewart to buy food from the only Sainsburys for miles.  They had just had their new Christmas lights switched on – my goodness they have really pushed the boat out this year!Newton Stewart Christmas LightsI love that row of stars strung across the main street.  Tomorrow we are going into Stranraer to watch the Christmas parade and switching on of the lights in the town centre and see these Three Wise Men on their camels.  Can’t wait.

Our little village here usually has a Christmas tree but no signs of one yet – perhaps they are growing it still!

dEAr diary…upsetting news

Updated post* see below

We have arrived at our little cottage in South West Scotland to find there has been a massive police, air and Coastguard hunt on today to find a missing couple who live in the village.  Their car was found at 7.30am this morning swept up on the beach along the coast road just down the road from us which had been closed yesterday.  The couple had two dogs with them as well.

How lucky were we that we chose to come up today instead of our original plan to come up yesterday – that couple might have been us.  It is a treacherous road coming into the village the sea was battering the coast with 30 foot high waves and the road was closed not only because of flooding but the sea throws up quite large rocks with it – it is known locally as the ‘Car Wash’ but it is no joke and at its worst it can kill.

Our neighbour on the little caravan site has lost a chunk of land again – the sea has moved some huge rocks around that were holding back the banking  – it is frighteningly powerful.

For the moment it is quite calm here – I hope it stays like this and I pray the couple will be found safe but it is looking like they may have been swept out to sea.

*Update

We woke this morning to calm…at least down here in the dip near the sea – it is still blustery on the road above us as we were to find out soon enough on our walk into the village.The incident with the missing couple happened around the other side of this bit of headland, to the left of the photo, in the next bay to us at Kilstay. The hill blocks our view so we cannot see this part of the beach but there was plenty of activity this morning – we watched the coastguard police from our window walking the beach below us here at low tide looking for any evidence that might give them clues.  They came into our garden to check our burn that runs down to the sea in case anything had washed up there. (Of course we had already checked ourselves and also looked in the wood just in case).

All the local lifeboats were here including the one from the Isle of Man and across from Port William, and we had helicopters circling for a while.  All has gone quiet again now but as far as I know nothing was found and as each hour passes it is looking less likely the couple will be found safe and well.      A chilling thought.

Whilst it was such a sunny start we took the opportunity to walk to the village – of course we could not go along the beach so took the main road into the village which runs above us… it was a freezing wind up on top so we decided to turn off when we got to the point where the low road joins and is now a car free footpath only and drops down to run alongside the beach and is quite sheltered.The low road is now famous for the collection of painted stones that appear overnight and can be found dotted in and amongst the hedgerow along the edge of the path.  Such treasures…rumour has it the fairies are responsible for them.

Eventually the path meets the end of  a little row of cottages known as Shore Street and this leads to one of the 3 pubs in this tiny village.We bought a paper, some fresh morning rolls and a box of chocolate teacakes from the village shop, then drew out some cash from the Post Office counter which is now in the same tiny shop but two steps to the left.  We checked the local noticeboard for upcoming events – noted that the Stranraer lights are to be switched on tomorrow in town after the parade headed up by 3 Wise Men on camels (really? – I must see this!), then briskly walked back to our cottage following our footsteps in reverse – no way were we going to attempt to walk along the high road today.

As I write this update sitting snuggly in our caravan with the heat blasting away drinking a hot cup of tea and munching on chocolate teacakes we have suddenly been plunged into dark skies and icy lashing rain.

 

 

crEAting Christmas…crafting the Advent days

I have been pondering over the ‘Advent’ part of Christmas in my head for a while now.  Over the years I have done various things including these tiny old-fashioned advent calendars that contained no sweets at all just a different little Christmas picture each day when the window was opened.  Advent CalendarsIt was opening this Advent calendar that reminded me most of the anticipation I felt as a child and the delight of revealing a glowing candle or a decorated Christmas tree picture on peeling back the little doors – I thought they were the most wonderful and magical part of Christmas and I could hardly wait each day to see what the Christmas picture was going to be.

A truly simple pleasure.

Then one sleepless night recently I thought about all I wanted to do in the days before Christmas;  all the things that generated the same excitement for me – which ideally is a mixture of simple Christmas pleasures, a few trips out and about to one or two festive towns and villages, and of course lots of crafts.  To pace myself I hit upon the idea of using the daily advent as a way to ‘timetable’ the things that are both important and pleasurable for me to do.

For the calendar itself I decided upon some simple craft card (from a tiny pad I bought from The Range for £1) and stamped numbers on them in white or gold from 1 to 25.  On the back I stuck a little ‘surprise’ activity of something pleasurable and Christmassy to do or make that day.  Then placed them all on my photo stand. Of course the activities couldn’t be a complete random surprise as I have had to work around days when we are in Scotland and my mum visits and other commitments – I also had to make sure I had all the bits ready to make the crafts – so a little planning had to be done. And so DH doesn’t feel left out I have individually wrapped some Amoretti biscuits as a little daily treat in some greaseproof paper decorated with a gold pen.

With all that in place, but not actually posted on my blog, imagine my surprise when I got home late last night and read Gillian’s post from Tales from a happy house (see my blog list at the side) where she has had an almost identical idea – and her little envelopes are so lovely.  (If you are reading this Gillian I have left you a comment).

We are heading off to Scotland tomorrow and my Advent trail will begin from there on Saturday (I hope we have an internet connection) and each day I will do a quick post revealing the activity for the day and a few photos.

I hope you will join in and let me know of your pleasurable Christmas activities as we go along.  Of course there is a chance that ‘events’ might steer me off course a little – you know how it is with the Christmas build up –  but fingers crossed.

Welcome to my recent new followers – I try to post most days – apologies for lack of post and comments yesterday I went out to the pub last night!  A lovely pre-Christmas gathering of old friends round a warm log fire.

fEAsible…a little baking and a lot more planning

Christmas cake Christmas cakeA nice quiet Sunday spent baking my Christmas cake whilst singing along to my favourite CD of Christmas Carols to get me in the mood.  DH had gone to the final concert in town and I had the afternoon to myself so once the cake was parcelled up and in the oven I had another go at my Christmas card.  I have so many varying Robins now but none are quite right and I am in two minds as to whether to ditch the idea and do something else.

On Saturday morning DH finished the shelving in the shed and today I remembered to take some pictures.  Garden shed Garden shedHe has done a fantastic job – plenty of hooks and shelving and the melamine from the old wardrobe will make the shelves easy to wipe down (and I am so pleased we could repurpose the wood and we didn’t have to take it to the landfill).  All I have to do now is put the contents back – but that will be another day – as will painting the outside as it is still too damp for the paint to stick.

We can however tackle the next maintenance job on the list – re-staining the front door surround and painting the door as it is well protected under the porch roof.   DH made a start this morning while it was both sunny and dry.

It was also completely still; no wind at all – the towels I hung on the line did not move an inch and came back in almost as damp as when I hung them out.I spent the day taking stock of what I have done and what I still have to do.  After a few hectic days I needed to check up on our finances and other bits and pieces and generally have a little time to think.

I added a few more tasks to my list as they came to mind – this time of year there are so many little jobs to remember – picking things up, dropping things off, and plenty of decisions to make – trying not to overlook anything.

Following on from my previous list of initial preparations I have a further list (no surprises there!) that is more about cleaning and preparing the house ready to decorate with the Christmas trimmings and also to make sure I have stocked up with all the basics so I don’t find myself running out to the shops on Christmas Eve for batteries or loo rolls.

One of the first things I do is to check the basic stocks in cupboards and drawers of non food items such as toiletries and household items – shampoo, toilet rolls, greaseproof paper, kitchen foil, batteries etc.  I have a reminder list of these items and I generally make a note to stock up with these things well before Christmas so I don’t run out or have to think about them when I am too busy doing other Christmas shopping.

I will then plan to eat up any of those odd bits from the freezer and clean it out.  Once this is done I can prepare some meals like the Nut loaf for our Christmas dinner and restock with the basics like peas, frozen chips and bread.

This is also a good time to have a quick check to see that any evening wear / party outfits are in good order and drop them off for dry cleaning (though I normally only buy washable clothes these days).

Finally I have a quick check over the Christmas lights to see they are in working order.

Cleaning plans

I do like my home to be relatively clean for Christmas especially before all the decorations go up and it gets difficult to clean.  I make a note of tasks that need to be done in each room and anything outside.

I like to give the downstairs rooms a good clean, knocking the dust off the lampshades!  I find that adding a bit of polish to the white goods and small appliances gives them a bit of a sparkle and of course I include giving the oven a good clean.  Once the main rooms look passable I can bring out the Christmas bits and pieces like my cute knitted Christmas pudding tea cosy and robin napkins that my daughter printed and made, my little Christmas china mug and plate and the Christmas candles and holders; by this time adding a few little finishing touches to the house it is beginning to look quite festive but not over done.  The tree and staircase garland are not installed until much nearer Christmas.

During November I will have been clipping away looking for some fresh ideas for the Christmas trimmings.  I have on the list to buy the tree and make a wreath and this I find is getting earlier each year.

DH usually decides where the outside lights are going to go – I leave this job to him and how many lights we have will depend on how much time he has to put them up and how much enthusiasm.  We lost our tree in the front garden a few years ago but still have a number of large shrubs and a climber that we fix lights to but also two tall metal cones made of sturdy chicken wire that look like Christmas trees when decorated.  I have made a note for DH to do the lights in November (thanks to Sadie from Notes from an ordinary life) in readiness for the switch on in December.

If we are having guests to stay over Christmas I will clean and prepare the guest room and check the bedding and also make a note of any specific dietary needs for any fussy visitors.

I have been doing quite a bit of the cleaning as I have decluttered recently so I feel I am well ahead but that could all change.  On a blustery day I might even wash the cushion covers and throws too so they smell fresh.

Well those are the plans so I had better get started now – lots still to do.  You would think after years of practice I must be getting better at this – but somehow it can still fee a bit of a rush to be ready on time.

 

dEAr diary…a bit of a ‘Crisis’

LemonsHonestyBird FeederA really pleasant day today, the sun was shining, which is always encouraging, and I was looking forward to the Crisis at Christmas coffee morning at our local church to see all those friends from the village that I don’t see often enough.

I arrived early to avoid the crush and have a good look at the stalls – plants, home baking, pots of jams and chutney, books, crafts, cards, bric a brac and the customary Tombola.  There was a good turnout; plenty of hustle and bustle so I would think that they will raise well over the £3000 they reached last year for Crisis (Crisis is a charitable organisation who help the homeless to rebuild their lives and also provide a dinner and shelter at Christmas).  My selection bags had nearly all been sold by the time I left and most of the stalls were looking quite empty.Sweet ShopThe Winter Children I came away with a pack of sweet shop jars for £2.50 for Little L (who has asked Santa for a shop this year) and selected two books for a donation of £2 – they look brand new; the murder mystery one I will pass on to my mum when she visits – and The Winter Children I was attracted to by the title and I live in hope that I will find some time to read at Christmas.

I had a cup of tea, a home-baked cake and a natter, made a few promises to have a catch up and get together over the festive period and then came home.After lunch I spooned more brandy into the fruit for the cake (I might even need to buy another bottle), the lemons are reserved to make lemon curd.  The aroma in the kitchen is just lovely at this time of year it is certainly the best place to be and through the kitchen window I could see the birds scurrying around in the undergrowth and checking the bird feeders for peanuts which to their dismay were empty…so armed with seed, peanuts and a half coconut shell of fat I went outside to refill all the feeders. Bird TableApart from the cold it was quite pleasant in the garden and I stopped to take a few photos as there are one or two little pockets of colour here and there – the silvery leaves of the Honesty and the glorious bright red berries of the Cotoneaster, they almost glow in this grey winter light.Yesterday we had to go to B&Q for a piece of wood for DH to finish the shelving in the shed.  We have reused as much as we can from the old melamine wardrobe but he was short of an upright.  B&Q have started a waste wood bin like Ikea and you can take what you like for a small donation (Ikea is for free).  We were out of luck though as the wood in the waste bin was not a suitable size this time.

Whilst on the retail park I went to look around Home Bargains, a huge shed of a place, I don’t go very often but you can often find a bargain.  Amongst all the stuff piled floor to ceiling I spotted this – a small wooden letter rack painted white, can be wall hung and being quite shallow a perfect size – and only £2.49.  I bought one for my notice board in the kitchen to keep my Care Cards in (see HERE for new readers), and one for the laundry room to keep my washing instructions in.  I think I might go back for a third for the office so I can put the outgoing mail and cards in.  I know it says letters on it but this could be painted out.During the afternoon I spent some more time on designing my Christmas card – mostly playing around with ideas and sketches.  I think I might have a design at last and hope to start cutting the lino tomorrow after I have made the cake and lemon curd.

Tonight DH went to another of his concerts – the one last week must have been a prominent composer as it was attended by the BBC for a live broadcast.  He had to leave around tea time so cooked himself some of the fresh ravioli from a packet that only takes 3-4 minutes, while he was out I made a vegetable lasagne with green lentils which takes more like 40 -50 minutes but will cover two nights meals.  I don’t know about you but I am enjoying cooking and eating some of the hot meals that we haven’t eaten for a while.

More Christmas makes and bakes tomorrow…

dEAr diary…shopping, crafting and more preparing

We set off for our planned date with John Lewis yesterday with a packed lunch and flask, a bit later than intended – not even sure why, I think I had a lot to get ready – vouchers, list of requirements, carrier bags, some bits to drop off at my brothers on the way home – so it took us longer than I thought to get out of the door.   What a surprise when we drove up the road  and onto the moor that takes us over the tops of Saddleworth to Greenfield, Mossley, Ashton, Stockport and finally Cheadle Royal our destination – there was a covering of snow. On the way home it was thick fog too and a bit hairy coming over the winding moor road but at least it was still open as often when there is any snowfall it is soon closed off and we have been stuck getting home a few times, you really have to watch the weather here if you venture far when it snows.

We had a lovely day looking at all the gorgeous things in the John Lewis store – these were my favourite (apologies for the mobile photo) – 4 champagne glasses by Waterford Crystal Mixology a mere £255 for the four!  Obviously they will be on my Christmas list and obviously I won’t be getting them!  But I can admire them.

We bought  a gift for Little L (reduced by 20% in the Black Friday deals), a Magic set for my nephew (which wasn’t reduced but still in budget) and a couple of small gifts for Little L to put in the Christmas Eve box I am filling with her mum.  We won’t see her at Christmas and I have decided to buy a short 3 monthly subscription from Toucan boxes for children starting after Christmas, to see how it goes, rather than a ‘main’ present so the Christmas Eve box will just be a little extra and I quite like the idea that not everything has to be opened on one day.

Her mum has some new flamingo pyjamas which will go in the box, I have bought a 99p pack of plasticine, a small pack of Christmas joke cards (for some reason she loves telling jokes but so far only remembers two), I found a lovely Emma Bridgewater spoon with coloured spots on the handle for her too.  I will add a book and some felt tips etc which I will get from the Works or Sainsbury’s and one or two other inexpensive bits.

With my gift card from leaving work I bought a cosy brushed cotton duvet cover for the colder winter months in large grey check so now I have to decide between this and the Dorma one I bought from Dunelm.  I won’t be keeping both but needed to see them in our bedroom to decide.

Sainsbury’s is attached to the John Lewis in Cheadle and we had a drink in the afternoon in their cafe (really to save a bit of money) – the difference in service between the two shops is notable!  We waited 15 minutes to be served at Sainsburys and we were only second in the queue, we had arrived when they were changing shifts – the person leaving just down tools and left and I can honestly say in no way does it resembles the very precise hand over at the changing of the guard.  We had a look around the small Habitat section on the way out – I loved the old Habitat stores and really miss them now.  This small stand they have in the corner of Sainsburys looks quite pitiful to what Habitat was in its heyday.

The selection bags were all ready to be delivered today  – I had quite a production line going so in the end they didn’t take very long to finish.

I intended to get back to making my cards this morning but I ran out of time so it will be tomorrow; I saw some lovely cards yesterday on display but homemade are fun to do and so much cheaper as I already have a stack of blanks and all the printing gear.

Because I ran out of time to soak my fruit for the cake yesterday it was the first task on the list this morning.  I just love that smell of brandy mixed in the dried fruit with the peel from the citrus fruit.  I wil bake it on Sunday and make Lemon Curd at the same time to use up the lemons.

Saturday morning is the Crisis coffee morning at church – I am going with a friend for a coffee, a chat and a look at the Xmas goodies to buy on the stalls.

Back soon x

 

fEAsible…plotting, planning and preparing for Christmas

Another dark dreary day today and cold with it – light is in short supply at the moment but I did manage to get my selection bags finished and ready to go.  The only cost to me was for the fun size chocolate bars inside which I bought reduced at Halloween, the gift wrap was some left over from a previous year and the tags from old Christmas cards.  I will take pictures tomorrow as the light has gone altogether now.

I made Mushroom soup today and extra for the freezer.  It has become my favourite lunch at the moment – perhaps you can tell!  We had freshly baked rolls too from Sainsbury’s – a kind of Ciabatta bread with cheese and shaped like a boat – should have taken a picture.  They were reduced to 4 for 60p – so a bargain as well.

I have started my initial preparations for Christmas, I use the same checklists each year so I don’t forget to do things.  This is the first of a series of lists that I have developed over time and serve me well:-

Getting prepared and organised – step 1 – initial preparations

  • Begin a Xmas inspiration notebook or wallet –  a definite must – I collect all those usually annoying leaflets, adverts about events, recipes, decoration ideas or anything Christmassy that catches my eye.
  • Look at what didn’t work last year (see my notes HERE from last year of things to avoid or do better)
  • Do something different this yearI like to plan something new each year and this often ends up as a new tradition the following years.
  • Decide on any entertaining we might do and set a date – prepare invitations knowing if and when we might be holding a party or get together is crucial to knowing just how busy I am going to be.
  • Find the decorative Xmas box to hold incoming Xmas cards as they arrivebelieve it or not we have received our first Xmas card but it is far too early to put it up so I usually hold them all in a pretty box.
  • Review finances for last Xmas and set a new budgetI keep a note of our past Christmas spending and plan a new budget based on this.
  • Arrange the family Not so Secret Santa draw
  • Prepare the Christmas Calendar for December – I like to put everything down in one place so I have a calendar that I can see at a glance what is planned for each day in December. 

I start by putting down any dates that are fixed like birthdays, then schedule appointments, and then decide on any events we might like to attend if we can fit them in.

  • Add birthday dates first and any anniversaries (we have quite a few in December)
  • Reschedule any unnecessary appointments for after Christmas (this might be a dental check up or the like if it is non urgent I will move it to after Christmas)
  • Establish everyone’s movements (otherwise known as who is going where with whom)
  • Schedule / book appointments for hairdressers, massage etc (a little ‘me’ time)
  • Make a note of any discount nights or late night shopping
  • Schedule time with the familythis might be a night out at a restaurant or a night in with a Xmas film – something we can all do together.
  • Schedule any religious activitiesCarol singing, Crib service etc
  • Schedule a theatre night or Christmas event (this year we are going to see the Winter Wonderland lights at Dunham Massey and probably go to the Living Advent event in Saltaire)
  • Add dates for making Christmas food gifts (I usually make a few food gifts for my friends and these have to be made closer to Christmas so I need to leave a clear day or two)
  • Add last posting dates for Christmas (I have already picked up the leaflet for this year whilst I was at the post office)

This is very much the planning and plotting stage – deciding on what to do and where to go and when.  I have already done some of these things on this list – but have I missed anything?

There is a lot to fit in now into four weeks.  My next task will be the cake on Sunday and getting back to doing my lino cut Christmas card.

I was chatting with my daughter about a present for Little L for Christmas and I mentioned the subscription boxes you can order for children that come by post once a month with activities.  I signed up for something similar years ago that was run by the Early Learning Centre before they had shops and my two girls loved it when the parcel arrived each month, a box full of surprises.  I am not sure they are such good value these days but the idea is still good and we are looking into it.  She has so many presents on Christmas day that it would be nice to spread it out a bit.  Has anyone any experience of any on the market?

Tomorrow we are going back to John Lewis  – it is one of my Christmas treats in itself – I love to look at all the lovely things and get ideas.  What a shame I don’t have another free hot drink and cake voucher unless one arrives in the post in the morning!

How are your plans coming along?

 

 

 

 

 

dEAr diary…home again, home again

We are back home again from our weekend away.  We had a lovely time at the family gathering it is so nice to be together for Sunday lunch and a catch up; and show off the new arrival.  A friend had made this cake to celebrate my daughter’s 10th wedding anniversary.  Little L wore her new sparkly party dress and everyone had a good time.

But it is good to be home again and hopefully at home now for a while.  The recent trips up and down to North Yorkshire (about a 2 hour journey) have taken their toll and I am feeling rather weary at the moment and have only just finished all the unpacking and putting away once more, but not the catching up with finances and washing.

It is bitterly cold here and wet with it… and gloomy – I have the lights on in the house and I have put the heating on this afternoon for an hour; it certainly looks wintry out there to me.I made Tomato soup yesterday and more soup today, a minted green soup with watercress, spinach, lettuce and pea.  We had some for lunch and I have put the rest in the freezer for another day.  Hot soup on a cold day is perfect for lunch.  It was too cold to be cleaning out the freezer today so I have postponed this job yet again for another day.

I did manage to cut out the paper for the eight selection bags – there was just enough – and I will make these into bags tomorrow morning when the light is better.

Yesterday we went to Sainsbury’s to do the grocery shopping.  I have planned a few easy meals for this week whilst I catch up with myself; Shepherds pie with lentils and Vegetable Lasagne which will do two nights each and then an omelette and salad for Sunday when the oven will be needed for the Christmas cake.   It wasn’t a big shop as we are coming to the end of this month’s pension allowance – our next payment will be this Friday though I am intending that the four weekly pension amount stretches to cover the whole of a calendar month and that way the 13th payment can go into savings.  As long as we keep within the £160 a week then we are doing OK and so far so good but it does take a lot of effort.

Starting in January I will be trying to save 10% of the pension  – £64 every 4 weeks amounts to a healthy £832.00 for the year plus the £200 fuel allowance  will give us £1000, so I will need to cut costs further to do this.  I always saved when we had a wage so I don’t really want to stop now but I have needed time to get used to living on a pension and to see how far it will stretch.  Unfortunately, it is not very elastic.

I am finding food expensive even though we make most of our own meals, waste very little and do not eat meat or fish.  As you know we eat organic foods were we can and especially fruit and veg as I like the fact they are not sprayed with pesticides and they have been farmed in a way that does not harm either me or the environment; I don’t compromise on this even if it costs me more…and generally it does!  It is a constant battle against rising prices or shrinking products.I keep getting vouchers at Sainsbury’s for bonus Nectar points but only if I spend over £100 – which I don’t.  Waitrose have sent me a coupon for £22 off a £110 shop.  This we might use nearer Christmas and buy one of their rooted trees again.

This month has been heavy on gifts and fuel costs too.  Travelling up and down to North Yorkshire is expensive and there is no easy way to reduce this when a third of our immediate family live a couple of hours away, other than not seeing them.  We always make sandwiches and a flask for the journey up there but are often forced to buy a Costa toastie and a drink on our return and motorway services prices are much inflated so as well as the fuel cost being high the snacks we bought when travelling was also an unavoidable expense. Luckily I am able to cut the costs of the gifts by recycling unwanted items and taking advantage of sales.   We also sold 3 unwanted items on eBay this week so have gained £38 in my PayPal account which has boosted the kitty. Another saving of £5.80 was the voucher for a free hot drink and scone at John Lewis when we went to buy my daughter’s gift and because we went to the Cheadle branch the parking was free.

We will wait to see what the weather is doing tomorrow before making any definite plans.  I have selection bags to make, a freezer to clean and some fresh mushrooms for soup.

 

dEAr diary…an unexpected day out

Do you ever have one of those days that doesn’t go to plan – I expect everyone does.  It wasn’t that yesterday turned out to be a bad day just different to what I had intended.  Last night I should have been sitting down pleased with myself for cleaning the freezer or making all the selection bags, but in the end I did neither – instead we had a trip to the Trafford centre to John Lewis to pick up a present for my daughter.

We were going to order this gift on-line but then changed our minds as we preferred to see what we were buying.  I am told that the 10th anniversary is tin so we have bought her a lovely handmade dragon-fly picture frame by Lancaster and Gibbings that is made of hammered or pressed pewter (which is a metal alloy of up to 99% tin).  We will put her a temporary picture in of Little L and Sweetie until we can take one that fits the space properly.After we had purchased the photo frame we of course had to have a browse around the store looking at all the beautiful things on display.  I could easily have indulged myself and one or two things might just go on my Secret Santa wish list.

Tonight DH is out at one of his music concerts, a new piece of work by contemporary composer Rebecca Saunders.  This kind of music is really not to my taste it often pushes the boundaries of music and can be creative to the extent that it is very strange.  But he enjoys it and Huddersfield is the UK’s largest international festival of new and experimental music.

I actually like having the house to myself for a few hours – I might even watch a Christmas film on the True Christmas channel – something light-hearted and funny.  I might even give myself a home pedicure after all that tramping up and down the shopping mall.

Today we head off again for North Yorkshire our second home at the moment!

Incidentally, in respect of my daughter’s wedding day (that I wrote about in my last but one post see here) which was on a Friday ten years ago in Masham town hall;  we heard that Any Questions was broadcast from there on Friday night so lucky for us the venue was not double booked all those years ago – it was strange enough having the play rehearsal going on at the time we were setting up the hall!!

Have a lovely weekend. x

PS Just a note about the John Lewis staff who are always so on the ball and helpful – they really try hard with their customer service, so thank you John Lewis.

homestEAd…out in the garden

Another glorious day today, bright, sunny and clear blue skies – after stripping the bed and throwing the bedding in the washer I was tempted out into the garden and ended up staying out all day…with the washing.  I planted Allium, narcissus and tulip bulbs, cleared the last of the leaves that had fallen into the borders and spread a bit of manure around some of the plants.CyclamenThe Cyclamens are now planted in the front border by the footpath providing a splash of colour, although there is still quite a bit here and there in the garden.HebeMeanwhile DH spent time on the new shed.  It is has now been slotted into the space at the side of our house and waiting a fit out inside – a few tool hooks and some shelving.  We are reusing some white melamine that was once part of the wardrobe in my eldest daughter’s room, it is still in good condition so a shame to waste it and it will create a bit more space in the garage.

The shed is draped in polythene sheet for the moment to protect it from the rain and allow it to dry out enough to paint.  It will be so good to get the gardening equipment out of the garage and back to where it should be. Once the shed is finished DH will be concentrating on painting the front door.  We have plans to get a new one but to make it look more presentable for the time being we are going to paint the present one.

I may have mentioned that we had been contacted by the National Statistics Office to take part in a survey.  We agreed to be in today and the nice gentleman came at 5pm which was helpful as by then it was far too dark to garden.  The questions were not difficult – mainly about education, career and our present circumstances.  It was hard remembering just how many GCE’s I have though and what the subjects were;  no-one has asked me that for a long time.

I still have the selection bags to make.I tried out a couple of prototypes (apologies for the colour – flash light is never great) using the wrapping paper and some old cut up Christmas cards as tags.  I will probably go with the one on the left with the string tie though each tag will be different.  I have made a note of the paper size I used on the trial one so I can cut them out and make them up all at once and have a bit of a production line going…putting 5 assorted fun sized chocolate bars into each bag will make 8 bags.

Tomorrow I shall have to decide whether to make the bags or clean out my freezer – I doubt I will get both done as I will need to iron the bedding I washed today and also pack to go back up to our daughter’s for the celebration this weekend.  I am really looking forward to seeing Little L and Sweetie again.

But not the packing!

So a few more jobs off the list – shame I have to add some new ones on.

plEAsurable…wedding celebrations

What a gorgeous day it has been today (Wednesday) – sunny, dry and with a chill in the air –  it was identical weather on this same date November 14th ten years ago in 2008 for my younger daughter’s wedding day.

She married at St Mary’s Church just off the main square in the small market town of Masham, North Yorkshire.

This is me on the left with my mum and sister – all of us lookng a bit younger!

The wedding bouquets were made by a florist in a tiny shop in Bedale and were absolutely beautiful – deep, rich Autumn colours.To save on costs we added in a few bunches of our own courtesy of the cheap bouquets sold at the local Co-op the day before, together with a bunch of Hypericum and eucalyptus from our local market stall!  These were used to fill the jars we hung on the railings and Shepherd’s hooks in the Church grounds.Luckily my daughter wanted a home-made country look for her wedding so we were able to work to quite a tight budget.

We made the confetti from a mix of honesty seed pods, hydrangea petals and pressed montbretia petals, this gave us the vibrant oranges and the honesty is so light it makes wonderful confetti.  The mixture was then put into cellophane bags (collected from those used to package birthday cards) and decorated with a natural raffia bow.We used a professional photographer that was both fun and willing to take a mix of formal and more informal shots.  He certainly kept all our guests entertained with his humour and he took us all for a wander around Masham capturing some very unusual scenes – these are two of my favourite – in the telephone box on the left and outside the Bah Humbugs shop.The reception was held in the local town hall and once the formal pictures had been taken outside the church we all walked round in procession to the venue led by the bride and groom – no need to hire any cars.  Local friends, neighbours and shopkeepers from Masham came out to cheer the happy couple.As the town hall is not considered a normal wedding venue these days we had to hire in tables and white linen cloths from a local caterers and we added the plain orange napkins.  The chairs were supplied with the room but were rather shabby so one of biggest expenses was the hire of the Lycra chair covers and organza bows but this made all the difference to the room and the locals said they had never seen the town hall looking so good!

We had to lay all this out ourselves the evening before the wedding – we had loads of helpers and whilst we were busy moving and laying and tying and draping the local amateur dramatics society were rehearsing their muder mystery play on the stage.  It was a bit bizarre!

The centre pieces we made ourselves too – we bought some inexpensive large hurricane vases from Ikea and filled them with tiny dried pumpkins and a pillar candle.  Around the base we placed a ring of twigs picked up on a few country walks then soaked and twisted into shape.The favours were in plain calico bags decorated with pine cones and dried ferns with hand written craft labels.For the pew ends we bought rustic twig hearts and added a natural raffia bow.We had a wonderful and fun day finishing with a rousing Ceilidh with music by The Applejacks.

This weekend the whole family will be gathering for a celebration to mark both their tenth wedding anniversary and the birth of their second daughter.  We are a family blessed.

 

 

dEAr diary…a bit of this and that

Yesterday was my first full day at home for a while – I had no errands or shopping to do or any reason to go out and it seemed a bit of a luxury and a chance to get a few jobs done.  We have been away quite a bit recently and I often feel I spend my life packing and unpacking – I wish there was an easier way as I find it is quite disruptive to having a routine.   I had a few bits to catch up on, putting things away that had crept out of cupboards and drawers while my back was turned, keeping up with the financial records – receipts, bills and balancing the recent statement that dropped on our mat the other day.

It looked like a sunny, breezy day so I put my new towels in the washer to hang out later – the washer is being a bit temperamental when I wash towels – as soon as it reaches the tight spin it starts rocking violently even after I am so careful to try and balance the load – then it goes into fault mode and I have to reset.  The end result is towels that are still quite wet, not very helpful in the winter and I hope this doesn’t mean I have to get the engineer in. DH went out in the garden to rake up the last of the leaves and move the bags of rubble created from the pebble cleaning from the front to the side of the house out of sight.  Our local tip refuse to take rubble now they advise getting a skip (really for 3 bags of rubble?).  No doubt this is the reason for the rise in fly tipping around this area.  We are waiting for our daughter to order a skip to take away her old fireplace and will add our rubble to hers.

I have still the bulbs to plant and to add to that I managed to buy some Cyclamens for the garden.  The day before we left for North Yorkshire last week (re: on new baby alert) I received an email from Wyevale Garden Centres with a £5 voucher to spend but it would expire on the Sunday and we would be away.  As they have a place near the motorway junction we were heading for DH did a slight detour so I could spend my £5 – after all I couldn’t ignore a free fiver.  The Cyclamens were £4 each so I put £3 towards the voucher and bought two of the larger varieties which I thought was quite a bargain.

On Sunday evening on a bit of a whim I decided to go through my craft stamps – the clear ones that mostly came free with magazines.  There are a lot that I never use and wouldn’t use – so I will pass these on.  The sheets themselves are all shapes and sizes and a bit of a nightmare to store and taking up quite a bit of space.  So my solution was to put the individual stamps onto a piece of acetate film and drop this into a small self sealing plastic bag.  So now they are better organised and easier to find the one I want and a bit less clutter.

I had planned to start making a prototype for the little ‘fun size chocolate selection bags’ yesterday afternoon.  I usually make them from brown craft paper but this time I am using up an old roll of Christmas wrapping paper.  When I have finished them they will then be donated to the Crisis coffee morning at church to sell and raise funds for the homeless at Christmas. But I put this on hold to tidy up the kitchen and one thing led to another and before I knew it I was cleaning my oven and mopping floors.

During the tidy up I must have decided to keep the Santa mug as I have taken the label off the bottom and washed it!  It will be just right for hot chocolate and Little L will love it when she comes, I must look out for some Christmas paper straws.

I  received my Neal’s Yard order of a bottle of Arnica and Seaweed bath foam.  I had an email for 20% off and free postage just as I had used the last drop of my current bottle so I took advantage.  The ‘polystyrene’ chips used in their packaging are actually made of some kind of biodegradable material that dissolves to nothing if you put them in the sink and run water on them. Brilliant.

Then the postman delivered a letter from Sainsburys with a 1500 bonus Nectar points voucher to scan on my next visit to the store.  I must be on a roll with vouchers, points and money off at the moment  – as the TV ad goes ‘every little helps’ and I am not complaining.

After the long awaited new baby is our long awaited new shed.