crEAting Christmas…day 17

Mince pies Mince piesDay 17 – I swapped my Advent task today to make the mince pies  – after all Christmas would not be Christmas without them even though I can only eat one or two as they don’t really agree with me now.  I often bake these tiny ones as they make a lovely token gift and this batch was to take in to my old workplace for my former colleagues.

I was eager to try out the new kitchen tool I found at the local hardware store when we were in Scotland.  It is a wooden pastry tamper – it cost about £5 and is double ended for pressing the pastry of small or large circles into the trays.

I was impressed – it works a treat and gives the pies a professional look.  To save time I used the ready-made roll of all butter short crust pastry – I like the fact it has all natural ingredients.  I was a bit disappointed that the finished pastry case is a little on the thick side; if I used it again I would put the rolling-pin over it to make it slightly thinner.

Mince piesThe thickness didn’t affect the taste though, the pastry was ‘melt in the mouth’ with no soggy bottoms.  After a dusting of icing sugar I packaged them up onto these little white trays (I collected during the year from Chocolate Mini Rolls) lined with a doyley and added a sprinkling of confetti – green metallic holly leaves. Mince piesI also took in a tray of the chocolates.  Well it is Christmas.

It is getting very close now to the big day – most of my list has been ticked off and just a few bits and pieces left to do but if they don’t get done I wouldn’t be worried. The traffic in town and the village is building up and the shops getting busier so it is taking longer to do anything that requires leaving the house.  I expect it will get worse over the weekend.

There still seems to be an awful lot of stock to shift in the shops and the prices are steadily dropping but there is nothing now that I need to buy.  We have all the gifts ready and a spare emergency one just in case.  My family Not so Secret Santa gift was for my younger daughter and she needed a coat that fit her now she has had the baby.  I bought part of it for her birthday too (as it is in December) and suggested she start wearing it now rather than wait for Christmas.  We wouldn’t normally do that but there was no point in her being cold until Christmas Day.

We have a family 21st party on Sunday at my sisters and then I am looking forward to a quiet Christmas at home.

 

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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.

 

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…shock, horror and simple pleasures

Duck pond

It is always a shock to realise just how many days have elapsed since my last post.  I thought it was only one or two but it was actually October 25th when I last made an entry and I am not sure I can account for all that time, in fact I am wondering myself just what have I been doing!!

In the main our time was taken up with my granddaughter who was here for a visit in her very first school holidays.  We noticed a few changes in her since her last visit in the summer and especially now she has started school; one of them being that she has quickly learned to drop her ‘t’s and we now pronounce butter in great Yorkshire style as bu’er.  Many readers not familiar with the Yorkshire dialect will not be able to pronounce butter without the t’s but I can assure you that for Yorkshire people it is quite possible though maybe not desirable.

The other notable thing was when we were playing at shops (a Pizza takeaway!) she asked me for 15$ rather than £15 and she sold cookies not biscuits…and so it goes on, where will this American influence end – it must be down to all the American TV programmes and toys that speak with an American accent.Duck pondAll that aside we had some lovely days out at the local parks, complete with picnics at her request, and another trip to the local library.Winter Picnic

We had fun for hours on the swings, feeding the ducks and shouting to grandad down the speaking tubes.  We crunched through the leaves, gathered a few too,  played football and hide and seek and then got warmed up again with a flask of hot chocolate. Duck food

Feeding the ducks

She was with us for Halloween and my friend and neighbour had asked that I took her round as she had bought some sweets in specially.  So we carved pumpkins and made buns to decorate… Horror cupcakes

…they passed the taste test…Testing the buns… she had a sweet little witches costume and hat in her suitcase to put on and with a little face paint – the best scary face granny could manage – we were all ready and when it grew dark we set off with our magic pumpkin all lit up on the Halloween trail.  Granny was so excited!!First stop, my neighbour’s house where we exchanged sweets for one of the grewsome chocolate buns which my friend was delighted with.  I noticed a few other houses displaying pumpkins so we knocked on one or two doors not knowing what to expect.  It is many years since I took part in anything Halloween – back when my two daughters were little the trick or treating aspect was just taking off and rather than a pumpkin we had to carve a turnip complete with a bit of real blood (when the knife slipped) and some old black skirts to dress up in – the shops had not caught on to making money out of it then.

Experiencing the event first hand completely changed my views on Halloween – rather than the dark and sinister event the church might fear I found it to be a lovely time and the children seemed to take it all very light-heartedly.  It occurred to me that we have no other occasion that we celebrate where you can go round to a neighbour’s house that you may not even know,  knock on their door and they welcome you and give you sweets.    So many people had taken the time to decorate and carve pumpkins even a number who didn’t have children.  One person had really gone to town with smoke and eery music outside which was quite scary but lots of fun – like going on the Ghost Train – but most had a simple lit pumpkin – none of the plastic rubbish sold in the shops in evidence.

I got to chat with neighbours I had never met before and greet other people dressed up and wandering the streets as we were.  It was a truly happy occasion and everyone was so generous.  It reminded me of Carol singing days when our church members would go round the village at Christmas and the villagers would welcome you with mince pies and a hot drink – sadly this event is no longer – they have Carols in the park instead.

Of course Little L was absolutely delighted with her bag of treats and once back home we put our lit pumpkins out on the doorstep and waited for Halloweeners to call on us.  Soon the doorbell was ringing and Little L on ‘witch alert’ ran to open the door and provide the same hospitality we had received.

Now the new baby is imminent and we are packing again to go and rescue Little L at the appropriate time to look after her for a few days.  In between all this I have been doing a bit more sorting out – mainly paperwork and today I will be getting rid of a few more piles – a large box of papers to go back for shredding to my old works, a charity bag and a mound of card fronts for the ladies at the Welcome Centre who turn them into new cards to resell.

I rather think that until baby makes an appearance my Christmas plans ae on hold.  Should baby still be reluctant to arrive before Friday I might get to post my October review and my Intentions for November (better late than never) that applies to baby too!

Welcome new followers and apologies for the lack of comments – I have a bit of catching up to do.

Back soon x

PS.  If you wish to leave a comment go to the top of this page and underneath  the title and click on leave a comment.

 

 

fEAsible…plans for October

October

October –  the beginning of the fourth and final quarter of the year.  So much colour and texture about this month and I had great fun foraging about in the hedgerows collecting foliage.

For me it is a bit of the lull before the storm, the storm being the ‘frenzy’ that sets in around November with the countdown to Christmas.  I want to make the most of this month to prepare for the ‘frenzy’ or at least try to keep the frenzy at bay by putting plans in place early.

Like most people now I am drawing the blinds and curtains early against the darker evenings and struggling with the darker mornings but at least I can look forward to some cosy evenings watching one or two of the new Autumn dramas on TV and a black and white film or two on the Talking Pictures channel.

As the garden will be demanding less and less of my attention once the tidying up is done I am going to use my time indoors to carry on with the major decluttering and creating a better run, more spacious household.

I will be pulling out a few new seasonal recipes to try, and hopefully finding lots of inspiration and ideas to fill both my sketchbook and Christmas notebook, and planning, planning, planning.

It is only 31 days so I will have to work fast on my intentions for this month as there is so much I would like to do. This is the list:-

appEArance

I have been so busy during the summer I feel I have neglected myself . So I have booked a reflexology session and back massage with a voucher I have been given,  a hair appointment and I will treat myself to a DIY home facial, pedicure and manicure

Put the finishing touches to my new streamlined winter wardrobe.

crEAting

Now I am no longer working I want to use some of my new-found time filling my sketchbook with ideas and drawings and creating a lino cut for my Christmas card as well as making my Christmas gifts

mEAandering

The Artists book fair in Manchester is back at a new venue – a brilliant event.

I also intend getting out and about locally exploring nearby places closer to home

fEAsting

Meal planning using seasonal vegetables and trying some new supper recipes.  Baking with the last of our home grown apples and buying the ingredients for my Christmas cake in readiness for next month

homestEAd

completing the house exterior, putting new shed in place and planting bulbs

rEAarranging and nEAtening

decluttering the kitchen – the final touches

recycle, reuse, reduce, recover, repair

trEAsury

Dealing with the limited cash flow, maintaining plenty of no spend days and finding free events and outings

managEAble

Starting a new notebook specifically for my Xmas plans and ideas

(thanks to Slamseys Journal for the idea of using the foliage I had collected for my October picture).

 

 

 

 

 

fEAsting…easy meals

Apologies for the short interlude I have been unwell and the sight of food did not make me feel better!

I had prepared this post before my brief indisposition so it is a shame to waste the photos!

Above is my vegetarian sandwich using up the Halloumi cheese from the fridge.  Spread the panini with mashed avocado then add shredded little gem lettuce, cucumber and halved cherry tomatoes, top with grilled or griddled Halloumi. Delicious.

My courgettes have done remarkably well this year despite the neglect.

Courgette plant

Home grown courgettes

Fresh from the plant they make a wonderful Courgette Bake – cut the courgettes in half lengthways and place into a pan of  lightly salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes just to soften.  Lift out and drain then place in a baking dish to form a base with the centres facing upwards.

Mix together the following:- a few sautéed mushrooms and spring onion, halved cherry tomatoes or chopped large ones, grated cheese, wholemeal breadcrumbs and a sprinkling of chopped chives, salt and pepper.  Bind the mixture with a beaten egg.  Spoon on top of the courgettes and place foil over the dish for the first 15 minutes in the oven at 180C.  Remove the foil and further cook until golden brown reducing the temperature a little if necessary.

Serve immediatley with boiled new potatoes and a mixed salad.

Voila!

Enjoy x

rEAsoning…just pondering on life

Sometimes you have days where you feel ‘off’ for no particular reason that you can put your finger on – today was one of them.

Perhaps it is the hot weather – this sticky and uncomfortable state making me feel constantly headachy and lethargic or maybe it is being in this place of temporary suspension waiting for the ending of one chapter but not able to begin the next.

My replacement started at work yesterday and there is a lot to show her so it is quite exhausting – but she is very nice and had I been staying on I am sure we would have got along just fine.

I am also aware that coming up soon on the calendar are a few ‘memorable’ dates – each one of them evidence that life speeds ahead whether or not you are enjoying it, doing what you want to do or otherwise.

  • July 19th – my 64th birthday – yikes really?

  • July 30th – my eldest daughters 2nd wedding anniversary – already?
  • July 31st – our 42nd wedding anniversary and the day I leave my job

  • August 1st – Little L (my granddaughter’s) 4th birthday – growing up fast now.

  • August 16th – this would have been my mum and dad’s 70th wedding anniversary if dad had still been alive but we will still mark the occasion with my mum in some way.

A lot of celebrations, maybe commiseration, a lot of memories, a lot of years and it does leave you wondering where did all that time go – have we become what we wanted or hoped to be?

As I am about to venture into this unknown territory soon of being job less (through choice) am I going to cope but more worrying am I going to fulfil all those things I once dreamed of doing.  If I have things still left to do then I need to get on with them quickly as I have more life behind me now than in front.

I have been so busy recently that I have not given much thought to what I will do,  less so to the financial implications of living on one state pension and our savings until I can claim my own in 2 years’ time.

Already our time is being booked out to helping:- decorating for our elder daughter, child minding our granddaughter for our younger daughter during the summer holidays and also granny minding for my mum whilst my sister is away.  We have also booked the man to come to sort out the rendering of the upper part of our house.

Looks like it will be September then before we can draw breath!  This doesn’t sound like a ‘retirement’ to me.

 

dEAr diary…drEAming, fEAsting, mEAndering – the best of Italy

Firstly, welcome to my readers and followers – both new and old friends – and many apologies to blog friends for my lack of comments over the last few weeks.

I am finding now I have time to comment that I cannot comment on the usual sites I visit.  The open ID option on the drop down on blogger does not seem to be available  – only the Google account – and I am locked out of this at the moment – has something changed in blogland?

So much news to tell.  I will begin in beautiful Italy at the wedding in the park.

The wedding was amazing.  We gathered beneath a canopy of trees in the tiny local park located off the main square by the town hall in Cornedo.  It was a beautiful hot sunny day and we were glad of the dappled shade.  The bride and groom arrived together in a classic white sports car and walked hand in hand along the carpeted path strewn with rose petals to the little ceremony area in the centre of a gravelled circle edged with canvas chairs for the guests.

The marriage was conducted in Italian and there was a lot of cheering and clapping throughout by the Italians.  Afterwards we mingled and chatted amongst the guests, taking photos and admiring the dress and flowers then we drove up into the surrounding hills to this restaurant for the reception.

The views surrounding us were stunning and we relaxed outside on the terrace shaded by the large canvas parasols and ate delicious Italian style canapes from paper cones.  Eventually we were called inside to the dining area and began the twelve course menu.

We grazed our way through one dish after another of the most wonderful Italian food – food for the Italians is very important  and each dish is served and savoured separately with everyone taking breaks here and there between courses.  Part way through the bride and groom played an Italian style Mr and Mrs game outdoors and we even had a walk up to the local church and back before returning to our seats to continue eating!

Afterwards, we danced outside in the twilight to live music and the groom  joined the band to sing to his bride…so romantic.   Their first dance ‘I want to be like you’ from The Jungle Book was certainly different and entertaining and set the scene for a great evening.

The next day we moved from countryside to city.  Vicenza, is packed with history, artifacts and imposing buildings that once belonged to the wealthy merchants and nobles.  Shopping here is certainly an experience – stylish shops and bars line the main thoroughfare.  I was tempted to buy on a few occasions.

We spent our time exploring down the narrow winding streets where the grand ‘palatial’ buildings towered above us.  The main square of the  Piazza dei Signori is home to the recently restored Basilica Palladiana – this was a shopping mall in its time selling luxury goods.

Our apartment,  Le Dimore del Conte, is housed within the 15th century Palazzo Sesso, the building immediately behind the statue above on the Piazza del Castello. To the right is the unfinished building Palazzo Porto started by Andrea Palladio, the 16th century architect, and originally commissioned as a replacement for the less grand Palazzo Sesso.  Quite a curiosity, the building was never completed and remains in this part finished state today.

Life in Vicenza has a casual air about it.  Plenty of time to read the paper, walk the dog or both at once!   Plenty of time to sit and socialise and watch the world go by.  The Italians certainly have balance in their lives between work and play.

Parco Querini

After 3 days in Vicenza we moved on to stay in the old historical part of Mestre just outside Venice.  Staying in Venice itself was unfortunately just too expensive for this trip but the tram is so easy to catch from Mestre and it takes you across the water in a matter of minutes.

If you have never been to Venice then add it to your list as a must – it is such a magical place – like entering onto a theatre set.  It is, of course,  essential to do the touristy spots such as St Mark’s Basilica  and the Doge’s Palace but then move out to the less popular streets not far away and there are many hidden treats to be found that show aspects of the real daily life for Venetians.

 

On the last day we took a boat trip down the Grand Canal and out to Murano and Burano – fascinating Islands in the lagoon.  Burano in particular is very interesting  – it seemed a place that might be quite bleak in the winter and is maybe why the houses are painted such bright colours.  They are fisherman’s homes so quite small in comparison with the affluent homes of their rich cousins in Venice itself and a much more down to earth place.  The ladies here are quite proud of their lace making and entice you into their little shops dotted along the canal side to admire their handiwork and watch them at work.

After a whole week of sunshine and high temperatures this was the only time it rained – but the drizzle and the umbrellas only added to the atmosphere.

All too soon it was time to come home…back to the turbulent world of work!

More of my new in my next post.

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