Monday, 11 December 2017

The best laid plans ...

When I last blogged I was fully organised for a family gathering to celebrate a big birthday.  How easily plans can be destroyed.  Because although I had a fridge full of food and drink, balloons and banners ready, the weather fairies had a cunning plan to teach me a lesson ...

it snowed.

And we all know what that means in the UK.  The world as we know it stops turning.  At first it was all fun and games

Especially if you are an over-excited dog.  It took about half an hour to defrost her paws once we got home but she had the best time over the park.

Then one by one various strands of the day started to unravel.  Paul's mum, who is almost 91, did not want to travel.  The thought of leaving the warmth and safety of her house was not appealing (and to be honest, we wondered what the journey may be like).  

Then my son phoned to say that there was a signal failure on the train line and all trains between London and our area were cancelled.  So there was no way for him and his wife to get here.  They sold their car when they moved to London as a) there's nowhere to park it where they live and b) public transport is so much better in and around the city (it's just when you try to travel to the outer reaches of icy Hertfordshire in December you have problems!)

I normally make all family birthday cakes myself but on this occasion I thought 'No, I'll order a personalised one as it's a special birthday'.  It needed to be picked up Sunday morning.  My daughter offered to go and get it for me.  She then rang to say they couldn't even get their car off the driveway.  I'm not particularly confident at snow driving so I asked Paul to take me down the town.  It was a bit tricky getting out of our cul-de-sac but we felt that surely it would be better once we got onto a road which had had a bit more traffic on it.  How wrong we were.  We got about 1/4 mile from home and decided it was a stupid idea and there was no urgency to get the cake especially as his actual birthday isn't until Tuesday.  So we pulled into a side road to turn round.  Or should I say, try to turn round.  The car was having none of it.  We were well and truly stuck.  Two families who were walking down the hill kindly offered to give us a push and Paul and I changed places so he could get out and help and I would be in the driving seat.  Let me tell you now that trying to drive wearing wellington boots is not a good idea.  There was a quite a bit of wheel spinning, a few false starts but then I was slowly moving - to the applause of our good samaritans - but with very little control over the steering.  Then it was decision time.  Do I risk stopping to allow Paul back into the car and driving seat or do I try to keep going slowly and get home?  I decided to see if I could at least keep it going around the roundabout which leads to the estate where we live and once round that I found a clear patch of road which had been sheltered from snow by an overhanging tree.  Hazard lights on, I waited and shortly afterwards I saw the figure of Paul walking tentatively on the icy pavements.  Once we had our experienced bad weather driver back in the driving seat we were on our way again and all was ok until we tried to get back onto our drive.  The snow had drifted up onto the pavement and we simply could not get the car up the kerb.  We were now literally outside our own house but blocking the road!  A quick trip to get shovels out the shed and we were digging ourselves back home.  An hour after we set off - and we had barely travelled a mile!

It certainly wasn't the way the day was mapped out but at least we know we'll never forget the time we tried to celebrate Paul's big birthday!  Fortunately our daughter and family live within easy walking distance of us so we did manage to have a partial celebration. And there was certainly more than enough food and drink!

Saturday, 9 December 2017

How big is big?

On Tuesday my husband will be celebrating his 'big' birthday
Doesn't seem that long ago that we were considering 40 to be the 'big' one, now look what we've got to!

We're having a family gathering tomorrow for Sunday lunch so I've been busy today cooking everything that can be made in advance.  I feel like I've not sat down since breakfast but it is good to know that tomorrow I can relax, have a glass or two before lunch and know that everything just needs reheating.  Catering for our clan isn't as easy as it was - our grandson has milk and soya intolerance and egg allergy so we have to be careful of how we cook things.  I've made a lovely big beef casserole that we'll have with lots of veggies and I've got a fab recipe for egg free brownies that are made with oat milk, honestly you'd never know they were a 'healthy option'!  I'm trying a new dessert for the grown ups - the birthday boy saw a recipe in this month's Waitrose magazine for a forest fruit trifle with an Eton mess topping.  It's currently chilling in the fridge and looking rather delicious.  The custard part of it is made using condensed milk along with normal milk and tastes  

But the littlest one in the family isn't the only one in the family who is needing special catering.  His mum has had to watch what she eats as she was breastfeeding and if he couldn't have cows milk, then she couldn't either and she also gradually cut down on the amount of red meat she was eating until she stopped all together and now she is practically vegan! Fortunately my son recommended a lovely red lentil dahl recipe that cooks in coconut milk and has spinach leaves added right at the end so that's going to be made in advance too.  I do like entertaining when I can feel organised in the kitchen!

The weather forecast is getting progressively more ominous and it looks like snow is on its way overnight and during the morning.  It would be nice if we had a good crisp covering of snow and could go out on a long winter dog walk in the afternoon to walk off all the calories!  And boy I have some calories to lose.  I've been out to dinner three times in the last 4 days. And I have not been particularly careful in choosing something 'healthy'.  Let's not kid ourselves, I haven't been healthy at all.  We went up to London on Wednesday,; we were a little early for our table so had a drink at The Grocer.  Inside it was packed - lots of Christmas meals being enjoyed - so we took our drinks and sat outside, in comfy chairs with blankets and patio heaters around us.  Seemed very strange to be drinking outside on a freezing December evening.  

Then we went onto Hawksmoor for a lovely steak dinner - not to mention the best ever triple cooked chips.  We went with our friends M & R.  When I moan about my husband having a birthday so close to Christmas, it's not as bad as M's.  Christmas Day.  Must be the worst day of the year to have a birthday.  They have a tradition where her husband cooks lobster the day before her birthday as a special meal, and Hawksmoor serve lobster so we just brought her 60th celebrations forward a little bit.

Just to bring this food and drink edition of the blog to an end, we went to a local Indian restaurant last night with friends and the restaurant has just opened up a Gin Palace in what used to be their bar area. I have found a new favourite gin.  Pinkster.  O.M.G.  it was devine.  Served with fresh raspberries and a sprig of mint.  Wow.  Don't take my word for it, if you get the chance, try it!


Monday, 4 December 2017

Let the magic begin

A certain young man met a certain famous old gentleman at the weekend.  Their first proper meeting, although the older of the two did visit the younger last year but he was far too young to understand what was going on.  Hopefully this year will be more magical as their little family start to make their own Christmas traditions.

We have a lovely English Heritage property close to where we live, Audley House, and they have a miniature railway for children.  This time of year it becomes the Santa Express, which goes deep into the woods of Audley End Estate until you find Father Christmas in his Winter Wonderland.  Little boys and girls who are on the 'nice' list, are given a present.  Fortunately our young man met the criteria and has a new toy to bring home with him.  It's lovely to take a break from the commercialism of Christmas and see the magic through the eyes of a child.  I know he's far too young to remember this in years to come but I know that it's stored deep in the memory banks of his mum and dad!

Taking a break in the midst of being busy has been on my mind recently.  When I was at school, and studying for my O level (GCSE) in Domestic Science Cookery we used to have to make a time plan for everything that we cooked.  Part of that time plan had to include 5 minutes tidying up time every 20 minutes or so.  Not just so that we weren't working in total chaos, but just so that we had built a little break into a strict timetable so that if we did find ourselves running behind, we could forget that we were supposed to be washing up and had time to catch up.  It's not such a bad idea to build into all parts of our lives is it?  We make ourselves think that there is so much we 'have' to get done, and wind ourselves up into a big ball of stress because there's still so much to do, but if we had built some relaxing time into our 'to do' lists the whole relaxation thing would feel like a compulsory part of our day!

We have a very busy time coming up, we are either out for dinner or hosting dinners at home for 5 out of the next 8 days.  My waistline is going to pay for this!  I blame the husband who has his 60th on the 12th and seems to be extending his celebrations into most of the week before the actual day.  It will be lovely but I am pleased that after 3 days eating out in a row, we have an evening free before the big family get together at home.  It would have been easy to fill that free evening but I just knew that it would then mean that I had a lot of preparation for the next day to get done by a certain time before getting ready to go out.  I was surprised to hear myself saying 'actually, we really want to see you, but could we perhaps make it the week after his birthday?' and spreading it out. 

It's not only Father Christmas that has important lists to be making at this time of year, but I have a few I need to get starting too - that's this afternoon sorted then!

Sunday, 26 November 2017

It's been a while

I've become one of those annoying intermittent bloggers - you know the kind.  Updates and blog posts on a regular basis then suddenly tumbleweeds rolling around through blogland for weeks.  I'd like to say it was because I was taking part in exciting things and travelling the world but I'm not one to lie.  

There's been a lot of counting of blessings in amongst the day to day business.  Feeling thankful that I am here to do the things that become part of the average day.  Enjoying crisp frosty mornings

Long leisurely walks with the dog

Spending Wednesdays looking after this little rascal

And saving lots of money on Black Friday by not buying anything from the dozens of emails that I had from websites advertising huge discounts.  (To be truthful, we are thinking of buying a small chest freezer to put in the utility room for extra food storage and I've been monitoring prices over the last week of so and guess what?  The price on Friday was no different to that at the beginning of the week, except on Friday it had a big sash across the photo saying it was a Black Friday discount price.  I did not buy it on principle!)

I've felt quite subdued on learning that a lady whose two daughters are the same age as my 'children' had died.  I'd last seen her at the beginning of the year; her younger daughter is getting married next spring and as I was at that time involved in all the planning of our family weddings we had a good chat about wedding dress shopping, the problems in choosing a venue, and mother of the bride outfits.  How sad that she is not going to be there for her daughter's big day.  I did not know at the time - although she did - that she had pancreatic cancer.  So her excitement at making plans must have been tinged with knowing that although she could be involved in the planning of the event she probably would not be there to see the actual day.  It is so sad that sometimes it takes hearing such news to give you a shake and tell you to appreciate all the little things you take for granted.

This weekend we had all 7 of us around the table for Sunday lunch, daughter, son in law, grandson, son and daughter in law, all chatting and laughing and it was so lovely to have that lovely family feeling.

It's hard work getting a full on traditional English Sunday roast on the table, thank goodness I had help with the carving of the joint

Saturday, 4 November 2017

An almost, sort of, kind of scrapbooking

I've made no secret of the fact that my scrapbooking days are (I think) behind me but there's a little piece of scrapbooking love that remains with me.  It's regenerated in the form of making photobooks.  It's taken me a while but I have finally finished the photobooks for both Rachel and Jon's weddings.  I spent so much time on these and am really pleased with the way they turned out.

I used Photobox for them and am, as always, really impressed with the quality of the finished product. I won't bore you with a full reveal but here's a few to give a flavour of what a wonderful summer we had.

A beautiful day, in a beautiful location and (I may be a bit biased here) a beautiful bride.  We were so lucky that we were able to have the ceremony under a pergola beside a lake in the grounds of a fab Manor House.

In the evening we had a 'Magic Mirror' with props instead of a Photo Booth, it was a fun idea and loads of people used it so they have some great fun memories of people being very silly!

Wedding two

Jon's legal ceremony took place in London, just down the road from where he lives.  And with the formalities over we then spent the next week preparing the next venue for the celebration with all family and friends.  That involved erecting a large marquee, decorating it and keeping our fingers firmly crossed for another day of nice weather.

Totally unconventional - just like the bride and groom - we were sitting on straw bales which were covered with patchwork quilts made by Sophie's grandmother, with Sophie's brother conducting the ceremony, bride and groom both writing their own vows and Rachel doing a reading from Sophie's favourite series of books, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

And I mean, who doesn't have a mariachi band performing at their wedding reception?

Monday, 30 October 2017

Accidentally walking in a winter wonderland

We went shopping for spring flowering bulbs this morning.  Ended up in a Christmas grotto at the garden centre and bought a couple of new tree decorations.  So much for 'not buying anything towards Christmas until at least November.'
 But that's it for now - not one card or roll of wrapping will find itself in my shopping basket for at least a couple of days 😉

At the weekend our paper included this supplement

Do you listen to podcasts?  My son introduced them to me a while ago when 'Serial' was top of the charts.  I like a true crime story, especially one that isn't straightforward.  I was hooked.  Then last year I listened to 'S-Town' which certainly took some odd twists and turns.  I kind of forgot to download any after that, until I had a phase of having trouble getting off to sleep at nights.  I didn't want to disturb P by having a light on to read so I thought I would try listening to something through headphones instead.  

I discovered that some radio programmes do a podcast version and I've got hooked. It's nothing heavy - in fact a couple of them ensure that it is not a reading light that keeps P awake, but me chuckling to myself - he of course can't hear what is making me laugh as I've got headphones on and apparently it can be quite annoying to wonder what on earth I'm laughing about.  But I have to say it is a great way to fall asleep (I quite often have to listen to the same podcast a couple of times as I am so relaxed I fall asleep before the end of it and have to rewind to hear the second half!)

My podcast lists are a real mix of genres 

Since reading the Sunday supplement I've downloaded 'Dirty John' and I think it's going to be a good one!  Anyone else out there a podcast fan?  I'd welcome any good suggestions!

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Sorting out your drawers ...

... or

how wearing your lucky knickers can put a spring in your step.

We had a training day at work yesterday.  I was not looking forward to it as experience has shown that Inset Day speakers have a tendency to focus on teaching related topics which have zero interest to the secretarial staff from the office.  There were two talks that were compulsory for everyone to attend.  Then we were free to escape back to the office and get on with our normal work.  We reluctantly took our seats.

The first talk was entitled 'The Art of Being Brilliant'.  And despite being very dubious about it, the talk actually was brilliant.  The guy who took the course was funny, engaging and had some excellent fun ideas on positive psychology. 

He assured us that we would feel much more brilliant if we could walk into work like this clip  from YouTube from the film 500 days of summer.   Walking into work with a smile and positive attitude is contagious and if we all gave it a go, you just might all find the day went a little better.

There are 5 working days in the week, all exactly the same.  Why do Mondays feel worse than Fridays?  If you spend Monday feeling 'blurgh' it just makes the day seem longer and the weekend further away.  And if one person in the office is feeling 'burgh' it's almost guaranteed to affect the way everyone else feels.  We also spend too much time waiting for the thing that is going to make us happier.  Saving things for that moment when everything falls into place and we think that life will suddenly become brilliant.  Just suppose that this is your brilliant time.  Suppose we can make this actual point in life a little bit more brilliant than we think it is.  If we can recreate that Friday feeling on a Monday, the whole week will feel better.  So, with that in mind...

open your knicker drawer.

We all have different kinds of knickers.  Don't we?  Average kind of day to day knickers, those we save for best - to wear under our favourite going out clothes, and those ones which have seen better days, nothing stylish at all just comfortable and do the job they're meant to do. Pick up those knickers.  And throw them away.  They don't make you feel good, and you may even be a little bit ashamed of them.  When Monday comes, open your knicker drawer. Pick out a pair of your posh pants.  Those ones which make you feel a bit special, they're newer than the old ones, probably a nicer colour or fabric, possibly trimmed with lace or ribbon.  Now get dressed and ready for work.  Do you have a little instant 'feel better' factor going on?  You walk with a bit of a swagger, you know you look good underneath those ordinary work clothes.  If you went to the loo and accidentally walked out the door with the hem of your skirt tucked in your knickers, you wouldn't be quite so ashamed.  What's the point of keeping a pair of lucky knickers just for best, why not make today a little more special and wear them now.  

We're on half term holiday this week, but I just know that when we are all back in the office the following week, we're all going to be looking at each other and wondering if we've all done as he suggested!