Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Midweek drop-in

Not so much a miscellany this week - just another of those 'just checking in' posts. Reading through my favourite blogs it seems many of us are afflicted with similar pre-Christmas problems: panic, doing too much and just putting ourselves under an awful lot of pressure. So silly.

Don't get me wrong, I do love the run-up to the Christmas week. But with it comes the endless lists. What to eat, what to cook, what to buy, Christmas card lists, present lists, to-do lists. Deadlines (last posting dates), finding those things online which are suddenly out of stock, attending parties, visiting, receiving visitors...

The past few weeks have been exhausting. A lack of sleep coupled with agreeing to do too many things resulted in a minor meltdown yesterday. In the toy cupboard. At the playgroup Christmas party. Too much rushing around organising things, running late and somehow feeling responsible for everyone (why???) meant I just had to dissolve into tears. A friend followed me in and was lovely and I pulled myself together and carried on as normal. The cupboard's cold and smells of mouse wee so to be honest it was a relief to get out of there.

My blogging's hit a bit of a dormant period. Not through lack of ideas or interest, but to be honest right now I like my little quiet times to be just that. A lie down under a blanket watching TV or reading. The respite's good.

Apparently my mum's headstone is now in place at the cemetery, 'in time for Christmas'. I feel I should go but the thought of it is just too much to bear right now. My stepdad visits regularly and I think he gets some comfort from going there. Maybe it's a generational thing. I'll go when it feels right - like I'll go through her things when I'm ready. She'd understand.

So, to reflect these strange up-and-down times: some handmade cards. From sad things to happy things again, back and forth I go.

I enjoyed making the cards. Creative pursuits can be absorbing and relaxing, and it was good to play around with paint and stamps. The alphabet stamp kit was such a good buy, I'm tempted to get another in a different font. And I already have an eye on the New Year: I'm stockpiling pieces of card from cereal boxes so I can make my own 2015 calendar. 

Last weekend was a bit crazy, with Jay working on Saturday and a fair bit of socialising and entertaining crammed in for good measure. Plans for the tail end of this week amount to a lunch with my friend (while Joe spends some time with his grandparents) and another list-making session: meal ideas and food to buy during The Big Shop. Lovely celebratory things like cheeses and chocolate and bottles of fizz.

Finally, in other - literally - loose ends news, I've finished knitting Joe's red scarf and just have to sew in the odd trailing end. All our online purchases have been delivered. I have an awful lot of gift wrapping to do. 

My stepdad now has a little dog to keep him company. I'm so pleased for him. And my brother's going to be a dad again. On Friday we'll be finding out whether I'll be getting another niece or a little nephew.

We're not even at the Winter Solstice yet, let alone out of 2014, but things gallop along. I'm hoping for a slow Christmas still: meaningful, relaxing and full of small pleasures. So enough rushing around and drowning under obligations. From now on I'm stepping back and just letting it happen.

Friday, 12 December 2014


It's not often I publish posts within a day or two of one another but I felt like it today so here we are.

Joe's in nursery this morning. I usually spend my precious, once-a-week child-free time very carefully indeed but usually in a state of panic; it's as though there's a huge hourglass on my shoulder, sand trickling away. I run about trying desperately to multi-task but end up spinning plates. Metaphorically, of course.

But I've been out for a few provisions and failed to find what I really wanted: a bundt tin. I want to make one of those lovely Germanic cakes which can be dusted with icing sugar and looks all festive. I've opted for Claudia Roden's flourless orange and almond cake instead. We've got a guest tomorrow and will be cooking something vaguely Middle Eastern so the cake will go well.

And the smell of oranges simmering away for hours is rather nice too.

I bought a panettone and some biscotti yesterday. The biscotti are already dwindling. Although it has to be said, blogging with a coffee and one of those to dip in is almost the same as sitting in a cafe. Sort of.

Last night I got the watercolours out and made a start on some Christmas cards. They're at the half-done point so I'll share some pictures soon. 

Speaking of pictures, the sun is out. Cue frenzied snapping session by the window: these little ornaments are some I made years go using old cards and some glass slides. They're not going on the tree because it's a small one with thin, whippy branches which wouldn't take the weight. We're using tiny coloured glass baubles this year (one hundred in every colour imaginable, procured from Paperchase).

It keeps trying to snow. It keeps managing to hail. But the wind's died down now and we are getting dazzlingly bright spells in between. I hope it stays OK for the weekend. I've missed getting out for a good walk.

Speaking of the weekend, I wish you a good one. Ours will be hectic. I'm looking forward to Sunday afternoon when all our obligations should have been dealt with.

See you next week - fingers crossed for some snow!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Midweek miscellany

The past seven days: Crazy weather (sun, frost, hail, sleet, gales, thunder and lightning... and a flurry of snow). The house - viewed back in early summer - is incredibly draughty and the heating seems to have minimal effect. High ceilings coupled with an uninsulated loft conversion means we have chilly air surging down two flights of stairs and little hope of cosiness.

Socks, jumpers and scarves are The Look around here.

Planning for Christmas continues. I have no intention of going shopping to town centres this side of February. Any place boasting a Marks and Spencer or Debenhams is being given a wide berth. Crowds and queueing and parking... well, for me it's a recipe for stress and irritation. I'm keeping it either local or online.

We went to a playgroup Christmas party this morning. Eating quiche and cocktail sausages at 10am felt a bit strange but the howling winds coming down from the moors almost justified it. Stodge keeps the cold out. Fact.

Joe burst into tears at the sight of 'Barber Kissmas' and ran from him. But he did say thank you (from a safe distance) for his present: a rather lovely book. Cadbury's chocolate fingers seemed to help with the shock too.

Speaking of toddler parties, I have another on Tuesday at our 'home' playgroup. Now that is a cold church hall. It takes serious heroism to brave the basement toilets with their icy seats and freezing water from the taps. I agreed to go and pick up seventeen chocolate reindeer for the little ones in time for the party. I daren't even contemplate forgetting to carry out that task. Those old ladies in charge are a force to be reckoned with.

Food-wise, things are very comfort-based: lasagne, cauliflower cheese. And mince pies from the supermarket. It's likely I'll be sick of them soon thus saving myself the bother of baking any. I'd rather do something cakey I think. Possibly even a bit fancy. 

I'm still knitting Joe a red scarf and there isn't much left to go until it's done. Other crafty to-dos include card making, wrapping paper stamping, gift tag creating and maybe edible gift baking. Maybe. Somehow the coming weekend seems to be already taken up with family visits, yet more children's parties and a house viewing.

There are a few gifts left to buy but that'll be done online now. I also need to go to the post office for stamps. There were big queues the other day but that was in town, and I'll go to the village one instead. It's run by an ancient couple who seem to have preserved everything in nicotine. At least the stamps should be peel-off ones and I won't have to lick them. 

Thank you for all your comments on my last post. I don't always have the chance to reply but I do read and appreciate them, each and every one. Of course, if you ask me a question I'll do my best to answer. 

Have a great rest-of-the-week. I do like this point - it's as though the hardest part's over and from here on in it's downhill (in a good way) to the weekend.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Festive rituals

I've decided that all the usual posts which I write in some kind of series or theme - well, this month they're going festive. I love this time of year and make no apologies for it. The tree's up, the mince pies have been opened and I'm hoping to get some cards written by the end of the week.

Yesterday we went to Hebden Bridge and it was Christmassy in the extreme: a hard frost, bright skies and pretty window displays everywhere. So this post will be accompanied by a selection of the photos I took whilst there. No point trying for atmospheric shots indoors - the sun was short-lived and today we've got leaden skies and sleet showers.

Of course, this Christmas will be bittersweet. My mum won't be with us and there will be moments of sadness, of wishing she could see Joe enjoying it all. But this year he'll have a definite awareness for the first time: presents, treats and special things to eat. And that's something we're excited about.

So, rituals. A modern tradition for the three of us is the festive visit to Hebden Bridge. We set off early and look around the shops and galleries picking up little gifts as we go. We eat somewhere cosy and thaw out for a little before heading back out into the cold. And we drive home over the moors feeling like our Christmas has well and truly begun.

Another ritual (and one Jay isn't too keen on): Christmas music. I usually indulge whilst dressing the tree, baking and writing my cards. I'm more into the Bing Crosby/Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin type of stuff than Slade or Wham! Although they have their place - usually in shops if I have anything to do with it.

Each year I like to bake things like cinnamon biscuits or biscotti. Maybe this year I'll be a bit more adventurous. I'll be writing a whole post on Christmas food as part of my Food Memories series, probably next week.

Speaking of food: I've written a (long) list of what we'll be buying. That will be split down into supermarket staples and the posh stuff. And the latter will be purchased from Booths*. It's an indulgent time of year so why not?

*Kind of like Waitrose but for us Lancastrians.

The Baileys is on standby throughout December and I'll have a measure tipped into my coffee of an evening if I'm feeling that way inclined. It's also a time for cherry liqueur and prosecco and all that lovely stuff. Oh, and mulled wine of course.

I do like to indulge in a cheesy film or two on a cold afternoon. You know the type: American, straight-to-TV stuff. Fancy lawyer returns to their childhood town after a failed engagement and learns the true meaning of Christmas etc. I think it's known as Schmaltz. Best viewed whilst eating copious amounts of chocolate-covered marzipan.

More credible (to me, at least) favourites: The Box of Delights (the special effects are charmingly primitive) and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. So silly but I just can't help myself.

Of course, it can't be the run-up to Christmas without plenty of walking and peeping into lit windows to see decorated trees. Gloves, hats and scarves and the hope of a snowfall. Almost as good: coming back home to warmth and something stodgy to eat. Creamy rice pudding would be my bowlful of choice.

It's not all smooth sailing. Each year there are the same little hiccups: posting things off at the last minute (having lost various addresses), panicking when parcels ordered online don't arrive promptly, agonising over those people who are difficult to buy for.

But they're all small things and more often than not these problems sort themselves out. And if they don't, so what? It's Christmas.

There was, however, one sad little ritual I carried out last week. My mum always, always bought me new socks at Christmas. Sounds silly but it was just one of those things. On Friday I went out and bought myself some and intend to wrap them just the same. You see, some traditions must be continued. Like opening one present on Christmas Eve 'It's a Polish tradition'. Of course, we all knew the truth: it was because she couldn't bear not knowing what lay under all that wrapping paper. The excitement was too much. We'll still be doing that.

Well, maybe one person won't. This year new traditions will begin too, like coming downstairs even earlier than usual (read: some ungodly hour) and laying out all Joe's presents, switching the fairy lights on and watching his face when he sees it all.

I'm hoping to attend a little carol service around the tree at the parish church - no, it's nothing to do with the mince pies and mulled wine - and to spend time relaxing with friends and family.

But mostly it will be us three. Family tradition for us is always a quiet Christmas. That doesn't mean sad or dull. It's just how we like things to be.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Midweek Miscellany

Brought to you from the Crafty Vintage fair, Brockholes Nature Reserve. 

Well, we were there at the weekend anyway: perusing the wares (and buying a select few), drinking amaretto hot chocolate and walking through the woods. It was a beautiful day - bright and sunny and very mild - so of course a great many photographs were taken.

And too many photographs mean I get my collage on.

The weather has cooled down considerably since then. I still have no car (fingers crossed that should change by tomorrow) but fortunately the cold snap has brought with it brilliant sunshine. The past few mornings have been spent walking through the village and sitting in various church halls nursing hot cups of tea while Joe plays with his contemporaries.

Keeping local means I made an interesting discovery: the grain merchant (horse feed, chicken-keeping paraphernalia, bridles and so on) also sells fresh fruit, vegetables and free-range eggs. And Christmas trees. You just go around the back into a big barn and there's a stand with it all there. That's good to know as we have a butcher and a baker (no candlestick maker) but nowhere to buy carrots and potatoes. Or so I thought.

I've also watched the final of The Great Interior Design Challenge, which left me strangely unmoved considering I'd watched every episode.

Yesterday was quite exciting as Jay bought me an early Christmas present: a new smartphone. My emergency Blackberry has been consigned to history and I'm now back online without having to switch the computer on and sit shivering in the cold front room.

I spent a good few hours familiarising myself with my phone and - finally - started using Instagram. It's taking a bit of mastering (rotating images, mainly) but I'll get there. Of course, the juggling of various social media sites and so on is a whole other post in itself. But for anyone who's interested, here's my approach:

Facebook: can't be bothered so don't.
Twitter: sporadic. Mainly look at it when waiting around for something. Or trying to put off getting out of bed in the morning.
Pinterest: I do love Pinterest - so relaxing and inspiring... and I've lost many happy hours to it.
Tumblr: I try. I really do. It's not exactly fun though, is it?
Instagram: I want to do it and intend to, but not to the extent where it takes over from the blog. I've heard cautionary tales.

That's a lot to keep track of, isn't it? A bit more pruning wouldn't go amiss. Maybe something to consider in the New Year.

Christmas preparations are slowly happening. We did an Ikea trip on Monday and the usual happened: a lot of candles were bought. But we did pick up a few things for Joe, like extra tracks for his train set and one of those rugs which is printed with roads and a farm for him to play with his cars on.

There's a flurry of toddler parties coming up, and farmer's markets aplenty. We'll have reindeer in Ramsbottom on Sunday, apparently (to stroke, not to eat).

On Saturday we're going to Hebden Bridge. A Hebden visit's a pre-Christmas tradition for us: lots of beautiful independent shops to look inside so hopefully we'll get some more presents bought. I'm looking forward to it rather a lot...

Other than that: keeping warm, eating good food and enjoying the time of year whilst somehow not feeling overly stressed about it.

I'm planning on writing a post about my festive rituals in the coming weeks. I'd love to hear about yours too.

P.S. Not that I feel the need to explain, but the smartphone is my Christmas present. I just got it early. There'll be one more little something on Christmas Day. But we don't 'do' extravagant spending on ourselves, or anyone else for that matter. Not even Joe.

We do go a bit silly with the food though.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Long time coming

It's been a tough week. I've been without a car as Jay's conked out on Monday and he's using mine whilst his languishes in a garage somewhere. 

By Thursday lunchtime I could feel my sanity beginning to slip. I usually take Joe to playgroup twice a week and he has three hours in nursery on a Wednesday morning. He's a placid, good-natured little boy most of the time with a huge appetite and is as reliable as clockwork for sleeping through the night and taking afternoon naps.

But Thursday morning playgroup seems to turn him into a demon child. Disruptive, contrary, whiny. Those two hours are awful: tiring and embarrassing. Yes, I know he's only two. And I know we're extremely lucky he's usually so good. But this week I'd had enough. Having to push him uphill all the way home, fuming at his behaviour and the drizzle and the lack of buses, I dwelt on how tired I feel at the moment - balancing grieving for my mum and caring for Joe can be tough sometimes.

Of course, once he'd had a nap and I'd hit my 'reset' button all was well again. But yesterday I bought a bottle of prosecco to celebrate it being Friday. After One Of Those Weeks a celebration was in order.

Actually, Joe's grandparents came by yesterday and took care of him for a few hours while I made my escape. I had to stay local due to the car situation so went into Ramsbottom, our local town. It's only a mile or so down the road. But what with the whole Black Friday thing I had absolutely no desire to head anywhere that sells electrical goods. Who needs trampling for the sake of a cheap TV?

It was another murky day, but still festive with the lights up. I wandered around and ate a cone of (dripping-fried) chips. To keep out the cold. I also went into the library and looked at sections I've never had to opportunity to browse before, like crafts and fashion. I even sat at a table for a while and flicked through a book or two whilst a woman nearby tapped away at a laptop and muttered to herself.

Then I found some little charity shop treats: a folk-style patterned shawl and a painted glass bowl and matching jug. The glass is in lovely condition and possibly from the 1950s. It probably spent its life displayed in a cabinet. I do love a bit of painted glass, especially when there's gold on it. 

Today we went back again to buy our fruit and vegetables at the market. I stocked up on satsumas and they had those long pointy red peppers at five for a pound so I picked some up. They can be done in the oven later in the week.

Christmas trees are appearing everywhere: above each shop (and even the garage), for sale at the market - a bit soon for me but they still looked nice - and inside the signal box at the station.

It may be too early for trees and decorating (and card writing) but we did order a capon and a ham at the butcher. There's something a bit Dickensian about doing that.

Tomorrow we're off to a craft and vintage fair (this one). Maybe we'll pick up a few more gifts. I agree with Bee, who commented on my last post: a slow December is my pace of choice. Making lists, gathering things here and there... far less stressful than a last-minute panic. Although that'll probably happen too.

Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Midweek miscellany

Even though I skipped a week of miscellanies, it still seems strange that the time's gone by so quickly. Maybe it's that end-of-year feeling when everything seems to fly by. And that could be something to do with the lack of light and the days being shorter.

We've been up to all kinds of things lately. It's definitely getting cold. Very cold. As in woolly hats and padded jackets, see-your-breath, condensation on the windows cold. I have to wipe them down in the mornings, and that brought back memories of my mum doing the same thing when I was little. Towels left folded along window ledges overnight to soak up all that moisture... It got me thinking about other little details from 1980s winters. Her starting the car on cold mornings and doing battle with the manual choke, trying to avoid flooding the engine. Deep snow and being sent home from school when the boiler broke down, and gleefully heading to the hills for a day's sledging instead. Sigh.

Anyway. We've had some lovely morning skies thanks to the cloudless nights. And some catch-your-breath chilly rambles to feed the ducks and see the chickens. Many of the autumn leaves are gone, but those which remain seem to be the luminous ones in a dazzling show of pinks, yellows and oranges. They're all the more striking against the bare grey branches of empty trees.

The morning light comes into the back rooms and shines in little corners here and there. I've moved my Dala horse print to the back wall and here it is in a frame. Other makes include drying out orange slices for decorations (we've been pine cone hunting too) and a work-in-progress red knitted scarf for Joe.

I've been doing little things here and there: decanting cheap bath bubbles into vintage bottles, easing myself into Christmas preparations by jotting down gift ideas, card lists, websites and food to buy in a special notebook. It's early but I don't care - I enjoy it. There are even a few gifts bought and ready to wrap. No festive music yet though and I haven't even begun to speculate on where the decorations could be hiding. Up in that chilly room at the top of the house probably.

I unearthed yet another unopened bottle of booze the other day: Polish cherry liqueur from a trip to Krakow. It reminds me of evenings with my mum, sitting in the square in the Kazimierz enjoying a nightcap and watching the world go by. It's potent but rather lovely - cherries and almonds. A tipple of that after a hot bath and there are no problems whatsoever with dropping off...

Apologies for the lack of pretty photos in this post. I'd planned to have a bit of a snapping session indoors today but it's so incredibly overcast and dank that I'd have ended up with a lot of grainy, blurry images. Instead I'm going to hit Publish and head off into the warmth for a bit of a break while Joe naps...

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