Wednesday 31 December 2014

New Year

It's been a week or so (maybe longer) since my last post and I have to say, I've enjoyed the break. No real urge to write anything - just eating, resting and walking now and again. 

The snow's starting to gradually disappear but it still feels cold so we're staying in the back room with the Christmas tree and the fire. Oh, and the fridge isn't too far away either... Speaking of which, I had intended to write a Food Memories post over Christmas with stories of our festive eating traditions. But to be honest I'm a bit over all that food now. There's been some serious overindulgence taking place over the past few weeks and it's quite literally getting a bit stale.

Joe's having a lovely time, what with his dad being off work and everyone making a fuss. There have been waves of Christmas presents with new ones each time we go visiting. And there's so much chocolate about too. We shouldn't need to buy any for a long time.

I'm not a big fan of New Year. Never have been. I don't mean that to sound miserable in any way; I just don't get that whole whipped-up-into-a-frenzy type thing. A good house party's fine but pubs and clubs? No, not really. Tonight we'll be home with a bottle of something sparkly. There's a ham cooking very slowly in the oven and we may well be in bed before midnight. Welcome to parenting a toddler!

Seriously though - it's been a hell of a year. Quite literally, in some respects. We sold up, moved house and then my mum became ill. I won't be sad to see the back of it. Yet there have been high points too. Moving back home to the Valley, even if it's temporary, has been the best thing we could have done. I've made some wonderful friends here. Joe makes us laugh and never fails to amaze with his sharpness (and voracious appetite). He's now very affectionate - at times - and loves books and 'helping'.

And continuing with my now two-year-old blog has provided some structure in difficult times. Your comments and good wishes have helped enormously, and I really do appreciate them.

So I'd like to wish you a very Happy New Year, however you like to spend it. I'll be back very soon with lots of posts and photographs. Looking forward to visiting your blogs and writing this one in 2015...

Sarah x

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas

The prosecco's poured, the fire's aglow and the tree's a-twinkle. The next two days will be quiet: just the three of us keeping warm and eating and drinking festive treats. Joe will actually understand the concept of unwrapping exciting things (just don't mention Father Christmas - yesterday's meeting ended in tears).

It's been a long slog to the finish but we're finally here. We'll venture back out after Boxing Day to visit friends and family but for now: just one big, relieved exhalation. Tonight's meal will be made up of good things - cheeses, pate, nuts, rye bread. No cooking for us this evening. The fat capon awaits tomorrow's Christmas dinner.

I may well post before the New Year but then again I may not. Right now I'm in wind-down mode. No shopping, travelling or planning. Just home comforts. Bliss.

Thank you to everyone who's read the blog during 2014. It's been a tough year in many respects but good things have happened too and it's important not to lose sight of those. I also believe there are many more of those good things to come.

Your supportive comments have been such a help during the difficult times, and I'm truly grateful for them. 

I hope you have a magical Christmas with your loved ones. Eat, drink, be merry - and stay warm!

Sarah x

Saturday 20 December 2014

Precious things #4: Christmas

This month's Precious Things are, of course, Christmassy. I would love to share some family heirloom glass baubles with you but sadly all those were given away when I was a teenager. My mum and I decided to go for a colour-themed tree so it was out with the old (donated to a family we knew who were struggling a bit) and in with the new (red and gold).

Gone are the little glass clown hanging from a hoop, and delicate ornaments from the 1940s which had adorned many a tree. How I wish I still had them now...

Instead I'm sharing these earrings with you. I bought them from a beautiful jewellery shop in Krakow five years ago. My mum and me went on a trip there for her birthday - not for the first time - and I wanted a little souvenir to bring home. Of course I like them because they remind me of good times spent in Poland, but also because (like so many seasonal things) the fact that I can only wear them at this time of year makes them special.

I could sport them all year round I suppose but I'd risk looking like one of those slightly mad people who celebrate Christmas every day and fill their homes with all kinds of festive nonsense.

No, sometimes things are better because they have a season. Like strawberries and Jersey Royal potatoes, or conkers and snowdrops. Short-lived but worth the wait. So these little earrings with their mistletoe sprigs come out of the jewellery box in mid December and I wear them until the New Year. 

If you'd like to read more Precious Things posts, please visit my fellow bloggers:

Leanne at Today's Stuff

And if you'd like to guest post please contact me. It would be lovely to hear from you!

P.S. We're not quite at the synchronised posting stage yet, so do keep checking...

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.

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