Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Headache blues

The poor YFG has spent the afternoon suffering from the headache and throwing up so nothing I had planned got done! She and I had to lay on my bed for huge cuddles whilst she was suffering, and when she recovered, we were able to join the others downstairs for some TV, puzzling and a James Bond DVD. She has a longstanding problem with eating pork, which I had thought was limited to roast pork/pork chops which I now never serve, but it seems that I may have been wrong. This morning we were up late and so the FH served a "brunch" of bacon, eggs, beans etc for himself and the girls. Some hours later, the YFG asked if she could have a pepperami, which I usually keep in the fridge for a pizza topping. It seems to me that the combination of the bacon and the pepperami constituted pork overload and her system said, "Whoa!" and threw the lot back. She slept for a while, then ate some toast at about 4pm which was OK, and then they all had chicken sandwiches for tea at 6pm, and she has been fine. Her stomach is sore from the actual vomiting, but she is OK. We had this checked out by the paediatrician a few years ago at the local hospital and she has said that my association with pork cannot be proved but seems to be a probable cause, so I guess we have to be more careful in future - although this is the first such attack she has had for many months.
We are enjoying a beautifully crisp, clear winter day here; the sun is shining and there is still a frost in sheltered parts of the garden. The cat is replete from her breakfast and is sunning herself on top of the wheelie bins, and the two Dutch bantams are pecking around under the rabbit hutches for tidbits which they may have missed earlier! A vegetable seed catalogue came in the post this morning so thoughts have turned to planting the garden in the spring and which plants to put where. Before we can get to that, though, there is the small matter of several heaps of horse manure to be dug into the beds - and that needs to be done sooner rather than later. It will be good exercise, I think - well, that is what I am telling myself!

Yesterday, the EFG's godfather and his daughter arrived at about 10.30am. They came down from Doncaster, where he lives. His daughter lives in Scotland and was visiting for the holidays. She will be flying home at the end of the week ready for school again next week. She is 10 months older than the EFG, and they get on OK. So, we had a coffee and some chatting whilst the kids played on their DSs together, then we had the baked potatoes and various fillings. After that, the girls went outside for some fresh air and a bounce around on the trampoline, but it was quite chilly so they weren't out there very long! It was a good visit and it was lovely to see them again. They left at about 3 as we had to go out.

We had to nip into the town to throw some rubbish at the dump, have a quick scout around Tesco for some fruit and veg, and then a visit to a friend before coming home for tea. In the evening, I had a bath early and then we watched one of our Christmas DVDs, which was good!

Today, I have changed the sheets on my bed and they are in the machine at the moment. I have to hoover up there and clean the bathrooms, and then I am planning a quick tidy round down here as well. There will be some ironing to do later, and I have some serious cleaning to do in the utility room which is really messy at the moment, and I am hoping to encourage the girls to tidy their rooms up too - I like things to be clean for the New Year. The YFG has a headache now so I am not sure that there will be much enthusiasm from her today! The EFG is pleading homework so I doubt I'll get much help there either!!! The FH is still doing his puzzle, although he is making good progress so it should get finished this year.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Festivities continue!

Christmas itself may be over - hope that you have all had a good one - but the visitors still keep coming! We had a quiet Christmas Day at home just the four of us, then my uncle came over on Boxing day for lunch, and following closely behind him was the FH's cousin's wife and son who always come for the afternoon and evening on Boxing Day - we started that tradition when we moved to England and hope to continue it yet awhile. The cousin himself was ill, feeling down with man-flu, so he stayed at home, but we phoned him for a chat so that he didn't feel left out. On Saturday, we again had a day to ourselves, a time for rest and recuperation, and a quick walk to blow out some of the cobwebs, although it was very cold and clear so we didn't walk very far but we did walk fast so hopefully it burned off a few calories! Today we have had my uncle back for Sunday lunch, and my cousin and her husband arrived soon after 2pm and have just left. My uncle is doing a huge jigsaw with the FH but I expect that he will be going home later.

There are more people expected tomorrow - the EFG's godfather and his daughter are coming down from Doncaster for a couple of hours for a visit. They will be here at about 11am, so I am planning baked potatoes for lunch and perhaps then another walk.

The FGs have had some lovely gifts that they have really been pleased to receive. They were given some money which has already been allocated - they are allowed to spend half and half has to go into the bank. Amazon has already had an order for DS games with the spending money, and there will soon have to be a trip to the bank to put the cheques away. The YFG has had a couple of board games too, which means that all the visitors have been playing the Game of Life or Monopoly with her - Game of Life looks vaguely familiar to me, so I have been wondering whether I had it as a child, but I am not a huge fan of board games so I don't think it would have been my favourite!

New Year is approaching fast - there are only 3 more "sleeps" left in the year as we will be awake on Wednesday with friends here for the evening to welcome in 2009. It always starts me thinking about fresh starts for a new year - I have been thinking more about budgeting this time than losing weight! Weight loss has always been on the list before, and I suppose that it is still there but not at the forefront of the ambitions for the year. I have still got a couple of days to think about them so will keep you up to date when I have clarified things in my own head.

Just to recommend an author - Alexander McCall Smith has written some excellent books about the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, set in Botswana - and I bought myself a set of 10 of his books for Christmas. I had already read the first two in the series, but I have quickly made my way through the third and fourth in the past couple of days and they are excellent! They seem set in a past era of manners, politeness and respectability which is sadly lacking in this country today, but it heartens one to be able to read about it in such elegant prose. There are 6 books in that series in my set, and the other four are set in Edinburgh, I believe, around a different set of characters; I have yet to start on them so can't say what they are like, but if they are anything like the Botswana stories, they will be wonderful.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas Eve and I am just taking five minutes out to wish you a Merry Christmas!

I have just marzipaned the Christmas cakes, one for us and one for my uncle, so they will have to be iced later. We had a lovely neighbour when we were children who always seemed to be icing her Christmas cake just before she came out to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, so I always think of Jo when I am doing mine, and my mum muttering about last minute things! The FGs have gone to the Christingle Service at the church with our neighbours, and I will be taking them to our church for the 10am service tomorrow morning.

The ironing got done last night, but the DVD player didn't get sorted so the FH has just taken it to a mate's house to see if he can get it working for him! We are off out at 7pm to a neighbour's house for a Christmas visit, and we have my sister coming with gifts for the girls at some point today as well. The girls have been and finished their secrets - Fimo jewellery - it looks good!

Love to everyone across the seas, and wishing you all a very peaceful 2009.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

A Christmas baby

Yes, a Christmas baby has been born to one of the families on the street in the past few days, so welcome to the world, baby Hannah!

Apart from that excitement, the FGs have been off to a neighbour's house making secrets, which they have to go back tomorrow to finish, and the baskets of ironing have been finished between the FH and myself. We made a dash into one of the smaller local towns today to deliver a couple of Christmas cards, a gift to another family, to get some more plasters for my sore finger from the supermarket, and to borrow a stack of DVDs from a friend; the FH has decided that the tv selection over the holiday was going to be pretty dire so he has his own selection now and it includes several Bond films, the Alamo starring John Wayne, a historical account of Oliver Cromwell, which the FH says we should all watch as we live in Cromwell country, and a few other of his favourite detective, Inspector Frost. The only trouble is that the DVD player is only playing in black and white, so there may have to be some rearrangements of tvs and players in order to watch these in colour. I wish he would just learn to love reading as the rest of us do and we wouldn't have all this bother...

This afternoon, the FGs made cupcakes in the kitchen, and then I was supposed to be doing some Christmas baking but that didn't quite happen as it took them so long to clear up! I also wanted to watch Ruth Watson's programme called "Country House Rescue" about people who own piles in the countryside but have no money for their upkeep and repair - she is remarkably blunt but an astute businesswoman, so if ever I inherit a stately heap, I'll know where to go for advice!

Monday, 22 December 2008

PS

The dippy chickens put themselves to bed tonight - hurray!!!!!!!

The tree is up at last!

My mother only used to let us put the tree up on the Saturday before Christmas, and I have one dear friend who puts all her decorations up on Christmas Eve. We finally got around to putting ours up on Saturday, as tradition decreed. I'll be honest, and say that in the recent past, we have put it up earlier due to the FGs' demands, but the room just wasn't ready this year! I keep moving things around, and the room has been in turmoil for a week or so. Even with the tree in place, there are still some baskets of laundry sitting patiently by the ironing board, hoping to get ironed tonight - they can hope - they may get done tomorrow. I don't do laundry on Christmas Eve, the big day or on Boxing Day, so at least I get a couple of days off!


The YFG has just got her face into this shot! It was meant to be showing some of our tree hangings, which I love. We seem to have a red theme going on, which is accidental. We do pick up additions to the collection most years, and the pointsettia lights were last year's. This year we have the red and green stars which we made earlier in the month.

Today I have made the orange and coconut cake from Rhonda Jean's blog - and it smells great. The FH and FGs have eaten some and declared it delicious, but as usual I deviated from the recipe somewhat: coconut milk instead of coconut cream, then I doubled the whole thing, and cooked it in two loaf pans instead of round ones. I sent one loaf to a dear friend who has recently had her tonsils out and is still suffering - sent with love, so hopefully she will be able to have a taste or two. I think that recipe will definitely have to go in the book as a "do again"!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Holidays are here at last!

End of term for the FGs has seen me baking mince pies for teacher-gifts, as well as looking forward to spending more time with them at home. The EFG came home on the bus and arrived at about 2.30 pm so she was able to come with me to fetch the YFG from her school in the village. That was lovely, as some of the staff were able to talk with her and ask her how she is getting on. The FH took the YFG to town for a check up with the optician, so the EFG and I snuggled down to watch "Miss Potter" on DVD. The landscapes in that film are beautiful and I found Beatrix Potter quite inspirational in that she used the money she earned from her writing to save so much of the Lake District from development and to preserve a way of life for so many people there. Too many people who make a lot of money don't seem to share the benefits of their wealth in that way. My small donation to the Salvation Army seems rather insignificant compared with her purchases of many farms and huge acreages in Cumbria which made such a valuable difference to so many people.

This evening, we have watched some Doctor Who, and I have sorted through some old magazines with a view to throwing some of them out - not something I like to do as I am a hoarder. I also had to go and put the little chickens to bed - they are not used to going into a house at night, and all stood in a huddle near the gate, so we had to go and pick them up one by one and thrust them head-first through the pop hole. The FH is disgusted with their seeming stupidity, but I think that they will get the idea soon - I certainly hope so anyway! The wind is getting stronger here tonight, so I think that they are probably better off inside the house than outside.

We are planning to put the Christmas tree up tomorrow so I will get the camera ready to take some photos!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The chickens have moved house!

Today the FH and I have moved the batch of young chicks outside. They are about 12 weeks old now and fully feathered, so we thought it was time that they had some fresh air. It necessitated some moving around of the older girls from their house to a different one but all are happily installed tonight, and we will wait and see what they make of it all tomorrow. The FH is out there now, in the dark, making sure that they have all put themselves to bed in the right places.

The weather today has been strangely mild and blowy so I have got some more washing dry. Whilst that is good news, it has left me with Mount of Ironing to get done! Tomorrow is the last day of term and the YFG is allowed a non-uniform day, so along with her school Christmas Lunch, that will round off the day for her nicely. The EFG's school closes at 1.45pm so she will get home earlier than normal, making her a happy bunny too!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Wow - 100 posts already

Can't believe I made it that far!

Today I am unashamedly plugging two websites which represent the businesses of a friend of mine from way back when! We both lived in Cupar in Fife at one time, then I came to the Fens and she went to Denmark for a while. She is now back (and has been for a good few years) in Scotland, but a lot further north in Forres, in Moray. Susan has two businesses herself, running a B&B and a website selling gorgeous bridal wraps and other items brides might need! So, if you are ever in that area and need a place to stay, http://www.forres-bed-and-breakfast.co.uk/ will give you all the information you need. You just need to check out her guestbook and read all the wonderful comments to know that it will be a great place to stay! Her other venture is at http://www.ukbridalstore.co.uk/ and I just know that the items will be of the utmost quality, because I know Susan and her attention to detail.

Having had a lazy morning this morning, I am now getting into gear, so I had better get moving so that I can start to cross some items off the chores list for the day. We are enjoying some beautiful winter sunshine here today, and I am about to hang some washing under the verandah in the hope that it will get a bit drier in the sun, even if it doesn't dry completely. The YFG has gone off on her panto trip with the school this morning and was terribly excited, so I hope that it is going well for them. I am looking forward to hearing all about it this afternoon.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Savvy shopping

I had thought, I had hoped, I had prayed that I had done the food shopping! I vowed not to enter the portals of a supermarket until 2009 - but I had an opportunity too good to miss today. My cousin's husband works for a huge food processor in Lincolnshire and she takes me with her very occasionally to their staff sales shop - where things are unlabelled, cheap and occasionally out of date. I spent £32 and got a whole trolleyful of goodies - pickles, Fray Bentos pies (45p!!), spaghetti, jam, lemon curd, pasta sauces, Turkish Delight, tinned biscuits (which I have to confess I bought for the decorative tin and not the biscuits!), Christmas puddings, all sorts of stuff...and now I have it all stashed away in my stores. I do truly believe that all I need to buy before the end of the year will be the fresh fruit and veg. Thank goodness!

This afternoon when we returned home, I spent a little while curled up on the sofa enjoying watching a film, content in the knowledge that no-one was expecting me to be anywhere for a change! That slot in the week on a Tuesday afternoon is usually spent at gymnastics, but that finished for the holidays with the party on Sunday, so I have a little more free time, and since I am not feeling 100%, I thought I deserved a rest!

These past two evenings, the FH and I have enjoyed watching Nigella's Christmas Kitchen programme, and although the FH loves to watch her, he doesn't ask for many of her recipes as he is always exclaiming about the amounts of butter and cream with which she has such a generous hand. He fears for his cholesterol just watching. I love Nigella's use of language - she has such a wonderful command of English and her vocabulary is a lot more extensive than some TV chefs. Not sure that she wants to be known as a "chef" in that sense as I feel that she is more of a home cook who loves to share what she makes for her family and friends with the rest of us. I did treat myself to her new book, Nigella Christmas, with some WHSmith Privilege Club (Sign up on their website) vouchers - the book was £12.50 but I paid £7.50 with the voucher! It makes good reading, and I will be trying out some of the recipes next week, I think! I have been offered the use of my neighbour's empty-ish freezer for some of my home baking, so I can afford to make more now, as the freezers chez nous are full!

I have found the ultimate mince pie recipe - and I am not sharing - yet! I sent some mince pies to church on Sunday morning and one of the ladies caught me in the school playground yesterday to tell me that her husband hadn't stopped talking about them all Sunday afternoon saying that they were the best he had ever had.......I was very pleased to hear that! It is a real struggle for me as a cook because I am wheat and dairy intolerant, and eating any of either makes me really ill, so I don't, but that means that I rely completely on people's opinions of what I make. The FH is not a good critic as he loves his food, and was in the RAF where he was told not to criticise food or the cook would "sort you out" so he tells me that most things are lovely, never offering any helpful criticisms. The FGs are OK, except that the EFG will almost eat anything, whereas the YFG can love something one week and "hate" it the next, which usually means that she has got bored of it. Kids!

The last of the gifts I had ordered online arrived through the post this morning and are wrapped and hidden away. I just need a gift for my uncle and my sister now, as I had planned to get them gifts from Lakeland and just left the ordering too late! I may be able to dash to their shop in Peterborough or I may just look elsewhere this week. I have a tradition of giving the FGs a Christmas Eve book, which they are allowed to open in the evening and then are hopefully interested enough to spend some quiet time reading. Each year, I hope that this will give them a calm space in the midst of the sea of anticipation which threatens to overcome most children on Christmas Eve! Some years it works, others are not so successful. I have yet to choose the books this year, and I am looking forward to a quiet half-hour in my favourite bookshop in town to search out the perfect gifts for them. That may well happen on Friday.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Christmas parties

Yesterday evening we held the Christmas parties for the children at the gymnastics club. The younger children attended between 6 and 7 and then the older ones from 7.15 to 8.45pm. Having them in two batches was supposed to be a means of spreading the work out, and not having too many there at once but the best laid plans and all that - we had 20 kids at the first party and 60 at the second - whoops! All in all, it went well and the children enjoyed themselves. The little ones played pass the parcel, had a lot of dancing and then ate a little, then we judged their fancy dress and they danced some more - their hour flew past. The winner of the fancy dress was Mrs Christmas....she was just so cute. At the second gathering, the children were more boisterous but in good spirits, and had a great time doing all the dances. The winner of their fancy dress was a girl dressed up as Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout, complete with an enormous papier-mache head, and a spring for bouncing, of course. We took some lovely photos, and the kids all went home exhausted...

Today has been a day when I have been trying to get things done before Friday when the children break up from school. Traditionally, I have had to barricade myself in to a room late on Christmas Eve so that I could wrap the gifts, but I have done it ALREADY and I am SO pleased. It took me all afternoon, but it is such a relief to have finished. I also wrapped a couple of gifts that had to be posted, and duly sent them off to Scotland, slightly worried about this proposed postal strike on Friday as I don't know exactly which sorting offices are going to be affected and whether my parcels might need to go via any of them.

I am desperately trying to get the laundry baskets emptied but I am hampered (no pun intended there, sorry!) by the weather, so it is draped around on the airers again, and only two loads done so far - more tomorrow. Had a lovely hour sorting a storage cupboard out and cleaning the shelves, including making an inventory of what I have got in there - and boy, did I need to!?! Five big boxes of icing sugar, five jars of raspberry jam - I think I need to keep better tabs on what I have got in stock!

I hope that I don't offend anyone, but I am going to say what I think about Christmas lights now. They have a place - in town centres, lighting up the communal space for everyone to enjoy. I can live with that, and I sort of see why the powers that be do that. I am not so happy about the untidy slew of lights that adorn various houses in the vicinity.....some of them look OK, but some look awful, and there seems to be some kind of competition between people to have the most which degenerates into who has the tackiest show. There are some tasteful displays but they are few and far between. Light pollution, excess use of electricity, I sound like a terrible old fogey (well, I am practising for when I AM one!) but hey, the only light Jesus had was a star over that stable, and He managed OK.......

Got to go as the YFG has been practising the Nativity story with some cardboard cut outs and wants me to watch her acting it out.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Christmas tree decorations

Here they are - little stars of red or green felt with contrasting circles attached with a sewn-on button, with a piece of hanging ribbon attached. The YFG and I made these last night, and I am pleased with them. I want to make a few more, but I ran out of red ribbon (because the YFG wanted some for her hair...mmm!) and red buttons, so I shall have to pick up some more on Saturday afternoon.

They are not exactly an original idea - they are based on an idea from the Usborne Christmas Things to Stitch and Sew book although we did not follow the instructions there completely. There is a bit of Fen license there too. The EFG is making a snowman from some very pale lilac cotton, and is waiting for me to thread the bobbin and machine with some suitable coloured thread for her, so I hope to do that tonight. She has gone with the FH and YFG to the town where she is playing Christmas carols with her cornet in the band and the FH and YFG are supposed to be supporting them by handing round the collection bucket, so I hope that they are not too cold. I am doing my part by cooking the supper for them when they get home!

Do you "get" it?

There are so many people out there who just don't! What am I talking about? Well, I am continuing yesterday's thoughts about debt, I suppose. There are families who don't have the same priorities as mine, and I don't understand how they are so blase about the levels of debt which they are accruing. I don't "get" how they just continue to spend, spend, spend on things which are unnecessary luxuries, whilst they are not paying their dues in the mortgage and council tax, for example. They obviously don't "get" my ideas, either, so I guess that we are even, but I am convinced that mine is the right path.

Let's be clear - there are some kinds of debt which are OK. Mortgages are reasonable, but I would still urge people to overpay as much as possible so that they are clearing the debt as fast as possible. Student debt is also understandable, in some cases, as long as it is not extreme; some students seem to have an incredibly responsible attitude and work jobs as well as studying to minimise their debts, but others just seem to believe that a student loan is there to be spent and hey, it has a long pay-back period, so let's spend it! This is also a kind of debt which I would advocate getting paid off as quickly as possible. Why have millstones hanging around your neck if you can possibly be free?

The way to live on a small income is to be positive and to see everything as a challenge, and to try to beat the system! I have been properly diagnosed with depression in the past on two occasions, but then I changed the way I thought. Instead of dwelling on my problems and concentrating on how miserable life felt (and I say "felt" rather than "was" as it was only my interpretation of how my life was panning out at the time) I read an excellent book by a doctor called Richard Carson, and it told me to stop thinking, basically! Stop thinking about the things that are making one miserable and act, do something, keep busy, keep your mind occupied and achieve! I now refuse to let miserable thoughts enter my head, find something positive in all situations, and keep smiling! Hey, I lose it sometimes, but the essential underlying attitude that I hold is a Positive one.

This means that when I go shopping and buy things that are cheaper versions, I am positively glowing at the thought of having cheated the supermarket out of the premiums I would have paid on more expensive items - I love buying things from charity shops because I am benefitting the environment by recycling, and the charities are getting revenue as well - growing my own veggies is brilliant because it saves us money, gives us exercise and gets us out in the fresh air, and we spend time together doing the garden - and baking is very satisfying when I consider the cost of the same items in the supermarket, and that I am eliminating so many additives from the family's diet by being on top of the ingredients, so to speak, by knowing what is in the food. Establishing a budget and making changes to accomodate it is empowering, and staying within my own imposed budgetary limits is very satisfying. See frugality as a challenge, work out how to achieve your aims and feel the buzz when you get there - and if you don't, there is always next month!

Set aims as well, so that you can see that you are making inroads into the debt, if you have it, or perhaps a chart to show how much you are saving - and save FOR something. We always have a little holiday fund that I make payments into each year for a few days away and days out in the holidays - and it gives me enormous pleasure to see that increasing.

Getting pleasure from something or avoiding pain are the greatest motivators in life, apparently, and I work well with both. Being in debt would cause me enormous pain, in terms of stress and worry, so I avoid it like the plague. Avoiding it by taking the measures I have outlined as well as others, means that I get pleasure (and relief, and peace of mind) from not being in debt. The people that I mentioned in the opening paragraph who are in debt and still spending unwisely are, to me, getting too much pleasure from the spending that they are enjoying, and the debt is not yet causing them enough pain. Unfortunately, the times we have ahead of us mean that when that pain comes, it may well be very great. Now is the time to stop, think and reassess life, and one's priorities........

I think that I will go back to normal life tomorrow and share a couple of recipes!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Sewing and Christmas trees

Yes - I have finally got the sewing machine that I bought at the beginning of November out of its box and working! The FGs were very keen to get started but we found that three of us trying to make stuff together got a bit fraught, and some of us got a bit tearful (no names, but we are only 9) and others of us lost our temper completely when the machine didn't do what she thought it should be doing (coughs discreetly - yep, that was me!). However, I have just finished making some little felt stars which will either hang on the Christmas tree or from the mantlepiece on a ribbon. I'll post a picture tomorrow...

Christmas trees are a source of debate amongst our friends and neighbours. One neighbour has told me that she thinks her husband is mean for wanting to use an old fake Christmas tree that they have had for quite a few years, whilst she preferred to buy a real tree for £30. I have to say that I felt for her husband, as she has said lately that she wants to cut back on their expenses....We use a fake tree, for several reasons.

First and foremost, frugality. We have had our tree for about 15 years (gosh, that long!) since we had our first house together as a couple. It came from Argos, and is about 5 feet tall, so we always stand it on a small table, and decorate it to look festive. It is still in good shape after all these years and will last a good few more, I hope. I recollect that it cost us about £20, so it has cost us £1.33 a year so far, and the longer we keep it, the less it will have cost on an annual basis. We have added to our collection of decorations over the years, and had a couple of sets of lights (I think that I had to buy our third set last year) but we don't go mad with decorations.

The other main reason for a fake tree is that I don't agree with buying a tree, keeping it indoors for a couple of weeks and then either it ends up at the dump to get shredded, or one tries to plant it in the garden...sometimes it takes and sometimes it doesn't. People usually try to justify it by saying that they will dig it up again for next year - but the tree's roots won't stand that kind of disturbance and it usually doesn't look so good the next year and they decide to go and get another one anyway. Trees deserve a better, more respectful ending than that - we love wood and love things made from wood, and have a great deal of respect for it. They should not be used and discarded in that way, and I actually believe that it does the environment more good to use a fake tree and let foresters grow trees for better purposes. I'm not going to be pursuaded from that argument, and will always have a fake tree....

So, Woolworths is starting a Closing Down sale tomorrow, there is doom and gloom in the financial markets, redundancies galore, savings rates are plummeting, credit is hard to get, and there is talk of all this turmoil taking years to subside. I'm going to be controversial here and say that I am coming to believe that this is not such a bad thing in general. I am truly sorry for those who have lost their jobs and are facing a tough time, but I think that the world needs to look to itself for some of the reasons behind all of this - and I am a novice at commenting on such stuff so I am just saying what I am seeing. Credit has allowed people to live far beyond their means for more than a generation, and people are not used to going without, saving and working at housekeeping to make ends meet. The time of "have now, pay later" has gone, and it is only those who have the cash now who will be able to buy things easily. It's a big reality check, and not before time. I am very conservative and not at all a risk-taker: I have never had a great deal of debt at all as I have always been too scared of what I might lose if I wasn't able to repay it. I have always waited to buy things until I had the money available, which is a bit of a "goody two shoes" attitude perhaps, but it is the way I have learned to live, and it has stood me in good stead now. I know that The Mom who has been to my house knows that we don't "decorate" our house, and that we make do a lot, and we prefer serviceable items to ornamental things, so we "look" poor, but hey, I don't care! What I have is paid for, and that lets me sleep at night.

Christmas is a time of celebration - a time of coming together and sharing the joy of Jesus' birth with our friends and relatives. Christmas is about fellowship, emotion and sharing, not about consumerism, acquisition and increasing debt. I am looking forward to a day of worship, time with the family together, just the four of us, celebrating and having a good time - watching some TV maybe, playing games, and sharing our Christmas meal. I would wish for that kind of Christmas for everyone, but perhaps that is not for you - so whatever you are planning, I hope you have a great time.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Washing on a Monday

Once upon a time, the housewife of old would do all her chores on a regular day of the week, and Monday was washday. However, at the moment, I am washing as and when I think I can get the items dry. I have two airers in the house, and as soon as the load on one of them is dry enough to iron, another load goes into the machine to get washed. So, yesterday, I made bread. I am not sure which day was traditionally baking day way back then, but I was in the mood yesterday, so I made two batches of dough in the Kenwood mixer. Each batch was enough for three loaves, and they rose slowly over the course of lunchtime and went in to the oven at about 2pm. By the time the YFG came out of school, there was fresh bread to be spread with butter and enjoyed whilst having a drink and a chat. The loaves have been sliced and stored in the freezer, so I am hoping that there will be enough there for a week, or maybe longer! I know I will do it all again sometime soon...

Sunday was actually a lovely day as we went to the Carol Service at the chapel. It was a traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols. There was a visiting choir from another branch of the church in a nearby town, which sang some of the carols, and we sang the rest. It was great, and I was asked to do one of the readings, which brought back memories from my childhood: whenever it was my mother's turn to do a reading at church, she would get me or my sister to do it, so that eventually we were put on the rota instead of her. The last time I had done a reading in church was at my mother's funeral service in 1998, so it was quite moving to do it again after all this time.

There was also a Christmas fair at the Village Hall on Sunday afternoon, which was very well attended by people from all parts of the village. We had a book stall there, and there were probably about 18 stalls, as well as entertainment, Santa's Grotto, refreshments and a raffle, so the organisers should have raised a good amount for the Summer Gala.

Yesterday the FH killed four of the cockerels, three of which went in to the freezer and the other went straight into the slow cooker to be roasted slowly overnight. I stripped the meat off the bones this morning and the meat will be eaten cold tonight with buttery mash and pickles. We have nearly finished the first batch of table birds, but the second lot are not yet ready to come outside yet and it will be another couple of months before they are big enough to eat.

Bright and sunny but very cold is the weather today, and it is forecast to remain like this for a couple of days, I think, although there might be some of the white stuff in a day or two - the FGs would be very excited if it settled enough to make a snowman....

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Sorry!

Haven't been here for nearly a week - apologies as I know how frustrating it can be to read someone's blog when they aren't posting and one gets so fed up of checking back and not finding anything different to read!

This week has been a hard one to get through as I have been struggling with the FH still being ill and the YFG being off school since Tuesday with the same chesty cough that has given her little rest. Running around behind the two of them has been relentless, with requests for drinks, hot-water bottles, snacks, etc - but we do it because we love them and we know that they would do the same for us. I did get a break from nursing duties when I went to gymnastics on Tuesday and Friday evenings, and there was a school meeting on Wednesday evening that got me out of the house! I also went to Peterborough on Thursday for a meeting with someone who I think that I will start working with next year - and he has offices in the same building as Merry who runs www.beadmerrily.co.uk who I know from home-education circles, so I had to stop in and have a chat with her for a few minutes. That was a nice "catch-up" moment, and I hope that I might see more of her if I do work with the chap I went to meet.

The house looks like a laundry this week as there is washing hanging everywhere, as the weather is so cold that nothing is drying outside. The FGs school clothes have been hanging from the curtain poles above the radiator but thank goodness they got dry and are now ironed and ready to wear tomorrow.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Another day as head nurse

I have had a busy time today with two patients to look after. The FH had another day in bed with his chest infection - the antibiotics are not really kicking in yet so he will have to rest and take his time to recover. The other patient was the YFG who has developed a cough which is so painful for her and to listen to as well - it sounds like a bark and must be making her throat very sore. She rested, played on her DS, watched TV, had a bath, and made these cute Christmas figures from marzipan - there is a snowman and a present, and then some words. She gave them to her little friend next door when he got home from school, so I hope he liked them!


I have been coaching at gym tonight, although it doesn't feel like I was there very much; I helped to set up, then coached in the first class. After that, I had to go to a venue in town where we are going to hold a Christmas party: I needed to pay for the hire of the room, so I dashed off to do that, took another coach home on the way and then the Head Coach asked me to pick up a bag of chips for him for his dinner on the way back to the gym! All that took ages and so I was back at the gym with only half an hour left before the end of the second class.

Since getting home, I have made a bacon pie and garlic bread for their tea, and put one load of washing on the airer to dry. I am now filling time until the second load of washing is done so that I can hang that before I go to bed. I am also going to finish writing my Christmas cards so that they can all be posted second class. Christmas gifts are a trial to me this year as I still don't really know what to buy a couple of people - including the FH's grandson...he will probably get a good book from my stock as there are some beautiful ones there that I know that he would love and his mum really appreciates books, which is good to see.


Monday, 1 December 2008

Doctors and dietary disasters!

The FH was feeling so bad over the weekend that I determined that he should get to the doctor's this morning and get some antibiotics for his chest. When I eventually got through and made an appointment for later in the morning, the FH had a disagreement and said that he was not going to travel to town to go to the doctor's, and that they should talk to him on the phone. Unfortunately, they will not prescribe medication over the phone, and I told him so, with the result that he has left the doctor in town and joined the village practice. In the village, we have a doctor and a nurse practitioner, in a small surgery which is open every day. The FH went, registered with them, gave blood and saw the doctor, and was duly prescribed the required antibiotics, which he is now taking.

The dietary disaster is me! I have been doing very well with my eating lately and lost a good few pounds but then I noticed that the loss had slowed down and was even stopping - and that got me disheartened! I suppose that is why I have fallen "off the wagon" and have been eating too much of the wrong things again - too many sweet things! However, on thinking about it, it may be that that is not such a bad thing (I am convincing myself, maybe not you, though!?!) as perhaps the loss had slowed because my body felt that I was starving it, and so eating a little more for a week or so may mean that a return to the eating plan next week will kick-start the loss again.....I can hope!

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Advent Sunday

Advent Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent, and this year it fell today, on the 30th November. It was lovely to arrive at church this morning and find the Advent candle wreath ready to be lit, and some discreet Christmas decorations around the church - nothing too much, but some bright flower arrangements which included candles as their centrepieces, and some ornamental bits on the windowsills. It felt festive but not over the top. We talked about what Advent means and how the coming of the Christ-child is a long awaited event, and how hard that waiting can be, whatever it is you are waiting for! Unfortunately we had to reflect on the trend for the waiting to be focussed on the greed of the "I want" type of person, interested only in what Christmas will bring, perhaps as gifts, food and drinks, or entertainment. Sadly, few think of Jesus when they are thinking of Advent and Christmas. For far too many, Advent is the word that prefixes "calendar" and means a daily dose of chocolate, and nothing else. How sad.

In these tough financial times, it would be good to move away from the material acquisitions of gifts and entertainment experiences, towards fellowship with friends and family, church members and neighbours, and to think more of giving that of receiving. It costs nothing to speak to a lonely older person and cheerily wish them, "Merry Christmas!" when you may have been the only person to have spoken with them on that day. It would cost only a little more to invite such a person to share the celebrations with us and our families. I am afraid that I take the easy option which is a little bit of a cop-out on that front, and I make an annual donation to the Salvation Army here which does an amazing amount of social care for homeless people, older people and those who have little - they have centres which will be open on Christmas Day serving lunches to people who would otherwise be alone, they provide a huge number of meals every day to homeless people on the streets, and they provide boxes of food and small presents to families who are struggling to put food on the table at this time of year. Those are just a few of the wonderful things that the Salvation Army does each year, and I support their work in this arena.

The message of the service this morning was that God has a plan. He planned for Jesus' birth from the beginning of the world, and events in the Old Testament bear witness to the prophecies which were proved in his lifetime on earth. That Jesse was the father of David, and that David's line would eventually bear fruit in Jesus was all part of the plan, and how wonderful to believe that there is as big a plan for each one of our lives! How humbling to think that God has planned us and our lives to that extent - but how great must our faith be to allow God's hand to work in our lives and let us follow the path that He has chosen for us.

I KNOW that that is true, because God saved the FH's life through the FH's relationship with me. Although the end of a relationship is a sad and terrible time, if the FH had not decided to move out of his home with his previous wife and go and live with his mother, and then ultimately to pursue a relationship with me, he would have probably died sometime in 2000. Because he was living in Scotland, which was my choice of home, he was given a second chance in 1999 when he had a heart transplant at Glasgow's Royal Infirmary. The transplant hospital near to where he lived with his first wife would not have given him that chance at life, because he did not fit their criteria. The surgeon at Glasgow then was a little more radical and experimental, and willing to give it a go. I really do Thank God that they had that attitude there, as he is doing well 8 years later. The surgeon had to remove the old heart with a great deal of suction as it had deteriorated so badly that it was like jelly, and he was sure that it would not have lasted much longer at all.

That plan that God has is not revealed to us in advance, so we have to have faith in Him and trust that by living in His way, His plan will bring us safely through this life and on to the next. In following His way, we will do good in this earthly life, I am sure. The big thing is to remember constantly that this is HIS plan, and not ours. There is little point in sitting down on New Year's Eve and planning 2009 out for ourselves. The trouble with our plans is that they are usually selfish - we think too much of ourselves. When I think about the things I hoped to achieve in 2008, I was planning greater earnings, holidays and an easier life. I got none of that, but I have gained other, more meaningful things, and I can look back on a year in which I found a new church, which my children are happy and eager to attend on a regular basis, I made new friends, and I actually cut back on the amount I earned because I did less work! I spent more time with my family, and I have had a good year. God's plan was obviously a better one than mine! Can't wait to see what is in store for 2009.....

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Boots!

We didn't get them in town on Thursday and the YFG was SO disappointed. We went to the shop and tried on the two pairs that the manager had ordered in for the YFG to try, but neither pair was any good at all. She came home in the depths of despair, it seemed. Yesterday, I started phoning places - a friend told me about a shoe shop in Peterborough which specialises in wide and narrow fitting shoes, but when I called them for directions, the chap said that they were closing down. I then started on Google - and found a couple of local-ish shops stocking a wider variety of brands, and had a lovely chat with Tracy at Smiths Footwear in Downham Market. She was very helpful and we have been to the shop this afternoon and we HAVE BOOTS! The staff were patient and kind with the YFG, very informative and helpful, and I cannot recommend them more highly. The huge beam of a smile on the YFG's face was well worth the trip over there, and we got some other shopping whilst we were there. DM is a lovely town, with independent retailers as well as a few chain stores, but it has a great atmosphere - I do wish we lived there sometimes, but the occasional trek over there keeps me happy.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Addition to the flock

Yes, we have another chicken! This is a bantam which is from the same clutch of eggs as the Dutch bantam which we have already got, and I have posted pictures of in the past. This "new" Dutch bantam is one of a group of three that we gave to a friend, and the other two have passed on for one reason or another, so this one was lonely on her own and has come home to roost with us. At the moment, she is in a pen on her own, but she will be integrated eventually with the others. She has different colouring from the other one, in that her feathering shows more brownish tones. I will take photos when it gets brighter outside, but it is dull, grey and misty here this morning.

The FGs are off to school and the FH is resting in a hot bath at the moment. He has not had a good night's sleep with his cold, and has been quite restless. He finally gave up and got up to make some tea at 6.45 am, and brought me a cup, which was a change as usually it is me who is getting up first and bringing him tea. I think that he may sleep again this morning as he has to go out this afternoon. The YFG is going round to a friend's house after school and then I will meet up with her at gymnastics tonight as the little girl also comes to gym tonight, so that is working out very well. The EFG will have to be picked up from school instead of coming home on the bus as by the time she got here on the bus, there would be no one here. I will get her and drop her off with the FH where he will be selling books this afternoon as that is on my way to gym. I hate November as much as I love it as it throws up all sorts of complicated arrangements and makes life so challenging! But it is the month when we do so much business that we can't afford to stick our heads in the sand and ignore it! Nearly over, though!

In my brief intro in the sidebar, I said that I am overweight - well, I am not as overweight as I was! I am now down to 148lbs, and so pleased!!! I need to lose a little more as I am only 5ft 4in tall, but it is a huge step in the right direction. I will post an update when I have achieved more.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Scrapbook page I made today

The blue rectangle on the right is where I will position a photograph of a snowy day, when I have taken one! The page has taken a combination of stamping with a roller, heat and stick technique for the glittery snowflakes, ribbling for textured papers, and a lot of copying someone who had the fab idea in the first place! I am pleased, and must now find an opportunity to take a suitable photo to put in.

Chocolate galore!

The party last night went well - there were just enough chairs as not all the guests were able to come. Enough came and bought chocolate to get me about £27 worth of free chocs though - although none are actually for me to eat: some are for the FH and girls and a few are for gifts. All the guests seemed to enjoy it, and the Phoenix card lady also sold quite a lot of cards, so she was pleased too.

Both of the FGs are at school today although the EFG had rather a rush to get ready as I went back to sleep after the alarm and then didn't wake up until 7.40 and she has to get the bus at 8, so we rushed and ran and she made it! The YFG wasn't keen to go but she has gone, with the promise of going into town afterwards to get her new boots for the winter. Her feet are so wide that there weren't any in the shop in her size last week and so the manager agreed to order some in for her to try. They are in and so she is itching to get in there and buy some!

I have been to the scrapbooking and card making workshop this morning. It has been fun, and now I am waiting for a customer to come to look at some books, then I have to pack the car ready to go to a booksale this evening. The FH is suffering from his cold and so he is wrapped up and watching the TV. Tonight's supper will be a recipe called "Sticky Chicken" which the girls love - chicken drumsticks coated in a sticky sauce, served with rice and veggies. That will go in the Remoska and cook in about 45 minutes, between coming back from town with the boots and nipping off to the booksale!

Hope you are all having a good day.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Calm before the storm

I am feeling surprisingly calm right now, which is weird given the amount of rushing around and tidying that I am about to embark upon. The EFG has gone to school, worried lest she has missed a lot of work and about how to catchup with it all. Thank goodness that she has agreed to wear the winter coat that I got her from Asda - a fab black three-quarter length black coat, with some wool in it, for just £15, so I got myself one as well. The YFG is still tucked up in bed this morning and I am hoping that she stays there for at least another hour as she has been coughing a lot in the night and can't have had much sleep. She is going to help me to do a bit of tidying later when she gets up, she says!

The roast chicken lunch was lovely yesterday, and the girls had chicken rolls for their tea as well. There is still a large leg left, which will probably be the FH's lunch today, although I may pinch a bit for the YFG to have another roll before it all goes. The FH has indeed come down with the cold, but he is going out this morning to deliver some books for me, and taking his friend with him for the ride. They are going out near Ely so will no doubt be seeing the floodwaters on the Welney washes and commenting on the amount of water so early in the winter.

I have got a small mountain of washing to get done, but I am not planning to try to tackle it today as I don't want wet washing around tonight and the weather is not looking conducive to getting it dry outside today, although if it brightens up later, I may do a load to hang under the verandah.

I am planning an electricity challenge! I want to take meter readings every day for a week, find our average daily usage that week and then aim to cut it down then next week. I can't do that with the water meter as I can't get at the meter to read it as it is down a hole in the pavement outside the house; I don't have the tool to lift the lid with, either. We already do OK with water, so I am going to concentrate on electricity for now - we are paying £58 a month to our supplier at the moment, and I am sure that they are itching to put it up further! I will be starting this at the weekend.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The coughs got worse...

and the girls have stayed home since Monday. They are both suffering, although the EFG still has it the worst. The FH thinks he is getting it too, so I have a mini-epidemic going on here! I am coping with the nursing - lots of hot drinks of hot lemon juice with honey, cough medicines and lots of tissues. They are amusing themselves with books, tv and games, so they are doing OK. They had a lie-in this morning and both of them had a decent night's sleep. My dad called earlier this morning to suggest visiting as he is going on an 18-night cruise on Sunday, so he wanted to see us before he went. I told him about the girls and advised against visiting as the last thing he wants is to get ill on holiday! He may have time to come at the end of the week, so we will keep him up-to-date with the recovery.

I am having a chocolate party here tomorrow night, and have to do some major re-arranging of furniture as well as tidying up. There are about 18-20 people coming, so I am wondering where they will all sit...may have to borrow some chairs and have already asked my sister to bring extra coffee mugs.

Just now I am roasting a chicken for lunch, with roasted potatoes, broccoli and carrots. The FH is going out to a book sale for me tonight so I wanted to give him a hot meal at lunchtime as it would otherwise be difficult for him to have one because of the times of the sale tonight. He is not going to his art club this afternoon as it would just be too much rushing around for him in one day. I guess that being his age is a bit like how I felt when I was pregnant - I could do one "big" thing each day, but no more! Sometimes we just have to pace ourselves a bit more carefully and not expect miracles.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Coughs and colds

The girls have both got a bad chest at the moment - the EFG is much the worse at the moment and has had a temperature today as well as a hacking cough. She was awake a lot in the night last night as well, and is not up to going to school tomorrow. I have had her snuggled up under a duvet on the sofa for much of the day, watching TV, reading and playing on her DS. The YFG is not as ill at the moment, but she is not 100% either as she has the cough and has been complaining of a headache today. Not sure what tomorrow will hold for her - she wants to go to school because she has a school dinner booked, and she likes to have that once a week treat, but we will have to assess her health in the morning.

I have had an interesting day, pootling around and getting a few things done. I made beef casserole and dumplings for tea but because they are all feeling a little ill, none of them had a huge appetite and there is enough of the steak and gravy left to go into a steak pie tomorrow. I also made apple batter last night when I had the oven on for the pizza and that is being eaten slowly - it smells gorgeous when I heat it up a portion at a time in the microwave - a real hit of cinnamon which makes the kitchen smell wonderful.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

A quiet day at home alone

That was yesterday to a tee. The FH went out early, the FGs went to school and I had the whole day until 3pm to do whatever needed doing. I did the early morning chores - got the helpful machines working (the dishwasher and the washing machine) and then started baking. Three kinds of cake (malt loaf, ginger cake and chocolate brownies) and three kinds of biscuits (oat biscuits, choc chip and cherry, and custard biscuits) followed and the house smelled wonderful! Some of the produce has been eaten already, some is in the tins in the kitchen for the week and the rest is in the freezer for later. I tried to make enough for two weeks as I am so busy next week that there won't be a chance to bake, I am afraid.

I do like making the things that I know that the family love, but I also like to try out new things. The YFG has an annoying habit of not liking something today that she loved last week - it is so frustrating! Thank goodness that the EFG and FH don't have that tendency. I have subscribed to two recipe websites which are sending out a cookie recipe a day between now and Christmas so that I have lots of new ones to try. Last year, the teachers at school all got cookies from the FGs so they may get new and exciting ones this year! Depends on how adventurous I feel...

Our turkey is really beginning to look like a turkey - he has a long red neck and is beginning (poor thing!) to look quite ugly. I still don't think that he will be Christmas Dinner, and we have a joint of beef lined up for that anyway, so he'll be reprieved into the New Year - possibly until Easter. Obviously turkeys are more slow growing than the chickens we have got, which are quite aggressive in their rate of growth. I'm just not sure how the turkey will be feeling when all his mates have been dispatched - he may get lonely.

The delightful little boy of four who has recently moved in next door is teaching the YFG a few words of Portuguese - and she is thrilled. She walks to school with him and his mum on fine days, and we all go in our car together on wet ones. A good example of neighbourly co-operation, I thought. He likes to come and play with her on Saturday afternoons - they sit together on the sofa and play on their DSs, or bounce on the trampoline and she is just like a mother hen with a precious chick.

The weather is cold today but there is no snow here, although some is forecast for tomorrow morning. It has been a bright, sunny day which has been glorious in the sunshine although very cold - about 3degrees C when we went out to gymnastics this morning at 9.30am. It had risen to 7 by the time we came out at lunchtime. Still makes me want to snuggle in with a blanket and not do anything. Shame, as I have more uniforms to wash and hang to dry, and tea to cook before I can sit down this evening. I think that pizza may be on the menu tonight as it is quite popular for a Saturday night here, although a hot pudding might go down well too! Tomorrow is a real winter warmer - beef casserole with dumplings.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Winter winds are coming

and the children are so excited at the thought that there might be snow tomorrow. The TV weather forecasters have been telling us all week of an "arctic blast" of air coming down from the north this weekend, and of snow showers. The YFG is hopeful, so hopeful, that there will be enough snow for a snowman that she has written a story tonight about a huge award-winning snowman that she and her friend plan to build! I think that the snow might look more like a sprinkling of icing sugar than the drifts that she is imagining....

I personally dread snow because of the misery it can cause on the roads - I am just plain scared of driving in snow, and actively avoid it if I can. I got caught in it one night driving from St Andrews back to Cupar in Scotland and it was horribly frightening. I was only about 22 or so, and relatively inexperienced at driving in snow - and I was alone in the car with no one to advise me. I crawled home and vowed never to go out in it again. I am happy to walk in it, throw the odd snowball, and watch it fall but that is about the limit of my enthusiasm for the white stuff.

I plan to bake tomorrow so I am going to go to bed now and take along a couple of recipe books for inspiration for baking!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Garden and chickens update

The garden has been neglected, I am afraid. This always happens in the autumn as it is my busiest time of year with the work that I do: people always want to buy more books in the run-up to Christmas so I have a lot less time available to me for other things. I manage to keep up the laundry and the cooking, but the housework gets a little neglected some weeks, and the garden is way down the list of priorities for me. The colder weather means that the FH is more reluctant to be out there as well - and to be honest, he is such a help to me in my work that he is often assisting me and has little spare time either. (He is snoozing right now, though - a pre-lunch nap to get the energy for lunch, perhaps!)

The garden situation at the moment is that there are heaps of horse manure on some of the beds, waiting for drier weather so that they can be dug into the beds. One bed still has some leeks growing at one end of it, another has the freshly-planted strawberry plants, which are settling in quite well now, and there are broad bean seeds just germinating in one other bed. That must mean that the green stuff growing in most of the others is weed! Argh!

The chickens are OK. The younger meat birds are growing well, and the older ones are being eaten at the rate of one a week with the occasional one being put in the freezer so there are about 7 or 8 left. Must go and count them! The laying birds are not - laying, that is. This causes me a moral and financial dilemma. I am feeding 16 "laying" birds, which obviously costs me quite a bit, and I would normally be repaid in eggs, which I can use myself and sell a few surplus ones to my neighbours. At the moment, though, there are no eggs being laid and so if I want eggs, I have to buy them. If I had not got hens of my own, I would just buy free-range eggs and that would be that. However, my budget is not stretching enough to allow me to buy free-range eggs at the supermarket AND still feed these hens of mine. I don't feel happy about it, but that is the situation. I am having to buy cheaper eggs apart from when I can source cheap, free-range eggs, which is not often.

Got to go and do the ironing now - and then maybe some baking.....

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Tesco rage!

Last night was a bad night for me! It started off OK - I went out to a lovely lady's house and sold books to all her invited guests. We all had a good evening, chatting and looking at beautiful books. It got to 9.45 pm and the party was over. I had decided that if the party was finished before 10, I would go and do my shopping. After all, that new Tesco in the town is a 24 hour one, and I thought that at 10pm, the aisles would be less crowded, and I would get my shopping done OK.

I was right about the aisles being clear - I floated around the store and filled my trolley with a good load of shopping. I hadn't been shopping for a couple of weeks apart from for fridge food and fruits/veggies, so there was some stocking up to be done. The shop floor staff were helpful, guiding me towards things that I couldn't find, and didn't seem to mind the odd interruption to their shelf-stacking (well, I wouldn't object either - it looked a bit boring!!). The staff outnumbered the customers by a considerable margin.

It was all going swimmingly and I got some great bargains in the "reduced to clear" section, including some packs of salmon, cod and haddock which had been reduced from more than £3 each to about 60-odd pence each - fab! Then I hit the checkouts - and it felt like a brick wall. All the checkouts were closed and I had to scan the whole lot through a self-service till. It took ages, and because I made a joking comment to a member of staff about a reduced level of service at that time of night, she fetched a line manager to speak to me patronisingly about the security risks of having access to cash in tills - he reckoned that there might be a hold-up (his words!!) so it was better that the staff had no access to cash. I politely said that now he had told me that the tills close at 10pm, I'll be sure not to shop there again at that time of night. I have since written a letter to the manager explaining my disappointment at the service offered, and suggested that if a hold-up is a serious risk, they should consider employing more security staff.

This has opened up the whole Tesco debate for me again. I had been planning to have a delivery again, but then thought that I would go on this occasion because I was in town anyway, and would get the chance to look at the reduced items. It would also be less crowded at that time of night. I did stick to my guns about the range of things that the Tesco is now selling and only bought food and cleaning items - I was not tempted by the homewares, books, electrical items, stationery, clothing and shoes! I didn't buy any special Christmas stuff beyond two jars of mincemeat, and I kept to the list - very strictly. So I was successful in a way.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Happy day

I have enjoyed today, in a variety of ways. It started with a long lie-in this morning - I didn't wake up till past nine and the YFG sneaked in to the bed for a cuddle before we got up. We had some breakfast together and then I helped the FH to pack some books in to the car so that he could take the FGs off to do a booksale for me this afternoon. It was about an hour away, and they would be travelling over lunchtime, so I packed them some sandwiches and snacks to munch on during the afternoon. They left here at about 11.30 and I started pottering around the house.

I picked things up and put them away; I sorted laundry and did numerous loads of washing - some got dry, some didn't - I am hoping for a good drying day tomorrow! I made bread a different way: I made enough dough for three loaves and mixed in a very old Kenwood Chef that my aunt gave me years ago. It saves some of the work of the kneading but I then turn the dough out onto the worksurface and knead it myself as well. Then I separate the dough into three balls and put them to rise in the loaf tins - for ages! They rose over a period of about 3 hours, and I didn't knock them back any further but just cooked them, and they are lovely loaves of white bread. Last week I bought an electric slicing machine (Kenwood). It makes very short work of slicing the loaves, so that I can now produce home-made sliced white bread which I am storing in the freezer until we need it.

I also did some baking, but I wanted to make something different from those recipes which I have been using lately. So, I made a fruitcake for the FH which I don't make that often because he has to eat it all himself as the FGs don't like dried fruits in general. I also made some custard cookies, the recipe for which came from www.moneysavingexpert.com on the forums. It is a recipe which uses icing sugar instead of caster sugar and then adds custard powder to the flour. The cookies came out very golden in colour which I suppose is down to the yellowness of the custard powder, but the testers said that they taste good. I would double the recipe next time I make it though, so that I could freeze some. Lastly, I made a chocolate tray bake which was in honour of the FH's birthday tomorrow. I will be working tomorrow evening so we had a singsong tonight and wished him a very Happy Birthday for tomorrow.

The FGs and FH returned home at about 5.45pm and had had a good afternoon of sales. Sometimes these little sales can not be as profitable as one would wish, but this one had been good and they came home happy! I was pleased for them, and for me, as when the FH has a bad sale, he can be rather grumpy!!

Today has been relaxed and enjoyable for me because I have been doing things that I enjoy, and I have had some peaceful time to myself. It was refreshing, and I feel better able to get on with the week ahead! It should be available on prescription!!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Apologies for absence - again!

It has seemed a very long week! I haven't recovered from last weekend yet, and already I am looking towards next week's workload. I have had some school meetings, some book sales and parties in people's homes, gymnastics three times, some visitors and lots of housework to catch up on. The ironing has been overwhelming but I got there in the end!!

There is a lot of media attention on the financial problems of the world right now. We are carrying on here pretty much as normal. We don't carry any debt so there are no huge worries about repayments but the savings that I have managed to squirrel away are suffering from the interest rates dropping - it may be good for people with mortgages but I am getting less return on my few pounds in the bank! We are being a little more careful in general, but I am continuing with my pantry keeping, and it has been beneficial to us because of where we live, as I have explained before. The chickens are being eaten (we have one ready for tomorrow!) and we are continuing to enjoy the meat that they provide as an exceptional treat. Unfortunately, the hens who are supposed to be laying are not, and I am having to buy eggs now. This is a source of frustration to me.

Christmas is coming, we are told all around us - the shops are full of cards, wrapping paper, gifts and posters advertising specials. I am only buying those things that I know I need - no "just in case" bits and pieces this year. I am getting a few extra-special holiday groceries in each week, so that I don't have to have a hugely expensive shopping bill in the week before Christmas. We don't need to eat fancy foods for more than a week - it is enough that we enjoy the day itself, remember the reason that we are celebrating, and seek out the company of those who are special to us. I am going to start to think about the menus for Christmas day and Boxing Day in the next week or so as those are the days on which we are likely to have guests and on which I may want to serve special foods, but we are fairly traditional in our tastes and I know that there will be a good selection of home baking on the menu, along with some simple but traditional dishes.

One thing that I will be looking for especially is a new 1000 piece jigsaw. We have our own tradition since we moved to this house of having a Big Christmas puzzle to do that we leave out over the holiday and we all enjoy sitting around and placing the odd piece here and there. I will be having a good look in all the charity shops over the coming weeks to see if I can find one.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Shopping at home

I went shopping in my freezer last night - came out with a good few bargains! Frozen plums for dessert tonight, bread for breakfast, rolls for lunch, cookies for the biscuit tin and a cake for lunchboxes. Accrued benefits of earlier baking and freezing sessions which were well worth the extra effort for the ease afforded now!

Early start today as I have to go and see my favourite school's headmaster -the children raised over £600 in a sponsored read and the local pub donated another £600 odd to the school for books so the head and staff have to choose £2000 worth from my catalogues. They are feeling a little overwhelmed by the task so I am nipping in there this morning to lend a hand!

Monday, 10 November 2008

Favourite plants

Just a couple of photos of two of my collection of Christmas cacti. They are flowering now, and they are beautiful!


I always manage to acquire one or two new ones each year to add to the collection and I am eagerly awaiting their arrival in the shops in the next week or two!!

Christmas Festival weekend

We have survived! It was jolly hard work over the four days - it took Thursday to load up and travel there and then set up the stand - then we were trading 9-5 over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I was pleased with the stand by the time we had finished it, and it offered a huge range of books for the customers to browse through and from which to make purchases.

The show wasn't as large as it has been in the past, and some customers were a little disappointed with the lack of stands - there were a lot missing from previous years. The Showground also double booked Usborne so there were two of us there. The other poor chap came off worse as he is a "beginner" with Usborne and doesn't carry the amount of stock I do, not has he the experience of doing big shows. The Showground said that they now had a policy that such a show could support more than one of us. Sorry, but we didn't agree. He and I were selling the exact same range of books, and it looks unprofessional to have two of us there - and no end of people commented on there being two of us. The other stallholder was a nice chap, and we talked about things together.
This was a cosy corner for slightly older kids to browse through the fiction titles and make their own selections (photo above).

And so the FGs were at their aunt's house for the weekend: they helped to bake Christmas cakes on Saturday afternoon and had a trip to the cinema on Sunday to see "Mamma Mia!" which they enjoyed. We missed them and were very glad to have them home again last night. Big hugs all round!
The FH is exhausted after the weekend, and has been asleep in the chair in the lounge all morning so I had better take him some lunch. Today it is raining and is forecast to go on and on. Baking is on the agenda, I think, as the freezer and tins are empty. I did get a new gadget delivered yesterday - an electric slicing machine, so I will be able to slice my home made bread to an acceptable thinness for lunchbox sandwiches now, saving a little more money.


Thursday, 6 November 2008

Time has flown - again!

And I haven't been here since Monday! And the week is nearing its close already.....where have we been?!

Monday was school, band practice, shopping, and chicken curry for tea. Tuesday was gymnastics after school, then tea, bath and bed, and yesterday was a big one - so much went on. I went to school for a 9.15am meeting, stood around till 9.30 to find that the meeting has been postponed and I hadn't been told. Then I dashed off to town to get change, pay a bill and do a little bit of shopping. The YFG was excited about school as she was having the Bonfire Day special school lunch, and was so looking forward to that. She enjoyed it and told everyone all about it several times. When I picked her up from school, we came home to find that the FH had forgotten to take the EFG's kit bag with him to pick her up for her exercise class, so we had to go haring off to catch him up. When we got back, the YFG's friend came round to play and stay for tea. I made them pasta in cheese, garlic and ham sauce, followed by chocolate cake (menu of their choice) and then cooked for the FH and I later. The friend's parents came to pick her up at about 7.15pm and told us that they might be moving. That saddened me as I am beginning to think of the mum as a friend, and the YFG gets on so well with the little girl that it will be a shame to see them move away, although they don't seem to be planning to go too far.

This morning, I have been packing books into the trailer again for the big East of England Christmas Festival at Peterborough. This is a three day show so we are going there this afternoon to set up the stall and then we have to trade 9-5 over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This is a huge show and we have had a stall there every year since it began about 5 years ago. The FGs will be staying with my sister for the weekend, so they will be having a little break from home too.

Must remember to take the camera so that I can take photos again - the stall will be different this time as we have neighbours in a shell scheme so we can't have the end open....not entirely sure what I am planning, but hoping it works OK!!

Monday, 3 November 2008

More baking.......

The YFG loves the slabs of walnut cake that you can buy in supermarkets - it was on offer the other week in Sainsbury's at 2 for £2, but they are not very substantial slabs. My gannets eat the slab and look for more in a few minutes! However, looking for a recipe for a walnut cake like this is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Coffee and walnut, date and walnut, etc - it seems that there are 101 recipes for combinations involving walnuts but nothing out there for a cake using only the solitary walnut. I looked and looked - then I gave up and concocted my own. I now make very finely chopped walnuts in the food processor, make a loaf tin sponge batter and then fold in the walnuts at the last minute - and it works! This is the second time that I have made it, and the FGs and FH love it. It is also, as you can see, a very substantial cake and it takes some eating - well, it lasts a couple of days instead of 10 minutes, so that is an improvement.

And then there was the bread in the Remoska. I thought I would use the same recipe but make rolls instead of mini-loaves this time, and it is a huge success. The 8 rolls nestled nicely in the Remoska pan, and cooked in about half an hour. They tore apart well, and the tops are crusty. Four are waiting to go into the lunches tomorrow and four are in the freezer. And this is SLOW bread - I started the dough at about 10am, left it to rise until nearly 2pm, knocked it back and shaped it into the rolls and left it again, and then baked it at about 3.45pm. It didn't seem to take much hands-on time at all, and it was very forgiving in that it didn't mind being left quite a long time in between kneading and knocking back. This is bread as it should be!!


Doesn't that look great?!

Happy baking, everyone!



Back to school

Both the FGs went back to school today - with a bit of a sigh of relief from me, I am ashamed to say. They are hard work when they are home together at the moment as there is constant competition between them, bickering and one-upmanship - and it becomes quite exhausting after a week. Only when I turn on them both do they come together in a united front against me! This is the part of them going to school that saddens me, as I do see this change in their attitudes to one another as a result of them being at school, and away from the home for a large part of the day. I need to find some way of helping them to re-connect with one another in an appropriate way; I can handle a bit of friendly rivalry but this is becoming a chore to deal with. Any advice out there??

Today I have done only one load of washing as I have no more line space under the verandah and the weather is not good enough to actually peg it on the outside line. I have one loaf in the bread machine and some dough for rolls proving at the moment - I am going to bake the rolls in the remoska. The bread was good, it seems, so hopefully the rolls will be too.

Another cockerel has been eaten this weekend. I cooked him slowly over about 5 and a half hours in the slow-cooker on Saturday evening, and then took most of the meat off the bones, and refrigerated it. The remaining bones were left in the slow-cooker, and I added a couple of onions, a parsnip and some carrots as well as a kettleful of water. This was then left to cook all night and the following morning and we had chicken soup for lunch on Sunday. For the evening meal, I took some chicken breast meat, added a can of condensed mushroom soup, covered it all with a suet crust and made a pie. This was very well received and appreciated! There is still more chicken to be had, so I think it may become a curry tonight.

I am trying not to use the oven much and so that is one reason to cook the chicken in the slow-cooker, and when I cooked the pie yesterday, I also made jam roly-poly with the leftover suet dough, and a walnut cake, so I made the most of the opportunity. Using the Remoska, the bread machine and the slow-cooker, which all use relatively little electricity, should mean lower electricity bills - we can hope!

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Pampering day for the girls!

At lunchtime today, the girls and I loaded up the car with a couple of boxes of craft and cookery books, and went to a local village hall for the afternoon. The Guiding group are trying to recruit some local leaders and they organised a craft, pamper and healthy eating afternoon for the ladies of the area. It was fun! My book stall was sandwiched between my sister's Pampered Chef stall and a scrapbooking lady that I know, so I had someone to chat with on either side, so that although we didn't do a huge amount of business, we still had a good afternoon. The FGs were trying out all the pampering ideas on offer - the YFG had her nails painted and a mini-facial, then they both made a decorative box with a soap maker and a Christmas card with the scrapbooking lady.

Apart from that, we have had a restful sort of day - all the washing and ironing is up to date, and the housework can wait until Monday when the FGs are back at school.

Friday, 31 October 2008

The £5 meal

Everywhere, it seems, we are being bombarded by the idea that we can "feed the family for a fiver" (I think that is Sainsbury's particular slogan but they are not the only ones!) but to be honest, can we all afford to spend a whole fiver on the main meal every day? That would take the grocery bill to £35 just for the one meal, never mind the puddings, snacks, breakfasts, lunches, and fruit. It seems to me that £5 is a figure for me not to exceed, and often I would like to come in under that, so that the week's cost is around £50 for all our food from the shops.

Tonight, I have served the family with cauliflower and pasta cheese bake - it served three of them with leftovers, and the total cost was just £1.84. They then had a slice of cake each for pudding, and a drink. Some meals do cost more, especially when we are eating meat, but tonight's meal is well under, and last night's pizza would not have cost more than £2 at a guess, so that is another night under the target. I reckon that as a family, we are aiming to have low cost meals at least three times a week, and more often sometimes! Pasta is a particularly good ingredient on which to base a low-cost meal, as I buy it for less than a £1/kg, and sauces can be made at very little cost.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Baking day!

This is the Remoska cooker that I posted about the other day. It consists of a lid containing the heating element, a non-stick deep pan, and a stainless steel stand. I have had a bit of an experiment with it today and successfully baked some bread in it (photo further down) so I am very pleased with it.

Here is the pizza which I made for tea for the family. Simple and quick and very cost effective (doesn't that sound so much better than "cheap"?!) to make. I have told you about this pizza recipe before, so I thought I would share a picture today.

And these are two little loaves of bread that cooked in the Remoska this afternoon. They have been sampled and deemed acceptable, so I shall be making that again!

And the Christmas cakes were made as well - the fruit soaked overnight; it was plump and juicy in the orange juice and brandy mixture this morning. I closed the oven door on them at about 10.20 this morning, so they were baked through by about 1.30 this afternoon. The house smelt wonderful whilst they were baking - cinnamon and all the spices came together to provide a really festive fragrance already.
The oil delivery came this afternoon, and the driver had an extra 70 litres on board that were spare, so we took those at the same price. That was a bargain as the price has already risen on the price I got on Monday. The FGs and I went to the scrapbooking/stamping studio this afternoon; we had a lovely chat with the lady who runs it, and made some beautiful creations. It is very relaxing to go there and switch off from other things and just create something under her guidance!


Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Oil

Just a quick note to say that I ordered oil on Monday - the price had begun to rise! I knew that the prices would rise as soon as I heard on the news at 10pm on Friday that the OPEC organisation had cut oil production to stimulate prices! The trouble was that at 10pm on a Friday, it was too late to order oil before the rises kicked in on Monday, so I was stuck paying 41.61p/l but that was much better than what the company I use wanted to charge - they tried 46.something, but I haggled a little and got it down. The delivery is due tomorrow. We haven't had the forecast snow, although it was cold this morning. Counties not too far away have had some, so we were blessed to miss out this time, especially as it has meant power cuts in Northamptonshire.

Nella Last

I have just finished reading the edited wartime diaries of Nella Last, who lived in Barrow-on-Furness in Cumbria. Her husband was a master carpenter, and she had two sons, Cliff and Arthur. She was a "housewife" until the outbreak of the war, when she joined the Womens' Voluntary Service and helped to run a canteen and a charity shop. She suffered from "nerves" and had had a breakdown the year before the diary begins. She kept the diary for the Mass Observation project, and apparently kept scribbling for over 30 years. The entries are fascinating as she talks about the food problems, the rationing, the bomb shelter, keeping chickens in the back garden and growing cabbages amongst the rose bushes. Arthur was in a reserved occupation as a tax inspector, but Cliff joined the army, initially as a PT instructor. It is a truly fascinating insight into one woman's experience of the war. I also bought the DVD of the film that Victoria Wood (fab UK actress and writer) wrote based on the diaries, and I sat and watched that this morning. It was very moving - as well as Nella's thoughts about the war, we also get a picture of a marriage that is teetering on the brink but one that seems to pull through - divorce was uncommon those days. I can recommend the book, and will be looking out for a copy of "Nella Last's Peace" which contains some of her post-war entries.

I found time to watch that this morning as I had taken the EFG to the sports centre for the day again, and the YFG had gone with the FH to an auction on the Norfolk/Suffolk border to sell some hens and rabbits. After watching that, and hanging out the washing, I managed to clean out a hen house - it was a lovely sunny day and it was a joy to be outside! Unfortunately, I got rather a lot of chicken poo on my trousers and straw everywhere, so I had to come in for a shower before lunch!

After picking the EFG up again at 3, we went to Lidl's for orange juice and cat food, Woolworths for two birthday presents, and the local book shop for a browse. By the time we got home, the others had just got back and were having a cup of tea. The FH had had instructions to buy some green veggies (success - he got a cabbage and a cauliflower) and some eggs (he got some, yes) but he bought 3 trays of eggs - that is 90 eggs!!!! They are free range eggs, and worked out at £1 a dozen, so I rang a few friends and sold 5 dozen. That leaves me with one tray - much more manageable.

After tea, I weighed out some dried fruit and have set it to soak overnight in the orange juice and some brandy so that I can make two Christmas cakes in the morning. I am looking forward to the smell of the cakes as they cook - it is just a most delicious smell!! I have been using a Good Housekeeping recipe since 2000 when I first found it and used it the week before Christmas! It worked well even with no time to mature, but it does get a little better with keeping, and so this year it will have about 7 weeks, I think. Plenty of time!

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Deliveries, visitors and kids playing happily

The day started early with a delivery of books by FedEx for the book party that the FH did for me last week. Ordinarily, that would have meant that the books could be bagged up and delivered to the party hostess today or tomorrow, but one of the jigsaw books has a piece missing so I have had to re-order and will now have to wait for that to arrive before we can deliver. I hate to send out imperfect books so we always check, check and double-check that they are all in perfect condition, clean and tidy so that the customers are happy.

I pootled around for much of the middle of the day, made some lunch (reheated leftovers so that was really hard work!!) and then moved up a gear when my dad called to say that he was coming over. We soon had the place looking tidier and then the FGs went out on their bikes with a neighbouring boy and he is still here playing with them now! My dad visited for about an hour and a half, inspected the garden and the chickens - he always has advice to offer - and then they left as he wanted to get home before dark.

It has been lovely to have the children playing together with Playmobil and Nintendos - instead of bickering, there has been laughter which has been very welcome! The FGs are not used to being together too much now that they are not home-educated; they used to play together very well, but now that they are both in school, they are not so comfortable together and bicker, and compete for attention more. Just one of the downsides of sending them to school, I think, and kind of a sad one, as they are not as close as they used to be.

Tonight I am cooking Toad in the Hole for supper but instead of baking it in the oven, I am cooking it in the Remoska and praying it turns out right. Remoskas are Polish inventions, and sold in the UK only by Lakeland which is a fantastic chain of shops/online store/mail-order outfit, which started in kitchenware and now sell a huge variety of things. Anyway, the Remoska is kind of like a big pan with a lid, and the heat comes from an element in the lid, but it only has one temperature which is about 180C, and works OK for most things. I have cooked casseroles and bolognaise, chops and fish in it, but this is the first time for this dish! It is great for economising as it uses so much less electricity than the oven so it is cheaper to run.

Snow is forecast for tonight, so we are wrapping up warm - hope you and your families are snug tonight!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Strange smells!

I am increasingly irritated (I know that I shouldn't let it get to me!) by some TV advertising for air freshener and laundry conditioner. There is a pair of adverts currently running for new fragrances in the Lenor range - one is White Diamond and something and the other is Black Diamond and Lotus Flower, I think. Now, today, I have seen an ad for a new room fragrance called "Glistening Snow". "Glistening Snow"???????? As far as I know, gemstones and snow don't actually smell of anything........do they? I'd love to know what these manufacturers think a diamond smells like.

I don't use artificial fragrances on our clothes very often - there is an old bottle of cheap store-brand fabric conditioner in the utility room cupboard which I use occasionally in the winter when I know that the FGs' shirts are going to have to be dried indoors, but most of the time our laundry is line-dried outside, sometimes under the verandah but that is still outside - and that gives us the freshest smell: the smell of fresh air! You just cannot beat it, and all the fabric conditioners in the world will never smell that good. Similarly, we don't use air fresheners in the house, prefering to open a window and let some fresh air in to take away any stale or unpleasant smells. I throw open our bedroom windows most mornings, even if it is just for five minutes, and the freshness of the morning air does wonders to wake me up!

The FGs are at home from school this week on their half-term holiday. The EFG has been to a sports centre for the day, playing cricket, benchball and basketball. She has had a good time with some old friends and made some new ones too - she loves going there and goes each holiday for a couple of days. The YFG used to go too but she doesn't like it now, so she stayed at home with me and made cookies. We picked the EFG up at 3 and went in to town to the bank, the Post Office and a clothes shop as the YFG had no jumpers (sweaters) at all for this winter - we were very lucky and got two in her size made of the softest fleece and she is SO happy with them!

On the way home, we did some more rural shopping - we stopped at a farm and bought two bales of straw for the rabbits and hens bedding. Straw has been difficult to buy this autumn but this farm has lots so I will be going back there to buy more but I could only fit two bales into the car today. A mile or two further along, another smallholder is selling bags of carrots and parsnips, and we picked up two of carrots and one of parsnips. These are BIG bags, about 15kg or so, I would guess, and the man gets them by the trailerload from local packing houses where carrots and other veg are processed and packed. These are the ones which don't make it through the quality control and are sold off cheaply. There is nothing wrong with them: there are a lot of odd-shaped ones and a wide variety of sizes, but they all taste great! Last year I made lots of soup with them and we had beautiful roasted parsnips all winter........I am looking forward to them on Sunday with a roasted chicken already.

I wonder whether The Mom who posts comments occasionally would like to share her recipe for pumpkin loaf cake as I have lost it and now is a great time of year to make it...please?