The trip north to Lincolnshire went Ok on the way up there, but it was horrible coming home in really dense fog - straining my eyes to see the road and concentrating so hard really made my eyes and head ache.
Anyway, the meal and the chat was great, and the YFG got to go for a walk with one of the dogs, so she was happy. The EFG helped my cousin's husband to get some CDs of music downloaded onto his MP3 player and he was amazed at how quickly she was able to do it for him on our laptop. My aunt and uncle were there, so there was much reminiscing of the good old days of my grandmother and her family - it was all good fun, and we really enjoyed seeing them all again.
The YFG wanted to go to Asda to see if they had Just Dance 2 for the Wii, as she had earmarked some of her Christmas money for that. Sure enough, although Tesco and Sainsbury's had failed to provide it for us yesterday, Asda came through today and she scored one! Once we got home tonight, she and the EFG played on it for a good hour, entertaining the FH - and then had a rest and watched a DVD before having another go - they are having more exercise today than they have had all week.......
Thanks to silversewer, I have found a new website all about saving money and having a good life: it is called Frugaldom - and it is fab!! Check it out - and I have also found a couple more blogs to add to my blog roll so I am sure you would be very welcome to have a browse there too.
Yesterday I did take the girls out. We were all getting a bit of cabin fever, and wanted to see the world again, if only for an hour or two! I didn't, however, take them to the cinema, as they weren't up early enough. I was busying myself around the house, washing and tidying things, and was quite happy to carry on, so since they couldn't get themselves up on time, we didn't go. We will go one day, though! We went out at 2.30 and were home by 5pm - we only went to the town, with the primary ambition on having a scout for some shoes for the EFG. Several shops didn't have any she liked, so we had a look in Tesco - and came out with my purse considerably lighter.
I bought them a pair of trousers each, several pairs of socks, a belt for the YFG, and then I stocked up on toiletries on offer, and some washing liquid I like. With the VAT rise coming in January, I know that these things are going to go up a little, so since I had the money available, I bought them now to save a few pennies. I am not daft - I know that I have only saved the pennies but it is as they say - "Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves" - and so those things are now stashed around the house, and we won't have to think about buying them for about six months!! Thinking ahead, I did as I always do and bought next year's Christmas crackers from the reduced stand as well as several packets of half-price Christmas cards - I had run out this year and had to buy a couple of packets at full price, and that hurt! I am prepared for 2011 now! I also bought a very nice mug for a friend's present next year - she loves blue and white crockery and it is from a range from the Victoria & Albert Museum - she will love it!!
So, today. We are heading out at about 11am to go up to Lincolnshire to my cousin's for lunch. My aunt and uncle will be there too, so it will be lovely to spend some time with them and catch up on all their news. I haven't seen my aunt and uncle since August Bank Holiday, so it has been a couple of months, although my cousin did pop down to see us a month or so back. My cousin is starting a new business venture this year, which is quite exciting, so there will be lots to talk about, and the YFG is very interested in her dogs, so there will probably be a walk on the agenda too. The YFG is hoping to call in at an Asda on the way to see if they have a Wii game that she wants to spend some of her Christmas money on - Just Dance 2 - so time for that will have to be factored into the day as well.
After all the rich foods over the past couple of days, the FH and I shared a tin of grapefruit for breakfast this morning, and then we had some home-made leek and potato soup for lunch. Tonight I have had a jacket potato with some salmon and the rest of the gang have had tuna pasta bake - an excellent storecupboard day of cooking and eating.
The girls are straining at the leash to get to the shops and were almost begging us to take them out this afternoon - so we sent them out for a walk for half an hour. Fresh air and exercise were good for them, but they came home very cold!!
The FH has been doing the Christmas puzzle a lot today, and has just got a few more pieces to drop in - he has made good progress today! The picture is really coming together at last. He says it feels like there aren't enough pieces left, but it should turn out OK in the end....
My sister is feeling a little better today, but still feels very rough. Hopefully she will be able to rest and recuperate for the rest of the week; if I am in the town, I will pop in to see her.
Tomorrow, we may go to see the latest Harry Potter film as I have some Tesco Cineworld vouchers. The trouble is that there have been several new films advertised on the tv this week, and now we want to see them all - some will just have to wait until they come on the tv. The other trip this week will be for some new school shoes for the EFG. We might go to Downham Market for those, as there is an excellent shop there for wide-fitting shoes. That means I can pop into Morrison's for some of their lovely meat!
Hope that your Christmas has brought you lots of fun, and festive cheer!
The FH is watching the news, the EFG is reading, the YFG is playing her new Professor Leyton game on her Nintendo DS, UJ is doing the Christmas puzzle - so I have slipped away for a moment or two!
My sister rang me this morning at 9am; the first thing I said was, "Happy Christmas!" and then, "You alright?" Well, no, she wasn't OK - she's come down with the flu and had woken at 6am absolutely drenched, and with a temperature. UJ was planning to go to her house today and then stay the night and come to us for the day tomorrow, so we had to ring him and get him to come here for the whole weekend instead - good job there was plenty of food! He is always very welcome here, but it meant a little tidying and bedmaking in the spare room this afternoon. The girls helped out so we got it done quickly.
We started off the day's festivities at chapel, which was a fun service - all the children got a present, and we played pass the parcel as part of the sermon as well. We are a small congregation, and we sit around on chairs in a horseshoe shape so it is a very informal situation. It was a lovely service, and some of the children had written their own version of the Christmas story, interspersed with appropriate songs - it was great!
UJ arrived after that, and the smells from the kitchen were beginning to be tempting!! The lunch was ready at about 1.30pm - leek and potato soup, the turkey course and then the pudding. We were all relaxing afterwards - the FH and UJ had to have a snooze!
It has been a lovely day which we have enjoyed. We rang our friend George, in his eighties, whom we spent a lot of time with when we lived in Scotland, and I called my sister for an update on her health (same as this morning, although she has spent most of the day asleep). The girls are thinking about heading for bed now - and I don't think I will be far behind them!
We're following Santa's progress around the world on the NORAD website again this year - as Christmas steals around the globe, it is like a countdown to the Big Day here!
The FH worked hard this morning and all the veg are ready, I have made pork sausagemeat stuffing balls, and the brandy butter. I have also been out delivering a couple of gifts in the village, and to friends here on the estate, where I stopped for a cup of tea as well.
Now I am going to give the chooks their afternoon feed before I ice the cake and do some baking. Hope you all have everything under control where you are!!
The pastry I made last night from the Delia recipe worked well - except that the FH didn't know I could make puff pastry and ridiculed it as "bought" stuff, saying that it was not as good as my home made pastry - I think that was a back-handed compliment. Anyway, once he had been educated, he thought it was nice! I have put some more butter in the freezer tonight to make some more puff pastry tomorrow for sausage rolls and coconut tarts - my dad loves coconut tarts and he will be here on Boxing Day so they are for him.
Today's mince pies have been delivered to various destinations - most are in a tin in the kitchen, ready for the family and visitors to enjoy; some were delivered today to the Head Coach from gym, who loves a good mince pie - and for the man who has everything, something for his stomach is a safe bet when you can't think what to get him for Christmas! We also took a small parcel with us when we went to stock up on chicken food - the chaps at the shop are very kind about loading the car up for me, so that was a little treat for them - they also got a little box of home-made fudge. Two bags of pies are also tucked away in the freezer for later on in the festive season!
The YFG returned home from a sleepover at lunchtime, and then she accompanied me around and about as I finished up all the last minute pick ups and deliveries. We visited my sister to drop off her gifts and pick up her gifts for the girls, and we had to go to the shop as the FH complained because I hadn't bought any lemonade...a man of simple pleasures!!
So, what will tomorrow bring? Probably no more snow at the moment - but some more baking is on the agenda as well as some last minute cleaning chores like washing the kitchen floor as there is no point doing that until the baking is finished. The turkey came out of the freezer this morning, and I will be preparing as much as I can tomorrow - the veg, the brandy butter, the stuffing balls - and putting the icing on the cake! The presents are all wrapped, the cards posted and delivered........tomorrow evening I will be looking forward to putting my feet up!
I am now waiting for some butter to freeze so I can make some of this pastry a la Delia. I'm then going to put it in the fridge and make the mince pies in the morning. Today has been a busy one - cleaning more chook houses out, moving some GPOs to a new pen in the big shed, taking the YFG to her sleepover at a friend's house in the village, cooking tea with the FH and watching a little TV.
Hoping all your Christmas preparations are underway, that you are all keeping warm, and sending everyone best wishes for a peaceful Christmas.
The tree is in the sitting room, in the bay window. The girls got it decorated on Saturday and it looks very festive - especially as I try to keep it to red, green and gold, although I notice that a few other colours have begun to sneak in!!
Today's been good, but it has been a bit thoughtful and reflective as well. The FH took the girls to Cambridge this morning so that the YFG could have her orthodontic braces put on. Given that the roads were bad, and the weather looking dicey, they allowed two hours for a journey which could be done in 45 minutes in good weather and light traffic.
Whilst they were gone, I pottered around in the house for a while, and the post arrived. In the post came a card from a family we know in Scotland. The mum in the family is a girl I knew from university at St Andrews - we had rooms on the same corridor for our first year in a Hall of Residence, and she is Catholic, and so is my best friend from those days, so they spent time together as well. When we sold our first house to move along the road, she and her husband bought it - it was a huge surprise when they came to look around. We knew each other, but we weren't really friends - we didn't have a lot in common back then as I was studying theology and she was doing maths or science. So we lived in the same street for a couple of years, and I had the EFG and then the YFG and she had two boys over time. We have kept in touch, via Christmas cards and letters - and it was her card and letter which touched me so much today. Her fourth child was born in April - a little sister for the three boys - and she has Down's Syndrome, and had to undergo some quite traumatic surgery early on in her life to close a hole in her heart. Little BT sounds like quite a fighter, and the photo included in the letter shows three adoring older brothers holding her for the post, so she is very well loved. I can't be there for them because I am so far away, but I can remember BT and her family in my prayers. If you are of a praying mind, I'd be glad if you would think of them too.
I had a bath, and then wrapped up in many layers and stepped outside. I quite honestly have not been outside a door in two weeks, so I just mooched around the garden for a while, and then had a look at the chooks. The FH has done his best to look after them, but they were in sore need of cleaning out, so I did that for an hour and a half, and they were very grateful! I also gave them some hot mash to warm them up. I found a couple of dead chickens as well, which was sad - one very freshly dead in the run which must have just died in the past couple of hours since the FH let them out and fed them in the morning. It is likely to have died because of the cold weather. I also found our beloved Lana - she was a beautiful little bantam, who must have been quite an age - about 5 or 6 we think. She probably died last night, as I found her body in the shed where she had gone in to roost. She and her sister Leah had free run of the garden so Leah is looking a bit lonely today. We were all a bit sad about Lana as she had been a very favourite chook for years, and we will miss her mooching about the garden, but she had had a very happy life, raised a good number of foster-chicks, and been a good mum. RIP Lana.
The girls and the FH arrived home at about 2.30pm and within an hour the FH was off again to help a friend with a leaking sink! The girls and I enjoyed a visit from a friend and her daughter whilst he was out - I hadn't had a chance for a good chat with B for nearly two months, so we all sat round the fire with a cup of tea each and caught up on the news.
This evening, my delivery from Sainsbury's has arrived, and I have scored a free turkey! I ordered a turkey crown, which would serve 8-10 people, and some packs of chicken thighs on offer at 3 for £5. These items didn't quite make it here - although the rest of the delivery was great. I phoned up to complain about the chicken thighs as I got substitutions which cost me £11.08 - I don't mind some subs but that was taking the p! And the turkey crown had become a full turkey but one which only served 4-6 people. I phoned - and had to wait 35 minutes to speak to someone so I was pleased that it was a free phone number - to complain about the way the subs are done; surely they would be able to see that I needed a bigger turkey if the one I had actually ordered would feed that many people, and as for the chicken, well! If something is on offer at £5, you don't expect to have to pay more than twice that for the sub, do you?!? So the lady very kindly offered me a full refund for the turkey, and refunded the difference between the offer price and what I paid for the chicken. It does pay to moan occasionally, although I wouldn't make a habit of it. Perhaps they will sub more thoughtfully in future.....
The YFG is now having some pain in her teeth, so she has had some Calpol, and some rice pudding - her back teeth can't meet, she says, so she can't chew at all. That could be tricky, so I am going to phone up for advice in the morning. If anyone has advice from their own experience, I'd be glad to read it!
The girls and I have been sorting out the sitting room today, rearranging the furniture and putting up the decorations. The tree is up - at last - and the girls are satisfied with our efforts. We have to move things around to accommodate the tree, and an extra table for the Christmas jigsaw - it is usually a 1000 piece job, so it demands a table of its own, ideal for pottering over it and popping the odd piece in now and again when you have a spare moment to sit down. We actually have two to do this year, as it got overlooked last year!
The most gorgeous smell is emanating from the kitchen tonight as I have a chicken in the slow cooker, along with some onion, celery and parsnip - it might make tomorrow's lunch as a pie once it is cooked.
Now that the tree is up, cards are posted and we are in the mood, I am beginning to get into the swing of this - the marzipanning of the cake is on the plan for tomorrow.
The FH is feeling fragile tonight as he fell over this morning - well, he fell off a ladder in the garage when he was putting some books back on the shelves. He had a little wooden stepladder, which broke, so now it just consists of the ladder part without the supporting leg and rather than mending it, he has been leaning it against the shelves. Today it slipped and he ended up on his back on the floor, and he has scraped his leg and his elbow, and feels a little shaken up! He is now in the bath and having an early night.
We were delighted to watch the final of Strictly Come Dancing tonight - we voted for Matt Baker, but Kara was a deserving winner. I wouldn't have been surprised if Pamela Stephenson had won as she was also excellent and her show dance was the best - the other two were really a lot of posturing and not a lot of dancing!!
A very generous friend of the FH has given us LOADS of DVDs this weekend - probably nearly 200 of them!! This friend's father has had to go into a residential home and can't take them all along, so the friend has been tasked with getting rid of them - and the FH was in seventh heaven looking through them all as there are a lot of action films which he loves. They are all in excellent condition - he was delighted to find a DVD of Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss orchestra playing in Australia, so that kept him amused for over two hours last night as he was completely taken with the music. There are more Steven Seagal films, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Bruce Willis, the Bourne Trilogy, Delta Force, etc - lots for him to enjoy!
Nearly a week has past since I have last blogged here - sorry! I've been doing a lot of thinking (uh, oh!) and realised that my illness has largely been down to stress rather than a bug. I've had time to think, time to relax and let my mind wander - all that knitting is really rather meditative. So, on Tuesday, I got up and decided to attack the thing which has caused me the most stress - the school governor situation.
I made some phone calls, I am sure I have made a little stir, and things are happening. Most importantly, I am getting the professional support I need from various agencies in order to help the school to progress. And I feel better - I have spread the load. I have a mentor assigned to me as a new Chair, so I bent her ear as well, and she reassures me that I am doing OK, and reminded me that actually, we do this job as volunteers, for nothing, and should be treated with some respect, not as dogsbodies! So that helped, too.
I have also been plodding around the house - not in a despondent kind of mood, but in terms of doing one thing at a time and not thinking of the next 10 things I need to do!! Taking my time, sitting and reading a book near the fire for an hour if I feel like it, knitting a spell, hanging the washing up and then doing something I enjoy for a while. So if People have rung to ask how I am, I have said, "Plodding along!" and felt quite happy about it.
But, I am not ready for Christmas - the cake has not been draped in marzipan, the tree is not up, the lounge is not cleaned, the parcels have yet to be posted.......but so what? I still have a week!! I'll keep at it a little at a time and it will be done, eventually. I have done some things - ordered oil for the heating, the ironing, sent the Christmas cards to the post, sent some messages to friends. We are warm, dry and well fed - and together - and that is what matters!
I have been suffering with a stomach bug now for just over a week, so I am not doing much at all. I am very pleased with how independent and mature the girls have proved to be, as they are managing to get themselves out of the house in the morning to go to school with no input from me - they are making their lunches and their breakfast. They go out of the house looking smart and shout out, "Love you!" as they go.
The FH has had to take over the care of the chooks, which has been challenging for him, but they are all doing OK. They will get cleaned out next week when I am better.
The burst pipe seems to have happened last night - in the workshop this morning the FH found about an inch of water all over the floor. The pipe to the water heater over the hand basin is the one which burst, so that is a lesson learned. For now, he has turned the water off at the stopcock in there and will sort it out when it is a little warmer.
So, this episode of illness has taught me that I am not indispensible, and that things go on - we have had to put plans in place for the YFG to lead the preschool session at gym tomorrow morning, and a Songs of Praise tomorrow evening at chapel will go ahead anyway, of course - I have planned the service, put it together, arranged the readings and the participants, but the FH and the girls will actually lead the service for me.
It has also meant that I have had a bit of time for rest and recuperation! I have read a few books, watched some tv, done some knitting etc and generally had a rest - although I have been a little bored at times - I am definitely looking forward to getting better and being able to take part in the preparations for Christmas. I have done an internet shop at Sainsbury's to be delivered on the 20th, so I hope that the weather doesn't deteriorate and prevent that happening!
I have just received my latest Tesco vouchers through, just in time for Christmas, they say! I was really surprised that over the whole Christmas and New Year period, the local Tesco will only actually be closed on Christmas Day....it will be open Boxing Day and New Year's Day, albeit on a slightly reduced opening hour system, but it is still open for business. Is it that the supermarkets are so desperate for our business, or is it consumer-driven? Who will really be wanting to trawl the aisles on Boxing Day? Not me.
The flashing lights are up in the cul-de-sac we live in - the neighbours have started to decorate their houses for Christmas. I always think of Advent as a little but like Lent - a time of waiting before the big festival that is Christmas or Easter. My thoughts on the period are that we should be a little bit austere in our tastes at this time so that we can more fully appreciate the celebrations. Our Christmas tree goes up the Saturday before Christmas, so that'll be on the 18th this year, but there are already Christmas trees aplenty adorning front windows everywhere. It seems to me that "Christmas" has become a season, much like Autumn, and has to be stretched out over a huge period - a little of November, all of December and some of January!
I much prefer to think of the Twelve Days of Christmas, beginning on the day itself and ending a few days after New Year in January. That is enough for me - and I am not being miserable, but more realistic! Children get so excited these days about things that it seems silly to keep them hyped up for weeks on end, building up their expectations. At the other end of the spectrum, a friend of mine let her children believe for years that Father Christmas brought all their decorations on Christmas Eve, so she and her husband decorated the house after they had gone to bed that night - inspired woman!
In the middle of all the decorations and gift giving, the matter of the babe in the manger often gets overlooked. That is really what it is all about, and we, as a Christian family, will be doing all we can to keep that at the centre of our celebrations.
We get an awful lot of these swans going over at this time of year; they come to the wetland reserve in the Fens for the winter. Each day they fly out onto the fields to feed, and then return to the reserve in the late afternoon for their evening feeding session, honking like mad as they fly! I wish I had been able to take a photo like this one, but this came off the internet - I never have my camera with me when they fly over, and more often than not, the light wouldn't be good enough for me to take a picture anyway.
I had heard people talk about the big skies out here in the Fens but it had passed me by. I hadn't really noticed as I suppose I had got used to them, and then we went on holiday to Scotland and all of a sudden there was Less sky, because the ground rises up to meet the sky so dramatically up there. When we got back, it hit me quite suddenly one afternoon when I was driving home with the family - the FH was driving and I was gazing around me like a loon - I could see sky in every direction for miles and there seemed to be absolute acres of it!! And I realised then what people had been talking about...
We've had a week and a half of this weather now, and the forecasters today have mentioned that it may be the New Year before this cold snap passes, so if we aren't used to it, we may as well get used to it soon!! I have adapted my habits with the chickens - I soon got fed up of breaking ice in the waterers each morning, so when I shut the hens up at 4pm now, I empty all the waterers and load them up into the wheelbarrow to bring them up near the house, ready to fill in the utility room each morning. The chooks are loving the hot mash, so I will continue with that, too.
It has been the end of an era here today: my beloved Vauxhall Astra estate car (1.7TD) (red) (N reg) has been replaced. We got it as a family car back in 1997, I believe; we certainly had it in January 1998, but the details get blurred so far back. We had just the one car back then, but on moving to England and the FH going to work for a year, we had to get a second car; we got a really old banger that I just couldn't get on with, so the Astra became "mine" then. It has never let me down - never broken down when I have been out and about - and been a lovely car to drive all these years. It was second hand when we bought it through the Network Q programme, and we got just £5 change from £8,000. We bought it outright, and it has served us well. I am not sure what I am going to do with it now - the windscreen wipers only work on full, the headlights come on when you indicate, the steering is getting a little shaky - so it was time to retire it. RIP Red. It is on the driveway now that the insurance has been transferred to the new Vectra, but I know that there will be a little tear in my eye when it finally leaves us. Soppy, I know!
I had a big baking session last night as the lunchbox supplies were getting low, there were no biscuits, and the natives were feeling hungry because there was nothing to snack on! So I made some iced finger buns, some cupcakes, some peanut butter biscuits and some Viennese biscuits which still need to be sandwiched together but I hope they will eat the finger buns first as they are a dough recipe and will dry out before anything else........
Speaking of dough, the charming Paul Hollywood who appeared on the Great British Bake-off, wrote a book back in 2004 called "100 Great Breads". I thought I'd like a copy so I started looking around the internet for one. Well, talk about rare as hen's teeth - there is one on eBay for sale at £55 (and it has a bid!!!!!!!), sellers on Amazon are offering them for anything from about £75, and there are a few on abebooks.com but they are ridiculously priced as well. I have put in a request at the local library for one, but there are none in the county and so it will have to be brought in from elsewhere, if there is one to be had in the country! The £5 I will have to pay if they find one will be well worth it........and there will be a lot of recipes copied out of it if it turns up, I can tell you!! Obviously high time Mr Hollywood turned his attention back to writing books.
The stock cupboard is looking a bit bare in places, but nothing too bad. We bought some eggs in the village yesterday for the baking, and some leeks which I soon turned into leek and potato soup. The FH bought some bread from the Co-op in town when he went to pick the girls up from art club at 5pm, and there isn't really any need to worry about anything else until next week sometime. Snow is very good for the bank balance in terms of grocery shopping, in my case. I have been tempted to look into an online order from a supermarket, but I don't want enough at the moment to justify the delivery charge, so I am not indulging.
The YFG is supposed to be going on a trip to Warwick Castle next week so I will have to contact the school early next week to see what they think about the likelihood of that going ahead.
I must take some snow scene photos one of these days!!
I am just gearing up to go outside to do the chicken chores for the morning - it is about -1 or -2 out there, and it is COLD! Still. And there is no sign of a let-up in the temperatures. However, we don't have snow up to the windowsills, we do have plenty of wood for the fire, food to feed the family and the animals, oil for the boiler, gas for the cooker, and electricity - at the moment. I must admit that the electricity flickered on and off about three times yesterday, so that is always a bit flaky out here in the sticks in this weather, but that is why I insisted on a gas hob when I moved out here! One of the neighbours commented only yesterday that we were probably the best prepared people she knew, what with the gas hob and the woodburner. She lives in an all-electric house, so she will be bringing her family round here in an extended power cut - she knows that they are very welcome!