Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Enjoying the break

We had a fairly quiet day on Christmas, but then the visitors started coming!! UJ was here by 12 on Boxing Day and the FH wasn't even up - lucky for me, I had been up a while and started on the chores. Lunch was just going to be cold meat and mash with pickles anyway, so there wasn't a lot to do. In the afternoon, the first gang of cousins came - three of them. I made some French sticks to add to the spread for tea - it was a kind of buffet affair, with bread, cheese, crackers, ham, pork pies, crisps, lettuce, tomatoes, dips and side salads, pickles, etc, and then mince pies and fruit cake for the sweet course. We had to have crackers too!

That was a fun evening, and we didn't have the tv on all day until we watched The Borrowers on BBC at 7.30pm. The cousins left at about 9pm after telling us lots of new (and not so new!) jokes, helping the FH with his puzzle and enjoying lots of chatting and catching up. It was good.

Yesterday (Tuesday) another family - my cousin and aunt and uncle - came in the afternoon and UJ came back to meet up with them, since the visiting uncle is his brother and they rarely see each other! My mum was their sister - one was older than her, one younger. We had another similar spread for tea, but they left slightly earlier at just after 7pm. UJ stayed a little later, helping the FH with the puzzle again, and it was another good day.

Today, the FH had been planning to take some of his lunch club mates out for lunch somewhere as the lunch club is closed for two weeks, but one of the mates is in hospital after a fall on Monday (he's nearly 90) and another was feeling under the weather with a heavy cold, so they didn't go this week. He has inspected the inside of his eyelids a lot today, although he would disagree!! The puzzle is coming along nicely, though, and that keeps him occupied but I know he is itching to get back out into the workshop and get on.

I have prepared this Sunday's service today; I'm a bit nervous about this one as I haven't even attended a service at this particular chapel, let alone led a service there. I have spoken to a lady I know there who is a Worship Leader there and she is being very helpful and will meet me on Sunday and show me where everything is. She promises me that they are very laid back there, so I hope that they are forgiving too!! I just need to ring someone else with the hymn numbers tomorrow and I'm all set. This is the last service I will need to take until February so I will have January to get started on the 4th unit of the Faith & Worship course - I had a look through it today and it is heavy going. I will definitely have to set time aside to get on with it. A unit a month as the tutor suggested looks overly ambitious to me at this stage.

Frugally speaking, I want to sort out the budget for next year this week, but time is slipping away from me. The girls want to go to Wisbech tomorrow for a look around at Asda and Morrisons - there is a new Morrisons there, and they both have a little cash to spend and ideas as to what they "need" already. Half the money they have been given this Christmas is safely put away in the bank, so they don't have a lot - I think that they have about £25 to spend on some clothes each, so they will be looking for bargains and good value! It will take a while to get there, so I hope for harmony in the car and not too much disagreement between them....

At 4pm we are going to see a friend and her little girl, so we will have to be back by then. Friday morning is the Craft club at the chapel, and then I think peace will reign again until I have to go out on Sunday. The girls realise that the days are rushing past now towards them going back to school and they are enjoying the holidays too much to be looking forward to that, although the EFG has had me on Amazon this afternoon buying revision guides for her GCSE English texts. We can't find one anywhere for Blood Brothers, though, so she is a bit worried about that one.

I do hope that you are all enjoying the break from normal routine - I know I am - I have read my three Christmas books that I was given, and done some knitting too.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas 2011

The start wasn't too early at 7.30am, but the girls piled onto our bed to unwrap parcels straight away. The FH was delighted with his new cap, braces, Maltesers, body care products and Fred Dibnah DVDs. I unwrapped some new books, truffles, a spice rack and some new bamboo knitting needles in a very fancy Cath Kidston wrap case - it is gorgeous! The girls had the modest little heaps of things they had asked for and chosen so they were happy.

We went to church for a 10am start, and it was lovely to share a couple of hours with close friends from the village, and there was a lot of chat and fun to be had. We all share opening one of our gifts together, and we had taken along a little box of chocs for the 95 year old lady to open, and another friend had brought her a plant pot of hyacinth bulbs which pleased her immensely.

Lunch was served at about 2pm - beef for three of us and a turkey leg for the YFG. Pudding was some time later! Then I think I fell asleep for quite some time - I certainly missed out on the Queen's Speech. The girls watched some films, and then I remember watching Ratatouille, which is fun! Some light snacks have been eaten tonight, mostly tea and mince pies, the girls have watched Dr Who and now the FH and I are watching Downton Abbey's Christmas Special, although he has one eye on the puzzle he is doing, and I have an eye here!!

We have UJ coming for lunch tomorrow and then cousins joining us in the afternoon, so we are in for a day of company tomorrow. I hope you are all having a very peaceful Christmas x

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas, one and all!

Just a couple of hours to go! The FH took the girls to the Christingle service this afternoon, and they have spent the evening watching TV - Merlin and Top Gear, but now the FH is in control and it is Les Dawson so they are off to have a bath/shower. I am tired after all the preparations I have been doing today, so I am about to put my feet up with a new book for half an hour!

Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Welcome, friends!

Just to say a warm welcome to the Fens for our new followers - lovely to have you, and do leave a comment now and again, please! The blog will hopefully liven up a bit now that I have a working camera again - how I have missed it xx

Yesterday in numbers

Thursday 22nd December

6 chicken pens cleaned out
5 dozen mince pies baked
4 loads of washing washed
3 bottles of sloe gin bottled up (and a wee taste enjoyed!)
2 Christmas cakes made
1 service prepared (at last!)

And today, a new charger arrived for the camera battery, so we can have photos again!! Just in time for Christmas!!

I may be able to come back and edit some appropriate photos into this, but don't hold your breath!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The mince pie recipe

I found the original version of this recipe on the Moneysavingexpert website back in 2008 and have since adapted it slightly to increase the amount it makes, so I am now sharing my version of the only mince pie recipe you will ever need. Forget Delia, Nigel and Nigella - this recipe comes from the next door neighbour of an MSE poster called Researcher!

It now makes 5 dozen mince pies - and you won't have any hanging around!

1.5 lbs of SR flour (yes, SR!)
8oz Trex (white vegetable fat)
4oz lard
6oz caster sugar
2 eggs
100ml cold water (exactly 100ml, not a drop more or less)

I find that this quantity of pastry requires 2.5 jars of mincemeat.

Place the flour and sugar in a large bowl and rub in the fat until it looks like breadcrumbs. Beat the two eggs together and mix into the flour/fat with the water using a knife.

Then use your hands to knead the mixture and pull it all together into a large lump of pastry.

The pastry is very pliable and soft, so I find there is a need to be gentle with it!

Use plenty of flour to roll out a fifth of the piece, and cut out large circles to line the tins. After adding a teaspoon of mincemeat to each, pop on a smaller circle for a lid, and then make holes with a fork in the lid, and brush with beaten egg. Repeat until you have used up all the dough.

I cook these in a fan oven at 180C for about 10 minutes until they are lightly golden.

When I remove them from the oven, I leave them to rest for about 10 minutes before I attempt to remove them from the tins. The original recipe tells you to put a wire rack over the tin and tip them out, but I found that the lids fell off when I tried that, so now I ease them out extremely carefully with a palette knife, but they are fragile when they are hot, so it is better to leave them for a few minutes. I do have the odd casualty which the FH hoovers up, but in making 5 dozen tonight, I released them all whole!

A little sprinkling of caster sugar before serving finishes them off beautifully.

They can be frozen!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Snow is falling

No, not really! But we kind of wish it was, so we made some of these giant snowflakes for Christmas decorations tonight. The YFG and I sat at the table tonight and made three between us.

Do take a look at the link - they are SO simple to make!

Friday, 16 December 2011

End of term!

The girls are getting their bags packed this morning, taking gifts and cards and treats for their friends....term is ending today and holidays just beginning - hurrah!

I am really looking forward to this break from routine and the opportunity to be a little less bound by time, appointments and commitments. It is always good to have some change occasionally!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Cracking up

Marriages, that is. I am so sorry to have to say that another one of my friends' marriages has broken up, and I just don't know what is going on.

In the past year, I have had this news five times, and not one of them was a marriage that anyone could see was in serious trouble. OK, one of them had been grumbling along for a long time, but it seemed like it would go on like that for ever.

Is it a sign of the times we are living in now? Is it a symptom of the financial crisis? Is it that people are realising how short life is, and that they don't want to live in miserable relationships? Do modern couples lack staying power, as the FH seems to think?

In a light-hearted way to conclude this post, these are the FH's top tips for making this marriage of ours last with my notes in brackets:
  • Love your wife and make sure she is your best friend. [Works both ways!]
  • The woman is always right....
  • If she changes her mind, go along with it!
  • Don't complain about the state of the house - she will soon find you a list of things you could do to help.
  • Let her control the money and ask for pocket money regularly. [Only do that if she is good with money! Insist on regular reports on the financial health of the family - he gets a weekly update.]
  • Pull together in the same direction - share common life goals and outlooks. [I wouldn't have got on with a spendthrift!]
  • Present a united front to the kids - and communicate often about the kids.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Powerful words

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied -
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine -
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand

I think that this is by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, but I found it in Mission Praise, number 1072. We sang it on Saturday at the Recognition Service and I found the words so powerful and moving that I just had to share them.

I also want to share the full text of a verse I found a reference to on Fostermummy's Beautiful Life blog. The Bible I am using is a different one, so it is a slightly different translation.

Exodus 14.14
The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still (NRSV)

So the song mentions of our devotion to God, and the Bible verse reminds us of his powerful love and care as he watches over us.

Sounds good to me!

Getting into the spirit

I spent some time on Saturday and Sunday evenings writing Christmas cards, so I have to head off to the Post Office for stamps today! There are also some wee parcels for a few folk which will need to get posted soon, too.

This weekend has really helped with the Christmas feeling. Saturday was lovely, as I went to a Recognition service for a friend who has managed to make it through Faith & Worship and become a fully accredited Local preacher. The service was very moving, and it was good to catch up with some other friends from across the circuit. I sat next to an older gentleman, who has been a LP for over 50 years, I believe, and he was telling me how he manages to take a service every week, without ever actually writing a sermon down on paper. He puts all the preparation time in, but it is all in his head! He is a retired baker, and whenever he comes to our chapel, he brings along the most beautiful hand made cream creations - eclairs, etc!

After that, I came home to find that the others had had a good afternoon at the village bazaar and managed to find a few customers for books. Then we got together again to go to a friend's house for a drink and a few nibbles and a chat. It was a good hour and a half, and the FH actually stayed a bit longer as he was very interested in the alterations that the family has recently done to their house. The girls and I had to nip off as I was babysitting for another friend, so their children came to stay for the night.

The girls and the other two had a lovely evening, playing on the Wii and watching DVDs - the FH and I soon retired upstairs to watch TV in bed with a cuppa!

Yesterday morning, I quietly got up and went to church, and left them to it!

In the afternoon, I made a Christmas cake - a very simple one which I got from here - with just three ingredients: SR flour, dried fruit and chocolate milk. It is going to be wrapped up and stored for a week now, and then I will attack it with some marzipan next weekend. I have used that recipe before, and it was well received. [Edit on Monday afternoon to report that the cake has stuck irretrievably to the paper and when we attempted to remove the paper, huge chunks of cake came away too. I may now have to go back to the Christmas cake recipe I have used with reliable results since 2000, and this concoction may have to become Christmas cake truffles - I have seen a recipe somewhere!]

I have also written all the Christmas cards this weekend, ready to get them in the post today. The girls have wrapped all the parcels, so I need to have a rummage through them to find the ones I need to post!

Hope you have all had a good weekend, but don't ask about the tree - that's next weekend's job!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Fudge recipe link

I was asked on Wednesday night whether I would be making fudge for Christmas again this year, and I have had to search websites this morning to find the recipe - and found it here on the blog, posted last Christmas time. So for ease of finding it again, I am linking to it here! It is a fab and easy fudge recipe, so do give it a go for teacher gifts, and little offerings to friend!

Friday slowdown...

The term is winding down a little now, and I am looking forward to an even slower week next week. Today just holds a brief visit to the Knit & Natter group at church, then taking the EFG to see the dietician at the local hospital, home for a while and then gym tonight. Definitely a slower day than yesterday or Wednesday. I was very tired yesterday after the concentration of the two meetings and driving to Cambridge and back.

Next week's diary is less full, and I am really hoping to get the house tidied and cleaned before the girls break up from school, and to get some Christmas baking in the freezer - not too much for us but a few mince pies to share at church, for example, and to have out when we have company over the holidays, which I know we have planned in on a couple of days.

The job interview for the position at school was interesting. I'm saying no more at the moment, as we haven't quite decided about the person yet! She also has a number of considerations we have asked her to think about so that she is ready to decide if she wants the job should she be offered it.

I have joined in with Sft's sealed pot challenge, although I haven't sorted out a pot just yet, but I have one in mind that I have seen in a shop - a cheap 99p one which has to be opened with a tin opener. I feel that this level of security might be useful, as people here have a tendency to raid my wee tins for change and I don't intend this one to be raidable. I could hide it, but if I do that, I am less likely to actually put money in it, and I really want to fill it up!

Spending this week has been reduced in some ways - there has been less spending, as I intended, on bits and pieces and stocking up on things we have run out of and just can't wait for! On the other hand, I have had to pay £45 for a new pair of glasses for the EFG and £10.50 for the YFG's piano lesson, neither of which I have begrudged as I know exactly where that money has gone and why - it's the odd bits that disappear on a drink and a snack when we are out and about that we must stop! I am working to eliminate that by making sure that I take along drinks and snacks - so it is largely down to me to work on that one. Staying strong about staying out of the shops is also my job, because I have two girls who love to poke around the supermarkets, so I have to keep them out of them!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Wind and travel

The weather forecast is rather wild and woolly all over the UK today but particularly so for those in the central belt of Scotland, so I'm hoping everyone I know up there makes it through the day without any significant damage to their establishments.

Here is not too bad at the moment, but I know that the wind was bad yesterday and we are looking at a lot of rain here today.

I have to be in Cambridge by 9.30am today so that is an early start for me as it will take me just over an hour to get there; I am heading for a venue on the outskirts, so hopefully the traffic won't be too bad. Should be over by 12.30 and I have to dash back to school for interviewing for a fairly senior position so I am required to be there. Course this morning is on Child Protection so I think it will be fairly heavy going - must get brain into gear!

Better go and get the girlies up and at it! Hope you all have a good day x x

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Online shopping

I have had my first delivery from a company called Rosspa which is an online grocery shopping store. It is different from the Tesco/Sainsbury/Asda etc deliveries, because this comes overnight by City Link tracked delivery.

Knowing then that it comes by courier in an ambient temperature van, you wonder what they can bring, but they bring fresh meat, fish, yogurts, cheese, etc, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, cakes, bread, eggs, etc.

I placed the order in half an hour on Monday morning, and it was here by 10.30am yesterday morning! I was very impressed with the quality of the fresh fruit and veg - the broccoli, courgettes, apples, bananas, plums, carrots and sprouts which I ordered are all beautiful, fresh and in the case of the bananas, not over ripe as they are just tinged with green.

Everything was extremely well wrapped and packaged - the bananas were wrapped in cushionwrap and then in a bag whilst the eggs were all individually wrapped in kitchen roll, on a tray, with more kitchen roll over them before another egg tray was placed over them, elastic bands all round and placed carefully in the box with more packaging around them. They made it here without even a crack.

The meat, yogurts, and veg were all packed in polystyrene boxes with ice packs, which are all re-usable here! Everything was still cold, and I was impressed with the system.

Prices are very good - heads of broccoli weighing between 600g and 800g were 39p each, and I was very pleased that I ordered 6 so they are all chopped up and in the freezer now. Bloomer loaves of bread were 59p, and tins of Highlanders Broth, from Baxters, were only 79p. That stuff is difficult to find in normal supermarkets, and over a £1 a tin when it is found, so I was happy to stock up and stash 6 tins away with this delivery. The girls love this, and it makes a good meal with a hot pudding occasionally, although they would eat it daily if they could! They discovered it on our trip to Baxter's Highland Village in Fochabers, and have been enjoying it ever since, whenever I can source it.

Drawbacks? Delivery costs £5.50 for each 25kg package. That is the only one I can find. And there is plenty of justification for paying that: the convenience of the system, the speed of the delivery, the quality of the goods (they are good!), and the prices of the goods, as well. It has been recommended that a good idea would be to place a monthly order, to minimise the costs - I accept that I wouldn't have weekly order, the way that some people have a weekly supermarket delivery. It would also be possible to share a delivery with a neighbour if you each wanted a smaller amount of produce.

It is also a moneysaver in that one is not tempted by all the other distractions of the supermarket!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Loving blogger friends

I was gobsmacked last night to have been tagged by Silversewer over at her blog as a blog award winner - she has nominated me as a winner in the Liebster Blog award. It's a kind of "passing on the good feelings" award, where each winner nominates 5 more, but I think it is a lovely thing to do, as it shares links to blogs for readers and you the reader find out more about the blogs that I like, and why I like them!

So first of all, I have to say a huge thank you to Silversewer, over at her blog - do pop over there and check out daily life in Scotland, sewing and gardening, and cooking on a budget.

And now to nominate my top five picks:

This is a little difficult, as I don't want to re-tag people who have already won, and we are limited by the rules to blogs which have less than 200 followers, so there are some blogs which I would have chosen but which have too many followers! There is another I would have chosen too if I could have had a longer list, but that blog is private, and there are a couple more who don't accept awards! This isn't easy...

BUT my top five blogs which fit all the criteria:

  • Wannabe Sybil's Witterings where WS talks about her son, Little Bear, and what he is up to. He is an endearing little chap, and the tales are lovely. Family life in a big city, on a budget, using public transport - I love it!
  • A Trifle Rushed is a predominantly cooking blog with some fantastic recipes, and it is beautifully written.
  • my beautiful life is one woman's journey through life, the ups and downs, and she is frugal, spiritual, and shares the trials and joys of life. Well worth a read.
  • The Thrify Garden/Home I enjoy because of the cooking, baking and gardening posts. Mrs Mac shares family life and frugal times.
  • The Farm at the Back of Beyond 2011 is Gentle Otter's tale of life as tenant farmers in deepest rural Perthshire, and she writes so eloquently of the struggles of life as well as the positives that it makes me cry at times, but my love for Scotland makes me deeply ashamed that people would have to live in these conditions in the UK in 2011, and I support her quest for Land reform in Scotland, and I have written to MPs and MSPs about their situation.
I have to share the rules now:
  • Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
  • Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blogs.
  • Copy and paste the award onto your blog.
  • Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
  • Have fun!!
Come on over and pick up your awards, and readers, please have a look at the blogs I have nominated - they are all great!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

What a day!

I can't begin to express the range of emotions I have been through today!

The service this morning went well - the sermon went down well and the service was well received, and some of the congregation from the village came along to the service as well, as there was no service here this morning due to there being a carol service this afternoon. It was lovely to share the service with the two congregations, who mingled well.

We had taken the EFG to help a friend with some painting scenery for the Guides Christmas performance before we left, and so we went to collect her on our return to the village. Our friend opened the door and I thought something awful had happened by the look on her face - and I was right: she and her husband have split up. We spent some time with her and her little girl, before coming home to grab some lunch, and then dashed back to the village to pick up an old lady of 95 to go the Carol service. That went well, and all 9 readings were done beautifully - we had a microphone out so that the children could be easily heard, as some of them have quiet voices. Tea and fruit cake/mince pies afterwards made in that bit more special, and we were there until nearly 5.

I heard today of another friend whose marriage is looking rather rocky due to financial struggles and strains, redundancies and strife in general.

It's been a very up and down kind of day, and I feel rather useless in that there is little I can do to help these friends, apart from being there for them. I've got to start thinking of the week ahead now, and that begins with ironing the school uniforms, as usual. But my prayers will be a little more fervent tonight and for some time whilst I know that these dear friends and their families are in such turmoil.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

It's ready!

Yes, finally, I've written it and I am off to bed now! Toodle pip - sleep well.

Sermon ponderings

I went to Sainsbury last night and bought some trashy magazines, the sort covered in stuff about losing weight for Christmas, what to wear for all those Christmas parties, making the best Christmas cocktails, 200 presents under £100 etc - food for thought for the sermon I still have to get down on paper.

The gospel reading is John the Baptist, wandering the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord, so I am thinking about the way the world is preparing for Christmas, and whether we as Christians are preparing the World for the coming of Christ.

Still more thoughts to ponder, as it will be this evening before I get a clear slot to get this on paper, but it is coming together!!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Frosty start to the day

It's definitely getting colder here now. I'll be bucketing the water down to the chicken runs this morning as the hose pipe will have frozen up overnight...must think of a plan to avoid that, somehow.

Today is looking busy - craft club at chapel this morning till 12, then our first Worship Lunch from 12 -1 which I am helping to run. Got to help the FH sort and pack books for a sale at a local school this afternoon - setting up from 2.15pm, and then I'll pootle off to pick up the girls and go to gymnastics until 7.30pm. Thank goodness they have left over enchiladas for their tea tonight, so I don't have to cook. The EFG might get dropped off to help the FH instead of coming to gym, but I'm not sure what she is doing yet.

Last night's plans went awry and the sermon didn't get written. It obviously isn't going to get written today either, because there just isn't going to be a block of time spare. Unless I do it late tonight...unlikely. BUT I do have ideas going round in my brain so all is not lost; there WILL be a sermon by Sunday, never fear!!

Better get started on those chooks - see you later :-)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Making progress

I have a service outline, I have hymns and prayers....just need the sermon now! Tonight's work.