Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Day Ramblings

A year ago I wouldn't have been expecting to be blogging on Christmas morning as I didn't even have a blog. But here I sit on December 25th at 9.05 on my tod. Even the cat has gone out for a wee. The kids (22,22,19 & 18) were all out last night so I don't expect they will be up very early today. They love going out on Christmas Eve because EVERYONE is home.

 I remember doing the same where we grew up we'd always go out on Christmas Eve and some people would pop into Midnight Mass on the way home too! The other time we all headed home was Carnival week which is in August. It's a fabulous week run by a voluntary committee who put on a ridiculous amount of activities and entertainment from kids kite making workshops and creature hunts on the beach to cocktail evenings and live bands, all squished in one week. It's brilliant and when my kids were small we'd always go 'home' and rent a cottage for a couple of weeks. Some of the locals also take the week off too either because they're helping or there's so much on it's like being on holiday at home. So I'm sure the kids had a great night, there's a half eaten Subway on the kitchen worktop so someone was obviously hungry on the way home. The table is set, most of the food is ready to go, the sofa is swivelled round so they can get to the tree and unwrap pressies, I just need them to wake up!

I've tried to be frugal this Christmas as I'm sure like everyone else too, I'm skint! Not as skint as someone who is homeless or people in war torn countries, I do appreciate that but doing the single Mum thing it is a bit of a stretch sometimes. My Dad said he'd sent a cheque for the kids for £100 and I said 'Great, that'll pay for their lunch!'' But I have split it and given it to them really. There still does seem to be quite a pile under the tree though and the last couple of years the kids have bought me gifts too. We never did the 'pretend' gifts from the kids when they were little or make them 'buy' for each other. If I'd given each child a fiver to buy for all their siblings it would have cost me an extra £60. I like handmade things and when they were little a handmade card was the best thing ever. I knocked up a home made wreath for the front door the other day which is now sagging into more of an oval than a round but hey ho!

I received a parcel in the post earlier in the week (if you followed the Vanessa Vodka Saga below you'll know hers arrived safe and sound too) from my friend Esther. I'd ordered some handmade Christmas decorations from her sister for the kids. I opened the parcel and there were the beautiful hand stitched decs; fat robins, Christmas stocking and reindeer. But there were two other packages too. One tiny one which I opened and it made me cry! It was a pices of pale green worn sea glass with silver wire curled around it and made into a pendant. Weirdly on the windowsill next to me I had a silver chain in a little bag that I didn't know what to do with so the two fitted perfectly. Thank you Esther. The other package had a label on which said 'This has been bought to you by the ancient system of bartering' I had seen Esther's crochet work on facebook - although I have known Esther for many years we live far apart - and she had made some beautiful stripy hats. I had asked her for one and said I didn't want mate's rates, I wanted to pay proper full on price. My sister had seen this comment and had bartered something she had made, I'm guessing a print, so the hat had been made by Esther and 'paid for' by my sister. Honestly I felt such a sense of love and joy at that moment. Proper Chrsirmas spirit in the air.

Later on in the week my mate Sue popped round with her daughter and grandchildren. I met Sue at a Christmas Eve drinks party when my twins were a few weeks old, her girls were 11 and 13 and scooped up the babies and that was that. They used to come down after school and play with them. As they got older they babysat, as they got even older my kids became their bridesmaids and ushers at their wedding and now that 11 and 13 year old and their older sister have seven children of their own so it's like we're going full circle. At the risk of sounding like a disney movie I suppose that is the circle of life. Anyway we had a fabulous morning with Sue and three of the grandchildren; oldest playing a console game with my oldest and the youngest two covering baubles and cardboard bunting in glitter. It was so lovely to have some little children in the house, felt full on festive!

Yesterday my mate Jude popped round for a mince pie and a coffee. She has bought me a present and we don't do presents but we do take the micky out of each other relentlessly so I'm expecting a laugh when I open it.

Later on I have the ex in-laws coming. Mrs Ex In-law loves Christmas and since the ex and I split up we haven't seen them much so I thought I'd get them over. She always makes me a Christmas cake and pudding and the kids love Grandad's sense of humour. I did get a text from the ex a while ago saying 'Do you know my Mum is coming to yours at Christmas?' Well yeees, cos I invited her! We've also got my Mum and her partner too. This year my Mum has started losing her memory which was a shock at first because she's only 70 and a bright, organised spark. Always does the cross words, wins the pub quiz, house is neat and immaculatly organised. But now she can't remember people's names including the Grandkids and many other things but the plus point is she's quite happy. Her old self would have got quite cross about not remembering but this 'new' Mum is really happy and seems very content. So today could be interesting!

Someone asked about Mr S - well we don't live together, he'll be waking up in Bristol waiting for his 3 kids to get up and then he has his parents and nieces and nephews over for lunch. We'll get together on Boxing Day when my kids will see their Dad. It's always a juggle for families at this time of year and compromise is just part of that. The older I get the more I realise it is about the people not the things in life in general. It's about being thankful for what you have got, not what you haven't.

I've seen a few ranting blogs about commercialism and expectations at this time so I've set up a faceyb group called . Handmade Christmas - Keep it Simple  I have been photographing things I've made for a Christmas pdf for next year - or it might even be an e-book if I can get my act together! - so started the group to swap ideas and perhaps barter a bit as Kate and Esther did above. If you want to join in go and have a look.

Well the cat is back in and laying on top of the radiator and the kids are still in bed! Have a fabulous day xx

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Vanessa Vodka Saga

Well I decided to run a little festive GIVEAWAY on facyb cos I'm nice like that. No, really I am! I set up three of my gorgeous vodka flavours on the windowsill with the light behind them to get the whole amazing colour thing going on.   Then posted the pics on facebook and asked people to guess the flavours. I had some great guesses from sage and onion to rhubard, ginger and honey to apple. But no one guessed all three correctly so I went with the funniest answer which was Vanessa White with ''essence of love, a sample (yuck) and Dentist's Mouthwash'' 

The correct answers were Elderberry, Cinnamon and Cranberry - that's the fabulous pink one.


The giveaway was a bottle of one of my home made vodka liqueurs and I chose Elderberry & Blackberry which I call Hedgerow Vodka. I wrapped it in bubble wrap, encased that in clingfilm, another roll of bubble wrap and cardboard and finally brown paper and loads of selloptape. I went off to the Post Office to post it and two other parcels today. There was no queue, I was pleasantly surprised at that and quite pleased because I was nipping out in my tiny lunch break. I popped all three parcels on the counter and said 'Second class please.' She looked at me with raised eyebrows and said 'Oh, they're not Christmas presents then?' What? She seemed to be insinuating that I had the gall to try and sneak some parcels in the post less than a week before the big day and expect them to be delivered right on time. What I wanted to say was 'No, of course they're not you silly woman.' But I just politely said 'No.' She came back with 'Right well what is in them then?'

Now I am old, I know I am, but post (I feel) is quite a personal thing and back in the day it was nobody else's business what I received OR posted. So I find this question a little rude. I told her there were shoes in one, craft stuff in another and then I kind of got an inkling the VODKA was going to be a problem. I said (quite honestly cos that's how I roll) a small bottle of home made vodka. She asked me what alcohol percentage it was? Really? I have no bloody idea love. I'm one of those drinkers who just drinks it. I don't drink and drive so I have no real reason to look at the percentage - obviously my Health Advisor mate will be leaping up and down and shouting at me for not knowing how many units I'm drinking, yeah, yeah, yeah Jude - The only time I do look at the percentage is when I go to the pub and have a few ales and I like to start on a weaker one and work my way up, that's Mr S's theory and I like it.

Anyway, she almost sucked her lip over her teeth and then said actually it didn't matter WHAT percentage it was (why ask then?!) it still needed to be packaged correctly. I said it was wrapped in two rolls of bubble wrap with kind of shrink wrapped clingfilm in between, then cardboard and then brown paper. She said 'but no polythene?' I said no but half a roll of cling film which was looped over the ends every which way you could wrap it and then sellotape. She said 'Well that's not exactly waterproof is it?' I beg to differ. She said that it needed to be in a polythene bag. I repeated that it is in two layers of bubble wrap the first one is encased in cling film which is about as watertight as you can get. She said it wasn't. I bit my tongue and she produced a LEAFLET. She smoothed it out on the counter and read it to me, she then took a pen and asterisked the bits I obviously couldn't comprehend and passed it to me with said bottle of vodka. 

I could not speak, the man on the next  counter looked at me as if he'd been there too. At this point I considered saying 'Oh my goodness, do you know what I've just remembered I put a Poundland bag round it which should hold it all together really well' But I'm not a liar and I'm guessing she wouldn't have believed me anyway. She went on to tell me that Royal Mail scan each and every parcel and if it is not packaged properly they will destroy it. Destroy it. Yes, DESTROY it, and they won't even tell you, you'll have no idea. I expect I would have had some idea when Ms White said 'Oi, my vodka's not arrived.'

So I left. I realised on the way to the car I should have asked her for a carrier bag and a roll of tape and done it there and then but that's bloody hindsight kicking in again. I considered driving to the next Post Office up the road but didn't have time. So I came home and was still fuming so I phoned Royal Mail Customer Service instead. Amazingly they answered really quickly and I asked them to define what POLYTHENE meant in their leaflet as it does not say bag anywhere. The lady understood my frustration (she'd been well trained!) and said it meant a plastic bag. So there we are, a plastic bag wrapped round a bottle of vodka will hold all the broken glass and liquid without it leaking. Isn't that amazing because when I've ever put broken glass in a plastic bag it has usually ripped it, I must be doing it wrong.

The leaflet was fascinating, do you know that you can not post human ashes, safety matches or filth (?!) but guns for sporting use and live creatures, insects and invertebrates are fine.

So Ms White, your vodka is going back to the PO, I shall wrap it in tons of carrier bags and it will take you a week to unwrap. I shall tell the other post office that it is home made elderberry cordial and not vodka. Enjoy!

A day later..... Re-packaged in a bin liner, shoved in a box with those things that look like Wotsits all around it and armed with my correct postage leaflet I headed to my usual post office. I said 'Second class please?' She said '£2.60 please' and that was it. Posted

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Don't be expecting glitter and sparkle just yet!

Hello there, are you feeling festive? This is not going to be one of those blog posts about having made the perfect Christmas Cake Nigella style (go easy on the snow scene love) or all my handmade cards and the turkey I've lovingly raised then slaughtered and had hanging in the garage for two weeks. It's not too festive in my house yet, although the daughter is home from Uni' and she made some mince pies last night. Jamie O's mince pies to be precise. I forgot my daughter was an expensive baker and as I went out the door I shouted 'If we need anything from the shops text me!' I meant eggs, butter, salad, bread, you know, that kind of thing. I get a list of...

  • Creme fraiche
  • Flaked hazelnuts (I don't think they exist outside of London)
  • Filo pastry
  • Normal pastry (Need more information girl)
  • Dried cranberries.
So at about ten o'clock last night she produced these beautiful filo shapes piled with mincemeat (we already had that) and dusted with icing sugar, served with a dollop of creme fraiche on the side. Quite delicious but probably not what you need just before bedtime

He also liked the actual real reindeer but after that made me focus solely on trees. I was all for buying the traditional CHEAP and PROPER old style tree but the kids have grown up with the whole no-drop spruce thing going on from when there was money in this house so yes, you guessed it we've got one of those. Anyway it's been in the pond for a week so it won't be thirsty when it comes in.

The Shed
I sent youngest up into the loft last night to get the tree stand out and he came back with nothing. In some scenarios the boy is a genius but show him a fridge full  of food and he won't see the milk right under his nose. He can always spot pizza though. So I wasn't surprised that he couldn't find the stand. But it turned out he was right and it wasn't there - so this morning I ventured into the 'once was a playhouse is now a shed' and there it was buried under essential - I'll need it one day - bits and pieces. 

Newer and oldish - spot the twisted screws, hefty tree that year!

As I carried it in I noticed the old tree stand from a couple of years ago by the back door - I must get up to the tip one day!

So now it's ready to go up this evening, how exciting! I love doing the tree, I get the Christmas tunes on and pick up all those decs that I've bought over the years or that the kids have made and they all make me smile. We've got the classic pine cones rolled in glitter; Playgroup circa 1998 to White Paper Angel Doilys (Frogwell School) circa 2000 moving right up to glitzy silvered and antiqued baubles and little beaded things from that shop that used to sell all the cushions and candles and went bust. The Pier! (Knew I'd remember it eventually) The thing I love about our decs is they don't match and there are LOADS of them. I don't do much to the rest of the house but the tree is HEAVING! 

When the kids were little I started buying them a dec each every year. The theory was that when they left home they would have a 'starter kit' to take away with them. But I have grown to love these baubles and I'm sorry kids, but I'm keeping them.

BUT by far the funniest festive thing this week was receiving a parcel yesterday. It was addressed to me and I didn't remember ordering anything. I opened it to see this message...

Now I went to Ynot festival in August purely to see The Temperence Movement and if you haven't seen them and like bluesy rock check out  Only Friend then go and buy a ticket, although they are selling even faster than the hottest hot cakes so be quick. 

The festival was ok but the security staff were miserable buggers and I told them so in my online feedback which I also put my name on. I mean if you asked to look in my bag and then just held it and squeezed it a lot and I said 'You've just crushed my crisps' You'd expect a flicker of amusement wouldn't you? Nope, dead pan miserable bugger face. That wasn't the only incident, they were like it all weekend. So, amongst other things all very constructive, I said I wouldn't be back. 

 I think they must have thought they'd try and cheer me up and send me a Ynot hoody for Christmas. How very hilarious of them. I love the #yolo and #The Pogues - I wonder which Fairy Tale in New York insult they think fits me best? Whatever, I am not wearing said hoody.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Welsh Walk

We had a fabulous weekend (after I'd got the Keep it Simple pdf loaded up - in the same titled blog post below if that's what you're looking for)  We set off early on Saturday morning across the Severn Bridge - which I absolutely love, so glad Mr S was driving because I get quite mesmerized by it (and that wind turbine at Reading)  there was a great sunrise behind us which tinged the Welsh sky pink

The Severn Bridge

We headed to the Brecon Beacons and were aiming for a little car park by a reservoir so that we could walk towards Pen Y Fan which is the highest point in the south of Britain. We parked up to find other people already there. Now, Mr S is not a fan of crowded walks which is why we'd set off early (we went to Scotland earlier in the year and were sometimes walking by 7.30 am, I kid you not!) But by the time we'd kitted up they were long gone. It was beautifully bright and sunny and although it was cold I knew I'd be taking my fleece off somewhere up the first hill.

Off we went - he'd warned me there were some boggy bits and just for the record let it be known that I really detest bogs. There were a lot in Scotland - I have no idea  how you can have a bog UP a hill, surely it should all be at the bottom! - but the worst one was in North Wales a few years ago near Harlech; I was cold and we were a bit lost (doesn't happen now with GPS maps and stuff) and we had to walk across this HUGE bog and it just sapped all the energy out of your legs. Every bloody step was an effort. I just focused on a dry stone wall in the distance and promised myself a bit of chocolate when I got there. When I did get there I realised that I'd stupidly bought some Greene and Blacks ultra loads of percent cocoa stuff which did not melt in my mouth like a piece of Dairy Milk would have done. Anyway, I do not like bogs so was pleased to find this walk pretty unboggy.

Up the first hill, quick stop to take off my fleece! - and a bit of a steep last piece where I saw these wonderful rectangular rocks

The views from the top were great but it wasn't the clearest of days and I'm still using my little camera as the SLR is broken so no stunning long distance view pics. It was blowing a gale at the top, well not an actual gale but it was very windy. If you'd put anything on the ground it would have blown away fast. So we donned more layers and gloves and hats. There are no photos of me in THE HAT. I love my hat, it's the best £4.99 I've ever spent. Green and fleece and snugly. But everyone is used to me and big curly hair - sometimes people say 'You know her, the one with the hair' -  so if I tuck my hair in a hat people don't think it looks like me. My best friend actually laughs and Mr S wouldn't take a pic and he said 'I don't want any evidence of you in THAT' Well regardless, I LOVE my hat.

We headed along the top towards Pen Y Fan and it got winder and windier and then  there was a ridgy bit - not ridgy like climbers would call a ridge, but ridgy for me. And goodness me on that bit it was an icy blast. My fingers were going numb and my head felt like I'd eaten several tubs of ice cream it really hurt. Another stop to change gloves for my padded ski type really cold weather ones and add my proper winter coat with hood, over my lovely hat. Mr S did the zip up and sorted my hood out as I couldn't do much with the big fat gloves on.

That hood made such a difference. By the time we got to Pen Y Fan I was warm, the wind had died down and there were LOADS of people everywhere. I hadn't been up there for about 10 years and I was married then and about four stone heavier and I remember letting the dog pretty much pull me up to the top! I took a photo of the poppies from Remembrance Day at the top as I knew a fellow facebooker had taken her children up to lay some there.

We headed back down the wonderful stone path which takes me ages because my knees are just rubbish so I usually say to Mr S 'See you at the bottom' He was heading up the next hill anyway and I was going to take the low road. As I slowly made my way down some lads RAN down the hill next to me, I stopped in absolute awe and watched them. I was tempted to shout 'I hope you appreciate those knees!' as mine were just singing to me but decided that would definitely make me a mad old woman so stopped myself.

I have to say the lower path was just lovely, no people on it, just me. So beautiful to be walking along there on my tod. Unsurprisingly Mr S was waiting for me at the other end, he'd been up and over the top quicker than I'd done the low path but I reckon that was because I kept stopping to take photos. We walked back towards the reservoir and the car with a noisy bunch of 20 somethings behind us discussing how they were going to share their remaining two slices of pizza. They were so noisy we left the main path and headed towards the reservoir buildings spotting this fabulous green reindeer on the way - he's just hiding there until Christmas Eve!

So, a great walk and then back to Bristol and the pub for a couple of well deserved beers and something to eat.