Monday, 31 December 2012

All over, bar the shouting :o)

Well, here we are again, at the end of yet another year.
Looking back at last year's end of year blog, I'm fairly pleased to report that I managed to achieve most of the things I set out to do in 2012. Of course, Shaun ending up in hospital the week before Christmas didn't help me to sail smoothly into the calm & peaceful Christmas I'd planned, but as it's Shaun, what did I really expect, eh ? :o)
So. What did I achieve this year ? Well, I definitely had a bit of luck in my family tree, finally solving a mystery that had plagued me for years. I also did a fair bit in the garden, but unfortunately, Mother Nature wasn't the little helper I'd hoped for. It really was a case of sink or swim for the veggies & unfortunately, most of them sunk & drowned :o(
Cooking more from scratch - well, I think I did OK, but, like my school reports said all those years ago - I could try better :o)
However, the weight thing - FAILED.   Again.
I think I'm destined to remain a well upholstered girl. I may not be the size & shape I wish I was, but it isn't for want of trying. And anyway, I do have a shape. Round IS a shape, whatever anyone tells you :o)
I'm not keen on New Year. I find it quite depressing - as I probably said last year & countless other years before,  I don't see the point in celebrating a new year that's more than likely going to be just as grotty as the one we've said goodbye to. I know it's a pessimistic way of looking at things, but that's the way I am. If you look on the black side, you'll never be disappoionted & if something good happens, well, it's a bonus !! :o)
This coming year is a big one for me - I hit a big number birthday next week & in July, Shaun & I will be celebrating a big number wedding anniversary. Not bad for someone who's really only 12 & has been for most of her life, eh ?!! :o)
Normally, when people wish me a Happy New Year, I usually reply with
but this year, I will try to smile & - with gritted teeth, just like last year - reply
 So, here's to 2013. I hope we all get the answers to things we want know,  I hope we all remain as happy & healthy as possible & I hope we all manage to have some fun & laughter along the way :o)

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Christmas Tree Decorations

Well, here we all are, another Christmas almost upon us & the end of the year just around the corner :o)
As I get older, the years seem to fly by & I can only now really understand my Mum's reply of *Don't wish your life away, it goes quicker than you think* when, as a kid, I'd say things like *I wish I was 13*, or *I wish Saturday would hurry up & come.*   We've all been there, done it, said it, bought the t-shirt & made the video, haven't we ? But, the one thing I have always wished would hurry up & get here, is the day I decorate my Christmas tree :o)
When our daughter was little, we'd wait till she'd gone to bed & then set to. We used to tell her that Father Christmas sent the fairies to decorate the house when we were asleep & that the fairy on top of the tree stayed behind to make sure she was a good little girl :o) The fairy would report to Father Christmas at the end of every day & let him know if she'd been good or not.  We also told her that every time she was naughty, the fairy would take a present away from under the tree. One year, she managed to have MINUS 32 presents . . .   :o)
Anyway, over the years, like so many people, we've gathered tree decorations that have sentimental value. They aren't posh or expensive & when our grandsons were born in 2008 & 2010, I started a little tradition of buying them a tree decoration so that when they're grown, they'll have the beginnings of a collection of their own. I buy the same ornament for our tree, as well :o)
Amongst the baubles & beads, there are also scattered some lovely wooden ornaments, all of them made by Shaun. For the past 3½ years, he's been woodturning & it's been a real life saver for him. As some people know, he became partially paralysed in August 2010 & is now disabled & unable to work. Woodturning has been one of the best things he could ever have taken up - without it, he'd have just gone doo-lally :o)  Most days, after we've been to his various appointments or gone shopping, I get him settled in the *husband hut* - aka the garage :o) - & he spends a couple of hours doing his own thing in there & the pics below are of some of his work :o)
 This bauble is actually made from acrylic & is new this year. It's a white, silver & gold glittery material that really glistens when the lights catch it.
This is made from an off cut of wood that had natural gouge marks through it. Instead of throwing it away, Shaun made it into a little Christmas cracker :o)
 I love this long pendant type of bauble. Another new one this year, it is so lovely to touch. Wood is so tactile.
 According to the instructions, this is a choir boy, but I've always thought it looked more like an angel with a halo, but minus wings :o)
 This Christmas tree was made last year. I love the two tone wood, which, again, is a natural thing. You don't always know what the wood's going to look like when you first see it as a block. Most of the time it's a lovely surprise, but you do get the odd not so good thing :o)
 His first attempt at a bell. Not quite as bell shaped as he'd hoped, but I like it anyway :o)
 A little snowman :o)
 Another type of bauble. The figuring on this one is just gorgeous. It isn't for us too keep though, it's going to a good home where I'm pretty sure it will be appreciated :o)
 Not to be outdone, here is a little Advent tree that I put together for grandsons 1a & 1b :o) I wanted to do something different for them & so I knitted little stockings & baubles to put small chocolates in. Shaun also made me a few small gift bags out of Christmassy material & we hung them on the tree too. The boys loved it & it stops them from trying to swipe the choccy decorations from our main tree :o) Well, it stops grandson 1a who is 4, but grandson 1b, who is 2 & a complete chocolate monster, still gets tempted :o)
Finally, here's a pic of our main tree. It isn't a good photo though - the light was so bright I just couldn't get a decent pic, even with the blinds shut. The tree is covered with the decorations that mean a lot to us, including the large *Christmas kiss* lips that I bought for Shaun way back in 1985; the Father Christmas long johns from an internet friend (Marge) that we got in 2004; the round cross stitched decoration at the top that Val - aka Poppy, from poppys place blog - made for us last year; the small green foam tree that grandson 1a made with his Mummy for us last year & the small Norwegian mitts that arrived in the post this week, that were part of a secret swap & sent to me by my friend, Mary Elizabeth, in the USA.
It may not be everyone's idea of a Christmas tree, to some it might be over dressed, tacky or fussy, but every year, when I put those decorations on, an explosion of memories fills my head & it feels like I'm saying hello to old & treasured friends again :o) I especially love the decorations that are hand made, it means so much that someone took the time to make something just for us :o)
Christmas means many things to many people, so I hope you all have the Christmas you want & that 2013 is kind to you.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Glorious Twelfth . . . but not of August :o)

This morning, we had to be at Canterbury hospital for a 9am appointment. As traffic tends to be quite heavy going into the city & disabled parking at the hospital can be tricky, we left home at 7:45am just to give us the extra time we knew we'd need. We pulled up in the car park at 8:45am - perfick timing !! :o)
Jack Frost had been very busy during the night & into the early hours, so the journey was very cold, but beautiful.
 This pic was taken from Lord of the Manor roundabout, looking towards Pegwell. The sky was absolutely stunning with the sun rising through the dark clouds.
 Another pic taken from Lord of the Manor. It doesn't do the sky justice at all.
 Across the frosticated fields, you can just see Pegwell Bay hotel in the background.
 Heading towards Sandwich, the puddles in the fields were frozen solid.
Not sure what the name of the road is, but this field is on the main road from Aylesham, heading towards the A2.
 The traffic was backed up from the A2,  all the way up to the Nonington turn off,  so I wound the car window down & took a couple of pics. None of them do the scenes any real justice, though. The views were far more beautiful that the photos.
I love frosticated days :o) They're so fresh, crisp & sparkly & they make you realise that Christmas really IS on the way :o)

Monday, 26 November 2012

Christmas Cakes 2012 Part 3 :o)

I finally got round to icing the Christmas cakes yesterday :o) There have been various days over the past couple of weeks when I was going to do them, but life has a habit of getting in the way  & I never managed to get them done. However, yesterday I was DETERMINED !! Nothing was going to stand in my way, I said I was going do them & do them I WOULD !! :o)

I got Shaun settled in his husband hut & then gathered everything together - icing sugar, icing, decorations, ribbon, pins, rolling pin, board, scissors, knife, pastry brush, boiling water & cakes :o)

I decided to use ready made fondant icing which is quicker & a lot kinder on the teeth than Royal Icing :o) After breaking one of my mother in law's teeth with an extra hard walnut in a coffee & walnut cake earlier in the year, I think it was a wise decision !! :o)
Well, it was her fault really - I offered to make her a coffee cake & SHE said - *Can you make it coffee & walnut instead ? I haven't had a coffee & walnut cake in AGES !!* So, being the very good & dutiful daughter in law I am, that's what I did !! :o)
Anyway - I digress - as usual :o)

Because I was icing one big & six small cakes, I divided the icing into 7 pieces & then started rolling :o)
To make the icing stick, you have to brush the top of the marzipanned cake with boiled water. Before doing anything, I put the pastry brush & all my decorations & pins - which hold the ribbon on - into boiling water for a few minutes, to steralise & make them clean & safe.

Place the rolled icing on top of the cake & trim any excess.

Put a blob of icing - made with icing sugar & a drop of boiling water - on to a cake board & place the cake. You can buy Christmas cake ribbons, but I wanted to use the decorative ribbon I already had. Once the ribbon's in place around the cake, pin it in place with 1 or 2 of the pins you steralised earlier.

Decorate how you want :o) I like the plain & simple look, personally, but that's mostly because I can't do fancifications :o)  I don't have the ability or the patience, to be honest :o) I'm also old fashioned/traditional. Christmas to me is red, gold & green, so I tend to stick to those colours.
This is the large cake. The small ones were done in the same way, but the only decoration they have are ribbons around them & a small tree decoration stuck in them. I thought the recipients could eat the cake & then put the decoration on the tree as a little keepsake :o) It saves having a drawful of cake decorations that they won't use, doesn't it ? :o)
Today it's steam-the-Christmas-puddings-& panic-about-parents-coming-to-visit-next-week-&-I-still-haven't-got-a-clue-what-to-get-them-day :o)
PANIC !! PANIC !!! PANIC !!!!  :o)

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Remembrance Day 2012

Are we ever going to learn from history ?
Wilfred Owen
Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Lest We Forget.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Christmas Cakes 2012 Part 2 :o)

I finally got round to marzipanning the Christmas cakes on Tuesday afternoon. I'd tried to find time on the weekend, but it just seemed to slip away & before I knew it, it was Monday again, the start of yet another week of appointments. It would be so nice to have a week or 3 off, but it seems Shaun is in constasnt demand at the hospital, doctor's or clinic. If I never see another medical person again in my life, it will be too soon !! :o)
But - I digress :o)  Back to the Christmas cakes :o)

First, gather your bits & pieces together - rolling pin, pastry brush, apricot jam, icing sugar, marzipan, board to roll it on & most importantly - the cakes themselves :o)

Spoon some jam into a saucepan & GENTLY heat it till it becomes runny. While this is happening, roll your marzipan on an icing sugar covered board. You could melt the jam in the microwave if you prefer, but I like to do it in a saucepan on a low heat. I can keep an eye on it better that way.

Brush the melted jam over the top of the cake - if you are marzipanning & icing the sides, do the same to them, too.

Place your cake, jammy side down, on top of your rolled marzipan. I used natural marzipan, but you can use the yellow coloured marzipan if you prefer :o) You can also place the marzipan on top of the cake, rather than the way I do it, but I do it that way because I find it easier to cut the marzipan to shape & trim away any excess :o)
The marzipanned cake :o) As you can see, I only do the top. I think too much marzipan & icing makes the cake a little too sweet, but it's a personal choice. I don't like marzipan at all, nor do I like a lot of icing, so IF I liked Christmas cake, I'd probably pull it all off & just munch on the cake itself :o)
Top tip: when storing the cake, it can be difficult to get it out of the tin, especially a big cake like the one above. It weighs a TON !! So, put it on the lid of the tin & place the tin over the top. It still keeps the cake fresh but makes it easier to take out when needed. Just remember that the tin is UPSIDE DOWN, so be careful when moving it !! You could always wrap some duct tape or parcel tape around it, just to be on the safe side :o)
Smaller cakes are easier to lift in & out, so just store them in a tin or a biscuit box on greaseproof paper. I use individual bits of greaseproof because it helps you get hold of the right cake.Grab a corner, slide your hand underneath & lift :o)
So, there we are. All marzipanned & waiting to be iced & decorated. It takes at least 24 hours for the marzipan to dry, but I normally leave them at least a week before icing, if not longer, just to be sure.
Part 3 when it's icing time :o)

Tuesday, 30 October 2012


Well !!! Goodgriefalmighty !!! They said the age of miracles was dead, but this morning, when I got back from shopping & was helping 'imself
 out of the car, a miracle happened right before my very eyes !!
*What ???* I hear you cry !! Well, hold on to your 'ats, cos here it comes:
A sucky-up-machine was only in my road, doing what a sucky up machine does best -
One of my neighbours came out at that very moment & crossed over in shock to tell me that she's lived in this road for 27 years & this is the FIRST time she's ever seen the drains cleaned out.
 A true miracle if ever there was one !! :o)
And just to prove it, here are some pics.
The sight that met my eyes :o)
Getting the sucky-up pipe thing in place.
Giving it a good ol' scrub & a suck :o)
A job well jobbed ? Well, we'll have to wait & see what happens
when it rains again :o)
Goodbye Mr. Sucky-Up-Men & thank you :o)
Let's just hope it isn't another 27 years before we see you again !! :o)

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Christmas Cakes 2012 Part 1 :o)

I decided that today was going to be my Christmas-Cake-Making-Day :o) For the past couple of years, it's been a bit of a mad rush around the middle of November to get them made, what with one thing & another - the one thing being Shaun & the other being . . .  yep, you got it - Shaun :o)
Anyhoooo - I gathered together all the ingredients, tins, scales, stripy apron, well worn & grubby cook book etc. & set to :o)
 Top tip no. 1 - always soak your mixed fruit in brandy overnight. Not only does this plump up the fruit & help keep the cake moist,  when you take the cling film off the bowl, you get a nose full of boozy scrumptiousness that reminds you of Christmas :o) 

 Top tip no. 2 - Lining your tins :o) After you've drawn around your tin on greaseproof paper, fold the greaseproof in half to cut. You'll end up with a better shaped circle to line the bottom of the tin :o)
 I had 7 cakes to make today - one large one & 6 smaller ones.
 This really doesn't look very appetising, does it ? :o)
 But, once it's all creamed together & the flour & eggs have been added, it looks much better. I wonder what it'd taste like cooked just like this, with no fruit. I'll have to try it one day - if it tastes half as nice as it smells, I might be on to a winner :o)
 Bung in the mixed peel & glace cherries, along with a good slug of brandy. (Hic !!)
I don't drink, but I do love to make Christmas cakes that have the potential to be lethal !!! :o)
 Whack in all the booze soaked mixed fruit & hope to goodness your arm muscles are strong enough to mix, mix mix . . . dig down deep to the bottom & make sure all that fruit is mixed in thoroughly :o)
 The mix is so thick, the wooden spoon can stand up by itself :o)

 Cake mix poured into the tins & ready for the oven. A slight dip is made in the middle because we don't want the cake to rise to a point.
 The sun was shining brightly through the window, hence the golden glow :o)
 All that leaves is the washing up . . . . sighhhhhh . . .

Followed by top tip no. 3:

 A large cup of coffee & a couple of digestives :o)
Well, I think I deserved them after all that creaming & mixing !! :o)
Four hours later, here they are, all cooked to perfection. Well, almost :o)  The one at the back, on the left hand side seems to have done its own thing & risen a bit more on one side. But, not to worry :o)  When it comes to marzipanning, I'll just take a big knife & slice it level. However, before that can happen,  I need to make a few skewer holes in the bottom of each cake &  over the next week or 2, feed them some more brandy :o)
I must remember to tell the recipients to go easy on their medication for a few days before Christmas - I can't have them all high as a kite, can I ?!! :o)
Or can I ?? :o)  <cue evil cackle !!>
Part 2 when it's marzipan time :o) 

Monday, 8 October 2012

Sun a-rise . . early in the morning . . .

A short blog today - no words needed, really :o)
This was the view from my kitchen door at 6am this morning.

If only we could paint as beautifully as Mother Nature :o)