Friday 29 December 2017

Finally succumbing to the sales

I'm sure I'm not the only one whose email inbox is full of fantastic sale offers from any website I may have ordered from online over the last year.  Special codes, extra discounts on the discounts, free postage and packing ...

I can't tell you how many things I've almost bought.  How many things I've clicked on, added to a basket and then never gone through to actually buy.  I think at the back of my mind I knew they would just be impulse buys that I was just buying because they were at a greatly discounted price.  But there was one thing that I had seen on the website and fallen for.  Something that I knew I would get a lot of use out of, and would never, ever have paid full price for.  It was from a brand which has a shop in our home town.  And my niece works there.  So when I popped into town yesterday and popped into the shop, it really was just to say 'hi' to her.  Or was it? πŸ˜‰

'We've got some great things in the sale' she said. 

'I know, I've been looking on line'. 

'Some things that were 25% off have just been marked down again to 50%'


Next thing I knew I was walking out with this little beauty in my hand ...

And inside it was the softest, warmest sweater that you can imagine.  I just love the colour.  I mean, it was still expensive, but not as over the top pricey as it was when it was full price.

If they keep reducing prices, I may have to pop in and say hi to Kirsty again ...

Wednesday 27 December 2017

The one where we got more snow

The house is strangely quiet.

Both 'kids' are at their in-laws.  Paul's just taken his mum home and it's just me and the dog.  It feels like it's a long time since we didn't have anyone else around.  

After the fiasco with Paul's birthday celebration that had to be cancelled due to snow, I should have known that I should expect the unexpected.  This is what happens when I try to be organised.  The universe is trying to tell me that the more I try to be organised, the more fate will step in to pull the rug from my feet.

The first glitch to my well rehearsed and organised timetable for Christmas Day was very welcome indeed.  We hadn't expected to see Jon and Sophie on Christmas Day as they were spending the day with her family but they were super organised and ended up travelling an hour before they thought they would, so decided to pop in and see us on their way.  So my time plan went totally to pot, a bottle of bubbly was opened to celebrate, I forgot to keep an eye on my timetable and dinner ended up being a fair bit later than expected but who cares when it meant we could have the whole family together on Christmas Day - if only for an hour!  And we got to do our annual whole family group shot

Ninety years between the oldest and the youngest - quite an achievement! 

You can imagine who was the centre of attention for the whole day - he was so good but totally unaware of why he suddenly had all these new toys to play with!  

Boxing Day we were all together again, and that meant family games 

By the look on everyone's faces, I'm not sure that I was describing what was written on my clue card very well!  In the evening, Rachel, James and Leo left to stay the evening with his sister as they were spending today with his family.  I'm hoping they'll be able to travel back as planned this evening as when we looked out the window this morning we saw this

More snow!  It seems to be stopping now but it's been snowing constantly for about 6 hours. One member of the family couldn't wait to get out in it

But again, the unexpected happened and Sophie and Jon's plans were put back and they ended up staying here until after lunch instead of leaving straight after breakfast.  They were desperate to get a good snowy walk in before they left as when it snowed last time, they got very little where they live in London.  Of course, being unprepared for this weather they didn't have any suitable clothing so I had to quickly go in the garage and find spare wellies, warm waterproof coats, hats and gloves. 

I think fate is trying to tell me that my new year's resolution should be to stop trying to be organised, because the minute I think I know what's happening, something crops up to prove me wrong! 

Thursday 21 December 2017

Counting down

I thought I'd share a photo of the few decorations that Leo hasn't seen fit to rearrange on my tree 😬 We've had him here most days this week for one reason or another and he's certainly kept us on our toes.  At almost 16 months he's a bit too little to understand what's coming, but I know that he will be very excited when he sees all those boxes that he's got to play with.  The new toys will be enjoyed later but boy, does he love a box!

I've been sorting out the presents this afternoon and out of the loft came the good old faithful Santa sacks.  They are 30 years old now and I was tempted to get some new ones that were a little more classy but there are so many memories attached to these that I didn't have the heart to replace them.  

The shops in town have all started their sales which is a) annoying if you've bought something for someone full price and it's now 50% off and b) tempting ...  I'm sure everywhere used to wait at least until Boxing Day didn't they?  I've been waiting to replace a few things in my wardrobe in anticipation of my early retirement next year (not going to be needing those boring black trousers, sensible tops and jackets any more!) and several times I've almost clicked on 'add to basket'.  I can't see me getting past the next few days without buying something ... I mean, come on, 50% off ...

So tomorrow will see me getting up early and heading off to Tesco to stock up on vegetables for the big day and the ever growing list of things I need to finish off dishes that I've prepared in advance and frozen.  I keep reminding myself it's only for two days and we don't have hoards of people coming this year!  

Is everyone else organised and prepared?  And why do I think that I'm too organised, there must be something that I've forgotten?

Sunday 17 December 2017

It's a wrap

I wish I was better at keeping to my good intentions.  In so many aspects of my life!  

Last year, as always, I found myself the day before Christmas frantically wrapping up gifts, hoping that the sellotape would last until the final one was done, running out of gift tags and enthusiasm.  'Next year' I declared 'I will wrap presents as I buy them.'  {ahem} Well, that hadn't happened, and whilst the rolls of paper and matching tags were bought early on, while all the stores were doing their 'buy 3 for the price of 2' offers, no cellophane paper was removed from the rolls despite the occasional present buying bought.  I did make a start on wrapping last week when I was meeting up with someone who I wouldn't see again before Christmas but the pile of packages was growing and enthusiasm to wrap was diminishing.

Today we woke to freezing fog.  We were having no visitors for lunch and I decided to take scissors to paper and make a start. 

Has anyone else noticed how long it takes to wrap presents?  I know I was trying to cook a full on roast beef dinner in between gifts but it took me the whole morning.  First tags were written in best handwriting, with a meaningful message, the final ones were a little less legible and a little shorter in comment.  But hey, I'm nearly done πŸ˜€ Just a few more to do and then I can just get to grips with prettying them up with ribbons and bows.  It also makes me realise that I have actually finished all present buying - with a week to spare!  

The school that I work at finishes on Tuesday lunchtime πŸŽ…πŸŽ‰πŸŽ„which gives us a full two weeks off work.  Strange to think that if I stick to my plans to leave sometime after my 60th birthday, I won't have too many more months to work - ever.  It feels like a big decision and I really can't decide when to go.  I won't go on my actual birthday, and when you work in a school you kind of feel like to you need to leave at some meaningful time like the beginning of the Easter holidays, or May half term and it's really weird to think that once I've made my decision, that's it!  There'll be no excuse for not blogging more regularly then, will there?  

Monday 11 December 2017

The best laid plans ...

When I last blogged I was fully organised for a family gathering to celebrate a big birthday.  How easily plans can be destroyed.  Because although I had a fridge full of food and drink, balloons and banners ready, the weather fairies had a cunning plan to teach me a lesson ...

it snowed.

And we all know what that means in the UK.  The world as we know it stops turning.  At first it was all fun and games

Especially if you are an over-excited dog.  It took about half an hour to defrost her paws once we got home but she had the best time over the park.

Then one by one various strands of the day started to unravel.  Paul's mum, who is almost 91, did not want to travel.  The thought of leaving the warmth and safety of her house was not appealing (and to be honest, we wondered what the journey may be like).  

Then my son phoned to say that there was a signal failure on the train line and all trains between London and our area were cancelled.  So there was no way for him and his wife to get here.  They sold their car when they moved to London as a) there's nowhere to park it where they live and b) public transport is so much better in and around the city (it's just when you try to travel to the outer reaches of icy Hertfordshire in December you have problems!)

I normally make all family birthday cakes myself but on this occasion I thought 'No, I'll order a personalised one as it's a special birthday'.  It needed to be picked up Sunday morning.  My daughter offered to go and get it for me.  She then rang to say they couldn't even get their car off the driveway.  I'm not particularly confident at snow driving so I asked Paul to take me down the town.  It was a bit tricky getting out of our cul-de-sac but we felt that surely it would be better once we got onto a road which had had a bit more traffic on it.  How wrong we were.  We got about 1/4 mile from home and decided it was a stupid idea and there was no urgency to get the cake especially as his actual birthday isn't until Tuesday.  So we pulled into a side road to turn round.  Or should I say, try to turn round.  The car was having none of it.  We were well and truly stuck.  Two families who were walking down the hill kindly offered to give us a push and Paul and I changed places so he could get out and help and I would be in the driving seat.  Let me tell you now that trying to drive wearing wellington boots is not a good idea.  There was a quite a bit of wheel spinning, a few false starts but then I was slowly moving - to the applause of our good samaritans - but with very little control over the steering.  Then it was decision time.  Do I risk stopping to allow Paul back into the car and driving seat or do I try to keep going slowly and get home?  I decided to see if I could at least keep it going around the roundabout which leads to the estate where we live and once round that I found a clear patch of road which had been sheltered from snow by an overhanging tree.  Hazard lights on, I waited and shortly afterwards I saw the figure of Paul walking tentatively on the icy pavements.  Once we had our experienced bad weather driver back in the driving seat we were on our way again and all was ok until we tried to get back onto our drive.  The snow had drifted up onto the pavement and we simply could not get the car up the kerb.  We were now literally outside our own house but blocking the road!  A quick trip to get shovels out the shed and we were digging ourselves back home.  An hour after we set off - and we had barely travelled a mile!

It certainly wasn't the way the day was mapped out but at least we know we'll never forget the time we tried to celebrate Paul's big birthday!  Fortunately our daughter and family live within easy walking distance of us so we did manage to have a partial celebration. And there was certainly more than enough food and drink!

Saturday 9 December 2017

How big is big?

On Tuesday my husband will be celebrating his 'big' birthday
Doesn't seem that long ago that we were considering 40 to be the 'big' one, now look what we've got to!

We're having a family gathering tomorrow for Sunday lunch so I've been busy today cooking everything that can be made in advance.  I feel like I've not sat down since breakfast but it is good to know that tomorrow I can relax, have a glass or two before lunch and know that everything just needs reheating.  Catering for our clan isn't as easy as it was - our grandson has milk and soya intolerance and egg allergy so we have to be careful of how we cook things.  I've made a lovely big beef casserole that we'll have with lots of veggies and I've got a fab recipe for egg free brownies that are made with oat milk, honestly you'd never know they were a 'healthy option'!  I'm trying a new dessert for the grown ups - the birthday boy saw a recipe in this month's Waitrose magazine for a forest fruit trifle with an Eton mess topping.  It's currently chilling in the fridge and looking rather delicious.  The custard part of it is made using condensed milk along with normal milk and tastes  

But the littlest one in the family isn't the only one in the family who is needing special catering.  His mum has had to watch what she eats as she was breastfeeding and if he couldn't have cows milk, then she couldn't either and she also gradually cut down on the amount of red meat she was eating until she stopped all together and now she is practically vegan! Fortunately my son recommended a lovely red lentil dahl recipe that cooks in coconut milk and has spinach leaves added right at the end so that's going to be made in advance too.  I do like entertaining when I can feel organised in the kitchen!

The weather forecast is getting progressively more ominous and it looks like snow is on its way overnight and during the morning.  It would be nice if we had a good crisp covering of snow and could go out on a long winter dog walk in the afternoon to walk off all the calories!  And boy I have some calories to lose.  I've been out to dinner three times in the last 4 days. And I have not been particularly careful in choosing something 'healthy'.  Let's not kid ourselves, I haven't been healthy at all.  We went up to London on Wednesday,; we were a little early for our table so had a drink at The Grocer.  Inside it was packed - lots of Christmas meals being enjoyed - so we took our drinks and sat outside, in comfy chairs with blankets and patio heaters around us.  Seemed very strange to be drinking outside on a freezing December evening.  

Then we went onto Hawksmoor for a lovely steak dinner - not to mention the best ever triple cooked chips.  We went with our friends M & R.  When I moan about my husband having a birthday so close to Christmas, it's not as bad as M's.  Christmas Day.  Must be the worst day of the year to have a birthday.  They have a tradition where her husband cooks lobster the day before her birthday as a special meal, and Hawksmoor serve lobster so we just brought her 60th celebrations forward a little bit.

Just to bring this food and drink edition of the blog to an end, we went to a local Indian restaurant last night with friends and the restaurant has just opened up a Gin Palace in what used to be their bar area. I have found a new favourite gin.  Pinkster.  O.M.G.  it was devine.  Served with fresh raspberries and a sprig of mint.  Wow.  Don't take my word for it, if you get the chance, try it!


Monday 4 December 2017

Let the magic begin

A certain young man met a certain famous old gentleman at the weekend.  Their first proper meeting, although the older of the two did visit the younger last year but he was far too young to understand what was going on.  Hopefully this year will be more magical as their little family start to make their own Christmas traditions.

We have a lovely English Heritage property close to where we live, Audley House, and they have a miniature railway for children.  This time of year it becomes the Santa Express, which goes deep into the woods of Audley End Estate until you find Father Christmas in his Winter Wonderland.  Little boys and girls who are on the 'nice' list, are given a present.  Fortunately our young man met the criteria and has a new toy to bring home with him.  It's lovely to take a break from the commercialism of Christmas and see the magic through the eyes of a child.  I know he's far too young to remember this in years to come but I know that it's stored deep in the memory banks of his mum and dad!

Taking a break in the midst of being busy has been on my mind recently.  When I was at school, and studying for my O level (GCSE) in Domestic Science Cookery we used to have to make a time plan for everything that we cooked.  Part of that time plan had to include 5 minutes tidying up time every 20 minutes or so.  Not just so that we weren't working in total chaos, but just so that we had built a little break into a strict timetable so that if we did find ourselves running behind, we could forget that we were supposed to be washing up and had time to catch up.  It's not such a bad idea to build into all parts of our lives is it?  We make ourselves think that there is so much we 'have' to get done, and wind ourselves up into a big ball of stress because there's still so much to do, but if we had built some relaxing time into our 'to do' lists the whole relaxation thing would feel like a compulsory part of our day!

We have a very busy time coming up, we are either out for dinner or hosting dinners at home for 5 out of the next 8 days.  My waistline is going to pay for this!  I blame the husband who has his 60th on the 12th and seems to be extending his celebrations into most of the week before the actual day.  It will be lovely but I am pleased that after 3 days eating out in a row, we have an evening free before the big family get together at home.  It would have been easy to fill that free evening but I just knew that it would then mean that I had a lot of preparation for the next day to get done by a certain time before getting ready to go out.  I was surprised to hear myself saying 'actually, we really want to see you, but could we perhaps make it the week after his birthday?' and spreading it out. 

It's not only Father Christmas that has important lists to be making at this time of year, but I have a few I need to get starting too - that's this afternoon sorted then!