Thursday, 28 December 2017

Midwinter Pause

Hello! Everyone OK? Did you survive Christmas? Ours was lovely but I notice that I am relaxing more and more with each day that goes by. Christmas is wonderful but it's also exhausting, and I didn't even have to cook the big lunch.

My mother and father in law travelled down from Durham to spend some time with us and it was so nice to see them, and especially to watch the children bask in the glow of grandparent attention. We spent Christmas Eve pottering around the house, with myself mainly in the kitchen; boiling and roasting a ham, cooking a turkey crown and attempting a gingerbread house. It didn't get off to the most auspicious start, since the ready made kit I bought was broken in places. I repaired it with icing but the biscuit was starting to soften quite badly. Once Bella and Angus had decorated it, I left it for a day or two and hoped it would harden before I assembled it. But it didn't really, and the whole thing collapsed under it's own weight before I could even get a photo of it.

Christmas day was a blur of unwrapping gifts, eating, and trying to stop Ziggy stealing the turkey. My mum hosted lunch and excelled herself as usual. She does a mean Christmas lunch, and never even looks that hot or stressed, and everything is always delicious. Boxing Day, always a day I prefer, was calmer, with a walk on the beach then home for turkey and ham pie followed by cappuccino pavlova, before watching a film in front of the fire. I got out my embroidered napkins and it was so nice to use them, if only for one meal.

Yesterday, we woke to a dusting of snow. Nothing dramatic, but the first snow fall we've had since we moved here three years ago. Angus was so excited. He was out of bed, dressed and downstairs pulling on his wellies in about thirty seconds, before going outside to walk footprints all over the back garden. His delight was infectious, and I got a kick out of seeing our usual views transformed by the snow. But it also made me sad that he doesn't really remember any of the heavy snowfalls we experienced when we lived in Leeds. I hope we get at least one good snow this winter. I bet we don't though. Sadly, the unexpected snow, even though it was all melted by lunchtime, meant my in-laws left a day early as they were worried about the long drive home. 

Today was cold, frosty and sunny, and tonight is supposed to be the coldest night of the year. I spent most of today at home, sorting out presents, putting things away, doing washing, vacuuming, clearing out the fridge. We have more guests arriving on Saturday so tomorrow I need to start thinking about that -  planning meals, shopping, getting the spare bedroom ready again, making the house presentable. 

Father Christmas was kind this year. New nightwear, jewellery, cookery books, clothes - including one of those fantastic blanket scarves that are so toasty - and a lot of chocolate were all wonderful but my favourite gift is this pair of slippers, from John. Ziggy destroyed my other ones, and I badly needed a new pair. I adore these. They are so warm and comfortable. I did drop very heavy hints - they are from here

He also gave me some scented soy candles and matches pretty enough to earn their place on the mantel from the excellent The Botanical Candle Co.

I thought you would all like this beautiful print, a gift from my parents. from local shop Winter's Moon. The black background sets of those plant shapes and colours so well.

And this necklace from my friend Charlotte is from a etsy seller I'd never come across before, but I think I'll be looking there in future. Mustard, grey and navy, my favourite colours.

Oh, and Ziggy has a smart new Harris tweed collar, isn't he looking handsome in it?

And now we are entering one of my favourite times of the year. Apart from friends coming to stay this weekend, I don't have a whole lot planned over the next week. There will certainly be walking, reading and sitting in front of the fire. I am almost finished with Bella and Angus's Christmas New Year's gifts, and we might go to the cinema at some point. (I really want to see Paddington 2 before it stops showing.) I will certainly get out a jigsaw or two and eat up some Christmas cake. But that's about it. A midwinter pause. 

Sunday, 24 December 2017

All the Christmas Feels

The last week has passed in an exhausting, festive blur and while it's been fun, I'm ready to stop now. We finished work and school on Thursday lunchtime. My colleague gave me a manicure after work and I was feeling bold so I chose to add glitter to my nails. I rarely paint my nails (the drying time interferes with crafting) but I love this bit of Christmas sparkle. Then we got dressed up and went out for our staff Christmas party which was brilliant fun. It's so nice to get dressed up sometimes, and see all my lovely colleagues in their beautiful outfits when we usually see each other in our everyday work clothes. 

Friday and yesterday were industrious and productive. John took the kids and the dog out for a couple of hours so I could clean the house, which was in a pretty disgusting state. I did enjoy this brief moment of solo housework and tidying up the piles of crap that accumulate all around the house when we are busy. I get so little time alone, to myself, and I treasure it, even if I am steam cleaning the floors. The Big Food Shop was delivered, then I went to Waitrose to collect the turkey and ham and buy everything that was out of stock in my order. I have done five loads of washing and a large pile of ironing. The gifts are wrapped, but they won't be put under the tree until tomorrow morning because Ziggy will, without question, rip them all open if we do. Our Christmas tree is currently dressed in a unique style in which all the baubles and decorations are on the top third of the branches, so badly does Ziggy want to get to them all. The monkey. I do love him though - he is snuggled up against me right now, snuffling and snoozing, like a noisy velvety hot water bottle. While his blue eyes have faded, his fur is still so, so soft. It's lovely. 

I have baked, and then baked some more. Most of this was done last weekend. Do you remember the little baked bean tin Christmas cakes I made back in November? Well I gave them a little festive icing.

I bought ready rolled marzipan and fondant icing and just cut out disks in the same size as the cakes.

Then I finished them with a little ready made edible cupcake topper. Aren't they adorable? Anything miniature is always appealing to me. I initially made these for my grandparents but they also made excellent teacher gifts along with a jar of chilli jam and a bag of peppermint bark.

The peppermint bark I made exactly the same way as last time, and made sure there was lots leftover for us. 

 And there was just enough marzipan and icing left over to ice our Christmas cake. I don't usually bother but it seemed a shame to throw the leftovers away, and I only iced the top.

Finally, I made a Yule Log. I haven't made one of these for a few years and I'd forgotten how much fun they are to decorate. They are much easier to make than you would think - I followed the recipe in Nigella Christmas - and totally delicious. We ate half for dessert last night and will finish it tonight. 

If all that sugar looks a bit much, don't worry, we have fruit in the house. Don't the clementines look beautiful with their green leaves still attached?

But now, I am stopping. My in-laws arrived yesterday afternoon and there is not a lot more I can do to prepare for Christmas, so It's time to enjoy it. I have made my peace with the fact that, for the first time ever, Bella and Angus's crocheted toys are not going to be ready for tomorrow. It doesn't matter. They don't mind. They will have lots of other things to unwrap and we are calling them New Year presents now. I felt guilty for a while but I'm over it. I can't do everything. 

I think we'll take the dogs for a walk this morning (my in-laws have a Jack Russell) and then maybe go out somewhere for tea and cake this afternoon. Or just chill at home, I'm not sure. I've got prosecco in the fridge, chilling, and I bought some Chambord so I can make myself a kir. It's my Christmas Eve tradition.

Merry Christmas friends! I hope you all have a happy, peaceful time with lots of laughter and good food. No doubt I'll be popping back here before New Year so say hello. 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Frosty mornings and birthday cake

Bella turned eleven on Monday. This feels like more of a milestone birthday than any before, although I don't really know why that should be. I think it's the knowledge that her time at primary school is gradually coming to an end and, with that, a distinct era of her childhood. She is very definitely still a child - reading, playing, doing all the things she always did - but so self sufficient too. She gets herself up and ready for school, makes the packed lunches, organises her school work, reminds me to take certain things in on certain days. I haven't been needed to wash or style hair in months. I don't know where she gets her self motivation from but I'm proud of her.

Her gifts included clothes, Lego, books, toys and stationery. She chose not to have a big party with her friends this year, but wanted to go shopping then out for lunch to Wagamama, which we did. On Monday night her cousins and my family came round for tea and we sang Happy Birthday to her then. Her cake was, at her direction, chocolate marble sponge cake. This proved fairly easy: I made some plain vanilla cake batter, then the same again just replacing about a quarter of the flour with cocoa powder. I dolloped equal amounts into the cake tin then roughly swirled it around. It looks a lot more impressive than it should. Icing was plain buttercream with gold dots, topped with a cake topper I ordered from Etsy at the last minute. It was all good, and not too stressful.

Thank you for your thoughts on Christmas stress. I think, as some of you astutely pointed out, that these kinds of pressures are the flip side of the coin that is having a full and busy life. I have a lot of people to shop for, a lot of gifts to wrap, but then I am blessed with a big, close-knit family and dear friends. I have meals to plan and food shopping to sort out and a lot of cooking to do, but I will have a house full of guests and meals full of chat and laughter and wine. My house seems to endlessly need cleaning but we have a puppy. The washing...well, I can't think of anything positive to say about the amount of laundry I seem to do on a daily basis, not to mention the ironing. 

The weather has been lovely these past few days - cold, crisp and sunny, with some beautiful frosts. It's my favourite kind of winter weather, short of snow, which we rarely get down here. I heard tonight that the weather forecast for Christmas will be wet and mild. The worst kind of winter weather. Throw in "windy" to that combination and I'll just stay indoors for the rest of December.

We have one more day of school, one more get up, one more morning rush. Tomorrow, after work, I'm having my nails done, then walking Ziggy, then a hot shower before putting on my only little black dress and going out for our work Christmas party. I have some hot pink tassel earrings and new shoes. I'm probably going to drink too much and I'm definitely going to do some bad Mum Dancing. I can't wait.