creating Christmas * day 1…the Advent calendar

Well December 1st is finally here. In some ways I am glad to welcome December and in others I am feeling a mild panic; can I get everything done in time for Christmas, even a simpler Christmas?

For some reason this year my mind is a complete muddle, too many outside things going on and now the new variant news adds to the feeling of disruption and unrest.

Today is the day we reveal the first advent window. According to Google the first printed Advent calendar originated in Germany in the early 20th century with Gerhard Lang. The story goes that when Gerhard was a little boy his mother made him a calendar with 24 small candies attached to cardboard, one for each day before Christmas.

Throughout November I have kept thinking about an Advent calendar and had a look back at previous ones.

In 2012 I made these simple A5 sized calendars for myself and friends using some tiny stamps and different coloured ink pads.

Advent Calendars

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In 2018 I made a series of little cards – one for each day – with a different Christmas activity written on the back…great fun but a bit of a marathon and so very time consuming to stick with the daily cards and fit everything in.

You can read more about each daily activity and all the things I made by clicking on the wording at the bottom of each picture below to link back to the post. Alternatively click on the picture Creating Christmas in the side bar to read previous posts on everything Christmassy.

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In 2019 I decided to try and create a much simpler Christmas and found it was still as much fun. I was given a Pukka Advent calendar with a different tea bag to sample each day. I still made Christmas cards and presents but kept everything quite simple. You can read more about this by clicking on the wording at the bottom of each picture below.

This year I had no plans and no time to make an Advent calendar so imagine my delight when we arrived home from Scotland last night to find this cute little surprise on our doormat from my sister in law.

I could have hugged her. Such a lovely surprise and a great start to the festive period.

Our Christmas will once again be a much simpler affair and although I cannot promise to blog every day I will certainly share all my makes and bakes as the Advent unfolds.

Let the countdown begin……..

dear diary :: the end of November

The last day in November and then December is upon us and the urgency to get Christmas organised begins.  I had intended having much more ‘done’ towards Christmas this year but somehow life has managed to get in the way.

No matter it will be low key this year and it is often the time running up to Christmas that gives as much pleasure as the day itself – it really has become a season over the years.  I love the evocative smells throughout this time – the fragrant spices of cinnamon and citrus fruits wafting through the air, the smell of the Christmas cake baking in the oven and the scent of the real fir tree when it is brought indoors.

When I was little the Christmas tree was brought home by dad on Christmas Eve and we decorated it before we went to bed, whilst mum was in the kitchen preparing trifles and vegetables for the next day.  As I got older the tree was bought earlier and earlier (never earlier than the week before though) then it became an artificial one, but my memory will always be of the anticipation of dad arriving home from work on Christmas Eve and throwing open the back door complete with tree in hand. Magical.

I am wondering already what to put on my Not so Secret Santa wish list.   I am thinking perhaps books – I have on my ‘books I would like to read list’ a number of titles by Persephone books and they are not altogether cheap. A few weeks ago I looked at the lovely ADVENT book in Waterstones, also on my list; hardback and full of stunning photography but there was actually little I would make from it so I decided to cross it off the list as it would be for the gorgeousness more than the content and I am going to be ruthless next year about not buying things that I really don’t need more of. As I have been decluttering more of our stuff recently and intend to do even more in the coming new year I am loving all the extra space I have gained and don’t wish to lose this again by introducing more things I don’t really need.

Looking over last year’s list I found I had asked for various goodies from Neal’s Yard, a mini solar fountain, the box set of Cranford DVDs and some king sized Victorian cloches for the garden.

I have a fancy for putting down the mini solar fountain again for my little blue ceramic dish that I fill with water, as that is something I didn’t receive.  My one concern is a) it is plastic and b) I don’t really need it – I just think they look quite nice.

Or perhaps I will go with a treat – a craft workshop session or a token for a relaxing massage or facial although booking for things in advance at the moment with the appearance of the new variant, does put that into question again.

To be honest there is not a lot I actually need or want but one of the things I would love most to add to my list is TIME – we seem to give plenty away but sadly it is not something you can buy!

We will be leaving Scotland and the beach behind today and probably won’t be back now until January so our temporary caravan will have to be drained down and made winter proof for the meantime. I was disappointed that the Christmas decorations in Stranraer are not switched on yet (and some not actually put up yet) it will happen sometime this week when we are not here. Castle Douglas, the little town we drive through on the way back, is looking very Christmassy and I hope when we stop there for our tea I can capture a few snapshots of the shop windows and maybe, if we are in time, browse a few of the little independent shops.

dear diary :: blowin’ a ‘hoolie’….

It’s been a while I know, and one of the reasons I am writing this post is because we are in our safe haven, our little sanctuary in Scotland…far from the pressures of normal daily life at home.

It has been, as usual, a busy few weeks coming and going to see mum and helping out our daughter with childcare in North Yorkshire and our elder daughter at home.  On the last visit to mum and younger daughter we stayed at my sister’s glam home near my mum’s; it is spacious and beautifully decorated and situated in a lovely little village, I could easily live there myself – apart from the fact that we wouldn’t have the money to even buy a one bedroomed cottage there.  The house price difference between West and North Yorkshire is huge.  Still one can dream.

We celebrated little Sweetie’s third birthday – a small family party at her home – she has spent a third of her tiny life so far in lockdown, at home with mum, the local toddler groups being closed, so has few friends. Her cousin little Freddie and his mum and dad joined us for the day and after playing games and opening presents we all went to the local fish and chip restaurant in Thirsk and had the extended side room to ourselves which was nice.  Being vegetarians we had chips, beans and battered mushrooms – veggie burgers are on the menu but we are not keen of them.

I made the cake – it was the usual disaster.  Sprinkles had been requested so it should have been simple enough but the buttercream had far too much air in it so didn’t go on quite as smoothly as I would have liked and the white chocolate dribbles didn’t dribble quite where intended.  Of course I did it in a rush too, but little Sweetie loved it.

As I predicted the dress did not get finished in time so it will be a Christmas present. Since this picture I have finished the knitting and tacked the skirt to the bodice and all is looking good. The sleeves which if you remember I had to try and alter myself did work out perfectly in the end by only decreasing on the knit rows and not every row as the pattern said.

Mum has been taken to Leeds for the weekend by my sister and her husband (he is able to lift her in and out of the car as she doesn’t have the muscle strength herself to get out).  They are staying at a new hotel just outside Leeds ( she will have one of the disabled rooms to help her get about easily) and from there they will go to John Lewis in the centre so she can see all the Christmassy things.  She cannot come down to stay with us any longer because of the stairs so there is a big hole now for her at this time of year that needs to be filled, as we would take her Christmas shopping and have a trip into Derbyshire to Tissington and Ashbourne.

So whilst mum was being attended to we made our escape to Scotland.  We were met with the bad weather – blowin’ a raging ‘hoolie’ all night; our caravan rocking in the frequent strong gusts but luckily no trees down like the gales of 2010 that took ten large pine trees down in our cottage garden.

It is cosy warm in our temporary caravan as we are lucky enough to have double glazing and central heating but yesterday it was a scramble to get Calor Gas – there is a shortage and our usual stockist in Stranraer sold us one that had the wrong connection so we had to drive the 17 miles back to town to return it.  She was apologetic as they didn’t have the one we needed and we had to take back the empty bottle so that we could try elsewhere, as at the moment you can only buy a new Calor gas bottle by returning an empty one.

We were lucky and found the local shop in a village on the way to town had one left.  It was cheaper by a £1 and much more convenient so we will continue to buy the gas there in future.  So at least some good came out of a tricky situation.

It was the same with the major power cut we had on our last visit to the cottage and we were rejoicing that, although unfortunate at the time, it happened back then and the fault repaired because it would surely have gone in this last storm and it would have taken longer for the power team to get to us with so many people being affected with the wind.  The local garden centre had no power because of a fallen tree and they had been plunged into darkness, could only take cash and the café had to be closed.  We had trees down across the main road and for a time would have been captive on the peninsula as there is only one road back to town down here on the Mull, however it was cleared very quickly, probably by local farmers.

We only have a few days here and I have a little pile of ‘bits’ to look at, financial papers, a bit of knitting, making Christmas plans and catching up with some reading.  I finished The Winter Children – not really my kind of read but I persevered not wanting to abandon it. I have just read Christmas at Thrush Green by Miss Read again – always a favourite at this time of year – there is something so calming about her books where the lives of the villagers seemingly have order and sequence to them like the natural world and busyness is not a word that takes over.

I did the live family Not so Secret Santa draw from the caravan – so we all know who is buying for who now.  I am buying for my eldest daughter, whist DH is buying for my mum, my BIL is buying a gift for me and my brother is buying a gift for DH and so it goes on all around the family each person only buying one gift for another. 

We switched to the Secret Santa a few years ago now as the mammoth buying sessions had got out of hand as our family expanded.  No-one knew what to buy for each other and we ended up with a house full of gifts we didn’t really want and opening all those presents from one another meant there was little time to play games and have fun.

Our version is not so secret…hence the title.  Each person can provide a list of up to ten wishes of things they would like as a gift to the person who is to buy for them (which is different each year – hence the draw).  You can be as specific as you like or opt for a surprise gift or a gift token, (tokens are very popular with my brother and mum).  The gift or combination of gifts must only amount to £25 per person – it used to be £50, but has been reduced to £25 now (reflecting the fact more of us are on pensions or lower incomes). 

Because you list ten items the actual gift or gifts you get is still a surprise as you don’t know which one the buyer might choose to get.  If they are lucky and get your gift(s) discounted then to keep it fair they still have to use the whole £25, the difference cannot be pocketed by the buyer.  Everyone buys for the children as normal; they are not included in the Secret Santa.  It has been a great success and we would not go back.  It has cut down on all the tramping around shops looking for ideas and the expense of parking that goes with it.  And it leaves more time to enjoy the Christmas events that are put on everywhere.  This year we are going to the light show at Temple Newsam.

I still buy little things for my friends or make them as they very much like the homemade craft items.

In normal times and because not all of us could be together on Christmas Day we would have a big family gathering just before Christmas to swap our Secret Santa presents (but not open them).  You try disguising the fact you have bought an ironing board or wheelbarrow in wrapping paper!  We would often use the pub/restaurant where my daughter worked to meet and have sandwiches and home-made chips laid on with mince pies for afters and wear our best santa hats and jumpers of course.

We would play games (this is some of us below playing the guess who I am game)…

and have our musical interlude (whistle blowing and handbell ringing) …..and generally have a fun time. 

Because of Covid we had to have a Zoom party last year and pass presents on as best we could.  This year most of us are going to my sisters for Christmas Day, Covid allowing, so we won’t be meeting beforehand.

I am just starting now on crafting our Christmas – a simpler Christmas like last year, maybe even more so. I will try and keep you all updated as, throughout the run up to Christmas, I make cards and goodies, decorate the house and attend events.

Hope all is well with everyone – time allowing I keep dibbing in and out of the blogs I read to keep up with your news and occasionally I might even get to leave a comment.

Back soon x

dear diary : November already

“How silently they tumble down
And come to rest upon the ground
To lay a carpet, rich and rare,
Beneath the trees without a care,
Content to sleep, their work well done,
Colors gleaming in the sun.

At other times, they wildly fly
Until they nearly reach the sky.
Twisting, turning through the air
Till all the trees stand stark and bare.
Exhausted, drop to earth below
To wait, like children, for the snow.”

–   Elsie N. Brady, Leaves

Can you believe it is November already? As I look outside the very last of the leaves are clinging to my Amelanchier, the rest having been brought down quickly with the wind and rainfall over the past few days. The bare trees everywhere are a sure sign that I need to get a move on now and start on the Christmas plans.

I seem to have spent last week and the weekend pottering, but slowly getting a few jobs done around the house. Maybe not what I had intended to do but nevertheless there has been a satisfying tick made at the end of the day on one or two tasks, many of which have possibly rolled over from last month.

I have more or less caught up with the washing and ironing. I know it is always an ongoing household chore but when we return from the cottage there is quite a heap of bedding and dirty gardening clothes to wade through on top of the general clothes. Presently, I have a large bucket with our socks soaking in it ready to wash in the washer tomorrow. I know the washer does a pre-wash but it takes so much more water and time when an overnight soak will do the same and in less water. Then I have the remaining gardening clothes and I might wash the cushion covers from the living room and I am done.

I have also been sorting as I tidied. I don’t know about you but I often end up with ‘things’ upstairs that belong downstairs and vice versa, or have items waiting to be put away – so I stop and have a bit of a putting away session, getting everything back to its rightful place. Whilst I was in a drawer or cupboard putting away I had a quick check to see if I could spot anything that I do not use or was in the wrong place or could be slimmed down to make more space. And I did.

They were mostly just little things like some very old blank cassette tapes that we would no longer use and some TV recordings on DVD’s that we can no longer watch. Every little adjustment lightens the load in my quest to minimise our stuff and what a difference it makes to the space once they have been removed.

I had been keeping six empty 2lb glass jam jars that once had mincemeat in and I reused them as storage containers for rice and couscous (I now use the larger kilner style clip jars in the pantry and I am happy with them). They took up quite a bit of valuable shelf space in the utility cupboard and as I could not think of a use for them I decided to let them go or maybe I will use them in the garage. So now I can get all my small empty jam jars that I do use and are waiting for the lemon curd at Christmas and maybe marmalade in January on the one top shelf.

As I have been pottering about I have been noticing just how many of the things we have are either used a lot, used infrequently or sometimes not at all. As far as I can see the ‘not at all group‘ fall into three categories

  • not used and probably never will be,
  • not used but would if time allowed
  • not used but are of some sentimental value still.

Of the ‘not used and probably never will be’ group are a number of items that were gifts from friends….unfortunately gifts not quite to my taste, but I keep them because someone took the time to buy them for me. After a while I will take them off view and put them away in a drawer. Some of the toiletries, smellies and things I just don’t use I will sometimes pass onto other people but it seems an ongoing exercise and makes me feel quite ungrateful. I try to address this when I buy gifts for other people by buying flowers, book tokens or something like food that will not add to their decluttering.

Of the ‘not used but would if time allowed’ I really must make the effort to address this. I have knitting patterns in the waiting, sewing projects on the go, music CD’s that I haven’t listened to in ages and audio books ditto….I could go on but you get the gist – I am sure you have the same.

Of the ‘not used but I am setimentally attached to’ I sometimes feel there is no hope – I know I am a sentimental person and once in a while when we are together with my daughters we will get out the old projector and have a good laugh at the old slides going back to my younger days in the 50’s or I will get out one of the memory boxes (yes I have more than one) that hold such delights as an old mobile phone and my grandad’s first driving license that provide us with hours of entertainment. I do love to hang onto such treasures and they could never be replaced.

But then there is the stuff that I buy myself… you know the everyday temptations in the cheaper shops, especially around Christmas time – another Christmas jumper, the odd book from The Works, a few crafty bits from Hobbycraft, things I think I need from Home Bargains (but don’t really) and not to mention IKEA, and within a couple of years what was a must have becomes yet another thing to declutter and hit the charity pile…the cheap Christmas jumper full of bobbles, the book on the shelf unread, the crafty bits still in bits and a load of things that were just not that needed after all.

So next year it is going to be my year of limited and mindful spending. I can’t say it will be no spending, as currently we are decorating through the house, but I aim to make anything I buy and anything that comes into the house much more considered- I no longer want heaps of stuff around me and I certainly don’t want to spend the rest of my life decluttering.

A while ago I received a 20% online discount for Neal’s Yard and ordered my usual face cream and serum – probably my one and only indulgence – and as a birthday present from DH I took up the offer of the Heritage Beauty Box (worth £125) for only £25. I must say it was worth it just to receive such a beautifully packaged gift – with all those individually wrapped goodies inside – and every bit is recyclable.

I will use all these products and the mass of gorgeous tissue paper has been ironed out and stored in my tissue paper box for future use.

At the moment I am reading two books. The one on the left Cut and Dry, borrowed from the local library (and I will be very sorry to lose it when I have to take it back), is full of ideas for dried flower arrangements around the house. I do love having dried hydrangea and seed heads at this time of year and a scattering of leaves.

I bought the other book The Winter Children at a charity coffee morning pre-pandemic and couldn’t get into it the first time round and after a few pages I lost interest and read something else. On my ‘sort out and sort through’ days last week I noticed it in the little stack of books on the bedside table in the guest room. I decided as part of my reading through what I already have challenge to either read it or pass it on.

So I will give it another go as I have just finished The View from the Corner Shop by Kathleen Hey. She was one of the diarists taking part in the Mass Observation project during the second world war and her daily diary from a shopkeeper’s perspective gave a really good insight into how the local people in nearby Dewsbury lived during the war, where attacks were so infrequent that at times they wondered if there was a war going on. An interesting contrast to the daily life not that far away in Sheffield where I grew up (Sheffield being very much under attack because of the steel works) and where many of my own family were left homeless after being bombed out.

Amongst all the tidying and sorting I am managing to squeeze in a little knitting time and the part knitted part fabric dress for little Sweetie is coming along – the front, left back and one sleeve all completed. The sleeve head is not right though (too small for the armhole despite following the pattern to the letter and checking it a number of times) and I will have to adjust this when I knit the other sleeve.

Being a novice knitter the only way forward I can see would be to do a decrease for the sleeve head shaping on every other row rather than every row as the pattern says which I think whould increase the depth. Unless of course any of you brilliant knitters out there can advise me differently.

I found this lovely lightweight soft printed corduroy for the skirt part in Boyes and it was discounted too. Sweetie’s birthday is on the 10th so I need to get my skates on a bit. Alternatively I could give it to her for Christmas and hope she doesn’t grow too much.

It is always a constant aim of mine to try a new recipe at least once a week where time allows. This week I chose this recipe Spiced Pear and Stilton tarts with Watercress. I had to adapt it slightly as DH is not over keen on Stilton so I used some rather lovely Shropshire Red that I had bought on one of the Sainsbury’s Smartshop scan offers. I love using pears in cooking and so I bought one of the bags of small mixed pears and intend to use what is left for a pear and ginger pudding.

Then this morning surprise, surprise… my rather soggy December issue of Country Living dropped through the letterbox and being so eager to see what was inside I stopped immediately to take a tea break.

dear diary :: replenishing

Every so often when I am feeling quite domesticated I have a replenish day….. not for myself – though goodness knows at times I really need one, but to fill up jars, restock cupboards and get everything around the house back to a ‘user ready’ state. It has a two fold advantage in that I can make a list of anything running a bit low so I can restock and I also have a little straighten up on shelves and in cupboards as I go. I do find it very therapeutic. Bliss.

Well yesterday was that replenish day…..totally unscheduled, as so often they are, and it began, as it usually does, with the toilet roll. I always seem to be the one that has to replace a toilet roll – it seems to wait especially for me.  If you live alone then you will be used to replacing the empty roll yourself every single time – but when there are two of you I am of the mind that the odds should be more 50:50 or even better 75:25 in my favour!

I keep 6 hidden away on a shelf in the shower room cupboard so no one is ever caught short and an extra one or two in a basket in the family bathroom as there is no handy cupboard in there.  When the spares run low I top them up from the main stock I keep in my airing cupboard on the top shelf – a place big enough to accommodate the larger money saving packs I buy.

After replacing the roll on the holder and putting a few extra in the cupboard I thought it a good idea to refill the travel bottles in my toiletry bag with shampoo and shower gel and then the little travel jars of face cream ready for our next trip.  We are away such a lot at the moment that I find it really convenient to be able to pick up my travel bag and go rather than having to mess about refilling bottles and jars at a time when I am frantically packing and concentrating more on getting the clothes washed and dried.

After refilling bits and pieces upstairs I worked my way through the downstairs starting in the pantry – this takes a little more time to organise.  It is a while since I had a good sort out in here.

Mostly it keeps in good order thank goodness, unless of course DH has unpacked the groceries, and then secretly I may just have to rearrange a few items afterwards, like you often do with the Christmas tree decorations. With the threat of shortages recently I have been inclined to pick up two replacements rather than one and certainly if there is an offer on then it is not unusual for me to buy three or more at once so it can end up a bit of a squeeze to fit everything in. Packets of the precooked brown lentils were on my Sainsbury’s smartscan offer this week for a much reduced price so I bought four.

Earlier in the week I cut down the outdoor tomato plants and pulled off the remaining tomatoes – they won’t ripen outdoors now far too cold in our climate below the moors.

They may have a chance in the pantry next to some riper ones and a banana for the ethylene gas.

I had a few dry goods waiting to be decanted into the storage jars I had washed and dried and not forgetting the biscuit jar to refill – it often lies empty – I think we must live with the ‘Borrowers’ as we never remember eating them.

I did a quick date check on all the stock of packets and cans so we can eat up anything getting too close to that dreaded use by date.

So now I have a little collection of use up foods that I need to incorporate into my next menu plan, one of which is Passata….so this will either become a lasagne, ratatouille or a celery and broccoli bake or maybe all three.

And how did I overlook this bottle of raspberry coulis?

I felt quite pleased that the only thing that landed in the bin was an opened packet of crispy Taco shells I found had been pushed to the back of a shelf out of sight.  They were way over their date and certainly had no crisp left in them.  Anything else I found out of date I am prepared to take a risk on.

Whilst rummaging around in the pantry I was able to make a note of bits and pieces I needed to buy in readiness for Bonfire Night and Christmas; soft brown sugar, treacle and crystallised ginger pieces – all those warming, gooey foods with that wonderful hint of autumn.  I have a few recipe clippings waiting in the wings that I would like to try – I am thinking pear and ginger puddings or plum and apple crumble or even tarte tatin. 

The little wall cupboard in the pantry houses a mixture of medicines and supplements on the top shelves and cake décor lower down.  I seem to use far more cake decorations than medicine!  The medicine shelf is minimal – we don’t seem to need very much thank goodness and apart from my prescribed thyroxine, I only keep a box of paracetamol, a bottle of Buttercup Syrup and glycerine and some vitamin C lozenges in case of sore throats – none of which needed topping up but maybe I will apply for a repeat prescription so I don’t forget nearer Christmas. 

My regular supplements of Vitamin D and selenium I keep handy in the kitchen cupboard so I don’t forget to take my daily dose at breakfast time.  After checking through the abundance of chocolate sprinkles and mini fudgy pieces it was no surprise that with three grandchildren to make birthday cakes for now nothing came even close to being out of date there!

After the pantry was sorted I moved on to the worst spot….. the laundry room and the cleaning products and washing powders; I refilled jars, dispensers and canisters and small spray bottles from my main stocks that I keep either in the garage cupboard, under the sink or in the pull out drawer in the laundry room.  Somehow I have managed to overstock on cleaners. Some are inherited from clearing out my mum’s and mum in law’s houses years ago and I don’t really use them as I tend to use eco products that are better for the environment but I cannot bring myself to just put them in the bin it seems such a waste.

I do have a number of cleaners that are only useful for a certain purpose….carpet cleaner for that odd spill, washing soda for freshening the drains, vanish for tough stains, borax to freshen up the washer drum, Duraglit for the silver and Brillo pads when I need a bit of extra help to remove burnt on food – they all seem quite valid to keep in but for something so infrequently used they all take up valuable cupboard space.

Finally, I went around the house replacing tea lights and batteries in the decorative string lights.

So that was my day – a nice satisfying job completed with a long list of items to restock, which I will do in the next couple of weeks, and in a funny way I did feel a little replenished myself and I could relax after tea with some pretty flickering lights and watch the third episode of The Long Call.

And while I am on a roll I might tackle the linen cupboard tomorrow.

dear diary :: here and there…

Hello everyone….I know I have been a little quiet in the last few days, but life here is as hectic as ever. 

We had one of those crazy weekends (two weekends ago now) starting on the Friday taking our grandson little Freddie to the park for a few hours.

He knows the routine well now – buy a 25p bag of duck food from the little cafe and go straight round to feed the ducks, then on to the fountain taking the short cut down the very steep grassy bank with grandad holding on to him for dear life, whilst I follow with the pushchair on the sensible windy path. We then walk round to the lovely revamped conservatory at the bottom of the park that has a cafe with an outdoor courtyard space – perfect to avoid Covid. We order tea (or coffee and Freddie has milk) and a couple of slices each of thick brown toast with butter and marmalade. Of course he always wants to spread the marmalade on himself even though it is tricky to handle the large knife ….ugh the stickiness.

We then saunter back through the park playing football until we reach the swings. This particular visit we saw a tight rope walker practising between two of the large park trees. Then it was back home to mum for Freddie and back home for us to start repacking ready for our next trip.

On Saturday we set off for North Yorkshire to meet my daughter and the two girls in Northallerton – one of my favourite market towns. We browsed all the shops on both sides of the main street plus the market stalls. The girls are always well behaved in shops and love to look at all that is on offer but never natter to be bought anything. I did in fact buy Sweetie some new shoes for her birthday in November but she is going to start wearing them now so her feet don’t grow out of them before she is three in a few weeks time; at this age, like little seedlings, they seem to grow overnight. She was delighted – they are a muted shade of pink with sparkly bits.

We stayed overnight with my daughter and had an early start on the Sunday morning to drive up to my sister’s village above Northallerton to see the Scarecrow trail which began at 10am. My sister was on her respite holiday so couldn’t be with us but she had baked some chocolate squares for the cake stall so we bought a piece each.

We had great fun spotting the scarecrows and eating the homemade cakes, though the chocolate topping fell clean off Little L’s piece onto the pavement. Here are just a few of our favourites.

Of course we had to stop Sweetie from helping herself to a banana!
The mole hunter made us smile!
Go compare
Paddington Bear – you can tell Sweetie is just eyeing up the marmalade sandwiches in the suitcase!
I just had to add this into the photos – I have never seen such a crop of mushrooms before on someone’s front lawn!

At 12 0’clock we said goodbye to Little L, Sweetie and my daughter and drove on another 10 miles to visit my mum (who is in an apartment near Yarm). For our lunch I had made a batch of leek and potato soup which we ate with some fresh rolls followed by a pizza and some pots of deli salads – coleslaw, beetroot and potato salad. I had not had time to make a pudding at home so I bought some fresh cream chocolate eclairs courtesy of Sainsbury’s. After lunch we had a long chat, did a few jobs, prepared some tea for her to have later and put her hair in rollers (she sleeps in them – always has) then said our goodbyes and drove home.

We arrived back quite late having been delayed on the M62 with the heavy traffic and felt quite worn out – I just put a few bits away and then went to bed.

On Monday morning we had to make the difficult and disappointing decision not to travel up to Scotland the next day to go and see Freda’s exhibition in Dunoon – given our comings and goings over the past few weeks it would have been a journey too far and I know my limitations.

So after a brief rest on Monday we spent most of the week table hunting…. which was long overdue.  We have a kitchen diner and when we had our new kitchen installed this time last year we enlarged the kitchen area by a few inches but this left the dining room side slightly smaller and our old and much loved pine farmhouse table no longer fits comfortably into the space. We knew this would be the case but gaining more circulation space in the kitchen has been well worth it and our farmhouse table is going to a good home.

After plodding around a few shops and searching on the internet we finally chose one we both liked and it is on order now with a 12 week lead time.   Our old table has quite a history as we bought it in 1979 just after we married and the children grew up painting and crafting on it, I have sewn and baked on it and I think it has even had hot pans on it.  We never really worried about having to protect it and just scrub it clean with soapy water – the many marks it has gained over time have just added to the well-used look.  It is essentially a kitchen table rather than a posh dining table so we ruled out glass tops or veneered wood for the new one as it would be impossible for us to have anything that isn’t robust enough to take whatever we or the grandchildren throw at it.  

The one we have chosen should fit the bill – it will be quite a change as the new table is quite modern looking (and won’t be to everyone’s taste) but will fit in better with the sleek simple lines of the new kitchen; it is also extendable so when the extra leaf is used it will come to the same size as our old one and when it is just the two of us there will be much more space to walk around it.   So now we just have to find a reasonable price for the chairs we have chosen and get them on order too.

Now that major task is a tick on the list and the weather not so suitable for gardening I have turned my attentions to the house and decided it needs a jolly good sort out….a major home edit and a good clean. 

Can’t wait to get stuck in.

dear diary :: homecoming

Well that was a long journey down home, but then we did stop for a break in Castle Douglas, which is one of my favourite places on the way to the border, and of course I was tempted into all the lovely little shops there.

The lady in the craft shop kindly exchanged the packet containing a circular crotchet hook (never knew there was such a thing) that I had bought on our way to the cottage for a circular knitting needle that I had intended to buy! They don’t normally do exchanges (she must have taken pity on me) but there was a price difference to rectify , the knitting needle being £2 less than the crotchet hook, so the attempt to do an exchange on the till didn’t work…no matter I said I will have a look around and buy something else so you don’t have to do a refund. It wasn’t hard to find things, in fact I spent another £10 so she did quite well out of the exchange! I bought some of those moulded cardboard pumpkins for painting or decoupage, some coloured raffia skeins for present wrapping and a sheet of the decoupage tissue paper.

Moving on to the Artists and Craftmakers Cooperative shop I found a lovely little card for my friend. He is 81 today and has need of nothing, but he does like wood – he taught woodwork at school and used to make wooden things himself. The card has a tiny piece of decorated driftwood on it which I then put into this natural wood frame from Dunelm to make a picture.

In the Designs Gallery Bookshop I discovered these pretty little packs of decorated letter wring papers that fold up to post (I forgot to take a picture before I wrapped them but you can see them here-https://cardsandgiftwrap.co.uk/product-category/stationery/cards-and-letterwriting/pigeon-folded-letters) perfect for another friend whose birthday is tomorrow.

This morning I had to make four very quick birthday cards for 3 friends and my niece. I wanted them to reflect the change of season so I used a recent water colour sketch I did at the cottage of the hawthorn berries and overlaid part of a poem by Samuel Butler which is very suitable for the season. It is wonderful what you can do on the computer these days!

With all the crafty bits out of the way and the cards written and presents wrapped ready to deliver or post we took a walk down to the village and dropped off the card and present to today’s recipient. I am spending what is left of the day making Lentil Shepherds pie to go with some fresh sweetheart cabbage, then I will do a few Somatic exercises to loosen up my tight hips from the long journey home and afterwards probably collapse for the evening in front of the TV for a couple of hours of catch up. We missed the Manhunt series with Martin Clunes so that will be first on the list.

Yesterday we unpacked all the bags, sorted the heap of washing into piles (I am praying for good weather to get all the washing done and outside on the line) and then went food shopping. We don’t normally go on a Friday and as expected it was busy. We had to weave around the shelf stackers and their cage trollies who were out in force down each of the aisles nd one or two items I had to pick out of their stock cages or off the top of the fitments where they keep boxes of extra stock before it is put out onto the shelves. The pasta shelves looked like they had been raided but thankfully no-one was interested in the organic wholewheat spaghetti and I could have taken a box full. Not being greedy I only took 2 packets.

Generally for my pantry stocks of jars, cans, dried foods etc I replace items only when they come on offer with the red shelf tickets unless I am desparate enough or have run out of something and am forced to buy it at full price. I also find myself rejigging the menu plan a bit in the fruit and veg aisles to accomodate any offers. This week the mushrooms were on offer so we bought extra to make a large batch of mushroom soup. Other fresh foods I buy weekly like milk and yoghurt from the chiller aisles I have to rely on striking lucky with any offers.

In the past we have tried the Sainsbury’s SmartShop self scan using their handsets – four times to be exact – Scan, bag and go they advertise, it couldn’t be simpler – but each time there was a problem for us and it wasn’t simple far from it so we gave up went back to the normal checkout method. However, Sainsbury’s are now offering extra reductions on certain items when you do a Smart Shop which is also linked to the Nectar card. Now I have no intentions of going back to doing a full shop using their Smart Shop method but I was attracted by the hefty reductions offered on the Nectar card of items we do normally buy (about 10 in all and they change weekly) so I sent DH round with the Smart Shop handset and a basket to gather up all the offer items and take them through the self scan whilst I did the bulk of the shopping in the normal way.

I am not sure this is exactly what Sainsbury’s have in mind! They are trying to steer everyone over to their Smart Shop way of shopping and have already started reducing the number of tills. I am presuming that tempting people with these extra offers is their new line of attack. So I just thought I would play them at their own game – it worked quite well and gave DH something to do whilst I concentrated on doing the bulk of the shopping from the menu plan…oh and having a casual look around the magazines, the clothes and the homewares without him hovering over me (I was good though and no purchases made from these departments). We will try doing this again next week – it seems a fairly easy way to save a bit more money to me.

So busy days ahead I feel. The garden here needs sorting out, tidying up and putting to bed. I have ripe tomatoes in the greenhouse and outdoors to pick and what seems like a final courgette. I have a fancy to sow some winter salad under the cloches (just an idea at the moment) and I have packets of bulbs waiting in the wings to plant.

Then there is the laundry, some cleaning and a bit of reordering in the house to attend to. I had already switched over the contents of my wardrobe for the new season before we went to the cottage and I have adventurous plans whirling around in my head for putting in some drawers and shelving inside the wardrobe so it is better fitted out……. when we can carve out some time.

Have a relaxing Sunday everyone x

dear diary :: garden progressing nicely, knitting not so…

I have been hoping for rain all week – not the statement most of us would want to hear, but secretly I have because I had plans here at the cottage for wet weather.  One of them was to do more knitting. 

I boldly decided to alter the back of the pattern of the little dress – probably not the wisest of moves given my novice ‘under’ novice status.   I realised when casting on for the back of the dress that it does not open completely it only opens to the little contrast coloured ‘ribbon’ band.  This means it would be harder to get on and off in my mind with no ‘give’ room and I am already beginning to doubt if the size I chose to do will fit.  I decided on the slightly smaller size because the pattern on the model looked quite baggy and this is maybe why because the opening is not the full length of the bodice.

So, in my wisdom, I thought it would be better to knit a separate left and right back and have a small slit in the adjoining skirt which, if you remember, is fabric.

To do this means I need to do some pretty neat edges along the opening edges and my edges are not great. Normally, it doesn’t matter too much as they are part of an inside seam and not on show but I knew there are ways are making them look neater so back to You Tube and from what I can tell slipping the first stitch pearl wise does the job.   So I will begin the back again and see if that produces something more passable.  It is either that or little Sweetie walks backwards everywhere when she wears it so no-one sees the mess I make.

My other reason for desiring a wet day was to do more sketching.  I bought a new set of pencils and a small watercolour pad in W.H.Smith’s ½ price sale and there is an abundance of lovely autumn seed heads on every verge to draw at the moment and I have been collecting little bunches from the garden which are now hanging up in the shed to dry.

While the sun shines though it is gardening again though I must say we have been out nearly every day and I wonder if we have actually made any difference.  Slowly though it is taking shape once again after the sorry neglect of the Covid year.

DH put up a windbreak behind the young Braeburn apple tree – we had to cut a wider border to accomodate the stakes and as usual this led to a bit more weeding and sorting in this corner.

Meanwhile I tackled the tangled mess under the holly tree in our ‘ Beyond the Pond’ border as I call it as it is just beyond the pond on the left. This border is part of the woodland walk in the lower wood so can be quite shady in the summer. The large leaved Rogersia is an excellent plant for the shade as is the decorative Osmunda Regalis fern. In the front of the border is an Azalea surrounded by a spreading geranium planted as ground cover to keep the weeds down and of course the Tellima that self seeds everywhere.

We had temporarily moved the large stones here from the Trellis Border that were no longer needed and I wanted to move them into place to enclose the border up to the Holly tree. We will then be extending the grass up to the line of the stones and this will also keep the planting contained and out of the path of the strimmer.

The pond too has been put to bed. DH put the ‘spider’ pond cover and netting in place to catch the leaves from the Sycamore tree nearby. Everything now is beginning to die back and when we return in a few weeks time it will all be one soggy leafy mess in this part of the garden – meanwhile the weeds will still be on the rampage.

I do love this time of year for cooking and the magazines are full of plum crumbles and all my favourite fruits and the root vegetables make wonderful roast meals and stews. We have already begun changing our menus to suit the seasonal vegetables available. Celery is plentiful in the shops so DH made celery soup and threw in the end of some broccoli we had in the fridge. I made one of my easy one pan autumn meals Chickpeas and brown rice – a seasonal favourite when the weather starts to change and I also made a curry which we will have with brown rice and mango chutney one night and then fill some of those crisp corn Taco shells the next (I know a strange mix of cuisine but they are quite delicious), and I found you can microwave them (I did buy a microwave for the caravan in case the calor gas ever runs out) which will save heating up the gas oven to some incredible costly temperature to cook them for only 3 minutes.

We will be venturing home soon so I am savouring the last of our days here – there is going to be some hot weather on the horizon I am told so no doubt all the weeds will spring into action once again and after a few days our cottage garden will look like we have never been here.

Since writing this we have had rain today. I skipped on the knitting though as we will be leaving soon for home and I decided the caravan needed a good fettle before we go, even under the caravan seating. I thought there was little stored under there until I lifted the seats and found a few things I had totally forgotten about like the electric kettle in case the gas fails, some spare cutlery and cups and a host of large plastic containers. I decided to put everything together under one of the seats and make a list as at the moment it is definitely a case of out of sight out of mind.

Before we go home I will snip off a few hydrangea heads to dry at home, shake the Bramley apple tree to get the last of the apples down and collect some shells to take back for the grandchildren. I am so looking forward to those tomatoes at home now.

If the heatwave that is predicted arrives I hope you all enjoy more time to go out and about or in the garden before the weather changes once again.

Back soon x

dear diary :: back to normal

After the events of the last few days we are slowly settling back into normality….. such as it is here. 

The heating is on when we need it, which is mainly to take the chill off in the morning, we have hot water once again so we have showered, washed our hair and the dishes are done making us respectable once more.   I have hoovered the floor whilst listening to radio 4 and it is heaven to have all these facilities we normally take for granted; no wonder then that my thoughts recently have been with all the refugees that are experiencing hardship day after day.  How on earth do they cope? At least during our powerless plight we had a roof over our heads and a gas cooker enabling us to make a meal and a drink.

And somehow whilst we were thrown into mayhem October crept in….how did that happen?

Yesterday we had planned for rain all day but mid-morning it stopped and the sun appeared and it turned out to be a glorious day.  So we gardened all afternoon.  We did far too much and regretted it later especially when with our aching backs we had to prepare and cook the tea when all we really wanted to do was collapse in a heap sit and relax. 

I didn’t even sleep well last night; we were early to bed, well early for us, and after only 10 minutes reading turned the lights out and we must have both been asleep within minutes. All was snug but then something woke me at about 2am and after that my mind began to churn over – never a good sign and never conducive with sleep. 

It rained heavily again this morning so I spent a good hour updating my yearbook.  It is my catchall – part notebook, part bullet journal, part task lists and diary but also filled with snippets of information I want to refer back to at some point.  At the beginning of each month I go through my Country Living magazine and pull out anything of interest and stick it in my notebook.  This month for instance I have cut out the snippet about Asda starting a vintage clothing section in 8 of their stores.  You are able to swap unwanted clothes for vouchers apparently. I also kept the recipe for the cold remedy ginger and poached pear which sounds like something I might drink even without a cold…..and I am very tempted to buy this book ‘How to Grow Plants from Seeds’ published by RHS. Or perhaps something for my Not so Secret Santa list.

We ate the last of the mushroom soup for lunch which we made just before our power cut and couldn’t really eat because of course the stick blender is electric so it went into a large pyrex bowl to be stored in the fridge. Even though the fridge was off for a few hours during the power cut everything in there seemed OK and we have no ill effects from eating it (and of course we don’t eat meat or that might have been something we would have had to throw away).

Tonight we decided on an easy evening meal so we chopped loads of veg, tossed them in oil and slung them into a baking pan to roast in the oven.  It is one of my favourite autumn meals.  We had sliced Halloumi (which we brown in a hot non-stick frying pan with no oil) and couscous to go with it though it is just as nice with brown rice or often we add a little Passata to make it more moist and stew like and eat it with large chunks of Ciabatta bread dipped into the sauce.

Last night I managed to finish the front bodice of the little dress I am making for Sweetie.  I was quite pleased with myself as being quite a novice knitter I am never very sure if I am actually understanding the pattern instructions correctly and I have no-one other than Google to ask. Well it looks quite even on both sides of the neck and I even managed to ‘fashion’ the decreases around the armhole and neckline, which wasn’t actually written in the pattern but I think it looks so much neater and I find makes it easier when sewing together at the end.

There are some nice little corners in our cottage garden appearing.  Some planned but also some surprises. Did I mention we gave the very large and leggy pink rhododendron the chop this year and cut it back almost down to the base, then crossed our fingers.

Before

Luckily it has started sprouting but the huge hole it has left in the garden is testament to how large it had become over the years, however, in the meantime while it is regenerating we can see the beautiful weeping larch tree beyond which nicely frames the view into the lower wood beneath.

After

I spent a good hour in the fernery by the pond (Polystichum munitum – Western Sword fern) a great fern for coastal areas with glossy deep green leaves that are evergreen and doesn’t die back in the winter but does require any browned and dead leaves removing every so often to keep it looking at its best. I also have to reduce the mass occasionally when is begins to creep further and further into the woodland garden, overstepping its allotted boundaries.

My little seat beneath the old Cherry tree is now completely covered in moss but I shall keep it like this and find somewhere else to sit as it has such a lovely natural appearance. I spent a few minutes picking up more windfalls from the Bramley tree and this year we salvaged one or two eating apples from the young Braeburn, planted 2 years ago. It only produced 5 apples and three of these must have dropped and rotted before this visit. After taking the photo we shared the larger of the Braeburns and it was extremely nice – not too sweet and quite crisp just how I like them. Hopefully there will be more next year.

I have a mass of daffodil bulbs to plant out – I must have dug these up prior to Covid and with all the disruptions and lockdowns last year never got them into the ground. All that lovely natural raffia attached though.

I never managed to find a rose for the garden arch either because of the restrictions so in desperation to have something, anything climbing on it this year I picked up two cheap Clematis in Morrisons the ones for £2 each. The one on the right has taken off better than the one on the left and I now have stones in place to protect it from Kelly (who cuts our grass when we are not here) and her strimmer! For £2 each though they are not doing too badly.

And I love this little ‘green’ corner with all the different leaf shapes.

And with the weekend almost over we will be back to Monday soon enough and we shall have to make plans to return home where, according to my neighbour who is looking after things for us, we have an abundance of ripened tomatoes!

dear diary :: a bit of a drama

The weather has changed.  It is much cooler now with rain and wind passing over and thereby limiting what we will be able to do in the garden.  There is a glimmer of sunshine on the horizon as I write this.

My next few posts might be picture less as I find that my data allowance on my phone is now at zero and won’t renew until 10th October. DH’s allowance is also low so uploading photos onto the internet to prepare a post will not be possible.   I can possibly add a few pictures I have used before on my blog as above.

We have spent the last day or two in a mini drama or was it a crisis?

I am not sure but it all began on Wednesday.

Wednesday is our wheelie bin day and after it was emptied I mentioned to DH that it needed a good clean inside and out.  Whilst our bin was waiting to be emptied (we have to take it up the lane and place it in the car park next to the pub / caravan site business bins, which incidentally are always overflowing) someone from the site (possibly a workman) had dumped some kind of glue in ours and it was all over the lid.  In fact some of the rubbish had stuck to the lid as the bin men emptied it.

Luckily DH managed to clean it off and gave the inside a ‘good do’.

But then our problems began – not with the bin but with the shredder.  We have a pile of woody prunings, some of it will have to be burnt but some will shred.  In fact I used to shred most of it up to the flood.  Since then for many reasons we have not done any.  We didn’t even remember if the shredder still worked from being caught in the flood.

So DH got it out of the garage and plugged it in to try it.  He used a socket in the boiler house attached to the cottage but when he switched it on nothing happened.   He wondered if the socket was working so decided to get out the extension cable and plug the shredder in to a more reliable socket in the caravan just to double check.

When he switched it on this time it started up but then died away again.  At this point I noticed my lap top screen had dimmed then realised it had switched over to the battery because there was no longer any power in the caravan.  DH checked the little consumer unit in the caravan but nothing had tripped, he then checked the mini consumer unit in the garage that feeds the caravan and the main fuse board in the cottage that feeds the garage but again nothing had tripped.

Very puzzling.  DH reset all the breakers anyway but still no power.  We checked with local villagers and the pub that it wasn’t coincidentally a local power cut but no it was just us.  By this time it was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and soon it would be dark, so we made an urgent call to Scottish Power.

Although, as we found, it is not possible these days to make an urgent call anywhere.  We went through a series of press one for this and two for that until seven sets of options down the line we finally spoke to a real person and explained the problem.  The lovely lady with a Scottish lilt on the other end told us a team would be alerted but it would be 3 hours before they might get to us.

We prepared for the long wait – put on extra woollies and socks and luckily found a couple of emergency candles in the cupboard.  We worked out that even though the gas boiler wouldn’t run the gas cooker would still work as you can light it with a match.  Somehow in semi darkness we managed to make a simple pasta meal using a carton of cheese sauce in the fridge and peas from the freezer.

The men arrived at about 8 o’clock.  They tested the incoming line to our main consumer unit in the cottage which is actually an old type of fuse board with old fashioned fuses.  At first they thought their incoming power cable was all fine and the problem was somewhere further in our system between the cottage and caravan which meant they could not deal with it and we would need to get an electrician.  But they too were puzzled as to why nothing had tripped.  They scratched their heads and had another look at things and went up the pole outside the cottage to check the connecters.   Electricity in rural places here in UK comes down on wires suspended on wooden telegraph poles rather than running underground.  We have three poles one at the top of the wood by the main road, one at the bottom of the carpark and a final one near to the cottage as you can see in the photo above.

Eventually they thought there was something not quite right with the meter and also noticed they kept getting a high neutral reading from their main fuse box (yes that means nothing to me either).  They obtained permission from Scottish Power to bypass the meter thinking this might sort it. 

It didn’t – still no power in either the cottage or caravan.  By eleven o’clock they were still checking and rechecking but no nearer to solving the mystery and had convinced themselves it could only be a faulty meter and told us to ring SP in the morning for a new one and at the same time find an electrician to check the consumer units in the cottage / garage and caravan.

Easier said than done when our phones were down now to 10% battery and my laptop had subsequently died too.  It was too late in the evening now to ask friends in the village to charge up our phones and Eric at the nearest caravan to us had gone home so when the men had gone we jumped in the car in order to have a run around as the only way we could think of (and by this time our thinking capability was diminishing) to recharge DH’s phone enough to be able to make calls the next day.

It was well after 1 o’clock when we hit the pillows (the very chilly pillows I might add as the temperature was way down by now).  We fell asleep exhausted with the faint chunterings being heard in the dark from DH cursing the fact he had ever got the shredder out!

Morning came and we began the search for an electrician.  A choice of about 2 in this area both had answer phones on and incidentally have never got back to us.   We tried wider afield to people in Newton Stewart over 30 miles away but all said it was too far to come out to us.

Pondering our next move as the food in the fridge was starting to ‘warm’ up a bit (by now it had been off for 18 hours), and we couldn’t shower or use the electric toothbrush or charge our phones.  There was a long queue to speak to anyone at Scottish Power about the meter and we had to abandon that to save charge.

Just at the point when we had no idea how we were going to resolve our predicament the two men from the night before appeared on the doorstep.  Still flummoxed by our problem their manager had suggested testing even further back along the incoming power lines that come down from the main road.  Thankfully they did and up and down the other poles later located the problem – corroded and weak contacts and connectors on the pole at the top of the wood by the main road.  They were old and had a mix of copper and aluminium which apparently corrode easily together and these days only one metal, usually aluminium, would be used.  It appears that for some reason they had never been replaced when the others had been on the other poles a few years before.

It was an ‘accident always about to happen’ the shredder was just the catalyst that put an extra load onto the power cable and disrupted the power at the weakest link but it does confirm that all our breakers in the consumer units and the old fuse board are working well.

The men repaired the connectors and reconnected the bypassed meter (a replacement no longer required) and I almost wept with relief when a few minutes later everything swung into life again at the caravan and the fridge and boiler settled once again into a welcome hum.

After the men had gone and we had showered and generally ‘bathed’ ourselves in a much warmer environment and thanked God for the diligence of these two workmen, who I could have hugged if Covid hadn’t prevented, we headed into Stranraer to stock up on candles, matches and torch batteries. DH this time muttering how fortunate it was he got the shredder out!