One of the most pleasurable tasks on my Christmas list is making the cake. We are not a fan of the very dark rich and sticky fruit cakes but much prefer a rather more mellow cake with plenty of ‘cake’ around the fruit. The recipe that I have used for years called the ‘Virtualy Organic Christmas cake’ just fits the bill – it has equal amounts of currants, raisins and sultanas and chopped dried unsulphured apricots instead of candied peel.
And plenty of brandy.
Last year was the first year using my new oven and I felt the cake was a tad overdone but this year with a bit of fine tuning with the temperature and using the circotherm setting it turned out much better. We have unintentionally started a new tradition with the grandchildren – I put marzipan and white roll out icing on top of the cake ready for the three grandchildren to add the decorations of their choice on Christmas Eve.
This was Christmas 2020 when Little L decorated the cake for us with these lovely decorations from B&M ….
And Christmas 2021 when Sweetie and Freddie were old enough to join in and they added the Christmas tree candles.
This year I found some snowmen and penguins in the same range to add to the collection – I can’t wait to see their finished effort.
We had Freddie all day today from 8.15 this morning until 6.30 tonight to give mum and dad a bit of free time. As you can imagine we are totally exhausted and will spend the rest of the evening doing some relaxing TV viewing if we can find anything we want to watch. To say there are more channels than ever there is often little on that we want to watch and we find ourselves switching over to BBC iplayer to watch Inspector Montalbano and are currently wading through all 37 episodes. They do require concentration though to keep up with the subtitles but if I fall asleep I can wind it back.
I thought I felt a cold coming on this morning – I had bouts of sneezing and a sore throat and quickly reach for the high strength Vitamin C. There seems to be a bit of a pattern to all this at the moment – I am not well and out of action for a while….I then recover and life suddenly becomes hectic….perhaps too hectic as we try to catch up on things that got left when I was under the weather. We then become overtired and stressed trying to fit too much in and then before I know it I start to feel poorly again. Tomorrow will be a busy day I have cards to make and will need a quick trip into town then a 30th birthday party to get ready for (my friend’s daughter) with an early start of 5.30pm for a chocolate surprise and mocktails.
Sunday we will be visiting my mum who is not good at the moment – she seems to be confused (though she won’t admit it is her) and a bit more agressive towards the people helping her. She asked her hairdresser to perm her hair and cut it much shorter. Mum is now claiming the perm hasn’t taken and that the hairdresser didn’t cut her hair at all. The hairdresser is naturally upset at the accusation.
The community nurses going in to dress the ulcer on her leg are now at their wits end because she keeps removing the dressings and bandages and sticking an ordinary plaster on the wound. It is now infected. The doctor made a home visit this week to look at her leg and ran a few memory type tests while she was there. She has concern over two of the tests that mum failed but she was OK on many of them. She thinks she may have a urine infection that can cause confusion in the elderly. My sister is so stressed with it all and is going away for a few days.
Once we have seen mum we will be staying over with my daughter so we can wait in for a delivery and possibly meeting up for an hour or two with my SIL who will be up in the area visiting one of her relations. Then it will be back home for my hospital appointment, the ultra sound scan on my shoulder and a delivery of our own (the TV stand).
It will be Thursday before we will be able to draw breath! I am beginning to think that we might not be ready in time for Christmas! How are you doing?
Things were going well yesterday morning until I came to get something out of the garage. To say it was a struggle is not an exaggeration as the whole place is in a mess and a train of unplanned activity ensued. We have a series of recycle bins for the items that cannot go into our council recycling bin but all of them were overflowing and needed emptying. Soft plastic bags go to the local Co-op collection point, bottles to the bottle bank, batteries and water filter cartridges to Sainsbury’s etc and all these are now waiting by the front door to be taken to their relevant resting places together with a few items for the village charity shop and the local tip.
After spending a further two hours sorting through some of the mess it was lunch time and afterwards I had my osteopath appointment so the planned pastry making didn’t actually take place. DH made the Tuscan bean casserole when we got back home using up an out of date packet of butter beans, which were fine when opened and rather than put the oven on he cooked it all on the hob – it was just as good and he served it with sliced Halloumi cheese on top, browned in our non-stick pancake pan, and a piece of Pannini bread to mop up the juices. I couldn’t actually find the recipe so he just made it up…..and it was delicious.
So the plan today, after having my morning walk and doing a few back exercises, is probably to do what I should have done yesterday and finish that unpacking and putting away. I also need to straighten up the pantry and refill some jars then check the stock is arranged in date order as DH often puts away the groceries but sometimes forgets to move the older tins and packets to the front. At the same time I can make a note of anything with a close best before date and will accomodate these in next weeks menu plan – I have a system of marking these items with a red sticker (which I keep handy in the pantry drawer) so that even DH is aware that they need eating up very soon. If I have any energy left after our lunch break I also have in mind to tidy another storage box or two in the garage to keep the momentum going and more importantly, make the pastry cases so that they can bake in the oven with tonight’s tea which is Courgette Bake using, I might add, courgettes grown by my own fair hands.
DH will be busy doing a few odd jobs as I found one or two items in the garage that I had forgotten about and need DH’s help to hang them up. This will require screws and such things that I am no good at. The breakdown truck is coming this morning to take DH’s car to the garage for them to locate the problem – it is leaking a rather red looking fluid and looks like it is bleeding. I have no doubt it will be another expensive problem to fix. As fast as I am trying to save money it manages to escape once more into someone elses pocket!
Having just got back home after our recent trip up to North Yorkshire to visit mum then my daughter and the two grandchildren Little L and Sweetie we unpacked, washed, shopped and then repacked and I am now writing this from Scotland…it may even be published this time, I have written a few posts recently but then never pressed go and they remain on my drafts list incomplete. Like many other bloggers the recent invasion of Ukraine has left me lost for words, scratching around in the dark looking to find a chink of light that will help me make sense of the world right now. This is a photo taken on the Pennine Moors above us in Yorkshire of the sunset the other evening – it is such a peaceful place – and probably a stark contrast at the moment to the ruins of some of the Ukraine cities – I stood gazing at this for ages and couldn’t help wondering what might the future be for our world.
And how, I keep wondering, can one man cause so much suffering, so much bloodshed and so much heartache and what are we going to wake up to next in the morning?
After the last two years of Covid and restrictions and a feeling of uncertainty I think we were all hoping for a better 2022, and now as spring and the promise of better weather are almost within our grasp, at last….it seems our hopes are fading fast.
Life is so unsettling at the moment and all the problems that have been gathering around me at quite a pace over the last few months have now paled into insignificance compared with those faced by the people of Ukraine…but each day I wake up they are still there and ignoring them is not making them either go away or any easier to sort out.
Mum is becoming quite hard work for my sister and one of the team of carers who go in on alternate days has refused to go. She was mum’s favourite but sometimes mum has been quite nasty with her. At 96 she now feels she has the right to speak her mind, but often what is in her mind is not endearing her to the people who are trying to help her. I can understand mum’s frustration at losing her mobility and being practically housebound but the other residents in the apartments are finding her hardwork and avoid going to see her leaving her more isolated than ever. I ring her each evening, we will have the same conversation many times over, usually she has to establish if we are at home or in Scotland and when we will next be going to see her, after only a few minutes she will have forgotten what I said and will ask me again and so it goes on for the next 40 minutes. To make matters worse she has a habit of holding the phone upside down so I cannot hear her properly but that is not quite so bad as when part way through our call she sometimes switches to trying to talk to me on the TV remote and I can hear her saying ‘can you hear me’! I cannot see there is any solution.
Sadly, it has also got to the point now where we dread coming up to our cottage, wondering what we will find this time, what changes await us. Joe and his wife are here at the moment in the remaining caravan on the little site below us, the light was on when we arrived last night and it felt quite comforting to see an old face and have a neighbour. The caravaners were our friends and now they are almost all gone. Thankfully Joe has no plans to leave at the moment.
There must have been an excess of rain up here because the roads had large pools of water along the verges. The tarmac lane from the main road down to our cottage eventually comes to an end and then we have to drive over a wide strip of grass just outside our property to reach our hardstanding by the garage, (the lane and grass belong to the caravan site owner – we have right of access over it). We could see that the grass was soddened and so parked at the end of the lane and walked over the grass on foot to unpack the car – it took us ages squelching about in the mud…..I might have uttered a few choice words at the time. I cannot ever remember in all the time we have been coming here that the grassy bit was this bad or this waterlogged. Once unpacked we moved the car onto a patch of gravel on the other side of the lane so it won’t get stuck in the mud. It is not actually our land and no doubt the new owner won’t like it but the other option is that we will churn up his grass trying to get in and out of our property.
We have two sizeable farm gates at the entrance to our little cottage and just before we left for home on our last visit the gate post of the left hand one had rotted and sheered off at ground level and toppled over bringing the gate down with it. All DH could do at the time was to prop the gate back in place but the wind must have blown it over. Of course it is another job on the list – I am not sure if it has even made it on to the top ten of urgent things, but it must be close. The new caravan site owner did send us a text to let us know – it seemed a neighbourly thing to do but then on the end of the text he asked if we would consider letting him have a part of our woodland for his business! I probably don’t have to tell you what our answer is to that.
The lady who came once a fortnight to cut our grass has given us notice because her knees are so painful and swollen the doctor told her that to continue would certainly make them worse. So we have to find someone new…it will go on the list….the list is getting too long for comfort…I keep folding it in half so I don’t have to look at all of it at once….but I am not sure it really helps.
No doubt we will weather these storms – all we can do is carry on trying to cope with the problems as they come up.
In and amongst, like most of you, I am trying to find a way through these rising prices but if through sanctions, my gas, electricity and fuel has to rise even more to help the Ukraine people then so be it, if the price of some foods like flour and oil becomes too costly to buy or too scarce then I will put up with that too…I am willing to make sacrifices if it will help to stop this ridiculous war.
So I am spending quite a bit of time roaming the aisles of the supermarket gathering up any reduced priced items that we normally buy, using the Smartscan and Clubcard offers and collecting reward points (though these may well be donated to the Ukraine crisis fund). We are using the oven as little as possible and making most of our meals on the hob. We have decided there a few things we can give up or buy cheaper and somethings we will not be buying at all if I can make them.
I am reluctant to stop buying as much fresh fruit and veg – it is the staple of our diet and as you know I buy mainly organic to support the farmers who are growing sustainably. We make our own soup each day using veg that is on offer or needs using up. When the oven is on I have batch baked pastry cases and sponge cakes for the freezer, in fact the freezer is groaning
This week I made this farmhouse fruit cake to take with us to the cottage. Using a very old Stork margerine recipe (so old the ingredients are only in pounds and ounces and the oven temp in Fahrenheit) I was able to use up all the left over bits of dried fruit from when I made the Christmas cake, although I no longer use block margerine like Stork prefering instead to use the Pure dairy free olive oil spread free from nasties.
I figured the best way to cut our spending is to not go shopping at all other than for food or necessities and that way I am not tempted to buy things I don’t really need.
I have been shopping though.
I needed to buy a new bedsheet – I only have two (one on the bed, one in the wash) and one on the guest bed (not that we have had any guests for a long time!). DH woke up one morning to find a rip in the sheet almost the full length of the bed, it had worn quite thin over time and there was no way I could repair it. We also need to replace the wooden blind in our living room. As we have some John Lewis vouchers we headed over to Cheadle branch have a quick look at theirs. The ready made blind we wanted is now discontinued and their made to measure ones are too costly for our budget. We tried a few other places and have seen one in B&Q which we have put on standby. Because of the size and shape of our window we have to remove at least a third of the slats of the ready made ones as they come as a standard 180cm length; DH is not at all phased by the alterations needed – he ‘cut to fit’ the one we presently have but we are seriously looking at having a made to measure one through Swift blinds who just happen to operate their business only a few miles away from us and their prices are quite reasonable.
The fitted bed sheet was easier to find and I just bought an ordinary white one from their Anyday range which is £13 and good quality. On the way out I passed the clearance section and spotted this double cotton duvet set. It was the remaining one of last summer’s range and was marked half price (£32.50 originally £65) so quite a bargain and good quality. The colour will go well in our main bedroom – when it is decorated that is – and although I don’t normally buy florals I do like the Scandi style print on this. The coupons we had covered both purchases so they costs me nothing.
Having a John Lewis / Waitrose reward card meant that by taking 5 empty beauty products that can be recycled (any make) I could have £5 off any beauty product purchase. This offer is not continuous but keeps coming round so that I am able to take advantage of it and buy the Liz Earle shampoo and conditioner that I use when I need one and although they have just had another price rise to £13 each (ouch) it meant I only had to pay £8.
So that was my shopping expedition for this month and probably all I will be buying other than food. I have been busy making and baking and when I get back home I will be sowing seeds ready for growing a few bedding plants for the planters and this year I will probably grow tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes and some salad leaves to eek out the food bill.
Well I will leave you all here and maybe even manage a couple of posts from Scotland. The cottage garden is just waking up and I can’t wait to get out there to tidy up a bit. x
The weather is certainly improving as I write this post but it is not the topic I am about to talk about. Regular readers might remember my chosen focus word for this year is improvement. I have really taken the word on board and somehow it seems much more manageable than words that I have chosen in the past and then, like a New Year’s resolution, sadly neglected., I am quite excited and committed to this word already.
My idea is to consistently make the tiniest and simplest of improvements across all the different areas of my life and each one, no matter how small or how insignificant, will be an improvement on what I had before.
So here are a few improvements that I have been working on this week:-
The treasury – I am sure that, like many readers and bloggers, costcutting is at the top of everyone’s agenda. With prices rising sharply and the £1 in our pockets buying so much less it is becomming a matter of urgency that I both curb our spending and look where I can to make savings. Big savings.
Smartshop (Sainsbury’s scanner shopping), offers good discounts for nectar card holders using the hand held scanner (this is not the same as the individual self scan checkouts). DH collects up these offers (whilst I do the main shopping that we take to the normal checkout); first he goes and finds the items that are reduced on my card and goes around again to find the ones on his card – although it is the same nectar account the card numbers end in a different number and we are sent different offers. Here is the receipt from last week – we took advantage of 8 offers on my nectar card, the actual price an ordinary shopper would pay by going through the manned checkout would have been £18.70.
We paid £13.28 by using the scanner – a huge saving of £5.42 for items we would be buying anyway, plus we collect the nectar points on top some of which have extra points. The muesli alone had a saving of £1.05 per box so we bought three boxes to stock up.
I have had a flurry of coupons recently too – some more useful than others. The M&S coupons for £7 being the most worthwhile and their offer of a free bar of chocolate a bonus.
In the post on Saturday arrived a letter from Dobbies to say they have given me a free upgrade to their Dobbies Plus card for one year. This entitles me to a free cup of tea and coffee each month, 10% off all plants, bulbs and seeds, a special birthday treat and 2 points for every £1 spent. Normally you pay £12 for the year to have this card – I wouldn’t pay to have it but I have no objection to it being free for the moment. Every little helps if it avoids paying full price for anything.
Of course the biggest challenge is to avoid temptation and not buy anything we don’t really need. Going to the shops less is a good way of avoiding tempatation!
Meal planning – one improvement I am making in the kitchen is to adjust my winter menus so that I make more meals that can be cooked on the hob such as lentil stew, curry, chickpea and rice – this way I don’t have the oven on as often which will hopefully reduce the electricity bills. I do like baked potatoes in the winter (well anytime really) so at the weekend with some potatoes baking in the oven I made a batch of pastry and baked a selection of quiche bases for the freezer whilst the oven was on. Today we had ratatouille and baked potatoes and again whilst the potatoes were baking I made a batch of chocolate sponge mixture and filled four sandwich tins. They are all in the freezer now and I feel quite pleased with myself for making the effort.
Health – such an important area of my life now as I am heading towards another major birthday (still a couple of years to go yet).
It often feels like an uphill struggle to keep relatively healthy as creaks and groans appear daily and the inevitable sagging has set in – so I need all the help I can get. Adding a little more nutritional value to my diet without resorting to buying expensive supplements is hopefully going to improve my health – so I was delighted to find these packets of milled mixed seeds and nuts in Sainsbury’s containing ground Flaxseeds, Sunflower Seeds, Walnuts (13%), Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Almonds (10%), Chia Seeds providing Vitamin E, Fibre and Omega 3. I sprinkle a good two dessertspoonfuls of the mix over my bowl of spelt flakes each morning, but you can use it on pasta or crumbles to make a crunchy topping. An instant easy healthy improvement.
Housekeeping – I have a few spots around the house that need just a little bit of love and attention. Nothing major, just a tiny adjustment – a task that may only take me minutes to complete. I am searching them out and one by one will be addressing each issue. It might be a messy drawer or a plant that needs reviving or an item that needs to be kept in a better place.
Today it was this hand sanitiser in the bathroom. Since the pandemic this bottle of Carex handgel has stood on our bathroom shelf for use both by us and visitors alike. It has always bothered me since the day it took up residence – a rather unattractive plastic bottle and not one I really want on show. I noticed in Tesco they were still selling these little soap dispensers at £4, I bought a couple when we first got the caravan for handsoap. So now I have poured the hand sanitiser into the new container and voila such an immediate improvement.
In the garden – the outside is another area that often needs a bit of attention. The long trough at the front of our house was looking a bit dull since the pansies all keeled over and lost the will to live. So for a few pounds in the sale at the local garden centre I bought 3 lovely cyclamen in pots for a splash of winter colour (I have left them in the pots and sunk them into the compost) so they will lift out easily when I want to replace them with some spring bulbs.
A large tray of lemon polyanthus was on sale too and I have dotted these about the garden and put a few in the tub beside the front door. Another of my little improvements.
Tomorrow we are looking to collect the new dining table from Leeds, weather permitting. The new table will be a big improvement to the kitchen.