dear diary :: welcome to the new year

A very Happy New Year to everyone.

A new year and a new start for me – I have been away from my little space here for far too long – habits can soon take over, even ones you don’t particularly want, and I found that finding the time to blog became harder and harder. I have tried to keep up with reading my favourite blogs but only as a commentless reader. I hope once I get back into the rhythm that you will be hearing from me a lot more. I have certainly missed you all and hope you are all in good health.

I couldn’t even tell you where all the time has gone since I was last here in July – it has just evaporated; but I can say I have been busier than ever, despite the Covid restrictions.

As I write this now it is the first day that I have nothing, nothing I must attend to and I can truly relax and not feel there is something I have to do or someone I have to call and best of all it is snowing outside and looks absolutely beautiful.

And yes that is my new greenhouse you can see in the garden – the best Christmas present ever.

Just after my last post in July we managed a trip to Scotland to the cottage – the maintenance jobs and problems awaiting us because we had not been allowed to travel was extensive and upsetting and in the end we had to stay on a few extra days to sort out all the problems. What a good job we drained down the caravan when we left as little did we know then it would be our last visit of the year.

Since our return in August we had many trips to see my mum when my sister needed some respite and restrictions allowed and soon mum will be celebrating her 95th birthday though we do not know what we will be able to do and have nothing planned – we know a party will not be possible other than on Zoom.

Most of September and October was taken up with installing the new kitchen….yes the new kitchen….I know I can’t believe it either but it is, as I had hoped, absolutely wonderful even allowing for the fact I am still getting to grips with the new hob and oven and we have not even tried the dishwasher yet. I will no doubt be overloading you with pictures of the transformation soon.

Back in November my daughter helped to decorate the railings outside Little L’s school with these poppies made from plastic bottle bottoms that she and some of the school children collected and painted.

They were so effective and equally as striking as the cute little display in her village.

We also celebrated a very special birthday for two year old Sweetie – no party as such just granny and grandad and a chocolate caterpillar cake.

In the run up to Christmas we managed to do all of the Christmassy things but in a simple and quieter fashion this year. Didn’t it look so wonderfully festive everywhere when the decorations went up? Most villages and towns had an abundance of lights this year – it was such a cheery and welcome sight and it will seem quite drab when they all come down again.

I made and iced the cake and Little L carefully placed all the decorations on it.

Delightful. I love the way she wanted them all lined up like soldiers! We finished it off with an old fashioned paper cake frill that I found to go around the sides. Little L also made the truffles which did not last long and were simply delicious.

I turned old Christmas cards from last year into money and voucher envelopes, they looked quite effective mounted onto some black envelopes I had in my craft cupboard with the messages written in a silver coloured pen.

For my own homemade Christmas cards I decided on a simple wreath design and hand painted each one in watercolour paints and then over stamped with a rubber stamp and copper ink.

I always try and make the gifts I give to my closest friends and this year I made up a mini cheese board for each of them with a selection of cheeses, oat cakes and chutney using a paddle board I bought from Ikea and covering the display with a large cellophane roasting bag.

And for other friends that I don’t exchange gifts with I made little posies of flowers.

After all the restrictions placed on us for weeks on end it was a major treat to be able to go to an outdoor lantern event which was well managed and the weather kindly stayed dry.

We also had great fun at our usual family Secret Santa get together – this year though it was through Zoom – playing Bingo and name that Christmas tune amongst other games – with Sean the Sheep of course.

On New Year’s day we had a walk at a local nature reserve. At barely above freezing the ground was hard and each of the puddles had a skim of ice with some quite superb patterns – it was irresistable to crack like popping bubble wrap.

And now I am thinking of the days and months stretching ahead – I am trying not to think that they will be dark days as this virus twists and turns and continues to be such a nuisance in our lives. I want to use the time wisely and I want to carve out a new normal for us – I have a feeling this is going to go on longer than anyone had first thought.

As with most beginnings I am trying to think of a suitable word that will sum up what I am aiming for this year. Flourish was the word I chose last year and in many ways I did – I learnt a lot about myself during the lockdown and we also learnt to do without very much whilst still living well.

I will need a few more ‘thinking’ days before I settle on something, so watch this space.

So I have little more to say at the moment – I am going to have a visit into blogland to see what everyone is up to and say hi.

dear diary :: still looking like winter

At least it was when I peered through the window today; sleet, snow, rain – interspersed with a little (and I mean a little) sunshine. Spring seems a long way off.

So I am keeping myself busy….and warm.

After all the excitement of finishing the pantry we now have to move on to make decisions about the new kitchen. We started looking at new kitchens back in 2008 and had one on order, but shortly after I found I had to have major surgery followed by a few months of treatment so we had to cancel.

We tried again in 2010 (but then my mum decided to move up North and we had to pack up and sell the family home), 2012 (my mum in law became very ill and we had to pack up and sell her house when she went into a care home), 2014 (we had the flood at the cottage), 2016 (my daughter decided to get married and we had a wedding to organise) 2020…. here we go again….. and hopefully this time no unexpected events will surprise us and we can actually get one installed.

Whilst the weather continues to be quite horrendous I have not minded spending time browsing around the local showrooms – delving into pan drawers and canterlever corner cupboards, testing out the spring lifted wall cupboard doors, the slide under oven doors and the soft close drawer drawers. They are all wonderful and exciting to me as anything is an improvement on my old ‘shabby but definitely NOT chic’ kitchen with the falling apart wonky doors and drawers held in place by DH’s hand made wooden runners to replace the plastic ones that failed years ago.

I really should be turning my attentions to the garden, so many plants in bud now waiting for the tiniest hint of warmth – but I look outside at the snow falling and decide I will remain in hibernation a little longer.

My time is spent inside on more practical household jobs – I am so caught up with the washing I am now waiting for something to wash, the ironing is done and in the airing cupboard and I even had a go at removing the candlewax from my linen tablecloth (and quite successfully I might add).

When I do have some spare time I am sewing – I have had that sudden urge to make something since completing the duvet cover for little Sweetie. Rummaging around, as one does occasionally, through my fabric stash I noticed I had some more tea towels that I bought a while ago and intended to make into tablemats.

My last efforts were quite successful and I thought it would be nice to make these mats for Easter – the little hen print is so cute …….but I had better get a move on, Easter will be here before we know it and bringing better weather I hope. I have already washed the fabric and unpicked the hems so I am ready to go.

I made pancakes on Tuesday. As we knew we would be out all day we both set to in the kitchen and did some preparation towards them. We usually have filled pancakes as a main meal so DH chopped the leeks and mushrooms and I made the batter – we make a good team (but only if he does things my way!!). Everything then went into the fridge for later – good job we thought ahead as it was 6.30pm when we arrived home.

They didn’t take long to cook and assemble – I cooked the leek and mushrooms together with a little parsley and seasoning for the filling; made a few pancakes then rolled each one up with the filling inside and laid them in an ovenproof dish.

I always use buckwheat flour, which the French use for their delicious crepes) because I like the crispier, lighter texture and once all the pancakes were made I covered them in a cheese sauce (I cheated here with a pot of Sainsbury’s own), topped everything with a sprinkle of seeds, Parmesan shavings and sliced tomato and then baked in the oven.

I have batter left over to make some plain pancakes to have with lemon juice as a pudding – but that will be another day.

During the school holidays last week we went up to North Yorkshire to stay with my daughter and grandchildren. We took Little L and Sweetie out for the day on Friday to Bowes Museum. It was the only place around that was indoors and warm – away from those terrible winds. We could hardly stand up outside in the car park – the rain was lashing about us but once inside there was lots to see and they are very child friendly.

At 2pm everyday you can visit the room with the famous Silver Swan (no I hadn’t heard of it either!) and see it perform. It is rather beautiful and a great feat of delicate engineering – when it is wound up the neck moves around and then dips its beak into the water below to catch one of the little fishes. I captured it on video but sadly I can’t upload it to my blog but you can see it here on You Tube.

We also had a trip to Northallerton a lovely, but busy, market town full of independant shops and stores…..and Betty’s (if you can afford it…..we can’t). I stocked up with a few items from Boyes – a brilliant cut price family run store that is a bit like a small Woolworths and they have a few branches in the North. They have an excellent selection of wool and I was tempted, but I decided I must finish the jumper I am knitting before I buy anymore.

Today I had to pop down to town to the library and use my double points petrol token before it expired. DH will be having a tooth removed by the time you read this. Ouch.

We will be up in North Yorkshire again at the end of the week as we have to look after my mum whilst my sister is away on a short holiday – so I may have a few days away from blogging.

Take care everyone and stay warm x

dear diary :: a time for home

The sun streaming through the windows yesterday morning was a cheerful sight to wake up to and it made my snap decision to do some sewing an easy one. Sadly, the better weather did not last and by the afternoon we were back to lashing rain and grey lifeless skies.

Even today the rain continues to fall and is far too wet to go outside with the camera – but the patterns of the raindrops on our window panes are quite delightful and worth capturing.

Being indoors and just being at home is all I need in winter. I busy myself with small jobs around the house, finishing projects here and there and keeping warm in the kitchen making and baking and using up any food so it doesn’t go to waste.

I took the opportunity yesterday to make the cot duvet cover and a matching pillowslip for little Sweetie. I bought the fabric a while ago from John Lewis, it wasn’t exactly cheap but cheaper than buying a ready made duvet cover. I chose two fabrics, one with unicorns (all little girls love unicorns it seems) and one with tiny pink hearts for the reverse. The unicorn fabric was more expensive than the pink hearts so I tried to manage with as little as possible – maybe a little too little as I found when I came to measure up and cut out – but I skimped by; after all Sweetie will not be in a cot for long and then will be moving on to a larger duvet.

I was so pleased at the end of the day to have another task to cross off my list.

During the morning we received a letter in the post addressed to ‘Granny and Grandad’ – inside was a beautiful card made by Little L with a message inside and some tiny feathers – don’t things like this just tug at the heartstrings. It will have pride of place on the mantelpiece.

The jumper is moving on – the back is finished and I am now counting stitches again on the few rows of pattern on the front – it takes all my concentration and lo behold anyone that interupts me – DH knows by now to keep well out of the way when he hears me counting out loud. Despite the difficult bits I keep encountering I do find it quite relaxing to knit in the evenings – my shoulders and neck however think otherwise and have become a bit tense recently so I may have to have a few nights off.

The kitchen planner came on Monday and we spent a good three hours measuring, discussing and looking at what might fit into our tiny kitchen and selecting possible samples of cabinet colour and worktop. Of course you always hit stumbling blocks and compromises have to be made but I shall be glad just to have some new units that are not coming apart. The kitchen we have now is almost 40 years old, pan drawers were not on the radar back then and hardly anyone had a dishwasher – now we would like both, although, I would not be too disappointed if I couldn’t fit a dishwasher in, what you have never had you will never miss.

There are questions to be answered of course……….do I need a self cleaning oven or a steam oven, a dishwasher that has no child lock or one that doesn’t signal the end of the cycle – I really don’t know because I have managed without these things up till now. Should we go with a ceramic hob or induction and should it have four rings or two rings and an oblong area? It is all foreign to me – any suggestions gratefully received – the appliances are such a big outlay if you get it wrong.

By the end of the session our minds were buzzing but I do feel we are now a little closer to a final design. The visuals they produce make it so much easier to see the finished plans – how did we ever manage without them?

On Sunday prior to the kitchen planner coming I had the great idea of cleaning out our china cupboards in the dining area. It was not one of my best ideas but as it was another wet day we had decided to stay in and stay warm – I find it a very tiring job but one filled with satisfaction afterwards.

Whenever I clean out these two cupboards I am reminded of how much china I actually own, it is a great weakness of mine, where one person might buy shoes, I buy china. I love it all and most of it is in constant use. I decided some bits and pieces can now move into the pantry – bread baskets and wooden tablemats which we only use occasionally when we have guests or the family round.

I emptied the cabinets one at a time to avoid overload and then cleaned inside and out, lovingly dusting the contents with a clean tea cloth before replacing them (in a ‘pleasing arrangement’ as DH says). I just love my ‘proper’ Ainsley patterned china dinner service, I know they are not fashionable any longer – does anyone still hold dinner parties anymore? – but I would never part with mine in fact we used it on Burns night. Each piece we have was either a gift or chosen with care from the seconds factory down in Stoke on Trent. So although most of it is not perfect it is perfect in my eyes.

Most of my other china is white, clean and simple. Our everyday dishes are from the Thomas china range by Rosenthal that we bought back in the late 90’s (mostly in sales as it isn’t that cheap). Before this we had numerous cheap dinner sets but found that once a piece was broken a replacement could not be found. We have never had a problem with the Thomas china it is still being made today and in fact the newer updated shapes fit in very well.

I do confess to a bit of a jug and a spoon fetish too.

I can’t say that I actually decluttered anything in here and to be honest I wasn’t expecting to find anything I did not want – it all sparks joy and I can say hand on heart that nothing in my china cupboard languishes unused but I am making a great effort not to purchase anymore….well for a while anyway.

I had food to use up in the pantry too; a ripening pear and avocado and I had ideas for these. We had the avocado mashed onto a Sainsbury’s cheese stick (my favourite rolls at the moment though not as cheesy as Tescos’) then heaped with cooked courgettes, mushrooms and tomatoes with a side salad of grated beetroot and chopped cucumber all topped with grilled halloumi slices.

I made up a recipe to use up the ripe pear. I love chocolate and pear together but rather than make a chocolate and pear cake or pudding I made a quantity of chocolate sponge mixture and divided it into some bun cases, then pressed a few chunks of diced pear gently into the top, sprinkled over a few chocolate chips and baked them in the oven.

Result…. delicious. And easy to freeze and then pack up for our picnics.

Tomorrow we shall be on our way to North Yorkshire once again – it is the school holidays and we are going to see the grandchildren for a day or two – not that we can do very much in this weather – I think a trip to the park will be out!

Hope everyone is keeping warm and has not been flooded out. x

dear diary :: a positive day, if not a little chilly

Some days can just start off more positive than others – I am not sure what makes the difference but today just happened to be a very positive one. Outside on the step and covering a few plants I could see the remains of the slushy snow; the only evidence that we had had a fall of snow overnight. It soon disappeared as the sun came out……..for all of an hour, but it did mean I could get the washing on the line, fill the bird feeders and take out the recycling. I didn’t hang around as is was bitterly cold.

I had breakfast alone as DH had a hair appointment booked this morning, so he was up, showered and off. He had a dental appointment this afternoon and we thought it was to take his tooth out but the dentist felt there was still some infection so it has been rearranged for two weeks time. DH much prefers the dentist to the hairdressers and always jokes that the hairdresser cuts his hair without even giving him an anaesthetic.

I had a leisurely breakfast watching the birds outside, mainly magpies, doing some rather daring manoeuvres to try and get the peanuts out of the little pottery acorns. DH had peeled and chopped the oranges, a job he is good at and I am not, and I combined these with a few blueberries and yoghurt followed by toast generously spread with the lemon curd I made a couple of weeks ago. I don’t usually have toast so it was a nice change from muesli and always goes well with a cup of tea. I am hoping that somewhere in this breakfast I will have satisfied a little of my vitamin C quota for the day.

Whilst DH was out I rushed upstairs to make him a Valentine card. I had no ideas in mind other than something with a heart and something pink would be appropriate. So after a rummage around in the craft drawers I came up with a few different sized heart stamps, some ink pads and a bit of glitter.

I played around a bit and came up with a prototype….well what can you expect in 15 minutes…. the first one didn’t go too well so I had another go and decided this is as good as it is going to get as I know I won’t have time to make another one…..anyway it is the thought that counts. I might even surprise him and bake a cake.

Being in craft mode I went on to make a birthday card for a colleague where I used to work. Her birthday is on Valentine’s day and I know she loves homemade cards as she makes her own too.

I have had these little daisy flowers for ages and had not really had any ideas for using them. After playing around a bit I decided to attached each fower to a wire stem using the trusty mini glue gun and then mount them onto a triangular base.

I made some butterfly cards in a similar way a few years ago by recycling the insides of envelopes – those official looking envelopes that you get with the interesting little patterns on the inside. Everyone thought they were quite cute. This is not a good picture but you get the gist.

I decided on a natural brown craft card to contrast with the white daisy flowers that have a little wooden bead in the centre and then added one of the pre-printed labels I had left over from a previous project. The card is quite tiny but will stand up easily on a mantel piece or table.

Scoring the bottom part of the triangle means that you can fold it flat to put it into the envelope.

After lunch we went to the dentist and then I dropped the card for my friend in at reception before going round to the library. I found an interesting little book called Make, Mend, Bake, Save & Shine written by Jo Godfrey Wood – full of handy tips to save money and make things last as long as they can and avoid throwing things out. I am all for not throwing away things that can be reused or repurposed. It should be an interesting read.

Now I have the pantry up and running I intend to make a list of meals that I can make to use up a lot of the food in there. Seeing it all displayed on shelves rather than stacked together in the old kitchen cupboards is so much better and reminds me just what we have in stock so hopefully food will not get wasted quite as much.

I am back to bedtime now once again – don’t the days whizz round quickly – in fact I should be in bed now so I am rushing to finish this. It will be another cleaning day tomorrow and a catch up with the ironing…oh and I seem to remember I said I might bake a cake.

creating health and wellbeing

Nothing much to report on this today I feel bad as I only did two of the exercises for my knees. Must do better tomorrow and schedule in some time to do them all. My knees do benefit from the exercises when I manage to do them for more than two or three days together so I would imagine if I could just stick at it for a week I would see a good result.

On my consultants advice I take vitamin D3 – it is the best thing ever in my mind and recently I have been taking vitamin B12 which I do occasionally as I am vegetarian and this can be something we don’t get a lot of from our diet and in myself a lack of it can make me feel dizzy.

The Optima Activjuice is a food supplement to help joints and was a very reasonable £3 something from Boyes in Northallerton so I thought I would give it a go. Hypothyroidism often produces long term joint and muscle problems so I am looking to see what might improve this – I obviously cannot do anything to improve my thyroid gland as I don’t have one so I am hoping something I try might just help to alleviate the joint and muscle problems I have.

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