Friday 31 December 2021

Mind The Gap

At this time every year, reporters with nothing to write about will churn out a piece explaining that the twelve days of Christmas should start on Christmas Day and end at Epiphany [January 6th] Apparently in olden times, people stopped work on Christmas Eve and began nearly a fortnight of jollity and feasting.  Please note, this was only the rich. The poor folk still had to milk the cows, chop the firewood, cook the feasts and do whatever they did the rest of the year. Decent employers gave their staff a second day of on Boxing Day to mark the birth of Christ with their families. [Tesco please note] These days, many people are able to have a few days off after 25th

But in this weird time of working from home, self-isolating, and everything else, we had Christmas falling on a Saturday, so Monday and Tuesday were Bank Holiday. And an awful lot of people have a whole week off - but fewer venues open, so less opportunity to get out there and enjoy yourself. And colds and covid limit family interaction. People are complaining about this gap in their usual social calendar. What do you call such a space?...a recess, a break, a lacuna [from Latin, pit or pool], a hiatus [again, from Latin, a gaping holeI'm not sure about lacuna, it is too similar to the name of Aldi cosmetic range [Lacura] and hiatus always puts me in mind of hernia. 

Whilst I loathe the word crimbo, I will accept it in just this one context [thank you blogfriend Anne for sharing it] in the rhyming reduplication that is CRIMBO-LIMBO

These are definitely quieter days for us, now George is back in Manchester with Steph and Gaz. We had a wonderful time with this toddler, and since his departure have been gradually getting the house straight, replacing nuts in the bowl, and potatoes in the veg drawer and retrieving Duplo from under the sofa. He rearranged many of our decorations for us. Having a small child to stay certainly means that you find joy in unexpected places!

Thursday 30 December 2021

#Word365 For 2022

This year my word has been Adventure. Who knew just what an adventure retirement would turn out to be? Despite the restrictions of the pandemic, I have visited new places, made new friends, learned new skills, tasted new foods and done all sorts of things I never expected.

I've grown - and eaten- my own salads. I've lost weight, I'm on my way to walking 1000miles in my 67th year
We live in our own property at last - and have bus passes and pensions... And three beautiful grandchildren. So what word am I taking for 2022? Well, I'm choosing two - a simple phrase 

There are different ways to interpret this. It can be in relation to habits and activities - I want to look again at the way I do things. Bob and I have realised that our pattern of life changed when we moved to Ferndown, and I was at home, not dashing round supply teaching, and I had time to bake more. We both put on weight. Bob no longer has regular "work related" demands on his time, so we are freer to do more things together. We need to look again at our lifestyle, sensibly planning meals and times for exercise. 

I need to look again at favourite hobbies [craft, reading, baking] How do these fit in now? And what about new hobbies? [gardening, walking] 

I need to look again at my role in the life of my church and my community. How and where can I most usefully contribute?

And my role in the family - particularly helping my children and grandchildren, and supporting my aunt and her grandson following the sudden, unexpected loss of Gillian last month. 

I need to look again at spending patterns. 8 years ago we had a large monthly mortgage payment, and I had well paid regular work supply teaching. That income disappeared in Dorset but the bills were the same. Now Cornerstones is paid for, as is the car - and we are pensioners. We must budget wisely, and use our resources responsibly. 

Those are all Big Things with long term consequences . But I need to learn to look again at the little daily things. To look again at my surroundings when we go on our walks, properly appreciating the beauty of nature, the changing seasons, the patterns of sunlight... To look again at situations, beyond a superficial response, asking myself  "What is this person really saying? How can I best serve them today, and show real love and care?"... What would Jesus do?

To look again at the emails and flyers from the charities and campaigns, which daily fill my in box and fall through the letterbox. Before deleting the message or recycling the leaflet, perhaps I should spend a minute or two reading them, in case they genuinely do need something from me. 

"At first glance I decided I should..." and "My first impression was..." are valid thoughts - but in 2022 I want to learn to slow down, take my time and

Wednesday 29 December 2021

Not Just Any Old Bag

 A totally unexpected piece of post last week, from the Norfolk Museums Service. We purchased an annual pass a few months back. A "Joint Seniors" - cost us £63 and we have already had more than our money back in terms of admissions. But they have sent all Pass holders a tote bag as a 'small token of appreciation' for support and patience whilst work is be carried out at the Castle.

Designed by local illustrator Nigel Orme, the accompanying letter says the bag features "iconic images from the museum collections"

I've identified some of the images. Working clockwise from the Castle itself, I found 

  • a fish with an ermine cape and crown [?] 
  • a lady's mask [Norwich Castle] 
  • a sea creature [I think that's Time&Tide Museum, Yarmouth] 
  • centre left is a big cat [?]
  • bottom right is the Snettisham Hoard Anglo Saxon Great Torc, 
  • bottom centre, Henry Blogg the Lifeboat Cox [Cromer Museum] 
  • The teapot, lady's shoe and the Egyptian Sarcophagus are all from Norwich Castle. 
  • I cannot identify the cross design
  • the horse may be from the Gressenhall workhouse and farm
  • the lock and key may be from the Kings Lynn Museum.

There is no explanation of the icons or their locations in the letter, nor on the NM website so I emailed Nigel to ask for one. He replied the same evening and said he's going to get the NM to send me all the information [what a thoughtful man]. Such a lovely gift, useful and thought provoking. Thank you Norfolk Museums [and Nigel] 

I'm really hoping that I will get to the Textiles Treasures Exhibition in the New Year [I'd hoped to go in November, but it didn't prove possible] The NMS has so much to enjoy, and I think the annual pass is definitely worth having- I've got a passion for history, and now I have time to visit, and discover more about the county where I live.

Tuesday 28 December 2021

Family Christmas All Over The Place

Despite our family being separated by distance, and by various people having covid, we still managed to have a good time. The wonders of technology meant we could keep in touch and send pictures. Here are just a few from our Christmas weekend

George is really growing fast - we had fun at the village playground. He is very fond of potatoes - and also loves being with Grandad

Staying at home, Rosie did some animal artwork - and wrote a note to Santa, explaining the need to cut up the reindeers' carrots [into 8 pieces] She is trying so hard with her spelling and phonics, even in the school holidays. New outfits for Christmas Day - my skirt, Rosie's flamingo pyjamas.

Our tree - and  in the Cotswolds, my great niece was entranced by her gran's decorations [yes, it is that cardi - I am really glad I persevered with it]

We ate so much good food...thank you to all cooks

All presents were well received - The Memory Bear, the Playmobil, and the giant lobster and much more

Cranium on Christmas Evening - a Christmas tradition. Final score 1 win each. Nothing left to say but Cheers! [don't worry, these are all non alcoholic drinks]

Hoping you had a happy time too.

Monday 27 December 2021

My Other Christmas Cake

 Cranberry Apple Spice Cake

A recipe from Joy The Baker, via my niece Kate in 2009. The tartness of the Granny Smith apples and the fresh cranberries offset the sweetly spiced sponge. The hole in the centre of the Bundt cake is filled with flower. 

The idea of decorating a Christmas cake with passion flowers came from my friend Bette 35 years ago. 

The flowers have been in my freezer since the summer, waiting for this moment. 

Sunday 26 December 2021

Christmas Is Not These Things...

I visited an elderly friend who lives alone, to check she was ok - and she had this poem stuck beside her front door. She said a mutual friend had emailed it to her. I asked if I could share it, and she was happy for me to do so.This year it seems particularly appropriate...

I do hope you have known love, joy and peace this Christmas - but in the tough moments, remember, you're not alone - nothing can separate you from God's love.

Saturday 25 December 2021

Immanuel - God With Us


From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith;
To the anguish and the shame of scandal
Came the Saviour of the human race.
But the skies were filled with the praise of heaven,
Shepherds listen as the angels tell
Of the Gift of God come down to man
At the dawning of Immanuel.

King of heaven now the Friend of sinners,
Humble servant in the Father’s hands,
Filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
Filled with mercy for the broken man.
Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again –
I will follow my Immanuel.

Through the kisses of a friend’s betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for a world’s transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost.
He fights for breath, He fights for me,
Loosing sinners from the claims of hell;
And with a shout our souls are free –
Death defeated by Immanuel.

Now He’s standing in the place of honour,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own beloved
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell;
But the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

 [Stuart Townend 1999 - a newer carol, but one that I love]

Friday 24 December 2021

I Should Have Listened To Delia!

In 2008 I bought some Nativity Figures from Lakeland, to decorate my cake. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Three Wise Men. At the time, I said they were 'rather expensive' and would therefore have to come out every year. This is their 14th Christmas! I have varied the arrangements - and usually been happy with the results...

Culpitt did introduce a nine piece set a while back - my six, plus shepherd, sheep and angel - but there was no point in buying that when it would be full of duplicates.

I usually make the royal icing with my Kenwood Chef.In 2018 I brought the cake un-iced  up to Norfolk, and found it impossible to beat the icing by hand till it was stiff enough. My attempt at making the stable went completely wrong, and the use of half a Chinese takeaway box led the family to liken it to Macclesfield Bus Garage

Last year I used fondant - but we were just two in Dorset on Christmas Day. It wasn't quite the same. Then in March, my dear friend Pauline came round to say goodbye before we moved. We sat [socially distanced] drinking tea in the garden [in our coats] - and she pushed a small box across the table to me. A leaving present.

She gave me her angel to add to my existing set of six figures. I was so touched. I decided this year's cake would have the holy family, one wise man and the new angel. And proper Royal Icing.

I used Delia's recipe here, put the cake stand on my lazy Susan, and spun it round, using my serrated scraper to make patterns. 

Friends, I broke the rules! 
I did not listen to Delia. Her final instruction is "leave the cake out overnight, for the icing to dry out - then put it in a container until needed" - but I just stood the characters on top straightaway, pinned on a red ribbon and took the photo. 

I came back to the kitchen a few hours later, to find Mary and Joseph looking very laid-back, and the Wise Man sunk up to his knees in the icing. The angel was decidedly fallen! The baby was OK. 

I have removed the figures and I am leaving the icing to dry out properly. Then I will work out a way to fix them so they are not languishing deep in the icing-quicksand.

Family conversation this week 

"So, Grandma, why do we have Santa at Christmas? He didn't visit baby Jesus in the stable did he?" 
"I think you should ask Grandad Bob about that"
"Grandad, why do we have Santa Claus?" 
"Well, Rosie, perhaps Grandma Angela will explain all about a man called Nicholas" 

After some thought, Rosie concluded that most presents come from Mum and Dad, or friends and family. But if we don't know who they are from, those must be the gifts from Santa...


Thursday 23 December 2021

An Early Christmas Present

Sort of... The House To-Do List, compiled just after Moving Day, has gone out of the window rather. At the beginning of the month, I said to Bob that it was a shame we wouldn't have the kitchen refurb done by Christmas. He asked what was most important, and I said "The Sink". Bless him, he set to and has worked really hard to complete 95% of the task.

In the first week, out came the old sink, and in went the new one. The next task was making good the wall after the electrical work [done in June] and rehanging the cupboards. Here is a photo taken last summer. Notice how the cupboards meet at the corner. There was a wasted space there. And if I wasn't careful, things on the top of the cupboards fell down the hole between!

Since the cupboard by the hob came down for the new Consumer Unit, there has been a hole in the wall and damaged tiles. Bob suggested repositioning the cupboards. 
This he has done.
And replaced the broken tiles, adding two more rows above
And painted the wall
And lengthened the 'pot rail'
And added bookshelves
What a wonderful bloke!

I cannot believe the difference this makes to the appearance of the kitchen. We chose blue for our 'feature wall' to match the new blind, and also go with our new Atora artwork [Liz rescued this when her neighbour was throwing it out]
Here is the new hob area, the bookshelves, the blind and the artwork...
Eventually the last 5% will get done - painting the plinths in the dark blue to match. As with the Futility Room makeover in 2018, I know that Someday My Plinths Will Come!
But right now I am thrilled with the fresh new appearance, somewhere to hang tea towels, and accessible cookbooks.
I can do it with suet Bob! Thank you for all your hard work, darling.

Wednesday 22 December 2021

A Box Of Delights

I actually bought a £1.50 bargain box of fruit and veg from Lidl on Monday. I was there bright and early and there were quite a few to choose from. I have to say I am extremely pleased with what I got

Obviously you can't check everything - but the salad bag, radishes and red pepper were together worth £2, so I went for it! As soon as I got home, I checked everything, and weighed it - and did a price check. My bag contained

  • 80g bag of pea shoot/mixed leaves salad
  • 240g bag radishes
  • 900g tomatoes
  • 1.3kg potatoes
  • 175g Chantenay carrots
  • 360g strawberries
  • 700g satsumas
  • 4 bananas
  • 3 pears
  • 2 bunches spring onions
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 little gem lettuce
  • 2 peaches
The peaches were very ripe - so promptly went into a smoothie with the ripest of the bananas. We ate the Little Gem the same day too. Everything else was fine. Had I bought all this separately, it would have come to more than £10. I am glad they are doing this, and not letting good food go to waste.

I am really delighted with this lot. I will continue to do my main fruit and veg shop at CC Wells [to get local Norfolk produce, and less common* veg like celeriac] but this was definitely a good buy.

*"less common" in the sense of harder to find, I an not wishing to condone vegetable snobbery here!

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Cutting Remarks

Here's Rosie, carefully trimming the stamps from my Christmas Card envelopes.  I should have mentioned this earlier in the season. Sorry! 

There are loads of charities which will take these, and use them to fund their activities. I always send mine to Baptist World Missions [as did my mother and grandmother before me] 

There is a collection point at our chapel- which is operates all year. You can find a list of other charities here

The charities sell them [usually by weight] on to dealers- who pick out valuable ones for collectors, and the rest are sold for crafting, or recycling. Charities can raise thousands of pounds like this.

I get fewer and fewer letters with 'real' stamps these days, but always more at Christmastime. It only takes a minute to trim an envelope before it goes into the recycling. And having a willing young helper like Rosie makes the job even easier! She knows this activity will help to provide schools for little girls in Africa, and she is all in favour of that!

Monday 20 December 2021

Take Care Of Yourself...

Thank you to my dear friend Jan in the USA, who sent me a link to this lovely 2020 Christmas Ad from Germany. 
Here's three minutes of YouTube to bring a smile to your face [and maybe a tear to your eye] at the start of the week...


Sunday 19 December 2021

Pause In Advent #4

Last week, Liz sent me a link to an appeal she'd seen on Facebook. A Norwich group which supports women who had experienced miscarriage or neonatal death was having a "Reflective Carol Service". Those who felt the pain of loss especially at Christmas could come together, and remember. Their speaker had pulled out the day before and they were asking for someone to come and give a short sermon/talk. 

It had to be someone with personal experience of baby loss. I put out feelers among local friends who might help, but got nowhere. I was sad about that - I'd have done it, but did not meet their criteria.

What would I have said? I would have acknowledged their grief - made so much harder when people all around are saying "after all, Christmas is a time for the children, isn't it?" - when we are bombarded with adverts about what we need for a 'proper family Christmas' - when hearing other people talk about what they are doing 'together' just exacerbates the sense of loss, of something missing. As if the rest of the world has forgotten their pain, glibly asserting that 'time heals' - not realising that broken hearts bear lifelong scars. I would have told them it was important to acknowledge those brief lives, so precious, lost so soon. And I would have reminded them that GOD has not forgotten them or their babies.

Up and down the land people read Bible account of the birth of Christ ... no room at the inn, angels, shepherds, wise men - and we so often stop at Matthew 2:12. But the end of that chapter is important too. The story of King Herod's attempts to kill the baby Jesus by slaughtering all the baby boys in Bethlehem - Matt 2;18 quotes the prophet Jeremiah ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more’

This too is part of the Christmas story - recognising that not every pregnancy ends with a happy, healthy child. And I think we should take time right now to remember bereaved parents, with love and sensitivity. In Luke's account, he says "Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." - how did she feel to realise that she and her baby had escaped safely, while other families were being torn apart? How did she feel as she watched her son die, [John 19;25]  did she think back to those bereft young mothers, all those years ago?

There is a time to weep, and a time to mourn - and I pray for those who went to that Carol Service- that it will have given them comfort, and hope - and light in their darkest moments, strength to get through this Christmas Season. 

We have read in the news of too many babies, toddlers and children dying in the past few weeks- in the cold waters of the channel, in burning homes, in flyaway bouncy castles, and perhaps worst of all, at the hands of the very adults who should have cared for them. There are many homes where someone has had to go and remove presents from under the tree, close a bedroom door, take down greetings cards, because the pain of loss is just too great. 

When I was 5 my mother gave birth to a son, who died within the hour. As was common then, she was told to go home and get on with life, and maybe have another child later. My beloved brother arrived when I was 7½. Mum rarely spoke of that lost baby - but she was anxious through both my pregnancies, afraid I might lose my child too. When she was 67, she died following a stroke - but a few hours before her death she sat up in bed and said, quite clearly "I shall see my baby in Heaven". I wept, to realise that she had kept this loss in her heart, for over 30 years, but I saw that her faith was giving her hope, as she herself faced death.

For all those who are bereft right now - especially these women, may they feel peace and love - and  experience the truth of Matthew 5:4. 

God has not forgotten you, he is with you in your grief

Saturday 18 December 2021

The Holly And The Ivy

 How hard can it be? That woman on Gardeners' World, Kirstie Allsopp and every body else on TV says it is easy-peasy to make a wreath for your door. "All you need is a wire ring, some reel wire [that's wire on a reel not real wire] moss, and lots of lovely greenery." they say.

I took my trusty big flower bag, my very tall husband, and a pair of secateurs - and we went for a good long walk, foraging in the lanes. I found holly, ivy, cupressus, cotoneatser, and other stuff I'm not able to name. And an old fence covered in moss.

I had made a mistake with my ring [ordered online] it was way smaller than I'd expected. But it didn't matter. But Kirstie and co never said how hard it is to wire prickly holly in place! With gloves your hands are protected, but it is not so easy to manipulate things. I worked outside in the garden. My artist neighbour admired it from over the fence, and suggested I needed more red on the right hand side [she was absolutely right]

Then I discovered there was no easy way to hang it on the front door. So Bob helped me to suspend it from the light. Now I am glad that it is no bigger - it fits very neatly above the slate nameplate.

I put one of my circular decals on the door instead. [please note reflection of slimmer photographer!] But there was a great deal of foliage left in the bag...

I took the lid off my red enamel coffee jug to make a small table arrangement. And used my larger IKEA jug to do a display for the window sill.

I do not have any antique chairs- so can't do the National Trust thing of putting a holly sprig on the seats to prevent visitors sitting on them!

I also have some lovely scented narcissi displayed behind my 'Willow Tree' nativity. A gift from a kind friend following our recent bereavement. I think that Cornerstones is suitably decorated now!

Friday 17 December 2021

Clips And Tips

 A few last minute Christmas Tips - involving clips

Take a metal paper clip and bend the lower loop down. You now have a perfect hanger for Christmas Tree ornaments- and unlike those green plastic ones from poundshops, this will not snap easily, and it will last for decades, then biodegrade happily. And the ones you do not use will hold your papers together.

You probably knew that one anyway- but I share it for those who haven't heard it before. This next one came to me as I was waiting for Rosie to come round and do crafts.

I have a coffee table in the lounge, and realised last summer that when Rosie is playing, her toys can sometimes scratch the surface. I laid a tablecloth for protection. However that was prone to sliding, and her little Sylvanian toys kept falling off and ending up under the table, at risk of being trodden on or sucked up the vacuum cleaner. I suddenly remembered my garden table- I have clips to retain the cloth when we are having a breezy summer lunch outside. These hold the Christmas Cloth tidily on my coffee table with no slippage!

Peg and spoon race If your stirring spoon keeps sliding into the pan, a clothes peg on the handle will hold it up, when you are not using it - and means you do not need to put a sticky spoon down on the worktop. [I would use a wooden clip not a plastic one though]

Ten Green Bottles might roll around in your fridge, but not if you use a binder clip, to keep them in place.
Clothespins [pegs] - old fashioned wood, or newer ones with metal springs, can be easily transformed by the children into little angels 
Butterfly clips transform strips of card into colourful globes to hang on the tree - another easy craft to do with the children. And no messy glue or sticky tape either! Full instructions here
That's half a dozen clip tips- do you have any to add??