Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Looking forward to 2014

Looking forward to 2014 requires reflection on the year that was. 2013 will forever be one of those significant years in my life. Not one of those years where the memory of it turns to mush in an oblivion of the same old tunes.

First and foremost this is a year about life and living and making the most and new possibilities and ever evolving. Ironically it took the death of a very close friend which was very painful and far too soon. When someone is given the diagnosis and prognosis it is hard to believe so that it is still a shock when it does happen. I still find it very hard to believe she is really gone and never coming back. Death seems so final, and yet there is something lasting in the memory that holds us close. That I can still talk to her in my head, and that, more importantly, she is talking back to me.

I can see her now, being tickled by what I have done and achieved this year.

The wheels have been in action for some years regarding selling our house and that completed at the end of January. Even though we sold at a loss I thought we would be rolling in it as a result of clearing our debts with the proceeds but curiously that has not been the end result which just goes to show how pathetic our income is and has been, though over the course of this year it has improved. I thought I would feel more with our debts being cleared though to be fair all that was rather overshadowed by my friend dying.

The beginning of the year saw my 50th birthday and a celebration. Not the really big event and dance I was originally planning but nevertheless a heartwarming and significant celebration of my landmark year. The beginning of the year also saw another friend and I commit to monthly outings to places one of us had never been and always wanted to go. We kept it up throughout the entire year and it has enriched my life feeling like I have done things and gone places. Unlike some years when one reflects on all the places one could have gone to but didn't, this feels like an achievement.

The early part of the year saw me making bread, something I had never done before, and here I was doing it really well. Creating and baking and putting the food of life on the table felt significant and enriching.

The spring time saw me take to running. Again, something I had never in my life managed before and certainly had no desire. Suddenly I could run for an hour and not need to stop nor be out of breath. Never mind the good feeling hormones that produces there is something in the psychology of feeling strong and who knows what else I might be capable of doing. In time the bread baking took a bit of a side step as there are just not enough hours in the day with fitting in work too. Those skills are not lost and I was thrilled to be able to whip up a Ciabatta on Christmas morning for our Antipasti starter.

Another thing that took a bit of a sideline this year was our allotment. Partly because it was so disappointing the few crops we produced for the amount of effort put in. Or perhaps it was a case of the preparation of the allotment gave me the greatest pleasure and we have lost our way a bit. Growing crops is such a learning curve and I wonder how much I really want to learn on that score.

We travelled to see old and loved friends in Germany and for the first time darling Mr Doris and I visited Berlin. A place I wanted to go since the 1980s and I was not disappointed. Driving a hire car past the landmarks of a great city felt like such an achievement.

At work I have been proving my worth and it was most satisfying in the day or so before Christmas to have my boss call me to one side and acknowledge what I do. Verbal appreciation does go a long way.

The kids are 24 and 19 years old and are way taller than me. They are also more appreciative. Not perfect or consistent by any means but a whole lot better. They are both making their own marks on the world and finding their way bit by bit which is really heartening.

My darling husband has held me close and yet enabled me to go and do all the things I've either needed or wanted to do this year. Sometimes I can see by the way he looks at me that he really appreciates me. We'll be coming up to fifteen years of being married in the year ahead which seems to me to be an anniversary worth celebrating.

I reckon 2014 will be a year of consolidation hopefully peppered with a few more new activities. One of which will be my returning to college one evening a week for sixteen weeks in order to extend my qualifications. Once again I will no doubt be the oldest girl in the beauty school and most likely older than the tutors again. Education always leads on to other things so who knows what may come of it.

Fingers crossed that my son is able to move out because he will be 20 and I do think he would benefit from the freedom of being in his own space. Yes, I know I will gain a room and we can spread out a bit which would also help a lot but it is more about what is right for him.

In 2014 I can see that our income is growing so that we are in a position to do more. I have cousins in Australia I have wanted to visit since being reunited in 2006 but I do not know if our finances are quite there yet.

There is a long run I would like to do which would entail me doing a whole lot more training. The run would take a number of days and involves running coast to coast. The idea excites me though equally I am happy to pace myself with that desire as I met someone who also took up running this year and already is out of running distances through permanent injury. I will be starting 2014 with my shoulder injury which is turning into a frozen shoulder - something that is not conducive to the busy working life that I have! Clearing that up will be significant too and blinking essential especially as I have not been running so as not to exacerbate it.

Here's to 2014 and all the unknown and yet to be discovered treasures of the year as well as consolidating all that 2013 has given.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Family Birthday

Birthdays mixed in with festival times can be so unfair. The festival takes priority and sadly the birthday can become a bit of an afterthought. There was one significant year where I managed to pull out all the stops which took a great deal of focused planning and hijacked the festival event. So it is possible but when the person is an adult and does not seem to be bothered it does make it easier on everyone else around. My birthday is in a couple of weeks and I have a simialar experience since childhood. It was always the same tune that it was too close to Christmas not that I would get anything extra at either event. It was about my third or fourth birthday that my mother stopped giving me a birthday party and that was that. It was quite something each year to watch my brother enjoy the bounties and fuss of his birthday in the middle of the year. I think I learnt to try to toughen up on that score so that I appeared not to mind.

This year was significantly different for me as it was a landmark birthday and a fuss was made. Never before have I had such parcels and gifts just for me to open and it was very special, and very strange. I am not sure I would want that again except at another significant birthday.

Today's birthday was a very nice home made dinner and all the family around. Not so much a fuss of the birthday person as an excuse to all get together for another enjoyable feast and a game of Balderdash. If it had been another time of the year I suspect the birthday person would be more the focus, so I wonder what it does to our psychology overall.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Time flies

This morning we said good bye to the first of our friends staying with us for this Christmas. Where did the time fly? It just feels like it was all over too soon and I could quite happily have it last a bit longer.

Tomorrow I am back to work for the middle part of the day and then it will be all hands to organising the big New Year's party at my sister's house. This evening we are meeting up at a local pub where nephew is playing with his jazz band. Sister and I will be discussing the catering. Yet more feasting no doubt.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Dressing gown day

It was one of those days I knew I was going to take it easy but not that easy. Dressing gown on all day cosied up on the sofa with a friend also in her dressing gown catching up on all the unwatched programmes from this Christmas season with bountiful chocolates and an array of alcoholic beverages to titillate our taste buds.

Some days in our lives need that sort of treatment.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Family Time

After a lovely day and evening of togetherness on Boxing Day we meet up again for lunch at a local grill then back to ours for the cheese board we did not have room for the previous day then out again to a pub in a Tudor manor house for mulled cider then home again for more port and sherry and whiskey liquor with games of Balderdash.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Amuse Bouche Feast

Quick word after an amazing feast with family and friends. Six courses later including an amuse bouche, we couldn't quite make the cheese board. Fancy dress was a huge success and much merriment was had. Very contented. Much satisfaction and another glorious Christmas.

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Ciabatta Christmas

It has been a topsy turvy Christmas with us all opening our Secret Santa presents on Christmas Eve. It was brilliant and worked out fab even for the youngest of us all. So far opinion seems to be that we should do it again next year.

This left a Christmas morning where present opening was not the focus. Nor was a cooked breakfast as I decided it was superfluous and a simple croissant breakfast would do. Especially, it is the first day in ages that I have slept in. Glorious.

We are starting our Christmas dinner with antipasti for which we needed a little bread. So what better than to make Ciabatta for the first time. I found a recipe that did not require an overnight developing and it has baked OK. If it is not good enough we always have one of those part baked loaves we can pop in the oven.

Daughter is making a lemon meringue pie for our pudding and the brisket is slow cooking for the mains. Vegetables to prepare and then let the feasting begin.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Eve

There is that delightful time in the early afternoon when finally home with the last lot of shopping knowing that anything forgotten will now have to be managed without. The turkey has been botoxed with a marinade I have made from scratch and various other items from the menu have been prepared in advance. I keep making and cooking and dear Mr Doris keeps washing up after me and emptying the bins.

A simple dinner is now cooking. A dear friend arrived from London is zonked out on the sofa for a quick nap before our evening activities - Christmas carols and nibbles and mulled wine at my sister's house. Followed by the midnight service at our local church.

It is Christmas Eve and family and friends are close. The cooking is in hand, a merry warmth from Baileys in Hot Chocolate and all is good. Seasons Greetings!

Monday, 23 December 2013

24 hours

12.05am At supermarket in next town purchasing large turkey
01.15am Lying in bed trying to sleep but thinking over menus and recipes
05.10am Wake up feeling awake and refreshed finalising menu for Boxing day
07.55am Collect daughter and drive her to work
08.40am At local supermarket purchasing vegetables and other items for festive dinners
09.15am Home and sorting vegetables to store in boot of car
10.05am Showered, uniformed and on way to work - clients all day
06.40pm Leave work and head to two other supermarkets for bits and pieces
07.20pm Stop off at butcher on way home as it is still open but they do not have the cut I want
07.40pm Jog to other town butcher and find they are closed but open at 6am tomorrow
07.50pm Home to yummy spaghetti and meatballs cooked by son
08.30pm Intention to make the Christmas soup but watch a new production of Jane Eyre instead
10.20pm Consider how tired I might be and that cooking can wait
10.45pm Play a few overdue scrabble moves on four different games on phone app
11.00pm Read emails
11.10pm Write this blog post
11.15pm Consider again how tired I am and that perhaps I will go to bed early for a change

Sunday, 22 December 2013

My favourite holiday decoration

This is it, my favourite holiday decoration that has come out every year for the past decade and a half. It is a Playmobil advent calendar originally sent to my children from Germany by a very close friend but at that time I felt the kids were just too young to respect the small bits so I kept it in storage. And then forgot about it. And then one day had the sublime pleasure of rediscovering it. The kids have never shown an interest in it but to me, it is the epitome of Christmas decorations. As each day passes I open the next box and place the contents onto the numbered area in the tableau to make Santa's workshop. The final two items to go out are the tea set that sits on the green box to the left of the stove and then a grandfather clock that goes just behind Santa who is sat at his desk with a book of the names and a feather pen in his hand. I know every item by heart and each year carefully pack it up to unwrap it again next year.

Sat next to Santa's workshop on our windowsill is another advent calender that is also a favourite. This calendar is a stylised depiction of Jesus' stable and each day a cut out of the various characters of the bible story are added with the last day, the 24th, the baby Jesus is placed in the manger.

In other news, currently another batch of meringues are baking as I had egg whites left over from making the crème patisserie which I discovered can be made in advance and frozen. The same with the bread sauce which is also now cooked and frozen. Several loads of washing have been done today and a partly successful shopping trip for food. An extra large turkey eludes me and normally I would have it bought by now. Luckily the shops will re-open at midnight so I will pop out then to the next town in search of one. I am working long hours back to back tomorrow so it suits me to do that tonight. Mad or what?!

UPDATE: 5.15am Monday I've slept well and woke up way before my alarm was due. I did that midnight trip along silent roads until I reached the mecca of bright lights hidden within the supermarket walls. People were silently arriving from all directions. I located a super large turkey and popped it into my extra large bag wondering if the secret camera operators might have thought I was going to try to shoplift the beast. Of course we do not have a refrigerator big enough so it is in a cold bag with frozen blocks until its big injection day on Tuesday and then long roast on Boxing Day. That's three days of trying to keep it chilled without any facilities nor garden shed.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Two more work days until Christmas

Saturday is not normally a work day for me but here I am, covering for someone today. On the way I shall pick up the apprentice at 8.40am for a 9am start. As no-one really clocked that I was in today I have a very quiet schedule so I am hoping that maybe I can wangle a small treatment for myself. That would be a treat.

Whereas Monday is just ridiculous with almost every moment from 10.30am through to 6.30pm back to back with clients squeezing in. Thank goodness I pencilled in a 20 minute break to rest my arms after one huge block of intensive work otherwise I am sure there would have been no hesitation to fill it all.There are no lunch breaks, no tea breaks. Nothing. We've become a spineless nation with no employment rights any more.

The apprentice I am picking up used to be one big pain in the backside and detrimental to the business that all us staff wondered what our boss was up to. Our boss can be really hard and strict at times with us on the one hand and yet on the other a real sweetie. She is the sort that takes in stray dogs and wants to nurture the broken and wounded. The thing is, business is business and you have to protect it. I don't think any of us regular staff could understand the battering she has allowed the business to take with an apprentice who could be surly and slap dash and unreliable but probably worst of all, seemingly confident with wrong information to clients about matters outside of her knowledge base or remit. Or perhaps the unreliable was the worst when a client came for their treatments and we had to turn them away because the apprentice had not come in once again.

To be fair, this apprentice has great potential. I've experienced a lot of trainees during my training and not many have "the touch". A nice firm touch during a facial is essential and she has it when she can be bothered.

Several final warnings later and then finally notice to quit, the apprentice has finally pulled her socks up. She is now a joy to have around and beginning to be a real asset. For some reason she likes to work with me, or at least she says she does! I keep her occupied when I can and she knows I do the dirty jobs too. I share things I have learnt and I have no hesitation to ask her to do something such as make me a cuppa which is a big thing for me. I do not ask anyone for anything unless I feel secure asking. What is more, on those days when I am back to back and she isn't, she will help me by bringing cuppas and cleaning up. When apprentices are busy with clients and I am not I will assist them so I tend to be egalitarian on that score.

What I have discovered from this apprentice is how she did not originally want to do this job nor career and now she does and that, with the notice to quit, has helped her to change her mind and to apply herself. The other apprentice originally started off well, seemingly so in stark contrast to the first apprentice, and is now a different sort of nightmare. I know she clearly resents the whole idea of an apprenticeship and working for little money in the way young people think the world owes them a living.

My son was once an apprentice but he never gave me that impression but I think he was a nightmare with one employer who finally had to let him go. And now I know of someone else becoming an apprentice. Something I think I have realised that is inherent in apprentices is that it was never their first choice so they are always going to be dissatisfied. Employers see apprentices as a cheap work option, even my lovely boss although she has stayed more than the distance and provides lots of opportunities and specialist training. There is so much commitment to having an apprentice and it is no easy option.

I never thought I'd say this but such a pity our first apprentice is not in at work with me on Monday as I really could do with her support.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Dreamtime reunion

It was a traffic jam of the total gridlock variety and we were trying to get to a special event though I am not sure what. Phone calls were going back and forth about our delay and then we were walking and came upon a crescent of grand terrace buildings one of which someone had recently (in my dream?) been telling me they could buy for £275 grand. More like millions it should have been. It was a hotel and we went through the main entrance and cheekily used the toilets whilst we could see crowds queueing to get into the loos at the back of the building.

Next thing I was aware of was my dad who was part of our party. He had secretly been in touch with my big sister (who in real life we have no contact) and said that she was happy to meet up with my mother - her mother. The person who the whole family rift was about. My mother was part of this group of us but she did not yet know this news. I could not believe it and felt that perhaps big sis was being pressurised, after all, historically she had done nothing wrong.

Next to appear to be part of our party was my little sis as a young teenager from decades ago. Somehow, she and I nipped off to find big sis and to double check before things got out of hand. Along the way I asked little sis "you do know who we are going to see?" and she seemed not to know it was our big sister which I thought a little strange she did not know. In real life she does know though of course my little sis already has a big sis in me so the importance of a bis sis is more mine.

Amazingly we located big sis and she gingerly started speaking to us. She invited us into her house. It was talking and no grand reunions. As we talked I was talking to a big sis who looked like the image of the little girl in a small picture compact that my mother used to have and used as a tool to reveal to my brother and myself, when I was 8, that we had a big sister in another country living with her mother. I've written before about the joy I felt in discovering I had a big sister and that I wasn't just stuck with a violent and cruel older brother (who in his adult life has apologised to me and been a sweetie). It was significant to my life knowing she was there and yet she was just a photo.

As big sis and I talked, little sis became like a toddler and messed around with big sister's things. At one point I took a Chinese calligraphy brush out of her hand and held it up to her face and explained how special it was and not to touch anything else. Big sister was quite laid back but there was no interaction between the two. In real life, my little sis is not bothered at all about our big sis and never sought her out. I have at various times in our lives and then the relationship did not sustain. Partly I think I was too over eager like a puppy so thrilled to even be in her company. Understandably her feelings were not reciprocated as she probably just wanted to know who her parents were. My mother was this exotic creature apparently touring the world with my dad in the navy and having other children she kept. The identity of her birth father was always withheld by my mother and woven in lies when anything was said. In real life I finally managed to tell big sis the harsh reality of our exotic life overseas.

In the dream big sis is talking about agreeing to meet up with our mum. I am suggesting we meet in a nice local place for coffee and keep it short and sweet. She immediately thinks it ok to have mother over to her place for coffee which I strongly disagree with. At some point there are dinner plates on the table and we have been laughing and catching up. At another point I am looking at big sis as the young girl from the picture and she morphs into the older woman that she is. Then I realise our mother is dead (died nearly three years ago) what are we doing. Like a movie, my vision pans over the dinner table and then I wake up. Very awake and confused and sad.

It is what it is. In real life my big sis was informed of my mother's death by an aunt. My big sis did not contact me but I am not upset by that. We have not had contact for about ten years now though I may have sent a few Christmas cards way back. Last Saturday when I did my little Christmas card thing I did send her one. Not my usual flowery over the top sentimental stuff but a simple message. Sent without any expectation. She will have received it by now - assuming she is at the same address - but that thought hadn't crossed my mind until this morning.

Tears almost flow. The sadness is overwhelming. And now the ridiculous hope that maybe big sister might respond to my card. A wish that I really have to let go because this is about a mythical big sister, a hero from my childhood that kept me going (along with my gorgeous little sister) when times were incredibly rough. An aunt, who is actually kindly, once snapped that my mother had no right to tell me big sis was my sister since she was adopted by my grandmother. The first time I heard another aunt whom I had reunited with my big sis introduce big sis to a friend as "her" sister was one of the first spears through my private balloon of joy. Big sis has her own issues and her own joys in life. I am just not part of it. Now I am crying.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Suck it to me baby

Could this be the day that I finally get on with clearing the decks rather than being distracted by cooking? Bit by bit, purchases in the post have brought the vacuum storage bags, the vacuum adapter that did not fit the vacuum, and finally a portable pump to do the job.

The task has begun of reducing the contents of our apartment by a sizeable amount into a series of vacuumed packages that can be easily accessed as required. Mr Doris thinks labelling the packages: eg. two pillows, single bed set with two pillows, single duvet; extra panel for double duvet; etc; might be sensible. I thought not. This morning I already can not remember which package is which. Methinks labelling has to be the way to go. Then rearrange things in our overfull bedroom so that they can be easily accessed yet are tucked away.

That is the plan if I wish to accept it, which I do. Then off to work for an afternoon and evening shift.

Christmas is a'coming and although I have done some great planning and action there is also much that is undone and could become a last minute panic if I do not get on with some basics.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Surprise coffee and cake

It is not everyday that you meet up with a blast from the past. Earlier my sister called me out of the blue to join her for coffee and cake in one of our town's new establishments. It was great to catch up as we walked together rather than the recent bare few words managed around each of our busy schedules.

The proprietor of the establishment is a former client of mine and she remembered me and I am delighted with how much she remembered. When I introduced my sister she immediately asked if she was the musician. It is so lovely when another human being interacts with us and we have made it to their memory banks. And especially when they are a lovely person who has been through so much in their own lives.

The coffee was good, the cake homemade and the ambiance of the new bar and grill was spot on. My sister and I shared updates of our Christmas activities and lives and it was so nice to catch up.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Anatomy of a great recipe

With making a Christmas fruit cake in mind, online recipes mainly call for a list of ingredients as long as your arm. Requiring some serious printing out in order to make sure you have it all which entails buying obscure items that you only need half the quantity and that then sit in the back of your cupboard until the next clear out. Even if it wasn't Christmas cake, my eyes usually glaze over if I am first faced with a long ingredients list that I do not even want to go further into the recipe.

On the other hand, some recipes require some preciseness and explanation which can be difficult to know where to draw the line between explanation and detail actually required. Not everyone is at the same level of cooking skills which I guess also plays a part in what is required of a recipe. Some recipes can be so vague and I have come across misprinted recipes that leave out essential ingredients or steps required. Essentially we need to know the ingredients and then what to do with them, that is for sure, but along the way there needs to be brevity with room for adapting the recipe to the needs of the cook and ingredients available.

As an example, joy upon joys in the early of this morning when I came across this recipe for Boiled Rum Fruit Cake which has truncated the usual list of fruits and peels and nuts with this:

1kg mixed fruits and nuts of your choice

How simplified is that? What is more, I was able to go directly to my cupboards and pull out bits of this and that which made up the quantity I wanted to make so that here I am at not even 8pm and the cake has already been cooking for nearly an hour. If it was one of the other recipes I had seen it would have entailed a trip to the supermarket, once the shops had opened, before even starting.

I have modified the recipe by adding some tiny blocks of dark chocolate also sat in the cupboard, some espresso instant coffee, and the zest and juice of two oranges. This meant leaving out the last bit of rum unfortunately, and increasing the dry ingredients. If I'd have thought of it earlier I'd have left out some of the milk instead. The cake now should be Chocolate Orange and Rum Fruit Cake. The smell of it baking is divine. The cake batter was scrummy.

The lining of the cake pan with parchment paper was quite high, as suggested in other recipes I had read, and as a result I had doubled it over to make it fit rather than cutting it and leaving me with a long strip of paper. Considering I was using a pan that was not big enough luckily the lining was reinforced in this way as I can see from the shadow that the cake has risen at least 2cm above the level of the pan but I have to wait longer before I can get a good view. Fingers crossed it bakes really well and cooks throughout without burning.

UPDATE: to the right is the finished cake upside down with a wodge of fondant icing around the rim of the "bottom" to even it out and bits of fondant squeezed into the gaps to make the surfaces smoother. I just rolled out the fondant and laid it straight over the cake - no  marzipan. At the top is a photo of *my* cake with it's main icing and a bow decoration. Not very Christmassy with that bow but I wanted to do it. I'm out to work which  gives me time to not mess the cake at this stage with doing too much. I have more fondant and might consider some more Christmassy decorations to go on top.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Homemade baked cheescake for breakfast

It was more like 4am when I was wide awake so I made a cup of tea and tried another slice of the cheesecake I made yesterday in preparation for our Boxing Day feast. The idea is to mash it all up and to create tiny lollipops on sticks to freeze as part of the nibbles for the chocolate fountain.

This is the first time I have made a baked cheesecake and opted for the water bath/bain marie method. Two good sheets of foil seemed to do the trick with no breach of water into the loose bottomed pan. After cooling and refrigeration I couldn't help but try some last night and disappointed does not come anywhere close. The whole thing tasted wishy washy with a wet texture and yet looked firm and cooked, apart from the crust which looked wet right away. Mr Doris kept trying to put a positive spin on it calling it moist.

Which made me realise how much I like that dry, stick to the roof of your mouth richness of a good cheesecake that needs a good coffee or a cup of tea to go with it. Cheesecake is not cheap to make and the raw mixture tasted so delicious I was very excited about the result that I had boasted to Mr Doris that if it did not turn out wonderful I would eat one of my legs. Which is a pretty stupid boast to make on all counts.

The cheesecake has sat open in the fridge overnight and there is some hope for it. The slice I had this morning is quite a bit dryer and tasting a whole lot more like cheesecake. The crust is even tasting crustier! Fingers crossed that a few more hours will have it tasting special and I can proceed with the next stage. Otherwise it is down to the supermarket for a shop bought one.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Cleaning the silver and menu planning

Usually by about now, I have written up the menus for Christmas and Boxing Days and pulled out the ingredients list to check what is in the store cupboard and what needs to be shopped. It usually feels comfortable and organised and about right and not at all hysterical or panicking. After all, a catering establishment would usually plan ahead to make sure items were in stock and the facilities were prepared.

Yesterday as I made one of my frequent returns to the sanctuary of the sofa to nurse my painful arm and shoulder, I sat there thinking with great concern that this was not done and the menus were still turning around and developing in my head. We have 14 for Boxing Day and I always like to do things differently so it is not a case of repeating the same old tried and tested favourites. This year we are going to have a fish course simply so that I can use the fish knives and forks that were my mothers. She never knew I had them as an aunt gave them me some years ago. My grandmother had given them to my mother for her 21st. They are EPNS and were of great expense to my grandmother but my mother did not keep them long (read that as probably cast aside as not good enough!) and my aunt salvaged them.

They are only a set of six plus fish servers whilst we have 14 to serve, so for the past month or so I have been in and out charity and antique shops and have acquired another set of six for £5 and odd ones amounting to five places for £3. None of these are as nice as the original but they are not bad. Nor are they all EPNS and some are chrome but they have the look. Sometime ago I discovered silver (and EPNS) cleaning using a foil lined bowl, warm water and bicarbonate of soda. This had removed the years of black off the EPNS and gave me an acceptable feeling of wanting to use the objects in my mouth. A feeling I never have with proprietary silver cleaner as one can't be sure all the chemicals are off. The fish cutlery shines and looks special.

It will still be a simple fish course and a flimsy reason to use the fish servers as I am making miniature smoked salmon terrines. These can be made ahead and then served from one large serving plate.

My current quandary is a bit silly. I also want to make a lovely vegetable soup as it is so simple and so very beautiful when, for special occasions, it is passed through a fine sieve. I have done leek and potato soup like that one Christmas and it was extremely well received. I'm thinking of a pumpkin or squash soup as we have some left from our allotment. It is just that I am suddenly concerned about serving a hot soup followed by a cold salmon terrine and how that will go down, digestively speaking! Is there a rule that says hot soup should not be followed by a cold fish course? (These are of course, the important issues of the day rather than gun men gone mad again, fireman going on strike, or the funeral of a world leader.)

We are having a chocolate fountain for pudding. I have yet to collate the recipes and ingredients needed for making profiteroles with raspberry cream and baked cheesecake pops to go alongside the other dipping items. And the main event will be a gorgeous turkey which I would normally have sourced by now. It must be unbasted and big enough so that I can inject it with my own delicious baste. We will have a second roast and then as many vegetables as I can manage. Oh yes, and normally I'd have bought fresh cranberries by now and made a cranberry sauce and frozen it.

Eating our freezer empty has been a priority these last few days so at least something is being done. Maybe I should stop stumbling over the hot starter and cold fish and get on with the details. Shopping for the bits begins today. Making the cranberry sauce always makes me feel festive.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Christmas Cards and other plans

Here we are, nearly middle of December, and our Christmas card count stands at four received! Plus two I have in my drawer at work which are the obligatory ones. Is that a sign of Christmas this year or a knock on effect of my tardiness in previous years? As if this household is just about me and things wouldn't happen if I didn't do it, which is possibly true to some extent but nature abhors a vacuum and if I weren't here then others would fill that social void. Which is a whole 'nother digression.

This morning I woke up planning to work on clearing down the decks in readiness for visitors and guests in just over a week and already in less than an hour I am thinking that with a humongous push I could print up those address labels, write a sentence or two in each card and whip them down to the post box by midday. Please may we have enough stamps in stock to carry out this process.

On the starters mark: close down the blogs; do not be diverted by anything else; open the labels file from Christmases past and revise and print; fetch out the cards already purchased way back; sit at table and start writing; get what is done to the post office this morning, especially those overseas ones in some vague attempt they might even arrive; and do it. Now!

UPDATE: Just four hours later and I am back from the Post Office including standing in the long queue. About 36 cards written and posted. No wonder I had a smug look on my face walking back through our cute little town. The Town Crier dressed in his red frock coat with scrolled announcement board called out the town's news to the high street with a few market stalls set up. It is not yet midday and I can think of what next in our Christmas preparations.

Friday, 13 December 2013

95 years old

In the week that the great Nelson Mandela passed away at the grand age of 95, I visited my 95 year old client for her pampering treatments. I rarely do mobile work and just look after a few clients that I enjoy doing and this lady is one of them. No-one's life can read like Mandela's as he was truly one of a kind but that does not make her any lesser or greater. And possibly in her time she may have been racist and pro-apartheid, or maybe not. She is the sweetest frail thing all hunched up and bed bound with a tiny voice. I've seen her picture, in the frame at the far end of her dressing table, of her at someone's wedding and this was a well built looking woman, the sort one would be cautious of messing with so I do wonder how as humans we can be all these different people within our lifetime. From the cute baby through to a crinkly and withered old person with all those different abilities and personalities along the way. Age can really level out a person's life with all their past put to one side.

Her skin is like paper and taught around her skeleton such that it does not take much to see her frame. All my treatments are modified: facials, manicures, pedicures and massage. I also remove facial whiskers and give her ears a good clean with damp cotton buds. She can feel those whiskers and they sure do bug her and are not good for her self esteem. I don't mind working with her bony hands and feet as there is a certain beauty in seeing the body in this way, and knowing that this person and this body have been on this earth for nearly one hundred years.

I'm seeing her monthly and I hear the same stories again and again and each time I listen avidly for I really do not mind hearing them again and genuinely sound delighted each time I hear them. Sometimes I try to gently push the boundaries for something else from her life though not too much so as not to make her uncomfortable. This time I finally took something of me and brought a large framed photo of my wedding day: of Mr Doris and myself. We propped it up so she could see it whilst I carried on with the treatments. She was so delighted and exclaimed it was like being at the cinema!

During the 90 minute session (supposed to be 60 minutes but I always allow extra) we laughed and giggled. Her lungs are starting to wheeze but she does not seem to recognise it as her lungs and asked me if I could hear that voice. She said something was echoing what she said. Then I could hear the wheeze which she heard as coming behind her and she said there was a man with her and kept telling him to shuss. The more she laughed the more the wheeze which lead to more laughter. We wished each other a happy Christmas and talked about my next visit in January.

As I was leaving, her daughter told me what a difference my visit made in that before I had arrived her mother had said she wanted to die and now she was a different person. This is not about me specifically, although I am sure there is something special I bring to the mix, but about the whole role of therapeutic treatments and beauty. It may be labelled as beauty but pulling a few whiskers is not rocket science and gentle hands on smoothing of creams gives a physical touch the human body and soul needs. On many previous visits my lady has cried about wanting to die because of the "trouble" she feels she is to her daughter. I think it is one thing dying because the body has finally had enough but another to just give up. When my lovely old lady does pass, I hope she will do so feeling happy and content ready to go and not because she feels she must.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Lorde "Royals" vs. Icona Pop "I love it"

Just recently I have discovered Lorde, a sixteen year old singer songwriter from New Zealand. Royals has a deep pulsating beat and lyrics that celebrate individuality and bucking trends. Lorde has a beautiful clear voice. Oh joy. Then there is the video which is, I think, a work of art. Picturing very ordinary spotty lads doing what lads do. Nothing glamorous or glitzy. My car speakers go up very loud when I play it. The rest of Lorde's album is also very good and I reckon there will be more tracks released in due course.

I am not sure how long Icona Pop's "I love it (I don't care)" has played as I have been aware of the refrain "I don't care" sung in a very poppy dance style which appealed to some part of me. That is, until the other day driving when it came on the radio and I heard each of the lyrics, not that there are many. Of course I shouldn't take it so seriously but I do. Dark lyrics that talk of crashing one's car into a bridge and being up in the milky way and then the flippant "I don't care, I love it". Suddenly I have a huge problem with the vibe of this song. It has a great dance beat but the lyrics say nothing positive and if anything it is ok to be reckless with one's life. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

New pills new day!

Up before the alarm and raring to go - something must be different. Yesterday I started a prescribed anti-inflammatory for my shoulder pain and this morning, as I write, I am eating and having my third dose. Last night I also made the decision to sleep on the sofa since I am more comfortable there than in bed, and had a better night's sleep. Good job too as I need to be one step ahead of my day rather than chasing my butt.

Interesting thing about the GP yesterday and I am not sure what I think. This particular GP has never seen me before. I was quite succinct in what was wrong, about the osteopath I had seen, the level of movement I have and the pain, my need to continue working as I am self employed, and what my GP boss had suggested about a referral. He prescribed the medication (500 mg Naproxen tqice a day) and I was out that door in about four minutes with the print out. He said any referrals should wait a couple of weeks for these meds to have a go. He did not look at my shoulder or check anything apart from "are you allergic to anything". I have almost never before gone into a surgery looking for a prescription and have never been dealt with so quickly.

At least I only take these twice a day so I can resume my warrior diet. Today I am doing the Fast Diet with a small meal this morning in order to get another dose into me as soon as possible and a small meal later and then onto warrior as soon as possible. Eating lots of food the last couple of months to take the ibuprofen has not been helpful on any level. Two weeks to the day until Christmas and then Boxing Day when I have a fancy dress outfit to fit in.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Feeling sorry for myself

It is past the middle of the night and I have balanced frozen peas and then hot cherry stones on my left shoulder; eaten Weetabix and four ibuprofen; drank a cup of tea; emailed a friend; and checked out a few blogs. Thank goodness I slept for a few hours in the evening.

At 8am I will phone the GP and try to get an emergency appointment for stronger anti-inflammatory and possibly even pain relief for my ongoing shoulder injury. This is what the osteopath had suggested for me last week if conditions worsened in the next seven to 10 days. All seemed to be settling down at first until the searing pain I had on Saturday night and then yesterday at work. Something happened, almost quite comical and a bit of a chain reaction that caused my body to jerk which felt like my shoulder was ripped. I went into immediate spasms and burst into tears in front of a client. So not a nice thing to do at all during the middle of their treatment. What I really wanted to do was to lay on the floor and have a tantrum but that is not my style so I pulled myself together whilst trying to reassure my client who knew nothing about my shoulder injury, and then completed her treatment. Thank goodness another client had re-arranged her appointment at the last minute so I knew I did not have the hours of back to back clients originally scheduled.

I have induction at college this Thursday evening for a course staring in January. For this I need to be fit and have full use of my limbs. I have a client today from midday through to about 7pm; and clients back to back Wednesday from 9am to 1pm...

It is not even as if it is a lot of pain except at those moments of crisis, and assorted other times. I chide myself for making a fuss. I would like a lot more sympathy and consideration but I am not going to get it and a part of me is too strong to accept it anyway. It is funny that I say there is not even that much pain when I lay in bed trying to find a comfortable position for my arm and shoulder and nothing seems to work. Laying on the sofa is surprisingly comfortable and effective. My shoulder hunches in reaction to pain or as a means to somehow protect from further painful episodes and of course, that doesn't help much.

I want to dance freely, and jump and skip and reach out and be happy. At this moment I am finding it very difficult to be in the present and to think these things are here and now. They feel all so mythical and unattainable. Like I said, I'm feeling sorry for myself.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

My 24 year old daughter has this and there is no cure or magic fix for the excess of male hormones the body produces in a woman. Just controlling various aspects of one's life in order to reduce the symptoms, such as keeping weight under control reduces some symptoms. My daughter has severe pain with hers and since she has been regularly going to the gym and managing her weight to next to nothing all those symptoms had disappeared. Today though there has been a flare up (possibly due to being diverted from going to the gym as regularly and some excesses in the past few months) and she is too poorly to go to work which has an impact on me as I then do not have to set out earlier in order to give her that lift.

At work I have clients with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) who come to have their excess hair growth zapped with a laser. There are young girls at the beginning of their life adventures who have to shave their faces daily. To think what that does for their confidence and self esteem to be hiding this abnormal hair growth and coping with stubble. Whilst the medical side can not provide a cure for this syndrome there is something that could be done but isn't being offered and that is IPL laser hair removal. So women are finding the money (because with a good laser it does cost a lot to run) to have this treatment.

Some women with PCOS have terrible period pains to contend with. The medical profession say there is no pain associated with PCOS. I have been with my daughter to a specialist Specialist (sic!) who was contradictory and not helpful in the end. I bet, like the field of migraines, there is still much to be realised. Some women with PCOS have pains and some don't.

Last week I had a client who was telling me how much this IPL treatment had changed her life. This woman is younger than my daughter and since having just a few treatments it is already starting to have an effect in that although she still needs to shave daily it is more like a flick around with the razor. In time she should be able to get away with rarely any shaving and just the occasional maintenance treatment with the IPL. In just a few months she has felt happier about herself and for the first time in her life wants to take care of herself in a really positive way. Without any problem she has shed three stone in weight with more weight to come off and this has had an impact on her PCOS symptoms and reduced them. She is more confident and more outgoing.

Which brings me back to the point about not being a cure or a magic fix. If only the NHS could be less short sighted and offer IPL treatments this is a therapy in itself. The NHS sometimes used to pay for this treatment and in some areas of the country they have their own IPL machines but I gather the waiting lists are massive and their machines not as good.

My field of work as a beauty therapist is life changing and that feels amazing to be part of making a difference to someone's life. I just wish there was something I can do to help take away the pain for my own daughter.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Meerkat Collective

Oooh Rashbre has Maiya  (who travelled a circuitous route) and she looks rather hot in her skin tight secret agent outfit. Even her Nana Mouskouri glasses rock. (I just checked the spelling of Nana's last name and am astounded I spelt it right first time!)

Anyway, I thought I ought to take a pic of my chappie. He is Alexandr Orlov and he even has his own Wikipedia page. Mine is still in his box and we have had him quite some time which leads me to wonder if anyone ever takes their meerkats out of the boxes. My Alexandr has travelled from the his usual place to by the Christmas tree for this pic. His fur is a little warmer than the flash allows. I just looked up Ebay and see them selling on there from a few pounds to nearly fifty pounds.

I wonder if we renew our insurance with the same people if we will get another Meerkat toy? Hmm.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Dressed up

Dressed to party and about to leave shortly. It is our Christmas work do where it will be Chinese food and Karaoke. We did the same last year and it was quite jolly so I expect it will be similar this time.

A swipe of clear varnish on nails makes all the difference. I can't bear putting on coloured varnish if it then gets marked so I generally don't bother with anything so it is a bit of an exception to do this. I've taken the time to put make-up on and fix my hair down long and straight which I rarely do so no-one really knows how long my hair is.

The small amount of weight I have put on to my slim frame makes a huge difference and I do not fit into any of my party dresses. Thank goodness for my inspiration at the local Christmas market where I bought a locally hand made knitted scarf that looks like tinsel with silver grey and white edged in black with a tiny silver sequin shot through. I've pinned this to the neck line of a black longer length top which has bands of silver sequins at the bottom, just below my bottom, and at the ends of the three quarter length sleeves. I am wearing a pair of black leggings and these shoes which are surprisingly comfortable as long as my beloved takes me to the destination by car and picks me up!

Yesterday was tough and I just kept on going. I am not quite there but hey, best foot forward and a smile on the face. The show must go on. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

Deep, down and dirty

Not a lot to say really. Last night at work was really great with lovely feedback from clients about treatments that are life changing. Of course I came home feeling wonderful, bathed in the warm glow of that shared glory. Way less than 24 hours later I come home from a very hard day at work. Clients were happy and satisfied but I know. I'm working with equipment that keeps hiccoughing and not doing what it should. Deadlines for treatments are being pushed and I am wanting to do the best job I can. One of the young apprentices could be a whole lot more supportive, after all the value of the treatments I am doing are paying the rent, wages and much more. My arms are working billy-oh for five hours strait, with an existing shoulder injury in one I am feeling the strain and my other arm and shoulder are starting to ache. I have no time to make a drink and no-one brings me any. Probably a good thing as I wouldn't have had time to go to the loo. When I've finished my boss who is now in about to see her own clients asks me if I'm OK in the way people these days in the UK glibly ask "How are you" without having time nor the inclination to hear a real answer so I just mutter OK. Another part of me feels that if I say anything it looks like I can not handle pressure. Is it pressure? Is it tiredness? Is it pain? Is it depression and I am just barely coping. Life is not always good at the OK corral.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Afternoon Tea

Busy morning at work followed by Afternoon Tea with a friend. I am on sugar overload having eaten my half share of the three tiers, and am still stuffed all these hours later into the next day!

Although it was delightful all in all, it was not a surprise to find out that the tea room owner has never had afternoon tea in her life so I recommended that she go to a Hall nearby where they do excellent afternoon tea that could be seen as a bit of a benchmark. These sandwiches left a lot to be desired using shop bought bread that was ever so slightly slightly dried. The scones were better and the little pots of jam and cream utterly delightful. There were chocolate dipped strawberries. In December! I was not keen on the chocolate but then I do not like a stronger chocolate.

The cakes were all hand made and very nice but the meringue should have been left off as it was just shop bought and a tad excessive. I still ate it all!

Afterwards we had a mooch around a charity shop and this children's game caught my eye as I walked in the shop. Oh dear, another headline screaming something other than what it was actually saying. In this case "catch crabs" was obvious and then I did not
read tentacles but testicles! I promise I have not had anything to drink.

This year my friend and I have managed to do our monthly outing. Every single month despite everything. We've been to the National Arboretum in Staffordshire; to country houses; for afternoon teas here and there; visited art galleries; ferried cross the Mersey; and attended the other's family gatherings. I am so glad that we made this commitment and kept it up - just one outing a month to something that at least one of us has not done before and wanted to do. We have managed to do it despite coping with my bereavement and her moving house. I feel these outings have helped to colour my year with a rich tapestry of delightful new memories. Fun and laughter and a "just because we can" attitude. We plan to continue next year with our monthly outings and perhaps try for some more adventurous activities.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Rubber Weekend

I really need new glasses or not to make assumptions!


Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Welcome to my porridge made with coconut milk, dried apricots, a pinch of himalayan pink salt and a sprinkle of milled flaxseed, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. It is all gone in my tum tum along with four Ibuprofen which is the whole reason my warrior diet has been temporarily out the window. My shoulder injury warrants anti-inflammatory medication four times a day at quite high doses. Each dose must be accompanied by food otherwise it plays havoc with the stomach. I have fallen off all sorts of wagons and yesterday I vowed to go back to my no sugar/no alcohol diet at least until Christmas. Apart from the exceptions of course such as afternoon tea tomorrow with a friend and the work Christmas do on Saturday.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Deck the halls and Secret Santa

There is something about December beginning on a Sunday as I have never known such a collective of putting up decorations on the same day. Of course we're talking decorations at home as the ones in the shops have been up since October. A few years back they were going up in September and I think the recent financial crisis put a stop or slow down to the obsceneness of that. Very few have the stomach for it too early.

I'm amazed by those I speak to who have all bought and wrapped presents by the end of November. I don't think I could ever get to that level of being organised and in any case, I love the last minute rush around with snow at your feet and being wrapped up warm and the dingle of the bell as you push open the door of the shop. That would be because I try really hard to use my local independent shops which is why my presents are usually very small and not much of flashing the cash.

This year is going to be different still. This weekend my sister's family had the idea of doing a Secret Santa and as my 19 year old son was around there at the time he thought it a good idea and we are making it a collective Secret Santa, including friends who are also joining us over Christmas and Boxing Day. This will mean we are each having one present and one present only to unwrap! The online Secret Santa facility we have joined, so that it is truly a secret as to who has whom to get a gift, has a section where each person can list at least three things they might like so the person getting the gift has a good idea though they do not have to follow it. We've set a top budget of £20. I very much like the idea of reducing the consumerism around Christmas. We'll still be having a special feast and having a lot of togetherness and fun and games.

For now, I've put up a lot of our decorations. I am contending with a shoulder injury that has hung around since September. Just stepping up onto a chair holding some lightweight decorations was enough to send me into palpitations of pain so I have had to take it very carefully. I have still been able to work but just lately I have started to have more twinges. It is my third visit to the osteopath today and I am not sure I am happy with how things are going. Fingers crossed it improves soon.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Picture this - a day in December

Up and down England, in little towns and villages, Christmas lights are being switched on. Carols are sung, over priced mince pies are eaten, and DJs bravely soldier on with dwindling audiences. The kiddies funfair twinkle in hope and expectation of parents with fistfuls of pounds. The Mayor makes a guest appearance as a politically correct slimmed down Santa is warmly cheered on by the children. Gangnam Style gets the crowd dancing with the little'uns pulling the most amazing moves. The lights go on without a hitch this year, everyone cheers and then wander off homeward bound. Community spirit is as good as it is going to get for now and for that we are grateful. The weather was kind all day and brought a beautiful sunset just after 4pm. It is pitch black by 5.30pm.