Sunday, 16 December 2018

Just when you thought there were no more gloves

It always amazes me how at this time of year things move from it's far too early to think about Christmas to THERE ARE ONLY EIGHT DAYS LEFT AND I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING YET in the blink of an eye. Christina said something today which has stayed with me, about women (never men) putting pressure on themselves to make Christmas perfect.

I am going low-key this year. As always in fact. I am living in fear that the dog will swallow something again, so I am avoiding low-lying decorations, in fact pretty much all decorations, at this point. A chunk of work came in at the end of last week, to be done over the next few days, so I won't be spending my days creating festive works of art or planning elaborate menus. Hopefully once the urchins are home there will be some time to do things with them, which I'm really looking forward to, but I am trying to keep it simple and not Get In A State.

The youngest has found a type of glove which he does not yet have. You will recall his love of accessories and the fact that he has ALL the gloves - cycling, climbing, skiing, gardening, ordinary woollen, goalkeeping, running and last year's gift, Really Grippy, which were in fact a triumph. Well, he has discovered, wait for it, yo-yo gloves. Oh yes, that is actually a thing. Gloves to protect delicate little hands from the wear and tear of constant yo-yo-ing. The biggest boy said, 'Thank goodness he doesn't know there are basketball gloves.' Of course, I was immediately thinking, surprise gift! The gloves he didn't even know he needed. Basketball and yo-yo are huge around here right now. As is chess. I love how things go in cycles. Suddenly someone will get something out and, bam, everyone is obsessed.

Other than that, my main preparation for Christmas has been to stop taking iron tablets, which I'm sure have been making my joints hurt and my appetite disappear. I've lost any desire to eat an evening meal, and at the same time, it means that I don't really enjoy cooking it. I stand in the kitchen sighing and wondering what I could make that would be appetising, and thinking, actually, nothing. Which is not at all the thing for the festive season. I want to be looking at everything and wanting to eat it.

How are all the festive preparations coming along with you? Simple or elaborate or more than  you can chew? I shall look forward to hearing.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

How not to photograph mince pies

Oh my, Saturday was intense. You will recall that the biggest boy was doing food photography, and I was tasked with helping him create twenty things to take pictures of. TWENTY. I have always thought that food photography is astonishingly hard, and now I'm even more in awe of people who produce amazing images. Honestly, it was agony.

We went to the shops first and bought some Interesting Things, including some fantastic little squashes. I'll try and get a shot of them another day, it was a bit tense during the actual shoot in my tiny kitchen, with the biggest boy, the food everywhere, literally everywhere, most of which was poisonous to dogs, the dog, the biggest boy's tripod, which I fell over several times and the two others who were doing diablo and yo-yo (diablo is a circussy-trick kind of thing involving two long sticks and a heavy thing flying through the air).

We were VERY short on time, and VERY cross with each other for much of the day, partly because there wasn't enough time and partly because it was really hard to make things look good. Honestly, I was in there for hours, clearing up and generally being annoying. The biggest boy complained that the shots didn't look right. I told him he needed twinkly lights, rosehips and a sprig of ivy or two. He was not impressed. I think he would have preferred a slab of slate and a thunking great big knife, but other than the slate round the edge of the pond (which he did threaten to bring in at one point) these were the props we had.

He wanted a shot of icing sugar sprinkling down on mince pies. The first take was all wrong (my fault!) and because he insisted on using an auto thing rather than pressing the butting (camera shake!) I was sprinkling long before the shutter clicked and the mince pies ended up buried under half a centimetre of icing sugar. I debated hoovering it off, but I think we all know how that would have ended. In the end I put in some new mince pies and had another go. It had all reached farcical proportions by this point and I got a fit of the giggles which enraged some people. Suffice to say, the icing sugar shots did not make the final cut, nor did the cream pouring ones. As I say, it's REALLY hard to take a good shot.

Food in this house is not prettily arranged on plates, we are more quantity over style I'm afraid. I slam it down, they stuff it in, bam, job done. I seem to be sadly lacking in pretty vintage props as well. I couldn't find my lovely little old hand painted plates - far too small and dainty for anything this family eats. Maybe we should have done more of a social narrative shoot, with piles of carbohydrates and the ketchup bottle featuring large.

Anyway, it's done now, and I hoping the next lot of homework is a little easier on the mother. And that there is more than eighteen hours' notice. We shall see.

The littlest boy is on a bit of a roll at the moment. Two goals in his Sunday football match, his Silver Chief Scout Award at cubs and a note from his teacher talking about helpfulness and enthusiasm. It's true, he is always offering to help and his enthusiasm for absolutely everything is boundless, it makes me a bit dizzy at times. Oh, and he won the biggest bottle of wine imaginable in the school Christmas fayre tombola.

We spent the rest of the weekend working our way through the photogenic (and not so photogenic) food. It's a tough job etc. All well at your end?

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Back on the road again

The beast and I are back on the road. Or on the pavement at least. The vet has cleared us for quiet walks around the block and the pet t-shirt is off to reveal a very shaved underside. Bertie saw one of his friends yesterday who wasted no time in sniffing around underneath, as if to say 'Where's the fur gone Bert?' He is a bit of a local legend at the moment, albeit not in a good way. Word of his misdeed has spread like lightning through the dog community.

The littlest boy is enjoying his last Christmas at primary school. They really do go all out in December at primary schools don't they? I shall miss it next year, when there will be no more than a half-hearted Christmas jumper day. Primary school has festive biscuits, Christmas cracker making competitions, design a poster for the Christmas fair competition, Christmas crafts, Christmas lunch, Christmas songs from 11 November onwards, 14 rehearsals for the carol service, a handful of nativity plays, the Christmas fair, Christmas films to be watched while the teachers and teaching assistants sit weakly in the corner trying to brush off the glitter, (oh the glitter), Christmas gifts to be made for all, Christmas cards to be designed, sweets and biscuits on Christmas party day, Christmas games, Christmas jumper day with decorated antlers and elf hats and if you're lucky a bit of panto. It's ALL going on.

The biggest boy is doing a bit of food photography at school, which may require me to up my game in the cooking department and make something artily Instagram-worthy. I'm thinking mince pies with rose petals strewn about or a lobster casually draped over an artisan tea-towel. A tray of oven chips is just not going to cut it. Needless to say I am not allowed to give any advice whatsoever. I moved a knife yesterday, oh there were ructions.

One of our biggest Christmas traditions is well under way, that of the advent calendar/advent candle. Every tea time someone gets to light the candle, someone gets to blow it out and someone opens the advent calendar. Every single day there is some sort of heated discussion about people doing it wrong or moving the candle or blowing it out too soon / not soon enough or blowing hot wax over someone else or doing the Hand In Naked Flame trick. It amazes me that they can keep it up for 24 days, but they can, every single year. Ah, tradition.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Be careful what you wish for

Thank you all for your well wishes for Bertie. He is happily mending, still taking it easy in his basket by the radiator, but getting wigglier by the day.

I thought a while back how lovely it would be if I didn't have to go out and walk the dog every few hours, and I could just stay inside out of the wind and the rain and the cold. It turns out that is only good for a couple of days, then you start to feel like a pudding. I always tell the children that walking to school is good because it gets oxygenated blood pumping round the brain. It feels as if that is what I need. I need to be out there in a force ten gale, with horizontal rain lashing me, puffing up the slope by the stream, breaking into a run now and again. Then the indoor warmth and comfort feels earned. It's a contrast. If I have it all the time it's a bit stifling. Bert and I are going to break out soon and run up the street like mad things.

He has mostly been confined to the hall, to stop him from jumping up on the sofas, which the vet has Strictly Forbidden. There isn't much to do in the hall. Lie in your basket. Lie on the floor. Lie on the doormat. Pull the corner off the doormat. That's pretty much all the options. In the living room it's far more exciting. You can add lying on the cosy sheepskin sofa. Lying on the other sofa. Looking out the back window to see what's going on in the garden. Lying on the end of the sofa to look out of the window to see what's going on in the street. The list is endless.

I bought Elmet by Fiona Mozley the other day. Anyone read it? There's no time for reading at the moment though as NaNoWriMo comes to an end. I have written over 40,000 words now, but there are only two and a half days left, so I need to be typing at warp speed over the next three evenings. But Elmet is there waiting for me when the pressure is off, although it would be good to maintain some momentum. You may be asking why I am here, chatting to you, when I should be writing. Prevarication my friends, prevarication. I may even clean the bathroom. But it would be really good to get to 50,000 words by the end of Friday. I'll give it my best go.

In town the Christmas lights have been on for over a week now. They are even on at 2pm. Eco living hasn't reached this far out yet. Class hasn't either to be honest. Around here some people are optimistically compiling lists for F Christmas. Other people are hoping for a winter fishing trip. Bertie and I would just like to see the sky and smell the heady combination of woodsmoke and pig farm that you get round here when the wind is right. Sometimes you don't know what you have until it's gone.

Saturday, 24 November 2018


Did I say something about having a productive week this week? I'm sure I did. Remind me not to make such predictions or express such wishes ever again. The dear little dog managed to swallow something and ended up in dog hospital having an operation to remove it on Tuesday. The staff were wonderful, and although they didn't manage to pull the item out the same way it went in, they looked after him well when they operated. The middle boy and I were touched to see on the (lengthy) itemised bill, an entry marked 'Warming patient'. When the night vet rang me with an update, he said Bertie had got a bit cold, after a long anaesthetic, but they were keeping him warm.

Needless to say, I spent most of the two days he was away not really focusing on anything and leaping up every time the phone rang. He is home now, and on painkillers and antibiotics and I am living in fear of it happening again, or him eating something toxic to dogs such as chocolate or sultanas or him running off and getting into trouble. Honestly, my anxiety levels are through the roof. I have no idea how to keep him safe, it is so HARD.

The thing they removed was like a bit of hard rubbery pipe. We couldn't identify it at all. I think he must have picked it up on a walk. The hospital had two other cockapoos in, also for eating things they shouldn't have done.

Would you like a peek at the patient? Ssh though, because he is sleeping, and if he wakes up he will starting jumping about the place with no regard at all for his stitches.

He is on bed rest for ten days.

In other news, I am several thousand words behind in NaNoWriMo. I have seven days in which to write 18,000 words. If I do 3,000 a day I'll be fine :)

I had a little tidy of the garden while the dog was away, in lieu of concentrating on work things. Leaves swept up, anything that looked like it could be swallowed by a small dog removed, tulips in. The apple trees have been pruned and there are tiny little rosehips there, where a rambling rose flowered all summer long.

Tooth dramas continue, now it is the littlest boy's turn, with a couple of wobbly ones. There is apparently someone in his class who gets £10 from the tooth fairy. TEN POUNDS! That's $12.82 for my American friends. £200 in total for all of the teeth. Round here the tooth fairy usually forgets and has to be prompted. And it is guaranteed that she will not be leaving ten pounds. She is from a different division.

Any little dramas with you, or is it all peace and relaxation? I am hoping for the latter for you. Enjoy the rest of the weekend all. CJ xx

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Winter light

Suddenly the sunset seems to come very early. Yesterday it was a huge orange ball on the horizon by 4 o'clock. I said to the children, 'Wow, look, look at the sun. Don't look at the sun! But almost look at it. Without burning your eyeballs. Right, everyone stop looking at the sun.' It was glorious. I nearly drove into a ditch. Honestly, I am so easily distracted by a pretty thing.

I can feel the scrumptious winter cosiness setting in. Lamps lit in the afternoon, books and hot drinks, candles and knitting, but not too close mind. The truth is, I haven't had time for sitting around and enjoying it all yet, but I like to know it's there, just in case I do. That's part of the charm of bookshops for me, the thought that I'll have time to go home and curl up with a book for an hour or so. I usually don't, but I don't ever give up hope. And I always have a nice pile of books at the ready.

I am pressing on with the 50,000 words. I am determined to run at everything full tilt this week, after not getting enough of anything done last week. I have a clean(ish) house and the laundry is done, so I'm feeling positive. Wishing all a good week, with lots all of the things you want.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

A few of my opinions

I have had the three most unproductive days known to man, and I've finally given up and come here to say hello instead. All sorts of things popped up to stymie me yesterday, including a new GP practice refusing to take me on, requiring research, a letter of appeal etc., you know how it is, a high-maintenance dog, all sorts of paperwork errors, website problems, foreign cheque-cashing problems, oh, I shan't go on, but you get the picture.

Then today the middle boy stayed at home being unwell. This involved a lot of sitting opposite me chatting, some cooking, involving more input than I was expecting, printing off of logic puzzles, lots of discussion of said logic puzzles and on and on. The dog was more excited than usual, having someone else around, plus the cooking which involved both cheese and tuna (tuna pasta bake), so he spent longer than usual running around destroying various bits of laundry, then the littlest boy came home with a huge amount of News, a whole bag full of muddy stuff (forest school) and the need for large amounts of food AT ONCE.

So here I am. I have basically given up trying to do anything constructive - writing or editing articles, fixing aforementioned website problems, blah, blah, blah.

I went to the bank to open an account. One of the big ones. You know, the ones that spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on advertising to persuade you to open an account with them. Barclays, since you ask. I asked nicely if I could open an account. She said that I could, but the lady that does it only works Tuesdays and alternate Thursdays. She was there today but couldn't possibly fit me in. I asked nicely if I could see her on Tuesday. No, that wouldn't be possible, she was fully booked. I said very nicely that it seemed odd, I thought they would want people to open accounts with them. Instead of nodding and sighing and doing a bit of sympathetic eye-rolling, which would have made me feel that we were both on the same side, she got very defensive and said that they were only a small branch and couldn't possibly open accounts except on Tuesdays and alternate Thursdays. I said very nicely that I thought I would try a different bank after all, but thank you anyway. Honestly. They try so hard to get people in the door to open accounts, and there I was, wanting to open an account. Now I am taking all my millions and going to the one down the road. They pretty much dealt with me instantly. It wasn't hard, I am an enchanting and easy customer.

Sorry for the rant. I am feeling a bit ranty today, and the words fly out of my fingers faster than you would believe. I am behind on NaNoWriMo, which is making me a bit cross. I was doing fine until three days ago, then there wasn't enough time, and then yesterday there wasn't enough time and today I am here sulking and ranting. It is halfway through November now, and I should therefore have 25,000 words. In fact I have 21,742. I shall not be discouraged though. Onwards, etc.

Are we all enjoying Brexit? Gosh, some people think they're important don't they? Jacob Rees-Mogg I'm looking at you. I'd better stop before I give you my opinion on Trump and his tweets about France. Do leave me a cheery comment, or tell me to get a grip of myself, stop complaining about ordinary stuff, which I know I'm lucky to have and to get the hell back to my 50,000 words.