Saturday, 30 November 2013

Advent Bunting

As usual, apologies for the appalling video technique. Yet here, at last is the completed Advent Bunting! I finished making it a while ago, but added the ribbons at 5.45 this morning, not because I wanted to, but because there were a couple of cats outside having a fracas and suddenly I was WIDE AWAKE and then I remembered it is 1st December tomorrow and the bunting should make its debut but was sans hanging appendages.

I am feeling marginally fractious myself now, because sewing ribbon onto bunting at 5.45 a.m with the assistance of one ribbon-obsessed kitten is not the most relaxing start to the day. Therefore, I have decided that today shall be a crafting day, and possibly a walk in the park day if the weather cheers up as it is looking rather grim at the mo. And then a bit of reading day, and watching a Christmas DVD day. 

Enjoy the video!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

A Jolly Nice Day

Today has been a jolly nice day. One of those days that seems to drift by at just the right speed in just the right way.

Firstly, the sun was out and the sky was blue which made a welcome change from the rest of the week which has been blowing a freezy, drippy gale. I have not succumbed to the weather, oh no I have not. I have continued my daily walking targets and the car has remained on the driveway. I have been arriving at work looking windswept and bedraggled, but I have kept on walking, oh yeah! 

Secondly, Kayleigh came round this morning and we made Christmas pudding together. Now I know it isn't Stir Up Sunday until tomorrow, but today fitted better with the busy social diaries of all parties involved, so we had a Stir Up Saturday instead. It was a lovely thing to do, pudding making with my granddaughter. We played the Salvation Army Silver Band Christmas CD and chopped and grated and poured and stirred and only recoiled slightly holding our noses at the addition of half a glass of brandy. The recipe we used is one that my great-grandmother used. Before we patted the pudding into the bowl, we stirred it and made a wish.

'Can I tell you my wish, Gran?' said Kayleigh.
'Ooooh no,' I said. 'Your wish is between you and the Christmas Fairy. If you tell anyone, then the wish won't come true.'

Kayleigh was clearly bursting to tell me her wish. She looked like a small person on the point of excitable explosion. I diverted her by suggesting a quick visit to the chickens to feed them the leftover carrot and apple peel and some breadcrumbs. Mustn't give away Christmas Pudding wishes.

Then off we went into town to have a spot of lunch at our favourite lunch place. The town was heaving with people.

'Every year,' said Andy (and he is quite correct in this matter) 'we say we are never coming into town on Saturday until after Christmas because it is always heaving with people.' 

Well, I am going to stick to it this year, because I have no need to go into town because I have finished my Christmas shopping!  Anyhow, today we persevered for the sake of lunch. Our favourite lunch place is an independent gift shop called Harpers. It is owned by a lovely lady called Kate, it sells all manner of lovely things and at the back it has got a tea shop where they make sandwiches, toasties and baguettes to order, and have a counter full of lovely homemade cakes. At this time of year it is full of lovely fairy lights. It is lovely, and away from the main bustle of town. All round loveliness!

I then decided I was going to buy Kayleigh a Christmas jumper. You know, something sporting a red-nosed reindeer or a cheery snowman, a bobbity robin or a jolly Santa. Well, Kayleigh declared all these to be 'scary'. She was not going to enter into the spirit of The Christmas Jumper. And thus we came home with a pink hairband, three pink tops and a tutu. Pink. Sigh...

And now, Andy and I are settling down to an evening alone to watch Strictly Come Dancing and the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special. Heather is away visiting her new beau, the cats are fast asleep, the pudding is steamed and there is a chocolate cake awaiting in the kitchen for evening nibbling with a nice cup of tea. 

It is not often one has a day like today. A Smiley Face Day. 

I hope you have one soon, too. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Hats, Puns and Puddings

Being an established Post Crosser - and I feel I can stake my claim to this now I have sent and received over 50 post cards - I have noticed that other countries often have more exciting variety of stamps in day to day use than good old Britain. Russia has beautifully detailed illustrations, for example, and I like the Finnish ones, too. 

But this week I received some photos from a Post Crosser in the Netherlands (oh yes, some of us continue into the realms of proper penpalness and graduate to the use of envelopes!) and on the envelope were stamps in the style of our day to day silhouette of a human head ones i.e Her Maj The  Queen. 

Now, I don't know if the human head silhouettes on this envelope are of any Dutch significance but what I do know is they are sporting different styles of lace hats. Very attractive. And it got me thinking, 'Wouldn't it be great if, when the stamp artists were drawing their stamp silhouette of Her Maj The Queen, they said, 'That's the one with the crown done, Your Maj; how about we do another now of you wearing a bobble hat?' And there could have been a variety of stamps produced of the Queen in various headgear to add a bit of variety to our day to day stamp use.

For example, Queen in a fez. Queen in a beret. Queen in a diving helmet. Queen in a sombrero. Oh, I could go on. 'Please do!' I hear you shout. 'No, no!' I say. 'Oh, okay, one more for luck - Queen in a balaclava.'

Anyway, enough hat. On with more insignificant stuff. 

Walking to work on Friday (I have been walking lots every day for the past two weeks in an effort to shift some weight, pre-Christmas stuffing; I have succeeded in gaining a pound of muscle...just there...on my left thigh) I had an excellent thought for a piece of writing. Actually, it was a laboured thought leading up to what I consider to be a rather good Christmas-related pun. And I am going to inflict it (the story) upon you, dear Much Malarkey Manor guests, starting on The First Day of December and continuing in increasingly exciting instalments all the way through Advent to Christmas Eve when it will culminate in either a magnificent triumph of literary perfection (and preferably a publishing contract because Daisy, the Mystic Chicken has predicted that 2014 will be my year of writing triumph) or fizzle into a damp puddle of lukewarm egg nog and you lot muttering, 'Was that IT???'

(Good Lord, that was a long sentence. Shall I edit? Shall I Marcel Proust.)

And I have decided to make a Christmas pudding this year, having neglected the task for the past nine because I am the only one who really eats the stuff and the Much Malarkey Manor Jaffa Cake and Malteser Christmas Trifle has taken over as Festive Pudding of Choice. What has changed my mind? I shall tell you. Being a granny! 

When I was a child, one of the best things about the lead up to Christmas was the making of the Christmas Pudding. Especially because the recipe used by my Mum involved grated carrot, which I thought was brilliant. And also because you got to Stir and Make a Wish. Every year I wished we could have a dog. I was 16 by the time that wish came true. A lot of pudding stirring. And I think, 'Wouldn't it be lovely to reinstate the pudding tradition with Kayleigh?' Plus, Andy and I went for dinner to a friend's house last night and there was Christmas pudding and it was bloomin' delicious.

You will be pleased to know that Daisy has finally finished her moult. I have never known a hen moult to the extent Daisy has achieved. I was growing concerned, especially as the threat of snow has been on the weather soothsayer's lips for over a month now. I was thinking I may need to knit her some thermals. But hurrah! This week she stopped leaving a trail of feathers wherever she roamed and a frock of best new feathers has begun to sprout. Plus, she pecked a piece of pasta from Primrose; it's always good sign of returning perkiness, when chickens use alliteration.

News on the woodburner front. Well, after ten days of no communication from the fitter-man, for which you could substitute 'after ten days of Denise growing ever more tetchy because nothing was being done and her emails were being ignored,' he finally got in touch on Friday with the intensely detailed missive - 'Hearth ordered. When ready, will be in touch to arrange installation day.'

So it might all be done by Christmas. But just in case it isn't, I have a giant cardboard and crepe paper robin planned to stand in front of the gaping hole in the chimney breast. 

And that's about it for today. I have a Christmas Story to plan and a pudding to make. 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Cracking On

I have been meaning to repaint the kitchen for a while now. Okay, for about 4 years. There's been The Homemade Wine Explosion Incident - evidence left on the ceiling. There has been The Replacement Bit of Coving Section Debacle - evidence twixt wall and ceiling. There has been the Ooh, That Bit Of Plaster Looks a Tad Loose; Shall I Poke It, Ooops, It Fell Out Chaos. Not to mention several Take Down That Picture Hook and Bits of the Wall With It pot holes - evidence all over the place. Oh, and the Let's Change the Spotlights For a Fluorescent Striplight Because I Am Tired of Making Pastry in Strange Shadows Divots. Evidence - back on the ceiling again.

Plus various other foodie splash stains and bangs and knocks and scrapes and, well, the kitchen has gradually been taking on what some might call 'Shabby Chic Styling' but I call 'A Bit of a State.'

So, yesterday morning Andy and I went out and spent a ridiculous amount of money on a woodburning stove because the one we thought we were going to have was ever so slightly too big for the emergent hole we have in which to put it and the one that was the right size was, of course, more expensive. Ho hum.

And then we went to a DIY store and purchased paint for the purpose of kitchen repainting, having steeled ourselves for the task the night before by emptying the walls of pictures, posters, clocks etc, and clearing the surfaces of mixers, cookery books, knives, bread bins, kettles etc and scrubbing everything down with a sugar soap solution and filling holes with hole filler and sanding down bits that needed sanding down. And then we went and stood in a very wet and grubby builder yard and stared at bits of granite because we have to choose which bit we want for our new hearth. We chose black with silver sparkles in it. Can't remember why because my brain is currently stunned with paint fumes.

And then we came home and started the kitchen repaint. We had to stop about half an hour in to bath a certain Flora Bijou Mybug who thought it might be a good idea to hop about in a tin of Willow Tree Matt Emulsion for Kitchens. I reckon it was because she misread the word 'kitchen' for 'kitten'. I blame teachers myself. Anyway, Flossie had a bath to return her to her normal colour and we all laughed at how slim she looks when she is wet, which is proof she is more fluff than fat, and I wish the same could be said for us more amply proportioned humans but it is my belief that when we get wet we absorb water and get even fatter which is why if I ever decide to weigh myself I do it before a shower and not afterwards.

We also stopped for a very brief lunch, but the kitchen was complete by 2.30 p.m - not a hole, stain, lump, wine spray, scrape, scratch or smudge in sight - so all in all it was a jolly productive day thus far. 

'Why didn't we do this ages ago?' said Andy as we admired our handiwork.
'Apathy,' said I. 

Today we went out and purchased a log basket. Well, we have a hole for a woodburner, we have a woodburner, we have a lump of granite that will take on a hearth shape and hopefully all these elements will combine in the next few weeks to make the complete woodburner experience, plus it was 20% off day for Dobbies Gardening Club Members (and that means us!) so what the heck, why not? We also bought Christmas Crackers, an Advent Candle, some lovely little chocolate bars to put in the Advent Bunting I made, and some Christmas paper napkins with sheep on them. All 20% off. Marvellous! 

I know not what tomorrow will bring apart from maybe a load of logs. And the completion of Christmas Shopping, which means I shall then be able to forget about Christmas until it happens.

And now I am going to stare at the kitchen for a while, because it looks jolly good. 

May your week be lovely and productive (or restful - you choose) and cheerful and carefree and full of warmth and joy!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


I am full of admiration, and feel most blessed indeed, to have a husband like Andy. And shall I tell you why? He tolerates my whims, that's why, with humour and love and sometimes a pat on the head if I look in danger of becoming particularly over-excited.

I experienced a whim at the end of last week. It is a regular occurrence, this whiminess, when I find myself on a school holiday. I've done all the housework, caught up with my reading pile, filled the garden waste wheelie bin so we get our annual fee's worth of collections, and got the household accounts up to date just to check that we are still fiscal-safe. And then I start feeling a bit restless. My whim-alert alarm starts a-buzzing. I start looking around for something 'whimmy' to catch my attention.

And so it was that at just after 5 p.m last Thursday evening, I was browsing wood burning stoves on the interwebbly. And at 5.20 p.m I entered an on-line dialogue with a wood burning stove fitter-man vis a vis possibilities and costs and sizes etc etc...

At 5.25 p.m I was taking photos of the existing fireplace and the chimney, to e- mail him so he could assess the situation. It was too dark outside to do real- time pictures of the chimney stack, so I took a photo of the photo of the outside of the house from the estate agent details we had last year when we were trying to sell the house. At this point I told myself we were still supposed to be thinking about moving house and therefore I should not be thinking about getting a wood-burning stove. But by now I was in whimmy overdrive. The blinkers of whim were clamped tight to the side of my head, and pointing me firmly in the direction of a warm and toasty real fire Winter experience. 

At 5.35p.m, Andy walked through the door from work.

'Had a good day?' said he.
'Yes,' said I. 'A man is coming out on Monday to do a site survey for our wood-burning stove.'
'Jolly good,' said he, with ne'er bat of an eyelid in sight.

Now, I don't mean to be impulsive. In fact, I rarely am. I once went out to buy a wheelbarrow and came home with a car, and I once chatted up a man on the Internet and within ten days we had decided to get married. He was in Liverpool, I was in Kent. We hadn't yet met, but these were minor details and we are still together 12 years later, so that whim worked, didn't it?

And on Monday the fitter-man arrived and did some important sounding umming and aahhing. He said, 'Are you planning on re-decorating the room once the burner fitted?' which I interpreted as, 'Do we have to put down dust sheets and keep our grubby hands off the walls whilst we are doing this job?' 
'No,' said I. 'It was only done a couple of years ago.'
He only frowned a little, which I interpreted as, 'Darn it.'

And on Tuesday he and a fellow fitter-man arrived and hacked a big hole in our chimney breast. He has directed us to visit a granite dealer to choose a piece of granite for the new hearth, which sounds like a jolly middle class thing to do, and also to go and view and stamp our approval on the multi-fuel stove he has recommended for us.

I am very impressed with the emergence of the original chimney space. I am impressed with its size given it has looked so teeny-weeny until now, covered as it was with a wood mantelpiece and pretend fascia courtesy of B and Q. I am impressed and just a little in love with its homely rusticity which even now I can see adorned with evergreens at Christmas-time.
I am not so impressed with the enormous draft whistling down the new big hole, nor with the fact the cats find the new big hole an exciting place in which to adventure and keep emerging covered in brick dust which they share most generously with the furniture and carpet, and smelling vaguely of soot which they share most generously with me. 

I am slightly on edge that an enormous pigeon could come a-plummeting downwards and onto the carpet at any moment, sending the cats into a frenzy.

This is what it looks like at the moment, our hole in the wall.

Me and my whims...sigh...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Happy Birthday To Us!

Ahem...(clears throat in preparation for raucous singing)...

'Happy Birthday to Us,
Happy Birthday to Us,
Happy Birthday dear Me and Olly, and Olly's friend who is 60 today, and Heather's Boss Mike who is 41, and the Daughter-in-Law of Elke,my pen pal in Germannnnneeeeeeeeee!!!
Happy Birthday to Us!'

Andy was up until 2 this morning, making this marvellous edifice of chocolate glory...

I think I need to enter him for next year's Great British Bake-Off!

I have received some lovely presents. Lots of arty-crafty, reading, chocolatey stuff.

And now we are preparing for a super-duper proper British afternoon tea. Eggs for egg mayo have been boiled, an orange marmalade roast ham is, from a vegetarian point of view, contaminating the oven, but then I am not a veggie who insists on guests being veggie, too.

Yesterday I made mini-scones for cream tea purposes, and butterfly cakes. I bought stuff for posh sandwiches and wraps, I bought posh crisps and various pastry-based nibbles and salady stuff to counter-balance the fat content. I bought mini-meringues. I should have asked my Mum to make them because she is Queen of Meringue Making, but I thought she might not need reminding she has a 48 year old daughter who is a grandmother, which makes her a great-grandmother, but then making some meringues may have a distracted her from this fact.

I am just about to make some vol-au-vents. Yesterday, I suddenly thought, 'I haven't had a vol-au-vent since 1978. Darn it, I shall make some!!' I also made some little food-identification flags for the sandwiches and crisps so I don't have to stand by the table going, 'They are tuna mayo, they are cucumber, those crisps are Best Tangy Cheddar Cheese and those are Balsamic Vinegar and Sea Salt,' because, let's face it, when you have debagged and bowled three varieties of crisps, they all look the same. I made the flags from cocktail sticks and post-it notes, which at 10 last night seemed a stroke of genius, but in the cold light of day look like post-it notes wrapped around cocktail sticks so I may need a re-think.

Andy has hoovered all surfaces. I am trying to encourage all cats to have their daily poo NOW. Flora Bijou Mybug has obliged, but I suspect Phoebe and Tybalt will save theirs for three minutes exactly after the first guest arrives and has tucked into a sausage on a stick. That's the only trouble with having house cats - they do feel the need to share.

I am marginally disappointed by the weather. I can remember only one birthday when it has rained. Currently it is not raining, but the sky is grey and I think the sun is off on holiday. But it is not cold. So it is mostly okay.

And that's about it for BlogLand today. Things to do, people to see, baking to attend to, books to read. If you are in the vicinity, drop by for a spot o'cake. This evening will be fish and chips and Strictly Come Dancing.