Sunday, 26 October 2014

An Apple Pie Kind Of Day

The half term is finally and blissfully upon us. Yay!  A good week has passed by and I have accepted the fact that British Summer Time is most definitely over but I can't say I feel any better for it.  Pea and I hit the gym this week in an attempt to keep up our exercise levels over the darker months.  I can honestly say, pounding away on a treadmill for half and hour is sheer torture.  Give me the open countryside every time.  And it's free.  However, I did feel better for it afterwards and went home in a lighter frame of mind.  I have dancing to look forward tomorrow night and plenty going on for the rest of the week.  The nights are drawing in rapidly and the wind has stripped the leaves from the trees.  Winter is approaching; time to hunker down.

In an attempt to fill my permanently ravenous children with good, home cooked food, I made apple slices this week, which we ate with hot custard.  I sprinkled the tops with caster sugar and cinnamon to give them a warm, autumnal flavour.  I love apple pie at any time of year and it can easily be tweaked to suit the season.  I love it most hot from the oven with ice cream, or with the addition of blackberries in early autumn, accompanied by Bird's custard.  Apple pie is country; homemade; wholesome and warm.  Comfort food at its best.

Pea has had an eventful week.  She recently filled in her UCAS applications for the university courses she is interested in and heard back this week that she has been accepted on all five.  The timing was perfect as Bangor Uni held an open day yesterday, so Pea and I drove off leaving the boys to fester in their pyjamas.

Bangor is only half an hour away, so we are very lucky to be able to fit it into the day easily.  I also knew where I was going, which is half the battle.  I did however ignore the sign directing us to the parking area, which is most unlike me.  Usually I obey every rule, but lately I am finding a rebellious streak making itself known, much to my surprise.  Maybe it has always been there, lying in wait for the perfect opportunity to spring up and shock me.  Who knows?  Anyway, we arrived in plenty of time, parked the car and found our way to the main building.  There were hundreds of teenagers and their parents, all looking slightly miffed at the enormity of the event that would be taking place in all our lives in less than a year.  We attended presentations, went on tours of the School of Biological Sciences where Pea will be studying and had a bus ride to view the accommodation on offer.  It was all extremely pleasing.  Pea will have an amazing time there and I am so fortunate knowing she is but a short distance away, having the time of her life.

Bangor is a very small city set in a stunning location, sandwiched between the Straights and the Snowdonia mountain range.  Pea will have all the opportunities she could ever wish for to spend time enjoying the whole area; hiking, climbing, scuba diving and swimming to name but a few.  The buildings are beautifully kept and an absolute fortune is being spent on new student facilities and buildings.  They have thought of everything.  Despite the short journey, the day was full and intense so we arrived home that afternoon feeling excited but shattered.  I grabbed a quick cup of tea before going out for a walk with the dogs.  No matter how small the city may be, there are still far too many people in it for my liking.  I need the freedom and open space where it is a novelty to see another person.  A good walk to clear my head and stretch my legs balanced my scales again and I returned home to an evening of watching Strictly Come Dancing and eating chocolate.

This morning the weather is matching the mood.  The wind is blowing down the chimney making us all want to stay in and eat comforting food.  There is a coffee and walnut cake...

and of course, an apple pie which is currently baking in the oven and filling the house with its warm scent.  After the busy-ness of yesterday, today demands to be taken easily and enjoyed.  Now and then it is good to have a day where there is nothing to do.  They are rare indeed, and should therefore be taken as a treat to be indulged with pleasure, completely guilt-free.  Things need to be done of course, like cooking dinner and walking the dogs, but the rest of it will be spent day dreaming and drinking tea.  The best kind of treat.

Relax and enjoy your day and thank you for reading. xxx

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Lazy Day

This week has been a busy one.  I seemed to have spent most of my time in the car, driving about picking up and dropping off the children somewhere for something or other.  Then there was the day out visiting my brother on his birthday; the dentist after school one time; my afternoon volunteering and general running about doing every day stuff.  Consequently I have ended the week feeling slightly jaded and a bit frayed around the edges.  Today is Sunday and I am determined to take it slowly.

Of course there are still things to be done, even on my supposed day of rest.  Cooking dinner for one thing.  I was up fairly early as I had to drop Pea off at school at nine.  She and some of the other sixth formers are heading into the mountains for a day of hiking.  The weather is far from being clement sadly, although it is probably better that she will be out all day, battling with the wind, rather than prowling around the house like a caged panther.  The boys have no problems relaxing and are quite happy to be in doors on a bad day.  Seeing the darkening skies this morning, H1 dug about in the box of DVDs looking for a 'winter's day' film to watch.  During the warmer months of the year we spend so much time outside we hardly ever watch films, but once things take a turn for the worse, out they come.  It is like re-discovering old friends.  We all have our 'comfort' films for the winter time.  H1 chose Finding Nemo for this morning's viewing.  I love Sweet Home Alabama at any time of the year but once November arrives and it becomes more acceptable to watch Christmas films, out come A Christmas Carol and The Holiday!  Love 'em.

I haven't had time to take any proper pictures lately.  If I take my camera out with me there is never anything I want to take a photo of, but the moment I leave it behind there is a wealth of opportunity for a person who should have taken her camera with her (but didn't).  Typical.  I have to learn from this and take it with me where ever I go from now on.  At least I would have some slightly more interesting images to offer you.

Earlier in the week I almost burnt the house down.  Puppy saved me and the house and has now earned himself the glowing title of Fire Dog.  It is a bit embarrassing but I will tell you what happened.  I had made an apple and blackberry steamed pudding and put it in the pan to steam on the stove.  Then, having had no time to practise my line dancing, I went into the lounge leaving the kitchen door open so I could keep my eye on the pan.  You can guess where this is going, right?  I put on the music and became so engrossed in dancing that time passed without knowing.  Suddenly Puppy began barking at the kitchen door.  I went to investigate and detected a funny smell coming from the kitchen.  I lifted the pan with the pudding in and discovered the bottom pan had boiled dry so I put it on the draining board to cool down a bit before filling it with water again.  In the meantime, I took Puppy in the garden as he was clearly distressed about something.  On returning, he refused to come back inside and stood on the doorstep shaking.  I left the door open for him while sorting out the pan.  It had made a scorch mark on the draining board and was hotter than it should have been by now.  I set it in the sink on the oven glove and filled it with cold water.  The smell got worse and Puppy was frantic on the door step.  The pan melted my oven glove despite the cold water and filled the kitchen with a horrible stench. On reflection, it would appear that had it not been for Puppy, we were only moments away from disaster. That was the end of that, but thankfully the pudding was done to a turn and tasted amazing.  Eventually Puppy calmed down enough to come back inside again, but if I so much as burn toast, he shakes, barks and begs to go outside.  Poor dog.

Next time I promise to give you some seriously good pictures.  The pressure is on!

Have a good day and thank you for reading. xxx

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Full Circle

A whole year has passed since the children and I moved into our little house in the woods.  One entire year; 12 months; 52 weeks; 365 days, and we have loved every moment of it.  This unassuming house has become our safe haven and our cosy home.  We are extremely lucky to live here and this is where we want to stay.  We now know what the different seasons look like.  We have seen each day come and go, rain and sun, wind and frost.  The house is open and fresh in the summer and seems to expand its small rooms and lift the ceiling.  In the winter it hunkers down, wrapping itself around us, keeping us warm and snugly.  And the garden has been a joy to bring back to life.  Even now it keeps giving me little surprises in the form of a plant that has self seeded in an unexpected location.  Its bright colours shine out from a patch of weeds or a clump of grass letting me know it is there and not to be forgotten.  I dig them up and place them in a more suitable spot, where they can grow to their full glory and not fight with weeds.  Life at its best is sweet and simple.

October came and with it, Autumn.  We have had more rain in the last week than we had all summer.  It has turned cold and damp.  The mornings are dark and I have given in and put the heating on again.  It won't be long before I am digging out my full length, fluffy dressing gown!  Last night Pea and I went line dancing.  I had been practising hard all week so I was in a better frame of mind to enjoy as much of the dancing as I could.  We did rather a lot of new dances, some really good and some not so.  If I like the music, it gives me a good incentive to crack the dance.  If not, I don't worry if I can't do it.  As Pea and I drove down long winding lanes, the moon hung over the mountains and gave us a fabulous view all the way.  It was almost completely full with just a slight shadow to the left side, but it was so big and bright, it was hard to keep my eyes on the road!  We threw ourselves into dancing for three hours and then it was time to go home.  Honestly, I have never known time go so quickly.  I couldn't believe it was ten o'clock and I really did not want to go home.  However, Pea had spent a whole tiring day at school and was ready for her bed, so we bade goodnight to our friends and set off for home.
The sky was so dark the moon had been blotted out and no stars shone to accompany our journey.  All at once there was a massive flash of lightening that lit up the entire countryside.  It was so sudden it took us both by surprise.  It was a bit spooky driving down silent, dark lanes at that time of night, with a huge storm hovering over us.  We waited but heard no thunder.  A little while later, another flash, but still no thunder.  The thick black cloud that hung over us looked solid and threatening so we were relieved to turn into our driveway.  H1 and I took the dogs into the garden for a sniff round and Pea went to bed.  As usual after dancing, I was really hungry, so I stood in the empty kitchen and ate a pork pie and a bag of cheese and onion crisps.  Not the best thing to go to bed on, but there you go.  I got ready for bed and turned the lights out, waiting for the storm to hit.  Sometime during the night, I was woken by rain pounding on the roof, but the storm didn't materialise.  Such a disappointment after all that!

Hard to believe that only a few days ago, the sky looked like this when Pea and I took the dogs for a walk.  It was definitely chilly with a persistent breeze, but the sun always makes me feel brighter and fresher.  Some of the leaves that had fallen to the ground were still dry and crisp then and made a lovely sound when we walked over them. Even Middle Aged Labrador loved the noise they made when she walked through them.

We walked by a field full of multicoloured sheep, who wanted to come and say hello to us, but were far too scared.  They all started walking up the field to get as far away from us as possible.

In other places the rain had formed huge puddles too deep and wide to walk through with only walking boots on.  So we scrambled up a grass and bracken covered wall and forged our way through along the top of the wall.  We jumped down again when we had passed the puddles.  Brambles kept snagging at our clothes and we had to be careful where we were treading in case there were any mice or birds hiding out in there.  All was well though and we carried on with our walk.

As we were nearing home the sun went in and the light began to fade.  It felt a lot cooler without the cheerfulness of the sun and so we were glad to arrive home.  I put the kettle on and made us a cup of tea, then I noticed Puppy looking a bit pathetic and shivering in the door way.  I went out to the car and rummaged in a bag of clothes I had meant to take to the charity shop, weeks ago.  I found a jumper and then looked for something for MAL.  She would feel left out if she didn't have a new cardy to wear too.  I took them in and we slipped a fleece on MAL, who predictably loved it.  We noticed a startling resemblance to the Jedi Obe Wan, which made us all laugh. MAL didn't care a hoot as she was snugly and warm.  H1 had to battle with Puppy a bit, but finally we pinned him down, put his cardy on and did up the buttons.  He fought with it a bit and tried to get it off, but suddenly the warmth permeated his brain and he gave in to the feeling.

Despite chewing some of the toggles off, he does love his new jumper and drags it about in an attempt to get someone to put it on him.

Life at its best is sweet and simple, even for a dog.

Have a lovely day and thank you for

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

All Change!

Here we are at the beginning of October and somehow it feels as if the summer has relinquished her hold and has slipped quietly away, leaving the autumn to take centre stage.  I suspect we still have some lovely warm sunshine to enjoy now and then, but each day will be precious and must be thought of as the last, in order to take full advantage.  No more squandering!  Summer has been wonderful and we have loved every second of it.  The children had a last dip in the sea in late September; incredible really considering they were splashing about in the Irish Sea and not the Pacific!   Autumn is making herself known to us by gently tugging leaves from the trees, whipping up a stiff breeze and cloaking the garden and countryside in a heavy dew fall each morning.  She also insists that we bake and eat in a different way and the cotton dresses so beloved by sun worshippers are making their way to the back of the wardrobe for another year.  It's Autumn; bring it on!

I love the change of the seasons; I love Autumn and her magic and softness.  I love the mists that creep in from the sea with stealthy fingers and a chilly kiss.  I love the smell of decaying vegetation in the hedgerows and the feeling of sleep descending over everything.  What I absolutely loathe and cannot bear are the dark mornings and the damp that creeps into my bones and makes me feel one hundred years old.  Hate it with a passion.  It is only just getting light when we are rudely awoken by the incessant buzzing of my alarm each morning and I drag myself out of bed and shuffle to turn the hall lamp on.  It takes me until mid morning to feel awake.  I am a dormouse and should be asleep in my cosy nest at this time of year.  Wake me in March and I will be fine.

Even though summer has all but gone, there are still plenty of signs that she was here.  The garden is still producing flowers, courgettes, the odd tiny alpine strawberry and sweetcorn.  Autumn is softly laying a blanket of leaves at our feet but I still cling to the hem of Summer's dress as she fades into the mists.  The sweetcorn isn't yet fully ripe, so I am really hoping for more sun and warmth to finish the job, then we can tuck into them, dripping with salted Welsh butter.  As the children walked down the track to the waiting taxi this morning, I heard a chattering above my head.  I looked up and saw a swirl of swallows catching the last of the lazy insects floating on the breeze.  They are still with us but it is only a matter of days now before the skies will be empty of their aerial  acrobatics for another year.  It is hard to believe those tiny birds will see things I will never see, experience danger, fear, hunger and exhaustion.  Be close to death and yet survive and will return here to their place of birth next Spring to start the whole circle off again.  Can't help but admire them.

I made my You-know-what cake last week.  It turned out really well and is solid and heavy.  I began feeding it this week with a few teaspoons of brandy and will continue once a fortnight until November and then up the dose to once a week.  I took the lid off the tin this morning to have a look and the smell of rich fruit and brandy doing their thing drifted up from between the layers of brown paper.  It smells like Christmas.

I met The Bear again and he told me he had made a load of Christmas puddings.  Suitably impressed, I told him about my cake.  He asked if I'd made it with butter.  Well of course I did, I wouldn't make it with coal, would I.  What a daft question, thought I.  It was only later on when I opened my fridge and saw the huge tub of Stork margarine that I realised what he had been asking.  Stork is not butter; he meant butter.  He had also told me that marg in a Crimble cake was a Bad Thing to do.  Oops.  Anyway, we argued the virtues for each case and he said I should take him a bit of cake so he could try it.  Not gonna happen.  I am not having some wannabe Paul Hollywood prodding my cake and saying 'It's raw.' in that condescending manner he adopts so well.  The Bear told me he wouldn't do that and he didn't really like PH anyway.  Still not gonna happen.  Despite his spade-like hands, he told me he loves making pastry.  I was really surprised at that.  You can never tell with people.  I love discovering something unexpected as it reminds me that despite my now great age (45), I still have so much to learn and find out.  I will never know it all and that's just how it should be.  Having been surprised at this revelation, we talked for a while about pastry, egg custard tarts and Bakewell tarts.  Then, feeling a bit hungry after all this food talk, I went and bought a Bakewell tart.  What a sin!

As life becomes ever more 'indoors' rather than 'outdoors', we are finding ways to fill the hours.  It was easy in the Summer as we just sat in the garden and read.  I know it's possible to read indoors and I do, but I like to be active too.  It helps me sleep.  Pea and I have been going to line dancing classes for almost four months now and the tempo is shifting up a notch.  We are able to have a go at nearly all the dances, which means an awful lot of concentration for me.  Pea can grasp the steps quickly but I need a bit more time to focus.  This week my level of focus had dropped below the scale.  Somehow I just couldn't find the energy in my head to let all this in.  I still managed to dance a lot, but I sat out more than I normally do.  It was an odd feeling and I didn't like it one bit.  I am a bit of a perfectionist when I'm learning something new and I like to get it right fairly quickly.  It doesn't help this state of mind when the only people I can see in front of me are all proficient dancers.  I can only measure my ability, or lack of it, against theirs.  Not a good idea.  I had even forgotten how to do familiar dances, which was quite depressing!  I must find time to practise at home as it really does help.  Hopefully this week was just a minor blip in the proceedings and I will be back on form next week.

After all, Strictly has started again and if they can do all that, I can manage a few coasters and montereys!

Have a lovely day and enjoy the magic of