Raindrops and Raspberries

A Happy New Year you all. I do hope that you will be joining me often in 2018.

It’s the last day of my thirteen day Christmas break … not a nice feeling. We cleared away the Christmas decorations this morning and so, despite the fact that I don’t  put a great many out, the place is looking a little bare. I gained 3lb at Slimming World last night, not the worst gain of the group by any means, but something to sigh about, nevertheless. Outside it’s a rainy, grey day. Come March, we can at least look forward to spring but right now that seems an awfully long way off.

However, it is our wedding anniversary. We went out for lunch and I ate delicious lemon sole so that made it somewhat better. We had intended going further afield but given the dismal weather and the fact that Husband isn’t feeling great as he has a cough (the first I can ever recall him having) and cold, we stayed local. I don’t like this time of year.

BUT ……  there are many things in my life for which I am grateful which include my lovely family, great friends, general good health and a warm and comfortable home. Oh, and raspberries; I have an abundance of raspberries.

Son and grandson are coming for tea tomorrow so I made raspberry jelly

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And raspberry & apple crumble (with an extra one for my brother)

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And raspberry brownies. They are inclined to sink where the raspberries are, but they taste amazing! I say this only from past experience … that 3lb has to be gone by next Monday’s weigh-in!

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Best of all – I still have TEN 250g boxes left!  I just popped into Tesco to buy some flowers as a gift and there they were – a huge cage of them were being reduced. There must have been a couple of hundred boxes there! The shop was almost empty and not a single customer was looking at them…just me! From £3.25 to 32p.  Whoopee!

Bouquets & Brickbats 2017

The 2017 thisissixty.blog WELL DONE and COULD DO BETTER awards!

Not that the recipients will be in the least bit interested, indeed it is highly unlikely that any of their representatives will ever read my blog. I’m sure I could come up with lots more in both categories, but here are a few that spring to mind this morning:

WELL DONE 

The Blue Lemon, Shrewsbury. Best free-from nasty additives, reasonably priced toiletries. The owners are very knowledgeable,  their geranium & lavender and tea tree ranges are excellent, the online ordering system simple and straightforward, and delivery is super fast.

Benecos produce make up with similar credentials to the above. I actively try to avoid parabens, phthalates and aluminium so it’s great to know, without having to read the excessively small print that so many manufacturers use, that the products will meet my requirements.

Cross Country trains. Now there’s a surprise – a train company getting a ‘well done’ but praise where it’s due. You may remember that we had had bad luck not once, not twice but three times with train journeys. The final disappointment occurred only days before our complimentary tickets ran out so I wrote to the company explaining the situation and asking if they would consider extending them for a month so that we could make use of them. Without quibble, they gave me new first class tickets valid for a whole year! We now have a three night break in Edinburgh to look forward to in 2018.

The Entertainer toy store must surely be one of the most understanding of ‘staff needs’. The owner did not open on Christmas Eve. He never opens on Sunday stating that  “The Entertainer [is] dedicated to putting family first. For this reason, The Entertainer closes on Sundays so staff can spend time with their family and friends.” Good for him.

COULD DO BETTER

Marks & Spencer has to have the worst sale displays. I won’t be going to the current sale but I did unwittingly visit my local store on the very day their summer sale began. Do they specially buy in those racks and racks of garish, shapeless, poorly made clothing nowadays?  I never seem to see these particular items on offer outside sale time so I think they must. I’d rather forego the sale and buy fewer items when the store is less busy, taking my time to choose well. I think this is why I have never purchased a single thing from the jumble sale-style mish-mash that is TK Maxx. I just can’t be bothered to plough through it all. Much nicer to view things properly in a less frantic environment.

Next.  Inexplicably they begin their sale at 6am on Boxing Day. Why? It’s bad enough that any shop feels the necessity of opening on Boxing day but there is no valid reason whatever for such an early start .How about they consider their staff who have to be in store from a ridiculously early 5am. I understand that they are also expected to work until late on Christmas Eve to prepare the sale.  I’d hate to work for a company that was so needlessly dismissive of its employees’ family life. Would the queues be shorter and would they sell less if they opened at 9am? Of course not. I’d bet on the reverse. It’s a gimmick, and not a very nice one. I know that staff in the NHS, police and fire service (and others) work over holidays  and I am very grateful that they do, but I’m talking here about a shop full of frocks and fripperies.

Birmingham Hippodrome theater’s website is B-A-D!  I booked some tickets a couple of days ago and it was a very poor experience. Each time I wanted to check out certain seats, I had to begin the process from the start. When I had chosen and tried to pay for my tickets I had to ‘register an account’. This, of course, is so that they can bombard me with unwanted marketing material. Then, when I tried to register I got a message saying that I was already registered and needed my password. It’s ages since I bought tickets and had no idea what it was so I clicked the ‘forgotten password box’. The system then took me out of the booking page and I had to go through the process of setting a new password.  By then, I had ‘timed-out’ on the tickets I’d reserved and had to start the booking process all over again and the seats I had decided upon were no longer available.

Iceland…please train your staff! Like most other food stores the frozen food specialists issued a booklet showcasing its Christmas specials. Now, as you know, I like to cook but it’s a busy time of year and I’m not averse to the odd ready-made item that promises deliciousness. So loving the sound (and look) of the Roast parsnip, mushroom, spinach and hazelnut pithivier, I made a special trip to the store to buy one.  “Pity what?” said the first assistant I asked when I couldn’t find it in any of the freezers. I described it. “No, never heard of that,” she said. I pointed out that they were advertising it in their Christmas food booklet and she responded that I must be confusing it with somewhere else. I assumed that they had sold out and ascertained that the next delivery would be the following morning. To cut a long and repetitive story short, I went in twice more, spoke to three different staff and a more senior person (the manager was apparently not available) and not one of them had a clue what I was on about. On the the third occasion I had produced the booklet but even that didn’t help. “Probably sold out,” I was told. Probably? Well had you or hadn’t you?  My question to Iceland is this – when advertising specific items, with (presumably) the intention of encouraging customers to buy them, why not inform your staff  of their existence? I’ve completed their online contact form so await their response to this.  During my working life I’ve delivered a fair amount of training and my rates are reasonable. The offer’s there!

And finally, WH Smith. Will you please stop trying to sell me bars of chocolate at your till. Seriously, when I am buying a bottle of ink, what makes you think that I am interested in your super-sized bars of Dairy Milk? OK, OK, I admit it – I am ALWAYS interested in chocolate but I am perfectly capable of sabotaging my diet by myself. I do not need your encouragement!

What companies do you rate for great service, and which could you happily see disappear without trace?

Enjoy your New Year’s Eve, whatever you are doing. And thank you for your continued interest in my blog.

After the event

Well, it took its time coming (weeks of preparation), finally came and then went in the blink of an eye but we had a happy time. I had some fabulous presents from Husband, children and friends. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but here is one of the books I had specifically asked for. At almost 900 pages, it’s very heavy to hold and I’ve found the only way to cope comfortably is to rest it on the arm of the chair. Bedtime reading is an impossibility!  My fondness for hares prompted the gift of mug, coaster and small tray (perfect for a slice of cake).

 

I also had a pretty glass bowl containing money for pampering (a favourite activity), a pot of fabulous Filorga Time Filler face cream (which I am known to like a great deal but can’t always justify buying), a voucher for The Blue Lemon (for the foot balm I use)   https://www.thebluelemon.co.uk/ , Bare Minerals make up, Butler’s chocolate, Perfume, gift vouchers and lots of other lovely treats. From work we each received a very welcome £50 voucher from Love to Shop which can be used in several outlets including M&S,  Debenhams and other major stores.

I thought that the Christmas TV offerings were exceptionally poor. I watched Call the Midwife  which, although rather gloomy, I enjoyed, but I switched off the eagerly anticipated Little Women before the end of the first episode and didn’t even bother with The Miniaturist  despite the hype because I thought the book (aptly described by Margaret in her blog as ‘pretentious twaddle’) was boringly awful!

We were only four adults for Christmas day lunch and two little ones (29 and 15 months) who barely ate any of it (the elder one was far more interested in pulling crackers). Nevertheless I still bought and cooked too much, but not a single bit was wasted. The leftovers have been used thus:

Parsnip, potato and apple soup: Made extra thick (takes up less freezer space), it will need diluting before serving. These two containers will yield six generous portions. I usually add water, or if I have some left over from something else, perhaps coconut milk or even a drop of cider.

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Crustless quiche with ham, mushrooms and Stilton cheese. It made lunch today with plenty left for tomorrow.

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Also in the freezer now individually portioned:

  • several portions of thickly sliced ham which will be eaten with egg and chips or served with parsley sauce, mashed potato and peas.
  • a cheesecake from which only two slices were eaten – cut into wedges ready to be removed one at a time.
  • cherry & apple crumble
  • gammon and turkey pie filling complete with stuffing and gravy (mash or pastry topping required)
  • a large container of mixed grated cheeses suitable for making cheese & potato pies, quiches or sauces (and there’s still lots of cheese left in the fridge)
  • turkey & mushroom in peppercorn sauce – great as a jacket potato filling or topped with mashed potato

I haven’t bought a thing since Christmas eve (food or otherwise) and have no intention of going shopping over the weekend (though Husband will buy bread and milk when fetching his newspaper). It’s not often I go a whole week without even entering a shop! I reckon there’s enough in the cupboards and freezer to take us though January. I’ll buy fresh fruit and veg, of course, but I can’t imagine the need for a supermarket shop. (If I do, I’ve nowhere to put it anyway!)

For my final comment on Christmas 2017 – as requested by Theresa, here is the recipe for my Christmas cake. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t make a traditional one. This is a much used apple-cake recipe (more than 25 years old) which I tweak. The original is from the Bygones Museum (Babbacombe, Devon) recipe booklet. I’ve shown in brackets what I actually use

  • 10oz SR flour
  • 6oz butter/margarine
  • 6oz caster sugar (Billingtons golden)
  • 4oz sultanas and 2oz currants (6oz Whitworths mixed fruit. I like this one because it’s very moist and sticky)
  • 12oz cooking apples (red eating apples, cored and chopped but not peeled)
  • 3  standard eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk (3 tbs amaretto for Christmas version)
  • Pinch of salt (I never add this)
  • Half a tsp mixed spice (2 tsps cinnamon)

Rub fat into flour and cinnamon. Stir in sugar, fruit and apples. Add beaten eggs and milk/spirit. Baked in loose bottomed 8″ tin on 175c for …….here the recipe suggests one and three quarter hours but I find an hour maximum is ample time. Test with a skewer.

For the Christmas version, I spread top with icing sugar/water mixture and decorate with cherries, walnuts and almonds  but use whatever suits your tastes.

I have played around with this recipe using pears instead of apples or a mixture of cherries and pecans instead of the mixed fruit. I’ve made it with ginger instead of cinnamon and even thrown in a few halved grapes or blueberries when I’ve wanted to use them up. Experiment and enjoy!

And if you missed my earlier post – here’s what my Christmas version looked like.

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Christmas break, Christmas cake

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Nativity scene made by my son years ago.

I won’t be posting for the next couple of days as I’ll be a little tied up!  I spent much of yesterday cooking (some to eat and some to freeze) and preparing for guests.  We’ve spent an almost-Christmas evening with the same four friends many times and it’s always enjoyable. Supper is served buffet style and the drink flows. It was after midnight when they left … so a later night than I’m used to nowadays. I slept like a log.

My Christmas cake, lighter than a conventional one,  was made using the apple cake recipe that I’ve been using for years, but now topped with icing, glacé cherries, walnuts and almonds. Whilst I was at it I made a lemon & lime drizzle cake and froze it for later.

imageAt this time of year Magazines are full of recipes for leftover turkey. I never have any left over because by the time we’ve made Christmas night sandwiches it’s all used up. (What better than turkey and stuffing sandwiches with pickled onions on the side? Yum yum….one of the best Christmas traditions).  This year I deliberately bought an extra crown which I cooked and sliced and covered in peppercorn sauce and mushrooms. I now have several portions ready for use over the next few weeks.  I do find we have all kinds of  other leftovers though but I never waste anything. I like the challenge of creating meals from odds and ends!

At Slimming World this morning I’d gained half a pound. Without last night’s revelries I reckon that it would have been a half pound lost. After SW I got my hair done and then we’re off to visit friends this afternoon. This will be the 29th or 30th consecutive year (we’re not sure). We’ll exchange presents and drink wine and wonder where the last year has gone. Then, once home I’ll be preparing for tomorrow.

So that’s it for a couple of days. I wish you all a very merry Christmas indeed.

 

Bits and pieces

I won the Christmas raffle prize at slimming World. Our group leader does one of these herb & spice ‘crackers’ each year and I’ve always coveted it. I could, of course, make my own, or even just stock up on new jars but it’s just not the same as winning!

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The ‘S’ in the middle is for star anise. I don’t think I’ve ever used it so look forward to trying it out. Apparently it is the fruit of an evergreen tree which is native to southern China and is mostly used in savoury dishes.

Our dedicated Slimming World group leader is running our usual Monday class on Sunday (Christmas eve) morning. The next class will run as usual the following Monday (New Year’s Day). All designed to keep us on the straight and narrow – though she’s not unrealistic! I think attending on New Year’s Day is a perfect time for a new start (and I’m sure to need it by then).

We had an unexpected overnight visitor last night. Youngest granddaughter decided that, at seven, she is now brave enough to stay over without her big sister (who has always been happy to stay unaccompanied). It was lovely to peep in late at night and see her fast asleep. They always look so gorgeous, don’t they?  I recently wrote about Elf (on the shelf). He came with her so we had to think of an adventure for him. Quite what he did, we have no idea, but he was found this morning driving a Playmobile dustcart and eating a happy hippo wafer biscuit. Granddaughter seemed happy with that.

I finished work yesterday for a thirteen day holiday. HOORAY!! Although we’re only closed for two days, because of how my work days fall, I’ve only had to take two days annual leave to get almost two weeks off. This morning eight of us gym ladies met for coffee and mince pies.  A couple of glasses of Bucks Fizz, shortbread, chocolates, macaroons and sausage rolls later, we got around to the coffee and mince pies!  We also had a secret Santa with restrictions ….no chocolate, no alcohol and a budget of £4. It certainly tests ingenuity! I received a useful shopping bag which folds up into a tiny package that fits into even a small handbag. If only I remember to take it with me! The boot of my car is always well stocked with shopping bags but do I remember to take them into the supermarket? Rarely.

My night-cramps have improved, though not completely disappeared. Peculiarly, it mostly attacks my shins or across my instep. Rarely does it occur in my calves which is, for most people, the common place.  Whether or not my four-pronged attack is working (see below) or I’m just going through a better phase, I really don’t know. The banana, in case you’re wondering is a source of magnesium, a lack of which is thought to be a cause of cramp. The Epsom salts are reputed to help. The hot water bottle is probably the greatest help. As soon as the warning comes (I feel a tightness in the muscle) I make sure the bottle is in the right place and it really does seem to ward it off. Fortunately by the time it’s cooled,  my legs seem to have relaxed. Who knows – perhaps it’s all in my mind.

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Continued … a post about blogging

Following on from my recent (apparently well received judging by the comments left) post, I’m going to write a little about some of the other blogs I like to read. Links can be found on the right hand side of this page.

Simple Living 31 is hosted by Marlene who, like Jane at Shoestring Cottage loves a bargain and is kind enough to share her information about where to find them. Marlene’s blog has an added dimension though – she posts some fabulous photographs of birds, particularly those that visit her garden. I don’t know how she does it – visitors to mine are few and far between. It’s not like we have a cat or any other predatory resident. We even have a lovely safe, cosy (in bird terms) home for them but we never get any takers. Marlene also shares recipes and collects pretty china. Like many of us, she writes about whatever takes her fancy at the time (at least I think she does. It could be, of course, that she has it all planned out for months ahead! Do you, Marlene?)

Sue at the cottage at the end of a lane ( http://attheendofasuffolklane.blogspot.co.uk/) writes on similar themes. Having been self sufficient on a smallholding and campsite, she now lives in a Suffolk cottage where she shares with readers the ups and downs of life. It’s an interesting thing – most of the blogging community know each other only via our blogs and yet, in many ways, we know more about each other than, say, the people we see every day at work.

Food, finance, fitness, family and flowers…things that, to a greater or lesser degree, interest us all. Faith writes the Much more with less blog and has won awards for her financial writing and was a finalist in the UK Money blogging awards earlier in the year.  A bit like me, she dips in to any subject that takes her fancy. I really like her flower photography.but have to admit that her food posts and recipes are what interest me most.

I like people who find contentment in the every day and for this reason I enjoy Bless’s posts (http://bless2cents.blogspot.co.uk/). She has great ability to see good in the smallest things. She ends her posts with five things that she’s grateful for that day and its  a sharp reminder to celebrate the good in our lives.   A recent post describes the ceremony of almsgiving at the Buddhist temple which she attends and the sermon which focused on the importance of good friends – something which I have often mentioned as being of great consequence to me.  I always find it interesting to read about other cultures and beliefs. Earlier this year I visited a Buddhist temple and it was fascinating. I keep meaning to write a post about it. I will endeavour to do so soon.

Now to Leigh (it’s a girl thing) … what a coincidence that we both ended up becoming mature students in our fifties and studying similar degrees. Leigh did it whilst travelling around Europe in a motor home, and later England on a narrowboat! There’s dedication for you. During this time she’s also published a couple of books on direct selling and network marketing, another about her travels (from her dog, Martha’s perspective)  and yet still found time to write her blog on girl-stuff.

Finally mummy and me is written by Charlotte who, as well as having an academic career, writes travelogues for people who travel with young children. It’s not advice I need currently but Charlotte is a friend and its nice to keep up with what she’s doing.

And that’s enough about blogging for now. Tomorrow, I’m changing the subject!

 

 

 

A post about blogging

Today I’m going to blog about blogs! The post will be in two parts: Firstly I’ll talk about the blogs I enjoy.  Over on the right hand side of my blog page, you’ll see a list of links to Blogs I enjoy reading. I wonder if you’ve ever taken a look at any of them. I used to buy a lot of magazines but got disillusioned with the same stories and articles which seemed to do the rounds albeit slightly re-hashed. Given the steep cost of some of these magazines I decided to stop buying them. Good Housekeeping, one of my preferred ones, now costs £4.40. Astonishing! I occasionally pick up a used copy from the gym but for the most part, having a few favourite blogs that I can dip into when I want has filled the gap nicely. It’s like having my own online general interest magazine.

Part 1: Blogs I enjoy reading I’m not going to describe every one but here are a few of them with a short description of the reasons I enjoy them:

Margaret is a professional writer who lives in South Devon. I met her recently when I went to stay near to where she lives. She is such an interesting lady who has a great love for the subjects about which she writes which include day-to-day life, her family, home, antiques and cooking delicious food. She also takes some fabulous photographs of her own lovely part of England.

Jane at Shoestring Cottage writes, as you might guess by her blog name, about living on a budget. I guess we all have a budget of some kind and, if you’re like me, often wish it was a little larger.  Some of Jane’s ideas are too radical for me but she offers an interesting perspective on stretching that budget whilst still enjoying life.

Fancying France’s June describes her blog thus: The musings of a ‘femme d’un certain âge’ who longs to live in France. This describes it perfectly. Passionate about the food and wine, fashion and culture, she shares her love of all things French.

Frugalfashion is written by Penny. She’s a very stylish lady who loves to shop in charity shops and imparts her unique brand of fashion advice to those of us of a ‘certain age’.   Penny also writes a second blog which focuses on politics and other serious topics. This can be accessed from her fashion blog.

Starting over at Sixty is the story of Paula’s journey from finding herself unexpectedly alone at sixty to where she is today, a couple of years on. It is a very open, honest and thought-provoking account of how she has come to terms with her situation, ‘not just surviving, but thriving’ (to use her own words).

Part 2  This part will only be of interest to readers who have their own blogs.

I have become increasingly frustrated by the fact that several  Blogspot/Blogger blogs won’t allow me to leave comments because apparently, I am not authenticated (i.e. my WordPress credentials are not recognised by Blogger). This didn’t used to be a problem but I think the Blogspot platform must have had some changes made to it. However, I couldn’t understand this because there are other Blogspot blogs that I have no problem with. I’ve been investigating why this might be and it seems that other WordPress users are having the same issue.  I dug around the internet and this is what I have discovered. It all depends on what comment levels the blog owner has selected. If you have a Blogspot account, WordPress bloggers can only comment if the Blogspot owner has allowed comments from Name/URL. 

Obviously most people will not wish to accept anonymous contributors, but restricting it beyond this prevents contributors who don’t have Blogger (i.e. Google blog) account. So, if you’re a Blogger/Blogspot blog writer who reads mine and wonders why I never read yours – I probably do but I can’t leave comments (this applies to several that I read from time to time and am unable to comment on). You might want to consider the above.

To name just a few…

Lillysmom

Simple living 31

Life in my empty nest

Meanwhile, I appreciate the comments from those of you who do. Thank you. I will always endeavor to respond.

POSTSCRIPT:  I am touched and delighted to report that within a very short time of posting this piece, some of my regular readers have already amended the access levels on their own blogs which will allow WordPress bloggers to join them. I really do enjoy the word of blogging and am loving being a part of it.