Tuesday 22 December 2009

Christmas traditions

I think each family has a unique Christmas but made all the more special in the knowledge that something similar is happening in other homes all across the world.

Here are some of our family traditions - how similar are they to your own?

G8 opens her advent calendar from the 1st December - little wooden symbols to hang on a Christmas scene. Now the dog has to have one too (for heaven's sake!) although hers is of the chocolate variety.

The three of us; J, G8 and me go to choose the Christmas tree for our house - it takes a bit of ooing and ahhing and how big is thating before we can all agree on the best one. Once home the smell is gorgeous and fills the room. G8 and I decorate, we're as happy as Larry and it can take hours of faffing. We have a fairy on top.

In Christmas week we go to Church, which in our case is at the bottom of the garden. This year G8 is in the play with the Llysyfran Mummers and there are refreshments, including warm punch afterwards. There are also games and a Welsh concert party by ALAW. Bendigedig! Donations are going to Shelter Cymru's Christmas Appeal this year.

Christmas Eve we prepare a (rather large) shot of whisky & a mince pie or two for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph. Then we all have to work out which chimney he is going to come down - each year since moving we've had the same discussion. I assure G8 it won't be the Rayburn as he'll burn his bum, likewise the wood burner. Instead it'll be the one we don't use in the dining area. Here we then very carefully lay out all the wares ready for Santa's night time visit.

A newer, more technological tradition for our nuclear family has been tracking Santa using http://www.noradsanta.org/ Great fun - there are also lots of Christmas games for all who are young at heart, try it!

Finally, it feels, we pack G8 off to bed - relief. To wind her down beforehand we read Christmas stories in front of the wood burner with oodles of hot chocolate for all.

Once G8 has given in to sleep we spend our time scurrying around, drinking whisky, eating mince pies and Topsy Dog helps with the carrot now. It's hard, but someone has to do it.

We pack G8's stocking up with little goodies, including a small orange. We believe this represents the gold that Father Christmas first dropped when coming down the chimney and which had been luckily caught in a stocking instead of being lost in the grate. Did you also know that green was the traditional colour for the British Father Christmas (remember in A Christmas Carol the Spirit of Christmas Present?) It was Coca Cola ads that ''popularised'' red as the color of Santa's suit in 1931. I learnt that last week in Chapel (our neighbours had invited us to a family service. It was really lovely and we met Santa, although not the "real thing" of course - he only comes Christmas Eve).

First thing Christmas morning G8 bounds in to our bedroom, we've tried to get her to look at her clock and not to jump on the bed before 4am! This year we've installed a fibre optic tree in her bedroom, which lights up at exactly 7am, do we have any hope that she'll wait for this before leaping on us? My guess is nope, not a chance!

G8 opens her Christmas stocking in a frenzy on our bed... this is my favourite part of the day really... it's so cosy and it's a joy to watch her face.

We have always trooped over to Him and Her Next Door for the big event - nowadays we don't have to get wet and de-ice the car, we can just walk down the back corridor and there we are! Santa has usually been extra busy here. We start with a Bucks Fizz, yum and G8 is the elf for the day reading the labels and handing out the presents. We have always done one gift at a time - as part of the joy for all of us is the giving, seeing what others get and watching faces light up (or drop on occasion!) It takes longer but I think it's important for G8 to realise that giving is just as lovely as getting.

Of course we then eat way too much, drink a little more and collapse in a heap of exhaustion at the end of the day. But for the magic of Christmas for the children (of all ages) it really is worth it.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Christmas comes but once a year

thank goodness.

The great writing of the cards started early this year as I knew all would be chaos with the kitchen half done... It's very tempting to do a round robin on the PC but for some bizarre reason I ritualistically hand write notes in all the cards where I haven't seen someone in a while.

It can take some time and I get hand ache as I never use pen and paper really at any other time of the year... except perhaps to write a cheque or a note to myself, but nothing of any substantial content.

My Christmas witterings to others is mainly inane rubbish, I gabble on not in the least sure anyone is at all interested (bit like this blog really!) But I insist on doing it every year.

I get constant interruptions from (in descending order) G8, the dog, J, Her and Him Next Door. I end up making silly mistakes; love from Me and the dog - hmmm, Benblydd Hapus, Dear Joan and Joan - the list is long. Unlike the PC I can't undo my mistakes without leaving a trace that they were ever there, I have to either cross it out or start again.

This year we had a lovely card from Viking Direct, now I have never been round to the Viking Direct's for tea lately so I am not sure regarding the return card whether to write a chatty note or just Happy Christmas from all of us. Modern etiquette is a minefield.

Between Her Next Door and me (I think J managed to write one card so far - and he said he might just do mine) we have kept the local postman in a job. We needed a bag to get the cards to the post box and a loan for the stamps. We try hard to grab visitors when they come to take some home with them, but there is a limit on how many we can do this way.

Someone who will remain nameless (but you know who you are), always sends Christmas cards from her work's franking machine. This brings back memories. When I worked at the bank someone got caught out doing that when a card got returned - address unknown. All the staff were called together for a group dressing down and the offending card was waved in front of us as a deterrent (we all tended to sneak the odd card in and they knew it)! Not quite in the politicians league but it stopped me dead - I am such a wimp. Now in any case I haven't a franking machine within a hundred mile radius so it's back to the stamp.

After finishing the cards all I've got to do now is wrap the presents and decorate the tree - what a doddle!

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Gegin Fach

Her and Him Next Door used to have a large kitchen and separate dining room.

Now they have been reduced to an open plan kitchen, dining, sitting room. They get under each other's feet. Sometimes I fear they might kill each other as the cooking area of the kitchen is Her Next Door's domain whereas the dishwasher is fiercely defended by Him Next Door. Unfortunately the two areas overlap; occasionally when Her Next Door is dishing up and Him Next Door is trying to put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher - there can be clashes.

Raised voices and underhand sniping. Looks which could kill.

On the positive side there is less to clean.

Her Next Door has always been a keen cook and enjoyed making meals for others. Before we moved we used to pop round to Him & Her Next Door's home on a Sunday for (wait for it...) Sunday lunch and a few lazy drinks in the afternoon. Things have changed. We now share the cooking between the families for four lunchtimes a week. Her Next Door and J each do two meals per week, Monday through to Thursday. Friday and the weekends are left free so that we can do our own thang! We initially used to eat our cooked meal in the evenings but we found we drunk way too much red wine and Gran doesn't like to eat late - so it got moved to lunchtime instead.

Both Her Next Door and J enjoy cooking, and when anyone asks Her Next Door whether she eats out much she always replies yes, at least twice a week. They compare cookery notes and have had great fun learning to use the Rayburns.

We try to buy less from the large supermarkets. Him Next Door grows all our vegetables through the summer months. We have a farm a few steps up the road where we get our pork and beef from, we know all about the pedigree of the pigs and cows and even get to watch them rolling about in the mud or grazing in the fields. Our eggs are supplied by a friend who has a smallholding. We still get our milk delivered from a local supplier. We've acquired the odd fish from the reservoir on a bartering system, i.e. you gut them and you can keep half. All great really and part of the reason for moving.

It's not all roses. Sometimes we have to eat lettuce for days on end, you can run out of ideas very quickly for different ways to serve the stuff. I am not the greatest red meat fan, yet we have to find room in the freezer for a whole cow and work out how we are going to eat it all. Good job we have lots of visitors to devour the excess!

Monday 16 November 2009

Why do men always think they know best...

One sadness for me moving from my old house is that I loved it and I had just about got it to where I wanted it to be - all the major jobs had been done and the dust and upheaval were only a dim and distant memory. Approximately 18 months before we moved we'd just installed a dream bathroom, which I still miss now!

Our new house is not very new at all, it's an old stone farmhouse, with 3 foot thick walls. We've had to learn its ways; we had mould, we've let the house breath, we've had bats in the roof and we've grown to like them, we've had mice (see previous posting), um we're still working on that one!

Now don't get me wrong, J is very handy and very clever at DIY, he just refuses to read instructions or look into anything before hand. A case in point occurred this weekend. J was laying down the sub floor in the kitchen in preparation for tiling. He carried on regardless and put down T&G chipboard (which is what we had taken up I admit). He asked me to research whether we needed to screw it down or leave it 'floating'. Big mistake. I researched using the Internet and everywhere but everywhere said DON'T DO IT, do not EVER use chipboard with tiles - emphatically a definite NO NO (as apparently eventually the movement in the wooden floor cracks the grout and the tiles - bit like trying to tile a trampoline I suppose - makes sense to me).

Unfortunately when I relayed this information to J he was not best pleased. He took it out on me - a bit unfair I thought as I was just the messenger!

J huffed, puffed, stamped his feet and shouted just a bit. The floor is coming up tomorrow and we're starting again.

When I relayed this to Him and Her Next Door, He was a bit quiet (Him Next Door had helped J lay the floor). Her Next Door on the other hand was quite relieved as she'd also read things on the Internet but hadn't wanted (dared) to interfere.

Definitely a male problem then.

I've now been appointed site manager! I think I need a hard hat.

Friday 13 November 2009

My Hobby - Farmville

I might have stopped watching a bit of telly since my move but with these nights drawing in I seem to be getting fanatical about Farmville on Facebook.

Never heard of it... stay away if you have an obsessive nature - it becomes addictive and you fear losing your crops if you do not, on a daily basis, check on them. This is how they have you by the short and curlys and guarantee repeat game playing! Simple really.

Its pluses as an online game include not worrying about winning or losing, or the game running out of time. The aim is also simple. You strive to reach the next level; which you attain by gaining XP (experience). The more you sow, reap, help others the more XP and money you gain. Every level enables you to buy a wider variety of crops and decorations for your farm.

As well as buying seeds, planting them and generally looking after the crop rotation you can buy animals, trees, buildings and various decorations such as hay bales, wooden seats, wheelbarrows etc to spice up your farm. The animals & trees enable you to gain money from their produce, buildings and decorations just make your farm more interesting, although building\adding them can add to your XP.

Seasonal decorations are offered for a limited time only, Halloween brought lanterns and scary trees. Autumn had heaps of leaves on offer, maple trees & a harvest table, what on earth will Christmas bring? I can't wait.

The game uses the social side of Facebook by encouraging you to acquire neighbours. Having lots of neighbours is beneficial, not only can you earn money and XP (by visiting and helping on neighbouring farms), but with eight or more neighbours, you can expand and own more land. Gifts (such as trees and animals) can also be handed out to your neighbours - who shamelessly request them.

It's fun to look at your friends' farms too and psychologically analyse them; are they anally retentive (like mine) and have everything neatly in order, pigs and hens in pens, house with garden etc or more chaotic; large, flashy and haphazard with plots of land everywhere & anywhere, animals roaming free and trees plonked into position?

Nearly every day I say to myself I'm going to ignore my virtual farm, but my poor crops will fail and all my neighbours will notice - its become a bit of a chore really but I somehow have to find the time to do it!

Thursday 5 November 2009

My Gran and the Great Tight Battle

Firstly, let me say that my Gran is truly wonderful. She is 99 and has all her marbles, she remembers everything without a problem; phone numbers, addresses, everyone's date of birth - Alzheimer's hasn't darkened her door.

God love her.

She most definitely has a mind of her own.

Her body though can sometimes let her down.

Easily getting out of breath she is now finding it very hard work getting dressed, and would like a day off now and again (don't we all). Her Next Door (my Mum) thinks that this could be the slow road to ruin (at 99!)...

The women in this household have just succeeded in persuading Gran to wear trousers instead of skirts and underskirts making this daily task a little easier, and she admits she should have done it years ago. But will she give up tights? Emphatically not. She is refusing to discuss it anymore. She tells us she has to use up all the tights she has in the drawer before she considers it (and she has hundreds); she simply is not going to waste them.

I find tights a devil of a job at my age, at 99 I'll be lucky to know which end is up - so my hat goes off to her.

That's the spirit Gran, stand your ground. Why not - I think you've earned it. But somehow I doubt you'll get tights from Her Next Door this Christmas!

My new camera!

When we moved J (my partner) and I thought we would make some general changes, and one was not to have a TV in the bedroom anymore - mainly because we tended to watch absolute rubbish and then end up tired the next day. In fact since we've moved we all watch a lot less TV generally and it's amazing how much more time I have available to do something more interesting instead. Don't get me wrong we still like to slob in front of it inanely when the fancy takes us.

One of my new interests, besides blogging, is photography. I've always enjoyed it but living in Pembrokeshire now there are so many beautiful photos waiting to be taken, its whetted my appetite again.

I bought my first digital camera when my daughter (G8) was nearly one. It's strange to think that she has never gone to Boots and waited with fevered anticipation to collect photographs, and has no idea what a roll of film really is. Technology evolves quickly - which also means my 7 year old camera is positively archaic. My Canon Ixus has taken some good photos in its time (all the Pembrokeshire photos in the slideshow top right), but is now quite slow. I have to ask people to pose for 10 seconds while it warms up, in that time they generally wonder off - time for a new one me thinks. G8 is delighted as she is in line for the old one.

I thought about buying a DSLR, but for me because of their bulk I don't think I'd end up carrying it around with me very much - then not having a camera to hand makes it difficult to take pictures! I've gone for a bit of a hybrid - the Canon G11. It's basically still a point and shoot compact camera and I can take it anywhere, but it does have a full manual mode and you can buy accessories including fancy pants lenses etc (this might be a bit advanced for me at this point). Hopefully the camera will make me feel like a real photographer, even if I'm not.

I'm still a bit of an ignoramus when it comes to the manual mode, but it'll be another new learning curve and something for me to do when I'm not watching TV! Everybody say CHEESE :)

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Welsh Language & Schools

My daughter goes to a school where Welsh is taught as the first language. My Mum and I decided we'd like to learn it too, dyn ni dysgu Cymraeg! We have been trying for three years now - without much success I have to say. My Dad tried for a year then gave up with the lame excuse that he has too much to do! (Wish I'd thought of that one).

I ask my daughter about the mutations, she assures me it's just to make the words sound better, but I'm an adult, I need rules and it panics me, she doesn't worry about it and is fluent. Hmmmm.

I am continuously astonished at how easily she has picked up this very difficult to learn second language. It struck me that we ought to do this in the English schools, the Canadians do it with French - this immersion technique and it appears to work, perhaps because a young child lacks self-consciousness and negativism? My daughter did have some intensive language lessons for two days a week for a little over a year, outside of her normal schooling (we didn't move until she was in year 2). Since then she has been simply immersed in the language at school and has gone from strength to strength. She has not lost ground in the standard subjects, in fact she is as bad at maths as she would be in England :).

One other brilliant positive, is that Welsh schools don't have national testing HURAH. My daughter is always the very youngest in her year, we were still in England when at just a few days older than six she was being prepared for the SATs. After two years of enjoying school she started to dislike it, this was serious stuff. The pressure was on; spellings every week, homework for the weekend, reading every night. We had parental guidance notes about what to encourage when we were working with our child so that they would jump through the hoops and pass the tests. I felt pressure and put pressure on my child - I tried not to, but I did. Why do we do that? Surely if you allow children the space to enjoy learning - they will actually learn.

No testing here, but the school my child will end up in is far, far better rated then any of the local senior schools in the area we left. Says it all really.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

The Wardrobe

In my previous life I was known to frequent Monsoon on occasion (we had a new shop in the town I used to live in & from the first day it opened its doors I couldn't resist). I bought beautiful skirts, dresses, trousers etc, mainly for work but also for special parties. Now they lay forlorn and redundant taking up all the space in the wardrobe. I use three drawers in a chest of drawers for my daily attire now - these are filled with underwear (I haven't sunk that low), jeans, fleeces and t-shirts. That's it, that's all I wear - oh, OK I admit it, I may also be seen in jogging bottoms if cleaning or appropriately enough, jogging.

My feet have come off even worse, I wear Crocs, wellies or trainers.

It's not just me - the men in this household have always relished the distinctly casual look but Her Next Door and my Gran also dress down now. Since moving we have all weeded out only our very favourite posh clothes to keep, many sackfuls have ended up at the charity shop or the car boot! In Her Next Door's case this is also partly due to the fact that she no longer has the myriad of wardrobe space she once had (which had been specially built by Him Next Door). Downsizing in more ways than one.

I'm not sure how Her Next Door and Gran feel but I personally prefer this new look - I feel it's quite liberating. Who here cares what I wear or what I look like, I've persuaded myself you are not judged on that. Anyway I'd look mighty silly doing the gardening or stomping over the countryside on a six mile hike in my posh frock. Not at all practical either.

I hate it when I'm at work and a client phones in and says I need to site visit. Gulp. That means I have to dress up in the posh clothes stored in the wardrobe, wear makeup, look presentable. I'm so out of practice it's quite daunting and I feel I never quite come up to scratch. The city is like another world; the hustle and bustle, the shops with glittery things in them, everyone busy chasing their tails, so focused. I don't feel I fit in anymore - I definitely feel not worthy and try very hard not to catch my reflection in the shop windows in case I see tattooed on my forehead - SO LAST SEASON DAAAHLING.

It brings home to me the quote "The most important things in life aren't things.” Anthony J. D'Angelo, I read it every day from my coffee mat. Maybe the environment I find myself in encourages me to put less value on my expensive clothes - yes the slobby look. I hear it's making a comeback in this recession. I'd highly recommend it - but then I would!

Monday 2 November 2009

Not so nice mice - moved in without asking!

After some encouragement from my follower (yes that is singular) I thought I'd update... it's been a few months.

Summer was a somewhat wet affair, although September and October brought with it weeks of sunshine and very mild weather. Unfortunately with this mild Autumn along came lots and lots of field mice. I have never really lived in the countryside before - you are much closer to nature that's for sure. We had one solitary mouse in the house last year, the dog was useless! After a brainwave from my partner we put all the settees up on dining room chairs to give her a clear run at it, she at last caught it, but didn't kill it. I thought poor little traumatised mouse... and carefully nestled her in the palm of my hand and gently put her down at the bottom of the garden.

This Autumn it's a different story, it's all out warfare. We have found them in our log cabin and in the garage. They like gnawing - they have gnawed the soft handle bars on my daughters scooter, eaten through two rather expensive suit cases (that belong to my parents) and through the bag of our tent. Last night I put some kitchen waste into the compost bin and I saw the bottom of one of the little blighters disappearing into the warm nest we have so thoughtfully provided. My gran delights in telling us horror stories and she assures us they can squeeze through holes the size of a pencil, their bones collapse apparently - too much information.

We are trying peppermint oil, traps and those electronic thingys that emit noises not heard by man but apparently the little rodents don't like... hmmm we're getting desperate. Our neighbour trapped 12 in their downstairs toilet so it could be worse! I don't think we'll win this war, we are the traditional army whereas they deploy guerrilla tactics. 1-0 to the mice so far.

Sunday 22 February 2009


Well I had a mid life crisis, decided to sell up (umm at the beginning of the credit crunch - not such a bright idea) and move lock stock and family to deepest darkest Pembrokeshire!

We are four generations living together. We have also changed our lifestyle big time.


To get to this point we hired a professional home finder to locate the property as we had a long list of requirements, top of the list for obvious reasons was ground floor accommodation and an en suite for my now 98 year old Gran. The house we plumped for enables us to live in two separate buildings, joined together simply by a 'utility' room. My parents live with my Mum's mum (i.e. my Gran) in the newer extension which is all on one floor and my partner, myself and my daughter live together in the old two storey farmhouse.

We have a bit of land, oh OK then a large garden, but much more than we have been used to. We now grow most of our own vegetables and hope to have some bee hives and\or a goat or two - watch this space. We have a small orchard.

We have a wood on one side with a stream running through it, the sound is so soothing. We also use the wood for our multi fuel burner to keep us toasty in the winter. The birds that come are amazing and varied... the best so far has been the woodpecker - although he can be noisy!

Now you have some background - this is the day to day story of the ups and downs of my life... I hope you enjoy.
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