Monthly Archives: December 2010

Loose Ends

I am something of a ‘completist’.  I can’t bear to leave jobs half done and  I would rather work an extra ten minutes and know that my task is completed.  As the end of the year draws nigh, I have a desperate urge to tie up as many loose ends as I can in order to start the new year with a clean slate.  This will not be possible and it irks me.

I am also a maker of lists.  My ‘Things To Do’ list is typed up and revised on a weekly basis and consists of three columns labelled Priority, Item and Date Completed.  If an item has remained on there for over a month without being done, the chances are that it’s not that urgent after all and is relegated to the second page.  The second page is where things that need doing but are not going to adversely affect my life if they are not done are put.  They niggle but don’t actually cause collapse.

This is a reaction to the fact that I have a very poor short term memory and an extremely busy life.  I have a Filofax  in which I record not only what I will be doing, but also what I’ve done, so that when I finally get round to getting my photograph albums up to date, I have a solid reference for when things happened. 

If I lost my Filofax, I would be obliged to sit rocking in my bed, sobbing gently and dribbling until someone told me what to do.  As each year ends, the diary pages are removed from the binder, placed in an A5 envelope marked ‘Diary (year)’  and then filed in my filing cabinet in the hanging folder cunningly marked ‘Diaries’.  If I should ever be up before The Beak I will be able to look back with confidence and say “Ah yes! On 27th March 1999 I was …..” and all charges against me will be dropped.  Hurrah.

But now, as I sit at my computer at 13.23 on 31st December the following items remain either in my To Do List or are awaiting resolution :

  • Decide whether or not to declare myself Self Employed on 6th January
  • Find sponsorship so Boy the Elder can take up his place at Grammar School
  • Print off the photographs of The Aged Parent’s 80th birthday party which took place in 2008 so she can complete the album I gave her
  • Complete the insurance claim regarding my car which was hit by a girl who is now lying through her teeth about her undoubted culpability
  • Find a wing-backed armchair to replace the sofa which was ruined by Jeremiah the Cat so that all three of us can sit down

Wish my readers a Very Happy New Year.  AHA!    Tick.

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Filed under Life in general

Gone Walkabout

By the time you read this I will be in London.  After a lovely, relaxed and indulgent Christmas Day, we are meeting up with my family in Marlow and then staying a couple of days with the Aged Parent.   The Father of My Children brought the turkey; he was charged with obtaining said item and naturally left it to the last minute.  The last turkey in the shop (!) was brought to the house on the back of a flat-bed trailer.  Boy the Younger felt obliged to bring out a pair of crutches whilst warbling “God bless us – every one!”  It was delicious.   I will be taking food parcels to all and sundry in the South.

I am also taking our laundry as the washing machine is still frozen solid.

I hope you’re all enjoying your break, and many thanks for all your good wishes.

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Filed under Christmas, Family and Friends

Sunday Poem 68

Mr & Mrs R and the Christmas Card List – by Connie Bensley (1929 -)

Shall I cross them off?
It’s twenty years since we last met.

Of course Mr R and I once thought
we were made for each other –

Ah, that heart stopping moment
by the kitchen sink, when he took off

his spectacles and fiercely kissed me.
But all that lasted less than a week

and what I recall more vividly
is Mrs R’s good advice:

Always plunge your lemons in hot water
before you squeeze them.

One more year perhaps.

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Merry Christmas!

May I wish all my readers a

Very Merry Christmas

and a

Happy, Healthy and Prosperous

2011

May we send good wishes to all whom we love

And to those who have no one to love them

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Fire Safety

This is the time of year when people get drunk and do careless things.  Lighting fires, lighting candles and smoking when you’ve had a few can all have catastrophic consequences.  A Fire Officer recently came to give a talk to The Scouts about fire safety and I’m going to pass the information onto you about Fire Drills, Prevention and What to Do if there’s a Fire.

FAMILY FIRE DRILL

  • Have a Family Fire Drill.  If the normal exit route from the house is blocked by fire, you must rehearse an emergency escape route and make sure everyone knows where it is.   Practice it regularly.
  • Keep calm and speak loudly, clearly and with authority.  This will reassure the others and they will be more likely to behave rationally.
  • An ideal escape route would be through a window that overlooks the porch or an outbuilding that people can climb onto.
  • Do not throw mattresses out of the window to land on.  They are too big and you will block the window and prevent people escaping.
  • The tallest person should climb our first in order to help lift the others down or catch them.
  • Climb out of the window backwards and lower yourself down from your fingers – this way you reduce the distance to jump or fall.
  • Make sure you know where everyone is.  Children sometimes hide in wardrobes or under beds when they’re frightened.
  • Keep door keys where they can be easily found if you need to get out in a hurry – better still have Yale locks or bolts which don’t need keys.
  • Keep a first aid kit in an outbuilding and make sure people know where it is.
  • Contact your local Fire Station for more information.

PREVENTION

  • Check your smoke alarms.  A smoke alarm with a dead battery could mean dead people.  Many Fire Services will come and install them for you and do a Fire Safety Check while they’re at it.
  • Always make sure that fires are out before you go to bed or make sure that the doors to the woodburner are firmly closed.  If there are any burning embers, put a fire-guard in front of the grate and wedge it firmly so it can’t topple over.
  • Snuff out all candles and double check that they’re not still glowing.
  • Make sure that cigarettes are completely extinguished, better still, damp the ash tray down with water and empty the contents into the bin.  Do not smoke in bed.
  • Make sure that cooker hobs are switched off before going out or going to bed.
  • Close all internal doors at night to contain or slow the progress of a fire should it start.
  • Keep a fire blanket in the kitchen.

WHAT TO DO IF THERE’S A FIRE

  • Remember that people are more important than things.  Your handbag or wallet are no good to you in the morgue.
  • Wake everyone up and get them to a safe room.  Follow your Family Fire Drill.  If your normal exit route is open, get everyone out through that. 
  • Keep calm and speak loudly, clearly and with authority.  This will reassure the others and they will be more likely to behave rationally.
  • Don’t stop in the house to ring the Fire Brigade if there is any risk.  Wake a neighbour and get them to do it.
  • Tell the Fire Brigade where you are and if anyone is still inside.  If you’re trapped in the house, try to let them know whether you are at the front or the back, which floor and which window they should go through.  This could save time and lives.
  • Smoke can be as dangerous as fire.  Block off doors using blankets, duvets, curtains – anything that could slow the progress of fire or smoke.
  • If you are trapped in a room awaiting rescue, stay on the floor as the air will be clearer for longer.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with anything that comes to hand to protect against smoke inhalation.
  • Do not switch on any lights or plugs as the spark could ignite a fire.
  • 

                                             PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN FIRE!

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Filed under Family and Friends, Household Hints, Safety

Dealing with Nightmares (or My Son the Psychiatrist)

For the last few nights, Boy the Younger has been afflicted with nightmares.  About 40 minutes after he’s gone to sleep, he sits up screaming, crying and ranting, somewhat incoherently, about the dream.  In the morning he can remember little about it, although he is aware that he has been distressed.

The dreams are about dying.  One was that he could feel himself falling out of bed and he knew that if he actually did, he would fall to his death.  The other one was about playing Snakes and Ladders.  Instead of numbered squares, there are waking squares and sleeping squares but someone has replaced them with living squares and dying squares – if you land on a snake you slide down and die.

We’ve talked about what these dreams might mean and how he might tackle any unpleasantness while he’s asleep.  We’ve talked about imagining putting the horrid things or thoughts into bubbles and blowing them away, or taking a large roll of bin bags into his dreams so that he can put the bad things into the bags and put them in the dustbin.  He really liked this one and warmed to his theme, whereby an entire team of refuse collectors would follow him around ready to chuck the bags into the back of their refuse trucks.

At this point, Boy the Elder came into the bedroom proffering a home-made (and therefore very powerful) Batik dyed pencil case that he’d made in Textile Class and a metal spectacle case with a flip-up lid.

“This is what you want, mate” he said. “You can put the bad thoughts into the pencil case and zip it up firmly.  In the morning, when you wake up, bring the pencil case to me, but don’t open it, and I’ll tip all the badness into this metal Dream Annihilation Unit and dispose of it safely.  Listen to how nicely the lid clicks shut!”

Boy the Younger was very pleased with this solution and carefully tucked the pencil case down his pyjama trousers.  “Not down your trousers,” said Boy the Elder patiently “under your pillow just like you do with your teeth for the Tooth Fairy.  She’s doesn’t rummage about in your pyjamas for your teeth does she?”  Boy the Younger admitted that this was not the case. 

As I type this, I am keeping one ear pinned well back, waiting for the crying to start – it has been over half an hour.  Fingers crossed.

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Filed under Children, Health and Fitness, Life in general

Sunday Poem 67

The Snow – by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

It sifts from leaden sieves,
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.

It makes an even face
Of mountains and of plain, –
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.

It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil

On stump and stack and stem, –
The summer’s empty room,
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them.

It ruffles wrists of posts
As ankles of a queen, –
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.

I know I normally give a potted biography of any poet I haven’t featured before, but I’m writing this at 00.45 on Saturday and I still have a Christmas cake to marzipan.  To find out more about Emily Dickinson, click on this link.  Normal service will be resumed at some point.

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Free Gift Tags

When the festive season is over, don’t immediately throw away your Christmas cards or take them for recycling.  Sift through them and select ones that can be cut  up for gift tags for next year.  Cut them straight or use pinking shears (serrated edge scissors?) to make a crinkly edge.

Either put a hole in the top with a hole punch and thread a bit of glittery string or wool through them, or just put a bit of sellotape across the top side and it can be flipped up like a hinge.  Any that are not suitable can be recycled in the special card bins and the remaining cut up bits just go in with the cardboard recycling

I haven’t bought a gift tag in years.

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Filed under Christmas, Decorative, fashion, Household Hints, Re-use Recycle

Some Last Minute Christmas Tips & Ideas

Balls

If, like me, you’ve left everything to the last minute, here are a few Christmas tips and ideas for food, cards, presents and activities.

If you’ve only just made your Christmas Cake, feed it with a teaspoon of brandy three times a day for the next week, then apply the marzipan.  Leave it overnight to dry.  Buy a ready mix packet of Royal Icing Mix and spike it all over.  Supermarkets now have some super and classy-looking ready-made decorations, so pop one of those on the top.

If you’ve left it too late to post your Christmas cards abroad, go out with your camera and take a photograph of something Christmassy.  E-mail this with a short note, and a grovelling apology for your wretchedness, to all your foreign or ex-patriot friends and family.  This could also work with other friends if you’ve really messed it up.

If you’re really stuck for a present for someone, most supermarkets now have a fantastic range of gift cards for both local and larger High Street shops.  I think vouchers are a great gift, especially for difficult teenagers for whom there is absolutely no chance of getting it right unless they’ve given you a list.  Monsoon, HMV, iTunes, book shops, cinemas, restaurants etc – you can’t go wrong.  Click on these links to High Street Vouchers and  The Gift Card Centre and see what’s out there. Fed up with buying expensive wrapping paper that just gets ripped off and thrown away?  Wrap your gifts very neatly with newspaper and tie up the parcels with thick brightly coloured ribbon.  The ribbon can be rolled up and used again and so can the paper.

Can’t think of a gift for an older female friend or relative?  In this cold weather, skin really suffers.  Some really nice hand cream, eg. Crabtree & Evelyn, Molton Brown, Aveda, Floris, and The National Trust does a lovely range of flower scented hand creams and co-ordinating products.  It will be well received, I can assure you.

Men can be terribly difficult to buy for, particularly if the chaps in your life don’t have any discernable hobbies or interests.  Again, vouchers for HMV or a favourite clothes shop will never go to waste, but the following sites have some good ideas.  Presents for Men or Find Me a Gift could give you some clues or what about buying them an activity gift to get them interested in something?  Also a decanter and a bottle of something nice to put in it would surely bring a smile to any bod’s face.  A local antique market would be a great an inexpensive place to start or many high street jewellers sell them now.

Don’t be afraid to ask people what they want.  My family doesn’t see enough of each other to know what we have in our houses and we want to spend our money carefully on something the person really needs or would like as a treat.  Get everyone to make a list and then you know you’ll get it right.  This isn’t cynical and horrid, it’s practical and sensible at a time when people want to spend their money wisely.

CHRISTMAS FOOD

Don’t tear your hair out worrying about making Christmas Lunch for the family.  Think of it as Sunday Lunch XL!  It doesn’t have to be a great extravaganza; after all the point of having people over is to share Christmas with them, not to show off how clever you are in the kitchen.  Planning is the key and prepare as much as you can in advance. 

Starters – an unusual soup can be prepared the day before and reheated. Smoked Salmon with some coloured salad leaves and a twist of lemon will never be sneered at or failing that, buy some pre-prepared salmon mousses wrapped in smoked salmon and pop them on a bed or rocket.  Lovely. 

Pudding – Christmas Pud can be reheated in the microwave then served with fresh cream or brandy butter.  If some people don’t like Christmas Pud, make a trifle or make/buy a special ice-cream dessert.  A good cheese board with nice savoury biscuits and fruit takes no effort and can be brought to room temperature while the dinner is cooking.  More importantly, allow people to help you.  There are no prizes for being knackered and grumpy because you feel pressured and put-upon.

Christmas Tea – most people will still be stuffed from lunch so don’t go overboard.  Have a cold collation prepared: cold turkey, nice ham, a bowl of salad and a choice of dressings, some good bread, crisps, Christmas Cake, Mince Pies.  Alternatively buy a selection of party nibbles from a shop and dig in.  Again, get people to muck in and help.

If you’re going to be flying around in the style of a fly with a blue bottom, the trick is to think ahead.  Make (and freeze) or buy a curry sauce and make sure you have some rice in, then on Boxing Day or the day after, if you can’t face any more cooking, a turkey curry can be knocked up in 20 minutes.

ACTIVITIES

Christmas can be a time when people can get grumpy and dyspeptic if not carefully managed.  Think about having a walk before it gets dark to allow the grown ups to walk off their lunch and to let the children run off a bit of steam.  Everyone will feel better for it and it breaks up the day.

Have some games planned that everyone can join in with and have a laugh.  Charades or Give Us a Clue can involve the whole family as can Trivial Pursuit.  Heads, Bodies and Legs is easy for little ones and more fun than you’d think, likewise Consequences, where everyone writes a line of an agreed story and then passes the paper round and everyone writes the next line etc.  Kerplunk had us all in  stitches last year as did the game where someone sticks the name of a person on your forehead and you have to ask questions until you guess who it is.

I would also suggest that you discourage the children from sitting in front of their new computer games all day.  It’s rather bad manners to ignore everyone else like that, the game isn’t going to go away.  Take the opportunity to make the day something out of the ordinary and have a bit of fun!

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Filed under Christmas, Community and shopping, Family and Friends

Sunday Poem 66

Shel Silverstein was born in 1930 in Chicago, Illinois.  He was a poet, a writer of children’s books, songwriter, musician, cartoonist and screenwriter. He used the pseudonym ‘Uncle Shelby’ for his enormously popular children’s books, the most famous being ‘The Giving Tree’. His body of work is enormous and too prolific for me to do justice to it here. Look him up.

He started drawing when he was 12, copying cartoons, although he admits that he began to draw and write when he realised that he wasn’t much of a hit with girls. He went to art school but left after a year and made his living as a cartoonist.   

In 1957, he became one of the leading cartoonists in Playboy Magazine, which sent him around the world to create an illustrated travel journal with reports from far-flung locales. During the 1950s and 1960s, he produced 23 installments of his regular “Shel Silverstein Visits…” feature for Playboy. Employing a sketchbook format with typewriter-styled captions, he documented his own experiences at such locations as a New Jersey nudist colony and the Chicago White Sox training camp.

Later in life, Silverstein loved to spend time at his favorite places, such as Greenwich Village, Key West, Martha’s Vineyard and Sausalito, California. Silverstein continued to create plays, songs, poems, stories and drawings until his death in 1999. He died at his home in Key West, Florida on 9th May 1999, of a heart attack, and his body was found by two housekeepers the following Monday, 10th May. It was reported that he could have died on either day that weekend.

I love this poem because it’s simple and fun.

Bear In There – by Shel Silverstein (1930-1999)

There’s a Polar Bear
In our Frigidaire–
He likes it ’cause it’s cold in there.
With his seat in the meat
And his face in the fish
And his big hairy paws
In the buttery dish,
He’s nibbling the noodles,
He’s munching the rice,
He’s slurping the soda,
He’s licking the ice.
And he lets out a roar
If you open the door.
And it gives me a scare
To know he’s in there–
That Polary Bear
In our Fridgitydaire.

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Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Training

The Wartime Housewife is undergoing Professional Development Training.  Oh yes.

See you on Sunday.

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True Christmas Cheer

I just burst into tears when I saw this.  But then I’m a sentimental, seasonal old Hector….

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Filed under Christmas, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

How to make a Christmas Ham

I really love Christmas.  I love Christmas shopping, I love the decorations, I love buying a new decoration every year to put on the tree.  I love designing the Christmas cake and making the Pudding.  I love spending at least one day with my lovely family (in whom I am well pleased) eating too much, drinking too much, playing games, laughing till we cry and watching everyone open their presents.

Sadly, my house is too small to host Christmas for everyone anymore and I miss the military catering exercise that goes with a large gathering.  But one thing I like to do, even if I take it to someone else’s house, is a home-cured Christmas Ham.  It’s really easy to do, it just requires several stages and by crikey it’s worth it.  The process is – cure it, boil it, glaze it, bake it.

Utensils:
1 x large pot – big enough to submerge your ham and ideally with a lid
1 x sharp knife
1 x clean oak log (optional)
You might need some cling film
1 x roasting tin

Ingredients:
½ a ham – on the bone
approx 6 pints of dry cider
10 peppercorns
2 bayleaves
Some stock vegetables – eg carrots, leeks, onions
8oz clear honey
2 tablespoons wholegrain mustard

Method:
Put the ham in a large pot with the peppercorns and bay leaves and cover completely with cider
Put the oak log on the top to hold it under the cider
Cover the pot securely and leave for three days, topping up the cider if necessary
Strain off the cider, rinse out the pot, then replace the cider and the ham
Add the stock vegetables and bring to the boil
Reduce the heat then cover and simmer for about 4 hours
Remove the ham and let it cool – discard the cooking liquor and stock veg
Mix the honey and mustard together into a paste
Carefully remove the skin, leaving the fat and place in the roasting tin
Score a diamond pattern into the fat, taking care not to cut right through the fat
Cover the whole thing in the honey and mustard mixture
Bake in the oven, pre-heated to 180 / 350 / 4 for about 1 ½ hours until the glaze has gone a rich, golden brown
Leave to cool and serve
Bask in the love and adulation of those who eat it

9 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Family and Friends, Food, Recipes, Seasonal

Sausage Free Stuffing

I had a request from Lady B the other day for a stuffing recipe that did not involve sausagemeat.  Lady B is having a Jewish friend to lunch but I think for all of us, Christmas Lunch can get a bit over-porked, even if one is having a turkey or a goose and it’s nice to have a light stuffing.  Can I just say at this point how hard it has been for me to resist the urge to descend into a crevice of ‘Carry On’ style double entendres.  But resist I did.

 Ladies and Gentlemen, I have not one but two recipes and here they are.  By the way, both recipes freeze well in a sealed container, so you can be really organised and make it in advance.

CHESTNUT STUFFING

Utensils:
1 x large-ish saucepan
1 x grater

Ingredients:
8oz / 240g chestnuts – already peeled and cooked then roughly chopped
2oz / 60g onion – finely chopped
1 garlic clove – finely chopped
2oz / 60g butter
6oz / 180g fresh breadcrumbs
2oz / 60g suet
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (or 1 tablespoon of dried)
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 lemon – juice and rind
3 eggs – beaten
you may need a little milk or stock if the mixture is too dry

Method:
Fry the onions and garlic in the butter
Add the breadcrumbs and suet, stirring well
Then add the chestnuts, herbs and lemon
Cook on a medium heat for a few minutes
Take the pan off the heat, stir in the eggs and season if you wish
If the mixture is a little dry, add the milk or stock until it has a slightly sticky consistency

SAGE AND ONION STUFFING  WITH WALNUTSThis one is especially good for goose, as it absorbs some of the fat, but if you’re having a turkey, you may want to add an ounce or two (30-60g) of melted butter.  You can use fresh or pickled walnuts for this.

Utensils:
1 x medium saucepan
1 x mixing bowl
1 x grater

Ingredients:
8oz / 240g onion – coarsely chopped
2 chicken livers or 1 goose liver if you can get one
8oz / 240g fresh breadcrumbs
2oz / 60g oatmeal
1 cooking apple – peeled, cored and finely chopped
3oz / 90g stoned prunes – chopped
2 tablespoons fresh sage (or 1 tablespoon of dried)
1 egg – beaten
1 lemon – juice and finely grated rind
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
6 walnuts – roughly chopped

Method:
Put the onions and the liver into the pan with a little water, just enough o cover them
Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes
Drain off the liquid, take out the liver and chop it finely
Put the breadcrumbs, oatmeal, apple, prunes, onions and sage into the bowl and mix together well
Stir in the egg, lemon, nutmeg, walnuts and liver.
If you are having turkey add the butter at this point and stir in well.

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Filed under Christmas, Food, Recipes, Seasonal

Nodding off

Blimey, I was going to give you two versions of non-sausagemeat stuffing tonight but I fell asleep in front of Ian Hislop’s programme about Victorian ‘Do-gooders’. I hope they do a book.

Goodnight.

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