Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Carnage

I have always been susceptible to the excitement of Christmas. I am sure if you asked them, my siblings would give you chapter and verse about how I woke them each and every Christmas morning at about 1.30 am to declare that Santa had arrived and we should go downstairs and open our presents.I have kind of grown out of that. I woke at the much more reasonable hour of 3.30 this year. As I am older and much more mature, I pottered on the interwebs for a bit, took a good decongestant for my permanently blocked nose and went back to bed. I didn't get anybody up and I haven't poked or given a present a shake before the allowed time in years. I certainly have stopped roaming the house in search of hidden present to discover and shake.
Julio guards these presents. He knows what I'm like.

I just get excited. I'm like that. I am able to control my excitement better now that I'm in my mid-forties, but I still buy into the build up to Christmas.

Christmas Morning and George is happy! The Santa hat is a family tradition. One person is "Santa" on Christmas morning and passes the presents out. The gifts are then opened one by one. Everybody admires each gift before the next one is retrieved from the tree.Here he is using his new looping station and wearing his new trendy hat.Henry received a lovely new shelf to keep all his 45" singles up off the floor. Before the shelf, these little records were stored behind the door in teetering piles. From time to time, Julio would topple them as he jumped into the window sill. The records would then have to be re-stacked.Look! His shirt matches the record label! Imagine that! Merry Christmas Berry Gordy!
Please note the attention to getting the records into alphabetical order by artist. The records are being judged by the three kings plus Jay and Silent Bob.
Momma got the nicest gift, a new dry suit for diving!!! I can't wait to use it. I wonder if our dive club is doing a New Year's Day dive! I'll have to ring around. Putting it on for the first time was like going through a re-birthing ceremony. You have to use a lot of talcum powder to get your hands and head through the super tight seals. The neck seal on this suit is so chokey that my face went all red and puffy (not a good look for me). So when the camera was taken out, I immediately grabbed the neck seal and pulled it open a bit so I didn't look like a tomato in the picture.Both Polly and Julio got new collars. Polly says that the red is much nicer than the old black collar. The black one was too butch for her.

Later on in the day . . . .Cheese and nibbles are set out while I cook the Christmas dinner at a calm and leisurely pace and the guys listen to music and watch the telly.
Here is a close up (and sadly out of focus - I blame the copious amount of champagne and orange juice I was drinking) detail of the beautifully decorated Christmas cake.

Occasionally they are called upon to do some menial task and at about 6pm we sit down to dinner.We had Winter Vegetable Cobbler and a very small stuffed turkey roll for me. There were Brussel sprouts, roast potatoes, cranberry sauce and plum pudding with brandy butter. Actually we now refer to the brandy butter as vodka margarine as we remember the best Christmas special known to man, Bottom Christmas Special - no YouTube embed available for this - blast the BBC!!
This is the chaos that is our table after Christmas dinner. Under the table are the corpses of a dozen Christmas crackers.

Joke from the crackers: Question - What do ghosts eat for dinner. Answer - Goulash

It is my belief that it is the traditions a family has at Christmas that children remember more than any lavish gift they may receive. We do our best to create fun traditions that the kids are happy to carry with them to their own families in the fullness of time. The three of us had a wonderful day. I hope that this was the case for you too.

God Bless and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's Almost Christmas

While the states I used to live in are being covered with a blanket of snow and subjected to brutal temperatures, it has thawed out here.

We walked across the road and into the forest to see if there was a tree around that may be suitable for poaching. There wasn't one. We came back tree-less. All the trees near us have grown so BIG. They were shorter than the grass when we first moved here. They must be dangerously close to 20 feet tall now. It did smell very piney despite the lack of small trees.

Now that the temperatures have gone back up to about 7 and 8 C, we are back to dealing with mud. I claim that mud was invented here in our corner of Southwest Scotland. I defy anybody to say otherwise. The mud in the woods today was the particularly slippy and sticky variety. We had to rinse our wellies off when we got back despite giving our footwear a good rinse in puddles on the way home.

Later on in the day, The Man of The Place went out and returned with a real beauty of a tree. He is such a successful forager. It smells so wonderful!!Lower branches had to be snipped for neatness.I held the tree straight while TMoTP bolted it securely in place.

Then we decorated it. We never have a coordinated tree like one sees in department stores. We have a family Christmas tree. It has ornaments that were given to us as gifts from friends who are far away. We have ornaments from childhoods, including one that Henry made when he was five. We have ornaments that I brought with me when I moved from the US and some flashy newer ornaments purchased a few years ago. Shiny!George calls this one "the holy hand grenade".

To cut the tension that always come from competitive tree decorating, somebody puts the tinsel on their head and makes a glam wig of it.

When all the ornaments that can be put on the tree are there and all the chocolate ornaments have been tied on, it is time to cover the entire creation with tinsel. You can not throw it on in big clumps as Henry demonstrates in the above photo. It must be draped across the branches evenly!There is always one casualty. This year it was an old bauble that bought the farm. It was my fault too. I dropped it because I thought it was hooked onto a branch. It wasn't.
There! It's all done. The stockings were hung by the fire later on in the afternoon.

Now the only other Christmas task that is left is the cards. I've written out the ones for the people in the village, but I have yet to do the cards that need to be posted. I figure that if I get them in the mail before Christmas, I'm onto a winner and doing better than I have in Christmases past.

Ho ho ho you all!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Unexpected Pleasure of Basil

I was on my way home from Cumbernauld on Thursday evening. I was asked to stop and do some grocery shopping on the way home. I stopped at the big ASDA just off the motorway in Hamilton. It was just easier to get to than any other supermarket I could think of. It was raining (naturally) and I had been sitting through a presentation so my senses were dulled.

I wandered the aisles a bit aimlessly. Milk, cheese, some good bread, dog food . . . . vegetables . . . what else did we need? I thought fresh herbs would perk up the mid-winter menu when it happened. I had taken down a basil plant, stuck my nose in the top of the bag it was in and sniffed. I was instantly transported to my greenhouse in July.

I love how the nose can transport me to another place and time. The smell of the fresh basil yanked me out of dreary shopping doldrums and smack into a warm summer day in my greenhouse. It wasn't just before Christmas on a dark, rainy Scottish night. It was summer and I was going to make some pesto from the The memory helped my eyes to focus on things and people again. My step lightened and I was able to finish my task with a new perkiness that had not been there before. The memory of warm summer days had visited me there in the supermarket. Work has been hard, the winter weather is grim but just as night follows day, spring will come again. That is what the scent of the basil said to me.

I haven't been very good at posting lately. I'm going to apply to use the work excuse this time. It seems that the run up to the end of the year is always the busiest. This year was no exception. I was dashing around extra furiously so that I could see the right number of target customers before the end of the month. I think have managed it.

Christmas is coming. I have just about everything finished except that I haven't posted one single Christmas card and we have no tree yet. I'll fix that tomorrow.


Happy Birthday Ian!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rock On!

If you were to say that my youngest boy, George likes to play the guitar. It would be like saying that the desert is a little on the dry side or the sea is a little salty.

He is actually very good. In fact, he rocks!

The day that we took cousins to the airport we were going to go straight on to the Edinburgh Zoo as it was a rare, free admission day. Sadly the traffic was horrid and we couldn't even get close to the zoo. As we headed back out of the city, we passed a guitar shop. It was open! I didn't have anywhere else we needed to be as the zoo was no longer an option so I parked up and we went in.

George had one of those Wayne's World moments

but for George is is not a 64 Classic White Stratocaster. For my boy it is the Gibson ES-335. The really sweet sales guy in the shop actually got it off the wall for him. After checking that he had no big belt buckles or zips that would harm the finish on this fine instrument, he let him play it! He had to phone is his dad and tell him. "Dad! You will never guess what I am doing right now . . ."Then they let him go into the soundproof room and plug the thing in - WITH EFFECTS PEDALS! He had a wonderful time! Please note the Gibson Les Paul (1952) gold top behind George in the last photo. It costs thousands and thousands. (£11,K) We didn't even dare to touch it!

The only thing that would have made him happier would have been for me to say that we could put it on the credit card. That isn't going to happen, but I was happy to stand there and let him admire the fine sound and craftsmanship.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Oops! Watch That Step!

When the older boys were still at home life was a little crowded in our bungalow. We let the older boys have the entire loft or attic as their bedroom. There was plenty of room up there for the two of them. Though it was a bit rustic, it had a floor, some painted plasterboard as walls, a couple of electric storage heaters and velux windows. The access to this room was via the ladder in the back sitting room.
Boys used to have to walk around carefully up there because we could hear every footstep when we were downstairs. They quickly learned that thumping around brought a visit from a grumpy parent and were very good about not making too much noise. We thought about putting some insulation in the floor up there but feared that insulating the floor would prevent what little heat we had from going up there. Though the room was serviceable enough, it was freezing cold in the winter.Now that the attic is no longer a haven for teenagers and with the rising cost of heating fuel, The Man of the Place declared that it was time to insulate the attic a bit better. It involves moving the growing mounds of stuff that is up there, lifting the floor boards, laying the insulation and putting the floor boards back again.

It was going just fine until this afternoon when there was a noise . . . . The Man of the Place stumbled and put his foot down in a place where there was no floor board. His foot went down into the room that is now our guest bedroom and library.I'm just glad he wasn't hurt. The floor can be cleaned up and the ceiling can be patched but my hard working husband is not replaceable!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

More of the Same!

The schools are open but the exams that are due to be taken today have been put back one day. Some of the students who live in the hills (George included) are having difficulty getting in.
The roads in and out of our village are very slippery. As we do not live in a populated area, our roads are way down on the snowplow pecking order. The roads are passable but hazardous. I'll give it a go later on this morning. I can drive on snow and ice. I first got behind the wheel of a car on a frozen lake in Wisconsin. My dad took me out onto a frozen lake and then let me get behind the wheel. It was a great place to learn as there was nothing to hit! Once I figured out the mechanics of it all and had a little bit of confidence, I graduated to empty logging roads. Again, there was nothing to hit as long as I stayed on the road. His advice still is to go and practice your skills in an empty car park (parking lot) after the first snow of the year. Practice skidding and correcting skids so that you're better equipped if you find yourself sliding where you don't want to be sliding.

Polly likes a good romp in the snow, but only for short periods of time. She would much rather stay by the fire and be warm. Sensible dog!
This is the window by the computer. I watch pheasants walk by this window all the time. Just now there are no pheasants but the snow is just as pretty to look at.

Ok - that's enough. This amount of snow isn't a patch on the snows of my youth. We can still get in and out of the kitchen door with no difficulty at all. I'm off to try to get some work done.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Winter Wonderland

In this part of the world, snow doesn't usually show up until the closing credits of winter. We didn't get any snow last year.
Most of the winter is cold, but snow free. If we get any snow at all, it will be in February and March.First we had frost. Then we had a freezing fog that decorated everything with fine ice crystals. This was followed by snow. We are to get more snow tonight.It is nice that the snow is hear, but I fear that it won't stay for Christmas. This time next week it will all be gone.The chicken's water container had frozen to the the ground and I had to go into the tool shed, find the crowbar and prise the water container from the solid ground with that. (Picture me doing this in my pajamas, dressing gown, boots and gloves) I will bring the container in tonight and keep it behind the kitchen door. We also have to be extra vigilant about collecting eggs. They become worthless if they freeze solid. The shells crack and as the eggs thaw, all the insides run out. You just have to throw them away.

The nice part about this sort of weather is that it makes a fire in the fireplace all the nicer.

Monday, December 01, 2008

After all This Time!

Next week marks the anniversary of my cousin Peter's death. It was his passing that sparked a renewed desire to force my presence into my remaining cousins' lives. I didn't want a phone call from me to a rare thing. Sometimes a phone call from a cousin you haven't heard from in years is the one that tells you that a beloved aunt has died. Whether or not I have news to impart, I didn't want to be the cousin they hadn't heard from in years.

I've spoken to a number of cousins throughout this past year and it has had great results!! This Thanksgiving weekend The Man of the Place and I were visited by my cousin Carey and her two sons, Zachary and Daniel! Carey and I haven't seen each other since high school!
Here is a picture of the two of us.

I picked the three of them up from Edinburgh Airport on Thanksgiving day at about 3.30. I recognised her immediately. She hasn't really changed much at all. She is taller and actually much prettier than I remembered. Because we live so far north and because it is winter, the sun was just setting. I had planned to take them to Edinburgh Castle straight from the airport. I don't know if that was such a hot idea, but I did it.
Daniel did like the fact that there were real red phone boxes on the streets. It was rainy and cold and the weather was very different from the weather they just left in Naples (Italy not Florida) a few hours ago.

To make certain that they were completely immersed in British culture, we stopped by a fish and chip shop on the way back to our place and ate the food with our fingers on the way home.

When we got home the cousins were introduced to our own resident teenager, George. I think they hit it off straight away. The Nintendo Wii and Mario Kart helped.Zachary, Daniel and George

I was pleased that the young ones were distracted by electronics. It allowed Carey and I to get caught up. We talked almost the entire time she was here.

On Friday I dragged them all over the countryside looking at stone circles and bits of Hadrian's wall (Cary and I at Hadrian's Wall) a mediaval church and then to a pub for lunch. Friday evening we had a big Thanksgiving dinner and afterwards Carey and I talked even more over a lovely bottle of Sicilian wine that she graciously brought with her from Italy.

Saturday everybody went to The Sadium of Light. We showed our visitors our brick (we always touch it for luck) and then watched Sunderland have their asses handed to them by Bolton Wanderers. Carey and Zack - just as we are sitting down.
Daniel and his new hero, George.There were about 35,000 people at the game. Sunderland supporters are loyal and will show up for the game even when the team has lost the last four games. The final score of the game was Sunderland 0 - Bolton Wanderers 4. It was freezing cold too. I'm pleased that Carey bought souvnir scarves for herself and her boys.

Despite the crushing defeat, we actually had a good time. It would have been better if we had won, but that wasn't on the cards. The park and ride buses were double decker busses and another great source of fun!

I had forgotten to plan dinner on Saturday night after the game so it was take out pizza all around. The boys ate pizza and watched Sean of the Dead. Julio has seen it before.

I will be going over to Naples to visit Carey and the boys with or without my family as soon as I can.