Thursday, 22 December 2011

Feeling very pleased with myself.....

See that?  That picture above?  If anyone had told me last Christmas that by this Christmas I will have run a total of 50 miles, I'd have made myself sick with laughter and probably wee'd a bit as well.

I started running back in March and it's taken me 8 months to run the equivalent of two marathons.  As TLH so sagely observed 'the slowest marathon in history'.  He is still living, dear reader.  Quite how, I don't know....

As you can see by the figure above, I'm not exactly the world's quickest runner - more a shuffler, really - as it would appear that the fastest mile I've run in the past 8 months has taken me over 15 minutes.  And you will note by the dates of my runs that I don't go exactly regularly, but I'm hoping to do better next year.

And anyway, as one of my friends posted on Facebook the other day:

Here's to many more - and faster - miles under my feet next year.

Happy Solstice to all!!

Apparently the winter solstice happened this morning, Thursday 22 December 2011, at either 5.03am or 5.30am.  I can't remember which, but one of those.  I was asleep when it happened so missed it anyway but it doesn't matter because WE'RE ON OUR WAY BACK TO THE SUMMER!!!

And 2012's summer had better be hotter than 2011's and 2010's was or else...well, I'm going to be cold and miserable again because there isn't really that much I can do about it.

It's been a fairly eventful few days here at Jones Towers.  On Monday my washing machine decided that RIGHT NOW would be a really good time to start dying.  Fecker.  I put on a wash, disappeared up two flights of stairs to do something in my jewellery workshop/office, when suddenly I could hear the most godawful screeching and squealing and banging.  First of all I thought it was the neighbours who can't seem to let a week go by without getting their tools out (and not in a fun way) but as I descended the stairs to the sitting room, the noise got louder and Sylvester was cowering in his box, with his eyes like black holes and his ears flat against his head and I realised the noise was coming from inside my house.

I hurtled downstairs (the washing machine and tumble dryer live in a big cupboard in our downstairs study) and discovered that the washing machine had gone into its final multi-thousand rpm spin cycle and simultaneously had become possessed by a banshee.  Here, listen to this:

I taped it to show TLH what was going on.  *Sigh*  Just before Christmas too, when it's going to be impossible to get anyone to deliver a new one.  I've decided I can actually continue to use it until just before it goes into the final spin whereupon I shall be forced to leap like a gazelle and shut it off whereupon the tumble dryer will have to just work a bit harder to dry the clothes out.

I understand from two separate sources that Guildford is actually very quiet at the moment (which is odd, considering there's only 2 shopping days left till Giftmas) so I think I'll tempt fate and head there this afternoon to check out some white goods.  Oh, the glamour.

And what was also doubly weird was my brain twin, the erudite Katyboo, also underwent a catastrophe her washing machine on Monday.  We are so similar that I sometimes think we are the same person living in two separate bodies, like unidentical twins that were separated at birth.  I think we should sit our respective mothers down and have a chat about this...

Last weekend, though, we put the tree up.  Despite 'enhancing' my pictures with various Christmassy themes, I'm not feeling especially one with the season this year (like most years, actually), but I do quite like having the tree with its tinsel and coloured lights up and can't really imagine not having one (although I did suggest it to TLH one year.  He did not approve).

As ever, and as he has done for at least the last decade, Sylvester 'helped' by getting into the box the tree lives in (we have an artificial one because I'll be buggered if I'm going to be hoovering up pine needles for the next three months).  It will be a sad, sad Christmas indeed when he's no longer around to help out like this.

Sylvester discovers the xmas tree box

Prepares to insert himself

Cat insertion successful

Giving me the stink eye as he now wishes to be left alone.

He gets to stay in there until the tree decorating has been done, then he has to be cajoled out as it needs to be returned to the loft.  It's his annual ritual and he does it very well.  Same time next year, buddy.

Our tree is really quite boring and normal in terms of its decorations but we have a few that I'm particularly fond of:

This is a fused glass snowman that we particularly liked because we couldn't decide whether it looked like Oliver Hardy or Adolf Hitler.

This is a tiny little Baby Jebus in half a walnut shell that I got from the Christmas market in Budapest a couple of years ago.  I think it cost me all of about 50p - it was just too cute not to buy!

This year they seem to have left us alone, but in previous years we've had a bit of a rat problem at the end of the garden.  They managed to gnaw holes into the shed and were living in there, and eating the bird food that I was putting out.  I used to see them shimmying up the poles to sit in the feeders.  And the cats were rubbish at catching them, except for the late Damian who was brilliant, but he's no longer with us and, weirdly, neither are the rats.  I'm still feeding the birds though so I've no idea what's going on.  Anyway, I got quite fond of them and their successful survivalist ways so when I saw this mouse/rat hanging ornament, I had to have it to hang on the tree.

Finally, there's an Amsterdam brothel.  There used to be (and still may be, for all I know) a little shop very close to the flower market that sold nothing but christmas decorations all year round.  We got a shooting star, a pair of clogs and a windmill in blue and white delft, and I absolutely couldn't resist this - well, would you?!?

So, we have three days to go.  The tree's up.  All the presents are wrapped.  I'm starting to clean the house (woe, fie and a pox on it).  All I have to do now is collect the turkey tomorrow and start making some of the side dishes and we're good to go.  This year will be the first ever time that we're hosting Christmas at our house.  We normally go to TLH's parents in his native homeland but that's not happening until later, so I have my mum and stepdad and TLH's sister coming over to ours.  Not too many, which is a blessing, because I can't really fit many more than that in our house as it is.

If I don't speak to you again before Sunday, I hope your Christmas day is not too stressful and you all get a chance to sit down with a glass of something and put your feet up at some point.  Oh, and best wishes for New Year!

Friday, 16 December 2011

I'm Number One - again!!!!

Well, feck my old boots.

Yesterday I posted on Facebook about my blackberry vodka blog posting being the top result out of over 3 million other pages on Google ('cos if I don't blow my own trumpet, who will?).  One of my friends offered congratulations and suggested that I'd found a niche market that I ought to exploit.  I was writing a reply to him along the lines that I'd posted on my blog several other 'how to' guides - with photos - but they were mainly to do with cooking and these obviously weren't as popular as they didn't include alcohol.  Before I could write it though, I remembered that I'd done another one on How to Fuse Dichroic Glass, that was fully accompanied with photos, like the others.

So I went to Google, entered 'how to fuse dichroic glass' and, guess what?  Yep, first result again!  Perhaps not quite so impressive this time as it was only number one out of nearly 100,000 other pages, but even so.

I'm a bit gobsmacked really.  When I was talking to TLH last night about the vodka one, he said that it would be a self-promoting thing now since as it was the first result at the top of the results page, it would most likely be the one that people click on first so it's likely to stay top for quite a while.  And now there's the dichroic glass one to add to it too.

And to think last year I applied for an online job writing 'How To' guides that would have paid me per number of clicks each guide received, but they never got back to me.....

Thursday, 15 December 2011

I'm Number One!!!!

Well, here's a thing.  I've just been having a quick look at my Google Analytics results which tells me all sorts of information about how many times my various blogs have been visited and what pages people are reading and always, every month, my most-read posting is the one I did in July 2010 on how to make blackberry vodka.

So, just for a laugh, I popped along to Google and searched for 'how to make blackberry vodka' and - guess what? - my page is the first result!  From the whole of the internets!  Out of about 3 million results! *Fans self and feels a little overcome*


Anyone got any paintings they want Christmassed?

So, remember yesterday?  When I decided to 'enhance' my Mexican Sugar skull cross stitch thingies?  And how I suddenly realised I was surrounded by MORE pictures that I could also 'enhance'?

Well, after publishing that last post, I went to town.  And then I came back and started searching for images.  I didn't really go to town but as I was typing it I thought it was a really odd phrase for just getting on with something.

Anyway, I had a look at some of the pictures we have and decided which ones I wanted to embellish.  I chose these (the photos are taken at a slight angle to reduce light reflection):

This is a very big print that hangs above our sofa.

This is a gorgeous medium sized original watercolour of nearby Peaslake Woods in autumn that I got from a local Art Society exhibition.

 This is a large signed print of a beach in Scotland.

This is an original pen and ink drawing of Albi in France that hangs above my piano.

Finally this is a framed poster we got when we visited Interlaken, Murren and Grindelwald in Switzerland a few summers back.  It hangs just outside our kitchen door.

I managed to find Christmassy themes for all of them and printed out suitable images, cut them out and stuck them on the glass with bluetack (all the pictures have glass in the frames and I stick the images to the glass).

The first one, I felt, was perfect for a snowman in the field and Santa's sleigh passing overhead:

The woodland scene needed a decorated Christmas tree in there:

The seascape called for Three Ships coming sailing by:

The pen and ink drawing already looked vaguely Middle Eastern to me so what could be more appropriate than a star and a camel:

And finally the Alpine cows just needed the requisite headgear and the odd false Santa beard - oh, and some kids tobogganing down the glacier:

I think I shall actually be quite sad to peel all these off after Christmas, but I've more pictures upstairs that I can adulterate so my childish glee isn't quite over yet!!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Time for a more cheering post, I think....

Thank you for your kind words, people, both those left on the blog and sent by email.  I am, of course, absolutely fine now although I am aware that there is still some underlying emotional fragility hanging about; if I start to think about the things that were upsetting me so much on Friday night/Saturday morning, I can still feel myself choking and my eyes welling up with tears so I'm just being sensible and not dwelling on any of that and letting it overpower me.  Last Friday night/Saturday morning I was completely incapable of controlling it but now I am so that's progress, I suppose.  I'm not looking forward to any more future episodes, though.

Who'd be a woman, eh?

Anyway, time for a more cheering post, I think.

If you recall, at the end of November I finished off and framed a set of four Mexican Sugar Skulls that I had cross stitched over the previous month:

A couple of days ago I decided that they needed to join in with the Christmas festivities.  Rather than just wrap some tinsel around the frames, I felt they would look more jolly wearing hats and such like.

An hour or so searching Google images resulted in this:

And finally all together:

I'm thinking I may give them a summer wardrobe as well, although it'll mostly be sunglasses and straw hats.

As I was posting these pictures, it's just dawned on me that we have a lot of pictures on our walls, mostly of landscapes, and I'm thinking some of them could be enhanced with images of Santa and his sleigh in the sky and a snowman in the field.... 

And I also have a couple of seascapes which could do with three ships going sailing by....

And a woodland scene that's just begging to have a christmas tree with baubles added....

Guess I worked out what I'm going to be up to today!!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Don't panic - I'm still here

I wasn't sure that I was going to post about this, and I still may not press 'post' at the end but I'm just going to write about it anyway.

Last Friday night was interesting.  In a way I could have done without.  I would have much preferred that it had involved lots of wine, good food, friends and laughing so much I nearly pee.  What I ended up with was my brain trying to kill me.

It's the fucking menopause again.

I thought I'd managed to avoid the pathetic crying at stupid sentimental schlock this month but, once again, it crept up on me throughout Thursday and Friday, albeit not as bad as in previous months.  It was fine, honestly.  Didn't stop me doing what needed to get done in preparation for our visit back to TLH's native homeland on Saturday to visit his mum.  She'd phoned us on the Thursday with a list of things she wanted us to do/bring with us and I decided I might as well get them during the day on Friday so we didn't have to stop anywhere on the journey to see her.  Good thinking, huh?  I was feeling quite proud of myself for deciding to do this off my own bat, and thought TLH would be pleased that I'd saved him a job or two.  Plus I'd also started doing some of the Christmas food shopping (especially Christmas morning breakfast stuff) which I was feeling very pleased about.

Unfortunately, TLH wasn't exactly in a receptive frame of mind when he got home at 7.15pm.  Then we had a stupid misunderstanding involving the mishearing of bellini/blini and eventually he decided he might as well go to bed.  On his own.  At 8.30pm. *sigh*.

I sat stewing on the sofa, laptop on, er, lap, cat snuggled up next to me and rubbish on the telly until about 11pm, when I decided I might as well call it a day.  I went to the spare bedroom so that I could read a bit without disturbing TLH.  A few pages were read, the light was put out and I went to sleep.

I woke with a start some time later and thought it might have been about 5am, which is, more or less, the time we stir in this house during the week.  I was horrified then to see that it was 2am.  I'd been asleep for all of three hours.  I rolled over, closed my eyes, and tried to find my way back to the Land of Nod.

And that's when the little voice in my head started up.  The nasty, insidious, hateful little voice that tells lies wrapped in a veneer of truth.  Except that at that time in the morning, and in my menopausal-hormone filled mind, it's all truth.  It was telling me what an idiot I was for thinking anyone would appreciate me.  It was telling me how nobody cared and no-one truly loved me except for Sylvester the cat and he's 15 years old and will probably die soon so then there'll be no-one.  It was reminding me that I don't have many friends and those that I do don't really give that much of a toss because they never call me, never suggest I go round and hang out.  My brother has his own life and family so there's no reason why he should be even the slightest bit interested in my life.

Lies, all of it, but wrapped in the thinnest veneer of truth, and it wouldn't. shut. the. fuck. up.  And I was getting more and more upset.  Rolling over and trying to think of other things didn't help, as my brain just roiled around and returned to the same thought over and over.  No-one would notice if you were gone, so why don't you just disappear.

I knew this was complete bollocks but turning the voice off was not happening.  It was a proper long, dark night of the soul.  I figured there was nothing for it but to just get up again, and beat the voice into submission with a cup of tea and a wander around the backwaters of the interweb, in the hope that I could distract myself enough to feel sleepy and away from the razor blades and/or paracetamol (don't worry, that was never going to happen).  But I just managed to give myself a headache on top of it all because I'd been crying into my pillow so much and didn't manage to feel sleepy.

TLH came downstairs at about 6am and was astonished  to see that I'd, pretty much, been up all night.  And I felt like shit, understandably.  But at least I hadn't killed myself, right?

I survived the following day in Wales pretty well, considering.  I had a couple of weird turns that were rectified with coffee and cake, and I managed to grab a few Zs in the car on the way there and back (yes, we went for the day, so there was at least 5 hours of driving in total).

And today, Sunday, I've been fine, and I'm typing this while chortling along to 'Elf' on the telly.  But I can't help thinking that the approaching menopause is to blame for self-loathing and suicidal thoughts of Friday night/Saturday morning and if that's the case, it's a most unwelcome development.  I did plan to try and get through this oncoming change of life without medical intervention as best as I can, but if this is going to become a common occurrence then I might seriously have to consider talking to the doctor about investigating HRT.

You know what?  To hell with it, I'm going to publish this post.  It's part of my life and others reading it may understand what the fuck was going on and can understand.

But, don't worry, folks, I have no plans on going anywhere just yet so no need to panic!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Update on The Archers

If you recall, one of my recent posts was relating some shenanigans going on at my allotment site

There was a meeting last Monday of the allotment holders which, unfortunately, I was unable to attend but the site steward has just sent out a mass email to report on what was discussed.  From what I can make out, H (the seeming cause of all the problems) is no longer a steward as, in the email, he was given formal thanks for the work that he'd done (and he had done some good things) and two new deputy stewards were introduced.  Hmm, I wonder if he jumped or was pushed?  Doesn't really matter though, as long as he's no longer in a position of being able to wield any sort of power over the rest of us and just gets on with growing his veggies, and leaving the rest of us alone, then I'm happy.  I'm assuming he still has his plot though.  Again, I don't really care as long as he stops interfering.

Discussion also covered the stubborn bugger who has a red ex-Royal Mail van that he parks on the street AS CLOSE AS HE POSSIBLY CAN to the entrance to the site, making it as absolutely as difficult as possible for vehicles to get to the site.  It's astonishing that his wing hasn't been taken off yet.  It also successfully blocks off vision for those emerging from the site into the road.  Luckily it's a relatively quiet council estate road and not a main road but even so.

I live in walking distance of the site so very rarely need to drive there (when I'm carting bags of compost, or delivering/collecting large/heavy loads) so, in all honesty, it doesn't really affect me directly but there are plotholders who need to drive there all the time and they have to deal with it all the time.  At the meeting it was decided that the council was going to be contacted and also the police.  I think this is a good idea but I don't think it will come to anything as I suspect he's completely within his rights and as long as he doesn't actually obstruct the entrance itself (he parks millimetre close to the bit on the kerb where it drops down, if know what I mean) then there's nothing anyone can do.

And as it's SUCH  beautiful day today - the high winds of yesterday having blown themselves out - I think I may pop down there to see if my shed's still standing and do more covering up of the plot which will make weeding next spring much easier.

Have a lovely weekend, y'all, and stay warm!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

White Chocolate and Raspberry Trifle

TLH and I don't tend to give dinner parties, or even have friends over to eat very often.  In fact, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times we've done it living in this house - and we've been here very nearly 16 years!  I'm not too sure why this is but it doesn't help that our kitchen is so teeny tiny that it will only comfortably fit one human and one furry overlord at a time, and the dining area bit of our living space can barely fit a table that will seat four people, and one of them has to sit uncomfortably close to a wall.  There's just not enough space for properly comfortable entertaining.
But even though good friends of ours moved into a house literally opposite us in the close last November, we've seen nothing of them since about June this year so we figured it was time to get them over and food is always a good reason to socialise!

I decided that I would make Butternut Squash and Coconut milk soup to start with, using one of my last remaining homegrown Butternet Squashes; main course would be Pan Fried Chicken in a Cream and Oyster Mushroom sauce with mashed potates, broccoli, green beans and carrots; dessert to be White Chocolate and Raspberry Trifle.

The trifle is awesome and is so rich and substantial that I only make it when there are more than 2 people to eat it.  This means it's a brilliant thing to make for Christmas, so if you fancy something other than traditional Christmas pudding or a bog-standard Sherry Trifle, then I can absolutely recommend this.  There's no cooking, it's all just assembly and it's best to make it a day before you need to eat it so the flavours can sink into the sponge.  It's up to you how much you want to spend on ingredients but I've made this with the cheapest swiss roll and white chocolate and ready made custard I could fine, and it still tastes fabulous.

So, here we go then, with pictures and everything:

(Serves at least 6, depending on portion size)


300g Raspberries (frozen is fine)
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon of kirsch or vodka
2 tablespoons of icing sugar
1 vanilla swiss roll (not chocolate).  Get a big one, or 2 smaller ones.
120g white chocolate
150g double cream or whipping cream (this is actually optional but you need at least a tablespoon)
2 x 500ml ready made custard

The necessary ingredients.  As I'd got a bottle or two of Raspberry infused vodka that I made back in 2010 kicking around, I thought I'd use that.  And I also misread my own ingredients list and bought both double and whipping cream (you only need one kind!).

1.  Place 1/3 (i.e., 100g) of the raspberries in a sieve over a bowl.  Push through with a spoon until only the pips remain.  I'll be honest, this is a bit of a pain in the bum to do as it takes quite a long time.  Apparently you can now buy readymade raspberry coulis and if I'd known about it, I would definitely have used that instead.


 The puree you end up with.  You need to keep scraping the puree off the underside of the sieve.

 2.  To the puree, add the icing sugar:

And the juice of 1/2 a lime and the tablespoon of kirsch or vodka:

 The bottle of Raspberry Vodka I used.  Why, yes, of course I sampled it.  And massively yum it was too.

 3.  Slice the swiss roll(s) into 1cm slices and use most of them to cover the sides and base of a bowl in a single layer:


 4.  Moisten the slices with most of the raspberry puree, and scatter in another 1/3 (100g) of the raspberries:

5.  Set aside a few squares of the chocolate for grating later, and break up the rest of the choc into small pieces.

6.  Place the chocolate in a bowl and melt over a pan of boiling water, ensuring the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl.  Do not overheat or the chocolate will start to go gritty.  Stir until melted:

7.  When melted, take off heat and stir into it one tablespoon of the double/whipping cream, then stir in both cartons of custard:

8.  Pour/ladle half the custard over the swiss roll in the bowl and lay over it the remaining swiss roll slices, like some fabulous lasagne:

9.  Dribble the remaining raspberry sauce over the slices and scatter over most of the remaining raspberries:

10.  Completely cover with the rest of the custard:

View from the side.

There are now a few options.  You can whip the cream until stiff and spread over the top of the custard, or you can pipe it on decoratively.  I hadn't decided what I was going to do and feared that if I did this now, the raspberries on top might leak colour into the cream.  So I left mine unadorned and popped it into the fridge overnight.

The next morning I decided that, actually, there was enough risk of cardiac failure from eating this without adding more cream so just grated the set aside squares of chocolate over the top and added the rest of the raspberries.

Inexpensive, easy and your family will think it's one of the best things EVER.  I guarantee it.