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Wednesday 31 December 2014

The old year ends, the new begins

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
 That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.

George VI famously quoted that piece in his 1939 Christmas broadcast, the first Christmas of the war, and it remains the most popular quote for the start of each new year.  I like it for it does not speak of New Year Resolutions but of confidently facing whatever the year will bring.

Realistically speaking most adults know that New Year Resolutions have little chance of success but there is (for me at least) a sense of quiet excitement at the start of each year.  Resolutions may be ineffective but it is good to use 31st December to draw a line under anything that has gone badly in the year and to look forward gladly to whatever next year may bring.

May you be blessed in 2015.

Monday 29 December 2014

An end to seclusion

Few people can have had a quieter Christmas than me.  I came home from church on Christmas Day, shut the door and didn’t open it again until this morning.  I had a few phone calls but Christmas is a time of quiet seclusion for me.  I have plenty of invitations but I prefer solitude for this very special time

I decided that today was the right time to end my seclusion with a trip to Normanby Park.  I made a flask of coffee, wrapped up warm and off I went. 

It was so beautiful there!  There were few people about in the early morning, just a few dog walkers.

The ducks had decided that it was too cold to go swimming.

The trees looked magnificent in their winter nudity.

The walled garden has been largely cleared and the soil left bare to allow the frost to deal with the pests.

I had wondered if these beauties would have been put over the rhubarb to force it.

But no, Victoria is still exposed.

It was a wonderful to ride around on my trundle truck.

And even better to get home to slow cooker chicken casserole

Sunday 28 December 2014

My favourite nativity set

This is unheard of for me - a third post in one day!

I've just been reading back over my own blog and a few days before Christmas I wrote about this lady, reminding us that at that time (17th December) it was not yet Christmas.  I mentioned then that she was the harbinger of my favourite nativity set and that in due time, I would also put the full set onto the blog.

So here it is.  No magi yet.  I love the way the front two sheep look towards the mother and child.


(Coo, two posts in one day!)

When I was a little girl my Mother told me that a gift wasn’t really mine until I had said thank you PROPERLY.  Saying thank you properly, according to Mother meant you either thanked somebody face to face or you wrote a letter.  A phone call was not enough.

I was never wholly convinced by this theory.  I overheard other grown-ups thanking Mother for my letters and saying that they could never persuade their children to write.  Then later I would hear Mother muttering that other people didn’t make their children write.  One year I suggested I sent back a gift which I didn’t want anyway to save myself the bother of writing.  The memory of the ensuing explosion lives with me to this day.

However, I still place a very high priority on saying thank you but these days I sometimes use the phone.  Sometimes though it is nice to sit down and write a short note.

This year I have actually managed to make my thank you cards as well as write them.  I hope the recipients enjoy receiving them.

Because I enjoyed making them far more than I enjoyed writing those letters when I was a child.

The shepherd who was late

Last week my American penfriend commented on the other blog that her grandaughter had broken a shepherd from the nativity set and although a new one had been ordered it meant that they were having a variation on the bible story because the shepherd would arrive after the magi.  I sent this story but as I did only three “pauses” during Advent I’ve decided to add this one.

pause in advent_thumb[2]
The shepherd who was late

I was pretty cross that night.  First of all something woke me up.  I always feel a bit ratty when I get woken out of a deep sleep and whoever it was woke me also decided that it might be a good idea to sing to me.  They were wrong.  It was a bad idea.

And it wasn’t just one guy who was singing: it was a whole crowd of them and boy were they loud!  “Glory to God in the highest and peace, good will to all men.” 

Well, I suppose that was better than my brother's usual version of the dawn chorus but anything would be better than that.  Somehow though the light was even brighter than it usually is when I wake up and I really couldn’t look.  The singing went on and on and they were going on about a baby born in Bethlehem.  So what?  Babies are born every day.  And about this being the Saviour we’ve been waiting for.  Yeah, right.

Anyway, the light suddenly faded and the singing stopped and it was quiet again and I was ready to go to sleep but the others had obviously decided that it was a good time for a chat.  Idiots.  Then, would you believe it, they decided to go into Bethlehem to see this baby.  Oh wonderful – not!

No way was I going to get up and go down to Bethlehem.  Forget it.  I need my sleep. 

Anyway off they went to Bethlehem and off I went to sleep.

The next morning they were full of it.  They’d seen the baby and his mother and they were in a manger in a cave near the pub just like the voice had said.  They kept going on and on about it.  I got fed up and couldn’t stand it any longer so I went to watch the sheep.

But, you know, they had made me curious.  I didn’t want to know – but I did want to know.  Torn apart I was.

A couple of weeks later it was my day off and I decide to go to Bethlehem.  I needed to see a few people and when I’d finished I went to the Lamb and Flag for a pint.  Or five.

A few hours later I sort of rolled out of the pub and was about to go home when I saw a lantern burning in a field and I could hear voices.  It sounded as though it could be a party so I went over to check it out. 

You have never seen anything like it.  There were camels and pack mules and various servants hanging around and over near the cave there were some fancy looking chaps.  Well, you have to see what’s happening, don’t you?  So over I went and guess what?  They were looking at the baby too.  They’d brought some very fancy presents.  Gold (always acceptable), frankincense which will keep the flies away, and myrrh which will be very handy when the baby starts to cut his teeth.

And so I looked at what had made my mates drool, at what had made these strangers travel hundreds of miles and all there was - was a baby.  But you know what?  He looked at me and he smiled.

You know I think I am the luckiest man in the world.  I saw the strangers, the baby smiled at me, and I didn’t lose my sleep that night.  My mates saw the baby first, but I reckon I did pretty well too.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Last gift finished.

I feel safe in putting this one on the blog as there is little danger of it being seen before tomorrow.  I finished the last couple of stitches in it just before lunch.

Here's one of the motifs.

I love this time on Christmas Eve.  It's too late to do anything else: all I can do is relax.  Brilliant

Monday 22 December 2014


Like most people I haven't managed to get as much made for Christmas as I would like and not everything that I make can appear on this blog but I know that the recipient of this doesn't read my blog.  She asked for a tea cosy.  She likes spotty things and she likes owls.  I hope she'll like this!

I'm not sure why his ears appear so odd - they look OK in "Real life"!

Sunday 21 December 2014

What on earth?

I'm hosting the "Pause In Advent" here - continuing the tradition started by Floss

It’s over forty years ago now but I’ll never forget that night.

It’s pretty cold out in the fields at that time of year but somebody has to be out there keeping an eye on the sheep.  There’s always a wolf about and at that time there were hundreds of strangers about for that census.  I never trust strangers and I wouldn’t have put it past that lot to have nicked a sheep for supper.  Anyway there were just four of us; me, my brother Reuben, and Seth and Ben our cousins. 

It was just gone midnight so we’d got the sheep settled in the fold and we were all of us dozing by the fire.  In fact I think I’d actually nodded off.  Suddenly it was all very light.  Well sometimes you get a flare up of the fire but that would barely last a second and this was much brighter and it went on.  Then there was a voice and I was definitely awake with my hand to my stick ready to fight off any thief.

It was no thief.  I just couldn’t see what it was because the light was so bright but it would be a very odd thief who would sing “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men”. 

Reuben wanted to take charge but he could hardly speak.  No, whoever had that voice was definitely in in charge.  And he’d brought his mates and they were singing so loud that Reuben wouldn’t have been heard anyway.  All we could do was cower and listen.  The voice went on about a baby being born down in Bethlehem and that this baby would become the Main Man promised by God.  We were supposed to go down into Bethlehem to see him and we’d find him in a manger.

Just as suddenly as the light had come, it went but by this time all four of us were wide awake.  For a while none of us could speak but somehow we all knew that the sheep were going to have to be left.  We had to go to Bethlehem. 

Anyway, off we went down the hill.  I have to admit that we felt better when we saw that the light had moved to just over the pub but as we got closer we realised that it wasn’t at the pub – it was behind the pub near a cave in a field.  Pity that, I think we could all have done with a bit of Dutch courage.

Anyway, we went to the cave and it was just like the voice had said.  Just a woman and her baby, curled up together in a manger.  Nothing remarkable.  Just a woman and her baby and the old man watching them.

And I know that this sounds daft but the remarkable thing is that it was so unremarkable.  Young women have babies every day.  Husbands look stunned when it’s happened.  It was the light outside which should have been so remarkable and to this day I can’t explain it.

But, you know, the light didn’t mean anything at all.  It was the baby.  So ordinary.  Nothing special.  But somehow I knew things would never be the same again for me.  I can’t explain it; you’ll just have to take my word for it.  Nothing has been the same since that night.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

A little early for me

Today I’ve actually put up a few decorations.  Normally I leave it until after the fourth Sunday in Advent but my nephew and his wife will be coming from Belgium tomorrow and will include me on their very busy itinerary.

Unlike many bloggers I have no wonderful decorations made by children or grandchildren but over the years I have made quite a few myself so here are a few of my creations.  Most are polystyrene balls covered with fabric.  I have lots of homemade jobbies but I don’t put them all out every year.

I’ve also got quite a few nativity sets and again they don’t all come out every year.  Here is a matryoshka doll also known as Russian nesting doll or babushka doll.  The biggest or outside doll is all three kings in one doll, and then there are Joseph, Mary, an angel, a donkey and the Christ Child.

This is a Celtic style stone nativity set, reminiscent of the Lewis chess set.

If you read my other blog you will know that each Monday I have been writing about my Advent calendar.  This will stay up until Christmas Eve when it will be replaced by a larger set which I’m not going to show you just yet but this figure of a pregnant woman is in the same range and reminds me that no matter how many decorations go up, it is still Advent.  


Monday 15 December 2014

Getting crafty

One of the great things about the lead-up to Christmas as far as I am concerned, is the number of opportunities there are to have a day making things.  Today I went to The Ropewalk at Barton upon Humber to Unique Couture Tuition.  (You can find them at 

Normally I go there for dressmaking tuition but each year, just before Christmas there is a fun day.  Today about half a dozen ladies gathered to make things as decorations or gifts.

The lady next to me made this lovely bag for her younger daughter to carry her stuff in and her plan was to send it to Santa for delivery.  However, before she’d even finished making it she got a message from Lapland to say that a bag would also be needed for her elder daughter.

I decided that as a tribute to Santa’s transport system I would start making some bunting.  It won’t get finished until next year but as a taster here’s one of the pennants.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Time gentlemen please.

I'm hosting the "Pause In Advent" here - continuing the tradition started by Floss

What is it about those Romans?  They can organise an Empire but can they organise a census?  Whose bright idea was it to say that everyone had to go to their own city?  Bethlehem is heaving with those who claim to be descended from King David.  Ye gods, the man had eight wives and heaven-knows-how-many concubines resulting in at least nineteen sons.  And that was a thousand years ago so there’s plenty of descendants.

And when I say heaving, I mean heaving.   There have been people arriving for days.  I keep the pub here and my rooms here are more than full and everyone’s had to double or treble up.  The little ’uns  have had to come in with me and Hagar, my old woman.  I sent the kids out to everyone I could think of trying to find extra rooms for the travellers.  Everyone’s been trying to help but it’s impossible. 

And then really late a couple came, “Have you got a room we could have?”  I just laughed in his face but Hagar came out while they were there and she took one look at the woman, well more of a girl really, and she dragged me on one side and she started on at me.  “What did I think I was doing?  Couldn’t I see that the lass was obviously near her time?” 

Of course I could see she was near her time but what could I do about it?  Every room is full, and really the girl could do with a bit of privacy.  Her old man doesn’t look too much use but if it’s his first he has my sympathy.  It’s only a couple of months since Hagar had Joel, our eighth and I know things get a bit tense.

Anyway, Hagar had a bright idea.  There’s a cave near the field where we keep our stock.  It’s not brilliant but it’s better than a bivouac.  Hagar got the kids to find some straw bales and they made a makeshift shelter just the other side of the manger.

And I’ve kept the bar running.  It was very busy as all the travellers came for a pint and a yarn.

My mind kept running to that cave though and that young lass.  What a way to have a baby!  Different from our Joel.  Our Joel will be all right.  He just needs to stay out of the way of the Romans and that puppet Herod. 

That lass will have her baby tonight, no doubt about that.  It’s definitely her time. 

When will it be our time?  When will we get a king as great as David?  One day he will come.  We’ve been promised. 

When will it truly be time, gentlemen, please?

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Santa's sack

I've got very little close family, just a nephew living in Belgium and a very elderly aunt living here in Caistor.  However, I am well blessed with cousins and I am blessed with kind, generous wonderful cousins.

I made this sack today for one of my cousins and his wife, children and grandchildren.  During the past year I have been making and buying all sorts of little bits and pieces, many of which I have wrapped already.  This sack is for everybody to open, not on Christmas Day, but on a day when the whole family is present and it can be shared.

The green corduroy and the gingham fabric are from my stash and the trim is the border from a cheap throw which I bought to use as a thin wadding when quilting.  I'm hoping that when it is full it will look very exciting!

Monday 8 December 2014

Getting a little more creative

I'm sorry I haven't published a Pause in Advent yet.  I may have to miss this week as the piece I wrote wasn't really satisfactory and it may be better to hang on until next Sunday.

Anyway, 'tis the season to be crafting and today I've been on a Christmas creativity work shop.  First we made a couple of cards

Then we made a pomander.  I enjoyed doing this as I'd wanted to make one since I saw them on Blue Peter at least fifty years ago!

We made a pretty (fabric) gift bag and I'm now wondering just how to fill it.

And we also made some fairy lights which I didn't get finished and I'm not going to let you see them until I do!

I've had a lovely day and I'm going to have a lovely early night.

Wednesday 3 December 2014


I don’t usually bother with making a Christmas cake.  I prefer mince pies and it always seems to me that wherever I go in December or January somebody is desperate to get rid of slices of Christmas cake.

However, I have promised that next year I will provide a cake for someone’s Very Special Birthday.  A ten inch square cake will be needed (plus an incredible number of cup-cakes) and I decided that I needed to make a practice cake.  I will then cut it into quarters using one piece as my Christmas cake.  The other pieces have their destinations which will become apparent to the recipients at Christmas. 

Yesterday (and the day before) I made this.

2 lb currants 
12 oz  sultanas
12 oz  raisins
8 oz  glacĂ© cherries, rinsed and finely chopped
8 oz mixed peel, finely chopped
6 tablespoons brandy
1 lb plain flour
½ level teaspoon salt
½ level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
4 oz  chopped almonds
1 lb soft brown sugar
1 ½  tablespoons black treacle
1 lb unsalted butter
8 eggs
grated rind of 2 large lemons
grated rind of 2 large oranges

Day 1
Put all the dried fruits and peel in a bowl and mix in the brandy. Cover the bowl with a cloth and leave overnight. 

Day 2
Mix and sieve the flour, salt and spices into a large mixing bowl. 
Cream the butter and sugar in a separate bowl until light and fluffy
In yet another bowl beat the eggs then slowly add them to the butter and sugar mixture.  It might also be a good idea to add the occasional tablespoon of the flour mixture to stop everything curdling.
When all the egg has been added, fold in the flour and spices.  Then add the fruit and other goodies that have been soaking plus the nuts treacle and orange and lemon peel.
Spoon the mixture into a cake tin which has been greased and lined with greaseproof paper and level it.
Tie a double layer of brown paper around the sides of the tin and put a double layer of greaseproof paper (with a small hole in the middle) over the top of the cake.
Bake it for about five hours at 140C, 275F, Gas 1 for about five hours.  Test with a skewer in the usual way.
When it is cold wrap it in double greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin.

Fruit cakes like a drink a few times before they are eaten.  Mine will have a few teaspoons of brandy each week for three weeks.  I will make holes with a fine skewer in the top of the cake to help things along.

And the bonus - the house smells wonderful!

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Very Merry Berry Pudding

For years I used my great granny’s/granny’s/mother’s recipe for Christmas pud and very nice it was too but a couple of years ago I tried something different.  Very Merry Berry Pudding.  It looks like a Christmas pud, it smells like a Christmas pud but the fruits include blueberries, strawberries, sour cherries rather than currants and raisins.  It can also be cooked a little nearer Christmas (like today).  I used to keep trad Christmas puds for up to a year but I’ve never got around to trying that with this recipe so if you do resist it until December 2015 – you’re on your own!

Very Merry Berry Pudding
100g (3½oz) sultanas
50g (2oz) each dried sour cherries, dried strawberries, dried cranberries and dried blueberries
50g (2oz) each ready-to-eat dried prunes, apricots and figs, roughly chopped
2tbsp fruity liqueur
100ml (3½fl oz) sherry
Zest and juice of 1 lemon  
Butter for greasing
75g (3oz) shredded suet
50g (2oz) self-raising flour
125g (4oz) fresh breadcrumbs
½tsp each mixed spice and ground ginger
1tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch each of salt and freshly
grated nutmeg
75g (3oz) soft dark brown sugar
2tbsp black treacle
1 Cox's apple, grated
2 medium eggs, beaten
50g (2oz) pecans, chopped (optional)

1 Put the dried fruit, fruit liqueur, sherry, lemon zest and juice into a non-metallic mixing bowl. Cover and leave to soak overnight.
2 The next day, put the soaked fruit into a large mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Mix together until well combined. Spoon the mixture into a 1 lightly greased litre pudding bowl (I use the modern plastic ones with a lid), pushing it down firmly, and level the surface.

3 I cook my pud in the slow cooker.  I start with boiling water from the kettle to half way up the pud and I cook for six to eight hours on high topping up the water if needed.  I also use my slow cooker to reheat it

Monday 1 December 2014

Starting the month feeling smug

I’m feeling a bit smug.  Sorry about that, but I’ve just come back from posting my UK Christmas cards.  The overseas ones went last week and I have some which will be delivered by hand.

I love making Christmas cards but my style has had to change considerably over the past few years since pricing in proportion came in for the Royal Mail.  No more layered cards as that makes for very expensive postage.  My cards now are much simpler.

I also received my first card today.  So somebody must be feeling even smugger than me!

(All the pictures are of my home made efforts.)