A Canadian gal living in Britain with 3 men and a dog. Wine helps.

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

The end of another year...

What a year it has been; Andy keeps saying he can’t wait for it to be over, yet when I think back over the last year I can’t say it’s been all bad. Although it has been difficult at times, there have been a lot of good to match the not-so-good. I think this is the way it normally goes with each year, within every family. 2010 was much the same.  

Here is a rundown of the year in review, 2011 as perceived from my skewed view:

January: was devastating with the news of hearing my 43 year old friend died suddenly and unexpectedly;

Feb: despite the sad start to the year, I managed to get home and spend a few weeks with my mom and family. Also, while I was at home, we received word of the birth of our 2nd niece, Daisy.

March: another good month, with a fabulous, indulgent long weekend to London to celebrate our friend Dawn’s 50th.

April: things were starting to break down with Alex in a very unsettling way; I participated in a blog 30 Day blog challenge with my sister which was a great distraction as well as for reminiscing over better times. It also increased my blog posts (I’ve beaten last year’s grand total which can most likely be attributed to this month).

May: Asking Alex to leave home in May was one of the hardest things I have ever done and I can’t help but think if I hadn’t asked him to go, might he be in a different place right now? However I can’t dwell on this – you can’t turn back time and although it was hard for all concerned, I think it taught him a few life lessons he needed to learn.

June: Brought with it another bright light, my brother; we also celebrated our Tasha’s 21st birthday.

July: We had our biggest Canada BBQ to date – it was a great time and an opportunity for all to get to know my brother. We also had a great trip to Wales with John in the same week.

August: Was a disquieting month, what with the riots taking place all over the UK, especially London. We also gave up on the idea of having a sun-filled summer. It was during August that Molly developed her skin irritation, something we are still trying to sort out. We also found out that our boy (yes boy) was going to be a father. Although we are coming to terms with this fact, it’s still a hard pill to swallow at times. He and his girlfriend are just so young.

September: Prior to my brother’s departure, we spend a couple of days in the Lake District, which is never disappointing.

October: I made my first Canadian Thankgsiving Dinner for Andy’s family; it was lovely to have everyone around the table celebrating all that we have to be thankful for.

November: Three days in Paris, need I say more?

December: Was a busy month getting ready for Christmas; all broken fences between Alex and his dad have now been mended and we thoroughly enjoyed a family Christmas together.  We also celebrated Christmas with our close friends Robert and Dawn, you can't beat champagne with dear friends on Christmas morning.  

We of course will be celebrating New Year's Eve with them as well, as is our usual.   Bring on the champagne, games and lot's of laughs. 

Wishing you all a safe and  happy New Year. May 2012 bring you all peace, love and joy.  Oh, and lots of laughs too.

 I'd like to send out wishes to an old friend who celebrates her birthday on this day as well; I'm not sure if she still pops in to visit this site, but just in case, Happy Birthday Paula!

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Champagne Fuelled McAllenby Christmas

We kicked off our Christmas celebrations on the Friday afternoon before Christmas Eve by meeting our friends Robert and Dawn at the Harvest Moon for a few drinks, which as I mentioned in my previous post, was a great way to begin the festivities.

We headed out to my friend Jayne's place on the Friday night for her Christmas Shed Party, which although cold, was still an adventure.  (What she calls a shed, we call a cabin ;)

Andy and I went for our usual feed of Thai on Christmas Eve and when we got home, Dawn and Robert popped in for a cranberry/champagne cocktail and a few photos before heading back to their boys.   

Andy and I enjoyed a quiet night in watching It's a Wonderful Life and woke up early on Christmas Day to get the turkey prepped, open our presents and of course, enjoy a glass of bubbly in the hot tub. What a way to start Christmas day eh?

We then got dressed in our Christmas best and headed over to Dawn and Roberts to see what bounty they had scored and of course to enjoy yet another glass of bubbly (with orange juice of course).

I love the new dress my husband got me for Christmas :)

Dawn with Cameron (who is showing off his classy new robe)

We then headed up to Andy's parents to bring our gifts and see his sister Claire, who enjoys Christmas (especially the presents) as much as an eight year old does.

Andy's mum and dad.

I went home and called home as I knew by then that they would be up.  I chatted for a few minutes each with my mom, sister and brother before I rang off.  I hung up the phone with a lump in my throat, but quickly turned to getting the prep ready for Christmas Dinner.

Wendy, Dave and Claire turned up shortly after to share Christmas Dinner, which left us stuffed and uncomfortable (as usual).  The kids turned up a short while later to open their presents and stay for the night.

We had a few minutes on Skype with my sister Tawny and Clara, (I loved hearing all the kids comment on how adorable Clara is) then we all got down to playing a board game that my sister had sent us for Christmas. 
All in all, a very successful and joyous day.

Boxing Day saw the arrival of Alison, Scott and Daisy and the annual buffet at Wendy's.  We have more pictures, but they are on Andy's camera and I haven't downloaded them yet. 

I did capture this one though, as we came back from Wendy's and it's one of my favourite from this Christmas:
My handsome man and his beautiful daughter.

Now it's time to get ready to celebrate the New Year. 

I think more champagne is definitely in order!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cranberry Sauce and Cookies

It's no secret that I have done a lot of baking over the last month.  To cut down on eating copious amounts myself, I have been putting them in pretty Christmas boxes and handing them out to my
friends children, Andy's sister Claire and our nephew Archie.  (I had also frozen a bunch to put out for the kids and family over Christmas.) 

Because I like to make my own cranberry sauce, on Christmas Eve morning I tried out a new recipe for a cranberry-pear sauce and decided to put some in a few little jars to give out to friends that I would be seeing later that day, along with the cookies. 

I think it all looked rather pretty and I took great joy in giving out gifts that I'd taken the time to make myself.  (The cranberry sauce was good thankfully, if not a little bit tart - but hey, they are cranberries afterall.)

I ended up taking last Friday off to ensure I had just about everything ready and it turned out to be a great decision.  Andy and I did what needed doing in the morning and by mid-afternoon we were free to meet up with Robert and Dawn in our local for a few glasses of wine.  It was festive and relaxing and a brilliant way to kick off the season.

We've had a lovely Christmas and I will be back tomorrow to share a few photos with you.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Almost all wrapped up

Late yesterday afternoon I finished all my Christmas shopping (well except for one last item I needed to pick up this morning). Andy and I did the food shop on Tuesday night. I’m a little bit impressed with us so far this season.

I got home last night and after making Andy a few sandwiches and giving Molly her antibiotics, I got to work baking a few more goodies. Lord knows I don’t need any, but the kids seem to appreciate them. After the last batch of my mom’s chocolate chip oatmeal cookies came out of the oven, I realised it was 9:00 pm and I still hadn’t had any tea (dinner/supper – whatever you wish to call it). If you know anything about me, it’s that Jody never forgets to eat. Ever. I also never refer to myself in the 3rd person but look what just happened.

After I had a light snack, I got to work wrapping a few more presents:

(I wish I could wrap the presents for my mom and sisters in Canada like this, but they just don’t end up looking quite the same when they’ve been sent in the post).

Although I’m not a fantastic present wrapper, I don’t think I do too badly at all and rather enjoy wrapping gifts up in pretty paper and bows. I am currently suffering from a bit of tag envy though, upon seeing the stash of really cute tags my sister has on hand.

I only have about 12 more presents to wrap and as I’m having the day off tomorrow I know I won’t be rushing to get them wrapped on Christmas Eve. I have too many people to visit and a cocktail that I’m dying to try out that I want to share with my friend Dawn. Hopefully we can manage to find an hour together before Christmas morning, when Andy and I will be dropping in at Dawn and Robert’s for a glass of Christmas cheer.

This is the drink I’m so excited to try out:

Courtesy of  The Curvy Girl Guide . It’s pretty and festive and I hope it tastes as delectable as it looks.

Hopefully I will find a moment to pop in and give you a few more photos or an update tomorrow or Saturday. I also hope all your Christmas prep is going to plan and you aren’t getting wrapped up in all the stress that so many people find themselves in during this festive season.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Someone is not very impressed

If she could cry, I'm sure she would.  I don't know if it would be from humiliation or from being so damn uncomfortable.  Probably both.  She just hangs her head after it's been put on and barely moves her tail when I speak to her.  There is no way to explain to her that its only to help keep her from licking off the cream that will help to heal her skin rash. At least she only needs to wear it when we aren't at home, which from the end of the day tomorrow will be most of the time, since Andy will be finished until after the New Year. 

Me?  I can't help but chuckle at how funny it looks, especially because she is so clumsy with it; however leaving her so depressed this morning almost broke my heart.  

Poor Molly. 

(Andy and I will make sure she has a few extra toys under the tree this year as she can't have any goodies, not even the doggy kind). 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A little too much Christmas Cheer :)

We share office space with the Occupational Therapists and to celebrate Christmas jointly, we all agreed last Friday that we would each bring in an edible goody and hope to have a few different snacks to indulge in throughout the day. The food on the table turned out to be pretty impressive, ranging from homemade onion bhajis, somosa’s, home-made sausage rolls and flans, to the Philly Cheese Ball that I make (which was a major hit as most Brits seem to have never seen or tasted one and always seem to love it.) Of course there were plenty of sweets on offer: coffee cake with mascarpone cheese icing, gorgeous brownies and these:

Needless to say I didn’t end up eating any dinner before I went out with Sarah and Joanne on Friday night for a much needed Christmas drink. We haven’t been out together since March and although we were missing one of our quartet (Sharon), we had a fabulous night full of laughter and drinks. We only shared two starters upon arriving at the pub which would definitely be the main factor for becoming so intoxicated so quickly. If I’ve learned anything from Friday night (besides that I’m an emotional idiot but that’s not really news to anyone) it’s this: I can’t drink like I did when I was 25 and still expect to spend the next day shopping or doing errands.

However, I did manage to run two errands but only because Andy was driving. (I am grown up enough to know that a person shouldn’t even drive the next day after drinking so much.) I remember so clearly the days when Cat and I used to tear up the town by night and be out back on it again by lunch time the next day, yet it seems a whole lifetime ago; misspent youth, how I miss you at times. Thankfully I have seldom been privy to the barf brigade after copious amount of alcohol. That at least hasn’t changed.

It’s actually the reverse on the odd occasion where I am hung over (I’ve always been fortunate to not suffer from a bad hang over) as I indulge in way too much rubbish food. Saturday night I actually suggested we order Chinese and I never do that. We were told it would take approximately an hour. An hour and a half later we were just calling to see where it was when the delivery guy pulled up outside. Connor yelped with glee, only to discover the guy was going next door. WTF? Seriously, what are the odds. We were just cancelling at the two hour mark when if finally turned up. I think we were all ready to eat the coffee table by this point. Normally we would have refused it but no way was I letting it get sent back... I needed me some chowmein. The worst part? They still charged us full price for barely warm food. It’s doubtful we will be ringing that place anytime soon.

On Sunday morning I woke up with eye’s that were nearly swollen shut. It could have been a reaction to something I rammed in my mouth the day before, or a delayed reaction to the alcohol, I don’t know. I wasn’t best pleased as we were out for a lunch to celebrate the fact that Andy’s sister Alison and brother Adrian, as well as Ali’s husband Scott turned 40 on Friday. Yup, you heard me right.

All three of them on the same day:

My eyes were luckily much better by lunch, but by no means suitable for photos. I did however manage to capture some great photos of little Daisy. They are on the camera waiting to be uploaded, however I caught this one that I think is adorable on my phone:

So this week I’m catching up on all the things I didn’t get a chance to do on Saturday, like finish up my Christmas shopping and wrapping. I’m not sweating it though; as crowded as the shops are and despite not having any time off before Christmas Eve, it will still all get done. Fingers crossed though that the present I ordered for Connor online turns up by Friday!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I don't suffer from the Christmas Card Craze

This time of year is a hectic time of year for so many people. It could be for me, if I was that way inclined but I’m not. I don’t mind Christmas shopping (for the most part), I like baking, I have a husband who is fantastic about helping out around the house and I love Christmas parties. I no longer stress over cooking Christmas dinner because I have finally figured out how a turkey should be cooked. Wrapped in bacon all the way baby. So you see, I really have nothing to worry about other than enjoying the season.

A number of people have been telling me how stressed they are and I can only chuckle. I believe that you are only as stressed as you let yourself be (this is excluding single working parents – I can’t imagine the stress you experience everyday, never mind at Christmas). I find it amusing that people are getting anxious over writing Christmas cards. My answer to that? Don’t send them if it has become such a chore. I love getting Christmas cards from family and friends I don’t get to see very often but I really don’t get the point of a card that just has someone’s named signed to it; obviously if you can’t take a second to write a brief message then you are only sending a card out of a sense of obligation. I don’t send any out, other than to family back in Canada but I think I forgot to put them in the package I sent home with my brother in September. I don’t give them out to colleagues or neighbours either as I just can’t be bothered.

What I find incredibly hard at this time of year (and will come as no surprise to any of you) is that I miss my family terribly. So, so terribly. I want to be doing last minute shopping with my sister and then sit for awhile drinking lattes as we laugh and talk; I want to be there to eat Dad’s tray of nibbles as we watch A Wonderful Life as my Aunts and Uncle pop in and out throughout the evening on Christmas Eve. I don’t think I will ever stop missing my little sister coming to wake me on Christmas morning. I don’t know when I will next get to sit around my mom’s table on Christmas Day and share a meal with them… my husband has never been home with me for Christmas and I haven’t had a Christmas with them in six years now. It’s a long time, yet the ticket prices are usually so extortionate. Maybe next year (something I unfortunately say every year)…. My mom told me the other day that my sister Sandra was flying in on Christmas morning. My first reaction was joy for mom, but then envy for me. What a Christmas gift to give my mother, better than any present that will be under the tree.

Speaking of trees, we had some friends over on Saturday night to help adorn the tree. This was the result:

(Not the best photo as it was taken with my mobile, however I'm sure you will see a few more over the next few weeks.)
As usual, I ended up with some amazing new decorations for the tree, ones that I will remember fondly in years to come. (I always ask those who are coming to help for the first time to bring a decoration for the tree). A new friend came and was dismayed that she got the colour scheme wrong yet I told her no worries, when I see that one red bauble it will make me think of her; it’s quirky and fun like she is and I’m hardly one to stress over the fact that my tree might not be a vision of perfection in someone else’s eyes.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

What are your most and least favorite things about the holiday season? (from Plinky.com)

Most favourite:

Picking out our fresh Christmas tree, then seeing it decorated in our living room;
The feeling I get on Christmas Eve… it’s hard to explain but ties it in with old family traditions.
Gathering with friends and family, eating, drinking and playing games (on Christmas Day and afterwards);
Bailey’s Irish Cream;
Waking up on Christmas morning – I still have the expectant/hopeful feeling I had when I was little;
The parties;
Buck’s Fizz on Christmas morning (champagne and orange juice);
Baking cookies for the kids;
The movies – especially Elf, The Family Stone and It’s a Wonderful Life;
Receiving cards in the post from those far away;
Wrapping presents

Least Favourite:

How materialistic it has all become.
How angry and rude fellow shoppers are, especially in parking lots
Being away from my family and friends who are thousands of miles away
The feeling I get on Christmas Eve… it’s hard to explain but it ties in with old family traditions;
Wrapping presents (I know, another one that is a catch 22 for me!)
The hassle of packing everything away when it’s all over (although I’m usually more than ready to take it all down).

Although I often claim to not be overly bothered about Christmas one way or the other, I like that my most favourite things about Christmas outnumber my least favourite. It’s a great time of year, so long as we don’t lose sight of what is important to us.

I also don’t get overly stressed at this time of year like so many others because I’m not a perfectionist and I think Christmas is meant to be enjoyed, not stressed over. So long as the kids are sorted out, a lovely meal is on the menu, the house looks good and I can be surrounded by those I love (even when I’m missing those who aren’t near) then I’m good to go.

Bring on the holiday cheer.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Wednesday Roundup

We had a busy weekend, a much more hectic schedule than I’m used to, but it was good.

We finally got to catch up with Paul, Sophia and Madelana on Saturday. I can’t possibly explain how much this little girl’s sweet nature shines through. We had a lovely time in Presso, even the pizza maker couldn’t resist this little one, giving her a bit of dough to roll. I think Paul and Connor were secretly wishing for a piece of their own:

(and it’s not even a restaurant that caters to children :)
We also had a bit of fun in TK Maxx trying on hats:

We went and got our tree early on Sunday morning before I started my Christmas shopping. It’s definitely not as spectacular as last year’s, but there was no way I was getting a seven footer again. The tree is now in a bucket of water on the deck, waiting to be dressed on Friday night, when I have a few people over.

I’m a little anxious though, as the element in the oven has burned out and I’m waiting to see if it can be mended before Friday night. I might have to reorganize a few things if it can’t be fixed in time. I wasn’t planning on a multitude of hot snacks, but a few would be nice. I’m sure I can work something out with Dawn in regard to using her oven if not.

I’ve been feeling in a bit of a slump the last few days but hope to get over this by hitting the gym tonight. Andy is home for the rest of the week so I want to use the time to get sweating. I’ve not worked out nearly enough over the last few weeks – not good, considering all the snacking I’ve been doing.

Oh, I can't forget to share this with you:  I found out this morning that I’m going to be hitting up a Florence and the Machine concert in London in March! Who-hoo! I don’t go to very many concerts so I'm excited about this one for sure. Florence is a major player on my workout soundtrack.

Tonight I might download a few Christmas Albums. Besides Pink Martini and the new Michael Bublee, I’d love a few suggestions of some of your favourite Christmas compilations.

Well there you have it... a much briefer than usual roundup of what's been going on.  Just in case you've been wondering :)

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Christmas Cookies

My mother always does a load of baking for Christmas each year. She did this when we were younger and still continues to do so; and it’s not only her children that look forward to her baking. Mom has always made extra and each year I know she makes a special batch of brownies especially for my cousin Wayne as he loves her brownies. It’s a shame she doesn’t have a flock of grand kids living near her at times like these.

For the last few years I have done some baking myself. I have asked mom for a number of her recipes i.e. chocolate snowballs, cherry balls, peanut butter balls and peanut butter squares. Some recipes I gather from elsewhere, especially this site here. Barry’s holiday recipes are fantastic, not to mention everything else he does. His short breads really do melt in your mouth and always go down a treat at our house.

There are some recipes that don’t seem to work out so well, no matter how closely I follow them. It could be due to a number of factors: my oven settings, UK measuring cups, the ingredients here varying slightly and the fact that I just don’t have mom’s touch in the baking department. But I’m getting there, slowly but surely.

The chocolate snowballs seemed to have worked much better this year and I’ve gotten much better at the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (a definite favourite of Connor’s). Luckily the cherry balls (a top choice of both Alex and Andy’s) have always come out well. I tried the peanut butter squares this year as Alex had asked for them last year, and they are a flop. I will chalk it up to the fact that the local peanut butter just doesn’t hold up to Kraft (which I ran out of last year). So end of story on that count.

So you can probably gather that even though Mom doesn’t live near our boys, they still know what a great baker their ‘Nana Gina’ is. It’s a legacy I hope to carry on... especially now that I'm going to be a granny myself. (Ack! - I'm still getting used to that one.

This year, I ordered some Christmas cookie cutters from Amazon and looked forward to trying out mom’s Christmas Cookies (I always loved how she used to decorate them in such festive icing). I’m always slightly confused when a recipe calls for shortening as the alternative here is lard and that is just nasty. So I usually just substitute for butter, this time I didn’t.

It started out fairly well:

But then the dough was super sticky and I couldn’t get it to roll. All three kids happened to turn up as I was trying to work out what to do (besides adding more flour) and we decided to start from the beginning and use butter, not lard (that word is just plain disgusting). I’m pleased they were happy to join in as I didn’t feel like measuring and sifting five cups of flour etc. etc. So I poured Tasha and myself a glass of wine and we got to work.

(Tasha really pitched in - a fantastic assistant)

We hit the same roadblock as the first time and I made a quick call to mom to ask her if she experienced the same issue. She confirmed that she did, so as Tasha and I both thought, we had to add a lot of extra flour. Connor made a comment that made me chuckle ‘Most people check a recipe when they are baking. Not Jods, she rings Gina’. He’s not all wrong on that count. She is the baking expert and my crowd knows it.

Eventually we reached a texture that enabled the cutting out of cookie shapes:

I had a load of fun in the kitchen with the kids this past Sunday as we baked and I really love how they seem to enjoy baking/cooking with me. Connor has already made a list of what he wants to start on this Friday when he comes down. I think we are going to ease quite nicely into the Christmas Season this year.

We didn’t have a chance to decorate our cookies and as they needed to go in the freezer (well those that were left after Connor and Andy finished eating their share) I had to get them iced on Monday night.

This is the end result:

Sorry, but I do impress myself sometimes.