Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We had such a nice evening yesterday. After dinner the 21st Century Husband and I sat down to watch Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. I love old black and white films (not the old war pictures or westerns, but nice films!) and this one is fantastic. It is a step back into a much more innocent time, albeit a time when the world was at war, and America was about to join the fray. My mother was fourteen when it was released, my Dad was seven and the world could not have been more different than the one we live in today. Watching it was a very pleasant way to while away an hour and a half, and we both felt very cheerful indeed after watching the happy (if slightly predictable and kitsch, but then that is what old movies are all about) ending. Holiday Inn is such a classic.

We are all really excited now, and it isn’t long until we are heading off to the Big Apple. We are all packed and ready to go.

I have a New Year thank you to say to my readers this month as my website www.21stcenturyhousewife.com has had more hits than ever before. The numbers have been steadily increasing over the months and I want to offer my sincere thanks to the over 6,000 readers who now visit the site every month.

Regular readers may already know about my other blog on Blogger.com “Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen”. You can read it by clicking here. I’ll be writing particularly about our culinary adventures in New York on this blog. It’s pretty different from this blog but you just might enjoy it so do have a look!

And in case I don’t get a chance to blog tomorrow as we will be travelling and then attending a dinner, let me take this opportunity to with Everyone a Very Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year!!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Almost Ready for the Off

We slept late on Sunday morning, treating ourselves to brunch at 11am. The rest of the day was spent pottering around home, doing the odd jobs that crop up from time to time and beginning to get ready for our trip to New York on Wednesday. We also had a very pleasant walk down to Mapleduram Lock in the afternoon, although it was very cold indeed.

Today I have been rushing round like a headless chicken, trying to get everything ready not only for our visit to New York, but also for our friends to come and stay here whilst we are away. It was a beautiful day today and I was pleased to have the chance to nip out to Pangbourne to run some errands in the sunshine. I have to confess, I am getting really very excited about our trip. I can hardly believe we are going. I have been to New York before, but it always seems to be a flying visit, often on a tight budget. This time we are treating ourselves to a really special trip to celebrate the 21st Century Teenager’s sixteenth birthday. Staying at the Waldorf Astoria and eating in some of New York’s most famous restaurants, from the Russian Tea Rooms to the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Centre, we are hoping to give him a celebration that he will always remember.

Of course, I always worry before we go that everything will be on time, and that all will go according to plan, especially as we are due to celebrate New Year’s Eve at one of the Waldorf’s three celebrations. Our flight arrives in the early afternoon, and dinner is of course not until the evening so we should be absolutely fine, but of course I worry despite that as I am a champion worrier! I have decided to just pray all is well and it will be.

We are now nearly packed, although I am up to my eyeballs in washing, ironing and sewing on buttons. For once we are taking a trip where I can dress up. I love dressing up and am very lucky to have accumulated a really nice collection of very classic dresses over the years. I seem to be able to choose things that do not date, so provided I am careful not to wear them in front of the same people twice, no one realises I have worn them again and again. As I do not know a living soul in New York City, I can practically guarantee no one will have seen me in any of them before. It has been fun going through my closets and finding my favourites. I have even managed to choose things that mean I only have to pack two pairs of shoes. For me, that is a record.

The 21st Century Husband is working today and tomorrow, but then he is on holiday for the duration of our trip. So, for now, roll on Wednesday morning…

Saturday, December 27, 2008

And a Good Time Was Had By All...

Christmas Eve, we had a late supper of the 21st Century Husband’s Tagliatelli with Bacon and Cream (see the Recipe of the Week for 31st December 2007 on my website www.21stcenturyhousewife.com ) which was easy and very delicious. We finished off Christmas Eve in the living room by the fire, having a drink while we wrapped the last of the presents. It was idyllic.

We were woken Christmas morning by the 21st Century Teenager, who brought us a cup of tea and urged us to hurry up and get downstairs to open the presents. We had a wonderful time the three of us opening our surprises. I was very spoiled, and am really grateful for the super things I was given, which included my favourite perfume, Coco by Chanel, and makeup from the favourite cosmetic company, Dior. We then had a quick breakfast of Bran Muffins (see the Recipe of the Week for 23rd July 2007 on my website www.21stcenturyhousewife.com ) which I had tweaked for Christmas by adding three big dessert spoonfuls of mincemeat to the batter after the raisins. They were delicious.

We then headed off to the 21st Century Husband’s parents for Christmas lunch. It was great to get together with everyone. The meal was delicious and the company was good too. We toasted Absent Friends, in tribute to all the people who had sat round the table on Christmas Day in years gone by who were no longer with us. This included my parents, and it was so nice to acknowledge them on this special day. I have so many happy memories of them at Christmas. In true British tradition, we finished our meal in time to watch The Queen’s Speech on the BBC. The Queen continues to amaze me, always somehow knowing what to say, and still looking so elegant and vital at a very great age. She is a real inspiration. Afterwards we chatted and then had some tea – and by this I mean a light meal, not just a cup of tea - before it was time to leave.

Boxing Day was spent with our friends at their new home in the country. We were served a wonderful meal and again, the company was super. We drank champagne and far too much wine, and late in the evening I learned to play Texas Hold’em Poker. We just played with chips, no money was involved, which was a good thing as despite being a seasoned card player, Poker is not really my game! Even the 21st Century Teenager managed to call my bluff! We then had a lovely supper of bread and cheese before retiring. (We had been invited to spend the night so that no one had to be the designated driver.) We left just before lunchtime this morning, after a delicious breakfast of croissants and many cups of tea.

It has been super to have two such wonderful days, spent with family and friends, but it is equally wonderful to be home again, just the three of us. We have a lot to do in the next few days, including getting ourselves ready for our visit to New York City and getting our house ready to host our friends who are coming to stay while we are away. They are attending the New Year celebrations in London. I must admit I am very excited about our visit to New York, and spent a pleasant hour this afternoon choosing what clothes to take, including a dress for the New Year’s Eve celebration we are attending at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. I am praying everything falls into place over the next few days, that the weather in New York behaves itself and that flights are all on time. I am looking forward to another pleasant day at home tomorrow, with perhaps a walk in the afternoon if the weather co-operates. I could certainly use some exercise, after all the delicious food and drink I have been served over the past few days!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

It’s finally here! Christmas Eve – when visions of sugarplums dance in everyone’s head and you can’t help but be caught up in the excitement of waiting for Santa Claus. I do love Christmas, despite the fact that many of my memories of it are difficult ones – of hospital visits and people lost, of wanting only one thing for Christmas and that being the continued existence of a loved one. But for every difficult memory, I have a wonderful one to replace it. Memories of the handwritten letters I received every year as a child on Christmas morning from Santa, deep snow on Christmas morning, huge family gatherings in Canada where the laughter was so loud you could get lost in it, baking cookies with my Mom, laughing with my parents as we peeled pound after pound of shrimp on Christmas Eve ready for the family feast the next day, my first Christmas with the 21st Century Husband, our first Christmas with our little boy, and our second Christmas with him spent in Florida with my parents, our son’s face every Christmas morning, Christmas 2002 in our home in Derby with my Mom and Dad and our friends; there is always something I can remember to push the sad things away.

So many of us have so many blessings we take for granted – a home, our health , family, friends, food, clothing, presents under the tree – all things that so many people just do not have. Thousands of people will be eating Christmas dinner in shelters this year – and so many people won’t get to eat it at all. For most of us, there is everything to be thankful for. And anyway, Christmas is about hope. It’s not about everything being perfect, it is about reminding us of the hope that exists even when they are not.

Here in the 21st Century Household, chaos reigns as usual – my to do list is a mile long, there are presents still to be wrapped, more baking to be done, buttons to be sewn on, clothes to be ironed and things to be sorted through. But we are all together the three of us (okay the 21st Century Husband is working, but he is here!) and aside from a few little niggles that really don’t matter, all is right with the world. I’m incredibly grateful, and I hope that you are experiencing something similar in your household too.

So don’t worry about the turkey, or Great Aunt Mildred getting into the sherry, or whether someone is going to say something that will upset Uncle George. None of that is important in the grand scheme of things. Whatever is going on around you, however chaotic it might be, in the words of my much missed Dad in his speech at my wedding nearly twenty years ago, “Have some fun”. It’s incredibly good advice for life, and especially for Christmas.

I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas – one full of happiness and laughter, family, food and friends - and full of fun too!

Getting into the Christmas Spirit - 23rd December

Christmas preparations are in full swing in the 21st Century Household, and we are all really getting into the Christmas spirit. I have to admit, it is still chaos though – I haven’t even begun wrapping presents and the kitchen is a mess after a very pleasant afternoon spent baking and decorating cookies. I was joined in the kitchen by the 21st Century Teenager and we really had a lot of fun.

I say that this Christmas is chaotic, but compared to recent Christmases, things are actually quite calm. In fact, we realised as we baked the cookies that this was the first time we had managed to find time to make cookies at Christmas in a number of years. Both the 21st Century Teenager and I find baking incredibly therapeutic, and this afternoon is definitely one of those days that will stick in my memory for the fun and laughter that we had. It really is worth taking time out to spend time with your kids (or nieces, nephews and/or grandchildren) passing on old recipes and having a laugh together in the kitchen – and not just at Christmas either!

We drove into Pangbourne this morning and it was absolutely heaving with Christmas shoppers, with queues at the butchers, Grey’s cheese shop and the stationery store. The decorations in Pangbourne are very pretty though and it is well worth a look round this historic village this time of year. Luckily we did not need much – I have been fairly organised in terms of food shopping this year – so it was not stressful at all. We also nipped to our local Waitrose (grocery store) just to pick up some very last minute bits and pieces. Thank goodness we got there early as by the time we left there was a traffic jam of half a mile queuing to get into the car park. I think that will be it for the shopping this year!!

I’m really beginning to get excited about Christmas, Boxing Day and especially our trip to New York at New Year to celebrate the 21st Century Teenager’s 16th birthday. Once the 21st Century Husband gets home tonight – hopefully he is working from home tomorrow – it really will be “beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!”

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Sunday Before Christmas

I’m very pleased to say I have been published again, this time in The Chicago Herald News. To see my article entitled “A Goat By Any Other Name Still Would Not Smell Sweet” please click here

Today was a bit of a strange day actually. Having spend such a lovely day yesterday I don’ t know why I felt so low, but I think it was just the feeling you get when you realise that Christmas isn’t all jingle bells and mistletoe, and that sad things still happen. I was missing my parents today and as this is the first Christmas since I lost them both (although it is the second without Dad), I had a good old cry. This left the 21st Century Husband and Teenager feeling more than a little at a loss as I very rarely cry – unfortunately this means that when I do, it’s usually quite dramatic.

I decided to fight my melancholy with tradition, which I always find to be very comforting. So I nipped down the road to the grocery store and got a turkey crown (just the breast) so that I could make a lovely roast dinner. We then decided to go to church for a carol service of some description. We were spoiled for choice as there are several churches near us, all holding services this evening. I was after something very old fashioned and traditional, so I was very pleased to find a service of Nine Lessons and Carols at the church of St James the Less in Pangbourne. Nine Lessons and Carols is a service often held before Christmas and consists – as you would expect – of nine “lessons” or readings from the Bible, and nine carols. I’ve loved it ever since I was a young girl, when I was allowed to light the candles during one of these services at school. I felt extraordinarily grown up being charged with this responsibility, especially as the candles were on candelabras at the ends of the pews and so high up that I had to stand on the pews to actually light them. I’m quite glad I was not sitting underneath any of those I lit though as I remember feeling distinctly unsteady! In later years I began to find the service beautiful for reasons other than that it made me feel grown up, in particular the beautiful readings and carols, and also for how it tells the story of Jesus come to earth.

So, I popped the turkey in the oven and got everything else ready to cook when we got back so that we could head off for the service which was being held at 6pm. First we had to find the church – and although we have lived near Pangbourne for over a year – we were not sure exactly where it was. We did find it quite easily though and I was pleased to find it was very beautiful – old and traditional –which was just what I was hoping for. To see a photograph, please click here. It was lit with candles for the service and the inside reminded both the 21st Century Husband and I of the church we were married in, St Nicholas Church in Chislehurst. It was also beautifully decorated and smelled of pine from the huge Christmas tree at the back. Perfect.

I wanted traditional and that is exactly what I got. The service was from the old order of service, with lots of thees and thous and everything I remember from when I was a kid. Having said that it was not at all stuffy, and there were lots of children both attending and participating in the service. The choir sang beautifully and the whole service was so joyful and comforting. We left feeling not only very Christmassy, but also incredibly centred and blessed.

On arriving home, we opened the door to the wonderful smell of turkey and after a few last minute preparations we sat down to a delicious meal. By now I was feeling so grateful for all the blessings I have I was able to smile at my good memories of the parents I miss so much instead of feeling weepy. I can see this becoming a tradition the last Sunday before Christmas – a service of Nine Lessons and Carols followed by a turkey dinner. It works for me, and I’m sure to have no objections from the 21st Century Husband or the 21st Century Teenager!

It definitely feels like Christmas now.


We drove up to Burton on Trent today to see our friends. The 21st Century Teenager went to kindergarten with their eldest daughter and her mum, S, and I became friends through them. The friendship gradually extended to the whole family and we have all been friends for over ten years now. It was so good to catch up with them after such a busy year. We’ve gotten together a few times for coffee since our move south last December but this was the first time we have had a meal together. S made a beautiful lunch of rainbow trout, lemon couscous and salad and also made two lovely desserts, a tiramisu and some ginger and cherry fudge. Her youngest daughter made a fantastic gingerbread house which we also ate. I was horrified that she was going to cut it up, so insisted on taking the photograph above first, but actually in the end it was so delicious I got over my sorrow at its destruction!!

After a very pleasant lunch, we headed off to our hairdresser. We all had appointments so we were there for a couple of hours, but as she is an old friend we all enjoyed the chance to chat. She has been doing our hair (all three of us!) for over ten years. She has a beautiful salon as well, with a television, lots of reading materials and internet access so there was plenty to do for each of us when it was our turn to wait. We all left with our hair beautifully done and feeling very relaxed and Christmassy, having enjoyed cups of tea and mince pies while we were there.

We did not get home till quite late as it takes nearly three hours to get up to the Midlands from here, but we had all enjoyed the day so much we did not mind the drive at all. It is so nice to get together with old friends.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Private Evening Tour of Windsor Castle

The 21st Century Teenager and I had no problems driving to Windsor yesterday and the 21st Century Husband met us there on schedule so everything started out really well. I’m happy to say it continued that way as well. We were a bit early for our tour (very unusual for us!) so we went to a lovely little teashop beside the very famous Guildhall. Dating from 1687, the Guildhall was the site of the marriage of The Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker-Bowles and also the Civil Partnership between Elton John and David Furniss. Our friends got married there a few years ago and it is an amazing building, well worth a visit. The room they use for marriages and civil partnerships is just gorgeous. But I digress. The teashop was called The Crooked House and it is exactly that - a very small 300 year old crooked house! We all had tea and a piece of carrot cake. The cake was delicious, and the tea was all leaf tea, very traditional. I had camomile tea (I’m still not drinking caffeine), which was made with dried camomile flowers – you could actually see the dried flower heads! (We were all given strainers to strain out the flowers and leaves of our tea before drinking of course.) It was a lovely break before our tour.

By the time we made our way to the castle gates it was getting dark. There were about twenty of us on the tour and the castle was closed to all visitors except for us. We went through the visitor centre first for a security check and then our guide led us through the courtyards. Seeing the castle from inside the walls in the darkness gave us a very unique perspective. We headed for the wing that contains the staterooms and were led by our guide at a leisurely pace through them all. The ropes that normally stop one from looking closely at paintings and furniture were removed so that we could walk wherever we chose (of course no one touched anything). It was lovely to have a such a close look at things. Our guide told us about the rooms, their history and their contents. She was extremely knowledgeable and welcomed questions. It didn’t matter how obscure the question was, she always seemed to know the answer.

I have been inside Windsor Castle once before, in 1989. Of course some of it has changed a bit due to the catastrophic fire in 1992, but it has been sympathetically restored and looks incredible. The wonderful thing about this visit is that as it was night time, all the chandeliers were lit, and we saw the rooms in the most amazing light. Some of the chandeliers were over 16 feet tall – just imagine! The castle was decorated for Christmas and we saw three huge Christmas trees all beautifully decorated.

I will always remember this wonderful tour, not least of all because we were allowed to get so close to the beautiful treasures inside the castle. At one point, whilst looking at a piece of furniture I looked up and realised that on the wall above me there were three original Reubens paintings. It was quite staggering to realise I was inches from these incredible treasures. In another room, we had a close view of Rembrant’s famous self portrait, a painting I have seen in photographs many times. To see it in real life was just wonderful. In St George’s Hall, Queen Victoria’s sleigh was on display for the first time. It was a beautiful sleigh and as our guide described Queen Victoria as passenger and Prince Albert as driver we could almost see them there!

In all, our tour took nearly two hours. At the end we went into a room containing glass cases full of antique china and porcelain. There we were offered a glass of mulled wine and mince pies and allowed to wander at our leisure looking at this fascinating collection. All three of us had the most wonderful evening. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to tour this beautiful historic property in such an enjoyable fashion.

Today went very well too. Despite my claustrophobic experience of being stuck in traffic in the car park in town for over an hour last Friday and my resolution not to drive into town until after Christmas, I drove in for my Pilates class. I parked in a different car park and had an entirely different experience! After my class, I decided to risk doing a bit more Christmas shopping and managed to nearly finish it all. I walked back to the car park feeling ecstatic on one hand to have just about finished, but a bit worried on the other about what it would be like trying to get out of the car park. In the end, I had no problems at all and didn’t spend any time at all stuck in traffic. I did take a wrong turn as I’m not used to parking in that car park, but it was quite a minor inconvenience!

So now I am at home with almost all my shopping done, but I still have not finished my cards (last posting date is tomorrow!) and I do need to wrap all my purchases. But I am getting there, and I do feel a lot more relaxed knowing that. The 21st Century Teenager finishes school for the Christmas holidays tomorrow. I always look forward to him breaking up for the school holidays, it feels like Christmas has really started then. I’ve just had a phone call and a wonderful chat with my cousin in Canada, dinner is in the oven and it feels like all is nearly right with the world. I think I just might be beginning to get into the Christmas spirit!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sneezing, Christmas Cake and a Visit to A Castle

The preparations for Christmas continue in the 21st Century Household, as I try to keep my head above the piles of presents to be wrapped, cards to be written and things to be done! I’m definitely getting into the Christmas spirit that is for sure. The only problem is I’ve got yet another cold (my third in eight weeks!). I find it hard to understand how I can be getting so many colds. Up until now I have not had a proper cold for over three years. Yet ever since we got back from Cyprus I have lurched from one to the other. They are all different as well. The first involved a lot of coughing (which I hate), the second a sore throat and this third one is a sneezy cold. I feel like I’ve turned into a cross between Sneezy the Dwarf and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. (Thank goodness for makeup!) But I don’t feel ill with it, so that is a real blessing. It’s just slightly embarrassing sneezing so much. I’m not a quiet sneezer, no matter how hard I try. The other day I was in the grocery store and everyone’s head’s swivelled round when I sneezed three times in a row. Very embarrassing.

The 21st Century Teenager and I have finally decided what Christmas cake to make for Christmas Day. It’s one of Nigella Lawson’s recipes from her book How to Be a Domestic Goddess called Marzipan Fruit Cake. (It’s on page 34 in my copy of the book.) Made with chunks of marzipan and lighter dried fruits soaked in rum, it is absolutely delicious. The only change I made to it was that there was no Orange Flower Water at my local grocery store so I used Grand Mariner liqueur instead. It was a very successful substitution. I don’t even like fruitcake as a rule and I am struggling not to devour this one. We had another piece of it last night and it is definitely improving with age – although I would have argued that it could not get any better when I first tasted it. I had my doubts when I made it as you actually freeze chunks of marzipan overnight and then mix them into the batter which I had never heard of before. Actually it is a fantastic idea as the chunks get quite soft and then hide in the cake – delicious little almond surprises. So now we just have to make the actual cake for Christmas. I’m a bit nervous as folks here often decorate their fruit cakes with marzipan, icing and goodness knows what else and I don’t think I want to do that with this one. It’s a bit too rich for icing of any kind. I’m thinking about sprinkling it with a layer of Demerara sugar before I put it in the oven so it will just have a golden top, but I hope no one will think I’m being lazy!

I am collecting The 21st Century Teenager at school at 2pm as we have been invited to a special private evening tour of Windsor Castle. We are all very excited about it. It is not actually until 5pm but we need to get to Windsor in all the Christmas traffic. We are meeting The 21st Century Husband there as he is already halfway to Windsor at work so it would be pointless for him to come all the way back here to then go again – not to mention how much time it would take. I have not been inside Windsor Castle since I went with my parents and The 21st Century Husband (when he was my fiancée) in 1989. Of course, if you go to Windsor (and I have been a number of times), you cannot help but see the Castle as it dominates the town, rising as it does from the hill in the centre and sprawling for acres. It is very beautiful. One time when we stayed in Windsor we were at the hotel immediately opposite and were able to watch the Changing of the Guard from our hotel room window. We had the best view I could imagine and it was incredible. This time, the castle is all decorated for Christmas so it should be even prettier than usual. If this tour is anything like the one we had of Buckingham Palace earlier this year I am sure I will be raving about it tomorrow!

Speaking of which, I had better go and get changed. I wonder what one wears to an evening tour of Windsor Castle….

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Weekend

It has been a fun weekend, but it sure wasn’t without it’s share of minor glitches! We are still trying to find a car for the 21st Century Husband. We think we have one, in fact we have put a deposit on it, and are trusting our local dealership to obtain it for us in an auction. The auction was supposed to be on Friday, but then there was a hiccup about the personalised number plate on the car, so it was delayed till next Wednesday. (They are not sure if the car is being sold with the plate, or if the registration number is being transferred.) So we are still hanging, waiting to see if it will be ours and, if so, how long it will take to get it! The garage are assuring us of next Friday but I’ll believe that when I see it! They seem very confident of obtaining it. So I went into the dealership to sign some papers and then thought I would “pop” into town to return some things that did not fit at Marks and Spencer. I parked in the Oracle, which is the local shopping centre, and went off to do my returning, and also a bit of Christmas shopping. I decided to head home about 3.30pm, along with about five hundred other people. In the end I queued twenty minutes just to pay my ticket, but the worse was yet to come. I just about managed to squeeze out of my parking space and into the traffic queuing to get out of the car park. I then sat there, barely moving, for forty-five minutes. I don’t do enclosed spaces, and I was on the fifth floor. I finally managed to inch my way on to the exit ramp, but in the end, it took me an hour and a half to get out of the car park! I had to stop at Waitrose (our local grocery store) on the way home as well, so by the time I got home I really was in need of a very strong drink. Unfortunately it was only just six o’clock so I waited until the 21st Century Husband got home about eight before I had a very relaxing glass of wine!

Saturday we were up early as we had appointments at our aesthetician in Burton-on-Trent – Eve at Eden Beauty. Eve has recently refurbished her premises and is in the process of renaming it Mimi Day Spa. It is looking absolutely lovely. We spent a few hours being pampered – the 21st Century Husband had a facial, massage and manicure, the 21st Century Teenager had a manicure and I had a manicure, pedicure and eyelash tint. Then we had to hightail it back down south on the motorway, as the 21st Century Husband and I were due at a Christmas party in London in the evening.

The driver collected us at 6.45pm, and we set off on a journey which should have taken us about an hour and a half. However, traffic in London was terrible on Saturday night, and in the end we did not arrive at the party until 9pm. It started at 7.30pm, so we kind of took the idea of being “fashionably late” to new heights! On the positive side, our drive took us on the route through the West End of London, past all the amazing shop windows, including the ones at Harrods, which were quite something. We found out later most of the city was blocked up, because of something that had happened on The Embankment, pushing all the traffic on to the roads deeper into the city and causing gridlock. The party was lovely though. It was held in a restaurant called 1 Lombard Street (which is also the address!) located in a building which used to be one of the old establishment banks. The interior was beautiful, all neo classical décor and even a domed ceiling. We had a lovely evening. The company was lovely and the food and drink were just delicious. Instead of a sit down meal, there was a constant stream of intriguing hors d’oeuvres. From miniature hamburgers and hot dogs to tiny canapés and cones of hot chips (French Fries), the waiters and waitresses urged us to try as many as possible. As the evening wore on, the menu then changed to plates of tiny brownies and little baby raspberry cream meringues. The very amusing bar staff kept our glasses full all evening– dancing around behind the bar and creating scenes reminiscent of the old film “Cocktail”. We really did have a wonderful time. The driver collected us again just after midnight. The party was far from over, but it would take us over an hour to get home and I really don’t do very late nights any more. I’m a bit like Cinderella - I wilt after midnight. It was a good time to depart, just as things were still very merry but not too much so!

Sunday was a lovely day, just spend pottering around home. We have had very little quiet time in our new home as we have been travelling and entertaining so much, so it was delightful. We slept late, had brunch instead of breakfast and lunch, and I cooked a beautiful piece of beef for dinner. We also managed to get some of the things on our “to do” list done which was very nice as well. I hope we get to spend some more quiet time at home soon as it really does do us good. It’s funny how when I was younger a full diary was my absolute ideal, but now I have one, I crave quiet times spent at home with my family. Still, the grass is always greener – and sometimes you really do have to be careful what you wish for!

Friday, December 12, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a Stress-less Christmas

I know I am not the only housewife that finds the Christmas season stressful, and it is sad that so many of us feel this way. Expectations are high, and there is so much to do that it is inevitable the odd mishap will occur. Like last weekend when my visiting Goddaughter (aged 6) grabbed hold of the bottom of my antique cuckoo clock and pulled it off the wall. It was a wedding present to my Grandma and Grandpa over eighty years ago. My Goddaughter was nonplussed, but her mother and I were both in tears. I just cannot understand what possessed her. Now my poor clock is sitting on the dining table, being slowly pieced back together. Thank goodness my Dad showed the 21st Century Husband how it all works inside one rainy afternoon a number of years ago. But my poor broken clock seems like a metaphor for the chaos that seems to be reigning here in the 21st century household.

The 21st Century Husband has been away on a business trip for the last three days and now he is back he is trying to address the myriad of computer problems that have plagued me while he has been away – hence the lack up updates to my blog! I am awaiting delivery of my new MACBook computer which I am assured will solve all these problems (and watch out for a new and improved 21st Century Housewife website in the New Year!) but for the moment I am really struggling to keep things current here on the site.

The 21st Century Teenager is in the middle of “mock” or practice GCSE exams. This is preparation for the state set and marked exams he has to write in May and June of next year. These exams determine his future – what he can study and where he can study it. The “mock” exams are usually a good indicator of how they are going to go. So of course the levels of stress are high.

The 21st Century Teenager and I are also trying to find a Christmas cake recipe that we all like – a challenge as none of us are really big fans of fruitcake. This is slowly becoming stressful in itself. Our first attempt – a beautiful recipe from the book Nigella Christmas for a chocolate fruitcake – was incredibly yummy in the making. Frankly I could have eaten the raw ingredients with a spoon they smelled so good. The finished result was delicious in its own way, but still too dark for us reluctant fruitcake eaters. So we are going to try another one of her recipes, this time for a “blond” fruitcake from How to Be a Domestic Goddess. It promises to be much more successful by the very virtue of its light colour. I’m just not sure when we are going to get time to do not only the dry run, but also to make the actual fruitcake we need for Christmas!

Yet in all this chaos, I am finding that the time I am spending cooking and baking with the 21st Century Teenager is a real joy. It’s something we both really love and it is a great time for us to connect and also to unwind. I am so pleased he enjoys cooking – not just cakes and desserts, but actual meals. I think one of the most important things we can do is to teach our children to prepare healthy and delicious food for themselves.

Yesterday we had the electricians in and although the results were wonderful – I finally have an electric hob (stove top) instead of a gas one! – the day itself was pure molten stress as the noise and frustration of the workmen filled the house. It was quite a complicated job, but the results were well worth it. It looks beautiful and I am finally cooking the way I like to after a year of battling with gas, which I have never got on with. I have even managed to set myself alight a few times in the past, but that is another story – and of course by virtue of the fact I am writing this uninjured you will know that I did manage to put those little fires out!

And of course, compared to the upset and chaos of last year, all this is nothing. Yet somehow the sadness from that year does still permeate the season this year, and I suppose it always will. So many people have sad things that happen at Christmastime – it is a challenge to learn how to honour the memories without allowing them to spoil the celebrations.

So in this season of Goodwill, when we are all being told that it should feel like we are living in a Hallmark card or Norman Rockwell painting, be assured that it really is not like that for most people. Having said that, our ordinary days are such luxury compared to what is being lived in most parts of the world, where people are struggling simply to survive. It reminds me how very much I have to be grateful for, and how very blessed I am. And after all, that is what this season is about.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

It's Looking Even More Like Christmas

We completed the first of our trees last night. That’s the 21st Century Teenager putting my angel on the top (with me beside him) when we had finished the decorating. I love putting up the Christmas decorations. We always put on carols – old fashioned ones, like the ones by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra which we all love. I’m not that keen on all the modern carols. I do like some of them, but not many. When it comes to Christmas I’m a bit of an old fashioned girl.

Today we made a trip up to Birmingham for the 21st Century Teenager’s orthodontist appointment. I love our drives up to Birmingham. We talk and listen to music during the drive. A lot of the time we listen to Classic FM. I’m so grateful the 21st Century Teenager has a wide choice of favourite music, from the classics, to jazz to the modern stuff. Mind you, I’ve always liked pretty much all kinds of music as well (except weird modern Christmas carols!). Pretty soon it will be time for the braces to come off and we won’t have as many drives up to Birmingham. I’m sure going to miss them.

I’ve been on the computer shopping online since we got home. What did we do before internet Christmas shopping? It’s so much less stressful than going to the shops. Tomorrow is a really busy day. I’ve got a new ceramic hob (stove top) arriving. It’s going to be installed on Wednesday. Finally I’m getting rid of the gas one. I hate cooking on gas. I know it is supposed to be more controllable, but not for me! Also tomorrow we are getting a big new American style side by side fridge-freezer to go in the kitchen. British fridges can be very small. I have a beautiful built in fridge freezer but it’s tiny. Finally, a year after we moved in we are getting organised!

Saturday our friends are arriving for an overnight visit. I’m so excited. We are taking our Goddaughter into London to see Father Christmas. Plus we are all looking forward to the lights and shop windows. It will be chaos because there will be so many people, but it’s silly not to go in and see it all when you live this close to London!!!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

2nd December 2008 - It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

It’s definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the 21st Century Household. There are presents waiting to be wrapped, glorious red breasted robins at the bird feeder and a sense of excitement in the air. Okay, there are decorations strewn just about everywhere and I’ve only written one Christmas card, but it is starting to take shape.

Yesterday night we retrieved the Christmas decorations from the attic, which was quite a job in itself. Due to the rather chaotic year we have had, boxes got put up in the attic in a bit of a rush. This was further complicated by the fact that the attic was not boarded, so we had to balance everything between the roof struts. (We intend to board the attic, it is just taking a while to organise!) Thankfully the 21st Century Husband and Teenager managed to find everything, picking their way carefully between the beams – despite one breathless moment when I thought we had lost the most important Christmas ornament of all.

I try not to be put too much importance on material things, but this one particular decoration means the world to me. It is an angel, purchased by my Dad when I was two years old. He brought it home and gave it to my Mom, saying “I bought this for April, our little angel.” Of course I was too young to remember that actual day, but Mom told me the story when I was a little girl. Back then, the angel seemed almost magic to me. In fact I was so taken with her that when I bought my first Christmas present for my Mom and Dad it was an angel shaped candle not unlike our treetop angel. I still have them both (we never lit the angel candle!), and my treetop angel has been on nearly every Christmas tree I have ever had – Mom and Dad brought her over for me when I moved to England.

Anyway, after a little while I did find my angel and tonight we assembled the first of the trees. I like having artificial trees. Growing up in Canada, the importance of not cutting down trees for Christmas decorations was a big issue and I’ve always carried that with me. I know you can buy ones with roots on them, but so many have just been cut down without them. Plus the ones with roots rarely survive when replanted due to the extremes of temperature they are subject to. It’s one of my big things. Funnily enough, we did have a couple real trees the first years I was in England (I was over-ruled!), but our cats used to go mad with the smell and try to climb them. After finding not a partridge in our pear tree, but rather a cat in our Christmas tree on more than one occasion (this was usually followed by the collapse of the aforementioned tree), we went back to the artificial variety.

So tomorrow we will begin to decorate the first tree. It’s the one in our living room, the one the angel will go on. I have photographs of the 21st Century Teenager putting the angel on top of the tree every year since he was two. Even when I had to lift him up so he could reach, he managed it. It won’t be a problem this year though. Although last year’s photograph shows him reaching above his head to place the angel, it became apparent last night that this year he will be reaching down to do it! He has grown over six inches in the last twelve months and even at six foot three inches tall shows no signs of stopping. It really brought home to me how much he is growing up.

I suppose that is why the holidays, and particularly Christmas, are often so bittersweet. Of course there is the bittersweet story at the heart of it, the baby Jesus born to save the world in a stable in Bethlehem, the baby who would become the man who took on the sins of the whole world in order to save us. But there is also the bittersweet nature of our own lives – the incredible joys, the heartbreaking sorrows, the myriad of moments that make up our existence. Christmastime brings all those memories back to us. The most important thing we can do is to choose to concentrate on the really wonderful memories. Of course we need to honour and acknowledge the sorrows we all share but it is more important to remember the really wonderful Christmas Days. We need to concentrate on the positive – our child’s first Christmas, or the first time we cooked dinner for our own parents in our own home instead of the other way around - and use the joy that gives us to root ourselves firmly in the now, making new and wonderful memories for ourselves, our families and friends.

I hope it is beginning to look – and feel – a lot like Christmas (or whatever joyful holiday you celebrate at this time of year) in your home too.