Sweetpeas For Dave

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I so wish this was scratch-and-sniff and I could fully share these beautiful sweetpeas wth you all! They have such a powerful scent, my husband’s allergies won’t allow him to be in the same room. But every year he grows me a pot full because they are my favourite flowers and they bloom in July, which is doubly significant as it is my birthday month and also the anniversary of the death of my younger brother, Dave, age 22, who also loved sweetpeas.

I have struggled for some time to find a way to mention him. We as a family find it difficult to talk about him, even after all these years. His death was so violent, so sudden and so incomprehensible. Far fom home. It is still too raw.

This month is so difficult because he died the day after Mum’s birthday, 5 days before my birthday and 7 days before my son’s second birthday, and in between all those dates we had to cope with a post-mortem, an inquest and a funeral. In fact, I learned of his death as I was getting my toddler son ready to attend his friend’s birthday party. I hid my tears as I operated the music for Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs. Since then, we have added three more July birthdays, so this month is bitter sweet.

One of my other brothers and I have spoken about him in recent times, we have different perspectives as I was away from home in the latter years and there are huge gaps in my memories. However, Judith at Nature Knows Best published a post today that happened to be about grief and the colour of one’s kitchen (yes, really, pop over and read it), and it struck a chord – in particular because we are currently choosing the colour of our kitchen! I commented on her post and it seemed to open a way for me to publish my own post on this topic.

Dave was an artist, poet, lyricist, bongo player; he loved animals, nature programmes and being outside; he hated being cooped up. He worked intermittently, finding it difficult to fit in and adhere to another’s routine. He worked for the park’s department so he could be outside.

When we were young, people thought we were twins, there were only 13 months between us. We both looked like our dad: mousey hair, skinny, short-sighted. He was not in robust health through his short life. I remember him having Scarlet Fever and breathing problems. But he was so strong, he could easily beat me at arm wrestling and I still remember the Chinese burns!

Dave was a bit of a cuckoo and there are few photos of him past a certain age as he rarely seemed to be present for family photos. He was always off doing his own thing. The one below was given to me by my best friend, Denny, with whom he wrote many songs and whose guitar he decorated. Denny still uses it. It is well-worn now!

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I cut some sweetpeas every year and bring them into the house for him. They are fragile, colourful and last only a short time, but they have a strong impact while they bloom and few are unaffected by their appearance.

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Copyright: Chris  McGowan

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Paul’s No-Cacao Banana Berry Smoothie w Tiger Nut Milk, in the Garden

Last weekend, my brother and sister-in-law paid a visit during their farewell tour before emigrating to the US. You can read about it here. We had lots of fun and lots of food, all homemade apart from the Persian Christmas Pudding, courtesy of Heston Blumenthal at Waitrose! Remembering that I had caused him to sample rather too much cacao last visit*, I suggested to Paul that we make a different and simpler breakfast smoothie using tiger nut milk, which they had both sampled and approved the previous evening.

This is the result:

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And this is the recipe:

We used the larger Froothie UK Optimum blender and it made enough for the three of us.

All amounts are very approximate!

Rich in protein, calcium, antioxidants, B vitamins, omega oils, potassium and other minerals, vitamin E, prebiotics and probiotics for a healthy gut, fibre.

Vegan, organic, gluten-free.

Ingredients

2 Bananas

Large handful frozen Mixed Berries

2 Heaped Tbsps Golden Linseeds

2 Tbsps Chia Seeds

1 Medjool Date

2 Heaped Tbsps CoYo Live Plain or Vanilla Coconut Yogurt

500mls Homemade Tiger Nut Milk (see here for recipe). Add more if you want a thinner smoothie.

Blend on fast for 60 seconds.

The chia seeds will thicken it if left to stand for a couple of minutes.

I like to use a spoon.

(See Golden Linseeds (aka Flax Seeds): The Original Superfood? and Three Cheers for Chias! What Are Chia Seeds & How Do I Use Them? Recipes included for the benefits of these amazing seeds).

Remember to drink water when consuming chia seeds as they swell and form a gel which helps create a healthy gut and clear the digestive system.

*

The morning was just warm and fine enough to sit outside and listen to the birds. The garden has come to life now, with forget-me-nots and aubretia really showing off while the bright pink Japanese azalea (below), not quite in full splendour, was doing its best to compete.

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Oh, and meet Slugger, descendant of Bruiser, we know this (not really!) because they both had/have white patches on their head and back. They are so-called because they see off all-comers and take no prisoners! Mrs Slugger is busy with their newly-hatched offspring.

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*See Paul’s ‘Too Much Cacao’ Banana Baobab Smoothie! – oddly, it’s become one of my most popular posts!

The Raw Chocolate Company for cacao and chia seeds.

The Tiger Nut Company  for organic, peeled tiger nuts.

CoYo yogurts are available at Ocado and Waitrose.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Being Thankful During Difficult Times.

I have so many things to be thankful for. I know that and am grateful. For one thing, my family.

I had planned an amusing post about the Easter weekend visit from our littlest grandchildren, their first Easter with us. We had lots of fun and the weather co-operated long enough to have an egg hunt in the garden on the Sunday morning. (More later). Then, that evening something horrible happened – not to us, thankfully, but to our young neighbour. Three ambulances with flashing lights were there for two hours, but he was gone. He was 34 years old and leaves a wife and two young children, one so young he will never have any memory of this time or his dad, the other much older who will remember and miss him forever.

This sad event has affected me very badly. I can’t stop thinking about them and how they’re going to cope, and if they’ll even be able to stay in their home. Fortunately, they have a lot of close family around them, supporting them.

It took me most of the week to realise that the depth of my sadness and growing depression was not caused just by the shock but was mostly about the young children. It brought back memories of when my brother and father died suddenly and tragically, in separate events, and I had to process it all whilst still caring for my young children and trying to keep life as normal as possible for them, when it was anything but for me. I found it incredibly hard. This realisation brought on a bout of sobbing I never thought I’d experience again. Neither of them knew my brother (my son was just a toddler and my daughter not yet conceived), my daughter doesn’t remember my dad. (You can read about him in the Original Writing section of the menu).

During that following week, I heard of three others who had lost their lives – all this whilst also sending positive thoughts to three friends who are undergoing serious medical treatments, and fielding repetitive calls from my elderly mum.

I shelved my Easter post idea, I hadn’t the heart and it didn’t seem appropriate.

I’ve been in a bit of a slump.

I had no desire to post, no inspiration, no energy. I ate copious amounts of (raw) chocolate.

Help arrived in the form of my brother and sister-in-law. They are about to emigrate to the US and are doing their farewell tour. It was touch and go as to whether I could get through without any waterworks! I really am extremely happy, and indeed excited, for them as they are moving to be near two of their children and their three young grandchildren. My mum on the other hand is very unhappy and convinced she will never see them again. I spend a great deal of time trying to convince her otherwise.

We had a busy, lively and very chatty 3 days. Lots of eating, lots of talking – till 2 am – we even played a silly game of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? ( I won, not that it was a competition ;-)). My sister-in-law loved walking in the surrounding countryside, fulfilled her desire to have a ride in our Morris Minor and learned how to make a wholewheat loaf from scratch (no breadmaker involved!). My brother brought an ancient photo album of us when we were kids that I hadn’t seen in a long time, and which brought back lots of memories, a few tears and some laughter. Oh,  and we watched The Tour de Yorkshire cycling!

The tea towel was an attempt by my brother to hide his shiny pate whilst I took the photo, and the cardigan over my husband’s head was a hundredth attempt to see if the night-time screen on his iBooks page was working!! My sister-in-law is pretend-stabbing Heston Blumenthal’s Persian Christmas Pudding, which we had been saving for them since Christmas. They loved it. My husband is from Yorkshire and decided to don the new top our son (from Lancashire) gave him and go for a ride during the early stages of the race, no doubt imagining ‘if only…’ The Carrot, Apple & Spice Cakes with Cashew Frosting were a nice afternoon treat.

We ate homemade soup with homemade rolls; watermelon, curry and brown basmati rice with a green salad; pasta with tomato, veg and red lentil sauce, vegan parmesan cheeze (soaked almonds patted dry and ground with nutritional yeast and a pinch of dry mustard) and green salad, and a lovely fruit salad with vanilla CoYo coconut yogurt. We made a family-sized banana berry smoothie with tiger nut milk for breakfast (but no cacao, see Paul’s ‘Too Much Cacao’ Banana Baobab Smoothie!). The weather was just mild enough to enjoy it outside. The apple and cherry trees were in blossom, the forget-me-nots were making a show and the birds were very busy and very loud!

By the time they left, my physical energy was exhausted (in a good way), but my spiritual energy was restored. I felt like my old self again. Yes, my eyes had misted over when we had waved them off, but mostly I was happy and rejuvenated. We had FaceTimed all three of their children and spoken to their American grandchildren. We Skyped my son and chatted to my daughter on the phone. They were relaxed, amusing and chatty despite he taking time out from a busy working day and she being in the midst of invigilating exams – a tiring and stressful time of year – and it was wonderful to hear her so. They made arrangements to visit them too before their final departure.

So, now I feel up to posting some photos from Easter Sunday:

Raw chocolate crisp nests with homemade marzipan eggs were quickly separated and split up as Littlest Little liked the eggs and Elder Little liked the chocolate! Outside, it quickly became apparent that Littlest Little had a thing about silver eggs: he rejected them in favour of the red and gold ones, but his sister was happy to oblige!

They managed to find all the eggs and make it inside before the heavens opened – I wish I could post the picture of Littlest Little with more chocolate around his mouth than in it! The Easter bunny was extremely generous and had even handmade and wrapped all the silver eggs himself;-) It was a lovely, amusing time (oh, apart from the catastrophic flood from a burst radiator in the dining room just as dinner was about to be served! Our son was an absolute hero, stemming the tide for nearly 3 hours before a plumber arrived).

Thank you, family.

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Dad and Dave’s cherry tree currently in blossom

Rest in peace, Jamie.

Also published on Bernadette’s 52 Weeks of Thankfulness page over on Haddon Musings

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Crunchy & Satisfying Black Bean, Red Grape & Hemp Seed Salad

img_2921This is the salad I had for dinner the evening before I began a 3 week juice programme in what turned out to be a relatively mild January. Given that I’ve scheduled this post for March, it is probably snowing outside, but hopefully the sun has begun to appear and remember …

Salad isn’t just for Summer!

There is nothing wilted or boring about this salad, it has a satisfying crunch and crispness plus it takes no time to put together. It is nutrient-dense, fibre-rich and has a variety of colours, providing a wide range of protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.

Black beans are a great vegan source of protein and they make this salad very filling. ( See Vegan Black Bean & Walnut Veggie Burger and Red Lettuce & Black Bean Protein Salad for more information on the health benefits of black beans plus recipes).

The grapes add some sweetness and the resveratrol which gives them their colour is reputed to be anti-ageing and heart-healthy. They also make a  nice contrast with the spring onions, which contain prebiotics – these promote a healthy gut environment in which beneficial probiotics can grow. (Tiger nuts are also good sources of prebiotics).

The Greens provide protein, iron, B vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and aid digestion.

Celery is a good source of potassium, needed for a healthy circulatory system, B vitamins, Vitamin A, Vitamin C , fibre and vitamin K, required for blood clotting and good bone health.

Hemp seeds are rich in protein, B vitamins and healthy fats. (See Shelled Hemp Seeds: Superfood or Psychogenic?! for the full lowdown on these nutrient-dense seeds).

You can add baby tomatoes too if you like, I omitted them because I don’t eat nightshade foods (reputed to increase inflammation and aggravate skin and joint conditions).

Vegan, Gluten-free, Nut-free and Organic where possible.

Ingredients

Half a tin Black Beans, rinsed

Mixed Rocket, Watercress and Spinach, washed

Celery, washed and chopped

Shaved Carrot (washed with peel left on)

Spring onions, chopped

A few Sugar Snap Peas, washed and trimmed

1 Tbsp Raw Shelled Hemp Seeds, sprinkled on

Broccoli, shredded and sprinkled on

Red Grapes, washed

Tamari and Organic Virgin Olive Oil Dressing

Black Pepper

Arrange as creatively as you can, digestion begins with the eyes.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Paul’s ‘Too Much Cacao’ Banana Baobab Smoothie!

img_3076When my brother came for a visit recently, he asked if we could make a smoothie. It was his birthday yesterday, so I thought I would post ‘his’ smoothie recipe.

I let him loose in the kitchen and he chose the ingredients, some at my suggestion as he hadn’t tried them before. I wanted to include peanut butter but he doesn’t like it so I suggested tahini (sesame seed paste, a good source of calcium).  He was sceptical, but in it went before he could object! He hadn’t had cacao powder before (high in minerals and antioxidants), but was keen to try and I suggested he put a tablespoon in. This proved a bit too much for him, and I realised I should have eased him in more gently. I sneaked in some baobab powder,* too, (Vitamin C, minerals, antioxidants) but again I probably should have just used a teaspoon but probably went a little overboard as I like it. He wasn’t sure about the medjool date either (potassium, B6, magnesium, fibre), but was probably influenced by the sticky dried dates we used to have at Christmas when we were children.

There was a bit too much for him to drink – he’s a smoothie novice – so I gave the rest to my sister-in-law. Paul asked if I was going to put the recipe on my blog. Initially, I said no, as I wasn’t sure it had been a resounding success, but I thought about it and decided to put it to the jury.

My sister-in-law loved it, my brother said it was very nice but for him the cacao dominated a little too much. For me, the kiwi was a little unripe! (High in Vitamin C, good source of potassium, Vitamin K – necessary for bone health). I couldn’t judge properly as I was on the final day of a juice plan and didn’t want to have such a rich smoothie just yet, so I only had a taste.

Anyway, I recreated it for this post though I’ve reduced the baobab powder* for the recipe, just in case you’re a newbie too (it has a light, citrusy sherbet taste), but for the sake of authenticity I even used an unripe kiwi!  You can reduce the cacao powder too if you’re not sure. I loved it, what do you think?

This smoothie has protein, fibre, antioxidants, healthy omega oils, potassium, calcium, iron, B vitamins, and will provide you with lots of energy!

All measurements are approximate.

 Vegan, Gluten-free, Nutfree and Organic where possible.

Ingredients

1 Small Ripe Banana

1 Kiwi, peeled

1 Heaped Tbsp Hemp Seeds*

1 Tbsp Raw Cacao Powder*

1 Tbsp Tahini

1 Tsp Aduna Baobab Powder

1 Medjool Date, pitted

Coconut Water, according to how thick or thin you like it.

Blend all the ingredients and serve with ice if you prefer your smoothies chilled.

img_6173Unfortunately, we didn’t take a photo at the time, so I photographed my recreation and sprinkled on some hemp seeds and raw chocolate raisins.* Yum!

Cheers, Paul!

Ps This stool is 44 years old and has a wonky leg, but I love it!

*See my review post The Benefits of Baobab, a Fruity Protein Smoothie + Review of Aduna Bars.

*https://www.therawchocolatecompany.com/

https://aduna.com/

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Zesty Orange Squash Soup – Yes, Really!

img_3106We had 2 butternut squash, several oranges and a lot of dried lemonbalm from our garden queuing up, begging to be used, so I decided to try some of them together. I’ve had squash with nutmeg, squash with cumin and squash with ginger, I wondered what squash with orange would be like.

Lemonbalm is traditionally a calming herb, used to reduce anxiety and stress, promote sleep and good digestion.

Squash, like carrots, have a large amount of Vitamin A and C, and it is a good source of B Vitamins, Vitamin K for bone health,  various minerals and dietary fibre.

So here goes:

 Vegan, Gluten-free and Organic where posssible.

All measurements approximate and substitute what you don’t have.

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Ingredients

1 Tsp Raw Virgin Coconut Oil

1 Butternut Squash, peeled and chopped

1 Large Carrot, if organic wash and leave peel on, chop

1 Stick of Celery + leaves, chopped

Handful of Sugar Snap Peas, washed, topped and tailed, chopped

1/2 Courgette, washed and chopped

Dried Lemonbalm

Black Pepper

1 Low Salt Vegetable Stock Cube

dissolved in

Approx. 600 mls hot water, enough to amply cover the veg

with a good squeeze of

Tomato Puree

Splash of Tamari

1/4 Small Orange, juice and zest

Method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan until the vegetables sizzle when added, but not smoking.

img_3100Add a handful at a time, starting with the squash and carrots, then celery, stir-frying as you go until all are added.

Place the lid on and sweat the veggies on a low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I omitted ‘the veggies’ the first time around and it read a bit funny! I could hear the sniggering at the back of the gallery).

Add a good amount of lemonbalm, about 2 tbsps of crunched up leaves, and a few twists of black pepper.

Pour in the stock, tamari and tomato pureeimg_3102

Place the lid on and lightly simmer (not boil) on a low heat for about 45 minutes until the veggies are cooked enough to blend.

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Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasoning. Cool a little, then partially blend with a stick blender, leaving something of a bite to the soup.

Add a good squeeze of orange juice and a little zest. Stir in and serve.

I had it with lentil sprouts and a toasted slice of Vegan Gluten-Free Tiger Nut Loaf/Bread Mk III spread with tahini, my husband had his with crispy white rolls.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

So How Was It For You?

img_2845As I write, it’s lunchtime on New Year’s Eve. Our last visitors left on Thursday afternoon and it has taken until now for me to process it all enough to put a happy but very hectic week in some coherently written form! The cards are down and I’ve spent some time mindfully cutting out images for next year’s tags and cards, while this post crept up and created itself.

I love having my family here. I don’t see them nearly as much as I would like due to distance, work, school etc., but it is hard work coping with non-stop musical beds, clean bathrooms and differing dietary requirements for a week! When Mum’s here (this time for 5 days), we have constantly to shout and repeat ourselves, add in the stress of watching her shuffle and wobble and making sure the little ones’ toys are not going to trip her up, and you can see how exhausting it can be.

img_2778I think we had 3 full-on Christmas meals plus all the breakfasts,
lunches, dinners and snacks in-between! It was like running a B&B! Here is my youngest grand-daughter trying to pluck up the courage to pull her cracker.

 Mum finally got to meet her latest great-grandson, already 21 months old, when my son and his family paid a flying visit on Christmas Eve and we just about managed the photos before he and his sister giggled and wriggled their way to the car for their journey home.

They left us an amazing amount of (raw) chocolate and a wonderful vegan, gluten-free Christmas pudding, both of which my son had made from scratch. The trickiest part was leaving the steaming to my husband to do on Christmas Day: first of all he asked if he had to remove the foil, then the greaseproof paper! Our son had told him to sit the bowl on an upturned plate to steam it but somehow this had translated to turning the bowl upside down and even to emptying the contents from the bowl altogether! Eventually, we got there and it turned into the best Christmas pudding we have ever had. (Recipe on The Raw Chocolate Company website). It fed 9 of us, at least. Some had smaller or larger portions, some had more than one. I think my husband had the last piece 4 days later.

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The funniest part of Christmas Day was Mum trying to work out why I had given her a pair of Yves St Laurent boxer shorts! Poor Mum. For many years, since the kids were teenagers and would regularly request CDs for Christmas, we have taken to disguising a CD by putting it in a recycled box. Initially it was a Calvin Klein boxer shorts box, lately it’s been YSL. Mum could not fathom the joke. She kept asking why we’d bought her men’s underwear, and in Small! There was a see-through panel on one side of the box where she could see little presents wrapped in Christmas paper as well as the CD, but it all went completely over her head and fell very very flat.

(I once watched my eldest grandson trying to be diplomatically gracious about a box of dried ‘apricots’ I had given him which in fact contained a Harry Potter CD!)

My brother, sister-in-law and nephew joined us on Christmas img_6495
Day and we had a lovely chatty, amusing visit together
. In the afternoon, we all sat and watched The Great Escape and I felt sure Dad was right there with us as we recited all the lines and anticipated our favourite scenes. It was all the more poignant because my brother and sister-in-law will soon be emigrating to the US to be with their children and grandchildren, and I felt like I had to soak up every second of our time together. I know my brother, who suggested watching The Great Escape, was also keen to create memories to take away with him.

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We received some lovely gifts, I won’t mention them all, but these are some that were handmade and/or given to us by our grandchildren.

Our eldest grandson and his girlfriend made us cinnamon biscuits, No.2 grandson gave me a vanilla candle in a blue glass jar which had held lavender, combining two of my favourite smells, and No.3 grandson gave me the pièce de résistance this year: a cross-stitch cushion which had taken him almost the entire year to complete! He is 11 years old. I almost wept when he gave it me, he was so proud of his efforts.

img_6480This gift from my husband (‘Colouring the Tour de France’) was inevitable really, it was more a question of how many I would receive, but they seem to have shared intel this year and it was just the one! Excuse the carpet bags under my eyes, I had injured my back the day before and didn’t have any sleep – plus I was far too excited!

My husband – a chocolate fiend – did very well: our daughter-in-law gave him chocolate whilst our grand-daughter made him chocolate and nut biscuits; No. 2 grandson got completely mixed up when he mistook a box of Thorntons Selection Chocolates for the traditional selection box he had actually intended to buy for Grandad, so he spent a fortune on luxury chocolates, poor lad. But Grandad did share them out.

img_6516The highlight for my husband, though, was that he had company for a frosty morning bike ride! He hadn’t been out for a week as my mum was with us and he couldn’t leave us for such a long period, but once she had returned home 3 teenagers, their parents and Labrador were game for a ride and more than made up for it! There’s a fantastic cycle track nearby that follows the old railway line, going through woods and villages, with beautiful views, streams and wildlife, including otters and foxes. It’s great for families, walkers and cyclists alike.

In between cycling and eating, the teenagers had schoolwork to do, but we managed to fit in some hilarious charades and a film or 3: No. 3 grandson wanted me to watch Captain America: Civil War which he’d brought with him, so I duly obliged, and in return, they watched The Glenn Miller Story with me and were highly amused when I reached for the tissues at the end! In their eyes, it wasn’t a sad ending because he sent her an arrangement of her favourite song for Christmas! The fact that he had died completely passed them by. Boys. No. 2 had learned Pennsylvania 6500 on the violin and No. 3 is keen on becoming a drummer so he enjoyed the extended drum solos. Earlier, they had also tried to school us in Mario Cart on the Wii but spent more time laughing than teaching!

We had a wonderful time and I hope you all had a good break doing things together or alone that soothed or enriched your soul and recharged your batteries. I know I am extremely lucky to have such a big family with whom to enjoy such occasions.

The one thing that overshadowed it all was the sad news about George Michael and Carrie Fisher, both icons for our family. We are huge Star Wars fans and all the younger members went to see the new film in the days before Christmas. Her loss was and is a big shock. George Michael and Wham! were to my young daughter what Paul McCartney was to me when I was growing up. She and her friend knew all the words and all the routines and would keep us amused performing them whilst pretending to have a recording studio where their idols would come to record their latest song. In later years, we admired his professionalism, his superb voice, his candid interviews and his generosity. I had recently watched and admired over again his performance at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert, which for me was the standout performance that day.

I would like to thank you for your friendship throughout 2016 and wish you all a Happy New Year: let us hope for a peaceful one, where we come together with compassion, love and understanding. 

I leave you with my tribute to George Michael. Cheers!

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

I Love Christmas – But It Always Makes Me Cry!

NB I wrote this in Dec. 2016, but it all still applies, except that now my brother and sister-in-law have also joined the list of absentees as they emigrated to the US earlier this year. We will Facetime when my mum is here.

Do you cry at Christmas?

I do.

Every single year.

When the presents are opened, the wrapping sorted out into reuseable, recyclable and bin, the children are playing or listening to new music, Mum and hb are sipping a sherry and there’s that hiatus before Christmas lunch, I silently gather up what I can carry to take to my room and quietly weep.

I have done this for as long as I can remember.

I think some of it is the build-up, the anticipation and then the anti-climax. You spend weeks if not months preparing for this. All the card-making, writing and addressing; the present lists, research, purchasing and wrapping; the endless changing of arrangements for visits and meal plans. The food shopping lists. The dread of a family meltdown or health emergency. The nerves while they open their gifts and you find out if it was right or wrong. All while fighting off viscious viruses – and this year fielding any number of phonecalls from my elderly mum asking if she’s coming on Christmas Eve (she’s not, she’s coming on the 22nd, it’s written on her calendar in her kitchen, but she phones every day to ask and is still telling people it’s Christmas Eve).  And then, in a flash it’s all done.

But the other (major) part is that I miss my family. All of them. The ones that are having that year in their own home (though we always see them at some point during Christmas week), but also and especially the ones that are no longer here.

img_4188I miss my dad. I miss his jokes. I miss the grand gestures: he made it a tradition that he and Mum trim the living room every year on Christmas Eve when we were in bed so it would be a surprise for us on Christmas morning; the 4′ Christmas cracker it took 4 of them to pull when our children were young; the Scalextric set my 5 year old son had been longing for but we couldn’t afford, and he labelled it ‘from Father Christmas’ so as not to upstage us. The huge turkey leg that was his reward for supper on Christmas Eve night when he cooked the turkey.

I miss playing the traditional games. He was a great board game enthusiast and was very adept at getting everyone to gang up on each other while he silently acquired everything in sight or gobbled up all your counters. Yes, it usually ended up with various siblings falling out, and yes we have often played over the years, but it seems to have fizzled out. The teenagers prefer games on their phones or X-boxes. I miss watching James Stewart, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye with him, but I do now have my own copy of Bing Crosby’s Christmas cd which I play on Christmas morning while waiting for our visitors (my husband rolls his eyes, he hates it!).

(You can read more about my dad in these posts: You Were So Much More Than Your Job: A Tribute to My Dad For Father’s DayMy Dad Walked Straight and Tall Like A Soldier and Hand in Hand: A Poem for Father’s Day).

I also miss my grandparents. My Nannie and Grandad.

 

 

 Grandad always had a big smile on his face. Nannie baked like there was no tomorrow. They always came for a quick visit on Christmas morning, to all their children’s families, and we loved going to theirs for Boxing Day tea. There was always such a feast. It covered every surface, including the sideboard in the living  room where centre stage sat an elaborately decorated Christmas cake covered in white royal icing, shiny silver balls, various figures, marshmallows, it was what we all homed in on when we arrived! There would be a decorated, marzipan-covered  battenburg cake for my dad, who didn’t like fruit cake (I carried on these cake traditions in years to come), delicately coloured sugared almonds and sugar mice, candied orange and lemon slices and of course the obligatory chocolate treats on the tree.

I wish I had a photo of this display. I can’t even remember what we had to eat for main course, other than we always had brown bread which I loved and Mum hated! We had sliced white at home and I loved this exotic alternative – I think it was Hovis! I think we probably had cold meat and tomatoes, pickles etc. but it was all just a preamble we had to get through to reach the real prize! There was almost certainly some jelly and cream because Nannie used to bring out her Father Christmas jug, which I now own thanks to my older cousin passing it on when she moved house a couple of years ago. He looks a bit battered around the edges now, like the rest of us, but it’s amazing he’s still with us at all!

 

 

The incredible thing is – and none of us children were aware of this – Nannie had Type 1 diabetes and couldn’t eat any of it. She used to have a tray with a plate holding a slice of boiled ham, a tomato, a slice of brown bread and butter and an orange. This she ate slowly and quietly while we stuffed ourselves until we couldn’t move. Grandad was solicitous of her and all of us at all times. When we had finished eating he would introduce some kind of verbal parlour game we children could manage, always smiling, always chatting. We never felt we were a nuisance. I loved going there.

Christmas also reminds me of their daughter, my cousin’s mum, Auntie Mannie. img_6462Now, her house *was* Christmas to me! As soon as you stepped into her small hallway you were greeted with festivity. There were trimmings up everywhere you could see. And she certainly took after her mum in the cooking department, with bells on! There was so much food, you could have fed a small nation and still come back for seconds. Her pièce de résistance was her sherry trifle! There was always so much fun and laughter in her house. There were 4 of us children, 1 girl – the eldest, me – and 3 boys, and 4 of my cousins, 1 girl, the eldest, and 3 boys. I idolised my opposite number, she is 9 years older than me and always seemed so sophisticated and grown up. In her teens, she had dyed her hair a different colour every time we saw her! She and my dad got on really well, he took the mickey out of her all the time, reminding her when she was getting uppity that once upon a time he used to change her nappies!

I learned to peel Brussels sprouts in her kitchen. She was a terrific hostess and I don’t know how she coped with us all or with the constant heckling and teasing from my dad, but she always gave as good as she got. She was the eldest in his family and had long ago learned to keep him in check.

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L to R Back Row: Grandad, Nannie, Gt Auntie Dorrie, Gt Uncle Arthur, Gt Uncle Billy, Gt Auntie Annie (from Rhode Island), Auntie Mannie, Uncle Henry (German), Cousin. Middle: Gt Auntie Polly, Gt Grandad Gt Grandma. Front: Cousins.

I also miss Gt Grandma, Gt Auntie Dorrie and Gt Uncle Arthur. Always the trio, always together. My great-grandma and her daughter, Dorrie, were like little birds. They were small-framed, but strong, and long out-lived their husbands. Grandma lived to 102 and Auntie Dorrie to 81. Sadly, both succumbed to the after-effects of a fall (as did my grandad at 96). I loved their house. They used to run a post office and haberdashery until they retired and they all moved to a bungalow. There were lace antimacassars on the furniture, a piano, cups and saucers, more laughter. Dad used to tease them rotten, but they laughed so much Grandma’s eyes would water and she dabbed them with a lacy handkerchief. I have her old ladderback rocking chair. It’s too small for current generations to use, but I used to nurse my son on it as the rocking was often the only thing that got him to sleep. Auntie Dorrie used to cycle around until her death aged 81, doing errands and collecting the pensions of the ‘old folks’ in her neighbourhood, who were generally younger than she! At some point over the Christmas period we would visit them as well.

img_6209And my brother, Dave.

In fact, I think that was when I started weeping at Christmas, the first one without him. He died aged 22 and I was 23.

I think of him, Dad and all my older relatives every Christmas morning and silently drink a toast to them when we have lunch. We are not a demonstrative family and everyone would feel awkward and embarrassed if I did this out loud. My children didn’t even know my brother. I find this extremely sad.

A family Christmas can be very hard for those who have lost someone close, especially if recent. The first is always the worst. I always spare a thought for them too. And for those without family or who are estranged.

We have only had one Christmas Day entirely on our own as a couple and it was the saddest day. I watched all my neighbours welcoming children, grandchildren or parents, or being picked up to go to someone’s house for lunch, and felt so very lonely, and I wasn’t even completely on my own. But I felt for everyone who has to witness such Christmas family get-togethers every year while having no-one to share it with. I vowed I would never do that again.

Of course, my husband loved it! He got to watch whatever he wanted on tv, and have beans on toast for lunch – we were saving the grand affair for when our children came next day, so he was having a welcome day having nothing to do with the kitchen!

This year, what started out as potentially a quiet Christmas with my mum will have turned into a week-long session of musical beds! Having discovered she was to be at ours for a few days, first my son’s family have decided to come and see her on Christmas Eve (this is good because Mum hasn’t met her latest great-grandson yet and he’s 21 months old!), then our eldest grand-daughter surprised us as she too wants to come, this is good too as she lives so far away and is in such high demand that we rarely have time together. Next up, my brother, sister-in-law and nephew would like to come for an audience on Christmas Day! Honestly, it’s like playing host to The Queen!

My husband will be taking Mum home on Boxing Day, which just about gives the house chance to recover and the houseworking elves time to clean bathrooms, put away toys, change bedding and restock the cupboards before a hoard of ravenous teenagers and a frisky labrador descend the following day!

I’m exhausted just writing about it! But I am looking forward to seeing them all. I’m happiest when they’re all here and I can sit and just watch them all, listen in and muse on the passage of time and how proud I am.

I hope you all have the opportunity to spend this festival season in whatever way makes you content. I hope you don’t mind my trip down memory lane, I always think about them during this preparation period and I wanted to include them however I could. Giving them a place in my blog is my tribute to their continuing presence and importance in my life.

I raise my glass to them and to you.

Thank you for reading!

Merry Christmas! 🎄

PS Here’s a video of my favourite Christmas Song by the lovely Dora Bryan – I and 2 of my friends performed it at the parish Christmas concert in our village hall! (Thank goodness there were no camera-phones in those days!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Rare Family Get-Together

img_1537We had my 86 year old mum staying with us for a few days last week and my brother and sister-in-law were able to make the trip up north from the south coast to spend the day with us on Friday. They had only recently returned from a family visit to the US, and Paul was suffering a creaky back from the plane journeys and playing with babies and toddlers, so I was extremely grateful that they made this special trip.

Mum only gets to see them about once a year as they live so far
apart and they spend a lot of time in the States visiting their son and daughter’s families.
She is very restricted in her mobility now and extremely deaf, we don’t know how much longer she will be able to travel here as it is a real struggle for her to get in and out of our car and up the single step into the house, so these get-togethers take on greater significance as the months go by.

We had a lovely day, swapping photos of our grandchildren and funny stories from our childhood. Mum learned about a few things my brothers used to get up to! She is always amazed at my powers of recall but she later told me a story I didn’t remember at all, of when we were very young and she looked up out of the front window to see cows in the garden, and in her neighbours’ gardens. They were trampling the borders and churning up lawns. Some roadworkers had left the gate open to the field they were in further up the street and they had escaped. This was a brand new urban council estate, so although we lived on the edge near surrounding fields, this was an unusual sight to say the least. We were the only ones in the street with a phone and someone suggested she call the police. She said she lived to regret it as she was called as a witness in the prosecution of the elderly farmer, whom she felt very sorry for.

Before Paul and Jila had to leave, we managed to perch on our new very firm sofa for a rare family photo:

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The Three Not-So-Wise Monkeys!

The following day was really warm and sunny and Mum and I were able to have lunch outside in the garden. She’s not able to sit out in her own garden and loves the peace and quiet here. We are very fortunate to have a back garden that is an oasis of sun and tranquillity, despite living on a very busy road. Often, there is just a distant hum of an airplane and the thwack of willow on leather from the nearby cricket club or a cheer from the bowling green around the corner. Mum loves the birds, but unfortunately can never hear them singing (she refuses to wear hearing aids!), which is a shame because the robin was trilling his heart out in the hawthorn tree for her. She is developing cataracts too, so she couldn’t see him, either.

She did however have some afternoon entertainment watching her son-in-law ‘scrumping’ or picking apples from the tree for her to take home. He was bumped on the head more than once from falling produce. He hade made an apple crumble the previous day which she enjoyed and she was going to take some apples back for herself and her neighbour.

I am always on pins when Mum is here in case she has a fall, but the visit passed without incident. She enjoyed speaking to our daughter on the phone on her last evening here and we sat up relating more stories from the past. I am always conscious of soaking up all the details when she speaks and I jot down dates and places. Her memory is starting to go in and out now, so I make the most of these moments.

My husband drove her home on Sunday, checked all her lightbulbs, plugged in lamps, checked the timer and clock on the heating and fixed the timer for her security lights. She is always happy to be home and is much more confident in her own surroundings. I am grateful that he does all this for her and makes the long and difficult journeys to bring her here and take her back, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to see each other.

Some October garden photos (copyright: me)