Talk About Cheesecake

Musings, meanderings and meditation for my mind.


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In memory, one year on.

When I was a child, every Christmas or New Year we would pack up our car with presents and set off on the 3 hour drive to Bolton to stay with my dad’s cousin – the only remaining family he had.

My dad’s cousin M had married Errol, a slightly round, slightly short man with a beard who had a raucous laugh. They had two children, S, who was older than us and off and married before I was old enough to really play with her, and P, mid-way between my two brothers in age.

I remember the Christmas where we tied strong across the doorhandles, locking our parents into the lounge – and incidentally away from the booze – so that they had to climb out of the window and run round to the back door to get into the house again. We would booby trap the stairs with rope and party poppers, whilst Errol and my dad would mount an assault and attempt to reach the landing.

I remember when ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc’ was on TV. My mum said I was too young to watch the end as it was scary, so P woke me up early in the morning to watch a recording of the last few minutes. P, unlike my own brothers, also liked to read. I would spend hours in his room working my way through his collection of Terry Pratchett while the boys went off to do whatever boys did without annoying little girls following them around.

Each New Year P, as the tallest male with dark hair in the house, would get thrown out of the back door and sent to knock on the front, carrying a lump of coal to bring the house luck for the coming year.

Sometimes the cousins would come to our house for Christmas. The boys would have to sleep downstairs in sleeping bags. I was never allowed to join them though. They came to stay one summer, I don’t know why, but I recall Errol challenging my mother to drink whiskey with him. My mum likes a glass of whiskey at night, but she is not a heavy drinker. I believe between them they finished a bottle and my older brother brought my mum up to bed. I was 18 at the time, as I had to work the next day and came home to find my mother suffering in the garden with her shades on. Errol is, I think, the only person I have ever seen manage to get my mum to drink that much.

I don’t remember much more about Errol, except that he was always smiling, always happy and ready to have a joke. He seemed to find great joy and a reason to laugh in everything we did. He liked to smoke and have a drink. Of course, he had a northern accent that we southerners found hilarious and my brother would mimic all the way home after a visit. But I didn’t take too much notice of him – he was just another adult.

At my wedding last year the cousins were of course all invited. It was a family occasion, the first time we had all been together in some time but also the first time Errol had had his whole family, all the way down to the grandchildren, around him in some months, now that they were scattered across the world as our generation tend to be now, following the work. I like to think he had a fun time. I remember catching glimpses of him with cigarette in one hand and beer in another watching us all party and laughing.

Some time during the night of my wedding Errol had a heart attack. He fought it valiently, but he passed away two weeks later, the day Mr G and I returned from our honeymoon. Two days and one year ago today.

I am glad that his last full day with us all was spent partying, cuddling his grandchildren and surrounded by happy, laughing family. One year on, I remember a cheerful, happy, joking man who was well loved by family, masses of friend, and is missed.


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I think I finally did it!

I think I finally did it. I do believe I have accomplished challenge number 1 of the New Year. I have finally eaten all of the leftovers.

Yes, it was tough. It has been a struggle to reach the end but I stuck at it. I have to thank my family for their support and even friends for the help they gave at difficult moments.

The turkey was made into pie – we finished that first. The ham became sandwiches. The carcass added to the stock. That in turn created soup, which was a handy place for adding the small remnants of cream and cranberry sauce. Mr G ate the apple pie (it’s his duty, after all). The kids cleared out the chocolates and the dog ate the last of the bubble and squeak (there was definite squeaking from somewhere after all those sprouts).

I have just troughed  daintily dissected the final piece of the rum truffle torte. The decorations came down yesterday and the New Year hangover was beaten into submission last night after putting up a good fight most of the day. That last piece of torte signified the end of the festive period. That is that. All done.

Phew.

Now, what ever shall we have for dinner tomorrow. I have a sudden craving for vegetables.

veg


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It’s Christmas! Part 4 – Time!

Where does December go? Just a few weeks ago it was fireworks night. Christmas was a thought, only glanced at because of the debate over who would be here for dinner on the day and some half hearted attempt at organising presents early.

By the 1st of December we had a decision on who would be attending. A week later and I had prompted the kids to write their letters to Father Christmas, so that I had some idea of what Kid 1 was expecting this year (we had lots of hints at massive lists, references to “something amazing I saw on the telly mum, you know what it was”, but nothing confirmed). I had headed off the more extravagant requests – “Mum, I’m going to ask Santa for an iPad because his elves can make me one“.

I had even started browsing online and picking up the odd little item when I was out and about. Things were under control.

And then – suddenly it’s mid way through the month, my parents are coming to stay for the weekend, it’s the only time we will see them before Christmas and I have no presents.

PANIC

Of course, suddenly having a deadline and nothing arranged I did my usual brainstorm and came up with ‘the best idea ever’. Oh yes, this year I wouldn’t buy family presents. I would make them! Two days before my parents were due to arrive I decided to make presents for all of the adults in my family. All eleven of them. 

Ignoring my growing pile of work, off I popped to have a go for the first time at making sweets. Not just truffles, which look good and are actually easy to make. Of course not. I decided to have a go at fruit pastilles. I saw a recipe, it looked easy. I went for it.

2 days of mashing, pulping, straining and setting followed. I ended up with – well, slightly firmer jam.

I retreated to the fail safe of truffles.

After the parents left again I realised I had 10 days till Christmas. All the shopping to do and delivery times to take into account (I am an internet shopper, tramping about shops being indecisive makes me cross). In addition there was the groceries to arrange, costumes for children’s nativities, cakes for end of term parties, cards to post and a house to clean and decorate. Christmas just wasn’t so far away.

Kid 1 went down with a virus. Mayday!

Suddenly I couldn’t get out and about to get chores done, I had a sick child at home. I couldn’t get any work done, Kid 1 required cuddles and multiple glasses of water.

Kid 2 quickly followed.

Sigh.

So, here we are! It is Christmas Eve eve. I am finally catching up on my blog. Food shopping is done – online. Present shopping done – online. The ham is in the oven, the rum truffle torte is chilling in the fridge. The decorations are up, the children are feeling much better. Tonight I’ll be wrapping, tomorrow I’ll be cooking.

Yes, time just disappears at Christmas. There is always a period of panic, but in the end it all comes together.

 

Please, tell me it’s not just me!

 

 

(In case you were wondering, I am very behind on work. Well, something had to give! Looks like I’ll be getting up early next week!)

 


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It’s Christmas! – Part 3 The Sexism

Carrying on from my previous posts about Christmas, I have noticed this year that there is a lot of discussion about how sexist Christmas is. There is that Asda advert that has everyone in uproar over it’s portrayal of mum the Christmas hero and dad the useless layabout. I was watching ‘The Wright Stuff’ on telly yesterday that spent a good twenty minutes discussing how very sexist this advert is, how offensive it is to men and how it perpetuates the stereotype that women should be in the home.

Is it sexist though – or just representative of the majority of the country? This is not to knock the efforts of the single dad or the house husband or any other home where the mum is not the Christmas-maker. But sometimes, as a women, I do get fed up of being told I have been  somehow mind-washed into my place.

 

Take my house, for example.

Mr G works long hours, outside in the cold all day. Often in the evening he falls asleep on the sofa. Stereotypical man.

I work long hours in my heated office with time to wander about getting coffee and browsing the internet. I also do all the school runs and most of the cooking. Stereotypical woman.

But at weekends, Mr G does the washing and helps with the cleaning. I get a lie in before we go shopping, often together. We are a team.

At Christmas, I do the present shopping. I know what presents the kids want, what toys they already have and realistically, no matter what they asked for, I know what they will actually play with. Mr G only has to buy for me and I can already see the stress showing as he tries to think of something great.

I order in all the food for Christmas. Mr G carries the boxes of decorations downstairs, I put up them up with help from the kids. On Christmas Day, Mr G lugs about furniture, pushes about the vacuum and carries heavy over laden trays of turkey, but generally I do all of the preparation and cooking.

Arguably then, the mum does do the majority of Christmas in our house. I fit the stereotype. However this is not to denigrate the tasks that Mr G does. They are important and they help in getting the task accomplished. In my opinion, we work as a team, while I do take on the majority of the obvious load. But there are reasons for this.

Firstly, I am a control freak. In my head I have the vision of the perfect family Christmas. In order for me to achieve that, I need to control the situation. I provide direction where I can, delegating where possible. But to get my Christmas, I have to work at it.

Secondly, I enjoy providing this special day for my family. I want to see the kids happy little faces and know it’s because of the work I put in. I didn’t need this feeling of accomplishment when I was childless, but now I do. Perhaps it’s something that was injected with the other hormones during pregnancy?

I wasn’t offended by the Asda advert. I took it as an exaggerated, mildly amusing view on the sterotype. Offensive no, just not very original.

 

It seems to me that there are more outcries than ever in this day and age. “That’s sexist.” “That’s offensive to women/men.”

Yes, there are men out there who like to cook and clean, there are women who want to work on building sites. There are house husbands and women CEO’s.

But there are also many women who actually enjoy doing the home making and child rearing. I consider myself to be a fully independent woman. I enjoy working for myself, running my own business and making my own choices. I also enjoy being able to take care of my husband and children, keeping them fed and happy. Yes, I will share the daily grind of cleaning and washing, but when it comes to making a moment special, I like to do it for them.

Does it ever occur to these people who throw the word sexism out there all the time that actually many of us choose the stereotype because we want to?

 

 

 

 

 


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It’s Christmas! – Part 2 The lunch list

I previously wrote about the stress of the Christmas gift list. But that’s nothing compared to the question of where to spend Christmas.

Christmas is meant to be a holiday. I don’t know about you, but to me holiday means relaxing and spending time playing with my kids. It means having fun, long walks and doing what we, as a family, want to do.

Of course there are elements of this at Christmas. Generally though, Christmas means spending time with all of the family. Which would not be so bad, if most of mine were not at least 2 hours away in different directions.

The first discussion of the year is of course where to spend Christmas Day. Once we have the big decision out of the way, we can work on fitting in the rest. Mr G likes us to be with his parents. He doesn’t want them to be alone. I am pleased I have a caring and conscientious hubbie. I do however want to see my parents too but they live 120 miles away so it’s my parents or his.

My parents could stay with us, but we must take into account that my dad wants to have Christmas in his own home sometimes. My mother likes to have all her children come home to her occasionally. Insert into that my brother, who wants to spend some of the holiday in his home and also has to fit in his mother-in-law.

Meeting everyone’s wants can be exhausting.

My solution to this was to set up a rota. Call me over controlling. I thought we could just take it in turns. One year we would spend the day with his parents, the next year with my parents and the year after that have all of them at our house. At least then I get to see my parents two years out of three.

Of course we have not yet managed to time a visit to my parents once to coincide with my brother’s family. Six years into my rota and my mother has changed her plans for this year to have my brother at her home rather than come to mine. Hey, we roll with the plan. I am nothing if not flexible.

Concluding where we spend Christmas Day is only one part of the challenge though. This year we are at home with Mr G’s parents. Now we can establish part 2. The guest list. Because while we were organising our own family, Mr G’s sister needs to arrange hers. If they want to see her parents too, that’s another 5 bodies for lunch.

Now I am cooking for eleven. Which is actually less than the usual fourteen it would have been had my parents been coming with my younger brother.

Now we have a plan. The guest list is arranged. For one day. Just the other two weeks of holiday to plan now.

Am I alone in thinking Christmas is not relaxing?


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It’s Christmas! – Part 1. Present shopping

The conversations have started, the discussions are underway. It’s the time of year where we tentatively start probing our way through the entanglements, mindful of the fragile egos, the touchy feelings and the obligations to extended family.

It’s time for us to worry about debt, fret over etiquette and wear ourselves to the edge of exhaustion in ensuring perfection.

Yes, it’s Christmas.

Don’t misunderstand me, I love Christmas. Well, I love the idea of what Christmas should be, the ideal that I hold as an image in my mind and strive to achieve every year.

However Christmas comes with bundles of stress, so I decided I would start to document each one as it occurred!

Part 1 – Present Shopping

I enjoy shopping for gifts for my family and friends. In theory. The idea is to choose a thoughtful present that will bring them some pleasure.

In reality the adult family that surround me don’t really *need* presents. They have disposable incomes and I have a budget limit. If there was something in the £20 and under category that they really wanted, well they would just buy it for themselves. And so every year I have the same dilemma.

I want to buy my parents gifts. After all they brought me up and lavished care and love on me. I like to show them that I appreciate all they did. I want to think of something special. However to be honest, I cannot afford my mother’s taste and my father is happy with a book. That he has chosen.

My middle brother has completely different taste to me. Last year I bought him a fun new wallet covered in superhero comic strips. He made it clear he found it childish and would never use it. On Boxing Day I recovered the wallet and gave it to Mr G, who does have a sense of humour like mine and has used it ever since.

My elder brother is an unknown quantity. I have tried fun presents, childish gifts, games, jokes and gadgets. Each time he thanks me and places it in a pile that I know will go right to the back of a drawer. Well, apart from the year that he commented that I had not even got him a present. I replied that I had in fact bought him a ‘Bop it‘ game to which he responded “Oh yes, that was my best present that year”. And he meant it. The lesson here being that he actually takes no notice of anything I get him anyway!

As for the in-laws! The parent-in-laws say every year not to waste our money, but Mr G feels he should get some token present and ends up spending more in a rush than I would have given time to think it over. My sister-in-law loves presents, but only ones she has chosen.

Which raises another point. The gift list. I have annual discussions with friends who agree that we don’t like being given a list of things to buy for each person. Where is the thought in that? When my brother produces an email detailing which CD’s he would like and who should buy them, how is that personal? On the other hand, if I deviate from the list I know my money will have been spent on a little bit more drawer filler.

And then there is the etiquette of friends. Last year Kid 1 was bought a present by a school friend, so we should get one back. But if we don’t see them over the festive period, should we bother? The neighbours have invited us for drinks, do we have to take presents for their kids, or just wine for them? I know my mother’s elderly friend gives her something for my kids, do I have to buy for her grandchildren? I have already agreed with some close friends that ‘I won’t buy for yours if you don’t buy for mine’ in the spirit of mutual money saving!

So I wonder, with all this stress – are Christmas presents really for family children only? Should we adults agree that actually we don’t need gifts from each other. When completing the shopping list becomes more of a of a chore than a pleasure, maybe it is time to stop spending.

 


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September Blues

SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Two of the main symptoms are a low mood and a lack of interest in life . . . 

Changes seem to just get us down, or is it actually a response to the end of a climactic time of year . . .  I have noticed the signs amongst my friends right now, the September Blues are here.

I love Christmas, the whole shebang. I love choosing presents for friends and family, and despite the backache I get every year from hunching up on the floor over rolls of paper and sellotape, I like wrapping them too. I have a picture in my head of my family sitting round the roaring fire, festooned with garlands and smelling of cinnamon, drinking hot chocolate (with marshmallows of course) and eating hilariously shaped festive cookies. We will of course be playing games – there will be cuddles and laughter and singing of carols. Then extended family and favoured friends will come by for mulled wine and mince pies and stay for a luxurious Christmas dinner. That’s the image I see and I try every year to make happen.

Of course, every Christmas is a little more stressful, a little less ‘movie magic’. After all the running about, monumental cleaning effort involved before family comes to stay, decorating the house, extracting tinsel from the cat and baubles from the dog, a day of cooking  . . .  well, you know how it is.

And then there is a brief period of stasis and, it’s all over, New Year comes and goes and I feel a little bit SAD. The start of a new year of work is upon us – it’s back to the routine.

But all is not lost, there is another phase of excitement coming up, because I start to plan for the summer! Dieting, holiday searching, planning getaways and events, BBQ’s and late night wine drinking under the moonlight.

School’s break up and again there is a picture in my head. This time it’s of boiling hot summer days, picnics with the kids in a meadow of long grass and dandelions, a bubbling brook nearby (What is a bubbling brook, exactly? After all, if I saw a stream frothing and bubbling away I would be concerned about imminent volcano eruptions and gas leakages). Lounging in the garden while the Mess Machines are jumping in and out of their paddling pool. Skipping merrily, hand in hand, down the yellow brick paving  . . .

And then, that’s over. School term is here, the uniform shopping frenzy is complete, I have compared the cost of school shoes in disgust, I and all mums everywhere breath deeply and say how nice it is to send them back to school and have some peace. And within a day, or at least the first week, there we are, back into our routine and along comes that feeling of SAD.

Oh well – fifteen weeks to Christmas!