Category Archives: Holidays

Looking Forward, Not Back

Another year begins. Thank goodness we could say goodbye to 2020, but the less said about that, the better. It’s a time to look forward, not back, and think about what is to come, make a few plans, list a few goals. One of which, is to publish my next novel in the Filton Shield series plus a self-help book.  We have plans to have a new kitchen fitted; mind you, we’ve been planning to do that for the last 5 years! I seriously intend by the end of this year, the kitchen will be upgraded, the long-needed and yearned for eye-level oven installed. Meanwhile, whilst the weather here in the UK is cold and wet, many parts enduring snow, between bouts of writing and painting, housework and reading, I take daily pleasure in watching the birds in the garden and, more importantly, hunting for signs of Spring. And I’ve found some. Hurrah!

Yes, lurking by the front hedge, the snowdrops are up and in flower, patiently waiting for a sunny day when the white flowerheads can open fully and perform their delicate nodding displays. Mixed in with these I spy the first of the crocus (yes, I know the plural is croci, but to me it’s easier to say and people know what I mean) growing the lawn are up, their long purple flowerbuds holding tight until the sun shines on them. They’re a little late arriving this year; most years this particular variety is in flower as early as New Year’s Day. And looking across the lawn, I can see more and more dark green and white striped sword leaves of later crocus poking through the grass, a promise of a colourful display to come next month.

We missed last February’s crocus flush as we were abroad on holiday, likewise the early daffodils, but they too are growing well, their leaves coming through since December. So too are the hyacinths planted in the shelter of the long hedges. And my ever-faithful hellebores are in flower with more to open up as the weeks move along.

What are starting to come into flower, and rather early, are our wallflowers, the plants surrounding the drive looking exceedingly verdant and healthy. I don’t think I’ve seen wallflowers plants so vigorous. I’m looking forward to them being in full flower as their perfume is wonderful on warm spring days and fill my heart with joy.

To help us through the dark dismal days of winter we grow many flowering plants and bulbs indoors. Hyacinths, whose intoxicating smell fill the house, the bulbs of which when the flower is finished, we plant outside along the hedges to flower year after year. And we have two cactus plants, a white and a red flowered one. I noticed yesterday my white “thanksgiving” cactus is in bud again after dropping its last flowerhead just before Christmas. Along with these we have a lovely red amaryllis. Usually a single-stemmed plant, this year it has outperformed all others by throwing up three flower stems, each with magnificent scarlet flowers.

And, of course, my orchids. It wouldn’t be the same without these exotic but easy to grow plants around the house, these two magnificent specimens sitting on the mantelpiece.

So yes, Spring is definitely on its way here and there is so much to look forward to and am eager to get outside and start the spring tidy but that must wait at least until late of February. Hopefully, if the world has sorted itself out by the autumn we can plan another trip abroad, a lot depends on many factors, but it is something else to look towards, as are visits to garden centres. But what I’m really looking forward to is the sun and summer. To be able to sit in the garden with my morning coffee or evening cocktail, to feel the warmth on my body, see blue sky and smell the roses. It will all come in time. Simple inexpensive pleasures that fill the heart and swell the soul. Bring it on!

What do you look forward to most this year?

Kit Domino’s website and blogs

‘Tis The Season To Be Jolly

And suddenly Christmas is almost upon us once more. Despite the difficulties of the past year, it has crept up seemingly faster than ever. I should have been more prepared, after all the shops were playing seasonal music since November, cards and decorations and seasonal food on sale back in September and the Christmas movies on TV since the summer! Not that I have much to prepare. As it has been for the past 20 years, ours will be a quiet time, just Dave and me and my mother, who finally decided yesterday she did indeed want to come to us again. No presents, no fuss, no crackers, just enjoyable food and a little drink or two and even more enjoyable company with the Christmas tree twinkling in the corner, and hopefully a good movie or two to watch on TV.

Talking of TV, the Christmas advertisements haven’t been up to their usual standard this year, in our opinion, although there is one that has moved me to tears. No silly song, indeed, no dialogue whatsoever but the sentiment is so strong it brings a lump to my throat every time I watch it.

https://youtu.be/yg4Mq5EAEzw

With my mother being German, we were bought up with many of the German Christmas traditions, from the Christmas tree never being put up until Christmas Eve, when us children were in bed so it became an extra special magical Christmas morning, to the Advent Calendars, sent from Germany by our grandmother (Oma), years before they became available or popular in the UK. They were simple affairs, a little religious scene behind every dated window or door, and lots of glitter. No chocolates or treats or perfume or even bottles of gin that are so popular nowadays – the ones for adults, that is. These came each year in a large parcel sent from Germany at the end of November, along with a homemade Stollen, Lebkucken, iced gingerbread hearts, packets of Dr Oekter vanilla sugar (because Mum couldn’t get any in the UK), special coffee beans, our presents from Oma, along with other items for Mum and Dad. I will never forget the aroma that filled the house those days when the parcel arrived and opened. Now Stollen and Lebkucken and other German treats are readily available here, much to my family’s delight although nothing yet beats Oma’s baking.

Lovely memories of childhood Christmases fill me each year, and for many a year I have been on a quest to find a recipe my mother would make just after the festivities were over. Years ago you couldn’t buy beer in the supermarkets like you can now. If you wanted to drink beer at home, especially for parties, you bought glass flagons of it from the off-licence section in the pub. When you needed more supplies, someone had to take the empty bottles to the off-licence to be refilled. Of course, the beer went flat very quickly if not drunk and, rather than waste it, my mother would use some of it in beef stews and casseroles and as a special treat, make beer soup! I can taste it now, in my mind. But I have never been able to find the recipe for it. Mother cannot remember the recipe now, nor can she find her German cookery book in which it was written. All I can remember is she used to put custard powder in it.

I have spent many years trawling recipe books and the internet to no avail. Yes, there are recipes out there, but they all include cheese and made with lager, all claiming to be the original German beer soup, but cheese nor lager was ever used in ours or in that Oma made. Try as I might to recreate it adjusting from those recipes, I failed every time. However, a few days ago I came across a site that had many old German recipes from a cookery book dated 1897 and low and behold, there was one for beer soup that sounds very much like the one I know.

Beer Soup
1 cup dark beer
1 cup water
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Pinch salt
1 egg yolk
1 heaping tablespoon flour
Place egg and flour in a heat safe bowl; set aside. Heat beer, water, sugar, and salt until just before boiling. Pour beer slowly over egg and flour, constantly whisking.  Return to pan. Serve hot.

I haven’t tried making it yet, but I intend to.

Of course, Christmas isn’t Christmas without a carol or two, so here is one of my favourites “Oh Holy Night” sung by four gorgeous hunks to sign off with. But before I go, I want to thank you all for your friendship and support during this difficult year and wish each and every one of you a Happy, Safe, Merry and Enjoyable Christmas, no matter how you are celebrating yours. See you in the New Year.

https://youtu.be/a5j_XuATgRU

Kit Domino’s website and blogs

Christmas – In Song

Jillian here. I promise I had my idea for this post before I saw Lavada’s Elvis song. 🙂 I thought I’d share some links to some of my favorite Christmas songs.

My all time favorite is Do you Hear What I Hear by Bing Crosby

Michael Crawford (the original Phantom of the Opera) has a fab Christmas album. My two favs on there are Mary Did You Know and Strange Way to Save the World. The second one always makes me tear up.

Harry Belafonte’s Mary’s Boy Child is another one I love.

A bouncier song is Vince Vance and the Valiants All I Want for Christmas is You – It is def not the Mariah version and I like it much better.

I adore the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Their song, Dream Child is one I listen to over and over. I could only find a live version of it, so I am linking to the words as they are so beautiful.

Seth McFarlane can be vulgar in his comedy, but he does have a wonderful Christmas album. His gift for voices shines in the album songs.

What about you? What are some of your Favorites? And let me know if I screwed up any of the links! Happy December!

November Means Veterans Day and Remembrance Day

Jillian here. Sorry this will be a long post! It’s November and since this is the month we remember our veterans—on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, I thought I’d share some tidbits about the veterans in my own family.

My Revolutionary War ancestor was Thomas Gresham (yes, my U.K. friends, I am related to Sir John and Sir Thomas Gresham—perhaps you’ve heard of them 😁 but that’s a story for another day). One of the later generation younger sons came to the colonies in 1690. By the time of the Revolution, we’d been here long enough to become attached to this place and my five- times great grandfather enlisted in Washington’s Army at the tender age of 15. He survived that long, freezing, brutal winter at Valley Forge (got sick and lost some wages as was too ill to fight for a bit) and also survived the war- thank goodness he did or you wouldn’t be reading this post!  🙂 When I think of what I was doing at age 15, my admiration grows for this young man and all the others who stood with him.

My great uncle, William Eugene Fowler died at the Battle of the Bulge and is buried in one of the American cemeteries in Belgium. He was an army sergeant and died while in battle, but not before saving five of his men and pulling them to safety. My dad, who was a tot at the time, as he was born in 1940, loved his Uncle Eugene. My great grandmother had a portrait of him in a massive oval frame with one of those bubble glass fronts. My dad would carry that thing around even though it was as tall as him. Thinking about the sacrifice Uncle Eugene made—saving others— without regard to his own safety, makes me proud to be related to such a brave man.

My dad enlisted in the Navy when he was still in high school and left for boot camp a few days after he graduated. He was already engaged to my mom. His mom and dad moved from their farm into town while he was gone and he didn’t know where they lived when he got back. And my grandmother had gotten rid of all his civilian clothes as she thought he’d always be in uniform and wouldn’t need them. 😁 —he served during the Vietnam era and volunteered to go over, but he wasn’t allowed as he was a weapons instructor and was needed stateside to train the young me who would go. He’s always felt a little like he cheated by staying in the USA. This is him below:

His younger brother, Robert, always wanted to be in the Air Force. He was a fun person and a real ladies man. I remember him well even though he died when I was almost six. He injured himself in boot camp and was told he was going to be shipped home as his back injury was so bad, he wouldn’t be able to serve. Despondent that he’d never have the life he’d always dreamed of, and with no loved ones near to help him, he took his own life. It was terrible and so sad. My dad was the one who had to tell his father as the Navy commander was contacted by the Air Force as they had the records that Dad was his brother. The commander called my dad into his office and told him.  My poor dad had to make that terrible phone call to his father. My grandmother was never the same. Her bible, at her death, had so many notes in it where she was praying on paper for understanding of the death of her fourth son. I share this to say I don’t consider my uncle a coward. I consider the pressure he was under and the loss of his lifelong dream as the impetus for his actions. If only there had been the kinds of services we have now for counseling back then, I think he’d still be here.

And lastly, my nephew, Kyle ____ (his middle name is Eugene), who is very much like my Uncle Robert, charming, fun and a ladies man (they even look similar), is currently serving in the Air Force. It’s like we’ve come full circle with him and my uncle. Kyle is following Robert’s dream. Maybe not exactly the same exact dream, and we hope the ending isn’t the same, but I do find it comforting that Kyle found his own path, that included military service, and has been following it for more than 12 years now.

What about you? Any stories to share about loved ones who served in your branches of the armed forces?

August. Already the 9th?

Jillian here. Can you believe it’s already August and the 9th at that? It’s weird that some days seem to take forever to pass and yet, before we know it, another week has gone by. Or it could be just me. Funny how time can slow in one respect and quick in another.

July was busy at work—never seems to let up. I have one case driving me a bit over the bend and I’m praying it ends soon. It’s like torture. I want to get in there and try the thing and put it past me, but opposing counsel is in the “paper the other side to death” mode and is relentless. I’m pretty sure I’m going to win the war, but the daily/weekly battles are wearing me down.

Visited with my parents and sister today. We watched an episode of Midsomer Murders  (love that series) and I had to say to them, “This makes me glad we have a nice, boring family with no psychopaths.”

I’ve written three short stories and submitted them for consideration for three anthologies. I like shorts as they are quick and the whole thing can be in my head at once. One of them is set in New Orleans. One is a Krampus story and one is at Halloween. Hoping for good news on one at least.

I had oral surgery 12 days ago and the stitches come out on Wednesday. They are driving me bonkers and my tongue can’t—or won’t—leave them alone. It’s annoying me. 😁

Hope you’re all having a nice summer. It’s hotter than Satan’s front porch here, but that’s pretty normal for us in August and September- our two hottest months of the year.

Now that I’ve whined all over this post, I’ll go have a glass of iced tea and catch y’all later.

Here is Hobbes on International Cat Day (yesterday)— he’s got the right idea. E67B25C7-776D-4900-8FD0-21008FB509DA

10 Days in the Sun

Apologies for not posting last month. The due date was the day we returned from our 2nd holiday in 6 months curtesy of the generous retirement gift to my husband from his boss. Returning home late and tired to a cold house and empty fridge, and a mountain of washing to deal with I wasn’t up to writing. But here I am back again.

Our 10 days in the sun were perfect although on the day of our arrival we didn’t think so. Our flight delayed thanks to air traffic workers on strike in France and when we did land, we had to wait on our coach for other delayed passengers. It took longer getting from the airport to the hotel than the flight itself before we eventually arrived, the last drop on the run and only 10 miles from the airport! Our mood plummeted even further as the weather was awful, a howling gale, and never in 20+ years of visiting the Mediterranean had I seen it so grey, so angry with huge choppy waves. Great if you were into surfing, which some were doing. We really thought we had made a big mistake in choosing this place and time of year.

We’d upgraded to a superior room, which turned out to be the penthouse room over-looking the beach and affording a full view of the 8km bay close to the harbour. It wasn’t a large room, but spotlessly clean, well decorated, with a wide balcony, a floor-to-ceiling window at the side, lovely marble bathroom, and joy-of-joys a walk-in shower. Plus we had full coffee facilities, fridge, safe and all the extras one normally has to pay extra for.

The bay looking left from the balcony

We went down for an early evening meal then back up to our room for coffee and an early night as I hadn’t slept all night and we’d been up since 4 am for the airport taxi so we were well tired. We hadn’t been back in the room some 5 mins before a knock at the door, where stood 2 staff members, one holding 2 glasses, the other a bottle of champagne. It took a few minutes of working out their Spanish and them our English to understand this was compliments of the management for Dave’s birthday. We invited them in whereupon they burst into singing “Happy Birthday” in Spanish to him. He shot me an angry look, thinking I’d arranged this. I hadn’t. I know he hates fuss and we had purposely kept it quiet that we were travelling on his 71st birthday. Apparently, the manager on reception when we checked in noticed the significant date on his passport. Dave doesn’t drink wine so we bought it back with us to open at my mum’s 94th birthday bash at the end of this month.

A glorious sunrise every morning

Dawn arrived  We woke to the sun rising directly in front of us, the sky blue, birds singing, as it did every morning thereafter. Our mood lifted. The weather the next 10 days was glorious, some days reaching 30 degrees,  not bad for February.  Heaven!

The bay looking right.

Dave isn’t into sightseeing or daytrips and as I knew the area very well, having done all the touristy things over the years, our days fell into a lovely relaxed pattern. After breakfast, he would go for a stroll along the edge of the surf the length of the bay whilst I relaxed on the balcony in the sun losing myself in a book. On his return, we’d have coffee then go for a walk along the promenade or exploring the town. Each day it was come out of the hotel doors then turn left one day, right the next. At either end of the bay we found a lovely place to stop for a drink and or snack: an English bar come restaurant at one end and a newly opened Spanish bar the other, the owners of which spoilt us with extra coffees, gratis brandies, chocolate and nibbles each visit.

This part of the coast is known for its sand sculptures, of which this was the best we saw. The detail was incredible, including a mouse after the cheese on the table, a cat, pigs and piglets in the corner, and a real fire in the hearth.

There was one downside to our location. The noise! The road between the hotel and beach was constantly busy, day and night, the Spanish loving the sound of car horns. Although we were 10 floors up, the sound of chairs scraping in the bars outside was also irritating as they shut shop at midnight. At 4 am, motorbikes and cars as the fishermen made their way to the harbour, then the boats start up and chug out. But the worse was the rubbish lorries. Where we were in Spain, instead of large communal bins at the roadside, here were large tanks set underground beneath small bins in which people dispose of their waste. At 5:30 am along would come a huge truck and crane to lift and empty the tanks. Each day a different tank: Monday, cardboard, Tues, plastic (you get the idea) until it was glass day, twice a week. Dreadful. Imagine a giant skip full of bottles from the residents and all the nearby bars being lifted, tipped and emptied into a noisy lorry, only to stop a little way further along and repeat. We are used to quiet all day and silence all night at home, so this took some getting used to.

Apart from the early morning disturbances, made up for by the sun appearing in front us every morning whilst we sat in bed drinking coffee watching, we didn’t want to come home, particularly as Storm David was raging in the UK. Our flight was delayed again, this time to the airport being fogbound. Eventually, we landed back in Bristol, a rather bumpy, uncomfortable landing but we were home.

We’d so enjoyed our holiday. In fact, that much so, Dave started looking and planning our next trip the following day. Sadly, like the rest of the world at the moment, everything has been put on hold. We are now waiting for the sun and summer to return to the UK as we hole ourselves up and pray we stay safe away from this awful virus.

Wherever you are, stay safe too.

 

Fave Festive Ad

For the last few years, I’ve always posted my favorite festive TV advert as my December blog post. The accolade usually goes to John Lewis, a large department store here in the UK and known for its great Christmas ads, but this year I was underwhelmed. IMO there wasn’t much to choose from amongst the other superstore offerings.

There was one ad that stood out for me, and although it isn’t from the big guns it is very close to my heart. We puppy-walked and fostered for Guide Dogs for the Blind for several years and continue to support them. They do really amazing work, and the training they do with the dogs is truly inspirational.

Untitled designVivvy, our own gorgeous girl came to us as a withdrawn puppy. We had fostered her and had fallen totally in love with her. During her assessment, they found she was too jumpy to be a guide dog, although in our opinion she is certainly smart enough! It didn’t take much for us to put our hands up and adopt her.

 

So in the spirit of tradition, here’s my 2019 favorite TV Christmas advert:

Wishing everyone a healthy, happy and prosperous 2020!

A Mini Rant for the Holidays! :)

Jillian here! Happy December!  I am proud to announce my first grandchild, Benjamin Rowan, was born on November 26, 2019. Just in time to have his first Thanksgiving. It’s really cool as it’s always been my daughter-in-law’s favorite holiday. He’s a super sweet, gentle soul (so far) and a very happy little dude.

I was there in the hospital when he was born- not in the delivery room- I didn’t even want to be in the delivery room when my own kids were born, I certainly didn’t want to be there for someone else’s.  🙂  The labor itself wasn’t bad for her- she did really well according to her and my son. So happy she had an easy time.

People have been asking me what my grandmother name is going to be. I’ve been keeping it a secret and have bought a book for the baby for Christmas that will reveal it. It was one of my son’s favorite books as a child. (I’ll tell you at the end of this post if you stick around long enough) 🙂

One of the reasons I’ve been keeping it a secret is because I wanted the other grandmother to announce her name before I did. She has done crazy- if not downright mean- things to me over the time I’ve known her. I haven’t written about this before, but I have to get it off my chest.

When my son was growing up, we baked and cooked a lot together. I have one of the really nice KitchenAid mixers and I always told him I’d get him one for his wedding present.  When he got engaged, he was at her parents’ house and mentioned I was getting them a mixer. Within days, he emailed me to tell me that her mother got them one as she found a great deal on QVC. It really hurt me as that was something special I wanted to do for him and his bride.

Next, I asked her numerous times about coordinating for the wedding. What she was going to wear so I could decide what to do. She never would tell me- she’s about a size 6 and I am not. It’s harder for me to find nice clothes. Since she refused to tell me, I finally got what I liked. When I told the bride what color I got, I almost immediately got a text from her mother saying, “That was the color I was going to wear.” When I told my husband, he said I should just wear what I want. The lady ended up in an ecru all lace gown that was long and similar to the bride’s. Everyone else – including me and the bridesmaids were in short dresses. She looked foolish. Everyone was talking about it.

Fast forward to the baby shower:  When the other grandmother wanted me to go in on a ridiculously expensive shower (over $1,000.00 at a restaurant- before tax and tip), I said we’d rather spend money on something for the nursery. She came back with they were getting the stroller. I said (you think I’d have learned my lesson by now) that I’d get the rocker then.

Imagine my surprise when I went the next day to order the chair and someone else had ordered it. When I asked my son who bought it (as I was pretty sure I knew)- he said his wife’s grandfather. I had to laugh as I asked, “How does a dead man buy a chair?” Clearly, her mother did it- son says it was from money inherited.

And, the last thing as I rant on, the day they were leaving the hospital after Benjamin was born, her mother said she’d gone to the gift shop to get something for them – balloons and a stuffed toy- but it was closed. I said (again, stupid me) I had tried to go get flowers but they were closed and I didn’t know where a florist was nearby. By the time I got to my son’s house, his mother-in-law had stopped and got flowers.

So, it was vital I keep my grandmother name secret until this lady announced hers to all her friends.   🙂 I’ve chosen Nonna. It’s Italian for Grandmother and the book my son loved was Strega Nona. And now I have rattled on way too long.

Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza or Happy Hanukah, whichever you celebrate.  stregna nona

Gallery

Busy November

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Jillian here. Happy November. This month is chock full of happenings. The first weekend, I spent with writer friends at a lake house about 2.5 hours from me. My friend’s uncle owns it and he allows her to use it … Continue reading

July in August

Warning…county music fan geeking out…

This past month, over the U.S. Fourth of July, eleven people from my family met up for what felt like the vacation of a lifetime. I think it was the first time all five of us siblings have gone on a trip together. We were celebrating a banner birthday, some resolved health issues, and each other.

We went to Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A.

And it was awesome.

It started last Christmas when my brother said they were going to Nashville at our annual brunch. We all fell like dominoes and within two days, hotel reservations were set. I’ll say it was a little scary that nine out of eleven of us were on the same plane, but we made it there delayed, but without issue.

On the Fourth, the downtown corridor in Nashville was cordoned off and we all filtered through metal detectors to get in. It was crazy busy, but Florida Georgia Line’s restaurant, FGL House, got us in for the most amazing dinner. Everyone there was so nice and the food was yummy, especially the No Joke Mac n Cheese (bacon, chicken, and calories, but melt in your mouth.)

Because we’re older, and because the crush of what turned out to be 348,000 people for the fourth of July was rather daunting, we bought rooftop reservations at Blake Shelton’s bar, Ole Red. That was the best choice ever! We got to sit, visit, and watch the crush of people below without being jostled. And…here’s where the fan geeking comes in…our waiter was also waiting on Blake Shelton’s manager (Kelly Clarkson’s husband.) Okay, so we didn’t meet him, but I’m still saying that us (and 300 other people) partied with him. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The fireworks were the best we’ve ever seen. Getting home wasn’t much fun that night, even though we sat and waited for another hour after the show ended. It still took us two hours to get back to the hotel seven miles away.

Totally worth it.

The next night, with a LOT less people, we went back downtown to enjoy some music. From place to place, you could hear so much variety, from country, to Hard Rock Café style, to dueling pianos, to some amazing blues.

We ended up listening to a great singer, Becki McLeod, and her rocking band. Loved her voice, her cover choices, and her fiddle player even did The Devil Went Down to Georgia, a fast, difficult piece. Okay, the whole band was involved in that, but the fiddle player, in particular, was outstanding.

Again, it was the best ever!

We all broke away for our own tours, too. Some went to the Jack Daniels distillery tour and said it was one of the best tours they’d ever done.

Hubby and I went to the Grand Ole Opry. Fan geeking again here…it was pretty amazing to stand where people whose music I love have stood. The Opry is music royalty and we loved seeing it.

We also got some pool time at the hotel, ate what the south calls Wicked Chicken (spicy), and did a lot of visiting. A LOT of visiting.

I’d have to call it one of our top five favorite trips ever, ranking up there with the cruise that took us to Iceland and Greenland, the overland tour to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska (Northern Lights!), the motorcycle trip to Banff, Canada (snow in July, Brrrr!), and our road trip to Mt. Rushmore (majestic.)

I know I’ve been truly blessed with our travels and I have so many great memories. I hope you’ve been blessed with memories that make you smile when life is handing you lemons.

Have a great rest of your summer, everyone!

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