Friday, December 29, 2006

What happened at Christmas

I got a new digital camera for Christmas so here are some moderately seasonal photos.

We had all the family around for Christmas Day – Daughter 1 and her husband came over from their house; my husband, Daughter 2 and Son were here anyway; and my mother came for dinner along with my brother (my only sibling), his wife and my lovely nephew and niece; also my aunt. That’s just about my whole family. I only have one more aunt; no cousins. My husband is an only child and his parents died some years ago, though he does have an uncle and some cousins.

The missing member was of course my father, who’s still in hospital because he can’t walk – or at least, can’t get up by himself, though is allowed to use a walking frame occasionally with assistance. He’s also pretty confused. This didn’t stop us feeling very guilty that he wasn’t with us. Apart from this, we had a lovely day except that my mother wasn’t at all well. She had a bad cough and was unusually quiet.

Because my mum’s house has more spare rooms than ours, my brother and family (who live in the south of England) are staying with her, though they all eat with us. On Boxing Day, my sister-in-law came down in the morning to find my mother lying on the kitchen floor, semi-conscious. My sister-in-law and brother phoned for a doctor and for me. The doctor did various tests and decided that she’d just fainted, so we got her into bed, but during the course of the day, Mum passed out several more times, was very feverish and at times delirious, and, in brief, we ended up calling an ambulance and she was taken into hospital.

This was the third time since September that our son has accompanied a grandparent in an ambulance to the Accident and Emergency Department of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and I have gone behind the ambulance in my car. It’s actually the fourth time this year that I’ve done this – the first time, my mum was in the ambulance with my dad when he fainted when out to dinner, while the next two occasions were when my dad fractured a bone in his pelvis and then broke his hip.

So currently my dad is in the Royal Victoria Hospital, about 15 minutes’ drive north of our house and until this morning my mum was in the Royal Infirmary, about 30 minutes’ drive south. A lot of hospital visiting has been going on. We also heard today that my dad is having a small operation about now, to clear out an infected sinus on his behind.

Mum isn’t too bad. They think that all the fainting was due to low blood pressure combined with a high fever – though she normally has high blood pressure. Mercifully, there are plenty of us around at the moment to look after her. But I dread to think what would have happened if she’d been lying on the kitchen floor at 9 am on term-time morning. I always phone her during the day from work as well as in the evening if I’m not seeing her, but she could have lain there for hours.

My husband and I have been feeling for a while that she shouldn’t be living on her own. So we’ve offered to move in with her and I think she’ll accept. I’m feeling very low about this, since we love being at home with beloved Daughter 2, who is just perfect, like the ideal sister I never had, and lovely Son, who is also the best boy in the world, and cheery and cuddly. (We also adore Daughter 1, but she has her own house now.) But what can we do? I don’t think Mum would want to live in our house, though this is just about possible to manage now that Daughter 1 has left home. Our bedroom is downstairs, and there’s also a downstairs bathroom, so my husband and I could move into Daughter 1’s vacated bedroom, leaving our room for Mum. But I think she’d prefer to be in her own house, with her own things.

Sigh. Poor Mum, poor Dad. They’re 84 and a half and nearly 87, so have done well to live independently so far. But it’s so sad to see them frail and wobbly. It seems no time since they were strong and capable. Tempus fugit, folks. Gather ye rosebuds and that sort of thing.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Christmas

I went up town this morning at 9 am to finish my Christmas shopping. I was up yesterday at 9 am also, and the previous Saturday, both times staying up till 2.30 pm, at which time I had to go and pick up my mum to take her to visit my dad. I am not an enthusiastic shopper.

Today, however, I was finished by 10 am. I bought three boxes of chocolates, three long rolls of wrapping paper, two orchids in glass pots, a hyacinth in bloom, a bunch of bananas, a lemon, a litre of milk, some sunflower oil spread, and a lettuce. No partridges or pear trees, but it was quite tricky not to bash the whippy orchid stems, smash the glass pots, squash the hyacinths or drop anything. While I was in the queue for the food items, balancing the delicate items with difficulty, a lady marched to the head of the queue and took her purchases to an assistant, while the law-abiding queuers just gazed at her and each other and sighed Britishly. Why did none of us say anything?

I then staggered to the bus stop and along came a man talking on a mobile phone. He had one carrier bag and was saying as he passed me, “So that’s the way to do Christmas shopping.”

Do share your secret with me, sir.

Then along came another chap, in his running gear, loping athletically along. Why choose Edinburgh’s main shopping street, two days before Christmas, for a running track? Granted, he was on the non-shop side of the road – the side where there are gardens a bit further along from where we were, and where he was presumably headed. But still. Why wasn’t he laden with shopping?

Ho hum. But still, it’s Christmas. The picture at the top isn’t of our tree, since my little camera has given up the ghost, and I didn’t take the one below either, but it’s Edinburgh, looking as it does. (I'm sorry the pictures are so tiny.I don't know why they are.)

I haven’t wrapped anything yet, but the fridge is full of food, the house is clean and decorated and my brother and his family, who live in the south of England, have reached my mum’s house safely. I feel very lucky. Happy Christmas to you all and God bless us every one!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An ideal gift

Our son bought his girlfriend a gun the other day. For her rather difficult flatmate. Not a real gun. One that shoots little foam discs a few feet across the room. He then covered the label on the packet that contained the gun with this replacement one.

This is a joke, please understand. No flatmate will be injured, even in her feelings. The flatmate in question will never see this label, or even the gun, since it’s going as a Christmas present to the girlfriend’s home, which isn’t in Edinburgh.

This is the full, unfolded version. If it's too small to read, you can click it to enlarge it.
He’s also got her some more romantic gifts, you’ll be relieved to hear.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Thoughts on a Sunday

I’d like to be able to post nice Christmassy pictures of our tree in the sitting room, which is now dripping with decorations – I believe in overkill, not subtlety, for Christmas trees (and they have to be real ones). However, my little digital camera has died. Sob. My husband pointed out hopefully that there’s a much better camera currently “hidden” on top of the wardrobe - but no, Husband. Kind of you to mention this, but you can’t have your present early.

So instead this is one of several photos I had already taken of my orchid, none of which is very good because the flash causes a shadow on the wall, making the photo look out of focus. Annoying, but the orchid is spectacular, which pleases me because this is its second year. (Pause for Australian bloggers to tell me that orchids grow like weeds in their gardens...)

However, the house is now half festively decorated and by the time this evening is out, it will be fully so. The cards and Christmas letters are all written and posted and I even did quite a lot of present shopping yesterday. It’s really hard to feel particularly celebratory, however, with my dad in the state he’s in, which includes

a) unable to get to his feet
b) extremely confused and
c) either sad or very irascible.

Though he had his good points too, he was always irascible and at times very unreasonable but it’s so pathetic and so odd to hear and see him as he is. He was formerly very competent, intelligent and energetic and now he’s in his pyjamas, unable to rise from a chair and no longer does his daily cryptic crossword or Sudoko or reads anything but the paper. And he’s always been very authoritative and imperious and he still is, but is now talking nonsense quite a lot of the time.

The other day he was telling my mum and me about a funeral he’d been at earlier (he hadn’t) and how he’d had to run up and downstairs all day collecting his things from the room where they keep the sports equipment (he hasn’t run for years and all his things are in his bedside cabinet). Then he was fulminating, as he so often does, about the poor organisation in the hospital.

“They’ve had no cornflakes for two weeks,” he fumed. “I suggested that they should order some more, but they said no, it was complicated and it would take several weeks to get any.”

“Oh dear,” I said. “What did you have for breakfast, then?”

“Cornflakes,” he snorted indignantly.

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

But then, Daughter 2 sang with her choir in a lovely carol concert last night, which lifted the spirits. Afterwards she was chatting to a fellow choir member, who had been phoned at work by someone claiming to be returning the call of a chap called Bentley Slopp.

Daughter 2’s friend assured the caller that there was no one called Bentley Slopp in their organisation. They discussed the mystery for a few moments before the friend’s gaze fell on his colleague on the other side of the room… Ben Hislop.

Right then, I’m off to do things with holly.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Christmas Elf

I’ve been writing Christmas cards and letters, and now I must go and mark students’ work, so I really don’t have time to blog. However, it’s maybe about time I started joining in with the Christmas spirit, so – let me introduce you – briefly – to the Christmas Elf. He lives in our house at this time of year.

Every day in December, he brings little chocolate presents to the children who live here. He leaves a little note – usually a short poem, often with a little drawing - in the relevantly numbered box in this extremely bashed and scruffy Advent chimney. The note holds a clue as to the whereabouts of the chocolate. I - sorry, the Elf - bought and filled this chimney for the first time about twenty years ago.

The children still with us are now 22 and 25 and they still enjoy finding the little presents. Or to put in another way, they strongly feel that the presents should still be left. "Insist" might not be too strong a word. After all, we wouldn’t want the Elf to feel redundant, would we?

Beware, o young parents, of starting these traditions…

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Busy blog


Huge quantities of marking at the moment; plus visiting my Dad in hospital. My week goes:

Sunday: take my Mum to church; visit my Dad in afternoon; have Mum and Daughter 1 and SIL to meal in evening with rest of family and then marking/preparation.

I work full-time during the week but in the evenings:

Monday: marking/preparation
Tuesday: teach evening class and then marking/preparation
Wednesday: sing in choir and then… as above
Thursday: take Mum to visit Dad and then…
Friday: take Mum to visit Dad.

On Saturday mornings, I always take Mum out for a little expedition, and then we visit Dad in the afternoon.

And I do spend some time with my dear husband and lovely offspring. And I dust, and so on. Iron. Cook. That kind of thing.

Doesn’t leave much time for writing Christmas cards and letters. As for shopping… and blogging…

So I’m behind with my blog-reading/commenting.

However, on a brighter note, I’ve won a competition! No talent required – it was a prize draw - a blog prize draw. Kirsty from Two Lime Leaves - - made some lovely Christmas decorations and I’ve got one! What fun.

And – even better – Daughter 1 has got a new job – which she needs. She’s a trainee archivist, and when her previous job came to an end (it was a fixed-term one) some weeks ago, there were no archive posts to apply for. She’s been temping as a secretary, but this job sounds very suitable. It’s only till May, but still, it’s fine for now.

So there. I feel cheerier than of late. And we’ve had no frost to speak of yet so there are still flowers – like this fuchsia – blooming in the garden.

Our students have been doing assessments – textual analysis. One was of a poem in which oystercatchers fuss round rocks, crying “Weep! Weep!”

Oystercatchers are birds, by the way (not sure if they have non-British cousins, and I don’t know whether they actually eat oysters. Certainly not exclusively). Our students hadn’t, on the whole, heard of them.

The most interesting guess by a student was that oystercatchers are like clams, and they run around the beach, catching oysters.

Running clams… hmm. And indeed, oysters pelting away across the sand…

Saturday, December 02, 2006

More apple sauce cake talk

By popular demand – well, four of you asked – here is the recipe:

My sister-in-law, Steffi, is American and she gave me this recipe many years ago. Her mother is of Irish and her father of Greek descent, so I don’t know whether the recipe is authentically American, but anyway, this is why it exists in terms of cups and spoonfuls. We Brits don’t do those. We do ounces and pounds if we’re over 30ish; otherwise grams. Britain is now officially metric so I have trouble with grams when I’ve written down on a shopping list the ingredients I need to make some tried and tested recipe. I know that a kilogram is a little over two pounds, so I stand in the supermarket going, “I need six ounces of desiccated coconut and this packet is 325 grams, so…”.

Some of the cake ingredients (eg plain flour, icing sugar) may be called something different in America. Steffi sometimes has to translate American recipes for me (she and my brother live near London, so she’s bilingual). If anyone needs me to, I can ask her the American terms. But I feel you can work out the ounce thing. If I can do grams, you can do ounces.

Anyway, I long ago bought baking cups to make this recipe, but translated the butter into ounces because who would want to cram butter into a cup and then have to wash it when you can just cut what used to be an 8 ounce packet of butter in half? Of course, a packet is now slightly more than 8 ounces because it’s some number of grams instead (I suppose 250ish) but you know – cooking’s an art, not a science.

You might know my artistic cooking from previous posts if you’ve read them.

Similarly, this recipe originally had half a cup of nuts (unspecified) in it, but I myself put sultanas instead, since we prefer this. On the other hand, Son’s girlfriend doesn’t like dried fruit, so he makes it without. Even when he’s making it for her flatmate…

Steffi’s apple sauce cake


4 ounces butter
Half cup each of caster sugar and soft brown sugar
1 and three quarter cups plain flour (ie without rising agent)
I cup sultanas or half cups nuts or whatever. Or neither. Or both.
Half teaspoon salt (but I never actually put this in)
I teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
I teaspoon cinnamon
Half teaspoon ground cloves
2 eggs
I cup apple sauce, bought or made yourself. (I usually just use bought stuff and don’t bother about the amount. Just a jar of whatever size comes to hand.)


Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, and cream again. Fold in flour and other dry ingredients and add fruit/nuts.

Bake in two sandwich tins for half an hour at 150 degrees.



3 cups icing sugar
9 ounces cream cheese
Dash cinnamon if you like it
Dash brandy if you like it, but then you may have to add a bit more icing sugar, depending on how generous your dash is.


Cream all together, getting very sticky in the process.

Put two cakes together with icing in the middle and on the top. If you really like getting thoroughly sticky, you can, of course, cut each cake in half horizontally and then put the icing in four smaller layers.

Make sure icing is spreadable but quite firm. If it’s too sloshy then when you put the cake together the icing will gradually flow out the sides. I speak from experience.

I've just made two Christmas cakes, one for my mum and one for us. They're in the oven now. This is the sum total of my Christmas preparations. It's a start.