Six on Saturday 4th January 2020

Happy New Year folks! I hope everyone enjoyed the festivities. I certainly had a lovely, long and relaxing break. Two whole weeks off work and, given an upcoming change in circumstances, I could almost completely switch off because my challenges are now someone else’s and my new challenges haven’t commenced yet. More on that another time I’m sure.

So, here we are on the first Saturday of January and it’s time for the first Six of 2020. I have to admit I did precisely zero gardening over the break – I am absolutely a fair weather gardener. I hate the cold, and while I feel awful wishing for hot weather given the devastation it’s causing over in Australia (is Trump still denying climate change? Numpty!) I can’t help but dream of lazy, hazy, sunny days in the garden. Still, we’re now well past the shortest day so things are on the up!

Anyway, I forced myself out in the garden this morning to check the garden and find some Six inspiration and, now my hands have warmed up again, I can show you what I chose to talk about today.

1. Compost Bin

I discovered, thanks to a new colleague, late last year that certain county councils work with http://www.getcomposting.com to provide better value compost bins and luckily Birmingham City Council is one of those councils so I ordered one pronto, along with a kitchen caddy to save me trekking out there (in the cold – brrrrrrr …..) every time I peel a spud or crack an egg. I’m excited to get going, although I’m well aware, as with so many aspects of gardening, that I need to exercise what little patience I have, given that there’s not so much as a tea leaf in the bin yet, and the worms haven’t set up camp. As I’m typing this my mind is whirring and wondering if I’ve placed it in the optimal place. I’m not sure the sun spends much time here due to next door’s forest. I’ll ponder that point later.

2. Hellebores

I have a few, all from the sale table in Notcutts. If I see one on offer I tend to grab it knowing that it’ll have lovely leaves in the Summer and will then cheer my chilly heart with flowers in Winter.

This one is in my birthday planter and I’m pretty sure I shared a picture of it in flower around this time last year. It only had one flower then and it appears to only have one this year too, but I’m still grateful to it for showing up.

I have two others, these two photos are just one of them but the other looks exactly the same so I’m wondering if I snaffled them both from the sale table at the same time or if they’ll produce different blooms when these buds open. Time will tell. Looks like I’m going to get quite a few flowers from these two anyway. Whoop! I’ll keep an eye on them and make sure to snap the evidence. I’m excited to see what colour/s they are.

3. Christmas colour

Apart from the Hellebores there are still some plants fighting to bring joyous colour to the garden.

The Cyclamen is obviously no surprise but it’s such a lovely colour that I wanted to share.

More unexpected are these two ….

One of the Calendula that I grew from seed last year. They got really lanky but this one in particular, which is in a pot outside my She-shed, has bloomed almost continuously since mid Summer. I was really happy to see its cheery orange bloom waving at me as I made my way up the garden path.

This is the St. John’s Wort which we inherited with the garden. It’s beautiful in the Summer full of big, bright-yellow petals but I’m sure it doesn’t normally hang on to any flowers after Christmas.

For my final three points I’m going to share some of the garden related Christmas presents that I got.

4. Christmas plants

I bought these myself from hubby. I think he likes it when I buy my own presents! Means he can reimburse me for a gift that I definitely love without him having to battle the Christmas shopping crowds, and, in this case, I’ve had a nice time browsing a garden centre! Score on all counts!

Another beautiful Coprosma and a really big Cyclamen.

I just love Coprosma leaves. They seem to have so many colours in them and they change throughout the year. The one I had already seems quite slow growing, but they both should get to about fifty centimetres eventually. I’ll have to find a good spot to put this one. They seem to cope ok with shade, of which I have plenty, so I should find somewhere it’s happy.

I have several Cyclamen now, but none as big as this one. I have a place in mind for this one alongside our fence where I can see it from the kitchen when it’s flowering in the Winter.

5. Christmas seeds

I’m set for this year’s homegrown veg! Last year I tried petit pois, carrots, leeks and red onions. The red onions did nothing, the leeks eventually produced spring onion sized leeks, but the carrots and petit pois were really successful and they’re probably my favourite veg to eat too so I chose to go for those again, but different varieties this year. I thought I’d try runner beans too. I would never think to buy runner beans, but whenever I’ve had someone else’s homegrown ones I’ve enjoyed them. The packet says ‘vigorous’ but I figure it’s easy to prepare runner beans and freeze them for later in the year if I get a bumper crop.

I have six varieties of Sunflower too. I’ll have to decide whether to try a couple of each or whether to save some for next year. I need to think how much space I have that’s suitable to plant them out.

The final seeds are a pollinator beebom. I love this idea. When I can bear to take my hands outside again I’m going to prepare an area that I can explode this bomb in. I know just the place.

6. Froggy bird feeder

This is the kind of thing I love in the garden. Cute little characters to add interest. Of course, we’ll probably end up feeding more squirrels than birds but hey, they need to eat too! I’d rather they eat seed that we put out for ‘animals’ than my bulbs! I don’t know if this will be the final resting place for this feeder or if I can find somewhere else but for now this is where it is.

I won’t be around with another Six until February because I’m away from home for the next three weekends, but in the meantime why not check out the Propagator’s blog for other Sixes.

It’s Chriiiiiistmas!

The run up to Christmas has been a bit different this year, partly because I’ve had a much longer break before the big man pops down the chimney than usual. I’m normally still at work on Christmas Eve. We always get let go at noonish but have to take a full day’s holiday to book the day off, so it’s a no-brainer to work it really. This year though, the office closed on Friday and I had holiday left so I broke up on Wednesday – a full week before Christmas Day.

We have a tradition at work of having Christmas breakfast sandwiches on Christmas Eve picked up from a bakery near work called Wedges. This year, as we weren’t in, three of us made our way over to Wedges anyway to keep the tradition going. I live seventeen miles from the office, so you can see how much the tradition means to me!

Mmmmm mmmmmm! Lashford sausages on crusty white bread with LOTS of ketchup! Delicious. Lashfords are a Birmingham company who’ve made award winning sausages since 1889.

As you can tell, Slimming World has been slightly abandoned over Christmas! As well as my sausage buttie today, I’ve had two Christmas parties, but, you know what? It’s been totally worth any pounds that I might have put on (I don’t know yet!)

The steel industry isn’t particularly robust at present so work weren’t able to pay for a Christmas do for us this year, so I arranged our own mini party at Miller and Carter last Thursday. One massive pro of arranging our own party was that we could invite three ex-colleagues, two of whom retired this year and the other who left more recently to pursue other challenges. It was soooooo good to see them and catch up on their news.

Miller and Carter turned out to be a good choice. We had one long table for the ten of us (which turned out to be nine due to a chicken pox related issue). This meant that the people at either end couldn’t have a chat, but the restaurant didn’t kick us out when we finished eating so we were able to switch seats and have a chinwag with people at the other end. We were also able to choose from the festive menu or the regular a la carte menu. I went for the festive menu so I could have turkey because we’re having a chicken for Christmas lunch. It was really good value too at £22.99 for two courses.

It was quite dark so my pic doesn’t do it justice, but suffice it to say, there was nothing left on my plate, not even a sprout!

I don’t often have a dessert out but, well, it is Christmas! This was really rich, but I managed to force it down! Chocolate and salted caramel gold bar with orange sorbet or, alternatively, plate of deliciousness! It was all washed down with a couple of glasses of Sauvignon and great conversation and laughs. I work with, and have worked with, some fabulous people. You spend more waking time at work than you do at home so you can count yourself as very lucky if your colleagues are also friends.

The very next day I went on my gym Christmas party. This was an organised do at the NEC and it was a Moroccan Fire night. They’d taken up a whole hall and turned it into a Moroccan wonderland. It reminded me of the entrance to Islands of Adventure in Orlando, but with a champagne bar and a cocktail bar!

When we were seated we were lucky to be right in front of the show area so we had a really good view of the entertainment. There were a couple of performances of aerial ribbons where acrobats perform in the air wrapped up in ribbons of fabric and also some trapeze work – the strength that the acrobats have is really impressive.

These were performed while we had our starters (tomato and basil soup for me) and mains.

Dark photo again! I went for chicken with the usual seasonal trimmings.

The final show, after we’d had our dessert (chocolate pudding with ice cream) was really good but also slightly uncomfortable to watch! I didn’t take any photos, but essentially there was a big arm high up with a wheel on each end with a guy all dressed up in harem pants inside and then the whole thing started spinning. So the guys had to keep running or jumping so they didn’t fall out. For the finale they moved to the outside of the wheels while the whole thing was still spinning and this is about where I stopped watching in case they fell!

There were also fairground rides which was quite exciting. I went on the bumper cars and the flying carpet but, given the fact that rather more alcohol was consumed this evening than the previous one I decided that the waltzers would possibly not be a good idea!

My wine had this little octopus from my cracker on all night!

Yesterday I caught up with my best friend at a local garden centre. Amazingly we both managed to get parking spaces relatively easily. We had a wander round and a chat over a coffee and a cake in her case and a diet Dr. Pepper and some crisps in mine, and swapped our Christmas presents. I managed to restrain myself from buying plants and just picked up a couple of nibbly things which I took round to my friend’s house yesterday evening for another Christmas catch up and pressie swap.

We had some nibbles (see the lack of Slimming World continuing!) and more good conversation. My friend Jane had baked these cute little penguin biscuits.

Almost too cute to eat! Almost! My contribution was some sausage rolls which I’ve also made for Christmas Day. Does anyone else have to leave instructions like this for their husband?

And some banana bread which I’ve also made for Christmas Day …

… along with some blue fairy cakes!

I didn’t do red or green because everything seems to be red or green at this time of year, so blue it was!

Anyway, nearly time to go and pick up poor hubby who’s had to work today, and, according to plane finder, Santa is on his way …

…so I’d better do my last minute preparations.

Merry Christmas lovely readers. I hope you all have a magically festive time and I’ll see you on the other side.

Christmas has started

Hopefully just about time for a quick blog post whilst my blueberry, coconut and sultana baked oats are baking. There are six oaty muffins baking and I have two at a time for breakfast so that’s enough for my whole working week. Yep, I break up for Christmas on Wednesday! Woohoo for three day weeks.

So why, you ask, is this post entitled Christmas has started if I haven’t broken up yet? Well it’s because I’ve been in Surrey this weekend for the annual Christmas pressie swap with my Granny and my Mum. I don’t get to see them very often because there’s nearly a hundred and fifty miles between us so when I do get down there it’s always special. I listen to Christmas songs on the radio all the way there and back and it always makes me smile if Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas comes on because, whichever direction I’m going in, it feels like I am driving home for Christmas.

Granny’s had a rough couple of years! I’m sure she won’t mind me telling you that she’s eighty eight but almost exactly two years ago she had a heart bypass and recovered from it quicker and with more aplomb than someone half her age would’ve done, and this year she’s had various medical issues and a couple of stays in hospital, the latest being just a couple of weeks ago when she lost a pint of blood after knocking a scab off which happened to be on an artery (her bedroom and hallway currently look like a scene out of a horror film!) Anyway, she’s bounced back from it all but it makes it all the more important to spend time with her. My hubby calls her Super Gran. She really is amazing!

Despite all of this, she’d still taken the trouble to get all my favourite things in to feed me! You wouldn’t believe how excited I was to see these sitting on top of the fridge when I arrived!

I LOVE crumpets! Especially Warburtons and I hadn’t had them since May when I started Slimming World! Of course, I could’ve rung her before I went and said I’d bring baked oats instead, but somehow, it completely slipped my mind to do so!

Ooooooh! What a treat! Hot toasted crumpets with Flora Buttery and, you either love it or hate it, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it! Marmite!

I devoured my crumpets whilst Granny popped to the shop to get her paper (a kind gentleman paid for it for her – Granny has an admirer (in my head at least!)) and while we were waiting for my Mum to arrive. Much excitement – hadn’t seen her since last Christmas!

Mum brought with her Christmas presents, a knitting stitch holder because I’d forgotten mine and news of my Great Aunt who’s unfortunately suffering from fairly advanced dementia. Mum initially moved away from Birmingham to help my Great Aunt when she was in the early stages of the disease but she’s now ably cared for in a home.

A home which apparently also caters for donkeys! She doesn’t look overly impressed, does she!

We had a lovely day together just chatting and catching up. Granny’s still catching up on sleep after losing all that blood and didn’t feel up to Scrabble so Mum and I had a game. My Mum is the Gyles Brandreth of Scrabble (or Suzy Dent for the younger amongst you) but somehow I managed to be winning, right up, that is, until she went and got ninety something points for one word! Honestly, I ask you! How does she do it? Anyway, she ended on something like three hundred and twenty nine and I managed two hundred and ninetyish so I don’t feel too beaten up.

I headed back up the M40 after the tea of kings! Granny’s Shepherd’s Pie! It deserves to be capitalised because it’s soooooo good! She makes it the day before and reheats it when needed. It’s some concoction of lamb mince, celery, carrot, onion salt and vegetable stock topped with potato, but believe me, even with the correct ingredients it is impossible to make it as well without the Granny magic!

It tastes a-ma-zing! Sets you right up for the rest of the day.

Today I’ve had a relatively lazy day chilling out with hubby and the gorgeous twosome …

… but, and I think I deserve a round of applause for this, I did go out in the garden, in the bucketing down rain, to harvest the remainder of my produce.

Now, if we can all just imagine that I intended to grow baby potatoes and baby leeks, then it will have all been worth it!

These are Musselburgh leeks which, according to the internet, should be ‘whoopers’ and reliable and easy to grow. Hmmmm! I sowed them in about April and this is what I got! They look like spring onions. I assure you they’re not! Oh well, they’ll be fine chopped up in a stir fry.

The potatoes are Charlottes and I planted them in bags about the end of September time. They were advertised as ready for Christmas, which I suppose they are, but I was rather hoping they’d be big enough for our roasties. They’re not!

They sprouted masses of leaves to start off with. This is how they looked halfway through November …

… but I noticed last week that all the foliage had died down so I thought I’d best check if any potatoes had actually grown.

Anyway, my baked oats are cooked and cooling …

… so I’m off to get some beauty sleep ready for my last three working days of 2019. Nighty night.