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.

Sunny Spain and a catch up

Hi *waves* I’ve unintentionally had the longest break from my little blog since I started it over a year ago. Last week we were in sunny Spain and the week leading up to the holiday was really busy! Apologies in advance, because I fear this post will jump around from topic to topic as my head catches up!

I finally got round to taking some cuttings two weeks ago today. I bought a couple of beautiful Coleus which have done really well over the Summer.

In fact, they’ve got bigger than anticipated and taken over the pot! They’re not hardy, but the leaves are so vibrant I thought I’d take cuttings now and see if I can over Winter them in the greenhouse ready to plant out next Summer.

Regular readers will know of my slight obsession with my Eupatorium. I’ve taken cuttings of that too.

I was a bit concerned about them drying out while we were away, but a quick inspection of the greenhouse on our return yesterday put my mind at rest. They look pretty much the same now as they did in the picture taken before we flew off. I guess now I have to employ patience and wait for the roots to grow and establish.

On the Wednesday before our holiday I went to the theatre to see 9 to 5, the musical based in the film of the same name starring Dolly Parton.

It was really good! Very funny. I went with my sister-in-law and a couple of female friends and I’d highly recommend it for a fun girlie night out. There weren’t many men in the audience, and those that were there looked like they’d been dragged there kicking and screaming!

On Thursday the holiday preparation started properly – nails! I do like to have nicely manicured nails for a holiday. It somehow makes it all the more exciting! Here they are taken while we were away.

What you can’t really see is that my thumbs are the colour of the other four fingers on the other hand. You can get such fancy manicures these days that it seems a bit dull to have all one colour, especially for a holiday. Pink (especially baby pink – eugh) is probably my least favourite colour so I rarely go for ‘traditional’ nails.

We didn’t fly until early afternoon so I had time to pop out in the garden for a last minute peruse before we left. There was still a lot of colour.

It’s still looking pretty good now.

I was convinced our giant Sunflower would bloom while we were away, but it still hasn’t. I hope it does. I’ve nurtured this plant for months, from seed, and it would be a real disappointment not to see it through to its natural ending. The weather’s not looking good for the foreseeable future, so I guess it might give up on me!

Saturday morning came around and we were rushing around doing last minute preparations, checking all the doors had doorstops so the cats couldn’t lock themselves in anywhere, watering the pots, packing last minute essentials, chucking perishables (although we missed the carrots and came back to a bag of black, furry mush!) but soon we were on our way.

I really wanted to try to stick to Slimming World as much as possible so I had a gluten free breakfast in Wetherspoons at the airport which I figured was mostly free and for probably the first time ever, I didn’t buy any chocolate whilst telling myself that calories don’t count at the airport! I managed to be good for the first couple of days when we arrived, but it got too difficult to make good choices under pressure of a massive queue behind me! I did my best at breakfast and went for eggs, muesli and yoghurt or fruit, but a lot of the fruit wasn’t ripe so I couldn’t eat it and I bet the muesli wasn’t sugar free or the yoghurt fat free (I’m basing this on the fact that it tasted lovely!) There was a pretty good salad bar at lunch and dinner so I tried at least to stick to the principle of having a third of my plate as speed food to limit the damage. I’ve got straight back on it now we’re home so I’ll claw back any gain soon, and I enjoyed my holiday (especially the two Magnums that I couldn’t resist) so it was worth it.

We stayed in Salou and our hotel was called MedPlaya Calypso. It’s in the process of being refurbished and we were all (we went with hubby’s side of the family) in the not-yet-refurbed block. The rooms are definitely in need of updating but we didn’t spend much time in there so it wasn’t a big issue.

They were clean and safe, which is the most important thing, there was air con and the beds were comfy. Every night when hubby got in the shower I jumped as there was a huge bang as the shower attachment fell off the wall (didn’t do it for me for some reason) and you couldn’t leave the tap on for any length of time because it leaked from the bottom and flooded the floor!

We overlooked one of the pools, the snack bar and the evening entertainment area.

After the first couple of days we discovered another pool round the back of the refurbed block which was quieter and more relaxing. It was away from the bar so I guess it didn’t appeal to some of the rowdier guests, but it suited us much better.

We walked down to Salou beach one day. Hubby loves going in the sea so he was in his element. I didn’t take any photos because it was a very busy beach so I would’ve just got photos of lots of other people setting up camp for the day.

We had entry into a local water park, Aquopolis, included in the package so we went there twice. It was a short bus ride away (and the bus ticket was also included). I didn’t have particularly high expectations for the water park because the only other water park I’ve been to in Spain is a bit basic and I was worried I’d compare it to Volcano Bay in Orlando which is fully immersive and, let’s face it, awesome, but it was really good and the days there were my favourite two days. Since I’ve had the experience of rides in Orlando I’ve become much braver so I went on most rides. My favourite was the black hole, which I didn’t manage to get a photo of. It was a two person ride on a tube and it was a fully enclosed black slide with fairy lights so it was like being in a star.

We got sun beds in front of the main pool which also had a section with bubbles and fountains.

There was a ride where you sat in a raft to slide down to a pool below. We all went on this one, even my mother-in-law who is most cautious of water rides.

It’s great having a waterproof phone. I videoed hubby and I coming down and got a (slightly dodgy – excuse the state of me!) selfie.

This next one was the first ride I went on – I’d seen it on the leaflet and really wanted to try it.

It was pretty steep as you went over the edge but it was good fun!

These are two random people just to illustrate the ride. It lifted you up at the top and launched you down and then you skimmed over the water at the bottom. Pretty cool.

There was a lazy river, which I LOVE, but it was closed unfortunately and there was a wave pool but I didn’t get round to going in it, and there was a racer ride which was pretty fun too.

There were lots of elements which reminded me of parks in Orlando.

The Hawaii theme is very similar to Volcano Bay (but Aquopolis is definitely older so did it first), there’s a signpost like this at SeaWorld and, of course, the famous jaws statue at Universal Studios.

On our last night we decided to have a break from all inclusive and went for a Chinese. It was a really nice meal, and I managed to remedy my lack of Sangria so far, which is obviously an essential part of a holiday in Spain! Afterwards we strolled back along the seafront which was a really nice walk. We happened upon a gorgeous merry-go-round.

I’ve never seen a two tier merry-go-round before. It was very ‘Mary Poppins’.

I managed to get a lot of r and r in, and for me, this means catching up on reading and crochet/knitting. I made good progress on my knitted jumper on a couple of evenings when we chose to retire early and I finished a Little Box of Crochet project which has been to Malta, USA, Italy, Germany and Spain.

He’s called Donovan Chalmers.

I also finished the third instalment of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

I’ve moved on to the prequel, the Book of Dust, now because I couldn’t bear to leave the daemon world behind!

I’ll finish on a particular high which was taken as we were waiting for our coach back to the airport.

I’m back off to Spain tomorrow, but unfortunately for work this time, so I’ll see you on the other side!

Sandybrook Country Park (and a few bits and bobs).

What a truly excellent long weekend! Just what the doctor ordered.

I drove out of work on Thursday afternoon full of the joys of Spring (when the weather was still behaving appropriately for a season beginning with S) knowing that I had three days of rest and relaxation ahead of me.

My long weekend started with a trip to the theatre with hubby. I’d forgotten until a couple of weeks ago that in the deep, dark midst of the January blues I’d booked tickets to see Thriller Live at the Alexandra theatre in Birmingham so we’d have something to look forward to.

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For those who lived under a rock in the 80s, Thriller is an album by Michael Jackson. Now I realise that he’s somewhat of a controversial figure these days (I guess he always was, but for different reasons) but from where I stand, whatever he may or may not have done, (and I guess we’ll never know for sure now) his music is still iconic and I grew up with it. The first album I ever bought (on cassette tape from Woolworths!) was Bad and I loved it.

Anyway, the show was brilliant and really took us back to our school days. I didn’t know if they’d turned his music into a story like they have with We will Rock you did for Queen, or if it was going to be just like a concert. It was somewhere in between. There wasn’t a story but it wasn’t like a normal tribute act either. There are five lead singers, one of whom is a woman, and lots of backing singers/dancers. If you can get past the controversy, I’d highly recommend seeing it for a bit of escapism.

Anyway, on to the main event of the weekend – I was going on a mini break with five girl friends that I’ve known forever. We were heading for a return trip to Sandybrook Country Park near Ashbourne in Derbyshire. It’s a complex of fifty two lodges, ranging from one to four bedrooms, some with hot tub, set on a hill just a short walk away from the Tissington trail. We requested the same lodge, number sixty five, that we had last year. It’s at the top of the hill, one of the furthest away from the entrance so it has lovely views and is relatively quiet with little to disturb you when you’re sat in the hot tub or on the decking.

Last year we went over the early May bank holiday weekend and the weather was glorious. This year, not so much. I took the photos above on Sunday just as we were leaving which was, typically, the nicest day, weather-wise. The rest of the time it was pretty rainy, but there were breaks in the drizzle so we did all get to use the hot tub without being rained on (although some of us are such hardcore hot tub devotees that a bit of rain didn’t stop us!)

We headed into Ashbourne on Saturday for our pre-booked afternoon tea at Betty’s Sewing Box. Last year we walked along the Tissington trail to get there, but this year it was definitely a car kind of trip!

This place is like some kind of heaven mixed with cake! Not only does it serve a great afternoon tea for only £12.50 …

but it also has various crafts hanging around for you to have a go at …

and it’s attached to a craft shop…

This year we got to eat, drink and craft to a background soundtrack of the likes of Glen Campbell, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. Honestly, I’m amazed I ever managed to drag myself away! I did leave a little piece of myself in the form of a granny square that I knocked up over lunch!

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After we’d consumed our fill of sandwiches, scones and cake and drunk enough tea (or Diet Coke in my case) to keep the whole of Derbyshire hydrated we moseyed on into Ashbourne to have a mooch. We all have a bit of a penchant for charity shops (of which there are lots), and there’s a fabulous bear shop that I was very excited about returning to.

I came away with this gorgeous Charlie Bear called Shelby (a la Peaky Blinders) …

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and these books from a couple of charity shops.

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I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to which cost me lots of money! He did have ten percent off though (hope that doesn’t mean they’re closing down.

We didn’t let the rain dampen our spirits. When we got back from Ashbourne with our spoils and full tummies, we managed to fit in a hot tub session before we knocked up a buffet tea and then set about the important business of chatting, laughing and reminiscing over a glass of Prosecco or three ….

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and in my case a couple of Bric Royales.

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This is a cocktail that I discovered when hubby and I went to Malta in January. It’s rosé wine with a shot or two of passionfruit liqueur added. Can you count a drink as a cocktail if it only has two ingredients? Not sure.

I signed up for Slimming World a couple of weeks ago, which probably wasn’t the best move given that I had my girlie weekend coming up. I followed the plan for the first week and managed to start a downwards trajectory …

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… but I wasn’t going to be beholden to it while I was away. I didn’t want to be awkward for communal catering, and I also wanted to be able to tuck into my afternoon tea and enjoy a tipple in the evenings, but I did try not to go mad.

I started each day, as I have been at home, with overnight oats that I made and took with me.

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This is the first batch I made. It’s just oats, fat free Greek yoghurt and frozen fruit layered up – free on Slimming World. Doesn’t it look like cheesecake? I was really hoping it would taste like it, but no such luck. It’s quite nice but cheesecake, it’s not!

I certainly indulged a little, as well as the afternoon tea and the booze, we had buffet teas with pizza, quiche, crisps and hummus (not all at the same time) and that’s my favourite kind of meal so I could have gone crazy, but I managed to reign myself in a little, at least more than I would have if I hadn’t just started Slimming World.

Anyway, wonderful weekend though it was, I think it’s left me a little sleep deprived – you never sleep as well in a strange place do you – so I can hear my bed calling. Only two more days to get through though – I have another four day week because I’m off to Gardeners’ World Live at the NEC on Friday. Whoop! Excited muchly!