Thursday, 29 November 2012

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

Everyone seems to be feeling very festive as decorations go up and outside lights are put on houses around us. I must admit I'm not feeling it yet, it still feels too early despite doing the rounds of Christmas Fairs to raise funds for primary school/high school/ ballet troupe! I've well and truly stocked up on rubbish.... well it's not really rubbish they are things I really liked but will be of absolutely no use to anyone - like the glass painted jam jar with a tea light inside; it is particularly beautiful as my 9 year old daughter made it, but what exactly do I do with it? And it cost £1!

 I alway dreamed of co-ordinated decorations (in fact I still dream of a co ordinated Christmas with matching wrapping paper etc), like everything in silver and blue; but then someone sneaks in some bright red and gold tinsel & puts it around the middle of the tree! I have always found it difficult to embrace the children's handmade decorations and now it has become a family joke (tradition?) that I decorate the tree myself and eveytime I leave the room someone (and it's not always the children) puts something very gaudy and clashy on the tree to see how long it takes me to spot it!

We decided to miss number 2 son's school Christmas Fair this year as I'm still trying to forget the embarrassment of last years! Number 2 son goes to a slightly "posher" school as he is on a sports scholarship so the fair looked to be a good one. It was described as a festive food fair, both of which are right up my street, particularly the food bit! And there was to be a mince pie competition. I consider myself not a bad cook, baking of cakes and pies a speciality (I thought) so I hastily mixed some pastry, used the homemade mincemeat - no one else will have done that I thought! They did look good I thought as I sprinkled them with icing sugar and arranged 3 or 4 on a plate. We arrived at the fair and I proudly handed them in for the competition. The smiling lady on that stall took them and whispered that I had a very good chance of winning the box of chocolates as mine was only the second entry.
I think smug would accurately sum up how I was feeling as we wandered around the fair - and then it was time to announce the winner. I edged towards the front ready to collect the prize.... and then she announced the winner - the other entrant!! I went very red and scuttled away, but I did hear a lot of sniggers coming from the direction of my family!! Never again!!
However the following day I came in from work to find a message on the answerphone, my hopes were raised when she said she was from the school and it was concerning the mince pie competition (obviously there had been a mistake and I had won). My hopes were dashed for a second time when she asked if I wanted my plate back!! Oh the shame!

But back to this year and we have not decorated the house yet - it's banned until the builder's birthday (December 1st), the shopping isn't done, we still have no idea what to buy the children! The cards aren't written because I'm sure there's still plenty of time......

I haven't baked a Christmas cake or made any chutney which I usually do (no one in this house likes either but I always feel I should make it). So really we are far from ready - I thought I'd Christmas shop today, but here I am catching up on blogs!

Anyway Little Miss has decorated the fireplace so if nothing else gets done we are still a little festive

 It's not entirely to my taste, painted jam jar on the right, cornet of fudge on the left, well I say cornet of fudge, more accurately cornet-which-used-to-contain-fudge! I ate it in the car on the way home from the fair- I LOVE fudge!
But at least someone has made a start!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Putting life in perspective

Sometimes things that you see or read really make you stop and take stock of life. I know that I often lose track of what really matters in life, it gets lost in the daily grind which consists of mainly shopping,cooking, cleaning, homework, my work etc etc
And then occasionally something happens to make you realise that we're very lucky to have money to shop with, food to cook, a house to clean and so on.

I haven't suddenly had an epiphany this week, just a series of reminders which did make me stop and think.

I mentioned in my last post that I'd organised a charity Christmas fair for last Saturday; it went really well but it was arranged in haste and I didn't have time to really think about what we were doing it for. It's a long story but some years ago, when we were still a family of 4 with 2 very young boys we booked a holiday to The Gambia in West Africa. We are reasonably adventurous and decided to go out and about and visit a couple of local villages and their schools. We're not naive people and were aware it was a third world country but we were very shocked by what we saw. The poverty and conditions people were living in were worse than we expected and something I was far more used to seeing on TV than finding myself in the middle of.

enjoying the hospitality of a local family
The people we met were so friendly and welcoming and we ate and spent time with a local family. We took a gift of rice and some pencils etc for the children.

After we came home the sights we'd seen stayed with us for a long time, I don't have many photos as I was embarrassed to be seen with a camera (this was the days before every mobile phone had a small discreet camera); in fact I was embarrassed that we were fully clothed and had shoes on.

I spent a good part of that holiday in tears, I wasn't the only one either although he'd probably deny it now! Anyway since our return home from that trip in 2002 we have steadily raised money from fairs, coffee mornings and raffles; all the money was sent to Gambia via a UK charity. Money goes a long way over there and in 2010 we had raised enough to build a 3 classroom nursery school - it cost around £9000.

Anyway the Christmas Fair came and went last week in a flurry of activity and the money we raised (just under £500) will be forwarded to the charity in due course. However my memories of the children in Gambia are not as sharp as they were and it's very easy to forget the reasons why we started to fundraise. Organising another fundraiser just sits on my "to-do" list and I deal with it along with other jobs, and sometimes it gets pushed to the bottom of the list.

But last week while reading a post by Mrs Woog I blog hopped over to this post by a lady called Eden Riley. And I stopped for a few minutes to properly read what she had written.

It has really made me stop and think, and take stock of what's really important. I'm going to try to stop worrying that our extension isn't quite ready and I had wanted to be sitting in it by Christmas (actually Christmas 2006 but that's a whole other story!), that I haven't got any idea what to get my kids for Christmas, that the few things I can think of aren't enough. That their friends will inevitably get more than they do. Actually if they never had another gadget/book/T-shirt in their lives they would still have so much more than some children.

Sometimes it's good to take a step back and look around us;
I for one have been reminded how lucky I am.

PS - I really must add that we've raised all the money with a lot of help from some very good friends, we wouldn't have managed anything without them

Monday, 12 November 2012

A little bit more of Cuba

I thought I really ought to say that despite sitting through a roaring catagory 2 hurricane, we had a good time. Cuba is a beautiful place, very green and picturesque. In between the showers the sun was lovely, before the storms the sea was the turquoise blue of the Caribbean, despite the fact we were on the Atlantic side of the island.  It quickly returned to this lovely colour a few days after the storm although it didn't completely calm down. We had lots of fun snorkeling off the beach and off a boat, there was more to see underwater then I expected. I loved to see Little Miss at only 9 years old, snorkeling in the sea for hours and diving down if anything on the sea bed took her eye - we were so proud of her. Me being of that Jaws generation still has to keep looking behind me every few strokes!
We went horse riding and fishing and did so much swimming, although one pool was still out of action when it was time to leave.
We played table tennis, and badminton (in a strong wind!!) and ate a lot, oh yes we ate huge quantities of everything - or maybe that was just me, I couldn't possibly confirm or deny that!

The builder managed to lose one of shoes on the day of arrival (must have fell out of our bags when we had to swap rooms). That doesn't sound too bad but bear in mind he only owns one pair being that he lives in trainers or work boots! So every night at dinner I had to stand in front so as to hide his feet - proper shoes were required for dinner, and sneak him into the restaurant! He enquired at reception everyday for the missing shoe (20 years old, black lace up?) - they had us earmarked as the slightly mad family as we queued at reception behind people asking when water would be restored, when their roof would be repaired, whether there was any more drinking water available - then us, "have you seen a left shoe similar to this one?"!

We had no water to the rooms for 3 days and every one had to take buckets to the swimming pool to bring back and flush the loo or wash with. Husband decided that was too much of a palaver and covered himself in shower gel early one morning and went for a swim - the trail of soap suds behind him was a little telling! We had no TV for days and the drinking water started to run out. However they kept the enormous buffet running so we were happy!

The boys managed quite a bit of this.......
number 1 son bowling

number 2 son batting
Not sure who sneaked the bat and ball into their suitcase!

Despite all of the above I will very much look forward to going to Cuba again one day. We didn't visit as many places as we'd have like to as roads were closed but we did spend lots of quality family time together - albeit some of it huddled together in the dark while a hurricane raged outside!
I failed miserably to get number 1 son to buy a T-shirt like this
which I wanted him to wear to his next A level politics class -
 if only to wind up his slightly right of centre tutor!
And even more disappointingly, after cleverly matching my nail polish to the exact colour of the sea, they changed the damn colour of the sea!
But it wasn't all bad, on the day before we flew home, guess what turned up? The builder's missing shoe! So he was correctly attired for at least 1 evening meal out of 14. I wasn't very happy about that in actual fact as it was all I could think of to buy him for his birthday & Christmas - 1 black shoe!

Well that is the last holiday post - life goes on and already we've been home for over a week.
The weekend just gone I hosted a charity Christmas fair (bad planning to have it 6 days after we got home!) so we were as busy as ever..... and the indoor cricket continues......

Friday, 9 November 2012

Holiday Fiasco 2012, part 2

Well after a restaurant meal on the resort where we were battered by wind and rain (open sided restaurant) which was very bizarre. I sat at the table in my thick fleecy fur-lined jacket with a little smirk on my face - I'd been ridiculed for taking a winter jacket by the whole family - I hate the cold and always take some sort of jacket or coat to wear on the journey home. However it was just the right attire for the evening! We had silver service to the table and  wine to taste before it was served - this was all a bit like a comedy film as the wind & rain whipped & drenched us; only on one side! The middle of the restaurant was slowly flooding too.

You can see which side of me faced the outside - that'll be the very wet side of my jacket (lovely warm jacket!) Sorry about the odd photo, we all had to pull funny faces!

We had been given very little information about the approaching storm although the hotel advised that no alcohol would be served at the bar after 6pm (it was still served in the restaurants??) and that they would deliver breakfast to our room the following morning. Apparently the storm should make landfall outside our front door at 11pm. By 11.30 it was blowing a gale but no more that a bad English storm so we all went to bed. At 3am we were woken by the children running through to our room shouting that water was pouring through their ceiling; and it was, quite a lot! We hopped out of bed to go and look, well more accurately sploshed out of bed as what we couldn't see in the pitch dark was that we had around 4 inches of water on the floor!

Outside we could hear the storm although not see very much at that time; it was so noisy and quite scary. The electricity was out and the TV had been out since the evening before so we knew very little about what was happening anywhere other than in our room.

As time wore on a little daylight began to appear and we sat at the french doors looking out, trees bending at right angles, debris everywhere, and so much water. We could hear the sea roaring and we were the first line of villas after the beach. As we sat there with our noses pressed against the glass I received a text from a friend in the UK which said "I hope you're ok and still wearing your diamante bikini in the hurricane shelter - I guess you need to take cover and stay away from any windows"! What? Windows? Hurricane? Doh! Are we stupid or what??
just get a bit closer to that sheet of glass, it's only a hurricane!
Anyway as the sun came up the devastation was obvious all around, trees down, bits of the plastic cladding from the hotel strewn everywhere. And on top of what was happening outside we had to chase this little chap out of the room!
 As soon as we were able to leave the room, around 6.30am, we did.

The place was a mess, flooded everywhere and trees down all over the resort.
Lots of people (English in the main!) were starting to come out to explore and there was a very eerie feel to the place - we really felt like we were on a film set.
We went to look at the sea, we could hear it before we saw it. The beautiful turquoise blue water of the days before now resembled the North Sea on a blustery winter day.

Remember the massage hut from the previous post? This is it now

Can't see it? No neither could we!

And the lovely wedding pergola

More battered than it looks in this photo

 I felt sorry for all those who had hoped to hold their wedding ceremony here over the next few days,  it was half torn apart and clearly unsafe to use.

One of the a la carte restaurants had the roof torn off as did some of the hotel rooms!

We realised we'd been very lucky with our room!

The pool areas were such a mess,    sunbeds and trees were strewn about, and many in the pools.

The restaurant we'd eaten in the night before was a wreck....

Lots of water flooding the place and furniture strewn everywhere.
After a good explore we went back to our room for the promised delivery of breakfast - bearing in mind we'd just got used to the "all-you-can-eat-buffet" 4 times a day the soaking wet cheese roll (looking ever so much like a sponge), a flat banana (think it had been sat on) and bottle of water each delivered by a very brave member of staff on a golf buggy really didn't cut the mustard!
The staff at the hotel were amazing and worked so hard, most had been unable to get home and by now the roads were closed anyway. Several we heard had lost their homes but they worked tirelessly to get some normality back to the resort. Trees were cleared, the lobby was mopped and soon the lunchtime restaurant was back up and running - don't let it be said that a hurricane kept us away from the next meal!
Oh so typically English - shorts & flip flops just because we are on holiday!
Anyway I seem to be running on a bit - I think I'll do a part 3, or will that be too much? We did have a great time (between showers!) and Cuba is a very beautiful and very interesting country.
The aftermath of the storm was felt in the resort for some days, despite the fabulous efforts of the staff. I think you knew more in other parts of the world than we did in Cuba - we had no TV for days and the information we were given was limited to say the least!

I'll post a little about the good bits as soon as I can if that's ok?
Thanks for everybody's concern at the time, I did see a couple of comments when we eventually got some sort of connection and it was so cheering to know we were being thought about..


Monday, 5 November 2012

Holiday Fiasco 2012!

Well we made it back home safely, so hold that thought as you read about this years adventure. It may take 2 posts to bring you up to speed so here goes....

We picked all three excited children up from their respective schools on Friday October 19th and set off for Manchester; the builder hates to set off so early (we were due to fly Saturday at 10.30am) but after years of problems, mistakes and me generally worrying so much I start to cry he has given in to my demands! The drive took an age, we're about 4 to 4 and a half hours away from Manchester and it was the busiest time of the week on the roads. We had chosen to fly from Manchester so we could get a full 2 weeks in without extra days off school, Little Miss and number 1 son already needed 5 days off for the holiday as it was. Number 1 son is in sixth form college and they wouldn't authorise a holiday so he's marked down on their records as having taken an "unauthorised absence"!

We stopped on the way for some food & drink at a motorway "welcome break" - not that welcoming as we seemed to need a bank loan for a small snack! Then on to the travelodge; well that has to be the darkest, dampest grimmest place I've ever had the displeasure to stay in - however it was a means to an end.

All the way from home until arrival at the airport the following day I checked, double checked, then checked again all the paperwork, passports, visa's etc. I had printed and brought with me every scrap of paper relating to the holiday, just to cover every eventuality. As I found out later in the holiday every eventuality can not be covered!

However the kind lady on the check in desk let us all through to the departure lounge, non of the bags were over weight and all was looking rosy. I did get pulled over at security as I had a hairspray in my bag but it was small enough to be allowed through (I'd double checked that!). And the flight was on time..... nothing could go wrong now.

After an uneventful flight we were in Cuba, yes they let us in! The tour company coach met us and did a fabulous en-route check in so that on arrival at the hotel we already had our room keys, restaurant reservations and all the necessary information we needed. We disembarked the coach and enjoyed the champagne we were handed. We were a little nervous of the very dark cloud hanging over the hotel and after exploring the resort a little the heavens opened. But it's just a tropical rainstorm, not unexpected, and Cuba is so green and lush, they must have a reasonable amount of rain.

The hotel had a beautiful pergola in the sea for weddings

And a massage hut with waves lapping around it's supports, I noted that for later in our stay!

The heavens opened more that evening and we saw a lot of this

This picture is taken from the reception/bar area which is open sided, the rain was the most torrential I have ever seen; and I live in England!
However the sun was shining on day 2 and we did a lot of swimming, the snorkeling out from the beach was better than we had expected and kept everyone entertained until the next meal.

Food on the resort was on tap 24/7 and I for one made the most of it!
           The 10lb's I'd lost before went is almost all back on!

The evening restaurants were the best we've ever had too 

Sorry it's a dreadful photo!
We went to a local market for shopping on the Tuesday as it was a little overcast, and had a taxi ride in one of the old American cars, a Chevrolet I think.

But when we got there the rain began again, so we dodged under a tarpaulin stretched between two trees to keep the sun off the stallholders; we never actually left that spot and the taxi arrived to take us back to the hotel 45 minutes later!

And then the next day strange things began to happen around the hotel. We were confused. The display of awards in the lobby area went from this
to this....

And all the lights and chandeliers hanging in the restaurant and lobby areas were discretely removed.

Then we noticed that the canoes, pedalos and sail boats had been moved from the beach and placed in the middle of the hotel garden! The beach sun loungers were carried into the gardens too and tied together....Whatever was going on?

There was a queue of people approaching the reception desk but we ignored them and headed out to enjoy the sun which later appeared from out of the clouds.

 Some while later we spotted a couple of notices which had been put up in reception for the guests, the children thought it was all very exciting, me? not so much!

 Apparently a storm was heading our way, information was very limited, a game of Chinese whispers went on amongst guests! Tropical Storm Sandy was on it's way to Cuba. We later found out that it turned into a "strong category 2" hurricane shortly before it made landfall in Cuba. (Landfall? I've picked up the hurricane lingo already!)
The maps above show where the path of the hurricane was due to go; where exactly were we staying? A place on the north coast called Guardalavaca - marked on this map - see Club Amigo (not where we stayed but I borrowed the photo from the internet. I am computer illiterate so don't know how to edit the photo of the hurricane path to show our resort!)

So yes we were directly in the path of the hurricane. Time to batten down the hatches and see what the evening brought. By this time I was more than a little alarmed!
I'll continue the tale on another post - this is far too long and probably not that interesting to anyone else.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

We're back!

Well we're back home, all five of us, all in one piece so it can't have been too bad!

We only arrived home this afternoon so I'm still jet lagged and up to my eyes in washing, I will compile a holiday post, for what has to be the most eventful trip we've ever had, in the next few days - boy was it eventful!

But while we were away I realised in my last post I didn't mention our last holiday (before this one) in 2011, which had a story all of it's own....

2010 was quite a trying year for us with the recession having quite an impact on the builders business and we were all a bit frazzled as we approached the autumn. The builder had a big birthday approaching so I took it upon myself to book a holiday in secret, I have a friend who's a travel agent and she helped me sort it all out. I chose a 10 day trip to the Red Sea coast of Egypt, we all love to swim in the sea, we all snorkel a lot and some enjoy diving. We'd been to the Red Sea once before when I was pregnant with Little Miss ( a holiday punctuated by my travel/pregnancy sickness - I was car sick, plane sick, coach sick and sea sick!) But we loved it there - only a 5 hour flight from the UK and it has every thing we look for in a holiday.

I arranged time off school for the children, trips, parking - everything we needed. And on the BIG birthday morning, December 1st, we presented him with the envelope - the children didn't really know what Dad's present was so there was a lot of excitement.

Our holiday was at a lovely resort with a huge pier (jetty) out into the sea to make snorkeling and diving easier.

We were to be right next to the coral reefs so we didn't have to hire a boat to dive - unless we wanted to.

Everyone went off to school and work very excited that in only 8 weeks we'd be diving with Nemo and his friends.

Later that morning I had a 'phone call from the builder - had I heard the BBC news? What was the resort we were going to? My answers were No and Sharm El Sheik.

Do you remember the news in December 2010? It took up pages in the newspapers and was all over the internet........ 4 people had been attacked by a rogue shark in the Red Sea.... where exactly? Sharm El Sheik!! The scaremongering went on for quite a while in the UK press which didn't help.

This is par for the course with our holidays and needless to say we had a nervous time in the sea, well I did; number 2 son thought it was far more exciting potentially swimming with a  man eating shark that a few colourful fishes!

Maybe we did tempt fate a bit though...... this is where we chose to dive.....

(Not our actual photo, it seems to be missing so I've borrowed this from the web.)

Anyway we did have a lovely time and as it turned out it was quite uneventful, thank God!
I'll be back soon with "Holiday Fiasco 2012"!