Friday, 20 December 2013

Introducing Kristen - Christmas in Arizona!

I am so pleased to introduce you to Kristen, my first guest blogger - enjoy this visit to Christmas over the pond!
K xxx

Hi! I'm Kristen from Whatever is Lovelier, and I'm your guest blogger for the day.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, Karen and I have become blogging friends
on opposite sides of the world. I enjoy seeing all the lovely photos she posts
here on her blog, as well as those on Instagram. Karen always captures
the beauty of Oxfordshire in her photos, which is so very different from where
I live in the United States. She has graciously handed over the reigns today
so that I can share with you my corner of the world and how we celebrate the
holidays here in Chandler, Arizona. I hope you enjoy! Then be sure to head
over to my blog to see Karen's post about Christmas in Oxfordshire.

Arizona is in the southwestern part of the county, and our capital city, Phoenix,
is a desert metropolis and the sixth largest city in America. Drive a few hours
south and you will find yourself in Mexico, or drive a few hours north to find
snow in our high country. Here in the city, we have an average high temperature
of 19 degrees Celsius in the winter! I moved to Chandler, which is a suburb of
Phoenix, a year ago and enjoy living and working in this multicultural city. My
house is minutes from the historic downtown Chandler area, and I visited the
weekend they lit their Christmas tree. You won't find snow here. Instead you
will find rows of stately palm trees, dressed in twinkling lights. We also like to
wrap our cactus in lights. Just be careful you don't prick yourself!

One of the most unique sights you will see in Chandler during the holidays is
the famous Tumbleweed Tree. That's right, the 'tree' you see above isn't really
a tree at all. The Tumbleweed Tree starts as a metal frame that is covered by
some 2,000 tumbleweeds, which are then spray painted white and decorated
with lights and about 65 pounds of glitter! I was fascinated to hear that all the
tumbleweeds were found right here in Chandler. I live in the wild, wild west!

While wandering around the downtown area, I found this western wear shop.
Sabas is the place to go if you are in the market for cowboy boots, hats, plaid
shirts or other assorted country western items. We don't all dress like cowboys
and cowgirls here, but the shop is fun to see decorated for the holidays. I love
the covered wagon in the window!

Here are photos of a few homes in my neighborhood decked out for the holidays. These are typical Arizona ranch style homes, with xeriscape landscaping. Xeriscaping is a way of landscaping that reduces the need for irrigation, essential for us desert dwellers. Most homes have rocks in their front yards instead of grass, accented with cactus and palm trees. I love the palm trees wrapped up in lights!

Luminaries are another common holiday decoration you will find here in Arizona. Luminaries are lanterns made out of paper bags filled with sand and lit with a candle, placed along a home's driveway or pathway to the door. The tradition of luminaries started when Catholic Spaniards introduced them to Mexico as a way to guide the spirit of Christ into their homes on Christmas Eve. In modern times, they are just a simple and lovely way to light up the desert during the holidays. Every winter, our local Desert Botanical Garden hosts a wonderful event called the Las Noches de las Luminaries where the gardens are lit each night with more than 8,000 luminaries.

Every family has their traditional holiday foods, enjoyed each holiday season. In my family, we have a roast Christmas Eve night and my mom makes the magic cookie bars that my sister and I look forward to the rest of the year. One food that almost everyone in Arizona enjoys during the holidays are Christmas tamales. Tamales are another tradition brought to Arizona across the border from mexico. these delicious treats are made of masa, a dough made of corn, which is filled with various toppings and then steamed in a corn husk. Most tamales are filled with either saesoned beef, chicken or pork, then various spicy (and I do mean spicy!) chili peppers are added in, as well as one token olice. Sometimes tamales are even sweet, filled with masa and pineapples. You can find tamales at the grocery store, but the real treat is finding someone who makes them by hand and is willing to share! Tamale recipes are passed down from one generation to the next, and are a very time consuming dish to make. They aren't something made in my family, so each year I go on a hunt to find someone who has made a batch and is willing to sell some. I have even bought them from a man out of the back of his truck! Nothing is better than a long day of holiday shopping then a dinner of tamales!

I hope you have enjoyed hearing about how we celebrate the holidays here in Chandler, Arizona. While there are so many holiday traditions that are universal, like the tree and caroling, it is also fun to look at the ways they are celebrated locally. I know that the readers of my blog will enjoy reading Karen's take on a typical Oxfordshire Christmas. Be sure to head over to my blog to see her post and photos!
And thanks again, Karen, for trading places for the day!


xoxo, Kristen

Tuesday, 17 December 2013


At this time of year I am a sucker for magazines, even more than normal. The shiny covers, the promise of inspiration, the helpful guides to perfection! And every year I read with envy about all the beautiful traditions that people have, the tiny repeated history makers and it makes me feel a little, well, sad that I am clearly not creating traditions for my family to remember and pass on.

But then I asked the children what they thought and realised that actually we do have our own traditions. They just aren't.... … traditional!

BC (before children) my decorations went up on Christmas Eve. It wasn't a bah humbug decision, just that Christmas started once work had finished. Now they go up in time for DD's birthday on the 15th. We make an event of it with music and laughter and birthday celebrations. There's a 1970's card which goes up every year and my tacky 1970's mouse decoration has pride of place!

Christmas Eve is spent at home, a film and hot chocolate followed by the playing of a really rubbish Disney LP telling a dreadful story with dreadful sound effects. But we laugh!
Christmas Day itself follows a pattern, sadly that has had to change now Noels Christmas Present is no longer prime time viewing. But we still have salmon and scrambled eggs and sparkly wine! (Well I do!) Dinner is a joint venture as they all know my cooking shortcomings. And Christmas Day tea is now what the family lovingly refer to as 'orange food' - cheap easy cook party stuff from Iceland!!!
It's fun and it's relaxed and mostly stress free. And surely that's the best tradition of all?

Monday, 9 December 2013

Getting ready.......

No one can fail to have noticed that 'it' is hurtling towards us at a huge rate of knots.... Yes, that special time of year is once more nearly upon us.

However, before everything goes a little too sparkly and glittery I am enjoying the last vestiges of the Autumn. There are still a few leaves hanging on and there have been some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Sadly I have not managed to catch any of these on camera due to the fact I am usually busy driving to/from work and am unable to stop without causing massive issues to the vehicles behind :)
Still - I have enjoyed them and they have made me happy to be out and about at such unearthly hours!

At home we have been preparing for Winter. The allotment has been sadly neglected for a while but we have been out in the garden, being helped by the happy hens. DH has chopped enough wood to see us through a few fires and I helped by raking up some leaves - then kicking them all over the garden - then raking them up again. I don't care HOW old you are, kicking leaves has got to be one of lifes little joys...

Chicken (foreground) and Chicken (behind) lend a claw!

Inside we have now got Sloe Gin, Blackberry Whisky, Blackcurrant Brandy and Damson Gin all awaiting perfection. Regular taste tests are quite necessary :D I can also confirm the first batch of mulled wine has been made and enjoyed by the fire. I have discovered the usefulness of the slow cooker in creating mulled wine although having it bubbling away on the top of the Rayburn always seems the more traditional option.

So - with things sorted and tidied and put away for the Season I can now look forward to enjoying the build up to 'you know what'. And enjoy it I will!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Taking Stock - (from yesterday)

This post was written under the influence of a bit of alcohol.... then I had major problems with my laptop meaning I could not post it yesterday.
Today I am struggling to understand Windows 8 on DD's laptop and having to call for assistance every 10 seconds "help, it's all gone tiny", "How do I get back to....?" etc. I didn't want to waste my stock taking from yesterday so here it is, just 24 hours later. It's unedited and in all it's Sunday evening glory.

These prompts were borrowed from fellow blogger Marylin at Softthistle (I've just worked out how to put a link into my text - yay, go me!!) (please let me know if it doesn't work btw)

Making: Fruit leather from the billions of apples I have in my porch. Getting bored very quickly with the peeling and coring however L

Cooking: A roast for 7 people. Getting everything ready at the same time is always a bit of a problem but I seem to have opened the cava a little early….

Drinking: A glass of cava…... Well, more than one to be totally honest!

Reading: Hannibal – for about the 15th time. I love this book. (Thinking now I should have put something more cultural??)

Wanting: All the elements of the roast to be ready at the same time. Just to prove I can do it.

Looking: Out of the window at DH cutting wood and filling our woodstore ready for the bad weather.

Playing: Ellie Goulding and Tori Amos alternately. Go girl power!

Wasting: Too much time on Facebook – the downside of having it on my smartphone.

Sewing: After the craft fair I am taking a sewing break. No more tweed hearts for a while.

Wishing: That I could decide which techno type tablet would suit my needs best. So much choice, so little technological knowledge. That and world peace. obviously.

Enjoying: Being in a warm busy kitchen after doing jobs in the garden earlier.

Waiting: For all my dinner guests to arrive – I’m actually feeling sociable (and a little fuzzy)

Liking: The fact Christmas is still exciting and I'm not too jaded with all the rubbish adverts/commercialisation yet.

Wondering: How much sleep I’ll get tonight – damn insomnia!

Loving: The prospect of a new photo prompt. Check out #decembermagic on Instagram.

Hoping: A certain friend gets well soon……

Marvelling: At the fact I have started my Christmas shopping and actually have some idea of what to get people this year.

Needing: Another glass of cava… this blogging lark is thirsty work…hic!

Smelling: Roast chicken and spicy fruit leather.

Wearing: Camo jeans (still think I might be a little old for these) and the biggest snuggliest jumper I own. Also very unfetching slipper socks.

Following: A whole bunch of new blogs – new friends, new links, loving it!

Noticing: The weekend is just not long enough.

Knowing: This week at work will be busy and I need to make sure I don’t overdo it.

Thinking: I really need another glass of cava!!

Feeling: Really inspired with my blog and wishing there was more time to devote to it.

Bookmarking: New blogs, Youtube guides on how to do technical type things and tablet type comparison sites.

Opening: My arms to cuddle stroppy teenagers… whether they like it or not!

Giggling: At the rubbish jokes we are telling each other. A frogs favourite footwear? Open-toad sandles!!

Hooray - now I'm off to dish up some parts of the roast, to turn up the oven on other parts and to refill that glass, just one more time I promise!