Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas presents

A wobbling tiger from India
Two books I really wanted!
Some charming French colouring pencils
A perfect ride on bike
A genuine Moroccan mint teapot set with tea glasses
This incredible mobile made for my son by our friends. Hand carved wooden clouds and hand made felt dragons, bat, owl and butterfly
An enticing looking poetry book
Recycled card kits, the plane already put together, and animals in the background waiting to be made
We'll never want for jam again!
Lovely wooden puzzles
A beautiful framed print and cushion for our new house
Not presents but I got some clothes in the sales, this jumper and top were from FatFace

Auld Lang Syne

I sat on the sofa the other night in my new Christmas socks, listening to my family talking, sipping red wine from a tea glass, mindlessly eating Carluccio's dark chocolate grissinis (truly addictive) and pondering on 2012 and what it has brought me.

This year has been a really good one. From a selfish point of view, I feel infinitely better in myself than I did this time last December. Having a baby, whilst the best, most fun and most intense thing I've ever done in my life did wreck my self confidence for a while but these days I actually feel more positive about myself than I did pre baby, mentally, physically and spiritually. Interestingly I no longer believe what I had been previously told: that having children means you 'really' grow up, or completes you, or shows you what love 'really' is. It's simply an experience I am lucky to be having. A fantastic, tiring, life changing, soul sucking yet hilarious experience.

Be in the world but not of the world
My 2012 resolutions were to not spend my savings while on maternity leave and to try and get a house deposit together. I retracted these a few weeks in because they were too materialist and made another resolution to read improving literature more often. I didn't really do this as much as I would have liked, so I will carry that one over, although I am still battling with the problem of being too tired to read properly when I finally get time to myself during the day (night). The house sorted itself out as these things tend to do so I will never make resolutions about money again.

This year I have:

> Lost three stone without trying,
> Successfully looked after and weaned a baby without having a clue what I was doing, until the baby became a toddler. Obviously my best achivement!
> Played Irish music with new people. Played a few gigs but also had to skip a few due to infuriating car troubles and illness,
> Overhauled my appearance with hair dye and big glasses half way through the year,
> Become a working mother when I went back to work after maternity leave,
> Expanded my freelance work a little, with more plans in the works for next year,
> Bought a house,
> Taken my son on his first holiday to North Wales where we had a magnificent time,
> Blogged for the entire year! I've been blogging since 2002 but not publicly. This is my 100th post! If you read without commenting please de-lurk yourself, I love knowing who is reading.

I'm also very keen to follow more blogs but don't always have the time to search for them so if you're reading and have a blog I don't know about please tell me and I'll follow you!

In 2013 I will:

> Make exercise a routine in my life.
> Get through the increasingly large pile of books on my To Read list

Some pictures from this year:

On the beach on our holiday in August
Lunch in Cowbridge in the summer

First shoes

First birthday in September!
Autumn visits to my dad
This is the living room of the house we've bought! (Not our stuff) we're moving in February!

Last Christmas, nearly 4 months old
12 months later awaiting his first Christmas dinner!
Went to the museum a ridiculous amount of times
Portmerion in the summer
First painting
At my mums
May 2013 be as fun and beautiful as 2012 was

Happy new year!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nadolig Llawen

Santa Claus, illustration from Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures, 1907, published 1913
I'm currently waiting for my sister, mum and her partner to arrive from Sussex for 'second Christmas' so I thought I'd update on our holidays so far (I finally made mince pies!).

Tinkling the old ivories
We spent actual Christmas at my sister-in-common-law's, eating an epic Christmas dinner and secretly playing on the children's new Wii when they had gone to bed.

Spending Christmas with children is hilarious, my son didn't really have a clue but his little cousin insisted on leaving out a banana for Santa as a nice change from mince pies! It also reminded me how Father Christmas is actually incredibly srs business.

I do love a proper tree

With his new froggy slipper socks
I too got some rather snazzy slippers
Huw surprised me with this Israeli silver and gold necklace, it's totally gorgeous, I shall wear it always
His first Christmas dinner!
I was more excited about giving presents this year than receiving them, but I did get some lovely things including lots of wonderful books, biscuit cutters, a CARTREF ('home' in Welsh) cushion and a gorgeous framed print for our new home. My son was a lucky baby and got a new jigsaw, books, a shape sorter, cute dinosaur pyjamas and some lovely knitted leg warmers.

Nadolig Llawen to you and hope you had a lovely break.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Potted Pig

I had venison haunch steak with juniper braised shoulder. Not pictured, the most delicious red cabbage and roasted carrots I've ever eaten.
I'm still not recovered from this hugely irritating not quite flu by definitely more than an ordinary cold disease. But I shall not whinge.

I wanted to share that last Friday, back when I could still use my taste buds, had my sense of smell and could hear out of my left ear, I had my work Christmas party at The Potted Pig, which I'd been looking forward to for literally months. I knew I was coming down with something but no way was that going to stop me from eating delicious food in what was supposed to be Cardiff's best restaurant. Not to mention I had paid a small fortune for the privilege.

I was not disappointed. Unfortunately I'd only shelled out for two courses, but I soon wished I was having three. I had the venison and it was virtually leaping off the plate, delicious and succulent. The accompaniments were perfect and the wine was amazing. Then I had sticky toffee pudding with homemade vanilla ice cream. I think it really speaks for The Potted Pig that despite my (ASDA) sticky toffee food poisoning experience the week before I still managed to thoroughly enjoy this dessert. Crispy, thin-pastried homemade mince pies and expensive tasting coffee followed. Oh god, it was amazing.

As you can tell, I'm no restaurant reviewer... however I will say if you find yourself in Cardiff feeling hungry you must go to The Potted Pig straight away and beg them for a table, even if you are vegetarian. I was a bit worried that vegetarians at work would be disappointed but they said their food was amazing too!

I think I'm pretty ready for Christmas. Normally I would have made 8 hundred mince pies myself by now but half the fun of them is the smell of them cooking and I still can't smell a thing. Maybe tomorrow I'll just go for it.

My dad is out of hospital and recovering at home which is a relief. We have finally exchanged on our house and will be moving in early February which despite being later than I'd imagined is still very nice to know. I can't believe that I, queen of irregular employment and erratic freelancing am going to be a homeowner!

Inspired by The Gingerbread's hilarious home decorating magazine which I perused at her house last week, I have hung some particularly nice cards across the room on a piece of thread and dabbled with a pot of red cyclamens and some candles on the dining table as a charming festive centerpiece (couldn't find any 'chargers' however). I did have a table runner too but my child immediately yanked it off along with everything painstakingly arranged on it so I'll have to continue on without that...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Trans-Siberian Railway Part II - Moscow and Siberia overland

This is Part 2 of a series on my trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway from St Petersburg to Beijing. Part 1 is here.

We reach Moscow early in the morning and get off the train looking conspicuous with our huge rucksacks. As we head for the exit three Russian policemen close in on us like raptors, shouting indistinctly.

"Keep walking, quick, don't look at them" mutters Tara, our Australian guide, knowing the corrupt extortion tricks of the constabulary once they have you in their hands. We want to keep our passports so escape them by literally running away out of the building and into a taxi. I celebrate my arrival to the Russian capital by having a huge and unusual nose bleed when we arrive at the hotel.

Moscow is like London, a bustling Western metropolis, apart from the extraordinary fairytale buildings dotted around like shiny E numbered sweets. We have very limited time here so head for the main attractions at once.

The Red Square is magical. The Kremlin looms, shrouded by gates and trees. We see huge black limousines slowing driving inside ...Vladimir? Cranes are everywhere just like in St Petersburg.

"The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat" - or St Basil's
The Resurrection Gate
L E N I N - he is inside, waxy, dead and immortalised. I didn't go in to see him and regret this now.

90% of Russian women wear extremely high heeled shoes. All the streets in Moscow are deeply paved with cobbles, so we see a huge amount of women with their feet stuck.

Religious trinkets for sale
Goosestepping at the memorial

Tiny floating puffs of seeds drift through the sky all over Russia, they call it 'summer snow'

We wander into this building and are entranced by a group of four Gregorian singers.

Our Moscow hotel room

Good for leaning Cyrillic
Watching the people
Selling kittens
The Wall of International Peace with tiles painted by hundreds of citizens in 1990, now terribly vandalised.

West Sussex!

Another walk round the city, we end up next to a huge ring road staring at this strange thing, I don't know what it's for or what it means. It's next to a swimming pool

The GUM shopping centre in Red Square, lit up the night
St Basil's at night.
Moscow tires me and Mongolia is calling me so I can't wait to get back on the train for the biggest stretch of our trip. We will leave this train in deepest Siberia after 4 days and 4 nights by train, covering over 3000 miles.

This becomes a more serious undertaking when the reality of train life hits us. The carriages are cramped, hot, dusty, has no shower and one tank of boiling water (for pot noodles) for each carriage. I'm so excited. We set off, and here starts four long days and nights of desperately trying to entertain ourselves in mere feet of space, drinking vodka, smoking chocolate cigarettes and gesticulating through the language barrier at Russian soldiers returning home.

The train, almost ready to leave in Moscow
Our provodnitsa on this journey.. the woman who looks after our carriage and is in charge of the tank of boiled water
Our cabin before we festoon it with all our stuff
We stop in Omsk and I take this photo.

There are a few train stops along the way offering a chance to stock up on pot noodles, bottled water and if you're lucky, some freshly cooked food from the women who come to the stations with little carts covered with cloths for this very purpose. These ladies are a godsend, after 4 pot noodles in a row I buy a full on roast dinner from a wonderful women, it's heaven.

We have a time table that indicated the length of time of each stop but soon learn that 20 minutes can turn into an hour, or 30 minutes become ten. Every second off the train is fraught with terror that it will leave without us.

On the first day we had cheese, apples and tomatoes. They didn't last long and when they were gone we dreamed of them
A cute Russian baby called Veronica

A siding somewhere along the way
A babushka's food cart

Entertaining ourselves..

I wished I could get out and explore sometimes
We meet some Russian soldiers travelling home to Vladivostok. I give one a piece of paper and a pen and he immediately draws a tank with a star on it. They ask us what our patronymic's are (Russian's people have an extra name derived from their fathers forename)  and are aghast to learn that we don't have them.

Playing football with Russian children who suddenly appear in our carriage
One afternoon I sit in the expensive food carriage, aged curtains flapping at the windows, and watch a Russian waitress eat a huge bag of black sunflower seeds, discarding the husks on the folded out newspaper cone they come in. I am so excited to get my own cone from a woman at the next stop and proudly learn how to extract the seeds with my teeth.

A sweaty me with a very sweet girl called Kira. She could say 'dog' and 'frog' in English and wanted to learn more but her school wasn't open for long enough during the week. The community spirit on the train was brilliant, people from all over the world crammed together in strange circumstances leads to extraordinary events.

I spend one night waiting for daybreak, attempting to escape the relentless heat, hanging out the train window in the empty corridor alone, listening to I Want More by Can and watching the cool Siberian dawn rise over the passing landscape.

The most interesting thing about travelling by train is how the rhythm of it becomes a part of your bones. De dun de dun.... De dun de dun.... It lulls you to sleep at night, it becomes the backdrop to your existence. When we get off the train it's impossible to sleep and we actually feel 'land sickness'!

A friend texts me my degree results and it's so inconsequential.

It's really exciting when the train goes round a bend. Everyone rushes to the window to take a photo.

We pass a stone marker, glimpsed as the train passes- we're in Asia! The writing says "Welcome to Asia!"
On the last day some Russian guys come into the carriage and say they are setting up a shower in the toilet with a hosepipe and a bucket of water, it will be 20 RUB to use and I decline.

Desperately looking forward to fresh food, a wash and a cool night's sleep, we eventually arrive at Irkutsk, say goodbye to friends made and sadly depart our hot grimy train...

The only think I can think about is showering.
We're off Listvyanka, a village by Lake Baikal - the largest freshwater lake in the world. Direct all the world's rivers into it, let them flow for an entire year and it will still not be full.  Listvyanka is the only place we've been so far where you can drink water from the taps as it comes pure and direct from the lake.

In my next post, I'll show you amazing Lake Baikal and we'll go on to Mongolia, a place that deeply contrasts with Russia and provides us with the refreshingly easy smiles and Buddhist calm of an extraordinary and ravaged country.......