Come Join Me Over Here!

Hi there!

I'm glad you've come to read my blog, but unfortunately I don't live here any more!

Feel free to trawl through my archives or look up my posts on Scoliosis which will always be at home here, but when you're ready please come and join me at my new home:

See you there!

Catherine Ann x

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Blogmas #7: Christmas Eve and All is Still...

“Christmas Eve and all is still,
Snow lies on the windowsill,
Cosy rooms where fires glow,
Stockings hung the lights are low,
Carols sung for all to hear,
Christmas day will soon be here!”

First of all, if anyone knows the name of, or any information about, this song, please tell me! I can only remember it from a school play we did years ago. I’ve googled with no luck. Perhaps a teacher just came up with it? I may never know, but it comes into my mind every Christmas Eve.

I spent a few hours in the day studying, according to my timetable. Yuck. But after slogging through maths and some sraith pictiuiri, I flicked the chip inside my head to Christmas mode.

A long, hot bath, cuddly jumper on, and I was ready for Midnight Mass—which, incidentally, takes place at six o’clock in the evening.

A few of us turned up early as part of the choir for a last-minute rehearsal. Once again I was struck by that lovely sense of community being part of a club or church can bring: everyone doing their part to make something special for the whole parish to enjoy. Often, I don’t feel quite at home here in Ireland. You see, in a rural community, finding your niche is a very difficult thing indeed. But when you do manage to find it, you are embraced forever.

The church is always a huge source of pride... it’s hard to explain so someone who’s not part of a religious community just how important the church is. When I have five hours, I’ll tell you the story of the fuss that was made when new chairs were purchased for the meeting room at the back! Anyway, that night, it was at its best. It was clear that hours and hours had been put in by the priest, the sacristan and pretty much every busybody (in the best possible sense) you can imagine. It looked absolutely beautiful...

The service was so special, as it always is, with my neighbour and I coming together to sing a solo and hear it echo through the building. The last candle on the advent wreath was lit...

...and the figure of the newborn Jesus was finally added to the crib.

Christmas Eve is the one night when everyone comes to mass, no matter how little or often they attend for the rest of the year. The whole place was packed: people were even sitting in the front row! (I’ve learned that in Ireland that’s a huge deal)  

It’s the one night of the year when everyone really comes together, everyone really listens to the service, everyone really wants to be there...

It’s also the one night of the year when a child in the front row can hold up a foam finger on a stick and nobody passes any remarks on it... but that's another matter. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Blogmas #6: The Icing on the Cake!

Hey guys!

Just a short post today, because I don't want to be tied up on this most special of all the "Eve"s...

I'll actually talk about Christmas Eve in a few days time, because well, it hasn't happened yet. Think of my posts on a 24 hour + delay... so this post is about something I did last night...

Are we all suitably confused? Wonderful. Then I'll begin...

I posted a few weeks ago about my Christmas cake, which had been baked back in November. Yesterday night, it was finally time.

Time for ICING!

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of Christmas cake. I'll eat a little slice of the fruit cake very happily, but things like marzipan and lots of icing aren't really my cup of tea.

So why do I go to so much trouble?

I suppose it's to treat my family... and because decorating a Christmas cake gives me that warm glowing feeling inside... and because IT'S CHRISTMAS.

I'm totally obsessed with tradition, too, and I don't like change one bit...

So I got on with it.

First, I heated apricot jam and spread it all over the cake. Then I draped a thin layer of marzipan over the top. There aren't any pictures of that process because I'm ashamed of the total mess of it I made this year... Turns out, you can't marzipan a cake and watch a movie at the same time!

Anyway, onwards and upwards. I then made the royal icing by whisking together 4 egg whites and 500g icing sugar, with a spoonful of glycerine to make it really shine. Then I smoothed this over the cake. We always use royal icing as my dad hates fondant, and I love the "snowy" effect it gives.

I had some black fondant that needed using up, and it gave me an idea. I fashioned a half cylinder and made grooves with a fork to look like a tree trunk. I then made small "branches" by rolling more fondant and flattened the whole thing with a rolling pin on some greaseproof paper. I then transferred it onto the cake. I stuck a robin ornament we've had for ages on one of the branches and finished with little fondant footprints and a gold ribbon round the cake.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty proud of it. Here's to trying something new!

Hope you've enjoyed the post. One more sleep! xxx

Monday, 23 December 2013

Blogmas #5: Mini Christmas!

This year I have made some wonderful friends.

This year some really wonderful things have happened in my life, and so many changes are going on around me.

This year, Tiger, Elephant and Ferret are all abroad doing very important things (which I'll tell you about later). For that reason, I felt like I'd be lonely this December. My family are the people I love most in the world, and I thought I'd be useless without them!

The thing is, though, I have another family. I've learned lately that there is more to family than who lived in your house growing up... and this lesson has been re-affirmed with every single person I've befriended this year.

I had a rocky start, friendship-wise, when I moved to a new place. I was a bit of a wet mop, (I know mum and dad will laugh if they read that, so I suppose, I was a wet mop at school...), and I used to do what anyone told me. I thought this was the reason I used to be bullied and taken advantage of.

Turns out, that wasn't the reason.

Turns out, I was so worried people wouldn't like me, I picked a few friends and stuck with them no matter how they made me feel.

I've become a little better at picking friends, now I know I have the right to do so, and I've come across some amazing ones.

Phoenix has stuck with me for five years: she's the only one I was close to from the beginning that I'm even closer to now. Wolf was the first one to tell me that it's actually not OK for people to pick on me... and she happens to be the most hilarious girl in the world. Bambi seems to understand my writing better than anyone, and always knows how to make one feel better. Crow is just the kindest person I've ever met; that's all I can say. And Black Sheep and I... we're a team. A great team, actually.

So on Saturday, just after school broke up, I went over to Bambi's where she'd organised a "Mini Christmas". It was a chance for us to spend a version of the very special day with some of our friends. These consisted of myself, Bambi (obviously), Black Sheep, Crow and two other friends who don't actually have nicknames yet but are probably the nicest people I've met. I say that about everyone, don't I? Oh, how lucky I am!

We had a Christmas dinner, made by Bambi's mum who's an amazing cook, exchanged gifts (which I'll talk about later) and generally chilled out... "soaking up each other's awesomeness".

I am thoroughly enjoying having two families to celebrate Christmas with. One who I've chosen very carefully (and done a wonderful job), and one who I didn't get to choose... but I did get incredibly lucky with. I don't know how I managed it, and to hear me argue with my parents sometimes you wouldn't think it, but I'm honestly part of the most loving family you could meet.

So whoever you're spending Christmas with, and how ever many you're having... enjoy every moment, and remember to thank your friends and family... just for existing.

Thanks for existing, guys. Love you.

(You don't get any pictures with this post. They're MY friends. Go and look at pictures of your own.)

Friday, 20 December 2013

Blogmas #4: Christmas Treats!

I gave up giving out Christmas cards a few years ago. Not because I’m against them: I love when mum sends them to long-time friends and family and we get them back, often with little snippets of news or even photographs. But for me, writing out cards for my school friends meant only one thing: someone would be forgotten. As I’m sure you all know, it was never anything personal... it’s just always so hard to remember all those names! It’s also a worry sometimes to know who to give a present, and who a card... Then there’s the horrible moment when someone who you’ve spoken to maybe twice gives you one and you have to just go “Oh... thank you!” and sort of drift awkwardly away into the nearest crowd, or even better, crater full of hot lava...

So instead, a few years ago, I began to bake treats to give out to everyone at school. This way, nobody got left out and there was a little Christmas treat for each one of my friends, and for anyone who wanted one. I’ve been doing gingerbread for the past few Christmases, but each time I tend to forget how absolutely frustrating the sticky dough is and get into a huge exasperating pickle every December. So this year I tried something that went down just as well, if not better. So well, in fact, that I decided to post the recipe here for all the people who asked about it!

Christmas Honeycomb

I got the idea from Nigella, whose video can be viewed here , and tweaked it to make it a little more special. Here’s what I used to make a supply for some individual presents as well as a big tin for friends to dip into.

Of course, this isn’t really honeycomb—it’s basically like a Crunchie bar, except homemade and therefore superior in every way. Your friends will be delighted to receive it as a treat.

200g sugar (just normal white granulated sugar)
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 teaspoons baking soda
A baking tray covered with greaseproof paper (baking parchment in Ireland)
Chocolate and flaked almonds (optional)

1)      Place the sugar, syrup, honey and vanilla into a heavy-bottomed saucepan (the same kind used for my crème patissiere)
2)      Stir it together (don’t panic about this, just give it a bit of a mix) and then put on a high heat. It’s important not to stir after this point! Just have faith it’ll all come right in the end.
3)      The sugar will begin to bubble, at which point turn down the heat.
4)      Keep an eye on it till all the sugar is liquid, bubbling away.
5)      Add in the baking soda and begin to beat with a fork. The mixture will bubble up in a glorious golden cloud.
6)      Just as it begins to expand over the top of your saucepan, take it off the heat and pour the mix onto the baking tray.
7)      It should now resemble a Crunchie!
I added a little too much baking soda to this batch and I swear it was ALIVE. 

8)      Leave to set for about two hours. (Warning: at NO point should you touch the sugar as it gets EXTREMELY hot. I know it’s tempting, but STOP).
9)      Next, you can smash it up into smithereens (the Irish of which, incidentally, is smidiríni, in case you were wondering...)
10)   Melt some chocolate in a Bain Marie (do so by placing a Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of boiling water). I used half dark, half milk. I found the milk was tastier to me, but the dark looked gorgeous against the gold honeycomb. Dip the pieces in and put them on another sheet of baking parchment.
11)   At this point you could sprinkle on some flaked almonds. I fund this yummy, but lotts of people didn’t like nuts, so probably leave this step out if you’re catering for lots of people.
12)   Leave them to rest in a cool place till the chocolate solidifies (probably overnight).
13)   Either pack them into little tissue paper parcels for special friends, or put them all in a tin for everyone to fight over!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Blogmas #3: Putting the Christ in Christmas

You’re allowed to groan at the silly title, but hear me out...

Where do I start? Since I mentioned the advent wreath, my more observant readers may have deduced that I go to church regularly and, like the majority of people in the rural area of Ireland where I live, I’m a member of the Catholic Church.

The reason why I’m Catholic, much like a lot of people I know, is because it’s the way I was brought up. I remember having to answer questions for a form once, and for some reason I was asked to give my religion, so I said “Christian.” There was a pause, a funny look, and then we moved on. I asked my mum about it later, and she explained that most people would specify “Catholic” or “Church of Ireland” or “Methodist” ...something along those lines. I had been surprised enough at the question in the first place, and so was even more baffled by the detail required.

Personally, I don’t think any two people have exactly the same religious beliefs—I’m not even sure I’m old enough to know what mine are just yet (though that doesn’t stop people trying to put it into words for me)!

For that reason, it’s probably going to be hard for anyone to find a denomination, if any, to suit them completely. I kind of see faith as something separate entirely. I have my own idea of God—who I have decided to believe in—but I’ve never categorised myself as anything. However I really do like being part of a Church, too. It’s really a kind of community to be involved in and I think that even if you’re not religious, that’s something really special. When I went in to have my operation, loads of my friends and family told me that they were praying for me and a priest agreed to dedicate a mass to my operation being successful. I don’t know if I believe that this helped in any way, but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what a person believes themselves, there’s something nice about people sharing their faith and using it to help you.

I strongly believe in believing in something. Whether you believe in God, or gods, or fairies or elves or magic, or even just have the vague idea that, as my mum so aptly described it, “there is more to this than this”... you should always believe in something. Family, friends, yourself. You just need a little faith.

This time of the year holds huge significance for many different Churches. All the Christian ones celebrate Christmas (see, you learn something new every day on this blog...), Jewish people celebrated Hanukkah the other week, and long ago the Romans celebrated Saturnalia and Germanic Pagans celebrated Yule—perhaps some people still do... I would love that so much. There must be something about the darkest time of the year that makes us want to reflect on what we choose to have faith in, and there’s something really nice about that.

So whether you’ll be spending your Christmas Eve at midnight mass (which nowadays is held at about 7pm) or sitting at home among family or friends, or doing something else entirely, I hope that you’ll take a minute to think about your faith if you have it, or what makes you get through the day. Religion, especially organised religion, gets a lot of bad press, and I’ll be the first to say that some of it is deserved, but I’m still happy to call myself a Christian. There’s a lot of debate about the Christmas story, but this much I think is true: two thousand years ago a special person was born who went around telling everyone to love each other, and leading by example... even when it meant he had to die.

I don’t care what you or I believe—there’s something very touching about that.

I've taken a pictures from my church so that those of you with different or no faith can see what it's like to celebrate Christmas in a Catholic church. I'd be really pleased to hear how you celebrate!

A "crib", model of the nativity scene. The baby Jesus model will be added on the day. In my house, the Magi usually wait outside till the sixth, but I guess the ones in the church got there early... by express camel, perhaps? 

An Advent Wreath. A candle is lit each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and the middle one on the day. The first candle represents hope, the second peace, the pink one joy, the fourth love and the white represents the purity of Christ, who Christians believe was born without sin. 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Blogmas #2: The Frozen Picnic

You join me today on my sofa, in comfy clothes, with a nice mug of tea by my side. For the first time in a long time, I am relaxed... and I’m about to tell you why.

I suppose three things happened to take the edge off. Lately, I haven’t been getting much sleep, and on Wednesday night I didn’t go to sleep at all—I sound like I’m exaggerating, but I was literally still awake when it was time to go to school. I ended up taking the day off and tried to relax, but I couldn’t manage it. I did, however, sleep well on Thursday night and had a reasonable day on Friday. Basically, it became apparent to me, as well as my parents and friends, that it was about time I learned to... how to put this eloquently... chill the beans.

1)      This was pretty simple. Normally I have all my Christmas presents bought by now, but this year something must have gone terribly wrong and the other day I hadn’t even decided on, let alone bought/made, any presents. I had ideas for a few people, but when it came to Wolf and Phoenix, I was stuck! I hadn’t a clue. Anyway, yesterday I had a little help deciding what to give them, came up with ideas I’m really excited over, and bought what I would need. I just feel like it’s a huge load off my mind, and I can finally look forward to Christmas rather than fretting over it. All things being equal, I’ll post about their presents after the Big Day!

2)      The second thing was something I’d forgotten I was able to do. I made a decision! I recall a few years ago, as I’ve mentioned before, making the decision to not be bullied, making the decision to be happy. And it worked! If you make a choice and believe in it enough, it can come true just like a wish. So I decided to relax and not let everything get to me. And somehow, once I’d made that decision, it was easier. It’s just like picking a door to walk through. The choosing part is agonising, but once you do, no matter which door you’ve chosen, the house you enter will feel safe.

Picture by Erin, aged 15. 

3)      The third thing that relaxed me was called the “Frozen Picnic.” Intrigued? So was I...

Crow and I had something to celebrate this week and it was decided (by SOMEONE) that we’d have a picnic in a local park. So. As you probably know by now, we live in Ireland. As you definitely know by now, it’s December. Most picnics take place in, oh I don’t know, the summer... but I’m nothing if not adaptable...

I arrived at the park slightly before Crow and sat down with my part of the picnic on a bench. I hadn’t been looking forward to sitting out in the cold, but I was shocked at how cosy I felt in my big coat and jumper, and how lovely it was to be there. There were only a handful of people around: some brave soul with two kids on the swings, a woman equally bravely jogging, and someone with two adorable dogs.

The one thing I love about my current phone is the panoramic camera! Look how deliciously empty the park is... 

It was just those people and me alone with my thoughts. I didn’t have many thoughts at that moment: in fact, I’d just bumped into Bambi on the way so I was just thinking how lovely it had been to see her. I concentrated on breathing the fresh, clean air in and out, filling my lungs to the top and emptying them completely, and looking around at how empty the world was. It was the most peaceful I’d felt in weeks.

Then Crow showed up and ruined it.


He’s a very restful sort of person, and I always feel relaxed after spending the day with him. I think we all need a friend like that: someone we can totally relax around, and when things are going wrong the only thing they say is “Hey, don’t worry about it, listen to my impression of a grumpy Irish teenager...” and suddenly you can’t remember what you were so worried about in the first place.

I do have more than one friend like that, when I give them the chance. Wolf always knows how to make me laugh: it’s nice to be sitting in maths, not having a clue what’s going on, and to look around and see her with this expression, too:

Then I have Phoenix who can always tell without me saying anything that I’m about to go mental, and often manages to stop it happening! I’ve got Bambi to spoil me rotten and tell me I’m wonderful, too. And then there are my parents with their little snippets of advice like “There simply must have been one nice thing that happened today. Tell me about that.”

It got me thinking that we should not only surround ourselves by these understanding, relaxing people, but we should also try to be that person. Of course we should talk to people about our lives, but we should also be able to take some time out, spend time with someone and say “Hey, here’s my impression of...” (I don’t know. Personally, I do a mean elephant). It might just give our friends the boost they need.
Anyway, it was the best Saturday I’ve spent in a long time, and at the moment I’m ever so unwound and ever so grateful for my wonderful life.

(Wait till the next time I step in a puddle, though...)

Happy Christmas! Just two weeks to go! xxx

PS. Have begun listening to Jack Johnson while doing maths homework, which is also rather relaxing. However, by the time I was doing an essay on Stalin, Lady Gaga had come on... that was pretty hilarious. 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Blogmas #1: Christmas Baking

My family is pretty traditional, and as a result my mum's always done her own Christmas baking: the steamed Christmas puddings, mince pies, the cake...

When I was younger, she'd do three Christmas cakes: one for the day, one for dad's birthday in January and one for a friend of the family. Now, she's narrowed it down to one and she'll perhaps do a Dundee cake for dad's birthday or I do a sponge with his favourite thing ever: cholesterol  er, whipped cream. Nobody in my family can bring themselves to eat a shop-bought mince pie, and when I'm walking round the supermarket and I see a pathetic little Christmas cake made in a factory, it just makes me sad. 

In short, we're spoiled. 

The events I'm about to tell you about actually took place about a month ago, during half term (mid term) and the week after, but I'd heard so many people complain about "Christmas coming too early" (if there is such thing) that I decided to wait and post them in December. However, though my Christmas officially started last night,  preparations started back then. This wasn't due to "corporate greed" or "the conformity of modern such-and-such", but because much like any teenage boy, it takes a good Christmas cake a very long time to mature...

My mum makes two puddings, one to be eaten on the day and one for sometime during the year, usually Easter. It's always such a magical moment when we finish our Christmas dinner and the pudding is brought out. All the lights are turned off, brandy is poured on the pudding and its set alight. We all watch the blue flames dance for a fleeting instant before the alcohol burns up and it's time to dig in, with cream or even milk on top. 

The pudding mix is made, Delia's recipe of course, is placed in two pyrex basins, wrapped in greaseproof paper and an old tea towel and string, and must be steamed for a total of eight hours. This is done in a saucepan on top of an upside down saucer. Mum does two the day she makes it, four at some other point, and two on the day it's eaten. 

(This ancient tea towel may have a Sainsbury's label, but others are available from all good retailers... sorry, I've gone all BBC...)

The pudding after two hours in the pot...

A few days after this, we had the day off school and I got to work on the Christmas cake. I may as well tell this story in pictures... I only wish one could blog smells, too! 

Set up the dining table to work on, with the most beautiful view... Christmas was in the air already! 

We always use the recipe.... 

...from this ancient Good Housekeeping book.

Got all my ingredients together...

(But look at the glacé cherries before I cut them... they're like little jewels!)
The smell of lemon zest, freshly-grated nutmeg and cinnamon always reminds me of Christmas

Wet ingredients have gone in....

Every member of the family must stir the cake for luck...
And now to put my feet up... (Tea for me, brandy for cake...)

And you can see the finished cake in a later post!

Happy advent, boys and girls!