The month in which …

… we took cuttings from the garden since we wouldn’t be around from mid December to save the geraniums if temperatures dropped too far.  I just hack a load of stems off the mature plants, trim them a bit & shove them in plastic water bottles with the tops cut off & a bit of water:

Dec - geranium cuttings

Re-using plants & water bottles!

… we had an impromptu Indian feast just the 2 of us, just because we could!

Dec - indian night

Dahl, veggie pakoras, lots of spicy dips…

… we were still picking salad in mid December:

Dec - salad leaves

Rocket, sorrel & winter lettuce

… I read another Ian McEwan book and my admiration for the man continues.

Saturday Ian McEwan

Another phenomenal novel by McEwan

 

… I got busy with paid work & facilitated 3 important workshops with middle managers back to back which went down a storm & after which I was more than ready for…

Christmas – The Prequel: Midwinter Madness

Our last chance to get into the festive spirit with local friends whom we’d be abandoning for Christmas for the first time in our 8 years in Monte.  It turned out to be our BEST party ever with piles of home cooked food (see below for my gluten-free onion bahjis & dips, hummus & crudites and Thai prawns):

Dec - party foodWe festooned the house with solar fairy lights, hung tinsel & streamers and moved furniture to make a decent dance floor.  The theme was Midwinter Madness and though it wasn’t quite Midwinter, the costumes were very Mad:

Dec - party 4

Katie (the only one who DIDN’T look like Brian May with that wig on) & Fi, the Christmas Tree

Dec - party 9

Tim, who managed to look Simon le Bon-esque here, but what you can’t see is his full-length body stocking!

Laura pic 1 cropped

The 2 elves (L-R) Cecile & Laura

Laura pic 5

(L-R) Mladenka, Goca & Mrs Frost (aka Maja, almost unrecognisable in white!)

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The 3 beauties (L-R) – Winter Queen Michelle, Elf Laura & Winter Princess Katie

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Steve was so scary, few people would talk to him!

Laura pic 6

Funniest costume award goes to Bernie who is dressed as a ‘Right Tit’ and together with her hubby Marko came as a ‘Pair of Tits’!

We danced & drank & ate into the small hours and a few of us hardcore folk stayed up to watch the sun rise at 7.00.  A few hours later we gave up trying to sleep as the builders constructing a road opposite us were pile driving through rock, on a Sunday!!!  We did a number on the house which was totally wrecked (yeah! we’re still young enough to get messy) and collapsed in a heap of leftover chocolate cake & cups of tea.  Thankfully we had Monday to recover before dropping Daisy off with Jen & Nathan and travelling to Virpazar to stay with friends near the airport ahead of our journey to the UK the following day.  But neither of us was quite prepared for this:

A Very British Christmas – 1,700 miles, 70 different people & 20 locations in 18 days

My sister Chris & hubby Dave so kindly made life easy for us by picking us up from Stansted and driving us to our parents in Essex.  Here’s one of the main reasons we came ‘home’ this Christmas:

Xmas 2

My dear old Dad – his body may be slowing down but he still has a quick wit!

And here’s the other one…

Xmas 7

Poor Mum who was missing a front tooth (hence the determinedly shut lips!) & in considerable pain at Christmas

First night in the UK was with old schoolfriend Becky and her family. Here she is making us a yummy veggie curry:

Xmas 1

My friend for 30 years

The next day we returned to my parents to get the Micra MOT’d in readiness for the rest of of trip.  It failed. Miserably.  Had to be scrapped.  Much time spent organising & collecting a hire car & cancelling the insurance for my now ex-car.  Mum & I let the boys sort it out whilst we enjoyed the delights of Syd Little & a variety of entertainers at the Westcliff Theatre.  Equipped with new car, we found we couldn’t get all our cases in it, it was so small!  Much rearranging of stuff & we finally set off for Brightlingsea for a reunion with John, a friend from 25 years ago.

We visited a fab little pub called the Railway Tavern where Steve got hammered on proper British ale and me on cider & locals played their old vinyl on a very dated stacka system with turntable.  It was unbelievably surreal sitting there listening to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (with scratches), supping on rare nectar, with someone who looks much the same as he did a quarter of a decade ago – it was like being in a Time Warp.  The Chinese takeaway purchased on the way home completed the experience.

Next we journeyed to Eastcote for lunch with old work colleague, Fran where we had a glass of bubbly and homemade fish pie before heading onto Guildford for an evening with my bro & his family.  A delicious curry cooked by my sister-in-law and lots of catching up & coo-ing over their fab new home.  We ended the evening in Walthamstow.  Saturday was ‘play day’ with Ditsch & Vince.  Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery, coffee & cake, a stroll over to the Southbank for mulled wine & chocolate at the Christmas market, a walk back over the bridge as the sun was setting:

Xmas place 1

Much missed London skyline…

a pint in a pub en route to Covent Garden:

Xmas 3

Good friends, pints of beer & cider & Nobby’s nuts

Window shopping & people watching in the Market, another pub, more beer and mulled cider (YUM!) and finally a Greek meal. We can recommend this restaurant.

At Sunday was Rugby, appropriately enough.  Kate & Rol’s we really got into the Christmas spirit as Steve strung the tree with lights and us girls decorated it:

Xmas 4

Decorating the Christmas tree!

Kate’s fabulous cooked ham feast was enjoyed by us and 8 friends:

Xmas 5

I think we were moving onto the homemade liquers at this point in the proceedings…

The next day we travelled to the pretty English village of Lavenham to be with old friends I’d made at Uni who’d really been through a lot since we last saw them & needed to off-load & then enjoy a good giggle.  Fortuitously, all 3 kids were there too – much transformed, but all still uniquely fabulous.

On Christmas Eve eve we had a big family reunion at my eldest sister’s place with all 3 nephews and their respective kids/ partner and ended up at my old school friend Nik’s home for the evening.  Her eldest daughter Alice, once a flower girl at our wedding 15 years ago, joined us in drinking wine & making up clues for the traditional Christmas Eve Treasure Hunt and Hugo & Lil woke us up bright & early the next morning in their excitement to complete it.

Next stop, the Essex coast to the special place where we were married:

Xmas place 3

St Peter’s on the Wall Chapel

My brother-in-law is now running the community there so it was a warm reunion with the Foxes, especially Jess & Aaron, my niece & nephew.  It was wonderful to be in nature and walk off the already-piling-on-kilos and we saw a seal, a badger and a robin eating out of Tim’s hand.  I went to Midnight Mass & sang my heart out.

We made it to my parents house just in time for the traditional 11.00 toast on Christmas Day and then drove them to the restaurant for our first non-home cooked Christmas dinner ever.  It didn’t disappoint & neither did the company.  It’s not where you are but who you’re with…

Xmas 6

Sister Chris & hubby Dave at the Christmas meal

The afternoon was spent opening pressies, laughing & eating.  Drinking had to wait until we’d driven back to my sister’s place where we piled into the Port (& cheese).

Boxing Day we braved the bad weather & the traffic to drive the 6 hours to Wales where we had a wonderful, decadent evening with Steve’s sister & nephew:

Xmas 8

Steve with his nephew Leon & sister Dawn

The following day, Pam & Gerry joined us for a day of feasting & merriment.

Xmas 9

Steve’s niece, Mum & sister

Xmas 10

And a very happy Dad, Gerry with his Christmas chamois leather!

Then back to Steve’s parents home for G&T’s & an early night.  Bird watching the next morning:

Xmas place 4

Woodpecker in West Wales

Then off to Wildernest (via the drama of Dawn & the lost car keys) to meet up with Jess & Dunc & family and see what wonders Hugh & Jude had woven with their careful, crafty renovations & development of their inspirational eco cottages.

Xmas 11

(L-R) Jude, Dunc, Jess, Hugh & Den

A final night with the in-laws and then off to Bristol to see the house my Uni friend Leigh and her partner Simon were lovingly restoring into a beautiful home.  We ended up in Bucks that evening where John made homemade pasta with roasted tomato sauce which we washed down with red wine.  New Year’s Eve eve we visited the Darleys and admired their huge tree!

Xmas 12

(L-R) Den, Jan, Maddy & Trev

Then back to John’s for our first ‘proper’ roast turkey dinner.  Not that the Christmas Day carvery wasn’t good but it’s not quite the same as taking a free range one fresh from the oven, carving it yourself & serving with homemade cranberry sauce and a rich side dish of diced black pudding, lardons & chestnuts!

Xmas 13

John the chef, Den the Kitchen Assistant

As if we hadn’t pigged out enough already, we totally gorged ourselves that night as cheese and John’s Mum’s Christmas cake followed the meaty feast.  We played Scrabble, then worked up a sweat with Shove Ha’pennies which John turned into “Shove Coin Bowls” and afforded us much entertainment until it was definitely long past our bedtime.  The following day looked like this:

Xmas place 5

Idyllic frosty very British country scene on New Year’s Eve morn

 

A brisk walk with John & Mutley helped to waken the body & sharpen my mind.  Now we were ready for…

A very Spanish New Year’s Eve

… which old friends of Steve’s, Mick & Jan, hosted delicious Spanish home-cooked dishes around their table decorated like a Spanish flag:

Xmas 18

Spanish-themed NYE

There was much boozing & dancing.  Unsurprisingly!

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Mick, early on. Check out the sign over his shoulder to the left of the photo! Perfect placement by photographer Steve

Xmas 15

Moira, Adrian, Jan & Den

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Steve & Adrian finding other uses for their maracas…

It certainly was a Happy start to the New Year!

 

 

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November, the month in which…

…Steve put himself to work.  He & 3 locals did a big land clearance job for an ex-pat, which took him a few days and was very physically demanding.  The cramps and aches were decently financially rewarded tho.  Here he is on an easier job, helping friends:

Steve drilling thru the wall at Fi & Dave's to make an opening to their new 'garden'

Steve drilling thru the wall at Fi & Dave’s to make an opening to their new ‘garden’

… the days & views variously looked like this:

Ivy in Zanjice

Ivy in Zanjice

A clear blue sky over Sveti Andrija

A clear blue sky over Sveti Andrija

Rainy day at Topla

Rainy day at Topla

… we picked the last of the produce from the organic garden:

2 small pumpkins & a titchy butternut squash

2 small pumpkins & a titchy butternut squash

Rocket & sorrel leaves

Rocket & sorrel leaves

Yet more chillies!!

Yet more chillies!!

The first mandarin - not only this year but EVER

The first & only mandarin – not only this year but EVER

… we had some fun times with mates, notably: an epic evening with Fi & Dave, playing Super Scrabble until 3.00 am; our pre-Christmas curry night at Jack & Hayley’s (now quite a tradition with us!) during which we sampled some of Hayley’s yummy beetroot chocolate Brownies, as well as the usual spicy delights; a fun evening at Carrie’s with great company and enormous amounts of food & drink (the parsnip soup was a triumph) at which I was brought to my knees, literally, when I missed the bottom step in the darkness.  As with all photos on this blog, click the pic below to get it to open in a new tab in full size (particularly relevant for this one in which the scabs don’t appear until full size!)

Scabby knees

Scabby knees

… I was VERY busy!!  I flew to Scotland this month for a week’s work with Who Cares? Scotland.  For the first time ever I flew direct to the UK (Stansted) from Montenegro (Podgorica) thanks to Ryan Air’s cheap, twice weekly flights all year round.  As I flew into Stansted, Lewis Hamilton was driving the last few laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.  I wanted to avoid hearing the result as I intended to watch the race the following day and see for myself how the championship was won, but there was no avoiding the news as the TV’s blared out Hamilton’s victorious celebrations.  Hurrah!  (Thanks to Lewis’ official website for the photo below!)

Lewis Hamilton wins 2014 Driver's Championship

Lewis Hamilton wins 2014 Driver’s Championship

The work with Duncan and his organisation was as inspiring, infuriating, exhilarating & exhausting as ever!  Click here to visit their website & become a friend.  We packed a lot into our time together, including a visit to Duncan’s Mum where we tasted the delights of Haggis Lasagne and I got to sleep in the ‘Faraway Tree’ and enjoy a soak in the Best Bath Ever. The next morning on our drive from Anthea’s house to Lagganlia, we saw a red squirrel and a herd of red deer.  Altogether a very beautiful, very Scottish experience.  (Thanks to wickipedia for the photo).

We spotted a herd of red deer on our way to the Cairngorms

We spotted a herd of red deer on our way to the Cairngorms

Back at work, I ran development sessions with management teams & facilitated the organisation’s residential by day and performed Karaoke and ran the bar by night…  Remarkably, not only was Duncan still talking to me at the end of the week but he even treated me to a delicious Chinese feast and escorted me & Jess to the Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh where their mate Scott was playing in a funky band called ‘The Retrophones’.  I had the full range of drinks that I yearn for in Monte: a pint of cider, followed by a Pimms, followed by Port! Saturday we went for a walk with Islay, Donald & Mila & I relished the last hours with the kids, especially Islay who is now officially my friend.  She beams her special (& rare, apparently) smiles at me and follows me around chatting.

Back in the UK I stole a few precious days to be with family & friends.  I got drunk with Nik & Mick; hung out for a bit with Lil’ & Hugo; had Sunday lunch with Mum & Dad; helped Dad with some chores; had Sunday dinner with Becky & family; was reunited with old friend John C after 10+ years and supped the best half pint of cider for years; had dinner, wine & conversation with John A (I did have a full set of John’s but John B died); had my annual service (Dr, hairdresser, optician, massage & reiki) & had an evening with my sister Chris & hubby Dave in their cosy new temporary home.  I flew back & fitted in a business lunch and coaching session before I finally arrived home! 13 appointments in 4 days!!

… I made onion marmalade.  The only thing to do when life gives you onions.  More of this in a separate post!

… I visited Trebinje in Bosnia with my friend Daca, was wowed by the old walled town, enjoyed the markets and the super cheap produce (but not the pushy street peddlars!) and bought a lovely hand-knitted hat for €7!

… I struggled through this weighty tome & made it to A Place of Greater Reality regarding my adoration of Ms Mantel.

My awe of Mantel diminishes slightly...

My awe of Mantel diminishes slightly…

I do however have increased respect for her.  This novel about the French Revolution is a triumph in so many ways – the research, the dedication, the effort!  It conveys the madness of those times so wonderfully and brings to life the world-shaping characters so brilliantly.  But for all that it is not as accessible and un-put-downable as my previous reads (Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies & Giving up the Ghost).  I did blanch halfway through and question my commitment to go on.  I’m glad I persisted but it bordered on a chore towards the end – until the very last section, which is gripping & moving.

… I experienced further disappointment with the reading of this book:

Over-hyped?

Over-hyped?

I had been urged to read this book by Jim, whom I’d consider a literary coach of mine.  Disappointment struck in the very first lines when I realised I had seen the film and remembered how the story was going to end.  I consoled myself with thinking that I could focus on the writing instead but frankly, found the quality lacking.  I’m sure the book has a massive impact upon reading when it’s magic has not been previously revealed – the concept is clever, compelling, disturbing…  However the writing style for me left me a little cold.  An annoying pattern is established early on of referring to an event and then going onto describe this event – it felt clumsy & childish.

… I continued to get interesting, fulfilling, well-paid work here in Montenegro.  The months ahead hold workshops to be designed and delivered and coaching programmes to be run.  The foreseeable future feels secure and financial worries are receding.  The month ahead has a fun-packed, busy, productive agenda – our first Christmas & New Year’s Eve in the UK with friends & family for 8 years!  We look forward to telling you all about it in 2015.

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