dear diary :: homecoming

Well that was a long journey down home, but then we did stop for a break in Castle Douglas, which is one of my favourite places on the way to the border, and of course I was tempted into all the lovely little shops there.

The lady in the craft shop kindly exchanged the packet containing a circular crotchet hook (never knew there was such a thing) that I had bought on our way to the cottage for a circular knitting needle that I had intended to buy! They don’t normally do exchanges (she must have taken pity on me) but there was a price difference to rectify , the knitting needle being £2 less than the crotchet hook, so the attempt to do an exchange on the till didn’t work…no matter I said I will have a look around and buy something else so you don’t have to do a refund. It wasn’t hard to find things, in fact I spent another £10 so she did quite well out of the exchange! I bought some of those moulded cardboard pumpkins for painting or decoupage, some coloured raffia skeins for present wrapping and a sheet of the decoupage tissue paper.

Moving on to the Artists and Craftmakers Cooperative shop I found a lovely little card for my friend. He is 81 today and has need of nothing, but he does like wood – he taught woodwork at school and used to make wooden things himself. The card has a tiny piece of decorated driftwood on it which I then put into this natural wood frame from Dunelm to make a picture.

In the Designs Gallery Bookshop I discovered these pretty little packs of decorated letter wring papers that fold up to post (I forgot to take a picture before I wrapped them but you can see them here-https://cardsandgiftwrap.co.uk/product-category/stationery/cards-and-letterwriting/pigeon-folded-letters) perfect for another friend whose birthday is tomorrow.

This morning I had to make four very quick birthday cards for 3 friends and my niece. I wanted them to reflect the change of season so I used a recent water colour sketch I did at the cottage of the hawthorn berries and overlaid part of a poem by Samuel Butler which is very suitable for the season. It is wonderful what you can do on the computer these days!

With all the crafty bits out of the way and the cards written and presents wrapped ready to deliver or post we took a walk down to the village and dropped off the card and present to today’s recipient. I am spending what is left of the day making Lentil Shepherds pie to go with some fresh sweetheart cabbage, then I will do a few Somatic exercises to loosen up my tight hips from the long journey home and afterwards probably collapse for the evening in front of the TV for a couple of hours of catch up. We missed the Manhunt series with Martin Clunes so that will be first on the list.

Yesterday we unpacked all the bags, sorted the heap of washing into piles (I am praying for good weather to get all the washing done and outside on the line) and then went food shopping. We don’t normally go on a Friday and as expected it was busy. We had to weave around the shelf stackers and their cage trollies who were out in force down each of the aisles nd one or two items I had to pick out of their stock cages or off the top of the fitments where they keep boxes of extra stock before it is put out onto the shelves. The pasta shelves looked like they had been raided but thankfully no-one was interested in the organic wholewheat spaghetti and I could have taken a box full. Not being greedy I only took 2 packets.

Generally for my pantry stocks of jars, cans, dried foods etc I replace items only when they come on offer with the red shelf tickets unless I am desparate enough or have run out of something and am forced to buy it at full price. I also find myself rejigging the menu plan a bit in the fruit and veg aisles to accomodate any offers. This week the mushrooms were on offer so we bought extra to make a large batch of mushroom soup. Other fresh foods I buy weekly like milk and yoghurt from the chiller aisles I have to rely on striking lucky with any offers.

In the past we have tried the Sainsbury’s SmartShop self scan using their handsets – four times to be exact – Scan, bag and go they advertise, it couldn’t be simpler – but each time there was a problem for us and it wasn’t simple far from it so we gave up went back to the normal checkout method. However, Sainsbury’s are now offering extra reductions on certain items when you do a Smart Shop which is also linked to the Nectar card. Now I have no intentions of going back to doing a full shop using their Smart Shop method but I was attracted by the hefty reductions offered on the Nectar card of items we do normally buy (about 10 in all and they change weekly) so I sent DH round with the Smart Shop handset and a basket to gather up all the offer items and take them through the self scan whilst I did the bulk of the shopping in the normal way.

I am not sure this is exactly what Sainsbury’s have in mind! They are trying to steer everyone over to their Smart Shop way of shopping and have already started reducing the number of tills. I am presuming that tempting people with these extra offers is their new line of attack. So I just thought I would play them at their own game – it worked quite well and gave DH something to do whilst I concentrated on doing the bulk of the shopping from the menu plan…oh and having a casual look around the magazines, the clothes and the homewares without him hovering over me (I was good though and no purchases made from these departments). We will try doing this again next week – it seems a fairly easy way to save a bit more money to me.

So busy days ahead I feel. The garden here needs sorting out, tidying up and putting to bed. I have ripe tomatoes in the greenhouse and outdoors to pick and what seems like a final courgette. I have a fancy to sow some winter salad under the cloches (just an idea at the moment) and I have packets of bulbs waiting in the wings to plant.

Then there is the laundry, some cleaning and a bit of reordering in the house to attend to. I had already switched over the contents of my wardrobe for the new season before we went to the cottage and I have adventurous plans whirling around in my head for putting in some drawers and shelving inside the wardrobe so it is better fitted out……. when we can carve out some time.

Have a relaxing Sunday everyone x

dear diary :: garden progressing nicely, knitting not so…

I have been hoping for rain all week – not the statement most of us would want to hear, but secretly I have because I had plans here at the cottage for wet weather.  One of them was to do more knitting. 

I boldly decided to alter the back of the pattern of the little dress – probably not the wisest of moves given my novice ‘under’ novice status.   I realised when casting on for the back of the dress that it does not open completely it only opens to the little contrast coloured ‘ribbon’ band.  This means it would be harder to get on and off in my mind with no ‘give’ room and I am already beginning to doubt if the size I chose to do will fit.  I decided on the slightly smaller size because the pattern on the model looked quite baggy and this is maybe why because the opening is not the full length of the bodice.

So, in my wisdom, I thought it would be better to knit a separate left and right back and have a small slit in the adjoining skirt which, if you remember, is fabric.

To do this means I need to do some pretty neat edges along the opening edges and my edges are not great. Normally, it doesn’t matter too much as they are part of an inside seam and not on show but I knew there are ways are making them look neater so back to You Tube and from what I can tell slipping the first stitch pearl wise does the job.   So I will begin the back again and see if that produces something more passable.  It is either that or little Sweetie walks backwards everywhere when she wears it so no-one sees the mess I make.

My other reason for desiring a wet day was to do more sketching.  I bought a new set of pencils and a small watercolour pad in W.H.Smith’s ½ price sale and there is an abundance of lovely autumn seed heads on every verge to draw at the moment and I have been collecting little bunches from the garden which are now hanging up in the shed to dry.

While the sun shines though it is gardening again though I must say we have been out nearly every day and I wonder if we have actually made any difference.  Slowly though it is taking shape once again after the sorry neglect of the Covid year.

DH put up a windbreak behind the young Braeburn apple tree – we had to cut a wider border to accomodate the stakes and as usual this led to a bit more weeding and sorting in this corner.

Meanwhile I tackled the tangled mess under the holly tree in our ‘ Beyond the Pond’ border as I call it as it is just beyond the pond on the left. This border is part of the woodland walk in the lower wood so can be quite shady in the summer. The large leaved Rogersia is an excellent plant for the shade as is the decorative Osmunda Regalis fern. In the front of the border is an Azalea surrounded by a spreading geranium planted as ground cover to keep the weeds down and of course the Tellima that self seeds everywhere.

We had temporarily moved the large stones here from the Trellis Border that were no longer needed and I wanted to move them into place to enclose the border up to the Holly tree. We will then be extending the grass up to the line of the stones and this will also keep the planting contained and out of the path of the strimmer.

The pond too has been put to bed. DH put the ‘spider’ pond cover and netting in place to catch the leaves from the Sycamore tree nearby. Everything now is beginning to die back and when we return in a few weeks time it will all be one soggy leafy mess in this part of the garden – meanwhile the weeds will still be on the rampage.

I do love this time of year for cooking and the magazines are full of plum crumbles and all my favourite fruits and the root vegetables make wonderful roast meals and stews. We have already begun changing our menus to suit the seasonal vegetables available. Celery is plentiful in the shops so DH made celery soup and threw in the end of some broccoli we had in the fridge. I made one of my easy one pan autumn meals Chickpeas and brown rice – a seasonal favourite when the weather starts to change and I also made a curry which we will have with brown rice and mango chutney one night and then fill some of those crisp corn Taco shells the next (I know a strange mix of cuisine but they are quite delicious), and I found you can microwave them (I did buy a microwave for the caravan in case the calor gas ever runs out) which will save heating up the gas oven to some incredible costly temperature to cook them for only 3 minutes.

We will be venturing home soon so I am savouring the last of our days here – there is going to be some hot weather on the horizon I am told so no doubt all the weeds will spring into action once again and after a few days our cottage garden will look like we have never been here.

Since writing this we have had rain today. I skipped on the knitting though as we will be leaving soon for home and I decided the caravan needed a good fettle before we go, even under the caravan seating. I thought there was little stored under there until I lifted the seats and found a few things I had totally forgotten about like the electric kettle in case the gas fails, some spare cutlery and cups and a host of large plastic containers. I decided to put everything together under one of the seats and make a list as at the moment it is definitely a case of out of sight out of mind.

Before we go home I will snip off a few hydrangea heads to dry at home, shake the Bramley apple tree to get the last of the apples down and collect some shells to take back for the grandchildren. I am so looking forward to those tomatoes at home now.

If the heatwave that is predicted arrives I hope you all enjoy more time to go out and about or in the garden before the weather changes once again.

Back soon x

dear diary :: back to normal

After the events of the last few days we are slowly settling back into normality….. such as it is here. 

The heating is on when we need it, which is mainly to take the chill off in the morning, we have hot water once again so we have showered, washed our hair and the dishes are done making us respectable once more.   I have hoovered the floor whilst listening to radio 4 and it is heaven to have all these facilities we normally take for granted; no wonder then that my thoughts recently have been with all the refugees that are experiencing hardship day after day.  How on earth do they cope? At least during our powerless plight we had a roof over our heads and a gas cooker enabling us to make a meal and a drink.

And somehow whilst we were thrown into mayhem October crept in….how did that happen?

Yesterday we had planned for rain all day but mid-morning it stopped and the sun appeared and it turned out to be a glorious day.  So we gardened all afternoon.  We did far too much and regretted it later especially when with our aching backs we had to prepare and cook the tea when all we really wanted to do was collapse in a heap sit and relax. 

I didn’t even sleep well last night; we were early to bed, well early for us, and after only 10 minutes reading turned the lights out and we must have both been asleep within minutes. All was snug but then something woke me at about 2am and after that my mind began to churn over – never a good sign and never conducive with sleep. 

It rained heavily again this morning so I spent a good hour updating my yearbook.  It is my catchall – part notebook, part bullet journal, part task lists and diary but also filled with snippets of information I want to refer back to at some point.  At the beginning of each month I go through my Country Living magazine and pull out anything of interest and stick it in my notebook.  This month for instance I have cut out the snippet about Asda starting a vintage clothing section in 8 of their stores.  You are able to swap unwanted clothes for vouchers apparently. I also kept the recipe for the cold remedy ginger and poached pear which sounds like something I might drink even without a cold…..and I am very tempted to buy this book ‘How to Grow Plants from Seeds’ published by RHS. Or perhaps something for my Not so Secret Santa list.

We ate the last of the mushroom soup for lunch which we made just before our power cut and couldn’t really eat because of course the stick blender is electric so it went into a large pyrex bowl to be stored in the fridge. Even though the fridge was off for a few hours during the power cut everything in there seemed OK and we have no ill effects from eating it (and of course we don’t eat meat or that might have been something we would have had to throw away).

Tonight we decided on an easy evening meal so we chopped loads of veg, tossed them in oil and slung them into a baking pan to roast in the oven.  It is one of my favourite autumn meals.  We had sliced Halloumi (which we brown in a hot non-stick frying pan with no oil) and couscous to go with it though it is just as nice with brown rice or often we add a little Passata to make it more moist and stew like and eat it with large chunks of Ciabatta bread dipped into the sauce.

Last night I managed to finish the front bodice of the little dress I am making for Sweetie.  I was quite pleased with myself as being quite a novice knitter I am never very sure if I am actually understanding the pattern instructions correctly and I have no-one other than Google to ask. Well it looks quite even on both sides of the neck and I even managed to ‘fashion’ the decreases around the armhole and neckline, which wasn’t actually written in the pattern but I think it looks so much neater and I find makes it easier when sewing together at the end.

There are some nice little corners in our cottage garden appearing.  Some planned but also some surprises. Did I mention we gave the very large and leggy pink rhododendron the chop this year and cut it back almost down to the base, then crossed our fingers.

Before

Luckily it has started sprouting but the huge hole it has left in the garden is testament to how large it had become over the years, however, in the meantime while it is regenerating we can see the beautiful weeping larch tree beyond which nicely frames the view into the lower wood beneath.

After

I spent a good hour in the fernery by the pond (Polystichum munitum – Western Sword fern) a great fern for coastal areas with glossy deep green leaves that are evergreen and doesn’t die back in the winter but does require any browned and dead leaves removing every so often to keep it looking at its best. I also have to reduce the mass occasionally when is begins to creep further and further into the woodland garden, overstepping its allotted boundaries.

My little seat beneath the old Cherry tree is now completely covered in moss but I shall keep it like this and find somewhere else to sit as it has such a lovely natural appearance. I spent a few minutes picking up more windfalls from the Bramley tree and this year we salvaged one or two eating apples from the young Braeburn, planted 2 years ago. It only produced 5 apples and three of these must have dropped and rotted before this visit. After taking the photo we shared the larger of the Braeburns and it was extremely nice – not too sweet and quite crisp just how I like them. Hopefully there will be more next year.

I have a mass of daffodil bulbs to plant out – I must have dug these up prior to Covid and with all the disruptions and lockdowns last year never got them into the ground. All that lovely natural raffia attached though.

I never managed to find a rose for the garden arch either because of the restrictions so in desperation to have something, anything climbing on it this year I picked up two cheap Clematis in Morrisons the ones for £2 each. The one on the right has taken off better than the one on the left and I now have stones in place to protect it from Kelly (who cuts our grass when we are not here) and her strimmer! For £2 each though they are not doing too badly.

And I love this little ‘green’ corner with all the different leaf shapes.

And with the weekend almost over we will be back to Monday soon enough and we shall have to make plans to return home where, according to my neighbour who is looking after things for us, we have an abundance of ripened tomatoes!

dear diary :: a bit of a drama

The weather has changed.  It is much cooler now with rain and wind passing over and thereby limiting what we will be able to do in the garden.  There is a glimmer of sunshine on the horizon as I write this.

My next few posts might be picture less as I find that my data allowance on my phone is now at zero and won’t renew until 10th October. DH’s allowance is also low so uploading photos onto the internet to prepare a post will not be possible.   I can possibly add a few pictures I have used before on my blog as above.

We have spent the last day or two in a mini drama or was it a crisis?

I am not sure but it all began on Wednesday.

Wednesday is our wheelie bin day and after it was emptied I mentioned to DH that it needed a good clean inside and out.  Whilst our bin was waiting to be emptied (we have to take it up the lane and place it in the car park next to the pub / caravan site business bins, which incidentally are always overflowing) someone from the site (possibly a workman) had dumped some kind of glue in ours and it was all over the lid.  In fact some of the rubbish had stuck to the lid as the bin men emptied it.

Luckily DH managed to clean it off and gave the inside a ‘good do’.

But then our problems began – not with the bin but with the shredder.  We have a pile of woody prunings, some of it will have to be burnt but some will shred.  In fact I used to shred most of it up to the flood.  Since then for many reasons we have not done any.  We didn’t even remember if the shredder still worked from being caught in the flood.

So DH got it out of the garage and plugged it in to try it.  He used a socket in the boiler house attached to the cottage but when he switched it on nothing happened.   He wondered if the socket was working so decided to get out the extension cable and plug the shredder in to a more reliable socket in the caravan just to double check.

When he switched it on this time it started up but then died away again.  At this point I noticed my lap top screen had dimmed then realised it had switched over to the battery because there was no longer any power in the caravan.  DH checked the little consumer unit in the caravan but nothing had tripped, he then checked the mini consumer unit in the garage that feeds the caravan and the main fuse board in the cottage that feeds the garage but again nothing had tripped.

Very puzzling.  DH reset all the breakers anyway but still no power.  We checked with local villagers and the pub that it wasn’t coincidentally a local power cut but no it was just us.  By this time it was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and soon it would be dark, so we made an urgent call to Scottish Power.

Although, as we found, it is not possible these days to make an urgent call anywhere.  We went through a series of press one for this and two for that until seven sets of options down the line we finally spoke to a real person and explained the problem.  The lovely lady with a Scottish lilt on the other end told us a team would be alerted but it would be 3 hours before they might get to us.

We prepared for the long wait – put on extra woollies and socks and luckily found a couple of emergency candles in the cupboard.  We worked out that even though the gas boiler wouldn’t run the gas cooker would still work as you can light it with a match.  Somehow in semi darkness we managed to make a simple pasta meal using a carton of cheese sauce in the fridge and peas from the freezer.

The men arrived at about 8 o’clock.  They tested the incoming line to our main consumer unit in the cottage which is actually an old type of fuse board with old fashioned fuses.  At first they thought their incoming power cable was all fine and the problem was somewhere further in our system between the cottage and caravan which meant they could not deal with it and we would need to get an electrician.  But they too were puzzled as to why nothing had tripped.  They scratched their heads and had another look at things and went up the pole outside the cottage to check the connecters.   Electricity in rural places here in UK comes down on wires suspended on wooden telegraph poles rather than running underground.  We have three poles one at the top of the wood by the main road, one at the bottom of the carpark and a final one near to the cottage as you can see in the photo above.

Eventually they thought there was something not quite right with the meter and also noticed they kept getting a high neutral reading from their main fuse box (yes that means nothing to me either).  They obtained permission from Scottish Power to bypass the meter thinking this might sort it. 

It didn’t – still no power in either the cottage or caravan.  By eleven o’clock they were still checking and rechecking but no nearer to solving the mystery and had convinced themselves it could only be a faulty meter and told us to ring SP in the morning for a new one and at the same time find an electrician to check the consumer units in the cottage / garage and caravan.

Easier said than done when our phones were down now to 10% battery and my laptop had subsequently died too.  It was too late in the evening now to ask friends in the village to charge up our phones and Eric at the nearest caravan to us had gone home so when the men had gone we jumped in the car in order to have a run around as the only way we could think of (and by this time our thinking capability was diminishing) to recharge DH’s phone enough to be able to make calls the next day.

It was well after 1 o’clock when we hit the pillows (the very chilly pillows I might add as the temperature was way down by now).  We fell asleep exhausted with the faint chunterings being heard in the dark from DH cursing the fact he had ever got the shredder out!

Morning came and we began the search for an electrician.  A choice of about 2 in this area both had answer phones on and incidentally have never got back to us.   We tried wider afield to people in Newton Stewart over 30 miles away but all said it was too far to come out to us.

Pondering our next move as the food in the fridge was starting to ‘warm’ up a bit (by now it had been off for 18 hours), and we couldn’t shower or use the electric toothbrush or charge our phones.  There was a long queue to speak to anyone at Scottish Power about the meter and we had to abandon that to save charge.

Just at the point when we had no idea how we were going to resolve our predicament the two men from the night before appeared on the doorstep.  Still flummoxed by our problem their manager had suggested testing even further back along the incoming power lines that come down from the main road.  Thankfully they did and up and down the other poles later located the problem – corroded and weak contacts and connectors on the pole at the top of the wood by the main road.  They were old and had a mix of copper and aluminium which apparently corrode easily together and these days only one metal, usually aluminium, would be used.  It appears that for some reason they had never been replaced when the others had been on the other poles a few years before.

It was an ‘accident always about to happen’ the shredder was just the catalyst that put an extra load onto the power cable and disrupted the power at the weakest link but it does confirm that all our breakers in the consumer units and the old fuse board are working well.

The men repaired the connectors and reconnected the bypassed meter (a replacement no longer required) and I almost wept with relief when a few minutes later everything swung into life again at the caravan and the fridge and boiler settled once again into a welcome hum.

After the men had gone and we had showered and generally ‘bathed’ ourselves in a much warmer environment and thanked God for the diligence of these two workmen, who I could have hugged if Covid hadn’t prevented, we headed into Stranraer to stock up on candles, matches and torch batteries. DH this time muttering how fortunate it was he got the shredder out!