dear diary :: forty years young

I am still finding it hard to believe I have a daughter who is forty. I can still remember the day she was born and the joy that I felt holding her in my arms for the very first time. She was nicknamed Peaches from the start, as she was quite jaundiced for a while, and looking back over the last forty years we have had so many delightful moments together and so many parties and so many cakes. Now she is a mother herself about to travel along the same path but in quite different times.

Of all the parties I have ever organised, or attended, this must have been the strangest – but it was also great fun and thanks to all my family who somehow against all the odds managed to make it a special day for my daughter’s fortieth birthday. We even had family members join in the video link up from the car on their way to the supermarket.

Of course not everything went to plan…it reminded me of an amateur dramatics society’s first night where blunders often abound….. but all add to the fun.

I had decided to make a naked fresh cream and fruit cake for my daughter with strawberries and blueberries – and what a challenge that proved to be, certainly not as easy as the pictures on pinterest would suggest! The baking part went without mishap but, just like the buttercream on the cake I made for little Freddie’s first birthday earlier in the year, I couldn’t get a smooth finish with the double cream on this one either – although to my relief it tasted just fine. I only had 8″ sandwich tins so had to cut each cake down to just under 7″ as there would only be the two of them (daughter and her husband) to eat it. I am keeping the off cuts to make a trifle, when I can get to the shops for some fresh raspberries.

The cake, card and flowers were delivered on the day to my daughter’s doorstep as we passed on our way to the supermarket for some fresh milk. My daughter had no idea of what we were planning for her in the afternoon. We all connected in to Zoom at 2 o’clock so that we could surprise her when her DH logged in at ten past two.

Each guest was asked to make a party hat to wear and a bun with a candle in so we could all light them together and sing happy birthday. I baked enough buns to use the happy birthday candles I found in my pantry and decorated them with my favourite sprinkles, though not enough fudgy bits for my liking. DH and I are still wading our way through these – such hardship! So far we have had them with afternoon tea in the garden and with a little of the leftover fresh cream and then when that ran out some ice cream – I am dreading getting onto the scales on Friday as I am sure I will have gained weight during this lock down.

The whole family got into the spirit of the day and produced hats, balloons and banners – even some disco lighting. The only balloons I could find were ‘Happy 3rd Birthday’ but I blew them up anyway – improvising in these strange times seems quite normal now.

My daughter was both surprised and delighted especially when Little L painstakingly did a solo tune of happy birthday with one finger on her piano followed by me on the handbells. And isn’t Zoom marvellous, DH managed to share on screen a few photos of our dear daughter’s earlier life to entertain everyone and Little L drew her a very sweet Happy Birthday picture. We drank a toast (I managed to find a bottle of ginger beer in the garage from a past party – and it was rather scrummy) and then played the ‘Daughter Quiz’ I had prepared. DH tried hard to keep up with the scoring on the score board though I am sure through all the rabble it wasn’t at all accurate and we ended up with a tie breaker question – it was amazing how much knowledge my family had – but in the end it was Aunty P that won. Then everyone did the very British thing that we all do in difficult times – made a cup of tea.

We all had a marvellous time thanks to technology, but how exhausting to be linked into Zoom chatting and partying for over 2 hours – and we all said how tired we were afterwards… but it was a day of making memories and will be a birthday we will never forget.

Stay safe everyone – hoping you are all well. x

dear diary :: settling into a new normal

Hello everyone, just thought I would stop by and let you know all is well here and I hope it is with you too. Isn’t the weather just glorious – I so want to have a picnic but it will have to be in the back garden?

We went shopping last Monday teatime for the first time in two weeks, so I will be holding my breath for the seven days of incubation time and crossing fingers in the hope I did not come into contact with anything – but so far the virus is not with us.

I see it isn’t getting any better in the shops though – still no flour and very few baking items, empty shelves where there was once pasta and eggs and it is hit and miss in the veg department with missing produce. Added to which social distancing seems to go out of the window in the supermarket and it becomes a test of wills of who will move out of the way when two trollies are headed towards each other – of course it is always me – I have no interest in having a battle or catching this virus at any cost.

We continue to use up every last morsel of food and have produced one or two happy accidents. This soup was made from the very last piece of a wrinkled red pepper, a rather soft carrot and sprouting potato with the last of the leeks and a handful of red lentils thrown in. We decided it looked far too nice and colourful to put through the blender and it tasted so good too so we will be making it again but maybe next time from fresh ingredients.

It is a strange world now but I do like some of the benefits – staying home and getting projects finished for one and being able to cross the road freely and safely down in our village ….and the total lack of traffic noise – I love the calmness that seems to surround us now – it is so peaceful on our little cul-de-sac and there is a feeling of the world slowing down a little and everyone becoming more observant of what is going on around us.

I have now got used to doing a huge shop that will last a fortnight and the abscence of letters on the doormat each morning (they were mainly bills and statements anyway)……but I do miss some of the more familiar things like the church bells and bell practise ringing out – the silence can be disturbing at times and the half hour strained recorder practise of the little girl next door in the garden everyday is not quite the same – I have been known to time my daily walk to coincide with it! I also miss the things we would normally be doing at this time of year – going for picnics, walks along the beach at the cottage and wandering around the open gardens but most of all I miss the grandchildren.

I feel we are living in a bit of a bubble though because staying at home we are cut off from witnessing the horrors happening out in the wider world in hospital and care homes up and down the country, and other than reports on the news I have no idea of anyone’s plight, the fact they may have been plunged into financial disaster overnight, lost loved ones before their time or are facing a terrible struggle each day to keep patients alive whilst at the same time being worried about their own safety and that of their own families.

My mum feels even more cut off than we do – she has not left the building now for months and cannot see the wider world at all from her window only the grounds of the apartment block she lives in, which is of course empty of people coming and going.

Still we will endure.

Even with all this extra time I still have a growing list of jobs and projects that would keep me busy for the rest of the year. All those things I thought I would do when I stopped working are now being attended to…but very slowly, because as life seems to have slowed down so have I. And I quite like it.

This simplified life allows you to take stock and gather your thoughts – it is a bit like being on a permanent holiday where you rest a little, work a little and play a little….and eat well of course. It is what retirement, for us, might be like if we didn’t have all the pressures of normal life.

The garden has been a welcome haven to escape into. Seeds have been sown for veg and bedding plants – some have been more successful than others. I always thought it was difficult not to grow nasturtiums but I was proved wrong when the last few seeds in last year’s packet almost failed to germinate – only 3 plants decided to grow. Luckily I found another packet in Sainsbury’s and have sown another batch.

With a run of very cool nights I managed to adapt some old wire cloches we had in the potting shed so that the boxes with the newly sown salad seeds could be tucked up warmly against the cold night air.

The courgettes, now transferred into the mini greenhouse, are coming along nicely and can be planted out soon. I can’t wait to be eating some fresh produce from the garden.

I spoke before of the photograph book we are compiling for my elder daughter’s 40th birthday of her life so far – it has been an emotional trip down memory lane sifting through boxes of photos of the family’s early years up until they flew the nest. Thank goodness for Facebook too, as I have been able to copy down photos from friend’s albums of girly weekends, get togethers, holidays and other events with her friends that we were not part of or have any record of to fill in the gaps and so the book can remain a surprise.

It is wonderful to see how she has changed over the years – always the fun loving girl now grown into a beautiful young woman. Travel has always been a big part of her life and adventure – she has a sailing license, had surfing and diving lessons, can speak Greek and has been on a world trip. I wonder in amazement how she has packed it all in!

Sunday is her birthday day – we have most of the wider family on standby to link in through Zoom and have a virtual surprise party. The instructions have been given out – each participant must make a party hat and have a bun with a candle on top to light and I am hoping Little L may be able to give us a tune of Happy Birthday on her little piano with me accompanying her on the handbells. I just hope that when we start singing everyone does not rush off to wash their hands as it has become a bit of an iconic song now!

We will also be playing a party game or two – I have compiled a fun quiz with questions all about my daughter with multiple choice answers to make it easier to guess.

The card is made too – some readers may remember this one from before – I tend to make them for those big ‘0’ birthdays – it is a series of my watercolour sketches stuck together to form a tiny concertina book. They are quite time consuming but much nicer than a bought card.

I have been making other cards too using prints of old watercolour sketches taken from my sketch books that I have done over the years – there are always birthdays, anniversaries and thank you cards required every month – it is hard to keep up and my stocks of cards are quite low.

I have been snipping a few of the spring flowers to press to make more pressed flower cards too. I love the daisies and forget-me-nots that have appeared all over the garden; my borders are a sea of blue.

So that is my news at the moment – I am told the garden at our cottage is lovely at the moment – though heaven knows when we will see it ourselves.

I hope you and yours are all doing well and you are managing to cope with the new normal and that life has not been too difficult.

Stay safe and well x

dear diary :: Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday today, but one of course with a difference and one we will always remember for being in ‘lock down’ if nothing else. Today feels quite a sombre one and as I looked out over our cul-de-sac this glorious Easter morning all was just so peaceful and calm, even though so many people are at home nothing out there is stirring.

Easter, like Christmas, is a great fusion of both religious and pagan festivities and as with Christmas in our household we have tended to incorporate a little of everything into our celebrations as well as creating a few traditions of our own.

Over time the Easter bunny, chocolate Easter eggs and now Easter gifts and decorations have been heavily promoted in the shops and it can feel like the message of Easter, like the message of Christmas gets a little lost in all the hype.

The Easter bunny and laying of eggs that are hidden in the garden can be traced back to documentation from 13th Century onwards and for younger children, like the coming of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, it is an exciting day especially if it involves an Easter egg hunt – but for many children this Easter staying in might seem a little dull.

Like our neighbours two little girls, Little L was ‘super’ excited yesterday when I spoke to her on the phone. Even though the whole world is currently in turmoil children still have the ability to accept things and live in the moment and Easter will be something they can celebrate even in the lock down at home – I hope she will not be too disappointed with the one egg (that luckily her mum had managed to buy a while ago) and a lack of a family gathering with grannies, aunts and cousins. I am sure that in the absence of a chocolate egg hunt my daughter will have thought of something creative in its place. Since school closed they have been busy ‘crafting’ for Easter – colouring in patterned eggs, making cards and icing biscuits. Having the theme of Easter to work with has made it easier for my daughter to occupy this lively 5 year old.

The egg, chocolate or otherwise is an important symbol of new life and quite appropriate at the moment whilst the news reminds us daily of the heavy death toll this virus is causing. So many loved ones lost, such unprecedented times to live through – so the meaning of Easter whether the religious one or the pagan one is there to give us hope.

As the saying goes this is not some dress rehearsal – we are all having to pick our way through this as best we can, trying to abide by the ‘spirit of the rules’ that are there to restrict our movements, keep us safe and prevent further deaths. It can seem like an easy task to fulfil, but in reality it is not; every person’s situation is different and making constant decisions as to whether something is essential and in the spirit or not is both testing and exhausting. I am sure at times we don’t always get it right either and it feels a bit like Brexit all over again with so much judgement and criticism being handed out.

Like our family, other families have their own concerns and risks to minimise; giving help and comfort to others whilst also protecting themselves is a fine balancing act. So I thought I would mention some of the issues we are facing as a family and how we are trying to cope with these whilst staying within the spirit.

Just as NHS workers have been criticised by their watchful neighbours for driving off in the car (to go to work) I have heard of the dustbin men being criticised for handling the bins and the postmen for continuing to deliver the post. I am making sure that I have a thank you message on my dustbin and one by the letter box as I think they are doing a good job – I would not like to see our rubbish build up and receiving letters and cards can be a lifeline to some. My granddaughter has been kept busy writing letters to me and then she looks forward to one in return. My Aunt in a care home with no visitors allowed and my mum are two other family members who do not have the internet and look forward to receiving my letters and cards with updates and pictures of the family.

My daughter in North Yorkshire who has just moved to a new area and knows no-one there is on her own with two young children to look after and entertain because her husband is himself looking after and cooking for key workers that are staying in an empty hotel. Because the risks of going home and spreading the virus to his family would be too great they are living apart but this means our daughter has to take the children with her to get food and nappies etc if they cannot get a delivery. It is a risk she would rather not take but not helped by the awful looks that have come her way in the supermarket now that they are limiting the number of household members allowed in, but she has no option as she can hardly get a babysitter! She was using a little farm shop where she could leave the children in the car outside and dash in – but sadly they decided to close.

We drop off bags on the way to or from the supermarket to our other daughter who lives close by – they have had what seems like colds and been unwell on and off for a few weeks, not knowing if it is the virus or not they have stayed home to protect others and we have helped out with deliveries of food and medicine to their doorstep – the last bag we took included the Easter egg I had decorated – I didn’t take that decision lightly. To onlookers I suppose it may seem like we are visiting.

As many readers will know my mum is 94 and has not been well. She is at that place in her life when she is just on the verge of not being able to look after herself completely and much depends on how well she feels each day. She is waiting to see if anything can be done medically to help her mobility but of course that will not happen at the moment. The virus and lock down have added to our problems. My sister continues to visit 4 times a week and an official carer the remaining 3 days for a teatime slot. She is taking her some food, cooking her meals, washing her bedding, clothes and hair – all the necessities of caring and caring for a vulnerable person is still allowed under the government rules but to the other more able residents it might look like my sister is just dropping in for a chat!

My daughter will reach the grand age of 40 (notice I didn’t say old) this month but the celebration we would have had for family and friends is of course cancelled. It is quite important to me to celebrate the forty wonderful years since she was born and especially because at one time I thought I might not be around to see this moment. (For readers who might not know I was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer that had spread into the lymph nodes, but have survived). So although it might seem a little frivolous in these difficult times, when others are grieving for the loss of their loved ones, I will be trying to gather family members together, courtesy of Zoom, to a virtual surprise party to celebrate her life so far and let her know how special she is.

So as you can see we have situations to resolve the best way we can, nothing is quite so black and white or clear cut but I will carry on using my own judgements to get us all through this safely and let everyone else decide what is best for them and their families. I am sure the very last thing that any of us would want was to think that we had indirectly caused the death of anyone by our actions.

The message Jesus gave us was very simple – ‘Love one another’ and there are so many acts of love out there and we are all trying to do our bit in the best way we can to keep the death toll to a minimum.

I wish you a peaceful day this Easter Sunday. x

seasons :: springtime and Easter

Springtime and Easter, a glorious combination – and it was heavenly here yesterday, warm sunshine and very calm…and I don’t just mean the weather, the neighbourhood felt very calm. Normally, on Good Friday our cul-de-sac would be a hive of activity, cars up and down going shopping and out and about. But not this year.

If the virus has done anything it has given us a real taste of a simpler life, of how life might be if we stayed home more, walked more and relied on ourselves for entertainment and amusement. In some ways I am enjoying the lock down (not the shopping though, never that), for us there is no pressure to do anything, go anywhere – we can, for once, just please ourselves. I know it is not like this for everyone – my elder daughter who had just returned to work for 3 days a week now works at home; her husband works a full 5 day week and he is working at home, they now have no childcare so are trying to fit 8 days of work into one week as well as looking after a toddler. My other daughter is looking after 2 young children whilst trying to fit in the demands of working from home.

Now a very strange Easter is upon us, no family gatherings, no Easter egg hunts with the grandchildren and no outings and picnics, but the garden is still a safe refuge and the weather is fine so I for one have really nothing to complain about.

To do our bit to help the NHS from being overburdened we are staying home and only going out for a little exercise but that is mainly in the garden there are plenty of jobs to do out there and each morning when I look out something new has burst into flower.

I ring my mum 2 or 3 times a day as that is all I can do from 90 miles away – the burden of keeping my mum in good spirits is falling heavily on my sister but she is doing her best without complaint even though she is quite busy herself with 3 of them trying to do their work from home. Mum had another tumble on Thursday and she had to use her call buzzer that she now keeps around her neck. The paramedics arrived at the same time as my sister and they got her back up onto the chair and checked her over. No harm done this time thank goodness. A spell in hospital would be all she needed.

As well as garden maintenance I am keeping myself busy in the house with a bit of spring cleaning and whilst the weather has been so good I seemed to have washed everything in sight; my washing line has been in continuous use drying everything from coats to cushions, blankets and bedding….still all this washing and ironing makes a change from continuously wiping doorknobs and washing hands.

New life is appearing too; only days after planting them the first of my seeds are beginning to sprout. DH has lined and filled the two large planters we bought in the sale at the end of last year and they are ready and waiting when these tiny plants are big enough and strong enough for the outside world.

Yesterday we uncovered the garden furniture and today we will clean down the patio and rearrange the pots. I have already had the parasol out to sheild me from the heat of the sun but I know this good spell will not last and cooler weather will descend once again – so it is a case of make hay while the sunshines.

No matter how different it is this year I didn’t want to let Easter slip by without acknowledging its presence and even though we will be spending it on our own I felt a little decoration seemed in order. I brought down the twiggy decoration with the butterflies that I made last year (it had been sitting on top of the wardrobe in our spare room) and reused this. I shall probably dismantle it after this Easter and make something new for next year. I love the very simple wooden bunny cut outs I bought earlier this year when I went to Hobbycraft.

As well as decorating I decided to make a cake and some buns for the Easter weekend – I have all the ingredients still and some eggs to use up. I always think it makes an occasion a bit more special to have a cake. Chocolate is a favourite with me and DH has, over the years, resigned himself to the fact that chocolate cake will always find a way to appear on our table no matter what the occasion. Easter is no different!

I had to use whatever bits I could find in the pantry to decorate the cakes as I don’t think shopping for cake decorations is classed as absolutely essential, although maybe it should be!

I had intended decorating an Easter egg for each of the grandchildren. I buy those small Cadbury’s eggs with chocolate buttons inside, remove the packaging and then add my own decoration. There was no point in doing one for Little L or Sweetie as it might be weeks before we can go to see them but I did do one for little Freddie as we could drop it off on their doorstep on our way to the supermarket. I suspect it may have had to go into quarantine though but the chocolate buttons will be fine as they came in a sealed packet.

Our big project at the moment is collecting together photos to make a surprise ‘This is your life so far’ book for my elder daughter’s 40th birthday coming up soon. It is quite a time consuming project too but full of wonderful memories when we unearth all those special moments from the past. We did one for my mum a couple of years ago and she loved it.

We are also scanning in a selection of pictures she painted and awards that she gained – I will let everyone have a peek when we have it more underway. At the same time I am planning her surprise virtual party so life will continue to be busy even after this Easter weekend. It is far harder trying to think up ways to celebrate this birthday from a distance and requires perhaps more organisation than a real party would.

So just to wish everyone a Happy Easter whatever you are doing or maybe not doing this year and to anyone reading this who may be having to spend Easter on their own. I would send you a slice of cake if I could!

Stay safe, stay well. x

dear diary :: more of the same

This might seem one of those long posts that is better to read with a cup of tea in your hand and I’ll forgive anyone who politely tries to stifle a yawn! I had meant to try and keep up with posting but you know me by now… always busy and last week was no different.

We are now well into the swing of the new normal here. We stay at home for most of the time only venturing out into the world for a little exercise or shopping. We are keeping in touch with my daughters and the grandchildren courtesy of Zoom and my mum on the good old fashioned landline.

I have a number of projects on the go – all presently half finished – but that does not seem to matter too much, as of course, we have no urgent trips up north to make and what a difference this has made to our time. Suddenly we find we have a lot more time to ourselves; though I am managing to fill every minute and more.

I feel I have never been so busy – April has its own pressures in our household, it holds the greater number of close family birthdays at the same time as the garden suddenly springs into life; so we have to wake up and spring into action with it and, not surprisingly, with the warmer weather upon us spring cleaning becomes more urgent and much more enticing – there is nothing I like better than having a good ‘fettle’ as my gran would say. There is always something very satisfying about the ritual of cleaning and clearing out at this time of year, geting everything back in order – but more about this another day in another post.

Gardening is the one thing that is keeping me quite sane through this unprecedented crisis – I love the way that nature carries on around me doing what it always does at this time of year as if nothing is amiss – it is so heartening. Tending to the garden teaches me that we need patience, it teaches me that from tiny seeds beautiful things will grow and that with great care, watering and warmth success is almost guaranteed.

So I have seed potatoes sprouting on the window sill, tomato seeds tucked up warmly in a mini propagator and courgette seeds pushing their way through the soil within a matter of days. All delightful, all encouraging.

Those little Magnum lolly sticks are so useful as plant labels, I must have eaten far too many but what a pity I couldn’t find a waterproof pen as the ink ran as soon as I watered the trays. No matter though I can still make out the variety. I am growing two different tomatoes this year – the only two available from the seed selection at Sainsbury’s; Gardener’s Delight and a tub / patio version called Minibel.

I will be sowing the salad seeds straight into the planters and some annuals ready for my summer display on the patio – hopefully today or tomorrow.

There is plenty of general work to do too, pots to refresh, lawns to scarify and borders to weed and I must plant the new clematis I bought last year.

I continue to spend a lot of time in the kitchen being adventurous so that nothing goes to waste or even gets close to going off. Little pies are always a good way to combine all those oddments I find left over in the fridge. I filled these individual pastry cases with a mixture of cooked brown lentils, shredded leek and chopped mushrooms then topped them with some mashed potato, grated cheese and slices of tomato and put the last of the carrots and parsnips in a tin to roast. The result was a meal we would certainly have again.

We still have our old, shabby kitchen of course (though we did get the plans for the new one finalised and signed for just as John Lewis decided to close, so our new kitchen is now on hold until things recover and it can be delivered and fitted). I have been rather worried that the jinx I spoke about in an earlier post that has persisted over the years and put a stop to us having our new kitchen at every attempt since 2008, now appears to have surfaced again but this time has extended beyond ourselves and our family and this time sudden misfortune has affected the whole world in preventing the instalation!! I do hope not.

On the good side the kitchen is now far easier to use since we finished the pantry and all but the most used foods have been moved out of the kitchen cupboards freeing up vital space; and what a godsend the pantry has been – it is now well stocked, not overly so, but always enough to see us through for about 3-4 weeks should we face further restrictions, shortages or we have to self isolate for any length of time (though I pray this will never become necessary) and so far we have not shown any symptoms of having the virus though every shopping trip is a major risk as it is our only contact in the outside world. We minimise the risk of course going as late at night as we can when it is quieter and only going about every 10 days or for as long as the milk lasts. Each time we go I am convinced I get a sore throat afterwards and certainly a tension headache from all the dodging around in the aisles. Shopping has never been so stressful.

This week we have already gathered in our food to cover the whole Easter period – finding milk and dairy items with long dates – it should see us through nicely. I did not want to end up going shopping later this week amongst a sudden Easter shopping frenzy that is like Christmas.

To our surprise we even found a packet of disposable gloves on the shelves this week so they have definitely come home with us (though I don’t really need 50, but you never know, and I can donate some to anyone else in need). I had only one pair left previously that I had to keep washing out between supermarket trips and they were originally bought in a packet of 10 and only used when I cleaned the silver! With the whole plastic problem I would not normally have been replacing these either when they ran out but I suppose needs must.

We are still managing to buy most of our usual foods or substituting similar products. Eggs have been difficult to find and flour an absolute no no – so I have to ration it out carefully. The last eggs I bought were these beautiful Burford Browns with a good looking suntan.

And what do you do to use up any eggs – buy a roll of puff pastry and bake of course.

These little tarts were delicious with salad and used up the last of the eggs, leeks (shredded finely), cougettes and a packet of Welsh goats cheese.

Our almost daily walk is one of the highlights of the day. As the weather improves the number of people walking increases but we manage to stay safe and the only difficult day was last Sunday when we felt we had to jump into a gap and keep on the move. It is amazing how you begin to notice the little things on the same route.

The last of the catkins…

…the appearance of tiny Celandines on the grass verges

and our Yorkshire dry stone walls covered with a thick winter coat of moss.

Many of our mills now house people rather than machinery but the chimneys have been preserved as a monument to the past and our local history.

On returning home we have had moments just sitting in the pleasant sunshine with our biscuit rations and probably putting back on the calories we have just walked off.

In the midst of all the cleaning, gardening, cooking and walking I have spent quite a bit of time making cards again – partly to save money and partly because cards are not deemed as an essential item so are difficult to buy. This one is a card that my sister sent to me and I recycled by cutting it down to mount onto a blank card and adding the butterflies.

My nephew was harder to make for as I doubt any little boy would want a flowery card. I decided to keep it simple and print down this number eight onto some card and hand stamped the ‘Happy Birthday’ in colourful inks.

When it came to the Easter cards I had no ideas but then came across a half started spring flower collage I attempted last year using shapes cut from the thicker front pages of magazines and some junk mail. I finished the picture but knew that making individual cards in this way was going to be far too time consuming so decided to take prints off the original and reduce the design to fit some tiny blank cards that I have in my craft box.

Easter will soon be upon us and with my cards now hand delivered or put in the post I have been turning my attentions to a few decorations – not many as it will be a strange Easter this year – just the two of us…I suspect we will spend most of it in the garden, weather permitting. I might bake a cake though, I am not keen on Simnel cake -but a chocolate cake…well that is a big possibility.

And if you reached the end of this post you deserve a medal.

Before I go a warm welcome to all my new followers and to Diana, apologies when I deleted your comment as you asked it deleted the whole string of related comments. x

dear diary :: it’s been a while

Hello there….long time no see.  I thought I would be back sooner than this but recent events have kept me busy and I am not just referring to the dreaded virus.

Thank you for all your lovely comments and well wishes, advice and suggestions on my last post – they were much appreciated and I hope you don’t mind me not answering them individually, it was difficult to sit at the computer until my back recovered.

Although I was housebound for a few days with my bad back I am now fully recovered…..just in time to be housebound once again because of the virus!

I feel as if I am about to journey through a long dark tunnel, not really knowing where the end will be.  Plans we might have made for this year are now well and truly abandoned as are any visits to Scotland to our cottage and caravan.  The garden up there will no doubt become wild over time and all the hard work we have put in over the years will be quickly lost.  It feels like a repeat of what happened when the cottage flooded and 10 years of renovations were wiped out within hours.

We are managing to cope though – in fact we are in a very privileged positon both of us being at home and living on the state pension of DH and mine soon to come in May….we have few of the financial worries that others are facing, although this might come along after when we find many thousands wiped off the value of our private pension pot that we have not, as yet, had to draw on.

My main concern now is for my family and in particular for my dear mum – I am heartbroken for her as she faces weeks of isolation at a time when she cannot really look after herself.  For those readers who do not know my mum is 94 and struggling to walk now because of osteoarthritis in her right hip, added to which she recently caught a sickness bug which completely wiped her out and the main reason for my extended absence in blogland.  We managed to sort out some ‘aids’ for around the home and a walker so that she can get about her flat better and more safely. She is up and down each day, one day not even being able to get out of bed and the next feeling brighter and more able. Luckily a neighbour had been popping in to make her a cup of tea and my sister went every day but she had not fancied eating very much at all and had become quite weak.

I was unable to travel up to see her when she was first ill as I found it too painful to sit in the car because of my back. As soon as I could I was exercising my back each day, but it wasn’t until Mother’s Day that I was able to go up there, just before the travel clamp down came – we went knowing it would be my last chance to see her for the forseeable future. We took the little tin trough of pink carnations to cheer her up and a picnic which we ate indoors with her – she tucked into our home made leek and potato soup and a cheese and pickle sandwich – I expect she was quite ravenous not having eaten much for the past two weeks because of the sickness bug. I had also made her a fresh cream chocolate cake – her favourite – and left some in the fridge for later.

Because she hadn’t been out for a few weeks and hadn’t been able to watch the TV she had no idea how bad things have become in the world because of the coronavirus. We would have liked to take her for a short run in the car to the coast so she could see the outside world but she was not well enough and we would not have wanted to add to the madness that was out there that day.  Instead we watched an old black and white film on TV together and just having some company for the afternoon cheered her up no end.

With the new government rules of no unnecessary travel in place I will not see her again for a long while added to which it is uncertain whether my sister will be allowed into my mum’s apartment block to care for her ….the apartment manager told me that it might be that only official carers will be allowed in soon. The apartments are classed as Independent Living, so if you need carers the management company are saying that you should not be living there.  The only option for any residents that are not able to look after themselves may be to go into a care home but I can tell you these places are already booked up as the NHS are moving recovering patients into them to convalesce and free up hospital beds.

It has been such a worry for me but I have managed to set up one teatime slot for 3 days a week with a carer who will go in and help mum and provide some human contact and this should help if my sister is not allowed access.  All the residents have been told they must stay in their own apartments and not pop in and out to see their friends and must keep their distance from one another. There are no papers being delivered either and as very few have the internet they are becoming more and more isolated.

As you can imagine mum is not happy at having a stranger forced upon her but we will see how she adapts in the next few days and I hope she will accept their help and not send them away.   She also heard last week that her appointment to see the musculoskeletal clinic has now been cancelled – she was devastated – she was only a week away….it seems so cruel when she is in such pain.

In between all the phone calls and dramas I have been baking and trying hard not to waste any food.  I had left over cream to use up from mum’s chocolate cake so I baked a batch of fruit scones….a little indulgent, but quite delicious.

I am trying to visit the supermarket as little as possible – this requires a lot of forward planning with menus to make sure we eat the fruit and veggies that have a shorter life first. Any green stalks and leaves cut off the vegetables go into our green soup. We even sprinkled the left over cous cous over the last batch together with some parmesan cheese as a garnish – it was actually quite nice.

I have been cleaning too.  This virus makes me feel quite grubby every time we have been out for our essentials so I have been giving the bathroom and kitchen an extra dose of elbow grease and detox spray.

When the sun was out last week we had a lovely walk up towards the moors above where we live – there were people about but not too many and when we passed it was at a safe distance.  Looking across the valley everything seemed so deceivingly normal and like the cat and the sheep, basking in the warmth of the sunshine, we felt relieved that spring had finally made an appearance.

Of course it was short lived and this week we have been plunged back into a cold spell with hail falling occasionally and a bitterly cold wind. So what better way of keeping warm than doing a spot of cooking in the kitchen. I had eggs to use up and a few pieces of cauliflower so made these little cheesy savouries in a muffin tin to have with some fresh salad.

I then used up the last of the mushrooms and leeks by making these individual pies topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

We are managing to eek out all our groceries so that our visits to the supermarket are as few as possible. I have spent some time this week reorganising my recipe folders and searching out new recipes to try. I will spend the rest of the week with a long overdue task of reorganising a box full of photos. I will at the same time be looking for one or two of my elder daughter to make a photo book of her life so far for her 40th birthday which is coming up soon. There will be no big party or celebration for her – everything is cancelled – we will have to have a party by internet connection of some kind. I am not sure how you can play party games via Skype or Zoom but we will find a way!

I have a great deal of catch up to do in blogland so will be hopping over to my favourite places and hopefully will not leave it as long next time to write another post.

Hoping all is well with you too. Many safe distance hugs to everyone. x

dear diary :: a melancholy message

I find myself in a rather ungainly, almost prostrate positon of late. Although, thankfully not face down. A rather painful episode of a strained, maybe even sprained, back has siezed me in its grip and I am best when lying quite motionless. It happened yesterday just as I was gearing up into a slightly brisker mode now the hibernating season is beginning to retreat.

DH might be relieved that he can attempt the housekeeping and cooking without any interference from me.

Until normal posture and wellbeing resume these few paltry words and images are all I can manage….meanwhile I shall entertain myself with a little light You Tube watching.

Back soon as my back is mended! x

dear diary :: out and about and little treats

An unexpected blogging break – not because I have had nothing to say but because I couldn’t easily use the computer with my sore middle finger that was as a result of a dog bite at the weekend.

We spent the weekend up in North Yorkshire to look after my mum while sis was away on a short holiday – we had taken mum out for lunch on the Sunday to Northallerton and we were browsing in a shop when it happened; I was helping my mum to choose a card when a couple passed behind us with a dog. As they passed the dog (who was on a lead, thankfully) suddenly went for my hand that was down by my side and bit me – quite an unprovoked attack so something of a surprise for me and luckily I had my leather gloves on or it could have been worse. The owners didn’t have a clue that it had bitten me as they were not particularly looking at the dog at the time but did look to see why I had let out a bit of a sharp cry of pain!

I think the shock for me was worse at the time than the bite as I didn’t see it coming – the couple thought it was highly amusing and said the dog had a habit of biting gloves – but unfortunately my hand was inside mine at the time and afterwards my finger became quite sore and stiff for a few days. Since the incident with the dogs in the park last summer I have been rather wary of them and haven’t as yet been back to the park, but I never thought one would bite me for no reason in a shop. I am only relieved that it didn’t bite my mum or worse still one of the grandchildren.

After the eventful weekend we had quite a slow start to our week – a bit of a potter round unpacking, a supermarket shop to stock up the pantry, a bit of work on the new kitchen design and yesterday while the weather was dry and sunny outside we stopped what we were doing and went for a walk down to the village and around the block – it is really a very small town with a town hall but everyone refers to it as the village – we called at the Co-op to buy a pack of paracetamol (just in case of you no what).

I noticed we have a new sign in the centre of the village – a picture taken by a friend of mine – this is very typical of the towns and villages around here – a true Yorkshire mill town with stone terraced houses and cottages surrounded by hills and moorland.

I picked up a free copy of the Co-op magazine which has some lovely recipes inside – I will certainly be giving the chick pea minestrone a trial. I also added the very last bunch of those cheap and cheerful daffodils to my basket – they brighten up any spot in the home and make it feel like winter might soon be passing.

DH once bought me this unsual and colourful frosted glass vase for my birthday and it is perfect to display the daffodils in. I tried to find some witch hazel or winter jasmine to add to the arrangement but to no avail so had to make do with a couple of meandering honeysuckle branches instead.

I spotted quite a number of daffodils still in bud on the way home, no doubt quite sheltered here by the wall but still reluctant to open and brave this cold weather. I could see the blossom just starting to open on the bare branches of the cherry trees too so surely now spring is just around the corner.

I have been thinking…. planning even……. for when I can get out into the garden and was tempted to buy this book called ‘Veg in One Bed’ by Huw Richards. A perfect book for me as I have very little space to grow vegetables here in our garden in Yorkshire. The author guides you through month by month explaining what to do and how and when to do it. Even though they are more expensive I do love a hard backed book for things that I will keep and refer to….I think it will be money well spent.

Having finished the tablemats I decided I would have another go at making a patchwork quilt whilst the weather is still cold and before I am beckoned into the garden. I have a small heap of rather triangular offcuts from when I made the bunting for my daughter’s wedding. I had saved them with a view to making her a cot quilt for her first baby but as she surprised us with little Freddie the peachy colours and flower prints are a bit too feminine.

I intend to make a quilt anyway either for her or her sister’s two little girls, Little L and Sweetie. I spent a morning cutting out strips with the special ruler and rotary cutter I bought years ago. I love the old fashioned vintage quality of the prints – they are mostly fabrics from the Belleboo range and are a lovely cotton lawn.

The knitting has taken a bit of a back seat this week – it is hard to knit with a sore finger but as you can see from the photo above I have made some progress on the little jumper and now have a front to my back. Hopefully knitting will resume any day soon.

When we saw my mum at the weekend we also took her to Eggleston Hall on the Saturday for lunch. I had a baked potato with cheese and salad and my mum chose the rather delicious looking tomato and red pepper soup.

Sadly, walking around the garden and nursery is not in her capabilities now so she sat and read the local newpaper with another cup of tea while we had a quick wander round. It is by far one of my favourite places; summer or winter there is so much to see. The gardeners working in the nursery looked extremely busy, in and out of the greenhouses and moving tiny plants around getting ready for the gardening season.

My favourite part of the garden is down by the old ruin – the former Chapel of Ease – a private chapel which closed in 1868.

You can walk through the chapel ruin taking the stepping stones that lead you around the old, presumably self seeded, tree growing in the centre and in the absolute quietness here delight at the abundance of birdsong. Like a secret little hideaway there is plenty to discover….

…..and outside the surrounding graveyard is strewn with a carpet of snowdrops weaving their way amongst the old gravestones. What a wonderful resting place.

Some of the old outbuildings in the garden are now home to one or two resident artists and crafters.

Inside they have a roaring fire (so welcome on these bitterly cold days) and some beautiful cards and gifts by some very talented artists. I bought these little glass coasters from photographer Amanda Hodgson as a gift for next Christmas for a very dear friend of mine who (you guessed it) loves Robins. They came nestled inside a lovely velvet gift bag.

My lovely mum – I caught her unawares when I took this picture in the cafe – she was much brighter for her trip out and a good lunch. Seeing her here you would not think she was 94 nor that she is currently struggling to walk. Her top half looks fine but below the table is a different story with arthritis in both her knees and feet leaving them swollen and deformed now. She would want me to tell you though that her hair colour is only just starting to turn grey – quite an achievemnent.

So that has been my week – a mixture of days – some productive some less so but all of them leaving me with a story to tell.

Hope you are all having a good week and avoiding the lurgy of doom! Take care everyone and of course a warm welcome to my new followers. xx

dear diary :: a glimpse of Spring

But only for some. Whilst London and Saddleworth (over the hill from us) had snow we basked in glorious sunshine yesterday.

Heaven.

It was the kind of day when it felt so good to be alive. I like a positive start to the day – it seems to make everything else go right. Even when I came across a temporary blockage across the road trying to get to the physiotherapist on time, I still manage to remain unflustered and kept smiling.

The world I fear is in a very sorry state at the moment. There has been a case of Coronavirus reported in the next little village to us and of course there is a lady in Tenerife waiting to be allowed back to Huddersfield. When I popped in to my old workplace one of the employees was in self isolation at home and had been asked not to go into work as they had just returned from a holiday in Italy. We also have a very high Chinese population here studying at the University and many are walking about wearing masks now – it all feels a bit eerie. I keep washing my hands in hope it will help!

I finished the tablemats – for anyone wanting to make some I have given more details below. I am loving them already but will put them away to use nearer to Easter – why I thought Easter fell in March I don’t know; I checked the calendar to find it begins on the 10th April. In a way this is good news as I have longer to prepare, not that we do a lot but I have started making things for the grandchildren now like I used to make for our own daughters.

I didn’t think I would manage another post but here I am. We are going to see mum for the weekend. My sister is away on holiday for a much needed rest as mum has had her almost in tears a few times recently, her general demise and lack of mobility has made her……for the want of a better word….plain old grouchy. I can understand her frustration, her life has become very boring now she cannot get out by herself, yet my sister cannot be there to entertain her every day. We need a solution or we will all go stir crazy with her.

The occupational therapist will see her on Monday to assess her for a walking frame (or a ‘pusher’ as she calls it) in the hope that she will be able to walk further using one and get about a bit more. Strangely enough until mum had the x-ray on her hip and was told it was not in very good shape she had not complained about it very much – usually when it rained – it had always been about her knees or vertigo. Now she never mentions either only her hip that seems so bad she cannot do very much at all. She has seriously gone down hill since knowing there is a problem and is merrily dosing herself up with codeine as well as co-codamol even though she has been told she can take either but not both. What does one do??

DH had his dentistry – it wasn’t quite 2.30 but close. He was very brave and didn’t even get a sticker and declined to have the tooth to keep. Afterwards I was on cooking duty whilst he cosied up by the fire and watched a film. We had a sheherds pie made with lentils of course and the remains will go with us tomorrow. I also made some quiche bases and I will fill and bake them before we set off for North Yorkshire. I will make a little one for mum to hang on to as she likes homemade quiche.

So that was my day how was yours?

To make the tablemats –

I bought a pack of Sainsbury’s teatowels in a thick linen type fabric. They usually measure about 19″ by 28″ and come in two or three varying designs in a pack.

I wash them first, then unpick the hems and cut each one in half so I have either four or six pieces. I usually mix and match so I have a different pattern on the reverse so I can flip them over.

Using a pattern 14″ x 19″ which includes a 1/2″ seam allowance – I pin this on the fabric and cut around to straighten up the tea towel fabric and make sure it is a perfect rectangle. Also cut out a piece of thick vilene to sandwich between the layers. With right sides together and a piece of vilene to the underside of one piece sew around the edges with a 1/2″ seam allowance, leaving a gap of about 5″ for turning through.

Trim seam allowance to 1/4″ and cut across the corners. Turn through and press. Neatly hand sew the gap to close. Top stitch about 3/4″ in from edge all way round.

dear diary :: still looking like winter

At least it was when I peered through the window today; sleet, snow, rain – interspersed with a little (and I mean a little) sunshine. Spring seems a long way off.

So I am keeping myself busy….and warm.

After all the excitement of finishing the pantry we now have to move on to make decisions about the new kitchen. We started looking at new kitchens back in 2008 and had one on order, but shortly after I found I had to have major surgery followed by a few months of treatment so we had to cancel.

We tried again in 2010 (but then my mum decided to move up North and we had to pack up and sell the family home), 2012 (my mum in law became very ill and we had to pack up and sell her house when she went into a care home), 2014 (we had the flood at the cottage), 2016 (my daughter decided to get married and we had a wedding to organise) 2020…. here we go again….. and hopefully this time no unexpected events will surprise us and we can actually get one installed.

Whilst the weather continues to be quite horrendous I have not minded spending time browsing around the local showrooms – delving into pan drawers and canterlever corner cupboards, testing out the spring lifted wall cupboard doors, the slide under oven doors and the soft close drawer drawers. They are all wonderful and exciting to me as anything is an improvement on my old ‘shabby but definitely NOT chic’ kitchen with the falling apart wonky doors and drawers held in place by DH’s hand made wooden runners to replace the plastic ones that failed years ago.

I really should be turning my attentions to the garden, so many plants in bud now waiting for the tiniest hint of warmth – but I look outside at the snow falling and decide I will remain in hibernation a little longer.

My time is spent inside on more practical household jobs – I am so caught up with the washing I am now waiting for something to wash, the ironing is done and in the airing cupboard and I even had a go at removing the candlewax from my linen tablecloth (and quite successfully I might add).

When I do have some spare time I am sewing – I have had that sudden urge to make something since completing the duvet cover for little Sweetie. Rummaging around, as one does occasionally, through my fabric stash I noticed I had some more tea towels that I bought a while ago and intended to make into tablemats.

My last efforts were quite successful and I thought it would be nice to make these mats for Easter – the little hen print is so cute …….but I had better get a move on, Easter will be here before we know it and bringing better weather I hope. I have already washed the fabric and unpicked the hems so I am ready to go.

I made pancakes on Tuesday. As we knew we would be out all day we both set to in the kitchen and did some preparation towards them. We usually have filled pancakes as a main meal so DH chopped the leeks and mushrooms and I made the batter – we make a good team (but only if he does things my way!!). Everything then went into the fridge for later – good job we thought ahead as it was 6.30pm when we arrived home.

They didn’t take long to cook and assemble – I cooked the leek and mushrooms together with a little parsley and seasoning for the filling; made a few pancakes then rolled each one up with the filling inside and laid them in an ovenproof dish.

I always use buckwheat flour, which the French use for their delicious crepes) because I like the crispier, lighter texture and once all the pancakes were made I covered them in a cheese sauce (I cheated here with a pot of Sainsbury’s own), topped everything with a sprinkle of seeds, Parmesan shavings and sliced tomato and then baked in the oven.

I have batter left over to make some plain pancakes to have with lemon juice as a pudding – but that will be another day.

During the school holidays last week we went up to North Yorkshire to stay with my daughter and grandchildren. We took Little L and Sweetie out for the day on Friday to Bowes Museum. It was the only place around that was indoors and warm – away from those terrible winds. We could hardly stand up outside in the car park – the rain was lashing about us but once inside there was lots to see and they are very child friendly.

At 2pm everyday you can visit the room with the famous Silver Swan (no I hadn’t heard of it either!) and see it perform. It is rather beautiful and a great feat of delicate engineering – when it is wound up the neck moves around and then dips its beak into the water below to catch one of the little fishes. I captured it on video but sadly I can’t upload it to my blog but you can see it here on You Tube.

We also had a trip to Northallerton a lovely, but busy, market town full of independant shops and stores…..and Betty’s (if you can afford it…..we can’t). I stocked up with a few items from Boyes – a brilliant cut price family run store that is a bit like a small Woolworths and they have a few branches in the North. They have an excellent selection of wool and I was tempted, but I decided I must finish the jumper I am knitting before I buy anymore.

Today I had to pop down to town to the library and use my double points petrol token before it expired. DH will be having a tooth removed by the time you read this. Ouch.

We will be up in North Yorkshire again at the end of the week as we have to look after my mum whilst my sister is away on a short holiday – so I may have a few days away from blogging.

Take care everyone and stay warm x