dear diary :: home grown, home sewn

Hello there – I hope you are all well and still managing to dodge the virus.  The weeks are passing quickly now as we are rolling on into June and the recent warmer weather has been so welcome; though we desperately need rain – a good soaking would do my lawns the world of good and today looks like it might be the day as we have quite a gloomy cast to the sky.

We are still well here and following the old lockdown rules….well pretty much, and trying hard to keep our 2 metre distance when we have to go to a supermarket but in my region it seems like lockdown, even this ‘easedown’, is suddenly being ignored by a number of people who are resuming a more full on normal life very quickly – I see children from many different households playing together outside in the cul-de-sac, visitors coming and going to the houses nearby – even my neighbour had a professional family photo shoot last weekend and two visitors appeared on the drive later and disappeared indoors with three very large helium balloons for their son’s birthday.  I have seen cafes open with people sat inside drinking coffee around a very small table and a carpet shop open – and I thought both of these businesses should still be closed.

I am feeling a little bit cross with Boris at the moment – I felt his ten minute speech outlining the easing of lockdown was not complex just rather unclear in delivery; even his own ministers gave a different version each time when questioned afterwards for further clarification.  The initial three word advice of ‘Stay at home’ was very clear – replacing this with a 50 page document that resembles the Highway Code (that one tried desparately to memorise before a driving test) is not quite the same.

So in his own defence Boris has to resort to telling people to just use good old fashioned British common sense – something that I think is quite open to many different interpretations. Does he mean the same common sense he has shown during this pandemic when he carried on shaking hands, long after it had been deemed unsafe, or like the times he appeared in the earlier briefings almost shoulder to shoulder with Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance as they talked about the 2 metre distancing rule and then all three of them caught the virus, or forgetting to include care homes as being a potential risk and dropping the idea of testing, or even like his own father who totally ignored his advice to the public not to go to the pub for a drink – do you mean this kind of British common sense Boris – well, there is little hope for us then?

But enough about this dreary topic – I write to record and remember for myself and some topics are just worthy of an airing from time to time but there is enough to hear on the news each day without me ranting on and at the end of the day everyone will choose their own way through this with common sense in place or not. So lets move on quickly to life here at home.

So far it is good and as you can imagine I have spent most of my time in the garden – this lovely warm spell has given the seedlings a growth spurt but I am still reluctant to plant out yet as I have not had the opportunity to completely harden them off while the temperature continues to drop overnight almost to frost point, and now we have this raging wind sweeping down off the moors above us and just as the garden is beginning to look quite delightful in places too.

I must make a note to self to plant more alliums come September – I just love the way their heads bob around in quite a disorderly fashion above the other plants in the borders.

We managed to find a few pieces of wood so that DH could fix another shelf to the underneath part of this old galvanised steel seed tray bench which has become my potting bench. Having an extra shelf will allow me to keep pots and bits and pieces to hand and will no doubt be a good place to put the trays of plants to harden off overnight….when that time comes.

I have also been repurposing and recycling – not in a big way but it has helped me to use up a few odds and ends that I might otherwise not have had a use for and I have spent a few enjoyable days in my workroom creating new out of old.

I like the idea of altering and reusing a card and giving it a longer and new lease of life – some cards are just too nice to throw away and I have a box full of old card fronts so I made a couple of special cards for two dear friends of mine using cut down pieces of old cards that had once been sent to me, and a third to use up some decorative papers and embellishments from my craft collection with a few punched out mini butterflies using the punch given to me by the friend who I have made the card for.  

I have a stock of blank tri-fold concertina cards that I bought so long ago I cannot even remember why I bought them – but they do make rather nice birthday cards and I was able to find a relevant birthday verse on the internet to paste inside.

Although I quite enjoyed the cutting and pasting they are not my usual style of card making – though my friends seem to like them – but I much prefer to originate my own work and the beginnings of these cards below are much more satisfying to make, but as yet the idea is very much a work in progress. Here I am using some of the flowers I pressed a while ago and mounting them onto the blank concertina cards to form some kind of nature notes card.

To continue with this I am waiting now for a new batch of flowers in the press, I have been snipping away in the garden…..forget-me-nots, buttercups and more daisies and collecting anything that catches my eye like some tiny maple keys in the supermarket car park.

The repurposing has not stopped at card making.  I discovered a length of fabric that I bought many years ago to make a bench cushion in a drawer in the loft whilst checking to see if I had anything suitable to make masks out of.  The woven upholstery weight blue check cotton fabric matched the little blue painted bench that we had back then.  Sadly the bench fell apart from old age a couple of years ago and the cushion never got made. 

We have a new metal bench now on the patio with a mesh seat that definitely needs a rug or cushion for comfort so yesterday I cut out the cushion pieces and made a filling from an old cot duvet I had put aside to take to a textile bank.  It is perfect – I folded the wadding over into 4 layers and recovered it with the Vilene covering to stuff the cushion. 

I decided to hold the wadding in place by doing some mock tufting – I didn’t want to put buttons on as sitting on them might be uncomfortable so I just used some heavy weight sewing cotton to draw both sides of the cushion together at the intersection of each of the large checks on the fabric, I also inserted two ties at one end of the cushion so it can be rolled up when not in use and tied in place for storage. It is not quite complete yet – a little more tufting to do but it does feel quite uplifting to get some of these projects finished and the repurposing means I have a new item at little cost and will no doubt last for a long time to come – probably longer than the bench!

Even in these slow living times I cannot believe how quickly the weeks go by and housework has taken a back seat here lately – I haven’t felt much in the mood during the hot weather and a quick tidy round and a hoover has kept things ticking over nicely. 

Adding a few fresh flowers instantly brightens the place up and hopefuly detracts from seeing any dust! I love the way the colour of these tulips I bought last week blend in perfectly with the colour palette of this picture, an oil painting by the Scottish atrist Hazel Campbell…it was quite accidental but rather a nice accident.

Whilst we have been staying at home I have developed more of a routine and one that allows me to distinguish between week and weekend in these lockdown days that just roll on in quite a monotonous way.   I have been washing on a Monday and Tuesday and avoiding the weekends; I quite like keeping the weekends a bit more special and not cleaning or washing; eating a ‘proper’ Sunday dinner (even a vegetarian version) also helps to keep the weekend a little more defined.

So although I am often to be found in the kitchen when I am not in the garden or workroom you would notice that I am cooking and baking rather than cleaning.  

I picked out a few untried recipes from my folder, one of which was a new nut roast recipe that I wanted to make – just for a change.  This one contains chopped tomatoes from a packet or tin, so has quite a loose open texture and goes well as a substitute for a Sunday roast with the usual veg and gravy or cold with salad.  The recipe made a full 2lb loaf tin so half of it was cut up into slices to put in the freezer for later.

We had the first slice with roast parsnips, cabbage, cooked apple and a Yorkshire….smothered in gravy.

We have a birthday tomorrow on Bank Holiday Monday – it is DH’s but I won’t disclose which year – I will just say in the later part of the sixties, but thankfully not yet seventy – I only say thankfully as the years are galloping away now and feels like there is still so much we want to do and see in so little time.

To cheer him up I will make a cake and maybe we will go out in the car for a run, not to a popular beauty spot….just somewhere off the beaten track with a flask of hot chocolate and some cake and maybe take our sketchbooks. And then no doubt there will be a Zoom get together with some of the family.

Stay safe everyone and a warm welcome to more readers and followers….and apologies for anyone who has noticed my lack of comments recently on my favourite blogs – I am still reading along as time allows. x

dear diary :: coming together

Wasn’t it a glorious day on VE day, warm, sunny and calm; just perfect for afternoon tea on the lawn and a chat with the neighbours. It was very much a spur of the moment thing for us when my friend from up the road rang and said “were we doing anything in the lower part of the cul-de-sac for VE day tomorrow and did we want to join in with the upper part who were going to be out on their lawns for afternoon tea at 4pm?”

I had not heard of any celebrations and neither had my immediate neighbours but we thought it was a good idea to join in so I hastily made some leaflets and at clapping time that evening gave them to all the houses round about in the close telling everyone if they wanted to join in to be out on their front lawns the next day at 4pm. Not everyone in the cul-de-sac joined in, but the majority of people were just glad of getting out of the house and doing a little socialising – be it at a safe distance.

The next day, early in the morning our cul-de-sac swung into action – it was suddenly ‘bustling’ as neighbours appeared one by one and lawns were mown, bunting and flags went up, and chairs and tables put in place – the activity only ceasing to observe the two minute silence at 11am.

Preparations continued indoors as people baked and maked until at 4 pm they reappeared carrying trays laden with pots of tea and plates overflowing with sandwiches, cakes, even pizzas – whatever spread could be created at such short notice.

For some, like us, it was done in style with ‘proper’ white linen table cloth, cake stands, vases of flowers and china tea pots; for others a hastily found picnic table or rug spread on the lawn and a couple of mugs of tea with a few homemade ‘doorsteps’.


After tea we got to chat with neighbours new and old and heard of their experiences of Covid 19 and the lockdown and most of them, I would say, are concerned as to how the ‘release’ and easing of the lockdown will unfold. Many suggesting they will be taking it more slowly perhaps than the government will be advising and making their own easement plans even before Boris announces his plans today. Coming out of lockdown will be like coming out of hibernation and I will be with the slow and careful camp for sure. I think the tortoise will win the day.

As this hot spell continues I have suddenly got a heap of jobs to do in the garden potting on as well as a little pottering. It is tempting to plant up some of the pots and baskets with annuals but with the cold spell forecast and possible late frosts, I decided to hang fire and transplant some of the seedlings into bigger pots in the meantime. What a shame I didn’t get to buy my greenhouse last year – I really need one now as my mini greenhouse is rather full and limited for head room as the seedlings in the trays are starting to gain height.

Outdoors I have my vegetables and salads tucked up under cloches that I remove during the day – it was so warm the last few days you could almost here the seedlings growing and I have been astounded that there are signs that the potatoes on on their way as they finally push through the earth making little mounds like a mole – I had given up hope as I feared the seed potatoes had not sprouted very well when I planted them.


Sadly the forget-me-nots, that are currently covering my borders like a carpet, will be over very soon. Such a pretty little flower – I keep refilling the jug on the kitchen window sill and adding in some of the clematis montana, which has flowered profusely outside my front door, and the odd buttercup that I find hiding in my borders…they add a lovely touch of colour.

As the garden is unfolding into a wonderful canvas of colour just waiting to be painted I felt the desire to idle away part of the day sketching in the garden yesterday. It has really been far too long since I have put paint on paper and done anything worthwhile in my sketchbook – in fact I had to hunt around to find it as I gathered up brushes and paints to get started. I find the best way to get back into painting is to do some very quick 2 minute sketches – just getting something down on paper without bothering too much of the result.

On an evening, whilst watching repeats go around on the TV, Father Brown, Midsommer Murders (the 8 o’clock slot is my main viewing time) and if I don’t mind a late night – New Tricks often follows on, I have been doing a few rows of knitting but remain sceptical that it will be finished in time before little Freddie turns two next year – such is the pace that I go at!

This was my second attempt at the neckline – I pulled back the first as it did not fall into a well formed edge the first time and failed the inspection – in the words of Sybil on her blog, I failed miserably – so after consulting the wonderful Youtube masters of knitting I discovered how to form a fully fashioned edging with stitches that lean to the right or left – though I would say my attempt is probably more ‘fashioned’ than fully. The sleeves should be fairly straight forward if I can manage to increase on the correct rows – at least there is no pattern on the bottom of them that requires more concentration than I can muster by the evening.

Amidst all the fun stuff I really must get back to doing some targetted exercises for my knee – although gardening is good exercise for some things I do need to keep up with the stretching and strengthening exercises as well – though of the two types of exercise ….. give me gardening anyday – so much more variable as well as pleasurable. All daily walks, for our allowed daily hour, have recently been suspended as I have taken to resting and icing my knee again – is there such a malady as ‘irritable’ knee because that is what it is – if it does not like something it is very quick to grumble – it reminds me of Mrs Pringles leg in the Miss Read books!

Of the family there is litle change in the news – Mum is getting used to her own company inside her own four walls – entertained only by Talking Pictures and reruns of Miss Marple on TV; elder daughter , coming to terms with turning 40, and her partner are working all hours as they juggle childcare around Zoom log ins for lengthy meetings and younger daughter copes 24/7 with the two energetic weenies.

It would seem we have all made our own way along this unknown journey, sometimes just casually drifting along and sometimes with intent and whilst for some it has seemed like going into a very dark tunnel with no end in sight, for others the time is whizzing by as they rush to tackle a list of jobs on the ‘one day’ list and now scramble to get them finished in time for the inevitable return to the frantic world of balancing work and home life. How many have vowed to make changes, but how many will?

I too am planning on change – during the lockdown I have reconnected with our home in a big way and have had the space to identify exactly how I would prefer to manage my time in the future, doing more of what pleases my soul, and what gives me the greatest amount of satisfaction. A new balance is going to be my goal – but one seriously weighted to having more time for ourselves.

I leave you now as I feel the cold weather already descending upon us, waiting with bated breath for the Boris briefing today – in the meantime anyone for a nice hot cuppa and a scone? xx

dear diary :: staying home, staying occupied

Amazing things happen when you stay at home – well they do for us. We relax. Usually we are busy either packing or unpacking, coming and going so this must be the longest period we have spent at home for many years and I am loving it.

For longer than I care to remember we have been up and down to either my mum’s, my mum in law’s (when she was still with us) and my daughter’s houses visiting and then there were all the trips up to the cottage. It was quite normal that we only spent one weekend in four actually at home. In fact one year, whilst both of us were still working full time, we spent every weekend away from home for 13 consecutive weekends. I can’t say I can recommend it. This was during a period when my mum in law’s house (90 miles south) had to be decorated to go on the market when she moved into a care home, we also had my mum to visit (90 miles north) and we went up to our cottage in Scotland in between whilst renovation works were in full swing.

Having to stay at home has meant much more time to undertake all those things I have been meaning to do for ages – in fact I know I will not have enough time to get through them all before normality decends upon us once again.

For much of the time I have been busy in the kitchen, making sure nothing goes to waste.

Remember the birthday cake that I cut down for my daughter. I was left with three circles of cake. Little L drew in some strawberries for me but I decided to cut up the circles and freeze them until I could buy raspberries on our next shopping trip – no popping out to the shops for bits and pieces at the moment, we make do or wait.

And it was worth the wait!

I cut the cake into small pieces and added a layer of fresh raspberries then poured over a raspberry jelly that needed using up; once it was set I topped it with custard, double cream, more raspberries and a sprinking of almonds and dark chocolate strands.

As well as making trifle I was reminded reading Suzanne’s blog and her crimble crumble that I was going to use up the last of my frozen blackberries and a container of apple to make some blackberry and apple crumbles. Thanks for that Suzanne – they were delicious with ice-cream.

I also had some watercress left over from the ‘green soup’ DH made so I made one of my favourite summer recipes Watercress and Spring Onion quiches. Just the right size to eat with a little mixed salad and warm potato salad.

There is always plenty to do in the garden and this week the weather has ranged from cool to very hot. Yesterday I washed all the plant pots and left them to dry in the sun ready for potting on some of the seedlings that have now outgrown the trays.

Each day I come across more delightful little surprises. The tulips that begin life as a pale cream, then acquire pink markings as the petals open out…..

…have now magically transformed into a vivid pink as if someone has painted them overnight – maybe it is those fairies at the bottom of my garden by the toadstool!

This shady corner has some self seeded purple aquilegias growing amongst this bright green euphorbia that has worked its way under the fence from next door. A welcome gate crasher. I love the way nature can make its own wonderful colour combinations if left alone. It is always much better at garden design than I am.

The garden is looking quite good now with all the attention I have heaped upon it so far this year. This week we have been doing some much needed hard pruning of a few leggy and overgrown shrubs – so one or two areas of the garden are looking a bit sparse and exposed – hopefully it will not be long before they grow back to some mass again and give us our privacy back. I will show you some before and after photos soon of our hard work.

Because the weather has been so pleasant I thought it would be nice to make a special tea to sit and eat in the garden so that we could admire our handiwork. As we had trifle and some individual quiches I decided to bake a few fruit scones after lunch and make a plate of sandwiches with tomatoes, cucumber and a slice or two of cheese.

It was such a treat to sit out in this warm weather and while it is especially peaceful at the moment – only the birds could be heard as they busily flit around the garden hunting for worms in my freshly weeded borders.

We both agreed we should do this more often and as it happens it was good practise for the VE day street party celebrations we are taking part in today – don’t worry it is a social distancing party where we will all be sitting more than the recommended 2 metres away in our own front gardens eating our own afternoon tea – but I daresay we will all be singing together.

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

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 :: oh my, oh my…

It has been a long time and a long time away from the old key board – not intentional I assure you and I hope that in the days that have passed you are all well and thoroughly enjoyed January.

Like my life, the changes in the weather have been so unsettling recently that no two days have hardly been the same. We have swung from bitterly cold to blustery winds with a lashing or two of rain in between….. and a day of snow.

So exactly what have I been doing, you might ask?

….and isn’t it hard to remember?

January is a busy month for us with birthdays and on top of that we have more than a few special remembrance days of my father-in-law, mother-in-law, a close uncle and yesterday for my dear old dad – who fell ill during January before he died. It would seem that my family like to fit in one good ‘last Christmas’ before departing from us. It is hard looking back and remembering all the good times we had with each of them, these memories are so precious to me and I like to have some quiet time alone, just me and the photo albums.

After writing my last post (on the 21st January) we managed to squeeze in an appointment with the kitchen planner in Sheffield to discuss the possibility of a new kitchen (yeah) and take up the discounted deal on offer. We arranged for the planner to come over on the following Tuesday to take measurements and look at our space and advise on what might fit in it, but unfortunately that was the day it snowed here so had to be cancelled and is now rearranged for later in February. In the meantime we are trudging endlessly around kitchen showrooms looking for ideas and at the appliances we will need to install. Already it feels like an expensive project.

On the Friday (24th) we had a lovely trip out to our local theatre to see Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn – you either love him or you don’t – I like his humour and both the play and actors were brilliant. It is ages since we had an evening at the theatre; we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and agreed that we really do need to get out more.

Saturday was our Burns’ night supper that we host for some of our closest friends and in memory of my Scottish father-in-law who died on Burns’ night (after attending a Burns’ night supper himself at his local church, though I might add his death was not a consequence of the food!).

It has become a bit of a tradition now and each year we add in something new. This year we made Cock-a-Leekie soup as a starter but being vegetarian without the ‘cock’ – so just ‘Leekie’ soup – which was actually just our leek and potato soup recipe – it went down very well though and instead of rolls I made Parmesan crisps (not very Scottish I know but very nice all the same).

We did a special version of the kanban board to help us prepare for the evening and the glass in the patio doors proved to be an effective place to stick all the individual post it note tasks. I decorated a few places around the house with a touch of tartan and placed candlelit lanterns outside in the garden.

The evening was a success even though we were all crammed into our tiny dining area and one of the meat haggis exploded in the oven with quite a bang. The Cranachan recipe using porridge oats was certainly not as good as last year’s version using oatmeal, but enjoyable none the less and I have made a note of this for next year. We managed to polish off all the Tunnoch’s caramel wafers and chocolate teacakes and down a dram or two of whisky before everyone left for home and we climbed into bed at around 3am – so rather a late start to Sunday (….well what was left of it).

Sunday I cleaned the oven to remove the dreaded bits of haggis from every nook and cranny it had attached itself to.

The following Monday we had a trip over to the south of Manchester for the Citroen specialist to adjust the suspension on our car. It is much better now and actually glides over the bumps as it should and even better he only charged £40 which was good news for us after the hundreds we have given to the local Citroen garage in their attempts to get it sorted.

I had hair and physio appointments and was looking forward to a restful weekend but our plans had to change suddenly when both mum and our younger daughter in North Yorkshire required our services urgently. After the physio session on Thursday we hastily packed and shot off to stay with our daughter and the two grandchildren.

Our daughter only moved into her new house last November in a new area and Little L has started a new school…. just when we thought they were all settled – it appears that not all is well with her new landlady and the property she is renting she may not be able to stay in the house (obviously I cannot go into detail here but through no fault of her own may have to move again) – we are waiting for more news on this and as is the case these days no one can discuss the matter with her. What a good job we had not had the time to order the new wardrobes.

My mum had not been well all week and my sister had to go away for a long weekend so she needed our help. She is feeling very down at the moment because she cannot get out and about like she used to. She had an x-ray on her hip, knees and feet last week and my sister who accompanied her saw the x-rays and the radiologist explained what was what – apparently her right hip does not look good, there is no fluid surrounding it and the bones are wearing away. She now has to wait 3 months for an appointment at the clinic to discuss what can or cannot be done. I am amazed at how quickly she has gone downhill; when we went on Saturday to take her out for the day she could barely walk to the car.

As she didn’t need us to take her for any shopping we had a run out over to Saltburn for lunch at the deli cafe and then went down the coast to Sandsend. It is a lovely run and en route we ventured off the main coast road and went along the single track road to explore Goldsborough and Kettleness.

Goldsborough, which is tiny and off the beaten track, does still have a pub called The Fox and Hounds, whilst further on Kettleness village is just a cluster of tiny cottages on the headland since the rest of the village plunged into the sea one stormy night in 1829. The most notable feature is a little abandoned chapel on the way down to the village after this you can go no further and have to turn around and go back.

On Sunday we gave my daughter a break and took the girls, Little L and Sweetie, out for a few hours. It was damp and cold so going to the playground or park was out. Little L had a few pounds in her purse and a book token so we went into Thirsk so she could find a book. The White Rose Book Cafe is one of my favourite places and after a lengthy browse around we had lunch there and eventually Little L settled on a book about boats.

We are home again now but returned to find my elder daughter who lives locally to us had not been well all weekend with a sickness bug caught from her husband and so her return to work yesterday after a lengthy maternity leave has had to be postponed a day or two!!

I think that is all my main news to tell and so today I am catching up with myself. There is paper work to do, washing, ironing and a lot of endless ‘bitty’ bits and pieces.

Thank you for all the lovely comments on my previous posts, they are much appreciated. I will be trying to catch up with all you lovely bloggers out there but might be doing a little more reading than commenting until I am up to date.

And of course welcome to all my new followers. x

creating health and well being

Needless to say this part of my life has been a little neglected of late. I should be reporting that I am exercising everyday, eating very healthy meals and remebering to drink more water and take my supplements.

I am working on it!

Truth is I will have to start over – not completely as nothing in life is ever wasted – but just get back on track and it would be a good idea to find my exercise sheet that I had developed with my physiotherapist.

feasting :: from the apple tree

Before we left Scotland we gave the apple tree a good shake but still couldn’t dislodge the ones at the very top of the tree; so we had to make-do with all the windfalls we had collected.

This year wasn’t quite the bumper crop of last year (but then we had reduced the size of the tree during the previous winter) and I noticed a lot more blemishes and rotten bits to cut around where insects and the like had got there first.

Despite the blemishes and scars on the outside the flesh on the inside was still good; so we have been peeling and slicing, cooking and freezing apples all week and yesterday I used two of them to make one of my all time favourite recipes for this time of year – Apple and sultana cake. The original recipe from Good Housekeeping Basic Cookery uses raisins but I much prefer the juicier sultanas.

It is the perfect cake for early autumn – still quite a light texture, a hint of cinnamon and uses those just picked apples and windfalls straight from the tree. Try it sliced and buttered at teatime.

For anyone wanting to make this you will find the recipe in the drop down recipe section in the tabs above the header photo. Enjoy x

fEAsting ~ and the cupboard was bare

At first glance on Friday our cupboards and fridge seemed a bit bare…panic…

My menu planning had become a bit out of sync with having mum to stay recently and we only did a part shop last Monday in Sainsbury’s to cover a few days, expecting to have to go again at the end of the week to top up.   But I didn’t really want to go down to town to Sainsbury’s again just for the weekend and I am watching the pennies so I decided to make what we had stretch over to next Monday when I would usually shop.  We had run out of milk completely but we can get this from the local village Co-op and once I had assessed the meagre offerings laying in the fridge and devised a menu plan to get us through the weekend I asked DH to bring back a carrot too. The sum total of the veggies leftover from last Monday’s shopping trip were a few large old potatoes and a handful of small new potatoes, a number of tiny tomatoes, a little gem lettuce, 2 leeks, 2 onions, 2 courgettes, a few bits of celery, most of a swede and 3 pointed red peppers plus 2 very small avocados.

We also had a block of mild cheddar, a piece of Jarlsberg, 5 eggs;  and in the freezer I keep peas, broadbeans and nutloaf.  In the store cupboard I had a packet of chickpeas and plenty of brown rice.

So I worked out a menu plan to incorporate all these bits and bobs and tide us over

  • Friday evening meal – *chickpea and rice with 1 onion, 1 courgette, the leftover mushrooms (not at their best but salvageable), and the 2 small stalks of some celery,
  • Saturday lunch – a ploughman’s lunch of bread, cheese, tomatoes, pickle and the avocado
  • Saturday evening meal – omelette with tomato, red pepper, courgette and herbs, small roasted potatoes and peas.  Also a small cherry crumble each from the freezer.

Leek and Potato Soup

  • Sunday lunchtime – Leek and potato soup (I can add a carrot to this and the remaining lettuce), bread with avocado and cheese.
  • Sunday evening meal – Nutloaf, mashed potatoes with swede, carrot and broad beans and we have a pack of small Yorkshire puddings in the freezer if we want to turn it into more of a Sunday dinner.  I also serve the Nutloaf with apple sauce (also in the freezer).
  • Monday lunchtime – rest of the Leek and potato soup and bread

* The chickpea and rice concoction – I kind of invented it myself one day and it has been a winner here ever since.  Quick and easy and you can throw most things in it.

Cook a chopped onion and celery in a little oil to soften, then add chopped courgettes and finally add a packet of pre cooked Chickpeas and some chopped mushrooms.  It works with most vegetables so a good way to use up those little bits and pieces.  Once the mushrooms are softened I add some stock – about 200ml and leave to simmer so the flavours infuse.  I add some parsley at this point too.  Meanwhile cook some brown rice about 3-4oz (usually takes 30mins). Once cooked add to the chickpea mix and combine.  Cook for another 3-5 minutes and serve.

It is always amazing how far you can stretch the leftover veg when you need to and it is a good way of saving a few pounds.  We have a few standby things in the freezer like Nut cutlets, Pizza and some dried pasta in the cupboard but it was the veg I was interested to use up completely so there is no waste.  The frozen Pizza will save for another day or another emergency.

With the 2 remaining eggs I might just be able to make some chocolate buns or brownies.

A day of purposeful prudence and penny-pinching…with a positively perfect outcome for the cost of a carrot.

Spend £0.45p (DH actually bought a bag of carrots rather than just one…but hey you can’t win them all!)