creating Christmas * day 1

December 1st – the day my Christmas preparations begin. It will be a simple Christmas for us this year but already most days on my calendar up to the 25th are spoken for….not sure how that happened!

I have started my Christmas countdown, not with an advent calendar – (we are sparse on those here this year – so I will find my little homemade one from years ago to put out on the mantelpiece), but with a Christmas treat – a day out. We actually went yesterday because we had a free entry voucher and it was the last day to use it. Many of the properties are closed now for the winter season but we found that Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, Cheshire was still open and not too far away.

We took homemade mushroom soup in a flask with chunks of bread and cheese. It was a very cold day so this made a good warming start to the visit. It is a fascinating place showcasing what life was like for the cotton mill workers in contrast to the affluent mill owner and his family. Styal village cottages were built for the mill workers and are still lived in today. The family home was originally a holiday home that they then lived in full time when the mill was built next to it. The complex is in a wonderful setting and quite different to many of the mills set up in grimy Manchester at that time.

The family were Unitarian so the house itself was very plain and simple compared to most National Trust houses where wealth is most certainly on display. I just adored this beautiful little writing desk.

We spent a pleasurable four hours there wandering around the house, the mill, the gardens and the village and afterwards dived into the cafe to warm up with a large cup of hot chocolate. As they close quite early we had to skip the Apprentice House but we have been round there before – I remember it was very bleak and cold inside and was set up to house orphaned children that worked in the mill and many ran away.

As we had a free entry voucher it seemed only right to donate something by buying a few things from the National Trust shop. It was hard to decide on just what as there were some lovely things on sale. In the end I chose a pack of National Trust Christmas cards and two fat quarters of the cotton fabric woven at the mill and printed locally. I intend to make a Christmas stocking with it – maybe not this year – time is feeling a bit on the short side already.

On our way home we called at John Lewis in Cheadle to order the TV table that we had decided on. We have quite a few vouchers for John Lewis so it cost us nothing. We bought the TV quite a while ago – it was bigger than our old one and has been balancing on the IKEA children’s table we bought for the grandchildren to play on when they come. Delivery will be next week. I am trying to persuade DH to also buy the little cabinet that I saw and is part of the same range….watch this space.

Today we have to go to town to pick up a few parcels from Next. We have been invited to a party on Saturday night and I really don’t have anything to wear. We have very few dress shops in our town now so to save having a trip out to Meadowhall, our nearest shopping mall, I ordered a selection of garments online which I have never done before for myself. I am keeping my fingers crossed that something will look OK and fit.

I have a present to buy too – it is a 30th birthday and I am not sure what to get – I am hoping for some inspiration when we get into town.

dear diary >> another day, another birthday

Goodness don’t the years roll by. Another birthday has landed today, another year older… though probably not any wiser.

I was up and about at 6am to enjoy the cool air in our back garden. Breakfast outdoors is quite a novelty for us as normally it might be too cold, cloudy, wet or windy – today it was just right but even as I type the temperature is increasing and very soon we will be scuttling back indoors to cool off; our living room being the coolest part of the house once the sun moves round.

Some friends are coming round early to beat the heat. I have decided against making the fruit scones I had planned – it is far to risky to put the oven on – the kitchen will be like an oven soon enough. What a shame we cannot bottle this heat for the winter months to save on our bills!

I had a complete overhaul at the osteopath’s yesterday – my back problems are not doing too badly but in the course of conserving my back I have managed to do something to both my shoulder and knee whilst bending and over reaching. Added to which my neck is so tight and this has affected my jaw and I have woken up a few mornings with it a bit displaced. My lovely therapist worked on everything yesterday to try and bring some relief to the discomfort but I find any movement at the moment quite difficult. Walking, which was good for my back is now aggravating my knee, the cat / cradle exercises I did daily for my back are not possible because of my shoulder. I feel I am falling apart and learning to moderate my activity and movement to prevent further problems is a struggle.

DH, meanwhile, stripped the beds yesterday then washed and ironed the sheets and duvet covers. My contribution to the housework is limited to the dusting and writing a shopping list.

Our improvements in the home and garden and to life in general continue. If you remember Improvement is my focus word this year – some improvements are bigger than others but all of them have added quality to our life in some way. Painting the greenhouse has been on the list a while but often when we have the time the weather is against us. This week DH managed to apply 3 coats to the front and one side but has had to lay his brushes down at the moment due to this intense heat. It now matches the shed and I love the transfromation. It should also preserve the wood at the same time.

The back garden has a few pretty corners amongst the mess. I planted bush tomatoes, cougettes and potatoes this year as well as a few varieties of salad leaves and radishes.

Thank you once again for all your lovely comments – both those of well wishes for my ailments and for the hand made cards. And yes Sue we learn just how much we need our backs to be good and strong and in working order – I am slowly learning how to use mine better. It is not easy after giving it a lifetime of abuse…too much gardening, bending and sitting at computers.

My computer time is limited now so I am using the time to post rather than comment or answer comments at the moment. Normal service might well resume one day!

Have a good day x

dear diary :: February already?

Hello everyone.  How are you all – I have missed you, it has been a long time and life here has been no less frantic than when I abruptly abandoned my blog?  Of course every day I have intended to write a post….but we all know what we intend to do and then what we actually do can be quite different.

For those regular readers you will remember I had to make a hasty departure up to Scotland during the Christmas advent to survey the storm damage to the cottage.  The wind had taken the felt, on the flat roof kitchen extension, clean off and we had to find someone to come and re-roof just before Christmas and you can imagine the long list of people in the area waiting for a roofer to do repairs for them – so many properties affected.  If this aggressive weather is not due to climate change then I don’t know why it is getting progressively wilder.

Roof sorted, we returned home just in time to sort out Christmas. 

And with a long list of to do’s I set about completing the Christmas plans.  It seems an age ago now.

I had cards to finish making, writing and posting, presents to wrap and some for my friends still to make – this year I chose to make Florentines and found some pretty wooden bowls by Habitat to put them in. I had to make them the day before Christmas Eve so they were nice and fresh.

We had very simple decorations this year no more than the mantelpiece and a bowl of dried orange slices and we never did buy a tree; by the time we came back from Scotland there were only a few days before we were setting out to go up to my daughter’s house for Christmas and buying and decorating a tree for two days of pleasure seemed a little ridiculous.

Our wider family all got together for the first time in goodness knows how long for Christmas Day at my sister’s house (she has now got the most room) and we tried hard to keep it a secret from my mum just in case someone caught the virus beforehand and we couldn’t go. It was hard to surprise my mum as each day when I rang her she would say ‘don’t you know what you are doing for Christmas yet?’ and I would always reply ‘ no as we are not sure if we will be locked down’.

The grandchildren all had the most wonderful time and my mum was so happy to see us all.

I iced the Christmas cake so the three grandchildren could have fun decorating it all by themselves with some little figures and sprinkles. And they made a good job too it was quite delightful though I think most of the sprinkles were eaten before they got anywhere near the cake.

We all managed to dodge the Covid virus but DH and I did come down with a cold / flu virus the day after Boxing Day, as did my brother and little Sweetie.  Why just the four of us out of a gathering of thirteen people we will never know. 

So that was our Christmas and thank you all for your lovely greetings and messages.

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Meanwhile January has been spent catching up with myself and planning.  It is always a job I look forward to as the New Year begins and listing everything down tells me we have more plans than time.  Nothing changes!

My focus word for this year is Improvement.

I intend to improve one area of my life each month – everything from health to wealth, two of the areas which need a good overhaul.  Some areas do overlap and once I make an improvement I will obviously have to review and keep it going in the coming months….that is probably the harder part.

January is always a busy time here with birthdays. One of my oldest friends reached the grand age of 80, though she doesn’t look it, so I had cards to make. I was a bit stuck for ideas but settled on this one using up scraps of fabric.

My mum reached the even grander age of 96 and we had a trip up to see her and take her a chocolate sponge cake with fresh cream inside and chocolate on top, her favourite.

Little Freddie celebrated his 3rd birthday and I organised a little tea party for him at home with a jungle theme. It was mainly immediate family – my two daughter’s and their partners and his two cousins, Little L and Sweetie who came and they helped him unwrap the presents, play party games and eat the party food. Sweetie, who is almost the same age as Freddie could hardly wait to play with all his new toys and as soon as they were unwrapped and admired and he had moved on to the next one she would edge nearer and nearer to try them out for herself, hoping no-one would notice!!

We had so much fun making these party hats from Tesco – I can certainly recommend them. They were easy to decorate even for the little ones – each person chooses some eyes, ears and a mouth from a selection to stick on and create your own little character.

I made a jungle cake which again was super easy with some little jungle animals and dessicated coconut dyed green with food colouring. The log effect around the outside of the cake was created with some chocolate coated wafer biscuits sliced in half and stuck on with melted chocolate – it saved me mixing up some buttercream for the sides.

I found some jungle animal and foliage pictures on the internet to print out and stick onto card for decorations and to stick on the front of each party bag with their names (which I have obscured). The party bags contained a few chocolate coins, and other jungly bits and bobs and these cute little hand puppets peeping over the top I discovered in Poundland (£2 each and made from recycled bottles) and they were a big hit.

Currently we are back in Scotland enjoying a break for a few days.  There are improvements to be made here at the cottage, weather permitting and if the weather is bad then it is the perfect place to sit and do some more planning. But I will tell you more about that another day.

Bye for now x

dear diary :: autumn closing in

Hello, remember me?…..It has been a while and far longer than I thought since I last ventured here into my quiet little space. I hope everyone is well and life is good for you.  For me it has been the usual comings and goings and the holiday season, during July and August, was a bit of a whirlwind…but I survived and now DH and I have retreated to our little cottage in Scotland for a long rest; well it might be a rest or not as there is a lot of gardening to do again.

We seem to have come to the end of summer now, the grandchildren are back in school and nursery and routine has come along once again. I can feel autumn closing in on us with the each new day – the morning dew soaked grass and the darker evenings. Everywhere is awash with the brightest red berries and a few dried leaves can be seen to flutter down. We are eating freshly picked apples from the garden and foraging in the hedgerows for the ripest, juiciest blackberries and those heady days of summer seem far behind us.

It is hard to remember all that has happened in the last few weeks, there has been a lot of visits here and there, so we have not been in one place long enough to really get down to blogging – I will fill you in briefly and I think the pictures I took along the way will speak for themselves.

I believe I left you abruptly back in June when we were at the cottage for 3 wonderful sun packed weeks, knee deep in weeds and with a task list the length of a fresh toilet roll, and no we didn’t get everything completed but then we never do and looking around now it is as if we never spent those 3 weeks in the garden everyday as everything has grown again but this time with a vengeance.

We began the summer in mid-July with a garden party complete with Disco Dome for Little L’s seventh birthday and her friends – as you can imagine it was a great hit with the kids. It was the hottest day of the year though and we had to rush out and buy a cheap gazebo to provide some shade for the guests. The soft drinks flowed all afternoon to make sure no-one became dehydrated and social distancing for the adults was observed.

There has been lots of cake too as the birthday continued over many days and two weeks later we had another get together with a picnic at Newby Hall to celebrate the birthday with family members. Another lovely day, the gardens (especially the two long perennial borders) were beautiful and the girls had great fun in the teddy bear house and the children’s play park and water fountains.

It is worth a trip here just to see the spectacular shell designs covering the walls of two identical summerhouses down by the river.

Somewhere in and amongst these events we had a quick trip back up to the cottage for a few days and managed to clean out the pond (more about this later). The rose was out in full bloom which I was relieved to see as I had hard pruned it later than I should have but it didn’t seem to mind.

On the way up to Scotland we took the longer scenic route from Gretna to Dumfries for a change and stopped off at the lovely little historic village of Powfoot (again I will tell you more about this interesting little place another day).

Back home and a quick turnaround to unpack and repack and we were off on our jolly hols with all the grandchildren and mums and dads to Scarborough for a week. It turned out to be one of those great British family seaside holidays and we had good weather which was a bonus and spent many days playing on the beach and in the sea.

And what a week we had – so much fun…but quite exhausting we did everything on offer from the castle to the Pirate Ship, the beach, the Spa theatre, shopping in the old market hall, picnics in the park and a ride on the little train and of course the donkeys and if that wasn’t enough we had a go at painting some pots.

We had one morning of torential rain but that was OK as we had booked the Spa theatre that day for the Teddy Bear’s Picnic put on by Scarborough’s resident spa orchestra (they are brilliant by the way and as part of the performance introduced the children to all the instruments and the sounds they make individually).

Here are some highlights of our week.

We mainly kept to the North bay side where it is often much quieter and you can catch the little train round to Scalby Mills from Peasholme Park but before we went home we spent a day on the south side where they have all the amusement arcades and rides. We could not miss going on a trip out to sea on the Pirate Ship even with a long long wait in the queue – all week Sweetie had been singing her favourite song – the Pirate Song she has learnt at nursery.

Note the hair in the picture above….Sweetie has certainly inherited the untameable wild hair of DH’s family. DH has always had fine flyaway hair that just does what it wants and no hairbrush has ever managed to tame it.

The week went so quickly, too quickly for the children who did not want to leave all this fun and the beach. We left with the intention of doing it all again next year. Our first night back at home in our own beds and we slept like a log probably from sheer exhaustion of a week with 3 grandchildren to entertain.

But the rest was short lived as once more it was all hands to the deck to unpack, wash, iron and repack ready to go off again. We had some of those passporting tickets for the Ryedale Outdoor Folk Museum in Hutton le Hole in North Yorkshire that expired just before the August Bank Holiday. We went there last year and everyone loved it so we spent a few days staying with my younger daughter and the two girls so we could go for the free revisit. And after the cost of Scarborough we needed free entertainment. The great British seaside holiday is certainly not a cheap option especially now that accommodaton prices and entrance fees have in some cases doubled.

The outdoor folk museum is a big hit with the grandchildren – they just loved the little old cottages and shops full of interesting old things.

The next day we drove up to Preston Park near Stockton and conveniently just down the road from my mum’s apartment so we were able to pop in to see her with the grandchildren (who she hadn’t seen in a long while due to the Covid restrictions). Preston Park is equally as good for kids as the Ryedale museum – they have an outdoor Victorian street with little old fashioned shops which includes a sweet shop and a toy shop where you can actually buy things. I chose the chocolate raisins (my favourite) from the rows of sweetie jars on the shelf. They are weighed out on the old fashioned scales by the ounce and poured into a paper bag – quite novel for little ones to see these days. There is also a haberdashery shop where you can try on old hats and the Police Station complete with a very harsh looking cell. They have now extended the grounds and have the most amazing walled garden and a woodland walk.

Decisions, decisions….

In and amongst all the comings and goings I hardly had any time for any craft work but had to carve out some time to make my sister in law’s birthday card and present for her 65th birthday. As it was a special birthday I made one of my concertina cards which some of my readers will remember from past posts on here. They are all watercolour sketches from my sketchbook over the years with a little poem running through and it folds into a tiny keepsake book tied with a ribbon. I have started a list now of who I have given these to so that I don’t forget and send them the same again for another birthday.

I finally got to finish this project I started last year which was turning some of my watercolour sketches into seed packets.

I dropped a picture of the sketch into a seed packet template and printed them out onto creamy cartridge paper to give them an old fashioned look. Then cut around the template to the form the packet shape. Once folded and glued together I filled each one, there were five in the set, with seeds I had collected and bundled them up and tied with rafia. I also enclosed a garden voucher for her to buy something for her garden.

We didn’t have much time to ourselves over the summer just an odd day here and there and in and amongst our comings and goings we spent a delightful afternoon in the beautiful gardens at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire with our sketchbooks. I am certainly out of practise but intend to try and do more when time allows as it is such a relaxing activity.

I haven’t been buying books recently but these two caught my eye. The knitting one is from The Works and I am attempting to knit the little dress with a fabric skirt – the long sleeved version for the winter. I have some pretty floral soft lightweight corduroy for the skirt that I bought last year and never got it made into anything. I am aiming for Sweetie’s birthday in November (finger’s crossed). The novel is a true diary and part of the Mass Observation project during the second world war. You may remember the screen play about Nella Last, Housewife 49, played brilliantly by Victoria Wood – well this is the Dewsbury version (Dewsbury being only a few miles away from us) about a shop assistant called Kathleen Hey.

So there you have my summer in a nutshell, I hardly had time to draw breath until 3 weeks ago when I visited the dentist and afterwards promptly came down with a cold – annoyingly the first for many years and it meant we had to postpone our ‘respite’ visit to mum over the August Bank Holiday….to say she was disappointed is an understatement but I recovered enough to go and see her the following weekend. She is going downhill quite quickly now as her ability to move around is difficult and very slow. She has even allowed the carers to cook her evening meal now so things must be bad! We are in the throws of looking for a rise and recline chair….though mum is adamant she wants a settee – they are available in a two seater but are near on £3,000…..phew.

Must go now to venture into our jungle once again….there are beds to weed and a lot of pruning back to get the garden winter ready. I am unimpressed that the weeds thought they had free run of the garden whilst our backs were turned.

Welcome to my new readers and followers – it is strange that I acquire many new followers when I am not posting – perhaps my silence should be telling me something. And thank you for the ‘ hope you are OK’ enquiries from long time readers it gives me the prompt I need to restart posting and your concern is much appreciated. (And Jayne I know I owe you an email it will be coming soon and sorry I missed you on your last visit to the Mull).

Have a great weekend everyone…love to all x

PS: apolgies for any spelling, grammatical errors I have done this post in a rush!

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