dear diary :: come what May

A very apt quote at the moment for these strange times – not quite the rough winds we think of but we are certainly being shaken at the moment…to the core. Everything we took for normal in our lives has been turned upside down – but May is here – one of the loveliest months of the year and hopefully with a promise of a wonderful summer ahead, even if we are still in lock down or social distancing.

After the party it was recovery time. Sometimes it might seem that our family life is just one celebration after another….and looking through our vast photo collection that is probably a fair assumption, and it pleases me to think that even in these difficult times we managed to come together as a family to carry on and celebrate as we always have done.

Thank you for all your kind comments about the party – we did have a fun time – but I look forward to the day when the whole family can gather together for a grand summer picnic – even if we have to keep 2 metres apart.

Since Sunday I have been doing the usual washing and ironing, dusting and hoovering and tending to some of those little tasks on my list; I was determined not to carry over too many of my unfinished April tasks into May; so I had a big push to tick off as many as I could from the list – such a pleasurable task in itself.

So I am left with those ‘don’t like to do jobs’ such as cleaning the coals and jets on the gas fire, tackling the shredding pile and cleaning the car – but these can be spread amongst the feel good tasks of making a blackberry and apple crumble to use up the fruit in the freezer, finishing the tea cosy I started goodness knows when and sending for the Doves Farm organic flour recipe book.

The cleaning of doorknobs and counter tops has become a little ritual now each day. I had stopped using most commercial cleaners other than an eco cleaner but most of the research says that many cleaners like vinegar will not kill the Covid virus and that a cleaner with bleach is the most reliable. So not leaving anything to chance I am resorting to a kitchen cleaner containing bleach to wipe down with but I certainly won’t be injecting it! (This is not an advert for Flash either – it is the only cleaner containing bleach that I could find on the shelf at the supermarket).

There might be extra little household jobs to take care of at the moment but it has been a time of leisurely breakfasts – I always start the day with some creamy organic yoghurt and a little fruit whatever we have managed to get at the supermarket. This week it has been bananas, grapefruit and oranges.

My pantry is still quite well stocked – there are plenty of meals I can make using all these dried goods – it is only the baking flour that remains unobtainable, but cutting down on the cakes and pastries will be no bad thing and now the warmer weather is here we are turning to lighter meals of salads and slaws. DH does a wonderful job of chopping up the grapefruit and oranges and saves a slice for my morning ginger tea with a blob of manuka honey.

I have spent some time updating my garden folder – here I catalogue all the plants bought and seeds sown with notes on the care they need. I bought the very last packet of small plant labels in Sainsbury’s to mark some of the plants in the garden where I need to remember the variety and also to remind me where some of the bulbs are planted so I don’t inadvertently dig them up! I saw some lovely metal daisy bulb markers on the internet but they are £10 for only 5 markers so I am looking to make some wire ones of my own when inspiration falls upon me.

I had been so busy with the party I had forgotten that the Easter decorations were still out; whilst I packed them away I removed a few bits for the charity pile – like Christmas baubles it is easy to accumulate too many decorative eggs. I also had a quick look through my box of summery decor to switch things about – there are all sorts of goodies in here, mainly shells and oddments I have found on the beach. I have in mind to do a series of shell sketches but there are so many beautiful flowers starting to bloom in the garden I rather think when the weather improves again you will find me doing a little sketching out there.

It has not been all work in the garden this week – I have found time to sit awhile – lock down has certainly generated a very calming and peaceful atmosphere; one where you can stop and hear your own thoughts for a while, put them in order and generally have the time to ponder and daydream a little. It appears that the merry-go-round has briefly stopped and it has revealed a new life, one that I could buy into very easily and it has also raised many questions of where we go from here – what shape we want our lives to be in the future, and as the world is itching to get back to ‘normal’ now, the big question is will it be the normal we once knew or a very new normal of our choosing?

For many people who have lost loved ones it will be a frightening time – adjusting to life without a wife / husband / parent and possibly without financial means. My heart goes out to them.

The state of the economy is such a large and complicated matter – it seems to rule the world now and is (as we see from the Trump briefings and American demonstrations) more important than people. Our spending keeps so many people in work, clothed and fed but in fact I have not been at all bothered by the lack of shops open and have not bought anything but food and a few toiletries…oh and the plant labels of course. I could quite happily carry on along this road – for me lock down has highlighted even more that there is so little we actually need and I am no less content because I cannot spend. My bank account has never looked so healthy, even though food is costing a lot more – but will we be damaging the economy and other people’s livelihoods if we don’t spend again after lock down?

It is such a dilemma, one that I have been thinking about quite a lot recently. I expect the inevitable recession will actually prevent us from overspending anyway and so it may be even more important to recycle, and repurpose rather than buy more needless stuff. In my new Country Living magazine is an interview with Kirsty Allsop – she is a great campaigner for sustainability and grew up with the idea that you never buy anything new. Over the years disposable has become the norm and even now in lock down so many people have taken the opportunity to declutter as our houses are stuffed full and some of that decluttering is sadly being dumped on our country lanes and harming the wildlife. It all feels such a huge insurmountable problem as large as the mountains of waste we produce.

At the beginning of the week the weather began to change….so much cooler with quite grey skies so I decided to bring a little of the garden inside. The cherry tree blossom is fading fast now and the petals have fallen like snowflakes onto the lawn, but there are still a few heads of blossom to cut and I have drifts of self-seeded snow white honesty, aquilegia and forget-me-knots and a very profuse clematis montana.

Just a few snips of each and my window sill is now like a mini garden.

I have also been pressing a few of the flower heads and petals ready for another card making session.

I planted five bulbs of this frilly little narcissus with its delicate apricot ruffles in a pot last November – they have taken a long time to open but what sheer delight when they did – I absolutely love them – they remind me of the time when I made weddding dresses and I was surrounded by flounces and peachy frills.

The strawberry pot full of chives not strawberries (don’t ask!) are growing so well at the moment it seemed a good time to make my Cheesey Leek ramekins. Needless to say when I came to make the recipe we only had the one leek left so in usual lock down style I had to improvise and tossed in the remaining few button mushrooms and a chopped courgette to bulk out the mixture.

It worked out quite well and if anything they turned out even nicer than usual and I will definitely be using these adaptations in future. I will add the recipe to my collection for anyone wanting to try them. They are quick and easy and hot or cold go well with any salad.

My mum continues to get a little brighter each day although she still has some weepy moments when the situation becomes too overwhelming for her and she worries for the future and wonders if she will ever get her hip problem assessed. I promise her as soon as we are allowed to travel we will be up to see her and if possible take her out somewhere to escape the four walls she has now been looking at for the last few months.

Meanwhile younger daughter, coping alone with two young children 24/7 finds a few moments of peace by leaving the girls occupied and safe in the garden and taking 5 minutes to go inside and just sit and stare at the wall!!

And just before I go welcome to the many new followers….was it something I said??

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 :: 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 :: morning glory

What a beautiful day today – I spent the morning in the garden and it was gloriously sunny and warm and quite calm. The birds were twittering away and it felt like spring had arrived which is not usually this early high up in the Pennines as we are here. The jolly Budha was certainly smiling, yet we all know this kind of weather can be very deceiving and we might suddenly be plunged once again into cold, wet, wind and snow.

With this in mind I didn’t cut back very much of the dead foliage in the garden as it can be quite protective of any harsh weather still to come. I did manage to get the bulbs planted that had started growing indoors in the bag and I also repotted some tiny Irises I bought in Thirsk at the weekend as well as planting out a pot of snowdrops into the small border.

There are bulbs springing up all over the garden now and the Primulas are in full bloom.

Even the pansies have over wintered well this time.

The rhododendron grown by DH’s grandfather and named after him has some nice fat buds waiting to burst open when the time is right. I just hope this year they don’t open too soon and then get hit by later frosts. The one in our Scottish garden which was a cutting from this plant does much better.

I was so glad to see the Clematis I bought last year, and which is still in a pot, has some new leaf buds….an encouraging sign that I have not yet killed it.

In between a bit of gardening and tidying I was running in and out with the washing getting as much done as I could and out on the line while the going was good. DH had taken his car down to our local village garage to have the brake discs done ready for the MOT in April. It has been quite a hefty month or two financially for the cars with both car tax and insurance being paid on top of the recent maintenance costs and an annual service.

This afternoon I went up the road for a cup of tea and a natter with my neighbour. We usualy meet on a Friday but she will be out tomorrow. We spend a couple of hours putting the world to rights and catching up with our news – a lot can happen in a week.

Tonight I am making a cauliflower and broccoli bake for our supper. It is one of my favourite meals in the winter months and quite quick to do. After tea I expect we might just cosy down and watch some TV and maybe an early night. I have just finished my book ‘Confessions of a Bookseller’ by Shaun Bythell – I enjoyed it as much as the earlier one he wrote though I would be very wary of starting a converstion with him should we ever visit his shop in Wigtown, which is round the bay from our cottage, just in case the conversation was ever recorded like many in one of his books!

Tomorrow I still have a million and one jobs to do so we should be having another day at home. Have a relaxing evening…I am! xx

seasons :: bedding down for winter

They are certainly grey wintry days at the moment that make you want to stay indoors keeping cosy and warm; reaching for a nearby throw and snuggling down to watch a film or read a book. It is the time of year when the weather can take a turn for the worse; windy, wet and often bitterly cold – we have had all three recently and I find myself yearning for a little snow as snow seems far more pleasant and of course pretty. It is the time of year when you just want to ‘bed’ down and only surface as spring appears.

Indoors I am still ploughing my way through the dirty laundry left over from Christmas and when I have washed and put it out on the line to dry it then becomes part of the ironing pile mountain. Each day I do a little bit in the hope I will ever see the bottom of the basket again – wash, dry, iron then put away. The laundry is a very circular task like prepping, cooking, eating meals then clearing up.

It is the same with our finances – each day I am doing a little bit towards reducing the pile of receipts so that I can balance the bank statements; though I know it would be more satisfying to me if I could take one project to a conclusion, but I also know that if I focus on one thing something else will not get done at all.

I am returning at the moment to my kanban board by my desk in the office / craft room. Here I can stick post it notes to a glass notice board that is marked out in sections – ‘To Do’, ‘In Progress’ and ‘Done’.

The idea is that the tasks move across the board from ‘To do’ to ‘Done’. We each have three colums and there should never be anymore than 3 tasks waiting in the ‘In Progress’ section – only when one moves to ‘Done’ can another task be started. I often give really urgent tasks a different colour of post it note like bright pink – too many of those and I know it is panic stations.

This morning DH made tomato soup for tomorrow’s lunch before finishing off the shelving in the pantry. We decided in the end the lowest shelf didn’t really need the strip light underneath – it seems bright enough in there as it is with the two downlighters.

As I write he is doing the last little finishing touches, then it can be given a final wipe down and I can put the storage jars on the shelves.

Then sit back and admire!

I, on the other hand busied myself hanging the washing out to dry and whilst I was in the garden I reached for my camera. Our mahonia is absolutely magnificent this year and providing us with a lovely splash of colour now all the Christmas lights have been packed away.

Most of the garden has bedded down and is ‘slumbering’ nicely but the primulas have come to life and the cyclamen I planted in the autumn continue to provide me with a lot of pleasure each time I go in and out of the front door.

Even the land cress refuses to give in to the cold wet weather and packed with minerals is an added boost to the supergreen soup we make.

If I looked close enough I could see little signs of life here and there – pushing up through the cold, damp earth and decaying leaves.

For all the signs of life in the garden there has been no signs of life down our road today – not one person to nod or speak to. I think it must be hard to be on your own all day and not see a soul so with this in mind I have added ‘call aunty M and my mum for a chat’ to my list.

creating health and wellbeing

I made the physio appointment today for Friday. It isn’t with the guy I had wanted as he is booked until the end of January and I don’t feel my knee will last that long. I am worried to exercise it now and do the wrong ones – I need specific advise from an expert.

I didn’t attend yoga in the end for the same reasons really – too worried I might put too much of a strain on it even though my teacher is good and will adapt postures to suit need.

I did do a meditation session today….yeah! It was difficult at first to quieten down but soon I was drifting away in my own little heaven, like letting soft waves wash gently over you and after doing it and feeling so good I wonder why I don’t do it everyday – who wouldn’t like to feel completely relaxed and on cloud nine all the time. Of course the answer is distractions and interuptions and giving way to a hundred and one other things I feel I must be doing.

At the moment the CD I am listening to came free with this book. The narrator of the seven various meditations has a very calming, unhurried voice who keeps telling me it is OK if my mind wanders or I don’t feel anything in particular. You just feel what you feel, no right or wrong. I am actually looking forward to tomorrow’s session.

I keep munching the apples too and need to stock up with more soon.

My memory though is pathetic – I forgot the weigh in yet again this morning – I am now worried this may be a form of self sabotage, denial even. I do know the reason though – it is simply that my dressing gown is in the laundry system and I have been getting up and dressing straight away so by the time I remember I need to weigh myself I do not want to undress again.

Today for lunch we used up a dish of leftover mashed potato that was in the fridge so as not to waste it – I heated it up in my ceramic green non stick pan and sprinkled over a handful of grated cheshire cheese, cooked a few mushrooms and added a can of baked beans. There was a bit of healthy side to it somewhere I think and it was warming and delicious.

Tonight we are having the remains of the shepherd’s pie with broad beans (steamed of course). Broad beans are packed with protein and fibre as well as being a good source of both folate and B vitamins, and they contain high concentrations of dopamine – for this reason they are being researched as a possible benefit for anyone with Parkinsons disease.

Starting too many changes is not the aim of my game here but I feel that from tomorrow I will make a big effort to become better hydrated by drinking more and see if this makes a difference to my health.

I have never been a big drinker (alcoholic or otherwise) – at work I always had a small china mug, none of these super sized ‘buckets’ for me. Presently I wake up and have to drink a full glass of water to take my tiny Thyroxine tablet and propel it past my gut into my intestine for it to work properly. I then have an hour to wait before food – but I often end up waiting two – I need to know if this is good or bad thing as yet I haven’t read anything that would tell me. I do know that restricting the hours that you eat is beneficial or thought to be – but that will be for me to investigate another day.

After breakfast I have a cup of green tea and another mid morning then it is a cup of ginger tea after lunch. From then on I have ordinary black tea with milk and a mug of hot milk with an added spoonful of slippery elm at bedtime. The slippery elm is good for lining the gut.

You may notice I don’t actually drink any more water other than in my tea so this is what I will try and rectify by having at least one more glass throughout the day.

I desperately need to get down to planning some meals before we have to go shopping again. We will not need very much as our new pantry actually looks stuffed full of food – I cannot believe that so much came out of our kitchen cupboards.

So after just a few days my health and well being changes list now looks like this:-

  • an apple a day – check
  • a meditation session – check
  • green tea, one or more cups a day – check
  • ginger tea, one or more cups a day – check
  • a healthy breakfast -yoghurt and fruit followed by museli – I think it is
  • a healthy lunch – mostly
  • a healthy evening meal – most days

The question is how long can I keep this up??

dear diary :: sing to me, Autumn

Home once more and we are truly into Autumn now; but hasn’t it been a glorious month – apart from bouts of heavy rain (my sympathies go out to anyone that has been hit by a flood).

The words of the poem ‘Sing to me, Autumn’ are a perfect reflection of this moment and encapsulate the beauty of the season – the sunlight streaming onto the garden this morning was so beautiful – casting deep shadows whilst highlighting the crimson red berries of the cotoneaster… I reached for my camera but it is so hard to get a good photo. There is an abundance of berries down by the seat – we have left it out a little longer as it is such a nice sheltered place to sit and admire the last of the season’s flowers.

Our blinds are being drawn earlier each evening and some of the solar lights left out in the garden are struggling to stay on for very long. I am looking forward to all that the dark evenings and cooler weather brings – after the ‘gathering in’ time it is beginning to feel like the ‘snuggling down’ time.

As usual, after the wonderful slow life at the cottage, we hit the ground running once we are home. I have a long list of lunch dates to fulfill and phone calls to make – there are finances to catch up on and the garden still needs a bit of TLC. I won’t even mention the housework and cleaning that is obviously needed.

Oh and have you thought about Christmas yet?

…….No, ….. very sensible…..I would normally shriek at the very mention in September….but I feel this year that I want to get ahead as I am finding, in the more recent of past years, that everything gets so hectic and stressful the closer we get to December and I try to pack in far too much in those last 3 weeks.  So rather than rush through it I would prefer to savour each moment and enjoy the concerts and Christmas events (that I often miss through lack of time) having completed all the necessary preparations in good time.

I have made a start and though I said I wouldn’t, I relented a few days later when in Tesco… right in front of my nose the new Country Living Christmas magazine appeared – (of course I blame Sadie at Notes from an ordinary life for persuading me as I noticed she had also bought a Christmas magazine and that made me feel so much better!). I kept last years too so hopefully they will spark off some new ideas.

I am mainly thinking about the gifts (we don’t have many to buy or make) – our family takes part in a ‘Not so Secret Santa’ – though I have a feeling this may change again this year – my daughters, who say they have everything they need, have expressed a preference for having a family gathering or event that gives us memories rather than any gifts, so this may be our step towards a no gifts Christmas within the family other than the young children. I will await the whole family vote on this but I personally would find it a lovely idea and support it.   

So it is mainly just a few friends who like to receive my homemade offerings -though I could be wrong and be like Ella of Thrush Green in the Miss Read books,  giving horrendous handmade gifts that people then give away as fast as they can – I haven’t as yet knitted any ties… wonky or otherwise!! 

I also enjoy making the décor, keeping it as natural as I can and of course the Christmas cards (I am thinking another lino cut this year as I enjoy doing those) and perhaps now is the time to start looking at sketching out a few design ideas rather than sitting down on the first day of December and saying today I will make the Christmas cards and then not having a clue as to what I might do.

And what a stroke of luck to find Sainsbury’s are celebrating Organic September (never understand why it is not Organic October – has a better ring to it) and those who know me well will also know I eat organic food most of the time so our Christmas cake is naturally an organic one.   Anyway, Sainsbury’s have reductions across their organic range so I filled my trolley with the fruit for my cake and the nuts for the nut roast.  I am well pleased though it bumped my shopping bill up quite a bit.

Whilst in Sainsbury’s I bought this snuggly top. I have bought very little throughout the year – it has not been quite ‘a no shop’ year but close – this little top will be ideal for those chilly days at home or when visiting my friend for coffee, who has minimal heating on and I do find it a bit cool at times so tend to go in a few discreet layers.

Remember I collected a few flower heads and petals to press at the caravan – well they are now quite flat and ready to go. The only means of pressing them at the caravan was to use some kitchen roll between the pages of a notebook so the textured pattern of small dots on the kitchen roll has imprinted onto the petals but I quite like it! I have bundled them into some cellophane bags to protect them. My favourites must be the delicate blue campanula, the white daisy heads of the chamomile and the vintage hues of the hydrangea petals. I just have to find a little time to turn them into some cards and tags.

For the rest of today I will be attending to the last of our cooking apples from the cottage garden. I am thinking an apple loaf would be just right and maybe a crumble using the blackberries for tea.

Have a lovely day x

seasons :: all is safely gathered in

Come, ye thankful people, come;

Raise the song of harvest home.

All is safely gathered in

Ere the winter storms begin.

God, our Maker, doth provide

For our wants to be supplied.

Come to God’s own temple, come;

Raise the song of harvest home.

There is something very comforting and reassuring about the words of harvest home – gathering in for the winter ahead, reaping the rich rewards of our earlier efforts of sowing and growing – picking fruits and berries from the hedgerows – and then making, baking and preserving – what could feel better and feed the soul at the same time. It is as nature intended.

I have spent the week here ‘gathering in’; apples for cooking, blackberries for pies, ripening tomatoes in the sun and stacking logs for the wood store – and thinking ahead, I have been foraging for useful Christmas decorations – pine cones, hydrangea heads and a few lengths of willow for a wreath.

I feel now that I am well gathered!

We have lived very simply here over the last two weeks at the cottage – only buying enough food for a few days ahead and mainly fresh food – vegetables, dairy and bread. We don’t keep stocks of anything very much in the caravan just a little salt and pepper, a jar of dried pasta, some rice, a carton of lentils and tomato passata and a few teabags. You might even find a tin of baked beans, if you are lucky.

But with Brexit upon us I have been thinking long and hard about what action, if any, I should take to stock my larder at home. There will be panic buying – I have no doubt – judging by the food shopping frenzy at Christmas – it seems it is a very British thing – but I hate to be a part of that. On the other hand the words in the hymn ‘all is safely gathered in‘ suggests to me that it is a wise move to gather in before the winter storms and what could be more of a storm in the making than Brexit.

At the beginning of this year I decided not to keep large stocks of food in my cupboards at home so that it would never end up as out of date waste and I have loved the emptiness and the fact that we have not needed huge amounts of food in hand or added to the ‘waste’ mountain; but now I feel I must heed the words of the hymn and gather in for my family. So when I return home I will be buying a few extra tins and long dated dry products, ready for the long winter months, ready for Brexit whatever shape that takes.

It has been the most wonderful few days here in Scotland, dry sunny days, not too hot, just perfect for gardening; it has been oh so quiet, just us and a few birds, who have also been busy gathering in – so before we return home, and I am sad to be leaving, here are a few pictures from around the garden…..

back soon – have a lovely weekend and welcome new followers. x

seasons :: sweet summer

The pleasure of a perfect summer’s day…. the warmth of the sun, dappled light falling through a canopy of trees creating cool shady spots beneath, an abundance of colour and scent in the garden and the taste of all summer has to offer with freshly picked fruit and vegetables.

An air of excitement and romance. Summer, for me, definitely has the feel good factor.

And it is Picnic weather. Eating outdoors is one of my favourite activities in summer, especially if I can take along my little trusty camping stove and whistling kettle to make a cup of tea, and not to forget a pile of picnic rugs to lie on and a good book or my sketchbook. All these things, but especillay that distinctive sound of the whistling kettle, brings back so many childhood memories spent in a state of absolute summer bliss.

I have all the necessary ingredients available to pack up a picnic at a moment’s notice and also make little treats that I would not normally indulge in; so a good stock of plain vanilla ice cream in the freezer is of prime importance for creating simple quick desserts using fresh fruits.

Yesterday I bought lolly moulds for £2 from Ikea – I will need to find some old fashioned wooden lolly sticks though as I am not keen on the plastic ones provided with the set. When Libbie comes to stay in the school holidays I thought she might like to make ice lollies, I think I might like to too!

Filo pastry is so easy to use and I have a number of recipes where you just beat up some eggs with a little milk, sour cream or fromage frais – whatever is to hand, add seasoning and pour it over any mixture of lightly steamed summer veg spread over a filo pastry case. Then add grated cheese – here I just used cheddar but hard or soft goats cheese, parmesan or a blue cheese would be just as good and finally a sprinkling of fresh herbs to suit your taste.

I have herbs growing everywhere in my garden – freshly picked herbs added to any meal are delicious. Chopped mint on Jersey Royals with a knob of butter, torn basil leaves in tomato dishes and rosemary scattered over a tin of roasting vegetables.

The vegetables and salads I am growing are not very far on this year with all the wet weather and lack of warmth and sunshine. I am so envious of all those bloggers displaying ripe red tomatoes already but hopefully mine will soon make up for the late start.

Having a working oven again is just brilliant – to turn it on and find it heats up (and quickly) is an absolute wonder. I am excited again about cooking and already delving into my pile of recipe books.

Thank you for all the comments on my previous post about the adverts – I am finding out from WordPress if these are their usual amount of ads – if so and nothing can be done I may buy into their ad free plan. As a reader myself I would not want to be bombarded with them and I always have an ad free read myself on other blogs because I more often than not read blogs through the wordpress reader and my own PC browser settings are set so that hardly any get through. I will update you all more on this soon.

Today we have no firm plans, maybe a bit of gardening or perhaps we will make a picnic and go off for the day. I will let you know.

Finally welcome to all the new readers …enjoy the journey but most of all enjoy summer while it lasts. x

sEAsons ~ celebrating Easter

Hi there – just dropping by to say I am still around but for some reason still very busy – this is not what I expected when I gave up working, I feel I am working twice as hard now as then.

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter enjoying the glorious weather we couldn’t have timed our party better and of course it ended up as a real garden party (I needn’t have cleaned the living room quite so thoroughly after all!).Many of the plants had started to grow quickly in the warm sunshine  – we are usually quite late in this area being high up and I was willing my pretty Aquilegia plants, which have self seeded all over the garden, to open in time for the party….. but sadly they didn’t.  But no matter there were plenty of the bulbs and Primula still blooming and the blossom….hasn’t it just been delightful?

The party took some preparing in the end – for new readers this was a party for my son-in-law’s 40th birthday combined with an Easter party as it fell on Easter Sunday, we held it at my house because my daughter’s house is so much smaller.

We had Easter eggs and decorations amongst the party decor.  I spent some time covering polystyrene eggs with tissue paper which I hung from twiggy branches supported in a pot of sand hidden with a topping of moss, then added a few fluttery butterflies with my glue gun. I also had fun making these Easter food ‘flags’ to help guests identify the different sandwiches, salads and quiches. And of course we planned an Easter hunt around the garden for the children though the eggs had to be hidden well in the shade so they did not melt in the heat.

We had a day or two in the garden beforehand – setting out all the pots that had been in winter hibernation and adding a few inexpensive pansies and primulas for a touch of colour.

We removed the covers from our garden tables and chairs and brought out the large parasol, then hung out the white solar lanterns from my daughter’s wedding a few years ago – they had been stored in the loft and I was quite surprised they still worked. We also bought some Festoon lighting and DH made a great job of stringing it across the garden using the clothes prop and an old piece of aluminium tubing he found in the garage.At night it looked so magical……Our guests were handed nibbles and cocktails on arrival….. I had spent four days making a mountain of ice cubes in readiness – and ice-cold drinks were very much in demand.

The table was laden with food – sandwiches, mini wraps and four different salads all ordered from M&S by my daughter.   For the true meat eaters her MIL bought a selection of pies, sausage rolls and scotch eggs from a local award-winning butchers and my contribution was some small quiches and of course the cake.

The cake was certainly one project too many – it nearly didn’t happen when twice the ready rolled icing stuck to the kitchen work top despite the oodles of icing sugar I had sifted beneath.  I am no cake decorator and it was very rushed so this is extremely wobbly and the icing a bit cracked in my desperation to get it onto the cake!   And exactly what is it you may ask……a circuit board of course – as son-in-law is an electrician come electrical engineer and is always playing about with circuit boards.  I had to have precise instruction for this from DH as I had no idea what I was doing.For desserts we kept it simple with profiteroles, a huge bowl of mixed berries with crushed meringue and double cream to make Eton mess and some tiny party cheesecakes and chocolate bites.

Although not everyone was very impressed!!!

….but all in all it was such a wonderful day.

And the best bit…..Libbie (Little L) had made me an Easter present from some DAS clay a beautiful little pink heart – of course I will treasure it.It has taken me a while to straighten the house up again after the party – putting dishes back and packing bits and pieces away – I am feeling quite exhausted now – I could barely drag myself to Yoga on Tuesday morning and somehow I need to gather up a little more energy to start on the Christening dress….we need to do a bit of fabric hunting in the next day or two and celebrate yet another birthday, but on a much smaller scale this time, before we can finally escape up to Scotland for a well earned rest.