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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back soon x

seasons :: warm September days

Such warm and glorious September days at the moment; but without doubt the very last of summer is slowly slipping away. I never mind too much though and I look forward to this new season like I do every season as each brings its own rewards. Even though the last of the flowers are fading fast the hedgerows here are bursting with colour, bright red hips and berries, leaves turning to that rich golden brown and the majestic skeletons of thistle and cow parsley towering above the dying grassy verges. 

For me this is the season of gathering. 

Gathering in the last of the homegrown produce from the garden; tomatoes, apples and courgettes…. gathering free food from the hedgerows and restocking my pantry with dried fruits, lentils and chickpeas (shortages allowing) ready for those warming one pot meals that go well together with chunks of homemade bread.

But there is also a different type of gathering that I look forward to – gathering new recipes to try at this time of year – I probably do most of my baking during this season, gathering books to read – old and new and magazines that will provide inspiration for the coming months, and of course gathering together candles and my cosiest of blankets ready for those long lazy evenings by the fireside and best of all gathering the family together around the table sharing a meal and a bit of chit chat.

We have been at the cottage here on the Mull of Galloway for just over a week now, the village is sleepy quiet as most of the visitors have returned home. We have spent most of our time as usual in the garden and I can’t deny that it has been such hard work.  A mixture of old age causing tired and aching muscles and a garden far too overgrown through not having been here for the last few weeks.

I had planned to do some knitting and a bit of tidying in the caravan when it rains and we couldn’t work in the garden but guess what….it hasn’t rained yet other than a little overnight.

DH has spent most of the time in the garden trying to reshape the holly trees which is a mammoth task.  They have not been attended to as they should have been and are far too tall and a bit misshapen.  Getting them back into a pleasing shape is going to be difficult. There is much muttering going on.

Meanwhile, I have been crawling around on hands and knees weeding in all the borders. They need a good sort out this autumn.  Some plants need dividing, some are just in the wrong place, and some need cutting back drastically. There is an abundance of chickweed this year but it is easily removed along with the bittercress and red campion but the alkanet not so as the tap root goes down deep into the soil.

I have been snipping off the heads of the chamomile that self-seed around the seaside garden to put in the flower press, they make wonderful cards

Each morning we seem to be finding a cooking apple on the lawn which has dropped from the very top of the Bramley tree; it is too high up for us to pick them so we just wait until they fall off and hope we get to them before the wildlife.  Yesterday whilst we were roaming around the countryside we picked some blackberries too so I could put the two together and make a blackberry and apple crumble. I don’t keep flour at the caravan or have any sugar (I like my apples tart though) so I cheated and bought a packet of Tesco’s crumble topping and stirred in a handful of desiccated coconut for extra crunch.  It was amazingly good.

Once our evening meal is over and the washing up done we both flop for a while. I usually play a couple of games of patience but recently I have become addicted to those Codeword crossword puzzles. Normally I have just torn the odd one out of the back of my mum’s Woman’s Weekly that she passes on to me but this week I actually bought myself a book of them in Tesco.

After ringing my mum at 8 o’clock (when I know she will have watched Maigret which is being rerun at the moment) we settle down to watch a video which I can play on my laptop as we don’t have a TV here at the cottage and the radio is often not that entertaining.

Currently we are going through the Royale Family box set….howling with laughter – I know all these people in one way or another though thankfully I can say my dad was absolutely nothing like Jim Royale and luckily my daughters are not like Denise in respect of their childcare!

We did have a day off from the gardening last Sunday.  It was a gloriously warm and sunny day so we made mushroom soup, poured it into a flask and went for a drive along the coast road to the neighbouring village of Ardwell for a picnic.  We drew into the picnic site that overlooks the bay and watched the seagulls bobbing about on the waves.

Afterwards we did a couple of quick 5 minute sketches before moving on to the Castle Kennedy estate to the tea room for a cup of tea and a scone…..saying yes to both jam and clotted cream as a treat. I brought the little piece of dried seaweed home with me so I can have another go. The light sitting on the beach was so bright that it was hard to capture the depth of colour and often it is easier to see this in a photograph more than in real life.

It was too late in the afternoon to go around the gardens so instead we drove on to New Luce and had a pleasant walk around the village.  I feel every day of sunshine is now quite precious as all too soon the weather will change.

I love this wee cottage and the gardens beyond. Each of them displays the personality of the owners.

Not sure if Mary and Billy refers to the occupants, two dogs or maybe even two goats!

A cottage with a true upcycled garden full of repurposed artifacts. I especially love the fact that the owner has used the front of an old shed as an archway.

Yesterday we were in WH Smiths in town and I own up to the fact that I couldn’t resist purchasing this year’s Country Living Christmas magazine. Starting to think about Christmas this early does go against the grain a bit but I do need to think ahead and start planning especially as I want to make more homemade presents this year for friends and I need some inspiration.

Welcome as ever to new followers and readers – I am never quite sure why anyone wants to hear my ramblings but there you go – I know I always love to know what you are all doing.

back soon x

seasons :: in the depth of winter

There can be no doubt that we are well into the middle of winter now; dark nights, even darker mornings, icy cold fingers, heavy falls of pristine white snow, roaring fires, woollen blankets, hot water bottles, piping hot mugs of cocoa or ginger tea laced with honey and the remains of the Christmas cake – I love it all.

Well maybe not the dark mornings.

Even though I always think of January and February as hibernation time this year I do feel we have had weeks of hibernation already with the restrictions we have been under in our area since………………..well I can’t even remember now but it has been a long time.

So walking has become the new norm for us each day for our allotted hour of exercise; a brisk walk down to the village and back if the weather is very cold, sometimes with little Freddie wrapped up snuggly in his pushchair and sometimes on our own. This week we woke up to even more snow and it was truly a walk in a winter wonderland with a wealth of delightful sights to capture…… and even our sprawling village with rows of soot blackened terraced houses looks rather pretty in the snow.

And of course our back garden has just as many interesting corners here and there. The sunlight sweeping across the snow on Friday was so beautiful……….and beneath this snowy carpet are little signs that the snowdrops are emerging…….

…and I know I am a little crazy but who doesn’t want to hang out the sheets and pillowcases in the sunshine, even with all the snow around. I love the way the sheets freeze into stiff boards but thaw out again as soon as I bring them inside to iron and I just adore that fresh outdoor smell – nothing beats it.

The snow was so deep on Thursday childcare had to be abandoned and little Freddie had to stay home with mum and dad. We missed him. Instead we spent a leisurely day keeping warm and just pottering; a little light pottering after a few energetic days with a two year old was very welcome.

I had managed to clear the Christmas decorations away last weekend and they are all back in their boxes in the loft (nothing much was decluttered so I had to find a little more space for the one or two new bits I had bought) – the Christmas tree is back in the greenhouse for a while until the worst of this cold spell is over and we can repot it in some decent compost.

On my January task list I wrote ‘ make bird feeders’.

I had saved an article from my mum’s Woman’s Weekly magazine with a recipe to make your own using half coconut shells and a pack of lard. I had bought the lard before Christmas as it is not something I normally use being vegetarian and during last year I saved the coconut shells from the ready made feeders I bought in Sainsbury’s to feed the birds during the winter months and they were far too nice to throw away. So I had a go – the recipe was easy – just melt the fat and pour onto a mix of different bird foods – grated cheese, raisins, chopped peanuts and wild bird seeds. Then leave to set……

….hang out and wait.

In and amongst the childcare I have been busy making little thank you cards with the last of the pressed flowers to deliver or post to my friends on our walks – I like to write a personal thank you for any Christmas presents I receive and I did have some rather nice ones this year from my friends – a little bird must have mentioned to them that I have a new greenhouse.

This handmade seed tray and tamper was one of my favourites together with this tin of string by Emma Bridgewater. My friends know me so well.

There has been a great deal of tea drinking going on this week – I always start the day with a cup of ginger tea and Manuka honey with a slice of orange or lemon – whatever is to hand – and my afternoon cup of tea is not quite the same without a slice of cake.

Soon the Christmas cake will be finished – which is really no bad thing as I intend to restore our more healthy diet soon but that will have to wait until after the birthday cake I am making is eaten up too.

I have quite a few birthdays this month none more important than my mum’s (she is 95 this year) and little Freddie who will be two. I made and froze the sponges yesterday afternoon and bought some cute dinosaur cutters on the internet and a pack of multi coloured neon roll out icing to make a cake for Freddie, (maybe mum would like a dinosaur cake too but she is getting a posy of flowers delivered….I hope).

Looking after Freddie has meant early mornings – he arrives at 8am – so that has meant earlier bedtimes for us the night before but this has given me a chance to begin reading one or two of the new books I received for Christmas as well as one or two old favourites – and the new issue of Country Living magazine dropped onto the mat the other day – that always makes it a good day.

Presently, I am struggling with sewing up the jumper I knitted way back for Little Freddie for his birthday (in fact I should be doing it now and not get distracted blogging). It was going to be a Christmas present but guess what – I ran out of time to finish it. Thank goodness for You Tube is all I can say and although my efforts are not brilliant it has been a satisfying project and I will probably attempt to knit something else especially as there is very little else we can do during lockdown. But I do enjoy making things and I have a few balls of wool waiting for me in my craft drawer and a piece of pretty soft corduroy fabric to make something for the girls, Little L and Sweetie.

I have so many plans to finish a lot of the half started projects and I need to overhaul our finances and soon it will be time for the big spring clean – the house is beginning to feel a little grubby and jaded in places but maybe that is because of the contrast to the spanking new kitchen…………….but before that can happen I need to do a little decluttering and this might even extend to throwing out more old papers in the files. I don’t know about you but I find maintaining a balance of keeping what we need and what we might need is pretty hard. Once or twice I have regretted giving something away or shredding a document.

I strive to make everything we keep in our house useful and used. The clutter always builds up again quickly if you take your eye off the ball for any length of time – I am positive it breeds – it certainly does in dark corners or hidden away at the back of drawers and any flat surface. I have this idea that I need to go through the house and make every area organised, sparkling clean and well presented.

Once the birthdays are out of the way this week I will endeavour to blog about the new kitchen and show you some before and after photos. We have Eddie the kitchen fitter coming on Tuesday to replace a cupboard door that hides the fridge as a tiny piece of the coating had chipped off during the first few days of use and the manufacturer though it might have been a defective one.

DH has got a bad back at the moment so that lets him off starting to prepare the laundry room beyond the kitchen for painting and the new flooring. It won’t however get him out of the Zoom call we are having with the family and my mum to wish her a happy 95th birthday.

Well I think that is all for this week – I do hope everyone is well and managing to overcome this doom and gloom. Everything is now hinging on the vaccine – I hope nothing goes wrong.

Have a good week everyone. xx

dear diary :: a new year, a new word

It came to me in an instant – ‘consistency‘ is what I need right now in my life….a simple rhythm to my life, a little bit of routine and normality……a little more ebb and flow.

Reliable, unchanging, expected – consistency is all the things that the Covid virus is not. It may seem very boring and humdrum to some but a little consistency is what I yearn for at the moment; I need to know I will wake up in the morning and the day will be rather more structured than it has been of late and at a pace I can cope with – it will not be quite so messy and unpredictable as it has been since the end of the first lockdown.

So last Sunday night it was settled and committed to paper…...

‘Consistency’ would be my new focus word for 2021.

Well that was the plan on Sunday night – I would get my life back into some kind of routine so that I could do all the things that I had abandoned over the past few weeks such as meal planning, a daily walk, a little crafting, even some cleaning and housework and more than ever I felt so ready to get blogging once again ……but oh dear by Monday night, only 24 hours later, my life and my plans had changed in an instant once again – this time all it took was a telephone call from one of our daughters after the Boris briefing on TV.

Somehow we volunteered ourselves into taking on the childcare of little Freddie, who will be two in a few days time, for 3 full days a week rather than him going to nursery (and when I say full days that is what I mean 8am to almost 6pm). Long days indeed to entertain a little one but I am looking forward to spending more time with him after not being able to see him for months.

Our decision was made after the sudden change of mind by the government over primary and secondary schools and hearing the thoughts of a GP friend who sits on the primary care trust board for the region. He was alarmed at the figures he saw for the rate of spread and said he would not be sending his children to school or nursery even if Boris didn’t close them.

Like the hesitancy with the primary schools we felt that nursery schools might be kept open only to be closed a few days later and by this time, like some of the primary school children, they would have been and mixed with one another. So we are being cautious for now and just waiting to see if the nurseries might close as they have in Scotland. If they don’t and the infection figures begin to decline we will revise our decision.

All this means that I will have a lot less time for me to put all my new plans in place and probably less time for blogging – but I will do what I can when I can.

So early on Tuesday morning we woke, not only to snow, but to little Freddie on the doorstep complete with high chair, changing bag and a large box of toys! I only hope we have the stamina to last the course!

Even with little Freddie helping I did manage to make a birthday card for a friend and deliver it and we have had a lovely, if not brisk, walk each day with Freddie in the snow.

I have a large stock of these blank concertina cards in my craft room which I want to use up; so together with a selection of pressed flowers from the ones I pressed during the summer I attempted an idea for a little card I called ‘Nature Notes‘.

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Instead of a fresh bunch of flowers I gave her this little laser cut wooden snowdrop I bought from an artisan craft stall in John Lewis a while ago. The package was perfect to push through her letterbox as they are sheilding again. She emailed me later to say how delighted she was with her gift and card – she does some beautiful crafts herself so always appreciates my handmade creations concoctions!

Apart from childcare and walking nothing much else got done here during the week and anything we do need to do will be done on our four days off (Friday to Monday). DH has been back on soup management with a lovely batch of tomato and leek and potato and I have been planning menus again – simple menus for the moment but it is a start. It is a pleasure to cook in our new kitchen – if not a learning curve with a new induction hob, double oven and dishwasher to master. I will do a post on the new kitchen soon – I need to find some before pictures so you can see the difference.

I will leave you with some pictures from our walk yesterday up towards the moors above our village. The views up there are stunning and being surrounded by nature makes the world feel quite perfect and untouched by the virus.

A lovely surprise to find some tiny catkins starting to grow on the trees.

Before I go I would like to say a very special thank you to all my blogging friends for the lovely comments welcoming me back to blogland – I am touched – and I was so pleased to hear everyone is fine and coping in their own way and that you all managed a relatively good Christmas despite the strange times.

So my mission this week is to work out a way, and goodness knows I keep trying, to weave our commitments and busy life into a more calm and balanced life.

Possible or not – I don’t know?

seasons :: summer sweetens all to me

Six months, half a year……… gone already. I was wondering to myself what I had to show for it. Time is such a puzzle – often passing slowly at a snails pace and then too fast for comfort.

I am wondering too what promises July holds – my birthday mid month – so one of my favourite times of the year; warm weather, picnics, trips to the seaside, country walks – blissfully perfect summer days. Covid will not spoil this month for me and neither will this rather wet and windy spell of weather.

The start to July has been, like most of June, a bit of a wash out and has not felt very summery at all, but I remain hopeful. Our walks have been in the drizzle this last week, but it is good to get outside and breathe the fresh air without a mask. Each time I have picked a few flowers from the hedgerows to press or dry to collect the seeds. I am excited everytime I come across white foxgloves – I am not sure what it is about them, I just love their pure and majestic splendour, especially amongst a group of pink ones…..and I encourage them into the garden.

And how is everyone……getting to grips with the new rules and freedom? We rarely venture out but we did go into town last Monday for non-food essentials – to replenish our low stocks. I need not have worried over our safety as the town was deserted and some shops not even open. Luckily, one of our healthfood shops was up and running but with very low stocks, even now I am not sure if he is just selling his remaining stock to close down – I didn’t ask as maybe he doesn’t know either and maybe his future will depend on customer numbers.

We had WH Smiths to ourselves – I only wanted blotting paper for my flower press BUT I found myself browsing the magazines before I left – it feels like a long time since I have had a browse of anything, but with no-one to disturb me I carried on and could not leave empty handed when I saw a copy of Country Living Vintage Home magazine alone on the shelf. There is a new edition coming out in August too.

Finally I made my way round to the local sewing shop which was a little busier so I didn’t loiter in there for very long – I bought some fabric to finish the patchwork quilt but I am now having second thoughts about the colours and may use it to make little Sweetie a dress instead. I have this idea (always dangerous in my case) to make a summer dress with a floral cotton skirt and a knitted cotton bodice – I would say a crotched bodice but I don’t crotchet. If any reader knows of a pattern for a toddler that has a knitted bodice and fabric skirt I would be delighted if you could send me a link.

I managed to get the interfacing to make my new tablemats (did I not mention these before?). How could I resist this tea towel fabric with the colourful vegetables – the reverse will be plain white with one or two of the vegetables embroidered onto one corner. I have taken a tracing and will do a practise piece.

But, like many of my projects, it is a work in progress…….. so more on this later.

The shopping experience in town was better than I expected but I think it will be something that I only do now once in a while.

Little L has been busy too making this birthday card for DH. It has great significance for us as DH is called Grandad Monkey by Little L to distinguish him from her other grandad. DH once jokingly called her a little monkey and she immediately told him she was not a monkey she was a little girl but the term stuck and from being quite little this is how she has always remembered him.

We also saw my mum last weekend; it was lovely to see the smile on her face. We had homemade tomato and red pepper soup for lunch followed by a homemade cheese and tomato quiche, new potatoes and salad and a fresh cream chocolate sponge for dessert. All her favourite foods. We left two large slices of cake in the fridge for later….she was so grateful for our visit, it really cheered her up and we had a lovely chat, not that either of us had done very much to talk about.

The rain has set in this week so washing and gardening have not taken place and instead I have been cleaning and ironing. I always thought it was our busy lives that prevented me from having a cleaning routine but now I know that is not the truth; since lockdown I have had all the time in the world to get myself into a solid routine as far as the cleaning goes, but I now realise I tend to follow the weather and although I do like to clean and tend the house… if it is nice I am generally out in the garden.

The garden has been really neglected this week but I must give it some attention before we go away. Besides being quite windswept it is looking rather sad and sorry; flowers struggling to come out and those that have are wet and soggy. The lawns are waiting to be cut and everywhere we have tiny cherries blown from the tree – sadly, too hard and bitter to eat.

I was inspired by a page I noticed in the Country Living Vintage Home magazine I bought on making seed packets – what better way I thought to use my flower sketches from my sketchbooks.

So with a bit of scanning and printing, and adding lettering onto the pictures I came up with these – they are just prototypes at the moment but you get the idea and I will post about them again when I have made the whole collection.

We are presently waiting in the wings (so to speak) wondering if a trip to Scotland is ever going to materialise. We hear on the news from Nicola that Dumfries and Galloway have a sudden spike in cases around Gretna and Annan, Lockerbie and Dumfries and we canot get to the Mull without passing through these places. Is it OK for us to go we wonder, we are self contained at the cottage but will the locals be worried if we do?

I have become quite lazy over the last few months of lockdown and the thought of packing now feels like an enormous effort. I cannot for the life of me remember what we have stored at the caravan and what I brought home. I have a very handy packing list but this does not tell the whole picture, so it might just be a case of guesswork.

I have already baked an apple cake and two tiny crumbles to take with us and I have nut roast in the freezer. Everything else we will make up there but I will need a menu plan as we intend to take the food with us so we are not invading the local shops; as much as they want the business they do not want the virus and as part of the area is in lockdown we will respect that. If we take everything with us we will be completely self sufficient.

So I have nothing left to say other than my next post will hopefully be from bonnie Scotland. The journey and days at the cottage will be a new and different experience I expect like all the changes we are coping with since Covid took over our lives.

Take care everyone and stay safe. x

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