dear diary :: February already?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My focus word for this year is Improvement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bye for now x

dear diary :: blowin’ a ‘hoolie’….

It’s been a while I know, and one of the reasons I am writing this post is because we are in our safe haven, our little sanctuary in Scotland…far from the pressures of normal daily life at home.

It has been, as usual, a busy few weeks coming and going to see mum and helping out our daughter with childcare in North Yorkshire and our elder daughter at home.  On the last visit to mum and younger daughter we stayed at my sister’s glam home near my mum’s; it is spacious and beautifully decorated and situated in a lovely little village, I could easily live there myself – apart from the fact that we wouldn’t have the money to even buy a one bedroomed cottage there.  The house price difference between West and North Yorkshire is huge.  Still one can dream.

We celebrated little Sweetie’s third birthday – a small family party at her home – she has spent a third of her tiny life so far in lockdown, at home with mum, the local toddler groups being closed, so has few friends. Her cousin little Freddie and his mum and dad joined us for the day and after playing games and opening presents we all went to the local fish and chip restaurant in Thirsk and had the extended side room to ourselves which was nice.  Being vegetarians we had chips, beans and battered mushrooms – veggie burgers are on the menu but we are not keen of them.

I made the cake – it was the usual disaster.  Sprinkles had been requested so it should have been simple enough but the buttercream had far too much air in it so didn’t go on quite as smoothly as I would have liked and the white chocolate dribbles didn’t dribble quite where intended.  Of course I did it in a rush too, but little Sweetie loved it.

As I predicted the dress did not get finished in time so it will be a Christmas present. Since this picture I have finished the knitting and tacked the skirt to the bodice and all is looking good. The sleeves which if you remember I had to try and alter myself did work out perfectly in the end by only decreasing on the knit rows and not every row as the pattern said.

Mum has been taken to Leeds for the weekend by my sister and her husband (he is able to lift her in and out of the car as she doesn’t have the muscle strength herself to get out).  They are staying at a new hotel just outside Leeds ( she will have one of the disabled rooms to help her get about easily) and from there they will go to John Lewis in the centre so she can see all the Christmassy things.  She cannot come down to stay with us any longer because of the stairs so there is a big hole now for her at this time of year that needs to be filled, as we would take her Christmas shopping and have a trip into Derbyshire to Tissington and Ashbourne.

So whilst mum was being attended to we made our escape to Scotland.  We were met with the bad weather – blowin’ a raging ‘hoolie’ all night; our caravan rocking in the frequent strong gusts but luckily no trees down like the gales of 2010 that took ten large pine trees down in our cottage garden.

It is cosy warm in our temporary caravan as we are lucky enough to have double glazing and central heating but yesterday it was a scramble to get Calor Gas – there is a shortage and our usual stockist in Stranraer sold us one that had the wrong connection so we had to drive the 17 miles back to town to return it.  She was apologetic as they didn’t have the one we needed and we had to take back the empty bottle so that we could try elsewhere, as at the moment you can only buy a new Calor gas bottle by returning an empty one.

We were lucky and found the local shop in a village on the way to town had one left.  It was cheaper by a £1 and much more convenient so we will continue to buy the gas there in future.  So at least some good came out of a tricky situation.

It was the same with the major power cut we had on our last visit to the cottage and we were rejoicing that, although unfortunate at the time, it happened back then and the fault repaired because it would surely have gone in this last storm and it would have taken longer for the power team to get to us with so many people being affected with the wind.  The local garden centre had no power because of a fallen tree and they had been plunged into darkness, could only take cash and the café had to be closed.  We had trees down across the main road and for a time would have been captive on the peninsula as there is only one road back to town down here on the Mull, however it was cleared very quickly, probably by local farmers.

We only have a few days here and I have a little pile of ‘bits’ to look at, financial papers, a bit of knitting, making Christmas plans and catching up with some reading.  I finished The Winter Children – not really my kind of read but I persevered not wanting to abandon it. I have just read Christmas at Thrush Green by Miss Read again – always a favourite at this time of year – there is something so calming about her books where the lives of the villagers seemingly have order and sequence to them like the natural world and busyness is not a word that takes over.

I did the live family Not so Secret Santa draw from the caravan – so we all know who is buying for who now.  I am buying for my eldest daughter, whist DH is buying for my mum, my BIL is buying a gift for me and my brother is buying a gift for DH and so it goes on all around the family each person only buying one gift for another. 

We switched to the Secret Santa a few years ago now as the mammoth buying sessions had got out of hand as our family expanded.  No-one knew what to buy for each other and we ended up with a house full of gifts we didn’t really want and opening all those presents from one another meant there was little time to play games and have fun.

Our version is not so secret…hence the title.  Each person can provide a list of up to ten wishes of things they would like as a gift to the person who is to buy for them (which is different each year – hence the draw).  You can be as specific as you like or opt for a surprise gift or a gift token, (tokens are very popular with my brother and mum).  The gift or combination of gifts must only amount to £25 per person – it used to be £50, but has been reduced to £25 now (reflecting the fact more of us are on pensions or lower incomes). 

Because you list ten items the actual gift or gifts you get is still a surprise as you don’t know which one the buyer might choose to get.  If they are lucky and get your gift(s) discounted then to keep it fair they still have to use the whole £25, the difference cannot be pocketed by the buyer.  Everyone buys for the children as normal; they are not included in the Secret Santa.  It has been a great success and we would not go back.  It has cut down on all the tramping around shops looking for ideas and the expense of parking that goes with it.  And it leaves more time to enjoy the Christmas events that are put on everywhere.  This year we are going to the light show at Temple Newsam.

I still buy little things for my friends or make them as they very much like the homemade craft items.

In normal times and because not all of us could be together on Christmas Day we would have a big family gathering just before Christmas to swap our Secret Santa presents (but not open them).  You try disguising the fact you have bought an ironing board or wheelbarrow in wrapping paper!  We would often use the pub/restaurant where my daughter worked to meet and have sandwiches and home-made chips laid on with mince pies for afters and wear our best santa hats and jumpers of course.

We would play games (this is some of us below playing the guess who I am game)…

and have our musical interlude (whistle blowing and handbell ringing) …..and generally have a fun time. 

Because of Covid we had to have a Zoom party last year and pass presents on as best we could.  This year most of us are going to my sisters for Christmas Day, Covid allowing, so we won’t be meeting beforehand.

I am just starting now on crafting our Christmas – a simpler Christmas like last year, maybe even more so. I will try and keep you all updated as, throughout the run up to Christmas, I make cards and goodies, decorate the house and attend events.

Hope all is well with everyone – time allowing I keep dibbing in and out of the blogs I read to keep up with your news and occasionally I might even get to leave a comment.

Back soon x

dear diary :: roamin in the gloamin once again…

Just dropping by again to say hello from bonnie Scotland.

It has been a while but one daughter is now moved and settling in well and all the empty boxes have been passed onto to someone else – boxes are so hard to come by these days. Everything went to plan on the day and I was assigned the job of cupboard cleaner and organiser in the kitchen so now of course my daughter cannot find anything and when I go next time I probably won’t find anything either as she will have rearranged everything to suit her. Still the main thing was that all the boxes, but for a few craft items and nick nacks, were emptied and put away by the time we left.

We are now in Scotland once again with a to do list as long as a toilet roll. The woodland walk is in full bloom with pretty white sweet woodruff, pink dicentras and the elegant Solomon’s seal.

The pond is full of rotting leaves as we couldn’t clean it out last year because of the restrictions on our visits or put the pond net over last September to catch the autumn leaf fall. Thankfully, with little rain it is quite dry so will be easier to scoop out and clean then refill with fresh water though it is not a pleasant job and not one I look forward to. The primulas have multiplied and look stunning, I do need to plant some more of the deep orange coloured primulas though as they appear to have gone.

We have plenty of thick moss to scrape off all the paths and then we will spray some cleaner onto them to remove any residual bits. The cows have been watching our every move with curiosity all week.

After a mornings work we stopped for light refreshments! These small assorted danish pastries courtesy of Tesco are one of my treats when we come up here. There are five in a box so we always share the jam centred ones.

In the afternoon we visited Castle Kennedy gardens. (Jayne at The View from Bag End has more lovely pictures here from her recent visit to the area.) We always manage to fit in a visit when we come up and I really missed not being able to go during last year so it was lovely to see that it is open for visitors once again.

This is a very special place for us as DH’s grandfather was head gardener here from the late 20’s up to sometime in the 60’s when he retired. His granny and grandad lived in the head gardener’s cottage on the hill by the little bridge that takes you into the car park. DH stayed here for a while when he was younger with his mum and dad when they moved back from Ireland and he tramped daily around the estate trying to keep up with his grandad.

Because of our connection to the place we held our elder daughter’s wedding here in 2016 and had a marquee by the old ruined castle that sits next to the walled garden and the cute little wooden tea room.

The wedding was in July so the walled garden was at its best.

And the marquee took in the spectacular views across the estate and of course all our guests could relax and roam around the grounds during the afternoon.

And when it went dark in the evening it was quite magical.

Of course her wedding day would not have been complete without having the old tea room part of this big day. It has over the years had many coats of paint and also had the floor levelled so the tables no longer have blocks of wood beneath the legs to even them up. Today it has even had the addition of a disabled ramp.

The guests all enjoyed the afternoon tea provided on the picnic tables.

Everything was homemade and done on a tight budget – I made all the invitations, confetti, table flowers and favours….

…spent hours making yards and yards of bunting and a few hours decorating the marquee and putting up cheap white paper lanterns from a very wobbly ladder.

So it was lovely to wander around in the same warm sunshine that we had enjoyed that day with our memories and see that thankfully the place remains quite unchanged. We had gone specially to see the magnificent collection of rhododendrons that are in bloom at this time of year – they are renowned all over the world and they did not disappoint. They were stunning.

Many of them were planted by DH’s grandfather who also propogated many of the hybrids on the estate such as ‘Lord Stair’ and one named after himself RW Rye. He was awarded an RHS gold medal for them and of course we have his rhododendron in both our gardens. He is also credited as the person who propogated the pale lavender buddleia named ‘Loch Inch’ which many people will have in their gardens.

The round lily pond which is 1/4 of a mile across is another feature which is absolutely glorious.

The ‘newer castle’ built around 1860 is where Lord and Lady Stair reside and is situated between the two locks (the Black Loch – Loch Crindil and the White Loch- Loch Inch) and has magnificent views across the landscape.

We spent the afternoon sketching in the sunshine before treating ourselves to tea and scones – it was so nice to do something quite creative for once though I need a lot of practise I am decidedly rusty, especially the watercolour which is spectacularly bad – but at least I made a start – it takes time to get back into it.

We decided that today would be a ‘rest’ day and we are walking to the village and up the steep hill out towards the Mull to see one of the Open Gardens at a cottage that adjoins one we nearly put in an offer for, but we bought our cottage instead so it will be interesting to see what they have made of the garden.

The weather has been so hot here everything is beginning to look parched and dry and many of the flowers are soon over. Even the foxgloves have bent over heads from a lack of water. Our garden ranges from peaty and waterlogged to dry sandy dust and my style of gardening is just to let the self seeders find their own home where they are happiest.

So that is all my news so far which just leaves me to say a warm welcome to all my new followers and sorry for the lack of posts – life just gets incredibly busy and my energy levels incredibly diminished – but I hope everyone reading is enjoying the good weather, though personally I could easily tolerate it much cooler but at least the sea breeze helps to cool me down. I have had to garden all week wherever there is shade so I have been constantly moving around and consequently no one patch or task is fully complete. We have also spent some time over a concerning problem that has arisen because the new owner of the caravan site next door wants to put a locked gate at the top of our lane over which we have a right of access to our cottage. This would be very restrictive for anyone coming to the cottage if we had to hand out keys to everyone who has to have access, especially when we start to have contractors on site again to renovate the cottage.

Nothing ever stays the same for long these days and it is so easy to get swept up by other people’s agendas – I am feeling pretty upset by it all especially as it has been such a difficult time with the flood and then the Covid restrictions.

But tomorrow is another day as they say!

Back soon x

dear diary :: a week of celebrations

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A week of celebrations together with childcare for 3 days and I am cream crackered.

I am not sure if this lockdown makes things easier or harder as far as celebrations are concerned. With my mum being 95 on Tuesday this week and little Freddie just two on Wednesday I had to do something to mark the occasion for each of them, (and from a distance in the case of my mum) and in neither case, because of lockdown, would it be a big party. Sometimes a big party is easier.

As I wouldn’t be seeing my mum (who lives in North Yorkshire) I had a posy of flowers delivered to her from a florist in Thirsk (one that my daughter had used at Christmas and recommended) and I would also recommend them as they couldn’t have been more helpful. This is the link for anyone nearby alina-florist.

I couldn’t have them delivered direct to mum as I wasn’t sure they would get in the apartment building and if they did I wasn’t sure mum would get to her door. So I had them delivered to my sister’s the day before as she was going to be with mum on her birthday and she had arranged that a local deli would provide them with a take away afternoon tea.

The flowers were beautiful.

The afternoon tea I am told was delicious – and it certainly looks it – and my sister had taken the time to get mum’s best Royal Albert china out with the tiered cake stand and matching teapot – there is nothing better than a little pink loveliness on these occasions. Mum got loads of cards and had a really nice day even though it was just the two of them. We did a Zoom ‘party’ for her last Sunday so she could see the family all together.

For little Freddie it was up to DH and I to make a little birthday tea, complete with dinosaur birthday cake and games, as his birthday fell on one of our childcare days. It was not easy trying to put the roll out icing on the cake whilst looking after him -I found it rather difficult to get rid of the folds around the bottom and there was no time for any undue faffing. To add to the difficulties the strips of grass DH had made had become rather brittle overnight and broke into pieces.

I loved the little dinosaurs that DH had made using the cutters I had sent for on the internet from http://www.cake-stuff.com and choosing the neon colour mix of ready roll over the usual primary was the right choice. Little Freddie was delighted with the finished cake and that is all that matters. I am not even sure why I am showing you a picture of yet another cake disaster!

I also finished the jumper – just in time for him to get a little wear out of it. Sewing it together did get easier as I got into the swing of it and no doubt by the time I finish another jumper I will be much more proficient.

The weather has been so wet, windy and cold there was no chance of getting outside – the best we managed was the shopping on Monday night. To amuse little Freddie during these long days, limited to indoors, we set up a tub of water to play in – he loved it but could not have been any wetter afterwards had we stood him outside in the torrential rain!

So childcare is over for this week and now it is my time for four whole days to myself. I have necessary and urgent paperwork and banking to do and should I find we have some money in our account I will be very surprised. January is the month for my car tax and insurance, MOT and servicing – yes January is all about the car – never buy a car at this time of year or you are stuck with the bills in January for ever after.

After paperwork must come a few household chores, definitely the oven and perhaps the shower – neither are my favourite jobs, I find both require the skills of a contortionist to get into the nooks and crannies – though I can’t complain as much now I have the high level oven…can I?

And when all that is done I must get back to doing some of the half started craft projects – in fact I might even tackle the projects before the chores.

Have a good weekend everyone. x

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