dear diary :: in a quandary

Yesterday was my second day off – I barely remember Thursday as I was in recovery mode and probably on auto pilot when I attempted to clear and clean out the fridges, freezer and pantry. And then I got carried away and started on the oven. For some reason it looked like something had exploded in there but I cannot think what. I ran out of the Oven Mate I use so it is only half way to clean. Another order has been made to Lakeland as it is currently on offer (buy one get one half price) and I added in a baking mould that makes Easter egg shaped cake pops ready to decorate. The grandchildren will love that. I was able to use my £5 off voucher too.

Yesterday I had to ring John Lewis. Last October we finally had our new kitchen installed after only 30 years of waiting and I was so excited – it is the very first kitchen I have ever chosen. The John Lewis designer, kitchen fitter and electrician were marvellous and so helpful but sadly we had issues with the project management and co-ordination….. In that there wasn’t really any. I can appreciate that the Covid meant all the case managers were working from home and not in the office, but the one allotted to us suddenly disappeared off the scene and we were left not knowing who we should deal with and he had left us with some wrong delivery and templating dates.

This meant that during the installation I ended up on the phone….a lot…..doing some of the co-ordinating and ringing around for them to get things back on track. Anyway, it turns out that we should have received a ‘care package’ at the start of the installation with details of our order and all the guarantees – we didn’t and it was only after I had thought about the lack of paperwork we have that I made the enquiry yesterday and was told about it. They are going to send one to us and also advised to write to them about the issues we had. The lovely lady I spoke to did apologise profusely and said it was not their normal service. I agreed with her on that point. So we shall see what happens in the next few days. Overall I am happy with the kitchen and I would use them again but I do think they have a training issue on the co-ordinating side.

After lunch we drove up to the local garden centre; it was quiet so we could wander around and didn’t have to be aware of ‘socially distancing’ with anyone. I bought some seed potatoes – I had decided on Pentland Javelin again but they only had large bags so I chose Arran Pilot instead, an old variety I believe and ones my FIL used to grow.

As I had a £15 gift voucher I also bought a black metal beehive shaped frame to put over my cat mint to protect it from the cats, a new coir basket liner and 3 small pots of bulbs to add a bit of colour into my outdoor planters beneath the living room window. I did sneak in a shrub too – Pittosporum Silver Queen for the front border. The ticket reckons it is hardy in the UK; let’s hope that includes our region as it can get very cold on our road being fairly high up and near to the moors.

Whilst we were out we called at Sainsbury’s – not too bad in the car park so we reckoned it would be safe in the store. We had packed a flask of hot chocolate to drink before doing the shopping which helped to warm us up. We didn’t need a lot, a few items of fresh fruit and veg to get us through next week and some bread.

At the moment the seasonal shelves have a collection of Mother’s Day gifts and some lovely Easter bits and bobs. I was tempted but I shall get my mum flowers I think and make her a chocolate cake, she will enjoy that more than a gift. I did buy an Easter craft bag for Little L and a decorative cardboard egg for each of the grandchildren which I will fill with little chocolate eggs.

I found this cute little box of colourful felt flowers – they might make some simple Easter cards if I have the time. So apart from the chocolate that is Easter sorted – I have learned to buy things when I see them rather than thinking about it for too long and then finding they have all gone.

I also ordered the new washer online from John Lewis yesterday – I chose John Lewis because I had £100 worth of vouchers to spend with them from the ONS survey we are part of and they have some offers on at the moment. Both of the models I narrowed my choice down to were out of stock earlier this week so I put in a request for an email to be sent when they came back into stock. It was a surprise then to find an email had dropped into my inbox yesterday afternoon whilst we were out and it was for my preferred washer. After much debate and research I have decided to stick with AEG as my old one is now 16 years old and has been completely fault free all that time (and would probably go on longer if we had it fixed but I prefer to put the money towards a new one that will be even more efficient on water and power). The new washer programs are very similar to my old one so I won’t have to learn a whole new language to get it going and it has a spin speed of 1600 which is a plus when washing towels as the higher spin speed takes out more water to cut down on drying time. My old washer spins at 1800 but these are no longer available. It does mean though that you need a very stable floor otherwise you would find them travelling across the floor if they become unbalanced. The washer also comes with an additional free 5 year warranty (which is worth quite a bit in itself), free installation and free removal of the old washer.

Job done. It arrives on Friday. I think our clean clothes will just about stretch to that.

So what is our quandary you may wonder? Well it is the old ‘shall we shan’t we’ debate and here I am referring to whether or not we try to put the new flooring down in the utility room and decorate before the new washer arrives on Friday. It would be benficial to do it now whilst we can put the old washer outside ready for collection and that would leave us with a clear space to work in and no heavy washer to keep moving around. The downside is we will have little Freddie for 3 of those days so it might be difficult. The alternative would be to have the new washer plumbed in and then wait to redecorate and put the new flooring down once our granny daycare services are no longer required and put up with the fact that we would have to keep disconnecting and moving the washer.

Weighing up the options we decided it was preferable to go ahead now and get it all done. We will only have until Friday to get everything sorted but having a clear space to work in is very beneficial and will make putting the flooring down a lot quicker. But will it be quick enough?

So once again we will have our noses to the grindstone to beat the clock and get everything done and ready for Friday’s delivery. No rest here then!

And the dirty washing is mounting up…..or should I say mounding up in the spare room.

But I do feel a sense of satisfaction that I can cross quite a few little jobs off my to-do list and will hopefully end February with a completed task list. For once.

Message for Suzanne at Life at No38 if you happen to be reading this – I cannot comment on your blog Suzanne unless I am a team member it says but there is no follow button either. Maybe like Sadie you don’t want comments at the moment but if you do you might need to adjust your settings to allow them. x

dear diary :: Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday today, but one of course with a difference and one we will always remember for being in ‘lock down’ if nothing else. Today feels quite a sombre one and as I looked out over our cul-de-sac this glorious Easter morning all was just so peaceful and calm, even though so many people are at home nothing out there is stirring.

Easter, like Christmas, is a great fusion of both religious and pagan festivities and as with Christmas in our household we have tended to incorporate a little of everything into our celebrations as well as creating a few traditions of our own.

Over time the Easter bunny, chocolate Easter eggs and now Easter gifts and decorations have been heavily promoted in the shops and it can feel like the message of Easter, like the message of Christmas gets a little lost in all the hype.

The Easter bunny and laying of eggs that are hidden in the garden can be traced back to documentation from 13th Century onwards and for younger children, like the coming of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, it is an exciting day especially if it involves an Easter egg hunt – but for many children this Easter staying in might seem a little dull.

Like our neighbours two little girls, Little L was ‘super’ excited yesterday when I spoke to her on the phone. Even though the whole world is currently in turmoil children still have the ability to accept things and live in the moment and Easter will be something they can celebrate even in the lock down at home – I hope she will not be too disappointed with the one egg (that luckily her mum had managed to buy a while ago) and a lack of a family gathering with grannies, aunts and cousins. I am sure that in the absence of a chocolate egg hunt my daughter will have thought of something creative in its place. Since school closed they have been busy ‘crafting’ for Easter – colouring in patterned eggs, making cards and icing biscuits. Having the theme of Easter to work with has made it easier for my daughter to occupy this lively 5 year old.

The egg, chocolate or otherwise is an important symbol of new life and quite appropriate at the moment whilst the news reminds us daily of the heavy death toll this virus is causing. So many loved ones lost, such unprecedented times to live through – so the meaning of Easter whether the religious one or the pagan one is there to give us hope.

As the saying goes this is not some dress rehearsal – we are all having to pick our way through this as best we can, trying to abide by the ‘spirit of the rules’ that are there to restrict our movements, keep us safe and prevent further deaths. It can seem like an easy task to fulfil, but in reality it is not; every person’s situation is different and making constant decisions as to whether something is essential and in the spirit or not is both testing and exhausting. I am sure at times we don’t always get it right either and it feels a bit like Brexit all over again with so much judgement and criticism being handed out.

Like our family, other families have their own concerns and risks to minimise; giving help and comfort to others whilst also protecting themselves is a fine balancing act. So I thought I would mention some of the issues we are facing as a family and how we are trying to cope with these whilst staying within the spirit.

Just as NHS workers have been criticised by their watchful neighbours for driving off in the car (to go to work) I have heard of the dustbin men being criticised for handling the bins and the postmen for continuing to deliver the post. I am making sure that I have a thank you message on my dustbin and one by the letter box as I think they are doing a good job – I would not like to see our rubbish build up and receiving letters and cards can be a lifeline to some. My granddaughter has been kept busy writing letters to me and then she looks forward to one in return. My Aunt in a care home with no visitors allowed and my mum are two other family members who do not have the internet and look forward to receiving my letters and cards with updates and pictures of the family.

My daughter in North Yorkshire who has just moved to a new area and knows no-one there is on her own with two young children to look after and entertain because her husband is himself looking after and cooking for key workers that are staying in an empty hotel. Because the risks of going home and spreading the virus to his family would be too great they are living apart but this means our daughter has to take the children with her to get food and nappies etc if they cannot get a delivery. It is a risk she would rather not take but not helped by the awful looks that have come her way in the supermarket now that they are limiting the number of household members allowed in, but she has no option as she can hardly get a babysitter! She was using a little farm shop where she could leave the children in the car outside and dash in – but sadly they decided to close.

We drop off bags on the way to or from the supermarket to our other daughter who lives close by – they have had what seems like colds and been unwell on and off for a few weeks, not knowing if it is the virus or not they have stayed home to protect others and we have helped out with deliveries of food and medicine to their doorstep – the last bag we took included the Easter egg I had decorated – I didn’t take that decision lightly. To onlookers I suppose it may seem like we are visiting.

As many readers will know my mum is 94 and has not been well. She is at that place in her life when she is just on the verge of not being able to look after herself completely and much depends on how well she feels each day. She is waiting to see if anything can be done medically to help her mobility but of course that will not happen at the moment. The virus and lock down have added to our problems. My sister continues to visit 4 times a week and an official carer the remaining 3 days for a teatime slot. She is taking her some food, cooking her meals, washing her bedding, clothes and hair – all the necessities of caring and caring for a vulnerable person is still allowed under the government rules but to the other more able residents it might look like my sister is just dropping in for a chat!

My daughter will reach the grand age of 40 (notice I didn’t say old) this month but the celebration we would have had for family and friends is of course cancelled. It is quite important to me to celebrate the forty wonderful years since she was born and especially because at one time I thought I might not be around to see this moment. (For readers who might not know I was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer that had spread into the lymph nodes, but have survived). So although it might seem a little frivolous in these difficult times, when others are grieving for the loss of their loved ones, I will be trying to gather family members together, courtesy of Zoom, to a virtual surprise party to celebrate her life so far and let her know how special she is.

So as you can see we have situations to resolve the best way we can, nothing is quite so black and white or clear cut but I will carry on using my own judgements to get us all through this safely and let everyone else decide what is best for them and their families. I am sure the very last thing that any of us would want was to think that we had indirectly caused the death of anyone by our actions.

The message Jesus gave us was very simple – ‘Love one another’ and there are so many acts of love out there and we are all trying to do our bit in the best way we can to keep the death toll to a minimum.

I wish you a peaceful day this Easter Sunday. x

seasons :: springtime and Easter

Springtime and Easter, a glorious combination – and it was heavenly here yesterday, warm sunshine and very calm…and I don’t just mean the weather, the neighbourhood felt very calm. Normally, on Good Friday our cul-de-sac would be a hive of activity, cars up and down going shopping and out and about. But not this year.

If the virus has done anything it has given us a real taste of a simpler life, of how life might be if we stayed home more, walked more and relied on ourselves for entertainment and amusement. In some ways I am enjoying the lock down (not the shopping though, never that), for us there is no pressure to do anything, go anywhere – we can, for once, just please ourselves. I know it is not like this for everyone – my elder daughter who had just returned to work for 3 days a week now works at home; her husband works a full 5 day week and he is working at home, they now have no childcare so are trying to fit 8 days of work into one week as well as looking after a toddler. My other daughter is looking after 2 young children whilst trying to fit in the demands of working from home.

Now a very strange Easter is upon us, no family gatherings, no Easter egg hunts with the grandchildren and no outings and picnics, but the garden is still a safe refuge and the weather is fine so I for one have really nothing to complain about.

To do our bit to help the NHS from being overburdened we are staying home and only going out for a little exercise but that is mainly in the garden there are plenty of jobs to do out there and each morning when I look out something new has burst into flower.

I ring my mum 2 or 3 times a day as that is all I can do from 90 miles away – the burden of keeping my mum in good spirits is falling heavily on my sister but she is doing her best without complaint even though she is quite busy herself with 3 of them trying to do their work from home. Mum had another tumble on Thursday and she had to use her call buzzer that she now keeps around her neck. The paramedics arrived at the same time as my sister and they got her back up onto the chair and checked her over. No harm done this time thank goodness. A spell in hospital would be all she needed.

As well as garden maintenance I am keeping myself busy in the house with a bit of spring cleaning and whilst the weather has been so good I seemed to have washed everything in sight; my washing line has been in continuous use drying everything from coats to cushions, blankets and bedding….still all this washing and ironing makes a change from continuously wiping doorknobs and washing hands.

New life is appearing too; only days after planting them the first of my seeds are beginning to sprout. DH has lined and filled the two large planters we bought in the sale at the end of last year and they are ready and waiting when these tiny plants are big enough and strong enough for the outside world.

Yesterday we uncovered the garden furniture and today we will clean down the patio and rearrange the pots. I have already had the parasol out to sheild me from the heat of the sun but I know this good spell will not last and cooler weather will descend once again – so it is a case of make hay while the sunshines.

No matter how different it is this year I didn’t want to let Easter slip by without acknowledging its presence and even though we will be spending it on our own I felt a little decoration seemed in order. I brought down the twiggy decoration with the butterflies that I made last year (it had been sitting on top of the wardrobe in our spare room) and reused this. I shall probably dismantle it after this Easter and make something new for next year. I love the very simple wooden bunny cut outs I bought earlier this year when I went to Hobbycraft.

As well as decorating I decided to make a cake and some buns for the Easter weekend – I have all the ingredients still and some eggs to use up. I always think it makes an occasion a bit more special to have a cake. Chocolate is a favourite with me and DH has, over the years, resigned himself to the fact that chocolate cake will always find a way to appear on our table no matter what the occasion. Easter is no different!

I had to use whatever bits I could find in the pantry to decorate the cakes as I don’t think shopping for cake decorations is classed as absolutely essential, although maybe it should be!

I had intended decorating an Easter egg for each of the grandchildren. I buy those small Cadbury’s eggs with chocolate buttons inside, remove the packaging and then add my own decoration. There was no point in doing one for Little L or Sweetie as it might be weeks before we can go to see them but I did do one for little Freddie as we could drop it off on their doorstep on our way to the supermarket. I suspect it may have had to go into quarantine though but the chocolate buttons will be fine as they came in a sealed packet.

Our big project at the moment is collecting together photos to make a surprise ‘This is your life so far’ book for my elder daughter’s 40th birthday coming up soon. It is quite a time consuming project too but full of wonderful memories when we unearth all those special moments from the past. We did one for my mum a couple of years ago and she loved it.

We are also scanning in a selection of pictures she painted and awards that she gained – I will let everyone have a peek when we have it more underway. At the same time I am planning her surprise virtual party so life will continue to be busy even after this Easter weekend. It is far harder trying to think up ways to celebrate this birthday from a distance and requires perhaps more organisation than a real party would.

So just to wish everyone a Happy Easter whatever you are doing or maybe not doing this year and to anyone reading this who may be having to spend Easter on their own. I would send you a slice of cake if I could!

Stay safe, stay well. x

dear diary :: more of the same

This might seem one of those long posts that is better to read with a cup of tea in your hand and I’ll forgive anyone who politely tries to stifle a yawn! I had meant to try and keep up with posting but you know me by now… always busy and last week was no different.

We are now well into the swing of the new normal here. We stay at home for most of the time only venturing out into the world for a little exercise or shopping. We are keeping in touch with my daughters and the grandchildren courtesy of Zoom and my mum on the good old fashioned landline.

I have a number of projects on the go – all presently half finished – but that does not seem to matter too much, as of course, we have no urgent trips up north to make and what a difference this has made to our time. Suddenly we find we have a lot more time to ourselves; though I am managing to fill every minute and more.

I feel I have never been so busy – April has its own pressures in our household, it holds the greater number of close family birthdays at the same time as the garden suddenly springs into life; so we have to wake up and spring into action with it and, not surprisingly, with the warmer weather upon us spring cleaning becomes more urgent and much more enticing – there is nothing I like better than having a good ‘fettle’ as my gran would say. There is always something very satisfying about the ritual of cleaning and clearing out at this time of year, geting everything back in order – but more about this another day in another post.

Gardening is the one thing that is keeping me quite sane through this unprecedented crisis – I love the way that nature carries on around me doing what it always does at this time of year as if nothing is amiss – it is so heartening. Tending to the garden teaches me that we need patience, it teaches me that from tiny seeds beautiful things will grow and that with great care, watering and warmth success is almost guaranteed.

So I have seed potatoes sprouting on the window sill, tomato seeds tucked up warmly in a mini propagator and courgette seeds pushing their way through the soil within a matter of days. All delightful, all encouraging.

Those little Magnum lolly sticks are so useful as plant labels, I must have eaten far too many but what a pity I couldn’t find a waterproof pen as the ink ran as soon as I watered the trays. No matter though I can still make out the variety. I am growing two different tomatoes this year – the only two available from the seed selection at Sainsbury’s; Gardener’s Delight and a tub / patio version called Minibel.

I will be sowing the salad seeds straight into the planters and some annuals ready for my summer display on the patio – hopefully today or tomorrow.

There is plenty of general work to do too, pots to refresh, lawns to scarify and borders to weed and I must plant the new clematis I bought last year.

I continue to spend a lot of time in the kitchen being adventurous so that nothing goes to waste or even gets close to going off. Little pies are always a good way to combine all those oddments I find left over in the fridge. I filled these individual pastry cases with a mixture of cooked brown lentils, shredded leek and chopped mushrooms then topped them with some mashed potato, grated cheese and slices of tomato and put the last of the carrots and parsnips in a tin to roast. The result was a meal we would certainly have again.

We still have our old, shabby kitchen of course (though we did get the plans for the new one finalised and signed for just as John Lewis decided to close, so our new kitchen is now on hold until things recover and it can be delivered and fitted). I have been rather worried that the jinx I spoke about in an earlier post that has persisted over the years and put a stop to us having our new kitchen at every attempt since 2008, now appears to have surfaced again but this time has extended beyond ourselves and our family and this time sudden misfortune has affected the whole world in preventing the instalation!! I do hope not.

On the good side the kitchen is now far easier to use since we finished the pantry and all but the most used foods have been moved out of the kitchen cupboards freeing up vital space; and what a godsend the pantry has been – it is now well stocked, not overly so, but always enough to see us through for about 3-4 weeks should we face further restrictions, shortages or we have to self isolate for any length of time (though I pray this will never become necessary) and so far we have not shown any symptoms of having the virus though every shopping trip is a major risk as it is our only contact in the outside world. We minimise the risk of course going as late at night as we can when it is quieter and only going about every 10 days or for as long as the milk lasts. Each time we go I am convinced I get a sore throat afterwards and certainly a tension headache from all the dodging around in the aisles. Shopping has never been so stressful.

This week we have already gathered in our food to cover the whole Easter period – finding milk and dairy items with long dates – it should see us through nicely. I did not want to end up going shopping later this week amongst a sudden Easter shopping frenzy that is like Christmas.

To our surprise we even found a packet of disposable gloves on the shelves this week so they have definitely come home with us (though I don’t really need 50, but you never know, and I can donate some to anyone else in need). I had only one pair left previously that I had to keep washing out between supermarket trips and they were originally bought in a packet of 10 and only used when I cleaned the silver! With the whole plastic problem I would not normally have been replacing these either when they ran out but I suppose needs must.

We are still managing to buy most of our usual foods or substituting similar products. Eggs have been difficult to find and flour an absolute no no – so I have to ration it out carefully. The last eggs I bought were these beautiful Burford Browns with a good looking suntan.

And what do you do to use up any eggs – buy a roll of puff pastry and bake of course.

These little tarts were delicious with salad and used up the last of the eggs, leeks (shredded finely), cougettes and a packet of Welsh goats cheese.

Our almost daily walk is one of the highlights of the day. As the weather improves the number of people walking increases but we manage to stay safe and the only difficult day was last Sunday when we felt we had to jump into a gap and keep on the move. It is amazing how you begin to notice the little things on the same route.

The last of the catkins…

…the appearance of tiny Celandines on the grass verges

and our Yorkshire dry stone walls covered with a thick winter coat of moss.

Many of our mills now house people rather than machinery but the chimneys have been preserved as a monument to the past and our local history.

On returning home we have had moments just sitting in the pleasant sunshine with our biscuit rations and probably putting back on the calories we have just walked off.

In the midst of all the cleaning, gardening, cooking and walking I have spent quite a bit of time making cards again – partly to save money and partly because cards are not deemed as an essential item so are difficult to buy. This one is a card that my sister sent to me and I recycled by cutting it down to mount onto a blank card and adding the butterflies.

My nephew was harder to make for as I doubt any little boy would want a flowery card. I decided to keep it simple and print down this number eight onto some card and hand stamped the ‘Happy Birthday’ in colourful inks.

When it came to the Easter cards I had no ideas but then came across a half started spring flower collage I attempted last year using shapes cut from the thicker front pages of magazines and some junk mail. I finished the picture but knew that making individual cards in this way was going to be far too time consuming so decided to take prints off the original and reduce the design to fit some tiny blank cards that I have in my craft box.

Easter will soon be upon us and with my cards now hand delivered or put in the post I have been turning my attentions to a few decorations – not many as it will be a strange Easter this year – just the two of us…I suspect we will spend most of it in the garden, weather permitting. I might bake a cake though, I am not keen on Simnel cake -but a chocolate cake…well that is a big possibility.

And if you reached the end of this post you deserve a medal.

Before I go a warm welcome to all my new followers and to Diana, apologies when I deleted your comment as you asked it deleted the whole string of related comments. x