dear diary :: calm amidst turmoil

Hello everyone – I hope you are all well and safe. We are. Well safe at least from the virus and thank you for your messages of concern, I had not realised I had been away quite this long. Truth is my neck, shoulders and lower back have not been good again lately so I have been trying to stay off the computer and do more exercises to release the build up of tension I get in these areas; it seems most things I want to do, whether it be sewing, cooking or reading blogs, involve long periods with my head down – not a good posture.

It has also been difficult recently dealing with my mum from a distance as she goes into decline both physically and mentally and I am feeling the strain. Mum has just realised, now she is able to go to my sister’s house, that she doesn’t have the strength anymore to manouvre herself in and out of the car without the help of my sister’s husband and that shopping is looking like an activity she will not be participating in any longer.

The restrictions imposed on her, both from the Covid virus and her mobility, are now sending her into a state of depresion and witnessing the news on TV day after day of the recent events is making her feel quite angry. She is never able to disassociate herself from what is going on in the world, even though there is little she can do about it. The recent removal of the statue and the ongoing protests are causing her a great deal of irritation, though, I suspect this is an easy target for her anger at the moment when in reality she is probably angry with the fact that she is so immobile. My problem is trying to calm her down each evening when I phone her and we just keep going over the same topics with me trying to find a way for her to accept that people feel very strongly, enough to gather and protest even in these dangerous times with a killer virus still out there. I have always been a person able to see both sides of an issue – perhaps not always a good thing.

As the assistant in Sainsbury’s said to me the other day when I got chatting to him in the vegetable aisle “it is not just the case that Black Lives Matter but rather Every Life Matters”….he was black so had an interesting point of view on this and I tend to agree with him.

As for the fate of the statues – this is a hard call and I suspect will be yet another division in our society where we already have the north / south, rich / poor, leave / remain, black / white divides.

In our local town we have dear old Harold Wilson on a pedestal (for those overseas readers – a past Labour Prime Minister born locally of a working class family) located prominently just outside the railway station – I suspect many of the young people passing him daily are not even aware of who he was or what he is celebrated for. He took the place of an earlier statue of Sir Robert Peel who just crumbled away! Although Harold was a great campaigner for the rights of the underprivileged, like most of the people commemorated by a statue, he also had a few stains to his character. In Harold’s case, although far from being racist, he did authorise military aid during the Nigerian Civil War, an act that directly cost the lives of millions of black Africans (largely the Biafrans), in return for a supply of cheap oil. The photos of emaciated black children dying of hunger caused a huge political outcry when they were published in Britain and although the Nigerian Civil War of the 1960s is quite forgotten today it is still an episode in our history of overseas intervention by British military that remains.

Our local history is very much built on the textile mills owned by wealthy people like John Ramsden, Joseph Armitage, the Brooke and Brook families, John Crowther, Joseph Quarmby and many others. As far as I am aware there are no statues of them around the town, which is just as well as not all of them can be celebrated for their contribution to human welfare by any means; loss of life and limb for their mill workers was a constant daily threat, but they provided us with our many fine public buildings, schools and churches and were the major source of employment here.

In our little township one mill owner was quite philanthropic and like Sir Titus Salt of Saltaire provided homes, schools, a convalescent home and some pleasure grounds for his mill workers as well as good wages, a dining hall and baths. In fact one of these houses built in 1857 was the first house we bought after we married in the 70’s. It had a garden that stretched down to the mill stream and overlooked the pleasure grounds. The whole terrace has now been listed.

Originally built as under and over dwellings (quite a usual feature in the north) most of the houses, like the one above that we lived in, have been knocked through now to make one four storey dwelling. Sadly a lot of the original Georgian windows had already been replaced in favour of a more modern style, as on the ground floor kitchen window. As it was two houses originally we had a front door number 23 and a back door round the other side of number 21.

So our world is in a state of great unrest at the moment – but then looking at our local history I am reminded that it always has been in one way or another and I think about the words of John Ruskin, to the Merchants and Manufacturers of Bradford, regarding their plan to build a cloth exchange, 1864 during the time of the great wealth of the mill owners who were bringing about so much rapid change (rapid for those days).

“Change must come; but it is ours to determine whether change of growth, or change of death. Shall the Parthenon be in ruins on its rock, and Bolton Priory in its meadow, but these mills of yours be the consummation of the buildings of the earth, and their wheels be as the wheels of eternity ? Think you that ‘men may come and men may go,’ but mills go on for ever ?
Not so; out of these, better or worse shall come; and it is for you to choose which”.

So will we choose for better or worse?

And now we are preparing for the new changes allowed to our movements as shops open once more and tourism starts up again – I feel a sadness that our economy is so reliant on us once again going out to ‘spend, spend, spend’. We seem to go around in circles trying to balance the environment with the effects we have on it by spending and tourism.

I find the best way to overcome any feelings of hopelessness is to either go for a walk or go in the garden as nature is very calming and grounding. So a walk around the block is an excellent tonic.

This verge covered in spring by a mass of daffodils is now dotted with moon pennies and gardens that lay bare before are suddenly filled with all the delights of summer perennials.

In and amongst the exercising and walking I have done a little making and baking. A choclate cake for DH’s birthday…

……and trying out a new recipe I found on the internet using fresh raspberries. It is such an easy recipe – a deliciously melted chocolate brownie mixture, in to which you drop the fresh raspberries and bake in these tiny spring form tins…..

….and eaten when still warm from the oven and topped with fresh cream of course.

Not everything in the kitchen has been baking though – I had a roll of puff pastry and goats cheese to use up, so made my favourite savoury goats cheese and walnut tart – quick to make and always a favourite in summer to have with salad.

I also found time to finish the padded bench cushion so we can while away some time in the garden in between weeding and dead heading.

The large dish is beginning to fill out nicely now with the annuals I planted, brightening up a dull corner.

…and the peonies have opened at last. This is one I bought a few years ago with a beautiful yellow centre. I always think you can never have too many peonies in a summer garden.

So not a lot going on here – but enough at the moment – I am making the most of this time while I can to recharge my batteries. I have a hairdressing appointment booked for the middle of July – all being well – DH needs a hair cut even more than me! We look forward to the day we can go to Scotland and see our garden up there and also visit mum and the grandchildren for a hug – it is a bit of a strange time now when we are not yet safe from the virus but not quite as much at risk – I am not even sure what the rules are anymore, but then we have not introduced many changes here yet and the only shopping we continue to do is our once every other week trip to the supermarket. Maybe we will venture out more soon when I feel the coast is clear.

Stay well and safe everyone – I will be round to catch up with everyone’s blogs soon.

And if you are reading this Suzanne – I couldn’t leave a comment but I am really sorry to see you say goodbye on your blog – I will miss you. x

dear diary :: home grown, home sewn

Hello there – I hope you are all well and still managing to dodge the virus.  The weeks are passing quickly now as we are rolling on into June and the recent warmer weather has been so welcome; though we desperately need rain – a good soaking would do my lawns the world of good and today looks like it might be the day as we have quite a gloomy cast to the sky.

We are still well here and following the old lockdown rules….well pretty much, and trying hard to keep our 2 metre distance when we have to go to a supermarket but in my region it seems like lockdown, even this ‘easedown’, is suddenly being ignored by a number of people who are resuming a more full on normal life very quickly – I see children from many different households playing together outside in the cul-de-sac, visitors coming and going to the houses nearby – even my neighbour had a professional family photo shoot last weekend and two visitors appeared on the drive later and disappeared indoors with three very large helium balloons for their son’s birthday.  I have seen cafes open with people sat inside drinking coffee around a very small table and a carpet shop open – and I thought both of these businesses should still be closed.

I am feeling a little bit cross with Boris at the moment – I felt his ten minute speech outlining the easing of lockdown was not complex just rather unclear in delivery; even his own ministers gave a different version each time when questioned afterwards for further clarification.  The initial three word advice of ‘Stay at home’ was very clear – replacing this with a 50 page document that resembles the Highway Code (that one tried desparately to memorise before a driving test) is not quite the same.

So in his own defence Boris has to resort to telling people to just use good old fashioned British common sense – something that I think is quite open to many different interpretations. Does he mean the same common sense he has shown during this pandemic when he carried on shaking hands, long after it had been deemed unsafe, or like the times he appeared in the earlier briefings almost shoulder to shoulder with Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance as they talked about the 2 metre distancing rule and then all three of them caught the virus, or forgetting to include care homes as being a potential risk and dropping the idea of testing, or even like his own father who totally ignored his advice to the public not to go to the pub for a drink – do you mean this kind of British common sense Boris – well, there is little hope for us then?

But enough about this dreary topic – I write to record and remember for myself and some topics are just worthy of an airing from time to time but there is enough to hear on the news each day without me ranting on and at the end of the day everyone will choose their own way through this with common sense in place or not. So lets move on quickly to life here at home.

So far it is good and as you can imagine I have spent most of my time in the garden – this lovely warm spell has given the seedlings a growth spurt but I am still reluctant to plant out yet as I have not had the opportunity to completely harden them off while the temperature continues to drop overnight almost to frost point, and now we have this raging wind sweeping down off the moors above us and just as the garden is beginning to look quite delightful in places too.

I must make a note to self to plant more alliums come September – I just love the way their heads bob around in quite a disorderly fashion above the other plants in the borders.

We managed to find a few pieces of wood so that DH could fix another shelf to the underneath part of this old galvanised steel seed tray bench which has become my potting bench. Having an extra shelf will allow me to keep pots and bits and pieces to hand and will no doubt be a good place to put the trays of plants to harden off overnight….when that time comes.

I have also been repurposing and recycling – not in a big way but it has helped me to use up a few odds and ends that I might otherwise not have had a use for and I have spent a few enjoyable days in my workroom creating new out of old.

I like the idea of altering and reusing a card and giving it a longer and new lease of life – some cards are just too nice to throw away and I have a box full of old card fronts so I made a couple of special cards for two dear friends of mine using cut down pieces of old cards that had once been sent to me, and a third to use up some decorative papers and embellishments from my craft collection with a few punched out mini butterflies using the punch given to me by the friend who I have made the card for.  

I have a stock of blank tri-fold concertina cards that I bought so long ago I cannot even remember why I bought them – but they do make rather nice birthday cards and I was able to find a relevant birthday verse on the internet to paste inside.

Although I quite enjoyed the cutting and pasting they are not my usual style of card making – though my friends seem to like them – but I much prefer to originate my own work and the beginnings of these cards below are much more satisfying to make, but as yet the idea is very much a work in progress. Here I am using some of the flowers I pressed a while ago and mounting them onto the blank concertina cards to form some kind of nature notes card.

To continue with this I am waiting now for a new batch of flowers in the press, I have been snipping away in the garden…..forget-me-nots, buttercups and more daisies and collecting anything that catches my eye like some tiny maple keys in the supermarket car park.

The repurposing has not stopped at card making.  I discovered a length of fabric that I bought many years ago to make a bench cushion in a drawer in the loft whilst checking to see if I had anything suitable to make masks out of.  The woven upholstery weight blue check cotton fabric matched the little blue painted bench that we had back then.  Sadly the bench fell apart from old age a couple of years ago and the cushion never got made. 

We have a new metal bench now on the patio with a mesh seat that definitely needs a rug or cushion for comfort so yesterday I cut out the cushion pieces and made a filling from an old cot duvet I had put aside to take to a textile bank.  It is perfect – I folded the wadding over into 4 layers and recovered it with the Vilene covering to stuff the cushion. 

I decided to hold the wadding in place by doing some mock tufting – I didn’t want to put buttons on as sitting on them might be uncomfortable so I just used some heavy weight sewing cotton to draw both sides of the cushion together at the intersection of each of the large checks on the fabric, I also inserted two ties at one end of the cushion so it can be rolled up when not in use and tied in place for storage. It is not quite complete yet – a little more tufting to do but it does feel quite uplifting to get some of these projects finished and the repurposing means I have a new item at little cost and will no doubt last for a long time to come – probably longer than the bench!

Even in these slow living times I cannot believe how quickly the weeks go by and housework has taken a back seat here lately – I haven’t felt much in the mood during the hot weather and a quick tidy round and a hoover has kept things ticking over nicely. 

Adding a few fresh flowers instantly brightens the place up and hopefuly detracts from seeing any dust! I love the way the colour of these tulips I bought last week blend in perfectly with the colour palette of this picture, an oil painting by the Scottish atrist Hazel Campbell…it was quite accidental but rather a nice accident.

Whilst we have been staying at home I have developed more of a routine and one that allows me to distinguish between week and weekend in these lockdown days that just roll on in quite a monotonous way.   I have been washing on a Monday and Tuesday and avoiding the weekends; I quite like keeping the weekends a bit more special and not cleaning or washing; eating a ‘proper’ Sunday dinner (even a vegetarian version) also helps to keep the weekend a little more defined.

So although I am often to be found in the kitchen when I am not in the garden or workroom you would notice that I am cooking and baking rather than cleaning.  

I picked out a few untried recipes from my folder, one of which was a new nut roast recipe that I wanted to make – just for a change.  This one contains chopped tomatoes from a packet or tin, so has quite a loose open texture and goes well as a substitute for a Sunday roast with the usual veg and gravy or cold with salad.  The recipe made a full 2lb loaf tin so half of it was cut up into slices to put in the freezer for later.

We had the first slice with roast parsnips, cabbage, cooked apple and a Yorkshire….smothered in gravy.

We have a birthday tomorrow on Bank Holiday Monday – it is DH’s but I won’t disclose which year – I will just say in the later part of the sixties, but thankfully not yet seventy – I only say thankfully as the years are galloping away now and feels like there is still so much we want to do and see in so little time.

To cheer him up I will make a cake and maybe we will go out in the car for a run, not to a popular beauty spot….just somewhere off the beaten track with a flask of hot chocolate and some cake and maybe take our sketchbooks. And then no doubt there will be a Zoom get together with some of the family.

Stay safe everyone and a warm welcome to more readers and followers….and apologies for anyone who has noticed my lack of comments recently on my favourite blogs – I am still reading along as time allows. x

dear diary :: destination unknown

Well, our road map for the immediate future is laid out before us and we should be ready to go…..but with the destination unknown I am feeling much more cautious than Boris to set off and therefore may not be relaxing the ‘stay at home’ message quite so quickly; in fact I will be still adhereing to Nicola’s message a little longer before I switch to just being alert.

I have never been a political blog and don’t intend to start now – and I do appreciate how difficult it must be to navigate your way through such a minefield as this, but I do feel that I would have handled things a little differently – a much earlier lockdown for one, and the cancellation of the two big mass gatherings that took place even as there was devistating news coming out of Italy and Spain which should have rung alarm bells back then. And now the plight of the care homes – another disaster waiting to happen in an overlooked sector of the population as all efforts were concentrated on the NHS alone.

It is only by the stringent efforts of the management company and residents at my mum’s retirement apartments that they have not, as yet, had any cases in there, but these places could be the next care homes as the carers visiting here have not been able to get hold of PPE and go from person to person unprotected potentially passing the virus around. My mum and all the residents have now been issued with a visor (or visa as she refers to it) by the management company for their protection and I believe the carers have at last managed to get hold of some PPE.

The visors have a different colour band at the top, mum’s is red, her friend has a green one but B is now concerned that she will not have enough matching outfits as green is not her colour! She is also the one that has mistook the message from Boris and has been trying to book a hairdressing appointment as she believes they can now open up.

My mum was also disappointed as she thought she would be able to go to my sister’s house now for tea and we had to say that no she still can’t, not just yet – ‘maybe soon’ I said to which she replied ‘oh yes maybe in a day or two’. It is harder to grasp the new ease down rules as they are more involved than just the stay at home message which was loud and clear (though only for some).

As the general public are now being advised to cover their faces I decided to make some masks for the family including a tiny one for Little L with unicorns for when she has to go with mum to the supermarket. I do feel like I am about to rob a bank wearing mine!

If we choose to we are now able to drive to any beauty spot in England no matter how far the destination – for us that would most likely be the Peak district in Derbyshire, the Yorkshire dales, the Lake district or the coast such as Whitby, or even Roundhay park in Leeds (I could meet up with Sybil) – but for two reasons we won’t be. The main one is out of respect for the people who live in these places and the second on a much more practical level, although we can pack up and take our own food, there will be very few public toilets open and without the facilities we might normally use in cafes and pubs I do not see how anyone could go very far anyway. As the weather warms up again and with the spring bank holiday approaching is it not highly likely that people are going to flock to all these beauty spots as a means of escape. I thought that travelling around spread it around, after all was that not how Covid 19 arrived in this country in the first place?

So DH and I will stay in our own little bubble here for a while longer – we are pretty much self contained and a few more weeks are not going to make a huge difference to us in the scheme of things and if it was to help save even one other person’s life it would be well worth it. We have resigned ourselves to the fact that we will not be able to go to the cottage (caravan) any time soon, but we always thought that would be the case – in fact the tiny villages around the area have got ‘village closed go home’ signs up across the entrance; so no point in fretting – what will be will be.

There are only two adjustments we may make – one is to take some bags of garden prunings to our local tip when the coast is clear and suss out the local garden centre when the immediate rush has passed as we desparately need compost and manure; however, if either places are found to be teeming with people we would not venture in – nothing is that important.

Since Sunday the weather has turned so cold it has felt like a return to winter and I have been warmly wrapping both myself up and the plants against the chill.

The fat filled coconut I hung out on Sunday afternoon has been devoured quickly by the birds and almost gone.

I like to think of myself as a hardy all weather gardener but with this arctic climate descending upon us my fingers have, at times, felt like they have suffered from frost bite after only the first few minutes out there – I would not have been surprised to find ice in my little blue pond. The main jobs to tackle in the garden was a quick check round and watering the bulbs with tomato feed – most of them are over now although the tulips are holding on for dear life and the alliums, like the peonies, are deciding if the temperature is suitable for making an appearance.

Many of the vegetable and salad plants are still under cloches whilst the bedding plants are packed into the mini greenhouse waiting anxiously for the moment I can put them into planters and borders without the fear of frosts.

In the borders the forget-me-nots are fading fast as the aquilegia, in their many shades of pinks and purples, have become the star of the show – springing up in all corners of the garden and gracefully dancing around in the wind… whilst I hold my breath in case they topple over and snap – there are far too many of them to stake them all.


And just in time the tangerine geums have emerged like a little beacon poking their heads out from amongst the sea of sky blue.

Waiting in the wings of the mini greenhouse the second round of seeds I set of pansies and nasturtiums, zinnias and cosmos are growing at quite a pace now, despite the weather, but I will pass on pricking them out at the moment – it is too much of a chore to stand in the cold and so will wait for the warmer weather to return at the weekend.

With little to do in the garden I have spent more of my time indoors where there has been far too much listening to the news and drinking tea; so yesterday I busied myself in the work room – paying bills, checking statements and finally doing a bit of sewing.

I also opened up my flower press to discover this spray of dicentra (bleeding heart) that I had put in there only last week. The colour of course is quite muted compared to the vivid pink when they are fresh, but still very pretty. I just need to think of some way of using them.

Whilst it was still warm last week we had many of our meals based around salad. On Saturday I made some little pea, mint and goats cheese fritters to go with it and yesterday we had leek and mushroom pasties in a flaky pastry (the pastry bought of course – the ready roll is so quick to use).

The fritters were easy enough to make – based on a thick pancake batter, I am sure they can be modified very easily to use up most vegetables or a variety of different cheeses. A few minutes in a hot pan and they were golden brown and ready to eat.

By Sunday we had run out of a few fresh foods – it is a quiet day usually in the town centre Sainsbury’s – a smaller branch, but we can usually find all we need and if not select an alternative…..but shopping this Sunday was horrendous – there were few people inside and no queue but little in the way of social distancing and I kept having to move out of the way as people came from nowhere and reached across me to grab something from the shelf. All a little too close for comfort.

And not wanting to linger any longer than I had to in there I just reached out and grabbed the first bunch of flowers near to hand – but aren’t these tulips delightful such a cheery colour and only £2.50.

If the cold weather continues I might carry on with the sewing – I have a few bits and pieces of mending and one or two projects to finish off….then there are more cards to make and the final sleeve of little Freddie’s jumper to knit.

Oh and maybe I will bake a few buns or perhaps some crisp melting moments covered in coconut to go with a hot chocolate. I doubt I will be sitting outside under the parasol anytime soon.

Have a great week however you are interpreting the new rules. xx

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

dear diary :: a new beginning

Happy New Year to all my followers and readers.

After a very late night I eventually surfaced around 10am…bleary eyed, so I am quite late changing my blog header…..but here I am to wish you all the best of what this year will bring for each of you.

As always I am excited with the prospect of a brand new year stretching before me – not just an empty page, or an empty chapter but a whole empty book. By the end of 2020 just what will be written on these pages. Who knows….and that is the magic of this time of year, we really don’t know.

I can map out what I am hoping for, what I am striving to achieve, what I am going to work hard at to accomplish, but I cannot predict any of those unexpected twists and turns along the journey, the ones we have least control over.

This year as many readers will know my chosen word (whether you like this idea of choosing a word or not – it works for me) is Flourish. Maybe an odd choice you are thinking, but as one of my readers said it is very apt for me as it is often a term used when caring for plants and as my passion is for gardening then it fits so well.

One of my intentions this year will be to continue with minimising and simplifying. It is not something that happens overnight – it requires a lifestyle change and developing a different mindset. For as much as I love the space I have been creating around my home I can still fall for buying completely unnecessary items….you know the ones that ‘spark joy’ when you come across them when out shopping. John Lewis does it for me every time and TK Max! My joy seems to come from objects rather than clothes these days…and don’t forget the garden centres – I could spend a fortune there even though my borders are really jammed packed full.

As the manufacturers continue to design and market new and tempting merchandise displayed in the shops I will always find it hard to say no. Like eating a healthy diet finding that balance of moderation is hard and one I am constantly working on even though every time I go to a decluttered cupboard I feel a sense of satisfaction and that spark of joy….it is often just not enough to deter me from buying more.

Some areas of my life I have well under control – my bathroom cupboards for instance only hold what I use – you won’t find anything lurking there that is not something I use most days to keep me clean and presentable. Other areas of my home are still a work in progress and the decluttering continues but it is the stuff that still comes into our home that is the problem because that is the stuff that ironically will almost certainly become part of my future decluttering. There is very little that we need (other than a new car perhaps….oh and maybe that new kitchen) but somehow I still manage to find things to bring home!

I haven’t run our year end tally yet to see just what we spent – I can assure you when all added up and displayed in a report it is frightening. Even those odd cups of coffee and snacks we buy when out and about do add up to rather a lot.

It has been a hard year for us trying to cope on the one state pension, our savings have dwindled considerably as prices continue to rise and our family circumstances are such that we have had a lot of travelling up and down to North Yorkshire. I won’t even mention the cost of all those events we laid on or attended!

This is the time of year when I have a good look at where I overspent, then promise to myself to be more careful….and it works, usually….well for the first few months!

I aim to be more green too. I say that knowing full well that I bought a plastic fridge container yesterday…a small blip. In all honesty though when I am shopping I am going to be more mindful – the wooden toys we bought at Christmas for the grandchildren are all lovely and don’t have those awful jangly tunes and songs in American accents coming out of them, (sorry USA readers but the Fisher Price toys do all begin to sound the same), in particular the ABC song which must be coded into every activity toy. My granddaughter, who is only five and like many children, now talks with a slight Americanism about cookies, movies, garbage and trash – the influence of TV and activity toys!

But first….. my aim this month – the new health and fitness regime, guaranteed to make a difference – you just have to keep at it. I am not so bold as to start today….no today is for recovery and reflection and maybe a sprawl on the sofa watching a film or two.

And I will get back to answering the comments from yesterday.

I hope everyone has a good day today for the start of the year…somehow it does make a difference if the very first day starts well.

Welcome to my new followers on the journey – I am hoping the road this year will not be quite so bumpy as last year. x

dear diary :: looking back and looking forward

It is that time of year in the quieter lull between the Christmas festivities and New Year when I always start looking back over the past twelve months; remembering all those unforgettable moments both good and bad that are etched on my mind for ever.

It has been an eventful and productive year, if not a little exhausting at times, beginning with the birth of little Freddie in January and followed by two Christenings, a 1st birthday and 40th birthday celebrations. Phew.

It was the year I grew more vegetables, started knitting again, made a christening gown and many of my own cards. In and amongst we had some lovely days out at the open garden events as well as in Scotland and a very memorable day at the seaside in Saltburn with Little L.

It was also the year we remodelled the downstairs cloakroom turning it into a walk in pantry. I did think at the beginning of the year that we would have made a start on the kitchen too – but that was not to be and we continue to live with our truly retro kitchen, patching and repairing it as we go along.

The cottage was put firmly on the back burner again as a difficult situation arose in the summer that required our full attention. The unexpected issues we had to deal with took all our time and are best forgotten – I remind myself we did our best and that hindsight is always better than foresight. If there are any regrets or niggling thoughts that I should or could have done things differently or better I just think that we are where we are and nothing can change that now all we can do is wait for the day when the issues will be resolved for better or worse.

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I don’t know about you but I am already pondering on my next actions and thinking about my word for 2020. ‘Transition‘ was my focus word for 2019 learning how to incorporate many changes into our lives as we moved from working to retiring.

Try as I might I have failed so far to get into a new satisfactory routine since leaving work and my life is certainly a lot different and feels like I am going at a faster pace than ever, trying to accommodate all the changing needs of our wider family who are all in transition too it seems and if anyone ever asks how I am coping my answer is always that I have less time now I am at home than when I worked.

Letting go of the familiar to sail blindly into unchartered waters is not easy and we have not entirely found our footing….but we know where we are headed and have made a start. I realised this year that to do all the things we want to do in retirement and have a long retirement, enjoying more time with both our chosen activities and our ever growing family, then our good health is key.

So I have been giving a lot of thought to this recently – I know our health could be better – I do not want to slide down the slippery path of having to take medication for those old age ailments that with a bit of attention from me I can prevent or reverse before they take hold.

Of course regular readers will know I am reliant on taking thyroxine medication as my thyroid gland had to be completely removed in 2008 due to cancer. This tiny gland that sits at the base of your neck at the front regulates metabolism – energy, heartbeat and temperature and how well you burn calories and digest food. It can be hard to balance the amount of Thyroxine I need daily to keep me stable – that is neither hypothyroid nor hyperthyroid – get it even slightly wrong and the side effects are not good.

Having a healthy diet and plenty of exercise does help my body overcome the lack of a thyroid gland but it can be hard to keep it up when we live such a pressured life.

January will be the month then that I will be focusing on my well being, diet and exercise in gradual small steps.

Over the year I also want to concentrate more on craftwork – sketching, sewing, making more cards – any creative activities would be nice. I feel this year I have laid the foundation and 2020 will be the year to build on this.

Minimalism and simplifying as you know are subjects dear to my heart and I will continue to reduce our impact on the environment by being mindful of what we buy and what we waste.

With all this in mind the word that has kept coming back to me is….

Flourish

meaning: ‘grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, to grow or develop successfully’

I do not just want to grow and adapt during the changes to our life but to do it with good health and a positive mind. The word Flourish to me just fits the picture perfectly.

I will be beginning in January to take our health seriously – maybe not on New Year’s day but the days after. Presently I am reading and planning for the changes I want to make and I aim to record these daily for anyone else who might want to follow along with me.

It will be more of switching to healthier choices rather than a diet as such or anything too extreme. I did this when I had the cancer and it saved my life back then – I hope it will prolong my life in retirement now.

Have a lovely weekend and welcome to my new followers. xx

dear diary :: contemplating Christmas

At last things are slowing down here – I washed most of the sheets we used as tablecloths for the christening buffet and the weather, although bitterly cold, was fine enough to hang them outdoors on the line.

We had a leisurely lunch too – nothing fancy, just a ploughman’s sandwich with spelt and rye bread (not home baked but just as good) and a side salad to use up the last of the items in the fridge. Having missed the real taste of the beetroot in yesterday’s soup I just had to have some raw grated beetroot drizzled with a little french dressing.

After the last few hectic weeks we have had with all the celebrations and my daughter’s house move I am now turning my attentions to Christmas. It feels quite late not to have done anything at all but then I feel this is my opportunity to embrace this lack of time I have……and it will force me to keep things simple and not just play with the idea.

So I am thinking what do I really need to do and what can I miss out:-

  • A Christmas tree – definitely – we always have real and because we are not hosting Christmas this year we will just choose a smaller one. We have last year’s rooted and potted one in the back garden and DH will move that round to the front to be decorated with lights.
  • The Christmas Lights and candles – how could you not have lights – I would always choose lights over decoration if I had too. DH will put up the outside lights and surprise me as usual with his artistry.
  • Christmas Decor – just as simple as I can make it though I do love all my Christmas treasures and it will be hard to just pick out a few.
  • Christmas Fare – the cake is the one food item I will make sure gets done, we don’t eat many mince pies – I usually bake them as gifts and may not even bother with them at all, but the florentines and my chocolate slab are quick and delicious and must be a MUST. The nut roast can be made next week and frozen ready to take with us to my sister’s on Christmas day – DH makes a good one, so I will pass this job over.
  • Christmas Cards – another definite as it is how I keep in touch with family and friends I rarely see – homemade if time allows but if I don’t get to do a lino cut then it will be a stamped card or even bought ones.
  • The Christmas Newsheet for relatives and friends – you either love them or hate them but I always send one to people I do not see often and I love to receive them and hear everyone’s news. So this will go on my list.
  • The Family Gifts – as most regular readers know our family does a ‘Not so Secret Santa’. This year we have reduced the amount to a £25 spend each as the younger end of the family are either on maternity pay or student loans and the older ones now on pensions and we all have less money than before. None of us would ever go back to buying presents for everyone and trailing round busy shops not knowing what to buy – the get together we have to swap the presents is the highlight of the year and more fun than the gifts. This year we will all be together on Christmas day so we have no need of a pre Christmas get together.
  • Little Gifts for Friends – this year I intended to make a calendar for each of the friends I buy for and it is labour intensive – if it seems there is too little time to make them then I will find an alternative – I might even use those free pots and buy some cyclamens to plant in them.

Did I miss anything?

Of course there are the many things that I would love to do, crafting, baking and a little Christmas meandering, and more Christmas meandering – but I don’t want to put any pressure on myself, there has been too much of that this year. So I will have a second list of ‘would like to do’ if there is any spare time.

  • making the robin teacosy I started last year
  • making little Freddie a Christmas stocking
  • a concertina Christmas banner
  • a trip to Saltaire or Askrigg village stained glass windows event
  • a photo book for mum and my aunty with Alzheimers

Last year in the run up to Christmas I did something Christmassy each day in my ‘Creating Christmas’ posts with the help of a daily advent card. You can read about it by clicking here or on the menu tab above and in the side bar.

So this year I am thinking it would be a good idea to do a ‘Creating a simpler Christmas’ one that is at a much slower pace and definitely calmer…. and perhaps there are readers out there that might have some helpful suggestions for achieving this.

Have a lovely weekend x

beach cottage :: the long awaited update

Many readers have asked me about the cottage and I have tried a few times to do this post with a few pictures, however, each time I have abandoned it as it has been too upsetting.

So here I am trying again.

For anyone that isn’t familiar with my previous blog the tale of the cottage and the flood can be found here – Beach Cottage and the tab above.

And so for the tour…please mind your step it is a bit dangerous inside as all the floorboards had to be removed.

This is the kind of state that met us when we first went into the cottage after the flood. The water level had reach 2 feet in the conservatory but only about 1 foot elsewhere. There was brown sludge everywhere.

Looking from the other direction when we had cleared some of the debris and the sludge had dried a bit.

This is the kitchen above now completely stripped out of units – the contractor’s schedule and makeshift electrics board on the walls still remain. Everything from here ended up in the skip even the fridge freezer which was like new. Luckily we had not renovated the kitchen at the point of the flood.

Likewise the bathroom – with toilet and basin removed.

The bedroom above stripped of plaster and floorboards – the bed and wardrobes all had to go in the skip. Only the light shade remained and is still hanging there like a ghost of times past.

The living room is the saddest room for me, we had almost finished the renovations in here. The old tiled fireplace had been removed and a larger opening made to take a wood burning stove. One of the windows had been knocked out and french doors fitted so we could access the conservatory at the back.

We had boarded around this room and carefully painted it with umpteen coats of paint, sanded between each one – the finish was so smooth. At this point just the skirting boards to fix…

…and now we have gone backwards as all the boarding had to be removed.

This is just a handful of the many pictures we had to take – I can hardly bare to look at them and now it just sits in this empty state – just a shell of its former self, cold and forlorn. I never go inside anymore it is too heartbreaking – it was to be our retirement home.

We have plans on the go – they keep changing as the years pass – somehow the 3 year fight with the insurers left us drained and now life has just taken over so much ( we have had a wedding and 3 grandchildren since the flood) we barely can find the time to sit and discuss what the future might be. We could just have the place renovated but I am so scared it might all happen again and although I can cope with the flood and the practical things I could never cope with the wrangle we had with the insurers to get our money, they make you feel like some kind of criminal who is trying to defraud them. We were fully insured and even they agreed that in the end.

Part of the problem was a useless building surveyor who eventually left – had it not been for DH knowing about buildings and contracts etc we could have had a big problem on our hands. They could never add up either and had it not been for my job in finance and a keen eye we would have been robbed of thousands of pounds due when they made payments to us.

I know we must get on and do something – the caravan is far too cosy but is not a long term answer. I am hoping 2020 will be the year – let’s hope everyone in the family keeps well and problem free to allow us more time to progress.

There is always a silver lining though and I am waiting for it! xx

dear diary :: sing to me, Autumn

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

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

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

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

Oh and have you thought about Christmas yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a lovely day x

seasons :: all is safely gathered in

Come, ye thankful people, come;

Raise the song of harvest home.

All is safely gathered in

Ere the winter storms begin.

God, our Maker, doth provide

For our wants to be supplied.

Come to God’s own temple, come;

Raise the song of harvest home.

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

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

I feel now that I am well gathered!

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

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

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

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

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