Thursday, 22 June 2017

Midsummer notes

As we head towards the end of the school year, there's a lot going on. More birthday parties, summer fairs, village fetes, book fairs, school trips... 

Not to mention that last weekend I lost a large part of a (Joe-free) Sunday. Completely my own fault: the hangover from hell. Cue the whole 'Never again' self-talk alongside the accompanying nausea, pounding headache and light-headedness. It was a good party though.

We've been trying to complete a job I wish we'd never started: painting the gable end of the house and the kitchen extension. Said gable end and extension are coated in pebbledash. Pebbledash is a nightmare to paint. You have to stipple. And bits of pebble come off so you then have to go back and redo those bits too. It takes a very long time to cover a very small area.

It was all my idea. I take full responsibility for it.

We visited our friend's plant nursery over in Cheshire again, which meant Joe got to collect eggs from the nesting boxes and to play on the old tractor. And we came home with a car boot full of lovely things to put in the garden.

Speaking of which, now my mum's house is sold I picked up a few of her plants: some big, fleshy geraniums in terracotta pots for the kitchen window and a lavender for the outside steps. I like the idea of continuation - she's gone but the living things she tended are now mine to take care of and enjoy.

I've been busy printmaking, writing and drawing. Then photographing things for the online shop. I'm planning to go and collect more flowers for pressing, especially now the nearby fields are full of tall grasses and wildflowers. I'm so inspired by them that I wrote a piece for Creative Countryside (here, if you'd like to take a look).

I've managed the odd little walk alone and am hoping to get out after lunch today. The skies are looking a bit ominous and it's damp out, which is just how I like it - always better for taking photographs when your preference is for the darker side of things.

After the stifling heat of the past few days it's a relief to feel a breeze. We had the gazebo out in the garden so Joe could play without getting burnt (despite his factor 50, super-sticky suncream). He loves getting dirty and the suncream acts as both a magnet and a fixative.

This week's obsession: making 'stock', 'soup' and ice lollies with water, bark chippings and herbs picked from the borders. Tasty.

Recently I wrote about being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Well, I'll be honest: that diagnosis just didn't feel right to me. After many years of symptoms, from gruelling fatigue to feeling cold all the time, gastritis to brain fog (and so very many things in between: gluten intolerance, suspected coeliac disease, B12 malabsorption to name just a few) I decided to do my own research.

I looked at some blood results I'd received earlier this year, I read some (reputable) books and articles and I went to see the doctor. I even took Jay with me for a bit of support. And it turns out that I have autoimmune thyroiditis. The condition I've been convinced has been behind all these issues all along.

Someone finally listened.

So I had yet more blood tests, and I get the results this afternoon. The doctor wants to start me on medication. It's a relief.

But I'm also a great believer in functional medicine, and despite being pleased that I'm going to get treatment at last, I also want to address the cause. So I'm currently doing the AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) which aims to calm inflammation and stop the immune system going haywire through eating simple, non-processed foods and taking supplements to heal the gut. It's very restrictive but I'm almost three weeks in and other than the gin-related episode on Saturday night, I'm feeling pretty good. Not to mention I've lost 8 pounds. 

A few things: firstly - if you know something isn't right with your health, be persistent. Find out about things. Make notes. Ask for second opinions if necessary. And going private isn't necessarily going to solve everything (when I spent £250 on a private consultation with an endocrinologist I was sent away having been told to take some vitamins). Spending rather a lot with a herbal practitioner didn't get me very far either. I do prefer this natural approach, but in the end it was a young doctor in my NHS practice who came good.

Secondly: please don't write any scary comments about thyroid issues! I'm feeling a bit panicky at the moment. That solitary walk after lunch is definitely needed...

Enjoy these long midsummer days.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Up in the air

It's almost a week since we returned from our (now annual) week on Skye. Only one rainy day was had - so we lit the fire, took hot baths and did our best to keep Joe occupied - and the rest of the time it was magical.

Dolphins, seal boat trips, castles, rusty old lighthouses, gardens, forest walks, beautiful beaches, mountains, bluebells, cuckoos... And solitude.

Things are a bit up in the air at the moment. In small ways and more significant ones.

My stepdad has sold the house he and my mum shared. It's far too big for just him so in some ways I feel sad but in others relieved. It just doesn't feel the same there any more. I always picture her waiting for us at the kitchen window, or summoning me upstairs to try on clothes. Visiting that house is hard.

He's offered me a few pieces of furniture and I'd like to have them. It's just a case now of figuring where they'll go in our little cottage.

Fortunately one of my friends lives in a house which owned the old village wood yard, so there's an outbuilding where I can store a particularly troublesome desk. The rest... Well, we'll just have to move things around a bit.

We're also wanting to put our house up for sale soon. There are a few health-related problems I want to deal with first though, so no solid plans just yet.

What we'd intended to do in terms of moving has shifted a bit, too. This after plenty of research and speaking to lots of people. But we're still keen to get moving and I'll share more once we actually know the details and mobilise ourselves into action!

And now we need to replace the hallway carpet (which was only fitted last year). On Tuesday afternoon I pulled the ironing board out of the understairs cupboard and tipped a tub of black masonry paint all over the floor. The resulting slick was an inch thick and about two feet wide.

The carpet, by the way, is an oatmeal colour.

I didn't take it well. Jay had to come home from work early to help.

Later that evening I learned that Joe needed a bug costume for the following morning. Cue panicked block-printing of an old T-shirt and stitching of muslin into moth wings.

He came downstairs way after bedtime to see how I was 'getting on' and managed to kick a cup of as-yet untouched tea all over the living room carpet. I may have yelled at him, then issued a grovelling apology shortly afterwards.

So what with arranging transport (and space) for furniture, needing more masonry paint to finish the gable end, and trying to find a carpet fitter, things are a bit all over the place.

Let's not even get started on politics.

And to round off this frankly rather self-indulgent whinge-fest (sorry about that): I just finished a book which had a sort of inconclusive ending. I managed all the way through to stop myself from peeking. I won't name the book (unless you ask) but the whole storyline was leading up to whether (or not) something would happen. And now I'll never know.

Anyway, there are more pretty pictures from Skye (without the commentary) here, if you'd like a look.

Have a great weekend. I've overdone it with the news lately so am hoping to perhaps unplug and do a few more mindful things instead.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

No words, just a sentiment

Enjoy the little moments with your loved ones. Make more of them. That's what matters the most.

No hashtags or Facebook picture filters, just thinking of those in Manchester.

Friday, 19 May 2017

A post-birthday post...

Yesterday was my birthday. And, as usual, I took myself off for the morning and visited Hebden Bridge. It was a bit of a pain getting there: sheep in the road (there are always sheep in the road), slow-moving tractors and so on. But get there I did.

I didn't take my camera though. And I should have. So many things to photograph, so many missed opportunities... beds full of purple alliums, trees heavy with blossom, rows of terraces with names like 'Thistle Bottom', 'Groudle Glen' and 'Woodland Dell'. 

So instead you have some pictures of our activities these past few weeks, and the May loveliness that's blooming away and perfuming our woodland walks.

Yes, so - Hebden Bridge. We visited a fortnight or so ago. Joe was being a nuisance so I decided to return alone on my birthday for a mooch around in peace, and perhaps to spend some birthday money. But when it came to it, I didn't really feel in the mood. I did, of course, buy Joe something (three books, to be exact). But after an hour and a bit of wandering around, admiring the lovely shops and topping up my vitamin D levels, I headed back home.

I did, however, meet up with two of my best friends in the village cafe for lunch. Turned out to be a bit of a panic as I suddenly decided to call in at Ramsbottom beforehand and look in the clothes shop there. And yes, I spent my birthday money. Just like that. On a Seasalt raincoat.

I already have one like this, purchased two (or was it three?) birthdays ago. But there's always room for more outdoor clothing in my wardrobe. And I tend to buy the one expensive thing which I wouldn't normally treat myself to at any other time of the year. I go for quality and know it'll last. This particular coat has a lifetime guarantee which is reassuring.

Birthday money gone (it never hangs around), I ate lunch with my lovely friends who had kindly clubbed together and treated me to a voucher for an aromatherapy massage - I can't wait for that - before going to collect Joe from school.

We ate chocolate and biscuits together in the kitchen and I decided that my birthday had been very nice indeed, if a bit hectic. I suspect a lie-in, a daytime bath and the chance to lounge around with a book all afternoon will happen on a future 18th of May.

I have been spoilt though. Another lunch last Saturday, lovely gifts, cards and well wishes. It's hard when I think of spending these special times with my mum so I like to imagine she's around somewhere, keeping an eye on proceedings and perhaps guiding me over that sheep-bothered moor road.

So I'm now 42. It looks older on paper (or screen) than I feel inside. I'm still the same person as I was twenty (twenty five?) years ago. Older, a little bit wiser, definitely more tired, but still as confused and silly. In a good way.

I did go out for a very brisk walk this morning though. In the spirit of taking care of myself and all that. I felt so virtuous that after lunch I finished my birthday chocolate off. Like I said, only a little bit wiser.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

May miscellany - and a confession

This picture makes me laugh. Not because Joe's cute (he is) but because the farmer next door had to wave back. Said farmer isn't the friendliest. But you'd have to be a real misery to ignore a disarmingly smiley four-year-old.

I've been a little bit absent lately, at least in an online capacity. Ironically enough it's online stuff that's been keeping me busy. I'm currently doing battle with Squarespace and Squarespace is winning. It's taking a lot of stubbornness to keep going, but I'm determined to build a new blog.

It doesn't help that everyone I mention it to says how easy Squarespace is to master. But my graphic designer friend came over the other morning and was just as bewildered as me so that somehow made me feel a bit better. In other words, I'm not thick. Just digitally challenged.

So the constant tinkering and experimenting has eaten up a lot of my non-Joe time. Which means not much blogging or Instagramming action. 

Still, it's May. 

So plenty of bank holiday stuff going on (mainly walks); we've stayed local and wandered through the woods and near the river. We sometimes take a packed lunch or Joe's bike with us. It's heartening to see everything becoming very green.

I just wish these winds would die down. Blue skies, bright sunshine and it would be warm were it not for the constant blasting of chilly air. The washing's getting whipped off the line. Bins are being blown over.

So, what's in the miscellany?

Books. I've just read Secrets of the Sea House by Elizabeth Gifford. Quite timely as we're off to the Hebrides again in three weeks. I loved the folklore and the way it switched back and forth from current day to the 1860s.

And now I'm onto Alexander McCall Smith's The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine. The next in the series, Precious and Grace, is already waiting on the bedside table (which is, in actual fact, an old chair). And I'm also dipping in and out of The Sleepyhead's Bedside Companion by Sean Coughlan. It's great; lots of little facts and bits of history about all things sleep-related. His style of writing is light and humorous so nothing too challenging late in the evening.

All were found at my local library. I love that place. And I was so pleased to see there's a move away from e-books back to actual physical ones.

Television. I recently discovered Versailles and am completely addicted to it. Praise be for catch-up T.V. We're also watching Second Chance Summer: Tuscany - it seems that BBC2 is the current favourite around here.

Travels. I went up to the outskirts of Bradford a few weeks ago, to meet up with Susanna who runs this beautiful online shop. We first met last summer at the Gather.Harvest.Feast. event in the North East and we're doing a little bit of something together later in the summer.

We had lunch and a wander around Salt's Mill, Saltaire. I've always wanted to visit and it's only an hour's drive away. It's a fantastic place, particularly if you're a creative type, and I really want to go back and explore the village. Joe would love it - there's a train station - and the architecture looks so imposing. The cobbled roads, the quaintly-named streets with their blue and white signs, the little independent shops...

Eating. A bit too much. I actually emptied half a jar of Nutella into the bin this morning. Joe (inexplicably) doesn't like it, whereas I do. A lot. There's still chocolate stashed everywhere from Easter and whilst I won't eat anything bought for Joe, anything else is up for grabs. Hence the bin episode. If there's anything tasty and unhealthy knocking around I'm all over it.

And in the spirit of stating the obvious: fat-free yogurt isn't a patch on the creamy, full-fat Greek stuff. Frozen berries without honey drizzled on are squint-makingly sour. And so on. Being virtuous isn't enjoyable. 

Work. Other than my ongoing Squarespace nightmare, I do have other things on the go. It's plant pressing season. The hedgerows are getting very dense and I'm collecting and squashing like there's no tomorrow. Once I've got plenty of stuff stored I know I can make prints throughout the year.

I've been writing pieces for Creative Countryside and This is Your Kingdom. There are line drawings and sketches to be done, social media updates, bits of admin. My online shop needs updating. Which means more product photography. And I need to do a lot of making.

In fact, I'm considering going to this in the hope of getting myself going creatively again.

So, that confession.

I dyed my hair. After several months of growing the colour our, of watching the grey appear - well, I got tired of it. Because it was taking ages. Because the condition felt rubbish. And because the little flyaways, all silver and pale on top of the (natural) dark brunette underneath, were making me resemble a crazy cat lady.

So I bought some dye. A shade too dark, as it turns out. That necessitated a 7am trip to the supermarket for a bottle of Head and Shoulders (which, apparently, lightens things if you've gone a bit too far over to the dark side). In case you're wondering: it doesn't work.

Joe, however, was delighted to be out food shopping before school. Especially when he got to choose chocolate brioche rolls for breakfast.

I'm back to brown again. I have to say, despite the iffy shade, my hair feels much sleeker and softer. Probably something to do with nasty chemicals so moving swiftly on: that horrid, demonic doll peering out of an empty house (above) the other day scared the living daylights out of me.

I do like her hair though. It's what I was going for in the first place. How come she managed it and I didn't?

Thursday, 20 April 2017


It's been a while.

It's been Easter. Two and a bit weeks off school and (for the most part) away from the digital world.

School actually finished very early for Easter. Most of the others in the locality are still off this week. But Joe went back on Tuesday (wearing shorts). The warm weather didn't last though. We're back to grey skies and chilly winds.

It was gloriously warm and sunny at the beginning of the holidays; Joe went to stay with his grandparents for a few nights so we took a walk, ate lunch outdoors and got on with some DIY. It had to be done.

Still, those two days of painting and repairs were quite relaxed. It always helps when the sun's shining and the windows are open and the washing's out on the line. Even sanding and undercoating doesn't seem too bad.

Joe came home having ridden on trains and zip wires. He was very excited.

Meanwhile, the Easter eggs continued to accumulate.

It was good fun, actually. Jay rattled the letterbox and Joe ran out to find a letter from the 'Easter Bunny' (me), telling him to go on a hunt for the eggs. So he did. It broke my heart a little bit, I'll be honest, to witness just how gullible he is. But the intentions were honourable.

We went to a birthday party a few days later with another egg hunt. So there's a lot of chocolate around at the moment.

The garden's starting to fill out now. Fruit is - well, fruiting. The Honesty plant I put in last year has shot up and is smothered in white flowers. The Dicentras are dripping with inverted pink hearts.

 The forget-me-nots, not so much. I thought they were supposed to spread everywhere...

Joe and I have been out hunting for bluebells, picking nettles and wild garlic, paddling in the river and playing in the park with friends. We've made things with clay, built with empty boxes and baked Garibaldi biscuits. We've drawn and coloured, visited the cafe and walked, cycled and taken little excursions in the car.

But we like the woods best.

I actually prefer being there when it's a bit damp and overcast. 

It's getting very green under the trees. I need to head out next week to collect plants for pressing, ready to make prints, and maybe I'll do some sketches too.

It's a lovely time of year. Next we'll have hawthorn blossom and cow parsley, so maybe we'll head back over to Cheshire to visit family and walk among the hedgerows.

The first cuckoo flowers (or Lady's Smock) are out. They always remind me of being little, and of picking them for my mum from the field across the road.

The blossoms are in full swing. 

But I think the herbs in the garden might need replacing. They've gone a bit woody and bedraggled-looking. Joe enjoys picking them to make 'spells' with. We stirred them up with some empty snail shells and pebbles, and made little brooms too with the prunings from our birch tree.

In the spirit of spring I'm trying to like the fact that, again, the sparrows have built a nest right outside our bedroom window. Let's face it though, they're noisy little buggers. Especially first thing in the morning.

Still, it's a good feeling to finally emerge from the dark winter days and see everything coming to life. I've even painted my toenails (silver). 

And now Joe's back at school I'm trying my best to catch up with work, blogging and all those things that get shelved when term ends. I'm glad that I've accepted 'doing it all' isn't the way to go. While he's little, my work is strictly term time only. That way I can just accept that our days are spent doing things together and I can relax and enjoy that. The to-do list can wait.

I hope you had a great Easter.

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