Thursday, 31 July 2014

July


In an attempt to avoid collage overload, a departure from my usual end-of-month photo extravaganza. Instead: just the three. I think they illustrate July around here perfectly. Hot days, roses, floral scents emanating from sun-warmed petals... and then the Weather sets in.

The Weather. In my mind it really does merit that W as it's such a big part of life here in the Valley. And right now it's made a return to what we locals know best: mizzle, brooding skies, whippy breezes. Yesterday Joe and I took a little walk and managed to avoid the rain (this morning it's here and there's no escaping it). I don't mind too much. For now. Ask me again in a few days*. 


As much as I'm savouring the coming of autumn we still have a long, potentially hot (who knows?) August to go. And it should be a good one - Joe's second birthday is right at the very end of it. We're hoping my mum's well enough to accompany us to the seaside for a celebratory picnic. It may be a windswept affair.

I also have some nice bloggy plans coming up. And as the month goes on I'm going to be compiling a list  - yes, another one - of all the things I love about autumn, and all the things I'd like to do. So not so much a to-do list in terms of chores and jobs, as one filled with things which are fun, relaxing and creative.


So this is just a quick post to bid July goodbye, wave hello to August... and now I'm off to find my wellies.

*Most playgroups and the like are closed for the summer and we may have to brave one of those indoor play centres. 



Monday, 28 July 2014

Weekend


So, after my last post, we kept it simple this weekend: family and home. Walks straight from the doorstep. Good food. Lie-ins still elude us but you can't have everything.


I know it's high summer but there are signs of autumn slowly creeping in. The very thought of it excites me. My favourite time of year.


I hope you had a good weekend too.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Losing yourself



It seems to be a modern-day affliction: Too Much To Do syndrome. Overwhelm. I know lots of people suffer from it; I just need to visit other blogs to read about how we're struggling under waves of to-dos, feeling as though we're just about keeping our heads above water. Nothing gets finished. If it does, it's not done to our satisfaction.

I'm starting to feel stressed by all the things demanding my time and attention. The simple fact is that there are not enough hours in the day to deal with it all. In terms of priorities, Joe comes first. He's a year old (almost two) and it goes without saying that, during his waking hours, I'm the one who takes care of all his needs. There are many. A close second to Joe: home and family. Keeping things running smoothly so Jay and I have a nice home with a clean bed to climb into at night and good food on the table.


Then there are all the other demands: friends and wider family, blogging, chores, admin - phone calls, form-filling, banking. Helping with playgroup (and the old ladies up at the church are a pretty demanding bunch, believe me). Getting involved in the Incredible Edible scheme. Commitments. Somewhere near the bottom of the list is taking time out to relax. Even lower than that: creative pursuits.

Back here I wrote about the whole needing to slow down thing. I fear I'm reaching that same breaking point again.

So I've done my best to deal with it before things get too much.

Yesterday I did some timetabling and wrote a huge to-do list. It was actually quite frightening and anxiety-inducing to look at. But look at it I did. I separated it into sections then categorised it in terms of what needs to be done daily, every few days, weekly and monthly. I felt a bit better.


My mind is as busy as I am. Busy, by the way, doesn't necessarily mean productive. But by writing things down I feel a little bit more in control. I know what I need to do, how important it is, and when it needs to be done by. I picture my mind and thoughts and ideas as being like a street on a windy day with sheets of paper blowing about all over it. I'm always running after the paper, trying to catch it but not quite getting there before it's whipped away out of my reach again.

Writing down to-dos, ideas, plans: it's like grabbing all those pieces of paper, shuffling them into a neat pile and putting a great big paperweight on top.

The day-to-day housekeeping and admin list is stuck up on the fridge. The creative to-do list (now reformatted into a timetable/schedule): blog post ideas, schedules, photography tasks and so on, lives on the drawing board in my workspace.

Yes the lists are still long and daunting. But the thoughts and ideas have been safely committed to paper. And not in my usual scrappy way of a scribble on this bit of post-it and a cryptic note in that exercise book. It's made me feel slightly more in control and a couple more steps further away from the brink of freak-out.

Finally, a list of things I find help me to slow my racing mind. They're absorbing and somehow transport me away from the worry of an ever-growing to-do list and the panic of having forgotten to do something urgent. Feel free to make any suggestions, by the way. It's always interesting to know what other people do to relax.

Cooking. The slow, several-stages type. Baking a cake or making a pie or a soup.

Walking. Being outdoors somewhere green.

Colouring. Yes, really. Grown-up colouring books from discount bookshops are better than telly. Most of the time, anyway. The simple acts of choosing colours and staying inside the lines just works for me somehow.

Reading. Fiction, not factual stuff. Comfort books are my best escape (and children's fiction works a treat).

Pinterest. Pretty pictures to gaze at. Loads of them. Enough said.


I've also cleared out my bags of the usual detritus which collects in them and sorted out my jewellery box. Little organising sessions always leave me feeling better - they're like small victories and you gain a sense of accomplishment from them. They're therapeutic. And now I can go into the weekend feeling on top of things and a bit more in control...

Hope you have a great (and relaxing) weekend too.

P.S. I know the images for this post are a bit pick-n-mix but that's no bad thing. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Weekend... and Monday


I've got so many things I want to post about but sometimes I just want to record events as they happen (or, in this case, shortly afterwards). This blog is a kind of journal/musings type of place but today's post falls firmly into the journal category.

Since moving back here we've been reacquainting ourselves with things we've always enjoyed, like shopping at the Saturday market and going out walking. But there are others which are on our doorstep and have been on the 'would like to do that at some point' list. 

The first half of the weekend was wet and windy, so we darted in and out of the market (I was there once and the tarpaulin, sagging with a heavy pool of rainwater, finally gave in and emptied itself. I was the poor unfortunate who got a cold shower. I now stay well away from any joins in the roof) and had a little trip to Rossendale Museum. The council recently gave it up and someone heroically stepped in to save the day - it's now a truly lovely place to visit with a great cafe and well-maintained grounds. Should've taken my camera. I never leave my camera behind.

On Sunday we took Joe on the East Lancs Railway. He's a complete locomotive obsessive enthusiast and he loved it. We (the grown-ups) loved the fact that the compartments are excellent for containing energetic and curious toddlers. Oh, to return to the days of proper trains.

This time we remembered the camera. But no, I won't subject you to the many photos of steam trains, diesel engines and the entire contents of Bury Transport Museum. Even I can't face looking at them again.


I mentioned recently we'd been out berry picking. The winberries are so small and laborious to pick that I cooked the small amount we managed to forage with some sugar and topped a cheesecake with them. The result: delicious. Who needs pie anyway? (Answer: me. Chicken pie tonight. It's ages since I made pastry and I'm - ahem - quite excited).


Anyway... the long and sun-filled evenings mean we've been out walking a lot. The temperature's just right post-six, and the sunshine's often accompanied by a little breeze.




The gradually-lowering sun means there are some great shadows to be had. We often wander down the old railway line where the branches of the trees meet overhead. The brighter bits are full of wild raspberries; catch them in the right light and they're illuminated. So much easier to spot than those pesky blue-black winberries.



On Sunday evening we picked a nice bagful so yesterday I made a jar of jam. Fifteen minutes' cooking and normal granulated sugar did the job - raspberries are quite high in pectin so it was a very quick and easy jam to make.


It's going to go in a cake of some sort (as yet undecided). Fruit picked by our own fair (well, pretty scratched now) hands and some sugar. That's it. Simple pleasures indeed.

Hope you're having a good week and that the weather's being kind.

Friday, 18 July 2014

A Place Where...


...Everyone Natters. That's what the 'Welcome to Lancashire: A Place Where Everyone Matters' sign, up on the West Pennine moors, has been altered to read. Yes, I laugh each time I drive past because it's just so true.

Being a full-time mum to a toddler means I'm usually out and about at playgroups or the swimming baths or park. Other days it's just me and Joe doing our thing. And whilst that's fun and I savour those times, it would be a bit dishonest to suggest that I don't enjoy adult conversation too. Taking on the persona of a children's TV presenter during daylight hours is both exhausting and slightly crazy-inducing.

Lucky for me then that Lancashire (and Rossendale, the valley in which we dwell) is full of natterers. Jay thinks it's funny. I like that people say hello when you pass them whilst out walking. Especially in that lovely broad accent. I talk a lot. So does Jay actually. The other week a little old lady stopped me in the supermarket to say how nice it was that I was constantly chatting to Joe as we did the shopping.

I wasn't even aware I was doing it. There's a continual monologue going on in my head anyway so it's not entirely surprising that it finds its way out of my mouth too.


Yesterday we went for a walk around Helmshore, the place where I grew up. Yes we could have got there on foot but I drove. It was hot and there are hills. Lots of hills.


The woods, the footpaths, the fields... all scenes of childhood games and adventures, pony rides and picnics. Then later on teenage trysts and illicit cider drinking.

Whilst out and about we got chatting to some nice people and passed the time talking about characters around the village past and present, and the usual things: do-you-remembers, who sold what house and all the rest of it.

Joe and I continued on our merry way, stopping to pick some raspberries then heading down to the park: Snig Hole, as it's known to locals. Snigs, apparently, are eels in ye olde Lancashire. The 'Hole' bit refers to the river where said snigs lived until they were caught and eaten by the eel-loving locals.

It was ridiculously hot. We ate a packed lunch and played on the swings, and I bumped into a few of the mums from playgroup. More stories and chatter were exchanged. And then a friendly girl with two small children introduced herself so we had a lengthy conversation too.


On the way back up yet another hill to where the car was parked, an old schoolfriend (and one time suitor - I think it lasted roughly a week) pulled up in his truck for a chat. He's a farmer and he was taking his lunch break from, erm, farming so we had a catch-up too. 


I do love all this talking, passing-on of information. I love the impromptu nature of it; of seeing people you know when you're out walking, and talking to friendly strangers too. The word 'stranger' often has creepy connotations but you know what I mean. Little conversations here and there often bring things to light: you always know someone mutually or both remember something from a long time ago.

Even the odd bit of gossip isn't a bad thing. Not the malicious type - just the 'Ooh, really?' sort. Like finding out all about the big feud between the baker and the butcher in our village. My mum thinks Edenfield (where we live) is annoying because everyone knows your business. I don't mind that. It's far preferable to the strange anonymity of those places where people don't speak to, or even acknowledge, their neighbours.


I've just become aware that this post is starting to ramble. You can type too much as well as talk to much, it seems.

Anyway... later in the evening we headed out to a meeting for Incredible Edible. We're hoping to extend the scheme to Edenfield and went along to find out more. It was the best kind of meeting. A beautiful balmy evening up on the edge of the moors, sitting around a wooden table in a farm yard. It just so happens that I more or less grew up on this farm - I kept my pony there and every evening and weekend I was to be found somewhere on their forty-odd acres. Going back was lovely. It's changed a lot but in a good way.


So we sat in the sun and talked and planned and Joe looked at the chickens and stables and played on a porch swing. It was lovely. And it wasn't as much a meeting as a big, well, natter.

Welcome to Lancashire.

Have a great weekend!


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Latelies


Firstly, I would like to say thank you to everyone who read and commented on my previous post. I wanted it to reflect the way memories can affect us later in life. However, they are just that: memories. I'm lucky that my experiences are (like most people, I hope) mainly happy ones. But to go through life with nothing unpleasant ever happening would be virtually impossible. It would also be wrong. The occasional struggle makes us stronger and wiser.

Aaaand... normal service is resumed. 

A few things we've been up to of late:


Eating: home-baked spelt bread (it worked and I've discovered that our nice warm attic is the perfect place for dough to rise); rose and lemon Turkish delight from the Artisan market (yes, 'artisan' generally translates as 'expensive' but I treated myself to a little bit and it's delicious); big fat radishes and new season beetroot from the same market (but a whole lot cheaper than the sweeties); tacos with Quorn mince chilli (we moved in here three weeks ago and the whole 'state of chaos' excuse for eating rubbish doesn't really wash any more).


Enjoying: evening walks; sitting up in the attic under the skylight and listening to the rain - we've recently had a thunderstorm or two; showing Joe the 'choo choo train' (he looks for it every day); morning strolls through damp fields.



Spotting: vintage Penguin books (40p each at the car boot sale. They came home with me); hard-to-reach winberries (bilberries) which are tiny but I'm hoping we've got enough for a very small pie; moustachioed cats; the last of the sun's rays illuminating the buddleia.

I hope your July is full of small joys too :)

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Food memories - and a cautionary tale


A while ago I mentioned writing a post on food memories.

Well, that little idea has been growing and forming and I'm at the point where I've found the direction I'd like it to go in. You see, I love writing about memories in general. I also love food: reading about it, shopping for it, growing it, cooking it, and eating it.

Apparently smell is the most evocative of the senses. And I'd agree with that. But taste... Well, that holds a lot of memories too. I can probably list my ten most memorable meals and where I ate them right now (and that's a good future post idea right there).

But the one which brought this whole thing about? Strawberry jam. Appropriate for this time of year when so many people are picking strawberries and jam-making. I don't like strawberry jam. I never buy it. It's not the flavour per se, it's the whole association thing. It quite literally leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

This blog isn't really a confessional but it is mine and I choose to sometimes include personal things. So, a little glimpse into my family history. Brace yourselves.

My parents divorced when I was five. My dad was a serial philanderer and one day - after a long-term affair - he decided to go and set up home with an old schoolfriend (she was also married). So they did. My dad cleared out the finances and the furniture. When my mum came home from work she was greeted by empty rooms and an equally empty bank account. 

Eventually when the dust settled and my dad got married to my stepmother I would go and visit every few weeks. They'd moved to the Midlands with her two children.

I hated going. Seriously. I'd come out in a nervous rash and beg my mum not to make me go. It was awful; the not-so-happy newlyweds would constantly scream and shout at one another (it later transpired my stepmother didn't want my dad paying any maintenance money out; he duly stopped doing just that). She made no effort to disguise her dislike and contempt for me. I'd go there - so very far from home when you're little - and my dad would disappear to the golf course every day, leaving me with my step siblings and Her.


I'd feel so homesick. I'd write letters and postcards home (even if I was only away for the weekend). I missed all the little details of life with my mum and brother - who, incidentally, is actually my half brother as my mum had been married very young to his dad - so he didn't come along on these visits.

Life at home was relaxed, silly, happy. My mum worked hard but my brother is ten years my senior so he took care of me and took me on his adventures outdoors. It was just the three of us and it was a lovely childhood to have.

Staying in the Midlands felt very alien to me. Arguments and shouting and blame. The children were almost an inconvenience. We three ate together (from plastic plates, which I found odd). And the breakfasts... Oh, the breakfasts! Cereal with warm milk which slowly turned into a mush reminiscent of soggy autumn leaves. It made me gag. Occasionally toast with seedless strawberry jam. I've never eaten it since.

Back at home breakfast was creamy porridge in cold weather or bread with honey or jam (of the apricot, damson or raspberry varieties). Glasses of milk. I wasn't a tea-or-coffee-drinking child.

One day, in desperation, I told my stepmother I was allergic to milk. Anything to avoid the warm Shreddies situation. She promptly concocted elaborate milkshakes for the others. Yes, really. Hard to imagine being quite so petty or spiteful to a five-year-old, is it?

So, there you have it. The first food memory and it's not a very happy one. The rest are though, I promise!

And the story has a happy ending of sorts. At the age of eleven I stopped visiting my dad. My mum had asked a solicitor to deal with his non-payment of child maintenance and from that moment on I received no more birthday cards, no phone calls, nothing. Yes it's horrible to be rejected like that but the end of those traumatic visits more than made up for it at the time. And my stepdad now is, in my eyes, my 'real' dad - he's lovely and he adores Joe.

Amazing what the thought of strawberry jam and sludgy cereal can dredge up.

Oh, and something very important I learned from this whole sorry experience: be careful with the feelings of little children because these things can cut very deeply. I'm glad I know this now I'm a parent. It's a valuable thing to remember.
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