Thursday, 30 April 2015

Goodbye April

I often compare life and feelings to the weather; April has illustrated this perfectly I think. It's been unsettled, stormy and at times it's felt as though we were being tossed about on the high seas. Other times have been sunny and serene and still.

Thank you all for the support you've offered through your kinds words. I'm sorry I haven't been able to respond to all your comments. There's been a sense of keeping our heads above water and just trying to maintain a bit of normality. Difficult to do during a time of crisis, but we're slowly getting there.

April has been a month of walks. Sometimes alone, sometimes with Joe and sometimes with the three of us. These photographs were taken whilst walking along the interestingly-named Michael Wife Lane. It's a strange place - I think this is maybe where autumn comes to reside each year when it's time is over.

A landscape of faded colours and bare trees, lichen and stone.

Family walks seem to require a little bit more by way of entertainment. If Joe's little legs are going to be carrying him any distance we need to factor in animals and paddling and trains and pine cone hunts. So more often than not it's a trip to the 'Deep Dark Wood' as he calls it (a pine plantation on the edge of the village) or 'Durdle Dale' (Irwell Vale). The latter has all the requisite attractions - ponies, chickens, splashy puddles and a little station.

The recent spell of warm, breezy weather resulted in much washing being dried on the line. And lunches eaten outdoors (with ice lollies for dessert). Joe's new Favourite Thing.

The house purchase seems to be going well so far; we're both most excited about the prospect of having a proper garden again. A little garden, granted, but we'll squeeze productivity out of every last inch.

The new garden also has a gate leading directly out into a field where Herdwick sheep graze. And apparently the farmer (our soon-to-be next-door neighbour) is fine about children playing there. So fingers crossed the more detailed survey we've just arranged doesn't come up with anything too frightening...

How sweet is that little woodland garden in the picture? It belongs to the village primary school. What a great place to sit and listen to stories.

There has been much pottering at home too. Planting and growing and planning. My geranium cuttings are now flowering so we have bright red blooms on the kitchen windowsill. And the chilli plants are beginning to bear fruit. Jay has planted beans and pumpkin seeds and we have some dark red sunflower seedlings reaching towards the light.

My magnolia Stellata has been beautiful but is now losing its flowers. The daffodils (we planted a variety pack of bulbs) are still going strong and some of them are so pretty, particularly the smaller ones. The fern's starting to unfurl and our huge Hosta has put out lots of tightly-curled leaves.

I visited my stepdad, Alan, on Monday and his pond was a-squirm with tadpoles. Joe was transfixed. I was so pleased to see little violets, my mum's favourites, dotted about all over the garden.

Alan also has some envy-inducing peonies with big fat buds. I adore peonies. He said I can have one for the new garden (I know they don't like being moved but apparently, if not planted too deeply, they'll flower quite happily).

So, April has been a busy month. A hard one in many ways but also a joyful one. Joe's so inquisitive and it's lovely to go exploring with him as the spring progresses. To look at lambs and birds, to examine flowers and to touch and smell. 

May is almost here. One of my favourite months of the year when the hedgerows really come to life and everything suddenly becomes green. We still have bluebells and wild garlic and hawthorn to enjoy, a trip to Scotland and my birthday (a Big One)...

Again, thank you for your kind words during what's been a very hard time. I really do appreciate them. 

Wishing you a wonderful May.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Blue Friday

Not as in feeling blue. I feel OK - a bit harassed maybe, a bit tired but not down.

This is a post about the colour blue. I decided to write it after coming across a post of Annie's and reading about a link-up over at Tara's blog. The Photo Gallery is simply a weekly get-together where you write a post (with photos) loosely based around a given theme. And this week's theme is 'Colour'.

I opted for blue because of the glorious skies we've had this past week. The photo above was taken when out walking near the house. We're so lucky here; it's maybe five minutes up the road and you go through some woods, climb a stile and head out into open moorland. A stream runs alongside the footpath. I used to come here after work (and a horrible commute) and just sit and decompress for a little while.

Of course, I couldn't do a post without mentioning an exciting find: the first bluebells of the year. We also have muscari in the garden, and there are forget-me-nots growing out of crevices on the roadside.

Yes, I've been playing around on Pixlr. My camera lens hasn't been smeared with dirt.

Blue skies mean washing on the line. Although the forecast for the weekend isn't looking too good so maybe I'll hold off on the washing until next week. Shame.

I'm looking forward to getting out and visiting some of my favourite secret bluebell spots for a meander and a photo-snapping session. I'm also wondering when it would be a respectable time to pour myself a nice G&T. Without going into detail, it's been one heck of a week. The weekend couldn't come soon enough for me.

I hope you have a good one and get the chance to stop and smell the bluebells.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Food memories: 'rubbish'

As in, the kind of rubbish I ate as a youngster. Out of the house. At school. After school.

I was a child of (for the most part) the Eighties. There was a lot of terrible food: Findus Crispy Pancakes, Pot Noodles, boil-in-the-bag fish and so on. Processed stuff was everywhere at the time, although interestingly to this day I've never actually tried a Crispy Pancake. It was back when, post The Good Life and Laura Ashley and the publication of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, we were all about American influences. On TV and film, on fashion, and on food. I remember going to a newly-opened McDonalds for a birthday party and we were all ridiculously excited at the prospect of burgers and fries.

The words 'organic', 'artisan' and 'seasonal' were not yet part of the epicurean vocabulary, let alone that of regular consumers. Food, to a young Me, was exciting: artificially coloured and sweetened and enticingly packaged and advertised. I was, like most children, a sucker for a gimmick. I once went to great efforts to befriend a not-very-likeable girl simply because she had a Soda Stream.

At home we ate simple food, cooked from scratch. It was the least expensive option at the time. The frozen and packaged stuff got short shrift and rarely made an appearance. If it did, it was usually in dessert form (Angel Delight or a just-add-whatever cheesecake topping mixture, or Rowntrees jelly made with tinned fruit suspended in it). Fresh cream during the week wasn't something we had. Instead, Tip Top. Sweet and runny and poured straight from the tin.

At high school we progressed from school dinners and packed lunches to dinner money. This was spent on some truly dreadful foodstuffs. In fact, I can remember very clearly three of my favourite lunchtime options:

1. A hot dog with ketchup and onions, purchased from the ever-present (and now, apparently, banned) ice cream vans parked outside the school gates. The hot dog was invariably followed by a 'screwball' - whippy ice cream in a clear plastic cone with a bubble gum dropped into the bottom and a flake on top.
2. A cheese and onion pie with the lid carefully removed. KP Meanies or a packet of Space Raiders (both cheap, pickled onion flavour 'savoury snacks') were pressed into the cheese filling then the lid was replaced again. This abomination was eaten sitting on the wall of Joan's* shop. The very embodiment of fine dining.
3. A Cornish pasty from the bakery with an iced finger for pudding.
*Joan was one of the angriest women I've ever met. She despised children. Running a shop opposite a high school probably wasn't the wisest career choice.

Oh dear. If I ate like that now I'd be in agony from stomach cramps no doubt, not to mention in need of an entire new wardrobe several sizes up from my current one. When I think of all the sweets (kola kubes, Skittles, cherry lips, gummy bears) and the fizzy pop and the chocolate...

Things didn't improve that much when I progressed to the sixth form. Helping to run the tuck shop wasn't the best favour I ever did for my dietary health. And the little kitchen downstairs served up soggy chips which smelt deliciously of vinegar, and meltingly soft jacket potatoes with their centres scooped out and refilled with bubbling, lightly-browned cheese. Everything was served up in white paper bags which quickly turned transparent from the amount of grease oozing out of the food.

Once I got to university I continued on my path of nutrient-devoid eating, particularly in my second year when I moved out of halls of residence and into a shared house. Kwik Save sold 'Doll' noodles for twenty pence a pack. You covered them with boiling water then sprinkled an alarmingly-hued powder into them, once drained, for flavour. Student food was very bad indeed. My friend Chris once said, in all sincerity, that there was nothing he enjoyed eating more than No Frills bread thickly spread with Stork margarine. I really do hope things got better for him.

Of course, somewhere along the road I found my way again and started cooking and eating well. I do still enjoy a treat but sweets really don't do it for me any more. Chips... Yes, occasionally. And I still love a bag of pickled onion flavoured savoury snacks. But Crispy Pancakes? I don't think I'd ever be tempted. I don't even know if you can still buy them...

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Many things, all small

I did warn you there'd be picture-heavy posts... Next week I'm hoping to lay off the collages a bit and start getting some more structure to things again. I like structure. Already I'm thinking about Food Memories posts, Elegant Economy ideas and so on.

This reflects the fact that things are slowly settling down after the last few weeks. It's still tough and there's much to do but the initial feeling that everything was somehow spinning out of control has started to recede.

And I've been giving a lot of thought to therapeutic things, small things, that help you feel a little bit more anchored when life gets stormy. Here's what's helped me cope a little better lately:

Noticing details. Particularly those outdoors: the petals scattered down from the tree next door; magnolias flowering (mine's just starting to and I'm on bud watch); leaves unfurling.

I did say small, didn't I? A tiny handknit for a tiny girl arrived in the post courtesy of Jay's auntie. 

Swooning over flowering currant bushes. Maybe I'm a bit odd, but I do actually like the smell.

Creating. Drawing, making sun prints, carving a little stamp for home-made Easter cards. I find that this sort of stuff which requires a process is very absorbing and de-stressing. Same goes for baking: reading a recipe, weighing, measuring. And planting seeds and cuttings too.

Of course, I've written about the therapeutic benefits of walking outdoors. Of seeing and breathing in all that green. And yellow. And pink...

A few little treats don't hurt either. Jay bought me a shopping bag. My stepdad brought a miniature rose over on his last visit. And yes, that is another new notebook. 

Spring has been awakening my senses. The colours, the (occasional) warmth, the breezes. And the sounds of running water, rain showers and birdsong. A family of birds are currently nesting right outside our bedroom window. I have to keep telling myself that incessant cheeping at daybreak is preferable to the sound of an alarm clock.

Pottering about in the garden is another thing I find relaxing. Yellow flowers aren't usually a favourite of mine but at this time of year I do actually like them. These yellow-tipped fritillaries are very lovely; we also have some Imperialis ones which have now started to die back (but you can read about them here in my latest Garlic and Sapphire post if you'd like).

It goes without saying that seeing Joe so full of happiness lifts me up no end. There's a particular lane full of the biggest, muddiest puddles and he loves to visit. Maybe we should film him splashing his way from one end to the other.

I'm not usually much of a pink fan either, but again... the spring effect. The peonies on the left remind me of rhubarb. And we've had rhubarb cake already. The leftover stewed fruit has been frozen into lollies.

I'm not the only one who goes seeking out little details. Joe's eyesight is incredible. He notices everything. It's lovely to see him making new discoveries. That sense of wonder... so sweet.

I'm a huge advocate of reading for escapism. Poetry always works, but I'm currently re-reading Rosamund Pilcher's September. It's slightly dull if I'm honest and very reminiscent of when it was published (1990). But slow books have a pleasantly soporific effect on me, a bit like Monty Don's voice.

And in keeping with the early '90s theme, we recently procured the entire Twin Peaks box set. It's a whopping 29 episodes long. You know when there are TV series you wish you'd watched but never did? Well, this is one of them. It's a bit creepy, a bit odd and that theme music sticks in your brain. But it's good to know we've got some enjoyable viewing of an evening. 

Again, thank you for all your kind comments lately. They have helped, just like all these other little things. 

Weekend's almost upon us. I hope you enjoy yours.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Little things, small steps

Firstly, I want to say thank you to everyone who sent their good wishes and their sympathy in response to my previous post. They helped no end. Things are still at that whirlwind stage: phone calls, paperwork, arrangements, visitors (both official and not)... We're getting through things slowly.

Having said that, it would appear that little Poppy will be coming home earlier than anticipated. She's feeding well and getting stronger. There's a Moses basket with sweet little handknitted blankets awaiting her arrival.

You may recall I said I'd be putting some photo-heavy posts together for the moment. Photos capturing the small things which make life that little bit easier. So here they are. Or at least, here are some of them.

I've decided to abandon any serial posts for another week or two, and to simply share what we've been doing with any precious free time we've had. And lately I've turned to my favourite form of therapy: walking. Particularly those solitary ambles along well-known paths, where I can notice the changes taking place as spring gathers pace.

On the home front, we celebrated Easter. Quietly. Just the three of us (my brother and niece had a big family lunch with our auntie and cousins). We ate well and calculated just how long it'll be before we need to buy Joe any more chocolate. The fridge is full of the stuff.

He also had to 'make' an Easter bonnet for nursery. Naturally, I forgot until the morning it was needed. Cue frenzied cutting, painting and Pritt Sticking (me) and being willing to wear it for all of five seconds (Joe).

This was the first year he actually understood the concept of the egg hunt. It didn't take very long for him to figure it out. Although the following day we went to the garden centre where he insisted on looking inside every flower pot, just in case.

The jigsaws were a charity shop find. Quite apt at this time of year, with the whole metamorphosis thing. And we do love the Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Next week looks like it'll be hectic again. Thanks for coming back and reading, and again - I really do appreciate your kind words and thoughts during this tough time.

Monday, 6 April 2015

How We Live Now

It seems a bit too soon since I had to write one of these posts. But something happened last week which I'm hoping will explain my recent absence from all the usual blog-related activities.

I've given it a lot of thought but this is a blog about my life, and that of my family, and I want to share these recent events. Not in detail but simply to let you - readers and friends - know what we've been doing of late. I held off posting over the weekend because it's Easter and people have been enjoying time together and the beautiful weather and the prospect of spring.

Last week my brother's partner of 14 years died unexpectedly. She was 36. They have a four-year-old daughter and a baby girl, born eight weeks prematurely, who is now three weeks old. She's still in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and will be until early May. There are investigations going on into the care my brother's partner received both during and after the birth.

The past week has been spent caring for Joe, my brother and dealing with formalities and the huge emotional impact of what has happened. Suddenly my role as auntie got a whole lot bigger.

We're preparing for the future and ensuring that two little girls and their dad will be fine.

Right now I'm trying to keep on top of things. We had a nice Easter for Joe with egg-hunting and good food and walks. Lots of photos were still taken. But currently it's all about prioritising; apologies for missing any Instagram tags or blog link-ups or contributions. I do have some draft posts which I may publish over the next week or so. And I have been reading all your blogs.

Again, like when my mum passed away, I might publish some picture-heavy posts chronicling the good things in life, the little things. They're the most important things too.

I hope I haven't saddened anyone with this news. I will be back, and I will be reading. And I know you'll understand.


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