My youngest child, my third-born and final baby is 15 today. Fifteen…

A couple of years ago her birthday fell on a Monday and I picked thirteen flowers for a Monday vase to celebrate her day. This morning, what with the sunshine and a lull in the raging winds, I decided to see if I could find 15 flowers in the garden to mark the occasion. I cheated slightly – there are two primroses but they are different colours. From left to right above, they are:

Narcissus ‘Carlton’
Narcissus ‘February Gold’
Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’
Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ (Honeywort)
Calendula officinalis (Pot marigold)
Calendula officinalis ‘Sunset buff’
Muscari (Grape hyacinth)
Lamium (Dead nettle; wild flower)
Pulmonaria officinalis (Common lungwort)
Primula vulgaris (yellow)
Primula vulgaris (pink)
Osteospermum (African daisy)
Hellebore orientalis (Lenten rose)
Geum rivale (Water avens)
Narcissus ‘Red Devon’

My darling girl, all arms and legs, fizzing with energy and a zest for life, is fast becoming a young woman. She’s 5’8″ to my 5’5″. She fits into my going-out dresses that I’ve been saving in the hope that she’ll one day like to wear them (I can barely squeeze into them these days and I rarely go out). She has long dark hair and a gorgeous smile and, happily for her dad, she’s dismissive of all boys because she has two brothers and she knows what they’re like. No one has so far impressed her. She is fiercely loyal and has a deep sense of justice. She loves music and dancing and her friends and avocado and cake (not all together). She is ridiculously over-enthusiastic about random things in that way that only teenage girls are. She’s a great mimic and is good at languages, numbers and science. She’d love to be a doctor but she can’t stand the sight of blood. She’s completely in touch with her emotions and cries easily; there’s no bottling it up with her. She is often incredibly anxious about new situations, school work and exams and travelling. She’s loving and caring and kind but she knows which buttons to press to wind her brothers up into a fury. Her room is the untidiest in the house – she leaves wet towels on the floor, banana skins on her desk and never puts her clothes away. She and I have that unfortunate clash of female hormones (menstrual and menopausal) and we occasionally fall out but it never lasts long. She’s my daughter and I love her with all my heart.

My three seven years ago when they were 8, 10 and 12. They’d be mortified if I showed photos of them as they are now!


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Today I am mostly drifting around the house in a fragile daze, force-feeding the washing machine and drier, folding laundry very slowly and drinking a lot of tea. I am not working, nor am I doing many of the things I probably should be doing. It has been a weekend of mighty proportions, I haven’t had enough sleep and I have quite possibly drunk rather too much champagne.

As I mentioned last week, David turned 50 and I couldn’t let his half-century go by without marking it, so I plotted a secret celebration: A Party. Not an enormous one but a gathering of a few friends and family from near and far. His brother and sister-in-law travelled from Norfolk; his sister and brother-in-law from the north-west. The three siblings rarely get together these days (busy lives, geographically distant), so I was near to bursting with excitement at the thought of this reunion. How we kept all the preparations and plans quiet, I do not know. My eldest almost let the cat out of the bag on the phone to his dad last week but managed to recover the situation with characteristic aplomb.

I won’t bore you with all the details but the planning paid off. David and the boys went out for some father/son bonding in the afternoon and my daughter and I rushed about preparing the house. He came home, walked through the kitchen without clocking the fairy lights, streamers and piles of food and drink (really!), and into the lounge where his brother and sister were waiting. He was totally surprised and delighted to see them and was further surprised and delighted when our friends started to arrive. The evening passed in a happy haze of laughter, champagne, good food* and sparkling conversation. After dinner, after the candles on the cake had been blown out, when everyone was merrily chatting and drinking, I settled back with my glass and surveyed the scene – you could feel the love in the room and it was brilliant.

We spent yesterday with the family – a late breakfast, a soggy dog-walk in the driving rain, a hearty Sunday lunch – then it was time for them all to head home. It is so easy to let months, even years, drift by without getting together with the people you care about. This weekend has reminded us to make the effort to do it more often.

* If you are interested, I made the following food (for 20 people):
1. Two types of canape – mini tartlets filled with a basil leaf, half a teaspoon of goat’s cheese, topped with half a cherry tomato and blinis topped with creme fraiche and smoked salmon
2. A Vegetarian Chilli (which I’ve mentioned before here), served with rice and Bay and saffron-roasted Cauliflower (from Anna Jones’s  A Modern Way to Eat)
3. A Bitter Orange Tart (from Nigella Lawson’s Simply Nigella), which was delicious, and a Chocolate Cheesecake (from Lucy Cufflin’s Lucy’s Food)
4. Mary Berry’s Fast Christmas Cake (because David’s favourite type of cake is fruit cake).



A weekday walk

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Chilham Castle
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Snowdrops and daffodils
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Birthday man and his dog

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Tudor house with pleached limes. It was raining at this point, so difficult to get a good photo.
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Birthday beer


David was 50 yesterday. He’s been remarkably mellow in the run-up and took it all in his stride. I was wondering whether he’d wake up and have some major melt-down thingumy but, thankfully, he didn’t. He was so happy to have an extra day at home and a day off work that the age situation didn’t ruffle his feathers at all. And quite right too. Having reached my half-century in August I can vouch for it being absolutely fine. Better than fine, in fact. I am blazing a trail.

Being a Tuesday, the children begrudgingly went off to school (they hate the thought of fun being had when they’re not around) and we had a leisurely start to the day. I’d asked David what he’d like to do – anything, limited budget allowing – but all he wanted to do was to go for a decent walk and have a pub lunch. We drove to Chilham (a beautiful 15th-century village near Canterbury) and followed a circular 5-mile route from the village, through fields of sheep, along woodland paths and country lanes, past the river Stour and back to the village pub. It was a dull, grey, windy old day and the light levels were low (hence the darkish photos) but it was totally lovely to spend time together and catch up. That sounds daft but as he works away for most of the week and our weekends are busy, busy, busy there’s precious little time alone together and we are spectacularly rubbish at making it a priority.

We discussed our holiday plans for this summer (a long-awaited trip to the USA. Yes, I know! Exciting!); we talked about the children and how blinking proud we are of them and how well they’ve settled in to life here; we reviewed where we are with the house renovation (ongoing) and garden (always ongoing, as it should be); and we enjoyed the walking and the fresh air and the beautiful countryside. It was fabulous and precious, all the more so because it’s so rare. The children and I have more treats in store for him this weekend but I can’t tell you about them in case he reads this post. He doesn’t often read my blog, unless I tell him to have a look at the photos while he’s away, but sod’s law he would if I told you about our secret plans!

Have a great week. I will report back after the weekend 🙂

Rainstorms and sunshine

Before all the heavy rain we had this week I cut back our lavender bushes at the front of the house. Planted as plugs last autumn, this is their first year of flowering and the first time they’ve been cut back. Experts say that hardy lavenders should be cut by mid-August to ensure there’s enough time for the plants to put on some growth before the winter. I was determined to do this properly (we’ve been slapdash in the past and ended up with woody, floppy lavenders), so I read up on what to do – some said cut back to about 20cm, others said to cut back to just above where you can see little nodules of growth on the stems. I’ve done both. I cut about eight plants back hard but that did look very severe, so I cut the rest to approximately 20cm-domes. The smell was amazing and I had to dodge the bees who were still buzzing about. I felt a bit bad about removing their food source, but I didn’t want to leave it much longer and run the risk of leggy lavender. Oh no, not this time. I’m aiming for perfect, healthy, prolific bushes that will last for years…

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I also pulled out all the poppies from the veg patch before they spread seeds everywhere. There were lots of them this year and we let them grow to see what their flowers were like. Not nice, it turned out – a candy pink with yellow centres – so we don’t want them popping up again next year.

I've cut all the self-sown poppies down before they spread their seeds everywhere. I didn't particularly like them – they were a candy pink with yellow centres so don't really want them popping up everywhere again next year.

My goodness, the rain! The wheelbarrow abandoned under the cherry tree is full to the brim with water. Yes, it’s great for the garden but it’s been SO windy and the rain so heavy that it’s flattened the borders in places, knocked off a load of apples and autumn leaves and mostly confined us to the house.

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There was plenty of sunshine inside our house on Wednesday, though. It was my birthday. Quite a big birthday. (Shh, my 50th.) It’s taken me rather by surprise. I didn’t mind 30, or even 40, but 50 is undeniably getting older. Definitely middle-aged. Oh well. I should thank my lucky stars that I have good health, a wonderful family and fabulous friends. I had a thoroughly lovely day, filled with flowers and laughter and went to bed feeling very grateful and happy.

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That’s me with my youngest and eldest. We tend to be difficult to photograph, pulling faces, being silly, and this was the best of the lot!

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Wishing you a very good weekend filled with sunshine (real or imagined) and smiles.