Quality time

One of David’s work colleagues took early retirement this week. I asked what he was going to do next and my straight-to-the-point husband answered ‘Not work…’. This guy is a shining example of someone who lives a simple life – he has no mobile phone, no email address, no social media accounts and he is extremely content. It amazes me that anyone can get by these days seemingly so unconnected but he obviously can. His wife does have an email address, though; I think it would be almost impossible to function in today’s society without one. There are a few people in this village who only have a landline and a postal address – you remember – how we all lived about 20 years ago?! It’s extraordinary to think that since about 1997, we’ve gone from being perfectly able to live happy lives reading newspapers, talking on a phone in the hall attached to the wall with a wire, handwriting letters and cards and watching the news on the tv once a day to being connected All The Time, always checking emails, social media accounts and beeping phones, with so much news about the whole wide world coming at us thick and fast. We can find out anything at all – from how to debone a partridge to how long it takes to climb Kilimanjaro on the best route – in minutes. This can be a very good thing and a very bad thing (think self-diagnosis). It’s no wonder our lives are overloaded.

When I went to boarding school aged 12, I used to phone home once a week from the phone box down the road and calls weren’t long. My mum used to write me letters once or twice a week with news from home and that was it. That was all the communication I had with home aged 12. Today, my 18-year-old son has a mobile phone and a laptop – we can call him, text him, email him or Skype him and his brother and sister can see what he puts on Snapchat or Instagram (I can’t because parents and children don’t mix on social media in this household). I am certainly not speaking to him every day but I’ve had a couple of text exchanges and two chats in the past week and I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. On one day I can hear that he’s discovered that his weekly contact hours with the uni are shockingly low, so I spend a sleepless night worrying, and the next day hear it’s ok because he’s chosen his modules and there are more hours and his course sounds brilliant. On another day I hear that he feels very isolated because his halls aren’t on campus and his flatmates are a tad annoying, I fret about him being lonely and then hear that he’s met up with a school friend who is living in halls on campus and has had a great time with him there. Maybe I should tell him I’ll speak to him once a week when he can give me his edited highlights.

I definitely feel slap bang in the classic middle life sandwich situation at the moment. I spent an exhausting and emotional two and a half hours with my mum and a psychiatrist yesterday. He was the first person I’ve seen with her who seemed to have a complete handle on what is going on – he was practical, kind, organised and reassuring; just what you need in a doctor and it was such a relief. Mum has been diagnosed with dementia on top of the Parkinson’s. This is not particularly a surprise for us but it is still a shock and we know now that she’s going to be in for an even tougher ride and we have to pull together even more. There are difficult conversations to have, legal stuff to put in place and practical considerations. I’m not sure I can really continue to write about it here. Personal blogs are just that – personal – and people write about what they want to write about and others either read it or they don’t, but I don’t know if I want to write about it or, even if it helps me to write about it, whether it’s right to do so. My head is in a spin. There is such a thing as too much information and definitely such a thing as too much sharing. I may go quiet for a while and pop up occasionally with flowers. Or I may rant and rave at the world and tell you what we’re having for dinner. Whatever I do, I hope you’ll bear with me.

Right! I have a dog to walk, meals to plan and food to buy. My brother is coming over tomorrow and we’re getting together with my parents for some quality family time. We need to make the best of it while we can. We all need to pack it all in and make the most of every day. Wishing you a lovely weekend, making the most of it with your loved ones.

 

 

 

A January stock-take

One of the best things about blogging is connecting to others throughout this wonderful world of ours – peeping through blog windows into the lives of people I probably wouldn’t ever meet in ‘real life’. One of my favourite windows is The Shady Baker‘s, where Jane writes about and photographs her life in the Australian outback so beautifully and evocatively. This stock-take is borrowed from her latest post (thank you, Jane); she in turn got the idea from Pip (where you can also copy the list if you wish). Taking stock in this way helps to gather my slightly chaotic thoughts into a vague sense of order, which feels altogether the right thing to do in early January.

Making: marmalade this weekend. David is bringing two boxes of Seville oranges home this evening. Making marmalade (and eating it) is one of my favourite things to do.
Cooking: anything that is quick and easy without being too unhealthy (it’s toad-in-the-hole tonight).
Drinking: too much coffee.
Reading: the Persephone catalogue and deciding which books to buy with a Christmas gift voucher. Decisions, decisions.
Trawling: through cupboards and drawers for a lost camera charger. Does anyone else spend far too much time looking for ‘lost’ things?
Wanting: everything to be organised and in the right place.
Looking: for signs of spring.
Deciding: to be more disciplined in my daily routine (yeah, right).
Wishing: I had a magic wand.
Enjoying: bright, cold, early-morning dog walks with friends.
Waiting: for all the daffodils and tulips I planted to peep out of the soil.
Liking: these cold, sunny winter days.
Wondering: if we’ll have snow this year. It snowed the very first winter we were here, in the winter of 2012/13, but there’s been none since.
Loving: the light and the shadows that the winter sun throws.
Pondering: planting ideas for the front terraces of the garden. Fruit trees, grasses, roses…
Listening: to the birds. I heard a lapwing ‘pee-wit’ today – I haven’t heard that sound for years. Three of them flew up from a field and wheeled about in the sky. Pure joy.
Considering: what to do for David’s birthday in a few weeks’ time.
Buying: my daughter a new winter coat in the sales to wear over her school blazer. She currently goes off to school with a scarf…
Watching: the ever-changing clouds and sea.  
Hoping: my daughter will actually wear her new winter coat.
Marvelling: at the excuses my children come up with.
Cringing: at the amount of card and paper recycling we put out this week from Christmas packaging and wrapping.
Needing: to spend more time away from the computer screen. My eyes would benefit, as would my brain.
Questioning: everything and making a conscious effort not to take things at face value.
Smelling: my dog. She needs a bath.
Wearing: layers and layers. I try not to put the heating on during the day, so I end up with jumpers upon jumpers.
Noticing: the lengthening of the days. I’m closing the curtains later than I was before Christmas.
Knowing: that I am fortunate and have a good life (and I am grateful).
Thinking: about the website I’m working on. All the time. I wake up thinking about it and I go to sleep thinking about it.
Admiring: my mother-in-law. She’s in her mid-70s and she has more get-up-and-go than most people I know.
Getting: to grips with mothering teenagers. It’s a constant learning curve.
Disliking: the lazy journalism that seems to abound these days and misuse of terms like ‘liberal elite’ and ‘establishment’.
Opening: a new packet of biscuits more often than is advisable.
Closing: the door to the cold utility room to try to keep the kitchen warm.
Feeling: hungry. I blame the festive over-eating.
Hearing: crying gulls outside and my spluttering coffee machine.
Celebrating: a few January birthdays. It’s hard to muster great enthusiasm after Christmas but it has to be done.
Pretending: to be a competent woman.
Embracing: 2017.

I hope you have a good weekend.

A little light introspection

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Perhaps it’s a condition peculiar to the lone-worker, the stay-at-home parent and someone who spends acres of time on their own but I have a lot of time to daydream and wonder. All I have to do is meet occasional deadlines, keep appointments, take the children to where they need to be on time, walk the dog and manage the day-to-day running of the household. I mostly play a supporting role for my family and occasionally shut myself off to edit or proof read a book. There can be extremely busy periods but I’m not standing in front of a classroom trying to keep children engaged, or rushing about a hospital saving lives, or running a busy cafe. Nor am I pouring over the minutia of legal documents in order to defend someone in court. What I’m trying to say is that my life is, at the moment, rather undemanding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m rarely twiddling my thumbs; there is always something to do in the house or garden but I do go through periods when I wonder whether I’m really frittering away my time. Should I get back to a ‘career’ or retrain to do something more worthwhile and useful? Why am I not perfectly content? (I know I’m lucky to have the luxury of even pondering this issue.) Sometimes I feel totally unsettled and frustrated and I wonder whether it’s because a) I live in this point in history when there is SO much information about others’ lives, b) I have high expectations of myself and am my own harshest critic, or c) I just need to get over myself and get out more!

If I did have an uber-demanding job, however, I would have far less time for blogging. Lynda wrote something about the power of writing her blog yesterday and it struck such a chord with me. My blog is a brilliant creative outlet. Being able to write, take photographs and share them and connect with other bloggers is hugely rewarding and it’s become very important to me. I know I occasionally bang on about how much I love blogging but I do. On those occasions when I’m feeling particularly fed up with sorting laundry or cooking the same flipping meal again it has saved my brain.

Anyway, back to earth… I’ve not been spending all my time pairing socks and contemplating my navel. I have been enjoying the spring sunshine and beauty in the garden (photos above, thank you) and attempting to be organised in the greenhouse, potting up like mad and keeping notes (yes, actual notes in a notebook!) of how many of each plant, plus notes of where it would be good to have more bulbs next year. There’s a gap in a drift of ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ narcissi and I’d like more N.’Thalia’ – beautiful, white, multi-headed, graceful. And more tulips. You can never have too many tulips.

Oh, and the village Spring Show at the weekend went exceedingly well. There was a record number of children’s entries, which the organising committee was particularly chuffed about, and plenty of gorgeous spring blooms and home produce. My son’s Victoria sponge won the coveted £20 prize but he graciously gave a fiver to his sister for helping him assemble his cake. All is now sweetness and light between them. My entries weren’t so successful but there’s always next time…

I do hope you’re having a good week and that the sun is shining where you are.

 

Hints of gladness

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I’ve been composing several blog posts as I’ve walked the dog this week. This is generally when I have my best thoughts but sometimes there is too much whizzing around my head to distil into something coherent and worth sharing. It’s been a random sort of week and so I’m borrowing an idea of Annie’s and I offer you this random list:

  1. Blogging – I love writing my blog and taking photographs to use in it. It’s a hugely satisfying creative process and wonderful to have a record of the garden (mostly so we can cheer ourselves up and see what progress we’ve made) and some of what goes on in my life. The icing on the cake is that people read it and leave comments. Making connections with others has been the most surprisingly lovely part of this process. And it’s been a revelation to find some wonderful blogs out there. I don’t want to be cheesy but it really has enriched my life and broadened my mind. Occasionally I’ll come across a blog that is too slick, too calculated and not for me but mostly they are a joy. One that I particularly love is Alice’s (I pinched this post’s title from her’s).
  2. School –My eldest has had a week of mock-GCSEs, which are a practise run for the real thing next May. I’d say he’s done moderate revising; he’d probably disagree. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in all-out, working-yourself-silly revision. It certainly isn’t the end of the world if he doesn’t do himself justice this time – it will give him a good idea of how much work he needs to put in before the exams that count. Even then, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he didn’t achieve top marks. I did rather badly at school (I like to think I was a late developer!) and so I’m thrilled that my children seem to be taking after their father.
  3. Hospital – My mum had one of her hips replaced on Tuesday and she came home last night. How amazing is that?! We were all rather anxious beforehand and now we are all very relieved. It is such a privilege to live in a country that provides such high-quality health care to its citizens. The busy hospital staff were fantastic and they looked after her very well but she is delighted to be home. Home is the best place to recover.
  4. Fat – Did you know that fat is back? I knew that olive oil was good for me but lard, dripping and butter? Yep. Apparently so. Proper science has proved it. Avoid sunflower oil and corn oil if you can. This BBC Radio 4 Food Programme will tell you more. Oh, and keep your oils in a dark cupboard. Heat and sunlight change their composition and release bad karma, or something…
  5. Adverts – It’s the time of year when Christmas tv adverts are ‘released’. Since when did this become an event? These ads have become mini-art forms. Having said that, I did watch the John Lewis one this morning and it brought a lump to my throat. It is quite beautiful – child notices lonely man in the moon and tries to get in touch – do watch it. It’s no bad thing for a major retailer to have a conscience and raise awareness for a charity campaign and it certainly made me wonder whether there is anyone near me who feels such loneliness. Human contact is so essential to our wellbeing. That and a good cup of tea.

On that note, I’m off to put the kettle on. Have a lovely weekend.

 

 

The comfort of plants and friends

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The view across the fields yesterday as a weather front loomed. We just made it home before the drizzle set in for the day.

 

My dear friend Mrs Ford (of the delightful Mrs Ford’s Diary) and I discussed our plans for the looming village Garden Safari this morning as we walked our dogs. We decided we should come clean on our blogs and declare that we know each other in Real Life as we’re both likely to write about events such as this. It was she who encouraged me to write my blog and I have her to thank for introducing me to some very lovely blogs and bloggers. If you haven’t read her blog, I urge you to do so. It is beautifully crafted and never fails to cheer me up (and even guffaw loudly). I am convinced that one day she will be Discovered and go from being a Pillar of the Community to an Overnight Sensation and Best-selling Author.

The flowers on the renovated climbing rose look zingy against the new wall.
The flowers on the renovated climbing rose looking zingy against the new wall.

Anyway, back to the rapidly approaching Garden Safari (can you tell I am getting slightly anxious?!). As well as making sure that the garden is in a fit state to be viewed – paths cleared, stacks of planks and posts transformed into respectable-looking compost bins, brash from hedges and bushes cleared away, sacks full of garden waste taken to the tip, as many weeds as possible got rid of – we have rashly declared that, as an added attraction, we will serve Afternoon Teas. Not content with the stress of having strangers wandering round the garden noticing things, we have the added excitement of providing refreshments. Thankfully my lovely children are game for helping out on the day (with the promise of a little financial inducement/bribe), so it will be all hands to the pump.

When it all gets a bit much, I have a wander round the garden and enjoy the small beauties.
When it all gets a bit much, I have a wander round the garden and enjoy the small beauties such as this Nigella (love-in-the-mist).
Our first radishes harvested yesterday. They were delicious (more so because I sowed the seed, tended them and watched them grow).
Our first radishes harvested yesterday. They were delicious (more so because I sowed the seed, tended them and watched them grow).

As well as all this, we have the ‘builders in’… Our balcony is being repaired/relaid and there are two massive piles of old roofing material and discarded stuff at the front where I am planning to arrange chairs and tables for people to sit. This was all meant to be finished a while ago (big sigh). There are men here today clearing the rubbish as I write (phew) and there are other men on the balcony adding another layer of waterproof membrane, climbing up and down ladders and dropping splashes of noxious substance onto the paving below. I am trying not to look at the broken stems on the climbing rose and the odd stains on the lawn.

I remain hopeful that it will all come together enough to be ok. Whenever anyone asks me about it (and a surprising number of people do!), I reply in a very confident tone that ‘everything will be fine’. There are enough interesting works-in-progress, some pretty plants, a view of the sea and, of course, there will be cake.

This really pretty plant is growing out of a wall – it's quite woody with lavender/rosemary-type leaves and the most gorgeous blue flowers. I've looked for it in our books but haven't found what it is. Does anyone know?
This really pretty plant is growing out of a wall – it’s quite woody with lavender/rosemary-type leaves and the most gorgeous blue flowers (but no scent). I’ve asked gardening friends and searched through our books but haven’t found out what it is. Does anyone know?