In a Vase on Monday: the returning of the light

After a long and hectic working week, I returned home on Friday evening to find a box containing these gorgeous Cornish narcissi – a Christmas gift from a dear friend. They’ve been scenting and cheering the house all weekend, so I thought I’d share them with you; a glimpse of the springtime flowers to come. It’s a sunny day here today, which is so welcome after All That Rain. The ground is sodden and dog walks mean squelching across fields and bring clods of mud home. Lucky that the dog is brown.

With the winter solstice yesterday, and the sunshine today, everything feels lighter and brighter. I know this feeling may be fleeting but the Earth is tilting and the days are lengthening and it won’t be long before the bulbs are flowering in my garden. I noticed tips of potted tulips poking through yesterday and the hellebores have fat flower buds!

I hope all is well with you and that you’re feeling all peace and calm and not the stress and fluster that usually accompanies two days before Christmas Day. I’m going with the flow here. Yes, there is wrapping, food prep, card delivering, room tidying, bed-making, hoovering and all the other stuff to do but I have today and tomorrow off work, my family is home and it’ll all come together in some form or other.

Here’s wishing you the Christmas you wish for yourself. Take it easy and see you in the New Year. With love xx

PS It’s lovely to be able to join in with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for her and other bloggers’ Monday vases. Do click on the link to see festive vases from around the world.

Resilient and resolute (January thoughts)

I know we’re over it, but I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. Ours was peaceful; the usual hectic rush beforehand but it all came together on the day – everyone had wrapped gifts which were well-received, there was plenty of food, the house was decorated. We all welcomed the excuse to eat, drink and be merrily lazy. We chatted, played Scrabble, went to a few lovely parties and watched a few programmes on our fabulous new tv (trying to watch Blue Planet II on our rubbish old one was the last straw). The best Christmas telly for me, by far, was Little Women; such a beautiful adaptation. All the women in our house loved it. Some of the men did, too.

That’s all we did, really, for about a week. The boys were supposed to be revising for their mock GCSEs and A-levels – honestly, what school would set their mock exams straight after the Christmas holidays? Well, theirs would. And I’ve heard of a few others. Sigh. My sons took a very dim view of this meanness, so only did some cursory revision. I took the view that I wasn’t going to spoil Christmas by being on their case. To be honest, I secretly admire their refusal to feel the considerable pressure and I’m sure they’ll gear up for the real things in the summer.

We all went back to school and work last Tuesday (2nd) which was a rude shock of a start to the new year but I’m getting in the groove now. Normal routine is on hold while the boys have exams; they only need to be in school when they have an actual exam so I’ll be taxi-ing back and forth to the station  for the rest of this week. Back to normal, normal next week.

I couldn’t bring myself to take down our lovely tree last week – that would have been too harsh – so I waited until twelfth night on Friday to pack Christmas away again for another year. I’ve been cooking vegetables (that urge for green and crunch and vitamins and minerals that you can taste after all the rich unhealthy food; this roast aubergine with curried yoghurt, caramelised onion and pomegranate recipe is outstanding); peeling and chomping on oranges and grapefruit to stave off winter germs; and going for long, muddy dog walks (the mud!). David and I did venture into the garden yesterday with the thought of pruning our apple and pear trees but it was so shockingly cold that we had a quick walk round, looked at what needed doing and promptly came back indoors to put the kettle on! Brrr. That job will have to wait.

I know many people find January a difficult month in the northern hemisphere – the seemingly never-ending grey, wet, dreary days and dark evenings – but I don’t mind it. It’s David’s birthday month, there are fires and candles to be lit, and there are signs of spring already. I spied fat hellebore buds peeking out from the leaf litter yesterday and the snowdrops are coming. There is a lot to look forward to.

A couple of recommendations if you need a pick-me-up: the first is The Greatest Showman – a wonderful, exhilarating and life-affirming film with a corker of a soundtrack. My 13-year-old has been humming it non-stop. The second is the awesome Oprah Winfrey’s  speech at the Golden Globe Awards. I’m sure you’ll have heard it by now but do click on the link if you haven’t. Oprah for President?

And, finally,

A single glass of champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced; the imagination is agreeably stirred; the wits become more nimble.

So said Winston Churchill, reportedly, and I agree. (Several glasses will have the opposite effect, but let’s not dwell on that.) I feel the same about the first mug of tea of the day, a morning coffee after walking my dog and a weekend G&T before dinner. There are times when only a particular drink will do. Champagne is for celebrations, for toasting, for hopes and dreams, so I raise my imaginary glass to you and rather belatedly wish you a Happy New Year. Here’s to 2018 – nerves braced, imagination stirring, wits creaking into action. Hurrah!

Have a great week.

PS You may have noticed that I haven’t made any changes to my blog. A little rest did me good and I’m content to plod on with it as it is for now. Thank you for your kind comments back in November x

Clean plates and good intentions

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Throwing stones into crashing waves is some of the best fun you can have (my brother, niece and nephew).
Throwing stones into crashing waves is some of the best fun you can have (my brother, niece and nephew).


Thank you so much for your kind comments and good wishes for my mum. She did make it home before Christmas and even managed to come to us for lunch on the day itself which involved a few strong men/boys, a wheelchair and ropes (we’re on a steep slope), a good sense of humour and a few stiff drinks once she was safely ensconced. The signs are positive for a good post-op recovery this time. Fingers crossed.

Well, Happy New Year to you! I hope you’ve had a wonderful festive season. Ours has been a bit of a whirlwind, to be honest. BC (before children), I used to love the peaceful days after Christmas Day when there was nothing much to do. Back in those days before life was stored on a phone, I would settle down to transfer dates to my new diary and calendar and enjoy the feeling of being ready for the year ahead. If I had time off work, I would go out to eat, meet up with friends, lounge about. Nowadays, this time is all about seeing relatives and friends (ours and the children’s), entertaining and cooking (cooking, cooking), hosting get-togethers and socialising. We’ve had non-stop house-guests and it’s been non-stop eating and drinking. I do love to see everyone but this year, more than ever, I feel the need for a breather. I am knackered. I have eaten my bodyweight in mince pies, Christmas cake and chocolates, eaten too much meat, drunk alcohol every day for over a week (which my poor liver is not used to) and I’m totally over the festivities.

We had 11 people for lunch today, so I concocted a warming carrot and parsnip soup (*recipe below), using up veg from the bottom of the fridge, and David made crusty wholemeal rolls. For dinner I made Jamie Oliver’s fabulous veggie chilli. This is a firm favourite of ours and I often substitute butternut squash for the sweet potatoes and use different beans. It’s one of those meals that is easy to bulk up if needed and any leftovers freeze well.

Come Monday morning, the house will be empty apart from me and the animals. I will be clearing the decks: the tree and all the wilting greenery outside for composting; decorations back into the loft; laundry into the washing machine; furniture back where it should be. I don’t make new year’s resolutions as such – I’m rubbish at sticking to them – but I have a large room to decorate, crochet to master, two pieces of furniture to finish painting, garden borders to clear, plants to move in case there is a cold snap, new planting plans to make and (this is the biggie) a new job to find.
How about you?


* Carrot and parsnip soup (serves 10)
a good glug of olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 level teaspoon ground coriander
1 very heaped teaspoon ground ginger (add more if you like)
approx 8 large carrots, peeled and chopped
approx 5 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 litres vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper, to season
pouring cream, to serve

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan over a medium heat, and cook the onions and garlic together for about 10 minutes, stirring, until translucent (don’t allow to brown). Add the spices and stir well to coat the onions. Add the carrots and parsnips and cook for a few minutes, stirring often. Pour in the vegetable stock, stir well, bring to the boil and reduce to simmering. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the chunks of veg are very soft. Remove from the heat and use a stick blender to whizz together to form a velvety soup. Season to taste. Serve with a drizzle of cream on top (unless you’re being healthy) and plenty of crusty bread to mop it up.

All is calm; all is bright

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All will be calm; all will be bright… These words have been rolling around my head like a mantra recently. There have been moments of wonderful brightness but there is little calm and everything has been overshadowed by the fact that my poor mum is in hospital again. You may remember she had a hip replaced at the beginning of November. Her progress was slow but seemingly steady until a couple of weeks ago when she ground to a halt. It was a long week before an x-ray revealed that her leg was broken (possibly from the original operation). So, she has had to go through the whole rigmarole again and we are waiting to hear whether she will be home in time for Christmas.

It takes quite a lot to dampen my spirits, though, and although this has been trying (for my mum, more than the rest of us, obviously) I have managed to fit in a couple of trips – one to visit my lovely brother and his family and one to see the bright festive lights of the big city. Both cheered me up enormously.  And a lovely gift arrived in the post last week – fellow blogger Deborah sent me an original 1960s Paton magazine to help me in my quest to learn to crochet. I was very touched that she thought of me and I will make time to properly give it a go over the holidays.

We are all thinking positively, so, in between visits to the hospital, my dad is working hard to get Christmas ready at their house and I’m trying to do the same here. Three days to go… I think I have bought all the presents(!) but none are wrapped. I think I have ordered or bought all the food, apart from stuffing ingredients which I remembered in the middle of last night. I do know the house is a tip and there is a pile of ironing the size of a small car, and there is more decorating and baking to do. Oh, and a cake to marzipan and ice. And I promised to take the children in to Canterbury today. And I mustn’t forget to collect the turkey tomorrow!

I really should be getting on with it rather than writing this post but it’s helping to organise my brain and is a moment of calm, and I wanted to wish you a Christmas full of peace and joy, with plenty of calm and moments of brightness. Sam xx