Best intentions (and random thoughts)

I didn’t grow these (obvs!) but they still made me inordinately happy. It’s the colours.
Lop-sided houseplant and listing hyacinth – a metaphor for so many things.
Solitary Anemone coronaria ‘Syphide’ – very exciting. Hopefully there’ll be more to come.

:: The weather was glorious this weekend, teasing us with a hint of spring – warm sunshine, hardly any breeze, tweeting birds, calm glistening sea… It was blissful and motivated me to actually clean a few windows. (I know! Only on the inside, mind.) I thoroughly spring-cleaned the kitchen, scrubbing all the ledges, shelves and surfaces, putting stuff away, even cleaning the cooker hood grills in the dishwasher. It was all sparkling for about half an hour before everyone came to have a look and mess it up again.

:: On Sunday, we finally got round to pruning the apple and pear trees we planted last spring. It felt a little like vandalism, slicing off branches covered in fat buds, but I know it will lead to stronger, better fruiting trees. I brought all the fruity wands indoors and stuck them in a couple of vases of water. Hopefully they’ll come into leaf and possibly even blossom. You never know.

:: The balmy weekend weather brought out the wildlife. I saw my first butterfly of the year on Saturday – a pristine primrose-yellow brimstone energetically fluttering along the hedgerow. It wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to take a photo, unfortunately. But the bees on the snowdrops did; they were lazily buzzing about in the sunshine (see photos above). It’s been foul weather for the past couple of days, though, and I’ve been worrying about all those insects who were out and about. How will they survive? Hopefully, they’ve found cosy crevices to shelter in. The weatherman told of icy blasts coming from the Arctic later in the week. Winter is not over yet.

:: We’ve been planning our summer holiday. The boys will have both finished major exams and will need a break (as will we all), so we’re heading off for two weeks to the beautiful island of Mallorca. We had a few happy holidays there when the children were small and they’re excited to be going back. I’m excited, too, and hope it will live up to our memories. To be honest, I’ll be happy just to lie by a pool and read for as long as possible.

:: My parenting skills have been sorely stretched lately. Is the first child always the test one? The one we make mistakes over and possibly mess up, like the first pancake? (That’s probably not the best analogy…) If anyone tells you that parenting gets easier as children get older, give them a wary look – I’ve been at this game for 18 years and three months and I’m often none the wiser. If anyone has any magic tips for keeping a boy going to the final highest hurdle in this gruelling long-distance race called school, I’d be grateful.

I hope all’s well with you. More anon…

 

 

 

Into the blue

Ladybird on bluebell photo courtesy of my daughter 🙂

No, this is not a comment on the local election results. This blog will be a politics-free zone for the next five weeks (and possibly longer). It’s just Too Much (if I hear ‘strong and stable’ again I might have to throw the radio into the sea)…

Hey, how about some lovely bluebells instead?! These photographs are from last Saturday and a walk in a nearby ancient wood. It is full of bluebells at this time of year (and people doing the obligatory ‘in among the bluebells’ photoshoots). We were lucky with the weather and we almost had the woods to ourselves to soak up the atmosphere. There is nothing quite like it – dappled sunlight through the trees onto a sea of blue (purple) flowers, rich birdsong, woodpeckers drumming, bees buzzing, the sweet scent of the flowers… We took deep breaths and heaved deep, happy sighs – it was wonderful.

I drove over to East Grinstead yesterday evening to hear Steve Biddulph (of the books ‘Raising Boys’, ‘Raising Girls’, and ‘The Complete Secrets of Happy Children’ fame) give a talk about girls’ mental health and raising daughters well. It was pretty powerful stuff. It seems that since companies started marketing to girls as young as 8 years old, there has been an increase in girls suffering from anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm and so on. Of course, there are many other factors and it’s not nearly so simple but his assertion is that ‘the media’ (advertising, music videos, tv shows, films) teaches girls that looks are their most important aspect, that their body will never be good enough, that sex is something to be traded for belonging and/or power and other depressing stuff.

He wanted us to leave the theatre angry (in a good way), to be fired up, a vanguard for the third wave of feminism and he did a pretty good job! He’s written a book (of course) called ’10 Things Girls Need Most’ to help parents help their daughters and it has some hugely sound suggestions. I’m not going to give you a full review as I haven’t finished reading it but if you have a daughter, it’s definitely worth a look.

Do you have exciting weekend plans? I hope it’s going to be fairly quiet here as I’ve got a load of seedlings to pot on and some more seeds to sow, and more digging to prepare another area for planting. It’s seven weeks (seven weeks!) until the village Garden Safari. Yikes.

Have a good one.

 

Summer’s end

Yesterday
Rain is lashing against the windows as I sit here writing. Proper driving rain. Our little black cat appeared just now and jumped up onto my lap – soggy paws! She’s now settled onto ‘her’ chair in the kitchen. The black-and-white one is fast asleep curled up on the back of the settee in the lounge. For weeks now, they’ve been out all day snoozing in the long grass or gazing hopefully into the pond but today they’re back to their wet-weather habits of mostly snoozing indoors. It’s been so dry and sunny for weeks and weeks that I’d got used to seeing them only at mealtimes and I’d got used to leaving the doors and windows wide open, wandering into the garden in bare feet, perching on the front steps in the sunshine with my morning coffee… Reliable stretches of hot, dry weather are unusual in the UK and it was lovely while it lasted but the season has finally turned in east Kent. Autumn has arrived.

There’s been plenty of ‘family life’ going on here recently: we’ve had a birthday (middle son – 15); a sleepover in a tent outside (daughter and three friends – loud); I’ve had two school information meetings for different year groups on two consecutive evenings (hmm); and I’ve driven to and from the station so often lately for my brood that I’m thinking of getting one of those signs for the top of my car. You know, the one that says ‘taxi’.

Today
I was so wrung-out by parenting this week that I couldn’t wait for David, my comrade-in-arms, to get home. We met in a local school car park where our middle child was to be presented with his Bronze Certificate in a mass presentation of Duke of Edinburgh Awards. A quick hug and a dash through the rain to the hall where we sat for 2 hours watching the presentations, occasionally whispering to each other as we were treated to amazing piano-playing by a talented boy, a confident girl singing while playing her guitar and an Interesting Dance by two girls. I’m not sure any of the parents knew what to make of that. I rushed off afterwards to collect our daughter from her tap class and we rendezvoused back home for a late supper of omelette and chips and beer. What a week.

I’d love to think we had an empty weekend lined up but we have four teenagers arriving this afternoon for a belated birthday sleepover. We had planned kayaking, campfire and camping in the garden but I suspect it’ll be more like film-watching indoors, perhaps a bonfire in the garden if the rain stops, and sleeping indoors. We’ve been invited to a house-warming party up the road so we’ll hopefully put in an appearance for a couple of hours. What could possibly go wrong? Don’t answer that 🙂

It’s meant to be dry tomorrow and I’m planning to get out into the garden. A good dose of cutting back, pruning or digging usually restores my inner peace although I am now slightly worried about all the trees I’ve pruned over the years after reading an article in a newspaper cutting from my mum. German forester Peter Wohlleben says trees live in communities, some can warn each other of danger and react when hurt, almost as if they feel pain. If you think about it, this isn’t as bonkers as it may seem and now I’m fretting about the poor cherry tree that we chopped back last year. Will our descendants look back on our barbaric ways with trees? Bonsai-owners may be locked up!

Oh yes, village show news
My tea loaf came first! The lovely judge said it was one of the best she’d tasted. Good old Mary Berry (I used her recipe for Bara Brith). Middle son won the Junior Adult baking class with his cheese scones and David’s cottage loaf (which didn’t look like one) came third. My flowers came second out of two entries (ha) and our raspberries were disqualified – we’d failed to read the show tips which said that the calyx had to be attached. Oh well. The tea loaf triumph more than made up for that.

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Finally
Have you been listening to The Archers? At last – thank goodness!!! I hope we can get back to crop rotations and Bert’s courgettes for a while now; I’m an emotional wreck.

Wishing you a super-duper weekend.

The accidental idler

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The geraniums haven’t realised that it’s late November.
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Miscanthus seedhead.
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More geraniums and bare branches.
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My son’s 16th birthday was a very happy day. We took the cake round to my parents after school, so mum could join in the celebrations. The cake is a family favourite – chocolate coated with chocolate ganache (Nigella Lawson’s Birthday Cake from ‘How to Eat’).
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It’s been very cold this weekend – proper wintery temperatures – and we’ve had the woodburner going almost constantly. Toasty.

 

Another weekend; another trip to the hospital… I was rushing up some steps to answer the phone on Saturday, tripped and slammed my foot into the wooden riser. A lot of shouting/swearing and hopping around ensued. By Sunday morning my big toe had swollen and was sporting a lovely green-purple bruise. Hmmm… A trip to the local minor injuries unit and an x-ray confirmed that it was indeed broken and it’s now taped up like a comedy toe to keep it straight and the only shoes I can fit into are my old trainers.

So, we now have two limping family members which caused momentary confusion when I took my middle son for his follow-up at the fracture clinic this morning. We’ll be on first-name-terms before we know it. His foot is healing but he’ll be on crutches for a while longer and definitely no contact sports until the new year.

I can drive and potter about at home but there’s to be no proper walking. And I have to sit and keep it elevated as much as possible this week. Major downside = no walking the dog. Major upside = no shopping. Luckily, lovely friends and my dad have offered to help with the dog-walking and I have the trusty internet for the food shop. I just need to work on my sanity and adjust my calorie intake. I don’t know about you but I find it particularly difficult to step away from the biscuits when it’s cold and I’m bored. Must. Try. Hard.
I don’t have any paid work this week, so I’m planning to catch up on reading, write lots of lists (there’s a busy time coming soon), sketch some planting ideas and try (again) to get to grips with crocheting. More on that soon (or maybe not!). Wishing you a very good week.

A short break

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Tomorrow, very early in the morning, I am going away for five whole days On My Own. Well, not strictly alone but without the family. A couple of girlfriends and I are off to visit a friend in southern Spain and it will be the longest I’ve been away since I had the children. I’ve had the occasional weekend away but I’ve not been overseas without them and I’ve not been away for more than a couple of nights. It feels very strange to be packing my bag.

Military planning is required: copious lists written, instructions given, fridge stocked. It’s slightly complicated by the fact that David now works away but my lovely parents are stepping in until he can get home. I had been feeling slightly overwhelmed by the planning involved (probably over-planning on my part) until I had a lovely message from my friend in Spain to say that the pool is very swimmable and we are to make ourselves completely at home – ‘wander about, swim, do nothing, do something, whatever you feel’. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I am taking a couple of books and a notebook, and no electronic devices other than my phone. Adios amigos x

Autumn light

 

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I love the sunlight at this time of year, especially in the late afternoon. There’s a gorgeous softness, depth and warmth to it. Other than to sweep up a tonne of leaves and pick up windfalls, I haven’t spent much time in the garden lately but I did pop out this afternoon to catch a little sun.

Miscanthus flowers. These plants are from a chunk chopped off a big clump of Miscanthus in our previous garden.
Miscanthus sinensis: these plants were propagated from a chunk taken from a big clump in our previous garden before we moved here. We originally bought this beautiful ornamental grass about 12 years ago from The Plantsman’s Preference, a fabulous nursery in Norfolk that specialises in hardy geraniums and ornamental grasses. I can’t remember the exact variety of Miscanthus – the label is long gone – but there are over 40 of varying sizes and colours on their website.
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The raised planters either side of the steps have really filled out and are looking rather overgrown and chaotic. Annual grasses, including Panicum elegans ‘Frosted Explosion’, Salvia ‘Hot Lips’, rudbeckias and snapdragons (emergency planting for the garden safari back in June) have grown together in a frothy mass.
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This is one of the planting combinations I’m most pleased with this year – Verbena rigida (which has been flowering for months), a blue/purple geranium of unknown variety, Gaura ‘The Bride’, a bronze fennel (that appeared out of nowhere) and more annual grasses.
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As much as I dislike the invasive habit of Japanese anemones, you can’t deny they look completely beautiful when they’re flowering en masse.

 

In other news… It’s been a busy, long week. As well as the first full week of Back to School with all three children having to be out of the house by 7.35am, David has started a new job which means he’s away from home for most of the week. We’re all getting used to this and settling in to our new routines which means Being Organised: packing school bags the night before; eating a good breakfast to keep you going throughout the day when you’re too busy ‘socialising’ at lunchtime; keeping on top of increasing amounts of homework after a long summer of not picking up a pen; going to bed early… We’ve managed one week. I wonder how long it’ll last!

I hope you’ve had a good week and are enjoying some September sunshine wherever you are.

 

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My sunny middle son is 14 (14!!!) today. He requested burgers for dinner and a coffee and walnut birthday cake. I was pleased to oblige.

 

 

 

The here and now

 

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I have plans to transform that shed… It needs some new boards and a lick of paint. A weekend project coming up soon.
The French beans are finally moving up the poles.
The French beans have taken a munching from the snails but they’re finally moving up the poles.
Gladioli – they appeared out of the blue from soil we brought in. Very pleasing.
Gladioli – they appeared out of the blue from soil we shipped in last year. Very pleasing.
This rose is a climber we rescued from beside the old back door. It was in a wooden barrel and very leggy. I chopped it right down then replanted it here. It's covered in bright orange flower buds.
This rose is a climber with small, bright orange flowers. It was in an old wooden barrel when we moved here and was one very tall main stem with leaves and a few flowers at the top. I chopped it right down when we replanted it and I’m delighted that it seems very happy.
Erigeron on the steps.
Erigeron on the steps. We have to tread carefully.

I’ve been feeling rather wistful today, thinking of the days when the children were small. What started me off was listening to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Four Thought’ yesterday evening about a couple who sold their house, gave up their teaching jobs and went to live in a caravan with their two young daughters. Their aim was to do what’s most important in life – to spend proper time together. They’d felt that their lives had become completely unbalanced. (If you’d like to listen to it, it’s here.) It’s something I wish we’d been brave enough to do when the children were small. They’re too old now. I don’t think they would countenance being whisked out of school and away from their friends. And, anyway, the boys wouldn’t fit on caravan beds.

I know everyone tells you – when you’re in the thick of small children with toilet training, broken nights, toddler tantrums – to try to enjoy it, that it goes so quickly. But it DOES. I’d so love to pop back for a while to soak it all in again – the cuddles, the sitting on your lap while you read a book together, the small hands in mine – which is ridiculous and self-indulgent (and a bit greedy)! What I should be doing is enjoying them Right Now because they’re still wonderful and they still need us, just in different ways. And much sooner than we’re prepared for they will leave home.

My eldest came into the kitchen as I was cooking dinner the other day, ‘I’ve had a really productive hour, mum’, he announced. ‘I’ve sorted out my rucksack, tidied my art folder and had a power nap!’ Ah, 15-year-old boys. Aren’t they great?!