Where even the sheep (and teenagers) smile

Happy herdwick sheep

Surely there is no other place in this whole wonderful world quite like Lakeland … no other so exquisitely lovely, no other so charming, no other that calls so insistently across a gulf of distance. All who truly love Lakeland are exiles when away from it.”  A.Wainwright

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Hello! I hope this finds you well and that everything is ticking along nicely in your world. It’s amazing to think it’s 2nd November today – standing outside, gazing out to sea with the warm (yes, properly warm) sun on my face this morning, it could have been September. There are still bees and other insects buzzing about in the garden, making the most of these golden autumnal days. There is still colour from zinnias and nasturtiums and cosmos – perky annuals boldly ignoring the fact that winter is coming. It’s a gift of a day.

I quickly wanted to share a few photos from our trip to the Lake District last week. October half term is when we hot-foot it to Cumbria if we can – although we have never lived there, we’ve been visiting and walking in the Lakes for years, BC (Before Children) and AC, and we do, as Wainwright says, almost feel like exiles when we’re not there. October is a beautiful time of year to visit and if we’re lucky with the weather there are enough hours of daylight to go on long expeditions into the mountains. The weather wasn’t great this year but we didn’t mind too much. We were all very tired and used the excuse of the heavy wind and rain (storm Brian) to sleep in, curl up and read, watch films and have long lunches. By Wednesday, though, we were restored enough and the weather was calm enough for us to head out for a Big Walk. David’s sister joined us from Warrington and his brother, his wife and one of his daughters drove from Norfolk for a couple of days – they all grew up in the north-west and often walked in the Lakes, so it’s almost become a mini annual pilgrimage.

We set off – 5 adults, 4 teenagers, 2 dogs – with pockets and rucksacks bulging with supplies, following the route David had planned the night before from our cottage in Patterdale, into Grisedale Valley, up to Grisedale Tarn, then a steep scramble up to the top of Fairfield (2863ft). The summit of Fairfield is a grassy plateau; Wainwright says, “Mention should be made of the excellent turf on this wide top: weary feet will judge it delightful.” Our weary feet were very grateful for it and the views were certainly worth the effort of getting there. The walk home to Patterdale wasn’t all downhill. We climbed down to Cofa Pike then up and across a ridge to St Sunday Crag (what a great name) and followed the ridge up and down, along and back down to the village with the magnificent view of Ullswater before us. This route was, as Wainwright remarks, “…an exhilarating and beautiful walk.”

We didn’t get lost in clouds, we didn’t get soaked, we had enough food, no-one went off in a strop (it has been known), the dogs didn’t try to chase the sheep (firm hands on leads) – seven and a half hours after setting off, we were all back at the cottage, smiling and tired, slightly sore-footed and looking forward to a slap-up meal in the pub. It may have been the last Big Walk we will do as a family for a while – this time next year my eldest son will hopefully be at university, a fact that wasn’t lost on him and may have been why he seemed to enjoy it so much.

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Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments on my previous post; sorry I haven’t replied individually yet. I am still mulling it all over 🙂 More soon.

Have a lovely weekend.

 

 

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Life changes

I think I’m a little high from the fumes of a certain cleaning product. We have incredibly hard water and a limescale problem; I’ve been standing in the kids’ shower scrubbing and scrubbing the glass doors, occasionally sticking my head out to breathe fresh air, and contemplating life. I’m waiting for a delayed manuscript to edit, so in the meantime I’ve been getting ahead with all the housework and laundry. All this housewifery means I’ve had brain space to draft a blog post in my head. Dog walks and housework are when I do most of my thinking.

My first-born will be 18 next month. This time 18 years ago I had no idea, no idea at all, about how my life was about to change. I had absolutely no idea how much love it was possible to feel, how much pure joy, how much fretting and worry, how much mess and chaos, how much disorder, how much your life is thrown into the air and how it settles back to earth completely reordered, priorities totally changed. To be honest, I can’t really remember how we filled our days before parenthood. There was work, of course, and there was a lot more socialising, eating out and going to the cinema and theatre, and travelling. We certainly had a lot more spare cash! But I wouldn’t change a thing. Not one thing.

It’s an exciting time for my boy and I keep finding him lying on a sofa with his eyes shut, headphones plugged in. I suspect he might be finding it all a little bit overwhelming. He has a lot to do – a personal statement for applying to university, working out where he wants to go and which course, keeping on top of all the essays for school, working the occasional shift at the local hotel, socialising, sleeping. And he’s flying to the Washington DC at the weekend on a school trip. I’m cutting him some slack.

I’ve made a couple of big personal decisions recently. The first is trivial but a big decision for me nonetheless. I’ve decided to stop dying my hair. You know, it annoys the hell out of me that I have felt the pressure to keep looking youthful by colouring my hair. I’m cross at my conforming. I don’t judge anyone who chooses to dye their hair, but I don’t want to do it any more. I’m fed up of sticking chemicals on my scalp just so I’m not reminded of my ageing when I look in the mirror. For a start, there are the health concerns but it’s also blinking expensive. I did start growing out my grey hair last year but chickened out after meeting up with a friend who gave me a good talking to and told me I was effectively letting myself go. I was at a low ebb, took it to heart and promptly booked a hair appointment. Shallow, no? Grr. Well, no longer. I am embracing my real self. It is perfectly possible to look gorgeous with grey hair by keeping it healthy and having a good cut. If people don’t like it, it’s their problem not mine. (Of course, I can always change my mind but I hope I don’t!)

My second big decision was to enrol in a local adult education art course. I did Art A’level at school and always intended to go to art college. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do but I lost my way in my late teens and ended up following a completely different path, putting away my brushes and paints for a very long time indeed. I still have them. I’ve been carting around my old palettes, brushes, paints and portfolio for over 30 years. I held on to the tiny thought that one day, one day I might give it another go. Well, I am and it’s so exciting. I am rusty but there was a spark in my brain when I started drawing again. It feels like I’m rekindling a fire.

That’s all for now. Back to the housework. Hope your week is going well.

Salutation, appreciation and celebration

You may have heard of The Salutation in Sandwich because of its colourful previous owners who regularly featured on the tv show Gogglebox. It may have put you off visiting (or it may not) but the place is now under new ownership and is a super-elegant boutique hotel and restaurant (which is receiving rave reviews), a lovely tearooms and a glorious garden. You can visit the gardens, without staying at the hotel or partaking of food, for £8 (or £15 for a year’s subscription, which, frankly, is a bargain).

Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, The Salutation was built in 1912 on the site of a market garden and pub. You can see the Lutyens influence in the way the gardens are laid out in distinct areas with clever sight-lines and pleasing symmetry, and hidden nooks and crannies. These days, the deep borders and beds are jam-packed with lush planting, crammed with unusual and exotic plants, perennials, grasses, annuals and fruit and veg, but the star plants at this time of year are the dahlias. Head gardener, Steve Edney, is a member of the RHS Dahlia Committee and it’s clear he knows his stuff. It’s the Salutation’s 8th Dahlia Festival this coming weekend and visitors are in for a treat – there are large planters of pristine dahlias, whole borders just of different varieties of dahlia, and large clumps of striking dahlias dotted here and there among other plants. They obviously have their slugs and snails well under control.

I had such a lovely time wandering around the garden soaking in the beauty of the place that I failed to make a note of the different dahlia varieties but I’m fairly sure that the striking, dark, star-shaped one above is ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’ (which is a fantastic name). As much as I love them, I have decided to give up on trying to grow dahlias for the time being – I just can’t be bothered with plants that require hyper-vigilance when it comes to pests. And now that I’ve found this local gallery of dahlia perfection, I am content to leave it to the experts and appreciate their efforts instead.

In other news… It was my younger son’s sixteenth birthday on Tuesday. Sixteen. How did that happen?! He’s grown from a sunny, yellow-haired poppet into a funny, mostly sunny (with occasional dark clouds), intelligent, kind, tall string bean who shares my appreciation of a tidy room, loves his Dad’s baking and is there with a hug if needed. Oh, and his cake of choice is coffee and walnut.

My daughter making a cameo appearance 🙂

Hope all’s well with you and that you have a lovely weekend.

 

 

An unremarkable day

Christina in Scotland and Leanne in Cornwall have recently written lovely posts about a day in their lives. I found these posts fascinating – I’m nosy and I enjoy reading about what others get up to in their daily lives – so I thought I’d write a diary post about my day today. It has been an ordinary non-work day, a drifting day of errands and hum-drum life (it’s long, so maybe make yourself a cup of tea!). Unlike me, you may not enjoy reading about the minutiae of everyday life, in which case let me know and I won’t repeat the exercise 🙂

6.45am – My daughter wakes me by climbing into bed for a hug (this routine won’t last much longer, I’m sure) and I hear one of my sons going into the bathroom (noisily). My daughter goes into my bathroom (she uses ours because it avoids arguments and banging on doors to hurry up). When she’s finished, I drag myself out of bed and splash water on my face. I don’t shower because there’s no time. I could get up earlier and make time but I don’t. I look at myself in the mirror, then put my reading glasses on to look at myself in the mirror. I’m looking tired and every day of my 52 years. Sigh.

7am – Dressed, I’m downstairs making tea, sorting out breakfast and making packed lunches for my younger two (the eldest won’t take one; he prefers to starve all day until he can get home and ‘eat proper food’). My children traipse into the kitchen, one by one, for breakfast. It’s only the second full day back at school after the long summer break but they’re all a bit subdued. None of us are morning people. The boys in particular are not going to bed early enough, despite my ‘strong advice’, so they’re not getting enough sleep. It can take a week or so to get back into the school routine. I drink a mug of tea and scroll through Instagram while I wait for them to get ready.

7.40am – We leave the house and drive to the station. On a clear run it only takes about 5 minutes but we need to allow at least double that to cross a busy main road to get from our village to the next village where the station is. There’s usually a constant stream of traffic and it can be quite stressful if we’re running late. Sometimes a kind-hearted person will slow down to let a couple of cars across but more often than not it’s a case of waiting for a gap in the traffic and zooming across. Very occasionally there isn’t a car on the road which is spooky. Today isn’t too bad.

7.46am  We arrive at the station where there are several other cars emptying themselves of children to catch the 7.51 train to school. There is no bus to the school from our village and the only other option would be to drive them, so most parents choose the train. My eldest is coming home early today (the sixth-form timetable has several ‘study periods’) and I remind him to get off the train in town as I’ll meet him there.

7.55am  Back home I notice what an absolutely beautiful morning it is, so I grab my camera and head into the garden where the sunlight is highlighting cobwebs and making everything look gorgeous. I notice that I forgot to bring in the washing yesterday and there are some cobwebby sheets on the line. My neighbour greets me from his garden and we agree that it’s the best time of day to be out and he wonders whether we’ll have an ‘Indian summer’. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

8.20am  Distracted by taking photos, I’m now off schedule for getting to my yoga class for 9.30am. I drink another mug of tea and eat a bowl of muesli while scrolling through more Instagram.

8.40am  I’m out of the house with the dog, who is particularly bouncy this morning. She’s not going to be impressed with the usual pre-yoga short walk – it’s the sort of weather for a long stomp across the clifftops. Oh well. We walk up the Leas and past the grazing Dexter cattle and ponies (one is having a good old scratch in a thorny bush). They don’t bother us and we don’t bother them. I see a friend walking her dog and stop for a chat (ignoring the time), then I notice swallows gathering on the telephone wire next to the hut where they’ve been nesting and zooming about the field with their chirrupy calls. I watch them for a while and film them with my phone, then jog back to the house.

9.20am  I run indoors, give the dog her after-walk treat, fill her water bowl, grab my yoga mat and car keys and rush back out. I am late. I have to say that I love yoga and it does me the world of good, and I am normally on time. I usually give a friend a lift but she’s not coming today and I’ve not booked into this session online – I think this is what subconsciously causes me to slack! If the road is clear I should be there during the warm-up (an acceptably late time to arrive). The road is not clear. I get stuck behind the slowest driver in the world and I finally bail out when I realise I won’t arrive until the session is well underway. I turn right instead of left and drive home, thinking that a shower and a coffee will do me just as much good. (I know it won’t really.)

10am  I shower, then go into the children’s bedrooms, pick up wet towels and open windows, and sort the laundry. There is always laundry. I put a wash on and take a mug of coffee outside and sit on the bench in the sunshine looking at the sea. The dog comes to lie on the grass beside me. She doesn’t seem that bothered about the short walk. I lift my face to the sun and enjoy the peace and quiet.

11am–1.30pm  I sit at my computer and check emails. I answer a few, make notes and rewrite some copy. I do a little research for a work-in-progress. I have more coffee and some toast. I hang the washing outside. I love hanging washing on the line and I am a little ocd about pegging it out in a particular way, shaking out t-shirts so they’re straight, hanging shirts at the seams and so on. It probably takes more time than it should but there’s something soothing about doing such a simple mindless task. I know: weird.

1.30pm  I have an optician’s appointment at 2pm so I drive to town, taking a couple of jackets to the dry-cleaners en route. I wear glasses for reading but I’ve noticed my eyesight is getting worse and I’m starting to find distances a little blurry and my eyes get extremely tired. The optician is reassuringly thorough and, as I suspected, she says I need new glasses for reading and a pair for driving and watching tv. It seems my eyes are also showing their 52 years. She hands me over to someone else who gives me several pairs of glasses to try on. One pair looks fine, good even, and is really lightweight but they’re £360… Maybe not. I decide to go back at the weekend with David – I want a second opinion if I’m to spend big bucks on two new pairs of glasses.

2.45pm  I call my son to tell him to meet me in Sainsbury’s car park but it goes straight to voicemail. I walk to the supermarket and see him waiting near the car – his phone isn’t working properly and he’s grumpy. I give him the keys so he can wait in the car for me while I pop to get a few things. I buy some fresh soup and bread for a late lunch, and milk. We always need milk.

3.15pm  Back at home, I put the soup in a pan to heat and eat a chunk of bread and butter while I wait. My son and I eat lunch quickly and chat about school.

3.40pm  I drive to the station to collect the other two. There’s a long queue of cars waiting for the train and it takes a while for everyone to sort themselves out and drive out of the busy car park. Both children have had ‘meh’ sort of days. My daughter is still having friendship issues and she has a good moan on the way home. My son offers typical brotherly advice from the back seat.

4–6pm  Back at home I bring the washing in from the line and the children eat the last of the loaf I bought for lunch. I make a pot of tea and we chat more about their days. The boys disappear to their rooms hopefully to do homework and my daughter lies on the sofa. We chat while I check my emails. She’s watching ‘Gilmore Girls’ on Netflix and is soon absorbed. I go into the kitchen to peel and chop some Bramley apples that are in danger of spoiling and freeze them. David phones and we have a chat, then he speaks to each of the children.

6pm  I unload the dishwasher (this is my eldest’s job but he’s fallen asleep and I don’t have the heart to wake him), I tidy the kitchen, cook dinner and listen to ‘The Archers’. I call the kids for dinner (eldest son mildly revived after his kip) and we all sit down to eat. There’s no sparkling conversation, just eating and low-key chat.

8pm  Everyone disappears to finish homework and I clear up. It’s not long before there’s an argument over whose turn it is to use the computer. This is the perpetual flash point in our house and it drives me nuts. I get cross, shout a bit and it takes a while to sort it out. One boy stomps upstairs and the other goes on the computer (but makes a pot of tea first as a small peace-offering). I sit down to start writing this.

9pm  My daughter goes up to bed. She rarely needs encouragement – she’s always loved her sleep. I go up to say goodnight and she reads for a little while. David phones again to say he’s off the river (he sculls on the River Thames after work and often goes out after dark; he phones to let me know he’s safe). We have a chat about weekend plans.

10.15pm  I boot my son off the computer and he comes into the kitchen for food before going to bed. My daughter is fast asleep and my other son is in his room. I’m about to sign off, make sure the boys are heading to bed and go to bed myself and read (I’ve just read Margaret Atwood’s ‘Hagseed’ – very good – and I want to read the ending again).

Goodnight and thank you for reading.

 

 

 

A random summer summary

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  • It’s the last day of August and the school holidays are almost over. Other parents of school-age children will recognise marking the passing years in school terms – we’ve had 13 years of them so far in this family and next school year will be our eldest’s final one. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was rushing to get him to school by 8.45am with a baby and a toddler in tow. My perception of time seems to concertina and bow at the moment; something to do with middle age and teenage children!
  • I’ve temporarily taken my foot off the pedal with my blog and Instagram. It felt right to spend less time online and looking at screens, especially as I’m trying to help my daughter step away from social media a little. She has been experiencing the downside of it – girls’ social interactions are complicated and can be subtly cruel; there have been tears. I am grateful that I’m around to listen to her, give hugs and be a sounding board.
  • My middle son loved his trip to Madrid. The whole experience, from travelling with a couple of friends and no adult, to eating proper tapas and paella and staying with his Spanish friend’s family, was hugely positive. They took him to the Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid (lucky thing) and he even enjoyed that!
  • We had a grown-up party at the weekend and incredibly the weather was amazing – warm and still, with a crescent moon in the sky – we were so lucky and it meant the party could be mostly outdoors (phew). There were fairy lights festooned about the place and tealights in jam jars along the garden walls, straw bales for people to sit on around a fire and dancing indoors. I’d made all the food the day before – beef tacos, Moroccan chicken and a squash and spinach curry – and we had fig tarts (with more of our neighbours figs!), mini scones and other delicious puddings from friends. A load of friends and family came along and we had a blast. It took a few days to recover.
  • In the run-up to the party, I’d written many lists to keep track of everything: who was coming, food, drink, seating, lighting, music, etc. As someone who is an inveterate list-maker, I loved listening to Jenny Eclair is Listless Today recently on Radio 4 about why women write so many lists, especially to-do lists. Did you hear it? I always feel more in control when I’ve written a list (even if I’m not actually) and even better when I cross things off.
  • My favourite flowers in the garden this summer have been the zinnias. They took a while to get into their stride with flowering but they’ve been loving the hot, dry weather and I’ve picked many handfuls of bright blooms. They last really well – at least a week – in a vase, too. There’s something about their shapes and colours that just cheers me up. I’ll definitely grow them again next year.
  • My jam pan is full of raspberries and sugar macerating ready to be boiled up into jam later. I’ve made several jars already but I’ll keep going while there’s fruit still coming. Opening a jar of fragrant homemade jam in the depths of winter, when it’s dark and miserable outside, will remind me of long summer days, the heat of the sun on my back as I pick fruit from the bushes, my fingers stained with raspberry juice.
  • It’s the Late Summer Show in the village hall on Saturday. I’m entering a cake (a ‘fruity banana bread’), ‘7 raspberries’ and maybe the ‘flower arrangement in a milk jug’, if I have time. The bread class is a sourdough loaf, so David’s entering that and my daughter is planning to make ‘5 meringues’. I’ll be helping to set it all up and put it all away at the end, then we’ll be cracking open a bottle left over from the party.

I hope you’re enjoying this last day of August and have a lovely weekend. Thank you for stopping by.

Snapshots of an English summer

Verbena bonariensis at Wimpole Hall
A whole swathe of Verbena bonariensis at Wimpole Hall gardens in Cambridgeshire.
Yorkshire cottage
Gorgeous stone cottage in Castle Bolton, possibly one of the prettiest places in Yorkshire.
Walking in the Yorkshire Dales
Father and son in the glorious Yorkshire Dales.
Durham Castle.
We took the train from Northallerton to Durham one day. This is the castle which is part of the university. Students actually live here!
River Swale and Richmond
Richmond, North Yorkshire, and the River Swale.
Apple tree
An old apple tree in a lovely community garden in Reeth.
Perennial planting
Community garden in Reeth
Yorkshire Dales
Yorkshire Dales views.
Chickens
These very friendly chickens greeted us each morning. There’s a funny video of them running towards us on my Instagram.
Bolton Castle gardens
The gardens at Bolton Castle (from inside the castle).
Bolton Castle
The view of Bolton Castle from our holiday cottage in Castle Bolton!
Wildflowers
Stupendously beautiful wildflower planting at RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate.
I can’t remember what these flowers are but they are at Harlow Carr and were buzzing with bees!
RHS Harlow Carr
RHS Harlow Carr near Harrogate. Definitely worth a visit if you’re nearby.

At the beginning of the long school break it feels as though there is a whole heap of that nebulous luxury: extra time and empty days. But once you start organising days out, trips to visit people, people visiting you and a holiday, the days start whizzing by.

School holidays with teenage children have a different tempo. Mine are 17, 15 and 13, becoming increasingly independent and don’t necessarily want to do what we want to do all of the time. (To be honest, the two boys hardly ever want to do what we want to do these days!) My eldest son stayed at home when we went to Yorkshire recently – it’s the first time he’s not come on holiday with us and it felt odd just being a family of four. Happily, we (and the house) survived. We had a very relaxing week in Castle Bolton in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and he looked after the pets and entertained friends without wrecking anything or causing a neighbourhood disturbance. He’s now got a holiday job in a local hotel so he’s finding out what it’s like to work hard for his money. Which is, of course, a good thing.

My daughter is currently away on an activity holiday until Saturday – the house is eerily quiet – and the other son flies to Madrid next week to stay with a school friend for a few days. Gone are the days when we spend all of the holidays together and I am slowly getting used to it. I do love the fact that I’m no longer responsible for their every entertainment but I sort of miss it in a weird way. The trick is to keep busy and make the most of the rare moments when we are all together.

While they’re off gallivanting or working, I’m also working and catching up with the garden in any spare time – deadheading, weeding, picking kilos of raspberries and tomatoes, plus courgettes and squashes, then processing the pickings (jam, chutney, sauces). Before we know it, it’ll be the time for buying new school shoes and stationery, the time of conkers and crunchy leaves 🙂

Thank you for calling by and saying hello (and hello to new followers). I hope your August is going swimmingly. Have a lovely week.

PS All these photos were taken with my increasingly cantankerous phone, hence the odd sizes and dubious quality!

In a vase on Monday: A–Z

With so much to choose from in the garden this week, I’ve picked just two different flowers – Ammi and Zinnia – for a Monday vase.

All the ammi (Ammi visnaga) are self-seeded from plants I grew from seed last year; they’re over-crowded and some are growing where I don’t want them. Rather than chuck those I’ve pulled up onto the compost heap, I chopped their roots and lower leaves off and plonked them in water.

This is the first year I’ve grown zinnias and I expected them to be rather prima-donna-ish but they seem pretty tough. According to what I’ve read, they hate root disturbance, don’t like overwatering and can’t be planted out until it’s warm enough to sit outside in the evening without wearing a cashmere wrap (I made that last but up). I was quite careful about potting on the seedlings, but not overly so, and there’s not much danger of them being overwatered around here. I was a bit worried about the temperature but I needn’t have as it’s been almost Mediterranean-like here. The major problem has been our slimy foes, the slugs and snails. A fair few pristine zinnias have been toppled and munched, sadly, – I reckon I’ve lost a third of the plants – but the survivors are hitting their stride now and starting to pump out flowers. They’re great for cutting as they last for ages in a vase, the colours are fantastic and they’re like sweet peas – the more flowers you cut, the more you’ll get, so that’s what I’m doing.

How’s life with you? It’s the last week of school before the summer holidays here and everyone is weary; the children are especially weary this afternoon as it was Sports Day today. Despite emails from the school inviting parents along to watch, my three pleaded with me not to go: ‘It would be social suicide, Mum!’. Mortifying our children seems to be something we’re particularly good at but I graciously stayed at home. It seems only five minutes since they were telling me where to stand so they could see me and to shout loudly. How times change.

‘In a Vase on Monday’ is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden. I recommend visiting her blog to see what she and other bloggers from around the world have found to put in a vase today; it’s always inspiring.

Wishing you a good week.