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.

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Shenanigans

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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).