Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Raining All Day

I know there will be certain people who will tell me that we need the rain.  The land is bone dry, the grass isn't growing and there is nothing for animals to eat, apart from hay.  They don't want hay at this time of year, they want lush, green grass.  Well, after the last 24 hours, they may just get it.  It has been cold, windy and very wet..ALL DAY.  I am most displeased.  However, I am at heart a country woman and the welfare of animals who spend their lives in the fields is important to me.  I can cope with rain for a day or two if it makes life more comfortable for them.

For weeks now we have had wall to wall sunshine.  It is a real joy to me to wake up each day, look out of the window and see the countryside lit up with an early morning golden glow, a blue sky and a sparkling sea.  I am happy to drift around the cottage, go for walks, bake something and read a little, but now and then I force myself to do something a bit more constructive, so yesterday being a warm and sunny day, the children, my mum and I drove down the island to Plas Newydd.

I love this house.  It is big, far too big to live in and far too big to hoover, but it still maintains a homely air about it.  We didn't go inside this time as it was a tad too expensive, just for a nose round somewhere we have been only a year ago, but the gardens are infinite and beautiful.  Even when the place is packed with people crawling all over the house, tea rooms and shops, it is easy to find yourself lost in the woods or gardens, surrounded by silence and not another person in sight.  Perfect.

Gardens are a constant source of pleasure to me.  When my babies were growing up, I would prop them up in their pram on the garden so they could watch me while I dug borders, sowed seeds and pruned roses.  As they got older and could toddle about with me, they all had their own tiny gardening tools and would 'help' mummy garden.  One time when H1 was about 2 years old, he wanted to water the plants.  With a little trepidation I turned on the hose pipe and showed him how to do it; aim the water at the soil, not the sky.  For about 2 minutes he managed really well, then something caught his attention and he turned towards me bringing the hose pipe with him and soaked me to the skin!  He seemed quite amused by this, so it was some time before he was let loose with a hose pipe again.

The Plas Newydd gardens are a place to lose yourself, if not bodily then at least in the mind.  It is perfect for an habitual day dreamer like me.  In the height of my gardening passion, before Life changed and forced me to leave it behind for a time, I knew all the names of the plants in my garden, and not content with just the English names, I learnt the Latin for them too.  A friend once asked me to go round her garden with her and tell her the names of the plants she didn't know.  She had a huge Victorian house in England and a large Victorian garden to go with it.  After 2 hours of plant-naming, I had a bad headache and we both felt slightly dizzy!

I am not by nature a huge fan of hot colours, preferring gentle pastels and softer hues, but these captured my attention and I could not fail to be entranced by their power.  They are so perfect in their shape, colour and form; they scream late summer heat, they beckon to autumn with their seductive tones and keep all who behold them enthralled by their intensity.  I want to re-create this border, or at least part of it in my own tiny, wind swept garden, but sadly I do not own my gorgeous cottage, nor the garden attached to it.  It would not be looked upon too kindly if I were to dig up half the lawn to grow deep swathes of flowers, patches of herbs and arm fulls of vegetables.  But never mind, my life isn't yet ready to take this all consuming hobby up again.  My small holding is waiting for me somewhere, and when the time is right I will find it!

We found a tiny little courtyard bathed in warm sun and being empty, we decided to have coffee there and soak up the atmosphere for a little while.  Pea made a new friend in no time.

He was a delight to have around while we drank our coffee, but he soon realised that there was no food on offer and he deserted us in favour of a large family who looked like they were on holiday and therefore much more likely to buy food and share it with an emaciated, starving Robin!  Charmed, I'm sure.  Soon after, we sniffed out a second hand book shop and spent a while perusing the shelves in hope of finding some gem or other that we couldn't possibly live without.  I didn't but mum did.  She found several and her excitement rose by degrees each time she unearthed another title that would enrich her life not a bit, but she could not bear to leave behind.  In her defence, I must add that most of these books cost the princely sum of 50pence each.  While she was amusing herself amongst the paperbacks, I came across this delight.

Now if this room was in my house (that's a laugh), I would be fiercely possessive of it and it would become a shrine to beauty.  Or (which is much more likely) it would have two black dogs lolling about all over the cream carpet, dragging their bodies round the pretty furniture and leaving smelly dog toys all over the place.  I would also have to contend with three 'children' who cannot see mess even when they've just made it and would rather step over something they left on the floor three weeks ago than pick it up.  One evening recently, we returned home from a long walk and I felt a bit feeble and headachey.  Pea kindly made me a cup of tea and H1 made a plate of chips, (H2 went inside and pretended not to notice lest he was snared into doing some good deed for his mum).  As it was such a gorgeous evening, I ate my chips in the garden.  One of the pleasures of a good summer is eating outside, I think.  Puppy, having just eaten his tea, came outside and sat at my feet waiting for a chip.  MAL is very polite and sat a little way off while Puppy got closer and closer and eventually got so close he ended up with tomato sauce on his nose.  Disgusting.  Not long after he managed to get a dollop of yogurt on his head, due to H1 being a bit slap-dash with his spoon.  He dabbed at it slightly ineffectually and the residue dried on Puppy's head making his fur all stiff.  He is now sporting the new nomenclature of Crusty.  My life is full of glamour.

It is however, never dull and I am inordinately grateful for the pleasures and trials within.  Tomorrow the sun is promised to return, so my shorts will see daylight again and I will be dragging reluctant children and excitable dogs out on yet another evening stroll.  But before any of that I have 50 chocolate hearts to make for my friend Sarah's wedding on Saturday.  Wish me luck!

Have a lovely day and thank you for reading. xxx

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Thinking Too Much

The first week of the summer holidays is over.  Gosh that went quick.  September will be here in the blink of an eye and the children will be back to school wearing new uniform, carrying new bags and wishing they hadn't spent quite so much time lolling about in front of the television.    But that is a whole five weeks away yet, plenty of time left to enjoy being free.

Yesterday morning, H1 and I drove Pea to the RSPB reserve off the island where she spent the day doing volunteer work, then the two of us (H2 being at his friend's house) went off to Tyddyn Mon for an hour or so.  It is a farm run by and for adults with special needs.  They keep pigs, sheep, donkeys, hens and ducks, grow vegetables and run a cafe.  I have never been before and didn't really know what to expect.  It is a lovely place to go and walk round.  The animals are well cared for and the woodland and garden  were all very enticing indeed.

From the age of 11 and into early adulthood, I volunteered and eventually worked full-time for Riding for the Disabled.  I loved horses with a passion and found that I greatly enjoyed the company of the adults and children with disabilities.  As a mother with a young family I kept hens and grew my own vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers.  I cooked and baked, made jam and chutney and worked hard to feed my growing children on good quality, home-produced food.  In more recent years I have worked with children and adults with special needs and children who have found themselves the victims of cruelty at home and school.  A life of self-sufficiency and food-for-free appeals to me greatly.  A life where I can be of use and hopefully lend my slightly rusty skills to the occasion appeals to me even more.  So Tyddyn Mon is calling to me and I am willing to respond in any way I can, if they will have me.  I shall wait and see.

The temperature has, sadly, dropped a little over the last week.  We are still getting plenty of sunshine, but for a sun worshipper like me, the heat just isn't there thanks to the wind, as usual!  The evenings are usually quite calm and we use this time to go for walks along shingle beaches or down unknown lanes.  The dogs stay at home, so we are unfettered and don't have the delight of Puppy hurling his tea in the back of the car.  Bless him.

The delights of our close surroundings never fail to hold me spell-bound, no matter how many times I visit.  Each moment is different.  The light is always changing as is the time of day and the seasons themselves.

Natural light has a profound effect on me.  Late summer is the time I really begin to feel connected to the earth again, after a brief absence to navel-gaze, and early autumn is when it really takes off!  I know it is only July, and I really shouldn't be getting excited about autumn, and honestly up until I went for a walk this afternoon, I wasn't.  But there was something different in the air and it has touched a thread deep inside that has begun to stir and take notice.  It is still sleepy at the moment, but I know from experience that with each passing day and as July progresses into August, it will wake a little more, lift it's head and look around.

And there is plenty for it to look at.  Life is, for a part, what you make it.  I cannot bear to be unhappy or to see those I love suffer in any way, so I strive to create a world of love, fun and comfort.  Outside influences will always raise their ugly heads and cause problems and these we have to deal with as best we can, but for the rest, it is up to us to live the life we love.  We have to change what causes us pain, (I know, I've done it) and do more of the things that make us happy and fulfilled.  I am on the cusp of a new life and it will be entirely up to me in which direction it goes, for now at least.  I am a little apprehensive to jump with both feet into the dark, but the thoughts of not doing anything scares me even more.  It is time to move on.

 Enough of that for now though!  There is still August; a time for holidays, fun, long walks and good food, spending time with friends and family and lying on the grass reading a gripping book.  Excuse me, I have a cup of tea to make and a book to find.

Have a lovely day and thank you for reading. xxx

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Just Relaxing

Henry James said 'Summer afternoon-summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.'

I agree with him.  Those two words conjure up images in my mind of Grandfather clocks ticking languidly in a silent hallway; a lace curtain shifting gently in the breeze at an open window; an empty chair under a tree; an open book on a green lawn; my nan putting down her knitting to go and put the kettle on and search through tins for some cake.  Powerful words, powerful images.

Enjoy your summer afternoons and create some memories for yourself. xxx

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Summer Evening

The first few days of the summer holidays have passed quietly and quickly, largely spent in the garden and on the beaches around us.  Our end of term beach picnic on Friday was lovely and apart from a minor invasion of flies trying to get to our food, it was a perfect evening.  There were very few people on the beach when we arrived and we stayed until the tide came in and sent us home.  Today the rain has come.  It is weeks since we had any and the land is parched and yellow.  A few hours of gentle rainfall will help it to recover.

But back to Friday evening.  As I said, there were only a few people and their dogs when we arrived and all was quiet, peaceful and relaxed.  I set up my little camp high up on the sand so that I didn't have to move again as the tide crept inwards and raced over the sand towards me.  The sun was hot but a warm breeze stopped things becoming too unbearable and the sea invited us in to cool off.  The children belted down to the shore and were in the sea before I had unpacked my book and sat down.  As I did so, the flies must have felt the warmth of our clothing and my prone form on the sand and swooped in for a free meal.  I hate flies with a passion; they are badly behaved, bad mannered and never give up.  They are only good as a snack for birds and that is the only reason I put up with them.  After a minute or two of battering them away with my book, I accepted that they wouldn't leave me alone, so I gave in and joined the children in the sea.

As they swam about like dolphins, I wandered about along the shore line knee deep and no more.  Pea always instructs me to 'just relax and float'.  She clearly has no concept of how difficult this is to the buoyantly challenged.  I cannot float.  It is a simple as that.  I try, but I sink like a stone.  H2 has inherited this unfortunate trait and he understands exactly what it feels like, although it doesn't stop him from ploughing about in the waves and generally having a good time.

Far from missing out on the swimming, I can snatch a few moments to marvel at the clarity of the water.  Like polished glass it glistens and shines and offers a perfect view of the world beneath its waves.

This gives me far more pleasure than any amount of muscle straining exercise.  After a while though, every one became hungry, so instead of setting the food out in a nice manner as I had planned, it was a case of dive into the bag, grab whatever comes to hand and cover it back up before winged beasts could get in.  We managed perfectly well and ate almost all of it.  At about half past seven, the tide was high on the beach and we were the only ones left.  The children were getting chilly due to being wet, so we grabbed our bags and set off home for hot showers and clean clothes.

We finished off the remains of the picnic standing up in the kitchen, before settling down in the garden to enjoy the last vestiges of warm sun.  Save for the whisper of leaf against stem, the low hum of a late foraging bee and the breath of tiny moth wings, the silence rang in our ears and reverberated across the fields and beyond, seemingly for ever.  My very bones felt like rubber as I sat there and listened to the quiet sounds of the evening as the countryside made ready for night time.  As the sun sank in the west, the moon rose behind me and slowly lit the sky with it's silver glow.  If the rest of the holidays are half as good as this evening has been, I shall be very sorry to see it end.

The down side to such a relaxed beach life is sand.  It is everywhere; in my car, on the patio, in the house and in the washing machine, which I'm sure isn't a good thing.  I have taken to leaving the towels and clothing out on the line all night, letting the wind blow most of the sand away, in the hope that I don't clog up the machine too much.

The drizzle has stopped now and the sun is out again.  There is just enough time to walk the dogs up the lane before I go and fetch Pea from her volunteer work at the RSPB.  Who knows, if it is a nice evening, we may even go to the beach...

Have a lovely evening, what ever you do with it and thank you for reading. xxx

Friday, 19 July 2013

Long Hot Summer

The heatwave continues, thank goodness!  The children break up from school today for the summer holidays and hopefully this fabulous weather will be kind to them and carry on for the next six weeks at least.  For the most part people are smiling and are more inclined to stop and chat for a few minutes, even if just to say how hot it is!  Most of the fields have been cut and hay made, sheep have been sheared and lambs weaned off their exhausted mothers.  The countryside dozes under a blazing sun.

At this time of year, with the schools about to finish and the sun out every day, it is easy to feel we are on a permanent holiday.  I am really getting into the swing of it now and only a tiny bit of guilt remains at my lack of motivation to achieve anything other than having a line full of clean washing and food in the fridge.  My love of crafts and creating in general has deserted me completely.  I have no desire to do anything other than write, take photos and day dream.  If day dreaming were a career choice, I'd be at the top of my game.  Sadly it isn't.  Never mind, I will carry on anyway.

Pea and I spent a few hours yesterday baking cakes with which to fill the tins ready for the weekend.  We made chocolate biscuits, sticky chocolate cornflake cake, white chocolate muffins in pastry cases and to break up the heavy chocolate theme, lemon cupcakes.  They are really fresh and tangy, which is lovely on a hot day and we will be taking some to the beach this evening to have with our tea.  So there is not much else to do now; all the bedding has been washed and is blowing in the sea breeze in the garden; there are cakes and biscuits aplenty in the kitchen; chicken has been bought from the butcher and cooked ready to eat on the beach and boring jobs and annoying phone calls have been made.  I am free to do nothing.

Pea has of course, earned her right to do nothing, but I have not.  It is a disgrace for a grown woman to drift about with her head in the clouds, watching swallows swoop over the fields, stirring only to let a trapped bee out of the window.  Occasionally I wander into the garden to soak up the sun and read a chapter of my book, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and wander back in again for a cup of tea or to fill the dogs' water bowl.  But I have plans for September.  Things to do to give me a purpose in life and to justify my existence a little.  My children still need me here, but not in the way they did when they were very small.  I do not grovel on the floor for hours on end doing giant zoo jigsaws, or read the same baby board book over and over or carry them about on my hip whilst trying to make myself something to eat.  I have done all this and loved every agonising, exhausting second of it.  Now it is becoming clear that I need to carve out a life where, if I am not exactly the centre of it, then nearer to it than I have been for many years.  It is a daunting thought.  I have put my family first since the moment I knew Pea was a microscopic life growing inside me, and I have done it willingly and lovingly.  But the time is coming where they are moving away from me a tiny bit each day and I must say I am happy and proud to have got them this far.  H2 will need me for a while longer yet, but he told me this morning what the letters DNA stand for, drew a diagram of the double helix and then worried if the electrons were indeed outside the nucleus.  By the way, DNA stands for Deoxyribonucleic Acid, just in case you were wondering.  Pea taught him that and he has taught several of the children at school.  See?  I am surplus to requirements.

I find this time of year quite romantic.  Actually, if I'm honest I find lots of things quite romantic, usually mundane every day things, viewed in a different light.  Summer dresses, meadows, washing blowing in the breeze, old fashioned scented roses, a pile of old books, the way the sun slants through the windows late in the evening and lights a patch of wall turning it the colour of ripe corn, and abandoned farm houses and cottages in the late summer sun, silent and waiting, remembering their happier days.

I am no authority on romantic love but these things make me feel as if I were in love, so they will have to do for now.  I am hardly likely to meet the man of my dreams whilst I'm wandering around these lonely lanes.  If I did he would have to be seriously special for me to bother with; he would have to be tall, dark and handsome for a start and have a deep love for the countryside, old cottages and books.  He would have to be kind and thoughtful to flora and fauna and love this island as much as I do and he would have to put up with my day dreaming.  In return I would give him unwavering love and devotion for ever more.

Jane Austen has a lot to answer for.

I hope you find some romance in your day.  Thank you for reading. xxx

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Life's A Beach

The thing about living on an island is that you are surrounded by the sea.  The thing about living on an island during a heatwave is that you can go to the beach after school, swim in the sea and eat your tea on the sand - and still be home in time to do your homework.

We have done this a few times over the last week; after school and on Sunday morning, when I really should have been home cooking dinner.  No thanks.  Sunday roasts are for Winter, the beach is for Summer!

My crushing feelings of guilt about doing nothing are slowly subsiding as the temperature increases and the school holidays loom ever closer.  Great Britain is, quite possibly, at the beginning of the longest, hottest Summer in history.  Woweewowee!!!  Bring it on!  I have my shorts, my sun cream and my flip-flops, the children break up on Friday and we will take all the sun we can get.  Thank you very much.  We have endured four absolutely rubbish Summers and so a nice long hot one will see us in the garden and on the beach every day.  I am not mad keen on house work at the best of times, so a cursory whip round with the hoover and a quick flick of the duster will do for now while we get out and enjoy what Nature has kindly sent us to enjoy.

Pea being a keen Naturalist found a Mussel in a rock pool and anchored it down in a bucket and left it with me to look after.  She wanted to know when it opened.  I dutifully checked it now and then but apart from blowing a few bubbles, it didn't seem inclined to do anything more exciting.  My status in life has seriously diminished.  I have been reduced to Mussel babysitter.

 I am, by nature, quite a laid back person, but I am slightly concerned that my Cavalier attitude is rubbing off on my children and filtering down from the beach to the rest of our normally quite ordered lives.  H1 went off to school this morning with his shirt hanging out and a hole in his jumper that I had noticed before but chose to forget about.  H2 has a Devil-may-care attitude at the best of times and he seems to be settling quite happily into the role.  After the beach on Sunday, H1 made Millionaire's Shortbread, his speciality (and the only thing he makes, to be honest).  He made the caramel and turned off the gas, put the saucepan back on the hob with a plastic spatula inside and wandered off outside.  He returned a little while later to find the kitchen smoking quietly to itself and the pan turning black on the hob.  He hadn't quite turned the gas off and the remains of caramel and plastic spatula had welded themselves permanently to the bottom of the pan.  I have tried for the last two days to scrape the layer of molten plastic and sugar off, but I think it is destined for the bin.

I should have hit the roof and gone on about safety in the kitchen, blah blah, but I didn't.  I said he was an idiot and thank God he didn't burn the cottage down and left it at that.  I must try harder to be more...bothered.

Puppy has the right idea and doesn't exert himself any more than necessary.  When the going gets tough, the tough find a nice shady spot and lie down.

Yesterday morning a thick mist rolled in off the sea and engulfed all in it's path, for a few hours at least.  Pea was slightly anxious about it as she had been invited by her friends to one of the island's beaches a little further away from us.

The local weather forecast promised it would all clear up by lunch time, so we had to be content with that.  We drove to collect her friend who then directed me to the beach they would be spending their afternoon at.  Porthdafarch is a tiny, quiet beach of golden sands, rocks and blue sea.  I dropped them off and went home for an afternoon by myself.  As it turned out, my friend came round for coffee and a chat and then it was time to fetch H2 from school.  When Pea rang to ask me to go and get her, the sun was beating down and it was a beautiful evening.

I picked the girls up and drove home.  Pea was limping slightly when she got in the car and they were both very tanned and tired.  They had had a super time and were drunk on sun and sea air.  I asked Pea what she had done and she replied that when the boys wanted to dive into the sea off the rocks, they had asked her to dive under to see if it was safe.  Being a good swimmer, she had been happy to help and keep everyone from bashing their heads in on hidden rocks.  She was in the water for so long her feet became numb and she fell over some rocks when leaving the sea.  She cut them quite deeply and they were very sore.  A good hot shower and some tea at home solved most of the pain and this morning they are healing nicely.  Just part of being active outdoors.

The thing I love about the beach is that you can be yourself.  It doesn't matter how old you are or how cool you are at school.  The boys that joined Pea and her friends yesterday are normally hanging about playing snooker, not really talking to anyone and not really looking at anyone, but on the beach they were relaxed, had fun and enjoyed themselves.  I'm so happy we can have this kind of life style.  Pea has worked very hard for her exams and now she is really able to let her hair down and have fun.

 So, long may the heatwave continue.  After the long cold Winter it is a dream come true to wear summer dresses, have tanned legs and bare feet and take my children swimming in the sea.  On Friday, I am packing a picnic tea and we will take it to the beach and spend the evening there, watching the sun go down and celebrating the end of school for six whole weeks!  Perfect.

Create a bit of beach life for yourselves and thank you for reading. xxx

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Blue Sky

Our beautiful island is sizzling daily under a sapphire blue sky.  The sun beats down and bakes the grass in the meadows to a golden brown.  Farmers are making hay while the sun shines and children are finally able to hold Sports Day in the summer sun.  The wind that usually whips round the cottage, battering everything in it's path, has turned from a wild animal into a biddable pet and keeps us cool with it's gentle breeze.

Yesterday was Sports Day at H2's school.  Last year it was cancelled altogether, due to awful rain and cold weather.  Not so this year!  We were more concerned that we would get burnt to a crisp under the glare of the sun on an open field.  We took plenty of water, a quilt to sit on and slapped sun cream on every five minutes.

Not a bad location for a school playing field.  The children entered into the spirit of the occasion and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, despite being extremely hot.  The teachers had put up 2 gazebos for them to sit under while waiting for their turn, so they at least weren't too hot.  The parents, however, were sweltering in the heat, but we enjoyed the novelty and reminded ourselves that this is exactly what we had all been praying so hard for, during the months of cold and wet.

H2 was thrilled to get two seconds and two thirds in different races and for once actually enjoyed taking part in strenuous exercise.  Not being one for any form of forward locomotion other than to the fridge, it was lovely to see him put in so much effort and have some fun at the same time.  I am hoping to keep the enthusiasm going for as long as possible.

This morning when I drew back the curtains, another glorious day greeted me.  It makes my heart skip and I can't help but smile.  I love the sun.  I love the heat.  I love the lazy feeling that comes over the countryside.  Animals graze sleepily or just lie flat out and soak up the rays.  Bees bumble about in and out of flowers, humming lazily to themselves.  Butterflies flit from grass to wall and rest a while, wings wide open.  Birds doze in the dappled shade of tree tops and the silence is everywhere.

Not being ones to miss out on a day like this, Pea and I grabbed a trug and set off to gather elder flowers.

Even though the clock hadn't even struck ten, the heat was quite intense, but now and then the breeze moved the air around us and cooled us enough to keep going.  It sounds pathetic to those who live with real heat, all the time, but here in Britain and especially Wales, we just don't get the chance to acclimatise.  We will just be getting used to it and it will rain.  Anyway, it was a perfect day to gather elder flowers as they should be picked when fully open and dry.  We picked them from several different trees and enjoyed a lovely walk at the same time.  We left the dogs at home in the cool of the cottage as they would struggle and make it hard work for us.

At home, I left the flowers in a bowl outside so the insects trapped within the tiny petals had a chance to escape, and I went in for a cup of tea.

Pea chopped some lemons and filled the kitchen with their fresh scent.  I find lemons one of the best things to lift flagging spirits, lemons and of course garden mint.  We poured boiling water on the elder flowers, lemons and added sugar; gave it all a stir and left it covered in the kitchen.  It will sit here for two days, emitting it's sweet perfume every time someone lifts the cover off to have a peek.  When it is ready, I will strain it into a bottle and it will be ready to drink.  Elder flower cordial is best diluted with sparkling water and lots of ice.  It doesn't keep so just enjoy it while you have it.  It is summer in a bottle.

Enjoy some summer time where ever you are. xxx