Being mindful

Mug with redcurrants design containing Earl Grey tea with no milk

As part of the process of weeding out my stress and anxiety, I have started a mindfulness programme. It is teaching me to live in the moment more, to fully experience whatever I am doing, rather than living on autopilot, which leaves the mind liable to stray into areas I am not yet ready to deal with. The cats are a little bemused – they have been trying to tell me for months that what matters is the here and now, and they don’t really understand why I need to practise. It’s even stranger when practice consists of me lying on the floor to focus on my breathing and on relaxing each area of my body in turn. There is an upside to this, of course – it makes me available for climbing over, sitting on and even occasionally settling on for a companionable sleep. I find the experience so relaxing, sometimes I join in with the nap myself.

Focusing on each experience is actually more challenging than it sounds. As a reader and a writer I tend to internalise everything I do, weaving sentences in my head, even as I am trying to give my attention to whatever I am up to. I listen to podcasts as part of the course, and the oh-so patient tutor reminds me in the recordings that my mind will wander – it’s what minds do. The trick is to bring it back to focus on whatever I need to and to do so without judging myself as having failed the exercise. I am learning to experience things in the moment with all my senses, enjoying the physical nature of a walk or eating a home-cooked meal. My thoughts and ideas, while still an important part of who I am, are being put into a wider perspective of the whole, rather than dominating my existence.

Getting out and about is a vital part of this learning. I recently walked the city walls in York. Every time I found myself thinking about work or how I could write up my trip into a blog post, I stopped, took a couple of breaths and refocused on the beauty around me. It was a cool day, with a threat of rain in the air and I could feel the breeze against my cheek. Somewhere, someone had been cutting grass and its scent mingled with the unique smell of impending rain. I could hear the traffic on the other side of the wall but it faded into the background as I was enveloped by the peaceful scenes of back gardens in the Minster Close. As I passed families and couples also walking the walls, probably on their holiday, I caught snatches of conversation in a variety of languages and smiled at them all, feeling briefly like we had all ventured back in time just a little. Oops – there I go again, disappearing into my imagination …

 

Summer gardens and trees with York Minster in the background
View of York Minster from the City Walls

The walls around York are not complete, have never been complete as one side of the city was protected by a deep and treacherous pool of water. The pool is long gone, replaced by a retail park and my mind was definitely jolted back to the present and to the experience of the walk by walking down some steps and coming face to face with Carpet Right. I noticed the difference in the noise level and in the scents as I crossed the busy road to follow the River Foss around to the next section of wall. Even there, there was beauty to be found, as a family of black Canadian geese sailed up the river, avoiding the wide swathe of water lilies which spread across the water.

 

Black-necked Canadian goose swimming down the river with water lilies in the foreground
Canadian goose on the River Foss

And yes, I know, I have taken my physical experience and turned it into a blog post anyway. But at least I waited until I got home, rather than writing it in my head as I went round. It’s a bit like taking lots of photos wherever you go – if you aren’t careful, you only see the photo, rather than the view.

And on that note, I am off for a mindful cup of tea. Try it – next time you brew up, put your book down, switch off the TV and don’t think about your to-do list. Instead, focus as you drink – feel the weight of the cup, the heat against your lips, the flavour and how the hot liquid slides down your throat towards your stomach.  Savour every moment of your chosen beverage. I promise that, if you can do it (and it’s not easy!) your brain will feel as refreshed by the break as the rest of you.

I have something totally different for you next week. A fellow blogger, Lovely and Grateful, has nominated me for the Liebster award. Liebe is German for love and the award is a way for bloggers to share the love and other blogs that we enjoy. I am thrilled that Lovely and Grateful, whose blog I have been following for a while (she has the most beautiful cat called Mara – check out her site!), enjoys mine enough to want to share it with her readers and I am looking forward to doing the same for some others next week. I have to answer some questions about myself too so who knows, you might just learn something new about me as well as discovering some new blogs to follow!

 

 

Taking time to breathe

And so it seems that the stresses of modern life have finally penetrated our Yorkshire idyll. The huge changes of the past few years caught up with me in the end and I have had to take a few weeks out to assimilate my feelings and start edging towards a way forward for the future.

Stress is a little like bindweed, I think. If you keep your garden tidy, it is easy to spot and remove. You can never get rid of it completely, but you can keep it under control and stop it from smothering your chosen plants. We have a bed in our front garden that needs attention – I am planning to pull most of it up next year and start again. I walk past that bed for weeks, not seeing the tell-tale heart shaped leaves as the bindweed works its insidious way up the tangle of geranium and other plants which have run rampant. Only when it has taken a firm hold do I finally see it and removing it is much harder than it might have been. I see a few leaves first, start to remove them and then suddenly they are everywhere. Weeding them out is a daunting task.

 

Green heart shaped bindweed leaves and stems winding through a pink geranium plant
Bindweed leaves winding their way through our flowerbed

Stress is the bindweed of life. Whilst most areas of life are under control, it is easy to recognise and manage – never going away completely, of course, but at a level which can be used to challenge us, keeping us on our toes and even encouraging our creativity and fulfilment. However, as life throws more and more things at us, often so slowly we don’t see them coming, stress puts out its tendrils, winding through our lives until it feels impossible to eradicate. Finally, when everything feels out of control, just like our flower bed, we realise how we deeply entrenched it has become and addressing the problem can feel very daunting indeed.

No one thing can be held responsible for my stress. I love my life here as much as I ever have. The cats and garden are thriving, D supports me with his usual unswerving love and practicality and I still feel extremely lucky to be here. However, it cannot be denied that we have been through large life changes at a time when the world itself feels like it is shifting and changing in potentially dangerous ways and we have never really stopped to draw breath and consolidate the changes fully. I have needed the past few weeks to start that consolidation process.

Home has become my refuge and yet the best way I have found to start weeding out the stress is to go out and re-engage with the world. I have started small. Sitting in the gardens at Beningbrough Hall, listening to the bees in the flower borders and even on one occasion communing with a mouse who popped out of the wall to say hello. Walking down the towpath along the River Ouse, leaving the bustle of the city of York far behind me, greeting the dog walkers and ramblers along the path. Taking time to enjoy the garden at home and eating well, chiefly home grown fruit and veg. Spending time with the cats, with D and with family. Taking care of myself.

Pink poppies in a wide flower border with several insects feeding on the nectar
The insects are enjoying this border at Beningbrough Hall as much as I did

 

River with trees and lots of greenery on both banks
You would never know how close to York you are here – it’s so peaceful

I am starting to see my way back as I pull out more and more of the bindweed to reveal the flowers beneath – the things that really matter. I am lucky that I have so many positives in my life which I have never really lost sight of – they were temporarily covered but never totally buried. And when life goes back to normal, which it will eventually, hopefully I will have learned from the experience to take at least a little time to weed out the stresses early, while those bindweed leaves are still small and the stems weak, leaving me to enjoy the beauty of our chosen New Simple Life.

The Kitchen Garden

Last week, I focused on the flower garden and how it had flourished while we were away. But what about the other side of the pretty cream-painted wooden gate, I hear you ask. What about the kitchen garden?

It’s probably fair to say results are mixed. We had moved the seedling carrots, leeks and sprouts from the greenhouse to the kitchen for the catsitter to water, along with the larger cauliflowers that we had also grown from seed but not yet planted out. So they were fine, until we got back at least. The day after we returned, we put them back in the greenhouse, unaware of just how hot the day was going to be and, unfortunately, it was more than our newly-germinated sprouts could take. The next day, we found them shrivelled to nothing in their tray, in spite of the automatic roof vents. Another lesson learned – the greenhouse can get too hot!

All the potatoes were doing well and we actually harvested the two bags that we had started off in the greenhouse before moving them outside a month or so ago. The first bag was disappointing, I have to say – the crop was tasty but only lasted us a scant two meals. The second bag was a better haul though. There is nothing quite to beat the excitement of pulling up the stems and seeing what lies beneath, burrowing into the earth and finding the treasure that is a potato you have grown yourself. The miracle of nature and its cycle continues to make me marvel – the fact that the discarded plant goes into the compost bin to help grow the harvests of the future brings me so much pride and pleasure. We also pulled our first few carrots, also from greenhouse bags. Although they are bigger than those we grew last year, they were still a bit curly. We have been told they grow well (and straight) in sand, so we might try that next year.

Grey and white cat looking at a basket of potatoes sitting on a lawn
“Is that it?”
3 home-grown curly carrots sitting on a wooden chopping board
Definitely looking more carrot-like this year

The other veg are coming on slowly. We made a classic mistake back in early Spring when, excited by our work replacing the raised beds, we planted lots of things out too early and the frost hit them. Nothing actually died, but everything stopped growing and most of it is only just recovering now. The sweetcorn, planted slightly later, is doing better but has suffered from attention by, we think, the fat and well-fed pigeons who hang out in the apple tree and laugh at the cats. Still, we have some garlic coming up slowly, as well as leeks, onions, carrots and some parsnips that we sowed straight into the ground and that we are hoping will be ready for our Christmas table. The salad that had done so well over the winter is much less happy in this more clement weather, unfortunately, and has bolted. While the flowers are pretty, as far as salad goes, we will be relying on the various tomato plants we have around, which appear to be doing well.

In fact, most of our fruit is thriving. In the orchard, the cooking apple tree is already groaning under the weight of the coming fruit and we are back to picking up small unripe windfalls daily. The eating apple appears to be doing better this year as well and to my joy, the plum is also promising to bear lots of fruit after a barren year last year. The rhubarb loves its new home too, in spite of the apples landing in its bed each day. I can feel a jam-making session or two coming on over the next few months. As the new gooseberry is still settling in, we definitely won’t be seeing any gooseberries this year, probably to D’s relief, as he doesn’t like them but the blueberry is starting to show signs of fruit and is the most beautiful colour when you look closely.

We are getting a few strawberries too although, just like my childhood recollections, it was a toss-up whether we got there before the birds. In the end, D created a fruit cage out of spare wood from the garage, some netting, a couple of bamboo canes and a lot of ingenuity. One of the canes has weighted the netting so that it will sit in place, but it can be lifted back when we come to pick the strawberries. It makes the harvesting less of an adventure in a way, but at least we are getting some of them. The birds get up earlier than we do, so they were definitely winning the race!

Fruit cage covering strawberry plants in a small raised bed
Another example of D’s practical and creative abilities

And, speaking of birds, they are also thriving. There is a blackbird family next door and young birds of all descriptions everywhere you look. It is lovely to watch them but it is always with a little trepidation, in case one of the cats gets too close. The Princess, particularly, is hunting again when she can, although both the neighbour and I are determined to protect the blackbirds. We hear him banging on the window regularly to chase her off and we are constantly bringing her inside when we hear the shrill alarm call of the parent birds. We have found a few frogs as well, including one who had made it into the garage and resisted all attempts for us to rescue it for some time. Eventually D got it into a bucket and we decanted it into the aptly-nicknamed Frog Patch area of the garden, where they usually shelter in the undergrowth, enjoying the damper conditions caused by the drystone wall.

Hopefully, we are now entering the stage where the kitchen garden will be little work beyond watering, pulling up the odd weed and harvesting, while the flower and front gardens seem to require more input daily to keep on top of the weeds and the deadheading. We need to remind ourselves sometimes that a garden is also for sitting in, for meditating, reading, chatting and enjoying. The cats try to tell us – now all we need to do is listen.

Grey and white cat lying in a greenhouse
“See, this is what a greenhouse is for – sunbathing”

The Flower Garden

2 flowering red poppies with purple and yellow centres

Life is settling back down after our week away. We came back to discover that, in spite of the dry weather and nobody to water the plants, the garden had exploded into life and was making a bid to go back to nature. We spent our first free day after we got home cutting the grass and all the hedges, watering furiously and doing some serious weeding. However, it was still all looking a little ropey when someone we know from Aberdeen came to visit as part of their holiday. They are “real” gardeners too, and it wasn’t quite looking as tidy as I had hoped it might, but they seemed to like it all the same. They very kindly brought us a lilac and a lavender from their own garden, which spurred us into further action after they had gone, clearing a patch which had been totally overgrown with weeds and creating a new border. This involved digging up all the daffodil bulbs we planted at the beginning of the year, and they are now drying in the garage, ready to be stored for the autumn.

D also decided that the enormous Pampas grass needed a haircut and, in his own inimitable style, he set to with the shears. Not how you are supposed to prune a Pampas grass – Monty Don talks about running gauntleted hands through the fronds to pull out dead material – but ours is so large, gauntlets just wouldn’t be enough. You would need a full body suit and to actually get inside it (yes, it really is that big) and it just isn’t feasible. So, the shears it was. The result was – er – dramatic and only time will tell if it will ever recover fully. The shears certainly won’t. One of the handles snapped off altogether in his enthusiasm. I was secretly quite glad, or we may not have had a Pampas grass left at all! It did bring more light and air to the geranium and heuchera that I had planted underneath it though, so at least something benefitted from the cull.

Tall Pampas grass
My poor Pampas grass is looking very short now!
Red shears lying on grass broken
Somehow, I think we need a new pair of shears …

The cats had their own catching up to do after a week inside the house. After watching us work in the garden for a while, clearly wondering why on earth we would go to all that effort on such a warm day, they needed to revisit all their favourite spots. After a good sniff to make sure they hadn’t been invaded during their house-arrest, they then settled down for a nap in the sunshine – it’s hard work running a garden, you know!

In our absence, the new rose bed had burst into bloom. It would have looked fantastic, I think, if I hadn’t have had a crisis of confidence a couple of months ago and sown lots of annual seeds in the same bed. My thought had been that, as the roses were such new and small plants, they probably wouldn’t flower this year, and the bed needed a bit of colour. Unfortunately, not only was I wrong, but I didn’t check the relative sizes of what I sowed and so you can’t really see the roses for the tall navy cornflowers surrounding them. They are interspersed with marigolds too – no order or colour co-ordination in our garden! It wasn’t exactly a lack of planning or design flair, even though that is what it looks like – more just inexperience. I have learned from it though and, next year, I will leave our rose bed alone.

Rose bush with white flowers
The white Yorkshire rose in bloom

Two plants that have thrived after our over-enthusiastic pruning are the hydrangea and the buddleia. I cut the hydrangea back to nearly nothing last year, as it consisted solely of the remnants of two enormous blooms on spindly stems and a lot of dead wood. This year, we have over a dozen flowers coming and it is the most vibrant pink I have ever seen. Once the buds open on the goldenrods that are standing tall and proud behind it, it should be a striking display I think. That bed has also suffered slightly from my indiscriminate seed sowing, but at least the marigolds there, while densely packed (pricking out – what’s that??), are smaller than the other plants so don’t hide them altogether and the sweet peas have their own corner. The buddleia is covered with new leaves apart from at the bottom where it is covered anyway by something else and, after being convinced we had killed it back in March, we now have high hopes that it will flower later in the year.

Self-seeded poppies are attracting the bees, as is the hebe, beautifully set off by the purple clematis which has made its way through to us from next door. The photinia has gone mad and desperately needs tying back and so does the climbing rose and the honeysuckle which are both trying their best to escape from their shackles tied to a trellis behind the oil tank. Maybe we should train them over the tank and hide its ugly plastic shell. The pink roses smell divine and it is such a shame that they are difficult to reach behind the tank.

Poppy flower with 2 bees inside
Can you see the insects in here, feasting on the pollen?
White hebe with purple clematis running through it
Isn’t this a lovely combination? And the bees love it too

Finally, the petunias, which I lovingly reared from tiny plugs in the greenhouse, are now looking splendid in our handmade pallet planter on the wall next to the patio doors. We still have several pallets left from the delivery of our topsoil earlier in the year and, after seeing the tables at the pizzeria last week, it seems the possibilities are endless. I quite fancy a potting table next – now, where is D and that saw …

Blue wooden planter on a wall, filled with petunias
I am so proud of this!

 

A Devon Break

Green hills in background with village tucked into the cove at the bottom with the sea coming in across rocks

After a relaxing week away, I probably have enough to fill several blog posts so I will have to try not to become a holiday bore! We spent a week in Combe Martin in North Devon, swapping our usual countryside views for the sea, and very beautiful it was too.

The B&B we were staying at, the Newberry Beach Lodge, made us feel instantly at home. The couple who run it love vintage furniture as much as we do, filling their home and the guest rooms with beautiful pieces which I coveted instantly. The house itself had a similar comfortable feel to our own, just on a much larger scale. As well as the bedrooms, there were several living areas – a library, a chillout room with a wii console in it and a large living room on the top floor, with stunning sea views. Our room was on that floor and, as the other room up there was vacant for most of the week, we had the lounge to ourselves. It even had a fridge for the wine (or scrumpy in D’s case – he was getting into the whole West Country thing …). The cove was literally across the road down some steps and we lay in bed at night, listening to the waves lapping against the shingle beach. It doesn’t get much better than that. If you are ever planning a trip to North Devon, I can’t recommend the Newberry Beach Lodge highly enough.

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We packed a lot into our week, from playing crazy golf at Woolacombe Beach (D thrashed me as usual), to visiting a couple of National Trust properties. We even popped down to Cornwall for a pizza! Not intentionally – we were exploring a little further round the coast and found ourselves in Bude. We didn’t even know we were heading over the border until we spotted the “Welcome to Cornwall” sign. Once we arrived, we stumbled upon a great little pizzeria called La Bocca Pizza Kitchen. The tables were made from old pallets, sanded, painted and covered in glass and there were some very cool light fittings too. They were doing a roaring trade in takeaway as well as the small restaurant. Again, if you are ever in the area, you need to try this place out – the interior is fab and the pizzas were too.

Cafe table made from a wooden pallet covered in glass
I loved these pallet tables
Cafe interior with bare bulb industrial style lighting over small tables
I loved the light fittings too!

There were two main highlights of the week and it’s no surprise probably to hear that they both involved gardens. The first was RHS Rosemoor which, like Harlow Carr near home was an inspirational day out. I finally know the difference between a vegetable plot and a potager. It was fascinating to compare the two and then to set them against a permaculture garden that we saw elsewhere. They all contained fruit and veg but grown entirely differently. The traditional veg plot was similar to what we have, albeit on a much larger scale, while the focus in the potager was on design, embedding fruit and veg growing with flowers in an attractive, decorative layout. The permaculture garden at Tapeley Park nearby was a new concept to me. Basically, it is a no dig approach to veg growing, where each bed becomes a mini ecosystem of its own. Plants jostle side by side and the owner says that they lose little to disease or pests, because everything is balanced and protected by the other plants around it. I think I liked the potager best, but as D likes a tidy garden, we will probably stick to the more traditional kitchen garden – for now, anyway!

Rosemoor had too many things to see for me to be able to cover it all and do it justice. The rose gardens were particularly beautiful, although it was a clematis that we really fell for in there – a stunning violet flower climbing high above the huge variety of roses. The wildlife was almost as amazing as the plants – there were hundreds of dragonflies down by the lake and there was even a snake in the kitchen garden, basking in the sun. Unfortunately, it glided away before I could take a photo of it, but to see it at all was a very special moment.

The second highlight of the week was our trip to Knights Hayes, a National Trust property outside Tiverton. The house is an impressive example of Victorian Gothic architecture and the gardens were gorgeous, with fun topiary dogs leaping over hedges.

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It would have been a great place to spend some time anyway and I would love to go back one day, but we were really there to see a dear friend of mine, who I hadn’t seen for a number of years. Jenny Kane is a novelist and was instrumental in me starting my blog in the first place. As well as being lovely to see and catch up with her and her daughter, I left, as I usually do when I have spoken to her, feeling inspired and like I could achieve anything. I can see why her company, Imagine, where she teaches writing workshops with her business partner, Alison Knight, is so successful. And her natural warmth comes through in her writing too so, if you have never tried her novels and fancy a light, romantic read this summer, I would start with either Romancing Robin Hood or Abi’s House.

Sadly, our week was over all too quickly and then we headed home, happy to see the cats but a little apprehensive about how the garden had fared during the hot weather while we were away. What we found on our return can wait for another week, but here is a taster, blooming to show us that we don’t need to go all the way to Devon to see some lovely roses.

Pale red rose in full bloom
Our first rose in our own rose bed

A family party

Village view of medieval market building and stone church

And so, just 2 weeks after the Manchester attacks, the outside world forces its cruel way back into our sheltered and happy lives. I can’t really add to what I said about Manchester, except that we are, again, thinking of everyone affected by the London attack at the weekend.

It is hard to write cheery gardening posts when scenes of such senseless brutality appear on our TVs daily. However, as the One Love concert in Manchester on Sunday night demonstrated so well, the only response we can give to these attacks is to resume our daily lives as much as possible. So I will turn my attentions back to home and family, to hopefully provide a moment of escapism for us all.

The good news is that the Princess is now fully recovered from her illness, has regained the weight she lost and is back to her usual active and chatty self. We were away last week for work and it was clear that both girls missed us – they woke us hourly on Friday night to tell us how much. They checked out their territory on Saturday morning, ensuring that all was still well after they had spent a week indoors. Then, after a spot of lunch (“Hooray – you are back! We didn’t get lunch while you were away …”), they asked to go back out to just double check. However, we were off again, this time to a family party in Oxfordshire, so they were disappointed. They sat by the patio doors, noses pressed to the glass and waves of disapproval radiating off them. “You’ve only just come back, what do you mean you are leaving us again??” Feeling like thoroughly bad parents, we ignored them and set off regardless.

How have I got to an age where my sister can be celebrating her 20th wedding anniversary? It seems, well, maybe not quite like yesterday, but certainly not 20 years since we all gathered in the pretty Oxfordshire village where she lives to watch her walk up the aisle to marry the man who would be the best husband she could ask for – they complement each other so well, providing a perfect foil for each other’s strengths and challenges, even if they do bicker constantly! They have 2 very beautiful teenage daughters, of whom we are all incredibly proud too, and it was my younger niece who arranged the surprise party for her mum, with a bit of help from her dad.

Couple standing together cheek to cheek
My lovely sister and husband after 20 happy years together

The party was loud, boisterous and tremendous fun – a bit like them. All their friends turned out to celebrate with them and we got to catch up with sisters, parents, nieces and friends, always such a pleasure. My brother-in-law excelled himself in writing and performing a poem for his wife, encapsulating the past 20 years in a few well-written lines and looking ahead to the next 20. All in all, the whole thing reminded us all how special love and family can be. Then we headed home again, to snuggle down with our own little family, all 4 of us cuddled on the sofa for the evening, happy to be together again.

There won’t be a blog next week – we are taking a break. I will be back as usual the following week though and, until then, I wish you all a peaceful, safe and contented couple of weeks with plenty of sunshine and laughter.

A Trip to the Vet

The Princess has been under the weather. She had been biting at her back paw for a few days, so we were keeping a watching brief to see if it developed into anything serious. She spends so much time stalking the hedgerows, we wouldn’t be surprised if she got a thorn or something lodged in her foot.

Of course, she waited for the weekend before showing any sign of being ill. On the Saturday morning, she lay in the study doorway and showed no signs of interest in breakfast or attention. Fearing that we had, indeed, missed an injury which had become infected, we picked her up and inspected the paw. It looked fine but she growled at us anyway and that was enough for us. The Calamity Cat growls at anything but it’s not seemly for princesses, so ours doesn’t do it very often. Fortunately, our vet has a Saturday surgery so we popped her into her cat carrier (I am making that sound much less challenging than it is, although she didn’t put up as much of a fight as usual, a sure sign that all was not well) and off we went.

Why, oh why do cats always come alive when they get to the vet? You give the vet a tale about how they haven’t moved all morning, how lethargic and unresponsive they are. In the meantime, said cat has leapt down off the table with great agility and enthusiasm and is prowling around the consulting room, sniffing in all the corners and finally coming to rest by the fridge, just in case there is something more interesting in there than prescription drugs. The Princess was so alert, she was keeping watch through the glass door when the vet went to get a nurse to hold her and they couldn’t get back in until I scooped her up and put her back on the table. We told the vet our theory about the paw and she prodded and stretched her limbs with only the smallest complaint from our girl. Just when the vet was giving up, she must have touched something raw and the growl came from deep within. So she touched the same area again – nothing. She tried the other leg and again, she growled. Aha! The vet went back to the same spot and got no response – all very contrary and confusing.

In the end, unable to find anything specific, she wormed her, gave her an anti-inflammatory injection and sent her home, with strict instructions for us to bring her back if she became worse. From the loud complaining coming from the carrier all the way home, she was fine and most indignant about being poked and prodded for no reason like that.

Grey and white cat sitting with eyes closed on a pale blue patio table
This is one of my favourite photos of the Princess when she is well – enjoying the sunshine on the patio table

Once home, though, it was a different story. She retired to the safety of the wardrobe to groom the vet smell out of her fur and then went back to her spot in the doorway. She became increasingly unwell throughout the rest of the day, barely looking up when I touched her or offered her water. Mid-afternoon, she dragged herself downstairs to be sick, then went straight back up to the study, not moving again for the rest of the day. Mind you, I shouldn’t think the rodent she threw up had had the best of days either.

I got very little sleep that night, worried sick. And then – in the dead of night, I suddenly heard a noise downstairs. Was that, could that be – crunching?? The Calamity Cat isn’t that fond of biscuits, whereas the Princess is known for her midnight feasts. I had to check. I got up and bumped into her on the landing, on her way back up from her snack. She followed me into the bedroom and proceeded to jump on me, headbutting my nose and purring very loudly. It seemed normal service was resumed. Heartily relieved, I fell asleep with her curled in next to me on the pillow.

The next day, both cats asked to go out before breakfast as usual. As the Princess seemed fine, we opened the door and out they trotted. She wandered up the garden, having a good sniff at everything to see what she had missed the day before. She was on her way back down the path, clearly heading back to the house for breakfast when, without warning, she collapsed. We rushed outside and brought her in, where she lay on the table, apparently unable to move.

As soon as we could, we got her down to the emergency vet. By then, yet again, she appeared to have recovered and was making her feelings known very loudly about being stuffed in a cat carrier and taken back to that horrible place. At least it wasn’t full of dogs on a Sunday. It wasn’t full of anything when we got there – including the vet, who had been held up at a previous call-out.

The upshot of the whole saga is that our beloved girl had had a seizure, probably brought on by eating something diseased or poisoned. However, after a raft of blood tests the next day, I am pleased to say that they all came back clear. We kept her in for a couple of days, much to her disgust, and then, our hearts in our mouths, we let her out again. It didn’t take her long to prove she is back to full strength, hunting once again and even paying the neighbour a visit, as he told us the next day: “I was sitting in my front room, minding my own business, when this little grey face peeped around the door …”

Grey and white cat on hind legs on a windowsill, trying to get out of the window
“Pleease let me out!”

Cats’ memories are relatively short. It may take us a little longer to recover. Every time she lies down, we jump up and feel the need to check on her. Every time she leaves the garden, we don’t totally relax until she is safely home again. We have been reminded that our precious girls’ lives are so much shorter than our own, with dangers at every turn. All we can do is value and make the most of the time that we do have together and shower them in all the love and care they deserve.

 

We stand with Manchester

Yellow and black bee in mosaic form

This wasn’t the blog post I had planned for this week. I was going to share our fears last weekend when our precious Princess was taken ill. However, that can wait for another day.

Like everyone, I watched in disbelief and horror as the news of the Manchester terror attack unfolded this week. Although now living in Yorkshire, I am proud of my Manchester heritage and this attack felt personal. Most of my family still live in towns to the north and east of the city. Outside the Arena is a common drop-off point and my youngest sister goes through that station every day on her way to and from work.

I am lucky – none of my family went to the concert, or were passing at the time. I cannot begin to understand how people who had children, brothers, sisters, friends there must feel. Whether their loved ones are safe but traumatised, injured or worse, it is something most of us just hope we never have to experience.

If there are positives to take from this terrible attack, it is that the community pulled together when it counted. I only hope that this solidarity continues when the dust has settled. I have faith that it will.

In the midst of such tragedy, I have realised that, totally unconsciously, I have written of “hope” and “faith”. We need to hold on to those things at times like this. And I wanted to make public that, again like everyone else who was not involved, we are thinking of those who were.

As blog posts go, this is one of my shortest. However, I make no apology for that. As the young singer whose concert it was said herself – “There are no words”.

 

A dry spell

4 small plants in pots in a blue shelf-style planter

Anyone who follows my Facebook page or Twitter account knows that I have been hoping for rain recently. With D away, watering the garden became my responsibility. With the water butts dry and the number of watering cans required increased daily, I was spending up to an hour every night filling can after can at the outside tap and then carrying it all the way up to the kitchen garden. I watered faithfully every night and then every morning the beds were as dry as ever. By the end of the week, I was quite seriously contemplating trying a rain dance and, while D and I love to dance together, it might have looked a bit odd if I started spinning around the lawn on my own.

animated-dancing-image-0106
Animation taken from http://www.animatedimages.org

 

The weather finally broke at the weekend with some overnight rain (just as D was back – typical!) and what a difference it has made. Flowers are appearing daily – everything from the chives to the peonies to something unidentified in the patio pots. Yes, I did plant the bulbs in the patio pots but I can’t remember what I put in there! The poppies are in bud and – hooray! – so is the hydrangea, which I cut back hard last year.

Hydrangea plant in bud
Buds on the hydrangea

On the subject of containers, I have been busy planting up my new pallet planter. When we had the topsoil and gravel delivered for the kitchen garden, everything arrived on pallets and my creative juices have been flowing ever since. I cannot believe the things you can make from pallets – Pinterest is full of ideas. In the end, I decided to keep things simple. D cut one in half for me and attached it to the wall of the house so that all I had to do was paint it and fill it with plants. I bought some petunias in plugs and have been growing them on in the greenhouse for a few weeks. I carefully watched Gardeners’ World, took in Monty Don’s advice to harden young plants off before planting them out – and then totally forgot to follow it. I now have twelve young petunias out facing the big wide world, albeit in the relative shelter of a planter. Oops! They are holding their own so far and I am looking forward to a frothy display of flowers trailing from each tier in the coming months.

12 young petunias planted in black square pots
The petunias look huge here!
Bright blue planter made from a pallet and mounted on a brick wall
But they’re really just babies

Another success for us is all the work we put into the lawn. It still has a way to go, but it is looking and feeling much better already. The Wilko grass seed was particularly effective and we ended up with strange oval crop circles where D spread the seed in a wide arc. It looked so good where it had grown that we went back for some more but we treated ourselves to a spreader this time too, to get a more regular sowing. We spread the seeds that day and the birds have been enjoying them ever since. Watching a family of sparrows brought me so much pleasure, I forgave them every seed. Mum, Dad and baby all hopped around the grass, with the parents feeding the young one, even though, judging by the foraging it was doing, it was clearly capable of feeding itself. Every time the parents strayed a little too far, the baby flew the short distance to bridge the gap. It was the perfect family and I loved every minute. The swallows have also returned and watching them swirling around in the evening sky was truly magical.

Unfortunately, not everything has thrived as well as the grass. The carrots are slow to develop and the onions and leeks look like they have been eaten. As we haven’t seen any slugs this year so far (is this down to the cold start to the season or to the Nemaslug I ask myself), they have either had their tops nibbled by the cats or by pigeons – either is possible. Even worse, the larger tomato plants we bought have been caught by the frost and one may not recover. We have 1 solitary garlic plant and the parsnips have shown no sign of germinating so far. More positively, though, one of the asparagus roots we planted has grown and we have a spear standing tall and proud. The only problem with asparagus is that we can’t harvest it for at least 2 years, so for the moment, we just need to admire it from afar.

Oh, and the rain dance seems to have worked with a vengeance – it’s not stopped raining for days and it’s a serious case of “be careful what you wish for”. Hopefully the sunshine will be back again soon.

 

 

A creative interlude

Piece of white crochet on a red hook, with a ball of wool sitting on an instruction book

Some of you may remember my excitement last Autumn when I retrained as a professional curtain-maker. I shared my fabrics, my new skills and my samples with you all and, along with them my hopes and dreams for the future. And then it all went quiet. The blog returned to its more usual themes of cats and gardening, and it was almost as if I had never done the course. Or at least, that is how it may have appeared.

The truth was that I have been practising in the background, although probably not as much as I should have and, beyond that, I had a huge “what am I doing” panic. D and I talked about “the company”, almost as if it existed but I put off actually doing anything about it for some time, focusing on home and garden for a while, until I felt a bit braver.

Happily, before panic set in, I had signed up to attend my first trade fair in April, thinking at the time that I would be up and running by then. The company may not have come into being, but April arrived anyway and, before I knew it, I was on a train on my way to stay with a friend in Worcester, so that I could attend the fair in Cheltenham.

And boy, am I glad I went. Firstly, it was great to see my friend settled in a new home (and her curtains, I am happy to report, are very well-made!) Her partner offered me some sound business advice too and, with that echoing in my head, I set out for the fair feeling less apprehensive than I had expected.

With over 80 stalls, all aiming their services at interiors-industry professionals, it was totally overwhelming. So overwhelming, I failed magnificently as a blogger and didn’t take any photos at all. Fortunately, the organisers, the Curtain, Blind and Furnishing Makers Friendly Forum (or CABMFF for short) took loads and put them on their Facebook page, so feel free to have a look at the link if you are interested. Everywhere I looked, there were fabrics, curtain poles, gadgets that I had never dreamed existed and so much more. It took a while to pluck up the courage to talk to any of the stall-holders. I felt I had “Not a real curtain-maker” stamped on my forehead. Everyone seemed to have specific questions for them such as things they were seeking for clients, and I didn’t know where to begin.

In the end, I approached a haberdashery supplier and asked for a catalogue. I was totally honest about just starting out and that I had come mainly to get a feel for these events and they couldn’t have been more encouraging or supportive. Of course, they are hoping I will be a new customer for them but even so, I felt bolder. So I moved on and started talking to others, collecting contacts and information as I went. My leaflet collection grew and so did my courage. I sat in on a talk and raised my hand when she asked if there were any curtain-makers there. That felt strange but very exciting too. Everyone I spoke to treated me as someone who belonged in the industry and, by the end of the day, I felt like it was true. I was no longer playing at this – I am proud to say that I am a (very new) professional curtain-maker.

At least as fascinating as the stalls were the conversations I heard around me. Phrases like “This fabric was £150 a metre – I had to get it right”, “And I told her, this is my business not a hobby, you know” offered tantalising glimpses of the challenges I have ahead. The best story for me, as a Lancashire lass now living in Yorkshire, was the chap who had been asked at interview in a Yorkshire firm about his Lancashire origins. He got the job, though, so I presume it all worked out OK.

I came home totally inspired. That week, we registered the company and I started work on business cards and the website. I still have a way to go, but I am aiming for a July launch, so watch this space!

Being surrounded by so much creativity had even more benefits. I had started to attend a craft and natter session at the village club at around the same time, and one of the ladies had shown me how to crochet. I am – sorry, I have to say this – hooked. I am feeling firmly back in touch with my creative, textile side and I am loving it.

Blue crocheted rectangle with white edging
My very first completed piece of crochet – a dishcloth with embroidered trim

I am writing this in the garden, finally enjoying some late evening sunshine and the results of our hard work on the lawn. Surrounded by beauty and all the love and support I could ever ask for, I am confident that my future will be an altogether more creative one.