Wednesday 26 January 2011

A Little Winter Sun

Just for a few hours this morning, the sun peeped through and it cheered my week up very much indeed. It seems an age since I looked up to see the brightest blue, a watery sun beaming down and clouds scudding across the sky.
In the town early on the wind was keen, cutting right through me and making me wish I'd put on another layer. Raw was the word. Later on though, on my drive home from the mid-week market I pulled in on the verge just to watch the sun lighting up the valley.
Winter sunshine is such a precious thing. It vanishes for what seems like weeks and has no real warmth at all but just the sight of it makes the heart lift.

Down at the river the Churnet sparkled through the blackened trees and the sky was high and bright.
By lunchtime though it was almost over, just the last few rays lighting up the house. I lit the fire this afternoon and made hot chocolate for my sniffly boys and shut the curtains early.
I'm rather good at the art of cosying up and could do it all year round but it was so good (if cold) this morning to feel the wind blow the air clean and the memory of this light filled morning will light the rest of my week.

P.S Thanks so much for all the lovely comments I've received over the last few posts. It is wonderful to know other people too enjoy the same things that I love to ramble on about! Thank you too for the recommendations for the Susan Hill book with more Angela Barrett drawings, I do have it actually (it was given to my free by a stall holder at the flea market when I bought another old gardening book  lucky me!) and I love her illustrations in "Through the Kitchen Window" as well.

"The Gardener's Almanac" was produced by The Sunday Times in the 1986 and written by Graham Rose if that's any help to anyone who's trying to track a copy down.  I can recommend Abe books for out of print copies and ebay is always worth a try!

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Garden Gurus

For a long time I could not imagine being a gardener. Even though I spent hours with my Grandad on the veg patch and learning about the true art of the hanging basket and even longer with my mum who clears borders with gusto, has given me all my very best plants and creates the most inspiring, vibrant displays; I could not fathom for one second why Gardener's World was such a must see event.

How times change. Around the time I went to university it dawned on me that gardening is a "please yourself" state of mind. I'd been under the misconception that to be a "proper gardener" you needed to be an expert in all areas and it truly overwhelmed me - don't ask me why but it did.
It was mum I think who put me right and since then I have been true addict. From the tiny scrappy border and various pots at my first flat, to the allotment and family garden I have now, the joy of sowing, planting, digging, looking after and enjoying our garden is a pleasure that grows every year.

Gardening is now something that I just can't not do. The path of my year is marked by the flowers and veg in the garden and I've certainly learnt to pick and choose what I do. I couldn't care less about the state of my lawn and exotic plants don't do much for me but cottage garden varieties and keeping colour going through the year really interests me and I've got more addicted to making compost as the years have gone on.
This year my aim is to grow much more from seed myself, so for pocket money prices I hope to have many more annuals than usual and start off more of our own veg.

Over the years more garden gurus have inspired me too. First Mr Beardshaw - or maybe his eyes I'm not completely sure, then Mr Pearson and his poetic, ambitious style. And Alys F is now a firm favourite as well, I love her city garden that's so full of joy and the way she writes about it with such easy going charm.
Then there's my American friend who, despite only living here for five years, knows more than I ever will about veg growing in our climate and what's good when. We all got together at the weekend to share a hearty lunch on a dreary, chilly day, Dan and I talked seeds and crop rotation and I came home with bags of seed gleaned from his allotment that will add such colour and flavour to our patch this year.
And of course there is Carol, the ever smiling Carol Klein who inspires me by being such a very ordinary gardener, who finds joy in the elemental magic of planting a seed and watching it grow. Her new series on BBC 2 (in the Gardener's World slot on Friday nights) has me spellbound. I had a look at the book to accompany the series in the week and it is a beauty I long to own and share her year in the garden. Maybe one day soon I will and then my garden might just look like this.
("September" by Angela Barret from The Gardener's Almanac)
Who are your gardening gurus? Happy gardening.

Saturday 8 January 2011

New Year Treasures

Well my year of living even more frugally than before has got off to rather a decent start I'm pleased to say. Thank you so much for all your wonderfully encouraging and supportive comments. I've been really overwhelmed and can't explain how much every word has helped me and made me smile. Blogging is truly a wonderful thing and I am especially grateful to be in touch with such special people. Again I'm sorry I takes me an age to get around to saying hello so I hope you'll forgive me and accept this thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Getting back into the office this week wasn't quite as hard as I'm imagined but it has been tinged with sadness with the departure, via redundancy, of some very good colleagues who I've really enjoyed working with over the past couple of years. Things won't be the same without them but fortuntately they have also found new jobs so it could be much, much worse.
At home I have begun to truly practice what I preach. We have cut down our portion sizes (good for the healthy diet too!) with one leg chicken portion, plus plenty of veg stretching, to make our Friday night curry and one for the freezer too. And I managed to bring the weekly shop in for £10 less than usual by really thinking about what we will truly use in 7 days.
But its not all Tom & Barbara self-sufficiency here, try as I might I can't deny myself the odd treat. Even though I rarely bought anything full price anyway, now I'm doing it for even less.
First up is this lovely, lovely dress. I can't describe how skippy my heart goes when I look at it. I almost succumbed and bought it (in a size too small!) in the summer because I loved it so much. But I listended to my purse, put it back and went home.

And now it looks like patience really is a virtue, because there it was on the rail earlier this week, in the actual size I need, for £6! £32 less than the original. It fits like a dream and I already have plenty of cardigans, shoes, beads etc to go with. Oh happy day!
Then second is my new skirt, bought with my Christmas Laura Ashley vouchers kindly given to me by my darling mum-in-law. Now I am rather partial to LA but can never, ever afford anything in there, apart from the odd mug. So imagine my joy, seeing this summery number sitting prettily in my size with £40 off. (£55 for a skirt - really?!). One day this summer I shall be sitting outside the Golden Lion in Port Isaac, sipping something chilled, wearing this with a cosy cardi and my trusty pumps. Can't wait.
On market day I had a little whizz around the charity shops too and turned up some unexpected treasures. A fabulous, puffy, salmon pink eiderdown (just like one my grandma had) for £3, a pretty blue flowered vintage apron to add to my growing collection (£1.20) and the pretty Pyrex dish which is well worth fifty pence of anyone's money.
So I'm rather chuffed and feel a little like these furry pair - literally the cats who got the cream (that we didn't use in the curry!).
 Hope the sun is out for you this weekend. Sxx

Sunday 2 January 2011

Ring in the New

The old year has turned and a fresh, new one stretches out ahead and this year January is not filling me with quite the usual dread. I've always found the long weeks from Christmas to Easter quite hard. It's when the negative side of winter hits me and the things I find enchanting up until Christmas (dark afternoons, fierce weather etc), start to wear a little thin.

But change is afoot here this year and January in 2011 opens a new door, full of promise and a rather monumental challenge. The good news is that in the end, after months of anxiety, I heard just before Christmas that my job is safe.
It is a mad job, in a difficult environment but I can see a way ahead now and think I can make a difference at last. The bad news is that I have lost almost half the hours I used to work, which means rather more money worries. But still, we will manage and in these difficult times I'm more than grateful to still be employed and secure for the time being.

And what I might have lost in paid hours, I've got back in time. Precious, precious time - which my money just can't buy. So I am making a list to start the New Year of what I will be doing more or less of with my 15 extra hours a week!

* Strolling to school and back over the fields with my boys - oh I've missed doing this so much over the past 18months when I took on extra hours. It's been too long since we collected feathers, listened to the birds, counted hanging baskets and all that sort of nonsense.
* Buying less petrol - or burning fivers as it's known in this house.

* Growing more - I love our allotment and now at last I can put some real effort into the veg, establish a cut flower patch and spend the summer doing what I love best - gardening.

* Spending less in supermarkets - even though I do most of our weekly shop at the lovely old market, it's been tricky to manage it properly. Now though I can do the whole shop in town at the grocers, greengrocers, fishmonger etc and its cheaper. Using cash and my list, I seem to buy only what I've planned to at each shop. Supermarkets are far too distracting!
* Making bread - I've been promising to do this for years. There is bread flour in the cupboard so here I go.

* Decorating - my poor boys' bedrooms are crying out for a lick of paint, new curtains and a cheer up.
* Cooking more - a few years ago I'd have described myself as a reluctant cook, but since making friends with Hugh & Nigel my culinary life has been transformed. Nigel in particular has given me the confidence to enjoying trying, to savour and just to eat. Nothing more complicated, and that suits me and I will carry on. 

And of course there are all the really boring, mundane jobs which never get done or end up dominating the weekend which I'm hoping to get on top of at long last.
So I'm ringing in the new this January. Looking forward to a more frugal but simpler and more enjoyable home life with the time to enjoy it. Nothing like a challenge is there!