Sunday, 27 July 2014

The July garden - pottering

I've been having a bit of a potter in the garden and trying to get a few things organised.

This year the garden isn't looking its best. The damage from the high winds earlier in the year still hasn't been repaired, and it's also suffering from the lack of effort put in last autumn, a time when so much preparation is done for the following year, but when I was hit by a period of depression and hardly ventured outside.

So a double whammy of neglect has left the garden looking less than its best.

One of the things I need to do is to declutter and organise the shed, which has become a no-go zone.  I can't even get into it anymore, it's so full of garden 'stuff'.  But it also housed two bikes - mine and Tall Daughter's - and in order to use them we had to clamber over everything else to rescue them.

Fortunately, I received an offer of a bike store from from Asda in their sheds and storage section..  Let me tell you, I nearly bit their hand off.

Earlier this week it was delivered in flat packed and because my brother is away and I'm not safe with a drill, I paid a handyman to come and assemble it.

Bike store from Asda

It's a sturdy enough bike store, with two doors that can be padlocked for safety.  It'll certainly do the trick, but it's wider than it says in the specifications (190cm instead of 178cm) which means it won't fit into the space I had allocated.  It's advertised as being big enough for 3 bikes, and although it'd be big enough for 3 children's bikes it's looking pretty full with our two adult sized bikes.

I'm going to have to do a big of rejigging to get the bike store to fit in a different space, and I also intend to stain it a pretty colour. Hopefully I'll be able to do an update next week.

Japanese quince
One of the more interesting plants in this garden is a Japanese quince which has beautiful red flowers in the spring and a small number of quince fruits in late summer.

It had become very overgrown, mainly because I wasn't sure how to prune it, so I decided to take it in hand.  It had grown so big it was impossible to get down the path and was looked really messy.

The quince has really sharp thorns, so first things first - I got the thick gardening gloves out. I used secateurs and a long handled lopper which helped keep my hands and arms clear of the thorns. They're pretty lethal!

I had a quick read of a couple of pruning guides, and tried to keep some sort of shape to it.  I'm not sure I did it very well, or even that it's the right time of year, but it's certainly easier to get up the path now.

Japanese quince
It's been quite nice to spend a bit more time in the garden, although not as much as I'd like to.

This summer will be the first in 10 years that I haven't had the whole school summer break off work - I no longer work in a school, so it's just two weeks for me.

It's a little easier to manage because my girls are both teenagers now and there aren't any childcare issues, but even so, leaving two teenagers home alone during the week is far from ideal...

What are your summer plans?  Are you doing any gardening, or just enjoying the sunshine? And isn't the weather gorgeous?

Bike storage

Disclosure: the bike store was offered to me free of charge for review purposes, but words and opinions are my own.  

Friday, 18 July 2014

Non, je ne regrette rien

Regrets quote

I've been thinking about regrets.  Or a lack of them in my case.

I don't believe in having regrets, it seems to me to be a waste of emotional energy and completely pointless. I know several people who regularly pore over their regrets and wish they'd done things differently, but honestly, what's the point?  It happened, that moment has gone, we can't change it.  Every single experience we have, decision we make or journey we take (physically or metaphorically) is there to teach us something and learning from them is what makes us who we are.

So, I don't regret anything.

I don't regret the fashion disasters (too many to mention), the bad hairstyles (ditto), or the cheap shoes that gave me permanently disfigured heels.

Don't regret the nights when I drank more than was sensible and did stupid, crazy things; or the subsequent painful hangovers, even the one that was so bad I thought I'd have to cancel a holiday because I was too ill to go (the holiday was two months away).

Don't regret the many crushes on boys who didn't feel the same; the unrequited loves (yes, more than one);   or the short-lived but hugely enjoyable escapades with highly unsuitable men. Also can't regret the bad choices I made when it came to relationships (where do I start?) or the time spent with the wrong type of men.

Don't regret turning down a proposal of marriage in my early 20s  from a boyfriend who seemed to be (according to my parents) perfect in every way. Even when they they thought I was crazy (good prospects, good looking, steady) I thought I was too young.

So I definitely don't regret my disastrous less than successful marriage.  How can I when it resulted in my two daughters, who have given my life more purpose than anything else ever has or ever will?

Likewise, I don't regret my parenting fails (plenty of those); the what-seemed-like-endless hours days watching the Sesame Street Dance-Along video with my then 2 year old who was obsessed with it; or the 12 or so evenings spent on Bed-watch when Small Daughter transferred from a cot to a bed and resolutely refused to stay in it.

Will never regret becoming a single parent. It's not always been a picnic: there have been times when we have skated very close to financial disaster and other times when I've been desperately lonely, but when I weigh up the pros and cons the pros win every time.

Don't regret the things I didn't do that maybe I should have, or the opportunities I missed because I hesitated. Of course I've made more than my fair share of mistakes, but what the hell, it's done, it's finished with. Over. No point wasting more time fretting over it now.

I tell my daughters that no experience, good or bad, is ever wasted if we take responsibility for our actions and learn something from it, and I hope when they're older they'll also have no regrets.

Paolo Coelho quote

What about you? Do you have regrets or, like me, do you think it's a waste of time?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Breaking out of a weekend rut

Things are changing in our little family. Not in a good or bad way, it's just that we are going through a bit of a transition stage and I don't know about you but I sometimes find them a bit tricky to manoeuvre.

The issue is what we do, or don't do, at weekends. I know, right, how can that be a problem?

You see, when your children are small it's pretty easy to plan things to do at weekends.  The children usually go along with your plans, and a visit to the park or the beach can be planned ahead of time without having to think about their availability. They're kids, so they just do whatever you've arranged pretty much, don't they?

But things change when they're teenagers.  Suddenly they develop their own interests and hobbies, and friends, and their own things to do, and you have to consider that when arranging family stuff at weekends.

The Teenager is always busy and I mean always busy.  She goes to college, does a couple of shifts a week at her part-time job, has a lovely boyfriend and a hectic social life. She's worked blummin' hard this year and I'm not exaggerating when I say we hardly seem to see her these days, as she goes out early, comes home late and sometimes not at all if she's staying over with friends (especially at weekends).  I love that she has such a busy life and she really squeezes as much enjoyment out of it as she can, which is exactly as it should be.

But here's the thing: she's nearly 18 and she's finding her feet as an adult now. She's gearing up to her second year of A Levels and (hopefully) starting at Uni next year so before long she'll away and it'll just be me and Tall Daughter at home.

Even now, it's quite often just the two of us at home and, well, we've got into a bit of a rut. Weekends come and go and we never seem to do very much.  Occasionally TD meets up with friends or goes to the cinema, but she's not as outgoing as her sister who at 14 was always doing something.  I never go out. Ever. But that's another story.

Anyhow, it occurred to me that we weren't planning anything because we were waiting for The Teenager to be available, but as she's rarely around these day we end up doing nothing.

So yesterday I persuaded TD that we should go out for the day, just the two of us.  She was reluctant to go at first, which worried me a bit, and she wanted to spend the day watching TV.  But the weather was 'el Scorchio' so I persuaded her to come out.  We popped into the supermarket for some picnic provisions, then headed straight off to Marbury Park near Northwich.

As it turned out, when we arrived there was a family day on with various stalls, a choir singing and lots of people milling around and dozens of cute dogs.  We stopped at a shady picnic bench, ate our food while chatting, people(and dog)-watching and listening to the choir then headed off for a walk through the woodlands.

We inadvertently took the longest path, and ended up walking for a long way in unsuitable footwear but, even so, it was great to get out in the fresh air.

Cheshire Ice cream farm

Then we piled back in the car and decided on a whim to head off to the Cheshire Ice Cream Farm which was a 30 minute drive away.  We drove through some lovely villages on the way,  and we were rewarded with ice cream at the end of it (honeycomb and caramel for me, chocolate and mint choc chip for TD). Delicious!

Then back home for something to eat and to watch a film together.

It might not seem like a big event, but for us, breaking out of that rut felt good.

It was a lovely to do something spontaneous and TD said she's had a great day, so I was happy.  We talked all day about all sorts of things, especially about what we're going to do for our summer holiday and made plans to do more of the same, especially over the summer.  In fact, we are planning a bit of a road trip. Can't wait.

If you have teenagers, how do you organise your weekends?

Monday, 7 July 2014

Book reviews: The Murder Bag & A Hundred Pieces of Me

I joined a book club last year, and although our monthly meetings have become a bit sporadic the best thing is that it's got me reading again.  Before the book club I hardly read at all - but bought plenty to stack, unread, on the bedside table -  apart from the annual summer holiday when I'd take 5 books and read them all within a week on the beach.

This month I've read two books, which I know is not much by some people's standards but it's a lot for me.

The Murder Bag by Tony Parsons  

The Murder Bag by Tony Parsons
I'll confess that I haven't read any of Parsons' other books (Man and Boy, One for my Baby, Stories We Could Tell)  and I'm not a particular fan of the crime genre but when this one was chosen by the book club I was quite looking forward to it.  Something different, and all that.

Synopsis: Twenty years ago seven rich, privileged students became friends at their exclusive private school, Potter's Field. Now they have started dying in the most violent way imaginable.
Detective Max Wolfe has recently arrived in the Homicide division of London's West End Central, 27 Savile Row.

Soon he is following the bloody trail from the backstreets and bright lights of the city, to the darkest corners of the internet and all the way to the corridors of power.
As the bodies pile up, Max finds the killer's reach getting closer to everything - and everyone - he loves.  Soon he is fighting not only for justice, but for his own life ...

The main character DC Max Wolfe is not your typical maverick cop, he's a single parent for starters as well as a dog lover, a combination that gets plenty of brownie points from me. The emphasis on dogs is quite a striking feature of the story actually, with plenty of dogs mentioned and I'm sure a character is even compared to a German Shepherd at one point.

But if you're not a dog-lover don't let that deter you, because the rest of the cast of characters are interesting and well drawn, particularly Wolfe who comes across as flawed and human.   There were several red herrings although the denouement was a bit inevitable partly because I'd already figured out who did it based on a review which gave away a vital clue. Don't worry, I'm not going to do that here!

I can't compare it to other books in the crime genre, as this is my first, but nevertheless the story cracks along at a good pace and there's plenty to keep you guessing throughout. Not my usual type of book but very enjoyable.  Rating: 3.5 out of 5

A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon

A hundred pieces of me by Lucy Dillon
I think this book could probably be classed as 'chick lit', but don't dismiss it if you're not a fan of that category.  It's an uplifting and thought provoking read that will resonate with most people on some level.

Synopsis: Letters from the only man she's ever truly loved.
A keepsake of the father she never really knew.
A blue glass vase that catches the light on a grey day.
Gina Bellamy is starting again, after a few years she'd rather forget. But the belongings she's treasured for so long don't seem to fit who she is now.
So Gina makes a resolution. She'll keep just a hundred special items - the rest can go.
But that means coming to terms with her past and learning to embrace the future, whatever it might bring . . .

Set in the fictional town of Longhampton, the story focuses on Gina who is at a crossroads in her life. Recently separated from her unfaithful husband she moves into a small flat where the clutter of her former marital home no longer fits with her longing for a fresh start.  She decides to edit her belongings and keep just one hundred objects which have some significance in her life.

Each chapter is about a different item, and via flashbacks we learn about its significance to an event in Gina's life. And as an added bonus for me, and without giving away the plot, one of the central 'characters' is a greyhound called Buzz, who she becomes a reluctant foster carer for. The mannerisms of greyhounds are so perfectly described that I was convinced Lucy Dillon had one herself and mentioned it on twitter:

I finished A Hundred Pieces yesterday, and I'm still in the lovely afterglow of enjoying a book so much I didn't want it to end.  This is a book about letting go of the past and making the most of the present. It's an engrossing, satisfying read and will have you thinking about your own life long after you've finished reading. I loved it. This is the fifth book from Lucy Dillon, and I'll be searching out her other titles. Rating: a resounding 5 out of 5

Now, if you'll excuse me I'm off to declutter...

Sunday, 29 June 2014

A gardening review round-up for June

It's been a while since I've done any gardening updates, and I'm feeling a bit guilty about it as there's one review that is well past its due date.

Plant Me Now is one of the country's biggest online bedding plant nurseries and I can heartily recommend them.  I've ordered a few bedding plants from them in the past, and not only have they always been an absolute pleasure to deal with but they've been very efficient too.  And the plants?  Always very healthy and good strong specimens.

I was asked to choose some plants from their perennial range and I chose a few different varieties including foxgloves, Delphinium magic fountains and Lupin gallery white which I was most excited about.  They all arrived as promised, well packaged and looking very healthy.

I immediately repotted them into slightly bigger pots and kept them undercover and protected from the frosts in my cheapo plastic coldframe for a few weeks.   I kept them watered and waited for a few weeks until the weather improved before I planted them out.

I put them in a group, with the foxgloves and lupins together to make a decent show. Unfortunately within days of them being planted out, the blummin' slugs had eaten every single lupin.  Every single one! I could have cried!  The foxgloves looked great though, even though they were supposed to be interspersed with lupins - hence the gaps between each one.  I'll try again next year, when I'll be ready for the slugs.

Foxgloves from Plant Me Now

We were sent some fab wellies by Joules, the country clothing brand.  They're modelled here by Tall Daughter, but it was the Teenager who asked for them - she intends to wear them to music festivals and didn't want to take mine (which are apparently 'old fogie' wellies).

You can feel the quality in the Joules' wellies as soon as you take them out the of the bag, and even though the pattern is lovely they'll be covered in mud once she hits the festivals.  So here they are in  all their glorious newness, before the onslaught of mud. Gorgeous!

Joules wellies

And finally, a gardening gadget that I didn't even know I needed and to be honest, I don't need it per se, but it one of those things that can come in very handy.

The Hozelock Wonderweeder is pretty simple to use, you simply put your choice of weedkiller inside and place the cone over the weed. Press down once or twice to squirt the weed and that's it.  No need to bend down or spray excessive amount of weedkiller everywhere.

It would be very useful for older gardeners or anyone with a bad back, like me.  Have a look at the video which explains how to use it.

Disclosure:  I was sent these items for review purposes, however words and opinions are my own.

Monday, 9 June 2014


thirtysomething DVD
A few weeks ago I saw a familiar face on an episode of The Good Wife and although I couldn't quite place her, as soon as I heard the slightly husky voice I remembered who she was.

It was Polly Draper, the actress who played Ellyn in the phenomenally successful series thirtysomething in the 80s and 90s. SUCH a great show!

If you've never heard of it (too young? Grrr...) or didn't watch it, it was about the lives of 7 friends - two couples (the perfect Hope and Michael, and troubled Nancy and Eliot) and three singles (perennial Peter-Pan Gary, arty Melissa and the beautiful Ellyn).  Mostly it was about the sort of things we all talk about - marriage, children, sex, dating, relationships, so it was very easy to relate to.  It was like real life but with better writing.

Thirtysomething was one of the shows that you either loved or hated. I loved it, it resonated with me - after all I was the perfect demographic - and Ellyn was my favourite character. She seemed the most interesting of all of them, and I wanted to be like her - driven, professional and sexy.  I might have managed one of those.

So after being reminded of the glory days of thirtysomething, I couldn't resist ordering Series 1 on DVD and last night I sat down, glass of wine in hand, to watch it.

Oh my god, as soon as I heard the first few notes of the theme tune it felt like going home.  Have a listen:

Once the theme tune was over, the biggest impression was that the picture and sound quality was pretty rough compared to what we're used to these days.  Everything looks fuzzy and sounds echoey.  Amazing how much even the standard picture has improved, never mind HD.

And then there's the clothes! It was all about the baggy clothes, high-waisted trousers, ill-fitting jackets, HUGE baggy trousers - yards and yards of material all gathered in at the (high)waist; shoulder pads - SHOULDER PADS - even under silk dresses; big earrings; soft tailored jackets which were worn with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow (for men) or cinched in at the waist with a wide belt (for women). I loved that look, I may have even worn it to work once or twice, back in the days when I actually had a waist.

In all honesty, 80's fashion was such a strong look but it flattered very few people. Especially if, like me, you already had wide shoulders and still wore shoulder pads. I must have looked like an American footballer. Not a good look, I'm sure, but back then....well, I thought I looked ace!

So far I've watched the first four episodes and really enjoyed the trip down memory lane, although watching them as a fiftysomething makes it a somewhat bitter-sweet experience.  A lot has happened in the intervening years - marriage, divorce, children, etc. - and the person I remember from those original thirtysomething days was a lot happier.  Might have been something to do with all the sex I was having back then. Sigh.