Friday, 2 October 2015

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;

To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o'erbrimm'd their clammy cells.

                 ~ Ode to Autumn, John Keats

I love autumn, and love it even more when there's an Indian summer. I can't believe we're already in October and the weather is so warm.

I've been out and about with Alice this week, trying to capture a bit of autumn colour and we've had some stunning sunsets, bright sunshine and misty mornings, a real mixture.  I love the light in autumn, and the long shadows caused by the sun being so low in the sky.  I wonder if the blood moon (which I slept through!) had anything to do with the amazing sunsets that followed?

Of course autumn means Strictly Come Dancing is back on the telly, which is good enough for me, I love a bit of Saturday evening light-entertainment.  I've never understood the snobbery about it, if it's done well then why not enjoy it?

One of my earliest memories is watching Come Dancing at my grandparent's.  Come Dancing was the precursor to Strictly and was very popular in the 60s and 70s and whenever I went to stay with Nan and Granddad it was always a treat to stay up late to watch it. Happy memories.














Are you planning anything this weekend?  Tall Daughter has asked if we can go for a walk on a beach somewhere, so that's a definite plan, and I think it's soup-making season again. You can't beat homemade soup with crusty bread.  Have you seen the trailer for the The Intern? I like Nancy Meyers' films so that's on my weekend list too.

Whatever you're doing this weekend, hope it's a good one.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Recipe ~ Chickpea and vegetable curry

I'm really pleased with this recipe.  It's the result of trying a couple of different curries and mixing different elements to find  one that suited us.  

I've used cauliflower and spinach this time, but you could add pretty much any vegetable to it. I'm going to try sweet potato and broccoli next time, but I'm sure it would be equally good with green beans, potatoes, carrots or parsnips. 

We don't eat very spicy curries, so this one is aromatic rather than hot - although you can increase the spice content if you fancy a bit more heat - and because we're still on our 6-week vegetarian trial (week 5 and we're still doing ok) it had to be meat-free. Plus, it's packed with goodness and it tastes great too!

Chickpea and vegetable curry


2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground ginger (or grated fresh ginger)
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 can  chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can coconut milk
1 medium head cauliflower, broken into small florets
200g of fresh spinach, rinsed or 3-4 nuggets of frozen spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooked rice or naan for serving

Heat the oil in a large pan  over medium heat. Add the onion for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in all the spices and cook until they're fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes and their juice, coconut milk and cauliflower. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover and cook 5 minutes more, it should be smelling good by now and the sauce will have slightly thickened. Add the spinach and cook for a further 10  minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with boiled rice and/or naan bread. Delicious and very filling.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

A quiet weekend

We've spent this week readjusting to life without The Teenager.

She has been enjoying Freshers' Week and has got to know her flatmates and those in the flat next door. Both lots of flat mates have already become firm friends, and today she sent me photos of the huge roast dinner they cooked together, enough to feed all ten of them.  It's reassuring to know that she's happy, and that her flatmates are so friendly and they've all gelled so well.

This week she starts university 'proper' as the lectures and studying begins in earnest.

In the meantime, we've been finding life has been a bit odd without her, mainly because it's quieter and the house is tidier. Much tidier. There are no more late-night drives in my pyjamas to pick her up after her shifts at McDonalds, and the amount of laundry and dish washing has more than halved. I miss her.

On Saturday I managed to persuade Tall Daughter to visit a local vintage car event, although there were plenty of other things to do and see.  There was an old-fashioned charm to it all.  We've been in previous years, but I enjoyed it more this year.

I loved Mr Alexander's Travelling Show.  Mr Alexander was an older gentleman who said very little but held his audience of small children captivated with his variety show skills: juggling, sleight of hand magic tricks, unicycling and puppetry, while all the time a crackly gramophone played old-time music in the background.  Lovely.

Apart from that, it was a quiet weekend, although I'm sure it's not just me who seems to cram as many tasks into Sunday evening as possible. Why do we do that?

Did you have a good weekend?

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The one where The Teenager goes to university

Yesterday The Teenager made the big move to start university.  The build up to uni had been going on for months, and once we knew she was going to Sheffield it stepped up a notch. There were lots of things to buy, paperwork to complete, and things to organise and it went by pretty quickly. Her last week at home was spent saying goodbye to family and friends, packing and tidying her bedroom.

The Teenager has a lot of stuff. To say the car was packed is a bit of an understatement. It was so full we couldn't have possibly got anything else into it, and still be able to drive safely, and now, after seeing how much stuff the other students had taken, I'm convinced she took more than anyone else. 

Some of that might be my fault, panicking over what she might need when she's there and I may have gone a little bit over the top with some of the items she ended up taking.  Pizza cutter, check. Garlic press, check. First aid kit, erm, check. Yes, I had a last minute panic and bought one just in case, even though "nobody takes first aid kits to uni" apparently.  But at least when she falls over drunk during freshers' week (and it will happen) she'll have plasters. I'm sure she'll thank me...

The Teenager goes to university
There is a first aid kit in there somewhere...
A couple of tips if you're preparing to move your teenager to uni: don't get back pain, and don't do what we did and go for a curry the night before. Either one of those things is going to make the big move a little bit trickier. Not being able to lift anything heavier than a cushion (as per my GP's instruction) and having a very delicate stomach (details spared for the squeamish) is really not helpful when you have such a busy and hectic day ahead.

So, yesterday we left home just before 9am for the very scenic drive across beautiful Derbyshire and the Pennines, arriving in Sheffield just as the traffic going into the city started to get crazily busy with all the incoming students and their families.  We were very lucky to find a car park space in the grounds of the student halls, and even luckier to get assistance from two absolutely lovely helpers who helped us move everything to her room.

After unpacking the essentials, making the bed and having a bite to eat I realised it was time for me to go. I didn't want to be the parent who stays too long, and I knew she was keen to get chatting to her new flatmates, so I bit the bullet and made my moves to leave.  Considering I'd been blubbing like a baby the day before I think I was reasonably restrained when we said goodbye. In the run up to the big day, she'd said that she didn't want me to be upset so I was trying really hard to keep a handle on my emotions.  

I had a couple of near misses; once when she asked me how I was feeling and I said "OK! IT'S EXCITING!!" a bit too quickly and sounded like a loon, and again when I made the mistake of reading some messages from friends. The dam nearly broke then, but I managed to keep it together. In the end, even although we were both a bit teary-eyed, it wasn't too bad.  There may have been a bit of a mumbled goodbye, and one too many hugs, but we made it. Phew, deep breaths, deep breaths...

The Teenager goes to university
In her room at the student halls 

But as I walked back to the car I happened to glance up to her room and she was standing at the window waving at me. That was it, the dam burst and the tears came, great shuddering sobs of them, but at least at that point I was on my way to the car and she was spared the ugly crying face.

It was the strangest feeling driving home without her, leaving her in a strange city where she doesn't know a soul, and hoping she'd be okay.  It went against all of my protective mum instincts, but I suppose our job as parents is to get them safely to this stage and hope they're prepared, and ready, to take the next steps on their own.  I think I've done a good job, at least I hope I've done a good job and that she's ready for this new chapter in her life. 

I'm sure she'll be okay, she's a very independent girl, very outgoing and she can't wait to get started.  I can't wait to hear all about her new life, her new friends and how she gets on at uni. Hopefully, after all the freshers' week activities and socialising she might do a bit of studying, or is that too optimistic? 

Not only is it an exciting time for her, but it also means a new chapter for the rest of us. The next few weeks should be interesting as we adapt to the changes at home. Her sister is less than impressed that I've promised her my undivided attention (she took it as a threat rather than a good thing...) and I think the dog is already pining for her. Wish us luck, I think we going to need it.

Have you waved a child off to university?  How did it go? Any tips for coping with the next few weeks?

Monday, 31 August 2015

The best things in life aren't things


It was the tea towels that did it.

I went to TKMaxx to browse, which is basically a euphemism for 'spend money I don't have on things I don't need'. I justify buying stuff in there because it's always a bargain, but surely it's only a bargain if it's something you need and at a cheaper price than usual?

So, I spent £6.99 on three new tea-towels.  We don't need more tea-towels, a quick check in a kitchen drawer tells me that we already have over twenty, so I have no idea why I bought them. But it got me thinking about why I am constantly buying more and more possessions when, really, there's very little I actually need.

On one hand I'm accumulating more things, and on the other hand I'm doing lots of reading about decluttering and minimalism.  I even bought a book about decluttering which I promptly lost; I eventually found it buried under a pile of paperwork on my desk. The irony isn't lost on me.

Last week I wrote about buying some pottery and books because they were such a bargain. This week I went back to the same shop and bought another jug that was too good not to buy.  I didn't actually need any of these things, and that's what I'm struggling with.  What am I doing buying so many unnecessary things?

When we moved into this house almost 4 years ago we seemed to have acres of space. It was, it is, the biggest house we've ever lived in yet since then we've I've managed to fill it with....stuff.  Our belongings have expanded to fill the space, and in fact some rooms are over-crowded. For some reason I'm stockpiling paintings, mirrors, cushions, multiple sets of bedding (at the last count we had at least 14 sets of bedding for just 4 beds), pottery, books, blankets, cushions, empty picture frames, and more cushions. Mostly piled in corners and taking up space because I don't know what to do with them, and giving me a constant, nagging feeling at the back of my mind. I know need to do something about them, but never do and I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all to be honest.

The thing is, I'm on a bit of a countdown, because in just over a year I'll be looking to move to a (much smaller) house so the need to declutter is very real.  I've made some attempts to declutter recently but didn't get very far, mainly because I started in the wrong room, the study, which is a dumping ground for everything that doesn't have a home. I need to start in the other rooms first, so I'm going to tackle my bedroom first.

I should add that I don't want to live in an empty, sterile house with little or no belongings - I just want to simplify what we already have and stop buying more and more of the same things.

Apartment Therapy photo via Pinterest

It's going to be a real challenge, but it's got to be done. One thing's for sure: no more tea towels.

What about you, where do you stand on buying and keeping clutter?


These are the blogs I'm currently reading for inspiration:

Apartment Therapy has plenty of articles about small space living and minimalist design.

Just a little less written by Claire who documents her 'journey to a simpler life'.

Becoming Mimimalist tons of information and inspirational posts about minimalism here.

London Minimalists written by husband and wife, Frank and Michelle, who write very honestly about their need to declutter and live more simply.

The Minimalists a bit more hard core, but their post Someday struck a nerve with me.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

A week of firsts and lasts


We've had a lazy week. I'd taken the week off work and it was the last full week off school for Tall Daughter so we thought it was okay not to plan too much. Lazy mornings, late breakfasts/brunches, a bit of gardening, a friend over to stay, and plenty of walking with Alice, our greyhound.


It was also the week we decided to try vegetarianism for the first time, although as we're still eating fish perhaps that should be pescatarianism? Either way, we haven't missed meat at all (so far) and it's really made us think more carefully about what we're eating. We're going to give it a try for 6 weeks and see how it goes.



The Teenager's preparations for uni are going well, and in less than three weeks she'll be moving into student halls. In the meantime she's working as many hours as she can to build up a bit of spare cash, which will no doubt all be spent during freshers' week.

It's such an exciting time for her, and we're already trying to figure out how we'll cram all of her belongings into my (tiny) car when she moves to Sheffield. I'm dreading that day, for all sorts of reasons, but mainly because she'll never forgive me if I cry. She doesn't do crying, but as I do enough for both of us I think there'll be lots of air-gulping and eye-dabbing that day, but absolutely NO CRYING! I'm already nervous.

Alice the greyhound

This week we've also walked for miles with our greyhound Alice. We take her to the local nature reserve where she likes to hide in the long grass and wait for the rabbits to appear, then she chases them like crazy.  The rabbits stay fairly close to the fence and just nip through it when she gets too close, so she's never caught one, but it's fun to watch her running around.

Alice the greyhound
Can you spot Alice?

These long walks have been a good time to talk to Tall Daughter.  There are no distractions, so it's the perfect time to talk, and as she's about to begin her final year in school - her GCSE year - there's been a lot on her mind.  She's been feeling pressure to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life, because at her age (15) that's when people start to ask that question.  Teachers, well-meaning relatives and friends, strangers, all want to know "What do you want to do when you're older?" Why do we ask teenagers to make such massive decisions without much direction?

In my day we had careers' advice and such-like (not that is was much use) but she's had nothing like that. So, a lot of our walking time has been spent talking it through. We've made a bit of progress, no decisions yet, but there's still plenty of time.




Of course, it's also meant that this week we did our last ever school uniform shop. I don't think I'll miss it, school shoe shopping in particular is a special sort of hell, but even so it felt strange to think we'll never have to do that again.


I hope you've had a good week? What about you, are you dreading or looking forward to the start of school again?

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Reasons to be cheerful in August

It's been a good month so far, even though the weather has been a bit rubbish for what is supposed to be the peak of summer.  There's still a few days left so I'm hoping August will pull a few sunny days out of the hat before we say hello to September, fingers crossed anyway.

Anyway, here are my 3 reasons to be cheerful this month.

1.  Bargains

Who doesn't love a bargain? A new 'second-hand and collectables' shop opened near us recently and I went to have a look around and nabbed these.

The Ladybird books were a fantastic find - I have a little collection already, and a couple of them are duplicates of books I already have, but some of them are worth £5+, some a little more, so for 50p each I couldn't leave them in the shop.

Vintage Ladybird books

The blue and white pottery is Staffordshire Chefware rather than Cornishware, but for £2 a piece they had to come home with me.  The tiny green jug is Sylvac, which I know very little about but again was too cute to leave behind.

2. Uni prep

The Teenager is off to uni next month, and between now and then we have a ton of things to organise and buy. There is already a To-Do List as long as your arm, and my bank account has taken a severe bashing this week as she just couldn't wait to go out and buy most of the items on her 'Things I need for Uni' list, including those student essentials, a pizza cutter and bottle opener.  

Essential items for uni

Unfortunately, The Teenager has champagne tastes on a lemonade budget so most of the shopping has involved her choosing an expensive version of each item, and me popping a equally suitable but much cheaper version in the trolley. 

Her: "The problem with you mum is that you have no taste."  

Me: "And the problem with you, dear daughter, is that you have no money."

We visited three shops - Ikea, Asda and Wilkos - and managed to find everything on the list apart from a hot water bottle (she's going to Sheffield, it's going to be cold!) and a large sieve (suitable for rice and pasta). Our quest continues. 

3.  Week off

I've taken next week off work, which is just as well as I have plenty of things to do, including a couple of blogging projects. 

The Teenager is off to visit her boyfriend in Leeds for a few days, so I want to try and spend a couple of days with Tall Daughter, just the two of us, including a day trip somewhere.  I'll let her decide where we go.

Also, a friend is coming to visit from America. She's on a business trip to the UK and is popping over to see us for a couple of days. The last time she visited her only request was to visit Crosby Beach to see the Anthony Gormley installation.  This time she has asked if we can just relax and maybe take Alice for a couple of long walks. Looking forward to it.

How has your August been?