Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Keeping it simple

Sometimes, the simple things are more fun and meaningful 
than all the banquets in the world ...” 

This evening, after a difficult few days, I needed to remind myself that pleasure can be sought in the most simple of things.

Watching a starling on the bird feeder. Such beautiful colours. 

Finding the first camelia in the garden.

Watching the ducks and ducklings on the pond.

Taking advantage of a beautiful spring evening - perfect for a walk with Tessie....

...and enjoying a few minutes of calm.

Then coming home to a quiet house and a cup of tea. 

What do you do to relax?

Monday, 29 April 2013

What doesn't kill me makes me stronger

It's been a difficult couple of days.  Difficult being a euphemism for bloody awful.

Up until quite recently I would have been able to tell you what was going on, and you would (as you always did) offer support and advice.  We could have discussed the details and decided on the best way forward, or alternatively you would read and understand that I just needed an outlet. Somewhere to vent, to rage and shout about how angry I was and in all honesty it was the main reason I set this blog up - I needed support, and I always got it from you in bucket loads.

But last year I told you my fears of losing the anonymity I'd enjoyed on this blog, and so it has turned out to be the case. A few weeks ago Tall Daughter went to visit her paternal grandparents only to find them logged onto notSupermum on their pc. Somehow, somewhere along the grapevine they have been told about it and it doesn't take a genius to figure out who else will also know by now.

So instead all I can say is that we are hurting. We're caught up in a difficult and unpleasant situation that I appear to have little or no control over. We've cried, we've lost hours of sleep through worry and today we're bone tired. Physically and mentally tired.

I did consider taking some legal advice but the new Legal Aid guidelines introduced this month seem to have put paid to that.

I'm not even sure why I'm writing this, only to say that sometimes what you see on the outside of a situation is not what's happening in reality. We put on a brave face because that's what you do, and if we told everyone some of the things that happen it would sound like exaggeration.

It's at times like this I want to pack up and move to another part of the world. If only.

The April garden ~ planting, painting and planning ahead

The rain has held off enough this weekend to get a few jobs done and so I got on with my garden To Do list because  we all know there's nothing more satisfying than crossing jobs off a list...well, maybe crossing jobs off a list whilst eating cake.

One of the biggest jobs was to apply some wood stain to the shed as it was looking a bit tired, so I shopped around and found a huge tin of 'wax enriched timbercare' in Wilkinsons.

It cost £8 for 5L which is more than I need but at that price it was good value. I haven't used this one before but I've used other Wilko products and they've always performed well, and incidentally Wilkinsons had the best prices for the brand names such as Cuprinol and Ronseal.

This is the shed before staining. I didn't want to paint it with a coloured stain because as much as I like them I want the shed to blend into the garden rather than stand out. The garden's too small for big statements like that.

Applying the wood stain took about 2 hours, not too bad - and once it had dried I planted a new clematis against the trellis.

I bought a Clematis montana rubens from Aldi, a bargain at £4.99 and it was already quite healthy with plenty of buds on it. That's the problem with supermarkets selling plants, you go shopping to buy a pint of milk and a loaf of bread and you come home with a clematis and potting compost. No milk or bread.

Anyhow, I followed the instructions from one of my gardening books and dug a hole so that the base of the plant was 3" lower than the soil level. I put some bone meal in the hole, refilled and watered generously.  I also teased out some of the growth and pushed them gently around the trellis. Apparently it's a vigorous grower with plenty of flowers so hopefully it'll give a bit of much needed colour to that part of the garden.

Then it was time to plant some other favourites that I'd bought at a local plant fair. I love this garden but there are some plants missing that I absolutely adore so I've been busy buying them and finding the ideal spot.

I put the iris in this semi circular bed right next to the seating area because it already has some cottage garden plants such as hellebores, aquilegia and veronica so I thought it would fit right in.  According to the picture on the plant fair stall the flower is a lovely pale blue.

The dicentra spectabilis was planted in a neglected little area, between the shed and the tree. I hope it does well there. I haven't decided where to put the fuschia yet, I might repot it for now and decide when it's more established.

And here's the final result. The shed has been stained, the dicentra and clematis have been planted and I placed this verbena at the front. It had been in the front garden but I think it looks better here.

Anyway, here's where I'm up to with the list:

1.  Clean the patio table and chairs. Done!
2.  Get the new bird house attached to an outside wall.
3.  Give the new lawn its first cut. Done!
4.  Buy some wood stain for the side gate.
5.  Buy (and apply) a light coloured wood stain for the interior of the shed.
6.  Reorganise, tidy and declutter the shed.
7.  Consider staining the shed exterior. Done!
8.  Decide what to do with the raised deck area.
9.  Buy a small garden bench.
10. Hang my lovely Green Man plaque (which I brought with me from the old house) onto the wall. Done!

So I'm making progress. But take a look at the inside of the shed - gah! That's definitely a job for when I have a week off work!

What does your garden to-do list look like?

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Guest post: the Norfolk Broads - a perfect place to get away from it all

Peace. Quiet. Tranquility. Calmness. They’re words that have been used in thousands of travel guides and millions of brochures. From the beaches of Mexico to the coves of Thailand, everyone wants you to know that their destination is the most serene experience possible.

And that’s great. But what if you want to stay in the UK? Where’s a good place to get from it all? Where can you take your family for a relaxed summer break?

Well, a recent study found that Three Rivers in Hertfordshire and Maldon in Essex were among the most peaceful local authorities in the UK. But top of the peaceful league was Broadland in Norfolk - home to much of the Norfolk Broads.

Secret national treasure

A lot of people probably think of the Broads as some kind of bleak and boring wilderness. But they’d be wrong; this beautiful and laid-back region of Norfolk is fast on its way to national treasure status.

The Norfolk Broads are often overlooked both as an area of of beauty and a family holiday destination. In a way, that’s actually part of its charm and attraction. As this new peace report suggests, however, it’s an area that deserves a little more attention.

So what are they? Where are they? And what can you do there? Interestingly, although you’ll hear a fair number of people talk about the ‘natural’ beauty of the Broads, this 300 square kilometre area has actually arrived at its current look after some intensive reconstruction.

About 50 years ago researchers discovered that medieval workers dug all across the region to produce peat for their fires. The digging areas later flooded and formed the landscape we now know as the Broads.

A wet wonderland

What are the Broads, then? It’s a sprawling expanse of peaceful nature; a wetland wonderland of wildlife, windmills and whimsical afternoons spent enjoying the slow pace of life you find in this part of the world.

The Broads actually covers a pretty huge area, stretching all the way from Sutton and Wroxham at its northernmost points to Great Yarmouth and Reeham in the south, and taking in rivers like the Thurne, Bure, Yare and Waveney.

The best way to explore is probably by boat. Boating holidays on the Norfolk Broads have been popular for decades, and Richardson’s Boating Holidays are one of the region’s leading boating brand. This family-run business started out in 1947, and today maintain a fleet of over 300 boats.

It doesn’t sound peaceful, does it? Hundreds of boats? Aren’t you always bumping into each other? Well, no actually. While you certainly cruise by other boaters on the Broads, a few hundred boats spread over hundreds of square kilometres means that you’ll have plenty of room to sit back, relax and steer your way round the gorgeous waterways of East Anglia.

Going at your own pace

The great thing about boating on the Broads is the sense of freedom and leisurely adventure: you just cruise along at your own pace and moor up when you want. It’s all pretty low-stress, too - there are no locks to worry about - and every day you can pick a new route, with only fate knowing exactly where you’ll end up.

In between gentle river cruising, watching the swaying reeds and peacefully lapping water, there’s a world of local food and drink to enjoy. While cooking up a tasty breakfast on-board is popular among regular boaters, some would argue experiencing the riverside pubs and restaurants can be the highlight of the trip.

And who can blame them? On a warm summer afternoon, stopping off to enjoy some hearty food and cool, condensation-dripping drinks in a quaint beer garden by river is probably as good as it gets in rural England. Even on a colder, wetter day a cruise-by pub stop is a pleasure.

There are a number of celebrated pubs and restaurants on the Broads. Some of the most acclaimed by boaters include the Acle Bridge Inn, The Ferry Inn in Horning and The Malsters at Ranworth.

Mixing it up

If this sounds a little too sedate (can there be such a thing?) there are other activities beside on-board relaxing and eating stop-offs on the Broads. The speed limit on on the Broads is a pretty pedestrian 6mph, but speed demons can get a fast-paced fix by taking in some powerboat racing Oulton Broad.

Elsewhere, nature lovers recommend wildlife-watching at Ranworth, the marshes at Upton Broads and the nature trail in How Hill. History buffs, meanwhile, will enjoy the variety of mix of heritage on offer to explore. There are historic mills and abbeys to visit, fans of great views will love climbing the church tower at Ranworth, and motor history hobbyists will be fascinated by the car museum in Caistor.

There are plenty of family excursions as well. There are a number of theme parks, such as Pleasurewood Hills, and for family animal-themed days there’s Africa Alive and the Sea Life Centre in Yarmouth.

But if these day trips and excursions sound too far the other way, just too active for you and your kids, remember that many people head to the Broads purely for the family time away from normal life. They go for the peaceful nature and relaxed pubs and restaurants by the river.

There are obviously loads of family holidays in the UK. There are lots of places you could take your children, but for a peaceful, different kind of experience the Broads seem hard to beat.

This is a guest post by Andrew Tipp

Friday, 26 April 2013

Me and my big mouth

I have a big mouth. Not literally physically big - I can't get my fist into my mouth or eat a whole pork pie in one mouthful. No, nothing like that.

I just tend to say the wrong things at the wrong time. Sort of like a mild form of Tourette's. No really, I'm not joking.

It's something that's plagued me my whole life.  I can be chatting nicely with someone and then - whoa! - I say something that comes out completely the wrong way.  In my head it sounds like an okay thing to say, but as soon as it leaves my lips I realise my social faux pas.

I think one of the problems is that I'm rubbish at small talk, just can't seem to master it, and I'm also socially awkward. I'm the sort of person who avoids parties because I go from one extreme to the other, either totally unable to make conversation or talking in a very loud voice about something totally innapropriate.

Take yesterday for instance. Early morning, it's windy, I'm walking the dog. Another dog walker exchanges pleasantries "Morning, it's windy today isn't it?".

Then these words come out of my mouth: "Yes it is, mind your wig doesn't fly off!" And yes, he was as bald as a coot.


And it gets worse. In the staff room at work colleagues are planning a night out. One person says another person isn't that keen to go. In my head I'm thinking "Maybe it's because they're very quiet and might not be into late nights out and heavy drinking". Unfortunately the words that come out of my mouth are: "Maybe he doesn't want to go out with a load of drunken p*issheads."

Ohhhhhh noooooo......

I wish I could tell you it ended there but I'd be lying.

After work I went to the hairdressers. I explain to the stylist - a lovely woman who I've known for years - that because my hair is so thick I need my fringe thinning out.  I try to think of a nice way to say it's not quite as I wanted it but she can't hear me over the noise of the radio, people chatting and hairdryers. I raise my voice to shout over the noise, but just as the radio goes quiet and the hairdryers stop I hear myself shouting "I DON'T LIKE THE WAY YOU'VE DONE IT!"

The stylist looked crestfallen, the rest of the customers stared at me.  Cue red face, much back tracking on my behalf and mumbled apologies. Needless to say I left a big tip.

So, today I will be spending the day in silence. I think it's for the best.

5 reasons to love catalogue shopping ~ featured post

If you haven’t picked up a catalogue lately then this guide is just for you! Here are five top reasons why you should go back to using the best kind of shopping available.

1. High street horrors
Some people love the hustle and bustle of a busy shopping centre, but for most of us the thought of trawling the shops for hours on end can only be stressful. Even though some shopping centres are trying to ban screaming children! Using catalogues is much quicker and easier than traversing the High Street. You can simply sit back, relax and browse your favourite catalogues for those essential items.

2. Relax and enjoy
As opposed to setting off on a mission to get in and out of the town centre as quickly as possible, when you opt to use catalogues you can shop from the comfort of your cosiest armchair. As well as saving you a lot of hassle, it can even save you money as you won’t need to pay for parking or worry about getting back to your car on time!

3. Getting the best price
Another way of saving money is the fact that by shopping at home, you have the opportunity to browse the internet and compare prices. Of course, it’s entirely possible that your chosen piece from a catalogue might be cheaper in the local store but more often than not, it could well be cheaper in the catalogue. The important thing is having the chance to check before handing over your money.

4. Make returns
Many people are put off using catalogues because they feel the High Street is more convenient when you need to make returns. But these days, catalogue companies make it very straightforward for you to send goods back with no questions asked – whereas on the high street you may find yourself queueing for an extended period at the returns counter or being offered credit instead of a refund.

5. Get involved
Part of the joy of shopping is sharing your latest purchases with friends or asking their opinion on the items you plan to buy. When you shop with a catalogue, you can easily go online and send friends links to the things you like – so your shopping experience can be a shared (and informed) one.

This is a featured post by K & Co.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The April garden ~ signs of spring

I can't be sure but I think spring has finally sprung. There are signs of it all over the garden - take a look.

The borders are starting to look a bit busier and there are green shoots and buds everywhere.

Here's a view of the garden from the other side, notice how the lawn has taken quite well. There are still a few patches but it seems quite healthy.

I love the delicate red flowers on the Japanese quince.

And the hellebores are in full bloom at the moment, although I think it's a shame their lovely nodding heads prevent us from seeing their beautiful faces.

Just look at how gorgeous this one is when you lift its head.

One of the plants I always have in my gardens is the allium. I just love their structural beauty, and it makes me smile to see the bulbs I planted in September are growing so well.

One of the jobs I've been putting off is pruning the bamboo. I was a bit nervous about doing it after someone said it's really difficult to do, but in the end I followed these very clear instructions for pruning clumping bamboo (which this seems to be) and it was pretty straightforward. And I kept the bamboo canes I pruned for staking other plants.

I'm not sure how clear you can see the difference, but it's much more compact. I took quite a lot from the top as it was getting very tall and tidied the sides, pruning some of the canes down to ground level. 

And finally, I've crossed another job off my To Do List: I managed to get my green man plaque on the wall. I took down a rather ugly gecko ornament that I'd inherited with the garden, and managed to hang my (very heavy) green man plaque in the same spot. Much better. I'd missed seeing him looking down on the garden, but now he's back in his rightful place. 

I suddenly seem to have a lot to do, and can't wait to get back in there tomorrow. What are you doing in the garden this month?

Friday, 19 April 2013

More stuff from around t'internet

From one of my favourite Pinterest boards

19 tips for sleeping on the train. Number 8 is quite magnificent.

30 masterfully vandalised billboards.

I guarantee that these photos will make you go 'Awww....'

11 ridiculous, geeky names parents have actually named their children.

Very funny video for The Postal Service auditions - how many do you recognise? Think that's the only time I've liked Moby.

You've heard of death by chocolate, right? Well this is resignation by cake. Very, very cool.

If you really need more proof that Tom Cruise is barking mad, here it is.

The moment same-sex marriage became legal in New Zealand. The video brought a lump to my throat.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Getting ready for spring with Garden Trading

When I was asked by Garden Trading if I'd like to cast my beady eye over their website I didn't need much persuading. 

I've long been a fan of their stylish home and garden products, and they wanted to know what I thought of their outdoor range because *drum roll* they've promised me that spring is on the way! You heard it here first folks!

Right, well here's a couple of my favourites.

I'm all for encouraging wildlife into the garden, and have already set up bird boxes, feeding stations and a log pile but this cute hedgehog house (for cute hedgehogs no doubt) caught my eye. I wonder if it has an en-suite?

Hedgehog House- Wooden

This is the sort of thing my brother has been thinking about getting. He wants to install a log burner in the living room, and has already started chopping wood like some urban Grizzly Adams and stacking it against the garage wall. I think this log store would be more practical.  

With our sizeable Wooden Log Store you can continue to enjoy the warmth and homely atmosphere of your open fire, with a perfectly organised supply of logs, kept dry and protected.

Now this is possibly my favourite item on the whole site. This gorgeous potting bench with a zinc top puts mine to shame. Is it not a thing of beauty?  I am wrong to lust after a potting bench? Yes? Okay then...

<span>Make the homely task of sowing seeds more pleasurable with our specially designed Large Wooden Chunky Potting Table. Complete with 3 draws and shelving unit. </span>

This retro Belfast Light would look perfect just outside our back door, and would replace the nasty plastic light we have at the moment.

<span>This hardwearing Belfast Light is crafted from durable powder coated steel is perfect for illuminating the once hidden shores of your country garden.</span>

And finally, one of the things on my current garden To Do List is to find a nice bench, and this folding bistro bench fits the bill perfectly. Love the muted colour too.

Folding Bistro Bench - Clay

This post is sponsored by Garden Trading, just in case you hadn't noticed, but all opinions are my own.

Monday, 15 April 2013

There but for the grace of God...

24 years ago today my eldest brother attended the Liverpool v Nottingham Forest football match held at Hillsborough stadium. 96 football fans lost their lives that day. I was on holiday at the time and, in those days before mobile phones, I spent a frantic few minutes trying to find a payphone to call my parents and check for news of him. Thankfully he was safe.

12 years ago my youngest brother was driving into New York City when he saw what looked like smoke billowing from a tower and stopped to take a photo. It was 11th September 2001.

And now today another tragedy is unfolding in Boston. At the finishing line of the Boston marathon two explosions have caused carnage, with some fatalities and many severe injuries. And once again, a family member was there. Or should have been, had it not been for his hangover from a party the night before, my cousin would have been there at the finishing line - as planned - cheering the runners on.

I don't know what it all means but somehow it seems crazy. Three major disasters and somehow we've been lucky. Somehow we have missed disaster by a hair's breadth when so many others haven't.

My thoughts tonight are with the people of Boston and the families who haven't been as lucky.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Silent Sunday ~ 14th April

Recreate spring with your garden greenhouse

So who’s still waiting for spring to appear? The Equinox has passed and it’s officially supposedly British Summer Time. You wouldn’t believe it though, with many towns and high land still under a blanket of snow. This is not conducive to plans for your spring gardens and is a most frustrating time for the horticulturalists amongst us…

Nevertheless, we have to hope that the warmer weather will come eventually, and now is the time to get planting; but how do gardeners protect seeds, young plants and seedlings in this cold weather?  Many of you have been scratching your heads about how to beat this protracted cold snap, well a greenhouse or cold-frame may provide a perfect helping hand. 

At Gabriel Ash there’s something for every garden. Be it a classic, freestanding greenhouse, a lean to or even an upright vinehouse. They’re all handmade from Western red cedar wood and can be made to measure and fully bespoke, so you know you’re getting exactly what you need to fulfil your green-fingered desires.

Cold-frames are also vitally important to the gardener in this cold British weather. Coldframes are a great way to bridge the gap between a greenhouse and planting outside, ‘hardening off’ young plants and vegetables and getting them used to life outside of the greenhouse. Of course the greatest benefit is the saving on space, and even the smallest of gardens can generally house a cold frame.

So, whether it’s a full size, superb glass house or an upright coldframe, why not request a brochure? All of Gabriel Ash’s products are fully endorsed by the RHS, the only greenhouse manufacturer to carry this prestige and their wood is obtained from sustainable sources, so you’re in safe hands.

This post is sponsored by Gabriel Ash

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The April garden: snow, sunshine and showers

Well, what a bizarre month for weather!  We started off with loads of snow, and you can see from this photo (taken just over a week ago) that it took a while for the snow to clear.

I was a bit worried about how the new lawn would fare after being completely covered for so long but it doesn't appear to be any the worse for it.

The last bits of snow have now melted, finally, and yesterday it seemed a little warmer so I set aside some time to get into the garden today. Of course when I woke up this morning it was pouring with rain! Grrr...

There's very little colour in the garden right now, and because of the severe cold the plants are way behind with their usual spring growth.

As a result I've done very little this month apart from a bit of pottering, a little tidying around and some planning ahead. In fact, I've made a To Do List. I do like a good list, which is so satisfying especially when you get to tick some of the items off!

The first thing on the list was to clean the outside furniture and fortunately for me Tall Daughter decided to help out with that.

She washed down the patio table and chairs for me and  made a good job of it too as it'd become really grubby over the winter (I keep forgetting to put a cover over it) and  the chairs were covered in cobwebs.

This is what the rest of the list looks like:

1.  Clean the patio table and chairs. Done!
2.  Get the new bird house attached to an outside wall.
3.  Give the new lawn its first cut.
4.  Buy some wood stain for the side gate.
5.  Buy (and apply) a light coloured wood stain for the interior of the shed.
6.  Reorganise, tidy and declutter the shed.
7.  Consider staining the shed exterior. Still undecided about whether to go for one of those coloured stains     or a traditional wood stain as I don't want the shed to stand out too much in such a small garden.
8.  Decide what to do with the raised deck area.
9.  Buy a small garden bench.
10. Hang my lovely Green Man plaque (which I brought with me from the old house) onto the wall.

That's my list which I hope to get done before the summer, plus some extra planting and general gardening. Wish me luck and watch this space for progress!

Monday, 8 April 2013

The F-word: why is feminism still a dirty word?

Image credit

I've been a little bit dismayed recently about the number of successful women who have renounced feminism.

First, we had Katy Perry speaking at an awards ceremony where she said "I'm not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women."

Then, we had Queen BeyoncĂ© who was reluctant to accept the feminist label. “That word [feminist] can be very extreme,” she said in an interview with Vogue UK, before acknowledging: “I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality..." (So that makes you a feminist Bey, plain and simple.)

And now we have the Patron Saint of Baking, Mary Berry, rejecting feminism. When asked if she was a feminist she said ‘I don’t like that at all. I respect them [men], I don’t like shouting.’  She added: ‘Feminism is a dirty word. You’ve got to persuade them [men] gently..."

This sort of thing makes me despair, it really does. I could go on and give you a list of names, famous and not so famous but all successful women in their own field.

But why do so many women reject feminism?

Let's just clear up a couple of things first. Feminism is not about hating men or about wanting to be like a man. Feminism is not about being a lesbian, or rejecting feminine clothes or make-up or - God forbid - heels.

For me, it means wanting everyone to be treated equally.

It's about saying I work just as hard as a man and would like to have the same pay and conditions thank you.

It's wanting our daughters to be treated fairly, and not be overlooked for jobs or opportunities because of their gender.

It's about denouncing violence against women and, crucially, not blaming them for it.

But mainly, it's about choice. A woman should be able to choose how to live her life.  To go out to work or stay at home with the children without their credibilty or worth being questioned.  The role of a stay-at-home mum should be considered as important as her husband's;  it matters not a jot who looks after the children and who goes out to work but what does matter is that the division of labour is valued equally.

As I said, it's simply asking for the same treatment for everyone regardless of gender or appearance.

To say you are not a feminist, and yet want any of these things, is to trample on the history of women who paved the way for the rest of us.

So, my question is this: why is feminism still such a dirty word?

Sunday, 7 April 2013

This week I loved...

...the short break we had in the Lake District with our fabulous friends J & D.

...the house and converted barn set in 22 acres. Such a beautiful location.

...the views.

Photo by Tall Daughter
...the gorgeous sunsets.

...the pre-dinner drinks on the terrace.

...the fact that I asked a gay man to marry me. He said yes. I'll keep you posted with the arrangements.

...this amazing starter at the local pub. Black pudding and battered onion ring stack with a spicy peppercorn sauce. Absolutely delicious but ENORMOUS! I then attempted to eat a steak and ale pie for the main course. Could barely move for 24 hours afterwards.

...walking back from the pub in pitch darkness and seeing the incredible sky full of stars. There was so little light pollution that we could see the curve of the sky in stars.

...sitting in front of the log-burner in the cavernous living room, reading a good book, glass of wine to hand, feeling completely and utterly relaxed.

...having a conversation that got my brain whirring and which could be potentially life-changing. (No, I'm not talking about marrying a gay man although that would do it too.)

...coming home, feeling refreshed and with some serious thinking to do. (And quite a bit of work too.)