Thursday, 25 February 2021

To Laugh Often and Much

There have been times over the past two years when laughter has been nothing more than a memory, but (with thanks to Ralph Waldo Emerson) there truly was one life which I know breathed easier. Probably two lives because my darling Little Miss Perfect enriched my life as much as I did hers.

To laugh often and much,
to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children,
to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends,
to appreciate beauty,
to find the best in others,
to leave the world a bit better place whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition,
to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.

I still think of her every day, not just on those 'anniversary days'.

I am nowhere near being "over" losing Daisy, to be honest, some days I wonder if this is the hurt from which I never fully recover. I am at least now old and enough and sufficiently scuffed around the edges to know never to say never again.  But not yet, not for a long while yet.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Two days on, and two days off?

The weather seems to be doing an interesting flip-flop every 48 hours. Sunday and Monday were absolutely glorious and I was outside for nearly two full days, and now we have high wind, low cloud, blustery rain and it is forecast to be quite miserable today and tomorrow, which in truth I am pleased about - I have things to do indoors, really need to go food shopping, and two days working on the pond has been pretty tiring!

Sunday morning was spent doing a quick weed and tidyup of the little pond in the Cottage Garden, and arranging a couple of weldmesh panels (covered with fine netting) over the top. The idea is that the heron will not easily be able to get to the pond but I am not going to prevent frogs and small birds accessing the water. It seems to have worked because within minutes of finishing there was a blackbird splashing around for his daily ablutions, and yesterday I saw a frog in the water. An additional consideration is to use a mesh fine enough to stop the heron putting his head through, and keeping it taught so that the bird cannot get trapped.

The rest of Sunday was spent carrying weldmesh panels from the shed to the Big Pond, adding a few chunks of timber, continuing to pull dead vegetation from the marginal planting areas, and working out ways of balancing the steel panels. I am waiting for a large roll of netting to be delivered which we will cover the panels with. I have no expectation that I can keep every single frog safe from the heron, but with these barriers (and some more brightly coloured crime scene tape) hopefully I can tip the balance in favour of our amphibian visitors.

Monday morning was a lovely run to Keswick and back to collect Bill, who is now gas-safe, water-checked, and generally 'habitation checked' and with Boris' latest announcements last night, maybe I ~will~ get away this season? I am in no hurry, however, to book a campsite for the week of 12th April because I suspect everywhere will be jam-packed. I like my solitude far too much so locations are going to be very carefully selected. MOT next week so I will hold off re-loading the van until I know she doesn't have to go and visit any more garages.

Lunch was taken outside on both Sunday and Monday. A quick chickpea spicy dahl-type dish with chopped avodaco in an insulated pot, it was bliss to sit and eat in the fresh air. Whilst doing so yesterday I saw a massive frog swimming through the overgrown oxygenator weed, and as I got my "eye in" I noticed multiple newts.

Management was called in to assist, the little dingy was brought out, and we had an hour "pruning" weed from the pond. Dare not leave it any later and disturb breeding season but I really thought I might have until the weekend to tackle this job. No photos of me repeatedly sticking my arms into freezing water to pull out the weed, but I had the foresight prior to embarking on this "fun" task of putting my dressing gown in the bootroom, a laundry basket for wet clothes, and the water had been put on boost. The long, hot shower was rather lovely . . .

Sunday, 21 February 2021

A good day to dye

The weather on Friday and Saturday made even going to the dustbin feel like an SAS recruitment test, so it has not been difficult to spend the last couple of days in the sewing room. With Bill being serviced for (hopefully) some forthcoming trips away I felt motivated to finally finish a van/sewing project that has been puttering along in the background for about three years.

This ongoing project has been to make bags out of semi-scrap quilted fabric for every item of crockery and all the cooking utensils. Two reasons why this has been necessary: the first is that despite trying melamine, plastic and bamboo alternatives, neither of us like eating or drinking from "camping crockery" and if I am going to carry Denby plates and a favourite bone china mug I would rather they not shatter the first time I hit a pothole. The second reason is that I cannot stand any rattling noises when I drive, so everything has to be cushioned.

I started in October 2017 when we first got Bill, and used up quilted sample bits, rescued rejects which M. had wrapped around motorbike parts (washed very thoroughly first!), and ended up with a functional but not very attractive set of padded bags.

This weekend I decided to bite the bullet, and finish up properly. When I made most of the bags three years ago I did not have an overlocker, so the first job was to turn everything inside out and serge along the raw edges. A little tricky in places thanks to multiple layers and thick seams but I only broke one needle . . . although sewing in all the ends took longer than expected.

I had not really thought this through and ended up with 1.4kg of fabric and one Dylon pod of dye which was meant to cover 600g. But everything got chucked in the machine anyway, and a couple of hours later, all washed and dried they look rather smart.

Some fabrics have taken the dye better than others, it is obvious which bags were made with a poly-blend not pure cotton fabric and I think I will put those through again with a second packet of dye, but the pure cotton ones are already a good enough colour. I am very pleased with how it all looks, much less visual 'clutter' and the odd tea or coffee stain doesn't show anymore. 😉   

There are one or two bags which were made with decent fabric, so I left them undyed and I remembered that there is at least one padded bag still in the van with the oven trays that rattle like crazy even when stationery. So I will hold off on the second pot of dye and add that final bag when Bill is home.

Thanks to absolutely ghastly weather I have finally dealt with "one of those jobs" which has been hanging around for ages and as is usually the case, it did not take very long once I got started.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Quiet day after a busy week

Busy week? Good grief, that's not something you can say terribly often during lockdown. ☺️ But the last four days have been marvellously productive, there has been sunshine and coffee outdoors  (TRA LA!!)  and we were uncharacteristically busy so right now I am feeling a little:

and it is questionable how long this post (started at 10.30am) is going to take to put together. 😄

Over the course of developing the garden at Bag End, many plans have been made. And many times, those plans have FAILED. Therefore on Monday I popped into the garden after breakfast to take advantage of much milder weather, and I did so with no plan. Because this year my cunning PLAN is not to have a plan, that way I cannot FAIL (see what I did there 😆).

The day before had been wet and very windy, the day before that had been seriously sub-zero, but this week commenced with no wind, temperatures almost heading into double figures, and the occasional but most delightful glimpse of that elusive thing which causes shadows. My idea had been to stay out for just an hour, and do a little "gardening" around the edge of the pond, the reason and motivation being this chap who has decided to pay us daily visits:

I am quite well aware that I will be moaning like crazy about a fully grown Grey Heron in the garden if I do not take action to protect the frogs who will arrive soon for their annual reproductive frenzy, but I have a very clear idea of how to protect my Froggy Chorus without completely restricting access to the pond for us and other birds. So the much needed and very overdue clearup had to commence.

The other reason for needing to clear the overgrown vegetation is nothing to do with protecting the frogs, and everything to do with giving me a better line of sight for photography. That picture would have been quite nice if the Heron did not have a dried stalk of something apparently running through his eye!

I had no expectation (or Plan) to get so much done but an hour of work, a coffee break ( ☕️ the first outside in 2021 ☕️), another hour, and then an "oh, sod it, I am already wet, muddy and tired, I might as well keep going" for a final 30 minutes and all of a sudden a third of the pond margin was tidied up, and supposed 'rock pools' which had been hidden for years have now seen the light of day again.

Far less real estate was cleared on Tuesday, although progress has been made digging out some flag iris and an invasive Carex to make space for different marginal plants which are not such thugs:

because we had to spend time putting protective netting around my biggest heather bed, which is where the bumble bees nest. A particularly irritating feline owned by some neighbours has decided that the top of the heather is a great toilet. GRRRR. If I had ever let Daisy wander into someone else's garden, shit on their flowers, and do nothing about it I would be prosecuted. It makes me very irritable that there is nothing I can do to prevent someone's cat using my garden like a litter tray.

With Management's help, weld mesh was cut, fixed in place and netting spread over the top (which hasn't been photographed because by then the heavens had opened and we needed to get inside - quick!)

In an experiment which may or may not work well, Wednesday saw the evicted thuggery plus some coppiced hazel used to create a small "dead hedge with grasses behind it" to see if we can stabilise the soil on this bank. It is outside our garden boundary, facing onto the church parking area and for years its ownership has been in doubt. We have decided to take on the maintenance, although there are no plans {Plan? what is this Plan thing you keep mentioning! cough cough} to do much more than strim it and try to keep things a little tidier.

Bill was emptied for her annual Habitation Service which means I am once again horrified at the amount of stuff I carry about in the van which rarely gets used. I go through the usual "self talking to" of deciding to put only half of it back, followed by remembering that many items are "just in case" supplies which I would be silly to leave behind (such as mats to help get off mud or soft ground).

We have taken lockdown very literally and not been out for day trips even though we would "stay low and stay local" which is the advice from Mountain Rescue Teams, but ever the optimist, I want to be ready to go away as and when lockdown rules allow. However, seeing the number of leisure vehicles on the road yesterday morning between here and Keswick I might well be reconsidering the complete stay at home and have the occasional trip out in our immediate area.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Freezing and fabric

This blog was meant to be about recent sewing - but I am a little distracted by this morning’s lovely sunrise (and finding a much better free panorama App: ‘Panorama Stitch Mini’). I continue to be more and more impressed with the iPhone as a camera - the only ‘processing’ this has had is stitching two images together, absolutely nothing else and like Jules (her comment on yesterday's post) I too was out in my dressing gown to capture the moment and enjoy it.

Also distracted by my daily ice-breaking exercise, carried out this morning in what could {generously} be called a ‘fresh breeze’, aka: “utterly Baltic & freezing”.

Around 3.30/4.00pm yesterday I went outside and had second pond session. It was a success because there had been a little sun during the day and I was able to remove awkward bits of ice at the edges of the areas I am trying to keep clear, and generally open things up quite a bit. At 8.30 this morning I ventured out again modelling the pinnacle of sartorial gardening elegance - insulated walking trousers, technical base layer, Rohan fleece, insulated body-warmer, Paramo coat, buff neck protector, two pairs of gloves and be thankful you cannot see the Thinsulate lined thick bobble hat! Oh, and thermal Muck Boots which are one of the most cost-effective and brilliant items of clothing I have ever owned.

40 minutes later . . . I decided enough was enough and came in to defrost, even my teeth hurt, in fact I have just realised they still do. Overnight an inch of ice had formed on the previously clear water and for a laugh, I stood on it to see what would happen (and yes, I did it in a safe, shallow area where I would have come to no harm had the ice shattered underneath me). It was more than stable enough to hold my weight leaving me in no doubt that the (probably) 4” or more in the centre of the ponds would be quite safe to walk on should I be so inclined.

Frankly, with my bird-care duties completed and tonight’s dinner defrosting, that is enough for today and I am heading back to the sewing machine for a full day of puttering around. I have plans to make some pillowcases, adapt the neck of this morning’s base layer which has never been “right” and maybe take in the waist of some trousers. What I won’t be doing is anything related to the red-based plaid log cabin blocks.

I am delighted with how they look, but as I said yesterday, I am going to have a long, slow cogitate about how they (and the blue ones) are sewn together. This is the original idea (but don’t take it too literally, it is just a quick sketch up) but I hated it once on the design wall.

This looks much better in a photo than it did in real life:

This (smaller) layout appears much nicer in real life than in the photo (no, I don’t understand it either!)

As does this one:

But the reverse of the first small layout just was not right, it never looked as good in the sewing room as it does in the image:

NO, I don’t know what was going on in the bottom RH corner of the left-hand quilt either, but I fixed it!

So there we are, and that is how those blocks are going to stay for the next week or two. There is nothing to be gained by rushing into a layout (or two) and everything to be lost by sewing blocks together too quickly. Outside conditions are no longer "a breeze" but building up to be very windy, and it is the sort of wind which saps all heat and the central heating struggles against. I decree it is time to light the woodburner which makes a huge difference to the ambiance of the house.

Whatever you do this weekend, I hope it can be kind, relaxing and peaceful for you.

Friday, 12 February 2021


OOps again, where does time go? It's not as if I am out and about and too busy to sit at the computer for a blog post.

To be honest, things are starting to feel a bit Groundhog Day, but unlike Bill Murray I cannot magically change the outcome by doing anything different. In the last week the last year seems to have caught up with me and I was feeling very "down", and ended up not sleeping for three consecutive nights. I have said before I can cope with being cold, wet, hungry and in pain from doing too much, but deprive me of sleep and the wheels do not just come off, they vanish into the next county. But the pandemic will not go away, life will not open up, or permit travel just because I want it to, and a stern self-talking-to eventually pulled me out of my funk.

Reading one of my favourite blogs [you know who you are, 😘] helped greatly to remind me that I am living ~NOW~, even if I am not doing what I planned/hoped/expected, and to do that with a warm, dry house, enough money to buy food and bits I need, and all the other things I have around me is a blessing indeed, and one that millions would bite my hand off for.  That doesn't mean I have miraculously become Sally Sunshine again - frankly, things feel pretty crappy at present, and coming up to the anniversary of Daisy's death does not help one bit. But there we are, that's how I feel and I suspect I am not alone.

So what have I been doing? Hiding from the cold, mostly, and whilst we have had no snow it's been sub-zero for days. I go into the garden each morning to break ice so that the birds have free water to drink and each day for the last week I have smashed my way through at least an inch of ice which had formed in the previous 24 hours, chucking it out of the pond so it doesn't re-freeze into an imoveable large mass. This was fun the first few days but now it is a cold chore.

Yesterday (because I have nothing better to do, ha ha) I broke through a small section on the Top Pond which I had not attacked previously - these pieces are at least 3" thick so I could probably walk safely across the water if I wanted to. Maybe not, done that once this year and got away with it, it might be best not chance my luck any further.

I have always said I would leave the supermarket delivery slots to those who need them, so there's a weekly trip to Sainsbury's or Morrisons, there has been some bulk cooking and I finally defrosted the freezer.  I sewed ~another~ patch on M's favourite work jeans - very soon they will be like Grandfather's Broom (three new heads and four new handles).

There is always reading and probably far too much TV watching - I found myself absolutely fascinated (in a horrific, car crash sort of way) with the Impeachment Trial. As I never go anywhere near the Twitter-sphere I had never seen most of the messages sent by the 45th President or his followers and it has been chilling and disturbing to see some of the evidence presented.

On 7th January Management and I scrutinised some of the early images that had been released, and I noticed something resting against the hip of the person who had ransacked Speaker Pelosi's office which I thought looked like a baseball bat, M. said it was a walking stick. Hearing evidence I found he was right - it was a walking stick - inside which was hidden a very high voltage taser. Beggars belief . . .

But as usual, much of my time has been spent surrounded by fabric, and I have been sewing the plaid log cabin blocks, a little each day. The actual sewing is the quick part - but trying not to repeat each fabric more than once per block, squaring up and trimming all seems to take ages. Whilst these two sets have made virtually no appreciable dent in the stash, now I find I do not really have enough variety of floral patterns to make the third set I had planned, nor do I like all the blocks arranged together as one large quilt. The jury is out and will take much longer in its deliberations than those on Capitol Hill. I am currently pondering two 'complimentary' but not identical lap-sized quilts, maybe for Bill, but maybe not.

I have decided that the fabric photos can wait until tomorrow - there are too many and they deserve a post of their own.

You may notice there is no mention of housework, decorating, learning a new language or any of the other de facto lockdown activities which seem to fill blog-land! However, this morning there was another beautiful sunrise, and this image has been quickly cobbled together using a collage program because the latest Mac OS updates and my very old copy of PhotoShop are not happy working together.