Thankful moments.

I think we might have something to learn from our neighbours across the ocean when it comes to thankful things, so I'm pausing, inspired by Christine at A Colourful Life, to note what is bringing contentment and gratitude this week.

#1  Finding a home for two wee jumpers - I started knitting them for my 'soon-to-be' 3 nephew - but just got round to finishing them this summer.  He was 11 a few weeks ago.  A friend with two toddlers was grateful to have them and I was delighted to see them go to a good home.

 #2  The smallest member of the family who 'joins in' the conversation watchfully and feels entitled to 'take a pew' literally when we all linger round the table with a cuppa.

#3  Daffodils popping through earlier than ever - last year it was Christmas week and that was early.  I didn't even think to look to see until the yellow caught my eye so they've been out at least since November 12.  

#4  I'm thankful to have reached the end of a very busy few weeks on the road with work and grateful the next phase means staying at home to complete the work gathered up.  Now I can stay in my pjs all day if I want (I won't!) and flit between desk and kitchen all day filling up the teapot (I will!)  Bliss.

#5  Wood smoke.  Someone has a fire lit and the smell of burning wood hangs on the slightly damp air.  Sigh.

#6  Dried fruit in the cupboard for the Christmas cake - ready to make when the notion takes me.

#7  Groceries delivered to the door this evening.  It's only the second time I've ordered online ever,  but it's been an exceptionally busy few weeks and I'm exhausted.  Luxury.

#8  The smell of fresh laundry on a cool pillowcase.

#9  Hearing the rain on the window and snuggling in under the quilt.

#10  The quiet, contented breathing from a sleeping loved one who's been struggling with pain all day.

Here come the cosies...

All quiet at the Cove these days. The free-range days of summer are coming to an end just in the nick of time - I'm ready for a bit more structure to the days.  Plus a good salad can only tickle the taste buds for so long and the season of soups and comforting casseroles is upon us.

I love Autumn - question is, does it start officially with the tidy dates of the meteorological autumn of 1 September or with the slightly more satisfying astronomical date which this year is 22 September?  I'm happier with the slightly more organic second date, though there's no denying the seasonal changes are arriving daily.  Not all of them good I guess; the weather news from around the world this week is grim.  I'm thankful to live in a fairly mild Northern Ireland - not too blowy and generally manageable quantities of rain.

So, a 'ta-dah!' moment - the autumn rug is finished and already been put to work in the cooler evenings.  The pattern is from Lucy's Hydrangea Blanket  pattern here but with colours which work in our room - all autumnal.

Outside, the apples are fewer on the Bramley tree - the result of haphazard pruning over the last year, so while disappointing, it's not unexpected.   The pollinator (maybe Felspar and James Grieve?) is in  a pot and doesn't usually produce much, but we got these... even though the insects have been at work on one of them.

The rhubarb is chomped to bits and I'm still on the hunt for a very fat caterpillar or slug somewhere.  but the broad beans and peas have been enjoyed by the humans.

There are still some vestiges of summer weather about though - the lobster catch at the harbour a few miles down the road was brought in on a glorious Sunday morning - all seagulls, church bell and clanging masts.  I love the colours of the lobsters.

The shellfish are on their way to Spain for the markets - and now I can tell the difference between a male and female crab!  (Female on the left with the broader 'V' and the male with a narrower, sharper 'V' on the right.  I'm sure there's a biological name but hey ho.)

Cake.  A very delicious, light, warm, lime syrup drenched polenta cake with creme fraiche to be precise.  A huge portion that fed mum and I at a local cafe.  This I need the recipe for!

Hooky happiness returns

Ulster's Causeway coast is lovely - despite the choppy looking sea, it was great to be outdoors for a while - but too hot for my very pale skin. I love to sit out, but even with a really high factor block, there's only so much scorch I can take so while the darker skinned brother and mother enjoyed sitting out to read for a while, I hid in the car and hit the hook on the new rug.  It's based on the hydrangea pattern from Lucy at Attic 24 but I've chosen colours to work for us.  Love this pattern - the hooky equivalent of chick lit - just what's needed on holiday.

Because it's been a tough few months, we've been trying to crawl out of the cocoon a little - a couple of wee tea parties for some of mum's friends who've been really kind and supportive.  I've reached the stage of life where the tongue-in-cheek thing allows me to use mum's Old Country Roses china tea-set.  The ladies love it as part of the afternoon tea elegance thing.  And who on earth uses a rose bowl anymore!? It's fun doing the whole retro thing for mum and her chums.

The raspberry and cream do-dahs are little elderflower and berry jellies.  Last time I made them with a (healthy) quantity of Prosecco but didn't have any left nearby.  They were ok I guess, but next time, they'll have a little something grown up added!

Seeing quite a few of these guys hiding in the hedges and fields recently.  I love the colours.  

Spring pops and a little escapism

Cold, bright, cheerful spring days with the sqawk of seagulls, bleating from lambs and a multitude of metal wires clanging against masts around the harbour.  A happy soundtrack.

In the shelter of the walled garden at Bangor Castle, we walk, our spirits lifted by the intensity of colour.  We'd retreated there, far from a crowded gathering at Church - my lovely mum was overwhelmed by the noise and bustle of the full pews of friendly and familiar faces and the quiet of the garden with its gentle waterfall was needed.

I guess this is all part of journey onwards from intense grief.  She's 80, and had known dad since she was 13 or 14 - a long time loving one person.  I'm learning there's no single script for those who live on - we're all finding our own way.  Spring bulbs and lambs help though.  They're hopeful; just when everything is dark and gloomy and seems dead, new life, new growth emerges to startle and encourage us to keep going.  

Back home, I lit a wood fire in the chiminea and sat with a hot drink, warm jumper and my much thumbed copy of John Seymour's book on self sufficiency and day dreamed - my way of escaping.  I was hoping for wisdom on what to plant in the raised bed that will be built over the next few weeks - but lost myself in the mysteries of managing a small holding - which I don't possess, probably will never, but can still dream about....

Left over Christmas cake etc

Am I the only person who still has a chunk of Christmas cake left by the third week of March?  It's moist and delicious and I don't want it to end so I refuse to serve it to visitors (I'm sure they're delighted!) I allow myself a wee nibble now and again.  I don't want it to finish this year.  Ridiculous I know, but dad enjoyed a small slice a few days before he died in January and somehow, when the cake is gone.... another link to him is too.

We've had seven weeks without him and slowly, steadily, his mark on our home is fading.  There will be a day when there is no more Christmas cake... no last jar of his delicious windfall apple jelly...  or pots of his favourite peppermint tea - we drink it, but not often, so I can't imagine any more will be bought when this packet is finished.

I've found myself burying my face in his jumpers in the hope of a remembered smell.

All the efficient practicality of the hours and days after he died have passed now too.  I fooled myself into thinking I was ok.  I was for a while. A funeral attended by around 450 people went like clockwork; warm, affectionate and tearful but with laughter and his favourite hymns - two of which he and I sang the day before he left us - he croaking from his pillow and me doing my best with a lump the size of everest in my throat.

The paperwork... policies.... banks.... legal matters - some relating to his older, bewildered sister who
is now my responsibility... And some for my mother all processed, organised and in order.  Now I've lifted my head I wonder where everyone has gone?  We'd several hundred people in our home over the five days between his passing and his funeral... and I breezed through - 'coping', dealing with, arranging.. Now?  Now I cry at the sight of a slice of Christmas cake and a pot of apple jelly.

I need to knit I think.  Socks.  New challenges.

A welcome to the new year.

The first week of January is now over and I'm breathing again and happy - relieved - to see a few brave daffodils bloom in the border by the front door.  The (ridiculously early) wild garlic flowering in one of the hedges nearby also fools me into thinking spring is close, so now, my shoulders are relaxing.

This has been a strange, stressful season and I'm all over the show.  New diaries have been sprung into action with no pleasure at all - no frisson of the possibilities of fresh pages in a lovely new journal.  Needs must and I've been in organisational overdrive in an effort to keep things on track.  

A pile of unopened Christmas presents still waits on the floor where the tree was until yesterday.  Barely touched Christmas cake waits and the fridge is full of unexpected food gifts - hearty soups and delicious pies - delivered by church friends showing love in the most practical of ways.

Christmas Eve started well, but by lunchtime, we'd a paramedic first responder hooking dad up to an ECG machine, confirming a heart attack and in minutes, we were in an ambulance en route to the hospital.  The days since have been spent juggling home stuff, a slightly bewildered and very anxious mum who lives with me, twice daily hospital calls, visits to an in-law, seriously ill in a different hospital and work - where half the team left unexpectedly at the end of the year.  I think the word for my life at the moment is 'intense'.

But, having had several weeks of 'up close and personal' access to Britain's National Health Service, I'm reminded again of how downright amazing it is when it works.  I'm grateful and humbled by the sheer dedication and kindness of the paramedics, nurses, doctors, porters, cooks, cleaners and others who make this lumbering, clunky, vastly under-resourced machine so magnificent in an emergency.  

So now we're about to enter the world of daily carers, and all the accompanying accoutrements - an air bed, walking aid, commode chair... and soon, MacMillan nurses - dad's cancer was already progressing rapidly. 

But next week, his pile of Christmas gifts will be opened - though the best gift will be him, back home with us.  Then, with time to gather ourselves and talk, we'll plot a way along the road to a new kind of 'normality'.