April 14, 2015

A Novel Gave Birth To An Adventure Gave Birth To A Memoir!

A few years ago I began following the blog of the author Andra Watkins. Her posts were a mixture of anecdotes and memories from everyday life, and pieces of her own fiction. Andra’s writing has always struck me as authentic and honest because it conveys a very strong, individual voice and doesn’t shy away from sharing truths.  I had found the fiction featured on her blog luxurious for its beauty of language use and the gripping nature of the tales she wove.

So when Andra published To Live Forever – An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, her first full length novel, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. I was not disappointed. Gripping to the end, I did not know which character or characters would succeed or how.  Yet that was not all…this book inspired another.

In writing and researching To Live Forever, Andra spent a lot of time visiting the Natchez Trace. Last year, she went on to walk the whole Trace, from one end to the other. Her wingman was none other than her father. An account of their memorable experience was published in the form of Andra’s first non-fiction book, Not Without My Father.   In my opinion it is just as unmissable as her novel, and here is my review of it, as it is featured on Goodreads:

 

Not Without My Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez TraceNot Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace by Andra Watkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In beautiful, descriptive language, Andra Watkins does not just tell us about her 444 mile walk of the Natchez Trace, she SHOWS us. Feeling like we’re catching up with her at the end of each 15 mile day’s hike, this book is more than solely an account of a gruelling and inspiring trek through the contrasting landscape and terrain of three American states. While, outwardly, going on the walk was intended to help to promote Andra’s novel (To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis), her inward desire was to reconnect with her father during this real life adventure. The literary result is a fearlessly honest and authentic story of a father and daughter with equally strong personalities. Through clashing and gaining a greater understanding of each other would the love and admiration we can see they have for each other ultimately shine through?

This book has the power to touch your heart, make you laugh out loud and bring tears to your eyes. I couldn’t wait to find out what each new page held but, at the same time, I didn’t want the book to end!

View all my reviews

I would highly recommend checking out each of the books I’ve mentioned here.  They are both of a very high standard, and each explores slightly different facets of Andra’s writing.

April 5, 2015

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter

April 1, 2015

There’s A Rosemary In It!

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To my delight there was still more room on the incubation windowsill, after I’d started planting on Saturday. So I plucked out of my seed collection some Rosemary, cucumber, more tomato, and Busy Lizzie seeds. I wanted to plant some aubergine and lupin seeds, too, but discovered they would need an overnight soak first. My cress seeds were itching to get out of their packet as well, but I figured I could plant them on a bit of damp kitchen paper indoors anytime in the coming days when the forecast was hinting it would be too windy to get into the greenhouse comfortably.

Like my sage, mint and thyme, I feel that my current Rosemary plant is past its best so I wanted to grow another one. In my experience they are not always ever so easy to grow so I hoped five seeds – initially! – in the pot would be enough to yield at least one seedling. The pair of cucumber seeds I popped in a pot was of the “Sherpa” variety like I planted last year. Then they proved very suitable for growing in a large pot and very prolific. Two plants in the polytunnel fed us with cucumber sandwiches and contributed to salad sandwiches and salads for a number of weeks after we moved, which was mighty convenient at a time of disorganisation. And tasty, too!

Among my seed stock was the remainder of a packet of tomato “Beefsteak Costoluto Florentino” from last year. Like a few others, I’d actually forgotten I’d got them until I collected all my seeds together. Even though I’ve already planted some tomato seeds, as I’ve previously mentioned the larger tomatoes tend to be my favourites so I thought I’d plant a couple of these seeds in the hope of a plant growing.

It was when I was about to plant my Busy Lizzie “Safari” seeds that a mix-up occurred. Well, what gardening endeavour on my part would be complete without some kind of mix-up?! There, on the staging in the greenhouse, were six small pots that I’d filled with compost and watered. Three had seeds in, one was sitting waiting for the Busy Lizzie seeds, and two were intended for a trip indoors ready for the soaked seeds when the time came. Having “reorganized” the pots, I realised I’d gotten them muddled up prior to labelling and hadn’t got a clue what was or wasn’t in which pots! When will I learn? SIGH.

So there I was, tipping out the contents of each pot separately into a tray and digging through the compost with my index fingers, frantically searching for any sign of the slightest seed. Not pathetic at all! Things were looking up when I thought I’d found a Rosemary seed in the first pot. Or could it have just been something small in the make-up of the compost? I put the pot to one side, denoting it as The Rosemary Pot. Searching through another pot I found another Rosemary-looking seed. And another one. Or was it compost bits? Another seed? Maybe this pot was The Rosemary Pot. Thankfully, the two pale, larger cucumber seeds were easy to find so The Cucumber Pot was stood in an appropriate spot to aid my memory until I retrieved my labels. In the other pots – all of them! – I couldn’t find a tomato seed for toffee. But hang on… was that a Rosemary seed I saw in that one? Or several? In that one, too? And that one?

Oh, it was just getting ridiculous and the clock was ticking, time was a-wasting. So I designated a pot as The Real Rosemary Pot and pressed a handsome number of Rosemary seeds down into the soil and covered them. If I was going to grow a Rosemary seedling I sure was going to do it with conviction! Likewise, with the tomato seeds, my maximum five seed per pot rule for “non-row” plants and larger flowers went out the window and I flung the rest of the packet’s contents in. Should any seedlings appear of something else when they couldn’t be kind enough to show themselves during my search, any interloper would be outnumbered! (I wouldn’t have risked any type of mix up if I’d already planted something I knew to be inedible, but I figured Rosemary and tomato getting potentially mixed up with each other or possible aubergines wouldn’t be a disaster but a recipe. If, in the unlikely event, anything edible crops up in the Busy Lizzies’ or lupins’ pots I just won’t use it.)

With that all decided upon, it was time for me to get busy planting Busy Lizzie seeds. All of which meant more “Rabbit Ear Greenhouses” to take indoors in the warm.  Now I better get on with washing up some more flowerpots!

 

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March 31, 2015

First “Rabbit Ear Greenhouses” of the Year!

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The day finally came when I would take my two new little propagators and my collection of seeds out into the greenhouse and start planting for this year. With a selection of packets that resembled the sprawl of a deck of cards as I fanned them out before me, I knew it was going to be difficult to choose which ones to plant at that time. Owing to windowsill space and potential for rotating possible seedlings in the weeks to come, I decided that I would plant eighteen types of seeds to begin with.

In my first propagator I have opted for an all herb affair: dill, curled parsley, coriander, basil (the red-leaved variety I grew last year, I’m going to guess, from the abbreviation on the foil packaging), chives and garlic chives. One half of my second propagator is also devoted to herbs: sage, mint and thyme “English Winter”. The other half, however, is currently home to a scattering of buried carrot “Rondo” seeds. In eight small flower pots I have planted tomato “Garden Pearl”, nasturtium, lavender “Dwarf Munstead”, Sweet Passion Fruit, cucamelon, squash “Turks Turbans”, and “Jack O Lantern” and “Jack Be Little” pumpkin seeds.

All the little pots are now inside freezer bags which are tied up tightly, their handles reminding me of rabbits’ ears, to emulate the conditions of the propagators which currently have their vents shut to create a warm, damp atmosphere that will hopefully encourage the seeds to begin to grow.

For the most part I have planted three, four or five seeds in a pot in the hope that at least two decent seedlings of each will appear. The most notable exception is the carrots, though larger seeds such as nasturtiums, squashes and pumpkins sit in their pots in pairs since they are that much larger and I am not as interested in having crops of these to keep coming over and over during the year. Just one healthy plant of each of these would suit me very happily.

“Garden Pearl” is not a tomato variety I have grown before, but they are appealing to me because they are described as being suitable for growing in baskets or containers, and they are said to crop heavily all summer long. Often I favour larger varieties of home grown tomatoes because personally I dislike tough skins so prefer a larger flesh-to-skin ratio.

On ordering the nasturtiums I ordered “Tom Thumb Mix”, said to be an edible hardy annual of a smaller size . On opening the packet the typing on the inner foil read: “Climbing Nasturtium”. Now would I be being ignorant to assume that this could be another packing mix up akin to the lavender/Mesembryanthemum one? If so, does that mean these nasturtiums might not be edible? Either way, I don’t mind – it was, after all, their looks that persuaded me to buy.

I’ve ordered the lavender I ordered last year when I actually received the Mesembryanthemums. Being a bit of a lavender addict I think I was less strict about how many seeds fell into the compost this year. Following no appearance of the Passion Flower/Sweet Passion Fruit – whatever they might be – in the autumn of last year, I have sown some more of those ambiguous seeds now that spring is here.

I’d like new sage, mint and thyme plants now as I feel my old ones are past their best, and I think the sage and thyme will take time to establish themselves so I thought I’d get them started now.
Carrot “Rondo” is a variety which grows into ball-shapes, ideal, I’m guessing, for container growing, so I’m keen to try them. It will be very interesting to see how successfully they grow, and I’m curious to find out what they taste like. Planting them with other seeds in a small propagator, with a view to transplanting them if they come through, may be a bit unusual, but this early in the season anything I have planted is sitting indoors in the warm to aid the seeds with germination. Hopefully, if these carrots come through, I would like to try to grow more in their own larger container, without the need for transplanting, later in the season.

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The choice of cucamelons is this year’s little impulse buy for me. Petit shoes? Designer handbags? No, seeds that should hopefully grow into cute little grape-shaped fruits that look like mini watermelons and taste like cucumber with a hint of lime. At first glance of the picture on the seed packet, I imagined them to be super healthy sweets! However, originating from central America, cucamelons are more likely to be found pickled, served in drinks or eaten as cucumbers would be. Admittedly, it was only because I love the look of watermelons so much that I was drawn to these, but I can’t wait to see how they will turn out and I’m already trying to imagine what they will taste like.

Last year my attempt to grow squash “Turks Turbans” proved rather fruitless – or should I say squashless?!  So I’m going to try again this year. The plant itself grew, but only one squash came close to actually forming from the flowers. Did I overwater the plant? Was growing it in a pot too stifling? Were the conditions of the year not conducive to growing squash? It could be any or all of the above, I don’t know. Perhaps by trying to learn from the potential mistakes I made I will be able to learn more specifically what my mistakes were. The same goes for my attempt at growing pumpkins. Without a doubt, squash “Turks Turbans” seeds were my “impulse buy” of last year because, as with the cucamelon seeds this year, I was seduced by a picture.

Already, having chosen large and small pumpkin seed varieties, I am thinking of Hallowe’en! Last year I experienced the same issues with my pumpkin plant as I did with my squash plant. The leaves of both sprawled along their stalks but got rather mouldy quite quickly. Both plants produced a number of flowers but they came to nothing. The main differences between the two plants were that the squash plant was kept in a greenhouse or polytunnel most of the time while the pumpkin one spent most of its grown-up life outside, and the squash plant was grown from bought seeds whereas the pumpkin plant was grown from a seed from the previous Hallowe’en’s long redundant Jack O’Lantern. So I’m hedging my bets this year by trying two pumpkin varieties, and of bought seeds. The pumpkins from a “Jack O Lantern” plant are said to grow to be 30cm in diameter, while pumpkins of the “Jack Be Little” variety are supposed to be so small you can hold them in the palm of your hand. It would be unlucky to have no success with either, but we will see. Anyway, I always think that any plant growing from seeds I have sown is a bonus.

So the peeping through plastic lids and bags several times a day, in the hope of spying the slightest hint of green, begins. I love this stage of the planting season!

March 28, 2015

Springing Into Action

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Time to get ready

There’s so much to be done in the greenhouse at the moment. The enticing rattle of all those new seed packets and the irresistible pull of the sunshine has the wheels of progress turning. Pots and trays are being washed. Shelving racks are being cleaned. Slabs are being swept. Ah, the spring cleaning of the little plants’ domain!

Back in the autumn, you may remember, I planted a few things in my “greenhouses within a greenhouse”. So far I have had mixed fortunes, but on the whole I’m pleased. It’s been a very cloudy winter here, but thankfully, we did not have anywhere near as much as wind as we did in the winter of 2013/2014. Though there have only been a few flurries of snow and not much in the way of hoary frosts, temperatures have hovered around just above freezing, just below freezing, sometimes on the nail, and a number of times so close I thought it would freeze but then it didn’t. So many late afternoons, and now early evenings, I’ve been popping out to the greenhouse to tuck my plants up for the night.
The “greenhouses in a greenhouse” became “greenhouses in a greenhouse in a greenhouse” – with brass knobs on! I mean, with fleece on. Garden fleece, that is. At my disposal was a small greenhouse-shaped metal frame with a plastic cover. I placed all my fledgling plants inside it for the winter, zipping the cover up apart from when I checked on or watered the plants. When sunshine built heat up I’d unzip the cover for a couple of hours or so. All the while this mini greenhouse sat inside my actual greenhouse. On the coldest or potentially coldest nights, I covered the mini greenhouse with a layer of garden fleece, which I’d then take off during the day. I’m glad to say that during the winter the vast majority of plants have come along well.

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The plants’ first outing

The seeds that grew have long since shed their freezer bag “greenhouses”. Yesterday, when the sun was shining, I took the plants out and stood them on the newly cleaned racking until late afternoon. Then they went back into their mini greenhouse, and early evening, because an early frost was forecast, I covered the mini greenhouse with fleece again.

Originally, I planted some Papaver, Strawberry Mignonette, Meconopsis Hensol Violet (a Himalayan blue poppy) and mint seeds, and a couple of potential confusions. But my first mix up that I was aware of came with my labelling. Thinking the condensation would obliterate any written labels and make them peel off the pots and trays, and not wanting to stick any labels inside the pots because I tied the bags around them quite tightly at first, I drew a chart of what I’d planted in which pots. It worked for a while. Even when I moved the pots with seedlings in from the shelving rack to the mini greenhouse I remembered to keep the pots in their formation. But then one day I rearranged the contents of the mini greenhouse, forgot about my chart, and realised too late that I now had no idea what was growing in four of my smallest pots. Genius!

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Enjoying a bit of relative freedom

Four pots but all muddled up, what could be in them? Well, I narrowed it down to the following: the Papaver, Strawberry Mignonette, lavender or Meconopsis. The seeds that I had ordered as Passionflower but arrived labelled Sweet Passion Fruit, had shown no signs of appearing. So that was one controversy-in-the-waiting out the window.

Now four pots imply seedlings had appeared in four out of six of my small pots. This is not strictly true. Three pots had made some of their contents decisively known quite early on, so were promoted to the mini greenhouse once it was installed. Then, through the steam of condensation in the freezer bag, I spied a tiny bit of green in the soil in a fourth. With squeals of delight, I promoted this pot to the mini greenhouse, also. What a shame that it took me probably the best part of a week to realise the green was just a little bit of moss, spreading moss. Genius again! (A swift demotion back to the racking followed.)

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Strawberry Mignonette

There were three green bottles hanging on the wall…I mean, there were three pots. But there were still four potential plants to be surprised by. As time went by I felt pretty confident that the leaves on one of the tiny forming plants were emerging in the prickly shape of those found on a strawberry plant.

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Mesembryanthemum

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Mesembryanthemum

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Mesembryanthemum

Then came what I like to call the “Mesembryanthemum Mix- up”, after the emergence of some very attractive flowers with multiple petals, that reminded me of bike wheel spokes, caused my eyebrows to rise. They didn’t look very poppy-like, so that discounted Papaver or Meconopsis. But neither were they lavender. When my Mum saw them and said they are Mesembryanthemums, it was then that it dawned on me what had probably been written on the foil inside the lavender packet. The Mesembryanthemums are very pretty. Originating from southern Africa, their name means “midday flowering”, and they certainly do open in the middle of the day and close up again quite early. As far as I’m concerned, their appearance is a happy accident, a lovely surprise.

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Mesembryanthemum

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Mesembryanthemum

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Mesembryanthemum

That means there is just one unidentified mass of little plants in a small pot now. Will they turn out to be Papaver, Meconopsis, or something else entirely? Who knows? But I look forward to finding out. I’ve had to thin them out a bit and I can see there are still some dead leaves I need to get rid of. They desperately need transplanting now, as soon as conditions are conducive, as do most of the little plants that have surged through the winter.

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What might these be?

In slightly larger pots I have a selection of sweet peas. Some have grown from seeds I planted in the autumn, but some are self-sown from what had been in a large outdoor pot over the previous two summers. Among them were some imposters. Firstly, a presumptuous thistle which had sprawled out and hogged quite a percentage of the compost – I have since cut it out with a knife, roots and all. Secondly, some very creepy, crawly, bindy, strangly weed, which I extricated carefully until I had victoriously got shot of its roots, too. And then there is the friendly little self-sown pansy, cropping up like a timid character in a novel who, to everyone’s surprise later becomes the heroine! I’ve had to prune some dead leaves from the sweet peas. Only now do I realise how cramped they’ve been getting. They desperately need some little canes to climb up too, as they’re getting taller and more clingy, but with frosts still being forecast this week they are still likely to be going in and out of the mini greenhouse where there is not a lot of space for manoeuvring canes.

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Sweet Peas (and a rogue Pansy!) (Oh, and the mystery plant on the right.)

She is by no means a lonely pansy. In two seed trays I planted winter pansy seeds last autumn. The first group of seeds were left to fend for themselves without the aid of a freezer bag greenhouse, unlike the second group which I planted several weeks later. The difference between the contents of the two trays is very obvious…we were talking “cress” versus “lettuce”. Though a bit of recent sunshine has brought the first pansy gang along a little from what they were.

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First group of winter pansies to be sown (left)

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Second group of winter pansies to be sown

The only other seed tray contains “Tini’s Lucky Dip” – a random collection of dried seeds and blossoms a friend sent me last year. The idea was that I was to sow them and see what happened. So far I’ve got quite a mixture of shapes and sizes coming through. It’s going to be very interesting to see what they turn into.

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“Tini’s Lucky Dip”

As yet there has been no sign of the ginger, so I think I’ll try again with some fresh when it’s warmer. The lupins died very early on, unfortunately. I think that covers everything I planted in the autumn.

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The grand fir tree experiment!

There is one more experiment going on, however. When the Christmas tree came down I saved some bits of branches and mini fir cones and popped them into compost in pots. It may be a pointless exercise, but I would dearly love to grow a fir tree or few, so I thought I’d give this idea a go. You never know.

Now if only I could get all those pots washed up so I can plant some of my new seeds!

February 17, 2015

A Beautiful Dream

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This morning I awoke from a beautiful dream.

Turning over to look at my alarm clock, at the moment it must have clicked for me to get up, without me even having heard it, I realised I was awake and that it had just been a dream. Not any old dream, though. One of those special ones that you find your mind drifting back to over and over again during the course of the day. Straightaway I knew it had that same quality as some of the dreams I’ve had over the years, peppered with images or feelings so vivid, comforting or simply pleasant, that I can still recall them today.

In this most recent dream, I was enjoying a Christmas celebration with my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandma. It’s not clear to my memory whether or not it was actually Christmas. Apparently, my great-grandma was about to go to the north of England, so it is quite likely that the celebration was being held at a different time. Paradoxically, I don’t think great-grandma was moving there, yet I had such a sense that her stay there, for whatever reason, was due to be long, which made me feel I would never see her again. Naturally, I was feeling upset, but I was determined to put a brave face on it to make the most of the occasion.

I think there was a table with food on. Elsewhere, there was a row of chairs against a wall that my great-grandma and some of the others were sitting on, when I went to thank her for my present. Otherwise images of the environment are sketchy. The present was a box of shop bought mince pies and another box – possibly containing a sweet treat based on Christmas cake? She told me my grandfather must have chosen well, so presumably he must have done the shopping on her behalf.

There are a few things about the dream that aren’t realistic, like my great-grandma intending to move up north, since I don’t remember her having any connections there or any desire to move anywhere. The presents weren’t typical of the sorts of presents great-grandma gave, and the baked goods were shop bought. Great-grandma used to give me toys – some hand-made – and other things that little girls like. As for cakes and sweet treats, including Christmas ones, they tended to be baked either by my grandma or great-grandma. It seems strange that great-grandma would get grandpa to shop for her. If she wanted anything, I’m inclined to think she would have asked her daughter first.

Yet there are other things which chime recognition with me. I mean I LOVE Christmas cake! And there was something about the table, I can’t quite grapple back to memory, which makes me think of the boat of pick ‘n’ mix sweets on the table on the first Christmas Day without great-grandma being there. At the time I had a feeling that grandma was really trying to make an extra effort since great-grandma had always made Christmases so special.

I lost my grandfather in 2011, and my grandmother in 2012, and it is now within days of the 23rd anniversary of my great-grandma’s death. So one of the things that makes the dream poignant is that it created a scene in which my family, as I knew it when I was a little girl growing up, celebrated together again. Is it because the anniversary is so close that I dreamed of great-grandma? Or did I dream of great-grandma and my grandparents simply because I look at photos of them all every night before I go to bed? But why that dream? And why on this morning? Who knows? But there is one thing I haven’t told you about the dream yet, the thing that strikes me most about it…

In the dream great-grandma seemed different to me. It was only after having been awake an hour or so that it all fell into place for me. I can’t believe it took me so long to realise:  great-grandma was completely free of the Alzheimer’s that sucked so much away from her in her final years. And something that really touched me was the way she and I conversed like a pair of adults. I loved her so much and have often wondered over the years what our relationship would have been like after I became an adult. I’ve wondered what things we would have discussed about the wider world; I’ve wondered what she would have thought of my flowers and whether she might have had any helpful gardening tips; I’ve wondered what she would have thought about my music and my art. My Mum says great-grandma would have loved my crocheting. Though she didn’t tend to crochet, she was absolutely brilliant at needlecrafts and is an inspiration to me in them, as she is in so many things to this day.

When the dream ended, I didn’t feel the same disappointment I often do when I realise a lovely dream has been nothing but a dream. Instead, I felt lucky. Fortunate to have been given such a gift, a gift to carry along with me.

It was a beautiful dream.

February 14, 2015

A Bit of Tinkering

Well, I’ve been doing a bit of tinkering about on this blog and my Heather Sprinkles blog today.

Since last September I did the majority of my posting over on that site, but now I’ve decided that I would like to go back to how things were.  So “Heather Sprinkles” has gone back to being a blog about my art and craft work, while this blog has gone back to being what it was before.  As a result, the nice people at WordPress have imported some of my less arty and crafty blogposts from “Heather Sprinkles” to here.  In the interests of not duplicating too much I’ve deleted a number of my reblogs of my posts on here from recent months.  If that means I lost anyone’s comments or likes I apologise, because I did and do appreciate them.

Here are links to the recently arrived posts if you’d like to see any of them but missed them first time around (though some are a little out of season now!):

https://hippyh.wordpress.com/2014/09/27/moving-changing-and-not-changing-2/

https://hippyh.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/what-is-going-on-in-the-greenhouse-at-night-2/

https://hippyh.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/pumpkins-tea-party-2/

https://hippyh.wordpress.com/2014/11/01/i-know-but-ill-plant-the-seeds-anyway-2/

https://hippyh.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/its-my-23rd-violiniversary-3/

https://hippyh.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/false-greenhouses-and-lovely-little-lupins

https://hippyh.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/grandmas-sweet-and-savoury-treats/

Thank you for visiting!

January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

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I found this carnation blooming in my greenhouse on Christmas Day.  It was a lovely surprise (unlike losing my two lovely lupins seedlings after a number of weeks the other week, but we won’t dwell on that.  After all, several strawberry, papaver, lavender, winter pansy, sweet pea and “lucky dip” seedlings are trying their best to survive against the cold temperatures, so there’s plenty to be cheerful about!).  So I thought this would be a pretty way to wish you all the very best for the new year! :)

December 31, 2014

Grandma’s Sweet (and Savoury) Treats

For the last four years Sheryl over at A Hundred Years Ago has been posting the diary entries that her grandmother Helen wrote exactly 100 years ago to the date.  It has made for fascinating and entertaining reading both on an historical level and on a personal level.  Seeing how things were done in Helen’s part of the world at that time leads us to think about our own time and place and draw comparisons and notice the differences between cultures and eras.  Yet at the same time as we have watched through the kaleidoscope of Helen’s own words, we have witnessed a young girl growing into a young woman.  Reading about her experiences, we cannot help but realise how some events and emotions remain timeless and universal.

Sadly, the diary entries finished this week and I shall miss reading them.  However, Sheryl has been holding an online event, “Grandma’s Bake-a-thon”, in order to mark the point at which her grandmother went off to live the rest of her life.  The idea is that readers make and/or share a recipe for a favourite seasonal treat and the special memories it has for them.  This got me thinking about my own grandma’s Christmas cake, mince pies and, last but not least, her sherry trifle!

But then it snowballed, and I found myself thinking about all sorts of treats grandma used to make.  They’re favourites that many of us know, but they were always made so perfectly that they never failed to be special.  Forgive me as I indulge my memories…

My grandma was a very talented lady.  She was beautiful and clever, but having a quiet and gentle spirit she tended to prefer to stay in the background.  Yet she had a very cheeky sense of humour and abilities that might surprise those who didn’t know her well.  Not least her gift for piano playing.  I once watched her play after an absence from the keyboard for decades, and as soon as her fingers touched the keys the music came flooding back to her.

Just has her music and her laughter touched our hearts, along with so many of her other traits, so did her cooking!  I think my grandma simply saw preparing food as a task that needed to be done in order to take care of her family, so I think she underestimated just how much it was appreciated.  Especially the treats she made.

Tuesday afternoons were often baking afternoons in grandma’s house, when I was a little girl.  I would be so excited when I came out of school and went to her house, wondering if she might be cooking.  It was a win/win situation.  Either there might be some shortcakes – especially cheese shortcakes…my FAVOURITE! – about to be taken out of the oven, or she might be mixing up cake batter.  If it was the former, I’d have the privilege of warm, crumbly cheese shortcake melting in my mouth.  If it was the latter, I’d not only be allowed to nibble some of the mixed fruit waiting on the table, but I’d be able to lick the bowl out, too!

The fruit buns were my grandpa’s favourite, so that is probably what grandma made most often, but sometimes she might make gingerbread cakes, or better still…butterfly buns!  They have to be one of my all time favourites of grandma’s cakes.  Sometimes they would be straightforward buns and “wings” with buttercream, sometimes grandma would make chocolate butterfly buns with buttercream, and sometimes I think there was even a little jam hidden under the buttercream.  ;)

At Easter time, grandma would often make us an Easter cake.  It would be like a Victoria sponge except it would have jam and buttercream in the centre, buttercream icing on the top and mini sugar shelled chocolate eggs all around the top.  One year grandma hadn’t been able to find the little eggs in time so she decorated the cake with a Creme Egg for each of us!  It would be no surprise to see a little fluffy chick decoration peeping around the eggs.  Her birthday cakes used to be decorated quite amusingly, too, like the little golfers among the trees on one of the cakes she made for my grandpa, an avid golfer, one year.

At Christmastime, grandma used to make her own Christmas cake.  As tea-time arrived on Christmas Day, the plate would be carried through from another room and we would see the cake all decorated with the cutest of winter scenes – robins and other festive fellows among little green trees on the “snowy” icing landscape.  When we went to my grandparents’ house for Christmas, Christmas Day tea time was more exciting for me than Christmas lunch.  Not only was there the spectacle of the always delicious and carefully moistened cake, but the well worn cake tins, so faded the patterns weren’t always identifiable anymore, would come out of the pantry in number.  Each would surrender buns and cakes, and then there were the mince pies and rusks, goodies that didn’t tend to appear on Tuesday afternoons.  I think the rusks were probably made like scones, taken out of the oven, halved, and then replaced to crisp up their centres, but it is was years before I heard that.  All I needed to know at the time was that they were yummy with butter and a slice of cheese, and enough of a savoury contrast to enable me to tuck into some sweet treats!  Like grandma’s aforementioned homemade mince pies.  Delicious with their crumbly thick pastry and sweet mincemeat, but even better (if it were possible) after being heated in her rayburn.  Though not technically baked, grandma’s sherry trifle was one of her best Christmas treat creations.  I’ve tried, but I’ve never been able to replicate it myself.  For years I thought her secret was the dream topping instead of cream on top, but evidently that is not enough to make a trifle taste like grandma’s.  So her secret remains a secret.

The phrase “comfort food” is used a lot these days, but I think that just to call something that because it is warm and hearty is to miss the point.  Knowing that something has been made with love and attention especially to sustain us, to cheer us up when we’re sad, to make us feel glad or even laugh on a special occasion – whether at Christmastime or any day of the year – must surely be the true meaning of “comfort food.  Though I hope that grandma realised she was a much loved, inspiring and comforting grandma in many ways beyond the food she prepared.

November 16, 2014

False Greenhouses and Lovely Little Lupins

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My slightly back to front gardening (starting planting in November in England!?!) has given me a little encouragement so far.  It seems my little “false greenhouses” inside the real greenhouse have helped to trap enough warmth and keep enough condensation inside to help some seedlings to appear!  To me, these little plastic bags tied around my flower pots look like rabbit ears from a distance when I look outside.  I noticed on Wednesday that some lavender (I assume!) seedlings had appeared, and some winter pansy seedlings had started to grow in one of the wrapped seed trays.

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Little beacons of green had also crept up through the soil in what I call “Tini’s Lucky Dip”, a mystery mixture of seeds and other pieces that a friend gave me to try!  Today I noticed that some papaver seedlings had appeared in another of the Rabbit Ear Greenhouses, and there’s even a sweet pea one coming too.

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Also in the real greenhouse are these beautiful carnation flowers.  I planted them back in the spring and summer at two different stages.  Since I transplanted them earlier this month they have gotten a bit lively and started to burst into flower in the quite mild temperatures.  Still no sign of any action in the ginger pot, though.

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Last but not least, my lovely little lupins…on the evening of the November 4th I put a few seeds in soak in water overnight.  The following afternoon I planted the seeds into some potting compost.  A few of the seeds had swollen in the water, though a couple hadn’t.  If memory serves me correctly, I read on the packet that they would take 21 days to germinate.  Well, didn’t I have a nice surprise?  Two days ago I looked inside their Rabbit Ear Greenhouse to discover two little seedlings peeping through.  This pot has been living on an easterly facing indoor windowsill, unlike the other plants, though, which no doubt helped.  As yet one of them is still waiting to shake off its seed shell, but they’re here and they’re moving in the right direction, so I’m happy.

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Happy Sunday! :)

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