Thursday, 1 October 2015

Whistle stop tour of late September: another baby, another continent!

Bursting with news here!  The most important first.  There is another new baby in the family.  I know, I know.  My cup runneth over.  How delightful.  The family is full of babies.  Younger son and his wife had their second child ten days ago, another little girl.  She arrived in haste and was delivered by her father, fortunately a doctor, in a layby on the A38 as they were driving to the hospital.  We will be meeting the new arrival on Sunday.

I blogged here about the arrival of their first baby.  Every time a grandchild arrives is different and every time it moves me profoundly.  This is the first time we have been out of the country when a baby has been born and that felt very strange but we were woken early in the morning in New York with a facetime call from the jubilant parents and had the chance to see their faces and the first sight of the new baby.  Since then pictures and calls have kept us in touch but I can't wait to see her and hold her and to cuddle the nearly two year old who so far seems very keen on her new little sister.

So add to that a swift trip to the US, principally for Ian's work but allowing us the occasional bit of time off for sightseeing and the last couple of weeks have been a blur and a blast!

First New York: wander around Central Park, up the Rockefeller Centre to the Top of the Rock for marvellous views over the city in the sunshine.

The following day a delightful lunch with Frances of City Views, Country Dreams  and Elizabeth of About New York.  I have met bloggers before  for the first time in real life and once again I had that sense of connecting with old friends even though we had never met in the flesh.  It is not possible to hide yourself if you blog about your life over time and I have never met a blogger whose blog I enjoy and been surprised that they were not as I expected.  Sometimes the physical appearance of someone does not match the picture you had in your head (not the case with these two!) but even if that is your immediate response the reality quickly overlays your imagined version and the essence of the person emerges warmly and clearly in conversation.  We had lunch in a diner and walked the High Line and I had that sensation of sharing a corner of someone's life which is so much more interesting than simply being a tourist.  Thank you Frances and Elizabeth for your company and conversation.

Staten Island ferry just to see the city from the water.

Ground Zero, moving despite the press of people.

A walking tour over Brooklyn Bridge, through Brooklyn Heights and into DUMBO (down under Manhattan Bridge Overpass apparently!) with a great tour company and a knowledgeable and funny guide.

I love New York.  I love its energy, diversity and the way it thrums with life and light.  It is hard to imagine a much greater contrast with our peaceful, soft green and quiet rural life.  I love my life and where I live but it is great to have the pure shot of energy that comes from visiting a major city like New York, London or Berlin.

And then less than forty eight hours in Los Angeles.  Why should it surprise you that a place looks just like your image of it?  Of course it does!  Sun, brilliant blue skies, beaches, tanned and beautiful people and lots of even more beautiful plants.

And then San Francisco.

The Golden Gate bridge emerges, just, from the famous San Francisco fog.

The view from the top of Mount Tamalpais is endless bay and mountains.  What a place to build a city.

The Farmers' Market in San Rafael is full of colour and real food.  I could have pitched my tent close by and lived there.

And the houses on the Crooked Street in San Francisco were like a film set.  Surely James Bond has driven a car down here?  If not, he should.

We were staying with some old university friends of Ian's whose warmth and hospitality provided the perfect end to our trip.   It was great to catch up and to have an insight into life in California.

And then home.  It took close on two days of travelling, a dreamy blur of near sleep and no sleep at all.

Waking early on the first morning at home in the sleepy disorientation of jet lag, all the colours and shapes were gently, gloriously familiar.  The garden is full of grass and six foot long runner beans. There is a list of things to do as long as both arms.

It is good to go away.  It is good to come home.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

New Life

Today the newest member of our family, Grace Lois Joan, first child of younger daughter and her husband, is two weeks old.  Welcome to the world little girl.

I have written before about the birth of a new grandchild.  They are all different and this one has made me very aware of something I have thought before and never tried to articulate.  It is one of the great pleasures of life to see your children parenting their own children.  I never realised this when I was younger and I haven't seen much written about it.  The pleasures of being a grandparent are widely celebrated, and they are very great, but the pleasures of seeing your adult children caring for their children have rather taken me by surprise.  I never expected them to be so great and so lasting.

When my children were young I both dreaded and longed for the days when they would be grown and responsible for themselves.  I could not imagine them not needing me and not being at the centre of their lives and yet I could also see that at some point they would be gone, gone as in living elsewhere, having their own lives, however central they remained to my turning world.  Ours are all adult now and I am not sure whether this is not the most satisfying bit of being a parent, mind you I do tend to like whatever stage I am at!

I have been very aware of change and transition again as the new academic year begins and teenagers go off to university, younger ones make the leap to secondary school and even younger ones start school for the first time.  And new babies arrive.  Transition time, easier for those like me who love change than for those who don't.  I wonder how little Grace will be?  She carries the name Joan after my mother.  It moved me to tears when they told me and even typing it makes my throat thick again.  My mother loved change and challenge and new things to do and through her I must have learnt the confidence that new things are to be embraced, that change can be energising, is not to be feared.  I would wish that confidence for baby Grace but I know from looking at my other grandchildren that she will be who she is and that one of the great adventures of having children is to see the unfolding of the person.

One thing I know she will have is parents and a wider family who love her.  Visiting them in these early days has been such a quiet delight, seeing Maddy and her husband working together, focussed so deeply on the baby, learning how to care for her but with each visit seeming more sure of themselves, caught up in the bubble of early parenthood.  My father talked about what I am groping for, when he was still able to speak, the passing on of the baton he called it.  It is not simply the thrill of the birth of the new generation.  It is seeing your children, or in his case his grandchildren, step up to the plate and assume the responsibility, seeing their love, their patience, their absolute commitment to their children.

I feel it still with all our children.  The pleasures of the granchildren are to do with each of them as they become their own people: the rumbustious but gentle nine year old, the intense, deep thinking five year old, the laughing, adventurous nearly two year old, the cheery one year old.  Who knows what epithets will attach themselves to Grace as she grows?  But the pleasures of watching our children, both mine and Ian's, parent those children with love and confidence and generosity, firm when they need to be, helping them learn boundaries, giving them roots and wings, these are constantly renewing deep satisfactions which I never realised would be so great a part of later life.

And in a couple of weeks there will be another baby when younger son and his wife have their second child.  We are very lucky.  I know families can be difficult and complicated places and heaven knows ours is neither simple nor perfect but mostly it is a very happy place to be.  Thank you to my parents for what they gave to me.  Thank you Ian for being at my side.  Thank you children.  Your children are lucky to have you.

Friday, 28 August 2015

A walk from the door

I love walking.  The simple act of putting one foot in front of another always calms me, cheers me and makes me engage with the world outside me and stills the chatter of my internal world.  One of the great things about living here is that you can walk straight from the door into countryside that people would travel miles to find.  I used to walk in cities too, pounding the streets at dusk when you can look through newly lit windows into other people's lives.  I still like that but I love the fact that here I can walk out of the door and straight into the green world.

I have been here by myself for the last couple of days as Ian was working at our son's house in Manchester.  I am still catching up from our week away with the family, washing and ironing and gardening and shopping.  It was a glorious day here yesterday and as I trudged in from the car with bags to unpack I suddenly thought that rather than sit down with a cup of tea as a break I would walk up the hill,

No sooner thought than acted upon.  Out of the house, along the track through our neighbour's farmyard and out into the lane.  This is steeper than it looks!  There is always that moment when you need to push your legs into the next gear.

As you walk uphill the first bend in the lane reveals the first view, out across the stubble of newly cut fields and up towards the hillforts along the top of the Clwydian range.  Our little valley dips away and rises on the other side towards the rounded dome of Moel Arthur.

There are flowers along the edge of the lane, particularly after the tarmac stops and it becomes a stone track.  Knapweed is heavy with butterflies.  There were Red Admirals and Meadow Browns on the grasses but this Peacock was the only one I could catch.

Rosebay willow herb is just going over, revealing the elegant structure of the flower as the petals fall and before the fluffy seed heads blur its beauty.

There are thistles, the flowers crowding together at every stage from bud through flower to seedhead.

There is ragwort, not welcome in the fields because of the danger to horses, but rather beautiful just by the roadside, thronged with insects.

My favourite are the harebells.  There is no blue more intense and I love the delicacy of the flower.  As a child I loved Alison Uttley's Little Grey Rabbit books and the harebell always reminds me of them.  A bunch of them should be on Little Grey Rabbit's kitchen table.

There is beauty too in the shapes of the trees.  The higher you go the more they show the effects of the prevailing wind, the westerly that has come across the sea from Ireland and over the mountains of Snowdonia.

The track ends and if I had a lot more time I would go up here, on top of Penycloddiau, the largest hillfort in Wales.  Or I could go through the gate and look out across the Vale of Clwyd, across to Snowdonia and down to the sea.  Not today though.  Today I turn back at the gate and walk back home in the warm wind.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Reporting back

Well as we are now on week three of the new way of eating (not to be  called a diet as that sounds as if the intention is to lose weight when my intention is not to be hungry!) I thought I would take stock of what I have been doing and what I think about it.

Firstly and very clearly, having given up bread and wheat products is having a definite and good effect on my wellbeing.  In some ways I am quite sad about this as I love bread and baking so in a contrary way I was rather hoping that giving up bread would make no difference.  Not so.   There is not much doubt that my IBS is much better on a wheat free diet.  That is a bit ironic since I didn't decide to give up wheat with an eye to improving the IBS  but more because it seemed possible that it might help with hypothyroidism.  I have no idea what sort of impact it is making on the thyroid issue but there is no doubt at all that it is helping my gut!  Hi ho.  I will have to keep the very occasional slice of homemade bread for a treat.  I don't think I could bear it if I thought I would never eat bread again but I can bear eating very little bread in exchange for a much calmer and more comfortable stomach at the beginning of every day.

Giving up wheat has not in fact been as difficult as I thought it might be.  I have adopted rice cakes instead of bread and crackers and the fact that they are nothing like as nice simply means I eat fewer of them than I would of the bread and crackers they are replacing.   Most of my wheat used to come in the form of bread or flour in cakes and pastry.  I have also given up pasta  which is no real hardship for me.  I like rice and potatoes and they seem to be giving me the carbohydrate.  Eating at home is easy as I cook everything from scratch anyway so I am not being caught out by the sneaky introduction of wheat products into things which you would simply not expect to contain them.  Tomato ketchup for example, who would have thought it?  Eating out is a bit more difficult as is eating on the move when my instinct is to go for a sandwich.  In fact restaurant eating is easier than eating on the go.  In restaurants and cafes simply going for dishes which are pretty close to their natural state such as a piece of fish or chicken without sauce and plenty of vegetables seems to fit
 the bill.  On our weekly trips to Devon it is harder to find things to eat at motorway services where so many things seem to be bread based.  Salads are fine and with some hot dishes such as burgers I simply discard the bun.  So I am finding that it can be done.

I haven't really found myself missing anything desperately apart from new bread when it comes out of the oven!  I did have a piece when I baked earlier this week.  There are some pleasures which are necessary for a good life!

The other suggestions were to eat more protein and to reduce caffeine.  Again both of those have been fine.  One rather sad discovery last night was that gin seems to set me off.  I haven't had a gin and tonic for months and months but I had one last night and my stomach really didn't like it.  Poor form, stomach!  Ah well, at least there is still wine.  And fresh eggs!

So for now I will stick with it, at least for the couple of months I had originally intended.  I am also trying to walk more and do some yoga most days so with luck and consistency perhaps I will get my bounce back!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

making and doing

Every now and then I realise I have been accomplishing things, almost accidentally, not in a ticking things off a list sort of way.  I look around and, amongst all the undone things and the half done things, I find that something has actually been finished almost without my noticing.  So here is a celebration of July's accidental accomplishments.

At the beginning of the month I made elderflower cordial, just catching the flowers at their best.

I took cuttings from the scented leaf pelargoniums and all but one took.  Now they are in bigger pots and flowering.

This one is a cutting from Attar of Roses which is suddenly throwing up a larger and more dramatic flower than its parent.  I have been nurturing this one.

New pots have been bought and planted up.

Little jacket for younger daughter's new baby, due very soon, is growing by the day.

Old oilcloth which has been relegated to outside use was brought out and made into a new kneeler for the garden.  This also resulted in use for a piece of foam which has been hanging around the sewing room for months.

So things get done.  Life continues!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Looking after yourself

What do you do to look after yourself, if anything?  It might be physical, such as running or exercise classes, or mental, such as meditation or some form of intellectual challenge like crosswords or sudoku.  It could be to do with diet or with ways of elevating your mood.

It is a tricky one.  It is perfectly possible to become so obsessed with your own health that you squeeze the joy out of life.  I love food, I love cooking, I love wine.  I don't want to live on brown rice.  But I do want to feel good and I am seriously wondering if I need to change the way I eat.   I don't normally use this blog to talk about very personal things but here we go.  I hope you don't mind if just this once I do.

For the last twelve months or so I have been plagued with tiredness, with repeated colds and unhappy guts.  A lot has happened in that time, principally the last illness and death of my father in law and the continuing decline of my father with motor neurone disease.  I have assumed when I have felt battered by exhaustion that this is the inevitable result of an exhausting stage of life with a weekly six hundred mile round trip and the additional and welcome demands of a large family of children and grandchildren.  We have focused hard on trying to keep our heads above water and on looking after each other.  I have kept up my yoga, joined a choir and tried to look after that self which is not simply a daughter or a mother and grandmother.  I am an energetic person.  I live my life biting off more than I can chew and I married someone who is just the same but now I am constantly getting left behind, always tired, unable to work in the garden for longer than an hour, knocked out if I have to get up early, looking back on my long walk on the Offa's Dyke Path from five years ago with bemusement.  Could I do that now?  Absolutely not.  Is it just getting older?  Is it trying to do too much?  Should I just accept that as we age energy diminishes?  I just don't know.

So I went to the doctor, under pressure of course.  I seem to be borderline hypothryroid.  Come back for more tests in a few weeks she says.  But I have had enough.  I have been trogging round the internet.  I know, I know.  There is any amount of stuff out there to keep the hyponchondriacs happy. I have no idea if changing my diet will make the slightest difference.  But while I am waiting for tests and more tests I don't see that I have anything to lose by having a go at changing my eating habits.

This is the article which has most appealed to me.  In a nutshell it suggests giving up caffeine, increasing the intake of protein and (most controversially and for me most challengingly) going gluten free.  The first two won't be a problem at all.  I am not going to have to give up wine either which is good!  But going gluten free will be much harder.  I love bread.  We make all our own so I know it is not full of additives but there is no getting away from the fact that it is full of wheat!  I also love baking: cakes, pies and pastries.  Ah well. If it just a couple of months I can surely manage and it is not as if I am coeliac where there are real issues of the dangers of contamination and real problems if you accidentally find yourself having consumed something with gluten in it.  And by the end of a couple of months I will surely know whether it makes any difference at all.

So there we go.  I feel a bit self conscious about this.  I have always been rather dismissive about faddy eaters.  I have kept pretty quiet about the fact that I have been using the FODMAP diet (without needing to restrict wheat) for IBS for the last few years.  But it is partly the fact that there is no doubt that the FODMAP diet works for me which has made me wonder if a couple more modifications might make a difference.  And it helps that we make all our food from scratch so there is no need for extensive reading of labels.  So here we go. I wonder how it will be?

What do you do to look after yourself and does it work?!  What are the really important things that make a difference to your health and energy?

Friday, 10 July 2015

Five things on Friday

Today for the first time I am joining in with Amy's Five things on Friday.   I have been reading Amy's Five Things for a while now and from time to time coming across other people doing the same so, while I don't expect to make it a regular thing (I can't guarantee to be able to blog on a Friday for one thing!), I thought it would be fun to look at what is on my camera and make it into a Five Things, if I can.

So here we are.  This is astrantia, astrantia major I think.  It grows here almost like a weed, self seeding all over the place and making huge plants which muscle other things out of the way.  But there is no denying that it is very beautiful, with an odd mixture of delicacy and toughness.  This plant is making it difficult to get to the front step but as we only ever use the kitchen door, like most old farmhouses, it doesn't really matter.

Here is another thing we have a lot of: eggs.  The hens are laying well now and Ian has made a new nest box which seems to have solved the problem of the eggs being pecked or even completely eaten. He has built a nest box with a false bottom and a slight slope so that the eggs roll gently into a lower compartment with a removable top.  We don't know which hen had developed a taste for eggs but it is good not to have to worry about that.  As a result we now have loads of eggs again and I have eaten five today, two for breakfast as usual and another three in an omelette for supper.  This could be overdoing it!  I do love eggs though.

Another picture of abundance: honeysuckle, flowering in the hedges around the garden and by the lane.  The scent is wonderful and always stronger when a waft hits you as you walk by than it is if you bury your nose in a flower.  I think it must be the cumulative impact of all those flowers which produces the sweet scent, particularly strong on a summer evening.

And here is the reverse of sunshine and perfume, a dark and mossy place where a large oak at the bottom of the hill has got its roots mixed up with rocks and is overhanging the lane.  This reminds me of my passion for hiding things in holes like this when I was a child and my brother and I used to play up on the moors.  We had a tree in which we used to leave emergency supplies or notes to each other.  The emergency supplies were usually eaten before we got to them but the notes survived.

And lastly let's have some home made bread to go with the eggs.  A bit random I know but there are my five things for today.