Archive for August, 2012

August 31, 2012

A posy by the bedside.

I’ve not managed to grow many flowers this year on the allotment. My ambitions for great armfuls of dahlias were ruined by the slugs that have had a wonderful time working their way through my plants, and the sweet peas haven’t fared much better. Thankfully, I do still have enough to bring home. The great thing about sweet peas in particular is that the more you pick them, the more flowers you get, as the plant continues to try and produce seeds.

You might remember, a while ago, I decided to try and sort out my bedroom and make it a tranquil, child-free space. Well, that didn’t go exactly to plan. The stacks of books are still there, the laundry regularly overflows and the yin and yang of cycling (aka my Pashley Princess Sovereign and my husband’s Specialized road bike) are currently propped up at the end of the room.

So, despite my beautiful grey walls (Farrow and Ball’s French Grey, which I love) and white bed-linen, it’s not that haven of tranquility I imagined. I’m not giving up though. One of the ways to bring a little beauty into the chaos is by adding flowers to my bedside table. That way, when I wake up, the first thing I see are beautiful flowers and I can imagine for a split second that I’m the kind of person with a bedroom worth featuring in a design magazine. Then reality kicks in, obviously. And that’s if I haven’t been woken up by my three year old son launching himself, elbows first, onto my bed anyway, which is how I’m usually catapulted into each morning!

Thankfully, given my lack of abundance on the cutting patch, a small bedside posy of flowers doesn’t need to be huge to have impact.

The other thing that flowers bring to the room is scent. Even a small handful of jasmine can provide the rich heady fragrance that the flower is famous for, and it’s a wonderful thing to go to sleep with that fragrance swirling around you. In a larger room, the amount of flowers I usually use would get completely lost (especially given my clutter creating tendencies) but by the bed, they’re perfect. I’m really inspired by Sarah Raven who creates beautiful and heavily productive gardens, with the aim of cutting flowers for the house.

In these photos, I’m using a small Emma Bridgewater bottle. I also love to use an empty bottle from REN Rose Otto bath oil, which is little and has a narrow neck, perfect for more delicate flowers and my mum just gave me a vintage half pint milk bottle from Cowes (no pun intended) which will also be put to the same use.

Having flowers in the house  is a gentle reminder to me of my ambition to study horticulture, so I can be more successful at growing flowers in the future. For the time being, these little posies bring me a little bit of joy every day.

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August 29, 2012

Sunflower

Earlier this year, I was sent some sunflower seeds by the lovely Helen at The Good Life Mum. I planted them with my daughter and she has done her very best to look after them. Many of them grew to about a foot tall and then stopped. We have these in a row outside the back of our house. But, thankfully, one of them grew and grew. I’m so thrilled that she has managed to grow such a giant sunflower as reward for all her efforts – it’s a good lesson for her to learn.

Each of my children has a small raised bed on the allotment, and alongside her ‘wild flower’ seed mix (which has been hugely successful and much loved by the bees) she planted one of her sunflower plants.

I don’t really have any idea how big it is, as the only scale I have is Eve, who is a tall five year old! Once it’s finished flowering, we’ll allow it to go to seed and then dry the seeds to collect for using again next year.

August 21, 2012

Ventnor Botanic Garden: a moment of solitude

One of my favourite places on the Isle of Wight is the Ventnor Botanic Garden. The location of the garden means it is really well protected from the elements giving it a unique micro-climate. This means that they are able to grow many subtropical plants outdoors and on a sunny day it feels a million miles away from Great Britain. I never get the chance to see all of it in one visit, as my family are less enthralled by gardens than I am, so I have to prioritise the parts I want to see on any particular visit and make a beeline for them. One of the parts I’ve not made it to yet is the Hop Garden, where they grow the hops that will eventually become TropicAle, their own beer!

One of the truths about going on holiday with small children is that it’s not terribly relaxing. Although its lovely to spend time together, without the daily grind of school and work to think about, it’s generally not going to involve much lazing around in the sunshine reading a book. More like relentless noise and activity, and sometimes, to be honest, I find it a bit overwhelming.

On my flying visit to the Ventnor Botanic Garden this year, I decided to visit the New Zealand and Australia garden, one of my favourite parts. I love the Australian garden in particular as it is predominantly planted with Eucalyptus, the smell of which beings back memories of a wonderful trip across South Australia and Victoria, which I was stunned to realise the other day was ten years ago!

On my way back to the playground to meet up with my family (and what a great idea to have a playground, making it possible for me to be there at all!), I was distracted by the most beautiful flowering Eucalyptus I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately I forgot to make a note of the name, but I will try to track it down because I’ve fallen a bit in love with it. The peeling orange-red bark, the fine pointed silvery-green and pink  leaves, and the contrast between those and the white fluff of the flowers made for the most remarkable colour combination.

I stood for ages just gazing at it, when I noticed an older woman doing the same thing.

We chatted for a while about this amazing tree, then I confessed that I must go because I’d left my children and husband in the playground. On hearing this, she turned to me and said “Oh, but when you have small children, time spent alone is essential, my dear. Don’t ever feel bad about taking some time for yourself.” Then she smiled and went on her way.

So, I’m going to take her advice and make sure that I get a little time alone every so often and that my husband does too. He will probably be on a bike. I will probably be in a garden…

How do you like to find peace in a busy life? I’d love to hear about it. 

August 17, 2012

Weston Scarves and Burt’s Bees collaboration

A Weston scarf is firmly on my ultimate fashion wish list. Founded by Professor Richard Weston, the scarves are a remarkable fusion of art and science, with stunning digital images taken from nature, such as rocks and minerals, being used to great dramatic effect. The end result is something not purely to wear for one season, but something you would love forever. Perfect for someone like me, who wears a scarf like an adult comfort blanket almost every day (honestly, ask my friends) and cannot bear throw-away fashion. (I’ve written quite a lot of blog posts about scarves actually, if you want to look…)

This summer, Weston Scarves are collaborating with Burt’s Bees in a campaign to support the British Beekeepers Association, with the creation of a stunning ‘Wild for Bees’ floral printed scarf and matching, special edition version of their 24 hour Milk and Honey body lotion.

The beautiful yellow, purple and green scarf, which is over a metre long, is being sold exclusively through the Burt’s Bees website, with all proceeds going to the British Beekeepers Association‘s ‘Adopt a Beehive’ project. It’s a seriously gorgeous scarf, I covet it so much. If you bought one, not only would you feel great about supporting the charitable campaign but you’d never want to take it off!

You can buy the body lotion nation-wide from Debenhams, the Burt’s Bees website and independent stores. I’ve tried the lotion and it feels very light, absorbs easily and really does soften the skin very well. Along with the milk and honey, it also  contains shea butter, coconut and grape seed oils and vitamin E, so there is no surprise that it does such a good job. I liked it a lot.

I’ve written before about the plight of bees and every single project that is making a contribution to their recovery gets my full support. As an allotment holder and keen gardener, I’m only too aware of the importance of all bees as pollinators. Approximately a third of the food we eat has been pollinated by bees, so whether you think it matters to you or not, the survival of bees is vital for everyone. This campaign, working to support honey bees in particular, will hopefully raise the profile of the British Beekeepers Association and the work they do in supporting bee colonies. The limited edition scarf and body lotion will be available throughout August and September.

With thanks to Burt’s Bees for the body lotion sample.

August 15, 2012

Growing: gardening and career changes.

It’s not been our greatest year on the allotment. As I’ve written before, too many other things have been getting in the way, and coupled with the awful weather we’ve had, we’ve had our fair share of failures. Now that we have some more help with the work, in the shape of my mum, things are getting lots better and I have lots more renewed enthusiasm for it.

In fact, my enthusiasm for gardening as a whole has gone through the roof recently. There is something very satisfying in working with your hands and the process of making things grow, or at least attempting to, is such a soulful and satisfying one that I’m hoping to make it a source of income at some point in the future. With this in mind, I’m going to attempt to take the RHS level II courses to give me some formal qualifications.

Anyway, what I really wanted to share with you today is this photo:

I grew this!

This lily has survived the horrible weather, being driven over by toy trucks and repeated over-watering by the kids. It looks far too exotic to be growing in my little Northern back yard, but there it is in all its flamboyant beauty. Perfectly positioned in a pot so I can gaze at it through the window when I’m doing the washing up! It smells incredible too, a bold heady fragrance. I’ve been tempted to cut it and bring it indoors but I’ve realised that it is better where it is.

It’s made me think about a couple of things. Firstly, that plants want to grow. Really, really want to grow. Fling a few seeds in a pot and the chances are that something will come up. Even if you think you have no green fingers at all, I do urge you to try. Growing anything, even a few herbs, will really give you lots of pleasure, and you never know where it might lead you.

The other thing that I’ve been thinking about this flower is that it won’t be here for long. Soon it will die and I’ll no longer be able to look at it when I do the washing up. But that, perhaps, is a good thing. I would never want to not be filled with joy when I look at it. Never want to just take it for granted. I always want to be proud that it’s grown at all! So, I accept that its beauty will fade, and I won’t see it again until next year. The memory of it will remain, and that stimulus, the one I have had to develop gardening as part of my paid working life, will hopefully live for much longer.

August 14, 2012

London 2012:The Olympic Games

I’m sure half the bloggers in the country have written an Olympics post by now, I know I’ve read a few. Still, there’s room on the internet for my two penn’orth.

I fell in love with the London 2012 Olympic Games during the Opening Ceremony. I wasn’t one of the people who had spent hours online trying and in many cases failing to get tickets. I hadn’t been gripped by any kind of Olympic fever but neither was I against the Games. If I was asked about it, my response was little more than a shoulder shrug. I spent three weeks of July in my usual Tour de France mind-set, and watching the incredible Bradley Wiggins winning the yellow jersey. After his broken collarbone the year before, it was the most magnificent return to the Tour and instantly there was talk of what he might do at the Olympics. For the first time, my thoughts really turned to the Games.

So, on holiday, we watched the utterly incredible Opening Ceremony, and I did one of the three things that I have done constantly throughout the two weeks of the Olympics. I cried. For two weeks since watching that Ceremony, I have found myself either holding my breath, shouting at the telly, or in tears. That’s it. Just those things. I’ve cried about cyclists and boxers. I’ve cried about swimmers, rowers, runners, riders and in one case, over the most beautiful extended trot I’ve ever seen. The equestrian events are the ones I know the best and if you’d told me that we’d win medals in all three disciplines, and two golds in the dressage, I’d never have believed you. I’ve cried over women competing from all the involved nations. I’ve cried at the sheer goodwill and volume of noise coming from stadium after stadium. I’ve cried as I’ve watched athletes from all nationalities, in all events, try their absolute heart out. I’ve cried when we won and when we lost.

I’ve shouted too. I’ve shouted at Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton and many, many more. I’ve held my breath as I watched Tom Daley get his bronze, when watching the almost-perfect dressage, when our team gymnasts had to wait for the results of an enquiry before finding out their medal results.

When I’ve not been shouting, breath-holding or crying in front of the TV, I’ve been outside. I suspect I’m not the only one who has compensated for all those extra hours in front of the tv by doing more exercise too. The motto of the Games may well have been about inspiring the next generation, but I tell you, they’ve inspired this old 36 year old too. Even though that inspiration led me to do a rather misjudged cartwheel that nearly popped out my hip…

With my kids, I’ve been running, swimming and bike riding. Playing football. Teaching my daughter how to cartwheel (badly). My children are quite young, so they’re not really aware about negative body images in the media or about vacuous, talentless ‘celebrity’ culture, but my daughter in particular has been captivated by watching women compete in sports as diverse as athletics, football, gymnastics and rowing. When we went out for a walk at the weekend, both the children ran in front of us, and my daughter shouted “I’m at the front, that means I win GOOOOOLD!” and my heart sang.

Now the Games have ended and there is a bit of a hole in my life. All a bit over-dramatic, I know, especially when I wasn’t remotely bothered about them beforehand but at the moment it feels true. I’m anxiously waiting for the start of the Paralympics so I can recommence my shouting, breath-holding and crying routine but beyond that I want to remember that feeling of pride, positivity, athleticism. Of positive body-image for women of all sizes. Of my children getting excited about competing in sports.

Let me leave aside the bad bits; the corporate sponsorship and logo-banning all over the place, the seating fiascos, the jarring note (for me, anyway) of supermodels at the closing ceremony (and, actually, quite a lot of the closing ceremony) the farce of G4S, and just concentrate on the sport, the volunteers and the spectators.  It’s really shown the best of Great Britain, of who we can be and of what we can achieve. I make no apologies for my over-enthusiasm or for my tears. Or for starting to save up to go to Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. I don’t want to be just sitting in front of the tv when they arrive.

August 8, 2012

Roles and roller coasters.

When my daughter was born, she spent the first nine weeks of her life in hospital. On the blessed day she was allowed to come home she weighed the grand amount of five pounds and four ounces, and was a tiny and delicate porcelain doll baby with almost translucent skin and barely any hair. As you can imagine, her early birth and subsequent hospital stay was a traumatic time for us all. She was the first grandchild for both sides of our family and so, from the day of her arrival, was treated with such love from everyone it was almost overwhelming. We got cards and gifts from people we didn’t even know, who had heard about her early arrival and wanted to send their best wishes. I still have them all.

As a consequence of her tiny stature, I’ve always thought of her as being delicate and fragile, and I’ve been guilty of treating her in that way – as though she might break easily. But recently, that’s begun to change. Even though her end of year report talked of her being ‘gentle and quietly spoken’ she is beginning to surprise me in so many ways. She’s athletic, bold and brave. She’s one of the tallest children in her class, and even though she has a tiny hand-span waist (making clothes buying a nightmare), she also has a six pack of muscles!

Perhaps a lot of this is merely that she’s growing up, but I’m beginning to see that my ‘cotton-wool’ treatment of her was wrong. I’ve never really behaved the same way with her younger brother, (who I consider to be relentless in his pursuit of life, even when he’s clinging to me)  and so I do think that it’s a hangover from those days when I had to sit by her incubator, unable to do little more than watch her breathe.

This was highlighted to me hugely when we were on holiday last week. We went to the Isle of Wight (which I’ll write more about in another blog) and spent a day at Blackgang Chine. Now, if you went to Blackgang Chine when you were a child, you’ll know it’s a cliff-side theme park, and some of it really and truly remains the same as when I was a child – and the kids are still enjoying it so much. The place was packed full, and it was so great to see that in a time when we’re constantly told that kids don’t play outside, and as a consequence of too much TV have lost their imagination, that if you provide the right backdrop (a fairy castle, or a pirate ship that fires water, or a cowboy town) that imagination is alive and well. It was like being in the middle of an Enid Blyton novel, or perhaps ‘Just William’ might be more fitting!

Anyway, one of the new things at Blackgang Chine is a roller coaster. A proper, scary, roller coaster. It’s only short, but there were plenty of screams coming from it when my daughter announced that she wanted to try it. Now, that in itself was a surprise. However, she duly queued with her dad, having found out that she was just tall enough (at five) to go on it.

Here it is! – Well, part of it anyway…

Heart-in-mouth, I watched as they took their place on the ride. From what I could see from the ground (waiting with her younger brother) they seemed to be having fun, but at the end, I waited by the exit anxiously for them to appear. They didn’t come out and so I was imagining all kinds of horrific accidents, or perhaps just buckets of tears. But, and I bet you know what’s coming already, she loved it so much she stayed on for another go…and then two more. Followed by three times down a terrifying water shute, in the dark.

I think that we get assigned a role in a family, and that it can stick with you forever. In my family, I’ve been thought of as the ‘academic’ one (even though I went to agricultural college, not Oxbridge!) , and my brother as the ‘practical’ one. In fact, even to this day, if we have an argument his parting shot to me is often “oh, go and read a book…” so it’s clearly a label that has stuck. Little brother, if you’re reading this, you know I’m right! The problem with such a label is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – you think that you can only do certain things, or behave in a certain way, because that’s the role you’ve been assigned or the way people think of you. This clearly isn’t true. I could be practical and my brother could be academic, if we gave ourselves the permission to be different and worked at it. If you think about it, I bet you know what role you were assigned (often unwittingly) by your family or friends, or even one you’ve given yourself.

So, I’m going to try really hard not to think of my kids as being the ‘delicate’ one and the ‘relentless’ one. I want them to carry on surprising me and to be the person they want to be, whoever that is.