Category Archives: Nature

If You Go Down to the Woods Today…

Which is precisely what I managed to do last month for a few days. With Dave on the mend following his op, my friend Avis and I slipped away by coach, visiting the beautiful county of Warwickshire, England for a “Bluebell Walk”. The bluebells were out early this year, and are stunning. Knowing this and when combined with a touch of literary culture, Avis and I we were in for a treat.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

First to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (William Shakespeare’s wife). I visited here back in the 60s, as an 11-year-old on a school trip, and well remembered the thatched building and gardens, although 50 years on one now enters through a different building to reach the cottage, and the gardens have expanded. Following a brief history of the house we were allowed to wander at leisure with staff on hand to explain and inform. I’m certainly glad I didn’t live there – no mains electricity, no water on tap and no central heating; one could well imagine how difficult life was back in the 1500s. Outside, I was disappointed to see that the bluebells amongst all the colourful tulips in the beautiful front garden were the Spanish non-native type. They certainly wouldn’t have been found here in Shakespeare’s time. I hope the gardeners dig them all out soon.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Then on  to Stratford-upon-Avon. Again, it’s some 50 years since  first exploring this town. The main street on which William Shakespeare’s house  is located is now pedestrianised, thankfully, but a large visitor centre now sits incongruously alongside it. We decided against doing the house tour; instead we took a pleasant walk through Stratford and enjoyed a spot of lunch.

Walton Hall Hotel

A few miles outside of Stratford we arrived at our hotel, set in 65 acres of park and farmland. What a fabulous place! Although the main part of the hotel is modern, it’s built in the grounds of a large 16th century mansion (history & info link) recently owned by the late Danny La Rue.  The rooms were lovely, the beds so enormous they could easily sleep 4 persons! And joy of joys, I had a balcony too so as the dawn chorus started, I opened the French doors and enjoyed my early morning coffee outside as I listened. Bliss! The food was excellent, the staff faultless. In fact, it’s one the few hotels I’ve stayed in where I wish I could have stopped for longer, only the bluebell woods called and thus, after a delicious breakfast we were on the road again, heading for Coughton Court (pronounced Coat-un). I’d never heard of this National Trust Tudor treasure until this trip. Can’t understand why.

Once there, we headed straight for the woods and the bluebells, after all this was the main reason for our trip. There were swathes of them. And the scent glorious. If you’ve never smelt an English bluebell wood you are missing a treat. However, there is only so much one can say about bluebells, but I did take lots of photos, mainly for painting reference.

Of course, Thugs Bunny and Mr Tumble had to get in on the act!

We spent several hours wandering around enjoying the spectacle before heading back to explore the house itself. Coughton Court is still occupied by the sixth generation of the Throckmorton family, infamously involved in the plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I in 1583 and put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Inside, we could wander freely, allowed to touch things, sit on the furniture, even try on some of the Tudor clothes on display. Helpful guides were on hand to explain items and various histories of the house and family. Coughton also boasts magnificent gardens, better than Hampton Court apparently, but I have to admit we were too exhausted to venture further so settled on coffee and cake instead. This is definitely a place to go back to. To read more about the house and the Throckmortons I’ve included this link .

Coughton Court

Time eventually caught up with us to make our way back to the coach and home. A lovely, relaxing two days and a much needed break. Now patiently waiting for the next one.

PS: Meanwhile, I feel a painting coming on…

 

Held In Suspension

March has slipped into April already (how did that happen so quickly?) and spring has well and truly arrived. A few April showers and a lovely weekend gladdens the heart, raising the spirit. It’s been a glorious time for spring bulbs and flowers, the forsythia hedge at its best. I love this hedge at this time of year but during winter it’s bare, boring once leaves have been shed in autumn. At least for the rest of summer it’s a bright green. It’s been a fabulous season too for hyacinths and daffodils and primulas and now the tulips are out along with the sweet-scented wallflowers.

Now all this profusion of colour should be making the Domino household happy but since the new year, we’re living as if in suspended animation, with our breaths held, waiting … waiting. You see, last summer my husband was diagnosed with circulatory problems in his leg and the suggestion made he needed a stent fitted: a simple op under local anaesthetic as a day patient. He had an MRI scan in July, and there the story came to an abrupt halt. We assumed he was on the waiting list and, not being urgent, his time would come around in due course. So we waited… and waited…

Just after Christmas, our GP rang to ask what was happening – Had Dave been for his scan? What was the outcome? – because our GP hadn’t been informed by the hospital. I told him we’d heard nothing, not even if he was on the waiting list. Our GP said he would chase the consultant and find out the situation. More waiting… At the end of February, we were advised the op was scheduled for 17th March. Two days before this, a phone call revealed it had been put back to 28th and he would be under a different consultant surgeon. And so more waiting…

Meanwhile, we tried to carry on as normal, although Dave found it hard, he now has difficulty walking and his job involves a lot of it. On 26th March, a further call advised the op was put back yet again to 4th April. Oh boy! This was not good. Neither of us could focus on anything much. Always waiting for the postman. Hoping the telephone wouldn’t ring with a further delay. Waiting… dreading… waiting…

Last week, we had a long meeting with the surgeon, who explained for the first time what the op entailed, why the delay and why he had taken over Dave’s case. This was a good meeting because up until that point we had no real idea of what was involved: a long 4-hour two-part major surgical procedure under general anaesthetic, far more complicated than just a stent fitted. At least we knew the good outcomes now and what could go wrong. Worrying.

And yes, more waiting… but this time it was good waiting time. It enabled Dave to get a lot of planting done, potatoes, broad beans, onions in along with some summer bulbs. It also meant he could join the family in celebrating my mother’s 91st birthday last Sunday, especially too as my brother was over from Spain as a surprise for her again. It was. And a lovely day had by all, sadly no photos this time.

The 4th is tomorrow. I have to take Dave to hospital at 7 am. He will be in for several days followed by at least 6 weeks at home recuperating. So you can understand why we feel life has been on hold these past few months. At least we’re there now, we hope. Our only fear is that even though  he’s first on the list for the day, should a bigger emergency take precedence, he may be put back yet again.

The waiting’s almost over, but not quite. But then afterwards, at least we will slowly be able to get our lives back to normal, breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the summer.

 

 

What Was The Heck Was That About?

We all dream when we are asleep, the majority of us not remembering them at all, not even being aware we have been dreaming. Most are good dreams, some scary, some real nightmares, some that make you think you are actually awake and everything happening is real, and others making you glad you have awoken… the list goes on.

What I have noticed is my dreams always seem to be triggered by events that have happened during the day, albeit a conversation or thinking of  someone, some action or incident, a news report, watching a movie… anything at all. If I do remember a dream, which isn’t often, I like to try to make sense of it, work out what inspired that thought to manifest itself in my sleeping state.

Then there are the repetitive ones, always different yet always following the same theme. I used to have these types regularly, usually ones where my teeth crumble and fall out, supposedly a sign of stress or worry. Another where I am looking at new homes but there are never any stairs and I have to climb up like a contortionistic rock-climber to reach the next floor – I never have found out what that one is supposed to mean. Lately, I have been experiencing ones where I am always searching for someone. Again, I have no idea of its interpretation. Whatever it is, it doesn’t worry me too much. A dream is just a dream, after all.

The worst type for me, and I am certain everyone has experienced this sort, is the weird dreams you have early the morning, usually after having awoken from a good night’s sleep, you drift back into that dozing type of relaxed state, or when cat-napping. Odd, peculiar, almost drug-induced highs of tripping out on something and your sleeping world morphs into a crazy, mixed-up, nonsensical mixture of the impossible.

I had one of these the other morning and its very nature has stayed with me all week. I’m still trying to make sense of it. Was it trying to tell me something? If so, what? You see, I dreamt a dandelion plant was growing out of the back of my hand, with an offshoot springing up on my little finger. Okay, I hear you say, I’m a keen gardener, and probably detest weeds. Perhaps I had been gardening the previous day, been to a garden centre, doing or thinking anything to do with plants and weeds. I hadn’t. I hadn’t been in the garden, or even near the garden… it had been blowing gales all week and tipping with rain. But that isn’t the whole dream – whole being the operative word, not a pun. Oh no. The next bit was absolutely crazy! In my dream I pulled the dandelion clean out of my hand, pulling it up, along with the little offshoot, creating a hole right through my hand, and little finger. They didn’t bleed. The holes were clean and perfectly formed, and sealed, no gooey flesh or gunk oozing out. And there it ended.

Weird or what? I’d love to know what that was all about. Any ideas?

Spring On Its Way

Gosh, doesn’t time fly! I can’t believe January has melted into February already. Talking of melting, so far this winter here in South West England we’ve escaped snow, apart from one day when we awoke to an icing sugar dusting which disappeared by lunchtime. It’s been chilly but not cold, but certainly miserable, damp, wet and grey and occasionally windy.

Which all means in the garden spring is well on its way. The front lawn is exploding with snowdrops and the first of many clumps of crocus in full bud about to open with the next burst of sun. The back garden is still in permanent shade until March but that hasn’t stopped the hellebores, with the first of many flowers already open. (Sighs contentedly. I do so love spring!)

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Meanwhile, back indoors, we have hit this year running. It began with the excellent news my husband, diagnosed with diabetes last summer, has beaten it and is no longer diabetic, although he will now always be at risk. He managed this without drugs because he refused to: a) accept he had the condition (there were no outward symptoms or signs), and physically the last person in the world you’d think suffered with this as he’s slim, doesn’t smoke or drink, is fit and walks for a living at work despite being 69 years old and does gardening for recreation; and b) simply refused to take the medication prescribed.

So, how has he achieved this? Purely by diet. He’s a sweet tooth, likes chocolate, especially chocolate cookies, ice-cream, and my baking and dessert efforts thus all were banned from the house. He stopped putting sugar in his coffee, no puds or ice-cream have touched his lips, and I’ve only baked three cakes in nine months, two of which were made using the sugar substitute Xylitol. Thank you so much, Tricia, for putting me on to this sweetener. In fact, the two cakes I made with this were the best and definitely to be made again, according to Dave. One was our Christmas cake, the only “goodie” he ate over the Christmas season, the other being orange cake, the recipe for which Jane told us about here in December. So thank you too, Jane, it was simply delicious, moist, and by switching the sugar to Xylitol, can claim it’s sugar free, fat free, and great for me ­– flour free.

An aside to all this is, because of the change in our eating habits and because I had to help Dave as much as I could, I have managed to lose a little weight. As Dave is determined not to go back to his old ways the diet changes remain in place, hopefully more of my extra poundage should continue to shrink. A new me for 2017, starting with a change of hairstyle. For many years I’ve kept my hair short but never liked it, so I’ve been growing out the layers. At the moment it’s untidy and the style wanted not there yet but, like spring,  it’s well on its way.

2017-02-01-11-51-43I’ve also taken a big plunge and booked a table at a local arts & craft fair in June, to show and (hopefully) sell some of my paintings (and a few copies of my book, with luck!). This will be a difficult day for me as I’m shy and nervous among strangers when “on display”.  Plus, I’ve entered a few competitions, with the hope of winning a painting holiday abroad (something I would love to do), and I’ve entered one of my works into a national painting competition. My fingers  are crossed, but not too much else I shan’t be able to hold my paintbrush for the next one.

On top of all this, I’ve been busy editing a novel for a client and am busy proofing my own next bestseller (she says, laughing) whilst knuckling down to working on the other books waiting in the wings. So all in all, this gal’s been on a roll and doesn’t intend stopping. Not yet anyway.

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Making 2017 Count

Once again, the giant blue orb has slipped into another year and 2017 is with us. Winter has come too, with a heavy frost. The garden pond is frozen, the grass crunching underfoot as I ventured out to replenish the bird feeder. At least today the sky is blue, the air clean and the sun out.

The festivities are over, decorations put away, cupboards looking decidedly bare of food and Mum sitting snug in my sister’s car being safely transported home as I write this. With Dave back at work today, the house is quiet and calm. A little too quiet after a frenetic fortnight but it grants me the opportunity to reflect for a moment on 2016.

It wasn’t a good year for many people including most of my family and friends. Dave and I certainly had our share of misfortunes and serious health issues, and whilst it would be easy to list all the problems we’ve endured and come through, there were several highlights too; nothing major, perhaps small, almost insignificant, for many people, but they meant a great deal to me.

The first was being able to celebrate with the family my mother’s 90th birthday back in March which, in turn, brought my brother over from Spain to spend a few days with us even if he couldn’t bring the sunshine with him. There was a short trip to the English Lake District, somewhere I’d always wanted to visit. It was here I saw our native red squirrels at close hand and had the opportunity to hold and stroke a barn owl ­­– one of my favourite birds. Three items on my most want to do list ticked off in one fell swoop.

Kingfisher © Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Dreamstime Stock Photos

Then came the visit to the garden of  our native kingfisher – my favourite bird of all. They aren’t rare but I had never seen one in the flesh despite my being a keen birdwatcher. They are birds of woodland streams and rivers, so to find one perched on my bird feeder in the middle of a vast housing estate one morning was an absolute joy and a dream come true. It was the last place I expected to see one. By the time I had scrabbled to get my camera ready, the beautiful bird had flown.

So to 2017. I’m not one for making resolutions – like most people’s good intentions they seldom last more than a few weeks. Instead, I make a list of things to achieve. I might never achieve them all, if any, but it gives me focus and a starting point, pointing a way forward. First on my list is to have a proper sunshine holiday. You know me: hate winter, love summer. But at least the days are getting longer now, bit by bit. This morning I spied the first snowdrop in bud on the lawn and the more I looked, the more new shoots I saw, of crocus and daffodils and of hellebores in bud, their colours shining out already. Anyone walking by would have wondered why I wore such a broad smile.

I have several novels written which I am determined this year will see at least one of them published, if not all, along with a self-help book I’m writing.  I intend to give my art a big push too; enter painting competitions, join an art class, lead an art class? And I simply must make the effort to exhibit some of my work. Some how. Some where. Make the effort. Push myself.

Starting now. Things can only get better.

So, yes, 2017 WILL BE MY YEAR!

And wishing you all have a fabulous year too.

Give Me A Hammer! by Valerie J. Patterson

I need a really big hammer–but not so big that I can’t lift it!  Must have a smooth, flat surface and be easy to swing with near-perfect accuracy.  I’m thinking I need Thor’s hammer!  Or perhaps Thor and his hammer!

You may be wondering why I would need such a hammer.  Have you ever heard of the video game Whack A Mole?  That’s why I need such a hammer.

You see, there seems to be a family of moles residing in my beautiful backyard.  I mean, it has to be an entire family, right?  Everywhere you walk there are holes evidencing their intricate subsurface tunnel system.  Everywhere you walk there is loose earth that gives way beneath your feet so that you sink into the lawn.

They’ve taken to tunneling beneath my beautiful stone patio and are leaving mounds of earth behind causing the stones to rock and shift.  They’re tunneling–apparently they’re very hungry while digging tunnels–and they’re eating healthy plants along the way because two of my Azalea bushes have bit the dust.  Among the other plant casualties is one of my thickest grape vines that they’ve managed to eat through and kill.  This does not make me happy.  I used to have a lovely apricot Azalea tree, too.  There are only a few remaining live branches left because they’ve eaten through the roots.

So, I need a very large hammer so that when they venture to stick their vile little heads above the surface of my once beautiful lawn I can whack them on the head!  It might sound a little drastic, but I’m frustrated and nothing else has worked!  Besides, unless you have better solutions to suggest, I can get a good workout whacking them on the head!

Until next time, I hope the only pests in your outdoor space are butterflies whose fluttering wings add grace and beauty to your world!

PS…no moles were harmed during the writing of this blog!

Lavender Fields Forever

Isn’t it interesting that we plan trips to faraway places and yet so often miss what’s on our own doorstep? It’s the sort of conversation we’ve had at OTBF before, but it hit me as particularly true this week. AJ and I love our trips to the South of France, especially the Cote d’Azur, but we’ve also enjoyed trips further east along the coast to Provence to see the Lavender Fields. Miles and miles of glorious colour and scent which can take your breath away.

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About five miles from where we live Somerset Lavender Fields  boast over five acres of lavender with more than 50,000 plants of amazing varieties. You can walk the fields and breathe in the delicious scents while bees hum and butterflies flutter by. The lavender fields have been there for over a decade and I’ve passed by on the nearby main road dozens of times, but only recently thought it was about time to plan a visit. It was so worth it.

There is so much to see and learn. Apart from walking the fields, there is a healing garden full of wonderful herbs, a pretty Rose Arbor to browse through, a shop selling varieties of plants, lavender of course, and gifts of candles, essential oils, biscuits, soaps, etc. We enjoyed morning coffee on the pretty little verandah overlooking the gardens and fields, and I’m proud to say I resisted the home-baked cakes and scones. 20160527_120201

Visiting the Lavender Farm on a particularly beautiful morning added to the sheer charm of the place, and made us want to return. Since it’s dog-friendly, I’m thinking Ms. Vivvy will be accompanying us next time and will especially enjoy a long walkies in the adjoining fields beforehand. We’ll certainly make sure to head back for a visit during harvesting time, usually late July/early August.20160527_120546

It made us realise that it really is worth taking the time to search out things locally to find little treasures and surprises. Now I’m off to browse my new Cooking with Lavender cookbook and then later will indulge in a warm bath scented with relaxing lavender essential oils fresh from the farm. Perfect.