My purple garden

Blueish purple, pinkish purple, purple purple – I don’t know how my garden became quite so purple; it wasn’t intentional. The lilac, and California lilac are looking spectacular right now.  Shame the same can’t be said for my photography! The heather beneath began life in a pot marked ‘rockery plant’ but has grown disproportionately large.

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The allium were part of a 60th birthday present, and the periwinkle grew from a small cutting gifted by a neighbour.

 

The grape hyacinths, here before we were, so at least twenty two years old, continue to thrive and multiply year on year with clumps appearing all over the place.

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This pretty little flower blooms on the small rockery outside the summerhouse/shed (it was the former but is used as the latter) but I have no idea what it’s called.

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Still to come is the lavender (munsted and hidcote) which lines each side of the front path and nigella which fills the base of the sweet pea plot. The iris should be out now in the front garden but there’s no sign of them.

The sweet peas have just been planted out – lots of purply shades to look forward to there too. There’s Cupani (chosen for their strong perfume) and some mixed long stemmed ones.  Arent these a gorgeous colour?

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While on the subject of the garden…Sadly our, not purple at all, but vivid cerise Starlight Express Rose has died. No warning – it just keeled over and wham! We have no idea what happened. This prolific, long lasting flowerer has been with us almost since we moved in and it used to cover the fence and arbor at the top of the steps garden steps. I will miss looking out on its beautiful blooms.

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The curious and the unusual

Now here’s a curious thing: on Thursday night I had a very poor night’s sleep. I’m used to not sleeping well, but it is usually for the reason that my mind is full of churning thought and turmoil. But Thursday’s lack of sleep was because I had palm pain. STOP reading right there and think for a moment. Palm pain – ever heard of it? Seriously, who ever complains of a painful palm? My finger hurts (a ganglion on the joint) and my wrist aches (carpal tunnel syndrome) but I’ve never had a problem with my palm, that is until Thursday night.  It felt as though something was being driven into the centre….hard! Boy, did it hurt.  And then when I woke up on Friday morning – gone! No pain whatever and nothing since.

And now, completely unconnected to the first subject – I bought a dress today. This is what the ‘unusual’ refers to in the post title because I almost never buy dresses. It’s the generous bust (referred to in my ranting bra post : It’s a girl thing ) that does for me every time.When a dress fits on top then it’s either too big on the hips, gapes around the armholes or sags at the neck.  I buy long jersey tunics to wear with leggings (my usual style of clothing) and I did get a new jersey maxi dress last year (jersey’s good as it stretches and accommodates) but these fall into the casual wear category and apart from the one for my daughter’s wedding 18 months ago (though actually bought a year before that),  I gave up on posh frocks years ago and stuck to separates when I needed something smart.

We’re off to a wedding soon and I although I had several choices of things to wear and had more or less settled on an outfit, I secretly longed for a nice dress. Silly me – I KNOW what a nightmare it is trying to buy one; I just end up coming home feeling thoroughly demoralised. But I went ahead and yes, after five failures, that was exactly how I felt – thoroughly demoralised so I bought a new eyeliner pencil instead (it didn’t really do the trick) and headed for the car park. I passed a shop I’ve rarely ventured into (considered it old fashioned, boring). For some reason I turned back  and halfheartedly wandered in. Tucked in at the end of a rack of garish crinkly sun dresses, all on its own, was this…

I loved it instantly. Now that’s not a picture of me (oh to be that slim) but it is a picture of the dress. I’ve seen the style referred to as a shutter dress as it has lots of layers. I can’t believe I even took it into the dressing room – it’s so far removed from anything I’ve ever bought. But I did and it fitted. No gaping at the neck, no baggy armholes, no loose material on the hips. It fitted! Now I just have to decide what to wear with it.

 

 

 

 

 

Salad days

A few  lettuce leaves, slices of cucumber and a tomato  does little to excite my taste buds. so how come when eating in a restaurant, I often choose a salad? Well, they are often rather more interesting than most of the ones we make at home, are they not?

I’ve been doing my best to create restaurant-style salads at home. Some have been delicious. I love hot and cold foods together so this prawn salad with warm potato went down very well.

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This red salad contained beetroot, tomato, raddish, onion and a few pomegranate seeds with lots of lovely feta and a red wine & beetroot dressing.

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More feta but this time with warm roasted cauliflower, beetroot and a few roasted red peppers from a jar.

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I loved this one which combined bulgar wheat, canellini and edamame beans and spinach with more traditional salad ingredients.

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The only problem with eating like this is that there are a lot of ingredients of which only a small amount is used so it’s really great that the supermarkets are selling some of the more unusual items in their range of freezer foods which means that edemame beans, pomegranate seeds and chopped shallots are now readily available from my own freezer.

Do you like salads and do you have a favourite combination of ingredients?

 

 

Bad book, good book

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It was bound in red leather, embossed and with gold writing and inside, on a St Matthew’s Sunday School book plate, an inscription read, ‘To William Breen for good attendance 15th September  1901’. I had no idea who William Breen was, nor where St Matthews Sunday school may have been located.  A Peep behind the scenes by Mrs O.F.Walton had been given to me by my mother when I was around ten years old. I know now that it was what they called a religious tract. That was my mother!  I did start many times but never got past the first couple of pages. Frankly,  it was just too boring. My mother was disappointed. It had, she told me, been her favourite book as a child.

Rain, rain, rain. How mercilessly it fell on the Fair-field ….it started promisingly enough but from thereon it went rapidly downhill. I haven’t given it a thought in decades. How curious that it should have popped into my mind so unexpectedly when I was lying awake last night.  I no longer have the original but manged to find this picture of an identical one.   Thankfully it didn’t put me off reading. I devoured the stories of Enid Blyton as if my life depended on it, my all time favourite being The Secret Island. I read and re-read it long after I had otherwise moved onto more literary tomes.

Before I’d found myself thinking about that book last night, I’d already been planning to write a book-inspired post  about one I finished reading yesterday. It was one of those can’t-put-it-down books, started only on Saturday morning. I’d bought it ready for a forthcoming holiday but fancied a lie-in and what better than to do so with a good book.  I’ve enjoyed many of Diane Chamberlain’s books, but none more than this one.  I hate the way that some reviewers actually write a synopsis of the story rather than an opinion of why it works so I’ve no intention of telling you the ins and outs except to say that it is set in North Carolina during 1940s polio epidemic which swept across the state. Set amid the real-life ‘Miracle of Hickory’ where one town turned a children’s camp into an emergency polio hospital in just 55 hours, the story explores issues such as race and religion, class and cultural differences. It’s a love story quite unlike any other….and that’s no mean feat in itself.   I hesitate to recommend books without knowing other people’s preferences because what we each enjoy is very subjective. But if you like well researched 20th century history as a backdrop,  well-drawn characters and a cracking good story, this might be one for you.

The Stolen Marriage: The Twisting, Turning, Most Heartbreaking Mystery You'll Read This Year

The blurb on the back

In 1944, Tess DeMello abruptly ends her engagement to the love of her life, marries a mysterious stranger and moves to Hickory, North Carolina. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night and Tess quickly comes to realize that she is now trapped in a strange and loveless marriage.

The people of Hickory love and respect Henry and see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain. What does everyone know about Henry that she does not?

When a polio epidemic strikes the town, taking the lives of some of its children, the townspeople band together to quickly build a polio hospital. Tess, who has a nursing degree, bucks Henry’s wishes and begins to work at the hospital. As Henry’s actions grow more baffling and alarming by the day, can she untangle her husband’s mysterious behaviour and save her own life?

Just a bit of fun

Some days we don’t feel like a full evening meal but we do need something more substantial than a snack. Husband doesn’t cook often though he is perfectly able if he has instructions to follow, and thanks to one of his small collection of ‘that looks nice’ recipes gathered from the Mail on Sunday’s You Magazine, he makes a mean bruschetta.

I’ve no idea what prompted me to say it (other than that I just knew from experience that it would taste amazing) but I looked down at my plate last night and said, ” If I had to eat one meal every night for a whole year, this would be it.”  It’s very simple – roasted cherry tomatoes and onions cooked with oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and chilli and placed on toasted crusty bread. We improve the recipe by adding a generous sprinkling of Parmesan.

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It’s  a completely ridiculous scenario, and a very silly question but … if you had to eat the same meal every night for a whole year, what would you choose?

 

Back to Back History

Who’d have thought that the squalor and poverty of a Birmingham slum would pass muster as a great day out?  Hurst Street in central Birmingham (right next door to the Hippodrome Theatre) is home to one of England’s last surviving examples of courtyard style back-to-back housing. Built one room deep, the back-to-back houses shared a rear wall which allowed no through air and the resulting damp conditions made them horribly unhealthy places in which to live. They were overcrowded, insanitary and infested by vermin.

Encouraged by the Government’s 1930 Housing Act to improve housing stock, Local Authorities began slum clearance programmes which would continue for several decades. Slowly, back-to-back houses were bulldozed and with them a major part of British social history. Included were the former homes of almost one hundred and seventy five thousand Birmingham residents, but as the new Millennium approached, Birmingham Conservation Trust became concerned at the folly of destroying every last piece of the city’s past and sought to save the final court.  By chance, Hurst Street’s Court 15  had survived thus far thanks to the fact that those buildings which were street-facing had accommodated several commercial businesses which had remained trading until the late 1990s.

The National Trust, in a divergence from its usual profile, agreed with the conservationists that such houses were as equally important to our heritage as the ‘Downton Abbeys’ and as a result, in a joint project between the two, Court 15 was painstakingly restored to offer an intimate glimpse in to the past and preserving the history of these homes.  George Saunders tailors was one of the last remaining shops and has been preserved to form part of the exhibition.

How it looks from the outside

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The Inner Courtyard

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Each authentically-restored house depicts a different era from the early 1800s through to the 1930s. We gained a real feel for changing life through the years and, for some older visitors, many small details will surely invoke memories of a grandparent’s home. Outside in the communal courtyard are the wash house and two privvies (toilets) which would have been used by as many as fifteen families. It seems inconceivable today that water had to be collected by bucket from the standpipe two streets away.

The communal wash house and privvies

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What makes the Birmingham Back-to Backs so special is that, unlike most other National Trust properties, there are no ‘do not touch’ signs. Indeed, the guides encourage children to handle toys and try out the lumpy beds to imagine what it would be like to share them with several siblings and a variety of bugs!  Lighted fires and kitchen tables laden, not with unidentifiable papier-mâché foods but with bowls of real flour, bunches of leeks and daily fresh bread, conjure up the evocative smells and sounds of the past ensuring an eerily real atmosphere.  A guided tour takes around an hour and there is a small museum adjacent. One of the most interesting exhibits is a display of the huge variation of wallpapers stripped from the houses during restoration. More than 140 different designs were salvaged from just eleven houses and in one of them were an astonishing twenty eight layers dating back to the 1850s!   What is particularly touching are the comments in the visitors book from people who actually lived in these houses or remember their grandparents doing so.

I have gazed in wonder at many stately homes, marvelling at the exquisite decor and glorious opulence but never, so much as here, did I truly feel such a connection with the past. Squalor and poverty maybe, but undeniably awesome.

 

Sunshine, shopping and baking

How wonderful to awaken to sunshine yesterday morning, and warm sunshine at that.  The two don’t necessarily go together. A free Saturday with only three essential tasks, none of which would take more than few minutes, meant that we could ‘do something’.  After a quick visit to the post office to send off a small gift to a friend, we drove to the outskirts of nearby Alcester to drop something into another friend. The third task was to buy lemons (for a lemon polenta cake this time) so we drove into the town centre and surprise, surprise, managed to find one of the free parking spaces.  Sunshine and free parking – it was looking good!

A market town since Roman times, Alcester is like a small sister to  Stratford-upon-Avon with many similar black and white timbered buildings and an attractive high street. Wouldn’t you just know – I forgot (again) to take my ipad/camera out with me.  I do enjoy a wander around the charity shops and, although I’d nothing in mind to buy, I did make a couple of purchases in the Red Cross shop:

A pretty little jug for £1.95. Yes, I have lots of vases, pots and jugs but I really liked the colours in this and it goes well in my kitchen. The grape hyacinths are a fraction of the hundreds in the garden. They’re almost over now but the lavender will soon be in full bloom and there’s heather, lilac and Californian lilac to come. I wish I’d had the jug when the forsythia was out – it would have looked so pretty.

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In the same shop I saw a shopping bag – brand new, complete with labels and for only £2.99. I already have far too many shopping bags but I do like a hare! It’s a tad creased but that can soon be rectified.

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Although its some time since husband came to Alcester, I like to visit from time to time just for a mooch around the individual little shops so I knew just the place to go for coffee. Orangemabel (named after the owner’s two cats) is a pretty, vintage tea-room which offers a large selection of amazing homemade cakes.  I found this picture of the outside but shall have to go again soon so that I can take some of my own (a good excuse).

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Husband chose a piece of salted caramel cheesecake. It looked very good but I resisted (apart from a tiny taste  just to check it out) even though the waitress had places two cake forks on the plate. It’s not been the greatest week in terms of Slimming World (again) and I really want to come away with a loss after weigh-in on Monday.

Finally, a look in Octubre 21st Boutique where, among dozens of really gorgeous things, I saw a tunic that particularly took my eye. Thinking that I should save my money for our forthcoming trip to Edinburgh, I didn’t buy it. Now of course, I wish I had so a return trip is likely, and I will remember to take my camera because to try and describe this fabulously presented shop would be quite impossible. Whoever dresses it has a real flair for display. Look forward to some pictures soon (assuming they’ll let me take some).

That I managed to go into Waitrose and buy ONLY lemons is a small miracle, but I really didn’t need anything else (oh, those stuffed cupboards) and Husband’s not the keenest supermarket shopper anyway. The afternoon was then spent lazily sitting by the French doors, feet up, reading the newspapers.

Sunday dawned similarly sunny. No lazy day today; I had jobs to do. First was to spruce up my two pushchairs – a single and a twin which have been in the outhouse for some months now.  The grandchildren are now either too old, or live too far away from me to really need these any longer; I may as well sell them. They’re now listed on ebay.

After a bit of reluctant, but essential ironing, I retreated to the kitchen. When I want to cook and the weather is like it is today I’m grateful for my cool almost north-facing Kitchen, though in winter we need the heating turned right up in there. It wasn’t until I started making the lemon polenta cake that I remembered just how much sugar is in it. I’d forgotten that I’d planned to search through more recipes to find a slightly healthier one. I made it into a drizzle cake with bits of lemon in the icing which makes it really tangy. I also made a cherry and almond cake. This one is sweetened by honey rather than sugar and is more batter-like than sponge. I’ve made it three times now and tweaked the recipe each time.  There’s an article in the Sunday magazine today with some spectacular looking cakes but it’s all about the decorating. I can appreciate the artistry but sugar craft doesn’t interest me one bit. I just like to make homely cakes where a tasty slice goes down nicely with a cup of coffee. I’d never win prizes for presentation!  And then I made some little cakes for tomorrow’s youngest visitors. Blue icing with rice-paper decals made in petit four cases – just right for very small boys!  A ‘pop in to say hello’ has turned into a family lunch with both sons’ families coming.  It’s going to be casual affair, salads, rolls, store cupboard bits & pieces…and cake, of course!