Showing posts with label Family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Family. Show all posts

Monday, 17 October 2016

A 'Hygge' Moment


I love the changing of the seasons, and after an unusually long-drawn-out and busy summer both here in Suffolk and in Scandinavia, the change of pace in Autumn is more than welcome!  

It's time to be cosy, hibernate and get into the hygge (hoo-gah) vibe, light the stove and the candles, invite friends and family round for kitchen supper, snuggle down under a warm throw and watch box sets or put on the layers for bracing dog walks in the ever-changing countryside, before dropping into a welcoming country pub.  

Of course we have all been doing this for ever but the Danish definition of hygge is the ritual of enjoying life's simple pleasures. Friends, family, graciousness and cosiness.  What could be better?

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

It's been a long time coming (but worth the wait...)




When my partner and I moved to Suffolk to start our new life together nearly six years ago, we didn't intend to leave it so long before we tied the knot!  





 Despite setting the date twice before in the last three years, life had other plans for us, but finally we found the perfect time to gather our children, their partners and the little granddaughter around us to say 'I will' in the lovely Norman church just at the bottom of the hill.

And it was a perfectly magical and very special day!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Inspiration, Association and The Manor at Hemingford Grey


It is strange how a chain of thought can trigger events.  Life in Suffolk these last few years has been punctuated by regular trips along the A14 to visit my partner's father in Staffordshire, and we have always meant to stop off one day and visit the Manor House at Hemingford Grey, the setting for Lucy Boston's Green Knowe children's stories and one of the most romantic place names I have ever come across, but time pressures have always intervened.  I recently came across a reference to the Manor and the Green Knowe books when reading Elizabeth's blog post recently about the delights of her wood burning stove and comfort reading at Welsh Hills Again which struck a chord.

So it was that yesterday afternoon, a beautiful, cold, sunny early Spring day this particular wish was granted. Our trips cross-country have ended this week as the family gathered on Monday to say goodbye to John, who celebrated his 98th birthday only three short weeks ago.  A local legend, he was still driving, swimming and taking regular walks until last September and will be much missed. The end of an era for his family.  But after the tears and the laughter, the reunions and reminiscences and so very many cups of tea, we set out once more to our Suffolk home and, this time, we had time and I am so glad we did.  


We parked the car in the pretty village street and walked a short distance along the banks of the River Ouse, opened the gate into the Manor garden and walked down the path between the clipped yew hedges towards this beautiful house, Green Knowe the oldest continuously occupied house in England and every bit as enchanting as I had hoped.  The house is only open by prior arrangement or for special events, but the garden was open and, having been greeted by the owner, we had it all to ourselves and spent a happy hour exploring, admiring the intense vivid blue carpet of chionodoxa intermingled with late snowdrops, winter aconites, primroses and hellebores.  Lovely even at this time of the year, it will be stunning in the summer when the roses are out and we must visit again, many more times I hope.  And what a wonderful place to come and remember John as now this place will always be associated with him in our hearts.  


Rest in Peace.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Ghosts of Christmas, Past and Present


Love it or loathe it, Christmas cannot be avoided in this part of the world, and I do love it, much as I dislike ongoing Christmas creep.  I know retailers need to profit from the orgy of spending we embark upon every midwinter, but I refuse to have much to do with Christmas until the beginning of December.  From then on, however, I embrace it enthusiastically.  The special excitement and anticipation I treasure from my own childhood has never deserted me and we all need to nurture our inner child.  I would always celebrate Christmas even if I didn't have a family but I know I am lucky to be part of a large combined family and there is always a lot of love around at Christmas.

As a child growing up as part of a large Irish Catholic family (now scattered to the four winds) on the outskirts of a large city in the North of England, Christmas was very much a time for church and family and with numerous aunts and uncles and 18 first cousins all living in the same city there was so much fun to be had just spending time together.   I'm sure there were tensions amongst the adults (I know there were tensions amongst the adults - my own parents, shockingly, separated and divorced; the family rift never healed), but we children had a wonderful time and no doubt drove our parents to drink.  Well, as I said, we were Irish.


I have strong memories of cold houses with ice patterns blooming on the inside of the window panes, our breath misting in the bedrooms as we dressed hastily in the mornings, the small, artificial Christmas tree being brought down lovingly from the attic to the sitting room on Christmas Eve and festooned with ancient baubles, the same ones every year, and a string of coloured Christmas lights with a fairy on top - there was always fierce competition to be the one who put the fairy on top.  I remember being woken from a deep sleep at 11 o'clock at night, bundling up into warm clothes, then the long freezing walk to church for Midnight Mass through the clear, frosty, starlit night, cold red chapped knees and rosy cheeks glowing, then back to bed longing to wake up to the weight of the freshly-filled stocking, stuffed with fruit and nuts, chocolate money and tiny treats lying across my feet, and just one very special, much-longed for new toy.  


At eight years old, I was actually secretly disappointed to be given this gorgeous book which I now treasure and will pass on to my grandchildren... 



  
... but I was thrilled to find this baby doll at the end of my bed one year (she had more hair then) and  I wish I could remember what I called her all those years ago.  But what I really, really wanted for Christmas was a kitten and that I couldn't have, my father being allergic, or so he said.  Of course, ever since I have collected cats and currently have three sharing my life and scratching the furniture, part of my animal family, and books and children have continued to be a huge part of my life.


Now my partner and I have a big combined family of seven young adults, many with partners of their own and one living in another country with his small daughter and Christmas has evolved to accommodate our new circumstances.  We no longer focus on Christmas day as, with so many families in the mix, we all need to be flexible and we would hate the children to feel they have to come, so we just try to spend time with as many of our children as we can reasonably see in the run-up to Christmas and spread the pleasure of a big family Christmas.  It works for us.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

But I had other plans!

The years fly by. The clocks have gone back, hallowe'en and bonfire night are fading memories and it is officially open season on Christmas in the shops, although last Christmas still seems very fresh in my mind. Where does the time go?

Every year is a new chapter, a clean page with nothing yet written/scribbled on it, an empty calendar and diary to fill up, a new list of things I would like to do, achieve, finish, start, and the inevitable fact that life will take its own course no matter how I try to impose my own agenda upon it. As John Lennon so famously said "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."


The seasons come and go, the birthdays become increasingly improbable and I can start to look back on the life already lived, the two thirds of life I have already had if I am lucky? enough to live out my natural life span and I can start to see the shape of my life and also the unexpectedness of it. Life is like a river, it picks you up and sweeps you along. I wonder where it will set me down next?


So, as the year winds down, I am thinking about what has happened, the things which have mattered to me, the highs and lows. This has been a year of painful and stressful dental and oral surgery which is now thankfully coming to an end. Sometimes it feels that life is the bits I squeeze in between sessions in the dentist's chair! There are worse things.

My partner's father is adjusting to the changes in his life, the loss of his independence, although it seems unlikely he will ever be able to go home again. More frail than ever, he is still hanging in there. It's difficult.


The children are all doing OK and that is the best thing. They are all finding their paths in life, the things and people they need to make it satisfying, riding the tiger. Now that summer is over they are making plans to visit, spend some time with us, although Christmas is going to be very different this year as they redefine how they want to spend their holiday. We might even have Christmas off for the first time in over thirty years. 


The house has been on the market most of this year but despite receiving an offer for it, we haven't sold. There is still uncertainty about where and how we want to live and I think we need to spend more time researching. Getting it wrong is an expensive mistake.

Sailing into Venice and Stockholm has been memorable, not always for the right reasons. The sea can be treacherous and should never be under-estimated - it could easily have been us, as well as our lunch, that ended up in the sea.  Our own small boat is over-wintering near Stockholm and I am looking forward to spending more time in Sweden and possibly Finland next year. I hope we will revisit Venice too, but the next trip will not involve living on a small boat with four other people and potential near-death incidents! 

What sort of year have you had so far? Did it go the way you hoped?  What are your hopes and dreams for next year?

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Sadness


Relentless rain is falling today and I am feeling sad.  End of summer sad, back to reality sad but mostly sad for my father-in-law.  We should have been in Wales with him this week, enjoying a family get-together, but a stroke has intervened and taken his independence away from him.  At 97 he was doing so well, driving himself around locally, swimming regularly and having some social life. My partner is with him now, trying to sort out his end-of-life care, always a difficult and fraught time as I know only too well, having been there so recently with my Mum.

So, I'm thinking of him now and hoping that things will come together for him this week, that he can leave hospital and move into the next, the final stage of his long, long life.  Hoping that we can all somehow make it as easy as possible for him.


Here's some autumn flowers for John and beautiful piece of music, exquisitely played by Yo-Yo Ma.






Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Empty Nest (and garden flowers)


My oldest son visited at the weekend with his new young wife, the love of his life now, his lodestar, filling the house with their energy and optimism, eating more than I could possibly imagine, playing with the dog, walking, laughing, chatting, loving, sharing.

Then they were gone, as though they had never been here at all, the house a thousand times more empty than before they arrived.

And I sat for a while unusually quite alone, absorbing the silence, the stillness, had a cup of coffee, walked the dog, picked some flowers and waited for the emptiness to pass and my life to settle back into where it is now and for that to be enough.  

More than enough.

Monday, 30 December 2013

My Beautiful Children

 Christmas is complicated in our combined family, perhaps for all families as we all try and see as many family members as possible.  I have three sons and a daughter-in-law and my partner has three sons, a daughter and a small granddaughter.  Two of his children are in serious long-term relationships and the youngest has recently taken the initiative and is engaged. I now have a relationship with people for whom there is no clear definition - my partner's son's fiancee visited over Christmas and as for her extended family, both her parents are divorced and re-married to people with families of their own.  Modern life is complicated.

I was talking about this recently in my weekly French class; my teacher is a French national and she and her partner came over to England about 10 years ago and settled in East Anglia, running a very successful cafe with delicious home-made food and welcoming fires, all very much in the French tradition and very popular too!  I can drop in for a cup of coffee and a croissant before heading upstairs for some serious French conversation. She tells me that the French too have no words for this complex interweaving of family ties but simply have the same name for in-laws and step-relations. Thus my daughter-in-law, my step-daughter and step-daughter-in-law-to-be are all my belles filles, my beautiful daughters, and my step-sons etc are my beaux fils. So they are all my beautiful children!

And it was wonderful to see so many of them over Christmas.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Wedding Bells


It was a very special day and despite still feeling drained by the wretched flu which is still pulling me down, I put on my best smile and dug deep.  Wild horses would not have kept me away from my son's wedding.  Of course there was a hat involved!  Someone had to do it, and who better than the Mother of the Groom, smart for once in black and ivory.

The Winter Garden at the smart London hotel was the perfect venue for afternoon tea with the bride's parents, the first opportunity we had had to meet them, before the beautiful, simple ceremony at the nearby Registry Office.  The Groom was suitably nervous and elated and the Bride, when she finally appeared, was beautiful and radiant as only a bride can be on her wedding day.

Afterwards the newly weds, family and friends piled onto the specially commissioned red London Route Master bus, to be greeted with glasses of champagne as the party began and we set off across central London laughing and chatting as the tension was released, children waving to us as we stopped at traffic lights - for once part of the sights of London!

The Thames-side pub/restaurant with its stunning view of the river was warm and welcoming after the short walk from the bus in the still freezing-cold late March wind.  The food was delicious, the atmosphere relaxed and informal and the party took off.  Meeting so many of my son's friends and having all three of my children, as well as my new daughter-in-law, together in the same room was a special joy, and it was a great pleasure also to welcome three of my step-children, who joined us after the dinner and speeches, the first time they had met my son's new wife; we are a combined family that is still evolving and growing.

As the evening progressed, fancy dress clothes and wigs were produced from somewhere, adding to the fun.  Of course, there were cupcakes and very delicious they looked too, I thought, choosing one and putting it down on the table for a few minutes while chatting to someone, only to find, when I came to look for it, that my ex-husband was sitting in my place scoffing it.  It was My Cup Cake! There was something rather predictable about that, I thought.

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Family Script

My maternal grandmother was a redoubtable woman.  An Edwardian nursery governess, she spent her 20's and early 30's living in exclusive hotels in the North of England, where she ruled her nursery with a rod of iron.  She didn't marry until she was 33 but nevertheless she and my grandfather (having by now emigrated to Canada where he had a farm) produced a large brood of their own; my mother and her four brothers.  Needless to say, they were all brought up in accordance with her strict views on child rearing.  Her voice can still be heard echoing down the generations.

Granny didn't believe in celebrating Mother's Day, seeing it (wrongly as it happens - Mothering Sunday has a long and venerable tradition) as a recent and purely commercial innovation.  My own mother, being strongly influenced by her upbringing, was also not inclined to make an occasion of it and I, in my turn, although delighted with the handmade offerings of my sons when they were very young, paid scant attention to the occasion.

It wasn't until my marriage broke down and I realised too late that Mother's Day fell on a Sunday the boys were to spend with their father.  I didn't see the need to change this arrangement and fight my corner, the family script being so deeply ingrained, and spent the day alone, feeling lost and displaced, missing my sons on a day that focuses so strongly on the mother/child relationship.  It was during that long, painful day that I began to think again about Mother's Day and to accept that it did matter to me, that I did want my children to think of me on this special day and from then on I have carefully nurtured it in my own family.

Yesterday, it was a special joy to spend the day with my youngest son, down from University especially to be with me on Mother's Day, and to speak to my two older sons who couldn't join us this year but made special efforts to phone (they so rarely do - is this a boy thing?).  In  this family now, every Mother's Day will always be a special day.

I am rewriting the family script.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

"It's coming near Christmas..."

"It's coming near Christmas, they're cuttin down trees
They're puttin up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace".

Joni Mitchell 



There's always magic in the air at Christmas.  I love to think of people through the ages celebrating the winter solstice in one way or another, from the ancient pagan tradition to our more recent Christian era.  Despite the commercialisation, it is a wonderful occasion to have a family get-together, share a feast, the warmth of our homes and the giving and receiving of gifts.  I cannot think of a better way to distract us all from what can be a rather depressing and miserable time of year, the short days and often dank weather.  I love the sense of anticipation and goodwill, the lights going up on trees in houses and gardens, the bustle of Christmas markets and the smells of the Christmas cooking wafting through the house. 


And yet, increasingly as time passes, there is such a complex layer of emotions simmering away beneath the surface and I think this is particularly the case where marriages have broken down and families have been fractured and reconstituted.  More than anything, I miss my small sons and their joy and excitement at this time of year, the carol concerts and nativity plays that used to fill my days, whilst at the same time I look forward to seeing the grown-up versions of two of my three sons and spending some time with them; the youngest, sadly, having decided not to join us this year.  My partner, too, misses the family Christmases he shared with his own children when they were an intact family and from which he is now excluded, even as we prepare for them to come and visit on Christmas Eve,  knowing that they will be leaving early on Christmas morning to spend the rest of the holiday with their own mother and her new husband.  


And, of course, this is the first Christmas without my mother.  Bittersweet.


Life is full of challenges and changes, adjustments and adaptations, the weft and the warp. Christmas puts our lives under a microscope and exposes the flaws as well as the beauty of what we create.  It is a time of joy as well as sadness, but this Christmas I hope, mostly joy.

 

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Getting There... maybe

I'm sitting here alone in my house tonight with a glass of Kentish white wine and a frittata, made with vegetables from a neighbour's garden.  I bartered the vegetables for a pot of the marmalade I make every January, a popular present.  Yesterday afternoon was spent sitting in the garden of another neighbour in the village, together with the latest additions to the next generation.  Tomorrow my next door neighbour and I are planning a blackberrying expedition in the country lanes that surround the village.



It's been just over a year now since my partner and I made the move from Kent to Suffolk and it's been a challenging and sometimes fraught time.  I have often been horribly homesick for my old life and familiar people and places, but having decided to leave my comfort zone, I am slowly beginning to reap the rewards. Friendships take time to grow, but there are some promising beginnings.



Today was spent sorting out the garden, a new challenge for me after years of living in rented houses.  It is a continual puzzle to me, what should go, what to keep, what will thrive and where.  There have been some successes and some ignominious failures. I am currently trying to work out what to grow beside my pink climbing rose, now planted in the courtyard outside the kitchen - should it be cat mint, lavender or a deep blue Hebe?  And what will do best in the very dry corner of the bed by the front door when the Cosmos has finished?  I'm tempted by a deep red lavatera framing the herbs - the silver thyme I planted there is spreading itself very nicely indeed. There is so much more to do, so many plans to make, but it's been a good first year and I'm enjoying myself, rootling around deep in the Suffolk soil.  It certainly keeps me grounded.




My peaceful time will end tomorrow, as it should.  I really wouldn't enjoy it so much if I had too much of it.  My youngest son, home from university for the summer, will be returning from his visit to his father in London, soon to be joined by my oldest son and his girlfriend, staying for a couple of days rest and relaxation - them, not me!  Then it's off to Holland on the ferry to join my partner, who took the boat over yesterday, for a week or two of cruising the Dutch canals and inland seas before it's back to earth with a bump and perhaps an end of summer Pimm's party for all our new friends and neighbours.


Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Happy Christmas

It just sort of creeps up on you, sometime after the last firework fizzles out, and before you know it there's just a few days to go and a whole Christmas production to put on. If I didn't do it, who would? I don't think any of the people who will be sitting around my table this Christmas Day would consider making Christmas happen, and yet each year somehow it all comes together and we always have a magical day.

This Christmas will be bitter-sweet for me, as I know I will have to leave this lovely house sometime in the coming year, I know change is coming, so amongst all the giving and receiving, the sense of family and love and warmth, there will be sadness too.

I don't know what happens next; my future is an open book and the next chapter has no heading yet. I just hope I can find a way through this maze, and keep shining.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Families and Other Challenges

As he opened the barn door, an icy blast of wind blew us into the vaulted room and the six twenty-some-things seated companionably around the kitchen table, eating, laughing and talking, turned and looked at the newcomers as my son and I joined the group.

It had seemed a good idea at the time, as we talked about how to manage the occasion and planned his menu, for me and my son to come along towards the end of lunch and have a drink with his children and assorted girlfriends, all staying in the area for Easter. In the end, it just seemed to underline our outsider status. Jokes flew around the table as the meal came to an end and coffee was served, but difficult feelings simmered just below the surface as we all skated over thin ice.

I slept badly that night, and woke in tears with the grey dawn, remembering the moment, exactly 24 years ago, when my second son was born at our home in London, his 2 year old brother asleep in the next bedroom, my mother in the bedroom above, my then husband elated at the safe birth of our new son.

Our lives have changed beyond recognition now. My 24 year old son spent the day in Yorkshire with friends, his brother in London with his father and his second wife, as my youngest son and I try to bridge the gulf between the family we were, and the life we have now.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Christmas Walk

The sun came out briefly as we assembled by the white five-bar gate which separates the farmhouse from the busy B road connecting two villages which, a decade or so ago no doubt was just a quiet country lane. Today there was little traffic on the road and we soon headed off into deep countryside, following the thin trails linking one footpath with another, chatting and admiring the beautiful, unspoilt, wintry scenery, always keeping the Church Tower in view. Our lodestone. After a while we met the road again briefly, beside the old abandoned windmill on top of the rise, before crossing the ancient churchyard shaded by yew trees, and back into open country.

An hour or so later we emerged by a lovely hop-strewn pub, log fire blazing, and a very welcome drink and lunch. One or two people peeled off after lunch, but the die-hards set off back across country, following The Man in the Woolly Jumper who had the map, losing our way occasionally, finding ourselves in someone else's driveway at one point, but always finding a way through in the end.

The light was fading by the time we got back to the house, my sons grumbling by now. Friends rallied round, someone put the kettle on, TMITWJ lit the fire and mince pies were warmed in the oven. After a reviving cup of tea a few more people arrived and bottles of fizz popped as the fire warmed us through, conversation flowed and friends and family relaxed together by the brightly lit Christmas Tree.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Little white, lacy, strappy things

My sons are home! The washing machine and dishwasher rumble incessantly, there is never enough milk, bread, cereal or red wine, casseroles bubble on the stove and the mother in me stirs and purrs contentedly, testosterone drifting through the house as their deep voices mingle and merge.

So why, I wonder, did I take a detour on my way to stock up again at Waitrose, to trawl through the racks of sale price clothes in Fat Face, discarding the sensible sweat shirts and fleecy, warm zippy things and finding my way to the little white, lacy, strappy vest top, to be secreted amongst the carrots and potatoes and meat and cheese? Perhaps my mind had drifted towards the Man in the Pink Shirt, currently battling the wind and tides somewhere off the South Coast, no doubt swathed in utilitarian waterproofs?

I suppose I could always hide it under a sensible fleece if I go sailing again. Only I would know it was there, surely. After all, if he had wanted a sensible woman, what on earth is he doing with me?

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Eight Interesting Things

Eight interesting things? Well, most of them are already in my blog or will be - now I shall have no secrets left.

The oldest house I have ever lived in was built in the 1380s. It was very, very difficult to clean. There was a mouse nesting in an ancient sofa in my bedroom when we moved in and it would scuttle about the room at night, but refused to be caught, although we trapped it in the end. The bedroom floor sloped dramatically so you had to get your sea legs upstairs, and the bed had to be propped up at the head to even things out. The house overlooked the marsh and was very atmospheric.

I have moved house more times than I care to remember and now have it down to a fine art. Removal men congratulate me on the quality and efficiency of my packing.

When I turned 50 (am I prepared to admit that?) I decided to grow my hair again, get my ears pierced and buy a bikini. Now I need to lose a few pounds so I can wear the bikini in public and I have a serious earring habit.

Neither of my parents were born in this country, but I consider myself to be quintessentially English. My mother was born on a Prairie Farm in Saskatuan and my father's family came over from Ireland during the troubles in the 1920s, following death threats which they took very seriously indeed.

I have never learned to ride a bike, nor a horse, nor have I ever sailed, but I am hoping to try sailing this summer. I think I will probably give the other two a miss now.

I have used up at least four of my nine lives, but am enjoying the five I have left.

I can speak to babies and small children in French, having worked as an au pair in Brussels when I was very young. I developed a strong attachment to Belgian chocolate while I was there. It was the only thing that kept me sane.

I once drove straight on to the roundabout on the A2, near Blackheath and stopped there. It was entirely my ex-husband's fault. He was supposed to be teaching me to drive and I hadn't done roundabouts yet. I was still on traffic lights. Lots of people were very surprised to see us sitting there as I waited for instructions on how to come off roundabouts and rejoin the busy weekend traffic on the A2.