Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Stroll Through An English Garden & Life...

Hello my lovely friends. How has your week been? Mine has been a bit of mixed bag. I started work this week at a lovely law firm in Chester. There is so much to learn but I am enjoying the work and am getting crucial law work experience which will stand me in good stead further on down the line. It feels strange to be away from home all day and in truth, I would have preferred to only work part-time but those jobs are just about impossible to land without any law experience. So I have resolved myself to putting in my time for a year, then hopefully I can discuss going part time with my current law firm or look elsewhere. I want to take two modules instead of one from September 2020 so I will need to have that part-time position in order to devote the time needed for my degree.

Fortunately, I am enjoying the work I'm doing, the people I am working with and the firm I am working for so it's all good 😊

Last Sunday, we visited Tatton Park in Cheshire, a lovely National Trust property. The plan was to do the gardens and then the mansion. Well...the gardens were so extensive and so lovely that that is all we managed to do. We will go back to see the mansion but we were more than happy to slowly stroll through the magnificent gardens and gather some inspiration. I thought I'd take you on a little wander through Tatton Park's gardens while we chit-chat about gardening and things.

The kitchen garden was my favourite, as always. I would love to have a walled garden, wouldn't you? There is something quite magical about them. I always find a sense of peace and tranquillity come over me when I'm in a walled kitchen garden. I think that it is because, at our core, we are meant to have contact with the land. Adam and Eve were created in a garden, it was their home and provided all the nourishment they needed. Yes, there is something about a kitchen garden that speaks to me.

All those lovely neat rows of vegetables ready to be picked and prepared for your table. The glass houses, greenhouses and piles of terracotta pots just waiting to be used. Bliss!

This garden had chives lining the walkways which proved to be pure heaven for the bees. I love that, planting for the insects. I remember having large bushes of lavender outside my bedroom windows in Cape Town which were simply buzzing with happy bees all day every day. This is what I am hoping to create in my garden here. A place where insects and wildlife visit.

One thing I would love to try out is training fruit trees along a wall. I think it looks so lovely and great for those who don't have space for an orchard. As it turns out we do have space for a small orchard and it is something we certainly plan on doing in the near future. Just a few fruit trees, nothing on a great grand scale.

I love this idea too...hives in the orchard. These ones were empty but imagine adding a bit of beekeeping to your set of country skills. I have a friend in Chesterfield who keeps bees. She was kind enough to show us around her hives a few years ago when we were focusing on bees in our nature studies. I have a few garden projects in the pipeline at the moment so the bees will have to take a back seat for a year or two.

There is something about red brick that I love. When we buy our own home one day, I want it to be a red brick house, preferably Victorian, with a little orchard and a garden where I will plant flowers with vegetables together, a typical English garden. I love that, a mish-mash of plants scrambling over one another, all bustling for a position, one mass of happy colour.

If you follow me on Instagram, you will know that this weekend I spent some time with a dear friend of mine who is dying from cancer. She lives about two hours away from me so I haven't been able to see her since her diagnosis in January. Instead, we have been in daily contact. We've had long conversations of the things of the Lord. Deep conversations on trust, on healing, on the Lord's will, on surrendering. But our conversations began to get shorter about two months ago, she became less chatty. About a month ago her responses took much longer to come, often I could see that she had seen my message but nothing else. I contacted her husband and he confirmed my worst fears, she spends most of the day asleep, she's gone downhill and it happened fast. I knew I had to see her.

So yesterday my husband and I made the long trip over the Pennines. My dear sweet friend lay in her bed, so small, so skinny. My heart broke. She drifted in and out of consciousness. I held her hand. Short sentences were whispered to me. "Please keep in touch with T"(her daughter). "Of course". I promised.

"Do you want me to read God's Word to you?" I asked. She nodded.

So I read her favourite book to her, James. She lay still, listening. She is frail and weak, barely clinging to life. But she is strong, so strong in her faith. She loves our Lord with every bit of her being. I know that reading from God's Word brings her comfort.

I pray over her, asking God to draw close and give her His peace that transcends all understanding. I thank Him for this wonderful woman, for her life and all she means to so many. She squeezes my hand with a firmness that surprises me.

I tell her how much she means to me, how her friendship helped me through those hard days in Devon. "You are stronger than you think!" she whispers to me. I can feel the tears spill down my cheeks, I stay silent, I don't want her to be upset. I'm glad her eyes are closed. She drifts off for a short while and I compose myself.

She's back. I tell her I love her and how glad I am that God brought her into my life. "Me too". Her voice is barely audible. 

Soon it is time for me to go. I give her one last hug and say goodbye.

This is the first time I have watched someone precious to me lying in bed slipping away. I realise that really when it comes down to it, there are only two things worth anything in life...our loved ones and our faith. While it is painful for me to have to say goodbye to a friend I love, I feel blessed that I had that time with her. I will see her again one day and when I do, she will be free of suffering, free of that awful cancer that has ravaged her body. 

Life is precious and sometimes fleeting. People are what matter. Our friendships, our relationships. Time. So often we waste so much time on meaningless things rather than spending it where it really matters.

This modern world seems to offer many distractions that seem most important. All these thoughts have been swirling about in my mind for the last 24 hours. Things that I worry about seem so trivial when viewed through the lens of someone else's reality. I am humbled and resolved to not focus so much time on silly things that don't matter.

Anyhoo my lovelies, I wish you all a blessed week. Thank you as always for popping in here to visit me. I shall see you back here very soon.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Five on Friday :: A Weekly Roundup

Hello my lovely friends. Here we are at the end of another busy week, I hope that you have all had a good one. I find Five on Friday a great way to sum up those little bits of our lives that are so ordinary yet, I find that there is beauty in the ordinary and I still strive to find joy in the small things in life.

1. Summer Inspired Yarn 

I've been playing around with the dye pots and summer is my inspiration. You may have seen these new colourways on my Instagram account if you follow me there. Above we have The Hullabaloos, inspired by the classic book 'The Coot Club' by Arthur Ransome. Arthur Ransomes Swallows and Amazons serious was a favourite in our homeschool. We read The Coot Club on a boating holiday we took one summer on the Norfolk Broads. The book was set in the exact place that we were cruising which made it all the more enchanting.

Pictured above from left to right is 'Summer Riot' and 'Let's Make Jam'. I believe the names say it all. As I was experimenting with new colourways I only have one of each in my Etsy shop. I knitted up a little sample of Summer Riot and I just love how it knits pretty.

2. Canal Walks

Now my Victoria-Leigh (my eldest) and I took this little walk along the canal about a week or two ago but I couldn't resist sharing it with you this week. It was so lovely, we are lucky to have so many beautiful places to walk nearby.

Love this sign. There was a man fishing a little further up from another sign that said 'No Fishing' 😂

This is our church from across the field, I really love our church. So happy to have found our church 'family'.

The dandelion season has now passed but I do love the beauty in the details that nature has to offer up.

My beautiful girl, so blessed to be her mama.

3. In the Garden

Our garden is one that has been neglected by the previous occupiers for many years. There's just about nothing there so we have been slowly cleaning up, tidying up and planting. On the patio, there was an empty planter of some sorts, I've filled it with herbs and pansies. It's looking so good, the plants are growing and seem quite happy there. They get full sun from about midday.

In the front, we planted two Clematis...I just adore these plants and have wanted one (or two) for the longest time. I don't ever recall seeing them when we lived in Cape Town. We have planted them against walls along the front of the house. I can't wait to see how they climb and cover the wall with their pretty flowers.

This one is called 'Oo la la'

and this one is called the 'Dutchess of Wessex'

We've planted some bedding plants along the drive although it looks like something is eating them so I may have to rethink that. I won't put slug pellets downs as they are harmful to hedgehogs and birds.

We even have a wildlife bit of the garden planted by God and nature 😄. I really love this little patch. Some may look at it and see weeds but I see perfection. This little patch is a-buzz with insects. This garden is and will be, an ongoing labour of love.

4. Home Blessings

The front door is looking cheery and summery. Pots of pansies seem to be rambling happily, my Easter wreath really should come off the front door but I feel it could be for summer too with those carrots. Over the weekend my DH put up my front door blackboard that used to hang outside my front door in our Chesterfield house.

I usually put a seasonal message on the board and then add little decor touches. As you can see I haven't done that yet as I found I don't have any chalk, so I need to get that sometime soon.

And inside the house, I have the first peonies of the season. I love these flowers and their season is so fleeting so I say enjoy them while you can. I planted a peony in my garden on Sunday, I'm sure it will bring me plenty of joy for many years.

5. She Passed!

Finally, Victoria-Leigh passed her drivers license a couple of weeks ago. She was so happy and I have to say it is a blessing having someone else with a drivers license and car. When I sit in court, which is usually for a full day, It is mighty helpful to have someone at home who can drop Jessica-Laine at work, or generally just let them get out and about as they wish.

Jessica-Laine is planning to take her test in the next month or two. She drives pretty well although we may need some extra practice on her reversing...😂

She was hoping I wouldn't notice...yeah right! Fortunately, she missed my beautiful hydrangea and this was before we planted it up a bit more.

Only a tomato plant was sacrificed and Jessica-Laine dutifully went outside to wipe the scars of her poor reversing from my flower bed. 

And that about wraps up this weeks Five on Friday post. What have you been up to this week?  Wishing you all a wonderful weekend everyone and I shall see you back here very soon 😊

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Monday, June 03, 2019

The End of an Era

This is a mostly happy but little bittersweet post to write. On Saturday our homeschool journey drew to a close with Jessica-Laine writing her final SAT Subject exams. 

Our closest exam centre for these exams was a beautiful fee-paying school in the Yorkshire countryside. From Chester, it is about a 2.5-hour drive and when you need to be at the school between 7:45 and 8am, that's a mighty early start!

We decided to spend Friday night in Sheffield, cutting the drive by an hour. That meant a 5am start as opposed to a 4am start - crazy isn't it? Fortunately with the sun being up at around 4.30, but the time we left the hotel it was bright and fresh.

We have actually really enjoyed these early morning road-trips to the exam centres, we get to see the countryside which is as you know very dear to my heart, enjoy each others company and great conversations. I treasure these memories for I know the day will come when these young women will have homes and families of their own. 

I have to say that I thought that I would really struggle to let go at the end of our homeschool journey, instead, God in is amazing grace has given me peace and contentment. I am overjoyed that my girls had such a wonderful childhood and education and the time is right for them to stretch their wings and fly. They are well equipped to deal with the next phase of their lives. It is wonderful to see that they are happy, well-adjusted, faith-following young ladies who have plans that they are looking forward to starting. Yes, we have reached the end of a journey and have achieved what we set out to do.

While Jessica-Laine wrote her exams, Trevor and I walked around the grounds of Ampleforth College. I felt like I had been transported into one of Enid Blyton's boarding school books. Mallory Towers or St. Clare's perhaps? This is the type of school I would have loved to attend as a child. I was one of those that totally bought into Enid Blyton's probably rose-tinted view of boarding school life and was adamant that I wanted to never happened 😂.

Ampleforth was a monastery, still is, which then opened a school for boys. the monks took all the lessons. 20 years ago it became a co-ed school and now there are only 4 monks who teach on the staff. It has a very peaceful air about it. The beautiful Gothic-inspired church is the centre point of the school.

We were chatting to the visitor centre guide who was at pains to stress that it's a school where ordinary people of modest means who work very hard, send their children. The fees are 'only' around £30 000 a year. I'm not sure he quite understands what modest means really means 😂. Paying nearly £3000/month per child seems an impossibility for the 'ordinary' person. Some people are funny, aren't they? Still, he was a delightful chap who was clearly passionate about the school.

So, back to the exams. We are not entirely sure how they went. Jessica-Laine, whose strong subject was World History, came out feeling very negative. She said 80% of the exam was on Islamic history. She thought she had the wrong paper and checked the heading. It's a bit annoying, to be honest, to have studied such a wide range of history and then have it focus on one empire. 

We had a long discussion about not stressing about it. God has a plan and it may be different from our plans but it more than likely is the best. I shared with her how I had applied to nursing college in my final school year, got accepted but missed getting in by 2 points on my exams. At the time I was devastated, in an instant, my plans were in tatters and new ones had to be discovered. Looking back it was the best thing because I would have made a terrible nurse (I'm very squeamish) and I would never have met my darling husband. She seemed encouraged by that.

Being able to trust God for life's plans and directions is what we have always sought to do in our own lives and teach our children. That was one of our reasons for homeschooling. 

Proverbs 16:9 - NKJV - A man's heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.

Isn't that just such a lovely scripture? As we move through life we find great comfort in making plans and setting a path. But the truth is God directs our steps. If it is the wrong plan for us then He gently closes the door but opens another that He wants us to take.

So standing at the end of our amazing, wonderful, blessed homeschool adventure I am at peace. I have two wonderful daughters, we all have lovely close relationships. We love spending time together, we are friends. I love that our relationship has gently moved in that direction. 

If you are still in the thick of child-rearing and homeschooling, be blessed. These years are fleeting. Treasure every moment, every hard day, every great day. All too soon you will be standing at the end of your own journey.

Blessings to you all today.

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Exploring England: Find out more about Ampleforth College

Friday, May 17, 2019

Five on Friday :: A Weekly Roundup

It's FriYAY! It's been such a lovely week here. I had a couple of friends over on Thursday for a little knit and natter where I managed to finish the first of a pair of socks. I have to say that my knitting mojo has been nil for a long time. It's only in the last month that my creative bone seems to be returning. Must mean I'm finally settling down into our new home.

I did some more dyeing yesterday. I dyed up two skeins using avocado skins, I love the muted antique-ish look. I think it would make a lovely pair of socks with a cable running up the side or perhaps a nice lace pattern.

I also did a bit of experimenting with a new colourway, I really love the way this one turned out but it has dried far lighter than in the photograph which I don't particularly care for so I think I'm going to put it back in the dye pots and add more colour and a lot more speckle.

I had to visit the fabric store this week for a zipper needed to fix my daughters skirt and mysteriously, some beautiful fabric that looked just perfect for some project bags ended up coming home with me. 

So out came the sewing machine and I've been beavering away creating beautiful bags for my Etsy Shop. I really love this fabric combo, it's so pretty. As I've been sewing and dyeing and knitting and stitching, I am finding creative ideas beginning to ping into my mind and it feels lovely! I'm hoping to have these listed in my shop next week.

These are the horses that live in the field next to our home. I think I may have mentioned before that they have a habit of staring into our living room window begging for carrots or apples. They are quite sweet and one of them in particular likes to have his chin rubbed. Jess decided to go for a walk this week to take some photographs, as she crossed the horse's field they ran to meet her. It's a little intimidating but all they were hoping for was a carrot. 

We've spotted quite a few hares in their field this week. I was surprised at how large they are, almost as big as my cats! Their large hind legs and ears are just too sweet.

All in all it's been a good week, absolutely jam-packed with all good things. I hope that you have had a lovely week too. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend and I'll see you hear very soon.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Dandelion Yarn

I love how this time of year just keeps throwing up seasonal treasures week after week. Often these treasures are fleeting like the bluebells and others last a little longer like the cow parsley that is flooding the verges at the moment.

About two weeks ago the fields, lawns, verges and country lanes were awash with yellow dandelions. I just love this wildflower although my husband can't stand them as they pop up in the lawn faster than he can cut it. There's a myriad of things that you can do with dandelions, I've made dandelion jam and bread before. I want to try making a dandelion salve next year but this year I decided to extract dye from the flowers to dye up some yarn.

I walked down the little dirt lane that runs alongside our home (that's our house across the fields in the above picture) to go and harvest some of the dandelion flowers that seemed to have happily taken over this field.

Standing before this sea of waving blooms was just a delight. How can you not love dandelions, they just sing with joy and are abuzz with insects busily feeding off them, they are vital food for our early insects!

I set my basket amid natures gift and slowly gathered a mass of flower heads, pausing to breath in the fresh country air and rest in the suns early spring warmth. In the distance, I watched a train cut through the fields carrying its passengers to where ever it is they were going. As a child, I had pictured the English countryside just like this, except the train was a steam engine with billows of smoke trailing behind. These were the visions conjured up in my mind as my mother read The Railway Children to me and my sisters.

How much to gather? I wasn't sure so I just kept picking until the bottom quarter of my basket was full.

Reluctantly, I left behind the dandelion field and walked back up along the lane pondering on the process of extracting the dye from the flower heads and mordant my last three skeins of yarn. I have wanted to dye with natural dye forever. My original vision was to spin my own yarn from the sheep that we would have on our little smallholding and dye the yarn with plants gathered from the countryside. It was a dream. When I realised that it may take way longer than expected to achieve our little dream I searched to see if I could just buy the yarn in...and I could. The rest is history as they say.

I've been dyeing yarn since 2016 and it is only now that I am turning to the hedgerows for dye material. I feel like I am a novice dyer again, and for the most part, I am. There is a whole lot to learn about natural dyes and it's a journey I'm excited to be on. 

I popped the flowers into the crockpot and set it on low. I left it to gently bubble away overnight, then I switched it off and let it cool down. This is a slow process and that is part of what I love about it. Working with acid dyes is fairly quick by comparison. 

Once I drained off the dye, I put the mordant yarn back into the crockpot with the dandelion dye and brought it back up to temperature overnight then let it cool all morning. A quick wash, then out to dry and voila!

Isn't it just so pretty? I have listed them in my shop although I have to say I'm very tempted to keep one. The only thing holding me back is that my yarn stash really needs to be actually knitted up! I have so many projects on the go that I really need to work through to some sort of conclusion.

There are 2 skeins of sock yarn and 1 DK skein. Tomorrow I plan on making a whole lot of project bags for the shop. I found some wonderful fabric this week and I can't wait to sew it all up.

I have all this time to indulge in my little shop right now because I handed in my final law assignment on Monday - Yay! I've absolutely loved the first year of my law degree but am so ready for a break. I'm sure I shall be looking forward to hitting the books come September. But until then I shall be wild dyeing, sewing and creating right here Under An English Sky.

Blessings to you all today.