2014 has, without a doubt, been a very difficult year for personal reasons as mentioned in my previous post. Whilst my blog has been quiet since the summer (I have struggled to find the enthusiasm and material to post) things have been going on, so I still want to capture a summary of the year. Sometimes life throws unexpected and horrible things in your path but you just have try to deal with them and carry on…
I haven’t blogged in almost 4 months, the longest I have ever not written anything since I started blogging. This summer has been a really challenging, stressful and emotional time because my Mum passed away quite unexpectedly on 23 June. The loss of your parents is something that you dread from a young age and the reality of it was devastating. For all of the views and opinions I will put on by blog, this is one topic I have no intention of discussing. The only thing I will say is that once it has happened, the world is irreversibly changed so for those who have not had to yet endure the pain of it, don’t take your parents (or any close family members) for granted!
In a bitter sweet twist, Sam and I also found out in June that we were going to be parents ourselves. Yet another life-changing event, but this one hopefully with a much happier outcome. Baby Watling is not due until January-ish next year and I’m glad that it’s arrival doesn’t fall in to this year, which can only now be remembered for one thing.
So, that’s why I haven’t blogged. Firstly I couldn’t, then I had nothing to say. Then it just felt like it had been so long that it would be strange to just start again on a completely innocuous topic. Sure, my reader base is not high at all so most people would have been oblivious, but I blog in many respects for myself as a record of the years. So, it would be wrong not to include something about what my family and I have been through over the last few months.
That’s all I wanted to say.
The weather over the last few weeks has been really up and down. The average temperature has certainly gone up but where last month the nights were still very cold, we have had a lot of hot days and quite muggy nights. With all of the new warmth, the garden has just exploded with growth and everything is getting bigger by the day. However, with some of the scorching days we have had over the last week, it has been a real reminder of the commitment a garden takes even when the seasons growth is becoming established; One night I forgot to water everything and goodness it was a sorry sight in the morning!
That said, we have been fortunate (from a gardening perspective) to get some rain over the last few days so everything is looking much perkier again without me needing to get out the hose. This has encouraged the grass seed I put out to really start growing, although it’s still looking rather patchy.
In other garden related news, the courgettes are in the vegetable plot now and the broad beans are flowering. I have also potted-up the peppers (the first pepper is already just starting to grow!) and the tomatoes will go out this weekend, all being well.
The peppers in their greenhouse to make sure they get plenty of warmth.
I made some baked rhubarb the other night with what I thought was the last of the crop. I had left a few stalks but no new growth was coming through so I removed the rest before it went to waste. But lo-and-behold, I went out earlier today to discover this:
The butternut squash plants are also coming along well. My second attempt at seed-sewing produced three more successful plants to go with the only one I got from my first attempt. The more mature plant is also going to go out and join the courgettes in the veg patch this weekend. Whichever of the other plants I decide to put out for the second one will still need a couple more weeks to mature.
Finally, the baby spinach and baby lettuce are coming along wonderfully (in fact I must sew my final round of seeds this weekend!) and we enjoyed our first home grown baby leaf salad the other day with cheese on toast and home made tomato chutney.
It’s always so exciting eating your own crops, however small the portion. I can’t wait for everything else to start producing tasty ingredients for us!
There aren’t many big events that take place in Welwyn Garden City. In the six and a half years we have lived here, the only things that come to mind before this weekend are: the Olympic Torch route and being one of two main filming locations from The World’s End. This weekend we got to add event number three to the list: the fourth stage of the first ever Women’s Tour ended on Parkway in the centre of WGC!
Sam and I are both cycling fans and, having watched most of Le Tour last year, it would have been rude not to go down and support the ladies. We had it in the diary from early March and invited the Watling Parents to come with. Despite some interesting weather, a lot of other local people had the same idea and Welwyn was positively buzzing (for Welwyn GC!)
The race wasn’t due to finish until close to 2pm so, getting in to town by about 11am, we had some time to kill. We took a look round the numerous stalls and events and got some tea and cake. About 1pm though, crowds were starting to build so we decided to bagsy a space. We got a good spot near the finish line, although on the second row back.
The first riders arrived through just after 2pm. Before they appeared, the compere said to keep watching because “blink and you’ll miss it”. He wasn’t lying. They came by at such a tremendous speed that we didn’t see the front riders. Sam managed to get a snap of the riders just behind them who placed about 5th / 6th +.
We were in a great spot for the presentations though and got to see British Rider Lizzie Armistead (who won Silver in the 2010 Olympic Road Race) pick-up the Best British Rider Jersey.
We also got to see current World Champion and 2012 Olympic Gold medallist Marianne Vos pick-up the Stage Win, the Points Jersey and the Yellow Jersey!
You can see the full set of pictures Sam took on his website.
Whenever I watch elite sport, I always feel an urge to go and train harder again. Of course, the reality is that training for even the level I was in amateur rowing is time consuming and both mentally and physically difficult. None-the-less, Sam went out cycling this morning because he was signed-up for an Evans Sportive; Cycling there and back, he clocked-up almost 45 miles! I did a hard, but by comparison meagre, 30 mins on the cycle trainer. Better than nothing though I guess..!
Lou and I finally went back out in the boat on Saturday. It’s the first time we’ve been on the water in 7 months. Yes, SEVEN MONTHS! I’m shocked that it’s been so long but we have both also enjoyed retaining the feeling in our extremities over the winter, not getting soaked to the bone and, for me personally, not having to steer on dark nights! We only did a light outing of 7k, but it felt really nice to be back on the water. It was beautiful day for it too.
It never ceases to amaze me how ‘normal’ it feels to be in a boat no matter how long I am out of one. The moment we pushed off, all the old habits came back straight away, including all my steering knowledge of the bends. The river has changed since we were last out and it was interesting to observe some of the changes; Some trees had definitely gone after the windy winter although one particularly intrusive willow (it covered half the river at a particularly sharp bend!) will not be missed.
Now we’ve been out, we want more and have (in a interesting twist for the two of us) provisionally scheduled an ad-hoc outing for one night this week! My muscles need a few more sessions to get back in to the swing of things because I was a tad stiff on Sunday. My hands bore the brunt of it though – I’m quick to forget the discomfort of rowing blisters! Ah well, a few more sessions and the calluses will be back. It’s nice to feel like a rower again!
Last weekend I went to the Cotswolds to stay with my three best friends from school. We haven’t all spent time together since July 2012 because Jenny is in Leeds, Carol in Paris and Helen is in Melbourne. Since I last saw her, Helen has even had a baby who is now almost 9 months old. She was back in the UK to organise things for her wedding in November so, in a rare treat, we’ll get to see each other twice this year!
We stayed in a lovely cottage that Helen and her fiancé had rented for the duration of their stay. It had 4 bedrooms so we each had our own, a large kitchen, an even larger lounge and a big family dining table. It was so comfortable and relaxing, we immediately felt at home and it made it even harder to leave.
Whilst we were sat enjoying a leisurely breakfast on Sunday morning, Carol noticed a number of decorative signs up to the wall with inspirational phrases. One of them, a quote from Art Buchwald, was so relevant to our meet-up that I felt I needed to record it so I won’t forget!
“The best things in life aren’t things.”
This weekend marks 4 weeks since I decided to try and distance myself from Facebook, which I failed to do following this post last year. After getting irritated yet again by the things which prompted the post last year, I decided I needed to go cold-turkey this time; My rule of ‘once a day’ last year quickly escalated to regular checking again. Anyway, this weekend I passed the 4 week mark in my break from Facebook. After a week or so of being tempted to check, I have broken the habit I think. Do I miss it? Not really!
Several times in the last fortnight I have thought that I need to sit down and blog. But whenever I do, I immediately get distracted by the garden. The weather has been so nice for gardening recently – dry, not too warm and relatively still. It’s hard to sit inside knowing that I could be out in the fresh air. This really is a full-on gardening year for me and my on-going 100 Happy Days photo stream has really proven how much my plants cheer me up – 19 of the last 38 days have specifically been about the garden with a further 7 being about indoor plants or things associated with the garden! It really is a way to connect with the Earth and de-stress after the trials of the day – I’d recommend everyone take it up, even if it’s just a tomato plant in a pot. For inspiration, here are some of the most latest garden highlights:
The main flower bed is really filling out now and some new plants went in this weekend including, amongst many others, Lily of the Valley and Verbena:
My purple silver lace primula continues to look stunning:
The vegetable patch is really starting to fill out now (the plastic sheeting is there to keep the ground warm for things yet to come!):
We’ve already had one helping of the rhubarb and it’s still going strong:
The first earlies are also growing at speed. All 10 seed potatoes are sprouting in the main bed, with the others in the bag slightly ahead:
The Charlotte’s are also growing well. The Roosters only went in this weekend:
The onions are also coming along strong, although are still small enough to need protection from chick wire:
I also got the broad beans planted out early last week and they are already getting bigger. I’ll need to work out what to cook with them as these are my ‘experimental’ veg:
Also, today’s success was a team effort between Sam, my Dad and I. We assembled a bamboo frame for me to hang netting over later in the season to spare my crop from the birds, cats and squirrels. Doesn’t it look pro!
Finally, for fun, I have planted some giant sunflowers. They were re-potted yesterday and are already several inches tall. Hoping we can get some 6-8′ tall, but they have a bit of a way to go yet!
A couple of months ago, Lou and Graham convinced Sam and I (I needed more convincing) to sign-up for the 38 mile leg of the Wiggle Spring Saddle sportive in Newmarket. Even after Sam had registered us and paid the (not cheap) entry fee, I still wasn’t looking forward to it. However, Lou and I spent every Saturday morning at the club on the spinning bikes. I then usually did 30 mins on the bike trainer one night during the week. After a small freak out at the start of March, I even went out for a whopping 10 miler one Sunday. You would think I would have learnt this was insufficient training after 2012 and 2013 experiences. But no!
We assumed it would be relatively flat, given the location. We were quite wrong about that. The wind was also awful – about 16mph+ according to the weather forecasts. We had barely left Newmarket racecourse before we got hit by a wall of wind. There were also quite a lot of gradual hills which slowly killed my legs. I got separated from Lou just over halfway through and due to a fault with my bike computer earlier, I had no idea how far there was left. At what I think was about 10 miles to the finish, I also had to stop half-way up a hill with agonising cramp in my hamstring, although I managed to stop from getting much worse by stretching at the side of the road. Fortunately, after conquering a couple of rather tough hills in the last few miles, I made it to Newmarket race course. Subsequent analysis by Sam has show (see above) that the 38-miler was actually almost a 40-miler and the true profile was much hillier towards the finish than that advertised!!
So, I have my ‘medal’ and after a bath and a decent dinner, I am still shattered. I don’t intend to move from the sofa tonight!
(Sam did really well though and his moving time was fast enough to be in the silver medal category. Unfortunately he took a 5 min break at the rest stop so we think he’ll just miss out based on the times recorded by our chips. But at least we know he did it!)
I’ve been quite quiet on the blog front for the last fortnight because, whenever possible, I have been spending a lot of my spare time in the garden. It’s really starting to take shape for the summer and some of the ‘improvement’ and ‘tidying’ work we have been doing means it’s looking better than ever.
I massively tidied-up the back of the garden and planted some onion sets in the new space. I also have potatoes in the ground and two lots in bags (one more to go). We also turned the compost heap to get the good stuff out of it!