I’m really missing ……?

Everything seems really glum while we’re all in lockdown and I don’t know anyone who’s not missing someone or something at the moment (and most are missing multiple someones and somethings!) I’m doing my very best (and mostly succeeding) to keep my chin up. I’m very lucky that I have lots of home-based hobbies which I’ve been able to enjoy even more than usual over the past ten months – crocheting, cross stitch, gardening, reading, jigsaws, DIY and, of course, blogging.

I’ve been pondering on what I’m missing most from ‘normal’ life, and I came up with the following.

So, starting top left and going clockwise, first is a photo from just over a year ago when I went down to London to watch both parts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and it represents a few things that I’m missing. First is days out, particularly trips further away from home than the local park and possibly involving overnight stays, the second is going to the theatre and the third is time on my own because this was a trip I took on my own and it was blissful me time.

Next is driving! Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely not missing sitting in heavy traffic, being cut up by Audis and BMWs or spending a fortune on diesel, and I’m happy that the environment is benefitting from fewer cars on the road, but I’m missing driving in free flowing traffic and I’m missing the headspace that I get from driving. I used to process the happenings of the day in my head on my way home from work and gear myself up for the day on the way in. There is also a sense of community from knowing that most of the cars around you contain people who are also commuting and contributing to keeping the world going. Home working has lots of benefits, but it is very insular.

The third photo represents eating out! Sometimes you just want someone else to cook and serve your food, but it’s not just that, it’s the looking forward to it, choosing where to go, choosing what to wear, being surrounded by other humans – it’s the whole experience.

Finally, I miss browsing in shops, garden centres or otherwise. I used to enjoy browsing round WHSmiths looking for nothing in particular, running my fingers over book covers and flicking through magazines. I could still go and browse some garden centres as they are still open, but it’s not the same when you have to wear a mask, you can’t break up your browsing with a slice of cake in the cafe and you’re scared to touch anything in case it might be tainted by covid!

Along similar lines, first in this second set is going out for drinks (and possibly some cake!) There’s something luxurious about sipping a cold Aperol Spritz in a beer garden or enjoying a cold glass of vino in the pub before a meal. It’s not the same when you have to pour it yourself and drink it in your living room with your washing drying on the radiator and BoJo on the telly telling you there’s a zombie apocalypse coming!

Next is my niece’s hand and the photo represents family. I’m so grateful that technology enables me to keep in touch virtually and that the rules allow me to see one family member at a time for a walk, but I miss my family that live further away. It was especially hard not being able to see people at Christmas. I haven’t seen my Mum for over a year, I’ve got nieces and a nephew who are growing up really quickly and other special people that I’ve only been able to see on doorsteps or far too fleetingly.

Skipping down to the bottom left now and you’ll see some of my lovely friends. I know I said only a few paragraphs ago that I miss me time, but it’s hard not being able to see friends and relax together as well. It’s all about balance. Zoom calls are a good substitute, and they do enable me to ‘see’ long distance friends that I rarely saw pre-pandemic, but it’s not the same as physically being in the same room.

I couldn’t find a photo to illustrate my last point perfectly, but my question marks are as close as I could get! I miss planning and spontaneity! I guess they’re the flip sides of the same coin but you really can’t do either at the moment. Planning’s out of the question because we don’t know what the rules will allow at any given date, but we also can’t be spontaneous because we have to weigh up every situation to determine if we really need to leave the house, and if what we want to do is safe, somewhat negating any spontaneity.

In addition to all this, what I’m REALLY missing at the moment is going on holiday so I thought I’d try to pick my five favourite holidays and live vicariously through my own past!

I don’t know if it’s just because they’re freshest in my memory, but my first two favourite holidays happened last year. The first was in January when we went on a Caribbean cruise on Harmony of the Seas, preceded by a couple of nights in Orlando. I wrote a couple of posts on this at the time so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.

These pictures really sum up some of the best bits of the holiday and trigger off lots of other happy memories. Not that I need that – we were on this holiday this time last year so every day when I log in to Timehop I see the joyful posts that I wrote one year ago. The photo top left is the reason that we went to Orlando before the cruise. There was a new ride at Islands of Adventure – Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure – and I was desperate to go on it. We had to queue for two hours but it was sooooo worth it! The last photo, bottom right, is an air boat. This was a trip we did on our last day before we went back to the airport. It was absolutely freezing, but it was really good. We didn’t see any gators though – apparently it was too cold for them. The rest of the photos are of the cruise part of the holiday. The ship was just amazing! And huge! Ours was the one dwarfing the cruise liner docked next to it in the top middle pic. It had so many facilities – an ice rink, climbing wall, surf simulator, water and dry slides and, as you can see, a zip line. Hubby conquered his fear because he’s not keen on heights. It was really fun. Bottom left is us in the Bahamas where we swam with pigs which was awesome! The round window was in our cabin and it was just so relaxing to sit in it and gaze out at the sunny ports that we were docked at or the waves rushing by.

I could wax lyrical for hours about this holiday, but this post’s already turning out pretty long so I’ll move on to my next favourite holiday which was Edinburgh for my birthday in September.

I don’t know whether this holiday was so good because we didn’t know until the last minute whether we’d be able to go due to COVID rules, or if it was because we hadn’t had a proper break since January, or if Edinburgh just really is that amazing, but whatever the reason, we loved it. We had a little Airbnb which felt safer than a hotel and everywhere we went measures were in place and were being followed.

The photo of me with wine I suppose could’ve been taken anywhere, but it reminds me of how relaxed I felt and what a good day we’d had. The restaurant that we were in is Makar’s Mash Bar which, as you might expect, does lots of different kinds of mashed potato. The multi coloured photo is at Camera Obscura which was extraordinarily good. The next two are fairly self explanatory – the Royal Yacht Britannia and Edinburgh Zoo.

The middle row were all taken on my birthday when we went on a day trip to Loch Ness, stopping off at various picturesque sites on the way there and back. As you can see, we saw wee Nessie!

Bottom left is Holyroodhouse Palace which is the official residence of the Queen in Edinburgh. She stays here every July (well, presumably not this past July!) for three weeks. When I say here, obviously not in the ruined abbey but rather in the intact palace next door.

Next to Holyroodhouse palace are the slightly less grand toilets at the Elephant House cafe where J K Rowling wrote much of the early Harry Potter books. Fans over the years have graffitied the walls and, after initially painting over the scribbles, the cafe relented and the graffiti is now a tourist attraction and tribute to J K.

This next holiday feels like a really long time ago now. I think it was March 2013 and we escaped the cold British climate to the marvellous Maldives.

I would urge anyone who gets the chance, to go to the Maldives. It really is paradise on earth. I remember trailing behind the guy showing us to our water bungalow down the boardwalk in the bottom photo just looking around me in awe at how beautiful it was and not quite believing that we were actually there. I’m not sure I’d ever seen so many different shades of blue before.

I’ve included a photo of our terrace because we spent a lot of time on there so it feels very evocative of our holiday. There’s really not a lot to do in the Maldives other than swim, snorkel, read, eat and drink so if you’re someone who has ants in their pants then it may not be for you, but we loved our week of utter relaxation. The snorkelling is amazing! It was the first place that I snorkelled and it’s kind of ruined snorkelling for me because anywhere else I’ve been just isn’t a patch on it. You only had to be knee deep to be surrounded by all manner of fish but if you went further out there were rays too and potentially hammerhead sharks.

Most holidays to the Maldives are all inclusive. We had the same table every night and the same waiter which was really nice because we got to know him. The food was delicious. They did a different theme each night. Unsurprisingly hubby enjoyed the American night with the burgers but I preferred the Indian night when they did loads of curries and dahls with different kinds of bread.

Speaking of food, there was no shortage of that when we went to Las Vegas!

We got married in Las Vegas in 2008 and we went back there for a week in 2011. We took a bit of a risk getting married there never having been before, but luckily we loved it. I can understand how it’s not for everyone though. Everything is extravagant and larger than life. There are lions in the MGM hotel, a replica of the Grand Canal of Venice in the Venetian and you can see all those lights down the Strip in the bottom left photo taken from the top of the fifty percent size replica of the Eiffel Tower! That little bit of sky that you can see above the canal is actually the ceiling, kind of like the enchanted ceiling in Hogwarts’ Great Hall. The lions live in a pride in a huge complex a few miles away from the strip and a two or three at a time are brought over to the MGM a couple of times a day. All the animals that we saw in Vegas seemed well looked after, and it is fascinating to see them, but I always feel in a quandary over whether keeping animals in captivity is too big a pay off for the conservation work that is enabled through animal attractions. The final photo is one of my favourites. It’s me at Hoover Dam and I’m standing in two states! My right foot is in Nevada and my left is in Arizona.

Back to Europe for our final stop to say kali mera to Corfu.

We’ve been to the same hotel in Sidari in the north of the island three times and loved it each time. I’m sure we’ll go back sometime. The people are so friendly in Corfu, the weather is perfect and they have ouzo! A bit of an acquired taste, apparently, but I love it! One of life’s great pleasures is decamping to the bar after dinner with that sun kissed glow on your skin and a slightly dizzy feeling after a day in the sun, to relax with a nice glass of ouzo and lemonade.

Unlike the Maldives, in Corfu there’s lots to do. One of our favourite days out is to go to Kassiopi just around the coast. On our first trip here we stumbled upon Karavi beach which is only accessible by scrambling along the cliff edge through the undergrowth. Once there, you’re rewarded by an almost deserted pebble beach that’s probably only about twenty metres across at its widest. The picture bottom right is me sitting in the shallows on Karavi beach and loving life. The photo’s slightly blurry because we got suntan lotion on the lens (this was pre-decent camera phones) but I really like the arty effect that it produced.

The rocky outcrop is colloquially known as monkey rock – you can see why. This was taken on a day trip to paradise island which is another beach only accessible by sea, this time a long expanse of pebbles where they have a beach barbecue.

The ice cream is a treat indeed! They’re a bit like a cornetto but they have crunchy chocolate going through them and they’re about twice the size! I’ve never seen them anywhere but Corfu and it’s almost worth going just for one of them!

I’ve been writing this post slowly all week, savouring my photos and my holiday memories and although it has made me yearn even more for a time when we can go on holiday again, it’s also made me feel very lucky that we’ve been able to enjoy these times and that we have them to look back on to get us through these lockdown weeks and months when things seem otherwise somewhat Eeyoreish. I hope you can find some sunshine and happiness in the photos.

2020 A Year in Review

2020 may have been the oddest year of most of our lives but it’s done now, and we have to have hope that 2021 will be better. I have, for the most part, managed to stay mentally sound throughout most of the year, which I know isn’t the same for everyone. I thank my lucky stars that this happened now and not a couple of decades ago when we would have been far more isolated that we have been thanks to Zoom, FaceTime and Teams.

I also massively appreciate the fact that we have outside space which, although at the moment isn’t at all enticing due to the inclement weather, got us through the warmer months of the year with relative ease, especially so when we were allowed to have people in our garden.

Here are some of my favourite garden photos of last year.

The garden was reasonably productive in terms of fruit and veg in 2020 …

… and we had quite a few visitors of the fauna variety!

Inside the house, we made a few home improvements. The first was pre-lockdown when, with the help of my Dad, we transformed our bathroom from dingy to sparkly clean safari wonderland.

During lockdown when I was furloughed and hubby’s workplace was demonstrating exactly how a zero hours contract benefits the employer (they still are!) we tackled first our spare bedroom/my home office making it a homage to all things Harry Potter …

… then when I was unfurloughed but hubby was still unbusy with zero hours, he decided to tackle the woodchip in our living room and we completely redecorated including wallpapering, laying laminate flooring, opening out the fireplace and hanging the TV on the wall.

Outside we built a catio on the side of the kitchen so our furry girls can get some air safely.

Away from home, amazingly we did manage to squeeze in three holidays. The first was, to paraphrase Craig Revel-Horwood A-May-zing!! A week long cruise round the Caribbean preceded by a two night stop in Orlando and a trip to Universal to go on the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures coaster. This was pre-COVID, in fact I remember the first I heard about it was by scanning the Sky news app whilst I was sunbathing on deck, and I assumed it would be like the previous SARS disease. I never even entertained the thought that it could turn into what it has! Blissful ignorance, eh?

In between lockdown 1.0 and lockdown 2.0 we managed a short break to Norfolk which was a game of two halves – lovely to get away and see the sea, but I got bitten by a dog, we had to come home early because hubby had a job interview (which he didn’t get!) and I got a flat tyre!

In September we went to Edinburgh for my birthday. This had been booked pre-pandemic and we didn’t know until the last minute whether we’d be able to go, but I’m so glad we could because we had a fantastic time. One of the best holidays I’ve ever had.

We had a few great days out – we walked alpacas, visited confetti fields, played with meerkats, met gorillas at Twycross Zoo and we walked and cycled many times in Sutton Park and Kingsbury Water Park …

… and we also had a couple of great days in making up for things that we should have been doing. We had a non-Jamaica party for two on the day we were supposed to be flying out and we had a tennis afternoon tea on the day Dad and I were supposed to be going to watch the ATP tour finals in London.

I also did a lot of crafts – mainly crochet, but also knitting, baking, jigsaws (do they count as crafts?) model making, felting and, obviously, mask making!

So, all in all, although it certainly didn’t feel like it at times, 2020 was actually a pretty full year and I achieved quite a lot. Amongst all this, I was also working full time (apart from being furloughed for nine weeks in the summer) in a job that I only started six weeks before we were plunged into lockdown and home working, and I feel that I managed very well to learn the new job (although this is an on-going process) under challenging circumstances. It turns out that home working, while it doesn’t suit everyone or every job, works pretty well for me, and for my team. As I mentioned before, thank goodness for technology!

Now it’s time to look forward to 2021 and I’ll finish with a quote that I recently read in a fiction book, the sixth in the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley but that is based in fact (the first book I didn’t enjoy as much, but I’m so glad I persevered because they got better and better and one thing to look forward to in 2021 is the release of the final in the series).Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards – Soren Kierkegaard.

Christmas Catch Up

Well, what could’ve been a very sombre and dismal Christmas actually turned out pretty well in the Green Girl Gardener household. We managed to make the most of the restricted circumstances and had a very peaceful and merry, if somewhat smaller, Christmas. I do feel for those who couldn’t see loved ones as planned or had to, not through choice, spend the day alone. Let’s hope that the restrictions have kept more people safe and that next year we’ll be able to make up for anything lacking this year with even bigger and better celebrations.

Our tree had to be rearranged a couple of times this year because we had replacement double glazing fitted in mid-December, but I didn’t want to wait till late December to deck the halls! Especially not after the year we’ve all had – some festive cheer was needed! I was also really impatient to hang my new Harry Potter decorations that I bought in Edinburgh on the tree.

I finished work on 22nd, which was somewhat of an anticlimactic affair given that there was no hugging colleagues and wishing all the best, but merely a walk downstairs! I was supposed to be going to see my Mum in Hampshire, but Covid put paid to that so I had a couple of days of doing not a lot before the big day. I decided to go for a festive run on Christmas Eve …

… followed by not a lot for the rest of the day. By twenty past ten, Father Christmas was busy delivering gifts in Africa …

… so we made sure we were asleep before midnight snuggled under our Christmas duvet …

… to give Father Christmas plenty of time to pop down the chimney and enjoy his mince pie and snowball and take some treats up for the reindeer.

On Christmas morning we met up with some of hubby’s family for a walk in the park in lieu of meeting them inside as we normally would. The park was actually quite busy, probably full of like-minded people meeting up with friends and family that they otherwise wouldn’t see. It was a great way to start the day, with some exercise, fresh air and good company.

We were back home by eleven thirty in time to start cooking dinner. I completely forgot to take any photos of our dinner, but I did snap our girls eating theirs.

I think cooking the dinner is the most fraught part of the day, making sure everything gets done at the right time so it all comes together at the end. Anyway, we had prawn cocktail to start followed by turkey with all the trimmings – roast and mashed potato, parsnips and carrots roasted in honey, peas, cauliflower cheese, sprouts with bacon cooked in cider, pigs in blankets and (ever controversial) Yorkshire pudding. After all that we were too full for any dessert.

We didn’t get round to opening any presents until quite late in the day but Father Christmas was very kind and generous. He’d obviously done his research and found that I am a Harry Potter fan.

The days since Christmas have mostly been spent building Hedwig and Diagon Alley and finding the perfect homes for all my lovely new things. Good job I have a Harry Potter room, isn’t it?

I asked Father Christmas for some USB lamps that I’d seen on QVC. They immediately came in handy to help me put together Hedwig in the perpetual gloom that is December!

I also got a duck!

Ok, so it’s actually a hairdryer, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a duck! My previous one died after thirteen years so I was relieved to get a lovely new one, even if it might quack!

Today I’ve sat down to do some crocheting and my pattern called for a stitch marker and, well what do you know? I was given a gorgeous one by my best friend.

Now the big day’s over and, because of the restrictions, we have nothing planned for the next few days, it feels even more like a perpetual Sunday than this time of year normally does! Normally I’d be planning what I’m going to wear for New Year’s Eve and making preparations for what we’re going to do but this year we can’t do anything or see anyone unless we want to freeze our bits off outside. However, we’re safe and well, we have more than we need and there is hopefully an end in sight, so I’ll finish by saying that I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and wishing you a very happy 2021 and here’s hoping it’s a vast improvement on 2020.