Happy Birthday To me

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Green Girl Gardener is a whole one year old today! Where has that year gone? I knew it was coming up because about a month ago my iPhone calendar reminded me to ‘cancel WordPress if not using’. I just swiped it away, and that made me happy because it meant I’d been successful in my venture.

After I published my first post, hubby turned all Del Boy and declared that ‘this time next year we’ll be millionaires!’ Well I haven’t been successful in that way  (not that the intention was ever for that to happen), and I don’t even have that many followers/regular readers, but it still feels like an eminently successful year to me because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every second of blogging. I’ve always been a closet writer (I still think there’s a novel in me somewhere) and this is a fabulous way for me to express myself creatively. It makes me happy to play with words, find the most amusing way to express myself, to conjugate to my heart’s content.

I think the blog has had its main focus on my gardening adventure, but I’ve also managed to bring other passions into it – crochet, cats, holidays, teddy bears, tennis. Hopefully I’ve provided some light entertainment on otherwise dreary days, and maybe I’ve even provided a little bit of education along the way (although probably not in gardening because I’m still right down the bottom of that particular learning curve).

I’ve found lots of fellow bloggers who blog on all sorts of subjects from crochet to mental health to cooking to travel, but most of all I’ve found fellow gardeners. Luckily (for me) most of them are far more experienced than yours truly and they’ve helped me identify mystery plants, they’ve offered tips and tricks either directly or through their own writing and they’ve opened my eyes to different kinds of gardening. I can honestly say that starting my little bloggy venture was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve complemented by space here with a Green Girl Gardener account on Instagram (@greengirlgardener if anyone’s interested) which allows me, when I don’t have time to blog, to share those random photos that I take when I pop out to check the garden before work, or when I spot a beautiful plant while I’m out and about or when I’ve created something scrummy with my own homegrown goodness.

I’m going to celebrate my first birthday by sharing some of my favourite photos from the past year.

I’ve tried to pick one photo from each month, but I’ve got so many photos that I love that I think I’m going to have to do another montage!

Above we have for July my Eupatorium (that had to be in there, didn’t it), Olive and Tink, our furry girls for August and my birthday planter for September. Then there’s the fox cushion I made for my mother in law in October and hubby and I in a cenote in Mexico during our November holiday. Next row shows my Hellebore flowering in December and my Christmas present greenhouse housing a hubby (a husband hut as my friend on Facebook quipped) in early January. Penultimate row is us with a friendly falcon in Malta in February and the Palace of Holyroodhouse during my trip to Edinburgh (which was also in February but I must’ve written my post in early March) and finally one of my raised beds all planted and netted in April, the iconic Universal globe on our fantastic holiday to Orlando in May and last but not least, the Confetti Fields that I visited in June.

Here we go again. Top row shows a Gazania which was the first sale table find that I blogged about back in July 2018 and an Eeyore house at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens which we discovered in August. Jump down a row to a wild pony in Sutton Park which we came across in September, I still remember how happy I was to have seen one because I was starting to think they were a myth, and my set of Clover hooks which revolutionised my crocheting life in October. Next up is a white feather in November which I think is my gardening expert Grandad popping down from heaven to check I’m not messing up the garden, followed by our yummy Christmas dinner in December, our furry girls keeping warm in January and me meeting my new baby niece in February. Fourth row shows a mountain of bears in March (that’s been added to since then!) and an elephant that I crocheted as a leaving gift for my boss when he retired in April so he doesn’t forget me and lastly a Gringotts vault at the Harry Potter studios in May and the start of my love affair with overnight oats as I started Slimming World in June.

It’s so nice to look back at these photos – yet another benefit to my blog. I also take more random photos when I get an inkling of an idea for a blog post and I find that quite often they evoke the strongest memories.

I’ll finish with a thank you. To all you lovely readers – friends, family, colleagues and fellow bloggers – thank you so much for reading, liking, commenting, complimenting and educating me for the last year. I really do appreciate it every time someone takes time out of their busy day to read my musings and ramblings, and I hope I can continue to entertain and perhaps amuse for a long time to come.

Spring Bank Holiday Weekend

Life is for living, so they say, and I completely agree. But living doesn’t have to be big and bold, it can be the small things as well. The things that make you smile, make you laugh. The things that bring you calm, bring you peace. The things that make memories you will treasure for ever. This weekend was full of experiences that tick the box in every way. I was enjoying myself so much that I completely forgot to take pictures of everything, so I’ll have to improvise.

The weekend began with a meal out on Friday night for my very good friend’s birthday.

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We went to the Albert in Tamworth which, as you can see, doesn’t look massively special from the outside, but the food was delicious, and the service was good, and the company was excellent.

On Saturday hubby and I went on a bit of a garden centre crawl! We went for lunch at Wyevale, which we seem to have got into a habit of doing and we need to break the habit because it’s expensive both in cash and calories! I didn’t buy any plants, but I did come out with this beauty.

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Next we decided to have a look in the garden centre at Homebase but it was very disappointing – loads of bedding plants and not a lot else – so we decided to pop into our local garden centre, Halls, as recompense. Good move! I picked up a couple of plants from the sale table.

On the left is a Leucothoe and on the right is a Hellebore.  Both were half price, but they’ll both be fine with a bit of care. This is my third Hellebore now, and I like them because they’re evergreen and they flower over the Winter and early Spring when the rest of the garden is sleeping.

On Sunday, we had a day trip and overnight stay planned. We put loads of biscuits down for these two …

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… reassured them that we weren’t leaving them for long and headed off down the M40. Destination?

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Huge excitement! This was the fourth visit for me, but the first for hubby. However, there were first time experiences for both of us. First up they’ve completely changed the entrance to the tour. Now, rather than the main attraction in the queuing area being the cupboard under that stairs which was Harry Potter’s bedroom for the first eleven years of his life, you’re greeted by this sight.

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Pretty impressive! It’s a Ukrainian Ironbelly Dragon.

After this, the first half of the tour was largely unchanged, but it was great to see hubby’s reaction to it all, and I’ll never tire of gazing upon Harry Potter artefacts.

We entered through the Great Hall which was as awesome as ever.

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See the women with Hogwarts house ties on? They were on a hen do – what an amazing activity for your hen do!

Just a few of the sets (and they are the actual sets which were used during filming). Top left and going clockwise, the boys’ dormitory – see the RW on the trunk under the closest bed? Ron Weasley’s trunk. Then Dumbledore’s office – this looks exactly as it does in Hogwarts in Orlando. The Burrow, residence of the Weasley family. The magic is very much evident here with a jumper knitting itself, dishes washing themselves and a knife chopping a carrot completely independently. Finally the Gryffindor common room complete with Hermione’s and Harry’s outfits.

This is Tom Riddle’s grave on the left, which is somewhat more elaborate than the grave that I saw in Edinburgh in February, on the right, which was allegedly the inspiration for JK Rowling to create Tom Riddle.

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After the sets is the Hogwarts Express which was the first major change to the tour a few years ago and was the reason for my second visit.

This is swiftly followed by the reason for my third visit, the introduction of the Forbidden Forest exhibit.

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As well as the giant spiders, which move in and out of atmospheric smoke, in the Forbidden Forest you’ll find Buckbeak the Hippogriff and Hagrid.

Next we moved on to the first attraction within the tour that was new to me.

4 Privet Drive. The house has been there from the beginning, but now you can go inside and there’s a scene in the living room of all the Hogwarts letters flying around.

Next we moved on to the reason for visit number four, and the part I was most excited about – Gringotts.

This is the bank run by goblins, and where anyone who is anyone in the Wizarding world has a vault full of treasure. This section of the tour was amazing! I didn’t expect them to have done it so well! It looks so like Gringotts in Orlando that it felt really strange not to be heading behind the head goblin teller to ride the Escape from Gringotts ride, but we soon found out that there was even more to the exhibit than just the main floor of Gringotts. There are other items on display and there’s even a replica set showing Gringotts after it’s been ravaged by a dragon, and there’s an exciting extra which I won’t ruin for anyone who might go.

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After I dragged myself away from Gringotts, I knew I still had two treats to come. Namely …

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Diagon Alley, and, the piece de resistance …

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Amazing, incredible day! I’d recommend a trip to anyone. Even if you’re not a massive Harry Potter fan, it’s still worth a visit. Oh, and the shop is AWESOME!

We reluctantly left the world of Potter behind, but were soon feeling excited again because we were heading for a visit with my ex-boss and and his wife who live nearby. R retired at the end of April, and we’d had this visit planned for months. I worked for R almost continuously for fifteen years up until I moved to my current job and we had a great working relationship which, over the years had developed into a great friendship. I’m very sad that I don’t get to see him very often now, but I’m happy for him that, after seriously paying his dues to the company for over forty five years (I know!) he now gets to relax and do the things that bring him joy. His retirement also gave me the opportunity to meet his lovely wife, and for the two of them to meet hubby.

We went out for a delicious Italian meal in St Albans, and as I knew we would, had a great evening and all got on like the proverbial house on fire. I have lots of family who live down south, so hopefully we’ll be able to meet up when I’m en route to them – gives me a good excuse to take a whole day off work as opposed to my normal half day!

We headed back this morning after having a guided tour of the garden, which I was very interested to see because R is a keen vegetable grower so I was intrigued to compare his fledgling seedlings to mine.

Speaking of which, despite having caught hubby’s cold (the only down side to the whole weekend!) I headed out to appraise our garden, and there’s good progress.

On the top row left to right one of the potato plants has buds. Strangely it’s the second earlies not the first, but hey, who am I to argue with nature? The carrot seedlings have developed their first true leaves so I definitely need to thin those out. The strawberries are starting to develop which means I need to sort out some netting to keep the birds off. They’re all mine! The peas are getting bigger so I’ll have to go on the hunt for some sticks for them to grow up.

In the greenhouse, bottom row left to right, I repotted the yellow courgettes because they’ve got quite big. I’m keeping two myself and I’ve got four more which are going to good homes. The purple carrots are now looking like proper carrot seedlings but they’re not quite big enough to pot on yet. Last but not least, the jalapeño seedlings and coriander plants are coming on nicely.

What a perfectly balanced weekend! Good food, exemplary company, an awesome day out and a bit of gardening! What could be better?

Oh, anyone know what this little fella is?

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He took a liking to me!

Taranto Trip

My company made a huge acquisition last year, of a steel mill in Taranto in the south of Italy. It’s the biggest steel mill in Europe but it didn’t come without its issues, so my first trip was only organised this week. Even the model of it was huge and required the guy explaining it to use a big stick and lights to illustrate which bits he was talking about!

I seem destined to work with mills which are, without putting too fine a point on it, a pain in the bum to get to, so my Monday consisted of flying from Birmingham to Dublin and then Dublin to Bari. This was with Ryanair. For those of you who know me, or are regular readers, you’ll know my opinion of Ryanair – money-grabbing and seemingly hellbent on making travel as irritating and difficult as possible. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ll still go out of my way not to fly with them if at all possible, and it continues to irritate me beyond belief that they have no seatback pockets in which to stash your stuff, leaving you doing a juggling act with your hand luggage (40 x 20 x 25cm and not a millimetre over!) your passport (which you had to show to board), your phone (which you needed to keep in your hand to use your mobile boarding pass and then show as you boarded to prove that the combination of you and the ground staff weren’t stupid enough to get you to the wrong plane) and your bag of essential sustenance (because you can guarantee Ryanair will have sold out (or not bothered to load) what you want to eat/drink, however Monday’s experience was actually reasonably pain-free and seamless, helped by the fact that I had check in luggage due to the length of my trip and the fact that work were picking up the bill, so I didn’t have to rush to board in order to do battle for a space in the overhead lockers.

Yes I had to book my connections as two separate flights (Birmingham to Dublin and Dublin to Bari) because Ryanair don’t want to be held responsible if you miss your connection, which meant I had to collect my check in luggage in Dublin and recheck in for my onward flight and deposit my bag again, but for once, Ryanair’s insistence on making you doing their job and making everything as speedy as possible worked really well! In Birmingham I had to go to the self serve machines and print my luggage tag and attach it, and then check the bag in myself on the conveyor. In Dublin my bag was one of the first out, then I had to go through the same process again and then I was on my way. No standing in queues or even speaking to people! I do find the fewer people I’m forced to speak to, the more advantageous it is for my state of mind!

Both flights were pretty much on time (which breaks my recent trend of being delayed everywhere I go!) but thankfully they didn’t blow their stupid bugle upon bouncing down, and pretty uneventful, with the exception of the luggage, passport, phone, drink juggling situation!

Being a seasoned traveller, I thought I’d got that sussed. Hoodie! I thought. Wear a hoodie – easy access to a pouch to stash the aforementioned belongings, and, although I was officially working, I was in transit so no jacket required (eat your heart out Phil Collins). This worked perfectly in Brum, but by the time I got to Dublin it was too hot for a hoodie, so then not only was I juggling my luggage, passport, phone and drink but I also had a hoodie tied round my waist that kept threatening to fall off. Sigh!

Anyway, I arrived at Bari airport without incident with it now cool enough (south of Italy versus Ireland – go figure!) to make use of the hoodie pouch and I headed out to meet my shuttle driver. Bari is the nearest airport to Taranto, but it’s still over an hour’s drive to the town so transport of some sort is needed. The shuttle driver informed me through some combination of semaphore and sign language due to the language barrier that we had to wait for another flight to arrive because he was collecting more people. Hands shoved in hoodie pouch (did I mention it’s a Gryffindor hoodie?) and another sigh, ‘ok,’ says I (somewhat redundantly since I had no choice in the matter) ‘wait we will’.

Sometime later the doors from arrivals open and I spy a familiar face heading in our direction. Imagine I’m hovering around the clouds (hopefully not with my head in them!) in terms of business hierarchy; this person is somewhere orbiting the moon. And there’s me in my Gryffindor hoodie! Sigh. Again. This is someone with whom I would only ever want to make the best possible impression and here I am demonstrating my allegiance to Godric the brave! I mean, I guess it could’ve been worse …. it could’ve been a Slytherin hoodie!

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Anyhow, I did my best to make intelligent conversation during the journey to the hotel (did I mention it’s over an hour?) and I don’t think I let the side down. I pondered the situation that I’d found myself in as I was settling down to go to sleep (in Mickey Mouse pyjamas) and I concluded that wearing a Gryffindor hoodie (or a Pooh Bear T-shirt or carrying a floral Cath Kidston laptop bag rather than a boring, black, corporate uniform laptop bag – you get my gist) is an integral part of who I am, and I’m not prepared to change who I am in order to fit into a corporate box. I am absolutely prepared to work hard in order to prove myself and forge a worthy career, but I’ll be doing it with colour and interest and quirkiness on my side.

During our visits to the mill we had to leave our passports with reception when we arrived, and collect them again at the end of the day. One of my colleagues (who I didn’t think knew me particularly well) was handing back the passports one day and he got to mine and without even opening it said, ‘oh, well, that’s Sarah’s’. How did he know?

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It’s in this case. This made me happy. 

The hotel I stayed in was called Albergo Del Sole and inside it was pretty nice. I felt like I was sleeping in a cathedral!

Even the bathroom had the same feature.

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The breakfast room was on the third floor with a lovely view of the sea.

They even had Coco Pops which pleased me greatly.

Outside there was a cute little church with a bell that pealed out each hour.

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Unfortunately, outside there were also several homeless people who, whilst not aggressive, were very persistent and made me feel uncomfortable being outside. For once I was glad of the male domination of my industry because I was always with a group of male colleagues who I suspect were more of a deterrent to the hassle than I would’ve been alone or in a group of women. Several of our group had hire cars, and the homeless guys would try to guide them into parking spaces and then request money in return. Worryingly, one of them was the spitting image of our window cleaner (this actually says more about our window cleaner than the homeless guy!)

The area we were staying in was, I think, the old town, and I still can’t decide if it was Mediterranean shabby chic, or if it’s just run down and in need of a cash injection. We ventured further out in the evenings and as I was being chauffeured around on the second night I saw some of the traditional houses that the area is known for. They have round roofs and reminded me somewhat of a Hobbit house, but they were lovely. I bought a fridge magnet representation at the airport.

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On the last evening we walked for twenty minutes or so to a restaurant called Desco. At first I felt wary because we were strolling through back streets with graffiti and guys sat around on mopeds but then we came out onto a nice sea side promenade and we crossed a bridge into what I guess is the new town. It was much more lively and vibrant and, bonus points for Taranto, I found a cat to ease my pining for these two.

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It was a plump ginger tom and it wound its way round my legs happily.

I was determined to have some decent pasta before I left Italy, and I managed it at Desco.

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Tagliatelle con Porcini – yum!

Coming home I came a completely different route with an airline that is the antithesis of Ryanair – Lufthansa. German efficiency and service at its best. The first leg was Bari to Frankfurt. I like Frankfurt airport – it has a McDonalds which, even if I don’t go to it, reassures me that there’s some home comfort available should I feel in need of it. Its seating area has a great view of the airfield too so you can watch the planes taking off.

It also has Steiff bears!

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How I resisted I don’t know! They even had a Blue-footed Booby for goodness sake!

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When we were in Orlando I tried to find a neck pillow for the plane, but they only had boring plain ones so I used my new Eeyore as a pillow instead. I wanted an interesting one, I was really angling for a Disney one of some sort, but it wasn’t to be. Today though, I found this one.

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This one’s not boring and it does kind of look like Melman, the giraffe from Madagascar.

The homebound leg was Frankfurt to Birmingham and this time I didn’t have to collect my bag, it was all one booking so I checked in my bag at Bari all the way though to Birmingham. I’m typing this on the flight so hopefully my bag is somewhere underneath me waiting for us to be reunited shortly! (Edit: it was).

I love flying! I don’t understand being scared of it (but that’s because I’m not). I love settling into my seat with all my comforts and letting someone else be in charge for two or four or nine hours. I have my kindle so I can read, my iPad so I can watch downloaded shows or films on Netflix, my phone so I can Candycrush (is that an acceptable verb?) and the aforementioned drink to keep me hydrated. After that I just settle back and enjoy the ride.

I love the feeling when the plane starts to accelerate down the runway – I find this is best in a smaller plane like an A320 or a Boeing 737. The bigger planes take too long to get up to speed so you don’t get that pushed back in your seat feel. I especially like it when they accelerate round the corner onto the runway and then continue into the ascent without stopping. It makes me smile the way a rollercoaster does.

I love airports too. Even when it’s for work, they’re still exciting because other people are going on holiday and there’s a buzz. I love the moving walkways that get you round the long distances. I don’t understand why people avoid them or just stand on them. You need to walk on them, it makes you feel like your legs are sixteen feet long because you’re going so fast without any extra effort. It reminds me of a recurring dream I used to have where I was running super fast, taking massive lolloping steps.

Anyway, I’ve landed – I’m home, whoop – and this has turned into a mammoth post, so I’ll finish here and post when I get home.

Friday tomorrow already! Happy weekend all when it arrives.