I can’t believe we’re finally going to refurbish our house! I’m so excited and seem to be spending hours (okay, more hours than usual) on Pinterest and various home websites, planning and plotting and dreaming about how our home could look.
We’ve lived in this house very happily for the last three years. I love that we’re quite near the local fen, which is a lovely place to walk the pupster, and we’re also the last house before a wide, public footpath which is covered in beautiful pink rose bushes during the summer that tumble over into our garden.
So as the storms battered the country, the dog and I sat next to the fire with a hot chocolate (me) and a biscuit (her) and listened to the rain lashing the window. We both jumped, though, when suddenly there was groaning and moaning and the sound of someone tapping on the windows.
Luckily, Freddie Krueger wasn’t in Buckinghamshire, but unluckily, it meant that our beautiful contorted willow was leaning further and further towards the house – its twisted fingers reaching out to tap on the window and let me know that all wasn’t well. It’s a beautiful tree. In the summer, it weeps in its very own wonky, bendy way, across the front of the house. Plus, it’s Ninja Cat’s favourite place for sitting whilst looking through the window at us with her ‘I want to kill you’ face on.
So after three weeks of back to back holidays, I have a huge amount to write, but I’m taking my time, settling back home, attacking the Giant Washing Mountain of Buckinghamshire, and doing a bit of nesting.
I love our house and, although I’ve loved every minute of gallivanting about on the med, it’s just been wonderful to come back to English Towers, find my slippers (although one was populated by a spider of epic proportions that prompted much hopping about and squealing), dig out my jimjams and kick back with a cuppa and a magazine. I’m having a bit of a magazine crisis at the moment. I’ve gone off my old favourite so I’ve been buying a few different ones to try them out. This one is really good. One of my Instagram friends described it as a ‘lovely cosy warm jumper’
But most of all it’s been lovely to get back in the kitchen and baking again. On Sunday, we had a Moroccan chicken pilaf (an easy, one-pot wonder) and then lemon drizzle cake (which seemed somewhat apt as we sat at the table and watched the drizzle in the garden):
Lemon Drizzle Cake
170g golden caster sugar
170g self raising flour
3 large free range eggs (duck eggs are fab for baking if you can find them)
2 large unwaxed lemons
2 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
So it starts off just as a normal ‘pound cake’ really. Weigh everything out first, then cream the butter and the sugar until it’s really pale (preferably with an electric whisk – this should be really light).
Break the eggs into a bowl and add the juice and finely grated rind of one of the lemons, then it’s easy to just dribble it into the butter and sugar mixture, beating all the time.
If, when adding the eggs, the mixture starts to curdle, just add a tablespoon of the flour – this will bring it back together. Now stir in the flour until it’s just combined.
Pour into a buttered loaf tin and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 30 – 40 minutes. Check to see if it’s done by popping a skewer into the centre. It should come out clean. If not, put it back in for 5 minutes.
Bring it out of the oven. Put the zest and juice of the second lemon into a bowl and whisk in your sifted icing sugar, then carefully take the cake out of the tin and spoon the lemony liquid all over the top of the cake. Serve at once with lots of cream or ice cream. Or leave to cool and scoff with a cup of tea. Either way, it’s divine.
The packing isn’t going well. I keep having mad panics and throwing things out that I shall probably need, like all the ice cream cartons I keep to put stock in, and about 75 glass jars waiting to be filled with jams and marmalades. And I can’t get the order right – yesterday I packed all the glasses, so we’re now drinking juice out of mugs, which is ‘common as muck’ as my Grandma Maudie would say. I also packed all my underwear, but then I realised that two weeks of rummaging in a suitcase for a pair of knickers would drive me barmy, and totally cancels out the satisfaction of having one more drawer emptied. So back they went.
De brevren are the polar opposite when it comes to packing. Little Chas has his entire room packed into boxes and ready, was counting down the days in his homework diary (which must have pleased his teachers no end) and spends hours glued to Facebook chatting to his mates. The Prof, admittedly somewhat distracted with his exams, wants nothing to do with packing, so I’ve mostly left him alone to study (occasionally emerging to create vast sandwiches from the contents of the fridge and head back upstairs balancing teetering towers of said sandwich, crisps, packets of biscuits and glasses of milk) and spend hours talking to his mates on the Xbox (see the common theme here?). I did nab him for half an hour to try and explain to me what all the wires were near the Xbox. This did not go well. Apparently he ‘needs it all’ and nothing must be packed. Awkward.
Every day, I’m thinking of things I will do – the things I haven’t been able to do for a long time – things I’m planning and things I’m looking forward to. Here’s my top ten:
1. Walking to the shop on a Sunday morning, buying an armful of papers and lolling around reading, with endless cups of tea.
2. Shopping in Waitrose with my Mum. Oh I know, snobby and all that. But I bloody love Waitrose. And I love shopping with my Mum. It takes us ages because we pick things up, have a chat about them, then put them down again – planning dinners and discussing ingredients. I love it.
3. Hugging my Dad. He always pretends that he hates to be hugged, so when the boys and I give him a massive cuddle he stands all stoney like a soldier, but for some reason that makes us all want to hug him more. Look, he’s doing it here:
Oh and happy Fathers’ Day for this weekend, Dad. This counts instead of a present right? Right?
4. Going out to dinner. I miss restaurants. And wine. I miss mulling over menus and dithering over starters surrounded by the people I love.
5. Cocktails! I shall go for cocktails with my favourite girlfriends and talk waffle until we’re blue in the face. Cannot wait.
6. Chatting with my nieces and nephews. I have two nieces. I adore them both – they are sassy, cool, funny and – as a mother of boys – they are the girly lights of my life. I miss them so much. My lovely nephew Jackson is a mean cook already and often tries my recipes for me. I can’t wait to catch up. On Hubby’s side, he also has a brand new grand-niece that we haven’t even met yet.
7. Going on a family day out to Whipsnade Zoo. When my cousin Moon‘s baby, Matej, is christened in June, our family will be together for the first time in a long time – my cousin Deb is coming over from Canada, and Moon and his lovely wife Miska are travelling from Slovakia. We’re planning a mahoosive day out, with picnic, at Whipsnade – I’ve probably spent hundreds of days out there, and it was a big part of our childhood, and that of my boys.
8. Talking of the christening, I’m going to make cupcake towers for Matej – blue and cream, with little sugar stars and cars… big mountains of them. Then I’m going to drink too much champagne, laugh with my wonderful brothers, giggle with my nieces and be all proud of my big strapping sons, home again in the midst of all their family.
9. Giving Ellie a cuddle. Ellie is my Mum’s old labrador, once black and glossy, now grey and a little stiff in the legs, but still gorgeous. It feels like she’s a million years old, although she probably isn’t. Still, she loves a cuddle (demonstrated here by Charlie) and rushes to meet us, bowling us over with our suitcases and bringing us her ‘baby’, a stinky old stuffed cat.
Ellie’s ‘best friend’, Harry, is an equally old ginger cat who loves Ellie with a passion – even though she often sits on him by accident -and drools excessively. He’d love to be cuddled more often, but frankly the drooling thing is a bit unpalatable. When we first see him, we forget the drooling and give him a cuddle – then when the drool starts, we put him down again. The worst bit is when he shakes his head and everyone gets a dribbly shower. Poor Harry.
10. Enjoying being a family again. Living apart from one another is hard. English Dad has a demanding job and isn’t a big texter or emailer. Things are often lost in translation and honestly, I’m not sure that we would have survived this long-distance family life for much longer. The boys can’t wait to be back with their Dad. Recently he texted me: ‘can’t wait to have you all here then I can annoy you all in person’. Me neither.
I’ve taken to annoying English Dad by sending him a nightly email telling him how many sleeps there are until we’ll be together again. He’s probably enjoying having a bed to himself in England, sleeping like a starfish and snoring his head off without anyone jabbing him in the ribs, but hey, he’ll soon get used to it.
English Towers is rented out (a difficult decision after the damage that was done by our last tenants – did I tell you I solved the mystery of one of the missing huge Oak wardrobes? I found one of the handles fused to the bottom of the fireplace). Still I’ve been extra careful this time and met them and they seem really nice. The letting agent wouldn’t actually allow me to give them all a questionnaire when they were looking around (Q5: How often will you clean the cooker? A: Every time I use it B: Once a week C: Once a month D: Never), but I sussed the really nice ones and startled poor Padraig the agent by texting him a big fat ‘NO’ after a particularly odd lady appeared at the door.
I’m feeling quite unusually efficient actually: the Bio-Flow sewage treatment unit thingy has been mended, meaning that the scent of poo no longer lingers in the air, and now the mower too, has been serviced so the lawn doesn’t have little grassy mohicans in the middle of each stripe. I’ve even packed a little, although my lovely friend Poppy’s Mum has made this a little more difficult as she gave me a load of newspaper to wrap my ‘delicates’ in and I keep finding interesting bits to read – and then there’s the fact that she finishes all the crosswords, too. I find myself sitting checking her answers with only one glass wrapped after half an hour.
We can’t go straight away at the Mad Professor has to finish his exams. They’ve now finished school for the summer (I know, right? three months off?) and he’s now lurching between periods of confidence: ‘I think I’ll get all As, no, A*s…’, and utter panic: ‘I’m going to fail them alllllllll!’.
The Death Wish One (I’m not allowed to call him the Death Wish Child any more as he is now 13) can think only of England and the skate park and emails Grandma on a regular basis to make sure she’s guarding his Remz with her life (these are his beloved skates).
Poppy’s Mum has adopted my chickens. I’ll miss lovely Lucy and her fluffy bottom, but I can’t ship them back and I know that they’ll be well cared for. I’m missing popping out for a nice warm egg for breakfast, though…
What else will I miss? I’ll miss lovely Poppy’s Mum, who is a wonderful friend with a wicked sense of humour and the kindest heart… oh, and my kitchen, and the mama cows with their babies… and my garden (the trees we planted are really getting big now – the Willow is actuallly weeping…
BUT I miss my family and I have to do what’s right for the boys – they should be with their Dad. It also means that I’ll be able to say yes to all the lovely things I get invited to, although recently when I declined a press invitation, the PR replied ‘is there anyone else in your team that would like to go?’
I really want a team now.
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