Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The End of Summer

The end of the summer is a sad time for me.

I love having my kids home from school - lazy mornings, carefree days, relaxed bedtimes. As much as I am excited by the new term and in particular my little Dylan starting in his Reception class, I can't help the overriding feeling of gloom that the holidays are over.

Beneath that general gloominess is a deeper sadness - a sadness that comes from bereavement.

My sister lost her life at the end of a summer distant enough for the raw pain of grief to have subsided but never distant enough to not feel the ache of her absence.

And this time last year my mother in law died - unexpectedly and suddenly.

Despite a tendency towards depressive episodes, I am generally a positive person who sees the good in things. I wanted to help my husband find a way to commemorate the anniversary of his mum's death in a celebratory fashion. We had a few ideas that included trifle and family card games but none of it really felt adequate.

That evening, as I put my little boy to bed with a bedtime story, I realised that the book I had chosen by chance (or cosmic guidance?) was one that had been given with love by Grandma. I felt very peaceful reading the story and remembering the time when Grandma's voice spoke these same words to the rapt attention of the beautiful boy now drifting off to sleep. That was my moment. My celebration. My connection to a wonderful lady sorely missed.

My husband said he had his moment too in the realisation that decisions he makes and actions he takes are now influenced by a voice in his head asking "Would this have made mum proud?".

There were tears. Not many... but enough.

The following day we took part in a Fun Run in a neighbouring village. There was a poignancy to it because last year when we took part, my husband had just returned from helping his dad to sort out funeral arrangements. He cycled the route with our daughter on a tag along trailer bike at the back and Dylan on a kid seat at the front of his bike. I'm sure the sun on his face, the fresh air and the excitement of the children were good antidotes to the solemnity of the tasks he had been performing. This year, there was a shorter 3K route option and we felt that the children should be capable of running it.

We collected our race numbers. Six year old Addy couldn't wait to get started but Dylan was not quite so keen. He was angered by the fact that his race number did not include the digit four - his age! I wrote a 4 on in biro but it did not placate him.

The plan was that my husband (with a bit of help from my daughter Taylor) would run the 3K route with Addy and Dylan while my daughter Liberty would run the 5mile route with me. Both routes started together. We all gathered at the starting line. Dylan's enthusiasm was returning - I had to physically hold him back to stop him crossing the line ahead of time. Eventually we were off.

I am so grateful that Taylor was there to help. Addy ran off at an astonishing pace that Dylan's little legs did not have a chance of keeping up with. Taylor and her lovely friend Harriet (twin sister of boyfriend George) took responsibility for Dylan, urging him on with the promise of smarties.

Meanwhile, Addy and her dad raced away - distracted occasionally by juicy blackberries growing in the hedgerows, ripe for the picking.

The weather was perfect - sunny but not unbearably hot.

Last year I found it tough to run the hilly course but this year I loved every mile and finished in a quicker time. I stayed with my daughter for the first 3 miles but picked my pace up slightly for the last two after she stopped to stretch aching muscles and walk for a moment. I found myself smiling as I ran along alone thinking about my mother in law and everything that has happened in the year since her death. I could believe that she was smiling back.

Taylor's boyfriend George crossed the finish at a pace I can only dream of.

Taylor and George

Once Dylan noticed the playground next to the finish line he lost all interest in the race and could only be persuaded to cross the line with Taylor and George's younger sister, Danielle, taking his weight whilst his legs ran ahead of his body.

He was, however, very pleased with his finishers medal.

To say that Addy was delighted to be presented with a trophy for her efforts would be a massive uderstatement. She posed proudly with other winners for the local press photographer.

It was a glorious day. A perfect end to the summer. And if the voice in my husband's head were to ask, Would this have made mum proud, I don't doubt that the answer would be YES.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Edinburgh, The Lost Domain and a camera malfunction

I was looking forward to writing a post about Edinburgh to include:
  • the architecture - in particular the spectacular Scott Memorial which looked like it had been conjured from the dark mind of the most villainous of fairy tale villains, Maleficent
  • the five storey Primark open until 10pm across the road and down a bit from Maleficent's Memorial
  • the Royal Mile alive and buzzing with street performers and artists promoting the shows they had brought to the Edinburgh Fringe
  • the tranquil Waters of Leith Walkway that was a perfect route for a lovely evening run
  • the Scottish National Gallery that introduced me to my new favourite modern artist David Shrigley
  • and last but not least - the vegetarian haggis
This post was to be illustrated with the photographs that I had taken during the 2 night stay that I have just returned home from - the photographs that have somehow mysteriously and (for me) tragically disappeared from my camera.

I am so annoyed.

Most annoying was the loss of the photographs of my daughter Charis on the Royal Mile in peasant dress and stage makeup distributing flyers to promote the musical she was performing in. The whole atmosphere on the Mile was vibrant and energetic and she looked as though she was feeding off that atmosphere and radiating it back in a pure and concentrated form. She was beautiful. Maybe too beautiful for the camera to handle. Maybe that's why my photographs self destructed.

The musical was called The Lost Domain and was performed in the basement of a lovely old theatre, the splendour of which was slightly diminished by the fact that there was scaffolding up around it. I loved the show (cried like a baby for the first few minutes when my daughter came on stage). Charis was in the chorus and put her all into the singing and acting. She was an elegant attendee of a masked ball (although not coming from a dance background, her face did sometimes betray fear of falling during dizzying spins and twirls!). She was scarily slutty as a lady of the streets. My usually demure 17 year old had a convincing shoulder and hip wiggle to match her 'come hither' eyes. As a village girl she managed to portray all the emotions demanded of her without speaking a single line. Of course, I have no photographs of any of this either!

I am usually much more of a country girl but I totally loved the beautiful city of Edinburgh with its tall buildings, wide roads (that were a bugger to cross) and a great big castle on a hill which made navigating your way around pretty easy. It was veggie friendly (although my non-meat resolve was seriously challenged by the full Scottish breakfast that included black pudding and haggis) and my eating out experiences have given me some good ideas that I intend to try out at home (posts to follow!) 

In the absence of my photographs this may not have been the post I had intended to write about Edinburgh but I can offer this:

Saturday, 16 August 2014

We Climbed a Mountain

When my daughter telephoned me with her AS results earlier this week, I was once again reassured that my husband and I had made the right decision supporting her move into independent education. Her astonishingly good results instantly wiped out the remnants of stress I'd been feeling ever since her minor pre-results nerves that we attempted to fix with pizza in a rather nice Italian restaurant. She is currently on her way to Scotland to perform in a musical at the Edinburgh Fringe which rounds off a busy summer that started with charity work in Malawi. She is certainly taking full advantage of every opportunity that comes her way.

Of course, all of these things cost money and although I am absolutely convinced that it is money well spent and my daughter is benefitting enormously, it does mean that there is little left in the budget to spend on such things as a family holiday. As much as I would have loved a week (or two!) somewhere beautiful (exotic?) and relaxing, we are having to be content with staying home and making the best of what's on offer locally.

During a shopping trip to Telford to buy new school uniform for my 6 year old Addy and my little Dylan about to start his Reception year, Addy's attention was drawn to a prominent Shropshire landmark - The Wrekin.

The Wrekin is a hill that rises 1,335 ft above the Shropshire Plain.

To my daughter it was a mountain.

It was a mountain she wanted to climb.

Climbing a 'mountain' seemed like exactly the sort of low budget activity that I wanted to encourage - combining fresh air, exercise and getting better acquainted with our local environment.

Back home I had a go at baking brownies to take on our expedition and told the children the story of the Shropshire Giant that allegedly had a grudge against the people of Shrewsbury and wanted to destroy the town. The giant had a plan to dump a shovel load of earth into the River Severn to flood Shrewsbury but did not know how to get there. He met a cobbler on the road and asked him for directions. The quick thinking cobbler was returning from market with a bag full of shoes for repair and sensing that the giant was up to no good, emptied his bag and told the giant that he had worn out all the shoes on his journey from Shrewsbury. The giant concluded that Shrewsbury must be too far away to bother continuing with his plan and dumped his shovel load where he stood. Thus, the Wrekin was created. A smaller hill next to the Wrekin known as The Ercall was created when the giant scraped his boots before returning home to wherever giants return home to.

Addy thought this was a stupid story...  and anyway, giant aren't even real.

She did, however, approve of the brownies.

The next day, we set off early to catch the best of the weather and climbed that mountain. We had plenty of breaks to eat brownies, climb trees and pick blackberries.

The children made it all the way to the windy top where fifteen counties can be viewed - if you know what you are looking for!

After a slight disappointment from Dylan that it wasn't possible to sit down and slide back down the mountain, we made our descent.

It was a lovely trip with a great sense of accomplishment all round, not least because of the brownies that turned out to be a chocolatey success.

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