An online vacation

Ouch! Pinching the fleshy bit of skin on my inner arm I realise that, indeed, yes, I do still exist. My world hasn’t imploded and I haven’t fallen off the edge of the world. Yes, that’s despite the fact that I’ve been without email, texts and social media for the last few weeks.

There have been times when I have debated whether I would be completely invisible if I wasn’t on social media. While I was away on holiday I decided to try out a self imposed drought without electronic devices to see if a) I’d miss any of it and b) if I’d be missed. How difficult would it be to give it all up? There would be no roaming the web for news feeds, no Twitter updates, no Facebook or blog posts and not even an email or text message. Easy!

Yeah, right, except like a smoker giving up cigarettes I suddenly found myself surrounded by people at every turn with their devices permanently fixed to their hands. Call me naïve but I had no idea just how dependent we all are on technology and the world wide web. Kids sat in dark corners furtively flipping through texts, updating their Facebook status and streaming music and films. In restaurants teens took pictures with their phones of everything from their food, friends, family, themselves; anything but actually eat or talk to each other. In bars, meanwhile, I lost count of the number of times I saw big groups of people sitting around tables barely talking to each other as they each focused on their smart phones. I have noticed this before but not to this extent.

What most amazed me was the thought that so many had travelled half way around the world only to sit in hotel lobbies and dark bars clutching their electronic devices while outside the sun was shining and temperatures soaring. OK I have to admit that at home I’ve often got my phone in hand but on holiday it really wasn’t so hard to give up. Two weeks into my ‘experiment’ without my daily online fix I did find myself missing the news feeds – short, snappy TV headlines just don’t hit the mark – but actually I really haven’t missed social media that much. In fact, to be honest, it was quite a relief not to have that pressure of having to ‘keep up’ with the Jones’s for a short while.

When I reached the end of my experiment this week I went back online to discover a whole tonne of emails, along with reminders, spam and a zillion notifications and alerts from Facebook letting me know all that I’d missed while I’d been gone! So it was all there waiting for my return. Nothing lost then, eh?

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Summer bliss

gardens, gardening, tomatoes, cucumbers, lavender Summer has at last arrived in our little corner of the world. The patch outside the back door is slowly shaping up, the flowers are beginning to make an appearance and for the first time it is actually resembling a real, proper, grown-up garden. Hey, I’ve done it! Yay! Break out the champagne!

Who knew the first few flowers on a home grown tomato plant could cause so much merriment, excitement and giddiness in one person? Any neighbour glimpsing my late evening dance of joy in the middle of the lawn might have felt vindicated in the thought that, yes, I’d finally gone crazy.

In danger of sounding old before my time, I can’t tell you how proud I was to see the first signs of my tomatoes. It’s good to see that they are at last growing tall and strong in the outdoors after weeks of painstakingly nurturing the plants from seed in the makeshift greenhouse that was my front room. I somehow very much doubt that I shall be putting the supermarkets out of business any time soon but if I get half a dozen edible tomatoes from the plants (or even three will do) I shall be over the moon.

The cucumber plants that were also grown from seed, sharing that same windowsill space over the spring, are beginning to show signs of success too. They’re not growing quite as fast but after a few days of warmth and sunshine now boast a few extra flowers. Yipee! The lettuce supply is also aplenty and is still growing (happily faster than the blessed slugs can eat them).

One of the best things about the arrival of summer though is being able to sit amongst the delicious scent of thyme, basil and lavender, listening to the gentle hum of bees and watching the butterflies and damselflies sailing the breeze. And what simple bliss to potter around barefoot, watering the potted plants and taking in the summer sounds of the skylarks, swifts and birdsong.

strawberries, gardening, gardens  gardening, summer, garden

Hidden gems

Tearooms, Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, National Trust

Ohhhh I do enjoy a spot of people watching and watching the world go by (ok, being nosey) and, as we’ve already established, I like a good cuppa. I guess that’s why finding a great coffee shop is a favourite pastime of mine. So when I discovered the Garden Tea House I was virtually doing cartwheels as it ticked yet another box; my new found interest in gardening.

You see, the Garden Tea House is nestled right alongside the gorgeous Walled Gardens in Nottinghamshire’s Clumber Park. A wander around the gardens and beautiful Victorian greenhouses followed by a café visit; it’s a win, win, right? Surrounded by its own colourful cottage garden and two minutes away from the kitchen gardens, it’s all rather lovely to head to the tea rooms afterwards and simply sit on the patio, amongst the roses and foxgloves, and soak up the atmosphere. I could virtually camp there all day with copious amounts of coffee and cake.

On cooler, rainy days it’s also nice to step inside where dreams of living the high life are sparked by the rather grand décor. The lovely late Victorian building makes for pretty extraordinary tea rooms. What was once the head gardener’s home back at the turn of the last century is richly decorated. Even the ladies’ powder rooms are magnificently styled with huge ornate silver framed mirrors and candelabra. (So impressed was I that I had to take a picture. I know, I’m a little odd at times!)

Another plus is that the tea rooms are rarely overly busy despite the fact that they’re right in the heart of one of the most popular parklands in the Midlands. I guess most of the park’s visitors automatically follow the crowds and head for the main visitor area and café overlooking the lake. I kind of like it when it’s quieter though, it is a beautiful venue to have to yourself. I was almost tempted not to write about it actually and to keep it all to myself. So shushhhhhh I’m only telling you!

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 quiet corner  

A blogging obsession

 

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It’s pretty addictive this blogging lark. When I first started writing my blog I planned to write it over 12 months. That time sure went by in a blink of an eye and just as I was getting into it the year was over. Time to dim the lights and pack up…… Only that self-imposed deadline has passed and I can’t seem to let go. I’m gripping tightly onto the edge of the desk for dear life.

I’ve enjoyed writing the posts almost as much as devouring other people’s blogs each week, which makes it ridiculously hard to walk away. What started out as a challenge to myself to master new skills has got completely out of hand as I can’t help but check in regularly for updates and messages. There! I’ve said it. I’ve admitted my blogging addiction.

It’s not so much the obsession though that you might get from other social media. It’s the very act of writing that gets me. It is unbelievably cathartic and liberating to send random thoughts out there into the blogosphere. I can happily tap away at the keyboard about nothing in particular. My words may be read… or then again maybe they won’t and simply fall into obscurity. It doesn’t matter.

This is a world where you can be as anonymous as you would like, where you can publicise your blog via any number of social media outlets and get your words out there for the world and his grandmother to read or, like me, keep it on the low. It’s ok to write away with just a couple of followers (hello to you both!) or write with thousands of followers in mind

I’d be lying though if I said I didn’t enjoy the buzz I get from hearing from a reader. It’s quite a bonus when you realise that someone’s actually reading your stuff. The addition of a new follower, another ‘like’ or the ping of a message can send me skipping happily around my office like a three year old.

It’s great to hear from people and to read about their experience. And I have to admit that there’s been more than a fair few mornings lost to hours peeking into other people’s lives. Delving into blogs about other people, cultures and countries is fascinating to say the least. Where else can you get a better insight into different worlds?

So I guess you’re going to be stuck with me for a little while longer!

Taking a break

Ann's Pantry - Copy

I like a good cuppa but actually I love a good coffee shop more. There’s nothing like putting the world to rights over a coffee. It’s one of the best feelings to sit with friends, swap stories and chat about…. everything. Anything. Or even nothing in particular.

Actually to be fair I’m also happy left to my own devices with cuppa in hand if I can soak up the atmosphere of a nice café. It has to be out of the ordinary, mind. I can even endure a bad coffee if the surroundings are interesting. Coffee shops, tea rooms and cafes are ten a penny on every high street in every town. Yet isn’t it great when you find somewhere that’s a little different?

I have to admit that when planning a day out or even a shopping spree the coffee shop is a key point of the day. Tracking down those places that are a bit more characterful is definitely my thing. There are several good coffee shops on my radar. One of my favourite places for a pit stop though is in North Wales. Well, in Anglesey to be exact.

No visit to the island would be complete without taking a break at Ann’s Pantry in Moelfre. This gorgeous little café serves homemade cakes and meals along with teas and coffee in deliciously, stylish surroundings. It’s a real holiday treat to step inside the warm and friendly former cottage and make yourself at home in one of the window seats or kick back on one of the comfy cushioned benches.

Alternatively on a good day what better way to while away an afternoon than in the flower-filled courtyard area or the idyllic walled garden area with its quaint summerhouse. It’s the perfect starting point (or perhaps even better finishing line) for a walk along the rugged coastal path with its views right across to the main land and to the Great Orme off the coast of Llandudno.

In the same-ish part of the world another great place to take a coffee break is The Pier House Bistro right on the seafront of the picturesque town of Beaumaris. Overlooking the beautiful Menai Strait, it offers stunning views and there’s surely no better place to sit and watch the world go by.

Just over the water on the mainland is Penryn Castle at Bangor, which also makes it onto my list of perfect places for coffee stops. Its location is simply impressive. After a walk around the spectacular parklands surrounding the 19th century castle, you just have to step back in time and enjoy a warming drink in the stable block. Surrounded by so much history and grandeur, it’s a great spot to take time out, let your mind wander and escape the every day world for a few moments.

My vintage year

Wow! It’s a whole year since I set up my blog. I pledged back then to make my next 12 months a vintage year and a blog was a pretty good way of staying motivated and keeping that promise.

I planned to make every day count by filling my time with new experiences, learning new things and exploring new places. Along the way I’ve learned a few extra skills and tried out everything from archaeology, baking and crafting to yoga and zumba and have filled my weekends with trips to some extraordinary places. It has been amazing.

To be honest, I think subconsciously I was also hoping to find my way back to the life that I used to know. When I came out of hospital after having lumps removed from my throat I returned home a different person. My perspective on life had completely changed and the person that looked back from the mirror was no longer me.

Few people saw that though. Other than the smallish scar on my throat after the thyroidectomy there was no outward evidence that I was any different. Inside, however, I felt raw as if my whole life had been turned upside down and inside out. Frankly, I was a bit lost and in desperate need of a fresh start.

My confidence deteriorated and some friends fell by the wayside. I guess they didn’t understand why I hadn’t pinged back to normal straight away. One so-called good friend even blatantly avoided me. I’m assuming she didn’t know what to say.

I was ok though, right? Without a fully functioning thyroid though I definitely felt like a different person. I was a different person. The thyroid gland, you see, controls so many functions from the metabolism to blood pressure that there are many knock on effects. It affects people in different ways affecting weight, blood pressure and temperature levels, among other things. Me? Well, feeling exhausted and sluggish, lacking concentration and being forgetful is all pretty normal now.

I’m getting better at readjusting and my bid to create a vintage year by filling it with positivity has really kept me on track. Writing this blog has helped me a whole lot and I’ve done some amazing things and met some interesting people at the many classes and workshops I’ve joined along the way. While I haven’t rediscovered the old me or found my new direction yet I’ve been enjoying the little diversions along the way… and isn’t that what life’s all about?

 

It’s back to school

Is it possible to be able to walk back into the classroom without feeling a trace of fear? If so I’d love to know the secret. For me it’s almost on a par with a visit to the dentist.

Over the last year with each new class I’ve joined I’ve instantly reverted to my teenage self as soon as I stepped into the classroom. Any scrap of confidence was left at the door, leaving me feeling awkward and unable to speak in class. Never did I feel that quite so keenly as this week when, having signed up for a creative writing class, I found myself back in the classroom again. Even hovering outside the classroom door was pretty daunting.

A quick glance through the glass door showed that the room was already full. *Gulp.* Despite arriving 10 minutes early, most of the desks were already occupied and students had paired up and were developing their own cosy little relationships. Had I not felt nervous before, I certainly did now as I crept through the room to find a spare seat.

Flashbacks to my old school days came flooding back as I tried hard to catch the eyes of someone – anyone – to sit alongside. One lady glanced up at me and so got the dubious honour of having my company for the duration.

Our small talk was interrupted by the arrival of the lecturer who breezed into class a whole two minutes later than the scheduled start time. Now that’s where it differed from the classrooms of my past. In those days we were mightly relieved if the teacher was late. It made me smile this time as the audible huffing was only silenced by rustlings at the back of the room as one of my fellow pupils insisted on emptying the contents of her bag onto the desk in front of her; neatly lining up her notepads and pencils.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how each classroom seems to have its stereotypes? It didn’t matter a jot that we had all left school a while ago as we simply fell into our roles. Just for the record in my day I was neither class clown nor A student. I sat somewhere in the middle, remaining fairly invisible for my entire school career.

This week though there was no way that I was going to be allowed to hide away. I might have felt like some nervous 16-year-old but outwardly I was far from that. I soon realised that as we were asked to each introduce ourselves to the rest of the class one by one – and the finger was pointed at me to start proceedings. Of course, why wouldn’t it be?!

Despite the wobbly start though I got through the nerves as I realised everyone (well, mostly everyone) felt a bit nervous too. The class was really interesting too as we learned about how to craft imaginary worlds and universes. As time went on, and boosted by tea and chocolate biccies (a cure all for everything, I find), it got easier to speak up in class and ask questions. When I was younger nothing would ever have persuaded me to ask a question in class, let alone volunteer an answer. It was quite liberating actually.

If I’m going to be honest though, one of the best bits was chatting with people during break times. It was good to hear their stories and find out how they’d got there. None of us had to be in that classroom. I enjoyed learning about other people and was intrigued as to why they had joined the class. I got way more out of that class than I’d imagined. Now, what I learned about creative writing remains to be seen. Ask me in a few months or so. Who knows, I may yet complete my bestselling novel.