Thursday, 17 July 2014

Front garden – the update!


Waaaay back in April, you might remember I posted about giving my front garden a makeover, courtesy of Plant Me Now, who guided me in choosing lots of lovely plants and a bit of expert advice about how to best make use of the space in my front garden.

Well, after some fervent planting and lots of watering, THIS is how it turned out.

 Big improvement, eh? We’re really pleased with the results. The front garden is now almost overgrown, and has been stuffed full of flowers since May. The violas in the window box have been in constant bloom all summer. Now the geraniums have kicked in and the lavender is really beginning to take hold. It’s probably half a metre tall already, from having been a tiny little plant!

It makes a real difference to the space at the front of the house – as you leave, you catch a waft of lavender and get to admire your flowers. And it’s nice to see people walk past and admire them – I caught a lovely old gent smiling into the garden, just a few days ago.

It’s even lovely from the inside of the house. As our living room looks straight out onto the street the view is now softened by the greenery, and if you sit in the chair next to the window you can watch the bumble-bees pootling across the lavender.

And bin update – the lavender has actually made it its mission to hide the bins. So happy!
I’ve caught the flower bug and can’t wait to plant more. I’ve got my eye on nasturtiums for next summer, and am plotting Spring bulbs and winter bedding plants.






Monday, 23 June 2014

Roadtrippin' Dixie.

We just got back from a crazy whistlestop trip to the US of A – roadtripping three of the Dixie states then five days in the Big Apple. We've nearly broken Flickr with all of our pictures – I'll break them up into three posts so as not to break Blogger too.

The trip started in Georgia. We flew into Atlanta and immediately drove out of the city and towards the national parks at the North of the state. Doing this with a one and a half year old in tow nearly broke us after a 9 hour flight which was delayed by 3 hours after missing our original flight. But it was worth it when we arrived at our first night airbnb – a spacious 1960s house, built for entertaining, with a lovely garden and huge spa bathroom. The current owner is now a farmer/chef who prepared a big ole Southern stew for our arrival.



After a blissful morning spent sitting under a tree, shooting the breeze, with Arthur running nakey with two lovely dogs (and a huge Mexican steak breakfast, thank you Michelle!) (oh, and a deeeep Himalayan sea salt bath), we set off on our roadtrip adventure proper. Our first stop was to the city of Asheville, just out of Georgia, in Western North Carolina. That first drive set the tone for the rest of that part of the trip: stopping to paddle in creeks, have a quick dip in the river, wish we were hungrier so we could stop at the BBQ joints by the side of the road. (We saw a BBQ tour party - they were large people.) We stopped to wonder at waterfalls, ponder what the big birds in the sky were ('vultures – they're even bigger when they're in the road and you're fixin' to hit them!'), driving through a crazy rain storm alongside the cigarette packaging peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains. Happy days.


This was a giant thrift store next to a creek. 




Quick dip in my undercrackers in the Tuckasegee


Asheville was a super laid-back city, with our digs on a winding mountain road and nothing but trees for a view and birds or a howlin' hound to listen to. From waking up and zoning out staring at rush-hour crowds of trees, you could drive down the mountain past the lakes and be in lovely laid-back Asheville within five minutes. We ate buttery soft biscuits with savoury sausage gravy for brunch at the awesome Tupelo Honey, topping our energy levels up with unhealthy amounts of iced coffee and sweet iced tea, and handmade chocolates. (North America has totally got an artisanal chocolate thing going on. Have you noticed? I have! *adjusts waistband*)

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We whiled away a day in downtown, in gorgeous 2nd hand book shop Downtown Books and News – something else done so well in the States, inviting places that encourage you to stay, leisurely browse, pick up a book sit down and read. A visit to Tom Wolfe's boarding house, a proper wooden porch and swing joint, which helped you picture old Asheville. Then a short hop to the River Arts District, an artsy neighbourhood sprung up next to a freight railroad down by the river, with microbreweries and galleries in the old warehouses, where you can kick back in the river breeze drinking beer and listening to the sounds of the railroad. (Our first night digs were also right to some freight tracks and we were so happy to hear the sounds of the train – Michelle our host agreed with us, 'If you don't like the sound of the train, you aren't my people.'






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We stayed in Asheville for a couple of nights, happy in our hillside hideaway, then set off to our next stop, a couple of nights in the Smokies. From Asheville this meant driving out West, into the Tennessee Valley. We stopped for a sunday lunch of burgers and onion rings in a railroad town called Bryson City, which was one of my favourite places of the trip. A stop on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, it was a low brick town of fire station, theatre, folk art shops, and a deep creek for swimming. Jimmy Mac's for burgers, the old drugstore that's now an antique shop, where the owner practices his organ on a high platform 'early mornings and late at night' (weird), and next door a bookshop in the old drugstore soda fountain. It was a spooky weird town and I would love to live there, and open a thrift shop in one of the many lovely, disused buildings.


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The building where I'd like to open my thrift store, please.


We mooched around town so long we didn't find the creek (although did hang out next to the river, where some friendly locals were taking part in a tradition they called Decorations, where they decorate the graves of their dearly departed – the cemetaries were swathed in flowers.

We did, however, find Na-Bers, a drive in BBQ joint. Straight out of the 1950s, you drive up in your car and order your deep fried corn and BBQ plate and eat overlooking the river. For actual real?

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We ate inside, to soak up 100% deep-fried atmosphere.

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On to the Smokies, where we stayed in a log cabin, listened to woodpeckers, drove along burbling rivers to visit waterfalls and lakes, dodged snakes (this picture is the prize of a local yoot whose girlfriend was terrorized by a baby copperhead in the bathroom of the lake we were snoozing next to.) It was completely chilled and we tried to extend our two nights, and chop a night off the rest of our trip but it wasn't to be, so after two lovely days we set off across Tennessee.

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As we left the Smokies we drove up to see the Fontana Dam. Holy build a huge wall across a mountain river! It was impressive. A nearby American, overheard, 'It's not even that big of a river!' Er... 

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It's interesting how as soon as you cross a state border you can feel a difference –Tennessee was both more white picket fence and more tumble-down than North Carolina; with rusting farm equipment and pick-ups seemingly artfully incorporated into the landscape. (Although in reality, the lawns are all so neatly cut so as not to harbour snakes.) Immediate beating heat as soon as we left the mountains, with the radio pumping out country songs with a tale to tell, as Nashville loomed on the horizon. We stopped for BBQ at a great friendly place, that had disappointingly un-tangy bbq, and hared along the I-40 to our first night stop at Franklin, a small town south of Nashville. (We wanted to keep the stress of driving down by sticking to small towns so avoided Nashville. Next time.)

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We took one crazy stop in Jackson, TN, to go to Rusty's TV and Movie car museum. This is a crazy place – Rusty himself showed us around – he has original and some reproduction cars from films and TV. We're talking a Batmobile, Kitt from Night Rider, a DeLorean, The Dukes of Hazzard's car... Arthur loves cars and I wanted to collect my mum medal so we stopped off here. It was totally crazy awesome and took us off-road to see a bit of Jackson, and a sweet TN backroad back to the Interstate. Highly recommend!

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Arthur in his American tourist shorts.


Franklin, our stop-over, was a white picket fence and perfect lawn town, with fireflies and porch swings, perfect for enjoying an evening beer. We stayed in a sweet small family house where I could easily have stayed forever, reinventing myself seamlessly as a Tennessee power mom. In our one morning in Franklin we visited an awesome brunch spot, Puckett's, where we got our first dose of Elvis breakfast excitement, thrifted at the Goodwill, tuckered Arthur out at a brilliant playground and then set off. (Missed out the civil war battle site at the local plantataion - whoops - sorry Franklin. Time was tight.)

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Arthur playing 'night night'. Such a sweet house.

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Next stop: Memphis. Whole 'nother blog post!

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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Down on the farm

Last weekend we stayed on a sheep farm in East Sussex with some friends, our children and a dog. It was so lovely I had to share some photos. It was a fully working farm, with fields and fields of sheep, blossoming fruit trees and, at this time of year, lambs! Fluffy little lambs with pink floppy ears, everywhere. The perfect way to get away from London for the weekend. We arrived on Friday night and, after putting the baby down to bed, went for an extended march around the fields. It was so pretty! Ponds, huddles of cute woolly lambs and their mums, blossoming trees...

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This lamb was less than 24 hours old!
The farmers were brilliant; they really wanted to let us all know how the farm worked, how important it was to support the industry by buying British lamb, the whole process from lambing to going to market. It was obvious they really looked after their animals. The children got to go in a pen full of tiny gamboling lambs and stroke them. CUTE OVERLOAD!

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The farm is in the village of Peasmarsh, five minutes outside of Rye, which is also worth a visit. Extremely quaint, full of olde fashioned teashops, traditional grocers and wisteria-covered inns and the like. We had lunch at The Ship, whose half pint of smoked prawns were a Thing.  Peasmarsh is also where Paul McCartney has his home (where he lived with Linda and sent his kids to the local comprehensive.)  I pressed the farmer for juice but she wouldn't spill, saying the locals are very discreet. Although she did say a couple of interesting things about Linda, that I shan't share! (You can see ariel pictures of his house online if you're feeling stalky. Helipad! What a life.)

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Romney Cottages, the accommodation, was really child and animal friendly. What used to be an old lambing barn, it had decking and lawn overlooking a duck pond, fully fenced in and safe. A really nice place to relax. The farmer took time to bring us extra highchairs and cots and Moon (a huge retired greyhound) was made to feel really welcome. There were lots of beautiful sheepdogs on the farm too – working dogs, so we were told to be careful with the kids, but they were lovely, clever dogs. There was a great fully stocked kitchen, too.

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Arthur doing monkey legs to avoid the sea
Peasmarsh is also close to one of my favourite places, Dungeness, so we had to pay a visit. That place never gets old. Fish and chips outside the pub, gazing at the nuclear power station, with a miniature steam training passing by. A desert california vibe, complete with dodgy folk art, mystic gift shop and airstream caravans. Completely weird. The beach was warm enough for paddling, even in early May.



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All just a couple of hours drive out of London, or on the high speed rail link, so a really lovely way to spend a spring weekend out of the city.