Yesterday was my birthday. And, as usual, I took myself off for the morning and visited Hebden Bridge. It was a bit of a pain getting there: sheep in the road (there are always sheep in the road), slow-moving tractors and so on. But get there I did.
I didn't take my camera though. And I should have. So many things to photograph, so many missed opportunities... beds full of purple alliums, trees heavy with blossom, rows of terraces with names like 'Thistle Bottom', 'Groudle Glen' and 'Woodland Dell'.
So instead you have some pictures of our activities these past few weeks, and the May loveliness that's blooming away and perfuming our woodland walks.
Yes, so - Hebden Bridge. We visited a fortnight or so ago. Joe was being a nuisance so I decided to return alone on my birthday for a mooch around in peace, and perhaps to spend some birthday money. But when it came to it, I didn't really feel in the mood. I did, of course, buy Joe something (three books, to be exact). But after an hour and a bit of wandering around, admiring the lovely shops and topping up my vitamin D levels, I headed back home.
I did, however, meet up with two of my best friends in the village cafe for lunch. Turned out to be a bit of a panic as I suddenly decided to call in at Ramsbottom beforehand and look in the clothes shop there. And yes, I spent my birthday money. Just like that. On a Seasalt raincoat.
I already have one like this, purchased two (or was it three?) birthdays ago. But there's always room for more outdoor clothing in my wardrobe. And I tend to buy the one expensive thing which I wouldn't normally treat myself to at any other time of the year. I go for quality and know it'll last. This particular coat has a lifetime guarantee which is reassuring.
Birthday money gone (it never hangs around), I ate lunch with my lovely friends who had kindly clubbed together and treated me to a voucher for an aromatherapy massage - I can't wait for that - before going to collect Joe from school.
We ate chocolate and biscuits together in the kitchen and I decided that my birthday had been very nice indeed, if a bit hectic. I suspect a lie-in, a daytime bath and the chance to lounge around with a book all afternoon will happen on a future 18th of May.
I have been spoilt though. Another lunch last Saturday, lovely gifts, cards and well wishes. It's hard when I think of spending these special times with my mum so I like to imagine she's around somewhere, keeping an eye on proceedings and perhaps guiding me over that sheep-bothered moor road.
So I'm now 42. It looks older on paper (or screen) than I feel inside. I'm still the same person as I was twenty (twenty five?) years ago. Older, a little bit wiser, definitely more tired, but still as confused and silly. In a good way.
I did go out for a very brisk walk this morning though. In the spirit of taking care of myself and all that. I felt so virtuous that after lunch I finished my birthday chocolate off. Like I said, only a little bit wiser.
This picture makes me laugh. Not because Joe's cute (he is) but because the farmer next door had to wave back. Said farmer isn't the friendliest. But you'd have to be a real misery to ignore a disarmingly smiley four-year-old.
I've been a little bit absent lately, at least in an online capacity. Ironically enough it's online stuff that's been keeping me busy. I'm currently doing battle with Squarespace and Squarespace is winning. It's taking a lot of stubbornness to keep going, but I'm determined to build a new blog.
It doesn't help that everyone I mention it to says how easy Squarespace is to master. But my graphic designer friend came over the other morning and was just as bewildered as me so that somehow made me feel a bit better. In other words, I'm not thick. Just digitally challenged.
So the constant tinkering and experimenting has eaten up a lot of my non-Joe time. Which means not much blogging or Instagramming action.
Still, it's May.
So plenty of bank holiday stuff going on (mainly walks); we've stayed local and wandered through the woods and near the river. We sometimes take a packed lunch or Joe's bike with us. It's heartening to see everything becoming very green.
I just wish these winds would die down. Blue skies, bright sunshine and it would be warm were it not for the constant blasting of chilly air. The washing's getting whipped off the line. Bins are being blown over.
So, what's in the miscellany?
Books. I've just read Secrets of the Sea House by Elizabeth Gifford. Quite timely as we're off to the Hebrides again in three weeks. I loved the folklore and the way it switched back and forth from current day to the 1860s.
And now I'm onto Alexander McCall Smith's The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine. The next in the series, Precious and Grace, is already waiting on the bedside table (which is, in actual fact, an old chair). And I'm also dipping in and out of The Sleepyhead's Bedside Companion by Sean Coughlan. It's great; lots of little facts and bits of history about all things sleep-related. His style of writing is light and humorous so nothing too challenging late in the evening.
All were found at my local library. I love that place. And I was so pleased to see there's a move away from e-books back to actual physical ones.
Television. I recently discovered Versailles and am completely addicted to it. Praise be for catch-up T.V. We're also watching Second Chance Summer: Tuscany - it seems that BBC2 is the current favourite around here.
Travels. I went up to the outskirts of Bradford a few weeks ago, to meet up with Susanna who runs this beautiful online shop. We first met last summer at the Gather.Harvest.Feast. event in the North East and we're doing a little bit of something together later in the summer.
We had lunch and a wander around Salt's Mill, Saltaire. I've always wanted to visit and it's only an hour's drive away. It's a fantastic place, particularly if you're a creative type, and I really want to go back and explore the village. Joe would love it - there's a train station - and the architecture looks so imposing. The cobbled roads, the quaintly-named streets with their blue and white signs, the little independent shops...
Eating. A bit too much. I actually emptied half a jar of Nutella into the bin this morning. Joe (inexplicably) doesn't like it, whereas I do. A lot. There's still chocolate stashed everywhere from Easter and whilst I won't eat anything bought for Joe, anything else is up for grabs. Hence the bin episode. If there's anything tasty and unhealthy knocking around I'm all over it.
And in the spirit of stating the obvious: fat-free yogurt isn't a patch on the creamy, full-fat Greek stuff. Frozen berries without honey drizzled on are squint-makingly sour. And so on. Being virtuous isn't enjoyable.
Work. Other than my ongoing Squarespace nightmare, I do have other things on the go. It's plant pressing season. The hedgerows are getting very dense and I'm collecting and squashing like there's no tomorrow. Once I've got plenty of stuff stored I know I can make prints throughout the year.
I've been writing pieces for Creative Countryside and This is Your Kingdom. There are line drawings and sketches to be done, social media updates, bits of admin. My online shop needs updating. Which means more product photography. And I need to do a lot of making.
In fact, I'm considering going to this in the hope of getting myself going creatively again.
So, that confession.
I dyed my hair. After several months of growing the colour our, of watching the grey appear - well, I got tired of it. Because it was taking ages. Because the condition felt rubbish. And because the little flyaways, all silver and pale on top of the (natural) dark brunette underneath, were making me resemble a crazy cat lady.
So I bought some dye. A shade too dark, as it turns out. That necessitated a 7am trip to the supermarket for a bottle of Head and Shoulders (which, apparently, lightens things if you've gone a bit too far over to the dark side). In case you're wondering: it doesn't work.
Joe, however, was delighted to be out food shopping before school. Especially when he got to choose chocolate brioche rolls for breakfast.
I'm back to brown again. I have to say, despite the iffy shade, my hair feels much sleeker and softer. Probably something to do with nasty chemicals so moving swiftly on: that horrid, demonic doll peering out of an empty house (above) the other day scared the living daylights out of me.
I do like her hair though. It's what I was going for in the first place. How come she managed it and I didn't?
It's been Easter. Two and a bit weeks off school and (for the most part) away from the digital world.
School actually finished very early for Easter. Most of the others in the locality are still off this week. But Joe went back on Tuesday (wearing shorts). The warm weather didn't last though. We're back to grey skies and chilly winds.
It was gloriously warm and sunny at the beginning of the holidays; Joe went to stay with his grandparents for a few nights so we took a walk, ate lunch outdoors and got on with some DIY. It had to be done.
Still, those two days of painting and repairs were quite relaxed. It always helps when the sun's shining and the windows are open and the washing's out on the line. Even sanding and undercoating doesn't seem too bad.
Joe came home having ridden on trains and zip wires. He was very excited.
Meanwhile, the Easter eggs continued to accumulate.
It was good fun, actually. Jay rattled the letterbox and Joe ran out to find a letter from the 'Easter Bunny' (me), telling him to go on a hunt for the eggs. So he did. It broke my heart a little bit, I'll be honest, to witness just how gullible he is. But the intentions were honourable.
We went to a birthday party a few days later with another egg hunt. So there's a lot of chocolate around at the moment.
The garden's starting to fill out now. Fruit is - well, fruiting. The Honesty plant I put in last year has shot up and is smothered in white flowers. The Dicentras are dripping with inverted pink hearts.
The forget-me-nots, not so much. I thought they were supposed to spread everywhere...
Joe and I have been out hunting for bluebells, picking nettles and wild garlic, paddling in the river and playing in the park with friends. We've made things with clay, built with empty boxes and baked Garibaldi biscuits. We've drawn and coloured, visited the cafe and walked, cycled and taken little excursions in the car.
But we like the woods best.
I actually prefer being there when it's a bit damp and overcast.
It's getting very green under the trees. I need to head out next week to collect plants for pressing, ready to make prints, and maybe I'll do some sketches too.
It's a lovely time of year. Next we'll have hawthorn blossom and cow parsley, so maybe we'll head back over to Cheshire to visit family and walk among the hedgerows.
The first cuckoo flowers (or Lady's Smock) are out. They always remind me of being little, and of picking them for my mum from the field across the road.
The blossoms are in full swing.
But I think the herbs in the garden might need replacing. They've gone a bit woody and bedraggled-looking. Joe enjoys picking them to make 'spells' with. We stirred them up with some empty snail shells and pebbles, and made little brooms too with the prunings from our birch tree.
In the spirit of spring I'm trying to like the fact that, again, the sparrows have built a nest right outside our bedroom window. Let's face it though, they're noisy little buggers. Especially first thing in the morning.
Still, it's a good feeling to finally emerge from the dark winter days and see everything coming to life. I've even painted my toenails (silver).
And now Joe's back at school I'm trying my best to catch up with work, blogging and all those things that get shelved when term ends. I'm glad that I've accepted 'doing it all' isn't the way to go. While he's little, my work is strictly term time only. That way I can just accept that our days are spent doing things together and I can relax and enjoy that. The to-do list can wait.
The clocks have gone forward. The blue, hazy days have arrived (apart from this morning, when it's distinctly grey and wet outside).
We had a lovely weekend outdoors. On Saturday we went to put flowers on my mum's grave for Mother's Day, and sat for a while by the pond in the cemetery. It may sound odd to say it was nice, but it was. I don't feel particularly close to my mum when I'm there; I don't feel she's present in any way at her final resting place. Strange as it may seem, I always feel closest to her when I'm out walking or when I'm bustling about in the kitchen.
But it's a beautiful cemetery with meandering paths and mature trees and wild areas around the edges.
I went to my friend's house that night and four of us had a takeaway. She only lives by the village school, maybe a hundred yards from our house. Good job as I didn't get home until 3am. So I took full advantage of my Mother's Day lie in the following morning...
Not for too long though. I didn't drink the night before, so no hangover to contend with. And the sun was shining. So we packed a picnic lunch and went for a little wander.
Joe had a great time, climbing on the sculptures and watching the trains going by.
We soaked up the warmth and had a lovely slow Sunday.
Joe didn't complain too much about climbing the hills either. We usually take a snack out as he lives to eat, so it's the perfect incentive for him to keep going. Today's treat: a piece of chocolate birthday cake from a party he'd been to on Friday.
It felt very spring-like. We spotted the first lambs of the year in the village (but the sheep in the field behind our house are still at the heavily pregnant stage). Joe, ever the gannet, started talking about rosemary and suggested a roast lamb dinner. I'm not convinced he understands the link just yet between fluffy animals and meat on a plate.
Either that or he's completely lacking in sentiment. But he does have a conscience, so I suspect it's the former.
I think Sunday was possibly the bluest, warmest day of the year; at least it was if you kept out of the shade.
There are plenty of things growing. I love butterburs, they're so prehistoric-looking.
And our mock currant in the back garden is in full flower.
The dandelions are not in our garden. Joe enjoys weeding. I have to point out what has to stay and what needs to go. He doesn't always get it right...
Monday was a lovely day too, so after some printmaking I went out collecting ferns. They're my favourite thing to make prints from as the shapes are so graphic and they're pretty robust.
I press them before doing any printmaking, so I've been using last year's plants and they finally crumbled away so it was time to restock.
There are plenty of places nearby to find ferns, and many types to collect. But I wanted to stay as close to home as possible because I had a lot to do so I went up a little lane which has nice views and shady banks.
I prefer to use the 'Deer fern' (Blechnum spicant) because I love the shape. So I plucked a handful and whilst I was collecting, I noticed all the other growth that's happening.
Things are definitely getting more green. And although I haven's photographed any, the wild garlic is appearing too so Joe and I can go picking next week during the school holidays.
The forecast is good so I'm looking forward to spending a few weeks with him. I've got lots planned - mainly little adventures nearby - with making and reading and meeting up with friends too. Perhaps even an egg hunt.
I'll hopefully post during the next couple of weeks but if not, it'll be because we're enjoying a well-earned break from the crazy school and workday routine!