Wednesday, 30 September 2015

6 tips for how to cope when your child starts school

This month, my eldest child started sixth form college and my youngest started primary school. And over my nearly seventeen years of motherhood I've learnt a few good tips on how to cope when a child starts school. What I've learnt has been especially useful for me now that my youngest is at school, since I'm now also dealing with empty nest syndrome. My baby's growing up! 

So, now you've got through the weirdness of the first day and you might still need a few tips to find your rhythm, I thought I'd give you some ideas on how to be a stay-at-home mum (whether you do it part-time or full-time) when your home is empty of children. Here are my six tried-and-tested tips...

1. Look forward to it!...
Okay, so you may love being a full-time mum (I certainly did) but that doesn't mean you can't also love the time when they're not with you. You need this time! There's a lot to be said for nurturing yourself, as well as that amazing sailing feeling you get from when you're on top of everything. Don't focus on the child you're missing. Focus on how good you can feel when they're at nursery, school or college, and how that will help you be a happier person and mother, as well as have more time for them when they're home.

coping when your child starts school: distract yourself
2. Distract yourself from the combination of mother's guilt, worry, and missing them...
So how do you stop focusing on the child your missing? Distract yourself. Fill your day up with plans. Get that calendar or notebook out, and fill each day with things that you couldn't do when they are around (hello art galleries!) and the things you never get round to (let that 'to-do' list regurgitate itself all over your day!) And remember that your child is mostly going to be having a great time and not thinking about you (sorry, but!)

3. Treat yourself...
Looking after your children all the time is hard work. Just think how many mothers say they go to work to get a break! You've earnt a treat. Whether it's a peaceful cuppa and cake in a cafe with a good book, a decent run with a friend, or a trip to that aforementioned art gallery - schedule it in, give yourself a little something just for you every day. It will give you something to look forward to and a way to nurture yourself. But you must do it without feeling guilty. Remember: if you're an empty vessel you won't be able to fully give what your children need when they're around. After that little break in a coffee shop you'll be a much happier, nicer, contended mum. It's a win-win.

get your to do list done when your child is at school
4. Do the things you never had time for when your children were at home...
This is where that to-do list comes in. Go room to room and write down everything that needs doing, from tiny jobs to big ones, and promise yourself to do something from that list every week (or even every day). Write a list of birthdays coming up in the next few months and get those gifts and cards blitzed early. Organise your finances. Organise your files. I do not think there's a mother out there who doesn't have a to-do list weighing her down, and this is your opportunity to lighten that load. You cannot underestimate the benefit to your mood, mental health and mothering from ticking those things off and feeling successful and competent again.

healthy, treaty lunch for one when you're a mum
5. Focus in on lunchtime...
Now this is a really practical one and it makes a lot of sense. You've probably had time on your own without the children before. Maybe they've done a little time at nursery already. Maybe they have headed out to play some sports with their dad for a couple of hours at the weekend. But you've probably not had lunch on your own, in your own house, since before they were born. I certainly hadn't! So this time could feel the strangest being alone. Make this meal a real highlight of your day! Sit down and take a break, whether you're sat at the table with the radio on or catching up on blogs or the news on your computer. Make yourself something that's both healthy and a treat, that your kids would never eat. Make lunch the highlight of your day on your own, not the loneliest time.

after school treats and snacks
6. Make their return home from school special...
This is a great one to rid yourself of mother's guilt for all those moments when you've nurtured yourself (you shouldn't feel guilty about it but, come on, we all do). Your children will come home a little hungry and cranky. They've not been with you all day. And, ta-da, here is the plate of flapjacks you've made to make them feel special when they're home! Trust me, a gift of a (not-too-unhealthy) cake goes a long way to make you feel like the 'besd mummy in the wurld' (yes I still have that note my Little One wrote me way back on Mother's Day!)

working mums' tips for coping when your child starts school
7. (I know, I said six tips, but here's a bonus one for mums who work)...
I know, you work full time and you feel this whole post has been for those stay-at-home mums you beat yourself up about. But I know both sides of this feeling, since I work from home. And I also have lots of friends struggling with the juggle of work and family life. My number one tip: cut yourself some slack. You're doing your best. Sometimes that's not good enough, sometimes it is. The same goes for every single mother the world over, whether she looks after her kids full time or works. The best thing is that if you didn't work now, your children wouldn't be at home anyway since they have to go to school, so you can wipe off a whole heap of guilt straight away. My second tip: get help. Share the jobs around the house. Get a cleaner if you can afford one. Give up on ironing. Delegate the homework to Dad or your grandparents. Whatever it is, don't try and do two full-time jobs at once. And don't do more than you need to. There are only so many hours in the day and having a nice time together with your kids for some of them will make all of you feel happier.

Good luck!


Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Camping in St Davids, Pembrokeshire

I'm going to overwhelm you with beautiful photographs of our camping trip to St Davids in Pembrokeshire (SW Wales), while telling you the best and worst of our holiday. I hope you've got a cuppa handy and have given the kids a big box of Lego! Yes? Right, then let's get started...

Firstly, it goes without saying, it was just stunningly beautiful. Rugged yet not barren, imbued with all the jewel colours you could imagine. That sapphire sky! Those emerald cliffs! And the sea, oh the turquoise of the sea.

Pembrokeshire is also full of pretty, ice-cream coloured towns and villages. There are the tacky bits, but most of it is the sort of place that makes you wonder about moving there. Look, I even dressed nautically for the occasion (let's pretend it was happy happenstance instead of my usual embarrassing need to theme everything).

We had a beautiful day out in Tenby. The beach, well just look, are words needed? I highly recommend the little walk around the headland that the tourist office there suggests. You get to see the most amazing lifeboat you'll probably ever see.

It's got all the little nooks and crannies you'd hope for, whether those in the town or down on the seashore. I'm not sure how to say this without sounding like a snotty southerner, but Pembrokeshire will appeal to you if you like Cornwall!

Another highlight, during the second half of our week, was the most beautiful coastal walk along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. It really was my most favourite part of the holiday. The Little One and I caught crickets, we all watched in awe as coasteering teenagers appeared through gaps in the cliffs, we ate ice creams at the beautiful harbour of Porth Clais, and marvelled at every new view as the path twisted and turned.

It was worth the holiday alone. And that's saying something, because on our second night at the campsite half the tents were irreparably damaged by a huge storm, and ours was broken too. We were lucky to find somewhere to fix our broken tent poles. Being huddled in a tent with screaming winds around you, frightened children clinging to you and your husband and mother outside wrestling guy ropes while being battered by the elements does not appear in the dictionary's definition of 'holiday'. When the second storm hit 48 hours later, we weren't going to take any chances so we packed up our entire tent and luggage, drove to the nearest Travelodge for the night, and then came back the next day to set everything back up again. This does not appear in the dictionary under 'relaxing' either.

But just look at those views! It was almost as though the coast was apologising to us. And, battered though we were, we crumbled under the pressure of such beauty and forgave it.

The second half of our holiday also included a trip to the surfer's Whitesands beach for paddling, wave jumping, sandcastle building, and, of course, wind breaking.

Some geometric castles were built! For this one my husband was the put-upon assistant. I helped with the square and circular variants but I think his was best (don't tell him I said that).

Some beaches were sat on and, dare I say it, slept on. Some fields were flown on by kites and chasing boys. The wind did have some uses after all. And the football! Oh a lot of that was played too. I'm sure our neighbours on the campsite remember the odd ball hitting their tents (why do boys always forget to keep it in the middle of the field!?)

Possibly the most beautiful yet missed part of our visit was St Davids Cathedral. We briefly saw it (just look at those cloisters!) when searching for somewhere to eat lunch between rain showers (it has an impressive refectory) but because the weather truncated our holiday sightseeing, we missed out on a proper visit. I'm sure this was fate's way of getting us to go back to St Davids again.

We stopped off, near the end, at Pembroke Castle which has to be one of the best I've ever visited (and I've visited a lot). It was stunning. Truly stunning. Even under grey skies and with the highest sections shut due to the wind speed. Our boys relished the chance to be knights and kept in character all the way around our exploration of battlements and rooms.

They even have a giant map of Wales and giant chess knights to play with! I don't know exactly what they were in those boys' eyes but they played very earnestly with them for a good twenty minutes!

Go. I suppose that's the two letter word that sums this all up. Just look at those skies below! Just look at the sun on the calm sea. Even with all the hell thrown at us in the first four days, we came home slightly in love with the place. Though if we book to go again (and we stayed at St Davids' Caerfai Farm campsite, which was organic and a little basic in places but just what we were looking for and exactly what we'd recommend) we'll change our minds at the last minute if storms are forecast. We're fair weather campers from now on!

The Twinkle Diaries

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

If I could...

My lovely blogging friend Lizzie wrote a very interesting 'If I could...' and challenged me to do the same (thanks!). This daydreaming list project was initiated by Jocelyn at The Reading Residence I think. I've been quiet for the last fortnight (life!) and thought it'd be a nice way to reintroduce myself. So here goes...

If I could live anywhere...

I would be about an hour from my parents. I know I should probably pick a specific place but that's the answer my heart tells me. I used to live 5 minutes walk away. Too near. Now I live 4-5 hours drive away. Much, much too far. Other than that, my must-haves are to be in Britain, with woodland, hedgerow, rivers or streams, wildflowers, friendliness and a train to take me to the galleries and shops of a city.

If I could have any home...

It would have to be Georgian/Victorian, with sash windows, a big stained-glass window door, double-fronted (well, I may as well shoot for the moon), with working fireplaces, high ceilings, and full of light.

If I could have any garden...

It would have grass for the boys to play ball games, rambling beds of country-garden flowers, brick walls leading to other garden 'rooms', bird feeders, a courtyard area with cornflower-blue garden furniture and, if I'm being honest, no midges at all.

If I could be on holiday right now...

You're going to think I'm really strange but most of the time I just like being at home! If I were on holiday though, I'd pick the British seaside in the sun and warmth (if such a thing exists), Paris in springtime, or Tuscany in the autumn. My magic three holiday ingredients are culture, scenery and good food.

If I could have any job...

I'd be a writer. No hesitation. Sewing comes a close second, as does being a university lecturer (though I think that ship has passed!). If I am completely honest there are quite a lot of days where I'd like no job at all! For the past six years though, I've been a stay-at-home mother which was my ideal job while my boys were small. I've been very lucky.

If I could have any talent...

I'd have the talent of not procrastinating. Seriously. And if that can't be done, I used to be pretty good at drawing, and I'd be very glad to have that talent back.

If I could live any day again...

I'm not sure if I would. But my instincts are always to go back to a day when I've made terrible mistakes and fix them, rather than to go back and experience a day of great joy again. There was one day, aged fifteen or sixteen, when I couldn't handle my emotions and so was terribly unkind to someone who least deserved it. I'd probably go back and change that. I wasn't that great at adolescence!

If I could have any superpower...

Oooh! Let me think... There are definitely some days I'd like the power of reading minds! Is that too Machiavellian? And I'm not sure if it's a superpower, but I bet superheros need less sleep than me and can wake up at 6am wide awake and raring for action. That'd be very useful!

Thanks for the tag, Lizzie. Thought-provoking! I nominate ...

Rachel at The Ordinary Lovely and Lowri at Little Maldod: if you have the time and inclination to join in, please do!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Weekly Baking: a summer berry tart with good intentions

I try to bake something every week. I don't always achieve it. There are after-school snacks to take care of, the occasional pudding, and those empty-tummy moments that seem to accompany my life working from home. I've been trying to bake more healthily, with Ella's book, the Hemsley sisters and Sarah's lovely book. Yes there have been the ubiquitous date balls, raw food brownies, and oat-banana cookies in my kitchen, just as you've seen all over the blogosphere. 

And then this last weekend, I just needed a good old-fashioned fat & sugar blow-out.

Nigella to the rescue!
Nigella Lawson's Easy Summer Berry Tart
This is Nigella's No Fuss Fruit Tart. Brownie point one (pardon the pun): it was so easy to make. Brownie point two: no unusual ingredients. Brownie point three: no oven involved. Brownie point four: it's absolutely delicious. And those berries: just look at those rich red to blue hues. You can't help but want slice after slice.
Nigella Lawson's Easy Summer Berry Tart
The down side is that I couldn't in good conscience give such a sugar/fat-fest to my young children twice a day. And my husband and eldest son are both on a pudding-free health kick (which means one slim slice only). And my very youngest Tiny One, who is the lone picky eater in a family of adventurous eaters (I can't even begin to tell you how draining it can be), didn't like it.

Conclusion: make it for a dinner party, or a big family gathering, or friends for a barbecue. It's so easy, everyone will have a slice, and pretty much everyone will love it. 

Don't make it like I did, just for your family who mostly won't eat it. Otherwise you might end up eating about three-quarters of it all to yourself a week before going on holiday when you're supposed to be being good (swimming costume shame, blah blah).

Consider my wrists slapped. I'm back to the raw health food. Once I've polished off the last slice that is.
The Twinkle Diaries

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Room for improvement: reversible bedroom cushions

I'm starting a new occasional series on the blog today. It's called 'Home Improvement'. What is it and why?
  • Our house is in a permanent state of un-finished-ness (yes I know that's not a word!) I want to feel it's done. I want to feel proud of it.
  • We never have time to decorate, and we certainly never have the money. I want to move it up our priority list, and this series will act as a motivator. I want to be more creative with what we have and where we source things.
  • I love to make and to sew and I do it for my job, but I would love an excuse to sew more for our home. I want to have at least one thing I've made in every room.
I plan to tackle one room at a time, and give myself (or, let's be honest, ourselves, since I'll be roping my husband in) one month for each room. They won't always be completely finished by then (far from it), but they can certainly be improved. Hence, Room for improvement.

I'm starting properly with August in our youngest's bedroom. But until then, I've dipped my toe in the water with some new cushions for our bedroom. I love these prints and didn't want to sew and give them away. And I needed to time myself making cushions. So they became a sneaky project just for me!

Sewing just for me! Yes, it's both my husband's and my bedroom but he would never say "Do you know, we really need some cushions," so it was definitely a selfish project. I was inspired by Things for Boys' #selfishswap and though the deadline was the end of June, I haven't got around to photographing and blogging these until now.

What do you think? The good news, or the bad news depending on how you look at it, is that I'm inspired to sew a whole load more for our room.

For those who are interested, I recovered the chair in Raindrop Poppies Bronze from Anna Maria Horner's Field Study line and blogged about it here. I made the cushions mostly using fabric from The Village Haberdashery, one of my most favourite online fabric stores. The fabrics, top to bottom (in the picture below) are... well I shouldn't have said top to bottom as I can't remember the first one! But I really love those Arabic-looking trees, so do tell me if you know. After that, it's Lizzie House's Pearl Bracelets in cosmonaut, Hothouse Flowers Seeds in pink, and Michael Miller's Brambleberry Ridge Flight in gold & white.

Home Etc

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Crafting with Kids: home-made thank you cards in 3 quick & easy steps!

So this is the way it goes it my house: child has birthday. Child receives birthday presents. Child needs to send thank you letters. Mother keeps forgetting. It was the Little One's birthday in early June and now the month's been and gone I've really got to get these 'thank you' cards sorted!

It's important to me that those people who were kind and generous enough to give a present get a meaningful thank you in return. That means different things to different people, but to me it means a handmade thank you card.

It is also important to me that I don't give myself yet another huge 'to do' on top of everything else, and that writing 'thank you's' is not something my children dread as a chore. You can see the colourful 'thank you' cards my Tiny One made after his birthday here. But I can't do the same thing with the Little One (their birthdays are two months apart and my aunties would remember!).

Which brings me to...

Step one: Find an appropriate picture your child has made, or get them to make one. I used a Star Wars picture my six year old made for his Star Wars party but it would've been more sensible to find one on a white background. Of course, you can keep a coloured background but I was being thrifty and avoiding caning through all that yellow ink!

Step two: Scan and upload your picture. Now, if you have photoshop like me, you can white out the coloured background and add some text (I used a free Star Wars font that I downloaded). If not, get your fabulously helpful child to make you a bespoke picture and write 'thank you' etc on it. Using photoshop or your programme of choice, multiply that photo into four on an A4 sheet. You could do this using a photo mosaic programme too.

Step three: Print the photos out on thick paper stock, cut up and use! (Here's where it gets a bit tricky as you have to get your six-year-old to neatly write their name over a dozen times!)

Helpful? If you want more specific instructions on how to do this on photoshop (it took me less than half an hour), do let me know!
The Twinkle Diaries

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Happy Father's Day: an ode to the father of my children

This man. This man who spent most of Father's Day in car travelling back from a wedding. This man for whom Father's Day came and went without much fanfare. This man who deserves a fanfare. Let me tell you nine things about this man...
  1. He is a father to my sixteen year old in every sense. I forget he's not his biological father. I think they both forget it too. And that's the best I could ever have hoped for.
  2. He is our rock. For all of us, we can always rely on him, we can always lean on him, and we always know where we stand. There's a lot to be said for a man like that.
  3. He is thoughtful, considered and methodical. We know what he believes to be true and good, and we know he will stand by that. He believes in family, in honesty, in stability, in perseverance. He takes a little getting to know, which is a good thing. When you know his soul, you've earnt that knowledge and you hold it dear.
  4. He has been such a natural father to our little two boys. He has felt every joy, noticed every idiosyncrasy, learnt every quirk of their personalities. He knows what they need and he gives it to them. He is steadfast in focusing on their needs when they are distracted by their wants! You need that in a parent.
  5. He is generally a serious man, but we all get to enjoy his silliness, his thrill-seeking, his fun and jokes, his adventurous spirit. One of my favourite things is to see him forget his self-consciousness and do a loony little dance with the boys in the kitchen.
  6. He puts his needs aside and can just do the right thing because it's right. When he's tired or has had a hard day at work, he still does what the boys need, he still reads the stories with them or takes them out on their bikes. He's the kind of man who gets out of bed on time every morning. I'm the kind of woman who stays in bed for 'one more minute'. I wish I were more like him!
  7. Really, he dreams of being a photographer. But he stays doing his job, which he likes enough, which is good enough, which pays just about enough. He stays because he's a responsible kind of guy, and because he knows that in this season of our lives he's our breadwinner and we all rely on him. I really hope that one day I get really successful or that lottery win magically arrives, because I'd love to let him throw caution to the wind and follow his dreams.
  8. He's the kind of father these boys need. Reliable. Strong. Great at kicking a ball (or whatever sport they're currently into). Predictable. But sometimes surprising. Interested in them. Attentive. And sucking up the joy they bring into his life.
  9. He doesn't read this blog. Well he's maybe read it once or twice, but he's not a fan of social media, and so I've taken to writing away without even mentioning it much. But he supports me and he believes in me. He thinks I can write. Part of being a good father is being a good husband, and for that I'm a very lucky lady.
(PS I can't believe I just referred to myself as 'lady'. Wasn't I just sixteen a moment ago?!)
(PPS For a similarly effusive and grateful post about my own dad, see here.)

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Southwold, family and aging

We all went to Southwold to celebrate my Dad's 70th birthday. My husband and my three boys, my parents, my brothers and their partners. And an auntie, a baby in a belly and a dog. This was all of my family and I have to tell you: I love them all like crazy. And I really like them (which I know not everyone can say about their families). Suffice to say, it was good to all be together.
We holed up in a big fancy house, ate good food, mooched around the Southwold shops, took walks, played on the beach, and generally fantasised about living there. I mean, just look at these pictures. I defy you to not want to visit, at the very least.
My youngest two boys just love the seaside. They are diligent diggers. They are wild wave jumpers. They screech when their toes are chased by the chilly sea and run away just slow enough to be caught by it. They build sandcastles, bury toes, and don't seem to mind if it's nippy or warm. They could stay there for hours and it's a shame we didn't always have time to.
My feet had their first wriggles in the sand too. Really I'm an inland girl at heart: I'd pick a wildflower-bordered country lane, a bluebell-bespeckled wood, a windswept hillside or a verdant stream over the seaside every time. But I still love to visit the coast.
It was good to all be together, but this 70th birthday felt important. Not only has my Dad had a few narrow escapes healthwise in the last few years, but he's really struggled with aging. I often felt the need to hold on to the gladness that he's here with us still, and also to discard the negativity over his getting older and instead count our blessings. I really hope he can learn to embrace the passing of time because, to me, it is a sign of how lucky he is. The alternative to aging is not to be here at all, and I know too many people who've lost older relatives to know that we should be cheering for getting older. It means life.
I got to know my brother's partner a bit more too. They've been together a year or two but I haven't met him much. My middle brother and I can be quite different but I feel really fond of him and sort of protective. The youngest brother has always got on with his life and done well out of it. I worry about my middle brother more and want good things for him. I think that's what his new partner is: a good thing. It was lovely to see my brother so settled and at ease in himself.
Ooh this blog post is turning out much more reflective than I thought. I guess it was that kind of a holiday. I guess that's what happens when you bring all the branches of your family together to mark a critical gateway in life. And there we all were: me settled with kids, my middle brother settling down, my youngest brother on the journey to fatherhood (he'll be such a good one). And my parents heading towards older age but with such youthful hearts. There was this one time when my mum and her sister took me into Seasalt to buy me a coat (and that's another story - watch this space!), and my dad and eldest son came in to give their opinions too, and I just thought: I'm not a strike-out-on-my-own kind of a person. I'm quite independent in lots of ways but, gosh, I really need to feel like I'm sandwiched in the metaphorical hug of a big family all the time. And weirdly, the older I get the more I feel I need them around.
It was a really good break. Southwold: I'm sorry I didn't say enough about you in this post. You were cheery and inspiring. You were the kind of place I felt I belonged in. I couldn't live there (coast!), but my goodness you were the perfect match for a holiday. And to my family: I meant it. I really, really like you lot.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The 2015 Summer List

The 'a touch of domesticity' 2015 Summer List
I feel like I can finally say, without jinxing it (though you know it really will be jinxed now I've said that)... summer's here! But what to do this summer? My list of activities for the boys' six-seven weeks at home is coming up in July, but here's my list of things that I want to accomplish, for me and the family. You know me, it's going to have nine things in it...
  1. Get outdoors every day. Once the school holidays kick in it can be tempting to stay in with the Lego on a miserable day, but my boys are like sheepdogs - they need to get out. They need to work off some energy, they need a change of scene, they need inspiration and adventure. And I also need the inhalation of simplicity, appreciation and good old fresh air.
  2. Visit more National Trust properties. Once a week - yes really - once the holidays kick in, and occasionally on weekends before then. We do go often but we went to Tatton Park last weekend (post to follow) and it cured all ailments, at least for a while.
  3. Sew more for me. With the job I have (curtain & blind making), if I'm not sewing for someone else I'm not sewing at all. I've got to shift some of my plans from the 'to do' to the 'done' list.
  4. Watch less telly. It's beautiful outside, there are books inside, conversation to be had... to be honest, I would've gladly done this a long time ago but my husband needs television to manually switch him from 'work' to 'relaxed' mode. I need to tell him that I don't.
  5. Bring more of the outdoors indoors. Fill every vase at least once. It finishes a room, and it elevates my mood. It's better for the environment and my bank balance if I don't go and buy the ubiquitous cellophane-wrapped store flowers.
  6. Keep spending less. Every little helps (no, I'm not referring to the supermarket). Not that we spend much anyway but we're trying hard to be even thriftier at the moment. I'll be making more ice creams at home, looking for free outdoor adventures, cutting off my jeans rather than buying shorts.
  7. Bake more. We've been on a healthy eating kick recently and, with all the Easter chocolate still around, there's been no reason to bake. But there are healthy cakes out there these days (it's no longer an oxymoron) and the baking element of this blog's subtitle has been sorely lacking.
  8. Make a little cot quilt for my first ever niece or nephew. She or he will be a summer baby and will have to get used to an auntie showering it in sewn gifts!
  9. Fix myself. The rubbish anxiety condition that the PTSD left me with four years ago has been niggling a bit recently. I can usually go four-six months absolutely fine before a few days or weeks of a dip. But recently, though much less severe, it's been kicking in every few weeks and to be honest I'm fed up of it. It isn't me and it stops me from living the life I want and need to live.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Days out with the kids: West Green House Gardens in Hampshire

Let me pique your interest with these beauties...
Come for a walk with me. We're going to West Green House Gardens in Hampshire, a third of the way down the M3...
We'll potter along formal garden paths, boxed by hedges and planted with such an array of beauty that your heart will sing, while your children run around excitedly playing hide & seek...
We'll explore woodland paths too, tickled by ferns and sheltered by boughs laden with all the shades of emerald...
We'll find nooks and outdoor rooms, and every now and then a peek at the house we wished we lived in, the chicken coop that is fancier than any we've ever seen, the statues that surprise us...
And if we're there in spring time, the blossom, oh the blossom. And for tulip lovers (like us), every shade, every form, every delight we could imagine. The children will hop over the channels of water while we soak it all in...
We'll take note of the colours we see, the flowers we love, and vow to take our mothers one day, who would love it so much...
We will show the children the flowers they can smell, the insects buzzing around in spoilt gluttony, let them run down the paths and play hide & seek some more...
And every corner we turn will bring us a fresh view of elegance, of artistry, of wonder. We'll imagine sitting by that fountain in the thirties, cocktail in hand, band playing in the distance. Or pushing open those formerly unlocked gates and strolling, Victorian dress swishing around our ankles, with someone we hope likes us back...
Our families will rest by the lake, searching the depths for signs of fish, watching the ripples as they dance away, looking at their reflections...
If we're there in early spring, the magnolias will be out in all their gravity-defying beauty. We will muse on their bold promise of warmth and daylight to come...
We'll grab an ice cream from the cafe, or sit at one of the pretty little tables, adorned with little pots of flowers, and drink coffee from a filter or tea from a teapot - served as it should be, - drunk with birdsong in the air...
If we're there with our husband, we'll hold hands and talk about life and our plans, delight in our children as they play, and think how lucky we are, and how many blessings we can count...
If we're there with our friends, we'll note the hellebores and bluebells hidden in the flower beds, plan our own gardens, tell each other of how our lives are changing and blossoming too...
Perhaps we'll be lucky enough to be local enough to visit again. Perhaps we'll plan trips to the opera there, staged in the summer, or the garden parties with strings. Perhaps though, like my family and I, we'll know that the chances of us ever passing by again are so very small, and instead we'll take photographs, breathe it all in, and then write a little about it to tell you that if you can't come with us, go with your own loved ones instead. It is heavenly.