Wednesday, 31 March 2010

April Showers & April Fools...

I'm so sorry that I haven't posted for a while....I have so missed it, and my blogging friends! Both our computers have been out of action for some time and, although the 'big' one is still glitchy, this little laptop is now ok so I can finally catch up & also pay a visit to the wonderful friends I've missed while I've been away. So if I haven't commented for a while it really isn't personal -just technical!

Anyway, I know that it isn't quite April yet but....Alice is being clipped today, the birds are singing, all the daffodils are nodding their beautiful heads in the rainy churchyard and on our walk yesterday I saw the first bright purple violets showing their beautiful faces. It's definitely Spring and I wanted to celebrate that a little today.
And tomorrow is April Fool's day!
It's not so important now that I'm (sort of) grown up, but I can never think of the day without remembering my dear Grandad who took such pleasure in it! We were usually staying with my grandparents at this time of year as we often travelled to Suffolk to spend Easter with them. And the pranks came thick & fast! My poor mother always fell for them to our great delight, despite knowing her father and his ways for all her life! She fell prey to gravy browning instead of tea (so sleepy she didn't notice until she'd half drunk the mugful....yuck!) to being told that her 'shoe laces were undone' despite the fact that she was wearing moccasins, and to the old 'put the clock forward by an hour so everyone thinks they're late' trick! How she must have hated it secretly, but she was such a good sport as we capered and giggled at her misfortune! I was only caught once I remember...I've always hated eggs and was SO upset when my grandmother said very sternly that I HAD to stop being ridiculous and eat the boiled egg she'd made for my breakfast, and stood over me to watch while I tearfully took my spoon and tried to crack the brown shell...and tried....and tried, while she and my Grandad stood with their mouths twitching, knowing full well that it was a trick sugar egg (very realistic!) When had they ever made me eat an egg before? I really should have known....!

They've both been gone a long time now...Grandma died 20 years ago this month and Grandad 17 years ago in September....can it be that long? I'll think of them both tomorrow with a smile, and remember the happy times we shared.

Looking forward to April and all it brings. xoxo

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Price of Vanity....

Happy Friday everyone!! Can you believe that it's the weekend again? I really can't.

So, yesterday I had a really funny little episode that I thought I'd share with you...I hope it makes you laugh, as it did me (in the end.....!)

A few days ago, I just felt....drab is the only word for it. I looked in the mirror and a middle-aged woman looked back at me...baggy neck, wrinkled eyes, greying at the temples (not just the temples either, if I'm honest....) ugh. I just felt OLD & frumpy. Silly, so silly & vain I know. But these days happen. So as well as a facial at bathtime, I thought it would be a good idea (!) to lighten & brighten my hair - a quick way of changing my appearance for the better I thought. It was mousey & boring. I bought a colour...extra light beige blonde I think it was. I've always been blondish, so I knew it would look ok. Well, it didn't look terrible...but I just didn't like it. It was too...mmm...golden for me. I hate my hair to have a brassy tint, and I felt that it did. Even though many people said that they liked it - and even more people didn't even notice a difference, I just felt it was wrong. So yesterday I tried to lighten it some more...BIG mistake, huge...looked even worse. So I asked Esther's advice - she has a beautiful pearly platinum crop, so a good person to ask. Use a pre-lightener to strip out the colour, she said....follow with a toner to take out the yellow.

So I dashed down to the shop, looked through the multitude of boxes and found a good make of pre-lightener & a toner, plus some very expensive shampoo to maintain the colour when it was done (with ultra violet somethings & lavender was bright purple, but I wasn't scared, oh no! I was going to look faaaaabulous!)

Did everything it said on all the packets...honestly! And I ended up seeing this staring back at me from the mirror:

And it actually looks better in the photograph. Really. I looked like a daffodil or as though I had a young chick nesting on my head.
There was nothing for it but to tie a scarf over my head (thank goodness the hair is short...!) and RUN back to the shop, praying that no one I knew saw me. I got to the store in 4 minutes. Chose 'light brown'. Paid (ignoring the smirks from the checkout girl who was about 17 with gorgeous silky hair....) and ran back (I have to pass Paul's office on the way, luckily no one was looking out of the window or I'd have a divorce petition this morning!) bumping into my brother-in-law on the way! I never see him in out town, ever. Of all the times on all the days. So I had to explain (quickly) while he doubled over laughing and trying to pull the scarf from my poor chicklike head....
Managed to get away, home & applied the new colour, so now I look like this:

Which is, of course, exactly the way I looked yesterday, before I started all the nonsense. Ok, the grey has gone (for a while).

The price of vanity? About £50. To end up looking exactly the same as if I'd saved the money.

Lesson learned. Until next time.....

Enjoy your weekend, and remember - you're beautiful just the way you are, I promise! xox

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Remembering Militza....

Tomorrow it will be ten years since Militza died.

Even written down, I can't quite believe it's been that long since I saw her.

There was never a time when I didn't know and love her. She was an elegant, charming woman from another time and place who brought a little of that long gone world into the lives of my family, and we talk about her and miss her so much still.

She and her beloved husband, John, were Serbians. Both were from aristocratic families, with charmed lives in their youth....they lived on beautiful family estates with private vineyards, servants....Militza was a model in the early 1930's...we have photographs of her, looking back over one shoulder, hair shiny & perfectly marcel-waved, draped in a column of pale satin with a long rope of pearls around her swanlike neck. One evening, 5 European kings spent the night at her family's home. She and her sisters travelled to all the wonderful places Europe had to offer, Vienna, Budapest, Paris. They took skiing holidays in Winter, photographs show them laughing and clutching each other, balanced precariously on old-fashioned wooden skis...lakeside trips in summer, gorgeous groups of tanned boys in white shirts or all-in-one bathing costumes, the girls with their sun-streaked hair in plaits. What could go wrong for them in life? Well, firstly the Nazis occupied their country. And when they were gone, the Communists took over. All the family's remaining assets were seized. John was a diplomat, an intellectual and therefore an 'enemy of the state' who had to be imprisoned. He managed to escape - it took a long time, with much hardship and he suffered a crippling stroke which left him forever paralysed on his left side, his arm useless, his leg in callipers. But he was very fortunate to end up in England in the care of the Red Cross, and from there to be taken in by a wonderful Red Cross volunteer., who treated him like a member of her own family. After a time, Militza managed to join him with many trials and tribulations along the way. This was all in the late '40's & early '50's. When my parents were newlyweds, their first house was next door to widowed Mrs Cross and her housekeeper Militza, who had a disabled husband. And they became friends. When Mrs Cross died, she left Militza & John her home and it's contents for the rest of their lives (a truly amazing woman) and, even when they moved house, my parents kept in close touch with them. As our own grandparents lived far away, we looked on them as an extra set.

It's hard, now, to convey what stepping through their front door was like. I can best describe it by saying that it was like entering another world. A world of charm, courtesy and old-fashioned eastern european manners. As a couple, they were completely interwoven - so tightly that, despite adoring us girls, they had decided to never have children of their own so as not to disrupt their own relationship (not something my parents ever understood, and an unusual opinion - but theirs alone, and it worked for them.) Despite their huge fall from the grace of their early years -I always knew them to live in comparative poverty, as they owned nothing but the few possessions they'd been bequeathed or had managed to smuggle out & my parents supported them financially until the end of their lives-they never showed any bitterness or anger at the hand that life had dealt them. And the food......ah, the food. Militza was one of the best cooks I have ever know, as it was their tradition to learn from their mothers even in those exalted social circles! The crispest chicken, surrounded by homemade sauerkraut with creamy, creamy mashed potato....cakes such as I will never make, remembered from the travels of her youth...all the best from the 1930's patisseries of Vienna, Prague & Budapest....flaky cheese pie that melted on the tongue...biscuits speckled black with vanilla...
Entertaining guests was one of her specialities, especially on their Saint's Day in December which was more important to them than Christmas...a huge feast was prepared and the best glasses & dishes put out....special prayers were said over the traditional foods...we were warm ,loved and well-fed.

Our school bus used to drop us off outside their house, and often we would stop in for tea. However young we were, it was always hot, fragrant Lapsang Souchong...served to us children in bone china cups rimmed with gold, and plates of thin, crustless white bread spread with unsalted butter and draped with wafer slices of continental salami...I can honestly taste it now. We felt like Queens!

When John died, Militza was quite literally hearbroken. She lived for ten years more, but the joyous cooking all but ceased, the zest for life disappeared slowly. She would talk with longing of the day they would be together again. Awful for us to hear, or even think about. But that was their love story. When she died, very suddenly and without any fuss, at 89...we all knew, despite our loss, that she was where she wanted to be. Reunited with the all-consuming love of her life. Happy again at last.

She gave me many treasures in those last years....
the scarf she wore on their honeymoon....
the amazing robe that her closest sister handmade and quilted as a present for her wedding trousseau...

And, nearest to my heart because it encompasses the love that they both shared, the golden cross that John gave to her, inscribed with her name in his handwriting. So, so special.

Dusk has fallen. I have lit the Yahrzeit candle which will burn all night and all day in remembrance. But I know that, wherever she is, she is happy and at peace because she is with John.

I am so lucky to have known her and to have had them in my life.

Milosava Nikolic
10th April 1911-17th March 2000
Remembered always with love and thanks.

Monday, 15 March 2010

In Praise of Kindness....

I haven't posted for a while, as I have been 'farmsitting' while my parents were visiting Esther and her family in Australia. But they're safely home now, and while it was wonderful to spend time there, I'm so glad to be back in my routine too!

I saw the movie Invictus a couple of weeks ago. Aside from being blown away by Morgan Freeman's amazing performance as Nelson Mandela, and so moved by the story itself, it made me think about why Mandela is such an icon in the world. Of course it's partly his immense courage, strength of character and capacity for forgiveness in the face of almost unbearable bigotry, cruelty and unfairness. But, I believe, it's also his innate kindness. He extends the same gentleness to everyone, never minding their colour or politics. Takes time and effort to memorise names, faces, things that are important to those around him. It may be a small, simple thing - dwarfed by the bigger character traits he possesses maybe - but I began to think that it is this that the world could do with more of.

So, in a small way, I've been trying to incorporate more small acts of kindness into my everyday life. Really thinking about those I love...what do they actually need or want? It's often very different from what I would choose, but I'm trying to honour it! And not just with people I know, either. I've been noticing the people behind me in the grocery queue with just one bottle of milk and letting them in front of me, or returning people's empty trolleys in the carpark, or giving the homeless man with the cute Jack Russell an extra pound coin. I'm not always thanked, seen or acknowledged. Some might say (I might have once myself) that the homeless man will only spend the money on drink. I don't think it matters. I'm trying, really trying, to think of others more - to notice people - and to incorporate little 'gifts' into my day for them.

One thing I know. It makes me feel wonderful when someone does something nice for me, or pays me an unsolicited compliment. So I know it works!

Have a wonderful week.....xoxo

Friday, 5 March 2010

Tranquil places...

When I'm really tired and stressed, as I have been for the past week or so, I just love to escape into the countryside (luckily right on our doorstep) with Alice and drink in the calmness and serenity that itbrings's the putting into perspective of humans and our really very small problems in comparison with the ancient spread and rhythm of Mother Nature..
this is our favourite walk...Alice ignores the ponies (actually, she's scared witless if one of them moves towards her...!)
I am also so very lucky that, 30 years ago, my parents bought the home that, although it has another name, is known by us all simply as The Farm...
My two sisters and I, and their families, love to return here as often as possible. Not only is it where our beloved 'Mum & Dad' live, but it holds something very special for each of's that kind of place...
It's age plays a big part in that...the house has rooms dating back almost 500 years, and you can feel the history and sense the other lives and young families that have lived so happily within it's walls. It's a place for children...old & young...
my Dad adores nature of all kinds, and is so knowledgeable about wild creatures of every sort, but he has a special love of birds...
even the chicken house is special!
And the crocuses are all out now...

they have 3 beautiful dogs, including the newest arrival - dear little JoJo..who fits in perfectly and feels she has landed in Heaven for sure!

all of our dogs & cats that are no longer with us are buried at the farm, and we love to pass them on our walks with the living, panting ones who accompany us now...they all race about madly, our own dogs as well as JoJo, Widget & Ivy...
and Alice gets thoroughly tired out by it all......!

Enjoy your weekend, and find peace where you can xox