One evening last week I found myself by myself, with no fixed plans, no errands, no DIY. What to do? Lying on the sofa seemed appealing, but the evening sunshine won in the end, and I drove out into the peak district.
I parked somewhere I'd not parked before, and set off towards a rocky outcrop in the distance.
These outcrops litter the area, and are stunning to walk along. This one was no exception.
I love the way the rocks seem to tumble over each other, and the strange gaps and balancing stones.
I ambled along for an hour or so, watching the last of the sun light up the heather.
Of course, the midges were out, and I was bitten all over, including both eyelids (which I would recommend avoiding - it's not pleasant).
In case you're concerned about me wandering around wild places on my own in the evening, remember that this is the peak district - one of the most visited national parks in the UK. I definitely wasn't off the beaten track, and there's no chance of a place with a car park being deserted on a sunny summer evening.
There were other people around, but it didn't feel too busy, which is a nice mix. I got back to the car just as the sun set.
I've been on a bit of a jam-making mission lately. First up, starting from the left, was two large jars of gooseberry jam, with gooseberries picked from our own garden. One of these has been eaten already (told you we liked jam).
Next along is plain blackberry, and then some blackberry and roasted plum - a large jar for us and a small one to give away next time we go round to someone's house for tea. It's always nice to be able to take something home made as a gift for a host. Although I'm not sure what a great gift this will be - I boiled it for far too long and it's set almost entirely solid and needs slicing out of the jar.
And finally is the result of tonight's efforts - one large and three smaller jars of a rather firey plum and ginger. I did as the recipe suggested and tested the consistency, and it wrinkled nicely, although still seemed far too runny when I poured it into the jars. We'll see.
I think that's probably it for my jam-making exploits for this year. Everything is sticky, and I sympathise with a friend who was once convinced that her children oozed jam from their pores, as they always seemed to be covered in it, even when they hadn't had any.
It feels good to be making jam again. It's tasty, and also a nice distraction from house-related things. Today we had a request for some extra documents from the mortgage broker, and a large envelope arrived from the solicitor with lots of forms to fill in. These things are always slightly nerve-wracking, but it does mean that things are moving along as they should be. We'll do what's needed and send things back tomorrow. Fingers crossed...
Last night I found myself wandering round the local fields again, collecting blackberries. I love foraging, it gives me a great sense of satisfaction (and I like getting something for free, of course). I'm thrilled that, having missed several years of blackberry harvests, I'm making the most of this year.
I made a decision this year not to grow anything edible in our own garden (apart from the herbs and soft fruit that grows by itself), so we are incredibly grateful to friends who pass on their surplus produce. Just this week we've had an enormous marrow that has contributed to three meals so far, and these beautiful purple beans.
Today we popped to a friend's house for a cup of tea, and he confessed that his plums were rotting on the tree, and did we want to take any? Yes please! He's eaten his fill, and many of them were turning bad, so we picked the rest and will take him a jar of jam in return.
Of course, all this produce needs processing.
The blackberries were in most danger of rotting, so tonight I'm making a few jars of this roasted plum and blackberry jam. It's not ready yet, but I can tell you that the roasted plums smelled so delicious that I swiped a few to put in a quick rice pudding I just made to use up the last of a tin of coconut milk. I've not roasted plums before but that won't be the last time.
Tomorrow I'm planning to turn the rest of the plums into this plum and ginger jam.
It feels good to be making jam again. I'll definitely be planting a plum tree or two once we move.
As you know, I've spent much of the last two years looking like this. Dressed in overalls, on my knees, covered in paint, varnish, glue, soapy water, grime or some unholy combination of all of them. Frequently I have not had such a cheerful smile on my face.
But we've carried on regardless, and finally we finished (well, not completely finished, as we now have to patch up a spot where I leaned over and smeared hair dye onto the bathroom wall). But we're *nearly* finished anyway.
I kept promising a final 'before and (almost) after', so here goes... Yes, each of these pairs is the same room from roughly the same angle. I can't quite believe it either.
There were a couple of rooms that we didn't do anything drastic to, but they had a good tidy up and a lot of stuff removed.
I'm enjoying the sense of space, and I've discovered just how easy it is to tidy up when there aren't piles of paint tins and dust sheets and paper lying everywhere, but it doesn't really feel like our home any more.
Which is probably no bad thing, as our heads have inevitably turned to our new home. We are waiting to hear about our mortgage application - there's no real reason why they should refuse, but there's always a niggling doubt until the paperwork is signed. Then there'll be a survey, and the solicitor will do local authority searches, and the same will happen for the other people in our chain. It could take anything from four weeks to forever.
I'm not at my most patient right now.
In the meantime, we're wandering round saying goodbye to our favourite local haunts, although we'll no doubt be back to see them again.
We've spent a lot of time this year looking round other people's homes to see if we could make them ours.
I've very much enjoyed this - it's been fun travelling around the countryside and having a brief nosy into other people's lives. And it also seems to have involved rather a lot of tea.
We've been looking in quite a wide area, so it's been important to check out the local amenities near each house we look at - the most important of which are (of course) the cafes. We've had a bit of a routine - view a house, find a cafe to talk about what we thought. It's worked well.
Finally, we've found somewhere. I know, I know, we found somewhere before. But this time we're sure, and Important Legal Things have started happening.
It's exciting, but also a rather scary. What if it all goes wrong? Or what if it all goes right, and we move in, and decide it wasn't the right house after all?
Can you tell we don't move house very often?
If it does all go through, this will be the view from one of our fields (yes, fields - more than one). I think we'll cope, don't you?
I'll miss this gooseberry bush when we leave. I bought it from Poundland about eight years ago, and it looked like a stick for the first couple of years, but every summer since has grown more gooseberries than I thought possible from one small bush.
This year they were ready just as our house was going on the market, and I kept seeing them from the window and thinking 'I really must pick those gooseberries', but the freezer was full and in the midst of painting and gluing and fixing and packing and tidying, there was really no room for making jam.
So they stayed outside and the birds ate some (but not many) and the rest turned slowly brown.
Finally, the house was ready, and the viewings were done, and someone agreed to buy our house. One sunny weekend, I found myself with nothing to do (a rare occurrence), and my eye fell to the remainder of the gooseberry crop.
Sadly, most of them had gone, but I did gather enough for a decent bit of jam
I love making gooseberry jam. Once you get past the giant thorns, and the endless snipping of stalks, it's an easy process, and I love the way it turns from green to deep pink as it cooks.
I wasn't planning to make any more jam this year, but one evening last week I found myself yet again with little to do, and took off for a wander round the fields.
It was a lovely evening, and as I wandered my eye fell on... blackberries. In my head they are ready in September, and I miss them every single year. I gathered as many as I could carry (in, er, small plastic bags leftover from looking after a friend's dog the day before). Not exactly a picturesque Country Living magazine-style shot.
I wandered into the local park, which runs down the side of a hill, and provides an excellent view. I sat on a bench to watch the sun set, and before long was joined by our dog friend, and his owners. Most jolly.
So now we have a choice of jam, which is never a bad thing. I'm not sure how long it'll last. I've never made jam that needed to keep for very long, because we are avid jam-eaters in this house and I've never made enough to last longer than a week or two. One day I'll experiment with making enough to last the year. Probably need more than three jars though.