What’s with the weather?

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We have had a strange couple of days of weather here in the South East of England. Weather changes are frequent here of course and it is often a topic of conversation 😉 but yesterday was a particularly unusual day as far as the weather was concerned.

We drive to school along a coast road every morning and are always remarking on the ever changing moods and colours of the sea and sky. As a family we feel changes in mood and pressue in the atmosphere very keenly. Yesterday morning my daughters and I noticed the sun’s rays were just barely perceptible, but were still managing to make beautiful patterns through the clouds. What was an uplifting sight!

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When I picked my youngest daughter up from school at 1pm, she pointed out to me  how the sun was a pinky orange colour and could be gazed at without any glare.

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As we were driving to pick up my eldest from school at 3pm, the sky got progressively darker within a short space of time – very much like the solar eclipse we saw this summer in Portland, Oregon!

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The sky became a dark sludgy brown colour and the air was very still, as though holding its breath. It was very eerie!

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We haven’t experienced anything quite like this here, so I imagined it must have to do with weather fronts elsewhere in the world. My daughters, highly sensitive creatures that they are, remarked that they could smell burning in the air. My husband later informed us that there are forest fires in Portugal, a big hurricane in Ireland and the Sahara desert winds are carrying the sand far and wide. It all made sense finally….

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When I went out yesterday evening, the sky was tinged a yellowy/brown with a rainbow like stripe between the top of the sky (presumably clouds carrying the sands) and the bottom layer that was clearer. The sky got progressively more yellow as the sun set.

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I was just pointing and shooting, no filters!

This morning the sun was struggling to get through the clouds and even when it did briefly, it didn’t have it’s usual strength or glare for this time of year and was still a pinky/orange colour.

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There were a few glimpses of the sun on and off, including this uplifting sight

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Only this evening did the sky brighten up substantially and we enjoyed this heavenly sunset.

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What a funny couple of days it has been. I feel so grateful that we are safe and sound. My love, thoughts and prayers go out to all the places in the world where the weather is deeply affecting lives and the beautiful world that we live in 😦

I must say the gloom at 3pm in the afternoon was hard to take….I’m clearly not prepared for the winter months!!! 

An autumn day in Wisley, Surrey

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Last weekend we enjoyed the autumn colour at the RHS Garden at Wisley.

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We visit Wisley in every season and often meet up with with our favourite friends who live near London. The girls and their friends have a very special spot in Wisley where they have played fairies for years. There were once woven willow toadstools there, but these have since disintegrated, but for them the area is still imbued with a special fairy magic. 🙂

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This time we went as a family. My husband is a Garden Designer/Landscaper so he is always looking for inspiration and Wisley is always improving and changing and is a great place of inspiration for us. The long deep borders are particularly impressive, with all the stunning perennials and grasses, all still very much vibrant in colour with the softer golds of the grasses interspersed. The planting combinations are so wonderful.  My daughters just love to run up and down the wide grass pathways 🙂

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They have set up a pumpkin patch this autumn for families to explore. We had a look around and enjoyed seeing the wide selection of pumpkins, gourds and squash on offer (my favourite are the Turk’s Turbans) and the Wisley scarecrows hard at work!

My eldest spotted this great tit feasting on sunflower seeds.

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Wisley has a magnicent fruit and vegetable garden. We even found ripe strawberries there (!) and an expansive fruit orchard, complete with medlars. There are heirloom varieties of all the fruits and vegetables and the RHS uses the garden to trial all kinds of plants.

They have a new tropical garden which has replaced the old rose garden. It was exciting to see bananas and pineapples growing outdoors. We were all surprised to find pineapples growing on the ground! (one for the general knowledge!)

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We also visited some of the show gardens which were beautiful.

This year is the 10th anniversary of the Wisley Glasshouse.  The Glasshouse houses a beautiful collection of orchids and mature tropical plants and a learning zone for children. In the late spring they release butterflies 🙂 It is a great place to spend a rainy day, especially if it is cold as there is a hot tropical zone inside!

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My eldest is nearly 11 and I clearly remember many a rainy day spent in there with my friend when our children were very young. It feels like it has been around forever, but then it feels like I have been a mummy forever too….was there life before children? 😉

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Of course there was plenty of autumn colour to feast the eyes on, including my favourite Tulip Tree

and we were all captivated by the delicious caramel scent of this amazing tree!

 

Wisley holds a special place in our heart for all the memories we have made here since before children and when the children were little. Some places are like that. I would recommend a visit if you love plants and space. There is a wooden natural play area for children, but ours are perfectly happy just walking around taking in the sights and sounds. There is something to excite all the senses here.

There are three cafes, including a large restaurant and a fabulous shop and nursery with RHS awarded plants for sale. Something for everyone really. 🙂

Here are just a few more glimpses of wonderful Wisley:

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On the Road in the U.S. – Lake Tahoe

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Leaving Sugar Pine, California, we drove through the town of  Mariposa which seemed like it would be a great base for exploring Yosemite. The town sprung up during the California gold rush when people came from far and wide to pan for gold in its stream beds.

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We noticed there were two museums about the town’s mining history, which I think would be worth a visit. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to stop off.

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On our travel through Mariposa County, we saw a lot of trucks heavily laden with logs. This continued on our whole drive to the West Coast and we saw a lot of tree felling too.

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We also saw great stretches of burnt earth and trees, which were a very sorry sight. The area is susceptible to forest fires, as are all the forested areas in the country.

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We crossed the Merced river and travelled a very windy road through the mountains.

We passed through Oakdale, California, which is dubbed “The Cowboy Capital”. There were certainly many ranches with hundreds of cattle, and plenty of horse corrals.

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and once again we drove past miles of farming land with fruit and nut orchards and sugar cane and cornfields aplenty. As I mentioned in my previous posts, the scenery is so varied on our long journeys.

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In the early afternoon, we entered an area of pine forests, which led us to our destination of South Lake Tahoe, California. 

Lake Tahoe is the largest Alpine Lake in America and the second deepest at a whopping 501 metres deep at some points! South Lake Tahoe is the biggest city on Lake Tahoe and is both a summer and winter playground. This beautiful lake area is enjoyed for its watersports and hiking trails during the summer months and skiing and winter sports, in mountain resorts like Heavenly, during the winter months. There is always a lot going on and a good nightlife scene. South Lake Tahoe straddles California and Nevada.

We were staying in a residential area on the Californian side  in a very cosy cabin, with so many lovely touches, we felt at home right away 🙂

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There were fairy lights around the girl’s bedroom – so cosy.

We counted 42 bear ornaments

and 16 deers, not to mention squirrels, pinecones etc. This is just a tiny sample!

On our first day, it rained the whole morning – as was typical of our trip thus far! so we spent the morning inside playing, sewing, reading and dressing “Burford Bear” in the different accessories that were provided for him 🙂

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As you can see, the girls enjoyed dressing up too!

By the afternoon, the rain had stopped and the sun had dried away any traces of rain, so we seized the moment to walk to the lake for a swim in the crystal clear waters. Great swathes of the beach are private property, but there was a small public beach which was absolutely fine. I assume there are further beaches along the coast that we did not get to explore.

The water was a little chilly (it being an alpine lake!) but it was very refreshing 🙂  and good to be outside. There is nothing like lake swimming – so relaxing. Our daughters found it a bit too cold so didn’t stay in long enough to take a photo, but they still fancied an ice cream afterwards! 🙂

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The area is really pretty, with alpine huts and a friendly relaxed atmosphere.

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In the evening, we went back to the coast for a meal. It was lovely to sit outside and was by far the best food we had eaten on our trip so far (except at our friends house in Colorado). The area is very expensive – an ice cream cost $5, so as usual we parents did not qualify! But it had a lovely holiday feeling which we appreciated – since we were on holiday 😉

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We got talking to some ‘mature’ lady visitors at the restaurant who were delighted that we were playing cards whilst waiting for our meal. We always do this to pass the time or we play “guess the animal” (someone thinks of an animal and we ask lots of questions with yes and no answers, to find out what animal they have in mind. Requires no props so always good at any moment!) I do think from our observations, that people of our age rely more and more on gadgets to amuse their children in restaurants, so I think they found our set up familiar and refreshing 🙂

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On our second day, we had planned to visit the incredibly beautiful Emerald Bay and walk one of the trails, but unfortunately a couple of us weren’t in the mood for driving anywhere and needed another day close to home (by this time we were over half way through our trip and flagging a bit from all the moving around). My husband and our daughters went for another swim whilst I sat at home and did some knitting and reading (first time in the whole trip!)

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Later in the afternoon, we enjoyed watching the wildlife on our doorstep – chickarees (see above – so sweet!), Stellar’s jays, tree creepers and a woodpecker pecking away at a neighbouring house!

We really enjoyed being in the area and would have liked to have stayed longer to explore South Lake Tahoe further, but we had a tight schedule for our trip and needed to move on.

Next stop, one of our favourite places Shingletown, California to visit the Lassen Volcanic National Park.

 

On the Road in the U.S. – Bakersfield, Sugar Pine and Yosemite National Park, California

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As we left Las Vegas, we drove straight into the desert. The signs for attorneys and injury lawyers that I mentioned in my last post lined the road out of Vegas as well 😦 We drove past miles of sand, cacti and low growing brush, interspersed with rocky areas with yucca type planting and taller cacti,

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and as we crossed the Californian border, more of the same stretched out infront of us.

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I think we must have spent several hours driving through the vast  Mojave Desert in the 106F heat – thank goodness for airconditioned vehicles!

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We marvelled at the long freight trains making their slow transit across the country to destinations unknown,

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and the hundreds of transporter trucks waiting to cross the Californian border into Nevada.

 

I was in my element as I am just a little bit obsessed by the look and size of these trucks! They are so impressive – the lorries in the UK pale in comparison!  😉 And being someone who loves to travel, I like to imagine where these goods are travelling to and from and what kind of journey they will be taking 🙂 We so often take foods in supermarkets for granted; we don’t think of all the miles they have travelled and the people involved in growing, harvesting, packing and transporting them before we find them in the supermarket…

Our journey also took us through the Sierra Nevada mountains, which ressembled huge sand dunes, covered in dry sand-coloured grass.

 

I couldn’t resist another truck photo!! 🙂

The journey from Las Vegas to Oakhurst, California – our destination for the next three nights –  is seven and a half hours long. Since we decided never to drive longer than five hours for the sake of the children, we broke the journey up with a night in a motel on the outskirts of Bakersfield, California.

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We stayed at the Days Inn and I would certainly not recommend it! We booked from England, thinking that motels would all be of a similar quality and were attracted by the hotel pool, knowing it would be hot. But it was clearly not a great place to stay and the breakfast was just plain awful – we only drank water as there was nothing that even ressembled food there! 😦 I have since spoken with friends who travel a lot in the States and they recommend Super 8 motels and Holiday Inns as consistent, reliable motel options.

The pool was ok (except for the used diapers/nappies by the side and the tiny shards of glass that my eldest got in her feet! ….) and we all really appreciated the chance to cool off with a swim on our arrival and in the morning before we set off.

 

The Sizzler restaurant opposite was a real find as they have a generous salad bar and there was something for everyone (which certainly wasn’t our experience in most places…)

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After Bakersfield, the landscape changed to farmland on a GIANT scale: there were huge herds of cattle; in their hundreds and over fifty miles of orchards, grape vines, orange groves, fields of sweetcorn and sugar cane and acres of nut trees. The endless miles of trees and vines was staggering to us folks from a small country! (but then a much bigger population needs feeding!)

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And once again we saw the long freight trains and streams of transporter trucks ferrying goods across the country.

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We spotted industrial units for orange processing and Californian raisin plants.

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 It was certainly a hive of activity compared to our previous days drive through the desert!

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We arrived at our destination in the early afternoon. We were staying in an area called Sugar Pine in a log cabin nestled amongst pine trees with a small stream running nearby.

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We were delighted to discover wild flowers and wildlife on our doorstep.

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dear Sweet Peas – always a favourite 🙂 

A highlight for us was watching the hummingbirds visiting the feeders outside the kitchen window – it turned washing up into a real pleasure!

 

We were also visited by several Stellar’s jays who swooped down to feed on the monkey nuts we left out on the railing. Unfortunately they were always too quick to capture properly on camera – a flash of blue and they were gone!

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but we could certainly hear their noisy squawking in the trees!

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On a walk to the mill pond with my eldest daughter, we spotted some beautiful dragonflies,

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and a baby bird on the ground, peeping for his mummy who was nowhere to be seen. We had a little chat before leaving him in peace.

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The Sugar Pine area was created by the Madera Sugar Pine company to house lumberjacks and loggers from 1899-1931

 

There were lots of old photographs in the cabin of that era.

 

Our host told us the story of how one of the old log hauling trains “Arthur Hill” had come off the tracks whilst hauling hundreds of logs and how his grandfather and the other loggers had had to put the train and its load back on the tracks – what a feat that must have been!

The cabin we stayed in was cosy and rustic. It had an open plan layout, including the sleeping area (reminiscent of Little House in the Big Woods, but with modern amenities and a popcorn maker!) Despite being comfortable, we all struggled to get a good night’s sleep there. There seemed to be a funny energy about the place.

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We were told by our host that the cabin used to house the old dance hall, which initially sounded fun and romantic even. But when we thought about it, it is unlikely that women would have been in the area out of choice. We imagine the company may have brought in prostitutes to keep the loggers and lumber jacks happy and relaxed after a hard days work, with dancing and other amusements? It certainly had an air of unhappiness despite its cosy appearance….

But as always, we made the most of our stay and enjoyed our evenings sitting on the outside porch, watching bats flying overhead and listening to the thrumming of the hummingbirds’ wings as they flew back and forth between the feeders and nearby bushes. We also noticed mystery footprints on the outdoor BBQ cover and wondered if there were racoons in the area…unfortunately we never did see any….

 

We enjoyed our evening strolls by moonlight, eating blackberries, picking flowers, singing songs and playing “follow my leader” 🙂

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Sugar Pine is now a residential area with some holiday rentals. It is certainly a friendly place and a peaceful spot to spend a few days.

The nearest town Oakhurst, California has a plentiful supply of supermarkets and pharmacies (we had pinworm so we know 😦 ) and is a good base for exploring Yosemite.

So onto our day out at Yosemite National Park.  Yosemite was made a National Park in 1864 to protect and celebrate the Giant Sequoia groves, the huge granite monoliths and the beautiful valleys that were carved out by glacial activity.

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We entered the Park on the South side. The entrance fee is $30 during the summer months (valid for seven days).  We were told to arrive early if we wanted to get a parking spot at the Visitor Centre. We arrived around 8.00am, but this was clearly not early enough! There was a lot of traffic backed up to the entrance and by the time we reached the Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre car park, after a forty kilometre drive, it was full up 😦 If you are lucky enough to park there, it is a good place to orientate and inform yourself before setting off. You can also access the regular shuttle buses that can take you round the Park in a relaxing manner.

We did find a short stay parking spot near the Visitor Centre, where there is a big store which stocks everything you could need if you are staying or camping in the area, so we stocked up on a few things to eat and drink and drove on.

There are several stunning waterfalls in the Park. Our first stop was Bridal Veil Falls, which was a short easy walk from the main highway.

 

 

It was so beautiful. Unfortunately as it was August, there were a lot of tourists everywhere (like the Grand Canyon) and it didn’t feel quite as special as we had hoped for that reason. I think we had been spoilt in Colorado with such beautiful quiet spots to walk in.

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Yosemite is a great place to hike and bike. Unfortunately the main trails in the Valley were too busy for our liking so we decided to drive up to Glacier Point instead, as our host said it was the most beautiful spot in the Park.

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When we were half way up, we were redirected to a car park and told that the Glacier Point car park was full so we would have to take a shuttle bus 😦 We looked at the queue of almost a hundred people and decided against waiting!  Luckily when we explained to a ranger on our way out that we were only there for the day and we didn’t want to queue with the children, he took pity on us and waved us through. Hurrah!

On the drive up we saw deer, squirrels and a coyote!

 

Unfortunately we couldn’t take a photo of the coyote as we were in the car on the other side of the road, but it was an exciting moment for us! We stopped off for a walk in a quiet area and enjoyed the wild flowers.

 

 

 and the lovely meadows and we even discovered a “gnome home” in a tree 🙂DSC00466

We had hoped to walk a longer trail, but there were posters saying a mountain lion had been seen a few days earlier and to be extra vigilant. Not surprisingly, the children didn’t fancy it!

 

As we drove up, we noted pine beetle is attacking the pine trees here too 😦

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On arrival at Glacier Point, we found a parking spot and were glad to take a break from driving. The views over the deep valleys that had been carved out in the Ice Age were just stunning and well worth the long journey.

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We viewed the huge granite monoliths of Half Dome (5000ft above the valley floor) and El Capitan (3000ft) and wondered how anyone would want to, let alone be able to, climb the sheer face of them!

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We really enjoyed seeing the long sweeping waterfalls, the wide open meadows and the stunning scenery, but it was marred for us by all the driving and crowds. Another disappointment was that the Mariposa Grove with the giant sequoias was closed for restoration work.

I personally wouldn’t recommend visiting in the summer months if possible, as it is so crowded and busy. I would like to visit again one day outside the main season and stay in the Park for several days so as not to feel hurried. It is a huge place after all and we only saw a small sample of it. There are lots of accommodation options in the Park, including several campsites that are on the shuttle bus routes.

This has turned into a long post….It was quite a journey! I shall take a break now….

Next stop South Lake Tahoe, California

 

Autumn Joys

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It’s already October! Michaelmas has passed and autumn is starting to become fully fledged here, with cooler days, coloured leaves dancing in the breeze, shiny conkers on the ground and jewel like berries in every hedgerow. What a rich pallette of colour this time of year bestows on us – it really is a feast for the eyes 🙂

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I do so love autumn – it feels so bountiful, so generous, so full of goodness.

We have been enjoying our weekend walks in the surrounding countryside and have been richly rewarded with more rosehips to dry, acorns galore and horse chestnuts to crunch underfoot to reveal gleaming conkers.

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We have been gathering leaves to dry and use for various activities, including our favourite beeswax leaf dipping. 🙂

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I just press them between the pages of old cookbooks.

On the subject of outings, my husband and I have made a pact to start dating again! We can’t get babysitters in the evenings as our daughters don’t feel comfortable with the idea and besides they don’t go to sleep until 9pm, by which time we are too tired to have a good time out anyway! So now we are sneaking away on fortnightly “adventures” during school/working hours. It feels so good!  It is so easy not to prioritise this time together and we have been guilty of that in the past, but we have realised as the children are getting older, we are getting less and less time to ourselves in the evening and in general, so we need to make the effort. So far we have been on a couple of hikes in the countryside which has been fun and good to chat and explore new areas.

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My husband is going to take charge of our next date, so let’s see what that brings 🙂

We celebrated Michaelmas on Friday 29th September. At home we enjoyed baking “Dragon bread”

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and my daughters dressed up in red for school as is the tradition. In the evening they did a little show for me, singing all the songs that they know ending with lots of enthusiastic shouting of “Michael the Victorious”. T’was fun! 🙂

:Firmly on the Earth I stand.

Michael’s sword within my hand.

When I conquer fear, the dragon’s chains I tightly bind!

Michael’s light is in my mind.

Last year I wrote a long post about Michaelmas and why and how we celebrate it. Our traditions are very similar year on year with the same Nature Table set up and mood, so I won’t risk repeating myself here (!) but here are some Michaelmas daisies from our front garden because you can never tire of their beauty at this time of year 🙂

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Whilst my daughters worked to beautify and tidy their school, I did some tidying up in the garden and around the house. We are still picking small tubs full of fruit and vegetables every couple of days which is pleasing and the strawberries have decided to fruit again!!

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As it was quite mild at the weekend, we sat out in the garden in the evening and had an impromptu bbq by candlelight, which was a lovely 🙂

The spontaneous times are the most memorable, I find.

As for crafts, I have been making steady progress on the pullover I am making for my eldest, fitting in some knitting here and there.

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I only need to finish the garter stitch border and that will be one birthday present completed. Hurrah!

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I am working on my second Wurm hat. I am not sure if it will be for me or my youngest yet. She has her eye on it, although she has decided she would prefer light purple to be the dominant colour. Let’s see…

Apart from knitting, I have finally finished our dining room cushions:

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I backed the front with felt as I couldn’t find any other batting in town. I quilted in straight lines round the whole cushion at approx 1.5 cm intervals, as the cushion needs to be durable since we are sitting on it. I also did a simple envelope opening at  the back using fabric I already had. I have to say they are such an upgrade to what we had previously!

I also finally got around to making the crotchet granny squares I made last summer into cushions!!!! I was using them on the arms of the sofa as a colourful addition, hoping one day to get around to making them into cushions. I don’t know what took me so long!?! Luckily as I was already in the swing of making cushions, I just got on with it and it didn’t take much time at all. I backed them with soft fleecy fabric with an envelope opening (as usual!). It’s so satisfying to finish a long lingering project!!

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My daughters have started making large conker webs in beautiful colours chosen from the big basket of scrap yarn that I am using for my long-term scrap blanket project.

They are so cheery and will look beautiful pinned up on the wall once they are completed. We aim for cosy and colourful here 🙂

I hope autumn is treating you well and you are enjoying some cosy crafting time.

Sharing at Frontier Dreams Crafting On