Birthday thoughts

I celebrated my 56th birthday last week.

My husband and I spent the day in Bristol shopping and meeting friends.  I dropped off some artwork for an exhibition and collected a piece I had recently bought from a gallery.  We finished the day dining at one of our favourite restaurants on the River Avon.

The view from Bristol’s Harbourside

On that day I felt very connected to my mother Nell who died nearly 40 years ago at the age of 55.  She was an accomplished seamstress.  I started to learn dressmaking two years ago and wore a dress I made earlier this year.

Last year, when I turned 55, was a watershed.

I had lived much of my life, as many people whose parent has died too soon, with the subconscious fear that I will not live beyond her age of death.

In May I made a piece of artwork called ‘Handle with Care’ for a community arts project called the Craft of Caring.  I got in touch with my 16 year old self who had much of the day to day responsibility for looking after my terminally ill mother.  It was a difficult piece of work to make, but very liberating to find a place to ‘talk about’ many of the feelings and memories I’ve carried since that time.  I am grateful that my artmaking gives me a place to process my experiences.

Now at 56, I am travelling into new territory.  I feel at ease with myself and very focused on many creative projects.  I don’t know if my mom is ‘somewhere up there’ looking out for me and aware of who I have become, or what her hopes and concerns were for me at the time that she died.  I do know that last week on my birthday I felt that I am at the same time my mother’s daughter and separate from her, that I am the woman I am becoming.

Circles and journeys

Steve and I celebrated our double Leo birthday this past week.  Yesterday we rounded off with lunch at Hotel Endsleigh, a Devon boutique hotel in an 1811 Regency shooting lodge.  It was a rainy day, so we didn’t explore the beautiful grounds and gardens, but the interior was so cosy, warm,  inviting and utterly charming, that we didn’t mind staying inside.  Plus, my outfit coordinated perfectly with the decor.

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Lounging on a chaise longue

After having a drink in the oak paneled library and perusing the menu,

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we took a window-side table in the dining room overlooking the croquet lawn.

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Steve had a poached duck egg with asparagus and hollandaise to start, followed by a rare steak sandwich.

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I had Devon blue with candied walnuts & heritage tomato followed by my favourite, slow cooked pork belly.

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Summertime in the countryside in Devon means swallows!   They were skimming non-stop from their nests above the window, out over the lawn and back again with juicy insects for their babies.  I adore swallows and could hardly keep my eyes on my food.

I’ve been reading about and pondering upon and settling into the American Indian worldview, which is a circular philosophy.  Swallows epitomize this notion, also journey and safe arrival.  The swallows return to the UK every year, stay through the summer and then return to Africa.  Yesterday I saw them on one arc of their circle.  I wonder, do they sometimes dream of hot and endlessly sun-filled skies while they’re here?  Are the young ones filled with quiet thoughts about migrating down an unknown coast come Autumn? What is it like to fly in a summer shower and tickle a squirrel with the tips of your wings?

They always seem so happy.  My heart fills with joy whenever I see them.  Their liquid, elegant flight contains the entire circular map of their lives, their journey ever-changing, different notions of what ‘home’ is.  In England, their ‘intoxicating babble is of violet seas, tawny sands, and lizard-haunted walls.  In other places it is the call of lush meadow- grass, wet orchards, warm, insect-haunted ponds, of browsing cattle and all the farm-buildings clustering round the House of the perfect Eaves.’

Though their blood may dance to a different tune from time to time, wherever they are is Home.

Oh, time for dessert!

Dessert for me was banana & praline parfait, roasted hazelnut, carmelised banana, toffee sauce. With a hand lettered greeting from the chef.

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An understated birthday presentation.

Lammas & pyjamas

Last week Steve and I had our double Leo birthday celebrations.  Our birthdays are 5 days and 5 years apart, so we usually celebrate for several days.  Steve’s birthday fell on a Saturday and we went up to the Midlands on Friday to visit his Mum and she took us out to lunch the following day.

Patricia and Steve

Then he and I went to the 5 star Moddershall Oaks near Stone as ‘stay guests’ for 24 hours of luxurious pampering.   We chose Moddershall because they only have 10 rooms (exclusive, personalised service), the spa treatments looked great, no golf course (so we knew that it was for couples who are going there to be together) and it was the only stay spa place we found on the internet which had a link to the menu (which looked pretty darn good).  It was way out in the Staffordshire countryside at the end of a relaxing drive through country lanes and farmland.  When we booked, we were asked our dietary requirements which were:   ‘Prosecco on arrival’.  Which we enjoyed in the outdoor hot tub after we checked in.

Prosecco on arrival

Our room was really lovely and I found another light source which I want to find for our bedroom.  Only in white.  I love the way the light beams out from the filigreed metal work.

Following an excellent five course dinner, we took our cheese and wine back to our room.  We intended to have these as ‘movie snacks’ but we couldn’t get the volume to work properly on the DVD player, so will have to save this film for another time.

Nearly ‘Almost Famous’

Sunday morning began with a Continental breakfast, a spa treatment each and then a couple of hours in the sauna/jacuzzi/pool area until lunchtime.  We had a walk through the woods before lunch.  My only complaint about Moddershall Oaks is that they also do wedding packages.  There was a very noisy Hen Party in the dining room adjacent to where we were eating dinner, plus guests arriving and milling about for the wedding on Sunday at lunchtime.  Probably best to go off of the wedding season when its quieter.  But other than that, it was a fantastic, relaxing experience.

Water lilies at Moddershall

My birthday is on the 1st of August, which is Lammas Day, the festival of the wheat harvest.  Traditionally, a loaf of bread is baked and blessed and thanks is given for the harvest.  We had dinner at home with our Fire runner on the table, some of our lovely birthday cards and candles. We had a ‘He-man’ meal of beef burgers and Sizzler Toast.  For those of you who don’t know, Sizzler is a ‘Family Steak House’ which opened in California in 1958 and is now a chain in the Western US.  They serve this great toast with their steak dinners which is super easy to make.  Mix equal amounts of butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Spread liberally on one side of thickly sliced white bread or French bread.  Saute just on the buttered side in a non-stick pan over moderately high heat.  It is delicious.  The cheese melts and browns and the butter oozes up into the bread.  Yum!  Great birthday treat food!!

Beef & Sizzler Toast

After dinner we each acknowledged what we’re currently harvesting from seeds planted earlier this year. For me, it’s my bed ‘Enter the Forest of Dreams’ which I’ve been putting the finishing touches on since January and is about to make its debut at the Festival of Quilts.

Lammas candles and birthday cards

Neither of are big cake fans, so dessert was fresh pear & Gran Padano cheese slivers and a new Lindt milk chocolate bar – Velvety Vanilla Almond, pleasantly reminiscent of crème brûlée.

And where does pyjamas come into all of this?  For a start, I like the alliteration.  Steve and I love to be At Home and have perfected the art of lounging.  My gift to him was a pair of hand sewn deerskin slippers, lined with calfskin.  I have a favourite French nightdress which makes me feel like a Greek goddess and is elegant enough to wear when we have dinner parties.  Steve bought me a beautiful set of Passionata lingerie to wear beneath it so I can wear it as an ‘at home’ evening gown.

I’m also a closet Princess and the Pea.  As a world champion napper, I must have complete darkness and silence when I take my forty winks.  I have earplugs and until now, have used a merino wool Buff to cover my eyes.  But I’m constantly misplacing it.  I can’t believe that I’ve lived for 49 years without one of these, but another gift was a beautiful silk taupe eye mask, which was as lovely to unwrap from its milk chocolate satin envelope as it was to receive.

The best gift all though, was Steve’s smile.  The very same one I fell for when I met him across a crowded table nearly four years ago.