Being a tart and settling down…

Are you a blog monogamist, or do you spread yourself around?

There’s something about early September that puts me in a tizzy. I’m sure it’s some sort of throw-back to school days, when it was the month you headed back to school after the long holidays – a time of change.

To be honest though, I’ve been feeling unsettled for a few months now. The thing I’ve been wondering about, is should Mostly Motley, which I started as a home for random – non-stitchery – thoughts carry on, or should I divide my blogging between subject specific blogs?

Regular visitors here will perhaps have noticed the frequent changes to the blog’s appearance – an indication of my unsettledness.

Some of the blogs I love most are a real hotchpotch of topics, others are very tightly focussed.

I wondered if I should set up more subject specific sites, so as to attract interested readers and not bore the pants off others. But although in theory this is a good idea, in practice, my mind can’t cope with that many variables.

I’m clearly not someone well suited to a polygamist lifestyle.

And so, having worried about this for much longer than is at all reasonable, I have decided to stay with Mostly Motley, although I may well add in a few topics I’ve previously kept back, add some new pages and tidy up a few things here and there.

Please accept my apologies for future content of an entirely uninteresting nature – it’s just me, being me.

How about you? Do you have secret other lives in Blogland? Does it work for you? Do tell….

Celtic Harp keeps me calm…

Another one of those mornings…

If I have a routine, it is to do the daily domestic stuff, then grab a large mug of black coffee and sit down to read the latest posts from the bloggers I follow.

For quite  few months, I’ve been using Bloglovin and generally been really happy. It’s had moments, but never anything too annoying and I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that there are real people behind it, rather than some faceless mega-corp.

But this morning, it wanted me to think that no one on my really quite long list, had written a word.

Now, call me a sceptic, but I just didn’t believe that.

I had a helpful exchange of tweets with Bloglovin and did at one point think it was better, but I was jumping the gun.

So, being a practical sort of woman, I decided to add some of the blog list to the Reader on WordPress. And lo, there were several posts sitting in the blogosphere, just waiting to be liberated.

I’m not giving up on Bloglovin, I like it and hope they get sorted soon, but as a backup, I now have my favourite blogs all added to the WordPress reader.

While all this has been going on, I’ve been keeping calm, listening to a download from iTunes I bought a few weeks ago. It’s Celtic Harp music, by Aryeh Frankfurter. When I’m writing, sewing or generally trying to switch off, I’ve found that simple harp music seems to touch the right spot.

This recording has just the right balance for mornings like this one. Gentle and uplifting.


Friendship Matters…

Yesterday, my best friend in the whole world – was fifty. This seems incredibly odd, as it feels like only weeks since we were haring around the Worcestershire countryside in a bashed up old mini, tasting freedom in the way that only eighteen year olds do. Now she’s a high flyer in Hong Kong and I’m a respectable middle-aged mother, living in the Home Counties. But although we might present different images now to the outside world, I’m sure that the real us, is still very much like those eighteen year olds.

Despite the fact that she’s lived on the other side of the world for the last sixteen years and I’ve only seen her a handful of times in that period, there is no doubt in my mind, nor I believe in hers, that we would always ‘be there’ for each other. We do not need to be in constant touch, we can live our own separate lives, safe in the knowledge that we’re tied to each other by the strongest bonds of friendship.

Lately I’ve been thinking about those bonds. It seems to me, that at the core, is the certain knowledge, that we share an unconditional love. We’ve both done the most ridiculously daft things, in our time, and probably will carry on doing so, but whatever happens, we can rely on each other for love and support.

I have to say that in addition to My Best Friend, I am also blessed with many other friends, who I’ve met and ‘clicked’ with over the years. I hadn’t really appreciated how many people I would genuinely call friends until recently, when, for a completely unrelated reason, I read a book suggesting that we list our contacts – including friends.

As I wrote the list, I realised how lucky I am, but also felt incredibly guilty, because I am so often the sort of person, who is happy to respond to the needs of a friend, but rarely makes the first move.

As I step into the second half of my life (I do intend to be at least 100!), I’ve decided to cherish those friendships with more care than I have until now. More and more of my friends are losing their close family, and looking to their friends for support – perhaps that’s part of aging and part of being human. But I can see now very clearly that as we all get older, it’s those relationships that will be the core of our support and happiness.

In today’s difficult climate, that’s one investment worth making.


Calming Quick Fix…

Well it works for me…

my incense of choice – nag champa

I’m going through one of those phases where all your best laid plans end up going to the wall.

Most days I start off with a fairly good idea of what I need/want to do, (I can be thoroughly well organised if I choose to be), but lately, I’ve come up against a whole series of largely unconnected obstacles and irritants, the sum effect of which is to throw me off plan practically every day.

It’s almost at that stage where you ask yourself – is it me?

But of course it’s just the way life is from time to time and I know the best thing for me is to go back to basics as much as I can, and remember to breathe slowly, to consciously relax and to roll with the flow.

I’ve read a lot about mindfulness, and it’s at times like these that you realise that if you’ve tried to make mindfulness a habit, when you really need to be calm, you are able to access something steadying.

I’m a huge believer in mindfulness and slow relaxed breathing – I’m experiencing some big improvements in my health since I’ve actually started doing, instead of just reading about it. But I’d say I was very much a beginner.

It doesn’t matter – I feel the benefits, and it really isn’t a competitive activity.

Some days, (like today), I make a more conscious effort to centre myself – and my quickest fix for doing this? Is simple – I light a nag champa incense stick and let the fragrance calm my mind as I put my focus back on the breath.

I’m not sure that it matters which fragrance you use – nag champa happens to be the one used at my yoga class, so I subconsciously associate the scent with relaxation – but anything that has a similar calming effect will do.

I do wonder sometimes if the residual smell makes people who visit here think we’re a bunch of ageing hippies – but most people say our house has a welcoming atmosphere , so I’m not particularly bothered (and I probably am an ageing hippy at heart).

So if your day is taking its toll on you, might I suggest a few minutes relaxed breathing with the aid of your incense of choice.

Having A Good Time?

I’m trying hard, but this weather is really getting to me now…

The Tissington Trail at Parsley Hay – it really was that dark and that wet.

Being British, we went camping in the Peak District last week – it wasn’t actually raining when we set off, but it wasn’t long before the dark clouds rolled in and that was pretty much the story from then on.

The lovely man in the Buxton Tandoori (do go there if you’re in the area – excellent take-away), told us that a gale was on its way – we laughed – nervously, then told him we were camping – he looked embarrassed – but it turned out, he was quite right.

The girls managed to fit in their tandem ride on the Tissington Trail, although it has taken me until now to get their clothes clean of the mud they accumulated on the journey. The dog and I leapfrogged them to the car parks – but the dog soon decided it was too wet for him and he’d rather sleep in the car than walk in the pouring rain.

So you won’t be surprised to know that we came home earlier than planned. We simply didn’t have anything dry left to wear, oh and the girls discovered Lake Superior under their part of the tent.

Since we got home, it has continued to pour. The stream near the house has broken its banks and the path to the canal is flooded.

That’s June for you.

I really pity the poor people coming to the UK for the Olympics. Knowing the way things work around here, it will now be wet until about the third week in August (although as the children go back to school during the first week of September, I’d put off your holiday here until at least the second week of September if you want a chance at better weather).

Do I sound like a miserable old grump? Well, that’s what I feel like.

So, here is my only attempt at cheering things up a bit…

as happy as a pig in nettles…

This little chap had a good chat with us while we were on our mini-holiday. (Pigs always make me feel happier)

I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Edward Monkton

The Pig of Happiness

May his JOYFUL SMILE remind us how much there is to be happy about –

Good thought, I’ll hold on to that.

Walking Meditations & Whiplash

Ever since the girls got too big to want me to walk to school with them, I’ve found myself spending more and more time indoors, when what I really need, is to get out into the fresh air and go for a walk.

The canal banks are bursting into life

Now I know it really isn’t difficult to put your shoes on and head off into the country, especially as we live on the edge of the Grand Union Canal, but I’ve struggled with doing it regularly. Until now, because as of last week, we have a dog!

I have now been out for at least four miles a day, every day for a week and I love it.

I’m not sure that I’m much fitter yet, and if he decides to jerk the lead as hard as he did this morning (well he had just spotted his new best friend across the field), I might need a neck brace – talk about whiplash, if I’d been in the car, I could probably have made a mint.

But the very act of getting into the fresh air is doing wonders.

Knowing that he needs a good walk, I’m scheduling my time to fit everything in – that helps me feel purposeful.

Every day, I’m meeting new people, and it’s true that more people speak to you when you have a dog with you.

And perhaps, for me, best of all, is that I can now tune back in to the rhythms of nature. I’ve understood for ages, that I respond closely to the changing seasons, but walking outdoors every day, even for such a short time, is already reminding me, how much happens in nature while we get on with out daily lives.

This morning’s highlights were the moorhen with her chicks, and the yellow irises, beginning to bloom at the edge of the canal.

ALmost everything I’ve read over recent years about meditation, mentions walking meditation. Well, this might not be a true walking meditation, but it is certainly spiritually uplifting and I’m delighted to embrace the effect.

A Slightly Belated Happy Birthday

Mostly Motley is one year old. Happy Birthday!

I’m slightly surprised on this incredibly wet May Day morning, to find that I’ve been blogging here for just about a year. Who said I couldn’t stick at things…

Well, to celebrate, I’ve given the blog a bit of a facelift.

Happy Beltane friends – hope the weather is better where you are.


Prague Spring

In which a city break to Prague produces a cultural overload.

Prague Castle & St Vitus Cathedral from the Charles Bridge.

Last week, a few girlie friends and I, took a short break to Prague, Czech Republic. It was a belated birthday bash – we thought a quick culture fix might be just the thing for four middle-ish aged women.

I’m ashamed to say that until we went, I knew next to nothing about the history of Prague. But we did our best to give ourselves a crash course on Czech history and planned our trip to Prague to see as many of the city’s highlights as we could.

Old Town Square, Prague

Well, to put it mildly, I was overwhelmed by Prague. I’d heard people say that the city was a mix of Gothic medieval and Baroque architecture, but it hadn’t prepared me for the sheer concentration of these beautiful buildings. After the first hour or so if saying ‘wow!’ as we turned every street corner, we agreed that it is possibly the most gorgeous place we’d ever been to.

(I might still put Rome at the top of my list, it is steeped in a certain grandeur, but if someone told me that I would have to go and live in Prague, I’d leap at the chance).

Prague's medieval Astronomical Clock

I was struck by the politeness of the people we met. Everywhere we went, from the customs lady at the airport, through to the taxi drivers, the hotel staff and all the people we met in the shops, cafes and churches, we were treated very well and with great courtesy. This is a friendly, welcoming city.

Car drivers stop for you at street crossings!

A lovely, relaxed atmosphere in the city, that I’ve rarely experienced anywhere before.

As to the culture. Well, clearly this is a very musical city. Concerts were taking place at lunchtime and in the evening at numerous venues.

There is a puppet theatre that stages puppet shows for adults and children – Don Giovanni was on offer last week.

Museums abound. You could easily spend days exploring all the treasures of the city.

But for me, it was the churches that stole the show. St Vitus’s Cathedral dominates the Prague skyline, but despite being told how big it is, and being able to see it in front of you, I couldn’t believe its incredible beauty once inside. It is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The stained-glass windows took my breath away.

English: Alfons Mucha's stained glass window i...
Image via Wikipedia

Already overwhelmed with Gothic magnificence, we later visited St Nicholas’s church in the Castle side of the city. This church is a baroque extravaganza. Apart from a few uprights, there are hardly any straight lines in this church. Everything is huge, gold, marble and executed with enormous flourish.

As if the city weren’t enough by day, in the evening, it is beautifully lit. It’s like walking through a fairy tale. Spires and towers glow and light up the sky.

Prague is not a big city. You can easily walk around it and I’d say that’s the best way to experience Prague. There are cafes and bars everywhere, so it’s easy to pace yourself. I had some excellent coffee at a little Italian cafe in the late afternoon, which set me up well for the evening.

Prague (Photo credit: RachelC)

If you go, make sure you see the Charles Bridge in the evening. The bridge and the Vltava River, are iconic Prague and look wonderful bathed in the evening light.

English: View on Vltava river, Charles Bridge ...
Image via Wikipedia

Our visit was a short one; back home, I feel that it might have been a dream, it has certainly cast a spell over me and I can’t wait to go again.


Culture score: 10/10

Politeness score: 10/10



Are You Moonstruck?

Moon and Saturn / Maan en Saturnus
Moon and Saturn / Maan en Saturnus (Photo credit: Arjan Almekinders)

Are you feeling a surge of energy? Is your sap rising? Are you filled with the desire to get on with things?

I’ve often wondered why my own energies vary so much from day-to-day. It has frequently made me wonder if I’m one of life’s flaky people. But there could be another possibility – it might not all be down to me and my hormones – the Moon might be playing with me – and with you too.

Most women will know that our monthly cycle is in rhythm with the Moon and know that the Moon’s gravitational pull, exerts an effect felt across the Earth – but to what extent do you feel in tune with the full cycle of the Moon?

At the moment, the Moon is at its first quarter – it’s waxing towards being full. Theory has it, that at this time, we’re experiencing a surge in positive, creative energies and that this is a good time to be involved with plans to grow something.

This is the time to seize the day and get on with our activities – to make progress on our goals.

Does it feel that way to you?

We’ve had some glorious Moons here lately, very atmospheric, worthy of a scary movie – pity my camera turns them into pathetic dots in the sky. And if I’m honest, I love gazing at the Moon, it fills me with awe and wonder, but can I really lay my inconsistencies at its door?

A Time For Remembrance and Reflection

When I was at high school back in the 1970’s, we studied the First World War, as part of our English course – reading the War Poets, performing Oh What A Lovely War. Some of us interviewed veterans of the First War and wrote up pieces about their experiences. We almost all had grandparents living, who remembered the First World War.

No one taught us about the First or Second World War in history, although we had teachers who had fought in the Second World War and parents who lived through it as teenagers. It was probably thought of as being too recent.

My husband had a great uncle killed in France in 1918. He was nineteen years old, and was killed just weeks before the end of the war.

So I guess that for us, we grew up with close personal connections to both conflicts.

Vis-en-Artois cemetery, France.

Earlier this year, on our way to Paris, we stopped off at war grave where my husband’s great uncle is buried at Vis-En-Artois. It is a relatively small cemetery, but we walked every row of neatly tended grave stones, ending at the memorial which commemorates the 9,000 men who have no known grave. It took over an hour.

It was one of the most moving, and heart-breaking experiences I have ever had. So many men – most very young indeed. Despite the fact that we had grown up knowing our family histories, we were incredibly moved to walk on the ground where those poor men, mostly boys, fought and died. This is where history reaches out and grasps you.

As time passes, we are moving from remembering our close relatives and family stories and into reflection on the enormity of what went on in those conflicts. The sheer scale of deaths is something that I hadn’t truly appreciated until we walked through one small cemetery, reading each name, imagining how many people had been affected by each separate death.

I’m glad that through the internet, more and more people are keeping the memory of their family’s loved ones alive – recording details of those short, heroic lives. I hope Remembrance Day continues to be respected and above all, I hope we never repeat the great tragedy of world war.


Cawdor Castle, Oh, Yes Please…

I have to be honest – I’m insanely jealous of the people who own Cawdor Castle. I first went there with friends in 1995 and from the moment I walked inside, I felt comfortable – it’s one of those places, where you feel that you could just slip off your shoes, and curl up in a chair with a good book and a mug of tea.

We went back there this year, on the return leg of our Scottish Odyssey, this time taking our daughters too.

Gorgeous Cawdor Castle

My youngest daughter has promised to buy it for me, so that when we’re very old, we can retire there – how thoughtful of her!

The husband thinks it’s more of a house than his idea of a castle, and I suppose you could think of it that way, but for me, it’s simply divine.

Now I don’t propose to give you a room by room description of the interior – the late Earl Cawdor, did such an excellent job with the room guides, that it would spoil the surprise. Suffice to say that if you go there, buy the guide-book, you won’t be disappointed.

If you’re studying country house style, then Cawdor would be a perfect place to visit. It seems to sum up everything you’d need to know, if you were wanting to re-create the style. I just love soaking in the atmosphere.

Cawdor has a very good restaurant, (although don’t expect things to happen quickly, just relax and read the guide-book while you wait for your lunch). And just next to the restaurant, is a rather nice little book shop.

This year, I was impressed by the trailing nasturtiums in the pots around the courtyard. Somehow, everything at Cawdor seems lush and well cared for.

The gift shop is definitely a cut-above the average stately home offering. Last time I went there, we bought a plush bat, which now hangs (upside down), in the bell tower at our local church.

This year, we couldn’t find any bats to add to the collection, but there were lots of other lovely things to tickle your fancy. Be strong – or give your wallet to someone else to look after for you – or you’ll find it difficult to get out empty-handed.

An avenue in the garden

Whatever you do, don’t miss the gardens. As with the rest of the castle, the gardens are gorgeous – the sort of thing you’d just love to have at home. Full of inspiration for the gardener. There’s a maze, but they won’t let mere mortals go round it – sad really, but it’s still impressive.

It’s also one of those gardens, designed to have hidden places, you come upon by surprise.

Looking through the branches of a Cawdor giant.

Perhaps best of all, are the walks outside the gardens through the woods. They’re graded and signed, so you can choose the distance that seems right to you, but they’re not difficult, so if you have time, go for a stroll. Some of the trees are huge and there’s a river running through, which you cross and re-cross by a variety of bridges.

If you’re hoping for a Macbeth experience, it’s probably going to disappoint you. The castle wasn’t built for years after Macbeth died, and it doesn’t really go over the top on the connection at all.

However, if you’re interested, there are some fascinating pieces of artwork, dotted about the place. I think the late Earl must have been a collector – I admire his taste.

So, Cawdor Castle remains an enormous hit with us and we’re looking forward to our retirement there!



Chilling Out in Sutherland

I know that spending three weeks, touring the north of England and Scotland in two small tents, isn’t everyone’s idea of a great holiday, but it happens to be mine (well in the absence of funds to do it in five-star hotels anyway). Which is why, after exploring Ardnamurchan for a few days, we set off further north, eventually ending up at one of Scotland’s more remote campsites, at Achmelvich, on the west coast of Sutherland.

Looking west from Achmelvich

The thing about Sutherland is this. If you could rely on good weather, there really is no more beautiful place on earth. Even in bad weather, it’s still the most beautiful place on earth in my book, but sadly, when the only thing separating you from the bad weather is a flimsy sheet of nylon tenting, you do tend to temper your ardour – just a jot.

But, if the sun shines and the wind drops, it’s easy to imagine yourself somewhere in the Caribbean (OK, to be entirely honest, and in fairness to the Caribbean, I’ve never been there, and am not likely to go either, but this is how I imagine it).

We were lucky – in just over a week, we did have some nice days – yippeee!

Of course, if the wind drops, there is also quite a significant chance that the midges will seize the opportunity to feast on your blood, but who’d let a little thing like that bother them?

Stac Polly

Anyway, while we were there, we made good use of the time. We walked up Stac Polly – it really isn’t difficult, but you get amazing views and it’s one of those walks that gives you a lot of fun for the effort. It was especially nice to be under-flown by a couple of RAF jets, in just the same place that we had the same experience, ten years ago.

The view from the end of Sail Gharbh, Quinag.

We also walked up Quinag – my all time favourite Scottish mountain – for reasons that are very precious to me. Again, not a difficult walk, but if you do it, don’t turn round at the trig point on Sail Gharbh, carry on to the end, where it drops away – naturally you need to be careful, but you’re rewarded with magnificent views of the bridge at Kylesku.

We were grateful to the campsite for having it’s very own little fish and chip shop open on a couple of the days we were there. But after one particularly rainy day, we were forced to head off, further afield in search of food (it was FAR TOO WINDY AND WET to get our little camping stove out).

We took the incredibly scenic road around the coast to Drumbeg, where, at the Drumbeg Hotel, we were treated royally by the landlord, his wife and their dog. What a splendid evening. Great food, good beer, excellent chat and a pool table for the daughters to thrash their father on. On the journey back to Achmelvich, we were again treated to close up encounters with a couple of big deer.

The Falls of Kirkaig

The other place that you have to know about if you’re in the area and it turns wet, is the Achin’s bookshop at Inverkirkaig. Not only is this an excellent bookshop, the perfect place to top up your supply of holiday reading, it also has plenty of desirable gifty items – you know the sort, the stuff you wish you could justify buying for yourself, but above all, it has a very acceptable cafe, serving freshly made meals and good coffee. Might not sound like much, but if you’re camping and it’s been wet for days, the simple pleasure of sitting on a chair in a warm cafe, while someone else does the cooking, is almost spiritual.

If you’re really lucky, as we were, the rain will stop while you’re eating, and later, you’ll be able to take the walk along from the bookshop, to see the famous Falls of Kirkaig.

They are truly spectacular, but the final approach is not for the fainthearted – which included me this time. I sat myself firmly down on a nice solid rock and waited until the intrepid husband and daughters got back.

The beach at Achmelvich

When the sun came out, we stayed at the campsite, as the beach is just a minute’s walk away. This of course is why it’s such a perfect place when the weather is kind. There’s no reason to go anywhere else. Although we had a wonderful holiday and did a lot of sight-seeing, it wasn’t until we got to the beach at Achmelvich, that I really chilled out. I found a rock that sloped at the ideal angle and drifted off into a wave lapped reverie.

I just love that place.