Kiftsgate Court: my new favourite English garden

This is a very delayed post, as my friend and I visited Kiftsgate Court on a whim back at the beginning of July. We had a day with no plans, but the beautiful weather meant that a garden visit was the obvious choice. Living in the Cotswolds, we really are spoiled for choice; Kiftsgate is literally right across the road from Hidcote Manor, for example!

I’ve not been to Hidcote yet, but I must say that Kiftsgate, which I’d never heard of (though it is apparently renowned for a variety of rose), shot to the top of my list of favorite country house gardens. Everyone has their own favorite style of garden, and Kiftsgate definitely captured mine. I mean, if you asked me to describe a dream garden, it would probably look like this. There was some structure, but the plants themselves were abundant, spilling out of their containers, effusive. The types of flowers really appealed to me, too, with a lot of large bushes with feathery leaves and light flowers. It’s also on a hill and had the most incredible view of the woods below! For a bit of variety, there were also some more modern aspects to the garden, such as a reflecting pool with lily pad sculptures where the tennis court used to be, and a new walk (not pictured) with modern stonework. There is of course a cafe, and while the mains were a little expensive, the cake was reasonably priced and everything we tried was clearly very fresh. The different areas of the garden aren’t always huge, which proved a challenge at times with two coachloads of German garden tourists there, but it still felt open, quiet and easy to navigate. Kiftsgate also sell some of their plants, so I came away with a meadow rue (a plant) and some angel’s fishing rods (seed) for my own garden. I’ll never have one as nice as this, but I can try!

Right, that’s enough gushing. Hope you enjoy the pictures. I’m looking at them and wishing it was still summer so I could go hang out there for another day. Have you ever visited a garden that summed up your own attitude toward gardening?

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Some good books

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I wrote about anything I’ve read. How has it been 5 months? I have definitely been doing plenty of reading; I’ve just gotten too distracted to write them up. This is, therefore, an unintentional roundup of some of the most memorable books I’ve read so far this year. Feel free to pop over to my Goodreads page to see a full list of what I’ve been reading.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo

I am terrible about keeping up to date with fiction, but as I have an interest in anything to do with Lincoln, and have heard great things about Saunders, I wanted to try this one. It takes place over one night, and to me it read more like a play than a novel. Saunders skillfully transitions between conflicting voices; each of the characters were distinctive, well-rounded, and introduced/developed at a good pace. Having a novel that is set in only 2 places is also a challenge that Saunders handled really well. It’s hard to believe many authors could set a novel in a mausoleum without making it feel morbid. I particularly admired how well emotions were conveyed throughout the book; writing about the loss of a child can so easily be overly sentimental, but I thought Saunders portrayal was really authentic and quite heartbreaking. Overall, I found it a thought-provoking novel that I felt I needed to re-read to absorb fully, yet struggled to put down while I was reading. I would definitely recommend it to others who are in the mood for a challenging yet engrossing book.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

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The Power has been everywhere this year, and why not? With an endorsement from Margaret Atwood and the Bailey’s Prize, it is hard not to be persuaded to at least read this book. And for me, it did live up to the hype, even if I am not sure it will be a long-term favorite. The Power is a dystopian sci fi story where the women of the world, starting with the teenagers, suddenly find they have skeins of power (literally, as in electricity). The story then follows what happens, both in the lives of a few specific characters, and the wider world. It was a thought-provoking book, and I loved the detail of the illustrations, but the structure didn’t quite work for me. I’m really glad I read it, though.

East West Street by Philippe Sands

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Having really enjoyed reading a ton of non-fiction a few years ago, I recently realised how much I missed it. I think I read a review of East West Street on the NPR book blog and decided it would be a good one to try to get me back into the habit. It tells the stories of three people – the author’s grandfather, Hersch Lauterpacht (who introduced the term crimes against humanity), and Raphael Lemkin (who originated the word genocide). All three were originally from the same city, now Lviv in Ukraine. The book starts off as 3 biographies, each of which are interesting on their own, but overall the book didn’t pick up for me until the second half, where Sands discusses the impact of Lauterpacht and Lemkin’s work on the Nuremberg trials. The story of Sands’s grandfather was really interesting, but for me it didn’t have a strong enough connection with Lauterpacht and Lemkin to fit in this book. Perhaps it would’ve worked better on its own as a short book. Nonetheless, I’m really glad I read this & would recommend it. It was a well-written book with a compelling narrative, and I learned a lot while reading it.

The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being by Alice Roberts

The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being: Evolution and the Making of Us

A friend loaned this to me shortly after I told her I was pregnant. It’s not a pregnancy book, though; it’s about evolution and how that is reflected in human development. It was fascinating! And it pretty much blew my mind, too. I mean, the development of the heart in a fetus? Wow. Just wow. It made me understand exactly why I was so shattered during the first trimester in particular. I’ve not read anything by Alice Roberts before, and haven’t seen any of her documentaries, but she was a very persuasive writer. The bibliography was extensive, too, which is always important to me when evaluating the quality of a non-fiction book. I have to be honest & say I may not have enjoyed this quite as much if I weren’t pregnant…but I still would have given it 4/5.

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

The Sunlight Pilgrims

Set at the beginning of a modern ice age, The Sunlight Pilgrims takes place in the far north of Scotland and tells the story of Dylan, Estella, and Constance, who are living in a caravan park as an iceberg approaches the Scottish coast. It’s a surprisingly gentle book focusing on human relationships in spite of huge, overarching things happening in the wider world. So basically, it’s quite relevant to real life in that sense. It’s both apocalyptic and personal, quite a hard balance to capture. I picked this up because I loved The Panopticon so much. I didn’t like this novel quite as much, but still found it quite an interesting one.

Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love by James Runcie

Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love (The Grantchester Mysteries #6)

Ah, Grantchester! I love this series. All the characters seem so flawed and human. Also, I’m a sucker for a clergy detective. I do watch Grantchester on TV, but I prefer the books. The last one was a bit disappointing, though, so I was unsure about picking this one up. I’m glad I did, as it was back to the feeling of Runcie’s earlier books. The stories aren’t overly complicated, and this was a perfect summer read, which I got through in about a day sitting in my garden. There are some very sad (and shocking) events in this particular volume of Grantchester, yet it was still a comforting read – just what it should be.

Vienna

At the end of July, R and I jetted off for 4 days in Vienna. I’ve always wanted to go; it seems like such a romantic city, and anywhere that is famous for a cake is an ideal choice as far as I’m concerned.

I had, however, underestimated just how big the city is. Silly of me, given that it’s a capital city. Big cities aren’t a problem for us generally; however, given that we prefer to explore cities on foot and I’m not exactly at maximum capacity it may not have been the best idea. We still had a great time, but I definitely overdid it. On our first day we must have walked about 11 miles! Predictably, that meant I really just was too tired to enjoy things that I had been looking forward to. It was certainly worth visiting, but I think I may have to go back to get a real feel for the spirit of the city.

Nonetheless, I thought it’d be nice to share a few of my favorite pictures.

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The Naschmarkt is an amazing food market & was definitely a highlight for us. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this hilarious spelling mistake, though.
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The Prunksaal, National Library of Austria, was sooooo incredible. I didn’t want to leave!

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Could this be the most elaborate roof ever?
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Apple strudel and Sachertorte on our first day. Mmmm, cake.
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Oberes Belvedere. Another highlight for me. The gardens, fountains, and art collection were all equally impressive.
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The inside of Oberes Belvedere. Such a beautiful stairwell.
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This wasn’t my favorite Klimt painting out of the collection (I really loved his flower paintings, actually), but isn’t this the most amazing frame?
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We loved this memorial fountain, too.

Thoughts as I start the 3rd trimester

P1090540First, how has this happened?! It seems impossible that I’m 6 months pregnant and only 3 months away from meeting our little one, who has felt a little abstract up until now, if I’m honest. It’s particularly weird because I don’t feel very different yet. It’s a strange thing to say when at least once a day someone comments on how big I am, and when I look in the mirror and can clearly see my bump and how very different I look. But it still doesn’t feel that heavy; I’ve been very fortunate and not yet had swelling, back pain, or any of the more serious pregnancy complaints. I have been tired and gassy (yup, I know you’re glad I shared that) and that’s about it. I haven’t been able to forget I’m pregnant for months, but it certainly hasn’t felt like it’s played a big part in my daily routines.

But as the 3rd trimester begins, I am starting to worry about when this will change. One of the things that has changed already is allotmenting – I’m not really comfortable digging anymore. What will go next? I’m still cycling. My original plan was to stop at 28 weeks (if I could make it that far), but now that I’m there I still feel well & balanced, and really don’t want to stop. I’m losing enough sleep as it is and am not keen on the thought of getting up an hour earlier to walk or take the bus to the train station. I am finding it interesting to observe people’s reactions to my cycling, though. It seems to evoke strong feelings, with people either looking absolutely horrified or pleased. Generally it leans toward the former, but I was really glad to hear my midwife say that she thought it was brilliant I was still riding my bike. Recently I’ve been reminding myself that it’s perfectly normal in a lot of countries, too.

Other random thoughts:

  • I am loving my body during pregnancy. Sometimes I get a little overwhelmed (in a good way) by how perfectly round my belly seems to me; surely that can’t be normal?! It’s like someone’s strapped an adorable bowling ball to my belly. My belly button is looking super weird/disturbing, but what the heck, something was bound to stretch! I am, however, still learning to cope with other people’s comments. My confidence lasts right up until someone tells me I’m huge or big for how far along I am. I generally try to brush it off when they’re there, and have even replied to say, hey, there’s a whole second human in there, but the truth is I am finding it a little hard. I spend days, sometimes up to a week, obsessing about it afterwards. Instead I’m trying to cling to one particularly wonderful person’s comment one day that I looked like a 15th century Italian madonna, minus the pancake hat. I’ll take it!
  • I am not loving the fact that I can’t sleep. This is partly due to physical discomfort, but also partly just overthinking right before I go to bed.
  • The conversations about names are still fun, but I really hope we can make a final shortlist soon!
  • Antenatal classes are next month, and I am feeling pretty apprehensive about them. I did want to do them, because I’ve not really started to think about birth or parenting in detail yet, and I think they will help us prepare for that. While the pregnancy is definitely starting to feel real, and we have now started to buy/be given baby things (the only thing left on our list of essentials is a stroller), I do think the classes will make it real in a totally different way. Mainly this is because so far the pregnancy has been something between me & R; I haven’t thought about other people’s expectations or experiences that much. I’ve deliberately not even read any books, though I’ve been tempted. I just know how natural it is for me to compare myself to others, and I am really worried that the classes will magnify this and that I will now start to second-guess myself about everything.
  • Why is it that I like the expensive strollers best? I am not willing to spend that much money on a stroller! Or am I? Gah. Ideas for Stokke knock-offs gratefully received.
  • I am starting to look forward to my maternity leave, which starts in just under 2 months. Eek! I’m planning to do some nice things for myself if I can; perhaps a day craft workshop or something.
  • It’s hilarious how many people have told me in the past couple of weeks that I seem very laid back and calm. I really don’t feel calm at all; I am just taking the route of not thinking about problems until they’re staring me in the face. Most of the time this seems like a good strategy, though, and I think overall I have been quite relaxed during the second trimester which I’m very pleased about. I was so stressed until a couple of weeks after the anomaly scan in week 20, so it has been really refreshing. I think the truth is that I feel a little fatalistic about all of it. Having lost one pregnancy before, I guess I am aware of just how little control I have over the pregnancy, and am reacting by pretending it’s not happening rather than worrying about things that I can’t control. This feels like a good enough coping mechanism for me, though I admit I do get jealous of women who are getting excited so much earlier than I did (there are a lot of other pregnancies at my workplace at the moment).
  • I still can’t really comprehend how much my life will change after the baby arrives.

5 happy things: an update

It’s been an eventful few weeks, hence my lack of consistent blogging. Last week was particularly stressful, with a cancelled holiday due to R’s dad unexpectedly going into hospital. Thankfully, he is fine! I have now come down with a summer cold or flu & have spent the day trying to nap, with mixed results, and trying to stop my eyes from weeping, with no success at all.

I realized the other day that I’ve not done a 5 happy things post for quite a while. I have a few other drafts waiting to be finished, but this seems a good time to do something nice & easy.

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  • Flowers

I bought some sunflowers the other day, just to cheer up the house. Seeing them as I come home has been lovely.

  • Plums

The plums on our allotment have come in! There are so many this year, and there seem to be fewer worms than usual, too. Yesterday I picked 2.2 kilos. Time to make some Pflaumenkuchen again, I think.

  • Curtains

I have, at long last, finished the first panel of our bedroom curtains. I planned to finish the second one today, but alas that is definitely not happening. It shouldn’t take too long now; it’s just a matter of attaching the lining and header tape. Once I find a curtain rod, I’ll be able to share them on here. I am so excited about getting them up. On a side note, if anyone can recommend a place to buy very sturdy curtain poles, I’d love to hear it. These are so heavy!

  • Baby movement

After starting to worry about whether what I was feeling was really the baby, I am relieved & thrilled that I know I definitely have. And R has now felt it as well, which is extra lovely. Yesterday I played some Fleet Foxes and could feel it wriggling like mad! I’m very excited about feeling it for the next few months.

  • Time with friends

I got to meet my friend’s new baby for the first time yesterday. She didn’t like me & cried every time I tried to hold her, but I’m hoping she’ll eventually grow out of that! It was nice to spent time with her toddler as well, going to the park & the allotment, where he helped me pick some of those plums. P1090521

What have you been up to recently?

FO: Maile baby cardigan

P1090510Finally, I’ve accomplished something knitting-related this year! This week I finished the Maile cardigan from What to Knit When You’re Expecting. This isn’t for me, but for a friend who had a baby in June. I knit it using Rico Baby Dream DK, which is one of the most gloriously soft & smooshy yarns I’ve had the pleasure to knit with. Technically this cardigan’s meant to be in 4-ply, but I had this yarn on hand & it turned out just fine, if possibly a little bigger than intended. The buttons are vintage cloth-covered ones that I had in my stash already.

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This was a pretty straightforward knit, but I’m not sure I’d knit it again. I prefer top-down cardigans; this one had slightly odd construction. To her credit, the author does acknowledge that it’s a difficult sleeve join & offers tips (i.e. the magic loop method) to help. It was still a faff, though, and resulted in some awkward seaming.

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The best thing about this knit was that it was my first knit using my set of interchangeable Hiya Hiya super sharp needles. And they were delightful! It was also a novelty to have spare cables, which meant I could just slip sections onto a spare cable & reuse the same size needles, rather than needing either spare needles or scrap yarn (which is useful, but I do find transferring the stitches back onto a needle annoying because I am terribly lazy).P1090511

Eden Project

It’s been a month since my visit to the Eden Project, but I still wanted to share some of my favorite pictures and a few thoughts on it as it is quite a unique spot. Unfortunately I was only there for about 5 hours rather than a whole day due to travel & lack of a  clear plan. I think that did have a big impact on my experience there, in that we only had time to go around the biomes rather than the whole of the site.

I had high expectations for the Eden Project, perhaps unreasonable ones. I saw Tim Smit speak once & he was so engaging & enthusiastic that I was completely sold & immediately wanted to go visit. The trouble was that I was thinking of it as a garden, whereas actually there is a lot more to it. Having visited it, my impression is that the Eden Project is primarily a sustainability education, with the garden as a vehicle for that mission. And from that  point of view, it’s brilliant! The transformation of landscape is absolutely breath-taking & deserves to be celebrated. But I have to be honest – as a garden, I was a little disappointed. It’s only fair to say that I have been lucky to visit a lot of incredible botanical gardens, though, and that is what I went in expecting. And that’s just not what the Eden Project is. There was still so much that I loved, though! It’s certainly worth a visit, but I think I would only go back with children.

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These amazing statues were at the entrance. One is driftwood; the other bronze.

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My favorite parts were the ones that focused on edible gardens, like this one near the outside dining area. It was so beautiful!
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Mediterranean biome.
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Jacaranda tree – this smelled incredible!
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Kangaroo paw. I’d never seen these before, but they were very cool.
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I loved this way of growing tomatoes.
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Such a lovely climber! Sollya heterophylla. Apparently it won’t grow in normal English climates. 😦
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The smelliest flower in the world (when in bloom).

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The lookout. I was desperate to go up, but it had just closed as it was too hot/humid up there.

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Cashew!