Winter Time

After such a beautiful summer, with its soaring temperatures, followed by one of the most glorious autumns, we’re heading towards the shortest day of the year and those dark mornings and dark evenings and sometimes those days that never seem to come daylight. Real winter time.

Winter time can be defined in different ways. The Met Office using the calendar year and making winter the three months following the 1st December, because December, January and February are generally the coldest months.

Some define winter according to the winter solstice, that being the day we have the least sunlight and the day when the sun is positioned furthest away from the earth as it orbits the sun.

I think for most of us, the weather can define how we think of winter. During November the weather always seems to slide seamlessly into colder, darker days and by December it usually feels like winter is underway. It has done this year anyway.

We seem to have had a real mix of weather over this last few weeks from crisp, cold and frosty days to gales, wind, storms and wet, foggy and misty weather. Some areas have even had snow. The whole range. With such a variety it’s no wonder we’re always talking about the weather in this country.

Luckily, we have had some beautiful days interspersed with all the bleaker weather. There have been some glorious mornings that start with a beautiful sunrise and then some stunning sunsets, which finish the day on a spectacular note. These days are such a treat during these winter months – the days when you can get outdoors and enjoy a good walk, the sunshine, nature, beautiful views and see winter at its best.

There’s also all that festive sparkle, as we nearly reach Christmas too. Thoughts of those winter traditions spring to mind – mulled wine, hot ciders and spiced punches. The aromas of the festive cooking – oranges, cinnamon, spices welcoming you inside. Christmas cake, mince pies, hams cooking on the hob, turkey, duck and beef roasting in the oven. A warm fire and candlelight. I look forward to these and this weekend’s Christmas preparations…

A Favourite View

We were lucky enough to spend a few days in the Lake District earlier last week and amongst some very rainy, wet and cold days we were fortunate to enjoy some glorious winter sunshine. We decided to drive up to the Western Lakes and spend some time exploring around Coniston Water.

I say ‘explore’ but it is a favourite area of ours, probably my most favourite spot, so we know it quite well. Whatever time of year we visit, the views are always stunning. When we arrived on this particular day, the views took our breath away though. It was a still morning and the waters were calm, the sky very blue and the bright winter sunshine was reaching through the bare trees casting both light and shadows at tbe same time. The reflections of the mountains and trees in the blue and black pools of water were amazing.

We were the only people there, so very different from the crowds and the heat of summer. During the hot summer, the meadows here were full of families picnicking and the lake was busy with kayacks, canoes and swimmers. The small car park was packed full to the brim with cars. On this day there was nothing but peace. We were able to quietly amble around and soak up the views, Ted ran safely off lead and explored the meadows and splashed in the water.

I couldn’t quite make my mind up, ‘When was this place at its most loveliest?’ When you are swimming or kayaking in the lake, in the heat of summer, the skies blue with large fluffy clouds hovering over the mountain tops or on this peaceful, crisp winter day, which offered nature at its most magnificent and calm?

Autumn’s End

We’ve been so lucky to enjoy such a beautiful autumn this year and during November, I’ve been enjoying and savouring those last sunny days of autumn. There’s been so many glorious displays of colourful leaves both on the trees and on the ground.

The park looks different each day, as more and more leaves have fallen. Some fall gently like confetti on those still and sunny days and some have been blown away harshly on wilder, wet days. The trees are becoming more bare as we slide nearer to winter and the colder, darker months.

The landscape looks so different as the freshly fallen leaves cover the ground, there’s something special about walking in them, kicking them up in the air as you go. The flora in the woodlands has changed colours, now in its last flurry of golden browns and golds before much of it dies back and goes dormant for winter.

The low sunlight filters through the woodlands, illuminating those last snippets of russets, reds and golds. There are few leaves on the trees now as autumn clings on and we’re about to leave November.

Fields are still green, but the growing grass is slowing and the grass is wet and damp with mist and dew. The weather has turned colder and wetter this last few weeks, the skies grey and dull with mist and drizzle. The temperature has dropped and we’ve even had a few frosts. I prefer the cold frosts and a bright crisp day to the fogs and greyness of this late November. If it’s going to be winter very soon with the nights drawing in, hopefully we’ll have more bright, crispy cold days than those days when it doesn’t seem to come properly light somehow.

At least as we reach the end of November, and if there are grey, dull days, there’s the the glitz and sparkle of Christmas beckoning. It’s like a bright warming light in front of us. I already have my Christmas preparations underway. I usually start early having ended up in hospital seven of the last eight Decembers, I feel pressure to be organised ‘just in case’. I’m aiming very hard for a hospital free December this year and having just had a reasonable clinic, I’ve no plans to be back at hospital before January.

I’m established on preventative oral antibiotics and nebulised antibiotics to try and stave away the chronic pneumonia that keeps rearing in my lungs if I pick up an infection and to help with respiratory infections. So far, so good and I’m keeping busy with Christmas preparations and enjoying life while the going is good again. I’m also trying hard to avoid the winter bugs going around.

As we reach the last week in November, our family have already started our traditional run up to Christmas. We enjoyed our Papworth transplant group’s Christmas party on Saturday – the Christmas jumpers were out in force. On Sunday we went on the Santa Express at the Nene Valley Railway with all the family and little Freddie. It won’t be long before we’ll be bringing down the Xmas decorations from the loft and choosing the Christmas tree.

After a stunning autumn and great November, with Christmas looming there’s so much to look forward to as we head into December and winter.

Here’s to November

We start November and I feel that cringe deep inside about those long, cold winter months ahead and those shorter days and longer nights. I also have that fear of more bugs and hospital, which seem to have become a bit of a winter tradition in my life as much as Christmas is. As we move nearer to winter time, I find myself needing some motivation and inspiration to conjure up of all those good things about these darker months.

On the health front, I’ve had my flu jab and I’m on preventative measures to help my lungs over winter. I’m at clinic for checks every few weeks. I’m trying to keep fit, rest, eat well and avoid the bugs where I can. I know I’m as prepared and ready as can be, so it’s just a case of one step at a time and taking each day as it comes and fingers crossed to stay in good health.

As for the rest, the start of November has been such a pleasant surprise. It has been very cold compared to the milder temperatures we’ve had recently, but some of the days have been so glorious and sunny that we’ve wrapped up warm and been out and about in the countryside. We’ve been enjoying all what remains of the stunning autumn scenery – those golden trees and leaves against brilliant blue skies and fluffy, high clouds.

It’s scenes like this that have reminded me that the winter months can be just as much fun as those of summer and have me thinking of all the positive things to look forward to.

It’s lovely to dig out those warm winter coats and woollies, those snuggly scarves, hats and gloves in anticipation of cold, crisp walks with our dog, Ted. Those walks on a Sunday while a roast is cooking in the oven. The warm house and delicious smells when you return.

If you don’t want to cook, a country pub with a roaring log fire is hard to beat. I remember walking into a pub high up in the hills on our way back from Christmas shopping in Bowness last year. We were the first to arrive at lunch time and were given a huge welcome and told to sit by the fire – it was a perishing cold day. They piled more logs on the stove for us and we warmed ourselves while we waited for a delicious hot lunch.

Then there’s preparing hearty winter dishes for dinner, cosy dinners by candlelight and cosy nights by the fire with the curtains all drawn. The dog by my feet – or more often than not snuggled up beside me. Soft cosy clothes, socks and slippers. A cold and dark night is a great excuse to wrap up under a blanket in favourite chair and read or indulge in watching a box set or two. Of course, scented candles are a complete ‘must’ and that’s after a long pampering soak in a hot bath.

Then there are the glorious sunrises and sunsets to enjoy – the sunrises are late enough to catch a glimpse of when you wake up on a winter morning and the sun sets nice and early and well before bed time. Then the excitement of waking up to fogs, mists, heavy frost or snow – not so exciting if you have to go to work or travel – but beautiful if you can watch from inside and go about your day without the hazards to worry about.

Then there’s the glamour and glitz of ‘Strictly’ – now a recognised winter staple – the sparkly costumes, the fabulous dancing as we move through Halloween, Bonfire Night and towards Christmas.

Christmas – it’s probably the biggest most excitable thing looming as we step into November. November is the time I usually finish off buying all the presents and start the wrapping in readiness for December. I love a Winter Market or a Christmas Market. We’ve even managed to visit one already last week at Holker Hall and it was such a perfect sunny day – beautiful stalls with an assortment of wonderful goodies, warming pit fires, a live jazz band and delicious hot food and drinks.

I love the build up to Christmas – the anticipation, the preparations and then the actual festivities and day itself. Christmas shopping, Christmas carols, Christmas concerts and Christmas parties.

Well, I think I’ve found enough lovely things to think of for now to inspire and enjoy myself until January at least! What do you enjoy about the winter months?

Happy November everyone!

Five Years On…

I relax in the sunshine on a seat looking over the salt marshes and out to sea. I soak in the stunning view, breathe in and out deeply savouring the salty air deep down in my lungs. Those precious lungs – well precious heart and lungs, but lungs more precious and fragile than ever now as they take the brunt of every storm my body weathers since my transplant five years ago. I can feel the gentle sea breeze and mellow sunshine on my face. Birds are gathering for their journeys to warmer climates, but singing and twittering as though it’s high summer. Beautiful September sunshine on this the fifth anniversary of my heart and double lung transplant.

I remember a time I’d been here in Norfolk before, over seven years ago now. Rob pushing me in my wheelchair along board walks to the beach when I took the call to say I’d been placed on the active transplant list. We were on holiday at the time trying to make the most of life or what I might have had left of it. We were trying to make sense of a situation where I’d found myself terminally ill and been given only two years to live if I was lucky. At the same time, I’d been told I needed a heart and double lung transplant and that on average the wait for this operation takes two years. Three people a day were dying while waiting for a transplant. The odds felt against me and I had to prepare myself both ways – preparing to die and preparing to live. A confusing situation but survival was my only focus.

Then my mind flits to four years ago when we came back here again. It was the first anniversary of my heart and double lung transplant. No wheelchair this time, my health restored. I could walk for miles by now, my strength recovered. It had been an incredible first year since my transplant. Suddenly I could do all those things that everyone takes for granted – simple things like showering, pushing a trolley around the supermarket, driving and even ironing and housework. Just simple things and I would even pinch myself that it was all actually real; that ‘yes’ I had my health back and I’d been given the best gift of all – the gift of life.

Five years on now and I’m back in Norfolk with my family to celebrate this incredible milestone. As I sit here, I think of all the incredible things I’ve been able to achieve because of my donor. From first simple steps like taking a shower to living my dreams and being able to travel abroad again. I’ve visited New York and many cities across Europe, plus been on a mediterranean cruise and travelled on the Orient Express.

I’ve seen Sarah and Rose both graduate, establish their careers, then Sarah marrying and then, the best of all, the birth of my first grandchild, Freddie and now we have another grandchild on the way. This is so exciting for me, life always brings so much to look forward to. Every extra day I’ve been given is special in its own unique way.

Our plans this holiday have come unstuck a little as I’m actually struggling with parainfluenza virus and alongside that pseudonoma pneumonia that always flares and inflames my lungs when I’m fighting any illness or rejection of my new organs. With the support and help of my transplant team though, we’ve managed to make it here. I’m on intravenous anti-biotics and allowed to do them from home or where home happens to be this week, rather than being hospitalised – it’s not new to me, I’ve done this often now over these years post transplant.

Being immunosuppressed can bring its challenges. I’ve already been back to Papworth again since we’ve been here, because my longline stopped working, my veins are poor now, but they sorted things out and got me back on track to continue our special celebrations with family. I have the Transplant Team there to thank for getting me through thick and thin and being able to reach this five years post transplant mark.

While we’ve been here, we’ve already celebrated Rob’s 60th birthday and our 28th Wedding anniversary – more milestones to add to many. Every single one is special. Five years post heart and lung transplant feels a very special milestone in more ways than one. Only 50% of lung transplant patients survive five years and beyond – it’s always been my long term goal to achieve this and it feels a huge achievement given the struggles with my lungs over the last few years.

I stare out to the sea and know that I’ve been fortunate, not only to have received my transplant in the first place, but to be given all this extra time with my family and a second chance to experience so many new opportunities and challenges that life brings. The horizon spreads wide in front of me and it fills me with hope for so much more to come. Well there’s a new baby to look forward to next spring, that’s going to be amazing for a start…

There isn’t a day goes by where I don’t thank my donor and their family for my gift of life.

September

It’s difficult to have a favourite month, as every month of the year has something special to offer. There’s always something unique to anticipate as each month looms on the horizon: from the festive month of December and all the hectic preparations for Christmas, to the peace, tranquility and perhaps even snow of January; from the anticipation of lighter evenings and warmer days during those spring months and the sunshine, heat and holidays of the summer.

September has always felt special to me though. I suppose it starts back from school days and the start of the school and academic year being September. September always feels like the time for a fresh start, new learning and new beginnings even more so than January when we’re supposed to reflect on the past year and think about new resolutions for the year ahead.

September was the month when Rob and I chose to get married and the month when I received my life saving transplant, so it’s a month that culminates in celebrations for our family. If I could have chosen which month to have received my transplant, it would have been September. For me, it truly is a month of new beginnings; a month to celebrate life and all it has to offer.

I always look forward to the weather in September, it’s usually cooler after the heat of summer, but still mild enough to be out and about enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. We’re usually lucky during this month as we often have plenty of sunshine and it’s calmer and quieter after the busyness of the school holidays.

We’ve just passed the Autumn Equinox, where the astrological year is marked by the sun crossing the earth’s equator from north to south. This marks the beginning of Autumn, nights drawing in and cooler weather. The meterological year marks the beginning of September as the start of autumn. Whichever way the start of autumn is defined, September is definitely the month where summer somehow manages to gradually ease into autumn. The garden defines this: we still have plenty of summer flowers – annuals still happily flowering along until the first frosts hit, but then many flowers have turned to fruits and berries, ripe for picking and preparing for winter.

For me, September is the month that leads us to crispy autumn walks, cosy warm evenings by the fire, enjoying the last of the warmer weather and then digging out those warmer winter jumpers and clothes. The beginning of a whole new season to embrace.

July Heatwave

We’re at the end of July and it’s passed so quickly. It’s been an incredible month due to the heatwave we’ve been experiencing. The beautiful weather has continued on from springtime and it’s become hotter and hotter throughout July, temperatures reaching over 30 degrees at times. There’s been little rain since May and even then, there wasn’t that much.

Many plants have been flourishing in this heat. The honeysuckle that grows over our front door is always beautiful in July and throughout summer, but this year it’s been even more stunning than ever, brimming full of flowers. The high temperatures have accentuated its strong perfume. On many a hot day and night we’ve had to have all the windows open wide and its heady scent has been noticibly wafting inside when there’s a gentle breeze. It’s just gorgeous.

We’ve been having to water our many pots and baskets every day to keep them healthy as they’ve wilted and struggled in the daily heat, but most have managed to thrive especially the geraniums, which enjoy this Mediterranean type climate. The begonias have done well too, as they are succulents and hold water.

The garden is still looking colourful with the usual July plants flowering: crocosia always give that welcome fiery look in readiness for August; lavenders thrive and are full of busy bees and butterflies; mallow pink anemones buds are opening out and dahlias are thriving with a succession of flower heads one after another, after another.

Crocosia

Anenomes opening out amongst lavenders and daphnes

Lavender borders full of bees and butterflies

Beautiful pink dahlias

The lawn is the biggest giveaway that we’re in the middle of a heatwave. I’ve never seen it so brown, yellow and parched and so early in summer too. We’ve not had to mow it for weeks, which is perhaps a bonus. Hopefully, it will grow back and come green again with some rains or if we have cooler nights and morning dew.

We’ve been trying to get out and about when it’s been cool enough. Everywhere is very dry and dusty and the fields are parched and crops are already golden and being harvested early.

The weather has been so hot and dry that seed heads have just stayed still and haven’t shed in the rain or blown away as they would normally do.

The lavender, wildflower and sunflower fields at Hitchin Lavender, where we visited recently, are thriving in the heat and are an absolutely stunning sight to see amongst the dry and dusty countryside.

I think the heatwave probably sums up July and as we end the month, we’ve had a couple of thunderstorms and some much needed showers of rain, but it’s forecast to hot up again as we head into August… We shall see, but so far it’s been a memorable summer.