I don't suppose anyone noticed, but we took the opportunity provided by half-term to take a couple of days' leave of absence from the homestead. Things are generally slowing down in the garden, and my laissez-faire, it's such a mess because I garden for wildlife, attitude is, I am glad to say, paying off. The dead sunflower heads are alive with sparrows, and all that weedy undergrowth provides cover for them to sit under my kitchen window and chew on the husks. So at least I needn't feel guilty for not getting round to deadheading and weeding the flowerbeds.
We left the General in charge, fortified by a fridge full of pizza (he did request ready-meal lasagne, but that was a step too far for the food police), and a hefty financial incentive. Ensconced as he usually is in his digital eyrie, I suspect that he barely noticed that we were gone, and as we had emailed his tick list upstairs, he was very methodical regarding the animal husbandry.
We headed up north, and up hill, to the most wonderful bed and breakfast in Weardale - at 400m above sea level it seemed quite a dizzying height to us: we are marsh-dwellers who reside a mere 6m above the rising sea. But this area of the North Pennines is a most beautiful part of the country, with a wild, untamed air, vivdly-coloured hills and dales, and a frighteningly low stocking density for sheep.
We stayed at Slackhouse Farm, off-grid, but amazingly well-supplied with electricity from a wind turbine, and ate the most delicious food cooked by fellow-blogger Ellie, who is a feltmaker extraordinaire. Her felt has to be seen to be believed: she works mainly in the natural palette of wool colours provided by different varieties of sheep, some from her own flock. Sleeping under one of her blankets ensured the cosiest night: it was like a blanket from a fairytale, light as gossamer, but beautiful, too. I also rather covet one of Ellie's fantastic floor rugs, but I am afraid Kep might try to herd it into a corner.
So if you fancy a little holiday with a difference, or want to learn how to make felt, do go and visit Ellie at Fleece with Altitude - I love the picture of where she keeps the children, and also the rather manic-looking animal in the header!
But as fellow smallholders and self-sufficient types will know, a short trip away might mean the bliss of some late and animal-free mornings, but the work doesn't go away, it just piles up, and the shortening days and general slow-down in the garden have been focussing my mind on winter supplies. So I have been a bit manic, too, madly stewing apples for the freezer - I thought when I had finished a wheelbarrow full that was the last of it, but then I turned and saw this big box as well. It looks like more chilly hands from peeling and chopping are in the offing.
And then there are the quinces, and there is still another tree's worth to pick, which are beginning to rot balefully under my gaze every morning when I open the shutters. But they look and smell so wonderfully golden and historic, that possibly I can forgive them their plenty, if we can just find the time to preserve them. And if not, we will just feel guilty.
And to compound our problems of storage over winter, the extra freezer which we were given this summer has proved to be the most greedy consumer of electricity, so I must address myself to some sort of cost-benefit analysis regarding the purchase of a new, more efficient one. (It is at times like this that I start wondering why I don't just give in and buy ready-meals from the supermarket.) But they wouldn't taste so nice, so I think I will just have to get back to my chopping board and saucepans.
Lululiz and Lydia's Treasures, so I might just have to go and enter: perhaps I might be lucky. I have also managed a little therapeutic yarn-winding of a beautiful dove-grey skein from the Skein Queen - knitting it up into some toasty handwarmers would be just the thing for chilly, workworn hands, and certainly good for the soul.
And to all those lovely people who have been in touch and sent me such nice comments, I will get round to you all, I promise - I just have to finish off the apples first!