The Waltons
The Waltons

No trip to New Zealand this year, so we had to hunker down after Christmas and get through to Spring at home. It just seemed to rain and rain though January and February, and there were floods in lots of low lying or flat parts of England. So we had no really cold weather and not a hint of snow. I can't remember ever having a winter before with not even a hint of snow, but there are still some people out there who don't believe in global warming.


The big event of the first half of the year was the departure of Alex, Tamara, Lydia and Gnasher to Mexico. The departure was postponed a number of times, mainly down to problems with Gnasher's papers or travel arrangements – no one had ever attempted to import a CITES listed sulphur crested cockatoo into Mexico before, so a whole new protocol had to be invented. They finally made it at the end of May, having stayed the last two weeks with us, following an aborted departure at the beginning of May which left them without anywhere to live as they had scheduled their departure to coincide with moving out of their flat.


We had a week in France at the beginning of June down in Couzou, near Cahour. It was sunny and hot and we had a lovely lazy time, doing nothing in particular other than some local walks and enjoying the local produce, mainly duck and local Merlot.


Our big holiday for the year was another US road trip. This time we started in Seattle and our route took us east through The Cascades and Glacier National Parks, south to North Yellowstone, then further south through Idaho for Craters of the Moon NP and the John Day fossil beds, before heading west to Portland and Crater Lake taking in some Oregon Trail on the way, then north to Canon Beach and then Olympic NP before returning to Seattle for the flight home.


Before we set off, it had been very hot and dry where we were going to and there had been forest fires the Cascades which had temporarily closed one of the hotels we were booked into. The 10 day forecasts for the start of our holiday period was wall to wall sunshine and scorchio and we only threw in a couple of warm fleeces at the last minute, just in case. So on our arrival in Seattle, the rains arrived and the temperature dropped. Our fleeces came in very useful, particularly in Yellowstone, where the day before we arrived, the temperature dropped by 40ºF in the space of a few hours. Sandy managed to put her back out on the first day and had to struggle on for the first couple of weeks, though walking around was more comfortable than sitting down so it didn't stop us exploring.


By the time we reached the area which had been suffering from forest fires, they were either out or under control and our hotel was open again. We did pass through some areas of serious devastation though. Amazingly, we saw houses still standing, surrounded by burned out forest, saved by the local firefighters, lots of whom are volunteers.


Once we moved south from Yellowstone, it was sunshine all the way for the rest of the holiday till the final day heading back to the airport. Crater Lake was the highlight of the trip but the Craters of the Moon came a close second, or maybe Canon Beach – it was all pretty spectacular. We were also pleasantly surprised by the availability of good restaurants and proper coffee (provided by little huts in car parks). Much improved on our previous visits.


In September, we had a few days in Cumberland on the edge of the Lake District, with our friends Andrew and Stella. It's many years since we were last up there and in the meantime, they have had replaced the original bungalow with a modern building with superb insulation. We had one lovely day followed by more normal Lakeland weather (rain). We tried to visit the Beatrix Potter museum in Hawkeshead, but, being Friday, it was closed (naturally!).


In between our various travels , we have had lots of trips back and forth to Reading (usually on the M25 – aaargh) to visit Tessa and Joel and Maria. They all have full on active lives, with Tessa and Joel do triathlons and Maria does swimming, Tai Kwondo and ballet, with a skiing holiday at spring half term. Their move to Reading has been a great success for them as they now live in a road with lots of very sociable neighbours who also have kids around the same age as Maria. Regular street closures are organised at weekends so the kids can play out and the parents can have a party.


Maria is growing up rapidly (literally – she grew 4 cms in 6 months) and keeps us constantly delighted by her enthusiasm and achievements. She seems to be doing well at school and likes maths and science, but she is also very arty and her reading, writing and general use of language are well ahead of her years.


We see Joe and Eugenie pretty regularly too.


It has been a good year in the garden. We weren't short of rain but we had plenty of sun too. I tried to organise things so that we didn't have crops maturing while we were away on holiday, so we had things that produce early and then things for autumn/winter. It didn't all work to plan though as the blackberries, which normally fruit in September, were early this year. Our neighbours however were more than happy to pick them and freeze some for us, as well as eat loads of tomatoes and peppers.


We didn't get any frogspawn despite having loads of frogs around the garden, but following my completion of the stone edging around the pond, we planted lots of ground cover which I hope will provide the ground cover they like.


We have now completed our choir concerts for Christmas and most of our preparations are done. Joe and Eugenie are coming over for Christmas Eve and Day and then we are all off to Reading for more food on Boxing Day. We have a visit planned to Max and Josie for the day after Boxing Day and the following day we will be entertaining Maria while Tessa and Joel go on some outdoor pursuit which will probably involve a load of mud!


My hope that Burnley would win promotion to the Premiership was fulfilled, and we were able to enjoy a final match at Reading with no need to worry about the result. So far this season, the going has been tough, but after a very bad start, there are signs of an upturn and last week they got out of the relegation zone. Staying up will be a great achievement.


So on that optimistic note, I'll wish you all a good Christmas and all the best for 2015.



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