Christmas Present

It doesn’t seem possible that Christmas is just over a week away, a New Year chasing its heels. So much has changed, not least of all the weather. The last couple of weeks in southern England have been unseasonably mild, although unlike last year, we did have a few frosty days in November.

november-frost-2016-5november-frost-2016-1november-frost-2016-3-editedWhat happened to those white Christmases of my childhood I wonder?  For me, they really did exist.  It took me a while to get used to a Californian winter when I first moved to Los Angeles.  Winter wonderland scenes with fake snow, icicles and huge, plastic snowmen in front yards looked out of place against the azure sky, bobbing around in warm, Santa Ana winds.

But it is Christmas Present I am more keen to think about today.  Which means presents! And what better presents than books, especially debut novels recently published by three dear friends.

Sarah Potter, (and thank you again so much to Sarah for featuring me as her Guest Storyteller and to all who left such amazing comments), published her first novel Desiccation last year.

desiccation-cover-smallAn urban fantasy, sci-fi crossover fiction, it’s best described as ‘St Trinian’s meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  And it is, and it’s a wonderful read.  I know, because I read and reviewed it on Amazon.

Sarah followed up very recently with her latest upper-middle grade crossover fiction novel, Noah Padgett and the Dog People which tells:

The tale of a boy who fell into the paw-hands of a villain crazier than the Mad Hatter and more puffed up than Mr Toad…

npdp-ebook_imageI have the paperback ready and waiting on my bookshelf, but as well as for Kindle, it is also available in audio format.

Great stories take us to places we might otherwise never go.  A classic, of course,  Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, takes us back in time to a world very different to ours, yet its message of forgiveness and love is timeless.

Every first weekend in December,  with great anticipation of seasonal celebration, my family catches a steam train to the tiny, medieval village of Dunster in Somerset, England, its narrow streets transformed into a Dickensian candlelit delight.

A castle overlooks the village from on high, hosting a Victorian Christmas all of its own…

dunster-christmas-2016-7First some sweet music from this lovely harpist…

dunster-christmas-2016-3Then to open presents…

dunster-christmas-2016-13Time to feast in the grand dining room…make sure to look for your place card!

dunster-christmas-2016-9Followed by traditional Christmas cake and pudding by a warming fire…

dunster-christmas-2016-10And then, how lovely to retire to the library for a glass of port and a nice, quiet read of those recently purchased books…

dunster-christmas-2016-14 Away from the peace of the castle, once owned by the Luttrell family but now by the National Trust, things were more boisterous…

dunster-christmas-2016-2One man walked along a tightrope while playing a violin, accompanied by his friend playing a moving piano. Even Jacob Marley would have enjoyed this entertainment. Maybe…

Thinking back to that beautiful library, what a thrill it must be to at last hold the book you’ve written, laboured over and finally published.  I know this is just how Hugh Roberts is feeling right now with the launch of his debut novel Glimpses this month.


A collection of 28 short stories sure to delight – and shock – with thrills and spills, twists and turns, humour and horror. I know, because I’ve read most of these great stories on Hugh’s blog,  Hugh’s Views and News, although he tells us that he’s changed several and added some new ones. To celebrate his book launch, Hugh is running a competition with the top prize a £100 Amazon Gift Certificate.

One of the happier parts of this year have been the many, long walks I’ve taken, through sunshine and rain (but no snow, yet…).  I think of another lovely friend, ‘restless’ Jo, who takes us on her Monday walks with her gorgeous photographs and narrative no matter the weather; I know she will remember the beautiful, Roman city of Bath.

Hubby and I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Christmas markets at Bath at the end of November.  It was very cold that day – our brief frosty phase – but a warming cup of mulled wine helped greatly while walking around the market, admiring the beautiful, Bath stone buildings, including the old Pump Rooms (where afternoon tea is now served)…


bath-2016-4bath-2016-11bath-2016-13Although there is no skiing in Bath due to the distinct lack of slopes and yes, snow, there is an Apres Ski Bar for anyone who wants to pretend…

bath-2016-15It’s very cosy and Christmassy inside. Hot chocolate? Coffee? Prosecco?  It’s all there…

bath-2016-7And for those who have other things in mind, if not skiing…

bath-2016-14This year, my blogging hasn’t been exactly prolific, but I’m so grateful to those who still visit the Summerhouse.  I’ve known dear Jude since my very early blogging days, and I’ve always enjoyed participating in her photography challenges when I can.

Jude runs a Garden Photography challenge over at her gorgeous blog Earth Laughs in Flowers, and December’s theme is urban floral displays.  I wonder if her ears were burning when I told hubby I had to take photos of these pretty floral displays outside a restaurant just for her…



Although I don’t blog as much as I used to while working on my memoir, since returning in October, I have continued to write 99 word flash fiction over at dear friend Charli Mills’ Carrot Ranch.  I post them in her comments in response to her weekly prompt rather than here for the time being, purely because of time constraints.

Through Carrot Ranch, I’ve met a wonderful group of writer friends, one of whom is Sarah Brentyn who blogs at Lemon Shark.  She very recently released her debut collection of short fiction, Hinting at Shadows

hinting-at-shadows-cover-reveal-lemon-sharkI have always enjoyed Sarah’s wonderfully edgy, what-lies-beneath writing, and look forward to reading her ‘microburst’ stories that promise and intrigue…

‘No one escapes life unscathed. Delve into the deeper reaches of the human condition and the darkness
that lives there.’

Last, but not certainly not least, I must tell you about the beautiful post my wonderful, sweet friend Patsy Parker shared, in which she tells of the absolutely stunning painting she made for me called Sherri’s Red Fox in honour of my dad and our walks in the woods.

And then she mailed it to me, from California, framed and all. Isn’t it stunning?  I cried when I opened it…

sherris-red-fox Please check out Patsy’s awesome blog Patsy’s Creative Corner and her other amazing artwork.  She is incredibly talented. You’ll get a wonderful welcome, guaranteed.

Thank you so much dear Patsy, and many congratulations to Sarah, Sarah and Hugh…thrilled for you all!


This is my last post until after the New Year, but I’ll be hanging around to visit and do the rounds for as long as I can before launching into next week’s Christmas preparations.

Until then, I wish you, dear friends, a Merry Christmas and a
happy holiday season filled with joy, love and peace
from my home to yours…


…and a Happy New Year to all!

Love Sherri xxx

*All photographs and videos copyrighted by Sherri Matthews and a View From My Summerhouse 2016

Posted in Books & Reading, Christmas, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 131 Comments

December’s Guest Storyteller, Sherri Matthews

Delighted and excited at my invite from my dear friend Sarah to feature as her Guest Storyteller today! As a writer of non-fiction, writing a short fiction story (400 words in this case) lets me mix things up a little. In my story, A Blue Coat for Christmas, a Christmas gift isn’t all it seems…Thank you so much to Sarah for inviting me to her wonderful blog, and thank you, as always, dear friends, for visiting and reading!

Sarah Potter Writes


Sherri has been writing full-time since 2011.  Currently working on her memoir, Stranger in a White Dress, she has been published in a variety of national magazines and two anthologies.  Sherri raised her three, now adult children, in California for twenty years and today, lives in England’s West Country with her hubby, Aspie youngest, two cats, a grumpy bunny and a family of Chinese Button Quails. She keeps out of mischief gardening, walking and snapping endless photographs.  Her garden robin muse visits regularly.

You can find Sherri’s links of interest at the end of this post.


Sarah says: I’m thrilled that Sherri  has agreed to make a return visit to my blog as guest storyteller with a seasonal story to delight us all. Some of you might remember her Christmas-themed story Chocolate Umbrella from December 2014. This story received 54 likes and 79 comments, which was a fantastic response…

View original post 549 more words

Posted in Guest Blogs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 34 Comments

An Italian Journey: Writing And Healing

September arrived and with it, any thoughts of writing vanished.   My birthday; a long-awaited holiday.  Both beckoned.   But somewhere in the space between early spring and autumn’s first flush, everything blurred into one big smudge of I can’t face it.

We heal, eventually, from family illness and loss, but scars do not disappear. And something, at some point, has to give, even if only for a short while.  My long-burn writing dream never died, but in the deep, silent part of me, my ability to focus, to write, lay in tatters.

So I retreated into long walks by the sea and drinking wine in my garden, listening to the birds singing their sweet September song.  I offered up my writing, like a bird held gently in both hands, and I let it go and watched it fly away.

And then, with gentle persuasion, I took Hubby’s hand and I flew away too, on our long-awaited holiday to Lake Garda in Italy.


Stunning views of the Alps, lakes and the Black Forest as we flew above France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria on this beautiful, blue sky day. The Stewardess knew something, as she returned with not one, but three gin and tonics – each! – with a knowing wink. It wasn’t just the hum of the plane’s engine that was buzzing… (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

From Verona airport, we travelled on for not quite two hours to the north-western shore of the Lake, where, against the backdrop of the Italian Alps,  sits the exquisite and historic village of Limone.

The name Limone is Italian for ‘lemon’, and lemons and other citrus fruits once grew in abundance in the now ancient lemon groves, dating back to the 14th century.  The terraced columns of the Limonaia del Castèl are still clearly visible.

lake-garda-sept-2016-68-editedDuring the summer, they are opened up by candlelight for visitors to tour, with lemon trees still grown, albeit in smaller quantities.

lemon-groves-1 But ‘Limone’ is also the Latin word for ‘boundary’. Lake Garda is made up of three regions; Limone is part of the Brescia province, in the Lombardy region.

Limone also, quite possibly, holds the secret to long life: In the 1970s, during a routine medical check-up, a man was discovered to have high levels of cholesterol but without any of the expected damage.  Doctors went on to discover that this man, members of his family and a small community in Limone, all carried a type of protein that keeps cardiovascular disease at  bay.  Hopes continue that this protein can be replicated for the general population, but so far, we wait.

The view from our balcony was truly spectacular.
To the right ~


lake-garda-sept-2016-286 lake-garda-sept-2016-288And to the left ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-141The ever-changing skyline transformed the mountains as a work of art ~

limone-mountain-views-4limone-mountain-views-2limone-mountain-views-5The walk down to the lakeside took us down narrow – and steep! – cobbled streets ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-198 lake-garda-sept-2016-131 lake-garda-sept-2016-77 lake-garda-sept-2016-419Past houses bursting with blossoming bougainvillea ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-76 lake-garda-sept-2016-85 lake-garda-sept-2016-412 And shops filled to the brim with every good thing ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-211lake-garda-sept-2016-192 lake-garda-sept-2016-193lake-garda-sept-2016-126lake-garda-sept-2016-195 lake-garda-sept-2016-417lake-garda-sept-2016-196 lake-garda-sept-2016-194lake-garda-sept-2016-210For a quiet place to sit, there is no lack of cafes, bars and restaurants ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-422And then we found the harbour ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-89limone-harbour-5 We walked along the beach ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-203 lake-garda-sept-2016-326 lake-garda-sept-2016-327 Places to dine, take in the view, relax, pop up everywhere in Limone ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-294And swans enjoy the lake too ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-100But even as lost as I was in all this beauty and tranquility, it wasn’t until we visited Malcesine across the water, only a twenty-minute boat ride way, that I found true magic.

The beaches and streets and harbour of Malcesine were just as gorgeous `
as those of Limone ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-178lake-garda-sept-2016-96limone-harbour-3-edited-2lake-garda-sept-2016-165But it was while walking around The Scaliger Castle that I felt a familiar stir, like a breeze, in that deep, silent place where my writing lay in tatters.

Not just the stunning vistas, but a glorious history ~

streets-of-malcesine-2 streets-of-malcesine-10 streets-of-malcesine-13The 13th century castle has been extended over centuries, owned by The Scaliger Dukes of Verona and later by the Austrians in the 19th Century.

As I climbed higher, the view became ever more breathtaking ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-36 lake-garda-sept-2016-2 lake-garda-sept-2016-19 lake-garda-sept-2016-21lake-garda-sept-2016-22lake-garda-sept-2016-35lake-garda-sept-2016-26 I reached the bell at the very top ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-34And then, as I walked through the castle, I read this, quoted from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era:

How I wish  my friends could be with me for a moment to enjoy the view which lies before me.‘  J W Goethe, from Torbole, 12th September, 1796.

I felt just the same way ~

lake-garda-sept-2016-102-editedWritings and sketches by Goethe filled the castle and I realised, to my thrill, that I was walking in his footsteps, for he had once visited this very castle during his ‘Italian Journey‘ in 1786. Forced by strong winds to take harbour at Malcesine, he wandered up to the ruins of the castle for some peace and quite, but someone crept up on him and stole some of his work.

It caused an outcry as Goethe was suspected of being a spy, but his ‘gentlemanly appearance and his power of oration’ won the day.    From then on, thanks to the high regard for Goethe and his visit, albeit an unplanned one, Malcesine became the tourist haven that it is today.

Reading about Goethe’s Italian Journey inspired me more deeply than I at first realised.  Stopping for a light lunch, we found a quiet place just off from the harbour ~

streets-of-malcesine-17-editedThere, I found a moment of rare and sublime contentment.  Enjoying a bowl of homemade minestrone soup and a glass of Prosecco, languishing in September’s Mediterranean warmth, I could not take my eyes off the green shutters facing me.

At the table in front of them, a family of three adults finished lunch and for a little while, nobody sat there.A man played a violin over by the harbour and two small children laughed as they chased one another down by the water, but through the world passing by, words tumbled out of the deep, dark place where they had slept inside me, undisturbed, for so long.

One would need a thousand styluses to write with. What can one do here, with a single pen?  And then, in the evening, one feels exhausted after so much looking and admiring.’  J W Goethe, 5th November, 1786.

And then, at the empty table, sat my dad.  Not a ghost, not a vision.  He was just there, smiling, telling me to enjoy my life, to laugh and love and to LIVE it.

That evening, back in my hotel room, I took out my single pen and notebook, unused for too long, and my writing returned.   I wrote ‘Green Shutters’, and I found the flow of my memoir, inspired when I least expected it by my own Italian journey.

lake-garda-sept-2016-329And I’ll say Buon Appetito to that.


Posted in Travel, Weekly Photo Challenge, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 154 Comments

Happy Thanksgiving

From across the Shining Sea, I wish my dear American family and friends
a Peaceful and Happy Thanksgiving.

Melted Frost On Winter Violas (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Melted Frost On Winter Violas
(c) Sherri Matthews, November 2016

Posted in Nature & Wildlife, Thanksgiving | Tagged , , , | 31 Comments

Lest We Forget

Escaping the clamour filling news headlines and social media lately, I stood alone in my living room this morning at eleven o’clock to observe two minute’s silence.

With the television on, as Big Ben chimed, cameras caught moments throughout the UK of not only gatherings of military commemorations for Armistice Day, but of ordinary people, including school children, stopping to show their respects in remembrance and in silence.

One camera panned to Somerset artist Rob Heard’s memorial Shrouds of the Somme on display at Bristol Cathedral. Each shroud carries the name of the 19,240 British soldiers who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in World War One.  We remember the  19,240 ‘Tommies’ who ‘went over the top’ and didn’t return.

I remember men from both World Wars, like my husband’s grandfather, Walter Rideout, who fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1914 and his father, Albert Matthews, a ‘Desert Rat’,  who fought in El Alamein in 1942.  Both survived and returned home and barely spoke a word about it.

But Albert’s younger brother,  Stanley George Matthews, did not survive, for he lies buried deep below the black, heavy waters off the coast of Greenland, brought down with HMS Hood, sunk on 24th May 1941 by the German battleship Bismarck. He was twenty-two years old.

I think of such men today and of walking around Green Park in London back in March when I stopped for another reason, fascinated by the way the late afternoon sun beamed flames of light upon the magnificent Bomber Command Memorial.


Bomber Command Memorial, Green Park, London (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Designed by architect Liam O’Connor from Portland stone, bronze sculptures of a Bomber Command aircrew stand tall in the midst of the memorial.  They represent the 55,573 British, Commonwealth and Allied Nations’ Airmen who served in the RAF Bomber Command and lost their lives during the Second World War.


(c Sherri Matthews 2016

(c Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

The memorial was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, the year of her Diamond Jubilee.

And in the words of Winston Churchill:

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

All these soldiers fought and died to give us the freedom we enjoy today, but I wonder what they would think of the way we treat that freedom now?

We honour them and their very great sacrifice with the deepest of gratitude. They died for our peace and safety, that we might live, and decently, when they could not, and we must not let them down.  We must remember them.

Lest We Forget…

(c) Sherri Matthews

(c) Sherri Matthews

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

(From the poem The Fallen, Laurence Binyhn 1869-1943)

Posted in HIstory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 111 Comments

The Black Cat And The Strawberry Moon

Before I got the news about Dad, a ‘Strawberry Moon‘ appeared in our June skies. So-called as it marks the beginning of strawberry season, this full moon was a rare occurrence because it coincided with Summer Solstice on June 21st, the first time for almost fifty years.

Strawberry Moon, June 21st 2016 (c) Sherri Matthews

Strawberry Moon, June 21st 2016
(c) Sherri Matthews

As if by magic, while taking the above photograph, Eddie, our black cat, appeared on the roof of the Summerhouse.  I’ll save this one for Halloween, I thought at the time.

Eddie And The Moon (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Eddie And The Strawberry Moon
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Eddie was born in a barn and loved every second of it.  Raised on a Dorset farm until we adopted him as a ten week old kitten, ten years on and he still thinks he can come and go as he pleases.  But we keep him at night as much as possible.  Strangely, on cold, wet nights, he does not protest.

But whatever the weather on Halloween, we always keep him safely indoors because some people have strange, superstitious ideas about black cats.  Others, this year it seems, also have strange ideas about clowns.  I hope we don’t see any tonight…

But I don’t like to think about all that as we carve our pumpkin…

Eddie gets into the spirit of Halloween (c) Sherri Matthews

Eddie gets into the spirit of Halloween
(c) Sherri Matthews

And set out treats…

Trick or Treat? (c) Sherri Matthews

Trick or Treat?
(c) Sherri Matthews

The Strawberry Moon has been and gone, but I wonder still at the memory of its ethereal, shimmering beauty lighting up our Summer Solstice skies.  I wonder if Dad looked up into the sky that night?  I like to think he did…

And I wonder, did he remember a night in 1969 when we stood side by side and stared up at the moon, imagining what it must have been like for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin the first time they walked on the moon only a few months earlier?

Dad and I often talked about the moon and the stars and the skies.

Memories of Halloween spent with my children; of sky-gazing with Dad; of Eddie running wild as a kitten: all threads woven into the fabric of storytelling.

But I expect the only story Eddie will be telling tonight will be the one about a full tummy and a nice, cosy chair to curl up on.  No worries about clowns or black cat superstition for him.

Keep safe, have fun and Have a Happy Halloween!

Jack (c) Sherri Matthews

(c) Sherri Matthews

Posted in Family Memoirs, Halloween | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 88 Comments

It Is What It Is: Goodbye Darling Dad

Hello dear friends,

When I signed off here three months ago, I hoped to return in September with good news about my memoir writing progress, but in early July I got a call from my uncle telling me my dad had been taken from prison to hospital.  Nothing has been the same since.

There was talk of pneumonia. Dad and I had last spoken in May, he had sent a couple of cards that month sending his love, as always, and to let me know that he was waiting to hear news of test results from the hospital.  When I asked him how he was feeling and he replied, ‘Oh, not so bad…’ I knew, for him, that meant not so good, but I hoped he would soon be in touch with good news.

That was the last time I heard from him.

Me and Dad - a rare day out to Kingston Lacy, Dorset (c) Sherri Matthews

Me and Dad – a rare day out to Kingston Lacy, Dorset
(c) Sherri Matthews

Father’s Day came and went, I sent cards, but heard nothing and I was getting worried.  I didn’t know then that Dad’s health had deteriorated rapidly and he was seriously ill.  The prison didn’t have my number; if my uncle hadn’t called me, my brother and I would never have known.

I got authority from the prison to visit dad first thing the next day.  When I walked into the ward, I saw two prison guards dressed in black sitting next to a bed with an elderly man lying half propped up on it, but I didn’t recognise him.  I think it was then that I went into shock.

Every movement, every word, everything that happened after that will be forever engraved on my mind.

I turned to the nurse and said, ‘That’s not my dad…’  All I could see was the huge tumour on the side of his neck and I couldn’t reconcile that this was the same man I had spoken to several weeks before, waiting for a hospital appointment.

And then he turned his head towards me, and opened his eyes and I knew him then and I ran over to him, and there he was, my darling dad. All I could do was wail and weep and take hold of his hands and reach my arms around his bony shoulders and kiss his head and stroke his hair and tell him a thousand million times how much I loved him through the mess of tears falling all over him.  I could not contain my emotions, I thought I was losing him there and then.

The guards were shocked – ‘We’ll give you some privacy, so sorry…’ and moved to a seating area across the room, not knowing what to say.

The nurse looked shocked too. ‘Nobody told you?’ she questioned, her eyes as wide as mine must have been wild.

‘No, nobody told me…I didn’t know…’ I sobbed.

I had expected to find my dad unwell, I knew his health was poor, but finding him dying from late stage cancer with no warning knocked me into a world of pain and grief so suddenly, that I couldn’t think straight.

‘I’ll get a doctor,’ she mumbled as she rushed out of the room.

Thank God for that Wednesday afternoon.  They were the last hours I had with Dad, when he was still able to talk to me, albeit it with difficulty.  When I told him I wasn’t going anywhere, he gripped my hand and nodded. I knew then I would be with him to the end.

The nurse suggested I help him drink from a straw and as I did so, I smiled at him and said, as our little joke, ‘Oh Dad, what have you done now?’ He looked up at me and raised his grey, wispy eyebrows, the twinkle in his smiling, naughty-boy eyes and the small shrug of his shoulders telling me what he always said when things didn’t go to plan…

‘It is what it is.’

And so it was. Five days I had with my dad.  Five days to see him through to his last, gentle breath, as I held his hand and kissed him goodbye and breathed in the scent of his hair and head and stroked his still handsome face, breathing in his essence one last time, the essence of home and family and of the happy childhood my dad gave to me and my brother, and all the crazy adventures that followed.

(c) Sherri Matthews My favourite photograph of my dad with me and my brother, 1960s, Surrey, England

(c) Sherri Matthews
My favourite photograph of my dad with me and my brother, 1960s, Surrey, England

And always, always, the love.  Nothing ever took away our love.

Dad died surrounded by the love of his family, as peaceful and as gentle as I could have ever dared hope for.  His funeral took place on a beautiful, summer’s day, the kind he would have loved, the day before what would have been his 84th birthday.

I asked the Chaplain from the prison to officiate.  He had walked around the gardens, planted and tended by the inmates, with Dad many times.  A private man, the  Chaplain told me, but one who loved the world around him, who loved to listen to the birds singing and admire the flowers and shrubs and trees that grew just outside his prison cell.

I visited the prison to meet with the Chaplain and the Governor after Dad died and it was good to see Dad’s last earthly home, a place where he was cared for, where friends looked after him.  Dad always had a home with me and my brother, if he had wanted it, if it had been possible, but prison was the only home Dad knew.

Yet, at the end of his life, Dad was granted Compassionate Release, meaning he died a free man.  He would have got a big kick out of that news.

But the hardest moment in that day was taking away Dad’s worldly possessions contained in three small, zip-up sports bags.  I still can’t bear to go through them…

For a long time I wasn’t able to focus or do much of anything; I pulled away from writing and all social media.  I spent a lot of time with my family over the summer, taking time away to recover, enjoy the outdoors, breathe in the fresh air.

I adored my dad, you see, and always will.

Dad’s favourite bird was the robin, my Sweet Robin of course, shared here many times. Camping in the beautiful Dorset countryside this summer a few short weeks after Dad died, a young robin appeared from beneath the hedgerow on the path in front of us.   He stopped for a minute or two, then hopped off ahead, as if leading the way, and then stopped again.

Here is the video clip, very short, of what happened next.  We wondered if the robin was alright, but as soon as it heard other people coming, it flew up into a tree above, out of sight.  That robin was fine, and he helped heal my grieving heart as I caressed his softness and sweetness, as he allowed me to that beautiful summer’s afternoon.

Life carries on, but grief doesn’t disappear overnight.  Thank you so much for allowing me to share these personal stories about my dad. I have so much more I want to write about him, about our life together, and I will, in time.  But for now, I hope to return here more often, although I am back to my memoir, back to where I left off before that fateful call in July, so I will do the best I can.

I have missed you all, and I will see you again very soon.

Love Sherri xxx

Posted in Family Memoirs, Nature & Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 147 Comments

My Sandwich Generation And The Song Of The Summerhouse

What has happened to my ‘Great’ Britain, my ‘United’ Kingdom? Last Thursday, over thirty million people voted in the EU referendum,  out of which 52% voted to leave, 48% to stay. In Brexit’s thunderous wake, I, like millions of others, woke up on Friday morning in shock asking, ‘WTF just happened to our country?’

The fallout I feared kicked in immediately. Accusations of misinformation and misleading facts (lies?) now fly thick and fast.  Some are left wondering why those who made promises about pouring millions of pounds back into the NHS now avert their eyes away from their voters straight back down to the bottom of a beer glass.

A Dark Day For London (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

A Dark Day For London
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

If some used their vote as a protest against ‘Just Call Me Dave’ and his broken promises, they got more than they bargained for: Yes, our Prime Minister failed us, but this wasn’t a general election and he got more than a black eye. He is crippled.

Our country is in leadership free-fall. Who will stand in the gap with the experience as Prime Minister to do what is right to put our nation back on its feet, to negotiate with the EU which is desperate to get us the hell out, now that Vote Leave has spoken?

Maybe I’m missing something but last time I looked, there was no sign of Winston Churchill and our finest hour is nothing but a distant memory.

And what of the great divide ripping apart my Beloved Broken Britain
across the generations?

I know what it’s like to live in a foreign country;  I lived in America for almost twenty years and raised my three children there.   I was welcomed into my new home, but I wasn’t a citizen so I couldn’t vote.

But the issues presented over the years mattered strongly to me, and I made sure that I understood what was at stake so at least I could talk about them with my friends and children as they grew up.

And one of the  greatest gifts I’ve been able to give each of my now adult children is dual British and American Citizenship. They have choices.

A new life in America (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

A new life in America 1987. Ronald Reagan was President, Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

And of course, they always had free movement across Europe.  But since Brexit, the generation gap, if embittered before, is now a stinking, gaping wound with our adult children feeling betrayed by their parents and grandparents who, they believe, have destroyed their future by voting Leave.

Figures from this YouGov poll show the huge voting disparity between the generations:

18-24: 75% remain
25-49: 56% remain
50-64: 44% remain
65+:     39% remain

The Guardian’s online article quotes:

“I’m so angry,” wrote one Twitter user. “A generation given everything: free education, golden pensions, social mobility, have voted to strip my generation’s future.” Another statement, from a commenter on the Financial Times website that has been widely shared, summed up the sense of furious betrayal among the young: “The younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of its predecessors.”

I feel their pain. I feel my children’s pain.  This is why I voted Remain, to stand in solidarity with my children. But things are not what they seem when looking at statistics.

Although a whopping seventy-five percent of 18-24 year olds voted to remain, it is estimated that only thirty-six percent of that age group actually voted.

Because I didn’t have the vote for almost twenty years, I rammed down my children’s throats the vital importance of what it means to have the privilege – not the right – to vote, and that they must always, always use it.  I’m proud of my children for voting.

Every vote counts, each one.  Otherwise our voice is just a whisper in the wind.

But what of my generation, the baby boomers who apparently have it all? What of our voice?

Not all of us can take early retirement with golden hand-shake pensions, houses paid for and travel at will.  Some of us in our mid-fifties missed that boat as we face many more years of hard graft, mortgages to pay and a cosy retirement disappearing as fast as our nest egg, if we ever had one at all.

And some of have elderly parents to look after with adult children still living at home, some with physical and/or mental disabilities.  We work hard as unpaid carers, advocating and supporting our loved ones as they navigate a depleted NHS under severe strain thanks to government cutbacks.

We do the best we can to give our children the best we can, helping them financially, looking after grandchildren and guiding them through life crises.  We do it because we love them. Just like our parents loved us. And all the while hoping to God our health holds out in the years to come so that by the time we reach our so-called ‘golden years’, we won’t be too knackered to enjoy what’s left of them.

We are the Sandwich Generation and we are silent.

Finger-pointing and blame, whatever our generation, whichever way we voted, or look like or where we come from, is destructive and dangerous. I worry about the contagion of this ‘Brexit effect’ and the bitterness and anger and the appalling racism arising out ot it.  We need to pull together more than ever at a time like this.

Can Britain be Great again?  What of our England? And trust me, I am not taling about the football here…

On a lighter note, I have discovered that since I had an Irish grandmother, I am eligible for an Irish passport.  Not sure how that affects hubby or my children, but at least there is a glimmer of hope if things go completely tits-up here.  Funny, I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland…

I didn’t want to write about such a heavy subject.  This post was supposed to be about my generation, but only because I wanted to join in with Irene’s  Time’s Past Challenge, ‘Reflection on Favourite Childhood Meals‘.

I planned to tell you that growing up in a village in Surrey, then Suffolk in British 60s and 70s,  I wondered if my memories of meal times might be more unusual than most.

Sometimes all you need is a cup of tea...and someone to drink it with (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Sometimes all you need is a cup of tea…and someone to drink it with…and to keep calm
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

For one thing, I remember my mother making lasagna for us, but when I told my friends at school the next day (we liked to swap mealtime stories for some reason), none of them knew what lasagna was. This would have been the mid 1970s, around the time Britain joined the European Economic Community as it was then called.   No irony there then.

I wanted to tell you that my tastes were typically British – favourites were roast lunches on Sunday, usually chicken, sometimes beef as a treat with Yorkshire pudding, Shepherd’s Pie or stews and casseroles. I was wary of anything more adventurous.

This I blamed on being scared out of my wits one afternoon by the sight of a pheasant hanging by its green, scaly feet from the cloakroom (bathroom) ceiling as  black, thick blood slowly dripped from its beak into a bucket.  Dinner, thanks to a gift from a friendly farmer who no doubt fancied my mother.  Or maybe it was road kill?  I can’t remember.

But I do remember refusing to eat it when Mum presented it on the table as a casserole.  I couldn’t bear the thought.

I also hoped to share some photos from Stourhead for Jude’s June: The Essence of Summer garden photography challenge. Goodness knows, the Summerhouse needs some colour and beauty to lift the mood…

And then I wanted to update you about my daughter’s (Aspie D)  Chinese Button Quails who are now living outside in an aviary, very happy in their new home I’m pleased to say.

New home for Chinese Button Quails (they all shot inside so can't see them sadly, will work on that for another photo). Notice they now live by the side of the Summerhouse :-) (c) Sherri Matthews

New home for Chinese Button Quails (being skittish, they all shot inside so can’t see them sadly, but will work on that for another photo). Notice they now live by the side of the Summerhouse 🙂
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

But sadly, poor Raisin (Mooncake’s (the only male) second wife) died.   Now we have five, all healthy and happy, but raising button quails is a delicate task, one Aspie D takes very seriously.

Some of you may remember this photo of the darling chicks from last year:

Newly hatched Chinese Button Quails, June 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews

Newly hatched Chinese Button Quails, June 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

Here is one of them now, all grown up (which happened within a couple of weeks
of the above photo!) ~

This is Marmalade, daughter of Mooncake and Raisin (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

This is Marmalade, daughter of Mooncake and Raisin
(c) Sherri Matthews 2016

We have a personal battle: Aspie D’s care-coordinator from the Asperger Specialist Team has handed in his notice and is leaving with no replacement (cut backs in mental health are dire). We are back to where we started three years ago with the search for proper support while she makes her way in life.  And she will find her way.  I know it.  But the next few months will be tricky for many reasons.

And then, as ever, there is the memoir. I’ve hit a wall and I can’t seem to punch my way through…

So what to do? Well, dear friends, sadly I am going to have to part ways with blogging for a while.  I admit I am struggling and I need to take a step back to focus on my family and finishing my book.  My plan is to return in September with a new strategy, a new way forward, a new push in all my writing/blogging.

I’ll love and leave you with this song, Duck and Run by 3 Doors Down, one of my all time favourite bands and a song I’ve listened to since my Californian days.  This message keeps me fighting as it did then through turmoil of a different kind.   It is my mantra and for all those who feel disaffected: we might be down but we won’t run.

I’ve made it the official Song Of The Summerhouse.

I’m taking a blogging break, but I’m not going anywhere.  Stay with me, will you?

I will miss you all, dear friends, but I wish you a most wonderful, safe, joy-filled summer.
See you in September!

Love Sherri xxx

Posted in Current Affairs, Times Past Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 150 Comments

Big Bright And Beautiful: The Annual #BloggersBash 2016

When SachaHughGeoff (Geoffle) and Ali said this year’s Bloggers Bash was going to be bigger and better than ever, they weren’t kidding. Their hard work (and from what I hear some shenanigans too, but I know nothing…) paid off.  What a truly wonderful day from start to finish.

My day started out on the train with hubby just after 8am to London.  At Waterloo, we went our separate ways, he to wander around some of his old haunts (heading for a pint and some fish and chips) and me on the Underground to King’s Cross Station.

Thankfully, Graeme Cumming had put out a call for a pre-bash gathering at O’Neills pub for those wandering aimlessly with time to kill before the official Bash kick-off at 1pm sharp. I say sharp, because last year I arrived late and missed the meet and greet.  Not this year!

Me with Graeme and Marje (c) Sherri Matthews 2016

Graeme, me, Marje

Turning my little map upside down (I’m left-handed, my excuse), I headed to the pub, relieved to find Graeme there propping up the bar, even if with a glass of water.  Me too.  It was only 11.30 in the morning after all; we had to pace ourselves.

Then arrived Marje, Esther Newton, Lucy Mitchell, Helen Jones and Julie Lawford.  It was lovely to get the chance to chat with them for longer this year.

Esther and Me

Esther and me

After some chips (a small bowl and expensive portion, but that’s London for you…), Graeme, being the gentleman he is (thank you…!) led our little group to the venue not far away.

And then…there we were, greeted with wonderful warm hugs from Sacha at the door (wearing killer heels), then Hugh and Geoffle and Ali who, as well as dispensing lovely hugs, was busy registering everyone and handing out name tags.

From then on, I didn’t stop talking.  Yep, it’s true.  Even for me, who can talk the hind leg off a donkey, by the end of the evening I thought I was going to lose my voice. A relief for some, no doubt.

Great to see Hugh again!

Lovely to see Hugh again!

It was wonderful to see Suzie Speaks again, and this time chat a little more, joined by Steve (Steve Says), who I remembered as a guest over at Hugh’s blog a while ago. Great at last to meet Judy Martin as well as Christoph Fischer who I’ve only recently started following thanks also to Hugh – book fair here I come! – and Barb Taub.

Did I say lovely hugs?!

Did I say lovely hugs with Geoffle?!

There were three things I was determined to achieve at this year’s Bash:

  1.  Arrive early;
  2.  Chat to as many people as I could;
  3.  Take as many photos as I could.

Well, I managed the first, but the second and third I didn’t do so well.  It wasn’t until later in the day (too distracted with hugging, talking, laughing…enjoying!), that I realised with horror I hadn’t taken a single photo other than at the Award’s Presentation.  Last year I managed one only.  Yikes!

Most of the photos shared here were taken in those last few moments which meant sadly I couldn’t get everyone as some had already left.  I also didn’t manage to speak to everyone…

But it was great to meet brand-new-to-me bloggers albeit briefly: lovely Ritu, Shelley WilsonMary Smith and Emma Kay who is a theatre blogger and really enjoyed getting to know her.

Me, Marje, Emma

Me, Marje, Emma

And then I met Urszula who came all the way from Poland.  It was wonderful to meet her in person; we know each other from Charli Mill’s weekly 99 word flash fiction prompts at Carrot Ranch.

I enjoyed chatting to her and of course getting a few pics, including one of us together with Sacha and Geoff, the four of us ‘Rough Writers’.  We’re sending a message to Charli in Northern Idaho of love and support in the face of a crisis which she explains in her latest post . Please read it if you can. When a fellow blogger and wonderful friend who gives to so many needs help, she knows we are here for her sending light and hope her way.

Geoffle, Urszula, Sacha and me. Hi Charli, Lead Buckaroo at Carrot Ranch and all our friends there!

Geoffle, Urszula, Sacha and me. Saying hi to Charli and all our missing friends…

As the afternoon went on with a buffet served and drinks available at the bar,  we took seats for the guest speaker Luca Sartoni, Growthketeer at Automattic . He gave a very interesting talk about, among other things:

  1. Stats (don’t stress, even though ‘numbers are sexy’… they should not be everything…)
  2. Reblogging (he never uses it and couldn’t believe how many of us bloggers do…’Press This’ is the way to go, he says…)
  3. Having fun (letting go of those platforms that give you the most stress)
  4. Following your own blogging path and don’t be distracted by what others are doing.
  5. Don’t stress (did I say that already?  Must be the lesson I need to hear…).

Last, but definitely not least, the committe read out the Awards Presentation throughout the afternoon. Read all about it and see who won in Sacha’s post.  Many congratulations to all the nominees and winners!

Bloggers Bash June 2016 (1)

Hugh, Ali and Sacha handing out Awards


Bloggers Bash June 2016 (28)

Hugh making sure he gets every last bit recorded…worries me, that…

And so, what more can I say about such a lovely day with so many lovely people?  New friendships made, ‘old’ ones deepened, and I even got to play with Geoffle’s magnificent purple beard.

The Purple Beard - now gone sadly - but lovely while it lasted. Until next year...

The Purple Beard – now gone sadly – but lovely while it lasted. Until next year…

And then it was time to say goodbye.  Hugh kindly walked with me back to King’s Cross Station as I hadn’t paid attention earlier and couldn’t remember how to get back.  Thank you Hugh!  A couple of tube changes later, met hubby at Waterloo and we caught our train home. He had a lovely day too, although he was still bemused about finding himself in the path of a naked bicycle rally.  No kidding.

Thank you so much Sacha, Ali, Geoff and Hugh for a truly memorable day; you made the Annual Bloggers Bash a great success, a day filled with warmth, friendship, fun and joy.

And guess what?  The committee is already beginning work on next year’s Bash.  So mark the date – June 10th 2017.  See you there!


Posted in Bloggers Bash | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 160 Comments

London Calling

London May 2015 (55) Boost 2What is it with London this year? It beckons for several reasons, a memoir workshop being one.

I promised an update on the course, but first I would like to thank so much those who have continued to ‘stick’ with me during this time, even when I haven’t been able to blog or visit half as much as I would like.

It really never ceases to amaze me the generosity of this blogging community.  Trying to balance writing (or should I say rewriting…), blogging and managing the stuff of everyday life, remains a constant challenge.

The course gives the first hour split into two half-hour slots for two people selected each week to read an extract from their work in progress.  We have to make sure to have ten copies of our work to hand out so others can read along and if they wish, write comments and feedback on them.  After a short break, there is an opportunity to share a shorter piece for the others.

I have read twice and the helpful and positive feedback I received from both the tutor and a few of the other writers has been very encouraging. This is the first time I had ever read out my work in front of a group of  ‘strangers’ and although a nervous wreck before hand, as I read on, I gradually felt more confident.

I hadn’t realised just how tough it would be, but I can see the benefit of doing so.  Reading my work out loud to myself (or sometimes to hubby if I can corner him, poor man…) is a good way to edit, but reading to a group is something quite different: my writing feels more tangible, the prospect of actually finishing the book and heading towards publication more real.

Listening to others read and gleaning advice from the tutor’s feedback on the different issues that come up is also helpful.  But the problem is there is no time to ask specific questions.

Now I’m back at square one: working on those dreaded rewrites, ongoing since last September.  Some of you have asked how the memoir is coming along (again, thank you for your interest!) which encourages me, especially when I feel ‘stuck’. Writing a first draft was a breeze compared to rewrites.  I know that now.  But I’m gnawing my way through to the core of the story, to the parts I really need to tell.  If only for a few more hours in the day, if at all possible…

This is not without the help of my friends and fellow memoir writers bringing their knowledge, shared experiences and encouragement along the way, for which I am more than grateful:

Jeanne writes of her struggles with the dreaded rewrite in her excellent post,  From Life Story to Memoir: The Rewrite and shares some great advice for anyone facing the same.

Irene is writing a weekly Memoir Monday on Tuesday series (as a follow on to Lisa’s Memoir Monday updates) in which she explores the process and mechanics of memoir.  I highly recommend her posts for anyone writing memoir.

Speaking of recommended posts, but on a completely different subject,  friend and published memoir author DG Kaye, recently asked this in her extremely helpful and timely post: Is #Windows 10 Hijacking Your Computer?   If you’re having a problem with constant pop-ups to update to Windows 10, then I say run, don’t walk to Debby’s site; she gives us great advice to cure this problem, her hard work and research saving us the trouble. I did…thank you so much Debby!

Back then to London and my other reasons for going: not only a family outing planned there later in the summer, but I’m off again tomorrow for the Annual Blogger’s Bash. A huge thank you to the four committee members SachaHughGeoff and Ali who have done an amazing job of organising it. I’m very much looking forward to seeing ‘old’ friends and meeting new.

You can read Hugh’s hilarious post about the Bash explaining how you can join in even if you can’t make it on the day. And of course, wishing all the nominees for the Blog Awards all the very best.

A wonderful weekend to you all and I’ll do my best to catch up better next week.

Love Sherri x




Posted in Blogging, Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , | 74 Comments