Tuesday 29 April 2014

A game of clumps

So the guinea pig thing failed.  We had a lovely trip to the local small animal rescue place on Sunday, and the boys spent a happy half hour entranced by birds, lizards, ducks, rabbits and about a hundred lovely guinea pigs.  We brought the oldest piggie home, as a potential cagemate for ours, who lost her friend two or three weeks ago.

Enter Wendy.

She's the one on the left.  She's Swiss(!) and about three or so.  And as it transpired a bit dominant.  Poor Mrs Armitage was bossed out of all of the sheltered areas of their housing.  We stuck with it for twenty-four hours, but Mrs A looked thoroughly miserable and every time she headed inside Wendy terrified her until she ran out again.

They look quite sweet together here, but just after I took the shot Wendy had another go and moved Mrs A on again.  When I took Mrs A out, her foot was bleeding quite badly.  So unfortunately Wendy will go back to the rescue centre, where she was happily in a cage with several other piggies that all seemed to get on together.

Mrs A needs a break now I think, to reclaim her space and equilibrium.  We may try again with another piggie, or maybe not.  We're sad it didn't work out, and I feel a bit guilty at turning away this sweet little pig, but there's no realistic alternative.  Of course the boys want to keep her a bit, and don't see why we can't have two cages of guinea pigs...

The lawn is a field of daisies at the moment.  It's hard to find enough grass for one guinea pig at the moment, let alone several.  Alys Fowler recommends having at them with an old kitchen knife.  Not sure I have the time for that though.

Strawberries are flowering, although there aren't many left as I cleared out lots a while back.  Most of them will be grown at the allotment for a while.

I was amazed to see one of the pear trees absolutely covered with what looks like tiny pears.  It's a miracle - last year there were hardly any.  I think the good weather brought enough bees out to pollinate them this year.

I've got the runner beans in, and I've got a few spares for when the slugs eat them.  Two down already.  The seedlings along the middle are radishes.  It's something I tried last year and it worked well, growing a quick row of radishes down the middle of the two rows of beans.

Apple blossom, still looking beautiful.  I'm hoping the bees are working their magic on the apples as well as the pears.  Dear bees, how we rely on you.  In the space where the strawberries used to be we'll be growing some bee-friendly flowers this year to show our appreciation.

Disguising a fence with ivy and white roses.  I don't mind a bit of ivy about the place, although I know some people regard it as a weed.

The garden's a happy, interesting place to be right now.  New life springing forth everywhere.  Bees, tadpoles, small boys with scooters and footballs and big plans.  I'm loving it.

I'm going to leave you with a line or two of poetry, from John Betjeman's "Indoor Games near Newbury".

   "Good-bye Wendy!  Send the fairies, pinewood elf and larch tree gnome,
     Spingle-spangled stars are peeping
     At the lush Lagonda creeping
     Down the winding ways of tarmac to the leaded lights of home,"

Oh for a lush Lagonda.  Goodbye Wendy, we're your friends.  Full poem here should you wish.

Saturday 26 April 2014

Random snapshots from a short week

Enjoying the asparagus.  It's absolutely delicious at this time of year.  I cooked it in a little butter, and it couldn't taste nicer.  And I've put some in a tart as well.  In a few weeks we'll be blase about it (sorry, no idea how to put in an accent over that "e") but right now it's a bit of a luxury.

Loving this little herb garden that I spotted at the allotments.  The whole area was immaculate.  You can see on the side of the shed there's a plastic tray container filled with the kinds of things insects like to hide in.  The blue tub was labelled "samphire".  I'm thinking this plot must be in with a shot at the "Best Plot" award.  There are extra points for wildlife stuff and nice labels.  Almost no points for the things I've got on my plot.

I may have mentioned that this year I won't be growing any chillies.  None at all.  All of that effort for, well, chillies.  Which I don't use much at all.  Last year I bought a huge 99p plant from Aldi and I had enough chillies to last a lifetime.  So imagine my surprise when these little plants magicked their way into my shopping basket.  

Two Jalapeno pepper plants for 98p.  What is it about chillies and tomatoes?  They are very hard to say no to.  I think it's because they say "summer" to me.  They're here for the whole long season, right from the cool dark beginning until the crisp dewy end.  Theirs is a slow journey.  At first it seems unlikely they'll grow fast enough to produce any crop before the autumn.  But suddenly they take off.  And then they're fun to watch, as the flowers fade and tiny fruits appear.  I like to watch them swell and ripen, week by week.  So it was no big surprise that there would somehow be chillies again this year.  I'm hoping they'll maybe be mild enough to stuff.

And in case you were wondering, those plant holders in the car have a bit of a design flaw.  As you drive along, the soil is shaken up one side of the pot, and a couple of miles into the journey it will start dropping down onto your shopping in big clumps.  It needs a rethink.

This is the littlest boy playing the piano.

He likes to bang random notes and sing an actual proper song.  For him this constitutes "playing" the song.  I could listen for hours.  But only because I'm his mother.  

Something he's learning to do properly.

He used to like making up his own moves, which usually involved bouncing pieces across the board and taking off whichever of his opponent's pieces he fancied.  I'd shout things like "Cracking move" and "He didn't see that one coming".  But now we're doing it properly.  It's not nearly as much fun.

A glimpse of the castle wall.  There's the most beautiful clematis flowering over it at the moment.  This was taken with my point and shoot camera.  I really want to go back with my DSLR and see if I can get a better shot, I just love it.

A rare shot of Nibbles the hamster.  He's not often seen in a good enough light to photograph, what with being crepuscular and everything.  (This is a word my eight year old taught me recently - apparently hamsters aren't nocturnal so much as they are crepuscular, ie. out and about at dawn and dusk.  I do love it when the children teach me stuff.  It happens more and more.)  

Tomorrow morning I shall be standing in the rain watching the last football match of the season (excluding the four tournaments that are coming up).  Then in the afternoon we're going to see some older guinea piggies to see if there is possibly a new buddy for our lonely piggie.  You may remember we lost a pig in the Easter holidays.  It might seem callous to just go out and get a replacement, but after giving it some thought it seems the right thing to do for our remaining pig.  She's five, so she may have two or three years left, and that's a long time for a social animal to spend alone.  A local small animal rescue place has some older girl pigs, so we'll have to see if there's one for us.  I'm not sure how our pig, Mrs Armitage, will react to an interloper, but I'm hoping she'll be happy to have a friend.  Fingers crossed.

I hope you all have a lovely Sunday, whatever you may be doing.  And watch out for that rain.

Thursday 24 April 2014

The Colour Collaborative: April: Tradition

Nothing calms and soothes and reassures quite like tradition.  It is the comforting rhythm of life, and when everything else is falling apart, tradition is there to tell you that life goes on, through the tough times, through despair and through sadness, on through to days of happiness, laughter and contentment.

Traditions can be big or small.  Vast gatherings of white-clad pilgrims at holy shrines, or you and your best friend chatting on your sofa once a year.  It doesn't matter.  What is important is that regularity, that anchor in the passing of the months, that moment that has passed but that you know will come again.

Traditions are pins in the fabric of our days, attaching themselves between loose random events and dramas, holding everything together, so that we can cope with the things in between, because we know that soon we will gather and walk or eat or converse or laugh or cry like we always do.

Traditions are get-togethers, rituals, food, clothes, in fact anything that you make them.  They are solemn services in ancient candlelit churches and they are richly coloured tartans, they are meetings of like minds to celebrate a shared passion and they are marzipan-yellow cakes made with symbolism and an old handed-down recipe.

Traditions might have been going on for centuries, or started by you not so long ago.  The value in a tradition is not in the size or age, but in the feeling it gives you.  That comforting sense of reassurance, or that renewal of energy and enthusiasm and determination that connecting with others can bestow.  On the face of it, it might seem simple, but each and every tradition we allow into our lives builds and shapes our history, however slightly, and gives us regular rituals and moments to look forward to.

Traditions are something I've added to my life, in small and simple measure, as the children have grown.  They've crept into our lives while we weren't noticing, and now they are things that form the stable framework of our family life.  One of my favourites is our annual Boxing Day or New Year's Day visit to the beach.  It doesn't have to be Boxing Day or New Year's Day, but any one of those post-Christmas days when we just need to be outside in miles of space and fresh air.  We park the car at one end of sea front, and walk with a football or two all along the sand.  We run, we chase, we kick the balls and I always take photos to remember a happy moment.  It's nothing grand or complicated, but it's something we love to do and something we always look forward to.

The light here is always at its loveliest in the short days of December.  As the sun gets as low and far away as it can, the beautiful greys and muted blues of the sea and sky form the most wonderful backdrop.

Sometimes the sun touches the edges of the clouds and turns little faces golden.  At that moment, life is utterly perfect.  Time together, with the people I love most, free, blessed, happy.

When I look back at these days throughout the year it's with a smile.  I see how big my little people are getting, how small and sweet they used to be.  I remember the year one of them wasn't too well, the year it rained so hard the littlest boy had to be carried and we were soaked to our underwear, the year we laughed so much we fell over.

I treasure the pictures and the memories, and I look forward to the next time we'll go.  And I wonder if one day my children will take their children to the beach after Christmas and start a family tradition of their own.

Do you have a tradition that you've started?  Something that brings comfort or happiness or ritual to your life?  I'd love to hear, if you'd like to share.

To visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts just click on the links below:

        Sandra at Cherry Heart                                  Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

        Annie at Knitsofacto                                       Jennifer at Thistlebear

                                What is The Colour Collaborative?

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways."

Tuesday 22 April 2014

What I did in the holidays

Remember when you were at school and on Mondays you had to write your news from the weekend or from the holidays.  I didn't mind that.  Still quite like it in fact.

In the holidays I went to Wells and ate a pizza.  The little people came too.  They do love to eat out.

I went to the allotment and opened the shed in the warm spring air.

I went for a walk.

Down to the river.  You can see where the flooding was, there's a line of driftwood and rubbish that's been left behind.

We trod softly and carried big sticks.

I spotted these lovely allotments on our way back to the little town we started from.  The sunshine had brought out plenty of plotholders.  The site had a really good feel to it.  Well cared for plots, neat grass paths and a nice convivial atmosphere.

We wandered back into the town, Berkeley and up the high street, admiring some of the lovely houses.  

The next day I went and looked at some pretty pink birds.  

I walked under trees with the little people and felt happy.

I went to the seaside on a bank holiday.  So did lots of other people.  It felt like a summer's day.

I watched a donkey taking a little girl for a ride.  He got halfway across and stopped dead.  Just wouldn't move.  Then he laid down.  Then he flicked the little girl off in a very neat move.  Then he got up and ate some grass.  It was a long time before he could be persuaded to move.

No children or animals were harmed.  In the end he went back to his stablemates.  But only on his terms.  He'd proved his point.

Today all is quiet and a little lonely.  They leave a big quiet gap when they're not here.  I used to like quiet.  Now, not so much.  

I hope all of you who had a break had happy tales of news as well.  Until next time.

Saturday 19 April 2014

How to hunt an egg

Firstly find the free National Trust voucher that came with the yoghurt a couple of months ago.  Tell the children they will be going on an egg trail with the possibility of chocolate at the end of it.  Spend the next fourteen hours trying to contain the eggcitement.  Pack enough food for a siege and set off for Tyntesfield.

Get there a mere forty minutes after they open and park in one of the last remaining parking spaces in the main car park. Join the mile long queue to go in.  Discover that you have inadvertently turned up on Knights Weekend, when most of Bristol have also turned out to join in the revelry.  After ten minutes, send other half to the book shop to prevent spontaneous combustion.  After fifteen minutes, send the children to join him.  On nearing the front of the queue, admire the shiny sign that says, "Members only this side".  Walk a hundred metres back to the end of the correct queue and spend some time hoping that the book shop is really interesting.

Finally herd family through the correct door.  Despite having a free voucher, part with a nice fat chunk of cash for having an extra child and for the privilege of joining the Egg Hunt.  Join the queue for the Egg Hunt stuff, leaving other half outside to befriend other eggxasperated men of a certain age.

Once you have three Egg Trail cards, passports, free pith helmets, a map, membership leaflet, information leaflet, two separate receipts, Knight's Day schedule and all of the children you started with, you're good to go.  Once you've queued for the toilets.

Spend the next hour trotting round behind supercharged egg-hopeful boys, lugging the world's heaviest picnic, five large drinks bottles, a large blanket and three pith helmets.  Snap away randomly as you jog to keep up.  Something to remember the magic of the day by.

Find some yew, a favourite thing.  Try to find someone to share the excitement.  Fail.  But look, fifty-seven yew trees!

Give in to popular demand and crack open the picnic.  At least it'll be less to carry now.  Narrowly avoid being too slow to get a vegetarian sausage roll.  Spend the next six minutes focusing hard on the food.  It's eat or be eaten now, kill or be killed.  Not a time to lose concentration.

Re-pack the bag, which mysteriously appears to weigh exactly the same as before.  Decide to tackle the house while the children are lulled into a slight post-prandial stupour.

The morning room.  Where the lady of the house used to sit in the morning to do a little needlework or correspondence and give the housekeeper the day's instructions.  Sigh.  You would have been so good at that kind of thing.

Once deep into the bowels of the house, you will need to retrace your steps to find a toilet.  All the way back out.  Against the tide of people behind you.  It will take a while.  The queue for the two toilets is approximately twenty people long.  Send the person in question alone into the gents instead.  Loiter very close to the door.  Look through the door every time it opens.  Try not to catch anyone's eye or be offended when the door is closed to prevent viewing.  Edge a little closer to the door.  Wait.  Listen at the door.  Smile reassuringly at anyone who appears to find your behaviour unusual or worrying.  Finally, you're back on track.  Back to the house to find the rest of the party.  Anyone with you will slip through the crowds with ease.  You will not be so lucky, so at this point you will be separated from everyone.  Shove past the hoards, like some classless fishwife with no interest in history or culture.  But hold your head up high anyway.

Find the rest of the fam. Your other half may be grilling a hapless guide about the unsympathetic replacement of the glass in the windows.  It was done in 1870, so not strictly his fault.  Press on through the house.  By this time the children will be getting a bit lively, it's no time to dawdle or a game of tag may break out.

Fresh air.  Space.  Cookies and a sit down.


All the food is now gone.  Everyone is fully fuelled, but it's important to leave enough time to get home before they turn feral.  Three egg clues remain.  Onwards.

A really fast turn about the walled gardens, greenhouses and kitchen garden.

This may be your favourite bit, but don't falter now, the egg is in sight.  Back towards the house.

On the croquet lawn there's a medieval scrap.  Knights hacking at each other with swords, axes and hammers.  Be sure not to miss this, small boys love this stuff.  So many new ideas for their arsenal of deadly moves.  Stand behind them and watch them absorbing the information with utter relish.

Run through first aid procedures with other half and ensure you both know the opening hours of the local Minor Injuries Unit and the quickest route to Children's Hospital.  

Explore the Medieval village.

This is especially recommended as any boys you happen to have with you will be allowed to hold any weaponry they may choose, thereby getting a feel for the weight of it and the amount of cut and thrust required to disembowel, main and decapitate.

Back at the start, queue for an egg.  Feel an unreasonable jubilation at scoring the penultimate three eggs before a certain wait for a new batch to be brought by the Easter bunny.

Success is yours my friend. 

Wishing you a very Happy Easter.