Tuesday 29 July 2014

Typing, building, biking and a fig

We've been out and about quite a bit so far in the holidays, but when we're at home, the children have been inside far more than usual.  I think they're just finding it too hot to be playing football or tennis at full throttle in the garden.  

The littlest boy has started to learn to type.  It's something that the bigger two started doing a while ago, and something that I think will probably be quite useful in the future, unless of course the computers of the future can directly access our thoughts and upload them into cyberspace without so much as a single keystroke.  We've been using this BBC Schools programme.  Nicely child friendly with what I think is a (talking) goat that sounds a lot like Lily Savage.  What's not to like?

The children have become suddenly obsessed with building card houses.  I don't know where it's come from, but coincidentally we've been watching House of Cards on DVD (grown ups, not children).  We watch it last thing in the evening, when we're tired, and I knit at the same time, so I'm not always watching the screen.  Consequently we're not entirely sure what's going on.  We sit around saying things like, "Now why is the dopey girl that was with that chap that was killed agreeing to be hidden away somewhere by that short bloke?"  And sometimes I fall asleep a bit as well.  When I wake up I shout, "What did I miss, what did I miss?"   He's not always sure.  I was thinking about something Scandinavian next, but if I can't even follow an English programme, Norwegian might be a bit of a stretch.  Especially if I'm only looking at the screen a quarter of the time (I'm not one of those people who can knit without looking).  Any DVD suggestions will be happily received.  

The littlest boy has spent happy hours making his card houses.  He said to me the other evening, "I'm going to spend all morning tomorrow making a card house".  We're a little obsessive around here.

The biggest boy of course got all competitive and came up with this.

It's made of Top Trumps, apparently they are straighter and stiffer.  It had to stay up for ages, so that my friend and her daughter could admire it when they visited.  He built it directly in the pathway into the living room, so we spent an entire day tiptoeing round it.

Loom bands have also entered the house.  The middle boy's teacher gave him a pack as an end of year gift.  They were briefly popular, but they've waned now although the littlest boy does like to wear his (you will recall that he is all about the accessories).

We've made a few trips to the allotment, including the annual barbecue which was fun.  The garlic and onions have been harvested and are safely stored in the garage.

We went on a short bike ride around our quiet streets today.  There was a bit of falling off, a bit of shouting and I may have been heard to shriek, "And that is why we will NEVER be doing this again", but everyone got home safely which in the end was enough.

In other news, I ate a fig.  Not just any fig, but a fresh one from the garden that I grew myself.  I've had fig trees in pots for ages, but this year is the first time I've any full-sized fruit.  I wasn't expecting much, but honestly, it was exquisite.  I've always loved fig foliage, but now that I've tasted an actual fig, I can't think of any plant I'd rather have in the garden.  

Saturday 26 July 2014

Hunting for hares in Cirencester

Yet another blissfully warm summer's day.  We took a picnic to Cirencester, a lovely town in the Cotswolds that we like to visit from time to time.  This summer they have a trail of hares in the town and surrounding areas.  We picked up a map from the Tourist Information place and went to see what we could see.

The first hare was in the foyer of the Roman Museum, and surrounded by the most breathtaking mosaics that were unearthed locally, and that date from the 4th century.

One day when funds allow I'd love to have a proper look round the museum, from the glimpses I've had it looks fascinating.

There were small hares as well, in the windows of shops.  The children had little passports to take in to each shop and get stamped.

This is the loveliest book shop you could imagine.  A good half of the shop is full of children's books, the good ones, carefully chosen.  There are comfy chairs and a lovely sofa and it's just one of my favourite places.  At the back are some equally good books for the grown-ups.

We dropped into the Oxfam book shop as well.  I picked up Inkheart by Cornelia Funke for the children.

Onwards, more hares.

This one was decorated by Cath Hodsman, one of my favourite artists.  She paints insects in minute detail, and her paintings are exquisite.  

I did like some of the expressions on the hare faces.  I'm getting a little supercilious disdain here.

And a touch of slight embarrassment here.

There was one inside the church so we took a moment to look around.  A kindly guide entertained the boys with fantastic tales of giant slayers and magic doors.  They were riveted.

Further along the high street I saw this sign.  What a fantastic idea.  I wish this sort of thing was done more.  

At the end of our hunt we walked along to the park for a picnic.

All in all, a day well spent.  Wishing you all a happy Sunday.  CJ xx

Thursday 24 July 2014

The Colour Collaborative: July: Sail

With sailing we're back to the cool colours that I love so much.  Every shade of grey, muted blues, flashes of white.  It's no surprise that people go to stare at the sea on their holidays.  The distant horizon, the soothing colours, the slow pulsing of waves on the beach, it's all designed to drop your blood pressure way down low.

I'm no sailor, but I'm guessing that sailing can raise it way back up again.  Crashing through big seas, skimming white-topped waves, leaning into the wind and holding on for dear life - it's got to be exhilarating don't you think?  The ocean is seductive, calm and hypnotic at times, but turning angry and dangerous in the changing of a wind.  I suspect it's addictive, sailing.  Always different.  Always exciting.  And a million miles away from the cares and stresses of life on land.

But something else I know.  It's expensive.  I've heard it compared to ripping up fifty pound notes while standing in a cold shower.  These kinds of boat are surely just for the wealthy.

Sailing isn't a pastime for ordinary people.  You couldn't save up your dinner money and buy yourself a boat or anything.  Except, well, if you were very determined, maybe you could.

Stock photo
This is Dame Ellen MacArthur.  Her parents were teachers and she grew up in landlocked Derbyshire, but a combination of factors, including a holiday with an aunt on the coast and the reading of the Swallows and Amazons books, meant that she fell in love with sailing at a young age.

To buy her first boat, an eight-foot dinghy, she saved her dinner money for three whole years.  She'd take a little food from home, an apple from the fruit tree, and every single day she'd save the money for her meal, until at last she had enough for a boat of her own.  Amazing no?

She spent hours at libraries reading everything she could about sailing.  She worked at a sailing school whilst still in education, and by the age of 17 she had bought a bigger boat.  She passed her Yachtmaster qualifications with the highest possible marks, and at age 18 was awarded Young Sailor of the Year.  And she set sail on her new boat, the Iduna, spending four and a half months alone sailing around the British Isles.  After waving her parents and siblings goodbye, she was truly alone, coping with every problem and difficult decision without help.  In her own words, she left the harbour a shy girl and returned a young woman who was learning how to handle being alone, how to deal with fatigue and stress and how to make life and death decisions.

In an attempt to take her dream to the next level, she wrote 2,500 letters to potential sponsors.  Only two even replied.  She persevered, living in a Portakabin with just £10 a week for food.  She had found a business partner, although in her autobiography, "Full Circle" she says, "We had nothing bar enthusiasm and the most intense ambition..."

A surprise legacy from her nan enabled her to enter a transatlantic race, in a boat chartered at the last minute.  She won her class, and her victory at just 22 years old persuaded Kingfisher plc to sponsor her entry in the Vendee Globe, a single-handed round-the-world race, sailed not only alone but without assistance.  She came second.  Those who had thought her previous triumphs were just luck were forced to take her seriously.

In November 2004, aged 28, she set sail from Falmouth in an attempt to break the world record for single-handedly sailing around the world, a distance of some 27,000 miles.  The record had only recently been set, in a bigger, faster boat, and was considered unassailable.

Ellen MacArthur spent seventy-one days alone, enduring everything the oceans had to throw at her.  She slept little, and for no more than twenty minutes at a time.  Her mental toughness has always amazed and inspired me.  I can't imagine what she went through on the voyage.  While there were highs, and records along the way for the fastest speed times to the equator, the Cape of Good Hope, Australia, Cape Horn and back to the equator, there were lows as well.  In the Southern Ocean, the waves can be as high as five- or six-storey buildings.  She was on a multi-hulled boat, a dangerous proposition in such huge waters and when faced with icebergs and gale force winds.  She knew full well there was a risk of death.  Her exhaustion was obvious in her video diaries.  She badly burned her arm while changing generators and suffered injury scaling the mast to carry out repairs.  The loneliness is something very few people could cope with, let alone keep functioning through to achieve something so momentous.  The colours of the oceans and the heavens must have been burned into her brain by the end.  Every soft shade of grey and all of the dark purple slate colours of storm clouds.  Hour after hour spent gazing at the sea and the sky.  I imagine that days went by when all she saw was a monochrome palette.  And I can picture the gift of a beautiful pink and orange sunrise after a black night of sleepless exhaustion.

When she returned to Falmouth, 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds after she set sail, the record was hers.  Later that year she became the youngest person to be awarded Dame Commander of the British Empire.

Hers is a story that I love to hear.  There was nothing in her background to give her an easy passage into the exclusive world of competitive sailing.  She overcame impossible odds, she persevered and she never, ever gave up.  Her attention to detail was meticulous.  She was always the best that she could be.  She is for me one of the most inspirational people in the world.  I draw on stories like hers when I need strength.  I can't imagine that she would hesitate when it comes to a dream.  Problems are there to be overcome.  There is always a way forward.

It seems to me that to succeed, maybe your enthusiasm and ambition just need to burn brightly enough.  Start small.  Keep pushing.  And the world can be your oyster.

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

       Annie at Annie Cholewa                                        Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

       Sandra at Cherry Heart                                         Jennifer at Thistlebear

       And July's guest poster, Leanne at Today's Stuff

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 July 2014

Deep purple

After the triumph of my "how to give a guinea pig antibiotics" tutorial I thought it was high time I shared a little more wisdom with you all.  Come along as I walk you through how I make blackcurrant cordial.

I had loads of blackcurrants from the allotment, but not much time or patience, so I thought I'd give cordial a go, as you don't need to get rid of all the stalks.  Really, that was my only reason for making it - we never have cordial in the house, just fruit juice.  But I was feeling lazy, I didn't have much time, it seemed the perfect solution.

You start by heating up the blackcurrants with water and sugar.  Boil it for five minutes, then mash the fruit with a potato masher.  You can do this while the children get into the bath, as I did.

Then you just need to add some citric acid and simmer it for a couple more minutes.  That's it!

Now the straining bit.  Pay close attention.  You need to rig up some kind of thing whereby your blackcurrants are suspended in muslin above a big bowl.  A bar stool turned upside down with the seat on the kitchen counter is the kind of thing that might work.  Then you can peg the muslin onto the bar stool.  If you're in a hurry you might not bother with too many pegs.  If you don't bother with too many pegs, you'll get this kind of effect.

It's not what we're aiming for.  Blackcurrants in liquid, dropped from a height of around five feet, splash outwards in a radius of approximately twelve feet.  It was far worse than it looks from this picture.  The hall carpet, which is fairly pale, has splashes.  It was over every vertical surface, inside the cupboards, all over me, everywhere.  It dries surprisingly quickly.  Shortly after the disaster, the Tesco delivery lady arrived with the week's shopping.  I'd forgotten that I'd ordered it; I did it as I thought it would be easier in the holidays to have it delivered.

It took me about an hour to clear up.  The children were left in the bath throughout and are now quite wrinkled.  The blackcurrant juice soaked into the wood of the kitchen cabinets a bit.  They're slightly pink.  My knees and the bottoms of my feet are deep purple.

For those of you who would like the recipe for blackcurrant cordial, what are you thinking???  Elderflower, yes, lemonade, yes, blackcurrant, no, no, no.  No.

Friday 18 July 2014

The summer starts here

The end of term madness is over.  Let the holidays begin.  I'm sighing a very deep happy sigh.

I paid a last solo visit to the allotment today and weeded, watered and planted some French beans and a butternut squash.

At home I made a box full of cookies and packed a picnic.  Then I took the boys to the park straight from school to let off a little steam.

The biggest boy wants to do absolutely everything tomorrow.  I'm trying to convince him that as we have six or seven weeks ahead of us we should save one or two things for Monday.  As of right now, I don't really have any plans or lists or objectives.  I'm just going to see how it all unfolds.

How about you, do you have any happy adventures planned?  Or will you be winging it?  Whichever way you're swinging, enjoy.  CJ xx

Wednesday 16 July 2014

July at the allotment

It's not looking particularly pretty at the allotment at the moment.  A week away and not enough hours down there mean there are weeds, and for some reason I don't seem to have enough produce growing.  But let's have a look round anyway.

These are radish seed pods.  If your radishes bolt and flower, fear not, the pods are just as delicious.  Some of them were really peppery.  Perfect in salads and stir fries.

Tigerella tomatoes.  I've never managed to grow these successfully before, so I'm quite excited.  They should be nice and stripy when they're ripe.

The beautifully neat plot in the background isn't mine.  I've no idea how people stay on top of the weeds, it's impressive.  The other plot next to me has been taken in hand as well.  The new plotholder cleared it in about three days, and that's immaculate too now.  Which makes mine look even scruffier.  But hey, I have flowers!

And the beginnings of some courgettes.  This one is tromboncino, which is oddly shaped - bent and bulbous at the end.  It's a climbing one and I've grown it in amongst runner beans before now.

The sweetcorn is doing well.  The middle boy has grown ordinary corn (Sundance I think) and the littlest boy has popping corn (Fiesta) from the James Wong range.  I've heard that the badgers wait until the cobs are perfectly ripe, then they demolish every last plant and leave not so much as a niblet.  I have a cunning plan though.  I'll pick the corn the very day before the badgers eat them, thus thwarting their evil plans.  Imagine how sad the little people would be if the badgers win.  The pressure is on to get it right.

There's a squash or two rambling about the place.  Ukichi Kuri and Queensland Blue I think.  Does anyone else have trouble with disappearing labels?  I think I need some bigger ones, the tiny ones I use just seem to get lost.  Sometimes I find labels from the plotholder who used to have the land.  It's intriguing to see what things and what varieties he grew.  He had the plot for 45 years, so he must have picked up a trick or two.

Shall we venture up to the wild(est) end of the plot?  It's where the fruit lives.  And probably the wild things too.

I'm wondering if this Japanese wineberry is ever going to do anything.  It's had these fuzzy buds on it for ages, without anything happening.

Gooseberries and blackcurrants ripe for the picking.  I took some gooseberries home, the blackcurrants will have to wait for another day.  There aren't as many this year, maybe last year was exceptional.  In fact I still have some of last year's blackcurrants in the freezer.  We had far more than we needed really.  I'm thinking about cordial.

This is the plot as viewed from the shed.  Under the enviromesh there are six sprout plants that I got from the "Free Stuff" area at the top of the site.  I've not grown sprouts before, and I'm hoping for a little crop for Christmas lunch.

The little lavender is flowering and attracting bees.  A nice touch on a fairly rampant plot.  The weeds are growing like mad.  I relied on the forecast of a possible heavy shower and didn't do any watering today, so of course it has stayed dry.  So everything is in dire need of a drink as well.

I'd like to put in some French beans and maybe one or two other things as well.  There's some space now where potatoes and onions have been harvested.  The plot needs to be a bit more productive if possible.  The carrots and beetroots I sowed failed, which is disappointing.  I don't seem to be able to grow things directly in the ground.  If I put in small plants I stand a much better chance.  I'm not sure why.  It all works for Monty Don, it's very frustrating.

As from the end of the week I'll have three little helpers with me on plot visits.  I'm considering offering cash for weeds.  Is this a viable plan do you think?  They are still a bit obsessed with World Cup stickers.  If I offer 1p per weed, then for every fifty weeds they can buy a pack of stickers.  Or is this kind of bribery considered to be psychologically damaging these days?  I never know what I'm supposed to be doing.

Thank you for all of your sweet comments about the feathery thing.  It was back to wellies today.  I'll get the biggest boy to take a welly photo of me in the holidays, to balance things out.  I never intended to have a blog with no photos of me on it, but I so rarely have pictures of myself to share that it's somehow turned out that way.  Must try harder.  Again.