Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Primal Squirrel

At about this time, every year, my inner squirrel comes to the fore.  With the lengthening shadows and shortening days, the end of summer is marked by the countryside providing a last gift before it closes down for a long winter's sleep.  My instinct to lay down stores for the colder days ahead of us really kicks in and a bag of fallen apples given by a friend or an afternoon spent foraging for blackberries triggers my urge to make jam, chutney, pies and cakes.  Providing a warm and comfortable home for my family makes me cast a critical eye over our worn furniture, blankets and cushions.  Time for an injection of creativity!

On being given a huge amount of apples and rhubarb, the most pressing thing was to cook them before they went off and I could decide what to do with them.  I stewed them both without sugar and then left them covered in the kitchen overnight.  Next day saw me scrubbing jars and filling 4 of them with rhubarb and ginger jam.

This morning I awoke with the express intention of spending the day turning rhubarb and apples into jam, scones and pies.  The rhubarb, apple and mixed spice jam was achieved easily, but from then on things went rapidly down hill.  Rhubarb scones were next on the list, but the discovery of an empty egg bucket put an end to that idea.  Moving on then, to apple and rhubarb pies for the freezer.  Pea made the pastry and we lined two pie dishes with it and popped them in the oven to bake blind.  Some time later, we opened the door to discover a cold oven and completely un-cooked pie cases.  The oven had chosen that moment to break down.  Oh....NO!  I had in the meantime been attempting to make butter using a pot of left over single cream.  You put the cream in a jar, screw on the lid and shake like mad for about ten minutes, after which time you will hear a soft thud against the lid; this is your butter!  It then needs washing and patting in your hands for a while until all the liquid has gone, then it is ready to use.  It's great fun and very satisfying...usually.  Today, however, it didn't work.  So what with the lack of eggs for scones, (good thing too as it turned out), the refusal of cream to turn into butter and the breaking down of my oven, I was not feeling very fulfilled with my winter preparations.  In fact my primal squirrel was thinking of going for a lie down, prior to hibernation.

Enough of the food thing, time to turn my attention to soft furnishings!  I can sew well enough to please myself although I don't believe I am good enough to win any prizes.  But that's fine as I won't be entering any competitions.  The cushions and blankets that grace our furniture all year round are looking a bit jaded and, well quite scruffy.  Not the kind of thing I want people to see.  The dogs lie on them, which is quite disgusting and they spend most of the time on the floor as the children push them off complaining that they fall off anyway.  So, with the onset of a new season and with it, new cosy colours, I am intending to make replacements.  I raided my stash and have found, what I believe to be, some nice combinations that will lend themselves very well to becoming cushions and quilts to keep us cosy over the coming months.

I have stitched all the fronts together by hand and now need to find suitable fabrics for the backs.  Then I have to find feather pads with which to stuff them before they can take up position on the chairs and settee - and absolutely no dogs allowed.  They both have very comfortable beds of their own anyway and do not need to slob about all over my lovely new things.

So at the end of a disappointing day, I am a bit tired and fed up.  Not much got done, but an awful lot of time was wasted.  Hate days like this, but it could always be worse.  On top of all that, my lovely (expensive) toaster gave up the ghost yesterday with a flash and a bang and this evening I discovered the necklace that I wear everyday had broken.  My brother gave it to me on the birth of H1 and I love it.  Thankfully, it broke while I was sitting reading rather than when I was walking round the field.  I would have been really upset then.  My new oven is due tomorrow and the pastry for the pies is in the freezer, so all is not lost.  Every cloud has a silver lining, sometimes we just need to look hard to find it.

Hope you have a lovely day and thank you for reading.xxx

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Life's Lemons

Thursday 22nd August, 8.57am: The journey seemed endless and yet it was over all too soon.  A tiny bead of sweat trickled down between my shoulder blades; my face and hands were cold and clammy.  Men and women sat ashen faced in cars, some biting their nails or twiddling keys.  Others paced nervously or just stared into space.  Young people ran about squealing, hugging and crying.  A tall girl with long blond hair walked towards me.  I turned to hug my mum for the last time and my body shook with nerves as she held me tight and whispered 'Go!'.  The tall girl and I turned and walked towards the building that held my fate.

Yep, it's GCSE results day!

Seconds after Pea and her friend walked into school, I became one of the nervous parents sitting waiting in my car.  I had intended all along to go with her but apparently a skirt, top and heels was far too dressed up for the occasion, so I was forced to stay out of sight.  Five minutes of tension disappeared like smoke on a breezy day as I saw Pea running across the car park towards me.  Her hair was flying, she ran with a spring and had a smile of pure relief and happiness on her face.  I shot out of the car and before we hugged she blurted out her results to me, then I held her and told her how proud I was and how she deserved it.  She felt a little faint, I think and I reminded her to breathe, then get back in there with her friends and enjoy the moment.

Half an hour later, I was getting bored in the car on my own, so I broke my one rule and got out.  I behaved well though and didn't speak to anyone or draw attention to myself in any way.  Soon after, Pea and her friend appeared with friend's mum, who clearly hadn't been banned on account that she was wearing jeans.  Pea showed me her results file and then said she would be a while as they were being given a talk on life in the sixth form, and having their photographs taken for the newspapers, so she would be driven home by her friend's mum later on.  I am bursting to tell my family her results, but I think she should be the one to break the happy news and bask in the glory.  She did all the hard work and her success is entirely her own doing.

As I walked back to my car, bursting with pride and love, a young man and his mum passed me.  She was obviously not impressed with his results and let him know it.  She told him she was very disappointed and felt let down.  His response was,'What are you let down about?', I think his mum felt it more than he did!

The saying goes, 'when life gives you lemons, make lemonade'.  On finding eight languishing lemons and a wizened lime in the bottom of my fridge this week, I made two large jugs of lemonade, (the lime is still there and becoming more wizened by the day).  But life can give us metaphorical lemons too.  Sometimes these are minor, like when I stood on a bee whilst hanging out the washing in bare feet and sometimes they are a bit more inconvenient.  One day recently the laptop hadn't charged up, further investigation revealed a small hole in the charger cable; a hole about the size of Puppy's tooth.  I think we know what happened here, but it meant that we couldn't use the laptop while we were waiting for the computer man to get us another cable, hence no blog posts for ages.

And sometimes, Life's Lemons are more drastic.  On returning home from a lovely walk on Tuesday afternoon..OK, let me start again: after a thoroughly boring walk where H2 moaned the whole time that his wellies hurt and his legs ached and he was thirsty and the boys argued and gave me the mother of all headaches, we returned home tired, irritable and fed up.  I thought I'd just hang the washing out before getting a cup of tea and sitting quietly in the garden and hopefully removing my headache.  Puppy was playing happily in the garden and just as I had finished, I heard him cry.  I turned to see what he had done and saw something sticking out of his side.  He grabbed it with his teeth and pulled some away.  I realised it was a pampas grass stalk.  If you don't have pampas grasses in your garden, keep it that way!  They are vicious plants with razor sharp leaves and stalks like thick sticks.  I thought the stalk had pierced his skin, so I grabbed it to pull it out quickly.  As I took hold of it, I felt resistance and Puppy cried again.  I let go and to my disbelief, I discovered the stick had gone in from his ribs along under the skin and was trying to poke out above his shoulder blade.  I yelled for H1 to come and hold him while I rang the vet.  I really didn't think we could get him all the way to town without him coming to some harm.  He hates the car and gets travel sick and usually he wriggles about and tries to climb out of the window.

Of course in the end we had to take him as I knew he would need an operation to get it out.  The vet removed the stick which was 15 centimeters long, and worse still it had an earwig in the end!  They operated that evening and he stayed in for 24 hours.  He is doing well now but gets tired quickly.  We have to clean his wound every day as it is a bit yukky and he is having antibiotics for any possible infection.  I think he was jumping up to pull at the feathery fronds of the grass.  They are about 2 meters above the ground and as he came down from that height, he landed on a very sharp, solid stalk.  Nasty.  The vet said he is a very lucky boy as it could have easily gone inside him, rather than just under the skin.

Sorry these pics are a bit blurry, he was moving about in excitement as H1 had treats!

The Lemon giveth and the Lemon taketh away.  In the midst of not so happy events, there are small compensations.

H2 found this fossil on a walk through a forest.

An unexpected perfect sunny day.

A beautiful sunset after hours of rain and fog.

Oh and of course, these!
Pea came second highest in the school with 5 A*, 2 A and 2 B grades.  Pretty impressive but entirely well deserved.  Llongyfarchiadau Pea, we love you very much.

Good luck to all the other young people out there on their special day. xxx

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Very Heathcliff

I love the story Wuthering Heights written by Emily Bronte.  It is slightly disturbing and dark and at times a little violent.  I would certainly not want to be loved by Heathcliff!  The Yorkshire moors are foreboding and brooding and do not lend themselves to romantic muses or delightful strolls in long dresses.  Mr Rochester's house, Thornfield, is not much better being as it is situated miles from anywhere in rather bleak territory.  Jane Eyre fell in love with Mr Rochester and his house burned down; well a bit of it did, anyway.  My island can be quite bleak at times and I love that about it.  It appeals to my romantic sensibilities; the fog comes down and shuts out the rest of the world.  We are alone, adrift and lost in time.  All very exciting!

 Our postman came knocking at the door well before lunch time today.  I know not the reason for this unusually early appearance; he very often does not show up until long after midday.  Maybe he didn't stop for as many cups of tea this time? Anyway, whatever the reason I was glad he arrived early as he brought my new walking boots with him and it gave me plenty of time to try them out.  A long walk to stave off boredom and lethargy was in order.  Pea, reluctantly, came with me.  My boots are amazingly comfortable and warm and I look forward to many miles of country rambles over the years in them.  Although it is a dull, cloudy and damp day, it is quite mild, but a waterproof of some kind was needed.  I grabbed my camera, the dogs and off we went.

On reaching the top of the hill, it became apparent that this was a Very Heathcliff kind of day.  Dark, brooding and a little bleak.  I could imagine him and Mr Rochester striding over the fields in leather boots and breeches; long coat tails flying in the wind, both vying for position to be the first to grasp their woman in a passionate embrace.  Nowadays though, he would have his jeans half way round his backside and if he grabbed his lover, she would most likely slap him one and give him a mouthful of unlady like language.  Not quite the romantic image of years gone by.

Never mind, that is why I love to escape in old romantic fiction.  As I walked along, my head was full of this nonsense and at the same time I was on the look out for elderberry trees, sloes, blackberries and any other fruit that I may gather and use as the year progresses.  I was not disappointed.

 The lanes are full of edible bounty, you just have to keep your wits about you and your eyes peeled.
 Not sure what I can do with hawthorn berries, but I just love their wholesome Autumn-ness!

I'm keeping my eye on these to see what they become when a bit bigger.  They could be eating apples or crab apples, either way they are mine!
I have located a whole stretch of elderberries too, and there will be plenty for me to pick and to leave for the birds.  I'm not very tall, so the birds can have the berries on the top branches as I won't be able to reach them.  I have a plan to make elderberry cordial (somehow), freeze it in ice cube trays and then store them in plastic bags in the freezer so that when we are afflicted with colds and nasty bugs in the winter, a suck on one of these will help ease sore throats and give a vitamin boost at the same time.  I could do the same with blackberries too.  The sloes, once gathered after a frost in November, will be pricked with a pin, packed in a jar and topped up with sugar and gin.  Everyday for a fortnight, you have to give the jar a good shake then drain the gin into a clean jar and enjoy a small glass on a bitterly cold winter evening.  Cheaper than turning the heating up anyway.

The weather is dictating my mood today and I am going with the flow.  If it were hot and sunny, we would be on the beach every day, but it isn't, so instead I am planning for winter now and thinking about laying down food stores to keep my family well fed and healthy when there is not much about to eat.  It makes me feel old fashioned and useful and I admit I like it.  I want to use the food that nature is giving me a sneak preview of and save myself some money and time in the long run.  Having said that, this morning I bought a beautiful free range chicken from the butcher and it is presently marinading in a bowl of olive oil, sea salt, black pepper corns and slices of lemon and lime.  Not very local (apart from the chicken) or inexpensive.  Ah well, we must have a treat after all the foraging!

I will roast this later on and serve it with chips for tea.  I know, chips aren't really the thing, but it's what we want, so who cares.  All this low cloud and mist is making me think of reading Wuthering Heights with a scalding cup of tea curled up in my chair, if I can remove the dogs first.

Have a lovely day and do a bit of foraging! Thank you for reading.xxx

Monday, 12 August 2013

Early Signs

Late summer is upon us and with it the very first signs that early autumn is hard on it's heels.  The skies grow darker ever earlier in the evenings; the air is cooler in the mornings and the clouds form impressive formations over land and sea.  Robust lambs roam the fields looking larger and hardier than their mothers.  Swifts and swallows cut through the air with scythe-like wings, hoovering up the insects with wide-open beaks and mile upon mile of brambles begin to show the colours of autumn as their berries turn from hard green to deep red, burgundy and black.

 Autumn is, arguably, the best season of the year.  I know many people who would agree with that.  Have a look at Pinterest to see how many boards there are with this season as the focus.  At this time of year we begin to turn our attentions from the garden, beaches and country lanes to indoors; our hobbies, comfort cooking and evenings curled up with a good book and hot cup of tea.  We are not quite ready for woolly jumpers and cocoa yet, but it serves as a prelude to the bitterest months of the year.

There are hopefully many gorgeous days to be had yet, but there is a tangible element of something shifting and making ready.

  The summer holidays continue without any structure; the days merge into each other and become unidentifiable as individuals.  We have no routine; we take each day as it comes and rarely plan far ahead.  We are now half way through and I am starting to get cabin fever.  After what will be three months without a day alone, I am quite honestly looking forward to September!  I need to have structure and routine in my life again and to have a purpose, but the holidays make it possible to feel that way and I am very lucky to be at home with my children in order to become bored in the first place.

The last few weeks have been punctuated by sleep-overs.  I am not a big fan of them as it usually means I have to be involved somehow, but thankfully now my children are older they tend to sort themselves out, providing I have given them all a nice tea first.  H2 has his friend here now and they are presently making a den in the dining room, having blown up two camping mattresses accompanied by a lot of noise and excitement.  They spent half an hour playing Michael Jackson videos on YouTube whilst I was making tea, then the Lego came out then we took the dogs in the field and had a run about before the rain sent us scurrying indoors again.

Pea and H1 are now a bit old for sleepovers and largely hang about the cottage either baking or just hanging about without purpose.  It is good for them to do this as they will both have a few busy years ahead once school life starts again.  So I am not bothered that they appear to be wasting time, they need to rest and they can always be persuaded to push the Hoover about a bit or drag a cloth around the kitchen.

The sorting and tidying bug got hold of me this week and would not let go until I had de-cluttered at least two rooms and a cupboard.  It took most of the day, but the result was a much fresher and lighter looking home and one I feel I can live with until I am assailed by a pre-Christmas clear out.  But that's a way off yet, thankfully.  Too many days like that cannot be good for your health!

The evening shadows lengthen as the days shorten and the setting sun lights up the bleached grass and crops in the fields and casts an orange glow on my cottage walls.  There is a slight sadness as we head into the dark half of the year and summer draws slowly to a close.  But there is so much still to look forward to;  blackberrying on autumn mornings; making jam and pies in the kitchen with the back door open to let in the warmth of the late sunshine; a chat and a cup of tea with a friend and a new start with the new season.

Autumn: bring it on!

Thank you for reading. xxx

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Happy To Be Home

I am a self-confessed home bird.  I am happy to stay on the island, hang around our cottage, go for walks down the same lanes and bake the same cakes.  However, my children sometimes long for a little diversion in their lives and I have to force myself to provide it for them.  One thing I haven't done with them since becoming a single woman again, over three years ago, is to take them on holiday.  An oversight?  Not really, more of a deliberate avoidance.  But I could put it off no longer, so on Saturday morning, we loaded the car with tents, sleeping bags, dogs and biscuits and we set off for the mountains.

We arrived just over an hour later, full of optimism for a good holiday.  The sun was shining and if it wasn't exactly hot then at least it was warm-ish.  A stiff breeze accompanied us while we put up tents and set up our temporary 'home'.  The boys were eager to swim in the river and Pea and I were happy to sit with the dogs for a while.  MAL decided she wanted to join in and shot off in hot pursuit and jumped in with the boys.  She wasn't meant to do that and I was quick to get her back again and on her lead.  We have a kind of giant cork screw that goes in the ground and we attach leads to it so the dogs are tethered but we are free of holding on to them.  A while later we went for a walk along the side of the mountain.  Due to the high rain fall in the mountains, the path was very wet and there was a lot of water lying about.  It is a very different kind of walking to that we are used to.  We had to keep our eyes on our feet for fear of slipping on the rocks or ending up knee deep in a muddy puddle, so we missed a lot of the gorgeous views.  However, when we stopped for breath it was worth a look.

Soon after that the sun dipped behind the darkening sky and the wind grew colder.  It was about this point that I stopped enjoying myself.  The dogs were not at all happy at their lack of home comforts and the pathetic little camping stove I had purchased for this holiday couldn't even boil a cup of water.  So I had no tea.  Unthinkable.  And most inconvenient.  In the evening we lit our camp fire and huddled round it, desperate for some warmth.  The wind contrived against us and blew the heat away from us.  We managed to toast a few marshmallows on knitting needles and I finally had a cup of tea by balancing the kettle on the fire.

 Puppy had his first taste of toasted marshmallow, but he got most of it stuck on his chin and wasn't sure what to do with it.  Both of the dogs were feeling put out by this time; cold and uncomfortable, they both tried to enjoy themselves but it just wasn't happening for them.

We went to bed early, just to get warm and for something to do.  The rain started at about 11pm and went on all night.  MAL slept with Pea and me in our tent and the boys shared with Puppy.  The noise of the wind and rain unsettled the dogs and MAL curled up tight to me and felt better when I put my arm around her.  I could hear H1 having problems with Puppy, who paced about and whined.  I spent part of my night feeling very sick indeed.  I had awful pains in my tummy, a headache and felt very hot.  All I could think of was the ghastly, watery, slightly crunchy pot noodle I had forced myself to swallow for my tea.  It was churning about inside me and I was convinced that I would be sick.  I couldn't imagine how I would get out of the tent and dash across a field to the bathrooms in the dark.  I remembered the dogs' bowls were outside and decided if the worst happened, I would use one for the stomach voiding if it became necessary.  Thankfully it didn't.  We all woke early to a very wet campsite.

In an effort to cheer us all up, I suggested a walk along the bottom of the mountain, through the trees.  The sun peeped out briefly and warmed us up.  The walk was going well until we came to a wooden ladder that we had to use to get over a high wall.  MAL decided to just hurl herself over it and landed in a heap on the other side.  H1 tried to lift Puppy over, but he panicked half way and copied MAL by launching himself from H1's arms and landed with a thud on the ground.  He wasn't hurt but clearly it had shaken him up.  Poor Puppy, he was not enjoying his holiday at all.  We trudged back to the tent when it started to rain again.  By this time I was sick and tired of the whole thing and just wanted to go home.  Instead I suggested a trip to Beddgelert, just for something to do.

We discovered this amazing shop, full of woodcarvings and stuff.  I love Beddgelert and have long nurtured dreams of one day buying myself a tiny cottage there and spending my life traversing the hills and paths around.  It began to rain.  It didn't stop.  I couldn't even take any photos as it was too wet for my camera.  The wood shop and a wasps' nest I found in the ladies' bathroom were the best bits of our very short holiday.

We packed up our little camp when there was a lull in the rain and we were home before 3 o'clock on Sunday afternoon.  I was slightly disappointed at my pathetic attempt at giving my children a well deserved holiday, but also very relieved to be home.  In fact we all were, especially the dogs.  Puppy rolled about on the carpet, found his favourite spot in the dining room and fell asleep.

Camping is not really my thing.  People go camping to get close to nature, to walk and enjoy the scenery, to read and talk.  We are lucky enough to do that every day.  Anyway, why would I ever want to leave all this behind...?

I hope the sun shines on your holidays!  Thank you for reading. xxx