Thursday, 24 November 2011

Damp Tassels...

I was wearing an oft' admired grey poncho this morning. It wasn't exactly like Clint's, for starters I wash mine! Clint's, I understand, was never washed, urghhh! Anyhoo mine has tassels. Get me, fashion goddess!

I was feeling rather swish for 7:30am, poncho, boots with a heel rather than my trademark wellingtons, AND I had lipstick on, albeit that it was on my lips and my cheeks [face] as I couldn't find a blusher. I was lookin' good. I even managed to carry a porcelain teacup (it's my favourite,) filled with thick black sugary coffee, to the car. Coffee in one hand, bright orange Halloween bucket of mixed corn in the other hand [WHAT?....OK, OK, image ruined!]

I loaded the sprogs into the car for school and placed the gorgeous steaming cup of coffee on the roof of said vehicle while I went to open up and feed the chooks.

I know what you're thinking....... and you're wrong, I did not sashay back to the car forgetting that the coffee was on the roof, thus smashing my lovely tea cup to smithereens when I drove off, .... No, that was last week.... and the week before! No, I remembered it was there and placed the precious vessel in the cup holder that tolerates my cup but that would prefer a diet coke shaped drink.

There is a certain amount of off-roading to be done after we leave the comfort of our drive. There is a short strip of concrete from the front door to the stables and this is where our equine guests get washed, but out on the bridle path, the track that leads to the cross country tarmac road, we have to navigate Michigan lake-like potholes. I'm always nervous in case one turns out to be Vicar of Dibley size and the car is swallowed whole!

Along this stretch the trick is to pick the cup up out of the holder and balance it in your hand, trying to absorb the worst of the seismic activity. There must be some scientific explanation to this shock absorption but I read Art at Uni with a side order of 'dying one's hair,' so I couldn't hope to impart anything serious regarding this phenomenon.

All was well, we made it to the road; I wasn't wearing my coffee and the sprogs, unpeturbed by the usual gait of the car, were busy learning spellings and French vocab. I took a welcome gulp of nectar and placed the cup back in its holder.

Who'd have thought that poncho tassels made of a wool mix could be so thirsty. By the time I went for another slurp, the coffee had been filched by my cape. A damp patch on the material looked like Australia, plus I smelled like Starbucks! Sucking the coffee out doesn't work, all the wool bits get stuck in your teeth.

Poncho wash day here I come... Oh if anyone has Clint's number tell him I'm putting a wash on, he might want me to do his too.....


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Good Morning...

This was our view on the school run this morning. The sun was the colour of a log fire that has burned all day... melty orange. A sun as Turner might paint it.....

And look-ee here, my DIY air fresheners (Hyacinths in water jars) are growing beautifully - I hope they'll be ready for Christmas, but if not maybe my Birthday in January. I love looking at the roots through the hyacinth jars, so alien looking.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Shropshire Safari...

It's been foggy.. nothing you don't know I'm sure, but up here on what's reputed to be the highest point in Shropshire, it has been dense. This morning was therefore a pleasant surprise, bright, clear, still.

We drove through the common land that stretches up high into the bleak Clee Hills and falls away down into the valley. This jaw-dropping landscape links our outpost with the bigger road, the terrain wild with gorse and fern, where farmstead owners graze their various beasts. Their creatures are hemmed into the 1000 acre wildlife reserve thanks to strategic cattle grids and farm hedging. I always drive slowly here, certainly no more than thirty, with an eye on the sides of the road where the live versions of roast dinners can suddenly appear.

The 7yo polices my speed too. He reads well for his age and last Spring he read a hand painted sign that commanded 'Slow DOWN! 10 lambs killed here this year.'

The light was soft at 7:30 this morning but a long way ahead I could still make out a nomadic herd of cows on the road, maybe six or eight mothers plus their woolly calves. Almost 400 yards away, (yes I still do yards, though I'm very, very young!) the closest cow, a brown and white, reflected well in my dipped headlights, though it's calf was more difficult to spot being jet black, he or she resembling a little Dexter.

Even from way back, I could see that the the Dexter's mother was leaning over the perimeter wall to a dwelling, happily eating any flowers that her long tongue could reach. The children thought this to be hilarious.

The rest of the herd made do with the grasslands or the hedgerows.

So peaceful here.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Dinosaur Cake... Raaaaahhhhhhh!

Shouldn't have asked, I thought as the 7yo pondered the question; 'What cake do you want for your Birthday Party?'

'I'd like a Dinosaur Cake.' He announced.


Well, in the end it was quite easy. I baked two standard chocolate cakes. Then, having checked the Internet and a kid's cookery book, made myself a template of a dinosaur.

Cut cake, smeared it with green butter icing (unsalted butter, icing sugar and green colour creamed together, slightly loosened with drops of lemon juice.) Then adorned with Toblerone and Revels and a [craft - non edible] eye.

To be honest the real success seemed to be the dinosaur's Toblerone scales... but hey ho, son was chuffed to bits.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

A Poem Salvador Dali would be proud of...

The 9yo wrote me a Love Poem...

We can be thankful for a few things in life; one's health, the love of a daughter and spellcheck...

Love Poems!
Lovers! are very kind
But lovers are pipel hou
love you
Oranges! are very sweet like
pipel. I lov oranges
Vioulet! is a coular. I love
vioulet it is very light
Eleffhunts! are fany, they have very 
long noses

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Bountiful Land...

Just now there was a knock at the window and I jumped. I had been engrossed in settling my chilli plants on a window sill, they are all more than 2ft tall and heavy with long Ferrari-red fruits. I hadn't heard our farmer neighbour park as he arrived, bearing gifts.

He was proudly delivering a bowl of creamy field mushrooms, just picked from a 6 acre, south facing slope opposite our land.

'The whole field is white with them,' he said.

So the 9yo and I are set for dinner, although the other two family members are not so keen. She and I will share the feast and I may make a garlic and mushroom tart for my book club guests tonight when we discuss Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt.

Fresh Picked Field Mushrooms

The rest of the garden also continues to inspire for dinner; the leeks are good and the celeriac a decent size, the parsnips obscene. Spinach continues to thrive.

Planning ahead, the broad beans are emerging from their seed trays and will go in the ground next week. The kale and other spring brassica are almost ready for planting out.

Broad Beans

In the greenhouse I'm ahead for spring colour and scent, my sweet peas bullied daily as I pinch out growing tips to ensure bushy plants for next year. I'll do the same with the Cosmos babies, a find (and a financial saving) as they'd all self-seeded in the flower beds. I decided to dig some of them up in order to try and protect a few plants from the worst of the weather. The Lupins are doing well too.

Sweet Pea


Fortunately the weather hasn't turned here yet, as the mushrooms will testify, so I've still got time to insulate my greenhouse this weekend. I'm determined to experiment this winter, to see how many seedlings survive out in the greenhouse and in hand-made cold frames, I need to see how they do without constant heat. Mind you, if temperatures dip dramatically I may use my paraffin heater, but at approximately £6 per 5 litres, this really isn't viable for very long periods.

I've managed to plant two long beds of 160 strawberry plants in the allotment in the field, these plants were runners from my original 12 plants that I received as a gift from our neighbours in 2009. Having planted these 160 plants I still had another 400 plants to rehouse in order to free up three of my seven raised beds. These runners had virtually taken over the walled garden.

I've potted up most of them in well rotted manure, thus ensuring another crop for next year. Being rather more portable, these pots can be dotted around the allotment or I might even sell some to friends and family.

Next season strawberries

This weekend in the allotment I spied a new red strawberry - extraordinary weather we're having for November.

Archie's chicks (Roosters centre stage?)


Archie's chicks are enormous and I still strongly suspect that 5 of the 8 are boys. Having experienced the financial disaster of the Poultry Auction when selling roosters, I am determined to lean how to humanely dispatch (polite word) and dress my own birds. After all, I regularly buy free range birds for the family to eat, at a cost of £8+.

Bearing in mind these birds roam or grounds, are fed on corn and quality pellets as well as selected scraps, I know they will be quality meat, so I'm afraid their days are numbered. I just cannot afford to keep them and, believe me, no one wants to take in additional roosters.

To that end, another farmer has promised to teach me how to to responsibly kill. It's not a decision I came to lightly, after all I know these birds personally, however, it is interesting to note that we, [and I mean all family members,] have only named one of Archie's chicks, that being the little white one; Moon. Maybe we are seeing them less as pets and more as egg producers or livestock.

Are we becoming more countrified I wonder?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Fire and a Party.... improvisation.

Bonfire night (this past Saturday - the 5th) went with a bang as usual. For the third year running our pals from far and wide packed up their families, fireworks and fantastic desserts and wheedled their way to Shropshire and The Larches. We were expecting almost sixty guests, more than twenty of them staying the night.

It was a miracle I made it to the Saturday, for starters my head cold seemed to have turned into a brain tumor, so magnificent was my headache. I can only assume this was a combination of stress and sinus strain. It also wasn't great that, on the Friday, we seemed to be experiencing the worst weather for months, with a ton of rain creating flooded roads further down in the valley towards school.

The rain was also turning our driveway into a quagmire and I worried that the farmer's low loader would sink low in the field, as he endeavoured to push the huge bonfire into a compact shape. We build the bonfire over a year and therefore it is generally monumental, but we regularly disturb it to ensure no creatures consider it home. This final shake of the bonfire is invaluable to ensure no animals remain before we light it.

Apart from the weather, all seemed well; the house was cleaned, bedrooms made ready, drinks chilling, the only thing that niggled me is that my caterers - a couple I've employed for the past two years who run a mobile burger van serving local sausages, burgers and hot crispy chips, hadn't returned my last two calls. We had agreed the date almost a month ago and had discussed the menu several times since then but now I needed to clarify numbers, always difficult to judge till the final few days when guests finally confirm or decline the invitation. I also needed to ensure timings for feeding everyone before the firework display.

At 3pm I tried the mobile number yet again, just before I had to leave for school pick up.

The caterer answered and I sighed with relief.

'Gosh,' I said. 'You're going to give me a heart attack, I've been trying and trying to contact you.'

'Oh yes, sorry about that I meant to call you back. We can't do your party now as we're booked somewhere else. I forgot to look in the diary and we were already booked to do this big thing in Ludlow. Sorry, should have told you.'



Do you know what? It was fine. I phoned the local butcher Bowkett's of Tenbury and he made me 100 of the fattest and best tasting sausages ever.

On Saturday I awoke to bright sunshine which continued all through the weekend and there was not a murmur of a breeze.

We set up our barbecue, (previously packed away for the winter,) in the log shed and even employed Grandma's 1970's hostess trolley to keep the food warm.

We offered sausages in finger rolls and burgers in soft buns and our guests did us proud by bringing some truly stunning desserts (even though I'd specifically asked them to bring deserts in the invitation...... good lord, cardinal error!)

The children marauded in the dark, loving the wild freedom of our fields while the adults drank wine or sipped at hot cups of my home-made tomato soup, many did both. The fireworks were awesome - very professionally managed by Hubby. So all in all it was a great night, especially great to see old pals of course and local people who have become good friends.

We've cleaned up now - probably need to go and empty the cans and bottles tomorrow at the recycling bank and I definitely need to wash the floors, but other than that the house looks fine.

It was a super party again and a late'ish night but I think we'll have a year off next year. Catch our breath a bit and go to someone else's display..... look out Oxfordshire were coming to visit!!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Coming Home.... The Kodak Big App Challenge.

We have rather a long school run each day. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. The morning run is a real delight, we catch up on homework; spellings, times tables and we sing, (particularly requested is Cee Lo Green's Forget You, the clean version!)

On the way home it's a little more demur. Some days John Humphrys, Jim Naughtie, Evan Davis, Justin Webb or Sarah Montague accompany me home and I catch up on world events rather than my lyrics.

Other days I take the time to look out and see the seasons change.

The picture above was taken last October. It's the last stretch of open road before I'm home over the hill in the far distance. Sometimes there are cows grazing, crossing the road at minimal speed, sometimes there are sheep but always present are the tarty male pheasants and the little partridges with their pretty red eye makeup. It's a busy road therefore, but not with cars, so you need to take it easy and stick to 30mph.

I like this picture and the calm it brings me.

This is the picture I'd like to enter for the Kodak Big App Challenge. Hope you agree.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

There's a hole in my house....

...dear Liza, dear Liza... The new sash windows, made by hand by a local carpenter, are going in. Looking good so far..... and no rain... she said in hushed tones.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Low in Iron.... high on life..

Although I'm FULL of cold and my head feels like a brick, we went trick or treating last night. This is no mean feat when you live a fair way from your neighbours and there's no street lighting. The owls helped tremendously with the atmosphere as the sproglets, (one small witch and one small rat in a vampire cape!) and I (Mummy witch; complete with geisha-white face and mean red painted-on lips,) trudged along the bridle path holding our begging-bucket. With very little breeze and a balmy temperature of 12°, our pointy hats were undisturbed, cape unruffled.

We scored some good sweeties, a ton of hand-me-down books and a barely used box of Cluedo. Being that my two are just that bit older now, they were most impressed by the Cluedo and the thought of solving a murder.

We thought our tree-farm neighbours were out for the evening so we didn't call on them, fearing their guard dog might eat us. It turns out they were in, waiting for us with goody bags.... so, I'm delighted to announce that we will be continuing the dress-up and make up adventure again tonight.... sheeesh -it appears we're trapped in groundhog day with e-numbers. 

Walking back home we came across our cow farmer friend, his pickup parked outside our nearest neighbour.

'What you up to now?' He said chuckling. I thought it was obvious but sadly, having checked his cab, he was bereft of sweeties. I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm bonkers, last week I asked if he could deliver me a load of big cardboard tubes, the type the polythene wrapping comes on for hay bales.

'What you want those for?' He asked, incredulous that I wanted his rubbish.

'I'm going to grow long show-carrots in them,' said I.

His eyebrows have a personality of their own, they weren't convinced by this gardening technique but a few hours later my tubes arrived.  


This morning the boy turned 7. Henceforth my sproglets are to be named the 9yo and the 7yo rather than the 8yo and the 6yo..... obviously, Doh! Struggling with the complexity of Ninjago Lego at 6am Hubby tried valiantly to put together an ice dragon.... eventually he made a weak excuse about having to be at work on time..... a likely story.

I had forgotten to bake wee cupcakes for the boy to distribute at school, instead I sent him to school with 20 mini Haribo packets. (NB. Now I need to replenish Hubby's secret stash!)

With children delivered to school I was happy to meet my vitamin dealer in the school car park: My dealer is another school mummy, a woman convinced that I'm low in iron. (I agree with her.) She delivered me a packet of big bulk iron tablets and I obediently took one. This was the first random act of kindness today. I felt pretty good, in control and it was a lovely sunny day. I was just on my way home, ready to accept my shopping delivery, bake my Birthday boy a cake and generally clean the house, when I felt the car judder.

Parking in a little supermarket car park in Ludlow my fears were confirmed - a flat tyre. Grrrr. 

To cut a long story short I was saved by TNT in Ludlow. They came to me immediately, blew up my tyre and took me to the workshop. I managed to postpone my home shopping order - thanks to a lovely chap in Tesco Kidderminster. I contemplated cancelling the order completely when I was informed that two other tyres needed replacing too. To make matters worse this was 9:30am and the new tyres weren't due to arrive at the garage till 1:30pm. Arghhhhh! I had so much to do. I felt myself welling up, my bottom lip quivered and that lump appeared in my throat.....

Random Acts of kindness shouldn't be allowed, they usually occur when your at your most vulnerable and can leave you breathless with awe that nice people and good customer service still does exist. The boss of the garage, a huge older man, concerned I might flood the garage with my tears, gave me his car. The second random act of kindness for the day.

'We'll call you when everything's done.' He said as I left the premises in a massive Mitsubishi.

Finally home, the Tesco driver - alerted to my plight, had waited on the driveway for me. Surely this was the third random act of kindness..... So brilliant. I couldn't stop thanking him.


Utterly fleeced of money...... seriously...... I was forced back down the mountain to collect my car and return boss's car at 2:00pm...... 3 hours and 10 minutes before I could pick the sprogs up. Sigh. Thank god for libraries. I'm behind on my reading and had omitted to pack my book into my bag before leaving the house, so I enquired of the librarian,

'Do you have Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt?'

She checked. 'No sorry, it was missing at the last shelf check.'


I said OK in that sort of resigned-to-my-life sort of way. It was then that I remembered the book in my bag: The book the 9yo had been reading, a library book I was unable to renew recently because the library system didn't know I had checked out the book.....The 9yo had finished with it now so I was honest and returned it. The librarian was very grateful.

In the library I drifted around.... I read a few pages of a couple of new novels... didn't like them... perused the cooking and gardening section...but found nothing of interest. Then I drifted to adult fiction and thought I'd look for something to take my interest. Can you believe it? I found it; Mr Chartwell was there on the shelf, exactly where it was supposed to be! 

Seriously, do a good deed - get a goodness in return. It's Pay it Forward... I love it. Silver lining and all that shit.

Those iron tablets are definitely working.     

The Archers at The Larches

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Snowy and Moon

Snowy and Moon