Friday, 9 December 2016

December blue

Blue sky, not a blue me, happily. And some lovely blue doors with pretty festive wreaths.

We're having a few internet hiccups here at the moment. Probably nothing to be done about it all, you know how it is. I look at blog posts and half the pictures haven't appeared. I try to load photos onto my blog and some of them don't come up. Small problems, can't be bothered to worry about it really. But things do tend to grind to a halt in the evening when I want to write a little post. Anyway, here now.

Despite trying to avoid festive madness, it is somehow getting me in its grip. I went to the Post Office today and realised I had left the parcel at home. Went back for it and found thirteen people in front of me in the queue. Had to leave it until tomorow. The children have all sorts of things to make and donate here there and everywhere. The middle boy has to organise crafts for the younger children at school. I had all sorts of fantastic wreath ideas using natural materials, but in reality colouring in and Pin The Tail On The Reindeer might be a little less stressful.

He also has to make (another) Anderson shelter. I could get carried away with that too. A little knitted blanket for the bed maybe, or a teeny tiny quilt. A vegetable garden outside. An orchard with chickens and bees... I am restraining myself.

Christmas shopping is under way. My friend is buying the littlest boy his very own penknife. He will be absolutely thrilled, he loves to sit and whittle things. I have stuck the local A&E details back on the kitchen cupboard in readiness. The middle boy is getting a fishing catapult and the biggest boy is also having a knife. As you can see, we will all be armed to the teeth. Anything headed your way that's making you nervous? Other than Christmas itself of course.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Sunlight on marmalade

Hasn't the weather been amazing. Glorious winter sun and the longest of long shadows. I made jam tarts, one of the littlest boy's best things, and put lemon and lime marmalade in some of them. Winter sun shining through a lemon and lime marmalade tart is a very fine thing. There's little more than eight hours between sunrise and sunset here at the moment. I do love closing the curtains early. The other morning there was a long tube of mist above the river and a soft pink sky. Pretty.

Succulents have (mostly) been rescued from the garden before the frost struck. I left one of them out there as it had some sort of insect attack. I did take a few cuttings though. Just as well as the original plant has been well and truly frosted.

I'm on the home stretch of a big quilt. Just the binding to do. That's my favourite bit. Taking the pins out one by one as I hand sew it on to be left with a neat (hopefully) finished edge.

I 'm trying a Jodi Picoult book to see what all the fuss is about. Apparently she is the most read author in this country or something like that. Also flicking through one or two cookery books. I found gingerbread sausage dogs. Yes, yes, yes. A couple of years ago we made a big gingerbread house which was delicious but really far too much gingerbread when you consider the mince pies, Christmas cake, yule log etc. etc. etc. that had to be got through too. But a few little sausage dogs will be just the job. Maybe we'll make them a kennel.

Wishing all a good weekend. Do we have the festive season in hand? I'm holding my nerve and not panicking yet. And aiming for as green a time as possible. Not for us the inflatable PVC Santa or a load of straight-to-landfill plastic from China. Just need to tell the children...

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Mud gazing

One of my favourite winter things is to go to the wetlands place and watch the sun sinking lower and lower in the sky at the end of the afternoon. All life's stresses seem to fade a little when I'm there watching the birds. Whatever life throws my way, they just continue going about their business, hunting for food, paddling and wading, settling into their roosts, oblivious to this complicated existence us humans have created for ourselves. I breathe a little deeper and try and fix the memory in my mind.

The Bewick's swans are back from the Arctic Tundra in Siberia bringing with them their new youngsters. I don't have a photo, the biggest boy had my lens. But it's lovely to see them return each year, these rare little swans who have flown so far to spend the winter in our neck of the woods. Their numbers are dropping, no-one knows exactly why. Maybe power lines and wind turbines, maybe lead shot, there could be lots of reasons. A reminder that we need to be careful with this planet of ours.

The biggest boy and I went on a birdwatching course last week to learn how to estimate bird numbers. Out on the estuary there are often hundreds of each species, even thousands on occasion. It involved a lot of standing in the freezing cold staring out over the river. I didn't have a telescope so I got to hold the clipboard. I'm glad we had the chance to do it, but I did reach the end of my endurance. A lot of the children's activities seem to involve me standing outside being slowly frozen. I'm sure it's the same for many of you. By Sunday evening I am glad to sit down in the warm, albeit with the scent of damp football boots wafting lightly about the place.

Look at this chap.

A common eider. He isn't cold at all. Stuffed with eider down you see. Apparently the females line their nests with down from their breasts, which is so toasty and warm that their chicks can happily survive in Iceland. The locals keep them safe from predators, then later on they gather up the eider down from the nests. Apparently the total annual harvest fits into one small truck. Precious stuff.

Round here we are working on our Christmas lists. FC does not want any last minute panics or surprises. The littlest boy has added lots of helpful instructions to his, "Pretty big please" and "Please make sure it is waterproof". One of his requests is a 3D pug jigsaw puzzle. At the bottom he has put "PS If you can't make a 3D pug jigsaw puzzle I will be fine you could just make it a 2D jigsaw puzzle pug". He has spent a lot of time telling us that FC makes everything himself. So you can basically ask for whatever you want as he will just make it and it won't cost any money. Considering this conviction he has been remarkably restrained. If it was me I would go large and request a greenhouse or a pony. What would you ask FC to make for you?

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Courtyards in autumn

I had a couple of hours in Bath the other day. I love to see the bits of greenery that people squeeze into the tiny city courtyards and balconies. The crescent in most of these pictures is Royal Crescent in Bath, built between 1767 and 1774. There are fantastic gardens out the back, but people have put in a few roses and evergreen shrubs out the front as well. The crescent overlooks a beautiful park, so the views are no doubt wonderful from all windows.

I like to see evergreen plants in containers. They add so much to the look of a garden in winter. In summer they can be more of a backdrop to the floral drama, or still be on their own for a plainer, elegant look. There's a house up the road from me that has the most beautiful front garden. Pots with various evergreen shrubs and trees. It's cool and shady and doesn't change much, even in the summer, but it's always eyecatching and smart. Maybe I'll take a sneaky photo for you if I can.

On the homefront I have been endeavouring to discover what the biggest boy has been doing at school. Art for example: "A drawing." I enquired what it might be of. "A building." And music, what was he doing in music? "Notes." Well, that's me all caught up then.

What are you all up to now the evenings are long and dark and the days are short and cool? I am reading, knitting, drinking cocoa, lighting the odd candle and curling up with a hot water bottle whenever I can manage it. Please don't ask to see the knitting, it's fairly ghastly. A bubblegum pink scarf. I can't imagine what I was thinking when I ordered the yarn. Probably done late at night when my commonsense was gone for the day. If I look back through my blog maybe I'll find a post explaining my thought processes. "Pink, a wonderful colour, it will make me look so lovely in the cold months of winter. A real shot of warmth and brightness." Oh my. The yarn is showing every flaw in my knitting (yes, all of them!) as well. Maybe I'll give it to the littlest boy for his bear. Although it's cotton yarn so at least it shouldn't irritate my skin. The wool one I made is not agreeing with me this year. Which is a shame because in a fit of optimism at discovering wool I could wear I made a second one, a big purple one. Maybe I will give them both to the bear as well. He's fortunately not hugely fussy.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Flowers, Remembrance, the elephant and dancing to the end of love

Hullo all. Nothing much going on here, just a few straggly end-of-season flower photos and a smattering of random thoughts.

On Thursday nineteen thousand two hundred and forty little figurines were laid out on College Green in Bristol. They represented the men and boys who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The first day. It was a moving sight as you can imagine.

I'm not really sure what to say about the elephant in the room. It's all been said, and far more eloquently than I could manage. Despite having fewer votes than his opponent, he has won. Despite everything he has said and done he has won. A man whose aides do not trust him with his own Twitter account. I shan't bang on about it. You know how I feel about the environment. It's not the only point of concern, but it's something that is close to my heart. I shall keep on doing my bit despite it all. All I can do.

On the homefront I have been a bit aimless this week. Rearranging shelves, making nice groupings of notebooks and humming Hallelujah. I remember walking through the underground with my eldest son and hearing someone singing it so beautifully. Always sad to say goodbye to a poet. His love from the sixties, Marianne, died in July of this year. At her funeral his farewell letter to her was read. He said, "... our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine."

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Apple time

Round the back of a nearby pub there's a fantastic apple orchard. On Saturday they held an apple day in conjunction with a local organisation which promotes the conservation of the area's natural and cultural heritage. And no, that isn't just drinking cider.

There were apple things for the children to do, information about apples and orchards, basket making, Morris dancing, singing (including a song with the immortal line, "A bit more cider won't do any harm") and of course the pressing of apples. The littlest boy declared it one of his best days out, despite it all being fairly low-key.

Somehow I didn't manage to take any pictures of the fantastic old machine that chops the apples up, or of the press that squeezes out the juice. But it was a pleasure to see things done in the old way. There was as much freshly pressed juice as you could drink, and as many apples as you could eat.

We didn't stay to the end because we cycled and I didn't fancy the country lanes in the dark. After we left the bonfire was lit and there was a barbecue with, most probably, cider. And by cider I mean proper West Country cider; cloudy, appley and fairly lethal. Rough is the word you'll hear used about it. Cider is something different in America I think. It must be quite a surprise if you're just expecting apple juice.

I shall close with a smile and a wave to US readers. I hope things go the way that you want today. Not long now...