Monday, 31 October 2016

1001 reading nights

Back in February 2014 I read about a girl whose father had read to her for a stretch of firstly 1000 nights and then more. It seemed like exactly our thing. Reading, but with a bit of a purpose if you like, something to count, something to aim for. Boys seem to like all that. And so off we set.

And on Saturday we reached the grand total of 1000 nights of reading. I read to the two youngest boys, and we've worked our way through many books. I'm not quite sure how many, perhaps around 50 or so.

Favourites authors include Gill Lewis - Sky Hawk, Moon Bear and White Dolphin, Philip Pullman, Cornelia Funke, Eva Ibbotson and Michelle Paver. Occasionally we'll give up on something, but not very often. Sometimes the boys complain that they won't like a book before I've even read a sentence. Usually they're wrong. I pick the books quite carefully. Good writers, different types of book. They get to explore books that they wouldn't necessarily pick up from the shelf themselves. Hopefully it will encourage them to read more widely as time goes on.

So we made it to 1000 nights, and we're pressing on regardless. The current read is Carl Hiaasen's Flush. A bit different to everything we've read before. The environmental plot appealed to me, and the main character is a boy who loves fishing which appeals to the middle boy.

It's always a great treat to pick the book we're going to read next. Most of the books I haven't read myself so I get to enjoy them too. Reading aloud is never a chore, although sometimes it's late and sometimes we're tired. Sometimes it's only a couple of pages, sometimes it's a few chapters. Sometimes I do accents for different characters. I love that. Welsh is my best one. The boys usually want me to read longer. Hopefully not just because they're avoiding bedtime.

We can highly recommend a reading streak. I'm hoping we make it to 2000 nights, there are so many fantastic books out there waiting to be read.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Feeling it

Autumn has been glorious so far this year hasn't it. I didn't used to be biggest fan of this season, but over time it's grown on me. I see how it fits in to the scheme of things. The huge weight of leaves falling and being absorbed back into the earth. Worms and slugs and snails and fungi all doing their bit to make the soil rich and fertile. This is the powerhouse of summer. The cycle of nutrients, building up each year, ready for the explosion of growth in the warmer months.

And so I'm happy to be outside, wandering the country lanes and wooded paths and chalky hills and noticing all the little details of autumn. Plants shrinking back, reabsorbing their energy, holding on to their berries, insects enjoying the last of the sun's warmth.

Partway along we came across ladybirds. Dozens and dozens of them. We counted 14, just on one of us. I guess it was a good ladybird year.

The littlest boy thought the design on this one looked like poppies.

I do hope autumn is being kind to you too. And that you manage to get out and enjoy it over the weekend. Have a good one. CJ xx

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Autumn in the garden and kitchen

cavolo nero

blueberry bush

purple sprouting broccoli and garlic

nicotiana - lime green

onions shenshyu

pears Beurre Hardy

As the temperature drops the garden has slowed itself down. There are still salad leaves to be had, but their growth is nowhere near as speedy as it was a few weeks ago. The beurre hardy pears are clinging to the tree, but I've started picking them a few at a time to ripen on the sunny south-facing kitchen windowsill. They're utterly delicious, it's been a fantastic year for pears. I wonder if there will be any next year though, they seem to like a year off.

The onions and garlic that I planted three or four weeks ago is sprouting nicely. I'm not going to grow any at the allotment this year as there's been a big problem with rust. Hopefully I will avoid it at home.

The cavolo nero kale is doing nicely and will no doubt stand through the winter and grow away more quickly in spring. I've planted some early purple sprouting broccoli as well. The carrots did quite well and should last for a few weeks, although we do seem to get through mountains of them.

In the kitchen I took advantage of the plentiful pears and made a pear flan from a Linda McCartney recipe. Basic shortcrust pastry filled with a mixture of breadcrumbs, ground almonds, cinnamon and sugar then topped with pears and dotted with butter. It's pretty good, especially with cream.

The biggest boy has been baking like mad over the past couple of days. Brandy snaps, tea cakes for toasting and pizza. I helped the littlest boy make easy chocolate macarons. I fear for our waistlines, but I can't complain, it's good that they want to learn. The biggest boy even did some washing up! Wonder if he's after something...

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Golden afternoons

The autumn has been quite blissful in this little part of the world. Warm sunny afternoons with windows and doors standing open and washing drying outside. Around half past three I can feel a little chill descend so I close the windows to keep the warm air inside and I bring in the laundry before it gets damp.

We went on a bike ride this afternoon. I've had a couple of occasions to go into the countryside over the past couple of days and it's looking absolutely glorious. Low sunlight passing through layers of atmosphere so that it's filtered to a warm glow, all the better to light up the fabulous autumn colours. Big country apple trees still loaded with apples, far too high for anyone to reach without a ladder. Farmers working in the fields and people tidying their gardens away before winter.

We went past a community shop. Well, of course, we went in, not just past. They have all sorts of delightful things on the shelves; local honey, secondhand books, lumpfish caviar, Guinness flavour crisps, everything. The children had been promised ice-cream - it was either that or they'd have made us cycle all the way out and round the deer park, which is absolutely miles - but in the end they chose some salty snacks. The shop also sells hot drinks - coffee in little cafetieres and hot chocolate, and homemade cake. Just how I like my shops.

Then it was on up to the little church that stands on the hill. The views from up there are phenomenal. You can see out over the river, both bridges, our local church and castle, Wales, everything. I read some of the war tributes to local boys and men and sniffed a bit. One boy had joined up on the day that war broke out. He had come home for a while after his first stint. The writer had wondered if he had gone to the local pub for a drink and a chat with his dad about it all. He was sent to the Somme where he was killed. His body was never recovered and his name is on the Thiepval Memorial in Picardy. His mum kept a light burning in the window at night for the rest of her days in case he returned. He was 19.

The church is named for a local saint, whose head was chopped off by a youth when she refused to sleep with him. All very grim it was in those days. Today it's a beautiful, peaceful spot with benches where you can sit and look out over the river and rest your legs should they be weary. I tried very hard to keep up with the little people, but honestly, the energy they have. I did feel quite good afterwards though, we should definitely do it more often. Although of course the amazingly good weather helped a lot.

Wishing all a good Sunday. CJ xx

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Autumn energy in the New Age

These past couple of weeks I've been seized by a frenzy of autumn energy. Nothing has been safe. I've ripped through the allotment like a dose of salts. The garden is all ready for winter. The lawn has been reseeded after all those months of football, golf, tennis, cricket, rugby and everything else. People have been told not to go on it until April. I'm not sure they're taking me seriously.

Rooms have been tidied, shelves and bookcases decluttered. I'm on the home straight of two quilts that have been on the go for ever. Knitting has begun again. I need a blanket, fingerless mitts, leg warmers, a cardigan and a poncho. I am trying to be restrained and remember my limits, but on a chilly evening it's easy to get carried away. Ravelry is a wonderful place is it not?

I'm wondering if all this activity is prevarication. Oh, of course it is. I am avoiding the writing course. Not sure why. Fear of failure most likely. But tidy rooms give me a huge happy feeling of satisfaction. The children will tell you, I do so love to have things Neatly Put Away. Neatly! They will thank me one day when they grow up to be neat people themselves.

I found a light sabre on the top of a very tall bookcase during one of my tidying stints. In a careless moment I popped it into the toy box. You have no idea how thrilled the littlest boy was to discover it this evening. The reason why it was on the top of a very tall bookcase came screaming back to me.

We had a nice conversation as he got ready for bed. Something about the Stone Age, I wasn't really following at that point to be honest, you know how it is. He commented that we're now in the Modern Age, then asked me what the New Age was. This caught me out a little. Is there a New Age? Should I know about it? I said, "Perhaps you're thinking of New Age people, a bit like hippies." "What are hippies?" I gave a rough, late-in-the-day, vague definition. "People who care about the planet and don't like chemicals." I couldn't string together any more than that at the time. Really, where to start? He yelled out with glee, "That's us! Dad, we're hippies!" If anyone needs me I'll be casting on a poncho.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Weed by weed

aptly name apple Sunset
achocha vines

I've been working hard down at the allotment following the summer of shame. It was daunting to say the least, but a few hours later I'm feeling much cheerier about it all. The asparagus has been cut back, apples picked, beans taken down.

Caro let me have some achocha seeds last year and they did beautifully. The pods are scrumptious eaten while really small in salad. I've taken them out now though in a great clean sweep, and I've forked over the majority of the plot and removed horsetail and bindweed. Not all of it of course, it will be back, but for now it's looking good. 

There are far fewer buzzing things down there this week. The pictures of the hornet are from a fortnight ago. There were all sorts of things enjoying the ivy in the hedge. They're hunkering down now that it's getting colder and damper.

By the end of the week I'm hoping that the plot will be under control and ready for the dormant period. I shall be very relieved when it is. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Tracing the steps of poets

Photos from a walk along the banks of the Severn Estuary. Broadchurch is filmed in the nearby town and at this little church, parts of which date from the 12th century.

The romantic poet Coleridge walked up here and sought inspiration from the countryside and sea. He lived in a small cottage with his wife, Sarah Fricker, after their marriage. The house inspired his poem The Eolian Harp.

The  poet Tennyson used to visit his friend Arthur Hallam at a local manor house, now owned by the National Trust, and when Arthur died at just 23 he was buried in the church. Tennyson's poem, In Memoriam, A H H was a tribute to his close friend. I do like to know a little history of a place.

Beyond the church you can see for miles, up and down the estuary and across to Wales. There's an Iron Age hill fort there, perfectly placed for keeping an eye on whoever is approaching.

I hope everyone's had a little sunshine these past few days. I can feel an October chill creeping in now. Apples and pears are falling from the trees and the box of yarn is out ready for a spot of knitting, or maybe even crochet.

Good news about the ivy mining bees, the man from the local authority has advised that they be left well alone, so it seems they have a reprieve. I added my two penn'orth worth and now everyone in the Allotment Society is apprised of their value. No doubt one or two members will be looking wistfully at their bottles of insecticide, but I'm hopeful they'll hold off.

I'll leave you with a question that the littlest boy asked me this evening. "Mum, can a sock go through a printer?" Hmm. I'm wondering what he might be planning.