Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Alarmed


There's bad news and there's good news. The bad news is that the girls won the dancing competition at the littlest boy's school disco. He was incensed. He has vividly described the boys' dancing for me, and quite frankly I have to agree, it sounds in a league of its own. I consoled him by explaining that people are often not fully appreciated in their own time.

The good news is that the boiler man came and put back a cap on the boiler that has been off for the past five years and which has been allowing noxious fumes into the kitchen during all of that time. I have been in shock since he told me. Check your boilers people (there should be two caps on top somewhere I think, and they should both be ON.) I am expecting a new lease of invigorated life now that I am no longer being exposed to carbon monoxide on a daily basis. Oh, and get a carbon monoxide alarm while you're about it. I have been very slack and I am berating myself constantly. The stable door has been slammed shut.

The littlest boy and I have been enjoying Plumdog and Another Year of Plumdog. Have a look at Plum's blog if you have a spare minute. Honestly, I could spend the rest of the evening reading it, it's the best, just the best. Emma Chichester Clark perfectly captures how a dog thinks and her illustrations are brilliant. We love nothing more than curling up together to read it. Bert and Plum are very similar in many respects, we think he would say the same things and would without a shadow of doubt be best friends with Plum if he should happen to meet her.

He has been reading other stuff by himself (the littlest boy, not Bert). He switched from one series to another and told me it was because he was tired of all the killing in the first series. Oh dear. Should I be policing it a bit more do you think? I didn't realise it was possible for a small boy to get tired of fictional killing.

At school the headmaster apparently went ballistic at half the class for including killing in their writing. I remember helping out at cubs a while back on shadow puppet night. Each group put on a play, and every single one ended up with the entire cast killing each other. It does seem to be how small boys roll when they're together.

I had a conversation with the littlest boy the other day. I can't remember what we were talking about, but I think he was trying to come up with something I excel at. He said to me, 'You're good at housework. But most ladies your age are good at housework.' I'm not sure where to start with that one, it left me momentarily lost for words. But it is a compliment isn't it? I'm almost sure it is. AND, I told him, I know my 17-times table as well. I know, I know, are there no limits etc. No need to write in, I'm exceptional indeed. If you need me I'll be scrubbing the grouting in the bathroom while counting to 289 in increments of 17.

Friday, 6 April 2018

The overwhelmingness of stuff









We need more bookshelves in this house. All of us need more bookshelves. We make good use of the library, but we also seem to have accumulated quite a few ourselves. I probably have the least if you can believe that. I should have a cull of them, but the littlest boy is very attached to ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING which makes decluttering a tricky thing. I usually do it when he's not around. The guilt is excruciating.

I've sorted out his clothes and also got rid of a load of mine as well. Even though I don't have masses of clothes, there did seem to be quite a pile of things that I just don't wear. I have been fairly ruthless. I do love that feeling of getting rid of clutter. Love it. Of course it does seem to be a losing battle. The children just seem to need so many things. I am fairly furious that some of those World Cup 'collectable' stickers have made their way into the house. But they do love them. They are an addiction I think. Just one more packet.

I shall try and keep going with the decluttering, a bit at a time. It's that time of year. I feel rather out of control of everything at the moment. Housework, garden, you know how it is. You run the duster over something but twenty-four hours later IT IS BACK. I feel I am going mad with it all. It has won.

I have done no work whatsoever over the Easter break. I gave up. I spent all forty-three of my spare minutes making a birthday card and envelope for a friend. I knitted a bit too, late at night when I was too tired to do anything else.

I've been leafing through the calligraphy book. There are some incredibly talented people in there and some amazing pieces of work.

In the garden the peach tree is flowering. It will look horrible in a few weeks time when peach leaf curl kicks in. It will be so bedraggled I will swear that I'll dig it up and replace it with a plum. But come next winter I won't get round to it. Maybe there will be more peaches this year.

Spring must be here because the weeds are growing. A daisy in between the paving stones, tiny seedlings in the raised beds.

The children are utterly overwhelming when they're here and I miss them when they're not. Oh, it's tricky isn't it. I hope all had a good Easter break, weather notwithstanding. There is still an Easter egg in the cupboard here. It belongs to the littlest boy and I think he has forgotten about it.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

The ditch, up close








The littlest boy has a new bike. Well, a new-to-him bike, which is just as good. He part-exchanged his old, too-small one. They asked him to wash it before the exchange, but as they were closed he then had to wait two days to get the new-to-him one. Oh the agony. We were there the second they opened. Then we went for a bike ride up to the little church overlooking the river.

We stopped at the community shop on the way. It's a really great place, lots of different and local things for sale. Also some books and hot drinks. I had hot chocolate and picked up a new read.

The littlest boy was loving his bike, swooping round me, racing, slow-racing, all of the things. When it wasn't exciting enough, he decided to cut in across the front of my bike. His bike hit the front wheel of my bike. There was that moment, you know the one, when you know you're going to fall, but you're not quite sure where you'll be landing. Oh. The ditch it is then. I came to rest in a thick thicket of  scrubby scrub over the top of the ditch. To his credit, the littlest boy was horrified and very apologetic. He tried pulling me out, which didn't really work as my leg was trapped under the bike. We got there in the end, although it wasn't very dignified. Imagine a cow stuck on its side, suspended halfway above a ditch on a cushion of thorns, all legs flailing. Much of the swelling has subsided now and the cuts are healing. I have sworn never to go on a bike ride with him again ever. We all know I will, but I have to maximise the drama, you know how it is.

Bertie had a lovely birthday, thank you for your happy wishes. We did a good walk and he had a bit of tuna with his breakfast. Doesn't get much better than that.


Tomorrow there will be the usual Easter treasure hunt round the house. Everyone still wants to join in, even though some people are big and cool now. The lure of chocolate I suspect. I am wishing you all a lovely day, with your share of rabbits and chocolate and all things spring. CJ xx

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Of poems and puppies



We are all about the poetry here at the moment. The two bigger boys have to learn a poem over the Easter break from a selection of ten. It has reminded me how I do love poetry. It's one of those things that sometimes slips between the cracks of time and gets forgotten, but really shouldn't. I have been reading Deep Work by Cal Newport, which recommends uninterrupted downtime. A little poetry is just the thing.

Anyway, the poems are lovely. The biggest boy reduced me to tears with lines from a couple of war poems over the lunch table. Words put together in such a way that our hearts are torn open. A few lines that somehow capture the emotion and the horror and the experience of it all.

Here's a little of Rupert Brooke's The Soldier, by way of an example.

If I should die, think only this of me;
  That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
  In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,         5
  Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's breathing English air,
  Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

'In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;' Perfection. That wasn't one of the choices, just something he'd learned previously. 

One of the selection was T S Eliot's Macavity: The Mystery Cat which the littlest boy also wants to learn. He adores learning poems as well, he did Jabberwocky for a school recital a while back. Something about the rhythm of the words. There's a little magic in it all I think. I have ordered him the edition of Eliot's Old Possom's Book of Practical Cats illustrated by Axel Scheffler as a little treat. He's been enjoying Benjamin Zephaniah's Talking Turkeys!  as well - 'Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas' Cos turkeys just wanna hav fun', love it. There's a poem for everyone out there. 

In other news. The biggest boy has taken up basketball and knocked some vital pipe or other which goes into the back of the house and now there is water dripping out of the boiler.

The middle boy broke his glasses and possibly his finger yesterday on only the first day of the hols.

The littlest boy fell over on both days.

I walked through John Lewis with them today. There were some divine delicate pink shutters. I exclaimed over them. The biggest boy said that they'd be broken within five minutes in our house. I fear he is right. Everyone around here is very heavy on things if you know what I mean. Even the dog. My cushions are honestly an absolute disgrace. But as the biggest boy says (and Charlie Brown too I believe), happiness is a warm puppy, which will have to make up for it all. On the subject of which, he will be one on Thursday. What did we ever do without him? He chewed the trim off of one of my fancy Christmas tea towels this morning. Let's not dwell on why I'm still using the Christmas tea towels in March. They have snowflakes on so they haven't been wildly out of place.

I shall try and capture a nice birthday shot of Bertie on Thursday. We'll go on an extra good walk, maybe with a chum, and there'll be something extra good for tea. Hope all are well. CJ xx

Friday, 16 March 2018

Hot chocolate and rugby




So I went to the rugby. The rain was of biblical proportions. You can see in the third photo the steam rising off of the scrum. It was a bit of a last minute idea to entertain the  French exchange student, who is a rugby fan. It rained all of the way there in the car, on the walk to the ground, in the queue to pick up the tickets, for the whole of the match and all the way home. I could hardly see going over the hill on the drive back. The biggest boy pointed out that it was the Full English Experience.

While we were waiting for the tickets I did the whole tour guide thing. Look, there's Pulteney Bridge, it's really famous. Look, there's the Abbey, it's really old. There is a lot of water going over the weir today, it is really wet. I ran out of interesting things to point out after that.

For those who might be a bit vague as to what rugby actually is, it's, oh goodness, I have no idea to be honest. I was going to sum it up in a couple of pithy sentences, but I only have a very tenuous grasp of what it is and I run the risk of enraging those of you who actually know what's going on. I was no doubt the most annoying person at the ground, continually asking what was happening. It's all very stop-start, not like football, which I can just about follow, and even explain the off-side rule if you'd like me to.

Anyway, Bath, the home team whom we had gone to see, won, so it was all good. And by only one point, so it must have been quite thrilling, although it was rather wasted on me, see not knowing what was going on above. I was also very disappointed by the amount of shiny flags they had given out to everyone. Not at all environmentally friendly. Otherwise it was all excellent. At half time we got chips, coke and hot chocolate for me (it was cold as well as wet) and tried to avoid the downspouts of water pouring through the stands above us.

The French student was absolutely lovely, and got on so well with the biggest boy. They were chattering away in a mixture of French and English the whole week and hopefully he had a great time. He ate everything and said I was a very good cook for an English which I am taking as a compliment and that the biggest boy was very lucky, which I am having printed out and laminated.

He arrived here at 2 o'clock in the morning which upset the dog no end. He was beside himself that a stranger had come to the house in the middle of the night and gone upstairs. He made his concerns known to one and all for quite some considerable time. Safe to say that five-sixths of the household were wide awake. By the end of the week it was all forgiven though and the new person was admitted to his pack. Here he is waiting at the bottom of the stairs for me. He's not allowed up, but he always likes to be as close to me as possible, so he tends to wait with his head on the bottom step.


The littlest boy and I took him for a wander and went to a dog-friendly cafe for ginger beer, hot chocolate and a toasted teacake. It was like being in an Enid Blyton book. Bertie laid on the floor perfectly aligned like a compass so that his whole body, ending at the tip of his nose, was pointing directly to the kitchens.


We are all a little tired here after a week of rushing round to events and squeezing things in. Alas the weekend won't be particularly relaxing, there are more Things to be done. A friend said she had nothing planned, and I was a tiny bit envious. There is cricket to fit in alongside football now, a party for someone and the dog has been promised a gallop over a hill somewhere. I've been feeling rather frazzled lately, that feeling when there's never enough time and I'm not sure what to do next. I know it's the same for many, I'm not complaining, it's just left me feeling rather disorganised. I think I need more lists. And maybe a new notebook. I really have a yearning to do some calligraphy, but I always feel I shouldn't while there are so many other work-related things to do. But the pens and the nibs and the ink are calling me. Maybe I'll try and sneak in a little over the weekend. Any plans your end? Wishing you a little of what you fancy, and a ginger beer or a hot chocolate too. Enjoy.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Anyone for a mince pie?







our town from the hill



Friday

There is a mountain of wellie boots on the mat and the dog is asleep on top of them. We are all worn out with the hard work of making the most of the snow. It's been about seven or eight years since we last had proper snow here. Everyone is off work, out and about with dogs and children, there is a holiday atmosphere to it all. I almost feel I should be making mince pies. I do have a couple of jars of mincemeat left over now I think about it.

Yesterday I was dragged outside for most of the day. Today I'm aiming for a little inside time. Baking things in a deliciously warm kitchen would suit me very well. Tobogganing was mixed success. The littlest boy plunged his foot into a snowdrift over the stream and couldn't get out. Eventually he came out, but minus his wellie. I couldn't pull it out for love nor money. Someone else's dad got it for us in the end, otherwise he would have had to walk home without it and most likely have lost his foot to frostbite.

Then he tobogganed down the hill, hit a bump, flew through the air and landed with a whomp on his bottom. That was the end of it for him, we dragged ourselves home with more than a little complaining.

Sunday

A brief interlude since I started writing this post. The snow has all but vanished, the toboggans have been put back in the garage for the next seven years until it snows again and tomorrow life will resume again, full throttle. It was like spring at 5pm when I took the dog for a walk, all warm sunshine and birds singing. An odd few days I think, but a nice break from routine.

All sorts of things were cancelled and there was catching up with friends and doing things locally and walking and puppies and general relaxing. I didn't get round to the mince pies and I feel the moment may have passed. The French student will be here soon, and mince pies may be a bridge too far. I wonder if I can feed him fermented things? They have turned out to be delicious, so I might give it a go. I am compiling a list of things people will not be allowed to say to him, such as, You must not eat the frogs from the pond, which was suggested by someone who shall remain nameless. Honestly, I hope they all behave, I am on tenterhooks. There is nothing like family to completely embarrass a person is there? Any tales to tell..?

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The whippet and the hare


I am all about the fermenting at the moment. Nothing is safe. There's yoghurt, kefir, celery, kimchi and sourdough. I'm a fermentation maniac. Lynda of Sultanabun has an excellent post here if you'd like to know more about the benefits. Gut health is linked to so many other things, possibly including allergies, blood sugar stability and inflammation, all of which I find quite fascinating. I am all for treating things naturally where possible. Prevention and all that. The littlest boy has some allergies sometimes, and my blood sugar levels can be a bit wobbly at times. I'm hoping an increase in fermented things will help.

It's at this time of year that I shall start to miss the allotment I think. The possibility of all that fresh organic food. But I'm fairly overwhelmed with everything anyway, I do know it was the right choice to let it go to someone else.

Yesterday was a case in point. I just about survived a ridiculous morning with every possible drama, you know the kind of thing, one of those days when everything goes wrong, when the littlest boy's school rang to say he'd cut his leg. The rest of the day was spent at children's A&E in the city getting stitches. And that was the end of Wednesday. No big deal, I'm happy I was around for him, but honestly, sometimes the days just seem to evaporate.

His leg is fine, but he did take a big chunk out of it leaping at a metal edged picnic bench in some complicated parkour manoeuvre. If I've told him once... Someone suggested to him that he probably wouldn't do it again. He said he thought he might well.

I never fail to be grateful for the medical care that's available here. And for everything really. As I said goodnight to the children tonight I felt very aware of the children in Syria. There aren't any words really, but my thoughts are there, and I try never to forget how much we have.

Half term was good. I even managed to read a book. This is me at the skatepark. It was so lovely to sit and read in the afternoon, honestly, undreamt of luxury.



The book was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I really enjoyed it, as I know many of you have too.

Back to the grindstone now though. I am taking a little hour this evening to write this, but otherwise I'm pressing on with the freelance writing malarkey. Onwards and hopefully one day upwards. I live in hope.

I went to the biggest boy's school earlier for GCSE options evening. I am trying hard to let him do what he wants to do rather than what I want him to do. It doesn't come naturally though. The bottom line may be, does he do what his friends are doing or what his mother tells him to do. I shall try and rein myself in.

The puppy is sleeping blissfully as I write. He went down to the river this morning with his whippet friend. She was the whippet and he was the hare and a lot of really, really fast running was involved. He loves it, but in a slightly hysterical, whites-of-the-eyes sort of way, and afterwards he has to have a lie down.

Hope everything is well with all, and that you are feeling more whippet than hare.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Snowdrops and mist






Thank you for all of your recipe ideas re feeding a French teenager, I am suitably reassured. I have also embraced paprika in all its forms, and now have hot and smoked which do have a bit more going on. The smoked reminds me of lapsang souchong. I bought some of that the other day too, it took me straight back to years ago, Before Children, when I used to get home from work, make a mug of it and sit and write. Days of disposable income and free time, happy nostalgic sigh. It's amazing how a scent can instantly evoke a memory isn't it.

I am currently wrestling with website construction for two writing websites. There are moments of deep black despair peppered with the occasional dazzling triumph of something actually working. Technology is a real roller coaster of emotion, fury and elation in very short succession. It feels unhealthy.

On the subject of which I have given up cheese for Lent. I was a vegan for 25 years, but lately I seem to be eating ALL the cheese. Blue cheese, crumbly cheese, hard cheese covered in rind, creamy cheese, Cheddar cheese and a personal favourite, the sort of Lancashire cheese that isn't white a crumbly but is just DELICIOUS. I think we're on day 2 of Lent. Don't worry, I will have calmed down by next week and won't feel the need to name all the cheese and talk about it.

Last year I gave up puddings and sweet things. I felt so much better for not eating sugar that I continued it all year, except for the odd slice of birthday cake. It was the middle boy's birthday the other day and I made him Nigella's ice-cream cake. There are no words for how sweet that tastes if you haven't eaten sugar for a year. I had to have a lie down with a damp flannel over my face afterwards.

We've been keeping busy here. That's dog bed stuffing in case you were wondering.



But hearing tales of other puppies, we are happy in the knowledge that it could be worse. Dear little dogs, they do keep us on our toes.

Hope all is well out there. Hang on all, spring is but a breath away.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Send help


Reading and knitting, it must be winter. I do so love winter. Alicia put it well when she said, 'Nothing out there needs me.' I rewound my yarn which the puppy had messed up and I've started knitting again late at night when my brain is good for little else. Before, I was trying to knit with two great messy piles of wool and it put me off, having to do battle with it every time I did a couple of rows. Order is been restored now though and I'm away.

I'm reading Into The Water by Paula Hawkins. Not sure if I like it. I'm a bit confused to be honest. I don't always concentrate enough when I read and I lose track of who all the people are and what they've done. I could do with a list of them at the front of the book for reference. I've also been reading Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy, about productivity. I often find myself gazing out the window thinking about productivity. I am hoping Brian will help me with the whole concentrating and focusing thing.

I happened to be passing the churchyard today and I remembered to take some photos of the snowdrops. The winter sky looked lovely above the castle, all birds in bare trees and bunches of mistletoe.




There's an overgrown corner of the graveyard and every year it's covered in snowdrops. I just had the little camera with me, but you get the idea.





One last month of winter to enjoy before the things out there start needing me.

On another note, does anyone understand what the deal with paprika is? The biggest boy needed some for school cookery. It really tastes rather blah to me. Am I missing something? Do I not have the requisite taste buds? Fancy chefs are always waxing lyrical about smoked paprika and spiciness and warmth and on and on. I'm just not getting anything. It's a mystery. I don't understand parsley either. Coriander yes, delicious. Parsley, not feeling it. I have a feeling it's all too subtle for me. I need something unambiguous like a bit hit of lemon or a thuggish dried tomato.

We have a French student coming to stay later in the year. I fear I will have to up my game. Oven chips and baked beans will not cut the mustard. He has already written to say that in France the plates are very good. We have taken it to mean the food on the plates, although of course they may have very fine china as well.

I am in dire need of impressive yet simple recipes to appeal to the sophisticated French palate. Send help. But nothing tricky that will tip me over the edge (remembering of course that I permanently inhabit a place very near the edge as it is). I have paprika, if that helps.