Planting

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Just a brief update.

I have planted Aubergines, Peas and today popped in Elephant Garlic. Yesterday, I bought some Baby Beetroot and Cauliflower seeds both of which I chose as they are suitable for small spaces. I need to buy some more buckets tomorrow and plant the Turnips and Leeks.

I can’t wait to see the seedlings start to pop through the soil. I have a horrible feeling that I may be obsessive about watching them, and as I have absolutely no patience it is going to be murder to wait until I can harvest something.

Patio Gardening

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If you have a good memory, you may recall that quite some time ago, I announced my decision to try growing vegetables in a raised vegetable planter. For various reasons, life being one of them, nothing happened.

Fast forward, and I have finally put the plan into action. A few days ago I order some organic vegetable seeds: Aubergine, Leek, Pea, Dwarf Bean, Kohl Rabi (my favourite), Turnip and Tomato – and they arrived yesterday.  This morning, I bought some large buckets and compost and have made a start.bucketA bucket may seem like an odd thing to choose to plant into , but they are large and incredibly strong and I should be able to move them about if I need more or less sunshine hitting the vegetables.

I used a corkscrew to make holes in the base to allow for drainage, then filled the bucket with multi-purpose compost, popped in some seeds and watered. The first seeds to be planted were the Aubergine, and I think I may be taking a risk with these. They are suitable for growing in a covered, unheated environment and I am trying to grow these outside, but then the whole thing is an experiment, so why not?

I am not the most green fingered person in the world, but I come from a gardening and vegetable growing family, so I am hoping that some of that has rubbed off. I am going to take the tomato seeds to Mum’s and start them off in her greenhouse, but the Leeks, Turnips, Peas need to go in about now. Then in April I will put in the Kohl Rabi and in  May I will sew the Beans.

I am quite excited about the experiment (is that sad), and I would be happy to get something to harvest, if not be able to feed myself from the garden.

Pass me the Coathanger

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BridgeI have to admit to ambivalence. I would never have considered what we were about to attempt and have always had a bit of a thing about heights, yet here we were suited and booted and ready to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I was in Australia as an incredibly generous birthday present from my friend’s husband. Carol and I started writing to each other when we were 13 through an international pen pal scheme organised by our schools, and we have just celebrated one of those annoying birthdays that end with a zero. This trip, without her knowledge, had been 12 months in the planning.

While we were out to dinner, Carol’s husband broke the news that the climb had been booked for us as a “treat”. He said that I changed colour!

I tried not to think much about it beforehand, it was booked and that was that. I had no nerves on the day of the climb and my major concern was whether it would be too strenuous (I am not the fittest person around) but I need not have worried.

The day dawned bright with a threat of showers. It was warm, but not too hot, and we had been booked to climb at twilight. We arrived at the climb centre, completed the short medical questionnaire, and then changed into not so natty jumpsuits before getting the rest of our kit and receiving some instruction.

Off we set. The first, and most difficult, challenges the four completely vertical ladders that delight in cracking your kneecaps. Once you have worked your way up them it is a walk up an arching stairway to the summit.

We stopped a couple of times on route, partly to admire the view and partly to give the group ahead time to celebrate reaching the top. As the sun began to disappear setting the sky on fire as it did so, a full moon became visible in the near cloudless sky and a cruise ship, guided by pilot boats, left its berth to head out to sea.

Down below, in the streets of Sydney, people were charging about like headless chickens, the constant streams of traffic, people on foot all heading home after a day at work, or out shopping. On top of the bridge there was a stillness, a peace, respite from the noise and the people, the stresses of day-to-day life.

To climb at twilight was perfect. The heat of the day had dissipated. We had a period of daylight, a period of darkness and that magical time in between.

All too soon, we had the descent to tackle, and we headed through the failing light towards the city.

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge was an experience I will always remember. It is one of those experiences that you don’t expect to mean much but which unexpectedly turn out to be something delightful and life affirming.

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If I ever get back to Sydney, there is no doubt I will make the climb again.

Winter Warmers

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Winter is almost upon us. It is pretty much dark by 4.30pm and there is a nip in the air. We are usually lucky here and avoid too much in the way of frost, temperatures kept “warm” by the waters of the Irish Sea, but what we do get is an icy wind whipping in from the sea.

It has been an unusually mild Autumn, but now I am starting to think of hearty, warming casseroles or chilli or things with lots of melted cheese. There is something immensely comforting about toasted cheese, even if it is just on nachos or toasted bread. Then again, I have always been a bit of a cheese addict whether it is a good strong cheddar; soft creamy mozzarella melted into a tin of chopped tomatoes with some basil to make a lovely sauce for pasta; or chargrilled pitta bread stuffed with brie, I just can’t get enough of the stuff.

When I think about it dairy in general is comfort food. Am I the only one who enjoyed milk puddings at school. I have never lost my love of tapioca or semolina pudding and my Mum makes a mean rice pudding (although I have never mastered the art). A dollop of cream can make a very ordinary cake into a lovely pudding, or a large spoonful of whipped cream on the top of a large mug of hot chocolate with a sprinkle of grated chocolate on is divine and I can’t eat a bowl of porridge without cream.

At the moment, I am searching for tasty, savoury food, so tomorrow I will make something with a Mexican leaning, although I am not sure what. Whatever it is, will be loaded with coriander, cumin and chilli and perhaps peppers and sweetcorn for colour and whatever vegetables I decide to throw in plus beans. There will be a sprinking of cheese and  I may just follow up with some chocolate cake (with cream of course).

 

A Hundred Years On

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Poppy

 

One hundred years ago today, life for many people around the world changed forever. Britain declared war on Germany and entered what was said to be “the war to end all wars.” World War I.

It is hard to think that my Grandfather waded through the mud of the trenches, gun in hand, dressed in the uniform of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, sent over the top to kill or be killed.

He was a quiet, gentle man who, I am told, did not talk about his war-time experiences, yet there are family stories, that perhaps he was a sniper.  I was told that he saved the life of a young German soldier who had made his way through No Man’s Land to the British trenches, to be threatened with death by a comrade of Grandfathers who apparently stopped the British soldier shooting.

On 10th October 1918 my Grandfather was wounded and sent home to recuperate in Yorkshire. He was one of the lucky ones. Over 18 million men were killed in action on both sides of the war. They were killed during a war of such unimaginable horror. The mud, the corpses, the noise, the fear, the sounds and smells that the young men faced on a daily basis. They were not career soldiers, but men who felt it was their duty, and in many cases to volunteered, to go to the front to fight the enemy. They had a patriotism lost on later generations. Many saw it as a big adventure, but the excitement they must have felt boarding the trains would soon be dispelled by the reality of what they would face.

William Owen Jones, my Great-Grandmother’s brother, joined the South Wales Borderer’s. On 16th December 1917 he was killed in action in Belgium and was laid to rest in Artillery Wood Cemetery. He was 33 years of age. A life cut short, promise unfulfilled. He, like many other men from around what is now the Commonwealth, died for the freedom of this country, and their sacrifice should never be forgotten.

 

I’m a Cataholic

I am a cataholic.

Yes, I admit it, I am completely addicted to animals of the feline persuasion. I have a house full and my vet calls me “the mad cat woman”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. I have a dog. I grew up with dogs, and as a small child if anything was bothering me, I told the dogs. Not that they were any use. Part way through unburdening myself, I would get a look that said, “Alright, enough where’s the biscuit?”

The quirks and idiosyncrasies of cats, keep me on my toes. They tear through the house like little tornados, scattering things as they go, usually with a thud and occasionally with a crash and the accompanying shower of glass shards. They disrupt my work. I can be beavering away at my computer until (depending on whether I am using the desktop or laptop) a head blocks my view of the screen, or a bottom parks itself firmly on the keyboard.

Heaven help any plants I bring into the house. Within a couple of days, any shiny green leaves have been munched, and I am left with a few bare stems. Do they touch the herbs that I put on the kitchen windowsill specifically for them to eat? No. Why should they when they can destroy my houseplants?

I saw a fridge magnet that said, “When you call a dog, it comes running. When you call a cat, it takes a message and gets back to you.” Nothing can be closer to the truth. Cats are the hedonists of the animal world. They have never forgotten their status as gods in Ancient Egypt and live to be waited on. They insist on the warmest, most comfortable spot in the house. My cats allow to me to warm the sofa before requesting, ever so nicely, that I move so that they can make themselves comfortable.

I have one little darling who likes to sleep on my pillow. She sits on my face if I don’t move my head so she can curl up in the warm hollow, with her bottom wedged firmly into my shoulder. I have lost count of the number of times I have woken in the morning to find that I am clinging to the edge of the bed, while the cats are stretched out all over it. I did not realise that such small animals could take up so much space!

I have had cats now for twelve years, and I am still not quite fluent in cat. I am constantly surprised by their approach to life, and how they manage to wrap me around their small paws. I would like to think that I am mistress in my own house, but I am deluding myself. These beautiful little creatures know how to get what they want almost without me realising what they are doing.

So, who are the little beasties who have so easily turned my life so firmly around? First in terms of nuisance factor is Lily. She is heads above the others when it comes to disruption, knocking things over and the general troll factor. It is Lily who sits, with little cogs turning, looking for things to get up to. She is a bright little creature, and she quickly works out by looking at the other cats, which buttons to push, and then delights in pushing them. This, quite naturally, leads to a great deal of hissing and looks that would curdle milk from her “siblings”.

Her sister Mia is as different as you can get. They are littermates but the only thing they have in common is that they are both black and white. Where Lily looks for things that are going to get her into trouble, Mia is content to curl up on my knee (usually when I am just about to get up for something).

The only boy in the house is Fidget, a naughty ginger tom. He is a complete mummy’s boy. He has a voice which could shatter glass and he is not afraid to use it.

Then there is Echo, my lovely, little tabby cat, and Fidget’s sister. She is frightened of everything and so quiet that you do not know she is in the house.

Finally, there is Willow. I met Willow at a foster home where she had been taken from the local rescue centre, as she was pregnant. She had three lovely, lively little kittens, but it was three-legged Willow who I fell in love with. The disruption her arrival caused seven months ago is ongoing. Lily decided that this new arrival was perfect for being mean to. Unfortunately, Willow is yet to work out that running is the worse thing she could do, and to Lily it is a great game. Willow is not so keen on being pounced on, and retaliates and a full-scale catfight ensues.

There you have my feline family. Five completely different furry babies with personalities as big as houses. Life is never dull, and I no longer get a lie-in but I would not change a thing.

Life

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I walked home along the boardwalk under a quicksilver sky, the light perfect, the air heavy with humidity. The flat expanse of sand stretching to the sea was peppered with people walking their dogs, and a tug boat guided a tanker in to port. Across the river, Moel Famau and the Clwydian Range were visible, with Snowdonia a ghostly presence behind and to the right.

It has been strange weather all week with rain and bright sunshine, as though it is unable to make up its mind. We are in June and have had but glimpses of summer. Still I have not given up hope of being able to sit out and enjoy some sunshine. This is my favourite time of year. Birds sing with an unrestrained joy, flowers finally burst into bloom revelling in the higher temperatures, days are longer and skies a clear blue with a few wispy white clouds. My climbing rose now has flowers, pale apricot pink and beautifully scented.

More of life is spent outdoors, not cooped up inside. Just to be able to have the doors and windows open and to be able to enjoy the lovely fresh air is fabulous. I even like going to a walk! The days are longer, and as the cool of the evening falls I sit in the garden with a cup of coffee and just breathe in the stillness.

It is about the only time I have a few moments of peace. The rest of my life seems to be taken up juggling balls. I am either out walking dogs or feeding cats, making soap and body products, at the day job or being pestered by my dog or cats. Peace does not enter into it.

Money aside, I enjoy being pretty much out of the rat race. I am not entirely sure I am cut out to work full time for others. I don’t mind working hard, but wouldn’t it be so much nicer to get the benefits yourself instead of someone else benefiting from your blood, sweat and tears? Working for yourself gives you a freedom not possible when you are work for someone and you are not at the beck and call of someone else. For all the uncertainty, I am enjoying things at the moment, and I hope that lasts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bank Holiday Weekend

Summer seems to have done what summer in this country does best – vanished. Although it is not cold, the skies are like molten pewter and heavy with rain. It has curtailed the cats enjoyment of the outdoors somewhat. Their little faces make it quite clear what they think of this weeks almost permanent precipitation. Unfortunately for me, no amount of explaining that I can’t do anything about the weather helps, and I am sure they think it is all my fault.

My poor little Fidget cat is unwell and has had to have a little operation. I had to rush him to the vet yesterday (typical for him to be ill on the bank holiday weekend). He has done well overnight, and although I may have to leave him there until tomorrow, there is a chance I can collect him this afternoon. I have everything crossed that I can. Interestingly, it does not seem as though any of the other cats have even noticed he is missing.

I have been sorting out the kitchen cupboards, yes, I know, I lead such an exciting life, but I need to try to clear things off the work surfaces. When I had the kitchen installed, the idea was to have a few things (kettle, toaster etc) out on the work surface, but everything else secreted away in the cupboards. I wanted a nice kitchen, a stylish kitchen but instead, although I love the cupboards and the granite tops, there is “stuff” everywhere and I want it put away. I tiled the walls at Christmas, and I need to paint the walls, reseal the floor and get a windowsill, but it is at least heading in the right direction. Slowly.

The house continues to depress me, but I don’t have any enthusiasm to do anything with it. It is a vicious circle which I need to find a way of breaking free of. I have said this before, but each room’s issues has a knock on effect to another, this in its turn affects my muddled brain or at least makes me muddled. Although I like the feeling of having some privacy (I could not for example bear to have no walls around the house, and the feeling that people could see in) I have always been affected by the feeling of being surrounded. I know that this sounds like a contradiction, so let me try to explain.

When I am in an office, I have to be able to see the desk. I can’t stand the desk covered with paper, and even if it means having a huge pile of paper to work through, it is infinitely preferable to having lots of small stacks all over the place. I love open spaces and rooms with high ceilings, I hate low ceilings and pokey spaces. In short, I need a feeling of space. My house is very small and I am not the tidiest of people, consequently there are times when I have “stuff” everywhere. The saying a “place for everything and everything in its place” is so apt and I don’t have a place for everything. With a little cash that I don’t have, I could get storage sorted upstairs, which would free up some space elsewhere. I know what needs to be done, I just can’t do it which adds to the frustration.

So, that is my Bank Holiday weekend, sick cats and cupboard sorting. Oh the joys!

 

 

 

 

Scents of Childhood

Fragrance is evocative. It transports you to places you have been, or reminds you of people you knew. How many times have we heard that if you are selling your home, have some freshly baked bread or a pot of coffee in your kitchen as it makes a good impression on buyers?

When I get a whiff of Pettigrain, I am reminded of my paternal Grandmother who wore Eau de Cologne. I can still remember the bottle with its old-fashioned gold and turquoise label. My Grandfather slicked his hair with Brylcreem and I have a recollection of not being too keen.

The scents of my childhood are varied. My father smoked cigars, and I learned the difference between the smell of a cheap everyday cigar, and one which was much more expensive. My paternal Grandfather was a pipe smoker, and rare though it is, I still love to get a whiff of pipe smoke (odd, when you think that I am a rabid anti-smoker). It reminds me of the all the times we went blackberry picking, not that many of the plump, juicy berries made it home; or sitting at his feet while he told me stories of the derring-do adventures of Robin Hood, or about the exploits of two farmers, Brown and Jones living on adjacent farms in Wales. I wish that I remembered more of these stories. They may have given me clues about my family tree. Many years after Granddad died, Dad told me that a lady cousin of Granddad’s was farmer near Amwlch on Anglesey.

Most mornings, I take the dog to the park for a run. It is a beautiful place all year round and is teeming with wildlife and packed with beautiful plants. There is a certain spot by some steps where I am sure I can smell wild garlic. It is a smell I love, and reminds me of my childhood and trips to Wales.

In the town in North Wales where Mum was born and grew up, there is a lane up a hill with pockets of woodland on both sides. At this time of year, the beautiful, soft garlic fragrance hangs in the air as the flowers bloom. Whenever we went to visit family, and drove up the lane, I would wind down the windows of the car and inhale. I loved it, partly because it is such a gorgeous scent but also because, for me, it meant that winter was over, spring was here and summer on its way.

When we were children, we used to go to France for our summer holidays. We would pack up the car and get the ferry, having booked the first couple of nights, but having no idea where we would head. If we liked a town or village we arrived in, we stayed for a few days, if we didn’t then we moved on. We stayed in B&Bs and Pensions, and it was a cheap way of getting a fabulous holiday, staying off the beaten track and away from major tourist sites.

I recently created a blend of essential oils, to fragrance soap with, which reminds me of these family holidays. It was not intentional to create something which reminded me of France, but that is what I ended up with. It contains an amount of Ylang Ylang, so perhaps this is a particularly French scent, or perhaps it is a false memory.

Coffee, freshly baked bread, the smell of the ground after a heavy shower of rain on a hot day, all these are scents which either remind me of something or just make me feel extraordinarily happy. More than anything else, the sense of smell evokes a memory, good or bad, so it is worth while taking some time to store smells in your memory banks for future use.

I may be gone sometime

I am having an “interesting” day. Last night one of my cats kindly killed my laptop. I am still trying to work out which of the little darlings managed to remove the mouse, pulling the laptop onto the floor and breaking the screen. Thankfully, the machine itself still seems to be working, but you can imagine the panic when I realised what had happened. It is times like this, you wish you had backed up more often! Off to the computer shop I had to go. Admittedly, my old laptop was beginning to slow a little, but I was not ready to ditch it (partly because I could do with not spending the money at the moment). What I had forgotten is how long it takes to set up, so I may be gone some time. Part of the problem is remembering what I need to install, and then digging out the disks which have not been seen for some time. Then there is the battle with Windows 8, which if I am anything to go by, involves a great deal of shouting, and with which I am unimpressed. I understand the need to develop an operating system which works with touch screen computers, but not everyone has, or wants a touch screen. There is no way I would be able to cope with Windows 8 if I was using the laptop integrated mouse, it is far too frustrating. The only survival method I have discovered is to plug in an external mouse and then the silly tiles don’t keep appearing, tiles for which, incidentally, I have uninstalled most of the associated programs. Why were there a stack of apps I did not want, or ask to be installed? Rather presumptuous. A lovely sight greeted me in the park today. Not only did we have a chilly but gorgeously sunny day, but in the owl box near the park gate was a lovely, large owl just sitting sunbathing. I had my mobile with me and took a quick snap, but tomorrow I will take my “proper” camera with me and try to take a decent photo.   owl I am not exactly up on British birds, apart from Robins and Wrens, but I think this is a Tawny Owl. He was stunning and was a fabulous start to the day.

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