The Joy of Snow….up close

IMG_1501Can you see tiny snowflake shapes twinkling?IMG_1530
IMG_1528What about now, slightly closer up?IMG_1524

IMG_1509I’m sure I never used to see ‘proper’ snowflakes when I was a child. Was I just not looking carefully enough, caught up in the more exciting activities that come with snow? Is this viewing of snowflakes the consequence of age or has the type of snow we get changed?

I’d love the opportunity to see snowflakes under a microscope but for now, the macro function of my camera will do.

All images taken with Canon Digital Ixus 80IS and edited with iPhoto.

Inspiration from Little Tin Bird, here. Scroll down to the last picture.

The Joy of…. Washing up

This is my new dish drainer and special, extra long, patriotic rubber gloves (you can’t see but they have a union flag pattern at the end).

IMG_1263Until recently we had a fully functioning dishwasher that we used once a day. We haven’t used it since the start of December and I can honestly say that I have missed it on maybe one or two occasions. Sometimes I think I am the only person who actually quite likes washing up. I just can’t get to grips with the logistics of using a dishwasher. I know I am in the minority and to be honest, it makes me feel like I must be a bit stupid. Everyone else seems to love their dishwasher and I feel as if I must be missing something. However, here are my reasons for still liking washing up…

1. A bowl of hot soapy water is useful whenever you’re cooking so that you can wipe surfaces down or rinse equipment. I just don’t like the idea of using sprays for wiping down work tops though I can’t really explain why.

2. It might be just me but I always seem to need to dry most of the stuff that comes out of the dishwasher anyway.

3. You don’t have to worry ‘is this dishwasher proof?’ when you are washing by hand.

4. I nearly always have to take something out of the dishwasher and wash it by hand anyway because I need it to prepare another meal.

5. Loading and emptying the dishwasher is just as much of a chore if you ask me. It’s also quite a solitary chore. At least when there’s washing up and drying to be done it can be a time for chatting, often a good thing at the end of a day.

I’m not on a mission to convert anyone back to washing up – I was not paid by fairy liquid to write this! If you love your dishwasher, good luck to you, long may it last. Me, I think I’ll stick with the old fashioned way.






The Joy Of……The Internet

When I learned to crochet, years ago, I felt as if I was enjoying my hobby in isolation. There wasn’t much around that was very inspiring and I certainly didn’t know anyone else who I could share ideas with. When I took up my hook again almost two years ago I was lucky enough to discover Attic 24. The first time I looked at that blog I was hooked (sorry, bad pun). At last, here was someone making crochet that looked a bit more modern and fun.

Of course once you find one blog that you like the look of it is only a matter of a few clicks and sure enough, you will find more inspiration than you know what to do with. Sometimes it can be a bit daunting. There is one blog that I regularly read in disbelief. I can hardly believe that one person can do so much crafty stuff. Mostly though, I just enjoy looking at all the lovely things that other people make. I love the fact that a craft like crochet, that had a bit of a fuddy duddy reputation when I was growing up has got a whole new lease of life through modern technology. I wonder what my Grandma would have made of it?

Another visual source of inspiration is Instagram – a photography app for smart phones. I am aware that there was a bit of an upset in the Instagram world a week or two ago over who owns the rights to the pictures posted there. I’m not sure if it’s been resolved but for now I ams sticking with it. It took me a while to get to grips with Instagram as a social network but now that I have, I love it. Most of the people that I ‘follow’ on Instagram are crocheters (is that a word?). Here is the picture that inspired the crocheted jar covers in my last post. I have asked permission to share this here, by the way.89d8870c25a611e2901022000a9e13ab_7The same person (I only know them by the name on their Instagram account – nillams) also posted this…

43e749b60d2a11e29bac22000a1c032a_7and then the pattern…057e3e640f8711e2b3af22000a1fb856_7Which inspired my to make these…IMG_5544

It’s not really about the quality of the photography for me. It’s about being able to connect with other people who like the same things. If you are an experienced blogger/tweeter/social media user maybe this isn’t news to you? For me, this is the joy of the internet.

The Joy of…Having Old Friends

I don’t have any sisters but I do have some great, old friends that I’ve known since my pre-teenage years. It’s a cliche but they really have been with me through most of my major life experiences. I’m lucky to have these close, sister-like friends who know me so well. We don’t all live close together but we fall into place easily whenever we get the chance to catch up.

We had a day out last weekend, two of my old friends, me and our children. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a trip to a local park. I felt quite emotional to see our children playing so happily together. They probably won’t grow up to be as bonded together as we mothers are but it makes me very happy to see our friendship growing into a new generation.

The Joy of……Elderflowers

I was introduced to the delights of elderflower by the Husband’s paternal Grandma. She used to make a slightly fizzy elderflower drink that I suppose was a version of the elderflower champagne that we have taken to making.  I’d like to tell you that I noted down her recipe and picked up her top tips but alas, I did not think that far ahead. The only thing I can remember her saying was that it was not a good idea to pick elderflowers from busy road sides. Bearing in mind where she lived, in deepest Westmorland, I’m surprised she could find a busy roadside.

The Husband and I only started brewing with elderflowers last year. Perhaps it was acquiring this book that did it?

We made two batches of elderflower champagne and it worked really well. We used the majority of it for a toast after we had all three children baptised. However, the trouble with (amateur) elderflower champagne is that it won’t keep indefinitely. We had to drink up the remainder fairly quickly. All ‘essence of elderflower’ was gone from the house before the summer holidays arrived.

This year, I have made elderflower cordial. I hope that doing this will give me a stock of summer flavours to last much longer.

If you’ve never had a go at making these drinks, I would highly recommend it. I think the cordial is the easiest and less likely to go wrong. You don’t even need to bottle it, you can keep it in the freezer. I haven’t tried this because I’ve got a bit of a thing for bottling. I imagine that you could freeze it in ice cube trays and then bag it up. When you want a drink, voila, just take a cube out of the freezer and add it to water, still or sparkling.

There are plenty of recipes around on the internet for example, here and here. The one I used is more like the former of these two. I’m going to try the River Cottage version next because I’m interested to see what the addition of orange juice does. If you do decide to make the champagne, consider bottling it in plastic pop bottles. Glass ones have been known to explode!

Although my cordial is bottled up and ready to drink, I have also got a batch of champagne maturing. Pop back in a couple of weeks to see if it has worked. It’s temperamental stuff, a bit like the British Summer it’s so evocative of.

The joy of…..Lambing time

Son Number One is in love with the farming experience. At Christmas, when I asked him if anything was as exciting as the festive season he replied “Well, maybe lambing time”. I remember feeling the same excitement as a child when we visitied a friend’s farm. There must be some deep connection with our collective agricultural past. As you may know, sister and brother-in-law live on a Cumbrian hill farm. It’s in a beautiful, quiet spot on the far eastern side of the Lake District National Park. The hill on the horizon is Loadpot Hill, this picture was taken on the footpath to Whale (yes, there is a little hamlet called that). The River Lowther is just below the first row of trees. If you click on the picture to enlarge it you will see a white spot next to my arrow. That is the gable end of their home.

We set off for our Easter fix of lambing time activities straight away as school broke up on the 29th of March. This year we had arranged to stay with some friends in the holiday cottage. It’s actually the old farm house and looks out onto a yard full of cows. Our boys were very much looking forward to being involved in the working of the farm. I think it’s fair to say their expectations were exceeded!

Our car parked up in front of the cottage

The (sheep’s eye) view from the kitchen window. The mesh is to ensure they don’t decide to join you at lunch time.

Stove in living room

Did I mention the yard and the cows?

The children were given small jobs to do and that definitely added to their enjoyment. All six year olds like to think that they can do a task as well as an adult, and in the farming world, sometimes they can. No wonder Son Number One’s confidence goes up in leaps and bounds with each visit.

In this day and age, when freedom to play outdoors is limited, what small child could fail to enjoy building a straw bale den, covering their wellies in muck and then washing it off in a tumbling stream, collecting eggs ‘straight from the hen’s bottom’ or herding sheep in a family team. There are few adults who don’t get some pleasure from the experience of bottle feeding a hungry lamb. We did all those things.

Last weekend we sneaked back for one last fix of lambing time. I would be misleading you if I said it was a perfect weekend because actually, we had a fair bit of sickness in the family. All the children have had a bug, which I suspect was ‘slapped cheek disease/fifth disease’. However, I would still do it again. You can’t beat chasing sheep in such a beautiful location, especially when you find out that it rained at home and was fine ‘down on the farm’.

I will leave you with some more images of our trips. Don’t forget, if you fancy a visit yourself, you can find details here. The rates are very reasonable and I think there is still some summer holiday availability.

The joy of the season – part one – food

Warning! There is a lot of food bragging in this post.

I sent the Husband down to the allotment last night for some purple sprouting broccoli (expensive food number one, currently retailing at £1.50 for 200g). We have lots of it at the moment, especially as we have recently been away for ten days.

I love how it looks close up, the colours are so subtle

Last night we had it with a roast chicken dinner, shared with my Mum, brother and sister-in-law. Today it accompanied the most successful risotto I’ve ever made.

I know it doesn’t look like much but it contained plenty of wine and a decent (if I do say so myself) home made chicken stock. You certainly don’t need much meat to make a tasty chicken, mushroom and sweetcorn risotto. This is all I had left when I’d completely picked over last night’s chicken carcass.

I wonder how many other people do this? If I buy a whole chicken I always boil up the carcass either for soup or stock. Separating out all the meat from the tiny bones is not my favourite job but I always enjoy the end result. Today’s stock was one I was particularly pleased with.

Whilst I was rooting around in the fridge. looking for carrots and celery for my stock, I discovered that last night, the Husband had also brought back ( ta-daaaaa) the first asparagus of the year (expensive food number two).

I steamed it in the top pan of the steamer with the broccoli underneath. By some fluke I managed to cook them both right, tender but with some bite still.

They really were a treat. The Middle Miss had some and gave her approval. Then she looked at the risotto and this is how the  cross examination conversation went.

Middle Miss: Mum, are these mushrooms in here?

Me: No. (wondering if this is the ‘right’ answer)

Middle Miss: What are they then Mum? (sceptically)

Me: Hmm, I’ve forgotten what are those things called (I was buying time to think of an answer) Oh, yes, I remember, they’re champignons.

And that was that. No further questions, my lord. The jury was out. Thankfully a positive verdict was returned. All three of them polished off their ‘champignon’ risotto.

The Joy of Coccinellidae

Or ladybirds to you and me….

A few weeks ago, when we had one of the first sunny weekends of the year, I took the children to one of our local ‘country’ parks for a run around. First of all we had a little picnic during which the children spotted a few horses in the next field. Of course the next question was “Can we go and give them some grass?”. Who was I to say no, especially when it did take quite a lot of bravery on the part of the Middle Miss.

Next we hit the playground but Son Number One was hankering after a walk through the more ‘country’ part of the park so off we went through the gate…

We hadn’t walked far when I spotted this:

At least three ladybirds on a little mossy stump. Their red wing cases really stood out against the green moss. Soon we were spotting a new ladybird with almost every step. I don’t really know much ladybird biology but I suspect the heat of the spring sunshine had woken them up. Some of them seemed to be getting a bit frisky.

Of course, the children loved putting them on their hand and watching them crawl about…..

and ulitimately fly off….

Why is it that we are happy to let a ladybird do that but we squirm at the thought of a spider doing the same thing? House spiders must surely be as useful as ladybirds by keeping the fly population down? I say ‘we’ but my big boy is no arachnophobe….

He was very taken with this spider and the colourful marking on it’s abdomen.

Anyway, I was going to post something about our afternoon out finding ladybirds (in ‘ladybird paradise’ as the place was named by Son Number One) but it didn’t end quite as idyllically as it started. There was quite a lot of grumpy-ness and shouting towards the end of it so I stored the photos for a later date.

Last week a new blog post arrived in my in-box from ‘Jane of the Garden’ (you can see the link to her blog, ‘Trouble in the Garden’ on my sidebar to the right). Now I always enjoy Jane’s posts, whether they are written from the point of view of the slugs in her garden of whether they are her own thoughts. I find them to be very poetic, though I am certainly no expert. I have asked permission to share her thoughts on Ladybirds as I think they are beautifully written:

“This winter I have learned the hidden merits of Berberis.  Hidden beneath its overcoat of leaf and thorn I have found scores of ladybirds in residence – and survivors of the great cold

I still feel a childish pleasure when I find one – its half-centimetre of being exuding an absoluteness of ladybird: so vivid, so red, so black, so certainly ladybird.  So difficult to imagine the life of a ladybird: how does it know its way through the huge forest of a clump of grass or a swag of ivy?  What gives it pleasure and satisfaction in life?  What does it feel when I come along with my pruning saw and fell its winter home? Is it resigned to its lot as a powerless ladybird?  Does it grow hot with anger?  Does it wonder about its own sanity when it discovers that what it thought was there has vanished?  Does it perceive its frail hold on life?

Does it sense its own charm?  Does it feel a trifle theatrical in its black and red ensemble when it treads the green jungles of the garden?  Does it long to find the camouflage of an equally flamboyant poppy?”

See, I told you it was good.

As I was starting to write this post I had to do a little search to find the correct, latin name for the ladybird family. I found myself at the Natural History Museum website where I found the following…

Ladybird fun facts:

  • There are 46 species from the ladybird family (Coccinellidae) in Britain.
  • Ladybirds are named after Our Lady, the Virgin Mary. The red colour is said to represent the red cloak Mary was depicted wearing in old paintings. The seven spots are for her seven joys and seven sorrows.
  • The bright colours of ladybirds have evolved to act as a warning mechanism. Ladybirds are unpalatable to most predators and the warning colours advertise this.
  • There are over 5,000 species of ladybirds all over the world but only 46 in Britain. Some of these are very small and not readily recognisable. There are only 27 that are likely to be found and easily recognised as ladybirds.

There was also some information about a survey to find Harlequin Ladybirds, a non-native species that threatens to outcompete our resident bugs. Perhaps we should all be doing a bit of ladybird spotting and, more importantly, recording in order to help science save one of our favourite creatures. We don’t want the humble ladybird, one of childhood’s favourite creatures, to go the same way the red squirrel has.

The Joy Of Toast: part one

Toast, one one of my daily rituals.

It gets covered in some basic spread

and dabbed with marmite.

Then I cram it in, fast enough to give me hiccups. How unladylike.

Babykins shares this ritual with me (without the cramming) and I love that he likes marmite. To me, it’s a family essential, my children will be brought up to like it.

Once upon a time, all my bread came out of my bread making machine. We used to bake a seed and nut loaf every other day. I gave up on that when Son Number One was at his sickest, way back in 2008. The husband thinks it’s pathetic, but I just couldn’t deal with the amount of crumbs it was generating. It was hard enough keeping up with basic housekeeping and a sick boy. Extra crumbs were the last straw.

So at the moment, sliced bread is the best thing since, well, sliced bread.

Quick, comforting and you can even pretend it’s healthy when it’s covered in marmite.

Edited to add:: Son Number One has just come in from school requesting slices of DRY toast. Weird.