Still Winter



IMG_6566These photos were taken last Monday and Tuesday, the 11th and 12th of March. The blizzards we had on Monday were quite dramatic for this part of the world. Checking the forecast for the next few days is not a very cheery experience. Temperatures are forecast to be low and more sleet is predicted.

I love snow (I have written about it many times) but really, in March, it’s just not funny anymore.

The snow play and the lost hill

The met office finally got it right for my patch this weekend. We had lots of snow on Friday night and now it has all gone. It melted almost as fast as it arrived. Yesterday could have been our last opportunity of the season for snow related playtimes.IMG_1474IMG_1445 IMG_1449 IMG_1450 IMG_1451 IMG_1461These were some of out antics from last weekend.

If you live in a climate where living with snow is a regular occurrence the British obsession with it must seem strange. We pore over weather forecasts, worrying about driving to work and if the schools will be closed. Children (and -ahem- some adults) stay awake at night, constantly peeking out of the window to see if there are any flakes falling yet. We moan or get excited about it in equal measures. We don’t really cope with it well, and it’s not surprising really is it? Our snowfall is unpredictable, some years there is barely any. Hardly worth investing in special car tyres for example. We live on a crowded island too. Our roads only just cope with the volume of traffic at the best of times. Add a blizzard and a few crashes and there’s bound to be mayhem.

But, I still love snow. It’s one of those things that gives me a feeling of childish excitement even though I’m now a parent. I used to share this excitement with my Dad. He loved to get out and play in it and, unluckily for the rest of us, was a mean shot with a snowball. I could rely on my Dad to take me sledging whenever it snowed, even if it was a school night. I’m sure we must have been with my Mum and Brother but I don’t have memories of that. What I do have memories of is heading off to our local sledging spot, often in the dark.

Dad prided himself on finding the best spot. He didn’t necessarily want to go down a steep slope like most of the other people on our local golf course. For him it was all about how long you could spend going down hill. To be fair, he also avoided the crowds because he was a teacher in the local secondary school and didn’t really want to be among the pupils in his spare time! So Dad and I had our own private hill and it did seem like a good long ride down to the bottom. There was a pond near the bottom that you had to be aware of. Falling in to that would have been a disaster but, at the time, it just added to the adrenalin rush. Sometimes Dad would go down the hill on his own while I waited at the top but more often than not, he would lie on his front on the sledge and I would lie on top, holding on to his shoulders. Dad did the steering by sticking his toes into the snow and by leaning one way and another. It was such a thrill to be barrelling down hill, feeling as if I was teetering precariously on top of this speeding sledge. It is such a vivid memory for me.

Now that I am taking my own children sledging I wish I could find that hill. It can’t have changed. The little conifers that we used to pass through to get to it must be considerably bigger but it must still be there. Somehow I just can’t seem to work out which hill it was that we used to use. Yesterday, despite not being able to find the hill, I did resurrect Dad’s sledging technique. Going downhill fast with your face inches from the snow is really the only way to go sledging and I think I have passed on this family tradition to another generation.IMG_1587


Slug Paradise

We may not be enjoying the wet summer but the weeds and pests are. When the weather is bad, it’s easy to let your gardening duties slip. Unfortunately that has happened in our allotment. The Husband spent the day on Saturday trying to get to grips with the lush growth that has sprung up. I hope that you can see the fruits of his labours in these photos.

Our salad leaves and beetroot can be seen at the front of this ‘after’ picture. I don’t understand why some of them have bolted? I always thought bolting was a result of lack of water. How ironic that I planted them next to our water butts to ensure they could be well looked after. I suspect our water butts have been overflowing this year.

The tall yellow flowers in the first picture are parsnips that have gone to seed. I’m quite surprised that he cut them down because the insects love them and we’re suckers for bees and hoverflies. The daisies and dark red flowers (hollyhocks?) are in Son Number One’s patch. They do look pretty, even if they are a bit floppy and wild.

I think you can see the most dramatic change here. The patch of purple sprouting broccoli (psb for short) has finally been cleared. I’m really disappointed that we didn’t eat more of it. I discovered that psb and not wheat was what was giving me major stomach aches. I wonder if a different variety would be less difficult to digest? I love psb so if you’ve got an answer, please let me know. The bed next to our greenhouse has strawberries in it. As usual, they have produced lots of fruit, but sadly, most of it has rotted. The chap who does gardening at my children’s school told me he put his strawberries in pots this year so the fruits don’t touch the ground. Very wise. How did he know it was going to be such a wet year? I don’t think I will be making strawberry jam this year. To the left of the greenhouse are my onions that are still doing well. We consciously chose to plant more of these this year as they are so low maintenance. Potatoes and onions grow without needing the love that seedlings do and they don’t need much processing when they are harvested.

We have had some successes this year. The tough, perennial plants that can thrive despite an onslaught of slugs and a lack of sunshine are doing really well. Above are our globe artichokes. They are producing lots of lovely heads that are crying out to be preserved in oil. Just another ‘to do’ job to add to the list.

Finally, the soft fruit bushes are growing well, particularly the gooseberries. I have lot of plans for these. Hopefully, that will be my next post….


We’re Weathering the Weather….

I think I am getting used to this weather now. Slowly, my mindset is beginning to change. I am now resigned to the fact that summer has ‘failed to install’ as the image doing the rounds of Facebook jokes. I no longer expect sunshine so I am no longer disappointed when I wake up to rain. I do worry about my poor in-laws though. Will they ever be able to get any silage or hay made on their farm? How will they feed their cattle over winter without a harvest of summer grass?

The children all have new wet weather gear courtesy of sales, eBay and the hand-me-down box so whatever happens, we can get out and about. At 18 months, Babykins doesn’t have a concept of what summer should be like. He just wants to get out and explore. Last Friday night he dragged me to the front door  and practically demanded that I put his wellies on and take him outside. We trooped up and down the street, jumping in the epic puddles that had appeared. I couldn’t help but laugh at his outfit – shorts, wellies and a wooly hat. It could only be appropriate in a British Summer.

Dark skies are a bit depressing but they somehow allow the colour and beauty of summer flowers to shine. I hope that wherever you are, you can find something to enjoy in this terrible summer we’re having.

Out and about on a school night

The appearance of the sun on Monday galvanised me into action. I have been wanting to go to Saltburn again to view the new Jubilee themed yarnbombing. I packed up the car with sand toys and a picnic, scooped up the children as quickly as I could from school and headed over there. It was still half past four by the time we arrived. Nothing ever happens fast round here.

By the time I had unloaded the children from the car and attempted to squeeze all my bags under the pushchair, time was running out. The cliff lift was only open until 5, the yarnbombing was at the top and there was no way I was pushing my groaning pushchair up that hill. We just had enough time to go to the top, inspect the knitting and ride back down again.

It was very satisfactory actually. I am so impressed with the skill and sense of humour of the knitter or knitters. Riding the cliff lift is a fun experience. The inside is wide enough for a pushchair or wheel chair. You get a lovely view out to sea and the windows themselves are worth looking at. They have beautiful stained glass that my photo really doesn’t do justice to.

Once we were back down at promenade level and had negotiated the inevitable toilet stop, we had a little walk on the pier to see the Olympic yarnbombing. But there was no holding the children back – they were ready for some sand action. They scampered off onto the beach via the steps. I was left with the fun task of trying to get Babykins and the pushchair down the very rutted and ridged stone slope (see first picture).

I was tickled by how the older two had arranged their shoes. They were wedged in behind a big rock “Keeping the sand out of them, Mum”. Wishful thinking.

They indulged in much digging and fetching of water, the eternal childhood pleasures of a trip to the seaside. It felt as if it was the first time that I had been able to sit back and let them get on with it. When they were younger I think I supervised the sandcastle building a bit too much. Nowadays I am just too preoccupied with keeping an eye on Babykins to worry too much about the older ones.

I finally managed to get the picnic out and persuade the children to keep a bucket of water nearby to rinse their sandy hands in. Nevertheless, I think Babykins managed to ingest his fair share of sand. Why is it that at home, he is very keen on using cutlery but when his hands are holding half the beach he thinks its a good idea to use his fingers?

Despite my preparations, there was one essential piece of kit that I had left behind. I normally have my swiss army knife in my bag (you never know when you might need scissors or tweezers) but typically, on the day when the ring pull came off our can of sweetcorn, I’d taken it out.

No problem, Son Number One had the answer.

Him: “Why don’t you take it up to one of the cafes and see if they’ll open it for you Mum?”.

Me: “Yes son, but I don’t want to pack up all our stuff and I don’t want to leave you guys on the beach on your own”.

Him: “I can do it”.

I pondered for a moment. He’s at the age where he wants to be more independent. He needs the practice at asking for things from people like shop assistants. Not long ago he would have been terrified of the idea of speaking to someone he didn’t know. I would be able to see him the whole time and there were no traffic issues.

Me: Alright then, off you go.

Result! The kind ice cream parlour owner helped us out. She was even sensible enough not to send him back with a sharp can lid. What my boy will do for sweetcorn.

Time was getting on again and Babykins was starting to get cold. The Middle Miss requested an ice cream and I was happy to oblige. They had done a good job with their picnic tea in difficult (sandy) conditions and I was all in the mood for treats. Alas, the ice cream shop had been shutting when Son Number One went to get our can opened. Instead, we had a couple of portions of chips and sat up on the prom to eat them. As far as I am concerned it’s practically obligatory to eat chips when you go to the seaside.

As we sat, the light changed. The sun shone just that bit more and was lower in the sky. It really lit up the beach beautifully.

We decided to finish our trip by walking the full length of the pier.

You can just about make out the cliff lift in this picture. The carriages are half way up because it is closed.

The shadows were really starting to lengthen as we headed back to the car. It was half past eight by the time I got them home and into bed but I had one of the best trips with my children that I’ve ever had.

I don’t regret going out on a ‘school night’ though I wouldn’t stay out as long on a regular basis. In the ‘summer’ we are having, you’ve got to take the chance when you can.

I hope enjoyed reading about our little trip. Make the most of the the sun today because tomorrow it’s going to rain. Again. A lot.

Camping Fun and Top Tips

We spent to long, diamond jubilee weekend camping at Gibside. As always, it was a bit of a gamble. The weather was pretty grim to start with and it was never what you would call warm. However, if you have promised to take your children camping and have spent several hours packing the car, you have to get on with it and hope for the best.

Camping is a strange experience. There’s no doubt in my mind that it is good for the soul, even if the body is feeling rather like an ice block. It takes existence back to a much more basic level.

For example, you get a real sense of how much water you actually need to use. Our washing up was done in a couple of inches of water in the bottom of a bucket (note to self – you need proportionately less washing up liquid too or the bubbles are ridiculous).

The children ran around the camping field, playing football, hunting for bugs, chasing bubbles and making new friends. Even Babykins had relative freedom to explore.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the grown ups had complete freedom but we were freed from the bother of work, emails, housework and laundry. Being with a couple of other families also freed us from some of the ‘entertaining’ that often comes with small children. After only two nights, we felt as if we’d had a real break.

Gibside is a National Trust property just outside Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It is not a proper campsite so the facilities were basic. There were six port-a-loos for the whole field of 80 pitches. However, the Trust volunteers did a sterling job of keeping them clean and stocked with loo roll. There was also a programme of optional activities at no extra cost. On our first afternoon we scampered off into the woods to take part in some den building and marshmallow toasting. The volunteers had had a bit of trouble lighting the fire because everything was so wet.

One of the more imaginative members of our party had brought along some candles and mini marshmallows so we could do some toasting at our tent. This took considerably longer…..

On Sunday we took the children to the new looking play area. It was very popular with our bunch. It’s central area is made up of a wooden fort called ‘Strawberry Castle’ with lots of spaces to climb up, over and through. They chased in and out of it for ages. You can just see the edge of it in the left of picture below.

There were three smaller play houses at the edge of the space. Babykins had fun with these too. He  had no trouble climbing the stairs and negotiating the slide.

Son Number One and the Middle Miss were treated to a spot of face painting. It wasn’t cheap (£3.50) but in the case of Middle Miss’s paint job, very much worth it. I could have done Son Number One’s myself.

There was some gentle entertainment on the camping field each evening. The steel band the first night was particularly good. Food was available in the form of ‘something in a bun’ and there was a mini bar with real ale. It really was quite civilised. There was even a coffee stand in the mornings. It didn’t stop us from cooking a ‘full English’ on Sunday though. We pooled resources so here I am cooking the sausages. Don’t I look fabulous in my flannel PJ’s and wooly hat.

Do you like my camp kitchen? It is a 1980’s original that I pinched from my Mum. I remember taking it on family camping trips when I was younger. It folds up beautifully small.

It’s a shame I couldn’t get the matching gas stove mended.

In hindsight, we should probably have taken less food and ‘eaten out’ more at the facilities on site. So, with that lesson in mind, here are my top tips for family camping.

1. Choose your site carefully. Check here for honest reviews of virtually every camp site in the land. Be aware that sites that often allow basic, back to nature camping with open fires etc. are also often the least well supervised and frequently attract loud, beery groups. This is not the case for all sites but it’s worth bearing in mind. It’s also worth checking out what is available for wet weather. If there is some sheltered activity to take the children to within walking distance so much the better. In the event of rain on packing up day it could make all the difference.

2. Consider camping with friends. We have found that having other children around makes life much easier. Depending on the age of your children, they can sometimes be just that bit more independent when they function as a team. We are very lucky to have been camping with very old friends (and some newish ones) who have children almost exactly the same age and sex as our older two. I honestly don’t think they bickered at all. Having other children around also means you can share toys, games and general mayhem.

3. Don’t go far from home. I suggest an hour and a half maximum travelling distance for your first few trips at least. You don’t want to arrive at a site late at night and then have the bother of setting up, especially with tired children.

4. Take more bedclothes than you think you will need. Stuff extra blankets and duvets into each and every available space. Make sure you have plenty of warmth below you as well as above. Make sure you all have fluffy pyjamas and a hat that can be worn at night. Ideally, take hot water bottles too. I’m not kidding, it gets COLD at night in the UK, especially in this joke of a summer we’re currently experiencing.

5. A dust pan and brush is an essential item. Honestly. Don’t forget bin bags either (I did).

6. You can’t beat a head torch for convenience at night.

7. Take a basic first aid kit and make sure it contains insect repellent and antihistamine cream for bites and stings.

8. Children need shoes that they can easily manage themselves. There will be lots of going in and out of tents and you don’t want them bringing half the field in with them (see note about dustpan and brush above). Crocs are ideal in dry weather and wellies/snowboots are essential whatever the weather. Both of these items do double duty in the event of exploring a stream/rockpool.

9. It’s a good idea to have some food readily available. A picnic is ideal for when you first arrive at a site. I also recommend taking a pre-prepared ‘one pot’ meal for your first evening. We almost always take a bit pot of spaghetti bolognese. Ok, I know, that’s two pots by the time you’ve cooked the pasta but you get the idea.

10. If you are choosing a tent think about play space and cooking space. Our tent has stupid porch that is only half sheltered. In wet and windy conditions it’s pointless. Our friends Outwell tent has a brilliant side tunnel extension that houses all their cooking gear. This leaves masses of space inside. You can compare the two below (the photos are from last year – you can tell, the sun is out). Ours is the green one and you can see their tunnel on the right hand side.

No doubt I could add more top tips but I think the  traditional and alliterative ten is enough. I’ve got my eye on a lovely new camp site not far from here so maybe there’ll be more camping posts later in the (alleged) summer. So for now I’ll just say “Hi-de-Hi Campers…..”.

Mother Nature’s highs and lows.

May is following the pattern set by April.


I’m not going to complain about it too much; we need the rain and I planted seeds recently. But, how is it that Mother Nature knows when the school run is on? You can bet that if it’s going to rain in a day, it will be at 8.40 in the morning or 3.15 in the afternoon. Yesterday was a fine example.

At least Middle Miss’s rain coat and Babykins’ blanket cheered things up.

On the plus side, all this rain is ensuring that the trees can come into leaf. I really don’t think I’ve ever taken as much notice of buds and new leaves as I have this year. My Monday morning walk to Tumble Tots is along a fairly fast road, but to my left, it’s mainly trees and hedgerow. I am often to be found snapping pictures of the leaves and flowers on the way. I posted some of them here. There are always plenty of other pedestrians about and I’m sure they must think I am nuts. I don’t care. You have to stop to smell the roses now and again, or in this case, admire the foliage.

More Sunny Days

So February is gone and March has already brought us some glorious sunny days; thank goodness for that. I was recently reminded of a little piece of writing about February from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Year Book.

“I hate February. Basically, it’s a month longer than I’m prepared to tolerate of bone-chilling, icy winds and strength-sapping seasonal motionlessness.

So if anyone would like to offer me a couple of weeks’ fishing and diving in tropical seas for the last two weeks of February every year for the rest of my life, they could certainly have a small piece of my soul – ideally the piece February has spent 28 days of every year for the last 38 years trying to destroy.”

I’m not sure that I feel like that about February. By then, the snowdrops are starting to bloom and there is some spring promise around.

No, I think November is my worst month.

Anyway, the title of this post was not about dull February, but sunny March, so here are a few cheery March pictures, full of sunshine and brightness.

Swirly lines of crocus appear all over the area around about now.

The sun is still low enough, just after nine o’clock to make some great shadows. This is me taking Babykins to his first visit to Tumble Tots, which was very successful.

That low, bright sun made the yellow lichen on this bark look so bright against the green ivy and blue sky I stopped to take a picture. I suspect passing motorists must have wondered what on earth I was up to. As I moved on and looked back at the spot where I had stopped, I was struck by how the colours were nothing special from the other direction. I actually felt quite lucky to have been walking in that particular direction at that particular time. Having a small child may bring frustrations on a daily basis but it does have it’s benefits. I am able to go out for a walk on a bright sunny day and not be stuck in an office. I have that little bit of time to stop and ‘smell the roses’ (or view the lichen in this case).

On my way home I passed a whole flower bed of these bellis daisys. They are so cute.

More blue skies, I just can’t resist them…..

and this week’s crochet project. Can you tell what it is yet (puts on a Rolf Harris voice)?

Truthfully, I’m not sure myself yet but I enjoyed playing about with the different stitches, increasing and decreasing to make this shape. It may be a decorated egg to hang on our Easter display or it may metamorphosis into a fat chicken.  Perhaps I should write the pattern up when I’ve decided exactly what it’s going to be.

I’d better save that for later because I am due at my daughter’s class in half and hour to help with some face painting. Before then I need to eat lunch and try to do some useful domestic jobs. I’ll be ashamed if the family come home tonight and I haven’t even emptied the dishwasher.