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Month: January 2013

Sights of Sunday

Sights of Sunday

While today wasn’t exactly what I’d call spring like (by the afternoon we hit a mighty -15c), compared to the -40 we had mid week it felt positively balmy!  Along with the glorious sunshine and the crunchy conditions underfoot, it was the perfect day to wrap up and head out. Some of us really needed to burn off some steam…chilly sunday-7676 chilly sunday-7677 chilly sunday-7678

They ran just for the sake of it, bounding across the snow to meet me.  They had been exploring their hideout in the hedge line for a good little while before that, protecting the farm from ninjas and other such dangers.

They weren’t the only ones who enjoyed getting out either, even my old girl Bella, who is really struggling with her arthritis this winter, trotted along with me like old times.

chilly sunday-7673 chilly sunday-7674She no longer pounds along like a race horse, bounding across the snow, but I enjoyed her company as an old friend.  I don’t know how many more walks like this we have ahead of us, so I enjoy her implacable presence and her steady pace.

Of course there are younger members of our family who have no trouble making the most of the wintry conditions.

chilly sunday-7693 chilly sunday-7682 chilly sunday-7688After the bitterly cold week we’ve had the pond was frozen solid, certainly solid enough for some skidding fun!  Watching them zip about, feeling free and alive, brought many smiles and laughs from us all.

It’s been a busy weekend but also a lovely one, I hope it heralds a good week ahead.

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There is beauty in embracing the reality that things kind of suck.  There is beauty in the abandonment of self, the crashing aside of the props of ego and the delicious decline into unmitigated annoyance, grumpiness and self pity.  The cascade of freedom that unfurls within as we allow ourselves to cry “But this is rubbish!”

I try to look for the positive, don’t we all?  But I have to say I loathe January.  Now I don’t know anyone who says “Oh I love it, frostbite is my favourite!” but I really, really loathe it.  I hated it when I lived in England and all I had to contend with was sleet and freezing fog, here in Canadaland, January really means business.  As in I’ll freeze your face right off before you even get in the car and then I’ll get to work on your toes.  It’s icy out there people.

And it’s been icy for a while.  We’ve been cooped up for a while.  And while I recognise that there is the possibility of doing some healthy outdoor activity on things strapped to my feet, I’d like to remind anyone reading that I’m British.  I am uncoordinated, afraid of falling and like the skin on my face to remain attached to my face.

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Yes I am not keen on January all told, it’s cold, everyone is skint and there really isn’t much to look forward to until, oh, March.  And while I can marvel at the beautiful blue sky on a searingly cold day, or admire the patterns of ice that decorate the barren outdoor landscape, I would be less than honest if I didn’t say I’m really waiting for Spring.

Perhaps in years to come we’ll all be strapping on skis (or whatever other designed for death instrument is popular at the time) or zooming off to skate on frozen lakes and rinks, but not this year.  This year I have two still young children, lots to do and no energy to do it with.  Frankly I’d rather just go to bed and wake up in about 6 weeks time.  But I suspect the laundry may, by then, have evolved into an ecological disaster which would destroy not only the human race but all life on an atomic level.  Not good.

I wish I could say that I’m facing this adversity with grace, but I would be lying.  Yet I find myself unrepentant.  I feel that this level of annoyance is almost glorious in it’s own perverse way.  While I don’t enjoy yelling such sentiments as “clean it up yourself I’ve had enough!” at my children, I’m enjoying a certain feeling of cleansing from the admission of having enough.

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Because that is the truth of it.  No matter how much we love our life, or children, or haircut, life can be a big fat pain in the bottom.  Sometimes our kids just drive us completely. up. the. wall.  No matter how we love them and want to hold them close there are times when we consider that ebay really should have a ‘child’ section.  Sometimes, we don’t want to be treated like indentured slaves and do you know what?  We are right.

I love my children but I sometimes forget that my life is not just about serving them, that I am entitled to some moments of pleasure or creativity or not cleaning up the same damn thing that I cleaned up 5 minutes ago and yes actually I did tell you to do it but you just didn’t listen.  We all know that everyone has those days and moments but somehow it’s easier to gloss over them and focus on the shiny bits, the easy bits, the bits that will make other people think we have a clue.  Well I’m not sure that is healthy.

The truth is that sometimes being well and truly fed up can be a cleansing and healthy process, it makes us examine what is working and what isn’t, it can help us move through a depressing low and emerge into something new.  Being angry can help us get motivated and moving, can help us shift into a new and healthier pattern, can be the herald of useful change.

I know we are all supposed to wheel around in some kind of zen like state with cherry blossoms tied to our ears but that isn’t life so let’s just forget it shall we?  Today at our science co-op I was able to share my frustrations with my friends and, guess what?  They had the same ones!  Instead of glossing over it we are honest and share the downs as well as the ups.  We obviously love our children (our actions show our dedication) but that doesn’t make it sunlight and roses all the time.

So I feel ok about being a bit grumpy and fed up, you really can’t enjoy every aspect of life and stay sane.  There are things I love and things I just plain hate and I feel dishonest if I don’t articulate at least a little of my frustration.  So there it is, no great manifesto or wise words, just a bit of a rant and a bit of a glimpse of life right now.  And tomorrow it will be different, I’ll have moved on and the day will pan out, for good or bad, in a different way from how I imagined.

Not every moment is joyful or fun or something to be grateful for, not every moment can be a ‘learning opportunity’, but we can live fully and with honesty about the world as we see it.  I don’t know about you, but when I ‘give myself permission’ to feel negative emotions, to embrace the truth of it and be ok with being a bit of a misery sometimes, I leave room for something new to come in.  Catharsis if you will.



So let’s raise a hot and steaming cup of tea to getting through January and out the other side and to those unexpected moments that are so warm, you really do forget that it’s bloody cold outside.




On Friday we made a start on one of Huwyl’s christmas presents, a volcano making kit.  He mixed the plaster and poured it into the mould and then waited (sort of) patiently for it to set.  Next he painted it, graciously allowing his little brother some creative input, and allowed that to dry.  I think it was a longer process than he’d originally imagined.

volcano-7601 volcano-7606 volcano-7608 volcano-7609 volcano-7611 volcano-7616Neirin had his own little experiment tray to play with, water, baking soda and some drops of food colouring kept him entertained for quite a while!  When it came to the big explosion we exchanged the water for vinegar and fun was had by all.

volcano-7637 volcano-7643 volcano-7642 volcano-7641 volcano-7639I love how serious Neirin is when he works on things, his little frown and teeny pout are so cute.  The boys had a blast working on their ‘science’ this morning, wearing their Darth Vader costumes that Huwyl made for them yesterday.  He’s been working on a Star Wars project for a while now and that was the culminating task he’d set himself.  I thought the black made them look like little alchemists!

After several rounds of volcano eruptions we watched a couple of videos, made some drawings and then made an explosively themed snack for ourselves…popcorn!

A Hot Cup of Tea

A Hot Cup of Tea

As any busy person knows a hot drink is a luxury.  The chance to pause, to make the drink, to wait for it to hit that perfect drinking temperature and then the time it takes to savour and enjoy.  In the lives of many this can be out of reach.

Yet we all know that the difference between a good day and a bad day is a series of moments.  When we reflect on how a day went, what it felt like, whether it was good or bad can be differentiated by the smallest of details.  We say to ourselves ‘everything went wrong today’ but really we mean two things went wrong but it shaded the lens of our perception, it changed how we saw all the other moments.

I’m learning, bit by bit, what it is that makes a day work for me.  I set the tone for our family, for our school days, so this knowledge is powerful and helps me plan our weeks and days.  I’ve learned that Monday’s are usually a good day, I’ve got a bit more energy after spending a weekend with my beloved and I’m up for the tasks of the day.  This is a day for productivity, for getting things done.

Tuesday by comparison is a day I find hard, I am often scratchy and feeling the effects of a busy Monday.  Is it only Tuesday? I think to myself.  Luckily a friend of mine has started running a science co-op on a Tuesday, so it becomes about socialising, learning, connecting; a much better rhythm for me.  These little quirks and idiosyncrasies are part of what makes up my feelings about life.  Did I have a bad day or is this just a day I struggle with?  How can I get around that?   When you are your own boss and your children’s parent/teacher/nurse etc this knowledge affects us all.

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Another thing I have learned is that I need a bit of a break after a busy morning.  We haven’t had naptime in our family for going on 3 years but I do like some separation after lunch.  I send the boys upstairs for ‘quiet time’ (they are often not so quiet) which gives me a chance to eat my lunch in peace and enjoy a cup of tea and treat after lunch.

This feeling of retreat, of quiet, of heading into the second part of the day a little more fortified, a little more refreshed is important to me.  It is the afternoon hours that find me slumping in energy and enthusiasm, so I need to find some inner resources to make that slump as graceful as possible.  In this month of cold and inside time that is translating to lots and lots of stories on the sofa, some knitting, some project time.  It’s a nice balance that we are easing into, that will be our rhythm until the spring truly comes.

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Today I am sitting in the study, looking out at the grey layers of clouds that sit heavily above us.  The landscape is confused by the strange thaw we are experiencing, paths of grass poke through the slushy snow; but we all know that the winter is still here, that it will be back soon enough.  So I sip my cup of hot peppermint tea, sweetened by a dab of our own perfect honey; I snack on a home made energy bar, enjoying the way the two tastes merge in my mouth.

Days have their ups, and downs, but one thing I can rely on is the magical properties of a nice cup of tea.  I am English after all.


Home Made Energy Bar

1 cup Raw Almonds (You can also use Cashews)

1-2 large tblespns of Sunflower Seeds

1-2 large tblespns of Pumpkin Seeds

1/2 tblespn of Chia Seeds (I keep mine in the freezer as a bag goes a very long way)

1 cup of Medjool Dates without the pits

1 teaspoon of Vanilla Essence

1 tblespn of Coconut Oil

1 tblespn of Raw Honey

1 tblespn of Nut Butter

2-4 tblespns of Dark Chocolate drops – add to your own taste.  These are optional but a very good addition!

First add nuts and seeds to your food processor and grind until they are a meal (gravelly texture), add the dates one at a time.  As the dates are processed in the mixture will become stickier, if it is still very dry add a couple more dates.

Then add the ‘wet’ ingredients one at a time .  Pulse in the chocolate drops right at the end just to mix them in.  Spread mixture into an 8 x 8 pan, at this point I cut the mix into square shapes before popping in the freezer to set.

Eat with a hot cup of tea.



A thaw has arrived, bringing with it the illusion of spring and melting.  The crunchy, powdered flakes of snow have become slick, slippery ice that tricks our feet and trips us as we tumble into the warming sun.

We turn our faces to the beaming light, rejoicing in the lack of pinching and biting in the winter air.  But the ice beneath makes everything seem a little treacherous, a little unsure.

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As I watched the chickens tuck into their treats of carrots and apple mush, I tore apart a hay bale to cover the slippery, shining pathways that our feet have made through the snow.  From our house to theirs we trudge each day, stamping down the fluffy coating that rain and sun have made hard and smooth.  The hay tears apart easily, releasing its bound shape and settling on the white ground, enhancing the illusion that spring has arrived.

The brown and green path cuts through the endless white and blue of snow and winter shadow.  It feels as though it sprung up from beneath, like a goddess of spring walked that way and brought life back to the earth with her magical toes.  The robust scent of summer blows up from the torn bale, the grass releasing its dusty fragrance and its memories.  I am transported to the field where it was cut, the sunset of that day and the gentle warmth of a dying summer evening.


The chickens watch my work with more than usual disapproval.  Their judgmental gaze amuses me as I move carefully around, trying to avoid the trap of becoming over confident and slipping.  I am not so young that I enjoy the sensation of suspension and the crash down, I’m fearful of it and so I go gently.  They look around the edge of their canopy and regard me with dinosaur eyes; the eyes of creatures far removed yet comfortingly domestic.

I walk to the house with surer footing, I turn back and watch the chickens investigate the path.  Like me they are freer outside, the warming sun inviting them to venture out beyond the confines of their shelter.  They walk along the path a little, enjoying the lack of icy pinch on their feet, they fluff and cluck their approval.  I laugh and feel pleased with myself, my plan has come to fruition and surprised them out of their grim, old lady frame of mind.


Suddenly the longing for spring is overwhelming in me, I feel it in my stomach and ache for the green that is momentarily resurrected in the cast down hay.  The longing hits my chest, contracting my heart with the desire to run my hand across soft green blades, to be assured the miracle will return this year as it has every other year.

I cast off the stillness and go about my work, throwing ice and water away on a shovel, listening to the patter of the dripping water returning to the ground.  But the longing for spring remains, it is always there a little.



So 2013 has officially dawned.  Stephen has gone back to work (after prising the boys and, well, me off his legs) and our school has begun again.  The house is oddly quiet and there is a big man shaped empty space that I’m trying not to think about too much or blubbing will commence.

Are there people who don’t feel sad when their beloved departs back to work after a holiday?  Are there people who think ‘phew, I’m glad to see the back of you’?  I can’t really imagine that there are.  I am definitely not someone who ‘enjoys my space’, I like the connection, the feeling of company that we had all through the holidays.  Sharing each day, each hour together even if we are doing our own thing, separate but together.

Anyhoo, I shouldn’t wax too lyrical or I’ll get myself all sad and today really is a beautiful day.  After a day of snow yesterday the world is even softer and fluffier than it was; I am thankful for the 2 hours of snow blowing and shovelling that Stephen did yesterday to clear the driveway and make paths from the house to the chickens.

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I think we’ve had more snow in December than we had the whole of last winter.  The piles are everywhere and the landscape has the feeling of being covered by a massive, fluffy duvet.  This morning dawned cold and clear, with a crescent moon hanging bright in the sky, preceding the golden dawning of the sun, finally hitting the trees in the forest as we all launched into a breakfast of oat pancakes with butter and maple syrup.

Every time the snow falls I feel a bit like I’m relearning this place we live.  It is so familiar and yet there are little changes everywhere.  Some things (such as piles of scrap left over from the previous owners) I am glad to see retreating others, like the pond, slip quietly from sight to return again in spring.  I notice the pile of snow on top of the chicken bungalow getting higher and higher, it is at least 2 1/2 feet now, I’m curious to see how big it will get.

Each time Stephen ploughs the drive and pathways he pushes a bunch of snow on top of the toboggan run he made over Christmas.  Beneath the snow are hay bales that the boys have played on since the summer, now they are covered in snow and are creating new entertainment.  They are much more fearless than I am, they slide and skid without worry and I envy them a little.  I’ve never enjoyed that feeling of moving too fast, out of control.  But I love to watch them, alight and alive, full of excitement each time.

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After the time inside, the cosy shelter of our family and home over the Christmas season, I feel like I am emerging again.  I have no plans to rush, I want nothing more than to continue the gentle pace of life we enjoyed over the holidays.  I’m happier than ever to keep the busy, concrete world at bay as much as I can.  Instead I’m planning little excursions, to the library, to the feed and seed and out on our own land.

Each day is a discovery, each day we wake up new.

In Progress

In Progress

I wish I could say that I could keep my kitchen looking like this all of the time, but that would be a very big lie.  As in, it could be seen from space due to it’s inordinate massivenessosity.  That’s pretty big.

Nope, most of the time the surfaces are covered in some kind of food in progress, either at the beginning or the end of the cooking/eating process.  Honestly, that’s the way I like it.

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I will freely admit, here and to the world, that I find making pastry really stressful.  I nearly cry every. single. time.  But, when it is done I feel so incredibly pleased with myself that it is worth it.  This is the first time I made pastry with our home grown, home rendered lard so it feels extra achievy.  Yes that’s a word.

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As well as knocking up some pastry I’m on a mission to use LOTS of eggs over the weekend.  We have a few, um, dozen that sort of, well, got frozen in the garage and so now are only good for baking.  Any egg laden recipes that you have up your sleeve please feel free to share!

I’ve used a dozen making two quiches (one with cranberry cheese that I’m particularly looking forward to) and I’m thinking a couple of flourless chocolate cakes and some meringues sound like a good idea too.  Sandwiched together with jam and whipped cream…just me and them, snuggled up together…sorry what was I saying?

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Did your Mum make jam tarts with pastry offcuts?  Mine always did, doing anything else would, I think, lead to crushing disappointment.  These ones seem extra nice as they are made with the strawberry jam I made this summer, a taste of sunshine while we look out at the white and black landscape outside.

For quality control purposes I have inhaled sampled an undisclosed number of jam tarts and can report that the pastry is extremely flaky and delicious, soft on the tongue cupping perfectly the sweet but tart jam.  Lard and strawberry jam are the perfect partners; definitely worth the mess.

Hasselhoff and the Chicken Conservatory

Hasselhoff and the Chicken Conservatory

It being New Years Eve today, naturally the missus and I decided to spend some quality time with the chickens. These ladies have been popping out eggs all year and with the weather turning Canadian-nasty over the last couple of weeks, they’ve been packed in tighter than Germans at a Hasslehoff concert.

We’ve been employing the deep litter technique for their bedding which sounds like Middlesbrough Council’s approach to inner-city street cleaning but is in fact a bona-fide approach for keeping the coop clean. It worked pretty well through the summer and autumn but unfortunately isn’t so great for the winter. Having the girls indoors every day means it all gets rather messy. Like with the Belgians, we tried to explain the concept of toilets, or even just using a single corner of the coop for their Number 1s and 2s. Alas, like the Belgians, they just don’t seem to be able to grasp it.

Suffice to say the resulting frozen mat isn’t something we want our chickens on and it had to come out. So, we spent the last three hours digging and cleaning the coop from top to bottom for the Ladies What Lay. When the fresh shavings were in and smelling better than a bottle of Kouros, we turned our attention to the issue of outside time. It’s no surprise that when the ambient temperature is -20 Celsius, snow is falling and the wind is blowing hard enough to scour the freckles off your face, the Ladies don’t want to be outside. However, if we’re to avoid the need to change their bedding every few days, the Ladies have to venture out.

The inspiration for a solution came yet again from our youth. Emma and I have been together for nearly 18 years and have been engaged for the last 13 of them. We did originally intend to actually get married, sort of. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a small affair quickly got out of hand and the prospect of hundreds of barely-recognisable relatives greedily munching and drinking away our life savings was more than we could bare. Instead, we spent our money on a conservatory for our home.

For those of you not familiar with a conservatory, it’s a glass box added to your house in which the British like to sit and complain about the heat in the summer and how they can no longer feel their testicles / toes / other extremity of your choice in the winter.


Ours was a bloody nice conservatory mind you. It had a knee-high wall, top-end uPVC windows and vertical blinds to conceal the view of our garden’s brick wall. Granted, like all conservatories it was colder in the winter months than a 5p Mr Freeze and we had to pay the bloody Duke of Northumberland a couple hundred quid for his permission to build it (when the revolution comes, I’m getting that back), but it was ours and we didn’t have to worry about the bar bill or who we had offended by not inviting them to the grand opening.

Little did we know at the time that a mere twelve years later we’d be hip-deep in snow and chicken shit building another conservatory out of 2x2x8 lumber and 6mil clear poly. Life, ha, it’s a laugh eh?

Anyway, we cantilevered out the 2x2s from the gable side of the coop, used concrete blocks to support the ends and draped over the poly to create a prism of power. I applied way too many staples because once you start with a staple gun it’s almost impossible to stop, so the result isn’t the most aesthetically stunning home improvement. However, I’m fairly confident that we just built the world’s first Chicken Conservatory. I like to imagine they’ll be organizing concerts or cocktail parties under the luxuriously protective 6mil poly, perhaps having a soiree or two and raising a glass of Chateau Neuf-du-Pape to the Big House. Or maybe, like the Brits, they’ll just sit around and complain about a loss of feeling in their toes and how they’d have preferred it to be a little bigger. Whatever my avian Ladies decide on, as long as they do their business outside I’m a happy farmer.

Hope you all have a wonderful 2013.