Wednesday, 29 December 2010

'Twas the night before Christmas

It was Christmas Eve, about 7pm. All was ready. We had been to the pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk at the Torch Theatre, we'd laughed and we'd found that little spark of Christmas magic.

We had sprinkled sparkly reindeer food on the driveway to show Santa where to land. We had even added extra peanuts as it was extra cold and there was snow on the ground. We had set up at tray for Santa with a mince pie, carrots for the reindeer and a tot of brandy to keep out the cold. H8 and R7 had written their thank you notes and added some home made fudge to the plate of treats too.

We were logging on to the internet to find the NORAD site and track Santa's progress around the globe. He was busy delivering presents in Pakistan.

There was a sound at the door, boots stamping off snow. Santa? No, Daddy.

"Girls, go in the dining room with Mummy," he called hefting a large box through the door. We all fled back into the dining room where the computer showed Santa had moved on to Kurdistan or Kazakhstan or Astrakhan or somewhere.

Brian came in with the big box, placed it on the floor and said: "I've brought you a little visitor."

We peered in. The contents of the box peered back.

"Awww," we said.

He's a Jack Schnauzer, or in other words, his mum was a Jack Russell and his dad was a miniature Schnauzer. We have called him Scamp because he is one.

I have to admit when I first saw the box I thought it was new hens as we have a new coop. Hens would have been less trouble. I am very much in the 'a dog is for life not for Christmas' camp and Brian, quite rightly, thought I would be furious. I was, but only a little. It was an accident of timing and not Scamp's fault that he arrived on this planet eight weeks before the festive season. He is the right puppy at possibly the wrong time but that's easy to forgive.

That's not his present.

He's a total live wire. The life and soul of the party. Until he's tired.

We are getting used to him and he's getting used to us. He likes Uncle Mido, our big dog, but Mido's a bit bouncy for such a little pup so mostly they're together when Mido's in his dog pen and Scamp is annoying him from outside it. It is like having a baby again, or possibly a toddler boy. He's quite destructive, into everything all the time and not yet sleeping through the night. He isn't potty trained yet either and has the charming habit, while I'm sitting at the computer writing this, of gnawing on my new slippers. He's a Scamp!

Monday, 20 December 2010


Me: "It's really cold out there R7 do you need a cardigan?"

R7: "No."

Me: "Are you sure? Because it's icy cold and snowing."

R7: "Positive, positive, positive, positive, positive."

Me: "I'll just get you a cardigan and then you can put it into your bag and if you DO get cold then you can put it on."

R7: "Okay Mum."

This was this morning before school which is a Christmas party and non-uniform day. R7 has a pretty top that she got with her birthday vouchers. She doesn't want to spoil it with a cardigan. I had already sent her upstairs for a vest. She has a chesty cough and isn't eating very well since she had The Bug last week. I'm fussing.

It reminds me of Claire Rayner who said: "A cardigan is what a child wears when its mother feels the cold."

Wise words indeed for a wise woman who sadly died in October. She wished her last words to be: "Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I'll come back and bloody haunt him."

I wonder what she would think of this blog post by Chris Stovell about her mother's recent experience of NHS treatment (please read it if you haven't already).

David Cameron had better hurry up and fix the NHS. I should think by now that Mrs Rayner has rounded up a whole army of potential haunters should he fail.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Gallery: Sparkle

This week's theme for The Gallery at Sticky Fingers is sparkle. I thought I'd show you the fused glass Christmas decoration I made on Sunday. A bit of hand made bling for my tree.

Click here to go and have a look at the other entries in this week's Gallery.

Monday, 13 December 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

It's got to that time of year when the weeks rush past as if just weekends and the weekends are so busy they're like weeks.

A brief resume.

The bluebells arrived (pictured). Four chatty ladies with fluffy blue (ish) feathers to fill Mum's new hen house with cackles and squawks and big brown eggs.

Then H8 had a tummy bug, the fast and furious sort which woke all of us up at 1am on Saturday and provided more cleaning and laundry duties than I would wish for the wee small hours. She was ill for the rest of the night and Brian manfully offered to stay up with her so at least one of us could get some sleep. At 3am the battery went in the smoke alarm and between tending to H8 he fetched the clanky metal ladder, climbed to the highest point of the house and fixed it. R7 and I slept through it all.

On Saturday morning R7 and I went off to a coffee morning in aid of St Meilyr's Church, Llysyfran, and to launch its new website built by Lindsay who hosted the event in her lovely home with her partner Jon and various members of their wider family.

In the afternoon R7 and I met up with Lins again and her wider family at Linda Norris's gallery for a glass Christmas decoration making workshop. Linda is an incredibly talented artist and this workshop was for making pretty things from fused glass which turned out to be easy, relaxing and highly addictive. We're picking up the results on Wednesday when H8 will get her turn as she missed it on Saturday.

When R7 and I got home Brian had finished the ironing I've been putting off for a month (ahem, at least) and he had done the rest of the week's washing too, which was all dried, folded and put away. He had vacuumed the house, fed and watered all of the animals and then cooked dinner. I think I'll keep him.

Sunday's long run is usually just me and my iPod but this time I was joined by Lins' cousin Tracy and her daughter Louise. Tracy is has run marathons (London, New Zealand) and has a sub-two hour half marathon PB. Louise, like me, has run the Cardiff half, so I was in good company. It was very icy, particularly on the highest part of the route which led me to compare us to Bambi on ice. Tracy, however, was referencing the skating hippos from Fantasia. Hmm. They are two lovely people and it was terrific fun despite the conditions. It really made me think that I must find myself some regular training companions.

In the afternoon, H8 being much recovered, we went to Haverfordwest to retrieve R7's favourite hat from M&S lost property and buy a Christmas tree. Bri muttered a bit about the cost of the tree (five feet of glorious Nordmann fir) but he stopped at the sight of the girls skipping happily ahead singing: "We've got the Christmas tree" over and over in happy little voices.

We then went into Pets R Us (as I prefer to call it) and cooed over the new batch of baby guinea pigs. We're all a bit besotted with GPs (I used to breed and show them). Unfortunately we haven't the room for more or we'd have lots (I once had 28) and we can't (at the moment) afford a bigger GP house. Although I did check with our two boy GPs when we got home and they said they could find room for a couple of lady pigs. Naughty boys. Maybe one day...

That really was only a weekend...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Gallery: White

In a week where everywhere has snow except here, white, the subject of this week's Gallery at Tara's Sticky Fingers blog, was a difficult one. Yes we've got frost but not the wall to wall white some places are subject to.

Instead I give you a wave crashing on to Chesil Beach in July.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A little bit of Christmas magic

My two have been a little unenthusiastic about writing to Santa this year. In fact they were getting me quite worried with their reticence.

"We trust Santa to get us some nice surprises," said H8 with heavy emphasis on the 'trust' bit. Hmm.

R7 accompanied her sister with an enigmatic smile.

Then yesterday two jolly envelopes arrived with the postman (stoically on foot as our driveway still resembles the Cresta run), one for each girl, postmarked Lapland. They were intrigued.

In it Santa told them he had lovely surprises for them and their friends, who were named, and that he knew about our chimney and was looking forward to whooshing down it on Christmas Eve.

"How does Santa know about my best friend?" said R7 wide-eyed. Best friends are quite changeable at this age and Santa knew the current favourite.

I am definitely coming to your house on Christmas Eve, wrote Santa in H8's letter, is there something you would like me to bring for you? Now let's see, you have a nice wide chimney so I can whoosh down into the fireplace without getting stuck.

H8 was very impressed indeed with that. We have an enormous Cimne Fawr. So that's how he's been getting in all these years.

You'll have a lovely surprise on Christmas Day, he added in R7's letter. When children make a special Christmas wish the wind brings their wishes all the way to the North Pole and whispers those wishes in my ear.

They were quietly thrilled with that. We always put their letters to Santa in the wood burner and send them to the North Pole using the medium of fire, sending the words on the wind as smoke. Obviously our method of communication works.

The got out paper and pens and wrote letters back to Santa.

Thank you for all of my presents over the years, wrote H8.

How did you know about my best friend? asked R7 (who still can't get her head round that one.)

So through the medium of the internet I would just like to record a colossal Christmas-sparkly thank you to Santa (and to his little helper) for a lovely bit of Christmas magic.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

In which I am freaked out by an armpit

I'm mostly quite a strong-stomached person but there are a couple of things that freak me out.

This is one:

The offending bit is three seconds in. The people armpit. It makes me feel sick.

Even the Duracell bunnies freak me out to in this ad and I know we're heading for the battery advertising time of year so I'm bracing myself for a new bunny onslaught.

Is it just me? I think it's the mass of waving pink things. Ugh.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Gallery: Celebration

I'm late with this week's Gallery again. The theme was celebration and we had a celebration of our own to do - R6's seventh birthday.

I considered pictures of that - kids, balloons and cake - but decided against it. The photograph below makes me think of celebration. It was taken on September 1st 2008 - the last day of the school holidays. We had just endured six weeks of rainy summer holidays and finally - finally - out came the sun and we went to the beach.

What you have is H8 - then aged six - flinging herself into the sea in one glorious celebratory splash.

As an aside, this was R's birthday cake from yesterday's celebration:

I can't remember how many horse-shaped cakes I have made now - at least four. This is a chocolate cake with chocolate fudge icing and marzipan flowers. By the time the girls move on from ponies to boys I might be in the realms of life-like equine sculpture in the medium of fudge - or possibly not...

Monday, 29 November 2010

The snow? All my fault. Sorry.

I am really sorry and I most humbly apologise but I think all this snow may be my fault. You see a week or two ago R6 was looking forward to her birthday which is on Thursday.

"Why does it never snow on my birthday?" she asked looking grumpy.

"I'm sorry R6," I said. "It just never does."

"I want it to snow on my birthday."

"I'm sure you do darling, but don't get your hopes up because it won't. It just doesn't. It snows on H8's birthday (February) and Daddy's birthday (also February) but never yours, or mine (August) for that matter."

R6 was not impressed.

We reminisced for a while about H8's sixth birthday when we took Hnewly6, R4 and H's friend G6 to a soft play centre in Cardigan. It was a little snowy when we left and we spent a few happy hours eating fish and chips, playing (the kids) and drinking coffee (B and I) while my mobile phone rang impotently in my bag with Mum trying to warn me that there was a blizzard on the Preselis. When we came out the roads were virtually impassable and we had to take the low road home at a crawl. Being stuck on a road in your car as an adult is not fun, add your children and somebody else's to the mix and it becomes doubly stressful. The hour and three quarters of an hour we took to do a stretch of road that normally took 15 minutes was the longest of my life.

But no, it was never going to snow on R6's seventh birthday. I was pretty sure of that when she asked me two weeks ago.

Actually it might.

Actually it already has.

It isn't R6's birthday until Thursday but she's more than satisfied with the snowfall we had on Friday which meant her school closed at lunchtime. It may have been just under a week early but as far as R6 is concerned it is more than enough. Especially as it has frozen solid and shows no sign of moving on but isn't thick enough to prevent her friends coming to her party.

Me and my big mouth. This is the first snow this early for 17 years. It never used to snow that much here. We've been here now for 25 years and only for the last few years has it snowed with much significance. I've now bought us all skiwear to cope with the annual onslaught of the white stuff, we've been snowed in at least once each winter for the past two years and the 4x4 we bought seems wholly justified.

We did our annual trip to St Fagans Museum of Welsh Life near Cardiff on Sunday for a present swap and lunch with B's Mum, sister L and her partner JB. It always rains. This year there was snow on the ground and it was picturesque in a Victorian Christmas card fashion. Of course I didn't take my camera because I'm so used to running from house to house in the rain that there's never been chance to take pictures. It was cold but it was lovely which is an apt description for our current state of weather: Cold but lovely.

Now you know I said it will never snow on MY birthday...

Friday, 26 November 2010

And so it snowed (tiddly pom)

This was the view from my back doorstep this morning. A little overnight snowed had iced everything up rather prettily into a Christmas card view. All day it snowed and sleeted. School gave up at 12.30pm and sent the pupils home after they had eaten their lunch. It's now freezing. Who knows what we'll wake up to tomorrow.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Gallery week 36: Black and white

This week's theme for The Gallery is black and white.

These are my girls on Chesil Beach in July.

A book for a cook

I had a lovely surprise on Monday. A delivery man arrived with an Amazon package for me. Amazon parcels are a bit Maria von Trapp - brown paper packages - and there's always something good within.

Monday's was no exception - a copy of Nigella's new book Kitchen: Recipes from the heart of the home.

It was a present from the lovely people at Appliances Online because I commented on Josie of Sleep is for the Weak's blog about them giving her a hob - a lovely Smeg to be precise - at the very time she needed one most.

Others have been the lucky recipients of Appliance Online's generosity too - and I'm the latest lucky blogger. I don't need a hob though as I already have a gorgeous all singing all dancing one. (Famously, when it boiled down to a decision whether to have a new kitchen or a new cooker - I plumped for the cooker and made do with the kitchen.) But Appliance Online thought - quite correctly - that the keys to my heart lie in the cookery book section.

I love cookery books but I (almost) never buy them for myself. To me they are like boxes of chocolates - a lovely extravagance best saved for birthdays and Christmas. In fact Christmas would not be the same without a new cook book to settle down with so I've already ordered this year's one from my husband. My family has been known to complain too when they ask for present ideas and are given a list which consists exclusively of cookery books. In fact there have been more complaints as I've had my head stuck in Kitchen for the last two days solid. I love it. It's stuffed full of great recipes (including several I'm making for R's 7th birthday next week and some yummy cakes for the Christmas fair next weekend). And there's the famous spaghetti with Marmite recipe which is divine. Don't knock it until you've tried it (unless you hate Marmite of course).

As for Applicances Online they've got a great website which is worth checking out (I've been looking at chest freezers to store garden produce) and you can follow them on Twitter.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Oh Dell, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways…

I love my Dell computer. It’s my contact with the outside world, a conduit to anyone, anywhere at anytime. I do my shopping on it, write my e-mails on it, I blog and Facebook and Tweet on it. I’ve written three fledgling novels on it during Nanowrimos and a fourth too.

But why Dell and why do I love it so? Well I began with another brand and it was okay. I used Amstrads and Apple Macs at work and at home I wanted a PC mostly to write on and anything would do really. But then my children came along and our needs changed. We needed something tough and clever. Something that could withstand its keyboard being bashed by baby fists. I happened to visit our local school and was impressed by the array of smart Dells. I decided that to withstand that sort of daily abuse they must be tough so I ordered one.

I fell in love with my Dell immediately. It was fast, it was sleek, it was good looking. We used it for CBeebies, for writing, drawing, photo and video storage. It took all the punches thrown at it by ham-fisted babies and then growing toddlers and came back for more.

Then it got hit by lightning. We couldn’t kill it, but Mother Nature it seemed could.

Of course we replaced it with a Dell which has twice the memory and a lovely big screen. My children compete to use it. They’ve now moved on to CBBC, Moshi Monsters and Skype. They need it for homework and for listening to music and watching videos. The screen’s big enough for catch-up TV and movies too, so it acts like a second TV. We don’t hide it away, it sits in the corner of the dining room sometimes showing slide shows of our pictures or quietly playing music. In short, we wouldn’t be without it.

But now I have seen one of these.  This does so much more than my current Dell. It’s got WiFi, an HD widescreen, DVD drive and can connect to TV tuners, cable and satellite boxes and gaming consoles. Its glamorous rather than merely smart and hasn’t got a chunky CPU box. Everything is – as its name suggests - All-in-One. That’s not all. You can touch its screen and that pairs with a thing they call Stage which means you can quickly get to your favourite music, photos and videos. For more details watch this video.

I have to admit I’m more than a little bit in lust with the All-in-One.

So what’s a girl to do?

I know!

Dear Santa, I've been a really good girl...
Further information can be found here
the youtube Video

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Friday, 19 November 2010

It's list time again

I’m a bit of a list maker. I’m a great believer in writing things down so they don’t get forgotten and crossing things off once they have been done.

Take this week’s list for example. Number two on it was ‘clear up the kitchen’.  Meaning ‘don’t stop at unloading the dishwasher, do the rest too!’

There were 18 items on the list. I have crossed off 10 of them. ‘Do the ironing’ is a perennial that gets transferred from list to list. If I wrote ‘hide the ironing’ it would be closer to the truth (and I could cross it off!) One of the more perplexing entries just says ‘send e-mail’ but not  to whom or what about so that one’s pretty useless.

This time of year, however, the lists multiply. I now have one for Christmas presents and another for R’s 7th birthday party in a fortnight’s time. I have a list for vital things I mustn’t forget, like picking mum up from the station on Tuesday or renewing the car insurance for both cars.

Then there’s the Christmas card list, the things to do in the garden list and the list written by my mother to remind me how to look after her animals while she’s away. Perhaps the latter proves that the making of lists is an inherited trait…

Not forgetting, of course, the list of DIY projects for my OH and the shopping list I wrote for him of  things to get from Tesco on his way home from work today, and its sister list of ideas for the food we might be going to eat over the weekend.

I have even got a neat little list, on the back of an old envelope, helpfully written by OH with ideas for his birthday which is useful but I’ve got to keep that list safe until the end of next February.

Actually, with so many lists, I can see a time soon when I’m going to need a list of my lists… but perhaps that would be a list too far.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Not quite there yet...

You may remember in a recent post I reported on the finding of a bag of SLR 35mm film cameras. Well I've been out and taken a few pictures with the Canon T70, waited impatiently for them to be developed (nearly eight quid!) and this fennel shot is the best. Quite clearly I need to relearn my focussing techniques (or stick to the auto-focus EON). There's a lot to remember with an SLR and it's strange to go back after years of point and shoot compact digital photography. The photographs have a different quality to digital - although this film went out of date in 2006 so that might have some bearing on the quality. My compact couldn't take this shot even in perfect conditions. I'm not sure I'm going to do much of this a eight quid a throw though!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

A tale of two beaches

Standing in our living room this morning with the November sun beaming down outside we decided, the five of us, that today would be a good day to be outdoors.

Hang on... the five of us? There's only four of us normally - the fifth was a small vole or shrew scuttling about by our feet.

On Monday while watching Spooks I had sensed that I was not alone but dismissed it as tension caused by watching the season finale. Scary things have happened before while I watched Spooks...

Our tiny visitor decided to pop out just as the picnic and wellies were packed and we were about to head out of the door. We've had a this before and learned that it would not go into a live trap. What we have to do is open the door and watch it leave which it did, eventually, after whizzing around the edge of the living room, taking a brief trip into the dining room and finally, heaving itself over the threshold.

We drove to West Dale beach which is the home of great driftwood. Today pickings were lean (we espied fellow beach combers lugging armfuls home ahead of us) but we managed a few armfuls of choice pieces.

Down the steps to the beach.

A heart of stone.

Skokholm island in the distance.
 Full of driftwood and picnic we hopped back into the car and drove further around the peninsula to Marloes sands, a beautiful crescent of golden sand with some impressive geology.

Rows of toothy rocks. You wouldn't want to wreck your ship on these.

The sun is hidden by growing clouds and the sea is showing its fury.

Here comes the rain!
Of course it rained at the point where we were furthest from the car. The wind drove it up the backs of our coats as we ran back ensuring we all had wet knickers when we reached dry safety. Brian, of course, had yet another armful of driftwood. Taking him to the beach is sometimes like taking a Labrador. He arrives back wet and panting with the biggest stick he can find.

Today's full tally of wildlife:
  • One common shrew
  • A barn owl
  • Two buzzards
  • One unidentified raptor
  • Two oystercatchers
  • A small bird that fluttered its wings and said 'peep peep' (sorry, there are gaps in my ornithological education.)

Friday, 12 November 2010


The Dog, pictured left, is a very dark black dog. He is also a high speed dog.

Some dogs might do leaping and diving into water, some might do carrying out the biggest stick, some  might even do walking along sedately stopping for the occasional sniff.

Not Mido.

Mido does high speed zooming, preferably after a rabbit or a fox (yes, I know it's illegal, by try telling that to a dog. He never catches them though...) or even, famously, after an otter we didn't know we had living nearby.

If none of the above are available he will just zoom about aimlessly which is fine until he collides with the back of your knees making you sit down smartly on your bottom usually in something wet and muddy. This happens with far too much regularity - especially in the dark - which is why OH bought The Dog a High Viz jacket.

Now, when it's dark and rainy as it often is in the summer November, The Dog gets to wear his disco jacket and at least you get to see what's hit you the split second before it does.

Except this morning when it was dark and raining and the Man of the House was doing what is His Job*, ie heading out into the dark with The Dog to put the bins out and feed the elderly pony. While he was attending to the latter The Dog shot off after a rabbit and the MoftheH picked out flash of bright High Viz blur with the beam of his head torch as The Dog leapt over our boundary fence and into our neighbour's land.

Moments later the MoftheH was assailed in the dark by invisible black dog minus aforementioned Hi Viz jacket. The vital garment is now officially listed as Missing In Action and the guilty party is now in The Doghouse.

* I should add that my job as Woman of the House is to stay in bed until the slightly more sociable hour of 7am, attend to the needs of the dishwasher and drink coffee until 7.30am by which time I will have turned back into something that can be spoken to and respond with some degree of civility.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Gallery: Autumn

This weeks' theme at Sticky Fingers: The Gallery is seasons. Autumn conjures up images of mighty trees with golden leaves - but it's not like that here on the Preseli Hills. Here trees are stunted because of the salty winds and as soon as the leaves start to turn we usually have a winter storm to blast them off the branches.

What we have today is the calm before the storm. A still day with a crisp frost first thing and the benign smile of the sun in the afternoon. The weatherman says the isobars are clustering tightly in the Atlantic and we're to hold onto our hats tomorrow. Today though the skies are blue.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Beauty and the Beast

I was just about to write a review of Beauty and the Beast, recently arrived in glorious gorgeous Blu-ray Diamond edition, when I remembered R6 has a Belle dress and somewhere there would be a picture of her in it.

So I looked back to 2006 in my pictures folder and found my two little pre-schoolers sweet and innocent and unsullied by school in a succession of pretty princess dresses and then I got all misty eyed and forgot why I had gone into my pictures file in the first place.

Back to the job in hand. 

Which Disney film is your favourite? Beauty and the Beast would definitely be in my top ten. It has a cast of delightful characters a wonderfully comic candlestick and very handsome scary Beast (both as Beast and as Prince Adam) and a very good baddie - Gaston  - with amusing side-kick. There's a charming horse in it too - Phillipe - and of course Belle is lovely. We love it and the new edition (which comes with DVD as well as Blu-ray) also has a host of additional features - backstage films, a quest game, the untold story etc.

  • Set in and around a quaint French village during the late 18th century, Beauty and the Beast follows the fantastic adventures of Belle, a bright and beautiful young woman who finds escape from her ordinary life, and the advances of a boorish suitor, Gaston, by reading books. Meanwhile, off in a castle in the distance, a cruel young prince is cast under the spell of an enchantress who turns him into a tormented beast, while transforming his servants into animated household objects. In order to remove the curse, the Beast must discover a true love who will return his affection before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose. When Belle’s inventor father stumbles upon the Beast’s castle and is taken prisoner, Belle comes to the rescue and agrees to take her father’s place. With the help of the castle’s enchanted staff, she sees beneath the Beast’s exterior and discovers the heart and soul of a human prince.

R6's Belle dress, all golden yellow and flouncy is still going strong. She goes through a phase of wearing it after school from time to time. When it was new we had to pin up the hem it was so long, now it's the perfect length. I rue the day she grows out of it.