Monday, 28 February 2011

The sun's out here

Puppies, like cats, are solar-powered.
The sun finally came out here. The duvet of cloud we've been submerged under for what feels like most of February finally lifted to reveal blue skies, growing grass and a whole heap of things that needed to be done yesterday.

Today we have fetched the feed for the ewes who are currently a demanding bedlam of customers inside the barn. The feed is mixed at a farm in Llandysul so that involves a drive over the Preselis, via Cenarth and through Newcastle Emlyn to Llandysul and out the other side. Here be guinea pigs - or rather it's where Lucky was found and we think (and it seems such a huge coincidence) that he was found by the farmer who sells us our feed (one year I will remember to ask...)

Cenarth was looking quiet but beautiful as it always does at this time of year. We must go for a picnic or a pub lunch or a cream tea (or all three) and a meander along the river. Soon.

Back at home, with the feed safely stowed in the old freezer, the garden beckoned and I cleared the winter debris from the Venetian border (how grand that sounds!) There was a list of casualties - unsurprisingly after this hard winter - but also the delight of finding that I had planted wallflowers. The thing with me and biennials is that I always forget that I have planted them. Wallflowers and Sweet Williams are and endless source of forgotten delight for this gardener and I now have the promise of lovely blooms while I get the rest of the garden into good order.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Another rite of passage

Years ago, when we first moved back here and H9 was only eight months old, we had the bright idea of turning the big (well, ish) master bedroom into two smaller rooms.

One for H9 and one for spare. Then we had R7, cots turned junior beds and then finally bunk beds and the spare room for the most part disappeared under a tide of baby toys and equipment and other unwanted detritus of family life destined for a car boot sale or eBay.

Recently (well, ish) both girls have expressed a preference for their own room. I must admit that I looked into the spare room, quailed at the amount of junk within and then shut the door on it. I did clear out one box though. Bearing in mind that R7 is now seven, that box contained a breast pump (ugh), breast milk pads, washable cloths for baby wipes, washable breastfeeding pads, baby feeding bottles and a steamer.

How and why did I hang on to that little lot for the best part of seven years? I can only assume it was wearing a cloaking device which rendered it invisible to previous clutter clearing expeditions. There are two washing baskets full of books as well. We have donated hundreds of books to the library (some of them were my old university text books and last time I looked they were on the shelf for borrowing which was quite pleasing. Some other poor bugger can torture themselves with the theories of macroeconomics...) We have sold books too in car boot sales and still there are too many for the bookshelves.

Anyway yesterday while my two, G9 and Lins were spending their pocket money in Narberth, Brian and I had a blitz (or rather he did, with me offering support from the sidelines - ah the benefits of a bad back...) The room was magically cleared and painted a nice clean gleaming white. Astonishingly the bed and chest of drawers was still there and there's a floor too. I scrubbed the blind and hey presto! a new bedroom was born.

We sprung the surprise on R7 when she got back last night and today she moved all of her toys and clothes into it and made herself a proper little den.

It's not big enough to swing a cat in but it's big enough for now. Sigh. Don't they grow up quickly?!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Necessity is the mother of invention

Dinner, simmering nicely.
We ran out of LPG on Monday. We do this, from time to time, usually when the inconvenience of having done it before has been forgotten.

LPG is what we cook on and we have two jolly orange bottles decorating the wall under the kitchen window. The two bottles are joined by a valve so when the one is empty it automatically swaps to the second and empties that one too. And then we run out of gas.

So my lovely 1100 Stoves range cooker with its seven burners, two ovens and a grill is currently out of action. LPG delivery is Thursday so I've been relying on the microwave, the toaster, the sandwich maker and the camping gas stove to do the cooking.

Of course the wood burning stoves were both lit too so we had the idea (and various people, including LinsLleisio suggested) that we cook on them instead. So I did. It was a big success.

I cooked my usual lentil dahl recipe (buzz an onion and a couple of carrots in the food processor, sweat with a bit of butter and a teaspoon of mild curry paste, add a mugful of orange lentils, stock cube and water, cook until soft) and it was as happy as anything bubbling fragrantly on top of the stove. I did the rice too which was equally content in its little saucepan.

It really just asked the one big question: Why haven't I done this before? I often have the wood burner lit during the day (the computer is in the corner of the same room). I can and I will slow cook meals on it from now on.

So all in all running out of gas has been a nice, big money saving success. We should do this more often...

Friday, 18 February 2011

Furry Friday funny

Life can be confusing for the small dog. He had already taken offence at a box of sparkly tea lights left over from Christmas. They offended him so much they had to be woofed at. Lots and lots.

Then there's the dog in the oven in the kitchen. Most confusing.

Worst of all though is the dog in the wood burning stove (the small one in the dining room). It's there day after day (except when the fire is lit and hot and the puppy is asleep in front of it...) and it's infuriating. He's tried woofing and he's tried a big, hard stare followed by a menacing grrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Nothing works.

It's there again.
Can you see it? Look!
Bark! Bark! Bark!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Clever little hen

Our brand new hens have been with us for exactly a week. They were bought as point of lay pullets - and so that turned out to be.

They have themselves well and truly organised in their new coop - currently inside a building because the weather has been so fowl (geddit?!). They all now roost on the perch (which seems obvious but not all chickens know about perches. Some insist on roosting on the floor. Silly birds.)

Over the past couple of days it's been clear that one of them was about to lay her first egg. She'd been making the hay in the next box into a nice, comfy bowl-shaped nest, the strands of hay neatly arranged into the shape of the underside of a hen.

Then this morning, an egg. Small, but perfectly formed. (It's the one on the left, the one on the right is from one of mum's Bluebells.) It's obviously a trainer egg and this time there haven't been any soft-shelled or misshapen practice eggs first.

Clever little hen.

It reminds me of this little ditty by the very prolific 'Anonymous':

The codfish lays ten thousand eggs, the homely hen lays one.
The codfish never cackles to tell you what she's done.
And so we scorn the codfish, while the humble hen we prize.
Which only goes to show you that it pays to advertise.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Gallery: Togetherness

The theme for this week's The Gallery on Tara's Sticky Fingers blog is togetherness. I looked indoors and out here and didn't really feel inspired. There's something about the unrelenting tide of mud on a farm at this time of the year that makes me put the camera away. In fact all I have photographed this week is the dog (which you've seen in a previous post) and food (ditto).

So I dug around in the archives for this week's image. It was taken last May of my two little girls celebrating together the warm evening sunshine at the first barbecue of what turned out to be many. I can't wait for that sort of weather again.

In the meantime why don't you pop on over to The Gallery, have a look at the other entries and perhaps have a go too?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

3D or not 3D? That is the question.

My two little girls have both got Nintendo DS Lites. We ummed and ahhed a bit about buying them initially but then everyone seemed to have them and what kid feels comfortable about being left behind?

Nintendo 3DS. I think we need at least three...
I have to say my initial doubts about them were soon allayed. They're cute, the games are cute. They're great for keeping children quietly occupied during things where adults are happily talking and children get bored. But they're getting a bit battered now. They've done well considering the girls were five and seven when they had them. They've been dropped, thrown, sat on, had drinks spilled on them and coped with the general rough and tumble of life with a child.

R7's got a bent pin and stopped working so we sent it back to Nintendo and they fixed it for free despite it being way out of guarantee. (They were VERY efficient at the Nintendo Service Centre. They even paid for the postage for me to send it and it came back by courier after 48 hours. That's five star service.)

Now though they've both got broken hinges. Fixing is possible (but not free I don't suppose) and Nintendo has since brought out a DSi and now a 3DS. Games in 3D? Is that possible?

It seems it is:

H9's friend G9 is saving up for a 3D Nintendo. A new 3DS suddenly seems a whole lot more desirable. I think a bit of saving up is required...

SPONSORED POST: If you click the video and watch it, I get a few pennies. But that's all.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Valentine's Day pie

A roast dinner in a pie.
Something we all love for Valentine's Day - and a lovely custardy-apply pudding from Sunday. For the recipes see Cooking is a Game You Can Eat.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

A little dog and his friend go to the Big Beach

Scamp: So this is the beach! What do we do?
Topsy: Well, we could go for a run...
Topsy: Come on little boy - keep up!
Scamp: Whee! This is fun!
Scamp: Hang on... what's this? Poo! Smells funny!
Topsy: This is what Good Dogs do. We walk Nicely with the girls.
Scamp: Oooh! What is this stuff? It's all wet.
Topsy: It's water you silly dog! Come on out before you get soaked.
Scamp: I'm tired and hungry.
Topsy: Just follow along like a good dog. The grown-ups are talking about a picnic. Picnics are Good Things and if you are a very good little puppy they might give you a sandwich.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Brand new hens

Two white tails, two black.
Our brand new lovely hens have arrived. Brian fetched them from a farm in Llandysul on Tuesday - in a box identical to the one the puppy arrived in (no wonder I thought he'd be hens when that box arrived).

These lovely ladies are Calder Rangers, a cross between Rhode Island Red and Light Sussex. They're also known as Gingernut Rangers (note how they match my hair colour!) or Columbian Blacktail and they supposedly will lay up to 320 eggs a year.

They're now snug in the new hen coop ready to go off on chicken tractor* duties around the veggie beds once they've settled in.

*Permaculture term for using penned chickens to clear weeds from vegetable beds prior to planting.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The carefree car-free school run

I have often wondered about our school run. It's just over two miles from home to the school gates and it crossed my mind that possibly, one day, we could walk it.

Then I read Keris's post on Ready for Ten about her family's 1.3 mile walk to school and got inspired to actually do it rather than just think about it.

I consulted H9 and R7. They were up for it too, so today, being cold but sunny, was decreed a Good Day for a trial run. I must bring flapjacks for energy, they said, and drinks too.

Of course I had to walk there first, so I took the dog as an alibi and to keep me company. There are few houses on that stretch of road and I only saw one vehicle until I got to the village. The dog was enthusiastic and we reached the village in 35 minutes, taking into consideration the number of times he had to stop to do his business.

I worried much of the way that a) I would be late; b) the girls would have changed their minds; c) it would rain; d) I would have to carry the dog or one of the children or both and e) I was going to arrive at the school gates looking hot, sweaty and slightly mad.

I needn't have worried (except about e but that's quite normal). H and R were delighted and changed happily into their trainers.

Leaving the village.
Foel Cwmcerwyn in the distance.
Wonderful house, wonderful name.
We normally whiz past this without noticing it.
The first snowdrops.
No cars to be seen.
Round the last of the hair pin bends.
The second footbridge.
It took us nearly 50 minutes on the way back. Just after this footbridge the road has a last laugh, ascending at 25% or 1:4 for a good half mile. Then there's a slight dip and the final, equally steep driveway up to the farm.

Afterwards we were tired, cold, smug and the girls both say want to do it again. The dog accepted his payment - one Bonio per mile - and is now avoiding me lest I drag him off on such a crazy expedition again today.

Monday, 7 February 2011

How to be nine

My eldest was nine yesterday. In fact she's been celebrating being nine for three days so far - today being no exception as conveniently there's a teacher training day and no school.

Saturday was a trip with four of her friends to see Disney's Tangled in 3D. Now it's no secret that I am a huge fan of Disney (and Pixar) films but Tangled is the best yet. Rarely does a film leap straight into my number one slot after one viewing but Tangled did and it's all the fault of Maximus the horse. He's simply the best, the funniest, the most handsome Disney character ever created. A fabulous comic turn that had me weeping with laughter. I'm desperate to see Tangled again - I must get it on Blu-ray - just to see the bits I missed because I was laughing so much. Oh, and the kids loved it too judging by the helpless way they were laughing through much of it.
Maximus (picture copyright Disney).
Other characters in the film? Oh, um, yes, girl with a lot of hair (Rapunzel), handsome hero (Flynn), bad guy (wicked witch) lots of other good, funny bad guys. Great plot. Brilliant film. Horse!

Sunday, continuing the ninth birthday celebrations was a food-centred day involving grandparents and a menu devised by the freshly minted nine year old. We had a roast chicken dinner with homemade stuffing (using sage grown by the birthday girl), then sticky toffee pudding and Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Tea was sandwiches and dips followed by birthday cake - Daddy's speciality, a chocolate spice cake. The cakes, I have discovered over the years, get hotter to carry as the candles increase.

Today we have H's best friend over and various activities are planned including a squash fountain and a trip to Narberth to spend birthday money on trinkets for Croc shoes.

If celebrating nine requires three days - what happens next year?

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Sitting ducks and other bills

Today's walk with Jo was the seven mile circuit of Llysyfran dam. This time we went clockwise, just to ring the changes. The overnight rain cleared to leave a bright sunny day with a promising breath of spring in the air.

A nice place for a cup of coffee.
The landscape rang with the chimes of many and various bird life. Cormorants dried their washing in trees.

Drying in the sunshine.
The little rivers laughed on their merry journey into the reservoir to tickle the toes of the trout.

Happy little river.
Rafts of Canada geese, mallard and grebe honked, squeaked and quacked in a discordant avian orchestra.

Honk if you love geese.
Then, with the world put well and truly back to rights I returned home to find something red, large and dangerous occupying my driveway.

The oil delivery lorry.

I sneaked into the house and hid. The oil man left having retro-burgled the tank. I'm not sure which door he knocked on to hand over the bill but it wasn't the one I was expecting. Perhaps he was too embarrassed once he had written down all the numbers.

Eventually curiosity overcame me and I went in search of the bill.

I found it. Holy cow*.
The result of opening a heating oil bill in 2011.
Sixty pence a litre. Sixty pence! When records began - ie when we moved back here in 2002 and I started signing the cheques - we paid 17p per litre and a whole tankful cost £146.38.

Today's tankful was a teaspoonful short of £600.

The oil heats our radiators and our hot water. There is no alternative**.

We are sitting ducks.

I don't suggest our local supplier is profiteering. They do seem to offer a competitive price and there is a £57 discount if I pay this bill promptly (which I will). There is no competition for heating oil and - call it coincidence - but oil is always more expensive over the Christmas period and the price seems to shoot up as soon as there's a whiff of trouble in an oil-producing area - Egypt is the current reason for the price hike.

I turned off the heating. Then for good measure I turned off the water and the boiler. At the plug. If it's cold later we'll huddle round a spirit lamp. I think I've got a bottle of malt whisky somewhere to run it on..

* Where 'cow' rhymes with 'duck'.
** There are alternatives of course - solar panels, heat exchange pumps - but we don't have the capital for the initial set up cost.