Sunday, 29 May 2011

Proud Mummy moments

My children have got to the stage where they are very aware of my blog and what goes in it. Recently H9, who had made a cake at Brownies, said she had eaten it already so I "couldn't photograph it and make it famous".

Of course, like every mummy, I think my children are pretty darned perfect and I'm am enormously proud of everything they do but I try to respect their privacy. They're not 100% keen on being pictured on my blog and prefer to vet pictures before I use them. They prefer balance too so if one is pictured so must the other.

I tend not to blog about them and their achievements but they are making it difficult not to have gushing mummy moments of 'look at what my lovely children have done now aren't they fab'. I've resisted so far (and have confined such things to Facebook) but there comes a time when these achievements must be recorded. So this is a brief burst of what they've done.

They both won first prize in this year's village Eisteddfod. H9 won for her short story (in Welsh) about guinea pigs taking part in the pet version of the X Factor and R7's was for handwriting.

H9 has also been a member of the school team taking part in the Welsh Books Quiz - an inter-school competition which involves knowledge of books but also acting in a play about one of those books. The team won their area contest, then the county final and will now represent Pembrokeshire at the Wales final in Aberystwyth in June.

Finally, for her Easter holiday homework, H9 had to draw a design for a scarecrow that her class could make for a competition at a local garden centre. Her pirate design was chosen and has been brought to life by her class. It is now on display at Newbridge Garden Centre, Crundale, near Haverfordwest. Visitors to the garden centre can vote for their favourite and the winning school gets £200 worth of plants and gardening equipment so, if you're passing, please look out (and vote) for Black Bart the pirate scarecrow.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Off with their heads!

Poor old common Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris). I'm very mean to my purple Aquilegias - come the end of May just as the poor dears are setting their seeds, I chop off their heads. I have had this thought in my head for a few years now that if I cut down all the purple ones, I'll encourage all the pretty other colours - the whites, pale pinks, deep reds - to grow instead. Invariably the blooms are still smothered in white-tailed bumble bees when I do this so I leave the tub on the lawn like a big vase until the bees had had their fill. This means they set their seed and I now have a trail of Aquilegias along the footpath from the garden to the compost heap where they have dropped their seed on the way.

Lovely Nora Barlow is allowed to seed to her heart's delight. She has a dwarfing effect on the mixed up offspring that results so they don't tend to fall over and sprawl all over the garden like the big thuggish purple ones. We affectionately refer to any that we fancy as Nora Barlow offspring as 'Gary Barlows'.

There were hundreds of white-tailed bumble bees on the blooms yesterday as I was snipping away. Aquilegias are a major feature of my garden at this time of year and the bees are obviously doing well on it. I tried to count but gave up in the 150s. They are friendly little bees and don't mind sharing a bloom. I leave the stiff stalks behind to support the peonies which are tight-fisted buds at the moment.

Finally a bee movie - I took a picture with the camera on the wrong setting and this was the brief result - a buzzy little bee.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Gallery: My Back(farm)yard

This weeks theme for The Gallery is My Backyard. This, literally is my backyard, or what we call 'The Yard' anyway. These double gates are at the top of our rather steep driveway. The grey pony is Pippin, the bay is Itsy and Bullseye is sleeping  inside the stable on the left. The outbuildings (desperately in need of a coat of limewash) with the red doors are the old cowshed which we now use for lambing in and the old dairy. It's all a bit tumbledown now and needs money spending on it (which we don't have at the moment). The little red building on the left is where the milk churns used to be cooled and immediately in front is a finger post pointing out the footpath, so if you're passing through on your way to the Preselis (which are hiding behind the trees at the back), come and say hello.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Tuesday, May 24th 8.45pm

The girls are in bed reading about cats surviving the sinking of the Titanic and a Labrador puppy with an over developed sense of humour.

Two ponies are in; one is out and the three must be reunited. I head up the path and tie open the gates. I'll have my hands full leading the two. They've been in on the yard all day and they are hungry.

Magpies laugh unseen high up in an ash tree. Millions of birds are singing their bed time songs. It is almost as loud as the dawn chorus but not quite.

Overhead the sky is cerulean blue. The clouds of this morning have departed, chased away by a toothy wind that reminds of the old wives' saying: Ne'er cast a clout 'til May is out. I have already tucked up tender beans and courgettes in the polytunnel and closed the door for the night.

Mrs Broody was cold. When I closed the pop hole on the broody pen I could only see a tuft of tail feathers. The other three hens were still awake; they always stay up late wringing the last drop of day out before roosting.

Pippin sees me approaching the gate and trots briskly down to me, ears pricked. She's looking forward to seeing her friends for the night.

Everywhere is green; the leaves have unfurled on the trees and still have the first fresh brightness. They haven't been leathered by the weather yet. On the elders the flowers are fat buds bringing the promise of champagne and cordial in a week or two.

A gull wheels in the sky above my head. Away in the distance mowers thrum, swiping the first cut of silage.

I put a head collar on one pony, the other will follow. They trot after me grabbing big mouthfuls of grass on the way. Bullseye dawdles behind as Itsy and I reach the field but as the gate swings open he springs forwards into a trot and the three of them leap and buck up the field together. A rabbit, stranded in the middle of the field far from cover skitters about unsure which way to go but the ponies run out of steam up the steep bank of the hill before they reach it. Other rabbits are vague brown shapes at the edges of the field.

Then the three ponies halt, snorting, knees buckle and they roll on the green grass groaning with the ecstasy of it all. Back on their feet they put their heads down to the serious business of catching up on a day's eating. Dieting is just as difficult for ponies as it is for humans.

I walk back to the yard swinging the head collar and rope in my hand. Only the hardiest of the midges are out tonight. One sinks its teeth into my left eyelid.

As I open the Dairy door to hang up the head collar and rope on the hook with the others, a swallow speeds out above my head. They've been back a few weeks now and already I've got so used to them that I no longer duck. The nests are back in all the outbuildings again and the air around the farm buildings and house is full of swallows' chatter.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The best way to sleep...

It doesn't matter...

...what time of day...

...or night...

...the best way... sleep...

pupside down.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Life in the Preseli Hills

It doesn't look much yet....
It's raining so I can pause and tell you what Life IS in the Preseli Hills at the moment.

When wondering what on earth it is I do all day I can only conclude that I am currently a full-time gardener.  I'm clearing an area 12 feet by 20 feet plus three feet all round in which to put up our second polytunnel. The bits for that arrived on Thursday along with two lovely books on polytunnel gardening which I'm trying to avidly read but every time I pick them up something intervenes.

Clearing the area requires wielding my Chillington hoe and hoiking out barrow loads of nettle roots. The patch is where the hens have been for the last decade or two and the soil is deep and rich and fertile. Nettles are always a good sign as they love to grow on the best ground.

While I dig three of the hens chat happily to me and Mrs Broody chuckles to the ten fertile eggs she's sitting on. I peer into her broody pen and she looks like a big fluffy cushion with a beak.

One of the interruptions to my polytunnel reading has been regular visits by a flock of sheep - a mix of white and black Mountain sheep - which are hell bent on joining us on our small farm. They should be on our neighbour's land but since he only has cattle fencing the inevitable keeps happening. This morning they broke through our fence again (they always break things on the way in) so Brian is now an hour late for work and has spent a couple of hours chasing sheep and putting in new fence posts. Our own sheep are quietly eating the lovely grass in our other fields and growing (the lambs) or recovering from lambing (the ewes) and don't need much looking after at the moment.

Another daily thing is to bring in the ponies. Bullseye has to come in during the day so he doesn't eat too much spring grass and get laminitis so Itsy, who can get hugely fat just looking at spring grass (I know how she feels but in my case it's cake) stays in with him to keep him company. Pippin who is not inclined to either fat nor laminitis stays out in the field on her own (much neighing) or, because she's old and wise, she gets to wander around the farmyard and hayguard eating lots of lovely lush grass (and hopefully not escaping into the garden).

When I'm not doing all of the above I'm pulling bracken from the eight acres of hay meadow. We can't spray (organic), or mow (no mower) or do any of the other bracken treatments that are supposed to work, so we're weeding it by hand. Actually Mum's done most of it so far as I've been distracted by other important things (like a Tweetup with Lins, Chris and Kath) but there's plenty still to do. (If anyone feels like popping over to give us a hand I pay in cake, roast chicken dinners and chicken curry suppers!)

In other moments I'm planting seeds, pricking out seedlings and potting on the bigger plants. I have lots ready for the new polytunnel - including cucumbers, melons, squashes, tomatoes - the little polytunnel is bursting at the seams. Its new role is for propagation and the growing will be done in the new polytunnel. All I need to do is to finish digging it and then put the thing up... other things allowing of course!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Gallery: Mustachioed

You've been Schnauzered.

The theme for week 59 of The Gallery is mustachioed. The children said NO! so I was left with the usual suspects, one of whom helpfully brought his own...

Click HERE to go to Tara's blog and have a look at the other entries.

Monday, 16 May 2011

A pocket full of dog biscuits

Dogs have very sensitive noses.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Garden jewelery

The Alchemilla Mollis and the Fennel were wearing their diamonds this morning.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

A walk and a bit of right Royal history

The children are back at school so Jo and I are back to our weekly jaunts. For starters we headed back to our trusty old favourite, the 6.5 mile path around Llysyfran dam.
I have lost count of how many times we've done this walk now but I never tire of looking at the view. Today the weather was a little moody. Clouds billowed into pillars and towers but early heavy rain had headed off grumpily in the direction of England leaving behind sunny spells and a quite furious wind that luckily we were mostly sheltered from.

The bluebells are divine and the hawthorn is Persil white.
Now for our Royal historical connection. This stone is a memorial to William Penfro Rowlands, composer of the hymn tune Blaenwern which, with Charles Wesley's words 'Love divine all loves excelling', was sung at Prince William and Kate Middleton's recent wedding.

Mr Rowlands, a teacher, was born at Llysyfran in 1860 and died in Swansea in 1937. He wrote Blaenwern in 1905 and it was also sung at Prince Charles' wedding to the Duchess of Cornwall in 2005.

The stone - a piece of polished slate - is sited near the dam by the ruins of Rowlands' cottage. I wonder how many tourists have ambled past it recently not knowing the Royal connection.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Gallery: Chilled out

This is my idea of chilled out (which is the theme for this week's the Gallery) coffee and magazine in the sunshine next to a pot of soothing lavender and with mum's cat, Calico, for company. Sitting quietly here, chilling, after I had taken this photograph, I watched a little leaf cutter bee busily snip a circle out of a strawberry leaf, roll it up into a tube, tuck it under its legs and fly away.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

I promised you pictures of donkeys... here they are.

We love going to the Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth in Devon so when, over breakfast at our friends' house during the Easter holidays, the debate turned to where we wanted to go for the day, H voted strongly for the donkeys.

So a visit to our friends with long ears was decided upon, including lunch in the restaurant where they do humongous sandwiches.

This is Rosie with Rosie.
Another of the yard donkeys.
Noah, one of the Poitou donkeys, greets his fans.
Chocolate is my favourite colour.
Nelly and Sovereign Rose find a sheltered spot to bask in the sun.
We decided that this group would like to come and live on a 22-acre smallholding in the Preseli Hills.
Especially this one. (This is one of Nicola's pictures.)

Saturday, 7 May 2011

New rules

May has brought us down to earth with a bump with the end (finally) of the rather self-indulgent Easter holidays and a visit to the dentist.

All was fine tooth-wise, apart from slight wonkyness in the junior teeth which may or may not need fixing at a future date - but we were warned about very early signs of decay.

Now we've been down that road before as parents and don't plan to travel it again. On (very long) journey home from Devon on Monday, mindful of just how self-indulgent we'd been and the fact that my jeans were tighter than they had been at the start of the holidays I had formulated new rules.

Back at home I consulted websites (Aquafresh, Change4Life, something mad and hippy which I ignored...) for advice and came up with the following which I have written down and everyone knows they must follow:
  1. Sugary food and acidic, sugary or fizzy drinks at mealtimes only. Drinks must have a straw (this helps stop children washing drinks around their teeth). Chocolate and sweets are lovely treats and nice to end meals with.
  2. In between meals we can have fruit, vegetables, cheese, savoury biscuits, rice cakes and crackers, breadsticks and oatcakes, bread or toast with butter. Drinks can be milk or water.
So that's only two simple rules, which we have followed since Monday. Surprisingly there has been little resistance - even from H's friend who is also used to our habit of having 'Friday treats' and didn't bat an eyelid when we didn't go to the shop to buy sweets nor when she asked for lemonade and got milk instead. (I figured she would have had lots of Easter chocolate too).

My observations so far? The main one is that all of us are less inclined to snack between meals just for the sake of it and only if really hungry. It seems we're more than capable of finding a little corner for chocolate and sweets at any time. We don't necessarily want it after meals either so consumption has been drastically reduced.

The second is that they now eat the food I put on the table at mealtimes because they are hungry and haven't filled up on rubbish in between meals. Much, much better from a parental point of view.

They're also drinking more milk which pleases me - all that lovely bone and tooth-building calcium - and I have a real hatred of squash (except the blackcurrant kind in a bottle an hour into a long run).

I'm not sure how we slipped into such bad habits (H didn't have any sweets or chocolate at all until she was about two years old) but it's easy to do especially when they see other children seemingly having sweets every day and ask, ask and ASK for some too. It's too easy to give in to such demands and too tiring to constantly say no, no and NO BECAUSE I SAID SO!

From now on there is no longer the 'oh, go on then' (sigh) just for an easy life, because it isn't necessarily an easy life when such actions have consequences (at regular mealtimes and beyond).

Se we now have new house rules* (to add to the existing which are don't jump on the furniture, draw on the walls, call each other names or hit each other) and they apply to everyone, big, small, visitor or resident.

*DISCLAIMER: Rules can be bent on holidays, birthdays and special occasions.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Gallery: April

This week's theme on The Gallery is April - a month that meant so many things this year: A long school holiday augmented by two double bank holidays and two 'snow' days; lambing; That Wedding; chocolate and Easter egg hunts and Devon with fabulous friends, good food and lovely donkeys.

I can only choose one photograph and this one perfectly illustrates the abiding memory of this April with its seemingly endless sunny days. The garden and the fields are parched and there's been a fresh wind mostly keeping the temperature down but we had one day which was still and a real scorcher.

That day was still enough for me to lie on the floor and photograph the tulips and it was too hot. Fabulous.

Man 1, Rodent 0

The rodent that has been terrorising my polytunnel is no more. His list of crimes included eating all of my F1 cucumber seeds, a tray of pale courgette seeds, melon seeds (twice), sunflower seeds (twice), sweetcorn seeds (an entire packet), Big Max pumpkin seeds (entire packet), butternut squash (five seeds out of six) and Turk's Turban squash (also five seeds out of six).
He also had a jiffle about with his paws in a tray of Cosmos seeds and had a look at some Verbascum seedlings.

By way of defence we suspended the seed trays on a plank from ropes in the middle of the polytunnel. So the mouse climbed the polytunnel poles and shimmied down the ropes to get to the (second batch) of seeds.

There is one word for that rodent, bastard talented .

The bill for his crimes is massive. He has set my gardening year back by at least four weeks, probably more. At least it wasn't too late to buy new seeds and replant but not if the rodent existed to eat them all over again...

He was, officially, Enemy Number One. I issued orders that he must be apprehended.

The Commander in Chief set five traps, four of the 'snap your little rodent neck' sort and one humane (preferred) live trap. I tip-toed around the polytunnel trying not to turn into one of those cartoon Tom and Jerry mouse-trap on fingers, toes and nose scenarios.

Last night the rodent selected the live trap as his punishment of choice and sat in it fatly and glossily waiting for the Commander in Chief.

What happened next is hazy but the C in C claims that the terrorist rodent put up some 'resistance' during which the rodent 'ran down the curtain and joined the choir invisible'. It was then buried, not at sea, but somewhere known only to the C in C (I suspect he might have given it to one of the cats to demonstrate the dereliction of its duties) and we will not be releasing pictures of the corpse.

The C in C then had to face his kangaroo court martial at 6am at which he was found guilty of major disobedience for damaging the criminal and his punishment is to dig enough well-rotted manure to mulch the entire garden and build the new polytunnel.

Today (sigh) for the third time I will be planting courgettes, melons, sunflowers, pumpkins and butternut squash. I'm bringing the seed trays into the comfort and safety of the house in case of revenge attacks by the rodent's relatives or friends.

Monday, 2 May 2011

It can't be May - it's still the Easter holidays!

I can't believe it is still the Easter holidays! This has been a marathon. We watched The Wedding on Friday and then went off to Devon to stay with truly lovely friends who let us eat all their food and drink all their wine.

We patted donkeys, trimmed a hedge, shopped and barbecued. More later (with pictures) once the school holidays are over (which I'm promised is Wednesday. Apparently we have a brief respite and then it's Whitsun...)

In the meantime I leave you with one of the images from our break (just in case anybody is wondering what I would like for my birthday this year):