Saturday, 31 December 2011


It's the last day of a very wet year. I have just walked the dogs in what seems to be unending drizzle. Sometimes it is difficult to stay upright it is so squelchy and slippery underfoot.

The fields are full of little pockets of muddy water. When you slide into them in your welly the water is squeezed up in a fountain of cold brown water which plasters up the front of your jeans.

The big dog seems largely impervious to mud. It doesn't show up on his black fur, not even on his paws. He leaves prints on the cream tiles. The small dog is more attractive to mud and water than a sponge. He has housedog privileges so judicious application of the hose and much towelling is required before he's allowed in.

It's been like this for months and it will be like this for months to come - unless we have a cold dry spell or even snow like we had last year. We were snowed in last year and hold secret hopes for the same again.

This time last year

Meanwhile the birds sing happily  in the treetops, despite the drizzle. At the end of our walk I noticed Scamp had something in his mouth. A stick? No! Is that a feather sticking out? PUT IT DOWN! He put. A bird, swollen with rainwater and unrecognisable. Canine treasure.

Back inside and it's time to light one of the wood burners. The small dog and I quietly steam while the girls paint.

I have been reading the Ivington Diaries by Monty Don (Christmas present from my mum) and this has inspired me to take a more diary like approach to my blogging. It's a sort of New Year resolution. Short pieces recording what's happening on the farm and in the garden. I always find Monty Don rekindles my enthusiasm for my garden, especially after a difficult year. I might even order some seeds now.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Another year gallops on by

It flashed past, 2011 did. Is it old(er) age that makes the years fly past? So what happened?

We started the year with a new puppy and a house full of newspaper, red tops, which brought out the Margot Leadbetter in me. "Why can't we have something suitable like the Telegraph?" I wailed as the puppy squatted over the boobs on page three.

Where's the newspaper gone?

We got new hens, then the sun came out in February and we rejoiced not knowing that would be pretty much it sunshine-wise for the rest of the year.

The lambs were born to an F1 theme (what shall we have this year? Open to suggestions!) flowers bloomed and the oil price shot up so I turned off the heating. (December 2011: It's still off. Because it's broken.)

We went to Devon in April and cuddled lovely friends and donkeys. The garden went nuts with flowers in May.

In June Tardis sat on a clutch of eggs and produced a brood of pretty chicks. The following month saw the arrival of a trampoline, new bicycling skills and and I got the sewing machine out and started to make things.

In August we headed back to Devon (and Dorset again), H9 and R7 went riding (twice), we went to the beach (only twice and on one of those visits it rained) and we dashed down to the Cafe on the Quay in Lawrenny to do the walk/cake thing another twice (or it might have been thrice). I started to bake my way through the River Cottage bread book.

In September I took lots of pictures with my new (old) DSLR and they dug up the road outside school causing mad chaos.

Let them eat dog.

By October the car bills had reached new heights of disaster, I threatened to cook the dog in lieu of meat (we decided to go mostly vegetarian instead) and I ran Cardiff half marathon while my children met the Olympic torch.

It rained in November. We had sickness and head lice. I baked and maked and we oohed and aahed at Bonfire night fireworks.

In December I continued the making and baking theme, discovered I could make a pony out of marzipan and broke all my previous records on how to maintain the required standards at Christmas without parting with too much money.

The year is quietly fizzling out. I'm not one for big New Year parties (I don't think I've ever been to one!) Onwards now to 2012.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone who visits my blog. Have a lovely festive season.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Scenes from a long run #4

Today's run was the first for a week. This picture is just over a mile from home and I wanted to capture the colour of the sky; brooding dark clouds illuminated by the bright sunshine. I'm glad I did take it so soon because by the time I got to the hills, another four or so miles straight on at the crossroads, the clouds had scuttled over the sun and it was mostly just a grey sky.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Dog's Blog

I sid on das compootar cadair today. You dere? I sehen you. De mummy she say GED OFF DAS COMPOOTAR CHAIR! I hignore har. Dis is my blog.

I say TIDY ZIS DESK! IST MESS! She say GEDDOWN DOG! I hignore har 'gain. She rool das eyes at mir. Vat I sehen of das blog? You haf problem? You tell Schnauzer. I fix.

Today I hav visdom vor you. Dis visdom is vrom Johan Wolfgang von Goethe. Das not easy nach type mit paws. Vot he? Volf? Goat? Anyways. He sehen: Courage is the commitment to begin without any guarantee of success. He right. I tell dat to de mummy 'bout desk. She sehen: GEDDOFF DAS COMPOOTAR DOG!!! I hignore 'gain.

Das ist the end of dis blog. My favorit ist auf dem TV.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

An alternative Christmas tree

Things are a little tight this Christmas (I'm tempted to add 'as usual' here!) so this year we decided not to buy a traditional fir tree but to look for something a little more alternative. For the last two years we've done the excited trip out in the car to choose a tree and bring it back on the roof with happy little faces watching it through the sun roof.

This year our expedition was a little closer to home...

This tree has been growing behind the old churn cooling shed (this used to be a dairy farm) for - ahem - a year or two and we've been meaning to move it. It has a sort of Christmassy shape, I thought, so why not.

A quick buzz with the chainsaw...

Trying it for size. We have low ceilings so it needs to be about the height of Brian. I grab my secateurs and we take it indoors...

A bit of trimming here and there and it fits. (There then follows a short delay while we hunt down the ball that screws into the bottom of the trunk so it can sit in the tree holder. This takes a few hours so I start my new project which is to scrub the top of my old dresser so it can be brought into the kitchen.)

Finally the ball reappears (it was in the bottom of last year's tree of course, which was on the bottom of the wood pile in the big shed which is why it took Brian all afternoon to find it) and the tree is decorated. I'm rather strict about colour scheme. White and gold for this one... for the dining room tree (which is ancient and artificial but no trees were harmed in the making of this tree. If I find a cheap potted tree in the next few weeks this one might head back into the loft.)

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

On sleep and the lack of it

I'm having one of my not sleeping terribly well times. I keep waking up at 4.35am, feeling bored and going over lists in my head.

Annoyingly I've just had a period of good sleeping; whole glorious nights of deep slumber, waking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at about 6am. I say annoyingly because that phase seems to be over and I'm back to tugging fretfully at the duvet, trying to get comfortable and longing to fall into the comforting arms of oblivion.

Some of it is worry. Things that seem small irritations during the day can assume giant proportions in the middle of the night, only to dissipate with the beep of the alarm clock.

Experts talk of sleep hygiene. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every day. The latter is easy, I'm usually up and about by 6.30am having been gently awoken by my sunrise wake-up light. Going to bed at a set time is difficult with a husband who works shifts and doesn't get home until after midnight. Sometimes I can go to sleep before he comes home; sometimes I can't.

The flip side of late shifts is the earlies and it's difficult to fall back asleep when you've been awoken at 5.30am by a symphony of alarms accompanied by angry percussion from your nearest and dearest. He also has the habit of going back to sleep or forgetting to set either of his two alarms the night before. Both of these put me on red alert. I've saved him from being late for work on more than a couple of occasions now.

This leads me to the next problem; the clock in my head. It knows Brian needs to wake up at 5.30 for an early shift, so it wakes me up at 5.25am just to make sure he does.

I can shock myself back into sleeping by making myself stay up until 3am. This breaks the cycle, especially if my brain has set its internal alarm to 4.35am which it has this week. Why 4.35am? Who knows. It used to be 3.03am. Exactly. Every. Single. Night. But shock tactics are tiring and not conducive to a happy time the day after.

Not sleeping at night can turn into sleeping during the day. I have a lull at about 4pm which can turn into sleeping at 4pm if I'm not careful. I once woke up in the armchair, tucked in with a blanket and cushions. My children, preferring sleeping mummy to grumpy tired mummy, had taken the law into their own hands.

Hmm. So it will be Horlicks last thing. A wee dram is a good thing too but the cupboard is bare of such treats at the moment (austerity cuts!) Then off to bed at a sensible time with Radio 4 and a Book at Bedtime. If I see 4.35am again I may be a little cross with it.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Scenes from a long run #3

Plenty of water around today. On my favourite nine mile route the road crosses many little streams and rivers. At this time of year they gush off the hills with musical enthusiasm.

The water is in such a hurry to get to lower ground.

How ancient is this stone bridge I wonder? This is a drovers' route and I imagine they needed this little bridge to cross this stream before the road was built.

How to make a marzipan pony

My youngest daughter always asks for a pony-shaped chocolate birthday cake. This year I decided that a simpler option would be to make a chocolate cake and sit a pony on top of it.

I don't like fondant - it's completely inedible - and at least marzipan has almonds in it. So this was the solution I came up with for my marzipan-loving pony-mad eight-year-old.

A quick Google search brought up this charming YouTube tutorial and my efforts in marzipan are pictured above. I coloured the chocolate marzipan by kneading it in cocoa powder until the desired colour was achieved. For other colours use paste food colours as the liquid type make the marzipan too wet to model. I stuck to a two tone au naturel palette.

The ponies were a huge hit and I sat them on a chocolate cake (basic choccy sponge recipe) on a bed of custard-based buttercream (less sugary than the icing sugar sort) fenced in with chocolate fingers.