Saturday, 29 December 2012

Magatha Christie and the case of the missing keys

It began on a dark and rainy Friday evening in the depths of the sober lull between Christmas and New Year. After shuffling the children off to bed I reclined on the sofa, settled the dog snugly on my lap and prepared to watch Restoration Man.

My gentle slumbers close attention to George Clarke's erudite commentary was rudely interrupted by the telephone. Brian answered because he was awake nearest. I paid little attention until the words "no, it's no problem, we'll come and get you" were uttered.


It turned out that Mum, who had nipped out to her meditation group in Nevern, had become parted from her coat and in that coat pocket was her car key. Ah ha.

It also turned out that "we'll fetch you" actually meant "Maggie will fetch you". Ah ha ha.

I dragged myself out from underneath the dog, threw on my coat and valiantly charged out into the stormy night in my 4X4.

I splashed triumphantly into Nevern, to be greeted with the words, "have you got my spare car keys?" Oh expletive deleted I'd forgotten them. Ah ****ing ha.

So I drove my parent back over the Preseli Hills through fog and rain and wind while she explained that her coat had inadvertently gone home (to a deepest darkest somewhere south of Lampeter) on the back of a gentleman who had mistaken her smart Berghaus waterproof with its pocketful of car keys and sensible torch for his moth-eaten coat which had the grand total of nothing in its scruffy pockets. Mum was wearing the latter (because it was raining) looking moth-eaten, scruffy and car key and torch-less.

We left Mum's car (according to her) tucked in neatly at the side of the road or (according to me) parked in the middle of the road blocking her hosts' car neatly in its driveway and causing a small obstruction to those negotiating the picturesque but narrow bridge over the river Nevern.

The night passed bringing more rain and the morning subsequently arrived with news from Mum's hosts that her car was parked near the river and the aforementioned river had just burst its banks. Ah.

We had visions of a little silver Hyundai Getz appearing on news reports bobbing down the river to the sea and causing a hazard to shipping.

So we splashed over the Preselis again, this time double-checking the presence of the spare key, passing through two floods and dodging others and successfully rescued the car from the clutches of the river Nevern.

The coat, the keys and the torch? Well they're still somewhere in the deepest darkest depths of the countryside south of Lampeter. The apologetic gentleman says he'll return them. Eventually. Case closed.

* Incidentally, Maggie isn't really short for Magatha, but I think it would suit my surname better if it was!

Friday, 21 December 2012

What really bugs me about Christmas...

What really bugs me about Christmas is the way TV adverts and magazines portray it. We see harassed mum going from shopping to cleaning to party to cooking and then relative after relative arriving to open piles of expensive presents before squeezing around a table to eat a massive turkey.

Is it really like that? Or are we just made to feel that is how it should be so we spend lots of money trying to achieve that TV advertland ideal?

Martin Moneysavingexpert Lewis has been ranting about this for years - about how we feel obligated to give cards and buy presents we can't afford for people we don't like. He's taken a lot of flack for saying it but he has got a point.

I blame the gift bag for starters. I don't know who invented them but they are ridiculous! What happened to the single, individually wrapped present? A gift bag begs to be FILLED and that's expensive. Of course they're perfect when gifting for families as you can tuck everyone's present in together but not one bag each - unless you can afford it and as long as they then don't feel obligated to equally reciprocate.

I'm learning not to feel guilty about not always being able to reciprocate. We can't keep up with the lovely relatives who send our children cash. It seems crazy to then send it back to theirs, but we have done that in the past.

I LOVE buying presents. I buy Christmas presents all year round if I see the right thing and I stick to my budget, not because I'm Scrooge but because I don't have any alternative.

I LOVE making presents, which is why Magatha Bagatha came into being and I LOVE giving presents (especially to children).


I worry about those with small families, those who work on Christmas Day, those who live on their own and will be spending the day alone, those who have lost jobs, those who have lost relatives. Christmas in advertland isn't how it's supposed to be. That's someone else's Christmas. We should all stick to our own individual versions, tailor-made to suit ourselves and our budget and, definitely, not feel obligated, not feel guilty and not feel OMG-how-can-I-afford-this?!

Here, in our little part of the Preseli Hills, this is how things are:

We HATE turkey - so we're having chicken. Three generations will sit in COMFORT around the dining table - there's five of us (not 'only' five, just five). The tree isn't a Norwegian spruce (LOVE the smell, HATE the price) it's a willow branch (and some Crabtree and Evelyn Noel room spray for fragrance.) I HATE tinsel (so it's quarantined upstairs where the children have lovingly wound it around everywhere). This is NOT America so there's no cranberry sauce. I haven't bought a SINGLE gift bag (we're always given plenty to recycle!) If you turn up and I'd like to give you a present, I WILL give you marmalade but don't feel obligated to give anything back. I bought ONE pack of Christmas cards and ONE book of stamps and they're all used up now so if you didn't get a card, I'm sorry but HAPPY CHRISTMAS anyway.

Have a very happy Christmas everyone, and have YOUR perfect Christmas, not somebody else's.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Mud, water and festive breakages


The relentless rain has left us fetlock deep in mud. Walking the dogs is more slipping with the dogs and they haul vast quantities back in to the house with them on their paws. The sheep don't seem to mind, thanks to the invention of lanolin. The ponies mind and are brought into the shed to dry out. The four-legged can walk about on the mud - if one leg slips there's another three to lean on. Humans are less fortunate so walking about is tiresome. A couple of times I've had to grab onto a handy mane to save from muddy disaster.


Our farm, like all of the others here, is strewn with streams. In the summer they burble happily down to the river at the bottom, in winter - or, rather, in a WET winter like this one - they hurry angrily on down muttering loudly to themselves. Unless of course they become clogged with leaves and then there is childlike pleasure in kicking the leaves out and getting a satisfying gurgle before the stream forms a mini tsunami and rushes on again sweeping a barrage of leaves in its path. Even though only a foot wide and ankle-deep the power is surprising. It makes me wish I had the wit of an engineer, imagining how even a tiny turbine could harness that power and turn it into electricity. I know it can be done, I've even seem it demonstrated on Youtube with an empty water carrier and plastic spoons but I cannot work out how that electricity, once made, could be employed. I should have paid attention in physics.


The festive season has arrived despite my best efforts to ignore it and hope it will magically move itself to a more convenient time, say, around Easter. I've been busy with Magatha Bagatha sewing presents for family alongside making things for customers. It's been an absolute joy - especially finding out how much I love making bunting and designing cushions to a customer's specification. Comments such as: "Maggie, they are amazing, I am over the moon with them,"  and "Wow! I love them!" are so lovely and very encouraging.

Finally though I have got to the end of the things I need to make and have packed away my sewing machine. Underneath it was the dining table, which we're going to need next Tuesday, and around it, under heaps of material, is apparently the rest of the dining room although I haven't managed to locate all of it yet!

But I have got the tree up - a bit of goat willow I found in the hedge by the river. Last time we chopped down an ash sapling that was growing in the wrong place, but it would seem vandalism to kill an ash at the moment. The willow is an excellent substitute and looks festive wrapped in sparkling lights.

Small disasters

Things keep breaking. My car was the start of this current spate of breakages. I actually cried when it left, I'm such a wuss. I loved my CR-V. Then we acquired a gorgeous new (younger, sprightlier) one that I love more; I'm that fickle.

The oil boiler has been broken for ages but we finally saved up enough to pay for it to be fixed (by not using or having to pay for oil - simple!) and now it is working again we are flagrantly leaving it on all day and basking in the heat. The bathroom is warm (hot!) enough for a leisurely bath, not just a splash and dash.

Then the fridge part of the fridge freezer broke. Just as I was about to stuff it with food ready for Christmas. Blasted thing. What timing! If it wasn't already dead I'd kill it. We'd always hated it tough (horrid complicated LG thing) so  a replacement is arriving tomorrow.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

We've been on Mulliday

Well, on holiday to the Isle of Mull anyway. My Dad lives there (see Peter on Mull) with  his wife Pat in a lovely new house they've built together in a very handy spot near where the Oban ferry arrives.

Turus Mara.

We trekked up the motorway, overnighted at Carlisle and spent Sunday night to Thursday morning on the island. It was my second visit to Mull but the first for Brian and the first ever visit to Scotland for H10 and R8.

Mull is like the rest of Scotland - soaring peaks, seaweedy beaches and crystal clear lochs, all packed with wildlife. When we weren't tripping over fat bunny rabbits we were spotting deer, arguing over whether it was buzzard or golden eagle and giggling at the antics of otters. We searched for Highland Coos, admired the curlicue horns on Blackface sheep and bemoaned the absence of white-tailed eagles.

An otter before breakfast.

We bounced around on bumpy roads in the back of Dad and Pat's Land Rover, toasted marshmallows over embers in the fireplace of an abandoned bothy, photographed peak after peak after peak and fell over on slippy seaweedy paths and nearly broke our wrists (well, only Dad and I).

There were the usual funnies - one when I jumped out of the car to photograph an eagle and dropped one of my leather gloves on the road. I didn't realise until my hands were cold in Tobermory. Yes we drove all the way back to pick it out of a puddle. (Sighs and rolls eyes.)

Another happened as we queued to leave the island when the CalMac man took tickets and asked Brian to confirm the number of occupants in the car.

"Five," Brian boomed back confidently, handing over five tickets, forgetting that one was for the car.

CalMacMan smiled thinly, handed over FOUR boarding cards and announced dryly, "The one in the boot gets in for free."

I laughed at that all the way back to Pembrokeshire. (Last time, when we were in Scotland on honeymoon, Brian drove into a lay-by for no apparent reason and I was laughing so hard I couldn't tell him what he had done. It was the lay-by on the left just before you get to the turning for Duck Bay and we gave it a wave on this trip. He maintains to this day that it looks just like road, not lay-by. He's wrong.)

Snow, as requested by H10 and R8.

We left Scotland with snow on its highest peaks and followed the rainbows back down the motorways and over sleet-laden hills and finally back to home. The journey takes 12 hours but the views are so wonderful from the northern stretch of the M6 it's not that onerous (especially if you can't drive because your wrist is too bruised from falling over watching otters!)

Friday, 19 October 2012

From PC despair to PC joy!

Poor blog! It has been a trifle neglected of late. Partly this is because my desktop PC died and there was much to do to transfer files and here I must send heartfelt thanks to LJ Computers Ltd for rescuing my hard disc.

Apparently my motherboard was 'sizzling' when Jon (the J of LJ Computers) turned it on so then it was a case of file rescue from the hard disc. Easy when you know how - or know someone who does! LJ Computers are local to me here but they are like an online IT department, supporting everything from software, to hardware, websites and IT training. And they know how to rescue a gal in PC trouble!

They advised on shiny new hardware for me too and I now have an HP PC with Windows 7. This was a big jump from Windows XP and it's LOVELY.

Apart from going from PC despair to PC joy I've been sewing, sewing and sewing for a craft fair I'm taking part in (and for Christmas presents too).

The craft fair is on November 10th, 10am to 4pm, at Clarbeston Road hall and Lins (coincidentally the L of LJ Computers) is rounding up lots of talented craftspeople from Pembrokeshire to sell their wares and raise funds for St Meilyr's Church in Llysyfran. This is perfect timing for Christmas shopping and if you're in the area on that day I urge you to come along, have a mince pie and BUY LOCAL FOR CHRISTMAS!

Magatha Bagatha (aka me) will have cushions, cafetiere covers, lavender bags and covered journals (so far!), R8 is bringing along some of her embroidery and H10 and her friend G11 will be selling homemade dog biscuits to raise money for the Dog's Trust. for the full list of exhibitors see the website HERE.

UPDATE: Find LJ Computers on Facebook HERE. They are a friendly and approachable family-run company  and provide hosting and website design alongside quality IT advice, support and delivery. Their websites are: and

Monday, 15 October 2012

Thoughts on a half marathon

I ran the Cardiff Half Marathon yesterday for the fourth time. The sun was smiling on Cardiff and the 18,000 runners started to the chimes of the Cardiff Castle clock.

These are some of my thoughts over the 13.1 miles:

STARTING PEN: I can see the start arch. I must be too far forward. Blimey that tannoy is so loud! Everyone around me looks a bit too fit. I might just try to edge back a bit... Oops, stepped on another runner. I'm stuck! I need a wee.

MILE 1: Must try to get rid of knackered old fleece that's keeping me warm without annihilating anyone in the cheering crowds. Bye bye fleece! Hello people waving from bedroom windows in fluffy pink dressing gowns.

MILE 2: This is LOVELY! Cheering crowds in Grangetown, decent pace, feeling GOOD! Ooh look, a gorilla!

MILE 3: Everyone is running past me. Apart from the ones who are walking. Overtaken by Yoda. Quite a fast runner, Yoda is. First water stop. Lovely.

MILE 4: Overtaken by Mr Potato Head, Buzz Lightyear and a bloke dressed as a lifeboat. It's a bit crowded but the pace is comfortable.

MILE 5: This is BRILLIANT! Runners around me are talking of 2:15 pace. I can't do that but they're overtaking me so that's okay. This is my favourite part - over Cardiff Bay Barrage. Overtaken by three blokes wearing Speedos. Just Speedos. Hello Dr Who Experience.

MILE 6: Straight down Lloyd George Avenue. This has been the start/finish in previous years. Hello air cadets, thank you for the gels. The road is sticky from discarded gel packets. It's like running on Velcro. Thank you lovely spectator person for the wine gums! Hello Senedd.

MILE 7: More friendly cheering crowds. This is like being in the Olympics! Is the the legacy that Lord Coe was talking about? I think so. Long may it last.

MILE 8: I'm running on the spot. And hallucinating. I'm pretty sure a tall pink furry thing has just overtaken me with an ironing board strapped to its back. Weird.

MILE 9: I'm running, facing forwards but going backwards. How is that possible? Overtaken by the Jamaican bobsleigh team carrying their bobsleigh and singing 'You've Lost That Loving Feelin'.

MILE 10: I can't feel my toes. Actually I can feel my toes and I wish I couldn't. Ow, ow, OW! The road is littered with the corpses of abandoned Mars Bars.

MILE 11: I AM NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN THIS IS HELL! More water. Thank you. Morphine would have been better. I'll just have a little walk. I NEVER walk in half marathons. This is BAD. Feel better after a few moments and run again. Second wind. It hurts but I think I may finish in a reasonable time, if not my best.

MILE 12: Woman crossing the road with toddler in one hand and pushchair in the other clips my heel and sends me sprawling. I scream SH*T!!! in front of crowds of friendly spectators, while pushchair woman looks horrified. Gallant, chivalrous man puts out arms to catch should I fall. Luckily I stay upright by flailing arms and legs like a stranded starfish. Brave man had a lucky escape. I'd have flattened him and covered him in sweat. Surge of adrenaline speeds me away from embarrassing scene and up nasty bit of hill.

MILE 13: Pushchair incident has shocked all joints in legs and pelvis. Ankle feels awful. Can hardly walk, let alone run. Hobble along feeling sorry for self. Surrounded by other walkers. I've never been this far back in the field.

FINISH: Speedy expert runner, with medal already around neck, yells that we'll be able to see the finish around the next corner. Force body to run. I CAN SEE THE FINISH! Sprint for the line overtaking corpses on the way. Grab medal and say thankyouthankyouthankyou to all the stewards and volunteers at the finish. Hobble away carrying goodie bag and medal.

Cardiff Half Marathon history: 2009, 2 hours 25 mins; 2010, 2 hours 17 mins; 2011, 2 hours 25 mins; 2012, 2 hours 40 mins.

That's my last one for the time being. I've finally been forced to admit that the training required to get to 13.1 miles in exacerbating my Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction - a condiditon I developed during pregnancy. It's difficult to run that far with a wobbly pelvis and I've found that my weekly limit is a maximum of 17 miles, not the 25 miles plus I need to be able to do. So it's strength training, shorter runs, cycling and 10ks for me for a bit.

As for half marathons, I know I said never, but...

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Ergorapido v Life in the Preseli Hills

Life in the Preseli Hills can be a muddy, hairy, hay-covered existence and I seem sometimes to be fighting a losing battle against the tidal wave of daily dirt that washes up in my house.

We have ponies, sheep, dogs, cats and hens and their hair, fur and feathers seems to find its way indoors on the bottom of wellies along with the mud that is an inevitable part of life on a farm.

And it gets all over the cream tiles in the utility room, kitchen and bathroom. Why, why, WHY did I choose cream tiles? Because my house is a tiny cottagy thing and anything darker would have made it look like a cave. I'd tackle the problem with a broom and an old handheld vacuum cleaner (which died recently) but, inevitably, seconds after I'd swept, the floor would be all hairy again.

The main problem looks like this:

Mido can't help being so hairy!

Labradors, even part-bred ones like Mido, shed copious amounts of hair. He's surrounded by it in the picture if you look closely.

So when AEG said they were looking for people to test their Ergorapido cyclonic cleaner I begged pleaded pointed out that I had a problem with a black Labrador and cream tiles. They said their machine was well up to the challenge and one duly arrived in a nice shiny box.

What is an Ergorapido? It's a lightweight rechargeable (astonishingly powerful) vacuum cleaner. It's 2-in-1 which means you can use it as an upright or take it apart and whip out the smaller handheld cleaner. It has a rotating brush to pick up all the hairy dirt and headlights on the front so you can see where the dirt is. 

It tackled my tiles:

Can you see the furrow ploughed by the Ergorapido?!

What makes this such fun is that it's so easy. One swipe with the Ergorapido and the hair and the mud has gone, safely cyclonically suctioned up inside the machine.

Me and vacuuming aren't the best of friends because I have a bad back and find it uncomfortable to do. I tend to leave it to my husband (he prefers to do it rather than find me on my hands and knees using the cleaner or incapacitated having used it). The Ergorapido, however, is light and nimble - a veritable ballerina of vacuum cleaners - and I have no problem with using it (which is good because I now use it at least twice a day!) It's laughably good at turning corners (it should do Strictly...) and there's no fighting with retractable cables because you just lift it off its stand and then lift it back on again when you've finished.

And boy is it good at picking up hair...

BEFORE: Wound around with hair, sewing threads and hay

I have long strong hair which is (previously) impossible to pick up. I also do a lot of sewing so invariably there are little bits of cotton all over the dining room carpet. Not any more! The Ergorapido winds them round the brush (see picture). To clean this I just snipped the thick bit in the middle with a pair of scissors and most of the hair just pulls easily off. You then put the cleaner on a hard surface, press the head cleaning button on the side, count to five and Hey Presto!...

AFTER: Spotless again

It comes up like new. Every single time. Ingenious. It's a doddle to clean the dust container too. You just unclip the dust box and tip it the bits into the bin. It has an efficient filter (I now keep an old toothbrush handy to quickly brush this clean) and the inner filter has a spring loaded trigger that you ping the dust off with. All done in moments.

Headlights so you can see where the dirt is

The Ergorapido is the sort of thing that I didn't know I needed until I got it and now I'm wondering how I lived without it. I'm a fan of Fly Lady style of cleaning (set the timer and GO!) and I can vacuum my whole house with the Ergorapido (just the middles, as Fly Lady says) in ten minutes (less if I run!) This is a Very Good Thing.

The handheld cleaner has two nozzles - one concentrates the suction into a tiny area so you can clean hard to reach places (like behind the pipes in the bathroom). The other has a brush on it (which is excellent at cleaning the dust off the TV). It's so easy and quick to use Brian grabbed it and gave his car a quick spruce up before he went off to work one morning.

I was trying to find something negative to say about it. I first thought the handheld bit was underpowered but it's very efficient once you fit the nozzles on (better than my old one in fact). It does run out of juice after a while (as all cordless things do). I charge it up overnight and use it morning and evening so that's not a problem.

I'll leave the last word on it to R8: "Wow!" she said, as it flitted past whisking up dirt, "that's awesome!"

Disclaimer: AEG supplied me with an Ergorapido to test. I am under no obligation to give it a positive review.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Ffordd Ar Gau

We're having an entertaining week transport-wise, here in our little village. Last week the council, all of a sudden and without much warning (merely a sign announcing dates) decided to close the road and give us a nice new surface.

Terrific! It needs it! So the road has been scraped clean of the grass down the middle, the iron works have been raised, it's been scrubbed clean, bits have been eaten off by one of those road-eating machines and we now await a shiny new surface.

Getting to and fro our farm is the problematical part. The road is long and narrow with high banked sides, twisty bends and no junctions for means of escape. The detour is fine but tiresome if you attempt the road, find it blocked and then have to turn around. I've taken to dashing out early on the school run, taking the long way round to minimise the risk of meeting the road gang and after the first week of term (see Yesterday) I've abandoned the afternoon school run in favour of the bus anyway.

You see every cloud has a silver lining! The surprise coming home on the bus thing (because idiot mother left her lights on and flattened her car battery) was a huge hit with all concerned and is now part of the a daily routine.

My afternoon low-carbon school run now looks like this:

The dogs' enthusiasm for the new arrangements is such that they start howling at about 2.45pm just in case I change my mind and don't take them. They caught on straight away to the fact that the Big Walk involves a nice circuit - up along the footpath through our fields, down the road to the village to meet H10 and R8 from a minibus and then back along the road, up our driveway and back home.

It's about a mile and the dogs are inclined to tackle it at full pelt, towing me along. (I'm training them NOT to do this!) I carry a rucksack with the girls' wellies in it (so as not to wreck their nice new Startrite shoes) and it's lovely in the autumn sunshine and not too bad even when it's raining. I suspect enthusiasm may wane during the snowy, icy months though, but I'm sure even that can be conquered with the right clothing (there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing.)

The road gang members are (mostly) friendly and inclined to wave as we stomp past in our wellies. On Monday we met a very tall, very African chap with a big smile (with tooth missing in the middle) who was kind enough to escort the bus through (he paraded magnificently along in front of it) and stopped the circular saw (which they were using to cut out a drain) while the children were there.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Haylage - at last!

Mown cut and baled - some of the bales in the first field...

...the rest in the second. This is the only flat land on our farm.

Brian brings all 30 down, one by one, carrying them on a spike on the back of our ancient Ford tractor.

They get lined up and then wrapped all black and shiny in plastic, thus preserving them for the winter. They're sitting in the field now waiting to be taken and stacked in the hayguard. Where they'll join the ones we have left over from last year! We made 30, we need 15. The leftovers end up (eventually) as rather splendid compost on the garden.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Yesterday I couldn't sleep (again) and I got up far too early. Yesterday I had a big row with my husband (I was grumpy and tired). Yesterday the something crunchy in my pasta was one of my fillings. Yesterday the postman was bringing something nice that needed a signature and I missed him. Yesterday it was raining and I forgot I had my lights on and when I went to start my car for the afternoon school run the battery was flat. Yesterday I accidentally put R8's favourite toy, Milly the Billy Goat Gruff, in the washing machine.

Yesterday was a bit tiresome in parts.

Yesterday I checked my Euromillions ticket and we had won!

Yesterday, being the sort of day it was yesterday, we had won £3.


Monday, 3 September 2012

Angelic angelica

Phew! It's September. In some ways I'm glad August is over, what with the family summer holiday and it being everyone's birthday (Mum, Dad, me, G11, Andrew... and others!) not to mention the need and opportunity for day trips out and then the annual topping up of the school uniforms. It's a long and expensive month. September heralds a big sigh of relief.

It also brings the blooming of the angelica on our small very wet field that we call The Moor. This field usually dries out in the summer, perhaps at least a little bit, but this year it has remained gloriously wet and the angelica loves it.

The flower heads change from neatly pink to fluffy white and then to deep, rich purples and greens. They are usually laden with brown, fluffy-bottomed wild bees, hover flies, butterflies and the occasional dragonfly. The bees seem to love it the most, roaming over the umbellifers giddy with nectar.

It's a gorgeous, tapestry effect. A beautiful perennial meadow.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

How to buy a present for a Virgo

It was my birthday yesterday and I feel fortunate that I have lovely and generous family and friends who bought me such lovely presents.

I reckon that I'm easy to buy for because I love books and I can't afford to buy them for myself. I really look forward to getting one for my birthday and these ones about sum me up perfectly.

Gardening at Longmeadow by Monty Don. Gardener's World is an addiction for me. Woe betide anyone who tries to speak while it's on! Monty is now using his lovely garden at Longmeadow on the programme and this book charts the history and the making of it.

The Intolerant Gourmet by Pippa Kendrick. Not a book I'd heard of before but this is a perfect cookery book for Virgos. It combines the love of cooking with the likelihood of food intolerance (we're a sensitive sign). Authored by the friend of the mother of a friend of my sister's. Some delicious looking recipes lurk within.

Doodle Stitching: The Motif Collection by Aimee Ray. Over 400 easy embroidery designs. I've recently rediscovered hand embroidery (and R8 is discovering it along with me). Full of useful techniques and inspirational designs.

Edible Seashore (River Cottage Handbook No. 5) by John Wright. I've hoped to have this book for AGES (thank you Lins!!) and it's every bit as lovely as I'd hoped. I spent much of my childhood rootling around the shores of Pembrokeshire in amongst the seaweed and shellfish without really knowing what much of it was. (I have happy memories of hours spent popping bladderwrack, a bit like the pleasure of popping bubble wrap.) I love hunting out crabs and anemones in rock pools. This book is what to find to cook and eat along with plans for lobster pots and shrimping nets. I'm reading this one first!

Thorntons chocolates. Two boxes. I love chocolate and there's something special about a layer of individual chocolates in a box. It says BIRTHDAY to me. Yum.

Google Nexus 7. Thank you to everyone who contributed so generously to the buying of this. Virgos love gadgets (think fellow Virgo Stephen Fry). This is a seven inch tablet - Kindle-sized but like an iPad. Clever, clever, clever. I switched it on, it politely asked for the wifi password and then it introduced itself to the PC and my android smartphone. It's got a Kindle app on it (the first thing I added!) so I've got my happy snout sniffling about in the Kindle store like a truffle pig.

Montezuma's dark chocolate with orange and geranium. Smooth, dark and delicious. The best chocolate.

Not pictured (because I was wearing it and I forgot). Diaphanous web-like scarf in gorgeous jewel-coloured yarn which can only have been crocheted  by an especially talented spider.

Thank you to everyone for all of my lovely presents!

Yesterday we went to see the film Brave, a brilliant animated Disney film set in Scotland and featuring the lovely Angus, my new screen crush.

*SIGH* Isn't he gorgeous?! I think I might have to save up for an Angus!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The butterfly summer

One of our butterflies.

If this summer was a novel I'd call it The Butterfly Summer. This is the year we raised butterflies, ten Painted Ladies, which arrived in a pot as teeny tiny caterpillars, sat on the coffee table on their sugar substrate getting bigger, turned into chrysalids and then hatched into pretty fluttery butterflies.

We kept them in for three days, waiting for a gap in the rain, and then released them a week ago, watching delighted as, one by one, they flew out of the pop-up butterfly house and into the garden. Mostly they alighted on the buddleia, some flew around in a big circle and landed on one of us, others flew straight upwards into the topmost branches of one of our trees.

I've been spotting them for the past week, mostly refuelling on the buddliea. I'm very proud of our butterfly 'babies' but missed having them to care for so immediately another batch of baby butterflies was ordered. This time we have little tortoiseshell caterpillars, almost too tiny to see and they're getting bigger on a diet of fresh nettles.

In between rearing butterflies we've had an austere time as we're saving to go to Mull in October. There have been sleepovers, hot tub days for H10 and R8, riding Itsy, a trip to the County Show (we got soaked), body boarding at the beach and lovely giggly friends over.

The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

In the midst of all this the Olympics happened in London and were wonderful. Brian and I got tickets for the football quarter finals at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, which happened to be GB v Korea. GB did what British teams usually do at that stage and lost after a penalty shoot out but it was all very exciting and I really 'got' football having seen it live. The atmosphere in the stadium was like a rock concert - the roof was closed to keep the rain out which made it even more concert-like. We Mexican waved, we batted around big Olympic themed beach balls and we moved a huge flag. Crowds are funny, organic things and it was good fun to be part of such a big one, until it was time to queue for the park and ride buses of course! Ah well, it was an experience!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Wow Mummy, who painted that!?

I mentioned in a bog a few weeks ago (Lovely things) that I'd been offered the chance to try out something from Snapfish and then review it on my blog.

Snapfish kindly gave me £35 of account credit and there then followed a period of delicious agony while I sorted through my photographs to find a suitable image. I decided to go for a canvas print as it's one of the things I have yet to try . In the past I've bought a mug; a big posh photobook; a smaller photobook and a calendar - and I've always been very impressed with the quality of the items and the service I've received.

In fact one of the photobooks, a present for my mother-in-law, got lost in the post and Snapfish replaced it immediately and with a huge apology. They also rescued me last year when I accidentally deleted my July 2011 pictures from my computer. I'd used Snapfish to make a calender at Christmas and all of my prints were safely stored on the site. (I was so relieved, if it was possible to hug a website, I'd have hugged it.)

Here's one I made earlier.

Anyway I finally settled on an picture of H10 and R8 that I took of them paddling at Newquay. I'd previously manipulated it (using a free trial of Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 that I decided not to buy because it was too good and I was too obsessed with it!). It looked (on my computer screen) like a painting rather than a photograph and I was quite pleased with it.

Then we all rushed off on holiday to Devon and I rather forgot about my Snapfish order. When we arrived home there was a big parcel waiting. Inside was the 16"x12" photo canvas.

"Wow Mummy," said H10, awed, "who painted that!?"

It looks and feels like a painting, like proper art. We were all gobsmacked and delighted. It remains to be hung on the wall, once we have redecorated.

It's worth registering with Snapfish - they offer free prints for every newly registered customer - it's also a useful back-up store for all your most precious photos (as I found out!). You can connect to your pictures on Facebook as well as uploading from your computer. There are usually offers at Christmas too which I find useful for presents. Oh and I can recommend the canvas prints!

Disclosure: Thank you to Kristina of Snapfish for giving me £35 account credit and free postage in return for this blog post.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Sun! Sun! Sun!

Less manic today - Brian's on holiday and sharing the load. I could list, but - *yawn* - enough. The sun shone, the Pimms was poured. It's summer and life is great.

Garlic - cleaned and in the polytunnel to finish drying.

Cucumbers - easy, reliable, I adore.

Chamomile - my favourite flower, seeds freely, divine.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The first day of the summer holidays...

The first day of the summer holidays went something like this:

Make coffee; feed dogs; eat breakfast; load dishwasher; administer ointment to Brian's horsefly bite; hang out washing; recapture escaped schnauzer; apply sympathy and throat lozenges to H10 who has stinking grumpy cold; reload washing machine; water polytunnel; plant out bedding plants into pots; water pots; hang out hanging basket while the weather is actually good enough for it to go out; consider family trip out; examine finances, change mind;

drink coffee;

assist with H10 riding Itsy; apply bridle to Bullseye who has never worn one before; apply reassuring pats to scaredy Bullseye; apply roller and saddle pad to same pony; apply cuddles to ditto for being a brave boy; wave at friendly postman; open post which includes two cartons each containing five live painted lady butterfly caterpillars for summer holiday butterfly hatching project (inspired by Zoe Lynch whose caterpillars are a bit posher than ours - click link to see);

eat lunch; listen to German Grand Prix qualifying on the radio (as will not pay evil Sky for live TV coverage); cuddle schnauzer;

wave Brian off to work with fond kick kiss; find photography challenge for H10 and R8 (via my 'for my daughters' board on Pinterest); send them off on nature scavenger hunt; hang out second load of washing; recapture escaped schnauzer; bring dry towels in; reload washing machine; water third and final batch of bean seeds (two previous lots failed to germinate); take cuttings of broad-leaved thyme for Lins and Alex; admire results of scavenger hunt; take silly photographs of both scavenger hunters;

pause to contemplate next sewing project while eating Tunnock's teacake; take haynet to dieting fat ponies; take supplementary food to elderly skinny pony; jump up and down like a loony to attract pony's attention (she's deaf); supervise H10 applying green oils to pony's horse fly bite while dodging flying mouthfuls of horse food; feed the rest of the Tunnock's teacakes to grateful offspring; recapture escaped schnauzer;

drink coffee;

read Telegraph online; hand out pens, paper, card, pencils and scissors to craft-mad offspring; take paracetamol for thumping headache; hand out glue and coloured paper to crafting offspring; consider taking headache off to bed for sneaky nap; foiled by crafting offspring needing help to find scissors (that they already had);

put kettle on for another coffee while ignoring pleading looks from schnauzer; gaze at Pinterest while cute annoying schnauzer tugs at sleeve of t-shirt; forget coffee but hurriedly marinate chicken in paprika and lime for fajitas; give in to canine pleas and take for walk; retrieve dried washing and hang out final load accompanied by the music of caged and furious schnauzer;

wander aimlessly round garden enjoying unusual sunshine; water dry bits of polytunnel; scoff raspberries straight off the canes; harvest salad to go in fajitas; return to house, release and feed hungry schnauzer and his labrador side-kick; cook and eat fajitas with offspring; switch on Indiana Jones film; fall gratefully into glass of Sauvignon Blanc;

remember ponies need putting back out to the field, put down wine and do so; feed guinea pigs and shut them up for the night; close polytunnel; clear up kitchen and load dishwasher; nag children to go to bed, many times; succeed; wait while they phone Daddy at work to say goodnight; eventually escape back downstairs; trip over pupsidedown schnauzer; head back outside in the twilight to shut up roosted hens; remember there's a glass of wine somewhere; locate it on coffee table; switch on telly; sink into sofa clutching wine; think how I've wasted another day not getting much done; wish I had someone to talk to; drown sorrows in wine; fall inelegantly asleep on sofa clutching TV remote.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Even the garlic has gone rusty...

I'm dashing about (well 'dashing' might be an exaggeration!) from task to task depending on whether the wet stuff is falling from the sky or not.

Think of one of those weather things - was there one in Chigley or was it Trumpton? - where the little people trundle out according to the weather conditions. Rain will see me indoors with the sewing machine or "cleaning" (on Facebook?!); the slightest hint of fine weather and I'm out in the garden raging at the waist height couch grass. Is it just here or is the couch really tall this year? My garden is obliterated. I'm considering violence.

Still more black currants yet to ripen.

In the meantime, while thinking murderous thoughts towards aforementioned invasive grass, I have harvested all the garlic (which had rust - of course it would in this weather), and picked the first two cucumbers (so reliable) and the raspberries, red currants, pink gooseberries and black currants. There isn't quite enough for individual varieties of jam, so I think a mixed berry conserve beckons this year.

Rose 'Grace'

School is almost out - R8 says she has been on a marathon DVD-watching exercise for what seems like the past three weeks, while H10 claims to have been doing nothing but school work. A little of both is probably nearest the truth. They both had excellent reports and all - teachers too - deserve a bit of fun in the final few days of the school year.

Rusty garlic drying on the empty runner bean bed.

They've both got end-of-term-itis now though. The long summer holidays are nearly upon us and we have Big Plans. Lists have been made and requests have been requested.

We have a trip to Devon - first and foremost and most importantly -  to see lovely friends. Then we have free swimming to take advantage of and Tesco Days Out tokens carefully squirrelled away for Folly Farm trips. There are rock pools to be examined, walks to walk and hills to climb. There's the small matter of the Olympics too, with footie tickets for us grown-ups and the excitement of the horse events on TV for the pony-mad offspring.

I'm on a running hiatus at the moment, with three months to go to the the Big Day (Cardiff Half Marathon). Fatigue had set in along with torpor and lack of energy. Online wisdom suggested a rest so I've prescribed myself two weeks off before the final push to the start line. My long Sunday run is already up to 10+ miles so it's only another 3.1 on top of that to do. The rest of the training now is for speed and vanity but in the long run it's the taking part that counts. Unlike the Olympians all I have to do to get a nice shiny medal is to take part in my event!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Lovely things

Sometimes amid the general hurly burly of day to day life nice things happen. A couple of lovely things have happened in this past week, so I thought I'd share them with you.

Firstly I had an email from Lizzie at Dorset Cereals telling me that my picture of Bullseye, which had been featured in their simple pleasures gallery, was one of the ten chosen for June to receive a prize of their new breakfast pots.

My prize arrived this morning when we were in the midst of yet another heavy downpour.

They look yummy and very useful portable breakfasts. We all adore Dorset cereals in this household so their arrival was greeted with much excitement.

And this is the picture, that I called 'spring sunshiny whiskers', which also serves to remind me that it doesn't always rain here, even if it seems like it. I took rather a lot of pictures in this session - I adore Bullseye's cute little nose and he's a patient subject!

The next lovely thing to happen arrived also in email form in the shape of an offer, by Katrina of Snapfish, to test out some of the Snapfish products using my photographs and then blog about them here. Of course I was delighted to accept and the image of Bullseye immediately jumped into my mind as a likely project. Perhaps I can have him printed on canvas, made into an acrylic block or printed on to a mug or two?

I need to upload my images to the site and have a really good play with the various options. It's something I will love doing and it will give us a lasting bit of art to hang on the wall. I plan on saving the project for a rainy day, which will more than likely be tomorrow!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Work in progress

It's raining. But you knew that. We've had the wettest April to June period on record according to the experts and I'm not one to argue. Our fields are sodden. Early evening dog walks are accompanied by swarms of midges and armies of marching slugs. I'm wearing winter jumpers and boots and the utility room is full of dripping waterproofs.

Then the sun comes out and everything gets rather steamy and foggy. It's a funny old year.

Things are struggling (drowning!) in the garden, while it's high summer in the polytunnel where I'm still picked the wild rocket I planted last September. The tomatoes are blooming and there are tiny baby cucumbers. I think I need another polytunnel and then I'll just let the rest of the garden go wild!

In the meantime it's Wimbledon and that means I need to find something to do while I watch. This year it's embroidery and so far I've made a lavender filled hanging heart (free pattern from

Then I moved on to the Stupendous Stitching course  on the same website. I found Craftsy via Pinterest and treated myself to Carol Ann Waugh's online course when it was on special offer. The course mixes machine and hand embroidery and quilting and is terrific fun. I hadn't hand embroidered since primary school so there was a bit of a relearning curve on this first piece (above). By the time I got to the French knotted sheep I was having a ball (and started basing them on our own flock - the third from the right is Chops.)

This second piece isn't finished yet - I need to add the machine quilting and a rattail border - but it's thoroughly addictive and a perfect, quiet thing to do while watching the tennis. I loved embroidering the bunting - H10, looking at the flowers, the whirligig fireworks and the bunting, says it looks like a spring party - so that's what I'll call it. I'm also quite proud of that fluffy white line - that's a bit of wool from one of our sheep that I washed, carded and spun by hand (using fingers and an HB pencil - I really need a drop spindle!) before couching it on to the material.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Strange weather and summer swallows

What do ochre skies mean? Trouble!

Sometimes it just doesn't feel like summer. I think this is going to be one of those years again where I'm waiting for summer to happen but it never quite does. We've had days when it's been too hot and the sheep have been lying around in the sun like swooning maidens in too tight corsets and days when they've been smugly impervious in their huge woolly jumpers as the rain lashes down. Shearing can wait until until the isobars are less excitable.

Parent arrives to stuff an insect into a hopeful beak.

The swallows continue their summer routine whatever the weather. The farmyard is full of them swooping in and out of various open windows and doors. Stand in front of one of the (glassless) windows into our range of dilapidated outbuildings and they'll knife the air in front of you regardless, intent on feeding their greedy brood. This week the chicks have fledged and fly wonkily to the telephone wires where they sit in demanding rows awaiting the attention of their exhausted parents.

The parent rests briefly on the wires - it's easy to tell the difference at this age; the babies haven't yet grown the long tail streamers.

The parent heads off to find more food. I don't think these are all the chicks; there were three others on the wire at one stage.

The swallows' ever present chatter is one of the main sounds of summer, played against a background hum of tractors and mowers intent on bringing in the silage.

Gardening-wise it's been high summer in the polytunnel for ages with new potatoes, salad plants and strawberries all going strong. The tomatoes and cucumbers are in the borders now and are coming on well too. Outside things are rather more disastrous and demoralising. It seems I'm planting things purely for the slugs to eat and the couch grass is completely out of control. Every time I think I have cleared it, it invades again. I think murderous thoughts in its direction. And for some reason I can't get a single runner bean to germinate. Borlottis and broads, yes, runners (and peas too) no. Some years you just have to shrug and admit defeat!

At least this paeony has survived to flower this year. Last year the wind cruelly snapped it off when it was tightly in bud. This year, unperturbed, it has offered three buds and all have resisted the attentions of the wind (and I've staked it too, which might have helped.) You have to be a tough plant to survive at 600 feet up on the lower slopes of the Preselis. Last week I watched the wind punch my dogwoods flat. The plucky plants stood back up, only for the wind to knock them flat again.

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Olympic torch visits West Wales

I'm a bit excited that the Olympics are in London this year and, although we haven't got tickets, I'll be glued to the TV when the games are on. I was very keen to see the torch too - we already met it in Cardiff when I ran the half marathon last October and I've had the date it was due to pass through Pembrokeshire written on the calender for months.

Then we found out that Caroline - H10's guides leader - would be carrying the torch into Cardigan. Cue scenes of great excitement. She was due to arrive with the torch over the town's old bridge at 3.44pm on Sunday, so we assembled an hour in advance with the other guides and brownies. There was a happy buzz of anticipation as the torch relay procession approached.

H10 and her fellow guides made banners at guides on Friday. They all adore Caroline which was clear from the posters and the air of general excitement.

R8, H10 and grandma were interviewed for the radio on their thoughts and feelings about the Olympic torch relay.

Caroline enters, torch aloft, huge smile.

Big cheers go up as the guides spot their leader.

One of 8,000.

Caroline hands the flame over to the next torch bearer.

What a fabulous day - it's something I won't forget and I hope H10 and R8 remember the sunny May day they saw the Olympic torch relay too. Knowing one of the torch bearers made it even more special too.