Saturday, 10 November 2012

Fear of Masks

Last night we went out to a friend's house for a delicious rabbit supper, and afterwards, while the adults chatted, Meggie discovered some enormous and quite frightening masks in the sitting room.  "What that, Mummy?" she asked in a small, worried voice.  "That's a mask, Meggie,"  I replied, trying to sound neutral (the masks were kind of scary).  "People put masks on their faces sometimes, and then they might dance about or pretend to be an animal."  "What that, Mummy?" she asked, pointing at another strange mask.  "That one looks like a birdie, doesn't it?  It's a birdie mask."  I had to add the "ie" to the end of bird to make it sound super-cute and friendly.  "I don't like masks, Mummy."  "Fair enough, Meggie."

So today I decided I needed to introduce Meggie to the fun of masks, to teach her not to be afraid of them.  Cunningly, I didn't launch right in at the deep end, but instead got Meg to help me to make a sheep.  We cut card, and squeezed a bottle of PVA glue, and spread it about with a spatula, then I let Meg stick the cotton wool balls on without any interference from me.  I cut out a black paper face, and invited her to stick the goggly eyes where she thought they should go (with very realistic results - much more side-of-the-face than I would have ventured - but that is, in fact, where sheep keep their eyes).  We used pegs for the legs (and it sort of stands up on its own, if you're very patient) - and here it is drying above the wood burner (with an extra couple of pegs pinning it to the line to confuse things):

She was very pleased indeed with the sheep.  I was a little disappointed that it only took about seven minutes to make, having somehow wrongly imagined that it would be a merry half hour filled up with crafty goodness and sticky joy.  Then I made my move.  I brought a mask down from upstairs and showed her how silly I looked in it, and tied to imply that there was a lot of fun to be found just behind it.  She was very firm about it.  "No, Mummy.  Horrible.  Put mask away.  I don't like masks."  I got Daddy to put it on, and he pretended to enjoy it too, but again Meggie was unconvinced.  I informed her that Mummy was going to help her to make a sheep mask, and she shook her head and demanded to watch Pingu on Daddy's "yaptop."

So I made the mask, and tried to get her to wear it.  She wouldn't touch it, but she was starting to think it was funny when I had it on.  And to cut a long story short, she wouldn't wear it, no, she wouldn't wear it, she didn't want to wear it, Mummy, so I stopped asking and did some washing up and in the meantime she suddenly forgot that she wouldn't wear it and put it on. 

So I seized the moment and grabbed my camera:

And lo, Meggie's fear of masks was conquered (sort of) in an afternoon of craftiness and woolly delight. 

And later, after she'd gone to bed, I celebrated the fact that today I found a long-feared-lost bag of felt offcuts by making a goggly-eyed grey mouse badge thing (which took much longer than it should have, but is quite cute) which might become a prototype for various Christmas presents (sorry, I said that word, but I suppose it is November) for Meggie and/or her toddler friends.

What have you been crafting lately?  Do you also start to crave a busy-fingered creativity as the evenings draw in?  Will you be making any Christmas presents this year?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Autumn Harvest

Look what we've harvested from the polytunnel!  A whole wheelbarrow full of giant winter squash, which will hopefully brighten up our meals throughout the darker months.  All originating from the Real Seed Catalogue, there are Anna Swartz Hubbard Squash, Waltham Butternut, Burgess Vine Buttercup, Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato (an acorn-type squash) and one which we can't seem to identify - a mystery squash, if you will.


 The polytunnel is looking bare after the abundance of greenery which filled it until a couple of weeks ago.  This year we are going to try to grow as much as we can over winter, inspired by this book:

I'm not sure how the three months of No Direct Sunlight (thanks to the hill to our south) will affect the growth of the rainbow chard, lettuce, broad beans and so on, but we're determined to give it a go.  Today I'm planning on buying a trio of garlic bulbs from the Co-op in order to plant them out.  Last winter's garlic did OK (particularly the shop-bought stuff, unfortunately not so much the expensive organic elephant garlic), we just didn't plant enough of it.

I have been looking forward to getting into my birthday present from myself - How to Grow Perennial Vegetables by Martin Crawford - and hoping that perennial vegetables might form part of the solution to the problems we had this spring - the slugs destroying baby seedlings, the rain saturating the soil and the lack of summer sunshine retarding growth.  Which reminds me, we need to dig up some of the Jerusalem artichokes and see whether or not their debut season has been successful!

I still want to tell you about the fantastic apple juice we made using donated apples and a borrowed press, but I shall leave that for another day - until then, here's a little taster:

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Smallholding Update: September 2012

I'm sure I don't need to tell you that it's been an appalling year for growing.  An army of slugs rose up and engulfed our garden, leaving trails of slime where seedlings had once been.  We watched as one fledgling crop after another was decimated - parsnips, onions, kale, peas - even the potatoes were not immune.  We dug the potatoes up last month - earlier than usual - as blight completely destroyed their foliage in a matter of days.  Afraid the slugs might feast on the underground tubers, we made short work of digging, drying them out and bagging them up for storage.  The few surviving onions have stunted leaves and are (if lucky) only slightly larger than they were when we put them in the ground. 

The polytunnel has fared a little better, though the lack of sun this summer meant that the tomatoes were still green until early September.  Soon after we had the first few red fruits, the plants were spotted with blight, so our picking has been curtailed.  The cucumbers were also slower than they have been in previous years, but have been abundant for the last few weeks.  We grow both Marketmore (long, green, spiky ones) and Crystal Lemon (round, juicy, yellow fruits) always ending up with more than we can eat.  The sweetcorn seems to have ripened suddenly, all in one go, just like the cucumbers.  It feels like the harvesting season has been condensed into a couple of short months this year. 

We were forced to plant our winter squashes in the polytunnel this year too, the endless rain and slugs meant that we couldn't risk putting them in outdoor beds.  From the Real Seed Company we bought some new (to us) varieties of winter squash - mostly they are looking pretty good, and hopefully the heavy fruits will see us well into the new year, if not February or March.

Outside, we have covered many of the beds with black plastic to prevent weed growth, and to make life easier in the spring.  The fruit bushes are now free of fruit, but we had good crops of blackberries and raspberries, with a couple of stray gooseberries and blueberries from the two bushes we planted out earlier in the year (incidentally, I put Meggie's placenta under one of the pair of blueberry plants - it had been taking up space in the freezer for too long - and will be interested to see whether there turns out to be a marked difference in growth between the two).

Currently we are able to gather a variety of squash fruit, the odd tomato and aubergine, corn on the cob, cucumbers, peppers, and potatoes from the store.  From the outdoor beds we are harvesting the runner beans, and dwarf beans, and waiting patiently for the leeks, chard, lettuce and parsnips...

The chickens' egg-laying has become rather unreliable, and due to fox attacks we are now down to only four birds.  Our first loss came at the end of May on my mother's birthday, and the second a few weeks later.  There is a certain broodiness surrounding one or more of the hens (I'd be interested to get some fertilised eggs and start rearing some chicks...) and the egg numbers have been down - some days we've only had a single egg!  Then we discovered where they'd been stashing the missing eggs - in the stump of an old tree (the one which produces fantastic oyster mushrooms!) Phil found a nest of eleven eggs!

Cheeky chickens!!!

In other news, our house is now feeling much warmer since Phil and my dad whacked on an eight inch layer of hempcrete during the sunniest part of the spring.  It effectively coats the outside of the house in a sort of duvet, meaning that when you heat the house the heat gets stored in the thermal mass of the thick stone walls.  Since it's been getting colder again these last couple of weeks, we've had the wood burner lit in the evenings again, and the next morning our sitting room is still super warm. 

Meggie is using her potty for poos, and sometimes wees - hopefully the endless cycle of nappy-washing will be over for her soon (in time for the next one, ha ha).  She's talking lots and lots now, going from mime-artist to conversationalist in just a couple of months.  She can string eight or nine words together in a sentence, the clever little monkey. 

We had a 20 week scan on Monday which means that baby number two is halfway grown.   Time goes by much quicker when you have a two year old to focus on! 

I'd better get off the computer now, and give Phil some attention... We've been getting into the Game of Thrones series lately, and it's calling me now :)

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Suddenly Meggie is Two

Q: How do you face blogging after a silence of over a year? 
A: Pretend it never happened!

Are you with me?

Good  :)

Meggie turned two yesterday - TWO!  Which is to say that she has successfully traversed two entire circuits around the sun.  And in that time her hair has grown, she's learned to jump, and has fallen helplessly in love with "Pingu-ong."

She's an expert at opening presents now

She has always shown a strong interest in books, so most of her presents were of the literary variety.  It feels strange for her to have graduated from the hard-wearing board books to which we've grown accustomed over the last couple of years, but I'm going to trust her to be careful with these beautiful paper pages. 

Totally absorbed

We had a party at Machinations in Llanbrynmair again - it was great to see Meggie fearlessly going down the tunnel slide and running about, when last year she was only able to get about on two legs with the help of the walker. 

So much has changed. 
For example, she can talk now.  About two months ago, all in a rush, she suddenly progressed from pointing and miming to speaking full (although not perfectly grammatically correct) sentences.  "Mummy moop (milk) all gone 'way."  (I stopped in July and it wasn't as challenging as I'd feared)
"Nana-Dad teddy bears upstairs, Meggie get dem now?"  (Actually, forget that question mark - this was more of a bossy statement, she very rarely asks permission for anything, ha ha)
"Meggie Mummy got small Meggie in der now."

Oops, probably let the cat out of the bag now.

I had asked for a smile

Sunday, 28 August 2011


What a feast for the senses! We went to Aberystwyth yesterday to experience Colourscape - a labyrinth of inflatable spaces, each with a powerfully distinctive hue. The all-encompassing colours impacted more than just the eye. The red rooms felt very active and sociable, whereas the paler blues and greens seemed more meditative and restful. The yellows were uplifting. Views from one coloured space to another were beautiful and dreamlike, as you can see in the photos:

Meggie had a fantastic time crawling about and shrieking, and later revealed her (suspected) sociable leanings when she went off on her own to meet (and climb over) a group of young boys... Have a look at the diary to see if they'll be anywhere near you this year - a much bigger installation is planned for the Colourscape Music Festival on Clapham Common from 17th-25th of this month. :D

Thursday, 2 June 2011

A Woman's Work is Never Done

I understand that now. Now that I have a baby. It would be impossible to count the number of times I have to put down what I've started, as Megan unexpectedly wakes up after a shorter than usual nap, or when she suddenly misses me in the other room. The house is full of unfinished jobs. Piles of dirty laundry, yet to be washed. Baskets of clean laundry, yet to be hung on the line. Dirty dishes; an overflowing compost caddy; squashed strawberries on the floor under Meg's highchair; clothes waiting to be photographed and put on eBay. Upstairs there is further chaos. Papers strewn across the floor in the bedroom, waiting to be filed. Toys littering the landing. Nappies and nappy inserts, jumbled in a heap. A random pair of green overalls.

Outside, there are jobs which will never truly be completed. The cardboard amassing in the pole barn must be torn up and layered with the grass cuttings in the compost bin. I am trying to get it done before more boxes are added to the stack, but who am I kidding? It's like trying to race the sun. My (slightly OCD) need for a ticked box, and a task fulfilled is being somewhat challenged. I am trying to roll with it, trying to learn a freedom and flexibility. It's not easy, but I am enjoying the slow process of giving up what appears to be a very linear mindset.

Today I re-cut the edges of one of last year's vegetable beds, took out the grass roots which had been threatening to engulf the soil in a sea of green and then planted out the beetroot seedlings. Even without digging over the bed (I took out what few weeds there were), it was still quite hard work. Another thing to have to do every year, to every bed (we looked into making raised beds, but so far it seems too expensive at about £30 per bed. We'll have to try to source much cheaper wood than we had in mind).

Our lawn is a jungle, with long grass more than a foot tall. I almost lost Meggie in the grass today (not really, I just said that for effect).

Nine months old, and almost ready to play at getting lost in the foliage.

A woman's work is never done. I looked it up here.
It says: Prov. Housework and raising children are jobs that have no end.

I think I need to work on acquiring a love for things which never end. Things which are half finished. Things which are on-going. Things which do not tick the boxes.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

May 2011 Smallholding Update

Well. Bloody hell, this baby lark is really getting out of hand. You see, I used to have spare time in which I could do things (including writing blog posts), but now my only spare hours are the last two before I go to bed, by which time exhaustion has rendered me completely useless.

And a lack of photographic evidence makes me feel like any update would be less than complete... But I have decided not to worry about this (that is, if you don't mind too much) - damn it! - I shall plough on, illuminating and illustrating with words alone if necessary. Onwards!

It has been a good month on the smallholding, with many achievements and changes for the better. In no particular order:

Energy: We had the guys from Llani Solar come to install our PV (photo-voltaic) and solar hot water panels behind the house - ironically the day they arrived was the day the weather broke, and since then the sun has been mostly hiding behind a cloud. Nevertheless, our water has been hot, and we have been able to observe our electricity meter at a standstill thanks to being able to use the energy we are producing ourselves. Phil and my dad have been preparing one of the sheds for the wood boiler, which will hopefully be installed later this summer.

The Vegetable Garden: My mum has been an absolute hero and deserves a medal, or at least a very large cake. She has taken on the horribly dull (but necessary) job of going over all of the potato-beds-to-be (newly created this spring by my dad) with a fine tooth comb and extracting all of the evil buttercup roots, as well as the demonic docks and endless nasty weeds. She has very kindly (and completely selflessly) allowed me to waft along, whenever I fancy (OK, whenever Meg spares me half an hour) and do quick, interesting things, things like planting out the squash, or sowing spinach; things which have an immediate feelgood factor, things which tick boxes and which are extremely satisfying. Thus we have mulched the onions with our year-old kitchen compost, planted out red oak-leaf lettuce, thinned the parsnips, planted out four varieties of dwarf beans (or are they French? I don't know, I'll have to ask them) - one of which is especially for saving as a dried bean and is a gorgeous rich brown colour with hints of gold. It's great to see the plants starting to really thrive in these warm, wet conditions. We have all sorts of things in the ground including some asparagus crowns from a friend (thanks, Tall Paul!), beetroot, broad beans, lettuce, onions, potatoes, squash (including Marina de Chioggia from Tom - thanks Tom!), kale, purple sprouting broccoli, parsnip, rainbow chard...

The Polytunnel: And again, my mother has been the workhorse, weeding and enriching the horrible soil (after my dad made some very nice looking raised beds), whilst allowing me to plant out the cucumbers and make little trellises for them, and put the basil in next to the tomatoes for companion planting, though I can't for the life of me remember what each one does for the other... We have only a couple of beds left to fill now, the rest being planted out with tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, sweetcorn, cucumbers, courgettes, white custard squash, coriander... The plants desperate to go in are melon, butternut squash, um... I thought there was something else too, but now my mind has gone blank...

Wild Food: We have been eating the purslane which grows abundantly beneath the apple trees - it makes a tasty salad, and I have heard rumours that it contains omega-3 fatty acids, and even that it is a super food - wow! - isn't pretty much every vegetable a super food?

Pests: There are slugs, millions of mini slugs, living at the edges of the beds, beneath the grass. Their tiny size makes them difficult to spot, so we have to actually seek them out, combing through the grass stems with our fingers, the scissors of death gleaming at the ready in the other hand... Something ate the tops off all of our carrots, and we are starting to feel cursed never to be able to grow a single carrot ourselves. Parsnips yes, carrots no. The cats have been using our newly dug beds as their personal toilet, scratching without heeding our tiny seedlings carefully planted out at precise distances from one another. There was a rat in my kitchen at the beginning of the month, but the rat traps must have scared it away, or perhaps one of the cats managed to corner it. The dock beetles have been turning the dock leaves to lace and laying their little orange eggs on any leaves they can find which do not yet resemble lace, which means that the rainbow chard is no longer its laid back self, and in fact has started to look rather paranoid...

Megan: My big girl cut her first tooth in the middle of the month, and we've had some difficult nights due to the discomfort of teething. Her mobility is increasing daily, she's fallen (gently, and without even noticing, it would seem) off the bed twice (I was only washing my hands very quickly after a nappy change!) and can't stop practising her crawl posture, not even when it's bedtime. She's definitely going to be crawling within the next couple of weeks... Oh dear, we'll need to get hold of a cot and stair gates, as well as shifting everything off the floor and raising it to higher (safe!) storage. Interesting times. Here's what we were up to last year at this time, if you're interested. I'd forgotten all about the epic heartburn I was experiencing, wow, isn't it amazing (and mysterious) how memory works :D

Meggie getting the feel for teeth, whilst working on her comedy routine.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Versatile Blogger

Ooo, look at this lovely green square, proof - proof, I say! - that someone - someone! - reads my blog, ha ha!

Thank you Beth (My Name is Beth) for the Versatile Blogger Award - I feel as though I ought to suddenly cover all-sorts-of-varied-topics-in-vivid-mixed-media-all-at-the-same-time in order to justify it, but fear not, gentle reader - I shall resist the urge.

Now, the Versatile Blogger Rules insist that I share with you 7 items of fact about my person, and I shall endeavour to make them short (yet interesting) before passing the badge of honour to other Versatile Bloggers in need of a lift who are very Versatile and admirable in other ways too. Beth made me laugh out loud with her factoids, though I have no idea which pudding she's talking about in Fact Number 3, I know I should know, and I feel like an idiot with lots of little obvious round things staring me in the face.

1. I played with my teddies until the ripe old age of thirteen, whole-heartedly creating an entire world for them out of (mostly) paper and card and imagination. My brother and I made little (frame by frame) videos on strips of paper for the video shop, we wrote magazines and newspapers by hand in felt-tip pen, and at one time in Teddysland there was a law that every teddy had to wear pants. I could go on and on about it, but I promised to keep this short :D

2. Reminded by Beth's mystery pudding description, I hate seeing little things coming out of little things. Rebecca, who I used to sing with, hates to see little things going into little things. Strange, huh?

3. I am fiercely secretive, whilst at the same time somehow appearing to be open to the point of giving-far-too-much-information. I'm not sure how that works.

4. My favourite writer is Richard Brautigan. He brings new meaning to everything he writes about. For example:

A circle
comes complete
with its
own grave.

Unfortunately he is now dead, and therefore follows the way of the circle.

5. I was once held at gunpoint in Mexico in the middle of the night/nowhere. What surprised me was that instead of panicking, my brain slipped straight into cold calculation, and time slowed down. I remember noticing with interest that the gun had a silencer attached, and was aimed at my heart instead of my head. Raising my hands to signify surrender happened automatically. That night I was SO GLAD I could speak Spanish.

6. Courgette is my favourite vegetable, ever since I had a vivid dream about living in a refugee camp with massive food shortages (in which someone kindly let me have some steamed courgettes in return for looking after their children, but you don't need to know all the details I'm sure, after all, other people's dreams are usually quite tedious).

7. I feel like I get an insight into a person's character by contemplating the shape of their hands and feet. Phil has quite gawky feet, which clearly tell me that he is extremely loyal. I'm sure there's no scientific basis for this, yet the facts remain.

The Versatile Blogger Rules (as far as I can tell) also demand that I pass on the award and spread the love, if that's what it is (which it might as well be - love also bestows awards, demands intimate information and comes with an elaborate set of rules).

I must now admit to being a silent lurker on the pages of these blogs, a reader who repeatedly fails to comment, an ethereal being who adds nothing to the internet experience, a taker instead of a giver... but one who pops by with great regularity thanks to my RSS feeds...

The Smallest Smallholding

Lucy is so enthusiastic about her plans and honest about her challenges, that it's a refreshing read (and one which makes me feel connected to other people like myself who are attempting to live the smallholding dream).

{duck fluff}
Laura is another lovely, down to earth lady - a maker and a mother. I started reading her blog after finding it by clicking "next blog" whilst I was still pregnant with Meg. Laura was pregnant too, but due a month or so earlier. I got hooked waiting for her to pop, and enjoyed reading about her creative projects :D

Zoe lives up the road from me, and has just recently had her second daughter. Her blog is beautiful, and again, deals with moments in a mother's life as well as the challenges of growing vegetables with little free time. I've only just discovered this blog and am finding it really inspiring :D

Now, how am I going to tell them about their award without revealing the fact that I have been secretly reading? I suppose I'll have to come clean, change the habit of a lifetime, and leave a comment... And about time, too.

Saturday, 30 April 2011


It's been a very busy spring. We planted about 1700 of the 3000 trees before realising that there was a lot more clearing needed to be done before we could plant the remaining 1300. Also it turns out that the grant only requires that they all be planted by February next year, so we plan on getting them in in the autumn. Nothing like putting off a job, ha! Why do today what you can leave until tomorrow? Still, we've not been resting on our laurels, you know (whatever that means). There are plenty of other things to be getting on with.

New beds are being created in the vegetable garden, at great effort. The land is horribly compacted after being used for horses by the previous owners, it's as hard as rock and shot through with thick, parsnip-sized dock roots. Pernicious weeds such as buttercup must be removed. Meanwhile last year's beds are being given the once-over before this year's plants are put in. So far we have several beds of potatoes, white and red onions, parsnips, asparagus, peas, broad beans, beetroot, leaf beet, kale and lettuce.

We've done a good (mostly timely) job of sowing our seeds this year, and have managed to keep on top of pricking out and potting on. Last year's success stories were: potatoes, parsnip, beetroot, basil, cucumbers and courgettes. Surprise failures included: spinach, carrots, peppers, aubergines and leeks. You'd have thought that leeks would be happy anywhere in Wales, being the national vegetable, but apparently not.

I've been trying to juggle Meg and the smallholding projects, and have been feeling quite frustrated by my inability to give my full attention to either as thoroughly as I would like. Megan is flourishing though, so I mustn't feel guilty for sometimes calling "Hang on a minute," as I finish hanging the nappies out to dry, or putting her in the laundry basket in the garden whilst I do some weeding for half an hour!

About a month ago I realised that I was getting stressed again, and that there was a whole host of stressful things hanging over me, needing to be dealt with. My mum encouraged me to write a list (one of my favourite activities) and I focused on sorting stuff out over the course of a couple of weeks. It's amazing how much lighter I feel now, and how much more able I am to face oncoming tasks. A weight has been lifted. :D

And all is well :D

Friday, 4 February 2011

Smallholding Plans

It's been a while since I posted, but don't let that lead you to believe that nothing has been happening here. We have been gearing ourselves up for a very busy year on the smallholding, having meetings and making plans. Our pressing projects include planting 3000-ish trees, which will take place from mid February until mid April (there's a deadline which needs to be met as the tree-planting is being done with the help of a grant), installing alternative energy systems (including a wood-fueled boiler for hot water/heating, solar panels to generate electricity, and passive solar collectors to heat water), as well as digging a whole load of new vegetable beds and hopefully growing twice as much as last year.

There's a good deal of construction work to be done, chiefly by Phil and my dad. The wood boiler will be stationed in one of the outdoor sheds, and will need to be boxed in and insulated so that we don't waste any leaked heat. A trench will be dug from the shed to the house as a route for the pipes. An 'A' frame for the solar panels needs to be constructed on high slope behind the house (due to the large hill in front of us, the houses lose the sun for the four darkest months of the year - the slope, being higher, retains the sun for a little longer).

The sun (shining tantalisingly on the other side of the valley) has not yet returned to our houses

We are planning a cool (but not too cold!) storage area on a mezzanine floor (which doesn't yet exist) for dried goods and things like potatoes and onions. Phil will be adding a foot or so of insulating hempcrete to the gable end and rear exterior walls of our house, which is something which should be done in warmer weather to aid drying. Eventually we hope to construct a conservatory along the front of the houses, as a way of capturing heat as well as creating more space, but I don't think we'll have time for that this year.

My mum has been excellent at taking up the reins with regards to the tree planting project. She has sourced them from a local tree nursery, so they will be well prepared for life at 800ft. Our plan is to start coppicing them for our own fuel needs as soon as they are big enough. Overall we are trying to become as self-sufficient as we can in energy and food, so that we are not at the mercy of volatile market trends and big business. We want to be as self-reliant as possible, it seems to be the only thing that makes sense in an increasingly unpredictable world.

The oaks lining the lane are hundreds of years old

Hopefully I'll make time to blog more regularly again (though it does look like I might soon be rather occupied!), and I really want to share Meggie's developments too, as well as what I've been doing creatively... Just give me a few extra hours in the day, that's all I ask!

I found a Silver Cross pushchair in a local charity shop for £3,
which is a fun way to take Meg out and about :D