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