Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Our Christmas was lovely this year. We spent the whole day together, just the two of us (well, the dog too), made our meals together, and played games and with presents together. Very happy and peaceful. We filmed some footage of the day and I put it together into a movie for youtube: Please have a look; it's about eight and a half minutes long, but stick with it to the end (the end is the best bit). This is a picture from the first snowfall as Partner just stepped in the door. I think he looks very dashing (not to mention freezing) in his hat and wool coat.

The snow has now been washed away (thank goodness) except for a few tenacious bits in the road which were particularly thick with ice. It lasted at least a week. Partner and I actually cleared away the ice from the end of our street: we live at the end of a cul-de-sac, and the circular bit of road in front of our house had ice two or three inches thick on it. Partner was bringing the dog home from walking, and he said even she was slipping on it. So he went out with his high-tech ice-clearing tool (the flat hoe) and I joined him about ten minutes later with my high-tech ice-clearing tool (the patio broom) and together we got it all up and into three piles. I think the neighbors watched guiltily from their windows. One neighbor walked past saying something pessimistic about there being no point doing it, as it'd only get icy again. I felt like saying, what, you want us to stop? But I think that was his way of saying, yes I'm a big putz because I'll walk past you clearing the road in front of my house and I won't offer to help or even thank you. Not that I expect the neighbors to be grateful.

I think the end of our street would make a great setting for a sitcom. All the neighbors are very different from each other and are almost like caricatures rather than normal people. For instance:
  • The couple next to us are probably about my parents' age, and they have very loud arguments, and do home and garden improvements regularly (often at the same time). Neither Partner nor I really understand their accents, which is frustrating when trying to eavesdrop on their disagreements.
  • On the other side of us is a single youngish man with his elderly lap dog; he works as a security guard and keeps odd hours. Our dog likes to sneak into his yard to have a poo but I don't think he knows.
  • Two doors down from us are a family who never seem to answer their door. Once a police car camped outside their house all day, and though the car was in the drive, they kept the curtains drawn and would not open the door. Neither of them have a job though I've seen the husband doing odd jobs for the security guard neighbor.
  • Next to them are an old couple who have all sorts of unsavory relatives constantly visiting, get a new/used car every year, and sell the old car to someone else on the street. I haven't seen the wife for about a year. Maybe she died.
  • Then next to them (bear in mind this is going in a circle from us, so we are now almost opposite our house) is a twenty-something couple. He works all the time, and she knows (and tells!) about everyone's secrets on the rest of the street. She's very excited about me having a baby.
  • And directly opposite us are another middle-aged couple whom I would probably not recognize if I saw them anywhere else but walking out of their front door. Still, he is a such a gloomy bugger that he would complain even about ice being cleared from the street in front of his house.

I do know most of our neighbors' names though I suspect none of them know mine. I think together we could make great, if unintentional, comedy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Still more snow

Since I last posted, we got another snowfall, and the temperature hasn't climbed much above freezing. So we still have a few inches on the ground, making it beautiful and cold here. While out walking today I saw the snow was forming lovely crystals on long grasses in shady areas. I think it's from slight melt-and-freeze we've had for the past few days. The big community football pitch (soccer field) near us didn't have many footprints in it, so as I trekked across, I decided to stop in a pristine patch and make a furtive snow angel when no one was watching.

I am not at all confident about driving now, however. The roads are still very slippery; I made a complaint to the local council but I have yet to actually hear back from them: there has been no action about it. So I have only been driving to work and back, and walking everywhere else. I tried out my new birthday wellington boots today and stayed completely dry and was quite happy to walk through the snow. They gave me a small blister on my heel, so I guess that means I need to wear them more often to break them in.

My Christmas preparations are now mostly finished. The decorations have been up since the 2nd. I've got all my shopping done. The fridge is full of goodies and the presents are mostly wrapped. We set a budget for spending on each other, and I only slightly exceeded mine. I want to save most of our money for the baby anyway. I told Partner to count the presents already under the tree, because that's how many he's getting from me.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A party in the snow

This week I've been working on a dress for a party we'd been invited to. I had a pattern for a top which I altered into an empire-waisted minidress (it wasn't a complicated alteration, but it did take me about three days to complete). I didn't want a maternity dress that made me look like a tent, I wanted something more fitted that emphasized the fact that actually I am fairly slender, I just happen to have a soccer ball in my tummy. It has a sweetheart neckline, slightly puffed sleeves, and a fitted waist (well, empire waist and back). This picture doesn't really show the dress well, but at least the soccer ball shows.

I bought some new black leggings to go under it the day before the party, and I looked at new shoes, but didn't buy any. Turns out, it was a good thing, because the only pair of party shoes I own (and they are fabulous) and had decided to wear were too slippery, so I ended up wearing sensible shoes anyway: it began snowing early in the afternoon yesterday and by the time we left, there was nearly an inch of snow on the ground. I took about three steps on the driveway in my fabulous shoes and decided to go back in the house and change them.

The party was at a friend's house in town, and the roads were already quite snowy, but we made it there albeit slowly. I got complimented on my bump many times, which made me happy I took the time to make a fitted dress, although as the evening went on, I was the only one who was sober and when people started staggering, I started to slightly worry for my safety. I don't really drink anyway--maybe a small glass of wine with a meal once every several months, or something fruity on a night out (usually once a year), though I know people lose their shyness after a drink or two, and that can make an evening more fun. Still, the staggering is a bit too far, and when people get to that stage, they are still having fun, but it's not a social thing any more. They are too drunk to notice other people and are just enjoying their own buzz. And it's not really fun for any sober people, or even people who are still at the one/two drink stage.

So we left at about 12.30; Partner had had a few (he wasn't quite staggering), which was the plan anyway, because as I can't drink I get to be designated driver. At this point there was about two inches of snow on the side streets, and the main roads weren't much better. We drove the whole way home at no faster than 30mph. I was frustrated--and a bit scared--because normally when there's even a hint that it might frost (let alone snow) the local council sends out the trucks to salt the roads. Obviously someone failed here, because none of the roads we drove home on (most of them main roads) had been treated.

This morning I woke up at 10.30, and my first thought was, "wow I've really slept in," and my next thought was, "it's so sunny," and my third thought: "I'm so not taking the dog out--it'll be slushy and muddy and horrible." But then I looked out the window and saw:
And I decided going out would be fun after all. True, it was still pretty slippery, especially on the sidewalks, but out in the fields we took the paths we normally don't take in winter because they're too muddy. We didn't get a speck of mud on ourselves, and the less-traveled paths were beautiful: all last summer's flowerheads and every twig of every tree all had a little cap of snow still. We saw lots of bunny tracks (four prints close together, a big space, then four more prints), and a sign fallen over and partially obscured by snow that said: DA THI. I thought about it for a while and decided it was meant to say DARN THICK. Meaning the snow. Or possibly the sign.

Friday, December 11, 2009

This morning I went out early to buy some fruit and vegetables at the market (much cheaper than the store) and then went to a new grocery store for the rest of the weekly shop. Last night it froze so that when I got slightly lost and had to turn the car around (I'd never been to this store), I could feel the tires slipping slightly on the icy street. I managed to stay on the road though; it probably helped that the front two tires are brand new: I got them last week. So I had an exciting and slightly scary moment, but all was well.

As I drove back from town I saw the lawns and fields were still frosty white; here in our village most of it has melted. We live in a little warm weather vortex; seven miles away it gets frost, but at our house it's balmy. A local man told me it was because we lived within the shelter of three big power stations: they're pumping out hot air constantly and it diverts the cold air away. Whatever it is, often there'll be storms over Partner's work (20 miles away) and completely blue skies at home.

When I got home I went out walking with the dog. Pictured is one of several small ponds at the wildlife area where we walk. She's getting much better at her "hush" training, though she didn't want to hush when she saw another doggie on its leash. When she's off the leash, or both dogs are, she's as friendly as can be. But when she's on it and sees another dog, it sounds like she wants to tear that dog into tiny pieces. At least the other dog owner laughed about it. Personally, I was mortified.

Monday, November 30, 2009

My curtains only took me three days to finish. I worked about an hour or so each day; it took me longer to measure and plan them than it did to sew them. I had to take very precise measurements to ensure they were exactly the same. Nonetheless, I'm pleased with them, especially since I didn't have to rip out any seams (I do with most projects).

Though the weather, and especially the wind, has turned quite cold we still haven't had a frost in our garden. Therefore, I can't possibly justify the clearing away of plants just yet. However, I'm now looking forward to the first frost, just so I can tidy everything up. Partner's broken up all the concrete in the vegetable bed, and has dug out more than half the grass. I can't wait to plant things in it next spring: potatoes for one. This year, we decided that the chard was a success (it's still producing, actually) and we will plant it again next year. The runner beans are an old favorite, along with carrots and beets. I think we will definitely do cabbage again, and while the broccoli was hit and miss, I think if I had caught the caterpillars sooner it would have been a winner. There were two others we planted that I probably wouldn't go for unless the seeds were free: lettuce and squash. The lettuce was all right, but the squash never had a chance--too rainy. The only one which was a disappointment was the tomatoes. But then again I knew they would be and if it were up to me, we wouldn't have even bothered.

We took our dog and Partner's parents' dog out walking together last week; it was obvious who gets taken out more often. Our dog was streaking around like a greyhound and their poor doggie was waddling and puffing behind. He's such a funny little dog and loves it when Beauty bosses him around, but he doesn't have any manners--he doesn't even sit unless he's offered a treat he likes. Still, at our house, he quickly learned he wasn't allowed to beg at the table and to (very reluctantly) sit at street corners before crossing. In this picture our dog is in the background, theirs, Dudley, is in the puddle, and my baby bump pokes out a little through my baggy jacket.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The past few weeks we've been teaching our dog the command "hush" for barking. She responds well when it's someone at the door, but when we take her walking, she doesn't want to hush. I understand this particular training can take a month or even more. It's rather embarrassing to be walking along and for her to see a bicyclist or another dog on a leash and for her to yap and howl and try to bolt off after it. She also has another embarrassing trick to run all the way across the football field just to bark at some random walker and then run all the way back. In that case, however, I pretend she doesn't belong to me.

I bought some material at Ikea today to make drapes for my big sliding door. I've never exactly made curtains, but I figure it's just some really long seams and hems. I'm not having anything fancy. Now that it's winter, we notice the sliding door lets a lot of cold in. We did have some other drapes up for a while, but the curtain pole was quite flimsy, and then the drapes themselves weren't made to those measurements so they didn't quite cover it all. At the moment I have a very simple gingham valance up. These drapes will fit in behind it.

I'm slowly working my way through tidying the front garden. It's not big at all: maybe 15'x10', and a good portion of it is grass (and moss--the lawn doesn't get much sun), but it has borders on all four sides and all of them are choked with grass and brambles. During the summer it wasn't that noticeable because of the wildflowers, but now it just looks very unkempt. I've done two of the narrow-sided borders, though I haven't made much of an effort to dig up all the grass roots; there are a lot of established bulbs I don't want to disturb. In the spring, I get multitudes of daffodils, then tulips in those narrow beds. This picture of the narrow bed next to the drive was taken three years ago in April.

Monday, November 16, 2009

While we still haven't had a frost at our house, growth has for the most part stopped in the garden. My vegetables are still alive (well, not the tomatoes), as are most of my flowers, though the only ones still flowering are the carnations and dahlias. I think I have one pink rose which has had the same bloom on it for about two weeks: it's too chilly for it to change. I've pulled up all the obvious weeds from the bare patches: now I just have to wait for a frost to kill everything off so I can tidy the garden.

I'm starting to get big enough around the middle to stop me bending much. I'm working on making maternity clothing: both altering existing clothing and making new. I have made two items to date, with a third in the works: I'm altering a nonmaternity shirt pattern (or trying to). I've got some old worn-out shirts of Partner's to make mock-ups with. I've done some research online; if it works out I'll no doubt make several.

And lastly, poor old Jack was consigned to the compost bin when his tenure was up. Still, he found it in himself to give one last leer.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Bonfire night

Last night we celebrated a tradition here called Bonfire Night. The neighbors mostly set off loud fireworks (in bad taste, I think) but our bonfire was better than anything on our street. Though it's been mostly a miserable rainy week, we still braved the weather and burnt our moldy old shed. Partner tore it down last weekend in preparation, and I sorted the wood into kindling, small pieces, and big bits. We decided to burn it in the greenhouse foundation which Partner is currently breaking up.

Though it was difficult to get going--I think we used up five newspapers (that's whole papers, not sheets) in order to get the kindling dry enough to burn--once it started, it simply ate up the wood, wet or not. And the wood was indeed wet. We were out there about three hours or so before we finally put on the floor and the roof; both were very big and dripping, but at this point, going within four feet of it singed our eyebrows. Nothing was stopping it.

When we finally were down to coals, they filled the entire pit: three feet wide, six feet long, and about ten inches deep. And still incredibly hot. This morning they are covered in ashes, but still very warm. We burned every single plank, completely blackened the metal tub of compost next to it, and scorched my poor broccoli. It was really great.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween in England

On Friday (the 30th), we made a German chocolate cake from the Joy of Cooking recipe; it takes a lot of bowls/measuring implements/mixing utensils, but dang! it's tasty. For the two of us, I've found that the cake recipes in that book are just too big, both for our baking tins and our appetites, so I generally make 3/4 of a recipe. I had a tub of frosting in my cupboard from our last visit to the US--they don't sell it here. Cake mixes too are not common here, but who doesn't prefer a home-made cake anyhow? It's the lightest, fluffiest, chocolatiest cake ever. Two days later we still have half a cake left.

It's difficult to get big pumpkins here (the weather doesn't really support pumpkin growth), so when Partner decided to bring home one for carving, it was the "medium" size--about the size of a volleyball. We carved our jack-o'lantern while waiting for our cake to bake. I think it's been about ten years since I last carved one. We gave him fangs, a unibrow, and a leer.

It's not such a big holiday here, though I believe Halloween originated in the Celtic tradition. But all the modern celebrations are new to this country I think. Still, kids do dress up, and go trick or treating. I had to work Halloween (not really a big deal now that I'm an adult, to tell the truth) but Partner swears we had more than five kids show up this year. We live in a cul-de-sac, and not a lot of kids live on our very short street, so we haven't had many trick or treaters since I've lived here. That could also be due to the way Partner puts on a scary mask and leaps out at the children when they knock on the door. He says he scared one kid so badly she wouldn't take candy from him even with the mask off.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Market in rain

This weekend we decided to do our shopping at the local market rather than the grocery store. It was a bit wet, but that didn't stop us or the usual market-goers. There is all sorts at the market, not just food, but a lot of it is stuff I wouldn't bother with like cheap clothing, shoes, and accessories.

From our list we were able to buy everything except milk, butter, and dog food. But we did manage to get some lovely potatoes, beef shin, and pork belly, and I got some bargain books. Oh, and I got my hair trimmed, though that wasn't exactly in the market. It looks a lot neater now; she took about three inches off and it's still mid-back length.

While waiting for my turn, I had a long chat with a young mother of a five month old baby. I don't really know anybody locally who is pregnant or has a new baby, so I asked her all sorts of questions. Which leads me into the strange world of not-so-shyness.

When I was a child, I was really outgoing, but when we moved to a new area at age nine, I suddenly became very shy. From then on, I have always considered myself a very introverted person, not at all comfortable meeting new people, or speaking to strangers. But over the past few years, this has gradually changed. I don't mind speaking to strangers, if I want to. I don't really go out of my way to chat to people just for the sake of chatting, but if I want to know about something or someone, I feel perfectly comfortable asking.

I think it's part of considering myself an adult and an equal of people around me. I'm older than a lot more people than I used to be, and talking to a younger person is just like talking to a child, really! There are some younger people I work with who are pretty shy and I can remember being tongue-tied if an older person tried to make conversation with me. Well, I'm the older person now.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Of all my broccoli plants (somewhere around 40 survived), only one has florets. I just don't know if the others will produce. Partner told me we shouldn't bother next year. I'm still hopeful for the rest but...we're really getting into autumn here. He's been working on that concrete patch out back, and has maybe broken up a fifth of it. It's back-breaking work, and he can only do about fifteen minutes at a time, and only at weekends: it's now dark when he gets home from work at 6.30. I will be happy so long as it's done before next spring.

Today I attended my first lecture of the academic year. As the course I'm taking is self-study, I only have lectures about once a month. Last year I really enjoyed them; they are in Leeds, a big city about 30 miles from us. Leeds is great to visit: lots of shopping, and a really fun market--I love going to the fabric stalls, and browsing the fish and butchery stalls. If we lived a bit nearer, I would totally do my weekly grocery shop there. Since Partner works in Leeds, he occasionally picks up some good deals on meats, but it's impractical for him to bring a full shop home with him on the train. Unfortunately.

I gave the doggy a bath earlier this week, set down her collar, and lost it. I haven't been able to take her walking since. Partner accused me of carelessness. Turns out, it was lurking in her bed, where she stashed it after stealing it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ah, weeds. Once again, I have many. In established beds, the weeds are not discernable. But in partly bare beds, such as the asparagus plot, below (those long, feathery stalks), weeds have taken over. As my goal is one bucket a day, I thought I'd show a contrast between the actual amount of ground weeded compared to the volume of the bucket. That's about a two foot square plot of earth.

Notice the bucket is quite full, even overflowing.

It's going to be an uphill battle.

Speaking of battles, Partner has been waging one out back on an old greenhouse foundation. Whoever laid it was a silly bugger: it's about a foot below ground level (don't ask), and right smack in the middle of the lawn. Not up against the edge, where it can cast a shadow against the garage, or against the neighbor's garden. This is the same clever person who put the garden shed in the sunniest spot; there is a lot of non-utilized shade at the back. Shade which is not good for growing anything, even grass. So anyhow, Partner has been breaking up concrete. When it's all up, most of that section of the lawn will be turned into a vegetable bed. I want to plant potatoes there next year, among other things. Also, said shed will be a bonfire this fall. It leaks. Badly.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Sweet peas in autumn

So my first trimester, in which I was entirely miserable (I had to take four weeks off work because I kept fainting), I kinda let the garden go. As in, I didn't step foot in it for about three months. Above, my poor neglected sweet peas went to seed because I stopped deadheading them.
But now I'm feeling great (and guilty...), so I decided to do the only possible thing to save them: harvest the seeds!
Altogether I think I got about a hundred of them. I can't wait to see how they grow next year. I've never collected seed before.

There has been a real change in the temperature from last week to this, and it suddenly feels like fall. Not only that, it smells like fall. I had forgotten how much I love that smell. I spent some time weeding today and also took the dog out walking and it was absolutely lovely. The nip in the air called for a cardigan, but the sun shone and the air was very still.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The reason for my recent blogging inactivity (actually inactivity in general) is I'm four months pregnant. Partner and I are expecting our first child in March of 2010. I've been feeling generally tired, hungry, dizzy, nauseous, and just plain yucky for the first three months. Now I have lost most symptoms except the hunger and am ready to bounce back into blog mode.

So I'm only bulging a little bit around the middle, and only people who are in the know can tell, I think. This is me at 15 weeks, taken in front of my poor broccoli. It still looks like it sustained a thousand caterpillars for three months. Which it did. Now most of them are gone and it's putting out new leaves. I only hope it can still produce florets. My cabbage also took heavy damage, but not as critical as the broccoli.

And my runner beans have torn down their supports. Partner thought that would be the last of them, but they've rallied and are lounging on the patio producing fresh flowers and tiny beanlets. Only with me being pregnant and having food aversions (actually it's aversion to food in general), I simply cannot look at them. I just can't. And I was so excited about them this spring. I love runner beans. At least I can eat the cabbage and carrots (but not the tomatoes). I've become so picky about what I eat. Normally I eat anything, and am very keen on vegetables in general. Partner tries to sneak in vegetables when he cooks. He chops them really really small and hopes I don't notice.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

So about those mice...Partner thinks they're gone for the time being, thanks to the traps. But he also says he caught a mouse-sized slug in one of them. I did not witness the carnage. However, these traps are spring-loaded, so... When I step on a slug, I only apply enough pressure to kill it quickly and cleanly; I don't think the trap was so accomodating.

I thought it would be nice this year to try and handmake most of our Christmas gifts for each other, rather than spend a lot of money. Partner says he'll try, and I asked him now so that we'll both have time to work on things. I think it might be a little more difficult to keep the gifts secret. After all, I can't tell about them here: I think Partner's my only reader. There's not much I really want for Christmas. Well, I kind of want some flower arranging materials. And I like useful presents. Though I can't think of anything I really need either.

We had a flying visit to the inlaws' house last weekend. Partner had a school reunion thing, which I declined to attend (it was just an informal, meet for drinks event) so I stayed at the house, and since we arrived a bit late, everyone went to bed about two hours after we got there. I stayed up a little later working on a jigsaw, then I went to bed too. I didn't sleep that well, though, because their dog kept running out the dogflap--bang!--and barking at strange noises in the night. Since my window was right above the back door, every time he banged, I woke.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

So I've had a bit of a hiatus from gardening and flower arranging. Today when surveying the damage, I noticed my red gladiolas had been blown over, so into a vase they went, with some goldenrod and some yellowy shrubby leaves. I absolutely love gladiolas and wish I had a whole field of them. Unfortunately I only had about a dozen this year. I don't think the camera really gives the scarlet color justice.

I have learned in my garden this year that pots and planters next to the house receive less water than those in the middle of the patio. My hanging baskets remain bone dry after a rainfall. I have also learned that caterpillars would much rather eat broccoli than nasturtiums, which I specifically cultivate to feed them. My broccoli is in tatters and the nasturtiums are not even touched. It's true that nasturtiums are edible to humans as well, but they're not as crunchy and tasty as broccoli.

I sometimes read books that are considered Literature, in an attempt to both broaden my mind and experience and also for the pleasure of reading. Some of these Great Novels are well-written and interesting. Some, it pains me to say, are not so interesting. Mostly I will stick with a book to the end, even if it is rather dull, unless it is quite depressing and making me depressed too. I recently finished Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, an interesting but depressing book. Because I usually really identify with the characters in a book, I like a happy ending; it makes me feel good about myself. This book did not end on a happy note, but I suppose it could have been worse. I am now reading Brideshead Revisited, and I can see it getting sadder and sadder, but it's so interesting that I'm sticking with it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

We took a picnic out last weekend and we packed:
  • baguettes
  • French-style potato salad
  • cold whole lobster with:
  • marie-rose sauce and freshly made tomato and basil mayonnaise
  • imported cheese
  • marinated tomatoes, olives, and cornichons
  • summer fruit salad
Partner packed it for us, but he got distracted by the thermos (its seal malfunctioned) so he neglected to bring something to open the lobster with. However, we managed to get into it using our butter knives, forks, and some patience, and it was lovely. I haven't had lobster in years. I'm very sorry to say that although we did bring the camera, we didn't actually take any pictures. Most of the day was spent lounging on the picnic blanket, though we did a bit of walking too.

The fruits of my labor in the garden this past week include some very nice carrots: just a little too big to be considered baby, I think.
A few tomatoes finally. As they were given to us free, we didn't have any clue what kind they'd be, but it turns out they're romas. I had one grilled last night with my dinner and it was delicious.

And finally, my beautiful broccoli is all in this condition. Let's play count the caterpillars. Those little black streaks are indeed larvae; the photo can be enlarged by clicking.
It was the strangest thing, but a few weeks ago Partner discovered a hornet eating a butterfly. It actually was munching it up, all the way from the abdomen to the head, and once it got to the wings it just bit them off and dropped them. And we have seen both a lot of these hornets and butterflies (the cabbage white ones, whose caterpillars are demolishing my broccoli), so I'm wondering. If the hornets like to eat butterflies, why aren't they gobbling up the caterpillars? I mean, caterpillars have got to be a lot more meat per weight, and no crunchy legs or antenna or pesky wings to get in the way.

And then this afternoon I witnessed two different hornets on the same rosebush simultaneously chomping on conspicuously holey rosebuds. I was unclear as to why, when I saw one acting distinctly entomophagous (it's a new word I learned today; it means insect-eating), that any should be eating my flowers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Of mice and rejected kisses

My laptop has gone to the shop to get a USB port fixed. I may be out of a computer for up to ten days, though I sincerely hope not. I'm using our upstairs desktop, and the keyboard and mouse are so big! My laptop is a tiny thing, a netbook really, with no internal disk drive and about a 10"x6" screen. I'm used to typing on its little keyboard and have a much smaller mouse which is the size of an actual mouse.

Speaking of actual mice...yeah we've got them. Again. Two days in a row I've found a mouse in the trap. I don't know what they see in our place: there's all sorts of nummy mousie munchies outside, especially in summer. We think they must get fed next door (our houses are joined).

This is a self portrait on my lawn under the clothes line. My dog got interested, though she's normally camera-shy. That's me making a yucky face because she wants to kiss me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I (and to some extent Partner) spent the weekend pretending to camp in the back yard. We didn't pitch a tent, as we don't actually own one at the moment, so the house had to suffice as our tent. I spent nearly the whole weekend--other than sleeping and bathroom breaks--out in the backyard, and did not watch any tv or play on the computer. We had a campfire on Saturday night and went for a hike on Sunday morning. On our hike we picked a few blackberries. I told Partner I was going to camp until it rained; I hoped it would last into the week, but unfortunately it rained overnight and is still a bit drizzly. So my camping trip is over and I'm a bit disappointed. Still, I had fun while it lasted. I even got a little sunburned.

Partner did not spend as much time outside as I did, as he claimed it was too hot. I set up camp chairs and a blanket on the grass in the shade for both sitting and lounging, so I think he was actually making excuses to come inside and play on the computer/watch tv. However, I cannot substantiate this suspicion of mine; he may actually have been busily doing housework or reading fine literature. He certainly cooked an excellent lasagna for dinner on the campfire (I used camping euphemisms for our tent's commodities: campfire=oven, sleeping bag=bed, hole out back=bathroom, etc), and he even washed all the clothing in the river and hung it to dry on a convenient tree. Mostly I lounged.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Roses and rain

Partner snapped this rose last month. We were flabbergasted as to how our perfectly white rose suddenly came up with a half pink flower. It hasn't done it before or since.

We've had rain for almost the entire month of July. We had our one hot week and that means the English summer was over when it finished. I remember when Partner said that the Met (Meterological) Office had predicted a "barbecue summer" this year for Britain, I thought, sure, just like they predicted last summer when we got one week of sun. My prediction, however, is based on the experience of the last five summers here: depend on it to be cool with lots of rain.

We're having guests over for the weekend: Partner's sister and her daughter are coming up on the train. I've been making him do all the housekeeping for the past two days so it's nice and tidy when they arrive. I'm thinking maybe I should just go tidy up the garden as well: one of my planters out front has got a little carpet of weeds. And I've put a load of towels on so there will be nice fresh ones for everyone. I think I'll ask Partner to clean the toilet and tub later...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

So far my goals for July have been sadly neglected. I've had a bad case of the Don't Wannas and most of my free time has been spent in very unprofitable ways (like lounging on the couch reading or sleeping in). In fact, the Don't Wannas have nearly taken over my life, but even awareness of this gives me little strength to fight back.

Partner has been very motivated recently to keep the kitchen clean. I generally clean it when I wake up if I have the time/inclination, or just before I decide to cook dinner. So it can stay messy for a whole day even. But he really went over it a few days ago (even polishing the front of the oven door) and has been keeping it pretty clean since then. The one room in the house I really care about cleanliness is the kitchen, and it makes me very happy that he's doing it.

This photo features a selection of my lilies; they live right next to my runnerbeans (not pictured). What a fabulous smell: just walking out the back door is enough to give me a noseful of them. I think this fall I may move them to live in the bed of rosebushes out back; they might not be so squished there. Partner says when he stands at the sink to do dishes the yellowy-pinky lily stares at him. He thinks it's unnerving.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We've been eating our lettuce recently, but Partner thinks it's still too small. I, however, can't wait for it to get bigger and it's tasty now. I've also picked some carrots which were a very good size (definitely supermarket size) and tasted beautiful. I can't believe we even want to eat supermarket carrots; compared to ours they're absolutely tasteless. Partner pruned the tomatoes a touch, and he smelled amazing for the rest of the day. We still haven't had any ripe fruit, but we've got a few little green ones now.

I planted a tray of basil in my greenhouse, and it all sprouted; the next day, all the tops had mysteriously disappeared. I know the culprit was a slug, but I have no idea how it got along the mesh of the greenhouse to the tray. So another tray has been planted and is now on my kitchen windowsill. My last month's batch is destined for pesto.

It's my ten year high school anniversary this month. Sadly I will not be attending. I think back on my high school peers and about the cliques and rivalries there were. I never considered myself a cool kid or a popular kid, though I did have lots of friends and had two separate groups I hung out with. Considering where I am, and what's happened in my life, I think a lot of those people would be surprised at how I've turned out. I think most of the girls my age married young and had children young and stayed in state, if not in town. I always considered myself to be more of an adventurer than that. Of course, I did marry, and I may have children, but not only did I leave the state, I left the country! I've done a lot of traveling and had a lot of experiences; I would venture to say I've had more experiences than most people my age because of my travels. Not, of course, that all of them were good... But they've definitely changed me and while I look pretty much the same (maybe a dress size bigger), I am not the same person who graduated from UHS.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Passionflower streamers and garden spirits

What, one may ask, is this jungle in my garden? The bright red flowers belong to poppies. Slotted in below them are broccoli, and behind them both are tomatoes. And squeezed in behind the tomatoes are my runner beans, climbing up some netting. All in a bed that is perhaps five feet by three feet. I had to stack them in as tightly as possible, as I kind of ran out of room before I ran out of plants.

I also really liked these little tendrils on the passionflower vine. They are just like little party streamers glistening in the sun (click on the picture for the full-sized view).

It's been a long week of mostly work-related activities. Today (my day off) I woke up at five and couldn't get back to sleep, so up I got. Then at seven, Partner still firmly and unequivocally snoring, I went out with the dog. The silence was beautiful. There was no noise of traffic, of barking dogs, of people shouting (people shout a lot here). Even the birds were quiet. By eight, as we were walking back, however, the usual village sounds were in full swing. So I went and woke Partner up and we went grocery shopping and came back with Eggs Benedict ingredients. Which we then proceeded to make. 7000 calories later, I feel like it should be siesta time.

This week's bouquet on my windowsill is of lilies, hydrangea, verbena, and laurel leaves. The first flush of flowers has now mostly gone over for my roses, lupins, and sweet peas. The sweet peas are still flowering, but on shorter stems now, and you can now actually tell the plants have leaves.

I discovered what Partner says is a garden spirit while weeding, so he took a picture of it before it ran off. I think it hopped into the lavender immediately afterwards.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

My last bouquet for June features pink roses, hydrangea, campanula, and ferns. You can see a spike of lupin from my front garden out the window. Those lupins really outdid themselves this year.

I'm still waking up earlier than I have been used to, and feeling tired earlier as well. It's odd to go to bed and fall asleep within ten minutes. Partner can do it in two. In the past few months I've often lay in bed for an hour or more, not able to sleep. I'm not sure what's changed. I do know I don't generally need my full eleven hours any more, and mostly wake up after seven or eight. And if there's a particularly loud bird out the window, I sometimes wake up after just five.

I told my mother that our dog nearly caught a blackbird, and she felt sorry for it. I, however, felt sorry for the dog. The blackbird was in MY kitchen eating kibbles out of MY dog's dish. She got it by the tail, but the bird escaped, leaving behind its tailfeathers in her mouth. This is not the first theft, either. Partner says he's even seen one teaching its children how to steal dogfood from the kitchen. Rotten birds.

I asked Partner if it was shameless of me to post my menus. He said, "What, the list of everything I've cooked for the last three weeks?"

[crickets chirping]

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A good friend of mine asked me for ideas for dinner, as she is getting tired cooking the same old stuff. I pontificated on this very subject not many posts ago: how cooking dinner starts to become a chore when one gets into a rut (which has definitely been the case with me for a while now). However, cooking new recipes can be daunting, especially when one is pressed for time; one has a busy day at work or studying or dashing around like a lunatic, and then one doesn't have the energy or the motivation to make complicated meals. Well, that's what happens in my house, anyway.

And then I discovered the joy of menus. If I write up a menu for the week, I know exactly what to do the night before (plonk the chicken in the marinade, put the beans on to soak), what to do before work (throw the whole thing in the slow cooker). And then I'll have made a brand-new dish and I've remembered how much fun food is and impressed Partner to boot. So I would like to share my last three menus (mostly for showing-off purposes. I don't actually know if the abovementioned friend even reads my blog. But I've made it smaller and easier to skip).

Sunday: Roast beef with Yorkshire puddings, cabbage, carrots, roast potatoes, and gravy
Monday: Stir fried fresh veg and leftover beef in Chinese insta-sauce with rice
Tuesday: Beef and vegetable lasagna
Wednesday: Marinated chicken curry with rice
Thursday: Slow-cooker sausage casserole
Friday: Baked chicken with herbs, roast potatoes, and green beans
Saturday: Pizza

Sunday: Roast chicken with cabbage, carrots, roast potatoes, and gravy
Monday: Stir fried fresh veg and leftover chicken in Chinese insta-sauce with rice
Tuesday: Slow-cooker casoulet
Wednesday: Chili with rice and tortilla chips
Thursday: Pork chops with herbs, garlic mash, and baby carrots
Friday: Slow-cooker beef hotpot
Saturday: Marinated grilled sea bream, refried beans, and red rice, with cheese and salsa

Sunday: Roast lamb with cabbage, carrots, roast potatoes, mint and gravy
Monday: Stir fried fresh veg and leftover lamb in Chinese insta-sauce with noodles
Tuesday: Pork chops in barbecue sauce, baked potatoes, and coleslaw
Wednesday: Chili with rice and tortilla chips
Thursday: Marinated chicken with garlic butter penne, and salad
Friday: Slow-cooker corned beef hash
Saturday: Pizza

Partner made me these last week for breakfast. He's such a sweet husband.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Gardening and robins and not-quite-wellness

I loved the raindrops on this rose. We had a thunderstorm this week which resulted in some very beautiful colors around the garden.

I'm still off work until Monday (paid holiday is great!) but I've been a bit under the weather yesterday and today. Yesterday I slept nearly all day, but woke up very awake at 7 AM today. I'm never willingly awake at seven; if I'm ever up early I like to do stuff (gardening, housekeeping, baking). But not today, and the day has just dragged for me; I haven't done much of anything except lay down.

My runner beans have begun flowering, and I even have a couple teeny bean pods forming. I also have one little green tomato so far, and the cabbage, while slug-eaten, is definitely forming heads. My slug traps are still catching them, but not as many as I'd like. We've also had the first of the baby carrots: yum yum.

I can proudly say that I've made a big dent in the weed population, and have even moved to a smaller bucket now. The weeds left are mostly small and easy to pull up, as they've only sprouted since I began weeding in earnest this spring. Of course, I can't get complacent. Small weeds become big weeds, after all.

And to conclude: our little fluffy ball of cuteness, learning to fly on our patio. This is a baby robin which was born in our garage, and has either graduated flying school or had a bad landing inside a cat. Either way, it's long gone.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I know I probably should have saved my money (I'm pretty broke), but I bought an orchid today. It's the first red orchid I've ever seen; red is my favorite color. I couldn't resist. I've put her on my dining table for the moment, but I've never grown this kind of orchid before. I hope I don't kill her. I have had an orchid fatality in the last two years: my dark pink phalaenopsis Mary Magdalen shriveled up a year and a half ago.

The only bouquet I took a picture of this week is on my coffee table, of pink roses, snapdragons, purple sage flowers, and some yellow shrub leaves. Partner picked a nice bouquet of sweet peas and daisies for the bathroom as well, and it smells lovely up there. My new orchid also has a gentle fragrance, surprisingly.

I've got the week off from work, as does Partner, and we've been going out a lot. I like to go walking in the mornings, before ten if possible, and the dog has started to expect it. When I come down in the morning she starts quivering and whining at me. Then when the leash comes out she jumps as high as my shoulder and does her best to contain her barking (if she barks I put the leash back until she stops), though she does make these peculiar yawning noises, which would probably be woofs if she moved her doggy lips during them. We go out as quickly as possible, so as to avoid as much noise as possible, and while I hold her at my side, because polite doggies do not walk ahead on the leash, she pulls me up the street as hard as she can, so hard that she can barely breathe. Yet when she gets off the leash, she always stays in sight of me, and if she thinks I'm lost she runs back to check on me. It's funny to see her up on her hind legs wildly straining to look over the tall grass to find me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Flowers and treats

This week's offerings from the garden (click on the images to see them full-sized) : in my bathroom I have a mixture of lupins, daisies, and mint leaves. For my dining table I picked foxgloves, daisies, and laurel leaves. And finally on my mantle there is a large bunch of sweet peas which I cannot take credit for picking or arranging. Partner did that one. Incidently, above my mantle is my very very favorite waterlily painting by Monet; I once saw the original and searched for many years to find a print of it.

My gardening goals for the summer are small and not really worth mentioning separately. So I have decided to share my general goals for the summer instead. I printed them out for myself personally about two weeks ago, and since the month of June is more than halfway over I have completed some of these goals already. I think I will be adding new goals as old ones are completed.

I enjoyed making pretzels (shown here as before and after). The actual goal is to bake sweets once a week, but I'm counting pretzels in this category. I think maybe I should have chosen "bake treats" instead, to cover this sort of confusion. I made them last night, and today they have all gone but one. I think the recipe could use with a little tweaking to make them less sweet and more chewy, but Partner gobbled them down quickly enough, which is all the assurance I need.