Friday, September 10, 2010

Upcycled Stained Glass

My sister Stephanie's degree is in Glass and Ceramics. She did stained glass making, glass blowing, throwing pots on a wheel, all that sort of stuff. The other week she and I went to a reclamation yard and bought £25 worth of old leaded windows. Then we chopped them up and reassembled them into panes for my front door.
My front door used to be pretty ugly. It was varnished (unevenly) with a horrible reddish-brown varnish. It had ten long narrow panes of unattractive patterned glass, and unpleasant knobs, handles and latches. It didn't bother me that much, but it certainly didn't make me smile every time I entered or left the house.
Now it is painted a handsome steely blue. It has smart new brass door furniture (not in the picture) and it has beautiful and unique upcycled leaded glass in the top and bottom (only the top panes are pictured). Needless to say, it makes me smile every time I walk through it, or even walk past it.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Skein of Geese

This morning as I was returning home from the school run I had to stop in a queue of traffic only a couple of hundred yards from my door. I only caught the occasional glimpse of the reason for the delay, but I could clearly hear the sound of a farmer herding his cows across the road.

I didn't mind waiting. It was a beautiful blue-sky morning promising a fine early autumn day. The hedgerows were heavy with deep red hawthorn berries and I began to contemplate which route to take with the dog today on our daily walk.

As I was waiting, a skein of geese honked noisily overhead.

I love living here.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

I Get To...

I read an article in a magazine by a woman who felt stressed by her life. She was overwhelmed by all the things she had to do. So she shifted the way she described these things by changing "I've got to..." to "I get to...." It struck me as a great idea.

Today I got to have a coffee with a friend first thing in the morning. We looked at some photos she had taken on a recent family trip to the safari park, and we made a plan to go to the gym together starting in September.

Then I got to take the dog for a walk among the rolling English farmland. Millions of people dream of living in the countryside. I get to live the dream.

After that I got to begin tidying the house ready for my dad's arrival tonight. It's fun to anticipate a much-loved guest, and to show my love and respect for him by making an effort to spruce the house up.

Later I get to go to the end-of-year assembly at the kids' school. There is a great community there and I count most of the other parents and the teachers as my friends. We will all get together to celebrate the children's achievements over the last year, to say goodbye to the Year 6's who will go to high school in September, and also to say goodbye to the headmistress who is retiring.

After that I get to finish the house cleaning and make everything just-so. And I will get to make dinner for my family, who have never had less than three meals a day in their lives, unlike the majority of the world.

In the evening I will get to rest in a clean and tidy house, with my well-fed children tucked up safely in their beds. I will snuggle on the couch with my husband and watch some DVDs until it is time to go to bed, keeping one ear open for dad's arrival at around 2am.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Peace in the Garden

I can't do everything, but if I do the important things first, take one step at a time, and accept the help of my family, I can find peace.
I am sitting in the garden right now with an ice cold smoothies made partly from my own strawberries, the first of which ripened today. The house is clean and tidy. The lawn is mowed and the plants watered and fed, as are the fish and the chickens. The washing is hanging on the line. All my essays are marked.
The garden looks great - the beans have climbed to the top of their bamboo pyramid and are starting to climb up the wisteria. The tomatoes are growing big and strong and starting to make flowers. The spuds are growing strongly, despite the dog's penchant for digging them up and eating them. I've been harvesting salad leaves for a while now, but am still awaiting the first radish harvest. The herbs are looking great, especially the mint. The rhubarb is doing well as are the courgettes. The garden is also full of flowers, and bees, and butterflies (I am not a fan of butterflies. Oh they look pretty and are harmless enough, but the caterpillars are buggers).
Peace? Yes, I'd say so.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Solstice

Happy Summer Solstice, Bean Sprouts readers! Tomorrow is the longest day and the shortest night of the year (in the northern hemisphere where I live anyway. In the southern hemisphere it is midwinter, the shortest day and longest night). At this time of the year light dominates over darkness, day dominates over night, warmth dominates over cold, life dominates over death.

Here in Britain we are finally having a nice summer after several long years of cold, dark, wet summers and it feels glorious! I am spending every minute I can out of doors shedding as many clothes as I dare and letting the sun warm my skin. I must admit I have got sunburned more than once already this season, which is not very wise.

Enjoy the special day, readers, and enjoy the summer.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


When we were students at Aberystwyth university, back in the early 1990s, we would often have barbecues on the beach. At the time, Ed and I were both vegetarian, so our usual barbecue fare was vegetable kebabs. We'd thread cherry tomatoes, button mushrooms, pieces of coloured peppers, courgette and aubergine onto skewers, brush them with olive oil and grill them. When they were done we would transfer the veg to a pitta bread and top with hummus.

I always brought too much veg. I think it's much better to have too much food at a barbecue than not enough. So the next day I would fling all the leftover ingredients in a pan with a close fitting lid, put it on a slow heat, and make ratatouille. You can serve it hot or cold, in a bowl, and scoop it up with any leftover pittas.

It's really as easy as that. You don't need a recipe. The proportions don't matter. This is peasant food - the peasants didn't have recipes or kitchen scales. They didn't say "Sorry darling, I was going to make ratatouille tonight but we have rather too many aubergines and not enough yellow peppers". They just flung what they had in a pot and heated it until it was cooked. You can't break it if you leave one ingredient out because you can't get it, or don't like it. It doesn't matter if you chuck in some other things you have lying around in the fridge. I admit, my mind slightly boggles at the idea of ratatouille with neeps, but why not? Whatever floats your boat.

We had a barbecue yesterday so today we are having ratatouille. Like day follows night. Yum.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Low-Hanging Fruit

Infographics (displaying facts and figures in a pictorial way) are very trendy right now. My favourite producer of infographics is The Oatmeal but he hasn't tackled anything related to the environment yet, so I haven't linked to him from Bean Sprouts before.

But I also liked this infographic about the "low-hanging fruit" of energy saving - the easy, simple, money-saving things everyone should be doing, like installed low-energy light bulbs and turning down your thermostat by one degree. Do they actually work? Can they help save the planet? Isn't it just small potatoes compared to things like smoke-belching factories and long-haul flights? Isn't it pointless when the Chinese are... umm... I can't actually remember what the argument is but basically we don't need to do anything about saving the planet unless the Chinese do it first?

Well, no. These things are worthwhile. Loads of households doing little things is just as important as a few factories doing big things to reduce our carbon emissions, our fossil fuel consumption, water consumption and all the other stuff. This infographic shows you why, and if you go to the Wellhome blog who produced it, you can go read up all the information sources they used to make it. Top marks for your references, guys!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday Funnies

I loved this poster from Fake Science (for when the facts are too confusing). Sometimes there's a fine line between "hilarious" and "heartbreaking".

And I'm delighted to see that the witty and talented Marc Roberts has a new website to showcase his climate cartoons, as featured in New Internationalist. Click this week's cartoon to see a bigger version.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

World Cup

Check Spelling
I'm not a massive football fan. I watch football matches in the following circumstances: When Liverpool or England are playing a cup match, and the World Cup.

My husband, Ed, hates football. So 12 years ago I watched the 1998 World Cup at my parents house. I would walk the mile or so to their house with little baby Thomas, and we would watch the matches together. We watched every match, however insignificant, Lithuania v Cote D'Ivoire, Netherlands v Japan, all of them. I don't remember if my sister Lindsey was there or if she was living somewhere else at that time. I remember watching tournaments with her and others without her, but I can't place this particular one. Dad would get very cross if everyone wasn't in place on the sofa by a good 10 or 15 minutes before kick-off. It was as if he thought we were in the team and they couldn't start without us. And he got very tense in the last few minutes of any match with a goal difference of 1 or less (which is the vast majority of football matches). He would leave the room and pace up and down the hallway. Occasionally we would arrange to all cheer or groan on 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... and he would come dashing in to see what he had missed.

Then 8 years ago I would leave baby Eleanor and toddler Tom with Ed and haul my pregnant self to mum and dad's place to watch the 2002 World Cup. We always had bowls of salted peanuts when we watched football games. I don't know why, it was just a sort of family tradition. Mum and I loved interactive wallcharts, and would obsessively fill in the results and calculate what they all meant, especially in the group stages: "So as long as England win against Slovenia by at least one goal we are definitely through...", "...unless France lose to Tunisia by more than four goals...", "...yeah but that's not going to happen..." but we still watched the France v Tunisia match with fingernails bitten to the quick. We watched every match until England got knocked out, and then we skipped the rest and watched the final.

Mum died five years ago. I seem to remember making a desultory effort to watch the 2006 World Cup on my own, but it wasn't the same. The football was only ever part of it. More important was the family time spent together. The family traditions, the shared focus, the common joy and grief.

Since mum died there have been many Christmases and birthdays, her grandchildren have made first holy communions, been in nativity plays and strings concerts and swimming galas. I often think "Mum would have enjoyed this, she would have been so proud", but mostly I was more sorry for her that she was missing things than I was sorry for myself. Today I feel sorry for myself. I wish I could watch the World Cup with mum.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New Look for Bean Sprouts

Away with the old Bean Sprouts look and in with the new. What do you think? Is it readable and clear? Is there anything you can no longer find? Anything you have noticed is missing? I'll continue to tweak it for a few days so give me your feedback.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Relocating Feral Bees

I really enjoyed a video on the BBC news website of a beekeeper relocating a large colony of feral bees which had established in somebodies home in California. I wish I could embed the video here but there seems to be no way to do it, so if you want to see it yourself, follow this link.

I was interested to see the use of the bee vacuum, and the way the beekeeper cut sections of comb with honey and brood from the wild hive and inserted them (with elastic bands) into standard frames. Of course you can't just move the bees - you have to move all their stores and brood too. I didn't see anything about him ensuring he had the queen, that would have been interesting. But since the bees seem to be partially Africanised, and therefore rather aggressive, he will surely have wanted to re-queen them anyway. I would also have liked to see him examine some brood for mite infestation.

By definition, feral bees are resistant to pests such as varroa. If they weren't, they'd be dead. So hybridising feral colonies with managed strains could help develop resistant varieties of bees which is so desperately important in these days of colony collapse disorder (which is just a posh name for "Oh shit! All the bees are dying and we don't know why!")

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Green Britain Day 2010

Green Britain Day 2010 is on 17th June, 8 days away. But it seems to be a secret - I only know about it because I have a relative who works for EDF, the company behind it. Even after she told me about it I had a heck of a job finding any information about it on the internet. It's not on the EDF home page. It doesn't seem to have its own website, although there is a website for Team Green Britain which mentions it. My relative tells me it has been advertised on TV and in the national press. Have you seen any publicity for Green Britain Day 2010?

Well anyway, events for Green Britain Day 2010 include Bike Week which runs from 19th-27th June. You can search for your local Bike Week events and there do seem to be a lot of them going on.

There is also an event called The Big Lunch on 18th July which encourages people to have lunch with their neighbours, whether in a small event or a street party or whatever. Sounds like fun, and worthwhile to build up communities. Not sure what it has to do with "Green Britain" though.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that neither of these events take place on 17th June, Green Britain Day. So what is happening on that date? I have no idea. I have combed the Team Green Britain website and I have searched the internet for "Green Britain Day 2010" to no avail.

EDF, I am calling you out. Do you get some sort of tax break or something by claiming to have organised Green Britain Day, which sounds like a great idea but in practice is a load of puff? As the great philospher Bart Simpson once said "I didnt think it was physically possible, but this both sucks and blows". It's a shame because I happen to know there is an active group of people working for the company who are really dedicated to improving the environment, and who are imaginative and tireless in doing so.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Cowslip Wine

For my birthday, my dad bought me a bottle of Lyme Bay cowslip wine in a lovely stone bottle, and I cracked it open last week with Stephanie and Ed.

It was delicious! It's a long time since I have made any wine, but this has given me the bug again. It had that proper home-made "country wine" taste, entirely different from anything made with grapes. It was the perfect thing to drink on a long hot summer evening. Thanks, dad.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Eat Local, Wear - ?

Increasingly I am coming to the view that buying local food is more important than buying organic or Fairtrade food. But what about clothing? I live in Britain which is not exactly famous for its fields of cotton or its mulberry plantations producing silk. We produce wool, but it's difficult to wear all year round (and I have a horrible tendency to shrink it in the wash).

A surf clothing company called Rapanui contacted me a couple of weeks ago to publicise their products (full disclosure - they have not offered me any incentive except a link exchange. Loads of businesses offer link exchanges with Bean Sprouts but I ignore 99% of them as irrelevant to my readers). I checked out their website and I was impressed at the thoroughness of their eco credentials. Rapanui is not a clothing company that makes a token effort to claim the "eco" label as a marketing ploy. They truly seem to have built their business on sustainable and ethical principles that extend to everything they do.

I liked the traceability maps which show a product-specific supply chain traceability map for every product they sell. I liked the detailed description of the ethical standards for workers they apply in the (wind powered) factories and farms. I was very impressed by the in-depth carbon footprint calculations they make available for all their products.

I'm not exactly a surf chick so I'm unlikely to buy any Rapanui products, although the pashminas are rather nice, and so are the socks. The men's range is much more "fleshed out" than the women's range so far, and there are no children's products yet. The company is young, though, and they may already have plans to extend these ranges. But I really liked their approach to business. I wish many more companies would be as thoughtful about their environmental and ethical values.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Folk on the Coast

My second music festival in two days! Today I went to Folk on the Coast to help my sister Lindsey sell her hand-made jewellery and run jewellery-making workshops. Her stall was right next to a workshop area, so we got to overhear a song-writing workshop and a poetry-reading session with John Gorman of The Scaffold, in whose honour I have included the YouTube clip of Lily The Pink.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Ed and Steph (with help from me and Guy) spruced up our garden pond, which was being reclaimed by nature. It was more of a garden swamp than a garden pond. But now the quantity of pond plants has been greatly reduced, the water has been topped up. The child-safe grille has been removed, and the turf has been trimmed back.

Living in the pond are 5 (non-native) fat goldfish, 2 different species of frog (common frog and British pond frog), smooth newts and common toads. Not to mention all the insect life attracted to the water. It's pleasant just to sit by the pond and watch the comings and goings of the wildlife.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Having a wonderful day in the garden with family and friends. Good food. Cold beer. Chasing frogs. Making musical instruments out of old gas drums. Painting the gas drums. Playing music. Feeding snails to the chickens. Using scary power tools with lots of spitznsparken. Nice day.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Fresh Burst of Energy

My commitment to blog every day didn't last very long did it? I need to accept I have up days and down days (and weeks, and months...) But just lately I have had a boost from spending time with my sisters and my brother-in-law. The four of us went to London for a day trip. Lindsey and Andrew shared the driving, and we went shopping in Camden Lock and Covent Garden, and ended up sitting outside a bar in Soho drinking cold beer and people-watching.

It was a wonderful day, and it has put me in a good mood for the whole week. I will blog more about what I have been doing in the week, as well as passing on some news that various people have emailed me about. Lots of good things have happened recently which have felt like getting back in touch with the old "me", and I hope to keep the feeling going.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Craft Fair

I'm at a craft fair again, this time in Aintree, Liverpool with Lindsey. I feel very inspired to make more mixed-media art. The only trouble is I have about 20 essays to mark.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Blakemere Craft Centre

Today I am at Blakemere Craft Centre with Lindsey and my dad. It has all kinds of craft shops, including craft materials and crafted items. I am enjoying browsing but mostly I am enjoying spending time with people I love.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dig In

The have a great website called Dig In which is full of resources to help beginners grow their own fruit and veg.

There are tips on what you can grow in any space, from a windowsill to a back garden, advice on specific crops including french beans, courgettes, carrots and salad leaves, and many more.There are videos to watch, and message boards to show of your successes and ask for help with your disasters.

There is even a touring bus where you can take part in workshops and activities, get advice from expert gardeners, and pick up free seeds.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Are Supercars Good For The Environment?

I was reading a car magazine recently (I was in the local fish and chip shop waiting for Ed's vegetarian chop suey roll to cook, and there wasn't a lot of choice, ok?) and there was an article about the new McLaren supercar. I was reading about the work they have done to get the weight as low as possible, including building it partly from carbon fibres instead of steel. The magazine said that this was good for the car's eco-credentials, which made me snort loudly and brought stares from all the other people in the queue.

Maybe when we replace the VW Polo I'll ask Ed if we can get a McLaren instead. "It's not for me, darling, it's for the sake of the planet!"


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Doesn't Make a Summer

As I was driving home after having coffee with a friend, I thought I saw two swallows on a telephone wire. I couldn't quite believe my eyes so I parked and came back for a better look. I have been watching them for a little while now and sure enough they are swallows. I have had a really good look at them both perching and in flight.

I know the old saying "One swallow doesn't make a summer" but two of them have lifted my heart this spring morning.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Today I am grateful for:

1. The beautiful sunny weather we have had these last few days
2. My sisters
3. The changes I see every day when I walk my dog - more flowers and buds, insects, lambs getting bigger each day, and so on
4. The things that have made me laugh today
5. Friends I can rely on when I need help
6. That I have the capacity to appreciate music, art and other beautiful things
7. My children who make me so proud and happy
8. Ed, who has worked very hard lately to make our home better for our family
9. The talents and abilities I have been given
10. My supportive readers who pick me up everytime I am feeling down

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tasting Notes: Punk IPA

RobR recommended Brewdog's Punk IPA so I grabbed a 4-bottle pack next time I saw it. First impressions - bitter. Second impressions - really bitter. Finish - OMG this is bitter. It's fantastic! If you like your beer bitter and hoppy and dry (and not at all gassy) this is a treat. In fact, I can't wait for the summer and for some really really hot weather because a bottle of Punk would be the perfect refreshing drink on such a day. But it goes down very nicely on a cool April evening too. Thanks for the heads-up Rob!

Monday, April 12, 2010

What's Going On With This Blog?

If you have been wondering what is going on with this blog you are not alone. I have been wondering, too. Bean Sprouts is very important to me and I don't want to let it die. But I have been finding it hard to post.

It's not that I have stopped caring about all the things I used to write about. I still care very much. It's true that when I realised I was ill I eased up on many of the more time consuming and arduous 'green' practices. I found it a tremendous struggle just to get out of bed and dressed so more convenient options were literally life-saving to me for a while, and I had to learn to stop beating myself up about that (there just wasn't time, anyway. The list of things I was beating myself up about was very long). So I haven't lost interest. In fact I have added some new interests that I would like to blog about. So why haven't I?

I think I know why - I have been having similar difficulty in other areas, such as crafting, gardening, work, art - everything, really. The problem is that I have lacked confidence that what I create would be good enough, so I have been creating nothing. Stupid, huh?

I had a breakthrough today - I am going to stop worrying about whether it is good enough and just do it. Scary as that is, I am strong enough now to take the risk of failing. So I pledge to update the blog every day, whether or not I have something earth-shattering to say. Whether or not the writing process flows easily. Whether or not I cam find the perfect image to go with the post (this time I have used a photo of my dog, Gil - my Zen master in teaching me how to not care about what people think but just do whatever seems like a good idea at the time). I'm just going to do it.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Homeward Bound

We didn't get past the Food Halls in Harrods but we got some lovely things for our packed lunch on the journey home. We made it to the National Portrait Gallery just in time for Marcus' recital. What a divine ending to a lovely day! We are now on the train home, eating pate and olives and artisan bread, and comparing our sketchbooks and purchases. Tired and footsore but very very happy after our adventure. We MUST do this again, soon.

G&T @ the V&A

We loved the quilt exhibition. Even Stephanie(who had been a bit dubious about it) had a great time. We were starting to suffer from museum fatigue so we went to an outdoor courtyard and cooled our feet in the fountain whilst drinking gin and tonics. Steph is sketching whilst I update the blog. Next - Harrods (v. unlikely to buy anything but I've never even been inside and I wanted to see it.

Lunch at the Natural History Museum

Steph and I are sitting outside of the Nat History Museum eating our packed lunch of pate and bread and admiring the gorgeous architecture. The weather is lovely - warm and sunny. It's almost too nice to go back indoors but the quilt exhibition beckons so we are heading soon for the V&A. I'm so grateful to my husband, Ed, for agreeing to spend the day with 5 kids under the age of 12 to allow me and Steph to go gallivanting off like this.

Trip to the V&A

Do you remember I said I wanted to go to London to see the quilt exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum? Well I am on the train right now for a day trip with my sister Stephanie. Our itinerary includes the V&A, the National Portrait Gallery, and a concert by my friend the Wigmore Prize winner Marcus Farnsworth. I'll keep you updated throughout the day.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Pure Ubu Beer

I picked up a bottle of Pure Ubu premium Amber ale at Tesco and popped the top off as soon as I had finished putting away the shopping. Gosh, it's nice. Hoppy and fragrant, not too sweet and with nice degree of bitterness. It's a smidge strong for a session beer to my mind, but that's what it tastes like. If Hobgoblin is a bit too sweet for you, as it is for me, you might find this a nice quaffable alternative.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Follow Bean Sprouts on Twitter

Did you know that Bean Sprouts has a Twitter feed? The name is beansproutsblog and you can become a follower by clicking the link!

If you haven't dipped your toe into the Twitter pool yet, you should know that it is a website that does one very limited thing - it allows you to post a short (140 characters) message which will be sent to everyone who has chosen to "follow" you.

So what use is that? You can use it to keep your family and friends up to date with what you are doing. A typical tweet of this kind might read:
Drinking coffee, listening to Miles Davis and trying to install anti-virus on dad's laptop

Or you can use it to draw people's attention to stuff on the web, such as:
I just laughed at a funny picture at

You can even use them to organise or participate in a flash mob.

I use the beansproutsblog Twitter feed to tell followers when I update the blog, to pass along things that interested me that I didn't want to blog about, and to re-tweet messages I think would interest my followers.

Try it. What's the worst thing that can happen? It's free, and if you don't like it you can always unsubscribe.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring is going to be a stunner

According to a news item on the BBC, the consolation prize for our long hard winter is going to be a stunning spring.

Matthew Oates, the National Trust's conservation advisor, says
One of the problems with early, rushed springs is the flowers and butterflies then get clobbered by foul and abusive [spring] weather

By contrast a late spring following a cold winter means the animals have all had a proper hibernation, and plants emerge over a longer period in successive waves. I hope he's right. I've had about as much manky weather as I can stand.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Quilts at the V&A

I'd love to go and see the exhibition Quilts 1700-2010 at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. It's on until July 4th, maybe I'll be able to get down there some time before then.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Arty Crafty Day

I had a wonderful day with my sister Lindsey. We spent the whole day in my garage/studio with all the doors flung open and the spring sunlight streaming through. We drank gallons of teas and listened to CDs whilst chatting, laughing and making arty crafty stuff.

Lindsey made a dreamcatcher, a couple of necklaces and several pairs of earrings. I wasn't as prolific, I only made four inchies, but I turned a few more pre-made inchies into brooches.

I like making inchies, and I think the finished items are very appealing, but I'm always at a loss of what to do with them. Lindsey and I came up with a few ideas for making them into wearable/usable items and now I am full of inspiration to try some of these ideas out and see if people might want to buy them.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring Equinox

Today is the spring equinox (unless you live in the southern hemisphere in which case it is the autumn equinox). For the last six months the nights have been longer than the days. But today day and night hang in perfect balance. From now onwards the days will be longer than the nights, and will continue to grow longer and longer until the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

Yesterday I saw my first open daffodils growing in the ground (not cut daffodils in a florist or pot-grown from the garden centre), and today the narcissus in my own garden have opened. I have been watching the new lambs in the fields near my house. Ground elder and cleavers are starting to cover the bare ground wherever gardeners are not actively rooting them out. And last night I found a small insect inside the house. The world seems to be coming back to life.

Ed has been in France on business for the last week but he got home last night. My dad has been staying with me following a serious illness but he is much recovered. Even the moon is in its waxing phase and I feel full of hopefulness.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St Patrick's Day

Because my dad is staying with me, I've been listening to the Irish radio channel RTE all day so there is no way I could fail to notice today is St Patrick's Day. We're going to have Irish sausages and champ for dinner tonight, washed down with Guinness.


Boil about 4lb potatoes until cooked. Simmer a couple of bunches of chopped spring onions in 1/2 pint of milk for a few minutes. Mash the potatoes and add the hot milk, spring onions, salt and pepper and a couple of ounces of butter. Mix well. Serve with a generous knob of butter on top.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Starting to feel like spring

I've been feeling depressed again since around Christmas. Don't get me wrong, Christmas was great and I had a lovely time. But I ran out of my dried frog pills (antidepressant tablets) and I thought "I don't really need them anymore. I have been feeling fine". Big mistake. I got back on them about a month ago and I am starting to perk up. It's really grim to feel like you are in a black pit the whole time and nothing, absolutely nothing at all gives you the least little bit of joy at all.

This winter hasn't helped. It has been extraordinarily bleak and long. It's not just my perception; statistically this has been the hardest UK winter in my lifetime. We are only a week away from the spring equinox but there are scarcely any signs of spring at all. A few crocuses and snowdrops are starting to bloom, and I saw some lambs this morning whilst I was walking the dog. But no daffodils are flowering in my area yet and the trees are not in bud. The forsythia and ribes are not out. It feels like early February, not mid-March.

But I got loads of house and garden plants for Mothers' Day and Eleanor helped me re-plant all the hanging baskets with pansies, primroses and dwarf narcissi. I still have some plants left but I ran out of potting compost. I will get some more tomorrow on the way home from school and replant some of the containers. I also have some seeds I want to sow indoors.

It feels good to get my hands in dirt, in amongst roots and bulbs, and smell the green, vital, earthy scent. It is good to plant things - it always feels to me like a powerful act of faith. You can not plant things unless you have hope for the future. You have to expect that a frail stem with two small leaves is going to grow into a large and beautiful plant. Solipsists do not do gardening.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Happy St Brigid's Day

Did you know today was an important day? It is St Brigid's day, also Candlemas (the feast of the presentation of the Lord), also Imbolc in the Celtic calendar. There are a number of traditions and superstitions about this day. For example if snakes or badgers come out of their dens on this day it is considered a sign that spring will come sooner rather than later (an older version of the American tradition of Groundhog Day). In parts of Ireland young girls make a Brideog, a corn dolly representing St Brigid (who is also the Celtic goddess Brigid, the personification of Spring) and make a special bed for her to lie in on St Brigid's Eve. On St Brigid's day they carry her from house to house where the married women give them gifts of food or money. It is also said to be the day the Cailleach, the hag personification of winter, collects her firewood. Legend says if she plans to make the winter last longer she will make the weather fine on this day so she can collect plenty of wood. If the weather is foul she is asleep because winter is almost over and she doesn't need any more firewood.

Why so much superstition about this one same day? Well it is a cross-quarter day. It is half way between the longest night (the winter solstice) and the spring equinox when day and night are equal. If you think of the solstice as mid-winter and the equinox as mid-spring then today must be the start of spring.

Well here in Cheshire it is very cold today. So cold that I drove Ed to work in the car because it is too icy for his motorbike. But I have seen the very first signs of spring beginning to show, such as shoots of daffodils and crocuses starting to push through the earth and some of the trees just beginning to bud. The days are getting perceptibly longer - the mornings are just that little bit lighter and the evening comes a smidgen later.

I have lit a fire and a candle to mark the day, and I plan to spend the day making crafts. I think I will incorporate imagery of St Brigid, the goddess Brigid, the Cailleach, light, fire and spring into my crafts. And maybe spring will come sooner rather than later and this cold, cold winter will be over.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Creative Day Out

It's been a crafty weekend. Yesterday my 8-year-old son, Sam, represented his cub pack at a crafting competition in Macclesfield and had a lovely time. And today I went to the Stitch and Creative Crafts show at the Greater Manchester Exhibition Centre with my sister Lindsey and her friend Caroline. Amongst other things I bought some books which have filled me with inspiration for crafty things to do.

Friday, January 29, 2010

January Moon

It's a full moon tonight. I saw it in an almost clear sky, with just a few fluffy clouds close to the moon. The moon illuminated their edges and they seemed to glow pale blue. I love it when it looks like that. It seems very magical. I remember a children's TV series when I was a child about a garden in which statues came to life at night, and the young hero befriended Greek nymphs and godesses and so on. The moon tonight reminded me of that for some reason.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Caught One!

I got one! Since enabling comment moderation I have allowed about five or six comments and blocked one spam comment. Zapping spam feels good!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Comment Moderation

I don't know about you but I am getting sick of Asian comment spam. So I have sadly enabled comment moderation. I'll check at least once a day and get your comments up as fast as possible. Sorry about this. :(


A few years ago I decided I would like to be able to identify the common birds in my neighbourhood. With the help of my sister Stephanie and a couple of good bird books I gradually achieved my aim. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Quite quickly the mass of similar little brown birds separated themselves out into sparrows, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits and a wide variety of other species. I could even identify male from female in many cases, and juvenile from adult.

It was well worth the investment of time and effort. Whenever I catch a glimpse of a familiar species I smile to myself. And the "hang on, what was that?" moments are a thrill, followed by the hunt to see the same bird again, gather enough information to try to identify it, followed by frantic riffling through the bird books to confirm the id.

I have no wish to see every bird species in the world, or Europe or even Britain. I wouldn't go chasing off somewhere because some rare species had been spotted, or stay in a cold bird hide with a flask of tea and soggy sandwiches. That's part of the fun of birdwatching for some people, but my own goal is clearly defined - I just want to know the birds in my local patch.

So why do I bring this up today? I spotted a seasonal visitor today, the redwing. It's a species of thrush, like the blackbird and songthrush and mistlethrush that stay year-round. But the Redwing is more colourful than these dowdy birds, with its dandy eyestripe and vivid red patch under its wings. It's quite shy and although I am sure it comes to the area every year I don't always manage to spot it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cupcakes and Punk Rock

It is my daughter Eleanor's birthday party tonight. She was 10 on Friday. We spent the day making and decorating cupcakes, chopping fruit for the punchbowl, and planning the music.

I think the cupcakes are adorable. So cute and pretty. Whilst I was washing up I asked Eleanor to write out a playlist for the CDs she wanted during the party. Her list read:
  • Siouxie and the Banshees
  • Blondie
  • Pink
  • Kiss
She may still like baking with mummy but my daughter is growing up. I'm so proud of her.