Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Lunar Gardening by Gem – ooffoo.com

As you know, I'm not much of a one for growing flowers and pretty things in my garden - I prefer to eat the fruits of my labour. Since fruits and vegetable plants need to flower in order to reproduce, I'm not depriving myself of beauty, my flowers are simply of a less flamboyant nature than all those flower seed packets that fill the shelves in springtime.

So, I found this article on ooffoo interesting, and include the link so that you can take a look for yourself. I'll just give the opening quote to whet your appetite:

"If you with flowers stick the pregnant earth
Mark well the moon propitious to their birth
For earth the silent midnight queen obeys
And waits her course, who clad in silver rays
The eternal round of time and seasons' guides"

From The English Gardener, Seventeenth Century.  Here's the link to the article:

Lunar Gardening by Gem – ooffoo.com

Monday, 28 June 2010

House-sitting, badger watching

I've been away "house-sitting" for a week for my daughter, who lives up a mountain very steep hill in Gloucestershire.  It does feel like a mountain to someone who lives in a bungalow on a level street, trust me.

Instructions Requests to feed the birds and badgers were probably the most important items on the lovely introductory letter she left for us, along with instructions on how to turn on luxuries such as water and the boiler, of course!  I've seen a photo of the badger on Rachel's blog, and was really, really keen to see it for myself.

I dutifully hid peanuts inder the rocks surrounding the bird feeders every evening at ten, see above, and waited.  The first time Rachel became aware of them was when they awakened her from sleep with their noise.  I didn't hear anything the first night, but next day I'm sure that one of the rocks was in different place, I'm certain I didn't leave it on the path.  Probably squirrels, David assured me.

Next night, at about half past ten, eureeka!!  I heard a grinding noise, could it be rocks being moved around by a hungry beast of the night?  Yes!! A stripey head was visible through the living room window.  I flew upstairs, (well, actually, the stairs are very old and somewhat creaky, so I crept quietly upstairs, but it doesn't have the same feel, does it?) and looked down.  Yes, definitely a badger.  He ran away as I tried to open the window wider to see him ... drat!

About half an hour later, the noises resumed.  He was back, and I watched him from the upstairs window, which I'd cunningly left open, for absolutely ages.  Fantastic.

The following night, he brought his partner along, so two of them scuffled and snuffled.  They do make the most tremendous din as they eat!!!

I've included a photo of the small area where the birds and badger are fed so that you can get some idea of scale - a badger isn't a monster, he's only the size of a dog, and low to the ground.  His brindled back fur makes him very difficult to spot in the bushes, but his stripes make him stand out beautifully, don't you think?

I'm not accustomed to taking night time photos, so I'm afraid the quality of some of the shots isn't as good as I'd like  it to be, but wow! live badgers just below the window, wow!!  We were sooo lucky.

In this last shot,  you can see the male badger as he's walking next to the porch, off to find better pickings at his next cafe stop!!

Results are out - I made it!!!!

Well, there you go - somehow I managed to force this middle-aged brain to work sufficiently hard to obtain a first-class degree - yippee!!!

This last three years have been very happy ones, fully of reading and writing.  I've been obliged to read and discuss books by authors I wouldn't have otherwise chosen to read - Charles Dickens is amongst them.  Having studied some of his works and researched the period in which he lived, I now appreciate his efforts so much more, in fact I intend to read his entire output. 

I do have an old set of books that my maternal grandfather gave me about 40 years ago.  I've started to read them at various times, but the print is minute, and I think I must have been too young, for I only managed to read a few.  I couldn't appreciate the subtle humour, for example, nor realise the appropriateness of some of the many contrived names.  I still remember hearing a reading of one of his novels, Nicholas Nickleby, and being amazed at the school's name "Dotheboys Hall", being pronounced as Do The Boys Hall - so brilliant, yet as a child it was right over my head, I simply struggled to pronounce it!

I've read poetry, and written it.  What's more, I enjoyed reading some of it, and delighted in the inventive use of words when writing it.

I wanted to write.  I want to write for children.  My aim in becoming an undergraduate was to hone skills I already possessed to some degree, having written short, very short, stories since I was a child.  I used to write stories and create books for Rachel when she was small, though I doubt she remembers them.

I've been successful in smoothing some of the rough edges, though, naturally, the polishing could be said to be a never-ending process: when is an article or a story truly finished? 

When the Lancashire Evening Post published two of my short stories this January, it brought tears of joy to my eyes - somebody "out there" considered my work good enough to fill the centre pages of the newspaper!  So it's "only" a local newspaper - who cares?  Not me, it was a great boost to my morale.

I've listened to  lecturers for hours.  Sometimes I've agreed with what they've said, other times, maybe less so, but it's all been enjoyable.

All, that is, except for the Sunday before the final exam.  On that day the tears were of frustration - I enjoy exams, always have done.  But this was sooooo important, worth 50% of the module's mark, and my poor brain's not as fast at remembering things as it once was.

However, my fears were all for nothing - I managed to scrape 71% for it!!!!!  Despite walking away from it quite convinced that I'd blown it - there was so much I hadn't had time to write, but really wanted to include. 

So, I've succeeded in my dream of attaining a first, and had much fun along the way.  Now I need to get my MPhil/PhD application form in pdq as UCLAN will pay my fees for the next three years - yippee.  Postgraduatedom, here I come:-)

Monday, 21 June 2010

loft floor varnished, no, not vanished, varnished!

Sometimes things go well, other times I want to cry!

I've gone through the antiques and mahogany phase of my life.  In a large house they look good.  In my smaller bungalow they look too heavy and cumbersome; consequently I have gone for lighter woods, oak being the darkest I have now.

So, when it came to selecting the finish for the new (salvaged) oak block flooring in the loft extension, I wanted to keep as near to the original shade as possible.  I have a couple of tins of high gloss natural varnish, and a plastic container of water-based clear gloss finish for interior wooden floors.

Since we have two tins of one product, it made sense to use that, so that we wouldn't run out.  After about an hour David called me upstairs to look at the result.  That's when I wanted to cry!

The floor in the storage area looked almost black!!!!  You can see, behind the upright supports in the photo how dark it is, although I must say, it looks a lot less grim than it did when it was wet!

We decided to use the water-based varnish on the main body of the floor, and this has given the look I was expecting - a lovely, warm, golden brown.

I think it looks stunning, and is worth the time and trouble it's taken - David's worked very hard on it, and learned a lot in the process.

The dark area?  Well, it's only in the cupboard, I can live with it - it's not as if I'll see much of it, the doors will be closed unless I need something getting out:-)

Soon, we'll be sleeping up there - wow!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

food for free - butternut squash

As you know, we Yorkshire folk like 'owt for nowt' (something for nothing for those of you who don't speak the dialect!).

I've told you how to get yourself some free potatoes, and this time I'm going to show you how to get yourself some free butternut squashes.  These lovely gourds are fantastic roasted in the oven, or over a barbeque, or made into a delicious soup, or included in a casserole.

Earlier this year I bought a butternut squash, and saved the seeds from the centre.  I dried them on the windowsill, then sowed them about an inch deep in some organic compost.

About two weeks later I had seedlings, and a couple of weeks ago I transplanted them into one of the vegetable beds.  Two of them I have planted directly into the bed, but the remaining three I have potted up into old teracotta pottery "things". 

The reason for this is to try to save them from slugs for a little while, until they have time to build up some strength, and also to add a little variety to the garden.  Whether it's a good idea only time will tell.

Already there are signs of flower buds beginning to form, so, fingers crossed, I will have my free butternut squashes later in the year:-)

Saturday, 12 June 2010

The loft floor just gets better!

This shot proves that we can clear the floor, more or less - well, it is still work in progress, after all!

The en-suite, however, is a different story!  Thank goodness I showed it to you when it was new and shiny:-)

This is what the blocks looked like after their first, rough sanding down.  Pretty good when you think they had paint and years of grime on them.

This gorgeous, warm, full-grained solid oak flooring is what we now have upstairs (there's that strange word, upstairs, again!!)  Don't you think he's done a good job with the sanding machines? 

He's used a belt sander, which I bought a short while ago specifically for this task, and a small, detail sander, one of those shaped a bit like an old flat iron.  I think he's done a really good job, and would recommend buying old oak flooring to anyone who doesn't mind a little lot of hard work.

Space Station Tour

I was sent this clip by a friend and found it very interesting to see the inside of a space station and the shuttle.

The astronauts need to be very supple to wind their way along, down and through.  And as for "up" - well, what is "up" when you're "up" in space?

But the best thing about the clip?  ... I'll never again think I have too much clutter!!!!!

Enjoy the trip:-)

Space Station Tour

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Raspberry Vodka

Last summer I came across a raspberry vodka in my local Aldi supermarket.  Now, as far as I'm concerned, raspberries are the epitome of summer.

Strawberries used to hold this hallowed position, but nowadays they do seem to be largely grown for size, not flavour, so for some years now, raspberries have reigned supreme.  (I must just take a second to say that the alpine strawberries I grow are still really flavoursome, it's the bog-standard strawberries I object to.)

So, when I caught sight of these reddish pink bottles, I simply had to buy one to taste it - I forgot to mention that I also enjoy vodka - a Harvey Wallbanger being one of my very favouritest drinks of all time:-)

I made a return visit to the store the next day to stock up on a few bottles, as it was one of the most delightful drinks I'd had in a long time.

Sadly, it's all but gone now, but the other day I was given four punnets of raspberries and a lightbulb illuminated in my head - I could try to create my own raspberry vodka!!!

I went to my secret stash of bottles and dusted off a new half litre bottle of vodka and began my experiment.  Vodka, rasperries and a tub of vanilla sugar.  I make my own, as you can see, by storing a couple of vanilla pods in a tub of unrefined granulated sugar, yummy.

I weighed out 150gms of raspberries and 100gms sugar into a glass bowl.

I pulverised the raspberries with the sugar until I got this lovely, rosy mush.

I poured in the whole bottle of vodka, not one drop of it passed my lips, honest!  I used Lidl's best vodka.

I allowed the mixture to stand for a week, tightly covered with cling-film (didn't want any alcohol to evaporate, did I?)  Then carefully ladled the pink liquid back into the vodka bottle through a strainer.

The weird muck in the bowl is the remains of the poor raspberries, which kindly gave up their colour to the vodka.  I'll mix it into a cake batter, or something, it would be silly to waste the fibre and the vodka absorbed in it, wouldn't it?

The resulting drink is delicious.  It's not as deep a colour as the shop-bought article, but they probably added beetroot juice to add some depth to theirs for consumer eye-appeal.  I don't think mine is quite as sweet as theirs, either, but that's ok, this was a trial.  I'll happily make more:-)

Oh, and there was too much liquid to fit back in the bottle, so I'll just have to drink it this evening, as I don't have another bottle free to pour it in to.  Life is so hard sometimes:-)  Cheers!

things DO come in threes!!

Do you remember our brief foray into "things coming in threes" on the day of my final exam?  Yes?  Good, because here is further proof!

I told you that my poor neighbour had her purse stolen one day last week, closely followed by a brick being thrown through the window a couple of days later.  Then it was our turn - we went to the car to set off to town only to find that some good for nothing hoodlum mis-guided person had obviously confused our car for their own and had lost their key.

Clearly, though, this wasn't going stop them, and they resorted to using brute force (along with their ignorance) to try to open the driver's door.  Having yanked the handle out of its frame, they abandoned the endeavour - maybe the security light came on and disturbed them, we'll never know, but they don't appear to have actually entered the car.

So, there we are, three things in about a week at our end of the road. 

I jokingly said to the police officer to whom I reported it that I thought it was time to move, but he very seriously assured me that this road is a 'very nice area to live in', so I guess I'll stay:-)