29 December 2012

Looking Back ........

I was woken up at 4am this morning by the wind howling down the valley and rain beating against my bedroom window. Finding  it impossible to get back to sleep, I grabbed my laptop and was having a look back over the posts I have written since I first started blogging. I started this blog in March 2011, however, I started my first blog during my second year of university in 2008. I was a mature student (or in my case an ancient student! .... I was 43 at the time!) at Falmouth Marine School  studying for a foundation degree in Marine Science and the blog was part of my coursework. We had to write about current marine and environmental topics that were in the news. That's how I first found out about blogging. I found it fascinating. I loved researching the topics and I loved the marine biology and environmental science part of it and I went on to study for BSc and a MSc in Environmental Science and Marine Conservation at Plymouth university and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It brought out my inner nerd :-)

 Studying Nucella Lapillus (Dog Whelks) in Pembrokeshire

Studying coastal erosion in Cornwall

When I started this blog it was for a completely different reason. I liked the idea of a kind of diary of everyday things that I could share with my friends and family who all live a long way away. I had no idea that other people would be interested in reading it. My marine biology blog only ever got read by my friends at Uni, and the lecturer who actually set the blog assignment! One thing I noticed is that I now write a lot more posts. I don't know if this is because I do more stuff or that I have more time but one thing is for sure, I'm going to be blogging again on both blogs in 2013 and I'm really looking forward to it.

If you want to check out my old Marine Biology and Environmental Blog you can find it here. It's not had any posts on it lately but I will be starting it again in the New Year. 

27 December 2012

Getting Ready For The New Year

I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas.

You will probably have guessed that there is no Thrifty Thursday this week. What with the Christmas preparations and things, I simply haven't had a moment to think about writing a blog post but there will definitely be one next week. 

Christmas went by in a blur with lots of food and drink and general merry-making, the house is now back to almost empty with just my youngest daughter and me and the clean-up of the debris is well under way. I got lots of lovely presents (Thank you to my three fabulous daughters and my mum and dad xXx) and I have plenty of used wrapping paper to light the fire with. There is also loads of turkey left over for some turkey massaman curry tonight and we have even had some sunshine. The weather here has been so awful lately and so wet that this morning, when I woke up to a room full of bright light, for a second, I thought that I had forgotten to turn the light off last night. It's still dry and hopefully, a few days of this and my field may even start getting back to normal and then I will hopefully be able to make a start on repairing the damage to the fences. 

I'm now looking forward to the New Year. I'm planning on making some big changes in 2013 and undertaking a new venture, which, obviously, I will be sharing on my blog. There is garden planning to do and veg planting to start and lots and lots of exciting things for me to get my teeth into in 2013. I have spent the afternoon trying to decide what veg I'm going to plant and where I'm going to plant them and I have sorted through some flower seeds that I found in a cupboard. So until the Christmas Limbo Week is over (the week between Christmas and New Year) I am going to sit by the fire and dream of a sunny 2013 spent sewing, crafting and gardening and then come the 1st of January I can get started.

23 December 2012

Last Minute Christmas Preparations.

It's finally stopped raining. How long it will last I don't know but any time without rain is a bonus. The water in the field is slowly going down and today I am going to finish my Christmas preparations, wrap the presents and fetch the last of my Christmas food. Then, tonight,  I'm going plug in all my Christmas lights, put my feet up and relax.

I would just like to wish everyone out there in Blogland a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous and Safe New Year and I will be back blogging after the festive season. 

22 December 2012

More Flooding

Well, it's been raining again and this time my field is totally flooded. I actually have ducks swimming in my field!! Luckily my llamas are safe, if a bit soggy and muddy, and luckily the house isn't flooded but my roof is leaking and I have had to put down a bucket to catch the water that's leaking into my bathroom and I have run out of towels to mop things up with. All in all not a great start to the Christmas holidays but I'm sure there are people out there who are far more affected and I am thankful that the damage here, although inconvenient, has been minimal.

But ...... it's still raining and the forecast says it will be like this for another 5 days so things might get even worse. I took this video this morning, I don't know if it will work I've never tried to  upload a video before so if it works it will be a miracle! 

20 December 2012

Thrifty Thursday

Well, it's that time again. It's not really a Thrifty Thursday this week because I'm trying to get everything sorted for Christmas and for some reason this year, it has sneaked up on me and I am nowhere near as organised as I usually am, but, this idea could easily be a fabulous alternative to a Christmas tree. 
In June of this year, I spent a blissful day with the lovely Carol Horsington, her partner David Taylor and their two adorable Jack Russells Sue and Poppy, learning the gentle art of basket weaving at their farm in Cornwall, where they run their business Cornish Willow. I came away with sore, aching fingers and a faint whiff of damp willow about me but also with an amazing sense of satisfaction and two amazingly awesome willow plant supports that I somehow managed to produce.  I loved them so much and the weather was so awful this year that I somehow couldn't bring myself to actually put them outside so they have spent the year indoors, one on either side of the patio doors. 

I have already mentioned the fact that in the past I have had some rather scraggy-looking Christmas trees and although this year I managed to bag myself quite a nice one, I decided that my two lovely willow pyramids needed a little bit of a makeover, not least because my kids keep threatening to put them outside! I always go overboard with the fairy lights. I love them and if I could get away with it I would keep them up all year round so, a couple of strings of fabulous lights and voila ......... a gorgeous Christmas tree alternative. I have to say, I totally love it and no matter what the kids say, I think I'm actually going to keep them like this after Christmas :-)

13 December 2012

Thrifty Thursday

I recently watched a fabulous film called The Big Year. It's a gentle comedy with Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson as "birding" enthusiasts dashing off around America trying to see as many birds as they can in 1 year.

A couple of days later, inspired by the film, I was looking at bird feeding stations in my local garden centre. While they are lovely and stylish, they are also expensive and are basically just hook-shaped poles stuck in the ground. A few years ago, my very good friend Sharon (who has just started her blog here) bought me some lovely hanging tea-light lanterns for the garden. They each came with a hook-shaped pole to stick in the ground to hang the lanterns from. Unfortunately, two of the lanterns got broken but being the kind of person that finds it hard to throw anything away, I put the poles in the shed and forgot about them.

Anyway, yesterday morning, as I was looking out of my living room window, watching the birds hopping around in my garden and wondering what to do for this weeks Thrifty Thursday, I had a fabulous idea. Many many MANY years ago, when I was at primary school, I remembered making a yoghurt pot bird feeder using lard and berries and bird seed as part of a school nature week and Eureka ...... I knew exactly what I was going to make this week. I usually feed the birds everyday by putting out crumbs and seeds on my potting table, however, now that my next door neighbours cat thinks that my garden is hers, the birds seem to be a bit freaked out. I was considering changing to fat balls but they can work out quite expensive so yoghurt pot bird feeders are the perfect solution A quick visit to the shed to battle the giant spiders and hey presto ..... instant bird feeding poles.

Now, here's how to make the bird cake to go inside the yoghurt pots courtesy of the RSPB. They are perfect for kids to make but if you're using nuts take care in case of allergies. 

How to make a speedy bird cake

Make this quick and easy cake to keep the birds happy.

Stuff you need

Good quality bird seed; raisins; peanuts; grated cheese; suet or lard; yoghurt pots; string; mixing bowl; scissors
Seeds Raisins Peanuts Cheese Lard String Bowl Scissors


Carefully make a small hole in the bottom of a yoghurt pot. Thread string through the hole and tie a knot on the inside. Leave enough string so that you can tie the pot to a tree or your bird table.
Make a speedy bird cake - Step 1
Allow the lard to warm up to room temperature, but don’t melt it. Then cut it up into small pieces and put it in the mixing bowl.
Make a speedy bird cake - Step 2
Add the other ingredients to the bowl and mix them together with your finger tips. Keep adding the seed/raisin/cheese mixture and squidging it until the fat holds it all together.
Make a speedy bird cake - Step 3
Fill your yoghurt pots with bird cake mixture and put them in the fridge to set for an hour or so.
Make a speedy bird cake - Step 4
Hang your speedy bird cakes from trees or your bird table. Watch for greenfinches, tits and possibly even great spotted woodpeckers.
Make a speedy bird cake - Step 5

11 December 2012

A Cold and Frosty Morning

This morning, once again, I had to go and thaw out the ice in the water troughs in the field. The llamas, otherwise known as "The Boys" because ....well..... because they're all boys, were happily lying in the corner of the field munching on some hay enjoying the early morning sunshine. You would think that in this weather they would be huddled up in their nice warm field shelter but they actually don't use it very much, they prefer to sleep outside, under the stars. With their thick, dense coats, they are perfectly insulated from the cold, but, just in case, as well as filling up the field shelter with hay, I usually put down a thick layer of hay in a corner of the field for them and they are more than happy to just chill out and munch.  In winter, they also have a combination of alpaca pellets and goat mix along with their hay and they can hear the rattle of the buckets even before I get to the field gate. They come charging over to say hello, humming softly while I give each of them a bucket of feed. I have had The Boys for almost 9 years now and they are absolutely lovely animals to own.

Anyway, although it was absolutely freezing this morning, it was beautifully sunny with crisp, clear blue skies, so when I went to feed the boys this morning I took my camera along with me. 

As the sun hits the pond it starts to steam

My rose bush is still flowering 

Any way, after feeding The Boys, I decided that as the weather was so nice, I should have a bit of a tidy-up. It's amazing how many plant pots and bits and pieces have managed to accumulate in the garden since the end of the summer. I filled two black bags with broken plant pots, bits of plastic, old plant labels and copious amounts of pink twine from my bales of hay. I risked life and limb clearing the leaves out of the porch roof guttering, re-stacked the logs that had been scattered about by the pheasant that was being chased by my neighbours cat and repaired the gate latch that had worked loose and which meant that the gate didn't close properly. All in all, a good mornings work. By lunchtime though, I was freezing and ravenously hungry, it must be something about being outside it the fresh air that does that to you, so it was back inside to sit by the fire, thaw out and have a lovely bowl of home made chicken soup ....... Yummm

10 December 2012

My Guilty Pleasure

I know I shouldn't ....... I realise that we haven't even got Christmas out of the way yet but I just can't help myself! In between all the planning and preparations for the festive season, my mind keeps wandering ............ to all the wonderful seed catalogues for 2013 that I have been sneaking at peek at online!!!!!!

Over the last couple of years, I have started growing my own veg. It's been a very steep learning curve. I famously asked my wonderful friend (Andy !!) if the chitted potatoes I had planted would try and grow upside down if I had planted them the wrong way up. I'm fairly sure this caused a huge amount of hooting, snorting and riotous laughter on his part and I was very sceptical when he told me to just bung them in the ground and wait for them to grow. I mean ..... if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it! 

Over the last couple of years though, I have come to realise that basically, seeds just want to grow. As long as you give them the right conditions, water, light, heat and compost, they just get on and do it. It's fabulous and very rewarding although I have also realised that I have actually very little to do with it and that things will basically grow anywhere. I found that If you chuck a potato on the compost heap and leave it ...... it grows..... who'd have thought it :-)

Anyway, while the days are grim and grey, I'm planning what I'm going to plant next year. I dug a fabulous border in front of the fence I built earlier this year and I'm going to plant it with a variety of bee and butterfly friendly cottage garden plants.

The border I created this year when I put my fence up

I will be filling my raised beds with a delicious array of veg and I'm hoping to finally get hold of a greenhouse, possibly from an online auction site and, if possible, for a bargain price, so I can increase my tomato and cucumber crops .

The Raised bed I made last year

The raised beds I made this year.

I will also be putting down a million slug traps, the kind with beer in them. I don't use chemicals in my garden and the only other option, picking them off the plants and disposing of them, is a non-starter because I can't actually bring myself to pick the slimy little buggers up! It makes me feel quite queasy, so, slug traps it is and I particularly like this one ..... just for the novelty value :-)

9 December 2012

Are You Ready ... Get Set ...... Snow

Well, here in Cornwall we are still snow-free. Now some might say that this is a blessing but I have to confess, I love it when it snows. I love snuggling up in front of the fire all warm and cosy and basically being a hermit for a day or so but I also love taking the dogs into the field so they can enjoy it too. I have already posted on my blog on why I think it will be quite a bad winter this year (you can read about it here) and in anticipation of this bad weather, I've done my usual blizzard lock-down preparations.

Snow in 2010

A few years ago, when we had a couple of really bad winters and we even had quite a lot of snow down here in Cornwall, I was totally unprepared. I almost ran out of heating oil, I had no coal and I had to walk to my local shop to buy food every couple of days because I was limited by what I could carry back in my rucksack. It was a valuable lesson and now, I try to be ready for all eventualities. I've bought extra food, both people food and animal food, I have stocked up on coal and moved extra logs from the field and I have checked the oil tank is full. There is no gas supply where I live, so we heat the house with oil and an open fire and now, I always make sure that the oil tank is full at the start of November because there is no chance of getting an oil tanker down here if it snows.

Frozen Pond 2010

I know this all sounds really melodramatic but both times I have been snowed in, it's been for almost 2 weeks.  The roads were treacherous. First it snowed, then it thawed a bit, turning the snow to slush and then the slush froze. Then, it snowed again leaving about 2 inches of snow over an inch of ice. The biggest problem of all is that I live in a valley with steep hills to negotiate in order to actually get to a main road. It was almost impossible to walk on the roads, let alone drive and although the local farm tractors managed it for a day or so, even they had to admit defeat in the end after one of them ended up in a hedge! My nearest shop is a 20 minutes walk away without snow, in the snow and ice it can take up to 40 mins to negotiate the hills so it's much better to be prepared than to yomp to the shops in the snow. 

So, with emergency blizzard preparations complete, I can then sit back and look forward to some snow :-) I love the snow. Two out of three of my dogs love the snow, Indie, my Alaskan Malamute absolutely loves the snow and would stay out there all day given half a chance and Levi disappears into a blur of snow and black spots (he's a Dalmation) but Metro, my rescue collie, doesn't like snow. In fact he doesn't like the rain or cold weather either. He basically likes a nice comfy sofa by the fire, having his ears stroked and contentedly whiling away the hours until the weather starts to get warm again :-)

6 December 2012

Thrifty Thursday

Wow .... again, where has this week gone? The days are going by so fast and I have to confess to feeling rather left behind in the old Christmas decorations department at the moment because although I have my tree, I haven't decorated it yet because I promised my daughter she could help me decorate it when she gets back from Bristol. I always have a real Christmas tree. I love the smell of the pine and I always think they look fabulous. I bought my tree yesterday, basically because my local nursery only has a limited supply and I have learnt from past experience that if you leave it until the last minute all the nice ones have gone. 

A few years ago, I ended up with one of the last trees at the nursery. I had very little money that Christmas and things were very tight but lets face it Christmas isn't the same without a tree. Anyway, I managed to persuade the nursery owner that I would be doing him a favour taking it off his hands and I got it for a ridiculously cheap price. I was ecstatic but the poor tree was terribly bedraggled and very lopsided so I had to give it a haircut to make it even remotely resemble a Christmas tree. I was left with a whole pile of branches after the short, back and sides and wanted to do something with them rather than just throw them out. 

Each year, I also like to have a festive wreath on my front door but in the shops they are so expensive and that year I couldn't really afford one and I certainly couldn't justify wasting £10-£15 for something that will basically be compost by twelfth night. So, I this is how I came to use up the branches from my poor, bedraggled Christmas tree. I went to Trago Mills, my local fabulous buy-anything-really-cheaply-bargain shop and I bought a metal wreath base ...... I think it cost me about 25p. I went out into my field and scraped together some moss from the bank and wired it onto the wreath using some garden wire I had in my shed. I grabbed my scissors and managed to find some holly and some other greenery in the bushes down the edge of my field which I also wired onto the wreath to add a bit of texture and interest. A couple of pine cones and my wreath was complete. It was a huge success and I loved the fact that it had only cost me 25p.

Now, each year, I do exactly the same thing. When I get my Christmas tree home, I trim off 2 or 3 branches from the underside of the tree or from the back where is won't be seen and I use it to make the wreath that goes on my front door. I even use the same metal wreath base. On twelfth night, I take off all the moss and foliage and put them on the compost heap and put the base back in the box with my Christmas decorations ready for the next year.

Ta da ..... here is this years offering. The ribbon is left over from the chandelier crystals I customised a few weeks ago, the baubles and fake berries are things I have saved over the years and everything else is, once again, from my field. This year, I also bought another wreath to put on my gate from a friend nearby who makes them. I only put my gate and fence up this year and it was looking a bit bare and in desperate need of brightening up. Her wreaths are lovely and only £5 which was a total bargain and I always prefer to buy from local crafters if I possibly can. I will also be able to use the metal wreath base next year to create an extra wreath for my gate to match the one I do for the door :-)