Saturday, 29 June 2013

Strawberries and cream for...

We've had our first sea of the summer and I am disappointed to report that I did not partake. I walked away down the beach and did lots of sea staring instead. So here I am sliding into the last of the day to announce strawberries and cream for:

Mags: Somebody choose a number between 1 and 9.

Prince Charming: 3

For MK! Do I have your address, MK? Maybe you could email it or something?  These are this year's first strawberries of Strawberry Land, picked this evening and ready for supper, but I'll be sending you a slightly less perishable version!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Strawberries and Cream Giveaway

Last year in Cornwall we were absolutely, disappointingly incapable of finding the Platonic ideal of a cream tea! On our one rainy day, after a fun but dripping visit to a National trust tin mine, we embedded ourselves in the coffee shop of a panning-for-gold-themed-place for the rest of the afternoon. There were strawberries and cream and Monster Munch too.

I think the holidays competition was also absolutely incapable of being answered, so let's have a nice, easy giveaway to celebrate summer and holidays and no more marking! Leave a comment at the bottom of this post, and we strawberries will pick out a winner on the first day of our school holidays- Saturday 29th June.  All you brave, well-travelled and clever souls who had a go at our recent destinations have already been entered- but comment anyway!

I have a little box all packed up and ready to go with some cream and some strawberry items. It is happy to travel anywhere in the world! And just in case you wondered, the competition answers were:

2008: visiting Mrs Tiggy-Winkle at The World of Beatrix Potter in England's Lake District. Magical spot!

2009: Prince Charming baking under the Pont du Gard after a quick canoe down the same river. Fantastic interactive children's space all about Roman life.

2010: back in France, but in the deliberately cooler climes of Brittany. This was the town of Vannes, where the heads of Vannes et sa femme can still be seen jutting from their house.

2011: clambering over rocks below the James Joyce Tower in Sandycove, just outside Dublin. I think I've raved about it quite enough this month!

2012: Last year we had our first holiday in Cornwall, and spent a day awestruck in the Eden Project.

So, bonnes vacances to us all- and do leave a little word x

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Grateful? 799 - 811

So I had already clicked Shutdown with a shake of the head at the mere thought of gratitude. But I know in same head that gratitude is like worship (spot the worship leader's wife)- it's a sacrifice of praise, so here goes.

I am grateful that I have happy, healthy children, even if one of them came home from school sick today. No doubt directly linked to camping in heavy rain and winds on Friday night and then rushing home to your chum's birthday football party. Maternal sigh.

I am grateful that my children have a school and an education and so many things that we take wholly for granted. I am grateful for friends who listen nonetheless to my worries and wearinesses. Maternal sigh!

I am very grateful for the interesting, paid marking that I did this year- and I am most grateful that it is now finished!  I am grateful that we finally got around to booking a holiday, that is fast approaching. I am grateful that the end of term is also fast approaching for the boys, and that there will be a break from homeworks and uniforms and packed lunches and trips and getting out of bed in the morning! Maternal sigh.

I am grateful for campsites and swimming pools and climbing walls and the National Trust. I know that in my mother's day we were all sent out at dawn with a sandwich in our pocket and a lump of coal in our shoe and that we didn't come back before dusk. But some things are actually better nowadays! (And actually we weren't allowed past the line/crack in the concrete at the opening to our cul-de-sac, and my mother played host to the whole street so that she would always know where we were and who we were with in 1970s North Belfast!)

Thankful for my family, and not just my dad. Though he is a scream. Also a scream ( a very hilarious thing) are the whole G8 comes to Northern Ireland shenanigans. So. Much. Fun. It's like having the Olympics come to your local children's play park.

Grateful for my favourite of today's many quotes from His Address- which I'm quite sure was written by his crack team of speech-writers, and read straight from the auto-cue:

"The terms of peace may be negotiated by political leaders, but the fate of peace is up to all of us."

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Adventures with Nanny McPhee: camping in the rain

Nanny McPhee was meant to be the grab and go blanket for Strawberry Adventures, so here she is on her first camping trip.
We bought a new tent this year- one that will be easily packed into our rucksacks and happily carried up a mountain. So here is our Vango Mirage 300 on her test run. She may well become Welly Melly in my mind, given the amount of rain and wind that she contentedly withstood without so much as a flap on Friday night.  We were snug as bugs in a Nanny McPhee.
The door is as round as a hobbit hole, and we were just as cosy and content as could be for our brief overnight dash to the coast and back. It's really something for us to be at the stage with our boys where we can grab a tent and just go.  It was  a Very Good Night, despite the weather. Very Famous Five/Secret Seven- and indeed we all fell asleep to PC's reading of their latest Blyton adventure.
First thing Saturday morning: exploring the rocks and caves of Ballintoy Harbour, deserted and misty. The torrential rain thankfully held off until we got back to the car!

I think this week we'll be abandoning the competition and going straight for a Strawberries and Cream Giveaway! There will be answers to the cryptic photos too. Stay dry!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Competition Time

 2008, visiting Mrs Tiggy-Winkle in her natural habitat. (Waiting for knee surgery!)
 2009, baking in the sun, guarding the bridge.
2010, the region will suffice, though the town and his wife might be known to some.
2011, you may well recognise this from recent strawberry events.
2012, working hard in the garden where it all began!

In a comment leave your guesses as to the five strawberry holiday destinations since our blogtime started! There will be strawberries and cream for whoever comes closest- with a strawberry draw in the event of a tie. The winner will be announced on Saturday 29th June, the first day of our school holidays, and you can enter right up until then.  Bonnes vacances!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Views from my windows and an invitation to a competition

What I love a lot about this time of year is having my bedroom window shrouded in foliage, allowing open curtains even when getting dressed!
This fabulous plant is beside the now-named pearl of rain catcher. Elizabeth- can you help me with this week's mystery flower?
 View from its window. Including scooter. Don't know where they've put the space-hopper...
Deliberately including the prosaic sight of recycling bins, so that you can gauge the rainfall- welcome to Irish Summer Time.
Now. Can you spot the difference? It's a significant one... Mum's end of the table is e.m.p.t.y. Free from marking!
And indeed the holidays began immediately afterwards, with Queen Niqi arriving magically with a Toblerone reward- many thanks!  The postman had already delivered my present to myself. So normal service is being resumed- three projects on display here. The fabulous cobweb scarf belongs to Niqi. The seaweed and beginnings of a Book Bag for Boys will be appearing shortly in a fraise near you!

Tomorrow, however, will be competition time. Do call by! In honour of holidays there will be strawberries and cream...

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Books, by popular demand

Since you asked! John Boyne's House of Special Purpose is a very interesting read. It is the story of a couple, of a nation, of a revolution. It is a love story, a history lesson, a mystery all rolled into one! If you've been to St Petersburg it is a delight, and if you're thinking about going to St Petersburg it will be an inspiration.

We read it for Book Club last year, and I don't much recall the thread of the discussion, but certainly I remember devouring it. I like books set in two time zones, as this is, and I like characters who recall their own actions and motivations, just as they are working out their destiny. I'm coming back to this with Julian Barnes.

If you want what I remember as synopsis: a retired London librarian looks back on his youth in Mother Russia, before, during and after the Revolution, as he travels in and out of hospital to visit his dying wife. He has worked for the Romanovs at the time of their arrest and confinement. Anastasia? Yes, she features! Rasputin? Him too!
We had book club last Friday night, and it was an interesting one. I've talked about All the Beggars Riding here already, but I have to say that what I appreciate about book club, apart from discovering authors I would never have thought to read, is the mellowing that others' experiences bring to your own conclusions. I found Beggars an occasionally frustrating read, but I came away last week with more of an admiration for what Caldwell tries to do in the reconciling of an unhappy past to the possibility of a less hampered future.
I only mention this because last night I finished The Sense of an Ending. I think I could say that I might actually be depressed today. Caldwell seemed to want to re-address a personal history, turn it around and examine it, to fill in the blanks that remain painful to the child left living in the absence of understanding about her past.  Barnes does the opposite?

Here is a man who has let his understanding of his past settle comfortably about him, fitting in with the ideas he needs to maintain his vision of himself. Like Caldwell's book, Sense of an Ending is in two parts. Beggars has one section floundering in the jagged quest for truth, then a second section where the child's mother has a fictional story woven from the possibilities, and this is supposed to free the child to ride aloft, like a beggar given a fine steed. But Barnes has a first section where we read the very plausible memories of a man whose friend committed suicide at university, but then a second section where the man must piece together jagged fragments of discovery to find a wholly different version of his past.

It is a brilliantly skilful book. It is gently and beautifully narrated, but goodness, I had to read it slowly. It is a story to savour and ponder, because like all good literature, it is not the story of one man, but everyman. Certainly everyone who grows older and might see their ages and stages in all their transitory folly. It is a book about history- your history, my history.
If it's uplifting you'd rather have as a summer read- look no further than Harold Fry! Now, Isabelle and I have differing views on this one- do pop over to the erudite place that is In This Life and scroll back to her post on books a few days ago. I didn't think this was so much Pilgrim's Progress as Canterbury Tales- colourful, story-full characters coming and going, but never taking its eyes off the phenomenon of Harold Fry. There is great sadness in this book, so beware if your time is a fragile one, but what I loved and adored was the celebration of the ordinary, small little lives of ordinary, small little people up and down the country who could yet do great good, make significant differences to the greater cause, with a cup of tea or a roll of duct tape.

On holiday reading- last year I took a bag of books away to Cornwall and touched none of them so much had Cornwall touched me. The advantage of that old Kindle is its ability to whisper down tomes like magic, and I have to say I revelled in reading my way across England. Jamaica Inn and Notes from an Exhibition in Cornwall, Children of the New Forest and On Chesil Beach as we drove past Chesil Beach and the New Forest, A Daughter's Tale as we wandered around Chartwell.

So, recommendations, please? Apart from books on the Pre-Raphaelites, lots and lots of Wordsworth, and the Collected Works of Beatrix Potter- what should I be taking to the Lake District?

ps Pom Pom, I'm thinking of having a Cold Comfort Farm blog reading event- what do you think? Or maybe we should just get together and read it ensemble? You have to be wearing green and marching through the countryside.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Brain befuddled thanks 788 - 798

I really am in a bit of a fuzzy groove this week. The marking is nearly finished- one and a half centres to go, and on track for a Thursday finale. But it's getting harder the closer to the end I get! I think I'm tired. Une nuit blanche will do that to the soul! (Word Reference's definition captures none of the magic of this phrase! Think of the two nights in House of Special Purpose instead!)

And on a completely irrelevant note, have you read House of Special Purpose? I liked it. I was recommending it to friends last week who are considering a cruise to St Petersburg. Oh the decadence of the retired!

Anyway. Befuddled. As a wise woman said to me today, it does feel like I've been marking half my life, and the strawberries are not entirely impressed. Normal service will be resumed soon, guys. And I've done an on-line grocery order, so tomorrow there will be food...

I spent one night at Brownie camp at the weekend. Heather Boss will have photos up on Hookery soon, if you'd care to take a peek. I suspect there may be evidence of me marking in my floppy hat. I fear there may be evidence of my marking in my floppy hat!

It is a wonderful thing that leaders are still prepared to take children away on trips. It is so very good for them. I am deeply grateful for all the fantastic, formative experiences I have had on residentials, and for the fact that my boys can still branch out and stay up all night and eat nonsense and fall in rivers. And have the time of their lives! That's what one of my boys did this weekend. The other one was hiking and canoeing and cycling with Dad. Dads are fantastic and formative also!

And so to bed. Three more days to go. And then there will be a competition!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Fretwork at dawn

I think I'm becoming obsessed with views from my windows, Jane! This is 4am yesterday morning... I could not sleep. Not a wink. Mattman had gone off to BB camp for the weekend. You can't see it here, but the leaves on the ends of those branches were translucent. It was a very magical wander round the house.
 You can just see the kettle boiling for some camomile tea.
 And here came a new day. And yes, he was fine. Home now, suitably dirty, exhausted, and fine.
So Nanny McPhee and I are blowing you a kiss from sunny Belfast, not as exciting as sunny Derry; good night and sleep well!

Thursday, 6 June 2013


My goodness. it's still summer here! Hot and lovely. I watched that blue sky from the bedroom most of today, because I have a rotten lurgy. Tossed between marking and sleeping all day long. Now I am up and trying to get things done. I'm not sure if the still quiet is more to do with a considerate family, than with my ears which are completely blocked. Blue skies and muffled hearing. Hey ho! More views over chez Jane.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Coming soon

This is not Jo's minibeast hotel homework for Friday. It is the picture at which we looked for a long time before emptying the recycle bin and pruning some bamboo! I'll show you his version tomorrow!  For the snail enthusiasts I would stress that all minibeasts will be restored to the wilds of the playground, with the snails, after the project...

Marking is nearly halfway- hooray. You'd think with such a lot still to do I wouldn't have wandered all around Belfast in the sun for most of this morning with Niqi, but hey ho, there you go! Thank you for the kind offer of summer accommodation, Frances, but it would appear that the weather has decided to give us another week of glorious, so don't clear out The Attic just yet.

I am thinking of having a competition to celebrate the end of the marking- what do you think? A strawberries and cream celebrating holidays sort of a thing? Yes, I think that would be fine. Like the weather. And the minibeast hotel.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Monday Thanks 763 - 787

I am very thankful for the fabulous weather we had last week. Lovely! It is today so dull that I have the lights on in the dining room to mark. Both my nice summer tops are now in the washing machine, ready to packed away for next May! Sandals are safe from wear and tear for another year! 

Speaking of marking, I am nearly half-way through, and feeling most relieved about that. Thank you for bloggistes' kind wishes x I am admittedly just over half way through my time to mark, so thank you for the impetus that working under pressure brings!
Thank you for the full house we had this whole weekend, and for all the hours we spent catching up with good folk. Thank you for food and wine and chocolate and all such delights. Thank you for princes who will go to the supermarket with child and bring back the goods.

Thank you indeed for children. Thank you for their health and vitality and creativity and fun. Thank you for their energy and inquisitiveness. I am sure that this pushing of the boundaries thing that we are struggling with just now is very normal and a sign of something constructive. Thank you for faith- being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see!
Thank you for the friends who help me to hold it all together. Who come down and sit beside me while I make the invites and send the email and create the facebook page! Who will drop everything and come to town with me just to keep me company in the buying of piano books! They know me so well! Thank you for groups of creative women who include me in their doings, and furnish me with things to look forward to- so thank you for Hookery's first birthday party on Wednesday, Book Club on Friday, and Creative Arts and Spirituality in September. I am blessed x

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Bienvenue au jardin potager

Years ago I worked for a few summers on colonies de vacances en France and there was a song that we sang at a Holiday Bible Club that went: "Bienvenue au jardin potager..." and I've forgotten the rest! Floss or other francophones/francophiles/francovivantes, do you know this chanson? I do remember loving it. We sang it in a little salle just outside Marseilles. Lovely!
Jo and I spent much time this afternoon tackling the raised bed out front. We were planting out some squash and lettuce that we were given, prompted by Mattman's impatience to get his sunflower seedling into the ground. We dug out nine fantastic potatoes- sown and harvested three years ago! We also put the leek seeds into the vacated tub on the kitchen window sill. Thank you, Nedboy!
Jardin potager would be more of my more aspirational lifestyle dreams- I am always intimidated by your allotments and plots and green fingers! My achievements amount to some strawberries, here pushing through in the front flowerbed, given to us last year and put there because the strawberry bed was full, at that stage.
They live next door to this wonderful beast, the name of which you will instantly know and I instantly forgot when it was originally given to me in The Very Prestigious School where once I worked. It's a pearl of rain catcher.
The apple tree has been covered in blossom this year, and I am desperately trying to keep it clear of footballs, rugby balls, frisbees, Nerf darts, space hoppers...
One end of the strawberry bed is looking as promising as ever, though the other is very sparse. Job #1 that I might actually do is to buy a few more plants to supplement. We usually get a fine strawberry harvest, but sometimes miss the best of it because it comes when we're on holiday. This year the flowers have come much later than usual so I am saving strawberry recipes in the hope that we will be here for the glut!
 Job #2 that I would really want actually to do is weed out the rhubarb bed. It has also always been very good to us, and I should reciprocate!
Job #3 is replenish the herb pots. The little bay tree finally gave up, and I miss it. The rosemary is looking very woody, and the thyme battles on!

All advice and encouragement will be most welcome!

Saturday, 1 June 2013


Welcome to your June! Do you have lots of lovely plans? We have a very busy month ahead, and I am feeling somewhat daunted! Underpinning all the frenetic events, however, are deep undercurrents of other things. Things shifting and elusive.

Like the fact that Mattman has only slightly more than one year left in Primary School.

Change is afoot. Happy June x

Happy St Patrick's Day!

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