What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Cat Sitting

My name is Mrs Gillybirds and I am a cat person.
As the official owner of two dogs and three hens this may come as a surprise. I love cats. Really love them, but due to Mr G’s cat hair allergy we don’t have cats in the house.
I haven’t been owned by a cat in over 20 years.
So it is very exciting for me to be cat sitting for Miss Izzy and Miss Cookie whilst their lady takes a well deserved holiday.
And since I have opposing thumbs and the ability to open a pouch of cat food they are apparently just as excited to see me.
I had forgotten just how aloof and independent cats are. And how utterly silent.
In comparison if I leave the dogs at home even for ten minutes my return is greeted with a full parade of wagging tails, big doggy grins and loud barking.
When the back door handle is rattled the Gillybirds stop whatever they are doing and look up to see who is coming out and more importantly what treats they may be bringing.
But cats… Not so much.
As every good cat sitter knows, I spent some time last week in their home chatting with their lady about feeding, sleeping arrangements, waste disposal, and home security. (not wanting any cat burglars. Ha)
Cookie and Izzy have met me before, Izzy is a one woman cat, Cookie who is adopted, is more friendly and likes a head rub every now and again. She even let me pick her up, it’s amazing how little cats weigh, no wonder they move with such quietness and ease.
It’s much better to keep cats in their own home where their comforts are and things are familiar. So I’m calling round twice daily, for food and fellowship. Cookie is generally waiting for me, tail twitching, ready for breakfast. Izzy is more cautious, stealthily sneaking by when she thinks I’m not looking.
Izzy loves her lady so much she brings her love tokens on an almost daily basis, so I have a good check around for dead partially consumed wildlife which would not be a pleasant welcome home for anyone!
I chat away whilst they eat with such fastidious daintiness, today I even played the piano for them. Not sure how appreciated that was.
Hopefully we will get along just fine. And I can enjoy being a cat lady once more, provided I remove all traces of cat hair for fear of setting off allergies or alerting the dogs to the fact that for a short while I am reverting to my true self.


Chicken Run – how Mrs Gillybirds got off the couch and across the 10km finish line


I consider myself to be reasonably fit. Since getting a dog 9 years ago I have probably walked 15-20 miles per week, that’s almost 8000 miles a year and a whopping 71,000 over 9 years. If I were the family car I would be ready for trading in.
Anyway, I walk, I ski a week or two a year (with enthusiasm between hot chocolate stops) I love to swim, I enjoy cycling, I shake my bones at Zumba. But I certainly don’t run. Runners are lean, lanky, toned with sharp edges poking through their Lycra running gear. However, after a casual challenge from a school mum and the example of my pastor who has championed running in his 50s (and lost over 5 stone in weight) I downloaded the “couch to 5k” app, pulled on my ratty old trainers, waited for cover of darkness and began to run.
Not to lose weight, not to get fit, but to see if I could.
The first week the program was warm up walk of five minutes, then alternate 60 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Three times in one week. It was cold, it was dark and it was very tough. My beginning to run was a complete secret. I told no one. And after the first week I acquired a full on sports bra to keep what my mamma gave me under control.
I also purchased a dog running leash. A rather scarey looking black belt with a long bungee lead to tether the dog, leaving me with hands free to run in my special hand flapping girly way that makes Mr Gillybirds laugh so much. If I was going to invest time into running then I had to incorporate this into my daily commitment of dog walking. And so Naughty Lucas and I began dog jogging. Or at least I was jogging and he was walking with a big grin on his daft doggy face, and I found my time per kilometre was greatly reduced should we suddenly sprint off after a cat or squirrel. He also learned to increase his pace when the audio signal on my app encourage me to “start running” in her annoying I’m fitter than you are voice.
After 4 weeks and shin splints I invested in a proper pair of running shoes. True to myself they are neon pink and hyacinth blue and have really helped.
By now I was jogging up to 16 minutes out of a 31 minute program.
By mid April I shuffled over the 4 km mark. Mr G had joined me over the Easter holidays and with the change to British Summer Time I was now running during the day light. Keeping my head down and not making eye contact with passing traffic. Thankfully no one was calling an ambulance and my appearance attached to a small black dog looking like a husky who had forgotten his sled was causing amusement to the school kids waiting for their bus most mornings.
By the end of April after successfully completing 5.69 km I downloaded a new app – for 10k running, and signed up for the Runher 10km run on 23rd May. Where I once ran through daffodils suddenly I was running amongst bluebells, and finding new strength in my legs. And, starting to enjoy myself!
Training sessions now lasted an hour and I was running for 15 minutes at a time with a one minute rest in between. Sometimes I wished that after 7 or so km as I headed for home, red faced and exhausted, a race car would follow behind me flashing up the distance I had already covered, just so passerby would acknowledge my efforts and not think I was a complete short distance loser.
On 17th May, 9 weeks from the couch, I ran 10km along the scenic Lagan towpath. I knew then that I would not disgrace myself at the official run.
This past week I have eaten more pasta and protein than usual, and before the event enjoyed a plate of fresh poached eggs from the Gillybirds to give me stamina.
And so last night in the cold, grey dampness of a typical Irish May evening I joined a couple of thousand other women of all shapes, sizes and running styles and ran from start to finish. It was a coastal route which I had thought would be flat and easy along a beach path but did in fact reveal some challenging but thankfully short steep hill sections.
To keep me going I had an excellent playlist on my phone, jelly babies for a sugar boost, lip gloss (never go anywhere without it) and Mr G, the 4th Gillyboy, my dear supportive friend CC and her teenage nephew, and of course, my running partner Naughty Lucas all waiting for me with smiles and cheers and clicking cameras at the finish line.
I made it.
As a family we have signed up to run the 5k Color Run in our city in August.
And I plan to find a ladies relay team for our city marathon next year.
I’m still not a runner though. Just ask my dog.



The meal of 10km champions!


Neighbourhood Watch


One of the main issues with Naughty Lucas the Tibetan Terrier is that he likes to run away from us. When he was still a little pup Mr Gillybirds and I spent a wet Saturday afternoon securing the perimeter of our garden with fence posts and meters of wire mesh. We were just about finished when I glanced up and there looking full of mischief was Naughty Lucas grinning at us from the other side of the new fence.
Since then for the most part he has been allowed out under close supervision or on a long long running wire system giving him access to visit most parts of the garden and spend time up by his beloved hens. And getting very tangled in the bushes, although he usually reserves is for when it is tipping with rain and I have no shoes on.
However, sometimes he makes a break for freedom and we spend an anxious time trying to find him. On Christmas morning he did his Houdini act, I was too busy to chase after him and he eventually returned with a huge bone Father Christmas must have left for some other local dog and which was now property of our wandering pup.
We have met some neighbours who now know whose dog he is and are happy to return him with his tail literally between his legs.
But there is a new development in this shaggy tale….
With the sunny dry weather the hens have been spending more time roaming loose around the garden. And, you can probably guess, the girls have found some of the escape routes used by the dog. And shaking a box of dog treats or grabbing a handful of fur and pulling it back through a hedge isn’t going to work for our feathered ladies. They have no concept of the “recall” which works on most dogs (not ours obviously)
In the past few days I have tiptoed through our neighbours’ beautifully manicured freshly planted flower beds, making a grab for a wandering hen blissfully scratching her way amongst this year’s bedding plants, subtle garden lighting and well manicured lawns. It’s been a nightmare.
So for now they are confined to barracks. Plans are underway for an extended run. While clambering through a large rhododendron I found the remains of the Gillyboy’s tire swing, which I put into the hen run and filled with leaves, grasses etc to give them a new feature for a bit of hentertainment.


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Close encounters of the feathered kind


It’s been a lovely Easter. The weather has been perfect with leaves and blossoms bursting out by the hour. On Easter Monday we took a walk around Hillsborough Lake, a local beauty spot, known for it’s pretty forest and plentiful wild birds. Being the holidays families were there to feed the ducks, geese and swans as I remember doing there as a small child.
Naughty Lucas certainly enjoying finding any crumbs the birds left behind, and was very interested in checking out the majestic mute swans, of which there are many. When one swam by to give him a closer inspection however it was a different matter, he turned tail and ran away.
You’ve probably never eaten swan. Neither have I. Did you know that in the UK only the Queen is entitled to have swan for dinner? A quick google of swan recipes comes up with very little to tempt the modern palate however, describing the taste as moist, wet and muddy.
At there is a recipe should you happen to be in royal company and have nothing but swan in the fridge.
PERIOD: England, 14th century | SOURCE: Utilis Coquinario | CLASS: Authentic

DESCRIPTION: Roasted swan with Chaudon


11. For to dihyte a swan. Tak & vndo hym & wasch hym, & do on a spite & enarme hym fayre & roste hym wel; & dysmembre hym on þe beste manere & mak a fayre chyne, & þe sauce þerto schal be mad in þis manere, & it is clept:

12. Chaudon. Tak þe issu of þe swan & wasch it wel, & scoure þe guttes wel with salt, & seth þe issu al togedere til it be ynow, & þan tak it vp and wasch it wel & hew it smal, & tak bred & poudere of gyngere & of galyngale & grynde togedere & tempere it with þe broth, & coloure it with þe blood. And when it is ysothe & ygrounde & streyned, salte it, & boyle it wel togydere in a postnet & sesen it with a litel vynegre.

– Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.


For to prepare a swan. Take & undo him & wash him, & do on a spit & lard him fair & roast him well; & dismember him on the best manner & make a fair carving, & the sauce thereto shall be made in this manner, & it is called:

Chaudon. Take the issue of the swan & wash it well, & scour the guts well with salt, & boil the issue all together til it be enough, & then take it up and wash it well & hew it small, & take bread & powder of ginger & of galingale & grind together & temper it with the broth, & color it with the blood. And when it is boiled & ground & strained, salt it, & boil it well together in a small pot & season it with a little vinegar.



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Travelling for ten days with only one trainer…my fake statuses for 2013

So, today is the first day of 2014. Instead of some insightful meditation on the past and a hopeful reflection on the future as I take down the Christmas decorations and visit the bottle bank I am just going to post a bunch of screen shots assembled from the What Would I Say? app, which takes statuses from your Face Book history, mixes them up and creates new ones. This is hilarious and should come with a warning that it is an Internet Black Hole from which I may never emerge. You should go to there. But first, read these fake/yet strangely based in reality “statuses” from me. (I realise that I do try to avoid too much personal info on my Gillybirds blog, but this seemed to be too good an opportunity to visit life here at Gillybirds Manor as if through Alice’s Looking Glass – slightly twisted, but ringing true!)

Some modest declarations –
think I may never reappear. Hello Creativity!
And yet more modest
selling my beautiful unique hand crafted cards (this sounds like a genuine post)
delighted that my hair is so Azebijan
it’s so classy

Healthy Recipe suggestions-
You’ll laugh, you’ll scoff, but yummy chicken
number 4 hour making Katsura curry
tasted fab, must try the Yemen.
just call me with mushy peas. Lush!
we were having a consolatory Curly Wurly for breakfast
It is no wonder that Fitches got heartburn again

I appear to have developed a passion for endurance Zumba
yesterday I was the sister of doing a fairly decent cup of Zumba
second hour of Zumba mates
my goodness.
number four of my Zumba first though
….sounds exhausting!

And for poetic reflections
forgive me, I will get the utter joy of all the snow

apparently a cuddle from the sky today

And some surprisingly accurate observations on my lifestyle
sunshine, kettles crisps and craft day booked for a speedy recovery
sounds like my kind of medicine alright.
not easily entertained by Sebastian Faulkes.
anyone else thinking about the wine at the bottom of the truck
it was a mug of tea.
crash helmet and dad were there.
Oops. Sounds serious.
get in with some piercings
looking out for the persistent tapping of tea.
Yes again.
Sparkly shoes swapped for something decent.
Sad. 😦
selling my son Peter.
Obviously a bad day.
too early with family.
Another bad day.
have a duvet day.
Always good advice.
smells like a rhino
.. That must have been an all time low.

And my diary was packed with entertainment –
well that’s that, at short notice we arranged a performance of Handel’s Messiah
with the exception of an enormous spider almost a performance at the Royal Albert Hall of patė.
Sounds entertaining!
it was a pretty rockin’ evening at church.
Nothing new there!
Katie may have dislocated her heated rollers so we ate it
downhill from the very beginning but sadly no Grey’s Anatomy available.
Sigh. No Dr McDreamy…

A difficult holiday-
travelling for ten days with one trainer. Nice to be back.

And some very interesting Christmas activities
Turkey and friends also without missing the craic of us
Merry Christmas and Happy Feet and no wee Danish pastry and made me long climb home
bad news rain is the Christmas music for sick children
note to catch plane to watch Father Christmas, Elf and the Snowman

Tips for today’s technology
free wifi at the facilities by candle light
remember oven gloves when your car and my iPhone still dead

References to dogs and hens
hens have no idea what a rotten day
good news. Rain coat walking dog on a wee belly today
you can talk and see how many chickens….vague

And finally….
has discovered the joy of finding it
we were the original Cheeky Girls you know</em
it’s so classy
pics will follow. So the Fitch
please ignore blog post. How long list and checking it..
Too true. Thank you for reading
Happy New Year!

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Festive Treats

Way back at the beginning of November our Christmas cake was made and carefully wrapped and hidden away. This week it reappeared and I had some fun decorating it with the traditional family pets -two dogs and three hens, doesn’t everyone? All my mummy skills of playing with playdoh over the years have paid off don’t you think?
Even Gillyboy number four who is very partial to a bit of fondant icing can’t bring himself to eat them.–Bake-Christmas-cake.html
The cake, our second year using Paul Hollywood’s recipe, is fabulous! As well as unusual dried fruits such as pineapple and prunes, I add crystallised ginger and dried mango. Most recipes recommend that you feed the cake with brandy over the weeks between baking and eating, but I find this is so moist it doesn’t require any further assistance in its fruity deliciousness.
I know fruit cake isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but here at Gillybirds Manor we love it!
It has been lovely to cut and share with family members after various carol services.
And today I get the fun of decorating my very own birthday cake for tomorrow.

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A Golden Season


Yesterday I spent the afternoon with my dad’s leaf blower, clearing up the last of the leaves to fall on our property and getting tidied up for the arrival of winter. It is hard to believe that Sunday is December 1st! The Gillybirds have had a lovely mild, bright and mostly dry autumn. We have moved the coop, but on sunny days when they are free ranging they head back to their old favourite spots in the sun for a pleasant time of dust bathing. The dogs and I have enjoyed pretty walks along paths strewn with golden leaves, and only in the last week with the arrival of a light dusting of snow have we had to get our thick coats and mittens on.
As other friends have been clearing their gardens the hens have scratched their way through piles of nasturtium leaves- thank you to W and S for those. Colonel Saunders has molted a little, and egg production is on average two daily rather than three, but sometimes only one. Most days the girls are let out at 7am, it is still dark and they grumble a little, but the past two Sunday mornings they have taken their revenge by making a spectacular riot before 6.30am. I am not amused, and I suspect, neither are our neighbours. But at the other end of the day they are tucked up safe and warm by 4.45pm. It’s a short day when your body clock is regulated by sunlight. Thankfully, with all there is to be done in anticipation of the Festive Season, we can switch on the lights and keep going until a much later bedtime.
Bright sunshine and low winds in Ireland this year have combined to produce one of the most spectacular autumns in years. In September, the weather was drier than normal and temperatures reached a high of almost 24 degrees Celsius. In October, temperatures were above average. Hours of sunshine were also above average.
Writing for the Irish Times, expert horticulturist Eileen Murphy, from Teagasc Horticultural College at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, said that when autumn begins, the shortening days and lengthening nights trigger a reaction in deciduous trees. A protective barrier forms between the tree and each of its leaves, so that when the leaves fall the tree is not exposed to disease. “That happens every autumn and it has happened this autumn,” Ms Murphy said.
Inside the leaf during the day, the process of photosynthesis using water, carbon dioxide, sunlight and green chlorophyll creates sugars, and those sugars are normally transported to other parts of the tree. But when the tree has already created its protective barrier, the sugar tends to be trapped in the leaf. Daytime sunlight and cool nights cause the leaf to turn the sugars into a red pigment, anthocyanin.
“Normally in Ireland we get dark autumn days so there isn’t an awful lot of sugar produced and there isn’t a lot available to make the red pigment,” Ms Murphy said. “But this year we’ve got a very good, prolonged period when it is sunny enough for sugar to be produced and it’s trapped in the leaves and it is producing the red pigment.”
The visibility of autumn colour can also be shortened by high winds and stormy weather, but conditions this year mean trees have managed to hold on to their leaves much longer. And I have tried to capture some of this beauty on camera.





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Empty Chairs and Empty Beds

We are all getting used to being a “minus one” family, having one less to cook and clear up for. No more multi pack yogurts or apple juice, no more runs to music lessons across town. No more ffff (ie VERY loud) notes on the trombone to frighten the dogs.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I have discovered that the so called “empty nest syndrome” is real. Even when there are other chicks to keep you busy, there is a hiatus in our family. It is thrilling to hear how he is working so hard and making new friends and learning new skills (including clothes washing) we here at home are left with a gap that at the moment feels like a missing tooth that you just can’t keep from probing with your tongue.
It is at the dinner table we miss our Gillyboy number two the most. When he was away on a music tour for a couple of weeks last year we got a large cuddly toy and attached an outsize photo of his face to it, and it sat quietly and no judgementally observing us during our family meals. This time, he himself has stuck one of his uniform name tapes onto “his” chair, and hilariously Lucas the dog has taken to sitting on this chair, and also lying on his bed (but shush don’t tell him that) as if to make up for his absence. And Apollo, his hen, is almost as noisy as a trombone, especially when she wants let out in the early morning.
Term is short, there is time to text and skype to check for signs of missing limbs or the onset of malnutrition. But our little nest is incomplete for now.


Learning New Tricks





Well this year it has taken until September to fulfil my New Year’s Resolution! When September comes round I like to learn a new skill or two. At the start of 2013 I promised myself I would have a go at crochet and finally Miss CC found me a beginners class to go to at the recently opened The Textile Studio run by the lovely Åsa McDowell.
For four mornings two of us learnt to chain, slip stitch, make doubles and trebles and complete granny squares. Which when joined together make lovely blankets and throws. It’s been tremendous fun. And my kitchen has a cosy new throw, and the Second Gillyboy is packing a throw for his bed at Uni.
So as the trees turn golden, the Gillybirds are carrying on laying though the days are getting shorter, the dogs are enjoying a new comfortable throw to lie on (grrr), and new crochet friends are tasting free range fresh eggs from the coop.



Even the Canary Had a Ticket

It may come as a surprise to learn that when Titanic sank beneath the cold North Atlantic waters on April 15, 1912, a pack of dogs were seen racing up and down the slanted deck.
As the luxury liner set off from Southampton to New York, along with passengers and crew there were at least 6 dogs, Jenny the Ship’s cat and her week old kittens, many rats, 4 roosters and hens, 30 cockerels and a yellow canary. Each animal required its own ticket, Elizabeth Ramel Nye paid 25 cents for the voyage as far as Cherbourg with her pet yellow canary.
The dogs were meant to be kept in kennels on F deck, and were given daily exercise on the appropriately named poop deck by a steward or bell boy. The first class passengers however appeared to have kept their dogs with them in their cabins, while the crew turned a blind eye to this behaviour. An impromptu dog show had been planned for the morning of April 15th, but by then most of the dogs and their owners had perished.

Among the dog passengers recorded were – a King Charles Spaniel and an elderly Airedale Terrier, owned by William Carter, Chow-Chow, a chow chow owned by Harry Anderson, a champion French Bulldog called Gamin de Pycombe, owned by Robert W. Daniel, who had bought him in England for the very high price of £150 (£12,575 in 2012 prices), Kitty, another Airedale Terrier, owned by millionaire John Jacob Astor, a Pomeranian owned by Margaret Bechstein Hays, which she kept (probably surreptitiously) in her cabin, a dog owned by Elizabeth Rothschild, also kept in her cabin, a Pekingese called Sun Yat Sen, owned by Henry Sleeper Harper and his wife Myra, Frou-Frou, a Toy dog owned by Helen Bishop. The dog was allowed to stay in her cabin as the stewards considered it “too pretty” to put among the bigger dogs in the kennels. There may have been other dogs on board, but their names, like those of their owners, perished with them.
As the ship was sinking, three dogs were put into lifeboats along with their owners. Mrs Hayes Pomeranian, Mrs Harper’s Pekingese and Elizabeth Rothschild’s dog all survived the sinking.
Helen Bishop who herself survived told of how Frou-Frou tried to stop her leaving her cabin to go to the life boat by sinking his teeth into her dress and tearing a seam. “The loss of my little dog hurt me very much” she recalled, “I will never forget how he dragged on my clothes. I will never forget how he so wanted to accompany me”.
It is thought that as the ship was going down someone let the dogs out of their kennels, which would account for the sighting of dogs running along the decks, probably as afraid and bewildered as the many passengers and crew still on board. Yet as the ship sank, so many of the third class passengers were still locked behind gates, installed to prevent the feared transmission of the lower classes germs to the other passengers.
A few days after the sinking a recovery ship found the body of a woman still clutching a large shaggy dog. Robert W Daniel’s expensive pedigree bulldog was last seen swimming away from the stricken vessel. Mr Daniels received $750 compensation for the loss of his dog, William Carter $300 for his two dogs.
Ella Holmes White of New York was bringing the 4 hens and roosters back to American to strengthen her poultry stock. A first class passenger, Mrs White and her maid were in Lifeboat 8 as the ship sank, taking her hens with it. She received $201.87 in compensation.
Another irony here- surviving passengers did not receive a refund for their journey, nor did families of victims, only the wealthy who sued the White Star Line Shipping Company for compensation. In fact, relatives of crew members who died were actually charged money- the White Star Line wanted them to pay for parts of the uniforms that were ruined when people died wearing them.
Poultry livestock would have been brought onboard by immigrant passengers in Steerage, for whom their favourite egg-laying hens would be the only luxury they could take to the New World. The temperature of the icy Atlantic was -2°C, and any living thing in the water soon drowned or died of hypothermia or cardiac arrest.
As you can imagine a ship this size carried a considerable amount of food including 40,000 eggs ready to be cooked for breakfast or made into fancy desserts. Along the debris field at the bottom of the ocean a frying pan rusts away.
Today the youngest Gillyboy and I had an outing to the Titanic Exhibiton in our own city. Thankfully unlike so many people, dogs and hens, we survived our experience.