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Summer Reading 2

Last year I blogged about “These is my Words” written by Nancy E Turner. 

I have finally got round to reading “Sarah’s Quilt”, the second instalment of the life of Sarah Agnes Prine, mother, farmer, rancher, widow, all round tough cookie of a woman living back in 1906 in the Arizona Territories who is actually the great grandmother of the author. 

Written in diary style, recounting the San Fransciso earthquake and fire, drought, a bit of romance, if you enjoyed reading the Little House on the Prairie, True Grit and like a strong spirited fiesty female character you will hopefully enjoy this book as much as I did, though not as much as I enjoyed the first book.

  

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And whatever you do, don’t look the ducks directly in the eye

  

It’s not every Saturday you get to enjoy a punt on the River Cherwell and champagne and strawberries in the sunshine at an Oxford college.

The alarm clock exploded at 5am. Both the dog and the hens looked in bleary eyed disbelief that the two legged beings were dressed up and heading for the airport at such an early hour. Believe it or not, Gillyboy number 2 is coming to the end of his second year in college at Oxford, it doesn’t seem that long since I wrote about him leaving home. Proud parents are invited for a second year garden party- how very English! And prior to the party Number 2 treated us to a trip on a punt along the river Cherwell. 

A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow, designed for use in small rivers or other shallow water. Punting refers to boating in a punt. The punter generally propels the punt by pushing against the river bed with a very long pole. A punt differs from a gondola, which is propelled by an oar rather than a pole, is found in Venice and costs romantic souls a small fortune to hire for an hour!

Gillyboy number 2 took charge, bringing a huge punnet of strawberries, Pimms and lemonade, glasses and crisps, and announced several rules, sit still, don’t rock the punt’ watch out for low branches, the most important of which was “never look the ducks directly in the eye. They will board the punt. They will quack until you feed them. Then they will spit out the food and start quacking for more. They will not leave you alone. You have been warned” . So well warned and to be honest feeling a little terrified, I hauled my less-than-flat bottom into the flat bottomed punt, which teetered and rocked quite dramatically as we all boarded and away we sailed or punted or whatever. It’s a lovely way to travel, watching someone else do all the hard work, lying back as the trees cast dappled shadows on the quiet flowing water. 
  
We did come across a lovely flotilla of geese, but were kept relatively duck free until we stopped for our Pimms and strawberries.  

 

As you can see Mr Drake adopted us, chasing away any other ducks who arrived by lowering his head and running hard at them. All this effort was to ensure that Mrs Duck got as many. strawberries as she could gobble down, which stained her beak quite red.  As long as we kept feeding her we ourselves came to no harm. 

In the end when we wanted to get back in the boat, smallest Gillyboy chased them away, in a technique borrowed from his feathered duck friend. So no killer ducks today. We could rest easy.

 

As for me, I enjoyed the punt back down the river, catching a few sun’s rays and admiring my pretty new shoes. 

my new Rocket Dog Daisy sneakers


There are of course other rules for punting – 

  

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Four legs bad, two legs good *

  

For the past month I’ve been hobbling around with the aid of crutches.  Too much exercise, it appears, is just as bad for you as too little. For the medically minded over-running resulted in a stress fracture to my right medial condyle.  For the rest of you, I broke my knee and carried on running and walking (limping) for two weeks before seeking medical attention. (For the record I would like to point out at least I got a Personal Best in the 5 k Parkrun that day. Go me! )

Today I cast off my crutches! And headed straight for the park for a long overdue dog walk. The voice of the knee consultant ringing in my ears. Slowly, slowly. And NO running for at least another four weeks. Boo.

This is not a major injury. It has caused pain, sleeplessness, frustration, disappointment but it will heal. And quickly. I’ve missed out on running events I had planned for this Spring, including a leg of the Belfast Marathon. I spent ten days on a ski holiday confined to the Great Indoors watching DVDs, crocheting and reading until my eyes bled. My mother in law has moved house and I haven’t been able to assist in any way. I missed a great day out climbing a Northern Ireland’s highest peak with a bunch of good people. 

It has been a learning experience too. How we take our mobility for granted. Stairs, heavy doors, revolving doors, rickety disabled access lifts, not being able to push a shopping trolley, disabled toilets, getting comfortable in restaurants or on planes, having people tut loudly in Tesco if they get stuck behind you in a crowded aisle. Thank goodness for Internet Grocery shopping. Staff in restaurants and shops have been really helpful I’m pleased to say, offering chairs to sit on while queuing, suggesting alternative ways into buildings, letting us park in disabled spaces, generally making me feel less of a nuisance and more comfortable with my mobility issue. It’s the general public who still have a lot to learn.

Carrying a handbag, or indeed carrying anything is impossible unless it’s a rucksack. Heading downstairs in the morning I learnt to pack my rucksack with all the essentials – glasses, phone, iPad, lip gloss, crochet hooks etc. Also your hands get so very sore pressing down on the crutch handle after a while.  Could they not be made a little softer? And in nicer colours?

As a very active person I’ve had to rest up, sit down, take a break, just stop doing all the things I love. And that’s been really hard. And it’s only been for a very short time. With it being Easter visitors brought an unending supply of Lindt  Chocolate Bunnies (my fav) so lack of exercise and a diet of creamy Swiss chocolate has taken its toll.

On the animal front thankfully hens don’t require regular walking. They haven’t been neglected in any way, nor have they looked reproachfully at me with big puppy dog eyes as I sat day after day with my leg elevated on a footstool wearing slippers not walking shoes.  Fortunately the crutch crisis occurred when Gillyboy number two was home from Uni so he has clocked up a good few miles tethered to a small naughty dog. Thanks P.

 I’ve travelled through airports in a wheelchair. People, cases, bags, trolleys come hurtling towards you at this lower level making you feel very vulnerable. Everything is right in your face. Unless it’s a check in desk or passport control. Then you feel like a very vulnerable tiny person. And how hard it is to make conversation with your helper who is both behind and above you, so much easier face to face. Funnily enough one assistant told me he was a chicken farmer as well as an airport worker.  I told him I had two hens. He told me he had 16,000. How we laughed! All credit and a big thank you to Easyjet and the staff in Belfast International and Geneva Airports. Every assistance to get me and my busted knee checked in, through security, and on and off planes in a cheery manner. Including a fancy coach taking me right to the airport steps when as if by some miracle I rose from the wheelchair and made a cautious hobbling dash up the steps. 

Today as I parked far, far away from the Knee Clinic and struggled on my four legs up the road, carrying my large folder of MRI photos, (and my huge handbag- what was I thinking?)  a car stopped to offer me a lift. Now like all mothers I caution my children from accepting lifts from strangers. In this instance i accepted the offer from a kindly student nurse who helped me into her car and drove me to the door. 

Now that my crutches are gone I’m looking  twice at those on sticks or crutches, in wheel chairs. Looking for ways to help, to make life a little easier. Just like I try to do for everyone.

And enjoying every step!

out walking again!

*apologies to George Orwell pinching a quote from “Animal Farm”

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Birthday Celebrations

Gillyboy number 3 celebrated his birthday with a Ugandan themed birthday party. He is heading there as part of a Fields of Life project in the summer.

 

  

 I had fun making a striped cake copying the bright colours of the Ugandan flag, complete with the national bird of Uganda – the grey crowned crane.  The flag of Uganda was adopted in 1962 with six horizontal bands of black yellow and red.  The black is for the African peoples, the yellow for the Afrocan sunshine, the red for the blood uniting all Africans as brothers. The grey crane was adopted as it is known for its gentle nature  and it’s leg is raised to symbolise the forward movement of the country.

Any resemblance of the grey crane on the cake to a chicken is purely to my own poor sugar craft skills. The cake was striped inside and out, thanks to the fabulous colouring Pastes made by Wiltons and was consumed with gusto by hungry teenagers.

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Out with the Old and In with the New

It’s January. A new year, a fresh start. And yet, like the two-faced god Janus, a time to look back as well as forward.
Mr G, smallest Gillyboy and I spent a few days of what we call twixtmas in Portugal helping grandma start to pack up her beautiful home to move back to our damp and grey little island. Not an easy task for anyone to box up a lifetime of memories, embracing them in bubble wrap, hugging them with cardboard; deciding what to keep, what to pass on, what to discard.
We did take time to holiday in this most beautiful of holiday destinations too. How we loved the sunshine and a chance to recharge our solar batteries for the start of the New Year. There’s nothing I love more than the freedom of kicking off my shoes and walking along the shore.

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On New Years Eve I had a chance to reflect on 2014 as the waves lapped at my feet. Last year here at The Coop there were big celebrations, excellent holidays, good times with old friends and family, as well as the challenges, worries, troubles, illness and losses that make life, well, real life. Looking back it was good to recall all those who walked alongside us, giving encouragement, support, even just by being there.

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Looking ahead at a bright and shiny new year, there are many things to look forward to- planned holidays, significant anniversary and birthdays. There are challenges and issues that will need to be addressed; potholes, sinking sand, big waves that we cannot foresee standing here at the start of the year.

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What footprints will we make through the year? What shores will we find ourselves on? Will life be calm or stormy?
Like grandma, we all have a new start this New Year. We may not be moving house or changing country, but we are all moving on. New jobs, new struggles, new babies, new challenges, new friends, new interests, new attitudes, new beginnings. We hope to make wise choices in what baggage from the past to carry with us and what to leave behind. The lessons of 2014 giving us courage to meet head on all that is to come in 2015.
2015. A new chapter. Maybe even for some a whole new book. It’s life.
Let’s Live it to the Max.

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Keeping Christmas Traditions

Red cabbage on our table is one of the changes that have occurred in my house at Christmas since we married 24 years ago.
Every family has its own traditions for this special time of year. Family traditions are all part of the build up to Christmas Day. Christmas traditions are important. Children need to feel they belong and shared memories help reinforce that and helps them to develop their own sense of identity says psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer, an expert in play and parenting and Director of The Good Toy Guide. She acknowledges however that when two people come together to form their own family, they both bring with them their own traditions that might not be compatible with each other.
Mr Gs family had stockings for gifts, we always had pillow cases! We always got a shiny red apple and a mandarin orange as well as other treats in our pillow cases.
Some trees have white lights, others prefer coloured.
We had a Gene Autry Christmas LP that was always playing as we decorated the tree. A few years ago my brother found it on the Internet and I still play it, though I do prefer Michael Bublė!
Our family put up their tree really early in December, Mr Gs waited to the very last minute! We now love to put the tree up early, but once Boxing Day is over I can’t wait to take it all down again.
Though I do prefer a real tree, they have got so expensive that we invested in a really good fake tree, and I burn lots of tree scented candles and rejoice that come July I won’t still be vacuuming pine needles from the carpets.
Some homes must be seen from space they have so many outdoor lights and decorations. This year we have no outdoor lights, must to Mr Gs disappointment, and as a compromise to our boys delight I have put the coloured lights on the tree, with my one remaining working set of white LEDs.
On the Festive table we always had a jar of pickled onions and a jar of those yellow-green mixed pickles. And my dad’s awesome brandy butter.
On Mr Gs family table they had bread sauce, red cabbage, sprouts with bacon and hazel nuts, brandy cream.
Over the years we have combined all that we loved from our two families at Christmas, and added some traditions of our own that we hope our boys will take with them when they have homes of their own.
My mother faithfully stocks to recipes she has used for many years for the Christmas pudding, the brandy butter, the Christmas cake, the stuffing for the turkey. Yes, always has to be Turkey.
I roasted a goose one year and was very disappointed with the results. It was very expensive, and gave very little meat in return. I do find Turkey meat boring and tasteless. But am overruled every year when I suggest any alternatives!
The one thing I do adore is Turkey broth made with the bones.
Although Mr G and I are celebrating our 24th Christmas our own family traditions are still evolving. And as the Gillyboys get older, change is in the air as we no longer have that frenzy of excitement and anticipation of a visit from the red suited gentleman.
A chilled glass of prosecco goes nicely with the Queen’s Speech and some canapés before serving the main course I’ve found, now that we are not inserting batteries into noisy toys and hiding the contents of selection boxes lest some child spoils their appetite.
It’s all very civilised.
A few years ago I made Nigella Lawson’s chocolate Christmas cake. It had prunes in it. It was vile.
This is now the third year I have used Paul Hollywood’s White Christmas cake recipe. Mr G is very partial to Christmas cake and we may well cut into it in the next few days. He hates marzipan. I love it. I compromise with a very thin layer under the delicious pure white icing. However much he insists though I will not leave out the cherries in the cake batter. No way. I am the only one in our house who eats cherries, but part of my Christmas tradition is eating the cherries all the others leave on the side of their plates! Yum.
Christmas cards are becoming much less of a thing. Just as well as I have lost my Christmas card address book faithfully kept up to date since about 2002. Never Mind. There is alway the Internet for keeping in touch quickly and less expensively than posting a card. But I do miss cards for adding further festive decor to our home.
This year though I’m thinking- it’s less about giving presents, more about being present.
Less about wrapping the gifts, more wrapping those we love in a hug.
Less about shopping for food, more about donating food to those whose cupboards are bare.
Less about seeing the Christmas lights, more about being the Light.
In these dark times, when daily there is news of terrible evil across the globe, let’s choose to be present, to show love, to reach out, to be the Light.

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I’ve just realised you can spot me in this photo of our hall decorations!

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It’s porridge, but not as we know it

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In our house you need to be very careful in the mornings which pot you take your porridge from.
Those with two legs and no feathers get fruity, nutty porridge to keep them going for the day. We love it.
Those with two legs and feathers get porridge with pasta, raisins, sunflower seeds, meal worms, left overs of rice, potatoes, vegetables, bread crusts….
They love it!
In this cold weather, with so little sun light, we need to keep tummies full and warm to keep those yummy eggs coming.

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The day starts at around 7.30 am when light is just showing in the sky, and the ladies usually retire for the evening around 4.15pm, earlier if it is very dark and wet. I love peeking in at them all snuggled up in their feathered duvets. I wonder what the chat is about?

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A new little chick!

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A special welcome to the world for the newest member of our family Baby Ben born on Thanksgiving Day!
Mr G and I made a trip to London for cuddles with our newest nephew and big sister Gemma. Sweet!

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Plenty of kisses for everyone. Awww.

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The Secret of Long Life

Sadly this week in Ireland our oldest resident passed away. Luke Dolan,a farmer from Strokestown Co Roscommon died aged 108. Asked the secret of Long Life (his sister lived to be 106) he said it was eating a boiled egg every day and a spoonful of sugar in his tea.

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When I think of the long long life Luke had – born in 1906- how the world has so completely changed – it’s mind blowing!
What’s also interesting that the title of Ireland’s oldest living resident now passes on to Michael Lambert, aged 107, whom lives only 20 miles away from Mr Dolan’s farm! I wonder if he eats an egg a day too?

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Lost and Found – Writing 101- Amazing Grace

“Amazing Grace” is a Christian hymn with words written by the English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725–1807), published in 1779. With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, “Amazing Grace” is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world. It is probably sung at least 10 million times annually.

Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction. Aged just 11 he joined his father in the Royal Navy, and after leaving the service, he became involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel so severely that he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. However, he continued his slave trading career until 1754 or 1755, when he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian theology. Around the same time Newton joined forces with the abolitionist William Wilberforce and worked tirelessly for the abolition of slavery. Ordained in the Church of England in 1764, Newton became curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, where he began to write hymns with poet William Cowper. “Amazing Grace” was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day of 1773.

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Yesterday I attended the Thanksgiving Service for the life of a very young man and the many mourners joined in singing this hymn.
The words “I once was lost but now I’m found” from this hymn rang in my ears, as I thought about today’s Writing Challenge. Of all the life experiences that you might think this lovely boy had lost out on. But of all the joy those who knew and loved him had found by spending time with him.
A young man, born very prematurely 24 years ago, who climbed high ropes, canoed and rode horses despite being limited to a wheel chair.
Who had many friends who filled the small country church to bursting, though he spoke very few words.
Whose days revolved around therapies and medication, yet had the biggest brightest smile and sparkling eyes to win over everyone who met him.
Who was deeply loved, cherished, protected, adored by his mum, dad, sister, grandparents, church family and carers.
Always missed, never forgotten.

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