gillybirds

What came first- the chickens or the blog?

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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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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Writing 101- Our house in the Middle of the Street

Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?

Today’s twist: pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium, and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.

I still live in the city I grew up in. Although it is not the same city at all. I grew up in Belfast right through “the Troubles”. Hotels, shops, businesses, homes, colleges could be there one day and a heap of bomb blasted rubble the next. Boarded up windows with wet paint declaring “business as usual”. Our school bags were searched and searched again for weapons, incendiary devices. A city with no night life and a fearful, watchful day time.Barricades. Burnt out buses. Bomb scares. High jackings. Balaclavas.
But to us this was normal. And it was not like that on our doorstep in the suburbs, though occasionally our windows would shake with an explosion and the air would ring with the sound of sirens.
At twelve I lived in a smallish red brick semi detached house in the middle of a quiet street with my parents and two brothers. I had no memory of living anywhere else. It was home. I had a cat and a rabbit. We had a lilac tree in the garden to climb and swing from, a path to skateboard down with a perilous step at the end should we fail to stop in time. A flat roofed kitchen which we could access via the bathroom window when we were feeling daring. That wasn’t very often. We had friends across the road, next door, down the street. We played British Bulldogs, Hide and Seek, kerb ball, Thunder and Lightening. Games that required no batteries, no screens, just fresh air and fun.
I was eagerly looking forward to having a new bedroom up in the attic. This was accessed by a Slingsby ladder which you could pull up behind you. It felt like living in a tree house. When granny came to stay I was allowed to sleep up under the eaves. Nestled in blankets and resting on caravan cushions. Like a mouse. Hidden away. Reading by torchlight. Listening to a well worn cassette tape of “Jesus Christ Superstar” until the sound went wonky as the batteries ran down. Up above my sleeping family it was as close to heaven as I had ever been.
A year later we moved away.

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Writing 101 – Happy Halloween!

Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

Free free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.

Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

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We always went to granny’s South of the border for Halloween holidays. Mum would have been packing clothes, filling tins with cakes for days and once dad secured everything to the roof rack and we had a last trip to the toilet we were on our way. 114 long miles of pushing and shoving and keeping an eye that those brothers of mine didn’t cross the imaginary line into MY space in the back of the car.
Past all the landmarks – small towns, big towns, the creepy forest just over the border, the “buckets” at Drogheda, through busy Dublin, spotting the tall red and white chimneys of the power station near Howth, the last big bend in the road when mum would spit on her hanky to scrub our faces and then ignore our protests as she combed our hair.
As we climbed stiffly from the car the smell of Granny’s lamb stew bubbling on the hob would fight with the smell of her forest fern talc she loved so much.
Granny had one big room in which we ate, watched the grainy black and white tv, played the piano and played with our cousins. Having two brothers, granny’s was great as all I had were girl cousins. Loads of them. We had such fun there whatever the season – swings and swimming in the sea in summer, parties and presents at Christmas, but best of all was Halloween.
This was the 1970’s. No pumpkins, no fancy dressing up shops with expensive outfits. No scary zombies or naughty nurses, or even naughty zombie nurses. No trick or treat. It was innocent fun that we made for ourselves.

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We spent days carving turnip lanterns. This gave us RSI in our hands and wrists, and had the terrible consequence of having turnip at every meal time. But it was worth it. Our frolics were lit by a wax candle (pre tea light days) gently toasting the inside of the hollowed vegetable, filling the air with the aroma of burning turnip.
We always had brown lemonade which we thought was very sophisticated and for a treat there was barnbrack – a type of fruit loaf- that for Halloween had a ring in it. If you were lucky enough not to choke on the cheap metal ring then it meant you would be getting married in the next year.
Then there was mum’s Apple tart, containing more 5ps wrapped in tin foil than apples it seemed. If you were cute you would watch as she cut it into slices ensuring your piece got the most money.
There were sacks of monkey nuts. These were peanuts in their natural state, still in the shell. Little piles of dry peanut shell would litter the room. Harder to crack were the more exotic hazel nuts, Brazil nuts and the tricky Walnuts. Cracking them open with granny’s ancient nut cracker took much more effort than the small reward of a slightly fusty dry tasting nut, usually with a great deal of shell still attached.
For games we ducked for apples and there was a nail above the doorway so we could tie yarn to an apple, let it swing free while we tried to take bites out of it. How we never got terrible diseases from the sharing of apples covered in slobbers playing both these games I will never know.

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Dressing up was a mask made of brittle plastic of a pig or a witch, eye and nose holes in places where no human face had features held on by elastic that would snap within the first few minutes.
If you were really lucky you got a cardboard witches hat which didn’t even have the luxury of elastic to keep it on.
We entertained ourselves by dancing along to granny’s LP collection of James Last, Mantovani and a Wombles record owned by a cousin. I remember vividly choreographing a ballet routine to the “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” and a dance number for everyone singing “Remember You’re a Womble”. Aunties, Uncles, parents, and granny sat patiently cracking nuts and scoffing Black Magic Chocolates through all these antics.
And no Halloween was complete without sparklers bringing their own scorched odour and glittering showers of sparks and the thrill of twirling something so magical.

Two highlights stand out of these not at all scary very innocent Halloween parties.
We always had a box of indoor fireworks, which wowed us with the Magic Fern and the volcano, and especially when a good linen table cloth caught fire from a spark.

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And writing, producing and performing a sketch based on the Two Ronnies skit on TV known as the Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town. We thought we were very racy getting away with blowing pretend farts in front of the grownups. Granny in particular loved it!

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I still love Halloween, I love to decorate the house, cut pumpkins, play the same games – yes we too have a nail in a doorway for the specific purpose of hanging apples, I have tasteful Yankee Candle tea light holders that smell of burning turnip of course!

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Empty Chairs and Empty Beds

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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.

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When your baby bird flies from the nest

At the start of October Gillyboy number two flew the coop and headed off for a new chapter in his life at university. Unlike his older brother who chose to attend our local uni and live in the comfort and convenience of home, he has packed his outsize suitcases, his trombone, ocarina and tin whistle (hope his college neighbours are deaf or extremely tolerant) and set off for three years of hard study and good times at Keble College, Oxford.
In only the blink of an eye 19 years have passed – the delighted laughter of his father when I told him I was expecting- when we had a four month old baby already. A very rapid delivery, so fast no one thought to check the clock for the exact time of his birth. His abundant golden hair or “fields of ripe corn” as we referred to it. At seven months old clearly saying” all gone” at the end of a meal. Walking at ten months. Climbing at ten months and one day. Writing his own Mr Men books aged four. Discovering Pokemon aged six. Playing the trombone to anyone who would listen from aged 8. Having a well developed sense of right and wrong and not being afraid to express those views from a very early age. And now, matriculating at university in a gown, white tie and mortar board. When did this happen?
As a family this parting is a whole new experience. As parents, leaving a child – well, a young man with a beard and plenty of his own opinions- for the first time, in a new city, all alone gives rise to a whole sack of conflicting emotions. Someone gently mocked us, accusing us of over-parenting as we both decided to bring him and all his bags to get him settled. I don’t see it as over-parenting, I see it as taking our baby bird to the edge of the nest, checking the horizon, and watching him learn to fly.

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At the Crossroads

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Yesterday it turns out, was a Crossroads day.
For around four years, Gillyboy number two has set his heart on leaving home to study at a well known university. He has worked really hard, kept focused on his goal, prepared for interviews, identified weaknesses and worked out solutions. Yesterday morning, after a restless night for all of us, the results were out, and with fluttering hearts and trembling fingers, his dream plan for the next three years was made reality. It is a new path for all of us; for him, leaving home, starting a whole new adventure in another place; for us, adapting to life without him during term time, missing his wonderful music practices that can often take your breath away, those half empty coffee cups lying around, and long games of Pokemon cards (still at 19, bless) with his mates and Gillyboy number 4.
It’s very exciting, and daunting and we look forward to seeing what adventures this new journey will bring.
For around four years, a lovely lady and her family in our church fellowship have been learning to live with a terminal diagnosis. Yesterday she quietly moved on to a new stage in her journey. She has gone home, leaving an amazing example of strength and courage whatever battles are to be faced. She was always very open about her illness and its treatment, she had a wonderful ministry to others going through similar experiences, she was the go-to girl for organising rotas and finding church keys at the last minute within our congregation. She lived Life To The Full spending quality time with family and many friends with meals, coffees, cycle rides and badminton games, celebrations and holidays. Never angry or bitter, always directly spoken, a woman of strong and living faith, she faced her inevitable future with confidence and assurance. She prepared those closest to her for this outcome in the same manner. She was so encouraging to her children as they changed from their teens into the confident vivacious young adults that they are today, as they mourn her loss and move on in their journey without her beside them.
On Monday we will stand by them, and their father, her loving and beloved husband, as they give thanks for a wonderful life, a peaceful end, as she walks a new path into the Kingdom of her Saviour.

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Jubilations!

The past few days have seen the massive celebrations for Queen Elizabeth the Second’s Diamond Jubilee, locally and nationally. Also there has been a big deal made with the Olympic torch relay which came to our small damp corner of what remains of the British Empire very early on Sunday.
Of course here at home we welcome any event worthy of celebrating and yesterday under threatening skies we had a bit of a family garden party and barbecue, with most joining in the spirit of the occasion and dressing in red, white and blue. Faces were well painted, the remains of which are embedded in the best towels left out for the use of visitors. It’s lovely to have any excuse to get together, and even better that my mother in law who lives abroad was here for the weekend too. The rain stayed away so we had al fresco garlic and chilli prawns and Angus beef burgers which were delicious and finished off with red, white and blue pavlova and a Union Jack trifle.
I did have a bit of a mishap with the trifle, my dad had crushed garlic with the back of a spoon, unknowingly I used the same tainted spoon to smooth the custard on the trifle. So far no one seems to have noticed. It reminded me of one of the boy’s birthdays when I had decorated the birthday cake in an Olympic theme, must have been 8 years ago. Number four son who was then aged 4 got into the party room and picked every last it of icing off the top while we were in the garden playing games. When the crime was discovered, with great presence of mind I flipped the cake over and quickly iced the reverse side in a similar theme. And told no one.
Not to be outdone in the festivities, the hens celebrated by laying their 25th egg, a little silver jubilee of their own. An extra treat of corn was provided.

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Here they all are looking very patriotic, standing to attention, when in reality they are just being naturally inquisitive. They only have to hear the sound of the kitchen door opening now for them to rush to the back of the coop looking to see who is coming and what tasty treat they might be bringing. Hens are very attracted to the colour red, a treat of cherry tomatoes causes a near riot within the coop. They also love dandelion leaves, the stalks of cauliflower and corn cobs. Thinking they would be like budgies in their tastes I bought a pound weight of dried millet at the pet store, but they look one disdainful look at it and walked away. Their daily diet is “layers pellets”, a bit of a misnomer as only Violet is actually laying at the minute. The pellets look most unappetising. Hens also need to have grit in their diet to give calcium to their shells. I love to watch them drinking, they take delicate little sips then tip their heads back to swallow. I watched Apollo daintily drinking the dew drops hanging on the bars of their run the other morning. Also hilariously they chase any flying bug that comes into their area. It would be good to stake out a larger run for them, but recently a magnificent fox ran right across the back of the garden in the middle of the afternoon, which made me fear for their safety if they were less protected from predators than they are currently.
As for the dog, he still takes an immense interest in the hens, guarding them jealously when visitors come to inspect them,but also barking wildly when they fly from the door of the coop to the ground. I have no doubt that given the opportunity he would help himself to a fresh chicken dinner. Yesterday though he was on his best behaviour, with the promise of left over burgers he joined in the celebrations, if only in honour of the Queen’s corgis.

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The lights are on but no one’s home

What an interesting week it’s been. Since my first ever blog was posted on Wednesday friends and acquaintances have been in general very positive about my journey into the world of hens.
It’s a bit like those last few weeks of pregnancy or when you have a car crash and everyone has their own stories to tell. Those who have their own birds are very keen to recount tales of their feathered friends – names, natures, quirks, feeding habits and diet, the pros and cons of getting a rooster, the superb quality of home fresh eggs etc. Non chicken keepers generally look at me like I’m on the next bus to crazy town, or get a wee wistful look in their eyes as confess it’s something they’ve considered but never been bold enough to try. “let us know how you get on” they add. Exactly I reply- that’s why I’m blogging.
Still, there is one thing missing. No hens yet! The Hen Man remains silent. The chicken coop lies vacant in the garden only to be assaulted by the occasional misplaced football. The Heyns Chicken Manual continues to be bedtime reading, and to keep me amused for now I am making a very pretty hen cross stitch and have produced a whole new range of hen based greetings cards.
So thank you all for your feedback and comments. I hope that as I have found a whole new circle of friends by owning a dog, I will equally find new friends by joining the hen keeping community.
I also hope that the silent coop will become home to some real characters in the next few days 🙂

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