Saturday, 31 January 2009

Slogging Through the Molasses

In another life I taught for 15 years. This was one of the children's favourite books. It was all about a town that experienced crazy weather. The weather was always food. It rained meatballs, snowed sugar, etc. I built a whole creative writing and oral presentation unit around this book. This week, I feel as though I am in the middle of this town - slogging through molasses, in a haze of maple syrup steam, and I think there is definitely a chance of raining brussel sprouts.

I have some very important projects started right now that I just can't seem to get moving. No matter how hard I try, there is always something that needs to be sorted before it can be handled. I lost over $1,000 this week alone due to slogging through molasses. I know that as soon as this one bit gets sorted everything will begin to fall into place. Until then, I think I see those brussel sprouts forming in the clouds of mashed potatoes.

On a brighter note, however, our hen house and intergrated run are built and outside right under our kitchen window, ready for our ladies. I can't help smiling to myself every time I look at it! We've agreed on three hens, a Bielefelder, a Speckeldy, and a Calderanger. Now this IS progress, as I must have made eight lists of hens and this is the one that I can truthfully say gives me a sense of calm and finality. All this hooey over hens. Geesh!

So let's hope that the weather here for The Little Red Hen is finally clearing to candy floss and lemonade!

Thursday, 29 January 2009

My New Boyfriend

Everyday, when I am in the office, I take time at lunchtime to visit the horses at the farm down the lane. The farmer is about my age and has a job that affords him to be able to come home at lunchtime to quickly feed his chickens and gobble down a quick tuck. He’s like me with a soft touch for retired animals. His seems to be horses, whereas mine is more eclectic. He has them scattered everywhere. There’s everything from a pony no bigger than a lab retriever to a whole herd of semi-feral spotted ponies. There’s an old lad there however that has my heart, well and truly. He’s an old Shire horse with arthritis and a tattered horse blanket that is a permanent fixture. The poor old soul moves stiffly but with dignity. I imagine that he is an old cart horse that has had many a hard day of hauling heavy loads. Shires live for 30 to 50 years. There’s a pub at the end of the lane and an old mill. I fancy that he hauled for one of those. I truly have no idea!

I’ve discovered “horse carrots” and bought a huge bag of them for £2 at the local feed store. I keep them in the back seat of the car and always break a few up for the horses in the pasture closest to the lane. Two younger horses are kept in the same field as the old one and are quite cheeky. There’s lots of mud and water along the fence and he doesn’t trust his footing there. So the two feisty lads get their carrots toot sweet and then a I throw one at him so he can get it without being nudged and shoved.

His mane is almost three foot long, his hairs on his neck just about that long and his hooves are all over-grown with white fringe. His back makes a perfect crescent. But his eyes are sharp as is his hearing. He knows the word “carrot” and will come if I say, “Gee UP, laddy!” He’s stolen my heart. Plain and simple. My brown-eyed boy. Bless.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

One of Life's Little Mysteries Solved

The other day I was wondering around our back garden hoping to see some bulbs popping up and the very earliest signs of Spring about. Ah yes, I discovered a huge mole pile right in the midst of where all of my bulbs were planted. I know he doesn’t eat them. But he DOES disturb the subsoil enough that the bulbs don’t have a fighting chance. Sigh.

But then I encountered the most amazing sight! My rosemary bush was in full bloom! Brilliant bluish-purple flowers just smothered the bush – in the middle of January, in a winter that could be described as anything but mild. Well, the big question is WHY? There are no insects about to pollinate, the days are short and dark, and goodness knows the weather has been foul and cold. What purpose could this profuse blooming possibly be for?

I came into the kitchen and made a nice hot cuppa and went straight for my favourite big soft chair next to the radiator. It faces out the back glass sliding door into the garden. The whole wall seems to be glass. I could hear the Blue Tits tittering away to each other and soon saw them flittering into our back garden. Oh, they just love the nut feeder we have out for them there. They always drop one nut on the ground and take one to bash on the fence. I took a sip of coffee and smiled to myself in anticipation. What?? No trip to the nut feeder? What are they doing on the rosemary bush? I stood up and went to the door to get a better look. They were eating the blossoms! Relishing them, more like it! Stuffing themselves, chittering with their mouths full, and loving every second of it! I was so very humbled.

The purpose of life and the way of the seasons all go in harmony. I never dreamed that the humble Rosemary plant would bloom in the dead of winter to provide sustenance to Blue Tits. And what a sight to behold! So, I too, was blessed that day, watching the whole scenario unfold. One of life’s little mysteries explained in such a delightful way!

Monday, 26 January 2009

The Paper Shop
In the five years that I have been living in England, I have seen some of the most stable and ancient of traditions fall the way of ruin. The demise of the local pub, by no blame of its own, for instance. Pubs have been a part of British culture for thousands of years. The oldest one in the country is right here in Norwich. It dates back to 1215, and is called The Adam and Eve. Although the local pub is usually within walking distance of one’s home, the anti-drinking laws of this country put a strangle hold on its patrons not to drink more than a breath of alcohol or run the risk of arrest and driving sanctions and huge fines.
Then came the anti=smoking laws. That just about put the nail in the coffin. Imagine not having a fag with a drink in a pub! Well, it is happening everywhere here now. This is rough going in a country where more than half of the adult population still smokes.
And of course, there is the beloved post office, which for many small British villages was the other life’s blood of the tiny community. It, too, has been taken away in thousands of small villages. Old age pensioners that have lived their whole lives in these villages and depended on the local post office to have access to their pensions, find that this option has been yanked away from them when they finally came to the age when it would be needed. There is much bitterness over the closing of so many rural post offices, and rightfully so.
The arrival of the huge chain supermarkets have made it difficult for the small local shops to survive, but it seems the bulk of them are using good standard British ingenuity and finding ways to stay in business. The shops have very good local products in them. Meat, cheese, pork, milk, eggs, veg - all from local farms. The quality is always top notch if not close. As an American, I can tell you that having a local butcher shop, greengrocer, and doctor’s office within walking distance of one’s home is pure bliss.
There is one small neighbourhood shop that has not changed since its conception, and that’s the “paper shop”. These shops are always small, crammed to the rafters with ‘stuff’ and a venue for news, both written and vocal. Wooden doors with a bell, in the country, metal ones with a buzzer in the urban areas. These shops have every magazine published in the UK and every newspaper one would want too. They always take up one whole wall of the shop. Then there’s the ‘other’ necessities. Sweets (candy), milk, pop, snacks, tobacco products, lottery tickets, greeting cards, a freezer with everything from ice cream to frozen peas, always a tiny little thing packed to the top like the shop that houses it. Charity containers line the counter along with mints, gum, and small gadgets. There’s a brilliant video out on YouTube of a seagull that has learned to walk into the shop and nick a bag of crisps (chips) from the lowest shelf in front of the store.
I love watching the men of our neighbourhood tootle down to the paper shop every morning to get their papers and talk about the latest soccer games, the weather, and pick up or pass on any gossip that may be about. Men of all ages and shapes do this. The really young ones, can’t be asked to walk so they go in their old bangers with the music turned up loudly. Most of the men have a dog with them. It is a routine everyday and the dog goes along at a reasonable pace - unless there has been something happen extraordinary in footy the day before, or there is other hot gossip to be discussed. Then the dogs are having a hard time keeping up with their puffing and determined owners on a mission.
I’ve gone into the paper shop in the morning, looking for butter for baking as I thought I had enough and of course, I didn’t. A yes, the American girl, lets have a go at her! In my first few years here, no one would strike up a conversation, let alone tease me. Now, they all know me, that I work locally, and I’m married to that bloke that has his van parked opposite the house all the time down by the infant school. So as I walk into the shop to grab the butter and a small bottle of milk besides, several men who have been in a passionate discussion about Chelsea and Man U, turn and smile at me and I can see in their faces that I’m in for it. I’ve been teased about everything from my president to my country’s choice of foods. “Oy! That Bush bloke still running in the hall with scissors?” “What? No ketchup? Or did you just forget, love? Let me get some for you!” There’s no need for offence to be taken. Their teasing is much like high school banter and they would never presume to have a go at me unless I was accepted and liked. I know I mustn’t tease back, as I haven’t been part of this place long enough. But I smile, laugh, and mention something that I know they would feel comfortable talking to me about.
I decided to buy a scratch off lottery ticket one day, on a whim. I chose one and the shop owner leaned over the counter and whispered, “You know whaaaaaaaat? You don’t want that one, love. Someone over in Pakefield won over £2million on it last week. You’d have better luck with another kind. This one hasn’t had a win in quite a while.” pointing to one I never considered. I didn’t win on it either, but it was worth it just to hear him say “You know whaaaat?” in that broad Norfolk accent.
Paper shops are usually owned by families that are local and have spent their whole lives in the neighbourhood. When the wife is in the shop, then the discussion turns to soap operas, sales, and illness. The teenage children are sometimes recruited to take a turn. The son is all business, with the radio blasting in the background. The daughter plants herself behind the counter, nervous, ever watchful of anyone coming into the shop. Her service is surprisingly bored and impersonal. She wants you to bugger off, okay?
I love paper shops. I love the ambience of them, the simplicity, the clutter. Brits read papers every day not just on Sundays. Some have it delivered to their homes, but most go to the shop to pick it up. Popping over to the paper shop is giving one’s self a little treat. One never knows who will be there to greet you or what conversation you might get into. Interesting news found in the paper shop. I’m privy to it now. So tomorrow I’ll be walking over to the paper shop to pick up a paper and some other news too!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Oh the Anticipation!

I can get so excited over the really mundane things in life. My collegues at work arrive in lovely clothes and talk of exotic travel, shopping trips and thier social life. I like having new clothes and the occasional holiday. Truth told, I like to nest. There is nothing I enjoy more than sitting in one of the big comfey chairs in the kitchen and talking to my husband or a friend, hot cup of brew in hand. I love the smell of my house and its energy. I love knowing that I can just go out my back door and pick fresh herbs from the garden. My husband is the king of roosting. He likes spending his time at home too, puttering about and making up his own agenda which is no agenda at all. Who can blame him? He lives his work life by a tight schedule. It must be so very healing for him to come home and just chill and do only what he wants when he wants. I won't deny him this. If there is a problem that needs sorted he is right there and doing it well, so I think his own time should be just that . . . his own.

So it comes to no surprise that my husband and I have decided to keep chickens. For Christmas I wasn't given jewelry, perfume, or clothes. I was gifted with books on keeping chickens. I guess most women would have thrown the books back at their husband, but I was thrilled. I've read all of them through now three times. I've also started keeping a file of information from the Net that my husband warmly teases me about, asking if I have finished filing everything in categories. I didn't dare confess that I was planning on doing just that next weekend!

This is the hen house above. It is half built for easy transport. We are going to double the size of the run before adding the chickens. Right now it is in the garage, but you can see that it started its life in the middle of our lounge. We are going to go over to B&Q in a little while to check out their welded wire mesh to put under the sod under the coop. No Mr. Fox for our girls! I was leary that my husband might not be as enthusiastic about this new little venture, but today he said he didn't want to get the chickens just yet as this was prime weather for red mites. Wow! He's been doing his homework too!

Until all the prep has been completed, there will be little projects every weekend. It's so mundane, but so very rewarding to prepare to bring some new lives into our world. These girls aren't "child substitutes". We've both raised our families. They are just alittle more brightness and abundance to share.

So it's off to B&Q we go! I could spend the whole entire day in that store!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Oh No! Not Another Chicken Blog!

I promise there won't be TOO much talk about hens and the like. There's so much new in my life right now that they probably will only be featured once in a while. Right before Christmas I learned to drive (finally) and got a new job. We ARE going to get four chickens in the spring, and right now I have a half built hen house in our lounge! If I could figure out how to add pictures to this blog, I would send along a picture of it. So I look forward to blogging and sharing a window into my life with you. Bless.