The Alternative New Years Resolutions!

Exercise routine

Well Merry Christmas all and a Happy New Year!  As we approach 2014 I wonder how many of you are dusting off the familiar New Year’s Resolutions ready for the 1st January?  You know the kind I mean, they normally require some superhuman effort to achieve and represent your dream lifestyle (i.e. lose two stone, become an athlete, land the dream job and get paid the dream amount for it, travel the world, learn to play the guitar etc etc).  Granted, Winter is a time of reflection and what better way to prepare for the year ahead than taking the time to plan your goals, this is a good positive activity but trying to achieve in the next 12 months what you haven’t yet managed in the last thirty/forty/fifty years may not be realistic and in a small way you could you doing yourself a disservice.

With this in mind I humbly offer you my alternative resolutions to keep it simple which I hope will see me to the end of January and beyond!

1. Stop Multi-tasking.

Multi-tasking is a cruel invention of the modern age designed to enable us to fit two lifetimes in the space of one.  This defies the rules of nature and often physics and should be avoided at all costs.  You can easily spot those people who actively engage in multi-tasking, they are usually working mothers trailed by herds of children clutching half-read paperwork, flyaway hair, anxious expressions and always slightly late for everything.  Stop trying to squeeze the life out of every spare 30 minutes and focus on the job in hand, you will do a far better job and bypass all the stress in the process.  Do not devise outlandish time plans/driving routes to encompass shopping, school runs, post office errands and such like.  Accept that you can only reasonably achieve the fundamentals in one day (work, children) and anything else is a bonus not a necessity.  You are not here to exceed everyone’s expectations and a stressed multi-tasker will ultimately drop the ball in a big way sooner or later.

 

2. Ditch the plane.

Air travel is no longer the sophisticated glamorous travel option it once was.  The reality is that we all pay a small fortune to be crammed into an aircraft like sardines before being charged £6 for a small packet of Pringles and that’s after we’ve been shepherded around a soulless airport eyeing our fellow passengers nervously for signs of subterfuge.  Unfortunately unless you are wealthy enough to turn left on the plane you are unlikely to enjoy this mode of transport any more than the sullen looking cabin crew demonstrating their emergency exit procedures.  The UK is fast becoming the destination of choice for many families and couples, with so many undiscovered delights on our doorsteps it’s not hard to see why.  The dramatic coastline of Cornwall and Dorset offer eternal possibilities of walking, sunbathing and ice cream eating.  York, London and Manchester with their fantastic rail connections combine beautiful architecture, history, shopping and entertainment for any age or budget.  If however, you simply can’t cope without the sunny beach holiday or villa by the pool then spare a thought for the European ferry system and sleeper trains which regularly rumble through to the South of France from Paddington.  Not only an elegant way to travel but often much cheaper than being unceremoniously loaded into cattle class by an orange clad British Airways reject.

 

3. Don’t rely on exercise to manage your weight.

Exercise brings many, many health benefits but you cannot rely on it alone to keep your weight under control.  Exercise and weight loss are not mutually exclusive but it is best to view them as such and focus on each target separately.  We all know the rules about eating well to fuel your body properly, if you stick to the basics then you’ll maintain a healthy weight.  If you get a bit carried away in the kitchen like me then you’ll struggle!  If you’re planning to introduce more exercise into your weekly routine then start small, one class a week or a 30 minute walk or gardening session is a good starting place.  Write down your average weekly activities and see where you can reasonably fit in one or two exercise sessions to begin with and fix a certain day every week.  If a club or health centre seem too intimidating at the start then arrange a walk and a coffee with a friend each week until you feel more confident to step into the gym.  Remember, heart pounding, red-faced cardiovascular activity is not always the best option especially if it’s sporadic.  Far better to walk regularly each week in the fresh air than attend a lung busting class every three weeks when you’re have a ‘fat day’ !  It is not selfish to prioritise your health, so once you’ve made that date on the calendar don’t allow anyone or anything to override it!

 

4. Plan something exciting.

January and February can be pretty dire as we slug through the cold with no hope of Spring on the horizon.  I think this is the perfect time to plan and book something exciting.  Start thinking about all the things you never quite got around to in 2013 to help inspire you, is there a festival you should have been to by now, a museum never visited or weekend camping trip never embarked upon?  Have you missed out on a theatre ticket, Chelsea flower show or learning to surf on the beach?  Alternatively is there a course of study you have always had your eye on?  Even in deepest darkest Norfolk there are endless learning possibilities, part time Uni courses, online courses, sewing and knitting courses the world is truly your oyster and it is never too late to learn a new skill if you have the time.  Have you always planned to rescue a dog/cat/chicken from the local rescue centre?  One of my exciting plans for 2014 is to restore and restock my greenhouse and vegetable garden, this may seem fairly tame to you more dynamic readers but I can assure you that vegetables require a lot of pre-planning not to mention care and attention and there is nothing quite so satisfying as eating produce you have grown yourself from seed (dynamos take my word for it!).

 

5. Water, red wine and face cream.

So you’ve had the mother of all bad days, the world has gone to hell in a handcart, work has gone from bad to worse, the children have grown horns, you’ve consumed your own body weight in chocolate and your healthy mind and body plan for the New Year has never been so out of reach!  Rather than wallow in your failure of a day, salvage what little is left by doing yourself a few last minute kindnesses.  Firstly drink a couple of pints of water, none of us ever reach our eight glasses a day so do a quick catch up and rehydrate your organs including your skin, if you’re particularly desperate throw a berrocca in for good measure (it may not do you any good but who doesn’t love a placebo?).  Next pour yourself one nice glass of a decent red wine and luxuriate in the tannins!  Maybe most importantly, get into bed by 9pm, yes you will miss the best telly and the dishwasher won’t get emptied but you will be able to read a couple of chapters of your favourite book and relax.   Lastly before you go to sleep, slap on some face cream, anything will do, be it posh anti-aging serum or a dollop of aqueous cream, men and women all need to look after their skin and even more so after a bad day.  Even better try and moisture every night, who knows if this works but in 20 years time at least we can say we tried! By tomorrow you will be relaxed and ever so slightly more gorgeous, what could possibly go wrong!

 

 

Christmas Cardio

What is it about Christmas and in particular the New Year that sees us dusting off our gym membership cards and digging out the ill-fitting lycra we bought years ago to make ourselves feel fitter and why do we always opt for cardio workouts as a starting point?  I agree there’s nothing quite like serious lung burn and lactic acid build up to make you feel like you’ve worked hard and taken significant steps toward fitness so psychologically cardio can offer us a motivational boost.  However, many cardio workouts can be intimidating, even seemingly insurmountable for many people especially if you’re embarking on a new training regime.  If the thought of going for a run fills you with dread then it’s good to know that cardio is by no means the be all and end all of a well balanced fitness profile.  I for one, am a big fan of strength training which not only tones and improves muscle condition but as you increase the size of your muscles their ability to burn calories improves too.  Strength training is suitable for any age group and can be performed with weights, barbells or own body weight.  This type of training is also particularly suitable for improving and maintaining posture which is one of the major protagonists in injuries.  However, when I was training to become an instructor we were taught three key areas of fitness with this third and final option being by far the most neglected, flexibility training.  Men in particular seem to pay little attention to their flexibility training as the perception is often a new age yoga class filled with post menopausal women!  The reality couldn’t be more different.  The variety of flexibility training on offer now is enormously diverse and provides enough choice for even the most reluctant of participants.  Without this important aspect of training your exercise goals will eventually reach an unnecessary standstill and this is especially true of those regimes which involved exceptional extension and flexion such as dance and martial arts.  Flexibility training also helps create a long, lean muscle and increases the range of motion through a joint, if you struggle to put your socks on then this is the option for you!

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Therefore, when you’ve polished off the last of the Quality Street this Christmas and start making those New Year resolutions don’t feel guilty if the treadmill isn’t your first stop,  explore your options and most importantly, do what you love best!

Autumn Begins in North Norfolk

Despite the radiant warm sunshine we are still experiencing, there is no mistaking that Autumn has now officially arrived here in North Norfolk.  By home time we’re all reaching for an extra layer of clothing and switching the sitting room lamps on slightly earlier than normal.  Cromer remains relatively frantic during working hours and certainly the newly opened No. 1 (Galton Blackiston’s latest venture into fish and chips) seems to be enjoying a roaring trade despite a nervous start this Summer.  That being said, the tourists are gradually receding and the gusty north wind and gulls have already begun to reclaim the town for the Winter.

I have to admit that Autumn is possibly my favourite season being visually captivating and a season to collect oneself and gather ones thoughts.  All the rush and hurry of Summer has passed,  the garden has built to its crescendo and bowed out and all that remains of the holiday is a large pile of photographs documenting long sunny days by the coast and sun kissed children with tired, lopsided grins.

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It is about now when I start to take notes whilst watching Gardeners World and hanging on Monty’s every word when he gets to ‘jobs for the weekend’.  The hen house and their paraphernalia have been thoroughly scrubbed and treated and the vegetable plot is giving up the last apples and beetroot.  Whilst walking the hound recently I discovered a secret sloe tree, growing wild and unfettered, so abundant in sloes it looked rather like a Dr. Seuss illustration.  So it came to pass that everyone involved in the aforementioned walk was promptly instructed to fill pockets, hats and welly boots if necessary with sloes before some other unsuspecting marauder should round the corner more appropriately equipped and pick it clean.  On another pleasing note, we have been extremely successful in pumpkin production this year with the ‘Atlantic Giant’ growing at an alarming rate despite being largely neglected this Summer.  We grew these from seed and the children are delighted at the prospect of carving these biblical pumpkins although I’m now beginning to feel less enthusiastic as the task grows closer!

However, it’s not just the garden and produce that help create that unique Autumn atmosphere.  It’s the air of quiet preparation, the need for a change of routine and the sense of bedding in for Winter that I find almost comforting.  No matter what has gone before, you can be certain that Autumn will blow in on time to remind you of what needs to be done.

 

 

Lazy Sunday Dessert

If your household is anything like ours, few mealtimes are considered truly over until a dessert of some form or another has been produced.  For me this often means a hasty dash to the store-cupboard for a packet of pistachios or a tin of peaches to serve with some ice cream.  Don’t get me wrong, desserts are always worth the trouble, even if your recipe completely fails you the result is usually an edible combination of loveliness.  Yes, I would happily indulge my sweet tooth every day with multiple home made puddings if I thought for one minute our waists (or our teeth for that matter) could withstand it.

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Last weekend was pretty hectic but I did manage to provide us with a light summery fruit salad using a few cheats to speed things up.  Not only is it a bit healthier than ice cream, you can use it for a couple of days afterwards as an accompaniment to yoghurt and granola for breakfast as I always do!

 

Lazy Fruit Salad (serves 4)

1 Lime

2 Satsumas

1 Red apple

1 Ripe pear

Green grapes

1 Nectarine

Fresh mint

Splash of Orange juice

1 tbsp Honey

 

Squeeze the lime into a large mixing bowl and add a good splash of orange juice and the honey.  Stir until well combined.  Next slice the apple and pear into quarters, core and slice finely.  Add to the mixing bowl and ensure the fruit gets a good covering of the liquid.  Cut the nectarine in half, remove the stone and slice finely before adding to the bowl along with the satsuma segments and a handful of green grapes.  Finally chop a couple of tablespoons of fresh mint and stir into to the salad.

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So there you have it, a quick, cheap and easy pudding to satisfy that post dinner sugar craving.  If you’re after something a bit less rustic in a hurry, try some fresh diced melon, pomegranate seeds and chopped mint mixed together for a fresh simple dessert.

 

Summer holidays!

Oh my gosh, we made it!  These are my first thoughts as I collect the children from their last school day this week.  Like many parents I always face school holidays with mixture of relief, excitement and extreme caution.  Not only do they signal the commencement of pyjama days, late morning breakfasts and even later suppers, they also herald a small rite of passage and none more so than the grand finale of the Summer holidays.

For the last 7 weeks we have gradually become worn down by grinding monotony of the school routine.  Lovingly prepared nutritious packed lunches slowly evolve into hastily thrown together cupboard leftovers until the children actually plead for school lunches and I cheerily send them off with dinner money instead.  School uniforms barely make it out of the washing machine before they are quickly recycled for the next morning and the hunt for the elusive long white school socks throws me into a cold sweat as we countdown to leave the house.  No longer do I politely request that teeth are cleaned first thing, in fact speaking of any sort has gone astray at this point as I simply manoeuvre small people in and out of the bathroom in robotic fashion.  School shoes (much like the socks) remain my eternal nemesis, with car engine running, children strapped in, clock ticking, I frantically scour all the grubby hideyholes where a small pair of grubby shoes would possibly go unnoticed (behind the piano it would seem).  It’s at this point when you start re-evaluating your worth as a parent when something odd begins to happen……..it all gets much, much worse.  Now as you approach the last two weeks of term you suddenly have ‘commitments’, parent assemblies, cake sales, school discos, school trips and teacher gifts/thank you cards to prepare.  All of which has taken place in the backdrop of our fantastic heatwave this year!

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So it was that we baked, we partied, we sang and we thanked our way through a frantic final week of retrieving artwork and PE kits, welly boots and lost jumpers.  Finally this week we limped across the finish line with a sense of relief any marathon participant would be proud of but it was not without a small ache of sadness.  Watching the older children say goodbye to their teachers and friends as they embark on their last Summer before high school, knowing also when we too are a Summer older the children will not be quite the same short messy bundles as they were this week.

Tired of London?

I was recently invited to a ‘hen do’ in London and despite my immediate gratitude for the invitation from the chief hen, I soon developed a familiar parochial dread at the prospect of entering the Big Smoke.  My infrequent jaunts to London have always been made in the pursuit of tourism, either the cheesy bus top kind or the restaurant tourism which we used to indulge in BC.  I have never felt the need to dwell in any large city (apart from my teenage years when the lure of a city or even a town seemed irresistible compared to a sleepy Norfolk village), especially London.  It begins with the train usually,  as soon as I alight I develop an irrational fear of getting mugged or having my pocket picked by some well organised Eastern Block gang who’ve singled me out easily amongst the sophisticated crowd by my ‘country ways’.  I then start to fret over the probability of getting lost which on a lone voyage would be pretty good odds but on this occasion I am travelling with the walking version of the Knowledge and could not be in safer hands.  So it continues, will I lose my keys/purse/hotel key? Will the transport go to the correct destination at the appropriate time?  Will the maid rifle through my badly packed overnight bag, try on my practical, Norfolk bought, brushed cotton slouchy pj’s and take a hilarious photo to hang in the staff room for communal amusement/future comic references at staff parties?

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Therefore it is with great pleasure that I have nothing to report other than a splendid weekend in our great Capital along with some very dear friends.  I was not mugged or even intimidated by my Eastern Block gang, my bags remained in tact and complete of belongings despite all my frantic rummaging for the elusive underground ticket.  On which I travelled and successfully negotiated at all hours without proving a hindrance to the walking Knowledge by neither tripping, stumbling, drifting off, engaging the resident alcoholic or complaining (too much).  The temperatures soared on Saturday evening as we shared our underground carriage with many Rolling Stones fans piling out of Hyde Park.  Being rather full of wine and expensive food I felt inadequately prepared for the 20 minute train ride back to the air conditioned hotel I desperately craved as we approached midnight.  However, as a visitor, I cannot help but marvel at the London Underground with its unnatural light, sound and the claustrophobic rush of air as you approach your platform gives it an eerie undercurrent which is almost cinematic at times.

On Sunday morning we were sorely tempted to order room service and sit in bed with the papers (something we last achieved in about 2006).  However, the morning was just too glorious to ignore and by 8am we were strolling along an almost deserted Tower Bridge under a cloudless sky seeing the city at its finest.  The majesty and grandeur of architecture all around us was captivating and we continued for over an hour as the walking Knowledge led me confidently through narrow alleys, down hidden stairwells and under medieval archways out onto wide, clean pavements flooded in perfect golden sunshine.

As the train rolled us home to Norfolk later that day I began to feel a crushing weight of silence whilst we slipped through parched fields, the immense sky now a dangerous harsh white playing host to one of hottest Summer days so far.  Of course it was lovely to arrive home to our brood and take in a lungful of fresh air and I reflected on the luxurious space and peace we enjoy here.

So it was with some irony that we found ourselves snaking through the old fishing villages in North Norfolk this weekend bumper to tailgate with hoards of visitors.  Radio on, windows wound down, children bickering, we crawled through Cley, Blakeney and Morston, once bleak outcrops of flint cottages, now coated in Farrow and Ball, filled with Aga’s and Liberty fabrics these dark little dwellings have turned into chic little hideaways for the sailing set.  Consequently the villages’ original purpose has elegantly evolved into a tourism hotspot full of galleries, deli’s and fast cars far too shiny to belong to any self respecting local.  As we became snarled up in traffic (yes really) I enjoyed a small chuckle to myself thinking of my previous weekends pursuits.  Here we were again in a hot noisy tin can, going nowhere surrounded by strangers!  I was abruptly brought out of my smug reminiscence however by my serene walking Knowledge transforming into a hot and bothered ‘local’ muttering obscenities under his breath as he manoeuvred between a rock and a errr another rock actually.

In short, my lovely readers,  I am not tired of London and whilst I can keep a safe distance doubt I ever will be, the contrasting landscape, history, vibrance and sheer crowds will always hold more than a little curiosity although I cannot say the same for my beleaguered walking Knowledge…..

Fridays Carrot Cake Recipe

Whoever first combined the Great British brew with a large piece of homemade cake surely deserves their own statue in Trafalgar Square or at least their own Bank Holiday.  Not to be underestimated is the restorative power of the humble cuppa and yesterday morning I abandoned my usual responsibilities to indulge in a mornings worth of tea drinking, cake eating and animated chatter with some lovely friends.  Unfortunately this is an all too rare event as co-ordinating everybodys work commitments seems as simple as asking the hens to form an orderly queue for breakfast.  However, yesterday most of us assembled in the garden room to celebrate friendship on a glorious sunny morning armed with a slice of something highly calorific which on this occasion was my carrot cake.  As I have been asked for the recipe three times in the last 24 hours I thought it best to broadcast this little slice of happiness for all to share!  This recipe is my tried and tested favourite, feel free to add mashed banana or sultanas as you please.  You will notice most of my measurements and guidelines are ‘approximate’ which is an apt adjective for my cooking ethos, although this is sometimes exchanged for ‘chaos’.

Fridays Carrot Cake

Grease and line a small roasting tin, approx 12 x 9 inches, pre-heat the oven to 160C (Fan).

In a large bowl mix up 10oz of self raising flour, 12oz of golden caster sugar, 2 level tsps of baking powder, 3oz of chopped nuts, 3 level tsps of ground cinnamon, 2 level tsps of ground ginger.

Add half a pint of sunflower oil, 10oz of grated carrots, 4 large eggs and 1 tsp of vanilla extract.  Beat all the ingredients together and pour into your tin.

Bake in the oven for approx 50 mins or until golden brown on top and a skewer comes out clean.  Leave in the tin for 5 or 10 minutes before turning out to cool (remove the parchment).

To make the topping, mix together 3 tubs of full fat Philly, 6 tsps of clear honey and 3 tsps of lemon juice.  Make sure you beat this until it’s really smooth then spread liberally on the top of your carrot cake with a palette knife.  You can decorate with cinnamon or mixed nuts if you wish but I personally prefer to leave it plain.

For an alternative topping you can use mascarpone cheese with a few drops of vanilla extract and sieved icing sugar to taste.  This topping can be very sweet so you may not want to have such a thick layer.

Now in my humble opinion the secret to a really special carrot cake is in the temperature.  This next step is by no means essential but I think it helps produce a cake with a better texture.  Once you’ve topped your cake, carefully cover and leave in the fridge overnight before removing an hour of so before sharing!

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Provenance in real life

Provenance can be a divisive issue amongst even the closest of friends and in more recent times celebrity driven food provenance has raised the bar considerably to the point where I wonder is there such a thing as guilt free shopping anymore?

Once you’ve calculated your carbon footprint, chosen whether or not to buy local, organic, fairly traded and assessed your purchases for their salt, sugar, fat and general calorie count, is it any wonder that we all throw our hands up in the air and shout ‘Sod it, pass me the takeaway menu!”  Of course the recent horse meat scandal has thrown provenance into the limelight and demonstrated why it should be at the top of everyones shopping list but are we ready to embrace it into our daily lifestyles?

Red Tractor at Green field*?????????

The main objection raised by most people is the prohibitive cost of buying food with a reputable ancestry.  Let’s face it, a supermarket basic packet of sausages will always be cheaper than sausages bought from your local butcher and produced using well reared and humanely slaughtered pigs from your local farmer.  We know the local sausages will taste better and ease our social conscience momentarily but we simply can’t compare these benefits to the extra cash in our purses at the end of the week.  However,  the benefits of good provenance are far reaching and go well beyond the spare change we use as our main excuse not to change our shopping habits.  Putting your hard earned money into the hands of local producers helps to create a better community via jobs, economy, production methods and ultimately taste and animal welfare!

Being asked to take responsibility for where our food comes from is something we’ve grown out of over the generations due to the mass production capabilities of emerging markets in Asia and Eastern Europe.  I also think that we’ve been shielded from the true cost of our weekly shopping by these cheaper producers and if we’re honest, how many of us could afford to shop completely ethically and responsibly every week without giving up some other kind of expenditure and can we reconcile this?  Rather depressingly I think the answer for most of us is no, we have neither the time or money to shop in the way we know we should.  So, being mindful of these problems, our family has embarked on our own approach for this multi-layered issue.  Several years ago we decided that rather than be defeated by the seemingly insurmountable challenge we would start with one food group (meat)  and try to expand our responsible shopping over time.

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Now I don’t consider myself a squeamish person but I would struggle to visit an abbatoir and watch an animal be killed and butchered solely for the purpose of becoming my next meal.  Hence why it’s very important to me to know that my food has been well reared and treated with respect by the producers.  For my part I repay these local producers for doing such a good job by buying from them regularly and as my own sign of respect for the animal, I make sure I use the meat to cook something tasty and worthy of the process.  Buying meat in this way can be expensive depending on which cuts you purchase so we eat the expensive stuff less often.  We have a good relationship with the local butcher and obviously the taste of responsibly farmed meat is beautiful.  The research and investigation of local meat producers has actually been interesting and informative rather than the tedious chore we expected when discovering food provenance.  We also enjoy visiting producers in other parts of the UK when on holiday, particularly Dorset where they seem miles ahead in terms of affordable local food production!

So the happy conclusion readers is YES you can engage in positive food provenance, don’t be put off by the guilt surrounding many food issues, make a pledge to change one small item on your shopping list and maintain it.  It could be apples, strawberries, butter or honey but this small change will have a significant impact on local producers and before you know it we will all share a vibrant and active local food economy!

The Great British Bank Holiday

Hold on to your hats folks, yes it’s finally happened…..a proper Bank Holiday Monday!!  Apologies to those of you who have not experienced a sun soaked Monday off work but North Norfolk is rarely ahead of the rest of the country so I’m going to take a minute to enjoy this small triumph if your good humour will allow.  We’ve all suffered the curse of Bank Holiday Monday, the much anticipated day off turns into a cold, dreary procession of eBay searches and television re-runs.  Today I awoke to a blue skied wonderland outside my window at 6am (don’t ask), not just a pretty kind of blue sky but a rip roaring belter of a morning when you just know its going to be filled with good things all day long.  For those readers who have not experienced Norfolk skies you may be forgiven for thinking that I am overplaying something so simple, mundane and necessary.   Let me tell you that the skies in Norfolk are unearthly in their vast beauty to the extent that you feel as though you are walking through the canvas of one of our many talented artists.  There are no interruptions here, no mountainous ranges or architectural sprawl, the sky is the sky in its truest form and if you do happen to visit one day, you too will find yourself staring upwards in wonder as though you’ve never seen the sky before!  Now that’s probably given you a mental image of lots of strange Nor-folk standing around staring at nothingness and to be honest that happens a lot here too, but not on this day.  On this day, we took breakfast outside, we ambled about the garden picking and choosing various jobs, the washing was hung and dried by mid morning and the children had completed a mini marathon around the garden by lunchtime.  We drifted in and out of the house to catch the cricket score and collect refreshments before spending the afternoon with family who kindly collected and prepared the first harvest of rhubarb for us.  Early evening was spent with our lovely friends and neighbours who generously supplied us with copious amounts of wine and food in their garden whilst the collective group of children alternately entertained and bickered with one another as the sun began to lose its heat.  Such was the hour when we finally carried the children indoors that bath time had been and gone.  A quick scrub with a soapy flannel, clean PJ’s and a kiss goodnight was the sum total of their bedtime routine this evening as their scruffy little heads gratefully hit the pillows.  And so, I now resign myself to some heavy sun induced snoring tonight whilst I reflect on todays productive yet simple accomplishments.  I hope you all had a truly Great British Bank Holiday.

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A Sad Day for Chickenopolis

Last Summer we took our first tentative steps towards hen keeping with the introduction of 7 hybrid hens (maran x silkies).  We lavished much time and attention on choosing just the right hen house for our anticipated brood and erected it in celebratory fashion with two experienced hen keeping friends.  Chicken wire, stakes and gravel boards were all purchased and painstakingly nailed and bolted together to create what we thought would be a robust yet spacious chicken enclosure.  Of course, most of the hens had escaped within a 24 hour period having discovered the laughable weaknesses in the fence and were happily feasting on the latest crop of curly kale in the vegetable garden.  We have come a long way in the last 12 months, having adopted 7 more hens, moved the hen house across the garden (with a rather disgruntled workforce) and expanded the enclosure with some brilliant portable Omlet fencing.  My husband also used the original hen house as some sort of power tool experiment one afternoon and created what can only be described as the first ever climbing frame for poultry…….hence the nickname chickenopolis.  Having received advice from many trusted friends and family, we have sourced the ideal bedding, food and cleaning products for our much loved hens and enjoy not only their fabulous eggs but their company.  There is nothing more likely to raise a smile than watching lovely fat hens running towards the kitchen scraps at full pelt, waddling precariously from side to side in battalion formation.  Or the restful way they investigate and wander the garden when you hope they’re just scratching up bugs and slugs!  So it was with great sadness yesterday that we discovered one of our hens had died overnight, unfortunately she had been off colour for a few weeks but it was still a bit sad for the children who eagerly collect eggs each day and help out with the chicken chores.  They received the news with great stoicism however and demonstrating the undeniable ‘Circle of Life’ approach of many small children,  collected eggs this morning with happy memories of their former friend ( shamefully I can’t remember if her name was Vanessa or Googley eyes) and moved on to more important matters……..”Can we bake a cake with these eggs?”