The Return of the Rascally Rabbit

We’re now over a year into turning our front lawn into a fruit and vegetable garden, and have been enjoying harvesting our goodies very much. So, alas, has the local rabbit. We came back after a week away in the summer to find said bunny sitting in the middle of the pathway, fat and bold (and fluffy and cute, it has to be said…), munching on the last of my kale. It had troughed an entire 2 x 4 foot raised bed of kale and broccoli. The minxes barely repressed their glee at the sight of the decimated leaves and cheered loudly, while I chased that pesky varmint away. It dashed into the back garden while I huffed and puffed and abandoned the chase in favour of unloading the car.

The next day I waddled round to the compost bins at the back of the house to get rid of some of lunchtime’s veg peelings. I heard an ominous rustle behind the bins, so squeezed past to investigate. Last night’s rabbit was trapped between 2 slats in the fence! It had scraped a pile of dirt away with its back paws and rubbed all the fur off its sides. There was no blood, but it didn’t exactly look too comfortable. It must have been there since we’d arrived home and I’d chased it.

Now, I have to confess to considering roast rabbit for dinner that night, and went back to the kitchen for a big sharp knife. En-route, though, I thought about how scared it must have felt for those 14 hours and felt a rush of pity for it. Instead of fetching the knife, I put on 2 pairs of rubber gloves, went back out and tried to gently guide its back legs through the fence slats. No chance – its behind was too fat on my greens. So I gripped it over its haunches and middle and pulled. It slid right out then let out a scream like a banshee meets a scalded cat. I mean, I wasn’t expecting gratitude or anything, and I’m no “manky Scots git”, but I didn’t expect to be confronted with those long brown teeth.

(Oh come on, you can’t expect me to tell you a tale about a rabbit without a single Monty Python reference!)

Anyway, it jumped down, scampered off, and I forgot about it. Until I discovered that it had also munched all 10 of the carnations I’d cossetted and pampered and planted along the edge of the little fence I’d put up to shield the mess of my Steptoe’s Yard of a veg garden from the rest of the neighbourhood. Right down to the ground. I regretted my knife / gloves exchange, but got over it.

Our marauder wasn't as cute as these Photo: PDSA

Our marauder wasn’t as cute as these Photo: PDSA

Time passed. Killer Cat was a little more successful at keeping the wild rabbit away from the rest of my vegetables and the kale and lettuces grew back. The carnations and broccoli didn’t. Last weekend, the minxes came in from playing with tales of a rabbit that had lost an eye. I was quite dismissive (“Really? That’s nice, dear…”) as they guessed that it had been in a fight with a cat or dog. Then yesterday, I found a big fat rabbit right in the middle of the lawn.

“Shoo!” I hissed. It ignored me and hopped once in the general direction of my kale.

“Move along!” I chided, and walked right up to it. It just sat there, ignoring me. It did indeed look like it had lost one or both eyes. I was in a rush to get Midi The Animal Lover home from school for lunch, so stalked off in exasperation.

On our return, the rabbit was still there. Midi identified it as the rabbit the kids had been talking about over the weekend. I had a closer look at it. It was a very manky and unhappy little thing. I admitted to Midi that if I had any backbone and/or thought I knew how to do it without causing it further distress and pain, I’d kill it to stop its obvious suffering. As I didn’t, sadly we’d just let it get on with it. Midi had a long think about my attitude while she munched her lunch. Presently, she announced her judgement:

“Phone the SSPCA, Mum”, she said, “They’ll take care of it”.

Nooooo, they’re for things like baby squirrels and rescuing pets suffering cruelty and… and… well, they’ll not be coming out to wild rabbits with myxomatosis. Midi insisted I was wrong, and that the SSPCA representatives who’d visited the school last year had been clear that they would help any animal that needed it. She looked at me with her big, owly eyes full of compassion. So I called (03000 999 999 in the UK).

I spoke to a brisk and helpful lady who assured me that it wasn’t right to let the animal suffer any more, and talked me through finding something to put over the rabbit to immobilise, comfort and calm it (a big laundry crate). Five minutes later, my local SSPCA called to say they were on their way. Twenty minutes later, a very kind chap turned up in the van. He looked at the rabbit and agreed that it had myxomatosis and was suffering badly. He thanked me for the call, was happy at my admission that it was Midi’s idea from a school visit, and said he’d take it away and euthanize it gently with an overdose of anaesthetic.

Now, I can’t afford to pay vet’s fees to have called one out to come pick up and deal with the rabbit. And as I said, I’ve neither the skills nor the moral fibre to deal with it myself. Although the SSPCA are a charity, I’m sure the staff don’t work for free, the anaesthetic wouldn’t have been cheap and the man didn’t arrive on a broomstick: fuel costs a fair bit nowadays. So I’ll be making a donation to cover as much of that as I can.

Poor bunny. I guess I won’t have to be defending my greens against it or its burrow-mates now – I imagine they’ll be equally afflicted. And how did Midi react?:

“Poor Charlie-Felix Rabbit. I hope it rests in peace”, she said sadly. Then took a breath, and said brightly: “Oh wow, Mum, does this count as this week’s Good Deed for Cubs? Excellent!”

Why So Super-Smashy-Nicey?

What is it with minxes and bugs and holidays? Last week was the first week of the long-awaited Tattie Holidays. The Boss took a week off week and we’d planned to go camping, climbing, mountain biking, harvesting everything in the garden and generally having a blast. Instead we fed the contents of a big bottle of paracetamol to the minxes.

They go loopy on calpol, so have been alternating between lying wanly in bed and roaring up and down and off the walls and ceiling of the hall, shrieking gibberish.

It’s just some kind of virus that’s giving them head, tummy and joint pain with a fluctuating appetite. Nothing too serious. So we’ve gotten out of the house occasionally: a wee jaunt to the library, a 90-minute shamble around the woods poking at toadstools, that kind of thing. The Boss took the eldest 2 out on a beginners mountain bike ride in Fetteresso Forest. They were broken the next day, so only Mini was left to accompany him on a cycle round the local woods. The next day she too was draining green slime out of her face.

Only Mini’s been up for helping me in the garden. This year we started to turn the front lawn into a fruit and veg garden and have done better than I’d anticipated:

  • 5 weeks of spinach
  • maybe 6 dinners-worth of broccoli (dinners-worth: feed a hungry family of 5 for dinner. Obviously)
  • 2 dinners-worth of potatoes
  • 2 dinners-worth of runner beans, with more still to come
  • 10 dinners-worth of broad beans
  • 4 months of continuous lettuces and rainbow chard
  • 20 tiny apples
  • enough chillis to make a 6-jar batch of sweet chilli jam
  • herbs (rosemary, thyme, parsley, teeny bit of tarragon, chives)
  • and…
  • …3 beetroot (yep, 3. Three. One more than 2. All the size of gnomes’ golfballs. Out of a whole packet. I give up. I obviously cannot grow beetroot!)

The squash just rotted in the ground; the radishes all bolted; blueberries, raspberries and strawberries got nicked by birds before we got more than the odd one or 2; but the cabbage, garlic, spring onions and brussels sprouts are still in the ground and looking great. And we’ve got 4 eggshells filled with cress…

As for the 10 nasturtium seeds I planted to attract bees? They turned into triffids. They took over 3 raised beds, spread over and along the paths, climbed fences, grew over sunflowers and ran down other paths. The local honey smells like nasturtiums. There are no bees anywhere except the inside of my nasturtiums. Never, ever, ever plant nasturtium seeds in compost, no matter how much you’re tempted! They really went bonkers. Me and Mini are out every day collecting seeds to dry and give away. Or maybe sell – well, we need to make up the lost couple hundred pounds a month in tax credits* somehow, and I can’t see me selling enough jars of wild bramble jelly or teaching enough people to knit and crochet, can you?!

*I’m still bitter – The Boss got a little pay rise. The extra money and a bit more got taken off us in tax credits. But because Student Loan repayments are calculated on your gross pay, they suddenly needed paying. So all in we’re down a few hundred every month. Ouch, ouch, ouch. So what’s the impetus to get a wage rise again…?

I’ve been struggling to write this past couple of months, too, because Maxi’s been taking up all my worry-capacity. After a promising start at school this term it soon all plummeted. To cut an extremely long story short, she eventually had a bit of a breakdown so I involved the GP as well as the school more formally. Within a week she was referred to be assessed for High Functioning Autism.

The referral is not a surprise and is a welcome move forward. I’d really love to write all about it in detail, but am conscious that a little coven of witches in her class who pick on Maxi would use anything they find here against her. The minxes’ privacy is something I’m beginning to consider much more, now. I’m finding that I’m writing 10 never-to-be published posts for every post that I do hit ‘submit’ on because I want to talk about things that I don’t think my kids would want attributed to them.

I’m not going to give up this blog, but I can see that it’s been mutating into a bit of a sugary-nicey Show and Tell kind of thing as the minxes have grown up, with the outdoor adventures mostly going to another blog these past 3 years, and the real dirt being dished on a barely-used anonymous blog or just sniggered over privately on sleepless nights.

whatever

Yeah… whatever, Mummy

Why announce that I’ve already stopped writing the crazy kid stuff? Well, I didn’t want anyone to read recent and future posts on here and think that the girls are suddenly behaving themselves, or that our life is all crafting, foraging, happy faces and wholesome outdoor adventures. Ahahahahaha! As if! Nope – more tears and screaming and tantrums than ever before (and that’s just me and The Boss), more near-misses and panics, more house-wrecking and stupid parenting fails. But with the girls now reaching the ages when reports of their antics would cause them to squirm at the very least, I do need to put attributable stuff elsewhere. I’ll keep the photos on Instagram, though, and keep the non-arrest-able stuff here.

Anyway, wish us a healthier week ahead – I’m getting cabin fever, and that never ends well…

Two 15-Minute Lunches

First, catch your squid...

First, catch your squid…

So, how did the squid-as-a-craft-activity go?

Well, I really hyped it up to the minxes: wow, you’ll be learning more sharp knife skills, and you’ll be making your own lunch! They sat down at their chopping boards, took one look at the squid, and wailed, “Ewwwwww!” as one. Harrumph! These are the girls who munched calamari happily as single-toothed babies? My, how they’ve changed! I think you can see by the photo (left) that only Mini is a good actress for the camera.

I persevered. I got them to pull out the tentacles, wash the body, find and pull out the clear plasticky quill, cut out the beak and chop the tentacles with scissors, then one by one (with me hovering), slice up the body into rings with a big sharp knife. Midi was the only one who actually concentrated – her sisters legged it to wash their hands as soon as I released them from service.

So Midi got to prepare and cook lunch for us all as a treat. It was a really quick and simple Pasta and Squid Arrabiata, served up 15 minutes after starting if you’re an adult happy with a sharp knife, 25 minutes if you’re a 7 yo under instruction. This was enough for an adult and 3 hungry children:

My favourite lunch. Drool!

My favourite lunch. Drool!

Ingredients:

  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • splash of olive oil
  • half a red chilli, finely minced
  • 20 halved baby plum tomatoes (or a couple of handfuls of any chopped tomatoes: it’s just what was in the fridge needing used up)
  • 12 torn basil leaves
  • 4 small sliced squid

Method:

  1. Put whatever pasta you’re having it with on to boil separately; deal with that alongside making this sauce.
  2. Fry the onion and garlic in the oil over a medium-high heat in a big saucepan for a few minutes until they start to go brown.
  3. Add the tomatoes, chilli, salt and pepper. Fry for another few minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the squid and basil leaves. Fry for 3 – 5 minutes. Stop when the squid’s just cooked and no more. If you cook too long it’ll go rubbery and inedible.
  5. Toss the sauce through some cooked pasta and serve up with lemon wedges.

Personally, I absolutely loved it: the smell reminded me of delicious summer holiday lunches in Menorca and Greece, back when we could afford to go, and it tasted fresh and garlicky and sweet. Yummy!

Little horror!

Little horror!

The minxes hated it. They gave me the full eye-rolling, head-lolling, drooling, crying, nose-wrinkling, gagging hysteria. I wouldn’t have minded if they’d actually tried any of it first, but they refused to even taste it. I demanded that they eat all the pasta, a piece of tentacle and a single squid ring before they left the table. Midi complied quite happily with that, leaving the rest of her squid in a neat pile at the edge of her bowl; her sisters didn’t, and spent the entire time it took Midi to eat with their tongues hanging out their mouths in disgust.

I guess that won’t be going down in their list of current favourite lunches. But I’ve added the recipe here because I know they’d demolish it and ask for seconds if they’d been given it in a restaurant. And I love it! (As does my purse, at 30p a squid). <—— squid’s in! I’ll get my coat…

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The imaginatively-named Green Pasta Sauce

The imaginatively named Green Pasta Sauce

Today’s lunch was the opposite way round: they loved it, whilst I was ambivalent. It’s one of their favourites – Green Pasta Sauce – and it’s a 10-minute lunch from flash to bang. This is for 1 adult and 3 hungry children, and again start with putting whatever pasta you’re eating it with on to boil, and keep an eye on that while you make the sauce:

Ingredients:

  • a large 2-pint jug stuffed full of spinach leaves
  • 3 tablespoons of cream cheese (or equivalent in processed cheese triangles; I used 4 Laughing Cow triangles)

Method:

  1. Wash the spinach (run the jug under the tap, then drain it out), cover the jug and nuke it on High in the microwave for 2 minutes. It’ll now be about 2 tablespoons-worth of dark green stuff.
  2. Whizz it up with a stick blender.

    Spinach waiting to be whizzed

    Add the cream cheese / cheese triangles and a bit of pepper (pinch of grated nutmeg if you have it and are feeling fancy). Whizz again till it’s creamy.

  3. Dollop over the pasta.

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Little madam!

Little madam!

The spinach I planted in May bolted ages ago, but I kept it in the ground (a) to see what the flowers would look like, and (b) to prop up the broccoli growing beside it. I read that bolted spinach should be ripped up and thrown away because it tastes bitter. Well, I had a wee nibble and it tasted quite sweet to me. Midi agreed. So I pulled up 3 half-metre (!) stalks of spinach and got her to strip the leaves from them to use in today’s green pasta sauce. Yes, it had a stronger flavour than usual, but it’s not bitter or unpleasant. Perfect!

Moonshine

Ah, summer! When you’re woken early by the dawn chorus, or the morning sunshine streaming through your window. Or your 5 year old sneaking into your bed and singing, “What Does The Fox Say?” loudly in your ear till your eyes open… Oh, I will have my revenge when she’s a hungover teen with a pot, a metal spoon, and a clear exit route!

Mini Minx was just excited because my sister, her partner and kids are visiting. Like the other big kids the minxes have been terrorising this summer so far, my niece and nephew were superstars with the noisy, boisterous trio – indulging them, listening to their enthusiastic witterings and patiently playing with them.

All my favourite things start with creamy butter, tangy lemon rind and egg yolk.

All my favourite things start with creamy butter, tangy lemon rind and egg yolk.

How did I reward them all? Well, with food! I made my favourite pudding (lemon meringue pie) and showed my niece how to cut salad leaves from the garden for dinner. The next day I taught her how to make 20 minute fruit scones in the food processor, then sent them all on their way home with homemade red grapefruit marmalade and foraged elderflower cordial.

Moonshine. OK, elderflower champagne. Well, for the first 2 weeks; after that it's drain cleaner

Moonshine. OK, elderflower champagne. Well, for the first 2 weeks; after that it’s drain cleaner

They were going to try the elderflower champagne, but I like my relatives too much to send them blind. Y’see, I made it using the River Cottage Elderflower Champagne recipe and left it 4 days (see photo, right). By then, the cork in the old caorunn gin bottle kept blowing out, so me and The Boss tried it tentatively. It was lovely! Gentle fizz, sweet lemon flavour, strong elderflower aroma. We had a couple of glasses each and agreed that it was only mildly alcoholic. Perfect! So we kept the stuff in the plastic bottle (left of photo) for a further week, just releasing the bubbles every day.

We tried it on Thursday night, excitedly. It smelled eggy, was too fizzy and had a woody taste to it. Not nice at all. I chucked my glass down the sink, where it fizzed and frothed like a mad scientist’s concoction. That gave me a brilliant idea – I poured some big generous glugs of it down the slow-draining bath plughole. The Boss is now terrified that it’s festering away near a blockage somewhere, about to explode. So either I’ve wrecked the pipes, or I’ve invented some frugal, superstrength drain cleaner. Excellent!

Home Grown Triffids

I promise this isn’t an “ooh, look at me: I’m Glaswegian and I eat salad, how thoroughly cosmopolitan of me!” boast. It’s just some top tips on growing salad and getting your kids to eat it. Honestly, the minxes actually have been!

lettuceRemember in May I started turning our front lawn into an edible garden with raised beds, trees and bushes? Well, after a lot of faffing around with bonfires, I realised that having a whole bed devoted to making fires to toast marshmallows over was far too self-indulgent. And the neighbours would get unhappy with the smells, never mind the sight of us 5 hunkered over a little fire every evening. So eventually I planted garlic, runner beans, a couple of brussels sprouts, rainbow chard and lettuce in the square sunken bed.

I didn’t just chuck the seeds in: I got Midi to help me make a wee nursery for the lettuces and kept them sheltered until they’d grown a few leaves. It was really easy, fun for her, and it used up empty kitchen roll tubes – bonus! Want to know how?

  • First 6 lettuces ready to go, at the end of May

    First 6 lettuces ready to go, at the end of May

    Get your kitchen roll tube and fold in one end. (No fancy origami – just press on one edge till a curved flap folds over to almost cover the open end, then do the same at the edge below. The 2 flaps should overlap).

  • Fold over the other end with 2 flaps in the same way.
  • Use scissors to snip 2 crosses in the top of the roll, about an inch across each.
  • Open one end of the tube and fill it with compost. Refold the flaps.
  • Open out the teeny flaps made by the crosses.
  • Poke a teeny lettuce seed into the middle of each open cross with the end of a pencil, a stubby finger or tweezers.
  • Place the tube on something non-drip, like a plastic fruit container lid or a tray.
  • Water through the crosses.
  • Leave outside to germinate.
  • Water when needed.

When you have decent-sized seedlings, and before the tube’s cardboard disintegrates, just put the roll flat wherever you want the lettuces to grow. I just plonked my tubes on the sunken bed, on the compost. The tubes disintegrated with all the rain and damp, just as the lettuces put down roots into the compost. Every night now I go out with a minx and get her to cut a few leaves off the outside of some of the lettuces for a salad for dinner. Sometimes I have to brush off a slug or 2, but there’s plenty for us all. And the beautiful thing is that more leaves grow, so I always have fresh salad a few feet away from me.

If you don’t have kitchen roll tubes, you can use eggboxes filled with compost. The Boss found that a huge clear plastic strawberry punnet from the supermarket perfectly fits over a 15-egg box to turn it into a free seed propagator or cloche. It’s even easier than the kitchen rolls:

  • Using only the base of the eggbox that held the eggs, fill it with compost
  • Put a seed in each eggcup and push it into the compost by a few millimeters.
  • Place the box on something non-drip, and water the compost.
  • Put the plastic punnet over the top.
  • When you’ve got seedlings, and before the cardboard disintegrates, either place the box on the soil, or cut it into individual eggcups and spread out over the soil surface.
yellow and red baby chard

yellow and red baby chard

I also grew rainbow chard because it’s pretty, but have found that the kids really like the taste of the baby leaves. I’ve got red, yellow, orange and white stems sprouting up and they look just like baby beetroot leaves (that’s in another bed). I treat chard like the lettuces: every night I cut off a few of the outer leaves with scissors. I try to eat the leaves before they’re any longer than 5 or 6″. After that, although they’re a beautiful, colourful, ornamental plant, they’re too woody to be eaten raw: you’d really need to chop up the stems and cook them. Which tastes great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a bit too much of a faff for me.

rainbow saladSo what with the baby beetroot leaves, rainbow chard and 4 different lettuces, it’s a riot of rainbows in the salad bowl every night. The kids grab the leaves by their stalks and dunk them in a communal jam-jar of simple oil and vinegar salad dressing, like they would with chips and ketchup. The salads are pretty enough that they don’t need the nasturtium flowers I grew alongside the vegetables to prettify them any further. Besides, I did something wrong and the nasturtiums have grown foot-wide leaves and are taking over the beetroot bed like triffids, but that’s another disaster story for another time…

Muddy McMud of the Clan McMud

Just another unpublished draft, from May 16. Photos to appear later:

For a fat lass, I can’t half shift some dirt with a spade..!

The original plan today was to head off for a long exploratory walk past Ballater. But after spending the last week doing some vigorous sport every single day for a week, 2 of the minxes are nursing injuries (calf and knee). The last outdoor epic was a little too recent for my taste, so I decided to cancel the plan, despite The Boss’s sulking. Still, he happily dived into the alternative plan, which was plonk the 2 injured kids and Nurse Minx in front of a DVD and race around the house and garden Getting Stuff Done.

Yes, I suppose this is a bit of a boast, but it’s also me feeling satisfied at how much we can achieve when we don’t have littlies tying us up.

I dug a neat 4 x 4ft hole in the front lawn, pausing occasionally to let a male blackbird fill his beak with the worms I’d unearthed. He came back and forth 4 or 5 times in an hour, so I guess his little hatchlings are as hungry as my minxes! I placed all the turf-cuts upside down in a separate 4 x 4ft raised bed I need to rough-fill before I add compost.

I also collected all the stones, pebbles and cobbles from the layer of turf I removed, gave them a wash and put them on the little herb bed I’ve made round the back. I’m finding that changing my perspective about the stones has really helped: at first I felt angry at the sheer tonnage of stones in the ground and how difficult they made digging it. Now that I can see how pretty they are when clean, and how great they look as a mulch on the herb bed, and that each bucket-load is saving me an absolute fortune in decorative stones from the garden centre… well, I feel delighted now with each ‘clunk’ of the spade on another rock.

Finally, I malletted in the wooden frame that The Boss made weeks ago. It’ll be painted purple when the rain’s going to hold off reliably (July?!) and because it’s so exposed will probably be planted with little lettuces, radish, etc., whereas the broad beans, peas, squash and brussels sprouts I’ve got growing on the patio in toilet roll tubes will be in the deeper bed, over in the sheltered corner.

That lot took 90 minutes. Blimey, I’m getting faster!

The wind stayed high all day and I thought about the little sunken bed I’d made, and whether any plants would ever grow there. Maxi and I talked about her Cub Scout campfire and how much fun it was toasting marshmallows. The Boss and I bemoaned the fact that we appear to be incapable of lighting neither camp- nor house-fire together, blaming each other’s ineptitude. So one thing led to another, and I decided to set myself the challenge of building a marshmallow-toasting fire in the new raised bed.

I did blog about that successful wee fire elsewhere (Little Trekkers Ambassadors blog), but I’m not sure I clearly got across how amazed The Boss and I were at the bloody thing getting going at all! I am now Trout of the Hearth Flame, and feel the need to set fire to everything. Those minxes had better tidy their bedrooms sometime very soon…

Paint a Red Cross on the Door and Be Done With It!

Nooooo! Not the bleach! Anything but the bleach!

Nooooo! Not the bleach! Anything but the bleach!

Oh, I do love the mingling aromas of bleach and dinner in the evening!

Poor Maxi is ill. She started having smelly eggy burps and raging halitosis again yesterday, so I checked her throat – she’s got tonsilitis again, for the 2nd time this year. Liquid paracetamol seemed to be managing it. I saw her playing rounders outside when I picked Mini up from nursery before lunch. She waved weakly at me, ashen-faced. I hung around to watch, not because I’m interested in the kids’ sports class or their young teacher, but because she looked quite ill. Sure enough, 5 mins later, she asked to be excused back indoors. I agreed with her teacher that she could have lunch and see how she felt, and assured him I’d nip round in 2 minutes flat to pick her up if he called.

I waited for the call. No call. So Mini and I spent a lovely sunny afternoon doing gardening: I’d picked up some dinky metal buckets and herb seeds when I raced round the supermarket this morning (Supermarket! Without Mini? However did I manage without my little shopping buddy?! But it was so I could pick up one of her birthday presents unseen. A pink and purple Furby. It’ll be friends with Midi’s rainbow Furby. Three kids, 1 cat and 2 Furbys… I must be mad). Anyway, Mini had fun dunking the compost tablets in water and watching them whoosh up in seconds to fill the pot. She loved scooping up the compost and twirling the seeds on the top, especially when I said not to worry about the mess. She looked at me like I’d been possessed, then gleefully chucked a bit of compost at the cat.

Then in a fit of bravado, I decided to finally plant the tulip bulbs, outside in the howling gale. Forty of them. Yeah, the ones that should have been planted in autumn. Oops… Well, I’ve been enjoying counting all the little daffodil buds poking through the soil by the fence and in pots every day just as much as the minxes have. And we only planted them last month!

So, to work. Maxi and I had dug out the turf and a round tonne of rocks and boulders from a little 8 x 4ft patch in the back garden at the weekend. It’s one of those annoying patches that are really annoying to mow, and that no-one wants to play on because of the horrible, aggressive, yappy dog next door barking and salivating through the gaps in the fence at us.

I found some weed membrane and fought with 30m of that stuff flagging the air in the blustery gale. Mini and I managed to haul it down from roof-height and lay it roughly over the bare soil. I pinned it down with scrubby pot plants, boulders and a big old hexagon of wood that The Boss had made 2 years ago in a bid to build a climbing frame for the minxes (and that’s stood by the oil tank going grey for the past year). It would make a fine flower bed border. Mini and I dug and planted those bulbs (maybe a third looked ok, a third looked iffy and the remainder had blue mould on them), then shook some creeping thyme seeds over the top. I don’t care that it’s far too early to plant them – the packet said Sow By Year Ending 2009. Oops again… I have plans to plant herbs and strawberries all around the border, through the membrane, but that’ll be when the temperature is high enough for me to take the winter tyres off the car.

We just had time to water the hexagon bed, chuck everything into the wheelbarrow and wash hands before racing off to pick up the other minxes from school. Maxi came out of school looking pale and sad and burst into tears as I hugged her. Her teacher said she’d been complaining of tummy ache and a sore throat. Poor wee mite! She’s rarely ill and even then doesn’t complain much.

So I cancelled swimming classes yet again, parked Midi and Mini in front of the electrical babysitter with hot chocolate and marshmallows, then gave Maxi a big deep bubble bath. I’ve never seen an 8 yo enjoy a bath so much! She played with the bubbles like a toddler, and floated around in the quiet for half an hour while I got on with laundry, picking up discarded jackets and shoes, emptying schoolbags and asking how her day went. (She’d had her second double-bass lesson over lunch break. She’s called the instrument Brian and it’s bigger than she is. She’s so cool and she doesn’t realise it!). I washed and conditioned her beautiful hair, washed and dried her like she was a wee girl, trimmed her toenails, gave her Lovely Strokes (massaged her skin with moisturiser) then blow-dried her hair. She had a bit more colour in her cheeks and sighed with pleasure at all the gentle, quiet pampering. I made her a little nest on the sofa with cushions and blankets, parked a water bottle beside her, shooed away her fussing sisters who suddenly wanted to kiss her, then got on with making the monthly cauldron of bolognaise sauce.

I got as far as chopping onions when I heard a gurgling wail – Maxi had raced to the bathroom, catching her vomit en-route. The poor kid was stood at the sink, holding her Bagpuss in one hand, vomit in the other, balancing on one foot – the hand hadn’t been enough, she’d really needed a bucket, so it was *everywhere*). She was distraught at fragging her Bagpuss and her clean PJs that had been on for 9 whole minutes. I gave her a quick clean up and a hug, parked her back on the sofa with a big bucket, fresh water and different teddy, got Bagpuss into the washing machine and scrubbed the bathroom and hall.

Maxi barfed again later, so I guess that’s her confined to quarters for the next 48 hours and me cancelling a stack of appointments. Och well. So long as no-one else catches it! Midi had the vomiting virus a couple of weeks ago and my washing machine was on without a pause for 36 hours. A whole day and a half. Well, when you projectile vomit from the top of a bunk-bed, there’s an awful, awful lot of collateral damage…

Maxi’s now asleep on the sofa, spooning Killer Cat who is purring away contentedly. I’m fairly sure that the cat’s bucket of nails for a brain works fast enough so she’ll leap away if Maxi throws up in her general direction…?

Midweek Visit Home

Last week Midi Minx had an appointment with the ENT consultant to see how her hearing is. She was first referred 3 years ago after near-constant ear infections, and after lots and lots of messing around, watchful waiting, and multiple eardrum perforations, she got grommets last year. The difference was immediate and amazing. This check-up was to see if the grommets were still there and how Midi’s hearing was.

As we’d been waiting 6 months for this appointment rather than the 3 months it was supposed to be, I decided to take Midi out of school for the entire day and drive 100 miles each way, rather than ask to be referred to a colleague a little closer to home and go back into the interminable waiting pool yet again. I refused to feel guilty about it. It was one day. Hopefully it would be our last visit. And poor owl-mad Midi would be missing a visit to the school by some owls and their handler. And if we were going almost all the way back to our old house, we might as well nip back, carry out a bit of garden maintenance, and give it a quick air and a clean. I thought Midi would be distraught, but no, she was beside herself with glee – a whole day out with Mummy! All by herself! I was enormously flattered, and secretly pretty gleeful myself – Midi is a very funny wee girl and fantastic company. The Boss took a day off work to shuttle the other minxes to and from school and nursery, and had the grace to pale when he saw the day’s schedule that I’d written down for him. I think he still fondly remembers the days when he was the stay at home parent to a 3 and 1 year old who both took naps in the middle of the day, and didn’t need to be driven anywhere for any specific time.

The morning of the day trip, all the minxes had dentist check-ups first, though. I think the lovely dentist was on his first day in the job, judging by snippets I overheard the dental nurse say. He started off by asking about their oral hygiene. I explained that the girls drink milk and water; they rarely drink fruit juice or diluting juice, and they get fizzy pop on special occasions only. Their snacks are usually fruit, sometimes vegetables. Biscuits, sweets and cake are special treats only, and tend to be with meals. They never eat or drink after brushing their teeth at night. They brush twice a day, supervised. They use fluoride toothpaste.

The dentist blinked. Then he repeated everything I’d said back to me, phrased as advice.

I blinked at him. Then smiled just a leeeetle too widely and said, “Then it sounds like we’re doing just perfectly, then. Great!”

He blinked again. He looked confused and a little uncomfortable. I think the poor man was nervous.

Say 'ahhhh', Midi. And don't eat the nice dentist

Say ‘ahhhh’, Midi. And don’t eat the nice dentist

We chatted about Midi’s ground-down teeth. Contrary to popular opinion, her teeth haven’t worn away from biting other kids… With a clean bill of health, me and my girl zoomed off to hit the long road north-west, while The Boss took the other 2 girls in.

Apparently Maxi has 2 tiny cavities but no decay, and Mini was a model dental patient (BIG change from her first few dentist visits, then!) The Boss said that he had to interrupt and insist *3 times* that he didn’t want Mini’s teeth to have fluoride varnish painted on them. He said the dentist was merrily preparing it, without listening to him at all, and he looked very perplexed when he realised what The Boss was saying. The Boss challenged him gently to convince him on any additional benefit the varnish would give Mini when she already had excellent teeth and a great diet. The poor dentist didn’t answer. So that was that.

Midi patiently sat in the back of the car, singing along to Alanis Morissette (her choice) or chattering about the whichness of what for the 2.5 hours it took to get to the hospital. This was lovely for me, just listening to the crazed meanderings of the mind of my 5 year old. Normally she’s drowned out by Maxi’s bletherings.

The wee soul concentrated so hard during her hearing test that she held her breath and caught up with great big occasional gulping sighs. Her hearing was nearly perfect. Hooray! The consultant said her grommets are still in, but definitely on their way out. He wants to check on her hearing a few months after they fall out, so in 6 more months. Hmmm… in that case, could we could see a colleague of his nearer home instead, which he agreed to. Both me and Midi thanked him for everything he’d done over the past few years, and that was that! Midi had privately said that he was her “favourite doctor ever. Ever!”, but we didn’t tell him that; we’d already terrified one medical professional that day.

Straight after, we nipped into town for a swift zip round M&S Food to use up some vouchers on total rubbish: biscuits, coffee and Percy Pig sweets! Big treats! The irony of buying them after a dentist check-up wasn’t lost on me. The mum of one of Maxi’s friends saw us and said hello. I had a big pang of homesickness. Then we went to our favourite Elgin restaurant, Scribbles, for lunch and a lovely long catch-up with one of my friends. I was dying for the beef chilli melt but it wasn’t as good as in my memory (it was one of my cravings throughout my pregnancies with Midi and Mini).

Back to the old house, gulping back a lump in my throat throughout. I spent 3 hours mowing the lawn, weeding the front garden, pruning the bushes and generally tidying up, then filling the boot with warm clothes and bits and bobs that we needed. Meanwhile, Midi lay on the sofa gorging her eyes on real, live TV.

applesOne of our lovely neighbours nabbed me while I was mowing and came over with a huge bag of apples from her garden that she’d picked that morning. She’s been giving us tomatoes, plums and apples from her garden in autumn for years (can you see why I’m so sad to be leaving with such lovely friends and neighbours?!) so it was wonderful to take home one last bag.

Finally finished at 5pm, we set off for Midi’s biggest treat of the day – dinner at the all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant. She set off like a Queen, all tucked up in fleece blankets in the back seat with her toys artfully gathered around.

At the restaurant we ate enough for 7 people. Well, Midi is the daughter who most inherited my prodigious appetite for fried food. Actually, make that ‘any food’. Me, I just enjoyed chatting with her and eating lots of yummy stuff, whereas she got a real buzz out of being allowed a glass of lemonade, being allowed to fill her own plate and carry it to the table, not being told to hurry up. “It’s so great not having to talk over Maxi!” she giggled to me. “I can talk to you when I like and not save it all up”. After insisting that I sat beside rather than opposite her, she spent most of the meal hugging my arm to her chest, kissing me and telling me how much she loved me. I tell you, you can keep your candle-lit fancy dinners and fine wines – life doesn’t get much better than a good uncomplicated scoff and a giggle with your adoring daughter!

Sighing with a belly full of pleasure, I granted her ‘last, last, last, final’ wish of a lolly at the end and we waddled back to the car for the 2.5 hr drive back home through the dark, rain and fog. I thought Midi would have slept, but instead she chattered incessantly (most unlike her!) and kept me awake and free-ish from road rage.

Oh don’t even start me off – what is it with some people who drive aggressively because you’re driving under the speed limit when the road is wet and slippy? Don’t they realise that I don’t have a teleport device, so actually have to consider boring old-fashioned things like stopping distance…? I got home at 9pm, truly frazzled, especially when a weaving lorry must have thought my flashing indicator and brake lights were me just teasing him, and nearly shunted me on the right turn off the dual carriageway to the farmhouse. I hate that road…

She’s Got Those Autumnal Blues

Mini's latest scar, from a see-saw accident on Tuesday (sheesh)

Mini’s latest scar on her lip, from a see-saw accident on Tuesday (sheesh)

Mini Minx has been a wee bit under the weather the past few days: she’s had a crackly chest since Sunday, and sounded downright wheezy and rattly yesterday. Although she hadn’t got a fever or any pain, I took her to the GP. She’s just fine. I almost felt a little bit guilty taking the elder 2 out of school 15 minutes early so that I could make the only appointment available that day, which clashed at home-time, and in a different town to the girls’ school, but best not to be blase when it comes to littlies and their breathing.

So, although she’s ok, because the rattle and the raspy throat remain I decided to keep Mini off gymnastics yesterday and swimming today. Hmmm, what to do all morning before nursery, then? We both agreed that baking would be a very good past-time and that gingerbread or parkin would be just spot-on. Well, it would have been if I’d not run out of cinnamon… Doh.

We nipped out to the local shop to get something in for dinner instead. Have I told you that our nearest shop is a farm shop, and that it’s usually cheaper than the closest supermarket, and the quality is streets better? How smug do you think I feel about that? It’s a greedy-guts’ paradise! Local meat, fruits, veg, herbs, chutneys and pickles, cakes and bakery things, dairy produce, etc. etc. The lady who runs it is lovely and friendly. The dog and puppy there are friendly, and I’m sort of using them to try to help Mini stop panicking around dogs (distrust is ok. A tiny bit of fear is also not too bad. But panic is bad). We’re getting there. Slowly, but surely. She’ll now let the older, calm dog sniff her so long as I’ve got my arms around her, and so long as the dog sniffs then walks away disinterested.

Anyway, on the way back home, I was thinking about asking around where the best deciduous woods were to find colourful leaves at this time of year. At that moment, I noticed a little stand of trees that were starting to turn, and had little patches of yellow, orange and brilliant red. As I looked properly, I realised the trees were the ones in our back garden… OK, so now I’m feeling *super* smug, and it gives me an idea…

This afternoon, Maxi and Midi are staying late at school because their teacher is doing a leaf-printing activity with all the juniors: it’s the start of a series of outdoor after-school activities that they’ll be running. I tell you, this school is just getting better and better in my estimation! I saw a wee sheet on the wall last week, asking about the different ways you could tell how well you were doing. (It was phrased more succinctly than that; I forget, and I’m not having an eloquent day today. Sorry). And the morning tuck shop is selling great quality fruit for 10p a piece. Seriously! I think the cash I’ll save from buying the girls’ morning fruit snacks at tuck shop every day might cover lots of the diesel used driving them to and from home!

Anyway, the trees and the elder girls’ activity gave me an idea: let’s do leaf-printing with Mini! I won’t mind the mess. Too much. Ish.

Me: “What do leaves do in the autumn?”
Mini: “Sway inna trees and go WHOOOOOOooooooOOOO and whoosh and swish and…”.
Me: “Um. Yeeeeees… Em, do they change colour?”
Mini: “Yep. Dey go green an’ blue an’ purple”.
Me: “!”

leaf 1I took her outside and showed her the little colourful patches of leaves on the sycamores outside. See? Mostly green, then lots of yellow, and a bit of orange and a splash of red. Right? Right! We marched about with Foster Cat, collecting some different shaped leaves, then in to the dining room to get squidgy.

Mini had a great time mixing colours and handling the paint. She preferred to use the leaves as paintbrushes than to actually print with them, but hey-ho. I think she had a good time! Especially because I use her fleece top as an apron: covers more of her, keeps her warm and washes up easier than most aprons. Bonus!

leaf 2When she was finished, I decided to wrap up our activity ‘properly’. “Wow, what a beautiful colourful picture you’ve made! It’s of autumn leaves, isn’t it? What did we use to make it? (leaves) Yes, that’s right, real autumn leaves. And what colours do leaves go in autumn? (green and blue and purple) …. Oh I give up!” So we hit the biscuits instead 🙂

Guerrilla Gardening

Before the minxes came along, I was a very keen gardener. Each girl was proudly weaned on vegetables I’d grown myself, and I desperately looked forward to teaching each girl how to garden and raise her own fruit and vegetables. That was the dream… The reality? Oh, they love gardening all right! The mud, the dirt, the slugs and bugs, throwing earth around and splashing water on anything and everything. Why sow seeds when you can dump them in a pile, or even better, chuck the bothersome things over the cat instead? Why waste your time weeding when you can stamp over the whole lot of seedlings into one boggy mess?

After 7 years of this, I was finally ready to admit defeat. It just wasn’t fun for the kids being constrained and told exactly what to plant, where and how. It wasn’t fun for me having all my hard work destroyed wantonly. I realised that if I wanted big vegetable crops again, I’d need to do it all myself. Unless there was some halfway house..? One of my fellow bloggers over at the Little Trekkers Ambassadors blog patiently explained all about guerrilla gardening. It’s where you let your child do what they like with the vegetable bed. The idea is that if the seeds and seedlings are strong enough, they will grow regardless of whether they’re in straight, evenly spaced lines or crowded into a 2p piece size of ground. Gradually you can introduce the concept of spacing and sowing depth and nurturing to achieve bigger and better crops. Well, rather than have no home-grown veg at all, I decided to give it a try.

In spring, Mini raked most of the bottom 4 x 4ft veg bed onto the path, dumped an entire packet of carrot seeds, along with 2 packets of parsnips and a packet of beetroot, into the top right hand corner of the bed. She resisted my attempts to even rake them out a little. I didn’t think much of the little seeds’ chances as she rejected the watering can in favour of a big bucket of water. I sadly watched the few outlying seeds wash into the centre of the puddle of water and clump together. What a waste of 4 packets of seeds! They only gave Mini about 15 minutes of interest before she was off again, trying to throw snails at Killer Cat.

Fast-forward to August. On one of my visits home, I realised that the foliage was looking very green and verdant and carrot-like. Hmmm, we might actually get a few carrots! Only one beetroot had survived to seedling status, and maybe 6 or 7 parsnips. Yesterday I felt around the top of one carrot: 2″ diameter! Best get these babies out the ground… After washing all the dirt off and chopping off the greenery, Mini’s attempt at guerrilla gardening yielded 2.6kg of carrots. 2.6kg of carrots!!!

2.6kg of carrots!

2.6kg of carrots!

There was even a little bit of comedy…

Need a wee!

Need a wee!

And an awful lot of ugliness!

Ugly old beast. With a carrot

Ugly old beast. With a carrot

The ground didn’t have any additional fertiliser added this year, so I don’t think this forking has any cause other than simple overcrowding. Who knows, if we manage to sell and buy before spring, so are able to grow our own again in 2014, I will let the girls do their own thing with the seeds. But I will at least rake them out a little when they’re not watching!

Beauty and the Beast: guerilla gardening casualty

Beauty and the Beast: guerrilla gardening casualty