Sunday, 28 April 2013

Bubbles, boys and bananas

What is round; rainbow coloured; floats out of Littlest's hand; runs away in a bobbing, up and down, teasing manner; can be chased; and is most unsatisfying and unwholesome when eaten?


These pictures were taken shortly before Bertie Baggins and Four-legged-friend discovered an unopened bag of dog food in the garage. And opened it.
Of course.
And being Labradors with absolutely no idea of when enough is enough, they ate and ate. And gorged themselves on dry dog biscuits, which are now expanding in their tummies, making them thirstier than normal and rendering them prostrate on the floor in a stretched-out, tummy-hurting, bloated and drunk-with-food sleepy state.

They are not even interested in the roast dinner!

I'd be deluding myself - wouldn't I - if I thought they might learn from their greed? I must resolve to be a better dog mummy and ensure the transit time for sacks of dog food from car boot to utility room cupboard must be shorter and not include an unattended sojourn at dog nose level.

Best thing to do with overripe bananas? - Make banana bread. I am sure there are lots of alternatives, banana ice cream is pretty good, banoffee pie fairly spectacular but banana bread, especially one with rum-soaked sultanas is hard to beat. Unbeatable in fact! First rule is to follow a tried and much-trusted recipe (I first made this in 2002 according to my scribble down the side of the page).

'Tried' as in many times before and 'trusted' as in hasn't gone wrong yet ... which where cake baking is involved, in my house, with an oven of unpredictable temperature, has to be acknowledged as the mark of a pretty fantastic recipe. I am not sure if I can say here who the recipe is by, or in which of my legion of cook books it appears - suffice to say that the lady in question tweeted about the coffee version of her banana bread recently. Try it, if you can find it. Enjoy!

I may be breaking even more rules with what follows but ... assuming you find her recipe and if you require it to be gluten free (which we do), simply substitute gluten free flour, add a teaspoon of xanthum gum (helps to bind the GF flour) and try using soft brown sugar - the result will be a banana bread that tastes of banana toffee. Wonderful! We had it for Sunday pudding with vanilla ice cream and strawberries. Mmmm!

Just in case anyone is concerned, both dogs appear to be fine. Happily snoring. Paws twitching ... probably remembering the excitement of ripping into plastic and being rewarded with lots of crunchy biscuits ...

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Four-legged-friend and the night patrol

Picture this - dusk; last birds crescendoing into their twilight chorus; Littlest in bed; glass of wine poured; dinner (almost) in the oven; teenager engaging with arias at the piano; Bertie Baggins heavy-lidded, creeping, body close to the floor in case we see him, towards his desired destination curled up against the Aga; last jobs of the day in hand - laundry being folded and mis-matched socks paired; idle chatter or none at all - peace has indeed descended ... on the household inside.

Outside, Four-legged-friend is gearing his voice up for the night bark, the need to let the world out there know that 'I'm here, this is a dog-protected haven and I AM THE PROTECTOR! So jolly-well go and create your mischief somewhere else. There will be no mischief-making on my watch.' If I go outside and shout at him, it either panics him because suddenly his mum is outside and she above all (as principle provider of sustenance) needs to be kept safe, or he thinks I'm joining in and the volume increases. Only when I mention the prospect of a carrot-end, or bit of broccoli-stalk, does the barking cease and he comes inside, huffing and puffing like an elderly colonel, and spluttering carroty spittle all over the sleepy, young  upstart, Bertie Baggins.

A friend suggested that the other man of the house should take Four-legged-friend out on a lead and calmly walk the boundary. Every night. In the dark. Thereby, relieving Four-legged-friend of the burden of being top dog. Apparently, their golden retriever adopted this leader-of-the-pack mentality when they brought their puppy home and the accompanied night patrol cured him of his barking and pacified their neighbours. We don't have any neighbours. And that man-to-man night walk is never going to happen in this house. So Four-legged-friend will go on with his slightly nervous dusk patrol - he always seems to be a bit too relieved to come inside. Especially, when a distant fox starts coughing back at him.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

A bird in the bush inspires two drawn by hand.

Spring is ...


Sprung. Springing. Filling our days with longer light. Rubbing in the fact that the neglected garden can be neglected no more. Accelerating toward frost-free days when we can plant and restore our privacy where the old hedge was removed in the autumn. Revealing sadly what has drowned, frozen, or given-up the fight to live over the winter. And filling the garden with song.

Fling open the music room doors and sing A Little Fall Of Rain to the daffodils; maybe the willow catkins would like some Bernstein; or the primulae something from Moulin Rouge? But it's not just Littlest and siblings who are in lively voice, step outside and listen to the birds. They are falling over themselves to attract mates; show off about it when they have and establish their territory. The nest building that follows is a comparatively quiet affair.

This pair of long-tailed tits, called Lottie and Louis by Littlest (we vetoed Boob1 and Boob2!!) are nesting outside the kitchen window

I feel a Spring birdwatching project in the air ... sitting in the kitchen window and spying is a start

Tits of the long-tailed variety are sometimes called bottle-tits - not because of a partiality to tipples, night caps or milk bottle tops - but due to the oval shape of their nests which have such a small entrance that the adults have to fold their tail feathers over their heads just to squeeze inside. And all built out of cobweb and animal fur and moss. Littlest drew a bird-themed doodle -

The dogs are also enjoying the longer days. And earlier mornings (groan) when they most definitely become mine. Shorter night's sleep necessitates more time asleep during the day ... only for those without a family to run and no care but "Is mum sufficiently awake to remember to feed us?" Here they are, horizontal, hugging (or is that too anthropomorphic?) and not nesting, but nest-l-ing

And finally, Littlest, who didn't totally understand the mating, nesting, nestling scenario, wondered why she had a stick. And in particular, "Why have I got the wrong end of it? Where's the right end? Has someone else got that?"

Monday, 15 April 2013

Piles and piles

When is a pile not a pile?

I guess it depends what type of pile is being considered.

In this case, it is Littlest's assertion - the day before she goes back to school - that she is the only one in her class who returns at the start of term unencumbered by a mini-mountain, or small library of books, that represents her holiday literacy effort. She "loves reading" but to say she reads at a glacial pace might imply an element of speed that is distinctly lacking.

What she "loves" is a good story with interesting characters that might do adventurous things and meet real monsters and travel to exciting places and need strange and inventive clothes and perhaps a decorated cardboard box or two to live in and several pets to care for and exotic food to eat and ... was there a book? Really? Her imagination is fertile and terribly time consuming. She reads and dreams.

I am NOT advocating a war on dreams. I never would. If a child can't indulge her fantasies who can?

Imagination is a very human gift; it is perhaps what makes us different from all other animals. But the human animal is gifted with it, in very differing proportions - proportions that affect not only its expression, but also, whether or not its expression is appreciated. Clearly, Littlest is endowed with galleons laden with a rich treasure of imagination, on which to sail away and would do so happily for days and days and extending into weeks i.e. the whole holiday. Sometimes, reality steals into the dream and becalms the ships and insists on homework, piano practice ... and reading. Hopefully though, it will never engineer a ship-wreck.

Becalmed on a sea of help-its-school-tomorrow-and-I'd-really-like-to-try-to-have-a-pile-of-books, Littlest read and read and read and now has a pile of three !!! books. And she has started a fourth. It is a very small pile - no thousand chapter bricks here - but nonetheless, it is definitely a pile, which she can carry in to school tomorrow, while feeling justly proud of herself ... and dreaming of a Milne-Morpurgo-Dahl-Cowell mish-mash adventure, featuring a dragon-riding, sullen, old donkey, who rescues a diminutive tortoise from the playful grip of a lion, who would far rather eat sausages.

You can award yourself a prize if you can name all four books - an imaginary one, of course.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Balls, boys and bouncing

It's been a busy week.

There ... too clich├ęd; too lame? ... the most impoverished of all poor excuses - "I've been busy." So anyone left dangling on a thread of anxiety for Bertie Baggins and his unfortunate post-op complication, has had to wait.

And wait. While I marshalled children - feeding them, laundering their clothes, listening to their revision woes - and worked to earn the cash for their keep.

Makes it sound like I don't like the holidays. However, the opposite is true. I have never been able to relate to the type of parent who gets stressed at the thought of having their child/ren home for a full 24 hours, or worse, for several 24 hour stretches in a row. They are usually the ambitious must-fill-every-waking-second-of-little-George-or-Daisy's-day-with-something-deeply-meaningful. (Apologies, if I have temporarily forgotten that I know someone with a child called George or Daisy, I am not referring to you!) These are sometimes called 'helicopter parents' - zooming around frantically with their children and descending to interfere in all their little life experiences - and are easily identified. They are the I-work-all-day-and-provide-a-taxi-service-all-evening-and-on-top-of-that-have-to-do-my-child's-maths-so-that-we-don't-lose-that-top-of-the-class-record-and-yes-I'm-knackered-but-it's-all-worth-it-because-we-have-a-top-university-in-our-sights parents. This obsession starts when the child starts pre-school and finishes when the parent or child or both suffers a melt-down.

Helicopter parents, pre-meltdown, hate holidays, consider pyjama-days the invention of evil-barely-literate-children's-television-broadcasters who push slothful behaviour on the vast majority of normal semi-neglected children, whose parents don't care enough and are out there getting a life of their own, and function entirely through the dictatorship of the Family Holiday Timetable. Honestly. These exist. Well ... at least one did. I saw it, a few years ago - four neat columns; hour-long slots; headings and stickers - music practice, lunch, see to the rabbits, homework, reading, different musical instrument practice, tennis lesson, learning times tables, swimming etc.... and not one minute for the necessities of life - what if you linger in the loo, distracted by a magazine? (Actually, the eldest child was seven and the only reading material in the toilet was a back issue of the Financial Times ... guess where Dad went to escape the tyranny of his column on the timetable). Would tardiness result in a knocking on effect, with the next hour starting at say, five past? As they got older, I wonder if the children challenged each other to see which could go most off-timetable? How far they could stretch a walk to the tennis lesson? How many times "I got a puncture" would delay getting home in time for music practice? And what happened if they were invited to a (time rich, experience poor) party? Needless to say, they were exhausting to know and we didn't keep in touch. I don't think they approved of our more relaxed if-they-want-to-play-with-lego-it's-not-the-perfect-opportunity-for-an-engineering-lesson and painting-is-all-about-getting-paint-on-our-all-day-pyjamas-and-the-table-and-the-floor (more Jackson Pollock than Rembrandt when you think about it and a lot more fun) and listening-to-music-other-than-classical-won't-rot-their-brains attitude.

This holiday has been all about exam preparation, essay writing, composition and a sickly puppy but I love having my kids home. Always have and always will.

When they go, as Eldest did today (back to Uni and exam term), I hug them, walk around for a few days with the empty space left by their absence and then look forward to the next time. When they come back home.

Anyway, as a device for conveying how busy I was last week, my over-lengthy paragraph is either irritating, because you still don't know how Bertie Baggins is, or particularly apt in a slow procrastinating way that illustrates just how long my week felt.

So ... drum-roll (this will make no sense at all to someone visiting this blog for the first time! ... thus a rapid summary of the situation: Bertie Baggins - male (obviously!) puppy; lost his balls and subsequently his inclination to jump, 10 days ago, due to a massive post-op haematoma) ...

Still swollen, still sore, but definitely got his bounce back. 

Dogs don't need balls to fly ...

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Death, dying, legacies and lampshades

How do you want to be remembered? Is it something you worry about?

Once you are gone, does it even matter?

We spend our lives (or I spend mine ...) worrying about what other people think. And at the end of our lives ... maybe we worry about how people will remember us. Some want to do something monumental like become the first female prime minister, win a war, and leave the world with a political '-ism' while others are simply happy if they live on fondly ... in a few people's memories ... for a while. Ever Googled yourself? It's soul destroying, unless you are an actor or famous author or politician or sportsman or ... or .... or ... but if you are just plain old you, you might get a couple of mentions if you have been in the right place at the right time and are very lucky, or you may just not be there at all.

I suspect that most of us would like to leave something. Something solid, tangible, something that shows you mattered. What would you like to leave?

A book, an invention, art, a sporting record, a beautiful garden, trees, a piece of music, a computer programme ... or is this too much like chasing rainbows? Why not be content with what we have? And concentrate on that. We can take our loves and frienships with us (in the sense that our love lives on and continues in those we leave behind) but we can't take any of our possessions.

So on 'Death, dying and legacies,' if we live well now, we will have something to leave behind, and we won't have to worry about it because we'll be too busy living well and that in itself will make a legacy that is good enough.

Where do the 'lampshades' of the title enter this argument? If you were waiting for a light-bulb moment, I am sorry to disappoint. Except, that I had time to ponder all the above because of a lampshade, and the very slow amble that I took round the garden in the company of the lampshade.

The "lampshade" is Littlest's name for the collar around Bertie Baggins's neck, which is there to prevent him licking raw his immensely swollen nether regions, after his "nappy" was removed by the vet.

I now know where the expression 'hang dog' comes from - Bertie spent much of the morning standing, shoulders hunched, back slightly arched, hind legs widely spaced, tail curled between his legs, with his head hanging forward and nose pointing at the ground = pure dejection. Whenever he moved, he got stuck. He appeared unable to see his front paws, walking with an exaggerated high step. When we took him outside, it was windy and he became a wind sock. It took him 'til lunchtime to figure out that he could lie down. Walking hurt, sitting hurt. Eating however was okay - grass, bits of bread out of hands, a funny hard thing (anti-inflammatory pill) wrapped in ham, and food from a bowl, held a few inches above the ground.

Particularly perplexing was the moment the bowl levitated, stuck on the edge of the lampshade, with the food out of reach of even Bertie's long tongue:

Am I still feeling guilty? 

Umm - yes.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Bertie Baggins has lost his bounce

Oh dear.

One castrated puppy and four trips to the vet in two days has resulted in a collective feeling of guilt. Hmmm ... I'm wondering to what extent it is collective, or if this may be an example of where the dogs suddenly become mine and I therefore have sole responsibility and ALL the guilt?

I guess some of you reading this may perhaps quite reasonably think "So you should be, that's a despicable thing you just did to your pet" and ... I partially agree, but he was becoming increasingly randy and more aggressive in his play and castration is meant to 'calm him down' - a sort of life-time-cold-shower. Also, in the negotiation process of relentless nagging, persuasion and final acquiescence that was involved in first acquiring a pet, it was a condition of getting male dogs - along the lines of 'we can have males, if we get them done, so that we don't have any humping of trouser legs and furniture.' Well, right now, Bertie Baggins will not be humping anything. He is feeling incredibly sorry for himself and we are feeling incredibly sorry for him.

All at first looked good. Post-op, he was drowsy in a gentle, drunken, I-think-I'll-fall-asleep-standing-up way. The swelling between his legs was plum sized. Two hours later it was the size of an orange and oozing - too much information? Sorry! And what's with all the fruit comparisons? Just painting the full guilt-ridden picture and medics have always sized lumps and bumps in terms of fruits. Or vegetables.

Drowsy dog, bloody orange and me tootled back to the vet. Bertie Baggins was trussed and sent home.

Poor wee man -

This is truss mark five. One (the blue one) was applied overnight with a planned review on Saturday morning. Two and three fell off at the vets. Four fell off within minutes of getting home and five was applied after a further anaesthetic ... and quite possibly after the young on-call vet had had time to look up how to apply a scrotal truss to a dog, during the time it took us to get home, help Bertie Baggins out of the car, pull up the fourth truss that by then was round his knees and subsequently pick it up off the floor after he stepped out of it, phone the vet and drive back for her next attempt. She was successful (it's still in place) but about four hours later, the poor wee man developed withdrawal tremors from the anaesthetic, which were more distressing for us than for him - he was so tired and discombobulated by then, that a bit of shakiness must have just blended in with the rest of his nightmare. 

Am I conveying how guilty I feel?

Not quite convinced ... let me clinch it then ...

While Littlest's opinion on the impending castration was amusing "It's lucky people don't do that to their sons," her tearful reaction post-op was heart-breaking "Will I never get my bouncy Bertie back?"

I have promised her that he'll fly again one day soon. 

It may take a while before jumping is comfortable - the landing of a bounce might hurt and the extra ballast at the rear may prevent the attainment of previous heights.

If you can judge the well-being of a dog from how animated he is (which I think you can, even without anthropomorphising his slightly disgruntled, still baffled, innocent you-did-this-to-me-so-love-me-more expression), Bertie Baggins is feeling better today. The anaesthetic has of course worn off, too.

There is no point in pondering "Would I have had this done if I could have forseen the complications?" because what is done is done. But the answer anyway, is that I don't know. Maybe, I'll have an opinion less clouded by guilt, in a few days.

Monday, 1 April 2013

A cappella, unseasonal attire and chocolate brownies

Littlest has an Easter holiday project to complete. For an English exam next term. She's nine. She coped with her recent piano exam (scoring 135) thanks to her "spiders," so perhaps she can draw on a bit of that calmness-under-pressure, when delivering her prepared presentation. Which is about 'a cappella' - her choice, influenced by her position as smallest fan of her brother's university group and encouraged by her teacher, who won't have to endure another talk titled 'My Pet.' Perhaps we can 'sell' it to her as a performance rather than English homework ...

Parents (we have a homework sheet, too) are to encourage, assist, film (!), supervise, but absolutely not to do their children's projects for them. Hmm ... only once to my knowledge have I been accused of doing my child's project and when I heard second hand what had apparently been said, I wanted to march up to the silly, little man in question and point out to him that, apart from buying the raw materials, I was not involved at all in the project's manufacture. Except, that I don't do confrontation. Without embarrassing myself. So I didn't. Although, I do still get to call him a 'silly, little man.'

Coffee at hand, Littlest and I tackle her to do list. Obviously, however, I'm a dinosaur and times have moved on: 'to do lists' are things of the past. 'Mind maps' are the way to organise your work, now.

A mind map comprises lots of cloud shaped bubbles with writing inside, joined by lines that skewer several clouds, linking them into a web that grows increasingly complex until it bursts off the page. Next, the page is calmly folded, then crumpled, then angrily twisted and thrown onto the floor, where it is seized by Bertie Baggins, who promptly runs off with it and another mind map is started, on another piece of paper ... I go off to find the sellotape, as A4 is clearly too small.

I tentatively interrupt the drawing of clouds, "Your talk will need a beginning, a middle and an end." Littlest is motionless - still concentrating on the clouds? Mind drifted off on another cloud to somewhere entirely else? Or still deaf because she has a temperature, her ears hurt and she is wearing ear muffs?

"You need a summary. At the end," I add, loudly. Nothing. I note that she is writing, so the day dream scenario is wrong.

"What can you put in your summary?" I half shout. Ah! Eye-contact! At last. But she is frowning. She is disconcertingly accomplished at the 'poor mother, what are you on about now' tone of face. "Your summary," I say. "No, I'm not," she replies. "These clothes aren't summery at all. They're pyjamas!"

We move on - still dressed in pyjamas, but with the addition of a coat - from mind maps, to the greenhouse and some paint-brush-aided-pollination of the apricot blossom.

Littlest gets to play at being a bee -

And later, I get to nudge, cajole and promise to do the washing up if middle daughter will bake some of her famous gluten free chocolate brownies - the ones that we ate on the tube into London last week, on our way to an end of term a cappella concert; the same ones that were later enjoyed by the singers; and exactly the ones that I want to enjoy with some rich vanilla ice cream later.

I can but hope. And dream.

Maybe, if I prepared a chocolate brownie mind map .... ?