Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The things I learnt today

... that when you rush to work, leaving everything as per to the last minute - by which I mean loading the washing machine, feeding the dogs, rinsing the dishes so that there is a chance that the stay at home offspring will manage to wash them up properly much later in the morning, chucking bread ingredients into the bread maker so that the same offspring will have food for lunch, making hot chocolate for Littlest, taking the fed dogs out for a walk round the garden with poop-scoop toolage and wellies and a raincoat and actually remembering to eat breakfast and find vaguely matching, vaguely respectable attire that will vaguely 'do' for work - and you push the speed limit along country lanes to arrive on time. And you do arrive on time. Just. And after saying, "Hello," and "Isn't the weather awful?" the receptionist politely inquires, "You do know you start at nine?" And it's an hour earlier than nine. That salvation lies in a cup of freshly ground coffee and a cooling-off stroll in the rain.

... that little girls have the best sleep overs:  a pile of neatly arranged, chatted to and named cuddly toys; pizza; soft cushions; fluffy blankets and a film with popcorn and hot water bottles. The latter because ... well - it's England, it's nearly June and the temperature is at the average for January.

... that I haven't rabbit-proofed enough of the garden. That Four-legged-rabbit-killer-friend is only interested when they are little or lame and therefore not requiring of too great an effort to catch. That Bertie Baggins disdains all things rabbity - apart from the small round tasty brown treats they scatter about the garden. And that rabbits unfortunately don't eat weeds which means that I am definitely becoming more a fan of Mr McGregor than Peter Rabbit. Which is probably a sign of increasing years ...

... that I don't know the difference between inquire and enquire and have probably got it wrong and will have to look it up. Again. And more worryingly, I look at my title and fleetingly think, 'should it be learned' ... but it is late, I can barely focus on the screen, and I do know the answer to that one!

... that an earlier bedtime would be a good idea

Monday, 27 May 2013

Forgetfulness, weeding and acting dead

Every step I take; every move I make; I am watching ... for whatever it is that I've forgotten to do.

Every single day (must get this earworm out of my head!) for about a week, I've woken with the disconcerting conviction that I've missed a date in the diary (easy since I have two, plus a family calendar and husbad has a virtual one plus another on the study pin-board, which is exactly too many to cross reference or update or do anything sensible with at all in the manner of streamlining the family timetables, events and holidays - thank heavens for dentists and doctors who now text a few days before appointments just to remind you that once upon a time you declared yourself available for ten minutes in two days time, which is just time enough to check all the diaries and confirm, with the 'OK' text as requested).

Or perhaps I have failed to keep a promise; have betrayed a secret; mislaid something important or left something plugged in.

Maybe it's that meeting at school last week that I didn't know about, so it wasn't on the calendar, so I didn't attend, because I hadn't looked at the school diary.

Probably it's another party invitation, fluttered at me while I was driving home from school, and now lying in the car's foot well with several other unreplied-to party invitations, making me the nightmare mother who never replies and has to be chased with embarrassing emails which try to be polite but you can tell are typed with fingers stiffened by the fury of having to chase the ungrateful and rude non-responder (me!)

I've tried building-up little-things-misplaced but my attempts at self-delusion have failed and presented with all the little-things-forgotten the feeling that they are eclipsed by the something more significant grows. Will the feeling pass? Or will I discover something truly dreadful? I guess I'll have to wait and see.

Oh dear ...

And talking about dear or deer ... Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins nearly caught one. I very nearly had to face the unpleasant question of what to do with a caught, chewed, broken and exceedingly frightened muntjac deer. The fencing in our garden is more rabbit and deer proof than of old - which is not difficult as the 'old' was in a fallen over state and had to be replaced in order to contain two give-us-a-chance-and-we'll-chase-every-passing-cyclist/tractor/runner/post-man/pedestrian-especially-pedestrians-being-walked-by-their-dogs dogs. But this has the now obvious disadvantage that once in the garden the muntjac deer is also contained. Muntjac deer can jump at a post and rail fence but not through the attached chicken-wire. They can't jump over the now erect fence. And they don't fit through the rabbit-sized holes in the wire. Had I previously got around to hacking out some thick bramble, the deer would have had nowhere to hide. Instead it dived into the prickles and the dogs suddenly became interested in the bread I had been telling them about for the past three minutes. Maybe 'yelling them about ' would be more accurate.

So the muntjac deer was grateful for my tardiness in the garden ... have I forgotten to do something there? No - not got round to it yet ... yes! Forgotten it ... not as far as I am aware.

In an attempt to be a little less garden-tardy, I have spent the weekend weeding i.e. rescuing plants from the chokers - grasses, buttercup and ground elder. If I pioneered the gardening of weeds in borders and it caught on, my garden pre-weeding would be quite a show-piece!

Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins have been gardening too - standing on the flower bed and sometimes entirely within the bushes; running off with the short hoe (it has a deliciously crunchy wooden handle) and stealing weeds out of the bucket. Evidently such gardening activity is so exhausting - or perhaps it's the unaccustomed heat of the sun when your winter coat can't decide if the weather of recent weeks is saying moult or thicken-up; or maybe it's the sleep of those stuffed to the brimming belly-full with weeds - that it renders these gardeners so prostrate that they looked like acting-dead extras in a shoot-em-quick movie.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Tiger burning the bright young things

Sorry. Herein follows a bit of a rant. But there haven't been any rants for a while, so it's overdue.

At long last American research has revealed that Tiger mothers are dangerous. Not dangerous as in the George Dubyah I'm-a-bit-unhinged-and-none-to-clever-an'-bein'-a-tad-trigger-happy-could-start-world-war-three-at-the-touch-of-a-button type of dangerous, but dangerous as in insidiously damaging like a canker that slowly grows on a tree and gradually throttles it.

Phew! Non-Tiger mums and dads (usually mums) can relax, safe in the knowledge that gentle support, a lot of love, understanding and encouragement is really all that our little darlings need. And we may bask in the reassurance that our darlings will be more inclined to darling rather than devilish behaviour if we treat them this way. Which is after all the way of reason and the sensible, in proportion approach that we have known to be right for years but haven't dared name, lest we were labelled the parents who didn't care.

We've all witnessed the Tiger-burnt child - over-tired, stressed and anxious - who throws a tantrum, erupting with volcanic fury at the prospect of another music lesson, on top of the tutorial and then tennis club session, that followed the end of the school day and the Tiger parent ragged with exhaustion and fretting over their child's lack of ambition who loses their temper and shouts at the little monster. Who will be a little monster - confused on the one hand by spoiling in the form of performance related treats and on the other by proper unforgivable spoiling driven by the belief that they are better than all their peers - of course they are, because that's what Mummy tells them every day.

Far better to have happy children. Ones that know they are loved even when they are not top of the class. But who also know the pleasure of announcing their own small victories - scoring a complete rounder; passing their music exam with a much better score than expected; having their painting put up in the school hall - because they know it will make their parents proud. Because it did the last time. And it will again the next time.

The place the Tiger mother's children ultimately go is bleak. With disappointment at every point of life's compass. They are never good enough at anything; have lost their confidence through its repeated wringing out and don't know how to be happy. Yes, they might through either hard work, or if exceedingly fortunate genes, attain a place at a top university but at what cost? Yes, the Tiger parent will be ecstatic: job done! But what of the child, suddenly cast adrift, who is as lost as the 'lifer' recently released from prison - neither used to making decisions for themselves? And the bond between parent and child - what will remain of that? How often will the child return home? Will it know how to make friends - one's that aren't chosen for it? And will it dare to introduce those friends to the Tiger parent lest the claws of jealousy and competition come out. Again. Do they rebel? I quietly hope that they do. If Aesop were writing today, I reckon the Tiger mother and her offspring would provide good substance for a cautionary fable.

It is far, far better not to be tigers and to live with our children rather than vicariously through them.

So celebrate their victories but enjoy their mistakes too: Littlest is learning the capital cities of Europe - her first attempt at the capital of Portugal produced "Lesbian."

Monday, 13 May 2013

Doggy diversity and lorry drivers

How can two dogs - of similar size, the same breed, and the littler one being nephew to the older one - be so different in their attitudes to so much?

Take for example grass cutting. We are basically surrounded by a mossy field with some hedge-like planting around the edges  Cutting what grass hasn't been strangled by the moss would be a long and arduous task with a push-along mower, so we have a mulching tractor that we sit upon and drive. Top speed is enough to make any following dog break into a gentle trot. Any following dog being Four-legged-friend who faithfully trots after me, along-side me and in front of me in ever decreasing circles. Yes! - circles. I am not in possession of that peculiar trait that would turn lawn-mowing into an obsession with stakes to mark out the tractor turning points at the verges (I kid you not!) and precision cutting in straight lines with impressive displays of fretting when the lines become wavy ... namely a Y-chromosome. Circles do me fine!

Back to Four-Legged-Friend following me round and round and round - does he think I might stop and pluck some delicious food from my pocket; or suddenly tire of juddering along and stop to play; or is he worried and trying to find a way of saving me from the noisy beast that has clearly captured me and is threatening to carry me off? Perhaps it is the latter which would explain his perverse and dangerous habit of being on my right when I want to turn right, on my left ... you can see where this is going! ... when I want to turn left, and behind when I recklessly throw it into reverse. Stupid or brave...?

Bertie Baggins on the other hand sits and watches. Chews a bone. Watches. Nods off. Wakes and gets up to drop bits of bone, chewed flower pot and sticks in the path of the tractor. Then watches as I stop; switch off; climb down; fend off my over-excited rescuer; pick up the obstacle and hurl it at him. As I start up again he adopts a puzzled (or is it patronizing?), wrinkled-brow expression as if thinking 'Why is my uncle exhausting himself chasing the garden tractor when we all know mum's not in mortal peril. And she will return it to its stable later. And lock the door. It doesn't threaten her existence, nor ours - it'll still be tea-time when she's finished and she manages to feed us even when dizzy from riding the monster.'

What has this got to do with lorry drivers (see title) - specifically not wanting to be a lorry driver? Littlest announced in the car, on the way to school "I would rather be a lorry driver than a doctor. And I really don't want to be a lorry driver." Hmm ... do I have to point out the obvious? That her parents are not lorry drivers!

A moth like an owl

Wonderful is not the adjective I would normally choose to describe the word moth. Put me in a room with an agitated, light-obsessed, dusty, fluttering creature of the night and I will be ducking and diving and covering my head and making distressed noises like 'EeeK!' and 'Ooh!'

I do not like them.

I dislike the way they bounce around at face height. I dislike their lack of sonar guided obstruction avoidance. I dislike their dust in my hair and on my fingers. I hate their larval holes in my jumpers.

I could come over all Dr Seuss-like at this point and say "I do not like them late at night, I do not like them round my light, I do not like them on a wall, I do not like them - not at all. I do not like them with my lunch, I do not like their bitter crunch, I do not like their hairy nose, But I like their squish 'neath stamping toes!"

But this one ...

I have to admit - helped by being outside (light-bulb-less and ceiling-less) - that it is rather wonderful. Look at what evolution did to its wings. Imagine you are a hungry garden bird and you just saw some suspiciously moth-like fluttering in a neighbouring tree. You fly over to take a closer look and ... Woah! Sheltered by some twiggy branches and some leaves, there's an owl and its staring straight at you. Time to escape, fast!

See what I mean by wonderful. An Emperor moth (and its eggs), in the garden, on Bank Holiday Monday.

Okay ... that was a week ago. Procrastinating as per.

The 'eggs' are still in situ. Littlest is waiting for the caterpillars to hatch. I'm wondering which of the nearby plants will be their dinner - the appetite to create a moth that large must be voracious. Should I be concerned? While I'm not about to destroy the eggs, I anticipate an 'I told you so' moment with myself, when confronted by the sorry sight of a shrub devoid of its leaves. And another 'I told you so moment' when the first emperor moth baby gets stuck inside the house. Hmmm ... a quick spray with something toxic? No! Absolutely not. Littlest is fascinated to see what happens and if I am honest I confess to some interest in it too. Where do you find out about moth egg gestation times? Will the caterpillars appear at night? What will they look like?

Time for Littlest to do some research.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Fat dog and a rhubarb crumble

Four-legged-friend needs to go on a diet. He is perfectly happy with the expanding-waistline-due-to-excess-food situation; oblivious apparently that his lack of enthusiasm for games of chase or fetch is attributable to his heaviness and resulting slow gait; and ready to top up his constant insatiated appetite with the occasional geriatric rabbit. We on the other hand, unfairly compare him with his nephew who is slight of frame and fast and bounces.

Four-legged-friend has never bounced. To be fair he has a huge head and a big barrel chest, but his girth currently resembles a mare heavy with foal.

It is not helped by his recent propensity for discovering unopened sacks of dog food. And ripping them open. And gorging himself.

I guess he could be hypothyroid or have worms. I suspect however that it is simply greed. And a limitless, Labrador lust for food

He eats everything - from rabbit droppings, to potato peelings, to wellington boots, to leather shoes. They make a good team: nimble criminal mastermind, Baggins, steals the bounty and by devious skulking in corners,  and hiding behind the furniture, delivers it to the boss, FLF. Who promptly puts it in a safer place, from where it can't be retrieved without a lot of mess.

I have failed in the eyes of the shoe-protection-league, but my fence around the rhubarb has allowed it to recover from repeated over-zealous canine chewing. With the result that we had our first rhubarb crumble of the year.

Gluten-free rhubarb and strawberry crumble:

Pull, de-leaf, clean and chop rhubarb into 1cm pieces (ignore the pulling and de-leafing bit,  if you bought it). Scatter across base of a deep-sided oven dish.
Clean and chop strawberries. Scatter over rhubarb pieces.
Half an orange and squeeze juice over the fruit.

In a separate bowl, mix equal parts of A and B, where A is gluten free flour, plus gluten free porridge oats, plus ground almonds and B is a mixture of demerara sugar and soft brown sugar. Add a little cinnamon powder.
To this bowl, add melted butter.

You need enough so that the mixture resembles sticky breadcrumbs when fully mixed. You can use your hands to mix, but I prefer a large spoon.

Lightly sprinkle the crumble mix over the fruit. Fork over it gently to break up any large clumps. Don't press down.

Bake uncovered in the oven at 180deg for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove when top is crunchy and golden.

Serve with custard or really good vanilla ice cream and a generous portion of friends.

Friday, 3 May 2013

An odd sense of humour and swimming all the way to Calais

An indicator perhaps of my odd sense of humour, this footpath sign always makes me smile -

Choices - path to left or right. Or straight to heaven.

... Yes - I know the 'up' is meant to indicate straight ahead, but that's not what I see, or think, when I walk by. Which I do frequently. Is 'walking on by' another way for a procrastinator to plough ahead - safer walking the worn path of blind-faith-in-sameness: same avoidance of decisions, same putting everything off, same not straying to embark on a new path in case that new path disappoints or throws up new challenges which would then have to be avoided, buried, and lost in the mountainous to-do-pile. Hmmm - this procrastinator is going to change. The list of jobs is too long to ignore, the consequences too hard to bear, and the fear of failure diminished a little, by some hopefully not too transient positive thinking.

I spent this morning explaining positive thinking to Littlest who styles herself "the worst swimmer in the school." And ...

Huh! This procrastinator has not veered off the path of putting-EVERYTHING-off-until-I-don't-know ... tomorrow? Tomorrow seems so soon! The above was started three - yes! THREE! - days ago. And not finished. Looked at. Read. Mulled over. Several times. But not finished. No effort expended whatsoever in straying off the procrastinating path into a fresh territory called the land of getting-things-done.

Huh! Indeed.

Where was I before I interrupted myself?

Littlest. And swimming ...

She has worried all week about her swim-a-thon event this afternoon. Her league at school were due to swim to raise money for charity and some of her friends had gathered sponsorship for "lots of lengths". For her, it would be an achievement to swim two. The shame! She wondered if she might be able to have the day off school - perhaps suffering from swimming-pool-itis. She's not called Littlest for nothing. And when little, it is hard to swim as fast or as strong as your peers.

Swimming-pool-itis being a 'disease' absent from ICD-10, the current international classification of disease, we didn't feel able to cite it as a valid excuse for missing school, so we duly sponsored her - an amount of money to be paid, regardless of number of lengths, if she swam at all.

She seemed happy with this. Until she read the blurb on the sponsorship sheet. Her league intended to swim 'from Dover to Calais, about 22 miles.' And she went to bed muttering "I can't do that" and dreaming of being tossed into the English Channel and being told to 'swim for France.'

She came home this evening, a very happy and unusually assertive bunny ... or fish, having just swum twenty-two lengths of the school pool!!
Aren't we relieved that we didn't sponsor her per length!!!