Saturday, 27 April 2013

52 Weeks of Happy 30/50

Joining in belatedly with Jen at  little birdie and loads of other bloggers with this lovely project.  So my four happies this week:

Getting a unexpected £5 voucher when paying for my petrol and spending it on scented lilies.  Kitchen filled with the heady perfume all week.

Rare night out catching up with my mum friends at new Porta tapas bar in Chester

Seeing my first butterflies of the year. A peacock basking in the sun on patio and two others - tortoiseshells, I think, dancing with each other as we walked the dog across the field.

Warm greeting from our lovely Irish Terrier every time I come home.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

World Book Night Giveaway: 'Noughts and Crosses' by Malorie Blackman


It's World Book Night and I applied and have been selected to give away 23 copies of my chosen book to as wide a selection of people as possible.  I picked this book for young adults which I read last year. Not for younger kids, but suitable for those aged 13 up.  I enjoyed it a lot, though found the ending a bit harrowing. Here's a quote from the Guardian review - a bit pushed for time to write my own.

'The first book in a superb trilogy of discrimination and injustice, set in a world where black is right and white is wrong, comes the story of two lovers, fighting against the world to be together. Sephy (daughter of one of the leading Crosses) and Callum (a lowly Nought, whose mother was Sephy's nanny) are two best friends who eventually fall in love, and their journey together as they try to pick up the pieces after a bomb goes off.'

So far I've managed to give away just one copy - to a traffic warden doing a survey in the local library.  But I'm going out tonight with some mums who have teens so I will take some copies with me.

So I've got two copies to anyone out there who would like to read this book themselves or to pass it on to a teen.  Just leave a comment if you want to join in.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Salad Days

I hate those nasty plastic bags of supermarket salad with too much spinach and half-dead droopy leaves.   So this year I'm determined to grow my own:  after all I'm a farmer's daughter and know about this stuff. A couple of years ago I had great success with my veg patch, using a method called square foot gardening.

Indestructable rhubarb
But the last two years have been less successful - the cold and wet here in the north west left my patio tomatoes hard and green and the surviving lettuce slug ridden.  I have only managed to grow two things : the rhubarb which as you can see above is emerging again and my chive plant which seems indestructable.

So this year I have done everything by the book. Compost has been dug into the bed; seeds planted indoors until the soil warms up.  The seedlings look a bit leggy, probably because I didn't use proper seed compost. Not so sure about all the thinning out and hardening off business so have bought a couple of ready planted trays from B&Q just in case it all goes wrong.

The rocket seems to grow the fast

Peas also doing well

Sunday, 21 April 2013

April is Blog lovin' month: me and my favourite blogs

As a new blogger I feel a bit like the new girl in school.  I've been trying to find my place in the blogging community, to build up some followers and exchange comments with others.   I've had limited success and  this week has been particularly disappointing as only a few readers have looked at the posts I carefully composed last weekend.  So have been considering abandoning this particular inspired folly and deleting the lot.  But reading through my posts I've decided not to do this.  Even if it's just for me, this is a record of a particular time.  And I like recording.  I have twenty years of journals, recording events and my thoughts on them a daily or more often a weekly basis.  I'm still doing this - it's a very different from this online journal which is inevitably an edited version of my life.

One of the reasons I haven't found my niche in the blogging community is that fact that I don't really fit neatly into any category.  My first posts were about fashion, mainly because the blogs I discovered first were about fashion.  I enjoy Style Guile a lot, but actually what I like most is hearing tales about Beth's family life, seeing pictures of her flamingo wallpaper, her pink front door and her trip to 'One Direction' with her teenage daughter!  School Gate Style, is also great in offering glimpses of life in Northern Ireland as well as the fashion tips. But I don't really fit in with this stylish group of fashion bloggers : I'm a bit older; not as fashion conscious -often to be found in grotty jeans and fleece; and also am more interested in wearing the clothes I already have with style rather than constantly buying new items.

And it was on looking for posts on creating a capsule wardrobe that I discovered another favourite blog Just a Little Less, which is about minimalism but also about family life.  This is a wonderful blog and it has inspired me in many ways.  This morning I'm off the the library to pick up a book Claire recommended, 'The Happiness Project'.  Through Just a Little Less I discovered other minimalist blogs.  But don't really fit in here either: I'm too messy to be a minimalist and my efforts to declutter, which I've posted about before, have had limited success.

During the holidays I made a determined search to discover more blogs like mine which cover a range of topics from parenting to planting vegetables.  Here's my list of favourites.  And I've followed an idea I picked up from a gardening blog called Veg Plotting, trying to comment on five blogs every day.  As I tell my daughter, the way to make freinds is to be friendly.

Audrey Finch - this blog is wonderful and has a wonderful header reflecting the name of the blog with a picture of Audrey Hepburn, a copy of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and a can of Diet Coke, Jen's favourite drink.
She writes about family life in Oregon, USA and includes beautiful photographs.  Like me she loves books and she also writes about her teenage daughter.

My Little Red Suitcase- Crochet, life, being a parent. Always enjoy Heather's posts

As I Roved Out - another newly discovered blog from Ireland.  Beautiful photographs

A Load of Old Tat - Great name and covers topics from Izal toilet roll to pink birthday cake.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Decluttering my own little red suitcase

Springtime at Last

Easter school holidays coming to an end.  It's been a good time, catching up with family and friends; getting going with my gardening projects and spending time with my husband and daughter.  She's just planted herself on my knee and thanked me for a good holiday and how it's been the best ever.  Must remember that the next time she tells me what a bad mother I am......

I haven't done all the things I planned around the house - they'll wait - but did attempt a bit of decluttering of my various piles of work documents and other papers.  Some success, but I'm easily distracted.  Should I dump that file of notes on 'Dr Faustus'?  What if I have to teach it again?

And then I came across this, covered in a thick layer of dust. My little red suitcase.  Now one of my favourite blogs is named 'My Little Red Suitcase'. Heather, who writes it, talks about her life and her craft projects, including beautiful crochet cushions.  I assume she keeps her crochet and craft projects in her suitcase.  My suitcase is more battered than hers, having lost its handle, and it dates from when I first left my village in Northen Ireland to travel across the Irish Sea to university in England.  A long time ago.

I admit I'm a bit of a hoarder. It's not so hard to send piles of rarely worn clothes and discarded toys to the charity shop, but I like to keep things which bring back memories.  So this is what is in the suitcase:

Yes that's David Essex - that dates me doesn't it? It's a scrapbook containing ticket stubs for events I attended, school prize day programmes, party invites at university, photo booth pictures, and (!) a plastic leaf which garnished the dessert I had on a rare night out to a restaurant, a pizza place on Deansgate in Manchester, which was the height of sophistication then. I'd covered the scrapbook with pages taken from 'Jackie' magazine.  Checked out the reverse side - a comic strip story entitled 'Love me, Love my Clothes' and the addresses for the fan clubs of  the Bay City Rollers and Gilbert O'Sullivan.

 Also in the suitcase: theatre programmes and leaflets for art exhibitions we attended; birthday cards for landmark birthdays; the plastic silver horseshoes from my wedding cake; good luck cards from jobs I've left; thank you letters from kids I've taught.  Some say don't forget me: often I have as there have been a lot of kids,  but reading the name and looking at the handwriting can trigger a memory.  And then there's more recent memories: handmade Mothers' Day cards and letters to the tooth fairy.  Ours was called Tabitha and she wrote her replies in gold pen on green paper.

Tidied it up a bit and threw away some of the birthday cards.  But kept the rest.  Like Heather I value my little red suitcase.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

'The Lion King' in Manchester: Masks, Make up and a Tale of Two Cities

Young Simba and Young Nala in the 'The Lion King' at the Palace Theatre in Manchester

Trip to Manchester yesterday with Fashion Girl to meet a friend for afternoon tea, do a bit of shopping and then to the Palace Theatre to see 'The Lion King'.  It's an hour on the train from here so we don't go that often and in fact, I realised we'd never actually walked through the town centre before.  FG a bit overwhelmed;  not sure how to react to the young women who tried to sell us single roses as we walked through Piccadilly and wanting to give money to all the homeless people we saw en route from the station.  Gave her my usual response: that the best way to help is to support homeless charities rather than give money directly to beggars but she wasn't having it.  If the homeless charities were doing their job, she said, there shouldn't be so many people on the streets.  Soon we were in more comfortable territory, walking through the Royal Exhange Arcade to St Ann's Square where a well-heeled young lady was singing opera also with a begging bowl in front of her....  It seemed like we'd been transported to a different city.  The Exchange Arcade as a sort of Tardis taking us to another dimension.

Double standards in operation then when we hit the shops.  She tried to persuade me to buy her a make-up kit from Bare Minerals in Kendals costing £49.  I'm scandalised by the marketing trick this company and Benefits, the other company targetted at teenagers, use.  They package make up in boxes with 'lessons' on how to apply it and then charge a fortune for it.   Cynical ploy in my view taking advantage of girls like mine who worry about their image.  She got a 'Benefit' kit for Christmas and was totally convinced.  And then someone she admires at school told her that Bare Minerals was the best because it uses pure ingredients or some kind of nonsense like that.   Anyway didn't give in and told her she could put it on her birthday list if she wanted it.  Long wait then..

how to look the best at everything - light

'The Lion King' was wonderful.  We'd both loved the Disney film when she was little and in fact it was through the death of Simba's father that she grasped the idea of what being dead meant. What I loved was how visually spectacular it was.  The opening scene has giraffes on stilts crossing the stage and a full size elephant makes it way through the stalls and joins all the rest of the 'animals' on stage ; a rhino, a prowling cheetah and graceful antelopes. After the interval the second act began with African music and colourful birds flying all around the auditorium on the ends of what looked like fishing poles.   I was completely spellbound and spent a lot of time figuring out how the animals worked. - a mixture of clever costume design, masks, puppetry (Timon was great; so were the hyenas) and a modification of the old tradition of the pantomine horse.
The Cheetah hunting the giraffes

As a result I suppose, I was less involved in the action, and was unmoved by Mufaso's death: this is someone who is capable of crying at 'Coronation Street '.  Fashion Girl in floods of tears at this even though she knew it was coming.  What she liked was the kids - they were brilliant: the little girl who played young Nala,  looked about 7 at the most but she was so confident and had a powerful singing voice for one so little.  And the African music was superb with drummers in the boxes on our level adding to the wall of sound.

I'm usually not that keen on big shows with big prices like this.  Too often I've been disappointed.  Took FG to see Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang when it was on in Liverpool and felt ripped off and wasn't that impressed when we saw 'Matilda' last year in London, though she liked it.  But this show was worth every penny.  Catch it if you can if it tours near you.  It's in Liverpool next.  

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Am I smarter than a 13 year old? Answering Tricky Questions

Fashion Girl dragged herself away from the rubbish television she watches and caught a bit of the news on Monday. Usually she shows little interest in current affairs preferring shows like 'Don't Tell the Bride' and 'Come Dine with Me' or, even worse, Jeremy Kyle if I don't catch her and turn it off.  I prefer it when she sticks to kids' shows like the quiz show 'Are you Smarter than a 10 year old?' which are vaguely educational. On Monday she asked me what a prefix was when watching this programme.  Surely she knows: the last time she accused me of being 'unsensitive', one of my many failings according to her, I responded by advising her of the correct prefix.  Anyway I digress... 

The news on Monday was of course entirely dominated by the death of Mrs Thatcher. Fashion Girl, as a feminist in training, wondered why I wasn't so keen on her.  After all she was a woman who ran the country which surely was a good thing.  And so she asked a very simple question: 'Why was she bad?' It proved more tricky to answer than I'd thought. Explained how she didn't care much for the poor - FG accepted that. that but she didn't really see why selling off national companies was a problem.  Why shouldn't Richard Branson run the train service to London if he makes a good job of it?   Love having a teenager to talk to: it makes me question and reconsider my own convictions.  Then tried explaining how Mrs T encouraged people to pursue individual wealth and success.  Again FG saw no problem with this until I explained that I felt she encouraged people to be selfish and not care about the rest of society.  Not sure I explained it very well but I had a go.

What she found most shocking was that Margaret Thatcher was the first female Prime Minister and that there hasn't been another one since.   Ok so I didn't like Mrs Thatcher, but I do admire her achievement as a woman.  Let's hope the women of the FG's generation have more success in getting to the top in politics than we have.

 Margaret Thatcher newspapers

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Iain Banks: sad news

Sad news this week which hit home in this household.  The writer Iain Banks has cancer and has only months to live: he announced the news himself on his website. As fans of this writer whose books have been a backdrop to our relationship, both my husband and I were shocked.  And he's only 59, just a bit older than us, so it's a stark reminder of our own mortality.

His first book and the one which established his reputation, 'The Wasp Factory', was published in 1984, the year we met.  It's not the kind of thing I usually choose but my husband was insistent I read it and I'm glad I did.  It's the story of Frank, a sixteen year old Scottish boy, and his attempts to make sense of his life and history.  It's described as 'gothic'on the most recent cover and the description of the wasp factory of the title which he uses to torture the small creatures is fairly graphic.  It's a while since I've read it (20+years!) but I also recall some fairly gruesome details about earwax being used in his experiments. Like 'Skippy Dies' which I'm still rereading (nearly finished), the focus is on a teenage boy, and it works because of the strong narrative and convincing voice for the central character.  Wonderful twist at the end too.  We saw a theatre production of the novel in London in the 1990s and it was also memorable.

Paperbacks from the early days

 Since then my husband has been a huge fan of Iain Banks reading every book which has been published including the science fiction ones, easily identifable as he uses Iain M. Banks for these.  And there have been a lot of books, so that every summer holiday since he seems to have been reading an Iain Banks book.  I've read most of the mainstream ones too, my favourites being 'The Bridge' a kind of semi sci-fi book about a man in a coma which reminds me of '1984', which I've read at least twice.  I also like 'The Crow Road' which was made into a TV drama. 

There's a page on Banks' website where fans can leave messages for him. I've been trying to persuade my husband he should write something on it.  He's not keen - usual male reluctance to express emotions - so may have to do it for him.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Easter Holidays in Pictures

My Easter Tree
Mary Berry's Simnel cake made by my talented sister

Easter Eggs decorated with plastic wraps from Lakeland

Snow on the mountains on the far side of the lough in Ballyronan

Monday, 1 April 2013

Blogging from Ballyronan

I'm in Northern Ireland visiting Dad and catching up with sisters and extended family. So just a short post from Ballyronan, the village where I was born.  Ballyronan seemed a very dull place to me when I was growing up, but now it seems to be a bit of a tourist destination with caravans and motor homes filling up the site at the marina most summer weekends.  Even on this freezing Easter weekend there are a few brave souls there.

It is because I was born in Ballyronan that I chose to call our dog Ronan.  He's an Irish terrier so it seemed appropriate.  Of course it can be a bit embarrassing calling his name in public as people tend to think I am a Westlife fan....

In the absence of photos of me or any kind of clothes, (seem to have abandoned fashion) here's a picture of Ronan.