Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How to celebrate Mothering Sunday

It was Mothering Sunday (UK) on the eleventh of March.  When I got up I opened the bedroom curtains to see what the weather was like and to see whether any garden birds were on the bird feeders.

What a surprise - it is the first time I have had a mother's day greeting made out of pebbles!

B. had been out in the garden from early on to create this message and to put the two planters in place.  I went out in the garden to take a closer look.

B. had taken advantage of when I was not around during the week to plant up the two large pots with the plants she had selected for these arrangements.  She worked on the principle of 'Thrill, Fill and Spill', an idea she had seen on a gardening programme. Over the next few weeks, the plants at the rear should grow taller (Thrill), the ivy at the front should grow over the edge (Spill) and the various flowers are planted so closely that the compost is hardly visible (Fill).

The happy gardener - I never noticed the many plants, that were disguised by horticultural fleece, and placed around the edges of the garden.

 After breakfast we planned out the rest of the day.  Should we go out and join the crowds of mothers and their families celebrating the day or should we stay at home and garden together?  The choice was mine.
So we stayed in for the day, the weather was dry and quite mild in comparison to what it has been in the past month; it would be a shame not to take advantage.

If you look carefully, with a magnifying glass, at the first photo you will see that the main veg patch is full of weeds and behind it is the frame around the strawberry patch,which is full of weeds, grass and strawberry plants that are too old to produce good crops.  So that is were we started.
While B. cleared the veg patch ready for this years crops, I dismantled the cage round the strawberry patch and cleaned up the mesh panels, ready to store away.  Then B and I cleared out the old strawberry plants and weeds, saving any new strawberry plants (from runners) ready to replant in another part of the garden.

The veg patch and strawberry patch were given a new layer of compost, then B. lifted three blackcurrant bushes and one goji berry shrub, out of the veg patch and  replanted them into the old strawberry patch, now renamed the soft fruit patch.  This was given a layer of tree bark to help discourage cats from using our newly turned soil at their convenience.

This part of the  garden was transformed and it was getting too late to start any more jobs in the garden so we tidied away all the tools we had used.  The birds had not been discouraged by our presence and visited the areas where we had disturbed the soil, looking for a tasty morsel, or visiting the bird feeders.

A long-tailed tit

When we at last got back into the house B. cooked a roast dinner, so we had our own celebration meal with wine, which was another part of my Mother's day treat.

For me - it was a perfect way to spend the day - thank you B.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


February has come and gone - how did we fill 28 days and find no time to post?

1. We visited Biddulph Grange (cheat - last day in January) to go for a snowdrop walk.  We did find a few snowdrops, but the weather was unkind and it started to snow shortly after we arrived.  We shall be going for another snowdrop walk, weather permitting, in a few days time and hope to see a carpet of snowdrops.

2. On the Sunday  nearest to A's birthday we put flowers in church as a celebration of his birth.  One vase is placed near the altar, one vase is placed in the entrance and another vase is placed in a front window so that they can be seen as people approach church. (We do the same when it is B's birthday).  At the end of the day the flowers are distributed to members of the congregation who are ill or unable to attend services due to age and infirmity.

3. On the day of A's birthday we put a candle and a vase of flowers by his photograph.  The candle is kept lit for 24 hours. F and B take a day off work and we go for a meal and then a walk.  This year we took a walk by Blithfield Reservoir, near Abbots Bromley.  The water levels were higher than usual because we have had more than the usual amount of rainfall for the last couple of months.  It was muddy underfoot and the sky was overcast so we did not walk for as long as usual.

4. Beth has adopted a new budgie, a rescue budgie from the RSPCA. It was found in Manchester   but transferred to the wildlife hospital where B did a year's work experience as part of her University work. Bruce was the last surviving of B's budgies, all rescue birds, and it seemed he was in need for the company.  So Barney has come to join him - and his cage full of mirrors and bird toys.  So far, they seem to have taken to each other.

Bruce is blue and Barney is green and quite young
B was also asked if she could release a hedgehog into our garden as it was fit for going back into the wild.  Our garden has an area at the back that is left to itself and provides good cover for the garden wildlife.  Our garden connects with our neighbours' gardens so there is plenty of room to roam.  B found out her hedgehog box, filled it with straw and put it down at the back of the garden, with food and water left nearby.

The following day, it seemed as though the hedgehog had stayed in the box overnight and the food had not been touched.  When B took the lid off the box, there was no hedgehog to be seen.  She had obviously gone on walkabout and perhaps found another hedgehog or a place more to her liking.

5. F and I got to concerts at Keele University.  We  travel about twenty miles to the venue and occasionally have a meal before the concert.  In January, we listened to the K'Antu ensemble who held their performance at the New Vic theatre a few miles from Keele. Their performance  consisted of early music from Europe and around the world and extracts of their music can be found on YouTube.  We preceded the performance by eating in the theatre restaurant - an extravagance, but enjoyable.
We have been to two more concerts at the University so far in February, Kabantu playing a mixture of folk, jazz and classical from around the world, again excerpts of their performances are on YouTube; and the  National Youth Jazz Orchestra, this links to a performance on YouTube.  They may be youthful, but they are very talented performers.
Tonight, F and I are going to a performance by the Fitzroy Quartet, Chamber music, so it will be in complete contrast to the concerts we have attended this year.  All we need is for the weather to remain kind tonight - the country is being ravaged by weather from Siberia.  We are just not used to coping with these sort of fierce conditions in the UK

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A little light entertainment

Our church has a newly formed committee to organise social events.  They have certainly started well.

On Saturday evening F and I went along to a film evening.  For two pounds per ticket (a little less than 3 US dollars) we were given a bag of popcorn or sweets at the beginning of the film, and during the interval we had tea or coffee if we wanted, and we could buy a tub of ice cream.  Then there was the choice of film - The General starring Buster Keaton, originally screened in 1926.

Watching a silent film was a new experience for me.  A new musical score had been added to the film, so we didn't need a musician to accompany the action.  The action was non stop and stunts very cleverly executed.  I don't know the budget for this particular film, and without the sort of special effects that today's filmmakers use , the cost would have been negligible by comparison. To me, the entertainment value was priceless.

Since then, I have checked YouTube and found lots more films and excerpts, starring BK.  If you want to relax with a different sort of film, I can recommend this particular film star and there are lots of other such films to choose from on YouTube

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The North Wind doth blow ....

Winter and the snow has arrived - well at least for a few days.  The UK Midlands has been as cold as the North of Scotland while the surrounding areas have been at least a couple of degrees warmer.  So we have turned up the heating as well as wearing extra layers.

After a night of snowfall, we woke to find the garden transformed into a winter wonderland - well that is the most snow we've seen for a while.

While most plants were flattened the Quake Grass was able to take the weight of the snow, in spite of its fragile appearance.

 B made the most of the opportunity and built a mini snowman - I don't think she feels the cold.


And of course we make sure to feed the birds.  As well as the sunflower seeds, sprinkles, bird seeds and suet blocks, they get to feast on the cooking apples that we have grown.   The freezer is loaded with Bramley cooking apples and  friends and neighbours have been supplied, so the birds make good use of the surplus, when the conditions turn wintry.

The usual small garden birds and blackbird population were joined by  winter visitors from Scandinavia - Fieldfares.  This photograph is hazy because we were inside, taking the pictures through the kitchen windows.

And of course, today it has rained so most of the snow has disappeared!  But we shall still put out food for the birds, because it is still very cold.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Making the most of the weather

The weather has settled down and we are enjoying a spell of dry, bright, 'very' cold weather.  Combining this with B's work shift this week, she completes her shift by noon or a little later, we decided we would take advantage of the weather and go for some winter walks.

On Wednesday, B and I visited  Shugborough  a stately home about four miles from our home, and run by the National Trust.  Because we are members of the NT, we get free admission to the hundreds of sites they are responsible for in the UK  (The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland is another site in their care.)  We decided to enjoy a meal at the cafe before we went for a walk.  We chose to look at the Formal Gardens, designed centuries ago and neatly manicured in comparison to the rest of the grounds.  With the Sun coming from behind the clouds as the afternoon progressed, it was ideal for getting photographs of the Autumn colours.

A Bridge over the lake which was created to be viewed from the House

Another view of the 'lake' overlooking the parklands, many of the trees still with their Autumn colours.

On Thursday, B and I chose a different type of environment, two different wildlife sites. 

First we travelled to Doxey Marshes, a site managed by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, sandwiched between a large housing estate and the M6 motorway.  The only reason it has remained free of building developments is the nature of the land - it would be tremendously expensive to drain, and not very attractive for residential development so its safe for the flora and fauna for the moment.
In spite of the noise of the traffic, it attracts a large number of wetland birds. 

    A grey heron waiting patiently to catch its dinner.

                                          Swans , hoping we had some food for them!

B and I then travelled to another wetland site, Aqualate Mere, cared for by Natural England.
A large shallow lake, about one mile long and averaging 3 to 4 foot deep, it is surrounded by reed beds and natural woodland and attracts large numbers of birds and mammals. We particularly wanted to see a Starling Murmuration, so we timed our visit just before sunset. In the Autumn and Winter, tens of thousands of starlings accumulate and put on a spectacular aerial display as they look for a roosting place among the reed beds.

I took still photos so it's hard to imagine the fluidity of the movement of the great mass of starlings.  B took a video using her Smartphone.  We are planning to visit again next week, and this time I intend to take a different camera and hopefully sort out how to take a video.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Highly Recommended - subjectively of course

For several years F. and I have been season tickets holders for the Keele Concert Society.  Keele is a University based about 20 miles from where we live, so it is easily accessible, being closer than Birmingham, where we would need to go to attend  classical music concerts.  Throughout the Autumn and Spring terms, a series of concerts is offered, covering a wide range of styles and all performed by  professional musicians. 

This season started with Foden's Brass Band performing several pieces including the Planets Suite (Holst).  After the performance the audience was invited to visit the University Observatory (  The intention was to look at Planets through the 31cm refractor dating back to 1874.  This telescope is not used for current research, the department having more up-to-date telescopes, but members of the public are welcomed at set times during the week to look at the skies with this ancient equipment.  On this night, because the sky was clear and the Moon was almost full, it was too bright to see  the only planets that would have been in view, so the telescope was trained on the edge of the Moon. It was the clearest, most close-up view of the moon that I have experienced, so it was worth the walk to the Observatory, even though it was cold.

This week, the concert was given by an ensemble named Voces8.  If you enjoy 'a capella' music then it is worth looking up their website to get an idea of their travels throughout Europe, North America and AsiaYouTube provides many videos of their music.  They sing a wide variety of styles including jazz and musicals.  The 'highly recommended' is based on my own enjoyment of the evening - one of the best concerts I have had the privilege of attending.

P.S.For those on the  U.S. East Coast, Voces8, have close connections to Harrisonburg VA, where they are giving a concert at the Eastern Mennonite School at the end of February, 2018.

Monday, November 6, 2017

How times change

It's that time of year when in the UK Guy Fawkes is remembered with bonfires and fireworks.

As a child I recall children going round the streets and knocking at doors asking for a 'penny for the guy', hoping to get enough money to buy some fireworks.  They would have an effigy of Guy Fawkes which they dressed in old clothes, usually transported by pushchair, awaiting his fate on the top of the bonfire.  There were no laws forbidding the sale of fireworks to youngsters. The 'celebrations' were usually a family affair, organised bonfires were a rarity.

We carried on the tradition when we had our own children.  F. took charge - preparing a bonfire in the back garden, buying as many fireworks as he could afford, and being chief of the proceedings.  I had the job of keeping the children safe while the fireworks were being let off, and cooking suitable snacky food - baked potatoes and sausages.  Sparklers were a must and the children enjoyed waving these through the air, watching the patterns they made.  There were some organised firework displays and as we lived on the opposite side of the valley from the local raceway we had a good view of their firework display from the bedroom windows.

Now the family has grown up we don't bother with fireworks and F. sees bonfire night as a good time to burn the garden trimmings that are too large to compost down.  Fewer people have home bonfires and fireworks (a consequence of gardens in new homes getting smaller? ) and organised firework displays complete with funfairs and food vans are well attended.

This year bonfire night happened at the weekend  so there were three nights when people celebrated.  We went shopping to our usual supermarket on Saturday evening and arrived at the car park just as the  people were leaving the display organised by the local Scouts.  The supermarket car park which usually has very few cars at that time of day was crowded with cars that had been parked there by people attending the firework display.  Now families were piling into their vehicles - it wasn't quite mayhem but it was an entertainment watching the manoeuvring as everybody tried to get their car out of the parking space and back onto the road.  We stayed still, watching and waiting till the car park was less busy before we tried to park. 

On Sunday, F went on a journey to the other side of town.  He had to cross the road which runs past the County Showground.  On the return journey, he made a detour because the traffic on the road to the showground was one long traffic jam - people attending the organised fireworks display at the showground  - he didn't fancy driving several miles in slow-moving, bumper to bumper traffic.

It's easy to watch spectacular fireworks displays on the television nowadays for New Year's Eve or Royal Weddings, but I think you don't get the same atmosphere as watching fireworks live. Of course, the best firework display I've attended was the one put on at the Oshkosh Airshow - that was spectacular - but I don't have to photographs to prove it.