Start as You Mean to Continue

This may seem like a morbid start to the year, but we took the wee one to St Andrews Cathedral a couple of days ago to let off some steam (read: pursue the enemy alien baddies and use the force to rescue the goodies) and this message captivated me entirely. The topic of mortality is a bit of a raw issue in our house, the wee one is still trying to get his head around it after a string of bereavements (of the human and animal variety) in the past year and no-one really wants to contemplate their not-being-ness for too long now do they?  But by far the most memorable start to a lecture series ever was the inestimable Roger Robinson quoting from the funeral sentences in the Book of Common Prayer – ‘In the midst of life we are in death…‘ and this thought has stayed with me for most of my adult life.  Life is joyous and fabulous in so many ways…yet shadowed always by the hint of our tenous grip on existence. The love I am so grateful to share now will sustain me through the pain of life – and the dizzying heights of happiness that life brings will always be a little shot through with the fragility of mortality.

Intimations of mortality at the start of a new year

With this music faintly ringing in my ear, I resolve to grasp life firmly this year, and to try to do the following…

  • Walk up this hill at least once a month (once a week would be good, but wholly unrealistic, given our schedule and the weather!):

Half way up

  • Organise the little bits of chaos around the house – in particular, find the books a new home, like this beauty maybe:

Books need a new home

  • Whip myself back into shape, perhaps with the help of a weekly class in the village, which is long overdue:

Pilates

  • Figure out whether or not it is time for the wee guy to begin school here:

Ceres Primary School

  • Take ourselves off for at least a week in the sun – hopefully somewhere like this:

Cote d'Azur cottage

  • Treat myself to a night at the ballet:

Highland fling

  • Spend more time outdoors with these guys:

Sunny New Year's Day on top of the hill

  • Find a place and time to give a little back in gratitude for all that is good in our lives.

Of course, life may get in the way of all these intentions…but it is wonderfully freeing to be poised on the brink of a new year, ready to blow the cobwebs of the old year out of your head and attempt to live a little more purposefully through the coming months.  Happy New Year everyone!

Magic Enough

The happiest Christmas ever! We have had so much delight getting ready for the magic of the festive season this year.  When we put up the tree, the little guy danced around the room in between hanging decorations singing ‘this is going to be the happiest Christmas ever!’  He loves every little tiny detail and has been as full of wonder at the lights in the trees on the drive home as at the treats discovered in the advent calendar bags each evening.  The moment we turned on the tree lights, he darted across to the main light switch, turned them off and sat in the middle of the rug with a beatific smile on his face, letting out a rapturous sigh.

My heart lifts with the magic of a story that has been told so often that it permeates the fabric of our culture and gives us a wealth references to share with one another.  We love a good story at our house and as an erstwhile teacher of literature and drama, it thrills my heart that the wee one needs little encouragement to read a story, begs often for us to tell him the stories of our lives and has recently been making up a raft of his own rather marvellous narratives.

I also love the magic of our reality – the mysteries of the world around us are revealing themselves to scientists daily, in ways that are sometimes more surprising and revealing yet more mysteries than we could have imagined. The world is an amazing place and it is our firm conviction that there is plenty of mystery and magic in the real world without needing to adhere to myths or tales as anything other than good narrative to illustrate rather than explain the world.

This is why Santa, that very jolly fellow who zooms about the skies with his magic reindeer, and spies on the children at preschool through the CCTV cameras, and sends emmisaries to the Christmas Fair to hand out pre-emptive gifts on his behalf, and is apparently able to get into our house even without a chimney as they have the technology these days, will not be coming to our house this year…or any other year.  We are those parents.

So, we were prepared to apologise if our little one broke the spell at preschool with his assertions that ‘Santa is not real’, but our feeling is there is enough magic in the world for our boy to retain his sense of wonder AND not lose faith in our explanations of how-the-world-is, based on a sense of disenchantment (fleeting perhaps) when it transpired that we had sold him a story as truth.

However, it seems this year that the apologies are not required – yet anyway.  He has been far more willing to accept the stories about Santa from outwith the home than our assertions that Santa is not real.  We have put Santa in the same camp as monsters, fairies, ghosts, baby Jesus, angels, ogres et al – all part of the mythical story repertoire that we cherish.  But I think for now this has just served to further confuse him and remind me that his little world is still expanding daily and he is so willing to believe anything – another compelling reason to maintain an honest line with him.

My only moment of pause was when he assured me that he would be very sad if Santa did not come to our house on Christmas.  Lots of things make our children sad.  We cannot shield them from all disappointment, we need to help them learn adult tools for absorping the disappointment and finding a happy equilibrium in spite of the reality check.  We will hug him if he is sad, remind him of how wonderfully fortunate he is in our lovely – real – magical world and help him to gain perspective while hopefully continuing to foster his delightful sense of wonder.

Lake Sojourn

At last our longed for Autumn holiday in the Lake District was upon us.  I took a couple of days off work beforehand to let the little one have some at-home time as well as he seems to be more of a home body every day – and it seems hard on him to have five long days away from home each week.  We set off onthe Friday for three nights in a delightful cottage in Newlands Valley.  Our lovely friends Tomandclaireandgrace (their name has extended a little since last summer) met us there and we all had a lovely relaxing weekend in each other’s company.

Moody mountain moments

We had a magical walk in the woods at Whinlatter Forest.

Osprey land

Complete with a wise man of the woods…

Wise old man of the forest

…some forestcraft shelters…

Wilderness skills

…woodland luminosity…

Magical moments in the forest

…magical doors in the trees…

Hidden treasures in the trees

…places for balancing…

Playground

…and jumping.

Exploring the little houses

At Trotters World of Animals we got up close with some wonderful birds of prey…

Birds of prey demo

… and made friends with a macaw who was very chatty.

Hello Mr Macaw

On Derwentwater we met some geese…

Greylag geese on the shores of Derwent Water

…climbed some very big rocks…

Rock scrambling

…and thought a little of the romantics.

Wordsworthian moment on Derwent Water

‘Be thankful, thou; for, if unholy deeds
Ravage the world, tranquillity is here!’

William Wordsworth.

Out and About

I’m not much of a one for organised sporty activity.  These days it is really difficult to prioritise getting exercise – even though I know that is to my detriment.  But when I do, I prefer to go for a walk.  Luckily, there are some great places for taking in scenery and getting a good stroll just out the door round here.  Recently I’ve taken in part of the Fife Coastal path on an afternoon before collecting the wee one from nursery.

The views of the town were rather gorgeous and I am convinced my true whakapapa connects me always to the sea.

On another stormy Saturday morning I walked out our road, into the countryside, through the grounds of a local National Trust property at the end of the road and up to the grounds of the broody Scotstarvit Tower.

On the way home I collected some brambles for a tart little breakfast snack.

It’s always wonderful to be out in the elements, I wish I could remember that more readily when I am cosied up inside on an autumnal afternoon…

Early Summer in the Garden

According to good gardening wisdom, one should wait a full year in a new garden before doing anything to it.  I am not sure that this advice extends to avoiding weeding, but so far my erratic health and the dreary weather have created a sense of inertia that has meant the poor garden has had to thrive in spite of my neglect thus far.  I am glad to report though, that it has mostly managed to do so, and is putting on a rather lovely summer showing just now.

This is a favourite vista from near the chicken yard, by the pond rockery.

The bees are ALL over this lovely little pink shrub.  I have no idea what it is (such a gardening novice…guess I will learn eventually) but it is right outside the end window in the lounge – which enhances the view no end.

I don’t think I had ever seen Honesty at this stage of it’s growth, having only ever encountered it in hideous 80’s dried flower arrangements.  I rather love the greeny-purple nature of this incarnation.

This is apparently (forgive me if I am wrong) Orange Hawkweed – which is noxious in some places, as it is an amazing alpine self-seeder.  It has rather taken over the rockery, but I think I kinda like it – though I do think that perhaps a little more thought to colour scheme could have gone into this garden, it has been a rather haphazard lurching from one shade of the spectrum to another – which does not appeal to the minialmist in me.

There is a certain wildness to the garden – which is not entirely due to my leaving it to it’s own devices.  Little yellow poppies have appeared everwhere, not always to the Doctor’s liking, but I have been cheered by their sturdy delicacy.  I suppose I should probably nip them in the bud at this stage to limit their spread for next year.

Another alpine that is doing remarkably well is the Alpine Strawberry which I discovered quite by accident this past weekend.  Kaz was very keen to munch them all up, they made a tiny little treat for his afternoon tea.

Whilst we made a bit of a slow start in planting our vege garden this year (and thus may have missed out with some things), there is some evidence of growth – especially with the Elephant Garlic we planted at the outset of our gardening endeavours.

We discovered last year that many things we might have grown well in other places we have lived, will not survive the cool damp climate of Fife.  But the ever-reliable poatato does extremely well here.  We tried no-dig potatoes this year and they did not eventuate, but we love the lusciousness of our potato grow bags by the shed and are looking forward to harvesting them next month.

May Highlights

It seems that the weekends have flown by this month.   Summer is not really making much of an appearance.  Though from last year, we are not expecting too much!  But we have managed the odd outing, including a trip to the bird reserve with friends (which involved some batman antics on the beach and lots of fun for our budding little birders), and a stroll on the beach with Claire when she came to visit. This month also heralded the advent of ‘Super Lightning Man’ who makes a regular appearance in our weekly life.

There was also plenty of opportunity for indoor play with puzzles, trains, lego and cars – largely due to the often inclement weather.  We are still holding out for the rain to disappear and for more outdoorsy weekend activities.

Springing Again

Lately I have been making a habit of taking an  early morning stroll over the hill to the nearest town and this little fellow often kept me company on my way through the woods:

Since then, we have spent more and more time outdoors as the chill that had settled over the winter began to dissipate so we broke out the garlic bulbs and began our first garden in the new house.  It was lovely to show the wee guy how to start off the garlic plants and so we look forward to helping him see them pop out of the ground in the summer.

As hoped last month, the weather has started to improve, and we  have spent some lovely afternoons running on the beach…

and having our first outdoor picnic on the Loch…

Mother’s day necessitated a raspberry tea cake…

…and a picnic on the patio – albeit Scottish-style with sunglasses and coats!

Unseasonable springy sunniness.

Summer Visitors

A Scottish summer…

The temperatures have not soared above 20degC very often, in fact they hover around the 15degC mark or below most days.  The Haar has rolled in from the sea on many an afternoon, obliterating any view of the surrounding area from the house.  The growing season is slow and in our experimental first-Fife-foray into gardening, several things have failed rather spectacularly.  The optimistic summer wardrobe of t-shirts and shorts that were necessary for about six months of the year in the Lou have barely made it out of the cupboard.  We have not swum in the sea…or indeed anywhere for that matter.

However, it has been a summer to remember.  We have had some great outings and enjoyed the company of some lovely visitors.  In the midst of busy working weeks, the weekends have been full of adventures and we have been very lucky.  In July Grandma, Grandpa and Kenji came to stay.

In early August we were joined by our friends Nate and Denise who currently live in Toronto.  It was wonderful to spend some time with them and Denise very kindly stuck around whilst the menfolk went to a conference in York…and kept Kazuo and I company – I took a week off, and though things didn’t go exactly to plan, we had a lovely time together. 

We also had a fantastic repeat visit from the delightful Tomandclaire.  We are so glad to be within manageable driving distance from these dear friends.

We discovered the joys of tearing up and down sand dunes with Kaz in tow…

…had long happy afternoons at Allanhill Strawberry farm which involved loads of scaling the strawbales, eating decadent strawberry gateau, some sandpit play and feeding the farmyard animals…

…delightfully messy, sandy, castle-y afternoons on the beach, complete with birds and boules…

…frequented cafes and restaurants and enjoyed the variety and abundance of this coastal food paradise.

Though the cool weather does leave a little to be desired at times, I am not really missing the excessive heat and humidity of the midwest all that much.  Being able to spend time with family and lovely friends outdoors exploring the beaches and rural havens that are a feature of our new locale has given us many happy memories to treasure.

Henny Hen Hen…

After the Fearsome Mr Fox encounter a few weeks ago, we really had to find the enduring little Naynaynay Number Four some company.  By all accounts, chickens do not fare so well alone, being social creatures.  Nay was looking a little nervy (well, a little more than her usual nervy self) and was tucking herself away in the coop alone each night in a forlorn manner.  So we contacted a local breeder, since the next hen rescue seemed to be some months away. 

Two weeks ago we finally welcomed two rather spectacular blacky-green Australorps to our little patch.   Kaz was as pleased to see them as he was to welcome the last lot, especially since he has discovered just how much he loves the chickens…

They are only a few months old, so they are not yet ready to lay.  We were assured that they would be mild mannered and easy going, though possibly a  little intimidated by our bossy older hen.  We kinda smirked at the suggestion that timid, permanently pecked little Nay could ever be bossy. But it is a classic textbook case of the-bullied-turns-bully… She spent most of the first few days fixing the poor youngsters with her one remaining evil eye and rushing at them for a little peck every chance she got.  And though they do keep each other warm at night, she seemed to waver between needing to take charge of the territory and asserting her space in the coop – so bedtime was a little fraught to begin with.

We have a month to help them settle in together.  The little 6x4ft run seemed a bit tiny when the rather grand sized young birds were there on their own…and so the weekend we got the new girls, the doctors honed their man-skills to construct a larger pen by cobbling together materials found in the copse.  But the next day we got home to find that the athletic Australorps had escaped Naynaynay’s brutish behaviour and the pen in one nifty hop over the coop…so we are back to taking the risk with Mr Fox and hoping that a broader area to roam about in may enable them to establish their pecking order with a minimum of feathers flying.  They all seem to be sticking relatively close to home…so fingers crossed! 

The first real test was three nights alone this last weekend – we went on holiday!  The girls all survived, and we found them here under the hedge on our return:

It is wonderful to have such beautiful young birds in our garden.  For the time being we are trying to make friends with the very wary newcomers and shall reserve their naming ceremony until we have had a better chance to get to know them.  Let’s hope they fare much better than the last little flock!