Summer Holidays

This summer has been rather amazingly gorgeous in Scotland. Following a delayed and very cold spring , the uncharacteristically sunny days were a welcome treat. After last year’s gloomy wet non-summer, we felt that the only thing that would make our Scottish existence tenable in future would be to escape somewhere sunny for a week or two every summer. So we began planning a trip to Portugal…Then, when it transpired that I would be 8 months pregnant when we were finally free to make our getaway, we revised the plan so that we could have a fortnight on the ‘English Riviera’ of Devon & Cornwall.

By the time our trip rolled around, though we were longing for the break, we no longer felt the need to top up on sunshine and I was not entirely keen on 10+hours of driving to get to our destination.

However, it was our last family of three outing before the baby arrived, we had booked accommodation and we had plans – so off we went to the southern seaside.

We broke our journey with some time in Manchester with Tomandclaireandgrace, which was a perfect bookend to our longest ever time away just the three of us.

Highlights of our time in the south include:

  • Making sand castles on the beach at Dawlish Warren (whilst the doctor roamed out onto the estuary with his bins to spot more birds for the annual tally)

Dawlish sand sculpting

  • A day of blissful birding at the remote (and faintly terrifying to get to/from) Prawle Point

Prawle Point

  • Lunch at the River Cottage Cafe in Plymouth

River Cottage Plymouth

  • Our seventh wedding anniversary, spent on the Bodmin & Wenford Steam Railway, strolling the grounds of Pencarrow House and enjoying a celebratory meal at Rick Stein’s St Petroc’s Bistro in Padstow

Wedding anniversary outing

  • An exhausting but completely entertaining day at The Eden Project

Eden Project

  • A beguiling day spent in the inspiring Lost Gardens of Heligan

Lost Gardens of Heligan

There were many more things to do and see in the area, but being so slow, tiredy and encumbered – and having a four year old to consider as well, meant we didn’t perhaps cover as much ground as we may have done in the past. On reflection, esp after getting stuck in terrible traffic on the first leg of our return journey, it WAS a long way to go. One of the nicest things about coming home was the realisation that we actually LOVE how peaceful it is in our corner of Scotland (Cornwall in particular seemed rather unpleasantly crowded) and feel genuinely lucky to have such beauty and so many wonderful activities/places to eat well in our locale. Since we are in settling down mode, this still strikes me as the best feeling to have brought back from what was still a rather lovely holiday experience.

There’s no place like home…

Growing

Hi friends.  In the silent months since I last really told you about what we have been up to we have just been muddling through.  The lethargy of growing another person has probably made for a rather dull time for the wee guy as I have not been up to much on the weekends since January really.  But then, the weather has kept us indoors longer than usual this winter too – perhaps not a winter of discontent exactly, but definitely of harsh conditions. But while the tiny pre-person has been growing, so has our other little one.  Thankfully, his obsession with Lego and creating new things – and his growing skill in doing so – has meant that those quiet weekend mornings have flown by in a flurry of creative construction.

For helping to put out fires.

We have ventured out at least once a week (if not more) – though not always in the most clement of conditions.  We picked the coldest day for a long time to take a stroll around Cambo gardens recently – at least with full body covering the wee one was happy to go adventuring, and find hidey spots wherever he could, the bamboo was an ideal little cave.

Cambo bamboo

Just as the weather started to warm up, a lovely treasure trove arrived from Nana, including a very handsome cardy that will probably do a couple of winters – it is always such a treat to receive a present from Nana – though I suspect that the dinosaur sticker book was the real attraction in the parcel!

New cardy face

We have been using sticker charts with small rewards for Kaz for over a year now, and for the most part, they result in vastly improved behaviour.  The only time it didn’t work was in an attempt to encourage more milk drinking.  After two days, he announced that ‘I will drink milk when I am five Mama’ and abandoned the sticker chart altogether.  No carrot dangling of reward was going to do the trick!  Latterly, the rewards have become Lego of the very low-price variety.  Which has been a powerful incentive.  (Apart from in the milk department). Some time back Kaz announced that he would like an X-Wing Starfighter as his next sticker chart reward.  This seemed a bit grand, usually the rewards are almost tokens… So we discussed the behaviours we would be looking for (spontaneous use of ‘Please’ and ‘Thankyou’ and staying in his own bed ALL NIGHT – something that is still a bit hit and miss really) and that it would take a LONG time to achieve the reward he was after.  However, after nearly two months of stickering, and MUCH improved behaviours, the day of the X-Wing finally arrived.  He was so excited…after it was earned and ordered, he asked about it every morning, the buildup was just like Christmas.  It took us all about an hour and a half to construct it (largely because we were just guiding him through the process) and for once, it may stay fully assembled – most of the other Lego articles are deconstructed and pooled for extra creative play not long after being introduced.

The X-wing is here Mama!

As an educator, I tried a range of differing discipline styles in my classroom and boarding house.  Mostly I veered towards positive strategies centering on catching and rewarding good behaviour. Occasionally, due to the culture of the institution I worked in, or the nature of the infringing behaviour, there was the inevitable need for punishment as well.  But I have never been a fan of any kind of punishment that did not fit the crime, did not address the actual perpetrator, and did not help to encourage improved behaviour.  There has been a lot of debate in my homeland lately regarding the anti-smacking laws – or the removal of the use of the legal defence of  ‘reasonable force’ in parental crimes of assault against children.   I am not intending to wade into this debate.  From a personal perspective, I don’t intend to ever hit our children, and so I hope to employ other (hopefully more effective) ways of encouraging them to behave in the manner I would prefer.  Of course, this is easily said when the behaviours we are seeking to modify are those of a preschooler.  Ask me about this again in 10 years time!  One thing that worries me about using incentivising tools is that children become – as they get older – rather adept at producing the behaviour for cynical ends.  This is already a little evident in Kazuo’s negotiations.  But each stage – and each new challenge – requires a little more thought about how to bring out the best in this little social experiment we are producing.

What are your thoughts about how to bring out the best in children?

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…

Cycling Adventures

Last summer on our trip to the Cairngorms, we hired bikes and a weehoo trailer for a day’s outing.  It was such a hit with the wee guy, that we decided to acquire our own for family cycling adventures.  It has not had too much use yet, since the weather has been a bit dodgy and the doctor was away for the best weather we have had in the past few months. However, upon his return, we hit the cycle path around Loch Leven for a picnic bike ride.

It was a glorious afternoon and we had a lovely ride.

The loch looked marvellous.

So lovely to be out and about.

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.

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!

Fearsome Mr Fox

A week or so ago I was having a bit of a bad day…  Kazuo was ill (and that is another long and ghastly story, for another day perhaps) and things just didn’t go at all according to plan…

Last Monday morning we called the chickens for their post-breakfast treats (toast crusts) and only our half-blind little treasure, Naynaynay Number Four, turned up.  I thought that a little strange. An hour or so later, a friend drove up the drive to meet us for an outing to Elie Beach/The Cocoa Tree Cafe in the East Neuk.  That was when we discovered that Mr Fox had finally made a broad-daylight foray into our little world.

When we got the chickens, we had seen a fox prowling about our yard late one night, so made a particular effort to ensure their nighttime home was fox-proof.  But we got a little over-confident about how they would fare during the day.  We don’t have any real fencing, so they have been free to roam far and wide, which they have loved.

They loved their freedom so much that about 6 weeks ago they began laying elsewhere, and we searched the hedgerows and the copse and could not find their stash anywhere.  Then Mrs Cluck disappeared – and at that point we were fairly certain the fox would get her at night.  A week later she reappeared.  Skinny and out of condition, but nonetheless, in one piece.  We were astounded.

But last week, with oats surrounding us in the fields about hip-height and new fox cubs to be fed, I suppose the inevitable happened. The bravest of the girls were happy to roam up and down the drive.  On Monday morning, I assume that Mr and Mrs Fox snuck out of the field into the drive, made a snatch and grab, and left three little piles of feathers where the hens would have been.

It was a sorry sight, but I was relieved it was not actual bloody carnage.  And I comfort myself with the thoughts that (a) these girls got a good 6 months of totally free-range chickeny life they would never have had otherwise, (b) the little foxes need sustenance too, (c) we don’t have to subject these three fiesty happy creatures to more constraint when we move into our village cottage in October [we will need to build a run since we will be in the village].

For now, our half blind survivor poor little Nay is a nervy, lonely girl and I’ve been making an effort to keep her company outside for an hour or two each day so she gets a little roaming time.  But this weekend we hope to get her some company so that she doesn’t die of fright.  Who would have ever thought, back in January, that she would be the sole survivor of our little rescued flock?  It is a little Aesop-esque this tale of our chickens…