Sunday, August 31, 2008

There and Back Again

Little Cherub got her chance to play on the beach ...

She wasn't the only one ...

Star and Angel threw themselves into the Atlantic ...

And lived to tell the tale ...

We enjoyed magnificent views ...

We visited towns ...

With tropical gardens (somehow I managed to aim the camera away from all the palm trees) ...

And explored beautiful beaches ...

We even saw a tiny bit of sun amidst the clouds ... but even in less than stellar summer weather, Cornwall is about as beautiful as it gets.

Friday, August 22, 2008

What Flower Are You?

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

"When your friends think smile, they think of you. There is not a day that goes by that you can't find something good about the world and your fellow human."

HT: Sharon

A Little Bit of Rhythm

Tomorrow we leave for a week in Cornwall. I'm hoping it won't be too wet a week, as Little Cherub is frantic to "go seaside NOW!!!". Playing on the beach in the rain is not my idea of fun. When we get back, there will only be three more days before Angel and Star go back to school, and it will just be Little Cherub and I at home again. How we are going to miss our big girls!

I think it would be good for both of us to add a little rhythm to our days when we get back into the term time routine, and I have a simple plan. The girls leave for school in the morning at about 8am. After they go I will to read to Cherub for as long as she wants, then do housework (Cherub can either play or "help"), followed by a different activity for each day of the week:

  • Monday - cooking
  • Tuesday - nature (visit country park, gardening or indoor activity, depending on the weather)
  • Wednesday - art and craft
  • Thursday - out and about (the zoo, the farm, playdates, library and so on)
  • Friday - music (Jo Jingles class)
I am one of those people who has to have a plan, or nothing will happen. If I make a list of nature and art activities in advance and make sure I have any supplies needed, there is a fighting chance we will do them; if I try to be spontaneous, forget it. I am hoping this pattern of daily activities will give our week just the right amount of structure.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Those Camping Photos

Up and running ...

Girls inside ...

And wellies out ...

Cooked breakfast (before we ran out of gas!) ...

Exhausted by all that fresh air ...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

100 Species Challenge: Part 2

My running list of local species:

1. Daisy
2. Creeping buttercup
3. White clover
4. Selfheal
5. Dandelion
6. Red clover
7. Autumn hawkbit

Still working through the wild flowers in our front lawn here:


Scientific name: Taraxacum officinale
Family: Asteraceae
Flowers: May to October

The dandelion, like its little cousin the daisy, is a member of the sunflower family. I knew vaguely that it was an edible plant but didn't realise just how edible. The leaves can be boiled or used in salads. They have a higher vitamin A content than carrots, and are rich in iron and potassium among other minerals and vitamins. The flowers can be used to make dandelion wine, and the root used as a vegetable or roasted and ground to make a caffeine-free ersatz coffee. As a teenager I remember drinking this by choice - it looked like a very finely ground light coloured coffee powder, and tasted quite pleasant. It came in tins, and I am now left racking my brain to remember the brand name. An internet search only gave me more up-market versions. The dandelion is even touted as a healthy food by TV diet guru (and holder of dubious qualifications) Gillian McKeith. I'm tempted to try dandelion coffee again, and I'm sure I shouldn't let her endorsement put me off! The BBC h2g2 website gives recipes for making your own dandelion coffee, dandelion wine ... and a dandelion and nettle face pack. Hmm!

The officinale part of the scientific name indicates that the dandelion has medicinal properties. It is a diuretic - a mild dandelion tea given in the morning is supposed to help children who wet the bed by encouraging them to "go" during the day - a mild laxative, and good for liver problems. The milky sap inside the stem is supposed to useful in treating warts.

I have always known the fluffy seed heads as "dandelion clocks". If you count the puffs it takes to blow every seed from the head, it gives you the time - five puffs, five o'clock. OK, maybe the dandelion isn't the most accurate timepiece, but it is more fun than most. Even my Little Cherub likes to find dandelion clocks to blow.

The name dandelion is a corruption of the French "dents-a-lion", meaning "lion's teeth", due to the jagged edged leaves. The dandelion's rather impressive collection of local names includes Blowball, Cankerwort, Clock Flower, Irish Daisy, Lion's Tooth, Milk Witch, Monk's Head, Piss-a-bed (a diuretic, remember!), and Priest's Crown.

Sources of Information: Down Garden Services; BBC h2g2

Red Clover

Species name: Trifolium pratense
Family: Fabaceae (peas)

Like white clover, red clover is a nitrogen fixer and a valuable fodder crop. It has traditionally been used as a remedy for skin complaints such as eczema and psoriasis. More recently it has been discovered to be a source of oestrogen-like isoflavones, and is now widely sold as a natural alternative to HRT to help with menopausal symptoms. It is also supposed to be an appetite suppressant, a muscle relaxant, and even to have anti-carcinogenic effects. Rather counter-intuitively, the flowers can be used to make a yellow dye.

Some interesting superstitions go along with clover:

  • Place a leaf in your shoe and you will marry the first man to come towards you.
  • Gather a flower stalk during a full moon and offer it to your partner when seeking a promise of fidelity.
  • To see fairies, place seven grains of wheat on a four-leaf clover.
Colloquial names are Kitty Clover, Bee Bread, Sugar Plums and Sleeping Maggie.

Don't miss these close-up photos of red clover. Absolutely stunning!

Source of Information: The English Cottage Garden Nursery

Autumn Hawkbit

Scientific name: Leontodon autumnalis
Family: Asteraceae
Flowers: June to October

I am 99% sure of my identification, but this one was quite tough. The hawkbit looks very similar to a dandelion - it is even known as "false dandelion" - but is smaller, with a narrower stem and the ends of the petals are serrated. Hawkbit is easily confused with a very similar plant, cat's ear. My flowers did not have any hairs on the stems or leaves, so I'm fairly certain they are hawkbit.

Nothing much of interest showed up on a Google search, though I did find somebody on ebay selling (or trying to sell?) wild hawkbit seeds to grow as tortoise food.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Big Sisters

... have an interesting effect on toddler vocabulary. Heard over the last couple of days:

" 'Nat's not fair!" (Aside: given that she can't pronounce "th", why does she say "dis" and "nat", and not "dis" and "dat" or "nis" and "nat"?)

"Oy!!!!" (when I interfered with something on her plate)

"I text Daddy" (when playing with her toy phone)

And Back Again ...

Lessons learned on our camping trip ...

  • If you buy an £8 tent from Tesco, you get what you pay for. It wasn't entirely waterproof. Fortunately it only rained on our second night, and Star and A-next-door only got a little bit wet.
  • If you plan to cook outdoors in England, a windbreak is an essential piece of equipment. Otherwise you will find yourself trying to cook while simultaneously holding a golf umbrella at the appropriate angle.
  • Take more spare gas canisters for your small gas cooker than you think you will need. Unless you want to find yourself out of gas and with no cup of tea or cooked breakfast on your last morning.
And yes, we did have a good time! Photos to follow when I have uploaded them from K-next-door's camera.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Gone Camping

Heading for a campsite near Cambridge for the weekend with the following stuffed into a Vauxhall Zafira ...

Me - very inexperienced camper
K-next-door - complete novice
A-next-door (aged 12)
Star (aged 10!)
Little Cherub (toddler)
One tent (see above)
One tiny two-man (or girl) pup tent
Two plastic boxes of equipment
Three air beds
Four sleeping bags
Two ready-beds (air bed / sleeping bag combined)
Three fleece blankets
Four bags / rucksacks
Three picnic rugs
One folding table
Four folding chairs
Five pillows
One large cool bag
One small cool bag
One packed lunch
One pushchair

I may be back on Sunday evening. On the other hand, I may still be trying to stuff that lot back into the Zafira.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Double Digits

Yesterday was Star's tenth birthday, so I now have two daughters who have reached double digits. She wanted to celebrate with a trip to the ice rink with friends - typical of Star to pick something so un-summery - followed by a party at home. Usually birthdays mean a trip or a party. I'm not quite sure how she managed to swing that!

Ten year old taste in footwear ... red plimsolls and Spongebob Squarepants socks. Her birthday requests included anything red, anything to do with penguins, and anything Spongebob. (Angel at the same age would have wanted anything pink, and girly stuff!). I wish I could have got a photo of Little Cherub wearing the red shoes and an oversized red bag, clutching a Spongebob beanie baby, but she had abandoned them by the time I managed to get the camera.

Waiting to get on the ice ...

The mummy game ...

Blowing out candles ...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: 11th August

For Monday 11th August

Outside My Window
... neatly trimmed hedges and a netball practice hoop fixed to the wall, thanks to yesterday's hard work by Tevye and my brother.

I am thinking ... how much I will miss Angel. She is leaving this morning for a Christian camp week.

I am thankful for ... family and friends.

From the kitchen ... fish to fry. I bought some premium cod fillets for less than half price, a luxury as these are normally out of my price range except for special occasions. We will eat half today, and I'll freeze the rest for Yom Kippur. Cold fried fish to break his fast is a tradition for Tevye.

I am wearing ... black jeans, black and white striped t-shirt and bare feet.

I am creating ... a Google Page with a picture book list for the liturgical year. I've been working on the list for myself and thought I may as well share it. I have various knitting projects to do, but I can't get into them. I've come to the conclusion that I am a seasonal knitter. Winter is the time for curling up and working on something warm and woolly, not summer!

I am going ... to run errands in town. Library, optician, and shoe shop. I also need to pick up a few oddments for Star's birthday and our camping trip at the end of the week, and buy a pump attachment to inflate the netball that goes with the hoop.

I am reading ... not much. I seem to be in a fallow reading period. I've started a few things over the past couple of months but never finished them.

I am hoping ... the library will find a book I think I returned that is still showing up on my ticket. Ugh!

I am hearing ... Angel humming, Star typing and Little Cherub talking to her toys.

Around the house ... bags and sleeping bags.

One of my favorite things ... nature study. I'm going to really enjoy doing the 100 Species Challenge.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... an ice skating trip for Star's tenth birthday and a couple of nights camping with Star, Little Cherub, K-next-door and A-next-door. Tevye and K's husband are determined non-campers, so we decided on a girls only trip. And we will be watching the Olympics.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ...

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to add your own.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

100 Species Challenge: Part 1

My first four species in the 100 Species Challenge:

1. Daisy
2. Creeping buttercup
3. White clover
4. Selfheal

I am starting my list with four common flowers growing in our front lawn. Our grass is not the manicured kind, and has various wild flowers growing in it.


Scientific name: Bellis perennis
Family: Asteraceae
Flowers: All year

The name comes from "Day's Eye" as the flower only opens during the day. Little Cherub and I often look to see whether the daisies are "awake" or "asleep". Those in the shadier parts of our garden sleep longer than those in sunnier spots, so we often see some open while others are still closed. She also likes me to make her daisy-chain necklaces, though I have to spend a lot of time carrying out running repairs.

Daisies can be used as a herbal remedy to sooth wounds (apply the leaves, crushed). An infusion of one ounce in one pint of water can be cooled and used as an eye wash.

To the Daisy

In youth from rock to rock I went
From hill to hill, in discontent
Of pleasure high and turbulent,
Most pleas'd when most uneasy;
But now my own delights I make,
My thirst at every rill can slake,
And gladly Nature's love partake
Of thee, sweet Daisy!
William Wordsworth
(read the rest of the poem here)

Creeping Buttercup

Scientific name: Ranunculus repens
Family: Ranunculaceae
Flowers: May to September

The hairy stemmed creeping buttercup is the common-or-garden lawn variety, as opposed to the lankier meadow buttercup. It spreads by rooting runners, so is a difficult weed to get rid of. Not that any weed growing in our lawn has any need to worry.

I always thought of buttercups as thoroughly harmless and ... well ... nice, but it turns out that they are poisonous to cattle and the toxins they contain can cause contact dermatitis. The poisons are broken down by drying, and hay containing buttercups is safe. So that's all right then.

As children we used to hold a buttercup under a friend's chin. If it reflected yellow on their skin, it meant they liked butter. (Logically, I'm sure it was far more likely to mean that it was a sunny day.)

Alternative names include Devil's Guts, Granny Threads, Ram's Claws, Sitfast and Tether-toad. Nice.

White clover

Scientific name: Trifolium repens
Family: Fabaceae (pea)
Flowers: June to September

Something I did know: the clover flower head is not a single flower, but a cluster of tiny individual florets.

Something I didn't: unlike the buttercup, clover is a seriously useful plant. It can be used as a forage crop for livestock, and as it is much higher in protein than grass will increase the amount of protein in meat and milk. According to Wikipedia is also a valuable survival food. The leaves need boiling for 5 to 10 minutes to make them digestible. Dried flowerheads and seedpods can be used to make a nutritious flour or soaked in hot water for "a healthy, tasty tea-like infusion". Bees love clover, and will use the pollen to make a delicious clover honey.

It gets better. Clover is a natural fertiliser due to its ability to fix nitrogen. Through symbiotic bacteria in the roots, clover plants take oxygen from the air and convert it into usable nitrogen in the soil. Planted as part of a crop rotation, clover and other legumes can make a useful contribution to organic farming methods.


Scientific name: Prunella vulgaris
Family: Lamiaceae (mint)
Flowers: June to October

Despite having seen this many times it is a flower I had never previously identified. In the photo the leaves are hidden under grass and clover leaves. With space to grow, selfheal can reach 30cm in height and looks like this. In lawns it grows in low clumps, avoiding the mower blades.

In herbal medicine, selfheal is used for sore throats and mouth ulcers. It has traditionally been used to stop bleeding.

100 Species Challenge

I have decided to join Melissa Wiley at Here in the Bonny Glen in the 100 Species Challenge begun by scsours. The aim is to identify one hundred plant species growing in your local neighbourhood. These are the rules:

1. Participants should include a copy of these rules and a link to this entry in their initial blog post about the challenge.

2. Participants should keep a list of all plant species they can name, either by common or scientific name, that are living within walking distance of the participant's home. The list should be numbered, and should appear in every blog entry about the challenge, or in a sidebar.

3. Participants are encouraged to give detailed information about the plants they can name in the first post in which that plant appears.

4. Participants are encouraged to make it possible for visitors to their blog to find easily all 100-Species-Challenge blog posts.

5. Participants may post pictures of plants they are unable to identify, or are unable to identify with precision. They should not include these plants in the numbered list until they are able to identify it with relative precision. Each participant shall determine the level of precision that is acceptable to her; however, being able to distinguish between plants that have different common names should be a bare minimum.

6. Different varieties of the same species shall not count as different entries (e.g., Celebrity Tomato and Roma Tomato should not be separate entries); however, different species which share a common name be separate if the participant is able to distinguish between them (e.g., camillia japonica and camillia sassanqua if the participant can distinguish the two--"camillia" if not).

7. Participants may take as long as they like to complete the challenge.

I am pretty much going to copy the author's format, posting pictures (taken by myself if possible) and information about each plant. I am not even going to try to commit to posting regularly. I shall just add random sections at random intervals. As an extra rule for myself, I am going to stick to wild flowers and avoid cultivated garden flowers.

I have always lived in this area and I enjoy plant spotting, so I should already be able to identify a fair number. I'm not sure I could reach one hundred yet, though. I'm hoping to use the challenge to learn a few new plants, and to increase my knowledge about the ones I already recognise.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Last night I had my recurring dream. This is the third recurring dream I remember, and the only one of the three that has no obvious explanation. As a child and teenager I used to dream of fire, which was my greatest fear at the time. I remember going to the cinema as a teen to see Towering Inferno, of all things. What possessed me? I spent the entire time under the seat! This was the worst of my dreams. A nightmare.

In my twenties and thirties my recurring dream was a frantic effort to catch a train that I must catch in order to get somewhere important. As this was a time in my life when I travelled by train frequently, and I am not the world's best timekeeper, arriving at the station just as my train was pulling out was a regular occurrence. No surprise, then, that this translated into a "missing the train" dream.

In my forties, my recurring dream has been one in which I am exploring a new house. I am aware that I will be living there, although I am also apparently seeing it for the first time. The house differs from one dream to the next, but is always large and typically has an unusual layout with twists and turns. It is never a new house, but neither is it particularly old. Usually somewhere between Victorian and 1930s, I should think. It is a comfortable dream. I am always happy and excited to be in this new house, and any surprises as I explore new rooms are pleasant ones.

It is easily the most pleasant of my recurring dreams, but also the most mysterious. What does it mean, if anything? What bit of my subconscious is surfacing? I guess it may be a reflection of the domestic, home-based nature of my life these days. But why the new house? I am not a very introspective person, so there are probably things about myself that I am totally missing. Curious!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Playing With My Touch

I have waxed lyrical before about my iPod Touch. It got better! Apple have released new software that allows you to add 3rd party applications to an iPod Touch or an iPhone. If you have one and have been wondering whether it is worth paying to upgrade the software ... it is! For the benefit of any readers who have one of these gadgets (or are thinking about getting one), here are some apps I have been trying out and can recommend ...

Useful Stuff

Stanza ... turns your Touch into an eBook reader. All users can download a large selection of free books from Project Gutenberg. If you have a Mac, you can also download Stanza Desktop software. Using this you can read a wide range of eBook formats, and upload them to you Touch. It will also convert .pdf files into "book" format (not always pretty, but readable). This is currently free as it is still Beta software. There will be a charge for the full version once it is out of Beta.

Instapaper ... this allows you to save web pages to read later. Add an Instapaper button to the toolbar on your computer and click whenever you want to save a page. The Instapaper application on the Touch allows you to upload all your saved pages wirelessly. Once this is done, you can read them offline anytime, anywhere. Brilliant! And free.

Fizz Weather ... I'm English. Speculating about what the weather may, or may not, do over the next few hours or days is a national past time. Fizz Weather gives daily forecasts for five days; two day forecasts split into morning, afternoon and evening; details of current weather picked up from the most local weather station; and weather maps. It allows you to save a number of different locations and flick easily from one to another. So far the forecasts seem as accurate as any, which given our unpredictable weather isn't saying much ... but short of a magic crystal ball I doubt it could do much better. This one cost me £2.99.

Remote ... this allows you to use your Touch as a remote control for iTunes on your computer. Clever! And also free.

Fun Stuff

Moonlight Mahjong Lite ... tap pairs of mahjong tiles to remove them from the screen. The free version has four different layouts, which is plenty for us. Can be played while on the exercise bike at the gym.

Labyrinth Lite ... turns your Touch into one of those games where you tilt the surface to move a ball from one side to the other, without allowing it to fall into traps. Incredibly clever and unbelievably realistic. The free version has ten levels, the paid version has five hundred.

Sudoku Unlimited ... I bought the chargeable version (£1.79) which generates unlimited puzzles. There are five levels of difficulty. I found the easy ones too easy, but the two highest levels are just the right level of challenge.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook: August 4th

For Monday 4th August

Outside My Window
... an unexpectedly clear, bright morning.

I am thinking ... about whether we can go to the woods for a BBQ this afternoon. It depends on (1) whether we can get the tracking fixed on the car this morning, (2) if we can find time to buy food to take, and (3) the weather. Every forecast I looked at yesterday was different.

I am thankful for ... Tevye having a week off work so we can have some family time.

From the kitchen ... confusion. We have various things we would like to do this week that are weather dependent. Weather forecasts for the week vary wildly, but all involve rain at random intervals. As we don't know when we will be in or out, it is impossible to menu plan.

I am wearing ... mismatched pyjamas

I am creating ... a picture book wishlist at Amazon

I am going ... to help the girls put our tent up in the garden. For the benefit of American readers, I should point out that over here "garden" = "yard", not just somewhere you grow flowers or vegetables. If you are picturing a tent surrounded by beautiful summer flowers, don't. Our garden doesn't have flowers, as I have black thumbs and Tevye pulls out anything that grows on the assumption it is either dead or a weed. In our garden we have a hedge, grass, a paved patio, a swing set and a rotary washing line. And toddler toys. Not a flower in sight, except for daisies and clover in the grass.

I am reading ... Before the Journey eBook from A Little Garden Flower. I'm gleaning ideas on daily and seasonal rhythms for young children.

I am hoping ... it is not going to rain all week.

I am hearing ... the TV. Little Cherub is waiting, somewhat impatiently, for Fifi and the Flower Tots.

Around the house ... early morning inertia.

One of my favorite things ... family time.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... our annual trip to Wicksteed Park, which has become a family tradition. Trying to pick a dry day to go may be tricky.

Here is picture thought I am sharing ...

Wicksteed's eighty year old water chute, the UK's oldest working ride.

Check out The Simple Woman for links to other Daybooks and instructions if you want to add your own.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Why Are Jeans Like Buses?

Because you wait ages for one and then three come along at once.

I have been trying for months to buy a pair of denim jeans that fit. A pair that are not too tight, too loose, too long, too short or just plain not quite comfortable. I have tried on every half way decent looking pair I can find ... cheap ones, expensive ones, dark ones, pale ones, flared ones, straight ones ... anything except low waisted, show off all those rolls of baby flab styles. I bought a pair last month that fit nicely, or so I thought, until I tried them on again at home and realised they were too long (and that if I tried to shorten them I was going to mess it up!). They went back. I bought another pair last week. Too short. They went back too.

But now ... ta da! ... I am the proud owner of not one, but three pairs of jeans. Admittedly one pair is a little long and a bit loose round the waist - which didn't become apparent until I had worn them for a few hours - but they did only cost £6 in Asda, so I don't mind too much that they will end up as barely worn spares. And if I buy a belt and wash them a few times they may even make a comeback. Then after all my hopeless jeans hunting, I found a hopeful looking pair, for £10 in Tesco - our local supermarket which doesn't usually stock adult sized clothing. They had my size in both dark and pale denim. So I bought both. And they fit! And I think they will still fit when I have worn and washed them. I hope. I'm keeping both, as who knows how long it will be before I find another pair.

And after finally reaching the end of that painful hunt for jeans, how do I get to spend today?

Clothes shopping with Star.

Zoo Babies

Lots of irresistible babies at the zoo this week.

This two week old giraffe was keen to see the world, both with mum:

And intrepidly alone:

This eighteen month old elephant was heart-meltingly cute and obviously enjoyed entertaining her audience:

And this two year old cutie enjoyed her ice cream:

The zoo is in a very exposed position and it was scorchingly hot up there. We both needed cooling down!