Sunday, November 08, 2015

Closing up for winter

Winter is well and truly making herself known this week, if not for the temperature, then certainly for the change in the garden and the darkening days.

I love Autumn. It is one of my most favourite times of year. I love the rich colours (reminds me of our time living in New England) and I love the fact that there is so much to do to prepare. There is some strange attraction to feeling the need to store and tuck away - not sure if that's my inner bear wanting to go into hibernation, or just a throwback from our time in the snowy winters in Connecticut  (and Edinburgh one year!) where we could, on occasion, be snowed in for a day or two.

We brought our pig back from the butcher last weekend, so I've spent all my evenings this week dry curing some of the belly, ready for smoking. As you can see, it's now happily hanging in the smoker. I say 'our pig' as if we reared it. We don't have the space, which I'm a little sad about and we're continually looking, but we buy into a scheme where someone else rears him and we then pick up the cuts. This year we're trying an Oxford and Sandy Black.

The wines, cider and perry are bubbling away in our brewery (well, the downstairs shower room!) and outside we're getting started on new projects.
The structure with the plastic on the roof is going to be a covered area that will house the smoker, barbecue and pizza oven. The idea is that it becomes an outdoor kitchen of sorts that we can use year round. It looks great, certainly better than the mouldy trampoline that used to live there!
In the front garden I've begun to pull up the old decking. I don't suppose I'll get much further than this before the spring as we have chock full calendars up to Christmas, but it always worries me in the this wet weather as it gets slimy and slippery. I figured that it'd probably be better off up, than down for one more winter and come spring, we'll do away with the old rotten boards, move the rest of the chopped firewood, finish chopping the stuff that can be used on the fires and get the summer shed dismantled.

In its place I have plans for a much smaller shed/tool store, a couple of espalier or cordon apples and then a living willow arch leading through in to the orchard area. I love being in my head...the ideas are always free's the follow through that's sometimes harder to complete!!

Finally, I have been quite intermittent in recent months with my blog. I started it back in 2005 when we were relocated to New England. It was initially set up as a way of staying in touch with the folks back home. It rapidly evolved to become a document of the lives of my young children and our Montessori adventures, a way for me to write and create a sort of diary.

My children are 10 years older than they were then. We are in a new stage in our lives. I'm working, they're embarking on GCSE's and secondary school and whilst we still try to use Montessorian principals in our daily lives, we have gently meandered into our own individual paths. My children have their own social lives and don't really want me writing about them now, understandably, although they love reading about their antics as toddlers! So, I think, a decade on, it is now the time to bring this blog to a close too. Time is so precious, even more so I think because we're all so busy. I want to have the time I DO have, being present for my family and not writing on the blog. I am therefore going to move over to Instagram to document some of our homesteading or I can be found as Thornhill House on Facebook. I find these alternative methods less time consuming.

Thank you for reading this and staying with us in our adventures and maybe we'll see you elsewhere.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Gorillas in the disappearing mist

Around four months ago I responded to an email from my head, that read something along the lines of 'Wow! Sounds great! I'd be interested, but I'll still be at work'.

Fast forward and I'm just back from two weeks in Uganda thanks to a very understanding boss in my other school and the British Council.

We had to spend at least four days at our partner school in Mbarara teaching and learning. We had criteria and guidelines to follow which saw me teaching a class on peace and conflict as well as imparting some of our music and songs from the UK in reciprocation for being shown some of their choir's repertoire. 
My travelling companion (one of our senior school maths teachers) had carried out around 10lbs worth of unifix type blocks in order to teach maths with a practical bias. These proved (whilst we were there) to be very popular.  

One of the things we needed to note were the resources that we can try to raise funds for back in the UK. Much other their teaching is done via rote learning, chalk and talk and not much individual thought or practical work. Some of the things we felt were pretty essential in the younger end of the school are sandpaper letters and numerals, pencil grips and pencil sharpeners. There is also a need for more unifix so that each class has a set.

We were hosted for the week by the director of the school and her family. This wonderful family gave us the most amazing week. We met their family and friends and were treated like princesses.

 Once the first week was up, we had booked on a safari and a gorilla trek. The latter was going to be the highlight of the trip to me. I have been slightly obsessed with gorillas ever since being entranced by Dian Fossey's book and the film, Gorillas in the Mist.

To cut a long story short, we ended up at Bwindi via an amazing trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Bwindi is home to a large number of the 900 or so Gorillas that live within the Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan divisions of the forest. Bwindi is also the place of a community hospital where a good friend of mine worked for about five years.

On the eve of our tracking experience, we went for  walk and I mentioned to Mel (my partner in crime) about Paul and Vicky's time at Bwindi and how it'd be nice to have a look around the hospital and put a picture to the blog I read at the time. She did suggest we could try to fit it in, but I declined, too excited about the primates.

Not 12 hours later I found myself within the confines of Bwindi Community Hospital as a patient. Not exactly how I wanted things to turn out.
A nasty bout of food poisoning and severe dehydration had me testing out the facilities to the full. Our driver and Mel had to carry me into the hospital as for me, the world was rather blurry and very yellow. Miles of distance doesn't make for an easy, calming phonecall to your husband when you're in a rural African hospital with an, at the time, undiagnosed illness. However, the support of the doctors at Bwindi, my friend Paul and Mel, I think Mr Beehive held it all together pretty well (until the airport ;-)  )

Sadly, the gorillas (for me) were a no go. It is highly important, regardless of how well one might feel, that the gorillas are not subjected to unfavourable germs. Their population is sensitive enough without us humans creating more reasons for their demise.

Now back on UK soil, feeling slightly more philosophical than I did at the time, I can almost laugh about my naive comments the night before. The care I received at Bwindi was second to none and I am very grateful to all the staff there keeping me in the picture as much as they could, ensuring that my friends and family back home were kept up to date with developments and getting me better as fast as they did.

Oh well, I guess I'll just have to go back another time. Here are a few photos:

Saturday, May 30, 2015


"You're doing what?"
"What on earth would you do that for?"
"That's brave!"

Yes, what 'was' I doing and for god's sake, why? Last time this happened, we argued, sulked, probably cried and took the piss out of each other...a lot I think!

Yet, with bags packed, the youngest beehive and I drove up to the Lake District last Friday to spend a whole weekend with some of the loveliest people I know. The loveliest people of whom I spent too short a time with 25 years ago, only to spend too short a time with them this time.

25 years ago, we were all 17 and 18, had just completed our A levels and were embarking on an end of exams, celebratory holiday in the Lakes. Armed with tents, sleeping bags and attitude we boarded several trains to commence what was, in those days, quite a mammoth journey from East to West.

However, here we were 25 years later re-living that same holiday, only with many more years of experience, life, children and, sensibly, equipment under our belts.

The same 17 and 18 year olds but now fully grown into our skins and characters.

The weather smiled on us all weekend and I don't think I stopped smiling either.

Yes, of course it could have gone horribly wrong, after all we are now different to the way we were. There were relationships within the group that, in time, went wrong, there were disappearances overseas by some, the loss of contact by many. There have been marriages, births, deaths, losses, achievements.  Lives have been lived so very separately to the safe little gang in the rural fens that we once were.

But deep down, perhaps we're not too different to who we were. Perhaps we are just happier and more secure with who we are now? I know I am. I'm not the socially awkward person I was, concerned with who liked me and who didn't, not wanting to unbalance the world with my presence, frightened to upset the kilter. I am happy to laugh at the younger me, having learnt that she helped the older me become who I am. I'm not frightened to say what I think and feel or upset the equilibrium occasionally if it needs to be upset. Maybe, these people/this time that I spent a mere 5% of my current life with were/are so much more important to me/us than we actually realise. My future has been shaped irrevocably by this period in my life and these amazing people.
I hope that the younger me has helped me become a good mother to my own children when I feel the tug of social inadequacies and awkwardness happen to my own growing teens and tween. She helps me understand how to help them without making them feel even more self conscious of this exceedingly wild, exciting and messed up ride.

But, I know she would not have become who she is now without this group of Morrisey loving/hating, liberal thinking (or not!), sign-stealing, road defacing Anti-Thatcherites from 1990.

 If they have taught me any one thing, it is that the journey is always going to be bumpy, it isn't going
to be parallel to anyone elses. Life won't be straightforward, it won't be the way you see it in your head probably, however, having a good group of friends however far away and however infrequently you see them, it will mould your very soul!

PS: as I know you'll all read this even if you deny it ;-) Soon please! Not 25 years, not even 2, Soon!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lazing on a sunny afternoon

Lovely, lazy (well, in my interpretation of the word) weekends. Weekends that don't involve going anywhere, racing, Stagecoach shows. In fact a horrible chest infection has meant that I've not run since last weekend. One child was successfully sent off climbing with his scout troupe in Derbyshire whilst the rest of us got down to work in the garden.

I decided to try to sort out all my clematis this weekend, noting down their names and prune codes. All too many times, despite me tying the names onto them, the plastic degrades in the elements and come autumn I can't even remember the colour of the clematis let alone it's prune code!

On a roll, I decided to finally tackle the overgrowing honeysuckle and bramble that is beginning to creep towards my cordon apple tree. It does a wonderful job hiding a hideous concrete breeze block wall, however, it's also going to do a wonderful job putting an end to the apple tree at this rate.

The local village had its annual plant fair on Saturday, which was all the persuasion I needed to transform this section of the garden. A beautiful Chinese wisteria alba (I know, another climber!) had my name written all over it, a perfect replacement to the honeysuckle. Kept under strict control, this will hide the wall, but equally not strangle the apple.

Late on Saturday afternoon we were rung by one of our local beekeeper group. He had successfully divided some of his hives and wanted to know if we wanted two. So today we re-housed our new bees and now have three hives...exciting times. We also think we may have the potential grumblings of swarming in our existing hive, so we are going to try to artificially swarm them next weekend.

Next weekend LMB and myself are off to the Lake District for the bank holiday. We're going to meet with my sixth form friends of some 25 years ago and (not too closely) replicate our holiday we had at the end of our A levels! 25 years of older bones has made for glamping rather than scrambling into 2-man tents in the middle of a cow pat ridden field, but the sentiment is the same!
The boys are having a 'man' weekend at Lords!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The camera never lies...if it has good lens on it that is!

It's been a while...again.

I am becoming increasingly sporadic as the years pass and am trying hard to decipher why that is?

I think it is a primarily work eating into not only my hours, but also dampening my creativity. I can't remember the last time I got out my sewing machine or even sat to knit. Reports and lesson planning seems to be my past time of choice at the moment (although there is always some necessary house/farm-type chore to deal with). Blogging seems to get a real back seat as I can't find the inspiration on quite such a regular basis, nor can I muster the energy to focus my brain to write!

Sad as that may sound, it doesn't mean I'm NOT dousing my brain in creative things or dreaming about what I could write about if I had the time to think it through!!

This weekend was all about creativity. My dear sister gave me a voucher for a photography course for my birthday.
I had a selection of opportunities from night work to street photography or editing, however, I decided it really was time to hit my camera head on, take her of auto mode and finally figure out what ISO, aperture and shutter speed really meant to my photography.

I'll now step back with the easy option and let the pictures tell the story (it was London Marathon day btw). Hopefully they'll show a developmental progression from Sunday to this afternoon (with an added addition of a Nifty Fifty lens ie: a 50mm f1 - 1.8 Nikon lens as a little bargainalicious treat to myself!)

One of my favourite inspiring marathon motivational signs!

Run you extreme elites!!! Only not too fast because I may not have got to the end of my course to figure out how to do a great 'movement' shot or decided what the aperture should be!!

Messing about in the park with lighting and bursts on my zoom lens.

I really like this effect above, but it does make me feel a little sea sick!

 vortex effect! 

Messing about back home in the fading sun with changing the aperture and shutter speed.

 I love this series of three, watch the bee come in to land. This was with the new 'nifty fifty'.

Finally a few other Nifty Fifty shots of 'the English countryside'

For my next course, aside from some 'street photography' which might be grand, I think I need to work on editing.