Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas time 2013

It's nearly that time of year again.
Term ended for myself and the older two last Friday and for the Little Miss, this week.

We started our Winter with a short weekend near Dover... some Christmas shopping in Canterbury, lattes in coffee shops and walks along the beach and cliffs. Sea air and some time away was a lovely, gentle start.

The holidays began for me with a weekend with my best friend in London. We had such a blast, not really doing anything other than catching up, laughing, eating and drinking...we might have sneaked a small amount of retail therapy in there too.

However, the frivolity was followed for me by a week of sinusitus, which has had me fairly miserable until late this week when finally my head decided to give me space again and the pain subsided.

It didn't stop us putting up our trees last week though, as long as I didn't bend down.

 I love unwrapping the Christmas decoration box each year. My trees may not be 'Home and Garden' but they hold a huge amount of memories amongst those decorations: places we've travelled, places we've lived, decorations to represent each of my children and their hobbies or talents.

We have also caught up with other friends and their children last night and are expecting the cousins to arrive sometime tomorrow as long as the threat of bad weather keeps away until after they arrive...

Mincepies are made, biscuits crafted, store cupboards stocked, stockings dug out from the attic, fires lit, singing voices prepped and ready...

Have a wonderful Christmas and I'll be back in the New Year.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Instilling a spirit of giving

This is something that I struggle with year on year, trying to instill a spirit of giving in my children at Christmas time. Don't get me wrong here, I feel we should be doing this throughout the year, hence the fact that Mr Beehive and I do things as many others do such as sponsor a child and give to our favourite charities and we try to encourage the children to participate in charity events or collections.

In previous years the children have made shoeboxes of gifts to donate to other children who have less, but I'm not always happy with some of these bigger organisations' underlying messages that seem to be a part of the receiver getting the gift.

We have, in the past, made boxes of needed clothes up to send to families who have less, we did this through an American forum called Mothering, for several years. However, we can't find anything similar in this country.

We've made secret gifts that we've mailed to someone we know has had a rough year and sent them anonymously.

We've drawn and framed pictures or given cookies to residential homes and donated toys to other appeals.

We have also used places like the Oxfam gifts whereupon we've bought chickens for a family as a gift for friends or we've knitted hats for newborn babies in Malawi.

But I'm sure that there is much giving that can be done at home throughout the year and not just at Christmas time. One of the ideas that tickles my fancy at the moment is buying the coffee for the person behind me in the queue and then just leaving.

So the big question I have to ask is, am I doing this in order to instill a spirit of giving in myself and my children or am I doing this because if feels nice for me to walk away knowing I've done this? Oh I feel a Phoebe-quandry coming on but you'd better hurry up because for the next few weeks I may be that person in front of you in the Costa queue ;-)

Perhaps though, if we all just chose one or two nice things to do for the person in front or behind us, that we don't normally do, perhaps help them load their shopping in the car, let them go in front of us in the queue if we have more time than them, sweep the leaves of our elderly neighbours' lawn whilst we're out there doing our own? Offer to put our neighbours' bins out or put them back in once the dustcart has gone? I'm sure there are endless ideas.

Please share your giving.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Good things come to those who try hard

It's been a pretty miserable week for the eldest Beehive. Following a rough night on Monday we went to the doctor on Tuesday only to be sent up to the children's ward at the hospital. We didn't leave again (or rather he didn't) until Thursday afternoon.

At first the doc thought he may have a pneumothorax, so wanted a chest x-ray, however, the docs on the ward decided that they'd reassess after putting him on a nebuliser.

Long story,  cut short, he eventually got his sats above 94% and kept them there and, by Thursday was able to go four hours between inhaler sessions and now we have our boy back home. He's on some preventative meds now and still has his inhaler, but, with luck, we hope we can try to keep him well.

He's doing so much better now.

However, he has also learned that patience and doing your best will pay off in the end having received a wonderful opportunity this morning.

About three months ago he went on a selection weekend with the scouts for a one in a lifetime chance to go to Japan for a Jamboree in 2015.
Despite being riddled with eczema and again, being in hospital for treatment, he decided he had to go and push through it.
Unfortunately he wasn't selected, but he did really well, missing out by only a few points. He had to go through some grieving, disappointment, a sense of failure and all the other emotions that come with really wanting something but it being out of your grasp and, because my child is normal, the green eyed monster because two other members of your troupe were selected and you weren't, but still, a maturity lesson.

This morning he was invited by one of the original selection committee to take a place on the Icelandic Jamboree next year. We are all so excited for him.
He has a year of hard work ahead of him as he has to fund raise a considerable amount of the travel but it's going to be a fantastic opportunity with lots of other learning curves!

The younger boy beehive has also done fantastically well this week. He yet again secured a silver medal in his age group at the APTI national tae qwon do competition and then three days later managed to get his blue belt with a grade A pass.

The littlest is singing her heart out with a solo spot coming up in her Stagecoach cabaret and she's entering the local young musician in her age group this year.

All I can do is sit back and watch them with my heart exploding with pride. We are just loaned our children to help them on their journeys and I am reminded this more than ever, not only when they disagree with me or each other, or make completely different choices to me, but when I see them try and succeed, or try and not succeed in things that mean so much to them.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A cowboy cookout

What a glorious evening, that started as a very, very dubious day. On the tail winds of the St Jude Day Storm we thought that we were doomed for LMB's very early Cowboy Cookout party. Armed with stacks of indoor crafts that we could do inside the yurt should the weather decide to turn on us, we headed over to a very new Yurt site that is close to us. We'd hired this fantastic yurt for the night and invited several cowboys and cowgirls to help us celebrate.

All cowboys were encouraged to chip in and peel things that they most definitely would not be eating!!

Older cowboys were assigned to the fire pit and the making of hot dogs, baked beans and corn on the cob. You can only see by the look on his face the sheer delight he gets in the simple things in life! The hat made an appearance too.

This photo was just too amazing to miss. Are we in Oxfordshire or are we in Montana? The clouds give the illusion of mountains in the background.

I was unable to take pictures of the birthday girl blowing out her candles as the wind did it for her everytime, but as this was an early party, she has another opportunity to do this on her actual birthday in a couple of weeks time.

After the guests had left, the cousins settled down for a movie and an overnighter in the yurt.

The sisters celebrated the end of another successful birthday party with some well deserved  bubbles!

Finally, the yurt glowed in all it's Hobbiton glory in the failing sunlight....

Snuggled under layers and layers of duvets, sleeping bags, cowboy ponchos, gloves, hats and each other, we all lay down on futons for the night to dream of cattle rustling and lasso knots....

Well, until the ruddy Carbon Monoxide alarm went off this morning at 4am! In all seriousness, it could have been a very different story, in fact, maybe not even one that I would have been telling, but we are all fine.

The wood burner had been out for over 5.5 hours by the time the alarm sounded, so we are all somewhat confused, but perhaps the vents weren't completely closed on the fire, maybe there needs to be ventilation panels in the doors, however, the CM alarm worked successfully and woke us all. If there is one thing it has taught us, it is that carbon monoxide is EVIL and an alarm a necessity as there was no smell, no headaches, no funny tastes, nothing visually evident. If you don't have one and have an open fire or woodburner, GET ONE! I think new legislation states that all woodburners fitted by a professional have to have an alarm installed with them, but if yours precedes this or you just don't have one, please get one.

However, with an intermittent monotone voice and shrieking alarm telling us there was a 'Carbon Monoxide Warning', this little band of cowboys had to pack their things, saddle up and climb aboard their noble steeds to head the 3 miles home to beds that didn't consist of small children, hard slats and the need to wear the whole contents of their winter wardrobes. Glamping is apparently what it's called...I'm not entirely convinced !!

Today, to clear our lungs of any possible nastiness, we have been at the allotment making a path. I'm debating whether to invest in two or three small maiden bare root apple trees to run along one side. I would train them as espaliers. My neighbour allotmenteer (is that a word? Well, it is now!) has a polytunnel that runs alongside where I'd put these trees, so I don't want anything tall to take away any of her light, but equally I think that this area is going to be better suited to a higher fruit tree rather than veg. However, another part of me thinks that this is rather an investment to put onto an allotment. Hmmm, what would you do?

Anyway, I'm off to learn how to make proper bread now with the GB Bakeoff masterclass...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


We picked up our share of our pig this weekend and have set about having our first attempt at making bacon from some of the belly.

All being well, it's an incredibly simple thing to make and means we'll have our own store of bacon for the next few months.

Whilst I was searching for something simple, I discovered that there are a wealth of ways to cure bacon, but I wanted something that I could cold smoke and then freeze that wasn't too fiddly or faffy. In my opinion, if you have to spend a week messing over fiddly stages, then it's not worth it.

So the recipe I adapted was along the lines of this:

I used 8.5lbs of belly pork that I cut into six easier to manage slabs (when this is cured completely, I will slice it and freeze it in usable batches).

Fro the 8.5lbs I used around 1lb of salt
1 packed cup of brown sugar
and 8 pints or 1 gallon of water.

The best way is to dissolve your sugar into half your water before you pour it into the other half, that way you can visually see if you have grains of salt left or not.

I used a large cool box to store the brine solution and belly in.


Mix up your water, salt and sugar until it has all dissolved, then place your belly into the brine solution.
I then weighted it under the solution with plates to hold it down.
You don't want to let any creep above the liquid or you'll end up with rancid pork which will tarnish all your meat.
Put it somewhere cool - my recipe said the fridge, however, my fridge is not a walk in size and therefore as I was doing this in October, we put it in the back of the garage for 24 hours.

After 12 hours take a look at it and mix up the brine to ensure full coating.

After the 24 hours, I got our smoker going. Again, the recipe called for Applewood chips, but with Mr Beehive being in Kenya for the week and this being my first attempt at smoking, he advised we used Oakwood chips as they have less of a tendency to go out.

The meat was removed from the brine, I washed it thoroughly and patted it dry. Then each slab has been hung on various levels in the smoker. I may swap them over later today or, after 10 hours, which is the length of time the oak tends to smoke for, re-smoke but swap the levels over then, so the upper ones get as much intensity as the lower.

Once the smoking is over, I will take them out and, according to my recipe, they'll look a little moist, so will need to be patted dry. Then I'm going to attempt to slice one slab up. I'm hoping my useless knives will work on the meat. I think if I refrigerate for an hour first, the meat will solid up a bit and be easier to slice. Then it'll be frozen...apart from the slab we eat for dinner this evening! Mmmmm.

There are alternatives which I intend to try next time including using maple syrup and maple sugar. I have NEVER seen maple sugar in the UK, so if anyone knows where I can get some, or if any of my US pals want to airmail a bag to me ;-)

On the other side of our thriving little cottage industries, the cider has had a bit of a disastrous start this year!

The first batch we made up may have been 'killed' by there being some sterilising fluid that got into the juice! None of the yeast got going and despite following lots of advice from the cider makers, we just couldn't get it to go.

However, with Mr Beehive going to get the pig last weekend, he happened to 'stumble' across a Zummerzet Zyder farm and managed to wangle himself two large sacks of proper cider apples for £4!!!!!!!!!!!

Hence the fact he is now brewing the 'real' stuff on the windowsills which is doing VERY well and all the gallons of wasted stuff :-( has been replaced. He's learned a cruel lesson this year, that is to say that sometimes you can 'over clean' and it be just as bad an outcome. We all need some good bacteria ;-)

Finally, a sneaky pic of my sis and me. We managed to take mum to see Wicked in Manchester for her birthday last weekend without her figuring it out until she was standing underneath the signs in front of the theatre! We had a lovely time and had such a laugh trying to give it away but her not getting any of it. This included me wearing my Wicked t shirt and trying to fly down some stairs and us throwing song titles and lyrics into conversation wherever we could. To the normal human being this made us sound like utter tits the whole day, however, maybe mum is used to us acting like drongos and therefore, nothing seemed out of character! Yay mum, cheers!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Eczema update

I've decided to do a little update on Master Beehive the elder's eczema since I last posted on the topic and to also highlight the National Eczema Society a little and a sponsored challenge we're undertaking in 2014 to raise money for research.

Interestingly, what has prompted this post was a lady in Sainsbury's this morning, collecting for Teenage Cancer.
I immediately dug into my pocket and handed over some cash, thinking how lucky I am that none of my children have this terrible disease and hoping that it will long, long remain that way. I thought about how I'd not want to be in the shoes of any parent in this situation with such a life threatening illness.

All of this is naturally very very true and I'm not even going to compare eczema and cancer, but what I am going to do is lay it out a little barer today, explain to you exactly how and why eczema is ALSO life threatening to many teenagers (and adults) in the UK today and hope I do that without sounding as if I'm belittling ANY condition, after all, we're all very true to the causes that we have to live through and endure and most of us will fight passionately in order to spread awareness or find help etc.

Let's start at the very beginning:

For those of us with children, we often find little rashes and marks on the skin of our newborns. Most of these are put down to unspecified rashes or perhaps an intolerance to some food or other. Some of these cases will go on to be diagnosed as atopic eczema. Atopic, just means 'on the skin' and is the most common form as far as i know, although there are many other types.

Most babies will grow out of it, a few won't. What they don't tell you is that a few will then get it again, perhaps through puberty, perhaps after a period of stress - no-one actually knows the true trigger. It's quite possible that, like the cold sore virus, it lies dormant in the body until moments of weak immunity and then it's triggered, perhaps by a bout of chicken pox or flu.

What I do know is that there are literally hundreds of people with eczema in the UK, of varying degrees, all of whom are individual and therefore to get a remedy that works for your child's skin takes time and trial and error.

During this period of trial and error, you will try creams - most likely beginning with Aqueous cream and progressing through things such as Aveeno, E45, Cetraben, Dermol, Emulsifying ointment etc.
Then there are the steroid creams and the hydrocortisones - (0.5%, 1%, 2%, elacon, Daktakort, Dermovate, Betnovate...) Of course, as any concerned parent you will be a little concerned about things such as skin thinning, so you'll do your darndest to find the root cause: hence you'll probably intermittently make his life miserable by removing dairy, or wheat, or gluten, or meat, or everything. You'll introduce herbal remedies, wash his bed linen every other day, freeze his cuddly toys to remove dust mites, hoover until you realise that your arm has actually become an extension of the vacuum cleaner. You'll keep food diaries, stress diaries, photographic diaries, environmental diaries, mood diaries, diaries of when he last did a poo and what the colour was....nah, alright, I am getting a little carried away there, but you understand the intensity!

During this time you're hoping that his skin doesn't get infected and he end up with Staph or Strep or Pneumonia or Impetigo. Yes, I think this is one area that people don't realise and that is the link between his immunity to infection once his skin is broken. Periodically he'll have to be on antibiotics to clear up an infection...that'll mean he'll get an upset tummy, so you'll need to get him on pro biotics. He'll sometimes need prednisilone because the topical creams won't even touch the sides. Sometimes the infection might hospitalise him or keep him off school for a week or more.

And how does it feel? Well, if you've never experienced it and believe me, I haven't, so this explanation comes from my observations of him and trying to associate it with things I DO know:

Imagine that you have been bitten by incredibly itchy sandflies all over your body. You itch the bites, you know that you shouldn't because it releases more histamine, but you have to. You scratch so frequently and violently despite taking anti histamine tablets, that you begin to break the skin. Over a long period of time, this skin becomes weak and susceptible to splitting open. At the breaks it weeps. Your skin is now red raw. Like a seriously bad sunburn...everywhere....all the while. Anything you put on your body such as clothes hurts so, so badly...if it doesn't stick to your skin first. Some of the earlier bites heal and bleed and heal and bleed, you know that you'll be scarred. Nothing helps. Water gives temporary relief, but then your skin dries up like a wafer and cracks open again. You put moisturiser everywhere every few hours, but it stings like antiseptic on a graze, the steroid does the same. You cry, it hurts on your face when you cry...salt stings.
That's eczema from an observer's point of view.

All the while he will be subjected to torments from kids whom he meets that don't know him, weird looks from passers by because he can sometimes look exhausted, red under the eyes and a little like a drug addict with all his skin flaking off.

The shock of being told that he needs to see a psychologist when he eventually gets to see a consultant dermatologist and specialist eczema teams hits home that he is in a category of kids who are at higher risk of suicide!

So, this is why Mr Beehive and I are climbing five peaks in the Lake District in 12 hours next Easter. We will do Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell, Esk Pike, Great End and Scarfell.
I will put a link on the blog so that, if you feel you can contribute, however small, we would be very grateful.

And, just for the updated record, he has, for the first time in three years, got smooth skin and his eczema is non visible and he is not itchy. We appear to have found the steroid/moisturiser package that is working for him. We are incredibly grateful for the consultant and her team at the JR and hope that if we can raise enough, then more children will get more help from teams like her on the NHS and through the eczema society's continual campaign for awareness and support.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Open your eyes

Yesterday evening I dropped the boys off at a Scout camp and, as I didn't have the youngest hobo with me, was able to meander back from the camp.

As I came over the brow of a small hill (believe you and me, my area only does small ones) the clouds appeared above the line of trees like snow topped mountains.

It completely took my breath away.

It's moments like this that help me recharge my batteries. That make me put the rest of the weeks' insanities into perspective.

Fluffy white clouds disguising themselves as grand and imposing mountain ranges, transporting me away from the Oxfordshire countryside on an Autumn Friday evening and into the depths of the Rockies or the Appalachian range. I can pretend, momentarily, that I'm driving close to Boulder or I'm on my way home to Connecticut to our little clapboard house in the woods.

But not once in a weekend, twice! Obviously someone felt that I had a lot of recharging to do this weekend!

Walking back from a meal at our local pub with LMB, the sky appears to have erupted this evening. There is a harsh chill to the air, not one to make your breath appear before you, but enough to make you realise that maybe you haven't quite put on enough layers for this October evening (and one to make you worry a little bit about those boys in that field on that camp!). There is also no moon.

There have been few times in my life where the skies have been clear enough to see the milky way. I remember clearly seeing it lying on a beach in South Africa back in 1990 as a teenager. A few years later, camping under the stars on the banks of the Dordogne river and then here, in this house. I have seen the milky way and this huge expanse of night sky here a few times, but nowhere else I have lived or travelled, have I seen it as clearly as these times.

I know it's been there for me to see but I just think that sometimes there are times when your eyes need to be opened wider to the beauty that surrounds you. Your eyes need to be hot wired to your heart and soul on these occasions. It may be there at other times but if your eyes aren't truly open, then you won't see. Tonight I needed to see so the banalities that came through a build up of tiredness and everyday pressures could then pale into insignificance.

Tonight I am just grateful for seeing.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Agh, just agh...that's all!

Apparently Bridget Jones is now as old as us. She's a widow and still living her life in measurements of wine units, caffeine consumption and waist line expansion. I'm sure her knickers are no smaller than ever they were either.

If my life were documented in Bridge's terms, I swear that this week and last would look something like this:

Number of hours spent in the car transporting kids hither and thither - 150

Loads of washing put on - 15

Number of trips to various hospitals and doctors - 3

Number of irritated letters sent to teachers in relation to out of order behaviour by the teacher (yes, don't go there!)  - 2

Number of water related issues - 2 so far, if you don't count the wooden floor that has risen yet again and the fact that, yet again, we have had to take it up...the other two incidents where water has come through the ceiling are minor, no, mere blips in comparison!

Number of weeks husband has been out of the country - 2 and counting

Number of turds picked up from the lawn - at least 35!! I have dogs that seem to feel it is their duty in life to ensure at least one poo has been done by the time I've picked up the previous 467!

Number of animals dead - one :-( a stiff guinea pig by Sunday evening :-(

Average time I have sat down each evening this week - 9.30pm

Average amount of hours slept - 5 - if I'm lucky enough not to have a child in my bed

Caffeine drunk - not enough

Wine drunk - seriously not enough

And this is with a part time job flung in the midst somewhere.

So how have all you Bridget Jones' coped this week ?

Hopefully normal jollies will resume once said husband is back in the country and I'm no longer the local cab service, water defence league, house elf, homework companion, caviidae funeral director, chief poo picker, dispute resolver and angry mama bear.

Toodle Pip!

Sunday, September 15, 2013


What a hive of activity in my kitchen this afternoon.
After Mr Beehive and the younger two Beehives spending another morning shovelling horsey poo into our compost bins at the allotment, he came home to the spankingly clean kitchen - yes, that's right readers, I had even washed and scrubbed the floors and cleaned out some of the cupboards, it was that "touch my house and you die" kind of clean!
He decided that today was the day to turn this spankingly clean kitchen into a less than spankingly clean brewery!

Two demi johns later and still a good quarter bucket left of elderberries I decided to join him and make some cordial with the remaining.

Elderberry Cordial:

This is a very simple recipe, there are hundreds out there, but this has been the best one I've found so far:

Granulated sugar
Cloves (whole, not powder)
Citric acid
Glass bottles with plastic lids

You need your elderberries in a pan, washed and taken off the stalk. You can do this with a fork.
Put them in a heavy bottomed pan or maslin pan and just put in enough water to cover them.
Gently bring them to the boil.
Then reduce the heat and let them simmer for 20 mins

Take it off the heat and then strain it either using a muslin or pressing through a sieve. I do both.
I tend to push through a sieve first and then squeeze the remaining juice out by wrapping in some muslin cloth.

Once you've done this it's time to put in the sugar.
Sterilise a measuring jug and pour your juice out.
For every 600mls (1pt) you need 1lb of sugar.
Return your juice and sugar to the maslin pan, add around 6 cloves per pint and gently allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Add a 1/4 tsp of citric acid

Allow the cordial to cool a little and then pour it into your sterilised bottles.

I used green coloured bottles because the cordial keeps so much better in the dark. You can keep it in the fridge and it will keep, unopened, for up to 2 years or so I've been told.

I'm not sure about its preservation without proper pasteurising or canning if you don't keep it in the fridge.

However, I really don't think ours will last that long, it's delicious!

My kitchen, on the otherhand, lasted even less time...they do make for a rather beautiful purple hue though do elderberries!

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Term has well an truly re-entered our lives this week. We're back in full flow for music lessons, clubs, parties, homework ad infinitum and tired kids.

Master Beehive the elder is suffering a lot at the moment with his eczema. In short, he suffered a lot as a baby, then appeared to grow out of it. It made a reappearance in year 7, two years ago and has remained ever since. It seems to crawl around his body, once we've got rid of it in one spot, it rears its ugly head elsewhere. I do think it is related to puberty and his body changing and believe it was triggered this time around by stress. As a baby he had a pretty stressful birth, so that could have been a big factor in its initial appearance. In year 7 he had all the stress of a new school, change of friends etc etc and he is an anxious child at times. Now of course it's clinging on to stay.
We have tried it all from a holistic angle: Chinese herbs, dairy free diets, vegetarian diets, he bathes in salt water, this gives him temporary relief, but after a couple of hours he dries again. The dryness isn't the problem, the problem for him is that in areas where he sweats, the skin gets so irritated that it rubs up sore against itself.
He has been through all the prescribed creams on the shelves. His current routine is Cetraben as a moisturiser and Elacon which is a mild hydrocortisone. We're also currently trying Salcura, both the zeoderm spray and the intensive repair. This has had some wonderful results for friends, but we're struggling to get on top of this particularly nasty flare up, thus the Salcura isn't touching the sides at the moment.

Before we went on holiday this summer he had to have a short course of oral steroids to remove the beginnings of an infection that was starting. This is something that I really hate the thought of having to do, but when your child can't see out of his eyes because they're so crusted and sore and his neck is sticking to his collar on his school shirt, there is no conversation.

If you have a child with such severe eczema, you weep to see the pain they're in and your inability to actually help. It's almost as if his body is rejecting the skin he's in.

He's lucky in so far as he has known his friends before his eczema got as bad as it is now, therefore they love him for who he is and however he sometimes looks, so he has a great support of pals. Strangers, on the otherhand, often stare, which is hard for him. I know people mean well, but when you have a condition that affects your appearance, staring is going to happen. I'm teaching him currently how to try to educate people that do ask questions. People are only curious and genuinely concerned for him. I, on the otherhand, feel more irritated when I'm shown a small patch of dried skin on someone's elbow and have to listen to how they have 'terrible eczema too'. Really, don't wish it on yourself. Skin conditions are the utter dogs bollocks.

Tomorrow I'm taking him to a salt cave. I've read some good reviews about the benefits of salt and perhaps this could give him some relief. He also sees the dermatologist again on Wednesday, so if the holistic approach needs a boost, hopefully we'll get one.

Mr Beehive and I are also going to do the Five Peaks in 12 hours challenge next Easter to raise money for the National Eczema society. It seems such a shame that with our expertise in medical science that there just isn't more understanding of the causes of, or successful cures for this condition. We will have a justgiving page up in the near future where we will be trying to raise sponsorship, watch this space.

In the meantime, if you have a child, in particular a teenager, who suffers from severe eczema, please get in touch as I'd love to know how you help them cope with it. You can leave me a note in the comments below.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

She's a' blowin'

It's coming.
I can smell it and I can feel it.
The early mornings now are veiled in that amazing low level mist. I can't even photograph its beauty it's so raw and fragile. When I open the curtains and look over the allotment, a shroud of white, wispy mist that is not even as high as some of the plants, levitates until the day begins to warm.

That first fall of early leaves has begun.
The ancient horse chestnut next to the well in the village has huge fruit on its branches. I wonder if we'll see any this year or if everyone else will beat us to it.

We're starting the beginning of fall clear up. We were granted our allotment last week which we are thrilled with, however, as with most allotments that become available, it is neglected and in need of some tlc. Mr Beehive spent most of today upcycling some pallets to make a three bin composter down there and we began some of the clearing of the plastic and beer cans that seemed to have made their way into this long lost plot.
Our next task will be to have the area sprayed - yes, not exactly the organic start we hoped for but unfortunately the ground is too overloaded with those persistent weeds such as bindweed and stingers and, it's a rule that the allotment society seem to have, that they spray before the next owner moves in.
Once the round up has been applied and has done its job, ours will be to dig, dig, dig.
I'm trying to resist (and failing) looking at seed catalogues just yet as we have so much groundwork to do, however, I also don't want to miss the boat and find that I'm then behind in the greenhouse because I didn't think about the early spring soon enough.

In case you're wondering what we're going to do with the veggie plot at home, we are going to turn it over to herbs and more fruit bushes. We found this year that, for the first time, we had a good crop of raspberries and redcurrants. We didn't have too many blackcurrants as we haven't put so many in, nor blueberries. However, now we've been gifted more space at the allotment, we can use the space at home to put in more of these to enable us to have a realistic crop that we can actually do something with.

Here at home I'm drying peppers and chillis from the greenhouse to then preserve in oil I think, although I need to look up a good recipe after having been put off preserving things in oil on reading about garlic preservation and the risk of botulism. This pdf file is a good read to ensure, if like me, you have a glut of garlic this year, you harvest and preserve safely.

We've also lit the woodburner in the sitting room for the first time since winter even though we don't 'really' need it, there is a slight chill in the air these evenings and there is nothing nicer than watching the glow of flames through a nicely spring cleaned woodburner.

How is your early fall/autumn?

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Off to secondary school: take two

Wow, it's a special eve here on 1st September 2013.
It's the eve before my younger son starts at Secondary school.

It's a huge transition for him, made easier because his older brother is already there, but still hard because he is a young 11 and he's leaving all his friends behind once again.

His first day is just the year seven groups and he'll only be in for half a day.
He's been away on scout camp this week, so luckily, he's exhausted so hopefully this will mean he'll crash and sleep without any anxieties or restlessness in apprehension of tomorrow's new adventure.

Whether his mother will sleep tonight is another story.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Final summer days

It's Tuesday. We've been back three days but it already seems like a lifetime ago that we were on Italian soil.
The final days of our holiday were spent in some great places, I can't remember where I left you, but we saw Volterra again (but screwed up the medieval festival by getting our Italian 'and' and 'until' muddled, but enough about that!). Still, being able to feast on hot chocolate that was so thick you needed a spoon almost compensated.

 We drove to an amazing hill town in Southern Tuscany that had underground caves as well as buildings on top of the hill. Pitaglia is now a bit of a haven for the creative and artistic community. As a hill town it is beautiful to walk around. More care seemed to have been taken here with presentation outside apartments etc. We would go back here and recommend the trek it takes to get there.

Our final day we visited Lucca. Again, a little more off the beaten track so less touristy, but fantastic none the less. It is Puccini's birthplace. It was close to Pisa, so the idea was to spend the morning there and then trug over to the airport in the late afternoon for our evening flight.

Now we're back and our home has been beautifully cared for by friends and family and we are so grateful for this. School is looming on the horizon rather quickly, so today we've been for haircuts.

Master Beehive the younger has a Scout camp for the rest of this week, which, in hindsight was a rather silly idea as he gets back on Sunday and starts secondary school for the first time on Monday morning!

In the garden, I am slowly preparing for final harvest and removing dead flowers and vegetable plants. The broccoli has been decimated by some kind of fly and also by caterpillars so the chickens are enjoying some greens (and the odd bit of fleshy caterpillar). I'm thinking already about rotation and next year's crops. I
know for a fact there will be less courgette next year as, despite the 'humongourgette' that we picked before we went away, there were two further ones that were there to greet us on our return. I've made courgette marmalade now and tomorrow will be making a beetroot, chocolate and chilli cake (or two) and lots more ratatouille!

I've had my name down on our local list at the allotments and am hoping that I might be in with a chance to own one before Christmas so I can dig over and get it prepared for Spring. I intend to move most of our vegetable growing over there as the allotments get more sunshine and perhaps turn more of our own land over to longer term crops such as fruit and even things like lavender or sunflowers (yes, I know what you're thinking, neither a long term crop nor a crop that copes with shade but we do get 'some' sunshine).

I'd love to own a couple of goats, but in all seriousness, there isn't really the space to extend the livestock even if I moved everything over to an allotment. I think, if we 'did' have the space, goats or sheep would be our animals of choice due to the fact we could get quite a lot of produce from either; wool, milk, cheese and potentially meat if we felt we could. In another life perhaps?

What are your plans for your homestead next year?

Monday, August 19, 2013

All laud to the tower that leans

Fourteen years ago, Mr Beehive and I came to Italy. We were younger (fourteen years to be precise!), less grey, thinner (by three children for me!), more naïve and less sceptical (isn’t it a shame what life does to you?). We were newly weds on our honeymoon (I’d like to say we were alone, but that’d be a lie, the only thing I can say in our defence was that we didn’t know we had a hitchhiker on board!). We began our two week vacation in Venice, and what a splendid introduction to Italy that was. We’d splurged on two nights in the Doge’s palace. What with that, the water taxi arrival, the masks, the gondolas, the bridges, the coffee…it was superb. Two days later we took the high speed train down to Rome. Bearing in mind this was pre-year 2000 celebrations, but all the city was under tarpaulin! We were staying at a hotel that ‘gave a lovely view of the city’, but sadly at this time of restoration and repair, gave us a view of a swathe of grey/blue tarp with some of the world’s most famous monuments buried underneath. Not impressed. However, we saw the coliseum, which was amazing, went to Vatican City and saw ‘the ceiling’ – equally amazing, went down the Spanish steps and learned that swear words graphitised in Italian are the same as English but you stick an ‘o’ on the end, however, one of the things I’d really got hung up about was seeing the Trevi fountain.
When I’m hung up on something, I have to follow it through, even if the consequences are not quite what I have expected. The other thing I’m pretty good at is having pre-conditioned ideas. In my head I’d pimped the Trevi to be in a beautiful square surrounded by lots of cafes. The books had given me the impression this was the case. To say I was a little underwhelmed when I got there would be an understatement. One of my final gifts is the inability to just.let.things.go when they disturb my perfect world. Fourteen years later, I STILL talk about the Trevi and its disappointing ‘wow’ factor. Don’t get me wrong, the fountain itself is wow, but the setting was more ‘ow’ than ‘wow’.
For this very reason, and the fact I’d done my estate agent read through the bullshit in the guide book, I was all ready for Pisa and the leaning tower to be in a back street next to a load of lock up garages and wasteland.
We decided to take the train, partly because Mr Beehive had had enough of driving for a few days, partly because the bus eats petrol like a mosquito in a blood bank, partly because the cost of parking we felt would probably be the final straw in our one family attempt to solve Italy’s financial conundrum and partly because we wanted to just be free of the car for a day.
If you’ve never done rail travel in Italy, do! That is all. It is ridiculously cheap in relation to everything else in the country, in fact, in relation to rail travel in the UK. Most stations have everything in English as well as Italian, trains are fast (well, if you go on the high speed ones for which there is naturally a premium to pay), regular and clean (ish – if you ignore the rather classy graffiti on the outsides). Returns for the five of us (children under 12 are half price) was 60 Euros. Pisa, from where we are staying is around 1.5 – 2 hours’ drive. Now calculate that on British Rail…Not bad eh? No restrictions on times that we travel, the station was in Campiglia, so easy to get to, parking at the station was free and we got a seat no problem.  Of course, if you’re married to Mr Beehive, getting on a train in a European country always pushes the button that recalls his tales of Inter-railing as a student, which, naturally is interesting, but you recall earlier….fourteen years people, four-teen-years!!!
The map at Pisa station detailed a short walk to the Leaning tower. Pisa station itself is clean enough as stations go. It’s in a relatively open part of Pisa, not creepy or particularly grubby as many London stations can be, or somewhere that has you clutching your purse for fear of pick pockets. We walked the shortish ten minutes to the tower complex past shops that were…closed for August *sigh*.

If you have not been to the Leaning Tower – do! Also, if you have not been, you will know when you are getting close because you will suddenly start to meet all the hawkers. The leaning tower is not one that you can see well from the flat of other parts of the city, so there is no prior warning other than men trying to fit neon sunglasses on top of your sunglasses or an extra watch or two on your already watch-adorned arm!
However, when you do catch that first glimpse, you may well be blown away. Trevi it is NOT!
I didn’t realise that the Tower and the Baptistery and the Duomo were all so close together. They are also still so WHITE! The Scott memorial in Edinburgh is the closest similarity I can use: The city (Edinburgh) spent hundreds of thousands sandblasting the memorial to try to restore its original colour. Other beautiful landmarks in Edinburgh and around the UK are less fortunate as. Of course, sandstone erodes dreadfully on  blasting, which is one reason, but also hundreds of years of burning coal in the UK has created a distinct dirty sheen to many British monuments that no amount of money or time will completely remove. Here in the Mediterranean, however, white gleaming towers, cathedrals and baptisteries all in their leaning glory against a backdrop of vivid blue makes you realise why the sunglasses sellers are so desperate to sell you an extra pair or two. Your pupils not only dilate they seriously shrink into your head. It is AMAZING!
This is something the Italians have got SO right. Surrounding each monument is an area of grass that is chained off, so no one can go on the grass. This means that each monument has open space around it. Naturally, there are snakes and snakes of tourists (so many Japanese that it resembles Bicester village at times!) but they are all restricted to the paths around the periphery and to the entrances of the attractions.
Of course, trying to take photos around the people taking photos of their loved ones holding up the tower, pushing the tower over or catching the tower ( – so lame ;-)) is a nightmare.
The photos below are NOT mine I hasten to add as I got stroppy that I couldn’t seem to get them angled right yet Master Beehive the elder captured some great ones of his siblings that I have now pilfered.

We had tickets to go up the tower and for the cathedral, so after selling our souls to buy a couple of coffees and three two-sip hot chocolates, we went into the cathedral. The inside is as beautiful as the outside.  The mosaics and the ceilings were simply stunning. I’m not one for being able to describe things in words, so the pictures will have to do to try to explain the magnitude of their beauty.
On leaving the tower, we paid to have a wee (well, what did you expect?) and had a half hour wait for our slot up the tower.
The bell tower is now (allegedly – not that I’m remotely sceptical) totally secure in its tilt. Having been shut for many years in the late 1990’s they have now managed to stop it leaning further. Therefore, it is safe to climb again. It’s an incredible structure, surreal in fact. To think it was built only five years before it started to lean, yet there it has stood for a further 800 years. The reason it leans is that the foolish man built his house upon the sand (and didn’t put in strong enough foundations to support it). Initially it was only three stories high before it began to tilt, but engineering obviously wasn’t hung up about it, and the next three stories were then built on top, but each with a small angle to the contrary of the one below to try to ‘rectify’ the lean. Rather than this solving the issue, it left the tower with a banana shaped lean. I’d heard many people say that it gives a very weird feeling when you’re inside. I have to say I didn’t feel this so much, despite a plumb line insisting I was on a slant, perhaps this says something about my own stance? However, you certainly feel it on the top, particularly if you walk around the bell tower level from one side to the other and suddenly you seem to be lower.

It’s a good trog up and down, not for the faint-hearted, but definitely worth it, particularly if, like much Italian architecture, it’s one day going to end up under sand or water!

Today we were due back at the Thermal baths, however, the night last night was hot, hot, hot, and no one slept particularly well, the haze over the sea gives a distinct impression of a later storm, we’re going to stay close to home, read some typical holiday trash, go to Conad’s for lunch supplies and use the local café to hook up to the net later. Tomorrow, we’ll try the baths if the weather looks less unsavoury, then we’re off to Siena on the train on Wednesday, Volterra again on Thursday, and the baths on Friday if we don’t find anyone to take us out on a boat around the coast and home on Saturday. Hopefully we’ll catch up after Siena.