Monday, 31 December 2007

Wet and Windy in Wales.

We're back from our short break around the English/Welsh border and it rained, in fact it started to rain just as we were crossing the Severn Bridge. It was so dull we weren't even sure we could see Wales on the other side!

We had planned to walk across part of the bridge on the cycleway but it was very windy and so we stayed safely tucked up inside the car. After a picnic lunch in the steamed up car, we zig-zagged back and forth between England and Wales exploring the countryside between Chepstow and Ross-on-Wye. Luckily there were opportunities to stop for coffee and hot chocolate to keep us warm.

The next day found us in Hay-on-Wye which is a favourite place of ours. The main attraction is the many bookshops and after much browsing we came away with a few bargains. The weather was mixed but we did get up into the Black Mountains although the only photographs I took were from the car, it was very wet and windy.

Further along the road in the photographs we passed the Youth Hostel that we stayed in back in June. Sadly it is closed down now and there was a "For Sale" sign at the bottom of the drive. It seems sad that a hostel in such a beautiful location was uneconomic and had to be sold. It is a remote area and such a lovely quiet place to stay. It even looks lovely in the rain.

We are back at home now and the Christmas holidays are rapidly coming to an end. There is so much build up to Christmas and then its all over. One more day and then work starts and the day after that, the school term begins - I'm already looking forward to Easter!

Happy New Year.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Rest, sleep, walks and knitting

We are in the middle of eleven nights when we don't have to set the alarm for 6:15am and its lovely. My husband has mixed feelings about having to take some of his annual leave at this time of the year (his office closes completely so he has no choice) and would really prefer to take all his holiday during the warmer weather. I disagree and think that an enforced break and chance to rest at this time of year is a positive thing, an opportunity to slow down a little more in tune with the winter season.
So we have been going on gentle winter walks, watching DVDs together as a family and generally taking it easy. For me this means more time to knit and I have almost finished the cardigan I started in the summer. This is taking me ages, partly because I don't usually get much time to sit and knit and partly because I'm using 2.75mm needles! Anyway I am now halfway through the second sleeve and the rest of it is blocking so hopefully a completed project in the New Year.
We are now away for a couple of days for a short break and are heading to one of our favourite places, over the Severn Bridge and just into Wales.

Friday, 21 December 2007

The shortest day

The shortest days of the year are here and they have been filled with blue skies and sunshine. It has been cold with very white frosts and also quiet with hardly a breath of wind. Quiet weather seems appropriate at this time as the earth lies in hibernation (in the northern hemisphere) resting before the spring.

Some photographs of the wintry landscape around here.

In the garden today I noticed that in the middle of all this cold frost and ice, the first snowdrops have started to peep through the soil. On the shortest day of the year its good to see a definite sign of spring to come.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Pale grey days

Just a few days before the shortest day and the colour here is pale grey. I have just returned from a trip to see my parents and driving along the motorways to their house every thing seemed to have a midwinter grey appearance. I left home before it was light and as dawn broke all the fields were white with frost and the motorway itself was pale from a coating of salt, even the bright colours of the cars were muted by a covering of salt spray and grime.

Mum is battered and bruised following her fall but is in a lot less pain than she was. She is feeling very frustrated at not being able to do much at the moment and my Dad is coping with all the cooking while trying to stop my mother from doing more than she should. I was able to do a few jobs for them but it is at times like this I wish that we did not live so far away, a short visit more regularly would be more beneficial than a weekend stay at longer intervals.

I am back home now and we are winding down at the end of what seems like a very long term. I have already finished work until after Christmas and by the end of this week both boys will have broken up also. They are also noticing the greyness, leaving and returning to the house in the darkness. The sunset is already moving back although it will be the beginning of January before the mornings are lighter. We are all looking forward to the Christmas break and then the lengthening days.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Our Christmas Tree

Today we got bought our Christmas Tree. We had an artificial tree for many years but when it had become a little thin in places we decided to have a real tree and have had one ever since. A lot of Christmas Trees sold in the UK are imported. We import around 2 million trees from Denmark, Christmas Trees being their second biggest export industry after pigs!

We are lucky and are able to buy a locally and responsibly grown tree as we live near the Yattendon Estate. They grow a selection of Christmas Trees but our favourite is the traditional Norway Spruce. It has become a little bit of a tradition to visit the shop on the estate, choose our tree and then enjoy bacon rolls and mugs of tea in the barn.

We decorated the tree this afternoon. I like quite simple decorations and I like using the same ones every year.

After Christmas we will recycle our tree. Of the 7 million real trees that are bought each year only one in six are recycled. Our council recycles Christmas Trees or some local garden centres are offering a service where you take your Christmas Tree to be shredded and if you take along a container you can take home Christmas Tree mulch.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Red Sky

Red sky in the morning,
Shepherd's warning.
Red sky at night,
Shepherd's delight.

My younger son took this photo from the car as we were driving to the station earlier this week. It really was a brilliant sunrise and the pink colour seemed to spread over half of the sky.

We wondered if the saying would prove true and that there would be some bad weather ahead. Sure enough we have had very cold weather (well cold for us at this time of year - minus 5C) and very white frost since that morning. I am always surprised by how often this little rhyme seems to be right.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Rush, rush, rush.

I took this photo yesterday morning on the motorway to Heathrow where my husband was taking a plane to the States on a business trip. We left home just after seven, this photo was taken at around 7:30 and I was amazed at the amount of traffic there was. On a weekend day at this time I expected the roads to be relatively empty but obviously many people start their days early. The set down zone at Terminal Four was very busy and rushed, just time to get the luggage out of the car, shout a quick goodbye and drive away to make way for the next car in a very long queue of cars. It is a shame that everything always seems so hurried.

One of the reasons there is so much travelling at this time of year is that families are spread so far apart. Apparently in the UK the average distance that grown up children live from their parents is 80 miles, which is a lot of miles of driving to meet up with family members at Christmas. I live about twice that distance from my parents and it seems a long way especially as they get older. I have been thinking about this recently as my mother fell at home and broke her collar bone. She is recovering slowly but there are a lot of things that she can't do with her arm strapped into a sling. I phone regularly and will visit when my husband is back home but it would be good to be able to just pop round and do a few jobs to help out.

In the middle of all the rush and activity particularly at this time of year, I think that it is important to try to make time to sit and be quiet and still for just a few minutes a day. Each afternoon I collect my younger son from the railway station and sit knitting quietly in the car while waiting for his train. Last Thursday there was a beautiful sunset, a perfect time to sit and stare for a few minutes.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

local or eco?

I try to think about the environmental impact of the food we eat. I thought that this was a relatively easy thing to do just by using a bit of common sense, obvious things like eating less of foods that had travelled long distances, avoiding foods grown out of season which require a lot of heat for growth and avoiding processed foods where the individual ingredients may have travelled long distances. I assumed we were doing quite well and that eating seasonal local/UK produce was a good thing.

It was a surprise then a couple of weeks ago to read this article and particularly the following paragraph.

New Zealand butter, for instance, sold all the way round the world in the UK, has less carbon emitted per kilogram of butter than English butter, even taking its shipment into account. How can this be so? Because New Zealand cows are able to eat grass, which grows all year round. In the UK they eat artificial feeds for part of the year, and are kept in heated accommodation.

The butter we usually eat is Rachel's Dairy which made in Wales (not too far away really) using UK organic milk. It seems incredible to think that eating this is more harmful (in terms of CO2 emissions) than butter that has travelled about as far as it is possible to travel from the other side of the planet. I have tried to find some actual figures so I can see how big the difference is but so far haven't been able to find any.

I am going to continue eating UK organic butter as at least it is supporting UK farmers and I'd like to see some figures before making any change but it has made me wonder if any other "common sense" decisions are not actually the most beneficial for the environment.

Perhaps we need to rethink the way we look at all year round basic foods. After all butter and cheese used to be made with the surplus milk produced during the summer as a way of preserving the fresh milk. We are used to the idea of eating seasonally in terms of fruit and vegetables, maybe we need to extend the idea to other foods like dairy products, eggs etc.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Oh dear.

Its been very windy in the south of England not really gales but still enough to blow over my little greenhouse and scatter the pots of salads all over the patio. I was very proud of my baby salad garden but as the saying goes "pride comes before a fall".

As the greenhouse was wedged in between a bay tree and the house and was also right against the fence I thought it would be safe but obviously not. I've weighted the bottom shelf down with a paving slab and am hoping that will make it more stable.

I think I will sow a few pots with rocket seed as that is usually quite hardy but I'm not sure whether other salad seeds germinate in December. I will have to experiment.