How does your garden grow? {Easter Holidays, week 2}

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Three posts in three days? I suppose that's what happens when you're housebound with chickenpox! Fraser is doing fine, and hasn't complained about his spots much at all, other than about 24 hours at the weekend when he felt under the weather. 

At the end of our back garden used to be a little strip of very tall pine trees. 

When we first moved here, nearly 15 years ago, the trees were tall, but not too tall, and I liked the cosiness that they gave to the back garden. Our garden is south facing so although it still got the sun for most of the day, I soon noticed that the far end of the garden did spend a lot of time in the shade, and things just didn't grow very well down there.

The trees did look particularly pretty in a snowfall.

We had a gate in the fence at the bottom of the garden so the boys could go out and play in the 'woods'. It was perfectly safe as the land is fenced off at the end of the furthest house in our row, and on the opposite side of the trees is another very high fence which borders on the railway track. So nobody else had access to the land other than our row of houses.

Around 18 months ago or so, one of our neighbours in our row of houses enquired who had responsibility for the upkeep of these trees as they had become quite dangerously tall, and would sway terribly in high winds. If one of the trees were to fall one way it would crash onto one of our houses, or if it were to fall the other way it would fall across the railway line.

She found out that the responsibility lay with everyone in our row of houses, and so asked if it was then OK for us all to cut down the trees. Which it was.

So, just before Christmas 2015 most of the surrounding houses got tree surgeons in to get those trees chopped down safely. We got together with our neighbours on either side to get the tree surgeon to do our three sections at once and so got a better deal on the price.

Even in the dark and greyness of December days, the difference to the amount of light that was now in the back garden, and in the kitchen at the back of the house, was amazing.

Our two neighbours soon took down their back fences and began reusing the empty land. They also put up a fence between their houses and the houses on the opposite side of them, all the way down to the fence at the railway line. There is no fence between the three of our houses in the new land at the moment. It means that everyone can easily walk between the three sections to help each other out. Especially when someone is having a bonfire! It also makes the end section feel nice and open.

We didn't get around to doing anything with our new section of garden last spring/summer, but I had big plans for it!

So last week, while my husband Andy had the week off work, I decided to put him to good use and to try and get a start on turning my plans into reality!

My plans are for lots of raised beds to grow vegetables in, and then for the rest of the space to be for the boys to play around in. We left four of the pine trees up, those behind the shed, although we had the tops cut right down to a manageable height and all the branches cut off, as Andy and the boys think they will be a perfect platform for a treehouse.

This was the garden at the start of last week. The grass is always so patchy after the winter, when it gets so wet, and the fence on the left there was a new one put up last summer to replace the rickety old one that had been there. But we didn't get around to painting it last summer. So much that we didn't get around to doing last summer!

This here is my one patch of prettiness in the garden. I long ago resigned myself to the fact that I can't have a garden full of blooms, given how many footballs, shinty balls and rugby balls that fly around the garden. After all, we bought a house with a big garden for the kids to play in. I don't want to stop them from doing that! 

With the exception of my hydrangea in the far corner, which is from Dobbies, I filled the whole bed with plants/bulbs from either the pound shop or Aldi's last summer and it looked amazing. I'm planning on doing the same this year.

Now onto the harder work.

We ordered some cheap timber from a local supplier and I did a little bit of maths to work out how many raised beds we could make out of it with the least amount of waste.

The boys were eager to get to work with the saw!

The boxes began to take shape, and we painted them before they were positioned where I wanted them.

The boys also began to take it in turns painting the fence, although I have to say that David (11) was the most diligent worker at this.

James (17) took a break from his studying to come and help with the heavy digging. 

The ground was so uneven and hard, and full of old tree roots, that it was quite hard work to turn it and to get the boxes in position nice and level.

At the end of about our 3rd day of working we had a beautiful rainbow over our work.

In preparation for filling the boxes, I've been growing seedlings in my little greenhouse. And on the kitchen windowsill too.

So far I have planted courgettes, peas, tomatoes, sunflowers, sweet peas, aubergines and peppers. I'm really not convinced that the aubergines or peppers will come to anything, but it's worth a shot anyway.

This week I'm also hoping to plant some more seeds, including pumpkin, carrots, french beans and sweetcorn. Again, I'm not sure if I can grow the pumpkin and corn but I'll give it a bash. The pumpkin seeds I have say they have been adapted for a 'northern climate' so I am ever hopeful!

And of course I'm planning to plant a whole pile of tatties too.

I haven't put any of my veggies out yet though, as there was frost forecast for a couple of nights this week. I think I should be safe enough at the end of this week though.

By Monday the boxes were all just about dug in. There are three deep ones and two shallower ones. That should be enough to get started with anyway!

See that little path there too? That was my work, using some broken slabs from the side of the house :-)

And on Monday evening, to round off the holidays, and to get rid of the millions of tree roots we had dug up, we had a little bonfire.

We had kept some tree stumps for little seats. 

Perfect for sitting around a bonfire and whittling away.

As you can see here...

...and this one shows the work in progress as it is now.

Now, fingers crossed for a good summer!

Board Games, Bargains and Birthdays. {Easter Holidays, week 1}

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Now that the Easter holidays are over, I need to post a few highlights of what we did before I forget them all myself!

Starting with the first week of the holidays, which we spent at Granny and Shen's in Lewis.

We enjoyed lots of board game evenings. 

One of the boys' favourites is this old Game of Life game that used to belong to me and my brother when we were younger. The boys have played the newer version of the game before - although I can't remember where! - but they much prefer this old retro version of the game. When we used to play this game as kids, I always wanted to land on the squares that gave you a child and to have as many children as possible because when you reached the end of the game you received extra money for each child! Not quite how it works in real life though! And funnily enough this time round when we played it I didn't land on any of those squares and ended the game with no children at all. I didn't win the game either.

A new favourite game was the Logo Game, which we picked up in a charity shop and played at least twice every day that week! We've left it at Granny and Shen's house so that we can enjoy it again in the summer.

In fact we did quite well with our bargain hunting over the week.

Every time we are up we pay several visits to our favourite charity shop. Not only do we always manage to pick up some amazing bargains there, but we also know that the money is always going to a very worthy charity - a nursing home and hospice on the island, and the home where my Aunt spent the last part of her life.

I always go looking at the plates and china, trying to build up my collection of vintage plates and china, while the boys head for the toys and books. I found some of the two types of plates that I'm trying to collect - blue Willow Pattern Dishes and Bristol Crown Ducal dishes, if you're wondering - for 20p a plate.

I especially love the Crown Ducal ones. They remind me of dinner time at my granny's house. 

  James (17) found an amazing collection of a hardback Marvel series, and the other boys found a huge range of Playmobil all bagged up for £1 or £2 a bag.

James bought about 20 of the books one day, which was almost all of the ones that were out on the shelf. It was a book series he had wanted to collect some time ago, one where the books come out every fortnight (or every month, I can't remember) but the books cost £10 each so he knew he couldn't afford it and only ever bought the first few in the series when the price was cheaper. In the charity shop they were selling the books for £1 each, so he had to jump at the chance! 

When we went back into the shop again a couple of days later they had put more of the series out on the shelf, and so he bought himself a few more. We didn't have a big bag with us that day though, and so we improvised how we would get them home...

I also came across a new shop in town that has only been open since just before Christmas. I looked at the window display and realised that this was exactly my kind of shop. It was full of vintage dishes, teapots, china, enamelware. So we had to go in a for a look, and see what I found...

...some more Bristol Crown Ducal! 

Back at the house Ally (7) and Fraser (3) loved finding out what was in the random bags of Playmobil they had bought. There were lots of people; bikes; an ice cream shop with all the bits and pieces it needed; a bakery with lots of breads, buns and bakes; some bedroom furniture; a baby set with pram, cot, highchair, baby bath etc; and some more random bits and pieces.

They spent hours playing with it all.

We didn't just spend our time hunting for bargains though.

 While we were up it was my dad's birthday. David (11) offered to make the table look special for his birthday dinner.

He folded the napkins fancy and even made up some name cards for everyone.

And even Fraser got a fancy glass.

My mum cooked the dinner and I made the cake - Nigella's Sour Cream and Chocolate Cake from How to be a Domestic Goddess. It's one of my favourite Chocolate Cake recipes.

A few years ago when my dad turned 60, my sister in law and I made up t shirts for everyone in the family with a photo of my dad from the 70s on them. We all wore them on the morning of his birthday and he came down to breakfast that day to find us all sitting round the table with matching t shirts. Even Fraser, who was only a few months old then, had one. Well, Ally still has his t shirt and had brought it with him to wear on Shen's birthday again...

Finally, while we were away, James had taken his art work for school with him as he had to finish off his folio for Higher Art over the holidays. For his expressive section he had to do some of his drawings/paintings in the style of another artist, and so that's what he was working on here.

Of course, when Fraser saw James busy with paints he wanted to join in too and so James gave him a few blobs of acrylic paint and let him do his own work of art.

And here are James' final drawings and painting. Pretty good, don't you think?

And that's about everything from our first week of the holidays. 

Week 2 involved much less bargain hunting and a lot more physical work. But more of that in another post.

The Iolaire Memorial

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

School went back today after the Easter holidays. 

Well for three of the boys it did. James (17) is away this week with some other Army Cadets from across the country, on their practise Gold Duke of Edinburgh expedition in Dartmoor!

For once though, David (11) was very eager to get back to school as he wanted to tell his teacher about a trip we made when we were up in Lewis in the holidays.

His class has been learning about the Iolaire disaster and so he asked if we could visit the memorial to it when we were at Granny and Shen's.

The Iolaire, if you haven't heard of it, was a ship returning from the First World War, bringing servicemen who had been away fighting for years back home to the island. In the early hours of the 1st of January 1919 the ship was approaching Stornoway in a storm. It hit the rocks known as the Beasts of Holm, just outside the safety of the harbour and very quickly sank. Because of the terrible sea conditions, despite the ship sinking very close to land, 205 of the 284 men on board lost their lives.

It is such an unbelievably sad story. That the men had survived the war. That they were so close to home. That it was New Year's Day. That so many died.

It is said that every family on the island was affected by the tragedy in some way, and the loss of so many men on top of the 1000 or so who lost their lives fighting had a great effect on the island.

So we decided to walk out from Stornoway to the memorial one afternoon. We reckoned it was about 2.5 miles or so from Granny and Shen's house, so not too far for bigger legs - like those about to head off on a Gold DofE expedition - but just about as far as little 7 year old legs could manage without grumbling. 3 year old legs would be nice and cosy in the buggy!

For the last mile of our walk there we were walking straight into a strong wind and it really felt like we had walked much more than a mile!

When we finally reached the end of the road, and the top of the hill - where the wind was even stronger and coming straight off the sea - we found the plaque explaining about the tragedy at the start of the path to the end of the cliff where the memorial is.

That tiny little mark about a quarter of the way from the left of the picture below is where the memorial is in relation to the start of the path.

The path isn't exactly perfect for pushing a buggy down, but thankfully I had an Army Cadet with me, who was happy to help me by pushing/wrestling/carrying it down.

Finally we made it to the memorial.

Standing at the memorial you can see where the ship hit the rocks, round about where the spike is in the sea in the picture below. Unbelievably close to land.

And then to the right of that picture above, and round the corner of the picture below is the safety of Stornoway harbour.

I didn't feel that my photos really showed how windy it was though, and so asked the boys to stay still while I took a little film of them there...

So if this was how windy it is there on an ordinary, non stormy day, it's a little easier to understand how severe it would have been in the sea, in a storm, in the dark.

Once we were done at the memorial it was time for the mammoth task of getting the buggy back up the path!

And I have to confess that once we had reached the top of the hill again we phoned Shen to ask him to come and pick us up, rather than walk all the way home again. Although with the wind behind us this time we would probably have done it in half the time!

If you want to read more about the tragedy of the Iolaire, I highly recommend the book When I Heard the Bell by John Macleod.

Egg Hunting

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Last week we spent the first week of our Easter Holidays in Lewis at Granny and Shen's house.

While we were there we had an Easter Egg hunt in their garden. I'm so glad that we did it then, and didn't wait until this weekend, as a couple of days ago Fraser (3) came down with Chicken Pox! He has remained remarkably cheerful despite it, but was definitely not in the mood to be running around the garden today.

He likes getting the cream rubbed on his back and tummy though!

Anyway, back to last week and the Egg Hunt.

While David (11) went outside and hid all the eggs, Ally (7) and Fraser got themselves ready to go egg hunting by getting their new RNLI wellies on. 

The eggs were hidden in twos and Ally and Fraser were told that they could only take one from each place. That way they would both get the same amount of eggs at the end.

They were both so excited as they ran all around the garden hunting down the plastic eggs.

Once they had found all the eggs we went back inside and they opened them all up. Some of them had some little fluffy chicks inside, while others had some sweeties in them. David had just as much fun as the youngest two, first of all hiding the eggs carefully, then pointing the boys in the right direction of any eggs they may have missed, and finally helping Fraser open up his eggs.

I took a few wee clips of them on their hunt, and you need to keep watching until you see Fraser's excitement when he finds out what is in one of his eggs!

To finish off our Easter fun, we made up some Easter Bonnets using some kits I had bought in the Pound shop - the plastic eggs and fluffy chicks were also from there. I love the Pound shop for crafty fun. (And cleaning supplies, and gardening supplies, and toiletries...)

Armed with some of Shen's glue sticks and a roll of sellotape the two youngest boys made some lovely colourful Easter Bonnets.

Didn't they look great?

Back to today, and to the sick boy. Well look, he can still smile despite the soreness and itchiness,,,

He is doing his best to keep his sunny personality to the fore. Although at times he just wants to sit and cuddle, and he hasn't been sleeping very well either.

The older three boys all had chickenpox when they were smaller but Ally hasn't had it yet. We'll be on spot watch with him for the next few weeks!