Monday, 30 April 2012

Splish Splash

It's been lovely weather for ducks....and dogs this week. Rain on and off all week and then  torrential downpours over the weekend has not put Monty and Ted off their exploration of the great outdoors. Ted is happy to be out whatever the weather, Monty is a little more reserved and prefers only to get wet if it's for a proper walk - he will hold on and hold on for hours without answering the call of nature if it's raining. He must have a very strong bladder!

On the understanding that we were going out for a 'proper walk', he agreed to venture outdoors at the weekend and then chose to get as wet as possible. Why walk on the dry bit when there's a nice puddle to wade in?

Afterwards, the call of the sofa was too great to resist....after a thorough towelling off by yours truly thankfully!

Hopefully he will enjoy our holiday in a couple of weeks time - he'll be able to paddle in the sea! He has explained his objections to actually swimming many times (it makes his fur all frizzy and he gets cold), but he does like to just get his feet wet! Can't wait:)

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Special Branch

Ted has a rather woolly coat, presumably a result of his mixed heritage (Springer Spaniel and Corgi). As a result, on our walks he is often to be seen sporting various bits of 'camo'; plants, twigs and brambles which we jokingly refer to as his 'special branch'. As it is spring and the undergrowth is becoming increasingly dense he has been decorating himself with all sorts recently. Here he is sporting an attractive tiara of 'cleavers' or 'sticky plant'. Apparently one of the other common names for it is 'sticky willie' but I won't dwell on that thought!

Hopefully, over the next week or so the problem will decrease as the time approaches for the 'Annual Spring Clip'. This year, my aim is to get him all clipped and tidy in one day so that he doesn't have to face the world with one half shaggier than the other like last year! Poor lad.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Stile Council

No, I haven't spelt it wrong and no, this post is not a tribute to eighties pop. In light of recent reports on the plans of Dartmoor National Park Authority to remove all stiles from Dartmoor in order to ease the access of 'the elderly' and 'larger people', I have been thinking about countryside access.

Most of my forays into England's (and Wales' and Scotalnd's come to think of it) green parts involve stiles. The fields we visit most often are actually used for cattle through the spring and summer months and the public footpath routes are scattered with all sorts of stiles and gates. I don't really mind them, despite being no sort of athlete myself, I manage to get up and over with only slight loss of dignity and since it's usually only cows and dogs watching I don't see the harm. My only real grumble comes when there is no way for a dog to squeeze underneath - Monty is too big to lift at around 40kg and he refuses to clamber or jump unless there is guaranteed bunny on the other side! Ted isn't a problem since he sees any boundary as merely an interesting challenge to be tackled; over, under or through, he will find a way.

Since the advent of the small person in our lives, walking has had an added challenge as I've said before. We quickly realised how limiting a push chair could be and so moved on to a baby carrier - first a front mounted BabyBjorn and now a Bushbaby backpack. These make the outdoors much more accessible, even when stiles cross our path. A lot of extra caution is needed to climb over a stile with a baby on your back and you have to be very aware of overhanging trees and brambles (in fact He recently went out round our favourite route with a pair of secateurs and cleared the way!) but it is manageable, especially with two adults, one acting as a 'spotter'.

This long grass will soon be feeding the cows
For 'the elderly' and less able bodied people I am sure stiles are a real problem and a barrier to their enjoyment of the great outdoors. On a group dog walk in the Forest of Dean a few years ago we were accompanied by a lady in a wheelchair who had been assured by the organiser that the route was all gravel paths. What the organiser had forgotten was the part of the route where we had to cut across a ditch and then a stream! However, since we were a large group with three or four strong blokes (Him included) we managed and it was in fact a lot of fun for all involved! Stiles certainly do avoid having lots of gates for thoughtless people to leave open, causing hassle and angst to farmers and danger to livestock. I guess the debate will continue.

I do know that I love being out in the countryside and would hate to be barred from it completely. For everyone's safety, we avoid close contact with farm animals - when they move in to 'our' fields for the summer, we move out to pastures new. The main reason being that Monty is scared stiff of cows, not too sure about sheep and terrified of horses while Ted sees all other creatures as potential food and/or a challenge to his personal dominion, regardless of size. He once got into a barking/mooing stand off with a cow through a fence! As a result, the fields above will soon be off limits to us until October when the cows go to their new homes...probably in someone's freezer! So, I guess it depends which side of the stile you are on and what role the countryside plays in your own everyday life. I quite like the countryside the way it is, stiles and all. I hope to eventually have my own bit of it and may have to deal with the general public walking across it. And one day, I will be elderly and I hope to still be enjoying those green fields and parks with the Montys and Teds of the future.

Friday, 13 April 2012


It's been all go on the birthday front this week; Monty on Wednesday and then me! Rather worryingly, a few days ago I was thinking about my birthday and suddenly realised I was a year older than I thought! It seems I have reached the age when you can't remember how old you are without doing sums! Lets hope it's just my baby brain and will wear off.

I was very spoiled for my birthday (note: I am carefully not mentioning age!). A lovely day out visiting one of my best friends, a nice lunch, flowers, a bottle of something nice and chocolates....Then a nice day visiting my parents.....then a lovely evening with Him and the bears, more presents and lovely food. I may have mentioned before that my birthday has recently become known as 'Day of Pudding'. This is because a couple of years ago He asked what special meal I would like, after some thought I explained that I was really not too bothered about the main course but would like a really sinful pudding (as ever!). His response was to prepare not one but three puddings and no main at all - bliss! Anyway, this year was a little more restrained since we have just spent a weekend of indulgent mealtimes with His parents but we did manage a late afternoon cream tea, a lovely salmon main course and then a slice of delicious chocolate birthday cake. Lucky me.

Talking about last weekend, I must say it was great. Bears were all well behaved and in good form. Grandparents were charmed and impressed in equal measure - watching the small person practice her almost crawling, admiring her fine motor skills, and donating small bits of their meals to her ever increasing appetite for new foods.

Pork Belly simmering with LOTS of garlic and chilli.
We took the opportunity of a captive audience to experiment with some new food too. He was given Thomasina Miers 'Mexican Food Made Simple' for Christmas and this was a chance to try out some of the excellent recipes. We were not disappointed and Mexican food has retained its place as one of our favourites. On Saturday night we went all out with the following menu...

Classic Margaritas, Nachos and Salsa

Tamarind & Chilli infused Belly of Pork
Hot Chorizo Salad with Butternut Squash and Baby Tomatos
Red and Green Rice

Layered Passion Fruit, Blackberry and Blueberry Jellies with Creme de Cassis

Some of the dishes were a little bit time consuming - the pork had to be boiled a day ahead and left to dry out before roasting and the layered jellies had to have time for each layer to set but it was so worth it. The meat was tender and full of spicy flavour, the salad was a very good accompaniment and the jellies were a great light finish. The Creme de Cassis was our own addition but worked really well with the blackberry and blueberry jelly making the dessert much more grown up. My only regret is that I forgot to take pictures of the finished meal.

Olympig about to compete in the high jump!
We also celebrated our joining of Pig Club with a very silly game of Olympigs...silly partly because it involves pigs doing Olympic events and partly  because we had opened the liquers by then! Each of our plastic pigs competed in the 'Pig Put', High Jump and Long Jump whilst trying to escape the efforts of other Olympig competitors to sabbotage their performance. Completely bonkers but fun.

See you next time....

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Happy Birthday Monty!!

On this date in 2007, I received a life altering phone call. A lovely Golden Retriever called Sophie who lived on an Army base in Cambridge had given birth to eight puppies. We were number eight on the puppy waiting list so that was good would be ours. We made the trek from Gloucestershire to Cambridge three weeks later to visit our new puppy and then again four weeks after that to collect him. I have to say, he was worth the effort! I had always known I was a dog person, despite never having had a dog, but from that day forward my life changed and I became a dog mad person!

Monty, or Rufus Montgomery to give him his full name, has grown...and grown...into a wonderful boy. Five today, he is so much a part of our lives he is far more than just 'the dog'. He is kind, playful, gentle, loyal, stick-loving, and soo much more. In the house he is always near, usually asleep but ever alert to what is going on. Out and about he is joyful, exuberant and with an over developed fascination for the poo of other creatures! As far as we are concerned, he is the perfect dog. We love him even when he is covered in something smelly. So today we celebrate Monty's birthday...special treats, extra loves and a birthday candle (he even agreed to pose with his candle before he wolfed down the his birthday tea)!

An update on our weekend with Grandma and Granda will have to wait for another post but I will just add that Easter Sunday was also an important day for us. We became members of Pig Club!! A brilliant scheme that means even with no small holding of our own (yet), we can own a pig! For a couple of years now, He and I have been following the antics of  'Tales From The Rock', a small holding blog. For a very reasonable fee, we are now sponsoring a piglet - a Berkalitza (cross between a Berkshire and a Mangalitza) - in it's happy, free range existence. At the end of the year, we will visit The Rock and collect our half of the fully grown pig, all neatly turned into nice cuts and sausages! What a fab way to have ethical meat and a tiny stake in smallholding! It feels somehow like a teeny tiny step towards some of my big to-dos.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

April Showers

Spring seems to have returned to its more usual temperament this week, with rain, wind and chills. Today's dog walk was conducted with waterproofs and wellies (just for me, Monty and Ted would look silly in wellies!). The top temp was 4 degrees celcius. Much more appropriate for the season although I must say, as I pulled my jacket together and battled the wind to get the zip done up, a few extra degrees would have been lovely. On our walk, I spotted some more spring signs - cowslips on the lane and hedgerows covered in blossom, a few bluebells scattered about.

One thing I do not like about Spring is that it heralds the time of year when I can look forward to a tax return form dropping through the letterbox. I always promise to be more organised next year with my banking and paperwork all filed and orderly so all I need to do is flick open a drawer and its all at my fingertips. Well, once again, April is here and my well filed paperwork is nowhere to be seen. Not because I have lost it....just because I never filed it away in the first place. I am once again doomed to searching through piles of papers for the magic figures that will complete whichever lucky form I am wrestling with. Even the fact that I have been on maternity leave for the last nine months has not made it any simpler.  Maybe next year I will manage a hassle free financial year end...

In the meantime, the bears and I are looking forward to an action packed Easter weekend. His parents are coming to stay which is always good fun (I really do mean that!). A Mexican inspired extravaganza is planned for Saturday night, so I will hopefully report back. That is, if we survive the marinade which requires approximately 30 chillies! The rest of the weekend its all hands on at the allotment. He and I spent 4 hours at the plot last weekend but imagine how much more we can get done with two extra labourers! If they work hard, we might let them watch a DVD with a glass of something nice in the evenings....