Snowdrop valley

It is half term and the kids were ready for it. In fact, Finch was ready for it last Tuesday when he fell asleep in his dinner at tea time. I am always amazed at the way little children can be in full action mode one minute, and dead to the world the next. Although, I say little children, my mother can give Finch a run for his money. She has been known to fall asleep sat bolt upright in the middle of a folk concert. On Saturday we headed up to Exmoor, to a hidden valley well-known for its abundance of snowdrops. We clambered down deep mossy paths to the valley where monks from Dunster abbey are said to have planted the snowdrops to celebrate Candlemas. Rivers of white droplets covered the ground. I have never seen so many in one place. High in the trees, over the sound of the rushing stream, the birds sang. We were lucky, a passing walker told us, we had caught them just right. He had been many a year only to be too early or to have missed the flowers altogether. As I scraped the ice away from the windscreen this morning, I paused and listened to the birds singing. The sun was just coming up over the roof tops and I smiled to myself at the remembrance of all those snowdrops glistening on the woodland floor.

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Oh the joys! Diabetic feet! Here I am, attending a study evening for community nurses about diabetic foot ulcers. It was both gruesome and fascinating. The essential thing I took away is that if I ever develop diabetes I am never, ever wearing flip-flops. I’ll leave you to imagine the worst. Tomorrow is a day of Law and Ethics down at Plymouth University. As a reward I shall treat myself to a full hour’s day dream in either direction. The train takes the old Brunel line along the coast through Dawlish. And yes, that will be the one that collapsed into the sea the other year. This is the view from the murky train window…

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There was much cackling and hooting coming from Little Owl’s bedroom the other morning. I heard Little Owl shout, “Look how fluffy I made her hair!” This was followed by shrieks of laughter. Then I heard Finch say, “Let’s see how fluffy we can make it!” What on earth was going on in there?

A little while later Wren tottered out of Little Owl’s bedroom looking like she had put her finger in a socket. She has corkscrew curly, white-blond hair at the best of times but she would have given Einstein a run for his money that morning. And there was no time to do anything about it. Off she went to nursery looking like a walking dandelion clock. Of course the older two thought this was hysterical and were mightily pleased with themselves.

Did you survive the snow? We only had a smattering. I have to say I was relieved. Memories of last year’s escapades in the snow when we only had half a roof on are still strong in my mind. Wren did her best to make footstep trails in what we had, but it had all gone by the time the older two got home from school.

My nursing course continues apace this week and the next instalment of edits for my Kelpies novel arrived on Friday. My brain is a big old whirlwind of wound dressings, witches, pressure relieving aids, and flying bicycles. I hope everything comes out again in the right order.

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Stars and snow

We dodged gritter lorries on our way home from Brownies this evening. In the icy darkness we counted the stars and pointed out Orion’s belt. The radio news reports are full of snow in Scotland and the North of England. On my placement today, one of my patients told me about the foxes that visit her garden. There is a whole family of them. She is housebound and watching them play gives her a great deal of joy. I told her about the fox I came across on my early morning bike ride yesterday. My bike lights reflected in its eyes before it whisked off into the undergrowth, leaving me with only a fleeting impression of pointy ears and a bushy tail. My route was strewn with branches from the gale at the weekend. And didn’t it blow? We braved a walk across muddy fields with the children, wrapped up in hats and gloves. The wind whipped our words out of our mouths almost before we had said them. We opted for a necessary detour to a pub with a roaring fire where we warmed our chapped cheeks and chilled fingers. What did I tell you? Far too soon to be getting excited about green, growing things!

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Dreams of seeds

It has been a week of bright wintery mornings here; beautiful golden sunrises through a fretwork of bare tree branches. My breath comes out in billowy clouds as I clear the windscreen and set off to join my nursing mentor on her rounds. A welcome pile of seed catalogues came thumping through our letterbox last week. I grasped them eagerly, going through the listings, dreaming of warm, summer days and a greenhouse full of plump red tomatoes. It is amazing how optimistic I can feel about my green-fingered abilities in the depths of winter. Anything is possible! Gradually I got myself in check and winnowed my list of seed packet purchases down to a more realistic number. I dug up the last of the celeriac at the allotment this week and weeded the strawberry patch. The green spears of spring bulbs are shooting up through the dark, damp earth. The air was full of birdsong. It was lovely to tramp about in the fresh air, feeling the promise of a new season in every bit of green. But I am getting ahead of myself! It is still January.

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How it went!

So how did it go? Really well, I think (I’ve just started a Return to Practice Nursing course in case you’re wondering what I’m talking about. Read about why I’m doing it here). I can’t tell you how nervous I was. I woke up almost every hour, on the hour, the night before. My brain kept telling me, ‘get up, you’re going to be late!’ Well, there was no risk of being late at 3 o’clock in the morning. You should have seen my hand shaking when I did my first blood pressure! There’s a lot to take in and I was on my chinstrap when I came in from my first day on placement. But I loved getting out and about, visiting patients. The team I am with are super lovely. Onwards and upwards!

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Picture Books 2018

I woke up one morning over the weekend and peered out bleary-eyed from under my duvet. The room was dark and nothing stirred, but something had definitely woken me up. As my eyes adjusted to the dimness they came to rest on a strange glowing circle hovering about 3 foot off the ground, right next to my side of the bed. The glowing circle belonged to a short, shadowy figure with a pointy head and a strange tuft of, what I could only assume was, hair sticking out of the top. The glowing circle must be its eye, I thought to myself. The eye wiggled rhythmically. I stared at the silent watcher with mounting dread. What on earth was it? Then, out of nowhere, the creature socked me with a thin rectangular object and demanded, “Story!”

Needless to say, it was Wren, who had got up, put on her new bobble hat, and come in search of someone to read to her. What I had taken to be a glowing eye was her glow-in-the-dark dummy. Yes, such things do exist, and are very handy in the middle of the night. It has taken Wren a while to be able to sit through a whole picture book, but now she can, she loves it. Yes, you guessed it, it’s time for my annual round up of the picture books we have been given or bought over the last year and have especially loved.

Tidy by Emily Gravett

Tidy by Emily Gravett

First up is Tidy by Emily Gravett. This is a tale about a badger who can’t stop tidying up, not until he has managed to tidy the whole forest away! It’s a deceptively simple story, beautifully written and wonderfully illustrated by Emily Gravett. I think all my three are hoping I’ll learn a lesson from this book and stop asking them to tidy up!

The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway

The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway

Many of you will already know and love The Giant Jam Sandwich, by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway. It was first published in the seventies and it has been great to introduce my kids to it. What else are the villagers of Itching Down to do when they are invaded by a swarm of wasps but make a giant jam sandwich to catch them in? John Vernon Lord is an legendary British illustrator of long-standing. He was awarded Illustrator of the Year at the V&A Illustration Awards this year. In this book his illustrations have such fantastic character and detail. They also have a brilliant subversive edge which Finch especially likes.

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer

The Street Beneath My Feet is a non-fiction picture book by Charlotte Guillian and Yuval Zommer. I have to own up straight away: I would have given my right arm to illustrate this book (although that would have made illustrating it quite tricky). It starts by looking at what is underneath the pavement where we walk, down through the layers of earth and rock, right to the earth’s core. It’s packed with lots of quirky facts and bits of information about everything from fossils through to magma. The concertina format means you can also fold out the whole thing to look at it in one go. It’s a real feast for the eyes.

Gigantosaurus by Jonny Duddle

Gigantosaurus by Jonny Duddle is re-telling of the old The Boy Who Cried Wolf tale but with dinosaurs. Jonny Duddle is an incredible illustrator, bringing such life and fun to his stories. “Stomp, Stomp, Stomp!”shouts Wren eagerly as soon as we open the cover.

How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim by Vivian French and Hannah Foley

How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim by Vivian French and Hannah Foley

Oh go on, humour me. How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim by Vivian French and HANNAH FOLEY!!!

Goggles and other books by Ezra Jack Keats

Goggles! and other books by Ezra Jack Keats

These are a selection of books by Ezra Jack Keats about a little boy called Peter. I bought them second hand online and most of them are ex-library editions. In my humble opinion, it is absolutely criminal that a library should ever have been allowed to sell these books because they are classics every child should have the chance to read. In case you hadn’t got it yet, Ezra Jack Keats is one of my favourite illustrators! He evokes such warmth and feeling with his illustrations. One of the things about children is that their world is very small and because of this, every odd looking brick, brightly-coloured doorway, or winding back alley is important and affectionately familiar to them in a way it never can be for adults. There are very few illustrators who can evoke the strong sense of place that early childhood has and Ezra Jack Keats is one of them. These books are perfect for real littlies like Wren.

Daddy Long Legs by Nadine Brun Cosme and Aurelie Guillerey

Daddy Long Legs by Nadine Brun Cosme and Aurelie Guillerey

Lastly, Daddy Long Legs by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Aurelie Guillerey is a book that could have been written for me as a child. The car breaks down on the way to nursery and now the child is worried about how Daddy will pick her up if the car breaks down again. I spent large chunks of my childhood sat in the back of old bangers by the side of the road while my Dad huffed away under the bonnet. Even now it still feels like a minor miracle when I successfully complete a journey by car. Scarred for life, I tell you! In this book Daddy reassures the little girl that he will go to all sorts of extraordinary lengths to get to her, and if all those should still fail, well, he will walk to her on his long legs. A super book for calming all those childhood fears of abandonment.

Tomorrow is the first day of my Return to Practice course. Wish me luck!

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Hello 2019!

How was your Christmas and New Year? I hope you had a lovely time, and managed to find some restful moments in amongst the busyness. We travelled back yesterday from Yorkshire after visiting Big Dreamer’s side of the family. The roads were clear and we drove towards the sun, low and pale in the wintery sky. Already I could feel that the atmosphere had changed. The earth has turned and the daylight hours are on the wax again. Hurrah! Big Dreamer and I discussed our plans for the year in the front of the car while the children alternately dozed in the back, and watched DVDS on Little Owl’s pocket player. Amongst my seed ideas for the allotment, and birthday party plans for the children we talked about keeping things simple and local in 2019. More fresh air, more outdoors, and everything a lot more slowly. How about you? Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?

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It is a late one this year. The children only broke up on Friday. Little Owl has managed to peak at just the right time, that is, collapsing in tears as the school gates closed on the term having worn her Christmas jumper, given out all her carefully scribed Christmas cards and joyfully sung her heart out in her school Christmas production. Finch acted his part as one of the Wise Man with gusto. He turned his gift (an empty washing up liquid bottle wrapped in shiny paper) upside down, and sang into it with his eyes closed. He had obviously missed the memo telling him that the Three Wise Men were travelling seers and not in fact a three-piece boy band. He came home with most of his Christmas dinner around his mouth and in his hair. At the Christmas fair he was chuffed to bits to win a second-hand Red Nose Day mug. After such dizzying heights of ecstasy he spent the last week of term huddled up on the sofa, wheezing away like an old pair of bellows. Wren gave up after the first week in December and has been in a foul mood ever since. Such prolonged levels of anticipation and raised blood sugar levels can only be tolerated for so long.

Yesterday we found a quiet bench under the vast, vaulted ceiling of Exeter cathedral and joined our voices with the congregation who gathered there to sing lunchtime carols. It was wonderful to feel small under those ancient arches, singing words that have been sung by generations before us. In a similar vein, today we escaped to Saltram House to wander in companionable silence through the illuminated gardens. It being only two days after the solstice, and a day of creeping mists, the lights glimmered in magical contrast to the dim stillness of the day. I hummed the last verse of Hark the Herald Angels to myself as we walked back to the car. “Hail the Heaven born Prince of Peace.” I work hard to protect my children’s sense of wonder but this year, it felt like we were all over taken by the frenzied activity of the season. Somewhere along the line peace went out of the window, only to be thankfully snatched back at the last minute in song and strolling.

“Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings.”

As I always do at this time of the year, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who read my blog, leave comments, send me messages, and support me in my creative (and now caring!) endeavours. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support. A very merry Christmas to you all! May it be a joyful and peaceful one for you and yours.

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Weather for ducks

It has been wet and wild here. We made our annual pilgrimage to Dartmoor at the weekend to get our Christmas tree from the park rangers. The tops of the hills were lost to sight, covered in low hanging cloud. Water poured out of field gates. Paths had become a myriad of gushing streams. The River Bovey was swollen to a muscular torrent. We sloshed through sodden meadows, the tips of the grass just pricking the surface of the standing water. Big Dreamer and I laughed at ourselves as we proclaimed to the kids that it was good to get out for a ‘breather’. We could hear our parents’ voices ringing out from our own childhoods as we extolled the virtues of getting out and about, even if it was weather for only the bravest of ducks!

And how right our parents always were. It is good to get out of the house and embrace the season. We sloshed and splashed, stamped and squelched. We marveled at the surging water and dipped our wellies in day-old waterfalls. And the best bit of all? Heading back to the twinkly barn we always visit, to warm up with hot chocolates and sausage sandwiches. Our coats left creeping puddles on the floor but no one minded amongst the walking boots and wet dogs of all the other customers. Back at home we lit the wood burner and decorated the tree, glad we had gone out but all the gladder to have come home.

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