Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Yarn Along

Joining in again with the gracious Ginny for Yarn Along.  I am also continuing my stash busting challenge, by using some ancient skeins of Sockotta sock yarn, which somehow I fear, will never grow up to be a pair of socks. No, indeed, their true destiny is to become a shawl! (James is watching a He-Man cartoon as I type this, sorry.)  I have never knitted a shawl before - or even used such thin yarn, but I like this pattern - The Simple But Effective Shawl, and I am getting on quite well so far. I only cast on this morning and have been picking it up now and again in between household-y tasks.  Since this picture was taken though, I have made a mistake and will have to rip out a couple of rows.  I like the way the colours are appearing - very spring-like.  Whether it will every be ready for Spring is debatable - well actually it is not, but we can give it a go.  Not sure if this will be for me or for a gift.

As for the book - well you know that old saying "never judge a book by its cover?" It is wrong.  I spotted this beautiful cover among the jumble of books on the charity table in the big supermarket (the best place to find the most amazing second hand books in the whole world for 50p). It is Susan Hill's moving book In the Springtime of the Year. Possibly a difficult one, as it deals with bereavement and grief; the story of a young widow as she comes to terms with her loss.  I have read a couple of books by this author before, but they were about seasonal and country living - this is my first foray into her fiction works. I am just starting this too, so I will report back.  The cover and the yarn are very colour co-ordinated though, don't you think?  Maybe this could be a new trend.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sheep Stories

The sheep are back on the croft now, as lambing approaches.  It is good to have them close by, and to see them out the window. We have five now -  we were given  three by kind and generous neighbours, looking to reduce their stock numbers, to add to our original two. They are mostly blackface or blackface/cheviot crosses, and the new girls are fairly experienced mothers. (The ram is a cheviot, so the lambs will not have horns.)  As our two were first timers, we were glad that there would be some role models for them.

We decided to have them scanned - really so that we knew what we were dealing with.  It is our first lambing season too, so we wanted to know if we had any multiples to be looking out for.
Scanning is a community affair, although not everyone participates in this.  Those who are, take their expectant sheep to the appointed place - in this case, the barn of one of the crofters in the village.

And here they are - the anticipating ladies.  Reminds me a bit of the ante-natal clinics I used to attend when I was expecting my older children in the 80s and 90s!

While we waited for the scanning man to arrive, we headed indoors for a cup of tea and some amazing home baking.  Of course he arrived in the middle of it all, but I am afraid I lingered in the kitchen, blethering, and eating scones, so there are no photos of the event, only the packing up afterwards. Apparently though, he sat on a machine rather like a motor scooter, and the sheep were passed into the gap in front of him, and were quickly scanned and pronounced "Single - Empty - Twin".

Everyone discussed their outcomes - one had a lot of empty sheep, but this was balanced out by the number of twins - another was very concerned that an older ewe was carrying twins. We were happy with our results though - 4 singles, 1 empty, and now we can look forward to mid-April when the lambs will be born.

And then, back home -  only Maddie Beag carries the blue mark of barrenness.  Not totally unexpected - she was still very frisky, and small too.  In fact, it is debatable whether she should have gone to the ram at all this year, but we couldn't have kept her separate from the others on her own.  She can try again next year.

So  now we just wait.  I have been to a lambing course, I know what to do in an emergency, and, oh my - what a lot can go wrong!  Fortunately the sheep don't know all that, so hopefully they will just do their thing when the time comes, and all I will know about it is seeing those tiny white woolly bundles jumping around.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Seven Days

Another Seven Days gone in a flash, and already fading into the ether.  This week we have been ~

Enjoying splashing in the puddles

Ready to rush out into the storms at feeding time.

Delighted by a picture text from Kenneth, showing off his home grown seedlings,

Grateful to the water board contractors who have been working in the most horrible drenching rain to bring new water pipes to the village, and who find time to stop and run to open my gate, to save me getting wet too.

Thrilled by our first garden harvest of the year - even if it is only a tiny scattering of chives.

Amazed by the technology that allowed us to join in Finlay's 4th birthday celebrations.  So wonderful to see everyone.

Taking advantage of a sunny spell to stop and scramble up a hill on the drive back from the nearest store 15 miles away.

I love to do this weekly reflection. It never ceases to amaze me just how many extraordinary blessings can be found amidst the ordinary. Wishing you many joys to be found in this coming Seven Days.

Friday, February 24, 2012

This moment...

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember. 

I am happy to be joining in again with Soulemama this week.  Have a productive weekend. xxx

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yarn Along: Squaring up to dementia

It is Wednesday and time for Yarn Along again.  What have you been reading and knitting?
This week,  I have given up on Mr Tudge and he has returned to the library but I am still enjoying dipping into Katharine Stewart's crofting diaries.

Knitting-wise I have almost finished the baby cardigan for my nephew - the sleeves are attached and I just have the yoke and bands to knit.

I have also been knitting squares - 10cm (4 inch) squares using odd ends of DK yarn.  I read in the local paper at the weekend about an awareness raising project in aid of Alzheimers Scotland. Some of you will know that I lost my Mother to dementia in 2010. For years we watched, despairing, as she slowly unravelled before us.  All her skills, talents, humour, personality, gentleness, abilities and faculties just came undone- stitch by stitch at first, then part of a row - and then, suddenly - the woman we loved had been ripped away.
Almost as soon as she died, however, she came right back to us - knitted up again in the glorious patchwork that was her self.  The bad memories of her illness - the difficult behaviours, the incapacity, the frustration and the decline during her final months and days - all miraculously vanished.  We spoke about how she had been before this sickness took her from us - we laughed, we recalled, we shared, and we re-membered her.
Since then, I have shied away from anything to do with dementia - the very idea of it has been pushed away - no need to deal with this now. I had my mother back whole again, even if it was only in my memory.  That first new year, a kind and loving friend sent a calender of the most beautiful landscape photography - printed on behalf of an Alzheimer charity.  We could never bring ourselves to hang it on the wall - it would only serve as a reminder of what we had been through. I hated to hear about others who had been diagnosed - it brought back feelings of dread and despair.  Even on the blog, I have a post label for Alzheimer's, from the occasions that I wrote about Mum and her illness. Sometimes I  notice it, then quickly avert my eyes from that word.  Indeed, it is a disease that strikes not only the victim, but their families too and we had all suffered in some way.
But then I read this tiny article - just a few lines and a phone number - Calling Knitters Young and Old. I phoned, and here I am knitting little squares to be joined up into a huge blanket of 71,000 squares - the number of people in Scotland diagnosed with dementia. All those different people, from all walks of life,who are slowly disappearing bit by bit. I like the idea of knitting for these, the unravelled; helping to create a collage of coloured yarn, each square representing the individuality of each person suffering from dementia. I think I feel ready to square up to this disease now.
The squares are needed by the beginning of May this year, so I have plenty time to run a few off as I go along.  Many thanks to friends who are sending me squares too. I do know that there are some who read here whose lives have been touched by this disease, and one or two who are currently dealing with it right now.  I send love, blessings and strength to you all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

More of Erin - and Abigail too

Sme more pictures of Miss Erin - just because she is so gorgeously one year old.  Also introducing her new friend, Abigail - our present to her.
Abigail was made by the very talented and lovely Laura, who blogs about her gentle family life in Ireland here,  and has an Etsy shop full of beautiful handmade dolls here.

I think they are going to be good friends - don't you?

Monday, February 20, 2012


Happy Birthday sweet Erin!

 I cannot believe a whole year and a day has passed since this post and here she is toddling around, always smiling, laughing and into everything. Time just flashes by so fast - especially when we are far away. But still, we will see them all in a couple of weeks time, when we come over for a wedding.

We tried to set up a video cam link, for the blowing out of the candles, but failed miserably due to some technical disorganisation at both ends (mostly mine).
Many thanks to Daniel for the beautiful photograph (we do like the hipsta app - lol).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Seven Days

I've been having a lot of fun with the hipstamatic app this week.  Here are some of my favourites from our last Seven Days - so many things that made me smile.

The week started in sunshine.  I loved glancing out of the bedroom window and seeing the sheep sunbathing.

We took a chilly walk up to the Callanish Stone Circle - 5000 years old, but still so impressive. No-one really knows for sure why it was built - for what purpose, or by whom.  There is much speculation about it being connected to the lunar cycles or ancient Earth worship rituals.  In any case - it is a very special place to be.

On our weekly visit to Stornoway,  we usually park the truck down at the harbour, where the overnight freight ferry, Muirneag, is moored during the day - part of the ferry service for all the Western Isles.  It is not the most reliable ship, and its run is frequently cancelled due to the weather conditions.  We like its bright colours though.

And one of the results of our trip to town was a feast of the freshest seafood you could find.

On a walk down to the shore, we were beset by a sudden Atlantic squall, so took shelter in the nearby visitor's centre for a coffee - and a spot of knitting with a view.

But the sun came out for a while, so we headed down to the pier, where a local fisherman keeps his nets and lobster pots.  I love the cheerful tangle of orange and turquoise.

But by the end of the week, the sheep had to scrape the snow away from the grass to find their breakfast. Part of the ever changing weatherscape of the Isles.

Heading into another Seven Days now - still Winter, but with Spring on the horizon.  I wish you joys and blessings for the week ahead. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Taking Shelter

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember. 

I am happy to be joining in again with Soulemama this week.  Have a cosy weekend. xxx

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Yarn along

A wee while since I posted on Yarn Along - and you would expect me to have a big list of FOs to show off.  What - you didn't? Oh well, that's fine, because since the pebble vest (which went down very well) I have been very lax in the yarny department.  The ripple is slowly - slowly undulating along at it's own pace.   I am still enjoying this very much, and it is so good whenever I am able to just sit down and lose myself in that meditative rhythm - 4-2-4-2...
But - I have a stash to bust, and other needs to fill, so I have decided to complete an item then have a few days rippling before I cast on another project. Good plan!  So, I have started knitting another baby cardigan for our other nephew's forthcoming baby.  S/he, who will be the cousin of Dylan (pebble), is not due to join us until June, so I feel safe enough knitting the small size.  I have already knitted this cardigan in bright pink, for Erin, but I am using a cream superwash merino by artesano, and I will add a couple of extra button holes.

I am struggling to read anything right now.  I had started Good Food for Everyone, by Colin Tudge a few weeks ago  - in fact i think it  may be overdue at the library ( oops,just checked - 9th Feb).  I am finding it hard going, as I am so tired when I fall into bed that after a few lines I find myself drifting....zzzzzzz

 Sorry! A much more accessible book - ideal to dip in and out of in short snatches, is Katharine Stewart's The Crofting Way.  This was a surprise and wonderful gift from the very lovely Christine (Tefighe on Ravelry).  I have been enjoying Christine's blog for a while now, and we met for coffee last summer at the Callanish Centre, so I think I can say we are friends in real life.  I had never read this author's work before, which is suprising, given that I usually fall on any book about people who are crofters.  It must have been so that  Christine could send me this - and it is signed by the author - how cool is that!  Anyway, it is written in diary form, so I can read a quick entry, then mull over it as I go about my day.   Katharine Stewart and her family came to the Highlands of Scotland to work a croft in the 1950s, but I find that her preoccupations and musings are much the same as my own.  The weather, the yearly tasks, the community, the weather... beautifully written. It makes me want to leave it all and become a crofter ;)
Do pop over to Yarn Along and see what everyone is knitting and reading - thank you Ginny for hosting this party every week. xxx

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

♥ Cheesey Valentine's Day Post ♥

I have been promising this post for a few weeks now - so as a Valentine's Day special, here is my cheesey post.  I have been thinking about cheese making for a long time, but always thought it was a future project - something to take up when our own cows are in milk, and I have gallons of the raw stuff to deal with. I also thought it was very technical and difficult, and I would need to go on a cheese making course to learn.  Silly me.  Of course, I can start experimenting right now - right here in my very own kitchen - using shop bought milk!!! And so can you..... let's give it a go.
We are making a neufchatel - a soft creamy cheese - not unlike philadelphia, but a bit tangier like a crowdie. The recipe comes from this book, and I did follow if fairly closely the first time, so that's what we'll do here.

You need:

1 gallon (3.78 litres) whole milk (unhomogenised if possible)
1 pint (500ml) double (heavy) cream
1 packet mesophillic starter*
3 drops liquid rennet diluted in 1/3 cup cool water (about 5 tablespoons)+
Salt (says optional but I do think a little brings out the  taste)

*I ordered mine along with the rennet from here - it is enough to do 50 litres of milk, so you just shake a little out - not very precise, but that's what they say) and seal up the sachet with tape and keep it in your freezer. There are lots of places that sell this - search for mesophillic starter and hundreds of sites will pop up.  
+ I am being quite specific here, as the recipe says the exact amount is important. 

Combine milk and cream and heat very gently

until liquid reaches temp of 80F.  Then shake out some of your starter and mix thoroughly.  Add 1 teaspoon of the diluted rennet and stir gently in a back and forwards motion. Cover and let mixture set in a warm room (70f) for 12-18 hours.

 It will look like thick lumpy yoghurt when set.

Pour into a sieve lined with muslin and set over a bowl to drain.  You can tie the corners and hang it up over a bowl to drip, but the first time I made this I wasn't careful enough - being drenched with a gallon of sour milk is not nice.  Anyway - let it drip until it drips no more (between 6-12 hours)

Line a colander with a clean piece of cloth and put into another container. Place the (still wrapped) cheese into this and cover with the new cloth.  Put a plate on the cheese and then a weight on the plate.  The book says the weight of 2 bricks is sufficient, but I used a large stone from the beach, which I use for all these kinds of weighty tasks.  Put the pot into the 'fridge and press for 13 hours. (I think mine might have been more like 16 hours, but it was fine).

Looking good!

Turn out into a bowl, add a good pinch of salt (you can add herbs here too if you like) and then knead thoroughly with your hands until it holds together.

Divide and shape into 4 rounds (or hearts), wrap in waxed paper and keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. 

Or eat straight away, piled onto oatcakes or - toast - straight from the bowl, even - or how about making the ultimate cheescake! Mmmm - yes.

It is a good recipe to experiment with.  If I have some spare milk, I will just use that, with a dollop of cream, shake of starter culture and a more diluted rennet solution. It is great fun, and the cheese is always delicious and so fresh tasting.  Try it - I am sure you will love it ♥ 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Seven Days

Where does the time go? I just don't seem to be getting any time to spare for my blog these days.  While that is fine, as I don't live to blog (or is it the other way around?) - I do like to come here and share my little thoughts about my world. Such a lot has been going on this week - here in the warmest part of Europe (yes, it is true!), and while I do have a couple of posts lined up for later, there is still time to share some of our everyday blessings and joys.

Like the way the morning sun floods into the living room, just where I like to sit,  inviting me to linger and have just one more cup of tea.

Or James learning use the sewing machine - all by himself.  Deep breaths Mama!

Enjoying a coffee in the Ionad Spors (Sports Centre) with a view of the climbing wall - and climbers ;)

The sheep coming home.

A wander around Stornoway on my own, on a beautiful still afternoon.

A community breakfast - such a great way to start the day.

And catching a lucky shot of our Coastguard helicopter, as it flew over the house - off on a rescue mission, perhaps.  They are such a vital part of our emergency services, and it is a real worry that the UK government plan to cut 50% of our coastguard stations.  Visit here to read more, and sign the petition against the cuts.

So - just a few random, but special moments from our days here on this blessed isle.  I wish you all many joys and blessings for the seven days ahead. xxx

Friday, February 10, 2012

Good Morning

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember. 

I am happy to be joining in again with Soulemama this week.  Have a relaxing weekend. xxx

Monday, February 6, 2012

Seven Days - joys and sadness

It has been seven days since I have been here - a whole week has passed.  It has been a beautiful week, to be sure.  Many blessings and joys.  Yes - there have been stunning sunrises - each day moving closer to the East - there have been days of washing drying on the line - running around on the hillside - nourishing broths - the simple beauty of a dry stone wall - and the cheeky company of the starlings at dusk.
But amongst all this, we have had sadness and worry too...

One of our pigs has died.  The biggest one - the leader - within three days he was gone. It is hard to take in the fact that such a strong vital creature is no more.  Of course that sounds very hypocritical, given that in 6 weeks or so, they would all be gone, but still...
We are not really sure what happened.  He was fine - bouncing, grunting - so alive at the beginning of the week.  I went, one morning to empty stuff into the compost heap, and he caught sight of me over the wall.  He launched himself over  wall - and the rylock fence on the other side of it, and landed heavily in the post and wire compost bin, which he duly set about devouring the contents of.  I was scared - he was a big fellow. The other 2 followed him over the wall, and another episode of chase ensued. It took John all morning to repair the fence, while I kept the pigs out of his way by throwing pig nuts over to them at the other side of the pen. it was a job we didn't need at the start of a busy week.
Two days later, at breakfast time, John found him standing, shivering and hunched up - looking very ill.  He didn't come over for food - he just stood there - it was  very obvious we had a sick pig.  We phoned the vet.  "It could be a number of things" she said " a virus - infection - a peritonitis - or just maybe an off day".... she advised us to give an anitbiotic and see how he was the next day.  John managed to give him some penicillin, and he took a good drink from a bucket held under his nose, before spending the rest of the day snuggled into his straw nest inside the ark.  The others were obviously concerned about their brother, and went in beside him, keeping him warm and being with him.
The next day, he came out and looked a little brighter.  This gave us some hope.  He still didn't want to eat, but could be encouraged to drink.  He had another dose of penicillin.  He stayed outside for a fair bit of the day - rooting around just a little bit, but enough to give us some hope.  At dinner- time, he wouldn't come to eat, but just stood down in a hollow under the trees.  He was still there at bedtime, and John spent a long time coaxing him into the ark.
 In the morning, I found him lying dead just outside the door.  The others were still inside.  It was a bleak morning- the rain was pouring down in torrents, and we all just stood gazing down at this poor pig lying there in the mud.  A friend came and helped John to move him out of the pen, and the other two pigs came out then, looking for their breakfast. They hadn't wanted to step over his body.
We phoned the vet, and they told us to go ahead and bury the pig on the croft - no post-mortem or notification was required. There were contractors working down in the village, so the excavator driver very kindly came up and dug a large grave for us.  "I've got pigs myself" he said, with great sympathy.

But, of course, we have held endless post-mortems ourselves.  Every aspect of our pig husbandry has been scrutinised and analysed in the last few days - with each other, and with friends and neighbours. The incident with the compost heap seems the most likely cause.  Has he ingested something there that has made him sick - or caused a blockage?  No matter how careful we are with sorting out compost items, there are always some rogue plastic or metal items that seem to find their way in - did he eat something to cause an internal injury, or obstruction.  Did he injure himself when he jumped the wall and fence and compost heap container?  He was the biggest and heaviest of the pigs.  It was unusual for him to initiate any escape attempt - the smaller female was usually first to lead the way.
Was it the conditions?  Part of the pen was very porridge-y mud, but there was still a lot of higher, dry ground and plenty trees and bushes to root around in.  They had a nice dry ark with lots of straw.
It could have been a virus, or an infection, but the other pigs are absolutely fine, and obviously the penicillin had no effect.
Feeding?  The regulations are fairly strict on what you can feed pigs.  Nothing can come out of the kitchen, so the pig bucket is a thing of the past.  This was one of the things that had disappointed us, when we began our pig keeping adventure, and something I might talk more about another time.  It seemed to us that the only thing to give them was bought-in feed - concentrated pig nuts, maize, beet shreds etc. (Ok - maybe the odd apple core or two might have found it's way over the fence ...).  We discovered that all the animal feed available on the island contained trans-genic  ingredients - mainly soya in the pig nuts, but I am pretty sure the maize flakes would be GM too. (it is hard to tell, because feed manufacturers list their ingredients on handy little tear off slips sewn on to the edge of the sack, and they are invariably missing by the time we get them). We asked about this at the feed store, and were told that " all the normal stuff we sell is GM - we can order organic in for you, but it is 3 times the price!"  Sigh.  There is a study that shows that pigs fed on GM maize showed intestinal changes and a lower feed conversion ratio.  Now - the other pigs had exactly the same diet and yet they are perfectly healthy and showing no signs of ill health - but he was the biggest and greediest and a bully too, so he always got the lion's share.  Was it GM feed that killed him?  Who knows - and to be honest that is unlikely, given his sudden demise.  I suppose it is natural to look for someone else to blame.  Animals do die - we have lost hens suddenly before - our friend who helped us move the pig had buried two of his sheep that week; driving down to the croft, we saw another neighbour burying a sheep,  and we sympathised with another crofter earlier in the Winter over the loss of a young calf.  It has been a hard, hard winter for the animals - so much rain and mud everywhere.

So now there are only two little pigs - not so little now, and they will grow even bigger, now their gluttonous brother has gone.  It was a sad experience - for us and for the pigs too.  They were so concerned over the sick brother - really seemed to try to care for him.  He knew - they knew...  so many lessons for us to learn from them.


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