Friday, 16 November 2018

The glasses lay beside their case

Another prompt from my Writers' Circle.  This time the prompt was: The glasses lay beside their case on a small table - an open book alongside.  For me this one sparked a memory, and I immediately started to write a memoir.  

Members of my family will recognise the couple involved, we all miss them.

The glasses lay beside their case on a small table - an open book alongside.  My dad edged over and picked up the glasses, depositing them behind a card on the mantelpiece.  I saw him from the corner or my eye, but at the time thought nothing of it.  Meme bustled in from the kitchen, a flurry of tweed and twinset, lips pursed and silver hair in neat curls.  She set the tea-tray on top of the open book on the little table and poured into clinking cups and saucers, the tea leaves collecting in the strainer.  I stood to join her, carefully pouring drops of milk from the dainty floral jug.  Grandpa bowled in behind us and sat in his special chair, "Ooohhh, I love to see all my wonderful family.  God bless."  His wrinkled face creased into a smile of joy as I bent to hug him, breathing in the scent of soap and grandpa cologne.  Delicately drinking our tea, my sisters and I sprawled across the thick carpet, playing cards.  We all loved this house and these wonderful people.  Meme bustled out again with the tea tray and my sisters, game now complete, followed to help in the kitchen.  Grandpa was regaling Mum and Dad with the latest news from friends in France.  He had the letter in front of him, and effortlessly translated excerpts from the neat French script.  Meme was back, grey eyes looking worriedly over the half moon glasses glinting on the end of her nose.  "Are you alright Mum?" asked my own mum, halfway to her feet.
"Darling?"  Grandpa looked up with a tender query.
"Has anybody seen my specs?"  I couldn't help the laugh escaping,
"They're on your nose, Meme!"  She looked up distractedly and then smiled sheepishly.
"Not those ones dear.  My reading glasses.  I need them for a recipe.  I'm sure I was sitting in here reading earlier."  My dad tried to hide a smile as he asked innocently,
"You haven't lost your glasses again?  You're always losing your glasses."  Her face immediately transformed from worried fretting to mock annoyance as she realised what had happened.  She wagged her finger at my dad.  This had been a standing joke and tradition for as long as I could remember.  She was notorious for losing her specs and my dad made the most of it, hiding them whenever he spotted a pair.
"You," she scolded, "are my most wicked son-in-law.  Which is probably why I love you."Image may contain: one or more people
Do you have fond memories of your grandparents?

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Ten Top Tips for settling your puppy into the family

Getting a puppy can be one of the most exciting things you do as a family, especially a family with young children.

It's important to remember though that you are introducing a new member to the family, and the health, safety, behaviour and happiness of this animal will be entirely your responsibility for, in all likelihood, at least a decade.  
We introduced Blossom (a Working Cocker Spaniel) to our family at the beginning of August, when she was ten weeks old.  These tips are from our experience.
  1. Your puppy needs a period of quiet before they will settle in.  While your family and friends will be desperate to meet your bundle of cuteness, hold off on the visitors for a while to give your puppy a chance to get to know his new family and home.
  2. The first few months are bonkers.  This bundle of fur doesn't know right from wrong, doesn't have any idea of what things are okay to chew and what are not, and is desperate for your attention.  Also, until the vaccines are complete they aren't allowed out for a walk, so pup has a lot of pent up energy!  Expect racing around, picking up EVERYTHING and giving it a chew, bouncing, jumping, bundling, biting and just being mad.  It's not personal, but it is exhausting.  I felt as though I had a toddler in the house again, you just can't turn your back for a second!  Be prepared for this.
  3. With all this chaos and madness it's important to introduce boundaries and stick to them.  Remember that puppy won't be a puppy for ever, and while a bouncy puppy may be entertaining, a grown dog that jumps up at everybody it meets will frighten people or knock somebody over.  Think how you would like your adult dog to behave, and begin to train your puppy with that in mind.  The best way to start is to only respond to puppy and give her fuss when all four paws are on the ground, to make a loud noise and move away if those teeth come out, to teach 'sit' early on etc. etc.  We also use a crate to keep Blossom contained when we are not able to keep an eye on her.  It's a large enough crate that she has plenty of space, and we make it comfortable and give rewards, toys and treats to her when she's in it so its only ever a positive space, but it helps with house training, gives her a safe space for calming down when she's over-excited and contains her when required.  Our pup is now 5.5 months old, and she is crated when home alone, overnight, when we are eating or when she's over-excited.  We're planning to gradually reduce the time that the crate door is shut, and then eventually lose it altogether.
  4. Invest in puppy walker or doggy daycare.  If you have to be at work all day you can't expect puppy to keep her legs crossed.  Pups just don't have that sort of bladder control.  Also, as sociable animals they crave company.  As they get older, some breeds can cope with solitude better than others but many breeds would begin to develop destructive or obsessive habits out of boredom and stress.  We've been lucky to have a friend around during the day who we've paid to take Blossom for a walk and play with her at lunchtime on the days I work.  On a couple of occasions in the last week she's been left alone all day so we know she can handle it, but we also know that she'll be much happier with a walker or some company, so now that my friend has a new job, we'll be looking for other options for Blossom.
  5. I've discovered that its as much about training the children as it is about training the dog.  I'm spending a lot of time explaining to Miss Busy that we have to be consistent with Blossom.  If Miss Busy allows her to bite her feet when playing, allows her to jump up "because its cute" and gets her very excited, then it undoes all the work that the rest of us are doing to stop her doing those things.  Mr Build-it needs teaching to use a firm voice and clear instructions.
  6. Puppy proofing - some people go a little mad with the puppy-proofing just as they do with toddler-proofing.  I go with the middle-ground.  I figure I don't want to spend the next 12 years keeping all shoes and socks above waist height, so we've left those where they are, and are slowly teaching the dog to either leave them alone, or to bring them to us rather than take them to her bed for a chew.  On the other hand she was getting a bit tiresome with her raids on the sitting-room bin, so that's now out of her reach, and I know that I need to move a basket of wool out of the dining-room if she is ever to be allowed out of her crate unsupervised!
  7. Listen to your puppy - Your puppy will soon learn to communicate with you in different ways.  It might be that they get a bit 'mouthy' when they are over-tired and need to be put in their bed and left alone.  Maybe they come and nudge your hand when they need a bit of attention.  If they normally go to bed at night no problem, but tonight they wake you with their whining, it might be worth going to check on them. (I've just had this very experience, and poor Blossom was trying to tell me she had a bit of diarrhoea and could I please put all her bedding in the wash and let her outside in case there was any more.)
  8. Once your dog has got past the first week or two and knows who you all are and where her home is and has had those first vaccinations, it's time to socialise your dog and to expose them to lots of everything.  The experiences your puppy has in the first months of his life will be what they build their understanding of the world on.  So use the hoover, take the dog on car trips, to the beach, to a river, into snow, near crying babies, men in hi-vis jackets, post-men and women, bikes, push-chairs, wheelchairs, scooters, motor-bikes, ambulances with sirens blaring, people with beards, people with no-hair, people of different skin colours, loud music, shops, town centres, the vets, children being crazy and running about, farm animals, birds, cats, lots of other dogs.  Basically give your puppy as wide an experience as you possibly can.  When exposing them to something new, don't keep checking back on them to see if they are okay - that makes them think you're scared and are looking to them for guidance, and they will feel uncertain.  Instead, be calm, confident and purposeful.  Just stand normally or keep walking as if nothing out of the ordinary.  If pup is clearly scared kneel with her and put your hand on her chest, but avoid looking at her or making reassuring noises - show her that you are in charge and you aren't worried.  Whatever it is that she's nervous of, go back to it several times over the next weeks.  For example Blossom showed signs of uncertainty with bicycles, motorbikes, pushchairs etc.  Since then, whenever we've come across some, I've asked the owner if its okay for Blossom to come and have a look and a sniff.  She's checked them out, she's found that they are no threat, and now she's fine with them.
  9. Get a good vet, and pet insurance.  We already had a good vet from our last dog.  We think they are fab.  A good vet will give you advice when you need it, tell you if you're doing something wrong, and be there when you need it.  They'll ensure that your puppy is well looked after with vaccinations; flea, tick and worm treatment; advice on neutering; feeding; training and much more.  Pet insurance just makes sense.  If your dog becomes unwell with something serious, or has an accident, things can get very expensive very quickly.  You don't want to be in the position where you can't meet your dog's needs because you can't afford it - better to be covered.
  10. Enjoy your puppy and spend lots of time with them.  Everybody says the same thing about babies and puppies.  Enjoy them while they are young because it doesn't last long.  The reason they keep saying it is because its true.  So take those photos, enjoy those cuddles, and above all spend lots of time playing with your puppy.  The time you spend building your relationship, training and playing games with your puppy now will provide your whole family with wonderful memories (and photos) to cherish, but they will also sow the seeds of a long and happy relationship with your dog into the future.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

School Garden Club

I've been running our school garden club since last Christmas.  I've usually got between 8 and 12 children between the ages of 6 and 11 who come along each week.  

What we've got:
2 large square raised beds
lots of pots, raised planters etc.
an old shed full of pots, compost, and tools.

A few challenges
We have a bit of an issue with rascally rabbits, 
the other children in the school don't have any ownership of the garden, so they stand on the planters (destroying our plants), pull flowers up and generally maraud.
Image result for school garden club ideas
The vision
A place for learning...
A place where children can enjoy growing things, seeing things grow, and finding out about wildlife...
A place where children from different year-groups come together...
The area around the garden to be an area that the whole school enjoys, feels part of and looks after...

1 raised bed for veg - a path down the middle, soft fruit bushes, and rows of veg.
The other raised bed split into four parts - one is a fairy garden, one a herb garden, one a rainbow garden and one a wildlife garden, surrounded and divided by willow fencing.
A compost heap which the children add to.
benches and seating around the garden.
A willow tunnel for the children to play in.
Surplus cut flowers and veg and fruit to be sold at the school gate and money put back into the garden.
Members of the school community (parents) to volunteer with garden upkeep.
Get some funding for a new shed.

I'm gradually working towards this aim and was delighted with the response last year when I asked parents to donate seeds and plant cuttings for the garden.  

This week we cleared out the shed, which was quite a major undertaking as you couldn't even get in there before.  

As well as working towards our vision, I quite like the activities suggested by the RHS on their website:
image from RHS School Gardening website
This document from the Gardens Trust is also really helpful: Garden Trust leaflet 

I'll post some of our own photos as the project develops.

What ideas have you got for involving children and the community in developing the green space around the school?

Monday, 5 November 2018

Some things are worth the wait

Another one of my Writers' Circle exercises.  I wasn't sure where to go with this prompt, and opted for a bit of romance...

As the underground train jerked into movement, Louise looked around.  She loved people watching on the underground.  There were so many interesting people and all of them had their heads down, studiously ignoring all the other passengers and making absolutely sure not to make eye contact.  She would guess who they might be and where they were going.  Her eye passed over some professional types on their way home from the office with their eyes glued to their kindle or book and alighted on a group of teenagers talking loudly about their plans for the evening and their friends.  After shamelessly listening in to their conversation for a few minutes they got off and headed for the cinema.  Her eyes wandered through the carriage to the busker, he’d finished his tune on the clarinet, and was moving among the other passengers rattling a few coins in a cup.  Hang on a minute… Her attention fixed on the man who had just dropped a couple of coins into the busker’s cup.  Did she know him?  Her eyes fixed on him and she tried to place the face.  In the six years she had lived in London and travelled the tube she had never yet come across somebody she actually  knew, but several times had almost thought she had.  Once, early on, she’d been convinced that she saw her husband, and then remembered that Derek had moved to Spain with Philippa.  It had never been a happy marriage, just a quick fix because she’d got pregnant. Once Ed had grown up and left home, Derek told her that he had fallen in love with their next door neighbour and she had let him go with few regrets and gone to London where she could more easily pursue a career that had been on hold throughout her marriage.  
Image result for london underground train busker
photo from The Evening Standard
This man on the train was handsome in a Judge-John-Deed way, his grey hair suiting his brown eyes.  The busker had said something funny at that end of the carriage and the eyes crinkled into a smile.  She glanced at her reflection in the train window.  Her own face showed a few wrinkles, and grey roots were visible in her blonde bob.  She couldn’t shake the feeling that she recognised him from somewhere and kept glancing at him thoughtfully until she reached her stop. 

“Louise?” the deep voice carried down the platform from behind her.  She turned.  It was the man she’d been trying to place so she did know him, but still couldn’t quite place where.

He came towards her, a half smile playing on his lips and dancing in his eyes.  “Well of all the people to run into.”

“I know I know you,” Louise began to confess,

“But you don’t know where from,” he finished with a gleeful smile.  “Think back 34 years.  You promised you’d love me forever.”  Colour drained from Louise’s face and then flushed back deepest crimson.

“Tom! I can’t believe I didn’t recognise you.”  She was grinning broadly now.  “I was watching you on the train.  I thought I knew you from somewhere but couldn’t be sure.”  She certainly knew him now.  She and Tom had declared undying love for one another aged 18.  They had almost got engaged but both sets of parents had stepped in and told them they were too young.  They went their separate ways to University and while they tried to maintain a long-distance relationship, they were young and had drifted apart.  Tom’s parents had moved away too, so they didn’t even meet in the holidays.  Over the years Louise had sometimes thought of Tom and wondered where he had ended up and what had happened to him.

They caught up over coffee.  Tom was a lawyer, as he always dreamed he would be, and had married and had three daughters.  Louise was saddened to hear that his wife had died of cancer five years earlier.  She told him about Ed, and about Derek and Philippa.  They arranged to meet the next day and headed home.  The next day’s meeting turned into another date set, and then another and another.  Three months later as they exchanged vows in a registry office, Tom and Louise looked at one another with a smile and both said together, “Some things are worth the wait.”

What would you write about with the prompt, "Some things are worth the wait?"

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Silent Sunday

I'm going to have a go at linking up to a Silent Sunday linky.  The idea is that you just post a photo, no words.