Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas in the Little House

Christmas begins a day early in the Little House as the Danish contingent likes to have their main celebration on Christmas Eve or Juleaften  in Danish.

Lots of Danes enjoy roast goose on Christmas Eve but we prefer a ham. This is served with caramelised potatoes (truly delicious), red cabbage and peas and carrots in a light parsley sauce. The most important item though is dessert - the traditional rice pudding risalamande, made with whipped cream and chopped almonds and served with cherries (ours were in kirsch - yum). One almond is left whole and whoever finds this in their portion wins the marzipan pig!  I know, it does all sound pretty peculiar and it's quite disconcerting to see everyone examining each and every almond piece in the hopes that they are the winner. This year it was little old me but I'm much too fond of the piggy, with his smart red ribbon, to dare eat any of it.

After the meal it's time for coffee and special Christmas biscuits and candy and then...Lotto.  

This seasonal Scandinavian version of bingo with images of Danish decorations and Christmas characters is taken very seriously and is fiercely competitive.  To start with, a line will win you a present and then a full house but a fair amount of cheating goes not to mention 'fixing' by the caller. Presents are small but beautifully wrapped and each with a red ribbon. Sometimes silly and often practical, this year they included lens wipes and ice scrapers! 

Finally, exhausted by the whole event (and the schnapps), stockings are put out, a carrot for Rudolph and a drink for Santa Claus or Julemanden (literally 'Yule Man').  He is assisted with his Yuletide chores by elves known as nisse. These Danish-style elves are more tricky than their English cousins. Traditionally it's believed that they live in attics or barns. It's important to keep in favour with them or you may find they will play a nasty trick on you or even ruin your luck.We always leave a few extra Christmas biscuits to be on the safe side.  

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Happy Days

I had no idea that today's date was in any way significant until one of the pupils at my school told me. Apparently, today's date makes this a 'sequential day' and being the 11th day of the 12th month of the 13th year is pretty special; it doesn't happen again for another 90 years. In fact, as one of the Maths teachers excitedly informed me (in case I hadn't thought of it) in the afternoon at quarter past two and 16 seconds it was 11.12.13 14.15 16.  He was right - it hadn't occurred to me! This is the same teacher who celebrates National Pi Day (March 14th or American format 3.14) by bringing in pies for his students. He is their favourite teacher.  

Ron Gordon, a retired teacher and surely the ultimate geek, has made a hobby, and possibly lots of money, out of publicising mathematically-interesting days.  He has devised Square Root Day (3.3.09), 'Ones Upon a Day (1.1.11) and highlighted a number of Odd Days - the last one being 9.11.13. Ok, I'm a bit bored by all the numbers now but I have to just tell you about one more - his most preposterous creation - 'Trumpet Day'! 'Do tell us, please, when trumpet day is?' I hear you plead.  Well, this is some years away so you've plenty of time to plan your celebrations. Trumpet Day is on the 2.2.22.  Not worked it out yet?  Say it aloud and notice the unmistakable sound of a trumpet tooting 'Two, two, two twooo!'

I don't hold much with lucky numbers and therefore lucky days; I've always gone along with that old saying about making your own luck. It's amazing how many people are superstitious about numbers though; our Christmas party is this Friday and some might consider it terribly unlucky to hold such an event on Friday the 13th. However, I can relax because I know what will happen and that's not because I am somehow blessed with second sight. This is how it will go - However long I spend at the hairdresser, my hair will look exactly the same as it always does (grey-streaked and completely lifeless). At some point in the evening I will fail at being interesting and intellectual and say something entirely idiotic, probably to the Headmaster, and scupper my chances of any kind of pay rise. I will also spill some sort of staining foodstuff down my front and I will drink just a little too much, not so much that I am a total embarrassment but enough to mislead me into thinking that I can dance.  Oh well, nevermind,  I've got at least 8 years to learn the trumpet!    

Saturday, 30 November 2013

A Scottish post

Being St Andrew's Day I thought I would write a post about living in Scotland and the differences that we've experienced between England and its northern neighbour. But before I begin I should say that I'm no cultural expert and do not profess to be very knowledgeable about Scottish history and politics (I could write all I know about the pros and cons of independence on the back of a postage stamp!) 

Patrons & Holidays
(image credit:
This seems a suitable place to start, today being in honour of Scotland's patron saint. Ask the average Scot and they're not too familiar with the saintly Andrew at all other than the obvious connection with the town of St Andrews, now forever synonymous with Prince William and Kate Middleton. Saint Andrew isn't even just the patron saint of Scotland but shares his patronage with a whole host of other countries including Greece, Russia, Romania and - randomly - Barbados.  The fact that some of the poor fellow's relics were sent to 'ends of the earth' (a.k.a Fife) where the town was named after him, and that he was crucified on an x-shaped cross (the inspiration for the Saltire, national flag of Scotland), is really all I know. For the girls, St Andrew's day means only one important thing and that's a day off school on Monday!

That's not the only different holiday in Scotland compared to England. The school year starts mid August, half terms are generally referred to as mid-term and for many schools there is no break at all in the summer term but certain counties have a 'tattie picking' two week holiday at the beginning of October.  New Year is, of course, long associated with Scotland. Hogmany (Scots word for the last day of the year) is widely and loudly celebrated across the nation and the Scots even get an extra day's holiday to nurse their hangovers. I'll write more about this institutional revelry in January if my post-Hogmany head allows me to sit upright to type!
(image credit: visitscotland)
Language & Dialect
There are two expressions I used to find particularly confusing as a Sassenach (English person). Rather than saying that they will 'arrive at' a certain time, the Scots tend to say they'll 'come through at the back of'. I was left wondering whether they would be stopping at all and if the 'back of' an hour meant before or after?! Another odd expression is the word 'outwith'. This seems to be peculiarly Scottish and means 'outside' rather than 'within' but then I'm still not completely sure...

I completed my teacher training in Scotland and found myself wondering who Ken was and why he was so popular until a fellow teacher kindly explained that 'I dinnae ken' meant 'I don't know'!  That was just the start of my misunderstandings and confusions with the Scots language, many terms of which are used throughout Scotland by young and old alike.  I particularly like the fact that there is a plural form of 'you' - 'youse' though I wouldn't dare use it and I love the sound of crabbit (grumpy), sleekit (sly) and glaikat (stupid).  I could 'blether' (chat)  a lot about Scots so will save that perhaps for another post.

Food & Drink
Scottish food does not have the best of reputations (in England anyway) and before we moved here I, unfairly, expected to see deep-fried Mars bars in every chippy and a choice of pie, pie or pie on a menu. I've been pleasantly surprised though by the many restaurants prepared to use traditional ingredients and recipes but with a creative and culinary twist. Wild salmon, Scots beef, lobster, venison, heather honey and fantastic Perthshire raspberries are just a few of the many delicious Scottish foods. I have to admit though that when we first moved here I had to look up Cullen Skink to see what on earth it was. And I still remember H, aged 4,  asking anxiously, 'What is haggis?'. I decided to be honest and explained it was chopped sheep heart and lungs mixed with oatmeal. 'That's alright then,' she said, looking relieved. 'At least it's not meat!' I'm not a vegetarian but my carnivore instincts do not really extend to haggis, and 'neeps and tatties' is a bit too reminiscent of baby food for me. 
Drinks, well, whisky is the obvious one. No one in Scotland ever refers to this as Scotch and note there is no 'e' as in 'whiskey'?  People's hospitality and generosity have meant many a 'wee dram' and most people have a favourite. Mine? Laphroaig, of course - one of Scotland's most medicinal.  I love this description:

'Muscular deep peaty tones, seaweed-led, with a hint of vanilla ice cream and more than a whiff of notes from the First Aid box (TCP, sticking plasters etc). The oak is big with an upsurge of spices developing - cardamon, black pepper and chilli.'

For little Scots there's Irn-Bru, the number one best-selling soft drink in Scotland. Distinctly orange, this fizzy drink is so full of banned e numbers (everywhere but Scotland), sugar and chemicals, that our two girls are only allowed the smallest amount and then only on special occasions (basically when we are enjoying an occasion so much that we don't notice them helping themselves).  The drink is known for its sometimes controversial advertising; my favourite advert was the Snowman parody for which I'll leave you with a festive link.

Happy Saint Andrew's Day One and All

Show and Tell

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Moving Story

We have moved a lot. Twenty years ago we started our married life in a basement flat at the back of Shepherd's Bush or what the estate agent euphemistically called, 'A garden flat in West Kensington Village'. Since then, we've moved a total of eight times, twice travelling up and down the length of the country, before settling in our current corner of the Scottish Borders.  

Every house and area we've lived in has had something special  - the beams and leaded-light windows of a chocolate-box cottage in a Hertfordshire village, watching clouds of starlings in aerial display across the misty Somerset levels, looking down across the industrial landscape of Bradford from the top floor of a modern townhouse and seeing it lit and transformed with amazing firework displays every Eid and Diwali.  The Little House, however, is my favourite. It's not a pretty house, in fact it looks quite austere, sitting up on the headland facing the North Sea with its brown slurry of harling to protect against all the worst that the Scottish weather might bring. But it is a magical house.  In the summer sun it glows a warm amber and the overgrown garden is a tangle of surprising hues; all manner of plants and flowers are determined to peek through the mass of branches. In autumn the golden hay bales look like they might just roll down the hill any moment to splash into the aqua waves. And in winter, the log burner radiates heat through the whole house while the snow lies undisturbed on the surrounding fields. 

From the front door each and every way leads to a different walk. One track leads down and through the smugglers tunnel to the Cove with its tiny harbour, looking pretty much the same as it has done for the last hundred years. Another track leads along the clifftop, sea holly and hawthorn lining the path,  fishing boats criss-crossing the choppy waters below, swallows sweeping the sky. My favourite route is along the tractor-worn track and towards the small patch of woodland beyond. My favourite because this walk often affords you a close-up view of deer grazing and once, a bold and beautiful hare still as a sculpture on the path for a clear and perfect moment.

I am savouring each and every last minute we have in this house because by January we have to leave it.  As much as I like to think of it as mine, it is not. It is just leased to us and we do not own it. Although we were assured that we could live here for many years, as it turns out, things change (quickly in this case) and our landlords need it back...soon. How I wish that we could buy it. How I hope that we can find somewhere else not too far away to move to. I wish that we could stay and I hope the girls can forgive us if we have to move them away from their schools and their friends. 

In a small rural community there is little choice in housing options when you rent and we couldn't believe our luck when we were offered this place with its beautiful views and spectacular sunsets. And we are lucky. Just one look at the news is a stark reminder of just how lucky we really are.  I'm just praying that the luck continues and we find somewhere else. Somewhere near this place we love so much. Somewhere we can call home.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

All Hallows

The 1st of November brought some bad news to the Little House and caused such upset that I had no inspiration for a post for a while and all was quiet on the blog front. I'll write a little more about it in a later post once I've processed it all but, in the meantime, I thought I would focus on warmer, happier things and to me autumn has more than its fair share of these.  I know many people do not like Halloween and all it represents but I like to think of it as a time for fun and games and a little merriment before the last autumn month and the gloominess that seems to set in late November. Like Guy Fawkes night, it's also a chance to get together with friends and enjoy the warmth of good food and good company. Here's a little round-up of our evening.

In Scotland we call Trick or Treating 'guising' instead after the tradition of disguising yourself by dressing up and visiting neighbours to tell a joke, recite a poem or sing a song.

 I much prefer the idea of earning your treats with a bit of entertainment rather than just expecting to be given something under threats! Here's one of the girls' best jokes (yes they really were that bad):

Q  'What do you get when you cross a deer and a ghost?'
A  'Bamboo!'

Perhaps inspired by her recent trip to see The Lion King, H donned ears and a tail and with a little creative face paint was quite the pantomine tiger.

 S, who is currently consumed by The Hunger Games series, decided to be its heroine.  Fortunately, her big sister has perfected the 'Katniss braid' and was able to do her hair and, with wooden bow and arrow, she looked the part though I'm not sure the many retired folk in our village would have had any idea of who she was meant to be - Pocahontas maybe?!

Halloween would not be complete without  'dookin' for apples (removing an apple floating in a basin of water without using your hands, either spearing it with a fork held in your teeth or by biting it).  

We now have a whole box of Halloween decorations to keep the Christmas boxes company and every year I have to try and de-tangle the various decorations from witch wigs and fake cobwebs. Our collection includes three rubber rats with red eyes. They always end up on the dining table  - a delightful addition to the fruit bowl!

Rats and fake bats and fake cobwebs are all very well but the centrepiece has to be the craved pumpkins:

And always, every year, one decoration gets forgotten and so it was that a few days later when everything (or so I thought) had been packed away I spied a little glow-in-the-dark skeleton hanging nonchalantly on the corner of the TV. I think I might just leave him there till Christmas!

I'm linking this post up with Clarina's Contemplations and her Savouring the Season blog hop:


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Dog Tales

I'll begin this post by saying that I've never really considered myself  'a dog person'.  I'm not keen on the low level house destruction a dog causes and the full time attention that our canine friends require. In all honesty, I prefer cats with their independence and less demanding companionship. However, we have a dog, little Luna, and despite all my reservations I cannot help but be hopelessly attached to her as part of our family. This week in The Little House my feelings have been put to the test as Luna has been poorly, so much so that we had to call out the vet and she went in as an emergency last Sunday for investigation as to what was causing the problem. An anxious wait, a few sleepless nights and scrambled egg laced with doggy antibiotics, and I'm pleased to report that she is on the mend and much more her usual self.

Her usual self is an excitable one. She bounds about the house in the hopes that someone will play with her and if they don't respond then she steals something in order to force them into a favourite game of 'chase me'. Socks are a favourite, slippers, toys, even the Sky remote. Like lots of small dogs she doesn't have an accurate perception of her size and she seems to think she's a much bigger scarier dog than she really is. She is, in fact, the perfect size for Build-a-Bear clothes as the girls like to prove on an all too regular basis.

Luna is a Bichon Frise which quite literally translates as 'curly lap dog' - an accurate description. This breed is apparently white and they have a double coat which, although is good for anyone who normally would have an allergy to dogs, is prone to the very worst sort of matts and tangles. When we are no longer able to cope with it using our full range of Pets r Us grooming tools, we call in the professionals. 'Whiffy Woofers' the grooming technicians arrive in their mobile unit and at least an hour later Luna emerges looking very much like a small, rather startled, shorn lamb. This process costs us more than it does for me to have a cut and blow-dry at my hairdressers!

Wool cycle maybe?
Luna was rescued from a puppy farm and was definitely the runt of the litter; even now she tends to take a small amount of food from her bowl and run off to a corner to eat it .  She suffers with many of the inherited disorders common to this breed including allergies, cataracts and deafness.  This means that when she's off the lead she doesn't always hear us when we call her and even if she does, she's not quite sure where we are. Once when we were out at the beach she ran back to another family altogether and got really quite distressed when she realised they weren't us!  She barks at the washing on the line convinced it's a person moving around outside.  

Despite all of her imperfections and quirks we all love her; it's hard not to be won over by such an endearing little creature. The Wonderful Man even has to admit that she has a special place in his heart though he did insist on changing her pink lead and collar to a more manly black. 

Favourite place: by the log burner of course

Linking this post up with Hello Wall and #somethingfortheweekend.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The First Time

There are first times for everything, I guess, and a year ago today I wrote my very first blog post. I'd been an avid blog reader, lurker and follower for a few years before taking the plunge and starting my own and I'm so glad I did. I'm not sure that anyone, other than my family or close friends, read that first post or many of those that followed, but the process of thinking, writing and recording my thoughts is an enjoyable and strangely therapeutic one.  Now my blog is a year old today I thought I'd share with you what I've learned about blogging (probably a short post then!)

Blog names and Post Titles are Important
If you want someone to read something think carefully about how to draw them in. I rest my case with this post's title - 'The First Time' - which might just make someone curious enough to read on!
I chose Little House in The Borders as a nod to, yes you've guessed it, Little House on the Prairie. That whole series of books are favourites of mine and my childhood daydreams and imaginary games often had me as Laura Ingalls, bravely exploring the frontier of our back garden.  Consequently, I've found that many of my regular readers tend to like them too. I'm drawn to funny blog names often suggesting an honest appraisal of family life hence Hello Wall, 3 Children and It and Slugs on the Refrigerator are regular reads.

Visiting and Linking are Fun
I always feel that if someone has taken the time to read and comment on one of my posts that I should do the same. Receiving a lovely comment really makes my day and I like to read comments on other blogs too. I've found that if I like what a commenter has to say then I'll often like their blog too. 
Linkys are fun and I've discovered so many other lovely blogs that I have to discipline myself to how much time I spend online. I'm not much of a crafter or a cook but I am a great admirer of those who create such beautiful and delicious things. Haggiz and The One Handed Cook are frequently visited and Rusty Duck makes me determined to untangle our wilderness of a garden.  

Blogging is an Enriching Experience
I haven't learnt very much at all about the technical side of blogging. I have yet to work out how to add a button for Instagram or Pinterest (other guilty pleasures of mine).  I also have no real knowledge of how to increase readership; my followers are few and once I've discounted the spam robots my statistics make for dismal reading! 

What I have learned though is something just as valuable to me and that's the fact that blogging makes you truly thankful for what you have.  Sometimes my posts are more of a rant, sometimes about trivial things I find amusing, but very often, I blog about things I want to cherish and remember. Blogging has a way of making you mindful and reflective about the good things in your real world. Whilst it's easy to look at other shinier blogs with images of a seemingly perfect family and imagine that your life somehow falls short, I feel certain that there are less salubrious aspects that are simply hidden on these blogs and not shared with the online audience.  There may be things I would like to change about my life but a quick scan through previous posts and images reveals the many things I hold dear and wouldn't change, not for a minute. 

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Dens, hideaways and lookouts...

Autumn always brings to mind one of the great childhood pleasures - den building.  I think it is probably the dry leaves and abundance of fallen sticks and branches, plus the idea of hibernation, that create such nostalgia.  Yet, if you ask children today about building dens you'll often get a blank look in return. If they do give an enthusiastic response then the chances are that most of their creations have been made indoors or as one 10 year old told me, 'I like Monsters Den' - an online adventure game!  

Not that I'm knocking the indoor hideaway in any way. I have great memories of setting up camp under the dining room table, behind the sofa or simply hanging a blanket over a clothes airer. But, there is a real Bear Grylls-type thrill in gathering natural materials, building something outside and attempting to keep out the elements.  The problem is that outdoor play space is more limited now and parents are, understandably, anxious about their children's safety if they are out of sight, even for a minute.  It's a shame because I think dens play an important part in childhood development. It's no coincidence that the appeal of creating such a space tends to start as a child's sense of self develops between the ages of 3 and 7. Dens in this sense become like a little home for the soul.

(image credit: littlegreenshed)
When we lived in Somerset, S was lucky enough to go to a lovely Steiner-inspired kindergarten and later she spent some time at forest school.  The kindergarten had the most beautiful playstands that were set up with a silk canopy that added privacy but let the light filter through. A playstand is really like a more crafted version of a wooden clothes horse but, unlike a manufactured playhouse, their simplicity allows them to be far more open-ended - this play space is often used as a house but it could equally be imagined as a cave, fort or a magical tent.  A quick search on Pinterest certainly has some inspiring images and tutorials on how to make your own. I badgered L to make some for us when the children were younger and now we still use them as functional shelves around the house.

Our playstands set up as a playhouse with a rainbow silk canopy
At the end of our garden we have a ready made den.  Being terrible gardeners, the vastly overgrown hedges, weeds and ivy have joined forces with the conifers to create a hidden glade.  S has added her own furniture (commandeered pallets from our builder neighbour) and made a doorbell. She has also made a sign, making it clear that adults are not allowed! Many happy hours have been spent there playing out imaginative games both by herself and co-cooperatively with friends. Her older sister was pelted with mud grenades once when she dared to peek in!

Where the wild things are!
You need to ring the doorbell with a stick 

Log stools, pallet table and plastic plant pots for making mud and leaf stew!

As well as this hideaway there is a lookout too, up in the tree outside the front of the house. It's useful for pirate games but S is most frequently found there with a book, Luna by her side. 
Cap'n S up in the lookout with first mate Luna
Do you ever grow out of den-building, I wonder? I think all we do is recreate more sophisticated versions in our homes and gardens. I could possibly argue that my bed has become a bit of a den, especially on weekend mornings, with cushions, books, smuggled supplies of biscuits and mugs of coffee on the side table. It's definitely a place to hide away from the housework and to be honest...the responsibilities of being an adult!

Linking this post with The Theme Game at The Reading Residence