Happy Christmas

It’s not quite Christmas Day here just yet (although for some of my family and friends on the other side of the world it is and they will be waking soon!)

Here in Wales I’ve cleaned and prepared ready for tomorrow and our visitor who is joining us for Christmas Dinner. I’m now looking forward to having a peaceful day; all tools and work has been put away for a few days and the house is tidier and calm and I’m looking forward to catching up with friends over the festive period and hearing their news. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas too.

I feel very blessed this Christmas. It’s not all been easy this year and there are times when it’s been really quite hard. But I’ve had so many things to be grateful for and it’s appropriate to have a time of thankfulness for the good things received. So many times I only look at the things that aren’t going right and forget the things that are and which I take for granted. I know that sometimes I don’t realise just what I have until it’s been taken from me and I’m trying to remember to appreciate those things whilst I have them here today. Whether in plenty or in want, there is richness in each joyful, painful day – and I seek to find contentment in that.

So many people are not in such a fortunate place and are experiencing trials or hardship of some kind and for them Christmas perhaps is not a happy time. Just as the festive season can highlight the good things, so I know it makes for hollow feelings when things are not going well or if you are lonely or in pain. Words cannot heal those things, nor change the circumstances. But for those who are not looking forward to Christmas for whatever reason, I wish you well and hope and pray you will find some peace this holiday and that the coming year will bring better times.

I love this recording of Astor Piazzolla’s Winter in Buenos Aires played by Mari and Håkon Samuelsen. I was planning on linking it because it was a Winter/Christmas associated piece. This beautiful arrangement includes musical motifs from Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and that also made me think just now that even in Winter you can find hints of Summer woven inside the ice.

Happy Christmas

Advent: December 24th

This week has felt very strange because for the first time in about 9 years I’ve not had to feed my pigs twice a day. I used to breed pedigree Large Black pigs, one of the rarest of Britain’s Traditional pig breeds and now even rarer than it was when I first started. Large Blacks are not suited to modern farmings intensive production methods based on efficiency of feed conversion and the conformation of this breed doesn’t suit modern tastes either. The market requires super lean meat and large “eyes” on a chop and large hams. Belly pork, marbled back bacon and shoulder bacon joints have fallen out of favour despite being the most delicious food.

Where Large Blacks excel is the fact that they are ideally suited to outdoor low input systems and are a brilliant smallholder pig. They have a lovely gentle temperament, make wonderful mothers (unlike commercial breeds of pigs) and do well on low grade food like grass and vegetable waste which means they have to be grown on slowly rather than forced as pigs are in intensive systems. The larger amounts of back fat they carry and the bristly thick coat means they don’t feel the cold as much as other pigs and the black colour also means they don’t get sunburn like pig pigs. I love mine. But they are hard hard work and very expensive to keep if you’re not utilising them as farm animals and with other things happening I’m no longer able to use them in this way.

My original sows and boar have long since gone but I kept a young sow that I bred and she’s had one litter but I’ve not bred from her for over a year and pigs need to be kept productive. So last week she went to stay with some farmers nearby who have a couple of pigs as a sideline for 6 months to a year to give our land a break from pigs and to earn her keep. She’s settled in well with the other pigs and is very happy so that’s a relief. I do miss her though. Pigs have big characters and she is a particularly nice creature.

So I thought I’d post a picture of her mum Winnie who was my favourite sow as I didn’t take a picture of Petunia herself before she left. This was taken the day Winnie gave birth to Petunia and her litter mates and it was a bitterly cold day – it’s actually still snowing here but as you can see she was quite happy waddling around in the snow eating apples I’d thrown down for her, I do remember this was the morning and she farrowed (gave birth) in the evening. It was around this time of year too – without digging out records I can’t check but I have a feeling it was near Christmas Eve so this is a good one for today. There is no snow and there are no pigs here today but it’s nice to remember other Christmases as well sometimes!

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Advent: December 23rd

We had a goose for Christmas. No, not the way you think!

I’ve spoken about our new gander on my Ravelry group so some of this isn’t news if you follow both. We’ve had geese for some years and the stock changes over time and the birds we have now are just three female geese that we’ve bred in past years, none of our original geese are left. Sometimes the fox will kill one but mostly it’s down to other causes or old age. We use the goose eggs that they lay from Valentine’s Day onward (they start laying in early spring as the days lengthen – but they must know the folk lore that they start laying on Feburary 14th because occasionally ours do!) The eggs are large and have huge creamy yokes. They are great for baking and are also lovely as an omelette – one egg per omelette which makes for a rich and very filling lunch especially with fresh herbs from the garden chopped and folded inside. In past years we’ve hatched goslings and raised them for Christmas but mostly they are just there to keep the orchard and garden semi under control. Geese are grazing birds and can eat quite a lot of grass because they’re really quite big birds. Ours get grain in the evening too but mostly they just live off fresh grass and water.

Obviously three geese don’t manage to keep all of the grass under control but in spring and autumn when it’s growing less strongly they do make for environmentally friendly lawnmowers and save some work in that department. The added factor that we get eggs to eat is merely a bonus. Show me a Honda engine that can produce such useful by-products! ;0)

Our neighbour raises geese and turkeys for Christmas and he offered to raise a gander for us along with them and as this week the rest of the birds have been “dealt” with it was time for him to move to our farm and take up his new life in charge of some lady friends. Considering that he was the beneficiary of a terrifying bout of avian “Eeny-meeny-miny-moe” he’s one lucky goose!! I suggested to mum that he should be called Lucky Jim but my mum has decided to name him after Steve McQueen. She reckons he had a Great Escape!

Steve is still looking a bit traumatised after his confusing week but is settling in well and he likes his new wives. At least none of them are fighting anyway…

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Advent: December 22nd

Walking back to catch the park and ride in Chester I had to go through The Grosvenor Shopping Centre where they have a huge Christmas Tree. I wasn’t very impressed with it close up; all weird bubble structure. But from a little distance with all the lights switched on later in the afternoon it looked quite pretty and so I stopped to take a picture.

I’m using it for today’s picture because I’m going to start clearing away the fibre and tools in my living/working area and put up decorations for Christmas. As usual I will be heading off down the fields with some loppers and a saw to cut some hazel branches for my “Christmas Tree” to decorate which I prefer to the traditional type now. If I’m feeling particularly festive I might just even bake some mince pies and biscuits ready for visitors…

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Advent: December 21st

The shortest day. Or the longest night. However you’d prefer to look at it!

Anyhow, it’s Midwinter or the Winter Solstice; the turning point of the diurnal nadir and a day that I always look forward to. Although there are many weeks of dark evenings and cold days still ahead it feels like from this point it’s downhill to spring.

On the last Saturday before Christmas some of our neighbours hold an “at home” mulled wine and nibbles for friends in the evening and something we all look forward to and this year was no exception and we all and a great time meeting together – it’s like the beginning of Christmas really. I had an extra nice day because my friend Sarah and I had arranged to meet in Chester for the day and I had a wonderful time with her catching up over coffee, hot chocolate and lunch and exchanging news. Of course it was bustling and shiny everywhere with last minute Christmas shoppers and so there were carol singers from the Royal Northern College of Music busking on every available patch, Guides and Scouts singing too, street artists moulding sculptures out of damp sand, stilt walkers, street evangelists and the inevitable beggars – all trying to vie for shoppers attention and/or purses.

Whilst waiting at our arranged rendezvous point I spotted these dressed up characters also walking around; an elf, Christmas Pudding and elsewhere a Christmas Tree. Later on when we were looking for things I could photograph to include for my Advent posts we saw them again and I started to take a photo and they spotted me and very obligingly posed and waved quite patiently whilst I took a few pictures! Afterwards I thanked them with thumbs up which they returned before wandering off. It made Sarah and me laugh!!

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Advent: December 20th

We have only a few poultry left – foxes have been making inroads into the birds we keep over the past year despite penning them in mostly. So we now only have five Saxony ducks left and this is one of them. I love the ducks- they always seem to happy and jolly. They can bully each other quite a bit but mostly they’re quite benign!

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Advent: December 19th

I’ve been out most of today at a friend’s house and so I’ve delved back into my back catalogue of photos for this one. I need to find some more things to take photos of!

This is one of the engines that runs on the narrow gauge steam railway a few miles away from where I live. Last summer two  of my brothers and I went with my small nephew and niece on this. We hadn’t been since we were small children ourselves – about 30 years. I think my brothers and I were more excited about it than the children actually!… ;0)

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Advent: December 18th

I’m so lucky that we have so many lovely neighbours. We all get on really well and meet up at different times of year for social get togethers like Bonfire Night, Christmas and New Year’s Eve amongst other occasions. Us ladies (and occasionally one or two of the men!) also meet for Knit n Natter occasionally which is something my mum started some years ago and has grown and expanded and changed over time – it’s also indirectly responsible for me learning to spin 8 years ago and learn to love knitting as well as being a fabulous way to keep in touch with our local community and form friendships.

As time has gone by it’s grown wider and wider and it’s no longer just the few neighbours that live within walking distance; some of our Spinning Guild friends that live a couple of miles away in nearby villages also now join us and today our friend Angela hosted a pre-Christmas Knit n Natter at her house for the first time and it was lovely to go over and spend the morning knitting and catching up (and meeting Bess the gorgeous Black Labrador – I am such a sucker for Black Labs!!!)

I’d completely forgotten that she’d told me they also own a pet owl. She’s had Horry since he was a few-days-old chick – he’s a European Long Eared Owl and has a huge aviary in their garden complete with ivy-covered trees and room to fly around in. He’s absolutely beautiful and we all went outside to say hello to him between coffees and he starting hooting enthusiastically at his “mum” as soon as he saw her, I didn’t know they talked back!! (He’s about 11 years old) She said if her son had been at home that day, Horry would have flown down to the door to say hello because he really likes him – but he doesn’t like Bess the labrador very much!! I was kicking myself that I’d not got my camera on me. Happily one of our friends Glenys had her iPhone and she let me take some pictures on that and Angela said she was happy for me to use pictures of Horry for my Advent thread. So a big thank you to both Angela and Glenys (and Horry!!) for this one :0)

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Advent: December 17th

I moved to Wales on this day 18 years ago. Which means that I’ve now lived half my life here (minus a few weeks if I’m splitting hairs because I was born in September!)

It’s become my home by a long and at times tortuous process. I didn’t choose to come here and it was many years before I felt like I could settle here and it was almost a decade before I stopped thinking that it was only a temporary stage of my life and that one day I would move away someplace else and live a different life.

Belonging is an organic process; it changes and shifts with time and circumstance. People come and go around you, move away, lose touch, are born… and die. Nothing stays static and either you embrace that change or become crushed by it. I’m not someone who takes readily to change nor do I find it easy to let go of things or say goodbye. For me roots are everything and there is no nomadic blood in me. Letting go of things I care about, whether people, animals or place is a pain that affects me at a physical level and so, for safety, over the years I’ve become rooted in my land regardless of the change around me. Although I don’t come from this area, this is now where I belong – it’s simply a fact.

When I look at the mighty oaks and magnificent ashes amongst the mature trees on our fields and think how long they’ve been here and the people that have come and gone in their time it gives me a sense of stability. The feel of bark under my fingers or earth in my hands is a reassurance of both the permanent and transient nature of the material world and my own insignificance in that. For some reason that makes me feel safe; life matters… but perhaps that we don’t actually matter as much as we like to think we do. That lifts a burden and frees you to try and live each day consciously and to the best of your ability.

The sun setting behind the trees is a demarcation of each day; the things I got right, the things I could have done better. Drawing a line under a job well done or giving the promise of a fresh start tomorrow if I screwed up.

The gift of a new day…

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Advent: December 16th

Not just the holly berries!

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This is a Rowan tree, also known as Mountain Ash. Of the genus Sorbus there are lots of varieties, not just these wild ones that grow along the hedgerows. My favourite is Sorbus hupehensis which has paler leaves and bright pink berries; I don’t have one in my garden yet but it’s on my wish list for when it’s been landscaped… if I ever get around to it!

This photo was one I actually took last year in Autumn when the rowans trees seemed especially heavy with berries and must have provided the birds with a huge amount of food. I think you can make jelly from these berries but I’ve never tried it, I believe it has a smokey flavour. One year I’ll have to try it.