Advent: Christmas Eve

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An old photograph – we’ve not had a snowy Christmas for a few years.

But this is “home” and it’s prettier than the winter we’re having at the moment!

Home.

I feel so very blessed. My family are the people I love most (closely followed by my animals of course!) and I am lucky enough to have seen all of them in the past few weeks which is unusual. But the past two days as we and our neighbours have met and called on each other to exchange cards and gifts and wish each other well and see how each other are I’m reminded over and again how the people I live near are also like family to us. How much we rely on the love and goodwill of those nearby, even when our own relatives are so very far away.

We don’t make much of a festive fuss. “Things” have never really mattered that much to me. People do. The greatest joy I know is to spend time with someone I care about and enjoy their company and friendship. If that is the most precious thing someone can have then I am rich beyond measure in the people I have in my life and I am grateful to have everything I could possibly want in that. I hope I have given of myself to those who need companionship too. None of us take each other for granted but at this season when we all take the time to say “thank you for being there” to each other it cements the bonds we share. Almost like resetting us for another year of living and working together.

I know there are many without, not just at this time but all year round. More than usual, those who “have not” are more on my mind and I find myself asking if I can do more about this. So many people who do not have someone to look out for them or just to care enough to ask if they are OK. Knowing how fortunate I am to love and be loved, I want to keep this in mind for the coming year, not just at Christmas time.

Wishing you joy, peace, love and good cheer this season and for the coming year xx

Advent: December 23rd

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This is what we call a Sneeze Egg! My dad used to joke that these tiny little eggs are what pop out when a chicken sneezes!

We had this earlier in the year. The little brown shell is infact a sort of calcified pigmented membrane on this one rather than a proper shell and after 24 hours in my kitchen it had dehydrated and shrivelled flat. I popped it in water for a few hours and it plumped straight back up again! It doesn’t have a yolk although some of the larger Sneeze Eggs do have a tiny wisp of yolk just like a perfect mini egg…

The largest egg is a normal hens egg from one of the ex-battery hens, the white egg in the middle is a little bantam egg from one our last Pekin hen … so you can see that the crazy Sneeze Egg is really very tiny, almost pea-sized.

 

Advent: December 22nd

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A funny photo I know. But I woke in the early hours having had a bad dream which involved losing these little guys so they’re a bit on my mind just now! Sadly we really have lost almost all of them this year due to a very freakish combination of events that couldn’t be foreseen. We do have the Lemon cockerel and one hen left but the little flock of various coloured Pekin bantams that used to bumble about the yard and house has gone and I really, really miss these gentle, funny, loveable chickens especially the indomitable and irreplaceable Henrietta.

I even miss having my front door open in nice weather and finding I’ve got surprise visitors peering under my bed, investigating my kitchen or trying to wash the mud off their feathery feet in my shower…

 

Advent: December 21st

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The shortest day … and thank goodness for that!! Yesterday was beautifully sunny and clear, today is windy, grey and now lashing rain – looking for blessings I can only say I’m glad I got the dog walked and the outdoor jobs finished about 5 minutes before this all started!

This was a double rainbow I saw a couple of years ago over the end of our fields. (I don’t suppose there was a pot of gold!)

LIght and colour in the rain and darkness. Looking forward, upwards with hope. The upward trajectory to spring, warmth, light, life, growth.

Bring it on, I’m ready.

Advent: December 20th

It’s almost the shortest day. It’s beautifully sunny here which helps to lift the spirits but all the same I feel I’m flagging. So much to do, the year nearly ended – worn thin and grey by use and care. I like to reflect over the end of December, looking forward, thinking about how I can do things differently in the future, be kinder, work more fruitfully, live more deeply, love more intensely.

So many things are ugly and savage just now. So much suffering, so much that is beyond understanding. It shakes the ground and rips up all we know as truth.

I think I need a splash of colour today. I think I need to remember that all life is a process of metamorphosis. That we have to be the change we want to see.

The butterfly effect perhaps.

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Advent: December 19th

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Christmas is a quiet time for us. With animals to care for we don’t ever go away to visit others at Christmas and apart from taking a little time to pause and reflect and share good times with those around us, the farm routine means that each and every day has a structure that cannot alter no matter what other things are happening.

It’s always lovely to see friends though and some of ours are good enough to call by for a coffee and catch up. Our close knit community here also enjoys gathering on special occasions for good food and laughter. Some of my friends who live in other parts of the country come back to visit family. A hug and conversation by a log fire with a coffee or mulled wine with those you love is always nourishing for the soul.

A nice mince pie doesn’t go amiss either. So I’ve made a batch of mincemeat this weekend so I can bake some later this week. Yummy…

Advent: December 18th

I said I’d show you the stunning vista the Hebridean sheep from yesterday’s post have.

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Holyhead Mountain, the beautiful heathland of The Range, the bird rich cliffs and shore and the Irish Sea stretching out to the horizon. The ferries pass along here on their way to and from Dublin several times a day. I like this place best in late afternoon when the sunlight shimmers and glitters on a thousand-thousand wavelets and the blue-grey of the ocean sparkles until it bleeds into the grey-blue mirror of the skies…

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South Stack lighthouse guards this entrance of the hazardous shipping route towards Liverpool docks. Before the beacons here were built, many ships foundered and sank with great loss of life, both human and animal, as well as great wealth (in the case of the tragic clipper The Royal Charter which sank with millions of pounds of gold on board as well as horrific loss of life within miles of home after returning from Australia). In many cases these ships were wrecked within a few metres of shore having been pounded onto the treacherous rocks lining the coast but with little hope of rescue for the hapless passengers, particularly for women aboard hampered by the huge amounts of cloth in they clothing and children too small to survive the immersion in freezing cold merciless surf.

I walked over the old bridge to the lighthouse as a child (actually I was carried and I was terrified, the “new” bridge is much more solid feeling to walk over!). With its boiling chasm of waters beneath it is easy to see how little chance passengers on a wrecked ship have to survive, even in relatively calm conditions let alone in the kind of storms the Atlantic can throw at the west coast of the UK.

South Stack Lighthouse was built just over 200 years ago to aid ships to navigate these waters along with the other beacons further in towards England. Now automated by Trinity House, it continues to aid seafarers safe passage and partly because of that perhaps, is one of the most beautiful buildings I know.

 

Advent: December 17th

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We’re “celebrating” 20 years on our smallholding – we moved here on 17th December 1996. It seems both like yesterday and also so very long ago!

Life is quite different in a number of ways. It’s also the day that I first took ownership (reluctantly!) of a sheep! So I’m also celebrating 20 years of sheep keeping. I was given a lamb by the previous owner of our smallholding. It had been born as a single lamb out of season in September and instead of selling it along with the rest of the flock to my father he gifted it to me to “teach you to be a shepherd”. I wasn’t that keen on the idea I have to say! Sheep were woolly and smelly and not really the kind of livestock an aspiring small animal vet nurse wanted to get interested in….

And now of course they’re one of my favourite animals. The coloured sheep I keep for wool are quite different to the chunky Charollais x lamb I first had. I find coloured sheep and rare breeds really interesting  and I happened upon this large flock of Hebridean sheep at the base of Holyhead Mountain on a walk with Marley in September. We got quite close to them, despite Marley straining eagerly on his lead. They’re lucky sheep, living in a really stunning spot. I’ll show you their view tomorrow in my Advent post…

Advent: December 16th

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Visitors to North Wales won’t need this one explaining! This is the Menai Suspension Bridge which spans the Menai Straits – the fast flowing strip of sea between mainland Wales and Ynys Mon or Anglesey.

I love this bridge, such a beautifully elegant piece of engineering. It was built in 1826 by Thomas Telford as part of his commission to build a road from Holyhead to London. The A5 road he built ran past my childhood home in Shropshire and the house he stayed in whilst working on the Anglesey section is near where we stayed in on holiday so Thomas Telford is a name I grew up hearing a lot (not least because of the “new town” named after him where my father worked in planning for a time).

The Menai Bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More personally for me it was the exciting gateway to family holidays as a child. (now I enter Anglesey on the Britannia Bridge next to it)

It also carries a memorial to the victims of the Aberfan disaster 50 years ago this past October where many children in the South Wales village of Aberfan so tragically lost their lives along with teachers and other adults when a coal spoil heap collapsed and engulfed a portion of the village that contained the school. One thing I notice most about the warmth of the Welsh people is how they gather around to support those who are suffering or grieving to carry them through the dark valley. So it seems entirely fitting that a North Wales island should carry a memorial to such a tragedy for their cousins in the South; Wales grieving with her own wherever they are.

Advent: December 15th

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I vaguely knew there was a final “Supermoon” last night but forgot about it until I went to draw my curtains at dusk and saw the evening sky looking as though embers were glowing in it. My cameras are usually lying around handy for work and I grabbed my DSLR and shot this but the lens isn’t really long enough to take good pictures of the moon and my night time shooting / manual photography skills are poor. Always on my list of things to improve!

I switched to my little compact. It’s a poorer camera but has a better zoom. Most of the photos were blurry and unusable but it was still beautiful to watch the huge blood orange moon slide up into the inky blue sky. A small moment of wonder I didn’t expect.

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