Monday, 28 February 2011

Introducing Artemis

I'd like you to meet the newest member of my family. Artemis is a Syrian hamster we've just adopted from a rescue centre in the Forest of Dean. We looked towards the mythological lunar goddesses for a name, because she's nocturnal, and picked this one because she's also independent and strong-willed and adventurous.

We've been on a shopping spree to get ready for her: cage, wheel, food, bedding, and toys. It seems like you can't get pet insurance for rodents, so that's one less thing to decide about, although of course she'll still have to go to the vet sometimes (the lovely Sal from the rescue recommended a good one near us). We've actually got two cages for her, a big one for normal use and a smaller one that's more portable if we leave her with friends who've volunteered to babysit. We can also put her in the smaller cage while we're cleaning out the main one, which should reduce the risks of her running away! Like I said, she likes to explore.

Hamsters like to chew a lot, so we're going to give her branches from the apple tree, and hoping that'll discourage her from munching on the cage too much. We'll be figuring a lot of this out as we go along, it's ages since either of us had pets - I had mice when I was much younger, and Andrew had a guinea pig, so we've both had rodents before. If anyone has hints and tips for hamster care, I'd love to hear them. And of course, I'll be trying to persuade her to look cute on camera at regular intervals (somehow, I don't think she's going to struggle with that).

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Making Marmalade

I went to stay with some friends last week, and one evening they proposed making marmalade. Since I'd never done it before, I was obviously excited to have a go. Seville oranges have a very short season, and they're not much use for anything else, so this is a very seasonal recipe.

One word of warning if you're thinking of having a go - make sure you allow plenty of time for the whole process. It took us five hours from start to finish.

Seville Orange Marmalade Recipe
Fills 22 standard-sized jars

3kg Seville oranges
3 lemons
6 litres water
6kg demerera sugar
10g butter (optional)

You'll also need a large preserving pan, an orange juicer, four squares of muslin, and some string.
  1. Wash the fruit.
  2. Chop the oranges and lemons in half and squeeze out the juice.
  3. Using a metal spoon, scrape out the flesh, pith, and pips into a bowl.
  4. Divide the flesh and pips between the muslin squares, bundle up, and tie tightly with string. Leave enough spare string to attach to the handle of the pan.
  5. Slice up the orange and lemon peel (thick or thin depending on how you like your marmalade).
  6. Add peel, juice and water to the pan, along with the muslin bundles, and bring to the boil.
  7. Simmer for two hours to soften the peel.
  8. While the marmalade is boiling, wash and sterilize your jars. Also, pop a couple of saucers in the freezer.
  9. Remove the muslin bundles and squeeze out as much juice as you can, to add back into the pan. If you squeeze hard enough some gloopy substance will come through the muslin - pectin, which will help the marmalade to set.
  10. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves.
  11. Bring back to the boil, and boil rapidly for 15-20 minutes.
  12. To test whether the marmalade is ready to set, get a chilled saucer from the freezer and drop a little marmalade onto it. Push at the edge of the drop with your finger. If wrinkles form on the surface, it's ready; if not, keep boiling for a few more minutes, and try again.
  13. The butter is a trick my friends use to dissolve any scum from the marmalade: just stir it in, and the scum vanishes, as if by magic. However, for vegan marmalade, skip this step and just skim the scum off the top with a spoon.
  14. Warm the jars so they don't crack when you add the hot marmalade. Use a jam funnel to fill the jars, and fasten the lids while the marmalade is still hot so they can form a vacuum seal.
Blackberry jamAre you interested in learning to make your own jam? Or just looking for more yummy recipes with jam as an ingredient? Click here for jam-making tips and a collection of related recipes.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Names And Domains

Several of my friends are pregnant right now, leading to any number of somewhat inane conversations where those of us who aren't pregnant suggest more or less (mostly less) serious names to the parents-to-be.

One interesting issue that occurred to me in the middle of all this was that if I were to have a child, I'd want to check before naming him that there was a suitable top-level domain available, preferably the .com, and to register it at the time, ready for them to take over as soon as they're old enough to write HTML. Even my most geeky friends think I'm mad, with this one, but I remember being disappointed with my maiden name that I could only get my and not my .com - and a friend who had .org always found that people would accidentally send his email to the wrong place.

Has anyone else ever thought this might be a consideration in naming a child, or is it really just me?!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Bedroom (sans bed)

I promised a few more pictures of our decorating project, and we've only finished one room so far, so here it is: our bedroom, before we cluttered it up with the bed and other furniture. I know it'll never look so spacious again! Also, still have to decide what to do about curtains.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Will Work For Wood

On Saturday, we started a new project. Andy and I have helped out at National Trust properties before, on working holidays, and on Saturday morning we got up bright and early and headed into the NT-owned woods near our house.

There were about ten of us, forming a new group which will get together to help out on local NT land about once a month. There's an area of grassland being slowly invaded by non-native trees, and we're helping to bring it back to its previous state. The warden had felled a few trees, and our job was to burn off a load of branches, and clear the trunks. Bonus? We got to take wood home at the end of the morning.

This is a real win-win situation: the Trust gets free labour, we get healthy fresh air and exercise and firewood, and since wood is a renewable resource we're also helping the environment at the same time. It was a fun morning, too. Now if only I could persuade my muscles to stop aching...

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Turkish-ish Casserole

When we were visiting my dad recently, he made us a casserole that was inspired by his many visits to Turkey.

My recipe is loosely inspired by his. I didn't have all the ingredients that my dad used, so I had to improvise. I couldn't find sumac, but methi has a similar bite to it. And I couldn't find pepper paste, so I used tomato puree as the base for the sauce.

I don't claim any degree of authenticity, but this was still nice!

Turkish-Inspired Casserole Recipe

1 medium aubergine
1 large courgette
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 leek
1 medium onion
6 small mushrooms
3 medium tomatoes
2tbsp tomato puree
1tbsp oregano
1tbsp parsley
1tsp sumac (or methi powder)
2 handfuls of spinach

  1. Chop the courgettes, aubergine and peppers into small pieces (about ½ inch square). Slice the leeks and onion. Cut mushrooms in half. Cut tomatoes into eighths.
  2. Fry the aubergine for five minutes over a medium heat.
  3. Add the courgette, peppers, onion, and leeks. Fry until softened.
  4. Add tomato puree, tomatoes, mushrooms, and seasonings.
  5. Add to a lidded casserole dish, and bake for 15 minutes at 200°C.
  6. Stir in the spinach and bake for a further 15 minutes.
  7. We ate ours with jacket potatoes, but you could also serve it with rice or bulgar wheat.

Monday, 14 February 2011

I Promise...

This evening, I'm being enrolled into the Girl Guiding movement for the third (and presumably final) time. I've already been enrolled as a seven-year-old Brownie and as an eleven-year-old Guide. This time I get to make the same promise again, as an adult.

If you've been paying attention, you might know that I've been helping out with Brownies for a couple of years, so I'm not quite sure why it's taken me this long.

For anyone who doesn't know it, here's the official wording of the promise (from Girlguiding UK)

I promise that I will do my best:
To love my God,
To serve the Queen and my country,
To help other people
To keep the Guide Law.

The 'Law' referenced in the last line is quite long in its own right:

1. A Guide is honest, reliable and can be trusted.
2. A Guide is helpful and uses her time and abilities wisely.
3. A Guide faces challenge and learns from her experiences.
4. A Guide is a good friend and a sister to all Guides.
5. A Guide is polite and considerate.
6. A Guide respects all living things and takes care of the world around her.

I know some of my readers are involved in similar movements in other countries - if your promise is different, I'd love you to post it in the comments.


Saturday, 12 February 2011

Iceland's Oldest Church

We weren't very organised when we set off for Iceland - we wouldn't have had a guidebook at all if we hadn't picked one up in the airport. So most of our interaction with sites of interest came by following the little squiggly signs that basically meant "there's something of interest over this way."

This was one of those finds, hidden a little way back from the road, and claiming to be Iceland's oldest church. It's a tiny building, with the traditional grass roof and peat walls.

Definitely a contender for the world's cutest church... have you seen any nicer?

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Buying A Blog?

I had a really strange email this week. The subject line was "I want to buy your blog" - and the content was more or less what you'd expect, given that.

I've never seen anything quite like this proposal. They're quite up-front about the fact that they just want it for search engine rankings, but they want to buy entire blogs, including all the content and the domain name.

The message invited me to suggest a price, but honestly? I can't think of a number high enough. I'm hugely attached to this blog, to my readers, to the social side of blogging. I've poured hours of my life into it: I do this because I love it. It could never be worth as much to anyone else as it is to me.

But even without trying to price the emotional connection, the examples of successful sales given in the message are out by orders of magnitude from what any sane person would accept (e.g. $1000 for a blog... when a blogger can easily get over $100 for a single advert).

Has this happened to anyone else....? And just for fun - what would be your magic number??

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Early Rock Graves

By the ruins of St Patrick's chapel in Heysham, Lancashire, is a rather curious thing. With my attention caught up by the sweeping coastal vista, I would have looked straight over these if my dad hadn't pointed them out: rock-cut graves, thought to be about the earliest examples in Britain. I can definitely understand why someone would choose this as their final resting place. There aren't actually that many of the rock graves, and I'm guessing from the size of the smallest one that maybe there was a family buried here including a child. It would be so interesting to know more, but as with so much of archaeology, this seems likely to remain a mystery.

Sunday, 6 February 2011


I know, I know, I've been really hopeless at getting pictures of our house onto the blog. But now, after a lot of Danish oil and elbow grease, we have something to show off: doors!

I confess I didn't know what to expect when Andy suggested that we should have solid oak doors - but I trust his judgement and agreed we'd go for it. Wood is always characterful and beautiful, after all. I wasn't expecting to fall this heavily in love with them!

Bedroom door - backBedroom door - front

I've always said that I prefer a 'behind the scenes' view of life... and this is no exception. I think the back of the door (left) with the latch and giant hinges is much cooler than the simple lines of the front (right).

Note the serious perspective effects in the photos - the doors aren't really smaller at the bottom than the top! But I somehow couldn't get into a better position for the pictures.

We've also got a similar design for our new wardrobe:

Wardrobe door

Expect to see more pictures soon, because we should be getting our bedroom carpet tomorrow!

Friday, 4 February 2011


This post comes with huge thanks to Andy who did most of the photography while I was struggling not to slip over!

Despite being the highest, Whernside is arguably the least impressive of Yorkshire's Three Peaks to look at. It doesn't have a dramatic silhouette, and it doesn't really look high. On the other hand, you get fantastic views as you're walking up it.

'Proper' walkers do all three of the Three Peaks in the space of twelve hours, but it's taken me something like fourteen years - I climbed my first (Pen y Ghent) when I was at school, and now I'm twenty-eight.

It's starting to feel a little bit like spring at home, but up here it was definitely still winter. At the top we were walking on compacted snow, and there was a lot of ice on the paths.

We set off from the bottom at the same time as a paragliding school group - so when we got to the top, they were ready to launch themselves into the air. I really must try this one day...

I'd also like to draw your attention to the remarkable curve of this viaduct. The whole mountain rumbled every time a train went by.

Don't you just love crisp winter walks? I certainly do.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Sociolinguistics of Smalltalk

I always enjoy linguistic niceties in novels. Some of you may recall my excitement when I started reading Sherlock Holmes and found that second-language errors were used to identify the nationality of a writer.

The following is from the book I'm reading at the moment, Shadow's Edge (Night Angel #2) by Brent Weeks.

Why was it she could master the eighty-four variations of the Symbeline weave with perfect timing, structure, and intonation, but not make conversation? Surely small talk should be reducible to perhaps a few hundred typical questions, delineated into conversation trees according to the conversant's responses, how well one knew the conversant, what the current events were, and one's position relative to the conversant.

Timing of the questions and the length of one's responses would have to be studied as well, but many weaves required exact timing, too, and Ariel's rhythm was perfect. One might have to take into account the physical setting: one would speak differently in the Speaker's office than in a tavern. Topics of study could include how to deal with distractions, appropriate degrees of eye contact or physical touch, taking into account cultural variations, and of course the differences in speaking with men and women, subdivided by whether one were oneself a man or a woman. Ariel supposed she might have to include children in the study as well, and it would be important to include how to speak with those toward whom you had varying degrees of friendship or interest, romantic or otherwise. Or should it? Should one make small talk differently with a woman whom you thought you might like to befriend than with a woman you had no interest in? Were there socially appropriate ways to curtail dull conversations?

That made Ariel smile. In her book, curtailing dull conversations would be a huge plus.

Still, the project as a whole had little to do with magic. Perhaps nothing. Indeed, she decided that the study, while worthy, would be a poor use of her own gifts.

The setting may be fantastical, but this is actually quite a good manifesto for the study of relationships in conversational analysis; it's sociolinguistics at its finest. I rather wish Ariel had decided otherwise - not many books feature the scientific study of language and lingistics!

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