Joy in the morning

Padfoot is home! He’s been back for just over a week and, much as I would love to have written about him sooner, I just haven’t had the time.
Everyone said having a puppy is like having another child and boy were they right!!! Going anywhere with him requires an extraordinary amount of time simply because he is so gorgeously cute. Strangers bend down on one knee to greet him and are rewarded with an explosion of fluffy bouncing and the occasional face washing. Mmmmm I know, lucky them!
It’s house training him that is the focus of all our attention this weekend and this requires close scrutiny on our part, the reading of many books on the subject, explorations into the World Wide Web for some interesting advice and endless trips into the garden.

The latter I, for one, am enjoying immensely.

It’s 8 am on a Sunday morning and here I am, sitting comfortably on the garden bench, in my tartan pyjamas, writing. The first cup of bitter, black coffee has been supped and enjoyed and I am content in the knowledge that there is more to be had. So, perked up with caffeine and happy with life I sit here and write while my garden is dug up and the kitchen floor I have just mopped will soon look like a mud bath.

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I’m not normally an early riser; I love my bed but I am discovering the delights of early mornings. I was warned of this too, it was whispered to me like an illicit secret.

Each morning the day presents me with something new; a raindrop caught in a leaf that shimmers in the morning light or a freshly bloomed poppy that lasts for just a single day, it’s beauty magnified by its fleeting nature.

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Tiny birds dart in and out of the Christmas tree pecking at the unsuspecting bugs hiding in the scented needles. A magpie caws harshly momentarily breaking my reverie and I think dark thoughts; murderous thieves. Then Padfoot bounds past, leaping in the air for no other reason other than he can, and I catch his joy.

Because my joy comes, like his, in the mornings and the peacefulness of the day beckons to me.

“Hey there peacefulness” I say ” Hang on a sec, I’m still in my pyjamas and I need to get my wellies on before we go dancing through this glorious day!”

Have a wonderful day everyone

What to do with a large round courgette

There’s a film crew filming in the school polytunnel and, as I lean idly against the door watching our children talk candidly to a reporter, my heart swells with pride. I gaze at them and smile and as I do so something suddenly catches my eye. Nestled amongst the huge green leaves that fill the corner bed is something big, green and round.
“That’s funny” I think to myself “I’m sure I planted courgettes in there?”

I can’t investigate further because there are more interviews to conduct and filming to do so I make a mental note to investigate the next day. This doesn’t happen because the situation has snowballed and my day is taken up with interviews with the press, photographs, discussions on drive time radio; I go home exhausted and the ‘weird thing’ is forgotten about…..until now.
It’s seven am and there is a radio reporter waiting to broadcast live from the school polytunnel. She is blown away by the produce we are growing; fresh basil, salad rocket, tomatoes, and then I remember the ‘weird thing.”
We do the breakfast broadcast and I head over to the corner bed to investigate. I part the thick, spiky leaves and call over the presenter to have a look.
“Oooh ” she exclaims “what the heck is THAT!”

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I establish that it is in fact a round courgette that has been surreptitiously growing without anyone noticing. There are smaller fruits growing round it so I give it a twist and a tug and another twist and it finally breaks off in my hands.
We look at it in awe.
We take it in turns to hold it, turning it around to marvel at its form.
Then comes the question
“What do you do with it?”

For me that’s the best bit of discovering a new or different vegetable, finding out what to do with it.

It’s a good size so naturally I want to stuff it. Perhaps a mixture of roasted vegetables with rice or cous cous maybe?

I opt for the latter.

I drizzled with olive oil and roasted;
6 small tomatoes, chopped in half
3 large garlic cloves
Half a red onion
Half an orange pepper

After twenty minutes in a hot oven they were nicely done.

While the veg was roasting I cut off the top the courgette, scooped out and discarded the seedy bit then scooped around the edge and saved the flesh. This I chopped up and fried in hot coconut oil. Meanwhile I added hot water to 75 grams of cous-cous and stirred. When the water was absorbed I chucked the cous cous in the pan with the courgette, a large sprig of time, a chopped chilli(very hot) and some lemon zest, I then added the roast veg.
After a few minutes of sizzling and with my kitchen smelling amazing I filled the courgette with the mix, added lemon juice, salt and pepper and a large sprinkling of cheese before popping it in the oven for twenty minutes to cook.

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It’s just come out, piping hot and it looks amazing! I’m tucking into it and, oh it’s nice, it’s very nice. The chilli is coming through, blended with the cheese and the thyme has done good job joining the flavours.
It’s a large courgette and I should probably share it but …there’s no one around so perhaps I’ll just accompany it with a cheeky glass of something white and chilled….

Foxgloves and faeries

I’ve woke up today with a head full of words. They are twirling, whirling and rampaging through my mind like an old fashioned type writer ribbon that has broken free of its casing and loops and tumbles to the floor, imprinted with words, words, words.
I can’t focus on what the youngest broccoli is saying to me as we take an early morning walk to the village to buy treats for a special day at school; it’s something about puddles, shoes, white trainers that have gone green….? Perhaps I’m going mad.
He trundles contentedly up the school path and I carry on. It’s raining, that drizzly, mizzly kind’ve rain that hangs in the air and gets you unbelievable wet in a matter of minutes. But I don’t mind, I seem to relish it today.
I walk under the enormous plane trees and hear the rain dripping through the leafy canopy above me. A large droplet splashes on my nose and I laugh and the words continue to flow through my mind. I realise they are describing the day and they are describing it so beautifully; it’s as if I have my own documentarian in there, my own David Attenborough showing me the wonder of the world around me.
I head to the allotments, a stones throw from the park, because Georges plot has been on my mind. I caught a glimpse of it the other day and now I want to take a really good look at it.

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It was the foxgloves that caught my eye; masses of them in purples, pinks and creams. They are an odd sight on a plot but not unwelcome. Perhaps it is there deadly nature that make people fear them; even a small dose can be fatal. I love them. There’s a wildness about them, an air of magic because they grow in the forgotten places; at the bottom of the garden, on the edge of woodlands, the same places where the faeries live.
Georges foxgloves grow at the bottom of his plot and, as I venture through, I see there is a grassy path separating them from his beans.
” Be careful George” my mind writes because I can picture him, shirt sleeves rolled up, brushing past these beautiful flowers with a basket full of beans. I don’t know if it’s the flowers or the magic that he should be careful of because either would surely render him carefree!
There’s a lupin growing alongside the foxgloves, it is shorter than its stately companions but no less admired by me because lupin are amongst my favourite plants.
I have my dad to thank for this love. He used to grow them at the bottom of the garden and, whenever the sun followed the rain he would hurry us outside and show my sister and I the tiny droplets of water that had collected in the centre of the leaves, catching the sunlight and sparkling like jewels.
“These are mirrors for the fairy folk that live at the bottom of our garden” he would tell us in a hushed voice ” they must be having a party tonight.”
And we would look round, wide-eyed hoping to catch a glimpse of movement under the trees and amongst the ferns and brambles close to the compost heap because that was where the magic must surely happen, in the forgotten places where things grow, undisturbed.

Its my dad that I hold responsible for my love of the great outdoors because, not only did he let my sister, brother and I play in the forgotten places, he always added a bit of mischief and magic too. Perhaps he realised that letting us play, explore and discover, undisturbed is how our passions grew too.

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My sister Sarah’s garden, a gorgeous dingly dell.

 

 

Because some days are not okay

I can’t breathe. I’m doubled over, gasping, trying in vain to catch my breath but sorrow, with its vice like grip, has wrapped itself tightly around my chest and is squeezing the life right out of me.

If you had walked up to me, punched me in the stomach, knocked the wind out of me, I would have been better prepared. I would drop to my knees, clutch my middle and desperately fight for the breath I know would come soon.

But this is unknown. It’s on the inside this pain, this punch and I didn’t see it coming! Blindsided.

Friday 8.45 am.

Eldest Broccoli nudges me earnestly, I am in a state of ‘it’s my day off’ slumber. “There’s a man on the phone says you must speak to him immediately, about the dog”.

I chuckle inwardly about having to talk to a man about a dog.

Its difficult to recall what happened next. The words that stand out are “I’m coming round to seize your animal!”

Whoa, hang on a minute lets back it up there, what just happened!?!?!?

From what I could gather our gorgeous puppy Padfoot, who has only lived with us a week but has transformed our lives, had been allowed into the UK from Ireland too soon. Trading standards deemed his rabies shot to have been given too early and was therefor ineffectual. However the only words I could hear were

” I coming to seize your animal!”

Padfoot lay snoozing at my feet, blissfully unaware.

I was in shock.

“Please don’t take our puppy away” I wailed plaintively before turning to see eldest Broccoli dissolve into floods of tears. She had left college the day before and was all set to take care of our little bundle of fluff while she revised for her exams.

“He’ll be picked up and taken into quarantine in a couple of hour” threatened the man on the phone.

” No he won’t, I yelled back, I’m going to see the vet, phone the breeder, contact DEFRA, get my kids out of school, phone Mr B….,” because I’m falling apart here.

I did all those things to no avail. Padfoot was taken away. My family were drowning in tears and there was nothing I could do.

We went to visit our little chap yesterday, it’s a four hour round trip. He is in quarantine with his brother which is some consolation. The pen is small, concrete and caged. Their wee doesn’t drain away so it was a slightly soggy little thing we cuddled and cried over during our visit.

He’s locked up for six weeks; six hideously long weeks. But we will get him back.

Yesterday I was in shock. I couldn’t get my head around what was happening. My mind was reeling as I tried to make sense of a crazy system, speak with the breeder, comfort my children, care for the puppy and try and convince myself that this wasn’t my fault.

Today the pain kicked in. I can’t stop the tears, I can’t catch my breath. It’s not me I am hurting for, it’s him. On such a glorious day I want him to run round the garden in circles, faster than life. I want him to trample my forget-me-nots and destroy them with joy. I want to him to revel in his freedom as I hope to revel in mine.

Its always tricky feeling so bad on a Sunday, especially if I’m heading to church. Church can break a persons locked up heart faster than a hot knife cuts through chocolate. And it did. And today I’m grateful for that because, for me, that’s a massive step. You see I’ve locked my up heart for many years. Have you? I mean who wouldn’t?

Hearts get trampled on, knocked about, screwed around with and generally beaten up. Quite spectacularly!! So I have striven to protect mine with an impenetrable fortress.

The problem, however, with protecting ones heart is that fortresses are not selective; It takes a lot of effort to let down the drawbridge. Consequently this little heart of mine has felt nothing for quite some time.

Then Padfoot came along. Even before he arrived I knew my heart was softening. I have resisted getting a dog for years. No matter how much the younger Broccolis pleaded, I was not budging. Or so I thought. But recently I’ve allowed chinks to appear in my hearts armour and it feels okay. I’ve begun to venture out and form new friendships, I’ve dared to let people in; I’ve even begun to let myself feel. I even fell in love with a dog!

And now he’s been snatched away and my heart is weeping.

Its been a long day and a long time catching that breathe but catch it I did and do you know what I realised?

I’m doing okay.

Why?

Because I realise it’s okay to not be okay.

                                                            It’s okay to not be okay!

Thats right.

As our puppy was being taken away to the pound my wonderful mum, with her own heart breaking, told us

” Take a deep breath, dry your eyes and just think of when he comes back.”

” No” responded eldest Broccoli ” it’s okay for us to feel sad.”

I couldn’t help but smile through my tears and my battered heart swelled with pride because she’s so right. When we can’t catch our breath, when the world has beaten us to our knees, when our own strength has gone, that’s when others step in. Because we aren’t on our own and faking it isn’t worth it; it makes for a very lonely life.

So thank you friends for picking me up today, for allowing me to not be okay. Because by doing so you’ve made me realise….

it’s going to be okay !

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Wine and wildebeest. I’m game are you?

Glug, glug, glug, glug, glug. Cripes, I don’t usually drink wine by the pint, contrary to what some people might think, but it sounds like I might be about to start! I’ve got my back to the bar because the decor in this pub is amazing and I’m staring around, wide-eyed, taking it all in. I hear the sound of our drinks being poured and my eyebrows start to furrow. I raise one, quizzically at Mr Broccoli who is staring, also wide-eyed, at the refreshments on the bar. I turn around and nearly crack up laughing; the glasses are massive! My chilled white wine is served in what looks, for all the world, like a goldfish bowl on a stick; husbands pint of bitter shandy is about three foot high! I daren’t look at how much Coke the younger Broccolis are about to consume….they’ll be bouncing off the walls!

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And what is the reason for this afternoon quaffing? I hear you ask.

Every May we choose a gloriously warm day to go for a walk in the bluebell woods in Dutton, Cheshire. Ancient beech trees stand alongside majestic oaks and giant horse chestnuts. As the warm breeze passes through the leaves begin to stir and I can almost hear the trees whispering their secrets. When all their wisdom has been told these leaves will tumble to the ground and become the life source for the next generation. But for now the woodland oozes life, fecundity and vitality. The bluebells that flourish here carpet the ground and are interrupted only by the tinkling brook that runs through. It ripples and dances, like a silver ribbon, and we can’t help but follow as it entices us further into this enchanted wood. Magic hangs in the air as the fronds of filigree ferns reach out, slowly unfurling to touch the hazy sunlight.

As I stand, hushed and in awe of nature’s spectacular beauty, I realise that at this moment, there is nowhere else I would rather be.’

Every year I look forward to the arrival of the bluebells and, each year it takes my breath away. I feel alive. Wild garlic grows amongst the bluebells, revelling in the same damp habitat created by the ancient beech trees. White, drumstick flowers, similar to alliums, grow amongst strappy green leaves, easily identified by their pungent, garlicky smell. I always pick a handful, keen to capture the first harvest of the countryside, I take them home to make a kicking garlic paste. A celebration of spring leaves plucked from the garden or hedgerow.

This year we take a detour, a different route through the woods and it is cool, pleasant and lovely. I see the dog, the magical dog, that first lured me into the woods ambling up the lane and the kids whistle and call to him. I immediately admonish them.

“Hey,  it’s not okay to lure someone else’s dog away!” They are lost in the glory of the moment and they mean no harm. I can’t help but smile at them and my joy bubbles up as I remind them that  “It’s only five more sleeps until our own puppy arrives!”

Oh Lordy, the secrets out now and there was me planning on surprising you all with a blog post when he gets here. A gorgeously cute bundle of fur with big puppy dog eyes. Excited doesn’t even come close to how we are feeling!

On our way to the bluebells woods we stop off at the pet store to buy a collar and lead. It’s not an easy choice when there are five of you and each has an opinion. We decide we will each choose our own lead.

I love the individuality of my family. Even with the same DNA, the same parentage, the same upbringing, the little Broccolis are so very different and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

After a walk we like to sit and reflect on our day and country pubs are perfect for such reveries. We pulled in at the Chetwode Arms, Lower Whitley, what appeared to be a charming little watering hole in the heart of Cheshire.

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Looks like an ordinary country pub right?

Wrong!

I mean we probably should have realised it was a little out of the ordinary when we rounded the corner and there was a huge teepee in the car park. It didn’t look too incongruous, in fact it looked very settled. Surrounded by an eclectic mix of rusted wood burners, carved African animals and wicker tables and chairs; it looks wonderfully inviting. Bleached, warm and homely I can just picture it in the evening lit up by candle light. I can imagine drifts of conversation lingering in the cool, night air, entwined with the smell of wood smoke under a canopy of stars.

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Inside, the pub is extraordinary. It’s like stepping into Africa; skulls, skins and antlers hang on the walls along with African art. Giraffe scatter cushions and zebra print rugs give the place a cosy atmosphere gracefully lit with star-like trails of fairy lights.

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Did I mention the menu? I had to look twice! This place serves all things bush; zebra meat, crocodile, water buffalo, wildebeest or even grasshoppers an meal worms. Meats are cooked on hot stones which I think my friend Si calls ‘dirty steaks’. Dirty or not I can’t wait to give this a try.

Now I know it’s not for everyone but I’m all about trying the new and always looking for adventure and this place seems to have all of this under one roof. Has anyone been here?

There’s a goldcrest in my garden and a curious sense of belonging

Oh my! I just had the most magical experience out in my garden. I was on my way back from feeding the rabbit and the chickens when a movement caught my eye. I glanced over and there, amongst the branches of the twisted hazel, I spotted a tiny little bird; tiny yet perfectly formed. The flash of bright yellow across her head tells me she is a goldcrest, a goldcrest right here in my garden! I’m ecstatic, I feel like I’ve just discovered treasure in my garden, a living, breathing, pot of gold.

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I tip-toe quietly across the grass, my breath held tight, and I stand, stock-still, hardly even daring to blink for fear of missing this moment but I needn’t have worried, this bird is going nowhere. Even now, as I sit in the kitchen writing, I look up and out of the French windows and she is still there, flitting, darting and dancing through the branches of the twisted hazel.

I even have time to grab my camera and she performs beautifully.

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I still had time to share my exciting news with the youngest Broccoli. He too stands stock-still, utterly charmed by our feathered friend. He reaches out a hand and we both hold our breath as the little bird gets so close they almost touch. In the quiet stillness of the morning, in the magic of the moment, I realise the church bells have started ringing and the rain has started falling, softly, gently and we are standing in our pyjamas smiling.

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Middle Broccoli isn’t a morning person so I let her stay sleeping. She’s emerged now, of her own accord and I excitedly point out the little finch. She dons my wellies and drapes her sister cape over her shoulders and ventures out. I’m about to reprimand her, tell her she mustn’t get it wet but I stop myself because it doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t matter. And, once again I hear the church bells ringing and see the soft rain falling and still I am smiling.

Its been over an hour and she’s still here, our little goldcrest. She has made my garden her home and she is very welcome. Because she and I belong here, in this garden, in this moment; there is nothing else we need to do, nowhere else we need to be, we are here and we belong.

 

 

My family and some other animals

 

I’m at Jump nation with the two younger Broccolis and it hilarious. It’s a giant tin warehouse full of trampolines; black bouncy squares edged with length of sky blue crash mats, it’s a massive matrix of joy. Jumping for joy nation it should be called. There’s kids and even some grown ups bouncing across the squares, bouncing off the walls, bouncing into each other and it’s full of laughter. I’m sitting on the ‘viewing balcony’ aka the upstairs cafe and I’m hoping they won’t chuck me out for not buying anything but I’ve got an excuse, I forgotten my purse.
My two are having the time of their lives and it’s making me laugh. They’re behind a bouncy, cushioned wall and must be bouncing alternately because as one head disappears another comes up. It’s like whack-a-rat!
We had a bit of an altercation yesterday, the younger Broccolis and I. The two week long school holidays are drawing to a close and I felt they had become a little, well, lazy. To be fair it must be difficult to find fun and adventure if you have no money or driving license and it rains a lot outside so it’s up to us as parents to introduce joy and happiness to their sorry little lives; it’s a tough job but not without its rewards. Honest, it does have rewards.

Joy of joys!!! The Durrells has been made into a series and it’s BRILLIANT. I loved reading the books when I was younger and boy am I loving watching the series!!!

If you’ve not seen it stop reading now, grab a brew, put your feet up and watch it on catch up.

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If you have, isn’t it fab?! It’s an excellent portrayal of family life helped along by the stunning scenery of its setting in Corfu. I wish I had the guts to uproot my family and move to a Greek island. I nearly did. When I found out I was expecting the eldest Broccoli I was already to up sticks and run. Me and my baby would live happily in a little stone cottage, with sky-blue shutters, looking out over the ocean and avoiding any romantic entanglement with anyone called Stavros!

Fortunately the lonely life was not for me; instead I find myself juggling the emotions and affections of my family, my amazing family, and I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

But there’s nothing wrong with dreaming of endless blue skies, the gentle lapping of the waves on the sea shore, the laughter of my children as they play outdoors as the sun goes down and I sit, perfectly content, hand in hand with my love.

However I live in Manchester and it’s cold and wet and I’m running out of ideas. Or am I? If there’s one thing I’m good at its finding adventure in the simplest things, I just have to get out there and see what the day might bring. To hell with the cold and the rain, we’ve got wellies and waterproofs!

So I announce to my children that we are going on an adventure.

Eyes flicker up briefly from their screens.

“We’re taking a bus into town and going to the museum” I declare gleefully ” Then we’ll visit the art gallery, wander through the park and head to a cafe for deluxe chocolate milkshakes all round.”

Well I was excited.

Negotiations commenced as they often do in the Broccoli household and after much discussion we took the car.

“Why not the bus?” I asked of the youngest, most disgruntled Broccoli ”

“Because it smells, the floors covered in chewing gum and it’s full of mad people.”

The atmosphere is frosty on our way into town but we make it to the museum where I suddenly decide enough is enough; I’m so fed up with the slouching and lack of enthusiasm I take youngest Broccoli to one side and give him severe talking too. I tell him I would be more than happy leaving him in front of the telly for the next eight years, to live an utterly dull life, while I went and had lots of fun because that’s my choice!! Because my life is for living and that is exactly what I plan to do, live it, joyously!!!
I’m getting exasperated and I glare down at him. He looks back at me from under his floppy fringe
“Then what are you waiting for” he grins.
Honestly I could swing for him!

We head off and look around the stuffed animals deciding which animal we would be. I’d be a barn owl I decide. I would sit in the tops of tree and swoop around at night, hooting. We like the sea urchins too and we marvel at the fine detail on the butterflies wings. Then we find the tree frogs. We love these tiny creatures. Their shiny skin, tiny toes and beady eyes are perfect; we could watch them for hours and we do. Then one frog starts to climb the glass, slowly, surely, it doesn’t give up. He was right in front of people’s eyes but did they see him? No. They looked everywhere but right in front of them. But we saw him slowly climbing up, and up and up and we stood smiling, content to watch. We wanted to know what he would do when he got to the top. Would he leap backwards and land on the branch? Would he hang upside and travel across the roof? We wanted to know, we needed to know, we were captivated. Because what actually happens when you make it to the top?

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Do you know what it did, that funny frog, when it got to the top? It stopped. It just stopped. Then it started to slide ever so slowly down the front of the glass. We were in pieces. This little creature just wanted some fun, it wanted to slide like my little Broccolis wanted to bounce. And sometimes that’s where the joy is, in the simplest things. Sliding, bouncing, rolling, laughing. It’s right there in front of us. We don’t have to climb to the top we’ve got it all, right here.

” But did you get the deluxe triple chocolate milkshakes?” I hear you ask.

Of course we did, right here, thick, delicious, indulgent and chocolatey. It’s the little things….