The glories of Spring . . . and the not so good

baby robin2

Be happy, it’s Spring. Feel grateful and look for the positive. Life is to be lived.

Things I like about Spring

  1. Finding birds nests, such as the robin nest in this photo
  2. The arrival of the swallows from South Africa
  3. The process of seeds, to plants, to vegetables. It never seizes to amaze me.
  4. Sunny evenings in the garden with birdsong for company.
  5. Watching the butterflies and bees aimlessly traverse the garden.
  6. Eating lunches al fresco.
  7. The smell of blossom.
  8. Watching the honeybees return from the rapeseed on their super-highway.
  9. Finding a male toad whilst weeding.
  10. Taking extended walks and playing outdoor tennis.
  11. Clean dog paws.
  12. Clean eggs from chickens, i.e. not covered in mud.
  13. The cats stop using their litter trays.

 

Not so good . . .

  1. Finding remains of mice in the garden, courtesy of the cats.
  2. Never-ending weeding.
  3. Guilt relating to inability to motivate myself to doing outdoor DIY chores.
  4. Realising the cabbage white butterflies are going to devastate my brassica plants.
  5. Seeds that fail to germinate. My hope and expectation crushed.
  6. Sunny days that I am unable to enjoy because I am stuck indoors.
  7. Cats returning home with large bellies and smug faces.
  8. Cats meowing to go outside at 4 o’clock in the morning.

 

Even so, it’s still better than winter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Lesson learned: Wear a bee suit when handling a swarm

june

My beehive is bursting at the seams! It has always been a very productive hive, and last year threw out several swarms. In order to limit it, rather than killing the queen bee cells, which is the usual method, we added a second brood box. The bees were very quick to take occupation, but it still wasn’t enough. Yesterday, they threw out their first swarm.

We noticed the bees early afternoon. After spending a few minutes mesmerised by the buzzing and excited fluttering, the numbers in the air diminished. They were settling on a low growing hedge a couple of metres from the hive. Last year the swarm landed high up a tall tree, making it inaccessible, so this was good news.

Since they can depart at any moment time is of the essence. Doug was quick to find a cardboard box and his smoker, and very slowly, the bees crept into the box. This is the first time he’s used this method, so it was a nerve-wracking and exciting experience. Everything seemed to be going to plan, until he hit an unanticipated problem.

The swarm was quite large, probably fifteen to twenty thousand bees, and as they gathered in the box they caused it to topple. Bees were everywhere, and needless to say, they were not too pleased by Doug’s intervention. A few stings later, and now wearing a bee suit, he was back on the job. The bees had settled down; some were still in the box, and the others were on the hedge. He placed those in the box into a newly prepared hive and closed the roof. The others were still on a branch, so he snipped it off and shook them off at the entrance. Since the queen was inside, they all trundled in. Job done.

Today, they are building comb in their new home, and they seem perfectly happy. Rapeseed flowers are in abundance, so far as they were concerned it was a good time to swarm. I do believe they know what they are doing. Good work girls!

Are we free-thinking or pre-programmed?

I’m currently starting the process of researching and planning my next novel. It is a process I always enjoy since it means I can allow my imagination free-flow and come up with an assortment of ideas before eliminating the wildest and wackiest. I’m particularly enjoying it this time as I haven’t written any new material for over six months and I’m getting withdrawal symptoms.

That’s not to say I haven’t been busy. Aside from all the Internet marketing that remains a necessity, I’ve edited three books, all of which are getting closer to publication. It can be a laborious task, but it is essential and there is no time for a lazy or lax attitude. Thankfully, it’s finally nearing its end.

So, on to my next mystery/thriller. All I’m willing to say right now is that it involves identical twins, and that’s where my research is taking me. I’m looking at personality traits, and whether they’re genetic or not. It’s a fascinating subject. Views of scientists differ greatly, although from what I’ve read so far, it appears that about 40% of our behaviour is genetically influenced, with some areas being more influenced than others, such as self-control, a person’s sense of purpose, social interaction, and happiness.

How does that make us feel? If we are programmed a certain way, is there any point in fighting nature? Are we a born loser or a born winner?

For example:

I am rarely happy – it’s just how I am.
I have had an affair – I have little self-control.
I am unemployed – I have a lack of sense of purpose and struggle with motivation.
I enjoy more than the average amount of alcohol – alcoholic tendencies are genetically linked.

Some families do have more divorces, more job instability, and more of an addictive nature than others. Is this why? From what I have read, it does appear that there could be a link. Studying identical twins is what has helped scientists reach some of these conclusions. Even those twins raised apart and having never met have more similarities than what would be expected from a random meeting of two strangers. Now that is bizarre. Perhaps we aren’t as free-thinking as we thought.

 

A strange obsession . . .

dogsmunch

Hudson, Gina and Stilton have a strange obsession . . . or perhaps it is an identity crisis or a message passed on from Hudson and Gina’s sister, Bella.

Their problem (or maybe it’s just mine) started two years ago after Bella was diagnosed with terminal cancer, T-cell lymphoma to be precise. She did something none of the dogs had ever done before, not in any of their previous 8 years. She started to eat weeds!!!

At first I pulled her away, worried she was doing herself harm. But she was very persistent, forcing me to investigate. I soon learned she was eating mustard plants, and aside to have nutritional benefits such as vitamin A, C,K and folic acid, there’s evidence they’re anti-cancerous, mainly since they are full of anti-oxidants.

Hudson and Gina noticed her habit, and two years on there is no stopping them.

Here’s how a typical walk goes.

I unhook the leashes and stroll along the path by the river. After a few hundred metres, I turn around. The dogs are stationary and munching mustard plants. They haven’t moved an inch! I call and call, my voice growing hoarse and my blood pressure rising. They are so absorbed in the succulent flower heads and leaves that they don’t notice my screechy cries. After several minutes, I finally get their attention and they trot to my side.

I continue on, continuously passing them instructions to remain at my side, but after a few minutes, my mind wanders and I stop paying them any attention. The next thing I know they are several hundred metres back and eating mustard plants . . . again. Damn them!

What is it with my dogs and mustard? I think I’m going to have to find another walk. To make matters worse they have passed this habit onto Stilton, the youngster of the family, and despite his young age and exuberance, he is almost as bad.

It looks like it’s something I am going to have to live with forever. Better that than cancer.

Do the simple things in life make us happy?

Does it sound a little glib and clichéd to say it’s not money or acquisitions that make me happy, but being around the people I care about and doing the things I love?

Wouldn’t we all prefer to be on sailing exotic seas, drinking expensive wine and eating expensive foods, and upgrading our possessions to the latest model? Maybe so, although I believe if we had these things all of the time they would lose their value and stop providing us with the joy we expect.

I am a huge tennis fan, and have watched Wimbledon year upon year hoping for a British victory. Finally, last year, Andy Murray won. It was an amazing day, barely believable, and it will stay with me forever. However, was I more appreciative because of the 77 year wait? I believe I was. If good things come too often, we can become a little blasé. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy it if Roger Federer were British, I would, I’m just not sure I would appreciate his wins quite so much. When winning is expected, its ability to provide true joy is lost. We might feel happy and maybe even a little smug when our tennis star wins another tournament, but we won’t feel the elation we felt when Andy won Wimbledon.

Therefore, do we need to go through the pain of doing without to experience happiness? Do we need to yearn for something and should we have to fight to achieve it? Does that increase its worth? Maybe so, otherwise its value is lost.

This brings me back to my initial statement, which now seems a little contradictory.

It’s not money or acquisitions that make me happy, but being around the people I care about and doing the things I love.

It’s human nature to take for granted the things we see around us all the time, whether it’s a person or a possession. Likewise, it’s understandable that we would want something more than what we have, and strive, maybe unreasonably so, to get it. As the saying goes, the grass is often greener on the other side.

So what makes us happy? The way I see it we have two choices. We either learn to enjoy what we have, or we keep upgrading our desires. The first option may seem a little negative and unambitious; the second option may lead us to a lifetime of unhappiness, and we may pass something by that was of real value.

Life, at times, can be a bit of a trudge, which is why I think something midway is more appropriate. Be happy with what you have by reminding yourself of it on a regular basis, but don’t let it stop you from wanting that little something extra.

In essence, treat yourself. Just make sure it remains a treat.

 

 

 

Just let me start planting . . . please

hensdigging

 

My chickens have this crazy idea that I have digging the vegetable bed in their very large pen purely for their benefit. I accept I am animal mad, and I do do wacky things at times, but I wouldn’t do that.  I wouldn’t sacrifice worms for the sake of keeping my hens happy. On second thoughts . . .

The chickens have a pen approximately one third of an acre which is almost entirely their own. I say, almost, because there is a large vegetable bed at one end, with soil that is well drained and loamy, and it has proven perfect for growing potatoes. Once the plants are established, the chickens leave them alone, making them an ideal chicken companion! The problem is getting them into the ground in the first place.

Here’s what happened.

As soon as I pass through the gate, they run towards me. If I don’t stay ahead of them, some of the hens will get in front on me, blocking my way forward and preventing my movement. So I have to be quick, and trot to the vegetable bed. The hens run along behind. It is quite a sight. I feel like the Pied Piper.

The girls recognise my garden fork, and even before I start, the excitement is building. They’ve seen it all before and know what’s coming; they cluck and peck, asserting dominance and striving for prime position. They have one thing on their mind, worms!

My intention was to dig four trenches, add the potatoes, water them, and cover them up, first with soil and then with a fleece cover. It wasn’t so easy.

I make my first hole but the hens block my view of the soil; I am digging blind, and know from the excited cries, that the first worms have been taken. As a distraction, I move further along the row and continue digging. Despite my very slow progress, partly because I had to be careful with the fork so as not to stab a chicken, I reach the end of the row.

Wanting to assess my work, I step back and wait for the girls to drift away. They have filled in the trench! Would you believe it? All my hard work for nothing! All I have done is help the girls find breakfast! A new plan was needed. I decide the only way I was going to manage it was to dig a hole, plant a potato, cover it up, and so on.

Despite the kafuffle, it worked. Job done.

One question remains. Have I planted the potatoes evenly and in straight rows? I doubt it, since I couldn’t really tell what I was doing. If anyone asks, I do not have a drinking problem, nor do I need my eyes tested. I simply had chickens to contend with . . . chickens with greedy appetites and bulging crops!

 

My legs with a mind of their own

My days are spent working, exercising and socialising. It is a good mix, and most of the time, by the time bedtime approaches I’m relaxed and already starting to dose. Yet the instant I climb into bed, I cannot sleep. Why? Because of my damned legs. I cannot keep them still!

I am an occasional sufferer of Restless Legs Syndrome. This condition causes an uncomfortable feeling in the sufferer’s legs. It’s like a crawling sensation under the skin, or a deep ache, and it will not go away. The urge to move is irresistible. Walk a little and the discomfort disappears; stay still for long periods and it returns.

During the day, it is something I can ignore for the majority of the time, but at night . . . I WANT TO SCREAM!!

Why is it when I want to sleep, my legs feel like they want to run a marathon! Given I am an arthritis sufferer, I am used to dealing with pain, and I can focus on controlling my urges to kick out, but it is not enough. Within an hour of slipping into a slumber, the nagging ache returns, waking me up. My feet and legs twitch and shooting pains rush up and down my legs. It’s not especially painful, but it is very, very annoying.

I’ve tried painkillers and anti-inflammatory tablets, but they don’t work. So I have to suffer, night after night.

There is one solution. Walk around!

Even if the pain is extreme, the instant I get out of bed I feel relief. Isn’t that bizarre? Why should it be so immediate, and why won’t the ache go away whilst I am horizontal?

I don’t want to walk around the house once an hour during the night. I don’t want to do stretching exercises, and I don’t want to train for a marathon! What part of my brain refuses to listen? I just want to sleep.

Zzzzzzz . . . 

In Memory Of Keats

Blake and Keats

As a self-confessed softie, I found losing my grey tabby cat a very traumatic experience, but despite what I went through, even knowing the outcome, I would go through it again. Life is about the enjoying new experiences, whether they are good or bad. I think we should cherish both equally, since one accentuates the other.

I’d had Keats, affectionately known as Keaty Pie, since he was just 7 weeks old. He disappeared a month after his second birthday, on the day it had been announced the world was to end. It was a curious choice on his part.

I acquired him and his brother, Blake, from a rescue centre having suffered the loss of two other cats. Two weeks before, I’d lost Tingle, the love of my life, having brought him back from hell. (His moving story is told in my novel ‘Shackled’) His replacement was Tennyson. Within 5 days of his arrival, he was hit by a car and killed. Despite being inconsolable (as I said I’m a softie) and announcing I didn’t want any more cats, ever, my husband, Doug, knew better. One day, he handed me two delightful and precious bundles of joy.

And so Keats and Blake arrived. They were so tiny that they fed from the same dish; they slept together with their legs entwined, and they played and chased, rolling around and squeaking until they fell into a sleepy heap.

They were beautiful. I appreciated their presence in my life every single day, and watched with amusement their new adventures. They would race around the garden, one chasing the other; they would climb to the top of a tree and cling to a slender branch wondering how on earth they got there; they would observe the chickens, not understanding those strange-looking feathered creatures or their purpose.

They were a pair, and did everything together. Gradually, though, over those two years, Keats became more and more aloof. He needed less attention from his brother and from us. He was growing up, and to our regret, he had become a brilliant hunter. It was May 2011. The swallows had just arrived, having just survived a difficult journey from South Africa, and were perched in the barn on low beams. Exhausted and hungry, they were easy prey.

Keats brought one into the kitchen, still alive but barely. Doug was furious with him, and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and shook him in a rage. You might say Keats was just being a cat. That’s what Keats thought too. He disappeared days later, never to be seen again.

I was devastated and searched the streets and roads for weeks and months. He was never found. I like to think he is living with a nice family somewhere, although I also fear he could have been killed by a fox since I have reason to believe my big ginger moggy recently survived an attack. It’s something I will never have the answer to, and perhaps in this instance, it is the preferred option.

Losing a pet is a fact of life, and despite the hurt he unwittingly caused, I would still go through it again. Without the negative periods in our life, we’ll never learn how to appreciate the positives. And those two years were a positive, amongst the best in my life. I tell myself I shouldn’t be too greedy.

God Bless Keats.

A Chicken With Viral Arthritis

sylviefootbath

There’s always something going on in my chicken flock. This is Sylvie, a Speckled Grey hen with leg problems. Basically, she can’t stand for longer than a few seconds. That’s tough when she is a free-range bird who should be spending her days scratching around for grubs and enjoying the fresh country air.

Her troubles started last September. I noticed she rested in the grass for longer periods than the other birds, but since she ate and drank as she should, I paid her little attention. However, gradually, over the last few months she has gotten a lot worse. Aside from never venturing very far, she lies down to eat.

Evidently, she is in a lot of pain and I feel so sorry for her.

The other day, I was digging the vegetable beds preparing for the new season when I was joined by the hens. It’s always fun watching them. As soon as I lift the soil they dive into the earth, snatching worm after worm. They are opportunists, but they are also greedy and had barely swallowed one when another was stretched away from the apparent safety of the ground.

All the time this was going on, poor Sylvie was resting her sore legs just outside the hen house. I decided then that I had to do something, and after spending some time researching, I reached the conclusion she has viral arthritis. Apparently, it’s a condition that’s common in chickens and turkeys, and there is no treatment. That’s never stopped me before. I never give up. (It’s the budding novelist in me!)

Since I have arthritis, I can sympathise with how she feels. The pain is wretched, and aside from making the joints ache, it slows down other bodily functions making the sufferer feel lethargic and very sluggish. It’s hardly any wonder that Sylvie has lost all of her desires.

So, I’ve brought her indoors, and for the moment she is living in a large box in an unheated room. The warmth will help her feel better, as, I hope, will her remaining treatment. On top of what she can manage of her regular food, I’m giving her an egg, which is great for inflammation, and a little flax oil, ginger and garlic. She is also on a course of aspirin, just a few grains, which I hope will help her deal with the pain. Then, she’s having her Epsom salt baths. Twice a day she rests in a tub of warm water and gently clucks.

Talk about spoilt!

Since it’s a virus, I believe there’s every chance she may improve and one day will return to her flock. Either way, at least I will have tried. Some of you may think I should just take the easy option and take her to an early death, but that’s not my way. I’ve never done that before, and I have had some amazing and completely unexpected successes.

There’s always a chance she’ll recover. It may be small, but it’s a chance I’ll take.

As I said, I never give up.

Until later . . .

‘I’m not sure I like this new outfit!’

Nicky Hennickyhen2014

Finally, after 6 months, Nicky has gotten her feathers! It’s taken a while for her to get used to them; she preferred being naked, and pulled and tugged, causing blood to drip down her skin. Considering she has likely to have spent first first two years of her life naked, it is an understandable reaction.

Nicky joined my flock, her retirement home having been a egg-laying barn hen, last August.  She was in a state, and never allowed at the feeder, having to fight for every mouthful. For the first couple of weeks, I fed her separately, and then, having gained some strength, she developed her own method and ran between the feeders, extending her telescopic neck and grabbing a morsel before running away.

henscircle

Look carefully, and you can see her bare back-end at the top of the photo!

Inside a barn with thousands of other hens, all of which were bigger than her, her feathers were nothing more than a hindrance and provided the other hens with a means of holding her down. In order to escape the pecking, she would run. In the process, the feathers would be plucked free of her body.This would have happened over and over again. As a result, they stopped growing – a sensible solution.

It’s taken a while for her brain to realise she is in a new environment. She is a tough little bird. Even on the coldest, wettest of winter days, she would take a walk, unconcerned by the challenging weather reaching her skin. Feathers were for the weak! She did not like them, and even as they started to grow, plucked them free, leaving the downy feathers in piles under the bushes.

Did she like to be different? Did she not like her new outfit? Was it itchy? I really don’t know what her problem was, but regardless, she plucked them out causing blood to drip down her body. But they grew and grew. There was no getting away from the fact she was going through a change.

It has been a confusing time. She hides in the dense shrubbery, staying away from the others and puzzled by her pretty, feathery appearance. She won’t let us pick her up, something she has previously allowed. And what’s even more strange, at least to her, is that she has equal place at the feeder. For days, she would stand on the outskirts, waiting to be bullied. It never happened and it made no sense. Her world had changed.

Finally, Nicky is one of the flock. She is accepted. She is a proper little hen. Her next challenge is the rise through the rankings.