We have Frogspawn!

Spring has sprung! The frogs in the garden ponds have been busy and we have several clumps of spawn. K reckons they have been a couple of weeks later than usual this year, so I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has noticed the same.

I went for a wander round the garden today while the boys had gone out to take the dog for a walk. The primulas are flowering as are the daffodils and crocuses. The buds are swelling on my beautiful little amelanchier tree, so it will soon be covered in the prettiest star-shaped white blossom, followed by reddish foliage. I promise to post a photo when the flowers are out.

That’s one thing at least to look forward to. Everything is being cancelled as the Coronavirus measures ramp up. Our plans for a theatre visit to Edinburgh to see The Lion King is off, as is a late birthday present for my mother, to see a show at the Sage, Gateshead. I also had tickets for two shows at the recently refurbished Alnwick Playhouse. As a community venue that receives only a small proportion of its income from public funding, this much-loved local theatre has asked if those who had tickets would either waive refunds or accept a credit to be used against future purchases instead. Other theatres are doing the same. No doubt the Elbow concert we were to see next month will be off too. I hope the vibrant UK Arts Scene recovers and that the businesses threatened by this crisis survive.

Regular activities are curtailed too as unnecessary social contact is advised against. For me that means that choir, ukulele group, book club and knit and natter are stopped for the foreseeable future. Most of us make use of WhatsApp and other social media to keep in touch and I hope we can be creative about maintaining some sort of virtual activity online.

All this is against a background of no reported cases in Northumberland, though as people are being advised to self isolate if they have symptoms there may well be some affected by now. It makes the whole situation seem rather unreal.

We live in interesting times!

Are you involved in any groups that are grasping the challenge of online-only activity? I’d love to hear about what you are doing.

Frogs and Blogs

One of the most dramatic spring milestones is the arrival of frogs in our garden pond. They are late this year, by a couple of weeks but since yesterday the water has been seething with writhing amphibians seeking a mate. There’s no sign of frog spawn yet (just frog porn!)

In the last few days my little blog has passed a couple of milestones too: over 50 followers and 500 likes. I started blogging in November, but I’ve never written about why I started it.

Since I retired in 2015 I’ve made a point of trying to learn a new skill every year.

The first one was linked to my choir. Our musical director had brought a friend of hers to one of our sessions to run a beatboxing workshop. Beatboxing is simply making percussion sounds with your mouth. Of course unaccompanied choir music is just that – no instruments (including drums), but if you can add those rhythms vocally it can sound brilliant. If you’ve ever seen the Pitch Perfect films (which feature a lot of beatboxing) you’ll see what I mean. Anyway, I really enjoyed it and ended up doing the beatboxing part on our version of Seven Nation Army. It’s one of my favourite’s in the choir’s repertoire.

Another skill came about when I was approached by a friend for help. I’ve already blogged about my friend’s book Secrets and Guardians. Basically, She’s the creative one, I’m the computer-nerdy one and we worked together to get it published on Kindle. That meant learning all about how to format the text so it’s suitable for online publication and doing the uploading. I can now add online publishing to my new skills.

Skill number three was learning a bit about millinery, specifically how to make fascinators (hat blocking is a skill in itself). I started off doing a one-day course at The Amble Pin Cushion, in which I learnt how to work with sinnamay and made black and cream fascinator.

I decided it would nice to make some with pheasant feathers. These birds are extremely common around here. They aren’t very bright when it comes to traffic and you see as many as roadkill as you see alive…and they can do a great deal of damage to your car if you hit one. I didn’t really fancy picking dead birds off the road though. Then I had a brainwave – I asked a farmer friend (who runs a pheasant shoot on his land) what happened to the feathers after the shoot – he explained that someone comes in and plucks and draws the birds ready to go to the game dealer. I asked if he could save me a few pheasant tails. He suggested that the feathers would be better developed if I waited until the January and he’s get me some then. I’d almost forgotten about it when we saw him a while later. “I’ve got those feathers you asked for,” he said. There were two sacks full!I spent a couple of days preparing all the feathers, cleaning them, sanitising them with laundry disinfectant and drying them. I found the easiest way to dry them was to use those net bags you wash tights and socks in: put the feathers in and tumble dry on the gentlest setting. This is one of the fascinators I made. Not a great photo, but you get the idea.

Number four happened by accident in 20018 , really. When my friends told me that a ukulele class was starting in the next village and they were planning to go – I quite fancied trying that. There were instruments on loan for the first few weeks and it seemed like a great idea to do a taster session without making the commitment of having to buy my own ukulele. I have quite small hands and my wrists aren’t terribly manoeuvrable, which thwarted my attempts to play the guitar when I was in my teens. I really wanted to find out if I could manage a smaller instrument with fewer strings….and the course leader was called Barry White. I was curious!

It all worked out beautifully! I can do it! Some of the chords are rather challenging (and some are downright impossible) but it’s mostly OK. Barry White, is lovely (though not a bit like THE Barry White) and very patient with the us. We’ve now got a huge repertoire, have played a few concerts at local care homes and we always end up taking the instruments to any parties that happen and playing a few tunes. We have a good laugh.

I realised very late in the year (November) that I didn’t have a new skill for 2019 and racked my brains about what I could do quickly. I’d read a lot of blogs and was doing a lot of knitting at the time, so I set out to write primarily (though not exclusively) a knitting blog. I get very attached to the things I make and there’s always some story, whether that’s the reason I’m making that item, or where I bought the yarn. I also love where I live, here in North Northumberland, so that features in the blog a lot too. Since I started, the posts seem to be less and less about knitting, but that’s just the way it has evolved.

I have a couple of regular blog features: “Scone of the Week”, which has become a bit of a collaboration with my fellow scone-eater Mum, and “Knit and Natter Friday”. the other knitters are now quite used to assembling a display of their work for a photo to go in the blog. I was posting daily (sometimes twice a day) at the beginning, but now I’m a lot more relaxed about it and sometimes I might just post a couple of times a week.

I had forgotten just how much I enjoy writing. The brevity needed on social media just didn’t satisfy that need. I used to write articles for and edit community magazines when I was working and it was one of my favourite parts of the job.

The other thing that’s been really nice and unexpected is the feedback. I love reading comments from followers and always try to reply. Everyone is so lovely and that’s such a refreshing change from the bile that’s spouted on Facebook and Twitter. I always put links to blog posts on my social media accounts and get good feedback from that too.

It’s been a rewarding experience and I hope to keep it going throughout 2020…..and learn another new skill, which of course I’ll be able to blog about.

So that’s why I started my blog.

Fellow bloggers: why did you start yours?

On the Coast: Ponies, Eider Ducks and Signs of Spring

We had a drive up the coast today and came across these ponies on Annstead Dunes , a Northumberland Wildlife Trust nature reserve north of Beadnell. This was a small herd of six Exmoor Ponies, one of our native breeds. They were brought here some years ago as part of the reserve’s management plan. Several groups of ponies graze on the course grasses, which allows wildflowers to grow, improving the biodiversity of the site.

The Exmoors are very distinctive: bay with a pale “mealy” muzzle, pale underside and ring around the eye. We catch sight of them regularly when we drive up this stretch of coast, sometimes grazing, sometimes trotting along the dunes in a tight herd. It’s always lovely to see them.

We drove south to Howick, where there is a place to park by the Northumberland Coastal Path. K took the dog for a walk while I looked around to see what I could see and did some knitting.

The sea was quite calm, so conditions were reasonable for spotting whales and dolphins but nothing was about, and not many birds either, just a few gulls and a pair of eider ducks.

You can just make them out as dots on the water: the striking black and white male and the drab brown female. Eiders often mate for life. It’s too early in the for this pair to be breeding yet though.

With nothing else about, I got on with my knitting. I’m still making my socks -it’s a very compact portable project for knitting on the go.

There are some definite signs of spring about. We saw these winter aconites growing under a hedge on our trip out today.

All of a sudden there are clumps of snowdrops everywhere, including these in our garden. We do often get snow in February or even March, so winter will be with us for a while yet, but it always feels positive to see the first flowers of the year.

What is your favourite sign of spring?