Free range

It has been chook chaos for a few days as Butter, Satay and Popcorn settled in and we figured out how to accommodate them. They found cosy spots to nest in pine needles under the raspberry bushes and in the rosemary and Mexican daisies.

Before you knew it, they’d be scratching in the vegetable garden. The netting and barricades of pots were no obstacle.

Several times, Satay, perching on the back of an outdoor chair began tapping on the window: “Let me in!”

It was time to restrict them to a corner of the garden. My sister and family got stuck in. The chooks took a great interest in everything – particularly when the ground was disturbed and they could fossick for insects.

Later in the day, steps up to the nesting box were assembled from paving stones as one of the chooks seemed to struggle to jump in when it was time to retire for the night.

Today the chooks showed little inclination to leave their enclosure when I opened the gate. Instead, they watched with close interest as I cleaned out their nesting box. I adjusted a climbing rose branch for them to perch on by tying it down with string to brick. With luck, the string won’t give way and send them in a flurry of feathers into orbit. The “sofa” of straw was soon pulled apart and analysed. They have shade and sun and the trees screen them from the house.

“This is not how I pictured spending my retirement,” I thought as I scooped poop yesterday. This morning, I was able to clean up the lawn and hose it down so it can be walked on without having to change into gumboots.

Only one of the chooks, Popcorn, appears to be laying – one egg a day. The other two may be a bit past it. This is not an economically viable undertaking then, with the purchase of hay, mash, pellets and seed and grit mix, not to mention all the materials used for making the nesting box and the enclosure. The rewards are on another level, perhaps. This was the first egg – a little miracle.

Avian invasion

Keeping chooks is a trend, but “The first piece of reality you need to know about chickens is that they’re actually gross” according to an article in this weekend’s Press. It’s true. But it was too late to go back on my promise to look after my niece’s chooks while she looks for a flat which will allow her to keep them.

I’ve kept chickens before – lots of them – when I was renting a house on a farm. There was a huge chicken house with perches, nesting boxes and a run. There was plenty of room for them. Not so in the city.

There is poop all over my lawn and my attempts to keep the darn things out of the vege garden have been futile. My latest strategy is to turn the sprinkler on – I suspect this will work.

I popped them into their nesting box last night. This morning they were up at 5.30am looking for breakfast.

As rescued chickens, they’re not letting an opportunity go by. They’ve investigated all corners of the garden, scratched in the borders, perched on the garden seat, wandered across the deck – pooping – and gazed enviously through the windows at our nesting box. One of them laid an egg in the garden, but the others pounced on it, leaving an empty broken shell.

I’ve been trying to see them as sort of cute…but are they in fact sort of sinister?

Daily Crafts

My Flow Keep Calm Daily Craft Book has got off to a good start. The first exercise was writing. The next one involved making a stencil and printing a pattern. This was more of a challenge, and involved cleaning out my desk drawers in search of materials. This took an hour or so of happy mucking about.

I unearthed a stash of calendars and pictures for card-making, my water colour paints and palette, stamps, and a book of stencils. The stencil book proved useful when my potato print stencil failed. It was much easier to cut out the pattern than around the pattern in the potato, and I ended up with a print that looks like a paua shell. So I tried some wooden stamps instead, which were far too pale and, finally, the stencils from the book which were much more successful.

Now, for a week, I am supposed to take photos of the same thing or place each day. I decided that since I’ve begun making my own rules as I go along, I might as well continue in that vein, so I’m making sketches of the same place instead of taking photos. So far I’ve done three days.

I began on Thursday, not Monday, so I may need to write notes on each one to give the sequence. I intend to show the progress of the caterpillars on the swan plants. The first sketch is of the barrel beside which the plants are growing. A Monarch butterfly helpfully appeared as I was doing the first sketch. Nothing is to scale which I can hardly put down to artistic licence – just ineptitude! The next two show close-ups of the caterpillars as they munch up the plants. Actually, they are moving down the plants. I rushed today’s sketch and made it darker than the first close-up as it was cloudy, whereas yesterday, the light made the leaves look translucent. The largest of the caterpillars is now nearly four centimetres long.

Propped up beside my craft book are two birthday cards I made today using calendar pictures uncovered when I cleaned out the desk drawers. I am enjoying these creative projects!

Sweet peas, honeysuckle and caterpillars

Every two or three days I pick sweet peas. I have two varieties, and the one with the thicker stems and more flowers has performed best, lasting well when picked.

The vase of sweet peas on the left was picked some days ago.

They smell gorgeous and look pretty amazing too.

More recently, the honeysuckle has begun to flower and the bumble bees seem to like it.

On a smaller scale, tiny caterpillars are beginning to appear on the swan plants. I put two more plants in as the wee critters look as if they need fattening up. This one looks large enough in the photo, but is only about one centimetre long.

In Alice in Wonderland the Caterpillar asks Alice, “What size do you want to be?”

Creative basics

We were barely presentable to open the door for a delivery early this morning. It was the book I’d ordered from Flow last week. I had tried to order it locally, but a supplier was hard to find, so I went to the source.

What a pleasure it is to open such a parcel, full of promise and creativity.

There are other Flow books available locally, but this one seemed particularly interesting and a way of kick-starting some creativity as I settle into retirement. Will I dip into it and choose a random exercise or work from the start? I haven’t decided. There is a mix of visual and written tasks – even embroidery, which could be fun…maybe!

At the back of the book there are templates and images to use.

The book reminds of some of the resources I used to make for my students. I remember making one activity sheet which had lift-the-flap surprises. Another favourite was to devise bookmarks to go with the theme or text we were studying. I like the mix of visual and written, as in these wonderful writing resources I discovered in London bookshops in 2015.

These fold up so you can carry them easily with you as you explore and write.

At various times I’ve collected workbooks which have fun language and writing ideas. I’m looking forward to using these too. I used them at school for inspiration, but they have not been written in yet.

I know I will miss the creative side of teaching. As English teachers, we wrote most of our resources ourselves to suit our students and their diverse needs. Apart from common assessments and general skills guidelines, we devised our own programme for each junior class. Senior programmes were more defined to fit with NCEA assessments, but there was still room for creativity.

A poetry writing resource I wrote for senior students (Year 11 and 12)

Later in my career, I began to be terrified of running out of ideas as the beginning of each year loomed closer. I solved this by preparing for the new year at the end of the one before while everything was still fresh and I was reflecting on what I could do better or try next. This meant that I could begin the new year feeling a little more relaxed – and adapt my plans to suit the students once I’d figured out what was likely to appeal most and help them to make progress.

Now, I intend to apply the drive to create to myself with the help of the workbooks to get me started. I’m beginning to realise that being retired isn’t about just going with the flow (so to speak) but about being prepared and taking one’s own learning by the hand – gently at first, then who knows what will follow?

Blackcurrants

This week I picked 500g of blackcurrants from one plant – still leaving some for later (or for the birds). The other plant didn’t yield as much, possibly because I was rather timid with my pruning at the end of last season.

Blackcurrants are delicious as they are – tastier but more tart than blueberries. However, I can’t resist the shortcake recipe in the Edmonds Cook Book. It is for gooseberries, but can be adapted to any berry fruit. I did add the dozen or so gooseberries which I had picked earlier.

Delicious!

Tove Jansson

I have just finished reading Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words by Boel Westin.

Tove Jansson in her studio in Helsinki

The book is a lengthy, layered work which builds up a comprehensive picture of Tove Jansson and her work. The detail and academic depth of analysis by Westin adds to the pleasure of reading this biography. It reveals how Jansson’s work is intensely personal but shaped by a clear artistic drive and painstaking skill. Jansson’s motivation to work and love is evident in her work and her life despite enormous challenges, particularly living through the war in Helsinki (when she was brave enough to send up both Hitler and Stalin in her cartoons).

Throughout her life, island summers gave her the space she needed and reminded me of the little island houses I saw when in Finland last year, and brought back detail from The Summer Book by Tove Jansson which I read while I was there.

The illustrations of the sea in the Moomin books are like my sea views from the overnight ferry to Helsinki. The sun never quite set all night.


The colour plates in the biography added more fascinating detail, as did the illustrations throughout. I watched a BBC documentary about Jansson after I’d finished the book and was pleased to find that Boel Westin (she is Professor of Literature at Stockholm University) was a commentator throughout. There was also archival footage, particularly of the island, but also of Jansson’s mother and niece who, it turns out, were the two main characters in The Summer Book.

The Moomin machine keeps turning out more cartoons and films, but the original work is the real thing. 

Jansson’s art work was a revelation – not just in the Moomin books and comic strips, but the murals, self-portraits, seascapes and illustrations.

She kept working right into her eighties – mainly on her writing in her later years. She wrote novels and short stories which I am looking forward to reading. I have this collection of short stories ready to go. Great title.