17 March 2017

Plants and Pets Meet a DSLR Camera

Up until now I have been using my small digital camera, my iPad or my phone to take pictures for this blog. However, last Saturday we went on a"Take better photos with your D-SLR camera" course organised by Surrey Adult Learning which really opened my eyes to some of the features that are available on a DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera.

My favourite part of the workshop was when we were sent outside to have lunch and take some pictures and play with all the settings. I particularly enjoyed practising my photography on this Hebe plant, just seeing how the camera focuses and how close can I get to the plant to still see the detail without it all blurring up.


I couldn't wait to come home and start taking all the pictures that were forming in my head. One of the reasons I was so excited was because we had some very special animal visitors staying for the weekend - ten chicks that we hatched at school as a part of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) fortnight.


We received ten eggs and all ten have hatched successfully, giving us five male and five female chickens. The little one below still has his egg tooth attached. It is the lighter extension on the tip of his beak. It helps the baby chicks breaks through the shell and peels off after a couple of days.


Ever since being hatched they worked extremely hard being observed, picked up, cuddled, showed in lessons and eagerly visited during break and lunchtimes.


No wonder they were tired! I loved looking at their little bodies all huddled together to keep warm, making up for the fact that their mother hen was replaced by a heating light bulb.



But of course when I played with my camera, I couldn't leave out Rocket! After all, she is the star of the household! Here she is stuffing her face with some lamb's lettuce.


And then dragging some lettuce stuck underneath her shell around the tortoise table. She's the cutest!

05 March 2017

The Excitement of Spring

It is so sad that in this busy world we can get so distracted that we do not notice the gradual changes around us. And then suddenly we are really surprised when we find out that we let them pass us by without actually enjoying them. 

That nearly happened to me. But one day as I was walking to town spring suddenly hit me in the face with warm sunshine, sweet scent of flowers and bright colours - greens, yellows, violets - coming out of the ground everywhere. 


That evening I sat down with my seed collection, diary and an old copy of Gardener's World Magazine - Grow Your Own from 2015 and thought about what I will grow and where, whether to start my seedlings indoors and then re-pot them and when I'll do what.


I am particularly excited about this little selection of seeds from Shelled Warriors that my husband gave me for my birthday. This year I will not only try to grow food for us, but also for Rocket

With wellies on I dug up a few small beds today, but being constantly interrupted by rain, I soon retreated indoors to a warm cup of tea and a packet of crisps.

25 February 2017

Little Squares for a Little Baby

My evenings have recently been occupied by a ver cute and heartwarming little project. Just before Christmas one of my best friends let me know that she is expecting a baby. Of course, I immediately decided that I must make something for her and I started on a blanket. Earlier this year I made a silly purchase of three blue-ist and three pink-ish balls of yarn, not knowing what they will be good for but knowing I'll need a lot.



Since at first the gender of the new baby wasn't known, I started knitting squares from both colours. However my friend really fancied a boy, so as an act of moral support I was making more blue ones than pink ones.  More recently it turned out it really will be a boy! So now all that is left to do is wait. And knit and knit and knit :)

I look forward to spending more evenings in front of the telly or listening to music whilst knitting row after row of ripples that will eventually envelop a tiny baby.

06 February 2017

Peace and Quiet

My annual voice loss has visited me once again. For a week I tried to fool myself that it is nothing but voice loss because it's winter, because I speak too much... but last Thursday I had to admit I was actually properly ill, phelgm and all.

So I cancelled all my plans and gave in to hot baths, cozy blankets, soothing cups of tea and sweet semi-unconsciousness induced by cough syrup. And silence, only interrupted by occasional coughs and sneezes or boiling of a kettle for another cuppa whilst it rained outside. I was unwell, but I had a glorious weekend of forced inactivity.

Today a different type of silence crept in whilst I try to be as quiet as possible so that I don't wake up the husband - who has caught the bug from me! Life is funny, isn't it? At least it makes us ill at different times so that we can take care of each other. ♥ ❤

26 January 2017

The Surprising Tortoise

Our wedding day was full of happy moments, beautiful presents and lovely surprises. The biggest one of them was my kidnapping. It is a tradition in Slovakia that the bride gets "kidnapped" during the wedding - by the best man or someone from the family - into a nearby pub and the groom has to go and find her. I have agreed with my friend that she can take me for a glass of wine - simply for the kick of being in a pub wearing a wedding dress - when else do you get a chance to do that, eh? :)

So when my friend has taken me by the arm and starting pulling me away from the village hall, I went with her. But when we passed one pub, another pub and went down the hill where there were no more pubs, I got a bit confused. Instead of for a drink, she took me to a pet shop and there at the cash desk the guy handed me an envelope with a card inside that started "To my wife..." My husband has gotten us a baby Hermann's tortoise!


In spite of what it sounds like, this was not an impulse buy. We have been talking about getting a pet for ages and ever time we went to a pet shop, we spent ages watching the tortoises (although they are quite a rare animal to see in a pet shop around here). He had the whole thing arranged months in advance, researched the housing and built our very own tortoise table, bought the heat lamp and UV light which he hid from me in his workshop and bought the tortoise as well but he paid her a boarding fee in the shop so that she could stay there until our honeymoon was over.


We brought her home and named her Rocket (because of her speediness, although the first thing she ate at our place was a rocket leaf which just made me think that the name is right for her in more than one way). Every night she digs herself into the substrate in her little house and she sleeps there, moving her little legs up and down as she breathes. In the mornings she looks around confusedly for a while and if I wait long enough, sometimes she presents me with a massive yawn before she shuffles herself under the heat lamp to warm up so that she is ready for breakfast.


She is a very eager climber. I still find that a bit weird, but very cute and amusing. She puts so much effort into it and I sometimes put a bit of food on the house as enrichment activit to prevent her from getting bored (She also has a ping pong ball and a toilet paper roll that she pushes around).


It is funny how something so small can bring so man changes into life. Ever day we decide who "does the tortoise breakfast" depending on who needs to have a lie in. On weekends when we naturally wake up a bit later, I often find myself feeling guilty tthat I am letting her wait and it gets me out of bed.

She has also completely redefined the way I see plants. Tortoises can eat so many common weeds - Rocket loves ribwort plantain and dandelions - that I look for them wherever I go. I even ordered some seeds and can't wait for spring to start. Yes, I am going to have a plantain/dandelion/deadnettle patch in the garden. My friends made fun of me, sayng that everyone is trying to get rid of the weeds and I plant them.

She is our little baby and I still cannot believe how lucky I am. One of the things I love the most is when I am still just opening m eyes in the morning and I can hear my husband in the other room talking to the tortoise as he brings her food. It makes me feel that life is pretty great and I am thankful.

21 January 2017

Our Handmade Wedding

Photo by Laura Ashman
One of the most fantastic events in 2016 was our summer wedding. Planning a wedding has been... Well, let's call it interesting. Being from two different countries with different traditions, what we imagined as wedding had been quite varied. There were moments when I worried about how will certain aspects of my personality that will project themselves into the wedding be perceived by the "natives" of the isles, I worried even more about how the English bits will be perceived by the non-natives belonging to my family (which is in itself a patchwork of Slovakian, Czech and Hungarian).   With the family flying in from afar and staying in our flat, it was sure to be a bit of a bumpy road, but all with a good old happy ending :) 


Wanting to not spend a fortune, we decided to do many things ourselves. Apart from many "me" touches to the wedding like the moss and fern, there were also many "us" touches. After all the wedding was not mine only. The wedding favours were one of these touches.


When we first met, our first conversation was about tea. In spite of being freedivers who generally stay away from caffeine, we both had a taste for black tea, which has brought us together. Therefore love tea favours were a must. Amazingly, we got all the little jam jars for free from a coffee and bagel shop where we both go so often that the owner knows us and agreed to save us these little jars. They are unbelievably cute (alnd also super expensive when you try to buy them in craft supply shops). I really enjoyed mixing the little sugar hearts into the tea.


 Childrens' wedding favours were slightly different - filled with gummy bears. Hubby did the brown paper tops and string tying. Proper teamwork!

Photos by Laura Ashman

Since hubby has hundreds of metres of brown paper in his workshop, I used a lot of it in decorating. The bunting was made by my sister-in-law and her die-cutter and I made the seating plan and table numbers myself, with help of one image from Shutterstock which we also put on our wedding invitations and order of service booklets at church.

Photos by Laura Ashman

I have been saving glass jars from absolutely everthing all year and spent many hours decorating them with hessian, string and ribbons. One of the drawbacks was that because of the fire safety regulations we could not use real candles, but we bought masses of the little electric safety tea lights. We still use them at home - romance at a flick of a switch! :)

Photos by Laura Ashman

The chairs and tables belonged to the village hall where we had our reception, the tablecloths, crockery and cutlery were rented but the flowers, jars and hessian were all prepared and set up by us (well, a dedicated team of groom and a team of helpful family members and friends who worked on it for ages whilst I was having my hair and make-up done).


My flower girl and maid of honor both received a special set of biscuits which I got on Etsy from CookieArtLondon.

Photos by Laura Ashman

The cake was a Christmas-like fruit cake baked by my lovely father-in-law. He had it professionally iced and made the cake toppers himself - a snail and a piano! It was his super secret wood-turning/carving project and there couldn't be anthing better to put on top of a cake for us - a piano technician and a trained malacologist. :)

Well, that was the first day of our married life and I dare sa it left us completel shattered, even though it only lasted until  10 p.m. We tend to be a bit spontaneous and agreeable when we make plans, but we have never planned an event of this magnitude and importance, which meant there were a couple of disagreements on the way, but I am so happy we made it all the way here. Seven years have gone since we first got to know each other, five since we started going out and the rest of our lives is ahead!  I bet it's going to be wonderful :)





02 January 2017

Happy New Year! :)

I feel like the year never truly ends in December, even though our new calendar in the kitchen says so. Yes, it is 2017, but life still moves at the sluggish pace of Christmas holidays, at least for me. Everything will be different tomorrow, so I have to write this post today before the business of working days takes over.


I am glad for everything that happened in 2016. There have been moments when I felt completely free and there were times when I felt trapped. There were days when I was happy to be on the right path in my life and then there were some when I questioned whether this is where I want to be. It has brought many scary moments and annoyances but also the absolute joy of being someone's wife and having a whole rest of my life to look forward to things.


I am not setting and resultuions this year. I find that I can never keep them, because life, that funny thing, always gets in the way. Things are going to be changing. My friends are having babies, our niece is growing up way too fast, the flat we live in is being sold. We do not know where we'll end up in 2017, but I am excited about the journey and ready to embrace what will come. I hope you are, too. x

29 December 2016

Our Wonderful White Slovakian Christmas

This year's Christmas was a very special one, because it was our first Christmas as a married couple. Yes, we got married and there wasn't enough time to blog about it, because things have just been crazy since then. So we took a week off for Christmas and went to spend it in Slovakia with my family. However, wanting to have some privacy as well, we booked a room in a little place in the town centre. Sleeping in, going out for dinners, talking about everything and nothing, taking long walks in the snow, building miniature snowmen and coming back to our room with red faces, being thankful for the warmth and calm. I love spending time with my husband.


The whle town was wonderfully decorated with massive hanging snowflakes along the Main Street.


The Immaculata (our baroque plague column) had new golden plates added to it and as always the Christmas tree was the dominant decoration of the town. The State Theatre (the picture on the right) was not decorated but the old-fashioned lights gave it a very eerie look.


I could look at the lights for ever. Especially when it was snowing. It reminds me of watching the snowflakes dance in the light of the horribly ugly street lamp in our street which I could see from my bed when I was little. I would just lie down and watch the snow fall until I fell asleep.


Water in all fountains has been replaced by lights and at the Singing Fountain in front of St Elisabeth Cathedral there was an exhibition of ice sculptures. My favourites this year were Anna from Frozen and massive "visit kosice" in front of the fountain.


The trees were decorated as well. Simply magical :) And the next day we took the same walk, except in daylight.



30 October 2016

Runner Beans  "Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco" or "Firetongue"


Runner bens have been the most successful crop of the year. There wasn't enough time to run back and forth with watering cans, but they did well anyway, climbing up their support all the way into the trees. In fact, there are still some lonely pods hanging too high up to reach, waiting and drying up patiently to become seeds for next year.

I cannot remember how I acquired these seeds, but they were most likely an impulse buy.

They are called "Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco" or "Firetongue" because of their bright red pods.They start green as any other beans pods, but as they mature, red splotches appear, eventually fusing together, turning the pod dark red.


I turned the first little harvest of pods into a stir-fry and the latter ones were blanched and frozen for later. I loved checking on them, watching them grow, checking on the size of seeds in the pods and eventually picking and cooking them.



Massive Friendship Bracelet Sale in My Etsy Shop


I have taken one hard serious look at my shop and decided it is time to send some of the more "stale" items that have been hanging around in there to new homes. Therefore all friendship bracelets are now reduced to anything between $2.00 and $3.50 (depending on the price of thread and amount of work that had to go into them). Feel free to browse :)

01 October 2016

Succulent Presents





This September it has been  year since I started in my new job. It has been incredibly stressful and
there were times when I really had enough and I was thankful to have so many incredible colleagues by my side. Some of those people, however, decided to move on and leave and I felt that giving them a little something to remember me by was only appropriate.



I love giving presents, when I have enough time to make them or buy them - or in this case grow them! Some of these little Haworthia plants are especially significant to me, because I grew them from the offsets of a plant that was given to me by my best friend for my 16th birthday good 12 years ago.

I re-potted each one separately into simple plastic bowls from Sainsbury's Mono series. I also gave each person a card with the instructions about how to grow the plant. Everybody was really pleased with the present and I hope that the plants will live for a long time and create many more offsets. In the meantime, I am growing more - just in case. :)


21 September 2016

Our Brief Time with Peter Fantastic and Sourdough Baking

My husband likes sending me links to interesting ideas that we could try one day. One of the more recent ones has been the link to a sourdough started and the ways to make bread with it.  Finding out about it some more, I have found that there is a little bit of craze around it and that many of my friends back in Prague have actually got experience with sourdough baking. So I joined the Facebook group, researched the topic on the Internet, read through the Say! Little Hen blog and eventually we decided to give it a go.

Sourdough is fun but it needs some attention. This New York Times article describes sourdough as “America’s rising pet” and it is true. You feed it, you take care of it, if you don’t give it the right conditions and don’t feed it, it will die. It will smell and look weird and you will have to get rid of it. It also mentions that people name their sourdough cultures, which was a little challenge in itself!

… and so with a little strange twist of fate and possibly extremely weird train of thought and mental associations we ended up living with Peter Fantastic. He is a lot like one of those relatives that you barely know about but from time to time you have to doing something nice for them.
We set him up in an IKEA jar, combination of water and plain flour, adding more water and flour every twelve hours.


Here he is, twenty-eight minutes in

And he grew. After about a day and a half there were first bubbles. One couldn’t be sure whether they were just bubbles of air that got caught in the starter during mixing that are now escaping or actual carbon dioxide created by the yeast, but we kept our fingers crossed for him.


Soon it was clear that we were successful. He was properly bubbling!


The first thing I baked were Kaiser buns, because my husband loves them and we have them every single time we go to Prague. So I tried to re-create them, but the proofing did not work that much and we ended up with some quite dense stuff. However, they were still pretty good


The first actual bread was very hard on top but nice and airy inside, even though a bit too dry.


This one was much better, probably the biggest success of all.


The above is my most rustic and probably crunchiest loaf. It was delicious with butter and honey and a cup of tea.


This was a challenge. Bread with pieces of lardons are quite popular in Slovakia and Czech republic, so I tried to make my own, as we happened to bring some lardons home from Surrey County Show. The only thing I did wrong was add the chopped up lardons early on and then started kneading it properly and - ouch - they are sharp!! ;D

***

We do not normally eat that much bread but with Peter, we kind of had to. It was a proper adventure, getting up early  on a Saturday morning to make bread - but only with the two of us we were overflowing with bread a bit.

I write in past tense because, well, as the weather got warmer, Peter started being less and less active (which is strange) and eventually the way he smelled has changed, there were no bubbles and small pink specks started appearing in the starter. That was the time when we gave up and gave him a good old down-the-toilet funeral.

However, the whole experience has opened the door to the amazing craft of breadmaking which I am sure I will return to one day. One day when we have a house in the country, family to feed the bread to and a garden full of bees buzzing outside the window (although just writing about it makes me want to go and set the whole thing up right now!)

17 September 2016

Wild Blackberries

There is one part of the garden that is becoming very busy these days and that is the blackberry hedge. Not really a part of the garden, as the hedge technically grows behind the fence and tends to fall in and poke through it, sticking the heavy fruits in to be picked.
Best things in life are free :) Yum.
A couple of months ago

Now

09 July 2016

The Barrel of Stink

It's nearly the end of summer term, which means nothing else but getting really excited about the long summer holiday! And so that life is not boring, I decided to stench up the neighbourhood with some good, honest, organic, all-natural, wonderful, brilliant and stinking-like-cow-dung organic nettle brew/fertiliser. We do it every year when the nettles become abundant, leaving some of the plants for insects but making sure we benefit from them, too.

I originally got the idea from an episode of "Edible Garden" by Alys Fowler that I saw on YouTube.


It really is simple. Cut up some nettles, pour water over them and let rot for a couple of weeks. It is suggested that you cover it as the mixture can smell quite badly, however once it is done, the smell will mostly go away and the liquid should be almost see through. Diluted with water 1:10 it will be nitrogen, potassium, copper, zinc, magnesium and calcium-full feed to kick your plants into growth.

Less is more here, I think, so I tend to add a small cup of the feed into every watering can I pour over my plants to feed them small amounts of minerals gradually, as large concentrations of these minerals might cause water to move out of the roots by osmosis and eventually kill the entire plant.

Happy stinking!


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