Thursday, 22 February 2007

The Heritage Centre

Its half way through the half term holiday and we're all going a little stir crazy. I had to pop in to Barnstaple to go to the post office so I decided to take the children into the Heritage Centre, mostly under protest I should add. I ignored the whines of "Can't we go to Playtime Adventure?" and bribed them with a trip to the cinema tonight instead.

The Heritage Centre is situated on The Strand, the road that runs along the river Taw. The area directly in front of it is home to the Millenium Mosaic which charts Barnstaples history back 1000 years to when it was made a borough by Athlestan. It is generally also home to large groups of skateboarders, but the weather today must have driven them away.

Inside the centre the tale of Barnstaple's history is also told, starting in Anglo-Saxon times, focusing quite a lot on Tudor times, mentioning briefly the Civil War and ending in the 18th Century with Barnstaple born playwright John Gay. Adult tickets are �3.50, children �2 and under 7's go free. The children were given a quiz on a clipboard and a pencil to record their answers but finding these answers involved listening to the recording of the models telling their stories and once they'd pressed the button to start the recording they generally lost interest in this. Much more interesting was the task of looking for the 15 white plastic mice that were hidden in the exhibits. When we got to the end and had only found 10 we had to go round again. We still only managed to find 13.

Other points of interest were remaking the broken pottery plates magnetised to the wall, dressing up in costumes, and doing a brass rubbing. By the time we'd finished my nine year old daughter said, "OK this isn't boring after all".

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Donkeys in the Cold

The temperature is finally hovering around zero, the wind has calmed, and the stars are out in full force. It's a beautiful night on Gunflint Lake. I just walked up the hill from stoking the sauna, and the Seven Sisters, Pleides, were looking down at me. The Milky Way is streaking the sky from the northwest to the southeast, and my favorite, the Big Dipper, is hanging just north of where we put the dock in the lake in the summertime. The Big Dipper is my favorite, because it shines right outside my bedroom window each night, and I like to check in with it before I hit the hay. Whenever I travel, I can look at the Dipper and know that it is in the same position out in front of the lodge, no matter where I am.

We've been caught in the throes of the big chill the last week. In addition to low temperatures, the wind has been blowing daily. Sometimes it is blowing so hard across the lake that it obscures our view of Canada, filling the air with snow. The leftover artwork of this action has made some attractive drifts and lines on the lake, and our big drift behind the beach is growing. Sunday morning we saw the lowest temperature so far this winter, when the thermometer read minus 33. Fortunately, the cabins have been staying toasty warm, the lodge feels cozy, and the pipes have been holding their own against this snap (knock on wood!).

The donkeys, on the other hand, have been only tolerating, not enjoying, the conditions. They will come out to eat each morning and evening, but the rest of the day, it is all they can do to stick their furry noses out the door of the barn. Jethro has plenty of heft and fur to keep him comfortable, and once it started to warm up some, he would make his way to the sunniest spot in the pasture, to soak up the sunbeams. Moses is still on the lean side, and when we were down in the twenties and thirties below, Greg decided to help him out a bit by putting an old sleeping bag over his back. He wears it like a noble war horse, even though it is more ratty-looking than regal. But it has made a big difference for the frosty shivering burro. Greg took it off recently when it started to get warmer (at least in the donkey realm), and Moses got along just fine without it. Maybe he's really just bored with all of this fussing and bother, and we are interpreting it as appreciation. At any rate, I do wonder at times if they find this weather preferable to the heat of the summer, and all the flies that come with it.

For someone who needs a winter project, when the weather has made outside work next to impossible, what is the next best thing? A home improvement project, of course! So it is that we find ourselves amidst the joy and challenge of a remodel happening right here, once again in the lodge building. We decided that it was time to sort out all the years' of accumulation of stuff upstairs, in our living quarters. Greg and I moved in to the lodge with Robert, about nineteen years ago. Since then, we added two kids and lots of stuff. It probably is true that people should move every ten years or so, because that keeps the saved possessions to a minimum. We didn't do that, so now we are busy sifting, sorting, pitching and throwing, and when we can, we are recycling, too. For example, I have a large white plastic bag full of stuffed animals that will go to our resale shop at the local recycle center, and several boxes of books that will be dropped off at the library, for the used book sale in August. Clothes no longer in service will also go to the recycle center. It is good to have a place like this to pass on these useful items. By the same token, the resale shop is also a great place for us to do our shopping for newer things. Greg has found several excellent bargains there for his wardrobe. But back to the remodel. The original plan was to re-do the bathroom. Naturally this has turned into a sequential vortex that included removing the old carpeting in the bedrooms (orange shag, anyone?), deciding to move a wall, adding a new wall or two, and down the road, painting of the recently exposed ceiling and beams. I was warned about this effect a few years ago....What seems to be a simple, straightforward plan will morph into a whole new realm of ideas, and take on a life of its own.......So I remind myself amid the chaos that the outcome will be wonderful.

For me, the perfect winter project when the days are cold is something knitted. I get to see progress at regular intervals, I don't need to make a mess before it gets better (except in the case of a big old tangle in the ball of yarn), and I can pick nice bright colors to work with, which often helps in this season. But at the risk of turning this into a knitting blog, rather than nature notes, I'll stop there!

Sunday, 4 February 2007


Yes, I know I've written about this before, but its worth another mention. Today was a glorious day and as we haven't been anywhere for a while (the whole of January in fact) we thought we'd stretch our legs. It must have been a good idea because well over one hundred other people had the same one. There were loads of them on the beach, surfers, dog-walkers, parents with children clutching nets, etc. And it could've been April the temperatures were so good - brilliant sunshine and not a breath of wind.

Our main reason for choosing Saunton, and not somewhere I haven't blogged about yet, was The Sands cafe. Owned by the hotel you can see in the photo, and situated at the end of the car park, it serves the most wonderful hot chocolates. Unfortunately it's shut until March (this wasn't the case last winter) so my children were a little disappointed. However, there is a little kiosk next to the beach shop between the car park and the beach, and they serve hot chocolate and hot doughnuts, and it was so lovely no one minded sitting outside on a picnic bench (see new blog for proof - link opposite.)

PS. Car parking in winter is a mere �2!