Sunday, 28 August 2011

Thank You Berry Much

I am addicted to blackberry muffins. There! I've said it. It's out in the open, this dark secret of mine. I can't help it; they're just irresistible. I'd like to be able to tell you that I've tried to resist the purple temptations, but I haven't. Worse than that I've even tried to convince myself, and others, such things are good for you. Healthy even.
In the world according to ME all you need to do to turn 256 calories of loveliness into an 'I'm-being-good-honest' treat, is add more fruit than the recipe states and put slightly less mixture in each muffin case. (Depending on how restrained I'm being I can get between 18 and 24 muffins from a recipe for 12). Have one for breakfast with natural yogurt and voila! Healthy. Its simple when you know how. Of course that only works when you stop at one... What can I say? I have no will power.
You see, I recognise a good thing when I've got it. The wheel turns and the seasons change. Even the most prolific blackberry bush must succumb to the tides of change. Winter will come creeping in soon enough, the harvest will be over and all will sleep. I indulge while I can, you can't blame a girl for that!

I have strict rules for picking hedgerow gems though.
Rule number 1
I always ask permission first and  listen to the answer, you need to know what is required from you. Yesterday I found myself explaining to one particular 'blackberry sprite' exactly what jam is. Have you any idea how hard that is?
Rule number 2
Never, ever, take too much from any one place. I hate to get to a favourite harvesting spot to find someone has beaten me to it and stripped the bush bare. Nature's larder is there for us to share, with each other, but most importantly with the wildlife. I aim to take no more than about 10-20% of the ripe fruit but I pay attention to the spirit of the place. If I get stung or scratched on thorns I take that as an 'Okay, you've had enough!' and stop. Immediately.
Rule number 3
Say Thank You. Make an offering. Take a sample of what you've made back to the harvesting site. I've found its always appreciated.

Sticking to these rules I get enough for my needs.

And right now I need another blackberry muffin.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Fairy Wishes

As I've sat by my open window today, drinking in the sweet air and the August sunshine, clouds of dandelion fluff have softly floated by. Dancing on a warm and gentle breeze they have entertained me for hours as I whiled away my lazy Sunday morning. Of all the hundreds drifting past, one blew right in to dance before my eyes. I caught it gently and made a wish before releasing it out the window, and smiled.

That one simple act had transported me back some thirty-eight years. I was, for a moment, three again. Nearly four, (very important that, when you are only three), and in my Grandmother's garden. I'd picked a stem of cottonwool lovliness, a dandilion head just ready to blow.
     "One 'o' Clock, Two 'o' clock. Three..." we chanted together as each tiny puff of a childs breath scattered dozens of seeds to the wind.
     "Quick, catch one and make a wish" grandma said, her wrinkled hand gently closing around a floating seed. "They are fairies and if you catch one  gently, only one mind, and whisper your wish to might come true."

I don't know what my lovely Grandma wished for, wishes should be secret she said, but I still remember mine. I wished for a pair of lovely red shoes, and I got them. It didn't matter that they were in the sale, or that Grandma was whispering in my Mother's ear; it was my fairy who made my Mum relent and let me have those glorious red shoes instead of her choice of sensible brown.

So will my wish today come true? I'll have to wait and see.

I'm sorry, but I can't tell you what I wished for. Wishes should be secret afterall.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Looking Back to Move Forward

This week marks one whole year in our new flat. I guess that means its not really 'new' anymore.

There is much still to be done. The garden is just a tiny patch of mud. The front door is still to be painted (how I loathe the shabby faded purple it is at the moment); the stairs leading up from the front door need carpeting and the walls painting. In the flat proper there is still woodwork to be painted. Its been done once (we're not that lazy) but the chosen 'satin' finish looks worse than the undercoat did and needs to be re-done. The spare room and utility are devoted to our various crafts and with all the muck and mayhem that takes place in those rooms, decorating wasn't too high on our list of priorities but now I feel the need to get them finished. Actually, having written that it's not as bad as I thought, the list of jobs-to-do isn't really that long.

I had been feeling quite down just lately. I was feeling sorry for myself. Silly really, but I'd got it into my head that my life was one long struggle. Ever had one of those days where nothing goes right? Well that was my life! The wheel of fortune had got stuck in the mud. Or so I thought. But reaching that landmark of being here a year made me look back and take stock.

OK so we live our life with a permanent financial headache and health is an issue for us both. Between these two we're quite restricted in what we are able to do and yes, sometimes that gets me down. But a year ago we had no carpets. A year ago we were sitting on the floor in an empty flat because we had no chairs. A year ago we were living off salads and sandwiches because we couldn't afford to have the gas cooker connected. For the eight months before that we'd been living in a cold, damp flat and had a psycho neighbour who smashed windows for fun!

And before that, we were homeless. Everything we'd worked so hard for was gone.

We bounced about between various family members and as much as I was grateful for their hospitality and kindness there is only so long I can share a kitchen with another woman (no matter how much I love them) before I get the urge to run them through with a bread knife! Having a kitchen of my own was the thing I missed most and dreamed of constantly.

It has been a long, hard struggle. It has often felt like one step forward, two steps back. Reaching the age of 40 and realising you don't even own a teaspoon is hard to take! And yet here I am, writing this on my laptop in our lovely home. I have carpets and comfy chairs. I have a kitchen with a cooker that works (sort of). I have shelves and drawers and bottles and jars; all full off interesting things.

So do I still feel sorry for myself? No.

Do I feel a little bit embarrassed by my self pity? ummm yes. (blushes slightly)

Have I learnt from the whole experience? I did it the hard way but yes, I have.

Am I content with my life?

You know, all things considered, I really think I am.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Excuse me a moment while I wiggle my nose.

I've just had a phone call from my youngest daughter. She lives with her Dad and he's not exactly what one would describe as 'friendly', so communication with the kids is usually of the on-line variety. Its just easier for them that way. Phone calls are rare and usually means she wants something. This was confirmed when her opening words were

"MUUUUUUUUUUMMMMEEEEEEEEEEE. You do know I love you muchly don't you?"

I know from experience that openers like that are usually followed by requests for money ranging from £5 for new mascara to almost £100 for a festival ticket. What ever it is, its always an "I'll simply die without it" item.

This time, as much as I'd have liked to help, it was out of the question and I really didn't think that being unable to have, instantly, that little pair of shorts she's so desperate for was likely to prove life threatening. I'm a cruel mother aren't I? I explained that with Christmas looming on the horizon, numerous birthdays both before, during and after the dreaded festive period, two new grandchildren well on the way, not to mention all the usual bills there really wasn't anything spare at the moment. She may have the luxury of living for the moment but I have to plan ahead!

'But, but You're A Witch!' she cried as though that solved everything.

Oh Yes! Silly me. I'll just wiggle my nose like Samantha and the shorts will magically materialise in the perfect size. While I'm at it I'll wave my magic wand and get her some extra pairs in a range of colours. Throw in a bit of fairy dust for good measure and Cinderella shall go to the ball!  While I'm at it I'll fix the cooker, dig out the new pond, paint the hall and lay that new stair carpet I can't afford yet. All with one little wiggle.

Oh yes, a witch's life is an easy one.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Butterly Delicious

Yesterday I made homemade butter for the first time ever. I can't believe I've never done it before; it was so easy!

I've been trying for a while now to be more self-sufficient. I don't mean in a small-holding-with-chickens-and-goats-and-row-upon-row-of-glorious-veg kind of way; I just don't have the room for that. I mean in a simple tomatoes-on the-windowsill and the-supermarket's-charging-HOW-MUCH? kind of way. Rising food prices are having an impact on us all but if, like us, you're trying to manage on a very tiny income then you'll really be feeling the pinch.

About a decade ago, when hubby and I were saving hard to move and the kids were either not working or worked for an agency that provided only sporadic work, my step-daughter and I perfected the art of the 'Poverty Shop'. This involves heading to the supermarket with £20 and coming home with enough food to feed four of us for a week! These days feeding four might be a bit ambitious but I can feed two on that if I need to, and often do. That might seem surprising to you if you're at all like the woman in front of me at the checkout last week who spent £80 on what couldn't possibly be more than about 3 days of food. Good luck to her, I say. Or at least I might have done if she hadn't eyed my own trolley with such derision. If like me, your trolley's usually piled high with the supermarket's own brand basic/economy/really-scraping-the-barrel-here cheapest possible buys in yellow & green or blue & white or whatever two colours your usual supermarket utilises, you'll know that nothing advertises that you're broke like a two-tone trolley!

I'm not knocking basic brands here, it takes a bit of trial and error but some are every bit as good as the household names, but there was no denying that as prices rose the standard of our diet was definitely slipping. So I've been on a mission to change that. I bake cakes. I've begun baking my own bread again and I'd forgotten just how much I enjoy that. I've made Gorse flower wine and Nettle beer. I bake cakes. I've started cooking meals from scratch again. I bake cakes. I've got tomatoes and lettuce growing in my kitchen and herbs in what I laughingly call my garden (for garden read tiny patch of sun starved mud...but I'm working on that). Oh, and I bake cakes, did I mention that?

But butter? That was a first. And I loved it. There are recipes for homemade butter all over the Internet so I won't repeat it here but suffice to say all you need is a jar, half full of double cream and then you shake and shake and shake some more. You could, of course, shorten the process by using an electric whisk but a) I don't have one and b) where's the fun in that? I put something loud and raucous on the stereo and danced around the kitchen like a lunatic. The end result was just under half a pound of butter and as an added bonus; lovely, fresh buttermilk (which incidentally is nothing like the stuff you buy in the shops).

Yesterday was a very productive day. I made butter and bread to go with it. I picked blackberries. And I used up all that buttermilk making Blackberry Muffins.
There were more, but by the time I'd found the camera we'd descended on them like a hoard of hungry locusts (all two of us). Bang goes the diet this month!

Thursday, 4 August 2011


The rains came last night. After a warm and somewhat muggy day the weather men predicted fresher weather and for once they were right, by the bucket load. I lay in my bed listening to the drumming of the heaviest rain we've had for months, soothed by what is one of my favourite sounds. The urge to get up and go walk in it was very strong, although not quite strong enough to overcome the utter exhaustion that seems to have overtaken me lately so I contented myself with simply lying there listening.

From earliest childhood I have had a close relationship with the rain; I love the sound of it, feel of it, the look of it. There is something inspiring about a brooding grey sky, heavy with the promise of a good downpour. My whole family is the same; it must be something in the genes. Only this morning I got a message from my mother telling me she was off out to a local beauty spot for the day with some friends and she was the only one pleased it was raining!

Some of my happiest memories have been created in the rain. From childhood holidays in the mountains when the weather was never allowed to spoil our week away, to sleeping in the car on the cliffs or the moors listening to the rain drum on the roof; it is the soundtrack to my life. I have danced in the rain, sang in the rain, even washed my hair in the rain (you should try that, its the best its ever felt), I feel alive, truly alive, in the rain.

So I'm making up a flask of coffee and a sandwich and heading to the beach where I can watch the storm churned sea come rolling in under a leaden sky as I have my lunch and let the power of the sea and sky wash over me, recharging me, inspiring me. And then I'll take off my shoes and roll up my jeans and go for a paddle...a bit of silliness to make my day.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Wonderful Magic of Land and Sea

I've been pondering for a while now how to start this blog. Although I write a lot it seems a little strange to be writing about me and my life. I don't do much or really go anywhere, I don't live an exciting, fast paced life. What could I write that anyone would want to read? And yet the urge to do so has been getting stronger by the day.  I've spent a lot of time over the last few days waiting for inspiration to strike as I stared at a blank screen. I've written a bit, deleted a bit, written some more and deleted that too; blogging isn't as easy as it looks! I put a lot of it down to the headache from hell that I've been doing my best to ignore for the last few days but that's a lame excuse.

Finally yesterday afternoon, in utter frustration and a cloud of pain I decided to drag myself out for a walk. Not far, just up to the fields on the edge of the cliffs but as I left the rows of neat little houses behind and stepped out into that open space I felt a shift. Subtle and slight, but a shift all the same; an easing of pressure, a sense of calm. I walked around the edge of the fields, keeping one eye on the hedgerow, making a mental note of the progress of the blackberries, hazelnuts and sloes. This time last year the summer had been so wet that blackberries were rotting on the bushes still green but this year there is the promise of a bountiful harvest. I picked a few, already ripe and sweet and delicious, but it will be another week or two I think before they are plentiful. And when I felt I could walk no more I found a bench, close to the coast path but hidden away from sight amongst the bushes, and simply sat.

I don't know how long I sat there; maybe half an hour, maybe two. (I was annoyed with myself when I lost my watch a few weeks ago but now I'm rather enjoying the lack of awareness of the passage of time. It's strangely liberating.) I sat watching the waves, tiny in the distance, and the dancing of the sun on the moving water, like a million, million diamonds. The only sounds were birdsong and children's laughter being carried on the breeze from the town beach. And then I knew what to write about...or rather how to write it. The freedom I found up there on the cliffs is always there, a thread running through my life; holding it together when it might otherwise fall apart. It is a part of me, therefore a part of my writing. I should not be planning and over-thinking; I should not be structuring and labouring on something that should be free and flowing. I didn't need to know what I should write about. I should just write, dive right in.

So here I am, diving in. I might not make sense to you dear reader, if I skitter from topic to topic. I might confuse you with my dithering or repeat myself or tangle myself up in knots as I try to explain something I've not fully grasped myself, but this is me. Wayward, eccentric, dithery (sometimes), home-loving, wild and free. Here I will talk about the magical and the mundane; the mysteries of the landscape and the kitchen; you will get glimpses of my life, my faith, my magical practice, my crafts, my garden, my home. Whether you walk this journey with me or pop by just once in a while; even if you walk away, never to return, I bid you a warm welcome to this window on my life.

Oh, and that headache? Gone. Blown away on a sea that's magic.