Saturday, 31 December 2011

In With The New

I don't really make New Year's resolutions anymore, at least not of the 'I will lose weight/give up chocolate/stop drinking so much coffee variety. Like most people I would slip up three or four days into January, feel like I had failed and give up completely. Until the next year when I'd go through the whole silly process all over again.

These days I take a slightly different approach. I write out a list of about 13 things that I would like to achieve during the year. There is no urgency about this list, if I start something and it doesn't work first time, that's OK. I've got all year to get it right.

Did I do everything on last year's list? No.
Does it matter? No, not a bit. My list isn't carved in stone. Its a rough guide, and there aren't any penalties for not finishing it all. In fact I'll have another look at it around mid-summer and adjust it if I need to. Sometimes our priorities change.

So, what's on my list for 2012? Well, its not complete yet, but here's what I've got so far.

LEARN TO DRIVE- This is a biggie. Its been on my 'to do' list since I was 17. Nerves got the better of me back then when I took my test, and then I ended up married to a man who didn't want me to have any kind of Independence so my lessons stopped. The Mad Druid added me to his car insurance and encouraged me to drive whenever I could, but then we moved to London and anyone who has lived in that great city will know that its often quicker to walk than drive. I got out of the habit, and passing my test simply wasn't at the top of my list of priorities. But now we live in Cornwall and being able to drive would be a huge advantage, especially as the mad druid is waiting for an operation on his shoulder. There is no way I'm going to be able to afford to take my test before then but it has made me realise how important it is. 

SOCIALISE MORE- yes really. Hermit Witch wants to be less hermit like! I never used to be quite so insular and although there were good reasons for becoming that way, it is now more out of habit than anything else. We have been living in Cornwall for over two years now yet I still only know my immediate neighbours, and although I will enjoy sitting in the garden with them for a drink in the summer, none are what I could describe as friends. The thing that made me this way no longer gives me nightmares, I am no longer scared of people (I got a job in London which forced me to deal with that- you can't be a tour guide and hide!!) but I became so used to not opening up and connecting with people I have forgotten how. This is the year that changes and you have my full permission to give me a cyber kick up the arse if it looks like I'm not doing it!

FINISH MY NANO NOVEL- I loved every minute of participating in NaNoWriMo in 2011. I love writing. This year I'm going to do much more of it.

BECOME MORE SELF-SUFFICIENT- Not in a keeping chickens kind of way (unless I can find a way of squeezing then into my handkerchief sized garden) but just making the most of my talents. Having accepted there are very few jobs going around here its time to look at other options. I want to be able to take the pressure off my Mad Druid a bit. So whether its growing my own veg and brewing my own beer, making my writing pay, selling pictures or doing tarot readings , I have the resources available to provide food or a small income. I just have to put those ideas into practise.

GET OUT AND ABOUT MORE- I need more fresh air, more exorcise. I am lucky enough to live in a stunning part of the country and yet I have actually explored very little of it. There is a limit to how far the Mad Druid can walk, especially if it's cold and damp, and I always feel rotten leaving him behind while I go out so I don't go as far as I'd like. I know he understands though, and hey, if we plan it right I can get him to meet me at my destination with a picnic. Sorted :)

So as we journey into 2012 may your path be an interesting one, shared with those you love as you walk its twists and turns, its ups and downs, scramble through the brambles and thorn thickets, meet fellow travellers and enjoy its breathtaking views. This time next year it will all be memories, enjoy making them.

Blessings to you all.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Out With The Old

Normally by this time I am itching to start the new year, I'll have well and truly had my fill of the winter festivities and be looking forward to wiping the slate clean and starting afresh. This year, however, everything feels different. For some reason I feel as though the whirlwind of activity that is Yule/Christmas never really got going. I was busy enough, certainly. We visited family and did the 'santa run', heading nearly 300 miles to distribute presents to our nearest and dearest. I cooked up a frenzy in the kitchen with fresh sausage rolls or mince pies almost constantly in the oven. I brought in green boughs and decorated them with bright baubles and twinkling lights, I raised a glass or two (and then some) to the season, but I never really felt 'festive'. I am not alone in this, I have heard many of my family admitting to just not having felt 'Christmassy' this year, strangely, even the children.

I shall take down my decorations on New Years Day as I always do. I have never liked the tradition most people here in the UK adhere to of leaving them up until 12th Night. As much as I adore their sparkly loveliness through the darkest of nights, I want to start the new year clean and fresh without any clutter from the old year hanging about.

And 2011 is definitely a year I want rid of. It wasn't just Yule which failed to 'get going', the whole year has felt that way.

It wasn't really a bad year. There were ups and downs like any other.
It was a year when we welcomed three new grandchildren, two born to my eldest son and one born to my eldest step-daughter. All beautiful, healthy and an absolute joy.
It was a year dogged by health problems, both for myself and my mad druid, some of which are still unresolved.
It was a year on a financial roller coaster, wild highs and sudden lows, to keep us forever off balance.
It was a year with beautiful moments, like watching Ravens fly over the Cheesewring or walking through mystical woodlands only tentatively connected to this realm.
It was a year of the mundane, the daily drudge and energy sapping, mind numbing routine.
It was a year of learning, of looking within.
And yet it seems like a 'nothing' year, an empty year, a year of treading water, a year of waiting.

Waiting for what, I do not know but there has been a definite sense of marking time. There has been a sense of stasis about this year. Progress has been minimal, if there has been any at all. But I have the feeling it was meant to be so.

The reasons have yet to be revealed, but there is change afoot. That I know.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Granny's Cookbook

I am very fortunate that I have the kind of family that is ever so slightly odd. I was raised amongst people for whom 'strange and unusual' was not only the norm but something to be aspired to. Don't get me wrong, they won't be carted off in straight jackets anytime soon, but they are for the most part people who don't quite fit. People who have always said 'be different, stand out from the crowd'.

When during my teenage years my friends and I got into Goth, my best friend was worried about what my mum would think if she turned up on my doorstep 'all gothed up.' My mum's answer to this was to open the door to Lynn one day all garbed in black, her hair crimped and backcombed and wearing enough black eyeliner to sink a battleship. Go mum!

When I saw or heard things which most people thought weren't there, no one in my family so much as raised an eyelid. My dad's psychic abilities scared the living daylights out of him (I later found) but not once, not ever, did he say anything to frighten or discourage me. 

Everything I've done, every phase I went through, every life decision I have made, every crazy thing I've thought of, has been taken in their stride.

So when I said 'Mum, I'm feasting with the dead this Christmas,' she didn't skip a beat and responded by digging out the photo albums and ringing around the extended family and producing a recipe book my Nana had kept which hadn't seen the light of day for many a year. How cool is that? No horrified looks, no whispered jibes behind my back, no questions, no family conferences, just 'ok, what do you need?' I love my family.

So now I'm working my way through the pages of a book, lovingly written, altered, and grease stained over its many years of use. It begins with handwriting that is obviously young, and inexperienced. The hand grows steady and sure as the pages turn before becoming increasingly shaky towards the end. At first everything is handwritten, later there are cuttings from magazines which are accompanied by my great-grandma's comments... 'swap half the swedes for carrots,' 'works better with chicken stock,' 'what a waste of wine!' and my personal favourite, 'looks great but tastes bleedin' awful.'

The recipes are seasonal, written for the most part before home freezers were common place. Some seem quite distasteful to my modern mind. (I'm sorry Nana but I just can't bring myself to eat tripe). Some are obviously from the early days of her marriage when she lived in a farming community, others from the war years and abound with powdered eggs and mock cream. Most, infuriatingly, don't include quantities which makes recreating them a little tricky. I puzzled over this for a few days, what kind of recipe book doesn't include the quantities? But now I think I know. Some of them may have been so familiar to her they were merely prompts, not detailed recipes to follow; but mostly I think it was because she had to make do with whatever she had got available. The quantities for getting it 'right' were not as important as putting a sustaining meal on the table.

And that is something I have definitely inherited from her, as did my mother and grandmother before me. If there is one thing I'm good at it is rustling up a meal from next to nothing.

I'm sorting out a few of my favourites for our belated Holy Supper on New Year's Eve, I can't afford to buy all the ingredients I'd like but so long as I've done my best and come up with something tasty and hearty I don't think Nana will mind if I was completely faithful to her recipes or not. I will have captured the essence of her cooking and I know she will appreciate that.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Holy Supper...part one

You know how, despite your best laid plans, everything goes pear shaped sometimes? Well, that's my Yule. Not necessarily in a bad way, nothing catastrophic or unpleasant has happened, its just that nothing has turned out the way I intended.

Our excursion to the deep, dark, dismal pit that is Leicestershire (no offence intended to anyone who lives there, but I was born there, and spent the first thirty-two years of my life there- I've earned the right to insult it) took longer than expected as I've previously said. The journey home was punctuated by a trip to Glastonbury that, in hindsight, was time consuming and fruitless (every so often we feel the pull towards it, time having dimmed our memories, yet I always come away disillusioned and disappointed). The urge to spend the night of the 21st/22nd somewhere special was still there and unfulfilled by Glastonbury so we did a slight detour on to Dartmoor to visit my tree (a very old beech tree I have developed quite an affinity with). I never fail to come away without some special message or gift and this time was no exception but more on that another time.

After all of this we arrived home utterly exhausted with no hope of a Sviata Vechera celebration for the solstice. I was barely capable of making a cheese sandwich, I hadn't a hope of cooking a full blown meal.

So... we rescheduled. Christmas Day it would be. That made sense in this strange little mind of mine. It's a day I find particularly dull once the presents have been opened, so Holy Supper would liven it up no end, it was a day which would mean something to our ancestors (lets face it, most of us have to go a bloody long way back before we find someone in our blood line who would have celebrated  winter solstice) and it was a day I'd be spending much of in the kitchen anyway. It was a win win situation. Or so I thought.

I hadn't bargained on my thyroid interfering. Its my own fault, forgetting to pack my medication when we went away possibly amounts to one of the more stupid things I've done in the last year. It's quite scary to see how dependant I've become on my levothyroxine and I really don't like that...but it keeps me functioning as near to normal as its possible for me to be so I have to be grateful for that. But a week without it really took its toll, and by Christmas Day I was in that achey, zombie state which indicates my thyroid starved body and mind are on go slow.

I did manage to cook a nice meal; a lovely roast lamb dinner ( my mad druid hates turkey, and Christmas eve shopping means you take whatever is left so no duck for us this year). I hadn't managed to set up my ancestor altar, at least not the way I wanted it (I'm still waiting for a few old photo's my mum hasn't managed to dig out yet) and although we enjoyed a few drinks, neither of us were up to full blown partying.

It was then the mad druid made a suggestion, and from there everything fell into place. The right date for our Holy Supper had been staring us in the face all along. New Year's Eve is not only his late mother's birthday but also the anniversary of my grandmother's death. It is a date significant to both our families, gives me time to collect those extra photos, try out some of the recipes in my Great-Grandma's recipe book (on loan from my mum), and force feed my thyroid with adequate medication. So, rescheduled yet again, New Year's Eve is the new date for our Holy Supper.

But what of Christmas Day? It would have been a shame to let all that cooking go to waste.

And so we set an extra place as planned and filled the room with candles in memory of the forgotten dead, all those souls who have no one to remember them. I don't think our own dead will mind waiting, in fact I know they are looking forward to seeing in 2012 with us, and a little bit of peace on earth and good will to all men- even those who are no longer with us- goes an awful long way.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Welcoming New Life and The Crone

Its been a bit quiet on here as I indulged in the annual festive trip to see family. As usual nothing went to plan. The early December trip north was repeatedly postponed as I waited for the arrival of my granddaughter. Our time in the midlands would be limited and I certainly didn't want to come home without meeting her. In the end we gave up and travelled anyway, and right on cue she arrived just in time for me to collect Mummy, Daddy and Baby from the hospital when she was just four hours old.

I was first made a Grandma back in January with the arrival of my Grandson, so I'm a Granny twice over in the space of a year!!! There is nothing like a little pink bundle of joy to make one feel old. It doesn't seen five minutes since I was the one bringing life into the world and now I'm a bystander as my children do the same. Its a strange feeling. And one I haven't quite got used to yet. This is going to be an interesting journey.

I have always seen myself as a mother, even before I had children of my own, and yet I never looked beyond that. Now I am seeing the continuation of my line and as new life grows the urge to look back grows stronger. Now, more than ever, I am aware of the thread that links me to all my kin who have gone before. I feel their blood surge through my veins, I hear their wisdom whispering across the years as I embrace this new chapter of my life.

All hail, my little ones.
All hail, my Grandmothers.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

That's A Big Ol' Can Of Worms Ms. Dirty's Opened

You may remember I said I would be participating in Sviata Vechera for the Solstice after Ms. Dirty threw down the Holy Supper gauntlet. In order to do this and make merry with the beloved dead in a style that would be appreciated I needed to hunt out some suitable recipes that my family past would enjoy. Simple? You'd think so wouldn't you? A quick trawl through a few old recipe books and off to the kitchen to cook myself into a stupor. The only problem with that was that when I really sat down and thought about it I realised I actually knew very little about my roots. It would make things a whole lot easier if I knew who my family actually were.

So now I have family tree fever for which there is no known cure. It doesn't matter how many generations back I go (five so far on my Mum's side) it is never enough. This has the makings of a life long obsession, especially as the historian in me isn't satisfied with names, dates and places. I want (NEED) to put meat on the bones. How did they live, love, make merry and die? What were the skeletons in their cupboards. We all have a few of those, don't we? Our ancestors were no different. Its been a frustrating, intriguing and wonderful journey so far and I've only just scratched the surface.

Fortunately my Dad's reluctance to talk about his family doesn't seem to have extended to the rest of my relations. My mum has been a big help and I have great-uncles and distant cousins who have been invaluable. I just wish we had all been having this conversation when more of them were alive.

I have a branch of the family that come from the Norfolk/Suffolk area when I had always believed they had lived in my home town in the midlands for generations. As it turns out my Grandad was the first to move there.
I never knew one of my Great Grandfather's died in Iraq in WWI and is buried in the War cemetery in Basra!
The grandmother I had always been told came from St Bee's didn't. I'm currently trying to find out if she ever lived there at all as she certainly wasn't born there. I was worried for a while that my family history was in fact, family myth. But it seems the approximate area was right, but she was born farther up the coast. And the unusual middle name my uncle had which really didn't fit with the Ian's and Peter's and David's dotted throughout the rest of the family and has confused everyone for years, turns out to have been my great-grandmother's maiden name.
There is definitely an Irish connection, but not where I expected, and it's looking increasingly likely there may be some Scottish ancestry too.

Its all good stuff but its really thrown a spanner in the works regarding Holy Supper. My head's spinning and I'm not sure where to start. Either I'm going to have to concentrate on just one branch, or there are going to be an awful lot of courses in this meal...

...looks like I'll be spending an awful lot of time in my kitchen.

Friday, 2 December 2011

It's Going To Be A Very Busy Solstice

Ms Graveyard Dirt has issued an invitation I can't refuse, to celebrate with my ancestors for Sviata Vechera (don't ask me how you pronounce that, but it means holy supper). This is not something I've ever done before but the idea is so simple and so bloody obvious that I'm smacking myself around the head for not thinking of it myself.

We all hurl ourselves head long at Yule, drinking, feasting and celebrating with our families. It's only one small step further (or backwards if you take it literally) to include our ancestors in those celebrations, and to be honest, quite churlish not to. Many of us work with our ancestors all year round anyway, and even those who don't will give them an outing for Samhain, so it seems even more bizarre that I had never thought to specifically include them in the Yuletide festivities.

So now I need to get my finger out and do my research because as Ms Dirty says 'you don't want to come off as a dickface' by serving up something that's completely alien. When its my turn to join the ancestral ranks I certainly hope future generations of my family will be serving up the things I actually like. I mean, would you want to go to a party where there's no cake? Of course you wouldn't!

I have to admit I know very little about my own family tree. I can trace my Mum's side back about four or five generations or so and most of those were born within about ten miles of where I was so a bit of good home cooking like my grandma taught me should go down fine with them. My Dad's side is a bit trickier as I know very little at all. He's always been quite tight lipped about his family. So far as I know his mother came from Cumbria (probably why I have such a pull to the place myself) so I have a starting point and I have a suspicion I may be able to trace the line back to Ireland from there but I've not got much to go on. It should be an interesting journey through the recipe books.

And of course we live in Cornwall, a land with rich traditions, so I'm looking forward to finding something which will honour the original inhabitants of this land.

If that wasn't enough to be going on with Pixie Campbell is holding The Mother of All Releasing Ceremonies on the 22nd Dec (yes, the Solstice is on the 22nd this year). With all the crap I seem to have been carrying around with me I feel compelled to join in.

I don't want to give anything less than my full attention to either so I'm doing it over two days. The 21st is always a cause for celebration here, no matter what day the Solstice officially falls on, as it is a rather special anniversary for the Mad Druid and I. So as we'll be celebrating that day anyway I'm picking that for our Holy Supper. Its very appropriate, all things considered, to be whooping it up with our ancestors that day.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

All NaNoed Out

It's December 1st and NaNoWriMo is over for 2011. Did I make it to 50,000 words? The short answer to that would be 'No' but as I have discovered, there is so much more to National Novel Writing Month than hitting that 50k target.

I managed 40,000. 40,007 to be precise and that is one hell of an achievement. I am actually very proud of what I have done. I would have liked to make it to 50k, of course I would, but I didn't embark on this journey solely to write a set number of words. I did it to instill a bit of writing discipline in my otherwise lazy brain. I did it to connect with other writers. But most of all I did it to have fun. I succeeded on all three of those, especially the last one. I have had the time of my life.

That is not to say there haven't been times when I've been screaming at my laptop, or tearing my hair out with frustration, or wanting to give up due to utter exhaustion, but then I've had a chat with some of my fellow wrimo's and it has all been OK again. The support I have received from not only my own family, but from complete strangers who shared a common goal, has been astounding. It has been a truly wonderful experience.

And as an added bonus I think I've actually written something worth reading. It still needs work (like reaching The End, that would be good) and it has gone off in directions I never expected but I really feel its working. Always before with my writing I have carefully planned before I began. This was the first time I've ever embarked on something of this magnitude without a clear structure, hell, without even much of an outline. I gave my character's their independence and they have dragged me along on a journey of discovery, and wow, what a journey!

My main character, Molly, is an independent little witch who has put me in my place a few times. She is currently demanding I allow her to have her own blog (and I might just let her run with that one) but we shall see. First I have to finish my story.

So NaNoWriMo may be over for 2011 but the work has just begun. I'm taking a couple of days break from it, I'm all NoNoed out right now, but then I shall pick up the threads again and let Molly weave her magic.