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Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Gratitude, Is it a thing of the past?

When I was a child (many, many moons ago) Christmas was a time of great anticipation, excitement and joy. It was a time to laugh and play and relax. I look back on those Christmases with very fond memories. They are memories I can call to mind easily, without the aid of photographs or songs or smells, they are strong and good, forged out of the best of times.
Religion didn't really come into the Christmas of my childhood beyond the school nativity play and occasional carol concert, my parents weren't church goers, but thankfulness and thinking of others was big. Our Christmas was fun but there were rules, strict ones, but ones we never minded keeping. Somehow they were just all a part of it and it just wouldn't have been right, it wouldn't have been Christmas, without them.
Not going hunting for our Christmas presents was a big one, it would be wrong to spoil the surprise and to this day I'd rather poke my eyes out than peek at something before it's wrapped. Not going downstairs before Mum and Dad were up was another. We had a stocking, and a sack left by Santa, in our rooms but our main present was always under the tree, sometimes we'd be almost exploding with excitement but that rule at least gave my parents a fighting chance of getting up at a decent hour. The next big rule was not going outside to play too early. This was torture if Santa had delivered a longed for bike or roller skates, but respect for the neighbours who may still be abed was drummed into us. But the main rule, the BIG ONE, was saying thank you without having to be prompted.
Christmas afternoon, straight after lunch, my brother and I would ring around all those relatives we were not seeing that day to thank them for their gifts. This was always, and I do mean always followed up with a thank you letter. It would have been unforgivable to not take the time to write to everyone, regardless of whether we had seen them, or spoken on the phone, to tell them how much we had enjoyed our new toy. More often than not someone would have bought me a pretty stationary set for Christmas anyway, so sitting down to write would be a pleasure. It was always what we did on Boxing Day, when the excitement had started to wear off and we needed to be kept away from the chocolate and out from under mum's feet, we'd sit down at the table to write our thank yous and then go for a walk to the park and drop them into the post box on the way. It was a ritual, a routine, a rule. And it was a good one.
Sadly, it seems it's one no one keeps to any more. In this day and age of instant messaging, of mobile phones and internet, when communication is simpler, faster, than ever before... No one bothers to say thank you. 
Does it really take so much? Are people really so busy that they can't take a moment to send a text? A few did manage to message to say 'Merry Christmas' but no 'Thanks for the prezzie' or 'loved the gift, ta!'
I wonder what they'd all say if I didn't bother giving anything next year?
Well, they may not be thankful but I am.
I am thankful I am sitting here, warm and cosy. I have a nice glass of port, there's plenty of food in my kitchen cupboards, and a box of chocolates within reach. There are twinkly lights around my fireplace and candles burning, I'm sleepy and very soon I shall be going to bed, and tomorrow will be another day. Yes, I'm very thankful indeed.

Monday, 19 November 2012

A Gift From Beyond The Veil

The veil is still thin here. Thinner, almost, than it was at Samhain. That shouldn't surprise me, I've never been one to place too much significance on the calender. Things come when they are ready to come and not before. That's not to say I didn't mark the date itself, I did, I always do, and there was no doubt the veil was thin... but not at it's thinnest I think. It was too warm, too still, too light, too green. Death and dark were on their way, there was no doubt of that, I had felt their presence creeping in for a while, stalking me, but it is stronger now.
 
The wind howls outside my window, driving tatters of rain up the valley, running down the cold glass blurring all beyond. The sky is a brooding grey and a few stubborn remnants of autumn hang yellow against dark claws of branches, bending before that invisible force.  It seems appropriate.

I still feel I'm trailing a crowd of ancestors about with me. I'm living in a world of babbling conversation and loaded silence, as though they are waiting for a realisation to dawn out of the still. My sleep is filled with dreams that are more than dreams, vivid and intense. Messages are everywhere, clear, concise, leaving little room for misinterpretation. I don't like what I'm being told, I don't like it at all, and yet it is strangely comforting, this knowledge. Knowledge is always better than being kept in the dark.

So I'll take that for the gift it is, and be thankful.

 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

A Sense of Waiting

Despite the whirlwind of activity in the cyber community regarding preparations for Samhain, I have found it almost impossible this year to even show much interest, let alone enthusiasm, for the festivities. The unseasonally warm weather we've been experiencing up until the last couple of days wasn't helping, it's hard to think of Samhain while walking around in short sleeves, soaking up the autumn sun, but that wasn't all that seemed out of place.
 
I have an uneasy feeling about Samhain this year, a kind of impending sense of doom, that I just can't shake. It's been building since early September, a kind of butterflies-in-the-stomach wariness that has been my constant companion. I've had feelings like this before -haven't we all?- but always in the past it either dissipated, presumably because somehow I had, all unawares, averted the imminent disaster, or it would reach its unpleasant conclusion within a week or two. Never before have I carried this feeling around with me for so long.
 
There are serious health issues with a close family member, and I don't think that's helping matters. Especially as I discovered yesterday that he his going in for major surgery on Samhain. Coincidence? It doesn't bode well.  
 
But I think it's more than that. I think my step-dad's health has become my focus but I don't think that is the root cause. There's something else, not as immediate, but possibly bigger, life changing. There are whispers in the wind. Warnings. There is a strong sense that I'm being prepared for something and Samhain is just the start of it.
 
The ancestors are drawing near, but there is a difference this year. They are gathering in their droves! Whole crowds of them have been following me around. I've become so accustomed to their presence that once or twice I've caught myself mid conversation with them as I walk the lanes and footpaths around here. I'll get myself a reputation as 'that nutty woman who talks to herself' if I'm not careful! They are wrapping around me like a comforting shawl, waiting. They are gathering about me like a protective cocoon, preparing.
 
It's an uneasy state of affairs, this sense of waiting.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Octoberfest

A big, warm welcome to anyone popping by on the Real Witches of Halloween blog tour from Wise Whispers. And an especially big thank you to Lyn Thurman for including me, it's quite exciting! I've never been part of a blog tour before.

Make yourself at home, pour yourself a coffee, there should be cakes coming out of the oven any minute now and I think there's even a bottle of rhubarb wine around here somewhere, just help yourself.


I've always loved this time of year, possibly because my birthday is only a week away and no matter how old I get, I've never lost my childlike enthusiasm for birthdays, but strangely my birthday isn't the most celebrated date in October. The 31st looms large on most witch calendars, with Halloween far outstripping any other date in the popularity stakes. In fact it was way back in July when I first heard an excited 'Ooooh, it's almost that time of year again.' I have to put my hand up here and say at first it took me a while to work out what she meant, and when the penny finally dropped I thought you can't be serious? But she was. In certain quarters the pressure cooker that is Halloween has been building since July!
It's an attitude I'm coming across increasingly often and it puzzles me immensely. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade here, but I do wonder if Halloween is in serious danger of becoming the pagan equivalent to Christmas?  And by that I mean over commercialised, over done and over emphasised. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing!
Is Halloween your favourite time of year? Do you feel the urge to spend the whole of October dressed in black, freaking out all the other mums at the school gates? Is your box of Halloween decorations twice the size of your Christmas tree? Do you go through a year's supply of candles in one day, or live off pumpkin soup/cake/pie for a month? Do you want to scare the neighbourhood children silly and have them daring each other just to walk past your door? (OK, so I've always fancied doing that one! Not that I would of course, but, y'know... ;)
We all have our favourite seasons and festivals, I'm sure we all observe certain dates in different ways, some receiving more emphasis than others and that's only natural. For myself, I came to paganism through Wicca and although I left that behind many years ago the Wiccan wheel of the year is still ingrained. I find it very hard to ignore certain dates even though I find some don't sit well with me personally, or no longer seem to fit with our changing seasons. As a result some observances are little more than the lighting of a candle ( and the main event adapted and moved to when feels/smells right) while others give rise to full blown planning, feasting and honouring deity, ancestors and land.
Samhain is one that usually involves more planning, but that usually means a couple of days, maybe a week, in advance, not months! There have even been years when I've done very little at all because it just hasn't felt right to do more. I may have a pumpkin (but mainly because I have a fantastic recipe for pumpkin cake), we may have a 'dumb' supper although that's a bit of a misnomer as silent it is not! I've discovered over the years that our ancestors are rather rowdy. I will have a bag of sweets by the front door in case any of the neighbour's children come to call trick or treating.
I don't really have a problem with the 'fun', commercial side of Halloween. My Mad Druid however, does. For him it is an insult to his faith that such a sacred day is now awash with plastic pumpkins and skeletons, fake blood and cobwebs. He sees it all as a Christian assault, making fun of a holy day. 'How would they feel,' he says, 'if we did the same to Easter, or Christmas, going door to door in fancy dress with a plastic crucifix?' Personally, I think he's a bit over sensitive and we bang heads over it EVERY year. I make a clear distinction between Halloween and Samhain, and that stops me tearing my hair out with frustration when I hear trite inaccuracies rolled out year after year by everyone from the press, to Christians, to Pagans themselves, about what it all means. In my head at least, Halloween is for fancy dress and silliness, Samhain is for ritual and respect, but try as I might I can't get my Mad Druid to separate the two and it's getting harder and harder every year as the Halloween hullabaloo starts ever earlier.
October? OK, nothing wrong with a bit of a build up if you enjoy it. But September? August? July?!!
The trend towards promoting October to 'Witch Month' disturbs me. It's a bit of fun, yes, and there is nothing wrong with that, many of us enjoy the drawing in of the nights, a return to misty mornings and yes, the occasional evening curled up with a glass of wine in front of Practical Magic, but I've recently seen or heard October described as 'that witchiest of months' and 'the most sacred time of the year' and 'the time of real magic', and 'the month of the most important pagan festival'.
Really?

Is October really any different to any other month? Am I more of a witch in October? Is my magic more effective? There are aspects to this time of year that I love. There are energies I work with that are stronger now, but I could say that about any month, any season. Each has its own quality, its own strengths. Is it right to put October up on a pedestal and hail it as some magical giant of a month? Is it cheapening our craft to jump wholesale into the hype? *ducks to avoid flying objects- yes, I know I'm probably on my own with this one.

It's not that I mind all the blood and gore, ghosts and ghouls, candy and fancy dress (I still fondly remember the two year old 'witch' I encountered last year, tripping over her broomstick and proudly announcing 'I is a witch. I not 'fraid dark. No!' I defy even the staunchest Halloween hater not to melt over that one!) It's the way it seems to take over these days and swamp everything else for so long. It swallows up the last dusty days of summer and hangs over the harvest, it gobbles up the green in a great rush greet the dark. Well, the dark will come in it's own time,when it's ready, we don't need to hurry it and bully it along. I'm all for letting the seasons roll as they will. I'll celebrate their turning and enjoy it, when the time comes, when I feel that shiver, when my nose picks out that defining note, when I sense that change. Until then, I'll enjoy the now, the last of the sun, the harvest, the still warm days. There will be plenty of time to think of Halloween later.

What do you think? Is Halloween given too much precedence these days? Do you agree that it's starting to override other, equally important, festivals and seasons? Or do you love it just the way it is?




Sunday, 30 September 2012

Tipping the Scales

I'm a Libra (birthday very soon, Yay!) so balance is important to me. Not so much perfect balance, although that used to be the case, -there was a time when I could really obsess about things being matched, or straight, or balanced. I couldn't bare to be in a room with a wonky picture, or wear mis-matched socks, even under boots when no one would see,-but these days it's a different type of balance that is important.

It is the balance of nature, the balance of the soul, the balance of emotions, that are really important. I still might feel the urge to straighten a wonky picture but life, by its very nature, is wonky and its taken me a long time to realise that. It comes built in with ups and downs, and that provides its own balance. The trick is in spotting when the balance is due to change, and anticipating, preparing, for whatever it brings.

The recent Equinox showed me a few things, pointed me in the direction I should have been going. It reminded me of my need for balance, but more importantly showed me how to find it. This year has been a difficult one, there have been slow lulls, setbacks, shocks and tragedy. I have found myself staggering from day to day, just waiting for the next blow. I've been on edge constantly, and although I thought that made me prepared and aware, in reality it wore me down and dulled my senses and creativity. I have achieved very little so far this year, and that needs to change. Now.

So I'm tipping the scales, I'm adjusting the balance.  

I've spent so long now just waiting for things to go wrong that I've forgotten how to live, I've put all the things I actually enjoy on hold. From now on I'm going to focus more on my creativity and spirituality. I'm going to get out more, even if its just a walk up to the cliffs. I'm going to dig out my paints and my pastels. I'm going to bake cakes and brew beer. I'm going to light a candle, pour a glass of wine and go for a long, hot bath. If things are going to go wrong, they'll do so without my watchful eye and at least I can enjoy myself while I'm waiting. The only preparation for the tough times I really need is to make the most of the good days, and long may they continue!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Simplicity

Yesterday we met up with my step-daughter and her husband who were down in our part of the world for a few days. It was a couple of days after her birthday and I had a moment of panic when I realised we hadn't got a birthday present for her. A trip to visit a sick family member had eaten rather cruelly into our finances and it was all we could manage to put a splash of fuel in the car to get to where they were staying.

Determined not to go empty handed, I baked cakes. They weren't much, just a few little fairy cakes covered in pink butter icing and sparkles. In truth, I just did the best I could with what I had in the kitchen cupboards. I felt a bit rotten that I hadn't been able to make more of an effort and yet as it turns out, no one had ever made her birthday cakes before! My family all baked so I take that kind of thing for granted, but for someone who grew up in a home where cakes came out of packets...well, she was over the moon. Such a simple thing and yet it prompted real emotion and genuine gratitude.
 
We stayed for a couple of hours before they started their long journey home. We walked their dog on the beach, drank coffee made on a little camping stove, ate cakes and laughed. It cost nothing but gave us so much.
 
As we drove back to our tiny flat with it's near empty kitchen cupboards, little pile of unpaid bills sitting on the kitchen work top and an electric meter worryingly close to empty, I smiled to myself. A plate of little pink cakes and good company had reminded me that sometimes I worry too much about things and complicate life more than I need to. I don't need savings in the bank, I don't need to buy expensive things (hey, Christmas is looming on the horizon, don't tell me you haven't been worrying too?), I don't need everything to run smoothly and be completely organised. Those things would be nice its true, but as long as I can rustle up something from the larder, keep more or less on top of things, and take the time to enjoy the people I love and the beautiful place I live, then life is actually pretty good.
 
Life is as simple, or as complicated, as we make it and these days I'll take simplicity every time.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Disconnected

It's fair to say I'm feeling out of sorts. Disconsolate.Tetchy. Agitated. Unsettled. I'm sure we all feel these things from time to time, it's normal to ride a roller coaster of emotions throughout the course of life, but what concerns me is the intensity and regularity of these bouts of what I am reluctant to call depression, despite the accuracy of the term.
 
I'm normally a very relaxed and easy going person. I take things in my stride and adapt to whatever challenges life throws at me -and it's thrown quite a few over the years- I've always considered myself, somewhat jokingly, to be indestructible. I'm no super woman, often things have hit me hard, but before I have always picked myself up, shaken myself off, and got on with whatever needed doing.
 
So I really don't know what is wrong with me at the moment. I don't recognise myself.
 
Everything, even little things, seems to be getting me down. My temper flares for no real reason, the tears flow uncontrolled. A lethargy and despondency has settled on me that I don't know how to shake off. I no longer feel in control of my emotions.
 
It's not even that there is anything wrong, not really. There are things I'm concerned about, a few (possibly major) health problems in family members, the normal financial worries and stress, one or two personal concerns that if I take the time to think about I know I'm blowing all out of proportion, but nothing really significant. Nothing to make me feel the way I do.
 
And yet I am tired and tearful, stressed out and angry, bubbling over with frustration and worry and resentment. It's holding me back, it's stopping me getting on with the things I need to do. My mind is on go slow and I'm just not functioning. I feel disconnected from everything around me. And none of the usual things are working.
 
I watch the moon in her stately dance across the sky and feel nothing. I see the sun without feeling the urge to get outside and enjoy it. I watch storm clouds gather on the horizon without that feeling of excitement and anticipation. I'm going through the motions of living without even questioning what I'm doing. Chores are completed, meals prepared, candles lit, prayers said, but it is all routine and I don't feel a part of it. I have moments where I think oh I must do that, research this, prepare that...but then the moment is lost and the lethargy returns.
 
Am I ill? I feel OK, other than the occasional migraine, I seem to have most of my health issues under control at last and I'm even managing to run and lose weight.
 
Is it the start of the menopause? My doctor has been bleating on about that for the last couple of years but I'm only 42 and I don't feel ready for that stage of my life yet. Besides, my periods are still on the same cycle I had at 20.
 
Is it that I've simply taken on too much? My fundraising has proved much harder than I imagined, especially without so much of the help people promised before I took it on. (Isn't it amazing how many people are willing to talk about doing stuff but then run for the hills when there's work to do?) But hell, I've worked hard before, its no more than a full time job would be and I'm sure I can still hack that!
 
So what is it? Why do I feel so sad and disillusioned? Why do I feel so disconnected?
 
And most importantly, when the hell am I going to get back to normal?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Roots- part one

For much of this year I've been dipping in and out of my family tree research. Often it's been a frustrating and seemingly futile search where I have felt I am repeatedly banging my head against a brick wall, but sometimes, oh sometimes, it has been a heady roller coaster ride full of ups and downs, twists and turns, humour and intrigue and fascination.

After a particularly depressing time of constant dead ends, leads which lead nowhere and an ever growing pile of confusing paperwork I took myself off to bed one night feeling especially despondent. And then a thought cascaded in from nowhere...I'm a witch, what was I doing spending all my time neck deep in census returns when all I had to do was ask? Durrrrrr! I can be pretty dense sometimes. I work with my ancestors (the ones I know) all the time and yet it had never occurred to me to go looking for the ones I was searching for.

I sat that night in my bed, wrapped in a cloak of darkness, and simply asked the question 'who are you?' I knew nothing of my paternal Grandmother, my Dad lost touch with her years ago and for some as yet unexplained reason, it is very hard to get him to talk about her. All I knew was her name and where she was born. I had a feeling there was Irish blood in the mix somewhere although I had no reason for that other than my own intuition, and my pull to discover this unknown family was almost overwhelming.

I could not honestly tell you if I fell asleep, or if in trance I slipped between the worlds. It didn't really feel like either but I found myself walking through underground caverns past familiar faces who stepped out from the rocks themselves to greet me and see me on my way. I stopped for a while to talk with my maternal grandparents before I was lead deeper, down less populated passage ways by my guide, a child I knew now full grown. Then suddenly he was gone and I was alone in a cave with a crystal clear pool, lulled by the sound of distant cascading water. In the shadows I could make out the shadowy form of a man and I knew he was my Great Grandfather.

He seemed a little surprised when I told him who I was, 'How did I miss you lass?' he asked. His accent was northern, a warm lilting sound I recognised from childhood holidays. He wore a flat cap, and a brown jacket over a pullover, his trousers were tucked into his boots and although his clothing was rather worn it was clean and obviously cared for. He told me his name was Charles. His accent was quite strong and I couldn't catch the name he said was his wife's but I thought Amy/Annie/Edie? It wasn't clear. he told me he'd met her on a train and that she was very beautiful.

I had so much I wanted to ask him but suddenly I was pulled away and the sweet smell of grass filled my nostrils. I stood in that rolling, green landscape before a small, wiry man with dark, wavy hair and twinkling blue eyes. He had that weathered skin of one who works outdoors. His voice was rich and belied his size and definitely Irish... but sleep overwhelmed me and I woke the next morning convinced it was all a dream.

It was several weeks later when I finally had a little money spare and ordered my Grandmother's birth certificate. I stood staring at it for quite a while, hardly daring to believe what I saw.

Her parents names? Charles and Annie!



Saturday, 14 July 2012

A Thank You and Some Randomness

My friend Natalie over at Bridget's Daughter has kindly nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award. I don't normally bother much with awards and such but, hey, it's always nice to be appreciated :) I know Natalie has a lot on her plate at the moment so it actually means a lot that she took the time to think of me. I like Natalie, a lot. She is a wonderfully supportive lady who is much stronger and smarter than she gives herself credit for.

Now, there are rules attached to this award but there is nothing more fun than breaking, or at least bending, rules so pleased don't be too shocked if I don't stick to them all. Let me see, what am I meant to do... Thank the blogger who nominated me. Done. Link to their site. Done. Include award image in your post. Hmmmm. My technological incompetence is showing now. I don't know how to do that! Give seven random facts about yourself. Ok, I can do that. Nominate 15 other Bloggers for the award and let them know they've been nominated. Right, who to pick? Sooooo many to choose from.

Random facts about me.

1) I love to walk barefoot outdoors. It gets me some funny looks but I don't care.
2) I haven't seen my natural hair colour since I dyed it burgandy at the age of 15. Since then its been various shades of red and black, everything from a bright ginger to raven. Originally it was to escape my natural but boring shade of dull brown and now its to hide the grey!
3) My favourite food is homemade rice pudding, thick enough to stand a spoon in.
4) My children all have unusual names which most people can't pronounce or spell. (although they all have simplified, shortened versions they use for everyday)
5) I live by the sea but I love the mountains and I hear their song calling me home always.
6) People are strange beings I don't fully understand.


Continuing the 'Random' theme I've chosen these blogs at random as my indecisive Libra personality makes me often incapable of making decisions so rather than sit here ummming and arrring all day I let the universe take a hand, and I have to say, the universe chose pretty well :)


Lunar Hine, the strongest woman I have ever come across, her courage humbles me. She is a true inspiration.
Diary of a familiar-in-training makes me laugh and The House in the Roses is just so pretty.
Wytch of the North is very apt as Odin has lately haunted my dreams and Downstrodden so very often gives me a timely reminder that the path I've chosen requires me to actually get off my bum and do some work! Ye Olde Crone's Gazette is a pleasant amble through life and Beyond The Fields We Know stuns me often with its simple beauty. And Finally Dark Wench reminds me just how big this world of ours really is as she tells of seasons, opposite to my own, from Down Under.

Yes, I know that's not 15. Well, I did say I'd break the rules...

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Unknown



I awoke this morning to a world of white. During the night tendrils of mist had crept in from the sea, swirling, gathering, blanketing this little town. The wooded hillsides, with their square, white houses; the deep valley with its still, green river; the narrow alleys, streets and crooked lanes had all been silently swallowed by the fog.

The fog horn sounded mournful as it cried its eerie warning to the vessels out at sea. For some reason I usually like that melancholy sound but this morning it seemed desperately sad. It suited my mood as I gazed out into the disappeared world.

I could see the trees, green and lush, at the end of the garden but beyond that, nothing and I was struck by the parallel with my life. That is how I feel today, with immediacies clear and fresh, the mundane household details stark, but beyond that? My sight is muffled and unclear, the future hazy without a reference point to follow.


I set out with hope, and more than a little trepidation, into the unknown.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Grounded

Back when I was young and magic was new -or at least new in a 'wow, what I do has a name!' sense- I was skittish and flighty and super charged. I threw myself into this world I had discovered and sucked up every little tid-bit of information like a sponge. My natural instincts and 'talents' were fed with the rocket fuel of discovery and I was flying high without benefit of besom. I was a Witch and I wanted to learn everything. Now.

How cocky was that? Oh, the foolishness of youth!
I still haven't learnt everything more than two decades later. And I never will.

I still remember the night when, with candles flickering and incense burning, I first came across the concept of grounding. I was Wiccan then, or thought I was, and a new friend at an open circle asked 'have you grounded?' Torn between not wanting to show my ignorance and wanting to learn something new, my face must have displayed a myriad of emotions as I teetered on the edge of asking. He must have seen my naked thoughts and led me through the process with a simple 'why don't we do it together?' and for the first time I sensed ancient roots slowly growing from my feet, spreading out, delving into the cool earth.

I will always be grateful to that man, who so many years ago, taught me to slow down and take things steady.I had my whole life, and beyond, to learn, there was no rush.

I still use that method of grounding on occasion. I have a gentle fondness for it and it reminds me that no matter how far I walk along this crooked path there is always more to learn. It doesn't work for me in quite the same way anymore though. Living as I do in a first floor flat I find it hard to shake the image of a rogue root growing through my downstairs neighbour's head, or his dog, or protruding through his T.V screen in the middle of Eastenders, as he sits all unawares in his ground floor home below as my roots reach for terra firma. And that makes me laugh. A fit of the giggles overtakes me, which can actually be very grounding in its own right. A good old belly laugh is so underrated. Trust me, it works wonders.

Before I started to write this post I googled 'grounding tehcniques'. I don't know why, curiosity I suppose, but many of the sites I cast a cursory glance over made the whole process seem....how shall I put it? Airy fairy. Which to me seems counter productive.

Over the years I have learnt that there are indeed as many different ways to produce the desired effect as there are people. What works for me may not work for you but I have found the most mundane and simple things are the most effective. One can visualise roots, or a mighty oak, or a whole bloody forest full, but it won't do the job so well as washing the dishes, or scrubbing the doorstep, or having wild sex.

Parenthood is possibly the most grounding experience it is possible to have. I defy anyone to remain in a post-ritual buzzy haze while changing dirty nappies or cleaning up puke. I accept, however, that following that particular route if you are currently childless simply to achieve that perfect grounded state, may be just a tad reckless.

So if you don't have a little, smelly, sicky thing of your own or they are beyond the age where such things are necessary (although if you catch your overgrown baby as he comes in from the pub he might oblige with the puke) what are you to do?


I didn't start this last week feeling I needed to ground and yet I have been pulled lately towards activities that have done just that. Repeatedly. All week I have felt the need to get out, to touch the earth, to connect, to ground. I have walked for miles in the pouring rain, as it soaked through my clothing, and felt its touch upon my skin. I have stood upon the cliffs as the winds howled and simply standing upright was an achievement. I have delved deep in the woods and felt the dirt beneath my feet as I walked barefoot with mud squelching between my toes. I have cooked and cleaned and baked and scrubbed, down on my knees and happy to be there.

Sometimes life has a habit of running away with us. We get swept up in the whirlwind that can be everyday life. People, places, thoughts, pass by in a blur and we become so accustomed to the feeling that we no longer notice we are running at a hundred miles an hour and need to slow down, that we need to ground.

This week something within me took over, something wiser than myself, and it forced me to do what I needed to do.

Through the wind and the rain, the mud and the miles, through hard work and a belly full of cake, I am now, well and truly, grounded.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Farewell Our Beltane Baby

On a wet and windy Beltane afternoon we laid to rest the newest member of our family, tragically born too soon. A day that should have been a celebration of new life became a day of tears.

This fragile child, this tiny life, clung to this world for a full ten minutes before he slipped away.

I wanted to scream and shout and rip heads from shoulders. I wanted to stampede through hospital corridors demanding retribution from those whom, for over a month, repeatedly sent his mother home when she went in bleeding, saying nothing was wrong when obviously something was wrong becuase we not only lost the baby, but almost his mother too. Most of all I wanted to do something very painful to the doctors and nurses who spent a day calling him 'baby' because he was a live birth but then reclassified him as a miscarriage and started calling him 'clinical waste' and wanted to send him away for mass incineration.

For a week now I've been smothering my anger, trying (and sometimes failing) to hold it together for those who needed me, watching my family self destruct around me and helpless to do anything.

Yesterday, I baked bread. Lots of it. I pounded out my grief and anger on the soft dough. I'm still angry. I still hurt. It doesn't lessen the insensitivity the hospital showed, or right the wrongs. But I feel a little better, a little calmer. There are big thank you's that need to go out to the paramedics that arrived in force in response to the emergency call, and to the police who escorted them to the hospital with blue lights and sirens, giving mother and baby the best possible chance. I am grateful for the kindness shown by complete strangers who made the dreadful task of making his tiny casket a little easier by charging little more than pennies for the materials needed, as did the florist too, and to the council officials and cemetary staff who set aside much of the red tape and opened up a family grave with speed and understanding. Great kindness has been shown by many, and that is a comfort to us all.

And so on Beltane the family gathered to lay our little boy with his great-grandmother. The rains helped to hide our tears and the wind ripped blossoms from the trees to shower them upon him as his father gently placed him in the earth with white roses and a teddy bear, every little boy needs a teddy bear. We had planned a ceremony between us all, each of us writing something, having been told we couldn't have a 'proper' funeral without a death certificate, but the last minute addition of a priest who kindly dropped everything at a moments notice once the situation had been explaned, brought comfort to the Catholic side of the family. So in the end his funeral was a strange mix of bible readings, pagan prayers and heartfelt poems.

I was sad at first that Beltane would be spent saying goodbye to the little boy we never had time to get to know, but the more I think about it I'm glad he had a special day. He deserved it.

Dillon, your life was fragile and all too brief but your spirit was strong and will live on.
You will live on in our thoughts and hearts.
In every new dawn and the stars above,
In birdsong and the rustling of the leaves,
In the softness of snowflakes and the warmth of the sun,
You will be there and we will remember you.
As the cleansing rains fall,
And the four winds call your spirit home to the meadows of the Summer Lands,
We will smile for you,
And wipe away our tears because we know you rest safe and warm in the arms of the Lady.
May she shower you with blessings and bring comfort to all with pain in their hearts.
Little one, you are much loved and will always be a part of us.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Busy Bee

Just checking in with the blogging world (and getting to grips with the new blogger look. Surprisingly I don't hate it as I thought I would. I don't usually like change, but hmmm, seems some change is good.)

Things have been a bit hectic in my teeny corner of Cornwall and I'd like to say that is my excuse for not having blogged recently, but if I'm being honest I just haven't felt like it. I've had the ideas, coming thick and fast even, but sit in front of a blank screen and that Urrrrggghhh feeling would wash over me and I'd waste my time on facebook instead. But I'm starting to feel the urge to write again. Slowly I'm feeling more like me again.

There is a longer post coming, honest. I just have a few things to deal with first.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

My Dartmoor Tree


I don't make a habit of talking to trees.

Let me rephrase that... I don't often talk to...

Oh OK. I talk to trees all the time. And rocks, and flowers and bumble bees...

What I really mean is I don't often form a relationship with a tree. I talk to them and they are good enough to listen (not that I give them much choice), I pour out my heart and open my soul and am sometimes blessed with a little of their stillness in return, but it is a transient thing. There is rarely an attachment.

My beech tree, my Dartmoor tree is different. The connection we formed was almost instantaneous, not on sight, he stood proud beside the car park like so many others, nothing to mark him out as different, but when I laid my hand upon his bark... that's when the magic happened.

He is old, and ill. His bark, in places slimes and festers. One or two of his companions have already been felled. I know not when, or why, but I wonder if the same plight afflicted them. He knows he is not long for this world although time, to him, is not of my comprehension. It could be he will outlive me still, and yet each time our car turns into that lonely car park my heart is in my mouth in case he is gone.

He talks to me. He answers me. Not the questions I ask of him, that would be too simple. He reaches in and answers the questions I have not yet formed. He's almost scarily good at predicting pregnancies, even before the mother herself has wondered 'could I be...', he has known. I have known. He talks of changes, big changes. Cryptically, confusingly, but he's always right.

He talks of journeys to be undertaken, a pilgrimage. He talks of preparations for what is to come and although I am preparing blind, unknowing of what the future holds, prepare I do. I trust this magnificent tree. I glimpse his connections, his insights, his knowledge and take it all on trust.

I have faith.





Tuesday, 13 March 2012

What's Going On?

My life is never normal. I rebel against normal. I throw mud at normal. I run for the hills if I so much as glimpse normal in the distance.

But this is weird, even for me. Right now I'd love a little bit of normal, and think I need it.

And I don't think I'm the only one. The world seems topsy turvy right now and its throwing so many of us off our normal usual axis. Maybe its the crazily warm winter we've had. Maybe its the coming of spring with such a rush. Maybe its the solar flares. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I had a feeling, right back in January, that this year was going to shake things up a bit. A bit? I must have been wearing my crown as the Queen of Understatement for that one! You only have to skip merrily through blog land at the moment to see that there are an awful lot of us who are undergoing some process of change, or self discovery (often painful and harsh). Some greater force is at work here, forcing us to take a long, hard look at ourselves and I, for one, am finding it uncomfortable.

For me, the process began about a month or so ago with strange and vivid dreams of my past. Now just the fact that I remembered them was strange enough, as I often don't and when I do they tend to be just fleeting images taken out of context, but these? These were strong and haunting, staying with me throughout the day, never quite drifting from sight no matter how hard I tried.

I dreamt of people and places I haven't seen in decades yet the memories were fresh and clear as if created only yesterday. Its as though some strange shadow has stalked through my mind, rummaging through cupboards, emptying boxes, smashing padlocks off heavy chests and tipping out the contents for me to pick through, re-live and analyse in minute detail. Every aspect of my life, my past, has been looked at, my successes and failures, my joys, my mistakes. Only my childhood seems to have been spared in this random riffling though my experiences. So far it seems only to have taken me back to my teens, and my late teens at that.

It seems to be since I was let loose on the world as an independent adult that things went haywire, and they are the experiences I'm being forced to reevaluate. First boyfriends (the good, the bad, the ugly and the very ugly), friendships lost by the wayside, motherhood, abuse, love, death, rape... There have been highs and lows, exquisite joy and heart wrenching pain, suffocating fear and blessed happiness. I feel like I've been fed through my grandma's mangle!

It wouldn't have been so bad if it had just been confined to dreams but I'm actually living this. Some things have remained in dreamland, examined by my psyche and dismissed as of only minimal importance, others...Oh my! Others have been dragged out and paraded all around town, or at least that's how it feels.

It has been almost 12 years since I was raped. On my own doorstep, at knife point, in daylight. Now I'd be a liar if I said that didn't really screw me up for a while. It left me feeling I wasn't safe anywhere, at anytime. And when the police turned up on my doorstep saying 'actually, we think it may have been someone you know,' I  felt I wasn't safe with anyone either. You wouldn't believe all the stupid things that go through your head at that point and my circle of friends diminished down to nothing. Not that I felt any of them were responsible in any way. I knew the police were convinced my ex-husband was involved somehow. And that is where I made my big mistake. I put the brakes on the investigation; I didn't want it going any further for the children's sake. I didn't want them even having a hint that their father could be responsible for such a thing, but by doing so it meant I never knew the truth. And that's when your mind really starts playing tricks with you. Its easy to see now, but at the time...At the time I was swallowed up by a world of confusion.

I thought I'd learnt everything I needed to from all that. I moved on. I swallowed my fears. I had a choice, you see. I could hide away under the duvet and pray the world had disappeared the next time I looked, or I could come out with all guns blazing. I took the second option and went back to college and on to university.

And over time I worked the most powerful bit of magic I have ever worked. I turned the negative into a positive. I could, with a smile on my face, say 'The rape? Oh that was a good thing.' I couldn't turn back time and erase it, so I made it work for me. I had thought I was going to die that day and it made me realise that life is short, maybe shorter than you expect, and if you have any regrets they are not the things you have done, but all the things you haven't. It was that which fuelled my desire to return to college, so if it hadn't happened I wouldn't have gone to uni, wouldn't have escaped to London away from it all, wouldn't have had the most amazing job in the world.... Do you see how my mind was working?



But now it seems it is not done with me. There is more. What more do I have to learn? What did I miss?

Actually, I know the answers. I'm just trying really hard to ignore them.

Its time to strip away the veneer of recovery and actually, well, recover.

Easier said than done.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Thank You and an Update

Firstly, a very big Thank You to everyone who has been so kind and supportive since my son's accident. He's doing really well and is back at school, enjoying his 'celebrity'.

I see my doctor again next week and I'm hoping he will see sense and put my medication back up to what it was and then maybe, just maybe, I can shake off this sluggishness, and at times utter exhaustion, that seems to sap every shred of energy I used to posses.

I hate having to rely on medication. I would love to say 'That's it. No more!' But I can't. Me and my thyroid are at war; it wants to slow me down and make me fat and I'm not going to let it. If that means having to ingest pharmaceuticals just to get out of bed in the morning then so be it. Now I just have to convince my doctor of that. I've been ticking along OK for the last few years. I've been tired and run down but not a 'thyroid' kind of tired, and I've been dealing with it for long enough now to know the difference. Unfortunately my G.P hears the word TIRED and thinks THYROID. Every. Single. Bloody. Time.

Now I'm no doctor but I know there must be a million and one different causes of fatigue and aching but my doctor steadfastly refuses to see this and a few months ago decided (without the benefit of a blood test) to up my dose of Levothyroxine by 25mcg. Then when he finally decides to get that blood test taken the results show that while my T4 is normal, my TSH level was just outside the lab range. It really was just a teeny bit out 0.04 out to be precise. Does he cut the 25mcg he'd previously prescribed which was most likely responsible for the TSH result? No. He cuts it by 75 mcg and turns me into a zombie who struggles to get out of bed or even think straight!

I feel my life has been put on hold. I haven't seen the dawn in months. By tea time I'm looking at my watch and thinking 'is it bed time yet?' Following the plot of anything on T.V is damn near impossible and even conversations are a trial some days. Dust is gathering along my skirting boards, my kitchen feels neglected as I pull meal after meal out of the freezer instead of cooking from scratch. Blogging is an effort instead of a joy. Going to the shops for milk is a major expedition and the woods across the other side of the river just a far away dream.

I WANT MY LIFE BACK.

I see my G.P at ten to nine next Tuesday morning and I swear to you now, if he doesn't increase my dose there and then, he'll be saying 'RIBBET' by lunch time.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Kids, Cars, The Ex and Government Agencies Do Not A Happy Week Make

My son was hit by a car.

Quite possibly the most dramatic sentence I've ever written. Seven words that stopped my world.

He is going to be OK.

Quite possibly the happiest sentence I've ever written. This witch can breathe again.

Nothing prepares you for news like that. As a parent you know these things can happen, you teach your children about the dangers that may face them in the outside world and you trust that they have taken it all in because you can't clip their wings. You have to let them fly. And you hope and pray that they soar because you can't always be there to catch them when they fall.

For me the hope and prayers feature very strongly in my life because my children do not live with me. Its a long story and not one I shall bore you with. Did I make mistakes? Yes. Did I trust to 'reliable' legal advice that was flawed? Yes. Would I do things differently if I could turn back the clock? Yes. Did I do what I genuinely believed was best for my children at the time? Yes, Yes, Yes.

And that is all we can do. We make decisions and take actions based on the information we have available at the time. We do it every single day. And somewhere down the road we deal with the consequences. Of course by then we have extra information that we couldn't possibly have known earlier and we put ourselves through the wringer for having been so dumb, so naive, so weak, so...

So now I'm dealing with the consequences and for me that means having found out about my son's accident via facebook.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Fortunately for me I wasn't the first family member to see my daughter's panic stricken status so I did at least have a phone call from my mother to break the news but it must have been horrific for her. The next couple of hours trying to find out what the hell was going on were nothing short of torture. It's not the first time my ex has pulled a stunt like that. My eldest son had an emergency operation a few years ago and I wasn't told about that for nine whole days, and even then I only knew because my ex and his wife rang to gloat that they knew where he was and I didn't. In fact there have been a whole string of illnesses, traumas, broken bones and educational issues that I have known nothing about until it was too late. Apparently I have no need to know. So I guess I should thank my lucky stars and be grateful for facebook.

The important thing is my son is getting better every day. He was off the morphine drip much earlier than expected, mastered his crutches amazingly quickly and was back at home with his Dad sooner than anyone had dared to hope for. Of course once he was home I could no longer visit him (I have not seen or spoken to my ex since I had him screaming death threats down the phone at me four years ago) but I'm his mum, I'm just happy for him that he's home. He's even talking about going back to school next week!

For me it it was a week of emotional and physical exhaustion. I did not sleep at all that first night, I tried but I could not get the horrific pictures of how I imagined the accident to be out of my head. I know the stretch of road it happened on quite well and know the speeds cars often reach along that stretch late at night. That the car saw him just in time and was only doing 20 mph when it hit him is nothing short of a miracle. It could have been so very much worse.

Living so far away from my kids was my sanity saver when they were young. The hours spent in court, and the orders I was granted giving me full access, proved to be worthless and I went for months, sometimes years, with my ex refusing to let me see them. Frequently he moved without telling me and I would spend months tracking them down. (I'm getting rather good at that now. The last time he tried it I knew where he was going before he'd even booked the removal van.) If I couldn't see them anyway, distance didn't really matter and actually helped me come to terms with it all. If I had not been able to see them knowing they were only a few miles up the road, I think I'd have gone crazy.

But now they are older, and I no longer  have to work through my ex husband, it can be frustrating that I can't just meet up for coffee if they have an hour spare and its agony when something goes wrong and they need me. And as is always the case when something dreadful happens, it happened at the worst possible time. Financially we get by, but there is always that point in the month when although the bills are paid and there is food in the cupboards, actual cash is hard to come by. And sure enough, I received the news on the Saturday night with less than a pound in my purse and no money until Wednesday. Normally a few days without money is no major hardship but I've yet to find a way of filling the tank of our car with diesel without it. Under the circumstances travelling the 300 miles to the hospital was about as possible as flying to the moon.

I got there eventually, thanks to a loan from my Mum, and was relieved to find my son in good spirits, looking nowhere near as bad as I expected, and being spoilt rotten by the fantastic nurses who had definitely fallen for his cheeky charm. Much happier for having seen him, we packed ready to head home...only for my husband's pension to not go into the bank when it should. It has never been late before, not once, and yet there we were stranded away from home and unable to pay my mum back. The universe was conspiring against me, I was sure. And just to prove the point, I got a call from the Child Support Agency, which just about put the tin lid on it.

Any one who has had the misfortune to deal with those people will know they are a law unto themselves and they don't let little matters like truth, or fact, or proof, get in the way of giving one a hard time. This time they sank to whole new depths. The call came in from a 'withheld' number, the man calling refused to identify himself or the company he was from and yet expected me to hand over personal information, and then threatened me with being taken to court for non-compliance when I refused! I'm sorry but if you won't tell me who you are I'm not going to play ball, its as simple as that. Who in their right mind would give their address, date of birth and national insurance number to someone who refuses to identify themselves? Not me, that's for sure.

I don't deal very well with telephone calls, especially when it entails talking to someone I don't know. I know it's silly, but I get myself in quite a state if I know I have to call someone and will avoid it at all costs. Ridiculous, isn't it? Give me a microphone and a bus full of strangers and I could talk all day but give me a telephone and I'm a quivering wreck. Coming as it did at the end of a very traumatic week, I was even worse than usual. So when the increasingly rude and aggressive man on the other end of the line finally told me he was from the CSA I asked my husband what to do. Only to then be told I wasn't 'allowed' to talk to someone else while I was talking to him! Oh really? Then just to compound the issue he told me to tell my husband to 'shut up'. SHUT UP! Really! I was speechless. And fuming, really steam-coming-out-of-my-ears kind of furious.

I'll put up with a lot of things, often things I shouldn't, as I'm generally very mild mannered. I don't like confrontation of any sort. I'll apologise in an argument even if it wasn't my fault and I know I'm in the right, just to put an end to the argument. I rarely stick up for myself. I ignore lies being told about me, I step back from conflict, I walk away from trouble. I will stand up for others but not for myself. I never tell my side of the story. I bite it back, swallow it down, stifle the anger and the hurt and the frustration because to do otherwise has often seemed counterproductive. I have protected my family even if that meant being walked all over myself. But I am worthy of protection too.

So if the universe gave me a hard time last week, it also gave me a wake up call.

I'm not about to spill the beans. There are things that are best kept quiet and things I hope hope my children never have to discover about their Dad. I used to think 'one day the truth will out, they will work it out for themselves' but actually, I hope they don't. I'm not out for revenge, but what goes around comes around. One day he'll face consequences of his own.

And to him, or anyone else, who makes my life hard for the sheer hell of it, or spreads lies, or distorts the truth, or attacks those close to me, or belittles me, or rides roughshod over my feelings, know this...

From now on this witch is protected, and more than protected,

BEWARE, this witch bites.




 





Sunday, 19 February 2012

I'm Back

It has been, quite possibly, the longest week of my life. I'm exhausted, and then some but I'm slowly catching up with all the blogs I read and searching for wherever I left my sanity. What little there is left of it anyway.

I have poured myself a large glass of wine (homemade rhubarb, courtesy of my mum and step dad), and as tempting as a hot bath sounds after a long journey, I think I'm just going to drag myself off to bed.

At some point over the next few days I think I'll try to make sense of the events of the last week, and maybe even share my panic, frustration, hope, and joy (and sheer bloody mindedness). Maybe not.

I'm sure I'll be back to normal soon, or as close to normal as I'm prepared (or able) to get, but for now my bed beckons. I've really missed it.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Such Sad News

Words fail me.

I have just heard about the passing of Thomas Samoht, writer of the Westcountry Folklore blog; one of my favourite reads.

My heart goes out to his lovely wife and their young daughter.

A Dismissal, Of Sorts

I haven't been down to the beach this winter, quite as often as I'd like to. Partly because I haven't felt the call as strong as usual and partly because its been so damned busy down there. The mild winter we've been enjoying has meant the beach, *my* beach, has rarely been deserted. While it has sometimes been nice to sit and listen to the happy shouts and laughter of children building sandcastles or flying kites, it seems a little odd to see it at this time of year. It is far quieter than in the summer, obviously, but even so it has not been still, it has not been silent. Dotted here and there across the sand are family groups and friends joking, laughing, picnicking, all bundled up against the wind blowing in from the sea. My uninterrupted shore, my quiet time, has been hard to find this winter.

Yet still I went, when I could, to pick amongst the great line of tangled seaweed for bones and stones and shells. My kitchen window ledge is littered with driftwood and crab shells and tumbled polished bits of pot; a piece of broken plate, discarded and worn smooth in decades of ebb and flow. Bladderwrack hangs drying in the place of summer herbs and a winter sun casts tatters of colour across my wall from the glass floats hanging in my kitchen window. The sea, the shore, was not a distant thing to visit and admire, its spirit followed me home and sang to me. The shouts of long dead sailors and the crash of breaking waves, the gentle lap of warm tides and the roar of winter storms were familiar, soothing, expected, welcomed.

I would stand on the tide smoothed sand and wait for that one rogue wave to race further up the beach than any other, just where I stood, in welcome. And with my wet feet blessed I would, in that liminal place, feel the essence of the sea within me. I talked. She talked. Problems were cast to the waves and solutions rolled in on the breakers. Dreams were set loose on the tides and she ran with them, adding her might to them, holding them afloat to weather the storms.

And then one day, she said Goodbye.

'You are not of the Sea', she told me. 'You are of the woods, and hills and freshwater streams, it is there your task lies.'

Oh.


O.K.

I will always be welcome at the shore, I am told, and She will always listen. But there are no answers anymore. I need to seek those in steep, wooded valleys and high on the hills; no more can I feel the vast depths of the sea.

She is gone, but I don't feel empty. I don't feel alone.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Death in the Kitchen

A few nights ago I wasn't feeling too good. It was nothing really serious, just that aching, queasy, bleah kind of feeling that's impossible to put a name to. The thought of having to cook made me heave and the prospect of holding myself upright for any longer than necessary was not a happy one, so I admitted defeat and hauled myself off to bed for a very early night.

I know the Mad Druid checked in on me from time to time, and I was vaguely aware of him asking if I wanted something to eat. I grunted something from beneath the covers that I hope he interpreted as 'No thank you darling, but it was sweet of you to ask', but in fact was something rather less pleasant (which I won't repeat here, just in case he's reading this.) It was in that hazy state of not quite sleep that I slowly became aware, just on the edge of consciousness, of various clatterings and mutterings coming from the kitchen. This was rather an odd experience, and one which had I been feeling only slightly more 'with it', I would no doubt have put a stop to.

The Mad Druid rarely spends time in the kitchen. He might deposit the supper plates in the sink, or put the kettle on but that's about it. I am, maybe, just a tad possessive about my kitchen. He is only half joking when he tells people he has to go through passport control before he's allowed in. The kitchen is My domain. Mine, its all mine I tell you. *cackles*

And because it is mine, I can do what I like with it, put whatever I want in it, and I do. My altar is in my kitchen (the one I use most often anyway). There are jars of herbs (normal), flowers and thorns (less normal), dirt (odd by most people's standards) and bones (guaranteed neighbour deterrent) and that's just the tip of the iceberg. I have feathers and fancies, plants and potions, sticks and shells, bits and bones...did I mention that already?

Most of my dead things have come from the beach. Some are identifiable, some less so. All are welcome in my kitchen, their spirits have a home here. Collecting from the beach has its advantages, the bones are usually washed clean by the sea (OK, OK so I'm squeamish. Not a good trait for a witch but I admit it. Death I have no problem with, its the squishy bits I'm not so keen on. Go on, you can say it... lightweight! I know). It also means I can pass my collecting off as 'beachcombing'. Now isn't that all innocent sounding?  

I always show the results of my forays to my Mad Druid. He'll usually nick the driftwood for something he's making, admire the shells and seaweed, and raise an eyebrow at some long dead fish and ask 'what are you going to do with that?' The answer is always the same, I grin and say 'Kitchen!' To which he nods, with eyes that say 'Oh Gods, I hope it's not going in the stew'. I have never taken the time to explain, I guess I didn't think I needed too.

Which brings me back to the other night, when my feeble body forced me to bed and my husband to fend for himself. It's the longest he's spent in the kitchen at one time since we moved here 18 months ago. And as he stirred and waited and rummaged through the cupboards he had plenty of time to look around and soak up his surroundings. I think he got a bit of a shock because later, when my feeble stomach could finally face a little food and he ventured into the bedroom bearing tea and toast, the first words out of his mouth were not 'how are you feeling Sweetheart?' but instead....'What is it with you witches and dead things?'

And when I've finally stopped laughing I might just give him an answer.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Leftovers

There should be photo's to go with this post but I'm having problems loading them so I'm afraid you will just have to imagine the sticky mess my kitchen was in during my jam making session, and the yummy muffins (although if I'm honest about that, the lack of muffin photo's has nothing to do with the problems I've been having with blogger, and everything to do with having eaten them long before I thought about getting the camera out).

If there is one thing I hate, it is throwing food away. It is vulgar and unnecessary, and an unfortunate bi-product of our culture of over-indulgence. I grew up in a home where money was tight, meals were simple and nothing was wasted. I'm sure my Mum worried herself about providing for my brother and I and us not having the things she would have liked to give us, but you know what? I'm glad of that. It taught us that there are more important things in life than spending money. It also taught me how to rustle up something for dinner from nothing and how to make sure every penny spent was put to good use. They are skills I am very glad to have.

And so the thought of throwing away the sloes after making delicious Sloe Gin, pained me. It seemed such a waste. So I topped up the bottle with cider and watched the sloes work their magic once more. The Slider it created was thoroughly enjoyable (even though we probably didn't leave it as long as we should. Patience may be a virtue, but it's one I don't posses) and far too easy to drink. Which once again left me with sloes I was reluctant to throw away. After going through the handful of options I found on line I plumped for Jam, especially as I also had a few apples going soft and wrinkly in the fruit bowl. Stewing up the sloes and apples was easy enough, but then what should have been a relatively simple task of straining the stew through a sieve to remove the stones and apple peel became somewhat harder (and messier) when I couldn't find my sieve. It took well over an hour to do by hand, during which I somehow managed to cover the worktop, floor and me with sloe gunk. Despite guessing at the required quantity of sugar, I now have several jars of Slider Jam in my fridge which will hopefully see us through the next few months at least. Jam on toast is elevated from a humble breakfast, to a wonderful treat when you've made the jam yourself, and even more satisfying when the bread and butter are homemade too.

It wasn't just the sloes I needed to use up however. If you read my Holy Supper post at new year you'll know I made Rum Nicky in honour of the grandmother I never knew. For this I needed 12o/z of dates but having left all my grocery shopping until the last minute could only get hold of a 2lb bag. Now I'm not a huge fan of dates, they are not something I would usually buy, but they do take me right back to my childhood. My grandma always bought a big box of dates every christmas and the taste of them transports me back instantly to her cosy living room with a tiny tinsel christmas tree and black and white T.V. They were good days. And so having over a pound of dates sitting in my kitchen cupboard was just too much of a temptation and I often found myself absent-mindedly dipping in. Great for the memories, not so good for my waist line! I wanted to use them up, fast.

Having looked through my cupboards and the contents of my fridge I knew I also had a half of a large pot of natural yogurt teetering on its 'use by' date and a couple of over ripe bananas. (I like my bananas barely ripe and simply can't eat them once they've gone over though I know lots of people like them that way). It's been a while since I made muffins, so out came the muffin trays. I adapted a recipe I had for pecan muffins to the point where it bore no resemblance to the original and kept my fingers crossed. As the Mad Druid fell on them like a one man plague of locusts I think I can say they were a success. In case you want to try them, here's the recipe.

6oz (175g) Self Raising Flour
2oz (50g) porridge oats
1/2  teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
2 oz (50g) sugar
2 large tablespoons golden syrup (the original recipe called for 5 oz sugar but I was running low so used what sugar I had and topped up with syrup).
4 tablespoons of sunflower oil (recipe said 6 but I reduced that to account for the extra runniness of the syrup)
1/4 (150ml) pint natural yogurt (recipe called for buttermilk but I find yogurt works fine)
1 egg, beaten
2 mashed bananas
dates (I didn't weigh them, just used what I'd got left after snacking on them, I guess about 10 or 12 oz)
I prefer to use the old imperial measurements because that's how my grandma taught me, but I have included the metric for those more familiar with that system. I'm sorry, I couldn't give an equivalent in cups for my American readers as I've never managed to get my head around that system and am not sure how to convert.  *slaps own wrist* must try harder!
Preheat oven to Gas 6/ 200 C

Mix all the dry ingredients (flour, oats, bicarbonate of soda, sugar) and mix well.
In a separate bowl mix egg, yogurt, sunflower oil and golden syrup, bananas and dates.
Lightly stir the egg mixture into the flour.
Divide between muffin tins, then bake for 20-25 mins until golden.


I made 12 generous sized muffins but would easily have been able to stretch that to 18, had I been able to find my extra muffin tray, for a less calorific treat. As I said, they didn't last long but if you're more restrained than we are they keep well in the freezer and make an excellent, high energy snack for long winter walks.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Holy Supper- part two, finally!

When I first decided to participate in the Holy Supper Madness instigated by Ms. Dirty I expected it all to be fairly straightforward. I mean how hard could it be? All I had to do was cook a few dishes and share them with my dead. Simple, right? Wrong!

What started out as a simple plan for celebrating the Winter Solstice has led me a merry dance. I have been on a journey that has had more twists and turns than a Cornish country lane, more ups and downs than a roller coaster. It has been difficult at times and it has certainly been frustrating, but ultimately it has been fun, and it has been wondrous. The realisation that I knew very little about most of my family has led me to begin researching my family tree. I uncovered a few surprises and hit a few brick walls; it's an on-going project and will keep me occupied for many years I expect. I have had the pleasure of discovering my Great-Grandma's recipe book, and sampling its many delights and I have learnt that sometimes when plans go awry, they do so for a reason.

All the set backs in our plans meant we postponed everything until New Year's Eve, a date which has significance for both my mad druid and myself, and gave us an excuse to make two very special ladies the focus of our feast. The Mad Druid's mother left this world at the young age of 52; she would have been 84 on the 31st of December and my own grandmother died at the similarly early age of 56 on New Year's Eve 30 years ago. What better night to make them guests of honour at our feast?

And so it was that I spent the day of the 31st in my little kitchen, creating dishes worthy of our dead. My husband had asked for a sherry trifle for his mum as she had loved them, so for the first time in many years I made trifle, complete with jelly and sponge fingers and thick custard, just as we both remembered it from our childhoods, 60's/70's style, and I can't even begin to tell you of all the memories that brought flooding back! I made brandy snaps for my Grandma, she always made them for the holidays, they were something she only made for special occasions as it wasn't often she could afford to have brandy in the house. I loved to make them with her, curling them, still warm and sticky, around the handle of a wooden spoon to make a tube we could later fill with cream. I also made Rum Nicky, a Cumbrian recipe full of dates and ginger-and rum obviously- in honour of my father's mother whom I never knew and out of all my family is the one I know the least about.

Have you noticed that, so far, all I've made is deserts? And to think I thought I didn't have so much of a sweet tooth these days!

But the evening wasn't entirely sugar fuelled. I had hoped to make the Delicious sounding Hunter's pie from my Nana's recipe book but my finances were limited so that will have to wait for another day. Instead I made her chicken liver pate and farmhouse loaf, and some homemade butter to go with it. Together with the pickled onions my Mum made as part of our Christmas gift, it was very tasty and enjoyed by the living and dead alike. All washed down with my step-dad's homemade Sloe Wine, it was a joyful celebration indeed. I'm certain it was appreciated because as I was cleaning up the kitchen I found a shilling. The UK went decimal in 1971 but I vaguely remember being given a shilling each week by my Granddad as pocket money, in fact even long after decimalisation he still referred to a five pence piece as a shilling, a 10p as two shilling etc. He used to to hide our pocket money before we arrived each Sunday morning and my brother and I would spend hours hunting for it. It was such fun, for us and him. So you can imagine my surprise, and delight, to find an old shilling, as I was cleaning up, under the washing-up liquid! I think that counts as a big thumbs up from Granddad :)

We rounded it all off by going to see the fantastic firework display on the beach. For a small, and rather sleepy, little town this place really knows how to party.

And then home again to finish off my Sloe Gin.



Sunday, 1 January 2012

Rise & Root by Rima Staines

I've long been a fan of Rima's stunning work and her latest piece is no exception. Spread the word, Rise & Root is a wonderful message to start the new year with.