Winter Project ~ December

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It is that time of year, when cosying up on the sofa with yarn and needles is the perfect activity for increasingly frosty days. The cream-coloured socks were a request from Emily, and will be added to her Christmas stocking in a few weeks. I can’t believe that time is creeping up already! I thought I would still be knitting them at the last minute, but because they’re made of a thicker wool they were a lot quicker to knit up than I anticipated.

I do enjoy knitting socks. I like using the double-pointed needles. I like that you can watch them forming completely before your eyes as you knit, with no fussy making-up to do afterwards. I’ve already started on this bright multi-coloured self-striping pair… this time for myself.

I am linking this post with Jenny from Thistlebear, who is hosting a Winter Project Link Party. Do pop along to her blog to see her beautiful rainbow  of crochet butterflies, and maybe join in too.

x

Thistlebear

Candide ~ Voltaire

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This is a set book for my studies this year and also a book for my Around the world in 80 books challenge. Written in the Eighteenth Century by the French writer Francois-Marie Aroet, known as Voltaire. (Spoilers follow)

Candide, is a breezy, drag you along by the hair kind of read, full to the brim of energetic life. It is darkly humorous, sharply witty, absurd, as well as horrifying in places. Clever without a doubt, but not really the kind of thing I would generally read out of choice.

As a young man, Candide departs on his travels from the German town of Westphalia having previously been indoctrinated with the philosophy of optimism – that ‘this is the best of all possible worlds’. Yet, as he soon finds out on his travels, the author has created a world in which there is all manner of suffering.

While the subject matter is often shocking, Voltaire’s simple flowing prose style is a joy to read. I have to admire a book that dares to try to influence us in this way, to shake us roughly by the shoulders and say ‘wake up’, despite the exhausting ordeal a reader has to go through.

At the end of his journey it is ‘labour’ that is the saving grace for Candide and his friends. Each of the characters find their own particular role to play on their small farm using their particular talents such as pastry-chef, embroiderer, launderer, carpenter. Through his disillusionment and maturing, Candide discovers that through honest work a person can avoid the evils of boredom, vice and poverty. His final words that we ‘must cultivate our garden’ is free to interpretation. We might do well to pay attention to our own business, to do what needs to be done in our own little corner of the world, and/or to literally get out there and ‘cultivate our garden’ – maybe not to reject optimism outright, but that a more practical approach to living may be our best option.

Candide - Voltaire Penguin Classics Edition

Blackberry-Picking

Blackberries

Blackberry Picking
~ Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.


The day started cold so we wrapped ourselves in woollies and scarves. It was a little late in the season for berry-picking and I thought all the juiciest fruit might be long gone. It was clear many hands had been here before us, but we were lucky to come away with several bowlfuls.

The dry summer meant the berries were small and bead-like without the rain to plump them up. What remained were mostly ripe though. They fell from the branches as quick as we could catch them, hanging trapped in cobwebs or disappearing into the long grass. Trying not to get our fingers and arms scraped by the thorns we gathered as many as we could leaving the highest – a late summer feast for the birds.

One of my earliest memories is of blackberry-picking while staying with an aunt and uncle. It is a yearly tradition that’s followed me through life including taking my children as they grew up. It is one of those activities that reminds me how the years pass. The berries cycle through change – they flower, ripen and die – again and again, and yet still some things remain the same.

A couple of hours of picking and chatting to the passing dog-walkers we hardly noticed the sun breaking through the clouds and start to warm our backs. We shed some of our layers and set off home.

Unlike the narrator of Seamus’s poem, we collected our berries in tupperware pots. Not so aesthetically pleasing perhaps, but at least now the berries are washed and safely stowed in the freezer and not at risk of rotting.

If you’re looking for some recipes that will make a change from jam, and crumble and pie… nice though they are, of course… I’ve found a couple that I hope to try: this recipe for Blackberry Bread and this one for Traditional Blackberry Cobbler look simple and delicious. I’m off to go nurse my scratches.

 

Knitting in the Garden

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A few hours spent knitting in the garden. Is there any better way to while away an afternoon? I’ve been making a pair of grey wrist-warmers. I used the exact same pattern last year in a pair for Emily which I gave to her for Christmas. I knew I’d have to make a pair for myself eventually.

The pattern is based on the Wrist Warmers with Picot Edge by Drops Design although I made them slightly longer and left a gap in the side for the thumb. I used Annell Rapido acrylic yarn, which is lovely and soft and doesn’t have that slightly plastic feel of some acrylics.

So, I’m all set for the chillier days, or maybe I could do with a scarf as well? I have just got started on some knee-length socks – a request from Emily. But I would also like to crochet a blanket this winter. Decisions decisions – but the nicest possible kind.

The Evening Light

Fingernail Moon

In the evenings, I’ve been weeding and clearing the flower and vegetable beds, trying to bring a little order to the wildness and make space for springtime seeds and bulbs. The rain has softened the hard summer soil and the spade slides in with ease.

The air is still. Although I can hear the distant cars, there are fewer now, as most people are home from work and settling in for the night. I hear the slam of a car door and listen to the song of the blackbirds. A robin hops from fence-post to compost bin trying to attract my attention, chirping and flashing his berry breast.

The fruiting cherry tree was pot bound in its container so I’ve planted it out into the garden now and there are daffodils and other bulbs that need bedding before the ground gets too hard and cold. I’m sorry to say I’ve neglected the garden a bit this year – not cared for it quite as much as I should.

Once I get started though, I’m so engrossed in what I’m doing I barely notice the fading light – until I can’t see whether what I’m holding is sage or brambles – then I know it’s time to go inside.

A Crochet Cushion and Bedroom Makeover

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While Emily was away at camp in the summer, I re-decorated her room as a surprise for her. Her walls have been candyfloss pink for several years, and her tastes have matured so I decided to go with a clean white… with a little inspiration from her Pinterest boards. It was hard work, but at the same time, I enjoyed dropping everything else and focusing on just this one thing.

So in the mornings and afternoons I painted walls, ceiling and trim with several coats of white, I put up new shelving for her growing book collection and painted those – (the shelves not the books, of course!). I painted her mirror, and bought a new lamp and a lightshade made of grey-white shell, put up extra hooks to hang schoolbags and clothes on and new voile curtains. And in the evenings I crocheted! You can see her favourite bedcover above has a geometric triangle design in white, greys and coral and I thought I would try to match that with a cushion to go in the corner.

I was pleased to find a pattern for just what I wanted to make on this website: Solstrikke. It  took me almost the entire week to finish this pillow and I couldn’t get the final row of overlapping crab stitch around the outside to look quite right so I left that out in the end. But overall I’m pleased with it. I learnt to crochet just last year, and this is the first time I have followed an actual ‘proper’ pattern. After that I got a bit carried away with the crochet and made a freehand new cover for her desk chair.

To finish it off, I strung a row of white fairy lights from bookshelf to window and voila – all finished! A very tired, but happy girl when she got back from camp, and a self-satisfied mum who needed a week to rest from all the exertion!

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September Writing Prompts

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A little late, but here are September’s Writing Prompts. My daughter is back to school, my uni course starts back up again soon and I am enjoying getting back to the familiar routine of study, writing, reading, working, housework, that fills so many of my days.

I have been collecting words lately. When I read a book or a blog post, sometimes a word will stand out to me and I have a feeling I might have something to say about that. So I started to keep a little list of words in a notebook. Words that spark interest, are metaphorical or symbolic for something in my life right now, or something connected to the changing seasons.

It is one of the ways in which I coming to see that I have to find my own way to do this writing thing. For more years than I care to remember, I have been reading books and articles about writing. Goodness me, doesn’t everybody have something to say about it! So much advice. So much good advice. But often conflicting, and how do you know which is right, or at least right for you? Well, I guess you don’t, not without trying out what works for you. And when you try out enough different ideas, you come to see that there are other ways too. And you begin to listen to yourself a bit more. This is something I’ve not been very good at in the past.

So, here’s to September. A golden month, I sense. A month to discover your own way of doing things. Enjoy the light xx

In the Garden

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I’ve got a little behind with my blog posts. Not that I’m keeping to any kind of schedule, but I like to keep a record of the changing seasons in the garden and further afield.

So here are some photographs of the garden a few weeks ago, when most of the perennials were reaching the height of their growth. As you can see I don’t plan any formal arrangements, and a lot of the plants here are wildflowers. I don’t have loads of time to spend in the garden keeping it neat and tidy, though I could do with being more methodical. I do prefer the wild and slightly unkempt look of old English gardens.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Quite frequently a certain plant will get ideas into its head that it wants to take over the entire flowerbed – the purple deadnettle or forget-me-not are notorious for this here. I just pull up big sections and they all settle back and work together… for a while.

Having lived here for over twenty years, you get a feel for what grows well and what doesn’t in your soil and position. It’s important for a garden to be given time to settle into its own cycle. You never know what is waiting to emerge. So many of these plants have arrived from seeds blown on the wind, or dropped by birds. Some, like the poppies, only appear if you’ve turned the soil the previous year.

A lot of patience is required to allow a garden to reveal itself to you, rather than try to impose your own ideas on to it. In the beginning I bought a lot of plants from a garden centre which, while pretty and unusual, had the effect of upsetting the balance here. They didn’t look right, they took a lot of extra care and attention, and most of them failed to thrive.

I suppose it is more of a partnership – you work with the garden and it works with you. Though I don’t do a lot of planting now (I work with cuttings or reseed what is already here), it is best when I plant the native British species that suit this soil and micro-climate, or at least those that have been easily and readily naturalised (These orange and yellow Californian poppies seem to love it here. They are not invasive and easy to pull out if I wanted to – I don’t🙂 ) This way, I am less likely to be disappointed in the long run, and the garden seems to evolve in a more healthy way… better for the plants, and better for the gardener!

Life’s Little Pleasures

Flow Magazine and Womankind Magazine

Do you subscribe to any magazines? Although I don’t buy any on a regular basis, I do like to pick up a magazine from time to time. A food or craft publication in the run up to Christmas, or a few in the summer holidays to read on the train, or at the beach.

A couple of my favourite UK magazines are The Simple Things and the crafty Mollie Makes, but this summer I was delighted to discover, a couple of new (to me) magazines that were love at first sight!

The first is Flow magazine. This is a Dutch publication that celebrates ‘creativity, imperfection and life’s little pleasures’ and includes beautifully decorated papers that you can remove and use. It is not overwhelmed with adverts which usually turns me off a lot of magazines, but includes well-written articles and inspiration about artists and what it is to live well. It is like a breath of fresh air – as if to say – here – take some time to play and look after yourself.

The other is Womankind magazine from Australia. This one is ad-free – what a welcome relief. No subtle pressure to buy anything, but a wealth of interesting reads that encourage us women to reconnect with those things that give our lives meaning and enable us to live wisely. The design is absolutely beautiful (just to look at the illustrations and photographs is enough) and each issue is themed on a different country. The one I bought recently was based on Egypt and includes articles such as what we can learn from the ancient Egyptians about Living more Wisely, The Chore Wars, Letters from Cairo, The Lost Queen, The Curse of the Pyramids, On Duality, and Goddess of Nature.

I’m beginning to sound a bit like an advert here myself, though I am not affiliated with either of these magazines. I know they are in the business of making money like any other magazine, but I think these two have really made this kind of publishing into something meaningful and worthwhile. There was no icky feeling that I was being manipulated, or sold the same old same old with just a different catchy title. So I just wanted to recommend them, and if anyone else has any other recommendations of magazines that are similarly original and genuine, I’d love to hear about them.

‘The Mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.’

~ Plutarch

Summer in the Kitchen

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Blueberry Muffins

Thank you all so much for your comments on my last post. I have not been well and Jay has also been ill with a nasty flu bug and it is so nice to read your words. They really do cheer me up when I’m not feeling so great.

After writing that post about finding rhythm in routine, all of that got thrown out of the window this past week. Is it just me, or do you find that the minute you write about something, events arrive in your life to prove it all wrong?

Still, one place I always come back to is the kitchen. Preparing food is such an integral part of our lives, one I’ve not always accepted whole-heartedly. I do enjoy eating good food of course, who doesn’t? But I do sometimes resent having to spend so much time cooking. This then brings on the guilt. That little voice in my head that tells me how I ought to be grateful for having the means to buy and cook healthy delicious meals for me and my children.

Taking the time to pre-plan meals and to use fresh healthy ingredients goes some way to making the job of cooking every day more enjoyable. We are lucky to have a greengrocer’s in our nearby town and I am able to get lots of fresh fruit and vegetables at often very low prices.

I tend to buy what’s available from season to season, but to be honest our diet doesn’t change much from summer to winter. We like what we like. And I lean towards meals that are quick and inexpensive. Apart from the inclusion of more salads and uncooked meals in the summer, our diet is mostly fish/chicken and vegetables, frittatas, pasta, homemade pizza, wraps, risottos and casseroles/stews. My children love spicy mexican dishes and roast dinners so I cook them occasionally, and prepare something lighter for myself. I’ve been eating less meat, bread and pasta lately and feel much better for it.

In the pictures here are some blackcurrants and redcurrants picked from the garden and pepper and goat’s cheese frittata. My mum gave us a couple of bunches of magic purple runner beans from her garden which turn green when you cook them and taste just the same as ordinary ones. I found a recipe for Creamy Chicken and Green Bean Pesto Pasta, which everyone in the house loved. I think it may be the first time I’ve got Jay to eat green beans! There was pesto and vegetable pizza, juicy watermelon  (one of the very best things about this time of year) as well as Blueberry Muffins and Apple and Cinnamon loaf cake.

My neighbour generously gave me a large bag of rhubarb. I’ve never been that keen on rhubarb so have been searching for years for a recipe that I actually liked. I think I have found it in these Rhubarb and Strawberry Crumble Muffins – a recipe I stumbled upon on the Quince Tree blog. Sue has some incredible recipes on her blog, which is where I found the above pictured Pineapple-Chilli Salsa – an easy and healthy addition to so many meals, and only takes a minute to make!

As I was writing this a baby thrush flew in my living room window and gave me such a fright. It flew around the room then straight back at the window. I flung it wide open and it flew straight out again! I am thinking it might be a sign that I need to spend more time out of doors🙂

So, I’m glad to be feeling better and hope to catch up with all your blogs soon. Emily has gone away to Soul Survivor Camp today and I have secret plans to redecorate her bedroom as a surprise. Though I may have overestimated my ability to get it all done in 6 days! I’d better get to work🙂

Apple and Cinnamon Cake