Bits and Bobs · Uncategorized

The A-Z of me

A couple of weeks ago some of the very talented writers in the Irish Parenting Bloggers group started writing A-Z’s about themselves.  As ever, I’m a bit late to the party, but was tagged by Clare who writes at The Clevs to add mine, so here goes!

A  One of the things that infuriates me is apathy.  I really can’t get my head around the mindset of people who have no interest in what’s happening in the world, or who just sit around and whine things are bad but do nothing about it.  Drives me demented.

B All I want in life isBooks. Well there was never going to be anything else for B really was there?  I have everything in this list except not enough of 5 and 11 and will always need more 12’s.

Chocolate, crisps and cake, three of my biggest weaknesses when it comes to snacking.  I’ve never tried to make crisps or chocolate, but love to make cake……. These were my first attempt at hot cross buns (before baking)DSCF3332

D  Dandy Walker Syndrome, the rare neurological condition our beautiful daughter was born with nearly eight years ago.  Becoming a parent for the first time changes your life in ways you could never have imagined, but this diagnosis (which came prenatally) took our lives in a direction we never knew existed.

E  I love elephants, no idea where this came from or why but I just love them.

F    I can’t remember when I first heard the word feminism or discovered what it meant (and then went on to discover how it has many different interpretations) but I vividly remember the first time it was used in a derogatory sense towards me. Yes it was the classic “You must be a bra-burning feminist then” when I expressed an opinion aged 15 in the school library that I didn’t think it necessary for women to change their surname upon marriage.  F is also for Fionnuala, my amazing and adored daughter.

G  On a good day (and today is dry at least!) I can easily spend an hour just sitting in the garden listening to birds and daydreaming.  A great way to switch off.

H  my truly wonderful husband. Falling in love with him changed my life in ways I could never have imagined, and has enriched it immeasurably. And following on from F above, I didn’t take his name when we married. As he put it so well when talking to another person “She has a perfectly good name of her own.”

I  Imagination  – mine is always on the go.  Sometimes it would be nice to turn it off for a little while.

J  Growing our own fruit and veg has made me come up with ways to preserve our bounty.  Jam is something I made rather a lot of last year – gooseberry, gooseberry & elderflower, blueberry, marrow & orange, marrow & ginger, blackberry & apple (ok that was jelly).  I haven’t entirely got the hang of it yet but there’s a nice feeling in seeing the jars all full and neatly labelled.

K  One of my forms of therapy is knitting.  I don’t claim to be very good at it and I’m not terribly fast, but I enjoy it and it helps me to relax and unwind.  Apart from when a pattern goes wrong and I curse it to the pit of hell.

L   Liverpool, a city very dear to me and the football team I’ve supported since I was 6 years old. The latter fact played a small part in my choices for university applications and I’ve never regretted going there as a very nervous fresher 23 years ago.  Great city, great people.  I ended up staying for 10 years.

Money.  Like many people I spend a certain amount of time having to think about money and usually how to make it go further.  I’m not however motivated by it and have zero desire to accumulate a lot of it.  Once I have enough to meet my living expenses I’m not bothered about having more.  Here’s another mindset I can’t understand: people who have made more money than they could spend in 20 lifetimes yet they carry on making more.  WHY???? A certain wealthy businessman who lives in Malta comes to mind here.

N Current affairs, politics, news, I’m a news junkie.  Two daily newspapers, the news/current affairs radio programmes, never miss at least one evening news show on TV.

O   I hold very strong opinions on a lot of topics and am not afraid to express them.  Sometimes this annoys people. See F above.  However, I maintain – well I would wouldn’t I ? – that my opinions are as valid as anyone else’s.  And hopefully better thought out than some.  I am working hard on listening better to other people’s opinions too.

P  powerPower. I had some fascinating discussions and arguments about power and its meaning, use and abuse while studying community development last year.  Still pondering this one through but I think its something we hand over way too easily.  And see A above.  

Q  As a child I asked questions constantly.  Why this? Why that?  Why does…. ? why doesn’t…….?  I keep questioning, always will.

R  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet apparently.  They are my favourite flower, apart from yellow ones.  They don’t feel or look right to me.

  Being by the sea is one of my favourite places.  It doesn’t matter which sea or where I’m near it.  But I wouldn’t want to live on the coast  – I like to keep it as somewhere to go for a treat and to relax.

T  I was never that keen on or interested in gardening as a child and teenager (probably not that unusual) but developed an interest in growing food around the time I really learnt to cook.  This would be 20 odd years ago now.  Over the years this has deepened and now we grow some fruit, some veg and herbs.  So why is this not under G for garden or F for food?  Cos deep down I really want to be Barbara from The Good Life!! Love the idea of self-sufficiency and hope to make more moves in this direction.  The Good Life

U University.  Sometimes I feel I didn’t make enough of my time at university.  Don’t be too surprised if I end up at one again in the not too distant future!

V  Vino. Red for preference.  There is something incredibly relaxing for me about sipping a glass of good red on a Friday evening.  A good way to start the weekend!

W  Walking.   I have started to walk between 4 and 5kms every day, don’t hugely enjoy it (I could be at home reading a book!!!) but I can feel the benefits so will persevere!

X  Xenophobia – the fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or their politics or culture.  That is the definition from the online Collins English Dictionary.  I cannot, and never could, understand prejudice.  Its the most frightening mindset out there and I do my best to challenge it when I hear it.

Y  I’ve only done Yoga a few times, but every time I have loved it and found it a great stress reliever.  I would love to incorporate it into my weekly routine somehow.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz  I love my sleep and I love my bed!  Curling up in there with a good book is a great pleasure.

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A Year of Living Seasonally · Living the Good Life · Parenting

What is seasonal food?

As some of you may have read here before, I have been undertaking a project which I’m calling A Year of Living Seasonally. It occurs to me typing this that I haven’t written much on it in the last couple of months – is that possibly something to do with the quietness and hibernation-type elements of winter? Maybe. Living seasonally – for me anyway – means being more aware of the seasons , more aware of the changes that each new season brings and one element of that which interests me is food. I love to cook and to try out new recipes, I love to eat, and I will happily read a good cookbook in the same way that I would read a novel. Or any half decent book come to that.

But back to food. Food, glorious food! I do most of the cooking and food shopping in our house and try to ensure we eat a range of different foods. We also grow vegetables and fruit and this year I am determined to plan our eating more around what we can grow for ourselves. We don’t have any animals (yet!). I am fairly choosy about the food I buy on the whole – 90% of the meat we eat comes from our local butcher’s shop who not only sell meat, they also have their own abattoir and as they are also farmers, produce some of the meat themselves. I buy very little heavily processed food, yes on occasion we do have takeaways, and yes on the odd occasion we eat with our daughter in fast food outlets (I cannot bring myself to term them restaurants), but overall we try at the very least to be aware of what we are eating. I am hoping to get hold of Joanna Blythman’s new book Swallow This, soon which may well be an eye opener for me.

So tying all of this into my Year of Living Seasonally project, I began to wonder what is seasonal food anyway? I would understand it to be food that is naturally ready for eating at any specific time. In terms of fruit and vegetables, it is those which have finished growing and are ready for harvesting. With regard to meat it is that which has grown to the stage at which those people who eat meat consider it ready to eat. Pulses, nuts, legumes, same as fruit and veg I would have thought. I have a feeling this year of living seasonally might change my understanding of what is seasonal food and might see me trying out some new foods.

I’ve been doing a bit of a declutter of late and I realised I have stacks of cookery magazines, many of which I’ve never even read. So this morning I decided to start looking at them. I started with Country Kitchen, a British based magazine. I freely admit I was seduced by the title and the tagline which reads “Cooking with traditional, seasonal and fresh food.” It’s interesting to realise that I’ve been thinking along these lines for years but have never done anything much about it. Country Kitchen magazine (I’m not sure if it is still in publication) listed the foods that were in season (presumably in Britain) every month. As I live in Ireland, the seasons are much the same as those in Britain so I’m going to take these as a starting point. I compiled this into a list of my own. (I love lists) Some of it was quite fascinating. To take this month – March – as an example, they say the meat currently in season is rabbit, spring lamb and venison. You won’t get rabbit or venison in any shop in my town (a small town I grant you) and round here unless you shoot or know someone who does, you’ll be hard pushed to get them. On to fish. Wild salmon, oysters, mussels, sea trout, razor clams, scallops and elvers. How easy are these to get hold of for most people? With the exception of the sea trout they are not easy for me that’s for sure. Fruit? They say apples, pears, forced rhubarb are all seasonal. Yes, I’d agree on the rhubarb, although I’d question if forced rhubarb is really adhering to having in its natural season. We have rhubarb in the garden and this year’s new leaves are just beginning to emerge. We don’t force it, never have. Apples and pears? Well if they are stored well from last year then I suppose they could be called seasonal. And what vegetables are supposed to be seasonal this month according to the magazine? Beetroot, purple sprouting broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, chicory, endive, garlic, kale, leek, lettuce, nettle, onion, scallion (spring onion), parsnip, potato, radish, seakale, sorrel, spinach,squash, turnip. Hmmm. I might not be thinking about seasonality the right way. We have grown many of these in our garden and none would be harvested around now. Garlic and onions yes we have had our own supply of those harvested the previous autumn and still using in spring (not this year though, last year’s onions and garlic didn’t do so well)

So is something considered seasonal if is still available from storage? That I am not sure about. I just discovered a lovely website Eat the Seasons which looks at all of this in more detail, and gives recipes too. While I am clearly still learning about what exactly constitutes seasonal food, I can make sure that I buy food produced and grown as locally as possible. I will not be buying strawberries in March, or asparagus in April, not unless the Irish seasons change dramatically!

A Year of Living Seasonally

A few things I wasn’t expecting to see today

leaves changing colours in autumnAs part of my Year of Living Seasonally project, I am going to try and spend more time outside observing the seasons and their impact on my surroundings. All too often I spend time outside rushing from one place to the next, or working at something but not really BEING outside. So around noon today I spent about 45 minutes in my garden, just looking, listening. Much of what I saw I expected to see, falling leaves with such a glorious spectrum of colours from green to gold to copper to every shade of brown and finally to black before they decay completely. The last few vivid yellow berries on the rowan tree in the middle of the lower garden, a contrast to the vibrant blue sky. The starkness of branches no longer clothed in leaves but standing naked in the November garden.
Autumn leaves falling Yellow rowan tree berries against blue sky

However I also saw a few things I wasn’t expecting to see: a buttercup in flower, a dandelion holding on to its last few seeds, rose buds on my daughter’s rose bush. Today is November 3rd, Samhain has passed, according to the Celtic calendar we are now in the season of winter. But how much can we take the changing of the seasons for what they used to be? Last week (the last week of October) was incredibly mild, both here in Ireland and in parts of England. I saw a news report from the Tower of London with people in tshirts and shorts. It was 24 degrees!!! It wasn’t that warm here, but average temperatures here last week were around 16 or 17 degrees. Yes, while people were commenting on this, no one seemed terribly surprised. Our climate is most certainly changing. What will living seasonally mean in thirty years time?

A Year of Living Seasonally

A year of living seasonally

I’m not sure exactly when or why the idea of living seasonally took hold with me but I’ve been thinking about it for the last few weeks. It occurs to me that for all that I live in a rural part of the world, and grow vegetables and fruit and mark certain calendar occasions, I am a bit distanced from actually LIVING seasonally. So what do I mean by living seasonally? If you Google the term ‘living seasonally’ a lot of sites come up, many of them to do with food – cooking seasonal produce and not using food that has been shipped halfway around the world just so we can have strawberries and asparagus all year round. Other sites focus on the natural cycles of night and day, of the moon and of the seasons and how they can impact on our health and wellbeing. I found Mountain Spring Herbals very interesting on this front. There are a number of sites which look at the idea of living seasonally from a homesteading/simpler life perspective. One I like is Little House in the Suburbs, escaping from the Rat Race has long appealed to me and its no surprise that The Good Life has long been one of my favourite TV programmes.

But back to living seasonally. How many times do you find yourself saying “I don’t know where this year has gone” or “How can it be [insert relevant month here] already?” My beloved and much-missed Granny always said that time – and by this she meant the years – passed more quickly as you got older. At 43 I now understand what she meant. I am frequently running to catch up with myself, always jumping from one project to the next, never taking time to really stop. Anyone reading this who knows me well is well aware of this! But I’m getting tired of that and I need to change things a bit. So for the next year I’m going to live seasonally as much as I can. You could call it living in the moment either I suppose. As someone who is fascinated by history, by myth and legend my head spends a fair amount of time in the past. On the other hand my involvement in my community and interest in politics keeps my head looking to the future a lot. None of which leaves a whole lot of time for the here and now.

My version of living seasonally – and this is just what suits me, its not a prescription for anyone else to follow – is to spend more time aware of the seasons, of the changes. Over the next year I will try to spend some time outside every day. I will explore ways of marking certain calendar dates and rituals that appeal to me, without strictly adhering to any one belief system. I will try and eat more seasonally (and hopefully better). Cooking is no hardship for me, I love trying out new recipes and new ingredients. I will observe the physical changes each season brings to my little piece of the planet. And I will come on here and share it all with you!

I’ve titled this post a Year of Living Seasonally which implies this will finish in a year – 365 days, 12 months, 4 seasons whatever way you like to mark the passage of time. That is my plan. I’m starting this project in 2 days time – this is just a little taster – when here in Ireland and in other countries too – it will be Hallowe’en, or All Hallows Eve. But it is also the festival – or cross quarter day – of Samhain, which for many marks the start of the Celtic New Year. Many of the Pagan or Wiccan persuasions also mark this festival as the start of the year.

Now I could here get into a whole big long discussion about how we mark the passing of time and how dates and calendars are somewhat artificial but I won’t (I might come back to that in the future though). Suffice it to say that I like this time of year – the start of the darker half of the year, the approach of winter, the end of the harvest season and I like to mark it as the start of a new year. (I mark the more usual New Year in January too). Its a time to reflect, to rest, to ponder the quietness and the darkness that winter ushers in. That’s what I need to do right now. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it.

the wheel of the year the cycle of the year
A Celtic Calendar

100 Happy Days

Positive thinking and 100 happy days

I’ve never been great at the old positive thinking lark. A few years ago two people each separately gave me copies of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. It was a few months after our daughter had been born with physical and intellectual disabilities and I was – to put it mildly – very low and stressed. I have always had a bit of a weakness for self-help type books (especially space-clearing and feng shui) so I figured I’d give this one a go. ‘Cos it had to be a good sign that two people who didn’t know each other both felt this might help me, right? Wrong! Couldn’t finish it. It is extremely rare for me not to finish a book even if I think its garbage, but I really couldn’t plough through that. The whole ‘think positive and you will get what you want in life’ never really sat well with me and even less so at a time when all I really wanted was for my beautiful baby girl not to have disabilities. It just seemed too simplistic somehow. I know it works for a lot of people, just not for me.

Anyway, a few days ago I spotted friends of mine posting up all kinds of pics on Facebook and tagging them #100HappyDays. Being the incurably inquisitive person that I am I asked what it was about, then googled it. (Should that have a capital G? Never sure.) And its all about encouraging people to see what is in their lives that makes them happy. Well that’s my understanding of it. Find out for yourself – 100 Happy Days. The idea is you take a photo of something that has made you happy each day and share it on social media and over the 100 days you become more aware of what makes you happy and how much there is already in your life that makes you happy. I think that’s the idea anyway.

Well I liked the sound of this so I’ve signed up. And my first photo was this one strawberry planter

Its a strawberry planter I bought years ago and used for one season. So today I planted it up with brand new strawberry plants and thought about the strawberry jam I’ll make later this year. (Even if its only one jar!) And you know what? That did make me happy. Life can be painful, cruel, unfair and immeasurably stressful at times. But if I can find one little thing each day that makes me feel genuinely happy, then that has to be a good thing.

Right now I’m sitting at my kitchen table mentally patting myself on the back for having grabbed the half-dry washing off the line before this downpour started. Happy? Hmmm, maybe. Happy that it’s now drying on the clothes horse and not getting steadily soggier on the line. Happy that there’s two less loads of laundry waiting to be done. Not jumping around the house shouting for joy happy you understand, but yes, a quiet kind of contentment. I’ll settle for that right now. (Oh and I’m happy that I’m back blogging after a few stressful months. Did you miss me?)

Books · Living the Good Life

The good life – and books good and well, less good

Ever read a book you were immensely looking forward to and ended up disappointed?  It happened to me recently.  I’ve been interested in self-sufficiency, the good life, living outside of the system, whatever you want to call it, for years now. While I’m not in a position to adopt that kind of lifestyle at present (and maybe never will be) it doesn’t stop me daydreaming and thinking about it.  In the last couple of years I’ve been reading accounts by and about people who have done this – or similar things.  And some of them have been fascinating – Carol Drinkwater’s series of books about her olive farm in the south of France enthralled me and I’d recommend them to anyone.  Some I stumbled across and didn’t expect to enjoy; Rosie Boycott’s Spotted Pigs and Green Tomatoes was one such. Review of it here (originally published as Our Farm).  As well as a highly enjoyable account of how she and her husband set up a smallholding near Ilminster in Somerset, it is a passionate call for people to realise the impact of supermarkets on small towns and communities and for us to think more about where our food actually comes from.  Rosie Boycott isn’t the first to write about such issues of course, but her book is so well written that it is easy to engage with the arguments she makes and you get completely swept up in Ilminster’s battle that the book becomes something of a pageturner.  So that was one book I loved although I wasn’t expecting to.

In much of my reading about self-sufficiency I came across many references to Scott and Helen Nearing, considered by many (and rightly so IMHO) to be the pioneers of the concept of ‘The Good Life’ The Good Life Center.  Intrigued by the story of this couple who built their own houses by hand, who gardened, who lived out of the system to a large extent, I ordered their books and looked forward greatly to reading them.  Now, my life being what it is, I waited for a time when I could read the books properly, not having to rush through them and read them bit by bit when other commitments permitted.  So I finally got round to them over the last couple of weeks.

Imagine then my disappointment when I read them and didn’t enjoy them.  Don’t get me wrong, they are quite interesting and full (sometimes too full) of useful detail and information for anyone who wants to live that life.  But oh my word the books are so dry and so puritanical.  You never get a sense of how they FELT to be living this way, what they thought, whether they had any struggles.  The life they describe comes across (to me anyway) as humourless and austere.  The word ‘dour’ (especially when said in a Scottish accent) sums it up perfectly.  Don’t misunderstand me, I admire what the Nearings did and I can see how and why they have inspired so many to try something similar.  But oh did life have to be so devoid of fun????

I read ‘Living the Good Life’, ‘Continuing the Good Life’ and ‘Loving and Leaving the Good Life’.  And they’ve all gone to the charity shop…… I hope someone else enjoys them. I really wanted to and I didn’t.  Ah well.