I never thought I’d hate the snow. I always loved to see it as a child and as an adult. Up until today really, ok I never liked driving in it but today the few inches we have had have really pissed me off. Why? Because it meant that my daughter’s school bus couldn’t get through this morning and she couldn’t go to school. That ordinarily would disgruntle me a little but I’d get over it, but today she was supposed to be going back after having been off sick for two weeks. Now I know children get sick and its all part of being a parent etc. etc. but it is somewhat different when the child has special needs. Obviously the level of need and its impact varies considerably from child to child but in our case, Fionnuala cannot walk or stand unaided. She cannot take herself to the toilet and has only a limited ability to feed herself. She has about 50 words and a few short sentences she uses correctly but a sizeable amount of our communication with her is by guessing what she is trying to day. That can be very frustrating for both of us.
Keeping her amused over the last fortnight has nearly driven me round the twist. She is not a hard child to amuse – as in there are plenty of things she likes to do – but what I have found hardest over the last fortnight is not the extra lifting and carrying (and my back is paying the price) or the extra nappy changing, feeding etc. combined with lots of nose wiping and medicine administering. No it’s the lack of what I can only describe as headspace. Not being able to sit and read a newspaper article in one go because I have to sing Baa Baa Black Sheep again. Not being able to do my community work or historical research, not being able to listen to a radio programme because Fionnuala wants to watch CBeebies (and the house is not big enough for both to be on simultaneously), not being able to think clearly because I am being asked to read every 10 minutes (and it’s the same damn book every time), just not being able to read, write, research is driving me mad.
Being a wheelchair user means that taking Fionnuala out to play in the snow is not really an option. She can’t run around in it to keep warm, she can’t make or throw a snowball, she doesn’t understand what snowmen are about.
But it’s no one’s fault. It’s no one’s fault Fionnuala was off sick. It’s no one’s fault that the bus couldn’t get over the mountain this morning. But I don’t cope with it very well. After the last two weeks I was so much looking forward to F going today and when the bus escort rang to tell me they couldn’t get over the mountain I felt like screaming. I know that this is how things are and I know that I am lucky to have her here (and I really do KNOW that) and I know that her level of need is much less than some other children with special needs. I know all that. I also know that I have to just get on with it. Generally I do. I don’t have a choice of course, but generally I just pick myself up and carry right on. Some days it feels like it’s never going to end. I do wonder sometimes how other parents of children with special needs keep on going.
I am very well aware I am lucky to have such a beautiful adorable loving daughter, an amazing husband, a warm comfortable house, enough to eat, books to read, a good brain, access to TV and internet. I just want a little bit of headspace too. Today is not a great day. Hopefully tomorrow will be a lot better and I’ll be more cheerful and write a nice cheerful post. But there are days when it all just feels like crap. And today is one of them.
Today is 1st February, and traditionally in Ireland this was considered to be the first day of Spring. It falls midway between the winter solstice (21st Dec) and the spring equinox (21st Mar). It marks the turning of the season and is the feast day of Brigid, whether you see her as a goddess, an aspect of the Mother Goddess or the Christian saint. There is a lot I could – and will – write about Imbolc and what it means to me, but that’s for another post.
Imbolc and the arrival of spring signal renewal, rejuvenation, a fresh start. I love watching for the first spring flowers. The spring bulbs are peeping through all over the garden, such vibrant shades of green
I haven’t heard of any ritual foods or dishes associated with Imbolc, but Brigid in her Christian form is the patroness of sheep, and an alternative name for the day, Óimelc, is thought to denote the time of ewes coming into milk. The new lambs are always a welcome and lively sight in spring too. This feels like a cleansing time of year – hence the spring clean? – and when thinking about Imbolc this morning I decided to make some lemon curd. Lemon is one of my favourite flavours and scents and the clean tang of lemon appealed to me in keeping with freshness. So after a couple of hours in the kitchen I came up with some lemon and some orange curd. You can see the lemon here. The orange didn’t set quite so well but still tasted great! I made an orange sponge cake filled with it.
For dinner I settled on a Darina Allen recipe, Winter Beef Stew – well having a winter meal and a spring inspired dessert seemed as good a way as any other to mark this turning of the season. There is still some snow on the ground, and the gritter went by earlier, but it is spring. Its time to move out of the reflective, restorative period of winter and move into the renewal, rebirth of spring.
I’ve been a bit busy of late but my Year of Living Seasonally project is still ongoing. Its now late November and my attention has been turning to Christmas but it occurred to me the other day that November gets a bit of a raw deal in terms of calendar celebrations, occasions etc. Musing this over a cuppa I was reminded of Mary Feely’s piece in the Irish Times earlier this month. Here in Ireland it would be fair to say that November is seen by many as a nothing month, or a month to lay off drink in order to gear up for December, or more recently a month when a lot of men become decidedly hairy in a good cause. But in terms of seasonal living and thinking, there’s not a huge lot going on. I grew up in England where “Remember remember the 5th of November” meant huge excitement with bonfires, fireworks and in our house a dinner of baked potatoes and sausage rolls. As a child I was more excited about Bonfire Night than Hallowe’en. Its not marked over here and I still kind of miss it. Ah well.
After reading the article linked above I started thinking about the American holiday of Thanksgiving. I’ve never celebrated or observed it, not being American, having never lived with an American and having never been to America (yet) and so I don’t pretend to be an expert on it. But from what I understand its to do with giving thanks for the harvest (please do correct me if I’m wrong) and that quite appeals to me, again its the idea of marking a turn in the year. So I think I might have a go at doing some kind of a Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve asked a few American friends for the essentials of such a dinner but I’m open to all suggestions! So any Thanksgiving veterans out there, do please share your meal plans/recipes etc with me, I’d love to hear them.
As part of my Year of Living Seasonally, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to changes in the weather and the impact of that on our garden and surroundings. Well November so far has been quite mild and very wet at times and there hasn’t been a whole lot to observe. I am sure you would all get bored with me writing about getting wet in the rain again! But this morning – finally – there was a real sense that winter is here. We woke to the first real frost of the winter and I had a very strong sense of change in the air. The air was beautifully clean and crisp, not so cold as to take my breath away but sharp enough to feel invigorating. The sky was a perfect canvas of blue and the grass crunched as I walked over it. Finally winter is here! I’ve always liked clean cold winter days and today was just a perfect example.
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.