Sunday 30 December 2012


This post has been a long time coming. Its been trying to. I've been trying. Its been twisting and thrashing like a tormented snake that's been cut in two pieces and is bleeding in fragments on the garden path. Do snakes even bleed? Anyway, its this post that's been thrashing, desperate to be published....Me, I've been deep in a strange, lethargic torpor, which has precluded any creativity, save a rather rushed and lumpy doll named Jo for Leo's Christmas present.
Every evening I sit sullenly, thinking vaguely I should write something, every evening I do something else. Like go to bed, or wash up, or make hot chocolate, or read a magazine....or make a lumpy doll. There are so many things to do when you're feeling like you can't explain how you feel.

 But  you know, the relief I feel to be even writing this far is huge, it's as if  a part of me that has been sleeping for three months is slowly stretching, yawning, stepping out of bed and trying out the world again, even with the tip of a toe.

Of course I have been in the world a bit, I even went Christmas shopping once, I cook, I took Tansy and Leo to a local home ed group, I feed the goats and chickens (did I mention we have goats and chickens?) There's a lot I haven't mentioned.

Like the fact that our house burned down.

In fact I think I'd better say that again, just in case anyone didn't get it the first time, just to make sure I get it.

Our house burned down.

Not just a little bit down, or partly down, or in any way retrievable or salvagable down, but completely down.
It was built of wood you see, built by Hugh who worked every day for four months to make it.

It was a middle of the night waking to see flames licking round the woodburner sort of fire; it was a naked screaming grab the kids and run barefoot into the wood fire; it was a dash back in the dark to see if the phones and computer could be saved and no it was far too fucking hot fire; it was a drive down the track sobbing to escape the exploding gas bottle and leisure batteries was sitting in a fire engine wrapped in  blankets and realising I had my period and all my handmade pads had gone, it was drinking hot chocolate and eating porridge at our neighbours in borrowed clothes and shoes too big.....

It was that sort of fire.

The planners had spotted us you see. For anyone who isn't on intimate terms with the planning laws in England,  if you build an 'illegal structure,'  ie our home, to have any chance of getting planning permission you need to prove that you can not only earn significant amounts of money from the land, but you also have a 'functional need to be there overnight'. Now we did have our plans. Plans for goats, plans for cheese, plans for herb products, plans for a yurt based retreat for bereaved families. It's just that we hadn't reckoned on being fully operational quite yet, we wanted to finish building the house, let Fred have his own room at last, finish cladding the walls, that sort of thing.

 But the planners had other ideas, they spotted us, we got a letter, a visit was scheduled for two weeks hence. Two weeks to go crazy. Two weeks to not sleep for writing business plans and financial projections, two weeks to change our bedrooms into a barn to minimize the impact of our dwelling, two weeks to start a small holding, build shelters, sort fencing, buy goats, milk goats, drive the length of the county to bring back 20 rare breed day old chicks. Hmm, the chicks. Marsh daisies and Jersey giants. Very cute, rather smelly. Our very lovely planning advisor suggested using our newly acquired ex-bedroom barn space as a chick raising area. Do it the old fashioned way round the wood burner, a functional need to be on the property every night if ever there was one. Chicks need constant monitoring to ensure they don't get cold and die.Well they didn't get cold. Their pen got too close to the burner. We were lucky to escape with our lives.

The fire happened on the night after the planning officer visited. We relaxed for the first time in two weeks. We relaxed for the last time in a long time. I don't know if lethargy and inertia count as relaxing, it sure doesn't feel as refreshing.

We find things. Tarnished silver spoons; distorted reindeer cookie cutters; Leo's patched trousers, hanging inexplicably on a briar nearby; fragments of a blue and white plate which was my ninth birthday present; sodden charred lumps of books, beguiling half phrases leaping out of the ashes to twist our hearts in two; 'Little House in the Big Woods'..'all was cosy in the little log cabin as the snow blew around.....' ....'and Noah and all the animals wept salt tears because the unicorns were gone for ever...'

I think the unicorns did leave that night, I certainly haven't seen a whisker since. And there are no owls in town either, floating feather light in their ghost cloaks, no foxes screaming down the moonfilled valley, only street lights and garden gates and next door's illuminated santa.

I really miss our home.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Birthday boys

Its birthday time in our house. September is busy that way. Leo and his dad, Lily and her dad, Leo and Tansy's granny, Fred and Lily's step mum...yeah its complicated.....and busy!

We kick off with Leo and Hugh, who share the 8th and a love of boats and fishing. So guess what we did...grabbed the canoe, and a kayak for Fred and went out to sea again.

We had a late start. The birthday table for starters...laid out lovingly the night before with cloths and flowers, candles and presents, paintings and cards. Then there was the bowl of raspberries dropped on our doorstep by our lovely neighbour Ruth which inspired me to whip up an enormous batch of banana pancakes with cream. That took some time. Then there was the birthday song, composed by Fred and me while wandering round  the National museum Wales  in the summer holidays and performed live in the sitting room. And did I mention we didn't get up until..hmm about nine o clock?

Finally the vessels were strapped on the car and, as the veteran of one whole sea canoe trip I felt pleasantly excited rather than mildly terrified like last time.

The sea was calm and clear as a green marble and we canoed hungrily from Paignton to Brixham for birthday pasties with five turnstones and several gulls.

And birthday cake...

There were no fish biting this time, and the youngest birthday boy nearly slumbered over his fishing line. His newly acquired five years (is that right? My youngest child five?) not enough to carry him through the long paddle home! 

It's always strange to have the two boys share their birthday, working out a cake suitable for both, staying up late to finish paintings and birthday stories, trying to find a day suitable and acceptable to both. So far Leo has not ever had a party, his birthday activities centre around crabbing and water based activities, fishing puppet shows, boat shaped cakes etc.

It's also a strange time because there is always the knowledge of Lily's birthday just days away and what do we do about that?

I usually try to put it out of my mind while I prepare for Hugh and Leo, and then there are the days that follow when dove and angel cards start to appear  in the post and I start to think about the horse cake I made when she was two.

But for Saturday it was the boy's day

And two of these....seals for those may struggle to see...made their day!

Monday 3 September 2012

All change!

Well, I've been wanting to share this with you for a while, but I couldn't tell anyone until I'd told the kids.....No I'm not pregnant, we're not moving house, but we are about to start something I have thought about and read about and wanted to do since I started having children nearly fourteen years ago........

We're planning to home school our two youngest, Tansy and Leo, for a trial period of a year, with the get out clause of jumping back into school if any of us emerges from the year with lasting scars...

Why the change? We've already moved from a state primary school four years ago when Freddie and Lily were nine and six, to a Rudolf Steiner School which everyone melted into as if they had never been anywhere else.  This is not the post where I will be discussing the merits of Steiner schools. Suffice to say that we have learnt alot about child development and how they learn in a heart centred, non pressured, nature orientated environment, and we have no criticism. Bar the fact that apart from the lovely Hereford and Stroud schools (and shortly Exeter) they are not free. As in they are fee paying.  Hmm. (Anyone work out one of the reasons we have been living in yurts and caravans and wooden cabins for the last, uh four years?).  And they take up lots of time .Kids only become full time at steiner schools when they are ten....which for parents  with more than one child means a bewildering array of different pick up times and lots of driving.

But really, the point is that, as we are living in the woods and starting to have plans to buy goats, chickens, and start all sorts of exciting new projects, isn't it better for them just to be at home and learn here? Because really, that's where kids have always been....until the Industrial Revolution pushed everyone down mines and into mills, and there was a sudden urgent need for mass child care and a compliant work force. Enter compulsory education. That's why schools as we know them were invented folks. And they still do the same thing, create a compliant worker (consumer) and provide mass child care so we can earn (buy) more.

We were very very lucky that the Steiner School did only one of those things, ie provide child care, but still....How many times have I torn my kids away from some wonderful imaginative game to hurry and dress for school? How many times have I curtailed a  story, or a meal or a walk in the woods or a trip to the beach or a visit with friends...because the kids have to get to bed to get up early for school? When Freddie was small, and at state school, I even remember dragging him in from the garden where he was drawing and labelling the vegetables in his notebook yes, you guessed it, to go to school. Where he screamed to stay with me and fell asleep on the carpet after lunch. Insanity.

There's the worry of course that I won't be up to it. That I can't teach my kids to read and write. Don't I need to be qualified? And when I sit myself down and examine that, I realise that my kids have learned to walk, talk, dress themselves, eat cleanly, prepare food, knit, sew, saw firewood, weave, ride bikes, swim, sing, dance, play, care for animals, garden....with ME. Or their dads.

Tansy could probably teach herself to write, she's already got her own notebook where she copies the label off the tahini jar!

I have things I want to do, too many creative projects fizzing away, and I am concerned about my available time being eroded, but, who knows, I may even end up with more time than before .I have bouts of patience and gentleness and great storms of impatience and annoyance..How will it go? I 'll let you know.

How about you? What's your experience of schools, for your kids..or even for you?

Friday 24 August 2012

But someone might die!

Last weekend, something wasn't right. I woke up on Saturday with my day planned out. Admittedly it wasn't particularly thrilling....getting a mammoth laundry into buckets, catching up on craft projects, mending, a walk, some firewood... But I was happy to have a quiet day at home and felt content.

At breakfast, Hugh bounced in,
'let's take the canoe out to sea and catch some mackerel' he cried
Tansy and Leo dropped their porridge spoons with a clatter and started cheering and something in me contracted. I reasoned that it was my day's plans being disrupted, however dull!
Sandwiches were busily prepared and our canoe strapped to the roof of the car. I plodded on with my laundry, conscious of dragging everyone's mood down. Adult bickering commenced.

The car wouldn't start. After a lengthy effort with jump leads and a neighbour's car we were off, my mood becoming blacker and more morose the nearer we got to the sea.

'Can't we just canoe down the river as normal?' I may have said, a few times.

We parked up to unload the canoe with the intention of moving the car to a pleasant spot that doesn't cost £8 to be there.
We unloaded the canoe. The car wouldn't start. No money for parking. My back was having one its low days and I wasn't relishing carrying a big canadian canoe several hundred  metres to the sea. In a rather untimely way, I started to fret about suncream, which we had forgotten, on one of the two days this summer when it's actually been sunny enough to need it. I started to fret about carrying the canoe with a bad back, and about having to call the car rescue service at the end of a long day in order to get home.  I mentioned canoeing in the river again, until it was pointed out that as the car wouldn't start and we were at the sea, this wasn't an option.
Adult bickering continued, with renewed intensity.

I ran off to the cash point to get parking money and calm down. I was feeling really really anxious. I considered going off on some adventure of my own after visiting the cash point.  I felt unhappy and obstructive and I knew everyone was getting frustrated with me.

While I was waiting in the shop to buy a newspaper to get change for the parking, I idly glanced down at the headline on the local paper which sat on the counter.

'Record number of rescues by lifeguards this year off the coast of Devon......parents are being warned....the sea is a dangerous place....etc'
Boom! Of course. That was why I was feeling so anxious it was like I had a ball of wire in my stomach. I was afraid another of my children was going to die.

There's something about the sea, perhaps because I was raised by land loving, sea fearing folks, that scares the hell out of me. Its majestic, beautiful, inspiring, breathtaking, but my childhood was punctuated by drowning dreams and I've never been someone who would pull on a wetsuit and go tearing head first into an enormous wave. Unlike my seriously water obsessed-grew-up-a-minute-from-the-beach partner.

I will happily swim about in a very calm sea on a warm day, and I love collecting shells and I don't mind going on a ferry, but a little canoe, out to sea, with my children?

Visions of them being thrown from the boat and tossed about in dark stormy waves filled my eyes with tears and my heart with terror.
You see I have seen Death. Head to head with the terrible awesome finality with which it strikes. The speed, the shock, the suddeness, just another sunny day with the kids. Pottering about, eating pancakes, thinking vaguely about what to do next, washing up, then I'm in an air ambulance with my daughter in a coma, then I'm in a hospital ward with a dead daughter.

And I can't be the relaxed chilled mum any more who thinks everything will be fine and things like that don't happen to us only to other people and usually only in the newspaper or at least in another town.
Because they happen to anyone, any time without a moments warning.

But we're still here. We survived. But we are changed.
If some one is later than they said they'd be and hasn't let me know they're ok, I'm not very relaxed.
Walking on a street or a pier or a river bank with small, impulsive, quick children is hard for me and my shoulders drop when we are away from traffic, deep water, danger.

Back at the carpark, I tried, not very eloquently to say that I was anxious, but I was shown the flat, calm expanse of water ahead of me and promised a calm, quiet, windless weather outlook for the afternoon.

It was, in the end a lovely day, of which I took many photographs which unfortunately are on a memory card somewhere around Brixham harbour, being nibbled by fish. My muscles gradually smoothed themselves out, we picnicked on a beach with egrets and oyster catchers nearby, Tansy and Leo caught seven silver mackerel, and I swam in a beautifully cool refreshing and calm sea. It  wasn't dangerous, it was really really lovely and I've got to just keep doing stuff even though I'm terrified.
 Because I'm alive and I've got to live. And so have my kids

Wednesday 15 August 2012

The alchemy of food

Some days I'm just plain bored of cooking! Do you feel like that sometimes? I love cooking and place (rather too much) importance on the regular production of delicious nutritious meals....but...sometimes I just can't be bothered.

 I'll be just getting my teeth into chopping a huge mound of ash logs up for the winter and ... it's that time of the day again. Or I walk into the house at the end of a long day out with cranky hungry children and not a clue what to rustle up, or we've all just snuggled up on the sofa with some knitting and stories (it's that kind of summer in Devon) and ....well exactly. Sometimes I wish we could all just not eat for a day or two, just so I don't have to think what to cook.

But then sometimes I build up to an enormous crescendo of baking, churning out bread pies, biscuits, quiches....just to make it worth turning the oven on. When I was a kid one of the greatest sins was putting only one thing at a time in the oven...I don't think I have  really ever grown out of it, and of course it does make perfect financial and environmental sense!! And about three quarters of the way through the enormous crescendo, where everyone has decided to get fully involved, dinner is still a long way off and my tiny kitchen counter is a jumble of dirty dishes, chopped vegetables coated in flour, and four unfinished baking projects, I realise I'm not having fun anymore. I'm flustered agitated, snappy and  flushed and I just want to throw everything in the compost bin and run into the woods. The words, 'I just need to get this finished now and would you please go and play?' have been uttered, sometimes not so nicely, and with little effect.

It doesn't feel very nourishing.

And neither was yesterday's dinner, a pale unimaginative pasta that felt like wading ankle deep through mud, with some over steamed cauliflower and tofu. That was sort of how I was feeling when I was cooking it and it showed!

So I was surprised today to be making pasties, having torn myself away from the ash logs and the sofa, and quite enjoying it. It was late, Tansy and Leo were fighting over cleaning the rat cage out, and coming in periodically to drop rat cleaning rags into the sink near where I was working. I was tired and a bit grumpy. Conditions were not favourable. And I was uninspired by the thought of little cubes of carrot and potato going into my pasties yet again. Things were teetering on the edge of spiralling downhill rapidly when I found an enormous bunch of chard in my veg box and started chopping it and singing all twelve verses of Green grow the rushes oh! You don't know that song? Tansy and Leo were involved immediately and all rat issues were forgiven and forgotten. But tell me just who were the Rivals and the Lily white boys? Or the Proud Walkers for that matter?

So the chard went in with some sauteed onions and some chopped celery....Hmm chard and goat cheese would be a better bet, a hint of nutmeg? A zest of orange? Some raisins and toasted hazelnut? Buttery short crust pastry. Suddenly I felt like I was creating a bit of magic. I was enjoying myself, I twirled Tansy round the kitchen...(mainly to distract her from her current wobbly tooth which was quite literally dangling by a thread and spitting blood everywhere) the spices and fruits married in the pan in a fragrant mellow nuttiness, the dough baked to buttery perfection, melting goats cheese..mmmm!

That's how to prepare food!
You know it's strange, everyone ate much more calmly tonight, everyone went to sleep quietly.

Have you ever seen the film Like Water for Chocolate? It was always one of my favourites, although I haven't seen it for years. I have always longed to cook quail in rose petal sauce with as much love as Tita did.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Healing Flowers

Its summer! It's sunny! At last at last!.

For those of you who live, like me in the UK, it's time to celebrate the return of the sun. I had genuinely forgotten what it was like to not take a raincoat, I had forgotten that it is in fact possible to hang clothes outside to dry, I had forgotten how it is to wriggle my toes in warm wriggles in dry hot earth. I had forgotten that feeling that prolonged hot sun gives you, which makes you think that sitting outside doing nothing is actually quite productive.
We're harvesting flowers. Not my  home grown produce which has gone the way of the slug this year with too many absences and busy times on my part to keep on top of them.The slugs I mean. My harvesting is all wild this year.

A few days ago we returned from a family retreat locally where I held sugar free baking workshops and Hugh led bushcraft  activities. We felt nourished and energised by living in community and sharing our skills even for such a short time. (the sauna helped too!) Unfortunately we also brought an eye infection in the form of raging conjunctivitis back with us.
Tansy woke unable to open her eyes and when she did they were red and swollen. It took ten minutes of gentle bathing with warm herbal tea to unstick them.

I have some favourite herbs for eye infections and luckily, the only thing that is growing with any enthusiasm in my garden at the moment is one of them.....chickweed. Stellaria media, the little star. It's one of my favourite weeds and I always have a hard time digging it out of my beds. I make chickweed pesto in spring and by this time of year its lush soft greeness is beginning to straggle and I'm starting to think about pulling it up. I'm so glad I didn't.

Step number one in treating conjunctivitis.

Chickweed poultice.
Cut the soft tips of the chickweed and discard any stringy stems.

Place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. I added some calendula petals too.
Leave until cool enough to lay the vegetable matter over the eyes without any risk of burns, although it should be as warm as possible

Lay on eyes and cover with a cloth if needed to prevent drips running into the ear!
Leave until cool or until patient leaps up shouting  'that's enough Mummy', and races off to play.

Step 2
Eyebright lotion.

Usually I have some shop bought eyebright on hand at all times but due to house moves etc, my herb  jar was empty. I asked Hugh to pick me up some in town but it was on errand too many. Disgruntled, I stomped off for a walk onto our neighbour's land, a steep hill which rises up on the opposite side of the valley from our land, grazed by several shire horses. Well I'd never noticed that the entire hill is practically covered in eyebright! It's a tiny plant, so close to the ground and delicate it's very easy to miss. It's semi parasitic, so very hard to cultivate in the garden and seems to favour grass closely cropped by horses or sheep.

I made up an infusion with eyebright, elderflower, chamomile and plantain, and bathed her eyes in the warm solution as many times as I could in between chickweed poultices. I also used it to unglue her eyes each morning laying warm cotton wool soaked in the solution on her eyes for five minutes.

Step 3
Internal immune boost.
Basically, I added a few drops of shop bought echinacea tincture (my plants are nowhere near being ready to use!) to the eyebright and elder mix and gave it to Tansy to drink throughout the day.
I also chopped lots of raw garlic to add to her food to fight the infection.

Finally, we are obviously paying good attention to hygiene and sleep.No touching eyes or sharing wash cloths, and early bedtimes

It feels nourishing to be helping her this way, searching out the herbs, taking the time to lie down in the day for the treatments...Tansy said this morning, 'it's quite nice to rest with my eyes closed and not be able to see anything.'
I really believe that sometimes illness has such teaching to offer us. Yesterday I had plans to dash off in the car in an effort to do 'holiday stuff' making the most of the hot weather. It would have involved hideously complicated juggling of the car with Hugh's work needs, and after glancing at Tansy's eyes I decided to stay at home.

We had a picnic by the stream, collected hay left by the farmer, found baby frogs at the pond and waded through the mud, collected some firewood, did some beeswax modelling, sewing, gardening and an early bed....

It was a challenge for me to let go of beach plans and relax into being at home, the kids showed me how, they don't think further than the minute they're in.

But we are off to the beach today!!

Thursday 19 July 2012


Its been hard to keep this space alive recently. I have ideas tumbling over each other to be written, but somehow, something always gets in the way.
The computer battery runs out.
The fuse in the plug which connects the computer to the solar power is broken, and keeps breaking every time I replace it.
A child I thought would be at Kindergarten is ill and my writing time disappears.
It is late at night and although everyone is finally asleep, I am so exhausted with the day, I have no energy to write.
I wake early to write before everyone else is up and, suddenly everyone else is up!
I could write in the toilet....but there's always someone who needs to go.....

There is no separate space in our house where I can write. Our bedroom is even in the sitting room!
There is too much else to do.
And so on.

I could go on.
But it's fast turning into a boring list of complaints and that doesn't achieve anything.

It is intensely frustrating. Sometimes I feel like giving up on the whole thing. Maybe my life style...heating huge vats of water over the fire every time I do laundry or want a bath, living in one space with kids and a partner,  just isn't compatable with writing. You see it's not just the's the articles all lining up in draft, its the half written books languishing in notebooks around my bed.

I love writing.
It's one of the most satisfying things I can do.
But it always comes last.
The bottom of the pile.
I always feel guilty when I ask for some child care so that I can write. Like its an indulgence, something that's worthless, to be apologised for, quickly squeezed into guilty time at the end of the day, or round making a gourmet lunch.
I always put my partner's work first. I put my children's needs first.

No wonder I'm not getting round to it.

It's time to make some decisions.

We've just come back from a festival and two days before we went, I devoted one entire day to washing. No kidding. The kids were at school, it was my writing morning, and I was lighting fires outside, heating vats of water, scrubbing, rinsing, dodging rain, bringing laundry in and out from the washing line, lighting another fire inside so I could actually dry the damn laundry....a whole day.

Is this how I want to spend my time?
Well, actually yes and  no,

When my kids are at home, and I have a small laundry load, I like to light the fire with them and sit around it scrubbing, chatting, getting them to help fold and mangle the clothes. That feels good and empowering that we can do it ourselves.
But hours and hours devoted to a task which is eroding time when I can write? No!
Time struggling in the rain lighting a fire to heat water because if I light it inside we'll all melt? No!

When I lived in a yurt for six months with four children and Leo still in (washable) nappies I came to a sudden realisation about the lack of women poets, artists, writers in history. I was finding it hard  to find time to send a text message. And it wasn't just was almost impossible to sit down at the end of a day hauling water, firewood, outside baths, cooking on camp stoves, keeping rats at bay and the school run.....and compose articles and short stories calmly by candle light.

So do I have to choose between a low impact lifestyle and writing? Well, driving to a friends house to write isn't exactly doing my carbon emissions any good is it?

Maybe I'm using it as an excuse to not write and avoid the fear of rejection. Possible.  If I can justify my time by producing swathes of clean, hand-laundered clothes and lovingly prepared food and neatly chopped firewood then I don't need to write. I can let myself off the hook.


So I need to start taking it seriously and find a balance.

  • Do some hand laundry, IF I WANT TO, and explore options for setting up a shared washing machine nearby. Ask for help. Visit the laundrette.
  • Don't feel the need to fill in spare time by making endless healthy snacks, raw sweeties, dips and breads for the family.
  • Get the solar system functioning, so I have enough power to do internet stuff for more than half an hour!
  • Get myself some indoor writing space that I don't have to drive to, and that isn't our kitchen/sitting room/bedroom. It could be a hand built cob house with stained glass windows, it could just be a little caravan.
  • be firm about getting some time and space to write...and when I get the time...just write.
Sounds easy eh?

Sharing all this makes it far more likely I'll get on with it....I do  love writing in this space and I don't want to give it up. I do want to publish books..and I just need to get on with it. (more about this another time)

I think we can achieve pretty much anything if we really want to, and decide that we can.  The practical obstacles, although they often seem insurmountable, are often the easier ones to overcome.

What are the obstacles in your lives lovely people?
How do you overcome them?

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Lilies and Roses

The scent of lilies is particularly intense this year. It might have something to do with the fact that there are three bunches of them dotted around our small cabin.
This time of year.
It's the month of lilies and roses
The month of my Lily Rose.

The fragrance is strong and sweet and lingering. As if it doesn't want to let us go, or let us forget. Maybe we don't want to let go. I bury my nose in the open lily blossom and inhale and inhale. It's the scent of the first few days without Lily when swathes of lilies descended on our home, when baskets of rose petals were collected by her friends to surround her coffin.
It's the scent of loss and love and strange sweet mourning. It reminds me of the days when Lily was still recent. When I could still say, 'Last Tuesday I took Lily to the dentist' or, 'Lily and I made beads last weekend' even though I knew she never would again.
Pots of lilies, bunches of lilies, cards decorated with lilies, we were submerged in their scent, their cool sweet petals which withered and dropped one by one as the days went by.

And this morning was the sickening smell of rotting flesh in Tansy and Leo's room. A dead mouse festering under the bed. I am generally the corpse remover, with a torch, a trowel and a long stick to manoeuvre the bloated body, fat and pulsating with maggots. The mouse tumbled into a makeshift and careless grave in the wood while I tried not to breathe.
It's hard for a bereaved mother to have to dwell on these realities of ravaged and rotting flesh. I try not to, I try not to connect the two, but my mind is pulled back to it, the little black demon at the corner of my brain clawing at me with his piercing talons,
'where's your daughter now? what happened to her?
It's easy to forget that everything will be like that, every lily petal, every mouse, every beech tree, every chicken, everyone you've met today. You. We are protected, shielded and disconnected from the physical reality of death and  its hard when you come face to face with the physicality of our corporal mortality. It's just flesh I guess, there's more to us than that..our bodies are the transitory container for our souls, it's just hard to remember, when all we think about is material stuff. 

After the mouse, I emptied all the flower vases. One was a cottage garden bouquet from my mother, long past its best except for a beautiful full blown pink rose with a delicate scent. Discarding the decaying flowers, I gently lifted the rose out, intending to put it in a little pot next to Lily's photo on the table. But as I rescued it, its petals tumbled off softly, like falling snow. I was left with a dried stalk in my hand. It was such a stark image that I gasped, but even as the tears sprung to my eyes I spotted what I had missed before, a perfect unopened rose bud still hidden in the old bunch...a promise of new beauty just waiting to begin its fleeting life.

No loss is ever without its gift .

Thursday 14 June 2012

Not what I'd planned

This post is not what I'd planned. The last two weeks were not what I'd planned.
 I started writing a post a week and a half ago...a poignant prelude to the date in June which creeps up insidiously every year. The 11th. My daughter Lily's anniversary.
 The post is still half written in draft and I just tried to finish it but can't. Maybe I will finish it.
But not yet.
In June I try to give myself some space. To think, to write, to remember, to feel, to connect, to plan a quiet meaningful day for the family.
 But then Tansy started being sick.
And then sick some more, and more, and more for day after day every time she sat up or moved.
My three boys left on an annual men's camp on the rain, thinking she had a bad bug.
I was feeding her teaspoons of home made raw goat milk yoghurt, slippery elm gruel with banana, chamomile tea, an electrolyte mix of salt and honey.....
It was just me and Tansy in our cabin, in the rain.
I don't usually go to the doctors, I will, if needed, but I love to treat my kids with herbs, healing foods, rest, massage, hot teas and sofas by the usually does the trick.
She was sleeping more and more and so thin.

I carried her to the doctors in my arms in torrential rain. She was sick.
We were referred immediately to hospital for tests.
I carried her in my arms across the hospital car park in the pouring rain. She was sick.
We were there a week.
Level 12, the children's ward in a side room. High above the city in a little white room far from our woods, far from herbs and healing foods.
Five terrifying hours waiting to go for a brain scan.And get the results.
She lay flat in the bed barely moving or speaking and I carried her to the toilet twice a day and she was sick.
In those five hours I wondered what was going on with my daughters. I cried, I crocheted furiously, I looked across the grey rooftops of the vast hospital complex and wondered why, on Lily's anniversary I was in the same hospital I came to in an air ambulance three years ago. Would I lose another daughter? Why was I not being allowed to have my girls? My mind created all the horror it possibly could and stirred it into an evil brew of fear, terror and sorrow.
The consultant caught me in the corridor.
The scan was clear.
She has a non permanent neurological condition which makes her lose her balance and coordination and vomit when she is upright. It gets better.. quite slowly.
And she did start slowly, to get better. She started to smile. And talk...quite slowly and deliberately as if she was tasting the words for the first time in her mouth . She smiled more, to compensate for lack of words..lovely melting smiles when she wanted another oatcake..or some purple bedsocks from the hospital shop. And she was so hungry...even for hospital food. Really.
We learned that she could eat sucessfully if she lay down and didn't move for an hour afterwards. Then she started to sit up without keeling over.....
And then she stood up, shakily...

And so it goes..we are now home and things are the same and things are different. She is walking like a gigantic toddler, falling without warning, dashing towards me in a little rush to reach my arms before she topples. I have to watch her. All the time.
Everyone is adjusting to mum being around again..I'm not often away... but in some ways it's been a gift.
Apart from the terror of those days when she was really ill and I imagined the worst, I found that I could do nothing for a change. I couldn't go far....a run up and down the hospital stairs two or three times a day to buy a newspaper or some fruit, and then more sitting in the little white room. I looked out of the window, I crocheted, I read, and as Tansy started to improve we just hung out together. We don't ever get to do this. Just us two. I noticed things about her I hadn't noticed before. We laughed at how you can tell who was approaching by their shoes....doctors clip clop and nurses trudge in soft soled shoes. We commiserated at the hourly checks on her drip all through the night. It wasn't all bad.

And as always it was love that kept us going....messages from friends..little cards, offers of food, kindly nurses, other parents on the ward. It is very easy, even after what happened to our family three years ago, to become wrapped up in the material rush and grab of our lives, to forget, to think that all our little daily worries are important.
Again we've been set back on our heels and shown another way forward. Time to reflect, time to face fear and loss in the face and see their sharp teeth, time to slide between the teeth and find the connection to others. Time to feel the love of neighbours, friends and family. The time to support a mother weeping because her daughter was moaning in pain after surgery, time to share stories with another bereaved parent over coffee in the ward kitchen.
That's what I learned. There is time for that. Time for each other.
And that's what's important.

Tuesday 22 May 2012


Life is so fast. I've really started to think about this recently.
On Friday I was sitting in a lay-by on the edge of the A38, a busy dual carriageway in Devon at peak time..around 6pm.
While I waited for Hugh to fiddle around with the surfboard he had strapped on to the roof, I just kind of gazed out at the traffic in an unfocussed sort of way and suddenly I felt as if I was in some sort of Dr Who style parallel universe. Its hard to explain. When I glanced at the road ahead and the cars moving away from me, everything seemed pretty normal, but when I looked out the side window at the cars moving directly past, things started to get scarey. Maybe its because I live in a wood where things are kinda slow, but suddenly the speed was terrifying. Try it sometime. Stand at the edge of a busy road and don't look left or right, just let the vehicles run past your eyes, and you get a true impression of just how quickly we drive.

Humans aren't actually meant to move that fast.

 I knew that already, but I hadn't felt it before. We're really not. We can run, and walk and stroll and creep and swim and skip and dance, but cars, they just make us go faster than we should. It makes us do things we don't need to, just because we can. Like just nipping somewhere unnecessary, like taking a job with a long commute just because we can....
Sitting there in the lay-by, it didn't seem possible that there were living, breathing, feeling human beings in these metal boxes shooting past. Of course, five minutes later when Hugh had finally finished adjusting his surfboard, we launched ourselves back onto the road at 70 miles an hour dashing down to Cornwall, and we were still feeling sentient beings, and yet.....There is something very dehumanising and frankly odd about this daily strapping ourselves into fast, isolating containers and hurtling around. The thing is, it's so easy not to think about it because it's just become part of our daily routine
 Our lives are so fast and each day we cram more and more in until we feel burnt out, stressed, irritable and conscious of an uneasy feeling that things were not really meant to be that way.
Are we happy with them being that way?
Are you happy? I know I'm not.
For thousands of years horses have been as fast as we've moved .

The wind on our skin, the scents of spring on the air, the colour of a butterfly's wing and the voice of our friends on the path, the blood pumping through our hearts.
 Not in a car.
When I was 15 a friend pointed out that once you get behind a car window it feels ok to stare at people, to criticise people we see, to shout at them for some perceived driving weakness. The glass screen makes it ok. Them and us.
Oh dear I'm about to run out of battery and I'm rushing to finish this post..rush rush rush rush.

I feel a bit odd writing this as we have a car, which one or both of us uses most days. I guess we're all on a journey `to do the best we can and awareness of the problem is the first step.
We're moving towards the second step.......but that involves some information I can't divulge for a little while longer.
 Until then I'm planning to walk when I can.
Stop when I can.
Breathe when I can....well actually all the time.
Be still when I can.

How about you? Do you thrive on speed or yearn for slow? 

Friday 11 May 2012

squirrel and lime leaf sandwiches

No really. Veggies read no further...

It was a fresh road kill that Tansy wandered in with a couple of days ago cradled in her arms (with her dad...she's not quite old enough for solo foraging expeditions!) and it was the day after Hugh flourished a beautiful duck at me when he came in at ten at night.
We mourned the loss of two lives, the soft grey fur, the beautiful iridescent feathers and webbed feet, and blessed them and gave thanks for the fact that they would not be wasted.

We eat meat about once a week usually, and only organic and that feels right. Local, wild, killed anyway meat seems even righter. I regret not taking any pictures but we were so caught up in the moment that it didn't even cross my mind.

A cold east wind blew up the valley so we plucked and gutted the duck inside in a flurry of feathers. Tansy and Leo chose beautiful feathers to keep and helped to pluck the downy breast feathers. They saw the scarlet, spongy lungs and the burgundy liver and heart, they saw the blood wash away, and the transformation between a soft feathered bird and an oven ready piece of meat.
 I was glad they could see that.
 They know in their bones what meat is. They know how to prepare it. They know it can be a creature that flies and runs and feels pain and has babies, and looks very cute when it sits in the trees outside and nibbles a nut held between its paws or dabbles upside down in the pond.

They are connected to the meat and there is something very special about that.


We roasted the duck for Sunday lunch and later I made a risotto with the bones and the pickings of a foraging expedition around the wood.
Ground ivy, Herb Robert, Primrose, Dandelion, Lime leaves, Hawthorn, Ransoms, Bitter cress, Sorrel, Nettle, Water mint, Beech leaves, Violet leaves, Yellow archangel. It was a vibrant meal, I could feel the wild energy zinging around my taste buds.

These plant have strong tastes. Tastes that make a lettuce leaf seem like a soggy rich tea biscuit. They have grown in the rich nutritious soil of the woodland,  small and concentrated parcels of wild vitality and vibrations. Their potency and energy are palpable..a little goes a long way. That meal, it felt as if we were ingesting a little bit of the wild wood into our bodies and souls, the duck, the herbs...a special meal.

Hugh pan fried the squirrel the next night and actually, I lied, there wasn't really enough left for sandwiches the next day but it made a good title and we did consider it (It was humous and Lime leaf really..try Lime leaves if you're not used to wild foods, they're mild tasting pleasant introduction to the world of foraging! Lovely in sandwiches or salads.) Leo was going to bed at the time of the pan frying and was quite upset at missing out, so we kept him a leg and he ate it after his porridge the next morning. I have never eaten squirrel and it was delicious, like a rich, dark, woody chicken.

Leo and Hugh skinned the squirrel  and are curing the hide, Leo wants it as a carpet for his Sylvanian sheep I think.

Now we are more settled, I have the energy and time to stop buying herbal tea bags and make my own tea. How crazy to buy boxed, bagged cut herbs when I can come back with  a basketful yards from my door!
I realised that last weekend.

Tansy had a high temperature and was glassy eyed on the sofa all day while I ransacked my herbal jars for fever brews. Lemon water tick, Echinacea, tick....hmm and old jar of last years Meadowsweet still humming with honey scented energy... Peppermint and rosemary in the garden, and Ground ivy in the wood. This was a new discovery for me. I knew the little plant well, quietly pretty with its small purple flowers yet so easily overlooked or mistaken for Self heal or Bugle, and I knew that it was sold in bundles on the streets of London in bygone days as a remedy for 'clearing the blood'  Well it makes delicious tea too!
I bundled it into Tansy's fever brew.. (the only time she raised a smile all day!) and had a sip. Mmm! Nibbling the leaf and wincing slightly at its strength gave me no indication of its potential as a beverage herb. I had been missing green tea, but that slightly astringent bitter taste is readily available all over the wood.
It's Ground Ivy every morning now!

Even if there isn't squirrel for breakfast!

Thursday 26 April 2012

Three births, one death

Two nights ago someone walked past our window just as it was getting dark. This may not seem very peculiar but when you live in the middle of a wood, it's unusual enough to be alarming. Turned out to be our neighbour in search of a torch to help with lambing. Their lovely Gotland ewe was round as a melon and stuck in labour.
A while later I walked down through the inky dark wood, across their paddock shrouded in grey dusk, and came upon a beautiful tableau. The night was closing in, and everything was dark, but in front of their house was a small golden pool of lamplight. In the pool of light, on a bed of hay lay Michelle, huge, serene and woolly. Ruth, our neighbour sat next to her, calmly holding her head.  It was a scene of such timelessness, such serenity, there was an ancient energy of motherhood and love that struck me very deeply.
Lovely as it was for Michelle to be so serene, she was supposed to be in labour.
Help arrived, lurid blue lubricant applied and a scrawny, slimy, hip presenting black lamb was assisted earthside. We were all astonished at the size of the lamb, more like a floppy rabbit than anything else. What about the enormous belly! Was that all?
'Oh that's not all there is,' said the helping farmer. He pulled at another head and a foot.
I'd better leave the second foot, don't think it belongs to this lamb. Goodness! Triplets! Another long floppy black lamb arrived, was unceremoniously swung around in the dark (to clear the airways of mucus) and laid next to Michelle who was alternating between washing the new arrival and giving birth. And then the third. The raw brutality of birth, slime and gore and three floppy black lambs sprawled in the hay. Michelle worked hard, licking industriously..and at last a tinny baaaa from each lamb that melted us all. The slime turned to black curly wool....the enormous legs started the struggle to stand. Three new lambs.
An everyday miracle.

The next day I was on a train crossing the Tamar Bridge between Devon and Cornwall, musing on the possibility of train crashes, and the conductor announced an accident on the line. We stopped, and waited, and waited. The train was emptied and cancelled at Plymouth and we were told there had been a fatality on the line at the next station. My thoughts immediately ran to suicide, (although we were not given any more details) and my throat was dry, my heart fast. How final and quick death is, how commonplace, how shocking, how irreversible.  I wondered who, how, why, if only, what if. Restless people in my carriage started to call home, announcing the delay,  laughing (really)
'Yeah, yeah someone jumped in front of the train, God I'm gonna be so late. It's such a pain....'
Disconnected, desensitized..maybe I'll laugh one day.

Three beginnings. One end.
Peace to them all

Thursday 12 April 2012

Chicken and egg, bread and cheese

Some words just seem to go together don't they?  We say them so often they create a sort of flowing groove in the brain, the connection between the two words an easy harmony. Some couple's names are like this, you know how its almost always easier to say one before the other? Ruth and Toby, Tom and Becky (sorry you guys,  if you're reading, you were just the first I thought of!)

Sometimes its hard to undo these connections in your brain if for example the couple separates and then, worse, form new partnerships. How many of us have bitten our tongues and swallowed a Rachel and quickly replaced it with,.... err,  Claire. Or not!

So it was with Freddie and Lily. Best friends, worst enemies, always together. I have called them for dinner a thousand times..'Freddie and Li-ly', shouted across a wood, a field or up a stairs. I have talked about them a thousand times, 'oh that's just like when Freddie and Lily....'
They weathered everything together, my break up with their dad, house moves, 6 new siblings (not all my doing!) They were a pair almost more than they were separate.

And I've had to bite my tongue so many times in the last two and a half years to stop the Lily coming out. Except she often does anyway. Which is fine among the family, but some people go a bit silent and wonder if I'm going to cry.

We have a new pair of course, Tansy and Leo, who are definitely more of a pair than separate. And I have a new cry, across the wood, across the street, up the stairs...'Tansy and Le-o'

On Easter Day we walked out towards Huntingdon Barrow or Heap of Sinners on Dartmoor, and the pairing changed. Leo's short legs needed Mummy and Daddy's company and encouragement.

Tansy's slightly longer ones ran in little eager panting bursts to keep up with Fred's. Freddie and Tansy. So strange to say, it felt like someone had handed me an grapefruit when I was expecting an avocado.

Freddie and Tansy. Brother and sister.

Saturday 7 April 2012

Hot Cross Buns and Friendship

Good Friday. I forgot to take any  pictures. I was so involved in the baking, slicing, boiling, decorating, talking, celebrating and just plain enjoying, I forgot to do that slightly detached hiding behind my camera. Which is a shame for this post but at least I was present yesterday.

We had our first party here, here in our woods. About four days ago I suddenly thought hmm, wouldn't it be lovely to ask all the people who have helped us to a about an Easter's full moon on Good Friday, lets do it then! A flurry of late night texting ensued and I blew a few eggs to decorate. I don't like planning too far ahead.

But it felt so very special to bring people together on this land, where no one has lived before (except the badgers, sparrowhawks, nuthatches, orchids....) I mean no person..

We sat around our hastily assembled fire circle, sitting on the timber that even today, Easter Saturday, has been transformed into raised beds. (I promised myself I wouldn't mention them until a later post but I'm so excited about them that they just crept in without me knowing..)
So we ate hot cross buns dripping butter, straight from the oven, and crowded around our tiny table to paint eggs to decorate our branch of hawthorn, waiting for the procession. Our lovely neighbour disappeared into the woods with his recorder and became 'the fairy piper' and we set out, bearing our beautiful egg tree aloft, following the sweet elusive music trilling tantalizingly just beyond our reach. The children gambolled around in such excitement searching for the fairy piper and we processed all around the wood, back past the badger latrines..quite spectacular really, the latrines I mean.

And finally gathered for a small circle of sharing gratitudes.

Then we sat around the fire and ate again...

We have been helped and loved so much in the last three years, following Lily's death, and during our tenous living situations struggling to get through the weeks and months. There have been lonely times but there have always been friends and family with words, food, cards, accomodation, labour, timber, flowers ...and shoulders. We are part of a community and there has been so much teaching in accepting and asking for help (this is still a work in progress sometimes) and completing the circle of love which starts with giving and ends with receiving.

So, now we are finally here, finally stable, and as secure as a cabin in the woods with no planning permission can be, we feel we can open our arms to others. We can give, we can share, we can support. Yesterday felt good.
And we are so grateful to everyone who has helped us (which I forgot, from stage anxiety to mention in the gratitude circle yesterday)

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Sunny Days and washing days

It really is spring. I really did pick a big bunch of deep purple, velvety violets on my walk to town yesterday, a pair of thrushes really are busily nesting in the crook of the ash tree outside the toilet window, and today we managed our bedtime chapter of Little House on the Prairie without having to light the lamps!

Tansy has become my chief mangler...using our newly borrowed hand wringer, kindly lent by a friend. At home ill today, she insisted, quite firmly, on working her way through an entire load of laundry by herself, panting ferociously as she turned the handle of our lovely 1950's  mangle.

I have to admit, it is really satisfying to use and produces results easily as impressive as the normal spin cycle of a washing machine. Even Freddie commented, 'it really works' when he put some of his laundry through yesterday. It's Tansy and Leo's favourite new activity, and I haven't had much chance to use it myself to be honest, they usually bustle outside, with buckets to catch the water, a dry bucket for the wrung clothes and elbow me out of the way. It's the same with the washboard, effective and fun and I usually end up doing something else while they take over...

I've never had so much help with the laundry! I have to admit, I do sneak off to the laundrette once every couple of weeks if I have a bulk load of sheets and towels to wash, but with warm spring days and the mangle, even these little clandestine outings may become a thing of the past. My laundry pile has shrunk dramatically since I started hand washing again, we air, spot wash and just get a bit dirtier before resorting to a full wash. The energy going into the job is more tangible, our muscles do the work, not electricity from some remote power station.
Yes there are usually a couple of buckets soaking in the corner but that's ok.....I feel as if I am in control of the washpile which was definitely  not the case when we had a machine. There was some sort of malevolant laundry breeding troll who lurked in the dirty clothes basket at night, and I'm glad to see the back of him. No longer do I throw things in to 'make up a load'. Kids get firmly told if their clothes are too clean to wash, everyone's getting the message. I also thinned out all our clothes before we moved here and things are so much simpler and easier.

At least I didn't have any laundry on Mother's Day, this Sunday, just a lovely cup of tea in bed with my journal, and a beautiful sunny day at the beach with fun calm family.....

Love to all mothers, sending you love and appreciation, how was your day?

Monday 12 March 2012


You know what, I do talk alot about how much I love living without electricity, the candles the simplicity, the magic.... but I'm finding our limited acess to the laptop really, really hard.

We have an invertor in our car, which charges our phones from the car battery on the school run, but doesn't leave any time for charging anything else; we sneakily charge the laptop if we visit a friend...but ...that gives us an hour and a half use of an evening. An hour and a half.

 I love this blog, I love writing here, and knowing that you guys are actually reading it, and sometimes commenting (I especially like that.) But it's challenging.  I'm also trying to write some more articles and some other projects, (currently drafted in longhand by candle light, which is fine, honestly) But at some point I need to transfer them on to the screen, and research things, and check my emails, and hell, even reply to a few. Then of course Hugh needs to check a few things out, like the price of batteries and solar panels, specifically, and Freddie wouldn't mind downloading a bit of music too...... 

So I've started to visit internet cafes on one or two of my three child free mornings  a week, and I drink copious amounts of three mint tea and studiously ignore the cappucino. But sometimes I have no transport and can't get to the internet cafe, and am at home with free time and NO COMPUTER.

So I pace up and down and imagine all the writing I could be doing and waste lots of time huffing and grumbling whilst putting some buckets of laundry on to soak, before I remember to look out of the window. It's beautiful, sunny and warm, and I do have a pen and paper if I really need to write, but  there are steps to be built, paths to be dug, raised beds to be planned.
So I build steps (no pics yet as camera battery needs charging) chop wood, and walk in the wood and it feels good and spring like.

But I still want  to get on the computer!

Well, this evening Hugh brought back a beautifully charged laptop for me, no one else wanted to use it, and anyone would have thought I'd be delighted, but instead I wanted to lie by the fire in the cosy candle light and read. It seemed a bit 21st century to start turning computers on. Briefly, as I lay there, I considered giving it all up and just donning a shawl and several layers of petticoats and forgetting all about modern nonsensical ideas such as blogging.

I may have even voiced this thought.
I got short shrift from the 13 year old among us, sighed, and turned the wretched thing on, the laptop I mean, and got on with it.

 I did write something for the current issue of Juno, but that was when we had endless electricity,