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?