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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Springtime? Maybe!

I wasn't intending to do another post this year but just had to show you these.

The verges around here are planted with swathes of different varieties of daffodils which all come out at different times and you may remember back here I showed you some of the earliest daffodils in bloom at Christmas.  I hadn't noticed any yellow flowers when we had passed in the car and so this afternoon I decided to go for a walk and see if perhaps there were any in bud.

 I set off through the wood in the opposite direction to yesterday's walk enjoying the views between the trees and listening to the sound of birdsong - those birds must have thought it was springtime by the sound of it .....

 ...noticing this lovely lichen on some fallen tree trunks.

 Here are a couple of trees which have recently been broken - probably what I heard the other night!  But just look at that sky today.

 Leaving the wood I walked through a small estate and out onto the main road - this is the view to my left - hard to imagine that there were lorries and cars thundering alongside isn't it?!

 And sure enough amongst the grass and fallen leaves there were indeed daffodils in bud just waiting for a few more mild days with some sunshine like this afternoon's to break out in full bloom.

And on my way up the road home I saw this little primrose in a neighbour's garden - ours are not showing yet but this brave little soul was flowering happily.  So it's beginning to look a lot like Spring here!  Happy New Year and may these brave little flowers be an omen of better things to come.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Mixed bunch

Well this has been a rather strange week - an in-between sort of time when it's not still Christmas and not quite New Year either there has been nothing in the diary and the world is not yet back to normal. Here in the UK storms have led to flooding and loss of electricity along with damaging winds tumbling trees and causing damage to property along with transport chaos.  We personally haven't been affected apart from the Wanderer not being able to get to us for Christmas but my heart goes out to those whose homes are under water and who have not had any electricity for days on end.

One of my resolves for 2014 is to try bottling fruit - no electricity needed to keep fruit this way.  I remember the serried ranks of jewel bright jars in the pantry cupboard of my childhood and want to learn how to do it myself.  How come I never learned whilst my mother was busy doing it I wonder?!

 I also want to get to grips with sourdough baking  You may remember I told you about the starter a bloggy friend gave me here?  Well I did try and after a long time I managed to get the starter to froth as required.

 The bread I eventually produced though was not a success.  I ended up with this rather flat loaf - dough too moist I think - which we did slice and eat toasted but it reminded me of biscotti to look at and although it was edible it certainly wasn't what I had envisaged!  Must try harder.

 The weather has been a mixture of storms and some bright days, frost and mild grey days.  Yesterday the frost didn't melt from the garden all day and it was very cold but today dawned wet and dismal - this was the sky when  went out with the birds' food early this morning (they are enjoying the bird table I am happy to say!)

  Gradually the sky brightened...

... and the grey clouds headed east leaving us with a sunny bright morning.

After lunch I decided a walk to the Post Office through the woods would be good - it was lovely the sky above so blue even though underfoot it was muddy and the ground littered with branches, some across the path.

On my way back I picked this little posy of twigs which were in bud and some hazel catkins - hopeful eh?!

As we have spent such a quiet Christmas just the two of us I have had time to do plenty of reading and had a good selection of library books on hand for the holiday.  This one I can recommend - it turned out to be something quite different to the usual.  It is a story written from the point of view of a 5 year old which is in itself unusual but it works well.  If you want a story which will transport you to the sunny south of France, that contains no love stories or at least not the usual man meets woman sort, but a lovely sad/bittersweet tale of real love, friendship and imagination with a twist in the tail then this is for you!  If you read it let me know what you make of it  For more information see here.

I was going to wish you a "Happy New Year" but then I started to think about what is meant by this wish - happiness is after all ephemeral and I think rather like a butterfly which if you seek it will flit away but if you sit still and quiet might just land upon you only to fly away a few moments later.  So maybe what I wish you is many Santosha moments for nobody can have wall to wall happiness and it might not be a good thing if we could.  So I wish you peace, health and plenty of happy moments in 2014!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013


This wreath on my front door survived last night's storm amazingly!  We lay in bed listening to the wind tossing the trees in the wood and the rain battering on the windows - especially on the bathroom Velux - and yet this wreath, affixed only by a length of string, was still in situ this morning!

Sadly much damage has occurred in our region and many places are flooded or without electricity.  I have spent most of the morning on the 'phone to the wanderer who was waiting at Clapham Junction for a train to bring her here for Christmas.  Nobody seemed to know what was happening or could say if/when there might be a train and eventually at 2.30 she discovered that there would be no trains until Friday in our direction.  So she will spend the next couple of days alone in her flat as most of her friends have managed to get away.

She won't be the only one cooking herself some pasta for her Christmas dinner nor will we be the only ones with more food than we need in our fridge.  There must be many other families who will not be able to be together for the festivities of course and we are lucky that we have somewhere warm and dry, we have food enough and we are not living in a war zone - it is not the end of the world of course and yet.....

I listened to the carols on the radio as I made a few mince pies and felt melancholy - is it only me that always finds Christmas unbearably sad?

Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas Wishes

It's not all bah Humbug here I have a wreath on the front door - if it withstands the wind and rain - and I decorated a little tree this afternoon.  There are cards on every available surface and my mother-in-law's little bone china Christmas rose candlestick on the mantlepiece. Weather permitting the wanderer will arrive tomorrow till Friday so once I make my mince pies whilst listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's tomorrow afternoon it will really feel like Christmas.

I wish I could say I made this but it is from M&S - I came across these too late to post to anyone but couldn't resist as they are so cleverly made, with a little paper tree which unfolds in the centre, especially as they were half price! (do click on the photo to enlarge - the detail is lovely) It comes to you wherever you may be with my best wishes for a happy Christmas and here's hoping that 2014 will be a good one for us all.  Here in the UK travel is disrupted due to storms so hope that you will all be safe and where you want to be for the holiday.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Last Pause in Advent post and other stuff

From the sublime to the ridiculous?

I went to church today (the first time in years I am sorry to say!) - to a little chapel in the neighbouring village which I'd been thinking of going to for a long time.  It was the carol service and since I had had such a positive experience in Salisbury recently I felt I'd like to go.  No soaring spires here nor hundreds of years of history, no wonderful stonemasonry just a simple little chapel tucked away just off the A30 in the village.  No choir, no organ just a harmonium to accompany the singing, and only about a dozen of us in the congregation, no vicar or priest in flowing robes either as it was a lay preacher today.  What a contrast with the cathedral in Salisbury!!  However it was a lovely little service and I came away feeling a lot more like Christmas for didn't Jesus say that "wherever two or three gather together in my name I am there with them"? And the words that the lay preacher read to us (it couldn't be called a sermon) spoke to me just as the words of the vicar/priest/dean or whoever he was at Salisbury had done and I felt at peace with myself and life in general.

Another cat!

The postman rang the bell earlier today - yes on a Sunday which did surprise me - and handed me a big purple box labeled "Live plants open immediately"!  On opening it I discovered this little topiary set - a little box plant along with a wire cat shaped frame - which had been sent to me by a friend.  Two things I love: 1)  box which I love for it's perfume which always transports me back to childhood days at one of the big houses we lived in and 2) a cat it would take me a book to write about why I love cats!  I don't know if I will be able to care for it as I should orwhether I will be able to clip it into shape or not but it will be fun trying!

Another present

A week or so ago I asked Mr M if he could nail a piece of wood to a post for me to use as a bird table as not all birds are happy eating from the ground and anyway it is so wet on the ground just now, as you can see in the photo, the seed gets sodden.  Well of course such a request required internet research and a "pattern" was found and as always it also required a trip to the hardware store as even though Mr M has a shed full of little drawers which must contain every known size of nail and screw he didn't have any cup hooks suitable to hang a home made fat/seed filled coconut shell as I had suggested underneath the table top!!  I did suggest a bent nail or something but of course that wouldn't do!  Anyway today was the unveiling and it is now in situ - I just hope the birds like it though I am sure the squirrels will soon find it if not!

So you see I feel a lot more like Christmas now as to me the things that matter are love and friendship as shown in my topiary cat and bird table along with a reminder of what it's really all about in my two recent visits to the cathedral and the chapel.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Pause in Advent and other things

A bit of a mixed bag for you today.  Firstly thank you to all those lovely bloggers who left comments on my post about Tom's death  - it helped so much to know that you all cared and also that so many of you really understood my emotions having been there yourselves.  Thank you all.

We have taken the packets of cat food and half a bag of litter plus a few toys to the Cat's Protection League and gradually other things are being removed such as the stropping post, the feeding place mat and so on.  We are not planning on having another cat - Tom cannot be replaced and although in our 40 plus years together we have only been without a cat twice for a couple of months here and a couple of months there we had already decided that when the time came as we knew it must we might relish the freedom to go where we like without having to make arrangements for the wellbeing of a cat, not having the problems old cats bring and not wondering if, instead we had a kitten, it might be us that die and leave it alone in the world!  I am still a bit raw and teetering on the edge if you know what I mean but life is going on and I am beginning to remember Tom in happier times. 

Last Sunday was a lovely mild day here - in contrast to today when it is still mild but raining - and we spent some time in the garden clearing up leaves.  When I made us a cup of tea about 2.30 (we had had our lunch early for some reason) I took it outside and we sat on the bench listening to the birds singing in the wood and watching the sun behind the trees slowly sink.  Pure santosha moment and one to keep in my mental memory box for later when I felt myself to be once again in the dark, sad place I seem to have been frequenting lately!

On Tuesday of last week I went to Salisbury to meet up with a friend and we enjoyed catching up on the news over a coffee here before walking into town where we wandered round the Christmas market which was very good.  When it was time for something to eat we decided to make for the cathedral and have our lunch in the refectory there.

As we were leaving the cafe we could hear carols being sung inside the cathedral and the lady on the reception desk said we could slip in and sit or stand at the back if we wished although it was almost over.  This we did and it was like entering another world.  The cathedral was dark lit by only by candles and what daylight was left coming in through the stained glass windows and there was a feeling of utter peace so far removed from the bustle and noise going on outside in the market place not far away.  I felt that this was the real Christmas.  As we stood at the back I was aware of the reflections of the choir and the coloured glass window in the font and was struck by the juxtaposition of this beautiful modern sculpture and the ages old stones of the building in which it stands.  I was aware of the thousands of people who must have stood, just as I did, all with their own problems and joys and how ephemeral we all are.  When the carol finished there was a prayer and it was about remembering those who mourn, the homeless, those who are sick and so on and for some reason it really spoke to me.  Then the choir sang the Twelve days of Christmas followed by the blessing and then we all sang Hark the Herald Angels sing before filing out into the chilly afternoon.  There were mince pies and mulled wine on offer in the cloisters for those who wished to partake but we left taking with us that moment of pure calm and my friend suggested that we make sure we find out when next year's service begins so we can join in all of it and not just the last few minutes.

It was a real pause in Advent for me and the peace I had found in the cathedral lasted all the way home as my train sped westwards and I watched the sun sink slowly leaving behind the most beautiful sky all shades of duck egg blue, lemon and rose like a watercolour painting with the trees like cut out silhouettes dark against it here and there.  Santosha again and another memory photo to be brought out in the dark times.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Pause in Advent - Father Christmas

We should not blindly follow traditions - there's no learning in that.  We need to understand them.  Overhill Cherokee Indian saying

Father Christmas or Santa Claus - is a quintessential part of Christmas in his red and white costume.  He is based on the original St Nicholas who was Bishop of Myra in the 4th century who was famous for his kindness and generosity to the poor.  To many children he is the most important part of Christmas but here is a little story which puts him firmly in his place and tells children about his role in the festivities!  Do check out this link in which you will discover the reasons for many of our Christmas symbols..

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

How can a hole weigh so much?

There is a huge cat shaped hole in my life which seems also to be a heavy weight in my heart.  My beloved friend who had shared my life for over 17 years has died and everywhere there are reminders of him.  There are shadows which seem to be him until I realise afresh that they cannot be, there is a pile of bowls and some packets of Whiskas in the cupboard which we no longer need, his brush and comb lie accusingly where I left them after his last brushing - his coat was beautiful till the last - and a box of little balls and toys which hadn't been played with for some while now.  There is no chirrup to say Good Morning when Mr M gets up in the morning to make our cup of tea, no soft warm body lying next to me on the settee, no need to open the door carefully in case he is just behind it, just a big empty hole.

The fire will be lit but he won't be lying in front of it, the mint will grow again in the spring and he won't be here to roll in it, and now that we can go out and not worry about being back early enough for him we don't want to go out anyway.  I hope that wherever he has gone he will find endless sunny days filled with birdsong which he can now hear and butterflies he can now see not to mention clumps of mint to roll in and maybe Bambi waiting to show him the ropes!

Having been in this dark and shadowy place last December when his sister died I know that there will be light and joy in my life again but just for the moment I cannot see how.  I want to lie low for a while and lick my wounds but I will be back later. 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Pause in Advent - Gifts

I am probably the least qualified blogger to join Floss over at Troc, Broc and Recup for her annual Pause in Advent seeing as I am not a fan of Christmas!  However Advent is a good opportunity to take time to think about what Christmas means to me and these weekly posts will be my take on the festivities.

Seen on a church notice board in Exeter!

Christmas is supposed to be the celebration of the birth of Christ over 2,000 years ago but it seems to have become something else altogether these days - take gifts and giving for example.  This time of year the magazines, catalogues and shops are full of present ideas many total tat or if not then costing what to me seem vast sums of money.  Giving doesn't have to involve getting into debt in an attempt to give expensive presents if you can't afford it surely? 

Now it's lovely to give and Scrooge though I may sometimes seem to be I like to give as much as the next man (or woman) but just not to friends and family and especially not at Christmas when the shops are heaving!  I have spent too much time over the years getting stressed whilst searching for gifts my friends might like, that I can afford and that can be posted without needing a mortgage to pay for the stamps and by the time you get to our age there is nothing that I could buy which they couldn't buy themselves if they wanted it.  As there are no children to buy for I decided back in 2010 that I would not buy anything but instead give the money I might have spent on gifts to my favourite charity Centrepoint and that way somebody might actually get something they really want, like a roof over their heads!!  Some of you may remember my blog post about this here.  I sometimes add a little hand made tree decoration or something to my friends' cards as a little token gift but there is no stress involved and they are also relieved of trying to find something for me too.  It works!  This might not work for you but it is my take on Christmas giving.  Gifts don't always have to cost money anyway and what mother of young children wouldn't gladly pass on the cashmere sweater for a couple of hours baby-sitting or what elderly person at home alone wouldn't prefer the promise of a regular visit instead of some expensive gift? No shopping involved just a note in their card and a promise kept - simple eh?

This little tale might make you smile if not laugh out loud at me!  The above are some little gifts I made to give to a group of friends at a recent get together.  You may remember last year I showed you here  how to make a pretty gift package - pity I didn't keep the measurements before I regifted the packages as when I came to make some this year from memory I found mine weren't large enough.  I had carefully used some green card I already had and stuck gold stars onto them before searching for some small chocolates to put inside.  I got some funny looks in our local shop when checking out sweets which might fit!!  Anyway as they would only hold one chocolate each and not the 3 or 4 I envisaged I decided to make some larger ones this time using old manilla files for the card and going for a rustic look.  I thought that potato cut Christmas trees printed on the card might be a better decoration than gold stars and more in keeping with the simple look (shame they look rather like the symbols on prison garments isn't it?) but when I checked out my potato supplies I had just enough for supper and none to spare!  As I had a letter to post I took a walk to the local supermarket which has a postbox where I posted my letter and went inside to buy one potato - yes just one since I would be going to the farm shop where I usually buy my potatoes the following day.  The lady on the checkout asked if that was all I wanted, just the one rather small potato and I felt I must explain what I was going to use it for ie not for my supper!  I can just imagine her at tea break telling her colleagues about the weird old lady she'd had at her till that afternoon can't you?!!!  One of the great things about being my age is that I don't feel the embarrassment I would have felt years ago at things like this and maybe if it made her laugh that was a good thing?  Goodwill to all men and all that!