Thursday, 30 August 2012

The end of the world as we know it?

I feel like I'm in uncharted waters here but I felt I had to write something about the very big and scary issue that is climate change - specifically, the Arctic ice melt.

It can be so hard to move beyond our immediate lives to give thought and energy to something which can feel so distant and abstract. I know that in my mothering life so far I have found it almost impossible to give away my precious energy to anything outside of keeping us four people alive and happy. It was not always this way. When I was responsible for only myself I managed to be generally more involved in the business of the world. I protested, I donated, and I had many passionate discussions about all manner of urgent and pressing issues. When I had children, however, my urgent and pressing issues became about what we were going to have for dinner and how I'd manage to get through the day on a couple of hours of sleep. The world shrank to a handful of important people and this was how I preserved my sanity.

Slowly but surely I feel I have been returning to society and with the discovery of Twitter, the world has suddenly burst through my door and stands clamouring in my living room. This sounds overwhelming but it's also been invigorating and has pulled me back to a place where I want to engage again. I want to know what's going on and I want to know if there's anything I can do about it.

I've been working towards living a lighter life, curbing my ingrained consumerist instincts and trying to live in a conscious and connected way. I believe that in the long run this is how we will need to exist if we are to reverse some of the damage we have done; sometimes however we need to do a little bit more.

Our planet is changing, irreversibly. Some recent predictions have the Arctic sea ice completely non-existent in the late summer within the next twenty years. That's massive, unexpected change. It's what we were warned was a possibility years ago but never really thought would happen. No one can know what the overall effect will be, but we do know that ecosystems will be hugely disrupted, species will be threatened, weather systems already altered will change further. It's here, it's happening and I'm alarmed that we aren't all running about shouting 'THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT IS ENDING!' Why are we burying our heads?

So here I am writing a post that makes me feel out of my depth and a little bit naive. I'm trying to find ways I can reach people, spread the word, light a fire. Governments aren't interested, they want the oil under the ice, and it seems that the media are looking the other way. Which leaves us. Those of us that are starting to worry need to do a little more than we usually would, we need to gather our bravery and step outside of where we feel most comfortable.

The first step for me was to sign up to the Greenpeace campaign:

I'd love to know what you think...

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Satisfying work

Yesterday contained some good old-fashioned honest-to-goodness satisfying labour. It started with a little mending...I do like a well-executed patch.

And continued with some furious slashing and chopping - there are some stairs under here somewhere...
Oh, there they are!


There are some children in here somewhere...

Aha, there they are!


I am a little achey as a result of such frantic activity yesterday but it was so good to be there helping my very dear friend start to make some small mark on the jungle they have just purchased. It's a nerve-wracking and exciting time for them as they try and make their new home not only habitable but worth all the anxiety. There will be many more days of work and worry ahead of them before they start to see the light at the end of the tunnel but I'm sure, in the not too distant future, it will feel like home.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


We're just at that bit of the year before the big shift. You know the one, it's the darkening nights and mornings, slightly harder to get out of bed, back to school shift. We're not there yet, but I can feel it. This year, for me, it is characterised by big changes, not just in my immediate family but in my extended family of friends.

When I first became a mum I knew almost immediately that we weren't supposed to live the way we currently do in much of the developed world. With my screaming new babe in arms, I was lost. In every part of my new life I felt wrong: I had this long-wanted baby but I was terribly lonely, tending to the baby's needs was stressful and exhausting, I was wracked (as many mothers are) with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. Something was very definitely up, where was the bliss I had been promised in my imaginings? It felt like a conspiracy.

I now know that this is a common experience for mothers, not just new mothers at that, but often for those of us well into the swing of things. I'm strongly of the opinion that we're not programmed to be living this way and, were we to live a more tribal existence, much of the isolation and quiet despair that many women carry would be non-existent. Child-care shared amongst the people of the community, meals cooked together with laughter and ease, different ages enjoying and learning from each other, troubles shared - this seems to me a more natural way for us to live.

Those of us in the West who do not have such communities must find other ways to survive those early years of motherhood. We gather at parks and cafes, attend playgroups that are really more for us than our babes. These meetings keep us connected, keep us sane. After a night of almost no sleep, an understanding look can make it all bearable in a moment. If we are wise, we construct our own tribe.

I was lucky to have met some incredible women early on in our baby's lives and we have grown together on this crazy, wonderful, Herculean journey called motherhood. Just having company on the road is comfort enough but they have all been saviours for me in their own beautiful ways. I have been inspired in countless ways, I have laughed with them and cried many tears. I hope they all know how very blessed I feel to have had them in my life.

But, and this is the hard bit, life moves on in the way it will. Our paths are separating, perhaps this started some time ago, but the gaps between them are widening. Many of us spent last year deliberating over our children's education. We had kept our children from mainstream education in various ways but inevitably time drew on and decisions had to be made about this coming academic year. For all of us that process has been long and hard but relief often comes when we finally choose a path and so it is for us now.

The shift is near. My weeks will soon have a different flavour to them as Eli and I will be the only ones continuing our leisurely stroll through a home-based education. Those friends of ours that were so much part of our landscape will have moved on to new pastures, starting different schools, moving to totally new places to find an education that fits their values and dreams. I wish them so much happiness on their new adventures, I wish them new tribes. And I... must keep on practising the fine art of letting go.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

A harvest...of sorts

This year on the allotment has been rather a disappointment on the whole. It's been a summer of strange and unsettling weather which has left many growers frustrated with their harvests. On our community allotment project it appeared that many people had just given up after the floods. For us, the biggest problem has probably been the expanding slug population, this year has brought them just the conditions they love. I've seen some absolutely enormous ones in people's compost bins - truly montrous.

Almost all the things I planted: courgettes, lettuce, radish, chard, beetroot, peas, had been cruelly chomped before they'd even got going and even my humble potato harvest had many casualties due to the merciless beasts. Having said that, I do have some potatoes...and that is a small triumph. Digging them up with excited children by my side and now cooking up them up are two of life's little pleasures. There weren't many so they won't last us long, but they are my own harvest and they are beautiful for that.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Home again, home again

We're back from our wee jaunt to the beautiful Llyn peninsula - I forgot to actually put on here that we were away, so apologies for the unexplained absence! Just goes to show what an appalling amateur I am.

We were almost completely unplugged for our entire time away which, I discovered, was very good for my brain. Relaxing is so much easier when you can get some time away from the massive information overload that happens every day here on planet internet.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of some other things that I discovered or rediscovered whilst away (with pictures, obviously):

  • I love swimming in the sea. Even when it was so cold that it took my breath away, once acclimatised I had to rely on numb hands to signal that it really was time to get out

  • When the sun shines, there really is no better place to holiday than these isles of ours. The coastline of the Llyn peninsula is particularly spectacular

  • Holidaying with grandparents is a good idea. Coming home and losing their input with the boys has made me realise how much I was able to switch off with them about. Thanks Pam and Colin - it wouldn't have been half as harmonious without you!

  • I have lost the ability to read. It's worrying but I seem to have developed the attention span of a goldfish. I took several books on holiday and didn't really manage to read any. On the upside I did read a few poems - I'm hoping this means that I still have a little literary leaning.
  • Camping with children is great fun. I already knew this but was reminded again on seeing how excited and happy they were to be sleeping in a tent. They also slept better than they ever do at home...since our return, they have reverted to their unsatisfactory night-time habits, much to my despair.
  • Everybody loves a sunset. It's one of those things that unites us the world over. There were many of us who headed down to the cliffs each evening to watch the sun sink to the sea.

  • The light from a setting sun is amazing for photographs

  • Picnics taste better on beaches
  • Searching for beautiful stones and shells or chasing sand bugs on a beach is all the entertainment children need.

  • Cycling is totally brilliant 

I'd like to say something also about the campsite we stayed at but I fear that may need to wait until another day.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Lammas bread

So, today is Lammas or as it's otherwise known, Lughnasadh. This oft forgotten pagan festival is associated with the beginning of the harvest and the twilight of the summer. A time to count our blessings, share our bounty and begin the inner preparations for the darkening of the days. As it's linked with the grain harvest, I've begun to think about it as the 'beer and bread one'.

Grain and the bread that is born of it, have been at the heart of homes across the globe for millenia. It was one of the first foods that we humans made and still endures as a staple of existence for a large chunk of the globe. Our language is laced with references to its central role in our lives from bread as 'the staff of life' to biblical 'daily bread'. It seems appropriate then, on this day, to share my much requested 'method' for making bread.

Homemade bread still seems too time-consuming for most people to contemplate. We're so busy, our time is so precious and when we can just pick up a pre-packed loaf almost anywhere it seems almost churlish not to...I, however, really like to make bread when I can but my relationship with bread-making is up and down. There are times in my life when I just can't squeeze it in and times when I manage to be more consistent  this generally means when I'm not feeling too overwhelmed with the rest of life's little challenges. I like to make it because I know exactly what I'm putting into it - I know it hasn't been driven all over the country in big trucks; it doesn't need packing in a polythene bag and mostly because it's a life-affirming thing to do. The satisfaction is always enormous, no matter how much bread I bake. The warm fragrant kitchen as the loaves bake, the golden glow of the crust on a wooden board, the soft steaminess of that first bite. I also love the process - meditative and slow but not laborious. 

My bread method was given to me by a friend and whole-food genius and it is virtually fool-proof. The dough gets lots of resting and not much kneading and almost always, hateful oven notwithstanding, delivers even crumbed, well textured deliciousness.


Here is my very vague, non-scientific 'recipe':
  • Put 250g of white and 25og of brown bread flour into a big bowl with 2tsp of Doves Farm dried yeast and enough hand-hot water ( approx a pint and a bit) to make an almost sloppy, stirrable 'sponge' mixture. Stir it all together well, cover with a wet tea towel and leave for a minimum of three hours but preferably and, more easily, overnight. This is what the sponge should look like:

  • Add a further 500g of mixed white and brown flour, a generous couple of pinches of salt, a glug of olive oil and any seeds you might fancy. Mix with a wooden spoon (this is definitely the hardest bit!) adding small amounts of warm water as needed. Cover again and leave for 10 mins. Oil, not flour, your kneading surface and your hands. Take out the dough and knead no more than eight times, then put it back in the bowl for a further 10 minutes. Repeat twice leaving the dough after the third kneading for 30 mins

  • For the final kneading and folding you need to flour the board. Then grease your tins and divide the dough evenly between them.

  •  Leave to rise a little over the tops of the tins - this will take very little time ( approx 45mins) in humid conditions and considerably longer (maybe 2hrs or so) in a cold house.

  • Slash the tops of your loaves before placing in the oven. Some people use razor blades for this, I use my bread knife. Whichever way you do it, they need to be clean cuts.

  •  I should point out at this juncture that my oven has a mind of its own. I and it must do a little dance of discovery whenever I bake, therefore, it would be impossible for me to recommend accurate times and temperatures. Having given that disclaimer, the oven will need to be pretty hot when you put the loaves in, about gas mark 9. After 10 mins or so I always turn the heat down a bit. They probably take between 30 and 40 mins to bake. They should be crispy and golden on top and as everyone knows, sound hollow when you tap the bottom.

If you would like a proper recipe and more information about all things bread you will find it all here:
at the home of the real bread campaign.

If you'd like a slightly melancholy song about the grain harvest you'll find one here by the legendary Martin Carthy:

On that note, and after the longest post in history, I think I'll call it a night.

Happy beer drinking and breadmaking!