Friday 7 December 2018

How long?

How long has it been?

My goodness, time flies by. It seems not a minute since I was nursing a baby in my arms, admiring my husband and 2 year old for their composure and soaking up the delights of newborn love.

I am returned to work now and spend my days torn between worrying for children I teach and worrying for the babes I have borne. The great disaster of being a working mother is that whilst you might hope to be all things to everyone, you feel as if you are half good to most. I have, therefore, long since concluded that one cannot be all things to all people. The very best I can do is make biscuits: my children enjoy the camaraderie of our kitchen, and my colleagues (hopefully) gain that much needed sugar boost needed when I bring our produce to school.

And now, Advent.

For a season that is all about waiting, it doesn't half sneak up! My hearts' desire is to be at peace (not rushing around trying to do things). Ironically, there is much to achieve to make this happen. #

I look back through my Christmas posts and realise I have changed so little! I always long for Christmas, but ultimately,  I am waiting patiently for the business to disappear because:

When all the crowds have gone, I love to creep down the side aisle of my local Church to visit the beautiful crib scene. The figures there look real to me, I am child enough in my heart to make-believe them alive. The Christ-child reaches up a tiny hand, and I imagine that if I were to place my finger near he would grip it tightly, the way babies often do. I wonder what would happen if I did such a thing? What would happen if I had the courage to hold on? 

Then there are the other quiet moments of Christmastide. The night I get to stay up later than everyone else and look at the tree. The winter walk with a loved and treasured friend. Time to sit and crochet little granny squares for the blanket of my dreams. I adore those moments, when all the talking has been done, and there is time to settle down with loved ones and say nothing. Too much of my daily routine is spent amongst hustle, bustle and noise. I like to turn off the telly, the radio, and yes, even the internet.

The year I wrote that, 2012, I was hoping to go an adventure of love - and I did -  I married that 'loved and treasured friend'. Now I am filled with happiness to feel the grip of tiny hands each day. I know they are going to take me on a life long adventure.

But, what of this year? If I were to take courage once again, and creep down that side aisle, and grip that tiny hand, what then? My dreams are still wild: I'd love more children, to travel, to settle and make more of our amazing garden and become a little self sufficient family, to explore our country and the woods on our doorstep, to laugh and teach our children to laugh, above all to love.

Meanwhile, shall I crochet?

Sunday 14 October 2018

Months passed

I didn't see the seasons,
I missed the glistening, powder puff snow
that lay on the ground
only fading away at Easter.
Crashing thunder and a deluge
passed me by completely,
new green leaves unfurled without
my usual  acknowledgement.
The sun beat down hot for months on end,
yet I heeded it not.
Summer clung on in warm strong winds,
conkers fell all at once, as if to rush past
the scant attention I gave them.
All I saw was you.
Then I looked up and winter was coming.

Friday 12 October 2018

Last Day of Maternity Leave

It didnt go to plan,
much was left undone. 
Your arrival tore me in two
and made me the one
to care for you
in every waking hour, 
to mind you with your brother, 
to teach you two to love each other. 
And whilst now i must be torn again
and divide myself between you three, 
my husband and my boys, 
and another thirty three times three, 
I hope the one thing I did not leave undone
was to pass the love, and peace and gentleness
you gave me at your birth
back to you, and to our family.

Monday 2 April 2018

Woodland Resurrection

At Epiphany I started the journey - the woodland CAL to create a double bed blanket for our cosy home.  I set out to turn my project into a mini pilgrimage - my days of walking the hills and plains may be temporarily on hold, but that doesn't stop the journeying of the soul.

My maternity leave started on Monday 26th February, and I was due to have our second child as we approached that great feast of Lent, St Patrick's Day. My first born boy was delivered early, so in my mind it seemed likely that in the first few weeks of March we would welcome our new addition. Thus, time was pressing and I had a long list of things to accomplish: exam papers to mark, remaining lessons to plan, baby clothes to wash and sort, a cot to set up, etc. Life was busy.

And so it was that I began part 6 of my woodland pilgrimage, a section of colour transition, looking up towards the sky through the treetops, colours that remind us the breezy fresh air which feeds the earthy woodland floor. As throughout the crochet journey I took time to think about each colour and set of stitches, seeing what reflections surfaced. 

Pistachio - sometimes known as the 'happy nut' because it looks like they are smiling, pistachios are associated with good fortune, health and happiness. They are mentioned only once in the Bible (Genesis 43:11) - the gift that Jacob sends with the 11 brothers to the man Joseph, in charge of the food supply. The best gift that could be taken, that which was most longed for. That story, of course, ends with the best gift - the reunification of Joseph, his father and his brothers. The bringing together of a family.

Duck Egg -  an appropriate colour for someone who could now rest a cup of tea on the belly as if it were a tray. This colour brought reflections about the life developing within. Who would our little person be?

Silver - a colour with many meanings, but often associated with feminine energy, with intuition and natural energies which flow with the tides; the colour of the moonlit night. I was beginning to think carefully about the birth of our child now, expecting that any day our newborn could arrive.

My pilgrimage through the colours of my blanket was repeatedly interrupted, my stitches were not flowing freely. Sickness came to our house, my husband and son were both struck with flu and I developed a hacking cough. My Ma also was struck by an awful flu. Meanwhile, each night I had bouts of strong, almost regular contractions which made me think 'tonight is the night', only for them to dissipate to nothing, leaving me exhausted the following day. A trip to the midwife reassured me that all was well with the baby, that the contractions were being caused by malpositioning and that some yoga exercises and careful focus on posture and activity should sort everything out. I was not yet due and so should relax. This advice was wholesome and served to be very effective. Contractions stopped, I rested and recovered.

Storm Blue made me think of that beautiful passage in 1 Kings 19: 11 - 14. Elijah is feeling alone and without support. The Lord tells him to go and wait for him on the mountain. 

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'
What with everyone being under the weather, preparing for the baby and the 'false labour' I was tired, and feeling a little frayed around the edges. My twin sister said to me, 'Ina May (the great midwife) would be asking you, 'what is stopping you having this baby?' The truth be told, with my support team unwell and snow on the ground, I felt I needed spring to arrive and people to mend. So we approached 40 weeks, and I waited on the still small voice within.

I finished my blanket! I was so delighted with it, I looked beautiful spread out on the bed and would be perfect for our little family to snuggle under.

So along came Thursday, March 22nd. My mother, husband and boy were feeling better. My brother was visiting from Ireland. I was relaxed. The contractions grew through the afternoon, I called my husband and made arrangements for my boy to stay with my Ma. At home my husband and I lit the fire and the candles, put essential oil of sweet orange and frankincense in the diffuser and relaxed. I arrived at the John Radcliffe Hospital in established labour. Having delivered by first born via C-Section, we were hoping that this baby would be delivered naturally. However, after a short time attached to the heart monitors it became clear things would not be so simple. Baby's heart beat dropped each time a contraction came. Soon the room was crowded, and my husband was having to make tricky decisions as I was unable to respond to questions.

I had a spinal anaesthetic at 9.55pm and our little boy 'cried at birth at 10.03pm'. It was a category 1 C - Section, an emergency caused by a rare complication: the complete rupture of my uterine scar from my previous section. Our little lad had taken a wrong turn and entered into my abdomen, bringing his own and my life into danger.

The midwives and doctors at the hospital diagnosed and managed this difficult labour expertly. They remained calm throughout, and guided myself and my husband through the situation with care and reassurance. To them I will be eternally grateful.

I returned home on Palm Sunday, 25th March. And, I finally got that Ta Da! moment I had been waiting for: our little family all snuggled under our woodland blanket in our cosy home.

Happy Easter to you all!

Friday 23 February 2018

In like a lion, out like a lamb...

The meteorological winter ends on the 28th February this year, whilst the astronomical winter will officially end on the 20th March 2018. Usually, I would feel more inclined to yield to the former, but this winter has been a fair margin harsher than many in recent years. In fact, it seems to be showing little sign of relenting as we continue to hit -3 or more regularly during the night. Nonetheless, I do want it to be spring. I want warmth, and light, and growth. Perhaps this is why Mrs Cloister and her mother regularly declare this season over before it seems to have begun.

The January Snows
In preparation for the hallowed day when I declare spring - probably somewhere mid-way between the two official measurements - I have been making preparations for our garden. The hedges have all been cut, a not insignificant matter, and the compost heaps are coming on well. Most of the beds have been dug over and I’m trying to impose some order on the barn and lean-to where we will bring on our early sowings.

Of course, last year was our first full growing year at the Lodge. When we had finally cleared swathes of bramble and scrub and dug out the growing beds we had a good and varied crop. Some things worked better than expected, and others not so well. Nothing was declared a disaster, which is rare, though the parsnips and carrots weren’t a roaring success! The stored potato crop has just given way, as have the cabbages, but the leeks are still going strong. Not bad for a first year and I think we can be satisfied with our efforts. We had to tame the wilderness indoors as well as out, which took a fair bit of time.
May 2017

This year, I’m raising the bar a little and hoping we can build on the efforts made thus far. We’re getting to know the soil and a little of what can be expected by way of pests and so forth. Overall, the garden seems fairly forgiving, though perhaps this is a result of having been so long dormant. Rotations will be key in trying to keep it that way. Though the hedges and adjacent woodland provide some weather protection we are relatively high up for the area and exposure to wind and cold can be quite marked. In fact, the woodland hides an iron age hill fort which once would have dominated the local landscape.

We’re lucky that the Lodge gardens have the space and I feel we’re ahead of the game when compared to last year. Previously, I had to create beds; now I’m just digging and prepping them. Whilst there is a lot still to do - and the vagaries of the weather, pests and disease to be navigated - I have every hope that we can edge that little further along the line toward a more self-sufficient life. Of course, the real pleasure comes in simply growing and enjoying your own food for its unique taste and quality. After all, why bother if the stuff produced looks and tastes like everything else in the supermarkets? Rarely have I found anything as satisfying. Conversely, a little hard labour is also good for the waistline.

Monday 8 January 2018

Woodland Epiphany

The old oak swing, near home
Epiphany is one of my favourite feasts. I did not make it to Mass this Sunday - that happens so often now I have the small one to care for, I used to be able to count on the finger of one hand the number of times I had 'missed Mass'. However, the feast and the wise men were repeating on my mind. Little snippets of the liturgy, poetry I remember, hymns and scripture popped up on the soundtrack of my thoughts and helped me remember the Magi on their journey. My boy helped to - pointing out the wise men in the crib scene and telling me what they were up to.

It began early. On Friday I was unwell. I should have been in school teaching. I was in bed instead. But, I has less cover work to set than usual because the school would be celebrating the Epiphany Mass during the middle of the day. Confined to bed and feeling foggy in the head I was only good for a little crochet. There was a little project to finish - a storage bag for the bears, made out of odds and ends before I could embark on my new adventure - the woodland Crochet A-Long (CAL) blanket from Attic 24. As it happened, between sleeps, I finished the bag and could read the introduction to the woodland crochet blanket.

The woods of home
Lucy, the designer of the blanket, spoke about everyone participating in the CAL as embarking on a journey, taking a walk through the woodland, beginning an adventure. In my sleepiness this appealed to me. I have made many journeys through woodlands. I have vivid memories of crossing the border between France and Spain, high up in the Pyrenees, alone and on foot, beginning a long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. I remember the musty earth smell of the damp trees the in the mist, a sense of apprehension, fear of getting lost. I rang my Dad and tried to explain where I was. Later in the pilgrimage there were the eucalyptus woods - highly perfumed, medicinal, dark trees which only just allowed the heat of the sun to penetrate to the leaf littered woodland floor. Their bark was sticky and sweet. 

Boy in an old oak tree
Of course, the camino de Santiago is not my only memorable journey through woodlands - just the longest. There are many memories fixed in my mind that have the trees as central characters in the landscape. The fir tree woodland near my Bedfordshire home, Chicksands woods, we used to play pine cone war games there. Wytham Wood in Oxfordshire, where my husband and I courted and learnt to love each other, learning each of the trees by name as we walked along. And, the woodland in which we now live with our young family. Now I have that young family I am unlikely to be found, like a wise man, packing my bags for a journey which will will have me travelling miles on foot, carrying all necessities. But, it does not preclude little fun filled adventures into the trees, armed with flasks of hot chocolate and time to play on the great oak swing a few miles from the old lodge house in which we reside. And, maybe this woodland CAL can be my longer adventure, a pilgrimage without ever leaving home. 

On Saturday Evening I began to make preparations for the CAL journey. I was to make a 'sample' - call it pilgrimage training, if you like - it needed to measure 17cm across and I needed to learn the pattern of our road. I failed on the first attempt, of course. Who wouldn't? I was also being tempted by all sorts of 'needs': all of a sudden I needed stitch markers and a new set of crochet hooks. Like a walker who needs new kit for a trip, I just felt I couldn't resist. However, after a firm 'word' with myself I started again, with the simple kit I have, a couple of old metal crochet hooks (3.5mm and 4.5mm), a measuring tape, scissors, and scraps of yarn for stitch markers. My second sample (it was Sunday by now) was 'near enough', so I started the journey.

The Linden (Lime) Tree
The foundation of this pilgrimage was to be made in lime (the yarn colour). Lime trees, or Linden Trees, mark the approach to ancient churches. They are the 'holy tree' which the Baltic women spoke to as if they were human beings, asking for luck and fertility. It is underneath this tree that the truth can be found (and ancient court sessions were often held in their shade for this reason). It is on the wood of the Linden that Orthodox Icons, such as Rublev's Icon of the Trinity (the hospitality of Abraham) were painted. It seemed a good place to start a meditative journey of counting and crochet.

On the camino the way was marked by yellow arrows. On this adventure tomato strands of yarn showed that I was on track - one every 17 stitches, the pattern repeated.

Lime and Cypress,
with MopMop and the Gruffalo,
residents of the woodland
Cypress was the next phase of mountains and valleys in the ripple pattern. A tree that also graces many churchyards. This time it is often symbolic of death, re-birth, birth and new life. In the Bible Noah built his Ark from the wood of the cypress tree. 358 stitches (x2) - I'm making a double bed sized blanket - of thoughts about the things that need to be let go of, returned to the earth, renewed or brought to life.

Meadow, it was Monday by now and I was still ill, confined to bed with a hacking cough. Meadows are the place of refuge in the Bible. A space in which you are cared for and looked after. Meadows are associated with beauty and a place of rest, a time and space to think about all those who love and care for you and who you love and care for.
Woodland Meadow

Mustard  comes next and I can't help thinking of that short parable from Mark in which the smallest shrub becomes the greatest tree and birds come and rest in its shade. My blanket looks like a small shrub right now, but I hope it will grow and grow - and, that when it is made there will be room for all our small family, including the newbie due in March, and the cat, Moppet.

The Mustard Tree
And so my journey continues. I am not sure what tomato will hold. Perhaps a little reflection on the fruit of our labours here at #lodgehousechallenge. We have been here more than a year, and our efforts to grow our own vegetables, live a sustainable life, make and mend, refuse to waste, use less plastic - it's all an ongoing journey, a pilgrimage - but, we are beginning to see the benefits.

Home and Boy
So it is, that my journey through the woodland, has become a little epiphany pilgrimage. The Magi went of on a journey and found peace in an unexpected stable. They didn't have an easy time of it, as T.S Eliot reflects in his poem, and they had to start, re-start, turn back, get lost and find their way again. My journey with wool will be little different, if more comfortable. But, I am hoping I too will find a little peace in the unexpected places of the woodland, most especially in my home with my boy and my husband and our child yet to be born.

Happy Epiphany!!