Tea and musings around liminality

Yesterday I sat at a table lit by the golden light of the late spring sun, enjoying the feel of a soft breeze contradicting the warmth of sunlight on my skin while the glorious sound of birdsong gently caressing my ears in the café at the Blaenavon World Heritage Centre. On the table was a lovely pot of tea and a home-made fairy cake (small ‘cupcake’) topped with vanilla buttercream icing and my journal-sketchbook into which I would be recording my thoughts and observations. This was a treat after picking up a batch of mugs that I’ve had printed with a piece of my artwork and a short greeting for my lovely year 11 class who are leaving on Thursday. That will be a day filled with tears and joy, a liminal moment for the pupils as they stand on the threshold of the next phase of their life. The leavers’ assembly being an opportunity to mark this transition point, a liminal point, with celebration, with laughter and with the memories of experiences.

The view from the window was of the neglected graveyard attached to St Peter’s Church which falls away towards the valley bottom as the café abuts the eastern edge of the graveyard and I realised that I was sat at a liminal place, but not one of one phase of life to another. This liminal place marks the boundary between the living and those who have passed out of this earthly existence.

As I realised this, a pair of magpies flitted from tree to tree, their tails twitching as they settled on branches, and sunlight on their plumage revealing the iridescent purples, blues and greens that are so often missed. A solitary cabbage white butterfly careened from plant to plant, it’s pale colour standing out against the brown tangles of brambles and the bright greens of spring growth, signs of life surrounding the memorials of those long dead.

Magpies are associated with bad omens, and one such superstition is that if you see a single magpie on the way to church then death is close (myth-making at blogspot). Considering that many churches have a graveyard around them or close to them, then that is quite true! I love magpies and the other members of the corvidae family of fine feathery friends, despite their gloomy reputations.

As one thought bounced to another, I realised that I too, was at a liminal point in my life as I continue to work on unravelling the tangles of the past through journaling, meditation, self-hypnosis, gratitude and pennies-dropped-epiphanies as I’m becoming more aware of the inner critics and their continual sussuration of negative messages about me. I’m learning how to dis-empower them, little by little, and I may be approaching a turning point for myself in how I view myself and what my beliefs are.

The grave markers were splotched with lichen and algae, patterns reminding me of growths of penicillin on laboratory agar plates or stale and mouldy bread. Tumbled tangled brambles wrapping round them, seemingly pulling them down, down, down into the ground, the Earth reclaiming what had been taken from it, and with it the memories of those long passed. Despite the pull of time and neglect, the taller columns and headstones bravely rose above the tangles, holding their heads up high in the sunshine, proud of their leprous appearance, suggesting age and longevity, that they remember even if the living no longer do.

Others, however, seemed to be surrendering to the gradual depredations of time. Their sharp leaning stance, the first phase in laying down, showing an acceptance of their fate. No one alive who remembers them, who cares for them enough to tend to the memorial of a life once lived. The connections between the present generation and the past generations fading and weakening with time as symbolised by the tumble-down state of the gravestones. This was reflected in the laughter and chatter of the living enjoying beverages and vittles in the bright, warm, life-giving sunshine. The proximity to the necropolis and it’s visible symbols of death, funerary rites, and grief having no effect upon the high spirits of the living.

Perhaps that is because a wall, a visible boundary separates the activities of the living from the area of the dead. If we were to dine and party on their graves, perhaps we may feel differently, irreverent perhaps; an attitude maybe not unique to our own culture or time. I saw this video about dining with the dead in Georgia on the BBC news website earlier this week, and an example of how different cultures approach death and the places of the dead and how rigid and solid the boundary between us, the living, and our deceased friends and family are.

Death is, essentially, a great leveller; the great and the good lie alongside the poor and meek. Only the memorials tell us who is who,and only a skilled osteologist would be able to tell which was which were their skeletons disinterred and separated from any clothing, jewellery or other funerary offerings that they were interred with. To most of humanity they would be the remains of people, equal in death as they were not in life. Given enough time, all return to the Earth, return to what we were created from, very few leaving traces that will last for centuries, millennia or the aeons of time.

Traces remain in the bones that remain of their lives; hardship, luxury, adversity, ease all leave their marks in the bones. As the flesh decays, as memories fade, so do the individual stories of each person’s life, the stories that make each of us unique. The funeral monuments may tell us about them, there may be hints of their life in written records, but so much about them, such as whether they were kind or cruel, loving or neglectful, are lost.

Gloomy thoughts? Not at all! I like what the we can learn of our ancestors from their funerary rites, from records, from stories still held in the memories of the living, maybe experienced first hand or tales handed down through the generations. It matters not whether they are iron-topped tombs of the magnates of Blaenavon or the ring-barrows of a person from the Bronze Age, or the fossilised remains of our distant relatives. For many, we can only make educated guesses about their life and times, sometimes more educated than others when written records exist.

Of course, the choice of a place for cemeteries is a story in itself. In ancient times where a lot of effort was expended to bury a few in monuments such as cairns, ring barrows, cists, long barrows, then they weren’t just plonked in the nearest available place. The choice of place had meaning, just as the choice of place has meaning to us whether it’s where we go on holiday, where we choose to live and experience life. We choose places that give us meaningful experiences, be they linked to happy or sad times. The same is true when we choose places for funerary rites, whether we choose them ourselves before we die or whether we choose them for our loved ones who have passed away. My father’s cremains were buried beneath a sapling plum tree in a country lane where he used to collect all kinds of fruits and plants to make wine from. A friend’s father’s ashes were sprinkled from a bridge to return to the sea which he loved and sailed while serving in the Navy. Another friend’s father’s ashes are to be buried with his brother, if permission can be gained from her aunt.

If we take time and care to choose an appropriate resting place for the physical remains of our loved ones, I’m sure our ancestors did so too, even though it may not have seemed so to us as in many cases we have no ideas of their beliefs and the practices that stemmed from them. Nor do we know for sure why certain people were accorded such seemingly prestigious and important funerals, whether they were the great and the good or whether their deaths had a different meaning and the funeral a different purpose than commemoration and a reminder of our connections to the people of the past, to our ancestors, to those who have shaped the society we life in at any particular point in history.

I couldn’t help but wonder what stories the land could tell us if we could access it’s memory. I’d love to know what events the stones beneath my feet have witnessed in their long aeons of existence. What lovers’ trysts and promises. What betrayals, joys, toils, griefs. Whose feet have passed over them and what is the story of the lives. I don’t just want to know about the great and the good, people whose lives are most probably fairly well documented. I want to know about the ‘ordinary’ people as well. Everyone has a story to tell, everyone’s life experience is unique to them due to their unique perceptions, beliefs, actions, reactions and personality, and what thoughts and beliefs they had about themselves and others.

Perhaps the land, the position of the cemeteries, their relationship to the use of the land in the past and the present, the stories told about the land, it’s people all serve to keep alive the memory of the ancestors, aiding in remembering their stories and the stories previous generations and in so doing keeping the ancestors alive, in memory, and our connection to them stronger. The scape surrounding the cemetery becomes woven into the stories of the recent ancestors and the myths of the more ancient ancestors, acting as aide-memoires to the tales. Each feature in the land around the cemetery is not devoid of emotion, of meaning, and for each feature these would change as the time of day, the season of the year and the weather changes. We interact with these scapes through the feelings and meanings and the way that we make use of them and that induces a feeling of belonging to them. Ideas such as these are propounded by archaeologists such as George Nash.

I realised then, how much I’d enjoyed writing my thoughts, how going to a different place other than home allowed me the inspiration I needed. It’s also brought up links between things that are occurring in my life at present, and that will help to unravel any tangles knotted by the inner critics in the past.

It’s been a while …

It really has been a while since I last posted – two months more or less.  And what I couple of months it has been.

Work has been tough at times as respect has noticeably diminished along with good behaviour and attitudes.  I lost my voice for a week, a regular thing with me it seems.  The good news is that the ENT consultant put a camera up my nose to look at my vocal chords/throat and there were no problems at all.  I’m now awaiting speech therapy as it seems to be an occupational hazard and they can help me to use my voice without stress or strain.  I know of two, no, three ways my voice could be looked after while I still work.  One is to change my job/career.  The second is for the school to actually get the microphone/speaker system installed in my room so that the speech therapy can be focused on teaching me to talk at a healthy level.  The third is for the decline in behaviour to be managed and turned around so that I didn’t have to raise my voice so much, or even shout to be heard by the person two feet away from me.

A good point looks like I’ve finally achieved my aim of someone actually admitting that I’m right that the GCSE equivalent course I’ve been expected to deliver to my SEN classes isn’t actually possible for them to do the controlled assessments.  I do have to search out an alternative qualification that would give a GCSE equivalent qualification that I can deliver for part of the time while I continue to deliver the Entry Level science course.  I think I’ve done that, but it has to be sold to ‘the man’.

Outside of the world of work things have been strange.  It seems that a move away from a spiritual pathway I’ve been wandering along has finally happened. The signs have been there for a while, my unhappiness with it has been present for a while.  As nasty as the ending got (I vow to do my best to never become involved with committees with ego issues every again!) it showed that there was no way of mediating the schism.  I just hope the half-truths, rumours and downright lies about me don’t cause problems elsewhere.  All could have been avoided by effective, polite, even-tempered communication, or just a politely stated desire that the class I have run for a couple of years needs someone other than me to run it.

I’m finding that so many people who claim to ‘know’ me really don’t know me at all.  I really dislike confrontation, but am willing to listen to calm requests, well reasoned and logical arguments backed up with actual evidence, even if that is someone’s opinions.  I’d much prefer someone to ‘man-up’ and state their opinions rather than sneaking around behind my back, getting people to ‘spy’ on me with a remit to dig up dirt and if there is no dirt to dig up to manufacture it.  I’d much prefer someone to be open and honest, even if their version of truth hurts, for them to admit it’s all their own perceptions.

The result of all this was a rather nasty meeting with the committee members with confrontational attitudes and no desire to mediate, just to attack.  I think the members of the group I lead sent letters with their observations in that caused some level of guilt and/or jealousy somewhere as they were asked to explain why ‘she’s a credit to us’, she being me.

That means, to me, that I’m not a credit.

In the end I quietly stood up and politely said I’d had a day of managing confrontational behaviour in work that I didn’t expect it from adults in this kind of setting, that no matter what I said I’d not be believed, that I was obviously in the wrong and that the faults lie with me as a person for caring about others, for being welcoming, for giving my time to those who need it, for losing sense of time as I got lost in long discussions about things that were relevant to the purpose of this group.  I kept my voice quiet (mainly because the stress of the situation had caused my throat to constrict) and my demeanor non-confrontational, yet the attacks continued.  So I left.

I left with tears in my eyes for the pain caused to myself and others.  Tears of disappointment that those who proclaim so loudly to be spiritual aren’t.  Tears of disappointment that my involvement in a certain part of this organisation will also have to come to an end.  Tears of frustration.  Tears of anger.  Tears of embarrassment, humiliation.  However, there were also tears of relief among them too, and tears of grief, tears of letting go.

I hadn’t wanted to go, knowing exactly how it would be; knowing that someone had an axe to grind because they disagreed and disapproved of me and my ways and they wouldn’t be happy until they had not just put the knives against my back but driven them deeply in.

I’d felt the knives there for a long time, but there was no way they were going to puncture me, and I don’t think they did.

They will believe they are victorious, but it is a false image or at best a Pyrrhic victory, but they will not see that.

I’m the true ‘winner’, if there is a win anywhere.  I am now free of the rules and regulations.  What I do and how I do it is now up to my own personal sense of ethics and morals.  I would never treat someone the way they have and revel in the glory of it.  I’m sure the gloating will go on for a long time by some.

As for me, it’s time for me to decide where I go with this next, or rather how the decisions that have been made need to be developed.  It’s kind of exciting yet scary as it’s very much me breaking new ground for myself in some respects.

Another ending has been hypnotherapy.  I’ve had problems getting people to be guinea pigs for my case studies.  I’ve also become very jaded with the course and the practice.  I realised I had got from the course what I needed, realised that I didn’t really want to start up my own hypnotherapy practice.  Taken together, I decided that I had what I needed and wouldn’t complete the course.

Arty things have taken a bit of a back seat lately.  My half term break seemed to be filled with errands and appointments and trying to rest, relax and restore myself.  In the evenings when I return home from work I’m often too tired to do anything much, emotionally and mentally drained that is.  The weekends are often a washout for me as I sleep a lot of the time as my sleep in the week is disturbed (and has been this weekend as part of the fallout from the above mentioned meeting which was Friday night).

I did buy a book – Knitted Dinosaurs by Tina Barrett – on a visit to the National Museum Cardiff.  I have a lovely pterodactyl knitted with sparkly purple wings and a lilac body, head, legs and arms.  Some friends have fallen in love with him and have asked for ones of their own!

Yesterday evening, after a lunchtime outing to The Skirrid Inn in Llanfihangel Crucorney with one of my pals, Wendy.  I really didn’t want a dissection of the previous evening’s meeting, and so did my best to turn the conversation to other things, which we mostly did.  The little conversations about the meeting did help to bring some clarity that may be related to jealousy, guilt, and some evidence of absolute hippocracy in at least one ‘complaint’ that was levied by the committee.

The previous Saturday we’d been to Glastonbury for a nice wander around the shops and a leisurely lunch in the Cafe Galatea, where I had the nicest cheesy garlic bread and homemade coleslaw I’ve had for a very long time.  I had a good look around Starchild and stocked up on candles and incense – I just love that shop and always have since my first visit to Glastonbury some 11 or so years ago.  A new favourite shop is The Crystal Man‘s shop where I picked up pieces of spirit quartz and botryoidol lepidolite mica, which is shiny and silvery-pinky-lavender in hue.  The chap who owns/runs it is hilarious and friendly, which encouraged us to have a good look around and to rummage in his drawers – drawers of crystals/minerals.

This has been a bit of a random ramble, admittedly.  However, it does give an idea why there’s been little art or blog entries of late (not that I’m consistent in doing entries anyway).

My main problem at the moment is that I’m happily ensconced in bed tapping away at this on the laptop given to me by a friend when they bought a new one.  It’s comfortable here, safe too, warm as well.  My only problem at the moment is that I want a cup of tea and I’ll have to get out of bed to go get it!  That’s one of the main downsides to being single!

Autumn blackberries

Bramble28Aug12 © Angela Porter
Bramble © Angela Porter
5″ x 3″, pen and ink.

Plucking blackberries from hedgerows bursting with the deep purple-black fruits of the bramble are memories of childhood.

Taking care not to prick fingers on the thorns, or get clothing snagged and torn upon them either.  There were also the sticky burrs of goose-grass to avoid too.

It was all worth the hours of effort, however.  Blackberry and apple pie, blackberry crumble, bramble jelly, and the blackberry wine my father brewed (if he could steal any away).

Blackberries were frozen by the plastic gallon re-used ice-cream tub to be used for Sunday desserts through the winter months too.

All of these things created once the blackberries had been washed in salted water to bring out any maggots that had burrowed their way into the fruits.  If I caught sight of one single maggoty thing, I couldn’t eat any more of them, and eating them straight from the bramble was not an option for me.  It’s no wonder I’m a vegetarian!

A free harvest that I no longer take advantage of, but may manage to do so this year if I can pluck up the courage to go by myself in to the countryside to do this.

Yes, I do mean courage, as I’ve become a bit of a recluse once again, not going out into the world where there are other human beings to encounter me.  A long, personal story that is, but one I hope to change with time.  The gist is I’ve allowed myself to be hurt by other people over the past few years.  Things I was once involved with have gone by the by and I’ve not managed to replace these social activities with others.  Oh, I do go out.  I am involved in things, but the people I encounter are, generally, more acquaintances than anything else.  I still seek and search for a sense of belonging in this world.

Even as I think back to childhood blackberrying, I remember that I was often alone even though the rest of the family were there, all chatting and laughing and playing amongst themselves while I was generally excluded, unless it was to be the butt of someone’s joke.  Always funny for them…

Funny, the memories of blackberrying, and collecting bilberries, or whinberries as they are also called, are still ones of pleasure – the pleasure of the food produced as a result.  Bilberries are small, blueberries, native to Britain.

Folklore

There’s plenty of folklore surrounding the humble bramble and it’s fruits.

“Throughout much of Britain there was a widespread belief that blackberries should not be eaten after a certain date.” [Vickery]

This date may have be that of the first frost, as then they become the Devil’s fruit  and are not fit for humans to eat .

Michaelmas (29 September) or  Old Michaelmas (11 October)  relate to the biblical tale of  Lucifer being thrown out of heaven for his proud, covetous ways by Archangel Michael (Isaiah 14:12).  It is said that Lucifer landed in a bramble bush and cursed it, which is why people won’t eat blackberries after Michaelmas, saying variously that:

  • they have the Devil in them
  • the Devil peeps over the hedgerow and blasts them
  • so the Devil may have his share
  • the Devil spits on them

Hallowe’en (31 October) or All Saints’ Day (1st November) are also dates given as the cut off for blackberry consumption.  As well as the reasons given above, this date also relates to the following:

  • they have the witch in them
  • the witches have peed on them
  • on Hallowe’en the puca has crawled on the blackberries.

“From a scientific point of view, blackberries contain a high concentration of bitter tasting tannins which over time accumulate in the fruit. Old Michaelmas day falls late in the blackberry season making berries picked around this time very bitter. To make matters worse, as autumn arrives the weather becomes wetter meaning the fruit will contain more fungus spores. This will not improve the taste either.” [BBC Nature UK]

Brambles were sometimes planted, or placed, on graves, one belief being that they stopped the dead from walking.  Another reason is that they kept the sheep off the grave.

A superstition in Wales was “When thorns or brambles catch or cling to a girl’s dress, they say a lover is coming.” [Roud]

References:

BBC Nature UK, Nature folklore uncovered

Roud, Steve “The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland”, Penguin Reference, 2003

Vickery, RoyOxford Dictionary of Plant-lore”, Oxford Paperbacks, Oxford University Press, 1995

Super soup…

On Monday, as squeaky and non-existent as my voice was (and still is) I took a phone call from Abel and Cole, a company that delivers organic veg boxes (among other things) to your door.  I used to have boxes from them a number of years ago.   However, the delivery company (a big one) wrecked so many items of produce on so many occasions that I cancelled the boxes.  Not because I was disatisfied with them, not by a long shot, but because of the careless attitude of the delivery company.

Well, on Monday I started up a weekly order of a small fruit and veg box (£12.99, delivered) and it arrived today!  I also got a free cook book (which is full of meat/fish/poultry recipes so will be donated to a friend – I’m a vegetarian!).  My fourth box will be free if I remain with them.

The best thing of all about Abel and Cole is that you can choose to dislike foods, and also decline a particular choice for the week’s box as long as you do it by the deadline they set (for me it’s midnight on Monday into Tuesday).

Blooming marvellous!

So, my box arrived this morning, courtesy of their own van and driver.  In it were potatoes, onions, carrots, parsnips, broccoli, grapes, apples and bananas, all organic!

So, lunchtime, I ‘celebrated’ by making a soup.  Here’s what I did.  There’s enough here for 4 servings for starters or two servings for hungry people.

1.  Finely chop and onion and gently fry in butter in a saucepan.

2. Dice two carrots, one parsnip, one sweet potato and add to the pan and gently fry.

3.  Add a heaped teaspoon of mild curry paste and stir into the veggies.

4. Add some red split lentils (a generous handful), several finely chopped dried apricots, and chopped garlic (as much as you like) and stir to coat with the butter and spice mixture.

5. Add water so that the level is around 1″ above the veggies and lentils.  Bring to the boil.

6. Add some vegetable stock cubes or bouillon powder, salt and pepper to taste.

7.  Simmer until lentils are cooked (around 40 minutes).

I served this with some roasted garlic sour dough bread and butter.  The sour dough bread was a nice contrast to the sweet spiciness of the soup.

Even if say so myself, it was rather yummy and hit the right spot on a cold, wet day at home with me not feeling too good (still no voice, a cough and splutter to add to it too).

It was a nice way to celebrate completing my hypnotherapy essay!

Rainy-day-Friday

It’s really raining heavily here at the moment.  I love the sound of the rain, and the wind, while I’m cwtched up warmly at home.  I went out around 8am to do my food shopping and was pleasantly surprised.  I expected people to be at the local Tesco’s in their droves, but it was really quite quiet.  Hurrah to that is all I can say! For a change, the process of shopping close to the bank holidays was relatively painless.

I finished the small piece of artwork above not long ago.  It is just the thing to brighten up the gloomy day.  It’s 17cm x 11cm and is worked in various media on white cartridge paper.  There’s metallic gold on various parts, but it hasn’t shown up in the scanning.

I’m now officially way past bone tired and I suspect that after having another mug of tea and a bite to eat I may go and join the cat in bed.

Oh the joys of being on the winter break!

Half term almost over … boo!

I spent the first half of the half-term week getting over ‘flu.  It took until Wednesday for me to feel even slightly alive, and until Thursday for me to feel like myself.

Wednesday saw my car pass it’s MOT with ‘flying colours’ – not a single advisory note, and just one bit of work that needed to be done before the MOT.  My bill was a massive £65 – which is a bit sarcastic as that’s the lowest bill I’ve had for a car that I own for a long time.  The Smart Car drained my resources frequently, but this battered, M-reg red Corsa is proving to be the most reliable and cheapest car to run (taking into account petrol, insurance, tax and servicing/repairs!  So a happy bunny, and even more so because the new mechanic is an absolute gem – thanks to my little sister Sara for recommending him.

Thursday was a weird day as I had to be interviewed as part of an inquiry into problems with a committee I’m a member of.  I’m not involved with the problems per se, but I am one of the witnesses to what occurred; not that I remember much as it was many months ago now.  So, we wait to see what happens as a result of the inquiry.

Friday saw a new shower fitted by a nice man from SWALEC at long last, but not without problems.  The main problem was that I couldn’t remember where the water stop cock was until water had sprayed over the bathroom and dripped through the ceiling downstairs and then my memory clicked in.  Everything else then went fairly smoothly.  After this, I had time to have a quick clean up before heading to Cardiff for an interview to start training as a hypnotherapist with Chrysalis.  That was easy, and though the nerves kicked in a little because it’s an unknown thing.  The actual interview wasn’t one really, more of a ‘this is what hypnotherapy is (I already knew that, but let them tell me again), I can see you have a lot of life experience (apparently important for any therapist), and do you want to ask any questions?’  It was a pleasant 30 mins or so.  I was told I could start the course the next day or wait until the next intake in the Spring.

Well, once I’ve made my mind up, I tend to do things as straight away as is possible, so I elected to start the course the very next day…

… and that’s how I spent yesterday! 10am to 5pm learning about the course, expectations, sorting out practice groups that meet outside of the monthly day courses, getting to know one another, and then actually experiencing and then practising a progressive muscle relaxation method.

The method was familiar to me as I use one very similar when I take a group of people for guided meditations on a Friday evening.  I cheated and didn’t use their script, but used my own … but I know I’ll have to follow more precisely in the future.  My partner was well pleased with the results, so that’s all that really, really matters.

I have a feeling I will instinctively know a lot of what is being taught, but the diploma will allow me to practice as a hypnotherapist, perhaps even start up a little business, which if it becomes successful and sustainable may allow me to change my career, even if only part-time.

I also have kind of decided that after this I’d like to do a degree in either psychology or forensic psychology and then use that to lead me to completely new pastures.  I’ve often thought about becoming a counsellor, but … there’s something that tells me not yet.  However, we’ll see!

I was totally drained in the evening.  It was a busy day, especially with so many people (26 including me and the tutor – Sue Preston).

I do plan to spend some time today completing another abstract artwork, that’s once I’ve sorted out all the notes from yesterday’s course.  I also have Pommes Dauphinoise, though my version has loads of garlic in it, parsley instead of thyme and no cheese on it.  However it is cooked it is a terribly indulgent yet scrummily delicious dish.  I will just have a variety of veggies with it…I think.  Though Quorn Fish-less Fingers may be speaking to me to eat them!

Moments after the big bang…

Prehistoric fertility 2 finished and renamed!

I really need to learn how to take photographs!  This is a dreadful picture of this textile work.

It’s framed and renamed to be entered into a local art competition – Aber Valley Arts – along with two other pieces of my artwork, but I don’t know which two yet.  I have to choose then write some gumpf to go with them.  I’ll be asking my pal, the head of art at work, to help me choose the others.

So, it’s been a busy morning here measuring and cutting daler-board to mount the various art works (seven in total, phew!) and calculating any aperatures that need to be cut.

Time for a ginormous mug of tea!

Warming Winter Stew

Aaargh!  Today!

Today has been a frantic day in work.  Problems with mobile phones on in class, one madam actually was on Facebook!  Confiscation and all the hassle that causes ensued.  The noise today has been … almost totally unbearable, as has been the general lack of cooperation and respect.  I’m beginning to think there should be a total blanket ban on mobile phones in school.  They’re causing no end of trouble and disruption to lessons now.  The school does have a telephone system itself and if there is a reason to contact parents, or a reason for parents to contact their little darlings then it can be done via that system.  It always used to work perfectly fine as I remember.  The rules about having phones turned off (not just to silence) during lessons don’t seem to work, and the problems/issues that result from this …

So, I am so glad to be home.  I was met, unusually, by my pusscat who purred and fussed around me until I followed him upstairs to make a huge fuss of him (and he of me) before he settled back down to sleep.

Now, I am sat tippytapping at the ‘puter keyboard and my nose is being comforted by the delicious smell of a winter veggie stew cooking on the hob.

There is nothing like a hearty stew to warm the cockles of ones heart, or to comfort an over stressed me.  I will be making dumplings to go in it a bit later on in it’s cooking.  Then, when all is cooked to perfection, I shall enjoy eating it while cwtched up under a cuddly and warm fleecy blanket.  I’m sure the warmth and the goodness will sooth my frazzled emotions, will calm my jittery nerves, and I will feel so much better.  I already do, in fact, as the process of caring for another living creature and then taking the time to create a healthy, hearty feast for myself has been an example of self-caring.

Stew Recipe

No quantities will be given,  just ingredients … I’m very much an instinctive cook and just seem to know how much to put in by looking.  Of course, I vary the ingredients depending on what I have available or what I fancy.

Onions, fried in vegetable oil.  Today I added some Quorn Steak Strips and fried them until they were browned.  Next I added some roughly diced swede, parsnip carrot and potato and coated them all in the quorn and onions.  Red split lentils and pearl barley were then added and stirred around to coat them in the cooking juices.  Pepper and salt were added and then boiling water.  A couple of Just Bouillon veggie stock cubes, a sprinkling of mixed herbs, a couple of cloves of garlic finely sliced (they’ll disintegrate during cooking) and a healthy dollop of English Mustard.

It will take around 45 mins to 1 hour for the lentils and pearl barley to cook.  Around 20 minutes before the end of this time I will add dessert spoons of dumpling mixture – approx. 4oz of self-raising flower mixed with 2oz of veggie suet, salt and pepper to taste and maybe a few more mixed herbs.  A little milk and water is used to mix it to a sticky dough.  The lid is replaced on the pan and it’s all left to cook for 20 mins or so.

Served with a good shaking of veggie worcestershire sauce, it is one of the most comforting winter dishes I know!

I like to have more parsnips than swede and carrots; they give such a lovely, sweet flavour.  Sometimes I will add brussel sprouts and mushrooms to the veggie mix, but not today.  Sometimes I don’t use the Quorn.  Sometimes instead of putting potato in the stew, I’d boil or bake potatoes separately.  Today it’s a one-pot feast!  And there’s plenty there for tomorrow too!

And now I definitely feel a lot better!

Solstice cuff/bracelet and Indian food

 

Solstice cuff/bracelet

I finished the above cuff a little earlier on this evening.  It’s not a good photograph; I’ve not managed to work out how to photograph my jewellery well, yet.

I spent most of yesterday afternoon and evening working on it, the same this afternoon.  I got so engrossed in the intricacy of the work and the enjoyment of it that I lost track of time and finally made it to bed around 1 am!  It certainly stopped me from being bored!

It’s most probably around 7½” long and around 1½” wide.  Silver ‘Japan’ thread, various metallic threads, sequins, and silver-lined Japanese seed and bugle beads were used to create the pattern on the top and to edge the piece.  Black felt is used as the background as it doesn’t fray and gives a wonderfully dark, matt background in contrast to the sparkle and shimmer of the surface decoration.

The design flows out of me intuitively.  Curves and spirals feature in much of may artwork, and this is a piece of art to be worn for sure!

The blue, green and silver seem appropriate to me at this time of year, reminding me of the sparkling snow, the bright green shoots that will soon appear as the world turns on once more.  Blues and purples just remind me of the winter night sky, sparkling stars and glowing Moon set into its velvety darkness.   I’ve called it the Solstice cuff as is an expression of how I feel at this Solstice.

It’s been a long time since I created any textile jewellery.  I seem to have lost myself in watercolours and pens and pencils and abstract art for a long time.  Sometimes it’s nice to do something different.  I certainly reminded myself of how much I enjoy creating such things as this cuff.

Indian food

While writing this entry, I have some pans of Indian food cooking on the hob.  The smells coming from the kitchen are delicious, even if I say so myself!

I’m visiting friends tomorrow and taking the food for the day with me it seems.  Dahl and potato curry flavoured with fenugreek and garlic are the two dishes I’m making at the moment.  My friends’ daughter asked me to make a bucket of dhal, and so I have, though the bucket is the largest pan I have!  The potato curry also has peas, mushrooms and aubergine in it.   In the morning, most probably, I will make bhajees and pakoras as well as the mint raita.  Onion bhajees of course, but also onion, aubergine, pepper and mushroom pakoras will be made.  I’ve cheated and bought naan breads and ready cooked popadams.

Why Indian food?  Well … I’m rather good at cooking it, apparently, and also its a total change of flavour for those who have feasted on the traditional Christmas vittles, something I’ve not done.  When I take the time to cook for myself, I often cook Indian food.  However, I’m lazy when it comes to looking after myself properly, and that is something that will have to change sooner rather than later.

I enjoy cooking for other people, and I don’t do it often.  I’ve become more of a recluse than ever in the last couple of years, and that is worrying me.  I had to go out shopping today in order to cook this wonderful yet simple feast.  It was strange being where other people were.  The snow here gave me the excuse to stay home and not bother with other human beings much at all.  Now the rain has come, the thaw has begun and I have few excuses to stay away from people.

Well, I’d better go and stir the pans on the hob, or rather stir the contents of the pans, now that I’ve stirred up some inner issues within me.

Labels, work, stress and knits.

Jam Jar Labels.

I got some labels done for a friend for their home made jams and chutneys.  They are chuffed with them, and I’m pleased that they like.  They liked my illustration for my Harvest Moon blog entry, and wanted their labels in a similar style.   The first one below is for the larger jars, the second for he smaller jars.  It took a while to get the first one ‘fit for purpose’, but I’m really pleased with it.  It gives visual hints as to where the produce was grown and collected for the preserves.  I also am pleased that my rather simplified style of art has found a ‘niche’.  The smaller label works just fine too, similar design, but the landscape faded out so the information about the contents can be typed over it.

A friend at work asked if I’d design some for a relative of hers as a Christmas present, as they are always making jams and preserves too.  So of course I’ll do that.

Work, stress and knitting.

Three weeks back at the chalkface (though no one uses chalk in the classroom anymore!) and the stresses of dealing with uncooperative, disrespectful teens and managing a workday that is like climbing on a treadmill that has been set by someone else who is calling the tune, and running to keep up with the changes in pace until eventually you are thrown off as your feet get in a tangle.  Well, that’s how it feels once more at the moment…despite the help I have once a week, I’m not yet able to break the cycle I’ve managed to get myself caught up in over a lifetime, and of course when things go wrong, or at least aren’t perfect, then I blame myself and beat myself up with it once again.  But it’s not as bad as it used to be, it just seems a long journey to get to where I’d like to be.  And one straw was added to the burden that’s built up since the return to work on Thursday that caused me to lose my temper briefly.  That led to me having a very upset digestive system for the rest of the day night, and a thumping headache that was with me most of Friday, Ibuprofen only just taking the edge off it.

This lead me to feeling I needed to find an activity in the evenings that relaxed me, didn’t require a lot of concentration and that I could just pick up and put down at will.  I love art, but when I start on an art project I can get consumed by it, stay up later than is wise for me as I totally lose track of the time.  I wanted something that wouldn’t need my eyes to work in sharp focus (note to self – opticians!). Something that didn’t need a lot of concentration.  Something that kept my hands and eyes busy but left my mind free to think or to follow a film.  And that reminded me of why I used to love to knit and crochet so much.  I was doing something, something creative, but something that let me be still and calm, to just ‘be’.  I knew I needed projects that could be either finished quickly or were made up of smaller individual pieces which could be finished quickly.  Projects where I could utilise my own creativity, perhaps even learn about free-form work, and maybe even combine all of this with other forms of art that I love to do to create mixed media works or jewellery.   I wanted things I could do while too tired, too stressed out to settle to anything else.  Something that would help me settle when like this, and perhaps small enough that I could carry it with me.

Well, in quite a synchronistic manner, one of those emails containing recommendations of books from Amazon appeared in my in-box, and on it were books of knitting and crochet.  I followed them, and added a large number of books to my large-ish Amazon wishlist, and I ordered two books that really caught my eye.

One was the ‘Prayer Shawl Companion’ by Janet Bristow, which caught my attention because of the contemplative, spiritual aspect of knitting, and gathering together with other like minded souls to create to gift to others in need, to send out thoughts for healing, love, peace and help to where it is most needed.

The other was ‘Mindful Knitting by Tara Jon Manning’ which appealed because it talks of the contemplative, meditative aspects of knitting.

Both of these books are on their way to me, and I hope that they are what I hope them to be.  I may post pictures of the projects here.  And it may be that like-minded people may gather together with me to create to help others.  I don’t know…yet.

I do know a friend at work has asked me to teach them to crochet.  So, after work on Thursday, I wandered through my local town to the only shop that now sells yarns, knitting needles and crochet hooks, to get some light coloured chunky wool, a large hook so she can see easily what to do, and can hold it more easily in her hands – she has rheumatoid arthritis, but she thinks this will help to exercise her hands and give her something creative to do.

Of course, I have been knitting squares of various stitch patterns and using coloured yarns, all of a similar size, just to keep me occupied while I await the arrival of the books.  And hopefully the books will also inspire me to be confident in creating my own things.  I’m particularly intrigued by ‘free-form’ crochet, as I am with ‘free-form’ beading.  But, we shall see what comes of this.

I do create textile jewellery from time to time – many examples can be seen at Artwyrd.deviantart.com, though I’ve not created any for a long while now, having a stock of them and nothing to do with them!  Finding the right market for them is a problem as they are so unique I suppose.  Maybe I can make use of my knitting/crochet skills to create different ways of wearing my beaded/wire/textile art … that’s something to think about at least!

I did have an interesting time trawling through eBay looking at the knitting yarns available and seeing some rather exquisite, and expensive, examples.  And with some of them my mind went to making small, heartfelt gifts not to wear but to keep.  Something to do for Yuletide/Christmas gifts p’raps.  Now that’s a thought.  And it’s more or less time for me to start thinking about creating my Yule cards.  For a good few years now I’ve made my own cards for that time of year, and it does take quite a bit of time to create them!