Elderflower season

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The elderflower season is upon us! To me, the arrival of the elderflower heralds the beginning of the summer months; bringing with it memories of warm, relaxing days, drinking elderflower spritzers, eating sun ripened strawberries and watching tennis at Wimbledon…

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I just love the frothy whiteness of the blossom at this time of the year – it really is a joy to behold.  I have been picking several umbels each time I go for a walk and have been busy making elderflower cordial, cold water infusions and drying the flowers for tea. What a foraging treat!

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Elderflowers have some wonderful properties: they are both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, so can help alleviate the symptoms of colds, flus and other viruses. They can also help with the symptomatic relief of allergies and boost the immune system. I always use the berries in the autumn to make tinctures and syrups for winter illnesses. Last year the berries were quite scarce, so I had to used dried berries. I am hoping that the abundance of flowers this season will lead to a bumper berry harvest in the autumn. Fingers crossed!  In the meantime I will enjoy the gift of the fragrant elderflower.

Ideally elderflowers should be picked in the morning on a bright sunny day. The flowers should be nice and white and open with no browning and should be picked from an area away from traffic as they, like all natural things, absorb pollution. Only take a few flowers from each tree so there are still plenty of berries for autumn foraging and to feed the birds in the autumn and winter.

I tend to suffer from hayfever around this time of year, so I thought I would dry some elderflowers to drink in tea when I experience hayfever symptoms as I heard it can help.  I laid them on a baking tray in an airing cupboard (so in a dry place out of direct sunlight) but you can also lay them on cardboard or anything like that. They should dry within a week. I removed the stalks and  am storing them in an airtight container for future use.

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I have also made a couple of bottles worth of elderflower syrup for us to enjoy. I tried making a sugar-free elderflower cordial last year, using dates, in two different ways, but we didn’t really like the results very much. One was very fermented and no doubt healthy, but it didn’t get drunk so no one gleaned the health benefits!! So this year I decided we would use sugar.

The cordial I made is a modification of two different recipes. One had far too much sugar in it for my liking and the other assumed you boil the water and sugar first and pour it over the elderflowers, which I hadn’t done.  It has worked out well I think. There is still plenty of sugar in it so it should keep well, but it’s probably not very immune boosting! 🙂

The main thing is that we are enjoying it – and drinking in all that lovely sunshine!

Anyway, this is how I made it:

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  • Cover the elderflowers and lemons with water and soak for 24 hours (or a little longer if you forget about it!)
  • Sieve the water solution into a measuring jug, discarding the flowers and stems. Pour it into a big pan, keeping track of the quantity of liquid you are using.
  • Add 250g sugar per litre of water – I added 500g to my 2 litres of water
  • Bring the sugar solution to the boil and simmer on a low heat for twenty minutes.
  • Pour into clean, sterilised glass bottles using a funnel.

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Enjoy!

Not long after making this cordial,  I went to a party and drank an elderflower infusion, which is essentially elderflowers covered in water and left to infuse overnight. The flowers and stems are removed in the morning. What remains is water infused with the delicate sweet flavour of elderflowers. It is a light, fragrant drink and sugar free!

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Being sugar free, it doesn’t keep long like the elderflower cordial, but I have been making infusions every couple of days as I really enjoy them and am sure they make an immune boosting treat! 🙂

Oh I do love foraging – nature provides us with everything we need;  if only we knew how to recognise and use the herbs and plants that grow so generously by the wayside like our ancestors would have done. I intend to find out more 🙂

On another note, whilst I am writing about summer beverages….

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We  have been enjoying fresh mint tea from the copious supply of mint in our garden and on hot days, we have been drinking iced water with cooling mint and lemon slices. So refreshing! Our mint attracts a particular moth that tends to lay its eggs on the mint. Last year the mint was doing so well but by July and August, it had been bitten to shreds and looked a sorry sight 😦 I fear the same is going to happen this year as there are dozens of mint moths on it at all times.

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I have collected some sprigs to dry indoors, to store for mint tea and flavourings

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but for now we are making sure we enjoy it in all kinds of salads and drinks before it is no more. I am not sure how to prevent the moths from laying eggs. If anyone has any ideas, I would love to hear from you!

I hope you too are enjoying all the delights of the season. 

 

Whitsun half term break

 

The weather is wild out there as I sit in the comfort of my living room writing this. The rain is lashing against the window panes and the wind is howling round our house, chasing stray items around the garden and leaves have been torn from the trees.

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It has been wild all night so we have had broken sleep and lots of anxiety from my eldest, who is suffering from a whole host of fears at the moment. The weather is really reflecting how she is feeling this morning – rather stormy and restless. poor love 😦

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Here she is in a sunnier moment, dear sweet girl 🙂

The children are returning to school today all dressed in white for their Whitsun assembly. The Whitsun message is so welcome right now, with much in the World feeling so unsettled and divided. If only we could understand each other fully, really speak each others language and perceive how each other experiences the World, we would find so much more empathy and peace; both at home and in the World. So much heartbreak and discontent comes from feeling separate and misunderstood. If we cling to our persona, our class, our political allegiance, our national pride, our religion, our generation, our culture, our upbringing or our opinions, whatever they may be, it segregates and distances us from others human beings. This distance can create fear; of the unknown (culture, religion…) and fear ultimately keeps us separate.

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We are all precious children of God, the Universe, the World, no matter what our belief systems are and we all wish to be happy and free from suffering. If only we were to understand each other better, we would no doubt realise we are all the same underneath.

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Hmnn…not what I was planning to say (!) but I guess the Whitsun message has been on my mind lately. I wrote about it a bit here last year

Back to half term!! We had a lovely ten day break from school and were blessed with some warm, sunny days. We celebrated my youngest daughter’s Birthday at the beginning of the week and spent some lovely fun afternoons with friends.

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The children enjoyed having lots of time for free play : in the school holidays, I try to protect our mornings for home time. In the afternoons we are free to see friends or go out on errands. I must admit we spent several days in our pyjamas until midday!!

The girls really appreciated some less structured time at home. They have given all their toys a new lease of life this week 🙂

They have been dressing up,

playing out on the street

being creative

and throwing water over each other to cool down!

and generally having a marvellous time together. I am so pleased they are such good friends – may it always be thus.

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On Friday, we went for a walk with good friends to forage for elderflowers. They seem to be prolific this year. We easily managed to fill a big bag and there were plenty for both our families.

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I made elderflower cordial with most of the flowers and am drying a few umbels for elderflower tea.

It was so lovely to be out in nature with friends.

The children are so much freer with all that space around them and spent a lot of time running through the fields.

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On the weekend we went to Alfriston Clergy House with my mother.

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This medieval thatched cottage was the first property acquired by the newly formed National Trust in 1896.

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It was dilapidated at the time, but has been since been restored to how it once would have been.

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It has a beautiful cottage style garden, complete with a productive vegetable garden

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and a wonderful orchard to play in.

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We found an apple press secreted under one of the apple trees.

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It was an enjoyable visit and good to spend time with Oma (German for grandmother) who came to visit us this weekend.

As for me, it is my first day alone after ten days with the children, so I am playing catch up. As far as making goes, I have started work on my eldest daughter’s sweater in sunshine yellow.

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It is knitting up well so far, except for a small mistake on the ribbing that my daughter doesn’t seem to mind. Phew!

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She has also chosen material so I can make her a Geranium dress like her sisters. I hope to be cutting that out shortly. My daughter is going on a class trip in a couple of weeks time and I would like these to be finished by then (even if they are impractical to take with her!!) It’s always good to have a deadline I find. I will probably also finish her Infinity Cowl to keep her warm on cooler evenings camping. I just want to wrap her up in homemade goodness, so she can feel how loved and protected she is.

I have been reducing my photos in size so they don’t take up so much memory space, but I don’t feel the clarity is quite the same. I wonder if anyone has any suggestions about this? How do you load your photos onto your blog? (if you have one!) I would be grateful of any advice. 

Joining the crafty folks at Frontier Dreams Crafting On

This past week

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We are back in the school routine now, since yesterday. My daughters were fine going back, although I am sure they would much rather be at home playing! We had a lovely week pottering about the house and seeing a few more friends. I try to be very child centred in the holidays and love to spend time with my daughters. I sometimes hear parents complain that the holidays are too long, but I enjoy having my children at home with me and having fun and adventuring together. I feel very fortunate to be a stay-at-home parent and homemaker and to spend this time with my children. There are sacrifices in this life too, but it is a life I choose willingly.

This week:

*   We made these cheese biscuits, which we quite like. I purchased some bunny cutters  before Easter so we could make Easter biscuits and then proceeded to mislay them! 😦 Getting set up for Easter with our two nature table boxes and all the paraphenalia we like to scatter about the place (!),  returning from holiday and an accumulation of paperwork (that always tends to go on the backburner in the holidays), not to mention all the craft materials squirrelled here and there inbetween activities – make it difficult to locate things!  I found them a couple of days after Easter (!) so we finally made shortbread biscuits (albeit parmesan shortbread..)

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*   We finally made some balms using the calendula, chickweek and plantain oils that we created last summer and that have been lurking at the back of the fridge for rather a long time!! I have been promising my daughters we would make the balms  for ages, every time they had a scratch, itch or bite – I really don’t know what took me so long – it is so easy to do!!

I mixed the three oils together as this trio soothe all manner of skin ailments.  I think I will mix comfrey oil into it next time to really cover everything!

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Calendula is a great all round skin soother. It can be used on cuts, mild burns, insect bites and dry, chapped skin, including the lips. It can also help soothe rashes (including nappy rash) and chickenpox scabs, to mention a few.

Plantain (plantago) helps to treat cuts and skin irritations such as nappy rash, sunburn, nettle stings, insect bites and bee stings. It is anti-inflammatory.

Chickweek (stellaria) can be used on cuts, bruises, sores and dry, chapped skin and is also good for rashes (when I was pregnant with my eldest, I had an allotment and the caterpillars there gave everyone an allergic rash. I had it all over my belly and legs and used chickweed ointment to alleviate the itch. Very effective, I found).

We found the recipe in our herb fairies magazine, but something very similar is also in the wonderful resource Medicinal Herbs – a Beginners Guide by Rosemary Gladstar.

Here’s how to make our “triple action” soothing balm:

You will need:

1 cup of herb oil – single oils or a combination of your favourite ones
1/4 cup beeswax
2 Vitamin E gel capsules ( if you have them)

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Measure out a third of a cup of each oil ( or one cup if you are only using one oil).

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Heat gently in a bainmarie (glass bowl over a saucepan of boiling water in our case).

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Add a quarter of a cup of grated beeswax.

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Once the beeswax is melted, test the consistency of the balm, by either putting a small amount on a plate and placing it in the freezer for a minute, or put a small amount on a teaspoon and see how it sets.

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If the consistency is as desired then you are ready to decant the liquid. If it is too soft,  add a little more beeswax to make it firmer or if it is too hard, add a little more oil.  Ours is lovely and soft and easy to apply. If you have them, add two Vitamin E capsules. Pierce them with a pin and squeeze them into your cooling liquid.

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Decant the liquid into your containers using a ladle. It will be hot, so make sure they are on the surface where they will cool.

Add the essential oil of your choice or leave it ‘au naturel’. I looked up essential oils for dry skin and rose and geranium seemed popular, so the girls decided on rose. I made one with rose and geranium for my husband and rose and jasmine for me as they are favourite scents of mine.

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It feels like a lovely treat applying it and my daughters, who dislike being doctored by me, can doctor themselves with these soothing balms. They are using it for everything and it is very gentle on their sensitive skins. I have eczema on one of my hands – due to all the washing up, garden duties, hand washing etc and it has already made a difference, so I would highly recommend making your own herbal oils and balms. They cost very little and are a wonderful way to conserve natures medicines. I believe they last up to a year in a cool place. I don’t think they will last so long here!!

And one last step, just because… label your jars beautifully. My motto is:  whatever you do, make it beautiful  🙂

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*   We finally started work in our vegetable garden. As we were away over the Easter break, we didn’t want to start beforehand as it was too dry and there was no one to water the plants in the greenhouse.

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I try to follow the Biodynamic Calendar for our planting and sowing:

On Easter Monday afternoon we sowed our fruiting plant seeds in pots, eg: tomatoes, squash, sweetcorn, courgettes, peas and beans.

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This past Sunday afternoon we put our leafy veg seeds in the beds eg: spinach, chard, celery, salads, leaf herbs, leeks, cabbages etc.

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We will sow our root veg seeds on Friday eg: carrots, parsnips, onion, garlic, potatoes.

I learnt this method from an older chap that I used to talk to at my allotment many years ago, who was a great admirer of Rudolf Steiner’s work and it has stood me in good stead (this was years before I had children and discovered Waldorf education).

We were rather late getting our crops in last year, but everything grew well, so we are hopeful. We certainly grew enough to feed our chickens and guinea pigs and had a glut of tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries and a few other goodies.

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I have covered the sown beds with washed and crushed egg shells (that I have been saving all winter) to try to deter snails and slugs and will be ordering some nematodes soon as too many of our little seedlings were dessimated last year. I have also heard that covering the beds with holly helps ,so i may go out and see what I can find in my local park 🙂 Fingers crossed!

*    I am still working on my purple sweater. It has mainly been knitted on car journeys and whilst watching episodes of Fawlty Towers on Netflix (a politically incorrect but hilarious comedy show about a English hotel, set in the 1970’s). It reaches past my waist now and I only have one skein left to knit up, so hopefully it won’t take too long. I am really enjoying the colour so it keeps me interested!

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Next I need to start thinking about making birthday presents for my youngest who will be eight at the end of May and my eldest has put in a request for short sleeved version of this cardigan designed by the very talented Laura . I would like to make it for her before she goes on her school camp in June.

*    Another little crafting achievement this week is this “Piggywig” my eldest daughter needlefelted for a game 🙂

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I love it. She is thinking of making more to sell at the Christmas Fayre at our school in December.  It is always good to make plans 🙂

What are you enjoying making/creating this week?

Joining Nicole at Crafting On

 

The magic of Lemon Essential Oil

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Just before Christmas I attended an Essential Oils Seminar from a Doterra representative. It was a lovely, cosy morning with like minded folk, learning about essential oils and their myriad uses and sampling some delicacies such as humous with lemon oil ( yummy – so fresh!) and raw chocolate with peppermint and orange oil (dreamy and so moreish!) and drinking mulled apple juice with Onguard (based on the four thieves recipe). This was a real treat for me. I have been on the lookout to buy some therapeutic grade essential oils that I can take orally, so I was delighted to discover Doterra oils (who are relatively new to Britain). They do rigorous testing on all their products and they are 100% pure and sourced carefully from all around the world. The oils are quite pricey, but they are by far a superior product to many of the other cheaper brands (who say they are 100% essential oils, but usually have another carrier oil  added to keep the costs down. These are not suitable for oral consumption and pose health risks if ingested).

I became very interested in essential oils and their wonderful health benefits after watching an episode of the inspiring Documentary Series The Truth About Cancer – A Global Quest a year or so ago. I diffuse Onguard or my own version of it (orange or lemon with rosemary, eucalyptus, clove and cinnamon) with Frankincense oil to help me stay well. I still get the beginnings of a cold but I fight it off quickly and never seem to have any after effects, like lingering coughs. It is revelation to me!

I sometimes add a drop of lemon (or orange) essential oil to a big jug of water to drink during the day.  It is a powerful cleanser. It binds petrochemicals and can take them out of your body. This is also why you can’t put lemon essential oil in a plastic water bottle and drink it, as it leaches the petrochemicals from the plastic! It is certainly powerful stuff and essential oils should only be taken orally with caution especially if you are sensitive or have high toxicity levels. Putting them on the soles of your feet with a carrier oil is a safer method. Alternatively they can be applied around the base of your neck or on your hands so you can also receive the benefit of inhaling these powerful oils which are wonderfully mood enhancing too.

Lemon oil is also a fantastic cleaner (as is orange oil) and I have been cleaning our guinea pig hutch with lemon oil (the cheaper version!) and water for over a year now: it smells fresh and feels clean too and is healthy for the guinea pigs too. 🙂

But something I didn’t know about lemon essential oil is that it is really good at getting sticky residues off things; they literally melt away. So in the week after Christmas I tried it out on our Clavinova (piano) keys and it worked a treat!

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My eldest daughter often sits at the piano, finding tunes and making up her own. Unbeknown to me she decided to cover the keys with stickers and sticky tape! 😦 I have tried all sorts of things to try to remove the dirty marks, including alcohol and vinegar amongst others, but nothing really worked until then.

The marks literally melted away with the Lemon Essential Oil: I just put a couple of drops directly onto the keyboard and rubbed a little with my fingertips and the sticky residue simply dissolved. Just like magic! Despite being a while ago, I had to share it here,  incase it would help anyone 🙂

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I feel so happy as the keyboard looked so dreadful and not at all inviting. Now it is sparkling clean and we can enjoy using it again. Thank you Lemon Essential Oil! 🙂

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Celebrating quietly and looking forward to the New Year

Today is already the Fifth Day of Christmas.

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We have five little booties hanging from a red ribbon on our mantlepiece to mark the passing of the days and we are enjoying reading our post-Christmas books. We always save reading Wenceslas until Boxing Day (26th December) and The Twelve Days of Christmas and the Babouschka stories come out on Christmas Day. We love singing around here and especially love a rousing song of Good King Wenceslas and The Twelve Days of Christmas :-).

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I had meant to write before, but we haven’t been feeling too good here, so I have been too exhausted to write in the evenings, which is when I usually write.  My husband has had a virus for over three weeks and my daughters and I have sore throats on and off and are easily tired out. We are trying to keep the virus at bay with regular diffusions of the “Four Thieves” oil combination (Clove, Lemon, Rosemary, Eucalyptus and Cinammon) as found here. I also rub the Onguard oil from Doterra on the children’s feet and have been known to drink it in warm mulled apple juice :-). I  really do think it is helping, but we are not on form right now, so we are staying low key and have had to cancel many of our lovely arrangements with friends, which is a shame, but can’t be helped.

The lead up to Christmas was actually very nice and slow. (I think starting earlier with my preparations helped a lot). On the 23rd, we spent a lovely day with friends running around a National Trust place near us, eating spicy biscuits and doing a winter trail.

On Christmas Eve, my daughters and I went to a Christingle Service at a local church; something we have done for many years. It always marks the start of Christmas for us. The service was beautiful and all the children were involved in setting up the stable. The Nativity story was told to us in such a detailed and imaginative way; it engaged both young and old alike. The sun had set as we left the Church and it felt like magic was in the air; as we imagined the imminent arrival of baby Jesus and of Father Christmas (!) during the night.

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There was much excitement as the girls hung their stockings, wrote their notes to Father Christmas and prepared a mince pie and a small glass of Baileys for Father Christmas and a carrot for the reindeer. The girls also received new pyjamas on Christmas Eve – something we have done for many years and is awaited by them with great anticipation! We also look at the Norad Santa tracker to see where Father Christmas is. It really captures the girls’ imagination.

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I managed to finish the Phoebe mice I have been knitting for my daughters. It was a close call and I was up until late on Christmas Eve still sewing the eyes, eyelashes and nose on (!), but it was so worth it. My daughters were delighted and are really loving their new friends Lily Lou (in blue) and Phoebe (in pink).

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My eldest daughter even said today that she loves her doll more every day. How to melt a mama’s heart 🙂

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I realised late on that I never did a gauge swatch and I think I used the wrong yarn too! (I was trying to use up  yarn I had left over from some ponchos I made my daughters last Christmas), so they may well be on the larger size! I also found I had quite a few gaps around the face and neck, so I wove the gaps together as neatly as I could. The Phoebe in the pink dress needed a scarf to hide her rather gaunt looking neck! But my youngest daughter is happy with her so that’s all that matters.

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Their dresses are also different lengths. I blame late night knitting!!!….

My daughters have asked me to knit them a cardigan each as they think they are feeling the cold! So I have printed out the Phoebe Mouse Sweater pattern to take away to knit when we go on holiday to the Canary Islands in a few days time. They will hopefully be nice and warm in their cardigans on their return to the UK in January 🙂

I made a start last night as I was itching to get knitting again.

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It is nice to be knitting with no deadline this time. I was up until 1am on more nights than I care to recall! It’s no surprise I am a bit worse for wear now, I suppose?

The girls made us some little homemade Christmas presents too, which we have hung in the tree. These are mine:

And these are for my husband to hang in his van:

My eldest also made her sister a secret Christmas skirt at her Dressmaking class. She has made her sister very happy!  I was so pleased to find this fabric in mid-December, as a lot of shops were running out of pretty, affordable Christmas fabrics and my youngest loves gingerbread men.

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I still haven’t finished the sewing projects I started here as we didn’t end up seeing many friends or any relatives in the weeks before Christmas, due to my husband being ill, so I have put these projects on hold until the New Year, when I will have more time.

On the 27th we had a dear friend round for food, fun and several rounds of charades! It made a nice change from just being us ( even if it wore us out somewhat…). She is a dear friend to us all and sometimes looks after our daughters for us for a day, so my husband and I can have some much needed time together.Our daughters just adore her: she is quiet and thoughtful like them and creative with a good sense of humour, so they are well matched. 🙂

We made a selection of sweet treats to enjoy over the festive break. We try to make them with minimal sugar and wheat free. Some were better than others, but my daughters are used to these experiments 😉 and very much enjoyed having lots of biscuits to choose from!

As for the Nature table, it is full now. The fourth week of Advent brought the Shepherds to the hill, the Inn Keeper, the Angels and of course Baby Jesus on Christmas Day. I made these figures eight years ago. Mary isn’t in the right colours and I could definitely improve on them now that I have better sewing skills (I first learnt to hand sew in our Parent and Child group, when my eldest was two and this is where my love of making things for my children and for the Nature Table began), but somehow I never do. They belong to the Nature Table and what would I do with them otherwise? They are imbued with something special from all the years of walking the star path!

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Here is the angel (who climbs the blue silk ribbon star path) telling the Shepherds the good news on Christmas Day.

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And here are the shepherds arriving at the stable the next day with their sheep in tow.

The three wise men  have begun their journey to Bethlehem, where they will arrive on the 6th January ( Epiphany).

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They are making their way across our lounge to the Nature Table; a little way further each day. We don’t have camels, so are making do with these elephants (I just noticed one seems to be going backwards – Oops!)

The Christmas Play that our daughters performed for us was great. We weren’t allowed to take photos, so that we were fully present and didn’t distract them, but here is our entrance flyer and Rudolph 🙂 We were impressed how well it flowed and the igloo I mentioned here worked out well for all the costume changes too. 🙂

That’s our Christmas so far. Here are a few more photos of things that appear on Christmas Day.

We will be leaving for the Canary Islands on the 31st December, so I have a fair bit of packing to do until then and will have to take our decorations down tomorrow too 😦 . I am putting together, the things that we traditionally do on New Years Eve, to take with us and thought I would share them with you, despite this being a very long post and my being rather tired… I hope it makes sense!

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We are going to choose five stars each and write down something we enjoyed in 2016 on each of the stars. It can be very simple, but it is a great way to focus on gratitude and the good things that have happened in our lives. We will then hang them up as a garland, using the little pegs. In years gone by, I have cut out little leaves from green paper and pegged them to a branch as shown in this photo.

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The burlap will be tied around some greenery (that we hope to find) and we will write our wishes for 2017 on paper and tie it all up to be burned, so we can send those wishes out to the universe. Last year we burned them in our wood burner.

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We also do another lovely tradition that I thought I would share here in case any of you would like to do the same? There is something similar in the book All Year Round.

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I have gathered up these treasures to take with us.

You will need:

  • Dark blue tissue paper
  • Walnut halves – one per person
  • Little birthday candles – one per person
  • A pack of angel cards
  • Crystals and coins – for the abundance corner
  • A key and shells – for the adventure corner
  • Hearts – for the love corner
  • A pine cone, a toadstool and greenery – for the healing corner
  1. Lay the dark blue tissue paper into a shallow dish, such as a glass baking dish.
  2. Create a health, abundance, love and healing corner, so one of each in the four corners of your dish, by placing the above mentioned items there.
  3. Fill the dish with water to three quarters full – the walnuts boats will need to float on it.
  4. Place the little birthday candles in the walnut halves, fixing them in place by melting a little candle wax to the bottom of the walnut boat.
  5. Divide the angel cards evenly into four piles and place a pile in each corner.
  6. Now think of your intentions and your hopes for the New Year. Take it in turns to light your candle and gently set your little walnut boat afloat in the centre of the dish.
  7. Let your boat surprise you. When it arrives at its destination, take an Angel Card from that Deck.

Simple, but oh so beautiful and  such a lovely ritual to do with friends and family. I have found the cards and destination to be very apt over the years we have done this.

Enjoy! 

Hoping that you are enjoying the Festive season and are staying warm and well.

I will be back later in the New Year. Wishing you a wonderful start to 2017.

Joining Nicole for KKCO

A need for quiet

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I have been feeling quite low in energy and consequently mood for the past couple of weeks. This often coincides with the full moon (which was a powerful one this week) or happens premenstrually, but it is also an autumn thing for me. Every year my energies dwindle in the autumn and I feel I would rather be a hedgehog and go into hibernation for a spell (!), but of course that isn’t possible, so I keep going, but it leaves me feeling more and more exhausted. This week my energies were so low, I found myself too tired to do the things I enjoy, like writing, imagining, creating… I have been feeling rather flat and uninspired 😦

For years, I suffered from SAD without knowing and always found myself in Counselling by January!  For me, it really starts at the end of August (when the light changes imperceptibly, but my body notices). I start to feel tearful or overwhelmed for no particular reason, even though it still feels very summery. I am so sensitive to the seasons and the moon. So sensitive in general. I always considered it to be a handicap, to be so controlled by and at the mercy of the elements and things/people around me. I now realise that my sensitivity is really a gift thanks to this book and other wise people I have encountered in my life. I know very quickly if things are out of kilter, if my life balance is off. My body tells me. It can feel quite inconvenient, this being a busy time of year; with a birthday and Christmas around the corner, but I need to learn to pace myself and to listen.  If I listen to my body, I know it is time to take better care of myself; to take that Epsom Salts bath, to light some candles and just be, to sit quietly with a cup of warm herbal tea or to cosy up with a good book or an uplifting film and some knitting.

When I started writing here, I wanted to share only the good stuff, the things that I enjoy and for which I am grateful. I still want to share what works for me and the joys, but I feel that it wouldn’t be authentic to not share the struggles at times and what I do to help myself during these times, as there may be someone out there just like me that it could help. After all life is made up of 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. We don’t do anyone any favours by pretending all is well all the time, just as we don’t do our friends any favours if our house is always pristine and tidy when they visit. Life and home life is a lot more messy than that and we all secretly know that.

I wonder if there are others of you out there who find this time of year a struggle too; who also feel a need to retreat from the busyness of modern family life?

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Over time, I have learnt some tools that can help me at this time of year when my mood and energy starts to dip. I thought I would share them with you in case there is anyone who it could help:

  • I have a “Happy (mood) Lamp” – if I start using it early enough it helps considerably. A mere 15 minutes a day can boost you. I often put it on at breakfast or whilst sewing. It mimics daylight and has been helping me for years. Because of the sunshine we have been having, I have only just retrieved it out from the attic again. I will report back on how I am feeling at a later date.
  • Vitamin D spray – I stopped using this over the summer because of all the sun we were having, but I can see I probably shouldn’t have as I do need it.
  • Walking – if I go for a good walk – even 10 minutes of brisk walking – it lifts my mood, especially if I go out in nature.
  • Quiet time. Just reserving my energy – as an introvert, my energy comes from being alone. When we are constantly busy or in company we easily get tired and cranky.
  • Making time for playfulness. Last year I attended a course on The Artists Way. I found that making myself go on an “Artist Date” every week – a solo trip out with just playfulness and relaxation in mind – was just what I needed to boost my mood. It takes you back to all the things you could indulge in as a teenager/young adult that seem so elusive as a mama with all the time constraints and commitments, but which we so need. I see that that is sorely missing this year and I will try to change that.
  • Do one thing – even if time is limited, I have a list of things that I really enjoy, that relax me and  ‘fill my cup’. For me these include: walking, a candlelit bath, reading ( even a few pages of this or another wholesome magazine), journalling, meditation, sudoku, knitting, yoga, rebounding, dancing around my lounge (!), a mindful cup of tea… If time is limited, it is still possible to fit one of those in, even for 10 minutes. It changes things. At the end of the day, I look back and see if I have included at least one thing that is just for me. I must admit, I have really gone off the boil with this but it really helps.
  • Gratitude List  – at the end of the day, I try to write 10 things for which I am grateful. When I was feeling good during the summer, I rather let this go, but I have restarted this practise as it really helps me to put things into perspective and focusing on gratitude is so important.
  • Meditation – helps me to bring my mind into the present, to listen to the tension in my body and to let it go. It can sometimes be difficult to focus when I am tired or my mind is restless and I have even been known to fall asleep in an evening meditation(!), but I would highly recommend a meditation practice or using affirmations, like ‘all is well, all will be well‘.

I am going to try to listen to my body; to slow down and be more present; to boost it with nourishing foods and more sleep. Our bodies have wisdom that we often ignore or resist. Resistance causes stress and stress wears us out.

I do know what to do, I just need to allow myself this time. Our culture wants us to keep going, everyone is busy and that is how we think it has to be. If there is a space in our schedule, we fill it with something. There is rarely a space to just be. I was listening to an interview at the Nourished Momma Summit and one of the speakers (I don’t recall who) mentioned that we are human beings, not human doings and this really resonated with me. I am always thinking what needs doing, what to do next, forgetting that it is o.k to just be.

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I have a party to organise for my eldest on her Hallowe’en birthday. I had planned to do two parties, one small one on Hallowe’en, as she really wants to have a Hallowe’en themed party this year (we haven’t had one for a couple of years as I thought it really overshadowed her birthday and she agreed) and then I was planning to do a craft party the week after for her school friends. Due to my low energy levels, I have persuaded her that one party is enough and she would rather have a calm mummy than the frazzled mummy I was becoming! There will be four friends and lots of fun and games.

Tomorrow we are heading off for a weekend in the New Forest in Hampshire – a wonderful place to spend an autumn day. We are really craving some family time together and a break from routine. Our family needs this regularly and we try to factor it in, especially at busy times. There is a deep need in us to reconnect in nature and away from home. Hopefully this will help my energy levels. I have certainly spent a lot of time indoors this half term while the children were at school; decluttering, doing jobs around the house, making things etc, so hopefully being out in nature will give me the boost I need and of course being with the ones I love in a relaxed space, taking things slowly.

Wishing you a peaceful autumn with many quiet moments to just be. 

Oh sweet purpleness..

Summer is slowly turning to autumn. ‘The Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness, that Keats wrote about in his poem  ‘Ode to Autumn’, is upon us. The morning mist hangs a little longer before the still warm sun burns through and blackberries dot the hedgerows, shining out like little jewels beckoning to be discovered amongst the overgrown brambles and nettles. My heart always soars each year as I see them anew. Treasure! I adore these sweet tasty morsels and the best bit is that they are so abundant and free for all! A real gift from dear Mother Earth.

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Last year I went on a great foraging course in early September and learned a lot about why certain foods are so freely available in nature at this time of year. It is not by chance that there is so much goodness in these autumn berries; they are densely packed with the exact nutrients that we, birds and wild animals need to stay healthy in the colder months ahead. These include: rose hips, hawthorn berries, sloes, elderberries and my favourite blackberries 🙂 . Nuts and seeds provide protein and good fats and the wild greens are full of vitamins and minerals. For the purpose of this post, I am sticking with the purple fruits that I am currently foraging.

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I am keen to pick as many blackberries as I can in the next couple of weeks as they go over quickly; I have frozen three baking sheets full so far. My children try to help, but really all that happens is they end up with berry stained hands and faces 🙂 but it is still fun to go picking together.

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Blackberries freeze wonderfully well and can easily be scooped into storage containers once they are frozen and keep for months – if we are lucky to have that many!  We will  add them to our porridge and use them to make comforting crumbles as the days get cooler. I am adding the really soft ones to my morning Kefir smoothie for a healthy dose of Vitamins C, E, K, A and B, not to mention all the other additional benefits mentioned here.  I try to go out daily to pick them in our locality. We are lucky to live near several parks which are within walking distance. Seeing them never ceases to fill me with childlike wonder. 🙂

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Another purple wonder that I make sure I pick at this time of year is elderberries.

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They grow in large umbrella shaped clusters. The berries are tiny and are only edible when cooked (although my mother says she used to eat them raw occasionally, but I wouldn’t recommend it). The larger stems are thought to contain large amounts of cyanide, so must be discarded, but I think its o.k to leave little bits of stem in if you are making tinctures and syrups as they will be strained off eventually.

I have been making elderberry tincture and syrups for some years now. It is a wonderful winter tonic and has such amazing anti viral properties, so it would be good to take a tincture all winter long as a preventative  – one teaspoonful added to water once a day or three times a day at the first sign of a cold or virus. For our children, we add a teaspoon to boiling water to remove the alcohol and let it cool before drinking.

It is easy to make large quantities of tincture to get us through the winter months. I am planning to make a batch of this simple tincture using the Vodka we bought in France for this purpose – I just need to find enough berries! Many trees in my district seem to have been stripped bare of berries, much to my dismay – the birds must have got there first – but hopefully I will venture a bit further afield later this week and find some more. Fingers crossed!

I am also planning to try this elderberry syrup recipe. I have made it with raw honey before and I recommend you store it in a refrigerator as I have found it turns sour quite easily when just stored in a cool dark cupboard. In the refrigerator it will store over the winter months. The syrup doesn’t last too long here  ( because we get through it quickly, it’s so yummy!), so we only use it when any of us are really sick with a cold or virus. We either administer it by spoon three times a day or add a generous teaspoonful to hot water to make a comforting warm drink with honey and lemon. My German grandmother always added elderberries to her ‘Gruetzen’ which are like warming fruit soups and to her homemade fruit juices.

Once you have picked the elderberries, the berries need to be removed from the stalk using a fork in a downward motion. Some folk freeze the berries complete with the stalk and then remove them from the stalk once they are frozen as it is considered easier, but I don’t find it a problem to remove the berries when they are fresh. It’s a bit messy, so make sure you cover your work surface or work over the sink. Once I have removed the berries from the stalk, I wash the berries in a bowl of water and scoop off the berries that are floating on the top ( they are usually not ripe). Then they are ready to work with.

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I may get some dried organic elderberries if I don’t manage to source enough in nature to supplement what I am missing as I really do swear by the tincture and syrup. They work wonders and can nip a cold in the bud ( along with olive leaf extract and extra doses of Vit C). Give it a try! Another wonderful free gift from Mother Earth.

And as we are on the topic of purple, I have just started the sleeves of this sweater for my youngest daughter. It is knitting up nice and easily and I love the colour and feel of the yarn, which makes the knit even sweeter.

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And to add to the purpleness of it all, the Michaelmas daisies in our garden are all out early this year. 🙂

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Purple is my favourite colour and the abundance of purple right now is making me smile. I hope you are enjoying all the bounty of the season and Keeping Calm and Crafting On too.

 

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Kefir love

I discovered Kefir a couple of years ago and I always feel better when i consume it regularly. It has a settling effect on my system and I can feel how good it is for my health. It certainly is an acquired taste, a bit like sour milk, but is well worth getting used to!

In October 2013, I  had my last silver (mercury containing) filling removed ( I had a chronic problem with my short term memory and various other health complaints which I discovered were linked to my fillings leaking out mercury. More of that another time...) and I was really sick for several months afterwards. All my muscles went weak and I could barely function for a good while. I did a lot of research about detoxing and how to help myself recover ( and will discuss this in another post). One of the many things I did was to start to strengthen my gut by drinking Kefir. It is a cultured drink made using Kefir grains. I drink milk Kefir ( preferably raw milk when i can get it) once a day now, but twice a day when I was sick. You can also make it with coconut milk, water, rice milk or something similar. Raw milk is great as it still has all the enzymes intact and all the goodness as it hasn’t been heat treated, but often I make do with pasteurised milk as it is quite a trip to the farm that does raw milk.

At the time when I was really sick, I drank Kefir straight ( i didn’t have a blender at the time) with a tablespoon of Udos oil, 1 tbl of Soya Lecithin granules and 1 tbl of good Whey Protein and some Chia seed powder. It was thick and not that tasty, but it felt so nourishing I kept it up anyway. Nowadays I make my own kefir and include it in my morning smoothies. It gives me a great start to the day.

I read that a good protein breakfast with good fats in it is an excellent start to the day. I had always had muesli, porridge or toast for breakfast, as this is the typical Western diet and for a long time I couldn’t imagine a smoothie would be filling enough as we have been encouraged to eat plentiful carbohydrates for energy, but it is so satisfying. My husband has a big smoothie in the morning and whereas he was always craving his lunch by 10am, now he is satisfied until lunchtime and he does a physical job, landscape gardening. I saw a wonderful documentary on the Food Matters Total Wellness Summit about the effects of carbohydrates on us and it was eye opening. Our whole Western diet is centred around carbohydrates and sugar and it is causing us  numerous problems in the long term, from diabetes to heart disease to cancer. Change is never easy, but I am hoping a little step at a time, an upgrade here and there will send me in the right direction.

To make the Kefir, I bought some Kefir grains online. I washed them in milk as per instructions and then added them to a large glass jar without a lid and poured in the milk. About a heaped tablespoon per litre of milk is ideal. It took a couple of days to get going, but now it is a 24 hour operation. It is best to stir the milk a couple of times at least during this time or shake the jar. Kefir needs to be kept in the dark and I cover mine with a piece of muslin tied on with an elastic band. It is best to get in a rhythm with the Kefir as it needs to be fed regularly ( don’t we all!), so for example I do my Kefir routine in the morning. I use a sieve to strain the milk and remove the grains and then a funnel to pour the milk into a bottle which i keep in the fridge ( Kefir keeps up to several days in the fridge, but never lasts that long here!)  I put the grains into another glass jar and cover that with milk and back it goes into my dark cupboard for another 24 hours. It doesn’t take much time and it is a great money saver as shop bought Kefir is pricey. The grains multiply very quickly, so when you find you have too many, find a friend to share them with. I need to do that right now as I have way too many grains for the size of my glass jar and milk!

I love Sandor Katz’s book the Art of Fermentation. It is a bible of everything you could possibly want to know about fermentation. I am just at the beginning, with Kefir, sprouts and some fermented veggies. I am excited to find out more and will no doubt share my findings!

Anyway, back to Kefir!

My daily Kefir smoothie is something like this:

1 glass of kefir

1/2 avocado ( good fats)

1 Banana

1 tsp of Chia seeds ( not more as it makes it too thick in my opinion)

2 tbl of Hemp seeds or hemp protein powder

a handful of blueberries or any other frozen or fresh fruit

1 tbl of Udos oil or flax oil or some healthy oil

1 tbl of Soya Lecithin granules

I also sometimes add 1 tbl of Maca ( great for womens’ health) , 1 tsp of Acai powder or 1tbl of Cacao powder  and 2 tsp of Bee Pollen to give it an upgrade. I try to use whatever i have around. It could be mango instead of blueberries or I add a good handful of spinach or sunflower sprouts. During the time when i was detoxing i added Whey Protein and I currently have some on order that I want to start putting in the family smoothies.(Whey protein should ideally come from grass fed cows and organic wherever possible).

Blend all the ingredients. Thin if necessary with a little water and enjoy and nourish!

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