Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Thanksgiving Connections

I'm going to be upfront. I haven't celebrated Thanksgiving since I last visited my family in 2003. Living in England, it's just another day. I do try my hardest to remember to call my mom, but this year it's fingers crossed that she's around between the time that I wander in after collecting the Imp from nursery and when I go to bed.

One of the things that I've been contemplating today, after speaking with one of my course mates and an instructor about Thanksgiving, is how much world history we Americans aren't taught when we were growing up.  Since moving to England, and especially since moving to Lincolnshire in 2005, I have learned so much more about the 'back stories' to historical events in the United States, and it all finally makes sense in my head. I still couldn't remember most dates if my life depended on it, but I now feel like my knowledge of history has been greatly enhanced, and I'm now understanding the reasons behind some of the major historical events that I grew up with.

Take Thanksgiving for example. What do you remember? I remember being taught that the Pilgrims sailed on the Mayflower, landed on Plymouth Rock, and after a hard time the Indians shared their bounty. Yep. That's it...that's all I remember from school. I never thought to question where and why the Pilgrims actually left England. I was under the assumption that the were all from the same town...Plymouth, in Devonshire, on the southern coast of England. Moving up to Lincolnshire was quite an enlightenment. I have since found out that the Pilgrims were of a branch of Quakers called Separatists, who didn't get along well with the majority of the public, who were Church of England. Laws were being established demanding that everybody attend the national church. The original Separatist church was in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, which just outside of Doncaster. After several years of problems, the Pilgrim Fathers (as they're referred to over here) decided that it was time to leave. They couldn't get the paperwork that would allow them to leave the country, so they tried to sneak out by hiring a boat out of Boston, Lincolnshire (east coast). They were caught and arrested as they tried to board the boat. A year later, another attempt was made and successful, when they hired a Dutch merchant to take them from Immingham (just outside of Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire) to Leiden, Holland, which was successful, and they stayed there for twelve years. They then decided that they wanted to create their own colony in the Americas, bought a small ship called the Speedwell, and travelled to England to meet up with the Mayflower in Southampton. Leaving in August 1620, the Speedwell wasn't up to the journey, so they returned to Plymouth, piled all 102 people onto the Mayflower, and left again in September. After the rough journey, losing two people and gaining a baby, the Pilgrims finally dropped anchor in November. An advance party went ashore, but the majority of the colonists remained on the ship until December 23rd, when they departed the Mayflower to build Plymouth colony.

Here comes the reason for Thanksgiving. Because they had landed in December, the winter was difficult because they had not stored away crops. Forty people were lost. On 16 March 1621, an Indian leader approached them, greeting them in English that had been taught to him by English fishermen that wintered in the area. After signing a treaty with Samoset and another leader, Squanto, the Indians taught the Pilgrims how to farm the land. That autumn, the Indians were invited for a feast from the bounty of the harvests.

It really makes you think about the reasons behind some holidays. Yes, I still see Thanksgiving as a time to be thankful for what we have, and to spend time with family. But now I also see it as a time to celebrate religious freedom, through observing the trials and tribulations that the Pilgrims went through to arrive to America. Many of us of different faiths have continued to fight for what we believe, to find the place that is right for us. For the Pilgrim Fathers, that was the east coast America. Have you found your place?

Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow to all of my family and friends in the United States.
Mel

References:
http://stufffromthelab.wordpress.com/2007/11/12/why-did-the-pilgrims-come-to-the-new-world/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilgrims_(Plymouth_Colony)
http://www.mayflowermaid.com/

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A bit of a shameless appeal for sponsorship...

I'm still quite busy, at the moment, but a bit of a shameless ask, the Imp will be doing a sponsored Sing-a-Long at nursery for this year's BBC Children in Need. I have set up a Just Giving page for if you have a bit spare that you'd be able to give to this worthy cause. Sophie has been working really hard on practising at home, and any little bit helps.


Thank you so much,
Mel

 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Recipe: Peanut Butter Squares (Originally Posted on Alternating Kitchen Witch on 13/02/09)

I don't normally have this recipe around until December, but seeing as though I've been in the mood for Yule and Christmas since, maybe, July, and I've had a special request for it, I think that now is the perfect time for me to repost it from my old blog to this one.

This recipe came to me from my mom, and it was passed to her by a friend. From the first year that she made it, it has become a necessity for the holiday season because everybody wants them. I've since introduced them to my friends here in the UK, and I get Witchy Kitty batting her eyes at me to beg to make it. I have altered it a little bit to accommodate for some of the ingredients being American, and one of the original ingredients not being gluten-intolerance friendly. As for the imported, that's only the butterscotch chips. (I think I have one bag remaining in my horde...hint hint to my mother :P). We can't get Karo Syrup over here, but I found that golden syrup works perfectly well.

And, enough of my waffle, here's the recipe that I've copied and pasted from my old cooking blog:


Heat:
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of golden syrup (Karo Syrup is what the original recipe calls for)

Do not bring to a boil. Heat only until the sugar dissolves.

Remove from the heat and stir in:
  • 2 cups of crunchy peanut butter
  • 4 cups of Oataflake cereal, or Whole Earth Organic Corn Flakes (the original recipe calls for Special K, but, it's not wheat free-friendly.
Spread into roasting tray and allow to cool.

Melt 6 ounces each of:
  • Coop Dark Chocolate (the original recipe calls for semi sweet chocolate bits...chocolate chips. I used a bar and a bit, so, get two bars).
  • Butterscotch morsels (this is an American thing. You can buy them as an import here, in the UK, or maybe experiment with another type of chocolate...maybe white chocolate, melt it separately from the dark chocolate and swirl them when you do the top.)
Spread over the cooled mixture. After the topping cools, slice into 1 to 1 1/2 inch squares. (makes for perfect party table treats. My family normally has them for Christmas).

These are extremely moreish :D It's a recipe that I've gotten from my mother, who received it from a friend.

Witchy Kitty swears she hates peanut butter, but she adores these.

Brightest Blessings,
Mel

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Epic Posting Fail

I am extremely guilt-ridden at the moment. I've been so busy with college that I've not had the mental capacity to post here on my blog. My goal was to post at least once or twice a week, and I've just looked, and I've not posted in a month. I truly, truly apologise. I've had a bit more work in college this year than the course was last year because I am taking Higher GCSE Maths as an extra class (I currently dream in numbers because I've been doing so much of it. Good thing I like Math) and the curriculum is a touch different. It is definitely time for a catch up, and hopefully things will be settling down into a better routine after this half term break for me to get back to my regular posting schedule.

I am really looking forward to Samhein. We will be celebrating a few days early, with friends coming to eat, drink and be merry here at home. We've not gotten together since the summer, so I'm stupidly excited. On the 31st itself, a couple friends will join me for jack o'lantern carving (I do the stencils on them). I have one or two pumpkins from the back garden that are big enough for me to carve, and I'll buy a bigger one from town tomorrow. Pumpkin carving for me is also harvesting my seeds to plant next year, and collecting the flesh that will be part of our pumpkin pies for the year. I will hold a private ritual before bed, honouring my family, ancestors and friends that have passed on this year.

I've witnessed some spectacular natural events over the past week. The skies over Lincoln have been clear enough at night to spot a few shooting stars from the Orionid Meteor Shower, and it's been a wrench when I've gone to sort the quails out at 11pm to go inside. Today was another spectacular scene as the Imp and I stood in the rain waiting for a bus with The Witchy Kitty and her family. There was a huge double rainbow over the city, with the end of one of the rainbows hitting the cathedral. Absolutely stunning, and I couldn't help but attempt to take some photos (Witchy Kitty and I decided to race to see who would post first, and she will also be cross posting me)
Just down the road, you should be able to spot Lincoln Cathedral
Shooting stars and rainbows actually hold a lot of meaning to me. Memories of high school marching band...serenading the band directors in the early hours of one morning during the week before State Marching Finals and the Leonid Meteor Shower being extremely active at 4am as we shivered and played through the entire program. And, when I was most stressed with the preparations, feeling the presence of my grandmother and spotting a rainbow around the sun, every year of the morning of State. The memories of my grandmother are the strongest, and still there whenever I spot a rainbow, or get the scent of gardenia when there are none around. I see her in the Imp, and have since I fell pregnant with her.

Well, this is the time for memories and renewal for me, and I feel utterly renewed with finally getting the chance for a clear mind that has allowed me to blog a new post. Here's to fingers crossed that it continues.

Mel

P.S.
Good luck to the Greenwood Marching Woodmen on your trip to Saturday's 2011 ISSMA State Finals.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Recipe: Pumpkin Pie (Gluten Free)

Not many of the English have ever tried a proper, American-style pumpkin pie. Just like with my Apple Butter, it takes some getting your head around it. I know that I've got a couple of friends that should try it again, because they had it straight out of the oven, which isn't as nice as after it's cooled down.

Growing up, pumpkin pie was only served on Thanksgiving, and it was either shop-bought, or the pumpkin came out of the tin. Having my own place, I now grow a few pumpkins in my back garden. If I need bigger ones for carving, once I clean the gross stuff out, I scrape the flesh so it's quite thin (it makes it easier for carving, especially when you use stencils), and save it. I tend to put it in 2 to 2 1/2 cup amounts into a zipper bag, and just toss it into the freezer until I want it.

And, I don't just make pumpkin pie in the autumn. Since I'm no longer in the States, I haven't celebrated Thanksgiving since I last visited my family in 2003. I make it whenever I fancy it. We always have it for Yule and Christmas, in my house, and the Imp's Grumpy gets a pumpkin pie for his birthday in June.  I miss having "Cool Whip" on top, but I get by with squirty cream.

The recipe that I use is from Michelle Jones, of BetterBudgeting.com . I use my own gluten free basic pastry recipe, but I'm needing to experiment with how to get it to not glue itself to my metal pie plate in the baking process...I'm thinking either greasing the pan, rolling the pastry instead of pressing it in like I normally do (since I'm getting better at rolling it out without it disintegrating), and/or layering baking paper underneath.

But, here's the recipe that Ms. Jones posted, along with the alterations that I make:


Ingredients:
1 unbaked pie crust (deep dish, if you are getting store bought) 
2 c. fresh pumpkin purée (or canned pumpkin) (I steam my pumpkin flesh before puréeing it, but you can also roast it)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (I use the Carnation condensed Milk, and one tin will do, whether it be the normal or Light)
2 large eggs (in the lifetime that my quails start laying, I'm waiting to try using their eggs...it will take approximately 10)
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (I have a thing for cinnamon, so I do the 'this looks about right' method, and use quite a bit)
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
(If you like the spicier pies, add 1/2 tsp. cloves, I do not use them.)(I do put the cloves in, it's Ms. Jones that doesn't)

Directions:
Combine filling ingredients with mixer and pour into pastry shell.  Place a folded piece of foil around the crust to prevent over-baking.  Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees (220C/Gas Mark 7) then reduce heat to 350 degrees (180C/Gas Mark 4) and continue to bake for 35-40 minutes longer (or until knife inserted 1-inch from the edge comes out clean and not gooey).  
Remove pie from oven and cool on wire rack for about an hour or so.  Serve pie slices with a dollop of whipped cream.  Refrigerate leftovers; if there are any!



For the future, I do cross a lot between American and English recipes. If I forget to write out what I've converted (such as the original of this recipe only had the temperatures in Fahrenheit), my favourite site for conversions is this one: onlineconversion.com/cooking.htm

Monday, 26 September 2011

Joy Pockets (260911)

Yet another busy one for us, but we've had some lovely times in between the exhausting ones.


  • Finding out that I will be able to do the higher GCSE in Maths as a blended, independent learning class alongside the foundation class that is part of my Access course. I'm extremely happy with this, as it will give me one of my first English educational certificates.
  • The Saturday morning kiddy show at the cinema. According to the Imp, we were watching 'blue quails', and she really liked them (we went to see "Rio", which is about a blue macaw). We followed it with a bit of retail therapy and lunch, and with all the rush around me being in college and her in nursery, it was nice spending time outside of being home.
  • I now have all of the bits that I need for our planned homemade Yule and Christmas gifts.
  • Being told by the Imp that biscuits make her tummy feel all better. She was a bit poorly yesterday, and didn't eat more than a slice of toast and a couple of prawn crackers. I figured that she actually was feeling better this morning, but she was afraid to eat, so her stomach didn't appreciate it. I phoned a friend to bring her some digestive biscuits, and she's now back to being all smiles and chattering away. We don't have them in the house, because I can't have them, but they seem to be doing a better job than my poor attempt at making her toast yesterday (we don't own a toaster, because we don't need one).
So, what are your Joy Pockets for the week?




joy pockets

Happy Autumn!

Well, I had started a post on Ancestry and Pathways, but I wasn't happy with the direction that it was taking, so it's now been deleted. I am honestly trying to get back into the swing of my regular posting regime, but the thoughts aren't flowing without sounding pompous, confused, and/or ignorant. Oh, well...we all have days like these.

The equinox has recently come and gone, and I completely missed that specific day out of busyness and complete exhaustion. Oops. Well, not really.  Outside of the Samhein, I find it quite difficult to pinpoint a specific day for my personal celebrations. Yule gets rather close, but it gets celebrated on the best day that I can get all of my friends organised and here on the same day, sort of close to when everybody else actually observes it. I'm pretty sure, though, that if I were regularly observing with a group, we might get close to some of the other Sabbats I have seen other Pagans and Heathens that get into an absolute flit over trying to make sure that they can observe a Sabbat on a very specific day.

One thing that we have to remember is that our ancestral tribes didn't have paper or electronic calendars to worship, oops, I mean Observe, such as we do. They'd have a few people that kept track of the moon and the stars. And the weather...we can't forget the weather. You couldn't throw that first or second harvest festival until those harvest actually started to come in, and that depended on what the weather was doing. You'd count your own age by how many moons or seasons had passed. The Chinese have named their years by a rotation of twelve animals. The Celts calculated by thirteen lunar months named after trees that were common during those months (I will be researching both of these calendars, soon, for future posts).

I regularly get teased by Witchy Kitty because of the obvious lack of clocks in my house. There is one in the kitchen, that came with the house. The only calendar in the house was bought by somebody else, and regularly doesn't get changed until we're one or two, sometimes three, weeks into a month. I don't wear a watch, but I do set multiple alarms on my mobile, and I'm making a conscious attempt to add specific dates to my Google Calendar, which will send an alarm (or three, depending on how many I've set) to my mobile. I'm early for most things, or I'll have a panic attack. But, for the most part, I run on what's jokingly referred to as 'Pagan Standard Time'. If I don't have to be there at a specific time, I will get there when I do. It's been a few hours into daylight...I'm starting to get hungry, so maybe I'll go eat something. It's a couple of hours past sunset...I'm kind of tired, it's probably time for bed.

Today feels like a good day to do my seasonal clean-up of the house, and I feel the desire to do some baking tomorrow. So, I may seem a bit late to some of you, but because the day is just right for me, Happy Autumn Solstice!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Joy Pockets (190911)

Well, most of the past week was a fair bit of disaster for me, but I can always find stuff that lighten it a little bit.


  • The Imp going swimming with Witchy Kitty for the first time today, and the joy and excitement of the both of them when I joined them afterwards on the bus. The Imp had never seen anything bigger than a bathtub or her paddling pool, and I guess she acted like she's been there forever. She even told Mr. Kitty to 'go away, I can do it myself' more than once. I'm so proud of her.
  • Seeing my kitties and Witchy Kitty's kitties a lot happier and better on a new food. And having one of her kitties that I've never seen more than a tail in the almost two years that they've had her decide that she wanted fuss off of me, she wanted it there and then, and she was going to be nose-to-nose standing on my chest to get it.
  • Having a fantastic GP that understands that he won't see me unless I have a serious issue, so actually listens to me. He gets a bit miffed with me because I'm quite prone to letting things build up and walking in with a list of problems (bad habits from living in the States, and trying to get my head around that I can just go in on the NHS and it won't cost me a couple of legs and an arm), but I did only go in with one this time.
  • Listening to the quails 'chat' in their excitement of getting bits of sunflower heads. The four girls have lovely little chirps that sound like an evening chorus of crickets.
Fingers crossed for a much improved week this week. I hope you're all doing well.




joy pockets

Friday, 16 September 2011

I haven't forgotten...

I do promise, I haven't forgotten about my blog. This was my first proper full week in college, and I'm trying to get back into a routine that hasn't existed for months. Instead of getting up at 9am, as I normally would, we're having to get up at 6am. It's a bit of a shock to the system when you're not a natural morning person in the first place. I used to always function at my best when I could stay up until 4am, and sleep until noon, but that doesn't work when you have a child.

I guess a bit of an update. The Imp and I are back to being a team again now that we're having some time apart. The three days that I'm in college, she spends in nursery. When I first came across realising that it takes somebody else taking care of her for a brief time for us to remain stable without all of the screaming and drama, it felt like I was a let down for a mum. We've been inseparable since she was born. But after she turned three, we started getting more and more frustrated with each other. I never have wanted to be a shouty mum, yet I didn't want to be a soft touch, either.

My intentions when she was born was to do all attachment parenting to the fullest extent, and to carry it further. I was going to strictly breastfeed until she self weaned....we succeeded with that one, and she breastfed until 19 months. I wanted to do baby-led weaning...we succeeded with that one, too. She nabbed a roast carrot off a plate at about 6 months old and carried on from there. I'm now getting lovely comments from her nursery that she is an amazing eater, and not the least bit picky (except with cucumbers).

I was going to babywear. Again, we succeeded in that, and she was in a sling until just before she turned three. We did briefly own a stroller in May, but that was because we couldn't expect her to walk all over London for three days, and my back and hips can't handle the extra weight any more. Freecycle is a good thing...we were gifted a lovely little stroller, and as soon as we were finished with it, we gifted it on to another family. (to find your own local Freecycle network, go to www.freecycle.org )

I was going to do home schooling. This is where we have tripped up. When things went wrong when she was 10 months old, I had to go onto government benefits. Home school curriculums are quite expensive, on top of I would have to be looking for work when she turns 7. To be completely honest, we can't afford for me to continue to be on benefits. We currently survive by me keeping very strictly budgeted. If we want something, I have to be able to work it in or we don't get it. Another issue is socialisation. I struggled to even take her to mother and toddler groups. I think it's such an artificial environment, and so political. Yes, I said political. I have a couple of really awesome friends that I met through those various groups that we used to attend, but they are the exception rather than the rule. The rule is referred to, if you've not heard of it before, the Baby Olympics. Everybody is constantly judging you and your child. And when you're going to a general public mother and toddler group with any sort of alternative opinion, well, you will be judged to be beneath them. Let's see...Pagan, attachment parenting (which goes against the mass marketed books that they all have to use as gospel), not from the area (obvious by my harsher accent), etc. You get the picture. So, if I can't cope with a group like that, how am I going to be able to put us forward to the inclusive home school groups of the city?

On top of all of that, it is just now the Imp and I. Sometimes, we can go a fortnight without any adult contact outside of popping to the shop, which doesn't count. As she's started coming into self-realisation, we started clashing more and more. I was becoming Shouty and Really Angry Mum, because we're both as stubborn as each other. And in the lifetime that I get a job, what would happen then?

When she turned three, I came to the realisation that we needed some time apart. I don't mean shipping her off. I mean just a few hours a day that we can do our own thing. It probably sounds like I'm talking about a teenager, but one big thing for me is to acknowledge that even a three year old has a mind of their own. They are humans within their own right, with opinions, feelings, thoughts, and views. We work really well together when we're both respecting each other. If I'm just shouting, I'm not listening, and it works the same in the other direction. I did a lot of research, and found a nursery that was a perfect fit for both of us. They are very child-led, without talking down to her, and encourage a lot of independence. The Imp adores it. Last week was the first three days that she's spent the whole day there. She comes home extremely tired, but laughing and giggling. She adores her teacher, and she has a circle of friends.

Given this, and starting to research primary schools, I no longer feel the guilt of not being able to home school.  I think that the Imp is so much happier with this decision. That's what the point actually is...she is happy. I am happy, as well. I now have the opportunity to take a course to prepare me for university properly...I went to university straight after High School, but I don't think that I was properly prepared, and I bombed out. I'm now 35. I have finally decided what I want to do, and a career that I actually want to do, for me. It wasn't an opportunity that I've had in the past. In the future, it will give both of us a lot better quality of life, and more opportunities.

I apologise for being so slim on the ground for posts, and it might take me another week or two to get back into a routine, but I am still here :)

Mel

Monday, 12 September 2011

Joy Pockets 120911

I apologise that it's been a fortnight since I've done my Joy Pockets, but it has been so super busy with getting back to college, and last Monday was a particularly rough day for us. But, here we go. I hope to be back to my normal posting self within the next week or two, once I'm into a better routine.


  • The hints of autumn arriving. The leaves just starting to change, the arrival of blustery winds, and the chance that the weather isn't likely to go over-warm again for a while.
  • Tied in to the weather, the excuse to make beef stew today...nom. I'll post the recipe later this week.
  • The Imp being so excited to be able to return to nursery. It's three, super-long days for her, but she adapted straight away.
  • Succeeding in sorting out my budget spreadsheets up to June. Ok, this probably sounds really sad, but I actually enjoy doing it because I'm really proud of my spreadsheets.
  • Starting back at college, and the excitement of getting into a routine, and having work that makes me think. Oh, you will probably see me posting about my frustration on papers and assignments, but I honestly do enjoy it.
Mel



joy pockets

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Cross Stitch: Wheel of the Year - Restart

I'm not going to bother posting a photo today, but I've actually managed to get a couple of hours of stitching this week! It's been a busy week, still, with getting ready to start college (Induction was today), and the Imp...well, the Threenager has seriously struck over the past week and a half (part of the reason that there was no Joy Pockets post this week...on top of me being absolutely wiped out lately).

Tomorrow, my classes aren't going ahead, but the Imp still has a place at nursery. So, after dropping her off at 8am, I will be returning home, doing a quick tidy, putting on my multiple episodes of "Torchwood", and sitting and stitching all day. :)

As for the Imp and nursery, today was the longest that we've been apart since she was born. I was busy today, but tomorrow, I think will be a complete culture shock for me. She's 3 2/3ish, and more than ready to be independent. She loved being there all day, and is looking forward to tomorrow...so much so that she's just brought me her night time nappy without being asked, at 7:15pm. Her hair is in her 'night night braids' (so we don't have to fight with it to brush it in the morning), and she's gone and put her own pyjamas on. I guess that's a hint for me to tuck her in.

Mel

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Recipe: All Day Apple Butter (Slow Cooker/Crock Pot)

I think I have mentioned this recipe in previous posts, and this is an excellent time of year for me to post it. The apples in this region are ripening, and we're coming up to Mabon. I grew up with apple butter in Indiana, every autumn, and I remember going to Nashville, Indiana, and seeing the pretty jars with the gingham cloth covers. Buying it in the grocery store wasn't right...it just didn't seem to have the right texture.

After emigrating to England, apple butter was one thing that I really missed, so I set out to discover a recipe that I could make myself and found this one. It is very much tried and tested, and my English friends that I can convince to try it end up falling in love with it, and can't wait until I do my annual batch.  I store it in recycled plastic takeaway tubs, and I generally have seven or eight tubs...one for my fridge (and it lasts for a really long time in there), and the rest go into the freezer until Witchy Kitty finds out that I've made it, then one goes home with her, and one or two go to American ex-pat friends in Digby. The rest get used throughout the year, generally pulled out when I have friends over and have made (an attempt, not perfected) gluten free scones.

For those of you that have never tried it, the way that I explain it to the sceptics is that it's like an apple conserve, and really nice on bread, scones, toast, pork, turkey, etc. You can use it in other recipes, as well. I have a mini pie maker that I have yet to test out, and I'm contemplating making apple butter pies. It is dairy free, gluten free, and pretty much free from everything else unless you have issues with spices, sugar, or apples.

Here's the recipe:

5 1/2 to 6 lbs of apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped (you can use any type of eating apples. I prefer red or golden delicious, as these are common varieties in Indiana)
4 cups of white sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon (I use rounded tsp, but I adore cinnamon)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt

Place the apples in a slow cooker.  In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.  Pour the mixture over the apples and mix well.

Cover and cook on High for 1 hour.

Reduce heat to Low, and cook for 9 to 11 hours, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and dark brown.

Uncover and continue cooking on Low for 1 hour.  Stir with a whisk, if desired, in increase smoothness (I'm also known for using my potato masher).

Spoon mixture into sterile containers, cover, and refrigerate or freeze.


I know that I got this off of a website, but, unfortunately, it's been a decade, so I can't remember where it came from. 

Mel

Cross Stitch: Wheel of the Year - Week Off (yet again)

Again, this week has been a complete fail on picking up my stitching. I'm not normally as busy as I have been lately, and I don't normally go to bed before 9pm, as I have been for almost the past week and a half. I'm putting my foot down and actually going no where tomorrow, and aiming to get back to my stitching. At the very least, I'd like to finish that first page before starting college next week. Fingers crossed.

But, I will at least post a recipe tonight, and tomorrow I will be posting this last week's suggestion from Pagan Blog Prompts, because it's a rather apt topic.

Mel

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Joy Pockets (300811)

OK, I am a day late, but I was sidetracked last night with snuggling with Witchy Kitty's Cub. For being a stay at home mum, I feel like I've been super busy lately, but I struggle to figure out why. But, here are my Joy Pockets for the past week (don't forget to check them out at Bohemian Twilight).


  • Still having Yule and Christmas on the brain, I was rather pleased with myself for coming up with the perfect gift ideas for the Imp's grandparents...all handmade and within my pathetic budget. I've felt bad for the past several years that I haven't been able to send anything at all to my family, and to find something perfect is exceptional.
  • Having fantastic neighbours. I have one neighbour that takes my bins out every week because I'm dreadful at waking up on Monday morning. Yesterday, the neighbour behind me made an exuberant search and managed to capture one of my delinquent quails that boldly jumped out of the hutch while I was sorting them out and made a mad dash for it. She was found, safe and sound, next to his bins after a half hour/45 minutes.
  • A girly night that didn't wind down until 2am. It was a fantastic Friday night.
  • Sharing a meal with friends, and my attempts at gluten free chicken gravy turning out amazing on top of cheesy mashed potatoes and stir fried chicken and red onion.
  • Waking up for one of my normal stirrings to find both cats in bed with me. Loki has always slept with me, and was by my hand. I moved my foot to find that I kicked Florence and she didn't shift. Florence joined us in December of last year, and she's never slept with me before...she normally sleeps on the Welsh dresser downstairs. She's been extremely cuddly since the rearrangement of my bedroom.
  • My family in Maryland and North Carolina being safe and sound after the hurricane. My cousin and his wife lost a few roof tiles, and my brother lost a couple of trees...one that missed the house and landed in the woods instead.
So, what has brought joy and a smile to your face this week?

Mel



joy pockets

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Desperate Need to Rearrange

Hello, everyone. My name is Mel, and I am admitting to having a problem. I am a serial furniture rearranger.

There...it's out there. I have a need to rearrange furniture. When I was still living with my parents, and when I had more space than I do now, I had to rearrange the furniture every three months or so. I'm sure that I absolutely drove my parents crazy with it. They'd walk into my bedroom and I'll have managed to rotate the entire thing by myself.

I've lived in this house for just over two years, and haven't been able to figure out how to rotate the furniture because of the way that the rooms are laid out. I live in a Victorian two up-two down terrace, and in some areas modernisation has not been its friend. Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic place, and perfect for just the Imp and I, but I can't move the furniture around. I have gas fires, an alcove with a cupboard built specifically to set a telly on, and a sofa that was gifted to us that only fits along one wall in the living room. The dining room is bigger than the living room, but I can't flip them because there's no place suitable for the telly.

Upstairs is a whole different story. We have a lot of heavy furniture. Some of it's ours, some of it belongs to the landlord. I have four bookcases in my bedroom, alone, that were taking up an entire wall. I have been agonising over this for a long time, because it's really been bothering me. As much as I adore my books, my bedroom just seemed consumed by them. I suffer from insomnia, then my sleep is rubbish, then I don't want to wake up in the morning.  The Imp's room was worse...she had three wardrobes and two bookcases, as well as a huge, dark set of drawers, her bed, a wooden doll's house, and the rest of her toys. She rarely actually played up there, and I couldn't figure out why because she still had loads of space (we both have nice sized double bedrooms).

I finally snapped on Monday. I've been slowly having a sort out for the past several months, being harsh with myself and getting rid of things that are just taking up precious space. I couldn't avoid it any more...I had to succumb to my desperate need to move furniture, and our bedrooms are the only place that it could happen. I helped the Imp put all of her toys into their laundry baskets, cleared the bookshelves off, then proceeded to rotate it all. She helped me pick bits up from my bedroom floor and shift books off and on the shelves. In her room, I shifted two bookcases, her bed, a doll's house, and two wardrobes. I added a wardrobe from my bedroom, and swapped her massive bureau with the smaller one from my room. In my room, I shifted four bookcases, a large dressing table, a big telly on a stand. my bed and the nightstand. Even though I've added another wardrobe to her room, the Imp's room feels a lot more spacious and balanced. Yesterday, I hardly saw her because she was actually playing up there...I was shocked, to say the least. Since Monday, she's actually kept her room tidy and helped me make her bed every morning.

The difference in the feel of my room is amazing. I've actually felt the need to go to bed at a decent hour...last night, I was up there within a half hour of tucking the Imp in. I didn't go to sleep straight away, but I relaxed quite nicely with my Kindle and the telly. I'm actually getting a little more rested with the sleep that I have, and I'm not struggling to wake up in the morning. The energy is actually feeling like it has a better balance.

I was chatting with Witchy Kitty yesterday, and the overall energy in my house has been feeling a lot better. Ever since I've moved in here, the house has had it's own special personality. Over the past year, it seemed to have changed, to almost being depressive. The house spirits haven't been very happy with me, and I wasn't seeing it. I was struggling with relations with my friends, my own stress, depression, and loneliness. I've finally managed to work my way out of my own personal funk, though, recently. I finally received the confirmations that my childcare will be funded for my return to college to do the course that I started last year.  I've made a definite decision as to what educational path I will be taking. My friends are coming around more often, and we're back to everybody not being so low. And I've made a definite decision to redecorate. The first of the paint will be brought around this weekend, so I can get a start on the living room and dining room, to be followed by the kitchen, bathroom, the Imp's room, and finally my room.

It's almost like the house is happier that I've made some decisions, and that I'm settling within myself. I've always had a deep desire to move about, but since moving into this house, I've felt like a real homebody. It's been a difficult thing to accept, I think. When I was looking at houses, I actually refused this one, because the rooms felt too small and the previous tenants smoked like chimneys. I have had a deep desire to move to the other side of the country to be closer to a friend, but this is the first place in either Indiana or England that has actually felt like my true home. I moved out of my parents' home when I was 20. Counting that move, I have moved around 16 times, including moving back in with my parents, and have been classed as homeless twice. I'll be 35 next month, and I now have a deep desire to stay put. I'd honestly like to be able to understand why it has taken this long for me to find 'home'. I used to want to travel all of the time, and now I rarely ever leave the city. My ideal holiday is going and spending time in Cardiff with my dear friend and her boys for a week.

I've managed to get the furniture shifting out of my system this week, and once I get it all painted, this house will be like new. I'll be restarting college in a week and a half, and I've got everything together and ready. I know where I'm going and what I want to do. I've fully recognised what I need and want mentally and emotionally, and, with the support of my family of friends, I'm almost ready to take the leap to find it.

Mel

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Cross Stitch: Wheel of the Year - Week Off

I've been rather busy over the past week, so not much of my cross stitch has gotten done. I'll be counting next week as week 7. I hope you're all having as fantastic a week as I've had.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Joy Pockets (220811)

It's actually been a busy one for us this week, so not a lot of cross stitching done, but a lot of giggling and laughing.


  • The arrival of our fluff babies! Five gorgeous quails, four girls and a boy (in two separate hutches...poor George has to wait until the next batch to get some company). I've posted a couple of photos at the bottom.
  • The Imps ecstatic giggling when bouncing on the harnessed trampolines in town. One of the best £3 I've spent, just to hear her giggling like that.
  • Finally winning the battle of my downstairs, and getting it to a point that it now fairly easy to keep up the tidy. 
  • Being able to appease my need to rearrange furniture (there will be a post around this tomorrow or Wednesday!)
  • Barbecuing on Saturday with friends. Being able to introduce people and everybody getting along together like a house on fire. We're already planning Yule, and at least one other meal before then. There was a lot of laughing going on, and I think we finally finished at around 1am.


Harriet
Gertie and Gertrude

Bounce!





joy pockets

Mel

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Cross Stitch: Wheel of the Year - Week 6




Again, I've not been able to get as much completed this week as I wanted to, but I had a bit of a shock today as I was working on more of the dark brown stitching. The shapes of leaves all of a sudden popped out, and that gave me the biggest boost--that I'm actually getting somewhere. I'm now at a point where it's a lot of scattered colours, in small bits. I'm not sure if I will finish it over the next week or not, because I'll be busy, but fingers crossed. If not by next Wednesday, then by the following one.

Mel

Monday, 15 August 2011

Joy Pockets (150811)


  • We're now in the home stretch for the arrival of our quails, and I'm stupidly excited. We're just waiting for the arrival of the food and feeders, which I expect either tomorrow or Wednesday, and the birds will be arriving on Saturday.
  • The hilarity of wet cats. I needed to bath my cats to give me a fresh start to sort their skin out. My boy, Loki, is absolutely loopy and loves water, so he didn't mind being dumped into the bathroom sink full of warm water and baby shampoo (and after a generous dollup of body butter for extra dry skin rubbed into his fur, his neck is almost healed). Florence didn't enjoy it at all, but she was funny because her fur soaks up water like a sponge...on top of leaving a huge puddle in the bathroom carpet, she looked so pathetic it was difficult not to laugh (her neck is improved, but was a lot worse than Loki's in the first place).
  • The first Christmas gifts are now hiding in the cupboard under the stairs. It's a joint gift for the Imp and I from her Grumpy, and we managed to get a really good deal, so shopped early. I already have Yule and Christmas on the brain, and have for the past month or two. I've already forewarned Angela at The Pagan Mom Blog that my excitement for this year is likely to start creeping into my posts pretty soon. I think the reason that I've got it into my head to start preplanning is because since I started this college course before, I know what's coming, and I want to have everything superbly organised so it's very little effort when the time comes.
  • The Imp's current fascination with chickens. When we visited a friend who has some recently, we hardly saw her in the house because she was out chattering to her rapt audience and feeding them the grass that had been growing between the flagstones in the path.

The Imp and her audience


The Imp and her audience
joy pockets

Mel

Friday, 12 August 2011

Rhiannon, Dduwies Cymraeg y Lleuad, Faeries, ac Ysbrydoliaeth

Or, Rhiannon, Welsh Goddess of the Moon, Faeries, and Inspiration.

OK, so I can only read a few odd words and street signs in Welsh. Google Translate is my friend. But it is the one place that I actually feel like it's home, and I plan on going there in the lifetime that life and funds allow. That's just it, isn't it? Life. I have dreams, plans, and goals, and every time I think that I'm getting close to actually accomplishing something that will give me a step higher, life gets in the way and kicks me down. It happens to a lot of us. Some people just wallow in self pity, and fall further down, never trying to fix what could be an opportunity for a different path.  Some of us can pick up, dust off, and just carry on.

I try to be one of these people, as difficult as it can be, that dusts off and carries on.  I've had failed relationships and marriages, one of the marriages ended in a very ugly way with my boys deciding to live with him and not speak to me. I've been classed as homeless a couple of times, including sleeping in a car in a car park on a North Sea beach at the beginning of winter.  Each time something happens, I push through the biggest part of my broken heart, because if I don't carry on, who will do it for me?  Especially now that it's just me and the Imp, my 3 1/2 year old daughter.

I draw my biggest inspiration from my patron goddess, Rhiannon. I was drawn to her from the beginning of my path as a Pagan, and she has steadfastly remained by my side as my strength and comfort. I was called to her before I even knew that Wales was a country-principality in its own right (I emigrated from Indiana to England over a decade ago. I've been a declared Pagan for longer than that).  She was supposed to marry an immortal like herself, but instead she chose to marry a mortal prince, and in joining him, the faery world was closed to her. After the birth of her son, the servants that were supposed to be watching over him after the birth, in order to allow the new mother to heal. One evening they all fell asleep and woke to find the baby gone. So they wouldn't be punished, they killed a puppy and spread its blood on Rhiannon and scattered the bones, to make it seem like she had eaten her own child. In his grief and anger, Rhiannon's husband sentenced her to wear a heavy horse collar at the castle gate, to great visitors, tell them of her criminal story, and carry them on her back to the castle. Because of respect for her humility and grace, very few took up her offer to be carried.  A few years later, a farmer and his wife arrived. In the middle of a storm, he found an infant crying in the middle of a field. He and his wife took in the child, and when the story of Rhiannon reached them, they realised that the child belonged to her and sought to return him. Her husband, Pwyll, returned her to her place of honour at his side, and Rhiannon, in seeing that her husband and the people were ashamed, forgave them, understanding why their beliefs had been misplaced.

When anything goes dramatically wrong in my own life, I think to the story of Rhiannon. She held fast through her burdens, and when things got better she didn't continue to weigh down her heart.  It is a very difficult thing, at times, especially when people persist in reminding me of the worst that has happened, when they think that I should remain bitter and grieving. I personally can't carry on for too long in a constant state of grief. Too long of that carrying on makes my physical health decline. That's not good for me, and not good for the Imp. I've found that the best thing for us is for me to get up and carry on. I do find it difficult to not hold a grudge, and I fully admit that there's two that I still strongly hold. But I have yet to be given a reason to forgive  those two people because I'm still tormented on a regular basis by the consequences of their actions.

Stevie Nicks, in 1976, performed my most thought-provoking song for the first time:



Yes, she was singing about a Welsh witch, and the lyrics are quite simple, but it regularly brings the images of my Goddess to me, with the metaphorical use of some of her symbolism, of songbirds (she's also represented regularly by horses and dragons) and birds in flight. Though the wings of a bird is a very delicate system, there is great strength that allows them to fly in even the strongest of winds. A bird does everything with their whole heart, as Rhiannon survived everything by the strength and courage of her heart. And I will carry on doing the same, and teach my daughter to do the same.

Mel
Topsy-Turvy of the Mischievous Heathen

Photobucket />

References:
http://www.goddessgift.com/goddess-myths/celtic_goddess_rhiannon.htm
http://www.lyricsdepot.com/stevie-nicks/rhiannon.html
"Celtic Myth and Magick" by Edain McCoy, Llewellyn Publications (1995)


This was originally posted on 12/07/11 over at The Pagan Mom Blog

Cartoon Giggles

We watch a lot of cartoons. Part of it is that if the Imp is watching the telly, I tend to be watching it with her. The other part is that I admit to still having part of me that's a big kid. I do limit the cartoon watching, though, because too much "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" melts my brain cells. I can say that at least most of what she watches is educational, but, you know what? Sometimes we need to watch cartoons that make us giggle. 

I find that, nowadays, almost all of the cartoons that are aimed at the Imp's age groups is a constant onslaught of educational items...counting, colours, morals, etc. It is a fantastic thing, but sometimes a kid just has to be able to stop and watch something that they don't have to think about...to be able to watch it for fun. I introduced the Imp to Looney Tunes this week, and I don't think I've ever heard her giggle at something like she did while watching the Road Runner and Wyle E. Coyote. And when Wyle E. Coyote fell, she was gasping in shock, and saying "oh no!" until she realised that he was ok. She also loves to watch classic Batman, with Adam West, where she comments "They're really silly, mummy."

I've been thinking about this, comparing cartoons that are aimed at the Imp today to cartoons that were aimed at me when I was in her age bracket. Unless we watched PBS for Sesame Street and 321 Contact, the cartoons were just to make us laugh. Some of the early cartoons during the week were mixed in with Cowboy Bob, who taught us our morals like how to be nice. But it wasn't non-stop education like what the Imp is presented with now. It shouldn't have to be...they need to have a break from it, time to be a child and have a giggle. The classic cartoons also taught us a range of emotions, that not everything is fluffy and bright all of the time. Take Wyle E. Coyote, as an example. He shows a range of emotions through all of his segments. Joy at when he thinks he's found the perfect solution to catching the Roadrunner. Frustration when it doesn't work, and persistence to keep on trying. That range is missing in a lot of the modern cartoons. 

The Imp and I don't just watch cartoons, either. When she is up, I make sure that things aren't definitely for adults, but we watch a wide range of programs together. Star Trek and Star Wars, Doctor Who, Britain's and America's Got Talent (she actually tries to dance along), Music Videos, etc. A year ago, I was actually told off because we watch the news every day. Seriously?!? So many children are sheltered nowadays, they don't know what the real world is like. We don't watch much of the national news, but we mainly watch the local news, which isn't as harsh as the national news. I've even gotten the occasional idea of a day out for us by watching the local news. 

The point is that we watch it together, and we talk about what's going on. We sing along to theme tunes and music videos. When we watch the educational cartoons, the Imp counts along, and shouts out the shapes or colours that they're looking for, and we chat about what is going on. When we watch anything else, we chat about what's going on as well, and giggle together. In the process, she learns that she can giggle, but that not everything is all fluffy, sugary nice, and cutesy.


Mel




Thursday, 11 August 2011

Cross Stitch: Wheel of the Year - Week 5

I did actually attempt to post this last night before bed from my mobile, but it obviously didn't make it through. when I checked the laptop tonight. I am successfully trying to take time away from my laptop being on all of the time, but I do find that instant messaging on my mobile can be a bit awkward, and Facebook doesn't always send my messages through. 

As for my cross stitch project this week, I'm still frustrated that I'm only on the first page, but I'm starting to see the spaces filling out even more. I'm coming across a lot of highlighting colours, and more and more definition coming into effect. I still don't see myself finishing the page over the next week, but we can keep our fingers crossed. I think it's probably the most that I've ever worked on before, so I want to keep pressing on. 


Mel

Monday, 8 August 2011

Joy Pockets (080811)


It's been another quiet one for us this week, though with the Imp it feels like something is always going on.  Here are my Joy Pockets for the week. Don't forget to visit Monica at Bohemian Twilight if you're interested in joining in with this fantastic meme.

  • Having the opportunity to spend lots of time in the woods, and making me brave enough to explore our little woods near us. Our day at Lincolnshire Forest School on Saturday really made me see that the Imp is ready for that extended exploration, and she's fantastic at it. On Sunday, we wandered to Boultham Woods, and I let her take the lead. 
  • The Imp telling me, spontaneously during our walk yesterday, "I'm really having fun, mummy!", as she searched for 'sweeties' (blackberries...which aren't quite ready except the occasional bitter one).
  • Being caught up with my paperwork. Ok, this one might seem strange, but I hate paperwork. But I managed to get all of my financial forms into college as soon as I received them, because I had all of my evidence in order before they arrived. 
  • Being able to find a reasonably priced replacement for the power switch that I broke on my netbook (when replacing the wireless card). Now to figure out how to get it installed tomorrow, with the assistance of a friend.
  • The arrival of our new hutch for the soon-to-be arriving quail, and the reality that hit when I got it put together on Saturday evening.
  • A fantastic friend that I met in college last year moving just a bit down the road from me.
  • Continuing to watch things grow in our garden. Our pumpkin is starting to go orange, some of the sunflowers are bigger than my head, and the smaller ones have loads of gorgeous flowers on one plant, and it's so heavy I'm going to have to stake it tomorrow.



joy pockets

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Forest School

I'm going to shock a lot of people. I actually turned my mobile phone off today and left it in my bag in a minibus. It actually isn't surgically attached to the end of my arm, surprise surprise. Today was the Imp's first trip to the Lincolnshire Forest School with her nursery, and they make the first session one that the parents attend so we can have an basic idea of what they will be doing during their eight weeks of attendance starting in September. I'm so grateful for her to be able to have to opportunity, because I worry about her missing out on some of the experiences that I had while growing up...I loved camping and traipsing through the woods but I now don't have as much opportunity to do it, and I know that it will be different here in the UK than it was growing up in the US.  But the whole concept of Forest School...well, wow, I would have killed for the opportunity to be able to do what she will be do at 3 1/2.

She wasn't scared or nervous in the slightest. You would have thought that she belonged there in the woods. They had simple games aimed at their age...searching the ground for 'treasures' to add to a forest crown (a band of green card with a strip of carpet tape that they could stick their 'treasures' to), playing Hide and Seek,  and building fairy houses (the Imp wasn't interested in that, actually). They were also given a lot of time to explore and play to their own whim. The Imp has developed my tendency to wander off (they're going to love that with me not there :P ), and she had no interest in what the others in the group were doing. A lot of them started off quite nervous and wanting to stick by mum. Not the Imp. She marched off without looking back, looking for more 'treasures'. Her best find was the newly-ripened blackberries that were scattered everywhere. She went through every bramble in the area to have a munch. And the first few brambles she stopped to have a chat to them, and I heard her thank one of them after she put a fat berry into her mouth. That's my girl...I'm so proud of her thanking the forest spirits for her treats. She was definitely a girl on a mission for the entire time.

I think that part of the reason why she wasn't really interested in sticking with the group is because the other girls were a bit older (going off to school in a month. The Imp doesn't go for another year), and the boys were a bit younger, so not in her preferred social circle. The other reason is that she has a mind very similar to mine, and she spends a lot of time in her own little world. My auntie used to regularly call me a 'space cadet', and I fully admit that I still am.

But the man that was running the session I think was highly impressed with her. I think he was shocked that she had so much confidence on arrival. But when he asked if any of the kids had spent any time in the woods yet, I was the only one that had raised my hand. The woods behind us are only small, but we do walk through their regularly. We might wander back tomorrow, in fact, to see if we can find enough blackberries to make a pie or crumble. Going back to my last post on Family Chores, I've always encouraged her to have a lot of independence and she's really good at exploration.

The Imp had an amazing time today, and so did I. It was amazing watching her stomp through the woods like she owned them, and finding her amazing 'treasures'. Granted, if you ask her what she did today, all you'll get is an excited 'I got to see Sara!'. Sara is her favourite nursery teacher, and she's not been there since the middle of July, when they had their end of term party.

I'm looking forward to her having more sessions. It's a shame that I won't be joining her, but I look forward to her telling me all about it. I do wish that I had photos of today, but I thought that it would be a good idea to leave my mobile in the mini bus. Part of it was because it was raining off and on, and I've already lost a phone to 'damp damage'. The other part is because I would have likely tripped over trying to snap her every movement when I needed to be able to experience this with her, full on.

Mel

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Family Chores

Like everybody else, I dread housework. I even admit to procrastination. I have been doing a lot better about it, but I still have my off days. While we had a few hot days, my kitchen built up a bit because it was too hot and humid for me to stand there. Ok, I know it wasn't as hot here in England as it has been in the States lately, or for as long, but I detest the heat. A beach holiday is my idea of a nightmare.

Since it's been a rainy day today, with a cooler temperature, I couldn't procrastinate on the dishes any more. I didn't realise that I would have assistance, though. The Imp, at 3 1/2, decided that she wanted to help, so grabbed her own tea towel and started drying cutlery and putting it away in the drawer. She didn't ask if I wanted help, she just cracked on with it, happily singing her little head off.  One thing that it made it me realise is that I need to start cleaning the floor first instead of last, because I caught her spreading the tea towel on the floor, stacking in a pile of utensils, rolling them up, and then carrying it all over to the drawer in a bundle.

It also made me realise how fantastic it is that the Imp and I work so well together as a team. It's just us, and I'm so used to watching parents struggle with their toddlers, especially in the 'terrible twos' and, a term that some of my friends have used, 'Threenager'. Don't get me wrong, we both have our off days, and we're both argumentative, stubborn mules. But we can, and do, work together to keep the house up now. She's fairly reasonable about tidying her toys up (at least downstairs...her bedroom is a bombsite, but I don't care as long as I have a path to her bed).

Sometimes I'll get frustrated at her, but I do get down and help her if she's struggling to get started. That's the whole point...I help her, but I don't do it all. It wouldn't be fair for me to expect her to be able to cope with all of it, and it wouldn't be fair for her to expect me to be her maid. It's all about letting her join in and think it's all her idea. There are certain chores that I ask her specifically to do, like keep her downstairs toys in a reasonable array, and to put them away before bedtime (though I forgot to remind her this evening, so they're all still sitting in the living room). She's responsible for putting her overnight nappy in the bucket in the morning...I don't have to ask on this one. She puts all her dirty clothes in the basket in the bathroom, helps me load the washing machine, and she pegs all our underpants on the lowest part of the outside washing line. But all of it she started on her own. I just have to ask her if she wants to help...sometimes I don't even have to ask, she pushes her way in.

Our team work has panicked people in the past. The Imp has joined me in the kitchen from the start. She spent a lot of her infancy in a sling, watching me cook. Now, the moment that I step into the kitchen, she's up on her step right next to me. A year ago I didn't get the big knife far enough back on the counter, and I walked in to find her with a potato on the chopping board, cutting it into slivers that she said were chips, and putting them in the roasting tin. She hasn't touched the knife since, but she watches me like a hawk with my every movement, and comments (nags at me) on making sure to keep my fingers back because the knife is sharp. When I have the oven door swung open, she stops where she is, or backs away, until I have it shut. All I have to do is tell her I'm opening the 'hot hot'. She's in charge of the vegetable cupboard and refrigerator, including when putting shopping away. I'm not even allowed to touch the fridge. I'd hate to think what it looks like, but she knows where everything is. Her first real words were all regarding cooking and veg.

I see a lot of parents, even of teenagers, that wait on their kids hand and foot. Ok, whatever floats your boat. But I feel that with the Imp learning things young, and learning how to work as a team within a functioning family unit, she'll have a stronger upbringing. I can hope that as an adult, she won't dread the necessary evils of having to do housework. I'm trying to improve my procrastination, so she sees me getting what I don't like to do done before what I enjoy doing. It's a struggle at the moment, but I do promise that I'm improving. Since ditching the dining room table, we're finding the living room and dining room easier to keep up, so it doesn't take us as long to tidy up. It's even quicker with both of us doing it, and more enjoyable. She actually lifts my mood up, because her random singing under her breath is almost constant, really cute, and makes me laugh.

Mel

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Cross Stitch: Wheel of the Year - Week 4

Well, I'm a month into my Wheel of the Year wall hanging. I'm not as far in as what I had hoped for, but I still feel like I've done quite a bit. I'm a bit in awe at there being six or seven shades of chocolate brown, all mixed in together. My eyes can only discern three or so of them when looking, but I'm sure that once the project is complete, it'll be all about the light hitting it. I've also managed to tarnish my needle. If it starts squeaking any more than it is now, I might have to find a replacement. That'll be the first hand sewing needle that I've ever worn out. I regularly do it on my machine, but not my hand needles.

I thought I would add a photo comparison of where I started, compared to where I'm at tonight. I'm getting ready to stop for the evening, because I've been battling a weather-migraine (seriously...we need a really good storm and my head will be happy).

The beginning of the project

Where I'm at tonight. It's not all browns, reds, and golds any more. You can't see them well, but there are also greys, pale blues, dark green, and light green.

Mel

Monday, 1 August 2011

Joy Pockets (010811)

It's been a quiet one for us this week, but there's always positive things for us.

  • Spending loads of time with the Imp, even if it's just watching her play with her cars while I work on my cross stitch (though she is absolutely fascinated with it, so I really must find a kiddie-friendly alternative...maybe for her 4th birthday in January).
  • Our sunflowers starting to open this week, and how much they brighten up our drab back garden.
  • Weeding in the garden taking less time as the proper plants take over.
  • Having a new 'project' to do research to start up, and the reality hitting that it's going to happen really soon, with the Imp's grandfather buying us a double hutch off eBay, that will be housing our soon to arrive quails
  • Getting to meet a friend's menagerie, and having a first look at what will be the new additions to our family (start of our menagerie :P )
  • The letters arriving from the college with my September schedule, and the excitement that it's all going to start properly this time. Last year, I had been called up off the waiting list and started a fortnight late and couldn't get childcare funding. This year, my funding paperwork is all sorted, I'll be starting on time, and I have a clue as to what to expect.

joy pockets

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Blessed Lughnasadh!

Happy and blessed Lughnasadh Eve to you all! This is one of my favourite celebrations on the wheel of the year (along with Samhein and Yule), because it is quite dear to my heart. The main reason is that it was the first celebration that I had truly celebrated, by attending a weekend festival with a friend in 1997 at Lothlorien Nature Sanctuary, in southern Indiana. 

Midsummer Moon Dance is not an event that they hold any more because it wasn't one of the big ones, but it's a weekend that I still remember very clearly. I remember the circles that were held, that were kept open and informal. The amazing feeling of sleeping under the stars...there was no light pollution and the weather was hot, humid, and clear for the entire weekend (too warm to be sleeping in our tent). Everybody going skinny dipping in the creek at the bottom of the hill, to cool off. Getting my head around the concept of 'Skyclad is welcome'. And the Thunderdome. Nothing will ever compare to it...everybody sitting around, people who brought their drums, flutes, and even a home-made didgeridoo, and spinning and dancing around the bonfire (and almost catching my skirt on fire because I semi-tranced and got too close).  The energy over the entire weekend was amazing, and I went home buzzing.

Unfortunately, I've not had the opportunity to do anything similar. Here in the UK, most of my friends don't really acknowledge it because it's not one of the major celebrations. Because so many of us have no real connection to the harvests, we've lost the celebration of the first harvest, and even the second harvest (Mabon, or the Autumnal Equinox). Even Samhein has lost it's entire meaning. Yes, the veil is thinner and we celebrate our ancestors and those that have passed on over the year, but it's also the celebration of the final harvest. Today I will be celebrating by cleaning my house (similar to a spring clean), adding a salad to my lunch with the lettuce harvested from my own garden, baking some zucchini bread with zucchini and eggs gifted from a friend, and taking a bit of that as an offering to Lugh with the Imp to the nearby river.

We'll also be spending time in our back garden, which for my first real attempt at a veg patch, I am really proud of. I'm in a rented house, and the landlord thought that it would be easy maintenance for the tenants to layer the garden in pebbles and peat. Unfortunately, the weeds are a nightmare, on top of it reminding me of a barren wasteland.  So, I used a load of the pots that people had given to me, scraped a few of the stones at the end of the garden away (I wanted to do more, but it's really difficult when doing it with just a spade), and planted seeds in whatever space I could find. I had planned on moving the pumpkins all down to the end of the garden, but I had a plant that had decided to reseed itself from last year's harvest (I only put pumpkin out last year as an experiment) in March, and it now is taking over my path and has a pumpkin the size of your head. I've had lots of kos lettuce that I have been harvesting, as well as beetroot (I dice it and roast it with potatoes, onion, smoked sausage, and herbs...yum). I currently have lots of little green tomatoes that I expect to get bigger and go red within the next fortnight (maybe? This is coming from a complete novice). The sunflowers, as you can tell from the pics, are now almost as tall as I am. The two sweetcorn plants that I randomly bought from the market for 10p a piece and threw into pots now each have a tiny ear of corn with the silk coming over the top forming. The pumpkin plants at the end of the garden are getting big really fast.  We don't have strawberries this year, but the plants that we bought to rescue are finally starting to thrive. As are the herbs in the 'mixed pot'...I've already snipped a few of those for a stew the other day, and it was amazing. I usually use dried herbs, but I'm definitely going to change my ways. I'm currently making arrangements to sort out the bits that we need for the arrival of quails, so we'll have quails eggs of our own, soon.

Next year, I've been offered the assistance of friends and a rototiller, so I'm now starting to plan in my head how to correct the mistakes that I've made this year (not enough compost in the pots of tomatoes, for example), and what more that we can put out. I do have cucumber and radish out this year, but I think they need to be somewhere else, where they're not being shaded by the sunflowers. I still have my fingers crossed for them.  I also want to put out onion, carrots, and possibly cauliflower, along with other veg. 

I can say that it makes pulling all of the weeds a lot easier and more enjoyable. And the bigger the veg (especially the pumpkins) get, the less weeds there are. And the Imp is actually getting really good at helping weed, even if she did accidentally mutilate one of the smaller pumpkin plants the other day (it was an accident...it's in a shady corner, so not as big as the rest of them, and absolute inundated with weeds).
Long view of the garden, trying to capture most of the plants.
My pot of mixed herbs (basil, oregano, sage, thyme, and a little lavender) and one of the lavender that I'm trying to rescue in the other pot


One of the many ladybirds that we've had this year in the sunflowers. Various bees have also been sighted.
View of the sunflowers from the neighbour's garden

One of the tomato plants
The pumpkin that helped itself
Quail chicks at my friend, Raine's, that I am getting prepared to start with.
Mel

Friday, 29 July 2011

I am not, nor will I ever be a Priestess or Warrior...

And I'm honest with myself about that. It's something that I've struggled to understand about some people within rituals and celebrations. Everything seems to have to be done formally with every group ritual, and there's always got to be a High Priest and/or High Priestess.  And everybody seems to have aspirations that they have to obtain that level. It's the same that I see often within Heathenry, as well. I see a lot, especially the men but I've seen women doing it too, that either claim the status of Warrior, and/or invalidate those that don't seem to be esteemed enough to be a warrior.

What these people seem to forget is that the tribes that they aspire to be like were mixed communities. Not everybody could be a warrior...you needed people that could remain home in the village and maintain daily life. Not all men are suited to be warriors, not all women are suited to running a home. It's just like modern day now. Not everybody was a Druid, Priest, or Priestess. In fact, it tended to be one person that travelled amongst a few villages. The same for medicine women/men and herbalists. Most people may have had a basic knowledge of what was good and bad for you, and could recognise the standard plants near their home. But there was likely to have been only one or two people who had intimate knowledge of medicinal plants and what they could do.

When I started my initial path discoveries within Paganism, there was so much pressure to learn everything, to be everything. To a newbie (some people use the term 'fluffy bunny'), it's all sparkly, new information that you're bombarded with, that you think you have to read all of the books available. As I've grown more within myself, and found more clarity, I've found that isn't true. I've seen some impressive book collections. I have an impressive book collection, but I have an excuse for my collection...I used to own a start-up new age shop. I have a few that people have teased me about owning because they tended to be in the 'fluffy bunny newbie' variety. Yes, well actually they can make good doorstops, to be fair, but it actually is worth a read but you must take what's written with a grain of salt. Make your own conclusions and do further research. Also, work out what actually makes sense to you.

What would my place have been within a tribal community? Well, first off, I'm a mother. I have a duty to raise the next generation with common sense and as much knowledge of the world as I can provide.  I can cook and bake, and I have been know to often have food and munchies of varying degrees for my friends and groups that I've worked with.  I don't do anything spectacularly fancy, but I do things that are simple to do for more than two people that's tasty and enjoyed. To be fair, I have three younger brothers and learned to cook at home for six. Even though it's now just the Imp and I, I struggle not to cook for an army so it's not a big deal if somebody pops around unexpectedly...I'm likely to have enough dinner for them and at least two other people.  I'm also a font for useless information. Well, some of it could be good information. I have a really good long term memory, and in the right circumstances can go into a sort of 'storyteller' mode. That does not mean that I'm meant to be a Bard. I don't particularly care for poetry. I do love music and singing, but can't always remember everything. But when the Imp's granddad asked what was going on within the "Twilight" saga, because he was interested in watching the films but not reading the books (he's a film buff and watches everything), I spent over an hour in 'storyteller' mode and managed to tell him the story of all four books, plus the spinoff book, and I had a sense of accomplishment and excitement at the end of it (along with a dry and sore throat). Ok, that may seem silly to be that knowledgeable and like that series at the age of 34, but for me I don't have to think when reading or watching them...it's like brain candy.

If I had a mind to, I probably could be a High Priestess...I have the energy, mental capacity, and empathy to be able to guide a group. I just don't have the will or desire to. I've had people often in the past that have said that I made a good leader. I prefer to be the person aiding the leader, making sure that they have what's needed to lead efficiently. I do have a bit of interest in herbalism, and many years ago I was starting to slowly learn about it, but I honestly have a memory like a sieve and living in the city I've never had much of an opportunity to learn about plants in the wild.   As for being a warrior...yeah, right. I could defend myself at a push, but I've had no training and my health isn't always 100%.

I am still learning on my path, but I know what I don't fit in. I do have a keen interest in being able to help other people, but have never had the opportunity to train properly. At the moment, I'm only qualified for retail or office work. There's nothing wrong with them except that I personally find them mind numbing. I want to do more. So, I'm going to make a second attempt at returning to college in September, now that I have the maturity to actually study. I did go to a few years of university after high school, but it just didn't seem to be the right time in my life, and everything seemed to just go wrong.  You all will probably get a bit of my whinging about homework and papers starting in September, but I'm looking forward to actually getting through the entire course this time (I started last September, but had to drop in March).

I know what my place is on my path, and it isn't to be a High Priestess or Warrior. But I do have an ever-expanding place within my community. We all have something to teach each other, but we must remember that we can't bombard others with our information unless they ask for it. We can't be pushy about it, either. I didn't think that I had a place as a teacher or storyteller, and fought for a long time against it. But now I find myself blogging, and that it's giving me a new sense of desire. Yes, some of it may be a bit of crazy randomness, but I hope that I'm helping with some useful information for other people. I like sharing my cooking, so putting my recipes on here helps me share with everybody. Sharing my craft work is keeping me motivated to keep it going. And posts like this help me through a thought process and get my opinion out in the open.

Mel

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Cross Stitch: Wheel of the Year - Week 3


Not the best pic in the world, but I thought I would actually try to take a daylight photo of the work in process. Again, it might not look like I've done much, but I've gotten quite a bit done this week. At the moment, it seems like a lot of tedious highlighting bits, but I actually added some green in last night, which shook it up from all the variegated browns. And I'm starting to see the individual spokes coming out of the centre. If I really make a concerted effort in the coming evenings, I might be able to finish this first page by next week, the four week mark. A bit slower than I was hoping (we all know about my lack of patience), so I'm looking at this potentially taking a year to complete. Some of the side pages aren't full pages, but I'll be going back to college in September, so that will slow it up a little. I wish that I could be one of the fast stitchers, but that will never happen. Oh well...I'm truly enjoying it, and I'm enjoying sharing my progress.

Mel

Zucchini (Courgette) Bread


Thick sliced Zucchini (Courgette) Bread

Today was the first time that I have attempted my grandmother's zucchini (courgette, for the English) bread as gluten and wheat free...it's turned out as a resounding success. For me, it's some serious comfort food...hot out of the oven (or if I'm having it later, I reheat it in the microwave for a few seconds) with loads of melted butter. LUSH!  I have been known to take it with me to a party, and found that it's better for me to not tell people what's in it until they've tried it first, because you tell them that it's sweet and has courgette in it, and they turn their noses up at it. If I wait to tell them, they end up shocked and really enjoying it. The same goes for when I've made apple butter. It's a little difficult to explain what it is to people that it's not from their culture. They see it being dark brown and gloopy looking, so won't even try it. But I do have converts that I've turned into addicts (hey, Witchy Kitty, I'll probably be doing an apple butter batch sometime within the next month :P ).

The recipe for Zucchini Bread that I have is from my step-grandmother, Jean, and has always been a family favourite. The Imp had it for the first time today and gave it a rating of 'Nom Nom Nom'. To convert it to gluten/wheat free, I didn't have to make any adjustments because the courgette naturally contains a lot of liquid. I'm also sure that yours might rise a little more than mine did, because I've only just realised, as I've typed out the recipe, that I missed out on the baking powder. It probably didn't matter since the liquid part had time to sit because I went to grab the baking soda and realised I had none, and ended up going to all three of the local shops before I found any.  It's dairy free, as there is no butter, margerine, or anything of the like in it.

(Makes 2 loaves)

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (I use sunflower oil, and I have used olive oil in the past)
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups grated zucchini (courgette. And I dumped it through the food processor grater. I had a marrow and two courgettes, and got 6 cups from them. I've separated them into zipper bags, and what remains freezes well.
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 3 cups plain flour (I used Doves Farm Gluten and Wheat Free Plain Flour)
  • 3 tsps cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (optional...I've never added them, and I can't remember Grandma using them)
Preheat oven to 325F/165C/Gas Mark 3). Grease and flour two 8 inch x 4 inch loaf pans.
In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy.  Mix in oil and sugar. Stir in zucchine and vanilla.
Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nuts in a separate bowl.  Stir into egg mixture.
Divide batter into prepared pans. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until done (my oven can occasionally take it's merry sweet time, and I had it in for 90 minutes. Basically, until you insert a skewer or knife in the centre and it comes out clean).