purple sage and parsley

Reasons to Be Cheerful

I’ve always thought that blogs like this can be a little removed from the real world. We witter on about baking bread and taking walks, picking flowers and knitting blankets seemingly without a care in the world, while cataclysmic events rock the world.

I see no reason for that to change too much even though our lives have changed in ways we wouldn’t have considered possible a few weeks ago.

For many of us there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful; here are a few of mine:

primroses growing in grass

Spring is here and winter is over. The primroses, cowslips and violets are in flower, the fruit trees and blackthorn bushes are frothing with blossom and the birds are singing. The hens are laying, the herbs in the garden are bright and fresh.

My calendar is empty for the next few weeks. No appointments, no obligations, no boring meetings. I can do whatever I like. So long as I don’t leave home.

I have more time to do the things I want to do. All Ruth’s printmaking classes in The Barley Barn have been cancelled, which is not something to be cheerful about, but instead we’re trying out printing projects and other creative things to share on Slamseys Journal. The first post about creative craft distractions if you’re stuck at home is already up and there’ll be more to follow. Also, instead of baking cakes and biscuits for the classes, I can fill my own cake tins.

It’s not raining and the sun is shining. The washing can be hung outside to dry, it’s a joy to get into the garden to sow some seeds and I no longer have to squelch along wet, muddy paths in wellies. Best of all, after a dismal autumn and spring sowing season, it’s finally just about dry out enough for the tractors to get onto the land in a last ditch attempt to drill some spring barley.

I have a knitting project that will last for ages. Last month, I knitted a Gamaldags sweater from Icelandic Knitter, which was incredibly quick to knit and I’ve worn it almost non-stop. I then had a fancy to knit a gansey or guernsey, whichever you like to call it. I have no idea why it seemed a good idea to knit something on tiny 2.25mm needles, which is taking an age to knit. There seems barely any noticeable progress after an hour of knitting each evening and though that seemed a bit of a drawback at first, it now seems a positive thing.

coffee and biscuits on the table

People have started to blog again. We may have to socially distance ourselves in real life, but on the web, we can drop in or open our doors to people all over the world. A virtual seat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a biscuit.

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Stay safe.


Christmas Traditions

circle of herbs hanging from red ribbon

This morning, the house is quiet and unadorned, apart from a tiny circle of bay, thyme and rosemary that hangs in the kitchen so that I don’t have to search for herbs in the dark outside.


Later, I shall get out the boxes of decorations, arrange the nativity scene and slot together the candle fuelled chiming angels. If I can find all the bits. Mistletoe, holly and ivy will be gathered, the Christmas tree dragged inside and the house decorated while listening to carols from Kings College, Cambridge.

Many people might sniff at the naffness of the chiming angels and think that Christmas Eve is far too late to start decorating the house, but I like the family traditions that we’ve built up over the years. They change a little each year but provide a sort of certainty in life that’s needed more than ever in this year of nastiness in politics and social media along with the harrowing stories of flooding in this country and bushfires in Australia.

Wherever you are and whatever your traditions, I hope that you can have a Happy Christmas and wish you a Peaceful New Year.


conker

A Seasonal Change

sloes growing in hedge

Autumn is creeping in. The leaves on the trees are just beginning to change colour, the first hints of yellow and gold appearing as a prelude to the riot of russet, bronze and purple to follow. The hedgerows are filled with sloes, their beautiful blue blushed skins belying the astringent flesh within and the apples are at their juiciest best. The days are cooler and it feels like summer is finally over.

It’s time to pack away sandals and summer dresses; to pick the last blackberries and raspberries; to shelve this blog until I regain my enthusiasm for it; to make chutney; to make plans for adventures; to find a new knitting project; to take long walks in the autumn sunshine; to make the most of my favourite season.

There is a restlessness as the seasons shift and a need for change.


September Days

No matter how many decades it is since I was at school (and it’s several) September is always a prominent marker in the year. It makes me think of sharp pencils and new shoes; reading suggestions and equipment lists; scratched hands picking shiny blackberries and apples eaten straight from the tree.

September collage of new shoes, sloes, blackberrries and rosehips

This September, the Barley Barn has been cleared after the overnight Gong Bath ready for the new term of printmaking classes, which start this week. In preparation, there’s been a flurry of creative activity including some experiments for using up rubbish imperfect prints, hence the collage above.

In September, the farming year starts a new cycle as the fields have lime, farmyard manure or biosolids spread on them filling the air with dust or a range of smells. Curiously, the biosolids (the more attractive name for sewage sludge) have a not unpleasant smell with a slight whiff of washing powder.  Before the new crop is sown and while the ground is dry, the chance is taken to trim some of the hedges and clear any ditches that have become overgrown or been dammed by children during the summer holidays.

This September, a trailer was discovered dumped or hidden in a remote spinney. The discarded number plates and other detritus suggest it was probably a holding place for stolen machinery.  Meanwhile, field boundaries are checked and any bordering a road without a thick hedge are trenched or bunded against unwelcome intruders, which seems positively mediaeval but is actually very effective.

rosehiips in September

In September, the hedgerows around the farm are filled with the colour of spiky sweet chestnut cases, orange rosehips, red haws and the beautiful dusky blue skin of the sloes that belies the astringent flesh beneath. Branches dumped in a jug with some bolted salad crops from the garden make an unfussy grouping, which is about my limit for flower arranging.

sloes in September

This September, the sloes are plentiful but the plum trees in the garden have been disappointing. The wasps ate more greengages than we did and many of the damsons went from hard as bullets to wrinkled almost overnight.

Soon it will be time to eat crumbles and pies, socks and sweaters will be pulled on reluctantly and doors that have stood open all day during summer will be closed as the days cool. But for now, we’re enjoying the late summer days of September.


Summer Loving

It feels as though summer may have peaked and is about to start slowly drifting away. Time to make the most of the warm, sunny days, to take stock and enjoy some snippets of happiness.

combining wheat in field

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The wheat harvest has finished leaving fields of stubble, an interlude in the cycle of sowing, growing and harvesting. Today, the first wheat of the 2019 harvest was milled into flour and made into bread. There was a slight confusion between flour and flower when my two year-old grandson was invited to help. I feel he may have been slightly disappointed.

hen with green feathers

The countryside and garden are entering that slightly unkempt and beautiful stage of late summer. Vegetables are harvested from the garden every day with a fork to table distance of twenty paces. Naturally, there are courgettes that have grown far too big but happily, the hens enjoy the odd one lobbed into the run. One hen has also been eating the eggs, so she’s daubed with pig tattoo paste to make it easy to separate her at night.

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geraniums growing with tomatoes in trough

Geraniums have added a bright splash of colour to the garden this summer making me wonder why I’ve spurned them for so long. The herbs have proliferated, very much at home in the new garden, providing a flash of green in the bleached summer light. A batch of freezer raspberry jam has been made in the hope that its brilliant colour and fresh taste will bring back a ray of summer sunshine in the depths of winter. This year’s meagre crop of greengages has mainly been eaten by wasps, but I’ve delighted in the few we managed to pick. The rosehips, blackberries and sloes in the field hedgerows bear the first blush of colour and the ground is littered with the husks of hazelnuts discarded by the squirrels.  

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Chocolate biscuits and oat biscuits cooling on wire rack

Trays of biscuits have been baked for printmaking classes because everyone knows that a biscuit helps you to concentrate but otherwise, the oven has barely been turned on through the summer apart from bread baking and the Sunday roast. A splash of Manly Gin before Sunday lunch has kept alive memories of our Australian holiday. We flirted with fame or to be more precise, some of our family appeared on Australian TV for thirty seconds, which was quite long enough.  Our television has barely been switched on all summer apart from watching the netball and cricket. Piles of books have been borrowed from the library to read outside in the evenings while it’s still light. Reading fiction has been so much better than watching the news.

Happy days.