Tag Archive | country living

Warm hearts and hearths for Christmas

Most people don’t want the bother of a real fire. dsc06135

It’s far easier and less time consuming to flick a switch than lug coal buckets, saw wood and clean up ash. Sometimes I feel I don’t want the bother of it either. But recently I’ve felt blessed with the presence of a real fire in the cottage. Most particularly since the boiler broke down again.

The word ‘cottage’ may sound romantic. But along with them come the quirks of their time; the insulation is none existent, the tiled floors feel arctic on bare feet and the wicked Easterly will inevitably find a way in. Which all serves to chill the crockery, clothes, furnishings and fingers to the temperature of the sausages straight out the freezer. The real give-away is the fact that they don’t defrost, even over a day!

But soon as the fire’s lit, all that seems bearable. We stack it up. Have dinner on knee in front of it. Let its soothing chatter calm concerns and melt muscles and bones braced against the cold.

Looking after it also keeps me active, so contributes to raising my temperature and my strength and fitness as well.

It’s ironic isn’t it, that all our labour saving devices, despite being so convenient, are not so good for our health. We’ve become so sedentary that we have to schedule in times to keep fit when the process of living no longer does so.

Watching the fire is as compulsive as staring at a screen but is better for my mental fitness, I reckon. It’s heart warming as well as hearth warming. Perhaps it’s because there’s something in us that draws us towards these natural elements, like the sun, something ancient in our genes that will never be over taken by man-made things. I don’t turn to stare at a radiator for peace of mind!

In new builds and work spaces maybe we need to take into account that we are natural beings ourselves. And as such consider that we do need a connection to other natural elements, like light which I talked about last time, to keep our hearts and heads as warm, healthy and fit as our bodies and muscles used to be when we were tending fires.

Wishing you warm hearts and hearths this season however you find them.

Wish I could pay bills with buttercups!

DSC06049What utter delight it is to walk out on a May morning. When the sun is up and the buttercups are awakening to it with me, opening their faces with an early smile of petals, the sun warming the may blossom and wafting its scent through my senses.

Is this my bank holiday? No! My normal working life. My breaks from early work at laptop, and keyboard to return to after this stretch of back and brain.

Such is my writer’s life. Does it sound idyllic? This bit of it is, but when I wither under worry about not enough pennies coming in to provide for necessities let alone luxuries, it feels different.

Thankfully, this luxury is free. But living here also comes at the price of winter hardships, travel challenges and an internet speed so slow messenger pigeons would be quicker.

I’m not whinging, just telling how it is; penny pinching is more normal for writers than the giddy heights of people like J K Rowling and Steven King more usually getting coverage. Each have had their hardships too, but it is their millionaire status that hits the headlines most of all, creating a picture of wealth and glamour the rest of us rarely achieve.

Like with all jobs we all have to take the rough with the smooth and measure out whether the compromises are worth it. And that comes down to what you value.

Values are part of the curriculum now, as if you could teach something so inherently learnt from living and experiencing life. Heaven forbid that values will be compartmentalised into subjects and targets and tests like everything else curriculum. That would be one sure way of losing the point. For the test of having values and understanding what it is we value, is evident only in living your life and knowing yourself. There’s no test for that. Only time and experience qualifies it for you. Allows you to know what you value.

Like me walking out on a May morning. I may not have enough money to buy a posh coffee or move somewhere with a faster internet speed but the buttercups are my reward and the peace and the birdsong. Things I truly value as well as having enough to pay the bills.

So don’t take for granted what you read about authors. Most writers labour with love not with money. And all sales are most gratefully appreciated and help to keep us going. So look out for some new books to buy coming within the next month or so.

But also remember to enjoy those things around you that cost nothing but are worth so much.

How tiny are we?

A bit blurred, but here she is glowing behind the earth's shadow - thanks to Charley for the pic!

A bit blurred, but here she is glowing behind the earth’s shadow – thanks to Charley for the pic!

There are times when I feel utterly lucky to live in a house so uniquely connected to the rhythms of the land. Last night was one of them.

I admit, there are also times when I bemoan it! Times of unstoppable draughts and exposure to freezing elements. Times of mud caked single track roads that are treacherous and slow. Times when I’d just like to dip into a bit of coffee culture nearer than an hour’s drive away! And times of threat from living so near to the sea.

But times like last night, watching the awesome lunar eclipse, with my lovely daughter also awake with the excitement of it, makes me realise it’s worth all that!

It’s worth the draughts to watch sunrises and sunsets as they pass seasonally round the windows. Windows that look out in every direction across a uniquely natural landscape which stretches as far as the eye can see. A house that sits with the rhythms of the turning earth as wild geese in winter or summer swallows call the seasonal changes.

The moon shine starts on our East facing bedroom window and works it’s way around to the South facing one as the night passes on. It lays ribbons of sheen upon the sea then upon the bed as I’ve left the curtains open a crack to watch it. Last night I couldn’t help but get up to watch the phenomenon of the eclipse.

At first the light was strong enough to cast shadow and illuminate the land as if it was daytime. Then as I watched it dull to bruise red, a mist came up on the land and blurred it all, yet up high the stars were still as clear. Finally the shadow on the moon moved over and the brightness returned and I returned to bed wondering how I’d manage living in a house where I couldn’t feel this connected to the earth. An earth which really matters more than tiny little me!

When I’m in the city a commercial culture rules all and it’s easy to believe that is all that matters. I can become entrapped in the cosmopolitan and the superiority it breeds over those that live and work rurally, day after day, far from a man-made culture or a froth topped coffee.

When I’m here and able to witness such incredible phenomenon, that leave me more shaky with excitement and awe than with tiredness, it brings my mind home again to the things that truly matter.

 

Forget forever busy – learn from nature!

One of our fledglings that'll be flying thousands of miles!

One of our fledglings that’ll be flying thousands of miles!

It won’t seem right without the swallows in the sky. They’re gathering to make their epic Autumn journey.

I see them swooping about the sky as if with pure enjoyment. If you live in a city it’s more likely to be the House Martins and Swifts you see flitting around, flexing their muscles for their long migration.

Nothing marks the turning of the seasons more than the summer visitors going – people and birds! And the harvest gratefully done, the fields a little quieter for a bit, fallow and golden, the garden dropping down to seed head slumber.

I won’t be tidying the dead stuff away. I leave it for all the little creatures and insects to overwinter in a duvet of fallen leaves. They can sleep in peace and shelter.

I’ve written about this fallow time before. How these seemingly fallow times can be so developmental and we shouldn’t worry about children having fallow times too. These are as instrumental to their progress as productive times. Just because there’s nothing tangible to show for it doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on in their minds. Intellect needs fallow on occasions; it’s a valuable to growth as stimulation is.

It’s the same for the parents actually. Parents, especially mums, mostly operate at high energy levels, whether running round after toddlers or finding new ways to negotiate teenhood, it’s all exhausting. Even twenty somethings can exhaust you with concerns, says she with experience!

And writing, or any creative pursuit, certainly exhausts you. You certainly need fallow times in order to recuperate some of the energy expended on a project to bring it to harvest.

So I wanted to say that whatever work you do, not to worry about fallow. It’s hard to sit and rest and cogitate in a culture that upholds forever busy. But forever busy is not the best way I’ve found, not for kids, nor parents, or for writers or workers.

All of us worry sometimes about the kids never doing anything, about us needing to constantly motivate them, about never being able to write anything again. And the guilt in doing nothing is paramount! The over emphasised work ethic that surrounds us heaps guilt on thicker than mayo on coleslaw.

But it’s best to push all that aside and enjoy a few fallow Autumn moments. For have you noticed, whilst nature’s settling into the season with a sigh, she has no guilt about lying dormant at all!

Neither should we. It’s what charges us all for future success.

Nature I find is often the best teacher. We can learn valuable lessons from her.

The bright side of a leaky roof

20150729_120816My muscles have been feeling a bit like they’ve had a good session in the gym.

They haven’t – I don’t do gyms, I exercise outside, cycling or walking daily and gardening, if you could call it that. It’s more a case of wrestling back the rampant nettles and brambles that would take us over. And the roses and vine that creep under the tiles when I take my eyes off their growth spurts, causing the tiles to lift and roof to leak.

This is the reason for achy muscles; climbing the ladder, clinging to the roof top and fighting wind lashed polythene sheeting into place until the builders get here. Thanks to former exercise I’m fit enough to tackle it!

I can’t blame the roses for the leak this time. I think it was the birds pecking the insects off the flat topped windows that stick out from the roof, making little holes as they do so. And the pigeon who struts about showing off to any watching females. That and the age of the house of course. Time has gone on and we were happily oblivious to the consequences until a steady drip of rain water onto carpet in the middle of a stormy night raised alarm through our senses.

Nothing gets me more wide awake than dripping where dripping shouldn’t be. Or makes you feel more vulnerable than the sudden knowledge that your impenetrable fortress is not so impenetrable as you thought.

Look on the bright side, I said to myself whilst lying on a plank on the flat roof in the rain spread-eagled against rearing plastic, at least it is repairable and at least I have a roof even if it is temporarily leaking, unlike those poor folks I see in grubby blankets sleeping in doorways and under bridges.

Temporary cover laid, the tricky bit is to squirm back to the ladder top and get my foot on the first rung, always a fall risk moment. But back down on the ground with fatigue wobbly arms and legs I know that a bit of a challenge and drip disturbed sleep is small price to pay for this roof over my head. I know I am privileged to have it. And maybe even lucky to have these little hiccups to keep me from taking it for granted.

This might be a very ‘Pollyanna’ attitude. (Have you watched that film with the children? It’s a great one for promoting discussion on appreciation). But it’s also a reminder that appreciation of all that we have serves us much better than an feeling of lack and envy, which the insidious advertising we’re bombarded with can instil in us.

Pollyanna makes looking on the bright side an art form! Thanks to a leaky roof  and wobbly muscles I’m reminded to practice that artistry a bit more often!

The view from the roof…

A change of view sometimes brings a change of mind!

A change of view sometimes brings a change of mind!

I was on the garage roof quite a bit last weekend. Charles was inside cooking dinner.We have very different priorities!

Although, he’s not interested in cooking any more than I am, it was just his turn. And I like being on the garage roof because it gets me outside.

It was part of the gardening I was doing. It’s a flat roof and thanks to deposits of leaves and blooms from the beautiful roses tangled there it’s almost an unintentional rooftop garden.

However, what isn’t so beautiful is the rapping on our bedroom window on gale force nights. And not just rapping, sometimes it was clawing and scraping like fingernails down glass. Not very soothing or restful when you’re trying to sleep. I lay planning my revenge; a severe chop.

Thankfully, after the raging wet and storms it was fairly pleasant up there. The sky felt lifted, the fields greening up and, unleashed from the bonds of snow and frosts, flushing with a brighter colour and shimmering in sunshiny moments.

Up there, the surrounding land stretches out from house to horizon and is not a view I see regularly. It instantly changed my perspective.

It’s amazing what a change of perspective can bring to a day, not only with regard to the landscape. The view from higher up than normal makes you feel tall both physically and emotionally. Your spirits seem to climb with height and distance. It must be why people like hill walking or mountaineering; the view from the top making you feel elevated in all respects.

Maybe that’s why my youngest liked climbing trees – I can still picture her face now, high up there staring at the distance.

When I lived in London it was at the top of a house of flats and I could stare over the rooves and treetops into endless sky. It lifted me away from weight of immediate concerns. It made me feel that life was larger than just my own little world.

When life makes you feel so very small on occasions it’s worth taking some time to stop looking at it from ground level and allow a change in perspective. For circumstances don’t necessarily have to change for you to feel better.

I got the climbing roses cut back from the windows. And also spent some moments admiring the view, changing my inner perspective, letting go some of the nagging concerns I could do nothing about. After all, life is not just nagging concerns! So not only did I have a more peaceful night following, I had a more peaceful state of mind.

And I only had to climb the garage roof to achieve it!

Do it like the sparrows!

001It’s only a touch milder and the birds are thinking Valentines.

As I walked through town last night the Blackbird was singing his heart out on top of a chimney pot. This morning there is a chaffinch bursting with song. And there is a chattering of sparrows jostling for the next boxes and showing off their assets.

Being sociable birds we decided to build them a semi. A two-side nest box to be shared with neighbours. They keep popping in and out, first one side, then the other, like estate agents showing a prospective client round rooms. Swapping over, having a bit of a squabble, then carrying on as if nothing had happened.

Then occasionally one will bring a tuft of nesting material to impress his mate and earn him the right to bonk her on the roof!

I love the carnal stirrings of the natural world. It’s not that I’m pervy or anything, it’s just that it really means spring is on its way when there’s pairings in the wild. And it’s so beautifully removed from the the commercial hype that showing our love has become around Valentine’s day.

It seems far more fitting to bring your Valentine a token of your togetherness and love in the form of an act or a gesture that you’ve put some effort into – even if not nesting material – than buying a pre-packed, prescribed and generic box of something dictated by consumerism which is polluting the natural world and all the other living things in it.

Many of our garden birds are on the decline because of our pollutive habits and the way we farm is destroying habitats. The places that support them are destroyed or disappearing all together as we grab and greed and lust for far, far more than we ever really need to support us.

Just thought I’d mention it so you can think about loving the earth’s creatures as much as you love your Valentine and be mindful of the way in which you show it. I’m not suggesting you go out and bonk on the roof (although if that’s your thing…) I’m just asking that you also think about the world’s roof as you celebrate a day of love!