Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Holly and the Ivy

We are finally at Christmas Eve, that most lovely of days when the greenery is brought into the house.  Before the advent of the Christmas fir tree in the nineteenth century, Christmas was celebrated starting with the holly, ivy and mistletoe being brought into the house.    In the middle of winter when nothing much is growing and the trees are bare, we still have these plants to help us bring joy.  Holly was sacred to druids who associate it with the winter solstice.   The bringing in of the holly and ivy has been taking place in England since at least the fifteenth century and probably even before that.
Then candles are lit to bring light into the darkest days of the year.  The Christmas symbols, the pagan holly and ivy and the Christian symbols of the season are just wonderfully intertwined.

"When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness."
- Bob Hope

I also make pomanders out of oranges and cloves to decorate the mantelpiece each year.  The smell is intoxicating!

"Christmas--that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance--a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved."
- Augusta E. Rundell
"At Christmas, all roads lead home." ~ Marjorie Holmes

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Shortest day musings

Last weekend we spent a lovely day at Buckland Abbey, once the home of Sir Francis Drake.  They put on a very funny mumming play as well as the usual Christmas decorations and food.  The mumming had a Sir Francis Drake theme -  the hero was Drake and his enemy was The King of Spain! 

For those who aren't aware, mumming is a very old English traditional Christmas play, which was usually a way of raising extra money for Christmas.  The speeches are in rhyming couplets and the action is mostly comic and exaggerated.  Father Christmas often appears at the end after everything has ended well. 

We spent most of our time looking around the marvellous kitchen, which had an open fire going, and lots of lovely Victorian Christmas items and a particularly grand dresser.

The kitchen smelt of herbs, spices, Christmas pudding mixture (which we all stirred as we walked past) and the fire.  We wanted to sit there all day.

Due to the particularly inclement weather we didn't get a lot of chance to go on a long walk whilst we were there.  We did briefly get some fresh air and the weather was very misty and windy with frequent showers.  The weather hasn't improved much since then.
On our return home, we decorated our tree, which we think is looking rather nice.  Decorating the tree is one of my favourite parts of the festive season and now that we have reached the shortest day, it finally feels as if Christmas is almost upon us.

"Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man  the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveller back to his own fireside and quiet home!"-  Charles Dickens 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A misty winter's morning

Walking on a misty December morning, all was silent other than the birds echoing in the trees around us.  The sun struggled to rise about the trees, the mist shrouded and clung to the ground and it felt as if the world had stopped briefly. 

Suddenly the leaves are almost gone from the trees and winter is seeping in.  Before all the midwinter celebrations, before Christmas and all of its light and warmth is upon us, its a time to stop and watch the seasons change.

Monday, 9 December 2013

A time for lighting candles

It has been quite a busy couple of weeks.  We had our local Christmas Fayre at the end of November and I was selling Christmas decorations, some of which were quite old, possibly 1950s.  The vintage decs sold very well, so did the traditional red and green baubles.  The modern looking blue baubles were mostly unsold.  It was a fun but exhausting day though and I managed not to buy all of my own stall.


One of the positives from the Fayre was that a friend won a new bird table which they didn't want, so they sold it to us.  Within a day of the new table being put in place we had seen wrens, the robin, blue and great tits, blackbirds and a pair of magpies.  Then the other day the starlings who circle the area landed, making a complete racket!

We are really enjoying having a bird table that we can see from the house all year round.  It is more entertaining than watching television most of the time. The leaves on the hazel tree are falling more and more each day now.  It wont be long until it is bare.

Almost everything in the garden is dying back except for the winter jasmine which lights our way beautifully and reminds us of the spring that will come eventually.

Now that the days are dark and shorter and getting colder we are spending more time inside of the house.  The mincemeat, christmas pudding and christmas cake are all made and waiting expectantly in the larder.  Now that it is the season of Advent we are lightly candles each evening until Christmas.  There is something special about lighting candles.

How far that little candle throws his beams So shines a good deed in a weary world.
William Shakespeare

Monday, 25 November 2013

Quince Jelly and Dr Who

Its such a busy time of year, it feels frantic at times, and I feel as if I have ignored the blog for a long time, even if it has been less than a fortnight.  We have made our Christmas pudding which now sits in the larder until Christmas and I'm hoping to make our Christmas cake this coming weekend.  We had an unexpected donation of quinces this year, which I made into some lovely quince jelly.  Here are the before and after pictures!

It was more fragrant and subtle than the japonica quince jelly I've made beforehand.  I'm even starting to wonder if I could find room in the garden for a quince tree...  On another unrelated note we held a family party to celebrate 50 years of Doctor Who and made everyone dress up.  We also put together some Doctor Who related food:-

Cassandra Lasagna

Adipose marshmallows and jelly babies.  We also made a tardis cake!

It was such fun.  I found most of the food ideas on line.  We have our local Christmas Fayre this coming weekend, which takes up a lot of time and energy.  After that however, I hope the frantic nature of the season will lessen a little and we get a chance to relax and enjoy the season.  If only I had a clue what to buy anyone for Christmas!

Let’s approach Christmas with an expectant hush,
rather than a last-minute rush.
 Mother Teresa

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Life is not hurrying on to a receding future

Its possible that this time of year makes me thoughtful.  Maybe I just am that kind of person who needs to make sense of the world around and look to poets and artists and nature for inspiration.  A problem with this time of year is that I spend so little time out in nature, plus it wont be long before I am going to work and coming home in the darkness each day. I really feel this lack of fresh air and light and I'm sure it affects my mood. I'm hoping this weekend will mean some dry weather and a chance to start tidying up in the garden and spend some time amongst the birds in the trees.

I'm a great believer in trying to live in the moment more.  Looking backwards or forwards too much can mean not enjoying the present time and being too anxious over the future. When I'm failing miserably to appreciate the present, I find reading R.S Thomas's poem rather useful:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give up all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

– RS Thomas, ‘The Bright Field’

I always find  baking cakes or sewing rather calming too.  I am very slowly putting together my patchwork/applique picture.  I've made all of the hexagons and am now sewing them together.  By the end of the weekend I had actually got this far, which is quite surprising considering how little I had done for months.

Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind

Monday, 28 October 2013

Calm after the storm

There was a storm last night that had been hyped for days beforehand.  There were constant reminders about taking care and not going out unless you had to.  They weren't sure where the path of the storm was headed, only that the South Coast of England would bear the brunt of it.   We were luckier than some, just a couple of fences blown over and a little bit of rain getting in.  

I've got to say that I'm really not keen on weather like that, it just makes me tense and then means I really can't sleep well.  So last night when the wind and the rain battered the front of our house, I was awake constantly asking myself whether the dripping sound was inside or outside and wondering if I would ever get to sleep.  Of course the more questions you ask and the more you are concentrating on the noise, the less you sleep.

This morning we walked into work as usual, looking at the mess left behind - a tree in the road, the shutters from a nearby house flung in two directions and lots of twigs and leaves everywhere.

We also noticed these fabulous fungi.  If anyone can identify them for us, that would be great.  I shouldn't need to say, but obviously we aren't going to eat them.  Partly because its potentially dangerous and partly because they were in someones front garden!

The weather this morning was still blustery, but it was bright and sunny and quite calm after all the drama of the early hours of the morning.  The deep darkness with its westerly winds, torrential rain and fretful sleep has gone away.   For now.

And at lunchtime in the park, if it wasn't for the branches scattered around, you would never have known how loud and chaotic and slightly scary it sounded last night.   The weather is no longer a gentle late summer, Autumn has arrived with all its squally changeable tendencies - later this week we will arrive at November.

I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.
Louisa May Alcott

Friday, 18 October 2013

St Luke's little summer

Today the 18th of October is the feast day of St Luke, the writer of the Gospel that bears his name and patron saint of artists and doctors.  According to ancient writings Luke was not only a writer, but a Doctor.  St Paul referred to him as 'the beloved physician'.  Tradition also suggests that Luke was also an artist who painted a portrait of Jesus' mother Mary.  

St Luke's day was traditionally a day when girls could foresee who they might marry.  They should put a mixture of spices, honey and vinegar on their faces before going to bed and say the rhyme 'St Luke, St Luke, be kind to me, In dreams let me my true love see'.  I've also read that this day was also known as Dog Whipping Day when all the stray dogs were whipped out of the town.  Not quite as pleasant an idea!

Trees changing colour in the park

I thought of the old saint this morning when realising just how warm the weather has been the last couple of days.  This last flourish of warm calm weather was often called St Luke's little summer, the calm spell before the autumn frosts and winds start to blow.  Last night we left the back door open until later in the evening and listened to a robin singing in the dark.  He sang so sweetly to no one in particular but I like to think he sang for me.
As it was dark I couldn't get a picture, so here is our robin singing earlier in the year

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Wildlife at Hazel Cottage

Autumn seems to bring out the wildlife here at Hazel Cottage.  We were particularly happy to see a squirrel is back in the garden.  Seeing as we have a large hazel tree we were a bit sad when we seemed to be without a squirrel for a while.  But the lure of the hazelnuts brought one back into the garden - he is spending every single moment running about the garden at high speed hiding food.  The squirrel hides nuts everywhere - no doubt we will find several hazel trees in time!

The robin is also far more visible at this time of year - after his summer hiatus.  We see him every day now, and hear him constantly tik tik tiking.
Of course the other wildlife are the hundreds of spiders all over the garden.  I tried taking some close up pictures...
For someone who is a little afraid of spiders, I do find them really fascinating as well. 

They appear to work so very hard at building their webs this time of year that I end up feeling guilty if I have to break a bit of web.  Insane especially when sometimes I have to break a web to get out of the back door....

Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!”
Humbert Wolfe

Monday, 7 October 2013

Such variety, such beauty, such magnificence: A walk in the woods

We had a lovely autumnal walk in the woods last week when we were away.  The trees were so large that when it rained we barely felt more than a drop.  The leaves had already started to fall but the weather was still warm and slightly clammy. We walked for a couple of hours, enjoying the peace and admiring the beauty of it all.

There is always a sense of permanence and timelessness in a woodland for me.  As if nothing has ever changed for hundreds of years.  And yet, there is a constant change of the seasons - the trees were resplendant with leaves still, but in a matter of weeks, they will change colour and fall.   The early morning mists of autumn have begun already.  The spiders webs decorate every tree, hedge and washing line and the nights are indeed drawing in.

When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy, And the dimpling stream runs laughing by; When the air does laugh with our merry wit, And the green hill laughs with the noise of it.
Lord Byron

Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
John Muir

Now Autumn's fire burns slowly along the woods and day by day the dead leaves fall and melt.
William Allingham

What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?
E. M. Forster

For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad.
Edwin Way Teale

I know no subject more elevating, more amazing, more ready to the poetical enthusiasm, the philosophical reflection, and the moral sentiment than the works of nature. Where can we meet such variety, such beauty, such magnificence? 
James Thomson

Monday, 23 September 2013

Welcome to Autumn...

Yesterday was the Autumnal equinox - the day when day and night have approximately equal length. After this date, the days shorten each day until we reach the shortest day of the year in December.  At Hazel Cottage, its not only the leaves that are beginning to fall off the trees, we are in the middle of the hazel harvest (or glut!).  The spare bed is covered with hundreds of hazelnuts, drying gently.  Each day another handful (or basketful) falls from the skies.  We are now looking into nice ways of using them up.

The word autumn has French origins, the older English term for this season is 'fall', a contraction of "fall of the year".   The pilgrim fathers took the old word with them to the Americas (fall is still used today in the USA), but it gradually died out here in England and was replaced by autumn.

Autumn or fall is one of my favourite times of year - a sense of new beginnings, of harvesting nature's bounty.  The trees will start to change colour, the spiders are making webs everywhere and the seeds of the horse chestnut tree (known as conkers) start to hurtle to the ground.  The weather is warm and still again after several days of cooler weather, and we've had little flocks of starlings streaming into the garden for the last week or two.  The woodpecker is still with us, which is so exciting and I am impatient to plant out my tulip bulbs, but I really must wait until October at least. 


“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love - that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one's very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit.  Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
George Eliot

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Apple jam and patchwork hexagons

I decided to make Apple Jam with the apples from our tree (and some from a friend who is inundated this year).  I would usually make chutney with apples, but we have made a lot of marrow pickle and still have some left over chutney from last autumn.    

I found this recipe which is an old recipe   

It is pretty simple and I found a handful of blackberries from the freezer to add the bit of colour and taste they mentioned, as I didn't have loganberies.
Apples from our tree

The slightly tedious bit - peeling!

The ingredients in my new jam pan

Ta-da! Fourteen jars of apple jam! 
We found a rather dull modern pine wall shelf on eBay recently and Mr C did a lovely job on painting it and making it look fabulous.  It now sits on our bedroom wall in a little corner filled with old small books that were scattered about the house.

I've started putting together some hexy patches to make a patchwork picture.  I've got an idea what it will look like of course, and if it works well I will post a picture later on.  I've just started to make the hexagon patches and still have a way to go before I can sew them together.

Its now September and the weather has cooled down a little, especially first thing in the morning and last thing at night. We seem to have a bit more rain too, which is very welcome.  The most exciting thing in the garden at the moment are the visitors we've had.  We saw a thrush on our bird feeder several times last week and last night we kept on hearing a loud kik kik kik sound from the garden.  It sounded different to the usual blackbird and robin sounds we hear, so I stood at the back door looking to see where it was coming from, and from the top of the large fir tree next door was what we think was a Great Spotted Woodpecker!  I managed to take a poor picture by zooming in madly, which helped us identify it.  This was wonderful news!