Communications and Trust

I seem to be having some new lessons in trust right now. One area of these lessons is in communications.

I don’t use a mobile phone. It is my choice, as to constantly carry something turned on or else need to be regularly checking it just doesn’t fit in with what I do right now. I have one, it is small and basic and was given to me when I was in hospital many times and there was no other easy method of getting in touch. I do generally take it with me in case I need to phone out, since a working payphone is no longer to be found in each village, so when the car had two punctures at the same time and my daughter was with me we were able to phone the breakdown service. If I ever needed to be in touch with school because something had happened to me then I could. But the other way round? Most messages reach me within an hour – and those that don’t, I believe I wasn’t meant to get.

While no missed messages have been a disaster, here are two memorable ones that brought unexpected joy.

The first, a little over three years ago, when I failed to get the message that the parent and child group we were attending was canceled. Having cycled with my daughter in a trailer for nearly five hilly and slow miles I was not in a position to turn around and go home without a stop and a drink for me, and a leg stretch for M. Realising our predicament, we were invited to join the kindergarten children in the garden and also shared a snack with them; when M turned three shortly after she went to the nursery, having had such a good time that morning.

The second last week, when the school was closed due to a boiler breakdown and supplementary heating proving inadequate. The friend I was supposed to be meeting for a walk also missed the message, so instead of us both being trapped in our houses looking after children who didn’t like the weather, a pavement discussion led to us all having a walk together and friendships grew, age differences forgotten. Future invitations have already been issued.

It reminds me that good things have more freedom to happen when we do not try to tightly control our lives. No panic or fear is needed, I can just trust I am where I need to be.

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Fire and Rhubarb

I mentioned last week, in Happy Samhain, that I have been working quite a bit with the elements over the past year. Not for the first time, in fact the third, but I seem to go deeper and take longer each time. On this occasion I stayed with each element, exploring through meditation, ritual, appropriate outdoor activities and music, for around 6-8 weeks, and then mostly had a quick end when I realised I was going too far out of balance. Earth I gradually became ‘stuck in the mud’ and lethargic, not getting anything done. I also had molehills appear all over the place, in the middle of winter when I wasn’t otherwise digging the ground, forcing me to connect directly with the soil more than just walking. Water saw me crying a lot, and it raining a lot. The washing machine broke two pumps and flooded the kitchen on more than one occasion. My daughter suddenly decided she was ready to visit the swimming pool at last, enabling me to go too. Air saw strong winds and many ideas, if often impractical or challenging intellectually. The fence blew down. Fire saw drought and moorland fires, but I was being scared of it and in hindsight didn’t really open up to its teachings.

I ask myself, was I just more aware of each of these things because I am thinking about their element? No, I haven’t mentioned all of the occurrences, and there were way too many coincidences for it to simply be awareness, but that is part of being with the element too. I can say that within the year just gone they were the most extreme periods for each type of weather. But as I said, I didn’t really do Fire. I remember feeling relieved that I got through unscathed, no burning the house down or major temper outbursts, because I was deliberately keeping it in balance with the other elements.

However, I am now realising that fire is determined to teach me. The fire is relit within me and new projects are taking off – but I need to direct my energies better. In two weeks I have managed to burn an oven mitt, a pillowcase, a wooden spatula, and yesterday a pan that boiled dry. Finally I recognise what I am being shown. So having got the message at last, now I need to sort it out. Make my connection to Fire in a positive way, and use it to not only be creative but follow things through. To take action where action is needed.

Meanwhile, the totally blackened pan won’t scrub clean, so I look online for ideas. Vinegar and baking soda. Bio washing liquid. Well each did get it a bit better, but not so you’d notice if you hadn’t seen how it started out. Rhubarb, I thought. Was there any left? Despite the recent frosts there were four thin stems still with colour on them. I picked two, and boiled them in the pan. A bit of scrubbing, mainly with the burnt spatula, and I can see silver again. Fighting fire with fire.

Happy Samhain!

I spent the day yesterday pumpkin carving, preparing for the festival of Samhain and having a really joyful celebration of the year gone and the year coming.

This was the first truly joint pumpkin I have carved with my daughter, as her design input was equal to mine. After explaining that we weren’t going to carve a scary face, because Samhain isn’t intended to be a scary time of year (more connecting and thanking the dead, our ancestors, those who have gone before rather than being scared by ghosts) we thought about what things we were thankful for. Fairies. Flowers. Trees. Frogs. We can use cookie cutters, she said.

I have spent quite a bit of time over the past year going through the elements, so I decided to make my own thanks and celebration by organising them into four elemental groups, with three things for each one. We also had a five-pointed star for our lid, so that made a perfect 13 holes to be carved in the pumpkin.

My daughter’s washable pens were perfect for drawing the design on, especially as any traces can be easily removed afterwards, and where we had a suitable cutter she drew round them for me. Where we didn’t she found me a picture in one of her books to copy … luckily the pen can be rubbed out and corrections made!

I used a knife to cut the lid, then a melon baller has proved the most useful tool to cut through seed strings. This year I also used it to remove half the flesh from the inside so that the walls weren’t too thick to cut through, then cooked what I removed for pies later. Experience has taught me that a cookie cutter doesn’t cope with curved pumpkin skin very well, so after having drawn around them, I used a hacksaw blade taped to a piece of wood, which has been my trusty pumpkin carver for over a decade now. It turns corners better than a knife, although can leave edges ragged if not careful.

All four sides have holes in, making it hard to photograph, but right for us. Earth on the side that was on the ground, fire upwards to the sun, water and air in between. Some are animals, some, such as a musical note or the heart, are symbolic.

May you have bright blessings and a peaceful new year.

Elemental Pumpkin, showing Earth and Air, with Fire on the wall behind.

Autumn Flowers

Late October Cranesbill Geraniums

It is hard to believe that Samhain is next week when my garden is full of flowers that normally bloom in May or June.

Potentilla Miss Willmott still going

Several died back to ground level during the drought, put on growth in the rains of August, and the Campanulas started flowering again in September. They were joined by a Leucanthemum, giant scabious, candytuft, sweet cicely, sweet rocket, and now even the geraniums which I thought I had lost are having a good go. Along with the usual autumn flowers of course!

Sweet Cicely enjoying a second flush of flowers

Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ still flowering in late October

Hazelnuts were so early that I missed most of them. Yet the Eucryphia tree in our garden which usually flowers in August did so at the normal time, and has carried on, and on…

Unfortunately the recent warm spell also brought a new generation of pests, including many flies which get in my face while cycling and whiteflies which have invaded my kale. I am sending the lacewings out from sheltering in my bedroom windows (not a very sensible place for the winter, I open them too often) on the next warm day to have a feast.

And one that flowered at the normal time, a Paeonia mlokoseiwitschii I grew from seed and now producing the first of the next generation. The flies seem to like this too.

Celebrating the Harvest

It was the Autumn Equinox last Sunday, a time of harvest celebrations. But what a strange year this has been! A late winter with snow in April, then drought in May, June and July, before a wet and chilly August.

The apples loved it. The extra cold helped them create more flower buds, they survived the drought, losing excess fruit without me having to thin them out, and then the rain came just in time to help the fruit swell. The first fruits were ready at the start of August, two weeks early even for our early trees, and carried on into September with larger fruit. I spent the days before we went on holiday (late August) madly making apple sauce to freeze, as this early fruit doesn’t keep and we were overflowing with apples on every counter.

Plums came at their normal time, but suffered from being eaten more than normal. The apples also had lots of wasps early on which I’ve never seen before, I assume there just wasn’t much else for them in the drought.

Blackberries came a month early – but with the cold weather finished early as well. Yet my strawberries have had a second crop and been a really delicious treat – they are still going. The raspberries cropped well in the drought but didn’t make new canes, so the autumn crop and also next summer’s are greatly reduced, even though there is plenty of rain now.

In the vegetable garden, the sweetcorn drank all the water offered so underplantings (mainly nasturtiums) all died. I had a crazy plant with a cob growing around a male flower, but it proved edible and we managed a small crop of good cobs as well. The climbing French beans were so prolific that eventually the wind blew them over. The edging and supports will all need replacing over the winter. Similarly the tomatoes grew so well in the heat I actually had to stop them at the top of their six foot stakes!

Finally, one crop I harvested but didn’t grow was barley. I promised myself last year that I would as so many Lughnasadh rituals are based around wheat – which I am allergic to, but barley is fine for me. Unfortunately I never found any small quantities of seed for sale. However, I did keep an eye on the fields around here, and spotted barley growing along a lane I sometimes cycle, with a footpath going conveniently along the edge of the field. With the drought it was harvested in mid-July, earlier than I have seen previously. So I parked up my bike, climbed the style which luckily wasn’t completely overgrown with nettles and brambles thanks to the drought, and walked along the field edge to see what had been left behind. Enough barley, and also some wheat for the rest of the family, to make a display and grind some into bread. A token amount – it takes a lot of grain for a loaf and barley I discovered is much harder to separate from the chaff than wheat, but somehow the inclusion of even a few grains of my own picked and winnowed barley seems worth it and makes the bread special. I have managed to be part of the wheel of the year and the turning of the seasons, not just an observer.

A Walking Meditation

I was lucky enough to have most of a day to myself in the middle of the school holidays, which I chose to spend doing a very mini-vision quest in the form of a walking meditation. We were staying in my childhood home for a few days, so the country park that I went to was one that I knew well as a child, but had scarcely visited since. After a drop-off at the top of the hill (saving me about a mile of road walking), I started out on the most familiar track, one I cycled along almost every day for seven years of secondary school. Familiar puddles, roots, obstacles. It was raining hard, the sandy ground was as slippery as ever.

As the hedges opened out onto the ‘plain’, an area of open grassland where the trees were kept back to stop highwaymen from attacking travelers on the old coaching road, I left my old cycling route and revisited the woodland areas I had explored and played in when very young. Almost unrecognisable after a gap of 30 years, yet the feelings of the place were the same. Happy, and full of potential. I then walked parallel to the plain staying within the woodland. Pleasant, even while being dripped on, though unexpectedly mostly young-ish growth with one veteran tree decaying sadly behind a fence.

I came to a large oak tree I didn’t recognise, at a junction in the paths. It’s roots called me to sit down, so I spent some time there, working out exactly what my questions were. After some thought, I realised I needed to understand where I was right now and which path to take forwards.

I had thought everything would change a year ago when my daughter started school, so I made all sorts of plans – and then had them systematically unraveled by being unable to do much of anything thanks to my hip injury. Eventually I got the message to stop worrying about the things I couldn’t do, and found peace within. A peace that has stayed with me, and allows me to be at one with the world. But maybe I am impatient or awkward, as it rarely feels like I am doing enough – even if that is what all the messages I receive tell me! It felt like time to ask again, as the new school year approached, and see what, if anything, had changed.

Coming out of the woodland as I reached the far side of the plain, I found a familiar view from a bench where there had always been one.

This was a step back into a different past – a memory of a disastrous day at school and daring to come here in my lunch break, to escape. I had failed an exam I really expected to pass, and was suddenly faced with reality being different to how I had imagined things were going. I had followed teacher’s advice, taken what I thought was the ‘easy’ route, and a subject I had always been good at, instead of following my heart. Looking back, so much might have been different that year had I stuck to my original plan. I have failed worse things since then, but I don’t think ever made quite such a wrong choice again.

Two friendly oak trees.

Having put my past in its proper place, it was time to follow a new path into my future. One that I had never walked before; small, quiet, pretty. I walked through many new areas, and eventually circled round to return via some more oaks and Scots pines. I sat in an oak, and asked what message it had for my future. The answer was not something new however, but ‘Thoroughly’. In other words, follow the advice from the ‘Certainty’ tree I had met recently, and do whatever I do thoroughly. Reach for the sky. Find the joy in it. Don’t be just liking what I do, but love it. Value it. Spend more time doing the things I love rather than simply like – and find ways to love more. Remember what I always said as a child: that it doesn’t matter why we’re here, it matters that we enjoy it. Be happy, and spread happiness. That’s all. I looked up and in front of me saw two lovely oaks, happy together.

The rain had gradually eased, so I looked for a place to eat my lunch. I walked past larches and through a grove of silver birch trees. Then two oak trees lying down by a stream, covered in soft moss, inviting me to sit down. Squirrels played, some holly protected me and a hazel stood nearby.

A perfect place for a picnic


A perfect end to a perfect morning. I had another hour or so there, then walked home, picking blackberries in the sunshine.

Finishing My Wand

Here is a rather delayed post on the final stage of my wand.

My wand was being used before I even started carving it, even before I had the piece of wood I was going to carve it from, as I have written before. It was also used in between each bit of carving. However, I still felt that it was important to dedicate it properly in a circle ceremony once it was complete – and I could not complete it without the help of my spirit allies, in this case Dragon.

When I was given the design for the wand back in February (see ‘Carving my Wand’ for the design details) I asked if it should have a snake core, to match the outside of the wand. Dragon looked at me and replied “All your wands will have a dragon core of course!” “All?” I asked, surprised. Apparently I will eventually need three, for different workings, and to represent Mother (apple), maiden (for moon work) and crone (not yet!). I was also told not to worry about how to get the core, Dragon would do that part for me when it was needed.

It took a while before everything felt right, but it was a new moon, a Wednesday (Mercury is both my ruling planet and has connections with wands) and following on from a Fire ritual I had done as the completion of my revisiting each element over the past few months, and I realised the time had finally come.

First I touched my wand with each of the four elements, using Derbyshire spring water collected near the river Dove, a candle flame, Frankincense spray, and salt. Then I said I was ready to do the core.

At this point, as if I had said some magic words, Dragon appeared, almost as excited as Fireball (a small fire dragon I met last summer) usually is. I realised there were many dragons present, all those familiar to me plus others I don’t know. I tried to give the wand to Dragon to do it and show me – but he said I could do it myself. It would be a good experience for me.

Following his guidance, I first blew very gently and steadily down the full length of the wand, from the base of the apple, to blow a hole into which the core could be inserted. It took me five breaths to reach the tip. Then I held my fingers over the ends while he prepared the core. It was a scale, from near the head of a dragon – not his but I recognised the colour, metallic, dark with rainbow sheen although mainly blue. Long and very narrow, it was rolled tightly along its length like a very long spring. It had to be eased into the hole very gently and slowly, which was quite tricky – there was a lot of resistance as it wanted to unroll. Then I sealed the apple end with my spit, while Dragon lit a flame at the tip to seal it which I blew out. Finally Dragon marked the back of the wand for me with his claws, which I hadn’t expected at all: / | \

Dragon explained now the wand had most of its power, but the last bit would come from me as I used it.

Inspiration from Darkness

We have a rather slow building project going on here, turning our L-shaped house into a square. This summer’s project has been to make a window in the outside wall of the bathroom… For the past 3-4 years the room has been a ‘black hole’, having no natural light or ventilation.

At first I was horrified by the idea that the old window would have to be bricked up before the new one could be fitted, and we tried to work it so that it shouldn’t take too long, but events and a lack of builder who wanted the job conspired against us. (We have done most of the work on the house ourselves, so no change there then!)

However, what I never anticipated was what a great meditation and journeying space a totally black room could create. In a reversal of what some people do, lighting candles around the bath, I found I could reach the pull cord to turn the light off and have total darkness – while being immersed in my favourite element, water. Combine this with a quiet house and it is almost like being in a sensory deprivation tank or a warm cave. No aches, no tiredness, no distractions. My body relaxes leaving my mind free to go wherever it wants. Different to drumming, but no less effective! The first time I tried it I was helped by a steady drip which was almost like a slightly slow drum beat, which made the transition into another way of working easier, but mostly all is quiet.

Once building work resumed, sadly the magic was gradually eroded away as more and more light seeped in from around the edges. Then last week we had the excitement of the window being finally fitted, opening up the space to daylight and views across fields, which for most times of the day is a huge improvement! Yet while I love the effect on our hallway (which has no windows of its own), and getting a blast of curtain-free daylight in the mornings, already I have needed to create a quick, temporary, darkening solution using a remnant of blackout fabric, three eyelets and three screws, to last until the plastering is done and I can make or fit a proper blind. In full light, the unfinished bathroom becomes just a mundane space, too bright and distracting to travel in. With the cloth in place, while not the total blackout I had previously, I can switch off to the world around me. I never imagined darkness would be something I would grow to love so much that I don’t want to lose it!

Three Hares Quilt

Here is a project I had in mind for a few years before actually making. I explored various hare ideas, and then last summer sketched out a plan, yet it still took me until April to actually start making it – and until now to get it hung on the wall. Clearly it has its own perfect timing!

Three Hares Quilt
(Click to enlarge)


There is a lot of symbolism in this quilt; some personal, and some more general. The Three Hares is an ancient symbol seen in China, Ukraine, Iran, France, Germany, and several places in Britain, particularly Devon. They were mostly made from 6th century to 15th century and follow the old Silk Road trading route, although the majority are in Germany and England, particularly Devon. Most appear in Christian churches, often near to a Green Man, but also in synagogues, Buddhist caves, Mosques and on ceramics. Interpretations of the meaning vary widely.

I have chosen to make this symbol into a wall-hanging for our home partly because the hare is the only one of my spirit animals that is also loved by the rest of my family, but also because there are three of us in our family, all dependent upon each other. I wanted to celebrate and strengthen that bond.

Making the quilt posed a number of challenges, and used some techniques that were new to me.

The gold disc (is it the sun or the moon?) was inspired by a Klimt painting using random rectangles of gold patterns, but I didn’t want to create something that was so random it was impossible to cut or to sew. So each quarter has rotational symmetry, and there is a Brigid Cross in the centre.

The outside border was going to be more random in terms of widths, but this more equal layout seemed the simplest method for sewing. I still had a problem that the inner disc quadrants came out slightly small, something I possibly should have anticipated, while the outer sections came out wider, requiring some adjustment when joining the quarters.

The hares were made using a pattern drawn onto interfacing, cutting it out and ironing it onto the fabric, and then folding the fabric under this, as I did for the Pooh Bear Map quilt a couple of years ago. The eye holes didn’t want to fold under neatly, so I cut them out and then satin stitched the red fabric in place. The rest was stitched in place through all layers of the quilt.

Celtic knotwork is not something I have tried before in fabric, although I have drawn many over the past 20 years or so. But when I saw ready-made gold bias tape for sale, I realised that would be an ideal solution for this project. Usually knotwork is designed to fit the space available, rather than having a pre-set line width as I had, so trying to work out how many crossing points to allow made this more challenging for me. Also I needed to include the corners in the design rather than just the border, which is not something I have done before, so I had to do a lot of thinking and exploring to work this problem out. In the final corner design, based on a double triquetra, it proved unexpectedly easier to do in bias tape than to draw. I would ideally have liked a single continuous line through the whole border, but with an even number of crossing points this was not going to happen! Instead it is four interconnected lines, which fits with the symmetry of the rest of the design.

Actually making the knotwork proved trickier than I expected – not least because there are no simple instructions on the bias tape packet! After puzzling over it for several days, I found an internet tutorial which luckily explained the method to me in about two minutes – draw the complete design onto greaseproof paper, iron the tape in place, peeling off where it needs to be woven underneath. Once complete, pull the paper off, transfer to the fabric, iron in place, sew in place. Practice is of course harder than the theory, for three reasons I might improve on next time. First the design gets covered as you go so I went the wrong side in my ‘crossings’ a couple of times and had to correct them, which I don’t normally have a problem with when drawing. Second there may be better paper available than the one I used as the design stuck too firmly, making peeling off very tricky. And third, after ironing the bias tape onto fabric it didn’t stay stuck very well especially when folding the quilt into the machine for the sewing, so I had to partially pin it in place. Also there is an awful lot to sew around, with threads needing cutting at every crossing point, which I somewhat underestimated even knowing I needed nearly 10m of bias tape…

Finally, the edging. I repeatedly held different dark blue fabrics along the edge, and some gold or red fabrics, over several days. Nothing looked right. Eventually it came to me that it didn’t want a single colour, it needed several. Given I was rather short on most of the colours anyway, this worked in my favour. However, after all the days I had wasted in not doing the border when my sewing machine was needed for other things, I gave up on calculating what size to make the pieces or how many I needed and just pay attention to any intuitive messages that came. I used every piece I cut in a long strip, and had just over an inch to cut off at the end. I could never have calculated this as accurately.

The finished quilt size is just under 18” square. I was able to use several scrap fabrics for the quilt, but around half were purchased new, leaving more for my stash. Such seems to be the cyclical way of my quilting.

The Hidden Gifts of Drought

England is usually a damp country. I can expect it to rain at least once a week, very rarely do I even need to consider watering the plants outside. However, after a wet spring and snow in April, we had a dryish May and a totally dry June. July has so far managed one short shower, which showed little evidence in the empty water butts.

I usually feel very connected to our weather, and help to balance it in my area. However, this summer has been something I haven’t experienced before. A completely stuck weather system, that has no interest in moving anywhere. The only messages I have received are that it would rather we took note of what we are doing to the Earth and how we use the resources available to us, and doesn’t want to change until we notice.

This has raised many issues for me, both in terms of my connection to the weather and rainfall, and in how I use water myself.

First the weather, I always remind myself that I only ask, and while most of the time my requests are answered, sometimes they are not for various reasons. The main reason I have noticed my requests having no effect is when the weather pattern is much greater than my little area. A lack of wind can be tricky as well, although this can be built into any request. But I also noticed early on how hard it is to be single minded in wanting to change the weather when everyone around me is just enjoying the long sunny summer days and clear blue skies, and when there are all sorts of practical reasons such as house building work that the sun is aiding. It is also hard to want wind when it would only fan the flames of the various moorland fires that are raging further north in Derbyshire and nearby. Meanwhile on the other side of the world there are floods, as you might expect to bring balance to the Earth. As time goes on however, I just pray for rain with no reservations – and try to enjoy whatever weather arrives here.

The second aspect is my garden. I am aware that over the past few years, with having a pre-school child with me most of the time, I have had to simply let a lot go. This year I wanted to be much more proactive, sowing and re-sowing vegetable seeds, and watering the growing plants during dry periods.

First I appreciated ‘indicator’ plants like those pansies mentioned earlier being fast to wilt and letting me know that water was required. I duly watered the vegetables and the strawberries, plus the few flowers in pots – one with pansies and one with pelargoniums. After a while I grew bored of watering every day and considered getting a sprinkler that would cover just the area of my vegetables, four small raised beds. Then there was talk of water shortages. Instead I stopped watering the fruit, leaving it to finish, and just water the vegetables three times a week. They are not exactly thriving, but they are still growing and producing courgettes and lettuces and peas with tomatoes, beans, brassicas and sweetcorn well on their way. But as each area comes to a finish, I shall cease watering and not plant anything else until the weather changes.

What amazes me however, is how much I have learned about my garden by doing this, and some of the other small changes I have made recently. To thoroughly inspect crops every day or every other day has been a valuable experience to see how they are growing, what is ready for picking, and what pests arrive and need dealing with. As is doing my hip physio while I stand with the hosepipe! Fruit has been very early and small, yet the strawberries scarcely got eaten and the raspberries had a massive crop given there was no rain damage to the smaller fruit. Alpine strawberries are very small, yet are still going much longer than usual – so many tiny fruits I made a pot of jam from them. Flowers have few leaves and haven’t filled their usual spaces, but many are managing a great display, and there are a lot more seeds than usual. Even if they don’t all survive, I’m hoping I will be able to replace them from fresh stock – after all, plants die in hard winters, this is just a hard summer. There are far fewer weeds, although there is no way I can do weeding in our solid clay soil. The pond still has water in it and is going down slower than I might have anticipated – it may need some kind of a top-up soon although I am resisting for as long as possible and just watching to see how it does. All the sunshine is of course helping the waterlilies to their best display ever. Meanwhile our grass is about the greenest of any around which has really puzzled me. I can only put this down to more shade than in other gardens nearby, and a more suitable variety of grass since I deliberately went for ‘hardwearing’ rather than the more beautiful lawn options. And the clover is still green!

Finally, an interesting ‘message’ I got this Spring about my front garden was that the gravel we had inherited in the area wasn’t doing it any good – too sterile, and too reflective of light and heat combined with the bare brick house. It faces due south, and gets very warm – or else I wouldn’t be able to grow sweetcorn there! So after much thought, I decided to leave any low growing ‘weeds’ in the gravel, and see how it developed from there. The main one is self-heal, with yarrow, pink geraniums, lavender, centranthus, sisyrinchiums and lots of early chionodoxa all having seeded themselves. Just the grass, dandelions, American willowherb and spurge I still try and weed out, when it isn’t baked too solid. Not only am I happier with it now, but so are the other plants.