Wednesday, 31 July 2013

She Loved Sweetpeas

 This evening my husband comes home with a tiny bunch of sweet-peas from the allotment.  Their perfume is gorgeous. They are very precious as I expect  they are the first and last -  this year the plants didn't grow properly. Unlike the blackcurrants which have dripped off the bushes in long necklace strands of dusky pearls. The fridge is stuffed with them - waiting for me to turn them into jam and compote and ice cream. But I don't know when I'm going to have time to do it....

I couldn't face it this afternoon when I left my dear sisters and all that remains of our parents' stories scattered on tables in the studio at my sister's farm. I felt hollowed out by ordering and identifying and weeding out all the photos - black and white, sepia and colour - going back five generations into our family. And after all that we still couldn't find the old shoe box (or is it an album?)  stuffed with all the small precious photos of us as children growing up in the nineteen forties and fifties with our parents, our cousins our aunts and uncles - in cots and prams and gardens, playing and picnicking on rugs spread out on red African earth.

Not sure why I'm so churned up by all this.....more endings I suppose..... and there is a context for my sisters who are grandmothers now and have a reason to keep these memories for the next generation of little people.....who one day may want to trace back where they came from and wonder about their ancestors.

Maybe it's just that I can't find anywhere to settle at the moment.....the past missing in a shoebox somewhere, the future too unbearable to contemplate and the present un-lived, always blotted with that Sunday night feeling....the dread of school tomorrow.....

It was my mother's birthday today - she loved sweet peas. I'd like my great nephews and nieces to know that about maybe I'll tell them one day - or write them a letter.....

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Legacy of Love

An African Hibiscus for my parents....

All day my sisters and I have been sorting through my parents' papers and letters and photographs... laid out in neat piles, on the floor, on wobbly folding tables... in plastic folders, in boxes and crates and big used ink on blue airmail forms, capturing the days and the nights of their lives for more than 50 years ..... even though they were often separated by oceans and continents.

 And what to do with this legacy of their love much to keep or throw away or read - some of it so to store it? We pick up the first letter and take a big breath....

Monday, 29 July 2013


Allotment globe artichokes for Saturday lunch. My husband calls them Global Artichokes.

Delicious  cornflower view from kitchen window at house of dear friends on a rainy Saturday night,

and smoked moules as part of delicious Chinese meal she cooked for us.

Today felt like another Saturday  - we celebrated my nephew's birthday with him and his family in a  rain drenched Bristol.....and watched my 2 year old gold haired great-nephew help him and his brother blow out silver candles on the chocolate banana cake I made last night - and decorated this morning with lots of tiny chocolate stars courtesy of Cadbury's Milky Way.

And tonight I'm awash with sudden tears...remembering being 36 myself when it was all ahead of us  - that careless certainty of shared  tomorrows.....

It's not just words now -  my husband sheds them like snake skins, their meanings pale as faded ink....but another skin is falling away - the one that tells him the difference between sad and tragic - as if his heart is always ready and raw - a child crying in the street, an ambulance siren in the distance, gunfire on the news, dropping a wine crumbles him into tears...

We are driving in slow traffic. I feel his anxiety rising.

It's always like this round Stonehenge, I say. It's not an accident.

But he's sure it is. He crumbles.

What if someone has been killed? he says.  It must be terrible - their life suddenly gone  - just like that. 

He makes a grabbing and snuffing out gesture with his hand.

Is that what it's like for you? I ask.

In some ways, yes, he says.

A sudden snuffing-out for someone - a tragic death. How do you live a half snuffed-out life though, one candle blown at a time, without longing for the whole one - or for none at all?

Friday, 26 July 2013

Tomato Red and Garlic Bulb Heart

Brandy Wine tomatoes from the farmers' market, 

with lobelia......

and an Elephant Garlic - fat as a bulb of fennel......before I cut them up to cook Green Beans and Tomatoes for supper.

A few things from today because it's late again....

My husband's right hand swells up mightily from an insect bite - angry tomato red. A man in Devon died today from an allergic reaction to a horse fly.

I ring the Department of Work and Pensions to find out about the query from the Inland Revenue about my husband's tax return....and email our accountant. As if I know what it all means.....

Just now my husband drops a wine glass in the sink  - it shatters - sharp shards in the unfinished washing up....he's more upset than me...

This morning in my family constellation session I uncover the wound, still open in my life, left by the death of my mother's mother when she was ten years old....un-grieved..... sealed in the bulb of my heart......

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Cake And Commitment

The Chocolate Banana and Walnut Cake I baked for two dear friends who nearly share late July birthdays.....which we ate with cups of tea and love after our Deeksha meditation tonight.

Based on Nigella Lawson's Banana Bread recipe but without the sultanas soaked in rum - raspberries instead -  and a Ganache icing from the Green and Black's Chocolate book - it looks very bitty in the photo - maybe the chocolate didn't melt enough but at the time I thought it was smooth and glossy....and thanks to my sister for her green leaf decoration tip ( lemon scented geranium leaves in this case). Everyone said it tasted good....

It's already late.... nearly midnight. When we were away my husband and I talked about this blog and he said how he missed us going to bed at the same time, like we used to, because I'm writing this. And I thought I must find a way to do it earlier in the day.....I made a resolution  - like I did about doing Mindfulness Meditation  - even 10 minutes a day  - AND I DON'T DO IT.

First thing is not to be horrible to myself about it ....second thing is to make it important....third thing is JFDI.
Going to bed now....notice I don't want to say...and tomorrow I'll do it earlier....and meditate too..............face to face with my commitment phobia now....OUCH.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Pomegranate Made Of Wood

 Our weekend away.....searching out water and green grass and shade in between our visits to dear family and friends.

 At a National Trust house - West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire...

across the lake........

keeping cool....

Pomegranates of installation at The Vyne, 16th Century Tudor house near Basingstoke...

all green and watery on the lake there....

We had a Marks and Spencer's picnic under the welcome shade of this beech tree.....we pulled off the sweltering A303 in Hampshire and found this Shangri-La on a peaceful village green, a river running through it, lovers on a bench, families paddling, dogs chasing balls..... a lazy Sunday afternoon.

 And just for a few minutes, while my husband explored the church across the street, I lay back and looked up into the green cradle of this giant grandfather tree...... I forgot the jagged pieces of my life and heard the earth below my spine and tasted the timeless sky above me..... and felt smooth as a pomegranate......carved in wood.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Stories and Reddies

This morning I told my history, and some of my family history -  the story of my grandparents and as far back as I know -  to a lovely woman who is a Family Constellation councellor. She's looking for patterns which repeat, for losses and tragedies, for lies and cover-ups for what needs healing in the past....a route to healing for me in the present.

It's a long time since I've really gone back into my life story - the story I tell of my life anyway - I found it took me into a faraway country -  I wonder what happened to that girl, that woman I was, who feels like a version of me but not me.

 And the story of my husband and me...... leaving that one in the past..... and finding a way to write a new script for us....needing help with that....

This afternoon I spent with boxes of red currants ( my husband calls them reddies) and a fork. Thank you, Delia Smith, for the brilliant tip about how to scoot them off their delicate stems through the tines of a fork without squishing them to a berry mush. My plan was to make red currant and strawberry jam with the last of the allotment strawberries but there are so many of them....and I had to water the parched garden too...... that I ran out of time.

The heat wave is official in the South West. On Thursday we are heading off to the South East for a few days where it  looks even hotter than here on the weather will be blogging again on our return......

Monday, 15 July 2013

Picnic....BBQ....Grey Zone

The giant glass of water that kept me sustained on Saturday afternoon in the kitchen,

the curtains pulled against the raging heat outside,

while I baked a carrot, coconut and apricot cake ( in the oven, nearly cooked ),

and whizzed up a bowl of hummus ( speckled with roasted cumin seeds and fresh coriander).....for Sunday's picnic with a host of dear people under the shade of gazebos and chestnut trees in the garden of the Old School House.

And tonight driving home before the sun disappeared over Somerset fields after being treated to a glass of Pimms and wonderful veggie BBQ with more dear people in another beautiful garden....feeling blessed....feeling hoicked out of the grey zone where I've been camping for a while now....not able to feel happy or sad....going through the motions in neutral......missing this moment....

Friday, 12 July 2013

Spilled Treasure

In our garden on a breathless hot blue Friday.....

Hanging basket of trailing begonias.....

cool petunias....

more sunbright begonias....

and the scorching back garden without the giant shelter of the grandfather Poplar Tree.

An unexpected rare gift - nearly a whole day home alone - while my husband walks by the sea in the company of my brother-in-law. I'm in a tizz about how to use this time, I don't want to squander much I could do....

In the end I escape the milling crowds in town and let my small day unravel in front of me like spilled treasure. After cleaning out the ashes from the BBQ, scrubbing the blackened racks, hanging out the washing, dead-heading the Margaritte daisies, labelling the strawberry jam, listening to a Mindfulness CD, eating smoked kippers and salad for a late lunch, I stop and sit at the kitchen table with the glass doors blaring wide open.

And listen to the silence. It's even too hot for the bees to buzz. Not a whisper of air moves  the ivy leaves. The agapanthus buds stop unfolding. The pigeons don't call each other. No children shout next door. No-one cuts their lawns or strims their hedges.  It's like the garden is holding its breath....

The only sound is me cutting and tearing and sorting out the muddle of my loose leaf recipe file stuffed full of pages ripped out from magazines and newspapers, print-outs from the internet with hand written notes on them - some I've made many times and some are waiting to be tried - recipes for jam and chutneys, biscuits and puddings, tarts and breads, for salsa verde and vegetable own treasure trove....

And although I could bake a birthday cake for Sunday I don't want to put the oven on or make decisions, or be responsible for everything, or be good and kind and patient .... I just want to feel the stillness of this hot summer day pulse under my skin for a little longer.....till it's time to be the grown up one again....

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Cake And Rose

Cake and roses  - two of my favourite things - even better together. And better to write about them than the bumpy journey I took today through a trail of our money sister holding my hand at each imagined chasm opening in front of me.

These light and sticky patisserie -  a speciality at an Armenian wedding we were invited to at a neighbour's house in the village where we were staying last month -  a traditional offering to the bride and groom - who stopped there on their way to the church...

  On Sunday, the Rose Scented Geranium Leaf cake which we ate on a picnic rug spread under the shade of a beautiful Tulip tree, my beautiful great niece sitting on my lap, squealing with delight at the squeaky animal noises my husband was making for her. ( The cake was tender and sweet but didn't taste of geranium  - maybe the bush I have is lemon scented and not rose scented...)

This rose in the sun on our patio - a gift from my husband a few years ago  - called Nostalgia. It is much cooler tonight and already I'm nostalgic for  last night's dripping furnace heat  - I somehow imagined it would last forever - like the beginning of a a rose-tinted future...

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

This Night

The begonias I carried to my parents' graveside yesterday.

BBQed aubergines and courgettes

Teriyaki Salmon - two fillets for tomorrow's supper

10th July 2013

The heat is brutal.  I feel sticky all the time even in my sarong. 

This evening we pick three punnets of red currants at the allotment, two boxes of strawberries, a bag of broad beans and five spikey globe artichokes. My husband carries the watering cans back and forth from the tank, barely wetting the parched soil, trying to keep the peas and carrots and tomatoes alive.

It’s late when we get home but decide to go ahead with the BBQ. I marinate fat salmon fillets in a Teryaki sauce ( sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey and garlic - thank you Meadow Linn for the recipe) and long slices of courgette and aubergine in olive oil, lemon zest and juice, chopped fresh oregano and more crushed garlic.

While my husband sits at the picnic table and shells the broad beans I start cooking. I’m not sure the coals are ready but don’t ask him. He doesn’t remember what they should be like. It was always him in charge of the BBQ, the  long fork in his hand flipping the courgettes, the mackerel fillets, the sausages. I feel sad taking on this job that used to be his. I burn some of the aubergine slices but he says he likes them anyway.

We linger on in the darkening garden, the air still warm at 9.30, listening to the rising crescendo of the party a few streets away.

And I remember this night 5 years ago....the night my mother died.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Jam and Table Tennis


The three ingredients to make Strawberry Jam.

Two kilos of strawberries, two kilos of sugar (with added pectin for a quick set) and the juice of two lemons.

Stir till the sugar has dissolved ( with my favourite wooden spoon bought at Monchique in the Portuguese mountains on a rainy day in December many years ago)

 At setting point it's hard to skim off the pink froth which settles on the surface at the end of cooking without scooping up a few strawberries too. My husband dollops it into a bowl of natural yogurt for dessert - so nothing wasted. 

Liquid rubies waiting for their lids.

It’s too hot to go on being cross and upset so I empty the fridge and make nine jars of strawberry jam  - liquid rubies in pots -  glossy and seed-speckled.

When the jam is almost at setting point my husband comes home from a session with a dear friend on his support team. He says they played table tennis and it was a huge amount of fun.

Did you win?

Yes - but I haven’t played since I was about fourteen.

Yes you have.....we played when we were on holiday in SW France....about three years ago.....and in Sardinia before that with our niece....and in France before that after your men’s retreat...

He tries to remember.

Who won? 

You did, mostly.

It was one of the highlights of our holidays.

He says he thinks he does remember but his face doesn’t.

I stir down the froth on the boiling strawberries, dip another teaspoon into the dark red syrup and drop it on the cold saucer. When I push it with my little finger the surface crinkles.

Setting point for the jam and a different setting point for us. Not just words disappearing now. Memories too.  So now it’s just me and the photo albums - preserving our history.....

Monday, 8 July 2013

Burning My Wings

Strawberry swirled ice cream this afternoon.

By the River Exe tonight.

Sunset at the Quay in Topsham.

A sunset rose in someone's riverside garden.

8th July 2013

It’s too hot for England. This is Africa heat. 32 degrees this afternoon. After our Mindfulness class my husband drives to the coast for a walk. I missed the Men’s Singles Final at Wimbledon on Sunday so I stay in the sitting room with the blinds drawn, a demented black fly bashing itself against the window, watching Andy Murray become a British Champion after 77 years.  Not the same knowing he’s already won but still thrilling tennis.

Later, when it isn’t any cooler, I whip up a tub of left-over double cream from our family weekend and swirl in the left-over strawberry and Limoncello sauce with half a jar of lemon curd and half a tub of natural yogurt and freeze it. We’ll have it for supper with some allotment strawberries which are taking over the fridge like a red plague.

 At 8.30 when it’s only slighty cooler, but not much, we walk along the estuary at Topsham. The hedgerows have all been flayed and the torn branches left in the road. The air smells of newly cut hay. Sheets of Canada geese fly over us in vee formations. Swirly clouds cover the orange ball of the sun, leaving a path of rippled gold on the surface of the water. The pub on the quay is busy and noisy, so we decide to go home for supper and not bother to queue for drinks.

Now, even with the window yawning open, my study is oven hot, my ankles are swollen sponges. And in spite of everything I learned in Mindfulness class about how to live with pain - physical and emotional - coming back to the breath - all day I have been in a rumbling, spitting turmoil about yesterday’s upset with my husband - self loathing erupting in irritated sniping....

I’m a black fly trapped in a paper lantern, hurling myself against the hot light bulb, burning my wings in  rage, sealing myself off, not finding the way out..... which is only love’s breath away....

Friday, 5 July 2013

Rose Scented Geranium Cake

Rose Scented Geranium Leaf Cake

Today I baked a cake to welcome my niece and my great niece who are visiting from the Lebanon. I picked 8 rose scented geranium leaves from the pot on the patio, laid them on the base of a cake tin, poured over a sweet almond batter and then when it was cooked and  still warm soaked it in a syrup spiked with more leaves, rose water, lemon and honey. ( Thank you, Mann, for the recipe - torn out of a magazine many years ago.)

And while the heat hammered the garden all afternoon I let myself get caught up in the fire hose battle of the champions on Centre Court......and nearly let the hazelnut meringues burn in the oven.....

Thursday, 4 July 2013

How Are You?

 In my husband's aunty's garden....

Delphiniums blue..

Sunlight yellow.....

Melded into Iris joy.....

How are you?

Tonight a friend who I haven’t seen for a while asks me this.

I don’t know how to reply. I find myself saying.

OK ....sort of....not really....

Shite, then.....says another friend.

The thing is, is that if I stop and think about it I will automatically plunge into that  feeling I always have now that something is deeply wrong.....beyond my if a Dementer out of Harry Potter has grabbed the reigns of the horse I’m riding and we are galloping off into an abyss....

So if I just keep the diary full and my to-do list long it’s easier not think too much.....

But when a crisis ( shock horror of diagnosis of husband’s brain disease) turns into a wobbly uncertain status quo ( everything looks normal but nothing is any more, and the the future you live into is bereft of joy) other strategies are called for.

In Gerald Jampolsky’s book, Teach Only Love, he says,’s not people or external circumstances that cause us to be upset. Rather what causes us conflict and distress are our thoughts, feelings and attitudes about people and events.....Healing is letting go of fear and our negative hurtful thoughts from the past.

If Nelson Mandela could do it .....and his circumstances were a million times worse than mine.....then I can....take back the reigns in my heart.... change my thoughts.....choose to ride into joy.....moment by moment...

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Taking Care



and lavender at the allotment.

At the hospital, waiting for our appointment to see the new clinical psychologist, we meet our Mindfulness teacher.
She hugs us in turn.
Afterwards my husband says,
Who was that?

The new clinical psychologist isn’t our old clinical psychologist who knew us from the beginning and whose experience and insight and exquisite listening I trusted and valued beyond reason......
This new man is so young and earnest and clumsy that he he might as well be a chocolate hope of reaching me through my unspoken veil of  ‘How can you help us when you are about 15 years old and you don’t know anything?’ 

And yet and the end we agree to another session because we talked abour how do you take care of each other or create meaning in a new life when you can’t do what you did in your old life? Especially if it still hurts so much ...

One of the ways my husband took care of me was to provide and income for us by taking care of his clients. He doesn’t see doing the washing up as comparable. 

So how to lay down other grooves of meaning?

Maybe letting go of our old clinical psychologist and giving the new one a chance could be a start.....

While my husband picks lupins and strawberries at the allotment, I eat my way through nearly a whole packet of tortilla crisps, and two nectarines and a buttered scone, watching Andy Murray nearly lose his quarter final......and feel like a wrung out wet rag afterwards.

Later my husband goes out for fish and chips which takes care of both of us - no cooking for me and no washing up for him.