Friday, 29 August 2014

Crouching Spider

Just lost a whole post. Been taken over by a BT wifi hot spot.....feel like a crouching spider is sitting in my blog..... has eaten my words and my photos..
Will try again tomorrow....  if I can face it.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Cooking In Absentia

Bean assortment from the allotment - including my favourite Borlottis. I  don't know what the others are - their labels( in not indelible ink) got washed away in the rain -   purple black and lime green and speckled pink - all turn an unappetising grey when cooked. But dress them when they are still  steaming hot in chopped up tomatoes, coriander, garlic and a ladle of walnut oil and they are squashily delicious.

Tonight's fruit salad -  skin-wrinked donut peaches and nectarines past their best  - perfectly perked up with fresh figs and autumn raspberries from my sister's garden. The raspberries are especially precious as they come from my father's original canes that he brought with him from The Small Garden in Berkshire....all those years ago. 

Yesterday's gift of tall spiked gladioli gracing the dining room table - their pale blooms unfolding one bud at a time, like stars coming out in a ladder....

My husband says he wants something different for supper tonight. He usually makes us something on toast  - eggs/cheese/smoked salmon  - for when I get back from my Deeksha meditation group - which he doesn't come to any more. I say I'll think of something and he can cook it.

He's still  half asleep when I'm ready to leave so I write him a note - instructions for making the supper  ( which I've half  prepared.)

 8am Turn the oven on at 200 degrees.

8.15 Put the sweet potatoes in.

8.45 Take them out.

8.50 Bring the sweetcorn to the boil, cook for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off.
(Take the leaves off the sweetcorn first)

I attach sticky Post It notes to each of them - These are sweet potatoes. These are sweet corn.

I'll ring you when I'm leaving and tell you what to do next.

It's so hard for me to whittle it down to this  - cooking in absentia -  cooking by numbers.  I don't know if the sweet potatoes will take half an hour or twenty three minutes. I need to be there  - to look at them and see their colour..... and prod them with a knife and feel their texture and flip them over if they are burning..... or turn the oven up or down if I think they need a few minutes longer. 
You can't write experience in a note....

Actually, my husband follows my instructions just fine....when I come back the potatoes aren't quite ready because I neglected to say put them on the top shelf not the bottom....the sweet corn are just coming up to the boil....he starts to grill his bacon rashers....I steam the broccoli and the green beans and spoon yesterday's roasted tomatoes and the garlicky bean assortment onto our plates.

By 9pm as I planned, we are sitting down to our supper. And I've climbed another rung up the ladder of letting go of my right-and-only-way of doing things.....

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Out Of The Knife Drawer

We are three women in the kitchen this afternoon
my sister and our dear friend.
It's  muggy warm in the garden
but raining
So we're adapting our BBQ plans.

Slicing courgettes into rafts
for the griddle pan
chunking up long cigar aubergines
for the oven
crushing garlic pearls
for the quartered chestnut mushrooms
grating Parmesan cheese 
 and whizzing up pine nuts
for the perfumed basil pesto.

The game is to chop and slice and stir and crush using only one long sharp knife - 
so our friend can breathe more easily.

So we share the knife and measure with a plastic spoon, 
 stir with a wooden spatular 
and leave the nickel cutlery in the drawer.

The other game is to cheer me up.
Which they do
Whooshing out all that locked up life
inside me
that laugher
which too often
at the bottom of
 the knife drawer.

But longs to be freed.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Do Unto Others


We walk along the ridge above Newton St Cyres  - a village outside Exeter. The earth is cracked dry in this recently cut wheat field.

Blackthorn berries ( I think) in the hedgerows..

This giant grass cutting machine claws the sky..... the smell of new cut grass follows us along the ridge.

It's beginning to feel like Autumn but  I'm told it's not official till the swallows have flown ....left for Africa....and today they sweep the sky....quivers of shooting arrows beyond the clouds...

I want to lie back in the prickly field after our picnic and try and count them - imagine I'm one of them getting ready to leave on a long relentless journey across oceans and continents... but my husband wants to go in search of coffee and cake....


 We visit a wonderful art exhibition  - portraits of older people hung on white walls at A La Ronde House - so real you are sure you've met them somewhere before.... Later we dodge speeding cyclists on the path that meanders beside the railway, beside the Exe Estuary at Lympstone and stretch up and out to the brambles rambling over the banks. We are trying to reach the blackberries that are left in the wake of the pickers who have been before us and slowly fill our plastic box with small squashy bullets.

All day I feel I'm wading through treacle....I was never a parent but I think I know what it's like now....trying to find ways to get through the day with a toddler who isn't very well...keeping him going till supper time....


Wet wet wet...I dive deep into series six of Mad Men....leave my small, weary world behind for a while and take root in the sofa with crisps and chocolate while my husband sleeps/drives/plays solitaire....

When it stops raining I walk alone to the University Parks.... on the way I pass this tree in someone's garden laden with a thousand gold plums....they are falling on the ground, rotting on the pavement - no one picking them...I want to knock on their door and say Don't you want this bounty? 

Eucalyptus elbow...

It starts to rain again .....

I take shelter under a maple tree...

and the sun comes out ....

but it's still raining so we have a Monkey's Wedding....


If I could remember to do this even once in a day I think I'd feel like a better person.....thank you Tara for reminding me....

Posted: 18 Aug 2014 04:44 PM PDT
Last week, I read these words from Marianne Williamson
One theory of death is that, upon our passing, we experience our lives again backwards. Whatever I gave or did not give to others, I will experience what they experienced — times ten. That would mean that for every laugh — either a small chuckle or outright guffaw — every smile that Robin Williams caused to occur in others, he is now experiencing tenfold. That would amount to bliss unending. May it be so.
I was so struck by the beauty of this idea. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a potent code for living. What if you lived knowing every experience you gave to another person would be experienced by you – times ten – at the end of your life?
I have been asking myself that as regularly as I can remember to this week and it changes every interaction I bring it into.
The first day after I read these words, an acquaintance was coming home from a friend’s funeral out of town, and mentioned her trip to me. Because of Marianne’s words, I was thinking not my usual thoughts (“What is the right thing to say to her? How can a person ever say something good enough in these moments? How much should I ask about it or not ask about it?)
Instead of all that mental chatter, I was highly attuned to the fact during our conversation, she was going to experience something – a feeling. Was I giving her an experience that I would want returned to me, times ten?
I quietly turned inward and tried to sense what would provide a feeling a comfort and love in that moment. The answer I sensed clearly within myself was to listen, with great attention. And so I mostly listened, but in a more inviting, spacious, focused way than I otherwise would have.
Instead of the five minute conversation we could have had, she talked about her experience a lot. She unfolded it before a present witness. I could tell that because I’d paused to try to to intuit my way to the most loving response – though we can never know for sure what that will be for another human being – I’d done something more helpful than if I’d spoken from my shoulds, or from my patterns of how to respond.
The news these past weeks has been so horrible. This morning I couldn’t stop thinking how we’ve been given the instructions. Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
May we begin to practice that simple task. A life’s worth of emotional growth, of spiritual development comes down to this. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Do not give anyone an experience that you are not eager to receive, tenfold, at the end of your journey.
Tara Sophia Mohr | Playing Big 

Friday, 22 August 2014

A New Pen

Lyme Regis/Golden Cap today on the Friday of August bank holiday weekend.

My brother and sister and I sit for a long time after we finish our salad lunch in the cafe,
 the bill waiting unpaid on the table,
 the sun sneaking in under the umbrella, 
burning our arms,
 an empty chair next to me
where my husband was sitting
before he drove home.
 Missing our big sister,
to knit us into four again
one last time.
 The tears coming easily behind my sunglasses as we talk, 
realising I can't go on like this,
 trying to make it normal. 
Like tweaking a recipe,
 adding a spice, 
reducing the sugar
 and trusting it'll still taste the same
 or better 
 but still sweet.

It's a totally different cake now
  beyond tweaking.
 Only re-writing will do.
With a new pen
filled with the ink
 of Grace.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Weddings and Funerals

Haldon Belverdere ( Lawrence Castle)

View from the top....the Exe estuary and summer Devon fields. 

My brother brings a yellow rose in a pot this morning all the way from Holland.

This afternoon my husband drives us out to Haldon Woods - one of his favourite places to walk/have tea and cake in the forest park.
We park next to Haldon Belvedere (More info at) an eighteenth century tower which is now used as a wedding venue.
My husband says he'd like to be buried there. Then he says he means have a meeting of everyone there after he's dead. His funeral, his wake. I think it's only for weddings though.

Many years ago -  on a hot April afternoon -  my friend catrered a wedding there....I was one of the waitresses.... I remember the bride - she was sweet and nervous and asked her father to hold her dark framed glasses during the ceremony. I remember writing something about it at the time in a journal. I've just been looking for it in my desk drawer - can't recall the date though and got distracted by another journal I wrote for 6 months in 2006.

 A mistake opening a door into the past - such a recent past - the woman that wrote that belongs to another life, another familiar but almost unrecognisable now. A life where it never occurred to me that every day I'd need to help my husband search for words like wedding and  funeral.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Having My Cake

Huzur Vadisi, Turkey, Sept 2009

 During my Family Constellation session this morning I dipped deep into my  ancestral conditioning....and realised I could have more fun in my life,  more joy, instead of so much seriousness. 
 So instead of blogging tonight I'm going to watch The Great British Bake Off .....My brother has just left  - so I missed it when it was on at 8pm -   but  we had such a lovely conversation after supper....after my husband went for a drive....that I wouldn't have missed it for anything. 

Thank goodness for iplayer so I can have my cake and eat it too.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Off The Richter Scale

19th August 2010 Victoria Plums. Just part of the crop from our tree on the allotment.....and the gift of Dutch blueberries 
brought by my brother from the pick-your-own farm near where he lives in South Holland.

August 19th 2014 - the  crop of Victoria Plums we picked today at the allotment from the same tree. My husband counted them - (he counts everything these days - blackberries, biscuits, train carriages)  -  twelve in total - enough to fill a small black plastic flower pot.

My brother is coming over from Holland to visit us tomorrow. It'll be the last time for a while as he is going to live in Fiji. Instead of blueberries he's bringing us a beautiful yellow David Austin rose which doesn't thrive in the type of  soil they have at the ashram.

I'm finding it hard to type tonight as I have a swollen infected middle finger - from a splinter or a cut I must have got from the tangle of thorny rose and blackberry branches I was tussling into an old compost bag this morning after yesterday's mammoth pruning session in the garden. 

My husband fills the back of the car up to the gunnels with bags and bags of cuttings and takes them to the compost recycling centre.  Then by the time we come back from the allotment with the twelve plums and a courgette, three tomatoes and six lettuces, it's beyond lunch time and I'm shaky hungry.

I want to eat at home and then go to Otterton Mill later for tea and a walk but we'd already discussed having lunch there and as it's my husband's preference - I think he already made a mental picture of it which is hard to change - I grumpily agree. And bargain with the walk - I'll have a late lunch if you agree to a walk by the river afterwards.

We stand at the counter and order our food. There is a glass case full of cakes and biscuits next to the till. My husband says I want one and buys a chocolate chip cookie. He wants to eat it now. I say Have it with a cup of coffee after the meal. But that's an almost unbearable idea for him now - delayed gratification.

We sit at a table outside. He goes to the loo. When he sits back down the table wobbles, the water slops out of the glasses. He mops it up with a napkin. I go back inside to get more water. When I come back he's eaten half the chocolate chip cookie.

After his Brie and Bacon Melt on a Cheese Scone with Apple Chutney he goes to buy a coffee. I change my mind and decide to have an apricot flapjack. He says he wants another cake. I say You've got the biscuit - you can't have another one. But he wants it so much. I say You can have some of my flapjack.

But he doesn't really like it. And I don't know what I'm doing.... insisting on my eating etiquette.....making us both miserable... my fear of getting fat  - me and him - off the richter scale of reason now - all muddled up with trying to keep the march of madness at bay....his and mine.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Plunge and Claw and Hack and Bask

The last photos I took on Saturday at the National Trust's Arlington Court and Carriage Museum in North Devon, before my camera broke. Or rather the ON/OFF button jammed in the ON position. It's still useable if I put the battery back in but I'm feeling bereft. It's costly to mend it - thinking about  buying another one. My husband says he'll contribute and make it an early - very early - birthday and Christmas present.


I plunge into a deep, craggy cavern filled with the writhing snakes of self hatred and shame - following an incident with my husband in a cafe - made a hundred times worse by me.....fear and control on the rampage.....


I claw my way inch by inch out of the pit.... with the listening kindness of my dear sisters who coach me in the concepts of Parentlink  and the loving way to offer choices and consequences....I apologise to my husband.....start soothing the  wounds I give myself...bask in the joy of having, unexpectedly, both my sisters to myself for some whole stolen hours at home...


While our gardener stands on a ladder and prunes back the wild waving ivy on the fence I take my secateurs and hack back the rampaging honeysuckle and wisteria on the back trellis - letting the light into small dark corners....

Friday, 15 August 2014

Kitchen Invasion

 This pomegranate had fallen from a tree and smashed open on the ground.....we found it on a dirt road walking towards Chimaera in Turkey when we were on holiday there a few years ago...

The garden next door is now a building site. Scaffolding poles reach up to the first floor bay window, a new kitchen extension going up right by our backdoor. The wall between our houses is demolished - the only barrier is a flimsy trail of dangling clematis  and a row of three green plastic re-cycling bins.

The place where I stand most often in the kitchen - at the counter -  is now in full view thorough the window of  men on ladders, men mixing concrete, men unloading bricks. They are nice men though. Older men with cropped grey hair, the main builder wears a neat grey beard and a brown checked shirt of experience. One of them smokes in his break but they don't have Radio One on blaring out music all the time. They just talk between themselves about the build and football and laugh sometimes.

I feel as if they have moved into my kitchen. I'm learning to work around them - find spots where I can stand where they can't see me lick a wooden spoon or break off a square of dark chocolate  or give my husband a hug. Not that they are looking really  - it's just that they are there - instead of my  tangled tumbling screen of clematis giving me the illusion of green protection....

 In spite of the builders' presence it's good to potter in the kitchen today stirring up batches of coconut flapjacks and cranberry granola, a pan of  sweet green beans and tomatoes and  baking garlicky Parmesan crostini for lunch. Familiar recipes I can make without thinking too much...... while inside I'm churning stomach sick with sticky shame thinking about my husband's increasing disinhibition....

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A Safe Pair Of Hands

Tonight sitting in the circle at our Deeksha meditation I feel sad- probably the music sets me off -and I feel young and small and overwhelmed by trying to be a grown up, trying to be being responsible for everything.... .....and I want my daddy....not my real father....... but a mythical daddy...... an archetypal daddy to hold me in his wide arms...... to look after me and say,

I will do don't have to ....just let go....... you are safe now.

I think I would trust this angel daddy. But of course I wouldn't......after  awhile I'd find a way to feel let down and disappointed....

So I keep coming back to this thing....there is no safety 'out there' - only 'in here' - in my own heart.....and the way to that is not to try and look after everyone else with my bankrupt soul, my empty arms, but to put on my own oxygen mask first then I can nourish someone else, love them from my own loved and replenished lungs......

And I'm trusting I'll find a way to do that even though at the moment I have no experience of the kind of relentless self care- not selfishness - I'm imagining I need to be a safe pair of hands to my own heart.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A Biscuit Step Too Far

My first taste of cherries this year - big black English ones -  we bought them in the fruit shop in Sidmouth this afternoon.....can't help comparing them to the glorious abundance of the Armenian ones we feasted on last year... which were sweeter, shinier,  firmer and fresher - straight off the trees in the garden of my husband's cousin....

It was biscuit week in The Great British Bake Off tonight....I missed bits of it though.... as I kept nipping in and out of the kitchen  - taking the two logs of biscotti out of the oven, leaving them to cool, and then cutting them into fat slabs and cooking them again. My husband and I made them together before he went to water the green house at the allotment. I discover biscotti means twice cooked and ours are definitely rock hard -  as they are supposed to be for dunking in Vin Santo or coffee. Our version is a Paul Hollywood adaption ( thank you, Biscotti Queen for the recipe!) with chunks of dark chocolate, cranberries, almonds and orange zest kneaded into the sweet biscuit dough.

Thank goodness we only have to eat them though and not turn them into a space ship or a carousel or a mountain ski scene as the contestants were doing on TGBO .....a biscuit step too far in my world....

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Hopefulness and Plans

This morning my sister and I drive through heavy rain a little way into Wales to visit our cousin and his partner. He comes to the gate to greet us carrying two umbrellas and a big smile. He's skeletal thin, walking with a stick. The cancer is in his bones now- in his leg. He's managing the pain with morphine.....his weight loss is due to a low carb healing diet......and he's on a new drug trial too.

We sit in their bright conservatory with the rain hammering on the roof and talk. His partner makes us a tasty vegan lunch - bursting with flavour and freshness. When the rain stops they give us a tour of their wonderful rambling garden with the pond, one of my husband's hippo ceramics snoozing on the edge of the deck....... and the stepped paths and the fruit trees - damsons, apples and pears...... the netted strawberries and green house full of tomatoes ......and her studio at the top..... and the shed he's building with a place to put his grandmother's rocking chair with a view of the vegetable garden

I love his hopefulness and his plans. He says he's enjoying all the small and simple things in his life, and deepening his connections with family and friends. Every now and again I catch something in his expression, in his gestures, in his laugh, and I see  the likeness of his father.....and my father....and my brother....the family line shining on in him.

  I feel so blessed, so grateful for our connection and the warm heartedness of this brief day we shared with him and his partner.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Biscotti And Biscuits And Giving Up


  We start our walk - one of my favourites -  by the River Dart at Fingle Bridge on Dartmoor which for some forgotten reason we always call Three Bridges..

A ghostly fisherman on the other bank...created out of some flimsy metal...

One of three waterfalls....

 A fountain of amongst the Ling heather and gorse....

The smell of bracken always takes me back to  my childhood - playing wide games on holiday in Wales with my cousins....crouching down low, hiding in amongst the musty, scratchy leaves waiting to be found or trying to race home to base without my father catching us. 

Rowan tree on the edge of the ridge leading up to Castle Drogo -  our lunch destination.

Wild honeysuckle on the way back...all along the way, although I try not to, I find myself in a tangle of suppressed rage and embarrassment ....triggered by my husband's exuberant greetings of all those we pass by on the path.....But I'm impressed by his stamina for a much longer walk than usual... we are out for three hours - including his lasagne and slab of Rocky Road lunch.

Back home we bake a batch of rock cakes together. My husband has expressed a desire to make biscuits. He's become passionate to the point of obsession about some particular very delicious biscotti made by my nephew's wife on the occasion of his( my nephew's) birthday last month.  Not having all the ingredients I took him to Carluccios on Sunday morning  - hoping to buy a bag of their Cantucci as a temporary substitute. He tried one with a cup of coffee and declared them not a patch on the nephew birthday ones.
I have now emailed my nephew's wife for the recipe - the rock cakes are just a stop gap to satisfy my husband's creative baking urge.


The Lemon Almond and Honey Drizzle cake I made to contribute to the picnic we are invited to at our friends' in Sidmouth. Because of the expected gales and rain we eat inside in their lovely kitchen with the patio doors wide open, the wind whipping round the garden and the sun pouring in on her array of salads and a sizzling Spanish Roast Pepper Tart. It doesn't rain. And we don't get to eat the cake with the Blackberry Compote and Honey and Vanilla Yoghurt because even though my husband retires for a sleep after the first course, after more than two hours he has reached the limit of his socialising-round-a-table ability - just too much talking and listening and not understanding -  and I can see we must go home.

We take a windy tour of their garden....a whole bed of Californian poppies....

 and a  single delphinium still standing after a collision with their bounding pointer dog....

and massed flowering Thyme tumbling down raised beds.....blessed by a butterfly.

Because we missed dessert ( but did take home a couple of slices of cake)

my friend gave us some of their sweet ripe figs which were a deep wine red surprise when I bit into one much later for supper.


My husband comes back from a walk - no not a walk - a visit to Dart's Farm Shop with a friend on his   wonderful support team - with two different kinds of biscuits. One giant soft American Cookie packed with white chocolate and cranberries and the other, a six pack of huge All Butter Crunchy Cookies wrapped in cellophane. He says he'd like to make some. 
Yesterday he said he like to make another big biscuit  - Oat and Sultana -  that  he bought in Waitrose on special offer for 25p.
I have all the ingredients for that. So this evening when he comes back from a drive and a visit to the allotment to pick basil ( a handful) and tomatoes ( 8 cherry) and courgettes (I big 2 small) we make Oaty Coconut Sultana Cookies With Walnuts  - I read out from the list of ingredients, pointing out which is the bag of flour and the tub of baking powder, the bottle of vanilla which I've assembled on the counter. He weighs  and measures them and mixes them up into a sticky dough. He dollops huge spoonfuls onto the baking tray - I flatten them with the back of a spoon and he puts them in the oven.

He's very pleased with them - says he's never made a biscuit in his life before  - has one after supper along with a rock cake and several other bought biscuits from his stash in the cupboard - and then insists that I made them and not him.

I've said we'll make them again.... and again.... and the biscotti and the other ones..... so that after a while and after writing down the recipes and putting labels on all the packets of ingredients, he'll be able to make them himself.  At least that's the plan.

 I've given up trying to be the Fat Cookie Controller.....I suppose making them instead of buying them is preferable -  at least he gets a sense of achievement along with the sugar rush....