Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween/Samhain/All Hallows Eve

Today is my birthday.
It is also the day when children wear costumes and come knocking on your door trick-and-treating.
And also Samhain, the time when pagans believe the veil between the world of the living and the dead to be at it's thinnest.

I was born and grew up in Germany, long before the curious tradition of Trick-and-treating came over from the US. And living in a Catholic family I knew nothing about Samhain either. So the 31st of October was just another day. Which also happened to be my birthday.
The day after, the 1st November, however was a special day. All Saints Day, a holiday in the Catholic calendar.
As I got older, having a day off on the day after your birthday party became a distinct advantage. ;)

However, having a day off school didn't mean lazing around in bed. It meant spending the better part of the day traipsing across church yards to visit the graves of dead relatives. Not so much fun when you are a kid ... but an opportunity to hear old stories and to learn about people I had never had the chance to meet.

Looking at the present season with the shortening of the daylight, the dying down of vegetation and falling of the leaves; with the temperature dropping and the wildlife getting ready for the winter ahead; it's no wonder that our ancestors turned towards pondering life and death and their own mortality at this particular time of year.
And perhaps it's right that we should do so too.

I don't visit graveyards anymore. But I like to think about those who have gone before me. Those who have made me and shaped me. Those who helped me become who I am today. Those who didn't always get it right, but tried their best. Those who gave me everything and I owe them so much. Those who helped shape the world and society I live in now. Those who created, invented and discovered all the things we now take for granted.
And I ponder if in even a tiny way I may be able to shape and contribute to life in a positive way too.

So forgive me if I don't celebrate Halloween. If you come knocking on my door, you won't get any sweets. I won't even open it.
That's partly because Halloween just isn't a part of me. But also because I dislike the hype and consumerism attached to it. And because to me it teaches our children that you get nice things by threating to do bad things in turn. For me it's no more than Consumerism-meets-blackmail.

So forgive this grumpy old woman for not opening her door. It's her birthday!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Winter is coming

One thing I love about having an allotment is how close it brings me to the seasons.
Yes, I know that I live in a country where I can buy fresh produce - even out of season - virtually any time... But my allotment tells me otherwise.

I love the urgency and business which this time of year brings.
Yes, at the moment I am still picking a small but steady amount of autumn raspberries. The apple tree is still laden with apples and a lot of plants are still in the ground.

But as the squirrels - who have been burying my broad bean seeds up and down the plot for weeks - know, winter is not far off.

In this part of the country frosts aren't really expected until November. But even then, November is only a couple of weeks away.
Once the frost arrives, the raspberries will stop fruiting, the apples will drop and - apart from the hardy winter vegetables such as cabbages and leeks - all produce will need to be protected somehow - either covered or picked and stored.

Winter is getting nearer.

I love the mix of having to busily plan the final jobs (picking and storing the beetroot, harvesting the apples, taking down the runner beans, processing the last tomatoes etc) and at the same time knowing that a time of quiet and rest is coming, and looking forward to it.

Winter also means shutting off the shed, letting the allotment rest, curling up in front of the fire with a freshly baked apple crumble and a blackberry wine. And perhaps next year's seed catalogue.

Winter is coming. ENJOY!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Walking The Breadline - JSA (2)

Over the last few days I heard some shocking stories. 
Stories from unemployed people who have to work 4-6 weeks at a time in Work Placements - not for pay but for continued Job Seekers Allowance. 
The reasons given are that the work placement will "provide valuable experience which will look good on the CV"  and that "it *might* lead to a proper paid job". But the paid job never comes. Instead the "trainee" is sent back to the job centre and a new "trainee" is brought in... 

Essentially this creates a work force on extremely low "pay" which is not even paid by the employer but the tax payer, and the employers gets a work force for no cost to themselves. 

That's madness! It's grossly unfair. How can we possibly allow this to happen?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Walking The Breadline (1)

Tomorrow I am travelling to Hoylake near Liverpool to join a group called Walking the Breadline in their final four days of marching to Manchester. Walking the Breadline have already been marching for a week, having started in Tredegar on 23rd September.
For more information about the group, please visit their Facebook page.

So why am I marching? I am marching to hopefully join tens of thousands of people who are demonstrating at the Tory Conference against the austerity measures implemented by this government.

Speaking for myself, I no longer believe in the austerity rhetoric. Since the financial crisis in 2008 we have been told how we all have to tighten our belts and how we are all in it together.
Yet it’s the weakest and most vulnerable members of society who are most squeezed to make up for this obscure deficit, of which nobody seems to be quite able to explain what exactly it is. Not the richest people who have the means to pay without suffering much hardship nor the bankers who caused the crisis in the first place, but those who have very little to begin with.

How can I take austerity measures seriously when we are told it is inevitable that we have to reduce benefits, penalise people for having extra bedrooms (despite no alternative housing being available), cut tax credits, freeze public sector pay and slash essential health and public services; yet somehow there is enough money to bail out bankers, go to war, fund nuclear weapons which – God help us – we will never use, and give MPs a payrise of 11%?

The media and tabloids are keen to present to us obscure ‘scroungers’ who are apparently showered with public money, rake in the benefits and are given mansions to live in. I am not saying these people don’t exist, but statistics show us that they are a tiny, tiny minority and that the vast majority of benefits recipients are working families on such low wages that they cannot make ends meet.
At a time when homelessness and Foodbank use is increasing at alarming rate, somehow our government (and the media who serve it) manage to scapegoat the weakest and most vulnerable. Somehow they try to convince us that people only use Foodbanks because it’s an easy option, that immigrants cause the housing crisis and health care crisis, that people on benefits are just too lazy to work, etc, etc.
Child poverty is ‘eradicated’ by changing the definition of the term. A reduction in unemployment is being flaunted without mentioning that a great proportion of those new jobs are on zero hour contracts, which provide nobody with a secure income.

Yet the media don’t mention the tax avoiders and evaders, the rich with offshore accounts, the corporations who manage their companies from abroad without having to contribute to the infrastructure which enables their company to function and the health/public service which keep their workers well and safe.
In the last 7 years since the financial crisis the rich in this country have only become richer and poor only poorer. That sounds neither right nor fair. And it certainly doesn't sound like austerity is working!

I no longer naively believe that those in political power necessarily have our best interest at heart. I think it is time to ask questions, challenge and hold those in power accountable.
I think it is come to leave the comfort of our sitting rooms and meet and organise with like-minded people.

If – as I used to – you think that you are not political, DON’T!
Politics is about people and about making society work. If you live in any community and have any opinion on how it should be run, then you ARE political and you have a voice.
The welfare state is at the very core of a caring and compassionate society. It’s a system which aims to meet the needs of the people without asking who they are, whether they are deserving or whether they have paid into the system enough to have ‘earned’ getting some back.
I believe austerity is about convincing us that the welfare state is outdated, inefficient and unaffordable. It is not!
Austerity measures are uncaring and heartless, even brutal.

If you are interested in becoming politically active, consider joining a political party or local pressure group.
The People’s Assembly may be a starting point. It’s a non-party-political gathering of people from different political parties and none. There are local groups up and down the country.

If you want to support the Walking the Breadline march which solely depends on the generosity and hospitality of ordinary people to feed and house the marchers, please donate your pennies here:

Will marching and demonstrating make a difference?
It does in the sense that it helps me realise that I am not the only one and that there are many, many people out there who feel the same.

But it is hard to be heard. I steel fence is going up around the Tory Conference centre as we speak, so it will be impossible to get anywhere near the venue.
It will be difficult to get the mainstream media to report on any anti-austerity demonstrations, or if they do it is likely to be biased against it.
So you can help by spreading the message, on social media and beyond. We ARE all in it together.

Sorry about the rant.
I think I’m ready to march now …

Monday, September 7, 2015

A very big Adventure

This summer my husband and I went on a big adventure.
We did what we haven't done in over 21 years - a) went on a touring holiday on our bicycles together and b) went on holiday without our children. This also meant leaving our 18-year-old son in charge of the house for two weeks (when until now we've never left him alone for more than two days).

When we sat at the local train station, waiting to catch the train which would eventually take us to Harwich, I was filled with dread and anxiety of a level I've never experienced before.
My head was bombarded with the wildest array of scenarios which could occur when you leave the country and leave your son in charge of your home and belongings.

Mixed in with that were worries about being "just" a couple again. Would we enjoy each other's company? Or would we
get bored or irritated with each

I just wanted to cry and it would not have taken much for me to abandon our plans and go back home.

Luckily I didn't and once the train arrived
and we were on our way, my anxiety lessened.

So how did it go? Read here to find out more about the cycling side of things.

As for being a couple again, it was wonderful spending time together.
I was especially struck by those moments of stress and minor crises -  like, when we stood wet to the skin in the cold wind and driving rain, waiting for at least for 30 minutes for the ferry across the Rhine. Or when we couldn't find find the hotel after a long day cycling. Or when it took hours to get out of Den Haag...
Those were the moments that brought us really close, knowing that we'd somehow get through this together. No time to blame each other or walk off in a huff! LOL

Here's one of my favourite pictures, taken by my mum.


And our son? Well, he was of course fine! So he didn't take the rubbish out, removed the furry things from the fridge or cleaned the  bathroom, but apart from that he was well and healthy. And the house is still standing. ��

Here’s to many more holidays together!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Everything on the allotment seems to have been slow starting this year, perhaps because we haven't really had a proper warm spell so far.
But finally things are taking off, and that means one thing: I have to make space in the freezer.

It's a good chance to rummage around in the bottom of the freezer, looking for the leftover fruit from last year.

I found approximately 2lbs of currants and 1lbs of blackberries. Enough for a small batch of jelly.

Making jelly is a fairly easy process.

  1. Wash the fruit, then just cover with water. 
  2. Bring to boil and let simmer until the fruit is soft and pulpy.
  3. After letting the fruit cool, pour the mixture into a large muslin cloth and hang up to let the liquid drip out. I like to hang mine from a broom handle laid across the back of a chair and the kitchen table. Let it hang for at least 4 hours, better still over night. Do not squeeze unless you don't mind your jelly being cloudy.
  4. Measure the liquid and add 1 lb (450g) of sugar per pint (550ml) of liquid. Jams and jellies need pectin to set. Some fruits, such as plums, currants and apples are high in natural pectin. Rhubarb and soft fruit such as raspberries and strawberries need to have pectin added. It can be added in liquid form, powder or already added to the sugar. If unsure you can test the pectin content with the methylated spirit test. Hubby likes this because it's sciencey. ;)
  5. Sterilise the jam jars. You can estimate to need twice as many jars as you had pints of liquid. I.e. I had 3 pints of liquid and used just over 6 jars. I tend to reuse old lb jam or honey jars with metal lids. I sterilise the jars by washing them well and putting them in the oven on a low heat. I sterilise the jar lids by simmering them in water. But if you prefer you can use waxed discs and cellophane covers instead. 
  6. Return liquid and sugar to the boil and let boil rapidly, stirring constantly. 
  7. After 10 or 15 minutes you can start testing if the jelly is ready to set. I use the wrinkle test. Put a small amount of the liquid on a plate and put in the fridge for a few minutes until cold. Then gently push it with your fingertip. If it wrinkles up it is ready to set.
    You can also look for the jelly starting to set along the side of the sauce or the spoon. 
  8. Carefully pour the hot jelly into the sterilised jars and seal with lids or cellophane covers. 
The jelly will keep for at least a year in a cool storage place.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

What weeds are teaching me. A gardener's tale

Dandelion season is upon us. The first flush of dandelions appearing in fields and on verges is a cheerful sight ... but on my allotment they are a pernicious weed.
Difficult to get rid of too. If you try to mow them down, the cut flowers will still produce seeds ...

So today I spent 2 hours picking hundreds, no thousands, of dandelion heads. Painstakingly. Tedious, tedious work. And it got me thinking.

I am someone who easily lets negative thoughts run away with her. Somehow "being prepared for the worst" turns into ruminating about every possible thing that could possibly go wrong at every possible moment.

So picking dandelion heads became a metaphor for dealing with negative thoughts.
Rather than worry about the many hundred dandelions which were still there, I tried to remind myself that every single dandelion I had picked was one which would not go to seed and produce more dandelions.

Now, for dandelion read negative thought.
Every negative thought which I manage to nip in the bud and stop from growing bigger and stronger is one less negative thought I will ruminate over and allow to occupy my thinking.
It requires constant vigilance and awareness - recognising the emerging thought and putting a stop to it.
By distracting yourself from it; by thinking about something positive; by finding constructive solutions ... whatever it is that works best.

By the time I had finished, the plot looked like this. Not a cheery yellow in sight!
Now, I know fine well that next week, or even tomorrow, some dandelions will be back.
But there will be fewer of them!
And over time the first flush of them will ease and their emergence will reduce.

In the same way, negative thoughts will lessen, if you keep on top of them.
Don't get me wrong, there will be times and seasons when you will be more susceptible to negative thinking. Because of your frame of mind at the time or because of circumstances or because of other factors.
Negative thoughts will sneak up on you, and sometimes you will find it easier to deal with them than others.

Don't beat yourself up about it. Keep plucking.
The more you weed, the more you can grow the pretty things.