Our Second Angloversary

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On February 28th, 2017, this was our travel pile at JFK airport. I count eight cases plus two backpacks in this image, but the four of us had a couple of bags even in addition to this, I think. That was a rough day, especially for my poor husband who likes to travel without any suitcases AT ALL. But, it was his idea to “try out England for a year or two”, and so he couldn’t complain too much, right? He was just so delighted that we all agreed to return to his motherland.

Since the flight was overnight, we arrived in the UK early on March 1st – this very day, two years ago. I mentioned that amazing fact whilst speaking with my sort-of-sister-in-law today and without missing a beat, she said, “Oh, it’s your Angloversary!” – and so, I’m using that fabulous coinage as this blog entry’s title. It is indeed a big anniversary, especially as we said we would only be here for two years. But we ain’t going back to the US any time soon. What ARE we doing? It’s still too early to tell, but it’s safe to say we have a good bit of England-time in our futures.

There is SO much to tell, so much to review, but I’m nearly off to sleep and shan’t do it justice. Here’s just a bit of an analysis… I still don’t feel like I’m HERE, that I have a life here. I’m living quite peripherally, or have been. But that could be because I’ve held myself back, not knowing if I’m to remain? Perhaps. ‘Tis also true that I’ve just been back and forth to too many places (US three times, Paris twice, Edinburgh twice, Florence, Sicily, several jaunts to London, and trips around North, East and West Yorkshire) to feel settled. Yet all that travel doesn’t mean it’s felt like a vacation, since I’ve been trying to juggle so many family obligations and mini-crises at the same time. I miss my NY home and family. I miss my network of friends and fabulous food sources. I miss the sense of SPACE and breathing room in America (things really are small here, but that can be good). AND I have so much here to be so very grateful for – and I am!

Last week my girls were actually back in America for the half-term break. A dear friend gave them the present of one return ticket if they would both come for the week. They had so many adventures with close friends, and were quite sad to return back here last Sunday, but are adjusting. Whilst they were away, Nicholas and I went to Holy Island in Northumbria (a post to follow, hopefully) for a couple of days. It was a magical weekend away. We stayed at a spiritual retreat center that Nicholas had previously visited, and I was glad to take advantage of their lending library bookshelves. I picked out a slender tome to peruse that first night, about Saint Hilda of Whitby, from the twelfth century, I think. I was tired and didn’t get very far, perhaps only a couple of pages before I closed the book. But my first random opening to a paragraph on page 13 was what I was really meant to read. Poor Hilda was in exile from somewhere, for some reason, and the author was speaking about that subject. He wrote, in part,

“There is value as well as sadness in exile. Exile strips us of our dependency upon familiar things that can become a substitute for God. Exile can lend us to embrace God in the here and now, wherever we are, whatever our circumstances.”

That SO spoke to me, especially as two people had said similar things to me in recent months, about the need for jolting oneself out of the complacency that comes from being comfortable in Life. I’ve sure not been comfortable lately! But am I making use of this exile for my best evolution, to really get close to the inner Divine? If I could, that would be most worthwhile. Something to ponder.

But for now, good night. And Happy Spring to all of you. I’ll leave you with two not-terribly good but still evocative images from last week – nettles and other green things springing up on the Westwood, and trees and daffodils blossoming in the chaos of my allotment.  This week is already much more lush…

This Time Last Year

Cosmos October

This time last year, I was still away from England, forced to remain away from my family due to immigration regulations. I can’t believe a full year has gone by already.

And I can’t believe more than three months have passed since last I wrote here. Sheesh… I guess I really am in my “8” year, a year meant to be about a more inwardly-focused energy, about not being very communicative and when it’s best to remain close to home. This is from the Nine Star Ki method, something I never did explain in my tabs at the top of the home page. I’d meant to. I certainly did not stay put in 2018, and it was hard for me to know where “home” was, actually! In reflecting back on this year, I do believe that all the traveling I did contributed to the exhaustion I’ve been feeling (though, not the only reason, of course). I wonder what I would have felt like had I followed the guidelines of keeping to the natural rhythms I was “meant” to experience this year.

Anyone who would like a little description of what “year” you are in, I’d be happy to send it along, if you write me and send your birthdate. It is quite fun and usually very accurate. The Chinese New Year doesn’t happen until early February, but the energies of the year are meant to start to shift in late November, so it’s a very good time to reflect back on what your previous ten-or-so months have been like, and start to look forward to what the next year shall include.

On the morning of this day in 2017 I was up super early and spent the morning madly putting things in boxes in my mother’s house in East Hampton and generally dealing with the remaining chaos I’d there created from all the “clearing out” process. I then drove to New Jersey to visit with my aunt and collect my passport and visa that would allow me to return to England. And then nearly immediately got a Lyft to JFK for my flight that night. I arrived in London the morning of the 29th to spend my birthday with my family. I am SO delighted not to be traveling on my birthday this year.

Today, in contrast, I didn’t get up until after 7am, lazily helped with the pre-schoolday routine and was generally with the family, had an excellent breakfast of reheated organic cauliflower and potato cake from last night, along with a super-nice locally raised organic egg. I then had fifteen minutes to myself before getting a ride to the LAST farm day at Frith for 2018. I returned home with a ton of beautiful veg. I can’t take pics of anything – my phone is so troublesome these days. Shall have to remedy that to write any more blog posts with any visuals! I’ll be processing chickweed and kale and making yummy soup for dinner. My girls and I will have a nice evening together. I must go to that now, actually!

I’m really looking forward to as many hours as possible of the last weeks of my “8” year being spent in quiet contemplation. Wish me luck. The more I do that, the more successful the next stages are meant to be.

Wish me happy birthday, too 🙂  I do miss being away from my US friends.

Italian Garbage Bins

Florence Garbage Bins on Street

We went to Florence at the end of May and for the first few days of June, during a school holiday. I was delighted when my husband decided to make the most of that break and organize a family trip. Prior to that he had been saying, “England has everything we could ever need!” and that it’s not worth the effort to fly elsewhere. He is quite right that we have plenty to explore in this fine country, but we were most happy to explore a bit further afield.

This is perhaps a bit silly of a post to write, out of all the wonderful things I could be describing about La Firenze, but we were actually rather fascinated with the differences in how the garbage bins are organized and collected in Italy. Above, you can see how bins are lined up on the street next to the Arno river. People bring their garbage (separated into different bags of compost/organic matter, recyclables, etc.) to these bins and place them inside. Throughout the week, large trucks come and collect the garbage. They are nifty trucks that swing an arm out over the bins, pick them up, swing them over the truck and then release the contents of the bin into the truck’s hold.

I took a video of the process but can’t find it now. Here’s a mini-series of photos to show how it worked. These bins were being collected just outside our hotel – we watched with great interest while eating our breakfast on the flower-filled balcony.

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Florence Bins by Hotel 2

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We thought it a good system – no one needs to have large bins to deal with in their back yard. The trucks don’t need to come down each and every street to get to each home to collect them. It’s the opposite in both in England and in the US – trucks do come every week and collect the garbage from each home. What’s different is that in the US, at least in our experience, only garbage and recyclables are collected (food waste is just included in the regular garbage, for shame); it’s collected more often, and where we were in New York it wasn’t included in our taxes, so we paid privately for the service. Here in England, the local taxes cover the service and provide bins and also provide small bins to use in the kitchen for the food waste, as well as bags with which to line them.

What a lot of bins are required in the US/UK, and what a lot of trucks that need to make the different routes. It seems to me it’s much more time-consuming, and it’s a pain to have to house all the bins in one’s back yard. We have a tiny back-garden space and have three bins stored in it. Here is our “brown bin” in England that contains food and garden waste. You can see it parked in the front of the house, getting ready to be picked up:

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Every two weeks we drag it from the back of our house to the front. It’s not an easy task, for we have to go through the back yards of two next-door neighbors to reach the alleyway that gives us access to the front street. The alley is narrow, and this particular bin was giving us a huge headache in that it had a leak at the bottom and was therefore leaving a messy and unpleasant trail whenever we moved it along its trajectory. Yuck.

I am impressed with the Italian system and think I’d prefer it. But perhaps some people may not like having bins perennially line the streets?

Our brown bin was by the street for over a month. The council had told us to leave the defected, holed item out front to be picked up and replaced. But they didn’t fetch it when they said they would (originally they said two weeks, then it was another week, then a fourth, ah well). Our poor neighbors were wondering why we wished to decorate our tiny front yard with such an unsightly item. The council just picked it up yesterday – hurray, we have a nice, new fresh brown bin that won’t drip compost tea. And so, I write this post in celebration. Hopefully I’ll write prettier posts about Florence soon.

Peach Pie

PeachPie Peaches

Oh, the alliteration and resultant near-salivation of that short phrase. Mmmmm…

My mother was a pastry chef – among other things, but that was the first job I remember her having when I was a child. I went with her sometimes to the house in East Hampton near Georgica Beach where she was a personal chef for the Schoenemans (sp?) in the summer. They had a swimming pool that we could use when they were away, which was a real treat. I also sometimes accompanied her to The Royal Fish restaurant (first in Amagansett, then in East Hampton) where she spent the early hours of most summer mornings baking scads of muffins, cakes and pies.

She’d started baking when she was very young, though. I found a diary from when she was twelve, and literally nearly EVERY SINGLE DAY, for months, she wrote about what kind of cake she baked, and who she gave it to. It was an interest and a talent of hers, perhaps also a solace. It does beg the question of why she needed so much sweetness in her life at the time…

But back to this peach pie – it was one of my mom’s ultimate favorites. Just peaches in season were enough to send thrills of delight. [Peaches were also the very last food my mother tasted in the hospital before she finished her life. They did bring her pleasure.] There were still a number of excellent local orchards in the Hamptons when I was growing up that sold fragrant, flavorful orbs and we enjoyed eating them in all ways, but in a pie was a special treat. My mom trained me well in making pies (for two weeks one summer, my brother and I took over for one of her later pastry chef-ing stints at The Laundry Restaurant, also in EH, when she had to be out of town for a course) and in my late teens I became the resident pie-maker for our holiday fare. Those were primarily apple and pumpkin, two other favorites, but PEACH pie was a rarity. I don’t think I’ve had one in a decade, easily.

Partially, being and baking gluten-free took the fun out of making pies. GF pie crust is really hard to handle, and I didn’t have as much interest in baking in general anyway, not wanting to eat sugar. But last week, I got a message from my dear cousin – my mom had “reappeared” to her in a wonderful way and inspired her to make a peach pie. I’ll tell that story another time if I manage it. She sent me photos of it, and I, then, too needed to recreate that taste from my childhood and share it with my family.

I went a week ago to the Saturday market in town here and bought a dozen peaches. The stall man said they were from Greece. They were big and beautiful, and cost only £4. It took me ages to make the crust, and only last night did I actually make the pie – thank goodness the peaches lasted. They were really good, very flavorful – and, sigh of relief, a freestone variety as well. I managed to bake the pie even though I didn’t have a proper pie plate and it came out of the oven the very minute Nicholas and I needed to leave after dinner to go to the local theatre – we went to see Gordon Meredith in one of his productions. The pie looked pretty darn good, and smelled heavenly.

When we got back home after 10pm, I found this. Ohmigoodness, so cute. Olivia has been having a tiny bit of gluten from time to time, to see how she does with it. She really, really enjoyed her piece of pie. And this morning we polished off all but a quarter of the remaining pie.

Peach Pie, Tasted

It’s Saturday again. I’m going to the market to get another dozen peaches.

Slugs and Snails

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I didn’t write about my near-breakdown that occurred the second week of June. We had put a good number of hours in at the allotment at the end of May trying to clear some space for planting. The Spring season had been so wet that we hadn’t been able to get to it earlier. Well, we had quite a crop of weeds growing by leaps and bounds by the time May was half-gone. The couch grass was so thick and densely healthy that I spent hours clearing just a two-by-four-foot area, and at that rate I would never ever get any beds of any shape or size sorted. My allotment partner and I decided to hire in some muscle and get some beds made.

Boy, were we lucky to get an experienced farmer before his busy season took off. He went to work, first strimming and then digging away, creating four large raised beds for us. In two days, we had rather a striking transformation of the central part of our allotment. This is when it was just being begun.

Allotment Beds

But my grand excitement turned to deep despair a couple of weeks later. I had planted out a full bed of good-sized organic string bean seedlings. Two days later, they were nothing but sticks. Snails or slugs had completely eaten them up. It was rather dramatic, how it affected me. There were many layers involved, of course. I was kind of counting on these plants to produce lots of edible beans – my frustration with the local shops not carrying much organic produce was coming to a head. Tescos, my absolute favorite local shopping market, was discontinuing over half of the organic produce selections it had previously offered, and I was really quite at a loss as to how to fill that gap. Good old Expectation – I was having advance visions of beautiful, knee-high bushes yielding plentiful pounds of beans. We had these super raised beds, and we even had netting over them to keep the pigeons at bay. We were prepared, right? I figured the slugs might nibble on the plants a bit, sure, but I never thought they’d eat them all up, and so quickly, too. We planted out two dozen more seedlings, from the supermarket. The slugs took longer to eat those (as I well know, organic always tastes better), but eat them all they did. Every single one.

I was beside myself with disappointment. I was practically sobbing in between the raised beds. The phrase “lost the will to live” actually passed my lips. Talk about dramatic, which is not normally my modus operandi at all. You see, I’d never had such trouble with these slimy creatures before. In Columbia County, they ate plenty of holes in my hostas, but they really didn’t eat my vegetable garden at all. I did have a rather troublesome woodchuck, but I felt that at least I could build a fence to keep him out. These slugs – I didn’t know what to DO about them. I missed my home, missed the raised beds I’d dug myself in my OWN garden, missed the climate and soil I knew so well.

But I gathered myself together, eventually, and spoke to the allotment neighbors. They said nothing worked – not coffee grounds, not eggshells, not other methods either. They hated to do it, they said, but they resorted to slug pellets. Hmmm. I did some research and didn’t feel I could do the metaldehyde ones, but maybe the “natural” ones? I didn’t want the creatures eating up all the baby lettuces I had waiting to go in the ground. It wouldn’t make sense to plant them and have them all eaten the next day. So, I DID get a box of “pet-friendly” pellets. I put a thick layer all around each lettuce plant. And they survived! I couldn’t believe it.

I was still sad and angry though, and confused. I didn’t want to keep using pellets, pet-friendly or no, b/c they’re not earthworm-friendly, and that doesn’t sound good to me. I researched permaculture websites, and they gave excellent advice, but I live a 25-minute walk from the allotment and just don’t get there often enough to pick slugs off traps every day. I really should use a bicycle and just do it, but… I then read a wonderful essay on a Perelandra website page (do look them up if you want a truly alternative view of gardening) about a man who works with Nature Spirits and had quite a philosophical perspective on gardening – he was willing to forsake his vegetable harvests in order to “heal the rift” between slugs and the previously-chemical-laden land before he first purchased the property and then began organic methods for his garden. I don’t want to make quite such a dramatic commitment, myself. As Ben at Frith says, “practically speaking, you do want to get some veg from your garden”. Yes, of course, I do!

Then, we were blessed with all the dry heat, and I was rather relieved of the problem. No rain meant absence of a wet environment for slimy slugs. Yay, the lettuces grew!

The day that I was avidly researching the slugs, I came across a David Attenborough video of slugs mating at night. Strangely beautiful. A couple of weeks ago, I was gifted (perhaps) with observing a similar but far less dramatic sight of two snails interlocked in our back garden. It somehow made me feel less antagonistic towards the creatures. We’ll see what transpires in the garden in future, and what stance I take towards these molluscs.

 

Snails

Plantain

Our back yard is full of beautiful weeds. I partially allow them, to feel like we have more green space, partially just can’t get on top of continually removing them from the gravel areas. When a dear friend visited in late March, she was very happy to find some dandelions in there to eat – nothing like some early Spring greens! And I was delighted to find one large, perfectly formed bunch of plantain. It’s a wonderful plant, and grows almost everywhere, but I’d been unable to locate some except in driveways. An herbalist friend recommended weeks ago that I make a tincture of some, and I kept looking for it. Imagine my surprise when I realized there was some right in my own backyard.

I often think that what we need is right under our noses. Why continually look outside ourselves when there are so many treasures “at home”? I speak a bit more philosophically, but on the practical level, I think again of the same dandelion-friend. Back in New York, she would repeatedly remind her self, her family, me, others, that maybe they didn’t need to go out and buy whatever supplies they thought they needed – whether it be for a meal, for an art project, or what-have-you. Usually we have so much, and we don’t even realize our riches. Use what we have!

Anyhow, this plantain rosette was so simply gorgeous that I had to photograph it right away. The picture looked nearly like it was done in a studio, and I mused that it was beautiful enough to be a wedding bouquet. Anyone every done that, I wonder?

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I chopped the lovely roots, stems, leaves and seed stalks into small bits and then placed them in a glass jar and covered them with vodka. I could have blended them to make the particles smaller, but it was late and I didn’t feel like dirtying the blender. They’ll steep a week and then I’ll use the tincture. It makes me think of herbal bitters, and I believe I’m overdue to make some – haven’t done that since being in the Hudson Valley. There was even a recipe in the latest Weston Price Wise Traditions magazine that I just received last week. Next project, perhaps.

PlantainChopped

This Week At The Farm

Tomato stalk golden

Hurrah! I’m writing about Frith Farm again for once! This year finds me again volunteering/ worksharing there every Wednesday and I have been taking some pictures, but sadly not posting about my time there. To make up for not having gone in at all last week (a story about that another time, I hope), I went in early today, at 8am. Tomatoes were my task and I spent two whole hours in the three greenhouses, picking the orange, yellow and red orbs.

These same tomato plants I worked for hours on, months ago, with Tessa, when they were small. We were stringing them up on the blue string so they could climb. There is something very akin to parental feelings I have for these lovely plants that I have a hand in rearing over time. I’m amazed at how they get so big, so quickly. And, every year, I am somehow astonished at the properties they exhibit. How golden and glistening their stalks are in the light – they actually glow a bit. Nature can be so incredibly beautiful.

Another feature I always forget about (or, I think I even wasn’t conscious of this one before last year, when Ben pointed it out to me, despite the fact that I’ve grown tomatoes most summers for twenty-five years) is the little “neck” they have. Ben calls it a “knuckle”, which I really love the sound of. I hope it’s visible enough in the pictures, but there is a seam of sorts about a quarter of an inch above the “cap” where the tomato separates cleanly from the upper stemlet. There is a very satisfying sound of a little snap as it comes off.

TomatoGoldenPlum

What is plainly visible is the amazingly sticky black residue that I thought I was being careful to minimize on my fingers. Thank goodness I’m not doing acupuncture tomorrow. I’ll need a good day to scrub it all off. Apologies for my palm – I fell off a bicycle two weeks ago and it’s not yet completely healed.

I also had yellow pollen all over my hands, arms, and my shirt. So much! I felt like a bee, though I wasn’t at all conscious of picking it all up off the flowers. I was trying very carefully not to disturb the closely-together-growing plants. The space between them is quite narrow, and a funny image kept coming to mind. I was thinking of when I would try on vintage dresses from the voluminous wooden trunks my mother kept. Some of them were extremely delicate, and I developed techniques of angling my shoulders or hips to move more carefully into or out of the narrow bodices. I felt I was doing that between the plants, gently angling myself to not overly disturb their fragile stems and seams.

I was quite tired after six hours, but delighted to bring home piles of broccoli, courgettes (yikes, I’m calling them by their English moniker. I’m torn between enjoying using a French word, and really preferring the Italian “zucchini”), and a huge chinese cabbage. On to dinnertime…

Tomato Trio

July, and still in school

It’s nearly the middle of July. Our friends at the Steiner school in upstate New York have been finished with school since early June – so, for over a month already. Friends at Ichabod Crane public school (great name; I always had fun with it) have been done for two or three weeks. And what’s happening at English schools here? They have still another full week. It’s a very different rhythm than we are used to.

I do feel bad for having complained in my last post about the cold. Literally two days after that, it turned warm, and it’s been mostly hot ever since. There has also been no rainfall at all since even before that time. Our rain buttie (no idea if that’s the correct spelling – the barrel that catches rain water off the roof) has been drained dry for many days now. The garden is hanging on but the potted plants are looking quite sad if I don’t give them some water every day. My allotment lost more plants, b/c they were young seedlings and I definitely wasn’t getting there every day to water. People tell me it’s due to the Pennines, the nearby mountain range, blocking the rain clouds and weather that settles west of here.

This is a piecemeal quick entry, but today was a special day that I must at least mention. It was my first professionally-speaking working day, at Neal’s Yard in Beverley. For months, I was slowly working my way to renting space there, and finally I got all my bits and bobs together to be able to begin. I started off with a lovely acupuncture client for my first day, hurrah! And she told me that it’s apparently a most auspicious day to begin a new project – my timing was good, after all, not consciously, picking Friday the 13th as a magically energetic date. My client brought me a beautiful little bouquet of wild thyme. (Ah, how that makes me think of Provence and my Junior Year Abroad there. We climbed Mont Saint Victoire and picked wild thyme that I used to make tea for months afterwards. So delicious.)

I love my little bunch of thyme, and I thank my lucky stars for a beautiful treatment room in which to work. I look forward to many sessions doing Classical Five Element Acupuncture, and Chinese Face Reading in Beverley. And we all look forward to next week starting the summer holidays.

Witching Day Thyme2

 

Summer?

Westwood Glen

Today is beautiful – sunny as soon as we awoke, and remaining so. It’s 63-degrees already, and supposed to go up to 70. This photo is from a few weeks ago, of a glen in the Westwood open pastureland a few minutes’ walk from our rental. The buttercups that were lighting up the green scene have just started to become leggy and are fading. They cheered me so all May. The fact that they are fading must mean the season is progressing and that summer is really here. It is mid-June, is it not? It doesn’t feel so much like summer to us.

I was complaining this past week. We were all (well, my daughters and I) missing a “New York summer” with HOT weather that doesn’t disappear immediately. Last week, it was fifty degrees most mornings, and barely broke sixty during the day. I AM a bit cold-blooded and wear multiple wool layers all Winter, even in to Spring, but never in summer, not in New York. It’s very different here. We did have two gorgeous days, Sunday and Monday. I had been so miserable on Friday and Saturday that I really took advantage of Sunday and sat outside in the garden in full sun, with as much surface area as possible ready to collect some vitamin D. I also indulged in reading a novel I’d read when I was in 8th grade? I think so. Can’t believe I read the beginning of this series when I was just thirteen. That was another full-circle moment for me, reliving a book from decades ago. This is where I sat, though the pic is after the sun had started to go down.

ChairGardenBook

I was so happy! I really needed both that sun and that restful activity of READING. The garden is really very lovely. I’m not showing all the weeds, though, that I haven’t been able to keep on top of.

It got so cold again on Tuesday, though. At least, I needed wool layers again. I see British women in sundresses when I have wool undershirts (plural), a wool jacket and thick wool socks with my boots, ha! My brother in law told me my blood shall warm up with more time here. Hmmmm… I’m not sure about that. But, perhaps. And that is part of the question – do I want to be here long enough for that to happen? I torment myself with that question sometimes. Just how long shall I/we be here??

Well, I shall write just this for now, as I’m off to Frith for my weekly garden shift. I have so much to post about! Soon, I hope. And hopefully not much complaining shall be included 🙂

Foraging Season Begins

But not yet by me.

An English friend came by today with a gift right up my alley. She and her husband had gone foraging yesterday for wild garlic, and also to the seaside for clams. I was gifted with these razorbacks (in a bag, sorry, I was on my way out the door and didn’t make them super photo-ready) and also a nice bag of wild garlic leaves.

Razor clams

We were going to dinner with family, as a last Beverley meal with my niece, who is about to move out of town – we’re all terribly sad about that. She cooked us a delicious meal, and then we watched videos online for how to prepare razorback clams. I spent a good half hour washing sand out of and preparing just these few darlings.

And here they are, cooked, served in a portion:

Razor clams cooked

(Apologies – I don’t know how to alter the size of photos that don’t come from my phone.)  The clams were sliced, then pan sautéed very gently in butter for a few minutes and the wild garlic leaves added for another two or so minutes. The juices we then put in a separate pan and cooked down just a bit more, with a dash of sherry. Delicate, fresh taste of the sea, and very nice texture. The wild garlic was stupendously tender and flavorful. I really enjoyed my gift.

My own plan for foraging will not be nearly as grand – nettles shall likely be first on the list, and I am very much looking forward to them!

But before that, we’ll be Edinburgh-bound, and also off to Paris. Future posts, coming soon.