The positive side of a challenge

Last weekend we headed south to act as  support team for eldest son who was taking part in Race to the Stones (http://www.racetothestones.com) a 100km journey along the ancient Ridgeway Path from just north of High Wycombe to Avebury Stone Circle.

Preparation for the event began in January and there was a bit of blow about four weeks ago when an injury meant no more running. But he rose to the challenge and decided that despite shin splints he still had to take part even if it meant walking rather than running.

It’s a part of the country I don’t know very well. It was really enjoyable discovering the area with its rolling views and learning a bit about its ancient history even if there was a bit of pressure navigating along busy roads and tiny lanes to get to the next crossing point ready to cheer and encourage participants including son number one.

As we clapped and cheered as people passed by it was an uplifting experience to see how a bit of human encouragement can ease the weary step and bring a cheery smile to what a minute or two before had been drooping shoulders and an air of despondency. We saw the warm side of human nature with one being giving another support, encouragement and help – whether fellow participants or spectators.

I have consciously avoided using the word competitor as there seemed to be so much cooperation and the only competitiveness was personal. It was the individual’s sheer will power and drive to push themselves to finish not to ‘beat’ another participant.

But what made the event even more special was the area that it passed through – a path walked by generations of people absolutely steeped in history and mysticism. Hill forts, castle mounds and amazing places like the white horse at Uffington and the stone circle at Avebury are found along the route.

We arrived at Avebury just as the sun was setting over the dry golden landscape and there was an area of peace and tranquillity around the stones. The race finish was just up the road where we watched glowing head torches bob down the hill to the finish line as all around people clapped, cheered and welcomed home those who had followed in ancient footsteps to complete the route.

At the finishing point there were scenes of jubilation, relief and pain but the overriding feeling was the sense of pride that a challenge had been met and a journey completed no matter how blistered the feet  or how sore the legs.

Our forebears worked together to create the amazing landmarks, like the stone circles, which have survived and on Saturday the spirit of cooperation continued with all involved whether watching, taking part or organising the event. If only that spirit of cooperation and human warmth and support could be evident in all walks of life and in all parts of the world.

Dashed, but not lost hopes

Easter is one of my favourite times of year and this year has been no exception. It is a time of hope – hope of winter really being over, hope for new beginnings, hope for a good growing season with more progress towards self sufficiency, a garden flowering with plants which are a pleasure not only for us but for the wildlife that they attract and support and the ever eternal optimism of longer days giving more time for exercise and physical fitness.

I had high hopes for this Easter break – I had intentionally started sowing seeds in March to get ahead making the most of the greenhouse which is about to celebrate its first birthday. The broad beans under cloches in the polytunnel are now a good 10cm tall and I hope we will get an early crop before the tomatoes go in. So the plan was to get to grips with the herbaceous beds which have not been tended all winter cutting back all the dead stems which have been protecting new growth from late frosts and weeding and mulching and planting out overwintered potted plants.

Well I had not bargained for a completely debilitating bout of flu followed by a chest infection which has left me as limp as a frosted lettuce leaf and all hopes dashed. I have sat in the sunshine in the greenhouse and dozed, I have sat outside when it got warmer and dozed and I managed to pot on the tomatoes and make a simnel cake but that is it.

I was feeling really sorry for myself this afternoon, feeling like my Easter holiday had been totally wasted and annoyed that I cannot shake this bug off and get going. As I sat in the sunshine I caught a glimpse of a brimstone butterfly, my first of the year, and then watched as it returned to hover around the holly hedge. About half an hour later a peacock butterfly skipped up and down the border which the man of the house had tended this morning it looked like it was inspecting the compost that he had used to mulch around the rosa mundi and lavender plants. I sat and watched the butterflies, I listened to the chiffchaff calling and then I sat for about an hour watching Mr Wren preening and strutting and singing to Mrs Wren as they flitted in and out of the Irish Juniper which is a favourite nesting site for them. So I may not have ticked off the gardening to do list this Easter but I took time to listen, watch and enjoy the beauty of the natural world and to be grateful for living in such a special spot.

And hope – yes I hope by next weekend I will be back to my usual self and the borders will be sorted and more vegetables planted and the hope of a lovely spring and summer remains strong in my heart.

Is life too short to make marmalade?

Shirley Conran thought life was too short to stuff a mushroom but when the Seville oranges appear in the shops I have a bit of crisis – to buy or not to buy? There is no doubt that making marmalade is a time consuming and messy job and at the time of maximum mess the thought ‘why not buy it? the shops have so much they sell it’ is very much at the front of my mind.

This year, as in most years, I bought even though I knew that life was far too busy to make marmalade in the near future.  But one of the good things about Seville oranges is that they can be frozen until there is sufficient time to make marmalade so in previous years I have popped the whole lot in the freezer for a month or so. I didn’t freeze them this year but put them in our new cold food store and the weather has been so icy recently they probably have been frozen. When I got them out to make the marmalade they seemed  perfect.

Part of the fun of cooking is reading round the subject and I spent some time enjoying a coffee and reading different recipes to decide whether to hand cut all the rind as I did last year or whether to try the liquidiser attachment on my ancient Kenwood chef.  Next decision soak over night and then boil the pulp, rind and water or try the slow cooker.  I decided to live life on the edge and if I was trying a new method of fruit preparation I should try a new method of cooking so Kenwood and slow cooker out and off I set.

20140216_114510Roughly chopping the oranges (once juiced and then pips and pith were removed) and popping it in the Kenwood was easy.  Next I loaded the prepared rind,juice, pips and pith tied up firmly in butter muslin, and water into the slow cooker put it on and went outside to finish cutting the willow.

Four hours later when I came back into the house there was a beautiful, tangy citrus aroma filling the kitchen.  Next the easy bit remove the jelly bag and squeezing out all the lovely pectin laden juice.  Important next step (which I often forget)  is to weigh the empty preserving pan before adding the fruit so when you add the boiled fruit and weigh you can calculate how much sugar is needed.  Rule of thumb is add 1lb of sugar for every 1lb of fruit.

20140217_183239The marmalade has been boiled and bottled in clean warm jars so it’s just a matter of patience waiting for it to cool ready for breakfast tomorrow, Having had a few tastes during the ‘test for setting’ process I know that life is not too short to make marmalade and it is certainly not too short to eat it,

 

 

 

Christmas trees, stars and ‘burglars’

I may not have finished buying all the Christmas presents but I have made the second batch of Christmas ginger biscuits.  The first batch disappeared with mulled wine following the carol service so batch two has been made tonight.

I started making these biscuits, in a variety of festive shapes, to occupy small children (and adults) after lengthy festive meals. I would make batches of the biscuits and serve accompanied by tubes of icing, and glittery bits and so that each person could decorate their chosen shape to their delight. The Christmas cutters have been around a long time too and they include an angel, a snowman, star, Christmas tree and Father Christmas who really looks like a burglar as the top row of the picture proves!

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The little children are all pretty big now but I still have to make the biscuits and buy the icing. And despite wanting to concentrate on pretty stars and trees the festive burglar still is in demand.

 

Christmas wreaths and Advent rings

It’s been a week full of many meetings,  a growing number of end of year deadlines which are creeping closer as is Christmas and a mind that seems to be getting very busy. That’s why an afternoon outside in the fresh air under the clear blue sky gathering goodies for a creative morning in our local village hall was the best medicine that could be on offer.

I spent the whole afternoon cutting willow, dog wood and ivy as  well as trimming branches off our enormous Christmas trees and pulling wild hops out of the hedgerow.  The trailer is a treasure trove of goodies ready to be taken up to the village hall in the morning.

The final joy of the day was creating a few example Christmas rings with willow, ivy, and teasels as well as giving the advent ring, created very quickly  in the semi dark last Sunday, a bit of a facelift.

Tomorrow’s ‘event’  is something I have never done before but I just wanted people to come together to use their hands and create something natural to take home to start their Christmas and who knows perhaps they will feel as much benefit from the morning as I have gained from preparing for it.

I also hope to raise some money for Crisis at Christmas

Update after the event…

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We raised £50 for Crisis and had a fantastic morning with 17 people creating beautiful rings out of natural materials.

Early new year’s resolution to organise more craft events in the village!