Archive for category Festivals and Celebrations
It was bliss.
Plenty to eat, much of it from our own farm, time to play, time to rest. We’ve really been enjoying our family time, even managing to squeeze in some quiet hours for Mummy and Daddy while the children play. Tomorrow the snow is coming in and I have a special project in mind; another day of just being together with no special plans. What could be better.
Merry Christmas and a peaceful holiday to you wherever you are.
We started the day with bacon sandwiches (our home grown bacon), watching the snow falling heavily outside. It has continued to fall through the day, the edges of the world becoming plump and round and the thick flakes snuggle on top of one another. The day is slipping by in pleasant normality, not an apocalypse in sight. This is our second December living here, but to me it feels like the first.
– A chap who knows how to clear driveways and a new and improved slightly ancient tractor;
– Silly dogs who make me laugh;
– Children being able to spend the day making a ‘snow wall’ outside, life skills at work;
– A truly beautiful bouquet of flowers, sent from my Dad, that are perfuming the kitchen as I sit here writing.
I haven’t ventured out much, a little walk around to check on the chickens (they are resolutely NOT coming out of their cosy coop) and then some supervising as Stephen tries out our ‘on loan’ snow blower (the snow is too wet it would seem). I’m glad to have a warm house to cosy up in and nowhere that I have to be.
The boys are in the bath (actually now I think of it they’ve been there for about an hour now I come to think of it…), Stephen is ploughing the drive and I’m taking the chance for a sneaky and actually hot cup of tea at the kitchen counter. We have nothing major planned for today, just being together feels like a wonderful celebration all on it’s own. It’s been quite a year here at the farm, a year of discovery and challenge and lots of work. I’m looking forward to another one…after a little bit of a rest that is. Tea anyone?
This week has been a funny one, it seems to have been a split of relaxing and being slow with rushing and being busy! Some of it is great busy like our lovely science club, some of it is necessary busy with dentist appointments, hair cuts and errands. Overall, though, I feel that we are generally winding down towards Christmas. There is less ‘work’ on our calendar and more events, a christmas craft day with friends, an outing to a heritage estate for traditional christmas fun; connecting with friends before and during the holidays, all good stuff.
In between all that I’m trying to be a bit more present with the boys at home, to shed guilt and worry about ‘doing enough’ and just spend a bit of silly time with them.
When I think back to my own special memories of Christmas they are of little, silly moments with my Mum and sister, when we were on holidays and just hanging around together. She’d always do a big clean before the holiday and would have War of the Worlds blasting out, I don’t know how old I was when I finally told her it scared the pants off me! Even when I was little I didn’t want to spoil her energy and enjoyment, as it turned out she just laughed, we laughed together.
I remember distinctly putting up the tree when I was about Huwyl’s age, I was jumping around the house in a net curtain making my Mum and sister laugh. The joy of the freedom of it all is what made that memory sharp and immediate for me, all these years later. The smell of my Dad walking through the door at night, the scent of fresh air clinging to his big air force duffel coat, showing him the tree we had decorated.
Those are the kinds of memories I want the boys to have. Silly times with us all smooshed on the sofa eating popcorn and watching truly terrible Christmas movies! To my adult brain these hours seem a little purposeless, but I know in my heart these are the times they enjoy the most, these are the memories they’ll treasure.
And these are the moments to treasure because, well, they are growing up right in front of my eyes. My teeny baby is becoming a young man, all rangy limbs and bouncy thoughts; and my teeniest one is catching him up pretty fast too, no longer a little toddling thing but a person with thoughts to share. It’s all going by so fast.
I have all my lovely Christmas school resources lined up, but I know in my heart we’ll be working on them after the festive season is over; a nice way to stretch this season out. For now is the time of days that drift into one another, gentle hours of just being a normal family, punctuated by the busyness that we wouldn’t want to be without. I know there are things we could be learning about right now but I’m satisfied just watching them, soaking them up. These years will be gone in the blink of an eye and I really don’t want to miss them.
On Thursday night I was out and about, picking up a gift that I’d found on kijiji (such a great resource for me this year!) when I decided to buy a bath mat. A simple enough thing to do one might think. And there was a shop called Bed, Bath and Beyond nearby so I stopped in. About 15 minutes later I left, with a bath mat, but in the throes of a panic attack.
Now I’ve never been a massive lover of crowds or closed in spaces but I was really surprised by my reaction. I was shaking, my breathing was restricted and I felt overwhelmed and upset. It seems a bit over the top (to me anyway) but there was just too much for my brain and nervous system to process. There were ‘goods’ everywhere, piled as high as the ceiling and many items that seems to have no definable purpose for being in the world. Among the very pleasing practical items such as towels and kitchenware were all sorts of strange gadgets and…well…stuff.
The fact that I was surrounded by things that I couldn’t identify, that seemed to have no real worth (despite the price tag) got me feeling upset and, honestly, angry. I know there has to be stuff in the world, I enjoy partaking of it myself, but in that shop alone there seemed to be enough redundant junk to fill a landfill on it’s own. I can’t claim to live a life filled only with what is necessary but compared to the profligacy of that one store we live in a convent.
The perfect antidote to all this came just the next morning in the form of a homeschool trip to Cumberland Heritage Museum, about 1/2 an hour east of us. It is a village set in the 1930’s and right now they are celebrating the festive season! We enjoyed a wagon ride around the town singing christmas songs, a trip to Santa’s workshop to make wooden toys and a visit with the big man himself. He could be found in an armchair in a cosy little house, friendly and welcoming to all the children.
The boys absolutely loved it all, making the toys, meeting Father Christmas and sharing time with their friends. The atmosphere was welcoming and friendly but we didn’t feel rushed or too busy. The children all packed into the giant wooden sleigh, pulled by giant wooden reindeer, as excited as any child would have been 90 years ago when these houses were first built.
I had several other mums comment to me how much they enjoyed Huwyl’s enthusiasm and joy throughout the day. He was, at 7 years, one of the older children, yet he suffers from none of the ennui that so many children are already displaying at his age. He sang with gusto, threw himself into each activity and watched Father Christmas with as much wonder and excitement as any of the younger ones. I feel so proud of his gentle soul.
As Father Christmas spoke to the children a little voice piped up, “I’ve got something for you!” Neirin had brought some coins from home and gave them to the big man in red, the hearts of all the mamas (especially this one) melted.
Despite the cold the children ran and played with gusto. We all sat around an outdoor fire drinking hot chocolate and listening to a christmas story, told without props but with great skill by one of the museum staff. Even though our official visit was over some of us stayed by that fire, talking and catching up while the children played with whatever they could find. Mostly they populated their world with their imaginations, running themselves ragged with the joy of just being able to play
The homes in the village are simple but so welcoming it is hard to remember that no one lives in them anymore. I had the urge to settle down in an armchair and share a cup of tea or read quietly. It reminded me that a few simple touches are all it takes to make a home feel festive. After all, it isn’t the decorations or even the gifts that make Christmas, but the time we spend together, enjoying the company of our family and friends.
Right I’m going to admit something that may make the general populous curl their lips at me in scorn, but it is the bare truth. I don’t feel Christmassy. December has arrived and I’ve got nothing. I’m buying gifts (cool previously loved ones that will rock my kinder’s world), I’ve got christmas themed school for the boys, we have activities to attend this festive season and I’m starting to get my act together re gift giving.
But the truth is I am a hollow shell, the vibe just isn’t there. The kids have started to nag me about decorating, Stephen mentioned (very gently) that last year was a bit spartan and that we could probably do a bit more bling this year, my friend’s houses are as festive as a festive thing. I’ve got nothing. No creative juices flowing, no bursting desire to craft home made advent calendars and hand made wreaths made from beautiful paper (my sister actually did this, she’s awesome), I have no Christmas mojo.
Maybe it’s my general level of disgust as things like Black Friday and the ravenous consumerism that surrounds the holiday season. Maybe it’s the fact that November basically kicked our family bottom with one illness or crisis after another. Maybe it’s the rainy weather and cloudy skies that have washed away the snow and left sludge in it’s place.
Reading this post by Erin Goodman today shed a bit of light onto my dilemma. In this season of noise, rush and buy, buy, buy it is easy to get overwhelmed. Even easier for me than most it would seem (I ticked 23 out of 25 on the highly sensitive test) and my reaction to that is to stop, shut down and block it all out. It’s not that I don’t want to be a festive machine it’s just that I really can’t. My brain is looking for a way out and a dark cupboard to lie down in, away from crafts, fun and neon related frolics.
As I look around at the internet and the real world, all decorated and ready for festivities I know there’s only one strategy. Fake it. I may not be feeling festive but the kids are so decorate we will, advent calendars will be purchased and gobbled, gifts will be planned and bought. But I’m a fan of Erin’s suggestion to go easy and to cut myself some slack if I’m not exactly full of zippety do da. It’s ok to be quiet, steady and gentle with it all; which is sort of ironic because I’m guessing those aren’t really words that anyone who knows me would immediately attach me with.
I am ready for a festive season of genuine sharing and closeness. I’m happy to go crazy with the glitter and tinsel the house to within and inch of it’s life, as long as we are doing it because we really want to, not just because the world says it has to be. So I’m going to make peace with the fact that my body clock always seems to be running on go slow around Christmas, that I will never have a house full of hand made gifts and decorations that I crafted myself from woven stalks of white chocolate hay. And, as they like to say these days, that’s ok.
I think I just prefer the bits of Christmas that reflect a genuine celebration of the season. Making gifts for friends, unearthing decorations we’ve had since long before the boys were born, making treats in the kitchen while the fire roars. Those are the bits I love. And I have to admit, as I listen to the excited Christmas chat from the boys and contemplate making up a big batch of peppermint bark to eat in front of the fire while reading all the festive books I snagged at the library, I feel my festive juices beginning to flow, the first tingle of a tinsel laden vibe.
Perhaps, as is so often the case, I just need to admit my feelings in order to make a change. By being honest about my lack of festive feeling I can open the door to this season of celebration, but I also need to be truthful about what brings me the most joy at this time of year. I may be a chatterbox of the highest order, but when it comes to Christmas my heart lies with the traditional and gentle celebrations of years past. It may not be neon, or bling, but it’s what I love.
This weekend, all over the UK, fires were lit and fireworks whizzed into the sky. November 5th is Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night and is a favourite celebration of mine. Coming as it does at the beginning of the winter season it sparkles with the excitement of dark nights and magical possibilities. And toffee, lots and lots of toffee.
Our farm was a little piece of England this weekend too, as we celebrated with friends and neighbours a year of work and productivity. We burned wood, ate food, watched fireworks and talked, talked, talked. It was wonderful, the perfect way to celebrate this extraordinary year.
It was a cold day so the fire was welcomed by everyone, especially the children who happily threw waste wood from our house build into the flames. It felt good to watch them use their youthful energy to dispose of those last scraps, the few Stephen hadn’t been able to make use of on the farm somewhere. Friends also enjoyed the opportunity to exercise their chainsaw muscles, chopping up deadfall from the edge of the field, a task we’d been saving up for this time of year.
Eventually we all moved inside for pulled pork or roasted ham sandwiches with home made bbq sauce, along with home made hamburgers toasted on the bbq, all accompanied by delicious salads brought by our guests. But I have to say I think the big hit of the night was the toffee, made with my Mum’s recipe, a tradition for Bonfire Night that goes back to my childhood. I simply can’t imagine the occasion without it.
After the food we headed outside into the twilight to enjoy roasting marshmallows on the still hot fire. Many sticky treats were consumed before Stephen dished out the traditional sparklers and sparked up the fireworks. The night was alight with colours, whizzing fantastically through the sky or gripped in the hands of little people as they discovered the magic of gunpowder-on-a-stick.
Eventually the collective wail went up from the children that had parents reaching for coats and heading for cars. Our own boys were out for the count in record time and the house fell silent. Wrapped up and with cups of tea in hand, Stephen and I headed out to the fire once more. Overhead the clouds came and went, giving little peeks of the stars as they watched our own sparkling embers from above. We talked of the year that’s been and the year to come; what we did well and what we will change. We’ve so much to celebrate and even more to look forward to.
Mum’s Golden Toffee Recipe
450g of brown sugar
2 Tbsp Golden Syrup (or corn syrup if you can’t get the good stuff)
1 tsp white wine vinegar
Grease a baking tray and spread out peanuts evenly (other nuts could be used, salted is best). Alternatively pour into tart moulds for toffee dabs.
In a large, heavy based pan, melt together water, butter and vinegar, bring to boil.
Add sugar and golden syrup, allow to fully disolved.
Over a medium high heat allow to boil without stirring until the hard crack stage, this should take between 10-15 minutes.
Test toffee in a bowl of cold water, keep adding drops until they firm a hard ball that crunches when chewed.
Pour over peanuts and allow to cool before breaking up and eating.
For preference eat while next to a bonfire and watching fireworks, best shared with loved ones.
This Samhain (that’s the Gaelic word for Halloween) is a bit special for us. It’s not the first in our new home but it is the first that will be fully celebrated. Last year’s Samhain passed us by a bit in a blur of moving house and exhaustion. Not so this year.
In the old traditions this festival celebrates the end of the old year, and what a year it’s been! The first year of living in the home we designed and built ourselves, our first year of farming and harvesting a good portion of our own food, the first year of knowing we’re here, we’ve arrived and we are not going anywhere.
We’ve raised 4 pigs, 90 meat birds and had a laying flock that reached 67 at it’s peak. This time last year we had a sum total of 7 chickens and the only earth that had been turned over was as a result of the house build, it’s quite a change! We also grew salads and greens that kept us full all summer (that looooong hot summer), 300 onions, 2 1/2 sacks of onions, processed at least 50 quarts of tomatoes, made jams and used the abundant green tomatoes for delicious, spicy chutney. The acorn squashes were a triumph (next year we want to grow a lot more of them), we’ve got enough carrots in the freezer and stored in sand to keep us going until next summer and the parsnips promise to be equally fabulous. And let’s not forget the 75lb bucket filled to the brim with honey sitting cosily in my living room; it’s been a busy year.
As well as a growing farm we have growing boys, both of them thriving in the wide spaces and fresh air. Both are expert chicken wranglers and egg collectors, they’ll happily run around with pigs and love to help dig in the earth; there is no doubt this is the right place for them. They’ve also loved the visits from family this year, Stephen’s Mum and Dad, my Dad and my beautiful sister who surprised me with a week long visit in May. Bliss.
It’s been an amazing year, one I doubt I’ll ever forget. As we end this year, and enter the period of reflection and dreaming that exists in the suspended time between this year ending and the new one beginning at the winter solstice, we all have much to feel proud of and rejoice in. We are fulfilled, we are exhausted. The work of the harvest is mostly done and now it is time to retreat to the fire side, to share our bounty with family and friends, to rest.
But Samhain isn’t just a time for remembering the year’s work, or even just for celebrating with crazy costumes and illicit treats. The traditions of this festival run much deeper and it is they that resonate with me the most. It is the time to remember those who are not with us, those who crossed the bridge to the Summerlands ahead of us, those who wait on the other side for our return ready to welcome us back. But not yet, they say, not for a long time yet.
So in amongst the fun and the dressing up and the celebrating, as we paint t-shirts, make decorations and head off for a night of trick or treating, there is time for remembrance. There is time to make a fire and flick through the photo albums, to tell stories of my grandparents and of their parents. The stories my Mum and Dad shared with me as a child, all building my sense of history and of belonging.
But mostly I remember my Mum laughing, the sound of her voice is clear in my ears, I know if I turn around quickly enough I will see her there. Tonight as I watch my boys running along the dark streets with their friends, as we share with them the traditions that mean the most to us, I know the ones we love are walking right beside us. Their love beats in our hearts, their stories run through our bones.