Saturday, 26 March 2011

Earth Hour

Just a quick reminder that today at 8.30pm, many of us will be observing Earth Hour, by turning off our lights (and as many other electrical items as possible) for an hour. I wrote about this last year, and I shall be observing it again this year. Please join me!

Beautiful Spring

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

ThriftWitch: The Pleasures of Foraging - Spring Herb Salad

What could be more pleasurable on a mild spring day than wandering out in the garden to find something yummy to eat? The veggie patch may not yet have much to offer this early in the year, but it is still possible to put together a delicious salad by foraging for ingredients not only in the vegetable beds but also the herb garden, flower beds and the wild places.

Today's lunch consisted of mushroom, onion & cheese omelette (home produced eggs and onions) and a foraged Spring Herb Salad. The ingredients of this salad change every time I make it, because it all depends on what I can find. Today it consisted mostly of lamb's lettuce (aka corn salad) from the veggie patch, supplemented with tender young garlic mustard leaves (wild foraged), primrose and lungwort flowers (flower beds) and tender young sprigs of oregano, lemon balm and lemon thyme (herb garden). Other excellent ingredients used in previous salads have included chickweed, hairy bittercress (much nicer than it sounds - a bit like rocket), violet flowers and leaves, oriental salad leaves, fennel leaves, blanched dandelion leaves, cowslip flowers, ramsons, sorrel leaves - you get the picture. Of course later in the year, Summer Herb Salads have a far greater range of ingredients available, and it is lovely to experiment with flowers like day lilies, nasturtiums and calendula.

If you are sure of your plant knowledge, go ahead and experiment! If you are a little uncertain, a good book is Richard Mabey's classic 'Food for Free' which is enough to inspire even novice foragers with confidence, or Ken Fern's adventurous 'Plants for a Future'.

The key to a great Herb Salad is to ensure the bulk of the salad is composed of the milder flavoured leaves like lambs lettuce, chickweed, and violet leaves, and the stronger flavours like fennel, oregano, lemon balm and sorrel are used sparingly. Most flowers are bland in taste, but they do make it look pretty!

You can either serve the salad as is or add your favourite dressing. This is my favourite salad dressing:

Moonroot's Sesame and Garlic Salad Dressing
Mix 2 tbspn sesame oil with 1 tbspn balsamic vinegar. Add a pinch of sugar, a dash of soy sauce, a finely minced garlic clove and about quarter of a teaspoon of your favourite mustard. Stir until the mixture has emulsified, spoon it over your salad leaves and toss them in the mixture. Serve immediately.

Good foraging!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Finding Balance in a Time of Chaos

Today is the Spring Equinox, one of only two days in the year that day and night are of equal length. From today, days will be longer than nights, daily increasing their dominance until the Summer Solstice in June.

Today is a day to pause and consider balance and equipoise. Yet at the same time, even more extreme events than usual are occurring around the world. Revolution and disorder in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and many other countries. Devastating earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, leading (in Japan's case) to further chaos from first the tsunami and then the terrifying prospect of nuclear disaster. Financial crisis in country after country and the resulting job losses, inflation and devastating cuts in welfare for the most needy in our societies. All played out against a backdrop of unusual weather patterns and uncertainty.

Unsurprisingly, people are wondering what on earth is going on. Literally. The pragmatic blame the politicians, the bankers. Those of a more esoteric bent blame Uranus moving into Aries, or invoke 2012 prophecies to claim the end of the world is nigh. Conspiracy theorists mutter darkly about The New World Order and HAARP. The wackier end of the Christian spectrum claim in cruel self-righteousness that their vengeful God is smiting non-Christians. And just last night, many of us were holding our breath in wonder at a Full Moon closer to the Earth than she has been in 18 years and wondering, could that have anything to do with anything?

But who knows? None of us really. My own theories combine the pragmatic approach mentioned above, with a sprinkling of the esoteric - fused with the certainty that sometimes, shit just happens.

But when shit does happen, how do we cope? How do we find balance in a time of chaos and upheaval?

Ground. Take a deep breath and ground.

Grounding is a fundamental skill, one that we witches and Pagans talk about a lot. But quite frankly, we don't always walk our talk, or give grounding the attention and respect it deserves. After all, grounding - how dull is that, when you could be 'up there', bouncing off the stratosphere?

Well for one thing, bouncing off the stratosphere (or wherever you happen to be, astrally) turns out to be no fun whatsoever when you can't get back afterwards. Imagine a prolonged roller coaster ride. However much you love roller coasters, at some point you just want to feel your feet on the ground. Grounding properly first, before you enter a trance or attempt astral travel is essential.

However, grounding is also a useful skill for anyone to have in their tool kit. How often in times of crisis have you made rushed, foolish decisions because your head has been in such a whirl? How would you like to feel calm and steady instead of stressed out by the day's events? How good would it be to feel that you are approaching problems and times of difficulty from a stable place?

There are many ways of grounding, but one basic way that you can practice virtually anywhere is this. Take a deep breath in and out. Take a moment to really concentrate on sensing your body and its edges. It may help to run your hands briskly over your body - arms, shoulders, head, torso, legs - to really feel those edges and remind yourself that this is you, this is where you are right now. Breathe deeply in and out, and feel your feet firmly planted on the earth, feel that connection. Know that you are a part of the earth. Imagine roots growing from the soles of your feet into the earth, keeping you grounded, stable, connected. Breathe deeply in and out. Remember that connection. Then bring the roots back into your feet, knowing all the while you are connected to and supported by the earth.

Some people absorb energy from the earth in this way. If at any time you feel you have a surfeit of energy and feel too 'buzzy' you can return any excess by putting your hands on the earth and sending it back. If this is not feasible (because you're in the supermarket check out queue for example!), try consciously exhaling the excess on a slow, gentle outbreath.

Practice grounding. Don't beat yourself up if it's difficult to start with. We all have different skills and strengths, and grounding, like any skill gets easier with practice. You will also be able to do it more quickly. The true skill is to be able to ground quickly, even in the midst of chaos, panic or emotional distress. If you practice grounding regularly when you don't need it, you will be able to ground easily when you most need it.

It may help to take time to notice how you feel when you are grounded and relate this to a word, a musical note, a colour or a scent (or you could combine these by visualising the word written in your grounded colour. Or sung to your grounded musical note. Or visualise your grounded colour whilst calling up a sense memory of your grounded scent). With practice your word/note/colour/scent can become a shortcut to the feeling of 'grounded', and that can help get you there almost on autopilot.

I wish you a balanced and harmonious Equinox. As the year tips toward summer, may we find our feet firmly planted on the ground, even if our heads are in the stars.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Look Out Edward Woodward...

I have a confession to make. The last couple of years, my garden has been a bit of a disaster. Well, maybe 'disaster' is an overstatement, but it certainly hasn't been the picture of abundance and productivity I would like it to be.

I can blame some of this on the weather, which has been all over the place - unseasonably warm/dry/cool/wet in varying combinations, but to be perfectly honest it is my neglect of the garden that has really let things slip. To start with, after T left I was in a bit of a slump and just couldn't summon the energy or enthusiasm to do much in the garden. And then when IB appeared on the scene, well, I was having too much fun to concern myself with weeding or watering or mulching...

We did make a good start last year by preparing the garden well over the winter in preparation for the spring, but we lost momentum and the weeds took over. A few things did well - the onions and parsnips were pretty good - but for the most part it was a bit of a damp squib.

This year we are determined to do better. We have spent hours pondering over seed packets and planning. We have laboriously weeded the veggie patch, spread compost and mulched to keep the weeds at bay until we are ready to plant. We have already sown a few early crops in the greenhouse. Today was beautifully warm and sunny, and the two of us have been working hard. It is lovely to feel the sun on your back, your hands in the earth. The chickens bustled around on the grass, the birds sang, the cats looked at us as if we had lost our minds (why work when you could be sunning yourself against the hedge?).

We have now sown broad beans and turnips, and planted out the onion sets. Trays of compost sown with tomatoes and chilis are germinating in the airing cupboard. And we have packets and packets of seeds ready to sow over the next few weeks - brussels sprouts, lettuce, radish, mange touts, parsnips, carrots, beetroot, peas, calendula, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, chard, then beans (french and runner), courgettes, nasturtiums, squash, sweetcorn, pumpkin, pak choi... And of course, there will be potatoes.

We are fired with enthusiasm and determined this year's harvest will be one to remember. As IB says, if after all this hard work things still aren't up to scratch, the only thing for it is to find a policeman, a big wicker basket and some matches...

Sunday, 6 March 2011

ThriftWitch: Magical Transformations

As I confessed in my original ThrftWitch post, I am an inveterate hoarder. This stems from my desire to find ways of re-using, repairing, re-making things. This woman's treasure is often someone else's trash! The downside of this is of course that more often than not I have more ideas than time to put them into practice - which can make for an untidy house. The upside is the sense of achievement gained when something is transformed from useless waste into something that is either useful or beautiful - or both.

Here are a few of my favourite transformations:

This first piece is a mirror I made from some driftwood I found whilst beach combing. The weathered wood was joined together in a criss-cross pattern by nails that had a wonderful patina from their time in the sea. I saw its potential immediately and used it as a frame for a mirror, finished off with a scattering of seashells and some twisted wire to hang it. It was one of the first things I made and it's still one of my favourites.

These are tea-light holders I made from old jars and they are used to denote the five elements (Earth, Air, Fire Water and Spirit) whenever our local Pagan group gets together for a ritual. They are particularly useful when we're working outdoors as they keep the candle flames from being extinguished by the wind! In this case I knew what I wanted and looked around to find suitable candidates for the job. They are simple, but I'm surprised how good they look as a group, and they have certainly had a lot of use. In fact they have been such a success I'm thinking about making some for my Etsy shop soon.

This final item is where the real 'Witchery' comes in. It's a sun catcher that throws beautiful rainbows around my bedroom, and it was made with magical intent. Just after T and I had split up, I took some bottles and jars to the local recycling centre. As I went to tip them into the skip, I saw the broken stem of a lead-crystal wineglass already in there - and of course my magpie instincts kicked in and I 'rescued' it. I was feeling pretty much thrown on the scrap heap myself at the time, and I loved the idea of taking this fragile, discarded piece of broken crystal and giving it a new start. With the magical intention of forging a new start for myself and making something beautiful to symbolise hope, I transformed it into a sun catcher. First I encased the jagged ends in thick foil to neaten them and avoid cut fingers. Then I wrapped jewellery wire around the crystal so it could be hung, and added some extra dangly bits using beads and findings from my 'broken jewellery' stash, and a smaller crystal from a broken chandelier that was waiting around to be re-used.

Now every time the sun catcher scatters rainbows on my bedroom wall it makes me smile. The crystal and I have both had a fresh start, a second chance at life. And we are determined to enjoy it.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Spring Chickens

Morag, eavesdropping

It was a glorious, early spring day at Halfway Up A Hill. Crocus opened wide faces to the sun, so warm after the long, cold winter. A brave, early honey bee bustled amongst the thick clumps of snowdrops. Nesting birds sang songs of spring.

While the humans worked in the greenhouse, the chickens wandered nearby.

Dot, Daisy and Blodeuwedd gossiped companionably as they sauntered, nibbling at the grass.

Misty spread her wings, sighed, and settled down to a blissful sunbathing session.

Perched on the disused cold frame, Morag eavesdropped on Bella and Blodwen as the two elderly hens reminisced, chuckling together about how Bella had played a trick on the humans last year by hiding in this very spot.
Bella and Blodwen, reminiscing
In a pool of sunshine, Ceridwen and Blossom practiced the Charleston together, finding to their delight that their dance steps had the side benefit of turning up juicy insects and other gourmet treats hidden in the grass.

Ceridwen, dancing

What better way to celebrate the welcome arrival of Spring?

Blossom, scoffing