The Hawthorn Path

I don’t make new year resolutions, as those who follow this blog will probably know. I do, however, make affirmations of things I would like to achieve, and one of those is to do more with my writing.

As my great love is nature, it makes sense to concentrate on writing about nature and my emotional responses towards what surrounds me.

As so many of us live in areas that are not unspoilt areas of natural beauty; but in towns and suburban areas, I want to show, over a year, what beauty and life can be found in even a modest little patch of nature; and show how you can love a perfectly ordinary little corner of the place where you live.

I wanted to keep it separate from this blog, which will still run – albeit erratically – to tell you all about my other hare-brained schemes and my family’s general shenanigans; but I thought it would be good to keep the two projects as separate entities.

I would like to introduce you to my new baby – The Hawthorn Path . It will be rather different to Potter & Pootle, but I hope you will come and visit and enjoy what you read, and start to view the nature all around us with new eyes.

With thanks and love xx

 

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Flitterings 1 – The Buzzard and The Day That Shouldn’t Have Been

A bright new, icy-chilled, sunlit day. A first day back in school. A chance to catch up on housework and the companionable silence broken only by the gossip of the sparrows on the plum tree, waiting on their breakfast of seed, nut and mealworm.

Then a text. A broken heating system. A closed school. Another day of wandering a frosty world, this time with company. Lunch eaten at home, we grab our coats and boots and walk out into the glistening, shimmering world.

The sun is already dipping low by the time we reach the farm track. Robins bounce alongside us in the hedge; goldfinches ‘tsee’ and flit overhead, tiny bodies dancing from branch to branch in the bare, frost-twinkling hawthorn bushes. Hard, black soil felt keenly through our wellies; every rut and every ridge imprinted into our memories of this magical, extra day off school.

A shuck-shuck-shuck ahead, at first I think startled blackbirds heading from what we call the Winter Tree, a tree that stands forlorn and mostly bare even in the heady depths of summer; but on closer inspection we discover with joy that these are, in fact, fieldfares – the first we have ever knowingly seen. ‘Pretty thrushes’, the eldest calls them as he spies them through the telescope on the field where you would expect them. We are justifiably thrilled.

We are, however, here to find the buzzard. We are learning to know how to seek him out, we are finding the signs to watch for – startled birds, frantic blackbirds, sudden hidings. We have not been unlucky of late, seeing him each time we have wandered this path; usually hovering high over the field, or over the motorway, presumably looking for an easy take-away lunch of squashed animal.

 

Today we walk the path, and he is not there. We scan the skies. We scan the trees. We continue to walk to the new Forestry Commission nature park, past the iced over pond and the casually discarded beer cans and up to where the dog-walkers march with their ball-throwers and retractable leads and…..there is he. He rises, as though in greeting, from the brush in front of us.

His hugeness, his denseness, his importance never fail to impress me. I always forget quite how large he is. He flies, rather lazily off, to a tree that barely looks solid enough to hold him and there he sits, imperiously.

Master of all he surveys.

Magpies attempt to intimidate him by bouncing around him in the same birch, but he treats them with disdain, like monochrome jesters in his court, unworthy of his attention. He scans around, as though merely interested in his surroundings. Resting. Biding his time.

We walk on. We see a fox slinking along a path; and the white bums of deer in the trees. We meet an angry little wren and watch the sun drop lower in the sky; making the frost shine yellow fire like amber and glint like diamond dust under our feet and become burnt into our retinas and into our memories.

The buzzard, and the day that shouldn’t have been.

 

Reader, I married him.

 

 

 

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A wee slideshow of some of the pictures of the day, there will be more photos – and thank yous – to follow both in blog form and in real, old fashioned, posted out cards.

Here I would like to thank everyone who made our day so very special, everyone who sent us so many beautiful and thoughtful cards and gifts; as well as the donations towards our honeymoon in North Wales (more of that to follow).

A special mention to the following for making our day run so perfectly:

Our families, of course, for sharing the day with us.

The fabulous Tracy at Bothwell Salon for taming my bird’s nest of hair into something of beauty.

The incomparable Leah at Beauty and Beyond KCR for the amazing gift of my make-up, plus calming me down with her sensible yet hilarious banter.

The brilliant Iain Holden for his wonderful gift of his photography skills to remember the day (which was a total blur!)

Our South Lanarkshire Council registrar, Michelle.

The staff (and particularly Amy) at The Belziehill Farm, Bellshill

The staff at The Artisan Dried Flower Company

Susan and Sheena at Bothwell Community Garden for the gift of the amazing wedding cake.

The gorgeous Emily of Grow, Eat, Gift for the phenomenal garter gift

Sarah, Claire and Lorraine from 2nd Uddingston Beavers for the impromptu Hen Do!

My sister Elaine, for being a rather brilliant wedding planner.

Self Care September

 

I was mooching around on Twitter this morning, as I do, and I came across the hashtag #selfcareseptember . I will confess right now that it’s the first time I had heard of it, but it immediately struck me that a) this is a fabulous idea and b) I have been subconsciously using September as my own self-care month.

OK, I am getting married at the beginning of October; and part of this urge for self-care is, quite frankly, to stop me getting so stressed that I’m an absolute wreck and on three bottles of gin a day by the big event and also, in a rather uncharacteristically girlie way, a chance for me to feel and, hopefully look, the best I can. Although, let’s face it, given my usual look is slept-in-a-hedge chic, just having my hair brushed and no dirt on my face will be a vast improvement.

Just a quick disclaimer: I don’t have any medical training, though I’m very good at putting randoms in the recovery position, and I’m not squeamish about blood. I’m not trying to say that a bit of self-care is going to solve all your problems and ‘cure’ mental illness. It would be a gross and insensitive underestimation of all our intelligence to even imply that this could be the case. What I can attest to, however, is how various things I do at this time of the year personally help me.

For those of you who don’t know me, I suffer from a delightful combination of clinical depression and severe anxiety. I am currently on Citalopram for the depression side and beta-blockers and mindfulness for the anxiety and, touch wood, I have been pretty stable with only fairly minor peaks and troughs for the past few months. So yes, having lived with this for at least the past thirty years, I do get mental illness. I also appreciate that we are all totally different, and what helps some will not necessarily help others. Always remember that mental illness is a spectrum, and all of us are on it somewhere, and wherever we are can be massively traumatic and confusing – do try not to compare your emotions with those around you.

There are times where you might like to try some of these. There are times where you might be too scared to leave the house, or too wired to concentrate, or too sad to get out of bed. Don’t worry, there will be other days to try, if you want to. Don’t add to your troubles by feeling you somehow fail because you can’t always manage self-care. That defeats the purpose.

“Autumn casts a spell
and dying never was so beautiful.” – Amelia Dashwood

September is a strange time of the year for me. It is undoubtedly breathtakingly beautiful, with the myriad colours and early frosts and morning mists; but also tinged with sadness. It has always represented, for me, an ending of things. The close of summer, the death of warmth. I’m not sure why I was always so pessimistic about the changing of the seasons, I can only put it down to the fact that I love hot, sunny weather and, as a naturally outdoorsy type I love the long days and the buzz of nature.

Last year I decided to do my best to get a grip on how I dealt with the colder, darker months. I was already unwell, I knew that, and understood that I needed to knuckle down and deal with getting through that without being bogged down with additional seasonal depression; and the best way I could think to be proactive was to find things that I really enjoyed doing and fit them into a self care routine as a way of treating myself whilst my poorly brain rested and recovered.

Here are a few things that work for me:

Walking It Out

They say there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. They have obviously never spent November in Scotland. Nevertheless, there is a lot to be said for a stroll, whatever the weather. Some of my favourite stomps have been on the dreichest of days where I have sloshed through mud, felt icy rain batter my face, and watched the rippled circles from raindrops dance on the Clyde. Coming home and drying off and putting on my cosiest clothes and indulging in a cup of tea in front of the fire is a treat in itself. I also find frosty mornings when it is so cold your jaws ache hard to beat.

My pro-tip here would be to always carry your phone or a camera; and invest in a pair of small binoculars and take every opportunity to stop and investigate your surroundings, and notice things you might never have noticed before. I’m going to write more about this, and the concept of Awe Walks in a later piece, else I ramble on forever.

Cosy Crafts

Autumn and Winter are perfect times to curl up with your favourite crafts and get stuff done in front of the fire with plenty of tea on the go. As you know if you’ve read my blog before, I am an avid crocheter and spend much of the colder months working on longer projects – last year I worked on my Hebridean Islands ripple blanket (you can find Lucy at Attic24’s pattern and tutorial here).

Another really worthwhile thing I was able to do was to stay involved with the local craftbomb club, and we organised a Christmas craftbomb in the village – it wasn’t an awful lot of work, but it kept me in touch with friendly faces and I enjoyed our meet-ups and discussions very much. Craftbomb / yarnbomb groups are popping up all over the country and often meet in local cafes and libraries so it is worth checking out your local community noticeboards.

Emma Mitchell, blogger at the lovely silverpebble blog has a whole book on beating the winter blues coming out next month.

You should probably buy it, like I will be doing the moment I can get my grubby paws on a copy. (Actually seriously cannot wait!).

Kitchen Witchery

 

Once you’ve burned all those calories with a good, bracing walk; why not indulge yourself with cooking something wonderful? I can understand that many people work really long hours and have other responsibilities such as caring for relatives, but if there is any way at all you can lose yourself in a recipe, you won’t regret it. When I am feeling particularly anxious, there is something incredibly soothing and comforting about just pottering in the kitchen, radio on, prepping and planning and taking time to concentrate on every aspect. I will confess I am not a very good baker and can destroy a Victoria sponge with a single glance; but I love making main meals for my family and experimenting with flavours and modifying recipes; and I have a particular love for making jams and chutneys. There is something very zen indeed about leaning over the jam pan, and something deeply satisfying about seeing all those lovely jars of hot preserve cooling on the windowsill.

 

Also, did anyone mention rhubarb gin? Quite ridiculously easy to make….

 

 

Over to Facebook

I thought I would ask my friends on Facebook how they liked to prep for the colder months, and what they would include in their personal September Self Care packages:

“Make time for yourself every day. You’re allowed to. It’s not selfish” – EO

“I get my SAD lamp out around about now and read by it most evenings. I also batch cook on the Sunday after pay day and freeze healthy meals for myself and my daughter – great for those nights you come in late and/or knackered after work.” – AG

I let things go – coming up to winter and going into summer are the two times of the year where I get rid of unnecessary things that weigh me down. Declutter of everything really – people, stuff, worries. A wonderful fire purge around Winternights/Halloween/Bonfire night is always welcome. It’s done almost subconsciously I think now. For winter its preparation for all the fabulous Christmas/Jul things. But also…you don’t want dead weight following you into a hard winter and a new year.
I feel similarly about spring into summer – shed the layers of clothes and any unnecessary baggage.” – CMcH

“I make a point of watching the sunrise from the swimming pool/sunset while I walk by the river. I make sure I stop and stare at everything beautiful that catches my eye on my walks – from a dramatic sky to a tree bending beautifully to catch the light.  I write those moments down for my memory jar too – a lot of repetition to others reading them but each one is memorable to me and makes me smile. Listening to music and TED talks too. Classical tunes, folk music etc for quiet relaxation and proper rock songs to lift my mood.” – CM

 

“I walk, a lot. It’s worth it to pay more attention to the changing seasons. Even in the rain, the sounds and scents change. I also have a clear out and rearrange where I can. An organised space definitely brings me a call mind. I try to do seasonal crafts with the kids.. I’m lucky they are going enough to still be interested. If not, we bake.. and have our treats for movie afternoons. Reading is a must too.” – LH

Wise words from some very wise women, I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flapjacks for complete idiots

So the boys have decided that they want to start having packed lunches for school. Whilst Smol was getting his dinners free of charge, they had school lunches; but now he moves into P4 we are going to have to find an extra £1.60 a day; so I went along with their notions and agreed that we would try packed lunches. It might be as the weather gets colder we will go back to hot dinners, but my two seem to savour the cold food choices anyway.

I found myself in Tesco clutching two very impressive looking bento box contraptions with lots of little compartments and tubs for yogurt or hummus or whatnot; I have since spent sleepless nights wondering how I am going to fill these things with cheap and interesting lunches that, I hope, will also generate less waste packaging than crisp packets and chewie-bar wrappers.

As a Beaver leader, I am also keen to add to my repertoire of ‘easy for small children to weigh out and mix together and let the adults do the hot bits’ recipes that we can use for our Cooking badge, using ingredients (oats and dried fruit) with proven health benefits that we can discuss as part of our commitment to healthier food choices. I have reduced the sugar and syrup in these considerably in comparison to most recipes – and certainly in the shop bought ones – but as with all treats they should be eaten in moderation. My boys will take a 5cm or so square in each day that they can either have as a playground snack at 10.30am or save for their lunch dessert alongside some fruit.

Ingredients

175g butter or sunflower spread type stuff.

150g sugar (I used demerera but any is fine)

150g golden syrup (you can get it in Asda in a squeezy bottle, which is probably easier than the old fashioned tins that always manage to drip syrup over you, the floor and every conceivable surface for the next three weeks)

350g porridge oats – just the cheapiest cheap ones are fine.

1 handful (sorry to not be more specific, I just did it by eye) of dried fruit – I used dates (finely chopped), and chopped mango and apricot pieces; but feel free to use anything – sultanas, coconut, seeds, nuts*, dried berries etc.

You can also add a teaspoon of spice such as ginger or cinnamon; or a dash of lemon juice. Be creative!

*our school is a nut-free environment so we don’t use nuts in ours.

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 150c / Gas mark 2

Now you have your first decision. Are you going to live on the wild side and just line the bottom of your 8 inch square baking tin with baking parchment, or are you going to throw frugality out of the window and use enough parchment that it comes all the way up at the sides (see photo below for what I mean)?

My preference is to have the parchment overlap each side of the tin, as it’s easier to lift out of the tin if you don’t have a push-up removable base; but if you prefer to just line the bottom of the tin, you go on your bad self – just remember to grease the sides of your tin, or this badboy ain’t budging for no man.

In a large saucepan on the hob, melt your butter/spread over a low heat, and once melted add your sugar and syrup and stir with a wooden spoon. Once the sugar as dissolved, add your choice of fruits, nuts, spices etc and stir well.

Then add your porridge oats and continue to mix well until all the oats are well coated and moist (urgh, I hate that word).

Tip the moist (shudder!) mixture into your tin; and press down firmly with the back of a spoon, ensuring it’s pushed into all the corners and the top is nice and flat and as smooth as you can get it – this stops it just falling apart when you cut it.

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Check out our landlord’s comedy grouting, tho.

Cook in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes; then remove and leave to cool for 15 minutes before lifting out (this is when my parchment technique comes in handy!) and cutting into cubes / lengths of your choosing and banishing nosy children from the kitchen. Store them (the flapjacks, not the children) in an airtight box where they should last a week, but won’t, because they are delicious.

Don’t forget to test your creation with a nice cup of tea (we can celebrate Afternoon Tea Week ) and remind everyone on social media what a talented, homely little creature you are.

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August Playlist

“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.” 

Sylvia Plath

 

Oh, the wonders of Spotify and their incredibly clever algorithms that allow them to dig up treasures of sound based on your own listening habits. I am somewhat stuck in my ways when it comes to music, and would probably listen to three albums – none of them newer than 1996 (Aphex Twin’s ‘Richard D James’ album, in case you were wondering) ad infinitum. Spotify, however, likes to gently take my hand and introduce me to things it thinks I might like. These first three are gently bewitching, late summer sun and sudden showers tunes, camp fires, surf and hugs as the seasons gently change.

Marika Hackman – Claude’s Girl

Weyes Blood – Used To Be

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions (feat. Kurt Vile) – Let Me Get There

And this is one of the most beautiful songs I think I’ve ever heard..

Villagers – Dawning On Me

And this is one of the strangest, but most beguiling covers I have heard in a long time..

M Ward – Let’s Dance

And my song of the year (thus far) which I still have not tired of..

Michael Kiwanuka – Cold Little Heart

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

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