Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ur ye haudin Hallow e'en?

Hallow e'en has always been a big event in our family. Not least because it was my Grandfather's birthday, and my Gran always made a Clootie Dumpling for the occasion. A clootie dumpling is a sweet fruit, spice and suet pudding, mixed up and tied in a floured and sugared cloth then steamed for several hours. The smell of the boiling cotton mixed with spices is one of my abiding childhood olfactory memories, along with the aroma of charred turnip wafting from the carved lanterns. Both can transport me instantly back to frosty dark nights going round the neighbours' houses 'guising'.

Guising (or going in disguise) goes back at least to medieval times, and probably longer. Originally it was a Hogmanay custom for adults who disguised themselves and there are reports of groups of 'Guisards' going around from house to house offering some entertainment in return for some hospitality. Of course Hallow e'en was originally the Celtic New Year's Eve, so there may be some connection there. In any case, as children we would go to houses where we knew there would be a welcome, and performed our poems, songs or joke telling in return for a tangerine and some nuts. As we called at each house in our homemade costumes, we would ask "Ur ye haudin Hallowe'en?" none of this "Trick or Treat" that we get now. And - we were expected to sing for our hallow e'en. On the rare occasion we are visited by guisers, I always invite them in to do their turn. Usually now it is some mumbled joke that we have heard several years in a row, but now and again there is the odd gem.

So, Hallow e'en for us this year meant introducing James to the customs. It is such good fun seeing these things through a child's eyes again. After breakfast he asked me if we could go now.
"Go where?" I asked
"To Halleen!" he replied impatiently.
As I put out peanuts( or monkey nuts as we call them) in a bowl I showed him how to crack them open, revealing the dark red nuts inside. He loved them, and soon the place was littered with shells.

Then I made some toffee apples

and James decided to make his own Hallow e'en concoction - chopped pork, 2 eggs (and the shells) some goats milk, a handful of suet, two apples and half a lemon. Yummmmm! He wanted to bake it and do you know? It smelt quite nice when it came out of the oven! I didn't try it though, and he had lost interest by then and moved on to something else :)

Later he put on his Bumble Bee outfit and we went to visit Gran, who is having a week of respite care in a Nursing Home. She enjoyed seeing him, and he enjoyed bouncing on her bed!

Back at home it is now my role to make the Hallow e'en dumpling. An onerous responsibility, especially when there are lots of expectant and hungry faces watching the great unwrapping. The hallmark of a really great dumpling, however, is the skin which is formed first of all by the flouring and sugaring of the cloot, and then careful drying in front of the fire. What's the verdict?

It's strange to think that my Grandfather was born 111 years ago tonight, in a coal miner's cottage just a few hundred yards from where I am sitting now. He died when I was 14, but we had such good times as I was growing up. I loved to help him in his garden and had my own plot outside his greenhouse. I learned so much even as a small child, that I still remember today, as I tend my own garden. He also had a love of Scottish history and legends, and told me stories and taught me songs that fired my imagination. he was such a great influence on my life, so Here's to you on your birthday Papa.

Here is my Gran's recipe for Clootie Dumpling - although I have adapted it a bit.

1lb plain flour
8oz currants
8 oz sultanas
8 oz raisins
8 oz suet
1 cup sugar (as this is an old recipe I assume the cup to be a teacup and not a cup measure)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp treacle (molasses) - warm it to make it easier to mix in
milk to mix to a soft but not runny mixture (about 7 fl oz,)

Mix all ingredients together (get your hands in about it)

Prepare your cloth - I use a muslin square, but any cotton will do - an old pillow case was my Gran's pudding cloth.
Scald the cloth in boiling water and wring out when you can handle it. I lift it out with a pair of tongs and let it drip until it is cool enough to touch.
Lay out flat and dredge with an even layer of flour and then sugar. (Very important step this!)

Tip your dumpling mixture on to the cloth and then tie up into a bundle with string.

Put a plate into the bottom of your big pan and put the pudding on top.
Almost cover the dumpling with boiling water and boil hard for 30 minutes
Continue simmering for 3 - 3.5 hours.

Lift out and put on a plate or I use a colander to let the excess water drain out. Open up and invert the dumpling on to a heatproof plate.
Carefully remove the cloth and you should see a nice white sheen on the surface of your beautiful dumpling That is the skin - the best bit!
Dry in front of the fire, turning occasionally for half and hour or so - or put in a low oven.

Serve with custard, or cream, or whatever you fancy.
Leftovers are great eaten cold the next day - or fried in butter even.

I was very pleased with this one. A bit wet at the top as I cut the string, but it dried out nicely and the skin was almost perfect. I may add a bit more spice next time, as I did feel it could have done with a bit more pep, but otherwise it was just delicious.

Happy Hallowe'en

Hope you have a great day. Lots to do here - costumes to try, toffee apples to make, visiting, and hallowe'en dinner later. Will pop back later. In the meantime here is one of my favourite spooky songs from the late Matt McGinn. Enjoy.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Anatomy of a sunset.

Stopping at our favourite beach on the way home from holiday - we stayed and watched the sun going down and the pale waxing crescent moon appear. A fine end to our trip.
See more skies around the world at Skywatch Friday.

More holiday snaps

James had a great time on holiday. He played in the park,

watched some interesting construction work going on (while Dad pretended he had a Toyota crew cab - lol,)

spent a lot of time gazing into puddles,

played on the beach,

watched the boats in the harbour,

and played on the beach some more.
Just his sort of trip, really :)
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Holiday Snaps

We went for a wee holiday to Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway last week. I had never been to that part of the country before - it seemed sooo far away! What a beautiful place though - we will definitely be back lots of times. Here are a few pictures of the trip. Above is the harbour on the Isle of Whithorn. Not an island, but it is the very tip of the toe of that shoe shaped peninsula. A very nice wee village - Often called the Cradle of Christianity in Scotland, as St Ninian landed there to begin his mission at Candida Casa.

On a clear day you can see 5 Kingdoms from this rocky shore. Scotland - where you are standing, England, Ulster, Man and Heaven.

The skies were a bit grey and a strong wind was blowing, so we didn't climb up to the viewpoint.

Here are a couple of views of Wigtown Harbour. It is no longer an active harbour as it is fairly silted up. Some great walks and wildlife though - particularly birds.

Of course the main attraction for us in Wigtown was the 13 bookshops. We visited 7 of them (some were closed) and did not leave any shop empty handed. It was complete paradise -and so hard to leave. In fact when we got in the car to come home, James was almost in tears crying "One more - just one more bookshop" Well - what can you do? So one more was duly visited and more books added to the collection. A further visit is definitely on the schedule (if I had a schedule that is!)
I will do a post next week about our purchases.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Freedom - a view from the North

For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.
From The Declaration of Arbroath 1320.

Quite a controversial quote here, especially as the majority of wonderful people who read my blog are in fact English. I mean no offence here friends. It is just that I have been reading so much about the appalling plans by the UK government to take away the freedom of English parents to home educate their children, that I find this quite apt in the circumstances. It is a frightening prospect. Everyday I find more and more to worry about. Information can be found here and here, and here.
Fortunately for me, I live in Scotland, where these measures will not apply - our SNP government have said they have no plans to implement a similar review. Hopefully Mr BrownBalls will take some notice of the huge response to their 'proposals' If, as is supsected, they do not, I look forward to welcoming any home educators and their children to this land - there is plenty room to grow here. Its a sad day for democracy though when people are forced to become refugees in their own country over doing the best for their children.
I was in the National Museum of Scotland the other day. The entrance to the ground floor exhibition contains one of my favourite items - The Monymusk Reliquary. On the walls are inscribed the names of all the Kings of Scotland, and also the above quote from the Declaration of Arbroath is highlighted in beautiful calligraphy. As I read these familiar words, my eye travelled down to the long bench below. Sitting there looking very tired and subdued was a group of children from a daycare nursery wearing their high visiility vest uniforms and all strapped together with one of these. Ironic? Poignant? Or a warning?
Well - there are still 5320 of us at least!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I did it!

No photos of this one, but yesterday morning, while I was sorting out his clothes and not quite paying attention, James put his pants on himself!!!!! Ok they were outside in and he had the holes slightly mixed up, but still.... I can't tell you how thrilled I am by this. He has quite poor function in his left hand - so things like this are really difficult for him. I managed to stifle a scream and said - "Oh,I see you've put your pants on yourself"
"Yes - I did it" he said and went back to playing car parks.
But we both knew...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mini Beasts

In Scotland, if you attend primary school, around the age of 8 (I think) you will encounter a topic called Minibeasts. This is your introduction to entomology - the study of insects. You will probably go on a trip to a country park where a nice Ranger will show you some bugs and insects. They might set up a workshop for you where you can look at them through a magnifying glass. You may find it so fascinating that you will not hear the teacher tell you to line up in twos for the next activity, and she may shout at you to to "get over here right now" You will then do some worksheets and maybe back in the classroom, do a quiz on an internet site about "creepy crawlies!". Then you will move on to do the Egyptians.

Never mind. Just pop out into the garden, park, or even your doorstep and you can watch insects for as long as you like - then read up on them afterwards. Like this common hoverfly, for instance. It sat on the door handle, sunbathing for ages. It looks a bit like a bee or wasp - quite a good style if you don't want birds to eat you. It is very useful as it eats pollen, therefore helps pollinate plants, and it's larvae eat aphids - green and blackfly. A beautiful creature.

Or how about this 7 spotted ladybird? (sorry I didn't wash my hands there). Ladybirds are actually beetles and they eat tons of aphids, so they are a very good thing to have in the garden. At this time of year they are looking for somewhere to hibernate. Why not leave some hollow stemmed plant stalks lying in a sheltered place for them? This one was very friendly and stayed for ages, before we put him/her into some undergrowth. In the olden days people thought that eating ladybirds cured toothache - they produce a yellow oily substance thought to have painkilling properties. It might very well be true - a lot of old knowledge has been lost, but they are so useful it would be better not to try it out - just brush your teeth like the dental people tell you.

Scared of spiders? Don't be. They eat flies and mites and areperfectly harmless in this country. This is a house spider - probably a male one, because it has a narrow body and long legs. It is crawling up a rather dusty looking door post (sorry about that too!) , but it posed very obligingly for several minutes while I faffed about with my camera. You will probably see quite a few house spiders around now, as it is their mating season (don't know if you've done that topic yet - ask your teacher what it means), so please don't hit them with a magazine - catch them in your hand or in a tumbler and put them outside. Pity the poor males - once they have had their moment of paradise, the female eats them alive!

Can you see this spider? It is very tiny on the head of this beautiful dandelion. It was too small to see, but it is probably one of the money spiders. They usually live outside, but sometimes you may see one in the house. They are called money spiders because it used to be thought that if one crawled on you then you would be rich! I like that old tale better than the ladybird one.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my minibeast topic. I wont shout at you like that teacher I saw at the nature park. Come back anytime - the bugs are just out there waiting for you to meet them. Check out somewhere like Wild about Britain, if you need help in identifying them. Don't let your interest in insects and wildlife die and become like an Egyptian mummy.

Shadow Shot Sunday - Car boot bargains

James and his Dad went to the market on Friday morning - one of their favourite places. At the car boot section they saw a man selling this Bob the Builder trike - just what James needed, as he is beginning to outgrow his push along one. It was only £2! He loves it.

And a boy really needs a trailer for all those little essentials.

They also found a rather wonderful Caterpillar bulldozer (£1) to add to his huge stash. But you know - boys just can never have too many construction vehicles can they?
Go window shopping for more shadow shots at Hey Harriet - Shadow Shot Sunday.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Maybes aye - maybes no

Although that quote is usually attributed to the great Kenny Dalglish (of whom I used to have a glow in the dark picture of pinned up on my bedroom wall), it sums up my mood today. Not huge earth changing decisions to make, but nevertheless I am torn.
I saw a link to this site on a blog I follow. It is called Nanorimo - National Novel Writing Month. The gist is that you have to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I am seriously seriously tempted, but have not signed up yet. We are talking just under 2000 words a night here. I usually have approximately 2 - 2.5 hours of an evening to cram in all my hobbies. Usually I just manage to flop down in front of the laptop, read lots of blogs, post comments and follow links etc. Updating my own blogs (I actually have 4, but only 2 are active right now) is a masterclass in procrastination. On the odd occasion when I have committed myself to write a post on a particular subject on a certain day, I have reverted back to my university essay writing days. You can always tell by how shiny my kettle is.
Also, James always chooses those days to wake up at 5.30 a.m. and go non stop until 10 p.m. I shudder to imagine what I would look like after 30 days of that!
The organisers say that all you have to do is write 50,000 words and it will most likely be total rubbish - the point is to get writing - just keep your bum in the seat and do it. Everyone always says they have a book in the and will write it one day. This could be the one day. I even have a rough idea of a plot, but I have never done any creative writing since primary school, when my creativity was shut down by a couple of horrible teachers and school bullies. It might just be the thing to get me lay this ghost.
There is an inspiring story on the Nanorimo site from a US Marine, who completed the challenge last year while on active service in Iraq!! Oh I don't know. I am excited by the prospect, but I am not good at writing freely - I have edited this post at least twenty times already and sat for minutes at a time searching for just the right word. I may be too pedantic to do this, but as Johns says, I could do the 50,000 words and get them in by the finish date and then go back and rewrite - ho hum!
Just remembered that November is a busy birthday month - James and me - and we have John's nephew's wedding down in Hampshire at the end of the month, so that will be at least a week long trip as we fit in all the family we've not seen for a while A few days to decide though - it starts on November 1st. Do check it out.
More angst to follow. I don't know whether to make a Christmas cake or not. I was eying up the dried fruit in the organic farm shop today and thinking it was time. The trouble is that no-one really likes it, and John and I end up eating most of it. In fact, last summer I went to use my tartan cake tin and found the previous year's cake still wrapped up. It was fine - there was a fair bit of the old preservative in it, but by the time we finished it, it was time to make the next one, and I didn't have the stomach for it. It is a nice thing to do though, and I always feel quite Christmassy around this time. I just don't know...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 09 - Climate Change

I'm feeling really quite pessimistic tonight. It has been so hard even getting any time to think abut what to write, never mind find a moment to sit down and actually do it. James has been up since 6.30 am, having been awake several times during the night - he is still up and full of beans after a pretty full day. I wonder if it is global warming that is causing it?
It has actually been an unseasonably warm day. We were at a local outdoor shopping village today and I was struck by the amount of bare arms on show. Children and babies in tee shirts, people sitting in the outside the cafes and on the benches enjoying the weather- it was more like August than the middle of October. Very pleasant, actually, and it is hard not to disagree with those who say we could do with a bit of climate change in Scotland. Apparently Nick Nairn, Scottish celebrity chef is looking forward to growing olives and lemons at his Trossachs cookery school, and and eminent retired professor of geology is excited by his prediction that the shores of Loch Ness will be the epicentre of the world's wine industry in around 80 years time (McIntosh 2008)
But that is really the problem. Here in the Occidental part of the Northern hemisphere,we think that the consequences of climate change will not be quite as devastating as they will in the developing world and some southern parts. We do not want to give up our current profligate lifestyle - multiple cars, appliances, package holidays - and now there is a chance that there might be some decent weather too - life is good! Yes, a few more gales and a bit of flooding here and there, but - hey - we are insured! Therefore no politician has ever advocated adopting the radical measures that will really, seriously, address the problem. There are no votes in austerity.
We need them to, though. My blog description says I am trying to live a simple life. For me that means being frugal - not wasting food, buying locally, not using air transport, using long life light bulbs, eating less meat, growing our own food as much as we can. A make do and mend attitude really. Having been born just over 15 years after the end of WWII, I was brought up with that kind of ethic. Many people do this much better than me and others yet aspire to it. What we need is help from our governments. We need our leaders to stand up and say -
"Enough of this reckless crazy consumerism! We will make it easier for you to do without cars - encourage the high streets to reopen and people to grow their own food. We will no longer allow supermarket companies to monopolise the food retail industry. We will stop being in the pay of companies with huge marketing departments that con you into thinking you can't live without their products. We will seriously help develop sustainable, workable energy systems that do not destroy our most precious land. We will...."
Well, I could go on and on with that list, but in essence, we need strong and radical leadership to help us do the work that needs to be done.
In 2050, my son James, and my grandson Finlay will be grown men in their 40s - more than likely with children of their own. Gordon Brown's boys will be the same age, as will Barack Obama's children. The charity Christian Aid has predicted that by that year, there will be at least 1 billion refugees as water shortages and crop failures force people to leave their homes. In addition there will be many more local conflicts and wars caused by access to resources. The scenario is frightening. what kind of world are we building for our children? A world full of fear - criminal gangs, looting and murdering over property or rights to water and food. What kind of water and food anyway? Catastrophic weather events will cause crop failures and interfere with the water supplies as it did in the floods of 2007 in England. For me it makes Bush and Blair's manufactured War on Terror pale into insignificance. Well - a bit of an exaggeration here - and especially for the young people being killed and injured in the current conflicts, but I just have this feeling that - terror - we ain't seen nothing yet!
I guess what I really want to hear from our World Leaders is " We will never stop working to make the world a safe and secure place for our children", and to actually start to make it happen. I will gladly follow them. Maybe I'll feel more optimistic if I get a better nights sleep.

McIntosh Alastair (2008) Hell and High Water: Climate change and the Human Condition
Birlinn Edinburgh

Blog Action Day

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nettled again

I've had a bit of a persistent cough and recurring colds for a couple of months now. Today my cough got just a bit worse again, so I have decided to really really do something about it. Not getting any younger you know :) Anyway, it seems to be a low grade infection and the treatment is antibiotics - snag is that I am a nursing mother.

Valerie Worwood's Fragrant Pharmacy is always the first place I turn to for health help. She recommended several oils but was very keen on Eucalyptus peppermint. Hooray! I had that in my collection, so a nice steam and then a few drops on a hankie tucked into my top.

I also knew that nettles were likely to be my ally here, and so it proved. Susun Weed's excellent Healing Wise gave several ways to use this fantastic plant to aid my recovery. Nettle infusions used to be a daily staple, but I had got out of the way of making them, so out came the kilner jar and a brew was soon on the go. After my Tai-Chi class this morning, I popped into the wholefoods shop and bought a bottle of nettle tincture - 20 drops twice a day. Nettle honey was also recommended. The fresh juice of stinging nettles mixed with a little water (it is very very viscous) and added to a generous amount of honey. Venturing out into the garden in search of nettles, I was delighted to find a patch of young tender shoots under the blackcurrant bushes. Thank you! I have to say that autumn nettles have much more of a sting than the springtime ones. I can still feel the tingling in my fingers yet, and I had to put on a stout pair of gloves to finish the job. Once they were juiced, I added them to half a jar of local honey and the result was - well - very green, but very delicious! I have been taking a teaspoon every now and then and I can already feel it soothing and easing the soreness caused by the constant coughing. So, do I feel better because of the nettle treatments, or because I've decided to look after myself a bit - who knows?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Home Education - another brick in the wall

Please read this wonderful post and the comments at the excellent blog, Muddy Bare Feet
Then, please sign this petition, before 18th October and try and stop this Government harrassing English home educating families.
Thank you.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Catching the rays

A Red Admiral butterfly soaking up some Autumn sunshine in our garden today.

Book Sharing Monday (xvi)

A seasonal tale this week for our first visit to Book Sharing Monday for a few weeks. Ferdie and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke.
Ferdie the fox has a favourite tree which he visits every day. As the world changes, becomes a bit colder and has different colours, Ferdie is getting worried about his tree. His mother tries to reassure him, but when the leaves start to fall, Ferdie is very upset.

"Oh tree, I am so sorry" gulped Ferdie
"All your leaves have gone"
But then he saw, high in the branches
one small leaf still holding on.

"I wont let the wind steal that one"
said Ferdie, and he began to climb
He wriggled along
to the last leaf and held
it firmly onto its branch.

All day long the wind
blew, the branch bounced
and Ferdie held tight.
"I'll stay with you leaf" he gasped.

Of course, no matter how hard he tries to save the leaf, nature's forces are more powerful. Sometimes, though, there are compensations - and there is always hope. When he goes to see the tree the next morning he finds a glittering sight.

The tree was hung with a thousand icicles, shining silver in the early light.
"You are more beautiful than ever" whispered Ferdie

Visit Alex's blog for lots more beautiful book sharing.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October walk in the woods

We had a wonderful walk through a local country park today. A perfect Autumn afternoon, just made for meandering about the woods. Still plenty of green leafy canopy above, but a few weeks will see a change to warmer hues.

James stops to play among the trees

Interesting bark.

I loved this abundantly berried bush, although I'm not sure what it is - I will look it up tomorrow.

River Almond - upstream

Downstream - on it's way to join the River Forth at Cramond.

Some Autumn colour creeping in.

Last boys in the wood?

James making a haystack with recently mown grass.

It's always a good idea to bring your diggers and dumpers along on a walk - you just never know when you might need them.

Excuse me Dad, but there is a bee sitting beside you!

A tired boy needs a carry home from his Dad.