Things to do when its raining…..

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Last weekend my lovely friend, Richard, came to stay. It was a Sunday afternoon, The kind of slightly damp, not very cheerful afternoon that makes you want to light the fire and settle in. We had walked the dogs, the girls had run around outside, in the mizzle and in their wellies. And we were now at home, reading the Sunday paper, drinking tea and watching the girls.

I leant over to the section of the paper that neither of us were likely to read (the Sport, sorry) and I tried to make a paper hat. You know the kind. A basic paper hat, made from newspaper. A proper thrifty, make-do-and-mend paper hat. And something I used to make all the time when I worked with children. But the thing was I just couldn’t remember how to make one. And it really, really annoyed me.

(In the end I ended up making two very strange paper bonnets, that made the girls look like characters from Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale.)

So, in lieu of that failure, I have decided to add a category here of easy to make, old-fashioned, activities and objects. And my first post will definitely be that paper hat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends, sisters and Social Media

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I would love to have had a sister….

One of the things I loved most when I discovered I was expecting twin girls, was the thought that they would always have each another. From the very beginning, sharing a womb together, then when they were born, those first few days of being swaddled together in one blanket; their little noses pressed against one another.

When the nurse first came to me after they were born, she asked if I wanted them in separate cots. But I knew I wanted them to be kept together, it didn’t seem right to separate them so quickly and so decisively, with no discernible reason as to why it would need doing. I remember one night when Eliza was crying, I watched as Florence put her hand instinctively into Eliza’s mouth, and let her suck her fingers for comfort. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen and told me so much about how these two girls felt. in separate cots, there would have been little opportunity for them to comfort one another.

A year and a half later and they no longer share a cot, but each have their own, side by side with one another still. . They can see each other, and I often hear them gurgling and cooing to one another, after I have left the room and tiptoed away. On waking, they always give each other a big smile and a kiss. These small gestures fill me with hope for the kind of bond they will have between them. Be loving, I whisper to them. Be loving, and be kind.

 

***

Sisters and friends…

When I was about 10 years old I had a notebook I carried around with me, and I would ask people to write things in it, poems, or doodles, drawings, elaborate signatures… I think I was looking for wisdom, back then, collecting folklore from people, and building up stories that people told me.  It was my Dad, who wrote a little verse that has stuck in my head ever since. This is it

Make new friends but keep the old

Some in silver 

Some in gold

At the time I remember him explaining that as we move through our life we meet, and make friends, with new and different people along the way. Some of them, the silver one’s, burn brightly and stay with us for awhile. Others, those in gold, stay by our sides, golden and eternal. It was something I desperately needed to hear at the time, I was being horribly bullied and desperately lonely at school. I wanted a friend, a best friend. It was something I asked my Mum all the time, when will I have a best friend? Having two daughters now, it breaks my heart a little to think of the little me that felt so lonely and wanted to make friends.

Fast forward a few years to a sixteen year old version of myself, with hennaed hair and Doc Martin boots; wearing White Musk by the Body Shop and obsessed with The Cure. I went to college and met my friend! A tall, graceful, curly haired girl with boots and thick black tights. I remember the toilets being flooded and feet sploshing in half a foot of water, we started talking – discovering in lightning quick time, as you are able to do at that age, that we had both been to Glastonbury and had lots and lots more in common.

That friendship was, and remains, the most important and cherished of my life so far. In my friendship I found all the things I was so desperate to find as a young girl – someone to share my secrets with, someone to laugh with and to talk about make up and boys with. And over the years we did just that. We grew up together, I guess,  and no matter in which direction either of us went, we always managed to stay in the parallel lanes; we could always follow and appreciate each others path.

So when, in our early thirties our friendship came to a startling and bewildering halt, it felt like all the certainties I had carried around with me, in terms of who I was and what I would be, were suddenly all changed. I no longer had my best friend and that isolation felt particularly poignant when I came to be a Mum.

I was very lucky to meet a wonderful circle of women who all had babies at the same time as me. The support I got from these women during those long, but oddly blissful nights of the first few months was fantastic. Late night, what’s app messages, where we shared fears, and questions and asked for advice from one another. Without a partner, it was so important for me to have these women who gave me confidence and encouraged me. And it also occurred to me how these late night messages, shared in real time between women, was a relatively new and hugely meaningful mode of communication. It made me think of the real loneliness I had heard mothers sometimes speak of, feeling unsure, bewildered and having no one to turn to, or to ask for advice and support. We were able to call on each other, and to speak across the silences of our little rooms, nursing our babies, and ask one another ‘am I doing this right?’

Sisters and Social Media

Since then, I have actively sought out on-line support from a circle of on-line women, who I have found, and who I am able to gather experience, advice, inspiration and encouragement from. I have discovered amazingly beautiful blogs, fabulous Instagram accounts with great content, that are both inspiring and creative. These mediums, offer women, who don’t necessarily have that real life sister, best friend, mother or mother-in-law close by, a wonderful circle of sisters to learn from.

And with that, I have to say a big thank you to the following ladies who have been such a support to me over these last few months. Their online presence has meant a lot.

 

http://www.tigerlillyquinn.com/

(a lovely, genuine kind, funny mum of two – you can find her on her website/blog, Instagram and YouTube)

http://www.seedsandstitches.com/

(A wonderfully creative and inspiring blog and also brilliant Instagram account)

http://www.thewoodlandwife.co.uk

(A thoughtful, inspiring, nurturing and ethical blog and Instagram account lady)

thatyogamum

(A totally amazing, supportive yoga teacher, who believes passionately in supporting mums and women, generally. Great Instagram account too).

 

 

 

 

Rituals, celebrations and every day.

 

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We will soon be moving into our new home. The three of us together. These last few months have been a funny time ~ packing up, throwing out, sorting, discovering, discarding and making. Moving home is such a strange and unsettling thing. I have moved house more times than I care to mention. Some have been so unremarkable in their happening that I hardly remember them at all. Others have involved long distances and new countries. Leaving one home tore my heart open and took me a very long time to get over, so much so that I still dream of it. A kind of childhood Manderlay, unchanged and welcoming.

Having experienced moving so many times, it seems from experience and reflection, that the reason it unsettles and bothers us, is because in the packing of our things, it is as if we are literally dissembling our carefully built world we have spent so long spinning and gathering around ourselves. Now it is time we transfer and transform our new worlds into our new homes, and we do so knowing that we cannot help but be changed in the process of it. It is that change which is both unsettling and exciting, New beginnings, but which one? And who will we become because of it?

This move is different in many ways. I am now a home owner, swapping the fluctuating, precariously fragile world of house renting for something more responsible, more stable but daunting nonetheless. Gone are the days of gathering friends, and sometimes strangers to share with, making little families out of people you don’t really know. I know, with a deep sigh, that I will be able to find that sense of rootedness, which I have wanted for so long. To know that I won’t need to be on the move, unless it is of our choosing.

So, with all that in mind, I have been thinking about what kind of family life we will have in the house. what kind of family we will be. How we will we mark our days, how we will carve out the celebrations, occasions and the everyday of our family home. I think it will be about building our identities and weaving our memories. it will be the story of becoming us.

 

 

 

 

 

A day like this

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What does an ordinary day look like? The sun rises, the sun sets and a there is a day’s worth of living in-between. And the living in-between is the thing. Sometimes, a day can feel like a lifetime, and others go by so quickly that you barely have chance to look around you, before it has all passed you by, and you are saying goodnight to the moon.

Since becoming a Mum, one of the many, unexpected, things that I have learnt is the way that a day will tumble into the next, and that there is never any time in-between to absorb and reflect on any of the amazing things that you see, feel and experience along the way. Your heart can swell with love one moment, then tears spring to your eyes the next. The smallest thing, like her first teeth showing in a cheeky smile, or a chubby hand clutching at a flower – and suddenly that deep unfathomable well of love, and pride and disbelief at the total amazing beauty if it all, comes rushing to the surface.

Yet, as my friend told me the other day, these deep feelings can arise out of a day that can be sometimes so unremarkable in its banality and ordinariness. Days where its all about the continuing cycle of breakfast and dish washing, clothes washing and drying, vacuuming, more tidying, more cooking, washing and ……

But it is within those routines and inevitabilities that the beauty comes through. in the knowledge that you are doing what you are doing for your family, that the sacred moments of heart stopping love sustain you like nothing else on earth, and that the routine, ordinariness, and rituals you create, are what gives your family shape and cohesion. The act of doing all that, however dreary, tiring and repetitive is ultimately that which creates security and safety.

You do what you do, for them, and you do what you do for them out of love.

Spring Days

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This Spring has been lovely. We have just had some wonderfully hot days, where the three of us have been out beneath the sun, walking with the dogs, or busy down at the allotment, fretting over the courgette plants Grandad grew for us from seed in his greenhouse.

With the house move still not completed, and with building work still to be finished, I find that at the moment I feel very in-between with homes, and it very much feels like a waiting game. So to banish those feelings of rootlessness and restlessness, which always leave me feeling a little twitchy and unsettled, I find I am spending more time outdoors to find some balance and patience.

We are enjoying the warmth. I am enjoying watching the girls playing on the grass, discovering soil and getting their hands and feet dirty. (Why is that the sight of my daughters’ dirty toes at the end of the day fills me with an inexplicable sense of love and pride?) We have all caught the sun on our faces and feet.

 I have a lot of new things to be doing this summer after taking on the allotment. There has been extra work, clearing the plots and turning the soil. I have planted potatoes (the first shoots have just popped up), two rows of kale, some courgette plants and runner beans. I find it actually to be very soothing to be at the allotment. It is usually just the three of us, and Pip running around near the compost looking for the rabbits.

This is our last summer here are Bent Corner. It is a home which will always mean a great amount to me. It is where I became myself in so many ways, the first time I was able to have a home of my own and to live by myself. This is the place where my daughters were born, where I was pregnant. I have so much to be grateful and thankful for, having lived beneath this very kind and friendly roof.

Meanwhile our new home is slowly being uncovered from layers and years of strange make-overs and modernisations. In place of pine, there is the original stone fireplaces and oak beams. It has been quite scary, seeing the house being peeled and stripped and knocked and chiselled, but slowly it is coming to life and beginning to smile.

I smile with it.

Recipe for Welsh Scones

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If you asked me some of the things I remember most from my childhood, scones would be one of them. It seems a strange thing to remember so well. They seem very different to English scones, especially those summery indulgent cream tea one’s you have down in Devon and Cornwall. Those soft and cloud-like mounds of whipped cream, or scarlet jam on fluffy white scones, ate in a café garden by the sea.

No, these Welsh scones were much smaller, less bouncy, Welsh scones with a lick of butter, accompanied by that scalding hot dry tea. They came from a tin, the lid prised off and the small side plates, fine delicate white china decorated with the smallest of dainty red roses, laid on the table as the kettle boiled, ready for the tea. It was a different sort of eating and I loved it very much.

Everyone seemed to have scones when you went to visit. Often my Dad would take me to the nearby farms when he was helping them out, or returning a favour from having been helped on his farm. Dad would be outside talking to the other farmers, all of them dressed in their blue thick cotton workwear overalls, a narrow wisp of a roll-up, often unlit, just resting at the side of their mouths. I would be invited to go into the farm kitchen to talk in nervous welsh to the Farmer’s wives, who would welcome me in and sit me at their tables.

Perhaps it is because of the homeliness of it all, which makes me rememeber so fondly. For years after I grew up, I have had an almost obsessive love of kitchens and the life I imagined that went on within them. More than any room in the house, this is the space I space I craved to have for my own, and to fill it with the family life I experienced back then. All the conversations, meals, laughter, tears and arguments ebbing and flowing, with the kitchen table centre stage. A place to rest your elbows, your heart and your dreams.

My Step-Grandmother at the age of 80 something, herself a farmers wife, still makes these scones today. Her son and Grandson’s, who work on the family farm, still come to her home to collect their scones. I am not allowed to use her particular recipe on my blog, as it is something of a secret family one – but doing a little reading around, here is a version, close to Elinor’s, but different enough that I am not betraying a family code in any way.

RECIPE

225g self raising flour
A pinch of salt
55g  unsalted butter (some recipes here use half butter half lard)
150ml of milk
30g sugar

In a bowl sieve the flour and add the salt. Add the butter and begin to rub the mixture together with the tips of your fingers. It helps to raise your hands above the bowl when you are doing this, to bring some air in to the mixture. When combined it should resemble damp breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and combine with a knife. Add the milk and lightly mix in the milk into the mixture. Mixing together should be done as quickly and as lightly as possible.

Cover your hands in flour and also flour the surface you will be rolling on. Aim for a mixture just over an inch thick (it won’t rise so it needs to be chunky). Use the cutter quickly and put on a floured baking tray. Brush the tops with milk and bake for 13-15 minutes until golden.

Serve with piping hot tea, preferably drunk from china cups with roses on them, mist beyond the window outside, and a sense of Hiraeth in your soul.

A childhood

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I have been trying to write a new post for over a week now, and a combination of Florence not settling early enough, and me being too tired at the end of the day to write, I have written, deleted, written and deleted to the point of feeling that I really must have nothing to say.

But the truth is I have so much I want to say. I am in a curious stage of in-between at the moment and that is possibly at the heart of why I am faltering every time I try to write. I am getting ready to move but I haven’t moved yet – and the home I am creating isn’t quite ready for us. So it feels like I am waiting, gathering, collecting and sorting, ready for it all to begin.

I am trying to make use of this fallow time, and within it use these moments of transition to let go of certain things; be they emotions, possessions, habits. And in their place begin to imagine instead new ways of being. I want to bring the slow and gentle pace of living into the heart of how we live. Mostly, I am desperate to nest with my children, to cook and bake and make a home.

Our Home.

Me in 5

I always find it really hard to describe myself, especially in those kind of work situations, when you are asked to ‘tell a little bit about who you are’ to the rest of the group. I never know where to start…

So with that in mind, and knowing that a blog like this requires some kind of description, I thought I would give 5 images; with each of those images representing something, somewhere, or someone, that tells you something of who I am.

 IMG_2726My Family

They are my beginning. In every sense. Having waited for so long to become a Mum, and coming to terms with the dread that I might never be, I now have two twin girls. The three of us are now just starting out on an adventure to build a family, and a life.

P.S This is not a perfect photo and this is why I chose it. Looking closely, one of my daughters has a mucky face, the other is chewing her sleeve – while I look on with a grin, ever so slightly in the wrong direction.

But the thing is, it’s just the three of us, and I took this picture myself. And that pretty much explains it all. We are three.

Little Corinne

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So this is me. A little girl who is four years old, dressed in a hand knit cardigan and a tame bird rested on my shoulder. I look at this photo sometimes, and when I do it tells me so much about who I am. When I am a little lost, it reminds me of who I am.

I grew up in Wales, although I was born in Derbyshire. My childhood involved farms, mountains, the sea and speaking two languages – English at home and English, and second-language Welsh both at school – and to the farmers’ wives, when visiting neighbouring farms with my Dad.

Those memories, sharp as pins, of sitting in clean, proud kitchens with welsh dressers and dainty china cups with roses on, influence me still. The steam rising from the hot tea, plates of scones with a fine dryness that needed the piping hot tea to balance it. There was a solemnness8 to the farmhouses, which I liked, a kind of Chapel-Sunday feeling.

As time and years pushes my childhood self further and further into the distance, there still lingers the little girl above in much of who I am today. If I knew her now, that little girl in the lace up sensible shoes, and hand knitted cardigan, I would give her a little cuddle, maybe watch over her in the company of more confident children who perhaps saw the world a little differently to the way she did. And I would provide her with an unlimited supply of notebooks, pencils and pens. And contraband bags of cola cubes.

 

Which leads me to….

Reading, writing and books

Oh my life, these three words are really the DNA of who I am. I read first, then when I could write, I wrote, and I haven’t ever really stopped. My first piece of writing was a poem, about a stream, which began rather whimsically and romantically ‘I like to wander by the stream…’ (Perhaps a little homage to Wordsworth there, and my Mum recited that poem to me a lot, sooo.) I ended the poem with the word plop, I think having run out of romantic and creative steam. No matter. I was only seven years old *polishes knuckles on jacket lapels*

Oh go on, you’ve twisted my arm, here it is.

 

The Stream

I like to wander by the stream

It is a happy sound

I like to wander by the stream

It is a pleasant sound

I like to see the fishes when they swim by

And the sound they make is plop

 

Today I still love poetry. There is something in its immediacy that moves me inexplicably. Whereas a novel sweeps and expands, a poem takes you to the heart of something, and captures those moments not always easily written about in prose.

One of my favourite poems (no make that my favourite poem) is about a man hammering a nail, by Ralph Gustafson. The poem’s speaker illuminates that moment, that action of hitting a hammer, and in doing so conveys to the reader a fleeting glimpse into that man’s life, and the richness of his interior world. The action of the hammer, says the speaker, may be repetitive and singular, but the richness of the man’s interior world and the depth of his  feelings, gives the repetition of hammering a hugely significant and almost spiritual meaning. That poem, to me, conveys everything I love about language and poetry.

 

Reading for me has been a source of comfort, inspiration, escapism, a medium for self-education and a way in which I have learnt about the world and the people that live in it. As a child (see above), I read the Famous Five, imagining myself as the diffident, rebellious, non-conforming George. Growing up in the wilds of Wales, she was my role model. I saw myself in her, I still do, as a matter of fact.

Then there was the wonderful Neverending Story. It was the experience of reading the book, which I loved as much as the book itself. It was a dull, rainy winter. I remember sitting, absorbed, bound, captured and taken away by the character Bastian, and his escape from the bullies into that strange, dreamlike world.

I read it in the kitchen, my back against the battered Rayburn, and I stayed there, all day and into the night, reading, reading, reading. When I think of that experience now, it makes me feel secure, safe and warm. To be taken somewhere else but knowing that you are grounded in the surroundings of your own home, knowing that everything is just as it should be.

Later on, in my early twenties I found a love for nineteenth century fiction and particularly anything written by Thomas Hardy. I read Tess of the D’urbervilles and fell in love with Tess. Her character, so brilliantly and beautifully and tragically written, still feels to me like she is a real, breathing woman. I became obsessed with his stories, the way his use of language and prose forced the reader to slow down, to not expect so much, so quickly, allowing the story to unfold at its own pace. His treatment and exploration of fate, destiny, free will and the interconnectedness of our lives just made his worlds so tangible and absorbing. He also wrote about place and belonging that resonated with me so much, feeling as I did at that time, as if I was displaced and rootless. He spoke of home, and I longed to go there.

I carried on writing myself all this time, journals, letter, reviews for the bookshop I worked in. I wrote in secret and filled books and notebooks with my thoughts. I started stories a dozen times over, with ideas I never managed to complete. I think it was when I decided to go back to University as a mature student to study English Literature, that I really began to settle into a more coherent writing voice. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely neither prolific or successful. but I do write and I know far more about my own voice now, and the kind of writer I am. I just can’t imagine myself ever not writing. It is just how I make sense of what I see and how I feel. The part of me I can’t express is all hidden and woven into what I write.

So ….

The next is a strange one.

Worry, self-confidence, me.