Angel Wings and Herb Tea

Life after loss; healing through creativity, writing and art

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Tender green shoots

Spending time with myself, sniffling and feverish despite RAW garlic and dropperfuls of echinacea, and super green drinks and abundant vegeatables and snatched times on the sofa with hot honey and lemon and miso broth. Cross none of this staved off the fluey state which has felled each of us in turn, fighting uneasy guilty feelings about loosing the homescholing reins on the kids. Running slightly feral around the grounds and tripping back breathless and hatless to lay their cool cheeks against mine. Chilled, pearly and smooth as a mushroom skin fresh and dewy in the field.

Grumpy, dumpy and suffering some strange unidentified pregnancy related discomfort which has slowed my walking to a shuffling waddle, from too much manure shifting at a school work day on Saturday I have no doubt.
Luckily I love my sofa, tucked next to the woodburner and being alone on it with a hot water bottle and a book.

The homeschooling  reins have already loosened, by necessity, for sure, by moving four times, by the fire, by me slowly realising that recreating a model Steiner kindergarten and class 1 (simultaneously) in my own home is not entirely necessary for my kids educational success and emotional well being, especially the latter. And which is more important?

Conditioning so hard to unravel, years in school, state and Steiner, national curriculum, literacy levels expected of six year olds, …Local Authority home school inspector…’hm hmm I can see they’re very active and busy but what about formal literacy and numeracy provision?’  Are they happy, do they want to learn, are they emotionally well balanced and nourished……no boxes to tick.

Oh! it’s such a journey for me to come face to face with all my feelings of guilt, inadequacy, is this enough, am I enough, should I be doing this shouldn’t I be doing that. Am I singing enough nature songs and is Tansy’s knitting coming on well enough? (Steiner) Are my home grown fairy tales good enough? Does it matter that Tansy can’t read yet? (Nat. curriculum)
Are they  happy?
Does she make beautiful little books about babies, does Leo hoe and dig his own garden and collect the eggs every morning?
Do they cook soup when I am ill and brush my hair?
Do they make candles and sew pincushions and dolls and bake bread?
Are they learning about living in a community considering others needs and differences, working and playing with other adults and children, sharing food and resources and opinions?
Do they know how to build and tend a fire, catch a fish, pluck a chicken? Well yes!!

You see I’m just trying to convince myself!
Last week I had been feeling particularly negligent as we had only squeezed in one writing session for Tansy (I  follow the Steiner class one pattern of telling an ongoing fairy tale, in our case ‘Molly and Sam and the magic Mountains’, and having Tansy write a sentence about the days story in her book accompanied by a picture) One session….ooh! Nursing first Fred, then Tansy and lastly me through the fevers precluded  extensive writing work….

But on Saturday we felted.

It was the Steiner school work day, and among many jobs, including the manure spreading which reduced me to my shuffling waddle, was a giant community felting project in the hall. Partly to improve the acoustics and partly as a beautiful reminder of the seasons rhythms, we started the first of four felted wall hangings, depicting spring, summer, autumn and winter. Almost a flock of sheep fleeces were laid out, and we teased, carded chatted, splashed warm soapy water about , danced on it the huge felt picture, crawled on it, marched singing on it, and wrapped it in bubblewrap and rolled it up and down outside. Bit by bit the wool felted and soon it will be ready for the more delicate and intricate details to be needle felted on, and hung on the wall.
The children watched, teased, ran about, squirted water on the felt, rested, stamped and rubbed the felt about, sang laughed, got wet socks
So happy for Tansy and Leo to be part of a community afternoon and to witness adults working joyfully together, creating beauty. Not the all too common sight of a parent struggling alone resentfully trying to do too much without support.
That’s what I want them to be learning about!


Working things out

Yes I keep fiddling around, trying to get things right on this blog, I’m not quite there yet, so be prepared for more changes! It’s not my strong point, the techie side, but I’m trying!
When I started this blog I had a very clear vision of what this space was about.  There were three elements which were held here;

The Woodland folk…
For four years I lived with my family in the middle of a wood in Devon. The first three in a mobile home, the last in our self build cabin. This blog was about living in small spaces with minimal possessions and no electricity, it was about hand washing by candlelight and writing in notebooks by the fire, and stepping out into beautiful woodland by night to the ghostly owl shadows gliding down the valley.

Wild medicine
I also wrote about the oils, tinctures and balms I made for my family from wild harvested herbs, and the hedgerow food and medicine around our land. Connection and healing through plants and trees.

Finally, this blog has been space for my daughter Lily, who died four years ago; time and space for me to think about her, share how life is, and was, and could be without my daughter, and what she means for our family.

Some things have changed. And so the blog will change .
We now live in the wing of a mansion, as part of a community of people who sing, and garden together; share space, food and land.

We have an indoor bathroom, access to a washing machine and mains electricity, which to begin with felt odd and wrong after our deep connection with a simpler life on the land. When our cabin burnt down, we had to live somewhere, and after much searching and deliberation, this felt right. And it is. Somehow it is.
We are no longer the family in the woods, we no longer straddle two centuries, bathing in a tin bath, then dashing off to school in a car, but for me in particular, the departure from this way of life has been hard. Not just the loss of the beautiful cabin that we, (well Hugh) worked so hard to build, but it felt like a failure that we were creeping back to mainstream society with our tail between our legs. I missed the closeness to nature and cooking dinner on the campfire, stepping out of the door into wildness…..
‘When’s the rebuild?’ so many people asked in the early days after the fire, and truely neither Hugh or I really ever wanted to.

To return to the blackened scene of such devastation, to a piece of land which, if the truth be known, we had never chosen because it was the most beautiful woodland.

And then I was pregnant. We were exhausted, and our kids needed stability and safety, normality. We have lost so much, our home, our possessions, the chicks, the cat, the rats (Holly and Sophie since you ask) the goats (Goats?.Why yes…Lauren, Lauretta, Abby and Dolly…..they’re’s a whole blog post just waiting to happen, can’t believe they’ve escaped being featured!)

but we have also gained so much. Wisdom for a start, to have learnt from big mistakes and misguided ways of approaching projects. We have received so much love and unfailing support from friends an strangers, and  a realisation that community is more important than independance. I have learnt that  receiving is as beautiful (and a lot harder) than giving, and the web of connecion and interdependance between us is the magic and the fabric of our  lives and makes us human. (Yes its basic stuff, but I’m a slow learner, these big jolts in my life accelerate my schooling in the bits I’m falling behind in) We’ve also gained a new baby, little Finch.

And so things are different. We’ve been forced to reevaluate our lives, one day I was drawing up business plans for our smallholding, herb products; projecting milk yields and planning my first batch of goats milk soap (with investment of specialised oils, and equipment all at the ready), costing out yurts for our planned retreat centre for bereaved families and disadvantaged kids……the next….its all gone.

And so we move on, and change, and there are other things in our lives, and other paths which, who knows may wind in the same direction one day.

I still gather herbs and bottle nature’s medicines for the winter chills, Lily is still my daughter and a luminous presence in our family, I’m still homeschooling Tansy and Leo and writing and creating, but now things are moving.

Life is bigger than I have let myself believe. I’m exploring what this means. Bringing together the things that make me sing and smile and weaving them together to make a blanket of healing. Healing for me, healing for many. The colour and weave is yet unknown although patterns and hues swirl around me, notebooks are filling with lists, threads of projects, ideas….consolidating, envisioning.

I’m just working my way through Leonie Dawson’s  Incredible yearbook and planner 2013 , yes in July, should have done it in January, and it’s just what I need. Check it out….well at least in readiness for 2014, but July is better than not at all eh? Newborn baby and all!

Little Finch is already a healer in our lives in so many ways, he’s brought so much love with him……….and that newborn ageless wisdom, and a soft, silky head to nuzzle.

So this blog will change. Reflecting life’s twists and unexpected turns. I hope you’ll come too, it’s amazing to have you along.
I remember hitting ‘publish’ the very first time I wrote on here and it felt so strange….who on earth would want to read it anyway? But you have, and people have, and sharing is uplifting and healing and really joyful and fun…..Thankyou…..

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Candle light in the woods

Dusk falls, dawn rises, the sky beyond the edge of the woods swells gently in and out of night and day. When the moon is bright, it rises and turns the wood to silver and drenches us in its ethereal light. The curtains are going up slowly, on average one a day, so until dark moon came, our nights were bright, but snug under our warm blankets.

Life outside our cabin in the woods is continuing as normal, not pausing to let us breathe after our move and settle into the land. Commitments continue but when I dissolve into the golden lamplight every night it feels as though the sanctuary of our new home is enfolding us in a warm embrace. Because our electricity is limited at present to one leisure battery, (nearly flat) its candles and oil lamps in the evening, and the atmosphere of calm this creates pervades nearly all of us.

Candlelight is limited to right where we are, and it is soft and gentle, blurring the edges of the washing up not yet done or the laundry  not yet done. It brings me into the moment, this one right now.

Last night, Leo bathed in the golden glow while Tansy practiced her lyre, and as I put the finishing touches to our veg crumble I felt suffused by an immense calm and gratitude for the moment I was in. I spend so much time living outside the moment, that these moments of sinking into the present feel like a precious balm. Everything seemes perfect, everything flowed.

How do you manage to find these moments of tranquility and connection to now?

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Water in the woods

Water, how we appreciate it at the moment. When we turn the tap and it actually flows, it seems like a miracle! For the time being, we are tapping in to our neighbour’s bore hole, some three hundred metres away, and pumped up with a pump in another neighbours house, with a generator owned by someone else, and stored in an enormous tank. Sounds complicated? It is. The over ground, unlagged pipes currently in place are woefully inadequate for use in sub zero temperatures, hence our sporadic supply in the cold snap. In time, we will bury the pipes, in the longer term, we will connect up to our own bore hole (located on yet another person’s land) and fill our own tank when we have the time and funding in place. Phew!

For the moment our water system is archaic, as the drainage from our cabin is also not complete. So every drop of water used or consumed inside must be manually carried out by the bucketful…washing up water, laundry water, bath water, …and when the pipes freeze, carried in too! It certainly makes us careful with our water use. Our ancestors must have been a hardy, strong bunch, constantly on the move, carrying shifting, tipping, scrubbing, fetching. My arms are feeling capable, my poor back is not!

Tin baths are well established now, but preparations must start early! First bring in the bath from  outside to warm and prepare the area with rugs. Then heat two hot cauldrons of water on the stove, whilst setting up the clothes drier covered with a blanket as an improvised screen for peace. Mix the hot water with two buckets of cold, rustle up a quick cup of chamomile tea, and settle in to quite a deep cosy bath. Then decide whether you have the energy to start bucketing out the water or if it can wait until the morning!

Make a hot water bottle and go to bed!

My back aches, but at least I feel responsible for dealing with our water waste and can see the consequences of where it goes and how it can be reused in future. It feels good.


Outside again

Suddenly we’re spending time outside again. After our three months in a house, where I would sometimes find that days had passed almost entirely inside, now, our life is connected inextricably to the wood around us. Our time in the cabin is made complete by the time slithering down muddy paths to the compost toilet at night; by stepping outside in the morning to the frozen, rosy dawn beyond the trees and over the hills; by nipping to the woodstack for an armful of logs for the burner. Last night as I grabbed the nearest  blanket to wrap around me, shawl like, to accompany Tansy on a  night time loo trip, I felt as if I was stepping further into the past with each step along the path.

The memory and spirit of the women who came before me, my ancestors; stepping out on their night time winter paths, holding their lanterns before them, stumbling through their woollen petticoats and shawls, feeling the cold on their skin, the mist on their cheeks, the cry of the owl in their ear . I felt so close to them, and a tiny glimpse of what it was like to live away from the slick, quick, glossed over shininess of the 21st century. I have read and absorbed countless stories and histories of domestic realities in previous centuries but it is only in living it again that I feel it in my body, the reality of it. The relentless practical tasks and the raw chapped hands, the living close to the bone. Our neighbours who live in two beautiful yurts, expressed just what I felt. ‘Living like this you experience the real highs and the real lows, you don’t get the dull daily hum drum of mediocrity’ It’s either spellbindingly beautiful or really quite desperate!

When I was carrying all our water into the house in 19 litre containers, and scrimping every drop, it was a challenge, especially on my back, (lugging it down my friends stairs after filling up in her bathroom, thanks Darcy and Becky!) but it made every drop precious. I found myself gloating when discovered three full hot water bottles in our cupboard, what could I use the water for? This morning the tap produced water, as we have a milder day, and it felt quite decadant to just use what ever we needed!



Where is home? Where your parents live? Where you live? Where you are right now? Where your loved ones are?

Home…the word has such a lovely hum to it, home is always where I feel most comfortable;  making homes, and being at home, and I will happily turn a tent on a one night camping trip into a cosy home with the help of some blankets and a few flowers. When I arrive home, wherever that is, I invariably feel my shoulders melt into the ground and my breath lengthen as I exhale into familiarity and comfort. Maybe it’s because I feel able to drop all my barriers at home, stop trying so hard, to be liked? to fit in? to do the right thing….? So my home becomes an oasis, where I don’t have to pretend..yeah I know I shouldn’t pretend anywhere, but that’s a work in progress.

In my defence, Cancer features very heavily in my astrological chart and the lovely woman who drew my chart, mentioned the word ‘cosy’ several times during the course of my consultation with her. I like things to be cosy, and curling up next to a warm winter fire, by candlelight, with some snuggly children nestled in for a story is a blissful feeling.

I think that’s why I have struggled with feelings of restless and insecurity during the last year when I just didn’t know where my home was going to be, and then when I did know, facing a double house move in two months.

So, as we begin the countdown to our final move to our land, I will be readjusting to another home. I know I will feel impatient to get curtains and rugs scattered around very quickly (I should be making them now….) and the children’s rooms comfortable and welcoming. (Hugh and I will be sleeping in the sitting room for a while, but we’ve done that’s very cosy!) I know that the strange, slightly exhilarating, yet uneasy feeling of novelty will soon wear off and we will sink into our new ryhthms and ways on the land.

blanket walls

Back to an outside composting toilet, still awaiting completion…

Almost no electricity, save what we can glean from a leisure battery….plans for stream generated power are afoot… (shhhh!  we will have a gas cooker, at least to begin with.)

I’ve abandoned ideas of a whiskey barrel bath tub (they leak if they dry out) and am resigned to a tin bath in the corner of the kitchen for now with heavy curtain drapes for modesty. Later we have plans for a rocket stove, wood fired shower, in a separate room, luxury of luxuries, but we must wait for time and money..Actually I really love tin baths, and harbour romantic memories of sitting in front of the wood stove in our yurt, soaking and watching the dancing flames, as the candles threw their shadows on the canvas walls.

My laundry will now be completed with the help of this lovely item, for my birthday present from my mother in law , a Victorian washboard, and a mangle yet to be purchased.

Lots of candles, and I will have an entire blog post devoted to candles very soon.

And lots more mud, and outside, and cosy firelit evenings.

I long to be settled. I have moved far too many times since children, and although I do have a restless changeable nature, I yearn for stability, security and a longterm home where I can root myself in the land and gather my scattered plans, thoughts and dreamings into one place, where they can flourish and grow. To sink down quietly into the earth and gather my family around to retreat and reflect for a while before this winter is over. Before the headlong full blossomed rush of Spring.

I’m looking forward to going home.

Where is your home?